Latest Blog Posts

A New Fox in Town

January 22, 2009 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Hmm, could KOLN/KGIN be looking to bring Fox to Lincoln? A rogue web page suggests it is possible. KOLN brushed aside the web page as “a leftover piece of an experimental project”. Mmm hmm. An “experimental web project” would be a new website design, or testing live webcasting, or starting a blog. I suppose it’s possible a television station might invent a channel out of thin air just for kicks. Old school media companies are continuously looking to throw away cash on projects that were always destined for the trash.

Right.

(Aside: Why do the JournalStar’s TV-related articles show up in the video games portion of their website? Weird.)

I’ve Got an Eye on You

January 22, 2009 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Senator Tony Fulton wants all state vehicles equipped with GPS devices so anybody and everybody can track the vehicles via a website. Sounds like a great idea to me. If it were done correctly, bored computer geeks could rig up any number of nifty applications. You could trigger an alert any time a state vehicle exceeds the speed limit, for example. Or your phone could alert you any time a state patrol vehicle is near you on the highway.

Oh, we have to pay for it somehow? Hmm, that could be rough. Considering Sen. Fulton pitched a fit about the Unicam’s new laptops I have a hard time understanding where he thinks he’s going to dig up the money for a project this huge. More power to him if he figures it out.

Even if we do get over the technological and cost hurdles, there are oodles of policy questions to think about. Would any vehicles be exempt from the tracking? Would any departments be exempt from tracking? What security issues must we deal with? And so on.

Actually, Sen. Fulton, if you want to more closely track state employees, I suggest you start more modestly by improving audio and video recording capabilities of state law enforcement activities. Doing so would increase protections for the public, law enforcement officials, and the state itself. How ‘bout it?

Fees versus Fines

January 21, 2009 at 2:34pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mayor Beutler fully support LB 496, which would “authorize enforcement of traffic control signal violations by automated traffic enforcement systems”. That is, it would legalize red light cameras. That alone might be cause for worry. (Or it might not.) What really ought to raise an eyebrow or three is the transparency with which the law is about money. Senator Tony Fulton’s bill makes violations caught by red light cameras subject to a civil “fee” rather than a criminal traffic fine.

Fines, you may not realize, go into the state’s education fund. To some extent this is a way to fund education in the state. More importantly, however, placing all traffic fines into a common pool dilutes any one municipality’s incentive to “seek out” traffic violations for the purpose of funding local government. In other words, it is a measure that helps prevent corruption and unethical behavior.

Fees, on the other hand, can go directly to municipalities. That alone isn’t a bad thing. But think for a moment what might happen if a municipality becomes dependent upon fees to fund a portion of its budget. If the budget numbers aren’t coming out the way the municipality wants them to, there is an incentive to increase income. How might they do that? More fees. How do you get more fees? Well, you can shorten yellow lights, increasing income but decreasing public safety.

LB 496 is a bill to keep an eye on no matter what. But do pay special attention to the debate on the funding portion of the bill.

Mammophobia

January 21, 2009 at 1:55pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Breasts are a hot topic in the legislature this year. Senator Mark Christensen is scared of them, and Senator Annette Dubas thinks it’s silly to be scared of them.

Sen. Christensen’s bill would place all sorts of new restrictions on “adult” businesses. HIs goals with the bill are lofty: he apparently thinks that, by increasing regulation on adult businesses, we can stamp out “lewdness, public indecency, prostitution, potential spread of disease, illicit drug use and drug trafficking, personal and property crimes, negative impacts on surrounding properties, blight, litter, and sexual assault and exploitation”. Whew! Sen. Christensen suffers from the delusion, common among politicians, that if only we regulate something enough, all its associated problems will disappear. History has repeatedly proven otherwise. That’s not to say that these businesses couldn’t use a little cleaning up. Some of them certainly could, while plenty are operated very well. Most of the problems associated with the naughtiest of the naughty shops are best dealt with locally, not in the Unicameral. After all, don’t we already have laws against all of the things in Sen. Christensen’s list of ills?

