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House passes huge government funding bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19:58 PM CST

Last night the U.S. House approved a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus," a massive continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government through September 2015. The 219 to 206 roll call showed an unusual bipartisan split, with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it. Many of the most outspoken House progressives and conservatives were against the cromnibus, for different reasons. Only one of Iowa's four U.S. House members voted yes: retiring Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). I have not seen any official statement explaining his reasons.

Republican Steve King (IA-04) opposed the bill primarily because in his view, it did not do enough to block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. I've posted some of King's recent statements on the issue after the jump. King's office has not responded to my request for comment on assertions by House Appropriations Committee staff that it would be "impossible" to defend the immigration order. King offered an amendment (full text here) which would have funded "all of the government until January 30 of next year but [would] prohibit any and all funds from being used to carry out the president's lawless, unconstitutional executive amnesty in all its forms." But an analysis by Scott Wong for The Hill suggests that the Obama administration would be able to carry out the executive order even if Congress shut down the federal government.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted against the funding bill. I have not seen any official statement explaining those votes but will update this post as needed.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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EPA proposes stronger smog standards for public health

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 11:26:47 AM CST

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released new standards for ground-level ozone that will reduce the incidence and severity of various respiratory diseases. Click here for details on the standards.

Ground level or "bad" ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

Current regulations allow ozone at 75 parts per billion. The new rules would lower that to a level between 65 and 70 parts per billion. Mark Drajem reported for Bloomberg News, "The EPA's independent science advisers this year recommended the administration set the standard at 60 to 70 parts per billion, and urged the agency to consider the lower end of that range."

After the jump I've posted the EPA's press release and excerpts from a commentary by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with some reaction by critics of the proposal. Predictably, some business groups say the new standards will be devastating for the economy. McCarthy pointed out that same dire warnings have accompanied every new environmental regulation for decades.

The Iowa Association for Business and Industry is concerned that the EPA proposal may be expensive for manufacturers. Data collected between 2011 and 2013 at various monitoring sites around Iowa indicate that ground-level ozone is already below 70 parts per billion at all tested locations. Some of the Iowa sites recorded levels below 65 parts per billion; others are slightly above that level. The EPA does not anticipate that any counties in Iowa will violate the new ozone standard by 2025. Counties with the worst smog problems, including many in California, will be given more time to comply with the new ozone standards.

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Supreme Court denies Muscatine polluter's last-ditch effort to block nuisance lawsuit

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 09:55:00 AM CST

A group of Muscatine residents will be able to pursue their nuisance lawsuit against the Grain Processing Corporation, one of the area's major polluters for many years. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the company's appeal of a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing the lawsuit to be heard in Iowa District Court. The company had argued that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making. (You can see Grain Processing Corp v. Freeman, Laurie, et al on a long list of cases in which the Supreme Court denied certiorari.)

There is no guarantee that the Muscatine residents will win their nuisance lawsuit, but now a District Court will consider the merits of their case. Plaintiffs claim that the Grain Processing Corporation's facility exposes locals to dangerous levels of air pollution, damages their property, and reduces property values.

UPDATE: Jason Liegois reported for the Muscatine Journal,

Environmental groups, including Clean Air Muscatine, supported the lawsuit, but business groups said regulation of air pollution should be left to state and federal agencies and not judged on a case-by-case basis.

"We are disappointed in the decision" GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman, stated in an to the Muscatine Journal. "GPC, and others, strongly contend that regulation of air emissions is not the responsibility of the courts, rather the responsibility of the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)."

Sichterman also pointed out GPC's plan to transition from using coal to natural gas boilers, which would nearly eliminate sulfur dioxide and lead, among other emissions. The company is doing this as part of an agreement between the state and GPC, which also saw the company pay a $1.5 million fine to settle a lawsuit against the company filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. In addition, GPC is investing nearly $100 million in a dryer house project and other environmental control technology. [...]

