- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

The Des Moines Register. June 3, 2015

What you think about caucusgoers may be wrong

Attempts to stereotype Iowa caucusgoers will not only make political pundits look foolish, but it may also cost candidates. The latest Iowa Poll shows this danger.

Here are a few observations from The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll conducted May 25-29 of likely caucusgoers:

Social issues are secondary. Don’t believe the conventional wisdom that the Christian right will dominate the Republican caucuses. When asked what they want candidates to spend a lot of time discussing, fewer than half of Republican poll respondents said abortion, candidates’ religious beliefs or same-sex marriage. The vast majority are interested in topics that affect the nation as a whole, including the budget deficit, defense, taxes, immigration and terrorism.

Yet we still witness a parade of pandering, as some candidates suggest that jackbooted federal agents are one step away from criminalizing Christianity.

Instead, Iowans want to hear real policy prescriptions on serious issues. Want to talk about the deficit? Candidates must go beyond vowing to “cut waste, fraud and abuse.” Tell us how you will ensure the future viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other non-discretionary spending, which makes up 65 percent of the federal budget.

It’s the economy, stupid. Both parties should follow the famous advice of Democratic strategist James Carville. Among both Republicans and Democrats polled, 86 percent selected job creation as something they want to hear candidates discuss extensively. The problem is that presidents have only limited power to create jobs - unless they begin a serious campaign to fix the nation’s infrastructure. That’s a priority of 88 percent of Democrats polled and 78 percent of Republicans.

But how do you talk about it? Republicans may need to tread carefully when discussing income inequality. Republican candidates including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have borrowed this traditionally Democratic talking point. In a guest opinion published in the Register, Rick Santorum mentioned none of the social issues he has hammered on in the past. Instead, he wrote: “Republicans are quick to quote the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. But there are millions of Americans with holes in their boats.”

No doubt many Iowans are worried about falling behind. But in the Iowa Poll, only 36 percent of Republicans picked “income inequality” as an issue candidates should talk a lot about - second to last on a list of 20 issues. Gallup polls taken this year also indicate the issue isn’t a top priority for Americans. But the Iowa Poll shows that it’s huge for Democrats - 90 percent say they want candidates to talk a lot about it. The bigger question is: What should government do about it? That’s an answer all candidates should be prepared to discuss.

The GOP may indeed be a big tent. The Iowa Poll showed a schism in the Republican Party on many social issues. Moderates - identified as 24 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers - said some conservative positions on the environment, national security, religious freedom and same-sex marriage go too far. Pollster J. Ann Selzer points out: “With so many candidates courting the ‘very conservative’ vote, a moderate - the right moderate - could capture a substantial segment, and possibly recruit more caucusgoers.”

What climate change? We’re waiting for a Republican candidate who is bold enough to talk about solutions. Only 18 percent of Republicans polled want candidates to discuss climate change, in contrast to 81 percent of Democrats polled. But the issue is sure to emerge in a general election, where a Republican candidate will feel the heat.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. June 4, 2015

Legislators should think ahead on school funding compromise

Finally, it seems our state lawmakers have come to a budget conclusion.

Under the proposed state budget, about $7.3 billion will be spent for the upcoming fiscal year under the compromise deal Iowa lawmakers announced earlier this week. That includes $7.168 billion in ongoing spending, plus an additional $125 million in one-time expenses.

At this writing, the deal is still tentative and we’d like to see at least one more act - setting education funding for the next two fiscal years. We certainly don’t want to see Iowa’s school districts go through another legislative session like this one - not knowing what to expect for their own budgets.

It’s a step Gov. Terry Branstad has been pushing for.

“We don’t want to have another year like this year where they spend the whole year fighting over money,” Branstad said.

The school funding proposal for 2015-16 is 1.25 percent increase over the previous year’s funding, plus a one-time $55.7 million appropriation. That’s a rough equivalent of a 2.625 percent increase.

Republicans had pushed for a 1.25 percent increase. Democrats initially proposed a 6 percent increase and then lowered it twice, first to 4 percent and then to 2.625 percent.

“There’s more (school funding) because we fought,” said senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. “The people of Iowa sent a collection of people to this building. That collection of people has met and worked together and chose compromise over gridlock.”

Well, eventually they were forced to.

The session was already well into overtime. Daily expense payments for state lawmakers ran out May 1, but they cannot adjourn until reaching a budget agreement for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said the budget proposal fit within Republicans’ philosophy of not spending more on ongoing expenses than the state has revenue.