As an aside, I love how the prudest politicians always write the most obscene laws. Seriously, read this thing. There should be a law against this sort of law!

Sen. Dubas’ bill is quick and simple:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.

I’m not a big fan of this sort of law for the general reason that I don’t like the state telling a private property owner what activities must be permitted on his property. If a prudish property owner doesn’t like breasts, why should the the power of the state be used to compel him to put up with breastfeeding? Besides, the choice of the natural act of breastfeeding is arbitrary. There are plenty of other perfectly natural things that the state not only doesn’t force me to allow, the state forces property owners to not allow them. (See above.) Not that I will lose any sleep if this bill passes. Of the laws to be worried about, this one ranks pert near the bottom.

Sen. Dubas’ bill is nice for its simplicity, but I do wonder if the words “mother” and “child” need to be defined. For example, I wonder how the law treats the mother of a child who has not yet been formally adopted. Is she a “mother” under the law, or merely a guardian? As for “child”, I imagine plenty of folks would get fired up by school-age kids who still nurse. They are rare, but they are out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody tries to put an age cap on “child” for the purposes of this bill. Also look for somebody to try to put a limit on the percentage of a breast that may be visible during the act of breastfeeding.

Municipalities Should Take Responsibility

January 20, 2009 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Shoot, work is pounding me already today. This post is abbreviated and messy, but I want to toss the topic out there for discussion.

I oppose Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh’s bill (LB156) that would end municipalities’ liability for losses caused by police chases. Of course the relevant government entities should be responsible for the actions of their employees, even if those actions are accidental. If I run over a child, am I not held responsible?

There are different levels of responsibility. My responsibility is higher if I hit the child while speeding through a school zone just after the final school bell; it is lower (or zero) if the child runs into heavy interstate traffic. Liability in police pursuits should be treated similarly. Chases involving mass murderers are worthy of more vigorous pursuit tactics; chases involving some guy who just stole a candy bar from Kabredlo’s? Much more discretion is required.

Nebraska is the only state to have this sort of law. It is worth reading in full. I’m no lawyer—far from it—but I don’t read the law as holding municipalities to any sort of ridiculous standard.

Anyway, I have to get to my work responsibilities. What do you think about Nebraska’s current law, and Sen. Lautenbaugh’s proposed changes?

“Mission Accomplished”

January 20, 2009 at 1:50pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

City Council member Robin Eschliman won’t run for reelection. I have never been a big fan of Ms. Eschliman, but geez, I didn’t realize how many people are eager to see her leave. They really won’t like that she said she may run for higher office some day. Senator Eschliman? Mayor Eschliman?

I’m especially amused by Ms. Eschliman’s use of George W. Bush’s unfortunate “mission accomplished” claim. It didn’t work for the President, and it doesn’t work for Eschliman. If she were trying to make a wry joke it would actually be pretty funny. Unfortunately I suspect she was serious.

Robin Eschliman held an at-large seat on the Council. Any early front-runners among her potential replacements?

EDITED TO ADD: I should mention that the early comments on that LJS article don’t make sense in the context of the article that’s there now. Apparently there was an earlier version of the article that only mentioned a press conference. The LJS just decided to modify the article after the press conference.

Where in Lincoln is this?

January 19, 2009 at 3:44pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

image

We’re feeling a little generous here at Lincolnite, so we’re trying something new. Correctly guess the Where in Lincoln picture location, and you win a prize. But here is the twist, you have to guess the Where in Lincoln photo TWO consecutive weeks in a row to win. The prize? We’ll get you a pogocard - which has tons of great deals for Lincoln stores and restaurants. Support your local economy.

Note: we’ll identify the winners as we have always done before. Try and be as SPECIFIC as possible, guess early, and limit your guesses. Good luck.