GPC, a subsidiary company of the Muscatine-based Kent Corp., operates a plant that turns corn kernels into products ranging from corn syrup to ethyl alcohol. A regional economic force, the company buys $400 million in corn from farmers annually and is one of the area's largest employers. [...]

Sichterman said the case is in the discovery phase, where it is expected to remain until at least the summer of 2015.

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Iowa Farm Bureau: Voice of Hypocrisy and Big Business

by: Mark Langgin

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 10:36:57 AM CST

(The facts about the Farm Bureau should be more widely known. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

(*Cross-Posted from Op-Ed by Mike Delaney, President of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa)

As the new year approaches, many of us resolve to better align our actions with our best selves, by supporting organizations that help to build healthier families and stronger communities, and seeking to make our world a better place. This week, against this backdrop, the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) hosts its annual convention in Des Moines.

(for the full report and background go to www.FarmBureauExposed.com

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New Big 10 Rivalry? Iowa can compete with Maryland on clean water

by: openureyes

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 22:09:02 PM CST

(Thanks to State Representative Chuck Isenhart for the guest commentary. He is ranking member on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and liaison to the state Watershed Planning Advisory Council. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowans want clean water, but that has not motivated Iowa policymakers to tackle water pollution.

Rather, the driving fear is stronger regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of the "dead zone." That 5,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Mexico has become toxic to life because of nitrogen and phosphorus, mostly from farm runoff. Iowa and Illinois are the top culprits.

The state's "nutrient reduction strategy" is a narrow approach designed not to clean up Iowa's water in our lifetimes, but to forestall specific federal limits on polluted water. The plan is focused on how to manage fertilizer. That piece is good as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. Iowa needs a broader strategy.

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only water body with a "dead zone." For example, Maryland depends on  the Chesapeake Bay as a $1 trillion economic driver, including tourism, recreation, seafood and other industries. Maryland has been fouling its own nest for decades.

Imagine the Gulf of Mexico in Iowa. No doubt dealing with our 489 impaired lakes and streams suffering death by a thousand drips would become more urgent, undeserving of the 80 percent budget cut inflicted by Governor Branstad this year.

As both perpetrators and victims, Maryland citizens made clean water a top public priority. In leaner economic times, a 2012 poll showed that 91 percent of Maryland residents said cleaner water was important and nearly two-thirds supported increasing a statewide household tax to do it. Eighty percent wanted the state to be active in managing growth.

I spent a day on a recent trip to Maryland learning about the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Martin O'Malley put his staff at my disposal after I met him on his summer visit to Iowa. What lessons can be learned from the Chesapeake initiative that might be helpful to us?

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House continues assault on EPA: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 11:50:47 AM CST

Before adjourning for the Thanksgiving recess, the U.S. House approved three bills last week designed to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to function. Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted for all three bills, while Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against them all. On November 18, representatives passed the "EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act" by 229 votes to 191 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill, "Among other provisions, the measure would require the Scientific Advisory Board, which consults the EPA on its regulations, to have at least ten percent of members from state, local or tribal governments. [...] Democrats said the measure would hinder the board's effectiveness and compromise its members' scientific expertise." Scientists are alarmed about the prospect of more industry experts on an EPA board.

On November 19, House Republicans and a handful of Democrats approved the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014" by 237 votes to 190 (roll call). This bill would block the EPA from adopting new regulations based on scientific research unless all raw data were publicly available. Its backers claim they are only trying to improve transparency at the federal agency. But peer-reviewed studies, particularly in the field of public health, often rely on confidential patient information that cannot be made public.

Andrew Rosenberg, who heads the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, discussed both of these "attacks on independent science" by House Republicans. I've enclosed excerpts from his commentary after the jump.

Finally, on November 20 every House Republican and sixteen Democrats approved the "Promoting New Manufacturing Act" by 238 votes to 172 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported that this bill would " enhance the Environmental Protection Agency's reporting requirements for the number of pre-construction permits it issues under the Clean Air Act."

