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Statehouse standoff leaves Iowans in the dark

The 100th day of the 2022 legislative session in Iowa is Tuesday.

I know that’s probably not a day marked on your calendar. Most Iowans don’t pay much attention to whether the Legislature is in session or not. Those who celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan may have been spending time with family. Others may be planning their gardens, attending kids’ track meets and working toward the end of the school year. Some may have spent the weekend figuring out their taxes.

Speaking of taxes, yours are paying for everything that happens at the Iowa Statehouse, and guess what? Not much is happening right now. And whatever may be happening is being done in secret, behind closed doors, where you aren’t welcome.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst summed it up: “First and foremost, I want to echo what I’ve heard from so many Iowans who have reached out to me over the last few days and said the phrase: ‘The hell’s going on up there?’”

The Republicans who control the Iowa House, Senate and governor’s office have been unable to reach agreement on some key elements of the governor’s agenda. As a result, work on the state budget is at a standstill.

CRP, ethanol, water quality and ag dishonesty

Published Saturday, April 2, 2022

I wrote Stop Saying We All Want Clean Water (SSWAWCW) on a snowy April weekend three years ago, and here I am again looking down at my keyboard and up at falling snow. Why does spring snow seem so aberrant to us when its appearance is a near certainty? I guess you could say that about other things too.

SSWACW was written as a manifesto of sorts, a stream-of-consciousness-volcano-of-frustration erupting because I’d had it with the brazen dishonesty that characterizes establishment agriculture and Iowa’s water quality.

Having been around a while, I had no expectation that the essay would change things, and the last time I checked, truth in agriculture is still about as common as an acre of Iowa farmland carpeted with a cover crop.

Just like our bad water, this dishonesty isn’t unique to Iowa; the entire cornbelt is awash in both.

Iowa is losing its way on our public schools

This is one of those times when people who have little appetite for politics need to pay attention — because a big change is coming that many folks won’t agree with.

When the U.S. Mint asked each state to pick an image to represent the state on a series of special quarters in 2004, Iowa chose its schools. The quarter featured a likeness of Grant Wood’s famous painting of a one-room country school, with the message “Foundation in Education.”

The choice was not surprising. Our schools have been something in which Iowans have long taken great pride. Our chests swelled each time Iowa stood atop the nation’s college entrance exam rankings. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds even campaigned 10 years ago to bring Iowa’s schools up to world-class stature.

That was then. This year, Iowa’s foundation in education is being tested as surely as if an EF5 tornado were bearing down on every public-school building.

Bottle bill proposals leave Iowans holding their cans

Iowa lawmakers seem poised, with their latest effort to update the state’s popular but long-struggling bottle bill, to give everyone what they want.

Everyone, that is, except consumers.

What do consumers want? Most simply want the convenience of returning their empties to their grocery stores or nearby redemption centers. They also want to keep bottles and cans out of the ditches and the landfills.

There’s more to being a leader than talking

Through history, some political leaders have been outstanding orators. Boy, could they talk. They knew how to mobilize and move people with their words.

Think of Franklin Roosevelt and, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or Ronald Reagan and, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The ability to crystallize their thoughts in memorable speeches can galvanize public opinion and bring people around to the leader’s views.

But the best leaders have something else, and it gets too little attention and respect, especially in these divisive times. That is the leader’s listening skills.

This lack of attention to listening is unfortunate, because leadership is more than simply making decisions. Leadership is far more complicated than just doing what the leader’s most ardent supporters want.

Republican-led 'bottle bill' overhaul would allow retailers to refuse container returns

Iowa grocery stores and other retailers would be allowed to opt out of taking back bottle and can returns and repaying deposits in 2023 under the latest version of a bill making its way through the Iowa Senate.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee passed the rewrite of Senate File 2122 on Thursday, with all Democrats on the panel voting no.

The amended bill replaces a version passed earlier this week by a Senate subcommittee, which would have allowed grocery stores and other retailers to opt out of taking containers back if a redemption center was located within 20 miles of the store.

