- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

The Des Moines Register. April 2, 2016

Hunting with lead shot kills Iowa eagles.

About 250,000 hunters spend 4.2 million days hunting in Iowa each year, according to the most recent U.S. Census survey. They leave home with shotguns and boxes of shells and hope to return with a deer, pheasant or dove. But those who use lead shot are contributing to the sickening and killing of other wildlife, including eagles.

Lead is poisonous. When the small toxic pellets contained in a shotgun shell scatter across fields and forests, they look like the weeds and seeds birds eat and the gravel and grit they consume to aid digestion. One or two pellets can kill a small bird. Bald eagles and other large raptors may die when they feed on animals that ingested or were shot with lead ammunition.

In the first three months of 2016, 14 bald eagles were brought to Saving Our Avian Resources, a raptor rehabilitation center in Manning. Ten of the eagles suffered from high levels of lead in their blood and the center is awaiting test results on two more. As of last week only one of the 14 was still alive. Over the past decade, half the eagles tested at the center had elevated levels of the toxic substance and several had lead shot or shrapnel in their digestive tracts.

People who found the sick eagles describe the birds of prey as uncoordinated, unable to fly, acting blind and unaware of their surroundings - consistent with the impaired nervous system, breathing problems and vision problems caused by lead.

But preventing lead poisoning of wildlife is simple. Hunters should use nontoxic shot, including steel and copper, which is widely available. Many hunters already do.

Kay Neumann, the avian center’s executive director, has hunted her entire life and has not used lead shot in more than a decade. “It is not respectful to wildlife. You respect the animals you’re hunting and the animals in the wild,” she said. Scores of studies conclude lead is an environmental hazard.

But in Iowa, it’s up to hunters to do right by choosing nontoxic ammunition. State lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad have refused to require it. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure hunters can spread poison on land.

In 2011, the state’s Natural Resource Commission, a bipartisan board of individuals appointed by the governor, voted unanimously to ban lead shot for hunters who insist on killing small songbirds for a forkful of meat. The chairman of the commission at the time, Greg Drees, told a Register editorial writer at the time that he paid four cents more per shell for non-toxic steel shot and had not used lead ammunition to hunt anything in years.

“We got rid of (lead) from gasoline. We got rid of it from our paint,” he said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned lead shot in hunting waterfowl 20 years ago. “The lead toxicity in the water environment is well-documented. How can people think the toxicity isn’t present in the uplands as well? There is solid science,” Drees said.

But lawmakers blocked the commission’s proposal after listening to complaints from hunters, including Marcus Branstad, the governor’s son. The next year, Branstad signed an executive order rescinding the commission’s ban on lead shot. The year after that, he appointed his son to the commission.

Iowa leaders have repeatedly shown they have no respect for Mother Nature. From lawmakers who refuse to fund a conservation trust created by voters to a governor who takes executive action to ensure mourning dove hunters can use lead shot, state officials should be ashamed.

It is up to hunters to do the right thing. If they continue to use lead ammunition, eagles and other wildlife will continue to pay the price.

State of Iowa silent on poisoning wildlife

The United States banned lead shot for hunting waterfowl in 1991 due to lead poisoning of birds. At least 26 states have restrictions beyond the federal mandate, according to Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. Iowa is not among them. The only advice the Iowa Department of Natural Resources offers relates to humans minimizing exposure to toxic shot when they eat venison.

Other states are more enlightened about the impact lead is having on wildlife:

Wisconsin cautions hunters about the dangers of lead ammunition. Its website includes a report concluding that 25 percent of trumpeter swan fatalities and 15 percent of bald eagle fatalities are attributed to lead toxicity. About 30 percent of dead loons tested were poisoned with lead. “Lead poisoning continues to be a significant mortality factor for several species of birds in Wisconsin,” according to the report.

Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources is considering requiring hunters to use non-toxic shot for small game on some wildlife management areas. Why? “Because of its toxicity.. State wildlife areas contain abundant wetlands and lead shot continues to be deposited in those wetlands as a result of upland game bird hunting,” according to a state report.

In Washington, it is against the law to possess anything other than nontoxic shot when hunting upland game birds, including pheasant and mourning doves. Violators can be fined $1,000 and lose small-game hunting privileges for two years.

California restricted the use of lead ammunition in 2008 because eagles, condors, swans and loons were being poisoned. California will become the first state to prohibit the use of all lead ammunition in all hunting when a ban is fully implemented July 2019.

Giving up lead is not difficult

Some hunters continue to use lead shot due to concerns nontoxic alternatives are more expensive, less accurate or damage shotgun barrels. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife addresses these concerns:

Cost: Though some nontoxic alternatives are more expensive than lead shot, steel shot prices have declined and are approaching the cost of lead. As more consumers demand nontoxic ammunition, prices are expected to further decline.

