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

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Last week, 44-year-old Wade Baker, formerly of Marshalltown, died in an exchange of gunfire with police in North Carolina.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer listens back to his conversation with Baker from 2012, where they talked about his struggle with PTSD after serving in the Gulf War and how his psychiatric service and mobility dog, Honor, helped him through daily life.

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.

Pink Sherbet Photography / Flickr

Financial literacy has been required as a part of the 21st-Century Skills portion of the Iowa Core for years. But specifics on enforcing the standard are fuzzy, so personal finance and economics classes vary wildly district to district.

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It’s been 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. Author and investigative journalist Ari Berman says the legislation was supposed to serve as an enforcement mechanism for the 15th Amendment.

“We passed prohibition on racial discrimination on voting, but we didn’t enforce it. The Voting Rights Act first abolished literacy tests and poll taxes in states they had been used most frequently. Then it sent federal officials to the south to register voters. In places like Selma, only 2% of people were registered to vote.”

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Quad Cities-based group EmJay.

Lend an ear below to some of EmJay's female-fronted neo soul/groove music.

tuchodi / Flickr

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources says blue-green algae blooms are not only a nuisance, some forms of the algae can be harmful to people, pets, and livestock. Mary Skopec of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says bacteria from algae can produce toxins that are damaging to either the liver or nerves.

“A dog can go from being perfectly fine to being dead within a matter of hours, or even minutes, because this can shut down the liver right away," she says.

John Pemble

Forty years ago, the U.S. withdrew its last troops from Vietnam, marking the end of what was then America’s longest and most wrenching war.

On this edition of River to River, four Iowa veterans reflect on their time in Vietnam.

Dan Gannon, Roger Elliott, Ron Langel, and Caesar Smith join the program to share their experiences as medics, repairmen, career soldiers, and draftees. Host Ben Kieffer talks with them about post-traumatic stress disorder, what it was like to come home to those not in support of the war, and how they have viewed military conflicts since.

Donald Trump announced his immigration policy Sunday, detailing, among other things, how he would keep illegal immigrants out (a wall), who would pay for it (Mexico), and how many officers would enforce the new penalties (triple the current number).

Rachel Caufield, associate professor of political science at Drake University, says even if Trump is elected president, that doesn't mean the plans will come to fruition.

courtesy of Nathan Weiner

Nathan Weiner grew up in Iowa City, miles away from any naturally occurring wildfires. But after using controlled burns to restore Iowa landscape, he made his way out West.

"Whether it was burning a prairie or burning a woodland, we used prescribed fire to help that get back to its natural state, and once we started doing that, I just got bit by the fire bug, as they call it."

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Across the country, rental markets are booming. That’s true in parts of Iowa, especially Sioux City.

Maynard Porter is president of the Siouxland Rental Association. He says the only advice for someone looking to rent in Sioux City right now is simple - good luck.

“You’d probably end up in a motel for a few weeks. I’ve been involved since 1979, and I’ve never seen the market like this. My crews are instructed to lock the doors, otherwise we spend an inordinate amount of time telling people the rentals are not ready yet,” he says.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer will talk the  group Hipknosis.

Listen in below to hear the Iowa based group's straight forward approach to rock 'n' roll.

reynermedia / Flickr

Earlier this week, a new report by the US Department of Energy showed that costs continue to decline while turbine technology becomes more efficient. All of this, along with the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, means wind energy is having a moment.

Iowa Department of Corrections

Earlier this month, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to a new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register about the transfer, the differences in the new and old facilities, and the roughly $175 million cost of the prison, originally estimated at $130 million.

John Pemble / IPR

As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turns over her personal email server to the FBI amid allegations that she sent or received classified information through personal email accounts, it's too early to tell whether the story will hurt her presidential aspirations.  That's according to Dianne Bystrom, Director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and Kelly Winfrey, a Lecturer in Leadership and Communication Studies at the Catt Center. 

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The Alzheimer's Association International Conference was held last month in Washington, D.C. And though there were some glimmers of hope for new treatments, results as a whole were mixed. Dr. Hyungsub Shim, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, attended the conference. He says that, considering they've gone 13 years without a new medicine, even mixed results can be encouraging.

