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The Beautiful Arabs of Iowa by Amer Zahr

Comedian Amer Zahr

Palestinian-American Comedian Amer Zahr

Amer Zahr, popular Palestinian-American comedian, is hosting the first-ever live Palestinian-American comedy event at Carnegie Hall in NYC on February 5, 2016, called Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile. For more information or to contribute, click here. For tickets, click here. This blog post originally appeared on CivilArab.com. Used with permission.

by Amer Zahr

A couple weeks ago, I performed at the invitation of the Arab Student Association at the University of Iowa.  Yes, there is an Arab Student Association at the University of Iowa!  I was just as surprised as you are.

I really thought I would never have a reason to go to Iowa.  I mean, I never knew anything about Iowa except what I saw on TV.  OK, I never saw anything on TV about Iowa.  So, I really knew nothing about Iowa.

I was pretty sure that Iowa would produce a few Arabs.  Every town needs a jeweler and a gas station.  And I’m never surprised when I find a few Arabs in any small town.  You can drop us just about anywhere and we find a way to survive.

When I arrived at the airport in Cedar Rapids, I was immediately surprised when I looked at my iPhone.  Iowa had 4G service!  I then remembered that I had heard of this city before.  Cedar Rapids, Iowa is actually home to America’s first mosque.  Yes, Iowa!  The Arab community of Cedar Rapids has a story that is not much different from that of other Arab-American communities.  One guy from Lebanon came, hustled, made some money, and before you know it, the whole village is there.

Then I made my way about 25 miles south to the University of Iowa.  Now, I already knew the student leader that arranged for my visit to the university was an Egyptian-American.  He was a very nice Midwestern boy with olive skin and a funny name.  Imagine Aladdin, all grown up.

But it didn’t stop there.  In Iowa, there were Arabs from everywhere.  And I’m not exaggerating.

I met a beautiful couple from Morocco.  The husband is a French-trained chef and operates a popular creperie in Iowa City.  I know, crepes in Iowa!  He and his wife both run the restaurant, and though he came up with all the recipes, has all the culinary training, and has all the experience, she still lets everyone know that she is “the boss.” And although she said this many times in front of many people, he never objected.  As it turns out, Arab couples are just like any other.

Then I met another Egyptian-American who was a graduate of the University of Iowa and continued her career there as a coordinator at a domestic violence intervention program.  I don’t mean to burst Bill O’Reilly’s bubble, but Arab women aren’t just the victims of domestic violence.  As it turns out, they lead the effort to help prevent it, too.

Then, I met a Saudi Arabian woman who was studying dentistry at the university.  And she was gorgeous.  And I know many people reading this column might not know that there are gorgeous Saudi women since all we ever see on CNN are their eyes.  But take my word for it.  And don’t worry, I don’t think she is going to get in trouble with her family for appearing in my blog.  I’m sure they already know she is studying dentistry.

I met more and more Arabs.  I was overwhelmed.  I met a young man from Yemen.  His mother was actually visiting him in Iowa, all the way from Yemen.  I don’t think that’s a direct flight.  During my whole show, he sat with his arm around her and they laughed together.  I don’t think I’ve ever made Yemenis laugh, so seeing two generations laugh at the same time warmed my heart.

 

A Palestinian Applies for a Job at Starbucks (video)

 

There was a very loudly laughing Lebanese man in the front row.  He was one of my favorites.  As it turns out, he owns a successful engineering company in Iowa City.  After the show, I met a young Pakistani man who was one of his employees.  That’s right, Arabs employing Pakistanis in Iowa!  Someone should tell the Republicans that the economy isn’t that bad.

Oh, and the crowd had a bunch of Sudanis.  It turns out that Iowa City has a significant number of them.  And in a place like Iowa City, they get noticed.  They live there and occupy all kinds of professions.  There is actually a “Sudanese Center of Iowa City,” but don’t tell Sarah Palin.

