Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: The Year that Americans take back the United States of American?

Today is December 31, 2009 and many within the land will be partaking in the annual New Year's Eve party. No matter the location one is at, many will be throwing out the old and ringing in the new. Several of us will make resolutions with the plan to follow through with them. As we watch the ball drop, count down 2009, and usher in 2010 prepare yourself for what lies ahead. America has several concerns before her shores but the biggest concern America faces' heading into 2010 is from our elected officials and the special lobbyists that control them. 2010 needs to mark the year that Americans stand up to their elected officials and take back the United States from their money hungry lobbyists and place freedom, liberty, and the United States Constitution on the front burner.

Shed your ideology. Challenge those that turn to government for answers and solutions to their situations in life. 2010 needs to be a time when Americans reverse the tide of bigger government and out of control spending. Congress, namely the Senate, before leaving on the December break passed a resolution that allowed the Fed to increase the debt ceiling. Essentially our Senators said to the Fed, "Go ahead, and print more money because we have more spending initiatives in 2010." Accountability of our elected officials has been replaced by apathy and acceptance that government is the answer. That is evident with the historic election of Barak Obama. Barak Obama promised transparency. Barak Obama promised that he'd not sign a bill with pork or pet projects included. Barak Obama said he would not surround himself with former lobbyist. All of these things he has gone back on.

Now, Barak Obama is not alone. Many in our Congress were in Congress when warnings were being made by highly educated people that the housing and financial markets were being propped up and a bubble was on the horizon. Now, these same members of Congress are attempting to be front and center to say they have the answer. Really? Can we as Americans accept this blindly? No. We need to stand up to government and demand a leaner and smaller government. It is time that our President stands up to the lobbyist, to Congress, and the World and say that we will no longer bend to the will of others. Tell Congress that I will not sign a bill that is not free of pork and has been fully vetted. When Congress comes back, Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi will meet in conference, with others, to hammer out merge of the House and Senate versions of the health care reform.

President Obama can send a strong signal to Congress by demanding that all conference committee meetings be aired on C-Span and any discussions on merging the health care bills be done in the public eye. That is the type of transparency Obama ran on and that many elected him to bring to Washington. So as you sip your drink of choice this evening and usher in 2010, prepare yourself and commit yourself to bring accountability to government. As our Founding Fathers did, it will take a grassroots campaign to bring about a smaller government and restore the freedoms that have been eroded slowly since the first session of Congress over 200 years ago. Happy New Year!!!

As an aside, The Hamburg Post is hearing a rumor that a special guest blogger will be kicking off 2010. Be safe and, again, Happy New Year!!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Full-Body Scanners: Best use of money?

"What we want to do now is use (body scanners) as a standard measure for all flights to the United States," Dutch Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin told public television channel NOS (http://www.news24.com/Content/World/News/1073/7e2df3855b6c4039a1388402b50d87e8/30-12-2009-02-37/Body_scanners_for_US_flights). The belief of using body scanners would have detected the PETN that was hidden in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear. The discussion of using body scanners is heating up and even airports in the United States are getting ahead of the game. The Chicago O'Hare is looking to add full-body scanners in the first half of the year (http://www.suntimes.com/news/1964435,CST-NWS-scanners30.article). No one is making an argument that had a full-body scanner had been used on Abdulmutallab that the PETN would have been detected and prevented him from boarding the plane to Detroit.

The question before American's is how far we allow our personal privacy compromised for the sake of safety. Ed Yohnka the director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said, "Because that intelligence was not acted upon, the best we can do is subject thousands and perhaps millions of Americans to a virtual strip search simply to getting on an airline flight? That doesn't make sense to me" in response to the knee-jerk reaction to adding full-body scanners to airports (http://www.suntimes.com/news/1964435,CST-NWS-scanners30.article). While comments were made yesterday on the blog entry "The 'system worked' or did it?" the question of costs/benefit were raised.

What is the cost/benefit of adding full-body scanners to airports? Are we making smart decisions with the money spent? Bruce Scheier, a long time critic of airport security practice and author of "Beyond Fear", warns that "we will waste hundreds of millions of dollars, that could be spent on investigation and intelligence, to force the terrorists to make minor changes in their tactics" (http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2009/12/30/information_not_gadgets_seen_as_security_solution/). Instead adding additional high-tech technology, Andrew Thomas, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transportation Security at the University of Akron, Ohio, backs up Scheier's assessment because "We need better [alignment of] databases. We need to make the watch list actually mean something." No one is arguing that the system failed but will installing full-body scanners be the end all solution to preventing terrorist plans to blow up airplanes?

My hope is that the TSA and other government agencies take a breath weigh the cost/benefit of any solution implemented. Our media and society is fixated on quick fixes rather than sustainable solutions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) said, "The big question to our country is how to balance the need for personal privacy with the safety and security needs of our country." Rep. Chaffetz sponsored a successful House bill that would make full-body scanners a secondary screening method as well as impose punishment upon government employees for sharing or copying images. But as well all know the terrorist will adapt their techniques to find ways to bypass our technology that is put in place. Rep. Chaffetz went on to say, "I don't think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane" (www.startribune.com).

While on the surface I agree with Rep. Chaffetz but you just gave the terrorist their next mule to bypass our technology that is in place to keep us "safe". Would the money spent be better on intelligence to prevent the terrorist from reaching the airport, updating databases, educating airport personal on using the database, or to add full-body scanners to airports? The scanners emit low doses of X-ray and I believe there is a reason that lab techs leave the room when one is having a body part x-rayed. What future lawsuits will the TSA be setting themselves up from security workers that are repeatedly exposed to low doses of x-ray?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The “system worked” or did it?

The walk out to the end of the driveway this morning was a bit chilly; thermometer read -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The Christmas break found the area covered in a blanket of snow. On one of our outside excursions to the park, the depth of the snow was just below the knee cap. While the Christmas break brought many gatherings of cheer, family and friends a disturbing story was taking shape. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a plane destined to Detroit with a surprise in his underwear. The 23-year old Nigerian man's attempt to blow up Northwest airlines plane, with 278 passengers, was thwarted when his device malfunctioned. The first reaction by the Obama Administration was for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was to state on CNN's "State of the Union' last Saturday that, "no suggestion that [the suspect] was improperly screened" and that the "system worked". Really, the system worked?

Mr. Abdulmutallab successfully brought on board Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) hidden inside a condom that was stored in his underwear. Also, Mr. Abdulmutallab brought on board a syringe filled with a liquid that is believe to be glycol-based liquid explosive. Yet Secretary Napolitano believed, until yesterday, that the system worked. According to James Crippin, an explosive expert from Colorado, and other law enforcement officials said "modern airport screening machines could have detected the chemical" (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/12/27/national/main6028366.shtml?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Morning%2BBell). The types of detection devices airports are able to use are "puffer" machines, bomb-sniffing dogs, and hands-on searches but none of these, at least not yet reported, were used as Mr. Abdulmutallab made his way through security to board the airliner. Another interesting point is that the father warned the United States embassy in Nigeria about his son in November of this year.

For those that have flown since 9/11 have seen many changes in airport security which include removing shoes, placing laptops in the bin, having a photo I.D., and not allowing non-passengers to see loved ones off or greet them at the gate. While many of these changes make sense, the question raised is at what cost to our freedoms? In other countries, like Israel, profiling is done to detect potential terror activities. Profiling has become a dirty word in the United States in recent years because of abuse. The Israeli security personnel do not question everyone that travels through their El Al terminals but they do signal out a certain profile which includes "Arabs and certain foreigners" for "intense grilling" (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2001/09/12/israelisecurity.htm). Can profiling help? Does profiling go against the core of freedom? What degree of freedom must be relented to ensure safety in the air?

These are all questions with no clear answer when it comes to balancing freedoms vs. safety and often evoke emotional response rather than rational ones. The TSA announced on their website, "As a result of this incident, TSA has worked with airline and law enforcement authorities, as well as federal, state, local, and international partners to put additional security measures in place to ensure aviation security remains strong" (http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/dec25_guidance.shtm). Secretary Napolitano said in a statement, http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/northwest_statement.shtm, "I am grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results. The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place – for all domestic and international flights – to ensure the continued safety of the traveling public." If the system worked then why the additional need?

