- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

Kearney Hub. Aug. 29, 2014.

Lawmakers are ignoring immigration realities

The problem with U.S. immigration policy is that it makes legal entry into the country so expensive, time-consuming and risky that instead of entering through the front door, foreigners are sneaking in through the back door - illegally.

For whatever reason, U.S. lawmakers cannot recognize this fact. They know there is an abundance of low-skill jobs Americans are unwilling to perform that is a magnet for illegal immigrants, but ignorance and prejudice seem to guide policy from that point. For example, many of the jobs that lure illegal immigrants are year-round, such as packing plant jobs, but our current policy provides only for seasonal workers to enter legally.

Why do we ignore the year-round needs?

Another often ignored fact is that many young people come here from foreign lands to study math, science and engineering. They prepare for careers as scientists, researchers and engineers, but our immigration policy is slanted against them. They must first obtain visas and then hope that good fortune might hand them the opportunity to eventually become citizens.

But why wait for the United States when other nations, including Canada and Germany, allow easy legal entry for highly skilled and educated foreigners?

Why do we educate foreign students, but then sustain a policy that shoos them away to competing industrial nations?

Ignoring the need for scientists, researchers and engineers as well as for year-round laborers is a fatal economic mistake. Resolving those problems and others is in the interests of our nation, yet federal lawmakers are doing nothing. Why? If logic isn’t guiding their actions, then something else is. Could it be prejudice?

There’s a third fact that lawmakers standing in the way of reform don’t seem to grasp, and that is the likelihood that all of those foreigners they chose to deny could eventually become legal, despite the legislative obstructions.

One avenue is through executive action. President Obama exercised his powers in 2012 by granting temporary legal status to children brought into the country illegally by their parents.

Some observers believe that in a few weeks Obama will issue yet another executive order that will legalize up to 4 million illegal aliens.

Only Congress can grant a path to citizenship and the right to vote, so obstructionists might not face immediate peril at the polls. However, U.S. demographics are constantly shifting and gradually, many congressional districts are losing their white majority. How soon will it be before the diverse blend of voters that results will turn against the obstructionists?

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Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 30, 2014.

The attraction of beige fat

The awarding of an $11.3 million grant for a center to study obesity at the molecular level shows the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is continuing its aggressive push to boost research.

Obesity, which affects about one-third of Americans, is one of the most serious health problems facing the country.

Janos Zempleni, director of the center, said the long-term goal is for it to become a leader in nutrient signaling, which explores how nutrients initiate chain reactions that cause cellular responses like fat storage and inflammation.

One of the trendiest topics in obesity research is whether something can be done to boost a person’s natural endowment of brown fat cells.

People and animals with a generous supply of the brown fat cells - often found between the shoulder blades - seem to burn more energy than people with fewer of the cells.

Researchers at the UNL center are studying how certain dietary acids activate molecular pathways that turn fat-storing white cells into beige cells, which burn calories, according to a UNL press release on the center.

Researchers hope that nutrient signaling can be used to help prevent obesity and related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“Our center focuses on what we consider consumer-friendly, feasible approaches to improving health and nutrition,” Zempleni said. UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman added, “This is the kind of innovative research that attracts funding and impacts lives.”

UNL earned the five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. “The budget environment in (Washington) D.C. is very tough; the competition for resources is very intense and success rates in the United States have reduced in the last five years, noted Prem Paul, UNL’s vice chancellor for research and economic development.

Research expenditures at UNL were $253 million in 2012, the last year for which figures are available. UNL’s goal is to achieve $300 million in research expenditures by 2017.

It’s important to note that the grant provides new opportunities for collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in the areas of nutrition, genetics, biochemistry, food science, immunology and even computer science.

The same can be said of the $10 million NIH grant earned earlier this month by UNO - more than double the largest grant the school had received previously - to establish a center for biomechanics research. The funds will be used to develop new treatments for people recovering from movement-affecting disorders.

When cutting-edge research is happening, the energy ripples through the NU system, opening new possibilities for students and, perhaps, the whole world.

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The Grand Island Independent. Aug. 29, 2014.

A simple idea for corporate tax reform

Every member of Congress plus President Obama is steadfast in favor of comprehensive tax reform. Everyone wants reform, but for years nothing has been done. The problem is that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on what should be included in “comprehensive.”

Now the waters of reform have been further muddied by the introduction of the words “tax inversion” to the public. Taxes paid by corporations are a part of reform, in addition to rules for individuals. And taxes paid by corporations are a big deal, because taxes affect competitiveness in world markets, which further affects corporations’ hiring and wage decisions.

Over the last several years, other nations have gradually reduced their corporate tax rates in attempts to lure businesses (and jobs) to their shores. Today the United States finds itself with the highest corporate tax rate in the world, a fact well known to policymakers in Washington.

This fact also hasn’t been lost on the managements of corporations. And through a process called inversion, they can merge with businesses headquartered outside the United States and pay some taxes at significantly lower rates than ordinarily would be the case.