Then I met some of my Palestinian people.  This always makes me extra happy.  I don’t mean to be biased, but we have an extra hurdle.  We always have to succeed wherever we go.  We have no choice.  We don’t have a Plan B.  We can’t mess up and go back to our country.

The first Palestinian I met was a PhD student studying Pharmacy.  She had completed her undergraduate studies in Jordan.  And Palestinians are in Jordan because… well, that’s a whole other column.  She made her way to Iowa because… Ok, I don’t know why she ended up in Iowa, but she seemed very happy to be there.

Then I met another Palestinian woman.  She was also getting her PhD (we Palestinians shoot for the stars).  Her specialty was genetics.  I think she is researching how Palestinians can genetically trace their ancestry in the Holy Land ever further back than the Jewish people.  Ok, I don’t know if she is researching that, but I can dream, can’t I?  She was sitting in the front row of the show.  And her laugh was infectious.  After the show, I met her and was surprised to hear that she had an accent.  It wasn’t Arabic, and it wasn’t Midwestern.  It was… Australian!  This Palestinian woman had made her way from Sydney to Iowa City to continue her education.  See, that’s what it means to be Palestinian.  We can travel from one home in Australia to another in Iowa, only to catch a small glimpse of Palestine along the way.

Finally, I met an Iraqi named Talib.

Talib was born in Iraq and was a teenager when America invaded Iraq in 2003.  His life changed instantly.  He went from a young man looking to embark upon his life in his homeland to a young man forced to leave his country in search of hope.  He told me something like, “I was living in Iraq, then one day America invaded, then the next day I had a gun in my face, and then the next day I was like ‘F&*k this.’ So I left.”  And when you really think about it, that’s why most Arabs immigrate to America anyway.  They eventually just say ‘F&*k this.’

Well, Talib had an aunt in, of all places, Iowa.  He found refuge in the heartland of the country that had invaded his homeland. And you wonder why we Arabs are so messed up.

In Arabic, “Talib” means student, or “knowledge-seeker.”  Well, Talib studies business, and is definitely putting his classroom lessons to work. My trip to Iowa ended in Talib’s hookah café in Iowa City.  As I sat there enjoying laughs with Iraqis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Moroccans, Somalis, & Yemenis, I actually said something I never thought would escape my lips:

“I can’t wait to go back to Iowa.”

* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian-American comedian, writer, and speaker living in Michigan. He is also the editor of “The Civil Arab” blog and has written a book called “Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile.” In addition, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit–Mercy School of Law.

Coming Attractions And Poetry For Sunday

Called an executive meeting with myself on the status of the quiz for New Year’s weekend. The quizmaster decided he wanted to take yet another weekend off. Not wanting to make him mad, an executive decision was made to give him yet another week off. He will be back next week or his contract will be reopened, if you know what I mean!

Meanwhile, we stumbled on a couple of interesting videos on freespeech.org. For those who do not have Free Speech TV on their cable can get it on their computers here. With the neutering of MSNBC by their new owner Comcast, FSTV seems to be the last bastion of progressive politics on TV and deserves our support.

From FSTV’s “Ring Of Fire”

The following is the beginning of an episode of “Bioneers.” Normally Bioneers is a half hour speech or interaction around science and the environment. I found this poetry to be captivating and inspiring and wanted to share it:

Happy New Year From Blog For Iowa!

happy new year 2016

Some Pictorial Memories Of 2015

Sorry folks, no quiz today. The old quizmaster has been making rather merry this week.

But lets take a slow walk through some illustrations from the past year:

And Happy Holidays To All

And Happy Holidays To All

starbucks cup

Lawrence eviscerates Republicans

fugelsang republicans love government

This Changes Everything

Hillary Clinton Walking to the Stage at S.T. Morrison Park, Coralville, Iowa, Nov. 3, 2015

Hillary Clinton Walking to the Stage at S.T. Morrison Park, Coralville, Iowa, Nov. 3, 2015

let'sbeclear

Fallon Hrdina

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack's Iowa City Office

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Iowa City Office

five stages of conservative grief

five stages of conservative grief

Bernie on the economy

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

apathy quote

Death Of A Legend

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the January 2016 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

 

If that ____-sucking mother-_____ tries to bust my _____, I’ll ______tear him a new _____. –Mark Smith

At the end of November, a check for a subscription renewal and sustaining fund contribution arrived in the Prairie Progressive mailbox from Mark Smith, former president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Smith died a week later at his home in Des Moines. He was 71.

