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Archive for February 11, 2010

Iowa Air Quality: Hazy Shade of Grassley

Air Quality in Iowa:  A Hazy Shade of Grassley

Our friend Phyllis Weeks who runs the website for the Marion County Democrats sent this to us.  We are reposting it in its entirety here, but she is doing such a great job organizing progressives down in Knoxville, we highly recommend checking out their site.  Click here

February 9, 2010 –

HAZY SHADE OF GRASSLEY – by Dr. Catherine Haustein (Dr. Haustein received her degree in chemistry from the University of Iowa.)


There is nothing more annoying than someone who is willfully ignorant, and last week I went to bed mightily annoyed.  It began with a random Robocall from Chuck Grassley inviting me to participate in a telephone town hall meeting.  In his words, a democracy is a two-way street.  I was delighted to be invited.  In the end I was never allowed to ask a question, and it was a forum for Obama bashing and tidbits of information taken out of context.  The two-way street was in fact a one-way highway of partisanship.

Maybe it was my phone connection, but Grassley seemed to be slurring his words.  It sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles.  He went off the deep end and got quite dramatic when he talked about dust and particulates.  Grassley launched into outrage because the EPA is concerned about particulates; and in his words, “Whoever heard about them anyway?”  Now granted, only 5% of Congress has a degree in science or engineering, but you don't have to be a scientist to have heard tales of the Dust Bowl.  And anybody who knows anybody with respiratory problems knows that dust and particulates will harm you.

Many studies have connected sickness and hospitalization for respiratory problems with air pollution.  Particulates are a pervasive form of air pollution here in Iowa.  The most hazardous of particles are the very fine ones known as PM2.5.  These tiny particles can clog your lungs and accumulate.  You can never cough them out.  Once your lungs are coated with them, you either need a lung transplant, or you will die. They come from combustion.  Cars, power plants, fires, and cigarettes all contribute to these damaging particles.  Chemical reactions such as those associated with farming and industry are other contributors.  Course particles known as PM10 will cause respiratory illness.  They come from such things as grinding and crushing rocks along with dust from unpaved roads.  Course particles can aggravate existing conditions, cause shortness of breath that could result in a hospital visit, create susceptibility to respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, and cause excess strain on heart muscles. 

The EPA has the nerve (in Grassley's opinion) to suggest that farm workers need some protection.  Grassley even said that shaming the EPA was one of his goals.  Why?

Particulates harm more than humans.  Particulates can make bodies of water more acidic, kill aquatic life, reduce visibility, and damage crops.  When there is haze in the air, there are particulates.  Haze is most often found in the winter when the air is dry.  If there is no wind, the particulates accumulate and the hazy shade of winter results.

Although particulates and what to do about them is a complex problem, we can look to other parts of the world for what happens when governments deny that any problem exists.  Haze is a severe problem in Indonesia and Asia, especially in periods before the rainy season.  In parts of Sumatra, motorists have had to run their headlights during the day to cut through the haze.  In that country, the haze is often associated with run away slash and burn agriculture.

The most puzzling thing about this issue and Grassley's reaction to it is that particulates have been somewhat regulated since 1997.  Grassley was in office then, and so he should really know something about particulates.  Yet in his phone town hall forum he acted as if the idea of regulating particulates was a new and bizarre concept and way beyond his intellectual capabilities.  He is doing those who voted for him a disservice and is being disrespectful too.  Science issues are nuanced and require careful study and thoughtfulness from our elected officials.  Iowans are intelligent and thoughtful people, not dumb hicks who don't know nothin' and don't care to learn.  He should not represent us in such a know-nothing manner.

We might ask ourselves, why is an educated man acting in such an irresponsible way?  Might it be due to ties with the Cato Institute, which receives funding from some dirty places–the tobacco and oil industries?  If Grassley can't engage in an honest and mature discussion of complex issues that affect our health, he needs to be given a time out.  He is beginning to show his true colors, and his style is not one of response to his people, but of strong-arming public discussion.  Let's hope that as the election grows near, Iowans get a good look at his top-down style and reject it. 

Hang on to your hopes, my friends.

    * Further reading: 
    * Dirt on windows contributes to pollution
    * How cigarette smoke kills
    * Particulate pollution
    * Particulates
    * Haze over China 
    * Sumatra 
    * More about Cato      
    * Cato 


(1) If you would like to help retire Chuck Grassley, check out the three Democratic challengers, Roxanne Conlin, Bob Krause,and Tom Fiegen.  See the top left sidebar for links to their webpages.

(2) If you live in Marion county, you can help push the progressive agenda and help elect local Democrats by attending the next Central Committee Meeting to be held on Wed., Feb., 24, Swamp Fox Restaurant, Knoxville, 6:30 p.m. (Dinner gathering – 5:30).  Or find the Marion County Dems on Facebook.

