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Cedar Rapids man accused sexually assaulting woman, filming it

A Cedar Rapids man was arrested Tuesday after allegedly having sex with an incapacitated 19-year-old woman and filming it with his phone in November in Iowa City.

According to the University of Iowa Police Department, Carlos Allen Hivento, 31, faces two counts each of third-degree sexual abuse and invasion of privacy.

According to criminal complaints, the charges stem from two incidents between 1:15 and 4 a.m. on Nov. 18.

About 1:15 a.m., the complaint states, Hivento recorded himself having sex with the 19-year-old in an apartment stairwell next to the Fieldhouse Bar on the Ped Mall in downtown Iowa City. Police say the woman is visibly incapacitated in the video and could not give consent.

“It was not known to the victim she was being recorded during the sex act or even that the sex act was occurring,” the complaint states.

Arrest records indicate Hivento and the woman then went to the Iowa House Hotel on the UI campus at about 4 a.m. where they had sex again and Hivento again recorded the act.

Police say the victim was clearly incapacitated in each incident, unable to give consent and unaware the sex acts were occurring or being recorded.

When police took Hivento into custody Tuesday morning, they recovered a powdery substance in one of his shirt pockets, according to a complaint. Police say it tested positive for cocaine.

Hivento faces additional charges of possession of contraband in a correctional facility and possession of a controlled substance.

He is being held in the Johnson County Jail on a $105,000 bond.

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

AdCraft Printing in Cedar Rapids stays local

CEDAR RAPIDS — It would seem that when Shawn and Celeste Gallagher bought AdCraft Printing 13 years ago, they did so on a whim.

“We knew nothing about the commercial printing business when we bought Adcraft,” recalled Shawn, noting he had worked in outside sales and broadcast media.

“But I was looking for something different and the owners were looking to retire. Adcraft was in need of an infusion of energy.

“We were 100 percent offset printing when we bought the business. We are 95 percent digital printing today. This industry just changes so fast, literally from year to year it gets more sophisticated.

“So we have to be continually educated on what’s coming down the pike. And even after a dozen years, I still have a-ha moments.”

Adcraft has been operating in Cedar Rapids since 1957. While the business was once located a few blocks away — near the Smulekoff’s building — Gallagher pointed out an advertisement hanging in his office from the 1960s that lists the same phone number Adcraft uses today.

“I’d guess we are one of the oldest continually running printers in the Cedar Rapids area,” he said.

Adcraft has been located in its current location on Fifth Avenue downtown since 1991, which means it also survived the 2008 flood. Customers are sure to notice the plaque with the high water mark line in the lobby.

“We were back in five weeks and three days,” Gallagher recalled. “The flood forced us to make some changes we wanted and needed to make, so that was a good thing. We just paid off our last flood loan last year.”

The full-service printing company handles everything from runs of stationery and newsletters to labels and multiple part forms. They even have a small in-house screen printing operation.

“What’s that saying about being large enough to handle the job but small enough to care?” he said. “We are locally, family-owned and we’ve had some of the same clients for the 60 years we’ve been in business.

“We really hold on to the customers we have.”

As their own business has grown and changed, so, too, have those of their customers and Gallagher said it’s rewarding to see customers — old and new — thrive.

“It’s fun interacting with customers and seeing projects from the beginning to the end. We get to be part of our customers’ success. What we work on for them is critical to their identity and it’s fulfilling to be a part of that.”

Depending on the year, Gallagher said that anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent of their business is printing for political campaigns.

“I was involved in Democratic politics my whole life and we are union shop,” he said of how the business tapped into the campaign printing market. “We figured out and understand political printing, especially their timelines and deadlines, (and) are friendly to that.”

Gallagher said they have definitely seen an uptick in this niche of their business, with 2018 being a record year for political printing.

“People think printing is a dying industry, but they are wrong,” he contended. “It has simply changed. We used to do really long runs of things — 50,000 copies that would take a couple days on one machine. Now it’s mostly shorter runs.

“It’s on-demand printing, but customers still expect high quality and good service. And there aren’t as many smaller print shops as there used to be.”

The company includes one part-time and three full-time employees along with the Gallaghers.

l Know a business that has been operating for more than a year that could make for an interesting “My Biz”? Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

l Owner: Shawn Gallagher

l Business: AdCraft Printing

l Address: 309 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

l Phone: (319) 363-8275

l Website: adcraftprinting.com

Cedar Rapids man accused of cashing forged check

A Cedar Rapids man is accused of forgery after he allegedly tried to cash a forged check for more than $2,000.

According to the criminal complaint, Daniel R. Ramos III, 34, was identified on video surveillance on Nov. 1, 2018 as he attempted to cash an altered or forged check at Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust on First Avenue NE.

The complaint states the check came from the account of Five Seasons Auto Rebuilders and was valued at $2,590. Ramos allegedly provided his driver’s license to the bank teller, which matched the information written on the check, police said.

Ramos faces a charge of forgery, a class-D felony. He made his initial appearance in Linn County District Court Wednesday morning.

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

‘Think big’ Iowa chief justice urges lawmakers in annual address

DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady urged lawmakers to think big and “focus on where we are going, not where we have been.”

In his ninth Condition of the Judiciary address to Iowa legislators Wednesday, Cady said the Judicial Branch is embracing the concept of continuous improvement that has served successful, multigenerational Iowa family businesses.

“The Iowa way to is improve continuously,” Cady told a joint session of the House and Senate with Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state officials present. “It is a plan, with each step taking us forward to the next, with each step as important as the next,” Cady said. “Our future can no longer be about taking small steps or standing still. We need to think big and take big steps. Every day, we must seek to achieve what can be imagined.”

Cady laid out a vision for a state court system embracing technology to deliver more services more effectively. He is calling for five new initiatives addressing rural courts, digital opportunities, access to justice, child protection and problem-solving courts, and a 4 percent salary increase for Judicial Branch employees. Overall, the cost would be $7.2 million and require 37 additional positions.

He also pointed out that the $177.6 million the Legislature appropriated for the current fiscal year produced a return on investment of $179.7 million in fines ($147 million) juvenile diversion cost avoidance ($12.6 million), fewer young adults entering prison ($10.8 million), specialty court cost avoidance ($5.6 million) and family treatment court cost avoidance ($4 million).

