Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Friends, until TouchPlay broke them apart.
And given the new the political soup, big campaign checks attached to a controversial issue might make for a rough ride in the polls. Nussle’s actually not giving up much; the money is replaceable a steep dive in poll numbers attributed to an issue, which a core group of Nussle supporters care about, is not.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
The mid-term spin
You can see the first round of spin on corruption as a campaign issue in today's Register. Jane Norman's Potomac Fever column works the corruption angle, targeting some Grassley maneuvers in a conference committee and quoting a recent article in Roll Call.
... Roll Call, a newspaper that covers the Hill, took a nostalgic trip back to those days of yore in the early 1990s, when the GOP's energetic "Gang of Seven" including Rep. Jim Nussle, set out to reform Washington.While over on the fiction page, oops, op-ed page, Rekha Basu works clever and attempts to extend the corruption metaphor to Iowa state politics.
Now Nussle is running for
Iowagovernor and John Boehner for majority leader, and Rick Santorum is a senator. John Doolittle is under scrutiny for his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. U.S.
"Once young Turks — in the fall of 1991, Nussle appeared on the House floor with a paper bag over his head to protest the Democratic leadership's refusal to fully disclose House Bank overdrafts — the gang now represents the entrenched power they once fought against," mused Roll Call. ...
Would it make you uneasy to think those pricey headphones your state representative is wearing were provided through the largess of a company hoping to influence his vote on your health plan? Or that your senator scored a pair of Stones tickets from a gambling industry lobbyist, and returned the favor with a gambling-expansion vote? Would you be concerned if a state regulator quit only to reappear months later in a top job in the same industry?It's probably not a stretch to suggest that pulling in the big money needed to keep a majority intact requires politicians to sort the lobby. How will this directly affect our voters? Does this particular policy seem reasonable? How deep are those pockets? Once the questions are answered and the lobby is sorted, politicians can go about building their agendas and, of course, moving public policy for their friends.
The first two examples are hypothetical for
. The third one isn't. In Iowa , and around the country, the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal has red-faced legislators scrambling to reform state and federal lobbying laws. In Washington, D.C. , in the absence of a full-blown scandal, there's a missing sense of urgency about ethics reforms. But we're not immune to problems. ... Iowa
In light of the cold reality of campaign fundraising, it's easy to see how the Abramoff scandal will give the Democrats some mid-term mileage, but they're fighting against demographics, time and real issues. And when Karl opened his mouth earlier this month outlining the GOP national agenda, he got it dead right -- international affairs in a complex and violent post 9/11 world trumps any sort of national issue.
In a speech to the RNC Winter confab, Karl Rove launched the GOP agenda for the mid-term elections – meat, potatoes & a side of Jell-O salad. Rove offered up standard GOP fare, pressing the differences between Democrats and Republicans on terrorism, taxes and the Court. It’s the same old, but in an America that sees terror attacks nightly and finds hefty tax bills in the mail at least once a year these issues connect.
However, the speech alone was not enough to convince me that the war against terror had mid-term legs, but with the Bin Laden audio, the Iranian nuclear program and, most recently, the unexpected win of the terrorist group Hamas in the Palestinian elections, it is clear that the continued war on terror is the most important issue in American politics. And as issues of taxation played a significant role in the formation of the
The irony: some Palestinian experts attribute the Hamas win to Palestinian voters protesting the late Yasser Arafat’s graft and corruption filled Fatah party. So it might be entirely too early to discount the ripples being created by the Abramoff scandal.
Friday, January 27, 2006
...if you try sometimes you just might find
It sounds like a kick the can down the road strategy; if Vilsack can't get what he wants out of the traditional education budget process why not maneuver to pull the issue into the end of session budget negotiations.
With this strategy, Vilsack limits the influence of rank & file members on the education policy options that are funded. He retains full control of the Democrat education agenda -- something he must miss from days when the GOP controlled both the House & Senate -- and can push the education issues that are presidential wannabe friendly like teacher pay (a node to Big Labor -- Opinion Journal link) and early childhood education (a wink to Rob Reiner and his Southern California fundraising machine -- WaPo link).
