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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

November 26, 2018

Des Moines Register. November 21, 2018

A rose to Drake students and leaders for standing up to hate

A rose to Drake University leaders and students for their spirited, peaceful response to racist messages that have targeted students of color.

Four minority students have received threatening, racist letters since Nov. 7. Even as a student group was planning a response, reports came in of white supremacist robocalls that other students had received on Nov. 12.

University President Marty Martin quickly responded to the calls, which were linked to a white supremacist group, calling them “offensive, disturbing and hateful.”

Students came up with a creative idea for a public, symbolic message of unity: They painted a street on campus black. That may seem like an odd gesture, but this particular street is central to a longstanding and cherished campus tradition. Every spring, students come together to cover the street with colorful paintings to celebrate the Drake Relays.

“We needed a public space like the Painted Street to send a message, and we need people to pay attention to what has been happening,” said Drake freshman Timothy Gant, member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and an organizer of the #PaintItBlack project.

The peaceful rally held on campus on Nov. 14 attracted thousands of people from campus and the larger Des Moines community. One of the students who spoke, senior Maleigha Williams, had a pointed message about what students would do after the rally. “Why do you only show up in times of crisis?” she asked.

Indeed, what’s really important is what happens at Drake going forward. Martin has said Drake administrators and staff are working to hire more minority instructors and staff, improve minority retention rates and attract more minority students.

That’s a good beginning, but it’s up to everyone on campus and in the Des Moines community to make sure all students are safe and feel welcome. A coat of paint offers a fresh start, but it won’t last without a commitment to strengthen the road ahead.

Speaking of offensive and disturbing, a thistle to the Trump administration’s agriculture department for pressuring 4-H to rescind a policy that welcomed LGBTQ members into the international youth organization.

A Register investigation found that Heidi Green, then-chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requested the policy be rescinded within days of its publication on 4-H websites in Iowa and other states. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the federal agency that administers 4-H, sent an “urgent” email to at least two states, including Iowa, urging 4-H organizations to remove the LGBT policy from their websites.

The controversy led to the firing of Iowa 4-H director John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, a supporter of the LGBT policy, the Register investigation found.

Sen. Chuck Grassley had this to say about the situation: “Common sense tells me that for 100 years . 4-H has been operating as a very competent organization and I don’t know of any federal interference in the past,” he said. “So why would you have it in this particular case?”

Excellent question, senator. It’s not like USDA has nothing better to do, like maybe working even harder to help revitalize rural America and shield farmers and ranchers from President Trump’s disastrous tariffs.

Unfortunately, we know the “why.” It comes from the same, bigoted impulse that led the Trump administration to announce restrictions on transgender people serving in the military and take other actions to marginalize this group of Americans.

We hope Sen. Grassley will do more than ask questions about this misguided attempt to bully a fine educational organization that was trying to do the right thing for children and for 4-H’s future. He could set an example for other Republicans with a bold statement against the politics of exclusion.


Fort Dodge Messenger. November 21, 2018.

Why not shop local for the holidays?

The holiday shopping season is upon us once again.

In the quest to find just the right gifts, seeking out bargains is part of the fun. During the current economic downturn, stretching those dollars budgeted for gift-giving is also a necessity for many people.

Nobody likes to waste money, but shoppers should give careful consideration to where the dollars they spend wind up. There are important reasons to opt for purchases at or through local merchants whenever possible. That makes good sense even if it isn’t always the absolutely cheapest option.

Keeping area businesses thriving is more than just a matter of convenience. These enterprises help keep life good here for all of us by providing jobs, supporting local charitable endeavors and, of course, paying taxes that help support schools and important government services.

It’s also the case that local merchants often offer products that are uniquely representative of our state and region. Such gifts can turn out to be especially memorable. Additionally, since the folks who staff local commercial enterprises are our friends and neighbors, they are likely to be especially helpful when shopping advice is needed.

Everyone who lives here has a stake in this community’s well-being. Supporting local businesses during the holidays — and all year round — is good for your hometown’s future — and yours.


Quad-City Times. November 21, 2018

Trade aid for 90210

As if we needed another reminder, a report this week on the early distribution of federal aid to help farmers hurt by the White House’s trade war with China shows just how messed up the rules are for farm subsidies.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, reported that more than 1,000 people who live in the 50 largest cities in the United States got some of the nearly 88,000 payments the USDA had shipped out through the end of last month.

The payments are part of the roughly $6 billion trade aid package the administration unveiled in August.

In addition to payments going to what EWG called “city slickers,” the organization found that 85 recipients got checks that went above the $125,000 federal payment limitation. One Louisiana entity got a more than $439,000.

