Friday, September 30, 2005

Iowa Business Council on taxpayer financed productivity

The Iowa Business Council is makin' noise over the need to “enhance” early childhood education. This past Sunday, in David Elbert’s press release rewrite of a column, the Business Council types waxed on about the importance of early childhood while shilling for their ECD forum. And yesterday, we got Vilsack’s second act on early childhood education policy. As reported by Radio Iowa:

Governor Tom Vilsack will ask legislators in January to spend more state money on preschool programs. "One may ask 'Where is the money going to come from?' well, I would suggest to you it is a priority and in your family budgets, in your business budgets, in your state budget, priorities get funded," Vilsack says. … He says preschool shouldn't just be for really poor kids who qualify for government-financed "Head Start" or for really rich kids whose parents can afford to pay for preschool. The governor says for the U.S. to retain its edge in the world market, the imagination of all American kids must continue to be fostered and that must start in preschool. … part of the new money he'll ask for will be spent trying to boost the salaries of preschool teachers. "A lot of us talk about the importance of youngsters...yet we are content to allow basically minimum wage to be paid to those who care for our children," Vilsack says. Vilsack made his comments this (Thursday) morning during a speech at forum the Iowa Business Council sponsored to discuss the status of early childhood education.

It is a little suspect that the business guys are so interested in early childhood issues, until you realize it’s all about subsidizing employee productivity. The only reason businesses are at the table on this issue is it helps their bottom line. If parents perceive that their kids are “well taken care of”, then they’re going to be able to focus on their jobs and not their kids.

It makes perfect sense. We get the state, and by default the taxpayers, to foot the bill for what is in effect subsidized childcare. If you are putting kids into state subsidized preschool, regardless of a parent’s income, it’ll shave a year or two off childcare costs. That is great if you have babies or are thinking about having babies, but it doesn’t do much for the Iowa grandparents jetting East to visit the grandkids.

There is no disputing the value of early childhood education, both the social and individual return on investment is quite remarkable. Remember, we’re talking about an investments’ return and, frankly, it’s not a real brain twister to figure out that spending money to insure preschool for an at-risk child who otherwise might not attend a preschool program is a great investment as, oh, compared to encouraging housewives to go for those advanced degrees.

The crux of the problem is who pays. According to Vilsack, the state should subsidize all preschool, not limiting those state subsidies to income tests. However, the Minneapolis Fed studies suggest that the most efficacious use of tax dollars for early childhood education is in subsidizing preschool access for at-risk families. The studies do not suggest subsidizing preschool for every student, and, in fact, intimate that doing so may not be the best use of tax dollars. Then again, these guys waste other people’s money all the time, so pile it on Gov.

Some sort of compromise will emerge out of all of this education talk; Vilsack will get his early childhood program (this is all about Rob Reiner & his Palm files) and the GOP will get their early out to college plan. The difficult part is that it'll end up an expensive policy compromise: given that all we're doing is shifting the k-12 schedule, so instead of entering a "kindergarten" program at five they enter at four and then exit high school after their junior year at age seventeen.

Seventeen—hard to think about adding five years to our twelve year old and sending him out the door.

Iowa Hawk

Okay, for the two people that read this blog, but inexplicably don't read Iowa Hawk, this I.H. post is so funny.

The folks that bring us Iowa Hawk are always full of mirth, even when they're making fun of newbie bloggers (it's okay, I'm over it). This time they have put together the ultimate humor post of the day, perhaps the week and we may just have to give 'em September -- given it's the last day of the month and I doubt anything else this funny will surface in the next 13 hours.

My favorite:

Now that you know the facts, it's easy to see why the United States Congress was first in line to invest in this incredible opportunity for America. These elected leaders recognized the shrewd wisdom of Iowa's unofficial motto -- "if you build it, they will come." And if for some reason they still don't come, America's leaders know that they can can always rely on Iowa's time-honored Plan B -- add slot machines. Then, visitors to Coralville's famous Rainforest Casino will be repeating Iowa's other unofficial motto: "Is this Heaven? No, it's the Lounge's $8.95 Dinner Buffet."
I’m sorry, if this doesn’t inspire random fluid leaks you either are a serious tool or have no sense of humor.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Harkin, "I just said no"

I am wrong. Harkin votes "no" on Judge Roberts' confirmation as Chief Justice to SCOTUS. Harkin comments from today's DMR:

... Harkin, a Democrat, praised Roberts' knowledge of the Constitution and the law, and said he proved to be a "thoughtful, decent, modest person," during a one-hour meeting they had in Harkin's office.

But, Harkin said, in the end he could not be sure that Roberts would protect the civil rights of the powerless in society and the rights of Americans with disabilities. ...

Not really news, just interesting that the left seems very nervous about the Court, and not about to let any of their usual suspects off the hook -- even if it means trouble in a reelection campaign only a few years down the road. Does it suggest Party Liberals resignation to their status as a minority in Congress?

Then again, the most likely GOP candidate, Steve King, is proving his deft skills in political PR. Hello, you could have mentioned Reagan, Witness, or some other more clued in reference to that time and place.

To sum up the “no” vote, Gordon Fischer, as quoted in the NYT on September 22 and republished in the Iowa Ear section of the DMR, makes this insightful comment about running for President as a Democrat.

