August 4, 2015

Senator Grassley unsure if votes are there to kill Iran deal

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Republicans in the U.S. House say they do have the 218 votes needed to reject the nuclear agreement with Iran, but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says that doesn’t mean the deal is dead.

“It takes both houses to get it done and it takes the approval of the president if it’s going to be killed,” Grassley says. “I think we have a majority vote in the United States Senate. I even believe that we’ll have 60 votes in the United States Senate to do what is called a resolution of disapproval.”

In May, members of Congress had to okay a special law that meant the multinational agreement with Iran would come before them for a vote, as it’s not technically a treaty. “If we get 60-some votes for a letter of disapproval under the special legislation, the president has to approve of it,” Grassley says, “and he obviously will disapprove of the disapproval amendment.”

The proposed deal would curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanction relief, an agreement President Obama favors. Grassley, a Republican, says the president will most certainly veto any effort from Congress to derail the Iran deal. “The question isn’t whether or not the House has 218 votes,” Grassley says, “but will they have 291 votes to override the veto and will the Senate have 67 votes to override a veto? The jury’s still out on that.”

The president is working to secure the support of Democrats who are critical to making sure the deal goes forward. A vote is expected in Congress in September.


Independent film festivals gaining more of an audience in Iowa


Liz Gilman

More than one dozen Iowa communities are now hosting annual independent film festivals and while they’re not yet at the level of Sundance, they’re growing in popularity — and dollars generated — every year.

Liz Gilman, executive producer of Produce Iowa, the State Office of Media Production, says film festivals are drawing bigger audiences while providing a boost to the creative economy in communities across the state.

“There’s roughly 15 in Iowa and I’m hearing more and more of other ones, too, so it keeps building,” Gilman says. “There’s a listing of about 15 film festivals on and that will take you directly to the link of the community film festivals, so you can learn more about them.” A weekend film festival can mean a huge tourism boost. In April, Dubuque hosted the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival. It attracted more than 4,000 attendees and 125 filmmakers from 11 states and five countries. It also generated some $261,000 of economic impact — in one weekend.

Plus, Gilman says the quality of the movies being shown at even the small-town Iowa festivals has grown exponentially. “You’ll find that you’ll go to a film festival and you’ll see some titles and there’ll be people in from all over the world to these film festivals,” Gilman says. “I’ve started catching some of the titles of certain films that go to other circuits, so, they’re getting the top of the top names in the film festival circuit.”

Wherever you are in Iowa, she says, there’s likely a film festival near you. “It’s a lot of fun and one of the great things is that they’ll have the filmmakers there,” Gilman says. “You can do a little Q-and-A with them afterwards and start to understand what they were thinking when they did certain parts of the movies. It’s really interesting to understand the creative process and start discussions.”

As more filmmakers attend the festivals, they’re seeing how friendly and hospitable Iowans are, which Gilman says, helps to put Iowa on their radar in terms of potential locations for filming. The next scheduled Iowa film festival is this coming weekend (August 6-8) in Burlington with the Snake Alley Festival of Film.


At least one tornado confirmed in southern Iowa

At least one tornado touched down in rural southern Iowa last night, near the towns of Creston, Cromwell and Williamson. National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Vachalek can’t yet confirm whether there were multiple twisters.

“There may have been just one tornado,” Vachalek says. “We sent out a survey team today to take a look at that. That occurred in Adams County so we’ll have folks out there surveying the damage this morning and we’ll have some results from that later on this afternoon, probably before about 5 o’clock.” While some crops were torn up and a few farmsteads were hit by the likely tornado, there are no reports of anyone being hurt.

“From what we understand, from some of the photos we’ve received that will help us with the survey, it did damage some farms and cut through some fields, so there’s some significant damage,” Vachalek says. “Fortunately, we did not see it go through any major towns or cities last night.” Before last night’s storms, there had only been 25 tornadoes reported statewide this year, far below the annual average of 46. Last year, there were 55 twisters reported across Iowa.

Damage reports were scattered across central and southern Iowa from last night’s bout of severe weather. “These thunderstorms that developed around the Des Moines metro area and then filled in quickly over the southern counties, did produce a number of large hail reports, some in excess of 1.75 inches, or golf ball-sized or larger,” Vachalek says. Large hail was reported in the following counties: Adair, Dallas, Marion, Jasper, Taylor and Union.

A possible microburst knocked over a semi near Des Moines while Chariton reports wind gusts of almost 60 miles-an-hour. Vachalek says we’ll see somewhat cooler weather most of this week, with rain possible much of the next five to seven days.


AARP warns users about risks with free wireless sites

Computer-passwordIowans are being warned against using free public wireless networks at airports, hotels and coffee shops.

AARP is launching a campaign called “Watch Your Wi-Fi” to raise awareness of the risks of using those free networks. Spokeswoman Devorah Lanner says a lot of people set themselves up to fall victim to hackers.

“AARP recently conducted a survey of internet users across the country and we found a quarter of those surveyed use free public wi-fi once a week or more,” Lanner says. “That does pose all kinds of risks.” It’s not a good idea to let your mobile device automatically connect to nearby wi-fi networks and you should be especially careful if you do decide to use one.

“Banking online, making credit card transactions online using free public wi-fi,” Lanner says. “It’s not a secure network and can be very easily hacked and your information and identify stolen by cyber-thieves.” The survey also found 27 percent of respondents say they’ve banked online using public wi-fi in the last three months and the same percentage purchased items with credit cards. Lanner says to never even check your e-mail using public wi-fi.

