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Archive for September 2011

30
Sep

Dems say governor went to Husker games, ribbon-cuttings, rather than address HHS audit

State Dems continue to beat up on Gov. Dave Heineman in the wake of the scathing state audit of his administration’s handling of child welfare reform.

Today, the Dems put out this press release, detailing All the Things the Governor did Rather Than Address the Audit:

After Governor Dave Heineman was caught lying about his office not receiving an early copy of the recent child welfare services audit, further research gives a better idea of what he was doing during that time.

Here are just a few of the items Governor Heineman thought were more important than reading about how his administration wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in overpayments.

1. PHOTO OPS: He attend five ribbon cutting ceremonies during the first week he had the report.
2. FOOTBALL: He attend two Nebraska Cornhusker Football games during the time he had the report.
3. TOOK IT EASY: He had three days with no public schedule during the week of August 1st.
4. ART: He gave remarks at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Calendar Art Contest Award Ceremony on August 9.
5. MORE PHOTO OPS: He spoke to a couple of Rotary Clubs and participated in another ribbon cutting during the week of August 22.
6. ANOTHER PHOTO OP: Found time to give remarks to four different groups during the week of August 29 – and found time for yet another ribbon cutting ceremony.
7. KICKING BACK: Had at least nine weekdays during the stretch with nothing on his public calendar.
8. PETRIFIED: He gave remarks to the Petrified Wood Gallery Facility Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in Ogallala on July 29.
9. PLAYING POLITICS: He did a Radio call-in show at KFOR 1240 AM on August 9th, but made no mention of the enormous problems exposed in the audit.
10. GOT A FREE MEAL: Had a nice dinner aboard the Ak-Sar-Ben Express Union Pacific Train at the Durham Museum on August 12.

Email correspondence shows that Kerry Winterer, the Governor’s appointed CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, received an advanced copy of the report on the evening of July 25 and shared that with members of the Governor’s Office, including Chief of Staff Larry Bare, the following morning. The Governor had previously said his office did not receive the advanced report.

“Between the 25 ceremonial events he attended, he had ample time to either read the report or get a briefing from his staff,” said Jim Rogers, Executive Director of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “He spent another week of deafening silence after the audit was made public, all so he could do what he should have been doing all along – reading the report.”

When the Governor’s lies were exposed in the Omaha World Herald, his spokesperson, Jen Rae Hein declined to say whether the Governor had read the draft report or what his response was to the findings. Instead of answering the question, she just said those asking the questions were playing “politics.”

Yet, the Governor has found all kinds of time to play politics himself recently, pushing for a change in how Nebraska allocates electoral votes. The Governor wants to change the system to winner-take-all because he believes that system would benefit his political party.

“While the Governor was saying that we were being political, he found the time to talk about moving Nebraska to winner take all,” Rogers said. “It begs the question, who is being political now? It sounds to me like he is trying to divert attention from the disaster he created at Health and Human Services.”

30
Sep

TransCanada contractor running pipeline hearings

A reader alerted me to reports that a contractor to TransCanada is running the so-called State Department hearings on the proposed 2,000-mile pipeline that would ship Canadian tar sand oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, we already know the TransCanada consultant Cardno Entrix helped the State Department do two environmental impact statements on the controversial pipeline. No surprise, then, that the State Department concluded the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact as long as it’s done according to regulations.

I’ve spent much of this month working on an oil story that makes it clear to me that all the regulations in the world don’t matter if they are not followed and enforced. Often, in oil country, they are not.

I’m not seeing this reported in the mainstream press — other than by one South Dakota radio station — but on pro-environment web sites Thinkprogress.org and truthout.org (same story), but Bold Nebraska spokeswoman Jane Kleeb says they are right, the hearings were run by Cardno Entrix, and were, in her view, “a mess.” Here’s why, in her words:

From the beginning, all of our groups asked the State Dept to hold
meetings in our communities to comment on the Final Environmental
Impact Statement.

Originally they were not going to hold a round of meetings on the
final EIS.

Once they announced them, our groups weighed in on where they should
be held (originally State was only going to hold one in Lincoln).

Our next request and suggestion was to have the meetings organized
very clealry so as many people could comment as possible.

The national groups expressed various options, things like have people
register ahead of time so they know their speaking slot time AND so
the State Dept knew how long they needed to meetings.