Once again, this is confirmation that the session will produce some tedious, agonizing budget negotiations between our fiscally conservative Democrat poseur of a governor and the GOP cabal in the Iowa House & their Senate friends.
Up shot, no tobacco tax kids, so quit the whining, and yes, if you’re on the Governor’s favorite project list you’ll get what you need.
* This blogger's whine: okay, I do not diligently search for good links just to have people ignore them. So please read some of them. They're good. I promise.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Education Funding: 4%, 6%, what, you want a blank check?
Everybody is optimistic, some might suggest fatalistic, that big money will flow out of the Statehouse and into school districts across Iowa. The rub is just how much money will flow out of the Iowa Treasury into our enrollment-challenged k-12 system.
It’s kind of a mess. Vilsack is O.K. with a 4% increase and then another $45 million in “add ons” later on down this year’s budget road. The Republicans are wincing, but willing to sign-off on a 4% increase in school funding; they know a powerful lobby when they see it standing outside their Chamber doors and at every community forum. But to the Senate Democrats, sigh, money out the door to anything stamped ‘education’ gets Mike Gronstal’s signature on a blank check. We’re just lucky the sponge-like education lobby only asked for a 6% funding increase.
- Vilsack wants to give K-12 $104 million in increased funding and an additional $45 million in pet project money for teacher salaries and early childhood taxpayer subsidized daycare.
- The GOP guys are holding their breath that they’ll get out of this with $104 million and just a little extra, $10 million, for Vilsack’s pets.
- The Senate Democrats, however, are willing to write that check for $157 million and have the-bank-is-open attitude for any other education-funding proposals.
“I don’t think it’s about 4 percent or 6 percent,” he [Vilsack] said Monday. “I think it’s about what resources do we need and where do those resources need to be directed to make sure that we have great teachers in every classroom, to make sure that every child has a strong start and to make sure that we can invest in innovation and creativity in our system.” (Link to Mason City Globe-Gazette)And my favorite quote on this education spending spree, from Republican Senator Paul McKinley:
"I guess there's no lack of creative thought when it comes to dispersing public money." (Link to Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier)
Friday, January 20, 2006
True Story: kids and the machine
A local restaurant installed a TouchPlay machine at the door, in plain view of every past, current and future problem gambler. As expected, my oldest spied this thing on our way into lunch one day, and -- given that all 11 year old boys lack impulse control hence a latent gambling problem -- he expressed a keen interest in lighting the thing up.
“Mom, can I play the machine?” my 11 year old asked.
“No, it’s illegal for you to play,” I said.
“Why?” he pressed.
“You’re too young, you have to be an adult to play,” I responded.
“What will happen if I play?” he inquired, pressing ever harder for that buck.
“You’ll get arrested and sent to juvi,” uttering every mother’s clutch response to those insane requests from a pesky kid.
“Oh. Can you play?” he asked, giving up on his first idea and moving to plan B.
“Yes, but I don’t want to, it’s a form of gambling and I don’t like to gamble … except when it comes to purchasing shoes,” I comment, reflecting on all the bad shoe purchases made over the years.
“Oh please, will you play it. Please,” begs my 11 year old.
“Yeah mom, play it,” chimes in my 9 year old.
“Okay. Fine. I’ll play. And I’ll show you guys exactly how easy it is to lose money gambling. It’ll be a good lesson on the evils of gambling,” I say, giving in to the whine on the premise of teaching these two a lesson.
Dollar in, hit the buttons and I am an instant winner of $20 bucks.
“Mom, you won!” yelled my 11 year old.
“Yeah Mom, you won!” confirmed my 9 year old.
“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” I said, “usually people lose when they play these machines.”
“But Mom, you won,” my now laughing 11 year old spits out, “great lesson about that evil gambling.”
“Way to go Mom. You’re lucky,” says the now laughing 9 year old.
