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

Dean Borg

This week, animal rescue organizations rushed to offer assistance to what appears to be a massive animal hoarding situation in eastern Iowa. Lonnie Viner of the Cedar Valley Humane Society says 898 live small animals came out of the Vinton home where the seizure was made.

Chapendra/Flickr

The World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association will classify video game addiction as a mental disorder in the 11th International Classification of Diseases.

Iowa State University Psychologist Doug Gentile says that to tell the difference between a healthy passion for gaming and a damaging addiction, it's best to consider when it becomes dysfunctional.

NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with presidential historian Tim Walch and political scientist Rachel Caufield to mark one year of Trump in office.  They examine how he has defied convention when compared with other modern presidents.

They examine themes including: accomplishments and public approval at the one year mark, how presidents deal with criticism, their relationship to their cabinets, and how they have justified and spoken of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

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A government shutdown looms at the end of this week, and continued debate over a word that President Trump said or did not say. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Dave Anderson, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University and Hans Hassell, assistant professor of political science at Cornell College.

Bill Ebbesen/Wikimedia Commons

In this new year, President Donald Trump has urged protesters to overthrow the Iranian government, threatened to blow up North Korea, and called for cuts to aid to the Palestinians.  On this River to River program, political scientists Dennis Goldford of Drake University and Jim McCormick of Iowa State University discuss Trump’s radical departure from traditional U.S. diplomacy.

Also, Oprah for president? 

McCormick says, "I kind of doubt it."

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch / — https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

The Islamic State's territory in Syria and Iraq has been reduced to a small fraction of what it was when ISIS declared its Caliphate back in 2014. But is the Islamic State really defeated?

On this River to River program, join host Ben Kieffer as he spends the hour with with former Air Force intelligence analyst Evan Renfro, an assistant professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa. Renfro gives his perspective on the threat from ISIS and other violent extremist groups.

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Plants growing in space have no gravity to assist them, there is minimum light, and there is more radiation exposurethan the plants would receive on Earth. However, plant production is expected to be an important part of future deep space missions.

In this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Iowa State University graduate student Therin Young, who is just starting a year-long fellowship with the Iowa Space Grant Consortium focusing on using "computer vision" to have computers measure, or phenotype, plants remotely. 

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

This program originally aired on May 18, 2017.

In Iowa, the craft beer industry has been booming. New breweries have been opening everywhere from Clear Lake to Iowa City to Des Moines. J. Wilson is minister of beer at the Iowa Brewers Guild.  He says the growth is a return to what the beer industry looked like before prohibition.

In her book "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide," professor Carol Anderson writes about what she says is a trend as old as the nation itself: "white rage."

The book takes readers back to Reconstruction, which was when Americans were rebuilding after the Civil War.  Instead of creating an inclusive and vibrant democracy, she argues the country chose to go a different route. In her book, she talks about the terrorism waged by the Ku Klux Klan but also talks about the subtler and systematic way in which policy makers discriminated against African-Americans.

John Pemble / IPR

There was a spirit of optimism in the air as state lawmakers gaveled in the 2018 session. Opening day often brings talk of bipartisanship and cooperation, but that spirit never seems to last, especially in an election year.

Nevertheless, state Senator Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, struck a hopeful tone about the coming session, although her party is in the minority in a Senate controlled by Republicans 29 to 20. She says last session they made their voices heard.  

Melanie Hayes/Flickr

Four more Iowans died of the flu this week. Iowa Department of Public Health medical director Patricia Quinlisk says this is a particularly bad strain of influenza, especially for the elderly.

"The particular strain we’re seeing right now can hit anybody of any age, but it hits older people particularly hard. We also know that older people are just more at risk of getting the flu and getting serious illness of the flu because their immune systems just don’t work as well.”

Alan Light/Flickr

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s report on homelessness shows that for the first time in seven years, the number of Americans experiencing homelessness increased by about seven-tenths of a percent.

Iowa ranks among the states with the lowest rates of homelessness. Homelessness decreased by 10 percent last year in the state compared to 2016. That means 1,500 people and 1,256 families were homeless in Iowa.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer explores what it’s like to be homeless in Iowa, particularly during this cold snap.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Lawmakers gavel in for the 2018 legislative session Monday, January 8 in Des Moines at the statehouse. After several controversial bills made it through in 2017, Republicans remain in control of both chambers and the governor's office. What are their plans for the 2018 session?

Iowans should keep an eye on the statehouse with regard to tax reform, according to Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson. 

Tim Evanson/Flickr

On this edition of River to River, we listen back to conversations from 2017 about milestones.

2017 marked the 60th anniversary of the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite: Sputnik 1. In October, Ben Kieffer spoke with longtime space scientist Don Gurnett to talk about how that momentous event instilled fear in America and marked the start of the space race with the Soviet Union. 

Gurnett is a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Iowa.

