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BP Gets Off – A Nation Of Laws?

Ed Schultz did yeoman’s work over the past couple of weeks following up on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As noted in the video above the perpetrator of the spill, BP, did all it could to avoid restitution for their damage. Instead of paying for the damage they caused, they sunk money into lies and propaganda through advertising. They also greased the skids with “campaign contributions” to politicians who have worked hard to get BP off and allow them to get drilling rights once more in the Gulf and in the Atlantic. All the while the American public saw the horror of BP’s negligence slowly morph on their TV screens into BP, a company that cares.

During 2012 Americans were able to learn a great deal about how vulture companies like Bain Capital, at one time headed by then candidate Mitt Romney, would take over companies and essentially strip them of any assets. Among those assets were pension funds that workers had planned to live on in their old age. In the case of Bain victim companies, pension funds would be raided and added to the payments Bain extracted from the company. Thus Bain got some huge checks, many lives were ruined (insignificant no doubt in the Bain way of thinking), and the American taxpayer gets a bill to make up some of the pension “raided” – stolen actually.

Since the pension funds were part of the compensation for work done by company employees every bit as important as their weekly pay, medical benefits and vacations, “raiding” the pension funds is simply a polite term for theft. Why laws were passed for legalizing this theft is simply unbelievable. Bain had a fairly structured way of taking their targeted companies apart and stealing the future from the companies employees was simply part of the plan.

What was good for Bain also appears to be good for governments. Last year we witnessed the dismantling of Detroit. Among the assets seized to pay Detroit’s debt were the pension funds. Funds that police and fire fighters and all sorts of municipal workers had planned to be there when their so-called “golden” years was gone. Some of these folks had worked for the city for as long as 40 years.

In New Jersey last week, Presidential wannabe Chris Christie was handed a judgment that said he must fully fund pension funds. When offered a plan that would raise taxes on the wealthy that would raise the money needed to fund the pension fund, Christie immediately rejected it.

In Illinois new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner wasted little time in going after public pensions. Even though most public pensions are part of a negotiated contract which we may assume are negotiated in good faith with access to viable fiscal projections. Seems like Rauner wants to unilaterally change the contract like so many of his Republican gubernatorial colleagues across the country have been doing. And of course while he can’t find money in the budget to pay legally mandated payments, he can find oodles of money to cut his own taxes and those of his rich buddies.

And let us not forget our governor for life Terry Branstad. While the pension story here in Iowa is good so far, we still have yet to hear anything on Branstad’s paying released employees last year with moneys that seemed to have been shifted illegally.

When I hear some politician, usually Republican, rail about this country being a nation of laws I just have to shake my head. “We are all equal in the eyes of the law” the old story goes. But there is hardly a person among us who can’t tell a story right off the top of their head of some well connected person who got a big break. Still waiting for one person to be arrested and tried for the financial meltdown in 2007 and 2008? So am I. Maybe at least a few real questions of those who led us into an illegal war in Iraq? Still waiting.

In some of the cases above, actions taken were made legal even though they are, to many, repugnant and unethical. When you have money and can buy some influence, you get favors. The reason I used so many stories of workers having their pensions, often pensions they contributed to, flat out stolen from them is to bring it home to the reader. Yes, they are just like you and me. If you think you have a good job with a solid company or a government pension awaiting your golden years don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find all that money in the back pocket of some Wall Street hedge fund manager and you looking at working until you die.

And when some politician, particularly a Republican tells me they are a Christian, I think of Ghandi’s statement: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” If you claim to follow the Ten Commandments then do something to stop the unethical laws, stop the thievery, stop the discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or skin color. In short let the beliefs you profess actually guide you.

Oh – what’s this? Illinois Congress member Aaron Shock living the high life on the taxpayer’s dime and campaign funds? Que surprise? Hey just rub our noses in it knowing that enough campaign commercials and you will forget – you always do.

Sunday Funday: Time For A Change Edition

I just want to go to the bar after I do the puzzle

I just want to go to the bar after I do the puzzle

Enough winter, bring on some spring. I hate to see what is under the white, but I will have to face it someday.

Oh – and don’t forget to change your clocks next week.

Were you paying attention?

1) Blue and black or white and gold? What the heck am I talking about?

2) One was black and one was white and their romp captured the attention of the nation Thursday. Who were they?

3) He wasn’t here, he wasn’t there. Apparently he wasn’t anywhere he said he was. What national news figure is taking a lot of heat for embellishing his cred by claiming to be on the scene of many important events?

4) Wisconsin faces a vote in their legislature that will make them yet another right to work state. What high profile labor union came out against the right to work vote in Wisconsin?

