The Least, First

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Archive for the ‘Iowa’ Category

Iowa stuns No. 3 Penn State

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Ahhhh.

clipped from nbcsports.msnbc.com

Iowa stuns No. 3 Penn State on last-second FG

Murray celebrates

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Penn State can’t blame the BCS for this.

Daniel Murray, who hadn’t made a field goal since the season opener, hit a 31-yarder with a second left and the Hawkeyes rallied to stun the third-ranked Nittany Lions 24-23.

He drilled it down the middle, sending Iowa’s freezing fans spilling onto the field.

“I’ve always dreamed about it,” said Murray, who grew up in Iowa City. “I kept hoping and hoping I’d get my chance.”

This was the biggest win for Iowa in years, its first against a top-five team since 1990. The Hawkeyes suffered through two seasons of mediocrity after finishing No. 8 in the country three years in a row.

The Hawkeyes had lost four games this season by a total of 12 points — and they got beat last week by Illinois on a 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds left
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Written by Monte

November 9, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Iowa

“I’LL KICK THE S**T OUT OF YOU!”

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I spent a memorable afternoon Thursday, beneath a tree on a corner in the little town of Conesville, Iowa, learning about a world that I hadn’t known before.

Melissa Regennitter/ Muscatine Journal

From left: Migrant worker Hector Manuel Cardona-Ramirez sits next to Monte Asbury, a Washington, Iowa, pastor. To Asbury’s right are two other migrant workers who bunk with Cardona-Ramirez and more than 600 others from Mexico in a migrant worker camp in Conesville. On Thursday, Asbury listened to a group of migrant workers who said they’d been unjustly fired and complained of illness. Asbury, an online blogger who writes about immigration and human rights was there to give moral support. Photo: Melissa Regennitter/ Muscatine Journal

My friend Carlos Rich (he’s a community organizer who works on immigrant health issues for the Center for New Community) had phoned, that morning, to tell me of some fellows who’d been fired from their jobs detasseling corn and picking melons.  Some had talked to a reporter the previous day, and Carlos wondered if that was connected to the firing.  Off we went.

We met eight men in a very hard spot.  They’d come to Iowa from their homes in Colima and Durango, Mexico.  Up at 3:30 A.M. each morning, they jockeyed for position on the buses taking workers to the fields. After a day in the blistering heat, they’d be back  – at 9:30 P.M. – for a quick meal and shower, then to the bunkhouse for 10:30 lights-out. Seven days a week.

Carlos invited reporters to join us (see Melissa Regenitter’s article in the Muscatine Journal).  While they made their way to Conesville, the boss drove past several times, sometimes stopping to pleasantly ask who we (Carlos and I) were, and to ask the men if they were going to work this afternoon.  It was a puzzle, given their certainty that they’d been fired. Carlos was cell-phoning what seemed like a dozen people – the Governor’s Office in Colima, some legal advisors – and the general drift I got was that it was a good idea for none of us to say much if we were questioned.

In the distance, the massive bunkhouse

In the distance, the massive bunkhouse

Which proved to be a handy thing to know.   For in a bit, an office worker drove up, eye-poppingly irate.  To the men, soothing mother-hen reproaches:  “How could you boys do this to [the bosses] after all they’ve done for you?  You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

In my mind, a window opened up and history blew in.  How many times had that siren-song seduced workers through the years?  Hadn’t it been sung in the dangerous factories of the north – the stifling cotton fields of the south – the brutal vegetable harvests of California?  It seemed like the timeless, place-less essence of the struggle of workers:  You  “boys” should be ashamed of yourselves. (Some were close to her in age.)  How could you be so ungrateful? What’s gotten into you?  We’re friends, you know we are!  What have they been telling you?

Endless line of portable toilets

A vast collection of portable toilets

The men were politely, firmly quiet.

To me, she gave a mildly derogatory “some kind of pastor” talk:  “What are you telling these boys?  They’re good boys!”