The TSA has updated their list of what one can and cannot bring on board: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm. The question still remains at what level are Americans will to give up their freedom for safety. On some flights it was reported that people were not allowed to have anything in their laps during the final hour of the flight and that pilots are no longer allowed to alert passengers of major landmarks. While I do not think we need armed guards as one will see when traveling internationally but something needs to be done to ensure safety. Otherwise one can expect to be required to be at the airport 4-5 hours prior to boarding.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

The now continues to fall and Santa stil delivers. Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve: Gnostic Perspective

Well the Goons in Washington D.C. passed the Senate bill, 60-39, along party lines. That being said, I'd like to focus on something more real. Today is Christmas Eve – yes I can say that – and many of my friends and family have inquired into my belief system. To give everyone a glimpse I borrow the words from Rev. Steven Marshall. The passage below is from his writing called The Nativity of the Divine Light (http://www.gnosis.org/ecclesia/homily_Christmas.htm):


 

Christmas Eve, sometimes called Holy Night, celebrates the ageless story of the birth of Christ. As the divine light of Christ incarnates in a tiny babe in a lowly manger, to us this story represents the nativity of the divine light within the Gnostic soul, the coming of the royal light into the lowly frame and darkness of this world. When the outer world grows cold and dark it is even more necessary to keep the spark of divine light kindled and bright.

Though the light shines in the darkness, the darkness can not itself give birth to the light. The earth would be naught but cold damp clay without the life coming from the light of the Sun. Even so, the spirit which gives life comes from somewhere else, a mystical dimension beyond time and space. The alchemists assure us that "nature unaided always fails." Without divine assistance in the Hermetic art the alchemist can not achieve the goal of the Great Work, the Philosopher's Stone. In the same way, our human natures can not transform our ego personalities without the assistance of that spark of our Divine Self and the birth of that consciousness within us.

It is reported that during delivery, as a baby's head just breaks through from the birth canal, that for a brief moment an otherworldly light fills the room, like the light of a golden dawn. That light is soon obscured in this world but serves to remind us of the glorious aeon from which we have come and the darkness into which each new life comes. Our task is not to bewail the existential facts of the matter but to aid those who come into this world to keep the memory of that light alive and kindled within them.

Christmas, coming as it does upon the winter solstice, is a time of paradoxes. We see the light shining in the darkest season, the fire blazing in the cold of winter, life stirring in the fallow of the year. We participate in the paradoxes of the season when we acknowledge the infant light at the darkest point of the year. As stated in one translation of the Gospel of John, "The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out." Just as the light of the sun is secretly rekindled and reborn, so are we given an opportunity for our divine spark to wax and grow in light. Christmas is a feast of the interior light, a rekindling of the spiritual spark within us, even as we see the fire blazing in the cold of winter.

Fire is the center of all Yule activity: the Christmas lights on trees and houses, the Yule log blazing on the hearth, and candles on the advent wreath. The fire signifies the flame of joy and charity in our hearts and the spiritual fire that has been sown into this earth. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas, " I have cast fire upon the world, and behold, I guard it until the world is afire." A line from the Chaldean Oracles echoes, "Behold the formless fire flashing through the hidden depths of the universe." The life of our planet is a fire sown into the darkness of material creation. The light of Christ is a "fire born of water." The fire born of water has been a mystery to all peoples from the beginning of time, and it is that light, with a renewed dispensation, which stirs in this season.

Christmas is also a time of sacrifice in that we often participate in the giving of gifts and contributing to charities at this time. The nativity and birth that we celebrate at Christmas Eve is a sacrifice as well. The Logos sacrifices the glory and light vesture of the celestial aeons in order to take on human form and dwell upon the earth. As Gnostics we recognize that the incarnation not the crucifixion was indeed the true sacrifice of the Logos. Certain Gnostics of the past claim that the Perfect One never took on a physical body, yet humbled himself to be born and live in the appearance of humanity all the same. Whether a physical or phantom body, or purely a literary tradition, the birth of the Christ child is a sublime and timeless mystery. There is no book, no scripture, no authority outside of one's Self that is an authentic source regarding such a mystery. It is a mystery that can only be witnessed individually in each one's own heart. Then one knows, one knows in a crack between the worlds, what the mystery of Christmas is all about.

Christmas is not about the celebration of an historical birth. Christmas is about becoming conscious of the renewing light that streams into the soul on Holy Night, that kindles into flame, the soul spark witihin us, the birth of the Christ-Light within us. "Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, But not within thyself, thy soul shall be forlorn." (Angelus Silesius) This consciousness is the heart of Gnosis, the Self-knowledge, the recognition of one's true and royal Self, a magnanimous radiance of inexhaustible beneficence and compassion. As the Gospel of Thomas states, "If you know yourself, you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father." This is a Gnosis of the Heart, a certainty beyond faith, as the Hermetic philosophers have said, "the wisdom that is essential for peace profound." This is the peace of which the angels sang, "Peace on earth; goodwill to all mankind," a universal blessing poured forth upon the earth.

Christmas belongs not only to a few who call themselves Christians but to the entire earth. The lowly animals, birds, plants and trees all participate in this nativity of the divine light at Christmas. An old French legend tells how all the animals were given the gift of speech on Holy Night; so that they were granted the ability to give outward expression to their consciousness and recognition of the light. Our compassion for our human brothers and sisters is increased when we realize that the animals and trees are also wondrous light-beings in even more humble, limited and unrecognizable form than ourselves.

Corrine Heline describes the universal blessing of Christmas Eve as a descent of the divine energy of the solar logos. The Christ energy shines down and reaches the heart of the planet where it concentrates in the form of a six-rayed star. This is also an inner process within each of us, an inner conjunction of the sun and the earth. As the Logos descends into the earth to bring Light to the world, so we can see in ourselves the light, life, and hope of the world descended into the darkness of matter to redeem the fragmented sparks of divinity scattered throughout the universe.

The ancient Roman festival celebrated near this date is the Saturnalia, involving the ceremonial marriage of Cybele (the earth Goddess) and Attis (the sun-God). The marriage consummated in a cave, even as the Christ child is sometimes said to have been born in a cave, again symbolizes the conjunction of the sun and the earth. The ceremonial emergence of the representatives of the God and Goddess from the cave sanctuary represents the new birth of the Mystae in the sacred bridechamber and the birth of the inner light. In the Egyptian mysteries, the Mystae emerge from the inner shrine chanting, "The Virgin has brought forth! The Light is waxing!"

In the Biblical story, the Christ child is born in a cave or stable used to shelter animals and is laid in a manger— a humble birth for the proclaimed King of kings. We also share that humble existence in this world. We also experience the sacrifice of the glorious light of the aeons and see our light power as a tiny spark of its original flame. The holy birth of Christmas represents the birth of the Christ-Sun within us, an awakening of our consciousness to who we are and the light from whence we came, an awakening from the sleep of forgetfulness.

The manger where the holy babe is laid is a place for keeping grain and fodder. Grain is a symbol of the seed of life that endures through the winter, a symbol also for the birth of the solar God in the Eleusinian mysteries. As the shaft of wheat was presented the Mystae would exclaim, "Brimo has given birth to Brimos!" That shaft of wheat might be represented as well in the host of the Eucharist, "the Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world, which is in all places and endureth all things." The city where the holy child is born is called Bethlehem which means "House of Bread."

The life represented in the bread and grain was a very important part of the Christmas celebrations of times past. The last sheaf of grain from the harvest represented the life spirit of the entire field. In earlier times the folk custom was to carefully save the last sheaf, both the grain and the straw. The grain was ground and made into Christmas cake, sweet porridge or pudding. The straw was woven into the figure of a tree, a man, a bird or a goat.

The straw goat, which some families still include in their Christmas celebrations, represents the seed of life that endures through the winter and signifies the holy light that still shines through the cold and dark of winter to appear to us on this Holy Night of Christmas Eve. There is a small rent in the veil before the Treasury of the Light. A magical light shines down into the heart of dark winter wherever there are gathered those who have prepared a vessel for it on earth. That vessel is the pure heart, a heart of compassion and forgiveness, a heart made ready after the pattern of our Holy Mother of Compassion and Mercy. Such a heart gives birth to the light of Christ. It shall always remain a virgin birth; for her love remains forever itself, pure, undefiled, unsullied and unadulterated, regardless of its myriad forms of expression on earth. Her love eternally sanctifies itself and all it touches. It is the mystic rose of her love in our hearts that is the immaculate vessel that gives birth to the Christ child within us. As expressed most beautifully in a poem by Gertrude Farwell.