In Nebraska, we could have easily had 3 days of hearings versus other
states had 2 hours left in their meetings where they just then had
“open mic.”

In Lincoln, you had union folks from out of state pushing our folks
and then when our side pushed back the union folks called out for the
police.

In Lincoln and in Atkinson you had union folks signing in for people
like Mike Friend, head of AFP so he did not have to wait in line, so
those folks would wait in line, sign in TransCanada/Union/Allied Group
leaders and then just give them their number tag (people who signed in
to speak were then assign a sticker with a number). We knew he did
this in Lincoln but actually caught him red-handed in Atkinson which
he was not too happy about.

This was told to us by the State Dept that it would NOT be allowed.
Because we wanted to sign in for some ranchers who had morning chores,
we were told we could not that the person who was speaking had to sign
in.

John did talk with the union folks in Atkinson and they did agree to
have each side have equal time for the first 50 speakers. I was not
there for that decision, but I respect John and knew because the way
they had the lines set up outside in Atkinson that maybe that was the
safest way to do it so people didnt push eachother.

But the big problem is Entrix did not think through what happens when
we hit 50, how will the now divided line of pro vs con get signed
in…so then that became a mess to try and “merge” the lines after we
demanded they did so.

When we saw all this happening we told the State Dept to stop signing
people in and asked that they make some corrections, like have folks
show their id. State Dept staff said Entrix is doing the meeting,
Entrix staff said the local police chnaged the sign in process…so as
with many aspects of this issue finger pointing happened while people
were trying to sign in with the process that was outlined by the State
Dept.

The bottom line…

The rules were “first come, first serve” and you had to sign yourself
in.

We followed those rules, the other folks did not.

We had 80% of the crowd but only 50% of the speaking slots because of
the way they signed people in at both meetings.

The State Dept will say “we stayed late to hear everyone” but the
reality is so many folks wanted to speak and when they got there and
saw they would be #250 or so in Lincoln and #180 or so in Atkinson
they figured there was no way they would be called up and some left or
some just watched then.

30
Sep
wpid-IMAG0314.jpg

Pipeline supporters polling Nebraskans

Got a call last night from a pollster wanting my opinion on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

After a short description of all the great things the pipeline would do for our little ol’ state — like generate $150 million in property taxes and untold jobs — the computer-woman asked whether I:

• Support building the pipeline
• Do not support building the pipeline
• Am undecided

It should be noted, building the pipeline in a different location was not an option.

The poll was paid for by Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, which apparently is located in Boys Town.

29
Sep

Washington Post: Bruning’s “abrasive personal style” needs burnishing


Interesting analysis in the Washington Post about the hits Attorney General Jon Bruning has sustained in recent weeks.

The Fix blogger writes that the Nebraska Republican primary was once considered to be a coronation for Bruning in his bid to take U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat, but his recent missteps and revelations about his business dealings have put the party on hold.

“Nebraska political observers cite an abrasive personal style that has rubbed many Republicans the wrong way, and Bruning has suffered from a series of unhelpful headlines and gaffes on the campaign trail,” The Fix reports.

He reports on Bruning dumping his political consultant for a new one — as we told you last week — and hiring a second consultant. He goes on to write:

Those close to Bruning deny the moves constitute any kind of campaign shake-up, but they do acknowledge that it hasn’t been smooth sailing and say the candidate is leaning more on the advice of his new campaign apparatus.

They say they doubt the raccoon comment will hurt him in the long run, but acknowledge their early problems. “The [property] thing creates more of a bump in the road for him,” said a source close to the campaign. “I don’t think it’s a death blow, but it’s a difficulty that he’s going to have to deal with.”

28
Sep

Construction around schools has drivers singing “Can’t get there from here”

Sometimes I think Lincoln’s theme song should be “Can’t get there from here” – it’s like traffic engineers gone wild with all the medians around here.

And parents of kids who go to Southeast High School, Sheridan Elementary School, Calvert Elementary School and Irving Middle School have definitely been singing that song a lot lately, as the routes to schools have dried up recently due to multiple roads under construction near those schools.

As one of my readers, Shawn Traudt, recently wrote to me,

Is it just me, or has the city stumbled upon the most sadistic way to mess with drivers who reside or commute between the areas bounded by 56th and 27th and South to Pioneers? Pioneers is or has been closed. The intersection of 48th & Pioneers, closed. Sheridan from 40th to Calvert and 27th to 33rd, closed. South Street blocked at 38th Street. I may even be missing some.