 

He also spoke of Iowa’s leadership in using technology to improve the operation of the justice system “and justice itself.

“Few understood the benefits and value of a paperless court system when it launched 10 years ago,” Cady said.

The Digital Opportunities Initiative Cady proposed would include projects such as electronic search warrants, text messages to defendant and other court users, remote court reporting and interpreting, and online dispute resolution.

The cost of legal services is preventing many Iowan with legal problems from obtaining the services of a lawyer, Cady said. His Access to Justice Initiative would help self-represented Iowans provide the information for a judge to adjudicate their disputes.

The Problem-Solving Courts Initiative would use technology to collect, track and analyze data from the Judicial Branch’s 39 specialty courts. That would enable the courts to use the data to identify and develop statewide best practices.

The Rural Courts Initiative would expand the court system’s presence in 99 counties and allow it to operate more efficiently by removing artificial barriers that prevent a clerk in one county from assisting people in another county.

The Judicial Branch is committed to maintaining a physical presence in all 99 counties, Cady said.

“We see technology as a way to strengthen rural Iowa,” he said. “Justice is a community responsibility and a system of justice needs every community.”

Based on recommendations from the Council of State Government, Cady wants nearly $900,000 to improve internal and external coordination of juvenile services, write uniform policies that are consistently applied statewide and use data-driven decision-making to improve outcomes for children in the justice system.

Not all of the changes to the court system are technological. In 2018, a new justice joined the Supreme Court for the first time in 7.5 years and the process of replacing a second justice is underway. In addition 18 judges retired.

There is value in that transition, Cady said, as “they are moving us closer to achieving greater diversity.” Last year, the number of male and female judges appointed was equal.

Cady didn’t mention discussion among some lawmakers about changing the way Supreme Court justices are a selected through a merit-based nominating process done by representatives of the legal industry and the public.

However, he did thank “those who serve on the judicial nominating commissions and Gov. Reynolds for their commitment to selecting the best people to serve as judges.”

“Iowa has a strong national reputation for fairness and impartiality,” Cady said.

Cady’s remarks can be found at www.iowacourts.gov.

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

 

74 percent of Americans didn’t know Facebook collected their interests to target ads until Pew asked them about it

Facebook keeps a running list of things it has learned about you for advertisers. At this point, the list isn’t incredibly hard to find: go to your account settings, click on “ads,” and the list will appear, ready for you to peruse or modify as you see fit.

These lists have been public for a while. In pre-election 2016, The Washington Post compiled a list of 98 categories that Facebook might use to build a portrait of you for advertisers. Based on what you tell Facebook, the company might be able to zero in on your interest in dogs, for instance. Maybe it guesses that you’ve been recently shopping for a home or a mattress or a car. For some people, Facebook takes a guess at their political beliefs and “racial affinity.” Those data points are then used to allow advertisers to target ads to the people who might be most likely to click on them. It’s a core part of Facebook’s business.

But it has been trickier to know exactly how the public feels about this information. When the Pew Research Center set out to examine that question, it found that 74 percent of Americans didn’t even know that the list existed, until the survey instructed them on how to view it.

Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) Americans found that Facebook had generated some material for them on the ad preferences page, and 6 in 10 had 10 or more interests listed for them. Unsurprisingly, heavy or longtime users of Facebook were more likely to have more interests on their ad preferences pages. Overall, 59 percent said that those interests were accurate, that they reflected who they were in real life. (By contrast, 27 percent said the interests were not very or at all accurate.)

Once they had a chance to view this list, a slim majority - 51 percent - were not comfortable with Facebook collecting this information about them, according to the report, which was released Wednesday.

“We consistently find that there’s a paradox at the center of generalized privacy research,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at Pew. “Americans, being Americans, say that it matters, but they behave in a way that doesn’t indicate that it matters.”

The survey was conducted in 2018, several months after Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica for improperly collecting data from Facebook users, a revelation that caused a major crisis of trust for the platform. The news was the catalyst for congressional hearings and an attempt to encourage users to quit Facebook. The company also announced that it would provide more information to users about how ads work on Facebook.

The Pew data suggest that, even as Facebook becomes an increasing subject of concern for Americans, “no matter how much effort people make in disclosing what’s available and make it clear that users can make choices, everybody isn’t picking up on that,” Rainie said.

In a statement, Facebook said it believed “Pew’s findings underscore the importance of transparency and control across the entire ad industry, and the need for more consumer education around the controls we place at people’s fingertips.” Facebook added that it planned to host more in-person events on privacy this year and continue to make its ad settings “easier to use.”

The survey found a relationship between the accuracy of the information Facebook collects and how Americans feel about it. More than three-quarters, 78 percent, of those who thought that Facebook’s listings for them were either not at all or not very accurate said they were uncomfortable with the list, while just less than half, 48 percent, of those who thought the list was accurate felt the same way.

“There are a lot of people who say, ‘I don’t want to be misunderstood,’ “ Rainie said. The data support a longtime observation that everyone has their own line when it comes to privacy concerns. There’s a constant, fluid trade-off between privacy and sharing.

“The trade-off between ‘do I share my information or not’ (is) very specific to the encounter - what’s being offered, how safe is my data, is the thing that I’m seeking inherently valuable ... everybody’s got their own measures on that,” Rainie said.

Here are a couple of other findings from the study:

- About half (51 percent) of Americans are assigned a political label by Facebook. In the survey results, those labels were pretty evenly distributed among those deemed to be conservative, liberal and moderate. For those with a label, 73 percent said it was either very or somewhat accurate. Just over a quarter, 27 percent, said it wasn’t accurate.

- About 2 in 10, 21 percent, were assigned a “multicultural affinity” group. Facebook’s algorithm guessed that 43 percent of those had an interest in African-American culture, 43 percent were labeled as having an interest in Hispanic culture, and 10 percent were assigned as interested in Asian-American culture. Of those assigned one of these affinity groups, 60 percent said they had at least a “very” or “somewhat” strong affinity to that group (57 percent of those assigned a group said they identified themselves as a member of it). By contrast, 37 percent of those assigned a group said they did not have a strong affinity with it, and 39 percent said they did not consider themselves a member of that group.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted Sept. 4 to Oct. 1 among a nationally representative sample of 964 U.S. adults who have a Facebook account. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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The Washington Post’s Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

Four U.S. troops reported among 16 dead in north Syria attack

BEIRUT — A bomb attack claimed by Islamic State killed U.S. troops in northern Syria on Wednesday, weeks after President Donald Trump said group was defeated there and he would pull out all American forces.