"Soft candle stars the gloom
About a single rose:
Flower and bough of pine perfume
The twilight hour; in flame that throws
A nimbus round the evergreen.
Whilst fragrance breathes the Living Name
Of Love Incarnate yet unseen,
Rising from petal, pine and thorn.
Mary the pure is kneeling fair,
Of Gabriel's "Ave!" now aware,
Wondering if aright she's heard
"Blessed art thou"—unsought acclaim,
Immaculate vessel that the Word
Made flesh may shine on Christmas morn."

I have learned much from this website in my search along with the many books that line my home. My hope in sharing this bit of me will give deeper insight into what drives me. Have a safe, joyous Christmas. Let the light within shine through and lead the way in your daily life. Ardent Viper.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Does the Nebraska Compromise secured by Sen. Nelson make Senate health care reform bill unconstitutional?

Sen. Graham (R-SC) and Sen. DeMint (R-SC) have requested State Attorney General Henry McMaster to look into "concerns about the constitutionality of this Nebraska compromise as it results in special treatment for only one state in the nation at the expense of the other 49" (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34551523/ns/politics-health_care_reform/). The Nebraska Compromise is in reference to the deal that Sen. Nelson (D-Neb.) was given to exempt citizens in Nebraska from the cost of the $45M, annually, expansion of Medicaid program in exchange for his vote on the Senate health care debate. Other states working with Attorney General McMaster include Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Texas and Washington. Just a few seconds ago on MSNBC McMaster announced two more states have joined the effort as well.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defended his decision to join the discussion by saying, "The Nebraska Compromise, which permanently exempts Nebraska form paying Medicaid costs that Texas and all other 49 states must pay, may violate the United States Constitution, as well as other provisions of federal law. In light of this unprecedented and highly questionable backroom deal, Texas will join South Carolina and other states in an effort to thoroughly review the constitutionality and legality of the Nebraska Compromise" (http://www.fortbendnow.com/2009/12/23/42918). While "backroom" deals are nothing new to the political but the difference between traditional "backroom" deals and the Nebraska Compromise is that traditionally the deals result in a onetime influx of money for a pet project. That is the core of the argument being made with the Nebraska Compromise is that it unfairly benefits one segment of the population. Other states were involved in getting special funding as well for Medicaid expenses which include Louisiana, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Obliviously this will play out but does the deal that Sen. Nelson secured violate the Constitution? Is it fair to the rest of America to pay for all Medicaid costs of Nebraska going forward?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reform: Does it exist in the Senate health care bill?

This morning the Senate just passed, 60-39, Sen. Reid's manager's amendment and paved the way for passage of the Senate version of health care reform by the Christmas deadline. Regardless if the bill passes the Senate it will take several weeks of hard negotiations in conference committee as Congress hammers out some major differences between the House and Senate versions. A friend of mine on Facebook posted an interesting article put out by the FDL. The article written by Jane Hamsher points out 10 reasons to kill the Senate health care bill:

  1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.
  2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you'll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.
  3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can't afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.
  4. Massive restriction on a woman's right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
  5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.
  6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won't see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.
  7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.
  8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.
  9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.
  10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family's insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

The article does offer links to parts of the bill that support the assertions made by the author. See the entire article here: http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2009/12/21/10-reasons-to-kill-the-senate-bill/

Other points of interest in the Senate bill are the bonuses, or bribes, given to certain Senators to get their vote. Florida seniors are now exempt, grandfathered in, from Medical Advantage cuts. Nebraska will have all Medicare and Medicaid payments made by the Federal Government after the three window closes. Vermont and Massachusetts will get additional Medicaid funds. The AMA supports the bill after hearing that 5% tax on cosmetic surgeries and cuts to elective coverage were dropped from the Senate bill. Does the Senate bill really create reform? Will it raise taxes? Will it increase your premiums? Should Congress pass something just to pass something?

Senator Sanders (I-VT) just admitted on Morning Joe that the insurance and drug companies will make out "like bandits" from this reform. If that is the case, then why pass legislation under the guise of "reform"?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Developing Nations: Moral Obligation or None of America’s concern

Last week President Obama addressed the group meeting in Copenhagen on Climate Change debate. President Obama challenged the group, "So the question before us is no longer the nature of the challenge – the question is our capacity to meet it." I disagree with Obama on the nature of our challenge as recent studies on CO2 effects are not as the climate change group believes it to be. The recent study on Aspen trees displayed positive effects on tree growth and Dr. Park noted that the oceans with adequate forestation and biomass are absorbing excess CO2. To me it appears that Mother Earth is doing was she always does; finds balance. Now, this does not mean that we are not absolved from making it easier on Mother Earth.

Deforestation trends needs to be reversed. President Obama continued his apology tour when he said, "As the world's largest economy and the world's second-larger emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility." Does that responsibility mean raiding our coffers in giving developing countries $100 billion? If the Obama is serious about America doing our part then let's do it. We are not responsible for developing countries nor are we obligated. That being said, let's focus internally and implement a new energy policy where nuclear power is front and center. President Obama alluded that "changing the way that we produce and use energy is essential to America's economic future – that it will create millions of new jobs, power new industry, keep us competitive and spark new innovation." While Obama is correct that the "green" push will create new industry and innovation it will only replace current energy jobs at a rate of 1 to 2. On the surface moving toward solar and wind power will create new jobs, it will result in a net loss as per a recent report from King Juan Carlos University (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a2PHwqAs7BS0).

The result of Obama showing up in Copenhagen cost Americans $10 billion a year pledge to assist developing countries and a non-binding agreement among countries to reduce carbon emissions. Last week I brought up the point that humans contribute, personally, more than the total fossil fuel burned on an annual basis. Since humans exhale more CO2 collectively than fossil fuels then why on Earth would we want to help developing countries as the more industry a country obtains the larger the population required to run it. People who peddle climate change say that Earth is on an unsustainable path to a reducing food supply and drought. Okay, so again, why do we, as Americans, want to assist developing nations? Increasing the world's population will only place more burdens on our food and water supply. Or is there a moral obligation on the part of America? I do applaud President Obama for going to Copenhagen and not turning over the keys though.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Health Care Reform Now, Implementation in 4 Years

Over the past months I have sent several emails and called our Senators many times to express my opinion and solutions for health care reform. While I have been able to get timely responses, although the same form letter, from Sen. Klobuchar (D-MN) the same cannot be said for Sen. Franken (D-MN). Our two Senators have been working hard to eliminate the tax proposed on medical device companies to which they have been able to lessen the rate of tax. Yesterday, I finally received an email from Sen. Franken on the topic of health care reform and here is what it said:

Dear Chris,

Thank you for contacting me about health reform. I appreciate you sharing your views on this issue of critical importance.

When I traveled around the state during the month of August, Minnesotans were asking three basic questions about health care. How are we going to bring down the costs of health insurance? What happens if one of my kids has a pre-existing condition, and I lose my job, or want to switch to a better job? If something bad happens to my family, are we going to have to sell the house or go bankrupt trying to pay off the medical bills? These are the questions I heard most, and they are all great questions. And now they are the ones that I'm focusing on in the Senate.

We must pass health reform this year because too many Minnesota families are burdened with high health care costs, and are afraid of losing the coverage they have. Premiums for Minnesota residents have risen 90 percent since 2000, and 444,000 Minnesotans went without health insurance in 2008. If we don't act now, Minnesota families will pay an average of 40 percent of their annual income in health care costs by 2016. This path is unsustainable.

If you or your spouse loses a job, hits a rough patch or falls sick, you should not need to worry about health insurance. And if you want to pursue a small business venture but are afraid to leave your current job, concerns about health insurance shouldn't stop you.