In addition, the bill would direct the EPA to report to Congress each year on how it can expedite the permitting process. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the measure's sponsor, argued it would promote manufacturing and increase transparency. [...]

But Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the measure would weaken environmental protections by allowing permit applicants to avoid updated EPA air quality standards if the facilities are new or expanding, calling it "pollution amnesty."

"This bill does not do anything to improve the permitting process for new and expanding facilities, but it does weaken air quality protection," Waxman said.

Marcos' reporting indicates that the White House has issued veto threats against all three of these bills. Once Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate in the new year, Obama may get several opportunities to reject bad bills affecting the EPA.  

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Weekend open thread: More limbo for ethanol industry edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 07:50:43 AM CST

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

About a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to change the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Iowa elected officials from both parties expressed unanimous outrage, with Governor Terry Branstad and Representative Bruce Braley seeking out especially prominent roles in the battle against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The very first week of the Iowa legislature's 2014 session, state lawmakers unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the EPA to abandon its proposed rule.

The EPA proposal was supposed to become final in the spring of 2014, but political pressure forced a series of delays. Finally, this past Friday the agency announced "that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program before the end of 2014." After the jump I've posted reaction from Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Governor Branstad, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

The immediate impact will be more uncertainty for Iowans whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the ethanol industry. But I would guess that every delay makes it less likely that the EPA will move forward with its original proposal, which could be construed as a victory for Iowa biofuels.

The reality is more complicated than such unusual political consensus implies. At an "all-day pepfest for ethanol" organized by the governor in January, Francis Thicke was the only person to offer the "other side" of the story. Thicke has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from Iowa State University. His testimony asserted that it is "disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil" and that "EPA's proposed changes to the RFS are not that radical." Thicke also pointed out, "Corn ethanol was always meant to be a stepping stone to advanced biofuels." In this guest post, Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad likewise questioned whether corn ethanol was really "under attack" and argued that "Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest."  

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley split on Keystone XL, limits on NSA spying, and judges

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 19, 2014 at 12:53:16 PM CST

Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin rarely found themselves in agreement during a busy day on the Senate floor yesterday. A bill to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project fell one vote short of the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster. The roll call shows that Grassley was among the 59 yes votes (all Republicans plus 14 Democrats), while Harkin was among the 41 Democrats who defeated the bill. Scroll to the end of this post to read Grassley's statement on the failure to pass this measure. He backs an "all-of-the-above approach to meet the country's energy needs and give consumers choice." He does not address the reality that oil transported via Keystone XL would likely be sold to foreign markets, having no effect on domestic gasoline prices.

Although several of the pro-Keystone Democrats just lost their seats in this year's elections, nine of them will continue to serve next year. That means future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the votes to overcome a filibuster of future bills on the pipeline. He won't have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto, but Republicans have vowed to attach Keystone language to "must-pass" bills that President Barack Obama won't want to veto.

Senators also blocked a bill that would have attempted to rein in domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Timothy B. Lee wrote a good backgrounder on the USA Freedom Act. The cloture vote failed by 58 to 42. Like almost all the Senate Democrats, Harkin voted for proceeding to debate the bill. Like all but four Republicans, Grassley voted to block efforts to reduce NSA spying on Americans. Members of Congress will revisit this issue next year, but I'm not optimistic any reforms will pass.

Side note: among the senators who are possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Ted Cruz voted for the USA Freedom Act. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio voted no. Paul opposed the bill because it did not go far enough, in his view; Rubio voted no because he thought the bill would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in this country.

Last week and this week, the Senate has moved forward on several nominees for vacant judicial spots on U.S. district courts. Harkin supported confirming all of the president's nominees. Grassley voted against cloture on all of the nominations, but Republicans were not able to block any of them from a vote on the floor, because the 60-vote threshold no longer applies to most confirmations. (That could change when Republicans take control of the chamber in the new year.) On the confirmation votes themselves, Grassley opposed most of the judges nominated by the president, with one exception last week and another exception yesterday. Many expect judicial confirmations to stop happening when Grassley becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but perhaps he will let a few non-controversial nominees through.

