River to River

Astrid Westvang / Flickr

Launched in 2014, the Iowa Job Honor Awards celebrate Iowans who have overcome significant barriers to employment as well as honoring the employers who hire them. Those honored over the years include people who have overcome physical and mental disabilities, criminal convictions, limited English proficiency, homelessness, and long term unemployment.

Thomas Life

Reading education has come a long way since the days of Dick, Jane, and Spot, but many children still struggle to become readers. In fact, according to the Iowa Department of Education, nearly one in four public school third-graders did not meet state standards for reading proficiency in either 2014 or 2015. 

Mark Fischer / Flickr

Senate Republicans say there will be no hearings, no votes, and no new U.S. Supreme Court justice until the next president is sworn in next year.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with legal experts Todd Pettys of the University of Iowa and Tony Gaughan of Drake University about the impact Justice Scalia's death will have on current cases before the court, many of which are expected to now come down 4-4. Pettys says there could be an even number of justices until April of 2017.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, all eyes were on the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chair, Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. Would the committee hold a hearing to vet President Obama’s nomination for the next Supreme Court Justice? A series of ambiguous statements from Grassley around the state last week are now clear: the Republicans of the committee will not hold any hearing until the next President is elected. Chris Larimer, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa, says that’s a risk.

John Pemble

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased six-fold from 2007 to 2013.

Kim Brown, of Davenport, lost her son Andy Lamp to a heroin overdose in 2011, and she now advocates for greater access to Naloxone, a common overdose reversal drug, as well as a “Good Samaritan” law, which is intended to protect those who report an overdose from arrest or prosecution. She believes that passing these laws in Iowa could prevent future deaths from heroin overdose.

Tom / Flickr

The Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the first confirmed infection of the Zika virus in Iowa Friday. Brad Blitvich, associate professor of Veterinary Science at Iowa State University, who studies mosquito-borne illnesses, joined host Ben Kieffer to discuss its implications.

Is this case a danger to other Iowans?

Photo Courtesy of Karim Abdel-Malek

Santos and Sophia are soldiers that will never see combat. That’s because they exist solely as simulations in the University of Iowa’s Virtual Soldier Research Program. Thanks to a new $2.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, they’re equipped to model even more behaviors to prevent injuries for real-life marines.

Karim Abdel-Malek, the director of the program, says the stream of new designs of army equipment necessitates lengthy, costly trials that take up Marines’ valuable time.

Jared Wong / Flickr

The organization AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, says 42 percent of Iowa’s private sector workers do not have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. State Senator Janet Petersen and Iowa’s State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald are working to change that. They’ve proposed a state-run plan for private employees, something more than 20 states are also considering. 

Werner Benger / NASA Blueshift - Flickr

Last week a team of scientists at LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, announced they successfully recorded gravitational waves resulting from two black holes merging into one. The existence of these waves, otherwise known as ripples in the fabric of space-time, were first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1916.

Phil Kaaret, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, says that this discovery “opens a new way of looking at the universe,” and that “it’s just beginning of discovery.”

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Even though lawmakers in the Iowa Senate voted to stop privatization of the state's Medicaid program last week, the measure is unlikely to pass in the Iowa House. The system is still slated to switch to private management on March 1 unless the federal government steps in. 

University of Iowa Muslim Student Association

The University of Iowa is reconfiguring two former offices in its Iowa Memorial Union to be used as full-time prayer spaces, primarily for the school's Muslim faculty, staff, and students. For Muslims, prayer is a ritual performed five times daily.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer sits down with Saad Ansari, president of the University of Iowa Muslim Student Association, to discuss the need for a space for private prayer on campus.

Nicu Buculei / Flickr

Every four years, the post-caucuses sigh of relief comes with a pessimistic prognostication: the caucuses are done for. Much like pre-caucus think pieces on why Iowa doesn't deserve its first-in-the nation status, the proclamation comes from political pundits, deflated candidate volunteers, and strung-out news junkies.

Jamelah E. / Flickr

The Iowa legislature has considered legalizing commercial fireworks for years, though the proposal has never made it to the governor’s desk. This year, the debate is revived. 

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on Iowa's fireworks laws, along with Iowa Public Radio correspondent Joyce Russell. They also discuss a new proposal to allow teenagers to vote in a primary if they will be 18-years-old by Election Day. University of Northern Iowa political analyst Chris Larimer says this bill could increase the youth vote in Iowa.

US Department of Agriculture

An Iowa State University entomologist says he and other experts are keeping an eye on the Zika virus, but he is not too worried that it will be spread in Iowa.  The mosquito-borne virus has been found in about two-dozen Central and South American countries and has been linked to birth defects in Brazil.  

Ryan Smith is an assistant professor at Iowa State University and says Iowa’s cold winters will likely keep the mosquitoes that spread the disease away from this part of the country.

Amy Mayer

Knowing who is not going to make the presidential ballot got a little bit easier this week after the Iowa caucuses (several GOP candidates dropped out after low percentages of the vote), but determining the winners is a bit more complex.

