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Rupert Murdoch holds onto Fox lot despite sale to Disney

LOS ANGELES — In the end, the legendary Los Angeles birthplace of what became the vast Fox film empire was just too dear to part with.

The historic lot on Pico Boulevard in Century City was retained by the newly formed Fox Corp., even as Walt Disney absorbed much of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in a $71.3-billion deal that put Captain America and Wolverine on the same team.

Fox has not spelled out its plans for the more-than 50-acre property where Shirley Temple once danced and sang, but there is certainly more than nostalgia for Hollywood history behind the decision.

Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, will run the company controlled by the family as its chairman and chief executive.

And it’s safe to predict that the old lot where generations of movies and television shows were filmed will remain a cash-generating pillar of the surviving Fox empire for years to come.

Although the reconfigured company will have a decidedly broadcast emphasis — its assets include Fox News, the Fox Broadcasting network and Fox Sports — it will remain in the scripted TV business, continuing to air “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” even though those programs now are owned by Disney.

The lot contains both administrative offices and soundstages, and holds immense value as an entertainment manufacturing center — but also as a potential real estate development site, despite having been chopped down in size decades ago to make way for the construction of Century City.

The Fox lot was not assigned a specific value in the Disney deal. But 25-acre CBS Television City in the Fairfax district sold for $750 million in December to Los Angeles real estate developer Hackman Capital Partners. Real estate industry observers have speculated that the Fox property could be worth more than $1.5 billion.

The eye-popping values reflect the fierce demand for studios as both places to make entertainment and sought-after sites for dense real estate development.

Fox laid the foundation for major additions in 2016 when it filed a proposal with the city Planning Department to add more than one million square feet of offices, soundstages and other production and support facilities over the next 20 years.

The lot has about 1.5 million square feet of building space now.

Progress has been slow, however. A draft environmental impact report on the potential effects the development would have on neighborhoods around the studio — such as adding more car traffic — still is in the early stages, a Planning Department representative said.

The incentive to add offices and other facilities that could be rented to entertainment industry tenants is high in this period of rapid growth among free-spending new competitors in the business, such as Netflix, Amazon.com, Apple and Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google.

Other studio owners already are cashing in on the ravenous demand for office and production space from young video-streaming content creators and old-line Hollywood companies, providing a model for Fox.

Shows that have recently filmed there include Fox’s “The Orville,” ABC’s “Modern Family” and CBS’ “Life in Pieces.”

The latter two shows are 20th Century Fox productions but air on other networks. Fox’s “The Simpsons” has been based on the lot for decades.

In the past, other major studios have leased soundstage space, including NBCUniversal, which produced “House” for broadcast on Fox.

But today, the lot almost exclusively is occupied by producers and crews working on Fox productions.

Midwest flooding spreads southward

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s governor declared a state of emergency Thursday as floodwaters that left a swath of destruction across Iowa and Nebraska surged downstream, swamping small towns, roads and farmland in the Midwest.

Flooding triggered by last week’s “bomb cyclone” storm already has inflicted damage estimated at nearly $1.5 billion in Nebraska and perhaps $1 billion in Iowa and killed at least four people.

“The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “We will continue to work closely with our local partners to assess needs and provide resources to help as Missourians continue this flood fight and as we work to assist one another.”

The declaration allows resources and assistance to be provided directly to counties and municipalities that need aid to deal with worsening flood conditions locally.

Public safety officials have said continued flooding of the Missouri River in the days ahead is unlikely to reach the widespread, catastrophic scale seen in parts of Nebraska and Iowa — partly because much of the excess flow has dissipated through levee breaches upstream that have left less water in the river’s channel.

But the extensive flooding seen in Nebraska and Iowa was forecast to continue in the wider region through May and become more dire in coming weeks as water flows downstream, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk,” Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said Thursday in the agency’s spring outlook.

TRUMP APPROVES FEDERAL FUNDING

Floodwaters already have swamped a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a federal disaster declaration for Nebraska, making more federal funding available.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this week said Iowa has asked for a federal declaration also, and was confidant the state would qualify.

More rain is in the forecast for the coming days for the area, exacerbating the situation.

“This isn’t over,” said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. He added the Missouri River will see more major flood crests over the next week.

The river’s next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Mo., at 6 a.m. today and a day later in Kansas City, Mo.

The Missouri empties into the Mississippi River, potentially threatening several other Midwestern and Southern states, including Arkansas and Louisiana.

About 200 people voluntarily evacuated from the small city of Winthrop and the Lewis and Clark Village in Buchanan County, Mo., after an area levee was breached Thursday, said emergency management coordinator Bill Brinton.

“These people may get flooded two or three times over the next month or so,” he said.

Howard Geib, 54, owns a farm near the town of Craig in Holt County, Mo., which ordered a mandatory evacuation Wednesday. Geib said a levee near his farm broke over the weekend, and he saw at least 10 levees in the county that have broken.

“There are 600-, 700-, 1,000-foot-long holes in the levees,” he said Thursday.

More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.

The governor, Pete Ricketts, thanked Trump for his federal disaster declaration as Nebraskans prepared to recover from what he called “the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history.”

Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to privately owned assets. He put flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion.

Mark Hamilton, a 59-year-old retired military officer, has lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Neb., for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a cost of about $150,000.

“We’ve had floods nine, 10 years ago but it was nothing like this,” Hamilton said. “That entire trailer park needs to be removed now, nobody can live there.”