“You know, it was the guy that played this thing ten minutes ago that probably sunk ten or twenty dollars in trying to win…,” I blah-blahed, attempting to spin a gambling lesson out of the situation.
“Sure, but still, Mom you won!” my 11 year old stated again with emphasis, interrupting my anti-gambling lecture.
“Let’s go spend it,” both say at once.
“Brilliant” I intone sarcastically.
The TouchPlay lottery controversy has unexpectedly become a marquee issue in this legislative session. Given that my experience is probably not unique, I’ll take odds that this is an issue that’ll stick around until November, particularly if the legislature is hamstrung in finding an acceptable resolution.
As the hearings gear up and Dr. Ed works the microphone and the legislators, the subtle -- but important -- message that “yeah, we should have done things differently, but it’s all about maximizing state revenue and look at all that money” is the baseline interest for the legislature. As reported by the DMR:
Lottery President Edward Stanek told a group of lawmakers Thursday that the state would face "a significant financial liability" if the Legislature decided to ban the devices — currently numbering nearly 5,000, with another 5,550 in the pipeline.
Based on existing contracts with 79 amusement operators and distributors, businesses would lose $90 million in projected annual revenue and their investment of about $100 million, Stanek said.
The state also would lose out on a significant source of revenue. The
Lottery expects to reap about $30 million from the TouchPlay business in the current budget year and $45 million the following year. Iowa
The unfortunate deal is that the doctor is right: we can’t afford to give up the revenue these machines pull down nor can the state pull an “oops” given the level of business investment. It’s a tightrope the lottery and the legislature are going to have to walk.
The lucky thing is Ed Stanek is a smart guy, and he’ll work hard to find a solution that will maximize the lottery’s interests while managing voters’ legitimate concerns over family-friendly gambling at the grocery.
And voters flipped a winner when the GOP House named Rep Jeff Elgin to lead the TouchPlay committee. As a retiring Cedar Rapids Representative, Elgin might work this thing with a good bit of alligator blood, holding out for a resolution that works for all the stakeholders.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Des Moines Register Round Up
Catholic majority possible on court: Senate confirmation of nominee Samuel Alito would mark a religious milestone.
If Samuel Alito Jr. is elevated to the
Supreme Court following this week's hearings, he would become the fifth Roman Catholic justice on the bench, marking the first Catholic majority in history at a time of heightened debate on abortion, same-sex marriage and religious liberties. U.S.
A fifth Catholic on the court also would mark a milestone in
religious history, illustrating the increasing diversity of faith in a nation whose founding fathers were predominantly Protestant. U.S.
And it would reflect the evolution of interfaith relations since 1960, when many Americans questioned whether presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy could lead the nation while remaining faithful to the Catholic Church. … (link to
-- registration required) Chicago Tribune
Funny, after searching in vain for the DMR online link to this current front-page story, I started to think that perhaps it’s not posted to their web edition.
Go ahead, search this headline in the DMR Online's search engine and nothing pops. Hmm, do you think some irate campaign type from Mike Blouin's camp made an early morning phone call to let everybody know that when, okay if, the Blouin campaign gets out of June on life support they're not going to forget this political faux pas on the part of the DMR team of political news placement specialists?
I just wonder if they're going to give the same sort of, conveniently timed, news coverage to Chet “surfer dude” Culver and his database problems.
Larry Ballard, the guy behind the DMR's Workbytes column, is funny, obscure digressions and all.
Except I notice that hardly anyone uses the F-word anymore. Let go, dumped, forced out, laid off, jettisoned, downsized, supplanted, transferred to the "home" office, dismissed, flushed, canned.Having a career history somewhere between Kramer and George (Seinfeld, for all of you that missed this TV era due to the often under appreciated surge in hormones experienced during the most forgettable period in life -- middle school), I laughed aloud, an exceedingly rare occurrence when reading the Register.
Or tanked. (Which is what you get after you've been fired.)
Call it what you will, it's every worker's second-worst fear. The first, of course, is being volunteered for the Strategic Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee.
Well, the Workbytes staff can empathize.
