Latest News from Gazette Online

Password managers have a security flaw, but you should still use one

A new study has identified security flaws in five of the most-popular password managers.

Now for some counterintuitive advice: The ethical hackers with Independent Security Evaluators who found the flaws as well as other security professionals still believe you should use one.

You wouldn’t stop using a seat belt because it couldn’t protect you from every kind of vehicle accident. The same applies to password managers.

But the research, which finds password manager users are vulnerable to targeted malware attacks, does shine a light on ways to bolster your defenses.

And it speaks to a bigger truth that gets lost in headlines about breaches and bugs. Online safety isn’t about being unhackable, it’s about not being the lowest-hanging fruit.

Password managers are programs that keep all your login details in an online safe-deposit box. They’re critical tools for staying safe because passwords lead people to make the No. 1 security mistake — reusing passwords.

Hackers know we do this, so they take passwords from one breached site and then try them on lots of others.

Using a program to keep track of all your unique passwords takes some adjustment, but they’re getting simpler and can make logging into things faster.

The question that’s haunted these programs is, how is it possibly safe to put all your passwords in one basket? If someone steals it, you’re hosed.

For accountability’s sake, audits are important.

A new audit by ISE found the Windows 10 apps for 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass, LastPass and RoboForm left some passwords exposed in a computer’s memory when the apps were in “locked” mode.

To a hacker with access to the PC, passwords that should have been hidden were no more secure than a text file on your computer desktop.

The researchers only studied Windows apps, but say it may affect Apple Macs and mobile operating systems, too.

1Password, LastPass and RoboForm even exposed master passwords, used to unlock all other passwords.

“The ‘lock’ button on password managers is broken — some more severely than others,” lead researcher Adrian Bednarek said.

The companies had a range of responses. LastPass and RoboForm said they would issue updates this past week. Dashlane said it had documented the issue for some time and been working on fixes, but it has higher-priority security concerns.

KeePass and 1Password shrugged it off as a known limitation with Windows and an accepted risk.

Casey Ellis, the founder of Bugcrowd, a site for researchers to report vulnerabilities, said companies have to weigh the risk of each discovered bug and figure out what to prioritize.

“Password companies have some of the highest standards of security, and folks should be able to sleep pretty well at night knowing that these companies are taking concerns seriously,” he said.

“Vulnerabilities aren’t mysterious — they’re a product of the fact that people aren’t perfect — and finding them is a good thing.”

Why isn’t this a pants-on-fire issue? Because at the moment, we’re ahead of the threat. There’s no evidence hackers are targeting the PCs of individual password manager users.

But how long will that last?

Yes, there is risk in storing all your passwords in one place with a password manager.

But it’s helpful to look at the risk like a hacker. There’s no “safe” and “unsafe.” There’s “safer than,” or “better than.”

So the choices are reusing passwords or trusting a password manager.

The latter certainly wouldn’t be safer if password manager companies were exposing millions of your passwords at once through breaches of their servers.

The companies encrypt your secrets, and don’t store your master passwords used to unlock the encryption.

If their servers do get hacked, the data is gobbledygook without the master password only each individual user knows.

The bug ISE found raises a different kind of risk — passwords exposed on the memory of individual users’ PCs.

Any exposure “puts users’ secret records unnecessarily at risk,” Bednarek wrote in his report.

But this discovery is nowhere close to our worst-case scenario.

To peer into your PC’s memory, a hacker likely would either need to be sitting at your computer or trick you into installing malware that has control over your computer.

Hackers typically prefer mass attacks rather than going after individuals, unless it’s an extremely high-value individual. For mass attacks, there’s much lower hanging fruit ... such as all those people still reusing passwords.

The worry for Bednarek is, as more people use password managers, malware makers might start targeting their PCs to steal passwords.

Multiplied over millions of password manager users, a low risk to the individual could turn in a large number of exposed passwords.

He said his goal is to “establish a reasonable minimum baseline which all password managers should comply with.”

The companies said malware isn’t just a risk to password manager users. A hacker with access to your computer might also make use of code such as a key logger that slurps up all your activity — at which point, using a password manager is not your only problem.

The companies and the researchers also disagree over how much they can do about the memory leak problem without fundamental changes to operating systems.

Dashlane’s CEO Emmanuel Schalit said local memory attacks are still a hypothetical concern.

“It is more important for us to work on strengthening even further core components of our server infrastructure or cryptography, because this has a more material impact on our users’ security,” he said.

Both sides agree on one thing: Your personal devices are the weak link.

It’s a lot harder for a password manager — or any software — to protect your valuable data if the computer you’re working on is compromised.

So make yourself not worth hacking by:

l Updating your software religiously. New versions contain very important security patches.

l Checking your computer for malware.

l Being very careful about installing software that comes from places other than Microsoft, Apple and Google-managed app stores. Say no to web browser extensions and pop-up messages.

l Not storing extremely valuable secrets such as bitcoin private keys in password managers.

The other lesson from the new research is in how the password managers handled the problem.

“They all are not created equal,” Bednarek said. Dashlane and KeePass did the best job at protecting master passwords in the computer’s memory.tech-passwords

C.R. district’s first black teacher Nelson Evans worked to build diversity

CEDAR RAPIDS — Nelson Evans still remembers his first day as a teacher at Tyler Elementary School.

He was tidying up a bulletin board with his back to the room as children filtered in. Sounds of shock and excitement filled the classroom.

“I heard a commotion at my door and I heard, ‘He’s black! He’s black!’ and I turned around and there’s a bunch of African-American kids, looking and pointing. I never will forget that,” Evans, 78, said, sitting in his Cedar Rapids home.

That was 1964. Evans was the first African-American to teach in a Cedar Rapids Community School District classroom.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Evans said his community was predominantly black. His neighbors were loving, and he remembers that adults were “honored and respected.”

However, Evans said, that changed over time.

“A lot of our leaders, they moved out of the old neighborhoods,” he said. “A lot of the people that you looked up to, they moved out into those neighborhoods that were considered to be more upper-class and more upper-crust, if you will.”

Evans likened that shift to what happened to Cedar Rapids’ Oakhill Jackson area after the 2008 flood, as residents splintered off to other neighborhoods.

In 1960, Evans moved to the small town of Fayette to get his bachelor’s degree in education from Upper Iowa University. He later attended graduate school at the University of Iowa.

In 1964, after a push for diversity by civic leaders such as Percy Harris and Viola Gibson, Evans was hired as the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s first African-American certified employee.

“The good Lord has always supported me in terms of getting here so I might be that person who could be an encourager, a role model for and to whomever,” Evans said. “But again, it was made known to me by the community in terms of the effort that they had to push to get an African-American in the school system.”

In addition to Tyler Elementary, Evans worked at Monroe, Johnson and Madison elementaries. He eventually became a principal and retired in 1999 as the district’s director of elementary and secondary schools.

As an employee, Evans worked alongside civil rights leaders to further build diversity among the district’s staff.

Statewide, diversity among teachers remains a concern.

One in four students is a child of color, according to the Iowa Department of Education, yet more than 97 percent of Iowa teachers are white.

Soon after retiring, a friend recruited Evans to Louisville, Ky., where he worked in a school dealing with challenging racial matters. He returned to Cedar Rapids about 10 years ago.

During his career, Evans said he had to deal with his share of racism, but he said he was always mindful that his students had differing backgrounds and upbringings.

Ultimately, Evans said he always focused on his role as an educator — he was there to teach, and his students were there to learn.

“I’m not your enemy, but this is an educational system,” Evans said. “This is like a church, this is hallowed ground.”

Nancy Humbles, who in October became the Cedar Rapids school board’s first African-American president, said she has known Evans for many years.

His positivity set him apart, Humbles recalled.

“Folks haven’t forgotten that. Nelson, he made a difference in students’ lives,” she said.

Now retired, Evans said he enjoys running into former students to see the successful adults they’ve become.

“That’s been a blessing to me that I’ve lived long enough that a lot of my former students, I’m able to see them and I’m grateful to see how they have developed in terms of being good citizens,” Evans said.

Breaking barriers the way Evans and Humbles did can have a critical impact on African-American students.

“That makes a difference in their lives,” Humbles said. “We need to be in the classrooms, we need to be in positions of leadership so our children know they can achieve this too.”

The intersection of race and education will be the focus of a program from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the African American Museum of Iowa. It is the first of several free Not Without Me discussion events co-sponsored by the Cedar Rapids NAACP. Future Not Without Me events are planned every month through October.

Humbles said the events are meant to bring the community together to discuss why, both locally and nationwide, African-American students are not performing as well in school as their white classmates.

