Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Living in a World of Fear

Last night I was thinking about what to post to close out 2008. A year in review? Greatest posts?

I looked back to what I posted last year and I had a writeup from an event Michelle Obama held at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. I remembered that her speech that day was remarkable and I still got chills after rereading that post.

So here's my writeup of Michelle Obama's speech from December 31st, 2007 in Marshalltown...

I have seen a lot of political speeches from a lot of different candidate on both sides of the political spectrum this year. This afternoon, I heard the best one of them all when Michelle Obama spoke at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

Michelle began saying that throughout her travels around the country she has noticed that, despite all the talk about what divides our nation, our nation is really close to being united behind common values. She said she is out campaigning, not necessarily because of her husband, but because of her two young girls and what their future will look like. The country today is disconnected, isolated, and full of cynicism. This is caused by our nation being guided by fear. We have become a nation afraid of everyone and everything. Fear is clouding our judgement and cuts off people from their communities and the rest of the world. Our children inherit this fear.

Children in a world driven by fear become doubters, are hesitant, are insulate, and timid.
She then discussed her upbringing on the south side of Chicago and that she sees herself as a regular person from a working class background. She said there is nothing miraculous about her upbringing. Her parents raised her and her brother on a single city worker's salary. She said she and her brother are byproducts of the Chicago Public School System.
I want people to know that, so when they look at me that they see what an investment in public education can actually do.
As a public school teacher, that line really hit home. I suddenly began to think about what the students in my 2nd grade class will be doing in 20 and 30 years. If these students aren't able to make a better living than their parents then there is no hope. Michelle and Barack Obama gives me hope, and these kids hope, that when they grow up they might just be able to become something big.

Michelle went on to say that she went on to Princeton and Harvard Law and that story nearly impossible today by the difficulties families face today. She said that most Americans don't want much, except to know that if they work hard that they can get ahead and have a better life for their children.

She discussed the lose of blue collar jobs, "NCLB sucking the life out of education", the rise of college debt, and rising health care costs.
We are not a nation in debt because we are frivolous and greedy. It's because people got sick... and had to use the credit card to cover medical costs.
Despite all of these concerns, we are a wealthy nation with many resources and plenty of policy and plans.
We are suffering as a nation because we suffer a deficit of empathy.
She said we are not looking after each other anymore and our democracy is suffering because of it. We are living in our own little boxes, isolated from our neighbors and communities. We are told by our leaders to not worry about and not asked to compromise and sacrifice for one another. To overcome this, we need leadership that can inspire the nation, and Barack Obama is the only candidate that can do this.

She then compared Barack's background to her background, mentioning Barack travelling around the world and experiencing other cultures when he was younger. She said his mom and grandparents sacrificed, work hard, and learned common sense values just like her family did.

Barack used these values when he passed up a job on Wall St. and chose to work as a community organizer. He then went to Harvard Law and passed up millions to work as a constitutional law professor and civil rights lawyer. Then he went to the Illinois State Senate where he rose above the dirty Illinois/Chicago style politics and passed ethics reform.

She said there is no better example of the judgement her husband possesses than the War in Iraq. People say Barack doesn't have the experience in Washington, but all of the candidates with experience in Washington got it wrong. All of the Washington politicians followed our leaders when their judgement was clouded by fear.

Michelle closed her speech by asking us to dream because if she and Barack didn't dream growing up then they wouldn't be in the place they are today.

The crowd gave Michelle a standing ovation and Michelle went to shake hands. As I looked around, I saw a couple people sitting behind me wiping away tears. Everyone I talked to that was there was amazed by the speech. Even a few said that Michelle should be the one running. Not this time around, but maybe in 2016.

Are Area Education Agencies top-heavy?

In an editorial today, the Des Moines Register asks...

Why would the number of administrators at Iowa's Area Education Agencies grow to 95, nearly four times as many as there were five years ago?
I don't know the answer, but my guess the answer is because of No Child Left Behind.

Iowa's 362 school districts don't have the budgets to employ the necessary math and reading specialists to help districts when they are declared as a school in need of improvement. A math teacher I had in high school retired and became a math specialist for the local AEA. He traveled to school that were deemed in need of improvement around north central Iowa to help them develop building and district plans to improve tests scores.

Since No Child Left Behind is a massive unfunded by the federal government, the state is forced to pick up the cost. In Iowa that means they increased demands of AEA's and paid for it by raising property taxes.

Sen. Jim Webb Plans to Reform the Prison Industry

The United States produces more prisoners than any other country in the world...

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Sen. Jim (D-VA) plans to introduce legislation to reform our prison industry...

This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled "soft on crime." [...]

Webb aims much of his criticism at enforcement efforts that he says too often target low-level drug offenders and parole violators, rather than those who perpetrate violence, such as gang members. He also blames policies that strip felons of citizenship rights and can hinder their chances of finding a job after release. He says he believes society can be made safer while making the system more humane and cost-effective.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top Issues for the State Legislature in 2009

Gark at Popular Progressive takes a look at the top 9 legislative issues for 2009 and has some great analysis for what it means for the state of Iowa.

Here they are...

Issue #1 - State Budgets Gaps
Issue #2 - Transportation and Infrastructure
Issue #3 - Higher Education Affordability
Issue #4 - Health Costs and Reform
Issue #5 - Clean Energy and Alternatives
Issue #6 - Sentencing and Corrections
Issue #7 - Homeownership
Issue #8 - Working Families
Issue #9 - Unemployment

Crowdsourcing Places for Creatives

Before I became interested (or as my wife says, addicted) to politics, I was interested in urban planning.  I still keep up on planning issues, as I serve on the Plan and Zoning Commission in my town.

