ROCK ISLAND, IL (05/19/2010)(readMedia)-- Thirty-three Augustana students will spend 11 days this summer in Rome, Italy, studying and visiting a variety of sites including St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon and Jewish Quarter. The group will also visit The Vatican and attend an audience or formal meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. The trip to Rome is the final requirement for a class called Faiths in Dialogue, which focuses on both historical and ethical issues within Christianity.

The program started in 2006 as an opportunity for students to participate in an international experience outside of their normal coursework schedule and is open to students of all majors. Every two years, students can sign up for the upper-level religion course during the spring term and then culminate their class work with a trip to Rome.

Students participating from your area include :

  • Owen Engstrom from Sherrard, IL. Engstrom is a sophomore majoring in political science.
  • Edwin Fonseca from Moline, IL. Fonseca is a junior majoring in business administration management and accounting.
  • Josephine Swanson from Rock Island, IL. Swanson is a sophomore majoring in biology.

"I hope that as a result of the experience, students will have a deeper understanding of various religious traditions-their own as well as those of others-and will think seriously about a wide variety of issues," said Dr. Lee, professor and chair of the Department of Religion. This will be the third summer that Dr. Lee has taken Augustana students on the Rome program.

Lee enjoys many of the historical and cultural aspects to the trip, but says his favorite part is the students. "I enjoy spending time in conversation with students in the wonderful rooftop garden atop the very traditional family-owned hotel where the group stays," said Lee. "It's an incredible privilege to spend time in Rome with Augustana students."

Melissa Shore, a junior communications studies major, is excited about returning to Rome to study. "This trip offers the opportunity to experience Italian culture, Roman Catholic traditions and get a glimpse into the ancient Roman world," said Shore. "I jumped at the chance to return to Rome because I will have a greater understanding of the sites that we visit because of the readings we have done in class."

Over the past ten weeks, students have been examining the diversity within Christian ethical thought and addressing challenges raised by cultural, philosophical and religious pluralism through writing and discussion. They have also been studying ancient Roman emperors, many of the previous Popes, and reading a variety of documents published by the Roman Catholic Church. The coursework is designed to provide students with a firm foundation of knowledge about Rome before leaving so they will have a richer experience while studying abroad.

The students leave May 25th and return to the United States on June 4.

About Augustana: Founded in 1860 and situated on a 115-acre campus near the Mississippi River, Augustana College is a private, liberal arts institution affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The college enrolls nearly 2,500 students from diverse geographic, social, ethnic and religious backgrounds and offers more than 70 majors and related areas of study. Augustana employs 287 faculty and has a student-faculty ratio of 11:1. Augustana continues to do what it has always done: challenge and prepare students for lives of leadership and service in our complex, ever-changing world.

May is National Bike Month and during this time I encourage Iowans to explore, exercise, enjoy the weather and take advantage of all benefits of riding your bike.  As the thousands of Iowans who participate in RAGBRAI every year already know, cycling can be extremely rewarding.

Since 1956, May has been recognized as National Bike Month.  And during this month we also recognize Bike to Work Week.  According to The League of American Bicyclists, the national organization for cyclists, more than half of the U.S. population lives within five miles of their workplace.  Unfortunately, many Americans are deterred from commuting by bike because they are not aware of all of the benefits - and the benefits of biking are many.

Not only is biking an enjoyable and efficient mode of transportation, but it can also be an important part of a healthier lifestyle.  In fact, employees who are more active tend to be more alert, take fewer sick days and are often more productive.

Children are also encouraged to join along in the excitement and fun of bike riding.  Introducing a bike routine in a child's daily activities has shown to boost morale and inspire healthy living.  Lack of physical inactivity is one large factor contributing to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States and biking to school or with friends and family can help reverse this dangerous trend.

