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Iowa campaign pros await word from three B’s

Iowa Democrats are bracing for a wide-open 2020 presidential race that will spread millions of dollars across the state as hopefuls continue making the rounds here leading up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses — but uncertainty about the plans of a few big-name potential candidates has left many political operatives in a state of suspension.

With the potential for the biggest field of Democrats in a generation looking to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, some would-be campaign staffers are playing hard-to-get with less prominent candidates trying to get an early jump in Iowa.

the intensified competition for top political talent also foreshadows the challenges ahead for candidates as they try to lock in supporters and delegates with such a large menu for voters.

Iowa’s well-established political infrastructure is at least partly frozen in place, awaiting clearer signals from a group one party veteran calls the “triumvirate” — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who gained national attention with his unsuccessful bid last year to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

This month, the Democratic Party of Iowa took the unusual step of sending out an email blast asking for resumes to stock a talent pool it plans to build for presidential campaigns and liberal groups that will be flooding the state in the weeks ahead.

“Whether you’re an experienced political campaigner or never thought in a million years you’d work in politics, take a minute to upload your resume,” the email said. “You never know who might end up giving you a call to ask you to work for their campaign.”

The top Democratic political strategists in Iowa — like those nationally — can’t quite agree on just how many candidates to expect. Estimates range from a dozen to two dozen.

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro made his plans to run official last weekend, joining former Rep. John Delaney, R-Md., as a declared candidate. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has a national profile and proven fundraising ability, has taken the first concrete step toward a campaign.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced Tuesday she’s also forming an exploratory committee, the prelude to a formal announcement. She scheduled visits to Sioux City, Boone and Ames this weekend but postponed an event today in Iowa City because of the weather.

Later Tuesday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said he would soon begin a tour of four states — coming Jan. 31 to Iowa — that hold early presidential contests. And Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii also has said that she plans to run.

Most other prospective candidates — a group that includes both high-profile and barely known current or former federal, state and local officeholders — are expected to announce their plans later this month or in February.

The sheer number of prospective candidates makes job hunting for young campaign staffers both harder and easier.

“You are sort of waiting for that other shoe to drop and you sometimes wonder whether you are betting on the wrong shoe,” said Robert Lyons, 24, a Democrat from Denison who has worked on one statewide campaign in Iowa and local races. “It’s a little bit stressful.”

Lyons hopes to land a communications job on a presidential campaign after he finishes his master’s degree in April. He’s most interested in working for Biden, but is open to others.

The job of a young presidential campaign staffer in a place like Iowa isn’t terribly glamorous: lots of late nights, freezing temperatures, day-old pizza and rejection. So it helps if the person you’re working for is someone who inspires you.

O’Rourke may be winning on that score.

Jeff Link, a veteran Democratic strategist based in Iowa who doesn’t plan on working for any one presidential candidate this election, said there isn’t much mystery about the rest of the field. As a result, he and other top Iowa strategists say O’Rourke is creating a modest bottleneck for other potential candidates trying to fill their rosters.

“I always tell young people that you want to work for someone you believe in, and a team you enjoy, because the chances are you’re going to lose,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party.

A well-funded presidential campaign will have about 100 workers in Iowa, Sterzenbach said, and some people looking for jobs haven’t had campaign work since November.

“Until the candidates take action, it’s hard to put your life on hold and not eat,” he said. “A lot of these folks can’t wait that long, or they don’t want to wait that long.”

Zack Davis, 34, is intrigued by O’Rourke and expects to work on a presidential campaign. He’s toiled in Iowa Democratic politics for a decade and has been contacted by between five and 10 prospective presidential campaigns about possible jobs.

“They are interested in having conversations, but since there is no committee to actually hire someone, it can’t actually become a hard offer,” he said.

O’Rourke emerged from November’s midterm elections as one of the hottest prospects for the 2020 Democratic field. His charisma, masterful use of social media and ability to raise record amounts of money online boosted his stature, despite losing to Cruz by 2.5 percentage points.

Top Democrats in Iowa are used to being courted aggressively by potential presidential candidates, but their calls to O’Rourke aides haven’t been returned.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who in February 2007 was among the first elected officials outside of Illinois to endorse the bid of then-Sen. Barack Obama, said comparisons between the former president and O’Rourke may be overblown.

“Barack has this, in my view, incredible package of talent and personal character and ability,” said Miller, who is “leaning towards” backing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock should he decide to run.

There are signs flashing that O’Rourke — and others — should not wait too long to start securing the top talent in the state.

Warren, who was warmly received during her initial visit to the state earlier this month as a likely candidate, recently announced the hiring of four Iowa Democratic operatives with strong credentials.

Besides sluggishness in the hiring process, there are also questions in Iowa about potential shortages of prime campaign real estate, especially in some of the smaller cities that typically host satellite campaign offices.

Most serious campaigns will have a headquarters in or near Des Moines and smaller offices in roughly 10 other cities scattered around the state. Some of them, such as the fast-growing Iowa City area, may especially struggle to find enough space for the newcomers.

Maryland’s Delaney already has visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties as part of his bid for the nomination and last weekend opened Des Moines and Cedar Rapids offices. He’s scheduled to open four others in Iowa.

Even in the Des Moines metro area, home to about 650,000 people, there could be challenges in finding campaign office space for dozens of staff members and volunteers, ideally with nearby parking.

“There aren’t a lot of vacant buildings in the central core,” Link said.

Time Machine: Steeplejack sets pole-sitting world record in Strawberry Point in 1930

By 1930, William H. “Bill” Penfield had been a professional steeplejack for 20 years in 1930 and had lived in and near Strawberry Point for 25 years.

In July that year, the 50-year-old Kansas native set out to break the world pole-sitting record that, at the time, stood at 23 days, a record set by Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly of New York.

Penfield intended to climb Strawberry Point’s 100-foot steel flagpole — which he’d installed five years before — and stay there until he broke Shipwreck’s record.

The problem was, Shipwreck had started another pole-sitting marathon in Atlantic City.

Penfield’s idea had support from Strawberry Point businessmen, who saw the feat as great advertising for the Clayton County city in northeast Iowa.

In order to break the record, Penfield created a special chair that allowed him to sit, lie down or stand up. He carried a heavy rubber blanket to protect against rain and cold and a quilt to sleep on.

Strawberry Point café manager C.H. Jenkins agreed to provide meals while Penfield was on the pole, and he engaged a special ground crew to take care of other needs.

A telephone was installed at the top of the pole so Penfield could talk more easily to those on the ground.

injunction tried

When City Council members got wind of Penfield’s plans, they started calculating the town’s liability if Penfield or anyone else got hurt during the stunt. They sought an injunction prohibiting Penfield from using the pole.

Penfield had planned to start his pole-top campout at noon July 23. Instead, he hid out before the injunction could be served and climbed the pole at 3 a.m. When daylight came, there he sat atop the pole, in full view of City Hall, with plans to stay there till Labor Day.

Unless officials could find a way to bring him back down, he planned to stay there until Labor Day.

Two days later, he reported “feeling fine.” His phone connection had been installed July 25, and a crowd that reached 600 people gathered to watch him shave (he put a mirror on the back of his chair and maneuvered until he could see his face), sleep and keep tabs on a barn fire that he could see clearly from his perch.

By July 30, the crowd on the ground was estimated at 6,000, and cars from 36 Iowa counties and several other states were noted.

throngs gather

On Aug. 4, the temperature soared to 108, but Penfield claimed he spent a “comfortable” day because of the strong breeze. There was a drawback, though. The wind prevented Penfield from using the umbrella that shielded him from the sun.

Meanwhile, Shipwreck had been on his Atlantic City pole for more than 40 days by then, and Penfield’s wife and daughter kept tabs on his progress so Penfield would know the mark he had to beat.

The number of spectators continued to grow. Finding a parking place in the city of 1,000 was a challenge.

On Aug. 10, bands from Arlington, Lamont and Aurora played near the flagpole.

That same day, a group of five drove from Postville to see Penfield and found themselves in the midst of “the biggest jam of folks we have been in since Ringling Bros. visited Postville,” according to the Postville Herald. “Cars were parked on both sides of main street for blocks and for a block or two on all streets intersecting with it, and for a block or two on the sidewalk either side of the polesitter you had to fight your way through a mass of humanity, while restaurants and refreshment stands were doing more business than a land office did back in the old days.”

listening to cubs

After 46 days, with the record set by Shipwreck a few days away, Penfield told reporters, “I am feeling fine, having missed but one meal in 46 days, and see no reason why I could not remain here until November if someone would make it an object.”

Penfield — who’d painted church towers in DeWitt and Elkader and the Manchester water tank — said he’d even gained weight on his diet of toast, coffee, milk, fish, chicken, cantaloupes and fruits.

His only visitor was a fellow steeplejack from Manchester.

“I spend my time reading and smoking and am greatly interested in the sporting world,” he told a reporter. “By the aid of earphones and the switching of wire connections from the light socket, I am permitted to receive radio programs as they are received from the radio set at the Franklin Furniture store and enjoy them immensely.”

A Cubs’ fan, Penfield nearly lost his seat during one exciting game.

coming down

Penfield’s wife, daughter Margaret Shaw, and 2-year-old grandson, Le Roy Shaw, visited the flagpole often. The Penfields celebrated their 23rd anniversary at the pole.

His foray to the top of the flagpole brought comments that included “not much above his shoulder,” and “he’s a big fool.” But still they came by the thousands to see him.

On Sept. 10, at 4:30 a.m., Penfield tied, then passed, Shipwreck’s record.

He stayed put until Sept. 12 when an electrical storm drove him from the pole and his feet touched the ground for the first time since July 23.

His world record was 51 days and 20 hours.

His descent seemed to put an end to the town’s plans to stage a big celebration on Friday, Sept. 19, but at 4:30 Sept. 14, Penfield returned to his aerial nest until time for the celebration.

