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.

From the Associated Press/USA Today feature by Ryan Foley, Larry Fenn, and Nick Penzenstadler, “An accidental shooting kills a child every other day.”

During the first six months of this year, minors 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. […]

—Deaths and injuries spike for children under 5, with 3-year-olds the most common shooters and victims among young children. Nearly 90 3-year-olds were killed or injured in the shootings, the vast majority of which were self-inflicted.

—Accidental shootings spike again for ages 15-17, when victims are most often fatally shot by other children but typically survive self-inflicted gunshots.

—They most often happen at the children’s homes, with handguns legally owned by adults for self-protection. They are more likely to occur on weekends or around holidays such as Christmas.

—States in the South, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia, are among those with the highest per capita rates of accidental shootings involving minors.

In all, more than 320 minors age 17 and under and more than 30 adults were killed in accidental shootings involving minors. Nearly 700 other children and 78 adults were injured.

Foley discussed the research on PBS NewsHour.

Foley also reported on a string of accidental shootings in Tama County, which killed two girls and seriously injured another. Excerpts:

“I sit there looking at these things and say, this should not be happening,” said Tama County Attorney Brett Heeren, who has declined to file charges against anyone involved in the three cases. “That’s more than our fair share of these kinds of disasters.”

He wonders whether the gun safety ethic, drilled into him as a child, has weakened. But others around the county say the cases are nothing more than a string of bad luck, that deadly accidents are inevitable with so many guns in society even among largely responsible owners.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s a scar that every one of these families is going to have to live with the rest of their lives,” Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera said. “I don’t know how to even try to explain why these are happening. They were all adult-supervised. It’s hard to say who is the unsafe or careless one.” […]

Liesel Casto had picked up a love for hunting and shooting from her father. Camouflage was her favorite color.

On Christmas Day 2014, she was thrilled to get a new rifle. Her mom posted a picture of her on Facebook: “Now she is ready for some serious hunting.”

Two days later, Liesel was preparing to hunt deer with her teenage brother using muzzleloaders, the type of gun that her father built for customers at his business, the Casto Armory. Joshua Casto was there to supervise his kids.

The gun went off, sending a shot through the open doors of their truck. It hit Liesel in the head, killing her instantly.

Lisa Marie Pane reported for the AP on how
“Limits on gun research hamper efforts to combat gun deaths.”

“There’s still a lot that we don’t know,” said Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Among the questions he and others said could be addressed through government research: Can handguns be made safer or even made child-proof? What are the most effective ways to keep guns out of their hands? What are the most reliable ways to safely store firearms?

While unintentional shootings account for only a fraction of firearms deaths in the U.S., gun safety advocates have long argued that they are largely preventable and call out for the kind of public health intervention the government provides for other consumer products. […]

In 1993, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set off a firestorm. Critics called it a study based on flawed data that was more advocacy than science. Its underlying conclusion: Having a gun in the household made someone more likely to be a victim of homicide or suicide.

It wasn’t long before Congress, swayed by lobbying by the National Rifle Association, enacted the so-called Dickey Amendment, named after former Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas. The law eliminated $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, the same amount the agency had used for firearms research. It also prohibited the CDC from engaging in advocacy on issues related to guns.

From Scott McFetridge’s October 12 AP report, “Small Iowa town a window into hunger problem in rural US.”

Tyson Foods’ turkey and pork processing plants are Storm Lake’s biggest employers – more than 2,700, many of whom are immigrants attracted by wages of $15 an hour or more. But many also have large families, and paychecks are eaten up by big grocery bills, heating and cooling costs and higher-than-expected rent due to increased demand for housing that hasn’t been met by new construction.

Not having access to enough food is more severe in isolated counties than urban, metropolitan areas – 64 percent of the counties with the highest rate of food insecurity for children are rural, according to data from national anti-hunger group Feeding America.

While federal statistics show incomes among the poorest 10 percent of U.S. households increased 7.9 percent last year and the proportion of Americans in poverty dropped from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, small towns typically lag urban areas in job and income growth, especially in the Upper Midwest, said Gary Green, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who studies rural issues. […]

Finding a job isn’t the problem in Storm Lake, which is hours from Des Moines and Minneapolis. It’s finding one that pays enough to cover the bills.

October 13 press release from the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame:

The Iowa African-American Hall of Fame will induct four new members in November.

Founded in 1995 in Des Moines, the IAAHF recognizes the outstanding achievements of African-Americans who have enhanced the quality of life for all Iowans. Since its inception in 2002, 65 Iowans have been inducted into the IAAHF.

Inductees will be recognized at a reception and banquet starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport, 6111 Fleur Drive, Des Moines. Tickets are $50 per person. A table of 10 seats may be reserved for $500. To make a reservation, contact Kenyatta Shamburger at 515-294-6338. In addition to supporting the IAAHF, proceeds provide scholarships for developing youth leadership at Iowa colleges and universities.

2016 inductees

This year, the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame recognizes the achievements of:

Dr. Kesho Scott, Grinnell

Dr. Kesho Scott was the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Grinnell College, where she is an associate professor of American studies and sociology. Scott is an award-winning author and frequent speaker on race relations, diversity and inclusion, women’s issues and cultural competency. For 30 years she has conducted workshops nationally and internationally on unlearning racism and all “-isms.” She has impacted the heartland by opening new pathways to equality and celebrating differences.

Betty Andrews, Des Moines

Betty Andrews has distinguished herself with the “I’ll Make Me A World In Iowa” annual celebration of African-American cultural heritage, which attracts more than 10,000 participants from across Iowa. As president of the Iowa/Nebraska State Conference of the NAACP, she has led efforts to reform the criminal justice system and bring more equality into the Iowa courts.

