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Iowa in the News

Vision Iowa Approves $140,000 To Fund Christian Park

Jesus parkArticle on Huffingtonpost.com

A new Christian park being built in Sioux City, Iowa, has advanced into its second phase of construction after Vision Iowa, a state program operated by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, approved a $140,000 grant to assist with the park’s construction costs in April.

In response to the “rise of secular influence in our culture,” the park brochure states, Shepherd’s Garden seeks to create “a permanent Christian green space for the community” that “promotes visible reminders of Christian values and symbols.”

On Monday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation penned a letter to the chairwoman of Vision Iowa, Cathy Reece, criticizing the government entity for violating the constitutional ban on public sponsorship of religious activity:

It is difficult to understand how this grant could have been approved. The “join us” section of the brochure — the plea for money — actually quotes the King James bible, Psalm 23 … Crosses decorate the brochure and park. This is openly about space to promote Christianity, not a public space.

Shepherd’s Garden is of course free to construct their Christian green space, but the government cannot support it. This is one of the most egregious grants for a religious purpose FFRF has encountered. Vision Iowa and the Iowa Economic Development Authority must rescind the grant to comply with the Constitution.

Complete with prayer spaces and a “Walk of Faith” with Bible-inspired walkway stones, the $810,000 project cleared a major fundraising obstacle when the Vision Iowa program — tasked by the Iowa Legislature to support projects that expand the state’s cultural, educational and recreational attractions — approved funding for the project last month.

The park, which is also supported by private donations, will be built on an abandoned lot owned by the religious nonprofit Shepherd’s Garden Foundation as “a visible reminder that God’s presence is not confined to sacred institutions and buildings, but is very much a part of the public sphere,” according to the park brochure.

Iowa Land Of…. Reaper Drones And Hellfire Missiles?

Ed Flaherty

Ed Flaherty

Dear Friends,

The 132nd Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard is gearing up to pilot and control armed Reaper drones, which carry Hellfire missiles used to kill people in countries with whom we are not at war.

There will be drone legislation introduced in the Iowa legislature addressing privacy and surveillance issues. How much more ought we be concerned with the killing of civilians (a fate much worse than losing privacy) done with the dollars, and in the name of, Iowans.

Here is the clause that we would like added to any drone legislation that may come out of the legislature.

“The piloting or controlling from within the state of Iowa of unmanned aerial vehicles, if they are weaponized, is prohibited, as is the triggering of any weapons mounted on such vehicles.”

Please sign the petition to Iowa legislators

Together, we can reach tons of people and help create change around this important issue. After you’ve signed the petition please also take a moment to share it with others. All you need to do is click on the e-mail, Twitter or Facebook links below.

Thank you!

Ed Flaherty

It’s a Gatsby Kind of Summer

Larry Hedlund

Larry Hedlund

The story about the termination of Special Agent in Charge Larry Hedlund of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation won’t be going away soon. Ryan Foley of the Associated Press picked up the story, which is garnering some national attention. Read Foley’s story here.

The governor’s speeding around Iowa typifies the kind of reckless behavior present in his administration. Maybe Hedlund’s termination, and the governor’s flagrant disregard for public safety shouldn’t be the poster child.

With Director of the Iowa Development Authority Debi Durham’s  poor negotiation of the Orascom fertilizer plant deal, her failing to connect the dots between China’s desire for self-sufficiency in corn and soybean production and sales of Iowa commodities to China, and her recent joke about the governor’s speeding while on a European trade mission, perhaps she should have been the one terminated for her negative and disrespectful comments.

On that German Autobahn trip, Governor Branstad and Ms. Durham remind one of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.” Fitzgerald wrote, “they were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money, or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Special Agent Hedlund appears to have been performing responsibly and his wrongful termination lawsuit will be in the news. Taxpayers will likely pay for the administration’s defense.

While it is the state’s right to fire their employees, voters should take the reckless ones to task at the polls in November 2014, beginning with Governor Branstad. He has made his mark on Iowa. Isn’t that enough?

Is Iowa Any Better Than China When It Comes To Hog Scandals?

dead hogs in iowa

Dead hogs outside an Iowa hog confinement – Iowa CCI

We think probably not.  Here is an excerpt of an article by Tom Philpott at MotherJones.com  about China’s dead-hog scandal and how Iowa and the U.S. compare. 

Consider Iowa, which houses around 18 million hogs, making it our most hog-intensive state. All of those hogs concentrated into a relatively small space generate unthinkable amounts of toxic manure. How much? Food & Water Watch weighs in:

• The nearly 733,000 hogs on factory farms in Plymouth County, Iowa, produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.
• The more than 857,000 hogs on factory farms in Hardin County, Iowa, produce three times as much untreated manure as the sewage from the greater Atlanta metro area.
• The more than 1 million hogs on factory farms in Sioux County, Iowa, produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Los Angeles and Atlanta metro areas combined.