"For a lot of activists, particularly women, particularly young women, the choice issue is of great importance."
Gee, I wonder if this same logic extends to the Iowa gubernatorial primary and the very Catholic and pro-life Mike Blouin? Nah, they'll just ram the Republican lite argument down the throat of every Democratic activist willing to swallow hard. Nevertheless, you guys should know better, many voters prefer to spit.

Kick it one more time, it might not be dead

The Dems just don’t know when to stop kicking a dead dog. Yesterday, the flacks over at the Democratic State Party and the Blouin campaign piled on the rhetoric in a weak attempt to tie Jim Nussle to the Tom DeLay scandal.

From the Iowa Democratic Party

… “In light of Tom DeLay’s criminal indictment today, we call on Congressman Nussle to return campaign funds from DeLay’s PAC. Congressman Nussle has done nothing to sever his ties from the Republican culture of corruption in Washington,” said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Milligan. “Iowans deserve a representative in Washington who isn’t associated with DeLay’s ethical and criminal violations.”…

As quoted in a Quad City Times story...

… In a statement, Blouin attempted to link Nussle, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, to a part of DeLay’s leadership team that, Blouin said, has led to a succession of deficits and doubling of the national debt.

“Much of Congressmen DeLay and Nussle’s money has come from those who have benefited from this team’s spending habits,” Blouin added. “Now, with Congressman’s DeLay’s indictment for criminal conspiracy, it is time to draw the line and keep Iowa free of this behavior and these dollars. I call on Congressman Nussle today to do the right thing for 3 million Iowans. Give the money back — all of it —now.”

In Blouin’s case, does that mean he intends to return all the campaign donations he has been collecting off the back of the taxpayer financed Iowa Values payola fund?

DeLay is gone. He doesn’t matter anymore. This is all about getting one more shot in before the DeLay as evil monster issue dies out with DeLay’s political career. This is a guilt-by-association tactic the Dems seem to want to roll out every couple of months. It’s not going to work; Tom DeLay and Jim Nussle are very different people and there is no indication that they have ever been close associates. Although, it might be helpful if the Nussle campaign came up with better spin about the DeLay campaign funds then “We’re following the law”.

It's in the driveway

Back, the trip was sublime, I suppose. Didn't get a stomachache 'til the exit for Ridgeway.

It's a big truck; we're going to need to put reverse sensors on it to avoid any serious flattening events.

The CD player is nice; listened to an interesting rotation of Luce, Fishboy Little D, Friedman's The World is Flat, Nickel Creek's Why Should the Fire Die & the Wes Anderson produced original soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Why not?

Now I am here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A half-ton hemi

Did I say that I intended to write more personal observations...?

Okay, so my S.O. decides to buy a truck. That's fine. Trucks are useful, and in Iowa you get the added benefit of a "discounted" registration fee, all the better. And, in the modern era of truck manufacturing, they're cushy -- leather, sound systems, a backseat that can actually fit kids. Not bad.

The problem starts in when the S.O. decides that saving a few thousand dollars on some e-bay deal is the way to go; of course, we could have saved more money, but those boyz are just all about collecting "their" tax revenue at some point in the sale. Anyway, today I pick up the Texas. Luckily, it's Dallas, which makes it that much closer to home and obviously not hurricane stressed.

I figure it'll take two days to drive back, I could do it in one day -- the truck's a half-ton hemi. But really, the fun is in having a drive with MY radio stations (I'm hoping I can pick up The Planet South of Wichita and it'll hold til Lamoni -- Damn, just looked up the link for this post and they are changing the format, but they are live streaming) and a little guilt free noodling in KC.


One whine. My kid & some friends (escorted by a purported adult) did the Green Day concert, good concert. Now I just want to pile on to the news coverage of the ticketing/herding mess going on -- it was a nightmare. The only way we got in on time is having our tickets at will call. If you can believe this, the will call line was shorter; we got the tickets and went right in, no second line. The concert was great and the outflow was not a problem. It's just gettin'em in the door.

I suppose they’ll get the kinks worked out by the time U2, in gracious acknowledgement of the large state appropriation to African Debt Relief, arrives in December of 08 to play.

One more whine. I know this sounds old fashioned, but can we really let the concert ticket line go the way of the dinosaur in favor of the midnight computer screen hover. Community by way of the computer is sooo different from that in your face, check out that...than'g, what's up sort of event.


I leave for Texas with a good live stream for y’all and my 20-year-old BTC* Levi’s ..., which, of course, it'll be too hot to wear ‘til I get to Iowa.

* Before The Corruption

(I know, gas at what it is and the need for energy conservation -- a half-ton hemi? I didn't buy it; I'm just picking it up.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

"...not been much of a player," policy talk from Jim Nussle

Give it up for Team Nussle; one of our presumed gubernatorial front-runners is emitting policy squeaks. As reported by the AP in the Gazette Online:

U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle, who's seeking the Republican
nomination for governor, on Monday called for a
requirement that all gasoline sold in the state be blended
with ethanol.

It's part of his package aimed at making 20 percent of
the energy consumed in Iowa from renewable sources.

``I believe consumers have made the choice,'' Nussle
said, noting that 70 percent of the gasoline sold in the
state is blended with ethanol.

``I believe it's time we make every gallon of gas
either ethanol or biodiesel,'' he said.

