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Archive for January 2012

Iowa Legislators Need To Hear From Public

G** advocate groups and the NR* are pushing a new law in the Iowa legislature.   HF *** would make it even more ok than it already is for someone to kill someone as long as they feel threatened (even if it turns out later that they weren’t actually threatened).

The law is opposed by law enforcement who argue it will increase rather than decrease crime.

According to Lonny Pulkrabek, Johnson County Sheriff:

“The goal for shall issue was more law abiding citizens getting permits to carry. Mission accomplished. The unintended results were more non-law abiding citizens carrying weapons. Mission accomplished. Many people with criminal records are flocking in to Sheriff’s Offices to get permits.  Now the NRA and [g**] advocates are going to give the criminals a new tool.  It is called “stand your ground.”  A great way to get by with murder. Kill someone, no witnesses, therefore report to the police you felt threatened, that makes it justified now and no criminal or civil sanctions.

The legislators need to hear from people on this. The NRA will continue to put an enormous amount of pressure and $$$ into Iowa on this issue.

Tell them vote NO on stand your ground legislation. The law already gives you protection.”

According to the Des Moines Register/reasonable force opposed by law enforcement:

House File 573 is being supported by the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, (whose family also happens to own a g** store).  Siding with Windschitl were fellow subcommittee member Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, and National Rifle Association lobbyist Christopher Rager.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone argued that domestic abusers, gang members and others, could find cover in the new law.  “Unfortunately … it’s going to increase the level of crimes,” said Steven Foritano, a bureau chief for the Polk County attorney’s office. “It’s a bill that asks for the escalation of violence and not the de-escalation of violence.”

Siding with the Polk County prosecutors in opposition to the law were police and sheriffs’ representatives, the trial attorneys’ lobby and Des Moines Rep. Rick Olson, the lone Democrat on the subcommittee.

Legislators need to hear from the public on this.

Click here to find your legislator
Click here to contact your legislator



President Obama: “I Intend To Fight Obstructionism With Action”

Congressman Loebsack’s Reaction to President Obama’s State Of The Union Address

Himaliowa Haiku

Himaliowa haiku
by jonshu

In Butterfly Morning
we Rise UP

Happy Chinese New Year
In this Year of the Dragon


This Week On The Fallon Forum: Should Democrats Count The GOP Votes?

Monday – Thursday from 7:00-800 pm, join us for the fusion of politics and civility at 98.3 WOW-FM and on-line at  Call (515) 312-0983 or (866) 908-TALK to participate in the conversation.  If you miss the show, you can hear it as a podcast and please help support local progressive talk radio with an online donation  or by check to PO Box 13421, Des Moines, IA 50310.

Dear Friends,

If Iowa is to retain its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential nominating process, this year’s caucus debacle demands dramatic action. An edgy, decisive plan is needed, and I’m happy to announce that I have it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the impeccable logic behind my thinking:

1. Ballots were unable to be counted in 8 of 1,774 Republican precinct caucuses. That’s a failure rate of .045% — unacceptable when dealing with something as important as voting, or caucusing, or electing delegates . . . or whatever it is we do here in Iowa to help pick the leader of what used to be called, charmingly, “the free world.”

2. Presumably, precinct chairs and/or secretaries counted the ballots in each precinct, with interested (often suspicious) rank-and-file caucus goers looking on.

3. The chair and secretary were presumably Republicans at all precinct caucuses. All but one, that is . . .

4.  That’s right. As previously reported, Republicans in Des Moines 66 elected this former Democratic legislator as caucus secretary. I was a registered Republican for all of 60 minutes before I got to count ballots (and money!). There were no errors in the vote tally in Precinct 66 (and every red Republican cent was accounted for too, in case you’re wondering).

5. Therefore, since the error rate among Republicans counting votes is an unacceptable .045% vs a spotless performance among Democrats counting votes, I call upon Matt Strawn, chair of the Iowa Republican Party, to immediately announce to the world that, beginning in 2016, only Democrats will be allowed to count ballots at Republican precinct caucuses.

And given the extent to which Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Bush II ran-up the federal debt, it might not be a bad idea to keep Democrats in charge of managing the federal till as well.

That said, we have some great conversation brewing for you this week. And I hope you’ll not only tune-in, but call-in — everyone but Frank, that is.

Monday, Charles Goldman and I read tea leaves as we attempt to find meaning in the craziness of the recent South Carolina primary. We’ll also talk about SOPA and PIPA. And no, SOPA and PIPA aren’t characters in a new Disney film.

Tuesday, we talk with Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, about the $809 million in state money that has gone to just 50 companies over the past seven years. Debi and I are unlikely to agree on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, which should make for some provocative conversation.