A bill reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant gained massive bipartisan support on Monday, passing by 88 votes to 1. Both Grassley and Harkin backed this bill. In a statement I've enclosed after the jump, Harkin explained how this bill "will expand access to and improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children and families that benefit from the federal child care subsidy program." President Obama signed this bill today, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) attended the ceremony. He worked on the bill as ranking member of the House Education and Labor subcommittee that covers early childhood issues. I posted Loebsack's statement below Harkin's.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Note: Over the years I've written dozens of posts about Grassley and Harkin splitting on Senate votes. I expect that to end for the most part in January. If Joni Ernst votes differently from Grassley even five times over the next two years, I'll be shocked.

UPDATE: Added after the jump some of Harkin's recent comments on the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa nature links

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 08:40:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I have several posts in progress about the 2014 elections and looking ahead to next year's legislative session and even the campaigns of 2016. But for today, I wanted to share some nature links.

Good news: Iowa's pheasant numbers "have rebounded to a six-year high," according to a roadside survey the Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducted in August.

Hunting season is in full swing. The non-profit Save our Avian Resources has compiled a good list of lead-free bullets and ammunition for hunters. Toxic bullet fragments left in gut piles are a major threat to predatory birds including eagles.

I learned via Radio Iowa that the Iowa DNR has added more content on its website about large mammals in Iowa, including black bears, gray wolf, mountain lion and even moose (rarely seen this far south). This page on the DNR's website is a great resource for all kinds of information about animals indigenous to Iowa.

Bad news: for most of this fall, nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River have remained above the standard for drinking water. Along with the Des Moines river, the Raccoon River is a major source of drinking water for more than a half-million central Iowa residents.

Bleeding Heartland's Iowa wildflower Wednesday series is on hiatus until the spring (you can view the archive here). Guest diaries featuring Iowa nature photography are welcome any time of the year.

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Branstad Beer - It's All About the Dirty Water

by: Mark Langgin

Thu Oct 23, 2014 at 11:28:13 AM CDT

(I saw this ad on cable in the Des Moines area this morning. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I've had enough.

Gov. Branstad continues to spread misinformation about his record on water quality. The simple fact? He vetoed $20 million in funds that would have improved Iowa's natural resources and protected water quality of our rivers, lakes and streams.

With full disclosure, I'm the Director for Citizens for a Healthy Iowa. We are a non-profit (c4) organized here in Iowa and we work primarily on water quality issues - public education & issue advocacy. More about our new ad, and campaign, after the jump ....

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UNI, ISU among country's most affordable "eco-friendly" universities

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 17, 2014 at 16:03:11 PM CDT

The University of Northern Iowa ranks third and Iowa State University twelfth on Best Choice Schools' list of "50 Great Affordable Eco-Friendly Colleges. The website evaluated more than 300 universities to find 50 that had an "estimated net price of under $25,000 a year" as well as "unique structures or lifestyle characteristics that make them leaders in sustainability." The schools included "have all earned formal 'green' ratings from one major agency or another, and most have been recognized by respected groups such as the Sierra Club." The schools were ranked from least expensive to most expensive, and UNI's tuition of $15,232/year secured third place. Best Choice Schools commented,

University of Northern Iowa's on-campus organization c.a.r.e. (creating a responsible environment) promotes Eco-friendliness and sustainable living through a number of on-campus initiatives. In dining services, most disposable items were eliminated and a refillable mug program introduced. A local buying program was also introduced and has successfully reduced packaging and shipping wastes while simultaneously supporting local vendors. The University itself has done its part, too. Currently, a whopping 23 campus buildings are undergoing energy-saving retrofits or renovations.