Trump: Allow campus free speech or lose funding

By signing an executive order Thursday, President Donald Trump joined the Iowa Legislature in establishing rules the Republican politicians say will ensure conservative views aren’t stifled on campus.

The president’s executive order sets up a process for tying “free speech” on public university campuses to federal grants — meaning institutions found to violate the First Amendment risk losing millions in federal money, but not in student financial aid.

Under the order, the schools themselves certify whether they are protecting students’ free speech rights, which already are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The order requires that schools ensure they allow students to express themselves in order to receive funds from 12 federal agencies.

Trump administration officials have suggested that the rights of speakers on college campuses have been trampled by student protesters, and that conservatives have been unfairly targeted.

“Universities that want tax dollars should protect free speech, not silence free speech,” Trump said.

Federal government sources committed more than $260 million in 2018 to the University of Iowa and its medical facilities. Federal sources committed $170.3 million that same year to Iowa State University.

Both universities have found themselves embroiled in free speech or religious liberty disputes over the last few years.

At ISU, one student had invited white nationalist Milo Yiannopoulos to speak in December 2016. The university planned to allow the visit, but insisted on higher event fees to cover the costs of added security.

ISU said it would delay the appearance to give the Yiannopoulos camp more time to raise the money, but the offer was declined and the speech was canceled.

Since fall 2017, the UI has been in a legal dispute with the faith-based student group Business Leaders in Christ.

The university deregistered the group and kicked it off campus after finding it had refused to allow a gay student to become one of its leaders.

The group sued in federal court, arguing it could choose leaders aligned with its values and that UI was unevenly enforcing its human rights policies — singling it out for punishment while ignoring other violations in other groups.

A federal judge recently resolved the claims with a split decision — mandating the group be allowed back on campus permanently unless the university starts equally enforcing its human rights policy.

A lawsuit against the UI from another faith-based group is pending.

With state lawmakers citing the cases, the GOP- controlled Iowa Legislature this month sent to the governor a measure that would designate most of public university and college campuses as free-speech zones. Moreover, the bill requires universities to recognize student groups like Business Leaders in Christ that enforce their beliefs in selecting leaders.

The Iowa Board of Regents said it already complies with free-speech requirements. “Our public universities are places where all viewpoints should and can be heard and respected,” spokesman Josh Lehman said earlier this year.

Before signing the order, Trump invited student speakers to tell stories of being silenced on campus. Some said while suppression of certain viewpoints on campus has been a long-running issue, it has worsened.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, which has groups on high school and college campuses in every state, said students have told her about other students — and professors — obstructing efforts to share their views against abortion rights, including erasing sidewalk chalk messages and pulling crosses from the ground.

“They have had to fight for their First Amendment rights,” Hawkins said. “This is an exciting day for us.”

Reuters and the Washington Post contributed to this report.

Cedar Rapids man faces 10 years in prison for selling guns to felon

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man, who inquired about hiring a “hit man” to kill a University of Iowa professor and another man, pleaded guilty this week to a firearms charge in federal court.

Steven Arce, 35, pleaded guilty Wednesday to the sale of a firearm to a felon, admitting he sold two firearms to a man he knew was a felon on Dec. 21 and Jan. 2 in Waterloo.

During the investigation, a confidential informant said Arce, known as “Cuban,” on Dec. 21 had several firearms at a house on Ninth Street in Waterloo. He offered to sell the informant an AR-15 and a 9 mm handgun, according to the plea agreement.

Investigators arranged for the informant to buy the rifle, according to the plea.

During the meet, the informant and Arce talked about defacing serial numbers, and Arce talked about hiring the informant to kill a UI medical professor, Dr. Christopher Cooper, in the medical school’s urology department.

Investigators later spoke with a detective from the UI Police Department. UI police reported the Carver College of Medicine called in early December, concerned that Arce was suicidal, according to court documents. Officers contacted Arce and allowed him to leave after officers determined he was not a threat to himself.

On Jan. 2, the same confidential informant again met Arce in Waterloo and asked if Arce wanted to meet the hit man the next day. Arce said he wanted to delay the hit for two weeks because he had an appeal hearing with the university, according to the plea.

Arce asked if the hit man could just intimidate Cooper, the plea shows. He wanted someone to give the professor a “beating” to coerce him into letting Arce back into medical school, court documents show.

During this same meeting, Arce told the informant he had two fully automatic weapons he would put together by the end of the week.

On Jan. 3, the hit man — actually an undercover special agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement — met with Arce, the plea shows. Arce said he wanted his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, “S.C.,” killed.

Arce said he also might want the UI professor killed at a later time.

Authorities searched Arce’s residence Jan. 14 and recovered two guns in working order — a handgun on the nightstand and a rifle under the bed, according to the plea agreement.

Officers also found a box of gun parts, which a criminalist said could be assembled into a machine gun but had one missing part, the plea shows.

Arce was a graduate student in the UI Carver College of Medicine in May 2017 but his status had been changed to former student by December 2018, according to UI officials.

Two months earlier, on Oct. 3, Arce had been arrested in Black Hawk County on charges of operating while intoxicated and carrying weapons.

Arce faces 10 years in prison for the firearms conviction and up to a $250,000 fine. Sentencing has not been set.

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

Johnson County adding 12 jobs in 2020 budget

IOWA CITY — Johnson County is adding 12 government-funded jobs in the coming fiscal year.