Michael Taggart

In 2017, Iowa lost a number of remarkable Iowans. On this edition of River to River, we hear about severable notable Iowans who passed this year by speaking to people who knew them well.

U.S. Pacific Fleet

Both the U.S. and China have accused the other of militarizing the South China Sea—China has been creating islands to back its territorial claims, and the U.S. has sent military ships and planes near the disputed islands.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political scientist Sara Mitchell of the University of Iowa about various maritime disputes. She has reviewed patterns of maritime conflicts going back to the early 1900s.

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Today, both houses of Congress passed a tax overhaul, and the Republicans' first major legislative victory is expected to be signed by President Trump. On this River to River, political analysts Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College and Tim Hagle of the University of Iowa walk through the political implications of the bill.

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The winter solstice happens this Thursday morning, which means that each day this week has the least amount of sunshine per day. In Iowa, that means anywhere from just under nine hours of daylight to about nine hours 15 minutes depending on where you are located.

On this River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by neurologist Dr. Eric Dyken of the University of Iowa Sleep Disorders Center to discuss the latest in sleep news and research. There is a new study finding that our personal sleep requirements may be affected by our genes.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The president and CEO of the conservative advocacy group The Family Leader says Americans have a right to know if President Trump engaged in past sexual misconduct. Bob Vander Plaats says the allegations made by a number of women against the president should not be ignored simply because he says he’s innocent.

"A lot of these ladies came forth in the election, and for whatever reason, the American people said 'we're going to give the presidency to Donald Trump.' That doesn't mean their issue went away because he became president." 

Open Minded in Alabama / Flickr

Today, Democrats are celebrating Doug Jones' victory in Alabama, and Republicans are picking through the wreckage. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University and Rachel Caufield, associate professor of political science at Drake University.  They discuss how voters are feeling about sexual assault and harassment by men in leadership positions. 

Emily Woodbury

Last month, head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, unveiled plans to repeal the landmark 2015 rules known as "net neutrality," which are Obama-era regulations that prohibit internet service providers from impeding consumer access to web content.

Pai argues the rules are too heavy-handed and have stifled innovation and investment in the broadband industry.

Tony Townsend, associate professor of Information Systems at Iowa State University, says it is likely that Pai’s plan will be voted through.

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Iowa and 12 other states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a California law that requires eggs sold in the Golden State to come from hens that have room to extend their limbs.

Missouri’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of the 13 states, including Iowa, which is the largest egg-producing state in the country. It’s the latest challenge to the California regulations.

On this new buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks about the lawsuit with Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

City of Cedar Rapids

During the 1930s, there was a mural commissioned by a depression-era arts program in what was then a district courthouse. Today, that mural has been restored and is now on display in Cedar Rapids' city hall. During a recent city council election, that mural became the center of a conversation about what kinds of art are appropriate to display. 

Amos Ben Gershom GPO

Today, President Trump announces his formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer asks political analysts about the president reversing nearly seven decades of resisting such policy.  Joining the conversation: Dennis Goldford of Drake University and Dave Andersen of Iowa State University.

They also talk about the tax overhaul, the possibility of a government shutdown, and the accusations of sexual harassment and assault involving several national politicians.

Russia’s relationship with China has strengthened in recent years following Moscow’s escalating tensions with the West after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with geopolitical scholar Sharyl Cross about the changing world order. 

"Both Moscow and Beijing share the position that they oppose what they perceive as U.S. hegemony in the international system. They believe that the United States needs to have a counterweight in terms of influencing the international community," says Cross.

Photo Courtesy of NASA

On September 3, Iowan Peggy Whitson returned from her most recent mission to the International Space Station. She has spent a total of 665 days in space during three separate missions. That's more than any other woman worldwide and more than any other American. 

Whitson grew up in Beaconsfield where her parents farm, and she says she's still proud to be an Iowan. During this River to River conversation, she talks with host Ben Kieffer. 

During this hour of River to River, it's a special Pints and Politics edition of the program, recorded before a live audience at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, November 30. 

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President Trump is rapidly reshaping the judiciary. On this River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with guests about how Republicans are systematically filling vacancies in the federal court system with young, conservative judges.

Joining the conversation is former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa Kevin Techau and Todd Pettys of the University of Iowa College of Law. 

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Should taxpayer-funded settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against members of Congress be made public? On this politics day edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by political scientists Rachel Caulfield of Drake University and Tracy Osborn of the University of Iowa.

Osborn says what's happening now is an indication of new attitudes.

"It shows a cultural change," Osborn says.

Autonomous Future

Nov 27, 2017
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Imagine a world in the not too distant future where human car and truck drivers are the exception rather than the rule. In this segment of River to River: life after driving. Host Ben Kieffer talks with University of Iowa computer scientist Dan Reed to look at ways our society would change when we leave the driving to machines and become mere passengers.

Reed is generally optimistic about the future use of this technology, but says it will change economic models and allow companies to collect more data.

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