“Typically, people will access public wi-fi at an airport, a hotel, a coffee shop, which is very convenient,” she says, “but without a secure network, people risk oversharing and leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks by con artists and hackers.” She also recommends changing your online bank account passwords every 90 days.


Report disputes claim EPA regulations would increase cost of electricity

Wind-PowerA study finds Iowa consumers would eventually see drastic reductions in their utility bills under a federal plan to reduce carbon emissions. Some electric companies claim the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon pollution would result in much higher costs that would be passed along to consumers.

Liz Stanton, the principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics, says that’s not necessarily the case. “While some power companies are having the reaction that you just described,” Stanton says, “others are looking at this as an opportunity and a great chance to invest in new technologies that will be what those companies are relying on in the future and at a lower cost so they can charge lower rates to customers.”

A recent report based on data from the U.S. Department of Energy ranks Iowa as the top wind power state in country in 2014, generating 28 percent of its electricity from the wind. Nationally, that figure is under 5 percent. Stanton sees wind energy continuing to progress.

“Wind technologies are developing over time and we’re seeing taller turbines, longer blades, that are able to generate more electricity from a single turbine,” Stanton says. “There are developments in technology and we take them into account in our modeling and expect that new turbines that are built in the future will actually be more powerful.” The researchers compared projections of electric rates 15 years from now if no changes are made versus projections under the E.P.A.’s so-called clean energy proposal.

“The difference between those two possible futures for Iowa consumers is about $83 on their monthly bills,” Stanton says. “In that clean energy scenario, Iowa households would pay $83 less each month in about 2030.” Stanton says with investments in energy efficiency, the plan would not only achieve the goal of a 30-percent reduction in carbon emissions, but exceed that. While the EPA plan isn’t expected to be finalized until later this summer, Iowa is already working on energy efficiency and renewable systems. Iowa ranks 14th best in the nation by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Documentary on the meaning of peace premieres in Iowa Sunday

Greg Reitman

Greg Reitman

A documentary that aims to define the meaning of “peace” will premiere in Iowa this weekend and the filmmaker will attend the debut. Six years in the making, Greg Reitman says “Rooted in Peace” is the story of his personal quest which took him around the planet, with a few stops in southeast Iowa.

“I go on a journey asking the question, ‘Why are we so violent?’ and why we don’t connect with ourselves and with nature,” Reitman says. “Along the way, I’m guided by some incredible people.” The list includes: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spiritualist Deepak Chopra, film director David Lynch, media mogul Ted Turner, and music legends Donovan, Pete Seeger and Mike Love.

Reitman first met Love, one of the founders of the Beach Boys, at a 2009 concert in Fairfield. Reitman is a New York native who now lives in southern California and the process of making this film took him to several continents.

The documentary had its beginnings more than two decades ago when he visited Japan and saw the ruins of first city that was wiped out by an atomic bomb. “When I was in Hiroshima and I saw the devastation, I didn’t cry and learned a little about PTSD,” Reitman says. “I came up with this idea when I was 19 in college at UMass-Amherst that I was going to save the world by planting trees. I created this tree-planting initiative called The Giving Tree-Rooted in Peace.”

Now in his 40s, he shows himself in the documentary carrying a tiny potted tree through places like Times Square in New York City. “Essentially, I come back 20 years later with the bonsai tree as a symbol of hope, looking at the tree as a symbol for all of us and our connection with humanity and how we want to connect with nature,” he says. “That really becomes the unfolding story.”

The documentary “Rooted in Peace” will be shown Sunday at 7 P.M. at the Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield. Reitman will do a question-and-answer session afterwards. His 2008 film, “Fuel,” won the Sundance Audience Choice Award.

Audio: Matt Kelley interview with Greg Reitman. 5:06.


Iowa hosts Ms. Wheelchair America pageant

Katie Helmers

Ms. Wheelchair Iowa, Katie Helmers.

Des Moines residents may spot an unusual sight this week: a row of perhaps 30 or 40 women in wheelchairs, many wearing sashes and tiaras, cruising the downtown’s sidewalks and skywalks. Iowa’s capitol city is hosting the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, bringing in contestants from as far away as Alaska and Florida.

Event coordinator Judy Hoit, of Iowa City, says this is not your typical pageant like those based on a woman’s outer beauty. “There’s no swimming suits involved,” Hoit says. “They are judged on their achievements and accomplishments since the onset of their disability. We say that because we have a lot of women who maybe have been disabled since birth and others who are just recently disabled from maybe car accidents.”

The competition is a win-win for everyone involved, Hoit says, as its focus is on highlighting the abilities of people with disabilities.

This marks the second time Des Moines has hosted this national event. The first time was in 2003. “It’s a major way for people to know about Iowa,” Hoit says. “I’ve already heard from the contestants who are here. They’ve never been to Iowa before and they’re anxious to see what Des Moines has to offer.” Hoit is a polio survivor and was the first Ms. Wheelchair Iowa in 1996 and she now runs the state program. This year’s event will feature competitors from 25 states. Why aren’t there representatives from all 50 states?

“A lot of it is just publicity,” Hoit says. “We have a hard time letting people know about the program even though this is our 44th annual pageant. A lot of states do not have state programs so that’s one of the goals as far as the national board is concerned, to get more states involved. We know there’s a lot of women in wheelchairs out there who just want to be seen and heard.”

Iowa is being represented in this year’s pageant by Katie Helmers, Miss Wheelchair Iowa 2015. The 25-year-old Helmers is from Dakota City and lost the use of her legs in a car crash in 2013. The crowning event is open to the public and is scheduled for Saturday night at the downtown Des Moines Marriott.