5) A guy named Chuy pulled a real upset Tuesday when he forced what politician into a runoff election for the Chicago mayor’s office?

6) The nets are free at least for now. What was the vote for making the internet a common carrier Thursday?

7) March 1, 1961 new president John Kennedy established what organization that sent young Americans volunteers abroad to help developing countries?

8) What went into effect today in Iowa, thanks to quick passage by both houses of Iowa’s legislature and the governor’s signature?

9) Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma proved once and for all this week that climate change was bunk by doing what?

10) A bill in the Iowa House will ban the sale of palcohol in Iowa. What is palcohol?

11) What target in the United States was specifically mentioned in a message from Al-Shabob?

12) Who is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress Tuesday?

13) In Idaho a Republican legislator asked a doctor testifying before his committee if a doctor could conduct what kind of exam remotely by having the woman swallow a camera?

14) Iowa’s largest utility companies reported last week that they have approximately how much in past due bills?

15) Manufacturers of what ubiquitous grocery and department store item delayed a ban on their product when they gathered signatures to put the ban on the ballot in 2016?

16) What Republican presidential wannabe is leading in Iowa in a very early Quinnipiac poll?

17) Earl Lloyd died at age 86 this week. He was noted because he was the first what?

18) 70 years after the death of its author and 90 years after it was first published what book will once more be published in Germany in 2015?

19) Boris Nemtsov was shot to death Friday evening in Moscow. He was the leader of what in Russia?

20) Congress averted a shutdown of Homeland Security Friday night for how long?

Special mention to Leonard Nimoy whose portrayal of Dr. Spock on Star Trek helped inspire many future scientists.

Answers:

1) a dress that sparked a fierce internet debate over its real colors. Some saw it as blue and black, some as gold and white.

2) Two llamas that cavorted around the Phoenix area Thursday

3) Billo O’Reilly

4) the NFL Players association

5) Rahm Emmanuel

6) 3 – 2 on basically a party line vote

7) the Peace Corps

8) 10 cent a gallon tax to pay for road repairs

9) taking a snowball onto the Senate floor and noting it was cold outside

10) powdered alcohol

11) the Mall of America in the Twin Cities

12) Benjamin Netanyahu

13) a gynecological exam. Really he did.

14) $39 million

15) the plastic bag.

16) Scott Walker

17) black basketball player in the NBA

18) “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler

19) Opposition to Vladimir Putin

20) a week. Yep next week will be a repeat of this week.

Republicans Fake Concern About Income Inequality

branstad jobs numbers

The Iowa senate passed a raise in minimum wage Monday on pretty much of a party line vote. One Republican joined twenty six Democrats to pass the bill. This would be good news if Democrats controlled the other legislative House and we still had a Democrat as governor. However with Republicans controlling both of those branches there is a good chance that this bill will never see the light of day again. As a friend told me you can probably plan on Tom Sands to let it die in the House Ways and Means Committee, never to see any more action. No mess, no fuss and no raises for Iowa’s poor.

No doubt any stories of a minimum wage will disappear from the pages of Iowa’s newspapers and the screens of Iowa’s TV stations. Maybe an occasional mention in blogs like this, but for the most part out of sight, out of mind.

But the real irony in this story is that at the national level the Republican Party is planning on making a campaign out of the inequitable income distribution in this country. Quit laughing, I am serious. Jeb (I am the third) Bush has already been pushing the issue, as have such union busters as Scott Walker and Chris Christie. Even the religious crazy wing of Huckabee and Santorum have suddenly discovered that some Americans are starving. All of course blame President Obama who, in their altered minds, has created the problems by causing Republican obstruction for six years an many jobs bills, spending programs and tax adjustments to pay for them. Makes sense to them.

What do you suppose their answer is? Why give more money to the wealthy of course! Continue that awesome trickle down economy that has brought so many benefits to – well their donors, the .1%. Don’t expect to hear that spoken out loud. Don’t expect to hear any solution spoken out loud. The strategy today is for Republicans to criticize only but answer no questions. Won’t work you say? Ask Sen. Ernst about that.

But there has been some truly grudging movement among the wealthy to finally take a trickle on their employees. Walmart created major headlines last week when it announced it would trickle on its employees a little bit this year, a little bit more next year. Walmart is owned by half a dozen of the wealthiest people in the world. These are people who fought tooth and nail so that no stinking employee would get a nickel of their hundreds of billions of dollars. Now they are suddenly seemingly showering their employees with trickle down. Did they finally get to the point that they realized that they had so much money it was time to trickle?

