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Showing posts from June, 2017

Health care (II)

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Senate leaders are trying to get to a vote in the next few days on the latest version of the Republican health care act, dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The bill is intended to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2010 ("Obamacare"), while minimizing political damage to Republicans by preserving some of its more popular features.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Monday released its assessment of the effects of the bill: the number of insured Americans will decline by 22 million in 10 years, while the federal deficit will decline by a total of $321 billion. The deficit reduction could in theory be greater, but the bill also repeals the tax increases on upper brackets included in the 2010 law (Kaplan and Pear). The CBO did not to my knowledge assess whether the law would fulfill President Trump's April promise that individual premiums and deductibles, which have risen pretty steadily for more than 30 years, would be "much lower," but a collection of…

News from downtowns

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The evolution of downtown Cedar Rapids continues, nine years after our catastrophic flood. Work continues on the Smulekoff's Furniture building. The Early Bird coffeehouse has moved into an inviting new space, soon to be joined by an entertainment venue. Across the street is the parking lot that may yet become One Park Place. The CRST Tower is open for business. Plans to complete one-way-to-two-way conversions on 2nd and 3rd Avenues are in place (though taking longer to accomplish than had been anticipated). The Roosevelt Hotel sign will once again illuminate the night sky. And inside the Roosevelt, Mod's Market is opening a convenience store next month providing an option for light grocery shopping.

Downtowns across the country are trying to catch the urban wave, with mixed results. Detroit, apparently rebounding after being flat on its back just a few years ago, is adding design amenities to encourage people to hang around. The northwest Arkansas town of Johnson is planning…

Race relations 2017

Last week's acquittal in the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota, brought race relations back onto the American political agenda, albeit in a way limited by the ongoing investigations into the Trump presidential campaign, terror attacks in London, and not least the seeming intractability of the issue itself.

Nevertheless the unusual circumstances of the tragedy had seemed to indicate the police officer would be held accountable in this case: Castile's passenger filmed the encounter, and their interactions were non-confrontational (Smith). When the jury found the officer not guilty, it begged the question: Under what if any set of circumstances will a white officer be found guilty of shooting a black man?

Meanwhile, a more systematic Stanford University study of body camera footage in Oakland in 2014 finds blacks and whites are treated differently at traffic stops--less respectful address, less likely to use "please" and "thank you," …

Land Between Tour

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Four years ago, my son Robbie enrolled at Luther College, which meant our family has traveled back and forth along the 108-mile route between Cedar Rapids and Decorah. Along the way we repeatedly passed some intriguing signs, and places we always meant to stop but never did. Robbie graduated this spring...

...and is headed shortly to his new life in Seattle, so it came to be now or never for some of these landmarks. Last week "now" occurred.

Em's Coffee Co., Independence (pop 5966). Route 150 takes you right through downtown Independence. Em's is located on the north side of 1st Street.

We parked on the south side and crossed--with considerable difficulty (ADC is 11000, so it's easy to see Em's from 150 but not so easy to stop). The shop is bright and cheerful.

The coffee hit the spot, and we enjoyed chatting with the energetic mother-daughter team running the place. The meeting room in the back ("The Newsroom") gives it definite third place potenti…

Education update

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President Trump's appointment of a prominent advocate of private schools, Betsy DeVos, as U.S. Secretary of Education, has brought new attention to long-standing questions surrounding education. There have been public schools in America for nearly four hundred years, but they are not exempt from those who argue that the market could do it better. It's my impression that this question gets raised a lot more often these days than it did when I was attending school decades ago in my middle-class hometown, from which nearly all of my classmates went off to attend college. President Trump has called school choice "the civil rights issue for our time" and promised $20 million in funding during his 2016 campaign; DeVos told an audience at the Brookings Institution in March that she supports school choice because
Parents know what is best for their kids and no parent should be denied the opportunity to send their son or daughter to a school where they feel confident he or sh…

The housing conundrum

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Almost a decade removed from the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008, the nation is facing one of the worst affordable-housing shortages in generations. The standard of “affordable” housing is that which costs roughly 30 percent or less of a family’s income. Because of rising housing costs and stagnant wages, slightly more than half of all poor renting families in the country spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs, and at least one in four spends more than 70 percent. Yet America’s national housing policy gives affluent homeowners large benefits; middle-class homeowners, smaller benefits; and most renters, who are disproportionately poor, nothing. It is difficult to think of another social policy that more successfully multiplies America’s inequality in such a sweeping fashion.— MATTHEW DESMOND (2017) 35 years ago, I worked at the public library in Naperville, Illinois. There was a proposal to build affordable housing somewhere in town that was quite controversi…

My comments to the transportation folk

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The Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization held an open house at Thursday's Meet Me at the Market gathering at the New Bo City Market. When they asked for comments on trails, transit, roads and public engagement, I, of course, had something to say:

I appreciate the thought and care that go into planning and executing transportation projects in this area. Here are some thoughts that occur to me:

1. The CRT crossing at 1st Avenue is scary and confusing both to drivers and bikes/peds. No, I don't have any easy fixes.

2. Keep stirring the pot on changes to the bus system.
3. One way to two way conversions are great and should continue. I think the incremental way they've been introduced has kept accidents to a minimum.
4. Public engagement may be as difficult as actually doing the projects. I wonder if reaching out to groups (service clubs, churches, sports groups) that don't normally come to info sessions would be productive? Of course, in this era of "bowling alone&…