Health reform will bring real change for Minnesota. If we pass health reform, insurance companies won't be able to deny you coverage or charge more because of pre-existing conditions. There will be no annual or lifetime caps on benefits. Minnesotans without insurance would be able to buy a high-quality plan through the health insurance "Exchange," which works like a Travelocity for health insurance. For Minnesotans who are having trouble making ends meet, there will be subsidies to purchase Exchange plans, similar to the current MinnesotaCare program.

Every day that I'm here in Washington, I'm proud that Minnesota sets the standard for health care quality in this country. Health systems like the Mayo Clinic provide coordinated, patient-centered care that the rest of the nation can look to for leadership. Minnesota's not-for-profit health insurance companies also create a unique environment which puts patients before profits. Minnesota's commitment to health care quality is commendable, but I know we can still do better.

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I recently introduced a bill with the Minnesota model in mind that requires insurance companies to spend at least 90 percent of health insurance premiums on health services, not wasteful administrative costs and profits. I've also introduced S. 2734, the Diabetes Prevention Act, which is bipartisan legislation to help the 57 million Americans with pre-diabetes to make healthy lifestyle choices and prevent diabetes from developing. This will save lives and money, in Minnesota and across the country. 

In the coming weeks, I'll be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move sensible health reform legislation that will benefit Minnesotans by bringing much needed quality, affordability, and security to our health care system. Please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind throughout this process.

Thank you again for contacting me, and please don't hesitate to do so in the future regarding this or any other matter of concern to you.

Sincerely,


 

Al Franken
United States Senator

I agree with Sen. Franken that pre-existing conditions ought not to be something that insurance companies disqualify people for and agree that premium hikes are on an "unsustainable" path. Where I differ with Sen. Franken is the importance of passing reform before the end of the year. Now, if the reform before Congress actually did reform the industry I would support a push to pass health care reform prior to year end. A question I sent to Sen. Franken and Sen. Klobuchar, both via email and by phone, was this: While we all acknowledge that premiums, affordability, and cost are all factors that are pushing reform for the health care industry, why then will the United States government take the next four years collecting taxes before implementing reform?

Sen. Franken said, "Health reform will bring real change for Minnesota" in his letter above but what the Senator fails to say is that it will not bring "real change" until four years after it is signed. Why is this? If health care reform is drastically required, why then delay the implementation? Just as I struggle with the notion that a public option will increase competition to the point that will reduce premiums and save costs, I struggle with the notion that we will be taxed for four years before implementation of reform. Plus, reform that is being debated is nothing but a band aid. President Obama ran on the stance that the debate on health care would be transparent, yet groups like PHARMA and AARP have met privately with Obama to cut deals. President Obama has brought the Democrat Caucus to the White House for private conversations. Where is the transparency?

Do our elected officials believe that American's are na├»ve to believe that if reform is passed and not implemented for four years after that that health care insurance company will not use that time to get all they can? For those readers that live in Minnesota take a moment to send a message to our Senators: http://www.healthreformscam.com/fax-minnesota-senators/ .
Now, Sen. Reid plans to have around the clock debate in hopes to pass a bill out of the Senate, how is debate at 1 am open and transparent to the American public?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Procedural Rules Backfire on Republicans

Sen. Sanders (I-VT) stepped to the Senate floor yesterday to offer an amendment (http://www.c-span.com/pdf/sanders_amend_2837.pdf) to establish a single-payer system for the United States. Typically when an amendment or a bill is offered the reading is waived. Not on this occasion. Sen. Coburn (R-OK) objected to the waiving of the reading thus the Senate Clerk started reading the amendment. After an hour of reading the amendment the clerk was only on page 25 of 366 (per the pdf above even though it was reported that the bill was over 750 pages). It was not until about 2:30 p.m. CST that Sen. Sanders came back to the floor and withdrew his amendment.

During his close, which is afforded every author the opportunity to make a final plea, Sen. Sanders turned the table on the Republicans by making a motion to table the Hutchison/Thune amendment. The Hutchison/Thune amendment (http://www.c-span.com/pdf/hutchison_motion.pdf) was a one page amendment that would have returned the Senate health care reform bill back to the Finance Committee to align the taxes and fees established with the start of provisions within the Senate Health Care Reform Bill. The motion made by Sen. Sanders to table the amendment, officially killing the amendment, passed 56-41. The turnabout is that Sen. Sanders, after watching his amendment reading waiver objection, snuck in the motion to table prior to finishing his close. The move is not something normally done during Senate rules; rather it was a Democrat response to a parliamentary procedure enlisted by the Republicans to slow down the debate on health care.

While it was comical to watch, the latter move by the Democrats were a bit more devious in the respect to sabotage a bipartisan effort for health care reform. Now, I wish the Senator from Vermont had not withdrawn his amendment as the debate on a single-payer system, I think is important, would have taken place. I am assuming that Sen. Sanders had posted his amendment on his webpage three days prior to it coming to the floor. I do acknowledge that the move by Sen. Coburn was a stall tactic but at the same time our current Congress has a recent track record of reading what they vote on. The debate will rage on today and the Republicans will continue to use procedural rules to delay the vote on the health care bill. Is it right? Is it bad politics?

The question at hand is what type of reform still remains with the stripping out of the public option and the expansion of Medicare? President Obama promised on the campaign trail that the health care reform debate would be held on C-SPAN and nothing would be done behind closed doors. In fact, just the opposite it taking place with the White House deals with PHARMA, AARP, and deals within the Democrat ranks. While many will tire of the procedural gimmicks to delay vote on health care, I am willing to wait for a bill that does reform a system in desperate need of reform. As for the Hutchison/Thune amendment that was the sacrificial lamb in the procedural rule game does raise a valid concern: Why are we all going to be taxed for four years before "reform" is implemented?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Increases in Westerners attraction to Taliban philosophy similar to 60’s anti-establishment movement?

I was reading headlines of the different national and international media outlets this morning and came across one on MSNBC "Taliban sees little need for foreign fighters" and it got me thinking about the recent defections of Western persons to Taliban and Al-Qaeda camps in the Middle East. Over the past six to eight months the Star Tribune has been reporting on the mysteries behind several Somali-American men that have left Minnesota only to be later to be discovered to have a hand in bombings in the Middle East. Just this past week, a story circulated that four Americans, turned in by their parents, left for the Middle East, namely Pakistan, to train with Al-Qaeda. The reason of my focus on these events is I wonder if the escalation of Americans going to the Middle East to join Al-Qaeda or the Taliban is similar to the tensions that existed in the United States during the late 60's.

During that time we had the Weatherman Underground, many protests in the United States over the Vietnam War, and the march for civil rights by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr, and others. Are we experiencing a similar movement in regards to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Or is this a bigger war being waged on Western ideals? I will admit that I was not born until 1971 so I did not experience the 60's as my elders and have to revert to their recollection of history and what can be gleaned from history books. So I pose this analogy to my elder readers: Are the events we see with the migration of Americans to the Middle East to gain terrorist training creating the ground swell of anti-establishment sentiment that engulfed the late 60's and early 70's in the United States?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Al Gore mistaken on Polar Ice Cap science

Former Vice President Al Gore stuck his foot in his mouth while speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit when he claimed that, "These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr. Maslowski that there is a 75 percent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years." Interesting but not so quick as the scientist that Gore quoted denied giving concrete numbers to which later Gore's office admitted that the figure was "one used by Dr. Maslowski as a 'ballpark figure' several years ago in a conversation with Gore" (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/copenhagen/article6956783.ece). Interesting error in science indeed, especially in light of those hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.

While I do acknowledge that the climate warms and cools, I do not subscribe that it is as manmade that most on the left would like us all to believe. As I am writing this, Andrea Mitchell had Gary Hart and a former General on to discuss how climate change is a national security threat. The Left is losing the battle and has not gone to the bag of tricks that Bush used, i.e. WMD's, to push the climate change agenda. Let's all be honest, what is playing out in Copenhagen is not about being good stewards of the Earth; rather it is about plundering the coffers of the Industrialized World by Third World and developing countries. The EU has announced that it will give 500 million euro's to Africa and the Caribbean (http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE5BE1BI._CH_.2420) and the United States upped their ante that will be set at $9 billion for 2010. By the way it was President Bush that led to the tripling of "direct humanitarian and development aid" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/30/AR2006123000941.html).