Nussle said soaring energy prices, disruptions in
supplies from the Middle East and hurricanes that have
ravaged the Gulf Coast have driven home the point that
it's time to focus on renewable energy sources.

``By and large, the state has not been much of a player
when it comes to energy policy,'' Nussle told The
Associated Press in a telephone interview.

``Iowa stands to be an energy state,'' he said. ...

Admittedly, not having a background or a serious interest in energy policy, it’s tough to make quips as to the quality of this particular agenda. However, it is good that policy ideas exist in Team Nussle land. It’s nice to see something outside of the “gee, we’ve made so many friends on the road” lines coming out of that camp.

Taking a tour of the Iowa gubernatorial candidates' policy links, it is clear why the Nussle announcement deserves a little applause. Most of the candidates feature issues on their web pages; some have nothing posted for the highlighted issues while other candidates have general policy bites. Not much substance floating around on these web pages.

Mr. Vander Plaats, that very tall Dutch guy with that Iowa Dutch proclivity to wince at all things excessive, is out there with all sorts of policy talk. From flat tax, to illegal immigration, to… oh just read the Iowa Press transcript or you can check out the VP issues link. It’s a good design; they might win … an award.

In a post last week, I pointed out that Mike Blouin isn’t much into policy details; although, it’s clear he’s a fan of corporate give-a-ways (probably not a good idea to ask him what we’ll do after the claw-backs expire), the removal of state income tax federal deductibility with no interest in tax burden neutrality, and tax increases for tourism. What more do we need to know?

Patty Judge is all about access to E-85 and health care, that is if she can figure out how to do it without upsetting the deep pockets that will have to fund her campaign if she wins the primary.

Chet Culver, I think he supports voters, middle-class daycare subsidies and the ArentFox government relations agenda. Outside of those three things, I have no idea.

Ed Fallon, he gets an ‘A’ for effort. Fallon is on record for each of the following issues:

Sustainable Economic Development -- hate it, if it looks like the Mike Blouin Grow Iowa Values Fund; love it, if it’s about spending money on the existing education, health care and local government infrastructure. Education -- for it, he is some sort of a registered Democrat, they can’t be anything but for the existing educational system. Health Care – for it, as long as it is universal, or, more correctly, state owned & operated. On other issues…early release for non violent offenders – for it; factory farms – against it; campaign finance reform – for it; urban sprawl – against it; property tax reform – for it; centralized human services bureaucracy – against it; slow food – for it; and, the expansion of renewable fuels – definitely for it.

Ed is sort of fun, he’s all over the political map.

And, well, Sal & Gregg I can’t find you guys.

Overall, it’s good that the campaigns are starting to talk policy; there are only so many “by the numbers” updates we can stomach.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


One more time.

A place that will make good use of your cash --
Northwest Medical Teams.

And local folks blogging on it all...

Blue Sky Morning


Friday, September 23, 2005

They'll shop 'til we drop

Yesterday, 18 of the 25 Iowa Senate Democrats endorsed Mike Blouin for Governor. My favorite comment was Senator Matt McCoy's endorsement suggesting that Mike Blouin would be the candidate to best continue the Vilsack administration legacy. Hmm. Good stuff.

And what exactly is that shared legacy?

Economic development in the form of the Grow Iowa Values Fund:

... The underlying theme of the fund, and the state's new tilt on economic development, is relatively simple. There's a general feeling among Iowans that taxes are high enough, but they also want to retain the state and local services that make the state special.

The answer spelled out by the initial Values Fund, is to raise tax revenues by luring new companies, promoting startups and capitalizing on expansion plans by existing companies. ...

... The goal is to increase the state's tax revenue by $175 million.

"We think the numbers show we're well on the way of making that happen," Blouin said.

But little of that money has come southeast Iowa's way.

Mc Global, a startup planning to begin operations this year in the former Wabash National building outside Fort Madison, received a $300,000 incentive, which doesn't even register when considering the $10 million grant handed to Wells Fargo and the $9 million given to Trans Ova. ...

... "No one builds a factory until they look around first, and very few people look around until you invite them," he said, noting IDED has become an active sales forces, using the Values Fund as a hook. ... (The Hawkeye)

A promise to remove federal deductibility while artfully skirting the issue of tax neutrality:

On tax issues, he wants to eliminate federal deductibility, which is the tax break that allows Iowans to deduct federal income taxes when calculating their state income taxes. He said this would simplify Iowa's system and make tax rates appear lower.

Gov. Tom Vilsack has made similar arguments, but has been unable to get far in his efforts to eliminate federal deductibility.
(Globe Gazette)
Increased spending on tourism through a tax increase:

… Blouin said that while tourism brings in considerable revenue, Iowa still has one of the lowest budgets to promote tourism per capita of any state. And although tourism is gaining attention in the Legislature, Blouin feels that it isn't getting far enough.

"The problem is that tourism is not high enough on the priority list; we need to create a new source of revenue," he said. "We need creative funding solutions so that tourism is not competing with other general budget issues. So it's not education or tourism."

One option that Blouin discussed is having a rental car tax that would fund only tourism.

He said that tourism plays an important role in the development of a new Iowa identity. … (The Daily Nonpareil or IE)

See what else Mike Blouin has to say on the issues. Okay, maybe next year.

