- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. December 9, 2016

Branstad pick will boost U.S.-China ties.

President-elect Donald Trump has made some provocative decisions in foreign policy, from speaking by phone with Taiwan’s president to blasting China on Twitter.

But Trump’s calming choice Wednesday could ease fears of tensions escalating between the world’s top two economies. He tapped America’s longest-serving governor, Iowa’s Terry Branstad, as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

The nomination comes as both nations jockey for economic and military influence in Asia, at a pivotal moment in the relationship.

China is Iowa’s third-largest export market, at $1.2 billion last year. It is Nebraska’s fourth-largest export market, at $484 million. Both states sell corn, pork, beef, soybeans and more to China.

International markets responded positively after Trump chose a longtime friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping to represent the American government in Beijing.

Branstad has known Xi since 1985. The Iowan was in his first term as governor when he welcomed a young Communist Party official from China’s Hebei province to Iowa for an agricultural exchange.

The two have visited each other frequently since then, both in China and the United States. Branstad has made four trade trips to China since being re-elected in 2011.

Branstad and Xi say they share a friendship built on mutual respect. But, as former Branstad aide Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register, “There’s not just a respect there. There’s a kinship that’s hard to describe.” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called Branstad “an old friend of the Chinese people.”

That personal bond could be useful as Trump seeks to navigate rough patches and potential shifts in American foreign policy on issues such as trade, the South China Sea, the North Korean nuclear threat and now Taiwan, which the U.S. has recognized as part of China since 1972.

Branstad is in a strong position with both leaders. He was an early Trump supporter, and the governor’s son helped the Trump campaign finish a surprising second in Iowa. This positions Branstad as a steadying hand, trusted in Washington and Beijing.

That’s a welcome trait, given the complexities of Sino-American relations - and both countries’ increasing economic reliance on each other.


The Grand Island Independent. December 9, 2016

Setting the record straight on Standing Rock.

The latest flashpoint in the environmental movement’s North American battle against fossil fuel development is rooted in an encampment near Cannon Ball, N.D., on the northern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

On the surface, the protest pits the Standing Rock Sioux against big oil’s intrusion into their world. This week the Obama administration directed the U.S. Corps of Engineers to deny the final permit needed to complete the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) project. The pipeline is sited to connect the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois via a 1,172-mile route. Construction of the pipeline is 22 percent complete.

The protest has drawn support from Native Americans from around the country, entertainers, and the usual cast of environmental activists, including Earth Justice, the Sierra Club, Bold Nebraska and a host of other green special interests.

Paid consultants and activists have crafted a compelling narrative based on a number of fables. Despite the poignant appeals and the staged dramatic images, the issue isn’t about despoiling sovereign native lands, contamination of tribal water supplies or protecting indigenous cultural resources.

The facts are these: From an environmental standpoint, the pipeline is the safest option. The 500,000 barrels of oil that will traverse the pipeline daily is now being transported in more carbon-intensive modes - rail tanker cars or long-haul tanker trucks. Both modes have been prone to catastrophic, sometimes deadly failures. So blocking this pipeline in the interest of reducing greenhouse gases is a bogus notion. The greater environmental risks come with surface transport.

The pipeline doesn’t cross tribal land, nor does it harm cultural resources. The pipeline does not cross any land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux. The land sited in North Dakota belongs to private owners and the U.S. government. A dangerous precedent will be set if the Standing Rock tribe were allowed to block the pipeline on land outside its jurisdiction. The due diligence to site the DAP was thorough and inclusive, involving 389 recorded meetings between the Army Corps and 55 tribes to review the DAP. The pipeline’s route parallels existing infrastructure that includes high-voltage transmission towers and the Northern Border Pipeline, a route carefully plotted on private land to minimize environmental impact and avoid encroachment on areas of potential cultural importance.

