Sioux City Journal. Aug. 21, 2014.
Long road back continues for BPI
Two years after an emotion-driven campaign of misinformation about its lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) decimated Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products, Inc., hopeful signs continue to emerge for the company.
As a result of the shameful "pink slime" campaign, BPI lost 80 percent of its overall business, lost 95 percent of its school lunch business, closed three plants and laid off more than 700 workers.
A valued, well-regarded corporate citizen manufacturing a food product stamped safe and nutritious by the United States Department of Agriculture, BPI didn't deserve the fallout.
Because damage to this home-grown, family-owned business was deep and the road back remains long, BPI may never return to its peak days of profitability.
Still, albeit slowly and slightly, the overall company landscape continues to improve over the dark days of 2012.
Last year, for example, schools in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas began purchasing ground beef mixed with LFTB trimmings for school lunches, joining schools in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
In a September 2013 editorial, we said the fact some school lunch business was returning was a small, but important sign of encouragement for BPI. By purchasing and serving LFTB in cafeterias, America's schools set an important example.
This week, another example of encouragement appeared on BPI's horizon.
With demand for its lean beef continuing to rebound, the company reopened its Garden City, Kansas, plant. The plant was one of the three BPI closed in 2012 as a result of the financial damage inflicted by negative LFTB publicity.
"BPI continues to experience growth and remains confident this growth will continue," Craig Letch, BPI's director of food quality and food safety, said about the Garden City reopening in a statement last week.
More than 40 employees will be hired in Garden City, where workers will collect fresh beef trimmings in support of increased LFTB production at BPI's plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska, business editor Dave Dreeszen reported on Aug. 13. The South Sioux City plant, Dreeszen wrote, will remain the company's only LFTB manufacturing site.
As BPI keeps working to undo damage, we again today urge governors and members of Congress from our tri-state region, and the Tom Vilsack-led USDA, to be vocal leaders in support of the company and seek high-visibility opportunities to advocate for LFTB.
As for recent hopeful signs, we understand these developments aren't enough to warrant popping corks on champagne bottles at BPI headquarters. But for a company plagued by little good news for the last two years, they do represent reason for at least a smile.
The Des Moines Register. Aug. 22, 2014.
Now, 'the Obama economy' doesn't sound like cursing
When President Obama moved into the White House in 2009, he inherited a financial crisis long in the making. Yet he was expected to quickly fix everything from high unemployment to a troubled stock market. A few years later, as the economy was slowly improving, some politicians warned of an economic nose dive if the president was re-elected.
That didn't happen. And though the economy has made significant improvements in critical areas during the past six years, those same politicians would never dream of acknowledging them. So let's take an honest look at what has happened.
In March 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a 12-year low of about 6,500. Recently it has been hovering around 17,000. Americans' retirement and college savings accounts have rebounded. Home values have increased. Though many Americans need better-paying jobs, the unemployment rate has decreased significantly. People without health insurance can actually buy it on their own now.
And what about the federal bailout of the banking system that some politicians seem to forget was necessary to rescue the country's financial system and was prompted by President George W. Bush? According to an August report to Congress, a total of $424.8 billion has been disbursed under the TARP plan, while collections and proceeds to the government totaled $439.8 billion.
In fact, banks — largely to blame for lending practices contributing to the country's financial crisis — have done exceptionally well in the so-called "Obama economy."
This month the Wall Street Journal reported U.S. banks posted $40.24 billion in net income during the second quarter this year. That is the industry's second-highest profit total in at least 23 years. That's right, 23 years. Banks are lending money to companies and individuals at the fastest pace since the financial crisis.
That's exceptional news, considering banking executives continue to complain about the cost and inconvenience of government regulations. Apparently those weren't so burdensome and profit-killing after all.
Iowa City Press-Citizen. Aug. 22, 2014.
Overhaul Iowa's marijuana laws
We're ready to say, "OK, legalize it already."
For the past few years — as we've advocated for a statewide regulatory system for medical marijuana — we've stopped short of advocating for legalizing the drug for recreational use. And we still think New Mexico's medical cannabis program would provide a workable model for how Iowa could help its citizens suffering from chronic illness without falling into the pitfalls of the programs in states such as California.
But the full-on legalization of the drug in Colorado and Washington has pulled back the curtain even further on the myths about marijuana being somehow more dangerous (supposedly more prone to abuse, supposedly more likely to serve as a gateway to other addictions) than either tobacco or alcohol. And although we would want to ensure that local governments maintain the right to prohibit marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions, we can't continue the façade that marijuana somehow has more in common with cocaine and morphine than it does with liquor and cigarettes.