The fiscal 2020 budget, approved by county supervisors last week, calls for $138.3 million in spending, including 11.9 full-time equivalent jobs.

The added hours or positions, some of them part-time, are being added in the ambulance department, the county attorney’s office, public health department and the Board of Supervisors’ office.

A part-time cook will be added for the Johnson County Jail, and a SEATS paratransit driver and a code enforcement inspector will be hired. Half-year contract extensions are planned for an assistant planner, a natural resources specialist and a social worker.

The two new positions in the supervisors’ office will focus on communications and inclusion and equity, according to the county.

The ambulance department additions will allow the county to operate an ambulance for an additional four hours a day, seven days a week.

Dana Aschenbrenner, the county’s finance director, said salaries for the new positions have yet to be determined. In budgeting, finance staff use estimates.

“It might depend on whether they’re covered under collective bargaining agreements, but generally there’s a salary range for the various positions,” Aschenbrenner said. “We usually take the midpoint as kind of the salary estimates and then we have to fill in with benefits if they’re benefit eligible and how much that will cost as well.”

The fiscal year 2019 budget had similar staff additions, adding 12.3 full-time equivalent positions.

The supervisors received requests to add about 25 full-time equivalent employees at the start of the 2020 budgeting process, and whittled down that number, Supervisor Pat Heiden said.

“We were very thoughtful and deliberate in the decision-making process,” Heiden said.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig was the only supervisor to vote against the 2020 budget, citing concerns that included spending too much money to grow the board’s staff and the use of county conservation bond money.

“We have to think about all the wear and tear that’s being put on one person,” Supervisor Royceann Porter responded to Rettig’s concerns during the approval process. “As we expand in Johnson County, we’re going to grow. We’re not going to get any smaller so we need to add these positions.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Sacklers accused of causing opioid crisis

The billionaire family that owns opioid-maker Purdue Pharma has been accused by local governments in a new lawsuit of causing the nationwide public-health crisis involving painkilling medicines that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead from overdoses.

More than 500 U.S. cities and counties accused Purdue and eight members of Richard Sackler’s family of racketeering, saying the company engaged in misleading and illegal marketing of OxyContin. It’s one of a handful of lawsuits to name the Sacklers as individual defendants in sweeps of litigation over opioids.

The family was thrust into the spotlight after details of its involvement in Purdue’s OxyContin marketing efforts were made public in a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

In the wake of a wave of negative headlines, Britain’s National Portrait Galley said this week it declined a $1.3 million donation from the Sacklers’ charitable arm.

“This nation is facing an unprecedented opioid addiction epidemic that was initiated and perpetuated by the Sackler defendants for their own financial gain,” lawyers for local governments said in a complaint filed Monday in Manhattan federal court.

“This complaint is part of a continuing effort by contingency-fee counsel to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis in the United States and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Robert Josephson, a Purdue spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

“These baseless allegations place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis, and we deny them,” the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler families said in an emailed statement. They also noted OxyContin sales “represented a tiny portion of the opioid market.”

According to a 2017 investigation conducted by then-Sen Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, with a third of those deaths caused by prescription opioids including OxyContin and Insys Therapeutics’ Subsys.

Other cities and counties, including New York City and Suffolk County, New York, have named the family as individual defendants in their cases.

The suit — filed by some of the same lawyers who are leading the litigation against opioid-makers and distributors consolidated in federal court in Cleveland — targets the family for making billions of dollars off OxyContin by pushing it on doctors for more than a decade.

Those cases are seeking to recoup billions spent to address the fallout from the opioid crisis, which claims the lives of 100 Americans daily.

More than 30 states also have sued Purdue and other drugmakers, such as Johnson & Johnson and Endo International, along with distributors such as McKesson, seeking to hold them accountable for tax dollars consumed by the opioid epidemic.

Purdue and J&J face the first of those cases to come to trial in Oklahoma in May.

Family members such as Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former CEO, created a “public nuisance” through the company’s relentless OxyContin marketing for unapproved uses, according to the New York suit.

Family members directed Purdue employees to dupe doctors into believing the painkillers weren’t addictive and could be used to create an “enhanced lifestyle,” according to the suit.

The Sacklers “knew about the dangers of prescription opioids and pushed to increase sales despite the devastating consequences of the public health crisis,” attorneys for the local governments said.

Other family members named in the lawsuit are former Purdue board members. There are no family members on the current board.

The family members “sought to conceal” their involvement with the OxyContin marketing program and “are responsible for addiction, overdose, and death that damaged millions of lives,” the cities and counties allege.

They say the family “should be held accountable now.”

Gates second member of $100 billion club

Bloomberg tracks the fortunes of some 2,800 billionaires. Of those, 145 are worth at least $10 billion, making them decabillionaires. Now, the world contains two centibillionaires simultaneously.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, once the world’s richest person, has again eclipsed the $100 billion threshold, joining Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos in the exclusive club, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Gates’s fortune, now $100 billion on the nose, hasn’t reached such heights since the dot-com boom, when Bezos was only beginning his march up the world’s wealth rankings.

The Amazon founder is now worth $145.6 billion, having added $20.7 billion this year alone, while Gates has gained $9.5 billion.

These two fortunes underscore a widening wealth gap in the United States, where those with the most capital are accumulating riches the fastest.