ISU's tuition of $19,281/year was affordable enough for twelfth place on the list:

Iowa State University has proven itself willing to go above and beyond when it comes to campus sustainability. Ambitiously, it requires all new construction and major renovation projects to achieve LEED Gold certification. So far, it has succeeded, with two of its buildings achieving the even higher status of Platinum. The implementation of tray-less dining services reduced food waste by more than 50%, and the food that is wasted is composted at the University's very own compost facility. Active student groups include a Solar Decathlon team, The GreenHouse Group, and Keep Iowa State Beautiful.

Click here for more information on sustainability initiatives at UNI and here for more information on ISU's Live Green! efforts.

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2,4-D crops rubberstamped

by: pesticideaction

Thu Oct 16, 2014 at 16:32:21 PM CDT

(Bad news for Iowa farmers who grow vegetables and fruits (including vineyards), or who raise livestock on chemical-free pastures. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad covered some of the potential risks here. Even for conventional corn and beans farmers, the approach rubber-stamped by the EPA and USDA is likely to exacerbate the "superweed" problem over time. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It's official. EPA and USDA have both evaluated Dow Chemical's new  line of 2,4-D-resistant seeds, Enlist — and have approved both the seeds  and the accompanying pesticide formulation for market.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but for food  production in the U.S. and internationally. The introduction of Enlist  corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line,  will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and  control of our food system.

 

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly.  And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally  narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant  crops — one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant  factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will  hit with the introduction of Enlist crops, it is time for us to look  forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous  approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values  small farmers as much as industrial agriculture — and public health as  much as corporate profit.

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Weekend open thread, with lots of IA-Sen links

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Oct 11, 2014 at 16:00:00 PM CDT

Whose idea was it to hold so many Iowa candidate debates on Saturday nights this year? At 7 pm this evening, Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst face off in the second of three scheduled debates. (C-SPAN will televise nationwide, and KWQC TV will televise in the Quad Cities area.) Immediately after that, KWQC will broadcast the second and final debate between Representative Dave Loebsack and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the second Congressional district race. (That debate will be taped earlier in the day.)

I won't be able to watch either showdown live because of a family wedding, but I will catch up later with some links and recap, as well as highlights from the new Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. A bunch of links related to the IA-Sen race are after the jump. I still see the debate as equally risky for Braley and Ernst, for different reasons.

UPDATE: The new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll by Selzer & Co has Braley and Ernst nearly tied. Ernst is ahead by a statistically insignificant 47 percent to 46 percent. I do not believe Ernst lost a lot of ground during the last two weeks. I believe she was never as far ahead as the last Selzer poll indicated. Other polls in the field around the same time showed a much closer race. In particular, I do not believe that in two weeks, Braley went from a 25-point deficit among men to a 16-point deficit now.

SECOND UPDATE: The full debate video is on the KWQC website.

THIRD UPDATE: I wish every undecided voter in Iowa had seen this debate. Having finally watched the full video myself, I understand why shills for Ernst kept reaching for their security blankets on Saturday night. Talk about a disastrous performance. She repeatedly fell back on rote talking points that didn't answer the question. On several occasions it was apparent that she did not understand the policy implications of her own words. I particularly loved how she insisted that the bipartisan Senate-passed immigration reform bill was "amnesty," even though Braley had already explained why it was different from amnesty. She talked about securing the border, even though Braley had already explained that we would have 20,000 more border control agents if that immigration reform bill had become law. Toward the end of that exchange, though, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Ernst say she would not vote to repeal President Barack Obama's DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). A lot of conservatives were presumably surprised too, but not in a pleasant way.

At the end of this post I've linked to several pieces summarizing the debate highlights.

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180 Iowa scientists warn that climate change is harming human health

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 10, 2014 at 20:00:00 PM CDT

Iowans are suffering from more infectious diseases and respiratory problems because of climate change, and that trend will worsen if steps are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the fourth annual Iowa Climate Statement, released today in Des Moines. I've posted the full text of the statement after the jump. Click here for the full list of faculty and research staff who signed.