On Sept. 19, he again descended at 1:16 p.m. to the celebration, which included speeches and a baseball game.

buying a farm

Sadly, Penfield’s hopes for riches didn’t materialize. After expenses, he earned $1. He had gone up the flagpole on his own. When he was offered a chance to do it again in Florida in November 1930 and in Shenandoah, Iowa, in May 1931, he had a manager and a contract.

He set a record of 79 days, 3 hours, on a 209-foot radio tower there WHERE? on Sept. 8, 1931. He was paid $3,000.

A few days later, a sitter from Dyersville broke his record.

Penfield bought an 80-acre farm across the state line in Missouri and moved his family there, where he died in 1961 at age 84.

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City starting to receive massage license applications


In an effort to eliminate the operation of illicit massage businesses, the Cedar Rapids City Council passed its long-discussed massage ordinance in November.

The ordinance calls for local businesses that offer massage services to be licensed through the city in addition to the required state license. The ordinance also gives the city the right to placard, or place a notice on, any business engaging in illegal activity or operating without a license.

The ordinance initially was met with concern from local massage therapists and victim advocacy groups that deal with human trafficking.

Among concerns was the first draft’s lack of language addressing human trafficking, which sometimes is associated with illegal massage businesses, as well as its lack of cost analysis when it came to enforcement. Also, several massage therapists were uneasy about having to get a local license, in addition to the state one, and pay more fees.

The new ordinance incorporates human trafficking language, stating, “If the city has probable cause that prostitution … or human trafficking … has occurred at a property providing massage therapy, the police department may placard the property.” It also notes such crimes could be subject to criminal prosecution.


The ordinance went into effect Jan. 1.

Since then, Amanda Grieder, program manager for SAFE-CR — Secure and Friendly Environments in Cedar Rapids — who was the city’s point person in drafting the ordinance, said the city has received 15 license applications from massage businesses.

Of those, she said eight have been approved and seven have been held up because of minor mistakes on the application. Greider said the city is working with those businesses to correct the mistakes and get their applications approved.

No applications have yet been denied, she said.

Businesses offering massage services in Cedar Rapids have until Feb. 28 to complete the city licensing process before facing enforcement.

Those applying are required to provide their name, address of the business and “documentation establishing the applicant’s control of the premises on which the business will be located,” the ordinance states.

Additionally, the applicant and other employees of the business are required to undergo a criminal-background check and show proof they are licensed by the state’s Massage Therapy Board.

The city’s $60 business licensing fee includes three background checks for employees, with additional background checks costing $10 each. The license needs to be renewed every two years.

Fees have been waived for licenses obtained from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.

Cedar Rapids is one of a handful of cities that have passed such ordinances.

Johnston passed an ordinance that requires practicing massage therapists to be licensed, and Coralville passed a similar ordinance in September. Marion and Urbandale passed ordinances allowing the cities to placard properties that engage in illegal activity, and Iowa City recently passed a similar ordinance. The Cedar Rapids ordinance combines aspects from both models.

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Rising drug prices said to strain hospitals

Rising costs of prescription drugs have strained hospital budgets and operations, forcing health systems to cut costs by reducing staff, a new study found.

Hospital drug spending increased by 18.5 percent between 2015 and 2017, a rate far exceeding medical inflation for the period, according to a report prepared for three health associations by the research group NORC at the University of Chicago.

Community hospitals spent an average of $555.40 on prescription drugs for each admitted patient in 2017.

“We are in the midst of a prescription drug spending crisis that threatens patient access to care and hospitals’ and health systems’ ability to provide the highest quality of care,” said Rick Pollack, chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association, which commissioned the report along with the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Drugs associated with outpatient care, which includes emergency room visits and other short-term services, were the most costly.

Outpatient drug spending increased 28.7 percent per admission, while inpatient spending grew by 9.6 percent.

Price hikes that affected hospitals were seen across various classes of drugs, including anesthetics, non-oral solutions and chemotherapy.

The main drivers of the increases were high list prices set by drugmakers, coupled with ongoing shortages for critical treatments, according to NORC’s data analysis of more than 4,200 U.S. hospitals.

The report comes as pharmaceutical companies are under increasing pressure from the Trump administration, Congress and insurance companies over rising drug costs.

Drugmakers boosted list prices on hundreds of treatments this month alone.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump summoned his top health officials to the White House to discuss the increases, while lashing out at drugmakers on Twitter.

Drug shortages are also contributing to rising costs.

As common drugs such as saline solutions and generic injectables are increasingly difficult to obtain, many have shot up in price, straining hospitals that rely on the treatments for daily patient care, according to the study.

However, those drugs often don’t see prices fall to the original level after a new supply floods the market.

“Price increases and drug shortages are the two biggest pain points for hospitals and have been for several years,” said Erin Fox, senior director of pharmacy at University of Utah Health, who monitors drug shortages and assisted with the report.

“Hospitals are still struggling to make do as these issues are ongoing. Some of the shortages highlighted in the report might not be resolved until 2020.”

The number of drugs in short supply in the U.S. has skyrocketed since 2017, when there were 146 shortages, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Already, the ASHP has identified 250 active shortages in 2018 — and Fox and her colleagues still ARE counting.

The effects of drug price hikes and shortages have reverberated throughout health systems.

More than nine in 10 hospitals identified alternative therapies to mitigate budget pressures associated with changing drug prices, while one in four hospitals went as far as cutting staff to curb costs, according to the report.

Hospitals also are delaying internal investments and conducting more in-house compounding.

Health systems have urged Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to act.

In a Jan. 11 letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who oversees a drug shortage task force, the AHA recommended that manufacturers face more severe drug-shortage disclosure requirements and be fined should they fail to comply.

“Solutions must be worked on to rein in out-of-control drug prices and ease the drug shortages that are putting a strain on patient care,” Pollack said.

Some corporations use charitable donations to tilt regulations

Back in 2011, when AT&T and T-Mobile were attempting to gain approval from the Federal Communications Commission for an ultimately doomed $39 billion merger deal, an unusual coalition of interest groups submitted comment to the agency in support of the merger — including the NAACP.

And the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD. A homeless shelter in Louisiana. The Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.

The groups were united by two common threads. The first was their lack of any apparent stake in telecommunications policy.

The second was the fact that they all recently had received donations from AT&T, in some cases totaling six figures or more.

Although AT&T denied any quid pro quo over its contributions to not-for-profit groups, the donations raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. The president of GLAAD resigned over the contributions, as did a number of board members.

The merger ultimately fell through.

While it’s tempting to write off the incident as a one-time blunder — heavy-handed corporate lobbying gone amok — new research from Marianne Bertrand at the University of Chicago and others finds that’s not the case. Merging charitable giving data of Fortune 500 companies with a complete record of public comments submitted to the federal government on proposed regulations between 2003 and 2015, Bertrand and her colleagues are able to trace how individual corporations influence the rulemaking process via nonprofit donations.

The data set compiled by the researchers demonstrates three crucial findings:

1. After a business donates to a not-for-profit, that group becomes more likely to comment on rules that the firm has also commented on.

2. The organization’s comments in those cases have more similarities with the donator’s own comments than with comments from other not-for-profits not receiving money from the company.

3. When a donator and its grantees comment on a rule together, regulators’ final remarks on the rule are more likely to be in line with the doantor’s comments on the rule.

The research “unearth(s) a channel of influence going from corporations to policymaking that was not measured before,” said co-author Matilde Bombardini in an email, “both in terms of monetary magnitude and impact on the agency’s views on the various regulations.”

not that simple

The paper exclusively considers federal rulemaking, which is the process by which agencies deliberate on how laws and policies are interpreted and carried out in the real world.

When an agency proposes a rule — for example, a telecom merger approval, the addition of a new drug to a controlled substances list or the applicability of mandatory rest requirements for different types of workers — it typically allows public comment on the proposal for a period of 30 to 60 days.

Individuals and other interested parties — including lawmakers, businesses and not-for-profits — are allowed to weigh in on the proposal.

At the end of the period, the agency issues a final rule. The rule may be unchanged from its initial iteration, or it may be altered or even withdrawn completely based on the public input received.

But Bertrand and her colleagues found evidence that in many cases the process is not that simple. Comments received from businesses and ostensibly independent entities may be linked by money that flows well outside the process.

When that happens, the final rule is more likely to reflect the donating corporation’s views.

“Naturally firms favor profits — i.e., private benefit — over the social good,” said study co-author Raymond Fisman in an email. “So Coke wants to sell more soft drinks even if (there are) increases in obesity.

“Supposedly independent nonprofits are meant to provide input that acts as a counterweight. If they’re co-opted, they won’t.”

To draw these conclusions, Bertrand and her colleagues first identified 629 charitable foundations operated by 474 firms appearing on the Fortune 500 or Standard & Poor’s 500 composite index lists at any point from 1995 to 2016.

Using IRS data, they then identified all 225,180 not-for-profit entities receiving gifts of greater than $5,000 from these charitable foundations from 1998 to 2015.

Next they pulled the complete set of public comments on proposed rules submitted to between 2003 and 2016.

They were then able to identify not only when individual corporations commented on a proposed rule, but also when not-for-profits that comapny had donated to commented on the same rule.

They found that when a company donates to a not-for-profit, it’s associated with a two- to four-fold increase in the likelihood that the not-for-profit group will comment on the same proposed rule as the donator.

“The magnitude of this effect is large,” the researchers write, with some degree of understatement.

‘No way connected’

When relationships such as these surface publicly, as in the case of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, the not-for-profits involved usually say that donations do not influence their policy work.

“One of the unique things about the NAACP is that financial support does not determine our civil rights positions,” the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP told Politico in 2011. Similarly, a GLAAD spokesman said, “We do not make policy decisions based on what’s best for our corporate sponsors.”

Smaller groups make similar claims.

“Their money that they gave was in no way connected with what we did,” the director of the Louisiana homeless shelter told the Center for Public Integrity about AT&T’s $50,000 donation to the group five months before it commented on the merger.

