Too bad Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim

Too bad Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim

Gazette Column
The first U.S. visit by Pope Francis made clear that most Americans have finally sat aside anti-Catholic prejudice, a process that began decades ago. John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, knew what he was getting into when he began his 1960 presidential bid. Before him, only one Catholic, former New York Gov. Al Smith, had been a presidential nominee for a major U.S. political party. Smith’s 1928 campaign fractured under rumors that he’d construct a tunnel connecting the Vatican to the White House or that he’d amend the Constitution to make Catholicism the national religion. That year Iowa’s own Herbert Hoover, raised a Quaker, was elevated above Smith and into the White House. It was due to this history, I believe, that Kennedy chose to take his candidacy to the…
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Six months? Make your voice louder

Six months? Make your voice louder

Gazette Column
Six months have passed since federal authorities labeled an Iowa City pastor as one of the “worst of the worst,” devastated his family and deported him to Honduras. Friends and family of Pastor Max Villatoro marked the anniversary with a week of focused prayer, religious ceremony and advocacy activities. The Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious group with whom the Villatoro family identifies — continue to lead outreach efforts on behalf of the family. Church members have, for instance, launched numerous physical and online petitions calling for the return of Pastor Max. This past week, they’ve also encouraged supporters to phone the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last month, private donations allowed the four Villatoro children to travel to Honduras and be with their father for the first time…
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The changing face of rural America

The changing face of rural America

Gazette Column
Young conference attendees hope to build more inclusive communities WASHINGTON, D.C. — Asked to create a mental image of the people most likely to participate in a national rural conference, few would imagine Kendall Bilbrey. And, actually, that’s the point. Bilbrey is originally from southwest Virginia, but now calls Whitesburg, Kentucky home, and serves as the coordinator of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project. The organization hopes to create an environment in which young people are empowered to stay in or near their hometowns, and seeks to amplify the voices of those who currently feel marginalized. “Growing up in Appalachia, there are people constantly putting ideas on you about what you are — for instance, that everyone living in this rural region is poor,” Bilbrey told me at the…
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National Vietnam Memorial offered mirror to past

National Vietnam Memorial offered mirror to past

Featured, Gazette Column
More than 45 years have passed since my brother gave his life while serving the nation. This week I stood before the national monument honoring the brother I never really knew and the 58,273 other men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam. While the memorial is a massive, granite structure, it isn’t immediately imposing. Visitors follow sidewalks away from the bustle of traffic to a more isolated place within the National Mall. Panels of black granite, each etched with names, are placed into the hillside. At the edges, the panels are smaller. But, moving toward the center, the panels tower above, effectively blocking out the rest of the world and reflecting only what is within the memorial at that moment. You read the names. You see yourself and…
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The view from stage right

The view from stage right

Gazette Column
Imagine the Iowa Straw Poll in its glory days. Now pretend that no one there really likes or trusts each other. Pump up the humidity and temperature to the consistency of a bowl of soup. Finally, multiply everything you just imagined by 100. That was the scene Wednesday as I crossed the U.S. Capitol Complex. A highly publicized Tea Party Patriots rally, led by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and featuring former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, was organized to oppose a nuclear diplomacy deal with Iran. Off the stage, a variety of issues were on display. Signs, T-shirts, hats and even lawn chairs offered messages regarding marriage, religious freedom, President Barack Obama, gun control, education, health care and assorted federal agencies. By the time the chorus of…
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Iowa Culture app needs our help

Iowa Culture app needs our help

Featured, Gazette Column
As a lover of historical markers and roadside oddities, I gleefully downloaded the new Iowa Culture app, but quickly learned what was and wasn’t included. The app itself is terrific and, at least for those of us with iPhones, it performs beautifully. Users can see a multitude of interesting sites around their current location, even placing those sites on a map and using GPS to route directly to a selection. There are options to filter results by type, many with photos and brief descriptions. Navigating the Iowa Culture app is easy and intuitive for anyone tacitly familiar with such things. No section of the state has been neglected. State officials boasted during official launch at the Iowa State Fair that more than 3,500 sites are a part of the database.…
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