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Archive for April 17, 2010

The Economic Challenges for Hard-Working Iowans

The Economic Challenges for Hard-Working Iowans


by Tom Fiegen

Being a bankruptcy lawyer for almost 22 years has given me a front row seat when the economy or change brings hardship and misery to a farm or small business in Iowa.  Being an economist makes me ask what went wrong and how we could make it better before hard-working Iowans reach that place.

I have seen disturbing trends in the last year. I hope to repair the damage and turn us to a responsible course as a U.S. Senator from Iowa. 


First, I have seen the largest banks push homeowners around when they fall behind on their payments, or when the value of the home drops below the mortgage balance. Banks adopt rigid policies that require throwing a family out, even if they can pay more than the bank will realize through foreclosure. It doesn't make sense, and causes major disruption for the family.


As a U.S. Senator, I would make sure families can get a judge to take evidence and modify the mortgage so that the family can stay in their home so long as the bank gets as much money as it would through a foreclosure. Chapter 12 did this for family farms in the 80s, and it could help homeowners today. It would also benefit all of us by stabilizing the residential real estate market.


Second, banks are tightening credit, especially for my farmer clients, and seed and chemical companies are piling on.  This spring, banks are asking farmers for a second or third mortgage on their farm and/or home, the title to their family car and even an assignment of their life insurance.  Farm families are worried that the bank is setting them up, just like in the 80s. 


I am also seeing seed and chemical companies extend credit to farmers, again just like the 80s, but at credit card interest rates of 18 – 21% that are difficult, if not impossible, to pay back. Farmers need protection against loan-shark tactics. One thing we could do is limit the things that big companies can seize and sell, like plows and tools and wages, if they are charging loan shark interest rates and garbage fees.


A third trend that I am seeing in 2010 is that government agencies, such as the SBA, do not work well with banks administering guaranteed loans to farmers or businesses. When a bank wants to keep the farmer or small business going by tweaking the loan to make it feasible in the current economy, we need to make sure the SBA promptly addresses requests for a loan modification. As a U.S. Senator, I would assure action on these requests in a reasonable time and I would work to ensure that SBA has enough people to handle the workload.


Finally, I see more retired people filing for bankruptcy, especially widows.  I have filed bankruptcy for two widows in the last two months. In both cases, when their husband died, their small pensions and Social Security were not enough to keep their home and pay their bills. In both cases, they realized that they couldn’t afford their home too late and lost their homes and virtually everything else. Widows and orphans have always been the most vulnerable members of society. As a U.S. Senator, I plan to do all that I can to protect the pensions/retirement nest eggs of or our retirees and assure Social Security remains solvent.


Beginning in the Reagan years almost 30 years ago, the laws in the United States have favored those at the top of the economic pyramid at the expense of the working people and the most vulnerable, like our widows. I have seen it firsthand as a steady stream of people have come through my front door and asked me to help them. Help them save their home, help them save their dignity, help them hang on in tough and changing times. 


As a U.S. Senator, I will push back on the laws that favor the rich, the loan sharks, those at the top of the economic pyramid. The rich have had too many of their own watching out for their interests in Congress for too long. I have represented the working and vulnerable people of Iowa, one at a time. I will represent them together in the U.S. Senate.

~Tom Fiegen lives in Clarence, Iowa and is a
bankruptcy lawyer and economics professor. He is a Democratic candidate
to be
the junior United States Senator from Iowa. He faces Bob Krause and
Roxanne Conlin in the Democratic primary on June 8.  To learn more about
Tom Fiegen, check out his web site fiegenforussenate.com

To donate to the Fiegen campaign, click here.

The Iowa Governor's Public Health Conference

The Iowa Governor's Public Health Conference


by Paul Deaton

“While
the more radical among us would suggest that Iowa’s public health system
be completely re-engineered, it seems an unlikely undertaking. The
current approach is through legislation and incremental change…”