It’s also a worldwide trend. France’s Bernard Arnault has an $86.2 billion fortune, equal to about 3 percent of his country’s economy. The net worth of Spain’s Amancio Ortega represents 5 percent of that nation’s gross domestic product. And then there’s Bidzina Ivanishvili, who’s worth about a third of Georgia’s GDP.

The Gates and Bezos mega-fortunes may not last long. Gates has donated more than $35 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and said he intends to give away at least half of his wealth.

Bezos, meanwhile, may be about to cede some of his fortune for a different reason: he and his wife Mackenzie are divorcing.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranks the world’s 500 wealthiest people. The combined net worth of the group has surged $505.8 billion this year to $5.3 trillion.

Federal Reserve cuts growth forecast, predicts no more rate hikes in 2019

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve on Wednesday suggested it would not raise interest rates in 2019, a dramatic about-face that suggested the central bank’s worries about the economy are intensifying.

“Growth is slowing somewhat more than expected,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference.

“While the U.S. economy showed little evidence of a slowdown in 2018, the limited data we have so far this year have been somewhat more mixed.”

The Fed cut its growth forecasts to 2.1 percent for this year and 1.9 percent in 2020, significantly below the White House predictions of 3.2 percent this year and 3.1 percent next.

The Fed entered this year predicting the economy would grow 2.3 percent and two more rate hikes would be necessary to keep the economy from overheating.

But the Fed pulled back significantly a few weeks later as European and Chinese outlooks deteriorated and U.S. consumers and businesses showed signs of much less spending.

Those concerns have been echoed as companies such as FedEx slash earnings forecasts and trucking volumes have declined since the start of the year.

President Donald Trump and Wall Street have urged the Fed to not raise rates. Trump argued that the Fed’s rate hikes were spooking the stock market and causing people to hold off on investments.

Investors initially approved of the Fed’s latest action and Powell’s remarks at the news conference.

The Dow Jones industrial average had plunged 200 points before Powell began speaking, but it swiftly reversed course and sailed into positive territory by the time Powell concluded.

The Fed also announced that it would conclude its balance-sheet reduction by September, a relief for Wall Street and in line with what Trump wanted.

The actions Wednesday signal that the Fed will do whatever it can to keep the current expansion going.

Interest rates are at a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, the highest level in a decade but still low by historical standards.

While the Fed is predicting slower growth in 2019, Powell indicated that there was little worry about a recession.

“The U.S. economy is in a good place, and we will continue to use our monetary policy tools to keep it there,” he said.

The Fed stressed that it would be “patient” on future rate hikes because leaders of the central bank want to see how the economy evolves in the coming months and inflation remains low.

Trump repeatedly has urged the Fed not to raise rates, and he was so angry with Powell after the central bank raised interest rates in December that he asked close confidants whether he could fire Powell, according to people familiar with the matter.

Most experts believe it is not possible for the president to remove Powell, whom Trump nominated for a four-year term.

The Fed also announced plans to halt the slim-down of its balance sheet, the $4 trillion in assets the central bank holds, at the end of September.

It will start slowing the balance-sheet runoff in May.

The Fed said it wants to leave “an ample supply of reserves” in the financial system.

The central bank gradually has been reducing its asset portfolio since 2017, and there was concern from Trump and Wall Street that this was starting to worry markets because it reduces the amount of liquidity in the financial system.

Many on Wall Street want the Fed to stop reducing its balance sheet soon. They see the slim-down as akin to more interest rate increases.

“The Fed is still tightening monetary policy. They are still removing accommodation even after nine rate hikes by a decrease of their asset portfolio,” said Michael Farr, head of investment firm Farr, Miller and Washington. “To be fully neutral, they need to stop that.”

This is why presidential campaigns shouldn’t overlook ADA accessibility

IOWA CITY — When Harry Olmstead arrived last week to a campaign stop in Iowa City, he was disappointed to find the basement venue, where 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang was speaking, accessible only by stairs.

Olmstead, who uses a wheelchair, said he returned home when he could not access the Iowa City Yacht Club’s basement, where Yang participated in a March 13 Political Party Live podcast recording.

An advocate for a more accessible community, Olmstead said his experience was not unique. With several downtown businesses accessible only by stairs, he often tries to reach out to campaign and event organizers beforehand to ask about accessibility.

It’s a barrier Olmstead and other Iowans hope to address as the caucus season begins. They argue that a candidate stopping in Iowa should do everything in their power to make sure all can attend.

“So I’ve been kind of a saddle sore for a lot of candidates,” Olmstead said. “A candidate needs to instruct their campaign staff, particularly their campaign manager, to get the word out to areas they will be going to and let them know that if they’re going to have a meet and greet or a fundraiser, it needs to be accessible so people with disabilities can also go.”

Jason Zeman, who owns the music venue Yacht Club and nightclub Studio 13, both in a 101-year-old building at 13 S. Linn St., said the latter establishment is on the ground floor, making it much more accessible. Studio 13 has hosted a Monday dance party for people with disabilities for more than a decade, he added.

Zeman said he was unaware of any access issues during Yang’s visit, and the event organizers chose the Yacht Club space over the Studio 13 space, he added.

“Normally at these type of events, the event organizers would make sure to address any issues and work with attendees and our staff if any help was needed,” he said in an email.

Yang had other stops in the state and Iowa City that day, including Prairie Lights Books.

Emails seeking comment sent to Yang’s campaign were not returned.

