Monthly Archives: January 2009

Be The Poll — Somber or Happy?

This is a critical question of national/international importance.

Which photo should be used with my Gazette column? Somber or Happy?

The somber photo is what currently runs with my column. I’m thinking of making a switch. Your input could tip the balance.



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Friday Mailbag — Book Theft

The vast majority of my mail this week was sparked by my Tuesday column wondering why it was necessary to arrest and jail an Independence woman after she failed to return a long-overdue library book.

Essentially, I argued that arrest and jail was an overreaction. I asserted that our society too often cuts the rich/famous/powerful slack while being quick to kick the little guy/gal, and that we should think about that before we applaud the jailing of the woman, Shelly Koontz, a single factory worker raising two kids and a grandchild.

I did not excuse her behavior. I think she shoud be punished, but the punishment should better fit the crime.

Most readers who wrote disagreed.

Bev Amoroso of North Liberty questioned why I mentioned that Koontz is a single mother:

Once again the media are “Guilty” of glorifying the status of single motherhood, a situation which she, herself, created. Would a “working, married couple” not returning a library book be granted the same sympathy? What does single motherhood have to do with not returning a library book or for anything else? People make choices, and we all must live with choices we make. Is there more to the story than has been reported? Perhaps one of the reasons that society is becoming less tolerant is that more and more people are seeking status as victims, shirking responsibility, and blaming others for their actions or inactions.

 “Guilty,” she wrote me later, is the title of a best-selling book.

Mel Sunshine emailed this:

So, stealing from a public library is something that should be tolerated??
She had many opportunities to either return the book or pay for it but she CHOSE not to. And then coming up with all those excuses –single mom, etc.– that she didn’t have time. Many other single parents with kids do find time to take care of their responsibilities. We in Iowa know B.S. when we hear it from her. And then to indicate that she should go on one of those talk radio shows and make”ha ha”. She wasn’t sorry for what she did. What kind of lesson is it to her children and grandchildren that it is ok to ignore the law when it suits her. And, remember, she stole something that belonged to ALL the citizens of the town.

“But should she go to jail?” I asked Mel. He replied.

Perhaps she did not deserve to go to jail. But what about all the extra expense for the library to call and send out letters and for the police and what about the fact that she prevented others from getting the use of the book. And she apologized after she was arrested. She was literally “saying” ‘I don’t have to obey the law’ until she was caught.
What if she had just stolen $16 from someone else, eg., a coworker, should she still be just tolerated by saying I’m sorry?

Again, I never said she shouldn’t be punished.

Frank Brigham of Oelwein argued that she was adequately warned.

If one looks at the lengthy time-line Ms Koontz was given and several notifications, she was “cut a lot of slack.”

But again, was jail necessary? Frank also replied.

Yes, she was obviously a person who needed that “jolt” to get her to fulfill her normal responsibilities.

 There were also some comments posted at the end of the column on gazetteonline. This one comes from prolific commentator “LoboSolo.” It was titled “nutty as usual.” He loves my work.

and i quote “short-fuse, knee-jerk, zero-tolerance society”…. really ? where is this fantasy land that you live in. nobody is held accountable for themselves in my world..
go to jail over a book.. i was too busy.
your kids don’t do well in school, its the teacher fault.
i lie under oath, its a vast right wing conspiracy.
i could go on all day with the excuses people come up with, but at the end of the day it just boils down to this…. DO THE RIGHT THING, WITHOUT THE REST OF US HAVING TO TELL YOU TO DO IT.
I’m so tired of dealing with people who must be constantly tended to. grow up and take responsibility for your actions.

But I never get tired of being lectured on personal responsibility by people who don’t take personal responsibility for their opinions by using their REAL NAME.

Not everyone disagreed, however.

Allan Oline of Independence saw it my way:

I read your “cutting slack” article this morning.
Thank you. Many need to be reminded.
“Cutting people some slack” is a profound concept.
Please write the book.

I can see it now: “A Slacker on Slack.” I like it.

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Friday Reads — Change

There’s a lot of change going on out there folks. It’s tough to keep up.

First, Cedar Rapids and other communities in Linn and Johnson counties want local residents’ change, pennies that is, to help pay for flood recovery. A bill allowing allowing fast-track local option sales tax votes in disaster areas cleared the Iowa House Thursday. The Gazette fronts news that the Cedar Rapids City Council will vote Tuesday to put the tax on the ballot in March, probably seeking an 80-20 split between flood-related uses and property tax relief.

Other local tows are also racing for the tax “bonanza,” The Gazette’s Adam Belz writes.

So what else is changing? Shopping malls, and not just Westdale. The Des Moines Register reportsthat Southridge Mall in Des Moines is headed south, with nearly half its stores vacant. Sounds familiar. Locals are wondering what to do to revive the mall.

Illinois has changed governors, according to giant headlines in the Quad-City Times. It’s out with Blago and in with the new guy, Pat Quinn. Get to know him.

The Iowa Girls High School Basketball Tournament is changing. Register columnist John Carlsonsays it’s out with local high school bands and in with recorded rock music at the tourney,ending a 43-year tradition. IGHSAU Executive Director Mike Dick says people would rather watch the big video screen.

Last year, when I went to to the tournament, I found out you can send text messages and they print them on the big screen. Fantastic. I expect they’ll also get rid of the basketball in a few years. It’s sort of distracting.

More change. U of I athletics officialswant to replace Kinnick Stadium’s natural grass with synthetic “field turf.” It would cut maintenance costs and the players, they say, won’t notice.

