The Grand Island Independent. Sept. 8, 2013.
Seeing red over vets home signs
Though the veterans home sign mystery amounts to little more than a tempest in a teapot, this unfortunate and bizarre incident fuels the fires of doubt regarding the judgment of state officials.
If state officials were on a mission to find an effective way to smite an already outraged community, they could not have done better than to plant signs on the grounds of the Grand Island Veterans Home declaring that "Grand Island" has been erased from the Nebraska veterans home landscape.
The three new dual-sided, tan and white signs that were erected sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning renamed the property the "Central Nebraska Veterans' Home."
In a hilariously implausible apology, the sign company took the bullet for the alleged error. "The mistake was on our end," said Todd Carey, general manager of ASI Sign Innovations in Omaha. "The wrong version of the signs was approved by the project manager." Wrong town, wrong address, wrong name, and wrong date notwithstanding, ASI Sign Innovations, a reputable sign company, could not have made such a series of boneheaded mistakes, especially when dealing with an important customer such as the State of Nebraska.
When Mayor Jay Vavricek learned of the signs, he was shocked the state could have committed such a disturbingly insensitive and disrespectful act in his community. He visited the home to see the signs and then contacted the governor's office to register his feelings. The signs were quickly removed.
The "Central Nebraska Veterans' Home" signs were ordered in August 2012, then revised in September 2012 and again in April 2013.
John Hilgert, director of the Division of Veterans Homes and Veterans Affairs, would have been the state official responsible for ordering the signs more than a year ago and likely presided over the subsequent revisions to the signs. The fact that the signs were ordered long before anyone except Kearney officials were aware that the GIVH was being considered for relocation only fortifies the bias and unfairness that has belied the so-called competitive bidding process from the beginning.
The state officials who demonstrated such careless disregard for the feelings of the people of Grand Island and the veterans and staff at the GIVH must be held accountable. The truth will eventually surface. An apology from a sign company is not good enough.
McCook Daily Gazette. Sept. 4, 2013.
Women bear more than their share of military sacrifice
The women's movement has struggled for equality for years, but when it comes to one aspect of serving in the military, women have, unfortunately, achieved more than their share.
A RAND Corp. study found predictable results when it tracked the marital status of more than 460,000 U.S. service members between 1999 and 2008. With each passing month that a spouse was away at war, the chance of divorce increased.
Especially vulnerable were couples who married before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, who didn't expect long deployments to be part of the equation.
We don't know if RAND studied National Guard and Reservists in particular, but the change probably had especially strong impact on those couples.
The overall divorce rate in the military increased gradually from 2.6 percent of marriages in 2001 to 3.7 percent in 2011, according to Pentagon data. The longer the deployment, 12 months vs. 18 months, for example, the greater the risk of divorce.
Are husbands more likely to stray when wives are away at war?
The data seems to indicate that, if one assumes it's a major factor in divorce. Women in the service have a higher rate of divorce then men under normal circumstances, but when a combat deployment is involved, things get worse.
According to the RAND study, a woman in the service faces a 50 percent chance of seeing her marriage fail during the first five years.
What's the answer? For one friends and family of military families should do everything they can to support couples facing deployment.
For another, we should do everything we can to make sure those deployments are kept to the bare minimum.
Lincoln Journal Star. Sept. 7, 2013.
The politics of conservation
Credit the Natural Resources Defense Council for trying to drum up support for revamping federally subsidized crop insurance to discourage farming on marginal land.
Last month the environmental advocacy organization unveiled "Your Soil Matters," its plan for encouraging good conservation practices.
The crop insurance program, which provides a guarantee of revenue to farmers, coupled with high grain prices, have been credited for giving farmers an incentive to convert high erodible land or wetlands to crop land.
The NRDC said that the crop insurance program — the federal government currently pays about 62 percent of the premiums for farmers — should be modified to be more like car insurance, which gives a better rate to good drivers than to those with a bad record.
The Federal Crop Insurance Program last year had a record $17.3 billion in payouts because of the historic drought.
In a news release, the NRDC offered this quote from North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown: "Farmers can apply their own skills to build healthy soil, reduce the worst effects of climate change, and rein in the skyrocketing costs of this program."
