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

Christian Hornick / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

In response to accusations against Harvey Weinstein, women across the country and many in Iowa have expressed that they have been victims of harassment and assault through the "#me too" posts on social media.  We begin this River to River program with Katryn Duarte, who is Assistant Director of Sexual Assault Services at the University of Iowa's Rape Victim Advocacy Program.

Ben Terrett

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says it is difficult to govern with what he calls a president "zigging and zagging" on his support of bipartisan efforts to make changes to the Affordable Care Act. In this politics Wednesday edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by professor of political science at Iowa State University, Jim McCormick.

Iowan Norman Borlaug, who grew up in Cresco, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for a lifetime of work to feed the world’s hungry people. Borlaug also founded the World Food Prize, the foremost international honor recognizing the achievements of individuals who have improved the quality, quantity, or availability of food worldwide.

Image courtesy of Witching Hour Festival

Iowa City native Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow, is the creator of This Modern World, a weekly political and satirical cartoon which has been a mainstay of the alternative press for more than two and a half decades. He says that the country's tense political environment lately has been challenging in many ways, and the speed at which news is made is particularly difficult. 

MitchellShapiroPhotography / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

Can a cake baker refuse to make a cake based on a religious objection to the event it is celebrating? A case relating to that concept will be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this term. 

In this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined for legal analysis by Todd Pettys, H. Blair and Joan V. White Chair in Civil Litigation and University of Iowa Professor of Law, and also Mark Kende, Professor of Law at Drake University, James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, and Director of the Drake Constitutional Law Center.

Here are the cases we review:

Mercy For Animals MFA / Flickr

This week, animal rights and free speech organizations filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa that challenges a state law from 2012, often referred to as Iowa’s ag-gag law or ag-whistleblower law.  The law  made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm through misrepresentation in order to conduct an undercover animal cruelty investigation.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Between tragedy within the foster care system that has left two teenagers dead due to starvation, and a highly controversial shift from state management of the Medicaid system to a privately managed care system, Iowa's Department of Human Services has been in the news a lot this year.

Des Moines attorney and new DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven took over for former Director Charles Palmer in mid-June. During this River to River conversation, he talks with host Ben Kieffer.

On the transition to managed care: 

Photo Courtesy of Dan Manatt

This past weekend, the former Iowa State Penitentiary opened for tours to the public. Over its 177 years of operation, the prison has developed a storied history in conjunction with the Iowa legal system, including hosting a number of hangings, allowing inmates to have cameras in an attempt to promote transparency, and delicately balancing the treatment of prisoners to promote punishment without treating them inhumanely.

DACA's Effect in Iowa

Oct 10, 2017
Image courtesy of Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy created with an executive order of President Barack Obama in 2012.  It allows children of illegal immigrants to receive a two-year deferred action from deportation, and it grants them work permits.

The new Vietnam War documentary series on PBS, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novik, is reopening a national conversation about the long, controversial conflict.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa veterans of Vietnam to get their reactions to the series and discuss the relevance it may have today, more than 40 years after the fall of Saigon. 

Downspec / Wikimedia Commons

The head of a mental health crisis center in southern Iowa says she expects it to close at the end of the month due to a lack of funding.

Jackie Sharp is executive director of Oak Place in Centerville. She says after a grant ran out, the regional mental health authority refused to fill that funding gap, and the state hasn’t set up rules that would allow Oak Place to bill Medicaid for services. 

"I don't put a lot of faith in us continuing after October 31. I think my alternate plan is to take care of the graduates that we've had and help my staff transition," she says. 

Stephen Melkisethian

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments testing whether extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. It’s a case that could radically reorder our politics.

On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer asks political scientists Rachel Caufield of Drake University and Dave Andersen of Iowa State University to discuss the High Court’s new session.

They also discuss the political response to the Las Vegas shooting.

Abagnale & Associates/WIkimedia Commons

In his late teens and early 20s, Frank Abagnale cashed $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every state and in 26 foreign countries. Today, he consults with the U.S. government on identity theft and fraud prevention. 

"I've worked with the FBI for 41 years now. I've taught at the academy for 41 years now. I've worked for some of the biggest corporations in the world, and I think I've come a long way since that 16 year old boy," Abagnale says. 

Courtesy of Essie Justice Group

One in four women and nearly one in two black women have a family member in prison; and while solutions to mass incarceration have largely focused on men, there are millions of women who have family members in prisons, jails and immigration detention centers.

Army National Guard photo by Sgt. José Ahiram Díaz-Ramos

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico, residents of the U.S. territory are still scrambling for all the staples of living – food, water, fuel, medicine, and currency.

First, Puerto Rico got clipped by Hurricane Irma, a huge Category 5 storm whose eye passed just north of the island in early September. That storm left 1 million people without power on Puerto Rico. By the time Maria hit nearly two weeks ago, tens of thousands were still without electricity, and many people on the island haven’t had power for three weeks.

