VA vaccine mandate won't apply to Iowa Veterans Home

Staff at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, where a recent COVID-19 outbreak killed two fully vaccinated residents, are not subject to a new vaccine mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced on July 26 that coronavirus vaccinations are now required for “Title 38 VA health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves.”

The Iowa Veterans Home is a state-run facility, but it receives some federal funding, is certified by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and has residents who use VA health care. At least 900 employees work at the Marshalltown facility, which is Iowa’s largest nursing home. Families and guardians were informed in late June that 70 percent of staff had already been vaccinated for COVID-19. That would leave more than 250 unprotected by any coronavirus vaccine.

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1968 Olympics revisited: Prep for 2021's 200-meter final

Herb Strentz reviews the most famous 200-meter final in Olympic history and its aftermath. -promoted by Laura Belin

With the 2021 Olympics nearing the finish line, one of many track events to watch will be the 200-meter men’s final, scheduled for Wednesday, August 4.

While we don’t know who this year’s finalists will be, we can say with certainty the 1968 final for the 200-meter distance will be revisited, as it is every Olympiad and many times between.

Judging from past press coverage, Peter Norman will not be mentioned. That’s because on the 200-meter victory stand, two Black Americans, Tommie Smith (gold medalist) and John Carlos (bronze) raised gloved fists in a Black Lives Matter protest — back then it was called Black Power.

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Utah attorney sues state agency for Test Iowa records

An attorney representing the board chair of the Salt Lake Tribune has sued the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and its records custodian for failing to provide email correspondence related to the $26 million Test Iowa program.

Paul Huntsman confirmed on July 30 that the lawsuit Suzette Rasmussen filed in Polk County the previous day is part of his Jittai initiative. The Tribune’s board chair recently created Jittai in order “to learn more about TestUtah and its sister programs” created through similar no-bid contracts in Iowa, Tennessee, and Nebraska. Florida also implemented parts of the program.

According to the court filing, which is posted in full below, Rasmussen wrote to Sarah Ekstrand in March seeking “copies of all correspondence between the Iowa Department of Public Health, including but not limited to Interim Director Kelly Garcia, and the Iowa Governor’s Office, Utah state officials, Nebraska state officials, and Tennessee state officials regarding the Test Iowa Contract” from March 1, 2020 to March 11, 2021.

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Federal government can fix cannabis scheduling problem without new law

Carl Olsen sent the letter enclosed below to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. -promoted by Laura Belin

Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov

Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
GAI21675 4LN Discussion Draft S.L.C.

Modern state, national, and international drug laws were designed to be flexible.  Instead of statutory classification of drugs, classification is an administrative process called scheduling.  The scheduling of drugs can be adjusted by administrative processes without the need for further legislation or renegotiated international treaties.

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Rest in peace, John Landon

State Representative John Landon passed away on July 29, his family announced. He was serving his fifth term representing Iowa House district 37, covering part of Ankeny. In tributes posted publicly, many Republican colleagues commented on Landon’s kindness and work ethic, including Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, House Speaker Pat Grassley, and Garrett Gobble, who now represents the other Ankeny House district.

Landon had chaired the House Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee since 2015, and also served this year on the Commerce and Transportation committees. Although he missed much of the 2021 legislative session while being treated for the illness that claimed his life, he was able to floor manage the bill setting the fiscal year 2022 budget for a number of state agencies and the offices of the governor, secretary of state, and state auditor.

Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter, who served on the budget panel Landon led, told Bleeding Heartland on July 30 that Landon was “the nicest guy in the House” and someone who reached across the aisle when bills or amendments were being considered.

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IA-Sen: Medicare for All drives Glenn Hurst's campaign

A third Democrat joined the race for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat on July 29. Dr. Glenn Hurst made clear that one issue in particular is driving his campaign.

“I went back to school and became a doctor because I saw a need in the rural communities I love and call home,” Hurst said in a news release. “I’ve had a front-row seat to the tricks insurance companies use to avoid paying for care, drowning providers in paperwork when we should be with our patients. I’m running for the U.S. Senate because Iowans deserve better. We deserve Medicare for All.”

