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Six University of Iowa fraternities appeal alcohol sanctions

IOWA CITY — About half the 11 University of Iowa fraternities sanctioned last month following a campus investigation into alcohol and hazing violations have appealed, UI officials told The Gazette on Tuesday.

The group of reprimanded fraternities — including four that were stripped of their campus recognition and student organization benefits — had until Friday to fight the decisions. All three of the chapters deregistered for alcohol violations appealed.

Kappa Sigma’s Beta-Rho chapter at Iowa — the fourth deregistered fraternity, but the only one punished for hazing violations — did not appeal.

Another three of the fraternities investigated for alcohol violations and placed on probation — a less-severe admonishment that serves as a sort of warning — also appealed.

Five of the six appellants submitted the necessary paperwork Friday — the deadline. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon colony, which was in the process of re-establishing itself after being ousted six years ago, appealed the day before on Thursday.

The university’s student discipline appeals process gives the UI Dean of Students 10 days from the date of appeal to decide whether to affirm the original decision, reverse it, or remand it back with instructions for further investigation, according to UI policy. Grounds for appeal include allegations the decision was unsupported by substantial evidence; it was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, or constituted an abuse of discretion; the sanction was unreasonably harsh or lenient; the university didn’t follow proper procedures; or new evidence became available.

The university didn’t immediately provide The Gazette with the written appeals or reasons the fraternities gave for appealing.

The three fraternities fighting deregistration include the Sigma Alpha Epsilon colony, Delta Chi, and Sigma Nu. Fraternities appealing their probationary status are Pi Kappa Alpha, Pi Kappa Phi, and Beta Theta Pi.

A student organization on probation is considered not to be in good standing, and if that group or its representatives violate any institutional regulations during the probationary period, the university can institute more severe sanctions.

The university temporarily suspended about a dozen fraternities in the fall based on administrative suspicions of “blatant and systemic failure” to halt prohibited events with alcohol — a directive Greek chapters received from their leadership more than a year earlier after a freshman died from drug- and alcohol-related causes during an out-of-town fraternity formal in April 2017.

Kappa Sigma was added to the suspended list later following allegations it hazed pledges by, among other things, forcing them to binge drink, participate in a violent ritual called “the gauntlet,” and endure abuse, including having hot sauce sprayed in their eyes.

UI administrators announced the results of their investigation into the alcohol and hazing violations — and the resulting sanctions — on Dec. 13, the day after the Kappa Sigma International Fraternity voted to revoke the charter of the UI chapter.

Two of the originally-suspended fraternities were not sanctioned in the end, as the university failed to find a preponderance of evidence they committed violations.

The UI deregistrations affected a total 430 students. Should the UI Dean of Students uphold the removal of those fraternities from campus, they must stay away for at least four years. After that time, they can ask to be recognized again.

Members of the affected fraternities have not responded to outreach from The Gazette. In handing out the suspensions, though, the university warned members that in some situations “speaking about an investigation or finding, or about the parties involved, can lead to a counter or subsequent complaint of harassment or retaliation.”

“University policy prohibits retaliation against individuals who file complaints and against those who participate in complaint investigations,” according to a UI notice of suspension.

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

Marion man accused of robbing smoke shop at gunpoint

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Marion man is accused of robbing a Cedar Rapids smoke shop at gunpoint last month.

According to a criminal complaint, Blake A. Corporon, 18, was seen on video surveillance Dec. 3 entering Iowa Smoke Shop on Kirkwood Court SW. Authorities said he pointed a handgun at the clerk and took money.

Corporon faces a charge of first-degree robbery, a Class B felony.

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

U.S. House, including Steve King, votes to condemn his racist statements

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to pass a resolution disapproving statements made by Representative Steve King that were roundly criticized as racist, and King himself voted in favor of it.

King, a Republican who represents a conservative district in Iowa, gave a media interview earlier this month in which he questioned why “white supremacy” is considered offensive.

The measure, which passed 424 to 1, stopped short of a formal censure. The resolution instead quoted King’s remarks and then condemned racism in general.

King himself voted in favor of the resolution, which referred to his remarks, because he said his comments were taken out of context and he too condemns white supremacy and racism.

“The words are likely what I said, but I want to read them to you the way that I likely said it,” King said, who then read them aloud. “There are 13 words that caused this fire storm, but I regret that we’re in this place.”

House Democratic leaders did not rule out holding a censure vote at a later date. Only Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, voted against the measure, and he had called for a formal censure vote to be taken instead.

Republicans and Democrats took to the floor to condemn King.

“Racial division is a fault line that is ripping our nation apart,” said Representative Jim Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in the U.S. House who sponsored the resolution of disapproval. “This body must speak out.”

Republicans moved on Monday to strip King of his committee assignments in response to his comments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on King to resign.

Lynne Cheney, the third most powerful House Republican, echoed McConnell, saying King “should find another line of work.”

King, who has a history of making statements that critics have condemned as racist, said in a statement that his comments in The New York Times interview were “completely mischaracterized” and the committee’s decision was “a political decision that ignores the truth.”

King was first elected to Congress in 2002 and won re-election in November with just over 50 percent of the vote, sharply lower than the 61.2 percent he polled in 2016.

Republican Randy Feenstra, a state lawmaker in Iowa, has already announced his intention to wage a primary campaign against King. (Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

First University of Iowa provost finalist a Hawkeye alum

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa graduate who earned his doctorate in Iowa City in the late 1980s and today serves as executive vice provost at the University of Pittsburgh will visit Iowa this week as the first UI finalist to succeed long-departed former Executive Vice President and Provost Barry Butler.

