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1
Feb

Snow day!

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In the photo above, kids were making snow tunnels out of the snow piled up on Sheridan Boulevard, despite bone-chilling, sub-zero wind chills late Tuesday afternoon. You gotta love that.

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1
Feb

Mayor bans city employees from accepting most gifts

And you didn’t even know city employees could accept gifts, huh?

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler

Mayor Chris Beutler today signed an executive order banning city employees from accepting gifts. The mayor said the new rules were issued to “further the cause of good government and ensure public confidence in our public servants” and not a response to any reported problems.

“I can honestly tell you that the people in city government are people of integrity who give their all each and every day to make this city the best it can be,” Beutler said. “Perception, however, accurate or not, can be a powerful force in shaping public opinion. If the public believes that impropriety can and may exist, we can never achieve all we can be. The rules that govern city hall must never leave a doubt that our employees are acting in good faith, that their guiding principle is policy, and not personal gain.”

I found this dog-and-pony-show interesting, considering the mayor and several city employees were flown around the country last October to look at arenas, and then the mayor refused to disclose who paid for the trip until his hand was virtually forced. (Nelnet paid for the flights on their jet.) And even then, he never said how much the trip cost.

Did anyone at the press conference ask Beutler whether his trip was OK? Is he subject to these rules? And what about calling up construction companies that are vying to for the job as general contractor on the $168 million arena and asking them for donations to your mayoral campaign? Just looking for some clarification on this, mayor.

Councilman Doug Emery joined Beutler for the announcement, and said he would ask other council members to consider adopting the same policy.
“We cannot ask the community to follow our lead if they are suspicious of our motives,” Emery said.

State law already prohibits city employees from using their positions to solicit or accept anything of value in exchange for a favor. Lincoln’s municipal code includes a similar prohibition. The new executive order replaces one from 1985 that allows for the acceptance of gifts valued at less than $10. Beutler said a weakness of the previous executive order is that it did not limit the number of gifts that could be received. The executive order also extends the ban to employees’ spouses, children and parents.

While I think Beutler needs to abide by these same rules, I give him credit for strengthening the city rules on this. A few years ago I wrote about how city employees get gifts and free lunches and holiday dinners — particularly from engineers and architects and construction companies vying for city business. They were violating the city rules, but nobody seemed to care.

Beutler said the policy allows for “common sense exceptions,” including gifts of snacks for holidays and other occasions; flowers received in connection with funerals; admission to events employees are required to attend for official city business; and ceremonial gifts given to the city. (Seems like a lot of loopholes when it might be easier to just ban all gifts.)

“The existing state law, city ordinances and executive order are not enough,” Beutler said. “The new guidelines are more fair, more clear and more representative of the ethical standard for employees expected by my administration and the public.”

1
Feb

Nelson: “Most Disloyal Democrat”?

The Daily Beast recently put Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson at the top of its list most-hated Democrats who are “driving liberals mad” with their moderate inclinations.

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson

The Beast pointed to Nelson’s recent designation as “Most Disloyal Democrat” by CQ Politics, which counted up votes and determined he’d only voted with his party 54 percent of the time on key votes — the lowest of any senator in either party. (Time to switch parties, maybe?). They suggest Nelson is vulnerable to being ousted — or deterred from running again Joe Lieberman-style — by a more progressive person like the dashing young Scott Kleeb.

However, Kleeb made it clear he ain’t about to challenge Nelson, and his wife, Bold Nebraska leader Jane Kleeb, said Nelson isn’t that bad to progressives in Nebraska. He votes correctly on many of the biggest issues, she said.

But I think the Daily Beast is beastly wrong on this, because Nebraska is a far cry from true-blue Connecticut. If Nelson is going to get unseated, it’ll be by an actual Republican, not a more liberal Democrat.

1
Feb

Steve Forbes tells UNL students capitalists aren’t evil-doers

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A UNL student had a chance to ask magazine scion and former presidential hopeful Steve Forbes one question on a snowy Tuesday morning, and so he asked what advice he would give aspiring entrepreneurs who want to get on the cover of Forbes magazine.

“Succeed,” Forbes deadpanned.

Although he acknowledged halfway through his talk to an auditorium full of UNL students that he was probably talking about “the most boring thing in the world” to them, Forbes was selling capitalism today, and he was selling it hard.

He said there is virtue in business and capitalism — that businessmen like him are not the miserly, greedy villains they’re often made out to be by Hollywood. Have you ever noticed business people are always either “very thin” or “grossly overweight” in Hollywood, he said. Popular culture views commerce as “sorta grubby” and based on greed, he said, and if you succeed in commerce “you make up for your sins by giving back” — which makes it sound like you took something that wasn’t yours in the first place.

He argued that commerce is humane, helps break down divisions between people and helps societies flourish.

“Government doesn’t create money,” he said. “You do.”

He said every economic disaster originates in “massive government errors” and blamed the nation’s current economic woes on the Fed mucking things up by printing too much money and said it’s also hurting the recovery. Although he did say that doesn’t excuse the “avarice, greed and stupidity of Wall Street” in contributing to the problem.

He predicted the dollar would be linked to gold within five years, and that the economy would grow at a rate of 3.5 to 4 percent this year.

He railed against the 9.5-million-word tax code, saying, “You don’t have to travel to the Amazon to see exotic creatures — they’re crawling around in this code.”
Government is necessary to enforce laws, provide sound monetary policy and low taxes and remove barriers to business, he said, but lately the nation has “gone on a binge” with regulations. He claimed the EPA is now preparing to regulate oil spills on farms and ranches, and include milk in its definition of oil.

He lobbied for a more free market approach to health care, rather than the current “hybrid, wacko system” in America or Obamacare.

He also predicted big change coming to education — because skyrocketing tuition rates will not be tolerated. People are beginning to question whether it’s worth it to spend $5,000 on a college Calculus course that they could buy online for $67. College graduates should not be saddled with a “mini-mortgage,” he asked.

Asked by one student if he’d ever run for president again, he said no.
“I’m an agitator,” he said. “I have more fun stirring the pot.”