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Iowa Veterans Home leader overpaid for years before ouster

Staff in the governor’s office and Iowa Veterans Home declined to clarify why Governor Kim Reynolds fired the home’s Commandant Timon Oujiri in early May, and for months did not respond to public records requests related to Oujiri’s removal.

The mystery was revealed on July 29, when State Auditor Rob Sand released a special report showing Oujiri had received $105,412.85 in improper compensation since June 2019, including $90,027.20 of unauthorized gross wages.

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Can Governor Reynolds put Iowa kids' well-being ahead of politics?

Concerned parent Tanya Keith reached out to Governor Kim Reynolds’ staff and interviewed infectious disease Dr. Megan Srinivas. -promoted by Laura Belin

Less than a month before school starts, Governor Kim Reynolds is putting politics ahead of my daughter’s life and well-being. I am one of the thousands of Iowa parents bearing the burden of having a child under 12, who is too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Anyone following pandemic science updates has been fed a daily diet of rising concern. First, the World Health Organization recommended that all individuals mask inside, even if they are vaccinated. Then the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all K-12 students be masked, regardless of vaccination status. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control just echoed that guidance.

As an Iowa parent, I know that it is currently against the law for masks to be required at school. If you’re reading this from another state, that may sound bizarre, but I assure you it’s true. In May, Reynolds signed a bill in the middle of the night to ban mask mandates, so schools were left scrambling to come up with new policy days from the finish line of a grueling academic year.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Common mullein

Common Mullein, Great Mullein and Woolly Mullein are all names for the same plant, a non-native weed introduced from Europe in the early 1800s. It has spread so widely that it is now considered naturalized. Common mullein can be found in all 50 states, and even though it is a weed, it is not pesty (at least not in Iowa).

Of all the Iowa wildflowers, this plant has some of the most fun nicknames, including Cowboy Toiletpaper, Quaker’s Rouge, Torch Flower, Flannel Plant, Tinder Plant, and Aaron’s Rod.

If you are a wildflower enthusiast, someone not familiar with common mullein may ask you, “What is that tall fuzzy plant that I saw on the side of the road?”

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Let’s pretend rural Iowa is Mars

Richard Lindgren: A “Mars-on-Earth New City” project is far easier to do, much cheaper, and with much more immediate societal benefit if you pick a spot in America’s struggling heartland. -promoted by Laura Belin

So, I have watched the bizarre unpiloted, billion-dollar carnival ride that took Jeff Bezos into the barest edge of “space.” We are looking at spending more billions of dollars as a collective society to pursue a goal of living on the moon or Mars, for some just for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but also because some fear that a future Earth may cease to be inhabitable.

Here is a simple brain game: What if we pretended that some place on Earth with challenges to daily habitability is a viable way-station for Mars, and spend our research dollars there instead? I nominate rural southern Iowa, where storm clouds hover over the future. I’m serious.

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Governor bashes CDC, blames immigrants for COVID-19 spread

As the more transmissible Delta variant causes COVID-19 cases to rise in all 50 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals on July 27. The CDC now recommends that they “wear a mask indoors in public” in areas “of substantial or high transmission.” In addition, anyone living with unvaccinated or immunocompromised household members, or those at higher risk of severe disease, “might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission.”

Despite having no science background, Governor Kim Reynolds bashed the new guidance as “not grounded in reality or common sense.” Only a few hours earlier, she had absurdly suggested that immigrants entering Texas might be to blame for accelerating community spread of COVID-19.

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Iowa detains Black youth at highest national rate

No state in the country has placed a higher proportion of Black youth in juvenile facilities than Iowa, according to a new Sentencing Project analysis. The Black youth placement rate in Iowa was more than double the national average in 2019, and young African Americans in Iowa were nearly nine times as likely as their white peers to be committed to facilities such as “detention centers, residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons.”