But to Carlos, venom:  “Shut up! … I’ll kick the s**t out of you!

It’s hard to imagine how trapped foreign workers are. If they want to quit, how will they get home, thousands of miles away?  Without English, to whom can they turn for help?  They’ll need to go to a city to get a bus.  But what city? And without transport, how will they get there?

One row of the bunkhouse. This room had about 160 beds, and was one of four.

About 160 men sleep in this huge bunkroom. Three more rooms, of 150-200 beds each, adjoin.

Intelligent, thoughtful men, all with perfect H2A visas (see the bottom of Melissa’s article), all with families at home needing income badly enough for them to risk this journey into a foreign country.  But it wasn’t going to work.  After telling of heat and work-related ailments, confusions about firings, conditions different than the Mexican recruiter had led them to expect, and less work than they’d hoped, they decided they just wanted to go home.  Since they’d borrowed to pay for their passports and visas, and after the $100 a week they paid the company for food, they figured they’d just about break even after the next morning’s paycheck.

Worried about staying in the camp after attracting media attention, they traveled back to Washington in my pickup.  They spent the night in the church, so grateful to be secure, so delighted to have found a way out.  Carlos gave a lift over to get paychecks on Friday (and the boss was more generous in the final settlement than they’d expected), and then up to Iowa City’s bus station to start the long ride home.

Most of us, after showers, at the church

Most of us, after showers, at the church - Carlos Rich is at the top left. I'm the one with the baby-bottom-pink face!

Perhaps most unexpected was the tenderness of the friendships developed in those hours.  After trading stories down at my place, glimmers of hope remained in my mind, suggesting that God had done something wonderful among us all.  I was honored to enjoy it.

What a memorable privilege it was, sharing that moment with these good men.


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Written by Monte

August 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Home!

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Colten chats me up over breakfast

Colten chats me up over breakfast

July takes me away from home more than usual, and posts can be few and far between.  Lori and I spent a week vacationing in the beautiful (and a bit cooler) lake country of Minnesota. Our grandson Colten was along – Lori shot this photo of us through the screen one morning.

Thanks for your patience during the lean month of July.

The world hasn’t stood still, and there are some intriguing new things to write about. See you soon!


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Written by Monte

August 1, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Immigration raid in Postville: Justice denied

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Raid in Postville

Raid in Postville

For most of those three hours, this man was just weeping, and he was weeping for his family, worried about his children. He had children back in Guatemala, his mother, his wife and his sister all depending on him. He was the sole earner for the entire family.

So describes Erik Camayd, a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami, who was one of the court-appointed interpreters flown in for the trial of immigrants arrested here in Iowa.  Here’s Amy Goodman’s set-up:

We turn now to Postville, Iowa, a small town of just over 2,000 people. On May 12th, the town became the site of the largest immigration raid in US history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, arrested 389 workers at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the country. Nearly 300 of the workers were charged with aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. Many were sent to prison.

Camayd, who’s been participating in trials for twenty-five years, describes what he saw:

Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound. Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.

Since these people are so very poor, and since they are often the only source of income for an extended family, a jail sentence may mean their children go hungry.  Even if utterly innocent, the decision forced upon them is justice or hungry kids:

I saw immediately that this man had no choice but to plead guilty, if he wanted to return to his family as soon as possible … what made this case unique was that, for the first time, at least in this scale, they were not being deported but actually criminally prosecuted and sent to jail for five months or more. And the fact that they did not have a right to bail and that if they wanted to plead “not guilty” they would have had to wait possibly longer, up to six or eight months in jail without bail waiting for a trial, made this situation very, very difficult to really say that there was justice done in many of these cases. […]

[T]o place them in that position, basically holding their families’ well-being ransom over their heads in order to induce them to accept a plea agreement and plead guilty as the fastest way to get back home and then placing them in jail for that time under that kind of duress, I think that it’s very disturbing. It’s very disturbing. […]

Indeed, it is.