Catherine Crist, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Disability Caucus and national co-chair of the National Association of Democratic Disability Caucuses, said accessibility to a campaign event is a civil rights issue.

Crist said Wednesday she still was gathering information on Yang’s recent visit to Iowa City but said she has spoken with the candidate in the past and he has expressed interest in making his stops accessible.

Accessibility — from compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to providing American Sign Language interpreters — can often be overlooked, Crist said, when campaign officials try to set up an event in an unfamiliar community. Issues often are more prominent in the early months of the campaign season, as campaign managers scramble to secure a location under a time crunch.

“There’s a level of frustration around being able to get to campaign events,” she said. “I see the purpose of the Democratic Party Disability Caucus as allowing people to have access to information so that they can make informed decisions about who they would like to vote for.”

According to a U.S. Census Bureau 2010 Americans with Disabilities report, about 30.6 million people nationwide 15 or older had lower body limitations resulting in difficulty walking or climbing stairs.

The report notes that 3.6 million people used a wheelchair and 11.6 million used a cane, crutches or walker to assist with mobility.

Crist said people with disabilities represent between 17 percent and 22 percent of the voting electorate.

Crist said oftentimes accessibility is simply overlooked by those setting up a campaign visit.

“What we’re trying to do is educate campaigns and candidates on what accessibility actually looks like,” she said, adding that she has been seeing more awareness in the last few elections.

In Mount Vernon, Myrt Bowers said she and Kate Rose have been doing similar work.

In their hilly community, where countless buildings have stairs and many structures were built before ADA requirements, simply finding an accessible building can be a challenge.

“Indeed we would like to only offer those venues that have the adequate ADA accessible entryways, but that is almost impossible,” Bowers said. “What we do is acknowledge that, but then if someone needs assistance — for the individual that has difficulty walking or is using a device — we will help them get into the venue.”

Mount Vernon resident Meg Fishler said she has been trying to attend campaign stops with her son Gunner, 12, who uses a walker or wheelchair.

She said she hasn’t had any major issues so far this year but noted that — for those who live it every day — accessibility has to be top of mind.

“It’s just an issue wherever you go, whenever. You always have to kind of be cognizant of where you’re going,” she said.

Bowers said another challenge is that campaign stops traditionally come with as little as 24- to 72-hours’ notice, which means the community’s more accessible locations could already have events scheduled.

“I think the biggest thing, at least for us, is recognizing that we cannot always meet ADA requirements, so we need to look at alternatives and affix to that, which we do,” Bowers said. “We will do everything that we can to ensure that the individual is able to take part inside the building.”

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

Iowa City man arrested after attack involving gun, shots fired

An Iowa City man faces felony charges after being accused of entering an Iowa City home, assaulting a woman with a gun and firing several shots inside and outside the home.

Franklyn N. Valerio Brito, 34, entered a home in the 2500 block of Aster Avenue in southeast Iowa City, south of Highway 6, before 12:30 a.m. Thursday and attacked a woman, according to a criminal complaint.

Officers said he put a pistol in the woman’s mouth, struck her several times, threw her to the ground and dragged her from the home while threatening to kill her, according to the criminal complaint. Police said Valerio Brito fired several rounds from the pistol inside and outside the home.

The woman’s brother and children were inside the home at the time, police said.

Police said Valerio Brito fled before officers arrived but was located a short time later walking through the yard of an apartment complex.

When officers made contact with him, Valerio Brito said, “I know what this is about.” When asked what happened, he answered, “Whatever she said is fine,” according to the criminal complaint.

Valerio Brito faces charges of first-degree burglary, a Class B felony; third-degree kidnapping, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, and two counts of child endangerment — serious injury, all Class C felonies; and first-degree harassment and domestic abuse assault while displaying or using a dangerous weapon, both aggravated misdemeanors.

Valerio Brito is being held at Johnson County Jail on multiple bonds totaling $185,000.

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

Six killed in Chinese pesticide plant explosion

Reuters

BEIJING — An explosion at an industrial park in eastern China killed six people on Thursday and seriously injured 30, authorities and state media said.

Rescue efforts were going on, authorities in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province, said in a statement. State media said authorities were investigating the cause of the blast.

Video footage and images on state media showed a fire and shattered windows in nearby buildings.

Among the injured were children at a kindergarten near the industrial park, state media said.

Public anger over safety standards has grown in China over industrial accidents ranging from mining disasters to factory fires that have marred three decades of swift economic growth.

(Reporting by Se Young Lee and Min Zhang; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Jimmy Carter gets new title: Oldest living former president

ATLANTA — When Jimmy Carter left office in 1980, the return home to Plains, Ga., was not easy. His once-flourishing farming business was more than $1 million in debt, and he faced the prospect of selling the land his family had been on for 150 years.

Then a friend pointed out that Carter, at the tender age of 56, could expect to live at least until 80 years old.

“I had one disturbing reaction,” Carter wrote in his 1998 book, “The Virtues of Aging.” “What was I going to do with the next 25 years?”

Let’s just say a lot — from establishing the Carter Center and being awarded the Nobel Prize to building Habitat for Humanity homes and writing more than two dozen books.

March 21, 2019, marks yet another milestone. While it is not his birthday, Carter becomes the oldest living former president in U.S. history.

At the age of 94 years and 172 days, he passes George H.W. Bush, who was 94 years, 171 days when he died last November.

