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Views from across Iowa

Aug 15, 2013

The Des Moines Register, Aug. 10

Iowa’s water quality disconnect


The Iowa State Fair is now in full swing. This is a grand showcase for livestock, produce and farm machinery, and it is the closest most people will get to the industry that produces the annual bounty for which Iowa is famous around the world.

Iowans, however, may have a hard time squaring this wholesome image with growing evidence of the environmental consequences of large-scale agriculture.

It is time to end this disconnect between the nostalgic view of agriculture and the reality of 21st-century farming in the Midwest.

Iowa agricultural interests should work just as hard the rest of the year after the fair ends to demonstrate their dedication to clean water and soil conservation. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening.

Exhibit A: Closed-door meetings earlier this month with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted by Gov. Terry Branstad to discuss the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ strategy for getting this state into compliance with federal clean water standards. Also at the table were representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau and agriculture groups representing pork, cattle, chicken and turkey producers.

Staff members for the governor’s office and the EPA dismissed objections by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement that the very businesses responsible for Iowa’s water problems were allowed to participate in the meetings, while environmental groups were not.

The excuse was that affected “stakeholders” are consulted when new regulations are written. But, as the Sierra Club points out, the EPA rules are already in place, and Iowa is not in compliance with them. The only question now is what Iowa intends to do about that.

It seems obvious the affected “stakeholders” in these discussions should, at the very least, include the groups that originally forced the EPA to crack down on Iowa, including CCI and the Sierra Club. And what about the people of Iowa? After all, they must tolerate rivers and lakes fouled with manure and fecal bacteria. They were not invited to the meetings, either, while the businesses the state has failed to properly regulate were given a seat at the table.

Something is wrong with this picture, but it is not out of the ordinary.

The fact is, the political leadership of Iowa — including the governor, the secretary of agriculture and too many members of the Iowa Legislature — is far more attentive to the interests of big ag groups than the interests of ordinary Iowans who enjoy boating, swimming and clean drinking water. That’s because big ag spends a lot of money on elections and lobbying.

As a result, Iowa counties that have zoning laws regulating the placement of factories and homes are forbidden by state law from regulating the sites of animal confinements. Farmers are asked only to voluntarily comply with conservation programs designed to reduce nitrates in rivers, lakes and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, cities are required to meet federal clean-water regulations. In the case of Des Moines, that means the operation of a $7 million nitrate-removal plant at a cost of $7,000 a day to water customers.

The net effect is that agricultural groups convey the impression that farmers are immune to the rules that apply to everybody else. This surely does not represent the views of the typical Iowa farmers who want to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors, and who also want clean water for their families.

These farmers are ill served by industry groups such as the Iowa Farm Bureau that refuse to accept any hint of regulation of agriculture and insist they are doing everything in their power to protect the environment when the evidence points in the other direction.

Rather than further driving a wedge between conscientious farmers and the people of Iowa who demand better environmental quality, livestock and crop commodity groups should become advocates of change. Iowa government officials, likewise, should be partners in making that change rather than conspiring to oppose it.

Then, perhaps, the image of agriculture at the Iowa State Fair will match the image on the land in all 99 counties.

– – –

Sioux City Journal, Aug. 11

Vacationing Congress leaves much work undone


Since nothing much of substance was happening in dysfunctional Washington, D.C., anyway, many Americans may not even be aware Congress is on vacation this month.

All month. Until Sept. 9.

In fact, this break represents just a portion of the 239 days off built into the congressional calendar for 2013. That leaves 126 days for work, in case you are counting.

Members will say the summer time off is a working vacation during which they will attend to many, varied and important constituent responsibilities back home.

Well, OK, but it’s still a significant chunk of time away from the office and the capital at a critical period when plenty of unfinished business awaits action and the window of time in which much of it needs to get done is closing quickly.

Americans might reasonably ask: Do members of Congress need this much time off every year? Given the volume of pressing work, should members at least have dramatically shortened the summer recess this year? (A Fox News poll released last week showed 82 percent of voters don’t believe Congress deserved to take all of August off.)

Here’s a brief review of the unproductive 113th Congress in its first seven months (the House did pass a 40th futile attempt to repeal Obamacare ... but we digress): No annual spending bills have passed and the House and Senate remain deeply divided over spending levels; an Oct. 1 government shutdown looms. No agreement on raising the government’s statutory borrowing limit has been reached; the risk of federal debt default in early November looms. No farm bill. No decision on nutrition assistance, which the House removed from its farm bill, but the Senate didn’t. No immigration reform bill.

You get the picture.

As we have said before in this space, deeply partisan, divided Washington today seems more interested in who will get credit and who will get blame, in how to make the other side look bad, in how to win re-election and in how to regain or retain control of a chamber than in what serves the greater good of the country.

In fact, if recent voting patterns are a guide, the 113th Congress could be among the most polarized in our nation’s history, according to a biannual assessment of the legislative branch. The report, a collaboration of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute called “Vital Statistics on Congress,” was released last month.

What members need to be reminded of from time to time is the fact they work for us, all of us. For that reason, they would have been well-advised to stay in Washington and keep working on their differences this month rather than throw up their hands and scatter for the hills. The heavy lifting only will get heavier when they finally return.

So today we again join in the frustration across America (in a poll last month, Gallup measured the approval rating of Americans for the work of Congress at 15 percent; the disapproval rating was 78 percent) over lack of action on the heaping plateful of challenges our nation faces.

One more thought ...

