Ben Kieffer

River to River and Java Blend Host

Ben Kieffer joined Iowa Public Radio in 2000 and is host of IPR’s daily noon talk show River to River, which he also helps produce. Since 2001, he has hosted and produced IPR’s weekly, live music program which features artists from around the state and the country called Java Blend.

Prior to joining IPR, Ben lived and worked in Europe for more than a decade. He reported firsthand the fall of the Berlin Wall and covered the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Ben has won numerous awards for his work over the course of more than 20 years in public media.

Ben holds an adjunct faculty position at The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he teaches courses on interviewing and radio news. He is a native of Cedar Falls and a graduate of the University of Iowa.

Ben’s favorite public radio program is Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

Ways to Connect

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley, the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, is up for reelection this November.  Four Democrats are running to be the party nominee to challenge him in November – and they face off in a primary election June 7th.   The Democratic race heated up a few months ago, after Grassley refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.  This week, we’re publishing interviews from all four Democrats on the primary ballot.  

courtesy of Paul Schaefer

 Four Democrats are on the June 7th primary ballot for the U-S Senate seat currently held by Republican Chuck Grassley.  He is the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation.  Grassley’s decision not to schedule confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee has attracted more attention to the Democratic primary contest.  This week and next, we’re airing interviews from all four candidates on that ballot. 

Pat Blank/IPR

This week, University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud announced that he will be leaving UNI this summer to become president of Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer sits down with Ruud to find out why he is leaving Iowa, just three years after he interviewed for the position, when he implied that this would be his last job. 

"The opportunity to go to Marietta College is a great opportunity for me at this point in time in my career," says Ruud. 

Perspecsys Photos / www.perspecsys.com

After high-profile hacks in the private sector and an embarrassing theft of information from government personnel files, President Barack Obama set up a commission on enhancing national cybersecurity. The commission is due to make its long term recommendations by early December on tightening cybersecurity in the private sector and in the government. It's part of Obama's $19 billion proposal to boost defenses against hackers. 

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

This week, NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft mission has discovered 1,284 more planets in addition to what it's already discovered. This brings Kepler's total to more than 2,000 planets discovered in a narrow patch of the sky that's "about the size of your fist, if you hold your fist up to the sky," says Iowa State University astronomer Steve Kawaler.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

With the lawsuits between North Carolina and the Department of Justice and widespread boycotts of establishments like Target for their inclusive bathroom policies, transgender rights have been dominating the news cycle. In the middle of the politics and punditry, it's easy to lose sight of what being transgender actually means. Jay Irwin, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says language is a good place to start.

Randy Bayne / Flickr

In a speech after his victory in the West Virginia primary Tuesday, Bernie Sanders made a nod towards unity in his party. 

"Our message to the Democratic delegates who will be assembling in Philadelphia is while we may have many disagreements with Secretary Clinton, there is one area we agree, and that is we must defeat Donald Trump."

BBC World Service

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with José Orduña, author of The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement. In his book, Orduña tells his family's story of emigrating from Mexico and reflects on the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States.

Orduña says that even after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, he still has feelings on injustice and anger towards the system.

Rick Friday

Rick Friday had been drawing editorial cartoons for Farm News for more than two decades, that was until last week when a cartoon criticizing Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and John Deere cost him his job.

He drew a farmer lamenting to another farmer the downturn in the commodity prices. Friday was as surprised as anyone that the cartoon then cost him his job, especially given that it had gone though the editor of the paper before being printed. 

An assistant Iowa attorney general is calling on state lawmakers to take action next session on laws to protect bicyclists on Iowa roadways. Iowa Assistant Attorney General Pete Grady says current law makes it nearly impossible to prove recklessness in cases where drivers hit bicyclists. 

At present, Grady says prosecutors need to show the vehicle operators knew their actions would cause harm.

"I don’t think anyone would define reckless behavior as requiring a better than 50 percent outcome for danger or harm, but that’s the standard we have here in Iowa," he says. 

courtesy of Jack Schuler

Last Saturday, Democrats held conventions in all four of Iowa’s congressional districts and chose their national delegates and electors. (Delegates choose the party's nominee, electors represent Iowa's votes in the electoral college.) One of those electors is Jack Schuler, a English teacher at Lincoln High School in Des Moines who may be making history. While the Democratic party has had transgender delegates previously, it’s possible that Jack, who was born as Elyse Schuler, is the first transgender elector in Iowa, and in the nation. 