“It really takes a village. We’re really asking families, community members, to become engaged and help come up with a solution,” Humbles said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

IF YOU GO

l What: Not Without Me! Interfacing With the Education Process

l Where: African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

l When: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. today

l Cost: Free

Social media posts make you spend more

American families don’t save money the way they used to.

In 2018 the personal saving rate hovered somewhere around 7 percent. That’s up from an all-time low of 3 percent right before the Great Recession hit, but it’s well below the rate of a few decades ago.

There are a lot of potential explanations for this. Wage growth has slowed while necessities such as housing and medical care have grown more expensive, taking a big chunk out of personal income.

The rise of easy credit has made spending beyond our means easier than ever. Pension plans have been replaced by 401(k)s, which are much easier to draw down on in a pinch — even if it’s nearly always a bad idea.

Now, a team of American and Canadian economists have proposed a new explanation for the declining savings rate, one rooted in individual psychology.

At its heart lies a simple observation: Personal spending is a lot more visible to others than not spending.

Changes in the media landscape have made other people’s spending more visible than ever. That, in turn, is making all of us spend even more — and save even less.

Humans are social creatures, and we have a tendency to evaluate our own standing in life relative to how our friends and neighbors are doing. We want to keep up with the Joneses, and stay ahead of the Smiths.

Because of this, when we see other people spending money we have a tendency to believe that we can — or should — be spending, too.

“A boat parked in a driveway draws the attention of neighbors more than the absence of a boat,” the economists explain.

“Similarly, it is more noticeable when a friend or acquaintance is encountered eating out or reports taking an expensive trip than when not, or buys an enjoyable product as compared with not doing so.”

These signals from other people are particularly powerful in part because many of us have considerable uncertainty about how much we should be spending.

“There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that people are indeed often ‘grasping at straws’ in their savings decisions, which suggests that they may look to social cues for help,” the authors wrote.

David Hirshleifer, one of the authors, said via email that “saving is the flip side of consuming, and it’s tempting to think that you’re saving enough because you are not throwing lavish parties or taking expensive cruises the way some people you know are.”

But, he warned, “such self-congratulation is treacherous, because those cruises and parties may not really be typical of your acquaintances — they just stand out in memory.”

Fifty years ago, our frames of reference for our spending habits were relatively small. We had our neighbors and friends as well as people we interacted with at work. But that’s all changed.

Television brought us programming such as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” the Home Shopping Network and eventually reality TV shows where contestants are jetted off to tropical islands to enjoy expensive meals.

Next came the internet, with the discussion forums and specialist websites, where postings about cool new product purchases “are more interesting, and therefore more likely to occur, than a posting to announce the news that the individual did not buy anything today,” the authors wrote.

Now we have social media. We can log on to watch children unbox expensive new toys on YouTube.

Facebook lets us stay in touch with our rich college classmates who always seem to be on vacation. We can create and share detailed logs of the stuff we consume at places such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

We can see what our co-workers ate last night on Instagram.

On social media, as the authors suggested, “a posting about a consumption event triggers a notification to friends; a non-posting about not engaging in a consumption event does not.”

The net effect of this saturation of consumptive media is that we’re bombarded every day with signals to consume — and that’s before you even stop to consider the rise of an entire industry, advertising, devoted to parting consumers from their money.

“People infer that low saving is a good idea,” the authors said.

They spend a good deal of their paper developing a sophisticated mathematical model to explain exactly how this process of consumption contagion works. One of the implications of their research is that finding ways to make non-spending more visible might help individuals develop more realistic views of overall spending and saving behavior.

“To decide if you’re overconsuming, make a special effort to notice when your friends do something that is frugal, such as having a staycation or holding on to their 15-year-old car,” Hirshleifer said.

“If you’re going to compare yourself to others, try to make it realistic.”

GOP seeks to grow its advantage in nominating justices

Seeking to change the way applicants for the state Supreme Court have been vetted for nearly six decades, Iowa Republicans are embracing a plan that could increase the party’s sway beyond the more than 2-1 advantage it now has over Democrats in deciding which finalists to present to the governor.

That statewide nominating commission, which also advances finalists for Iowa Court of Appeals vacancies, is 69 percent Republican and 31 percent Democratic — leaving the GOP with a far greater share of representation on the panel than it has in the Iowa electorate overall.

 

When taken as a whole, Iowa’s state commission and 14 district commissions that vet local judges already are dominated by Republicans, an independent analysis of voter records by The Gazette found.

Only two of the district commissions — in the state’s most populous areas of Polk County (District 5C) and the region including Linn County (6th District) — are not controlled by Republicans, the newspaper’s analysis found.

While Senate and House Republicans last week split on how encompassing the GOP overhaul would be — the House plan would largely leave the smaller commissions as is — some advocates of changing say the current system that involves attorneys can produce judges who impose their own views.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who supports making a change, Thursday told a rally of anti-abortion rights activists advocating the bills in the Capitol she hoped to appoint judges “who will apply the law and adhere to the Constitution of Iowa and the Constitution of the United States, not inject their own philosophy.”

Heeding such criticisms back in 2010, Iowa voters booted off the Iowa Supreme Court three justices who had agreed with the court’s opinion allowing same-sex marriage. To fill the vacancies in 2011, then-Gov. Terry Branstad named three new justices he said in a statement would “faithfully interpret the laws and Constitution, and respect the separation of powers.”

Bruce Zager, then a district judge, was one of them. Today, Zager said he doesn’t see a reason to change the process.

Zager, who retired last fall from the state Supreme Court but kept senior status, went through nominating commission interviews three times before being appointed as a 1st Judicial District judge and then several more times for appointment to the Iowa Court of Appeals and then the Iowa Supreme Court.

Stressing he wasn’t speaking for the court but only for himself, Zager said in an interview he doesn’t understand how the proposed changes would make the selection of judges better.

He fears the changes could have a “chilling” effect on the applicant pool — that some qualified people might not even apply if they believe only those with political connections will be nominated and picked.

When he has attended national conferences with judges from around the country, Zager said, they were “envious” of Iowa’s judicial merit selection system, in which judges do not have to run against each other in elections like they do in some states.

ROLE OF LAWYERS

Measures introduced in the House and Senate take issue with the role lawyers play in the nominating process.

Currently, the governor appoints half the members of judicial nominating commissions and lawyers elect other lawyers to the other half.

The commissions interview candidates to become judge or justice and forward three names for each vacancy to the governor, who picks one.

The judges and justices later face voters, who decide if they retain a seat on the bench.

The Senate measure still contemplates eliminating lawyers from picking other lawyers to serve on any of the commissions. The House version was amended last week so that lawyers would play much the same role they do now on the district panels — but not the statewide one.

The amendment Wednesday to House Study Bill 110 squeaked through the House Judiciary Committee by one vote — 11-10.

House leaders said earlier their main focus was on the state commission, which nominates to the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court.

The measures for the state panel call for eight members to be appointed by the governor — the same as now. The majority and minority partyleadership of the House and Senate each would appoint two lawyers, and the Iowa Supreme Court would appoint one lawyer — replacing lawyers electing lawyers.

Tom Levis, president of the Iowa State Bar Association and a West Des Moines lawyer, said he was glad to see House Republicans mostly exempt district nominating commissions and delete other provisions in the original bill, which would have allowed the governor to appoint associate district judges and magistrates.

But the bar still is opposed to this version because it “interjects partisan politics into the courts,” Levis said. Assertions that lawyers hold too much control over the nominating commissions aren’t supported by facts, he said.

The Gazette reviewed the affiliations of the 154 people who serve on the state judicial nominating commission and the 14 district commissions.

Of the 77 nonlawyer commissioners — all appointed by Branstad and Reynolds — 70 are Republicans, three are Democrats and four have no party affiliation, state records show.

   

Of the 77 lawyer commissioners elected by attorneys, 25 are Republicans, 43 are Democrats, eight have no party affiliation and one is vacant.

“Based on simple math, the Republicans control the commissions,” Levis said. “And if you look at the combined nominating commissions, it has a higher proportion of Republicans, about 29 percent, than (voters) registered in the state.”

In Iowa, 32.5 percent of registered voters are Republicans, 31.5 percent are Democrats and 36 percent are no-party, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Republican commissioners have majority control on nominating commissions in all but two judicial districts.

In the 5C District — Polk County — the nominating commission is split half Republican and half Democratic.

In the 6th District — Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Iowa and Tama counties — the nominating commission is 50 percent Democratic, 40 percent Republican and 10 percent no party.

PERSONAL VIEWS

The State Judicial Nominating Commission is the main concern, Republican lawmakers say.