David N. DeJong, one of four finalists for the provost position who will visit campus in the coming weeks, will meet with administrators and participate in a public forum from 3:30 to 4:30 Wednesday in the Iowa Memorial Union.

He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Iowa in 1989, after first earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Central College in Iowa in 1985. His earliest work in academia was as a residence and teaching assistant in the UI Department of Economics, according to his curriculum vitae.

DeJong landed a job as assistant professor in the economics department at the University of Pittsburgh in 1989, but returned to UI as a visiting associate professor in 1994. He worked his way through the ranks at Pittsburgh over the years, and took on his first administrative role in 2006 as chair of the Department of Economics.

He became vice provost for academic planning and resources management at Pittsburgh in 2010 and then executive vice provost in 2015. Over the years he also served as a visiting professor for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, DiTella University in Buenos Aires, and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Kiel, Germany.

As executive vice provost, according to his Pittsburgh bio, DeJong is responsible for coordinating academic planning and allocating resources, which includes managing budgets, space, and capital projects related to academic and student life activities.

His current position also entails oversight of academic issues involving student athletes.

DeJong serves on various committees, including those dedicated to athletics certification, facilities, and budgeting.

Other UI provost finalist forums are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28; Thursday, Jan. 31; and Thursday, Feb. 7. The names of each finalists will be made public 24 hours before his or her arrival on campus, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication. Public forums will be recorded and posted online within 48 hours.

The UI provost position has been open for nearly two years, after Butler left in March 2017 to become president at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Former College of Public Health Dean Sue Curry has been serving as interim executive vice president and provost since April 2017, when UI President Bruce Harreld announced plans to slow the hiring process to allow time to restructure the provost role.

A UI committee in April 2018 convened to launch the search, hiring search firm Isaacson, Miller to help facilitate at an estimated fee of about $133,333. Through August, the university had paid the firm $153,603 — including expenses.

Harreld will make the final hiring decision, after all the finalists wrap their campus visits.

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

Grassley: U.S. trade chief saw no progress on key issues in China talks

WASHINGTON — United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer did not see any progress made on structural issues during U.S. talks with China last week, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said on Tuesday as plans emerged for higher-level discussions at the end of January.

Grassley, who held a meeting with Lighthizer on Friday, said the top trade negotiator commented positively on China’s soybean purchases, which resumed in modest amounts last month after Washington and Beijing agreed to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods.

“But he (Lighthizer) said that there hasn’t been any progress made on structural changes that need to be made,” Grassley said in his weekly conference call with reporters, adding that those issues would include intellectual property, stealing trade secrets and putting pressure on corporations to share information.

The meeting came after mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing to discuss China’s offers to address U.S. complaints about intellectual property theft and increase purchases of U.S. goods and services. The two sides are trying to reach a deal that averts a scheduled March 2 escalation of U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Grassley said Chinese officials were due to visit Washington for further trade talks in a couple of weeks. “From my point of view ... the economy of China is suffering ... there is a chance for progress,” he said.

A person familiar with the Trump administration’s planning for the negotiations said that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He has accepted an invitation to come to Washington for talks with Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Jan. 30 and 31, just ahead of Chinese New Year on Feb. 5.

A USTR spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Grassley’s remarks to reporters or on specific dates for the next round of U.S.-China talks. The Senate Finance Committee chairman’s comments briefly tempered U.S. stock market sentiment.

USTR on Monday said operations including trade negotiations will continue despite a partial government shutdown now into its fourth week.

Halfway through a 90-day truce in the U.S.-China trade war agreed to on Dec. 1 when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Argentina, there have been few details provided of any progress made.

But China has purchased around 5 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans from the 2018 harvest so far. China in 2017 had booked more than 23 million tonnes of U.S. soy, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

China last week during the talks also approved five genetically modified U.S. crops for import, a move that could boost U.S. grain sales to China.

Trump has vowed to increase tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports on March 2 unless China takes steps to protect U.S. intellectual property, end policies that force American companies to turn over technology to a Chinese partner, allow more market access for U.S. businesses and reduce other non-tariff barriers to American products.

The timeline is seen as ambitious, but the resumption of face-to-face negotiations has bolstered hopes of a deal.

China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfers. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk Additional reporting by David Lawder Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Susan Thomas)

U.S. attorney general nominee won’t target law-abiding marijuana businesses

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday he disagreed with a decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse a policy that eased federal enforcement of marijuana laws, saying it sowed confusion in the marketplace and harmed businesses that had invested money.

“My approach to this would be to not upset settled expectations,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee in his confirmation hearing, adding that if confirmed, he will “not go after companies” that had relied on the old Obama-era guidance that Sessions later rescinded.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

McDonald’s loses ‘Big Mac’ trademark case to Irish chain Supermac’s

(Reuters) - McDonald’s Corp’s has lost its rights to the trademark “Big Mac” in a European Union case ruling in favor of Ireland-based fast food chain Supermac’s, a decision from the EU’s Spain-based Intellectual Property office (EUIPO) showed.

The judgment revoked McDonald’s registration of the trademark, saying that the fast food chain had not proven genuine use of it over the five years prior to the case being lodged in 2017.

(Reporting by Soundarya J in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham)

Police warn of utility bill scam

Officials with the Cedar Rapids Police Department are warning area residents of a scam claiming to seek electricity payments.

In an email from the Cedar Rapids department, officials said they had been notified by an Alliant Energy representative that someone has been calling area residences claiming to be with the utility. The caller claims the individual has an outstanding bill and will shut off power to the residence unless it is paid.