(I know, so much for personal stuff in this blog.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Harkin is moving to the center, again.

Isn't it interesting that this Des Moines Register Editorial offers up an endorsement of Judge John G. Roberts, even though the Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid & friends (Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry, Jon Corzin and Frank Lautenberg.) are publicly objecting to the nomination?

Light bulb moment --

Harkin's starting his reelection campaign a little early-- (he usually becomes a centrist about two years before he needs to get reelected) -- so expect a Harkin 'yes' vote on Roberts confirmation and the Register is just doing their part to give the old guy some cover.

(And you guys think we don't know this stuff happens, tsk, tsk.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The good & the bad

From The Quad City Times...

A veteran Republican activist has launched a primary challenge against Iowa Rep. Joe Hutter, R-Bettendorf.

Linda J. Miller, the president of a fund-raising consulting firm, proposed lower taxes, restraining spending on Medicaid and giving local school boards greater control as she announced her candidacy at the Bettendorf Public Library on Monday. … (Link)

Linda, just don’t lose; the rest of us that have not yet given in to doormat status need to keep dreaming big things -- even in Iowa.

Oh, and another hurricane… Dr. Jeff Masters from

My only hope is that the partisan types retire their blame-game politics in the aftermath of this storm. Please, Daily Kos and the like, no more day-after political strategy talk. It's not going to matter.

Ambivalence. It's a good thing.

I scheduled a lunch with a friend; we ended up crossing wires, so we'll get together on some other day. We were supposed to meet at a location that I had spent considerable time at a few months ago, and after walking around a little, it all seemed very whatever. That’s a good thing.

They were busy in July, and they just keep workin' it...

An activist who seeks election reform in states across the nation says Iowa should join the ranks of states which allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day. ... the six states which allow folks to walk into their polling place and register to vote on Election Day had voter turn-out in the 2004 presidential election that was 14 percent higher than the rest of the country. "I think it's proof that if you make voting...easier ... (blah, blah, blah...Radio Iowa link)

The Count Every Vote Act, which might better be called the What's a Little Fraud Among Friends? Act … George Will, Newsweek 3-14-05

We need good government policy when it comes to voter enfranchisement. So, it’s the let anyone vote --we need you, dead or alive, -- on any day -- to participate in year round balloting, particularly citizens & friends with multiple personalities and voter id cards, -- using any method -- there is no need to live in any particular place -- in whatever election -- and we'll provide all expenses paid tours with stops in interesting locals, with marginal districts, -- so long as we have a liberal on the ballot -- to visit the notable public buildings featuring the latest voting technology -- and we can guarantee the vote -- always providing our tour participants with a meaningful private moment of reflection in our ballot processing area -- game. (Sing it out in two-part if you like)

And wait a minute, this sounds a little like vote collecting of the past and not so past. We're just going make it a little more customer friendly. Got it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

What is inspiration?

Tonight, our 9 year old made a Pizza Margherita from scratch using tomatoes & basil from our garden. It's very cool, but boring if you're looking for "news" that affects us all, so go make your

Buono da mangiare!

...And it's free!

When this project first ramped up in May we/I did not intend for this blog to do anything other than provide an outlet for my overactive brain and as an anecdote to a very frustrating personal experience. I often think about this project as a metaphorical throw myself against the wall ala Gilda’s Judy Miller – frenetic, imaginative, my own world sort of thing. (Watching old SNLs I was reminded how much I adore Gilda Radner, she was all inspired genius.)

However, this blog is starting to feel like an obligation, a no-pay obligation, and that creeps me out to no end. To think that I just experienced one terrible round of volunteer use & abuse, and the idea that I might be inadvertently creating another version of “I’m free, ___", is beyond discouraging. All I’ll say: I have no interest in that ever happening again.

Yeah, I have content/editorial control and readers. I know it could be an “entrepreneurial” opportunity with ads & sponsors, etc. C’mon, the potential blog readership in Iowa is what, in the thousands. And unless we can get our public radio to do Blogs-on-Tape (the assisted living crowd listening to State on the radio, it could happen) not many people will ever get this stuff.

Although, Peggy says it’s the “wild, wild west” in terms of the current devolution of modern journalism via the expansion of information avenues, networks and technology. And I have always been a fan of devolution – the real stuff, not this pseudo Republican crap they keep spooning out – but I just don’t know. The equation on this project cannot sum to less than zero.

Another issue is Iowa humor. I’m makin’ an educated guess that of the Iowan's that do laugh, only a small percentage are hip to oodles of sarcasm; most like their humor missionary style – much like the rest of their I (heart) Iowa lives…er…of course present readers excluded, I’m sure y’all like it five ways to Sunday.

The biggest thing is I can’t get another rejection letter that reads like “We never really considered you, in fact, we’re not sure anyone will, because, well, you’re free. We sort of feel sorry for you, but, gosh, good luck”. It is a nice letter, I suppose, and I am probably reading too much into it. I am certain this blog habit had nothing to do with the hiring decisions of one organization; rather it's the cumulative effect of all the missed opportunities that leads me to believe that givin' it away doesn't count on some big lifetime-opportunity score card.

Anyway, I’ll keep posting when inspired, but it'll be less political and more personal...