Currently, the membership breaks down to eight appointed Republicans, three elected Republicans and five elected Democrats.

State Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, floor manager of Senate Bill 237, said the public can vote a governor out of office if they don’t like his or her appointments.

But the public has no such power over lawyers who elect other lawyers.

Iowa, he said, needs judges who can set aside their “personal points of view” in their rulings.

He cited an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in June — which said the law mandating a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion was unconstitutional — as one reason behind the proposal.

The merit-based process for selecting Iowa judges and justices has been in place since 1962 and is written into the Iowa Constitution. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley helped develop Iowa’s system when he was in the Iowa House.

A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll this month found 54 percent of Iowans favor the current system; 33 percent favor a change; and 13 percent were not sure.

  NATIONAL EFFORTS

Other state legislatures also are considering altering rules that would affect the judiciary, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute at New York University Law School.

The center found 32 bills in 19 legislatures that would give more control to lawmakers over judicial selection, decision-making and administration.

In 2018, lawmakers in 18 states were considering 60 bills that would have increased the role of politics or limited the independence of state courts, the Brennan Center reported.

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said GOP lawmakers want to reform the system here to make it fair.

It’s not about partisanship, he said, but about conflict of interest.

Lawyers who elect half the lawyers on judicial nominating commissions have an outsize influence in the process of selecting judges, he said.

“There are, what, 10,000 or so lawyers in the state and there are 3 million people. How is that fair?” he asked.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steven Holt, R-Dennison, seemed to have a slight change of heart late last week about the role of lawyers — at least on the district panel.

He said there were concerns legislative leaders who would select the district members might not be representative of those judicial districts. House leaders concluded lawyers who work and live in those districts, though, would be.

“We also heard from the public that the district commissions worked well, so we didn’t change those,” Holt said.

The amended version does require one member on each of the 14 district commissions to be appointed by the Iowa Supreme Court, like the state commission; and adds rules for electing a chair, which would no longer be a senior judge.

The amended bill could be up for debate by the full House as early as this week. Similar legislation, Senate File 237, already has advanced but currently varies from the House version in the way it would change the district panels. Any changes would have to be debated on the Senate floor.

COMMISSIONERS SPEAK

Karen Fesler, a Republican from Coralville who the governor appointed to the 6th District commission, said she doesn’t understand the need for change.

“I’m disappointed the Legislature is involved,” Fesler said. “The lawyers and citizens have mutual respect for one another. Political parties never come up — it doesn’t matter. We want the best candidate. We look at an applicant’s experience, background, how long they have been in practice, their demeanor.”

Steven Armstrong, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, also appointed to the 6th District commission, said proposed legislation may have “unintended consequences” — bringing politics into judicial appointments.

Armstrong said he never felt lawyers on the commission tried to take over or influence the panel’s selection of finalists to send to the governor. Armstrong said each commissioner had his or her own ideas and say in the process.

Anjie Shutts, a Des Moines lawyer who is a Democrat elected to the District 5C commission, said she respects the lay people on the commission because they bring their own experiences and add perspective.

“Everyone has a vote — we are equal partners,” Shutts said. “We’re not interested in politics.”

Thomas Bernau of Des Moines, a Republican appointed to the District 5C nominating commission, said he can see both sides of the issue because he was appointed — but he’s also a lawyer.

He doesn’t think the proposed changes are a bad idea or that they will “damage” the system.

Bernau said it’s beneficial to be a lawyer-commissioner because he may see things about an applicant’s education and experience that a lay person might not.

David Boyd, a former executive secretary for the 3A and 3B nominating commissions, said anybody who thinks lawyers run those commissions is mistaken.

“It’s very disappointing to me,” said Boyd, former Iowa Judicial Branch court administrator. “It’s a solution in search of a problem. Nobody has been able to articulate a problem with the system. It seems to be based on a few who are upset by certain court decisions. There is already half (commission) appointed by a partisan.”

Senior Justice Zager and others noted that Iowa consistently has a high ranking in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual survey of state courts for “fairness and reasonableness.”

The 2017 survey ranked Iowa 13th overall, ninth for trial judges’ impartiality and 11th for quality of appellate review. Eighty-five percent of the respondents said a state’s litigation system is likely to impact their business decisions.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

After steady gains, UI graduation rates dip

IOWA CITY — The percentage of University of Iowa students who graduated within four years fell in the most recent measure — moving the campus farther from its strategic goal for now despite a long-term trend toward improvement.

The university, which has made timely graduation a key metric in its student success initiatives, reported to the Board of Regents a four-year graduation rate of 53 percent for the entering class of 2014, according to documents made public last week.

That’s down from 55 percent for the 2013 entering class, and is 7 percentage points away from the UI goal of 60 percent by 2021, according to the university’s strategic plan.

Iowa State University — which historically has been about 10 points or more below the UI in the four-year graduation category — reported an increase from 46 to 49 percent for the most recent measure, bringing it within 4 points of the UI — the closest since at least 2000.

ISU also saw an increase in the percentage of students who graduate within six years — from 73 to 75 percent — while the UI saw a slight decrease from 74 to 73 percent. That pushed ISU ahead in the category.

The University of Northern Iowa, like the UI, saw drops in both rates — reporting a dip from 43 to 41 percent for its four-year rate and from 67 to 65 percent in its six-year figure.

All three public schools have made timely graduation a priority as concerns about student debt mount amid legislative funding cuts and tuition increases.

And even though progress is slow or stalled in the most recent report, the regent institutions’ overall four- and six-year graduation averages remain well above the average for U.S. four-year public universities.

The regents’ average four-year rate is 48 percent, more than 10 points above the national 37-percent average. The board’s six-year graduation rate average is 72 percent, above the national average of 60.

Iowa ranks No. 1 in the nation for the percentage of students who start at one of its four-year public universities and earn a degree there or elsewhere within six years — at 82 percent.

But the state slipped to second nationally behind Virginia in the percentage of students who start at one of its public universities and graduate from that same institution within six years — with 70 percent.

And, when looking at long-term trends, Iowa’s regent universities have made steady gains.

Its 2012 entry class for all regent universities boasted a six-year graduation rate of 73 percent — up from 66 percent in 2000. Its 2014 cohort had a four-year rate of 49 percent, up from 35 percent nearly two decades ago.

The board’s average time to degree also has been steadily decreasing, reaching a 20-year low of 4.35 years with the 2012 entering class.

UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck characterized those long-term trends as more reliable than annual ebbs and flows.

“We are really proud of the great progress we’ve made in increasing our four-year graduation rate over the past 15 years,” Beck said. “Looking year-to-year at graduation rates is less reliable than looking longitudinally. The university’s long-term trend in the four-year graduation rate is very positive.”

All three of Iowa’s public universities have employed tactics and initiatives to improve graduation and retention rates — even while ending some earlier efforts in the wake of state de-appropriations.

The UI, for example, in 2014 began offering undergraduate “Summer Hawk” tuition grants to “help students finish their degrees in four years.” The university ended that program last summer, citing dwindling state resources and growing impetus to “channel our efforts to where we can have the greatest positive impact on improving graduation rates,” according to Lon Moeller, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of the University College.

“Summer Hawk was launched to help students who were not on track to graduate on a timely basis because they had changed majors, needed to retake a course, or because they needed to spread out difficult courses to better manage their study time,” Moeller said in a statement at the time. “Unfortunately, after four years, we’re finding that there are many factors that impact time to graduation that are not specifically addressed by Summer Hawk.”

Among UI efforts to improve graduation and retention rates is a mandate all entering first-year and transfer students take a “Success@Iowa” online course, which covers topics like alcohol education, safety, inclusion, financial literacy and academic integrity.

The university also offers most first-year students eligibility for its four-year graduation plan, which involves an institutional commitment to get them their degree on time as long as they fulfill a list of responsibilities — like taking enough hours per semester and meeting regularly with an adviser. The pact doesn’t apply to all majors. Applied physics and elementary education, for example, are excluded.

Among ISU’s efforts is its push for student participation in a “learning community,” which connect students to like-minded and like-interested peers and programming. Learning communities, according to ISU, have reached a participation high, with 78 percent of first-year, full-time students engaged with one or more.

ISU also has a “New Student Onboarding Task Force,” aimed at improving the transition to campus, and a new “Smart Start Program,” which will start with the fall entering class. That first-year early academic intervention program aims to support students with lower admission scores.

In addition to helping curb student debt and improve campus efficiency, achieving timely graduation can help boost a university’s national reputation and ranking, which UI and IU administrators tout as a priority for their schools.

