Author’s Archive: Gregory Berry

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DES MOINES, Iowa — “Absolutely not. I don’t think it had anything to do with how Trump was elected,” said Ann Robinson of West Des Moines. “I think he got elected because people voted for him. I mean, there was information coming in from the media on all sources, so I feel like Facebook played no more important role than the newspapers, the news stories.”

Robinson believes Facebook and the information it provided to Cambridge Analytica did not play a role in getting Donald Trump elected, but Justin Wise of Think Digital, disagrees.

“The way that they used the information was a textbook example of how to use the information that`s available to you, to me, to any business out there that would want to advertise on Facebook,” said Wise. “We all have access to that, those tools. We can leverage and acquire data. So, if you have an email list as a business, let’s say. You can feed that email list into Facebook, and say hey Facebook, go find the accounts that are attached to these email addresses and then show them this ad. On a small scale, that’s what Cambridge Analytica did. And that same ability is there for you, it’s there for me. It’s there for any business out there.”

In June of 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations.

“The mechanics of it, how they did it, what they did with the information was brilliant,” said Wise. “It was a great strategy and it totally worked. The campaign that hired Cambridge Analytica got their candidate in the White House.”

Cambridge Analytica specializes in what`s called ‘psychographic’ profiling, which means they use data collected online to create personality profiles for voters. They then take that information and target individuals with specifically tailored content. But that process has caused controversy and Facebook has drawn criticism because of it. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted the lack of privacy protections in the U.S., and caused some who use Facebook to question just how clear the social media platform is with its users about its terms of service.

“For me personally, I try and lock it up, my profile, as much as I can,” said Danny Higgins. “Even debated just getting rid of it completely. But, I definitely don’t want my information shared unless I consent to it, you know, either through the social media or whatever it may be.”



DES MOINES, Iowa — Dr. David Smouse’s love for education helped build Iowa’s first school dedicated to educating children with disabilities in 1931.  Teachers like Debbie Eldred who first taught inside it’s walls in 1977 continue to bring that passion into today.  “Smouse is a special school and it needs to stay that way,” she said while fighting back tears.  For over eighty years, Smouse educated students other schools just could not.  Kay Graham spent a decade at Smouse and now substitute teaches.  “I worked with kids that have behavior disorders so they required not only a lot of time academically but social skills and to cope with anger and things that got them in trouble before they came to Smouse.”

Now Des Moines Public School District Superintendent Dr. Tom Ahart says the need for educating students with disabilities inside Smouse Opportunity School is a fraction of what it once was.  “The number of students being served at those schools has continually and purposefully declined over time as we find better ways to serve our students in a comprehensive environment of the typical school.”

Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, intellectually disabled school children will move next door to Ruby Van Meter which already serves similar students.  Behavior disabled children will be moved back to their home school with some students still being served in a classroom at Smouse.  Dr. Ahart said, “It is somewhere around forty students. That is the population of students having a possible change in building that they would attend.”

Graham said the changes concern her because comprehensive schools are still sending children to Smouse.  “I had a student that I was asked to come in and work with one-on-one.  He only had been going to school two hours a day and when they came to Smouse they went all day long the first day.  He was behind academically and needed one-on-one.  His home school couldn’t handle it last year. Why is it going to be any different this next year?”

The district feels it will be much different thanks to staffing numbers increasing over the years at comprehensive schools.  “Because of upgrading of our staff in comprehensive schools, we are at the point where there’s only a small handful of students still needing those specialty services that we will continue providing at Smouse.  If you take fifteen to twenty students and place them where we have forty schools at the elementary level it is hard to imagine overwhelming will be the sentiment.”

As Kirk Ferentz begins his 20th season at Iowa, he talks about the state of the Hawkeyes as spring practice begins.

Michael Admire reports from Iowa City.

IOWA  —  The fight over abortion restriction went before the public on Tuesday night.

The Iowa House held a public hearing on the fetal heartbeat bill, which would ban nearly all abortions after a heartbeat is detected. Speakers were given three minutes to lobby lawmakers. Some of their comments are as follow:

“The false premise is the notion that a beating heart means life and the absence of a beating heart means the absence of life. This is overly simplistic and does not match our human experience or our values as human beings.”

“When a patient is in the end stages of life, medical staff will use a stethoscope to to determine a heartbeat. At the point they hear none, they declare the patient deceased.”

“Banning abortions in Iowa will not stop abortions, they’ll stop safe abortions.”

“After my first child, I regretted my own abortion. I wish that there had been a heartbeat bill back then, or that it had not been so terribly easy to get an abortion.”

The House Human Resources Committee approved a fetal heartbeat amendment last week and the full Senate passed a similar bill last month. Abortions in Iowa are currently banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

We had a shot at an all-Iowa NAIA National Championship basketball game, but it wasn’t to be.

Graceland upset LSU Shreveport behind 28 points from LT Davis, 87-80 the final.

