Weekend open thread: Depressing news, inspiring news

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: Some exceptionally sad news caught my eye recently:

A new investigation by the Associated Press and the USA Today network found that in the first six months of 2016, children aged 17 or younger "died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate." Alaska and Louisiana had the highest rates of accidental child shooting. A separate feature in the series focused on three incidents that killed two teenage girls and seriously injured another in Tama County, Iowa.

Government research on accidental gun deaths is nearly non-existent, because more than two decades ago, the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress to defund gun research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Scott McFetridge reported last week on the growing hunger problem in Storm Lake. The problem isn’t lack of jobs—the local unemployment rate is quite low—but a lack of livable wages. Iowa-born economist Austin Frerick mentioned Storm Lake and other towns dominated by meatpacking plants in his guest post here a few months ago: Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage.

I enclose below excerpts from all of those stories, along with some good news from the past week:

The African-American Hall of Fame announced four new inductees, who have done incredible work in higher education, criminal justice, community organizing, and the practice of law.

Planned Parenthood marked the 100th anniversary of the first birth control clinic opening in the country on October 16. Click here for a timeline of significant events in the organization’s history.

Drake University Biology Professor Thomas Rosburg will receive this year’s Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Rosburg is a legend among Iowans who care about native plants, wetlands, and prairie restoration.

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Failing Iowa’s Children: The Shortcomings of Welfare Reform and the Path Forward

Austin Frerick, an Iowa native and economist who has worked at the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Congressional Research Service, examines state assistance to poor children 20 years after federal welfare reform. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Nine-year-old Kaylie moved into a cheap motel after her mother got evicted. They have no refrigerator. Kaylie retrieves ice from the ice machine and fills the sink with it to keep the milk cold. When they have milk. Kaylie is just one of the approximately 110,000 Iowa children living in poverty, up 44 percent since 2000. Frontline profiled Kaylie and several other poor Iowa children in the acclaimed episode “Poor Kids.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s Welfare Reform. Prior to the reform, any poor mother and child in this country received a monthly subsistence check. This law changed that. It destroyed that safety net. It removed this promise and left states free to almost eliminate welfare. Politicians promised innovation by devolving power to states on the premise that they would come up with new ways address poverty but that never happened (Iowa’s last innovation meeting occurred in 1996). They promised it would get poor mothers back to work, but the programs proved ineffective (Iowa allocates less than 6% of funding to job assistance).

Most welfare dollars don’t even go directly to poor children anymore. Most states, including Iowa, use this money to supplement funding elsewhere. Twenty years later, there are now more poor kids receiving less support. We have let the bottom fall even further for our most vulnerable.

Iowa should abandon its current failed welfare system and instead enact a Social Security program for all of its children. This idea builds on the simple notion that parents know what is best for their children, and it would remove layers of ineffective bureaucracy.

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Labor Day weekend open thread

Happy Labor Day, Bleeding Heartland readers! If you are enjoying a three-day weekend, thank the labor activists from past generations who made it possible. In fact, go ahead and thank the organized labor movement for every weekend off.

The Iowa Policy Project’s latest report on the Cost of Living in Iowa found that "Nearly 114,000 Iowa families"—close to 19 percent of the state’s working households—"do not earn enough to provide for a basic standard of living without public supports, despite one or more full-time wage earners in the family." Part 1 estimates how much a family needs to get by in Iowa, taking into account expenses for "rent, utilities, food prepared at home, child care, health care, transportation, clothing and other household necessities," but not "savings, loan payments, education expenses, any entertainment or vacation, social or recreational travel, or meals outside the home." Part 2 explores how many Iowa families aren’t earning enough to cover essentials, and shows that "rural regions have substantially higher shares of working families with incomes below self-sufficiency."

For political junkies, Labor Day kicks off the most intense phase of the general election campaign. Candidates at all levels can use help identifying supporters and getting them signed up to vote early. Direct voter contacts are particularly important for state legislative races. I highly recommend Laura Hubka’s 15 tips for volunteers knocking on doors. Two years ago, I posted my own canvassing dos and don’ts.

One of my funniest door-knocking experiences happened on this day last year. I was canvassing in Beaverdale for Des Moines school board candidate Heather Anderson. Normally I would not be out on a holiday, but the school board election was scheduled for September 8, the day after Labor Day. One house on my walk list already had a Heather Anderson sign in the yard. I decided to knock anyway, in case the supporter needed extra literature to give to friends and neighbors, or a reminder about the polling place location and opening hours. During our conversation, the voter said, "You know who else is for Heather? Bleeding Heartland. She’s on our side." Yeah, I heard that

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear at the Quad Cities Labor picnic later today. I’ll update later with a few links. I enclose below a video her campaign released this week featuring Ruline Steininger, a 103-year-old supporter in Des Moines. Echoing what I’ve heard from many women including former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and my mother-in-law, Steininger commented that when she was in high school, the only career options were to become a teacher or a nurse. She views Clinton as "more prepared" than anyone has ever been for the presidency, and also thinks her election would let "little girls know that you can be anything you want to be in this country. People won’t have to wonder whether they’re going to be a school teacher or a nurse. The sky’s the limit now. You can be president."

I only knew one of my grandparents well. Although I didn’t get many chances to talk politics with my grandmother, I’m confident that if she were still alive, she also would be voting for Clinton. Having been active in the Sioux City Maternal Women’s Health League (later a founding organization in Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa) during the 1940s, she probably would not need to hear more than "defund Planned Parenthood" to turn her off voting for any Republican.

Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush reported for National Public Radio this week on the Donald Trump campaign’s "jaw-dropping gap in the ground game." Clinton has "more than three times the number" of field offices in battleground states. In Iowa, Democrats have at least 25 "coordinated campaign" offices open around the state, possibly more by now. Trump and the Republican Party of Iowa have nine offices open, according to NPR’s data.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Trump’s volunteers, including those participating online, are being asked to sign an absurdly broad and in some places illegal "non disclosure form." Among other things, the volunteer must promise not to "demean or disparage" the Trump campaign or any member of Trump’s family or any Trump business, "during the time of your service and at all times thereafter." Attorneys tell me this document probably would not be enforceable because of legal flaws such as lack of consideration. The illegal part: requiring volunteers to promise that none of their employees will volunteer for Clinton.

Thanks to all the readers whose accounts informed Thursday’s post on Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races. Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard posted on Facebook that his wife was a respondent on one of these calls. Good news: she’s still voting for him, even after hearing all the awful things he supposedly did. I am seeking details about similar telephone surveys that may be ongoing in battleground Iowa Senate districts. My e-mail address is near the lower right corner of this screen.

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Budget looms large, social issues largely absent on the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2016

Governor Terry Branstad wore a pink tie and many colleagues remarked on history made yesterday at the Capitol, as Linda Upmeyer became the first woman to preside over the Iowa House as speaker, as well as the first child of an Iowa legislative leader to rise to the same position. Erin Murphy’s take on the milestone is worth a read.

As in recent years, social issues were almost entirely absent from the leaders’ opening remarks to their Iowa House and Senate colleagues. State budget priorities dominated the comments relating to public policy, with Republicans emphasizing the importance of not spending too much and Democrats emphasizing the need to spend enough on education and other vital services. No one mentioned Branstad’s call to extend the penny sales tax for school infrastructure and divert part of the revenue stream to water programs.

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Congress approves spending bill and tax extenders: How the Iowans voted


The good news is, the federal government won’t shut down before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2016. The bad news is, members of Congress snuck some awful provisions in the "omnibus" budget bill and package of tax cut or tax credit extensions that just cleared the U.S. House and Senate. You know leaders aren’t proud when they bury news about a deal during another event occupying the political world’s attention, in this case Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate. I enclose below background on key provisions in the bills, as well as statements from the Iowans in Congress. I will update this post as needed.

The House held separate votes on the "tax extenders" and the omnibus. Republicans were nearly united in support of the tax bill (confusingly named "On Concurring in Senate Amdt with Amdt Specified in Section 3(b) of H.Res. 566"), which passed yesterday by 318 votes to 109 (roll call). The Democratic caucus was split; Naomi Jagoda and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that House Democratic leaders "opposed the tax package" but "did not whip their members against it." Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the tax extenders; so did Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), one of 77 House Democrats to do so.

Loebsack was the only Iowan to vote for the omnibus bill, which easily passed this morning by 316 votes to 113 (roll call). Most of the Democratic caucus supported the bill that keeps the federal government open for at least nine more months; just 18 Democrats voted against it.

Although House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team persuaded 150 Republicans to vote for the budget measure, 95 Republicans opposed it, including all three Iowans. Blum and Young appear to have concluded that the bill was simply too expensive. King’s main objection was that none of his nine amendments were included in the final deal. Click through to read the texts of those amendments, which would have barred the use of appropriated funds for: enforcing the 2010 Affordable Care Act (health care reform law); implementing President Barack Obama’s executive orders to provide temporary protection against deportation for some immigrants who entered the country without permission; enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide; supporting any activities of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or any of its clinics, affiliates, or successors; implementing or enforcing any change to the U.S. EPA’s Waters of the United States rule; resettling refugees; implementing the multilateral deal struck earlier this year to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; implementing any regulation that stemmed from the recent international agreement to combat climate change; or expanding the use of H-2B visas.

The Senate combined the tax extenders and budget bills into one package, which passed this morning by 65 votes to 33 (roll call). Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted no; in the statements I’ve enclosed below, Grassley went into greater detail about his reasons for opposing the package. However, earlier this week he released a separate statement bragging about some of the provisions he helped to insert in the tax legislation. Members of Congress from both parties use that sleight of hand.

Among the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul voted against the omnibus, Lindsey Graham voted for it, and unbelievably, Marco Rubio missed the vote. What is wrong with this guy? He "has missed more than half of the Senate’s votes since October," Jordain Carney reported for The Hill. I think not showing up for Senate work will hurt Rubio in Iowa, though not having a strong field operation will hurt him more.

The Senate is now adjourned until January 11 and the House until January 5. During the winter recess, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the Iowa Congressional voting not covered here during the late summer and fall.

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Two Iowa metros on list of ten "worst cities for black Americans"

The Des Moines metro area has made plenty of "best places" lists during the last five years, but Chamber of Commerce types won’t be bragging about the top ten ranking that appeared last week. After examining "the disparities between white and black Americans in several economic and social measures" across the country, Thomas C. Frohlich and Sam Stebbins of the 24/7 Wall St. website "identified the 10 worst cities for black Americans." The authors noted, "Four of the cities with the worst racial inequality are in Illinois, two are in Iowa, and all are in the Midwest."

Follow me after the jump to learn why the Des Moines metro area ranked ninth and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area tenth on this list.

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