…Except if I think up things to say about stuff like the nutty Senate race in Cedar Rapids between Rob – I’m-a-subsidiary-of- the-Iowa-trial-lawyers –Hogg and Renee Schulte (Schulte? She has to have some connection to right winger Loras Schulte), or if good stuff is going on in some other blog, then I'll make some time to post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A wish list

I think if I could have a wish list it would look like this;

1) I wish I could know how decisions I make, and have made, over this lifetime will affect the soup. Sure, that’s what my gut's for, if only I would listen to it more often.

2) I wish that "quirky" didn’t have to wait for a majority of the Boomers to hit their mid-fifties before it finds traction as a culturally acceptable way of being.

3) I wish my life's dream revolved around owning a day care. Don't ask.

That's it, simple, but I think it would a thousand tons... if we all got a few wishes now & again.

(To folks looking for clarification on the term 'break' and posting to a blog, I suppose this isn't much help. Sorry.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sometimes it takes more than open our eyes

We've made one decision, out of about ten that need to be made.

We're taking a break from this space. We may be back, or we just might be way too busy moving boxes at our new temp job, or just moving boxes somewhere ... anywhere.

Thanks for reading & we'll update on our "break" status next week.

King: "It went in on the wind and blew out..."

In Katrina news, Congressman Steve King (IA5) makes some enlightening comments about his ‘no’ vote on the $52 billion aid package sailing through Congress… The text is from Radio Iowa.

Congressman Steve King, a Republican from western Iowa, voted against the nearly $52 billion disaster aid package that cleared Congress Thursday. During remarks Thursday night on the House floor to explain his vote, King said he was a victim of the floods of 1993. King said his business "barely" survived the flood. "I'm not a person without compassion," King said. "I'm also a person not without fiscal responsibility." King called the disaster response budget he's been shown "irrational." King said federal emergency officials are asking Congress to "trust" them. He's particularly critical of FEMA's decision to buy more thousands of trailer homes for hurricane victims, as King says trailers are probably not appropriate shelter in a hurricane zone. "That's imprudent, early spending of money," King said. …

… King compared the hurricane to a military assault. "It went in on the wind and blew out the electricity and the communications...and then it cut off the transportation avenues in and out of the city by taking out the bridges, and then once it isolated the city then it attacked...the flood that went in and did such devastating damage," King said. You can hear all of King's comments on the House floor on our website --

This man seriously thinks he should be the Republican nominee for the US Senate race in 2008. OMG.

On second thought, everyone likes Harkin’s cash cow seniority and this might be the fastest way to sink an extraordinarily wiggy pol’s career, so, okay, we’re in -- King for Senate. (I'll order up my blog banner ASAP)

Besides, there are a number of political slicksters out in Iowa 5 that want a shot at King’s seat. So, they encourage the delusional King to put together a “winning” primary race knowing Harkin, the other delusional & wiggy Iowa pol, will crush him in November. Seriously, if the choice is between two political nut cases, Iowans are practical people and we’ll pick the one that can deliver the pork.

And what do the boyz care if they jettison any real shot to take out Harkin in 08; they have their own political careers to consider. So, don’t discount the fact that some of these IA5 wannabes are already thinking out to 2014 and a Harkin retirement. It is much easier to run for an open seat than to take out an incumbent.

For now, bring it on -- Iowa's two nuttiest pols in one Senate race. Oh, what fun for the snarky types workin' it in 08.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What to blog...

We could write about the potential for Iowa to get some of the more seasoned evacuees.

There's talk about using the soon to be vacated Veterans Administration complex in Knoxville to house some of Katrina's victims. Of course, these aren't the young family types Vilsack seems to think we're going to get, but the old and infirm that probably won't have much say about where they go. It's a good strategy on the part of the Feds, particularly if they can get local health care types to absorb some of the care at Iowa's Medicare reimbursement rates, the lowest in the US, as opposed to Louisiana’s Medicare rates, among the highest in the US.

We could write about the ridiculous editorial in the DMR on the need to spend more resources on the poor. In a vague Pollyannaish sort of way, it’s an admirable idea.

... Katrina can be a turning point for this country. ... It also could help create a culture that takes care of its people, and not just during the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Unfortunately, we know of too many charitable organizations where significant Federal dollars are going into administrative costs. In one example we know first hand, over 80% of the budget is dedicated to administration costs as opposed to direct services. We would like nothing more than to publish their last budget submitted to the Feds. However, after commenting about it to people involved in the organization, we were threatened with legal action by the executive director and lawyer and given the instructions not to talk about it to “outsiders”.

We could blog about the 8.8 million dollars being spent on lobbying the executive branch, and this number is much larger if you include the money spent lobbying the legislative branch.

What do Iowans get for that money? Think - race track subsidies, million dollar corporate payola, huge lump sums to nonprofits for ill-defined projects, the Pierre Pierce/Alfredo Parish legal defense fund, etc.

But we just don't want to do it.

We’re cynical, so we’re allowed to be discouraged on some days. Who wouldn’t be?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hello Iowa?

We didn't pick the blog name 'Iowa Ennui' for nothin'.

... The airplanes are ready and the housing available, but Hurricane Katrina refugees apparently don't want to move to Iowa.

