Sen. Nelson Scrutinizes The Summit

February 26, 2010

In December, Senator Ben Nelson made national news on our show by vowing not to vote for health care reform in its current state.  He also expressed doubt that anything could be done before Christmas.  If you know your recent history, that changed dramatically when Nelson struck a controversial compromise and became the 60th vote to break a GOP filibuster.

The day after the national Health Care Summit, Senator Ben Nelson joined us on the show to give us his thoughts.  Once again, the Senator wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion but he also indicated that the controversial reconciliation process Democrats have threatened to use to pass health care reform wouldn’t keep him from voting on the plan if it’s to his liking.

Among some of the more interesting things Nelson said:

He didn’t regret not being invited to participate in the summit, because he wasn’t going to be speaking from partisan “talking points.”

He feels vindicated from criticism on the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback” benefit that was originally given to just Nebraska back in December in exchange for the Senator’s cloture vote.  In the current Obama proposal the federal government would pay for Medicaid expansion coverage for all states, not just Nebraska.  Nelson now says the benefit should be touted the “Cornhusker Kickoff” for his efforts to get that expense off the states’ backs.

Reconciliation, the controversial Senate procedural tactic used to avoid a filibuster, is “the least prefered method” according to Nelson, of passing reform.  But he would not vote against health care reform, on principle, if the tactic is used by his party.  If the bill is to his liking, Nelson said he would vote “yea.”

Listen to the entire interview here.


Another Deena Arena Rebuttal: Lincoln vs. Sacramento

February 24, 2010

In this morning’s editions of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Deena Winter had another arena-related column that again demands a counterpoint/fact check.  It seems as though I’ve become the de facto media member to provide that service in the last few months, so here we go again. 

As a quick aside, I’ve truly liked Deena’s work in covering city hall over the years, and frankly, I’ve relied on her scoops for great show content in the past.  A city Lincoln’s size needs to have some dynamic media members that don’t take everything they’re told by government actors at face value and are willing to continue to ask questions, even when they may not be welcome.  I credit her for having done that in the years I’ve followed her work.

That said, she’s had several columns about the arena project now that either clumsily imply deceptive acts by people behind the arena effort or seem to misstate some of the admittedly complex legal and governmental intertwining of the JPA, ballot language, and bonding issues.  I don’t expect her to spend her column space cheerleading the arena, but she’s got a lot of pull in this community and is becoming part of an epidemic of misinformation surrounding this project.   This morning’s column was another chapter in this story, albeit a minor one.

In today’s piece, she noted that one of the architects associated with the Lincoln proposal mentioned an arena project in Sacramento, California as “intriguing” him.  She then went on to compare the Lincoln Arena project to the Sacramento project, which she described as being “in jeopardy” because of the developer’s financial issues, likely leaving many readers to conclude that the same fate could easily befall the Lincoln project simply given the similarities between the two.

So, I thought I’d check out these ‘similarities’ and just how correlative they may actually be to the success or failure of the Lincoln proposal.  For the purposes of research I not only went back and did a lot of reading about the Sacramento Railyards project and the ensuing arena proposal, but I also spoke with Tony Bizjack, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, who has been covering the events surrounding the Railyards redevelopment and the search for a new arena for the Sacramento Kings. 

-Deena’s article describes the Sacramento railyards project as “a public-private venture to redevelop 240 acres of abandoned railyards in Sacramento into housing, hotels, offices, a multimodal station and an arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team.”  That’s true, but in reality, this is very different than what’s being considered in Lincoln.  The Railyards project is an eight year-old downtown Sacramento redevelopment project to utilize a huge chunk of abandoned train yard land.  The project is being driven by a private company, Thomas Enterprises, Inc.  Its scope is much bigger than anything Lincoln is considering as the Railyards is the largest urban infill project in the country, and has been reported to be a $5.3 billion dollar project that will continue to unfold over the next 20 years.  

-The LJS article indicates the Sacramento Railyards project “may be in jeopardy”.  That’s untrue.  Despite the fact that the Developer, Thomas Enterprises, Inc., has other nationwide projects that have been hit hard by the economy, the Railyards project received $117 Million in state bonds and economic stimulus funds late last year, which has put it on a fast track.  Bizjack told me that the development of the Railyards is making “serious progress” and will go on regardless of whether the city decides to locate an arena within the redevelopment.   