Biking to work and school can also have a positive impact on our environment and the air we breathe.  It is efficient, economical and ecological - helping to reduce your carbon footprint and relieve traffic congestion while also saving you money on gas.  Automobiles are the largest source of air pollution in the United States and according to the League of American Bicyclists, on short auto trips, an average car would emit 3.6 pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere for every mile of the trip, while a bike has zero emissions.

In order for Americans to make the decision to leave their car at home and bike instead, it is important that our streets, intersections and trails are designed to be easy and safe to use.  As it is, Iowa leads the nation in Rail to Trail conversions and has over 1,200 miles of extensive, interconnected multi-use trails - but there is even more we can do.  That is why I introduced the Complete Streets Act, which promotes the design of streets that are safe for all that use them.  And in the wellness portion of the health reform bill that was signed into law earlier this year, we included community transformation grants to encourage healthier living and create safe spaces to exercise and get outdoors.  When people have access, the possibilities for improving healthy living are endless.

For more biking tips, a step-by-step guide on how to organize a bike to work event in your area, or safety tips, please visit www.bikeleague.org.  For a list of bike trails in Iowa please visit www.bikeiowa.com.

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Davenport, Iowa   5/11/10.  Scott County Kids Empowerment Board unanimously approved Fiscal Year 2011 budget investing over  $1.9 million dollars into Scott County early childhood programs.  The state and federal dollars are specifically allocated for programming to support the healthy development of children birth through age five residing in Scott County.  The Scott County Kids Empowerment Board members renewed their commitment to these families and the community by funding a continuum of services ranging from direct in-home services aimed at supporting children and families ensuring that early education and child care providers have affordable and accessible training opportunities in order to provide or expand a child's day in a high quality learning environment.

On a yearly basis, the Scott County Kids Empowerment Board reviews its community priorities and has current contract holders undergo a reapplication process with the purpose of insuring that the needs of children ages birth through five are being addressed.  At the board meeting held on May 11, 2010, Scott County Kids Empowerment Board members renewed contracts with many providers, including Genesis Visiting Nurses, who will continue to administer two programs, Universal Assessment and Bright Beginnings.  Their combined contracts total $536,318.00. Genesis Visiting Nurses partners with Genesis Health System and Trinity Medical Center in offering every Scott County mother and newborn a specialized complimentary hospital visit and a follow up home visit from a nurse.  This program is designed to support a successful transition from hospital to home and is vital for the newest Scott County citizens to begin a healthy and safe start.  The Bright Beginnings program provides ongoing home visitation services to families who qualify.  Additionally, Friendly House's contract was renewed.  They will continue to administer both child care and preschool scholarships for Scott County children who are under age five and whose families meet income guidelines.  The amount approved for the Friendly House contact was $631,622.00.

Scott County Kids Board members adjusted early childhood programming funding to meet the significant reduction of funds from the Office of Empowerment for FY 11.  The allocation from the Iowa legislation, was reduced by $159,401.00 for Scott County.  However, Board members were grateful for the amount knowing funding could have been reduced further.  Scott County Kids board president, Jennifer Kakert says, "despite the reduction in funds we are glad the legislature continues to recognize the importance of early childhood care and education.  We look forward to another successful year of partnering with a variety of agencies and individuals to offer vital services to our youngest citizens. "

For more information about Scott County Kids Empowerment, please contact 563-326-8221 or www.scottcountykids.org

DES MOINES, IA (05/19/2010)(readMedia)-- Applications are now being accepted for entries to participate in Iowa's largest parade and the kick-off to the 2010 Iowa State Fair, set for August 12-22. Applications must be submitted by Thursday, July 1.

The parade is open to anyone who wishes to enter, including community and youth groups, special interest clubs and businesses. Entrants are required to incorporate the 2010 Fair theme, "Non Stop Fun," into their parade unit design. Undecorated commercial vehicles will not be allowed.

Applications are available at iowastatefair.org, or by contacting Tonya Cook at 515/262-3111 ext. 215 or tcook@iowastatefair.org. There is a $25 fee for each parade entry. Entries postmarked later than July 1 must include a $15 late fee. No entries will be accepted after July 15.