One of the planning websites that I visit frequently is CoolTown Studios. I love the site because it looks at things from a slightly different angle and highlights cool, authentic places that make neighborhoods and towns unique.  Last week, CoolTown Studios posted their top 20 articles of all time and I thought I'd share them here...

By popular request, here are what I feel are the top 20 articles among the 1400 on this site, influenced by current times. This will be constantly changing, especially as I rediscover previous articles and post new ones (in bold)...

Crowdsourcing and creatives…
The creatives: rengen, cultural creatives, creative class - Identifying the core market itself.
What is crowdsourced placemaking? - The most definitive definition.
The time is now to crowdsource the places you want - Get started now.
The beta community - The crowdsourced placemaking community that makes it all happen.
The four different kinds of beta communities - The four kinds of projects beta communities can help generate.

The impact of natural cultural districts - The best academic definition for the places that attract creatives.
The third place - The fundamental unit of a natural cultural district.
Cultivating your own Temple Bar District - One of the most inspiring stories of how a natural cultural district was saved and now flourishing.
Happiness best reflected by the beauty of place - Aesthetics matter to people more than anything.
The ‘postcard test’ - A litmus test for a place’s aesthetics, beauty.

The economic foundation…
If there was ever one definitive graphic, this is it - A table that illustrates our evolution from an industrial to a knowledge economy.
Digital infrastructure replacing an asphalt one - The physical environment to accommodate modern needs.
The Experience Economy - A better description of our modern economy than simply ‘the information age’ or ‘knowledge economy’.
Creatives ahead of the financial crisis - How the preferences of creatives, and not so big homes, are better suited to a sustainable economy.
How the creative class relates to the economy - Visual evidence of how creatives grow an economy.

Innovative examples…
The most innovative government agency in the U.S. - The New York City Department of Transportation.
NYC's stunning 'streets to plazas' program - A model program for creating pedestrian-only destinations.
Ten defining principles for a true green community - Benchmark principles and communities for zero carbon, zero waste communities.
Paris launches world's largest bike sharing system - No bike sharing system in the world comes close.
Elements hits the Washington Post front page - A crowdsourced restaurant gets national exposure.

Recently dropped from the Top 20
More evidence that 'not so big homes' are in - Smaller homes are the creative American Dream
Affordability's secret weapon - the 'ipad’ - A stylish 380 s.f. one-bedroom in the UK.

So what does this have to do with Iowa politics?  Over the past two years, Iowa has focused on reversing the brain drain in the state.  Lawmakers are looking at different policies that would lower the cost of college, forgive student loans, and raise wages.  I think all of these are very important.  However, it wouldn't hurt for Iowa to build some more cool places. I am not just talking about building cool places in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids, but in Iowa's small towns too.

Over the next few months, I hope to write more about how Iowa can build some of these cool places and highlight some of the cool places in Iowa.  

CootTown Studios defines crowdsourced placemaking as...

the act of taking development traditionally performed by real estate conglomerates and outsourcing it to a large, defined group of people in the form of an open call, to transform the places we find ourselves into the places where we live, as ‘places of the soul’ that uplift and help us connect to each other. 
 So to keep in line with those thoughts, feel free to chime in with your thoughts and share any cool places in your town.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Should We Raise the Federal Gas Tax?

Last week, John Deeth wrote that the Car Talk guys think we should raise the gas tax. Their thinking behind this...

"Gas is less than two bucks a gallon. There's never been a better time to do this. If we added a 50-cent national, gasoline tax right now, and gas cost $2.50 a gallon, would that be the end of the world? Hardly."

"This new tax would generate between 50 and 100 billion dollars every year for the treasury. That money could be used to help rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, and develop new technologies for more fuel-efficient cars... further decreasing demand for oil. This is a way for us to get on the wagon, and stop sending money to countries that don't like us. We could become energy independent."
Tom Friedman comes to the same conclusion in his column yesterday...

Of course, it’s a blessing that people who have been hammered by the economy are getting a break at the pump. But for our long-term health, getting re-addicted to oil and gas guzzlers is one of the dumbest things we could do.

That is why I believe the second biggest decision Barack Obama has to make — the first is deciding the size of the stimulus — is whether to increase the federal gasoline tax or impose an economy-wide carbon tax. Best I can tell, the Obama team has no intention of doing either at this time. I understand why. Raising taxes in a recession is a no-no. But I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of ways to retool America around clean-power technologies without a price signal — i.e., a tax — and there are no effective ones. (Toughening energy-effiency regulations alone won’t do it.) Without a higher gas tax or carbon tax, Obama will lack the leverage to drive critical pieces of his foreign and domestic agendas.

Friedman explains this further...
The two most important rules about energy innovation are: 1) Price matters — when prices go up people change their habits. 2) You need a systemic approach. It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.’s and Hummers.

There has to be a system that permanently changes consumer demand, which would permanently change what Detroit makes, which would attract more investment in battery technology to make electric cars, which would hugely help the expansion of the wind and solar industries — where the biggest drawback is the lack of batteries to store electrons when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. A higher gas tax would drive all these systemic benefits.

Obama said during the campaign that he would not just tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. I think we might need to hear about the possibility to raise gas taxes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Conservative Talk Dominates Iowa's Airwaves

Blog for Iowa has a post up about how conservative talk dominates Iowa's airwaves. They took a look at all of the stations that air Rush Limbaugh in the state and here is what they found...