And it’s not just hogs that are crammed into the state’s factory farms. According to FWW, Iowa’s vast confinement facilities also house 1.2 million beef cattle, 52.4 million egg-laying hens, 1 million broiler chickens, and 64,500 dairy cows. Altogether, this teeming horde annually churns out “as much untreated manure as the sewage from 471 million people—more than the entire US population.”

As you might imagine, keeping such titanic amounts of shit out of water is a near futile task.

(click here to read the entire story)

 

Impact On Iowa Of Sequestration (Automatic-Across-The-Board-Budget-Cuts)

chopping blockThe White House has released a report outlining what will happen state by state if the automatic across-the-board budget cuts are allowed to go into effect March 1st. Perhaps the most egregious of these cuts in Iowa, would be meals for seniors which  would lose $220,000 in funding.  While the GOP and billionaires continue to fight to avoid tax loopholes, they try to sell the idea that there is no money for meals for senior citizens.  Children with disabilities, teachers, schools, child care, vaccines, environmental protections, work study jobs for college students, law enforcement and military cuts,  are all on the chopping block in our state.  All so the wealthiest 1% can continue to indulge in greed, thanks to their enablers, the GOP. 

Here’s what will happen. Click here to contact your representatives in DC.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/sequester-factsheets/Iowa.pdf

Impact of March 1st Cuts on Middle Class Families, Jobs and Economic Security

IOWA IMPACTS

If sequestration were to take effect, some examples of the impacts on Iowa this year alone are:

Teachers and Schools:
Iowa will lose approximately $6.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 90 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 7,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 50 fewer schools would receive funding.

Education for Children with Disabilities:

In addition, Iowa will lose approximately $5.8 million in funds for about 70 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.

Work-Study Jobs:
Around 2,370 fewer low income students in Iowa would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 1,020 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.

Head Start:
Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 500 children in Iowa, reducing access to critical early education.

Protections for Clean Air and Clean Water:

Iowa would lose about $2.4 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Iowa could lose another $661,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

Military Readiness:
In Iowa, approximately 2,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $7.4 million in total.

Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $1.5 million in Iowa.
Air Force: Funding for Air Force operations in Iowa would be cut by about $0 million.

Law Enforcement and Public Safety Funds for Crime Prevention and Prosecution:

Iowa will lose about $135,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.

Job Search Assistance to Help those in Iowa find Employment and Training:

Iowa will lose about $376,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning around 12,680 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment.

Child Care:

Up to 300 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care, which is also essential for working parents to hold down a job.

Vaccines for Children:

In Iowa around 1,320 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $90,000.

Public Health:
Iowa will lose approximately $291,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, Iowa will lose about $670,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 1,100 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Iowa Department of Public Health will lose about $61,000 resulting in around 1,500 fewer HIV tests.

STOP Violence Against Women Program:
Iowa could lose up to $65,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 200 fewer victims being served.

Nutrition Assistance for Seniors:

Iowa would lose approximately $220,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.

***

Unless Congress acts by March 1st , a series of automatic cuts—called the sequester—will take effect that threaten hundreds of thousands of middle class jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform.

Already, the President has worked with Congress to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion, but there’s more to do. The President has put forward a balanced plan to not only avoid the harmful effects of the sequester but also to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion in total. The President’s plan meets Republicans more than halfway and includes twice as many spending cuts as it does tax revenue from the wealthy.

Unfortunately, many Republicans in Congress refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes so that we can protect investments that are helping grow our economy and keep our country safe. By not asking the wealthy to pay a little more, Republicans are forcing our children, seniors, troops, military families and the entire middle class to bear the burden of deficit reduction. The President is determined to cut spending and reduce the deficit in a balanced way, but he won’t stick the middle class with the bill. The President is willing to compromise, but on behalf the middle class he cannot accept a deal that undercuts their economic security.

Our economy is continuing to strengthen but we cannot afford a self-inflicted wound from Washington. Republicans should compromise and meet the President in the middle. We cannot simply cut our way to prosperity, and if Republicans continue to insist on an unreasonable, cuts-only approach, Iowa risks paying the price.