The parade, set for Wednesday, August 11, will begin at 6:15 p.m. in downtown Des Moines. Spectators will be able to watch an estimated 200 floats, animals, vehicles, novelty and performing units. Staging will take place at the State Capitol Complex. Parade entrants will then travel west on Grand Avenue to 13th Street. Dispersion will take place between 13th and 18th Streets.

Highlights of the gala event will be re-broadcast on parade night throughout central Iowa on FOX 17 beginning at 10 p.m. To be considered for television coverage, the description information on the application must be completed and returned. Due to the length of the parade, it is not possible for all entries to be televised.

The Iowa State Fair is set for "Non Stop Fun" August 12-22, 2010. For more information, call 800/545-FAIR or visit iowastatefair.org.

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A community comes together to support Family Literacy Program

(Rock Island, IL)  With the recent influx of immigrants, many children and families are struggling to understand the new culture and language.  But thanks to many community partners coming together sharing resources, families from nine different countries speaking six different languages are learning English and nineteen community partners supporting them.

A news event highlighting the first year's success of the Lights ON for Learning Family Literacy Program is being held Thursday, May 20th at 11:00 am at the Church of Peace (1114 12th Street in Rock Island) in the Fellowship Hall.   The program began with three families in the fall and at year's end there are now over forty adult students and 25 pre-school children participating.

Attending the news conference will be Rock Island Mayor, Dennis Pauley, Rock Island Schools Superintendent, Mike Oberhaus, the former Superintendent of the Regional Office of Education, Joe Vermeire, as well as representatives from the various community partners who are the backbone of this program.  The teachers and the families involved in the program will also be available for interviews.

The program is from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays at the Church of Peace.  A typical day at the Lights ON for Learning Family Literacy program consists of English as a Second Language tutoring, lunch and activities with their children, parenting and life skills, and computer and library skills training.

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WASHINGTON - Chuck Grassley today said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Rural Development has awarded 12 loans totaling $565,963 and 12 grants totaling $521,526 to Iowa through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

"REAP funding helps promote the use of safe, renewable energy which will lessen our dependence on foreign oil," Grassley said.  "That's good for Iowa and it's good for America."

The Office of Rural Development will distribute the funds as shown below organized alphabetically by town.  All funds are being used to purchase and/or install energy efficient grain drying systems.

· Kerrigan Bros. in Afton will receive a $49,801 loan and a $49,801 grant

· John Hayek in Clutier will receive a $42,919 loan and a $42,919 grant

· WE Inc Grain Dryer Project in Fonda will receive a $42,486 loan and a $42,486 grant

· Todd Christians in Kanawha will receive an $88,874 loan and a $44,437 grant

· Benton Grain Company in Keystone will receive a $49,941 loan and a $49,941 grant

· Craig Hupfeld in Liscomb will receive a $47,510 loan and a $47,510 grant

· Marcydu, Inc. in Monticello will receive a $40,215 loan and a $40,215 grant

· Carl Ries in Monticello will receive a $45,938 loan and a $45,938 grant

· S & J Lawler, Inc. in Ogden will receive a $49,550 loan and a $49,550 grant

· Clark Yeager in Ottumwa will receive a $49,245 loan and a $49,245 grant

· Richard Homan in Remsen will receive a $33,584 loan and a $33,584 grant

· Ronald Schnoor in Stockton will receive a $25,902 loan and a $25,902 grant

According to the USDA, REAP funds are used to promote investments in renewable energy, such as bioenergy, geothermal, hydrogen, solar, wind and hydro power, and energy efficiency projects.

Each year, thousands of local Iowa organizations, colleges and universities, individuals and state agencies apply for competitive grants from the federal government.  The funding is then awarded based on each local organization or individual's ability to meet criteria set by the federal entity.