We were astonished to learn that on some of these stations, virtually the entire day (and evening) of programming is devoted to conservative talk. Only one station as far as could be determined, broadcasts anything remotely resembling the opposing point of view, the Mason City station, KGLO, which runs a radio replay of Face the Nation once a week. As if five days a week is not enough conservative talk, several stations run "best ofs" on the weekends (Best of Sean Hannity, for example).

BFIA would also like to correct our Dec. 17 post,
Our Second Priority: Media Reform, which erroneously claimed that WHO-Radio in Des Moines, a 50,000 watt station, broadcasts eight and one-half hours per day of conservative talk, 5 days a week. The correct number is thirteen and a half hours per day. See the program schedule below.
Here is the list of radio stations they compiled...
Burlington Talk Radio KCPS
KCPS 1150
205 S. Gear Avenue
W. Burlington, Iowa 52655
Phone (319) 754-6698
Glenn Beck, 9-11a; Limbaugh 11a-2p;Dennis Miller 2-5p; O'reilly 5-6p; Michael Savage 7-9p;

Cedar Rapids WMT 600
600 Old Marion Road

Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
Phone: 319-365-0600
Toll free: 800-332-5401
*600 on your US Cellular Phone
Limbaugh 1p-4p; Jim Bohannon 9p-12a

WOC Quad Cities
1420 AM
Limbaugh 11a-2p; Hannity 6-9p;Dennis Miller 9-12a;

Des Moines WHO Radio
1040 AM
2141 Grand Ave
Des Moines, IA 50312
Phone: 515-245-8900, Program Director, General Manager
Jan Mickelson,9a-11:30;Limbaugh 1-4p;Steve Deace 4-7p;Michael Medved 9-10p;Michael Reagan 10p-1a; Jim Bohannon 4-5a.

Dubuque WDBQ(no website)
1490 AM
5490 Saratoga Road Dubuque
Phone: (563) 557-1040
Limbaugh 11a-2p

Estherville KILR
1070 AM (no website)
Phone: 712-362-2644
Limbaugh 11a-2p

Mason City KGLO
AM 1300

341 S Yorktown Pike
Mason City, IA 50401
(641) 423-1300
Tim Fleming,
Brian Fancher,
Limbaugh 1p-4p M-F

Sheldon KIWA (has advertiser list on website!)
1550 AM

411 9th Street
Sheldon, IA 51201
Phone: 712-324-5377
E-mail: Walt Pruiksma, Station Mgr., at (good luck...there is a picture on the website of Walt with Bush)
E-mail: Wayne Barahona, Program Director, at
Limbaugh 11a-2p; Hannity 2-5p; L & H Saturdays also

Sioux City KSCJ
2000 Indian Hills Dr
Sioux City, IA 51104
(712) 239-2100
Limbaugh, 11a-2p; Hannity, O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Dennis Miller, Bohannon

Waterloo KXEL
AM 1540
514 Jefferson Street
Waterloo, IA 50701
General Manager: Tim Mathews
Phone: 319-234-2200 or 800-584-7024
Coverage Area: Waterloo-Cedar Falls-Cedar Rapids-Iowa City
5-6a Jim Bohannon; 8-11a Glenn Beck; 11a-2p Limbaugh; 2-5p Hannity
If you live near any of these stations, contact them and ask them to air some opposing viewpoints. Suggest Thom Hartman, Ed Schultz, or Stephanie Miller as possible shows they could air.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why 60 Seats in the Senate Didn't Matter

There much to do about Democrats winning 60 seats in the US Senate this past election (it's looking like they will have 59 seats once Al Franken is declared the winner in Minnesota). However, 60 seats was more a milestone and would have not really mattered much because of a group of conservative Democrats that vote against the party.

I am not a fan of Joe Liberman at all. Yet, there are at least 6 Democratic Senators that vote with the Democratic Caucus less than Lieberman. Lieberman voted with the Democratic Caucus 81% of the time. These Senators voted with the Democratic caucus less than Lieberman...

  • Evan Bayh of Indiana votes with Democrats 65% of the time
  • Mary Landrieu of Louisiana votes with Democrats 69% of the time
  • Ben Nelson of Nebraska votes wtih Democrats 72% of the time
  • Mark Pryor of Arkansas votes wtih Democrats 79% of the time
  • Tim Johnson of South Dakota votes with Democrats 80% of the time
  • Tom Carper of Delaware votes with Democrats 80% of the time
Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas voted with the Democratic Caucus the same percentage of time as Lieberman at 81%.

It always seemed that Republicans could strong arm members of their own party into voting with the Republican Caucus, but this is not the case with Democrats. There are questions of party unity on key Democratic legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act, where Democrat (?) Blanche Lincoln is not sure if she will support it.

This just shows that electing better Democrats is just as important as electing more Democrats.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Investing in the Public Good

This post by Matthew Yglesias makes a very good point...

This is a nice point from Mark Kleiman, something he allegedly gleaned from a Tom Friedman column:

But there is an important insight hidden in Friedman’s breathless prose: you can’t much improve the quality of life of currently prosperous Americans (let’s say, folks above twice the median family income where they live) by giving them more of the things that money can buy. A safe neighborhood, walkable cities, fast, comfortable inter-city transport, excellent public schools and universities, scientific discovery, medical progress, clean air to breathe, an economy that is sustainable into the lives of one’s children and grandchildren, a vibrant high culture: these are primarily public goods, and need public expenditure to bring them about.