Edit: Congratulations Nikkidemas, you correctly guessed the location of this photo! You are truly the insane, warlord Troy Polamalu of the Where in Lincoln series.

Read more...

Expensive Light Bulbs

January 19, 2009 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

WasteCap Nebraska spent $14 per bulb to recycle 717 CFLs. Yikes. On top of that, Lincolnites had to pay $0.60 per bulb for the privilege of having it recycled. (In return they received a $0.60 coupon toward a new bulb.)

I am gradually introducing CFLs into the Wilson home. So far results are mixed. I generally don’t have a problem with the quality of the light ... once the bulbs actually decide to come to full glow. The heat reduction is a plus, especially in my bedside light where I used to burn my hand now and then. I don’t know yet if the bulbs will save us any money because we haven’t yet installed them in some of our most-used locations where we would notice energy savings.

Like many people I am worried about the environmental problems the bulbs pose. Yet I am also a lazy bum who has no intention of jumping through hoops to dispose of the bulbs. What are some options?

  1. Dump the bulbs in the trash. Garbage dumps are already a steaming pile of toxins. What’s a little more mercury?
  2. Discard the bulbs alongside the trash. Local refuse haulers could collect CFLs separately and dispose of them for us.
  3. Discard the bulbs at purchase points. Any place that sells CFLs could also have bins for discarding old ones.
  4. Take the bulbs to special recycling locations. Nothing like burning some extra fossil fuels to prevent pollution.

Number 1 is the “pass the problem on to future generations” approach. That approach has historically worked extremely well. I mean, just look at the U.S.‘s entitlement programs!

I’m a big fan of #2. I wonder how easy it would be to implement? There would be some minor costs to recover, but I would think a small fee—perhaps as small as $0.25 per month per customer—would do the trick. Although disposing of bulbs would be pretty easy, what about broken bulbs? I suspect your friendly local garbage man doesn’t wants to be greeted by a small pile of mercury dust while on his daily rounds. On the plus side, I bet compliance would be near-universal, especially over time.

Number 3 wouldn’t be too bad. There is a small but manageable cost to the consumer. Compliance would take a hit, but how much?

In my opinion #4 is a complete non-starter. The primary reason is obvious: compliance would be extremely low. We could spend $10 million on educational campaigns and compliance would still be low.

How would you solve the CFL disposal problem in Lincoln?

Is it Any Wonder This Place is Going Out of Business?

January 19, 2009 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

My father and I stopped by Circuit City over the weekend. We weren’t really looking to buy. We were more interested in seeing what sort of deals, if any, they were offering. The sale was pretty simple: 10% off everything; 20% off CDs and DVDs; 30% off cables. There were a few deals to be had, but most of the time I kept thinking how much cheaper I could have bought items online.

Many of the employees were hilarious. Not in a funny-ha-ha sort of way. More in a “you suck, this job sucks, this store sucks, now quit bothering me” sort of way. The contempt for customers was like something out of a movie. Not that I blame them. Would you be in a good mood if your employer had gone belly-up, but since you still needed the job you had to stick around only to be besieged by a flock of vultures looking for a deal? Then there was the huge line of people waiting to pay for their purchases. Nothing says “screw you” to customers like making them wait 30 minutes for the privilege of handing over their money.

Can you tell I won’t mourn Circuit City’s departure?

Anyway, did any of you pick up any good deals at Circuit City this weekend? I may check back in if the discounts get steeper. Then again, so will everybody else.

Let’s Play a Game: Twenty Questions

January 16, 2009 at 2:34pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m in the mood to play a game. How ‘bout Twenty Questions? We’ve never played that one before. Here are the rules:

  1. The answer is related to Lincoln.
  2. The questions should be worded so they generate a yes/no answer.
  3. Each person may ask one question at a time. After your question has been answered, you may ask another one.
  4. Ask your question as a comment to this blog post. Do not ask your question as a reply to another comment (i.e. a “nested comment”)

Since I have never done this before I’m not sure how easy or difficult this is going to be. I will try to lean toward “easy” this time. I can always make it harder next time, if needed.