That farm programs contain great big loopholes isn’t a new revelation. For years, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been pushing for changes so that it isn’t so easy to claim you are “actively engaged” in farming in order to get some of these dollars.

Still, this new data is a fresh reminder that more work needs to be done to make sure that these payments go to the people they are truly aimed at helping: Real farmers.

The Environmental Working Group’s analysis covered just $356 million in direct payments that were made through the end of last month. That’s just a small part of the $4.7 billion in direct payments to farmers from the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program.

About $31 million of that $356 million EWG documented went to recipients in Iowa, according to our look at the data.

Reuters reported, in apparently updated figures, that about $840 million had been paid out so far, with the highest amount going to Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana and Minnesota.

The point here is that, at a time when real farmers are facing a hit because of the trade war, the administration’s plan for softening the blow (also its attempt to keep President Trump’s rural voting base on board) allows for buckets of taxpayer dollars to end up in the hands of people who don’t really deserve it.

News of these flaws come as congressional negotiators are seeking to hammer out a farm bill by the end of the year, which already is a contentious process. The legislation, among other things, sets the rules for distributing federal farm payments.

So far, we have not seen encouraging news that lawmakers will close the loophole that allows people and entities to say they’re actively engaged in farming, and thus eligible for federal money, just by virtue of claiming some sort of “management” function.

But it’s pretty clear reform is needed.

The Government Accountability Office reported earlier this year that, for 2015, the USDA distributed $2.7 billion in federal funds to more than 95,000 entities that were subject to “actively engaged in farming requirements.”

Earlier this year, Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., among others, urged that negotiators include in a final farm bill their broadly supported language that would limit the number of managers who could collect federal farm subsidies.

As we say, we have not heard encouraging news. However, farmers who are on the front line of this trade war ought not to have to worry that the aid meant to compensate them for the risk foisted upon them now has to be shared by people with a 90210 area code.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. November 23, 2018

Urban renewal: Regrettable but necessary

Thanksgiving offers a time for reflection and memories, often of a personal nature. The Telegraph Herald’s front-page news feature on Thursday, marking a half-century since the start of Dubuque’s urban renewal project, sparked memories of a civic nature.

For most of the time since the last mound of rubble was hauled away, the mention of Dubuque’s urban renewal project triggers in many people head-shaking and tongue-clucking. They just can’t believe that so many buildings — each one an architectural “treasure” — fell victim to the wrecking ball. Some point to the subsequent loss of retail businesses downtown as “proof” that urban renewal “failed.” They invariably recall — or point to old photographs — when downtown Dubuque had a thriving retail zone, with shoppers jamming the sidewalks. Those are their memories.

The novelist Jodi Picoult wasn’t writing about Dubuque and urban renewal, but this line of hers seems appropriate: “When it comes to memories, the good and the bad never balance.”

Downtown Dubuque had its good days. People remember that. What they might not remember as clearly are the bad days, when so many buildings in that 15-block zone were not being sufficiently maintained, let alone renovated.

As downtown buildings were deteriorating, consumers’ shopping habits and preferences were changing. In the suburbs of large cities, shopping malls sprung up, making buying trips downtown unnecessary. The mall movement was working its way to smaller communities, including Dubuque.

That some community leaders sought to block that shift in shopper preferences — zoning was a tool — seems laughable today. But those folks did not have the benefit of our 20-20 hindsight. They also did not have today’s visionaries regarding historic preservation who, armed with historic tax credits, are making the investment in bringing obsolete buildings back to life.

While it is positive that city leaders did not implement urban renewal as far as consultant Victor Gruen had recommended in the mid-1960s, we also note that some of the areas left untouched, despite Gruen’s advice, are today the part of community improvement initiatives. (Those initiatives now emphasize rehabilitation and renovation, not demolition.)

Some people’s good memories might remember certain buildings for what they were in their heyday, not in their condition by the mid-1960s. By most accounts, too many were in bad shape, and the odds that the owners, many of them absentee landlords, would suddenly pour loads of money into renovating their properties fell somewhere between slim and none. Government offered money for demolition, not preservation.

Though there was some degree of buyer’s remorse, seeing the extent of the demolition that started in 1968, and though there were some buildings lost that today we wish had been saved, the reality is that, overall, downtown Dubuque needed a fresh start. Short-term pain and long-term gain and all that. And, while some might question whether or when the “gain” part started, it’s hard to imagine what we’d have today had those old structures, many in poor shape, been allowed to stand.

Writing about relationships, novelist John Green said, “And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.”

The same might be said regarding Dubuque and urban renewal. Though memories might get in the way, what happened is that, 50 years ago, Dubuque underwent a controversial, difficult but necessary fresh start.


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