River to River

Photo by John Pemble / IPR

The Branstad administration is planning to shift Iowans who benefit from Medicaid to private management on Jan. 1, a move that would impact more than 560,000 recipients.

The governor contends that private management companies can offer more efficient service and save money, while those who rely on the program are worried, including Iowa City resident Heather Young.

“My husband and I are doing everything we can to keep the ship afloat," Young says. "Even with our best efforts, if this thing goes through, this ship is going to get torpedoed."

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In his new book, author Courtney White points to the seemingly intractable challenges faced on earth: the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising food demands from a population that’s projected to rise from the current 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050, and the dwindling supply of fresh water.

UK Department for International Development / Flickr

Governor Terry Branstad is one of more than 25 governors who have said no to helping Syrian refugees. That didn't stop Mayor Chris Taylor from proclaiming Wednesday that the eastern Iowa town of Swisher welcomes them.

Photo by John Pemble

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. River to River host Ben Kieffer spoke with him Thursday, November 19 in advance of a campaign trip to Iowa City.

BK: Senator Paul, welcome to our program.

RP: Glad to be with you.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased from three in 2007 to 20 in 2013.

“Six years ago we didn’t see heroin cases, just didn’t see it,” says Nicholas Klinefeldt, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. “Now we have heroin cases; we have heroin overdose deaths. It’s here, and I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Christopher Gannon

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Jim Davis, associate professor of information systems at Iowa State University, and two Iowa State University students, Steff Bisinger and Jason Johnson, about what it’s like to work in the booming field of cyber security.

MadMaxMarchHere / Wikimedia Commons


President William Ruud has been president of the University of Northern Iowa since 2013. He's overseen projects he's proud of like efforts to curb sexual assault and One Is Too Many and a project to promote mental health. He still says the best part of the job is direct interaction with students.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Back in 2013, Joni Ernst was a little known state senator and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. Today, she’s the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.

Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, published an article yesterday detailing how the Koch brothers and their political network helped launch Ernst’s campaign. He says Ernst was a “beta test” for the Kochs.

CIA Operations Head Reflects on 30 Years

Nov 12, 2015
Secretive Ireland / Flickr

When Thomas Twetten graduated from Iowa State, he knew he was interested in foreign countries and psychology. When he graduated with a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University, he knew he wanted to serve his country. His only quandary was whether to join the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency.

"I joined there partly because of the aura of not knowing very much about it. There was much less information available about the CIA."

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

In a night full of sound bites, one candidate's lack of substance may have helped him stand out in a crowded field of candidates. Ben Carson, one of the 'outsider' candidates, didn't go into much policy in the third Republican debate.  Donna Hoffman, associate professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa, says that didn't hurt him.

"He has this huge likability factor but he's not being very specific in terms of policy, and so far that's working for him."

That's viable for Carson now, but Hoffman's unsure of its endurance as a long-term strategy.

Myfuture.com / Flickr

Iowa is facing a shortage of middle-skill workers, including those in the fields of nursing, welding, and manufacturing.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with people pushing for more technical and career training from the high school level onward, including Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Jane Lindaman and Dave Bunting, a longtime educator at Kirkwood Community College.

Francis Hannaway / Wikimedia Commons

In Iowa, it takes more time to get a license to practice cosmetology than it does to become an emergency medical technician. That's part of the reason why two Des Moines women are suing the state's Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences. Achan Agit is one of those women. 

Tony Alter / Flickr

This week marks Paul Ryan's first week  as the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. On this politics day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with political experts Hans Hassell of Cornell College and Chris Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa. They share their predictions of how Ryan will fare in House leadership.

"You're going to end up with in-fighting among Republicans on how to proceed in the face of a veto threat from President Obama," says Hassell. "These structural differences and problems haven't gone away."

Reese Erlich

There are interviews you spend hours sweating over, and then there are situations like the one faced by award-winning foreign correspondent Reese Erlich on a recent trip to Jordan. That's where he interviewed Abu Qatada, once described as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand-man in Europe before he was deported from the UK to Jordan in 2013.

Erlich says he had 20 minutes to prepare. The interview was hastily arranged by another of Al Qaeda's top leaders. Erlich says Qatada wanted to talk about human rights violations by the Assad regime in Syria, and by the U.S.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District / Flickr

Lt. Col. James Fielder was in Afghanistan from October 2013 to December 2014. A senior intelligence officer and air intelligence advisor for the 438 Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, part of his job was to apply political science to real-life scenarios. 