The scammer then provides a 1-800 number and, upon calling, a recipient claims to be an Alliant Energy employee, the email states.

Alliant Energy officials advise customers this is a sam and they should not provide personal information or complete any money transaction over the phone.

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

Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust promotes James Klein to president

Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust announced some changes at the top.

James Klein has been named president, effective Tuesday, and CEO Larry Helling assumes chief executive duties of CRBT’s parent company, QCR Holdings.

Helling has been CRBT president and CEO since co-founding the bank in 2001. He will remain CEO of the bank and will add his QCR Holdings responsibilities effective May 23.

Klein, a 14-year veteran with CRBT, most recently had been executive vice president and chief lending officer of commercial banking. As president, he takes over daily operational duties as he also focuses on business development goals, the bank said in a statement Tuesday.

In other leadership changes, John Hall, chief financial officer for Hawkeye Hotels, will become executive vice president and chief lending officer as of Jan. 28.

The bank reported about $1.35 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, 2018.

Governor recommends fulfilling public universities funding ask

For the first time in a couple challenging years scarred by midyear funding cuts, de-appropriations, and below-par appropriations, Iowa’s governor is recommending the state’s public universities receive all the money they’re requesting for the next budget year.

The Board of Regents earlier this fall requested an $18 million bump in general education support for University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. The schools proposed splitting the total $7 million both to UI and ISU and $4 million to UNI.

All three vowed to use the funds — if allocated — for student financial aid.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday unveiled a budget proposal that boosted general education support for each of those universities by the exact amount they requested — bucking a trend of lesser support or even disinvestment that has plagued the board in recent years.

“We are extremely pleased that the governor has recommended fully funding our universities’ general operating request of $18 million,” Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement. “With this level of funding, our universities can continue to provide the accessible, top-quality education that Iowa students deserve.”

Should lawmakers, who must come up with their own budget proposal, take Reynolds’ recommendation, regents have vowed to keep next year’s tuition increases for resident undergraduates to 3 percent. If the state rejects Reynolds’ recommendation and falls short of the board’s requested bump, the universities have said they’ll hike tuition further to make up the difference they say is needed to achieve their strategic goals — including decreasing student debt and increasing enrollment among first-generation and minority students.

“The State of Iowa has no financial aid funding designated solely for students attending Iowa’s public universities,” according to the board’s funding request in September. “When comparing states by the percent of need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions, Iowa is last in the country.”

Regardless of state support, UI and ISU administrators have advocated for the need to increase tuition — which, at least for resident undergraduate students, was frozen for several years. Now, considering the universities charge far less than their peers and have suffered recent cuts, they have a dire revenue need and plenty of rate-hike space before losing their competitive edge.

UNI, on the other hand, is hoping to keep its costs down, as it already charges on par with peers and needs to maintain an advantage. Because most of its students come from within Iowa, meaning they pay less in tuition, state aid is even more paramount in the school’s success.

“The conversation about differential tuition rates for UNI, to make it more competitive, that makes a lot of sense,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, recently told The Gazette. “It’s about making sure these institutions are great and have great people at them.”

Before an $8.3 million appropriations bump for the current budget year that began July 1, the regents had lost more than $40 million in state support since the start of the 2017 budget year.

The board also annually requests new money for special programs and projects, and Reynolds recommended fulfilling many of those requests for next year as well — although not all of them or to the degree the regents hoped.

For example, the ISU-housed Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory — which processes more than 80,000 cases from livestock and poultry producers and pet owners across the state and nation — received $4.1 million in state support this year and asked for a bump to $4.5 million next year.

Reynolds suggested keeping the lab at $4.1 million, although she did include in her proposal $12.5 million toward a new 80,000-some-square-foot lab in each of the next five years — in addition to the $1 million granted that project in the current year.

That brings the state’s commitment to the project to $63.5 million, with the balance of the $75 million total coming from private gifts and university funds. The project original was slated to be bigger — costing $124 million for a 150,000-square-foot stand-alone lab.

But the Legislature’s lesser commitment prompted Iowa State to scale it down.

As for other parts of the Board of Regents’ budget request, Reynolds is recommending status quo funding for the board office — per the regents’ request — and status quo funding for Iowa Public Radio, which the regents oversee, even though the program asked for an increase.

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

Cedar Rapids man convicted of sexually abusing a child

CEDAR RAPIDS — A 43-year-old Cedar Rapids man was convicted by a Linn County jury last week for sexually abusing a child for over two years. 

A jury, following a four day trial, found Wayne P. Gibson guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and third-degree sexual abuse. The jury deliberated about four hours last Friday.

Gibson faces up to 35 years in prison on both charges. Sentencing is set for April 17 in Linn County District Court.

Trial testimony shows Gibson started sexually abusing the girl, now 13, when she was under the age of 12 in January 2016 and then continued through April 11, 2018.

The child was placed with a guardian when the abuse happened. Her father had died from a heroin overdose and her mother was a drug addict, according to testimony.

The girl’s older sister noticed something was wrong with her and the girl told her sister about the abuse, according to testimony.         

Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter said during the investigation a search warrant was obtained for Gibson’s phone records and his text messages to the victim revealed he discussed the sexual abuse in graphic details. There were also texts from the victim, saying she would tell on him, but Gibson, in threatening her, said she would be sent to a mental hospital where they would give her medications and he would be killed.   

Slaughter, during the trial, also played for the jury some jail calls that Gibson made to the victim’s guardian, asking her to not show up for depositions or trial, and to have the victim write a letter recanting the statements about sexual abuse.