That would be a laugh. Much speculation has been put forth on the cause, but I think many folks looked way too deep for motives. Walmart was getting hit in the pocket book. Sales are decreasing because one of their major constituents can no longer afford to shop at Walmart. Even though Walmart advertises that they are the low price store they are not. The very poor are now going to dollar stores with the little money they have. The Republican wet dream of cutting food stamps has been partially realized and those who have lost government aid must make what little they have stretch further. Thus Walmart is too costly. With a significant portion of their low level employees getting government aid in the form of food stamps, Walmart’s employees are going elsewhere.

Add to the mix that Walmart employees are in near rebellion over wages and ridiculous expectations of availability to work anytime they are called and you can guess that Walmart had created a monster for themselves. Internal high level memos were leaked to the press that discussed such problems. Sales were sluggish and suddenly board members started to care. See, they got hit in the pocketbook so now they care. One of the memos discussed lack of product on shelves along with expired products on shelves. Since I do have to shop at Walmart about once a month for a couple of products I can get no where else – remember they ran much of their competition out of business – I can attest to those problems. Lots of empty shelves, lots of product out of place, expired or near expired product on the shelves and no one, literally no one working on it.

So Walmart’s raise in wages was not due to their generosity, but to self-preservation. That is a real trickle on by the Walton heirs.

Liberals have long pushed for wages beyond the minimum to what is known as a living wage. A living wage varies from place to place due to cost of living differences. Right now about $15/hour is a generally accepted minimum living wage. There are a couple of small pockets where a living wage is in effect such as Seatac, Washington which voted it in a year and a half ago. It is hard to isolate what effect such laws have had on local economies since those earning a living wage is narrowly defined and do not necessarily live in that community.

But there is one state that has raised wages considerably, taxed the rich a bit more and has done it for a long enough period that the effects can be evaluated. Many may have heard this week of the success stories coming out of Minnesota. Iowa and Minnesota elected new governors in 2010 both changing parties from their previous governors. In Minnesota, Democrat Mark Dayton faced a huge leftover deficit, and the specter go the I-35 bridge collapse under his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. Branstad came back into power in Iowa to a budget that was actually in pretty decent shape, and an economy that weathered the Republican recession of 2008 fairly well. Branstad came in with promises of 200,000 jobs and higher wages.

The two governors took entirely different approaches. Branstad took the usual Republican approach of tax cuts for the rich and state cut backs in spending. In Minnesota minimum wages were raised and the highest earners were taxed at a slightly higher rate.

Iowa’s economy has plodded along as the national economy has gained steam. Jobs in Iowa have increased but at a pace far below that promised by Branstad. Meanwhile in Minnesota the economy has prospered. Jobs are up nearly 200,000 under Dayton, governmental finances are in tip-top shape and roads are being repaired. Iowa’s roads and especially its bridges are among the very worst in the country.

Once more tried and true liberal answers to economic problems are proven to work while Republican approaches prove not to work. While the contrast between Iowa an Minnesota are stark, the contrasts between Wisconsin and Minnesota are even more stark. Given that Wisconsin and Minnesota are remarkably similar in many respects, the contrast in approaches and results between now presidential wannabe Scott Walker and Mark Dayton are much more easily discerned.

Republican economic ideas are written by the rich for the rich. Democratic economic ideas are based on scientific research and experience. Once again, the Democratic model proves the best and most reliable model.

Just as this is posted, a new Elizabeth Warren video is making the rounds. Warren says in about 6 minutes what I was trying to say. Since I can’t put the video here you will have to go here to watch it.

Former Grassley Staffer: SCOTUS Killing ACA ‘Would Impact Everyone’

Yep - Gutting the ACA will affect everyone

Yep – Gutting the ACA will affect everyone



My eye caught the name “Grassley” in the title of this diary on dailykos.com by Joan McCarter. So I peeked in and was astonished to see a former Grassley staffer actually telling the truth about the effects of the SCOTUS case of King v Burwell. The case is expected to be heard next month with a decision announced in late June. There are some 70,000 fellow Iowans who could immediately lose health care if SCOTUS decides against the ACA. Many, many more will lose insurance or be priced out of the market in the after shocks.

Here is the diary. I recommend you go to the link to read the full article by Julie Appleby . We also recommend reading the 30 or so comments on the diary on dailykos.

“Sen. Chuck Grassley was at the heart of the development of Obamacare, and one of his key staff members from that time has a dire warning about what the Supreme Court might do to gut the law.

“The doomsday scenario could materialize, and it does impact everyone,” said lawyer Christopher Condeluci, who worked for Iowa Republican Charles Grassley on the Senate Finance Committee staff during the law’s drafting. Those affected would include individuals receiving subsidies and those paying the full cost of their plans in states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey that use the federal exchange.

