- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

Des Moines Register. Mar. 10, 2016

High school football must rush to act.

This fall, 362 high school teams are expected to play football in Iowa, ranging from Meskwaki Settlement - with a high school enrollment of 45 students - to 2,170-student West Des Moines Valley. That equals opportunity for more than 18,000 students.

In Iowa, America’s favorite sport isn’t reserved for only the biggest, strongest or fastest. Even after decades of consolidations, many tiny schools maintain football programs, creating eight-man teams or joining with neighboring districts to field teams.

How much longer will this tradition last? Can football survive all the hits it has taken?

Yes, but only if everyone - including lawmakers, parents, administrators, coaches and fans - take safety concerns seriously. A first step for the Iowa Legislature should be passing a bill requiring schools to provide an athletic trainer or other health care professional at varsity football games and other collision sports.

A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll illustrates the concerns over safety. About half of those surveyed said they either would not let their children play football or weren’t sure.

Those Iowans’ fears are legitimate. Every day, another horror story emerges of a NFL player suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy or other debilitating health problems. The medical studies are piling up against high school football, too: Five to 20 percent of students experience at least one concussion in a season of play, studies show, and the brains of children are more susceptible to long-term damage from concussion than adults.

Liability concerns are growing, as well. In May 2015, a jury awarded a former Bedford High School football player nearly $1 million in a case involving the school’s response to his head injuries.

Just as Iowans are divided over football, so are doctors. The American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed reforms to improve the game’s safety. But an editorial in the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics calls for public schools to end tackle football.

The safety risks should be balanced with football’s benefits, including fitness, physical and mental toughness, teamwork and discipline.

Scott Heitland is spreading the word about the rewards of playing football without minimizing the safety concerns. He’s head football coach at Dallas Center-Grimes High School and president of the Iowa Football Coaches Association. The father of two sons, people ask him whether he’ll let his 6-year-old, who’s already a fan, play. “We’ll consider what is best for him,” he said, adding it’s a discussion all families must have.

He believes that the game is safer than ever, certainly since he played high school football in the early 1990s. Equipment is better, coaches are smarter about injury warning signs, and players are sitting out until they show no concussion symptoms for five days.

The game’s fundamentals are changing, too. Heitland returned last month from a USA Football training session on “Heads Up” tackling and blocking, which teaches players how to avoid head injuries. He plans to share the techniques with the coaches association’s board of directors.

Coaches like Heitland are fighting against the clock. The NFL is finally showing signs of making the game safer, but its years-long conspiracy of silence on CTE will have long-lasting effects on all of football. Problems also exist on the other end of the spectrum. Kids are padding up younger than ever, much to the dismay of some high school and college coaches. A well-meaning but poorly trained volunteer coach can end up turning kids away from the game, or getting them injured.

“Everyone worries about the over-the-top coach,” Heitland said. Instead of fighting youth football, he and other high school coaches are reaching out to youth leagues and sharing drills, training and techniques to improve safety.

Football’s fate shouldn’t be assumed. The evidence we have now shows the sport is worth saving and that future high schoolers should have the chance to play. But for that to happen, state and school officials need to act.

Otherwise, only the richest and largest programs could afford the risk of offering the sport. And the game will be left to modern-day gladiators bashing skulls for the enjoyment of the rest of us.___

The Quad-City Times. Mar. 11, 2016

Excuses won’t fix Iowa’s broken school funding.

Another year, another lap around the block for Iowa House’s can-kicking parade.

Feckless Republican lawmakers refuse to address the inherent inequality in the state’s school funding model. They’re “studying” the problem, House Republicans parrot. It will take “multiple sessions” to address the issue, they disingenuously protest, as the frustration grows in the community. Tell both sides of the story, Rep. Ross Paustian said in Wednesday’s Quad-City Times.

Davenport is just missing out on about $3 million a year. It’s just getting shorted by a couple dozen teachers, a mountain of new computers or a bolstered arts program. Its high school students will graduate without the amenities enjoyed by other districts on the winning end of the state-centralized unfairness that Des Moines levels on school districts.

What’s the rush?


Here’s the real story, Rep. Paustian: Students, faculty and residents within Davenport Community School District are reminded daily of their second-class status. It’s an objective fact. And, frankly, the Iowa Legislature has spent years debating, ducking and ignoring the issue.

