Rick Morain

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Climate change drives up homeowners' insurance costs

Thunderstorm capable of producing tornadoes approaches grain silos in Iowa. Photo by John Huntington, available via Shutterstock.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

A few weeks ago, our homeowner’s insurance carrier sent me our annual premium notice for the 12-month period beginning April 10, 2024. The valuations of our house, garage, and personal property had climbed almost 7 percent higher than they were for the previous 12-month period. That wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I was somewhat gratified by what the carrier says is the replacement cost of our property now.

But the premium! Ay, there’s the rub. It was more than 50 percent higher than the previous 12-month renewal contract.

How could that be? I had no idea.

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Reflections on 75 years of NATO

U.S. Department of State photo of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018, via Wikimedia Commons

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Two events within a few months of each other 75 years ago forever altered the political and military landscape of the world. Their combined effects play an an important role in today’s diplomatic chess game.

On April 4, 1949, twelve Western nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, DC to create the Organization by that name, abbreviated to NATO. The signatories were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.

Over the next 75 years NATO’s membership expanded eastward through Europe to include today’s 32 nations, with Sweden’s signature affixed earlier this month.

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Lessons from a heart attack

Shutterstock image of an angiogram is by April stock

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

I had a heart attack on the evening of February 27. All is well.

Tuesday about 7 p.m. I was sitting at the press table at the Jefferson City Council meeting, taking notes, when my chest started to hurt. I figured it was probably acid reflux, which I have from time to time, so I waited for it to go away.

It didn’t. It hung around after the meeting adjourned at 8 p.m., so when I got home I told Kathy that if it didn’t disappear by 9:30, I would go out to the emergency room at Greene County Medical Center to have it checked out.

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Iowa House bill would mandate long list of U.S. history topics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

House File 2544 survived last week’s funnel deadline in the Iowa legislature and is eligible for floor debate in the state House of Representatives. If I were a public school social studies teacher in Iowa and this bill were to become law, I would begin to wonder how I could continue to teach what I know about American history and government.

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The controversial 1824 presidential election

Left: John Quincy Adams, depicted by painter Thomas Sully. Right: Andrew Jackson, also painted by Thomas Sully.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

The 2024 presidential election will in all probability be decided in the usual fashion, with a candidate receiving a majority of the electoral votes declared the winner. That’s the way it’s been done in almost all 109 presidential elections since the nation’s founding.

But not all of them. Exactly 200 years ago, the 1824 presidential election tested the Constitution as never before or since. In some ways the 1824 event seems old-fashioned, while in other respects it was a precursor of our modern contests, including recent claims of a stolen election.

To set the 1824 stage:

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With George Santos gone, attention turns to Bob Menendez

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

The U.S. House voted 311 to 114 on December 1 to expel Republican member George Santos. It was only the sixth time in the history of the House that members have taken such an action. Republicans split pretty evenly on the vote, with 105 GOP members voting to expel Santos and 112 voting to allow him to retain his seat. Democrats voted almost unanimously in favor of expulsion: the Democratic tally was 206 to 2.

To expel a member from either house of Congress, the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds affirmative vote of that body (66 2/3 percent). That’s a high bar in itself, but the vote to remove Santos was about 73 percent affirmative, well above the bar.

To make the expulsion even more unusual, it was achieved when the House was controlled by Santos’ own party. What’s more, it was the first time since the Civil War that the House expelled a member who had not been convicted in a court of law.

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Public is poorer when leaders avoid news conferences

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

How long since you’ve read a story from an actual news conference with the United States president or the Iowa governor? Or since you’ve viewed one on TV?

Probably quite a while, and if you remember one, it probably took place quite a while after the one before that.

It used to be customary for a chief executive to hold regular press conferences, where reporters could ask questions, including followups. Not anymore. Today what passes for a “press conference” is usually a staged event where the executive reads a statement, maybe delivers a one-liner to one of the many shouted questions, and then exits stage right.

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Kicking the can down the road is no way to run a country

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Congress kicked the can down the road again. But that was better than the alternative.

Last Saturday, September 30, the absolute deadline before failure to act would have “shut the government down,” the U.S. House and then the Senate finally approved a continuing resolution (CR) to keep federal spending going for another 47 days at current rates. September 30 is the last day of the federal fiscal year.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to do lots and lots of backroom dealing to keep the government open—and on October 3, those deals cost him the speaker’s gavel. For many days, he had tried to persuade enough members of his own party to bring home a CR without Democratic help.

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The surprising origins of Iowa's standard township layout

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Ever wonder why our Midwestern rural layout consists of 36 one-mile-square sections per township? Or where the Midwest’s emphasis on public education comes from? Or why slavery never gained a foothold here? Or why so many of the federal Bill of Rights protections were guaranteed in the Midwest even before their adoption in the Constitution?

No? Well, no problem. I’m gonna tell you anyway.

All those practical and admirable attributes originated in a series of ordinances way back in the 1780s, adopted by the Congress that was created by the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War.

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Grassley highlights inspector general vacancies at federal agencies

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Federal government whistleblowers have a champion in the U.S. Senate: Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

We can measure a politician’s sincerity about a specific issue or policy by how consistently he or she maintains that position, regardless of which party holds power. Through the years—decades, really—that Grassley has served in the U.S. Senate, he has always insisted that government employees who expose questionable dealings or negligent mismanagement by their superiors must be protected in their jobs, without fear of retaliation.

That’s particularly true when the employee’s specific job is to investigate such dealings. Those crucial public servants are the “inspectors general” of the various federal agencies.