Clay Masters / IPR

Billionaire Donald Trump may have dominated media coverage of the caucus campaign, but when voters finally had the chance to weigh-in, it was retail politics and campaigning, including visits to all 99 counties, that won the day for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That's according to Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for  The Des Moines Register.

Maryland GovPics

Since 2009, University of Iowa political science professor Bob Boynton has been researching what Twitter can uncover that political polls cannot. Specifically, he says that tweets directly reflect what individuals are thinking, instead of being interpreted by the mainstream media.

"The reach of this is really quite extraordinary," says Boynton.

S Pakhrin / Flickr

In 1948, two small lines in a congressional bill meant quite a big deal for Iowa’s sole Native American tribe. In an unfunded mandate from the federal government, the Act of 1948 designated Iowa would take over judicial jurisdiction of the Meskwaki settlement from the federal government.

John Pemble

Days before the Iowa caucuses, political opposites, conservative Christian activist Bob Vander Plaats, of The Family Leader, and LGBT advocate Donna Red Wing, of One Iowa, share their views on the 2016 presidential race.

Red Wing says there is a lot at stake in this election, citing her concern that the next president could nominate up to four justices to the Supreme Court.

John Pemble

Just three days before the national spotlight reaches full intensity, Iowa’s Democratic and Republican Party chairs sit down with River to River host Ben Kieffer to discuss the unique process of each party’s caucus, their turnout expectations, and their take on the surprise populist candidates on each side.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, says he expects turnout to exceed that of 2012, when around 120,000 Iowans voted in the Republican caucuses.

John Pemble / IPR

This year's campaign for president has defied conventional wisdom. While analysts originally looked at fundraising and previous political experience, they overlooked one thing -- the state of mind of the electorate.

Jericho/Wikimedia Commons

Income inequality and the shrinking middle class are major themes in this election cycle, and that's just as true in Iowa as it is elsewhere in the country. Iowa, however, is one of the more equitable states in the country. That's according to David Peters, an associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University. 

Liz Martin

In just over a week, the nation’s eyes turn to Iowa for the first-in-the-nation test of presidential candidates.

On this special edition of River to River, called "Pints and Politics," columnists Todd Dorman and Lynda Waddington of The Gazette, as well as Gazette political reporter James Lynch, join host Ben Kieffer and co-host Jennifer Hemmingsen to talk about what this very surprising campaign season means for Iowa and for the nation.

TEDx MidAtlantic / Flickr

Before Iowans make up their minds before caucus night, Jose Antonio Vargas wants them to consider a few more perspectives. The founder of Define American, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing forward the conversation around immigration, he decided to bring that discussion to Iowans through film.

"The conversation is way too simplified. We don't have enough context and we don't have enough facts. The goal of this festival at its core is to really humanize the issue and to present a vast array of stories. There isn't one immigrant story."

Clay Masters

Twelve days before the Iowa caucuses, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says a Ted Cruz victory in the Iowa caucuses would be a big mistake and very damaging to Iowa.

“I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” says Branstad. “I know he’s hitting the polls, but the only one that counts is the one they take on caucus night.”

Kevin Chang / Flickr

When President Obama announced his proposed changes to gun laws, pro-Second Amendment groups like the National Rifle Association responded negatively, calling the proposals ineffective and a distraction from terrorism concerns. Some Iowa gun owners, however, are supporting Obama's plans.

"I'm an avid hunter and I would like to say that I support what the President has got going on," says one caller. "I've never once thought of my guns as anything less than killing machines."

Lottery Winner Bought Ticket in Onawa, Iowa

Jan 15, 2016

Out of that $1.6 billion dollar Powerball jackpot drawn earlier this week, there were eight $2 million winning tickets nationwide, one of which was bought in Onawa, Iowa at a Casey's gas station.

"If you think about it, this jackpot was growing for more than two months until it was finally won on Wednesday in the drawing. The Iowa lottery sold about $34.2 million in Powerball tickets. In fiscal year 2015, the Iowa Lottery only sold $52.2 million in tickets," says Mary Neubauer, Vice President of External Relations for the Iowa Lottery. 

Pete Souza, Official White House Photo / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

President Barack Obama gave his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. Instead of a traditional speech where the President lays out an agenda for the coming year, the President took more of a long term view.

apeofjungle / Flickr

Earlier this week President Obama announced a plan of executive actions meant to reduce gun violence in America. Among them are attempts to close the so-called "gun show loophole," increase FBI staff running background checks, put larger restrictions on those that buy firearms through corporations or trusts, and remove barriers to integrating mental health records into background check databases. In this News Buzz interview, Ross Loder, Bureau Chief responsible for the weapons permits section at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, joins Ben Kieffer to discuss Iowa gun law.

RifeIdeas / Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump released his first television ad this week in Iowa and New Hampshire. In it, he promises to stop what he calls radical Islamic terrorism by creating a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Imam Taha Tahwil, director of the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, has a less extreme, and more conversational, proposition: Trump should visit the mosque.

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