December 19, 2014

ISU professor expects many Iowa businesses to welcome new Cuban policy

Steffen Schmidt

Steffen Schmidt

An Iowa State University political science professor says President Barrack Obama’s announcement that he is easing economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba won’t fit under the normal formula of politics. ISU professor Steffen Schmidt, says it doesn’t come as a big surprise, as people have wondered with each new president if the policy would change.

“Here you’ve got a policy that is 54 years old more or less, and isn’t working. We have not gotten Cuba to become more democratic, we haven’t gotten the Castro brothers to move the economy towards a more prosperous with the embargo and no diplomatic relations we haven’t gotten Cuba to stop meddling in Latin America.”

Schmidt says the move by Obama could actually be coming at a good time as the Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in January. “It seems kind of weird, but the new congress is going to be dominated in the Senate by the Republicans and not the Democrats. And it’s actually a better situation because the (current) chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a Cuban American who would be and is dead set opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt believes the changes will be supported by many in Iowa. “I know a lot of businesses in Iowa, agricultural businesses, exporters, companies that deal with agricultural technology for example — chemical fertilizers, machinery packing, so on. They have been anxious to do business in Cuba,” Schmidt explains. He says that’s because Cuba is so far behind modern agriculture. “When I was in Cuba on a state department trip not too long ago, we went out and looked a little bit as some of the rural areas,” Schmidt says, “and good grief, the farming is really 1950’s style and not American 1950’s, a lot of horses and oxen and donkeys, really outdated.”

He believes Republicans will get a lot of pressure from businesses who are in favor of better relations with Cuba. “Insurance and banking and others who are going to say, look we are doing business in China, we don’t like China’s communist government, it is too repressive, there’s only one political party and they have political prisoners and all the rest of the stuff that is similar to Cuba. But we are doing business with them and maybe we can influence those other things a little bit if we have a lot of Americans there, if we have a lot of American companies and businesses there,” Schmidt says.

While many of the president’s moves have been opposed along party lines, Schmidt says the split over the new policy will not necessarily be Democrat versus Republican, as there are a lot of Democrat who will oppose it. He is anxious to see how the process rolls out. “Because this thing is not going to be slam, bang overnight, it’s going to be slowly rolled out with small steps taken along the way as we try to kind of loosen up those relations. And it will be very interesting,” Schmidt says.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, released a statement today opposing the president’s move:

“This policy change is a gift for the Cuban government that has done nothing to provide basic, fundamental human rights to the Cuban people. According to our own Department of State, the authoritarian regime led by the Castros for decades ‘has severely restricted fundamental freedoms, repressed political opponents, and violated human rights.’ Today’s announcement of eased economic and diplomatic relations is not a result of democratic or economic reforms or a newfound respect for human rights or religious freedom. This decision rewards a brutal regime without any significant commitment toward change for the oppressed Cuban people.”

 

‘Draft Warren’ movement holding rally in Iowa tonight

warrenA gathering is planned tonight in Des Moines by a group that’s urging Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president. Victoria Kaplan is with MoveOn.org, the group making plans to open offices in Iowa and hire staff here for its “Draft Wareen” movement.

“To demonstrate to Elizabeth Warren that she has the support here to run for president and win,” Kaplan says.

Warren has repeatedly said: “I am not running for president,” and some Democrats view the MoveOn campaign as wasted effort. Kaplan, though, is among those who view Warren’s statement as a commentary about the present, leaving the door open to a run in the future. Kaplan also cites the successful “draft” movement that encouraged Warren to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

“I think we’re seeing an even bigger moment right now where her brand of leadership, her history of fighting for working families, of standing up to Wall Street — this really is Elizabeth Warren’s moment,” Kaplan says.

MoveOn.org has been aggressively reaching out to Democratic activists in Iowa to invite them to this evening’s event which will be held in a downtown Des Moines coffeehouse, a relatively small venue for a rally. If this “draft” movement is unsuccessful and Warren still remains on the sidelines in 2016, Kaplan is reluctant to say whether progressives in the party will support Hillary Clinton instead.

“One of the beautiful things about inspirational figures in this country is that they really do inspire people to advocate and participate in our democracy and that the energy that we’re seeeing to call on Elizabeth Warren to run for president I think will translate into a more engaged and energized base that will do great things for the state of Iowa and for the country,” Kaplan says.

Warren campaigned with U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley in Iowa City and Des Moines in the run up to the November election. She was a leading critic of the spending deal that passed congress last week for a provision that rolls back some of the banking reforms enacted after the meltdown of U.S. financial markets in 2008.

Committee calls on legislature to help schools with transportation costs

A legislative committee is recommending that the 2015 Iowa legislature consider changes that would help schools deal with transportation costs, a particular problem in rural Iowa where many districts have long bus routes for students. A group of legislators met for four hours on Monday to discuss the details of how state aid to public schools is distributed and agreed lawmakers should find some way to address the budget difficulties in property-poor school districts, although the group did not make a specific recommendation.

Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, is chairman of the House Education Committee.

“We all know the importance education plays in providing individuals and society with a higher standard of living,” Jorgenson says. “Having an education population will help increase wages and spur economic development.”

Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, is chairman of the Education Committee in the Iowa Senate.

“If our students in Iowa don’t get education that makes them competitive economically and in other ways with students raised in other states, then we are not being equitable to our own students,” Quirmbach says.

Quirmbach and Joregensen served on the legislative panel that met Monday to discuss preschool-through-12th grade education funding issues.

Harkin delivers ‘hard, wrenching, emotional’ farewell to U.S. Senate (AUDIO)

Early photo of Tom Harkin from his Twitter Feed.