-Speaking of the Sacramento arena’s location, the Railyards redevelopment is far from being the already-designated home of a new Sacramento arena, which surprised me after initially reading the LJS article.  In fact, the developer’s plan to put the arena in the Railyards is one of seven proposals just now being examined by Mayor Kevin Johnson’s (yes that one) arena task force.   

-Deena contrasts the Lincoln arena project where “the city is leading the way” with the Sacramento project, led by the private developer.  Again, that’s true, but many will read this and assume this means that since a Sacramento is able to pay for an arena without public money, Lincoln should be able to do the same.  In reality, that’s not the case.  Thomas Enterprises’ financial proposal for an arena is significantly reliant on Federal dollars, not to mention the profitability of the ongoing larger redevelopment, which was bolstered by state bonds and federal dollars.  And it looks like there’s still a lot to be determined as Bizjack told me that the financing of the arena is a “big mystery” at the moment. 

-Finally, Deena relayed one portion of a New York Times story that indicated that Thomas Enterprises had a hard time finding an insurance policy to protect itself from liability arising from the environmental cleanup of contamination left behind by the old railroad.  That’s true.  In the end, however, Thomas inked an insurance policy with AIG way back in 2006, despite the incredible scope of this project and with less information about the condition of the land then Lincoln currently has about its site. 

My analysis here may seem to be overly in-depth, given the loose connection that was made between the projects, but it just goes to show how little of the story was actually told.  Unfortunately, in the end, I’ve seen how people have built their anti-arena position almost solely on the foundations of misinformation and unreasonable skepticism provided by these columns.  Sacramento’s experience with the Railyards tells us virtually nothing about the likelihood of success of the West Haymarket Arena.  Unfortunately, however, several people who read the Wednesday Journal Star column will come away with just the opposite impression because of the column’s incomplete and outdated information.

The Great P.E. Debate

February 23, 2010

Today we noticed that Omaha Public Schools are considering an opt-out plan for high school Physical Education Classes that would allow students competing in athletics or “other activities” to forego the P.E. requirement.  This led us into a surprisingly passionate discussion (full audio here) about the merits of P.E. classes, particularly at the secondary level.  My theory, which was pretty much rejected by every caller, e-mailer, and my own co-host is that while there is certainly value in exercise, physical activity, and a break from the mental rigors of High School, I’m not sure how much of those things are provided by general, non-elective P.E. classes in our high schools.  I can remember a lot of P.E. classes in my school days that seemed like a huge waste of time.  Further, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone credit their post-educational ‘healthy lifestyle’ to the experience of playing kickball for a half hour every other day. 

That said, I’ve got no problem for allowing an opt-out in certain situations.  It’s ridiculous to have any student who plays a varsity sport also participate in P.E. class if that student a) doesn’t desire to do so and b) has an legitimate alternate class with which he/she could replace it.  Further, I wouldn’t even have a problem with a student who wants to forego secondary ed P.E. requirements if it’s the only way he/she can participate in other elective academic pursuits or activities that present class conflicts.  Is it really that important that a 17 year old, likely active student take ‘recreational sports’ and goes out to the city driving range when he would rather be blowing off steam while playing a musical instrument or taking additional computer classes? 

Also, my co-host argued that if you don’t have room in your schedule for those extra pursuits, you’ve done a poor job organizing.  I couldn’t disagree more.  I saw this exact scenario happen several times while I was in High School, and as soon as he made that point, I got this email from a listener and recent High School graduate from here in Lincoln:

I have to argue against John’s point in saying the student should do some better planning.

 I was a musically talented student in high school (I graduated 2004) and always struggled to take music courses and meet academic requirements. My sophomore year I started school at 7:15 am skipped lunch to take a class and didn’t leave my last class until 3:20pm for a whole semester. I ended up graduating with almost 100 credit hours more than required and I still had to miss out on a semester of Wind Ensemble (top concert band) my senior year in order to satisfy the PE class requirement.

 I was not able to gain PE credits for the season of football and wrestling I participated in.

To me, this is the exact scenario where an opt-out would have been appropriate.  I know we had a lot of old-school folks calling in and reminding me about ‘kids today’ and their obesity and distaste for activity (which, by the way, is always overrated by the older generations), but let’s not live under the false impression that general, non-elective High School P.E. classes to fill a requirement are saving anyone from obesity or having any real long-term impact on health.  The truth is, I need a P.E. class now that I’m in my 30s a lot more than I did when I was in High School.  I’m fine with there being some sort of P.E. required coursework, particularly if there’s a lot of specialization available (and I understand that’s happening more and more) and if it’s not causing the kids to miss out on other legitimate class-time pursuits, but I don’t think P.E. classes (note I didn’t say fitness in general) are valuable enough to require of high schoolers when the cost is other passionate academic pursuits.