A U.S. official who declined to be named said four U.S. troops had been killed and three wounded in the blast, which an Islamic State-affiliated site said was the work of a suicide bomber. Others said only two had been killed.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamist militant group said that “U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol,” and that it was still gathering details.

The attack, which took place in the town of Manbij, controlled by rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, appears to be the deadliest on U.S. forces in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said that only two U.S. troops had previously been killed in action in Syria. There were two additional non-combat fatalities.

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement that he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria after concluding that Islamic State had been defeated there.

The announcement helped trigger the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, stunned allies and raised fears of a long-threatened Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

RESTAURANT ATTACKED

A witness in the city said the attack had targeted a restaurant where U.S. personnel were meeting members of the local militia that Washington backs there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 16 people had been killed in all, including two Americans. A militia source in north Syria also said two U.S. troops had been killed.

Islamic State later put out a statement saying a Syrian fighter had detonated his explosive vest on a foreign patrol in Manbij.

Two witnesses described the blast to Reuters.

“An explosion hit near a restaurant, targeting the Americans, and there were some forces from the Manbij Military Council with them,” one said.

The Manbij Military Council militia has controlled the town since U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces took it from Islamic State in 2016. It is located near areas held by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and by anti-Assad fighters backed by Turkey.

One of the witnesses said there was a “heavy” presence of military aircraft over Manbij following the blast, which took place near a vegetable market.

Photographs on a local Kurdish news site, which Reuters could not verify, showed two mutilated bodies, several other bodies lying on the ground with people gathered around them, damage to a building and vehicles, and blood smears on a wall.

It was unclear whether the attack might influence Trump’s decision to give more time for the U.S. withdrawal, a conflict he has tired of and described as “sand and death.”

Massive ‘Fortnite’ Security Hole Allowed Hackers to Take Over Accounts, Eavesdrop on Chats

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Updated: “Fortnite” players were exposed to hackers who could control their accounts, purchase in-game items through their credit cards, and drop into in-game chats posing as the hacked player, cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies discovered in November.

The company immediately alerted developer Epic Games, which tells Variety it fixed the massive security hole this month.

“We were made aware of the vulnerabilities and they were soon addressed,” a spokesperson said. “We thank Check Point for bringing this to our attention. As always, we encourage players to protect their accounts by not re-using passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others.”

In this particular case, the issue wasn’t related to passwords though, hackers could gain access to an account without the need for any login information. Instead, the security hole was tied to flaws found in two of Epic Games’ sub-domains that were susceptible to a malicious redirect, allowing users’ legitimate authentication tokens to be intercepted by a hacker from the compromised sub-domain.

Researchers outlined the process in which an attacker could have potentially gained access to a user’s account through vulnerabilities discovered in ‘Fortnite’s’ user login process. Due to three vulnerability flaws found in Epic Games’ web infrastructure, researchers were able to demonstrate the token-based authentication process used in conjunction with Single Sign-On (SSO) systems such as Facebook, Google, and Xbox to steal the user’s access credentials and take over their account.

To fall victim to this attack, a player needed only to click on a crafted phishing link -- one typically designed to look like it was coming from an Epic Games domain. Once clicked, the user’s Fortnite authentication token could be captured by the attacker without the user entering any login credentials.

If exploited, the vulnerability would have given an attacker full access to a user’s account and their personal information as well as enabling them to purchase virtual in-game currency using the victim’s payment card details, according to Check Point. The vulnerability would also allow an attacker to listen to in-game chatter if they joined a match with the hacked account.

“Fortnite is one of the most popular games played mainly by kids. These flaws provided the ability for a massive invasion of privacy,” said Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerability research for Check Point. “Together with the vulnerabilities we recently found in the platforms used by drone manufacturer DJI, show how susceptible cloud applications are to attacks and breaches. These platforms are being increasingly targeted by hackers because of the huge amounts of sensitive customer data they hold. Enforcing two-factor authentication could mitigate this account takeover vulnerability.”

Earlier this week, researchers noted that “Fortnite” has also become a hub for criminals looking to launder money from stolen credit cards by selling accounts for the game.

A cow escaped the rodeo and disappeared into an Anchorage park. For six months, no one has been able to catch her.

It was Father’s Day weekend last year when Betsy disappeared. Amid the bustle of Anchorage’s annual rodeo, the 3-year-old cow slipped out of her pen. Soon enough, she was headed for Far North Bicentennial Park, a 4,000-acre expanse of rugged forest at the outskirts of the city.

The real-life cowboys at the rodeo saddled up their horses and headed for the park, but it was too late: Betsy was gone. And six months later, she’s still on the run, having successfully evaded local law enforcement’s attempt to scour the area with a drone and her owner’s repeated efforts to track her down.

“I’m just totally exhausted from looking day in and day out,” Frank Koloski, Betsy’s owner, told The Washington Post on Tuesday night. “She’s a go-getter, that’s for sure.”

It’s not that Betsy has vanished altogether. In fact, Koloski estimates that he’s gotten dozens of tips from joggers, bikers, and cross-country skiers who have spotted the wayward cow calmly meandering down the park’s snow-covered trails. Often, he’ll wake up to a call from the Anchorage Police Department, letting him know that the residents of a nearby subdivision have reported a cow on the loose. But each time, it’s the same routine: “I go out there, I’m standing in her tracks and she’s nowhere to be found.”

On Tuesday, officers from the Anchorage Police Department searched for the rogue cow with an infrared-equipped drone as part of a training exercise. But after two hours, they came back empty-handed.

Koloski, who works as a rodeo promoter, still isn’t sure exactly how Betsy managed to escape in the first place. He had purchased her the day before the Father’s Day rodeo began, anticipating that he would use her for educational demonstrations and also let children ride her in the junior rodeo events that his company, Rodeo Alaska, puts on. Maybe she pushed her weight against a gate that hadn’t been closed all the way, or maybe someone accidentally let her out. All Koloski knows for certain is that she was in her pen one moment, and the next, she was gone.