Speaking of being unlikely to agree, also on Tuesday, Dave Williams, President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, will gab with me about the State of the Union address, which airs live at 8:00 pm central time.

Wednesday, we talk nuclear power, and Sonia Ashe of the Iowa Public Interest Research Group joins us. Apparently, even the Iowa Utilities Board is raising concerns about MidAmerican Energy’s proposal to soak rate-payers with the cost of building a new nuclear power plant.

Thursday, Speaker of the Iowa House, Kraig Paulsen, is our guest for the opening segment of the show, which will focus on matters before the Iowa Legislature this session, obviously.

So, tune in at 98.3 WOW-FM and online. You can download the Fallon Forum as a podcast, too.  And don’t forget to visit The Fallon Forum website at  Thanks!



Traffic Cameras, Politics, And Civil Liberties

Rod Sullivan, Johnson County Supervisor

by Rod Sullivan

[Reprinted with permission from Rod Sullivan’s weekly newsletter, Sullivan’s Salvos.   Sullivan is a thoughtful, outspoken, progressive Democrat who can be counted on to let everyone know exactly where he stands and to not go along with the usual  groupthink.   You may not always agree with him, but he tends to do  his homework on the issues.  Last week Governor Branstad (sensing a political wedge issue in the making we suspect) said he would go along with a statewide ban on traffic cameras, so it seemed like a good idea to present  another viewpoint to add to the conversation, along with some statistical information  from someone who has actually looked into the matter.]

I recently asked my fellow Board members if there was any interest in a discussion of traffic cameras. There was none.

This is unfortunate on a couple of levels: first, just about anything deserves at least a short public discussion, particularly when one Board member requests it. Secondly, I think this should be discussed because traffic cameras used correctly are proving to be a great tool for public safety.

Let me be clear; I am referring to speed cameras. There are also red light cameras, and while very similar, the justifications are somewhat different. For the purposes of this discussion, I am referring to speed cameras.

It actually pisses me off when I hear some elected officials say that this raises civil liberties concerns for them. There are about three elected officials in Johnson County who are legit when they say this. The rest are full of it.

I would love to see elected officials who REALLY cared about civil liberties. If more really cared about civil liberties, there would be many more tough votes taken. REALLY care about civil liberties? Take a look at our disproportionate minority contact numbers. They are abysmal. But the “civil liberties” champions who criticize cameras won’t touch a REAL civil liberties issue with a ten-foot pole.

Opposition to cameras is mainly pandering. The public gets upset about them, so the politicians automatically cave. But that we actually had a roster full of elected officials who cared about civil liberties!

I am literally a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I fully understand the civil liberties concerns to which cameras give rise. And I think there are some precautions that can be taken to protect our privacy. I will get to those later. First, here is why we need traffic cameras:

1. Cameras reduce speed-related accidents. This has been statistically proven. A federal study found a small but measurable reduction in injuries nationwide in accidents in areas monitored by cameras. Local studies nationwide show largely similar data. Crashes on 380 in CR are down 76%! Fatal crashes on 380 are down 80%!

(There is some data that shows a slight increase in rear end collisions at red light cameras –though the same studies demonstrate a reduction in more serious “t-bone” collisions at the same intersections. But that is for our cities to figure out. I am not talking about cameras at intersections – I’m talking speed cameras.)

2. Cameras raise revenues. I hear opponents say, “this isn’t about safety – it is about money.” First, safety statistics prove that statement untrue. But just for kicks, let’s pretend it is true. The cameras are only to raise money. Why is that bad thing? Money raised from cameras is money that property tax payers do not need to pay. I would suggest using any revenues 50% for additional patrol deputies, 50% for offsetting the use of property taxes in public safety.

Is there a need? Have you driven I-380 between Iowa City and CR? I have a bit of a lead foot; I’ll set my cruise at 75 in the 70mph zone. Cars pass me as though I were standing still. In a single commute you will witness a half dozen risky behaviors.

3. The only people who pay are people whose vehicles broke the law. No one is forced to pay these fines. Don’t break the law, and you don’t pay. (In CR, no drivers were ticketed unless they were at least 10mph over the limit.)

Cameras are in use just to our north in Cedar Rapids. The cameras added up to big money and significantly fewer crashes, according to police statistics. Through 11 months, the city has made $2.3 million from the camera system, according to data from camera vendor Gatso USA.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham said crashes citywide dropped by 8 percent from 2009 to 2010, and injury crashes fell 16 percent. Instead of working crashes, officers went to neighborhoods. Graham said the extra officers in neighborhoods helped reduce violent crime by 2 percent and property crime by 12 percent last year.