….And The Agony of Defeat.

February 19, 2010

It’s too bad Jim McKay is gone.  Actually, it’s too bad ABC’s Wide World of Sports is gone because I have a new opening sequence for them.

You may recall that during the show’s iconic open, McKay would narrate “The Thrill of Victory……and the Agony of Defeat!” all while a scene of ski jumper Vinko Bogataj is replayed falling off the edge of the jump.

If McKay and “Wide World” were still around today, I have a new failure to replace Bogataj and it comes (appropriately enough) from the world of skiing and (perhaps more appropriate) from the French, masters of fail.

State Tourney Time! (And some bad acting…)

February 17, 2010

Here is one of a series of promos that 10-11 is turning out to promote their coverage of the State High School Basketball Tournaments.

For those of you who don’t know, I have been honored to announce the championship games for 10-11 since 1996, so when they asked me to participate I jumped right in………and as you will see, there is a reason I never became an actor.  There are other funny promos featuring the 10-11 sports team that you can see here.

Did you know that 10-11’s coverage of the state tournament dates back to 1958?  This is the 53rd tournament to be televised – and the first (on 10-11) in High Definition.  Girls finals are on March 6th, boys on March 13th.

Jack’s testimony to the Lincoln City Council re: Risk-taking & the arena

February 9, 2010

The Tim Tebow “Focus on the Family” Commercial

February 5, 2010

On Friday’s show, I offered my opinion on what has become the most talked about commercial to air on Super Bowl Sunday – the Focus on the Family ad featuring Tim Tebow.

The ad has not been seen yet has drawn fire from pro-choice organizations in a classic example of “shoot the messenger and ignore the message.”  To bottom line my opinion I feel that if this ad is done correctly, pro-choice groups should be concerned because it could mark a change in the political discourse and the current image of the pro-life movement.

My opinion is that the pro-life movement has wandered away from its most inherently positive message (life) and turned its focus on demonizing the pro-choice efforts as “abortionists.”  In my view, this makes the most vocal (public) faction of the pro-life movement look whiney, overly politicized and negative.  Case in point was the recent protests by Nebraska Right To Life over Ben Nelson’s “abortion compromise” in the Senate approved health care reform bill.  Nelson virtually assured with his efforts that public funds will not be used to provide abortions.  It was a compromise that was decried by both right and left.  While that doesn’t make it the right idea, it certainly wasn’t going to open the floodgates to more federally funded abortions as pro-life groups insinuate.

Despite what many on both sides argue, abortion is not a black or white issue.  There are many of us who don’t buy into the extremes who lean pro-life, but believe that abortion is potentially necessary in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is at risk.  And when we see pro-lifers with their pictures of aborted fetuses parading in front of Planned Parenthood, it angers us.  Sure, that is exactly what the protesters want us to feel, but the anger usually is focused on the protesters for showing these sensational pictures and not the anger that babies were aborted.

I’m not suggesting that we should bury our heads in the sand and not acknowledge that “abortion on demand” doesn’t exist – what I am saying is that instead of turning every person that has had an abortion or performs an abortion into a murderer, the pro-life movement should be accentuating their strongest message – life.  Rather than accusing every abortion of being done in malice, the strongest efforts should be focused to preventing the pregnancy in the first place.

And that’s where the Tebow/FOTF commercial comes in.

By all indications, the spot is going to focus solely on the story of Tim and his mother and how she forged ahead with her pregnancy despite the facts that her life was potentially at risk.  As any college football fan will tell you, Tebow is alive and very well and the commercial will bring her story, her life and his to the widest possible TV audience in the U.S..  If my assumptions are correct, the spot will also not focus on the “abortionists” or the “abortion holocaust”, but rather on the positive aspects of LIFE and I’ll bet that you will have people who don’t buy into the extremes who will be moved by the ad.  And that should scare the pro-choicers because the pro-choice movement cannot match a story like the Tebows’.

So why not, pro-life movement, move towards the message of the greatness of life.  Move away from the partisan, divisive labels and move towards your strength.  In the 70’s, it was the pro-choice movement that was deemed the most militant.  Today, the pro-life movement has decided to play in that same court and it’s not taking their message forward.

Perhaps the Tebow ad will represent a move in that direction and remind those who believe so strongly in life that it is “life” that is the loudest message that resonates.