U.S. News & World Report, commonly cited and referenced by institutions and prospective students, weighs graduation and retention rates heavily in calculating its scores. More than one-third of a school’s ranking comes from its ability to retain and then graduate students within six years, according to the national publication.

“It receives the highest weight in our rankings because degree completion is necessary to receive the full benefits of undergraduate study from employers and graduate schools,” according to a U.S. News explanation of its calculations.

Last fall, the UI learned it had dropped in the U.S. News rankings from No. 31 to No. 38 among public universities and from No. 78 to No. 89 among all national universities. ISU also lost ground, moving from No. 53 to No. 56 among public universities and from No. 115 to No. 119 overall.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

University Heights Police Chief discusses city's racial profiling ordinance

This month, University Heights became what is thought to be the first city in Iowa to pass an ordinance barring the use of racial profiling in police practices.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously Feb. 13, prohibits the use of “explicit or implicit biases,” especially in relation to profiling or discriminatory police practices. It also requires the collection of demographic information — such as race, gender and age of the person, as well as the reason for the contact — for each contact officers have with the public and establishes a citizen advisory board to resolve complaints against officers and annually review police data. Additionally, the city opted to hire an independent expert to review and analyze the data.

City Council member Silvia Quezada said the ordinance seeks to take a pre-emptive stand “to ensure the University Heights community is welcoming and respectful of all people and that we are doing all we can to eliminate bias from our police practices.”

Last week, University Heights Police Chief Nate Petersen talked about the ordinance and its potential impact.

Q: What are your thoughts on the city’s new racial profiling ordinance?

A: I’ve been involved with the development of the ordinance pretty much from the beginning. And actually, before the ordinance was even thought of, I had reached out to Kevin Sanders at the local NAACP office and we had some meetings and talked about some of the training he was doing with the University of Iowa police and the Iowa City police. I wanted us to get on board and be a part of those trainings, so we were talking about how we could make that happen. We also talked about creating better policies to help law enforcement work more smoothly with the community so that when they call or when we make a stop, citizens are getting the same level of service regardless of the color of their skin or their gender.

Q: What does the passing of an ordinance like this mean for the police department?

A: As far as day-to-day duties, the only real change our officers are going to notice is the extra form that they have to fill out on their computer when they respond to a call for service or conduct a traffic stop, or have some other interaction with the public. It will just be an extra button that they’ll have to click in order to fill out the demographic information that the ordinance requires. We will be using the same software and policies that the Iowa City Police Department developed a couple years ago to track their contacts with the public. So, our officers are going to notice a slight difference in their day-to-day operations, but it’s not going to be burdensome or something that will be noticeable to the public.

Q: There are many parts to this ordinance. What do you plan to focus on implementing first?

A: I’d like to see the data collection get up and running first. I had set a personal deadline of March 1, but of course that all depends on the software company and how quickly they are able to get these updates installed. And I have already been discussing the implicit bias training aspect with Kevin Sanders, so I suspect those plans will come together fairly quickly.

Q: Have your officers already received any sort of implicit bias training?

A: Yes. Last fall our officers attended implicit bias training that had been organized by the NAACP and included ICPD and UI police and members of the public. The training focused on recognizing that we all have implicit biases, and because they are implicit, we might not always recognize their influences, and developing that awareness of how those biases can impact our thinking. And that training is something I wanted to continue to do, and now with this ordinance, we will be developing different projects and things with the NAACP to continue exposing our officers to possible biases, as well as different cultures, perspectives and points of view.

Q: Why do you think an ordinance like this one is important?

A: Well, we are a fairly transitional department, meaning we’ve seen a lot of turnover including at the chief’s level. And it can be harder for a department to establish relationships and trust within the community when the public is constantly seeing new faces. Having an ordinance like this makes it clear that these are the policies and protocols under which this police department will operate regardless of who is wearing the badge.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Wind turbines haven't been universally welcomed by everyone in Iowa

 

In Fayette County, Catherine Miller knows firsthand that, while wind turbines are touted by many as a source of local revenue and clean energy, they aren’t loved by all Iowans.

Miller, Fayette County’s planning and zoning administrator, had a front-row seat to the three-year battle that began in 2015 over Optimum Renewable LLC’s application for three wind turbines near the community of Fairbank.

Despite being approved for construction that year by the county, a legal fight — one that saw the city of Fairbank and a group of area residents file separate lawsuits against the development — broke out over whether the county’s more than 40-year-old zoning ordinance allowed for wind turbine development. In mid-2018, the turbines were ordered to be torn down by a district judge. They were dismantled late last year.

With Fayette County already home to more than a dozen turbines, built years earlier in 2011-12 near the small town of Hawkeye, Miller said she was surprised to see such fervent opposition to the Optimum project.

“I would think it would be very unusual for a city to sue a county, or vice versa. To my knowledge, we’ve never had a city sue the county,” Miller said. “Nobody spoke for it, everybody was against it.”

 

The scenario that played out in Fayette County was rare for Iowa, which is home to hundreds of wind turbines. With that wind generation industry anticipated to grow by close to 50 percent in the coming years, some state agencies encourage local entities to prepare for the inevitable growth by creating ordinances governing the development of wind turbines.

Creating an ordinance

In Fayette County, the lack of a specific wind turbine ordinance played a crucial role in the battle over Optimum’s turbines.

During early discussions over the project, the county’s Board of Adjustment considered a special-use permit for the project, which would have provided the county additional control over the project’s parameters.

However, a lawyer representing Optimum and the attorney Fayette County uses for zoning matters agreed the turbines were considered an allowed use under the current ordinance as energy transmission structures and the project was greenlit.

“The Board of Adjustment at that point didn’t run that through a special use. It was determined by the attorneys that it was an allowed use, so we had to let it go,” Miller said.

The project was challenged soon after, and last year the Iowa Supreme Court upheld District Court Judge John Bauercamper’s 2016 ruling that turbines are defined as electric generation, not transmission.

While the turbines were dismantled in late 2018, a special committee was formed years earlier in 2015 to address the county’s then-ongoing fight over the wind turbines and to prevent future confusion.

By mid-2016, a wind turbine ordinance had been created. Of the included setbacks, wind turbines cannot be built within a mile of city limits unless a written agreement is signed by the city and county.

“People wanted this addressed immediately, if not sooner,” Miller recalled, adding that the county has not received an application for wind turbine development since the Optimum project.

Pre-empting wind growth

Iowa’s wind industry represents more than a third of the state’s energy generation — more than 7,300 megawatts.

And it’s expected to grow, said Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council. Nearly 2,600 megawatts are under construction and another roughly 1,800 megawatts are in the stage of advanced development.

“With the schedules currently underway and the projects that already have been approved, we’re heading toward 10,000 megawatts by 2020,” Johannsen said.

By the end of 2017, close to half the state’s 99 counties were home to utility-scale wind turbines or have such projects in active development. The Iowa Environmental Council reports that about half of Iowa’s counties also have adopted some type of wind turbine ordinance.

 

Johannsen said the council researched 18 existing county ordinances across the state to develop a tool of best practices for county supervisors and planners.

“Anybody who works in this space and is maybe looking at their first or second wind project in the county ..., they’re deciding to adopt an ordinance because some issues have arisen that they want to address with the people in the county,” Johannsen said.

Establishing setbacks — a certain distance from property lines, non-participating landowners or occupied homes — are recommended for safety, to address concerns of ice throw or turbine malfunctions. Setbacks also can address concerns raised by neighboring residents about sound, she said.

In addition to setbacks, Johannsen said the council also encourages counties to enact a clear and well-defined application process for wind developers, with the county Board of Supervisors making the final decision to add a level of accountability.

In addition to the council, Iowa’s Center for Rural Affairs last year created a Wind Energy Ordinances guide, also geared to county government officials.

Lu Nelson, policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said the guide was created to help counties less familiar with Iowa’s wind industry, particularly smaller counties with fewer resources dedicated to crafting new ordinances.

“They’re mostly focused on getting community input, using good peer-reviewed research to inform the rationale behind the ordinance and really just taking the time to put into play standards that will be well balanced and will serve the community well,” Nelson said.

Both Johannsen and Nelson said one of the biggest factors in crafting an ordinance is creating an open process to collect public comments and concerns.

“I think if I could ever give just one recommendation when it comes to wind energy is that early and regular public participation and outreach is absolutely key. And it’s because it’s new, it’s different and change is difficult,” Nelson said. “I think that’s the real key when it comes to zoning. You’re just trying to find that balance between one landowner’s use and other landowner’s use, and that’s what’s really key here is striking that balance.”