Early photo of Tom Harkin from his Twitter Feed.

Senator Tom Harkin delivered a half-hour-long farewell speech in the U.S. Senate today. Harkin said leaving the institution he loved was “hard and wrenching and emotional.”

“There is still no other place in America where one person can do big things — for good or for ill — for our people and our nation,” Harkin said. Harkin challenged those who’ll be serving in the senate in the future to address key issues, like the growing income inequality in America.

“Every federal judge who is sworn in takes an oath to ‘do equal right to the poor and the rich,'” Harkin said. “Can we here in congress say that we do that, that we provide equal right to the poor and the rich alike? Our growing inequality proves we are not. Maybe we should be taking that oath.”

Harkin recounted legislation he shepherded through congress during his 10 years in the House and 30 years in the senate, including Farm Bills and the landmark Americans with Disability Act. Harkin said the 60 percent unemployment rate among adults who disabilities who are able and want to work is a “stain” on the country and he pledged to remain “in the fight” to secure more job opportunities for disabled adults.

“I believe that government must not be just an observant bystander to life,” Harkin said. “It must be a force for good, for lifting people up, for giving hope to the hopeless.”

Harkin spoke of his parents, paid tribute to his wife and family and praised his staff before having the names of all his staff printed in the congressional record.

“Now when I will soon cast my last vote, now when I will no longer be engaged in legislative battle, when I will no longer be summoned by the senate bells, now when I will soon just be 1,763 of all the senators who’ve ever served in the United States Senate, now the leaving becomes hard and wrenching and emotional,” Harkin said. “And that’s because I love the United States Senate.”

Harkin’s speech touched on themes Iowans who’ve followed his career would find familiar as he described his political philosophy. He closed by teaching his colleagues the American Sign Language sign for the word “America”. He described the sign as an “interconnected…circle of inclusion” and a symbol to which the country should always aspire.

“And with that, Mr. President, for the last time, I yield the floor,” Harkin said, to applause.

After he was done, other senators paid tribute to Harkin. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who went first, said: “so long, rather than goodbye” to his colleague.

AUDIO of Harkin’s speech, 33:00

GOP convention picks state representative to run for Ernst’s seat

Mark Costello

Mark Costello

GOP delegates at a special nominating convention held in Clarinda last night picked a state representative to run for Joni Ernst’s seat in the Iowa Senate.

Ernst, who will become a United States Senator next month, resigned from the state senate at the end of November. Sixty-seven Republican delegates in her district convened at seven p.m. yesterday to hear from the seven candidates who were vying to run for the state senate. After four rounds of voting, State Representative Mark Costello of Imogene was declared the winner, with 56 percent of the vote. Costello, who is a farmer, was elected to the Iowa House in 2012 and he won reelection in November.

The senate district covers six southwest Iowa counties — Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Ringgold and Taylor — and is the second-most Republican in the senate.

Democrats in the district will hold their nominating convention Saturday at Clarinda’s Public Library.

Voters in the district will choose their new senator on Tuesday, December 30.

If Costello wins, his House seat will be vacant. That means a special election will be held sometime in late January or early February in his district which covers the two counties of Fremont and Mills and most of Montgomery County.

Over 10 percent of Iowans remain uninsured, urged to consider ACA subsidies

A liberal advocacy group today released a report about how the Affordable Care Act or “ObamaCare” is “working in Iowa.” Matt Sinovic of “Progress Iowa” says 83 percent of the Iowans who got insurance through the federal exchange last year received tax credits which significantly decreased the cost of their inurance plan.

“It’s important to look past all of the heated rhetoric and take a look at what the law is actually doing,” Sinovic says, “particularly here in the state of Iowa where we have seen incredible benefits from the Affordable Care Act.”

Sinovic cites another study which indicates Iowa hospitals saved $32 million this past year because more uninsured Iowans were enrolled in Medicaid.

“So our hospitals are saving, our health care consumers are benefitting and Iowans are benfitting,” Sinovic says.

Sinovic says 10.3 percent of Iowans are still uninsured and he’s urging those Iowans to see what kind of insurance subsidies they might qualify for under the Affordable Care Act. The enrollment period is now open, through February 15th.

Critics of “ObamaCare” say it will overload the nation’s health care system with previously uninsured patients demanding care and bankrupt the federal government. About 10 million Americans acquired subsidized insurance coverage last year due to the Affordable Care Act. Supporters of the law say it’s reducing health care costs, which went up less than three percent in the past year compared to double-digit increases before the law took effect.

MoveOn.org poised to open Iowa office for Draft Warren movement

Two liberal-leaning groups are urging Democratic activists to go online and support a draft campaign to get a Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

MoveOn.org started online in 1998 with a petition asking congress to merely censure rather than impeach President Clinton. Since then the group has financially backed “progressive” Democratic candidates and claims to have eight million members.

MoveOn’s leaders call Warren a “leading champion for working families and the middle class.” Their online survey asks whether it’s time to launch a draft movement to get Warren to run for president. MoveOn.org is poised to open offices in Iowa and New Hampshire and spend up to a million dollars to lay the groundwork for a Warren for President campaign.

Another liberal group, Democracy for America, this morning asked its members to vote on whether they want Warren to run.

Some in the Democratic Party’s most liberal wing question Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and praise Warren’s efforts to crack down on Wall Street activities that led to the last recession. Warren, who is entering her third year in the U.S. Senate, has repeatedly said she will not run for president.

Warren campaigned with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley on October 19, giving speeches in Iowa City and Des Moines, but she did not speak with Iowa reporters.