Rod Blum’s town hall vetting stinks

Rod Blum’s town hall vetting stinks

Gazette Column
If you happen to have a spare cup of courage lying around, please pass it to U.S. Rep. Rod Blum. Blum has agreed to four in-person meetings at public places in Iowa’s 1st District during the May recess. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he and his staff are busy redefining “public” by instituting unnecessary roadblocks for those who want to hear from and speak directly to one of the four men who represent Iowa in the U.S. House. Those who hope to attend are required to let the Congressman’s office know ahead of time. The registration process through Eventbrite requires submission of the applicant’s full name, email address and physical address. Upon arrival, Blum’s newly activated personal Stasi will be posted at the door to demand…
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Rural health programs face September deadline

Rural health programs face September deadline

Gazette Column
No doubt you’ve heard about the Women’s March and the March for Science. Let me tell you why more than 1,000 doctors marched on Washington earlier this month. Physicians and medical students converged on Capitol Hill to advocate for continued funding of teaching health centers, which offer medical residency programs in community settings. It’s one of the programs under the umbrella of the $7.2 billion Community Health Centers Fund, slated to end Sept. 30 unless Congress takes action. The combined programs support local access to medical care for thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans. They're especially vital for rural health. Teaching health centers — one of which is located in Des Moines — provide medical residency programs in community settings. Residents are trained in family and internal medicine, pediatrics,…
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How much can your city afford?

How much can your city afford?

Gazette Column
State lawmakers are putting your city between a rock and a hard place. Either way, you’ll pay. Senate File 481, which targets so-called “sanctuary” communities, was revived this week, earning a mostly party line vote (32-15) in the Iowa Senate. If the bill becomes law, every law enforcement agency in the state will be required to honor any and all verbal or written immigration detainer requests from the federal government. Further, every agency across the state will need to develop written policies by the start of next year to detail how their local officers will take on the added responsibilities of federal immigration law. Agencies and local governments that do not fulfill these mandates will be subject to civil lawsuits that can be initiated by anyone, including federal government agencies…
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Disability isn’t so easy, even for the desperate

Disability isn’t so easy, even for the desperate

Gazette Blog
As much as I need to stop thinking about the Washington Post story on Social Security disability benefits reprinted in The Gazette on Sunday, I’m having trouble letting it go. As the youngest child of elderly parents — my mother went to the doctor for concerns about menopause only to discover she was pregnant with me — I grew up on Social Security dependent benefits. So, in addition to my parents’ Social Security retirement checks, our family received a little more than $200 each month earmarked for me. In order to better make ends meet, my father and mother worked odd jobs. Until bone cancer made it impossible, my mother took in sewing projects. My dad mowed lawns and did handyman or mechanic work when he could find it. During…
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Iowa HIV plan could help rural areas

Iowa HIV plan could help rural areas

Gazette Column
Comprehensive planning and data stockpiling by state officials is now a national case study on how to effectively meet the needs of rural residents with HIV. The details are part of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Improving Health Outcomes Through Data Utilization,” which highlights six regional initiatives under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Work by the Iowa Department of Public Health, which receives a Part B grant through the Ryan White program, is Chapter One. The prominent placement is partly because Iowa is unusual in the world of HIV/AIDS outreach and care services. That is, about a third of state residents living with HIV/AIDS aren’t in urban areas. They’re scattered throughout the state, many in distinctly rural communities. These individuals often feel stigma regarding…
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Donald Trump puts the ‘bully’ in bully pulpit

Donald Trump puts the ‘bully’ in bully pulpit

Gazette Column
The Trump administration has rescinded Obama-era guidance for public schools that promoted use of bathrooms based on student gender identity. In a joint letter, officials within the justice and education departments rejected the previous administration’s position that non-discrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. Under Title IX, schools that receive federal funding are not allowed to discriminate against students on the basis of sex. Obama justice and education departments, as well as numerous civil rights watchdogs, said long-standing Title IX protections encompassed gender identity. [caption id="attachment_497" align="alignleft" width="300"] A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access is seen in the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)[/caption] And while the…
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Last-minute public schedules benefit no one

Last-minute public schedules benefit no one

Gazette Column
Are we witnessing the final throes of the “full Grassley” era? Some readers may remember the Congressional recess in the summer of 2009. As a reporter, I covered then Congressman Bruce Braley’s town hall forums, which were overrun with concerns about the Affordable Care Act. The reports I and other journalists filed about those meetings were peppered with words like “feisty,” “lively” and “contentious,” but still fell short of conveying the level of combativeness on display. Constituents got in each other’s faces as well as those of their representatives. A few cried. Some brandished signs. Others yelled. Nearly everyone arrived with an agenda, and a willingness to fight. That was the summer when U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, speaking at a forum in Winterset, made his infamous “pull the plug on…
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Little, if any, local impact from Trump immigration orders

Little, if any, local impact from Trump immigration orders

Gazette Column
Immigration reforms as outlined in two of President Donald Trump’s executive orders don’t change much for American cities and counties — yet. I took a deep dive into two executive orders signed this week. The first, Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, relates primarily to development and construction of a wall along the southern border. The second, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, discusses how the federal government will interact with local jurisdictions. [caption id="attachment_405" align="alignleft" width="640"] Danielle Frank holds a sign as demonstrators gather at Washington Square Park to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York, U.S., January 25, 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)[/caption] I read and researched both documents with eye toward how they could impact Iowa jurisdictions labeled as “sanctuaries” due to the…
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‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

Featured, Gazette Column
Members of the Iowa City Council deserve praise for weathering a barrage of politically-motivated ugly comments and threats from people in surrounding areas as they explore policy questions raised by local residents. Shortly after Mayor Jim Throgmorton was prompted to include discussion about Iowa City becoming a “sanctuary city” on Tuesday night’s work session agenda, a statewide conservative advocacy and action group led by Jimmy Centers initiated a robocall. Centers, previously a part of Gov. Branstad’s administration, urged supporters to let their voice be heard by attending the work session or contacting Iowa City officials. More than 100 recipients of the call took advantage of its automatic forwarding to connect with city hall. About half that number emailed the city. “I do not want Iowa City to become a sanctuary…
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In 2016, rural areas roared

In 2016, rural areas roared

Gazette Column
While it’s possible to look back on 2016 as a single year, doing so doesn’t provide clarity. The past year was a culmination of a decades-long and ever widening urban-rural chasm. To hear the national media tell it, the big news was the presidential election. But November was merely the coup de grace, a death blow to end ongoing suffering. I began my career in journalism in the late 1980s. Those were perhaps the final heydays of community journalism — local papers, run by local families. The next decade was marked by large news corporations gobbling up smaller dailies and weeklies. Each incarnation brought more cost-effective management by new parent companies, and fewer local jobs. Local presses stood still. Circulation and ad sales were centralized. Newsrooms emptied. Vertical integration of…
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