That being said, it is time that we take a time out and look at the science of climate change. A friend of mine posted this webpage on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sciencedaily.com%2Freleases%2F2009%2F11%2F091124140957.htm&h=a0758a2cd40ea99ae8b12077acd89c03 After reading the article I posed this question: Park says that "a strong correlations exists between sea-surface temperature and CO2 levels in the tropic areas. Conversely, in places with a lot of trees and other biomass to soak up much of the atmospheric CO2..." Wouldn't that lead us to believe that deforestation and the lack of biomass – will need a definition on that – is the root cause of the "inerannual time scales" that results in less CO2 absorption? So, shouldn't the push be for more forests and biomass instead of "Cap and Trade" legislation? Or did I read what he said incorrectly? It appears to me that Park is applying correlations found in tropical oceans to all waterways which does not equate when he says "in places with a lot of trees and other biomass" the oceans are able to absorb access CO2. Can't have it both ways…"

I have not seen an answer to this question. Perhaps someone here will help me understand or correct me if I am miss-understanding Parks report. All of this is why we need to have a robust debate void of emotion and political influence. Is that even possible? Plus, if Gore was told of the prediction by Dr. Maslowski took place several years ago, wouldn't that mean that we will see no polar ice cap in the next one or two years?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sen. Day’s decision evokes “revolving-door” controversy

Today is Monday December 14th and it is negative 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now; ugh. At some point last night or this morning snow fell as I was awaken this morning by the beeps of a bobcat. A lot took place over the weekend: the Vikings put it to the Bengals, Tiger lost a major sponsor, Sen. Liebermann switches stance on health care reform away from the Democrats, the Senate passed a $1.2T budget filled with pork, and President Obama gave himself a B+ rating. Really a B+? Anyway, that is entirely different topic than I'd like to discuss today. Last week Sen. Dick Day (R-Owatonna) was be lambasted for his decision to leave the State Legislature of Minnesota to lobby for a group, Racino Now, wanting a Racino in Minnesota. While Day will not officially leave office until the first part of January, many suspect he is already working as a consultant for the group looking to lobby Minnesota Legislatures during the upcoming session.

Minnesota does not have any laws that require a "cooling off" period for Legislators to become lobbyist or take other private industry jobs that may benefit from their connections. In a statement released last week by Sen. Day he defended his actions by saying, "Anyone who knows me knows that a Racino at Canterbury Park has been one of my top legislative priorities for 12 years, since 1997 when I first proposed the idea to fund a new Twins ballpark…Now I have the opportunity to work full time toward this end, and I look forward to traveling throughout the state to talk to Minnesotans about the many ways we will all gain from these two Racinos" (http://twincities.bizjournals.com/twincities/stories/2009/12/07/daily22.html). The other Racino location that Sen. Day refers to is Running Aces Harness Park located in Columbus Township.

While the laws of disclosure are rather limited or non-existent for Minnesota Legislatures, there is a ban on gifts that lobbyist can give a Legislator but that does not include campaign donations or hiring the Legislator as a consultant. I can see where a potential conflict of interest can exist but Sen. Day has never hidden his belief that Minnesota can benefit from adding a Racino to the business district; potentially adding $250M to the state confers. Should Minnesota add more disclosure laws to ensure our state politicians act ethically? Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) are two members of Minnesota's Legislator that plan to introduce "revolving-door" legislation that would "require legislators who retire or lose election to wait two years before they could accept a lobbying position" (http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/12/09/14123/days_move_puts_focus_on_legislatures_weak_lobbying_rules).

Is two years to much? Is two years too little? Should a lifetime ban be put in place? Keep in mind that elected officials in the Legislator is really a part-time job which many view it as just that. I know from personal experience that the only time I hear or see my State Senator is when it is politically convenient for her. Despite your view on a Racino, how should Minnesota react to lack of a "revolving-door" policy? Or should the focus be on the full disclosure of activities?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hamburg City Council Meeting Minutes – November 10, 2009

Mayor Malz called the regular meeting of the Hamburg City Council to order at 7:00 p.m. Councilmember Steve Trebesch, Councilmember John Barnes, Councilmember Larry Mueller, Councilmember Brian Cummiskey, City Clerk Jeremy Gruenhagen, Deputy Clerk Sue Block, Maintenance Worker Dennis Byerly, and Fire Chief Brad Droege were present. Others present were Richard Odoms (150 Jacob Street).


 

Agenda Review (Added Items) and Adoption

  • Added – Hamburg Fire Department Fire Board Meeting Memo dated 10-29-09
  • Added – Letter from Mr. Odoms dated November 9, 2009
  • Added – Updated Delinquency Utility Report
  • Added – State Bank of Hamburg Fourth Annual Festival of Trees
  • Added – November Claims List
  • Added – 2010 Health Insurance Rates
  • Added – City Sign – Welcome to Hamburg
  • Added – 2010 Budget Workshop Meeting – Date to review the 2010 Budget
  • Added – Newspaper Subscription to the Norwood Times
  • Added – Deputy Clerk Block and Maintenance Worker Byerly employee evaluation reviews.
  • Some information was not made available to the public because of personal information on the handouts. The personal information is protected by the Data Privacy Act.


 

Councilmember Mueller moved to adopt the agenda with the additions, seconded by Councilmember Barnes and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.


 

Old City Business

  • Number 1 – Cities website is planned to be completed by January 1, 2010.
  • Number 3 – Change wording on how many dogs constitutes a dog kennel to 4 dogs. This will be done at the November 24, 2009 City Council meeting.
  • Number 4 – Should have City Business Card proofs ready for review shortly.
  • Number 10 – One fan remains to be installed at the Hall.
  • Number 13 – Previously the home located at 420 Maria Avenue was thought to be sharing the same water turn off valve with the home next door. Maintenance Worker Byerly found a separate turn off valve for 420 Maria, located underneath the deck of the home.
  • Number 15 – Unisex Bathroom in Hall, Councilmember Cummiskey will update Council during the City Council Reports.
  • Number 16 – Sign for Compost Dumpster - "No plastic bags in dumpster". This has been completed and will be removed from the list.
  • Number 17 – Projector Screen - Councilmember Cummiskey has located one and will bring it to the Community Center at no cost to the city.


 

Approve Minutes for October 13, 2009 and October 27, 2009

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen apologized to Council for not emailing the minutes to them for their review. The minutes are completed but were not given to Council for review.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to table approving the October 13, 2009 and October 27, 2009 City Council Minutes until the next City Council meeting on November 24, 2009, seconded by Councilmember Trebesch and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.


 

Fire Department Report – Chief Brad Droege


 

Projector Screen

  • The projector screen the city has now is in two pieces and a new one should be purchased. If the screen Councilmember Cummiskey has located is not in good condition the city should pursue purchasing one.

US Fish & Wildlife Grant

  • The paper work has been sent in for reimbursement of the items that were purchased from the grant money.

Fire Fighter Colton Kroells

  • Colton is leaving for military service and a going away party will be held for him on November 14, 2009 in Green Isle at the New Yorker.
  • Colton has signed all the necessary paper work so that when he returns he can continue to be a member of the Hamburg Fire Department.

H1N1 Flu Virus

  • The firefighters that want the arm shots are still waiting for them to become available.

Disaster Mitigation Plan

  • This item should not be Disaster Mitigation but a resolution authorizing the use of fire department equipment for Mutual Aid. The resolution would allow designated people to make this decision and would not have to wait for Council approval.

Selection vs. Election

  • This is listed on the agenda just as a reminder so it is not forgotten.

Fire Department Officer Elections

  • Elections will be held during the Fire Department meeting on Monday November 30, 2009.

Flags

  • The fire fighters put up the United States flags around town in honor of Veterans Day, November 11.

Civil Defense Siren

  • The civil defense siren will not be sounding during the months of December, January, and February. It is too hard on the mechanisms to be sounded during the cold winter months.

Meat Raffles

  • Meat raffles will be starting on November 21, 2009 and run through February 2010. They will be held at Parkside Tavern on Saturday nights starting at 6:30.

Gun Raffle

  • The Fire Department annual gun raffle drawing will be held at Parkside Tavern on December 12, 2009.