“We at the Carter Center sure are rooting for him and are grateful for his long life of service that has benefited millions of the world’s poorest people,” the center said in a statement.

After the country’s first president, George Washington, lived to be 67, only a handful of others have lived into their 90s.

Already, Carter had set a presidential record for living the longest number of years out of office, at more than 38. But then again, he started the job young. When he was elected in 1976, Carter was only 52, making him the 17th youngest elected president in history. The median age for accession to the presidency is 55 years, 3 months.

“What could possibly be good about growing old? The most obvious answer, of course, is to consider the alternative to aging,” Carter wrote in 1998. “But there are plenty of other good answers — many based on our personal experiences and observations.”

Sure, there have been scares along the way.

In August 2015, Carter revealed that doctors had found four small melanoma lesions on his brain. The discovery followed the removal of a lesion on his liver that took about 10 percent of the organ. He began receiving drug treatments, along with radiation therapy, and said at the time that he would cut back significantly on his schedule.

He continued receiving treatments until the following February when doctors had told him they were no longer needed, he said.

In 2017, Carter was briefly hospitalized in Winnipeg, Canada, after he became dehydrated while working on a Habitat for Humanity building site. He remains active.

Many historians consider him one of the greatest former presidents ever — if not the greatest.

Following his bitter defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan — or his “involuntary retirement,” as he calls it, becoming the first full one-term president since Hoover to lose re-election — Carter turned himself into something else.

In 1982, he started the Carter Center in Atlanta to advance human rights and promote democracy. The center mediates conflicts and monitors electoral processes in support of free and fair elections.

Carter traveled the world for elections and worked with the Carter Center to eradicate diseases. His hard work during post-presidential life was recognized in 2002, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“As we’ve grown older,” Carter wrote of himself and wife Rosalynn, “the results have been surprisingly good.”

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OLDEST FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENTS

1. Jimmy Carter, born Oct. 1, 1924 (age 94 years, 172 days as of March 21, 2019)

2. George H.W. Bush, 1924-2018. (age 94 years, 171 days)

3. Gerald Ford, 1913-2006. (age 93 years, 165 days)

4. Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004. (age 93 years, 120 days)

5. Herbert Hoover, 1874-1964. (age 90 years, 71 days)

6. John Adams, 1735-1826. (age 90 years, 247 days)

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(c)2019 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) at www.ajc.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Millions of Facebook passwords exposed to employees

Facebook said on Thursday it has resolved a glitch that exposed passwords of millions of users stored in readable format within its internal systems to its employees.

The passwords were accessible to as many as 20,000 Facebook employees and dated back as early as 2012, cyber security blog KrebsOnSecurity, which first reported the issue, said in its report.

“These passwords were never visible to anyone outside of Facebook and we have found no evidence to date that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed them,” the company said.

KrebsOnSecurity, citing a senior Facebook employee, said the an internal investigation by the company so far indicates that between 200 million and 600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text.

Facebook said the issue was discovered in January as part of a routine security review.

The majority of the affected were users of Facebook Lite, a version of the social media app largely used by people in regions with lower connectivity.

The social network also is probing the causes of a series of security failures, in which employees built applications that logged unencrypted password data for Facebook users, the report said.

“We estimate that we will notify hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users and tens of thousands of Instagram users,” the company said.

Mental health system for kids clears Iowa House

DES MOINES — Despite criticism it wasn’t robust enough, didn’t identify funding and fell short of meeting the need, legislation creating a children’s mental health system in the state won overwhelming support Thursday from the Iowa House.

“We are starting a foundation for children’s mental health for every child across the state to be able to access equal services,” Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, told colleagues before they voted 83-14 to approve House File 690. The bill establishes a system just for children, lays out what core services must be provide, and creates a state board to oversee it.

A companion bill, Senate File 479, awaits final action in the Senate.

Fry acknowledged the House bill was just a start and did not address every concern. But he said lawmakers could “stand proud of the work we’ve done.”

Still, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, was “disappointed in the lack of substance” because children with mental health issues and their families need more from the state.

An amendment by Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, would have addressed many of those concerns — providing transportation for children to and from service providers, in-school services and home visits.

Schools are more likely to be staffed by police officers than mental health professionals, Wessel-Kroeschell noted. Too often, if there are problems, the students enter the juvenile justice system rather than a children’s mental health system, she said.

Lawmakers have been working toward establishing a children’s mental health system for 30 years, Mascher said.

“I don’t want us to look back and say ‘Where did we fail?’” she said. But her amendment was rejected.

HF 690 would create a system to serve children up to age 18 who have serious emotional disturbances. It would not cover brain injury, intellectual disability or substance and developmental disorders unless they also occur along with a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.

The plan would cover services to children from families with incomes up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level. If family income is between 150 and 500 percent of the poverty level, there would be a copay, a sliding fee scale or other cost-sharing requirements as later approved by the state Department of Human Services.

Many of the questions about the bill dealt with funding. While Mascher saw the bill as a step in the right direction, “until we know where those dollars are coming from, we all should feel a little insecure.” She voted against HF 690.

It wasn’t the best bill lawmakers could have written, Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, said, but she supported it for families and children with mental health needs.

“I certainly would have liked one that was more comprehensive,” she said. One in five people have mental illness; half of the illnesses occur by the age of 17, but 79 percent of children go without mental health services, Heddens said.

“I think families want to take the risk because they are so desperately seeking something for their kids,” she said. “They need support and their kids need support.”

