Bethany Carson

Propane Shortage Chills the Rural Midwest

 Posted by  Miscellaneous Issues  Comments Off on Propane Shortage Chills the Rural Midwest
Jan 312014

 Rural Midwesterners are buckling down as propane prices skyrocket and temperatures plummet.  Propane prices reached a high of nearly $6.00 in  locations throughout the Midwest this week.

DSCN9298Less than a month ago, prices for residential propane in Iowa averaged less than $2.00 per gallon.  The average propane price in Iowa for the 4th week of January was, at $4.709, more than $2.00 higher than the previous price record.  (Click here for Iowa Residential Propane Weekly Price Chart).

As temperatures drop below zero throughout the Midwest, propane supplies are quickly used.  Homeowners who can’t afford the astronomical price of refilling propane tanks are doing their best to conserve fuel, turning down furnace thermostats while turning on space heaters to try to keep pipes from freezing.

The fuel shortage is also hitting turkey and pork farmers hard.  Turkey farmers must keep the temperature at 90 degrees for young turkeys and 45-50 degrees for mature birds.  Swine must also be kept at warm temperatures.

Iowa Governor Branstad has created a Propane Shortage and Heating Assistance webpage to keep Iowans updated on the emergency and advise citizens on available aid and fuel conservation tips.

Propane is used to heat over 12 million households in the U.S., according to industry statistics.  Thirty-three states have declared energy emergencies, the United States Department of Transportation has issued a regional declaration of emergency, and Texas Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst ordered a waiver on many state regulations to expedite propane delivery and alleviate the shortage in effected states.

United States & Russia to Arm Opposing Sides in Syria

 Posted by  Miscellaneous Issues  Comments Off on United States & Russia to Arm Opposing Sides in Syria
Jul 242013

U.S. officials have announced their intentions of going ahead with the administration’s plans of arming the Syrian rebels.  “We believe we are in a position that the administration can move forward,” House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Reuters.  The CIA will be arming the Syrian rebels within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jimal left a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, stating that “All agreements between Russia and Syria in the area of arms deliveries are in place…The contracts continue and are in force.”  These weapons include S-300 air-defense batteries which would make Western enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria very difficult.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated that enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria would cost U.S. taxpayers $1 billion per month, would be considered an act of war, and would endanger U.S. jets attempting to enforce it.  However, Senator John McCain, one of the most ardent supporters of arming Syrian rebels and enforcing a no fly zone, argued, “We wouldn’t be starting a war.  We’d be trying to stop a massacre that’s going on.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yalon warned Russia this May that Israel would consider the delivery of the anti-aircraft batteries a threat and is prepared to use force to stop the delivery–a threat which, if affected, could lead to Russian casualties.  It has been confirmed that on July 5th, Israeli warplanes conducted an airstrike on Latakia, Syria targeting weapons shipments.

Former deputy Israel Defense Force chief of staff Dan Harel has said that the situation in Syria “could explode at any moment…and pose a direct challenge to us.”  He isn’t the only one concerned.  David Shedd, deputy director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has warned that the conflict could last “many many months to multiple years.”

In the face of the volatile world spectrum, Americans remain divided as to whether the decision to send arms to Syria was a wise one.  A Gallup poll taken in June revealed that only 37% of American adults agreed with President Obama’s decision to send military aid to Syria; 54% disapproved.

The American or international reader’s view on whether the rebels or the Syrian government under Assad are the protagonists or villains may vary in part with his or her news sources.

The Obama administration claims that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebels, the New York Times reports.  President  Obama has called the use of chemical weapons a “red line,” which if crossed would call for action from the United States.

However, Russian findings indicate that the rebels, not the government, were responsible for the Khan al-Assal incident where chemical weapons led to the death of 30 people.

On July 7th, the Syrian military claimed it raided a rebel storehouse, confiscating “281 barrels filled with dangerous, hazardous chemical materials.”  Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari reported that the chemicals were “capable of destroying a whole city, if not the whole country.”

A senior United Nations team responsible for investigating the use of chemical weapons arrived in Damascus Wednesday  to discuss terms of a possible probe into the attacks.