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WASHINGTON - May 18, 2010 - An amendment offered by Senator Chuck Grassley and cosponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill would make changes to the pending Senate financial regulation bill to strengthen the independence and accountability of all agency-appointed inspectors general, including those at five key financial agencies.

"Taxpayers and Congress count on these watchdogs to go after waste, fraud and mismanagement in the federal bureaucracy, and Congress ought to focus on additional steps to strengthen the role of inspectors general, rather than take away from their important work for accountability," Grassley said.

Grassley said he offered his amendment because language in the financial regulation bill to make five of these positions presidentially appointed could introduce politics into what traditionally have been career, non-political positions.  "A change like this works against independence because these five positions run relatively small offices and don't have the professional staffs that contribute to independent work in the biggest agencies in the federal government," Grassley said.

Grassley said his amendment would strike the problematic provision and replace it with a system designed to establish maximum independence and accountability.  Grassley's language would make these five inspectors general, and a number of other agency appointed inspectors general, report to the bipartisan board or commission heading the agency.  It also ensures that an inspector general could be removed only by a two-thirds majority vote of the bipartisan board or commission.  Grassley said his amendment also would hold inspectors general accountable by requiring that they disclose the results of all their peer reviews in agency semi-annual reports to Congress.  Each inspector general is frequently reviewed by other inspectors general but the reviews are rarely made public.  Grassley's requirement would change that.

"Above all, the framework for inspectors general needs to promote independence and accountability," Grassley said.  "It only makes sense to take action with this financial regulation bill to strengthen the work of the inspectors general who oversee the federal regulators in charge of safeguarding the marketplace.  There's no doubt that a lack of accountability contributed to the financial crisis of 2008."

Grassley has been a consistent advocate for the work of inspectors general.  He has worked successfully both to empower independent inspector general work and to hold inspectors general accountable when responsibilities are neglected.  The amendment has been endorsed by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight, or POGO.

 

Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010: Grassley/McCaskill Amendment #4072

Designated Federal Entity Inspectors General Independence

 

Mr. President, I ask that the pending amendment be set aside and I call up the Grassley-McCaskill amendment number 4072.

I understand there is an objection, but I ask consent for Senator McCaskill and me to speak on our amendment.

Our amendment, would correct serious problems in section 989B of the Dodd-Lincoln substitute.  This section of the bill would change the way that five Inspectors General are hired and fired.

Currently, these five inspectors general are hired and fired by the agency that they oversee, but section 989B would put the President in charge of hiring and firing them.  This provision was included because the sponsors of the legislation believe that making inspectors general presidentially appointed will make them more independent.

However, rather than strengthening oversight over our financial institutions with more independent watchdogs, section 989B could introduce politics into what have traditionally been career, non-political positions.

Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, there are two types of Inspectors General, Presidentially Appointed IGs and Designated Federal Entity IGs (DFE IGs).  Both types of Inspectors General are tasked with hunting down waste, fraud, and abuse at federal agencies.  However, there are some major differences in how they are appointed and removed from office and how they operate.

DFE IGs are appointed by the agency rather than the President.  The Inspector General Act created 30 of them, not just the five addressed in this bill.  The agency-appointed IGs typically run smaller offices than Presidential appointees, often with just a handful of employees.  Almost all of them oversee agencies that are headed by a bi-partisan board or commission.

By contrast, Presidentially-appointed IG's generally run much larger offices and employ dozens or hundreds of employees to oversee Departments such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and so on.  They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  They are subject to removal at any time by the President.  However, the President must provide Congress 30 days notice and a written list of reasons for dismissing the inspector general.

Agency-appointed IGs have a similar protection requiring that the agency notify Congress in advance of the reasons for any removal.

The sponsors of section 989B argue that because agency-appointed IGs are hired and fired by the agency they oversee, they might be tempted to pull their punches more than someone who could only be fired by the President.  I actually agree that this is a potential problem.  However, the solution in this bill misses the mark.