HF 690 only scratches the surface of what needs to be done, said Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, the lead Democrat on the bill.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Brown-Powers said. “We have taken a small step forward (but) don’t go home to your forums and say we have passed this robust legislation because we aren’t today. We have a lot of work today, so everybody better keep their work boots on and get busy.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds agreed passage was a step in the right direction toward an integrated children’s mental health system.

“We’ve been talking about this for decades, but now is the time to act,” said Reynolds, who in January made children’s mental health a priority in her Condition of the State speech to the Legislature.

Regardless of the size of the step, Fry reminded House members that HF 690 is not the only thing lawmakers have done for children’s mental health. They’ve expanded the statewide crisis hotline, provided additional funding for increasing the number of mental health professionals in rural Iowa and eliminated the waiting list for children’s mental health home- and community-based services waivers.

In the end, 52 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted for HF 690, and 14 Democrats voted against.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

U.S. Marshals arrest four Cedar Rapids men following pursuit

CEDAR RAPIDS — A U.S. Marshals-led task force arrested four Cedar Rapids men Wednesday following a vehicle pursuit on in the NE quadrant of the city.

According to a news release from the U.S. Marshals Service, investigators with the Cedar Rapids Police Department requested assistance from the Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force in February to apprehend Jordan Holmes, 22, who was wanted on a parole violation for trafficking firearms.

Through their investigation, authorities said they set their sights on a residence in the 3000 block of Eastern Ave NE in Cedar Rapids where they believed Holmes might be found.

Shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, investigators followed a vehicle they believed Holmes was in to a restaurant near 42nd Street NE and Center Point Road. Authorities said surveillance was used to confirm Holmes was a passenger in the vehicle and called for backup from city police and Linn County deputies.

At about 4 p.m., officers attempted to stop the vehicle as it attempted to leave the parking lot, according to the news release. The driver, however “refused officers’ commands” and fled the area, sparking a vehicle pursuit that ended in the 6000 block of Rockwell Drive NE with the suspects attempting to flee on foot.

Investigators said Holmes, Derrick Diggins, 18, Denzel Wilson, 19, and Adrian Pledge-Wilkins, 19, were quickly apprehended without incident or injury. Authorities said two firearms with “obliterated serial numbers” were found along the route of the pursuit.

Diggins, Holmes, Wilson, and Pledge-Wilkins each face a charge of interference with official acts, authorities said, and Diggins was additionally charged with unspecified traffic violations. Additionally, Wilson and Holmes both had outstanding warrants, the release states.

All four men were transported to the Linn County Correctional Center. An investigation into the two firearms is ongoing.

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

Iowa lawmakers eye response to widespread flooding

DES MOINES — A week after a “bomb cyclone” triggered major flooding across Iowa, lawmakers say they will follow Gov. Kim Reynolds’ lead in responding to what is expected to be more than $1 billion in damage to communities, farms, businesses and infrastructure.

“I am looking forward to sitting down with the governor and talking through that,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Thursday. “She’s been out assessing this really effectively, I think, and understanding what’s going on.”

“Right now, the governor is on the ground evaluating the situation and we expect to work with her as she comes back to figure out what any appropriate or necessary legislative response is.” added Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

Floodwaters have inundated a large swath of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river, prompting about half of Iowa’s counties to declare states of disaster. The flooding has killed at least four people and untold numbers of livestock, destroyed corn and soybeans in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa has suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farm land are under water.

Reynolds toured the devastation Sunday and Monday, and again Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence. She said the flooding “looked like an ocean” and has declared 43 of Iowa’s 99 counties disaster areas, which opens funding streams.

However, a key lawmaker in the Legislature’s response to 2008 flooding thinks the response this time is slow.

“I’m all ears waiting to hear what Gov. Reynolds and legislators are going to do in response to this flood,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who chaired the Senate Rebuild Iowa Committee. “We need a major response to this. I haven’t heard anything about how we are going to address this problem.”

The state and the Legislature have options, Upmeyer said, and they all will be considered. She doesn’t know if it is necessary to revive the Rebuild Iowa Committee because many of the resources lawmakers created then remain available. They could include tapping the economic emergency fund, Upmeyer said.

“This genuinely, in my opinion, does classify as an emergency, so if we need to access those resources we could,” she said.

Whitver said he’s getting constant updates from southwest Iowa senators on the situations in their districts.

“It is a tough situation, a dire situation in southwest Iowa,” he said. “They’re sharing stories about how bad it is down there and bringing forward thoughts on what we can do.”

The response may require adjustments to the state budget, but Upmeyer said it’s too soon to know whether that would affect the current budget, which ends June 30, or the budget lawmakers are preparing for fiscal 2020.

Upmeyer, who is concerned this is not the last flooding the state will experience this spring, senses some Iowans are “flood weary.”

After one flood, she said, people tend to be willing to rebuild. But after another they’re less likely to stay.

“It’s hard to keep people energized and I worry that people will, you know, leave,” Upmeyer said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Shopko begins liquidation sales

Retail general-merchandise chain Shopko, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, said it will begin liquidation sales in its remaining 120 stores nationwide.

The retailer, which had been unable to find a buyer, had said when it filed it would close 250 other locations.

The chain has begun “an orderly wind-down” of operations this week, according to Reuters.