OK, I’ve got the answer ready. Ask your questions, Lincolnites!

 

Answers so far

Fletch figured it out:

  1. It is not a person.
  2. It is a building.
  3. It is not a UNL building.
  4. It is a restaurant or bar.
  5. It is not taller than 6 stories.
  6. It is not part of a chain or franchise.
  7. It is not Downtown.
  8. It is not south of Highway 2.
  9. It is on or east of 48th Street.
  10. It has been open longer than two years.
  11. It is on or north of O Street.
  12. It does not serve Mexican cuisine.
  13. It serves pizza/Italian.
  14. It serves alcohol.
  15. It is not Misty’s.
  16. It is not south of Vine Street.
  17. It is The Isles Pub and Pizza. Congratulations, Fletch!

Users Should Pay

January 16, 2009 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Governor Heineman is proposing a change to Nebraska’s gas tax that would render the tax static—stuck at $0.26 per gallon—rather than variable. He claims doing so “will eliminate the fight about it in the budget”. I disagree.

While it may be strictly true that budget disagreements won’t involve the gas tax, the fight over funding state roads will simply move elsewhere. Currently Nebraska’s state roads are funded through what basically amount to user fees—the gas tax, vehicle-related fees, and so on. The Governor’s plan would potentially allow the roads budget to invade other funding sources, in effect taking money away from other state services. That, or the roads budget could face even larger funding problems than it faces now.

The gas tax isn’t perfect as a user fee. Variances in vehicle gas mileage, for example, don’t necessarily reflect each vehicle’s relative impact on state roads. Tracking vehicle mileage on state roads would be much better from a funding standpoint, with the exception of that tiny little problem of allowing the government to track your every move.

What changes, if any, would you propose to the gas tax?

Slots in Nebraska? I Doubt It

January 15, 2009 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m all in favor of legalizing gambling so I would love to see Russ Karpisek’s slot machine amendment make its way to reality. The amendment would permit slots at horse tracks. I strongly doubt it will happen.

Even if it does happen, I’m wary of Karpisek’s claim that slots could bring in $221 million annually. That comes out to roughly $120 per Nebraskan per year. That’s an an implausibly large number of quarters. Do Nebraska’s horse tracks draw huge numbers of visitors from out of state? My guess is no, but I don’t have any numbers to back that up. Karpisek’s estimate is based on slot income in Council Bluffs. But Council Bluffs features full-blown casinos that sit at the intersection of two major interstates. Comparing the potential in a few horse tracks scattered across the state to the situation in Council Bluffs is silly.

I have a better gambling-related proposal: craft incentives that would make Nebraska the global center of internet gambling. The amount of money would be staggering. Not only would there be direct benefits from gambling receipts, but the industry would bring hundreds of high-tech jobs to the state along with huge internet infrastructure investments. Sure there are some hurdles—the Feds can be real schmucks when it comes to internet gambling—but the payoff is huge. Come on, who is with me?

You’re Really Not Going to Like This

January 15, 2009 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Plenty of folks are fired up over the preliminary property valuations they received in the mail recently. If they are mad about that, they’re really not going to like the Impact Fee Committee’s recommendations to raise taxes.

I don’t like taxes and I don’t like tax increases, but I do like a certain level of local infrastructure and services. I’m not sure we can achieve the latter—in particular with regard to infrastructure—without the former, though there’s always hope. I haven’t yet had time to read through the report to see how the committee came to the conclusion that tax increases are necessary. After a quick scan of the document I don’t see any suggestions for spending cuts, for example. That doesn’t damn the report or the committee’s work; the committee’s charge wouldn’t have included such an analysis. It is important to understand that the committee’s recommendations are based on a narrow view of the City’s situation so that the ideas are digested in the correct context.

