- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. June 17, 2016

UNO seeks to turn the tables on terrorist.

The Internet has proved a strength for the Islamic State, but it also can be a weakness - one the University of Nebraska at Omaha is helping to probe and exploit in the fight against the terrorist organization.

UNO is among 20 universities selected by the federal Department of Homeland Security to receive grants for study of the Islamic State.

Faculty and graduate students at UNO are doing valuable work scrutinizing the terrorist group’s corporate structure and how it handles money.

Two additional parts of the UNO initiative - following clues to track jihadis and studying jihadi programmers’ computer skills using the websites they create - are particularly relevant in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting by an American-born attacker who expressed support for the Islamic State.

U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, R-Neb., is right to push for additional funding for the Homeland Security program.

The Islamic State has been clever in using the Internet for its purposes. Through smart collaborative efforts such as UNO’s, we can use online techniques to turn the tables on these killers.


McCook Daily Gazette. June 16, 2016

Vacation no time to let down your guard.

Our hearts go out to the Nebraska family who suffered the unspeakable horror of seeing their toddler snatched away by an alligator while they were visiting a Disney World resort Tuesday night.

Although the manmade lake had “no swimming” signs posted, the boy was playing in about a foot of water in a beach area when he was grabbed by the reptile, four to seven feet in length. The boy’s body was discovered nearby about 16 hours after he was taken.

It was a bad week for the Orlando area, first with the murder of “The Voice” star Christina Grimmie by a deranged fan, then the terrorist who killed 49 at a gay nightclub before he was killed by police.

It was probably a statistical fluke that Orlando was the scene of three separate tragedies in such a short time, given the millions of people that visit the area in a year’s time.

Stalkers and terrorists aside, however, vacation time is no time to let down your guard when it comes to keeping your family safe.

Yellowstone National Park is a good example of a place where tourists can get into trouble if they don’t respect the natural order of things, whether it’s boiling acidic geyser fields, bison, moose or grizzly bear.

June is National Safety Month, but July is the most dangerous month when it comes to preventable deaths, according to the National Safety Council.

Deaths from things like car crashes, drownings and extreme temperatures spike in July, 11 percent higher than the national average.

“Sun, sand and vacation selfies mark July as the peak of summer,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Making safe choices can ensure July is the best month of the year, not the most deadly,” she said.

Some common sense advice from the NSC:

(asterisk) Avoid speeding, using cell phones and driving under the influence. In 2011, 3,417 people were killed in car crashes in July. Crashes involving speeding and alcohol are highest in the summer, and cell phone use increases crash risk fourfold, even when using a hands-free device.

(asterisk) Place children in age-appropriate car seats. If you are flying, buy a ticket for children ages 2 and younger and place them in an FAA-approved child seat. Do not hold young children on your lap during a flight.

(asterisk) Learn about your vehicle’s safety systems and how to use them. MyCarDoesWhat can help drivers understand features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning systems and backup cameras.

(asterisk) Do not operate a boat while drinking or without a boater’s license

(asterisk) Make sure children use floatation devices and everyone in your group knows how to swim. In 2011, 759 individuals drowned in July.

(asterisk) Stay hydrated and avoid being outside for long periods of time in the extreme heat. In 2011, 270 people were killed in July because of extreme temperatures.

(asterisk) In 2013, 44 kids died from heatstroke because they were left in hot cars. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.


The Grand Island Independent. June 14, 2016

EPA plan to impact travel, safety in G.I..

A long, complex cleanup effort is going to complicate life for thousands of Grand Island and Central Nebraska residents next year.

The Environmental Protection Agency held public meetings and took comments last week on its plan to clean up contaminated water at Fourth and Eddy streets. Unfortunately, the EPA’s plans were a shock to many and will make travel difficult in central Grand Island.

In the spring of next year, the Eddy Street underpass will be closed for two weeks as the EPA installs thermal rods in the ground below the underpass. Then the underpass will be reduced to two lanes - one going in each direction - for up to six months.