Josh Rovner was the lead author of Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration, which the Sentencing Project published on July 15. The two-page report included statistics on youth placement in Washington, DC and the 36 states where at least 8,000 residents are African Americans between the ages of 10 and 17.

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State medical director misleads on COVID-19 nursing home data

State Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati asserted that publicly available information about coronavirus cases in Iowa nursing homes is “pretty similar” to what was long disclosed on the state’s official COVID-19 website.

Pedati made the false claim during a wide-ranging interview with Andy Kopsa of Iowa Watch, conducted soon after the state switched from daily to weekly updates on coronavirus.iowa.gov. As part of the revamp, officials removed a page that had shown current outbreaks in long term care facilities.

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"No uptick in employment" in states ending pandemic benefits

Census survey data indicates that there was “no uptick in employment” in the twelve states that cut residents off from federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits in mid-June. However, residents of those states were more likely to report it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to pay for usual household expenses, compared to surveys conducted before the unemployment programs ended. 

Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at UMass Amherst, published his findings on July 18.

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"Vaccine Hunter" Todd Brady running for Iowa Senate in Ankeny

A Democratic challenger has emerged in the Iowa Senate district now represented by Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, the upper chamber’s top Republican since 2018. Todd Brady announced on July 21 that he’ll run for the seat in Ankeny, a growing suburb to the north of Des Moines.

Brady has a computer science degree from Iowa State University and is best known as the creator of the Vaccine Hunter website, where thousands of Iowans scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations when appointments were scarce in the late winter and spring. Disclosure: in April, that website helped me find an appointment for my older son.

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Donald Trump, GOP officials mock the martyrs

Herb Strentz: White residents of Tulsa 100 years ago could not bear the success of Black citizens any more than Republican legislators today can bear the notion of communities of color helping to vote them out of office.

With all the dreams about achieving “herd immunity” to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s worrying to consider how our nation may have already achieved a kind of “immunity” from the promise of our constitution.

Columnist Paul Krugman suggested as much in a recent column called “The banality of democratic collapse.” He was referring to democracy, not the Democratic Party.

He warned, “America’s democratic experiment may well be nearing its end. That’s not hyperbole; it’s obvious to anyone following the political scene.”

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Iowa Senate primary has new front-runner, more level playing field

Former U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer made it official on July 22: she’s running for the U.S. Senate. And even though signs point to long-serving Senator Chuck Grassley seeking another term in 2022, at least two other people are poised to compete against Finkenauer and Dave Muhlbauer for the Democratic nomination.

Finkenauer will carry several advantages into the primary campaign. But compared to Iowa’s last Democratic race for U.S. Senate, the contenders will be playing on a much more level field.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American or Canada germander (wood sage)

Although much of Iowa is in drought, one plant that thrives in moist habitats seems to be abundant this year, at least in central Iowa. American germander (Teucrium canadense), also known as Canada germander or wood sage, often grows in “moist thickets, ditches, woodland edges, [or] along streams.” I usually see it blooming by July 4, and the flowering period lasts for at least a month.

According to John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Teucrium canadense is the only germander species that is native to Iowa. Eight other species of germander are native to North America, and gardeners may grow some of them successfully in our state.

I took most of the pictures enclosed below near North Walnut Creek, which runs through Urbandale and Windsor Heights.

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Des Moines City Council still abusing consent agenda

Brandi Webber is a candidate for Des Moines City Council in Ward 3.

So about the Des Moines City Council meetings… You may have seen coverage (again) about distractions, protests and arrests. “Why is this happening?” you may be asking yourself. I certainly can’t answer that alone, but I can add some important context as someone who was inside the chamber during the July 19 meeting.

The council has continually attempted to limit public comment and abuses the consent agenda to push through controversial items, items on police funding, criminalizing and punishing the houseless, denying accessibility concerns and much more. This has been happening over the course of the last year and a half, while the public has been speaking up and begging to be heard. During the virtual meetings the council was able to silence the public. Now that meetings are back to in person, there is no mute button to silence and control the public.

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