Sunday Morning Breakfast – Toy Drive

  • A Sunday morning breakfast will be held at Parkside Tavern. It will be a free will donation and all proceeds will be donated to the annual Toy Drive. The date will be announced at a later time.

Hamburg Fire Board Meeting – October 29, 2009

  • Members from Washington Lake and Young America Townships were present. Councilmember Trebesch and Councilmember Mueller were also present.
  • The attendees were informed of the J-5 trailer purchased by the Hamburg Fire Department Relief Association for $5,130 at no cost to the city or township.
  • Auto-Aid with Sibley County is being used and auto-aid with Carver County is being worked on.
  • S.A.F.E.R (Search And Find Emergency Response) equipment used to find Autistic, Dementia, and Alzheimer patients was displayed at the meeting.
  • The members were informed that it was time to start looking for a used rescue vehicle. Any rescue vehicle over $150,000 will not be considered. The townships would contribute between $45,000 to $50,000 and the City of Hamburg and the Fire Department Relief Association would split the remaining amount. The current rescue truck will be paid off in 2011 and a five year loan could be added. The City of Hamburg could continue payments for the new (used) rescue vehicle after the final payment of the current rescue truck is made. Doing this would result in a continuation of the current budget line item.
  • The group was informed that the Hamburg Fire Department received a U.S. Fish Wildlife grant in the amount of $1,680 for Wild Land Gear. (US Fish and Wildlife paying $1,430 and City of Hamburg cost of $250)
  • No word on 2009 FEMA Grant.
  • Training reimbursement has been applied for in the amount of $1,800.
  • Fire Chief Droege informed the Townships of the annual fees that will be due for 2009,2010 and 2011:
    • Washington Lake Township
      • Payable 2009 86 units x $115 = $9,890
      • Payable 2010 86 units x $120 = $10,320
      • Payable 2011 86 units x $125 = $10,750
    • Young America Township
      • Payable 2009 100 units x $115 = $11,500
      • Payable 2010 100 units x $120 = $12,000
      • Payable 2011 100 units x $125 = $12,500
    • Both townships owe $41,250 over five (5) years with payment starting in 2009 for the New Tanker and Skid Mount Unit purchased in 2008.
  • Toys for Tots
    • Councilmember Mueller suggested donating a nearly new bike that was found several years ago at the city park to the Toys for Tots program.
    • Council discussed if they could donate the bike and decided to have City Clerk Gruenhagen check with the local authorities first to find out if anyone had reported the bike as lost or stolen. Check on the requirements for abandoned items before the City gives it away.
    • The Hamburg Bank and the City Office will be drop off spots for anyone wanting to donate to Toys for Tots.


 

Richard Odoms – Late Fee on October Billing


 

Utility Billing Late Fee

  • Mr. Odoms (150 Jacob Street) attended the City Council meeting to address the late fee penalty he was assessed on his October utility bill in the amount of $10.33. According to the Cities utility records Mr. Odoms was indeed late on his payment.
  • Mr. Odoms reviewed the back side of the monthly utility bill and noticed the statement "If payment is not received by due date, a 10% penalty will be applied". After reading this statement he informed Council that he was not going to protest his late fee. However Mr. Odoms did comment on the following:
    • He was astounded that the City of Hamburg collected approximately $6,500 in late water and sewer fees in 22 months. This amount tells him that people are not aware of the printing on the backside of the bill. Mr. Odoms suggested that Council establish the fact that there is a penalty for late payment.
    • Mr. Odoms commented that he thinks the 10% penalty is a bit excessive and there is no grace period. Also, based on the amount of late fees the City has collected over the last 22 months he is sure no one is aware of the penalty.
  • Mayor Malz replied that sometimes it is an oversight and sometimes it is chronic. He suggested to Mr. Odoms that instead of relying on the mail system he could drop his payment in the Cities drop box. The 10% penalty could be discussed to be changed but as long as he can remember the penalty has been set at 10%.
  • Councilmember Barnes commented that the 10% late fee was to encourage residents to make their payments on time.
  • Mr. Odoms asked if a notation could be put on the front of the utility bills as a reminder that there is a penalty for late payments.
    • Deputy Clerk Block will put a notice in the memo section on the front of the utility billing postcard notifying residents of the 10% penalty if payment is not received by the due date.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen addressed Council by reporting that according to several other cities around the state a 10% penalty is not excessive. Some cities schedule their due dates the 15th or 20th giving their residents a shorter time to pay. Hamburg gives its residents a generous 30 days to pay their utilities bill. If council would want to give a grace period the due date could be set at the 15th or 20th of each month with a grace period ending on the 30th of each month.
  • Council did agree that giving a grace period would just prolong when residents would actually pay their utility bills and there would be more work for the Deputy Clerk to monitor the payments.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen informed Council that doing any of the research that Mr. Odoms or other City residents request takes up a lot of his time. He asked Council if an hourly charge for his time could be put in the Cities Fee Schedule starting January 1,
    2010.
    • Council discussed and decided to add a fee for researching requests for public info.


 

Dennis' Report (Public Works & Utilities)


 

Well Inspection

  • Annual well inspections were done November 10, 2009 by McCarthy Well Company and one relay switch was found to be defective. Maintenance Worker Byerly will call Chuck (Robb's Electric) to come out and install a new one.
  • A report on the inspection will be sent to the City Office at a later date.

Shop Driveway

  • Henning's were contacted again and they informed Maintenance Worker Byerly that they will be out as soon as they can, no definite date was given.
  • Councilmember Mueller suggested that if the repair of the shop driveway is not completed by December 1, 2009 to put the new shop door in and complete the driveway next spring.

Curb Stop at 420 Maria Avenue

  • Previously the home located at 420 Maria Avenue was thought to share the same curb shut-off valve with the home next door however Maintenance Worker Byerly did find a separate shut off. Maintenance Worker found the shut off valve under the deck at 420 Maria Avenue unfortunately his shut-off key is not equipped for such a small area. He will work on configuring a key that will work.

Sweeping City Streets

  • The City streets will be swept on Tuesday, November 10th and completed on Wednesday, November 11th.

Picnic Tables

  • The picnic tables from the City Park have been moved into the city shop for repainting. Sentence to Serve (STS) was going to do the painting but instead they helped Maintenance Worker Byerly clear leaves from the city curb line. December 1st will be the first date available to have STS come back to Hamburg to help with projects.

Community Center/Fire Station and Hall Wall Heaters

  • The heating units were checked out and two of the heaters will have to be replaced both have cracked heat exchangers. One in the Fire Station and one at the Hall.
  • Maintenance Worker Byerly obtained the following estimate from Metro Air to replace the heaters:
    • Fire Station - UDAP Reznor 100,00 butain replacement heater, complete hook up and removal of old heater - $1,220.
    • Community Hall - PDP175AEO130 Modine Hi-efficiency heater, 5" power vent, complete hook up and removal of old unit - $1,980.
  • Council decided to obtain at least two quotes by the next council meeting before making a decision.

LMC Loss Control Survey

  • Everything on the list is completed except installation of the outside handrail.

Snow Ordinance Signs

  • The two new snow ordinance signs should arrive by Friday, November 13th.

Call Out Pay

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen received an email from City Attorney Mac regarding the language for the Call Out Pay and the minimum of two hours applying to more than one call out. The following is what he suggested adding to the paragraph the city already has in the Employee Handbook:
    • For such work after regularly scheduled work shifts and/or weekend and holiday work, the minimum two hours of overtime wages shall apply only once per calendar day, regardless of the number of times an employee may be called out to work on that day. All call out work, regardless of the number of times an employee is called out on a calendar day, totaling tow or more hours shall be paid at the employee's overtime wage for those total hours worked. Should an employee be called out for such extra work more than once on a calendar day, but have total extra time worked of less than two hours, the employee shall be paid the minimum of two hours.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to add this paragraph prepared by City Attorney Mac to the Employees Handbook under what constitutes Call Out Pay for a city employee, seconded by Councilmember Mueller and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.

General Maintenance Schedules

  • Maintenance Worker Byerly is working on the schedule to be prepared for an OSHA mock inspection.