At the same time, we have reason to believe that in an affluent society such as ours a lot of the problems that people at the bottom suffer from have a lot to do with relative rather than absolute deprivation. In other words, a reduction in the volume of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of public goods could make very wide swathes of the public better off.

Republicans have called for small government, but what they have really meant is no government investment in the public good. There has been little expenditure in these public goods during the past 8 years. Instead money has been thrown at pet projects to line the pockets of a select few.

Rebuilding the Suburbs

Earlier this month I wrote about suburbs turning into tomorrows slums as the number of foreclosures increase, higher gas prices, and more demand for walkable neighborhoods.

Mesa, Arizona is doing something about this and wants to rebuild their image from a suburb known for sprawl into a livable community.

How do you remake a city of sprawl. That’s exactly what the city of Mesa, Arizona is trying to do, according to The Economist. Mesa has experienced tremendous growth in the past several decades, surging from 7,000 in 1940) to roughly 450,000 today. While many people still haven’t heard of it, Mesa numbers among the nation’s 50 largest cities, bigger than Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Miami. It’s a classic “edge city” which, as The Economist writes, consists of: “Mile after mile of strip malls and tract houses, whose evocative names and fanciful architecture cannot disguise the fact that they are large, stucco-covered boxes, dominate the landscape.”

Now Mesa is working hard to turn itself into a more liveable city. To bolster its economy, it’s constructing a new airport downtown (to better connect itself to the world - recall the Phoenix-Tuscon area is one of the world ’s 40 biggest mega-regions) in an effort to remake itself as what University of North Carolina’s John Kasarda calls an “aerotropolis” – the thinking being that air transport today is analogous to what canals, railroads, and cars were to past urban systems. Even more interesting is the city is investing heavily in improving its quality of place - urban design, mixed use development, strict building heights, increased density, warehouse conversions, and an extensive network of urban neighborhood parks in an effort to improve its ability to lure talent and jobs.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Our Message of Hope on Christmas Day

Our Message of Hope

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

There is No Such Thing as Clean Coal

Another ad from This is Reality about the myth of clean techonology...

Does that mean Lincoln was a Muslim?

Barack Obama will be sworn in using Lincoln's bible...

From an Obama transition team press release:

On January 20th, President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office using the same Bible upon which President Lincoln was sworn in at his first inauguration. The Bible is currently part of the collections of the Library of Congress. Though there is no constitutional requirement for the use of a Bible during the swearing-in, Presidents have traditionally used Bibles for the ceremony, choosing a volume with personal or historical significance. President-elect Obama will be the first President sworn in using the Lincoln Bible since its initial use in 1861.

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau. "The President-elect is committed to holding an Inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage."

Obama will be the first president sworn in using the bible since Chief Justice R. B. Taney administered the oath to Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861.

So to my friends on the right, does that mean Lincoln was Muslim?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do Your Part

Over Christmas I will be spending time with some family and friends who weren't exactly excited for Obama's victory in November. I am pretty sure they could recite every anti-Obama, anti-Muslim, anti-choice, anti-tax talking point from Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson out there (though I don't want to try and find out). Let's just say, I wouldn't be surprised to hear something like this... of my friends told me last month that her mother's best friend believes changing the American flag will be "the first order of business" when Obama takes office. I am not kidding.
What people who believe this don't understand is that this election was not about Obama at all. It wasn't about a slogan of change because our country has already changed dramatically, thanks to technology, 9/11, Iraq, global climate change, etc.

This election was not about Obama at all. It was about you and me. It was about reponsibility, opportunity, and community. We all have the responsibility to get active in something we believe in, we have the opportunity to solve big problems, and we must come together in our own communities to make it happen.

Andrew Sullivan posted this excerpt from a speech Obama made back in June of 2007...

The truth is, one man cannot make a movement. No single law can erase the prejudice in the heart of a child who hangs a noose on a tree. Or in the callousness of a prosecutor who bypasses justice in the pursuit of vengeance. No one leader, no matter how shrewd, or experienced, or inspirational, can prevent teenagers from killing other teenagers in the streets of our cities, or free our neighborhoods from the grip of homelessness, or make real the promise of opportunity and equality for every citizen.

Only a country can do those things. Only this country can do those things. That's why if you give me the chance to serve this nation, the most important thing I will do as your President is to ask you to serve this country, too. The most important thing I'll do is to call on you every day to take a risk, and do your part to carry this movement forward. Against deep odds and great cynicism I will ask you to believe that we can right the wrong we see in America. I say this particularly to the young people who are listening today. ...

I know that you believe it's possible too.

This ad from the Obama campaign sums up this message...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Iowa's Greenest Library Opens in Marshalltown

The new Marshalltown Public Library opened it's doors today. The $5.75 million dollar building will be Iowa's first LEED-certified library and claims the title of Iowa's Greenest Library.

The building includes 90 solar panels. The 15.75kW system makes the library the largest photovoltaic array in the state. The system would be large enough to power a large residential consumer or small farm, but only will provide a small percentage of the power to the 35,000 square foot building. However, there is room to install more solar panels in the future.

The decision to go green was made with the help of a grant from the Vision Iowa board...

While a sustainable building had been under discussion, the decision to do so was accelerated when a Vision Iowa Board member asked, “Are you building green?” The USGBC awards "green" points in broad categories of energy and atmosphere; indoor environmental quality; sustainable sites; materials, and resources; and water efficiency.