It may be legal, but it isn’t justice.


Read Erik Camayd’s personal account of the raid [Download pdf]


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Written by Monte

July 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm

I.C.E. raids Postville meat-packer; United Methodist Bishop responds

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From the Des Moines Register:

Agriprocessors plantPostville, Ia. – The phone calls started at 5 a.m. They carried the same message: Immigration was coming.[…] Twelve hours later, Hispanic businesses in downtown Postville were shuttered.[…]

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant scattered the Hispanics of Postville. About 400 found their way to St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, waiting for information. Some filled out G-28 forms that allow a lawyer to represent their detained children or minors in their care.

A woman who would identify herself only as Judy said she and her husband work at Agriprocessors. The last time she saw him was before his shift Monday, about 5:30 a.m. “No, I don’t know where he is,” she said in Spanish.

Judy said she and her husband came from Mexico illegally. Like many others at St. Bridget’s, they regard the church as a haven from law enforcement. Asked whether the church would indeed be a safe place, Sister Mary McCauley of St. Bridget’s said, “That is our belief and hope.” […]

And from Bishop Palmer of the Iowa United Methodist Church, this rather brave— Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

May 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm

The ethanol effect: When alt fuels go bad

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Iowa grows corn. Miles and miles and miles of it. We don’t eat it, of course—it’s not that kind. We feed it to cattle and hogs, and we send it by the trainload to processing plants that make it into that “high-fructose corn syrup” that’s in everything else we eat. Read the labels in your pantry.

And, this year especially (the angst of the times being as it is), we plant corn in every available corner in order to save the planet (and make pretty good money) by selling it to ethanol plants.

Trouble is, it’s a little like tobacco and Kentucky: government subsidies contribute to the growth of something that we’d probably be better off without. Check out MotherJones excellent explanation:

clipped from www.motherjones.com
EVERYTHING ABOUT ETHANOL IS GOOD, GOOD, GOOD,” crows Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, echoing the conventional wisdom that corn-based ethanol will help us kick the oil habit, line the pockets of farmers, and usher in a new era of guilt-free motoring. But despite the wishes of Iowans (and the candidates courting them) the “dot-corn bubble” is too good to be true.

Click the thumbnail below to see the larger image
The Ethanol Effect
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And it’s impact on soil conservation is not good.

Corn is a hot potato here in Iowa. Though not a lot of us are still farmers, our friends, our industry, and our economy are linked to corn in a big way. But in the long run, it’ll be a bust. We need another scheme for agriculture, and we need pioneers and politicians and professors who’ll help us get there.


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Written by Monte

April 3, 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Environment, Iowa, Politics

Barack Obama’s Speech at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner

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Seems like I can’t go to the local coffee shop without meeting someone intriguing. Monday’s visit brought an introduction to the local Obama staffer, Ms. Scott (whose first name, sorry to say, has escaped me).

We chatted for a while. I shared my longing for a candidate who would get it that military confrontation and inflammatory talk make us appear threatening to the world, and we become less safe, rather than more. My concern is that the Guilani and Romney—and even Clinton—approaches to foreign policy aren’t safe. They provoke the very danger that they claim to scare away.

I told her I hoped Sen. Obama would speak out about how Republican cold-war approaches were outdated and dangerous, and how national security depended on finding a new road that would out-perform the threats and bombs of recent failure, and that would deliver a better kind of security to an inter-connected world.

In response, she recommended Sen. Obama’s speech at the J-J Dinner from last weekend. David Yepsen, arguably the most influential of Iowa pundits, wrote of this speech: Should he win the Iowa caucuses, Saturday’s dinner will be remembered as one of the turning points in his campaign, a point where he laid down the marker and began closing on Clinton, the national frontrunner.   Here ’tis.

I find it hopeful. You?


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Written by Monte

November 17, 2007 at 2:10 am

Posted in Iowa, Politics