Finding that balance while crafting an ordinance, rather than at the point of a turbine application, helps reduce the emotion and ambiguity surrounding a project, Johannsen said.

“That kind of a process really leads to a more peaceful coexistence. They can see the economic benefits that they get from wind, while making sure they’re taking care of the issues that tend to come up,” she said.

Some can be ‘very opposed’

As one of the state’s two largest energy utilities, Alliant Energy has been one of the state’s biggest investors in wind development.

The utility operates just shy of 300 megawatts of wind power in the state. Another 470 megawatts are expected to come online by the end of March, and an additional 530 megawatts are in the planning phase.

While Alliant’s projects have been limited to a handful of large-scale wind farms, Ben Lipari, director of resource development with Alliant, said it’s inevitable that projects expand into counties less familiar with turbines.

“You’re going to have some landowners that are very welcoming to the opportunity to have turbines and other project infrastructure located on the land, and you’ll have other landowners that, frankly, can be very opposed,” Lipari said.

One selling point to wind turbines is the tax revenue they generate.

“Wind farms in Iowa get taxed locally. The property tax payments for that project go directly to that local county and are split up among school districts and cities,” said Alliant spokesman Justin Foss.

 

Foss said by 2028, Alliant will have paid around $18 million a year in property taxes in the counties that are home to the utility’s wind turbines. The utility is projected to deliver about $670 million in taxes over the next 40 years, he added.

In Fayette County, the 15 wind turbines standing near Hawkeye, built by Bethel Wind Energy, pumped out more than $217,000 in property tax revenue in 2017, according to a report in the Fayette County Newspapers.

Alliant’s Lipari said public meetings can help answer questions and address residents’ concerns.

“A lot of times there is a lack of education that we can provide — not necessarily dismiss their concerns — but just to be able to have a more constructive dialogue on how we can be responsible with our development, with our placement of that infrastructure, to mitigate effects that they might feel they’d be left with through the operations of the facility,” he said.

Lipari said Alliant officials deploy a set of best practices when entering a new county or project that involves meeting with residents and gathering input.

“There’s quite a bit of effort that goes into it to ensure we understand how they manage their land, what equipment they use, the history of their land,” he said. “I’d say, in general, we’re successful in being able to build general support for the project.”

Lipari said the presence of county zoning ordinances, such as those proposed by the Iowa Environmental Council and Center for Rural Affairs, help the utility better deploy wind in a new county be eliminating some of the ambiguity.

“We are generally supportive of counties having an ordinance in place for us to understand how we can follow a process, because removing that ambiguity does bring some certainty to how we should think about designing the project, and as we’re talking to landowners and the broader community what they can expect,” Lipari said.

 

Turbines don’t pose a risk to human health: report

When wind turbines are proposed, one of the more common arguments against the structures focuses on concern over sound or negative health effects caused by the constant rotation of massive blades.

However, a joint report released in January of this year by the Iowa Environmental Council, University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center and not-for-profit organization Iowa Policy Project argues that the sound from wind turbines does not represent a risk to human health.

“There is no scientific evidence that wind turbine noise causes health impacts. In fact, research points to an association with annoyance that can be mitigated through a process that gives people a stake in the project and its benefits. Wind can and should be a win-win for Iowans and the environment,” Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, said in an email.

The report, which pulls research by the Council of Canadian Academies and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes the research of a “nocebo effect” to wind turbines.

“When people experience symptoms of compromised health, yet there is not enough evidence to find more than annoyance and no other health effects, it is reasonable to look for other explanations, including confounding factors,” the report states. “Related to the similar-sounding placebo effect, the nocebo effect comes into play, in this case, when people are predisposed to believe they will see health consequences from wind turbines coming into their area.”

With a nocebo effect in mind, David Osterberg, founder of Iowa Policy Project and former Iowa state representative, said it makes it less likely that additional setbacks — boundaries required between development and other properties or occupied structures for safety purposes — will mitigate all neighbors’ concerns.

“If you move them back another 1,000 feet, is that going to help? I don’t think it will,” said Osterberg, professor emeritus with the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health. “That may not be enough. I’m sympathetic to local people having something put upon them that they have no control over, but what kind of accommodation is there?”

With no proof of health effects caused by wind turbines, Osterberg said opposition often stems from such annoyance. Some landowners who don’t receive lease payments from wind turbines simply don’t want to look at the structures.

Osterberg said incentives could be provided by wind developers to nearby property owners to reduce pushback.

“The people who are closest to these wind turbines often are farmers who just rented the land to the company, and they’re getting $4,000 or $8,000 a year. Do they have any symptoms? No,” he said. “There is no disease associated with it, there is annoyance, and the annoyance probably cannot be mitigated by what people are asking for, which is a distance.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Do you know about Mamie Doud Eisenhower’s connections to Cedar Rapids?

The Feb. 3 and the Feb. 10 Time Machine columns by Diane Fannon-Langton provided a wonderful look at the history of the newest Cedar Rapids property designated as a local historic landmark: the Charles Perkins house at 1228 Third Ave. SE.

There have been other notable historic houses within the 1200 block of Third Avenue SE, three of which are still standing.

During the time (and later) that the Perkins and Stark families lived at 1228, the house next door at 1232 Third Ave. SE was home for the John G. Cherry family. In 1880, Cherry founded a dairy packaging company centered on 10th Avenue SE within what is now the New Bohemia area of Cedar Rapids. The company was later known as Cherry-Burrell and renamed Evergreen nearly 40 years after moving to the corner of Sixth Street and Wilson Avenue SW.

An old residential structure on the corner at 1200 Third Ave. SE, now used as apartments, was originally the single-family home of well-known real estate businessman and Cedar Rapids community leader George T. Hedges.

MAMIE DOUD HOME

Another older home still standing near the former Hedges, Perkins and Cherry houses is a square-set residential structure at 1245 Third Ave. SE, which happens to be the second and only surviving Cedar Rapids childhood home for former first lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower.

It is well-known in Iowa history that Mamie Doud was born in 1896 in Boone, Iowa, the hometown of her mother, Elivera.

Mamie’s father was John Sheldon Doud, whose own father had started a livestock commission business in the mid-1800s. With his meatpacking executive experience, John Doud accepted a high-ranking position as a buyer for the Sinclair Meatpacking Company in Cedar Rapids. Before Mamie was a year old, she moved with her parents and an older sister from Boone to Cedar Rapids and stayed here for nearly 10 years.

The first Cedar Rapids home of the Doud family stood at 1049 Fourth Ave. SE. It was situated near the old Church of the Brethren and across Fourth Avenue SE from Old Jackson elementary School. As Mamie grew up in the Fourth Avenue house, she would point her finger across the street, excitedly telling those around her that she would soon start kindergarten at Jackson School.

By the end of 1902, the Douds, including Mamie, moved into a new house at 1245 Third Ave. SE, around the corner from Old Jackson School. A few years later, due to her older sister’s health issues, Mamie and her family left Cedar Rapids and moved to Colorado by 1907.

Mamie later met Dwight Eisenhower in October 1915 in San Antonio, Texas, and married him a year later, at the age of 19.

VISITING CEDAR RAPIDS

On Oct. 17, 1958, President and Mrs. Eisenhower arrived at the Cedar Rapids airport. “Ike” was here to attend the National Corn Picking Contest out at the Dostal farm northeast of Marion along with other dignitaries, including Sen. and future President John F. Kennedy. (This significant Linn County event was detailed in the Oct. 21, 2018, Time Machine installment).

While her husband was at the corn picking event, the first lady arranged an official visit to see Old Jackson School at 1052 Fourth Ave. SE in her childhood neighborhood. Built and opened in 1883, Jackson was a relatively new structure when Mamie attended classes there. By 1958, Jackson had become the oldest operating school building in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

There are many documented, firsthand accounts by students who were at Jackson School for her visit.

Elementary student Dougie Barr gave the first lady a corsage. That little boy grew up to be actor and director Doug Barr, who was known for being part of the cast of the 1981-86 television series “The Fall Guy.”

The first lady gave a short speech saying she was thrilled to be back at Jackson and revisiting her old Cedar Rapids neighborhood. She talked about living on both Fourth and Third avenues SE. She recollected old neighbors on Third Avenue SE such as the Cherry and Hedges families.

MAMIE SURPRISES

Mamie Eisenhower had two surprises for the audience at Jackson School that day.