Most Iowans don’t think about much about public health. The truth is they wouldn’t think about it at all if there weren’t a pressing need. During the 2008 floods, we were glad that public health agencies were available to address tetanus and food safety. If public health is not involved in working through an epidemic like the H1N1 influenza, then who would be? For the rest of the time, most people would rather that public health remains unseen. This week, public health professionals gathered in Ames for their annual “Governor’s Conference on Public Health,” a two day affair with catered meals, plenary sessions and a venue for people across the state to network and learn about Iowa’s public health footprint.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver was absent from his own conference. According to Tom Newton, Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, the reason Culver was unable to attend the conference this week is that because of the short legislative session, there were a lot of bills to consider, sign and perhaps line item veto. It was disappointing that after re-naming the conference for the governor more than a year ago, he developed a scheduling conflict: two separate signing ceremonies for the Teacher Diversity Bill at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines and the Physician Assistants Bill at the Iowa Physician Assistants Society meeting in West Des Moines. Having heard Culver speak at the last Governor’s Barn Raising on Public Health in 2007, public health does not seem to be his milieu and he is probably smart to delegate his role at the conference to Newton. In any case, Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge is a more engaging speaker on public health and she was honored on Wednesday as the Iowa Public Health Association’s Iowa Public Health Official of the Year. In the end, the executive branch was well represented at the conference.

In his remarks, Newton covered the budgeting issue which looms large over public health employees. The state revenue gap for FY2010 was partly filled by $3 million in federal stimulus funds. This temporarily prevented the elimination of some public health jobs. The stimulus money along with another $2 million will need to be cut from the next year’s budget to deal with the revenue shortfall. The governor does not want to see the cuts and has publicly said so. Even with cuts, he does not want to substantially impact services. Tom Newton’s challenge is to devise a budget that can reduce local impact of a substantial revenue shortfall.

Newton said the group gathered should celebrate the successes of a progressive public health agenda. He pointed to the role Iowa public health officials played during the 2008 floods, activating to address the H1N1 influenza virus, the Public Health Modernization Act and the expansion of Hawk-I, and other state level health reform initiatives. This year, some preliminary data regarding the impacts of the $1.00 per pack cigarette tax and the Smoke Free Iowa Act were released and there has been a 50% decrease in the use of tobacco products in Iowa, with less than 15% of adults being smokers. The state has supported cessation efforts as the Iowa Quitline calls for people wanting to quit smoking have gone off the charts. All of the items Newton mentioned are good for Iowans.

While local boards of health in the 19th century used to disband after the spring “miasma,” they, and the public health departments they created, have now become an institutionalized part of our government. As such, they have become administrators of programs funded by others. Part of a public health department’s funding comes from county sources. A large portion of it comes from grants and from pass through of state and federal dollars for specific programs. Each county has a local board of health that is community based and intended to manage the health departments. The truth is that the myriad of programs, guidance, regulations and infrastructure reduce the number of policy decisions a local board of health needs to make to a very few, centered on issues that the permanent staff can’t resolve, or statutory directives. Public Health in Iowa has become a large bureaucracy.

While the more radical among us would suggest that Iowa’s public health system be completely re-engineered, it seems an unlikely undertaking. The current approach is through legislation and incremental change using the techniques of formal quality improvement processes. The author’s view is that to the extent we administer programs initiated at the federal and state level, that administration could be consolidated, instead of dispersed among our 99 counties. When there is an epidemic, like the H1N1 influenza, the Centers for Disease Control and the state take a dominating role anyway, so couldn’t other entities like hospitals, community health organizations and doctors’ offices be leveraged to ramp up and cover the needs dictated by state and federal authorities? While public health has had a lot of recent practice in emergency response, is there another way to formulate the emergency response plan to reduce the number of public health employees and achieve the same results?

On a sunny afternoon in Ames, as we dined, chatted and learned about each other, the idea of radical change was not on the menu. It seemed like the afternoon would continue forever, with good food, a schedule for the day, friends and sponsorship by a government that could perpetuate our roles unendingly. In this environment, it is difficult to think outside the box, which may be what public health in Iowa needs most.

~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. He is also a member of the Johnson County, Iowa Board of Health.
E-mail Paul
Deaton

Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Disarmament

Milestones on the Road
to Nuclear Disarmament



“In
recognition of the fact
that President Obama is
consistently, diligently working to
improve
the national
security
posture of the
United States, Blog for Iowa will
publish major addresses by the
administration concerning its policy towards nuclear disarmament. Our
intent is to be a voice to get the message out to Iowans, something the
corporate media seems uninterested in.”

by President
Barack Obama

Remarks at the
Opening
Plenary Session of the Nuclear Security Summit

Washington, D.C., April 13, 2010

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I’d like to get
started. 
Let me begin by thanking all of you for your participation last night.  I
thought it was a very important discussion.