What’s that doomsday scenario, exactly:

Millions of consumers would likely be unable to afford their policies without subsidies.

Most insurers could not drop plans without giving one to three months’ notice. But the companies remaining in the market would likely seek sharp premium increases for the next year, anticipating that more of the sickest consumers would hold onto their plans. […]

“It’s not the subsidy market that will fall apart, it’s the whole market” for everyone who doesn’t get job-based insurance coverage, said Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant who is no fan of the health law. “There will be millions of Republicans who are not subsidy-eligible who are also going to get screwed.”

Again, that’s another Republican who doesn’t like the law and sees impending doom for millions. Millions of Republicans. Who will be pissed at their elected Republican leaders for allowing this to happen.”

Remember that about a month ago when asked about King v Burwell, Senator Grassley said that the lawsuit was ridiculous.

Sunday Funday – Only A Week Left In February

feed the cat first then do the puzzle

feed the cat first then do the puzzle

I can almost hear the happy dancing starting. March is but a week away. March is associated with Spring and warm weather. February is associated with all the bad things we associate with winter. What a difference a day can make in our outlook.

Were you paying attention?

1) What former Republican leader claimed that president Obama “did not love his country?”

2) Since that remark, which current Republican presidential candidates have condemned that comment?

3) Millions of citizens may be forced to flee Sao Paulo, Brazil because of what crisis?

4) “What Pet Should I Get” is a newly discovered manuscript from what extremely popular writer?

5) Think hard folks. Today is what great American’s birthday?

6) A major vote on a proposed rule is scheduled for Thursday. What federal agency is holding the vote and what is the subject of the vote?

7) A bill was submitted in the Iowa senate Monday to allow for possession of what substance?

8) Walmart astounded nearly everyone Wednesday when they announced what?

9) What company had a major failure in London with its promotion KKK Wednesdays?

10) 11.4 million. That’s how many people signed up for what?

11) Judge Andrew S. Hanen ruled in favor of 26 states that challenged what administration policy, thus putting its implementation on hold?

12) In Ankeny, a kindergarten teacher was arrested for what odd behavior in a classroom?

13) John Boehner admitted on Fox News last week that he bypassed the White House on inviting Netanyahu to address. Why did he do so?

14) “You Don’t Own Me” a very early feminist type song, was originally recorded by what 60s singer who died last week?

15) Supporters of marriage equality were disappointed last week when a federal judge delayed ruling on a marriage equality suit in what state?

16) A wave shuddered through the auto industry when it was learned that what company was exploring entering the automobile field?

17) Elon Musk, the chair of what major tech company, announced that his company was close to a battery that could hold a charge for several days and even power a house?

18) A 69 year old Viet Nam war vet froze to death in Michigan after what happened?

19) Authorities in Michigan announced Wednesday that a woman who died of a gunshot wound on New Year’s Day killed herself when the gun accidentally discharged while she was doing what?

20) A meeting between what two women in December was revealed Tuesday sparking much speculation?

Why hasn’t some restaurant come up with an ice cream dish called the “polar vortex?”

Answers:

1) Rudy Giuliani

2) so far, just Marco Rubio. Guess it is OK with the others?

3) drought causing lack of drinking water

4) Dr. Suess – I didn’t say ‘living’ did I?

5) George Washington

6) The FCC is voting on net neutrality

7) medical cannabidiol oil. Folks can be prescribed it legally, but can’t obtain or possess it legally

8) A major raise in their minimum pay for their employees

9) Krispy Kreme donuts (Krispy Kreme Klub)

10) the ACA this year (so far)

11) the new immigration policy

12) she was arrested for public into when she was discovered with two empty beer cans and four full ones

13) because he didn’t want Obama to interfere with his interference of foreign policy

14) Leslie Gore

15) Nebraska

16) Apple

17) Tesla

18) his gas was shut off in the middle of January

19) adjusting her bra holster. She shot herself in the eye.

20) Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton.

Anyone feel like some cherry pie?

No Funding For Schools; No Taxes On Some Corporations

Iowa Fiscal Partnership

It surely is a strange situation when we have our Republican legislators tell us out of one side of their mouths that there is no money for Iowa schools to maintain the status quo, yet from the other side of their mouth the can tout all the tax cuts they have garnered for their rich contributors. Once again, Iowa Fiscal Partner brings this to light. Once more I suspect that few will read the report and fewer still will do anything about it.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Feb. 11, 2015) — More companies are benefiting from a lucrative tax subsidy that permits large, profitable corporations to get checks from the state without paying any Iowa income tax.