Members of Congress often summon their fellow Americans to appear before them and answer questions. Impassioned, accusatory speeches fill hearing rooms in a diversity of matters, accompanied by stern scowls of disapproval and concern, righteous indignation and demands to know who, what, why, when and where — or else.

What we would like to see is a hearing convened by American citizens on the conduct of our Congress. House and Senate leaders would sit alongside one another below a panel of average men and women who would vent their anger and frustration and demand to know how political gamesmanship and intransigence help our nation solve problems.

That’s something we actually would pay to watch on C-SPAN.

– – –

Globe Gazette, Aug. 11

Need is great at north Iowa’s food banks this summer


Usually when you hear an organization has a record month, it’s a cause for celebration. In the case of Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank, which had a record July, it’s a cause for concern.

Food bank volunteers filled 658 orders for 1,770 people during July, making it the biggest month for distribution in the food bank’s 32-year history. During the month 509 more people were served than last July and 341 more people than the previous month.

In Charles City at the Messiah’s Food Pantry at Jordan River church, the food bank has run out of food. Increased demand emptied the shelves faster than usual and the pantry was unable to quickly get restocked from a provider where it purchases food.



Other food banks in North Iowa are also reporting increased demand. Like Mason City and Charles City, some of them are having difficulty meeting the needs of the hungry in their communities.


Summer is often busier at food banks because kids are out of school and don’t have access to school breakfast and lunch programs. But demand in general seems to be increasing. Hawkeye Harvest used to be open two to three days a week. Now it’s open every day because of the number of people who need help.


This time of year doesn’t only bring more demand, it brings a reduction in donations as food drives and other awareness campaigns that are held during the school year and around the holidays give way to the many distractions of summer.


Mitchell County Food Bank Director Leo Chisholm said, “The number of people using the food bank is up, and the number of donations is way down. The price of groceries and supplies we use is going up. It’s kind of a quandary we’re in.”


On the Hawkeye Harvest Facebook page is this message: “Never thought that we would see the day when we are starting to run out of corn, green beans, tomato soup and chicken noodle soup. To think just a few short months ago we weren’t even including those on our most-needed items donation requests.”


North Iowans continually impress us with their generosity to neighbors in need. It’s time to respond again, folks.


Check your pantries and fill up a box with cans and boxed food to donate. The next time you go shopping, pick up several extra items specifically for your area food bank. After a few such trips you will have a nice donation to drop off.


Especially appreciated this time of year is the bounty of area gardens. Fresh produce is welcomed at food banks (yes, even your surplus zucchini).


And most helpful are donations of cash that can be used to purchase the food that is most needed or in short supply. Food banks have access to providers such as the Northeast Iowa Food Bank of Waterloo that can really stretch a dollar. For example, the Messiah’s Food Pantry buys provisions for 29 cents a pound.


It’s hard to imagine that in the state that helps feed the world many people still go hungry, many of them children, but it’s true. The vast majority of them aren’t people who are “taking advantage” of the system, but your friends and neighbors who are simply going through a rough time.


“Some say the people who come here are just looking for hand-outs,” said the Rev. Debra Lincoln of Jordan River. “That’s not true. People are trying. There are a lot of tears here. People are humbled.”


Linda Duvall, president of Hawkeye Harvest, said the people who use the food bank are so grateful that it’s there. Especially inspiring, she said, are those who had to seek help from the food bank in the past and are repaying that help now that their economic situation has improved.


So there you go — food, money (and time as well to volunteer to help out). How about all of us who have a little extra give it where it will have an immediate and profound impact.




The Hawk Eye. Aug. 12, 2013.


Russian homophobia clouds Olympic Games.


Snubbed by President Barack Obama over the Edward Snowden Wikileaks scandal, Russia is facing an international backlash over its government’s shameful homophobia.


Russia’s parliament recently passed (and President Vladimir Putin signed) a law imposing stiff fines for anyone who provides information about homosexuality to anyone under 18.


The law essentially criminalizes public discussion of homosexuality where minors might hear it. That’s whether it be in a social, legal or medical context, or at public protests demanding gay rights. The law obviously makes private mention of lesbian and gay topics a risk as well.


Russia is bucking the trend in which mature countries accept the reality that homosexuals exist and are entitled to the dignity, respect and civil rights of all human beings.


Russia’s sudden targeting of homosexuals produced calls for the International Olympic Committee to voice opposition by boycotting the winter games scheduled to be held in Russia next year.


The aim is to humiliate and punish Russia in the court of world opinion, along with its macho, autocratic president, Vladimir Putin.


Critics cite legitimate concerns that gay athletes and spectators will be discriminated against or face arrest.


Russia said that won’t happen. And it won’t — not even to its own citizens — if Russia wishes not to ignite international outrage.


No one should look to the IOC to change the location to another country at this late date, nor to cancel the games in protest. There is too much money to be made by everyone involved. Taking moral stands carries too big a price.


For at least one gay athlete, the games will provide an opportunity to paint Russia’s lawmakers as the homophobic bullies they are.


The openly gay American figure skater Johnny Weir told Britain’s BBC he won’t boycott the Games.


“To attack Russia is silly,” he said. “It’s not Russia’s public’s fault that their government is so bigoted and creating so many problems for a minority group.”


Indeed, the opportunity may arise to showcase gay athletes’ performances and earn the respect their hosts deny them.


A similar victory for human rights happened during the 1936 summer games. Black American athlete Jesse Owens showed Nazi Germany’s haughty racists and the world that courage, integrity and talent cannot be controlled by small-minded dictators.


Russia’s leaders need to be reminded of that.

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