Dan Piller

The Register and blue ghosts from 1974

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

The windowless Office Lounge bar on Grand Avenue nestled across a narrow alleyway from the Register and Tribune Building in downtown Des Moines was a hopping place in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 6, 1974.

Longtime Office Lounge owner Dorothy Gabriel continued her election-night tradition of keeping the Register’s semi-official bar open after hours (to the apparent indifference of the Des Moines police) so that the newspaper’s staff could blow off the heat and tension of election night.

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Iowa grain and the war in Ukraine

Dan Piller: A prolonged war that disrupts Ukraine’s grain production could reverse Iowa’s decline in world export markets.

“Nobody is qualified to become a statesman who is entirely ignorant of the problem of wheat” –Socrates

The longstanding boast of Iowa farmers that they “feed the world” has been made increasingly hollow in recent years as emerging grain export powers Brazil, Russia, and Ukraine have grabbed significant shares of the world’s markets from the long-dominant United States.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the attacks on Black Sea ports of Kherson, Mariupol, and eventually, Odessa will likely shut off Ukraine from its sea shipping lifeline. A lengthy war would bring into question the ability of Ukrainian farmers to prepare their fields and plant the spring crop.

The possible elimination of Ukraine as a major corn and wheat producer and exporter, even for a short period, could reverse Iowa farmers’ decline in world export markets.

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Vaxxing, Trump, and JFK

Dan Piller reviews presidential attitudes toward public health and physical fitness.

If you needed a good laugh during the hassle of Christmas weekend, one could be had by watching the sudden fracture of Donald Trump and the nation’s anti-vaccine cult. This surprising development came about during a Trump podcast interview with Candace Owens, for whom no conspiracy theory is too outrageous.

Trump and Owens should have enjoyed a convivial chit-chat, but the former president took issue with Owens’ anti-vaccine sentiments. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative to give us COVID-19 vaccines was arguably the highlight of his otherwise inept presidency. Even President Joe Biden has praised it.

Owens uncharitably attributed Trump’s pro-vaccine sentiment to his being “too old” to find websites that give alternatives to vaccinations, which probably will prove sufficient for her to be turned away for good at the Mar-a-Lago main gate.

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America Needs Farmers? Farmers need Iowans, too

Dan Piller: The Iowa Farm Bureau might want to start thinking of city folks as partners, rather than supplicants, before it is too late.

A big winner at the October 9 Iowa-Penn State football game in Iowa City, besides the Hawkeye team and its fans, was the Iowa Farm Bureau, which used the game for its annual “America Needs Farmers” (ANF) celebration.

The late, legendary Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry created ANF during the 1980s as a way to use his successful teams to remind Iowans of the struggles of agriculture, which was undergoing a severe downturn.

The 1980s farm crisis eventually ended, and by the 2000s Iowa farmers saw record yields, profits, and land prices. But ANF has lived on, even as farmers are enjoying one of their best years in recent history.

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Critical Alamo Theories

Dan Piller: Iowa Republicans may learn the same lesson that Texas has reluctantly absorbed: history is not easily contained by the dry wording of a law.

Governor Kim Reynolds happily signed a law that her fellow Republicans approved in the Iowa House and Senate, banning the use of “specific defined concepts” on race or sex for local governments, schools, and public universities.  

The law is principally aimed at racial diversity sensitivity training, but the governor fired a warning broadside to Iowa’s school teachers when she declared in a written statement that the bill bans “Critical Race Theory,” even though those words are nowhere in the bill. Speaking recently to the Carroll Times Herald, Reynolds added that schools would be able to teach about destruction of Native American life in Iowa, “As long as it is balanced and we are giving both sides […].”

What “Critical Race Theory” and “both sides” really mean, at least in K-12 education, probably will have to be hashed out before judges, perhaps with the same entertainment value achieved almost a century ago with the famous Scopes Trial in Tennessee. But Reynolds’ message to Iowa teachers was unmistakable: tread very, very carefully when talking to students about race.

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Rural broadband: A mirage

Dan Piller: Far from rescuing rural Iowa, more broadband will hasten the exodus from farms and small towns into the cities. -promoted by Laura Belin

Everybody loves the idea of spending billions of tax dollars to wire the countryside with high speed broadband that is otherwise economically unfeasible. President Donald Trump took a few minutes away from trying to overturn the election last December to reward his loyal rural supporters with $10 billion for the high-speed internet access. President Joe Biden wants to set aside billions more for rural broadband in his “infrastructure” master plan.

In Iowa, Democrats are so cowed by the popularity of rural broadband they’ve acquiesced to Governor Kim Reynolds’ idea to let rural interests help themselves to hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars, mostly paid by Iowa’s city dwellers who amount to two-thirds of the state’s population, for rural broadband even though rural broadband will thus join anti-abortion and unlimited gun rights as Reynolds’ calling card to her rural base for her reelection next year.

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