October 2, 2014

Davenport is full of clowns today

Although some might consider the prospect frightening, more than 100 clowns from seven states are gathering in eastern Iowa today. The Midwest Clown Association is opening its 41st annual convention in Davenport.

Event spokesclown Angie Gonzalez says for some members, clowning is a full-time job, while many others just consider it a hobby or vocation. “It brings out your creative side,” Gonzalez says. “Creative people are really into clowning because it lets you create a character. If you’ve ever been in drama or a skit or any kind of performance art, clowning is a great new avenue to exercise those creative skills and talents that you have.”

The convention will feature continuing education classes that range from make-up and costuming to juggling, balloon sculpture, magic, slapstick comedy and even how to “clown” in parades. Gonzalez calls herself a “ministry clown” and goes by the name of “Q-T Pie.” “I do a lot of hospital clowning,” she says. “You go into those places and see people who are so sick and so hurting and you can make them smile and their mother says, ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen my child smile since they’ve been in the hospital,’ it just brings such joy to my heart and continues my calling to do it more.”

She admits there are a few people who are scared by clowns, mostly due to some books and movies. Even though it’s not recognized medically, Gonzalez and other clowns call it coulrophobia and they also teach their members how to handle it. The Midwest Clown Association Convention runs through Sunday at the Clarion Hotel Conference Center in Davenport.


Database details fees drug companies pay to doctors

A database is being made public today that’s designed to shed light on payments doctors get from drug companies. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley co-authored the bill, which was enacted in 2010, but it’s taken years for the legislation to work through the system.

Grassley says the law requires drug companies to disclose payments they make to doctors for speaking fees, research grants, trips and other items of value. “I co-wrote this legislation after it became clear how little information is available to the public in this area,” Grassley says. “Drug and medical device makers give billions of dollars to doctors but most of that happens behind the scenes.”

Grassley, a Republican, says his continued investigations and oversight have exposed several examples of how money is not disclosed in many cases where it should be. “There are doctors taking drug company money to study a drug, or taking federal grant money to study the same area,” Grassley says. “One doctor took drug company money to study a powerful anti-psychotic and recommended that drug more than it might seem scientifically-reasonable to do so.”

The patient who is prescribed a drug that might be beneficial yet risky will be able to learn whether the prescribing doctor accepted drug company money to study the risks. The information might not change the outcome, but it’s something a patient might like to know.

Doctors who take money from drug companies aren’t necessarily going to be negatively influenced, Grassley says, but this new database will shine a brighter spotlight on the situation through the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. “Doctors explain their reasoning and how their actions benefit patients,” Grassley says. “Transparency shouldn’t stop doctors from receiving the payments if they want to, but it should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments, and if so, why, and whether that matters to the patient.”

Eventually, he says, the database will become a valuable resource for everyone with a stake in the country’s health care system. The information is being included in a public database maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The address is: www.cms.gov/openpayments

Nuisance cucumbers thriving in this year’s moist conditions

Along with Iowa’s more traditional crops, two species of cucumber vines are having a bumper year. It’s not an edible kind of cucumber, but a pest that can choke out all sorts of plants, including young stands of trees. Iowa State University agronomy professor Bob Hartzler says the cucumber culprits are the wild and the burr varieties.

“There is more of it this year,” Hartzler says. “Both species start relatively late compared to some of our other weeds. In many years, when it turns dry in the summer, because of the late start, they can’t compete with the already-established vegetation. This year, with moisture throughout the growing season, it’s allowed them to thrive.”

It’s especially noticeable in the trees this year and its leaving some landowners in a pickle. Hartzler says the light green vines will grow up to 30 feet long and coil around anything they touch. He advises against using chemicals to control the weeds. “They grow in areas where it’s hard to use herbicides, simply because if they are growing up on a tree, there’s not a selective chemical that will kill the cucumber species without damaging the tree,” Hartzler says. “When you have a big problem, usually it’s a relatively small number of plants.”

