Is fertilizer runoff in central US causing Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’?


Published: January 17, 2020

By: Sarah Procopio and Rachel Mipro, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Tom Rendon came here to a Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign event and handed out stickers that said, “Water is Life.”

Rendon has been a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement for over 20 years. The group works on immigration, trade and environmental issues including pollution from large farms that the group believes contaminates the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

For Rendon, the hypoxic waters, or “dead zone” problem at the mouth of the Mississippi, is caused mostly by corporate farming and runoff of nitrate fertilizer in Iowa and other states. His hope is that Sanders, the Vermont independent, will have the vision as president to address complex agricultural and environmental problems.

Six months ago, the dead zone was about the size of Massachusetts. Its waters have little or no oxygen and it is killing fish and other organisms, endangering the livelihoods of those who depend on the Gulf’s seafood.

Adam Mason, state policy director for the Iowa citizens group, said it worked with a lot of communities to stop construction of “factory farms” and combat the pollution he says they produce. According to Mason, Iowa is No. 1 in U.S. hog production with more than 26 million hogs generating over 22 billion gallons of liquid manure that’s dumped untreated onto Iowa farm fields and can runoff into waterways.

“This liquid manure, in addition to having lots of harmful bacteria, has nitrates and phosphorus, so we see that as a significant contribution to both the water crisis we have here in the state of Iowa as well as the dead zone,” Mason said.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association believes there is no science to support the claim that pork farming has any relation to the dead zone in the Gulf, according to Dal Grooms, the communications director.

But in 2018, a group of university studies collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributed the dead zone to nutrient pollution. One study, by the University of Michigan, concluded that “the Gulf’s hypoxic zone is caused by excess nutrient pollution, primarily from human activities in the watershed, such as urbanization and agriculture,” it said in a statement.

University of Iowa researchers concluded that Iowa was responsible for a large portion of nitrate pollution using data collected from 1999-2016.

The study said Iowa contributed “between 11% and 52% of the long-term nitrate load to the Mississippi-Atchafalaya Basin, 20% to 63% to the Upper Mississippi River Basin, and 20% to 89% to the Missouri River Basin, with averages of 29%, 45% and 55%, respectively.”

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.

Watch: Presidential candidates say ‘Geaux Tigers’ while on campaign trail in Iowa

(Video Credit: Alyssa Panepinto)

Published: January 11, 2020

By: Lara Nicholson and Abigail Hendren, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Most college students spend their winter vacations enjoying a reprieve from classes and work.

But about 30 Louisiana State students and faculty invaded Iowa, crisscrossing 1,500 miles to see Democratic presidential candidates campaign before the February 3 caucus.

Still, the national college football playoff, slated for Monday night in New Orleans, was never out of mind. LSU students weren’t shy about asking several candidates for a “Geaux Tigers!” cheer.

Even Joe Biden, whose daughter went to nearby Tulane University, did what it takes to win over LSU Tiger fans.

“I’m going to get in trouble,” the former vice president grumbled.

“No, you’ve got to do it,” an LSU student insisted.

“Alright. Geaux Tigers!” he said, somewhere between a mutter and a shout.

Read more at The Advocate.

Candidate ‘quirks’ help them stand out ahead of Iowa caucus


Published: January 10, 2020

By: Allison Kadlubar, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Presidential candidates flock here months before the Democratic caucus to gain attention and to get Iowans to stand in their corner on caucus night Feb. 3.

TV ads flood commercial breaks; T-shirts and buttons are given out or sold at most events. But lesser-known candidates need more to stand out.

Andrew Yang, a tech and education entrepreneur who trails in the polls, offers hats, beanies and pins emblazoned with “MATH.” meaning, “Make America Think Again.” He also hands out copies of his book, “The War on Normal People,” to explain the economic disruption from technology and automation he talks endlessly about.

Tom Steyer’s hedge-fund billionaire status makes him a curiosity in unflashy Iowa and his ubiquitous plaid tie and colorfully-woven fabric-and-leather belt helps him stand out a little more. The green-and-red plaid is like a logo he wears to events and debates. He includes it on free koozies and even on the back of his campaign bus.

Pete Buttigieg, who just finished eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, offers “Boot Edge Edge,” stickers to help voters pronounce his name.

