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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According to Iowa comedian, Colin Ryan, who moved to the Midwest from Ireland in 2010, the current-day traditions of St. Patrick's Day (parades, wearing green, drinking beer, etc.) were inspired by people living in the U.S., not those in Ireland.

He says that up until the 1970s, “It was actually a day of quiet religious reflection in a lot of ways. What happened was that the Irish immigrants in Boston used to have big parties, so the Irish people traveling over to America saw the parades and all the fun stuff that was happening and said, 'Hey let’s do that back in Ireland.'"

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A new plan for health care in America, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which is currently being debated by Congress, would replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, this plan has the potential to make many changes to health care policies in America. While it reduces the federal deficit by $337 billion over 10 years, it's also estimated to leave 24 million Americans uninsured by 2026.

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Max Rodriguez Garcia was born in Amsterdam in 1924. He emigrated to the United States in 1948, only after being liberated from a concentration camp in Germany after World War II. During this segment, he talks with Ben Kieffer.

“My whole family was gassed,” he recalls. “I wound up at the main building, Auschwitz I.

Eric E Johnson / Flickr

The White House is trying to salvage support for the Republican plan to revise the Affordable Care Act, as a growing number of lawmakers weigh in against the proposal.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a conversation on the plan with political analysts, Wayne Moyer of Grinnell College and Jim McCormick of Iowa State University.

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More than 30 states have enacted some form of a voter identification requirement in recent years, and Iowa could join that list, as a contentious voter ID bill continues to be discussed at the statehouse.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to host a conversation with lawmakers working on this proposal in Des Moines. They also talk with Indiana Public Broadcasting reporter, Brandon Smith, who describes the impact that similar voter ID legislation has had in Indiana over the last decade.

Caleb Housh

People in Seymour are working to convert a closed nursing home into temporary classrooms, after a tornado heavily damaged the local K-12 school on Monday.  Caleb Housh is the city’s mayor.

“I can’t tell you how many local contractors have been in there, getting this building ready to go. I believe today they’re ready to start painting rooms. Teachers have reached out to their students, and the students are going to come in and help paint the classrooms and get them ready to go."

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

During the time Chuck Hagel served as U.S. Secretary of Defense, Russia invaded Ukraine and the Syrian Civil War was at its height.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Hagel about current threats at home and abroad - getting his views on cyber-security, President Donald Trump’s new so-called travel ban, Trump’s call for greater defense spending, as well as the future of the Republican party.

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Exhaustion, shock, panic, disease, extreme heat, and horrific noise -  these are some of the less talked about challenges of military combat.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with celebrated science writer Mary Roach about her new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. In it, she explores the aspects of war no one makes movies about - the quirky but essential science behind staying alive in combat.

A description of Grunt from the publisher, W. W. Morton & Company, Inc.:

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Celtic folk artist Keith Reins and renowned Celtic violinist Tara McGovern take listeners through the anatomy of various folk songs of the British Isles. 

The fascinating performance comes as part of Keith Rein's multi-platform project, "Folk Songs You Never Sang in Grade School," which combines thoughtful essays, thorough research and, of course, performance.  

Listen to the podcast below for an engaging hour of folk songs, history, and chat with Java Blend host Ben Kieffer. 

Hang out with Des Moines indie-psych-rock band The Fuss in this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend." 

Listen to the podcast below to hear about the up and coming band's origins, its subsequent rise through the burgeoning Des Moines DIY scene, and its sonically adventurous tunes. 

Paul Weaver / Flickr

Republican lawmaker Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley is pushing comprehensive changes to Iowa's firearms law this year. 

Specifically, House Study Bill 133 seeks to add "stand your ground" provisions, institute lifetime permits to carry, allow children under 14 years of age to use handguns under adult supervision, and preempt local ordinances that restrict firearms use or declare themselves “gun-free zones."

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

President Donald Trump’s first few weeks in office have been a whirlwind. The same can be said for the first few weeks of the Iowa Legislature’s 2017 session.

During this special edition of River to River, recorded before a live audience at the Mill in Iowa City, host Ben Kieffer talks with columnists Todd Dorman and Lynda Waddington of the Gazette, as well as political reporter James Lynch. 

Conversation topics include Russia's interference into the U.S. Election, the likelihood of an investigation, collective bargaining rights in Iowa and many others. 

The Homefires' Java Blend performance, scheduled for taping at The Java House in downtown Iowa City at 2 P.M. on Friday, February 24th, has been canceled due to bad weather. 

The next Java Blend live taping will be on March 10th with Iowa City's newest rising star, Elizabeth Moen, who will be fresh off a European tour. 

Stay tuned for make up dates for this event.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa's U.S. senators are back in the state this week, drawing large, sometimes raucous crowds at town hall meetings. Attendance at Sen. Charles Grassley's gathering in Hancock county was reportedly more than 100. Sen. Joni Ernst drew a similar crowd at her event in Macquoketa.

Some Iowa attendees held signs supporting the Affordable Care Act and chanted "Do your job," and "Work for us." But do such protests make a difference to elected officials?