Smith was many things: labor activist, former school board member, disability rights advocate, co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project, member of the American Federation of Teachers, provocateur, watchdog, bulldog, conscience, Chicago Cubs fan.  He perfected the popular image of a labor thug, cramming as many obscenities into his sentences as was linguistically possible. But his letters-to-the-editor were concise gems, skewering the venalities and hypocrisies of politicians and
corporations without wasting a word.

Over the years, Mark picked the right fights: Ipsco, right-to-work, Equal Rights Amendment, scope of bargaining, fair share. In the mid-nineties, David Stanley’s Iowans for Tax Relief was at its most powerful.  Stanley engineered a measure on the statewide ballot for a constitutional amendment that would require any tax increase proposed by the General Assembly to pass with a 60% majority.  Smith rallied the troops against what looked like a landslide. He won. So did the people of Iowa.

Smith knew that smaller fights were necessary, too. With his passing, who will make sure that elected officials, candidates, and publications (including the Prairie Progressive) who profess to be pro-labor always use union printers?

Smith was no saint. He wasn’t always right, and he could be a bully who brooked no dissent, but his legacy as a champion for working people is unassailable.

####

When the Obama administration rolled out healthcare.gov for the Affordable Care Act more than two years ago, the web site was widely mocked and panned as “botched,” boneheaded,” and “a disaster.” The Government Accountability Office concluded that the administration failed to provide “effective planning or oversight practices.”  In comparison, the Branstad administration’s attempt to move Iowa’s Medicaid program into private hands makes the ACA roll-out look like a masterpiece of flawless execution.

Contracts between the state’s chosen managed care organizations and local care providers haven’t been signed. Medicaid recipients have only received confusing information packets since Thanksgiving, with just a few weeks to pick a new MCO for services. Families, especially those with adult children who have received stable support for years, can’t get answers from the MCOs, the state, or their legislators, who have been frozen out of the process by an increasingly intransigent and dictatorial Governor who dismisses their concerns as “fear of change.”

560,000 Iowans and their families will be drastically affected by this massive privatization that Branstad announced less than a year ago, after never mentioning it during his re-election campaign. The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services has to approve the state’s plan. Everyone from the Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa’s Democratic state senators, and Congressman Loebsack, to thousands of Medicaid recipients in Iowa, have written to CMS, urging them to stop this plan or at least slow it down to give families a chance to figure it out.

There is still time to add your voice by emailing andy.slavitt@cms.hhs.gov.

– Prairie Dog

Happy Holidays

And Happy Holidays To All

And Happy Holidays To All

And A Wish For A Hawkeye Victory.

I want to thank all those who take a look at our posts throughout the year. We do what we can to try to make sense of happenings in Iowa and the world.

If there has been one trend that sticks out to me more and more every year it is simply: the power of greed. Greed more than anything else seems to drive almost everything today. From starting wars and wasting our youth just so armament companies can make gazillions to the insane interpretation of the second amendment that seems to be only for the purpose of selling more and more guns.

We have politicians that openly take what are basically bribes now since United Citizens has taken effect. This rant could go for a long time.

However, everyone needs to take some time to be with family and to recharge. The winter holidays come at a great time to do just that. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Jule or even the good old Saturnalia be sure to enjoy this time.

And here is a wish that the New Year brings us a good president, congress and legislature that will have the real needs of the citizenry in mind.

Oh and a would it be too much to hope for a Hawkeye victory in the Rose Bowl?

ICYMI: What Exxon Knew

In case you missed it: One of the biggest climate change stories of 2015 has to be the uncovering of documents that showed that Exxon Mobil were quite aware of the damage their company and other fossil fuel companies were doing to the world’s climate. As a matter of fact Exxon scientists were often among the first to realize the coming disaster.