Both the guardian and victim testified at trial, Slaughter said.

Slaughter will ask the judge to run both sentences consecutively for 35 years. Gibson would have to serve 70 percent of each sentence before being eligible for parole.     

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

Even if the shutdown ends today, the IRS may not issue you a timely tax refund

WASHINGTON — This already was going to be a challenging year to fill out your federal tax returns after major tax-law changes took effect in 2018.

Then the political dispute over the U.S.-Mexico border wall sent most Internal Revenue Service workers home last month.

Now, with the government partially shut down as tax-filing season approaches Jan. 28, there’s growing concern about whether a skeletal staff of IRS employees can handle the workload.

The Trump administration plans to call more IRS employees back to work — without pay — to process tax refunds.

But even if the shutdown ends soon, the damage to this tax season might already have taken place because of less training time for IRS employees, difficulty hiring seasonal workers to help process returns and a slowdown in getting crucial IRS guidance to tax preparers.

“It’s the biggest tax reform change in 30 years. There are going to be many, many millions more questions that are asked. You’ve got a shutdown. You’ve got fewer employees,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers.

“To me, that is all a big brew that spells potential trouble,” he said.

The IRS has difficulties processing the roughly 150 million annual individual tax returns already as the agency has been by hit by staff reductions and political controversy in recent years.

On last year’s filing deadline, there was a partial failure of the IRS electronic system that enables Americans to submit their returns online. The problem kept millions of Americans from meeting the midnight deadline and led the IRS to grant a penalty-free, one-day extension.

“Filing season is busy and compressed and challenging for everyone on a normal basis,” said Edward Karl, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs. “This will be particularly challenging year.”

The IRS is among about a quarter of federal agencies whose funding lapsed on Dec. 22 after President Trump and congressional Democrats couldn’t agree on appropriations because of Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund the border wall. Trump had promised repeatedly during his presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

About 70,000 IRS employees — roughly 88 percent of the workforce — have been furloughed, according to the IRS’ shutdown contingency plan. Issuing tax refunds is not among the agency tasks that would be allowed during a shutdown, which are limited by law to activities that are “necessary for the safety of human life or protection of government property,” the Nov. 29 contingency report said.

But an outcry about the effects of delaying issuing tax refunds led the Trump administration to declare last week it was changing course. The Office of Management and Budget cited a law that it said created a permanent appropriations for the payment of tax refunds, and the IRS announced it “will be recalling a significant portion of its workforce” to come back to work.

“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said last week.

But, so far, no IRS employees have been called back to work, Reardon said.

To process refunds, Reardon said the IRS would need to recall about half of its furloughed employees. They’d be required to work without pay until the shutdown ends.

“People are not happy, as you might imagine, about potentially going back to work without being paid,” he said. While being furloughed is difficult enough, going back to work requires spending money on work-related expenses while getting no paycheck.

“What does it take to get to work: fuel, child care?” he said. “All of these things cost money — money that you might not have.”

The union filed a lawsuit last week saying that forcing federal employees to work without pay violates the Constitution and that the Trump administration is using a too-broad definition of essential government services that requires working without pay.

Reardon said he understands why some of his union members who work for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency are deemed essential employees despite the shutdown. But processing tax refunds “in no way is protecting life and property,” he said.

The IRS will begin accepting tax returns on Jan. 28. Last year, the filing window opened on Jan. 29. By Feb. 3, about 18.3 million returns were submitted and most of those were processed. The IRS issued 6.2 million refunds in that first week.

Overall, the IRS issued about 112 million refunds in 2017. The average refund was $2,895, according to the IRS.

People expecting refunds tend to file early, while those who have to pay taxes usually wait until closer to the April deadline.

Handling tax filing season “is always job one,” for the IRS, said Mark W. Everson, who headed the agency from 2000-07.

“It is always a challenge,” he said. “You start out with an agency that is already wounded from the recent years of low funding. It doesn’t have adequate people resources or system resources.”

This year, the IRS must deal with the major changes from the Republican tax reform legislation enacted in late 2017, which requires additional training and analysis, said Everson, who now works as vice chairman of specialty tax services firm Alliantgroup.

While the tax law simplified tax filing for “millions of people,” there also were many changes to rules for deductions and on business income, he said.

“For those who continue to itemize and who are business owners, it didn’t simplify things at all. It probably made things more complicated for most,” Everson said.

Netflix Hikes Price of U.S. Streaming Service: Standard Plan Jumps to $13 per Month

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Netflix is flexing its pricing-power muscle to kick off 2019 -- hiking fees for all streaming-video plans for customers in the U.S.

Netflix’s most popular plan, the Standard tier that offers two HD streams, is increasing 18%, from $10.99 to $12.99 per month. The Premium plan, which provides up to four Ultra HD streams, is increasing from $13.99 to $15.99 per month (up 14.3%). In addition, the company for the first time is hiking its Basic plan, which offers a single non-HD stream, from $7.99 to $8.99 per month (+12.5%).

The new prices, which are the biggest fee hikes in Netflix’s history, will apply to all new Netflix subscribers in the U.S. immediately. Existing subscribers will be moved to the new pricing plans “over the next few months,” according to the company. Netflix’s price increases also will extend to about 40 countries in Latin America where it bills in U.S. dollars, including Uruguay, Barbados, and Belize. However, the rate hikes will not take effect (for now) in the region’s biggest markets, Mexico and Brazil.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

Netflix shares rose up as much as 6.8% in morning trading Tuesday on news of the price increases, with investors bullish on the evidence of its growing market clout.