Many Iowans are accustomed to questioning candidates as well as shaking hands.  Selfies began appearing four years ago. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts takes them to a new level. In her carefully-planned selfie assembly line, lines form, Warren stays put and grins, a volunteer takes coats and purses and sets up the picture. Warren shook the hand of each person and told them, “I’m so happy that you came,” or “it was so nice to meet you.” When it’s over, aides zoom in with the crucial question: “Are you ready to caucus for Senator Warren?”

Knowing that politicians are chronically late, Sen. Warren, who makes a point of mentioning she is a mom and a former elementary school teacher, offers coloring pages and markers to occupy children. One little girl sitting on the floor of a rally in Davenport, Iowa, scrawled “Go Warren” with her Crayons, while her mom listened to the candidate.

Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, gives each attendee a front-facing camera selfie and takes questions or listens to ideas. After a conversation with an elderly woman at a coffee shop event in Creston, Iowa, he leaned in, gave her a hug and said, “Thank you for coming.” She looked up at him with a gleaming smile.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.

Medical marijuana only option for child with seizures

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Published: January 8, 2020


Katie Corkern is a mother of three sons in Amite. One of her sons is Connor, 13, who has a birth defect in his brain. For most of his life, he has experienced between 50 to 200 seizures each day.

He is unable to function independently and suffers damage to his brain, liver and other organs from his array of anti-epileptic medications.

“His neurologist had come to a point where we were just at a loss,” said Corkern. “We tried so many different medications, we tried surgeries, we did diets, and nothing was really relieving him from the constant seizure activity in his brain.

“At that point, he was on seven different anti-epileptic seizure medications,” she said. “The side effects were devastating, along with the constant seizure activity. At some point, the doctor said, ‘Well, the last thing I would recommend is medical marijuana, but that’s not legal here in Louisiana.’”

Thus began Corkern’s journey, along with state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, and many other advocates to legalize medical marijuana in Louisiana. That happened in 2016, but the therapeutic use of marijuana is just gaining momentum here after a slew of delays and regulatory setbacks.

Roughly 3,500 patients in Louisiana are using it, mostly to relieve pain, and some see it as a substitute for highly addictive opioids. And with more supporters of the program joining the state Legislature this year, it may be expanded to provide greater accessibility statewide.

For Connor Corkern, using medical marijuana has lessened some types of seizures by 75 percent, according to his mother, along with giving him the ability to now clap and express emotions.

The average age of medical marijuana users in the state is 52, and the most common condition is intractable pain. Thirteen percent of users are PTSD patients, while 26 percent of the patients are recovering opiate users.

Mills said that “folks tell me, ‘I was on opioids, and now I’m on medical marijuana. I’m not having the side effects, and I’m more productive.’”

The state has approved two facilities to grow marijuana for medical use: the GB Sciences Louisiana location at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center—recently bought out by Wellcana Plus LLC— and Ilera Holistic Healthcare at Southern University.

Licensed doctors recommend marijuana to patients rather than prescribe it to protect themselves from federal laws that prohibit the use, sale or distribution of marijuana. The patients may receive their medication through a 30-milliliter tincture, which is a concentration dissolved in an alcohol solution for oral consumption.

Tinctures are made with cannabinoids THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, or cannabidiol. THC combines with receptors in the brain that control mood and pain to create a sense of euphoria in users. CBD creates no “high” for users but increases attentiveness, lowers anxiety and relieves inflammatory pain.

Read more at The Ouachita Citizen.

Despite trade war reprieve, soybean farmers fear irreparable damage, lasting tariffs

(Photo Credit: David Mead via MGN)

Published: January 8, 2020

By: Caleb Greene, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGELouisiana’s soybean farmers, still reeling from tariffs and low prices, experienced a win in December when President Donald Trump announced China had agreed to purchase $40 billion in U.S. agricultural products over the next two years. Skeptics though have found little comfort with the deal and worry about long-term harm to the nation’s farm economy.

The deal, expected to be signed on January 15, will double China’s commitment to American agricultural products and complete phase one of trade negotiations between the two countries. Soybean farmers fear China’s reluctance to honor the deal and the damage caused already by the administration’s protectionist trade policies.

“It’s a warranted concern that extends beyond Iowa’s soybeans,” said Michael Dolch, public affairs director for the Iowa Soybean Farmers Association. “Commitments up to this point haven’t always been held up by China. Commitments are different than assurances.”

Total U.S. soybean exports have declined 29 percent to $16.9 billion in 2019 since a $23.8-billion high in 2017, according to the Agriculture Department. Though China has committed to increasing its agricultural purchases, the phase one agreement will not remove the 25 percent tariff on U.S. soy products, a top concern for soybean farmers.

