- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

Omaha World-Herald. July 16, 2014.

Investment can make a difference

It’s no surprise that a large portion of venture capital goes toward the “cool” stuff. Stuff such as phone apps that help people improve the way they do social networking, order pizza or keep up with Hollywood celebrities.

That’s fine, but it’s encouraging to read in Modern Farmer magazine that some investors are turning their attention to supporting innovative ideas for efficient water use.

Technology that promotes prudent use of this essential resource for agriculture and other needs might not sound cool to some, but that is just the type of scientific advancement 21st-century agriculture needs. At present, less than 1 percent of U.S. venture capital goes toward water-efficiency breakthroughs.

Reporting by Circle of Blue, a research/journalist group that studies water issues, recently pointed out a key reason why the world needs technological innovation on water needs:

“Aquifers that nourish some of the richest farmland and the largest countries are under stress. Aquifers in California’s Central Valley, India’s Ganges Plain, the grasslands of northern China, and the Arabian Peninsula are all shrinking.”

Water scarcity has dramatically reduced cattle numbers in the southern Plains and spurred the state government in Kansas to rework its water laws and begin a process for crafting a 50-year statewide water plan.

In Nebraska - which leads the nation with 8.3 million acres in irrigation - a state water task force this year developed legislation that’s launched a statewide collaboration to strengthen water sustainability.

Meanwhile, the ongoing drought in California is projected to spur farmers to let 800,000 acres lie fallow this year due to water shortages. The catastrophic drought has spurred some Bay Area investors to begin putting money into new ideas for water sustainability.

This issue relates directly to the University of Nebraska’s Daugherty Water for Food Institute and its annual conference, set for October. The annual event attracts water experts from around the world.

Topics for this year’s conference - to be held this for the first outside Nebraska, in Seattle - include “Innovations in Irrigation Data Systems” and “Implications of Metering for Agricultural Water Management.”

The theme for the conference is “Harnessing the Data Revolution: Ensuring Water and Food Security From Field to Global Scales.”

Venture capital isn’t a charity, of course. Investors rightly expect that the technologies and services they invest in have a reasonable chance of viability. The slowness with which new water technologies are often adopted is a complication in winning startup capital, the Modern Farmer article explains.

Still, the article describes several early-stage technologies of interest:

A data-gathering bracelet on California grapevines to transmit water information in real time. Water-sensing microchips. Technology to process agricultural drainage water into usable water. A computer network to gather environmental and weather data in hopes of predicting the onset of drought.

Development of water-efficiency technology may never be considered as cool as phone apps, but in a world facing growing water and food challenges, such investment is critical for urban and rural folks alike.


Lincoln Journal Star. July 14, 2014.

Answers needed on inmate releases

It’s been almost four weeks since Gov. Dave Heineman promised that those responsible for the premature release of violent offenders from prison would be held accountable.

How long will Nebraskans have to wait?

The early release of the prisoners unnecessarily placed the public at risk. Nebraskans deserve an explanation of why it happened, and how the problem has been fixed.

Nebraskans already were uneasy about competency at the state Department of Correctional Services.

Most prominent among the recent problems at the department was the release of Nikko Jenkins last July without seeking a civil commitment to a mental institution. Within days of his release, Jenkins killed four people in Omaha. He is awaiting sentencing.

The department also allowed Jeremy Dobbe, a man with several driving-related convictions, to hold a prison job requiring him to pick up work-release inmates from their jobs late at night.

Last June, Dobbe slammed a state-owned prison van into a minivan driven by 47-year-old Lincoln nurse Joyce Meeks, killing her. His speed on a Lincoln city street was estimated at 90 miles per hour. He was sentenced to an additional 18 to 20 years in prison.

It’s disconcerting to think that the early release of prisoners might still be going on if a couple World-Herald reporters had not detected that something was amiss about the way the department was calculating release dates.

After a review, state officials said that more than 300 inmates had been released early because of mistakes on how much good time should be applied to their sentences.

Fortunately, it appears that none of those released early went on a violent crime spree.

Authorities should be credited with rounding up the criminals in efficient fashion and returning them to prison. Some inmates were allowed to remain in their communities because they were past their recalculated release dates, and had committed no new crimes.

To be sure, state officials may need to be ultracareful to make sure they don’t breach any personnel rules.

Nonetheless, the people of Nebraska deserve answers, and soon. Preserving public safety is one of the most basic functions of government. The governor needs to make good on his promise


The Grand Island Independent. July 16, 2014

Hall County right to no longer accept ‘detainers’

Following a movement across the country, the Hall County Jail will no longer accept “detainers,” the term used to identify undocumented inmates who have been detained past the length of incarceration without probable cause related to a criminal violation. Lack of documentation does not solely constitute probable cause for violation of immigration laws.

Federal courts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island ruled earlier this year that immigration detainers do not amount to the probable cause required by the Constitution to detain individuals in jail.