“I feel good about the agreement,” Paulsen said. “We’ve once again managed to balance ongoing revenue with ongoing expenses and meet the needs and priorities of Iowans.”

On the overall budget, Gronstal said: “Left to our own devices we would pass a very different budget.”

With the makeup of our Legislature, that pretty much goes without saying. While the partisanship and bickering always becomes tiring, government representatives - armed with varying goals, allegiances and perspectives - eventually come to some sort of agreement.

Iowa has a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-led House, so compromise is essential. In the K-12 school funding department, we’d like to see it extend out another year.

Lawmakers would be doing themselves a favor. Just think of all that freedom to work toward compromise on all the other important issues.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. June 3, 2015

LifeFlight service is a huge asset

Trinity Regional Medical Center is a remarkable health care facility. Its state-of-the art treatment options and many dedicated professionals guarantee that area residents have access to some of the best health care available anywhere.

Sometimes, however, a patient needs specialized care that cannot be provided at TRMC. In many instances that requires transport to a hospital elsewhere in the Hawkeye State. In some emergency situations, getting the person in need of assistance to the venue where it can be provided needs to occur fast if a life is to be saved or avoidable complications prevented.

That’s why the air ambulance capabilities that have been upgraded locally this year are an important enhancement to health care in our community.

This week, the UnityPoint Health air ambulance service LifeFlight, in partnership with Air Methods Corp., has improved its air medical service by basing an aircraft in Fort Dodge at Trinity.

Air ambulance services have been available at Trinity for many years. Helicopter basing here, however, is a new feature that has been added this year. It is speeding up the transfer of patients and is improving outreach to hospitals in other north Iowa towns.

“We are excited about the partnership with UnityPoint Health - LifeFlight. Basing an air ambulance service at Trinity provides a tremendous benefit to our community and region,” said Troy Martens, chief operating officer of Trinity Regional Medical Center in a statement released May 29. “By having LifeFlight services available at all times Trinity can significantly reduce the transportation time for critically ill patients, which can have a significant impact on a patient outcomes.”

The Messenger applauds this strengthened transport capability. While we all hope never to need this service, it is immensely reassuring to know that it is available should we need it.

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Telegraph Herald. June 5, 2015

TSA’s lousy track record demands scrutiny

TSA might have replaced IRS as the government acronym most loathed by citizens.

Likely, you were already a little disgruntled with the Transportation Security Administration for making you take off your shoes, belt and watch, and pull your laptop out of its case every time you go through airport security. Then there was the time they made you throw out the $12 bottle of sunblock - the one you had to buy at the hotel gift shop - because it contained more than three ounces of liquid.

Yes, children’s souvenir snowglobes and the pocketknives of elderly veterans alike have met with the laser-like confiscation skills of the TSA.

What does manage to sneak past these armed guards of airports? Just about everything that is truly dangerous.

Federal undercover investigators have been testing airport screeners by attempting to smuggle simulated bombs and weapons aboard planes. In an audit released recently, the prohibited items went unnoticed 67 out of 70 times at TSA airport checkpoints.

That’s 95 percent of the time.

Ninety-five percent of the time an undercover agent tried to sneak in a gun, he or she got away with it.

Ninety-five percent of the time they tried to bring what looked just like explosives on to a U.S. commercial flight, they were successful.

While most American travelers are busy making sure their deodorant isn’t a four-ounce stick and pouring out the last of their Starbucks before they enter Security, others are getting through with the very devices the TSA was created to catch.

On Monday, Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, removed Melvin Carraway as acting administrator of TSA and replaced him with Mark Hatfield, who had been acting deputy administrator for TSA. In a statement issued that evening, Johnson said, “The numbers in these reports never look good out of context, but they are a critical element in the continual evolution of our aviation security.”

What is the context in which a 5 percent success rate looks good?

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who helped establish TSA in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said of the latest audit results: “I’ve seen far worse. The results I’ve gotten back are even worse than what you see being released here.” Mica was describing other classified reports he has reviewed.

It gets worse than a 95 percent failure rate?

Most travelers know the TSA has a job to do. While they might not love the process of taking off shoes, emptying pockets and unbuckling babies from strollers, they consider it a small price to pay to be safe on planes. But now we find out that those concessions come with no such assurance of safety. That makes all that hassle tough to swallow.

Some members of Congress are already calling for a top-to-bottom investigation of the TSA. It can’t happen soon enough. Until it does, the average American traveler is likely to have a short fuse in passing through the rigors of a TSA line. We’ll just hope that short fuse is metaphorical.

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