August 2, 2015

Petition drive for remaining MHIs in Cherokee, Independence

A half dozen people delivered more than 5,000 petition signatures to the governor’s office Thursday afternoon, urging Governor Terry Branstad to keep the two remaining state-run Mental Health Institutes open. Branstad closed the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant this year and Aubreeanna Dolan of West Des Moines organized the online petition drive.

“The resources are not out there for these individuals that are in these homes,” she says.

Legislators passed a bipartisan compromise that would have temporarily restored services at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute for frail elderly patients who are mentally ill. The plan also called for reopening the Mount Pleasant facility for treatment of patients with the dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse. Branstad vetoed those proposals and has not ruled out closing the remaining two Mental Health Institutes. Dolan says the mental health care system cannot stand the loss.

“I know several individuals that have gotten services from these institutions and it’s saved their lives,” Dolan says.

Dolan points to a recent Pew Charitable Trust report which ranked Iowa 47th among the states for the percentage of the state budget spent on mental health services. The state president of the AFSCME union and 20 state legislators have filed a lawsuit challenging Governor Branstad’s closure of the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. Fewer than 200 mentally ill patients are cared for in the state hospitals in Cherokee and Independence.

Funding issues leave Iowa Transportation Museum in foreclosure

West view of the atrium at the Iowa Transportation Museum in Grinnell.

West view of the atrium at the Iowa Transportation Museum in Grinnell.

The Iowa Transportation Museum in Grinnell faces an uncertain future. A court this month placed the museum in foreclosure.

Chuck Brooke, the museum’s executive director, says state and federal financing was lined up for the project a few years ago, but some federal tax credits fell through.

“Since then, we’ve been trying to raise funds and work our way out of this situation,” Brooke says.

Brooke is optimistic money can be raised to avoid having the museum’s assets sold by November 5th. That’s the deadline set by the court handling the foreclosure. The museum is located in a recently-restored facility in Grinnell that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There was a guy named Henry Spaulding that came to Grinnell in about 1876 and started a buggy and wagon factory and he built buggies and wagons to about 1910, then he started building cars,” Brooke says. “He built 1500 cars between 1911 and 1915 and we have one of those cars that we have on display.”

The process of converting the facility to a museum and conference center started in 2010 and it was completed a couple of years later. Brooke says about a thousand people toured the museum last year. The museum owes an Iowa City bank more than a million dollars.

The bank went to court in March to start foreclosure proceedings.

Seed corn conspiracy charges against Chinese woman dropped

gavel-thumbnailThe wife of a Chinese billionaire no longer faces conspiracy charges in connection with the alleged theft of seed corn trade secrets.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa filed charges against 43-year-old Mo Yun a year ago. She and six others — including her brother — were accused of trying to steal the secrets to hybrid corn being raised in Iowa and Illinois. The charges against Mo were dropped after a federal court ruled instant messages could not be used as evidence in the case.

Mo’s husband is the CEO of a Chinese conglomerate with a seed corn subsidiary, but the law firm representing Mo says she left the company eight years ago “to be a full-time, stay-at-home mother.” She was arrested during a shopping trip to Los Angeles last year and she’s now heading home to Beijing.

Her brother was arrested near a Pioneer facility in Dysart and charged with stealing patented seed corn from fields here and shipping it back to China. He’s scheduled to stand trial in September on the charges.

The five others who were charged in this alleged case of espionage are in China and are not likely to be released to the U.S. to face the charges here.

‘I didn’t know I was that powerful,’ Huckabee says of complaints he caused Straw Poll’s demise (AUDIO)

Mike Huckabee in Des Moines.

Mike Huckabee in Des Moines.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is pushing back against the idea that he’s the main cause of the demise of the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll.

“Well, gosh, I didn’t know I was that powerful,” Huckabee said this morning.

The Iowa Republican Party’s chairman told the National Journal there is “a lot of anger” about the “damage” Huckabee did when Huckabee announced in May that he would not participate in the event.

Huckabee pointed out today that he wasn’t the first to say he’d skip the event. Jeb Bush was. And Huckabee added that no other candidate had committed to participating either.

