Omaha World-Herald. July 1, 2016
Vital moments for new Office of Parole Administration.
Nebraska has a spotty record of trying to solve state agencies' problems by rearranging the bureaucratic deck chairs.
A lot is riding on the state's latest change, making the administration of parole independent of the prison system. On paper, the new Office of Parole Administration looks like a smart move.
Now it's up to Rosalyn Cotton, the chairwoman of the Parole Board and head of the new agency, to execute its mission.
The Legislature created the agency after then-Parole Board Chairwoman Esther Casmer testified that she felt pressured to parole more inmates. Casmer said then-Gov. Dave Heineman's chief of staff and others dealing with crowded prisons pushed her to speed up the parole process.
Heineman's successor, Gov. Pete Ricketts, has shown a willingness to invest in prison space and programming to prepare inmates for parole.
The parole process serves the public interest best when the board is free to evaluate each inmate on his or her chances of success once freed and also to weigh public safety concerns.
It costs more to keep inmates in prison than to supervise them on parole. Parolees' access to substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling also helps them adjust to life outside prison and avoid committing new crimes.
Key questions remain, as The World-Herald has reported, particularly about how much to pay the agency's 44 parole officers and how to handle a higher number of inmates on parole.
Many of the Legislature's prison reforms focused on improving the supervision and services inmates receive when transitioning from prison to life outside. That includes designing more prison sentences to end with time on parole.
But creating new governing structures requires proper oversight. Troubles at the new state tourism agency cropped up when its independent board failed to monitor agency spending.
Cotton is already ahead of the Tourism Commission in one respect: She hired the Corrections Department to handle some administrative work, avoiding a potential pitfall for new agencies.
This, combined with the state's renewed emphasis on rehabilitation, bodes well for the success of the independent parole agency. Nebraskans will be watching closely to ensure the new agency lives up to its promise.
Kearney Hub . June 30, 2016
Green energy appealing, except for costs.
It's exciting to witness advancements in green technology as science and research unlock environmentally friendly ways to power our autos, heat our homes, and energize our factories. Although each new announcement in green technology can be exciting, it's usually a lot easier to applaud breakthroughs than it is to actually invest in them.
Because people can be slow to put their money where their mouth is, new gizmos and alternative energy systems find their way into our homes only as rapidly as people are willing to live on the leading edge.
For example, electric cars don't have the range that traditional gasoline-powered autos have, and they cost a lot more. As a result, only a few people possess the means and the spirit to buy and use electric cars. High purchase costs and the possibility of being stranded by drained batteries are large deterrents.
While investments in new energy technology can be risky, some investments are less risky than others.
One example is North Platte's plan to install a pair of natural gas refueling stations. Such stations are not easy to find, but having them present in North Platte will at least boost the confidence of drivers in that community to give the fuel a chance.
Another emerging green technology, solar energy, is becoming a possibility, even for homeowners who don't have the roof space for a collector unit.
The emergence of what are called community solar arrays allow green energy fans to become small shareholders in the projects. These subscribers, according to information shared this week during a Nebraska Public Power District leadership conference, can buy shares in community solar arrays up to about three-fourths of the energy needed to power their homes. That's the approach Scottsbluff is attempting.
In Kearney, the approach will be different, with the goal being to find a major share holder so that about 80 percent of the solar array's generating capacity is spoken for.
More and more people feel compelled to save the planet by switching to green technologies, but many are discovering the switch comes with a price tag. Going green can be more expensive than sticking with standard and conventional forms of energy, but Uncle Sam recognizes people's desire to switch to alternative energy. Tax incentives and rebates are offered to encourage the installation of energy efficient windows and appliances, attic insulation, or even a geothermal furnace, solar panels or wind turbine.
Lincoln Journal Star. June 30, 2016
Brexit hits home in the heartland.
Any Nebraskans who had not paid much attention to Brexit before this week are probably more interested now.
For starters, the vote by Britain to make an exit from the European Union took a bite out of the 401(k)s that many Americans are depending on for a comfortable retirement.