Gov. Tom Vilsack said the state was prepared to accept about 1,000 refugees Tuesday, but they decided to remain in the Houston Astrodome and consider their options. ... (Link)

We hope they come, because Iowans can be nice to least for a short time. However, we expect most of the evacuees that make it to Iowa will eventually be singing along with Ben Folds & longing for that NOLA style.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina as a political game

The political fallout from hurricane Katrina becomes more discouraging by the day. This blog usually comments on issues relevant to Iowans young enough to read a computer screen. We did put together a few posts on Katrina before and immediately after the storm hit. Of course, most everyone in Iowa, mainstream and political types particularly, talked about hurricane Katrina in a nonpolitical fashion focusing on the human tragedy.

That is, until Katrina looked like it might provide tons of partisan ammo for the Democrats. At that point, one day after the storm, you have blogs like Daily Kos (via Little Green Footballs link) putting out instructions on how Democrats can make political use out of the hurricane.

... I keep seeing discussion about the "strategy" Dems and progressives should be adopting in re the Katrina/FEMA/BushCo disaster. The problem is, you won't get the right answer because you're not asking the right question.

The question is, What are the strategies we should be using? ...

... On the one hand, some people are griping because Dr. Dean and leading Dems in government are not holding press conferences, demanding impeachment, or pushing for investigations. Others claim that doing those things would actually take the heat off the BushCo crowd by "politicizing" the tragedy. Finally, still others respond that it's not right to let this administration off the hook, yet again. And through it all, we continue to be concerned and agitated about the people who need help actually getting it.

The answer is found in all of these comments, and it is simple: a multi-pronged, multi-level strategy. … (Link to see the rest of this Daily Kos "strategy")

Here at home, True Blue blog is workin’ the partisan angle with odd posts using Republican politicians’ quotes to which Gordon Fischer then provides nutty editorial comment.

... And yes, I do actually claim, most certainly, that George Bush has a machine that can predict the weather, days and days ahead of time. It is called the "National Weather Service." (Link)
Nice to know our Dem partisans can follow the playbook. Yes?

Finally, today's DMR editorial, Job 1: Exercise oversight, makes a strange attempt to tie the failures around hurricane Katrina to Iraq. To go about making their case for more executive branch oversight, the editorial liberally references the public comments of Congressman Jim Leach -- a Republican.

No legislation this Congress could pass is as important as reclaiming the legislative branch's proper role in overseeing the conduct of the executive branch. It has been abysmally derelict in exercising this responsibility — especially regarding conduct of the war in Iraq.

And now, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina has handed it a major new oversight job: examining the slow, chaotic initial response and keeping watch over the billions to be spent on rebuilding.The lack of congressional oversight on the conduct of the Iraq war inspires no confidence the legislative branch is up to the task. …

... U.S. Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa made that point earlier this year when he called for creation of a select committee to look into no-bid contracts and other procurement practices. ...

... In a newsletter to his constituents, Leach noted that his proposal for a look at no-bid contracts is similar to then-Sen. Harry Truman's investigation of war procurement under President Franklin Roosevelt — a Democrat investigating a Democratic administration. "Just as it was then, oversight should not be considered partisan," Leach said. (Link)

We may not always agree with Congressman Leach, but we admire his tenacious habit of standing up for his beliefs.

A clue to Dem partisans attempting to practice politics using hurricane Katrina: we much prefer pols that are going to criticize their own party for perceived failures than the ones that simply look for someone else to blame. (Do the names Nagin and Blanco come to mind?)

For the record, Right Wing Nut House posts a hurricane Katrina timeline in all its policy wonkish detail.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Vilsack's former transportation guy on gas

We’re not the only ones a little confused by all the mixed messages coming out of the Vilsack administration on what to do abut the price of gas in Iowa. The Sioux City Journal posted to their online addition this editorial asking some good questions about Mark Wandro’s speech to the Sioux City Rotary last Monday, the day after Katrina.

Parting comments

This year's state award for poor timing goes to soon-to-be-former Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Wandro.

The last thing anyone should be talking about or that anyone wants to hear about right now is increasing the state gas tax. While everyone else is focused on how to bring down the price of gas, talking about possibly taking up the price is like driving the wrong way on the interstate.

But there was Wandro, raising that specter and speaking in favor of it in an appearance before the Downtown Rotary Club in Sioux City on Monday.

Inadvisable as that was, Wandro's comments took on an even more quizzical air the following day when he announced he was leaving his DOT post and entering the private sector as a consultant with an Ankeny firm. He didn't mention that when he was here.

In his speech to local Rotarians, Wandro said state revenues are not keeping pace with highway project needs and a backlog of projects is growing. So the Legislature has ordered the DOT to study its funding streams and report back with recommendations by the end of 2006.

A proposal to hike the state's taxes on regular gas, ethanol-blended gas and diesel fuel could be made to the Legislature as early as 2007, Wandro said, and he added that he personally favors raising them as opposed to hiking either of the state's other sources of money for building roads. He said, "We're going to make a case that we need it, but recognize the timing couldn't be worse."

Indeed. Crude oil and domestic gas prices had climbed to record highs before Hurricane Katrina. To be discussing a gas tax increase - however necessary it might be or however far off that might occur - in the present environment strikes us as, well, not prudent.