The 47-year-old had a good sense of where Betsy might have headed. The rodeo was being held at an equestrian center just down the road from Far North Bicentennial Park, which is home to a recreational ski area and hundreds of miles of trails that are popular with cyclists on bikes equipped with fat off-road tires. Koloski and his co-workers set off in hot pursuit, traversing the slopes on horseback and on foot in the pouring rain. But they couldn’t catch up with Betsy.

In the fall, reports began circulating about a mystery cow that had somehow found her way into way into the park. “Almost got run over by a cow last night on moose meadow,” read a November post in the Anchorage Fat Bike Facebook group. “As in, cattle, not a bear or a moose. ... Am I crazy or has anyone else had a sighting in the area?” As it turned out, other cyclists had spotted Betsy wandering the trails, leading Koloski to theorize that snow-making operations at the ski hill had prompted her to migrate to a different part of the park.

Anchorage is home to all kinds of wildlife, but its subarctic climate is not exactly the type of place where you expect to see cattle roaming around. At first, local blogger Craig Medred recently noted, people who reported spotting a cow on the loose were told by other locals that they must be hallucinating, and a story about the strange cow that was broadcast by Alaska Public Media was met with skepticism. Last week, Koloski finally solved the mystery by joining the Anchorage Fat Bike group to ask for help locating his missing cow. In a Monday article in the Anchorage Daily News, he asked anyone who spotted Betsy to pin the coordinates and call his cellphone immediately.

“This whole entire city has been phenomenal with the support and with getting the word out to help bring my Betsy home,” Koloski told The Post. But so far, despite all the sightings, no one has been able to catch her. The cyclists and backcountry skiers who come across Betsy deep in the woods aren’t “the type that run around with the cowboys,” he pointed out, and lassoing a wary cow isn’t an easy task. Likewise, attempts to lure Betsy with food have been unsuccessful.

Koloski has a plan in place: If he can just figure out where Betsy is hiding, he’ll bring several other cows to that location. Betsy will immediately rush toward the other cattle, he predicts, and a number of his rodeo acquaintances have already volunteered to help him rope her. Until he knows exactly where she’s located, though, he’s not eager to let the other cows loose in the dense, dark woods.

In the meantime, Betsy appears to be doing just fine. Alaska cattle are tough and accustomed to the area’s harsh winters, Koloski said. Since the park is within city limits, he doesn’t think there’s too much of a risk of her running into a bear or a wolf. There are still plenty of natural sources of water that haven’t frozen over, and he’s left out hay bales and mineral salt blocks nearby. During the summer, Betsy would have found plenty of fresh grass on the slopes of the ski area to feast on, he said. And even once the snow started falling, there were still patches of green grass to be found under the overhang of the trees.

“It’s a cow’s dream,” he said.

If anything, he said, the problem has been that Betsy is too well-fed and hasn’t been slowing down due to hunger. And the park’s vast size makes finding her nearly impossible.

“You’re talking thousands of acres out there,” Koloski said. “There’s white snow in the ground, but there’s black spruce trees that she blends into. She’s my ghost in the darkness.”

February food assistance distributed to Iowans early

Food Assistance benefits will be dispensed to Iowans early this month, state officials announced on Wednesday.

Due to the federal shutdown, the Iowa Department of Human Service said February benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — known as Food Assistance in Iowa — will be available to recipients on Thursday.

DHS officials also are encouraging recipients to “to budget their normal benefits to ensure they last through the month of February.”

More than 335,000 Iowans rely on the program, totaling up to $37 million in benefits, according to DHS data.

Federal officials said funding for the food aid program will last until March, thanks to a budget provision the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this week that it would rely on to give states money by Jan. 20. States are offering benefits early to recipients for next month in order to circumvent the expiration of federal appropriations.

Other programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, will be funded through February as well.

But if the federal shutdown lasts until March, officials cannot promise if those benefits will continue. The food stamp program has a $3 billion reserve, which would cover only part of the $4.8 billion in benefits distributed each month.

Iowa DHS officials are developing contingency plans for the month of March, should the government shutdown continue.

“At the Iowa Department of Human Services, we understand the importance of ensuring food security for Iowans in need and will do everything we can to ensure there is as little disruption as possible,” Director Jerry Foxhoven said in a statement.

The Washington Post contributed to this article.

l Do you or someone you know rely on SNAP or WIC? Are you concerned that the government shutdown could effect these benefits? We’d like to speak to you. Contact reporter Michaela Ramm at (319) 368-8536 or michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Iowans question King’s ability to continue in Congress

SIOUX CITY — Northwest Iowa officials questioned Tuesday whether U.S. Rep. Steve King can still effectively represent the 4th Congressional District after losing all of his committee assignments as a punishment for his controversial remarks on white supremacy.

Amid growing calls that he resign his seat, King remained defiant, promising to “continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”

King’s removal from the Agriculture Committee means Iowa, the nation’s leading farm state, will not have a representative on the panel for the first time since 1899.

Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said the decision by House Republican leaders to strip King of his committee posts “definitely hurts” King’s influence in the chamber.

Committees “in general have a lot of power,” Scott said. “You’ve got a chance to get legislation in for your district when you are on a committee.”

King served on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary committees in the last Congress, and he chaired Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. Republican leaders voted Monday night to take away all those assignments for the next two years, with Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy citing King’s comments to the New York that “call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity.”

Iowa’s three other members of Congress — Democrats Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne and Dave Loebsack — are not members of the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over agriculture, forestry, nutrition, water conservation, and other ag-related fields.

At a time of low commodity prices and falling farm incomes, it is important for the state to have a strong voice advocating for agriculture interests, Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman said.

“To not have a seat at the table on the agriculture committee is extremely disappointing,” said Lehman, who farms in rural Alleman in central Iowa. “It is all the more harder to pass policies for farmers.”

Some elected Republicans in Iowa argued that King has let the state down by losing his committees. They included state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, who announced, one day before the Times article was published, that he would challenge King in the 2020 GOP primary.

In a Wednesday tweet, Feenstra wrote, “Agriculture is the backbone of NW Iowa. However, as of today, we’re left without a seat on the Ag Committee. It’s time to elect an effective conservative and #RetireSteveKing.”

Tim Bottaro, a Sioux City attorney and former Woodbury County Democratic Party chairman, said it is unfortunate that King will keep drawing his $174,000 annual salary, despite his diminished stature. Bottaro said discussions in committees best frame the issues, so King won’t be as well informed for votes on the House floor.