The company is looking to boost top-line revenue to offset its ballooning content costs, which were projected to hit $13 billion on a gross basis in 2018. To fund its content-spending binge, Netflix has raised billions in new debt: It reported $8.34 billion in long-term debt as of Sept. 30, up from $6.50 billion at the end of 2017. It’s also continuing to burn cash, and most recently projected negative cash flow of more than $3 billion for 2018 (versus negative free cash flow of $2 billion a year prior).

Netflix last raised rates in the fourth quarter of 2017 -- two years after its previous hike -- and faced minimal cancellations. It remains to be seen how the new price increases affect subscriber growth heading into 2019. Netflix is scheduled to report Q4 2018 results on Thursday, Jan. 17.

According to Netflix, existing members will be notified by email and within the Netflix app 30 days before the new prices are applied to their accounts. The exact timing will depend on a specific member’s billing cycle.

Netflix had 58.4 million U.S. customers as of the end the third quarter of 2018, with a worldwide total of 137.1 million streaming members.

Wall Street analysts have believed Netflix has demonstrable leeway to safely raise fees without the risk of significant backlash. Greg Peters, the company’s chief product officer, said on Netflix’s quarterly investor interview last October that “we earn the right to increase price a bit” if the company keeps delivering on customer expectations.

“[W]e earn the right to increase price a bit and then we take that new revenue, invested back into the model and that sort of continuous positive cycle we get to keep going, and we foresee that that will keep going for many years in the future,” Peters said.

The boost in revenue from the price increases could help “ease concerns” for investors about Netflix’s growing free-cash-flow deficit, CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi wrote in a research note reiterating a “buy” rating on the stock. “We anticipate a relatively seamless implementation of the latest price hike, given [Netflix’s] significantly expanded content offerings relative to its competitors’ pricing,” he wrote.

At $12.99 per month, Netflix’s Standard plan will be more than Hulu’s ad-free option (currently $11.99) and Showtime’s streaming service ($10.99) but still less than HBO Now ($14.99). More competition is looming: Later this year, Disney plans to bow the “Disney+” service and WarnerMedia is plotting a movie-driven subscription streaming offering, but pricing for those hasn’t been announced.

Reynolds: Time is now for Iowa to build on accomplishments

DES MOINES — After the Iowa Legislature made back-to-back midyear budget cuts, Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed Tuesday to loosen the purse strings a little with investments in education, mental health care and workforce development.

In her second Condition of the State speech, the Osceola Republican proposed a 2.3 percent increase — $93 million — in state aid to K-12 schools; $20 million to implement the Future Ready Iowa workforce program; a $20 million two-year commitment to building broadband infrastructure; $11 million over two years for mental health care; and doubling rural workforce housing tax credits to $10 million.

“Because of our people and the power of their ingenuity, Iowa is soaring,” she told a joint session of the Senate and House, adding, “The condition of the state is strong.”

In her prepared remarks, Reynolds called for building on the “significant accomplishments” of 2018, “to finish what we started.”

“The time is now to cement Iowa’s status as the best state in the nation,” she said. “The time is now to deliver on the promises we’ve made to Iowans looking for a way up.”

That starts with Future Ready Iowa, which unanimously was approved by lawmakers last year.

“The time is now to invest in Iowans and their future,” she said about the program to identify high-demand jobs like electricians and computer programmers and train Iowans to fill them.

The path to a rewarding career starts early, the governor said, praising innovative teachers and a variety of programs in Iowa K-12 schools — urban and rural, small and large.

“The workforce is continually impacted by innovation and globalization (and) we need an education system that adapts to those changes,” she said.

In addition to the $93 million increase in per-pupil spending, Reynolds asked for $11.2 million for school districts with disproportionate transportation costs and $1 million in funding for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math programs.

That will raise the state’s investment in K-12 education to $3.4 billion or more than 40 percent of the state’s annual general fund budget.

There was no mention in her remarks of funding for regents’ universities or community colleges that took budget cuts last year. Neither did Reynolds mention Medicaid, the other large budget driver, other than to say she had made changes “to ensure that our Medicaid program is sustainable and focused on patient outcomes.”

Reynolds made no mention of expanding gun rights and her only references to tax cuts and abortion restrictions — typical Republican priorities — was in a list of 2018 accomplishments.

The governor called for a pair of constitutional amendments — one to help felons regain their voting rights and the other to protect the rights of crime victims.

“Our constitution takes away the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony,” Reynolds said. She said she has granted clemency 88 times to restore voting rights. “But I don’t believe that voting rights should be forever stripped, and I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person.

“I believe Iowans recognize the power of redemption,” she said. “Let’s put this issue in their hands.”

However, in the focus on “second chances and forgiveness,” the governor said, victims’ rights should not be forgotten.

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

Reynolds also continued her push for rural development. After creating the Empower Rural Iowa initiative last year, she called for funding to accelerate expansion of broadband infrastructure and leverage an additional $120 million in private investment for high-speed internet relied on by businesses, schools, hospitals and even farm machinery.

She also announced the creation of a Center for Rural Revitalization within the Economic Development Authority to “give our Main Streets a road map for success.” One step would be doubling the amount of workforce housing tax credits for rural communities to $10 million through competitive grants so the credits “go to go to those projects that are well planned, not just first in line.”

In addition to setting aside $11 million over two years for mental health care, Reynolds wants funds for four additional psychiatric residencies at the University of Iowa, $3 million to train teachers and nurses to recognize early signs of mental illness and funding for home- and community-based children’s mental health services.