A UN report has indicted Syrian troops for torturing children and using them as human shields on tanks.   UN special representative Radhika Coomaraswamy has described conditions as “horrific” and says that children as young as 10 years old are tortured in detention.   The report also criticized the rebels for endangering children on the front lines.

The Vatican news agency, Agenzia Fides, reported that in Homs, Syria, 800 civilians including 400 Christians–mostly women and elderly–were used as human shields by rebels to prevent attack by Syrian government forces.  (As the battle at Homs continues, the Red Cross has been negotiating without success for the past 20 days to bring supplies to 2000 civilians trapped in the city and warns of “tragic” consequences if they are not given the go-ahead by Syrian authorities.)

The rebels have publicly carried out mass executions in Daraa, Aleppo, and other locations and are also known to have beheaded government soldiers.  Government-affiliated militia are not spotless either, having been linked to the killings of dozens of women and children in the Sunni village of al-Bayda.

Last month at a Downing Street press conference, Russian Premier Putin  warned British Prime Minister Cameron that while blood was on the hands of both parties in Syria, “one does not need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies and eat their organs in front of the public and cameras.”  Premier Putin was referring to video footage posted online by a rebel showing a comrade eating a dead rival’s heart.

 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has issued a call for the Syrian government and opposition to cooperate in expelling all “terrorists and extremists from Syria.”


With atrocities rampant on both sides of the struggle, some believe it would  have been prudent for the United States and Russia to refrain from taking sides.  With many hands in the fray, some see it possible that the situation could easily escalate into global conflict.  Others believe involvement in the conflict is necessary to avoid further humanitarian disaster.

Our prayers go out for peace in Syria.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war over the past two years, and sadly a peaceful conclusion is not in sight.

Solar Impulse Completes Transcontinental Flight

 Posted by  Environment  Comments Off on Solar Impulse Completes Transcontinental Flight
Jul 092013

Final Flight For Solar Impulse On July 6


The NASDAQ opening bell this morning was rung by Solar Impulse pilots and co-founders Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg who completed the first transcontinental flight powered solely by solar energy late Saturday evening, landing at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Solar Impulse took off from the San Francisco area on May 3rd.  Pilots Piccard and Borschberg flew alternating legs of the trip, stopping in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C.   They set a new record for the longest distance for a solar-powered flight by flying 958 miles (1,541 kilometers) non-stop between Pheonix and Dallas.

The 3511 miles of the trip took 105 hours 41 minutes  to complete.  The plane has a 63 meter wingspan and weighs only 3500 lbs. (1600 kg).  It is powered by nearly 12,000 silicon solar cells, and its propellers charge 800 lbs. of lithium-ion batteries to enable night flying.   The Solar Impulse can soar up to 30,000 feet; its maximum speed is 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour).  Since it is not powered by fuel, it makes no noise, affording a peaceful journey to the pilots who often listened to music as they travelled across the country.

At their website, the Solar Impulse team states that the “Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but messages…Our primary objective was to show that today’s technological innovations can achieve incredible things like flying day and night powered only by solar energy without using any fuel, nor producing emissions.”

The next goal for the Solar Impulse is to fly around the world in 2015.   Let’s wish them the best as they continue to demonstrate the power of private enterprise in advancing technology.

Credits: , National Geographic,

Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

 Posted by  Gay Marriage  Comments Off on Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act
Jun 262013

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court Struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act this morning in the much anticipated ruling United States v. Windsor.  The majority opinion was given by Justice Kennedy who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented.

Case background: Edith Windsor met Thea Spyer in 1963, and they were married in Canada in 2007.  When Spyer died in 2009, she left her whole estate to Windsor.  Windsor sought a marital exemption from the federal estate tax which excludes from taxation “any interest in property which passes or has passed from the decedent to his surviving spouse.” 26 U. S. C. §2056(a).

Her exemption request was denied because Section 3 of DOMA contains the passage:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” 1 U. S. C. §7.

Windsor could not be considered a “surviving spouse” since federal law only recognized heterosexual couples.  She paid $363,053 in estate taxes and then sought a refund, which was denied by the IRS.  Windsor then took the refund suit to a district court, contending that her equal protection under the law as provided by the 5th amendment was violated by DOMA.