Click here to contact your representatives in Congress and the President

 

Loebsack: Rural Post Offices Will Remain Open

Dear Friend,

In response to the numerous comments and complaints that the US Postal Service (USPS) received regarding Post Office closings, including the many times I shared Iowans’ and my own strong opposition to their plan, USPS has announced that instead of proceeding as planned with proposed closings they will keep small and rural postal locations open for business. However, some Post Offices will operate with reduced retail hours. Despite this change, access to retail lobbies and P.O. boxes will remain unchanged, as will towns’ ZIP codes.

I heard from many Iowans about the importance of local Post Offices and fought hard to ensure your voices were heard by the USPS. This represents a win for Iowans, especially for Iowans and small businesses in rural areas who often rely on the Postal Service for timely delivery of things like medication and business items.  Keeping our Post Offices open will preserve valuable services for rural residents and allow our small businesses to continue operating efficiently to serve their customers and keep their bottom lines up.  It will also preserve and create good jobs in our communities. From saving on fuel costs to preventing the loss of businesses and the jobs they support, keeping our Post Offices open is key to our rural economies.

My office is here to assist you with any and all concerns you have, so please do not hesitate to contact me whenever you feel that I can be of assistance.  I encourage you to visit my website at www.loebsack.house.gov and sign up for my e-newsletters to stay informed of the work I’m doing for you. I am proud to serve the Second District, and I am committed to working hard for Iowans

Sincerely,

Dave Loebsack
Iowa’s Second District

 

Iowans Fire Back At The Atlantic

Almost everyone we know, including us, seriously hated this article in the Atlantic by Stephen G. Bloom, Observations From 20 Years Of Iowa Life.  Actually,  some of the piece is very good – the factual, historical, informational sections.  But the author’s characterizations of Iowans and Iowa culture while at times accurate,  at other times are grossly inaccurate, and overall, not balanced.  No one we know has ever heard of some of the cultural practices Stephen Bloom claims we have.

We wonder, why not just tell the truth? What is the point of all of the exaggeration?  It would have been an excellent article on its own.  It did not add interest to claim that we refer to Interstate 80 as “the highway”  (we don’t). No one here refers to caucuses as “chat ‘n chews”.   People in Iowa own dogs for companionship, not just for hunting. It goes on and on.

Iowans and a few others have fired back in the comment section of the Atlantic.   There is a comment or two about the Iowans’ comments to the effect that we may appear a little thin-skinned to others for taking such offense.  Fair enough. But no one likes to be turned into a cliche.

So, if you can get past that, you should probably read this otherwise good article that provides history and tells the rather tragic story of how Iowa has changed, beginning with the farm crisis of the 80’s,  the relationship between the loss of small family farms, the rise of  corporate farming, the meat packing industry, and immigration.

Finally, while the author says the article isn’t about whether Iowa “should determine the next U.S. president”, it clearly is about just that:   “Whether a schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa should host the first grassroots referendum to determine who will be the next president isn’t at issue.”  But after four pages describing Iowa, he closes with this:  “That’s the place that may very well determine the next U.S. president.”

And actually, we agree.  Iowa alone should not determine who will be the next president and Iowa does not determine this just because we vote first.

If you think Iowa has too much influence in presidential politics, we close with this:  Iowa Democrats are similar to Democrats nationally.  But Iowa Republicans are far more conservative than Republicans nationally.  So perhaps it is the Iowa GOP who should not be allowed this responsibility. But as long as we’re pointing fingers, we would like to point to the  corporate media for making the Iowa caucuses far more important than they should be in order to make a buck.  Actually, lots of bucks.

So don’t blame us. We’re only doing our civic duty.  If you think too much attention is paid to Iowa, tell the media.

Jeneane Beck to Leave Iowa Public Radio

Jeneane Beck interviewing Mark Cooper

When we consider all of the writers, news people and pundits in Iowa, there is none the author will miss more than Iowa Public Radio’s Jeneane Beck. She announced on twitter that she had taken a position as State Relations Officer for the University of Northern Iowa. The last story from Beck before the announcement was about the changing role of the Iowa lieutenant governor.  It was thorough and engaging, and different from what others with a similar story beat have been writing recently. She tweeted about how the decision to leave radio was at first excruciating, then tough, as if each progressive post on social media was helping her move toward acceptance of the change. I am a fan of her work, as were many. She will be missed.

In Des Moines last March, Beck interviewed Mark Cooper, an expert on consumer issues related to electric utilities at my request. The Iowa House of Representatives was considering a bill on nuclear power and Cooper came to Iowa to talk to legislators about rate making and the bill they were considering. She was smart, well prepared, timely and professional throughout the interview process. When I told her I was a fan and that she did great work, she demurred. The thing is she is not the only journalist to be leaving the media in Iowa.