“Creating a comprehensive children’s mental health system will take time. But we can and must take action,” Reynolds said. “The days of merely talking are over.”

The Condition of the State address will be rebroadcast at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on Iowa Public Television.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, legislators will hear the Condition of the Judiciary from Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Reynolds will be sworn in at 9 a.m. Friday at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, which will be the site of an inaugural ball at 7 p.m. A second ball will be at the Scottish Rite Consistory, also at 7 p.m.

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

Granny Basketball league prepares for Jamboree

MARION — As the women of the Center Point Model T’s faced off against the members of the Marion Noon Lions Club Sunday, the makeshift basketball court on the second floor of the Marion Heritage Center rang with shouts of laughter. Spectators held up signs with slogans like, “My granny’s got game!”

“We do this for exercise and fun, so we might get a little crazy,” said Model T’s member Donna Bean, 85, of Marion.

This was an exhibition game demonstrating Granny Basketball — league members play six-on-six basketball using 1920s-era rules.

They’re preparing for the Granny Basketball Jamboree at Trinity Lutheran School on Jan. 26, which will kick of its 2019 season with games between 12 area teams.

The Granny Basketball league started in Lansing in 2005 and now has more than 300 players on 30 teams in nine states. All players must be at least 50 years old, and the oldest member was in her 90s before she stopped playing, said Bean.

The six-on-six style, and the bloomers the women wear, honor the history of women’s basketball in Iowa and the generations of women who participated in the unique style of the sport from the 1920s until it ended in 1993.

The Heritage Center put up baskets and taped the floors to create a 1920s-style basketball court for Sunday’s exhibition game, which highlighted the museum’s exhibit on 150 years of Marion sports, up now through Feb. 24.

Jane Suiter, 70, of Marion, was at the game as a supporter. She played on the Late Bloomers team in Cedar Rapids and is former director of the League. She said Granny Basketball is a bit of a chance to redeem the past — when she was growing up, her high school, Don Bosco in Gilbertville, didn’t offer girls sports at all.

“I’ve always been sort of a frustrated athlete, because I didn’t have a chance to play,” she said. “I played against my brother in the barn.”

No running or jumping is allowed in Granny Basketball, to keep it accessible and safe for older players.

“It’s more exercise than you might think it is,” said Colette Cook, 61, of Cedar Rapids. “It takes more work to not jump and run, sometimes.”

That was demonstrated as the members of the opposing team, the mostly men of the Marion Noon Lions Club, kept getting fouls when they forgot the rules and jumped to make a basket. At the end of the game, the Model T’s were victorious, 65 to 14.

“Go Model T’s — aoogah!” the women chanted in a break between quarters.

Bean, who went to high school in Lone Tree, remembers playing basketball and softball and singing in the choir. Her graduating class had fewer than 15 people, she said.

“I did it all, because they needed you,” she said. Then she went to the Iowa State Teachers College, now called the University of Northern Iowa, but had to stop playing because of injuries. She said she enjoyed taking up basketball again decades later. It keeps her active while reminding her of her school days. She also likes the social aspects of the league.

“It’s the camaraderie,” she said. “You just become such good friends, it’s like a family.”

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

If you go

• What: Granny Basketball Jamboree

• Where: Trinity Lutheran School gym, 1361 Seventh Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 26

• Cost: Freewill donation benefiting Horizons Meals on Wheels and Grateful Granniesa

Broadway legend Carol Channing dies at 97

Carol Channing, the raspy-voiced, saucer-eyed, wide-smiling actress who played lead roles in the original Broadway musical productions of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Hello, Dolly!” and delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in the 1967 movie musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” has died. She was 97.

Channing was a gangly, dynamic, irrepressible presence on Broadway for more than five decades. Platinum blond and standing 6 feet tall, she made her breakthrough impression on audiences and critics as the beguiling gold digger from Little Rock, Lorelei Lee, in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1949).

Her rendition of two of the show’s most memorable songs, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “A Little Girl From Little Rock,” launched her career. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times called her portrait of Lee a “most fabulous comic creation.”

The production ran for two years on Broadway and was followed by an extensive national tour. It was based on a 1920s book by Anita Loos, who wrote the play with Joseph Fields, and featured music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin.

Channing later told an interviewer that, given her unconventional look and voice, she was a non-traditional choice to play Lee.

“Anita Loos, who picked me when she wrote ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ for Broadway, said, ‘Either get the cutest, prettiest little girl in town as Lorelei, or someone who can do a terrific satire,’ “ she said.

Channing so seamlessly disappeared into the character of Lee that some of her collaborators questioned whether she could ever play another part as convincingly.

The role continued to dominate her career long after she appeared to much praise in other musicals such as “Wonderful Town” (as a replacement for Rosalind Russell in 1954) and in “The Vamp,” (1955), a satire about a farm girl who becomes a silent-era screen star. She also was a frequent collaborator onstage with George Burns in an act that combined comedy, song and dance.

Then, in 1964, Channing largely managed to wipe away the memory of Lorelei Lee with her staring role in “Hello, Dolly!” as an aggressive, shrewd, ever-optimistic matchmaker. Based on a Thornton Wilder play, “Hello, Dolly!” featured music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a title song that became a pop standard. But it was Channing who defined the show’s spirit.

Playing Dolly Gallagher Levi, a life-embracing widow determined to remarry into money, she imbued the show with a great depth of warmth and personality. Critic Walter Kerr, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, called her “glorious.” Channing triumphed over Barbra Streisand, then appearing on Broadway in the musical “Funny Girl,” to win the Tony Award for best actress.