“No one leveraged me or anything,” said the director of the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.

But the researchers found that when a not-for-profit comments on a rule that a donor company also comments on, the language of the comments tends to mirror each other.

Using machine learning techniques, the researchers analyzed the language of these comment pairs and found that they were significantly more similar to each other than pairs of comments selected at random from a given docket.

A corporate donation, in other words, made a not-for-profit considerably more likely to support that corporation’s view in regulatory matters.

Using similar techniques, they at last turned to the language used by regulators in drawing up and discussing the final rules. They find, again, that when a firm and nonprofits it has donated to comment on a proposed rule, the language used in these regulatory discussions tends to more closely mirror the language of the firm’s comments than it would otherwise.

What this work does, in effect, is trace the path of influence from a corporate donation to an ostensibly independent not-for-profit’s comment and all the way through to a final regulatory outcome.

“It’s presenting an important link between corporate donors and the public policy conversation,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, in an interview.

Not-for-profits often present themselves as independent entities not aligned with any particular for-profit interests.

They are “providers of nonpartisan, technical expertise and are commonly expected to offer more neutral input into the lawmaking and rulemaking process, with a focus on cost-benefit analysis and broader societal interests,” Bertrand and her colleagues write.

But their research shows how corporations can influence not-for-profits’ input into the policymaking process, which can “distort the outcome of the political process away from the public good and towards private interests,” as they put it.

Policymaking ends up reflecting the interests of the people who have enough money to make their voices stand out, their research suggests.

“The biggest losers are constituents who end up getting their perspectives drowned,” Sunlight’s Wonderlich says.

Question: Do Legos deliver huge market returns?

A lot of fancy things can be built with Lego sets nowadays. Such as a diversifying portfolio that loads on the Fama-French size factor.

Collecting Lego — yes, the plastic toys made of interlocking bricks that become cars and castles and robots — returned more than large stocks, bonds and gold in the three decades ending in 2015, says a study by Victoria Dobrynskaya, an assistant professor at Russia’s Higher School of Economics.

Aspects of the performance even align with returns sought by owners of smart-beta ETFs, or exchange-traded funds.

While the premise sounds goofy, it’s serious enough for the academy, especially in a world where intrepid investors will go practically anywhere for uncorrelated returns.

You might not know this, but older Lego sets often are resold online for many times their original price.

In one extreme case, a kit for Star Wars Darth Revan that retailed in 2014 for $3.99 went for $28.46 on eBay a year later — a 613 percent premium.

And while quantitative investment firms spend hundreds of hours studying whether factors such as size and momentum translate beyond the equity market, for Dobrynskaya, who wrote the paper with student Julia Kishilova, the inspiration was less theoretical.

“My son likes playing with Lego and I have a lot of it at home. At one point I thought, maybe I have a ready-made investment portfolio?” she said.

“I know that Lego has nothing to do with multifactor models I spend my time focusing on. It doesn’t mean the performance of Lego sets has absolutely nothing to do with factor investing.

“You’ll be surprised to know that it does.”

In a paper titled “Lego — the Toy of Smart Investors,” Dobrynskaya analyzed 2,300 sets sold from 1987 to 2015 to measure their price-return over time.

She found that collections used for Hogwarts Castles and Jedi star fighters beat U.S. large-cap stocks and bonds, yielding 11 percent a year.

Smaller kits rose more than medium-sized ones, similar to the size effect in the Fama-French model (though the relation isn’t exact).

“The beta of the size factor is statistically significant and the dynamics of the Lego index we created for our research is similar to that of the size factor,” Dobrynskaya said by phone from Moscow.

“Lego sets don’t show a significant correlation to the financial crises and can be seen as an attractive investment with a diversification potential.”

Guess what? Not everyone loves the science.

Trying to shoehorn Legos into model of factor returns strikes some people as a little silly and creates the potential for human judgment to distort findings.

First among the hazards is the possibility that everything is explained by happenstance — a criticism that looms over many factor models.

“If you think about all the academics in the world, there are a lot of them, and all of them are looking for something interesting to say and it’s always going to be related to the Fama-French factor,” said Roberto Croce, managing director and senior portfolio manager at BNY Mellon.

“Someone is going to find something that is correlated. Purely by randomness that’s going to happen.

“I’d take it with a grain of salt.”

The methodology

To determine the average yearly Lego return, Dobrynskaya gathered the initial price of 2,000 toys released between 1981 and 2014 and their cost in the secondary market in 2015.

She analyzed price trends for links to risk factors such as value, volatility and size in the models developed by theorists Eugene Fama and Kenneth French.

While the first three weren’t significant, returns did loosely resemble those attributed to the size factor.

The Fama-French’s “small-firm effect” that holds smaller-cap companies often outperform during sustained rallies.

The data showed that sets with a relatively few pieces, up to 113, returned 22 percent per year, almost 16 percentage points more than the group with about 860 bricks in each.

The relation wasn’t perfectly linear. Small sets yield the most, but those with 2,000 pieces do better than medium-sized ones.

The large group contains less than 100 Lego sets compared with 1,600 in the small camp and can be potentially seen as an outlier, Dobrynskaya said.

“Smaller Lego sets could be more rare than larger sets produced en masse, though it’s hard to know for sure,” Dobrynskaya said.

Dobrynskaya, a 37-year-old London School of Economics Ph.D. who spent years writing papers on carry trades and momentum investing, first looked at Lego as a topic for research after her son’s hobby steered her to a community of investors discussing how to profit from buying and selling the toy.

Lego sets that focus on super heroes and Indiana Jones are among the ones that do best over time.

The Simpsons is the only Lego theme that has lost value, falling by 3.5 percent on average. Newer sets have higher returns than older ones, though this can be due to a growing popularity of investments in Lego, Dobrynskaya said.

Iowa Democratic leaders disappointed by what isn’t on Reynolds’ agenda

JOHNSTON — Iowa Democratic legislative leaders were encouraged by the shared priorities Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed in her Condition of the State speech to them last week, but at the same time they were disappointed by issues the GOP governor didn’t address.

“She did talk a lot about bipartisanship, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to work on several issues together,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said about the Tuesday address from the governor. “There were a lot of things in the governor’s speech that Democrats can get behind. So I’m hoping we’ll be able to find areas to work together on.”

Petersen and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, speaking on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” on Friday, agreed Democrats should be able to support Reynolds’ call to implement the mental health and workforce programs lawmakers unanimously approved a year ago and to start the process of amending the state Constitution to restore felons’ voting rights.

However, the minority leaders were quick to add they believe the governor should increase her funding requests for mental health, especially to establish a children’s mental health system.

They’d also like to see more than a 2.3 percent increase in K-12 school funding.

“We’re pleased that that’s where the governor is starting at,” Prichard said about her request for about $93 million in new funding for local schools to bring the state’s total K-12 spending to $3.4 billion next year, or more than 40 percent of the annual general fund budget.

Democrats are advocating for at least a 3 percent because in recent years local districts have had to make cuts in staffing and programs.

“It’s because they’re not getting the support and the funding that they need from the state,” Prichard said. “ We’ve gone on what is called budget guarantees, where we basically have shifted the tax burden and the funding burden for local districts to local property taxpayers and local taxpayers.

“The state has to do its part.”

Prichard also was concerned that Reynolds didn’t lay out any plan to address what he sees as inadequacies that continue in the state’s privately managed Medicaid program.

“I was listening specifically for specific proposals that would fix what I see,” he said. “I was disappointed I didn’t hear specific things to address those concerns. We would like to see some dramatic changes in the Medicaid privatization system. We’d like to see accountability restored. We’d like to see services restored.”

Reynolds made only a passing reference to the $5 billion-a-year program that costs the state $53 per second.

“This Medicaid system is not working,” Prichard said, adding that he hears stories from Medicaid service providers — dentists, chiropractors, therapists and others — who are not getting paid.

“It’s having a horrible effect, particularly in rural Iowa” where providers can’t spread the costs over a large client base, he said.

It’s not any better for urban Iowans and their Medicaid providers, Petersen said.

“Iowans in communities across our state are still seeing the problems with Medicaid, with their providers not getting paid on time or in full,” she said. “And if providers shut their door to Medicaid patients they may shut their door to all Iowans for health care.”

“Iowa Press” may be seen at noon Sunday on IPTV and online at

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King’s fearmongering views drive the GOP

As U.S. Rep. Steve King roasted over the flames of public condemnation this past week for the latest un-hooding of his white nationalist obsessions, among the most stinging rebukes was the suggestion he’s accomplished nothing.

Nine times elected, and yet no bills, initiatives or legislative monuments of note bear his name. It’s true, and was true long before the Republican from Kiron wondered aloud to the New York Times how white supremacy and white nationalism came to gain such a bad rap.

King is a racist. No reasonable jury would acquit. But as to the charge of accomplishing nothing, King is not guilty. Exhibit A: the transformation of the Republican Party he helped engineer.

As the Times noted, King is the original “build that wall” Republican. As immigration fearmongering is shoving our country down a political dead-end road and shutting part of the federal government, King’s long list of greatest fearmongering hits provides the soundtrack.

King saw visions of invaders long before President Donald Trump did. He derided drug-trafficking, cantaloupe-calved Dreamers long before Trump descended the escalator to a very low road. King’s wall is now mainstream GOP policy, though the congressman never thought of making Mexico pay for it. I bet he regrets that.

A party that once tried seriously to comprehensively reform our immigration system now pelts any such ideas with derisive shouts of “amnesty!” That’s King.

When Iowa GOP candidates up and down the ballot last fall used frightening TV ads to convince voters that Democrats favor an open border invasion by tattooed brown people, that’s classic King.

Republicans now are lining up to repudiate King. But on the issue of immigration, among the most important facing the nation, this is King’s party.

I first met King as a young legislative reporter for the Sioux City Journal in 1998. He was a state senator and one of my local legislators. He won his seat after defeating a more moderate Republican in a primary.