The latest annual report from the Department of Revenue on the use of the Research Activities Credit (RAC) shows that 248 companies claimed $51 million from the program in 2014, one-third more than the highest number of companies in the last five years.

Most of the credit claims — $34.8 million, or 68 percent — were paid out as checks, not as tax reductions.

“Most notable is that Iowa continues to give a lot of money to companies that aren’t paying income tax. There were 181 companies that received RAC checks from the state because their tax credits exceeded their income tax liability,” said Mike Owen, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership.

“The $35 million that went to those 181 companies could have provided 1 percent supplemental state aid for public schools, or it could have gone to other public services, if it had been part of budget discussions. But the state does this kind of spending outside the budget process.”

The report, released Wednesday, also shows:
— Only 16 companies — or 6.5 percent — claimed 83 percent of the benefits and at least 75 percent of the checks.
— Those 16 companies each had at least $500,000 in claims, totaling over $42 million in 2014.
— The top five companies benefiting from the credit have been the largest beneficiaries over the last five years: Rockwell Collins, Deere & Co., Dupont, John Deere Construction and Monsanto.

“Those are highly profitable companies. We need to be asking whether it makes sense, when school budgets are tight and enforcement of environmental and workplace laws are weak, to be subsidizing these businesses to do research that they already would have to do, and can afford to do on their own,” Owen said.

Owen noted a special tax credit review panel appointed in 2009 came back in 2010 with many recommendations to curtail spending on business tax credits — including elimination of the so-called “refunds” of the research credit.

Rockwell Collins was the biggest corporate beneficiary in 2014, with $11.7 million in claims, followed by Deere at $9.4 million and Dupont at almost $6.9 million.

checks to corporations in Iowa

Does anyone besides me think that giving money to corporations is a very bad way for Iowa to spend taxpayer dollars? This goes against everything I ever learned about democracy, and also seems to go against everything I hear the right say about government

Finding A New World? Harder Than Some Think!

treating your home like we treat the earth
Tip of the hat to www.dailykos/comics

As some of you may have read here Thursday Iowa is in the process of “studying” allowing the Bakken Oil to build a pipeline across Iowa. Minnesota is also looking at a pipeline from North Dakota crossing their land.

Rivers in West Virginia have had all sorts of chemicals and sludge dumped into them as though they were corporate toilets. Yet even with all that the West Virginia legislature is discussing rolling back environmental provisions even further.

Republicans have been targeting the Environmental Protection Agency from the day it was conceived by, oddly enough, Richard Nixon’s Administration. While crying about environmental laws in this country, corporations take their processes to countries with few laws so they can pollute freely over there.

One of the world’s largest cities is running out of water due to climate change, a condition many on the right refuse to acknowledge.

Oklahoma now has daily tremors, a condition that did not exist before fracking. Across the country we see many youtube videos of folks lighting their tap water on fire thanks to fracking.

In Iowa the water works in Des Moines is resorting to the courts to try to force the sate or county governments to enforce some standards on nitrates.

After many years companies are finally slowly taking micro beads out of cleansing products after these products had done much damage to fish and other aquatic wildlife.

And of course we are approaching the 5 year anniversary of the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (here is a story on the anniversary last year). Over the years the effects of the spill have slowly faded from the collective memory. The perpetrators have slowly been released from paying for the damages they caused. And projects with huge potential damage are in the works or being planned with little thought toward recovery in the case of problems. Call me old and cranky, but like many I don’t think that a company or a person should leave an area in worse shape than it was before they came. At the very least it should look like no one was there.

The earth is closing in on some tipping points. We may already be too late to reverse climate change with all the feared effects of wild weather and drought. Overpopulation has put a huge stress on earth’s resources. But some of the greatest stresses that the earth must endure are those put on it by industrial polluters. Using the skies, the rivers and the oceans as their toilets they have endangered much of the life on earth and their own species.

It is like they believe there is some kind of an escape hatch, some type of a new America that they can run from the mess they have made. News flash folks: they can’t and neither can we. The earth is full. There are no undiscovered lands on the earth. There are no “nearby” planets that can sustain life. There are no remote and undiscovered planets that could sustain our type of life. Even if there were planets we knew of, how would we get there?

Some subscribe to a theory that a supreme being will swoop down and make it all good. Aside from some mythological books written in the iron age there is no proof nor any real expectation that such will happen.