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Just weeks after leaving the White House, President Barack Obama ranks as the 12th best president overall, according to a new poll of historians conducted by C-SPAN. It's the first time Obama is eligible for the Presidential Historians Survey, which asked 91 historians to rank all 43 former presidents across 10 categories. 

Effectively a "who's who" of the Iowa City bluegrass scene, this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend" features the classic, tight harmonies, deft picking, and quirky humor of Banjoy. 

Join host Ben Kieffer as he talks with the group- which consists of banjo legend Bob Black,  guitarists Kristie Black and Mark Wilson, and bassist Paul Wilson- about the many years of bluegrass they have under their belts. 

Larry Koester

Russia has received a lot of attention in America recently, due to evidence of Russia meddling in the last U.S. presidential election, news of Donald Trump aides’ contact with Russian officials, and military moves including an intelligence ship spotted cruising just off the East Coast and a cruise missile test that may violate a 1987 arms treaty.

Congress.gov

Iowa’s only Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives says he still doesn’t know the details of what Republicans will propose as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.  Dave Loebsack is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will vote on a replacement before sending it to the full House.

“So far what I have heard is that what they have offered is wholly inadequate and it doesn’t deal with the problems that we tried to deal with in the Obamacare legislation,” he says.

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Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the executive order by President Roosevelt that incarcerated 112,000 American residents of Japanese descent.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Mark Kende, the director of the Constitutional Law Center at Drake University, to discuss the implications of the 1941 order and a related SCOTUS ruling that may have impact in future court rulings on President Trump’s travel ban. 

Photo by Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media

Mexico may be ready to hit America – and especially Iowa – where it hurts. Namely, in corn exports. Mexico is one of the top buyers of American corn, and Iowa is one of the top corn-producing states. In response to President Trump’s threats against Mexico, a Mexican senator said this week that he would introduce a bill that directs Mexico to buy its corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned Monday, after admitting he did not provide Vice President Mike Pence with complete information about phone conversations held with Russian intelligence during the Trump administration's transition.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Wayne Moyer, professor of political science at Grinnell College, and Jim McCormick, professor of political science at Iowa State University about the resignation and the likelihood of a congressional investigation.

Dean Borg

Iowa’s Fourth District Republican Congressman Steve King says he’s not overly concerned about a Mexican senator’s bill that could halt U.S. corn exports.

King says it’s one of the first signs of concrete action from Mexico in response to president Trump’s threats to impose high tariffs on Mexican goods..

Redistricting happens after each U.S. Census. Iowa lost one congressional district in 2013 based on the results of the 2010 Census; before that, Iowa had five districts. Today, we have four. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with David Daley, former editor-in-chief of Salon magazine who has written about redistricting, and Tracy Osborn, an associate professor of political science and director of the Politics and Policy Program at the University of Iowa. 

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A minimum wage law passed through committee in the House of Representatives at the state legislature this week.

"The bill in the House would prevent local governments in Iowa from passing higher minimum wage laws than the state minimum wage. As you know, four counties have done that," says IPR Statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell.

The state minimum wage is currently at the federal level, $7.25 an hour.

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After a lengthy confirmation hearing, protests, and two Republicans breaking with their party to vote no, President Donald Trump's education secretary pick, Betsy Devos, was confirmed by the Senate. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump tweeted, "It is a disgrace that my full cabinet is still not in place, the longest such delay in the history of our country." [This statement is demonstrably false and will continue to be unless the confirmation process of Trump's cabinet takes an additional seven weeks.

Under a bill unveiled last week by Secretary of State Paul Pate, Iowa voters would be required to present identification at the voting booth. Pate says his proposal is aimed at ensuring the integrity of Iowa's elections. Democratic legislators and civil libertarians, however, have promised a fight over the issue. They raise concerns that new rules could suppress voter turnout. During this half hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Pate about his proposal. 

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Whether or not your team won last weekend, this year’s Super Bowl comes at a time when the Iowa legislature is considering new laws for so-called “collision sports” in Iowa schools.  

Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio

In the wake of President Trump’s executive order and the ensuing surge in donations to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ben Kieffer talks to Rita Bettis, Legal Director for the ACLU of Iowa, about her organization’s reaction to the week’s events.

On President Trump’s travel ban

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President Trump has signed seven executive orders and 11 presidential memos since Inauguration Day, including the order that restricts travel into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.

On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with University of Northern Iowa political scientists, Donna Hoffman and Scott Peters, who offer their analysis of the debate over Donald Trump’s slew of executive actions, including the contentious travel ban.

MONICA REYES, FOUNDER, DREAM IOWA

Yesterday, President Donald Trump fired the top federal government lawyer, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, after she took the rare step to defy the White House when she refused to defend new travel restrictions targeting seven nations which have a majority of Muslim citizens. The executive order signed Friday halts travel to the U.S. by residents of those countries, and suspends refugee admissions for 120 days. It also indefinitely shuts down the admission of Syrian refugees to the U.S. 

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