That backs up my own experience. I travel to CR fairly frequently, and since the advent of traffic cameras, my behavior has changed dramatically. I drive MUCH slower through CR!

Those results are REAL. And they happened just 25 miles north of us! They occurred on the same stretch of road (I-380) for which I would recommend cameras.

As mentioned earlier, there are several things that can be done to mitigate civil liberties concerns.

First, violations must be treated as civil infractions rather than moving violations. That means fines are similar to parking tickets, and do not impact the vehicle owner’s driving record. This is important, because the owner of the car was not necessarily the driver when the infraction occurred. This also protects the privacy of the drivers, because there is no need to use cameras to attempt to determine who was driving. The camera is focused on the plate, not the driver.

Secondly, there must be a strict plan for the data. Files must be deleted frequently, and data must be strictly protected. The data must remain the property of the municipality and not the vendor. Neither Cedar Rapids nor Des Moines has experienced any problems with this. I would encourage civil libertarians be actively involved in the writing of whatever contract is created with the company that maintains the data.

Finally, there must be an easy appeals process. This has been achieved in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.

Now Governor Branstad is getting into the act. He says he will sign a bill banning traffic cameras; according to Branstad, the cameras are “unfair”. How ridiculous! The cameras are EXACTLY the opposite – they are the MOST fair way to determine who broke the law! No giving breaks, no racial profiling, no room for human error. (And this is one more way for Branstad to take power away from local governments.)

Traffic cameras make sense. They prevent accidents, raise revenues, and create a safer environment. I think this AT LEAST deserves a discussion. What do you think?


*Government Does It Better!
So – who handles elections better? Elected County Auditors (the government) or local volunteers (the Iowa GOP Caucuses)? Chalk up another one for government!


Weekly Observations – Money Matters

Keeping An Eye Out For ALEC

With the start of the legislative session here in Iowa, citizens and journalists need to keep an eye out for ALEC legislation trying to get its foot in the door. Last year Republicans offered a bill which cut commercial property taxes, but also had many a poison pill for cities and towns in Iowa. I think we can expect those kind of shenanigans again. This is why the Liz Mathis election was so important. Without a majority in the senate, Dems would be unable to stop ALEC type legislation. Thus in a short peiod of time we would be Wisconsin or Michigan.

Anybody else feel Mitt has contempt for us little people?

After seeing the confrontation with a citizen on the ropeline in South Carolina I get the impression that Romney has little but contempt for those among us who do not have a few million laying around. Guess to be a full citizen under Romney I will need to find a few more zeroes to put behind the family fortune.

Under Gingrich, will State Dinners be swingers parties?

Why can’t I get this idea out of my mind? Just imagine Mr. Openmarriage as President. He is hosting a state dinner for let us say Sarkozy. Suddenly he decides he has taken a fancy to Mrs. Sarkozy and asks the first lady (aka the third wife) and the President of France if he and the French first lady could be excused for an hour or two. Think there would be any fallout?

When was the last time you said?

“I earned just a little bit of money” about $372,000? Looks like a big bit of money to me. A really big bit of money.

Payday Lenders finally going to be controlled?

When Richard Cordray was appointed to his job as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau he let it be known that Payday Lenders were in his sights. After immediately taking on the mortgage market, he has now focused on the Payday Lenders. With interest rates that can top an annual 500%, these lenders are certainly in need of some supervision. Thank you Mr. Cordray! Please read all about it here.

Are they caricatures?

I can’t help but think that if any creative person were trying to come up with a comic book character to represent on the 1%, that person would end up drawing Mitt Romney. We hear stories that he is really nice, yet the persona he shows in public is one of arrogance, disdain for the poor and middle class, who has so much money he considers a $10,000 bet a ‘friendly wager.’

Yet Gingrich and Santorum are not far behind as caricatures. Gingrich as the old southern white gentleman who treats women like objects and still echoes strains of the south’s racial past.

Santorum appears to want to be Pope of the United States. He is condescending to anyone who does not fit into his very narrow view of what humans should be.

How’s that austerity doing?

While we spend much of our time being distracted by the glittery object of the primaries and their circus like atmosphere, Europe continues to perform a great experiment in economics. Can austerity really grow an economy? Well, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other monetary groups issued warnings that austerity may not be the way to go after all.

Europe looks to have a very slow growth if any at all in the near future. It looks as though much of the expected slow growth can be attributed to the austerity.

Almost forgot our friends in Wisconsin

Congratulations on turning in the recall petitions not only on Walker, but on Kleefisch and the senators. I am sure there will be many here who will want to help make calls or whatever is needed in your fight for good government.