This is no small matter. An approximate 10,000 vehicles, 20 percent of Grand Island’s population, travel the Eddy Street underpass daily.

And it’s not just the traffic volume that comes into play. With the Union Pacific Railroad tracks cutting through the center of town, the Eddy Street and Sycamore Street underpasses are sometimes the only way to get across town east of the Highway 281 overpass.

If one of those underpasses is closed, it is a major inconvenience and delay for not only motorists but also for emergency response crews trying to get across town, especially if a train is also blocking other crossings.

It is a major safety and emergency response issue.

That raises the question of whether the cleanup effort is worth the inconvenience and cost. The cleanup work has been frustrating, probably most of all to the EPA.

The contamination came from a former dry cleaning business at 803 W. Fourth St. Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), an industrial solvent, was found in groundwater in the area in 1986.

The site was added to the EPA’s Superfund list and a treatment system was built and started operating in 2000. However, after 16 years the cleanup methods have been ineffective. EPA officials say clay soil is holding the contamination in.

So now the EPA wants to install thermal rods underground that will boil the contaminant to a vapor state and then extraction wells will capture the fumes. It’s a complicated process and is expected to cost between $4 million and $10 million.

Let’s hope this thermal remediation effort works.

No one disagrees with the EPA’s objective of keeping the contaminant from polluting any more of the groundwater than has already occurred.

It’s just frustrating that 16 years of work hasn’t accomplished the goal and now traffic flow in the city will be greatly impacted, as well as the Ministerios Ebenezer Iglesia de Cristo El-Ralpha church having to relocate.

Is the cleanup effort worth the inconvenience and the safety impact it will have? That is a question to consider if the thermal rods also fail to be effective.

City officials must work closely with the EPA to make sure there is as little impact as possible on safety and business in the area. The way it looks, the EPA’s plan isn’t good for traffic flow or safety in the city.


Lincoln Journal Star. June 15, 2016

Public power transparency is at risk.

Public utilities can make a case for keeping some information secret on their costs for generating electricity, but they should be very careful where they draw the line.

They should withhold only absolutely essential information from the public. To withhold anything more would distance the governing boards and executives from their owners - the public.

A transparent relationship is crucial for public utilities to retain public support over the long-term, particularly when rates become volatile.

The issue of confidentiality on the costs of generation has become high-profile recently because Gary Aksamit, a Bruning native who heads First Security Power, an energy marketing company based in Dallas, has gone to court to get more information from the Omaha Public Power District, Nebraska Public Power District and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

Aksamit last year also claimed at an energy symposium that Nebraska ratepayers could save $250 million a year by opening the state’s retail market to outside competition. Nebraska is the only state where all electricity is delivered by publicly owned utilities.

Last year Aksamit said his company plans to build three wind farms in southeastern Nebraska with an investment of $725 million. He has filed a request with the Southwest Power Pool to connect to power transmission lines from a wind farm in Saline County.

So far Aksamit has not filed a legal action against the Lincoln Electric System, LES Vice President Shelley Sahling-Zart said LES staffers spent hundreds of hour gathering information requested by Aksamit, who paid $4,215.50.

Sahling-Zart said LES did not provide information about the rates at which it buys electricity from some renewable energy facilities owned by private developers. She said that information is owned by the private developer and subject to nondisclosure agreements.

In 2014 after signing a contract with the Arbuckle Mountain wind farm in Oklahoma, LES officials said LES officials say that the contracts for electricity from renewable sources will save more than $420 million over the next 25 years, based on a comparison of the cost of the contracts with the projected price of energy in the Southwest Power Pool market.

Kevin Wailes, CEO of LES, said the utility has discussed continuing to provide aggregate rate information, but not a facility-by-facility breakdown.

Whenever the issue of secrecy arises, LES and Nebraska’s other publicly owned utilities should be very careful to give the public enough information to judge whether the utility is being managed properly and efficiently. Public trust and confidence are at stake.

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