Lessons from a misguided pots-n-pans salesman

Many years ago, I sat at the kitchen table of a pots-n-pans salesman from Pleasant Valley. We didn’t talk about cookware. He was laying out with lots of precision why the United States government had no legal basis for prosecuting him for willfully refusing to file federal income tax returns.

It was a lengthy conversation that day in the late 1970s. I will spare you many of the details. It is enough for you to know two things about his salesmanship:

First, it was his assertion that the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one creating the income tax in 1913, was unconstitutional — in part, because the amendment was never properly ratified because Ohio was not properly admitted to the Union until 1953.

Second, neither the U.S. district judge, nor the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, bought his analysis — and he ended up spending a year in federal prison.

Last week, I found myself recalling the Iowa guy who was a cross between a kindly uncle and something of a crackpot. The trigger for my memories was news about two appearances in Sioux City by a lawyer from Florida with some, uhh, unconventional views of her own.

An expensive lesson for DM school taxpayers

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the Covid pandemic.

Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.

His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.

But you would be wrong, wrong and wrong.

Parents’ rights? Not this time, GOP says

Iowa Capital Dispatch
February 28, 2022

When I was in high school, I agreed to teach a Sunday school class for 3-year-olds at my church with another high-school classmate.

The class was only 45 minutes long, and mostly consisted of coloring, simple crafts and reading Bible stories to the children. No big deal – except there were at least 10 kids in the class and my “team mate” only showed up about half the time.

I managed, even though one little boy always cried when his mother dropped him off, so I usually spent the first 15 minutes of class trying to get everyone settled and busy with a sobbing boy on my hip.

I didn’t have to feed the kids, take them outside, change diapers (I think they were all potty-trained back then) or dispense medications. I don’t recall that any of the kids had disabilities or special needs. Still, it was exhausting. I didn’t volunteer again.

The experience came to mind recently, as lawmakers were debating legislation to allow child care facilities to care for more 2- or 3-year-olds per staff member.

Senate File 2268, which passed the Senate last week, would allow one day care employee to watch up to seven 2-year-olds, or up to 10 3-year-olds. Under current law, child care centers must have one worker for every six 2-year-olds or eight 3-year-olds.

Iowa is addicted to cornography

The Oxford dictionary defines a ‘renewable’ source of energy as one not depleted when used. Wikipedia says that it is energy that is collected from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale.

If you’ve been listening or watching Iowa news the past month or so, you’ve probably heard that ethanol made from corn grain is the renewablist source of energy available thanks to the Iowa farmer who returns like clockwork from Florida each spring to his or her photosynthesis mine where he or she helps untold billions of corn plants convert sunshine into starch and thence the two-carbon-, six-hydrogen-, one-oxygen clear, flammable liquid that has 3/5ths of the energy of the 1/10th of the gasoline that it displaces in our fuel tanks.

Growing corn requires a lot of fossil fuel energy. The vast majority (probably 80 percent or more) of this energy links to nitrogen fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. I heard someone say once that at its essence, corn production is converting natural gas to starch, and I think that is a clean way of stating it.

I get a lot of comments that the fossil fuel energy required to produce corn and corn ethanol exceeds the energy content of the ethanol itself. Based on everything I know about the subject, I do not believe that to be true. There are about 75,000 BTU in a gallon of ethanol; it takes about 35,000 BTU to grow the corn and produce the ethanol; you can get about 500 gallons of ethanol from an acre of corn; and thus the net energy gain is about 20 million BTU per acre.

But it’s just beyond argument that this 20 million BTU comes at a high environmental cost: soil erosion, nutrient pollution, degraded streams, lakes and drinking water, habitat loss, and to top it off, we indemnify corn production with publicly supported crop insurance and a whole host of other economic trusses that keep the herniated system from blowing out. The patient keeps limping along, in obvious pain but nonetheless determined to maintain its stranglehold on the public and on 11,000 square miles of Iowa land, 20 percent of our state’s area.

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