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

Michael Vadon / Flickr

At a press conference yesterday,  ABC News’ Tom Llamas pressed Donald Trump for details on a discrepancy between charitable donations to veterans' groups he had claimed at a January rally in Iowa and actual records of those donations on the books. 

"Mister Trump, writing a million dollar check is incredibly generous, but that night of the Iowa fundraiser you said you had raised six million dollars," he said. "Clearly you had not. Your critics say you tend to exaggerate, you have a problem with the truth--is this a prime example?

Lou Gold / Flickr

A bill eliminating the terms 'Oriental' and 'Negro' from federal documents sailed through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama last week. Now, official documents will use the words 'Asian American' and 'African American.' Mae Ngai, Lung Professor of Asian American studies and professor of history at Columbia University, says the move is long overdue.

"It's a welcome change. It's symbolic, of course, but nobody wants to be insulted, even if it's symbolically."

Wikimedia Commons

With businessman Donald Trump the apparent GOP nominee for President of the United States, Americans are anxiously awaiting what comes next.

Michael Lind, fellow at New America, author of Land of Thomas: An Economic History of the United States and columnist for Salon and contributing editor to Politico has called the 2016 election cycle an “earthquake.”

"The big news in this election is the policy realignment. There’s been a gap between the existing coalitions, and their party platforms," says Lind.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley's refusal to hold a hearing for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, has changed the landscape for Grassley's reelection campaign this fall. On June 7th Iowans will choose from among four candidates to determine which Democrat will face Grassley in the general election. 

Patty Judge is a former lieutenant governor, former secretary of agriculture for Iowa, and former state legislator. Judge spoke to Ben Kieffer on River to River.  Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The world’s three largest seed companies are in talks about possible mergers. That could result in a broader definition of what it means to be an agricultural business and would create a new landscape for farmers buying seeds, fertilizer, and even machinery.

"They’re selling the seed, the chemicals, the fertilizer," says Chad Hart, Extension economist and associate professor at Iowa State University. "We may even see some combination where we see some ag machinery companies merging with some seed companies or some fertilizer companies."

Public Domain / Wikimedia

The Japanese surrender in WWII was official with the signing of the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945. But for Jerry Yellin, the war ended with his last combat mission on August 14th, the same day his wing man, 19-year-old Phil Schlamberg from Brooklyn New York disappeared over Japan.

Yellin, who now lives in Fairfield was a Captain in the Army Air Corps and a fighter pilot who flew a P-51. He says he was never wounded and claims he never thought he would die, but he's still haunted by the deaths of every one of the 16 men lost from his squadron of 32. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Iowa City-based tenor saxophonist and composer Jeff Miguel unveils the latest installment of his group, the Jeff Miguel Quartet. 

Lend an ear to the podcast below to hear Java Blend host Ben Kieffer chat with Miguel, as he plays tunes off his debut record, Perseverance. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

When U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley decided not to schedule confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, the Democratic primary contest for Iowa's U.S. Senate seat became one to watch. Before the vote on June 7th, we’re airing interviews with all four candidates on that ballot. 

Rob Hogg is an attorney and state senator; he’s been serving at the Iowa statehouse since 2003.  On Monday, he spoke with IPR’s Ben Kieffer on River to River and began by distinguishing his fundraising from his opponents.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Last Saturday at the Iowa Republican Convention, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann enthused that support was building for Trump.

“Every time I speak, I’m seeing more and more and more unity. Which means, bottom line is, we’re going to really, for all practical purposes, be able to start the Hillary vs. Trump contest long before we actually go into Cleveland.”

OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY LAWRENCE JACKSON

Now that the election is well underway, it's prime season for the campaigns to consider their vice president picks. According to presidential historian Tim Walch, there are three things campaigns look for in a candidate.

Temperament – "You don’t want somebody who is going to blow up or be difficult with the president," he says. "They have to keep in mind that they are there to assist the president."

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Senator Chuck Grassley, the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, is up for reelection this November.  Four Democrats are running to be the party nominee to challenge him in November – and they face off in a primary election June 7th.   The Democratic race heated up a few months ago, after Grassley refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.  This week, we’re publishing interviews from all four Democrats on the primary ballot.  

courtesy of Paul Schaefer

 Four Democrats are on the June 7th primary ballot for the U-S Senate seat currently held by Republican Chuck Grassley.  He is the longest serving member of Iowa’s congressional delegation.  Grassley’s decision not to schedule confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee has attracted more attention to the Democratic primary contest.  This week and next, we’re airing interviews from all four candidates on that ballot. 

Pat Blank/IPR

This week, University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud announced that he will be leaving UNI this summer to become president of Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio.

On this news buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer sits down with Ruud to find out why he is leaving Iowa, just three years after he interviewed for the position, when he implied that this would be his last job. 

"The opportunity to go to Marietta College is a great opportunity for me at this point in time in my career," says Ruud. 