"I used a political communication model. Understanding noise inside of communication is very important if you want to successfully transmit a message to a sender to a receiver and back. And part of noise can be cultural, language differences, time differences."

John Pemble / IPR

Think for a moment about the person with whom you share the least in common, when it comes to your beliefs. Now, imagine having coffee with that person, not just once, but many times over a period of two years.

John Pemble

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader and Donna Red Wing of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

JD Lasica, socialmedia.biz / Flickr

It is widely reported that there are three Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party's nomination, but there is another Democratic candidate many Iowans have never heard of. His name is Lawrence Lessig, and he is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Republican congressional leaders and the White House reached a budget agreement earlier this week that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. The House passed the bill on a 266 to 167 vote late Wednesday and a Senate vote is expected soon to follow.

Many House and Senate Republicans contend that House Speaker John Boehner gave away too much in order to reach a deal, and there are critics of the fact that lawmakers met in private to discuss the agreement.

David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen

A new Johnson County ordinance will raise the local minimum wage from $7.25 in $.95 increments, and this incremental rise will reach $10.10 by 2017. The first phase starts in a couple weeks, unless cities vote otherwise. The town of Swisher is set to do just that, as it is expected to vote down Johnson County’s minimum wage ordinance.

Photo by Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

According to the United Nations, by 2050 the world will need to produce an additional 220 million tons of meat per year to satisfy global demand.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Harvest Public Media editor Jeremy Bernfeld and reporters Abby Wendel and Luke Runyon about their latest series on meat, Choice Cuts: Meat In America.

Emily Woodbury

One year and nine months after the completion of the new Iowa State Penitentiary, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to the new grounds. On this edition of River to River – a look inside Fort Madison’s new $166 million maximum security prison.

Host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury take a tour with Warden Nick Ludwick, who says the architecture of the new prison helps maximize safety, even with fewer security guards. He also says that the penitentiary has a certain “vibe” due to the effort he and his staff put towards mutual respect.

Emily Woodbury

The old Fort Madison prison was established in 1839, one year after Iowa became a territory, and seven years before it became a state in 1846.

Since August 1, when more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were moved into the new $166 million penitentiary, the old facility has housed some minimum security offenders. The grounds remain partially empty however, and the future of the "old fort" is unknown.

Emily Woodbury

In August, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were moved into the new $166 million Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The new facility is a quantum leap ahead of the “old fort,” as it was known, some of which dated back to the 1830s, before Iowa became a state.

Shever / Flickr

The University of Iowa's Center for Global, Regional and Environmental Research has been studying climate change in Iowa and around the world for 25 years this year. 

Greg Carmichael, co-director of the center and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, says public opinion has come a long way since the center's founding and that climate change deniers are "dead wrong" about the facts. 

Jim Wagner likes to work on old cars; that’s how it all started.

Wagner is a veteran and co-founder of the Veteran’s Freedom Center in Dubuque, a non-profit organization devoted to helping veterans who have fallen through the cracks of more traditional outreach programs. Al Rowell, also a co-founder of the center, says last year they saw more than 6,000 vets circle through their doors. The oldest was 95-years-old, and the youngest was in his early 20s. 


The battle over who will become the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is "probably the most important thing happening in politics today." That's according to Dave Andersen, assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University.


Mars has been receiving a lot of attention recently. In the new Ridley Scott movie, The Martian, a NASA botanist is stranded on Mars and has to rely on his own ingenuity to survive. In real life, scientists have discovered evidence of present day water on the red planet.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer sits down with astrophysicists, Steve Kawaler of Iowa State University and Jasper Halekas of the University of Iowa, along with retired NASA astronaut, Clayton Anderson, to discuss the accuracy and impact of films like The Martian.

Sunny / Flickr

CPAP machines, used to assist those struggling with problems like sleep apnea, may not be as effective across the board as once thought. In fact, the machines can be dangerous or even fatal for patients who experience heart failure or those who suffer from muscular dystrophy.

Iowa Historical Society

From Howard Dean’s famous scream to campaign buttons, bumper stickers, and other memorabilia, a new exhibit at the Iowa History Museum takes a a look back at four decades of the Iowa caucuses.