“Committees take all the time. (King) is going to be twiddling his thumbs,” Bottaro said. “He is getting paid for doing nothing. It is a ripoff for the taxpayer. He is a waste of space.”

Woodbury County Republican Party Chairwoman Suzan Stewart said King will continue to handle congressional tasks in a way that advocates GOP principles.

“Republicans from the 4th District have come to expect Steve King to champion the district and promote conservative objectives for the district. He can continue to do much of this with or without committee assignments,” Stewart said.

In a statement Monday, King insisted the quote “has been completely mischaracterized.” The congressman said he was only wondering aloud: “How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that, how does it get done, how do they get by with laying labels like this on people?”

In a rare procedure, the House approved a resolution designed to rebuke King for the comments. In a strange twist, King was among the 424 House members who voted for the resolution, which called for the chamber to reject white nationalism and white supremacy as “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who argued the House should take the more serious step of censuring King for his “repugnant and racist behavior.” Rush and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, introduced separate censure resolutions. Democratic leaders said they are debating whether to bring the resolutions up for a floor debate on Wednesday.

In addition to efforts to censure King, there were bipartisan demands that the congressman resign.

The Sioux City Journal and the Des Moines Register both called for King to step down.

Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, suggested earlier Tuesday that King leave Congress. “I think he should find another line of work,” said Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

If King were to resign, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds would have five days to call a special election to fill the vacant seat, under state law. The special election could occur no earlier than 40 days after the resignation.

Fact Checker: Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State

The Fact Checker team scrutinized several statements Tuesday from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State:

Education and taxes

Claim: “Together, we passed the largest income tax cut ever as part of a groundbreaking tax reform package, (and made) a record investment in K-12 schools.”

Analysis: Reynolds signed the largest state income tax cut in Iowa history in May.

The Legislature last session also committed more than $3.1 billion to public K-12 schools, more than ever before, according to a review of Iowa’s budget history done in November by the Des Moines Register.

Funding increases for public schools, however, have not kept pace with inflation, and in seven of the past eight years have been at or below 2 percent growth.

Conclusion: The governor is right that she signed a huge income tax cut, and her claim of a record investment in K-12 rings true when we consider the raw numbers. Her statement overlooks that the state’s level of school funding has left many districts unable to keep up with rising operation costs. It gets a B.

Claim: “Through a pilot program, the Department of Corrections is currently working with Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge to offer Pell Grants to prison inmates. This program is one of the most successful in the country, with more than 420 students participating, earning an average GPA of 3.5.”

Analysis: This program, in its third year, allows inmates to apply for financial aid from Pell Grants under the “same requirements as a traditional student on the outside,” said Neale Adams, the college’s dean of business and industrial technology.

About 420 students have participated in the program since fall 2016, Adams said, though only about 130 are currently participating. The average GPA in the 2017-2018 school year was 3.5.

Conclusion: A

Economy

Claim: “Wages are going up while unemployment is at an all-time low”

Analysis: The second half of this claim is easy to check. According to Iowa Workforce Development, the state unemployment rate has been declining since early 2010 — following a spike in the nationwide jobless rate caused by the downturn in 2008 and 2009.

As of November, the state’s unemployment rate was sitting at 1.9 percent, the lowest the rate has been since 2000, according to data.

The first half of Reynolds’ claim, that Iowa wages are going up, requires explanation.

Data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Iowa’s median hourly wage for all occupations increased from $16.18 in May 2015 to $17.27 in May 2017.

So the median hourly rate in Iowa has been on the rise. However, a 2018 Iowa Wage Survey completed by nonprofit Iowa Policy Project and shared on the Iowa Workforce Development website argues working class families see the fewest rewards from economic growth.

The report notes Iowa’s median wage tracks below national and regional trends and, when accounting for inflation, wage growth between 1979 and 2017 is “essentially flat for all but the highest-wage workers.”

Conclusion: While the first part of this claim is accurate, stating simply that Iowans are seeing increased wages leaves out some pretty big facts, We give this claim a B.

Claim: “Since 2012, over 100 Greene County residents volunteered over 29,000 hours to raise funds, write grants and work on committees. They’ve transformed downtown Jefferson, attracting 14 businesses and rehabbing dozens of buildings.”

Analysis: Jefferson Matters: Main Street provides monthly reports to the state updating progress, which support Reynolds’ information, said Peg Raney, the Jefferson Main Street director. The most recent report shows 30,667 hours since 2012.

The report also shows 14 business starts, relocations or expansions since 2012. One business has been lost since July 2014, so the net gain is a bit less than stated.

The report shows 79 building projects and $4.2 million in private investment since 2012.

Conclusion: The information checks out, but the business attraction data is slightly misleading. This claim gets a B.

  Health care

Claim: “We passed legislation that gave Iowans affordable health care options.”

Analysis: Reynolds in April signed into law Senate File 2349, which allows alternative health benefit plans for Iowans who can’t afford independent insurance coverage. While these stripped-down plans are cheaper, not everyone thinks they’re a good option.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based research center considered left leaning with a focus on how budget choices affect low-income Americans, said these health plans still are too expensive for the bulk of farmers and farmworkers who don’t have insurance, and the plans don’t provide what most families need.

Conclusion: Reynolds’s claim would be more accurate if she said “more” affordable. We give her a B.

Claim: “We unanimously passed mental health reform.”

Analysis: House File 2456 passed unanimously in the Iowa House and Senate, with Reynolds signing March 29. The legislation aims to improve Iowa’s mental health system on several fronts.

The law created six new access centers for short-term care for Iowans in mental health crises as a lower-cost option to hospital psychiatric units, The Gazette reported. It also removed the cap on subacute beds, expanded the use of treatment teams that monitor and assist Iowans with chronic mental illness and attempted to improve communications between providers and law enforcement.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “I created a children’s mental health board last year.”

Analysis: Gov. Reynolds created this board in April with an executive order. According to previous Gazette reporting, the board released its strategic plan Nov. 15, and it’s now up to lawmakers to write legislation to enact a comprehensive children’s mental health system.

Conclusion: A

Justice reform

Claim: “Three years ago, we began to offer apprenticeship programs in our state prisons.”