“There’s 17 candidates running for president and if I singularly killed the Straw Poll, then you should go ahead and declare me the Caucus winner because that’s a heck of a punch I must carry,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee finished second in the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll eight years ago and he won the 2008 Caucuses. He’s committed to visiting each of Iowa’s 99 counties this time around.

“We’ve been now to over 30 (counties),” Huckabee told reporters. “We have county chairmen in over 60. We understand that the process in Iowa is the old-fashioned, just knock it out a county at a time, get structure and organization and that’s what we’re doing.”

Huckabee’s trip to Iowa comes after he made national headlines this past weekend by saying the proposed nuclear deal negotiated among six world powers and Iran would march Israelis “to the oven door.” Huckabee bristles at critics who’ve suggested he’s using the graphic reference to the Holocaust to try to stand out in a crowded field of candidates.


“They don’t know me very well. They don’t know that I’ve been Auschwitz three times. They have no idea how many times I’ve been to Israel. They have no idea about the passion I have for never, ever, ever wanting to see this horror repeated,” Huckabee said. “I have seen up close and personal what happens when people are naive and when they neglect the threats of a government that says: ‘We’re going to kill people,’ and I’m not going to do that.”

Huckabee met with reporters this morning outside WHO Radio studios in Des Moines and answered questions on a variety of topics, including the recent controversy over a video of Planned Parenthood representatives speaking about the use of aborted fetuses for medical research.

“Talking about it with such a cavalier and callous attitude is just numbing,” Huckabee said. “…It’s so cold and just inhumane.”

Beyond the discussion of ending all taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, to cover services like women’s health screenings, Huckabee said it’s time for a “more thorough discussion” of ending what he called the “scourge” of abortion.

AUDIO of Huckabee speaking with reporters this morning, 12:00

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Branstad: Trump leading polls due to ‘name recognition’ (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad doesn’t think it’s “likely” that Donald Trump will wind up being the Republican Party’s presidential nominee next year.

“It’s way early and polls at this point in time tend to reflect name recognition,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “And, obviously, he’s a TV personality who has a lot of recognition, but there’s a lot of really good candidates in this race.”

Trump is tops in several recent national polls and a couple of recent surveys focusing solely on Iowa Caucus-goers found Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the lead, with Trump surging into second place.

“I don’t think he’s going to be the nominee, but you know he, like any other candidate, has an opportunity to express their viewpoint,” Branstad said. “If you remember what happened four years ago, we had a lot of people that were the front-runner at some point in time, but Iowans tend to reward people that work hard and spent a lot of time in the state.”

Trump announced in mid-June that he would run for president and he’s appeared at three events in Iowa since then, including a weekend rally in Oskaloosa that attracted a crowd of more than 14-hundred people. The candidate who has spent the most time in Iowa is Rick Perry and Branstad predicts the former Texas governor “will do a lot better” in the Iowa Caucuses than expected.

AUDIO of Branstad speaking with reporters on this and other topics this morning, 21:30

New bird flu vaccine promising for chickens, tests ongoing for turkeys

Chicken and turkey producers listen during a conference on bird flu.

Chicken and turkey producers listen during a conference on bird flu.

Hundreds of poultry producers are participating in a two-day seminar both in person and on-line, to discuss the deadly bird flu outbreak. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was the first to address the group.

“I want to thank the producers who are in the audience today,” Vilsack said. “I want you to know that we recognize and appreciate how difficult this has been for producers and their families. It’s why we have been working hard to try to deal with the onslaught of avian influenza and why we are taking steps to be prepared should it reemerge in the fall.”

Iowa Poultry Association executive director Randy Olson greeted producers as they entered the meeting room in Des Moines where the seminar is being staged.

“The folks who have emptied barns and are working on cleaning are tired,” Olson said, with a laugh. “They’ve been working very, very hard…We’re thankful that we haven’t had new outbreaks in the last five to six weeks now. We’re really trying to learn as much as we can about prevention going forward. This conference will help our industry do that.”

Governor Terry Branstad (L), Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Governor Terry Branstad (L), Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The U.S.D.A. is developing a list of disposal sites if bird flu recurs in the fall, plus Vilsack said a more effective vaccine may soon be ready. Vilsack has set aside money in the U.S.D.A.’s budget to buy a stockpile of that vaccine.