In February 1998, he filed a bill seeking to remove references to “multicultural,” “non-sexist” and “globalism” from portions of education provisions in the Iowa Code. He wanted them replaced with language emphasizing “the democratic republic of the United States … is the unchallenged greatest nation in the world and has derived its strength from the forces that shaped it: the philosophies of Christianity, free enterprise capitalism and western civilization.”

His bill never became law. His crusades were seen as oddities, in the beginning. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Diversity always has been King’s public enemy No. 1. It’s why he fought tooth-and-nail to stop any and all attempts to extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ Iowans. It’s why he pushed so hard to make English Iowa’s “official language.” He’s spent much of his career in public office trying to pull the state and the nation backward in time.

“This bill is about hatred and bigotry. It is a xenophobic legislation and I am disappointed that the Republican Party of Iowa is betraying its own heritage,” then-Sen. Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said of King’s English bill in 2001.

Some Iowa Republicans also resisted King’s crusades, but most went along for the ride, rightward. And when King veered rhetorically off the rails, he mostly drew GOP shrugs.

During a cable news panel at the 2016 GOP national convention, King touted the achievements of western civilization compared with other “subgroups.” The message was clear, especially to members of these so-called subgroups.

“I think they were inappropriate,” said then-Gov. Terry Branstad when asked about King’s remarks by journalists, including myself. We asked the governor to explain further.

“Well, people know Steve King,” Branstad said.

At times, Iowa Republicans tolerated King like a bothersome weed on the fringe of the garden. But at election time, including last November, they’d rush to praise him as a “true conservative,” stand shoulder-to-shoulder at rallies and gladly woo his Western Iowa voters. When he was challenged in a primary, they rallied to his defense. He owned the libs, and delivered the votes.

Now, King’s brand of noxious politics has taken over the whole plot. His is a resistant hybrid of fear and nationalism now deeply rooted in the GOP’s Trumpian brand.

King’s weak re-election showing last fall, his recent eruption and congressional condemnation are prompting some Iowa Republicans to grab the Roundup. Newspapers, including the Sioux City Journal, are calling for his resignation. Primary challengers are popping up.

And yet, even now, U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, and Gov. Kim Reynolds, have vowed to remain neutral in a potential primary fight. If so, they’ll be the only people in Iowa staying neutral about King.

Sure, they’ll criticize King’s statements, and yet top Iowa Republicans can’t bring themselves to condemn the president over his hateful excesses and the worsening consequences. The GOP establishment is tied up in knots of blatant hypocrisy. That’s classic King.

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Gillibrand launches exploratory trip in Sioux City, says Steve King should resign

SIOUX CITY — In her first trip to Iowa as a possible presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the area’s congressman, Steve King, has become too controversial for his racial comments and should resign.

Gillibrand was asked about King, a Republican who has faced calls to resign since his Jan. 10 comments about white supremacism, at her first of two events in Sioux City.

“I stand with candidates who want to replace him,” she said, at Pierce Street Coffeeworks.

A half-hour later, in speaking to a large group of reporters, Gillibrand returned to the topic saying, “I think it’s disgraceful, what he said. I don’t think he should be serving as a result.”

Gillibrand appeared at the coffee shop with J.D. Scholten, the Democrat from Sioux City who narrowly lost to King in November.

House Republican leaders voted Monday to take away King’s committee assignments for the next two years in the wake of a New York Times story in which he was quoted as saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

The next day, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution of disapproval intended to rebuke King.

Gillibrand is the second female Democratic U.S. senator to visit Sioux City in her first trip to Iowa while considering a run for president in 2020. The first was Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who visited Jan. 5.

Earlier this week, Gillibrand announced forming an exploratory committee, the first step toward launching a presidential campaign.

Today, she was scheduled to be in Ames, Boone and Des Moines.

At Coffeeworks, Jeanette Hopkins said it is pleasing to see Sioux City figure prominently in the Iowa stops by Democrats. “It is really cool that they are coming and that they are coming early,” Hopkins said.

In a Journal interview, Gillibrand said Sioux City is in a district similar to one that leaned Republican when she was elected to the U.S. House from upstate New York. She said she wanted to hear about the challenges from Iowans, on such issues as having robust school districts and growing the rural economies.

Gillibrand, 52, a lawyer who moved from the House to the Senate in 2012, said the direction of the nation is imperiled.

“Donald Trump ran as a disrupter,” she said. “He has not fixed the rigged system.”

Gillibrand said too much power lies with political action groups and lobbyists.

“You have to restore power to the hands of the people,” she said.

At the coffee shop, she answered several questions from Sioux City people about immigration and climate change. Linda Santi and Hopkins said they liked Gillibrand’s answers.

“I liked her honesty. I like that she has legislative experience. We need that,” Hopkins said.

Susan Leonard of Sioux City asked Gillibrand about her relationship with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Gillibrand said they are friends. “Joni and I go to Bible study often,” she added.

Despite student death, UI fraternities kept party going

IOWA CITY — Tucked inside the Kinnick Stadium neighborhood that transforms into a beer-soaked bacchanal during Hawkeye home football games sit three adjoining houses that combined last fall to host “the largest tailgate in Iowa City.”

The space — often teeming with black-and-gold-clad coeds chugging liquor, spraying beer and even falling unconscious and requiring medical care — was blocked in the back by fences, portable toilets and tarps “to prevent people from looking in,” according to Iowa City police documents and videos provided to the University of Iowa, which were obtained by The Gazette.

A landlord hired security and the 302 Melrose Court entrance was staffed — as pre-purchased tickets were required for the parties, which, according to the documents, featured a DJ and free alcohol.

Chipping in on what police described as $90,000 needed to pull of parties at the prime Hawkeye tailgate venue, according to records, were Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Pi and Phi Delta Theta — three of about a dozen fraternities the UI investigated.

Across the street, three different fraternities — also swept up in the UI investigation — collaborated to rent space at 223 Melrose Court “for an unknown amount of money,” according to police. “They provide free alcohol, which is handed out by the members,” according to the documents.

Three more fraternities paid $30,000 to rent 310 Melrose Court a few doors down, serving “unlimited alcohol” — with one neighbor reporting seeing “a large pallet of beer and 10 bottles of vodka” and an officer’s body camera at one point recording more than 500 people leaving.

“Police have responded to this location for multiple issues — multiple medical calls, loud party disturbances, reports from neighboring properties of beer cans thrown,” according to the documents.

The fall’s fraternity-involved game-day gigs occurred in the midst of a moratorium on alcohol-related events imposed by the university’s Greek system on its own members following the drug-and-alcohol death of a UI freshman fraternity brother at an out-of-town formal in April 2017.

In hopes of returning some party freedoms to compliant Greek houses, UI and Greek system leaders more than a year ago debuted a pilot program allowing limited alcohol at approved events — so long as organizations complied with strict rules on monitoring and consumption.

Some houses applied to host the events, but many didn’t. And about a dozen, according to a UI investigation substantiated by police narratives obtained by The Gazette, completely rebuffed the ban and actively sought to circumvent it.

Now the behavior has brought them sanctions, including being deregistered — kicked off campus — in some cases — as well as probations and a deferred suspension in others.

“We put a lot of resources into this right away, as soon as we realized what was happening,” Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said, rejecting criticism his office overstepped its bounds by collaborating with the UI Dean of Students Office on its inquiry into the behavior.

“We did what we needed to do,” he said. “If there is compromising behavior going on, we need to address it. And we did, and we got favorable results. Any accusations that we shouldn’t have are completely misguided.”

Moving the party

Around the time authorities reeled in the fraternity fracas on Melrose, they began hearing about Greek-sponsored private parties in downtown Iowa City. Officers suspected the groups simply had shifted festivities from the football scene to the bar scene.

“The three main locations that host private events are Summit, Airliner, and Union,” Iowa City officer Travis Graves wrote in a synopsis of his findings.

“After speaking with bar managers at these three locations,” according to Graves, “numerous fraternities call in every week to reserve their upstairs.”

Documents obtained by The Gazette show Anita Cory, UI assistant director of student organization misconduct, emailed police in September for help tracking down details of alleged fraternity misconduct.

On Sept. 18, Cory asked Officer Graves for help confirming a report that a fraternity on probation was gathering Fridays at the Summit bar. She listed ideas for confirming it including simply calling and asking. But she doubted that would work.

“The fraternities are actively finding ways around how to have tailgates and certain bars are helping them”

- Anita Cory, UI assistant director of student organization misconduct, in an email to police



“The president of the fraternity in question works at Summit and/or may be a manager there — further solidifying that Summit will probably not be honest with me,” she wrote.

Cory in the email said she considered calling to “pretend to have lost something that is no longer at the bar and ask for the name of the group so I can check with them about my lost item.”

“Not sure I could pull this off,” Cory wrote. “I’m not that great at lying and keeping a straight face.”

Graves replied that her tip was “probably very correct,” as officers “suspect numerous Greek organizations rent out ‘various’ upstairs areas at Summit, Airliner, and Union.”

“We will keep an eye for the private parties and try to dig a little deeper about what is going on at the venues,” Graves wrote, inviting Cory or her staff to tag along on its Friday night bar checks.

The next day, Graves emailed Cory to report a party the night before at Phi Kappa Psi — where he found evidence of underage drinking.

Graves provided the UI with a summary of several fraternity-related incidents in the bars or the Greek houses in September and October, including a report from a woman who said, “She saw a male put drugs into her friend’s drink,” and another involving an assault that stemmed from a “Nazi salute.”

“The male tried to get a picture of it but three guys and a girl came out and confronted him and told him to delete the picture,” according to Graves’ report. “The male was then punched in the face by an unknown female.”

During an Oct. 6 check on a private party at the Airliner hosted by Lambda Chi Alpha, Graves reported reminding a fraternity member that Greek chapters aren’t allowed “to have organized events like this one.” The student, according to Graves, responded, “Kids have died, the university didn’t to (expletive), I’m not really worried.”