Unfortunately, Section 989B only attempts to address this independence issue at five of the 30 agency-appointed IGs.  In my view, this fix is too narrow.  In addition, it attempts to ensure independence by replacing these five IGs with Presidential appointees.

There is no evidence that a Presidential appointees will be more independent than their predecessors.  There have been problems in the past with Presidential appointees being too cozy with the agency they are supposed to oversee or pulling punches for political reasons.

There is strong evidence that agency-appointed IGs can be fiercely independent despite the possibility of being removed by the agency head.  It all depends on the quality of the appointment.

For example, David Kotz, the Securities and Exchange Commission Inspector General has exposed the SEC's failures in the Madoff and Stanford cases, and is currently looking into the timing of the government suit against Goldman Sachs. Similarly, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation's (PBGC) Inspector General aggressively investigated the former head of the agency, Charles Millard, and has challenged the acting director about providing inaccurate information to Congress.  Despite the potential risks of being replaced, these IGs have not been timid about challenging their agencies to improve.

Because of the way section 989B is currently drafted, these IGs could be summarily dismissed soon after the bill is signed into law.  Under this provision, each IG could continue to serve but only until the President nominates a replacement.  Once the President makes a nomination the IGs would no longer enjoy legal protections for their independence and would become instant lame ducks.  In fact, SEC Inspector General Kotz recently stated that if this provision becomes law it will effectively end some of the ongoing investigations his office has at the SEC.

There is a practical problem with Presidential appointments as well.  This administration does not have a great track record in filling vacancies in an expeditious manner.  Having no watchdog on duty is a concern for all Americans.

There are over a dozen IG positions where there is a vacancy, an acting, or an interim IG.  The administration waited 18 months to appoint an IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. That's 18 months without strong leadership able to direct audits, investigations, or examinations of agency policy.  That's 18 months without a cop on the beat.  Maybe that's the way the administration likes it.  I'm sure the bureaucrats at these agencies would enjoy life more without an Inspector General asking questions. Imagine if the SEC were not held accountable for their failures in stopping the Madoff or Sanford ponzi schemes.

This bill would create five lame ducks in the IG community and the potential for more extended vacancies unless we fix it.  There would be far less oversight during the lengthy transition process under the current bill with no guarantee of vigorous oversight by the new appointees.  Essentially, this provision could politicize the positions that have historically been filled by career public servants.

I know the goal of this provision is to enhance IG independence, but there are better ways to protect the independence of these IGs than by replacing them with Presidential appointees.

We should do it more effectively and make sure that all agency-appointed IGs are more independent, not just the five singled out in the bill.  That's why I'm offering this amendment.  The Grassley-McCaskill amendment simply applies the same sort of protections that have worked for one of the 30 agency appointed IGs to the other 29 agency-appointed IGs.  The Postal Service Inspector General enjoys enhanced protections and my amendment would extend those protections more broadly.

Our amendment would strike section 989B of the bill and replace it with a system that will bring true reform, independence, and accountability.

It would make the IGs report to the entire bi-partisan board or commission heading their agency, and the IG could only be removed for cause by a 2/3 majority vote of the bi-partisan board or commission.  This would ensure that should an agency make a political attempt to remove an IG, there would be the possibility of dissent among the board or commission members.

These are serious protections from political interference currently enjoyed by the Postal Service IG, but it also allows an IG to be held accountable when necessary.  These same provisions have worked for the Postal Service Inspector General and it is time to extend them to the all the agency-appointed IGs.

It also holds IG's accountable by requiring that they disclose the results of all their peer reviews in the semi-annual reports to Congress, thereby making them public.

This amendment strikes the right balance, improving both independence and accountability of all DFE-IGs.  In fact, even the White House has gone on the record telling the Center for Public Integrity, "the administration does not support in any way politicizing the function of the Inspector General and we have not proposed these changes" in the Dodd/Lincoln substitute.