There has been an exodus of household named reporters in Iowa. The Des Moines Register’s Dave Yepsen was the first when he became director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University- Carbondale on April 1, 2009. Charlotte Eby was next, leaving Lee Enterprises after 15 years to join Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2group), a bi-partisan public relations, public affairs and government affairs firm as an account executive. And now we lose Jeneane Beck. One has to wonder when Mike Glover of the Associated Press will turn it in, as he seems of an age for retirement. Who will replace them?

The truth may be that no one will. Yes, we have James Q. Lynch of Source Media Group, O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa and Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register. But along the way, the paradigm shifted. In a day of RSS feeds, iGoogle, iPads, smart phones, Kindle and Nook, user news gathering has changed forever. Instead of a revered Pantheon of reporters, we are enabled to read what is important and relevant now, without loyalties or need of specific authors. The fact that I heard of Beck’s change via twitter is emblematic of the ability to follow a hashtag or tweeter with a click of a computer button when a story is relevant to our lives.

So farewell Jeneane Beck. Best wishes from your fans whose lives have improved because of your work on Iowa Public Radio.

~ Paul Deaton is a regular contributor to Blog for Iowa.

The Obstructed View: Has Branstad Asked Vander Plaats About This?

The Obstructed View: Has Branstad Asked Vander Plaats About This?


by Sam Osborne

Governor-elect (or re-elect) Branstad says he's not sure if some new rail service would be cost-effective.  Does the Re-Gov think rubber on fast-weathering concrete is more cost effective than steel on steel?
 
In absence of a perspective that mankind is going to enjoy or suffer a future that arises from a combination of what is done and not done, does Branstad plan on dusting off an unused buggy whip and whuppin’ the State off into the sunset?   In getting even further back to basics, best we realize the mistake made back when some road-improvement fool of the moment started yelling, “Get Iowa out of the mud”—they should ha’ been yelling, “Get a horse!”
 
And who says we need roads; trails were doing just fine until some fool, maybe that kite-flying Postmaster Ben Franklin, got us sucked into the same kind of road-building tomfoolery that brought down the Roman Empire.   And who’s ever heard of trail rage?  And talk about road rage, the Roman’s build the Appian Way and the next thing you know Spartacus and 6,000 other early Tea Party members get crucified along its way.
 
Roads are nothing more than an opportunity for law suits over accidents, and it is miraculous if an accident ever leads to something like St. Paul’s salvation when, as Saul on the Road to Damascus, he fell off of his ass and on to his head and saw the light. 

Which brings to mind, has Branstad asked Bob Vander Plaats about this?
 
Meanwhile, in harmony with Iowa’s  long-standing values and traditions, with a new governor there will need to be a new state slogan and how about, “Don’t just do something; stand there.”
 
Sam
Osborne, former editorial writer and Opinion Page Editor,
Iowa City Press-Citizen;
former college professor and Business Department chair,
Ellsworth Community College;
and currently out to pasture drinking too much
coffee.  His commentary, The Obstructed View,  appears on these blog pages every now and then.

Fairfield, Iowa Mayor Shaking Things Up (In A Good Way)

Fairfield Mayor Shaking Things Up (In A Good Way)


Democrablog

Top 20 Small Town Mayors Shaking Things Up (In a Good Way)

“If you live in a small town, then you may know your mayor personally. While we don’t know the following mayors personally (most of whom are elected, not public administrators), we chose these individuals as the top 20 small town mayors because they seem to be shaking up their towns in a good way with more jobs, better infrastructure and/or a positive interactive government.

This list is not, by far, the total account of top small-town mayors in this country. It is a broad representation from across twenty random states. The mayors are listed in order of town size, which is noted in parenthesis after each mayor’s name.  [click here for the complete list]

#14. Ed Malloy (9,509) is mayor of Fairfield, Iowa, named by Mother Earth News as one of the
12 Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of.
   Fairfield hosts an Eco-Fair every year, and has the most homes with solar energy or other green building features in Iowa. The county has the most acres of organic cultivation in the state and many small businesses thrive here.”

In 2006 Fairfield was voted one of Iowa's Great Places.  In 2003 they were named “The Most Entrepreneurial Community in America (10,000 population and under)” by the National Association of Small Communities and in 2004, “Iowa's Most Entrepreneurial Community.”

Mayor Malloy:

Fairfield is a community of people who share a deep sense of pride in our past, the traditions that sustain us, and the activities that create our future. We are in many ways an over achieving bunch, who consider ourselves fortunate to have such a rich community to build upon…We value good government, good schools and educational opportunities, healthy living, recreation, arts and culture.”

Blog for Iowa congratulates Mayor Ed Malloy and the Fairfield community on their progressive achievements.

Tracy Kurowski's Labor Update will be back next Monday.