The Ashwaubenon, Wis.-based privately held retailer, Specialty Retail Shops Holding Corp. doing business as Shopko, expects to have closed all its stores by mid-June.

Specialty Retail operates a dozen stores in Iowa, according to its bankruptcy filing, with three in Eastern Iowa

— in Dubuque, Dyersville and Waukon.

“This is not the outcome that we had hoped for when we started our restructuring efforts,” CEO Russ Steinhorst said in a news release earlier this week.

The chain’s remaining stores employ some 5,000 workers, according to reports.

Its first store opened in 1962 in Green Bay, Wis.

Ellis Boulevard reopened as floodwaters continue to recede

The City of Cedar Rapids has reopened Ellis Boulevard between Ellis Lane and 18th Street NW.

The observed depth of the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids at 9 a.m. was 15.6 feet, now classified as moderate flooding, which ranges from 14 to 16 feet.

Here are the current road closures and openings.

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Current Road Closures

• Otis Rd

• Ellis Rd west of Edgewood Rd

• A St SW

• Bowling St between A and C St SW

• Old River Rd

• 1st St NW between O Ave and Penn Ave NW

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Recently Opened:

• Ellis Blvd Between Ellis Ln and 18th St NW

• 1st St NW between E Ave and O Ave NW

• Intersection of C Street SW and Bowling Street SW

• Ely Road at Old River Road

• Edgewood Rd NW between Glass Rd and River Bluff Drive

• Bowling St SW from 33rd Ave to 41st Ave

• Hawkeye Downs Rd from 6th St to J St SW

• J St SW

Reports of shots fired, man at hospital with gunshot injury in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids police last night responded to a report of shots fired in southeast Cedar Rapids and a report from Mercy Medical Center regarding a man who had been shot.

Around 9 p.m. Wednesday, officers were dispatched to the area of Sixth Avenue and 16th Street SE for a report of gunshots. Officers also were notified that an 18-year-old man was shot and being treated at Mercy for non-life threatening injuries. The man has been released from the hospital.

Police stated that no arrests have been made at this time and an investigation is ongoing.

Indian, Iowan and beyond: Paradise Bar & Grill aims for global cuisine with South Indian flavors

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — When customers walk into Paradise Bar & Grill, a new restaurant in The Fountains, co-owner Sam Paul doesn’t want them to immediately realize they are in an Indian restaurant.

The ambience is designed to feel like any American bar and grill, he said.

“You shouldn’t realize it’s an Indian restaurant until you see the menu,” Paul said. “Indian food actually goes really with beer and scotch. Our biryani goes really well with beer, especially hoppy beer, but not a lot of people know that.”

He and two friends, Kumar Akula and Ram Krvadi, opened the restaurant in October after talking about the idea for a restaurant for years.

All three are originally from Hyderabad, India, and they share a love of Southern Indian and specifically Hyderabadi cuisine. Paul said many of the restaurants he finds in Iowa focus on North Indian food, and they wanted to offer something different.

They also didn’t want their restaurant to be just Indian. That doesn’t reflect their identities, Paul said. Rather, after years in the United States, they are a mix of cultures, and they want their menu to feature a mix of cuisines.

   

“We are by heart Indian, but we are Americanized by being here,” he said.

Biryani, a rice dish cooked with meat or vegetables and spices, is a specialty of Hyderabad and the signature dish for the restaurant.

Their dum ka biryani — cooked with chicken or lamb — is a recipe they’ve licensed from another restaurant, Paradise Biryani Pointe. That restaurant was started by a native of Hyderabad and has locations across the country.

Paradise Bar & Grill’s menu also features dishes like curries, naans, dals and more. Look for Andhra, Chettinad and Goan in descriptions on the menu to find items with a particularly South Indian style, though other items may also favor South Indian spice blends.

There are also Indian takes on Chinese and American dishes mixed in, like French fries seasoned with Indian spices and Indian street food-style versions of fried rice.

India is incredibly diverse, and people should realize its cuisine is equally diverse, Paul said. And the cuisine favored by members in the diaspora, like him, is even more so.

“We want to add more and more dishes and make it global,” he said. “Our love for beer and food is the inspiration.”

The menu is scaled back for now, and they hope to add more items as they grow, with the eventual goal of serving 50 percent Indian food and 50 percent other cuisines. “I’m 35. I’ve lived here almost 17 years. I’m half and half,” he said with a laugh.

 

One challenge has been finding the right heat level for their dishes to both please fans of spicy food and those unused to it.

“We toned down the spice level a little after opening. We want it to be palatable for everyone,” he said.

They offer dishes at a spice level of one to five, but with five more of a medium spice level than at many other Indian restaurants. Instead of spice, he said they want to focus on the masala, the blend of flavors.

“Our five is a three for an Indian palate,” Paul said. “We’re trying to find a good balance. We decided should tend to our masses. I want it to be flavorful, and the spices can be adjusted.”

All three owners have other jobs — Paul has an IT business. He arrived in the United States in 2003 to study and moved to Cedar Rapids in 2009. He likes Cedar Rapids for its quality of life, he said — the community, the schools, the cost of living. He said opening a restaurant and talking with customers has been a way to feel connected with his neighbors in a different way.

“This is being involved in the community,” he said.

If you go  

• What: Paradise Bar & Grill

• Where: 5200 Fountains Dr. NE, Suite 100, Cedar Rapids

• Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday

• Details: (319) 318-2070, paradiseofcr.com

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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