Not that we're worried, mind you. Heck no. This little mom 'n' pop operation is going great guns with record profits and skyrocketing readership, whose name is Al Stern.
Heck, we even got a $3.2 million forgivable loan from the state, just for agreeing to,,, use,, more, locally made,,, commas.
But just because things are all guns and roses here at Workbytes doesn't mean we fail to understand the anxiety many of you feel over job security.
We are professional journalists, trained to feel your pain.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Crash & Burn: the Medicare drug benefit in implementation
The Medicare mess, as reported in the WaPo.
Two weeks into the new Medicare prescription drug program, many of the nation's sickest and poorest elderly and disabled people are being turned away or overcharged at pharmacies, prompting more than a dozen states to declare health emergencies and pay for their life-saving medicines.
Computer glitches, overloaded telephone lines and poorly trained pharmacists are being blamed for mix-ups that have resulted in the worst of unintended consequences: As many as 6.4 million low-income seniors, who until Dec. 31 received their medications free, suddenly find themselves navigating an insurance maze of large deductibles, co-payments and outright denial of coverage. …
... The states that have stepped in to help have already incurred several million dollars in unexpected drug bills, but Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said he did not have the authority to reimburse them. He urged states, pharmacists and providers to work with his agency to collect reimbursements from insurance companies administering the prescription program.
Acknowledging that some of the 6.4 million low-income beneficiaries known as "dual-eligibles" have been overcharged or denied medication, McClellan said: "That is simply not acceptable. We have been working around the clock and around the country to make sure those beneficiaries get the prescriptions they need." …
… The first state to act was
, after its hotline recorded 18,000 calls on Jan. 3, said Jude Walsh, a special assistant to the governor. Maine
"We had dialysis patients who were not getting medicines, pharmacies on hold for 60-plus minutes, some plans closed for the holiday," she said, describing some of the frantic calls. "One man called me -- he and his wife were on 15 medications. They had no co-payments on Medicaid. He went in for 15, and he left with one" medicine because of the cost, she said.
If we all thought that incompetence ruled the day in the aftermath of Katrina, just wait until this mess goes under resolved for weeks, months. This is a potential nightmare for incumbent politicians, particularly if professionals involved in health care are overwhelmed to the point that they’ll register protest votes in November.
Incompetence in the form of failed implementation is not something voters tolerate.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Pony up: Vilsack needs another $341 million to make us all healthy, wealthy and wise.
The governor’s proposed 2006-07 budget, released Tuesday, calls for a 6.9 percent spending increase and nearly $180 million in new taxes and fees, including taxes on cigarettes and beer, and fines for speeding and drunk driving.
The $5.3 billion spending plan is up $341 million from the current year.
But some state spending is outside the regular budget. This includes a proposed $280 million earmarked for various other accounts, which is up $60 million from the current year.
After stitching up a quick budget analysis, the GOP legislative types came out with this take.
…Within an hour of the budget’s release, the parties launched into arguments about why it is bigger or smaller than it appears. …
… Republican leaders say the budget increase is much larger than 6.9 percent because that number doesn’t include the many off-budget spending hikes.
The details, at least at this point, are irrelevant; this is the opening bid. The Republicans and the Democrats are just beginning to figuring out the parameters of this budget fight. And make no mistakes, a lame duck governor in a closely divide legislature with a blow it out your ass budget is just asking for a long haul to April…May.
And I really don’t get the Vilsack strategy, toss out lots of “fee” and tax increases while selling the virtues of big government programs dreamed up on one of the many sojourns to Democratic donor-rich policy hot spots?
In some ways, particularly with all the tax increases, Vilsack has left his Senate Democrats in the parking lot with their fake GOP Lite IDs and the beer. All a Republican needs to do is point to the text of the speech raise an eyebrow and spew the “all they want to do is tax us” charge. I am sure Gronstal will be glad when the session is over and he can marshal all of his liberal colleagues back into their closets.