Analysis: Iowa’s prison apprenticeship program began in 2015, when it was registered with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Cord Overton, communications director with the Iowa Department of Corrections, said Tuesday 162 Iowa offenders or ex-offenders had completed apprenticeship programs.

“We currently have 305 active apprenticeships across all our institutions,” Overton said, adding that the state offers 22 different programs.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “This year, let’s start the process of enshrining victim’s rights into the Iowa Constitution. Like 36 other states have done, let’s send victims a loud and clear message: We will protect you.”

Analysis: Lawmakers last year attempted to write victims’ rights into the constitution, but the move failed to move out of subcommittees.

The proposals were dubbed Marsy’s Law for Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. They would have put in the constitution a broad set of victims’ rights requiring victim notification of steps in the legal process, the opportunity to be present at those proceedings and the right to be heard by the court.

According to Ballotpedia, as of February, 30 state constitutions included Marsy’s Law. Another six were approved by voters in November.

Conclusion: A

Miscellaneous

Claim: “Even though an ‘all clear’ was issued by a paid weather service, Billy and his team kept everyone sheltered.”

Analysis: Billy Fox, Vermeer’s security manager, Tuesday told the Fact Checker about warnings that came before and during a July 19 tornado that hit the Vermeer manufacturing plant near Pella.

The “all clear” message mentioned by Reynolds came from a third-party vendor Vermeer hires to provide pinpointed weather warnings in addition to county emergency management and the National Weather Service, Fox said. The private company’s notification was not in sync with public emergency systems, he said.

Since Fox could see the tornado still was bearing down on the plant, he kept the building alarms sounding.

Conclusion: A

Claim: “Over a century ago, a town’s proximity to the railroad was key; over the last 100 years, our focus has been on highways and interstates. And, by the way, it’s that focus that finally gave us a completed four-lane Highway 20.”

Analysis: Sixty years in the making, Highway 20 was expanded to a four-lane expressway from Sioux City to Dubuque. The final phase was completed Oct. 17, 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Final erosion control projects are scheduled for 2019, but should have little to no impact to traffic, according to the Iowa DOT.

Conclusion: A

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Molly Duffy, Erin Jordan, B.A. Morelli and Mitchell Schmidt of The Gazette.

Doctors treat injured Clinton firefighter for pneumonia

The Clinton firefighter who survived a Jan. 5 explosion that killed a colleague remains in critical condition and now is being treated for pneumonia, too.

In their most recent update provided Monday, Clinton city officials said Adam Cain, 23, is doing better at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

He suffered serious injuries in a grain-silo explosion at the ADM plant in Clinton.

Fire Lt. Eric Hosette was killed and was laid to rest Saturday.

“Firefighter Adam Cain’s condition is still critical but a little more stable,” City Administrator Matt Brooke wrote in the email update. “Adam is not out of the woods by any means and now has pneumonia (which was expected) and has started on new antibiotics.

“The doctors believe they are seeing improvement in his lungs, as he continues to remain on a ventilator.

“Adam is unable to see any visitors at the time but would ask everyone to continue to keep him in your prayers and also his family.”

Cain’s family earlier also asked for prayers, saying the firefighter was “literally fighting for his life now.”

“The reason I am reaching out and sharing is because Adam needs help,” his father, Kevin Cain, wrote in a statement last Thursday. “I am begging each and every one of you to continue to pray, share what I have shared with you to everyone you know about Adam and ask they continue to pray also. My son needs them.”

Gov. Reynolds’ pitches start budget debate

DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is proposing a $7.6 billion state budget that puts new money into schools, mental health care and her signature workforce development program.

Reynolds released her proposal Tuesday for the state’s fiscal 2020 budget beginning July 1, the one legislators will be finalizing this session.

The proposal outlines her spending priorities, though House and Senate lawmakers will propose their own plans later.

Reynolds’ budget calls for $100 million more than the $7.5 billion spent in this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

She proposes a 2.3 percent increase in funding for K-12 public schools, a $93 million boost. If approved, it would be the largest school funding increase since fiscal 2015.

Reynolds also proposed $11 million to help rural school districts cope with higher student transportation costs and $3 million to train educators to help students with mental health issues.

“That’s an investment we can be proud of,” Reynolds said.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said a 2.3 percent increase in school funding still will leave many districts struggling. He proposed 3 or 4 percent instead.

“We’ve underfunded education dramatically in years past,” he said. “Let’s take this opportunity. Let’s fund our priorities. Let’s fund education.”

Republican legislators, on the other hand, may not be willing to go as high as Reynolds did.

Pat Grassley, chairman of the House budget committee, called the proposal “reasonable” and Senate President Charles Schneider said only that Senate Republicans will discuss funding levels in committee.

The state’s public universities are getting a funding boost: $7 million more each for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, and $4 million more for the University of Northern Iowa. That matches the request by the universities, which have said recent years of low state funding forced them to raise tuition.

Reynolds proposed $20 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $12 million the following year for Future Ready Iowa, the workforce program that aims to ensure 70 percent of Iowa workers have post-high school education or job training.

The new funding, if approved, would support scholarships and grants.

“This investment will take Iowa to the next level. And more important, it will give more Iowans an opportunity to find a rewarding career,” Reynolds told lawmakers.

As part of her focus on rural initiatives, Reynolds proposed $10 million each over the next two budget years to support the expansion of broadband internet access. She said that will help leverage $120 million more in private investment.

“A lot of conversation is about development in rural Iowa. That’s an issue that for too long both parties probably have not invested the time and effort that we should have,” Grassley said. “I took away that being one of her biggest priorities this year.”

Reynolds proposed $11 million over the next two budget years to help the state’s regional mental health care delivery systems offer expanded services. She also proposed giving the state’s 14 mental health care regions more time to spend down capital balances they have tallied and increase the level of spending that can be carried from one year to the next,

In addition, she budgeted for four more psychiatric residency positions at the UI for doctors who would practice in rural communities.

“There may still be more to do, so I’m asking everyone in this chamber to work with me to ensure that we have sustainable funding that will keep our mental health system strong,” Reynolds said.

Absent was a pitch for any new funding for water quality projects. She highlighted legislation passed in 2018 for improvement projects that included an estimated $270 million over 11 years, starting with $4 million in the current budget year and $8 million in the budget year starting July 1. That jumps to $27 million the following year.