Sheriffs and department of corrections officials around the nation are no longer following the Obama administration’s policy directing local jurisdictions to hold noncitizens accused, charged or convicted of crimes for up to 48 hours of additional time.

Based on legal challenges made regarding the administration’s policy in other jurisdictions, Hall County Corrections Director Fred Ruiz consulted with Chief Deputy Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf, jail attorney Jerry Janulewicz and Vince Valentino, the attorney for the county’s insurance carrier.

Ruiz’s suspicions were confirmed by legal counsel that the county could run the risk of violating the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of noncitizens apprehended and detained beyond the statutory time allowed for their offenses.

A decade ago, the administration, through the Department of Homeland Security, asked local jurisdictions to comply with the immigration hold request to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement more time to investigate noncitizen offenders in order to establish probable cause for deportation for immigration violations. The policy now requests that jailers send fingerprints of everyone arrested to the Department of Homeland Security to be checked against databases to track immigration violations.

The Obama administration expanded the detainer program in an effort to strengthen immigration enforcement and create a uniform policy for local law authorities to follow. Instead, the guidelines for law enforcement authorities and the judicial system are a shamble.

For years local authorities have been treating the ICE detainer documents as de facto warrants. This spring a federal magistrate in Oregon ruled that a local sheriff had violated an undocumented woman’s civil rights by holding her in the county jail at the request of federal agents. The judge ordered the county to pay damages. Authorities in Oregon, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Washington, and other states soon stopped honoring the detainer policy for fear of running into similar legal challenges.

The unraveling of the detainer program is just one example of the federal government’s inability to establish a coherent, fair, humane, manageable, constitutionally grounded immigration policy. Hall County officials made the right decision to no longer comply with the ICE detainer policy, although frustration and confusion remains.


Scottsbluff Star-Herald. July 15, 2014

Gambling: Amendment would open the door to casinos - and social problems - in Nebraska

A proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot will mark the first time in a decade that Nebraska voters will be asked to approve a new form of gambling.

When Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed a bill two years ago that would have allowed betting on historical horse races, he cited concerns about whether it was constitutional. Three similar efforts have been turned down by the Nebraska Legislature. This year’s effort seeks to make an end run around political opposition by asking voters to amend the state Constitution to allow gambling via video terminals at the state’s licensed horse tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus and Hastings.

The amendment is billed as an effort to save the state’s horse racing industry, which has struggled as gamblers have been lured away to casinos in other states and to other forms of gambling such as the lottery. Instant Racing video terminals would allow bettors to place wagers on previously run races after being provided the racing history of the horses and jockeys involved in the rebroadcast races. The identities of the horses and riders are changed to guard against bettors recalling the outcomes of old races. Proponents say that allowing video wagering terminals would increase revenue for horse racing and increase live races and boost jobs in the industry.

Opponents are skeptical, fearing the amendment would open the door to other forms of gambling. After casinos were allowed in Iowa in a bid to save the greyhound industry, the casinos later complained that the dog races were draining profits and sought to pay dog breeders $70 million to shut down in a bid to redevelop the racetracks as hotels and expand the casinos.

Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life, a longtime opponent of expanded gambling in Nebraska, calls gambling a tax on the poor. She notes that the horse track in Omaha, which used to raise money for charitable works by Ak-Sar-Ben, now holds only two races a year. The track in Lincoln shut down when the State Fair moved to Grand Island. She’s skeptical that the long-term aim is to keep the tracks in business.

“This is not innocuous,” she said Monday on a visit to Scottsbluff. “It isn’t going to save the horse racing industry.”

On a recent research trip, she said, she found that players using the Instant Racing machines ignored the racing, which she described as a loophole, and focused on a slots option. She predicted that once (the machines are) legal, Nebraska Indian tribes would seize on the opportunity and open their own outlets for Instant Racing.

“This is the camel getting its nose under the tent,” agreed the Rev. Lauren Ekdahl of Gering United Methodist Church, a local opponent of gambling. “It will become pervasive.”

He worries that expanded gambling will hurt families that can least afford it and would create more problems than it would solve.

“It doesn’t create any product,” he said. “It doesn’t create any jobs.”

Despite numerous strategies to open up gambling in Nebraska, the Legislature and voters have repeatedly turned them down. Over the past decade, Nebraska voters have rejected four ballot measures aimed at legalizing expanded gambling.

You don’t have to look far to find cases of people ruining their lives and careers after getting hooked on gambling, including, ironically, a former state legislator. Lottery tickets and keno parlors are already legal for Nebraskans who have a few bucks to wager, and casinos are only a few hours away by car or air. Build a casino in every mid-size Nebraska town and the problems would stay right at home while the profits go to Vegas and the taxes go to Lincoln.

It’s not hard to imagine that once the real horses become a nuisance, the “tracks” will argue that the ponies are costing them jobs and profits, and they’ll want to do away with real racing altogether.

No, thanks. Let’s not amend the state constitution for the sake of a dying industry, or for the benefit of slot machine makers and casino operators.



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