I’m one of the first to call for improvements to our infrastructure and these are needed projects, but some vision and planning around these projects would have been wonderful. The closure of Sheridan alone, has and continues to impact Calvert Elementary, Sheridan Elementary, Rousseau Elementary, Irving Middle, Southeast High, and Cathedral Schools. With all summer to have been working on these projects, they close the most critical sections during the school year!

I have two kids going to Southeast, and I can tell you, it is quite a journey getting there. Now, I strongly believe Lincoln needs to fix lots of streets – if you are a Lincoln native, you probably don’t realize just how bad of condition the streets are in here. I was recently in an oil patch – and only there are the roads this bad, and everybody is screaming about it out there.

So I asked city officials about this unusual confluence of construction around several schools. Thomas Shafer, design and construction section manager for the city, said the city generally tries not to close two adjacent streets within the same mile, which is why Van Dorn Street has remained construction free despite its condition. (There is some work being done on Van Dorn, however, but it appears to be utility-related, narrowing the street between about 26th and 29th.)

Shafer said when the projects were planned, reconstruction of the South Street bridge (as part of Antelope Valley) was scheduled to start in the fall of 2010 and be done by now. However, the first round of bidding only brought one extremely high bid, so it was re-bid. But since the electric lines (which carry our air conditioning energy) shouldn’t be out of service during times of high loads, the project then had to wait to start in the fall of 2011.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, because the city planned to have Sheridan Boulevard from 40th to Calvert complete before South Street began, but more of the underlying base on Sheridan needed repair than expected, and that project is now two to three weeks behind schedule.

Also, work on Pioneers Boulevard hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped – as many private underground utilities are being found quite a ways from where records indicated they’d be, Shafer said.
And if that weren’t enough bad news, the opening of the intersection of 48th and Pioneers has been delayed because of the storm drainage needs discovered as the underground infrastructure gets exposed, he said.

But Shafer said two of the three north/south streets (33rd, 40th and 48th) have always remained open (never mind the east/west streets for now!) and Van Dorn has been unimpeded (well, except for those workers in orange out there) as well as “non-adjacent stretches” of South Street and Pioneers.

“While we all like to jump in our cars and drive straight to our destination, we ask for continued patience from Lincoln’s drivers has they work their way through and around the roadway construction,” Shafer said.

Traudt said this is an example of what happens with the city puts off needed infrastructure repairs for years, “and then is forced to do multiple, overlapping projects at the same time.”

“There is blame to be assigned over multiple administrations,” he said.

But Shafer is right, too: We Americans are kind of spoiled, and we definitely like to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, especially when gas is $3.59 a gallon. But we also desperately need to fix roads around here (maybe not Sheridan Boulevard, but that’s another blog), so we’re just going to have to, in the words of my mother, “suck it up.”

27
Sep

Navajo Nation tells Urban Outfitters to stop calling clothes “Navajo”

The attorney general for the Navajo Nation has asked nationwide hipster clothing retailer Urban Outfitters to give up its obsession with all things “Navajo.”

Navajo printed fabric-wrapped flask -- yours for $18

In other words, cease and desist with slapping the name “Navajo” on T-shirts, earrings, dresses, scarves, bags, beanies, tank tops, bracelets, tunics, flasks (no I am not making this up), beaded necklace crop fringe tank tops, socks, sneakers, duffle bags, handkerchiefs and panties. Yes, even panties.

If you go to urbanoutfitters.com and search for Navajo, you will see that this chain is definitely trying to create the next big trend, which I’ll call Native American chic. Not only are they appropriating the word Navajo (although that definitely seems to be their favorite), but also Cherokee, Indian and Tribal.

You might think Native Americans would be flattered, and you might be wrong. At least one tribe is not amused: According to this blog, the attorney general for the Navajo Nation sent a cease-and-desist request to Urban Outfitters, saying the company’s use of the word will cause confusion in the marketplace and society because people will wrongly think the Navajo Nation authorized the use of the label — which, by the way, the nation actually has trademarked for many clothing items.