The argument about potential harm to the water supply doesn’t hold water. Long before the DAP was conceived, the Standing Rock tribe collaborated with the Army Corps to relocate its drinking-water intake 70 miles downstream of where the proposed pipeline will cross the Missouri River. The high-tech pipeline built to exceed federal safety standards will be embedded 100 feet below the surface of the river. Automatic shutoff valves will be affixed on either side of the river as an added precaution. Little mention is made of eight gas and oil pipelines that already safely cross the Missouri River.

Certainly, it is heartening to see broad support and attention given to any legitimate cause that would help America’s native peoples.

But the DAP has been legally permitted and the fight to stop it is being miscast as a battle to protect native sovereign interests. In reality, the showdown is a political line in the shifting sands pitting energy development against the green movement. President Obama’s gesture was an 11th hour payback to the environmental groups who helped him get elected. The incoming administration will focus on the facts and the sufficiency of the process already in place.


Lincoln Journal Star. December 9, 2016

Center plays crucial role for children.

The name of the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln shows up frequently in news stories, typically in a sentence something like this: “In an interview at the Child Advocacy Center, the girl said he raped her, police said in the affidavit.”

The Sunday Journal Star story “Twenty questions on 20 years of vision and drive .” gave a more complete picture of what the center does and how it came to be.

It’s frightening to imagine the community without it. The center plays a crucial role in the justice system and in providing help and healing for victims of abuse. The scope and importance of its work deserve to be widely known.

Some of the people instrumental in founding the center - then-County Attorney Gary Lacey, then-Police Chief Tom Casady, Sheriff Terry Wagner and then-Mayor Mike Johanns - have retired or moved on to other things.

For the past 20 years, Executive Director Lynn Ayers has been at the heart of the center as it struggled in the early years to fulfill its role in a community that had yet to comprehend the extent of abuse and as the agency gradually became an integral and essential part of the city and expanded to serve other parts of Southeast Nebraska.

In the interview with Journal Star writer Cindy Lange-Kubick, Ayers recalled the early years. She started in 1996 and was the only employee until 2001. Her 8-year-old daughter was her “trusted assistant.” Ayers and her first full-time advocate, Debbe Andrews, recall sleeping on the couch in the “little yellow house.” Why go home when you had to be back at work in three hours?

The numbers from 2015 show the breadth of the center’s work. During the year, center staff saw 1,028 “unduplicated” victims. Of those, 731 were referred for sexual abuse, 256 for neglect, 161 for physical abuse, 118 after witnessing domestic violence, and so on. Seven were referred after witnessing homicides.

The center has been the recipient of numerous private donations over the years, including $253 from the little boy who showed up at the Christmas potluck dinner with money he raised himself.

None, however, matched the $1 million gift from Larry the Cable Guy, who has a lengthening list of good deeds behind his name. The gift from Dan and Cara Whitney allowed the center to move out of its little yellow house and into a big house on Garland Street.

The success of the center is due to the passion and professionalism of people like Ayers who work there. We hope they continue to make their motto come true: “Helping children thrive, not just survive.”


Kearney Hub. December 8, 2016.

Ricketts has another way to cut farm taxes.

From the “every little bit helps” department has emerged a plan by Gov. Pete Ricketts to protect the owners of agricultural land against the property valuation hikes that occur when farm land fetches prices that are far, far above what similar parcels would bring under normal circumstances.

Land buyers will pay premium prices, depending upon a variety of circumstances, such as special financing, tax advantages, or a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to purchase parcels that adjoin their farms or ranches. Because comparative sales factor so highly into property valuations, such over-inflated purchases cause the values of nearby properties to rise disproportionately.

Ricketts is right to direct assessors to factor over-inflated sales out of their valuations. It’s a start, but much more work is needed to reform the state’s tax system, which is overly reliant on property tax revenue.

The ag valuation directive is among several initiatives the governor is pursuing to grow Nebraska’s economy by helping its chief industry, agriculture. Recently, Ricketts led state trade delegations overseas promoting the quality of Nebraska-grown beef in Europe and China.

Boosting exports helps Nebraska farmers. The healthier our state’s ag-based income is, the healthier the rest of our state is.__

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