Her electric stage personality did not translate to a notable screen career. Her best-remembered Hollywood performance was in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a musical set in the Roaring ‘20s and starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. Channing played an eccentric widow named Muzzy Van Hossmere.

Despite acclaim for her work in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Hello, Dolly!” Channing was not asked to reprise either of the signature roles in the film versions. Marilyn Monroe was given Channing’s role in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” which was filmed in 1953; Streisand starred in the 1969 film production of “Hello, Dolly!”

Channing resented being overlooked for the Hollywood productions and was particularly critical of having Streisand “steal” the role of Levi for the much-hyped but unremittingly dull film version. She was gleeful when the film tanked, later telling one interviewer, “Barbra is one of our great creative forces, but a barrel of laughs, she ain’t.”

In 1974, she received another Tony nomination when she reprised the role of Lorelei Lee for the musical “Lorelei,” which featured updated songs and a revised script from the earlier source material.

She was honored in 1995 for her work on Broadway with a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. About that time, she embarked on a worldwide tour of “Hello, Dolly!” — still in the leading role.

Washington Post culture critic Tom Shales wrote that Channing’s revival was not just a sentimental revisiting of bygone talent. At 74, she was still captivating as Dolly, Shales wrote, and “seeing her do it with such grace and grandeur and pizazz is an exalting experience, sort of like witnessing Cal Ripken’s shattering of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-game record or a phenomenal last-second swish by Michael Jordan.”

Carol Elaine Channing was born in Seattle on Jan. 31, 1921, and grew up in San Francisco. She was the only child of George and Adelaide Channing.

Her father, a journalist and Christian Science lecturer, was a strong influence on her life. Channing, who remained committed to Christian Science beliefs throughout her life, never drank or smoked.

Channing’s interest in the stage evolved from a bid for the student council when she was 7. Instead of giving a speech, she got up and did impressions of the teachers. Making students laugh convinced her of her talent for performing.

She briefly attended Bennington College in Vermont before heading to New York to pursue acting.

In her memoir, “Just Lucky I Guess” (2002), she wrote of auditioning for Abe Lastfogel, president of the William Morris talent agency, and trying to impress him with “a simple ancient Gallic dirge, in obsolete Vercingetorix French,” sung to the beat of a Haitian drum she brought along.

She added: “I sensed I was losing the great man’s attention, so I said, ‘Wait, Mr. Lastfogel, please. I have another song here that the girls at Bennington just love. It’s a Haitian corn-grinding song rendered by the natives as they stomp out the kernels with their feet.”

As he was rushing her to the door, she wrote, she broke into a Yiddish melody that convinced him of her promise. Lastfogel became her agent.

She first made a critical impression in the 1948 musical revue “Lend an Ear.” One of her numbers, a satire of 1920s musicals, was praised as a highlight of the show and helped propel her to stardom. The production also introduced Channing to choreographer Gower Champion, who as a director later cast her as Dolly Levi.

Channing wrote in her memoir that Broadway producer David Merrick also played a role in snagging her the lead in “Dolly.” Although the mercurial Merrick was a feared presence in the industry, Channing said she was fond of him, to a point.

“He was darling,” she once said of Merrick. “He was a great showman. He just wanted to be able to say ‘I hate you’ first.”

Channing’s first two marriages, to writer Theodore Naidish and Canadian football player Alexander Carson, ended in divorce. She had a son from her second marriage, Channing Lowe, who became the political cartoonist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Lowe took the last name of his mother’s third husband, Charles Lowe, whom Channing wed in 1956. Charles Lowe worked as his wife’s manager and publicist, and he became known for inconspicuous bursts of applause and laughter at every Channing performance. The pair were married for 42 years before a bitter split in 1998.

She publicly accused him of being physically abusive, misappropriating her money and having sex with her just twice during the marriage. He denied the charges and sued Channing for defamation but died the next year before they formally divorced.

Throughout her career, Channing was known for her grit and commitment to her craft.

She played Dolly Levi more than 5,000 times and rarely missed a performance. Over the years, she reportedly performed the show with her arm in a sling, a patch over her eye and even with her foot in a cast.

“Performing is the only excuse for my existence,” she told the New York Times in 1995. “What can be better than this?”

Cedar Rapids sees slight uptick in violent crime

CEDAR RAPIDS — End-of-the-year data shows Cedar Rapids saw a slight increase in violent crimes in 2018, but crime overall in the city continues to go down, police Chief Wayne Jerman said.

“I am encouraged that there continues to be a downward trend over the last decade,” he said. “We’ve also seen a decrease in murders, robberies and burglaries, which I think shows we’re continuing to make progress.”

According to data submitted to the FBI, Cedar Rapids in 2018 saw 368 instances of violent crime — a category that includes murder and non-negligent manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault — a slight increase from the 355 cases in 2017.

Despite that one-year uptick, the city’s five-year average for violent crime dipped by 3.16 percent in 2018.

The number of killings dropped from six to three, while aggravated assaults saw a significant jump from 199 to 227.

Included under the aggravated assault category are instances of attempted murder, domestic abuse, armed aggravated assaults and assault on police or firefighters that caused serious injury, all of which saw increases in 2018.

Domestic violence incidents showed the most significant increase, jumping from 66 incidents to 91, accounting for much of the uptick in the assault numbers.

Jerman called the increase “extremely concerning.” But he noted that higher numbers do not always indicate an increase in incidents.

“We think a lot of the reason for the increase is that victims of domestic violence are becoming more comfortable with calling and talking to us,” he said.

Incidents of attempted murder were also on the rise in 2018, more than doubling from three 2017 to seven in 2018. All were shootings, Jerman said, and five of the seven involved assailants known to the victims.