What we are left with then is humanity’s collective desire to survive on the one world we have and the only world we will have into the foreseeable future. Few want to see their children or grandchildren suffer. People will sacrifice today for their posterity. Our forefathers and mothers did so. Before we have pipelines we need real plans for clean up and restoration. Resources (money) for such restoration must come from those who stand to gain from such projects and not from the taxes of the citizens.

But our political systems worldwide are geared to serve those who have money and power. This has always been true to some degree, but the Supreme Court took the lid off a few years back wight the Citizens United v. FEC decision. Now we find power pretty much fully controlled by those with money.

One thing for sure. No one dies from a spill of sunlight.

School Funding, Kids Future, Aging Population: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Once again we will excerpt from State Senator Courtney’s weekly newsletter:

SENATE VOTES TO REVERSE IOWA’S SLIDE IN SCHOOL INVESTMENT
Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools. Our best hope for expanding Iowa’s middle class is investing the necessary resources in our students and educators.

That’s why I voted this week to reverse the trend that has dropped Iowa to 35th in the nation when it comes to how much we invest in each student. There is no excuse for Iowa to be 35th in per student investment when Iowa’s economy is in the top half. The amount we invest in each Iowa student should at least be at the national average.

We can’t reach that goal in two years, but boosting school funding by 4 percent in each of the next two years would reverse Iowa’s slide downwards and start us moving in the right direction. The Senate-approved plan focuses on paying for the basics, including purchasing up-to-date textbooks, reducing class sizes, keeping the lights on, gassing up the buses and strengthening teacher quality.

The Senate vote follows an earlier vote in the Republican-controlled Iowa House for a meager 1.25 percent increase. Iowa school superintendents have warned that such a small increase would fail to keep up with costs, resulting in teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, fewer classes and outdated materials.

As Iowa’s financial support for students relative to other states has fallen, so has our academic progress compared to other states. Our schools have held steady, but other states are investing more and scoring higher as a result.

IOWA INVESTS IN TEACHER LEADERS
Iowa has become the first state to create a teacher leadership system designed to boost student achievement, increase teaching expertise and raise the status of the teaching profession.

Teachers taking on leadership roles to improve classroom instruction and raise student achievement was a key piece of the Legislature’s 2013 Education Reform. This new effort allows teachers to work in collaboration with colleagues and learn from each other instead of operating in isolation in their classrooms.

The overriding philosophy of the system is that to improve student learning, you must improve the instruction students receive each day. There is no better way to do this than to empower our best teachers to lead the effort. The system rewards effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries, and fosters greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other.

Teacher leadership systems are being phased in over three years, with the goal of all Iowa school districts participating on a voluntary basis by 2016-17. The Iowa Legislature approved $50 million for the first year of implementation. The second year will see a $100 million investment and $150 million for the third year, enabling all districts to participate if they choose. The funding will become part of the school aid formula that determines how much state money schools receive each year.

During a recent update on the teacher leader system, legislators learned that schools don’t want to trade increased investments in teacher leadership for basic school aid. The teacher leadership program will help make the classroom experience the best it can be, but it must have a strong school foundation to build upon.

One Iowa district would have to make about $300,000 in cuts under the House bill to increase school funding by only 1.25 percent. That would significantly diminish the impact of the $340,000 they’ll receive in teacher leader grants.

GIVING IOWA BUSINESSES FIRST CRACK AT STATE CONTRACTS
Do our state agencies need to buy digital cameras from a Massachusetts company? Why would state government purchase bread and bakery products from Missouri? Why did the state hire a New York company to help market and promote Iowa to tourists?

What if we gave Iowa businesses that employ Iowans, pay local property taxes and produce Iowa products a chance at state bids while still getting the lowest bid for Iowa taxpayers?

Senate File 1, known as the Iowa First initiative, can help by giving Iowa businesses priority in competing for state contracts. The bill will allow Iowa companies seeking to sell products and services to the state the chance to match competing out-of-state bids if the projects are under $500,000 and the Iowa firm is within 5 percent or $10,000 of the lowest bidder.

Iowa businesses need opportunities to grow and expand if our economy is going to thrive. First and foremost, our businesses need customers for their goods and services.

AGING POPULATION NEEDS ACCESS TO DEMENTIA CARE
Iowa, like the rest of the nation, is aging.

As of 2010, Iowa ranked seventh in the nation — behind such states as Florida — for the percentage of our state’s population that is 60 or older. Iowa ranks third for the share of our population aged 85 or older. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of Iowa’s older residents increased from 18.9 percent to 20.4 percent. (The federal Older Americans Act defines older individuals as those aged 60 and over.)

With Iowans living longer than ever, we face both opportunities and challenges.