In light of the fact we now know he's leaving DOT, we're not sure whether we even need to get shook up over what Wandro said in Sioux City. It's easy to say whatever you want when you're not going to be around at the time the formal proposals and actual decisions are made. If Wandro isn't going to be at DOT next month, let alone in 2006 and 2007, should anyone put stock in his gas tax comments? Is that plan cast in stone? Might a new director want to take an entirely different approach?

Confused? So are we.

Perhaps it would have been better for Wandro simply to have canceled his local speech.

We should probably give Mark Wandro a break, the guy’s from Iowa, probably never lived in a hurricane prone region, let alone experienced one first hand. So, talking about raising gas taxes the day after a category 4/5 hurricane hits a major oil & gas producing region is reasonable for someone without a clue. It is unfortunate, for him, that his lack of understanding made it easy to talk up gas tax increases and, subsequently, end his government career.

What we’re still curious about is the rather bloodless disappearance of Wandro by Tuesday afternoon. Guess we could say – if you cost P.W. Vilsack even the potential for bad press, it’ll mean your Vilsack administration career is dead. How’s that for loyalty?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Bernoulli Effect on common sense

Common sense from a police officer in Houston...

... We are going crazy at the Police Department. Every refugee that has been taken to the jail wants to fight with us. EVERYONE of them. IF you remember the Marial Boatlift, this is the Marial Buslift.

They should have had some simple plans in place. Now, I am just a product of the public school system, but at the very least:
#1) Mobilize the National Guard (Governer's job) and have them on standby farther north.
#2) Take military communication equipment with 60KW generators and place them on the upper floors of parking garages. When the storm passed, personnel could have been dropped off on the top floors and there could have been communication. (Governer's job)
#3) Move school busses/public transportation busses north (Mayor's job) to move south when the storm passed.
#4) Put your police department on 12 hour shifts (Like we do here, Like we are doing now) and on standby status (Although many of the police were the problem)
#5) State CLEARLY before the looting, that looters would be shot

as posted by The Bernoulli Effect.

Junk Yard Blog: they had a plan

Junk Yard Blog, yeah that’s a name for this kind a’ stuff, provides a little background on, oh, the incredible failure of the NOLA and Louisiana government to organize a legit mandatory evacuation. Un-(fill in the blank)-believable.

While the mainstream types are putting out

We need better disaster preparedness

Katrina confusion highlights the need to create a more robust Homeland Security response system

Paul C. Light is a professor at New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and the author of "The Four Pillars of High Performance." This is from The Washington Post.

September 2, 2005

Even as the Gulf Coast states battle to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Washington should take heed of the chaos surrounding the early relief effort. If this is what happens when the nation has two days of warning, imagine the aftermath of a surprise attack using a chemical, biological or nuclear device.

Although the Department of Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency are moving at near-light speed to coordinate an unprecedented relief effort built around DHS's National Response Plan, the nation must get even faster in the future. (Newsday link)

Add one more idea to the soon to be followed mandatory evacuation plan – open the gas pumps.
It’s been widely reported that a number of paycheck-to-paycheck Katrina victims were out begging for gas money to fill the tank to get out of town before the storm hit. What if, say once we’ve got a mandatory evacuation, we follow the plan and include in that plan a strategy to open the gas pumps with government IOUs going to the gas station owners. We’re sure that some owners did provide this life saving service, but why not make it policy.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gas Tax: What's Iowa going to do?

This week’s news coverage on the ever-changing discussion around the price of gas is a bit schizophrenic.

Monday, Gov Vilsack commented on a letter he sent to the DOJ asking for an investigation into gasoline price gouging. On the same day Mark Wandro, the head of Iowa’s Department of Transportation, was out in Sioux City commenting on the need to increase the gas tax.

Tuesday, Mark Wandro resigned as head of transportation to take a job in the private sector. All spin out of state government pointed to Wandro’s departure as an expected move. Yeah, sure.

Thursday, the DMR* publishes a front page, above the fold story that, inexplicably, focuses on cutting taxes on gasoline & diesel, no mention of the Wandro resignation, no discussion of the Vilsack DOJ letter. The DMR reporter just asked legislative leadership whether cutting the gas tax is on the table.

… Motorists shouldn't look to the Iowa Statehouse for any tax relief to deal with soaring gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

State legislative leaders said they were sympathetic to the plight of Iowa drivers, but it's unlikely they will take any action to suspend or reduce motor fuel taxes - an idea leaders discussed during a price spike in 2000. The per-gallon taxes, used to pay for road construction, are 20.7 cents for regular gasoline, 19 cents for ethanol-blended gasoline and 22.5 cents for diesel fuel. …

… Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican, said Wednesday that the difficulty with temporarily reducing state fuel taxes is that there would be no guarantee when gas costs would decline. A lengthy suspension of state fuel taxes could stall many road projects, including the reconstruction of Interstate Highway 235 in the Des Moines area, he said.

"I drive back and forth between Sioux City and Des Moines, and believe me, nobody understands fuel prices better than I do," Rants said. "But you just cannot deplete your road construction fund, because then you have the impact of laying off a whole lot of people who are out there doing work," Rants said.

Iowa Senate Democratic leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs expressed similar concerns about suspending fuel taxes.

"It is something we are willing to look at, but it would have some significant downsides," Gronstal said. "If we do something like that, we want to be cautious about it." …

The story had minor traction. It was picked up in the Mason City Globe Gazette and a majority of the TV news markets gave it a quick bleep in their Katrina/donate/gas prices coverage.