“We’ve evaluated the causes for the spread of this,” Vilsack said, “and while it’s difficult to be able to state with a degree of 100 percent of certainty, we are fairly confident that there are multiple reasons for the spread of this.”

It will be up to the officials in each state to determine whether chickens and turkeys will get the vaccine, once it’s ready. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad hasn’t decided whether he’d permit it because some countries might bar imports of U.S. poultry and eggs if the birds are vaccinated.

“So we’re going to continue to review and look at the evidence and information about this and how effective it is,” Branstad told reporters this morning.

The only vaccine currently available for all poultry is just 60 percent effective. Vilsack told reporters that a new strain of vaccine is 100 percent effective for chickens and researchers are conducting tests to determine how it works for turkeys.

“I don’t want to say how long that’s going to take, but I will tell you we’re in a better space than we were, say, six months ago or six weeks ago when all we had was a vaccine that was 60 percent effective and that’s really not good enough,” Vilsack said. “You need something that’s 100 percent effective.”

Vilsack has asked his staff to prepare for reemergence of the bird flu in the fall not just in the states that were hit this spring, but in all states.

“The challenge with this is it mutates,” Vilsack said. “It changes. It literally changes as it migrates across the country.”

Here are the latest stats:

  • Nearly 50 million birds have been killed in 21 states due to the bird flu outbreak that has hit 232 U.S. poultry operations.
  • Iowa has been hardest hit, with tests confirming bird flu hit 77 different production facilities in the state. More than 34 million birds have been killed in Iowa since April.
  • Egg production in Iowa is down 44 percent from one year ago. Turkey production is off by about 11 percent.
  • The U.S.D.A. has paid out over $183 million to cover the cost of dead birds and Vilsack expects the agency will spent up to $400 million more to reimburse poultry producers for the cost of disposal of the birds, plus disinfecting their facilities once all the animals are removed.

Clinton to call for ‘cease fire’ with GOP on climate change; blasts Huckabee for ‘oven’ comment (AUDIO)

Hillary Clinton at the DART Central Station in Des Moines.

Hillary Clinton at the DART Central Station in Des Moines.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited the hub for the bus system in Des Moines this morning to highlight the climate change action plan she released last night.

Clinton touted the facility’s solar panels and rainwater collection system and then told reporters she’d be able to convince reluctant Republicans to respond to climate change.

“Making this a central issue in my campaign, I hope, will give me the momentum to be able to go to th congress and say, ‘Look, cease fire. We need to make the transition and we can do it and save money at the same time and create millions of new jobs and businesses that will be to the benefit of our country, so stay tuned,” Clinton said, chuckling.

Clinton suggested she’d use executive orders and federal agency directives to accmoplish some of her goals, but she’s promising to roll back some of the tax advantages for the “fossil fuel” industry. That would take an act of congress where Republicans are likely to at least control the debate agenda in the House, if not the Senate, in 2017. Clinton told reporters she would not comment on the process of reviewing the proposed XL Pipeline, since that process was started when she was secretary of state.

In response to a reporter’s question during her news conference, Clinton rebuked Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for suggesting President Obama’s Iran deal would march Israelis to the “door of the oven.”

“Comments like these are offensive and they have no place in our political dialogue,” Clinton said.

Clinton told reporters she’s “disappointed” and “personally” offended by Huckabee’s remark.

“I know Governor Huckabee. I have a cordial relationship with him. He served as the governor of Arkansas, but I find this kind of inflammatory rhetoric totally unacceptable,” Clinton said.

The “particulars” of the Iran deal are “fair game” for criticism, according to Clinton,

“But this steps over the line and it should be repudiated by every person of good faith and concern about the necessity to keep our political dialogue with the facts and suitable boundaries,” Clinton said.

AUDIO of Clinton’s appearance in Des Moines, 20:00

On Sunday during a speech in Ames, Clinton said as secretary of state she worked for 18 months to lay the ground work that ultimately led to the negotiations her successor concluded this summer with Iran and other key world powers.

(Photo by Asya Akca)