One challenge is an increase in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 62,000 Iowans have Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, and that dementia is the fifth largest cause of death in Iowa. Seventy percent of Iowans with dementia live at home and approximately 133,000 unpaid caregivers assist them.

Representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Iowa Chapter, the Iowa Department on Aging and the Northeast Iowa Agency on Aging recently told legislators about their work to ensure our loved ones have access to dementia services at home and in our local communities. A new federally funded initiative to study and reform the aging services network may be a big help to those who wish to remain independent and safe in their communities by providing access to the full array of dementia services.

To learn more about this work and other aspects of dementia, including the 10 warning signs of dementia, go to www.alz.org/greateriowa.

COURTS FOCUS ON GIVING KIDS A BRIGHT FUTURE
Recently, staff from the Judicial Branch told legislators that their number one priority is the protection of Iowa’s children.

The Legislature has helped them pursue that priority and make communities safer. Through funding approved by the Legislature, “juvenile court officers have the time to give troubled children the specialized services they need while holding them responsible for their actions.”

In addition, funding from the Legislature has expanded Iowa’s successful Family Treatments Courts, which address substance abuse issues of parents who are at risk of losing their children. Court staff hold parents accountable for their behavior and help them learn good parenting skills.

Parents and caregivers involved in the Family Treatment Courts are more like to keep their children at home and out of the child welfare system.

Court statistics indicate that of 1,099 children whose parents or caregivers were involved in the Family Treatment Courts, 76 percent were able to remain at home. The vast majority — 95 percent of the children — did not suffer a recurrence of mistreatment.

BECOME AN ACTIVE VOICE IN STATE GOVERNMENT
Iowa’s statewide boards and commissions are responsible for advising the Governor, Legislature and state agencies. We are always looking for qualified applicants who are willing to be a strong voice in state government.

The Governor appoints members to more than 160 boards and commissions as openings become available. If you find a position you are interested in at http://openup.iowa.gov, sign up and fill out an online application for consideration.

State law requires most boards and commissions be balanced according to gender and political affiliation. Geographical location and diversity is also considered. Appointments are made to most boards and commissions annually. All applications are kept on file as public information.

Grassley On Social Security – Not Good

not working for most Iowans

not working for most Iowans

Right after the House changed the rule on money flowing back and forth between the Social Security main fund and the SS Disability Insurance Fund, I wrote my senators and representatives immediately. As I have said here before, I have never seen such a just plain nasty trick. No doubt Republicans did this to be able to use the cuts to SSDI recipients as a bargaining chip. In this case it may hasten the deaths of some of these recipients.

I received the strangest response from Chuck Grassley. It is replete with tea party talking points and quite short on solutions. Here it is verbatim:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you. Please accept my apology for the delayed response.

I appreciate your thoughts regarding a reduction in Social Security Disability benefits. As you may know, the House of Representatives recently passed new rules for the 114th Congress. Within these rules, language was included that seeks to protect the Social Security Trust Fund. According to the Social Security Trustees report, without reforms the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund will not have enough money to pay current benefits by 2016. However, the Old Age and Survivors Fund, which pays retirement benefits, projected to be able to pay full benefits through 2034. Transferring funds intended to pay retirement benefits to the SSDI fund would move up the insolvency date of the Old Age Fund an entire year, to 2033, while doing nothing to address the long-term financing shortfall facing both funds. Therefore, the new rules encourage Congress to include reforms to put the SSDI on sound fiscal footing and not simply raid funds from the Old and Age and Survivors fund.

It is crucial that we take the necessary steps to put the Social Security programs on sound footing. Combating fraud can play a role in protecting the future of the programs. I am committed to continuing my work to cut waste, fraud and abuse from the Social Security programs. I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect Social Security for our children and grandchildren, and I urge you to keep me apprised of your thoughts as we proceed.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I urge you to keep in touch.

Note that his first order of business is to set one group against another: those folks on DB are taking money from other retirees.

Then he states that that the Old Age fund will become insolvent (not true at all) earlier if the DB fund continues to get help from the trust fund. This is the old Republican trick of putting recipients and potential recipients into competing silos that will work against each other.

Then Grassley claims this action will ‘encourage’ congress to get SSDI on sound footing.

The next statement suggests that waste and fraud are the only problems with both funds. This is Grassley’s go to statement on nearly everything. Every government safety net program is rife with waste and fraud according to Grassley. To me it is his way of ducking every issue. There is no suggestion of raising the cap beyond the current $110,000 or any other truly practical solution.

In short, Chuck Grassley continues the Republican war on Social Security that has been the focus of Republican destruction from the day it was signed through the days of The John Birch Society down to today’s Tea Party. Grassley is only a puppet being used by the corporatists controlling his party.