The scientists are affiliated with 38 Iowa colleges and universities and work in a wide range of fields. One of the lead authors, Dr. Yogesh Shah of Des Moines University, spoke about the relationship between climate change and infectious disease at yesterday's annual meeting of the Iowa Environmental Council. Warmer temperatures produce greater numbers of ticks and mosquitoes, induce female mosquitoes to bite more frequently, and facilitate more rapid development of the disease-causing agents mosquitoes carry. As a result, some diseases never before seen in North America (such as chikungunya) or long since eradicated (malaria) are spreading rapidly.

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Weekend open thread: Convoluted views on law and order edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Oct 05, 2014 at 10:30:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

When you don't like a law on the books, you have a few options. You can work to change the law through the political system, such as by lobbying legislators, voting out incumbents, or running for the legislature yourself. You can challenge the law through the court system, building a case that the law was improperly enacted or violates constitutional rights. Or you can use civil disobedience to call attention to the unjust law.

A growing number of conservatives are embracing a fourth option: make it a crime to implement or enforce laws you don't like. As Talking Points Memo first reported on Friday, State Senator Joni Ernst answered yes to the following question on the Campaign for Liberty's 2012 questionnaire: "Will you support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare?"

At the time Ernst filled out that survey, no one knew that Democrats would retain control of the Iowa Senate after the 2012 election. She could easily have found herself in the majority, voting for a bill to make it a crime to implement the 2010 health care reform law.

Nor was this an isolated position taken by Ernst. Today's Sunday Des Moines Register features a front-page article by Jennifer Jacobs analyzing bills and resolutions co-sponsored by Ernst in the Iowa Senate and Representative Bruce Braley in the U.S. House. This nugget was buried in the middle:

Ernst has 12 gun-rights bills in her portfolio. They include "stand your ground" legislation that would allow Iowans to use reasonable force, including deadly force, if necessary to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury. Another bill would eliminate the requirement for a permit to carry a weapon. And another would criminalize enforcement of federal gun laws.

I knew Ernst was for just about everything on the gun activists' wish list, but I hadn't heard that she believes it should be a crime to enforce federal laws such as background checks. Either she doesn't read things carefully before she signs them, or she truly believes enforcing some federal laws should become a state crime. But no worries, I'm sure she'll have a perfectly rehearsed excuse for taking this ridiculous position in the unlikely event someone asks her about it at one of the two remaining IA-Sen debates (October 11 in the Quad Cities and October 16 in Sioux City).

UPDATE: Maybe Ernst should go back to the women's shelter where she used to volunteer and explain to the women why their abusers should have unlimited freedom to carry guns, with no permit required.

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IA-Sen: First Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 28, 2014 at 16:59:26 PM CDT

In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that's channel 95).

I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I'll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.

UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.

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Weekend open thread: IA-Sen ad wars edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 21, 2014 at 13:52:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. I live-blogged yesterday's gubernatorial debate, for those who missed it.

Today's Sunday Des Moines Register includes a big feature by Jason Noble and Jeffrey C. Kummer on the $13.8 million spent so far on television commercials to influence Iowa's U.S. Senate race. I've posted some excerpts after the jump.

Does anyone else think we've passed the point of diminishing returns on tv ads in this race? The vast majority of ads aired have been negative, and the overall quality has been poor. One of the biggest anti-Ernst spenders, NextGen Climate Action, has not produced a decent commercial yet. Most of the output has been so bad, I honestly believe Braley would be better off if NextGen had not gotten involved in this campaign at all. The Sierra Club's spots are only marginally better. Some of the Braley campaign's own negative ads have struck me as potentially effective, but at this point I suspect most Iowans are tuning out political ads. The volume has been overwhelming in the targeted media markets.

