Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Jan. 9, 2014.
Clarify campaign involvement rules for Iowa politicians
During the upcoming session, Iowa lawmakers will probably be looking at clarifying rules relating to presidential campaign involvement for Iowa's House and Senate members.
Even though we expect our state leaders to be familiar with whatever rules are in place, a clarification is a wise move, considering the controversy that swirled around former Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo.
Sorenson was connected with the presidential campaigns of Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul during the last Iowa caucus campaigns.
In October, Sorenson announced that he would be vacating his position after a special investigator found it likely that Sorenson violated legislative rules by receiving money from a political action committee.
Shoring up some wording and increasing transparency is a good move. One of the first concerns of many Iowa leaders was that the allegations could give other states more fodder for trying to displace Iowa as the starting point in the caucus/primary season.
That's a position we want to keep.
As the holder of that pole position, Iowa has a lot of influence on which candidates continue with their presidential aspirations.
Considering that important responsibility, it is imperative that Iowa's lawmakers remain above board in any dealings with presidential campaigns — and that rules are clearly spelled out.
Senate ethics rules ban senators from receiving money "directly or indirectly" form a political action committee or a presidential campaign.
As outlined in James Lynch's article Monday on legislative ethics, senators from both parties say they are working on changes to Senate rules to make it "abundantly clear" senators cannot accept payment for working on presidential campaigns.
Apparently, adopting the Senate rule is not a priority for the House, which requires members to report their employers, according to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.
"We're interested in disclosure," he said. He added that House members from both parties have worked for presidential campaigns in the past, without any ethics problems.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, expects action early in the session, since 2016 candidates already are visiting Iowa. He and Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, have reportedly been discussing wording of such a proposal.
We're not saying that the House and the Senate must adopt the same rules. However, making sure they are "abundantly clear" is of the essence — including making clear the punitive actions should rules be violated.
Being first in the caucus/primary system comes with a lot of benefits for the state of Iowa. That, in turn, creates some caveats.
Abundantly clear rules can go a long way in assuring a clean process. That's exactly what we need to maintain to keep the nation's first caucus.
The Hawk Eye. Jan. 12, 2014.
50-year-old warning: Too many Americans still ignore surgeon general's advice about smoking
It was 50 years ago Saturday that the Surgeon General of the United States, Luther Terry, issued a report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer.
At the time, it was considered an historic essay, one The Associated Press described as "one of the most important documents in U.S. public health history."
That was the start of warning labels on packages of cigarettes.
Smokers took them for granted, but the warnings failed to curtail the level of smoking in the country.
The government took another step by banning smoking advertisements on commercial television.
Then they prohibited smoking advertising on billboards.
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of cancer of the lungs and larynx. Second-hand smoke has been blamed for causing cancers in people who've never been held hostage by the habit.
In recent years, state governments have banned smoking in public places.
While we're generally opposed to government acting as our nanny, such measures have improved public health.
It's laughable now that it took a 10-man special advisory committee to take 14 months to determine smoking is bad for you.
Then again, it was in an era when people could still smoke in movie theaters, when there were ashtrays on the armrest of seats in airplanes.
The panel's report concluded: "Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action."
But the tobacco lobby had friends in Congress, and that remedial action took decades to come about, despite the declaration by the surgeon general that there would be "no footdragging" by the government to impose steps to convince people that smoking was harmful to their health.
Fifty years later, government has done what it could to warn people of the dangers of taking up the habit. Yet people still do it.
You have to wonder why
Quad-City Times. Jan. 12, 2014.
Branstad stands up for Common Core
"Common Core is the nationwide education initiative being jammed down the throats of students and parents around the United States whether we want it or not." — Glenn Beck
"What we need to have is a uniform standard of what students need to know at each grade level ... The standard is just what is expected to be known, but how you teach it is a local determination." — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad
Two Republicans offer diametrically opposed viewpoints of the Common Core curriculum, adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education, June 10, 2010, and by the Iowa State Board of Education as Iowa Core, July 29, 2010.
But Beck is fueling dissent with his 2013 yearlong condemnation of Common Core for dozens and dozens of entirely speculative reasons. We won't begin to debate Beck here. He arrived way late to a discussion underway in both of our states since 2009. Iowans had plenty of input at Gov. Terry Branstad's statewide education summits. Local school boards have been dealing with this for at least two years.
Iowa embraced common core strategies because until now, the state had few statewide education standards. Objectives, curricula and assessments were determined at the local level, unlike Illinois and most other states that articulated statewide standards. With Iowa's version of Common Core, curricula and techniques remain locally controlled. So do many objectives. Common core quantifies expectations and standardizes assessment, so that students, for example, in Eldridge, Iowa, have the same standards as those from Milan, Ill. We've included examples of some of the many standards Common Core brings to our schools. School districts covering Eldridge and Milan have almost infinite options on how to reach the standards. But graduates from public schools in those communities would be taught to reach the same standards.
Beck is an iconoclastic broadcast entertainer who builds a lucrative audience by loudly denouncing big government and hinting at conspiracies. He's not an educator or legislator who actually has to study, negotiate, compromise and implement. He makes his living fueling outrage and indignation, not excellence and progress. He gave wide audience to an exasperated Arkansas parent who confronted her state board in October. Video of Karen Lamoreaux's diatribe showed up on Beck's show and millions of social media feeds, titled, "Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in four minutes."
Rather than obliterate, the video simply apes Beck's groundless fears about a national curriculum he claims was foisted on Americans by the Obama administration.
Common Core arose from the National Governors Association. In 2011, the Governors Association called Common Core, "a state-led effort to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share and voluntarily adopt."
Branstad currently serves on the nine-governor executive committee for the NGA, which emphasizes non-partisan goals and processes. Perhaps that's why Branstad offered the quote atop this editorial last week in response to some Iowa Republicans jumping on the Beck bandwagon. The NGA's Common Core work grew from state dissatisfaction with No Child Left Behind, which truly was a national assessment plan crammed down the throats of state legislatures and local school boards by federally funded education leaders. The failures of No Child have been amply recounted on this page and elsewhere.
Common Core will neither damn America, nor solve all of its diverse education challenges. What it will do is push standards up everywhere, especially in Iowa, and encourage innovation at the local level to seek out the best materials and techniques to reach those standards.
Folks looking for a reason to condemn the Obama administration can stay tuned to Beck, who reliably churns out new outrage nightly. Those wishing to improve local education should turn off Beck and show up at their local school board, where civic involvement stands the best chance of effecting change.
The (Fort Dodge) Messenger. Jan. 11, 2014.
Unemployment woes persist
With little to brag about during recent weeks, because of ongoing evidence of how bad the national health care law is for Americans, President Barack Obama's administration seized upon one bright spot last week. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply, the Labor Department announced.
Applications for benefits during the week of Christmas fell to a seasonally adjusted level of 338,000 in comparison to the previous year, the agency reported. Analysts pointed out the one-week number probably was misleading. A four-week report showed unemployment benefit claims rising, they explained.
But even in the context of the Labor Department report — configured to put the best face possible on unemployment figures — there was bad news.
Obama frequently pats himself on the back for his alleged success in battling the "Great Recession." But the country is pulling out of it very, very slowly — and government programs have played little part in even that small success.
The president has made it clear he has little compassion for the manufacturing sector that made the nation great. But the recovery will gain momentum only if the government stops placing regulatory and tax obstacles in the way of Americans who make things.