The first lady mentioned during her remarks that the last time she had visited Cedar Rapids was in 1919, presumably while with her husband on a famous Transcontinental Military Convoy stop in the city. She said she’d visited Jackson School at a time when it was briefly a junior high school. She talked about meeting a new art teacher at Jackson named Grant Wood and the principal, Frances Prescott. Wood and Prescott would later transfer to the new McKinley Junior High School nearby as art teacher and principal when McKinley opened in 1922.

The second surprise was when Mamie presented the Jackson School staff with an old photograph from 1903 of her kindergarten class at Jackson. Two of her classmates in the photograph were very familiar to Cedar Rapids residents. One was a little boy named Robert Armstrong, who in 1958 was the longtime owner of the Armstrong Department store started by his father in downtown Cedar Rapids. The other was a little girl named Margaret Douglas, who was Mrs. Howard Hall at the time of Mamie’s 1958 visit and living at the Brucemore mansion with her industrialist husband.

LEGACY

First lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower passed away in 1979. Her first Cedar Rapids home at 1049 Fourth Ave. SE was unfortunately demolished in the mid-1970s to build a parking lot. in Old Jackson School was closed in 1970 and demolished a short time later, despite an attempt by the Linn County Historical Society to save it.

Mamie’s 1903 kindergarten photograph was eventually donated to The History Center by the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

Mamie’s second Cedar Rapids home at 1245 Third Ave. SE still stands.

l Mark Stoffer Hunter is the historian at The History Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: mark@historycenter.org

Domestic airfares hit record low

The price of a domestic airline ticket has hit a record low, but airlines are still collecting strong profits — thanks to passenger fees and other charges.

In the third quarter of last year, the average domestic airfare was $343, according to data released Thursday.

Adjusted for inflation, that’s the lowest average price in any quarter since the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics began keeping track in 1995.

The $343 average fare, which is calculated based on the prices of round-trip and one-way tickets sold in the quarter, was down 0.4 percent from a year earlier, and down 2 percent from 2018’s second quarter, according to the bureau.

“Intense competition across the industry continues to drive fares to historically low levels, as prices have declined over the past several years,” said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s carriers.

Competition from low-cost carriers such as Spirit, Southwest and Frontier have led larger rivals Delta, United and American to offer no-frills fares, called “basic economy” tickets.

Those tickets come with many restrictions, such as no upgrades, no cancellations and no opportunity to select seats.

The low fares and high consumer confidence in the economy could have helped boost demand for travel.

In January, 75.2 million passengers flew on domestic and international flights on U.S. carriers, the second-highest monthly total of all time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The top month was July, when 75.8 million passengers flew.

The nation’s carriers continue to earn good profits, driven in part by fees passengers paid to check bags and change flight reservations, and by revenue from loyalty reward programs, airline-branded credit cards and commissions for booking hotels and rental cars for flyers.

Federal statistics show that a bigger share of the revenue collected by airlines comes from passenger fees and other charges than in the past.

In the July-through-September quarter of last year, the nation’s airlines earned a combined $3.8 billion.

Podcast industry readies for a new era

Some are calling it the second golden age of audio.

Podcasting, once viewed as a niche industry that catered to public radio fans, got a major boost this month when Swedish streaming giant Spotify agreed to pay around $230 million for Gimlet Media, the New York producer of such audio dramas as “Homecoming” and the documentary series “Crimetown.”

The deal — the largest to date — comes during a period of rapid growth in podcasting and could transform the industry in much the same way that Netflix changed television, analysts and executives said.

Spotify’s venture into the business is expected to bolster the value of podcast businesses, generate higher licensing fees for producers and potentially create a more consumer-friendly model built around subscriptions rather than advertising revenue.

“It sends a signal that podcasting’s time has come in a big way,” said Kelli Richards, chief executive of All Access Group, a digital music and entertainment consultancy.

“You are going to see a frenzy of more podcasters entering the system.”

The surge probably will prompt a wave of consolidations in a crowded market that already boasts more than 550,000 podcasts worldwide on Apple’s Podcasts app, one of the most popular ways to discover programs.

Newer podcasts will need to work harder to get discovered, said Oren Rosenbaum, head of emerging platforms at United Talent Agency. The agency represents more than 50 podcast creators or companies.

“It is getting tougher and more challenging,” Rosenbaum said.

BuzzFeed fired members of its podcast team, while other companies, such as San Antonio-based iHeartMedia Inc. have expanded their footprint, purchasing Atlanta-based Stuff Media, one of the nation’s largest podcast publishers, for $55 million last year.

Podcasts are expected to take in $514.5 million in ad dollars this year, up 28 percent from 2018, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC.

That boost has helped fuel Southern California podcast companies such as Beverly Hills, Calif.-based PodcastOne, which will take in about $40 million in revenue this year, up 25 percent from 2018, said Executive Chairman Norm Pattiz.

“People listen to podcasts from start to finish,” Pattiz said. “If they can’t do it in one sitting, they hit the pause button. They can consume it whenever and wherever they want.”

Last year, about 73 million Americans tuned in to podcasts each month, with many concentrated in metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles, according to Edison Research and podcast analytics firm Podtrac.

Part of the growth has been fueled by celebrities such as Remi Cruz and Alisha Marie, who last year launched an L.A.-based podcast about their lives called “Pretty Basic,” in which they discuss such topics as dating and fitness.

The podcast has helped them gain new fans beyond YouTube, generating more than five million downloads. It’s produced by Ramble, a joint venture of New York-based podcast company Cadence13 and United Talent Agency.

“It feels very intimate,” the 24-year-old Cruz said.

Fans have tweeted saying they felt as if they “were in the room with us,” she said.

Southern California hosts more than two dozen podcasting companies.

“We’re going to see a huge jump in 2019” in awareness and audience, said Pod People founder Rachael King. “It’s a combination of technology getting better and bigger players getting into the game.”

Podcasting took off in 2005, when Apple made more than 3,000 podcasts available for free on iTunes. Digital audio files became even more widespread seven years later when Apple launched its Podcasts app.

Hollywood took notice in 2014 after the success of “Serial,” a popular podcast that investigates whether convicted murderer Adnan Syed really killed his high school ex-girlfriend.

Venture capital firms poured money into start-ups, including Gimlet Media and West Hollywood-based Wondery, that created narrative programs similar to “Serial” that could be licensed for TV shows.

Castro, in Sioux City, says he’d rejoin Paris Climate Accords

SIOUX CITY — In a visit to Sioux City on Friday evening, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said the first thing he’d do on Jan. 20, 2021, if he’s elected president, is sign an executive order putting the United States back into the Paris Climate Accord.

“We need to address some of the long-term threats to this country, climate change being No. 1,” he said.

Casto, 44, the former mayor of San Antonio, spent Friday touring towns in northwest Iowa, a little more than a month after announcing his candidacy for president.

Castro, who made a point of personally greeting those who crowded into Sioux City attorney Al Sturgeon’s home before he spoke, joked about his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and the difficulty in telling the identical twins apart.

“He likes to go around telling people that the way to tell us apart, is that I am a minute uglier than he is,” Castro said to laughs from the crowd.

“It’s not true, don’t believe it. In fact, these days, he’s growing out a beard so that people can tell us apart. So, if you see him, you will know that he’s the uglier one.”

Castro pitched his ideas, including affordable health care and college, a $15 minimum wage, support for labor unions, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, addressing climate change, universal pre-K education and immigration reform.

In advocating for free post-secondary education, Castro said the United States will need an educated workforce to keep up with competition from other countries that churn out educated young people.

“Some of the folks in this room will remember that it wasn’t that long ago, that a lot of our state university systems were tuition-free,” he said.

“Go talk to the young at heart, folks that went through college a couple of generations ago, and they’ll tell you it was $50 a semester, or it was free.”

He told the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1920s at age 7, an orphan of the Mexican Revolution. In her later years, she suffered diabetes and had a foot amputated.

“Thank God that Medicare was there for her,” Castro said. “I believe that Medicare should be strengthened, and it should be there for everybody.”

In 2014, more than 90 years after his grandmother arrived in Texas, President Barack Obama asked Castro to be his HUD secretary, a position Castro held for two-and-a-half years.

“It’s not every day that a president calls you and asks if you want a job. I had just gone through the drive-through at Panda Express,” Castro said to more laughs from the audience.

Those meeting Castro Friday included J.D. Scholten, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last November against longtime 4th District Congressman Steve King.

Castro related an encounter he had Thursday with King in a Des Moines television station.

“I had a pleasant conversation for two minutes with him, but it reminded me that he does not represent the people of Iowa,” Castro said.

New U.S. policy curbs abortion referrals

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Friday that taxpayer-funded family planning clinics that primarily serve low-income Americans will no longer be able to refer patients for abortions, a move that will direct more money to faith-based organizations and that critics vowed to challenge.