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Before automatic text messages and digital highway signs, there was a simpler way to spread the word about an abducted child -- the milk carton. And the first faces to show up on them? Iowans Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin.

Lwp Kommunikáció / Flickr

Hollywood has played out the disaster of an asteroid hitting Earth in films like  Armageddon  and Deep Impact, but is a killer asteroid really in Earth’s future? 

"According to previous history, it will happen during the next 100 years," says Bong Wei, the founding director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center. "It's time to see an impact by say, a 50 meter asteroid."

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer chats with singer-songwriter JD Eicher and his band, The Goodnights.

Listen in below for Eicher's crafty, introspective brand of pop-rock. 

Paul De Los Reyes / Flickr

Local and national politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have called for reforms aimed at reducing America’s prison and jail populations, particularly nonviolent offenders like drug users.

In a speech earlier this month to the NAACP, President Obama said the U.S. needs to fund more drug courts.

Don Graham / Flickr, Licensed Under Creative Commons

President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan this week. The plan sets the first-ever EPA standards on power plant emissions and requires a 32% reduction in those emissions over the next 15 years. It also seeks to boost renewable energy sources.

2016 Republican presidential hopefuls reacted negatively to the plan. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called it "catastrophic," while former Florida Governor Jeb Bush described it as "irresponsible and over-reaching." New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it an example of "overregulation" that would "kill American businesses and jobs."

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Des Moines folk musician Ryne Doughty. 

Listen below for tunes that ooze with genuine, melancholy insight. 

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The Iowa Board of Regents is calling for a three percent tuition increase in the spring for Iowa’s public universities. Such an increase would break the tuition freeze on resident tuition from the past 2.5 years.

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer sits down with Iowa State University President Steven Leath to talk about college affordability and other concerns in higher education.

Mohamed Somji / Flickr

In parts of Afghanistan, some families without sons pick a daughter to dress and live as a boy - a practice known as bacha posh.

In the first half of this encore edition of River to River, investigative reporter Jenny Nordberg talks with Ben Kieffer about what is behind bacha posh, a practice she details in her book, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.

European External Action Service / Flickr

This month, negotiators reached a deal to lift economic sanctions on Iran while limiting their nuclear ability. Most Republicans, including both of Iowa's senators, are against it. And while the political ramifications have been thoroughly hashed out, less attention has been paid to the perspective of Iranians and Iranian-Americans. 

Niloufar Talebi is an Iranian-American writer and translator, and the editor of Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World. She says this deal could signal a larger shift and opening of cultural relations.

Clay Masters

Sunday in New Hampshire Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laid out her plan to combat climate change, calling for a sharp increase in the use of renewable energy.

"First, we need to have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of my first term," says Clinton. "Second, we'll set a ten year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America."

While her proposal drew praise, it also received some criticism due to things left out, including Keystone XL, fracking, and Arctic oil.

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It’s been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law. The bill’s chief sponsor, Fmr. Senator Tom Harkin, says that the legislation has done quite a lot in the last two and a half decades, including adding curb cuts to all sidewalks and spurring a flurry of technological innovation to accommodate workers with disabilities.

“Before the ADA, if you had a disability, that’s how you were defined, and you weren’t given an opportunity to show what else you were capable of doing,” Harkin says.

Dan DeLuca / Flickr

Iowa has the highest rate of worker fatalities and injuries in the Midwest.

Kathy Leinenkugel, of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says this is due to several factors, including the fact that Iowa has an aging workforce where many people are self-employed.

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer catches up with Chicago based singer-songwriter Dick Prall. 

Listen in below to the interesting tales Prall weaves with song. 

In this encore episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," host Ben Kieffer talks with Iowa's own country artist Chad Elliot. 

Listen to the hour long podcast for tracks off his album So Sang the Crow. 

Penguin Random House

Dr. David Casarett was a skeptic when he set out to write Stoned. But in his quest to determine what medical evidence exists for medical marijuana, the palliative care physician found more questions than answers. Host Ben Kieffer talks with him about the book and the research needed to answer those questions.

Casarett and listeners tell stories of how cannabidiol oil has helped children with seizure disorders.  He explains what science knows about the compounds found in cannabis, and the most effective means of extracting and administering those compounds. 

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