Sunday Funday: How Rich Are Our Presidents?

Lots of talk this week about Mitt Romney and the incredible bulge in his back pocket. Estimates of his fortune go as high as $250 million, but Mitt seems quite reluctant to share how much he has.

So that brings up a question – comparatively in current US$s how do our presidents stack up? Well, fortunately someone took on the task of figuring out what our past presidents had, so all I have to do is make up some questions from that. See if you can figure out which president is described in the questions below.

1) Born to a prominent and wealthy family, this president inherited a large trust fund. He lost a great deal of the trust fund in a ranching venture in the Dakotas. He worked most of his adult life in public service and as an author. His top estimated wealth was $60 million.

2) This man was an orphan and was raised by his uncle. He made his fortune in mining and holdings in mining companies. His wealth was estimated at $75 million.

3) A war hero, this man was one of the wealthiest presidents. He had extensive land holdings and also married a wealthy widow. His estimated worth was $525 million.

4) Also a war hero, this man was not so fortunate. Following his presidency he had to write his autobiography just to make money to live on. Estimated worth well below a million dollars.

5) This president made several attempts to be a small business man. Success eluded him in those endeavors, but he did succeed in political life serving as a senator, vice-president and eventually president. When his term ended he and his wife drove themselves back to their modest home. His estimated worth was less than a million dollars.

6) We had many war heroes as president. This war hero had an estate worth over $5 million at one time, but by the time he died most of it was gone. His estate consisted mostly of inheritance and land holdings in Indiana.

7) This president had large holdings in a tobacco plantation and other land. At one time he was estimated to have as much as a $51 million estate. But due to involvement with the South in the Civil War he was poor at death.

8) This man made most of his money as an author. Besides that he has worked in public service most of his life. His estimated worth was pegged at $5 million.

9) This man made most of his money as a college president and then as a governor. His estimated worth was below the million dollar mark.

10) This president had a successful career as an actor and spokesman for many corporations. His estimated worth is in the $13 million range.

Interesting, no? Most of our presidents have had some money, Some lost it, some made more. If Romney becomes president (I can’t imagine it either) he will not be the richest, but a contender. Unless he has more stashed away than we know.

Answers? OK!

1) Teddy Roosevelt
2) our own Herbert Hoover
3) George Washington – probably the richest – the Kennedys in toto had more money.
4) Ulysses Grant.
5) Harry S. Truman
6) William Henry Harrison
7) John Tyler. Remember that he served in the Confederate government in the civil war.
8) Barack Obama
9) Woodrow Wilson
10) Ronald Reagan – and I hope it was obvious.

Read up on all the presidents and their fortunes here.

The Courtney Report

Iowa veterans deserve our support

On January 18, hundreds of veterans from around the state visited the Iowa Capitol to meet with legislators. I was pleased to welcome local veterans to the Senate and listen to their concerns and ideas.

Throughout the day, veterans had the chance to meet Adjutant General Timothy Orr of the Iowa National Guard, Commandant David Worley of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Todd Jacobus, chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, and Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Jodi Tymeson.

In recent years, the Legislature re-established the Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure bipartisan work toward meeting the needs of those who serve. This year, we continue to explore opportunities to support Iowa veterans and their families, enhance existing services at the state and county levels, and help returning service members make a smooth transition back to civilian life.

Iowa troops who are in harm’s way and those who’ve served over the decades deserve our gratitude and dedicated support.

Ensuring Guard members get promised education benefits

The first bill approved by the Iowa Senate this year will help our National Guard soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get the college tuition assistance they were promised. Senate File 2007 invests an additional $1.3 million in the Iowa National Guard tuition assistance program.

Helping Iowa’s returning soldiers attend college and improve their skills makes a lot of sense. We want these young people qualify for good jobs at good wages and help build a stronger Iowa economy.

Last month, the Guard told us that the dollars available for tuition assistance would fall short due increased demand among returning soldiers hoping to get a college education. In fact, the average grant fell from 90 percent of tuition to 50 percent. The cuts went into effect for the spring semester, which meant that Guard members currently enrolled in college classes had to find other sources of assistance to pay their bills.

If the Iowa House also approves the legislation and Governor Branstad signs it, the benefit to soldiers at Iowa’s universities would be up to $1,300 per semester in additional aid.

Ensuring our soldiers get to go to college was a good start to what hopefully will be a productive session focused on training a skilled workforce and creating jobs for all Iowans.

Increasing safety for school children

Each year children die because drivers fail to obey school bus laws. A bipartisan bill in the Senate aims to keep Iowa kids safer when getting on and off their school bus.