Performance: In numerous shooting tests, “wounding loss” from steel shot has been no different than from lead shot. Several of the new alternatives have ballistics properties similar to lead, helping to reduce concerns about effectiveness.

Barrel damage: Fears about damage from nontoxic shot have not been substantiated for the vast majority of shotguns.___

Iowa City Press-Citizen. April 1, 2016

Uber should follow taxicab rules.

It appears that Iowa City is soon to welcome a new player in the world of passenger transport.

The city council is poised to adopt amendments to the municipal taxicab ordinance to better accommodate transportation network companies, with the goliath Uber leading the pack in lobbying. On first reading, the amendments were adopted by a unanimous vote, and the council could make those changes a reality on next consideration.

Under the current ordinance, drivers for TNCs would have to go through background checks by the Iowa City Police Department and receive a city-issued identification card after an inspection, as is required for existing cab companies. These mandates would be waived for a TNC, allowing the company to handle inspections and background checks itself.

Internet-based services such as Uber argue the safety precautions implicit in these mandates are already taken care of by the companies, and by additional features of the service’s smartphone app such as the ability to view a driver’s picture, license plate number and for all charges to be pre-arranged for a no-conflict ride. They have a point. “Traditional” taxis could do more to stay competitive in the 21st-century market, and adopting new technologies would be a wise course of action. Already, some local taxis are doing just that, which is a step in the right direction.

However, in preparing to adopt these changes to create a more agreeable environment for Uber, the city council has also discussed changing rules for taxicab companies in the spirit of fairness. Although this sentiment is commendable, it makes us wonder just how equitable things can be if regulations are dropped across the board.

Would the city no longer ask that taxi vehicles have a uniform color scheme? Would the fee structure be dropped?

It’s doubtful the city would want to lose any source of revenue in these lean times, so it’s safe to assume the answer to at least some of these questions would be “no.” If such sweeping changes wouldn’t be adopted to foster a truly equal marketplace, then we must urge the rules stay in place as they are.

Uber already requires driver vehicles to undergo a 19-point inspection before they are allowed to take passengers. Though the process of licensure by the city would no doubt look similar to that which the company requires of its contractors, we see no reason why that process couldn’t go through the city government to ensure independence and transparency. Asking for an exception because this might be more costly for Uber and other TNCs is not particularly compelling.

The company’s argument that these requirements would delay its drivers from starting their work or make them less likely to sign on as contractors in the first place makes little sense if another component of the argument is that Uber’s own standards are similarly stringent. Would it not take just as long to get started if this were the case.

Iowa state law also requires a chauffeur’s license for passenger-for-hire vehicles carrying fewer than 16 persons. Although Uber representatives were correct that the differences between a chauffeur’s licence and a standard operator’s license are the completion of a standard vision test and a slightly higher annual fee, the law remains the law. Until the legislature amends the requirements for TNCs, drivers should hold this license to avoid violating state law, and if Uber does come to Iowa City, passenger expectations should take this requirement into account.

Standing stodgily athwart the march of progress isn’t something we want to do - nor would most in the community, we would guess. But progress isn’t a zero-sum game, and technological advancement doesn’t necessarily equate with progress if that advancement comes at the cost of basic checks and balances. There is nothing stopping Uber from entering into the Iowa City market at this time besides their own steadfast refusal to do so.

We’re confident that the costs from complying with the city’s rules as they now stand would be far outweighed by the massive userbase waiting to take advantages of the company’s services. “Traditional” taxis will have to do their best to keep up with the sophistication of TNCs, and there’s nothing like a brand-new competitor to get everyone to step up their game.

But a company’s popularity does not entitle it to shape the law as it sees fit. Doing business means a certain level of regulatory burden should be expected, and though those regulations might carry a cost for the company, they hold a far greater benefit in terms of mutually understood security and protection. Eroding that safeguard for the sake of a new type of service, or dismantling requirements already in place for others to create something like a level playing field, is a dangerous gamble and not one we’re willing to take.___

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Mar. 29, 2016

ISIS attacks require strong response.

The blame game continues after Belgian authorities failed to thwart the March 22 ISIS attacks in Brussels that killed 31.

The atrocities followed the March 18 arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian national implicated in the Nov. 13 massacres in Paris that killed 130. Abdeslam was living in plain sight in Brussels.

In addition, Turkey warned Dutch and Belgian authorities about suicide bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui, who was deported to Amsterdam in July after associating with radicals near the Syrian border. Their concerns were ignored.

It is evident communications between law enforcement agencies - whether in Belgian or throughout Europe - have been severely lacking while the Islamist sociopaths have inflicted horrific carnage.

Military success, though, has been encouraging in northern Iraq and Northeast Syria, where ISIS has been losing territory to a reinvigorated (at last) Iraqi army, Kurds, Shiites and civilians taking up arms in defense of their cities.