Steve King Challenger Mike Denklau: “I'm A Fiscally Conservative Progressive Democrat”

Steve King Challenger Mike Denklau: “I'm A Fiscally Conservative Progressive Democrat”

Guy Gerhard, progressive activist from Council Bluffs, conducted an in-depth interview for Blog for Iowa with Mike Denklau, candidate for U.S. Representative for Iowa's 5th District.  This is the first of three parts.
“Clearly, the system is broken when you look at western Iowa and you see that we have 83,000 people uninsured.  That's 15 per cent of the population out here.”  –  Mike Denklau 

BFIA:  We're here today with Mike Denklau, who is running for the 5th District Congressional seat in Iowa currently held by Steve King.  Let's get started:  I suppose you get asked this question a lot:  What made you decide to run for Congress at this time?

Denklau:  It was a combination of things.  I had worked in the financial industry for a few years and had been at Lehman Brothers which, as you probably saw on the news, collapsed last year.  So, going through that bankruptcy process really makes you take stock of your life and what you're trying to accomplish.  And it hit me, I had been very fortunate in my life, growing up in Iowa, having a great opportunity to go to the University of Iowa and getting an outstanding education for a great value and then to be able to get a banking job.  So I thought [that] this was a prime opportunity for me to help make a difference and do something for my home state.  

That's what led me to think about moving back home and getting involved in this.  And in that process, I came across our Congressman Steve King in some editorials, and it struck me as really odd, some of the actions he was taking.  As I researched further, I noticed that there is a lot that needs to be done out here.  There's a lot in this district that has been ignored, and  people that are suffering from a lack of health care coverage, or quality jobs―a whole list of things that need to be addressed.  

So, I decided to try to change that, to return a voice to the people out here and to address some other problems that haven't been addressed as well, such as the regulatory system around the financial markets and the fact that we still have the same problems we had before all this mess started except, perhaps, worse because we have bigger banks and fewer of them.  I think these are things that Congress has ignored and it's time for us to take action and not just have these partisan fights.

BFIA:  As you know, Blog for Iowa is a progressive blog.   Where do you see yourself on that political spectrum?

Denklau:  I'm a fiscally conservative, progressive Democrat.  Having been a banker….

BFIA:  Sounds like an oxymoron.

Denklau:  [Laughs] Well, but I think it's not, actually.  If you look back to the '90s, we had a government that was paying down the debt, improving the credit markets, helping our businesses – but, at the same time, was trying to do some of the more progressive actions.  We tried to change health care in '93 and, unfortunately, it's taken us well over a decade to get back there.  But I think those things can fit very nicely together and could do a lot of good for this district.

BFIA:   Steve King has refused to debate every opponent he has ever faced.  His campaign strategy has always been, about two weeks before the election, he will place a bunch of ads that are full of distortions and out-and-out lies.  Because there have not been any debates and there is very little time to counter it, our side always comes up short.  How are you going to fight that?

Denklau:  I think the distortions are something we see continuously from his side.  We see all these false numbers around the health care debate and immigration issues, so this is not a total surprise.  I think our job, throughout the next year, is to show what we stand for and what we're going to do and make sure that people are aware of what's actually being done for them in Congress which, unfortunately, to this point has been very little, if you look at Congressman King's voting record, there is not much of substance.  You can look specifically at things such as completing Highway 20 and the fact that there has been a mile or two paved based on his efforts in six years.

BFIA:  That was his big issue [in 2008].  In fact, he claimed that he secured the funding for that.  The bill that he put forth as the source for the funding―I did some research on it and it wasn't in there.  Even if the funding had been in the bill, he voted against it.

Denklau:  Right.  Actually, a large portion of what has been done up there were state funds, which he does not influence.

BFIA:  One of the things on your web site that really jumped out at me was where you talk about “Bipartisan Solutions in Congress.”  Republicans have shown, time and time again, that they are not interested in bipartisan solutions.  To them, bipartisanship means doing things their way.  Why is this an ideal that we need to pursue?  We won big last year.  Isn't it time to do things our way?

Denklau:  I think there are good ideas on both sides.  The unfortunate matter is that, perhaps, some on the other side of the aisle don't understand the concept of compromise and getting things done.  It seems there are a great number of Republican amendments that have made it into the various health care bills.  I don't think the minority party should ever expect to get everything they want and it's probably not good for the majority to get everything they want.  But that middle ground often leads to some good compromises and good policy.  That's one of the things I'm hoping to change.  By getting rid of one of the most partisan Congressmen we have, we can start working toward serious compromise and serious progress on these issues.

BFIA:  One of the issues you brought up right away was health care reform.   On your web site, you mention refusing health care until we get meaningful health care reform.  What do you see as “meaningful health care reform?”