In November, Cory emailed police about a call from a manager at Brothers Bar & Grill voicing his concern over what was happening “after the UI’s investigation into tailgates.”

“The fraternities are actively finding ways around how to have tailgates and certain bars are helping them,” Cory wrote in the email, summarizing the Brothers’ complaint. “His beer vendors have told him they were supplying to off-premise location/sources and now it has shifted away from the big tailgates … to Summit and Union doing them instead.”

‘It worked’  

Following the UI investigation into policy and moratorium violations, administrators in December deregistered the Delta Chi and Sigma Nu fraternity chapters, along with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon colony, citing “multiple violations of university policy” and the alcohol moratorium.

The university also deregistered Kappa Sigma’s local Beta-Rho chapter for hazing violations, and placed on probation or deferred suspension seven other fraternities for alcohol-related concerns.

It failed to find a “preponderance of evidence” for two fraternities.

Representatives with the fraternities didn’t respond to inquiries from The Gazette. The university has warned them that speaking could bring more sanctions.

The groups had until Jan. 11 to appeal the findings, and six did — including the three deregistered for tailgating allegations.

At least one Iowa City resident and former UI student thinks those appeals have legs, noting concerns with tactics UI administrators used to investigate fraternities.

“In my opinion, the most troubling aspect is that Iowa City Police Department resources were used to target and specifically collect data on fraternity organizations at the direction of the university,” Nick Summy, 36, of Iowa City, told The Gazette.

“Performing social media searches on citizens who either are not accused of a crime or accused of (underage drinking) goes over the line, especially when this information isn’t used for criminal purposes but instead university administrative use.”


He questioned the transparency of providing police body-camera videos for a UI inquiry.

“I am sure none of the intoxicated fraternity members that interacted with the police could fathom that their verbal statements to the police would be collected by the university and used against them,” he said, noting the officers at no time told the subjects they were collecting data for the university.

Summy emailed Iowa City Council members, telling them as much.

“The bottom line is that the city police department should not be investigating private citizens for an administrator at the University of Iowa,” Summy wrote.

Parties have been raging along Melrose during Hawkeye games for years, he said, arguing that “these are social fraternities, not organized crime syndicates.”


Chief Matherly said officers often collaborate with the university, and it’s not always in pursuit of criminal charges.

“Particularly when it comes to the well-being and safety of students,” Matherly said. “We all have a vested interest in making sure these kids are going home to their parents at the end of the year in one piece.”

Dangerous student behavior puts at risk not only those responsible but the community at large, and failure to respond could result in second-guessing should tragedy occur, he said.

“To be clear, if the university comes and says, ‘Hey, we are getting student code violations,’ or something like that, no we’re not looking at that, that’s not our job,” Matherly said. “But high-risk behavior that could be a problem, we always collaborate with different groups to resolve that. And that’s what we did in this case.”

By partnering, Matherly said, the UI and Iowa City police accomplished their aim.

“Our goal was to get it to stop, and we achieved that,” he said, noting police didn’t pursue excessive criminal charges or residential code or zoning violations. “These weren’t violent felonies. This was binge drinking, and it was getting out of control, and our goal was to put a stop to it.

“And it worked.”

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Pentagon report details climate change risks to bases, but critics say it’s short on detail

WASHINGTON — Dozens of military installations around the country already are experiencing the impacts of climate change, and rising seas, wildfires and other climate-fueled disasters are likely to cause increasing problems for the armed forces, the Defense Department said Thursday in a report to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The 22-page document comes in response to a request from Congress in an annual funding bill, which required defense officials to provide a list of the 10 most vulnerable sites that each military branch faces over the next two decades, and an analysis of what could be done to protect them.

The document affirms a long-standing sense that the U.S. military, with massive energy needs and bases flung around the globe — including some on low-lying islands — is well attuned to how the planet is changing due to the burning of fossil fuels.

But while the report calls climate change “a national security issue” and highlights individual bases that face potential impacts, it did not include such a list of the most at-risk installations — an omission that drew quick criticism on Friday.

“It seems like they have not made it past anecdote to analysis,” said John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security and former acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and the environment. “It’s concerning to me because Congress was looking for the department’s best judgment on how to prioritize the risks.”

Department of Defense spokeswoman Heather Babb said Friday that the report “represents a high-level assessment” of the vulnerabilities that military installations face from floods, droughts, wildfires and other climate- and weather-related threats, as well as an overview of efforts to increase resiliency.

“DoD will focus on ensuring it remains ready and able to adapt to a wide variety of threats — regardless of the source — to fulfill our mission to deter war and ensure our nation’s security,” Babb said.

Examining 79 military installations, the report finds that 53 already suffer from “recurrent flooding,” 43 have been exposed to drought, and 36 to risk from wildfires. And it finds that risks like these could extend to more installations in the coming years.

Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, ranking member of the Armed Service Committee, blasted the document, charging that the Defense Department failed to answer the key questions that lawmakers were seeking, and instead produced an “alphabetical” list of selected installations facing climate risks.

“While those 79 installations are no doubt important for mission assurance, without any prioritization for resources and installation-specific resilience plans, the report is incomplete,” Reed said in a statement on Friday. “Instead, the report reads like an introductory primer and carries about as much value as a phone book.”

Congressman Jim Langevin, D-R.I., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, sponsored the amendment to the military spending bill in late 2017 that required the report. He said Friday he was deeply disappointed.

“While the Pentagon does rightly acknowledge that a changing climate will affect military readiness and installations, the report does not reflect the urgency of the challenge,” Langevin said in a statement, noting that recent hurricanes caused billions of dollars in damage to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

But the Pentagon’s Babb countered that “the report highlights the climate vulnerabilities of the top 79 mission assurance priority installations. By using this alternative approach, we are able to highlight where there are operational risks.”

This week’s report differs from another study backed by the military and published last year, which showed that more than a thousand low-lying tropical islands risk becoming “uninhabitable” in coming decades, upending the population of some island nations and endangering key U.S. defense assets.

The research has ramifications for the U.S. military, whose massive Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site sits, in part, on the atoll island of Roi-Namur — a part of the Marshall Islands and the focus of the research. The U.S. military supported the research in part to learn about the vulnerability of its tropical-island installations. The Pentagon base on Roi-Namur and surrounding islands supports about 1,250 American civilians, contractors and military personnel.

Last year the Pentagon also released a survey of a much larger number of military installations and the risks they were facing, but that document appeared to have been watered down somewhat in comparison with a draft version composed during the Obama administration.

By contrast, this week’s report only examined a smaller subset of installations, their current risks, and whether those are expected to increase over the next 20 years.

The document does point out that individual bases are experiencing serious problems — for instance, from flooding and wildfires.

“Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE-Langley AFB), Virginia, has experienced 14 inches in sea level rise since 1930 due to localized land subsidence and sea level rise,” the document notes. “Flooding at JBLELangley, with a mean sea level elevation of three feet, has become more frequent and severe.”

Meanwhile, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California saw 380 acres burned in a wildfire last year and required evacuations, the report said.

On a global scale, climate change can make the military’s job harder by creating regional instabilities through worsening disasters, the report said. And it notes that with more maritime activity in the melting Arctic, the Navy’s job is getting tougher.

And, the document notes, since it only looks out 20 years, military installations could face far greater challenges beyond that time frame.

“Analyses to mid- and late-century would likely reveal an uptick in vulnerabilities (if adaptation strategies are not implemented),” the report noted.


U.S. special counsel disputes BuzzFeed report Trump told lawyer to lie

WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday disputed a report in BuzzFeed News that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump directed him to lie to Congress.

BuzzFeed, citing two unnamed law enforcement sources, said Cohen, who is going to prison for lying to Congress, told investigators working for Mueller that Trump had directed him to lie about efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow while he was running for president.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, said in a rare statement from the special counsel.

While Mueller’s spokesman stopped short of declaring the article false in its entirety, he disputed portions of the story that appear to go to the heart of the allegations made against Trump.

It was the first time Mueller has commented about a news article concerning his probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement: “We stand by the reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”

After the BuzzFeed report was published on Thursday night, investigators in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives said they plan to examine the allegations in the report.

Leading Democrats in the House said they would seek to verify the story, saying that if true it would be evidence of criminal activity by the president.

Earlier on Friday, the White House said the story was false. “Look, that’s absolutely ridiculous,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, said it was “exceedingly rare” for Mueller to comment on a news report, highlighting the significance of the allegations made in the BuzzFeed article and the attention it was getting in the media and among lawmakers.

“They are making a public comment to tell everyone to calm down,” Weinstein said. “He doesn’t want people to think his silence is confirming the truthfulness of the report.”

BuzzFeed said Mueller’s office learned of Trump’s instructions to Cohen through internal Trump Organization emails, witness interviews, text messages and other documents, and that Cohen told prosecutors about the directive in an interview.

Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was lying in order to get less prison time. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement that any suggestion that Trump told Cohen to lie is “categorically false.”

Representatives for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment on the BuzzFeed report.

Cohen, who once said he was so loyal to Trump that he would “take a bullet” for him, is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in March after pleading guilty to charges including campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress.

If Trump did tell Cohen to lie, that would constitute criminal activity, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, who said he would look into the matter.

“Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime,” Nadler said on Twitter.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the allegation that Trump may have directed Cohen to lie under oath “is among the most serious to date.”

“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” Schiff, also a Democrat, said on Twitter.

Some Senate Intelligence Committee investigators hope to ask Cohen about the BuzzFeed report when he testifies behind closed doors in February, a committee source told Reuters.

He also will face questions about it in testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.


Legal experts say the allegation exposed Trump to a new level of risk in an investigation that has already resulted in convictions of or guilty pleas from four former campaign aides, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

“It’s a seismic event,” Andy Wright, an associate White House counsel under former Democratic President Barack Obama, told Reuters.