“I would say the expectation of everyone is to make sure that we’re maintaining those commitments that we have made,” Grassley said. “That was a pretty big step for the Legislature to take last year and put a lot of effort into that. So seeing what those impacts are, what’s working and what maybe isn’t working like we expected.”

Reynolds’ budget proposal still would leave an ending balance of $185.5 million, according to estimates from the governor’s staff.

Democrats warn Iowa GOP Senate rule changes will shut out public

DES MOINES — Iowa Senate leadership says nothing will change despite committees adopting rules changes that eliminate requirements for a 24-hour notice of subcommittee meetings and that those meetings be public.

“The action today by Senate Republicans demonstrates that they don’t want to listen to Iowans anymore,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said Tuesday.

According to her, Republican leaders have signaled that most Senate committees will eliminate the requirement that subcommittee meetings be open to the public.

“These changes are a shameful, deliberate attempt by Senate Republicans to cut more backroom deals and to keep taxpayers in the dark about what they are doing,” she said.

However, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, denied the rules changes would remove the requirement for public subcommittee meetings, which are the public’s opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed legislation.

“I don’t believe that’s true at all,” Whitver said when told about Democratic complaints. “I don’t know where they’re getting that.”

Senate rules guide most activity by committees but allow each committee to add rules as the members — or the majority party — chooses.

The requirements for 24-hour notice and public subcommittee meetings were added in 2004 when the Senate was tied — 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans.

Regardless of the rule change, Whitver said the practice won’t change. The change, he said, allows committee chairmen more flexibility in scheduling meetings.

“If you get a bill assigned at 5 p.m. and you want to have a subcommittee at 4 p.m. the next day, do we really have to wait 24 hours?” he said.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said the danger in eliminating the 24-hour notice is that “you no longer have that norm written in rules.”

Lawmakers use that 24 hours to notify people of subcommittee meetings, he said.

“In 2017, when a death penalty bill showed up, that gave us a little bit of time to alert people who we knew were concerned about the issue so they could participate,” Hogg said.

“The danger there is you shut people out, and when you start to shut people out, that undermines people’s confidence in our form of government and our democracy,” Hogg said. “That’s really bad. Especially right now when people are feeling there are lots of attacks on our democratic norms.”

The Iowa House requires a day’s notice for subcommittee meetings, as long as midnight comes between the notice and the meeting. That will not change, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said.

“We’ve got a job to do, and we try to do it as effectively and transparently as we can,” she said. “If people want to show for the subcommittee meetings, certainly they can. We do public hearings.

“We are the people’s house, and we will continue to be the people’s House,” Upmeyer said.

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

Kirsten Gillibrand to enter presidential race featuring record number of women

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a central figure in the Democratic Party’s debate about the MeToo movement, is preparing to join a 2020 presidential primary contest that features a record number of women in the wake of the midterm election tidal wave of female candidates.

Gillibrand, 52, is expected to announce formation of a presidential exploratory committee on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday night, in advance of a weekend trip to Iowa, where the first 2020 Democratic contest will be held.

She will join a rapidly growing field that for the first time will offer Democrats a wide choice among female candidates. Hillary Clinton in 2016 faced an all-male Democratic field before she became the first woman to win a major party nomination. Disappointment over her upset loss to Donald Trump and continuing debate over why she failed is already shadowing the efforts of women who now follow.

The 2020 lineup already includes Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who were among the first to take formal steps to enter the race. Sen. Kamala Harris of California has just completed a book tour and is expected to make a formal announcement this month. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is also considering a run and said in a television interview Tuesday that her family supports the idea of her running.

The only time more than one Democratic woman ran in the presidential primaries was in 1972, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That year, Reps. Shirley Chisholm of New York and Patsy Mink of Hawaii both ran, although, unlike this year, neither was considered among the top tier of candidates.

Gillibrand is expected to open her campaign headquarters in Troy, N.Y., a city near Albany that was part of her congressional district when she served in the House from 2007 to 2009.

Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate in 2009 after Clinton left to become secretary of state in the Obama administration. In the Senate, she has staked out a more liberal profile than she had in the House, when she represented a district that is more Republican and rural than the state as a whole and took more conservative positions on immigration and gun rights, among other issues.

In the Senate, she has been an advocate for gay rights, helping push for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She spearheaded legislation combating sexual assault in the military. Her political action committee, called Off the Sidelines, focuses on helping female candidates, and she raised $7.1 million for them in the 2018 midterms.

Among 2020 candidates, Gillibrand is likely to lean the hardest into her record as an advocate for women.

Her record on issues of particular concern to women, however, has not been without controversy within the Democratic Party. In 2017, in the early, stormy days of the MeToo movement, she was the first senator to call for Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to resign after multiple accounts of sexual misconduct.

Gillibrand was applauded by many women, but other Democrats allied with Franken viewed her statements as a rush to judgment and hold a grudge against her for leading the charge.

Also in 2017, Gillibrand stirred an uncomfortable debate among women and many fellow Democrats by saying in an interview that former President Bill Clinton should have stepped down after his relationship with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky was revealed. Her remark came at a time Republicans were grappling with sexual assault allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as well as longstanding allegations about Trump.

Many Clinton loyalists viewed Gillibrand’s comments as a betrayal.

Philippe Reines, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, upbraided Gillibrand on Twitter. “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite,” he wrote on Twitter. “Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”

Gillibrand has been a leading Trump critic and endeared herself to the anti-Trump resistance by being the Senate Democrat who voted most consistently against the president’s nominees. She was the only senator to vote against James Mattis’ nomination to be defense secretary, which was approved 99-1.

Nike’s new sneaker requires recharging

Nike has found a new way to capture more information about its customers — through their sneakers.

At an event Tuesday called the “Future of Footwear,” Nike unveiled a new shoe concept, called Nike Adapt, that tracks performance in real time, allowing the company to give weekend warriors athletic tips and also sell them more products.

“It’s the start of a new day,” said Michael Donaghu, Nike’s director of global footwear innovation. “It’s like we’re moving from footwear to firmwear.”

The shoes, with their data-tracking capability, present customers with a choice about privacy — if they opt not to share their data, they’ll miss out on a lot of the product’s capabilities. The company is starting with basketball shoes, which will sell for $350.

The shoe self-tightens to an athlete’s preference — there are no laces — and is adjustable via an app.