You’ve already had those “multiple sessions.” And you’ve done nothing.

Those “multiple sessions” included legislation by Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, that would permit districts to plug the short-term gap with reserve funds. Thede again introduced her bill this year. And, once again, it went nowhere. House Republicans killed it, arguing that, down the road, property taxes would spike once the rainy-day funds were spent.

Yet another hollow excuse from lawmakers uninterested in pumping much-needed cash into public education. Even if just a Band-Aid, Thede’s pitch would have provided many schools with the money needed right now. And, just maybe, the coming reckoning when the reserves run out would finally force action from a legislature that’s spent years punting on the problem.

The “whole” story doesn’t stop here.

Iowa spends almost $1,000 less on each K-12 student than the national average. And the state ranks in the lower third in per-pupil spending among the states, says the Urban Education Network of Iowa. State aid - as a proportionate of total spending - dipped over the past several years. Local taxpayers are tasked with picking up the slack. Yet, the state’s disdain for local control limits districts’ ability to raise taxes.

Schools are trapped, held captive by state government unwilling to submit to home rule.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, by routing some funds designated for school construction projects toward water quality issues, is a non-starter in the Democratic Senate. Both issues are real. Both require cash. Both require independent funding streams to properly serve Iowans.

So, here we are. Davenport Superintendent Art Tate is ready to break the law and enact the very budgetary maneuver that Thede hoped to legalize. State education officials declined comment on the potential repercussions Tate’s potential insubordination. But it’s a very real possibility that Tate’s career could be over once the district starts spending down its reserves.

The Branstad administration will have to act unless it’s prepared for a wave of copy cats. Tate’s civil disobedience is symptomatic of boiling frustration with Iowa’s busted school funding model.

House Republicans need more time, they say. They are studying the issue, they pledge. They are concerned about a funding system that creates have and have-not districts, they contend.

But the House majority has spent years ducking the issue. They have sidestepped hard decisions for political expediency. They have proven that electioneering outstrips public education.

All the bluster to the contrary coming from the House is nothing but lip service. ___

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque). Mar. 11, 2016

Ex-presidents who don’t need taxpayers’ help.

Whatever happens in the November election, one thing is certain: Come January, Americans will be footing bills for another former president - and a relatively young and healthy one at that.

When President Obama becomes former President Obama, he will join the ranks of an elite handful who still enjoy some pretty nice perks on the taxpayer dime. In 2015, we picked up the tab for pension and benefits for four former presidents. George W. Bush got more than $1 million. His father, George H.W. Bush, got about $800,000. Bill Clinton received $900,000 while Jimmy Carter, not surprisingly, was a bargain at $430,000.

Without question, being president is no easy job. It’s grueling. Comparing photos of our presidents just before they take office with those four or eight years later makes it clear that there is more going on than just the passage of time. The job is a grind, and our former presidents deserve some sort of retirement plan. But $1 million a year seems to be a pretty pricey thank-you. So does $900,000. Or $800,000. Especially when the former president already possesses a substantial nest egg or enjoys post-White House earning power.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, thinks the right number is about $200,000, and she’s written legislation to make that proposal law.

She is on the right track.

Clinton pulls down at least $200,000 every time he gives a speech. (We doubt that his wife, Hillary, has to pay him for his campaign speeches - or at least not that much.) George W. Bush doesn’t talk as often or collect as much money as Clinton, but he still receives upwards of $150,000 a speech. He has delivered more than 200 speeches the past seven-plus years, so that represents about $30 million. Clinton’s coffers are even more full.

These guys have also made fortunes on book deals - millions.

And that’s OK. As Gerald Ford once argued, a private citizen should be able to leverage his past experience however he pleases.

But when ex-presidents are making millions, do Americans really need to pay $440,000 a year for their office space, as they did for George W. Bush and Clinton in Fiscal 2014?

After all, as a nation, we’re not flush. The national debt is around $19 trillion and rising. Now, considered as part of a multi-trillion-dollar annual budget, the outlay for former presidents is seat-cushion change. But it’s the principle of the thing. Plus, if not here, where should we start to tighten the fiscal belt?

The stipend limitation won’t impact ex-presidents’ Secret Service detail - they get that for life, as they should. But Ernst’s bill would cut out the unlimited spending on things like communications, office space, staff and travel expenses. The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act would set the allowance at $200,000 a year - an amount that would be further reduced if a former president makes more than $400,000 in income in a given year.