Employee Evaluations

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen informed Council that he has completed the employee evaluations and has gone over them with both employees. Both employees have signed off on the evaluations and copies were given to all council members.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen asked City Attorney Mac and other cities how they handle closed evaluation meetings and what is usually done is the evaluations are the last line item on the agenda. At that time the Mayor would announce that the meeting will be closed, unless any of the employees would like to request an open meeting for his/her evaluation. If any would do that, that evaluation should go first so as to keep the meeting open before closing it for the other evaluations.
    • The minutes should be taken via a tape recorder, not by a deputy clerk, and they need to be saved and archived. Since it was a closed meeting, those recordings do not get released to the public and should be kept safely, yet available should there ever be a legal need to review them.
    • The supervisor of the other two employees who conducted the reviews can be present at the closed meeting.
    • At the next public meeting of the City Council it is required by the statute that the council "shall summarize its conclusions regarding the evaluation" for each employee. As long as the summary is accurate and truthful the council does not need to go into an excess of detail when presenting the summaries.
    • The publishing and notice requirements are the same as for a regular open meeting. The notice, however, should explicitly state that the last agenda item of business will be a closed meeting for the purpose of employee evaluations.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen will put the closed meeting notice as the last line item on the next City Council Meeting Agenda scheduled for November 24, 2009.

Hall Cooler

  • Maintenance Worker Byerly reported that the Hall cooler is working however a new thermostat for the cooler is needed. The current one has stopped working.

Compost Dumpster

  • Council discussed and decided to have the Cities compost dumpster removed for the winter months starting December 1, 2009.

Pop Can Trailer

  • Maintenance Worker Byerly took the pop cans to the Hutchinson location and received 45 cents per pound with an added 5 cents per pound for being over 500 pounds. Received a little over $250.
  • Maintenance Worker Byerly informed Council that the Hutchinson location would also take the old water meters at $1.15 per pound.

Water at Park

  • The water at the Park has been turned off for the winter.


Furnace Filters

  • The furnace filters for the Community Center were changed on schedule, October 15, 2009.


 


 


 


 


 


 

Deputy Clerk Report


 

Delinquent Utility Bills

  • Delinquent utility letters were sent out to Wm. Minnihan, Chris Tordsen, Darrell Grams, and Sergio Salcedo.
  • Emily Siebold is still making her scheduled payments. She has been sent a new payment schedule letter because her original schedule, September 18, 2009 to November 6, 2009, was completed. She has been paying $50 per week.

Water Fees for Vacant Properties

  • Deputy Clerk Block asked Council for their discretion on how to handle homeowner requests to turn the water off at their vacant properties to avoid the monthly $26.00 base fees for Water and Sewer.
  • Council discussed and decided that it would be the home owners decision to either keep the water turned on and pay the $26 base fee or have the water turned off and then pay a $100 reconnect fee.
    • It was suggested to inform the owners that it would be a good idea if they would turn the water valve off (inside) before the water meter just in case something would leak or break in the home while it was vacant.
  • Both fees were previously set and approved by Council for the 2009 City Fee Schedule.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to give the homeowners of vacant property the choice between having the water kept on and pay the $26.00 base fees or have the water turned off and pay the $100 reconnect fee; the monthly $26 base fees will not be assessed if the water is turned off, seconded by Councilmember Trebesch and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.
  • If the home is sold and the water was turned off the $100 reconnect fee will be listed on the assessment search when one comes in to the city office.

City Assessment Search Fee

  • It was discussed and decided to change the $10 assessment search fee to $20 starting the first of the year (2010).


 

Clerk/Treasurer Report


 

Small Cities Development Grant Update

  • Five Hamburg residents applied for the Small Cities Grant program, four were approved and one was denied. One application is open for anyone interest in applying; they can contact Christie Rock (NYA Economic Development Coordinator) for more information.

Sanitary and Storm Sewer Improvements Project Update

  • The following items were discussed at the November 4, 2009 meeting held at the Hamburg City Hall.
    • Contractor to remove fence but not replace it if not removed by property owner.
    • Corrugated metal pipe (CMP) with an aluminum type base would be used for apron outlets with trash guards.
    • Seed mixture #270 will be used where sod is not installed and a #280 mixture will be used at the Ponds.
    • Residents will be given the opportunity to remove underground sprinklers or electronic dog fences that are in the easements. However if they are not removed the contractor will remove them at their expense.
    • During the meeting access areas/points were reviewed.
    • Discussed how to access Roger Siewert's (618 David Avenue) yard. His yard is completely landscaped up to the property line were the sanitary sewer line runs.
      • Councilmember Mueller and Doug Parrott will look into resolving this issue.
    • Discussed what to do about trees and shrubs that are in the areas needed for the storm sewer; remove all trees on city land or just what's needed for storm sewer.
      • At the Park 5 to 7 Cottonwood trees will have to be removed and one Cottonwood tree on Robert Bergman's property (720 Park Avenue).
    • At the last Council meeting it was discussed to build a chain link fence with gates around the proposed pond, Councilmember Mueller suggested the extra dirt from digging out the pond be used to build a 2 to 3 foot high rounded berm around the pond instead.
      • There should be about 8,000 tons of dirt that will have to be hauled out at a cost anywhere around $12,000 to $13,000.
      • By using the dirt for a berm and planting blue spruce trees on top of the brim could help lower the cost of the project.
  • Council discussed and decided to add a bid item in the contract to give residents a set cash amount for purchasing and replacing trees or evergreens that were removed when installing the sewer/storm sewer line.
  • Council discussed that it would be best to get a permanent easement from property owners but if they are only willing to allow for a temporary construction easement then the City, as a last resort, will take the temporary easement.

Wetland Delineation

  • Deric Deuschle (S.E.H. Biologist) sent in an email about the wetland delineation new rule. The City of Hamburg will have to go through more of a waiting period. November 17 the City can file intent to issue a favorable notice of decision on the wetland delineation and finalize this out.

Project Improvements

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen reported the Council should consider if they wanted to do the project as a whole or break it down into sections. Clerk Gruenhagen felt the whole project should be bid (individually) and then a decision should be made based on the bid amounts. Preliminary Engineering Estimates:
    • Sanitary Sewer Improvements ($371,731)
    • Western Storm Sewer Improvements ($352,972)
    • Eastern Storm Sewer Improvements ($500,622)
    • Water Main Improvements ($27,853)
  • Council discussed and decided to bid the whole project and make a decision after bids are received.

USDA vs. PFA vs. Market Loans

  • Ron Seymour (S.E.H. Financial Advisor) will be attending the City Council meeting on November 24th to provide council with the pros and cons of each type of loan. He will also be able to give information on the salary survey, if it would benefit the city.

Abdo, Eick & Meyers – Engagement Letter for 2009, 2010, 2011

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen, Mr. Simons (City Administrator of NYA), and Steve McDonald (Managing Partner with Abdo, Eick & Meyers) met to discuss future auditing fees.
    • The 2008 audit fee was over $19,000 however Abdo, Eick & Meyers presented a contract lowering the auditing fee to $15,500 if the cities would agree to a three year contract with them.
    • City Clerk Gruenhagen pointed out that Hamburg is not on cash basis but on accrual basis. Because of this there is a lot more reporting and requirements for the accrual method of accounting. Hiring Abdo, Eick & Meyers would be beneficial to the City by having a thorough audit done, specially due to the size of the City and the limited internal controls.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to accept the three year (2009, 2010, and 2011) contract with Abdo, Eick & Meyers, seconded by Councilmember Mueller and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.

Animal Impound Contract – Countryside Veterinarian & Feed

  • Hamburg's animal impound contract is up with Countryside Veterinarian and they have submitted a new contract with a few changes:
    • Fee Increases effective November 1, 2009.
    • New policy for medical emergency situations.
  • Councilmember Trebesch moved to accept the contract with Countryside Veterinarian & Feed, seconded by Councilmember Mueller and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.

Public Hearings – November 24, 2009

  • A public hearing has been scheduled for November 24, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. for the Subdivision Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance approval (Ordinance Number 133).
    • This meeting was approved by a motion at the last City Council meeting.
  • A public hearing has been scheduled for November 24, 2009 at 6:45 p.m. for an Ordinance Update, relating to definition of a kennel and kennel as a nuisance (Ordinance Number 134).
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to have a Public Meeting on November 24, 2009 at 6:45 p.m. for the purpose of discussing the dog kennel ordinance, seconded by Councilmember Mueller and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.