The other interesting wrinkle is the GOP family issues playing out behind both Chambers. It’s probably already starting with setting the budget targets, their version of the Vilsack budget. Do they work together as a one team or does one side pull a cowboy? (I know, cowboy metaphors are sort of awkward when all anyone can think about is the odd parallel between SP’s Cartman and Ang Lee’s -- not short for Angie, just in case… -- Brokeback Mountain.)
Despite the preference for cowboy politics, the two sides of the GOP family really need to consider the recent past and how some of the more independent moves – different versions of the same bill, separate budget targets, and slightly different priorities – create complications. In an off year complications are no big deal, but in an election year too many family fights might burn the clock; time that could be spent raising money, knocking on doors, and teaching those cute nine year olds how to parade wave even on their bad days.
Hard to say how this last hurrah of a Vilsack budget is going to play out. It might depend on the slottery odds the spend-happy lobby takes on filling Vilsack’s chair with another Democrat. On the other hand, it might come down to Vilsack & the GOP guys picking a few of their policy winners; the issues that’ll give ‘em all enough goodies to pack a future oriented political agenda that they can sell, sell, sell.
However it works, it certainly is interesting. (All right, you have to prefer mainlining your political fix, otherwise this is really boring, and then you should be thankful -- you’re normal.)
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Vilsack: still spinning after all these years
Ever have a burning desire to ask Governor Vilsack something, anything? Me neither.
But if you change your mind and think up a "what if...", the Quad City Times is offering the web-enabled rabble an opportunity to submit questions for Vilsack's upcoming chat & chew with the QC Times political & editorial types. (link)
To get everyone thinking I have a couple of suggestions.
- Governor, do you have any plans to provide
Iowatax credits to individuals and businesses interested in purchasing granite or any other product manufactured in ? New Hampshire
- Republicans: love 'em or hate 'em?
- On your legacy, do you think you'll be remembered for your work building
Iowacommunities through prosperity or as that guy from who put the state into hock with a compulsive need to produce insta-policy every other day? Pittsburgh
- So what’s Rob Reiner really like? And how big is his Howard Dean donor file? Is Rob pleased with your efforts to mandate and fund every
child’s preschool? (old post) Iowa
- Senior Living Trust Fund: refill it or buy off your lawyer pals? (old post)
Sigh, if only…
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Vilsack: Southern California Dreaming
… The governor made stops in at least 23 states, the
and two foreign countries in 2005. District of Columbia
Much of the travel was documented in his weekly public schedule, but some occurred with little explanation, according to information obtained by The Gazette through a Freedom of Information request.
On some occasions, the governor's weekly public schedule listed out-of-state travel, but made no mention of stops in other cities before he returned to
. Other times, out-of-state travel was not mentioned at all. Iowa
For example, Vilsack visited Hawaii and New Jersey, attended a major league baseball exhibition game in Arizona, a pro football game in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Kentucky Derby. Some of the events were made public. Others were not.
In another example, his public schedule for the week of Oct. 24-28 listed his only event as a luncheon at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's annual public policy meeting in
However, internal staff scheduling documents show Vilsack traveled to San Jose, Calif. Washington, D.C., Los Angelesand earlier in the week. Oakland
A busy out of state schedule for the guy primarily responsible for managing
…Vilsack said the higher level travel is "part of being a governor in
He said he received some valuable information from those meetings that has benefited
. … Iowa
… "I think we've figured out an appropriate balance and if I need to be somewhere to talk to somebody I'm going to do my job and I've done my job," Vilsack said. ...
Vilsack thinks it’s just part of being a governor in
…While some of the travel is connected to Vilsack's role in the National Governors Association, the Democratic Leadership Council and Heartland PAC, much of the travel is policy related, Dickey said.
"For example, during his stops in California and New York, he learned about parent-liaison programs within schools and the efforts to provide health insurance relief to small businesses; both of which have become part of our agenda for next legislative session," Dickey said.