While the case was still pending, President Obama instructed the Department of Justice not to defend the statute in Windsor although Section 3 of  DOMA would still be enforced by the executive branch (i.e. Windsor’s taxes would not be refunded). The Attorney General of the United States notified the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA’s §3.  In response, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (BLAG) voted to join in the litigation to defend the constitutionality of DOMA’s §3.

The District Court ruled that §3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and ordered the Treasury to refund the tax with interest.  Both the Justice Department and BLAG filed appeals; the Appeals Court concurred with the District court’s decision, applying heightened scrutiny to classifications based on sexual orientation as both the Justice Department and Windsor urged.

From there, the case went on to the Supreme Court.


In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy posits that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over this case because the fact “that the Executive may welcome this order to pay the refund if it is accompanied by the constitutional ruling it wants does not eliminate the injury to the national Treasury if payment is made, or to the taxpayer [Windsor] if it is not.”

Concerning the constitutionality of DOMA’s section 3, Kennedy states, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.  By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The majority opinion states that “DOMA because of its reach and extent, departs from [the] history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage. ‘Discriminations of an unusual character especially suggest careful consideration to determine whether they are obnoxious to the constitutional provision.’ (Louisville Gas & Elec. Co. v. Coleman, 1928)”

It also asserts that the only motive for DOMA was a “bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas claim that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the case:  “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation…” (Scalia)

Justice Alito’s dissent also argues along the same lines: “Edith Windsor, supported by the United States, asks this Court to intervene in [the marriage] debate, and although she couches her argument in different terms, what she seeks is a holding that enshrines in the Constitution a particular understanding of marriage under which the sex of the partners makes no difference. The Constitution, however, does not dictate that choice. It leaves the choice to the people, acting through their elected representatives at both the federal and state levels.”

Justice Scalia points out that the final sentence of the Solicitor General’s brief states, “For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the court of appeals should be affirmed. ” “One could,” he states,  “spend many fruitless afternoons ransacking our library for any other petitioner’s brief seeking an affirmance of the judgment against it” “The plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here?”  

Scalia then gives a stinging criticism of judicial review, claiming that it is not the Court’s position to decide whether or not a law is constitutional, but to decide disputes between the government and the people involving the law.

He goes on to warn that “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

Justice Scalia concludes by wishing the majority of the court had let the people decide on homosexual marriage legislatively.  “Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.”

It is unquestionable that today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act is as equally monumental as it is are controversial.

Credit(s): United States v Windsor  .

New Iowa Legislation Favors Homeschoolers

 Posted by  Education, Miscellaneous Issues  Comments Off on New Iowa Legislation Favors Homeschoolers
Jun 162013

Iowa homeschoolers are celebrating the passage by the state legislature of HF215 on May 22nd and Governor Branstad’s subsequent signature on June 3rd.  The education reform bill, which comes into effect on July 1st, adds Iowa to a list of 10 other states which virtually give homeschool parents a free hand in the education of their children.

In the past, Iowa homeschool parents have had three options: homeschooling with a supervising teacher, homeschooling with the assistance of a public school, or homeschooling with standardized testing every year.  HF215 adds a new option called “Independent Private Instruction.”  Parents are not expected to routinely register or file any paperwork unless in response to a written request by the school district.

Former requirements, including a minimum of 148 days of instruction per year and the disclosure of immunization information, have been precluded.

Parents have also been given the liberty to teach driver education classes to their own children.

It is estimated that public schools spend $10,000 per child each year (as compared with a homeschool parent’s average of $600 per child).  This means that each child who is homeschooled for 13 years saves the state nearly $130,000 by not attending public school.

Critics of the new legislation are concerned that with minimized state supervision, homeschool children may fall behind their public school counterparts, and some parents may become negligent in their educational responsibilities.  However, according to one study, Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics, by Dr. Brian Ray, homeschool students perform more than 30% better than public school students on standardized tests.

This bill comes as a great victory for the HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) and  NICHE (Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators).


Sources for this article include:

The Iowa Legislature Bill Book ,,, Investopedia