What do you think?

No Surprises

January 14, 2009 at 2:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Surely few of us were surprised by yesterday’s announcement that the proposed arena vote would be delayed. City officials had been hinting at a delay for months. The next question is how soon we will see the issue make its way to the ballot. I’m hoping for a 2009 vote myself. Economic woes or not, let’s not drag our feet any more than absolutely necessary.

A couple thoughts on the Mayor’s announcement. First, the pedant in me simply must get this off my chest: “its” is possessive; “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”. Somebody please pass that information to the folks in the Mayor’s office. Thank you. Now on to the real stuff.

I think it’s notable how much faith Mayor Beutler seems to be putting into a potential ISG deal. If you aren’t aware, ISG is an international sports marketing group that has floated the possibility of funding a substantial portion of the arena. There remain some gigantic question marks. Notably: how much of the bill will they cover, and what percentage of the arena’s soul will they own in return? The possibility of a private company funding over half the cost of the arena is exciting. Personally I prefer private entities fund 100% of the bill, but that isn’t going to happen. (I believe the words “snowball” and “hell” apply.) If the arena is going to receive public funding, I’m all for exploring any deal that minimizes the amount I have to pay out of pocket.

That little bit of excitement aside, Mayor Beutler used some strange and unsettling rhetoric in his statement. For example, his assertion that “(t)he Arena must happen, even if it means some sacrifice.” That’s a little over the top, don’t you think? We are just talking about an arena, right? A place for fat men to yell at fit college athletes, and for squealing teenagers to faint because, like, Hannah Montana soooo totally winked at them? I hate to break it to you, Mayor Beutler, but the arena does not “have” to happen. Grand things, like defending freedom against tyrannical government, must happen; spending upwards of a quarter-billion dollars on an entertainment venue falls squarely into the “optional” category.

Mayor Beutler also gets a little too excited when he compares the construction of the arena with the construction of the capitol building. His analogy fails on two points. First, how bizarre is it that Mayor Beutler wants future generations to venerate the arena in the same way we look in awe at the state capitol? The capitol honors millions of people and thousands of years of history; the arena will honor Pepsi and exploited college athletes.

The Mayor’s analogy fails on another point. He notes that the capitol building was constructed during the Great Depression; that Nebraskans understood the significance of what they were doing, and that they must carry on, economic woes be damned. And therefore, the Mayor continues, because the arena is just like the capitol, and because we must have the same foresight as our forefathers, we are not going to continue forward. Huh?

Delaying a vote on the arena is the right thing to do, and not just because of current national and global economic conditions. City officials clearly aren’t ready to move forward at this point. A vote wouldn’t be productive. And I am generally excited about the prospect of enhancing the Haymarket. But I worry about Mayor Beutler’s attitude toward these projects. If the plans are so grand and the outcomes so great, the projects will sell themselves. Yet Beutler insists on wrapping his discussion in a heavy cloak of civic duty with a hefty guilt-laden fringe. When leaders begin talking about what we “must” do with regard to something that is so transparently optional—and that has so many alternatives—raise a cautious eyebrow. At least.

Mayor Beutler, I know you’re passionate about this project. I appreciate your passion. I really do. But it’s your passion that gives me pause. The things we are most passionate about are the things most likely to lead us astray. And let’s be honest here: you’re a politician. Passionate politicians haven’t exactly batted 1.000 over the years. Many of us voters are rightfully wary. So keep up your drive, but you’re going to have to give us a few things if you want us on board. Full, 100% honesty for one. And how about some humility?

Anyway, that’s where my thoughts are this morning. I’ll probably think differently by this afternoon.

Delayed

January 13, 2009 at 5:39pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Hot off the presses from Mayor Chris Beutler:

I have said many times during my administration that I want Lincoln to be a world-class City. I want us to compete on the national and world stages and dare to dream big. We clearly have the people, the talent, and the potential to make our community an even better place to live.