Cohen, his left arm in a sling, did not comment as he entered his apartment building in New York on Friday. His adviser, Lanny Davis, also declined to comment to Reuters, and his lawyer, Guy Petrillo, did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump denounced Cohen as a “rat” after he began cooperating with investigators while Cohen, whose duties included making payoffs to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, said on Thursday he regretted giving “my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

Directing or encouraging someone to lie under oath is a crime known as subornation of perjury. The report also raises questions about obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

William Barr, Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that a president would be committing obstruction if he directed a subordinate to lie under oath. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

While the Justice Department has previously concluded that a sitting president cannot be charged while in office, such an allegation, if found true, could fuel impeachment proceedings in Congress.

Trump repeatedly has denied collusion with Russia and slammed Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.” Russia also has rejected U.S. intelligence findings that Moscow interfered in U.S. politics in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump.

Trump said during the presidential campaign that he had no ties or business dealings with Russia.

Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month, have generally been cautious regarding any talk of impeachment to remove Trump from office although some rank-and-file members have pushed for such a resolution.

Impeachment proceedings would face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans have a majority.

BuzzFeed also reported that Cohen regularly updated Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is now a top White House adviser, about the Moscow project.

A spokesman for Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Ivanka Trump, said she was minimally involved in the development. Trump Jr., who has also testified previously before Congress, in a Twitter post called the BuzzFeed report “fake news.” (Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Nathan Layne, Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Andy Sullivan and David Alexander Writing by Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey Editing by Bill Trott and Leslie Adler)

’Super Blood Wolf Moon’ to get star billing in weekend lunar eclipse

NEW YORK — Look up into the night sky on Sunday and — if it is clear — you may witness the so-called “Super Blood Wolf Moon” total lunar eclipse, which will take a star turn across the continental United States during prime time for viewing.

The total eclipse, which will begin minutes before midnight on the East Coast and just before 9 p.m. in the West, will unfold on the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday when most Americans have no school or work.

That means even the youngest astronomy buffs may get to stay up late and attend one of many watch parties that have been organized from Florida to Oregon.

The total eclipse will last for about an hour, and the best viewing is from North and South America, according to National Geographic. Partial eclipses leading up to and following the total eclipse mean the entire event will last 3.5 hours.

Total lunar eclipses occur when the moon moves into perfect alignment with the sun and earth, giving it a copper-red or “blood” appearance to those watching from below.

“Amateur astronomy clubs are throwing parties because this is what they live for — to get entire families excited about our place in the universe by seeing the mechanics of the cosmos,” said Andrew Fazekas, spokesman for Astronomers Without Borders.

In Pennsylvania, the York County Astronomical Society has invited the public to peer through its observatory’s telescopes for a close-up look. In Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory said it was anticipating “extremely large crowds,” and its website will livestream a telescopic view of the eclipse.


A “super” moon occurs when the moon is especially close to earth, while a “wolf moon” is the traditional name for the full moon of January, when the howling of wolves was a sound that helped define winter, according to The Farmers’ Almanac.

In a total lunar eclipse, the moon never goes completely dark. Rather, it takes on a reddish glow from refracted light as the heavenly bodies move into position — hence the “blood moon” moniker. The more particulate or pollution in the atmosphere, the redder the moon appears.

“All of the sunrises and sunsets around the world are simultaneously cast onto the surface of the moon,” Fazekas said.

As many as 2.8 billion people may see this weekend’s eclipse from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia, according to

While total lunar eclipses are not especially rare, the 2019 version takes place early enough in the evening that it can be enjoyed by U.S. stargazers of all ages, said George Lomaga, a retired astronomy professor from Suffolk County Community College. He plans to attend an eclipse party at Hallock State Park Preserve on New York’s Long Island.

There, astrophotographer Robert Farrell will demonstrate how to use a mobile phone to photograph celestial objects through a telescope so the spectacle can be shared online.

If skies are clear, the phenomenon can be seen with the naked eye and no protection is needed to safely enjoy the view, Griffith Observatory said.

Granted permission to stay up past his 8 p.m. bedtime, Gabriel Houging, 8, of Citrus Heights, California, is already dreaming of what he’ll see.

“It’s going to be a moon, but it’s going to look like you painted it orange!” Houging said. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien)

Iowa lawmakers see pushback on restoring felon voting rights

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds believes Iowa is a place where “if you’ve made mistakes, you can find a second chance.”

That applies to felons, she said Tuesday in her Condition of the State speech, and asked legislators to begin the process of amending the state constitution that currently takes away the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony.

The governor has the authority to restore a felon’s voting rights, and Reynolds has done that 88 times since taking office in May 2017. However, she told lawmakers “I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person.”

Only Iowa and Kentucky have lifetime voting bans for felons. Florida voters overturned that state’s ban in November, and Reynolds’s press secretary Pat Garrett said there is momentum nationally and in Iowa to restore felon voting rights.

“She’s passionate about the issue” and including it in the Condition of the State speech indicated how important it is for the Osceola Republican, Garrett said.

Her predecessor, GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, ordered a ban on felon voting in 2011 when he returned to office after a 12-year absence. In the interval, Democratic Govs. Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver used executive orders to make it easier for felons to regain voting rights.

Reynolds could issue a similar order, and a number of Democrats have urged her to do so. But that could make her call for a constitutional amendment less urgent to lawmakers.

Early reaction from key Republicans suggest she might have to apply pressure to lawmakers to get the amendment.

“My initial reaction is I’m resistant to changing the process in place,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said. He hasn’t discussed the proposal with his committee, “but I know there’s going to be some resistance.”

“That said,” he added, “I have indicated to the governor that I will keep an open mind.”

His counterpart in the House, Judiciary Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said it’s appropriate that it would be in the form of a constitutional amendment so the public could weigh in.

He and Zaun indicated their support might be contingent on the details.

“I think what is going to be looked at is the idea that once somebody has completely paid their debt to society, you know, through the prison sentence, probation, whatever the case may be, then the voting rights should be restored,” Holt said. “Once the completely repay their debts to society.”

Rep. Mary Wolfe of Clinton, a defense lawyer and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, expects “whatever the case may be” to be critical to the discussion.

“I think there is a lot of general support for allowing felons who have completed their sentence to vote again,” said Wolfe, who applauded the governor for raising the issue.

But she’s concerned how the amendment will be worded. To her, the best approach would be to say felons are eligible to have voting rights restored when they have completed their sentence and no longer are under the supervision of the Corrections Department.

Some lawmakers believe voting rights should not be available until restitution is completed. That would be problematic, Wolfe said.

“People who sometimes for no fault of their own are only making minimum wage … can’t ever pay their restitution, Wolfe said. “Why should they be denied the right to vote if they’ve done everything else?”

Allowing felons who have completed their sentences to vote allows them to be full members of their community, advocates say.

That’s what’s behind the proposal from Reynolds, who shared the story of a man who had his voting rights restored.

“He said, ‘I can’t even begin to tell you the dignity that I felt because I had gotten my life back, to be able to go in and vote,’ ” said Reynolds, who believes she got a second chance when she chose sobriety after her second drunken driving arrest 19 years ago.

A study by ahead of Floridians voting to restore felons’ voting rights found that it would help fold them back into the “fabric of Florida’s civic and economic life” and represent a boost of $365 million a year in lower prison costs and higher productivity.

“Denying Iowans the right to vote does nothing to keep our communities safer or make our democracy stronger,” ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer said. “In fact, it does the opposite. It prevents thousands of Iowans from successfully reintegrating into society and becoming active, invested participants in our communities and our state.”

In Iowa, felons must complete a survey and show payment of legal fees before voting privileges can be restored.

More than 52,000 Iowans would gain voting right if the state changes how it handles the issue, according to The Sentencing Project, which advocates for criminal justice reform.

In 36 states and the District of Columbia, felons’ voting privileges are restored automatically after completion of their sentence or their sentence plus parole and probation.

In 12 states, including Iowa, voting privileges can be restored if a felon completes a petition process. In two states, felons never lose their voting privileges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Wolfe hopes the issue doesn’t become partisan. Polls, she said, have shown about 70 percent of Iowans support voting rights restoration.

“I’ve been contacted over the summer by several Republican legislators, and then, after the election, by a few of the newly elected legislators who, who were like, ‘Yeah, that’s something we want to work on,’” Wolfe said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375;

Fallout from controversial 1999 Cedar Rapids civil rights vote offers lessons for today

CEDAR RAPIDS — Predictions were extreme — expensive litigation, employers forced to hire or keep bad employees, creating special rights, erosion of morals, pedophile teachers in elementary schools, and workers dressed like “Christmas trees.”

If Cedar Rapids City Council expanded its municipal code in 1999 to discourage discrimination based on sexual orientation in workplaces, housing, education, credit, and public accommodation, it would have dire and lasting repercussions, opponents said at the time. It was unnecessary, and councilors who supported it would pay at the ballot box, they threatened.

Supporters advocated for basic protection of human rights for gays and lesbians.

“It was toxic,” recalled Dale Todd, 61, then Parks Commissioner who last year rejoined the City Council. “There were death threats. There was a concern about security. We had to implement safe guards at city hall. ... It was scary.

“People were so passionate, in particular from the right.”

The ordinance passed 20 years ago this month — a 3-2 vote on Jan. 7, 1999 — following hours of emotional testimony from religious and business leaders on one side and social equality advocates on the other.

Those involved see parallels to today’s political climate where dubious claims and heated rhetoric undercut classes of people, such as immigrants. And policymakers under pressure from an impassioned electorate can get voted out of office for doing what they believe is right and ultimately get judged years later on whether they were on the “right side of history.”

“Twenty years later, the fairness of the decision is obvious, and the predicted bad effects seem laughable,” wrote Bruce Nesmith, a Coe College professor who was involved in the debate. “But we should never forget where we’ve been, and what it took to get here.”

Nesmith, 59, said he was struck by what people were saying at the time and that they believed it. He called attention to the anniversary on Facebook.

