Could another Mamie Till bring gun change?

Mamie Till came along at the right time in American history.

During the 1950s, in an era when many Americans were blind to the grotesque toll of racial hatred, this courageous Illinois mother stepped forward and opened America’s eyes.

What people saw outraged them — the mutilated body of her 14-year-old son, Emmett, lying in an open casket. His horribly disfigured face bore little resemblance to anything human. An ear was severed. An eye was missing. His teeth were gone. He had been wrapped with barbed wire, and his head was swollen like a deformed pumpkin.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be farmers – myths and truths about Iowa farm operators

Texan John Graves (1920-2013) might be the best writer you’ve never heard of (unless you have) and I can tell you in his hands the English language was like a basketball in Michael Jordan’s.

Not only did he make it do stuff that you didn’t know was possible, his words make you feel things you didn’t know you could feel. If "Goodbye to a River" isn’t the best book of its kind ever written, I’ll drink a straight up gallon of any Iowa river after a springtime gully washer.

It wasn’t "Goodbye" that inspired this essay, but rather his essay "Cowboys: A Few Thoughts from the Sidelines."

Graves grew up when the legendary Texas cowboy of old was still a thing, riding the range, ropin’, fencin’ and castratin’ for months at a time without a day off, sleeping under the stars and wolfing down food as it became available, earning meager wages that were squandered getting drunk on whisky and a hooker really frisky.

A myth developed around these hard fellows that the country and even the world fondly embraced, a myth that still persists today, even though the real McCoy cowboys haven’t existed since the years immediately after World War II, when barbed wire and the economic realities of feedlot beef conspired to cancel the occupation.

Certainly many of the real cowboys were an embodiment of courage and hard work, virtues this country, rightly or wrongly, considers supremely American. And as such, many in the public emulate the cowboy wardrobe and other aspects of their appearance and demeanor, something Graves tells us was uncommon during the real cowboy era.

But Graves also tells us that myth and truth entangle in ways that confound our thinking and cause us to misjudge the cowboys’ motives and conduct, despite the lofty ideals that many of them had toward hard work, determination and loyalty. And as the title here gives away, this got me to thinking about the myth of the Iowa farmer and how it affects our thinking about the occupation today.

Will Trump’s visit to Iowa help or hurt Chuck Grassley? Do you think Trump really cares?

Iowa Capital Dispatch
October 31, 2022

The news that former President Donald Trump will hold a rally in Iowa amid a list of battleground states in the week before the midterm elections inspired puzzled concern from some and glee from others.

The gleeful weren’t all Republicans, and those expressing anxiety weren’t all Democrats.

There have been a lot of questions:

Hey, politicians, are loan bailouts good or bad?

I try to stay atop the day’s news. But I must have dozed off last week — because I missed the response from Iowa Republican leaders to the Biden administration’s announcement of $1.3 billion in debt relief to 36,000 farmers who have fallen behind on their farm loan payments.

In making the announcement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years. The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

I am not here to question the wisdom of the federal assistance. But the silence from Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst is markedly different from their criticism after President Biden announced in August that the government would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for most borrowers.

Secrecy isn’t how you build trust and respect

Middle ground is not something that often is seen nowadays in Iowa government or our politics.

These days, candidates, elected officials and community members often are seen as flawed if they speak in favor of the middle ground.

Case in point: Too many people have staked out extreme positions on one of the most important topics, law enforcement. They either take up the nonsensical “defund the police” rally cry, or they make the opposite, but equally flawed, demand to support police without regard for any shortcomings in officers’ actions or practices.

Those thoughts were bouncing around in my cranium last week when I read a new lawsuit that was filed against the city of Des Moines by local attorney, who in retirement has become a voice of reason in the fractious discussions over the actions by law officers in Iowa.

Governor Reynolds' work to end student debt forgiveness is an effort to keep taxes high

Iowa Capital Dispatch
October 14, 2022

In one of her TV ads, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds brags about cutting taxes.

What it doesn’t say is this: Kim Reynolds is fighting to keep taxes higher on Iowans who already face significant economic challenges.

You hadn’t heard this?

Here’s what’s happening:

Last month, Reynolds joined a lawsuit with some other conservative-run states challenging President Biden’s student debt relief plan.

In a news release, Reynolds complained the plan isn’t fair to people who paid off their college debt or never took out a loan in the first place. But what she didn’t say is if the plan goes through, Iowa and some other states won’t be able to rake in as much tax money from hundreds of thousands of borrowers across the country.

Gov. Reynolds is campaigning — against Joe Biden

Iowa Capital Dispatch
October 3, 2022

One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ biggest applause lines at her Harvest fundraiser over the weekend was her announcement that she’s suing the Biden administration over its decision to forgive student loan debt for more than 408,000 Iowans.

There was a time when it would have been considered political malpractice to gloat about actively working to take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of nearly 20% of all adult Iowans. That’s a significant share of the electorate, not even counting spouses and family members who would benefit from the debt forgiveness.

‘Why’ questions permeate 2 care center deaths

There was a news update over the weekend about two elderly Iowans who wandered away from different care centers last winter and froze to death.

There is no question the deaths were horrible tragedies. There is no question they resulted from carelessness and a needless lack of attention by employees of the centers.

There are important questions that need to be asked, though. Why was one death a regrettable accident but the other death was a crime? And why, if Iowa treats the one death as a crime, is the blame not shared by others who could have stepped in and prevented the death?


We often hear from agvocacy and the various agribigness players (oftentimes one in the same) that farmers are/were the first environmentalists.

Although reasonable people can disagree on what exactly an environmentalist is, I certainly accept the idea that a farmer can be an environmentalist.

But to say the profession and the industry in general is committed to environmental outcomes is about like saying the mafia is committed to customer service.

The new normal obviously is to imagine what you want the truth to be, then just say it, no matter how outrageous the lie or the exaggeration. And this goes double for agriculture.

We all don’t benefit equally from government aid

President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loans for many borrowers is fair game for vigorous debate — and disagreement.

Americans have been debating and disagreeing for 246 years. What jumps out in this latest dispute is how some politicians are blind to the inconsistencies in their arguments against this economic shot in the arm when, through the years, they have supported other government incentives to various groups.

To hear the comments of Iowans in Washington, you might think they have long been strong advocates for government butting out of the personal financial decisions Americans make. But you would be wrong.


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