SCOTUS told us what we already knew

SCOTUS told us what we already knew

Gazette Blog
Abortion restrictions imposed by the Texas Legislature in the name of women’s health should have never made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. No matter what side of the abortion debate you are on, the dirty little not-so-secret behind regulations thinly wrapped inside a facade of improving women’s health was clear from the beginning. Unable to outright ban abortion, those opposed concentrated on what some openly referred to as “the next best thing,” erecting barriers to access. Years ago, and sometimes still today, those barriers were literal, amounting to lines of demonstrators who aimed to keep women out of health care facilities that provided abortions. They’ve also been psychological, like the published lists of home addresses and telephone numbers or photographs of clinic workers and doctors who perform abortions. Perhaps…
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Getting the farm onto the table

Getting the farm onto the table

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — What does a high-end caterer in a rural area do to give back? If you are Donald Sorby, you volunteer with a statewide program that empowers families at risk of hunger to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals. Sorby was one of about 200 people attending a Rural Grocery Summit, and offered his experience as part of Cooking Matters Minnesota as a way food retailers and advocates could promote a healthier lifestyle. The program is partnership between University of Minnesota Extension and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Participants enroll for a six-week course that meets once a week and covers nutritional information, offers hands-on food preparation and provides strategies for food budgeting and shopping. Participants learn to cook two…
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Summit focus is declining food access

Summit focus is declining food access

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — Rural grocery store owners, food advocates and system experts are gathered for the fifth Rural Grocery Summit. If you’re wondering why I’m in the audience … well, let’s say you probably aren’t alone. The answer as to why I’m attending the summit is both simple and complex. The most direct answer is that I grew up in rural America; I’ve lived it and have family still living it. What happens to them matters to me and, therefore, what ails rural places also matters. More complex is my ongoing curiosity about how groups of people interact, and the ways industries and organizations adapt to ever-changing external forces. Why have we allowed certain places to exist as food deserts? How long are we willing to let our tax dollars…
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Prepare for more food deserts

Prepare for more food deserts

Gazette Column
Accessing fresh produce and other healthy and affordable food will become increasingly more difficult over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of rural grocery store owners in Minnesota expect to step away from their business within 10 years, according to a recent Minnesota Extension survey. Many owners are aging out of the workforce and preparing for retirement. Only a fraction have adopted transition plans that would keep the grocery open and prevent possible food deserts. The survey also found the majority of rural grocery stores are housed in older buildings, requiring significant upkeep — 43 percent of owners reported their facility was at least 50 years old, others (44 percent) were between 16 and 50 years old. “With aging buildings and thin profit margins, I’m concerned we will see a continuation…
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Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Recovery slow for Congolese immigrants

Gazette Column
Caring for dead, injured depleting community's resources They had only been in the United States for a few weeks when an encounter with a patch of ice in the early morning hours of Feb. 4 changed everything. Nancy Lusemo, Serge Baketela and Mirielle Mbambi were three of nine people carpooling in a minivan and on their way to work in Tama when the vehicle lost control on the ice. They survived, which should make them the “lucky” ones, but the moniker smacks of indecency. Three were transported to area hospitals and released relatively quickly. Three others — Michka Kebeya, Platini Namputu and Dickson Mandiki — died in the four-vehicle crash. Kebeya was Lusemo’s husband. The couple and their five-year-old son had only been in Iowa about two months. All of…
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SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

SCOTUS short one justice shortchanges Iowans

Gazette Column
It’s been said that leaving the U.S. Supreme Court with only eight members isn’t a big deal, that it won’t really affect Iowans. But it already has. The most discussed SCOTUS deadlock thus far came Tuesday, when an evenly divided court couldn’t find consensus in Friedrichs v. California. The case was expected to end or significantly alter the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from unaffiliated workers — a process well known by Iowans as “fair share” — but the eight-member court instead handed a victory to organized labor. The case was part of a multiyear initiative by several conservative groups hoping to weaken the unions that represent teachers, law enforcement officers and other public-sector workers. And, based on oral arguments in January, it should have been a conservative…
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Pair health insurance with access

Pair health insurance with access

Gazette Column
More of Iowa’s kids have health insurance. Now we need a more robust system that allows them to use it. A report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says between 2013 and 2014, about 13,000 more Iowa youngsters received health insurance, mainly through their eligibility for public insurance plans like Hawk-i or Medicaid. Increased adult access to Medicaid programs came via millions in funding from the Affordable Care Act. Researchers believe that as adults discovered new Medicaid options for themselves, youngsters were also signed up for coverage. In this report, Iowa claims the fifth lowest uninsured rate for children (3.2 percent) — a significant move in the right direction from it’s earlier placement of 13th in the nation (5 percent). Many state residents and health care advocates worked…
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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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Pardon me for not rejoicing

Pardon me for not rejoicing

Gazette Column
Another day, another spitting match between Gov. Terry Branstad and a public employee union. The latest lawsuit was launched by AFSCME in response to Branstad’s shuttering of two of the state’s four mental health institutes. The union was joined in the Polk County filing by 20 state lawmakers. “Iowa law clearly states that the state of Iowa shall operate mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda,” said AFSCME President Danny Homan. “This was the law when the governor announced his decision to close these facilities. This was the law when the legislature passed, with bipartisan support, the funding to keep these facilities open. This was the law when he closed these two facilities. It still is the law today.” The entire situation could nearly be cut-and-pasted from the aftermath…
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Our mental health system still has cracks

Our mental health system still has cracks

Gazette Column
We are not beyond stigmatizing health problems My sister-in-law, Susan, one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, couldn’t fight off a blood infection. She juggled not only my brother — a lifelong minister too often focused on lofty pursuits to be bogged down in the daily chores of living — but five children as well. We buried Susan a few weekends ago and it was, as you might expect, an emotional ceremony. At the same time Susan was in the hospital, another mother decided her life was no longer worth living. Beckie, who battled mental illness, first turned a rifle on her two adult sons before contacting a relative to say goodbye. By the time law enforcement was alerted and arrived at the rural home, all three were dead. The two…
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