Pro-Republican groups, starting with fronts for the Koch brothers and now including one of Karl Rove's outfits, keep pounding at the same two points to make Braley look bad: he insulted Senator Chuck Grassley and allegedly all Iowa farmers, and he missed a lot of House Veterans Affairs Committee meetings. But I have to wonder: once someone has heard 500 times about Braley's alleged insult to Iowa farmers, will hearing it another ten or twenty times make any difference? Craig Robinson thinks Republicans are putting too many eggs in these baskets, and I tend to agree. The biggest accomplishment of these anti-Braley ads has been to force the Democrat to spend a lot of his money countering these charges (for instance, with tv spots on his connection to his grandparents' farm or about what he has done for Iowa veterans). They have dictated the terms of his positive messages.

Probably the best outside ad money spent so far has been by the Chamber of Commerce. They're running ads with Senator Chuck Grassley and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey endorsing Ernst. Simple, positive messages.

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Iowa City ranked 10th most "livable" city in U.S.

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 16, 2014 at 17:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa City ranks tenth on Livability.com's second annual list of "100 Best Places to Live" among small to mid-sized cities in the U.S. Looking at 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000, researchers calculated each city's "LivScore" using 40 data points falling under eight broad categories, explained in more detail here: amenities, demographics, economy, education, health care, housing, social and civic capital, and transportation. The website said of Iowa City,

Annual cultural events and a strong literary history with writers like John Irving and Flannery O'Connor have helped shape Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. The college community offers a hardy arts and entertainment environment along with good health care for residents, highlighted by Mercy Hospital and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

Iowa City has previously been recognized as Iowa's most walkable city.

Farther down the list of "Best Places to Live," Iowa cities mentioned were Ames at number 30, West Des Moines at number 57, Cedar Rapids at number 65, and Des Moines at number 82.

Livability.com explained the methodology underlying the list here. The website tweaked the criteria they used last year to compile the first "Best Places to Live" list:

Specifically, we wanted to add some more variables about health care; look at the role of proximity to institutions like hospitals, colleges and universities; and create a better balance between our survey questions and the topics we were measuring. We created some new variables including a measure of racial and ethnic diversity and a rather unique look at the diversity of housing stock.

Those changes allowed Iowa City to move up from number 47 last year to this year's top ten. Iowa's highest-ranking city on Livability.com's inaugural list was Cedar Rapids at number 30, followed by Ames at number 32. Des Moines was ranked number 70 and West Des Moines number 77 last year.

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Iowa could do so much better with local food availability

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 26, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

Agriculture is and always has been a major part of Iowa's economy, but given our abundance of world-class farmland, we could do much more to make local food available to Iowans. When the non-profit food advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers introduced its "Locavore Index" two years ago, Iowa ranked second only to Vermont in terms of local food availability. At that time, the index measured per-capita presence of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and farmers markets.

Last year, Strolling of the Heifers added a third component to the index: the per capita presence of "food hubs," those "facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region." Iowa dropped to fifth place on the Locavore Index.

For 2014, Strolling of the Heifers added a fourth component: the percentage of school districts with Farm-to-School programs, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Sadly, only 31 percent of Iowa school districts have a Farm-to-School program, putting us below many states with insignificant agricultural output compared to Iowa. We should be doing better seven years after the state legislature first funded Farm-to-School efforts. While our state is still strong in farmers markets per capita, our national rank on the Locavore Index dropped to tenth.

August and September are arguably the best months to shop at Iowa farmers markets. With peak late-summer produce being harvested around the start of the academic year, it's a shame more Iowa students don't have access to fresh, local food. We should have more flash-freezing facilities to make it easier for larger facilities to buy local as well--not just public school districts but also nursing homes, hospitals, colleges and universities. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach "provides technical assistance to school food service staff" in six northeast Iowa counties. Here's hoping that project will expand statewide.

After the jump I've posted the Strolling of the Heifers chart showing all state-level data on local food availability. I added the group's "10 reasons to consume local foods," covering economic, health, environmental, and taste benefits. Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative doesn't include a strong local food component, although it promotes healthier eating at schools. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship administers a few Farm-to-School programs and has provided grants for a few dozen schools to start vegetable gardens each year.

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