Closed Meeting for Employee Evaluations

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen will add the closed meeting employee evaluations as the last agenda line item for the City Council meeting on November 24, 2009.

School District #108 Public Meeting on Proposed Referendum on December 1, 2009

  • This meeting will be held at the Hamburg Community Center on November 17, 2009 starting at 7:00 p.m.

Health Insurance for City Employees (Jeremy Gruenhagen & Dennis Byerly)

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen handed out, to members of council, a spreadsheet showing the 2009 City contribution of $32,774 and the proposed 2010 City contribution in 2010 of $33,678 for health insurance coverage; if council decides to stay with the current HSA Health Insurance plan.
  • Staying with the current plan (100% Coverage) the increase from 2009 to 2010 would be an overall increase of 2.76%.
    • Deductible increased from $4,000 to $4,200, a 5% increase from 2009 to 2010.
    • The following deductible amounts, if paid by the City, show the overall increase to the City:
      • $4,200 deductible – An overall increase of 2.76% to the City
      • $4,000 deductible – An overall increase of 1.54% to the City
      • $3,750 deductible – An overall increase of 0.01% to the City
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen proceeded to explain that different types of health insurance plans are available for the Council to choose from. City Clerk Gruenhagen stated that the current HSA plan (100% Coverage) is the best plan for employees and the most cost effective for the City offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN.
    • Councilmember Cummiskey suggested discussing this and making a final decision at the next City Council meeting on November 24th.
    • City Clerk Gruenhagen agreed that wages and health insurance could be negotiated at the same time during the next council meeting.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen requested some Council direction as to where they would like to go with employee health care benefits; if the Council is leaning towards a different plan or staying with the current plan and negotiating the deductible amount.
  • Councilmember Mueller asked what the current deductible is?
    • City Clerk Gruenhagen replied that it is $4,000 (2009) and would increase to $4,200 in 2010.
  • City Clerk Gruenhagen and members of Council continued to discuss other plans and options.
    • Mayor Malz threw out a hypothetical question: If Council would grant a wage increase and the City would pay $3,000 of the deductible, a $2,400 savings to the City and a $100 increase to the employee, would this be affordable?
      • Maintenance Worker Byerly was not present to respond, however, City Clerk Gruenhagen replied that this would be something to consider at reviews.
    • Health Insurance benefits for City employees (Jeremy & Dennis) will be decided when employee reviews are completed.

2010 Budget Workshop

  • City Clerk Gruenhagen asked Council if they wanted to set up a 2010 Budget Workshop meeting before making a final decision on the 2010 Budget. There have been two items that have affected the proposed 2010 budget; lower auditing fees and the low percentage increase on the current health insurance plan, almost a 2% reduction to the Certified Tax Levy Amount.
  • Council discussed and decided to hold a Budget Workshop meeting on December 1st if allowed by State Statutes for the School Referendum takes place on that date. The exact date will be set at the next City Council meeting.

Subscription to Local Newspaper

  • Council discussed the benefits to the City in subscribing to the Norwood Times. The yearly subscription cost is $30.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey moved to subscribe to the local Norwood Times newspaper at the yearly subscription cost of $30, seconded by Councilmember Mueller and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.

4th Annual Festival of Trees

  • Council discussed and decided that the Annual Festival of Trees is more for organizations and businesses. The city should abstain from participating because of the monetary value of the prize awards.

City Office Closure

  • The Hamburg City office will be closed on November 11th in observance of Veterans Day.
    • God bless our troops and those that served.


 


 


 

City Council Reports


 

Councilmember Mueller (Sewer & Water)

  • Councilmember Mueller presented a drawing of the City Logo that could be used for welcome signs to be placed on both road entrances into Hamburg.
  • Council discussed and asked Councilmember Mueller to proceed with his plan for the signs.

Councilmember Cummiskey (Streets)

  • Unisex Bathroom for Hall - Councilmember Cummiskey had met with the Building Inspector and presented Council with information on what the requirements would be to build the Unisex bathroom with an attached utility closet in the Hamburg Hall.
  • Councilmember Cummiskey also informed Council that the contract with the Building Inspector (MNSPECT) will expire on January 1, 2010. Hamburg's plumbing inspections are currently not contracted with MNSPECT but the building inspections and plumbing inspections could be contracted together through them.
    • City Clerk Gruenhagen will contact MNSPECT and request a new contract be drafted.
  • Council also discussed putting together an Request for Proposal (RFP) for building inspections but felt it was too late in the year and agreed to renew the current contract with MNSPECT for 2010 and possible look at RFP's for 2011.

Councilmember Trebesch (Buildings)

  • Councilmember Trebesch informed Council that Maintenance Worker Byerly picked up the two table carts that he donated to the city.

Councilmember Barnes (Parks) had nothing further to report.

Mayor Malz had nothing further to report.


 

Approve Claims List for October 2009


 

Added Claim – Check Number 14124 to H2 Development Inc. for $810 - 50% payment for City Shop door.

Councilmember Barnes moved to accept Claim Numbers 14098 through 14124, including the three ACH payments, Councilmember Mueller seconded and motion unanimously carried. All Council members were present.


 

Councilmember Mueller moved to adjourn the Hamburg City Council meeting at 9:30 p.m., seconded by Councilmember Barnes and motion unanimously carried. All Council Members were present.


 

    
 

                                        Submitted by:


 


 


 

                                        Sue Block                                                        Deputy Clerk

Bi-Partisan Support for Drug Competition heads to day three of debate

For nearly two days now the Senate has been debating Sen. Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) amendment, http://c-span.org/pdf/Dorgan_admt120809.pdf, which would give Americans access to prescription drugs from other countries like Canada. The amendment offered has far reaching bi-partisan support, 19 sponsors and co-sponsors, but many on the floor and within the administration are highly critical due to the possibly endangerment to the United States medicine supply as well as being difficult to implement.

In a letter written by Margaret Hamburg, President Barack Obama's FDA commissioner, sent to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) stated that Sen. Dorgan's amendment, "as currently written, the resulting structure would be logistically challenging to implement and resource intensive. In addition, there were significant safety concerns" (http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/71307-fda-opposes-senate-drug-importation-amendmen). The same article notes that the Pharmaceutical industry is strongly opposed to the Dorgan Amendment as well, what a shock there as it would mean greater competitive forces thus reducing their bottom line while lowering drug costs to all Americans. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spent several minutes on the Senate floor to express his concerns about "counterfeit Tamiflu" and other drugs because of how difficult it is to identify them. Sen. Menendez even echoed the concerns of express in the FDA letter.

Sen. Dorgan cited "a report from the Congressional Budget Office saying drug imports would result in savings of $19.4 billion over ten years by prodding manufacturers to lower domestic prices to compete with imported drugs" (http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Daily-Reports/2009/December/09/Afternoon-Update.aspx). On the surface the amendment makes sense since increase competition, based on economics 101, will drive down costs. Right now drug companies enjoy a protective market in the United States which enables it easier for them recoup research and development costs. The amendment requires importers and exporters to register and submit to random sampling of the drug being sent and on-site inspections of their production facilities. I can see where the inspections could become cumbersome but do we allow that to derail a process that will help lower the cost of prescription drugs?

Well if you are a member of Congress it will depend on who your donors are. Last night HBO re-aired the latest Robin Williams comedy show that was taped, ironically, in Washington D.C. Although I think he had used this joke before, he mentioned that lawmakers should don logos of their donors on their suits much like NASCAR does on their cars and driver suits. Although many laughed, it does make sense. Especially as we go through healthcare reform debate. The Senate will pick back up the debate today on the Dorgan Amendment that if passed would derail any back room deal President Obama and PHARMA ironed out months ago.

Now, if Congress can apply the same logic, being attempting to bring down drug costs through an increase in competition, to the health care reform debate in general we will all benefit. The next step is now for them to increase competition for health care insurance options beyond adding just one option. I called Sen. Klobuchar office yesterday as well to ask why more in the Senate are not applying basic supply/demand to health insurance competition by opening up state borders and removing the anti-trust exemption. It will be interesting today to see how the Dorgan Amendment plays out.