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The Supreme Court needs guardrails

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton, 1887

We usually hear this statement when someone wants to make a point about someone else, someone in power. I’m doing just that. And those to whom I want to point in this case are the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A dangerous education proposal, given Iowa's cancer rate

LATE UPDATE: Republican lawmakers kept this provision in the final version of Senate File 496, which Governor Reynolds signed in May. Original post follows.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

One state registered a significant increase in cancer incidence from 2015 to 2019, the most recent year for which data is available from all 50 states. That would be Iowa. The only one.

According to the Cancer in Iowa 2023 report, only Kentucky ranked ahead of Iowa in the rate of its residents’ cancer cases. But Kentucky’s rate has decreased recently, while Iowa’s grew.

The reasons for those facts remain a mystery. University of Iowa researchers are trying to figure it out.

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Whatever Fox News stars were doing, it wasn't journalism

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column. You can read Dominion’s recent court filing here, and a summary here.

We’re about to find out if the name “Fox News” has any meaning.

For two decades before January 2021, Fox News had the largest viewer audience in all of cable television. But that month both CNN and MSNBC overtook and surpassed it.

The reason? In the weeks just before the November 2020 election, some Fox News reporters started to commit journalism. They questioned the claims of some top Donald Trump campaign supporters that election equipment provided by Dominion Voting Systems was rigged to switch presidential votes from Trump to Joe Biden, thereby illegally making Biden the winner. At least 28 states used Dominion voting machines in 2020.

Not trivial.

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Wrong-headed bill on food assistance raises questions

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand legislative proposals. Other times, not so much. House File 3, filed early in the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session, falls in the second category. To understand its potential effect on needy people, take a quick look at two preexisting food programs whose nutritional goals differ.

First, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal program once called food stamps. It exists to help low-income households and those on Medicaid buy groceries.

Second, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC) aims to meet the specific nutritional needs of its designated recipients. WIC doesn’t allow recipients to use those funds for meat, sliced cheese, butter, flour, or fresh produce.

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A misguided effort to make Iowa's local elections partisan

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

If Senate File 23 were to become law in Iowa, all city and school elections would be partisan, and only partisan. Candidates in those elections would have their names placed on the ballot only by their political party; no independent candidates could run.

Republican State Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale filed the bill on January 9, and it was quickly assigned to a State Government subcommittee, which has not yet considered the bill. Zaun filed a similar bill last year. It went nowhere.

Almost all Iowa city and school elections have been nonpartisan for many decades. For all I know it’s been that way since the creation of the state more than 150 years ago. I didn’t try to research that history, and it doesn’t really matter. The important fact is that at present, anyone of legal age in Iowa, whether affiliated with a political party or not, can take out nomination papers, get the required number of signatures on them by the filing deadline, and thereby become a candidate to help govern his or her city or school district.

It’s a system that’s worked just fine forever. Why change it?

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Zelenskyy appreciates American history

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a dramatic, crisp, and impactful address to the American Congress in Washington on December 21.

Dramatic because it brought front and center the danger the Ukrainian people face continuously from Russian aggression. Crisp because Zelenskyy wasted no words in describing Ukraine’s situation. And impactful because his message aligned his country’s fate with proud moments in American history.

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It's about time to fund the IRS

This column by Rick Morain first appeared in the Jefferson Herald.

U.S. Senate Democrats passed their omnibus Inflation Reduction Act on August 7 by 51 votes to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. They did so under so-called “reconciliation” rules, which require only a simple majority to pass bills related to appropriations, rather than the usual filibuster-blocking 60-vote margin.

The bill then went to the House, where Democrats approved it on a party-line 220 to 207 vote on August 12. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill this week.

The measure contains a number of provisions dear to the hearts of Democrats and many moderates: empowering Medicare to negotiate prices for several key drugs, capping Medicare recipients’ out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 a year, climate control incentives, extension of federal health care subsidies, a 15 percent minimum tax for most corporations whose profits exceed $1 billion a year, and other long-sought goodies.

By raising more money than the act will spend over a 10-year period, it will also enable the government to pay down some of the national debt by several hundred billion dollars. That hasn’t happened for the past 25 years.

A section of the act that particularly irritates Congressional Republicans – and many of their well-heeled donors – increases the funding of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by $80 billion over the next 10 years. A little more than half of that increase will go to hire thousands of new agents to audit tax returns.

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America Strong

This column by Rick Morain first appeared in the Jefferson Herald.

“You’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

—President Donald Trump, in his speech to supporters on the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, before the attack on the Capitol later that day

Let’s talk about “America Strong.”

For Trump, “strong” means supporting his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Trump-strong means doing whatever it takes, legal or illegal, to help him remain in power after the January 20, 2021 presidential inauguration date.

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What "Critical Race Theory" actually is

This column first appeared in the Jefferson Herald and the Carroll Times Herald.

One evening in late October, the six candidates for the Greene County Community School Board were taking questions from district residents at a candidates’ forum held at Greene County Elementary School. One of the first was what each candidate thought about teaching critical race theory in the school district’s classes.

After a moment of silence, probably as the candidates tried to figure out what to say, they one by one gave brief answers, generally to the effect that they opposed teaching kids that people of difference races are inherently unequal or that they are inherently racist.

At that point another member of the audience asked if any of the candidates could explain “critical race theory.” Extended silence ensued.

That wasn’t surprising. Despite the bludgeoning of critical race theory among conservative politicians and media outlets, there’s very little explanation of what the theory is and how it might enlighten contemporary society.

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