The products carry sensors, accelerometers and gyroscopes that can give Nike a full, personalized snapshot of its owner’s performance.

They’ll need recharging every two weeks.

“It’s like having two smartphones strapped to your two feet,” said Michael Martin, Nike’s global head of digital products.

CEO Mark Parker discussed the new shoes in vague terms in December, calling it a “major step” in taking Nike’s new digital emphasis and embedding it into actual product.

Though Nike has seen rapid growth in apparel sales, shoes still accounted for 61 percent of the company’s $36.4 billion in revenue last fiscal year.

Walgreens, Microsoft to develop digital health services

Drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft said on Tuesday they have entered a seven-year agreement to research and develop new methods of delivering health care services through digital devices.

As a part of the deal, the companies will focus on virtually connecting people with Walgreens stores and provide services on therapeutic areas ranging from preventive self-care to chronic disease management.

Early last year, Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase said they will form a company that eventually could negotiate directly with drugmakers and health care providers and use their vast databases to get a better handle on costs.

Walgreens and Microsoft also will develop health care solutions to reduce emergency room visits and decrease hospital readmissions while lowering the cost of care, the companies said.

The drugstore chain said it will pilot up to 12 stores, which will sell select health care-related devices, in 2019.

Microsoft will become Walgreens’ cloud provider through the agreement and the Microsoft 365 software will be rolled out to more than 380,000 Walgreens employees and stores globally.

Hedge fund said to sweeten Sears bid

Eddie Lampert presented a new bid for Sears on Tuesday that included some concessions as talks to save the bankrupt retailer from liquidation continue, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

The new offer includes terms that are more favorable to the department store chain and its creditors, including more cash, said the people, who asked not to be named as the negotiations are confidential.

The overall value of Lampert’s offer still is pegged at more than $5 billion, one of the people said.

Parties involved in the talks are evaluating the revised proposal and there are no assurances that a deal to keep Sears in business will be reached, the people said.

The talks are part of an auction for Sears Holdings Corp. that has now stretched in to its second day, after more than 12 hours of discussions on Monday.

A representative for ESL Investments, the hedge fund run by Sears Chairman Lampert that made the offer, didn’t provide comment. A representative for Sears declined to comment.

Sears is scheduled to file a notice of the auction results with the bankruptcy court on Jan. 16.

The bankruptcy auction for the retailer’s assets is taking place in New York City.

Participants have been hesitant to accept Lampert’s previous offer, but are focused more on his proposal rather than bids from liquidators, people with knowledge of the process said Monday.

Monday’s talks were stalled by disagreements including over ESL’s request for release from certain claims, which would insulate Lampert from lawsuits over its previous turnaround deals, said the people.

The committee of unsecured creditors, the lowest-ranked creditors in the case, said they could sue Lampert for millions of dollars over deals he made during his time as chief executive of the company.

Lampert repeatedly has pointed to the number of jobs at stake in seeking support for his plan, making some lenders wary of being blamed for the collapse of the iconic chain if they refuse to provide funds.

Netflix raises prices again

Netflix is kicking off 2019 with higher subscription prices for its U.S. customers, with the most popular plan rising to $12.99 a month from $10.99.

The streaming service is hiking prices 13 percent to 18 percent across all three of its subscription tiers. The price of the most expensive plan, which offers Ultra HD picture, is rising to $15.99 a month from $13.99.

The least expensive plan will now cost $8.99 a month, up from $7.99.

Netflix said Tuesday the changes would be applied to all new members immediately and to all existing members over the next few months.

The Los Gatos, Calif., company reported that it had 58 million U.S. subscribers as of the end of the third quarter in September.

Netflix says existing members will be notified by email and within the Netflix app 30 days before the new prices are applied to them.

This marks the fourth time the company has raised its subscription prices. The last time was in October 2017, but at that time the price of its least expensive subscription was unchanged.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience for the benefit of our members,” a company spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

For Netflix, the price increase will bring in more cash as the streaming giant continues to spend heavily on content. Last year, the company was expected to spend as much as $15 billion on original and licensed shows and movies.

Cedar Rapids man charged with selling guns to felon

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man, accused of trying to hire a “hit man” to kill a University of Iowa professor and another man, was charged Tuesday in federal court with selling firearms to a felon.

Steven Arce, 35, was charged in U.S. District Court with two counts of knowingly transferring or selling a firearm to a prohibited person. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years on each charge and a fine of up to $250,000.

During the investigation, authorities made contact with a confidential informant who said Arce, known as “Cuban,” on Dec. 21 in Waterloo had several firearms at a house on Ninth Street and offered to sell the informant, a felon, an AR-15 and rifle, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Surveillance units later were set up, and investigators arranged for the informant, who was wearing a recording device, to buy the assault rifle for $1,000.

During the meeting, the informant and Arce talked about defacing serial numbers, and Arce discussed hiring the informant to kill a UI medical professor with the initials “C.C.” in the urology department.

Investigators later spoke with a detective from the UI Police Department. They reported having a call earlier in December from the Carver College of Medicine where Arce was suspected of being suicidal, according to the affidavit. 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 met again with Arce in Waterloo and bought a Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun for $550, according to the affidavit.

The informant was given instructions to tell Arce he could meet a hit man the next day to discuss killing C.C.

The hit man was an undercover special agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, the affidavit shows.

The next day the informant mentioned the hit man, but Arce asked if they could delay that for two weeks because Arce had an appeal hearing with the university and wanted to wait until it was over, according to court documents.

Arce then asked the informant if the hit man could intimidate C.C. He wanted someone to give the professor a “beating” to coerce C.C. into letting Arce back into medical school, court documents show.

During this meeting, Arce told the informant he had two fully automatic weapons he would put together by the end of the week, according to court documents. Arce said he had an Uzi he needed to put together and that he could sell him some “fake heroin” and a drug to treat erectile dysfunction.

On Jan. 3, the informant and undercover hit man met with Arce in Waterloo, and Arce said he wanted his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, “S.C.,” to be killed, according to the affidavit.

Arce explained he also might want the professor killed but that would be at a later time.

Arce told the informant he also makes homemade gun suppressors, and he agreed to pay the hit man up front with an automatic rifle and another one after he killed the ex-boyfriend. He didn’t care how the man was killed and told the hit man he could torture S.C. if he wanted.

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

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