Andy G. / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services including using new technologies like video streaming. This method has been growing in use in recent years, and the topic was the subject of a panel discussion earlier this month at the Iowa Ideas Conference in Cedar Rapids. It was moderated by River to River host Ben Kieffer.

Keith Allison / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

When President Trump feuds with superstar athletes, what does the reaction reveal about our country’s deep political divisions? On this politics day edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political analysts Dennis Goldford of Drake University and Donna Hoffman of the University of Northern Iowa.

In light of NFL players protesting during the playing of the national anthem, Goldford says that there is a complicated relationship with free speech.

USDA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that levels of nitrate in drinking water at or above 10 parts per million are unsafe, particularly for infants, who could develop a potentially fatal blood disorder called "blue-baby" syndrome.

The Interim Director for the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa, Pete Weyer, says that the latest research shows negative health impacts—particularly cancer—for infants and even adults at a much lower limit.

Silar

As a boy growing up in Czechoslovakia, Ivan Backer escaped the Holocaust. In this hour of River to River, Backer recounts how his family fled Europe during World War II.

Backer is the author of My Train to Freedom: A Jewish Boy’s Journey from Nazi Europe to a Life of Activism, in which he opens up about the day he fled Prague under Nazi occupation. He talks about Nicholas Winton, the man on who organized the Kindertransport trains that saved Backer and more than six-hundred other children.

This hour of River to River was recorded before a live audience at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Cedar Rapids. 

Columnists Lynda Waddington and Todd Dorman, as well as political reporter James Lynch and Erin Jordan of The Gazette, join host Ben Kieffer to discuss President Trump and the leader of North Korea, the Republican’s latest bill to overhaul Obamacare, and the value of town hall meetings in 2017. 

Casey Reyner

This show originally aired on April 26, 2017.

On this special edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on presidential power, recorded Tuesday, April 25 at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. 

Opinions in the audience varied, but as one participant noted: "[I] can't remember the last time we were in an auditorium talking about politics and the entire crowd didn't think just like me. We had a civil discussion with those that think differently. It can happen. There is hope."

Joyce Russell/IPR

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Sara Mitchell, F. Wendell Miller Professor of political science at the University of Iowa, and Jim McCormick, a professor at Iowa State University, about President Trump's speech yesterday to the United Nations and the debate over the health care in the Senate. 

"Trump's doctrine is America first," says Mitchell. "His other doctrine is anything but Obama, and you see him moving away from anything that was worked on by Obama." 

International Writing Program Turns 50

Sep 20, 2017
Credit Ben Kieffer

The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa is one of the university's signature programs, attracting notable authors from across the world and establishing both the university and Iowa City as paramount to the future of American literature. 

Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 150 countries have come to Iowa. International Writing Program director Christopher Merrill explains how the program came about.

Courtesy of Deanne and Ron Mirr

As of early today, the death toll from Hurricane Irma stood at 82. More than half the fatalities occurred in several hard-hit Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In Florida, 1.5 million homes and businesses remained without power yesterday, in sweltering heat, five days after the historic storm ripped through southeast U.S.

Residents who evacuated have been returning to their homes to survey the damage and start the process of recovering from this massive storm.

Phil Roeder

Voter turnout is typically low for school board elections. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate says turnout is usually 4-7% of registered voters.

"We can do better," says Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, "especially when you think about how there are 480-thousand K-12 kids in our public schools and it’s 60 percent of our state budget."

The Science Behind a Good Night Sleep

Sep 12, 2017
Image courtesy of Claudio Scott

Tens of millions of Americans are impacted by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety.

On this edition of River to River, Dr. Eric Dyken, director of the University of Iowa Sleep Disorder Center, explains some of the research that is being done on the science of sleep.

"They've sort of localized a little bit more that biologic clock that is responsible for having you wake up, and having you go to sleep," Dyken says.

Emily Woodbury

Research shows that roughly five percent of the criminal population is responsible for more than half of the incidence of crime. This same group accounts for between 50 to 90 percent of the most violent crimes, such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer discusses the successes and failures of our criminal justice system with Iowa State University sociologist, Matt DeLisi. 

This show originally aired on April 4, 2017.

Distracted driving concerns everyone on the road – and it’s something lawmakers at the statehouse have maintained a focus on this legislative session.

Heather Mill, Penguin Random House

The author of a new book says the race to private space exploration began with Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Julian Guthrie wrote How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race and the Birth of Private Spaceflight to tell the story of the Xprize and the teams competing for the $10 million prize.

Harrie van Veen / Flickr

Roughly 800,000 so called "DREAMers" came to the U.S. illegally as children. Now they face the possibility of deportation. On this politics day edition of River to River, analysts discuss the possibility of a solution from Congress.

Host Ben Kieffer talks with Dave Andersen of Iowa State University and Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College about the phasing out of DACA, as well as the international uproar over North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test, and efforts to avoid the gravest of scenarios.

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