Todd, Public safety Commissioner Nancy Evans and Mayor Lee Clancey voted in favor, while Finance Commissioner Ole Munson and Streets Commissioner Don Thomas opposed. They called it a difficult decision but felt protections already were provided in city code and the city had more urgent matters such as streets.

Matthew Van Maanen, 46, recalled being a closeted gay man in the late 1990s, and how the City Council decision empowered him.

“This vote changed my life,” Van Maanen said. “Because of the bravery of leaders like Lee, Nancy and Dale, I am now out, married, incredibly happy, and leading others in our awesome community. Oh, and I’ve become rather political, too.”

The worst fears of the debate haven’t been realized. The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission has averaged 1.5 sexual orientation based complaints per year since 2007, and the Human Rights Campaign has given Cedar Rapids a perfect score on its municipal equality index.

“I am in my 19th year of working at this courthouse and I do not recall a single lawsuit based upon sexual orientation brought under this ordinance,” Nick Maybanks, assistant Linn County Attorney, wrote in an email Friday. “I can either assume that any lawsuits brought were settled in the pre-litigation stages, there just hasn’t been many or, somehow, I’ve missed them. I would say through my anecdotal experience at least, that the critics were wrong.”

But the three supportive council members were ousted in the next two elections, with their votes on the civil rights ordinance looming large.

Evans was defeated later that year, while Clancey and Todd survived one more two-year term before being ousted when facing stiffer competition in 2001. Munson also was voted out in 1999, while Thomas served several more terms.

“We were on the right side of history,” Evans said. “I cannot think of a better reason to lose an election. We stood up for civil rights.

“Plus, on a city council, you do not often have the opportunity to discuss, debate and vote for principles and ideals on that level of importance.”

Ouster was a similar fate that later befell three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of a unanimous ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa, in 2009. While Iowa City and Ames had added sexual-orientation protections previously — with much less consternation in those college towns — Cedar Rapids was Iowa’s first larger city to tackle the issue. Efforts to pass such a law in Davenport and Des Moines previously had failed.

“There was publicity of that nationwide because I think we were way ahead of our time,” said Clancey, 69.

Clancey said it seems impossible these conservations continue to occur. She said when the subject first came up, she had no strong feelings either way, until testimony began.

“It was shocking to me to hear some of the arguments being made. Mostly what struck me was the arguments against the ordinance were so based in religion,” she said. “You not only had to believe what they believed, but you had to live what they believed. It really swayed my decision and my vote.

“That’s not how we should be living, and not how we should be treating each other. And you could say that about any controversial issue we dealing with today, whether abortion or civil rights.

“In my mind these issues should be decided in favor of inclusiveness,” Clancey said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310;

Man in Waterloo standoff shot Cedar Rapids police officer in 1998

WATERLOO — Waterloo police coaxed a former Cedar Rapids man from a Waterloo home early Friday following a domestic dispute that led to an hourslong standoff.

No injuries were reported in the standoff.

The last time the man barricaded himself from officers — in 1998 in Cedar Rapids — the confrontation didn’t end well.

Waterloo police identified the man as Mitchell Ray Langel, 51, who was arrested for domestic assault causing injury and first-degree harassment. He is being held without bond.

Police were called around 11:30 p.m. Thursday after Langel allegedly threatened his girlfriend with a kitchen knife, said he was going to skin her and shoved her against a wall.

She suffered minor injuries and fled the house.

Officers approached the house at 1233 Downing Ave., but no one answered, and early Friday, the police department’s tactical team was mustered. Officers addressed Langel by loudspeaker, and he surrendered around 9:45 a.m. as police were deploying tear gas in the house.

Court records show Langel was placed on probation after serving more than a decade for shooting a Cedar Rapids police officer in the face with a shotgun in November 1998.

In that incident, Cedar Rapids police and Linn County sheriff’s deputies were called to an apartment because of mental health concerns about Langel, according to court records.

Langel refused to answer the door but during a phone call told authorities that things would happen after dark.

During the standoff, police Sgt. Philip Peters crawled into the apartment’s attic to conduct surveillance and then entered the apartment as Langel discovered him.

Peters drew his pistol, shined a flashlight on Langel’s face and announced himself. Peters stumbled as he approached and was shot in the face.

Other officers entered and detained Langel, who was holding a shotgun, according to court records.

Peters lost his vision in one eye and suffered other injuries, records state.

During a bench trial, Langel used a diminished capacity defense and was convicted of attempted murder and willful injury and sentenced to prison.

He was released to probation in November 2018.

Area teens to be honored at MLK Day ceremony

Eight area teenagers — all female — will be honored Monday at the annual Service Above Self awards ceremony. Hosted by the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids, the awards honor students’ contributions to their schools and community.

One senior from each Cedar Rapids area high school has been selected as best exemplifying the Rotary value of Service Above Self within their respective school, neighborhood, faith, family and work community. Each student will have a chance to speak to the hundreds of community and business leaders expected to attend regarding their accomplishments and drive to serve.

At the end of the presentation, the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids will present a commemorative plaque to each student honoree. A $100 donation also will be made to a local nonprofit in the honoree’s name.

The cost of the luncheon held noon to 1 p.m. Monday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 350 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, is $12 for the salad bar or $17 for the lunch buffet. To register, email

Here are this year’s awardees:

Meriyah Jenkins, Prairie High School

Being a model student that has a service-first mentality has become an example of what Meriyah shows on a consistent basis. She leads with a compassionate heart through many activities such as Beyond the Bell. It is her faith in the greater good of people despite their circumstances that keeps her committed for the betterment of all people. Maintaining a community-first mind-set has placed Meriyah in positions of influence for all students at Prairie High School. Most recently, Meriyah helped organize and serve food to children of incarcerated parents through Children of Promise. This act of leadership and kindness is a prime example of her ability to serve an underrepresented population of those who are in need.

Madeline Abu Nameh, Xavier High School

A member of the Xavier Ambassadors, which conducts outreach to area elementary and middle schools, Madeline has a strong philanthropic drive. At Xavier, she organized a successful shoe and sock drive, which provided 600 pairs of shoes to developing countries and 1,000 pairs of socks to the city’s homeless. She has volunteered at Mercy Medical Center, Garfield Elementary and Meals on Wheels and participated in a summer internship at the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. She has been recognized academically, making honor roll every year at Xavier as well as the National Honor Society, and serves as president of the Classics Club. Maddie has been a varsity tennis player all four of her years at Xavier and received an honorable mention in 2018 for the Mississippi Valley Conference All-Division Tennis Team. She works at St. Pius Daycare and has a dream to start a nonprofit organization.

Katiana Arnold, Washington High School

Katiana is an active musician, leader and volunteer. She has participated in marching band all four years, including one year as saxophone section leader, and she has played with the school’s jazz band, show choir band and step team. She serves as vice president of the 2018-19 senior class and served a year in the Student Senate. Katiana is also a captain of the Washington cheerleading squad and was elected homecoming queen in 2018. She volunteers with Mentors of Violence Prevention and Sisters to Sisters and has a part-time job at Hy-Vee.

Laxmi Basnet, Kennedy High School

Laxmi has made the honor roll many times throughout her years at Kennedy and takes her studies very seriously. She has challenged herself academically, enrolling in college courses through Kirkwood Community College. She sees education as the key to opening doors to her future. She believes in serving her community and making it a better place for everyone and hopes to become a police officer. She has been involved with Kennedy soccer, received recognition for personal growth on the Iowa Assessments and is very involved in activities with the Nepali community in Cedar Rapids. She loves to share her culture with others and learn about new cultures.

Serena Brizard, Linn-Mar High School

She has received multiple academic and athletic awards during her time as a student. She received an academic award her freshman year, was named to the Mississippi Valley Conference All-Academic Team in 2018 and is a National Council on Youth Leadership Scholarship winner. Serena is a highly accomplished swimmer, qualifying for state in 2015 through 2018 and received the varsity award four years in a row. She has received multiple honorable mentions over the last three years in multiple individual events and was named to the Mississippi Valley First and Second Team All-Conference for the 50 and 100 freestyle and 200 medley in 2018. She was also named the Iowa Athlete Representative for the United States Aquatic Sports National Convention that year.

Mary Estes, Metro High School

Mary has participated in the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success, a summer program designed to instill pride and understanding of African-American culture as a tool to encourage academic achievement, and she volunteers at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids. Mary is also an active member of the school’s track and basketball teams.

Rosata Nicinginge, Jefferson High School

Rosata is a kind-spirited young woman who has taken an interest in helping others. She has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, donated toys and supplies to Toys for Tots and other local agencies and is a volunteer at her church, where she serves meals to individuals and families in need. At school, Rosata is quiet but brings positive energy to any group she’s a part of, especially when she is playing soccer for the J-Hawks. Her favorite subjects are government and psychology. These two classes have empowered her to become more involved in social justice initiatives. Rosata hopes she can contribute to eliminating hate and aspires to apply to college in Finland to study graphic design and criminology.

Madison Redmond, Marion High School

Madison has been an active and devoted volunteer, receiving silver cord honors with a total of 280 volunteer hours. She has been involved with service retreats to Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis and was a leader and fundraiser with the One Day in May Service Project. Madison is a group leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was awarded for advocating against drug and alcohol abuse as part of Take Charge. Madison is also a dedicated student, making the honor roll the last four years and receiving the school’s Principal Award. She is a member of the track team, volunteers as a classroom assistant with special needs students and completed the Kirkwood Education Career Academy, which allows students to earn college credits while participating in hands-on learning opportunities through Kirkwood courses.

Schedule: Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Eastern Iowa

Marches, workshops, service opportunities and church services are planned throughout Eastern Iowa Monday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Here is a list of area activities.