If you think this doesn’t relate to Iowa think of some of the ‘500 year floods’ we have had in the past couple of decades; think of corn burning up in tremendous drought; think of temperatures in the past week in the 60s in Iowa in December and what the consequences of a mild winter may be. Also think that this is just the beginning and our children and grandchildren will be paying greatly for the lack of political will to face these problems. Also understand that the lack of political will to face the coming crisis was greased with billions of dollars of “campaign contributions” to politicians who suddenly lost their political will with the huge dollars from the polluters.

We are facing a crisis of unknown proportions simple so that a group of billionaires could make more money.

The video was posted last Tuesday as news of Exxon’s complicity was revealed. As I seldom consume major media news I must say I have no idea if the story got much play. My guess is it didn’t, even as the Paris Climate Talks were under way at the time.

From the youtube.com entry for this video here is the list of corroborating documents:

Published on Dec 8, 2015
Newly released documents show that scientists at Exxon Oil Corporation conducted research on climate change and the greenhouse effect in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their conclusions were in accord with mainstream scientific groups in academia, NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Energy, showing that global warming posed a serious problem, with potential “catastrophic effects.”

Read the documents here: http://insideclimatenews.org/search_d…

Read the Inside Climate series here
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/150…

Read the Los Angeles Times reporting here:
http://graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arc…

Read the letter from Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll to Exxon:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/20…

Opting Out Of Black Friday

jim hightowerOur household has been an REI member for years. Our idea of a good time is a road trip to Madison to visit the huge, amazing REI store where they have everything you could possibly need for any outdoor adventure. Bikes, canoes, skis, tents, gear, clothing, even outdoor accessories for your dog. Iowa now has an REI store that recently opened in Des Moines. Check it out. But not today!

Stop Shopping, Start Living

REI is doing its part to preserve the spirit of Thanksgiving.

By Jim Hightower

“Enough!” says REI.

REI, the national purveyor of outdoor gear and sporting goods, says it will no longer participate in the shopping spectacle known as “Black Friday.” This ritual of non-stop door-buster sales now overwhelms Thanksgiving.

The national retail co-op with 143 stores and $2.2 billion a year in sales is raising the ethical bar by boycotting Black Friday. Instead of shopping on the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, REI is urging its workers and customers to break out — literally.

Take a walk with family and friends, enjoy a bike ride, visit a public park, and otherwise get outside the soul-suffocating syndrome of constant consumerism.

What a concept: Don’t shop — live. Connect with people, nature, the spirits…and yourself. For more information, go to REI’s special website:  http://www.optoutside.rei.com/

This holiday is meant to be a calm, family-oriented time to get away from all the hubbub of life and reflect on our blessings. Yet in recent years, such national chains as Macy’s and Wal-Mart have led a corporate assault on Thanksgiving with a buy-buy-buy blitz of consumer come-ons.

“Rush to the mall,” shout the barrage of Black Friday ads — enticing us to reduce our values to shallow monetary value — i.e., discounted stuff. They’ve turned this contemplative day of thanks into a weekend of worshipping mammon.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, and a member of the Public Citizen board. OtherWords.org.

Fear, Paranoia, Immigration And Christian Values

do not feed the fearsI am saddened by so many aspects of the responses to the Paris attacks. My heart aches for the dead, and their grieving loved ones. All violence should be condemned.

I worry for the Muslims in my personal circles. Orphaned survivors of the Bosnian conflicts in the ’90’s, adopted by a friend, and now healthy, well-educated, productive, compassionate members of our society. The tour bus driver on my recent trip to the Holy Land, who spent 2 weeks shepherding our group around the West Bank, explaining with a love and knowledge of history, that any history professor would be proud of, so many details about his land and culture that we never hear about back here. The Muslim family that hosted friends and I on our visit to Kashmir State, India, with a gracious hospitality that most Americans no longer see in action.  I wonder about the backlash against the American Muslims working in our political system, like Des Moines’ Ako Abdul-Samad and Minnesota’s Keith Ellison.