In most of the incidents, Jerman said, the victims chose to engage in what he called “risky behavior,” which includes drugs and associating with criminals and people with illegal guns.

“And if someone chooses to engage in risky behavior, the likelihood that they will become involved in a violent incident increases,” the chief said.

Sexual assaults saw an increase in 2018 with 32 instances, up four from 28 the previous year.

Armed aggravated assaults rose from 86 to 92, and assaults on police officers or firefighters rose from one to three.

Aggravated assaults were the only incidents in the assault category to see a decrease, dropping from 43 to 34.

But property crime totals saw a decrease, dropping from 5,163 in 2017 to 5,054 last year.

Among the crimes that saw decreases were burglaries, shoplifting and several types of theft.

A breakdown of burglary data showed that burglaries decreased from 888 to 843, while attempted burglaries increase from 53 to 63.

Additionally, thefts from motor vehicles, shoplifting, thefts from coin-operated machines and all other types of thefts each saw declines.

Thefts from buildings saw the most significant increase, rising from just six reported instances in 2017 to 82 in 2018.

And thefts of motor vehicles saw roughly a 24 percent spike, rising from 357 to 444 incidents.

Jerman said a lot of thefts are crimes of opportunity, where property owners have failed to secure their belongings.

A majority of the vehicles thefts, he said, involved vehicles that were left running and unattended. Similarly, he said, the theft from buildings likely involved belongings left unsecured in easily accessible areas, like a front porch, or belongings that were taken from buildings where a window or a door was left open.

“We live in 2019,” Jerman said. “We no longer live in the '60s or '70s when people could leave their doors and windows unlocked. Much of the theft crimes we see are crimes of opportunity, and all it takes is securing our homes, our vehicles and our belongings to take away those opportunities.”

Despite those upticks, Jerman said he believes that 2018 overall saw some improvements.

“What these numbers tell me is that we live in a safe city overall,” he said. “The numbers are continuing to trend downward, and of course, we want to keep all of our numbers going down and we are going to keep doing what we need to do to accomplish that.”

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

GOP makes moves against Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King

Gazette staff and wires

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after U.S. Rep. Steve King was sworn into a new term in Congress, a panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep him off House committees, a rebuke to an Iowa politician long known for his racially inflammatory remarks, most recently questioning if the term “white supremacist” was actually offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee followed his recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP.

“That is not the party of Lincoln,” he said of King’s comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”

Republican King, who was elected to a ninth term representing Northwest Iowa by only a 3 point margin in November, served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the last Congress.

The decision to effectively strip him of those posts came as House Democrats pondered other rebukes and as leading Republicans increasingly spoke out.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there is “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,” while Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called on King to resign.

As in the past, King was unrepentant. On Twitter, he called out McCarthy’s “unprecedented assault on my freedom of speech” while simultaneously asserting he had been taken out of context by a reporter.

The recent controversy began when King asked in a New York Times interview published last week: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

It followed a long string of remarks dating back years disparaging immigrants and minorities, as well as a seeming embrace of far-right foreign politicians and parties that have been openly hostile to those same groups.

“Leader McCarthy’s decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth,” King said in a statement. “ ... Ultimately, I told him, ‘You have to do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do.’”

House Democrats could bring up a measure condemning King as soon as today.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said he would introduce a resolution expressing “disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.”

But for some Democrats, Clyburn’s reproach of King — which would be similar to the action taken against Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., after he shouted “you lie” at President Barack Obama during a September 2009 speech on health care — does not go far enough.

Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., called King’s comments “blatantly racist” and said “every action we should take should be taken” and expressed support for a reprimand or censure.

Two Democrats — Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Tim Ryan of Ohio — separately filed resolutions to censure King and indicated that they would force a vote on them this week. Censure is a rarely invoked punishment for conduct bringing dishonor on the House, the most serious punishment that can be levied on one of its members short of expulsion.

King’s words and actions have been a frequent subject of controversy, but never before have they prompted any concrete sanctions.

King has been a fixture in Iowa politics for years, serving as one of the co-chairs of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign and appearing with her in the closing days of the 2018 elections.

Both he and Reynolds won election by about the same margin, but two other Iowa Republican representatives also up for election — David Young and Rod Blum — were defeated by Democrats as the party gained control of the chamber.

Shortly before the Nov. 6 election, King lashed out at the media after the Washington Post reported he had met with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties after flying to Europe for a trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group.

Last week, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, announced he would seek to unseat King in the 2020 Republican primary.

“Sadly,” Feenstra said in a statement Monday, “the voters and conservative values of our district have lost their seat at the table because of Congressman King’s caustic behavior.”

The Washington Post and Roll Call contributed to this report.

Iowa City releases podcast for residents

IOWA CITY — Residents in Iowa City will have a new podcast devoted to local issues.

The city announced Monday it would be produce a podcast called “Iowa City Matters” that will cover community and civic topics, according to a media release.

The first episode will cover historic preservation in Iowa City.

Residents can find “Iowa City Matters” where they normally subscribe to podcasts. It can be found on the iTunes website, and residents can find more information on icgov.org/IowaCityMatters.

The first episode includes panelists Thomas Agran, Iowa City Downtown District public art director; Jessica Bristow, historic preservation planner; Connie Champion, former City Council member and owner of a historic home; and Josh Moe, an architect who works on historic structures.

The episode “sheds light on how historic preservation helps shape our community — from what makes a structure historic to the incentives and responsibilities that accompany a designation,” according to the release.

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

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