Because they’re an annual, he says if you clip them off at the base, they aren’t going to regrow from that root. The seeds falling from the plant will likely grow again next year, so he says it’s best to pull the seedlings as soon as possible in the spring. Hartzler says they’re very aggressive and they’re native to Iowa so they’re not considered invasive, but he says they can be a nuisance.


Iowa farmers may face challenge getting grain shipped by rail

Most Iowa farmers haven’t started the harvest yet but already it’s clear there will be problems with moving the grain.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says space for rail cars will be in short supply and he doesn’t foresee any solution coming down the tracks.

“Our Surface Transportation Board, along with our rail companies, and along with us in Washington, we’re going to have to figure out a way to create more capacity so that commodities can move,” Foxx says.

Farmers need rail cars to move their crops, but many rail cars are being diverted to allow for space for tanker cars to haul oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana.

“It’s an issue we have to deal with,” Foxx says. “The Surface Transportation Board has primary responsibility for it but clearly with the proliferation of the movement of crude oil by rail, it increases competition for precious rail space.” Foxx says there’s no easy fix to the looming rail crunch.

“Even if Congress funded us tomorrow, it would still take some time to get track on the ground and things going,” Foxx says. “It’s not going to be a short-term solution but again, the Surface Transportation Board has primary responsibility for trying to work out the issues that have to do with commodities moving.”

Many blame the situation on the delay in building the Keystone X-L oil pipeline across Nebraska. That pipeline could carry the Bakken oil, freeing up space on trains so thousands of rail cars could move crops.

Change in SNAP security costs stores

It now costs Iowa grocery stores and other businesses more to accept payments through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Merchants now have to pay for their own equipment and processing services whenever SNAP cards are used. Kevin Concannon, the U.S.D.A.’s Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and a former Iowan, says the change was designed to prevent the illegal use of the program.

Concannon says, “We found that in some locations where a manual machine was used to record the expenditure on the SNAP benefit, there was a higher rate of fraud or trafficking.” About 421-thousand Iowans now receive SNAP benefits, or about 13-percent of the population.

Concannon says the goal is to make the use of those benefits more secure. “There are now 257,000 locations across the United States where one can use or spend your SNAP benefits,” Concannon says. “The requirement will be now that all of those outlets will be required to use electronic benefit capacity.”

Iowans who make part of their living at the 230 farmers markets across the state will be glad to hear that there are a few exceptions to the rule. “Those exceptions are basically farmers markets because it recognizes the nature of a farmers market is often on a vacant lot or in a rural area,” Concannon says. “It’s part of our effort to really reach out and support local agriculture and to encourage people to purchase healthier foods.”

Other exceptions include military commissaries, direct marketing farmers and non-profit food cooperatives. Concannon is the former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.


Few details released on reason for chase and fatal crash near Colfax

The Iowa State Patrol has yet to say why an eastern Iowa man was being pursued into central Iowa on early Sunday. The suspect, 26-year-old Scott Trimble of Davenport, was the subject of a lengthy chase down Interstate 80. The patrol says stop sticks were placed on I-80 by the Mitchellville police in Jasper County. Trimble’s car hit the sticks at a high rate of speed and he eventually lost control near the Colfax exit, vaulting over the median and hitting an oncoming semi head-on. Trimble was killed in the crash while a passenger, identified as Steve Miller, was injured. The truck driver wasn’t hurt.

Police say car found is that of missing ISU student

Missing ISU student Tong Shao.

Missing ISU student Tong Shao.

Authorities are offering another clue in the disappearance of an Iowa State University student, but many questions remain. A body was found inside the trunk of a car parked at an Iowa City apartment complex over the weekend and police now say the car did belong to Tong Shao.

The 20-year-old junior at Iowa State is from China and she’s been missing three weeks.The body has not been identified.

Police say Shao’s boyfriend is a person of interest in the case, though he hasn’t been named and authorities say he may now be in China.