Henry Harper, Iowa City

Henry Harper has empowered youth and families, and enabled challenged youth to meet seemingly insurmountable goals in school work and in community organizing. Harper has been exemplary in his efforts to foster interagency cooperation among law enforcement, community residents and students. He is a leader who founded two organizations that assist young people in their transition to college.

James B. Morris Jr., Des Moines (posthumous)

James B. Morris Jr. was the first black assistant Polk County attorney, and had an outstanding career as a trial lawyer. Morris also served as an intelligence officer with the U.S. 6th Army in World War II in the South Pacific. He received the Bronze Star, and was one of the first African- American officers to lead white troops in combat. He and his father, the late J.B. Morris Sr., practiced law in Des Moines for many years. They had an incredible dedication to the legal profession. Morris Sr. is also a member of the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame, as is his son, Robert V. Morris.

From Charlotte Alter’s story in the current issue of TIME magazine, “How Planned Parenthood Changed Everything.”

There was not yet a “secret” birth control that could prevent pregnancy, but there was an enormous amount of ignorance about basic biological processes. So Sanger started writing, aiming to prevent young girls from “entering into sexual relations whether in marriage or out of it, without thinking and knowing” how their bodies worked. Multiple essays she wrote were banned as obscene, she was indicted and she fled the country. She returned when one of her children died of pneumonia, and the charges were dropped.

That’s when Sanger, along with her sister Ethel Byrne and a nurse named Fania Mindell, started the first birth control clinic in the United States, which opened its doors on Oct. 16, 1916 at 46 Amboy Street in Brooklyn. They distributed pamphlets that said: “Can you afford to have a large family? Do you want any more children? If not, why do you have them? DO NOT KILL, DO NOT TAKE LIFE, BUT PREVENT.” Women lined up around the block, paying 10 cents to meet with the nurses.

The clinic stayed open for only nine days before it was shut down by an undercover policewoman posing as a patient. It opened again and was shut down again, and Sanger was arrested for maintaining a public nuisance. She opened the clinic a third time, on Nov. 16, but authorities forced the landlord to evict her, and all three women were arrested. When Sanger appeared before the judge, he waved a cervical cap from the bench and argued that no woman should have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” She went to jail for 30 days.

Even though the first clinic stayed open for only nine days, it was the beginning of a birth control movement that would radically revolutionize the way women live their lives, and the way society functions. Five years later, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. Twenty-one years after that, that organization was renamed Planned Parenthood.

From an Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation press release on October 14:

Drake professor wins INHF’s Hagie Heritage Award

A longtime professor at Drake University will receive a statewide award for his extensive conservation efforts, including giving 1,350 hours of his time to a project aimed at restoring prairies on private land throughout the state.

Dr. Thomas Rosburg will receive the 2016 Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award given by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF).

The Hagie Heritage Award, endowed by the family of Lawrence and Eula Hagie, is given annually by INHF, a statewide conservation organization that protects and restores Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. INHF projects in Central Iowa include the High Trestle Trail, additions to Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and several others.

“Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is a highly revered, successful and dedicated conservation organization. To receive one of its most prestigious awards is an honor with tremendous meaning made even more significant when you consider the impressive list of previous recipients,” Rosburg said.

Peter Levi, an assistant professor of environmental science and policy, nominated Dr. Rosburg for his exceptional commitment to conservation in Iowa. Levi is an associate of Dr. Rosburg’s at Drake University and has witnessed his dedication to Iowa’s wild places through the eyes of his students.

One of Dr. Rosburg’s most remarkable achievements has been the Drake Prairie Rescue and Restoration Program, through which he has organized 165 events in 22 separate counties between 2004-2016.

During this time, he worked with landowners to protect 51 different remnant prairie and savanna ecosystems. His passion for this project was passed on to the 170 Drake students who received hands-on management experience and ecological training while working over 2,625 hours on projects under Dr. Rosburg’s mentorship.

“Ever since I discovered how many native prairie and savanna remnants still exist in rural Iowa — during a research project aimed at mapping prairies — that are in need of management to prevent their demise, I have felt a strong obligation to save as many as possible,” Rosburg said.

With over 50 years of service to conservation projects since he joined a 4-H chapter in the 1960s, Dr. Rosburg continues following his passion for the environment at home. He and his wife, Carmen, live on a farmstead comprised of 3 acres of reconstructed prairie, 20 acres of grasslands and a silt dam to protect downstream water quality. Rosburg’s other hobbies include hiking, running (he has completed three ultramarathons), nature photography, sustainable farming, hunting, fishing and reading.

Marilyn Dorland and Larry Reis were also finalists for the Hagie Heritage Award. Their commitment to Iowa’s land has been cultivated by years of effort and dedication to bettering their respective communities.

Dorland has allowed her Clarke County woodland to be enjoyed by residents through educational hikes and lectures about the area. She has also helped establish community gardens and donated hundreds of hours to CROSS Ministries recycling clothing to send to countries such as Haiti and Nigeria.

Reis, an over 30-year staff member of the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, has presented over 7,500 educational programs that have reached more than 200,000 people. Outside of the CCB, he has also been a DNR volunteer hunter education instructor for 30 years.

From a Drake University press release on October 14:

Rosburg joined the Drake faculty in 1998. He teaches numerous courses in ecology, limnology, botany, biological research and statistics, natural history, and nature photography. His research includes an array of topics within plant ecology, most notably studies aimed toward understanding the factors that affect the species composition and structure of plant communities in prairie, forest and wetland ecosystems.

“I am deeply gratified that the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has recognized Professor Rosburg’s long record of conservation and reclamation efforts with this award,” said Joe Lenz, dean of the Drake University College of Arts and Sciences. “His work has not only benefitted the environment, but also provided our students with valuable field experiences.”

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