Navajo hipster panty: $8

They wrote:

This undermines the character and uniqueness of the Nation’s long-standing distinctive Navajo name and trademarks, which—because of its false connection with the Nation—dilutes and tarnishes the name and trademarks. … The Nation must maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid association with its government, its institutions, its entities, its people, and their products in commerce.When an entity attempts to falsely associate its products with the Nation and its products, the Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial.

The blogger trying to bring this to light said the products — which are “loosely based on Navajo rug designs or Pendleton designs” — represent a stereotype of southwest Native cultures. “Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people with a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring,” she wrote.

“Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban chose ‘Navajo’ for the international recognition — to most of the world, Navajo (and Cherokee) equals American Indian,” she wrote. “This conflation of Navajo with ‘generic Indian’ contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the U.S. and solidifies the idea that there is only one ‘Native’ culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.”

Now, I like Urban Outfitters. Been shopping there since we discovered their Minneapolis store in the early 1990s. It has since become a popular chain that seems to lean left, based on the books and trinkets it sells. But a Navajo flask? Panties? They were definitely not being politically correct when they came up with those products.

24
Sep

Councilwoman wanted arena groundbreaking “before I became too ill”

Outgoing City Councilwoman Jayne Snyder talks about what Lincoln’s arena project means to her in an interview on the city public access channel.

Councilwoman Jayne Snyder

Snyder is resigning from her position on the City Council because she has pancreatic cancer. In a “City Focus” segment that airs on Channel 5, Snyder said the project means a lot to her and even though she doesn’t expect to live long enough to see the arena opening in September 2013, she can visualize crowds cheering.

“Some peole don’t realize the true meaning it has for me,” she said. “I put a lot of hours into it. I wanted the groundbreaking before I became too ill. I know I won’t make it to the first opening but I very much can dream and think about the first show and the first opening of the arena.”

Snyder said if she could choose the first act to perform in the arena, it would be the Rolling Stones.

“I think it would bring together people of all ages,” Snyder said.

You can watch the segment here by clicking on “City Focus: The arena.”

Snyder said she is most proud of her contribution to Lincoln’s trail system, but the arena will also be part of her legacy. She was elected in 2009. This week the City Council will vote on a replacement for her.

23
Sep

Governor got the HHS report after all

Gov. Dave Heineman

The Omaha World-Herald is reporting today that Gov. Dave Heineman’s office indeed did get a copy of the scathing audit of his child welfare reform initiative — contrary to complaints he made that the state auditor didn’t give it to him before the media.

The World-Herald clearly got the story from state Democrats, who filed an open records request to follow the email trail to see whether Heineman’s complaints were legitimate. Those emails show the head of Nebraska Health and Human Services forwarded the draft report to the governor’s office on July 26. The audit was released to the public on Sept. 7.

Ouch.

23
Sep

Here’s the Antelope Valley deal

Antelope Valley channel in 2010.


If you’re interested in reading the actual document that all the contractors and subcontractors involved in the Antelope Valley bridge problems agreed to, here it is: Agreement in Principle AV Bridge Spalling w Constructors Inc Signature.

The mayor announced this agreement laying out how the $250,000 worth of repairs to bridges will be paid for. Beutler ordered the trails under N, O, P and Q streets closed in January after an 18-inch-long piece of the bridge fell off the bottom of the O Street bridge, and cracks were found in the bottom of other bridges.

All the contractors and subcontractors agreed pay for the repairs and not sue each other. The city’s New York-based consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, designed and inspected all but one of the Antelope Valley bridges.

22
Sep

Bruning fires his political consultant


A liberal blogger thinks so — and is reporting as much.

I wouldn’t think Kyle Michaelis would be the first to know if Attorney General Jon Bruning really fired his political consultant — but then again, Michaelis might be the first to report such a thing, since bloggers don’t have to name their sources and all.

Michaelis is reporting that “the word in local political circles” is that Bruning has canned San Francisco-based Bob Wickers of Dresner Wickers & Associates — Bruning’s consultant since 2001. He theorizes that this is a response to the withering publicity Bruning has endured for, oh, about six weeks now.

I asked around, and I’m told Wickers has been replaced with Larry McCarthy — which Politico calls “the GOP’s leading practitioner of the art of the attack ad.” This is the guy who made his name by being the architect behind the 1988 Willie Horton ad that helped defeat Michael Dukakis, according to Politico.

So fasten your seatbelts, people — this campaign may get ugly. I mean uglier.

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