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House Approves LOST Bill, Fun Begins

The Iowa House at this hour voted 55-37 for legislation allowing Cedar Rapids and other communities hit by natural disasters to put a local option sales tax plan on the ballot in March. Passage sends the bill to Gov. Chet Culver, who will sign it.

Note: House members can cast votes for 10 minutes after the machine closes, so the exact final tally could change. The outcome won’t.

Cedar Rapids, in particular, wanted the change so  it could hold a vote and start collecting the tax, pronto, to deal with deepening budget woes worsened by flood recovery. Never mind that local leaders had half of last year to put this on the ballot under existing laws. But, lucky for them, the Legislature bailed them out.

Send brownies, legislators love brownies.

Now begins a short but intense campaign to pass the penny tax in CR, as well as n other parts of Linn County and in Johnson County. Local city councils will have to act fast to put together spending plans that will appear on the ballot. They have until Tuesday.

In Linn County, it sounds like voters will be considering a one-cent sale tax increase for five years. There’s support among elected officials for using at least a percentage of the money for property tax relief. Otherwise, a wide array of flood-related uses are on the table, including property buyouts, rebuilding assistance, infrastructure projects etc.

But, as Republicans pointed out during House debate, there’s nothing in the law that says the money has to be used for recovery costs.

Backers say there’s a lot of support out there for the tax hike, even among retailers. The penny tax would take some of the burden off property taxes and spread it around.

But there is sure to be vocal opposition. Folks are already pointing to a planned 14 percent increase in city utility fees in CR. And it will be interesting to see what the Linn County Board of Supervisors recommends on county salaries, including supervisor pay, next week. A wrong move could send a bad message to voters at a critical moment.

I’m waiting to see the plan before I come down one way or the other. Regardless, it gives me something to write about. Win-win.

UPDATEGazette City Hall Guru Rick Smith has the goods. According to Mayor Halloran, CR local tax would go 20 percent for property tax relief and 80 percent for flood protection and acquisition/repair of flooded property.

UPDATE II — Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson has House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, explaining his no vote on the bill, with audio.

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Iowa Battle Flags Take Budget Fire

31st Iowa Infantry, Co. E

31st Iowa Infantry, Co. E

Flipping through Gov. Chet Culver’s 2010 budget plan, I noticed that he eliminated funding for restoration/stabilization of hundreds of flags carried into battle by Iowans. Most were hoisted in the Civil War.

You can learn more about the program here.

The State Historical Society of Iowa asked for $220,000 to keep the program going. Culver gave them zero. Jeff Morgan, spokesman for the society, says there probably will be some money left over from the current year to keep the program going after the new budget years starts July 1.

It’s also possible the Legislature will fund the program.

There are 352 flags in the state’s collection, some shredded by gunfire and stained with blood.  Iowa made remarkable sacrifices in defense of the union, and the flags are a fragile, decaying symbol of that service.

Now, I’m not pointing this out to whine or argue Culver’s cut was wrong or should be reversed. Things are tough all over. Lots of pretty important stuff is getting the ax. The money is just not there. The economy stinks.

I’m calling attention to it because people are free to donate money to the battle flag program. If you think it’s important, and can spare a few bucks, vote with your checkbook.

You can call the historical society at (515) 281-5111.


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Thursday Reads — You’re Going the Wrong Way

Have any of you been feeling out of sorts lately? Perhaps you’ve been dazed by the drudgery of snow and cold and more cold. Maybe it seems you’re going in the wrong direction.

Well, consider the story of the 88-year-old North Platte, Neb., man who drove the wrong way on Interstate 80 for 40 miles Tuesday night. According to the Omaha World-Herald, when troopers “frantically” tried to get him to stop “he smiled and waved.” His wife sent him out to get dinner (of course) and he got turned around.

It all ended well with no injuries. Please read the story, it’s good.

So what else is going in the wrong direction today?

Gov. Culver’s budget plan continues to dismay some at this hour, according to The Register.  But the governor will get to sign a $56 million disaster aid package as early as today. Cedar Rapids, according to The Gazette, will get $9.5 million in housing assistance, which is about what local officials have been saying they need to fill the gap between a crush of applications and scarce dollars.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., your U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is raising tough questions about the stimulus bill. For example, he’s questioning funding for the National Science Foundation after the disclosure that foundation employee spent 20 percent of his working hours surfing Internet porn. Radio Iowa says Grassley wants to know who else was looking at naughty stuff when they were supposed to be doing science things.

I came across this story after doing a routine Google search for…never mind.

Elsewhere, the state’s indoor smoking ban has sparked another lawsuit, this time by a guy who says he was fired after reporting a workplace violation of the law.

And the Mason City  Globe-Gazette is rockin’ this morning, with front page stories about Kevin Costner’s barn gig in Leland and the kickoff of the 50th anniversary of the last performance of Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Rave on.

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Funny Headlines

Maybe you saw The Gazette’s story on how one of our headlines made Jay Leno’s show this week.

That got me to thinking of my favorite bad headlines.  At my old job, I had some hanging on a bulletin board beside my desk.

Here’s a sampling:

1. “Damn Construction 92 Complete at Brushy Creek”  (Fort Dodge Messenger)

2. “Museum strives to preserve past” (The Des Moines Register)

3. “Coaches are the best qualified people to coach” (Uncertain origin)

4. “Civil War inspires rest area theme” (Mason City Globe-Gazette)

5. “Technicians do not have crystal balls” (Globe-Gazette)

In the story printed beneath No.1, by the way, the word “dam” was misspelled several more times. I’m pretty sure it also made Leno.

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