This legislation was proposed after the tragic death of Kadyn Halvorson of Northwood. Kadyn was killed while crossing the road to board her school bus.

Current law prohibits drivers from passing a stopped school bus that has its lights flashing and the stop arm out. Yet every year, hundreds of drivers violate this law and endanger the lives of children heading to school and home.

“Kadyn’s Law” would enhance the penalties for unlawfully passing a school bus by increasing fines and giving the court the option of sending the offender to jail. The bill also calls for the Iowa Department of Transportation to conduct a study of how best to increase school bus safety for children.

State funding improves local libraries

Local Iowa libraries play key roles in literacy, workforce and economic development, lifelong learning and entertainment. Iowans use their libraries to find jobs, do homework, apply to college, learn about medical treatments, access government information and more.

Every day, more than 55,000 Iowans walk through the doors of public libraries in our state. According to Iowa Library Services, more than two-thirds of all Iowans have active public library cards, and use of our libraries increases each year.

A new report showing how state funding improves our libraries is available at Have a look and see how our local libraries used the state funding they received for 2011 to improve their services.

News you can use
Radon in your home causes cancer

January is National Radon Action Month, a good time for Iowans to make themselves aware of the risks of radon in their homes and how to protect their families. According to the Iowa Radon Coalition, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Seven in ten Iowa homes contain elevated levels. This is an unnecessary risk when you consider that radon is easy to test for and to mitigate. Tests cost as little as $10 and are simple to perform. Learn more about testing for and fixing a radon problem here: 

Keep Iowa Beautiful offers scholarships

Keep Iowa Beautiful is offering up to four $500 scholarships to Iowa high school seniors in 2012. Iowa students enrolling in an Iowa college or university and planning to major in community enhancement or environmental studies are eligible to apply. The application deadline is February 7. For complete details, go to

World Food Prize opportunity for students

The World Food Prize is hosting the first annual Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University on April 30. Schools nominate students to participate in the event. Those nominated by their school must submit a research paper addressing a global issue concerning hunger and poverty by April 1. Those selected to be a part of the Iowa Youth Institute may earn the chance to attend the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute, apply for the Borlaug- Ruan International Internship, apply for the USDA Wallace-Carver Internship and receive an Iowa State University scholarship. To learn more, visit here.

Contact Tom

Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319

2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601

Time To Inform Ourselves On ALEC

The legislature is starting up once more. Most of us have a preconceived idea that we took away from grade school civics that our local elected representatives act with local concerns at the top of their lists.

But as with many other things, money has corrupted our governmental processes even at this level. Where once the major concern was crafting legislation that would address problems that arose while having the least negative effects on citizens, now the concern for at least one group is to enact legislation in states (including Iowa) that promotes a national agenda.

Working behind the scenes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes “pro-business” legislation in state legislation throughout the country. ALEC has been around for a long time, but only recently has the climate been ripe for them to flex their muscle. They have semi-annual meetings where state legislators and corporate big-wigs work on what they call “model legislation” for states.

The “model legislation” is usually set up to change current public policy so that business can have a much more friendly climate in which to operate. States that have a Republican governor and Republican majority in both houses of their legislature have pushed hard to pass ALEC model  legislation.

These states are in the news quite a bit recently because the legislation has been so extreme. Wisconsin is the prime example with the passage of union-busting legislation, public school fund strangling legislation, and of course the crown jewel – legislation to restrict the right to vote targeted at traditional Democratic constituencies.

Other states that have passed similar types of  laws include Ohio and Michigan. Indiana is currently attempting to pass some of the ALEC model legislation. Other model legislation include things like privately run prison systems, privatizing libraries and privatizing municipal utilities such as water.

Over time, Iowa has been one of the sanest and most forward looking of states in their legislation. Yet the scourge of ALEC policies has at least a firm toe-hold in Iowa. Responding to an inquiry I sent,  Charles Smithson, chief clerk of the Iowa House of Representatives, replied that ALEC membership was an opt out option. All Republican members of the House are members of ALEC. There were also four Democrats, three of whom have since dropped out.

So just as huge corporate money is totally corrupting our national politics, at the state level we have a similar problem. ALEC is the vehicle being used to bring corporations and legislators together, usually behind closed doors in unannounced meetings.

In the coming weeks we will try to focus on which of Iowa’s legislators have close ties with ALEC and which bills that are being introduced are based on ALEC model legislation.

Iowa is one step, literally one seat away from being another Wisconsin or Ohio. Had Liz Mathis not won in the special senate election last fall, the door to all sorts of ALEC legislation would have been opened.

Please go here to the alecexposed website for much more information on ALEC and their model legislation that is not good for Iowa.