William Penn could not get by LSU Alexandria. The Generals dropped the Statesmen, 84-75.

Graceland plays for its first national title Tuesday night at 7 against LSU Alexandria.


The game is broadcast on ESPN3.

Video courtesy of NAIA.

DES MOINES, Iowa — “The big problem with opioids is they’re just so readily available,” said Jim Wilwerding, a certified alcohol and drug counselor at New Heights Counseling Resources, Inc. in Urbandale.

Wilwerding says most of the people who get addicted to opioids don’t buy their first round on the streets.

“They get hooked up because their doctor prescribed them OxyContin for their pain,” said Wilwerding. “And then the pain subsided and they kept using the prescription and abusing it, and on down the addictive cycle.”

Wilwerding believes in a three-pronged solution to the problem: prevention, treatment, and stopping the cycle. However, this is a challenge since most opioid addictions begin with legal prescriptions.

“How do we head that off with the drug manufacturers, with the prescribing doctors, with the pharmacies that dispense it?” said Wilwerding. “Be able to identify who’s buying too much, using too much, and you know, no pharmacy manufacturer is going to want to say, ‘we want to sell less of our product.'”

But that’s exactly what President Trump’s plan calls for: reducing opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years, in part by encouraging physicians to change their prescribing behavior. The plan also calls for guaranteed access to the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone and for the Justice Department to seek more death penalty cases against drug traffickers.

“As it exists right now, there are death penalty options for drug-related crimes that are committed at a local level,” said Sergeant Paul Parizek, Public Information Officer for the Des Moines Police Department. “There’s some criteria that have to be met, but this already exists. I haven’t seen that impacting the drug distribution issues here in our community.”

Sgt. Parizek says there needs to be a conversation about the suppliers, but also believes it would be better for society to invest time into focusing on prevention and taking a look at some of the moral and cultural decline that has taken place over the decades.

“I was just looking at a picture down in the chief’s office and it’s a 1962 crossing guard at East 14th and Hull (Ave),” said Sgt. Parizek. “And I’m looking at these kids, thinking these kids aren’t going home, doing dope, and shooting the place up. You know, there’s acceptable behaviors now that just weren’t acceptable (then). You know, our society has changed a lot, and that goes for adults and children.”

In this week’s Murphy’s Law, Jose Altuve intensely staring at President Trump, a SoundOff viewer who calls John Sears “classless”, and urban legend about Keith Murphy’s bathroom break at Motley Crue, somehow all come together.


In this week’s What’s Bugging Andy, Andy Fales addresses the reaction to three new rule changes in minor league baseball.

DES MOINES, Iowa —  According to the Department of Justice, a local developer and a contractor he worked with are facing federal fraud charges.

U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum announced the charges against the developer Jeffrey Voorhees and Brian Pittman, a contractor. Krickbaum says the two worked together to defraud lenders and the USDA.

The two men are each charged with five counts of wire fraud, each punishable by up to 30 years in prison with Voorhees facing three other felony charges. The charges stem from several low-income housing projects across central Iowa, and prosecutors say the alleged fraud left tenants paying a higher rent than they should have.

Both Voorhees and Pittman have pleaded innocent to all charges.

According to court documents, Voorhees created Candleridge LLC. to purchase several low-income housing projects with locations in Waukee, Perry, Bondurant, and other communities collectively known as Candleridge VII. Documents allege that Voorhees applied for a USDA loan for just over $5.2 million to rehabilitate the buildings, however the prosecution says both Voorhees and Pittman knew that was more money than they needed.

The documents go on to allege that Voorhees started a “pass-through” company called Rural Construction Services, and, with Pittman, billed the general contractor at a markup of as much as 100% of the actual costs of the building materials, which in turn allowed them to ask for a larger loan.

According to the Department of Justice, together through Rural Construction Services, Pittman and Voorhees allegedly obtained about $359,000 in artificially inflated loan costs. They go on to say Voorhees inflated other costs in the loan to obtain an additional $318,000.

With the loan proceeds to be repaid by USDA subsidized tenant rents, prosecutors claim that by artificially inflating construction costs and having a bigger loan to repay, tenant rents were higher than they otherwise would have been. One resident who lives at the Candleridge complex in Perry says she’s not taken aback with the charges.

“It doesn’t surprise me because they’re just out there for the money, they’re not out to help the senior citizens, she runs out of hot water, it’s been a month, and they just raised her rent $40,” said Judy Nelson.

Attempts to reach Voorhees and his lawyer went unanswered, and Pittman declined comment.

Watch Video

FLORIDA  —  Three bodies were removed Saturday from the site of this week’s collapse of an unfinished pedestrian bridge in South Florida, and workers who’ve toiled day and night to find them hope to recover the rest by the end of the day, officials said.

Authorities have said they believe at least six people were killed in Thursday’s collapse near Florida International University, including the three recovered Saturday and one who died in a hospital.

