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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Iowans in Congress report big 2Q fundraising numbers

Candidates for federal offices are raising more money than ever, and that trend was noticeable in the second-quarter Federal Election Commission filings for Iowa’s four U.S. House incumbents. Most of them reported fundraising numbers that would have attracted national attention just a few cycles ago. Many large donors live outside Iowa, a sign that national committees are driving contributions to candidates perceived to be in competitive districts.

The cash on hand totals may seem daunting for challengers who recently launched their campaigns or are still considering it. On the other hand, war chests are less important than they used to be, given the massive growth in outside spending on battleground U.S. House races. A fundraising advantage for an incumbent in 2021 may not be a major factor by next summer.

With that caveat, let’s review where things stand for the three Republicans and one Democrat who represent Iowa in the lower chamber of Congress.

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What do we owe the unvaccinated?

Ira Lacher: Should a person who has done the common-sense thing be mindful of others who have chosen to stay unvaccinated for COVID-19?

In Texas, a doctor can legally discriminate against trans patients, as well as women who have had abortions.

While this seems to empower healers to substitute their Hippocratic Oath with legal immorality, it is hardly an aberration of human behavior. The researchers Fang CuiNing Ma, and Yue-jia Luo have found that the human response to the pain of others — described by some as morality — can differ based on whether we perceive that person to be worthy of a moral response.

“What distinguish[es] moral judgments from other items such as preference, aesthetics or non-moral good and bad,” they wrote, “is that moral judgments entail a belief that someone should be rewarded or punished.”

Or, as Nahum the beggar famously says in Fiddler on the Roof, when given less than his usual alms of two kopecks, “If you had a bad week, why should I suffer?”

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Don't bet on Chuck Grassley retiring

Five U.S. Senate Republicans have confirmed they won’t seek re-election in 2022. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama reported no individual or political action committee contributions during the first six months of 2021. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania reported $365 in total contributions during the same period. Rob Portman of Ohio–$23,635.83. Richard Burr of North Carolina–$140,764. Roy Blunt of Missouri–$194,149.74.

In contrast, Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley–who has served in elective office continuously since 1959–raised $682,379.79 in contributions from January through June, Federal Election Commission filings show. His campaign brought in $354,679.79 from individuals and $327,700 from a long list of PACs. He also transferred $193,811.28 from other committees to his main campaign account, which reported $2,549,206.27 cash on hand as of June 30.

Grassley refunded more campaign contributions ($11,400 in the first quarter, $20,775 in the second) than rival Republican candidate Jim Carlin (a state senator from Sioux City) raised from individuals other than himself. Carlin’s latest FEC disclosure shows his Senate campaign spent more than it brought in from April through June and closed out the second quarter with $8,639.20 cash on hand.

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Derecho brings hotter summers to Cedar Rapids

Eric Gutschmidt has been a real estate developer for twelve years, is owner of Gutschmidt Properties, and serves as president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association in Cedar Rapids.

Am I the only one who noticed that it’s been hotter than usual this year in Cedar Rapids? When I wake up in the morning the weather forecast often projects temperatures in the 80s, but by midday it is already in the 90s. 

The forecast is based on historical weather data from back when we had trees, and well, that ain’t it right now.

As a landlord, I know tenants are having problems keeping their houses cool, even with the air conditioner running nonstop. It’s not just the increased temperature making the AC’s struggle. Many of my houses were shaded by nearby trees; now they are in direct sunlight.

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Deidre DeJear: "I'm ready to do the hard work"

Deidre DeJear wants to run for governor if she can see a path to victory and will make up her mind by the end of the summer, she told Bleeding Heartland on July 18.

In a telephone interview, the 2018 Democratic nominee for secretary of state described her first few days on the road as a possible candidate for governor. After announcing on July 12 that she’s exploring a bid for the state’s top office, DeJear held events in Des Moines, Davenport, Clinton, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Burlington, and Fort Madison over the next three days.

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Chet Culver to return to federal board

President Joe Biden appointed former Iowa Governor Chet Culver to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation’s board of directors this week. Assuming Culver is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, it will be his second term on the Farmer Mac board. President Barack Obama named Culver to the board in 2011, and the Senate confirmed him by voice vote in March 2012. President Donald Trump removed Culver from the position in December 2019, replacing him with LaJuana Wilcher, the current board chair.

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Let's keep the Big Lie from attacking local elections

Bruce Lear: In several Iowa communities, conservatives have formed pressure groups, seeking to influence school curriculum and school board elections.

After the 2020 election, the U.S. was forced to fight two raging viruses. COVID-19 killed more than 600,000 Americans and continues to plague the world. The “Big Lie” virus killed a once proud political party and continues to threaten our system of government.

The COVID-19 virus continually mutates and spreads. We don’t know the exact origin, and it’s hard to identify its carriers, but we’ve sure seen the destruction it causes. Fortunately, the coronavirus vaccine is now easy to get. 

The antidote to the “Big Lie” virus is believing the truth, but that’s harder to administer. Unlike COVID-19, we know its origin: a narcissistic ex-president who refuses to acknowledge he lost an election, citing non-existent voter fraud without shred of credible evidence.

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On Grassley: What's the sideshow? What's the center ring?

Herb Strentz: The real story is not whether Chuck Grassley will seek re-election, but his refusal to denounce Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election. -promoted by Laura Belin

A chronic condition of the press is a tendency to focus on the sideshow instead of the main attraction—to report “what’s going on” without acknowledging “what is really going on.”

That critique comes to mind in reflecting on recent media coverage and commentary regarding U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

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Iowa abortions increase for second straight year

About 14 percent more abortions were performed in Iowa during calendar year 2020 compared to the previous year, indicating that a sharp increase recorded in 2019 was not a one-off.

Iowa Department of Public Health data shows 4,058 pregnancy terminations occurred during 2020, up from 3,566 abortions performed in 2019. That number represented a 25 percent increase from the 2,849 abortions recorded in 2018.

Prior to 2019, abortions were on a steady downward trend in Iowa and nationally for at least a decade. The figure recorded for 2020 was the highest since 2013.

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