The new regulation was announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of Title X, a government family planning program that serves about 4 million people.

The program currently subsidizes health centers such as those run by Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception, health screenings and abortions. Planned Parenthood serves about 41 percent of Title X patients and receives up to $60 million a year in federal funds for family planning services.

But in Iowa, Planned Parenthood gets no taxpayer funding. Though taxpayer money didn’t pay for abortions, the organization did provide abortions at some of its clinics in the state.

After the Iowa Legislature voted in 2017 to forego $3 million in federal funding and create its own women’s health care program without Planned Parenthood, the organization closed several clinics in the state.

Friday, after the announcement, the group said the new “gag order” would affect about 14,000 Iowans who use Title X funds to receive care at clinics in Ames, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Iowa City and Urbandale.

To continue receiving taxpayer subsidies under the program, health clinics will have to comply with the new rule.

Its key elements include “prohibiting referral for abortion as a method of family planning,” the health department said in a statement, adding that the rule “eliminates the requirement that Title X providers offer abortion counseling and referral.”

The rule also would require “clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning,” the statement said. The law already bans recipients of Title X funds from using those funds for abortions.

Conservative groups praised the move.

“We thank President Donald Trump for taking decisive action to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a group opposed to abortion rights.

But officials from New York and California immediately began talking about going to court.

“We will take legal action,” New York’s Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “These new rules are dangerous and unnecessary, and will prevent millions of Americans from obtaining the care they need and deserve.”

An Iowa law passed last year would have made referrals for abortions in the state largely pointless. The law banned most abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected — often before many women realize they are pregnant.

But a judge struck down the law as violating the state constitution, and Gov. Kim Reynolds said this week the state would not appeal.

Earlier this month, Reynolds proposed a measure that would allow women to obtain birth control pills at pharmacies without going to a clinic to get a prescription first.

Her proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would not include any drugs meant to induce an abortion.

3 things to know about this weekend’s winter blast

The latest winter storm to hit Eastern Iowa this weekend means many will be waking up to freezing rain and icy streets, going to bed with really high winds blowing outside and possibly contending with a few swelling rivers. Here are three things to know:

WINTRY MIX

Both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were placed under a winter weather advisory Friday night by the National Weather Service, which expected freezing rain and sleet along Interstate 80 and northward. While forecasters didn’t think Iowa City would see ice accumulations Saturday morning, they said Cedar Rapids would. But as the day warms, forecasters predict it’ll turn to rain.

HIGH WINDS

Winds are forecast to pick up late Saturday throughout Eastern Iowa. Forecasters predict winds of 30 or 40 mph and gusts up to 55 mph — or worse. It’s expected to last until Sunday night. “Lightweight outdoor items will be blown around and tree damage and power outages will be possible,” they said.

RISING RIVERS

Neither the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids nor the Iowa River in Iowa City were expected to pose problems. But the English River at Kalona and the Wapsipinicon River near DeWitt in far Eastern Iowa could. Friday night, they were both several feet below flood stage but the weather service placed them under a watch.

2018 stats show spikes in burglaries and drug violations in Johnson County

Johnson County saw notable upticks in burglaries and drug violations in 2018, while other crimes statistics held steady or saw slight fluctuations, data released by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on Friday show.

The sheriff’s office annual report shows deputies investigated 130 burglaries in 2018, a notable jump from 118 cases reported in 2017 and 68 reported the year before.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said most were car break-ins.

“A lot of people when they think of car break-ins, they think of thefts, but they are actually burglaries,” he said.

The sheriff said there were a few communities that saw a rash of car burglaries, but he declined to name specific towns.

Fluctuations in crime numbers are normal, he said. In the three years previous to 2016, he said the sheriff’s office saw a slight but steady decline in burglaries, only to see the numbers rise again in recent years.

“I can’t really offer an explanation for the increase,” he said. “You know, we have a transient population in Johnson County — the population turns over about every four or five years. And that’s not just due to the university and the student population, there are a lot of professional populations that move around a lot with their jobs, too, and as the population changes, so do our numbers.”

Another significant spike was seen in drug violations. The sheriff’s office reported 174 drug violations in 2018, a significant jump from 139 in 2017 and 110 the year before.

Drug violations have steadily been on the rise both in Iowa and on a national level, Pulkrabek said, and Johnson County is no different.

“Illegal drugs are still a big problem,” he said. “Our drug task force is busy. And I’m not just talking about marijuana — heroin and methamphetamine are still big problems in this area.”

Pulkrabek noted that the number of homicides in Johnson County has stayed at zero for the past three years.

“Zero murders in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — I’ll take that any day,” he said. “And, knock on wood, we’ll hopefully see that trend continue.”

As for traffic-related enforcement, Pulkrabek said there were two increases that stood out: Seat belt violations and citations for texting while driving.

Seat belt violations jumped from 102 in 2016 to 173 in 2018. The sheriff said the increase was likely due to grant money the department received for targeted enforcement.

“You’d be surprised how many people still don’t use their seat belts,” he said. “And over the past few years, the state has really pushed to drive up seat belt usage. We’d like to see that usage get up to 97, 98, 99 percent of drivers, so these grants allow for specialized overtime for focused enforcement.”

Texting while driving citations rose from just seven in 2016 to 81 in 2018. There were 19 citations issued in 2017.

The sheriff attributed that spike to many factors, including a change in Iowa law and officers paying closer attention to what drivers are doing behind the wheel.

“Texting while driving is so unsafe, and drivers are still doing it all the time,” he said. “So I think we are seeing a lot more public outcry for law enforcement to focus more on that behavior.”

Overall, Pulkrabek said none of the stats were alarming. Some of the spikes are easily preventable, he said — such as vehicle burglaries — adding that if drivers were careful to lock their vehicles and take valuables inside, there would be fewer burglaries.

“I’d say Johnson County is a safe area, overall,” he said. “A lot of the incidents we see could be easily preventable if members of the community practiced being good neighbors, keeping an eye out in their neighborhoods, and exercised more responsibility for their vehicles and their belongings. A few simple behaviors can make a significant difference in the crimes we see in our area.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Former House speaker Kraig Paulsen to head Iowa Department of Revenue

Kraig Paulsen, former speaker of the Iowa House who represented Hiawatha in the House for 14 years, has been named director of the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the appointment Friday. Paulsen starts his new job Monday.

Paulsen will leave his post at Iowa State University, where he was director of both supply chain and business analytics initiatives in the Ivy College of Business.

In his new job, Paulsen will oversee about $10 billion in state revenues and will be responsible for allocating funding across state and local government.

“In my new role, I look forward to working with the high-quality professionals within the department to ensure the highest levels of accountability and transparency to Iowa taxpayers,” Paulsen said in a statement released by the governor’s office.

He replaces Adam Humes, who was named interim director last month after director Courtney Kay-Decker resigned in December following seven controversy-filled years. Humes is leaving to pursue other opportunities, Reynolds’ office said.

Paulsen, 54, served in the Iowa Legislature from 2002 through 2016 and was the Republican speaker of the House from 2011 through 2015, when he stepped down and announced he would not run for re-election in 2016. Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican, now represents the district.

Paulsen, an Air Force veteran, also worked as corporate counsel to CRST International in Cedar Rapids.

A former commissioner at the Iowa Department of Transportation, he holds a bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Iowa and a master’s in business administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

His hiring at Iowa State in 2015, at a salary of $135,000, sparked controversy when he was hired without the job being advertised,

During his years as speaker, Paulsen was credited by both Republican and Democratic legislators as steady, even-handed and able to get things done, such as the 10-cent increase in the state fuel tax that pays for road updates.

“I have always had a deep respect for Kraig Paulsen,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said at the time Paulsen resigned as speaker. “While we have had our partisan differences, we have done our level best to work those out with each other.”

Hawkeye athletics seeks more help as ticket sales drop

IOWA CITY — Ticket sales are down for the Hawkeyes’ biggest moneymakers — football and men’s basketball — prompting the University of Iowa to seek more help, this time in the form of a digital advertising consultant.

The UI Department of Athletics in January issued a call for applications from firms interested in crafting and executing digital advertising strategies and national brand awareness campaigns in hopes of boosting ticket sales and event attendance, according to public bid documents.

“Football generates the most revenue and demands attention,” according to a UI answer to a prospective bidder’s question about which sports need the most help. “All the other sports need ticket sales increases.”

Revenue from Hawkeye football and men’s basketball season tickets, mini-pack tickets, group tickets and single-game sales dropped from 2016 to 2017, according to athletics data produced for a similar but separate request for proposals in March seeking help improving customer service, fan engagement and sales.

