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Recommit to support veterans

Recommit to support veterans

Gazette Column
Parades, free meals and organized ceremonies took place Friday as Iowans observed Veterans Day. That leaves this day, the actual date of Veterans Day, open for personal reflection and recommitment to those who wore the boots. Since 1775, nearly 1.4 million military members have died in war and conflicts. More than 40 million men and women have served in the armed forces during war; millions more during peacetime. Men and women have served on bases and in conflicts around the globe, including in Afghanistan for the past 16 years. They’ve served regardless of current events or political sentiment — although all returning have been subject to the whims of a society shaped by these factors. Within that context, the pomp and circumstance of Veterans Day is important and inadequate. Pausing…
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Iowa misses opportunity to curb teenage risky behavior

Iowa misses opportunity to curb teenage risky behavior

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — Sex educators who gathered here last week for an annual conference have reason to be concerned. Iowa’s family planning landscape has changed, making it more difficult for teens to get needed information and services. The Legislature’s decision last spring to forgo federal family planning money in favor of a state-run program that excludes health care organizations that offer abortion services provided a small window for officials to write rules and implement the system. Even now, three months after the system was supposed to be in place, questions remain. The new process is time-consuming, requiring those hoping to access services to first apply at the nearest Department of Human Services or Title X office and wait for approval. A significant portion of providers listed on the department’s website…
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Support sexual assault survivors

Support sexual assault survivors

Gazette Column
Recent social media initiatives have shown how prevalent sexual harassment and assault are, and that’s left some men (and women) wondering how they can effectively be supportive of survivors. The first thing to understand about violent crimes, and especially sex crimes, law enforcement and field experts told me this week, is survivors don’t respond in the same way. Some react defiantly, purposefully doing things that were part of the day they were attacked. Others become more cautious. Except for self-harm, there isn’t a necessarily “right” or “wrong” reaction to assault, even if the survivor later seeks counseling to modify reactive behavior. Sexual assault, as hopefully most of us already realize, has more to do with assault and violence than sex. The FBI defines “rape” as any non-consentual insertion of an object or…
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Iowa must raise the bar for immigrant families

Iowa must raise the bar for immigrant families

Gazette Column
A new national report makes clear that children of color and children living in immigrant families face persistent challenges that Iowa and other states aren’t adequately addressing. The report, “2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” was released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It details how such challenges are creating opportunity gaps, especially for African-American and Latino children in Iowa. “Iowans are used to seeing their state appear high in national rankings. But the reality is that Iowa’s environment for children — for children in every racial and ethnic group — is at best in the middle of the pack,” said Anne Discher, interim executive director of the Child and Family Policy Center, which supports the Casey Foundation’s Kids Count initiative in Iowa. “For…
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New bus shelter at Westdale

New bus shelter at Westdale

Gazette Column
A lot of amazing things can happen in just a few months. In May 2016, I spent two weeks riding Cedar Rapids Transit buses and blogging about my experiences. At the request of transit riders, I tried to replicate some of their frustrations regarding the system by completing specific quests — for instance, one rider suggested I pretend to need to drop a child off at school or child care in one part of the city and then travel to work in a different part of the city. Another such quest had fellow columnist Todd Dorman and me traveling to Westdale Mall for lunch and shopping in an effort to see if we could return to our downtown office in a timely manner. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t return on time.)…
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#NoMore hashtags to say #MeToo

#NoMore hashtags to say #MeToo

Gazette Column
How many sexual predators, victims of abuse and hashtags does it take before society comes to terms with “locker room talk” and the harm it causes? Sexual harassment and assault aren’t just “women’s issues,” they are a community problem. Women are not the only victims, and men are not the only perpetrators. Most studies indicate one in four women have been sexually assaulted, and one in 10 men. Break those statistics down further and you find that minority groups — women of color and transexuals, specifically — appear to be especially targeted for abuse. This week those who have purposefully buried their head in the sand were given another opportunity to observe the carnage as women and men told their stories. And, just like so many other times in recent…
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Hopeful past presidents speak out

Hopeful past presidents speak out

Gazette Column
President George W. Bush set down his paintbrushes this week to issue a very public assessment of U.S. politics. Let’s hope everyone was listening. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them,” Bush said at the George W. Bush Institute in New York City on Thursday. I doubt I would have believed anyone who told me back in 2003 that I’d one day praise Bush for his eloquence at the podium, but here we are. The sins of a few garbled idioms or made-up words pale in comparison to what Bush calls out as “casual cruelty” and “outright fabrication.”…
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Fort Madison prison advocates pray for public reprieve

Fort Madison prison advocates pray for public reprieve

Featured, Gazette Column
1839 prison could be breakout attraction, economic draw Driving by the original Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, I always wondered if the offenders housed within were tormented by happy sounds emanating from the miniature golf and ice cream stand located just outside its sandstone walls. This past weekend, I found out. Nothing from the outside penetrates the razor wire and thick rocks that jut several feet skyward, surrounding the buildings and yard. A blessing? A curse? I honestly can’t say. The facility, established nearly a decade before Iowa became a state, has been effectively shuttered since Aug. 1, 2015, when more than 500 offenders were bused to the state’s new Iowa State Penitentiary, built a little more than a mile away on a site that once housed a prison…
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21 years of opening minds and doors

21 years of opening minds and doors

Gazette Column
When my middle daughter, now a high school senior, began to talk about pursuing a degree in biology or chemistry, I was initially surprised. I shouldn’t have been. She’s always loved math and science. Never, even as a small child, do I remember her telling me she’d like to be a teacher, homemaker or nurse — the top three options voiced by many of her female peers. Throughout middle and high school, her fascination with science and math has continued, which is unusual. While males and females show roughly equal interest at the elementary level, girls tend to abandon STEM as they age. Why is my daughter the exception instead of the rule? As much as I’d like to report her interest is due to something we did at home,…
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Food is critical part of academic achievement

Food is critical part of academic achievement

Gazette Column
Researchers have long highlighted links between academic achievement and food, noting that hunger eventually manifests as cognitive issues. Newer studies show such negative outcomes aren’t problems that appear years down the road. Hunger negatively impacts a child’s ability to learn and achieve, increases the likelihood of behavioral issues and slows development of social skills. Multiple studies indicate hungry children grow into adults who are less likely to reach their full potential. It’s why the nation invests in nutritious school meals and provides food assistance to the most vulnerable. It’s also why communities support food pantries and other food programs to bridge local gaps. But a newer study completed by scholars at the University of South Carolina and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh shows the detrimental effects of hunger are not only devastating, but…
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