And these sorts of policy ideas are unavailable from Vilsack’s
Nice try, but everybody knows the deal – secure a big spending legacy on a fiscally conservative canvas and get the hell out of
The Iowa GOP is obviously hip to this habit; Vilsack’s been running this game for years. And to help “educate” the rest of the world they have worked up a rather slick little website, TravelingTom.com, to keep track of Vilsack’s out of state “policy” romps.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
2. Diamonds or pearls? Both.
4. What’s your favorite TV show? Bravo’s Project Runway and political punditry on Sunday morning. What can I say; bitchy gay men are just too fun to watch meltdown.
6. What's your favorite cuisine? Good Chinese in the form of dim sum – have to have that volume and those carts whirling round the room.
7. What foods do you dislike? Stuff that tastes like chemicals, particularly milk-like products used in some of those horrible fast food milkshakes.
8. What is your favorite chip flavor? Pita chips
9. Whats your favorite CD at the moment? iTune downloads for the week
11. What’s your favorite sandwich? Grouper
12. What characteristics do you despise? Insincerity. What’s the point? People always figure it out, but, then again, if you only deal with other fakers you could probably play it for a lifetime. And then "what's the point" becomes more of an existential question.
13. Favorite item of clothing? A cashmere suit coat that goes with nothing in my closet.
14. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
17. Where would you retire? I haven’t been there yet.
21. Favorite sport to watch? Football – American and everybody else’s version.
25. Were you named after anyone? Nope.
26. Do you wish on stars? Why not? But I always take a deep breath and let it go.
27. When did you last cry? November, probably coinciding with some woeful job search thingy.
28. Do you like your handwriting? No, nor does anyone else.
30. Are you a daredevil? Sometimes, and sometimes I’m just swallowing large numbers of stupid pills.
31. Do looks matter? Well, I think the world is a shallow place, so I have to say ‘yes’. To qualify that response, I’ll suggest that not everyone sees the same person in the same light. Sure, a person may look good, but something about them, oh say the fact that they can’t hold a conversation beyond the third sentence, might inspire a big yuck.
32. How do you release anger? Minor irritants I’ll talk out with friends, or put some loud music on the MP3 and stomp it out on the treadmill, or drive around (also to loud music). Major hurts mean I will isolate myself until I am able to suppress it, which I'll do until it goes away. (I just ripped off Side Notes response, she says it better. But I’ll add that I also plan…)
33. Where is your second home? In that golden years spot that I have yet to find, but I am certain it will be warm and there will be sun.
34. What class in High School was totally useless? Home Economics. There is nothing in that stuff that has anything to do with economics.
35. Do you use sarcasm a lot? In my head, all the time; aloud, only if I feel a need to fulfill some social death wish.
36. Favorite movie? Anything by Wes Anderson.
39. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? No.
40. Do you think that you are strong? Not as strong as I like, but I’m okay.
41. What's your favorite ice cream flavor? Spumoni.
42. What are your favorite colors? Anything green.
43. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? I have a terrible time warming up to people I don't know very well; hence my odd compulsion to key all sorts of personal observations into a dorky-ass blog.
44. Who do you miss the most? My Dad.
46. What color pants are you wearing? Jeans.
47. What are you listening to right now? The KC Planet feed.
48. Last thing you ate? Ice cream.
49. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Tropical Rain Forest in the Crayola box
50. Last person you talked to on the phone? The lost baggage guys.
51. What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? A sense of humor that shows in a walk. The walks can be a deadpan shuffle or the always-on bopping human and, my personal favorite, the clueless about body in space walker—I always assume something interesting is going on upstairs because they pay so little attention to moving forward.
52. Favorite Drink? Water with a slice of Persian lime from my parent’s tree.
54. Favorite Day(s) of the Year? Three birthdays.
58. What Is Your Favorite Dessert? A perfectly done crème Brule.
59. What Book are you Currently Reading? Freakonomics, Levitt is such a character, although a study he did a few years ago was recently shredded by a couple of other economists. But he’s still cool.
60. What's On Your Mouse Pad? …what?
“Probably the best thing I could say is that, I thought the crew demonstrated great consistency throughout the game.”