Cedar Rapids

Service Above Self awards luncheon

• Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 350 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

• When: Noon to 1 p.m. Monday

• Details: The Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids will hold a special awards luncheon to honor eight area high school students for their contributions to the schools and the community and the ways they have exhibited the values of Rotary and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon is $12 for the salad bar or $17 for the lunch buffet. To register, email

• More information: (319) 310-8069

African American Museum of Iowa celebration

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

• When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday

• Details: Museum admission will be discounted to $1, with free admission for members and children younger than 5. Visitors may decorate Peace Poles, inscribed with a variety of translations of peaceful messages in languages from around the world, in honor of King’s message of peace and nonviolence. The museum will supply the poles and supplies for decorating in partnership with Veterans for Peace Chapter #169. Once decorated, the poles will be displayed at locations throughout the Cedar Rapids area.

• More information:

60 Years Later: Why Colorblindness Falls Short

• Where: Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE

• When: 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday

• Details: Kevin “B.F.” Burt will start the day with a musical performance, followed by a lecture by Dr. Evelyn R. Carter, granddaughter of Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris. After the keynote address, several workshops will be held: “African American History of Coe and Cedar Rapids, 1860-1900,” “Shooting at the Wrong Target — The Impact of Leadership on our Community,” “What Do We Teach White Students?” and “What Martin Didn’t Tell Us.”

• More information:

MLK Day at Mount Mercy

• Where: Mount Mercy University, 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 12:30 p.m. Monday

• Details: The university will host a prayer service at 12:30 p.m. in the University Center, followed by a documentary screening in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall. The prayer service is open to the public.

• More information: (319) 363-8213

Roots of the Past, Fruit of the Future

• Where: Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 2 p.m. Monday

• Details: Anne Harris Carter and Evelyn R. Carter will lead a workshop

• More information:

Evening worship service and community meal

• Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 5:30 p.m. meal, 6:30 p.m. service

• Details: The freewill offering community meal will be followed by keynote speaker Evelyn R. Carter and presentation of the Dr. Percy & Lileah Harris “Who is My Neighbor?” award.

• More information:


Public reading

• Where: Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St., Coralville

• When: 5 to 6 p.m. Monday

• Details: Local government officials, leaders from human rights organizations, religious leaders and other allies of Dr. Martin Luther King’s cause will read his “I Have a Dream” speech at 5 p.m. in the library rotunda. Throughout the day, library patrons also will have an opportunity to write or draw their dreams for a more just world, which will be on display throughout the week.

• More information: (319) 248-1850,


A 50-year retrospective on Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on African American students’ presence in higher education

• Where: Valders Hall, Science Room 206, Luther College, 700 College Dr., Decorah

• When: 7 p.m. Monday

• Details: With the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, students across the country staged sit-ins and challenged discriminatory practices in an attempt to create more minority representation on college campuses. Roger Pulliam, who witnessed the formation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Scholars Academy at Western Michigan University, will give the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr., Day Lecture at Luther College. Pulliam’s lecture is a part of the 50-year commemoration of the 1968 founding of the Luther College Black Student Union by a group of students who were looking for a space where they could celebrate their culture, accomplishments and share in their struggles.

• More information:

Iowa City

Unity March and Celebration

• Where: March starts at Eastdale Plaza, 1700 S. First Ave., Iowa City, and ends at Mercer Park Aquatic Center, 2701 Bradford Dr., Iowa City, where celebrations will follow

• When: March begins 9 a.m., celebration 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday

• Details: The celebration includes family-friendly volunteer projects, children’s activities and performances. Donations of outerwear apparel such as hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and socks will be accepted to benefit shelters. Activities are being coordinated by the MLK Alliance Group, which consists of local nonprofit groups and individuals as well as private service organizations.

• More information: Contact RaQuishia Harrington, special and underserved populations recreation supervisor, at or (319) 356-5228

Day of Service

• Where: Iowa Memorial Union, 125 N. Madison St., Iowa City

• When: 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday

• Details: University of Iowa students, faculty, staff and Iowa City community members are invited to a Day of Service in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Volunteer check-in is 8 to 8:30 a.m. in the Iowa Memorial Union second-floor ballroom. Participants will be assigned a volunteer location and receive a free T-shirt, while supplies last. Volunteers then will spread across the community to complete service projects before returning to the Memorial Union for a free lunch. In case of poor weather, the event will be postponed to Jan. 26. Other events to honor King will be held on campus throughout the week.

• More information:

MLK Community Celebration Service

• Where: Bethel AME Church, 411 S. Governor St., Iowa City

• When: 2:30 p.m. Monday

• Guest speakers: Iowa City Community School Board member Ruthenia Malone, Iowa City Council members Bruce Teague and Mazahir Salih and Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan, with musical performances by Bethel AME Choir, East Union Mennonite Church Choir, Slayton Thompson and Ordained to Praise. Refreshments will be served after the program.


MLK Day of Service, Speech and Vigil

• Where: Cornell College, Thomas Commons, 600 First St. SW, Mount Vernon

• When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day of service, 5 to 5:45 p.m. speech and vigil Monday

• Details: Join the Cornell College Civic Engagement Office and Office of Intercultural Life for a day of service sewing heart pillows for University of Iowa cardiac surgery patients, making tie blankets for Hope Lodge cancer patients with Colleges Against Cancer or sewing quilts for children in need through Project Linus. At 5 p.m., the college will host a re-creation of part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech, followed by a vigil led by the Rev. Catherine Quehl-Engel from Thomas Commons to Allee Chapel. The events are open to both campus and community members. Additional events to commemorate King will be held on campus throughout the week.

• More information:

Ann Oleson HER profile:‘Put your warrior self out there’

When asked if she is proof that women can have it all, Ann Oleson referred to a quote by journalist and former California first lady Maria Shriver.

“Women can have it all; they just can’t do it all at the same time,” Oleson said. “It’s a matter of prioritizing, of defining your priorities and deciding where you place your focus.”

With that philosophy, Oleson has accumulated a portfolio of successes — at home, at work and in the community. She runs one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country, serves as a role model for community service, and is a softball and baseball mom of two active teenagers.

In 2011, Oleson left a successful marketing and research career to found Converge Consulting, a digital marketing company for higher education.

Since then, the business has grown from two to around 50 employees, with locations in both Cedar Rapids and Raleigh, N.C., and has partnered with over 200 colleges and universities across North America.

“We work with people on how to recruit students,” Oleson said.

Converge has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing businesses for three consecutive years. The company’s five-year plan includes continued growth at least at the current level, Oleson said.

Oleson’s business success has not come without personal sacrifice, in particular, frequent travel that takes her away from her family.

“It’s not a normal nine-to-five job,” she said. “As a business owner in a sales position, I have to travel away from home one to two nights a week.”

Despite her hectic schedule, Oleson remains fully engaged in the lives of her two children, volunteering at their schools, attending their sporting events and taking her daughter on college visits.

While she may not be able to make 100 percent of their activities, she attends as many as possible, she said.

One thing that Oleson, out of necessity, has placed on the back burner for now is her involvement in community and professional organizations.

“Things that take less of a priority are, unfortunately, things I love doing,” she said.

Even so, her community service efforts continue to reap benefits, such as her volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Cedar Rapids. Oleson has maintained a relationship with her “little sister,” Mary, for more than 15 years, helping Mary become the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college. Their pairing has been lauded by the organization as one of its most successful.

Oleson offered some advice for other women striving to have it all.

“Pick a goal, stay in your lane and continue to focus, even if others have doubts,” she said.

“Put your warrior self out there every day.”

• Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

A rare peek into M&M’s $70 billion future

Mars Inc., the closely held company best known for treats such as M&M’s and Snickers bars, aims to double the size of the business over the next 10 years as it expands deeper into pet care and non-confectionery nutrition.

CCEO Grant Reid announced the goal in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, offering a glimpse into the ambitions of a family-owned company that isn’t required to disclose its financial data.

Such an increase could push sales at the 107-year-old company beyond $70 billion, up from about $35 billion now, and it plans to do so without going public.

That would make its sales about as big as Target or Procter & Gamble are today.

“Our vision is to keep our privately held company forever,” Reid said in the interview.

Reid said he sees new sales coming through a combination of acquisitions, including its $9.1 billion purchase of animal-hospital chain VCA Inc. in 2017, and growth of home-grown brands, some of which are being incubated through a new division called Mars Edge that focuses on health and wellness.

One example is CocoaVia, a cocoa-extract based dietary supplement that’s a “small but fast-growing brand,” Reid said.

Through a partnership with India’s Tata Group, Edge also is developing a protein-rich pea and lentil-based snack called GoMo Dal Crunchies aimed at remedying malnutrition.

“We see massive opportunities in both mass and personalized nutrition,” Reid said.

Tata Group is the parent of Tata Consultancy, which has offices in Cedar Rapids.

But it’s not just human snacks driving growth.

Pet care accounts for about half of Mars’s business and employs more than 60 percent of its workforce of 115,000, according to Reid.

The company is one of the biggest players in the $86 billion U.S. pet industry through brands such as VCA, Pedigree and Whiskas pet food.

It also sells a GPS Pet Tracker, called Whistle, and a pet DNA test.

The seemingly incongruous pairing of pet products and candy makes more business sense than initially meets the eye, Reid said.

Both have similar points of retail, mainly supermarkets, and both have strong emotional resonance with consumers.

People have nostalgic affection for age-old treats such as Mars bars and also have come to view pets as members of the family.

Pets also could serve as a smart hedge against increasing scrutiny of the candy industry as the public grows more wary of excess sugar consumption. Mars avoids marketing to children and was the first to place nutrition labels on the front of packaging, Reid said.

“It’s the right thing to do and we want to be transparent,” he said, noting that his favorite Mars candy is Galaxy chocolate.

“We absolutely know that our sugar products should be enjoyed as treats.”

McLean, Virginia-based Mars is still owned by members of the Mars family, now entering its sixth-generation of involvement. Six of the family members are ranked among the world’s richest people on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a combined net worth of more than $100 billion.

“The Mars family is very knowledgeable about the business and very interested in the business,” Reid said.

“A lot of people think that because we’re privately held, we don’t have to perform well, but actually we do because they have an alternative to put the funds elsewhere.”