Before I begin, I want to take this moment once again to
acknowledge
the terrible tragedy that struck the Polish people this weekend.  We are
joined today by a distinguished delegation from Poland, led by
Ambassador Kupiecki.  Mr. Ambassador, all of us were shocked and deeply
saddened by the devastating loss of President Kaczynski, the First Lady,
and so many distinguished civilian and military leaders from your
country.  This was a loss, not just for Poland, but for the world.

As a close friend and ally, the United States stands with
Poland and
Poles everywhere in these very difficult days.  As an international
community, I know that we will all rally around the Polish people, who
have shown extraordinary strength and resilience throughout their
history.  So our hearts go out to your people.  Our thoughts and prayers
are with them.  We join them in this time of mourning.  And so, if
everybody is agreeable, I would like to ask for a moment of silence to
show that solidarity and to honor those who were lost.

(Pause for moment of silence.)

Thank you.  It is my privilege to welcome you to Washington and
to
formally convene this historic summit.  We represent 47 nations from
every region of the world, and I thank each of you for being here.  This
is an unprecedented gathering to address an unprecedented threat.

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel
irony of
history — the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone
down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.

Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned
into a
nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations.  Just the smallest amount of
plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill and injure
hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Terrorist networks such as al
Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if
they ever succeeded, they would surely use it.  Were they to do so, it
would be a catastrophe for the world — causing extraordinary loss of
life, and striking a major blow to global peace and stability.

In short, it is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear
terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security — to our
collective security.

And that’s why, one year ago today in — one year ago in
Prague, I
called for a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear
materials around the world in four years.  This is one part of a
broader, comprehensive agenda that the United States is pursuing —
including reducing our nuclear arsenal and stopping the spread of
nuclear weapons — an agenda that will bring us closer to our ultimate
goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Over the past year, we’ve made progress.  At the United Nations
Security Council last fall, we unanimously passed Resolution 1887
endorsing this comprehensive agenda, including the goal of securing all
nuclear materials.  Last night, in closed session, I believe we made
further progress, pursuing a shared understanding of the grave threat to
our people.

And today, we have the opportunity to take the next steps.

We have the opportunity, as individual nations, to take
specific and
concrete actions to secure the nuclear materials in our countries and to
prevent illicit trafficking and smuggling.  That will be our focus this
morning.

We have the opportunity to strengthen the International Atomic
Energy
Agency, the IAEA, with the resources and authorities it needs to meet
its responsibilities.  That will be our focus at our working lunch.

We have the opportunity, as an international community, to
deepen our
cooperation and to strengthen the institutions and partnerships that
help prevent nuclear materials from ever falling into the hands of
terrorists.  And that will be our focus this afternoon.

And we have the opportunity, as partners, to ensure that our
progress
is not a fleeting moment, but part of a serious and sustained effort. 
And that’s why I am so pleased to announce that President Lee has agreed
to host the next Nuclear Security Summit in the Republic of Korea in
two years.  This reflects South Korea’s leadership, regionally and
globally, and I thank President Lee and the South Korean people for
their willingness to accept this responsibility.

I’d ask President Lee just to say a few words.

PRESIDENT LEE:  Thank you for calling us, for supporting Korea
to
host next summit in 2012.

I assure you I will do best to make this summit a success.  So I
hope
to see all of you in Korea.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

So today is an opportunity — not simply to talk, but to act. 
Not
simply to make pledges, but to make real progress on the security of our
people.  All this, in turn, requires something else, which is something
more fundamental.  It will require a new mindset — that we summon the
will, as nations and as partners, to do what this moment in history
demands.

I believe strongly that the problems of the 21st century cannot
be
solved by any one nation acting in isolation.  They must be solved by
all of us coming together.

At the dawn of the nuclear age that he helped to unleash,
Albert
Einstein said:  “Now everything has changed…”  And he warned: “We are
drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison.  We shall require a
substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

That truth endures today.  For the sake of our common security,
for
the sake of our survival, we cannot drift.  We need a new manner of
thinking — and action.  That is the challenge before us.  And I thank
all of you for being here to confront that challenge together, in
partnership.

And with that, I’m going to ask that we take a few moments to
allow
the press to exit before our first session.

Read this speech and others by President Obama and members of
the administration, click
here
.

To read President Obama's
speech on April 5, 2009 in Prague, Czech Republic,
click
here.

~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. He is also a member of Iowa Physicians for
Social Responsibility and Veterans for Peace.
E-mail Paul
Deaton