“It has taken decades to develop these relationships [in China],” said Daryl Nelson, a farmer from Greenfield, Iowa who grows soybeans with his son. “It’s a market that now we’re fearful will go to Brazil. It’s questionable if we’ll ever regain that.”

The decline and ongoing trade war have particularly hurt Louisiana due to the state’s status as an export market. Louisiana’s farmers have received $180 million in federal aid to compensate for losses, 75 percent of which went to soybean growers. Louisiana’s soybean farm value is $800 million, making it the state’s second major agriculture product behind sugarcane.

“Hopefully we get back to the business of old,” said Kyle McCann, assistant to the president at the Louisiana Farm Bureau. “When your No. 1 leaves, we [Louisiana] are impacted a little disproportionately as an export market.”


Trump, Sanders and Warren have more in common than you might think

(Photo Credit: Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

Published: January 7, 2020

By: James Smith, Abigail Hendren, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—President Trump has disrupted American politics since he announced his candidacy in 2015. He uses abrasive language, dismisses Washington’s political establishment and has shifted his party further to the right.

So have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and they are among the leaders here. The two do not use Trump’s caustic rhetoric, but they are disruptors nonetheless. Like Trump, they have cast themselves as combatants for the have-nots, and they are pushing the Democratic party further to the left by insisting that American health care, banking and trade, to name just three, are not working for everyone.

Warren, Sanders and Trump say they despise the traditional politics of Washington. They claim the system does not work for the average American. Sanders and Warren’s campaigns are geared toward the working class, young voters and those who struggle to make ends meet under crippling costs of healthcare and student debt.

Trump, who handily won Louisiana in 2016, targets working class voters who feel as though they are overlooked among the mess of bureaucracy. In short, all three claim their policies are in the best interests of ordinary Americans as opposed to the Washington establishment interests of politicians and the wealthy.

Although the two Democratic senators vehemently oppose Trump, they are, in a way, his left-wing equivalents. All three share a common, timeless ethos: disrupt the system.

“If you could close your eyes and there weren’t accents,” David Redlawsk, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, said, “you might not be able to tell the difference.”

All three disregard traditional niceties of the political elite. As “outsiders,” they promise to overhaul Washington and reform American society. They make these promises with volatile rhetoric to excite crowds.

Some Iowans, like Tiffany Mitchell, 43 and uncommitted to any candidate, feel as though an outsider is necessary in Washington.

“I like the idea and the concept of [an outsider] but I also want someone who knows what they’re doing, unlike Trump,” Mitchell said, at a rally for Andrew Yang, another outsider. “I do get the outsider concept. I do like it…for me, it’s more of the overall package versus ‘he’s an outsider so I’m going to vote for him regardless.”

Read more at the Bossier Press-Tribune.

How the Iowa caucus might change the game for fringe candidates

Tom Hawks, an Iowan retiree and navy veteran, stands up to ask a question to Cory Booker during his rally at Adam’s Street Espresso Cafe in Creston, Iowa on Jan. 1, 2020.

Published: January 7, 2020

By: Lara Nicholson, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—The Democratic presidential race is evolving into a two-tier contest: the top four candidates, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the remaining fringe candidates fighting for the chance to catch fire.

Host David Yepsen of Iowa’s public TV show, “Iowa Press,” said no one metric — including polls, fundraising or crowd sizes — can predict a winner. According to Yepsen, a former political reporter here, the only way to know who will win is from old fashioned word-of-mouth and assessing grassroots campaign efforts.

“I don’t put any faith in polls,” said Iowan retiree Tom Hawks. “We never answer our phone for any of them, so there’s one whole number they never get.”

Iowans also tend to decide late. They take the caucus seriously and will attend as many as five candidates’ events before making a decision on caucus night Feb. 3.

It may be a long shot for these candidates to beat the four leaders in the race, but it’s not impossible.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts unexpectedly took both the Iowa caucus and the presidential nomination after lagging in the polls. From September 2003 until shortly before the Iowa caucus, candidates Howard Dean of Vermont and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri led in the polls, beating Kerry by over 10 points for most of that time.

Caucuses are a complicated process, a “social experience” as some Iowans say, and only occur in six states: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.

As Iowa is the first, it can often determine which candidates can fight on in another state. The Democratic winner of the Iowa caucus has won the party’s nomination in every election since Kerry’s 2004 upset.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.