The vision for the West Haymarket Arena is a critical piece of Lincoln’s future. We cannot be all we dream of being without it. It’s impact on the economy, jobs, and keeping young professionals in our community is a cornerstone of the Lincoln we want to become.

But like all communities in this national economic crisis, our vision of the future is necessarily tempered by the realities of the present. Lincoln’s working families and its businesses are concerned about what the future holds, and how long a national recession might last. While Lincoln has fared better than most, we are not immune to challenges of the national economy.

That’s why today the City’s partners in the Arena project and I have announced our intention to delay the public vote on the West Haymarket arena.

It is the prudent move in the current economic situation. The economy is impacting the proposed election in two ways:

First, the hard-working people of our community are facing some tough realities each and everyday. According to the Washington Post, the average employee lost 18% of their retirement funds in the last two months. It is difficult to focus on providing a solid future for the next generation when you are anxious and confused about the present. And we can expect a difficult City government budget next year as we struggle with slowing revenues. Many will be concerned about spending new money, even as we struggle to maintain funding for important city services.

Second, the delay will, in all probability, allow us to obtain an even better financing deal for Lincoln taxpayers. As you know, the sports marketing company ISG is interested in building the arena. Their participation could mean as much as half of the project’s total costs will be assumed by the private sector. It is simply too good a deal to pass up.

But ISG’s plans for development in the US have been slowed by the national economy. While they are pursuing programs in other parts of the world, the lack of liquidity in US capital markets is preventing immediate progress. As the new administration takes office and clarifies the US recovery plan, we all expect this situation to improve. In the meantime, ISG remains strongly interested in Lincoln.

Without resolution of the ISG issue, we will not be able to provide Lincoln voters with the most complete picture by May of this year. We have made tremendous progress in building this proposal and finding the answers to the tough questions. We do not want to jeopardize the faith of Lincoln residents by putting forward a package that doesn’t adequately answer the question of Arena financing. A delay allows us to more clearly answer this question and gives the public more time for greater input and discussion.

Delaying the election allows for recovery in the national economy, and gives us time to sort through our priorities. Capital markets will hopefully loosen and allow ISG to partner with City taxpayers. In short, the delay may give our community an even stronger foundation from which to consider the West Haymarket project.

Delay does not mean abandonment. As Mayor of this community, it is my responsibility to prepare us for the future. Lincoln is in jeopardy of losing our high school sports championships, which generate millions of dollars of economic impact. Events continue to pass by Lincoln due to the inadequacy of Pershing Auditorium, building other communities with dollars that could have been spent here. And of course, the additional jobs created by the Arena’s construction and operation are important to Lincoln’s working families.

The Arena must happen, even if it means some sacrifice. The communities that will best weather the national economic storm are the ones who will see the future and embrace it. While we catch our breath and sort out what these economic changes mean, we must keep our eye firmly fixed on the future. We must remember the example of our forefathers, who during the Great Depression, had the foresight to build our beautiful State Capitol. They continued to build it despite the difficult economic times because of the jobs the Capitol’s construction would create. But I think they understood an even deeper truth: great societies don’t put off the future, they embrace it.

Until that time, we will continue our public input discussions with the community about the Arena. We will continue to work on the financing, and on the already unique and visionary site plans so that Lincoln voters will have the most accurate picture possible on which to base their decision. When the financial picture becomes certain, we will announce an election date.

Great opportunity lies ahead. We potentially have a major private sector financial partner that will greatly reduce the need for public money. Our local partners are still strongly committed to a new Arena. Excitement is growing each day in anticipation of what a new Arena can do for Lincoln. Delaying the public vote will allow us to present an even stronger vision of the West Haymarket Arena to the community and is the right course. It will be worth the wait.

I’ll be back later with my thoughts.

Hat tip: beerorkid

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