The new library is situated downtown on a “recycled” building site, previously used as a parking lot. Its location will permit pedestrian access. In addition to the donated heating and cooling units, the solar panel photovoltaic array will convert sunlight to electricity. Sunscreens and high-performance glazing on the large exterior windows will maximize sunlight and minimize the heat passing through the glass.

Investing in the Right Kind of Infrastructure

Instead of handing over billions to corporations and calling that an economic stimulus package, we should be investing in infrastructure. By investing in infrastructure we will actually have something to show for spending our money years down the road.

This post yesterday at Daily Kos discusses what types of infrastructure we should be investing in...

When those infrastructure projects start to come in from the states, the administration should focus on three areas: repair, replace, and remove.

First priority should go to those projects that flat out eliminate the majority of costs associated with a piece of infrastructure. Nothing costs less in the future than a mile of highway that's been removed. Next should come those projects that offer the chance to upgrade existing infrastructure with an alternative whose future upkeep is less costly. This can include tearing out highways and adding more light rail. It should also include replacing older bridges and structures with newer designs that meet safety concerns while requiring less upkeep. Dead last on the list should come any project whose goal is to add more lanes for automobile traffic.

If we spend a hundred billion, employ a million people, and don't get a mile of new highway out of it, we should count ourselves lucky. Our goal should be to come out of this construction with a need for less maintenance in the future, not more.

If we can't find enough highway to tear out, there's another place where we could use some serious infrastructure upgrades: state and national parks. Many of the beautiful lodges and trails in our parks were built by the WPA or CCC in the 1930s, and while those structures are a treasure, they're a treasure now badly in need of some polish. Turn a million people lose on restoring those structure to their original glory. And if we want to add a few rooms here or trails there, that's fine -- so long as we employ the kind of skilled architects and artists that helped make these structures so wonderful in the first place.

Telling state governments to turn over the projects that are ready to go is fine, but if those projects turn out to be new roads, new bridges, and more miles of blacktop, we should hand them right back.

The biggest investment in infrastructure needed in Iowa is expanding broadband access to every corner of the state. That would do far more to help economic development than the Iowa Values fund and help rural communities rebuild their economies.

As for building roads, forget making Highway 20 four lanes across the state. How about building high speed rail service and linking Sioux City with Waterloo, Dubuque, Madison, and even Chicago?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Join I-Renew to Celebrate Renewable Energy on Winter Solstice **Postponed**

The even has been postponed due to the cold wintry weather.

Join I-Renew to Celebrate Renewable Energy on Winter Solstice

Sunday December 21 at 6:00 PM
Mill Restaurant, 120 E. Burlington St. Iowa City

Festivities include:
Live Music! with The Gilded Bats and Ben Schmidt.
Free Giveaways!
Silent Auction with great renewable holiday gifts!
Discussion and fun with like minded folks interested in renewable energy!

The funds raised at the event will go toward I-Renew's work educating Iowans about sustainable energy production and use.

If you would like to donate silent auction items, help promote the event, more information about sponsorship opportunities, or have any questions, please contact the I-Renew office at: (319) 643-3160 or by emailing

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Illinois Scandal Shows Need for Campaign Finance Reform

Ed Fallon wrote a guest column in the Des Moines Register yesterday about Rod Blagojevich's pay to play scandal in Illinois.

To learn that someone apparently would openly try to sell a U.S. Senate seat shocks and disgusts us.

Blagojevich is a menace and needs to go to the gated community where other Illinois governors before him have gone. But America's campaign-finance system is a far greater menace to democracy. If we can muster shock and disgust for Blagojevich, we should be utterly appalled at the pervasive role of money in politics.

Face it. What we call "elections" have become auctions. The auctioning of U.S. Senate seats occurs every six years - every two years for congressional and state legislative seats. Big donors, corporations and special interests "bid" on the candidate of their choice. In close races, the smart money bids on both candidates, and the one backed by the highest bidders usually wins.

We don't want to believe our elected officials can be bought. But as someone who served for 14 years in the Iowa House, I say with confidence that what big money wants, big money usually gets. Rank-and-file lawmakers may be well-intentioned but often are strong-armed by legislative leaders beholden to corporate donors and special interests. As a result, the most pressing challenges of our time - climate change, budgetary reform, health care, farm policy, to name a few - see practically no progress year after year.

So, while I hope the good people of Illinois fire Blagojevich and fire him soon, I have a more pressing hope that Americans across the country get fired up for campaign-finance reform. In Iowa, Senator-elect Pam Jochum is leading the charge on VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections). This bill would make it easier for rank-and-file lawmakers to stand up to party leaders, allow more citizens to run for office and give the public far greater access to the halls of power.

To learn move about the VOICE bill and clean elections visit this site put together by Iowa CCI.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Join Gov. Culver Tonight for $5,000

If you have $5,000 you can socialize with Gov. Culver tonight...

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Governor Chet Culver
Lt. Governor Patty Judge
Chet Culver Committee
Please come and enjoy an evening of fine foods and friends.
5:30 p.m. -- 7:00 p.m.
Noah's Ark Ristorante (second floor)
2400 Ingersoll Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa
Patrons - $25,000
Hosts - $15,000
Guests - $5000
Please RSVP to Chris Khoury
Ph 515 288-2287 or email

Another example for the need for campaign finance reform. Iowa badly needs limits on campaign contributions and needs to pass the VOICE legislation that would bring voluntary public financing to campaigns.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thoughts on Improving Teacher Quality

I don't agree with everything in this article on education reform and improving teacher quality by Malcolm Gladwell, but it was thought provoking.

