Weekend open thread: Exposing abuse edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week recognized some powerful reporting on the misuse of power. The Associated Press won the public service award for "an investigation of severe labor abuses tied to the supply of seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants, reporting that freed 2,000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms." Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza, and Esther Htusan contributed to this incredible investigative work; the whole series is available here.

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer’s national reporting category for its "revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be." The database is available here; reporters who contributed to this work include Kimberly Kindy, Wesley Lowery, Keith L. Alexander, Kimbriell Kelly, Sandhya Somashekhar, Julie Tate, Amy Brittain, Marc Fisher, Scott Higham, Derek Hawkins, and Jennifer Jenkins. In one of the articles for this series, Kindy and Tate explored the common practice of police departments withholding video footage of fatal shootings, using the January 2015 death of Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa as the touchpoint.

The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project "for a startling examination and exposé of law enforcement’s enduring failures to investigate reports of rape properly and to comprehend the traumatic effects on its victims." An Unbelievable Story of Rape was a stunning and depressing piece.

Speaking of stunning and depressing, previously unreported abuses of teenagers at the now-closed Midwest Academy boarding school came to light earlier this year. Several former students spoke to Ryan Foley of the Associated Press about being kept in isolation boxes for days or weeks at a time. (Isolation is particularly harmful to developing adolescent brains.) The Des Moines Register’s Lee Rood reported on approximately 80 law enforcement calls to the facility in Keokuk during the last three years the school was open. Abusive practices by staff went back more than a decade, though.

No state agency had ever inspected the Midwest Academy, prompting calls for the Iowa legislature to prevent future problems at unregulated schools. The Iowa Senate unanimously approved a bill setting out certification and inspection standards for boarding schools. House Republicans amended Senate File 2304 before approving it in the lower chamber, making "some exemptions for religious facilities." The Senate refused to concur in the House amendment, and on a mostly party-line vote, the House rejected the Senate version. The school oversight bill now goes to a conference committee. I hope lawmakers will work out a deal before adjourning, but this legislation is not a must-pass bill like the health and human services budget (currently hung up over disagreements on Medicaid oversight and Planned Parenthood funding).

Alleged verbal abuse by Iowa State University women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly was among the actions that inspired a discrimination lawsuit by former star player Nikki Moody. The AP’s Luke Meredith and Ryan Foley broke news about that lawsuit on April 18. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from their report and some reaction, but I highly recommend reading the plaintiff’s jaw-dropping twelve-page court filing. Looking through some Cyclone fan board threads about the lawsuit, I was struck by two contradictory lines of argument from the coach’s defenders: Moody is lying, because this or that former player says Fen was always supportive and would never behave that way; or alternatively, Moody is lying, because Fen is tough on all his players, not just the black ones. Cheyenne Shepherd, an unheralded player for ISU during the 1990s, provided strong support for Moody in a guest column for the Des Moines Register about her experience as one of Fennelly’s "non-favorites." Retired ISU journalism professor Dick Haws discussed the "not-very-well-hidden secret" of how Fennelly berates and humiliates some of his players. Gavin Aronsen asked at Iowa Informer whether the lawsuit is "A Symptom of Broader Diversity Problems at ISU."

Since Thursday, I’ve been reading reflections on the life and work of Prince. I remembered his exceptional creativity, charisma, and talent as a songwriter (for many other artists as well as for himself), but I didn’t realize how highly regarded he was as a guitarist. His solo during this performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was mesmerizing. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top described Prince’s "sensational" guitar playing in an interview with the Washington Post: "Even today, I’m struggling to try and emulate that guitar introduction to ‘When Doves Cry.’ It’s just a testament to his extraordinary technique." The whole "Purple Rain" album brings back strong high school memories for me, especially "When Doves Cry." Prince’s biggest fan in the Iowa blogosphere was John Deeth, easily recognized at political events by his raspberry beret. Deeth reflected on what the music meant to him here.

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Stage set for another battle over Planned Parenthood funding in Iowa

Only days ago, some Iowa legislative sources indicated lawmakers were on track to adjourn by the end of this week. That never seemed likely, with the health and human services budget not yet approved by either chamber. Disagreements over abortion-related language in that bill have been one of the last sticking points between Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent legislative sessions. The pattern is set to continue this year.

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Disheartened in the Heartland: Iowa’s Disinvestment in Higher Education

Many thanks to Austin Frerick for this close look at the hidden costs of choices by elected officials. Frerick is an Iowa native and economist who has worked at the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Congressional Research Service. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In the coming weeks, thousands of Iowa families will sit down for painstaking hours to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They do so in order to see if they qualify for college financial assistance. What makes it painstaking? After completing countless online forms detailing a family’s financial circumstances, a family is told what its costs for college will be with very little explanation for how this number is determined.