LEE HAYWOOD

Recently, Democrats in the Iowa Senate introduced a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients to self-administer prescription drugs to end their own lives.

The right-to-die bill did not advance, and was strongly opposed by the governor, but it did spark an emotional debate over individual freedom to end personal suffering versus protection of the sanctity of life.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

The President and CEO of The Family Leader says he’s taking a deep breath today, after the announcement by Texas Senator Ted Cruz that he’s suspending his campaign for president.

Bob Vander Plaats endorsed Cruz and was a national co-chair for the campaign, although The Family Leader remained neutral in the race for the Republican nomination. Vander Plaats says he’s keeping an open mind about whether to now endorse Donald Trump, but he first wants the chance to speak with the billionaire. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Illinois-based blues band Kilborn Alley, fresh off their European tour earlier this year, burns through their original blues tunes on The Java House stage in downtown Iowa City. 

In the downloadable podcast below, you'll hear host Ben Kieffer get the low down on the group's time abroad, as well as their interesting songwriting process. 

John Pemble/IPR

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse on Friday, April 29. While the House and the Senate reached a deal on the budget which included tax credits for couples who adopt instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, they did not compromise on bills that would have expanded access to medical marijuana or funded new water quality initiatives in the state. 

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

    

When Donald Trump made the comment that Hillary Clinton's only card was "the woman card," Clinton took up the mantle.

"If fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in."

Two Iowan siblings took it a bit more literally. Zach and Zebby Wahls are creating a deck of playing cards celebrating prominent women in American history. They launched a Kickstarter yesterday afternoon in the hopes of gaining $5,000 in 30 days.

It took three and a half hours.

Joyce Russell/IPR

An expansion of Iowa’s medical cannabis law was defeated this week in the Iowa House, leading to an emotional reaction from affected families.

"I'm disappointed," says Sally Gaer. "I feel misled by the members of the House. We've been working on this for months, and what they did [Monday] night shows they have no conscience - pure and simple. They decided not to help Iowans most vulnerable because they, quite frankly, don't care."

Wellcome Images

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury talk with medical providers about how different medical robots work, as well as the pros and cons of working side-by-side with machines to provide patient care.

Robots at the bedside: Telemedicine and the stroke robot

Ben Kieffer

Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have taken part in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, often referred to as the “United Nations of writers.”

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with several of this year’s writers who attended a welcome party in Iowa City earlier this week. They share poetry, their hopes for their time in the Midwest, and the struggles and inspiration they have brought with them from their home countries.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with singer-songwriter Bob Hillman after his decade-long break from music. 

Listen to the podcast below to hear tracks from Hillman's new album, "Lost Soul," as well as several of his old hits. 

In his new book American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, Colin Woodard explores our relationship with our sense of individuality and our need for community.

He says the gridlock in our current political system highlights the tension.

Jens Alfke

What makes a crime infamous in the eyes of the law? That's a question currently being considered by the Iowa Supreme Court as the justices make a decision that could impact about 57,000 felons in Iowa who are currently banned from voting. 

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks about the Griffin v. Pate case with law expert Tony Gaughan of Drake University, Jamie Ross, a rehabilitated felon from Norwalk, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City Latin-jazz group Ritmocano brings infectious grooves and soaring solos to the stage in The Java House. 

Lend an ear below for some insight into the group's songwriting process and Latin influences, as well as some original tracks. 

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

Amy Mayer

In 2015, an outbreak of avian flu led to the depopulation of 50 million birds across Iowa and the Midwest. During the height of the outbreak last summer, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration halted egg inspections to try to curb the spread of the virus.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says that the state halted inspections after the FDA announced they would do the same.

Remi Itani / International Organization for Migration / Flickr

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, fleeing war, poverty, and ecological disaster. The influx has sparked a crisis, as European counties struggle to cope with the human flood. It's also creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. 

Senator Chuck Grassley is caught in the middle of the controversy over whether or not to hold hearings on D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Jim McCormick, political science professor at Iowa State University says that the move to block hearings on the nomination is “odd.”

From tomorrow on, the previously state-run Medicaid system will be managed by private companies called "managed care organizations," or MCOs. In the lead-up to the switch, many of those who benefit from Medicaid have struggled with getting information about coverage, payment, and benefits.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with local acoustic-rockabilly group Cedar County Cobras. 

Check out the podcast below to hear about the group's familial ties, as well of some tracks off their new record, "Delta Ave Juke Joint."

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