“(ISIS forces) don’t fight,” Lt. Gen. Abdul-Ghani al-Assadi, Iraq’s commander of counterterrorism forces, told the Washington Post. “They just send car bombs and then run away. And when we surround them, they either surrender or infiltrate themselves among civilians.”

The U.S. also killed two ISIS leaders this month - Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, its top financier, and Omar al-Shishani, its minister of war.

But U.S. blunders are largely responsible for the growth of ISIS.

President George W. Bush called for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party because of false claims of ties to al-Qaida’s Osama bin Laden - both Sunnis - and weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

The biggest mistake was the “de-Baathification law” denying 400,000 members of the Iraqi army employment and pensions but allowing them to keep their guns. Many joined the insurgency.

“When they dismantled the army what did they expect those men to do? They were out in the cold with nothing to do and there was only one way out for them to put food on the table,” a former Iraqi general told the Washington Post.

“The crisis of ISIS didn’t happen by chance,” said Brig. Gen. Hassan Dulaimi, a former Iraqi intelligence officer. “It was the result of an accumulation of problems created by the Americans and the (Iraqi) government.”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite installed by the Bush administration and initially backed by Obama, would throw in with Iran and persecute Sunnis.

After the U.S. honored a 2008 pledge by Bush to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2011, Maliki began firing Sunni officers “rehabilitated” by the U.S. military. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the spiritual head of ISIS, recruited them.

Leon Panetta, then Obama’s defense secretary, has stated, “It was clear to me - and many others - that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability.” Obama wanted 5,000 to 10,000 combat troops to remain, but Maliki scuttled a deal.

Hassan Hassan, co-author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” said ISIS videos mirror those of the Fedayeen, Saddam’s paramilitary organization - the training, marching in black masks and decapitation. The Fedayeen are considered to be the backbone of ISIS.

Obama has consistently downplayed ISIS. In January 2014, after maintaining al-Qaida had been “decimated” and ISIS posed no threat despite just taking Fallujah and occupying territory in Syria, he told the New Yorker, “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

His reluctance to send more U.S. troops to the Middle East echoed the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and public opinion. It wasn’t until December - following the San Bernardino murders - that a CNN/ORC poll found most Americans, 53 percent, supported a larger U.S. troop presence.

Meanwhile, ISIS established another outpost in Libya, where U.S. and the Europeans failed to stabilize the government after NATO air strikes helped oust Muammar Gaddafi.

Congress may be obsessed with the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stone and three others, but the larger issue is inaction as Islamists raided Gaddafi’s vast chemical weapons and arms cache.

Prior to the Brussels attack, the president stated in “The Obama Doctrine” in the Atlantic magazine that “ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” citing climate change as a bigger challenge.

He has long believed a large American military presence in the Middle East only serves as a jihadist recruitment tool; that regional entities must secure own their destiny; and he chafes at the fact Saudi Arabia and Qatar rely on U.S. “muscle” to survive, but aid Islamists.

While Obama’s strategy is making headway, when ISIS ups the ante a more aggressive and coherent response from the U.S. and its allies is required.___

Sioux City Journal. Mar. 31, 2016

Legislature should address medical marijuana flaw.

Iowa’s Legislature was right in 2014 to pass a bill through which patients afflicted by epilepsy can legally possess an anti-seizure medicine derived from cannabis.

We supported the bill because we have compassion for Iowans who suffer from diseases and disorders from which medical marijuana might provide some relief.

Because we have faith and confidence in Iowa’s medical community, we believe physicians in our state should possess, within the proper regulatory and distribution framework, the legal option to write a prescription for medical marijuana, for epilepsy and other conditions, if he or she believes the drug would ease a patient’s suffering. We do not support legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

To these ends, we viewed the 2014 legislation as a good start to this discussion, and we supported future debate about expanding our state’s medical marijuana program.

Since its passage, though, Iowans have raised reasonable complaints about a shortcoming of the bill. In simple terms, the bill didn’t address production and distribution of the drug within the state. In other words, an Iowan can legally possess the drug for treatment of epilepsy, but it remains illegal in the state to produce or distribute it. The end result is Iowans who would benefit from the drug can’t get it here, so they are forced to travel to another state.

This makes no sense and is something the Legislature needs to address - this year.

We urge lawmakers to legalize the production and distribution of cannabidiol in Iowa, at least for use by epilepsy patients.

As we have said before, we support discussion of expanding Iowa’s medical marijuana program to other illnesses, but if that discussion is preventing anything from happening for epilepsy patients this year, then lawmakers should put expansion on hold until next year.

At a minimum, the Legislature this year needs to rectify the medical marijuana production and distribution problem faced by those who suffer from epilepsy who were given the legal right to possess cannabidiol for their condition under the 2014 bill.___

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