Perspecsys Photos / www.perspecsys.com

After high-profile hacks in the private sector and an embarrassing theft of information from government personnel files, President Barack Obama set up a commission on enhancing national cybersecurity. The commission is due to make its long term recommendations by early December on tightening cybersecurity in the private sector and in the government. It's part of Obama's $19 billion proposal to boost defenses against hackers. 

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

This week, NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft mission has discovered 1,284 more planets in addition to what it's already discovered. This brings Kepler's total to more than 2,000 planets discovered in a narrow patch of the sky that's "about the size of your fist, if you hold your fist up to the sky," says Iowa State University astronomer Steve Kawaler.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

With the lawsuits between North Carolina and the Department of Justice and widespread boycotts of establishments like Target for their inclusive bathroom policies, transgender rights have been dominating the news cycle. In the middle of the politics and punditry, it's easy to lose sight of what being transgender actually means. Jay Irwin, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says language is a good place to start.

Randy Bayne / Flickr

In a speech after his victory in the West Virginia primary Tuesday, Bernie Sanders made a nod towards unity in his party. 

"Our message to the Democratic delegates who will be assembling in Philadelphia is while we may have many disagreements with Secretary Clinton, there is one area we agree, and that is we must defeat Donald Trump."

BBC World Service

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with José Orduña, author of The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement. In his book, Orduña tells his family's story of emigrating from Mexico and reflects on the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States.

Orduña says that even after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, he still has feelings on injustice and anger towards the system.

Rick Friday

Rick Friday had been drawing editorial cartoons for Farm News for more than two decades, that was until last week when a cartoon criticizing Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and John Deere cost him his job.

He drew a farmer lamenting to another farmer the downturn in the commodity prices. Friday was as surprised as anyone that the cartoon then cost him his job, especially given that it had gone though the editor of the paper before being printed. 

An assistant Iowa attorney general is calling on state lawmakers to take action next session on laws to protect bicyclists on Iowa roadways. Iowa Assistant Attorney General Pete Grady says current law makes it nearly impossible to prove recklessness in cases where drivers hit bicyclists. 

At present, Grady says prosecutors need to show the vehicle operators knew their actions would cause harm.

"I don’t think anyone would define reckless behavior as requiring a better than 50 percent outcome for danger or harm, but that’s the standard we have here in Iowa," he says. 

courtesy of Jack Schuler

Last Saturday, Democrats held conventions in all four of Iowa’s congressional districts and chose their national delegates and electors. (Delegates choose the party's nominee, electors represent Iowa's votes in the electoral college.) One of those electors is Jack Schuler, a English teacher at Lincoln High School in Des Moines who may be making history. While the Democratic party has had transgender delegates previously, it’s possible that Jack, who was born as Elyse Schuler, is the first transgender elector in Iowa, and in the nation. 

LEE HAYWOOD

Recently, Democrats in the Iowa Senate introduced a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients to self-administer prescription drugs to end their own lives.

The right-to-die bill did not advance, and was strongly opposed by the governor, but it did spark an emotional debate over individual freedom to end personal suffering versus protection of the sanctity of life.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

The President and CEO of The Family Leader says he’s taking a deep breath today, after the announcement by Texas Senator Ted Cruz that he’s suspending his campaign for president.

Bob Vander Plaats endorsed Cruz and was a national co-chair for the campaign, although The Family Leader remained neutral in the race for the Republican nomination. Vander Plaats says he’s keeping an open mind about whether to now endorse Donald Trump, but he first wants the chance to speak with the billionaire. 

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," Illinois-based blues band Kilborn Alley, fresh off their European tour earlier this year, burns through their original blues tunes on The Java House stage in downtown Iowa City. 

In the downloadable podcast below, you'll hear host Ben Kieffer get the low down on the group's time abroad, as well as their interesting songwriting process. 

John Pemble/IPR

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse on Friday, April 29. While the House and the Senate reached a deal on the budget which included tax credits for couples who adopt instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, they did not compromise on bills that would have expanded access to medical marijuana or funded new water quality initiatives in the state. 

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Ben Kieffer / Iowa Public Radio

    

When Donald Trump made the comment that Hillary Clinton's only card was "the woman card," Clinton took up the mantle.

"If fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in."

Two Iowan siblings took it a bit more literally. Zach and Zebby Wahls are creating a deck of playing cards celebrating prominent women in American history. They launched a Kickstarter yesterday afternoon in the hopes of gaining $5,000 in 30 days.

It took three and a half hours.

Joyce Russell/IPR

An expansion of Iowa’s medical cannabis law was defeated this week in the Iowa House, leading to an emotional reaction from affected families.

"I'm disappointed," says Sally Gaer. "I feel misled by the members of the House. We've been working on this for months, and what they did [Monday] night shows they have no conscience - pure and simple. They decided not to help Iowans most vulnerable because they, quite frankly, don't care."

Wellcome Images

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury talk with medical providers about how different medical robots work, as well as the pros and cons of working side-by-side with machines to provide patient care.

Robots at the bedside: Telemedicine and the stroke robot

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.

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