Denklau:  First, on my statement, I'm very committed to making sure that I'm connected to the people of this district.  I think that's one of the issues we see, is that there is a very large disconnect from our office-holders and the people they're supposed to represent.  I feel that, if you align those interests, you'll have much better results on the policy side.  As far as health care specifically, I think it's an imperative economically that we have comprehensive reform that starts to bring down costs and covers those who are not covered.  Clearly, the system is broken when you look at western Iowa and you see that we have 83,000 people uninsured.  That's 15 per cent of the population out here….

BFIA:  I was going to ask if you knew that figure.  Steve King did not.

Denklau:  Right.  So you look at that and then you look at the number of bankruptcies out here, and it's something over 700 now, just in this district.  If you think about that, there's serious potential down the road for financial threats to the stability of our own federal government, given all the entitlement programs and the liabilities we have down the road.  We  need to start focusing on these costs.  That's where I think, hopefully, this current bill, when it is finalized, will address that.  

But I think it's very important that we have more competition.  If you look at states now, oftentimes, there is one, two, maybe a handful at best, of insurance companies that control those markets.  That's not quality competition.  That's not giving people an opportunity to really get the best that they can out of their health care dollars.  So, we need to increase that competition.  We need to give people access to pooling so that they can take advantage of economies of scale.  

We also need to change the focus here to more of a wellness and prevention system.  It's too often that we are just focused on the critical care aspect, but not preventing those illnesses from happening in the first place.  There's massive amounts of savings that we could attain there.  

Then, of course, the other things like promoting the technologies and management improvements that will cut costs in the system going into the future.  So I think the final solution could come in a variety of forms.  I think that whatever passes, hopefully in the next few weeks or the next few months in Congress,  it's going to evolve.  Unfortunately, I doubt that we'll get this perfect on the first try, but we shouldn't let the perfect get in the way of the good.  It is time to do something and we've been waiting since 1993 to take a step here.  

To me, it's very important that we increase competition, hopefully through a national exchange.  I would also be very interested to see movement, or at least a discussion towards a regulated private insurance system that would keep the liabilities off the federal government books, would make sure that we wouldn't have to cut spending for Medicare and senior health care coverage, but at the same time, reduce costs and provide quality care for our people.

BFIA:  What about the Public Option or Medicare for All?  Does that play a part in this?

Denklau:  I definitely think it could be a vital part of providing alternatives.  My preferred method is a regulated private system.  If you look at government debt…. it concerns me greatly to be putting more liabilities on the books.  But if you look at a system like the Netherlands or Switzerland has, with a regulated private insurance system, they set a very affordable rate that all the companies can charge.  They can't go above that.  There are protections, so you can't deny people based on age or pre-existing conditions, so everyone is covered.  Since those insurance companies are not allowed to compete on price, they now have to compete on quality of care and services that they provide.  Since there's a cap on how much they can charge, they're incentivized to reduce costs.  

Therefore, everyone now has a responsibility, instead of just passing those costs along to the person who's paying for the insurance, now the insurance company actually has an incentive to work with the health care providers to make sure the best practices are implemented,  that generic drugs are being used whenever possible…..  So those sorts of things work very well.  If you look at those systems, people are very happy with them.  They get equal or better results and they cost half as much as our system does.

BFIA:  United Health Care's CEO received over one billion dollars in compensation last year.  Do we need to cap that?  Not just for him, but for other executives?

Denklau:  There's a very broad debate about executive compensation.  I was a banker for a few years, so I saw some of those mega-salaries.  Unfortunately, not coming to me personally.  But I did see some of them going out.  This is a very difficult issue because, I think, if you look at historically the way pay has gone, there is clearly a large distortion going towards the top compared to where it was two or three decades ago.  

However, I don't believe that the government should be in the business of micro-managing companies.  That should be the responsibility of the shareholders and the boards of directors of those companies.  I would leave that to them to decide what's best for those businesses.  In particular, the businesses that you and I are now investors in:  the AIGs, the General Motors, the Chryslers of the world, we do need to be very careful that we retain the talent that makes those companies valuable, particularly the financial institutions.  Because without that talent, there's very little value in those companies.  And I would personally like to see us get our money back, so I think that's a good investment.

BFIA:  I think we'd all like to get our money back.

Denklau:  [Laughs]

Check back next Thursday for Part II

Guy E. Gerhard is a life-long liberal who has been involved in many progressive causes and campaigns including civil rights, voting rights, reproductive rights and a woman's right to choose, nuclear disarmament (he was arrested with 200 of his closest friends at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in Mercury back in the '80s), workers' rights and union organization and civil rights for gays, lesbians and same-sex couples.  He currently is focused on getting Steve King, the embarrassment of Iowa, out of office.  He occasionally blogs under the pen-name Iowa Guy at  and can be contacted through Facebook.  He lives in Council Bluffs with his spouse of 16-plus years, two cats and three rather unpleasant little dogs.