Over the past 15 years, Iowa has radically altered its higher education system from one that invests in its citizens to one which forces students to take on excessive debts while recruiting wealthy students from out of state. FAFSA has been the key instrument in creating this current predicament. The process was never meant to be this way. The story of the privatization of higher education and reliance on FAFSA is a story of neglect and bureaucratic inertia.

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One Iowa House Republican's strange and lonely battle against marriage equality

Seven years have passed since the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act. The Republican-controlled Iowa House failed to approve a constitutional amendment to overturn that court ruling more than three years ago. Fewer than a quarter of GOP state representatives were willing to co-sponsor the marriage amendment in 2015. Even if Iowa lawmakers tried to turn back the clock on marriage equality, the effort would be futile, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that all states must recognize marriages between same-sex couples.

Nevertheless, one Iowa House Republican won’t let this fight go. Today he seized on an unusual and futile way to register his discontent with the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision.

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Weekend open thread: "The resources we have" edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Des Moines Register ran an extraordinary lead editorial on Saturday about a Des Moines police officer’s "pattern of misconduct" and "poor judgment." Click through to read the most strongly-worded warning about a law enforcement official I’ve seen in an Iowa newspaper.

An emerging compromise on higher education funding was one of the biggest state-level news stories of the week. The Iowa legislature’s joint Education Appropriations Subcommittee, co-chaired by Democratic State Senator Brian Schoenjahn and Republican State Representative Cecil Dolecheck, agreed on April 13 that the fiscal year 2017 budget for higher education will include an additional $6.3 million for public universities: $2.8 million for the University of Northern Iowa, $2.2 million for Iowa State University, and $1.3 million for the University of Iowa. Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell noted that the increases work out to a little less than 3 percent more state funding for UNI, 1.2 percent for ISU, and less than 1 percent for UI.

The Iowa Board of Regents had requested an extra $20 million in state funding for the coming fiscal year: $4.5 million for UI, $8.2 million for ISU, and $7.65 million for UNI. Governor Terry Branstad’s draft budget had included a combined $8 million in additional state funding for the public universities. Last month, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said at least $8 million would be needed to avoid raising tuition. In a statement released April 14, Rastetter said the board would "immediately start discussions regarding tuition increases at our universities for Fall 2016."

More background and details on the higher education funding compromise are after the jump, but I want to highlight a couple of misconceptions. Russell quoted Dolecheck as saying "we did the best we can with the resources that we have," and quoted Schoenjahn as saying lawmakers tried to stretch "the precious resources we had" but couldn’t do more without raising taxes.

No. Just last month, the Iowa House and Senate approved a tax bill that will reduce fiscal year 2017 revenues by nearly $120 million: $97.6 million by harmonizing Iowa tax code with federal statutes, and around $21 million by reducing state sales taxes for manufacturing companies. Another $280 million was taken off the table long before this year’s budget negotiations began, when most lawmakers in both chambers approved an expensive commercial property tax cut in 2013. Leaders of both parties bragged about that tax cut at the time but did not acknowledge how the windfall for commercial property owners would affect the state’s ability to pay for other priorities down the road.

Speaking on behalf of the union that represents UNI faculty, Professor Joe Gorton said this week, "It seems clear to me that the regent universities are being sacrificed on the altar of corporate welfare." An Iowa Fiscal Partnership analysis from January shows Gorton was closer to the truth than were Schoenjahn or Dolecheck. Business tax credits are expected to cost the state around $272 million during fiscal year 2017.

Writing at Blog for Iowa this weekend, Dave Bradley argued, "Had Branstad’s administration not given tax cuts to businesses without consulting the legislature we would probably [be] OK. […] while the special interests that the Republicans have given breaks to are no longer paying what they once did, Iowa’s parents will see higher tuition fees on their kids university bills." Fact-check: mostly false. Over many years, the legislature approved and failed to revise Iowa’s generous business tax breaks. Most Democrats in both chamber joined their GOP colleagues to pass the costly property tax cut three years ago. Just six state senators and thirteen representatives voted no; I’ve listed them after the jump. The Branstad administration did try to enact the manufacturing sales tax break without legislative approval last year, and was on track to succeed. However, the tax bill lawmakers negotiated and approved last month included a scaled-back sales tax break, superseding the Department of Revenue’s proposed administrative rule.

Speaking of money for state universities not living up to expectations, Ryan Foley of the Associated Press revealed on April 15 that Rastetter has paid only $1.5 million toward his 2008 pledge of $5 million to the University of Iowa’s football program. Before 2015, Rastetter had donated just $500,000 toward that pledge, raising "questions about whether the delay was part of the pressure he put on former university President Sally Mason." Excerpts from Foley’s article are at the end of this post.

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