More recent attendance numbers the university provided to The Gazette show average football game attendance dropped from 69,656 in the 2016-17 season to 66,337 in the 2017-18 season.

Kinnick Stadium fits about 70,000, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s capacity is 15,500 — well above the average men’s basketball attendance of 11,895 in the 2017-18 season, according to the UI data. Men’s basketball attendance has been slipping since its average 15,000 in the 2013-14 season.

Single-game ticket sales and revenue for both sports fell from 2016 to 2017. Football figures dropped from 103,631 and $7 million to 85,334 and $5.2 million. Men’s basketball numbers slid from 43,241 and $1.1 million to 33,872 and $706,275, according to the UI data.

Some of the university’s nine ticketed sports have seen stable or improved performance, like wrestling, volleyball and women’s basketball, which in the 2017-18 season tallied its highest average attendance in at least five years of 5,452.

But that’s still just one-third of what Carver holds.

Expectations of a digital marketing firm hired to boost ticket sales and attendance include creating individual sport campaigns, improving search-engine optimization, developing social media initiatives, and employing data analysis and consultation.

The firm would be required to produce weekly and end-of-campaign reports. An initial agreement would expire after one year but could be extended.

The university issued its call for qualifications Jan. 11 and closed the bid window Feb. 4, although it hasn’t yet hired a firm. In response to questions from prospective bidders, UI officials said they don’t have a specific budget for the digital work or a specific timeline for when it could pick a firm and ask it to start — except to identify a 2019 football campaign as a priority.

The similar athletics request for proposals in March sought to hire a firm to employ new technologies to monitor, evaluate and predict ticket and fan trends “to make intelligent sales decisions” and establish “consistent capacity crowds energized to create a wining and entertaining environment.”

The university in August awarded that contract to IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions — a company born of a merger between IMG College and Learfield Communications, which UI athletics has contracted with since 2006 for exclusive rights to sell advertising.

That unrelated existing Learfield contract has been extended through 2026.

The university on Friday did not provide The Gazette with a copy of the new IMG Learfield contract. An award spreadsheet estimates UI revenue for its first year in the deal at $2.4 million, but IMG Learfield’s commission was not specified.

According to UI athletics data made public through that bid, about 8,000 season tickets are available for football, about 2,700 season tickets are available for men’s basketball and about 10,000 are available for wrestling.

Season ticket renewal rates are about 87 percent for football, compared with 92 percent in 2017; 89 percent for men’s basketball; and 86 percent for wrestling, up from 81 percent for the 2016-17 season.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Plagued by potholes: Wicked winter gnarls Corridor roadways

If it seems like the potholes on your commute are bigger and more abundant this year, it’s because winter has not afforded road crews much time to manage the roadway divots.

Brock Holub, Iowa City superintendent of streets and traffic engineering, said crews typically try to fill in problematic potholes throughout winter, but doing so requires dry roads and safe working conditions.

But as the last several weeks have proved, this winter has been anything but typical.

“We really haven’t had much of a chance to fill any potholes because it’s been snow on top of snow on top of snow,” Holub said Friday.

Holub said street crews managed to get out late this week to patch some of the city’s worst potholes on the busiest streets.

“We tell our crews to focus on the wheel busters,” Holub said. “The ones that really affect travel, those are the ones we try to focus on. We only have so much time to fix the holes between events.”

Winter and spring conditions wreak havoc on roads, with moisture and the freezing and thawing cycle pushing asphalt out of potholes, Holub said.

Mike Duffy, Cedar Rapids street operations manager, said in an email that patching potholes is an annual maintenance duty. The roads typically suffer from extreme winter weather.

He said this winter has forced crews to alternate between plowing roads after snow events and fixing potholes when time allows.

“The challenge this year has simply been making sure we are addressing the back-to-back snow events, picking up or pushing back snow to allow room for the next event, in addition to spring pothole filling,” Duffy said. “Our crews have worked many long hours on these important duties and will continue as needed.”

And another bout of precipitation is expected for the weekend.

“If we get rain again this weekend it will get worse. The roads are going to thaw out, they’re going to get water underneath these patches and they’re just going to pop,” Holub said.

Holub also reminded motorists to be mindful of road conditions and try to be patient as crews work to smooth out the streets.

“In some of these cases where potholes are really bad, we’re really trying to get them through to spring and then we may have a more permanent fix later.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Body found in burning vehicle in rural Johnson County

A body was found inside a burning vehicle in Riverside on Friday afternoon.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and Kalona Fire Department responded to a vehicle fire in the 2900 block of 540th Street in rural Johnson County northeast of Riverside at 12:42 p.m. Friday, according to a news release from the sheriff’s department.

As the emergency personnel extinguished the fire, they discovered a body inside, the release said. The person’s identity is not being released until the family is notified.

Johnson County Detective Sgt. Brad Kunkel said investigators believe there is no danger to the public related to the body.

“We have a lot to look into at this point, but there’s no danger to the public,” Kunkel said.

The cause of the fire is unknown, the sheriff’s department said, and the incident is being investigated by the sheriff’s office and Johnson County Medical Examiner.

R. Kelly charged with sexually abusing 4 alleged victims

CHICAGO — In a bombshell development, R&B superstar R. Kelly was indicted Friday on charges he sexually abused four victims, three of them underage, over a span of a dozen years.

Kelly was charged with abusing the one alleged adult victim in February 2003 — at the same time he was already fighting child pornography charges for filming himself having sex with an underage girl.

The four separate indictments charged Kelly with a combined 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for alleged misconduct occurring between 1998 and 2010.

Three of the indictments refer to victims who were under 17 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse, identifying them by initials only.

Cook County, Ill., State’s Attorney Kim Foxx held a brief news conference at which she declined to take questions from reporters and mentioned only what was already laid out in the indictments.

Meanwhile, a county judge issued a warrant for Kelly’s arrest Friday morning, court records show. But in a text, Kelly’s lawyer, Steven Greenberg, said he was making arrangements for Kelly to surrender to police.

A bond hearing has been scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Foxx said.

If convicted of the Class 2 felony charges, Kelly would face a sentence ranging from probation to up to seven years in prison.

The charges come in the wake of reporting in BuzzFeed and The New Yorker by Chicago-based journalist Jim DeRogatis and after damning allegations in a recent Lifetime documentary series.

Citing the “deeply, deeply disturbing” allegations in the documentary, Foxx made an unusual public plea last month for any Kelly accusers to come forward.

High-profile attorney Michael Avenatti said last week that he had given Foxx’s office a VHS tape showing Kelly engaging in sex years ago with a 14-year-old girl.

This marks the second time that Kelly, 52, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, has been charged with a sex crime by Cook County prosecutors. Armed with a sex tape, prosecutors indicted the singer in 2002 on child pornography charges, but following a sensational trial in 2008, a jury acquitted him of charges alleging he filmed himself having sex with his goddaughter, a girl estimated to have been as young as 13.

Greenberg, Kelly’s lawyer, has consistently denied the latest allegations of wrongdoing and expressed confidence the singer would be cleared of any possible charges.

The indictment alleges that Kelly sexually abused:

— H.W. on more than one instance between late May 1998 and late May 1999.

— R.L. on one occasion sometime between late September 1998 and late September 2001.

— L.C., the lone alleged adult victim, on one occasion on Feb. 18, 2003.

— J.P. on more than one occasion sometime between May 2009 and January 2010.

The alleged abuse occurred years ago, but prosecutors were able to still bring charges against Kelly. Three of the indictments fall within the Illinois statute of limitations because charges were brought within 20 years of each of the alleged victim’s 18th birthday, according to court records.

Records show the fourth charge, involving the February 2003 incident, could have been prosecuted at any time, since Kelly’s DNA was entered into a database within 10 years of the alleged incident and the victim reported the abuse within three years.

The charges come about six weeks after Foxx called on any Kelly accusers to come forward, citing “deeply, deeply disturbing” allegations in the documentary series detailing long-standing accusations of sexual misconduct against the singer.

The six-hour documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” aired on the Lifetime channel and alleged that he has manipulated young women into joining a “sex cult,” forcing them to stay with him against their will and keeping them under his control.

In the days after Foxx’s plea for help from alleged Kelly victims, her office was inundated with tips after the top prosecutor urged victims to come forward.

While the allegations against Kelly have been long-standing, the singer has largely continued to enjoy widespread support. However, his scheduled performance at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago last year was canceled after a public outcry, and the recent documentary has helped bring the troubling allegations into the social media spotlight.

Pages