If you rank the countries of the world in terms of the academic performance of their schoolchildren, the U.S. is just below average, half a standard deviation below a clump of relatively high-performing countries like Canada and Belgium. According to Hanushek, the U.S. could close that gap simply by replacing the bottom six per cent to ten per cent of public-school teachers with teachers of average quality. After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there’s a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vilsack Named Sec. of Agriculture

The AP reports that Tom Vilsack has been named Sec. of Agriculture in the Obama Administration.

My first thought when hearing this was that Charles Grassley just took a sigh of relief. I don't see anyway Vilsack can turn around and for Senate against Grassley in 2010. Mike Johanns served almsot 3 years as Sec. of Agriculture before announcing his run for Senate in Nebraska in September of 2007. Vilsack would serve 8-12 months before having to announce his run and if he did that, I think there'd be some bad press coming his way for backing out of his committment.

With that said, Sec. of Agriculture isn't a bad gig for Vilsack for the next few years.

Child Poverty

This graph is shocking...
I truly believe that we don't have an education problem, but have a child poverty problem. There is no doubt that reducing the rate of child poverty is vital. Reducing child poverty will help increase test scores.

Light Rail in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor?

Todd Dorman wrote about the possibility of light rail between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

Local pols all over the country are salivating at the prospect of a big federal stimulus package bulging with infrastructure bucks. Visions of superhighways and bridges dance in their heads.

So what should be on our wish list? If I were king, I’d include light rail service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

Last I heard, the price tag for fixing up and expanding the old Crandic line to provide service to Cedar Rapids, North Liberty and on to Iowa City is around $70 million. [...]

It’s also a lot less than it would cost to add an extra lane to I-380, which, according to a story I found in our archives, would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

I know there are a lot of other worthy projects out there. Highway 100, U.S. 30 etc. Disaster-related needs are, obviously, a top priority.

But the economic, environmental, tourism and safety advantages of taking a chunk of drivers off 380 and putting them on a train are worth getting serious about. Enough with endless studies, let’s go for some bucks.

In the past year I’ve been to Denver, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul, all cities benefiting significantly from interurban light rail service. In each case the trams were convienent, fast and well-used, especially when gas prices were skyrocketing. And anyone who thinks that won’t happen again is commuting to fantasyland.

It’s not just for tree-huggers and snooty Europeans anymore.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mitch Albom has a few Words for the Republicans that Killed the Auto Bailout

Mitch Albom, author of Tuesday's With Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven and columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote this over the weekend...

Kill the car, kill the country. History will show that when America was on its knees, a handful of lawmakers tried to cut off its feet. And blame the workers. How suddenly did the workers — a small percentage of a car’s cost — become justification for crushing an industry?

And when did Detroit become the symbol of economic dysfunction? Are you kidding? Have you looked in the mirror lately, Washington?

In a world where banks hemorrhaged trillions in a high-priced gamble called credit derivative swaps that YOU failed to regulate, how on earth do WE need to be punished? In a bailout era where you shoveled billions, with no demands, to banks and financial firms, why do WE need to be schooled on how to run a business?

Who is more dysfunctional in business than YOU? Who blows more money? Who wastes more trillions on favors, payback and pork?

At least in the auto industry, if folks don’t like what you make, they don’t have to buy it. In government, even your worst mistakes, we have to live with.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Evan Bayh is organizing a Blue Dog caucus in the Senate.

Matthew Yglesias explains further...

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can’t really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.
Matt Stoller has a list of Conservative Democrats that might join a Blue Dog caucus that include Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.), and Sen.-elect Mark Warner (Va.).

Stoller goes on to explain that this just shows that the 60 vote threshold meant nothing...
This shows that the 60 vote threshold argument was nonsense, power is concentrated in the hands of conservative Democrats and a few Republicans, and that's how these guys wanted it.
A perfect example that electing better Democrats is just as important as electing more Democrats.

Auto Bailout Fails Because Republicans are Trying to Bust Unions

Air America's Thom Hartmann was on MSNBC's Countdown and talked about how the auto bailout failed because Republicans want to bust unions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

2 Years After the Marshalltown Immigration Raids

Yesterday marked the 2 year anniversary of the immigration raids that took place in Marshalltown.

Here is a video that takes a look at life in the village in Mexico that many of the families in Marshalltown come from...

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, December 12, 2008

So That's What Traditional Marriage Is

Earlier this week the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments for and against gay marriage. Those against gay marriage are always bring up how gay marriage is an attack on traditional marriage.

This diary from Daily Kos takes a look at what the bible has to say about traditional marriage.

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

Poll Shows Close Race Between Grassley and Vilsack

Research 2000 released a poll commissioned by Daily Kos yesterday that showed Sen. Charles Grassley leading former Gov. Tom Vilsack 48% to 44%.

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 12/8-10. Likely voters. MoE 4% (No trend lines)
Grassley (R) 48 
Vilsack (D) 44 

Woah, what? Sen. Chuck Grassley is vulnerable? Granted, it's against the state's top Democrat -- former Gov. Tom Vilsack, and there's currently no indication that Vilsack is planning on running. But the CW is that Grassley serves at will, and can hold the seat for life if he so desires. That belief is challenged by these numbers. Against the right Democrat, Grassley would face a tough fight.

Approve 57 
Disapprove 36

Approve 55 
Disapprove 36

Their approval numbers are essentially even, and in the crosstabs, they both enjoy equal approval from independents. This would certainly be a battle of titans, pitting two popular politicians against each other. Expect incoming DSCC chief Bob Menendez to put Vilsack in his speed dial.
I still think Grassley will retire.  He will be 77 on election day in 2010 and being part of the minority party isn't as fun as being a committee chair.  A tough reelection battle might encourage Grassley to retire as well.