As the New York Times Editorial Board noted earlier this summer, "There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the 'Reefer Madness' images of murder, rape and suicide."
If we've been hesitant about calling for full-on legislation of marijuana, it's largely because such a step seems so utterly unlikely to happen in Iowa. After all, it took the Iowa Legislature 35 years just to take smallest of baby-steps toward acknowledging that marijuana has medicinal value.
Yet, we can't stand by while Gov. Terry Branstad and other state politicians keep redrawing a line in the sand and basically say, "We're allowing marijuana-derived medication for severe epilepsy only. That's it. Enjoy your tiny victory because we're never bringing up this topic again."
If that's their starting point for negotiations, then it's time to make sure those state leaders understand that the comparable extreme isn't medical marijuana; it's full-on legalization. Implementing a workable, medical marijuana program in Iowa is merely a commonsense, compromise position. One backed by healthy majority of Iowa voters.
Medical marijuana has become the equivalent of a "civil union" option at a time when states — like Iowa — finally are recognizing full-fledged marriage equality as a civil right.
Back in 1979 — when the first medical marijuana bill was introduced in the Legislature — it was understandable for state lawmakers to be somewhat hesitant about leading the way into the largely unchartered waters of partial legalization. After all, it was unclear how the federal government would respond to such state initiatives.
But since then, the path has been well paved by more than 20 other states, and the U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, stated last year that the federal government will not intervene in the implementation of state medical cannabis programs, as long as the activities are covered under state law.
Yes, there are many challenging social and legal questions that would need to be answered if Iowa were to legalize marijuana. As with alcohol, we think sales should be restricted to people 21 or older. And scientists, doctors and engineers — like those at the University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator — would need to increase the pace of their work in establishing acceptable limits (and reliable testing methods) for figuring out just how much marijuana in one's system constitutes being too stoned to drive.
But maintaining a status quo based on misinformation is no longer an option.
If Iowa doesn't approve full-on legalization, lawmakers, at the very least, must overhaul the state's possession laws — which are among the harshest in the nation. And the "line in the sand" crowd needs to admit that it's become impossible for them to argue credibly that marijuana has "no accepted medical use for treatment."
If it takes more people calling for full legalization to push Iowa into finally making progress toward that compromise on marijuana, then sign us up.
Quad-City Times. Aug. 24, 2014.
James Foley's senseless death at the hands of ruthless kidnappers sheds light on two frequently misunderstood subjects: Contemporary journalists and our war on terror.
Foley's execution by Islamic State thugs once again reveals them as cagey criminals, not the faith-driven zealots they claim to be. Foley was held as a bargaining chip in ISIS' assault on its own countrymen. Like their al Qaida predecessors, these killers cannot articulate any notion other than anarchy. They've no interest in building schools, creating an economy or following any humanitarian precepts of their stated faith.
Instead, they pile up excuse after excuse for murder. They claim Foley died in retaliation for U.S. air strikes. Foley died because ISIS mob bosses finally concluded he was of no value to their criminal enterprise. When the U.S. didn't yield to ISIS' $132 million ransom demand, he became a liability.
In truth, Foley and the other journalists in this perpetual war zone are an asset to freedom-seeking Iraqis of every faith. His reports reveal a reality that neither ISIS, nor Americans, receive from so-called official sources.
Foley began his foreign correspondence reporting for the Post-Tribune of Gary, Indiana, as an embedded reporter with an Indiana National Guard unit. Friends and colleagues say that's when he felt compelled to dig deeper, reporting outside the confines of U.S. military.
He went to Libya and sought out the names, backgrounds and opinions of diverse people we Americans often label too simply as "Islamic terrorists." Consider this excerpt from his 2011 report from Libya, headlined, "Why they fight for Ghaddafi": "Defected and captured loyalist soldiers said there are a number of factors motivating their former comrades, including the hope of financial reward and a fear of civil war. But the paramount reason to keep fighting, they said, is the fear of reprisals."
That was written shortly before he was kidnapped the first time, in Libya.
His front-line reports showed an insurgency driven not by a zealot's faith, but by threats and violence. "Badr Omar, a 35-year-old English teacher who managed to flee Sirte earlier this week, said that many men have been told that the rebels, if they take the city, will rape their wives and their daughters."
This isn't conjecture. Foley quoted fully identified sources, among hundreds he interviewed on the record to give his readers firsthand accounts. That's the journalist's passion: Simply divulging others' stories. Foley risked his life to provide facts that give readers a foundation for their own opinions instead of parroting others' groundless conjecture.
We salute that passion today and commend those war correspondents who continue risking their lives solely to give their readers and viewers firsthand, accurate accounts vital to every democracy.