For a good, short analysis of the current Republican strategy read this article. Here is a brief excerpt:

In a scathing indictment published Wednesday, LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzick blasted the logic behind the GOP’s efforts.

“Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) not only displayed a shocking level of ignorance of Social Security and the disability program, but offered no solutions whatsoever to the looming crisis—which he repeatedly mischaracterized,” Hiltzick wrote. “Enzi also trotted out one of the hoariest lies about Social Security in the conservatives’ playbook: the claim that there’s no money in either the old-age or disability trust fund.”

He continued:

[T]his assertion is nothing but an attempt to cheat working Americans of the benefits they’ve paid for. The trust funds hold trillions of dollars of U.S. Treasury bonds bought and paid for by payroll taxes collected from American workers since 1983; these transfers have been certified, in writing, every year by U.S. treasury secretaries and other cabinet members, Republican and Democrat, and accepted by Congress. If the money’s gone, they should all go to jail—but you won’t hear that said by Enzi or his cronies.

The only way the money can be judged “spent” is if Enzi and the rest of Congress vote to cut the benefits workers already have paid for. That’s what he seems to be plotting.

Iowans have a chance in 2016 to remove one of the worst and most out of touch senators in politics today. Our nation looks to us to do so.

Sunday Funday – Presidenting Is Hard Edition

I love to relax with the Sunday Funday quiz!

I love to relax with the Sunday Funday quiz!

Black History Month and President’s Day reminds me of the short article in The Onion after Barack Obama’s first election:

Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, “It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.”

Were you paying attention?
1) Today is the last day to do what regarding health care?

2) The number of states with marriage equality now stands at 37 when the SCOTUS rejected a stay from what state Monday?

3) The dissenting opinion in the previously mentioned case got much publicity. Which Justice wrote the dissenting opinion?

4) A small eruption of a backlash occurred after a huge Powerball jackpot was split between 3 people in Texas, North Carolina and where else?

5) For us baby boomers, Feb. 22, 1962 was a memorable day. What astronaut completed the US’s first orbital flight around the world?

6) Two men associated with television news reporting were announced to be leaving their respective jobs. Which one is leaving voluntarily?

7) New Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner wasted little time in going after what supposed state nemesis?

8) An autographed picture of what early 20th century baseball player is expected to bring more than $100,000 at auction?

9) The US government’s top nutrition panel has decided to drop its decades old warning against what substance?

10) Hundreds of Social Security numbers along with names and addresses were inadvertently released when what presidential candidate released personal data last week?

11) Charles Manson called off his engagement. He found out his fiancé was only marrying him so she could do what?

12) Making an appearance at Drake University, what high ranking government official deflected questions about running for president in 2016?

13) Many people were surprised by a report that their what is quite vulnerable to hacker attack?

14) Two legendary college basketball coaches died last week. Can you name one?

15) As Boston was getting pummeled by snow on the east coast, what major west coast city was getting pummeled by huge rain events?

16) What presidential candidate had to fire his newly hired Chief Technology officer after the CTO was found to have posted many anti-woman messages?

17) Democrats will be convening in what historical city in 2016?

18) Not measles this time. What childhood disease is breaking out in Idaho and eastern Washington?

19) Three men in Mississippi were sentenced Tuesday for their part in the murder of a man in 2011 they had killed because he was what?

20) Launching an attack on net neutrality, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai claims who will most benefit from the proposed new rules?

Hope you had a good Valentine’s Day with your sweetie. Back to normal today!

Answers:
1) sign up on healthcare.gov for the ACA

2) Alabama. Roy Moore is fighting it with all he’s got.

3) Clarence Thomas

4) Puerto Rico. Seems there is a contingent of Americans who don’t know PR is part of the US

5) John Glenn

6) Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show. Brian Williams was suspended by NBC

7) Public employees unions – he is trying to stop fair pay deductions.

8) Shoeless Joe Jackson who was supposedly illiterate

9) Cholesterol. Apparently dietary cholesterol may not really add to cholesterol problems.

10) Jeb Bush

11) charge people to view Manson’s dead body?

12) VP Joe Biden

13) Car that has wireless capabilities

14) Dean Smith of North Carolina and Jerry Tarkanian most known from UNLV

15) San Francisco

16) Jeb Bush (he’s on a roll)

17) Philadelphia, Pa.

18) Mumps. Started at the U of Idaho in Boise

19) Black

20) enemies of America such as North Korea and Iran

BTW here is the short appeal from the President asking folks to sign up for the ACA. It has one really hilarious line:

Thanks, Obama!