If Grassley retires, I see either Rep. Tom Latham, Rep. Steve King, or Chuck Larson run on the Republican side and either Vilsack or Rep. Bruce Braley running on the Democratic side.

Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee on Gay Marriage

Mike Huckabee was on The Daily Show on Wednesday night and they talked about gay marriage. Jon Stewart does a great job questioning Huckabee and had this to say...

I'll tell you this: Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality. And the protections that we have for religion? We protect religion -- and talk about a lifestyle choice -- that is absolutely a choice. Gay people don't choose to be gay. At what age did you choose not to be gay?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ending All Abortions

The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood is really about abortions. [The Family Research Council] would like to see fewer of them. So would I. And that's the crux of the idiocy: The single best thing you can spend money on to reduce the number of abortions, not just in this country but around the world, is Planned Parenthood.

I'll say that again: If you define pro-life as preventing abortions, Planned Parenthood is the most effective pro-life organization in the history of the world. No, it doesn't give teenagers the idea of having sex. That idea comes to them quite naturally, thank you very much. What Planned Parenthood does, more comprehensively than anyone else, is to distribute the means and knowledge to control your risk of getting pregnant when you don't want to be pregnant. And those two things, combined with pressure to exercise that control assiduously, are the surest way to prevent abortions. If you wait till women are already unhappily pregnant, you're too late.

If the Right were really serious about ending all abortions then real progress could be made. However, they think that outlawing all abortions would end them, which is not true at all.

The Future of Gas Prices

As I drove by a gas station on the way home from work last night, it hit me how low gas prices have dropped.  I wondered what some Peak Oil people thought of the current oil prices (and the auto bailout for that matter), so I checked out a couple of sites (here and here).

The Oil Drum believes that the low gas prices might not be a good thing at all...
We often hear that "soon" oil prices will hit a bottom, and start shooting back up again. I am less and less certain that this will be the case. Instead, I am concerned that we may on a relentless path to a point far below the point where energy companies can expect to have any chance of making money. We may be on a path toward more and more bankruptcies and defaults of all types--energy companies, owners of commercial real estate, homeowners, financial institutions, auto makers, airlines, and many more. If this is the case, there will be a huge strain on governments, and some may find it necessary to default on their debt.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Truly Leaving No Child Behind

The goals of No Child Left Behind are admirable.  However, one of the most glaring problems I see as an elementary teacher is that some students begin Kindergarten already so far behind.  

A couple years ago, I had 5 out of 23 of my 2nd grade students reading at a Kindergarten level. In 3 years in school, these students were already 2 years behind grade level.  The question is why these students were already so far behind. 

Here is another example that I have written about...

Here in Marshalltown, in one Kindergarten classroom at one of the more affluent schools 17 out of 25 students tested at grade level in September. At the school I worked in, where many students live in poverty, out of the three Kindergarten classrooms just 4 out of 75 students tested were at grade level in September. These tests were given after just 1 month in school and clearly show difference a child's home environment.

If we truly want every child to be achieving at grade level then we must do everything we can do to make sure they have all of the basic necessities during the first few years of their lives.

One of my favorite bloggers, Matthew Yglesisas, is in Finland this week.  Yesterday, he wrote about how Finland provides the basics children need early in life.  These early childhood policies includes parental leave, childcare, and more early childhood teachers.

Mothers are entitled to five weeks maternity leave. After that, there’s a parental leave period of ten additional months that can be taken by either mother or father or divided between the two. After that, children have an “unconditional right to day care.” That can be provided either at municipal-run institutions or else at private ones. There are fees day care charged on a sliding scale according to income that max out at 233 euros per month. That’s far less than the cost of care, which, clearly, is heavily subsidized. A family that prefers to have a parent stay home and take care of the children can do so and receives a home care subsidy. Thus, the system is neutral between traditional and working-mother models. About 30 percent of Helsinki children are in the home care / allowance system.

Private daycare facilities are eligible for the same level of public subsidy as municipally run ones. This isn’t really a profitable line of work and so there aren’t many providers — just five percent of Helsinki children are enrolled in a private center.

That leaves the other 65 percent of Helsinki kids in the municipal centers. Centers have two kinds of staff members — “kindergarden teachers” who have bachelor’s degrees and “practical nurses” who have less education. For every four children under the age of three you need one staff member. For every seven children between the ages of 3-6 you need one staff member. And for every two practical nurses you need one kindergarden teacher. So a section of 21 older kids would be taught by one kindergarden teacher assisted by two practical nurses.

If the United States truly wants to leave no child behind then we must invest in early childhood policies to help every child get started on the right foot and prepared to begin school ready to succeed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Braley to Start a Populist Caucus in the US House

Bruce Braley is once again showing leadership in Congress.

Braley sent a letter to colleagues in the U.S. House about becoming a founding member of a populist caucus to help the middle class and working families.

The letter outlines six goals...

1. Fighting for working families and the middle class through the establishment of an equitable tax structure, fair wages, proper benefits, a level playing field at the negotiating table, and secure, solvent retirement plans.
2. Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care to all Americans.
3. Ensuring accessible, quality primary education for all American children, and affordable college education for all who want it.
4. Protecting consumers, so that Americans can once again have faith in the safety and effectiveness of the products they purchase.
5. Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles.
6. Creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America.
Both John Edwards and Mike Huckabee were described as being populists during their presidential runs and that helped them do well in the Iowa Caucuses. This shows the issues outlined have some support on both sides of the aisle.