That seems fair.

We have no former presidents who are struggling to pay bills. And one can only imagine President Obama’s speaking fees will join his predecessors in the stratosphere. But there’s no reason taxpayers need to pay office expenses for millionaires, even if they are former presidents.___

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Mar. 10, 2016

The influence of first lady Nancy Reagan.

Perhaps more than any first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, helped change the course of history.

She will be forever remembered for her adoring gazes, steadfast support and enduring love of President Ronald Reagan during their 52-year, fairy-tale marriage as the ultimate Hollywood power couple. As the actress Nancy Davis, she appeared in 11 films.

She was known as a fashionista, redecorating the White House and consulting an astrologer for advice. But the stereotypes don’t do her justice. She was her husband’s most pragmatic and influential adviser.

“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said longtime Republican aide Michael K. Deaver, who died in 2007.

Elected in 1980 as a staunch anti-communist, Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as “the evil empire” in March 1983, making any rapprochement between the superpowers seemingly impossible.

Two years later, Mikhail Gorbachev emerged as a Soviet reformer. Nancy Reagan urged her husband to take a different tack. She was responsible, he would say, for “lowering the temperature of my rhetoric.”

She worked with Secretary of State George Schultz to outflank anti-communist national security hawks to bring the president and Gorbachev together to sign historic arms agreements and establish a relationship that would end the Cold War.

In “Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History,” Deaver told author Kati Marton, “Nancy believed this was her husband’s destiny. A man of his age who had lived through two world wars would be the one to break the deadlock of the Cold War.”

She feuded with Chief of Staff Donald Regan whom, she said, “liked the sound of chief but not of staff,” blaming him for the Iran-Contra affair undermining her husband’s second term. The illegal operation involved White House aides who arranged for arms sales to Iran in exchange for seven American hostages held in Lebanon. The money from the sales was intended to aid Contra rebels fighting the socialist regime in Nicaragua.

Their power struggle prompted Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., to ask on the House floor “What is happening at the White House? Who is in charge? A constituent of mine asked, ‘How can the president deal with the Soviets if he cannot settle a dispute between his wife and the chief of staff?’”

She persuaded her husband to apologize on national TV in March 1987, which reversed his plummeting popularity ratings.

The deposed Regan, though, got a measure of revenge in his book, “For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington.” He revealed the first lady frequently consulted San Francisco astrologer Joan Quigley after she had predicted that March 30, 1981 - John Hinckley’s failed assassination attempt - would be a “bad day” for the president.

Nancy Reagan maintained her advice was only used for scheduling.

Bad news was more likely to stick to her than her spouse. Even when Ronald Reagan became the popular governor of California, she was derided as icy, “pretty Nancy.”

“While Ronald Reagan went on to become the ‘Teflon president’ .?.?. by contrast Nancy would become something like the ‘flypaper first lady,’” Deaver said.

First ladies from Dolley Madison to Jacqueline Kennedy were applauded for redecorating the White House. After years of neglect, Nancy Reagan was criticized for spending $800,000 to do so and another $200,000 on 200 sets of china, using private donations.

The Reagans - unlike their predecessors the Carters, peanut farmers who abstained from alcohol - loved to entertain. Their 56 state dinners often had ulterior motives, such as ingratiating them with political foes like House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Her fashion sense - expensive, borrowed dresses - also caused an uproar, which she attempted to defuse at the 1982 Gridiron Dinner, a roast hosted by journalists. She appeared on-stage in a feathered hat, pantaloons and yellow boots, singing “Second Hand Clothes,” a parody of “Second Hand Rose.”

She would become a force on major health issues, if not always by her choosing.

After a mastectomy in 1988, she urged women to have annual mammograms. After announcing in 1994 that Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer’s disease, she founded the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute at the Alzheimer’s Association. She advocated embryonic stem-cell research as a possible cure when many Republicans associated it with abortion.

With the possible exception of Mary Todd Lincoln, known primarily for her tempestuous rages, our perceptions of first ladies tend to reflect the regard in which we hold their spouses. Likewise, Nancy Reagan was often vilified by her husband’s detractors, but adored by his admirers. Whatever her shortcomings, she leaves a positive imprint on history worthy of appreciation.___

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