The retirement accounts may have stabilized somewhat, but the reverberations will be felt for months and years as the ties between Britain and the continent are unlaced.
The Brexit vote was motivated in part by spreading chaos — the ongoing warfare in Iraq and Syria, refugees flooding across borders, Russia invading Ukraine with arrogance and impunity, as well as slow job and wage growth after the 2008 global financial meltdown.
And the world seems to be snared in a positive feedback loop. The Brexit vote, spurred itself by chaos, now will amplify the breakdown of the old order.
This does not augur well for the Cornhusker state. To a considerable degree, Nebraska's economic health depends on foreign markets for its grain and meat exports.
It's very possible Brexit will disrupt foreign trade. So far it has made the dollar stronger against the British pound and the Euro, which means American goods will cost more. Fortunately the United Kingdom and Europe buy only a relatively small amount of U.S. agricultural products., Only $1.8 billion of the $133 billion in overall U.S. agricultural exports went to the U.K, according to federal statistics.
But if Brexit and other events signal a reversal of the long trend toward globalization, that would definitely have an economic impact on Nebraska. The European Union was formed to enhance the free flow of goods. Now the EU is shrinking. Farmers eying their laptop screens while their tractors navigate robotically by global positioning systems have reason to be nervous.
It's often been said that the Brexit vote represents a rejection of experts and politics as usual.
It's a sign of the times that voters are in a mood to believe fabrications. It's not true, for example, that Britain can now stop sending $462 million a week to the EU headquarters in Brussels and use it instead for health care, as "Leave" campaign ads on buses promised.
And the promise of a a return to greatness seems to have international appeal. The rhetoric from Nigel Farage, a leader of the "Leave" movement in Britain, Marine Le Pen, a conservative leader in France, and Donald Trump strikes a similar chord.
Farage: "We will get our country back." Le Pen: "I chose France. I chose sovereign nations. I chose freedom." Trump: "Come November, the American people will have the chance to redeclare their independence."
As the old order fragments into smaller pieces, it's not clear what will replace it. Uncertainty is growing. If Nebraskans are interested in Brexit now, they might be absolutely fascinated later.
McCook Daily Gazette. June 28, 2016
Environmentalists make point, taxpayers pay the bill.
We'll have to wait to see how the arbitration turns out, but the company that thought it was going to be able to build the Keystone XL pipeline wants to be paid $15 billion because the Obama administration rejected the plan.
TransCanada Inc. planned to spend $8 billion to connect Hardistry, Alberta, Canada, with a point in Steele City, Nebraska, where 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day would be routed into existing pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries.
It says it moved forward with the project on the basis of numerous federal reviews and the government's approval of the original Keystone pipeline, only to have the Obama administration finally reject it because it would undercut the nation's reputation as a global leader in addressing climate change.
"TransCanada has been unjustly deprived of the value of its multi-billion dollar investment by the U.S. Administration's arbitrary and unjustified denial," company spokesman Mark Cooper said. "It is our responsibility to take the actions we deem appropriate to protect our rights."
The situation reminds us of the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact fiasco of the 1980s and 1990s, which was finally settled in 2004 when Nebraska agreed to pay $141 million — $151 million with interest — rather than accept a nuclear dump in the state.
Under a 1980 federal law, Nebraska joined with Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma in the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact in 1983, and in 1987, the other states voted to locate the waste site in Nebraska.
Southwest Nebraska was considered as a site for the proposed Low-Level Radioactive Waste disposal facility, as an economic development idea, but it was eventually to be located near Butte, Neb.
Under Gov. Ben Nelson, Nebraska denied a license for the dump in 1998, citing environmental concerns and a high water table at the site. Waste generators filed a lawsuit over denial of the license, and the compact later joined.
In 2002, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln ordered Nebraska to pay $151 million for blocking construction of the site.
There are currently four low-level nuclear waste facilities in the United States, but Nebraska isn't affiliated with any of them.
Taking care of our planet is a worthy cause, but many are more concerned about day-to-day bills they must pay to take care of their families.
Those people must have an effective voice in the overall matter as well.