Today, Friday, the news coverage is all facts and hand wringing. How much will gas prices go up? How long will the prices stay there? And when are things, like oil refineries and pipelines, going to get back up and running? All are good questions with no solid answers.

A little context on just why the politically tone deaf Mark Wandro spilled the beans on the need to look at increasing the gas tax. It’s time.

In 2001, the legislature passed a law that shifted motor fuel taxes around using a formula to increase the level of tax on regular gasoline while holding ethanol blends constant. Each year regular gas has moved up by two tenths of a penny. The last increase just kicked in on July 1st and we now pay 20.7 cents a gallon, up from 20.5 cents a gallon in June, while we pay just 19 cents a gallon for ethanol. This tax mechanism ends July of 2007. So, the big boyz over at AGC, our road builders, are going to spend time at the legislature talking about increasing the motor fuel taxes for the road fund. It’s good, if you’re a general contractor and want/need money, but it’s bad, if you happen to drive long distances to your job.

Prior to Katrina, the gas tax policy solution was probably straight forward – renew the gasoline tax scheme at the same rate or a little higher if the AGC boyz help to push a new distribution formula for the road fund. No harm, no foul. Katrina changed everything. Now, with unpredictable motor fuel prices and the sickening realization of how much the Gulf Coast is going to require of us all (1000s of volunteers and 10.5 billion & counting), there is no sure thing. It certainly changes up the dynamics for Iowa pols, as they'll feel pressured to respond politically to rising fuel prices.

A couple things – First, the dramatic increases in the cost of an essential commodity, like gasoline, can quickly influence discretionary spending. People aren’t going to put $70 into the gas tank and then go blow another $70 at the mall. If they’re smart, they're not even going to the mall. The Opinion Journal’s econblogs dives in on this topic with a live blogging conversation by two econ heavy hitters. Their assessment – the consumer is tapped out and the spike in gas prices and other commodities will quickly end the spending spree. Moreover, gasoline prices, and by default the tax on gas, places a much heavier burden on folks with lower incomes. It’s standard marginal utility of an extra dollar stuff; the number of dollars you have affects how much you value each additional dollar. This suggests, and economists agree, gas taxes tend to be regressive.

The point -- as the cost of fuel goes up, regardless if the fuel tax stays the same; it becomes a significant hardship for people on the economic margin and starts to tweak the bankcards of everyone in the middle. And politicians know that when events stress people in the middle, they need to respond. There are any number of policy concepts to consider, tax credits, the temporary suspension of fuel taxes, whatever, it just needs some serious consideration from our serious politicians.

* The Des Moines Register direct link, noted below, seems problematic. If it doesn't work, go to the site map page and click on state government.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

NOLA's Sanctum's Porch

Our first post on Katrina listed a couple of NOLA blogs. I left comments on their pages and once again, someone's written back. Sanctum's Porch dropped this note:

Thanks for stopping by the porch, I know it was hard with all the water, looters, and power lines. But things are starting to look up, at least in my part of the NOLA woods. There is a whole slew of NOLA blogs at

I recommend you check it out

Hope to see you soon on the porch.

On my virtual porch here in New Orleans at:

FYI: We did ask both Unapologetic and Sanctum’s Porch if we could post their emails and both graciously said yes. We think that says something about that wonderful New Orleans hospitality; and no matter what happens, it’ll always be a big part of the city.

Editorial note: we don't want to attempt humor, all we'll say is -- ironic, but I suppose four plus days without food or water can make any soul fall apart.

Noonan in on Katrina

Peggy Noonan writing in the Opinion Journal provides inspiring commentary on all things Katrina...including the bloggers. It's just because blogging can make the world into a small town, we can all talk at once about what's good--and not so good--in the world.

• Bloggers. In February I wrote that bloggers will help get America through a national crisis. They just did. Nothing has the immediacy and believability of local reports by citizen journalists living through a local story. Terry Teachout performed a public service linking to Katrina blogs; Glenn Reynolds offered links to relief organizations. The Times Picayune's live-blogging has been solid. Local bloggers were great until they started losing electric power and couldn't send anymore. Mr. Teachout told me at the end they were blogging by BlackBerry. As power comes back the greatest blogging should begin--what it was like, what the recovery is like, what is happening on the streets. Thanks in advance.

Katrina: blog for relief

Katrina will rank among the top twenty, very possibly the top ten, disasters the U.S. will ever experience. That's probably optimistic, given unsecured nuclear material, religious wars and looming flu pandemics, but as of today, it ranks way up there and will stay near the top of the list for the immediate future. We're not going to forget Katrina anytime soon.

That said, the blogosphere's top of the food chain types came up with the idea to put together a single day where as many blogs as possible help raise awareness and cash for the Katrina rescue and relief efforts. That day is today.

We're supposed to tell you to check out Instapundit and then surf over to technorati and while you're at it whip out that credit card and get ready to bleed some cash into any number of different charities working to help Katrina survivors. We’re partial to Northwest Medical Teams (96% of funds go into direct services as opposed to salaries and paper clips) and their work bringing emergency health care into disaster areas, but whatever charity works for you works for us.

Thanks for reading this post.

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