Miami-Dade police have identified four of the people killed: Rolando Fraga Hernandez; Oswald Gonzalez, 57; Alberto Arias, 53; and Navarro Brown.

The bodies of Fraga Hernandez, Gonzalez and Arias were recovered from crushed vehicles that workers extracted Saturday morning, police said.

The family of FIU student Alexa Duran has said that she was killed in the collapse, but police have not named her as being among the dead.

Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp cautioned Saturday that the final death toll won’t be known until all the vehicles are removed.

Five cars have been recovered and at least three more vehicles remain in the rubble, police said. Workers covered the crumpled cars they recovered with tarps and placed them onto flatbed trucks that took them away.

Crews were “paying respect with a moment of silence” before sending them to the medical examiner’s office, Miami-Dade police Director Juan Perez said.

“It’s going to be a long process” to remove the remaining vehicles, Perez said, “because (of) the … weight and size of the structure that is laying on top of these vehicles.”

Late Saturday morning, officials said four vehicles remained smashed under the rubble. Workers hoped to free them by Saturday night, Perez said.

Engineer reported crack 2 days before collapse

The bridge was supposed to enhance safety and keep pedestrians safe from traffic on busy Southwest Eighth Street, where a vehicle fatally struck an FIU student in August.

But the span collapsed Thursday, months ahead of its completion, crushing the cars below and trapping an unknown number of people and injuring others.

On Tuesday, two days before the span fell, an engineer for the company that designed it called a Florida Department of Transportation employee, warning of “some cracking.”

The state employee was out on assignment that day. The call from W. Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge Engineers went unanswered, and the voice mail he recorded unheard — until Friday, the day after the span fell.

In Tuesday’s voice mail, Pate said the cracking on the north end of the span should be repaired. However, he added, there were no safety concerns on the project.

“We’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done,” Pate said.

“But from a safety perspective, we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective, although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”

It’s too early to tell whether the bridge failed when construction workers were applying post-tensioning force to strengthen the beams, said Robert Accetta of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Accetta said a crack in the bridge “does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.”

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is asking the US Department of Transportation for documents related to the “engineering, design, construction, safety and inspection.”

“In light of the fact that there were multiple agencies and companies involved, we’re going to need a clear understanding of who had what role in this horrible tragedy,” Nelson said in a statement Friday.

Searching for loved ones

Authorities have said crews may find more people as they dig through the rubble.

Among the six killed is Alexa Duran, her father told el Nuevo Herald.

The FIU student was driving under the bridge Thursday when it crashed down. A friend traveling with Duran tried but couldn’t pull her out.

“My little girl was trapped in the car and couldn’t get out,” Orlando Duran said.

Alexa Duran’s sister, Dina, posted her feelings on Instagram. “Rest In Peace my sweet little sister. Words cannot describe how heavy my heart is. I would give anything to take your place and all of your pain,” she said.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa confirmed Alexa Duran’s death in a tweet, saying: “I’m sorry to inform you of the death of Alexa Durán, 18-year-old and the daughter of an Ecuadorian father, in the collapse of the pedestrian bridge in Miami in front of the @FIU. Our Consulate is working to obtain details of the accident and provide assistance to the family.”

Bridge was to connect campus to neighborhood

The pedestrian bridge was meant to connect the FIU campus to a neighborhood in Sweetwater, home to more than 4,000 of its students. FIU is the second-largest public university in Florida, with about 50,000 students.

The university used Accelerated Bridge Construction technology to build the bridge. Unlike traditional methods of construction, it streamlines the building process so that bridge projects can be completed quicker and more cost effectively.

The 174-foot main span had been assembled on the side of the road, allowing traffic to continue. On March 10, a rig moved the span into position over the street as community members gathered to watch. The process took about six hours.

The bridge was scheduled to open to foot traffic in 2019.

FIU has been on spring break this week, but classes will resume as scheduled on Monday. Counseling services will be available for students, faculty and staff, the school said.

The university’s Student Government Association is planning to hold a vigil for the victims Wednesday morning at a campus facility.

Safety concerns

Munilla Construction Management, or MCM, a construction firm building the bridge, and FIGG Bridge Engineers said they are cooperating with investigators

A spokesman for MCM told CNN the company has had $152 million in federally funded government projects in the past five years. Federal contract data show that since 2013, MCM has been awarded about $130 million worth of contracts from the Army and Navy for construction, maintenance and repair projects. Documents show it was involved in bridge projects nationwide.

At least one MCM project resulted in a lawsuit concerning safety. Records show the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited MCM for 11 violations involving construction projects in Miami and Hialeah, Florida, between 2014 and 2017.

The OSHA violations included citations for employees not receiving proper hazardous-chemicals training before handling concrete, not removing water from excavations and not wearing safety glasses and protective gloves, documents show.

The reason behind Thursday’s collapse remains a mystery, and the company has said it will conduct a full investigation.