This has outraged Democrats and the president, and Republicans aren’t happy about it, either. The president is lambasting corporations…continuing a general theme that has been consistent during his two terms in office.

It is not yet clear how the public views this, which isn’t surprising. Most taxpayers try to minimize their own taxes by taking advantage of any provisions of the tax code that might favor them. They understand the rules of the game: don’t break the law, but don’t pay more than required.

The president and Democrats want to try solving the inversion problem with more laws, more regulations, and threats of retribution. Republicans counter that the most effective way to solve the problem is to simply lower the corporate tax rate. The result is another Washington impasse.

Our own view is that corporate tax rates in the United States should be lowered so that we are more competitive in the world economy. We need to do all we can to make it easier for businesses to expand and hire. To offset fears of lower tax revenue, Republicans and Democrats should also agree on which corporate tax loopholes make the least sense, and eliminate them.

This is a fairly simple solution. Washington loves to make things complex, however. That way, some politicians can continue to bloviate about tax reform, rather than enact it.

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Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Aug. 28, 2014.

Prison reform: The focus needs to be on more than just saving money

Within the past year we’ve seen an inmate released by Nebraska’s prison system kill four people in a matter of weeks, although he had committed crimes while incarcerated, threatened to kill and eat people if he was released and had asked for mental health treatment that he never got.

Another inmate struck and killed a Lincoln woman while driving a prison van while transporting other inmates on work release.

Because of liberal awarding of so-called “good time,” hundreds of inmates were wrongly released early, despite clear guidelines from the State Supreme Court on calculating release dates, and then many were rounded up again, all at great expense to taxpayers. Officials who defied those guidelines were allowed to retire rather than being fired. Well-compensated prison directors say they were unaware of the guidelines not being followed.

Gov. Dave Heineman did nothing to address recommendations of a 2006 master plan that warned that prisons, now at 160 percent of capacity, would need to add 1,300 beds at a cost of $88 million to take care of “natural growth” and 4,500 more because of new penalties for involvement with the methamphetamine trade.

So pardon any sensible Nebraskan for being skeptical about proposals to sentence more “non-violent” felons to probation instead of prisons and find other “alternatives to incarceration.” To justice system theorists, prisons are places when people who make mistakes in life are sent to repent, get mental health treatment, learn job skills and emerge as productive members of society. The fact is, Nebraska prisons don’t have sufficient programs to do much of that. In practice, they’re a place where killers languish for decades on Death Row and ordinary criminals acquire body art, burnish their reputations and learn career skills better suited to gang life than the job market.

But prison reform authorities from the Council of State Governments report that Nebraska’s prison system is overcrowded because judges insist on using it to keep felons where they belong. The group has been hired to help the state find a way out of its prison overcrowding dilemmas without building new cells. The group is scheduled to meet again later this year before providing recommendations to the Legislature in January and issuing a final report in September 2015.

Its preliminary report can be summed up as suggesting ways to save money by going easier on crime.

It said a lot of people go to prison because the Legislature demands tough sentences for possession and manufacture of methamphetamine, drunken driving and weapons crimes.

It found that urban judges are more inclined to imprison criminals than country judges. If judges in the state’s urban core sentenced felons to probation at the same rate as judges nationwide, it said, admissions to state prisons could be cut by 500 inmates per year.

It found the number of inmates sentenced to prison terms of a year or less has increased by 30 percent over the past decade and make up a third of all new admissions. They get no rehabilitation, and doing something else with them would save taxpayers $11 million per year.

The report said the state could save money by downsizing other crimes. Felony theft, for example, is defined as stealing $500 or more of stuff that belongs to someone else. The state could save $8.5 million by convicting about 175 thieves each year of misdemeanors instead of felonies for thefts of between $500 and $1,500.

And so forth.

Using probation makes sense for first-time offenders who didn’t leave victims dead or disabled, who admit guilt, express genuine remorse, hold jobs and pay taxes and show promise of being rehabilitated. It makes sense for drunks or addicts who’ll cooperate with treatment programs and who have incentives, such as careers, spouses and children, to stay clean.

Unless it involves intense supervision and zero tolerance for messing up, probation makes little sense for anyone with a history of drug or alcohol offenses or a long rap sheet. The definition of “non-violent” criminals shouldn’t include burglars, repeat drunken drivers, thieves who intimidated victims but didn’t shoot or stab them or members of violent gangs who directed crimes by others. It shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail card for embezzlers or sex offenders.

And before the Legislature agrees to any “justice reinvestment” that involves sending thugs back into our neighborhoods, it ought to ensure that the changes are being made to reduce crime and repair a broken bureaucracy, not just to cut spending and polish the tax-cutting resumes of ambitious politicians. It ought to ensure that the corrections staff, from top to bottom, has been reformed to a point that Nebraskans can feel confident that any changes won’t leave more of us dead or threatened. And it ought to ensure that there’s always a prison cell waiting for a probationer who resumes his or her criminal career.

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