The amendment is supported by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight and has bi-partisan support from members on the Committee with jurisdiction over the IG Act.  This important amendment deserves an up-or-down vote at the appropriate time.

I yield to Senator McCaskill.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - May 18, 2010 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that a total of $1,091,930 ($565,965 in loans and $525,965 in grants) will be coming to 12 operations across Iowa to assist farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses in developing renewable energy systems, and in making energy-efficiency improvements to their operation.  The funding will benefit farms and businesses located in the following counties: Benton, Boone, Hancock, Jones, Marshall, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Scott, Tama, Union and Wapello.

"Making energy efficiency investments in farms and small businesses benefits these operations, and our state as a whole," said Harkin.  "These steps will help to continue to put us on a path of energy independence, which will lower energy costs, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign fuel and protect our natural resources."

Today's grants and loans come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program.  Harkin is a senior member of the panel that funds rural development and energy initiatives.

WEST DES MOINES, IA - May 18, 2010 - For the 47th year, the best grillers in Iowa will gather to compete for the title "Iowa Cookout Champion" at the Iowa State Fair. The contest showcases the state's best outdoor chefs working their culinary magic with some of Iowa's finest meat products.

 

The search for a new champion begins this summer when county Farm Bureaus host local contests to determine winners in several categories. Local finalists will compete for the state title on Iowa Farm Bureau Day at the fair, Tuesday, Aug. 17, on the Grand Concourse of the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

 

The first local contests will be held in June. A list of the county cookout contests will be updated regularly on the Iowa Farm Bureau website, http://www.iowafarmbureau.com.Interested grillers and attendees should also contact their county Farm Bureau office for more details and information on rules and contests in their areas.

 

"The cookout contest is about sharing the best of what Iowa has to offer: its people and the food raised on our farms," said Iowa Farm Bureau cookout coordinator Denny Harding. "Every year hundreds of grillers compete in local competitions for a chance to showcase their best for state fairgoers."

 

Contestants will compete in six categories: beef, pork, lamb/goat, poultry, turkey and combo/specialty. Entries in the beef category will be limited to chuck or round primal cuts, including ground chuck or ground round. Combo recipes combine two or more meats from the five other categories. Specialty recipes may feature venison or any other Iowa domestically raised product. All wild game is excluded.

 

Creations will be judged on taste, appearance and originality. Special recognition will also go to contestants in showmanship, youth and team cooking categories. Youth grillers must be between the ages of 13 and 18 years, as of Aug. 1, 2010. Farm Bureau or affiliated company employees are not eligible to compete.

 

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Editor's Note: To view and download photos of last year's Cookout Contest, click on the following link: http://tiny.cc/eymm1. Photos from other Cookout Contests can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here: http://bit.ly/cmZlHD. Photos should be credited to Joe Murphy, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

WASHINGTON - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - Senator Chuck Grassley has asked government regulators and industry for information related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Grassley has asked for an accounting of how the federal Minerals Management Service responded to previous critical reports from the agency's Inspector General; conflicts of interest on the Interior Department board charged with examining safety procedures for offshore drilling; the government's handling of the regulation that requires written certification that blowout preventers are capable of shearing drill pipes in emergency situations; communications between BP and Transocean that may shed light on why the oil rig exploded; and how operating under the flag of foreign governments may shield industry from regulation.

"I'm asking some of the countless questions about what's behind the Gulf Coast oil spill on behalf of the public and taxpayers," Grassley said.  "It's a matter of accountability and understanding how the system works, or doesn't, going forward, especially with regard to the regulators' cozy relationship with industry."

Grassley said he's conducting his review as part of his constitutional responsibility for oversight and as Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over the oil-spill liability trust fund and tax incentives for deep water drilling.

Click here to read Grassley's letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Click here to read Grassley's letter to BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay.

Click here to read Grassley's letter to Transocean, Ltd. President and CEO Steven Newman.

Click here to read Grassley's letter to Halliburton Co. Chairman, President and CEO David Lesar.

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