I am disappointed with arguments about assimilation. My Dutch ancestors used Dutch in their churches and neighborhoods for two generations after arriving here. So did the Scandinavian emigrants who landed in Iowa in the 1800’s. First generation immigrants don’t assimilate, and 3rd generation always do. Communities with constant additions of new first generation immigrants may seem unassimilated, but individuals are always moving in that direction.

What values do they not share with Americans? They are family oriented people.

Islam has always valued education, and much of our knowledge base is a result of Muslim scholarship

For me, the response to these immigrants tears at the heart of the definition of “Christian. ”

I see parallels in this to the Good Samaritan parable. Would Jesus want us to exclude Syrians from the definition of neighbor? Is personal safety a better excuse than the ones offered by the priest and Levite for ignoring urgent needs? Where do we find encouragement from Jesus to value personal safety, national borders, rigid adherence to laws and tradition above being Christ to those in need?

Addressing the “safety” issue needs perspective. After all of the rush to blame refugees and Syrians for our troubles, it turns out that the Paris attackers were neither.

We already have a very strong process for screening immigrants. This call for strengthening that process is not only blatant pandering to fear, but an insult to our hardworking, dedicated employees in the immigration department. Another way to to undermine government through false calls of failure.

Why do we fuss about the sincerely small chance of danger from refugees and immigrants while ignoring all of the damage we do to ourselves? The focus moves so very quickly from a reasoned accounting of facts to an abstract desire for cultural homogeneity, a desire that desecrates our history as a nation of immigrants. E Pluribus Unum. The founders’ motto. Out of many, one. There was no expectation of homogeneity right from our start.

We are not entitled to a perfectly safe world. Never has, never will exist.

“Lost Schools,” Iowa Medicaid Changes, JCDems Fall BBQ

joe bolkcom2Sign up for Senator Bolkcom’s newsletter.

In addition to [Governor Branstad’s] deadly decision to unilaterally close two critically needed Iowa mental health facilities, his veto of $55 million in much-needed funding for our local schools because he said we could not afford it and his decision to turn over a well-run, $4.2 billion Medicaid program to four profit-driven Wall Street managed care companies, his latest end run around the Legislature would give a $50-$90 million corporate tax cut to Iowa’s largest, most profitable manufactures.

Governor Branstad by many measures is out of control. The longest-serving Governor appears to believe he is all powerful. He is acting more like a dictator than a Governor. He knows better than you do. What next?

HEALTH CARE CHANGES COULD HARM VULNERABLE IOWANS

Many Iowans are expressing concern about Governor Branstad’s unilateral decision to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid program. If fully implemented, the Governor’s decision would have negative impacts on Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens and Iowa’s healthcare providers.

I’m concerned that people in our communities will be denied critical medical services and that local providers will not be adequately reimbursed for the medical care of patients. The long-term care of severely disabled adults and children makes up the bulk of Medicaid services in Iowa. Medicaid also covers prenatal care to pregnant women, health insurance for low-income children, and health care for low-income seniors and others.

The Governor’s plan is to turn over the care of more than a half-million Iowans—one in five Iowans—to four managed care companies by January 1, 2016. With this change, we will see administrative costs jump from 3 to 12 percent, reaching $600 million. At the same time, the overall cost to the state is supposed to fall by $100 million a year.

The math doesn’t add up. The only way these companies can collect the multimillion dollar profits guaranteed them is by denying critical services to Iowans and by failing to fully pay local health care organizations for services they provide.

The managed care companies have yet to sign contracts with the state, so providers are being asked to sign contracts that don’t include reimbursement rates. Medicaid recipients and their families have good reason to be worried about the future.

Iowans who depend on Medicaid and the people and organizations that care for them need more time. That’s why I’m calling on the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reject the Governor’s plan to put Iowa’s Medicaid Program in private hands or make major changes to it.