Matt Stoller has more at Open Left how this populist caucus compares to the Progressive Caucus and the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Stoller points out how, historically, Populists have been more rural-based and the Blue Dogs tend to represent more rural areas.

Giving in to the Lame Duck President on the Auto Bailout

George W. Bush is the lamest of lame duck Presidents right now. However, that didn't stop Democrats from giving in to Bush on key issues of the auto bailout.

From Daily Kos...

  • Democrats bent to the will of the president on several key demands, most notably in agreeing that the emergency funding would be drawn from an existing loan program aimed at promoting fuel-efficient technologies.
  • Democrats had hoped to take the money from the Treasury's $700 billion financial rescue program, but the White House objected. A breakthrough came Friday, when Pelosi dropped her opposition...
  • The Democratic proposal makes no provisions to replenish the loan fund, as Pelosi had hoped.
  • Democrats flirted with the idea of naming a seven-member board to oversee the auto bailout but decided instead to have the president name an individual, as Bush had suggested.
Reading this doesn't give me much hope for the next 2 years (or even 4) with Democrats in control.

In 2006 Chet Culver was elected and Democrats controlled the Iowa Senate and Iowa House. They set out on an ambitious agenda and passed a great deal of legislation over the next two years that included the Iowa Power Fund, raising teacher pay, the smoking ban, increasing health care to uninsured children, election day voter registration, early childhood education, and raising the cigarette tax. I am sure Democrats at the Iowa State House compromised some on these issues to get them passed and there were some cases they had enough votes where they didn't need to.

Democrats in Washington are going to be in the same situation next year. They won't need to give in to every Republican pressures on key issues. They need to understand that they will be controlling the ship, so whatever goes wrong will be on their watch. They need to lay out their plans and get them passed.

I just hope they have the spine to stand up and get things done.

The Auto Bailout and the Electric Car

It seems the Big 3 Automakers will be getting bailed out.

I still want to know who killed the electric car and if there are any provisions in the bailout to resurrect it.

It would only make sense to include a provision with the $15 billion check to have the automakers start manufacturing these electric cars once again. The automakers already have the plans and prototypes. It would give the automakers a unique product, reduce our addiction on foreign oil, and help the environment.

Monday, December 08, 2008

When is Romney Coming to Iowa?

The Boston Globe is reporting Mitt Romney is laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2012.

Mitt Romney "is laying the groundwork for a possible White House campaign in 2012, hiring a team of staff members and consultants with money from a fund-raising committee he established with the ostensible purpose of supporting other GOP candidates," the Boston Globe reports.

"The former Massachusetts governor has raised $2.1 million for his Free and Strong America political action committee. But only 12 percent of the money has been spent distributing checks to Romney's fellow Republicans around the country."

"Instead, the largest chunk of the money has gone to support Romney's political ambitions, paying for salaries and consulting fees to over a half-dozen of Romney's longtime political aides."
That leaves the obvious question. When is Mitt Romney coming to Iowa?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Iowa Gets Poor Grade on College Affordability

A report released last week shows that college is too expensive in the state of Iowa.  The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Iowa an F on Affordability.  Iowa gets good marks in college prepartion, participation, and completion.


Iowa performs fairly well in preparing its young people for college, but there are large gaps by ethnicity.

  • Eighth graders perform well in math, science, and reading, but their scores in writing are fairly low.
  • Seventy-four percent of Hispanics have a high school credential, compared with 94% of whites.


Iowa does well in providing college opportunities for young and working-age adults.

  • The state is a top performer in the percentage of working-age adults enrolled in higher education.
  • However, 24% of Hispanic young adults are enrolled in college, compared with 42% of whites.


Higher education has become less affordable for students and their families.

  • Poor and working-class families must devote 40% of their income, even after aid, to pay for costs at two-year colleges.
  • Financial aid to low-income students has declined. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends only 33 cents-down from 40 cents in 1993.


Iowa performs very well in awarding certificates and degrees.

  • Sixty-three percent of college students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.
  • However, 50% of Hispanics graduate within six years, compared with 65% of whites.
This means that Iowa's investment in public education is paying off and preparing students to attend college.  These students are going to college and most are completing some sort of college program.  However, because college is not affordable these students are loaded with large student loan debt upon graduation.

This is a key cause of Iowa's Brain Drain.  Iowa needs to lower the cost of a college education in the state or we need a program to forgive student loan debt to encourage students to stay in Iowa after graduation.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

NASCAR Politicians

I didn't think of this idea, but I think it is brilliant...

Members of Congress should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we can identify their corporate sponsors.
Now that would make government more transparent.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why won’t Iowa legislators support local control?

From I'm for Iowa...

This year, the Iowa Republican Party Platform added the following plank: “We support local control of agricultural zoning practices.”

For many years, the Iowa Democratic Party Platform has contained this plank: “We support local control for CAFO siting, maintenance and operations.”

President-elect Obama has it in his agenda. “Regulate CAFOs: Strictly regulate pollution from large factory livestock farms, with fines for those that violate tough standards. Support meaningful local control.”

And according to a 2007 poll by The Des Moines Register, sixty-four percent of Iowans agree with local control.

So…..Republicans say they want it. Democrats say they want it, including President-elect Obama. The majority of Iowans say they want it.

Why won’t Iowa legislators support local control?

That's a good question that you should be asking your State Senator and State Representitive.