Despite the farmer quote, it should be recognized that the NRDC is not widely viewed as an ally among traditional farm groups. And there was immediate push back from National Crop Insurance Services, which said, "NRDC's assertion that crop insurance enticed farmers to plant in risky areas lacks adequate analytical foundation."
Nonetheless, farm state representatives might need to start looking for friends in new places.
The future of farm subsidy programs is uncertain after the House of Representatives failed earlier this year to approve a farm bill. The old alliance between urban members of Congress who wanted a strong food stamp program and rural members who wanted farm subsidies may be breaking up.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln already has worked to bolster conservation provisions in farm legislation. For example, he co-sponsored a bill that would have required farmers to develop a conservation plan when seeking crop insurance on high erodible land.
Such a requirement is not only prudent environmental policy, Fortenberry said, it is also good farm policy.
The ideas promoted by the NRDC — cover cropping, no-till farming and better irrigation scheduling — are hardly revolutionary. A farm bill that encourages those practices would be good for the country, as well as having a better chance of getting through Congress.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Sept. 7, 2013.
We need more foster families: The state's policies are getting in the way
When it comes down to it, we should be thinking about what's best for our state's children.
Three gay Nebraska couples sued Gov. Dave Heineman on Aug. 27, over the state's policy banning same-sex couples from adopting children or being foster parents.
The policy, established in 1995, prohibits the state from allowing adoption by or issuing foster parent licenses to "persons who identify themselves as homosexuals" or who are "unrelated, unmarried adults residing together," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the policy violates the couple's equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"The Nebraska policy that categorically excludes gay and lesbian individuals and couples from serving as foster and adoptive parents to children in state custody is unconstitutional," says the lawsuit filed in Lancaster County District Court by the Nebraska and national American Civil Liberties Union and lawyers from the New York City law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.
Nebraska lawmakers are expected to debate a bill (LB 385) next session that would allow placement of foster children with gay or lesbian relatives or people with established relationships with a child.
LB 385 states: When determining the suitability of placement, family participation and/or issuing a foster care license, the Department of Health and Human Services will not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, identity, disability, marital status or national origin. Instead, all placement decisions will be based on the health, safety and well-being of the child.
Putting the child's needs first seems to make sense.
According to the Nebraska DHHS, the state of Nebraska had 5,042 state wards as of April 1. The foster program breakdown includes 1,625 that are in homes and 3,777 out of the home in youth shelters, such as CAPWN's Youth Shelter.
As of April, there are 456 children who are state wards in the western service area and 364 of those children are currently placed out of their homes, spending an average of seven months in foster care or other placement. The average age of state wards is 17 years old for boys and 15-16 for females.
At the same time, there are only 175 licensed foster homes in the 29 counties that are in the western service area. About 150 to 200 children are placed with relatives.
The ultimate goal is to keep kids in the same, nurturing foster home until they can be reunited with their family. Most foster kids come from abusive or neglectful homes.
Tammy Benson, resource family worker with TFI Family Services Inc., a nonprofit organization, told the Star-Herald in April that the organization has contracted with Nebraska DHHS to place children in homes.
"We cannot have enough foster homes," Benson said, "especially for teens and higher-level needs children. There are a lot of people willing to take in infants and toddlers, but shy away from the older children."
The Nebraska state policy was laid out in a 1995 administrative memorandum issued by Mary Dean Harvey, then director of the Nebraska Department of Social Services, which was one of several agencies that merged to form the present-day Department of Health and Human Services.
"It is my decision that, effective immediately, it is the policy of the Department of Social Services that children will not be placed in the homes of persons who identify themselves as homosexuals," the memo said, adding that "this state's direction and intent is for placement of children in the most family-like setting."
The policy prohibits HHS from issuing foster home licenses to or placing children with "persons who identify themselves as homosexuals" or persons who are "unrelated, unmarried adults residing together."
The "most family-like setting" should be a home with parents who want children there. Where parents have steady jobs and enough financial resources to properly care for their children. Where parents aren't alcoholics or drug addicts or child abusers.
The simple fact is that there are children out there who need healthy homes. There are capable, willing adults who want to have children. As long as the would-be parents pass all the criteria they should be able to take children in.
Why should it matter what gender their spouses are as long as they want to take in children who need good homes?