The federal government invests a significant amount in Iowa Medicaid services. We have a responsibility to federal taxpayers and to Iowans who need these services. We need to make sure, for example, that patient outcomes continue to improve and that access to health care is not decreased.

We all need to work together to make sure quality health care services remain available to local seniors, people with physical and mental disabilities, and mothers and children.
Share your concerns

If you are concerned about the Governor’s reckless privatization of Iowa Medicaid, make your voice heard.

I encourage you to share your views with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by writing to Andrew Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, at andy.slavitt@cms.hhs.gov or 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21244.
Where you can learn more

To learn more about privatizing Medicaid in Iowa, go to www.dhs.iowa.gov/ime/about/initiatives/MedicaidModernization.

In addition, the Iowa Department of Human Services is hosting meetings to help local Iowans understand what the transition means for them. These include:

For Medicaid recipients and their families:

Monday, November 16, 5 to 7 p.m., Cedar Rapids Public Library, Ladd Library (3750 Williams Blvd., Cedar Rapids).

Wednesday, November 18, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Coralville Public Library: Rms. A & B (1405 5th St. Coralville).

For community partners, advocates and other stakeholders (to attend stakeholder meetings, you must register at www.dhs.iowa.gov/node/1049).

Friday, October 16,  2 to 4 p.m., Kirkwood Community College – Hotel Kirkwood Ballroom A & F (7725 Kirkwood Boulevard SW, Cedar Rapids).

Get answers to your questions

Medicaid recipients with questions or concerns can call Members Services at 1-800-338-8366.

Questions from providers should be directed to the Provider Services Call Center at 1-800-338-7909.

LOST SCHOOLS

Des Moines, IA – The Des Moines Register’s yearlong series is coming to the big screen. The full-length documentary will debut at an exclusive preview event held at the historic Varsity Theater on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4 p.m.

This documentary, produced by The Des Moines Register and presented by Iowa Public Television, follows two Iowa districts and their communities for one school year as they wrestle with the monumental consequences of these changes. The footage captures the final classroom moments of one district and unveils the often emotional reality that looms over much of rural America. The film also offers insight into efforts to preserve the remaining pieces of the nation’s once numerically majestic educational system and the rural way of life that has been Iowa’s cultural bedrock.

Des Moines Register journalists Jason Clayworth, Charlie Litchfield and Rodney White chose to tell this story in both print and documentary as a result of the “rural decay” they frequently witnessed while on assignment during the past two decades with the paper.

The exclusive preview event is open to the public and includes a Q&A with writer Jason Clayworth and several of the community leaders and families that are featured in the film. You can purchase a VIP ticket or general admission ticket.

“Lost Schools” Preview Event

Where: Varsity Theater | 1207 25th St. Des Moines, IA 50311
When: Sunday, October 18th | 3:30 p.m. Doors open, 4:00 p.m. Screening followed by Q&A with families and community leaders featured in the film and emceed by writer Jason Clayworth.
Purchase: Tickets for the show are available for pre-purchase at http://tickets.desmoinesregister.com/a/lost-schools-exclusive-preview-event/tickets/JC1013

In addition, Iowa Public Television will air the documentary 15 times starting Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. statewide. For a full list of air dates and times visit www.Iptv.org.

For more information on the year-long series or to purchase a copy of Lost Schools, visit www.DesMoinesRegister.com/LostSchools.

JOHNSON COUNTY DEMOCRATS FALL BARBEQUE – SUNDAY OCTOBER 18, 2015

Come to the BBQ! The Johnson County Democrats will hold their fall BBQ on Sunday at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, 4261 Oak Crest Hill Road SE, Buildings B & C. Doors open at 3:00 pm.

Speakers will include:

State Senator Bob Dvorsky – Building Democratic Majorities in the Iowa House and Senate
Congressman Dave Loebsack – Increasing Iowa’s Democratic Congressional Delegation
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
Jennifer Granholm – Michigan Governor 2003-2011, regular contributor to NBC’s Meet the Press, surrogate for Hillary Clinton

For more information, visit http://jcdems.org.