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KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Nebraska outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt is introduced to the crowd during halftime of the Iowa-Nebraska basketball game in January at Pinnacle Bank Arena.


Education
top story
JPA plan unveiled that would fund CLCs, mental health services as well as school security

Nearly 100 supporters of a proposal to create a new political subdivision to help pay for programs related to school safety and before- and after-school care crowded into a room at the Lincoln Community Foundation on Thursday for the formal announcement.

The city and Lincoln Public Schools are proposing a joint public agency that would use property tax dollars to add six new school resource officers for middle schools, additional funds for student mental health services and for community learning centers that provide before- and after-school programs for students.

Mayor Chris Beutler said the creation of the joint public agency would be one of the most important decisions the community would make for many years.

“Keeping kids safe and secure is the foundation of a strong community,” he said, and it’s a shared responsibility of the city, schools and residents.

Among those at the news conference were 30 people listed as members of the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition. They include City Council and school board members, representatives of community agencies and local foundations and other community leaders.

While they are supporters, the board governing the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition JPA would be much smaller: three school board members, the Lincoln mayor and two council members appointed by the mayor, as proposed.

All action would require approval by at least two city representatives and two school board representatives, so neither the school nor city could control the JPA.

The JPA would have the authority to levy up to 1 cent per $100 on property within the city limits, raising an estimated $2 million its first year.

The JPA elevates the school safety issue, segregating it into a separate budget that provides for better transparency and accountability, Mayor Chris Beutler said. “This is a perfect use of a JPA.”

A JPA also will help create a more coordinated approach to school safety and support for students, and reduce the chance of redundancy in programming, Beutler said.

Superintendent Steve Joel said the JPA proposal is the culmination of eight years of work to find a way to support the community learning centers, which provide a safe and nurturing environment for kids.

Korey Reiman, who formed a parent group that has advocated for various safety measures including school resource officers, said he’s grateful to the schools and the mayor, and that no one should doubt the power of community policing and building relationships between officers and students.


Journal Star news podcast, 4/1/18: Could Lincoln schools be safer? Discussion with LPS parent Korey Reiman

“We cannot have a generation of kids who see police as the enemy,” he said. “Resource officers is a great way to avoid that.”

He said little more than handwringing has happened in the five years between the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and the recent shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, but that’s beginning to change.

“I think there has been a shift in attitude in Lincoln over the past five weeks,” he said. “Us parents, we are the ones who get to decide this. This momentum that we have, if we want more we just have to keep going.”

School board and city officials have said they will try to make sure the addition of the JPA would be tax neutral — meaning no increase in the total tax rate next year for school and city spending. To achieve that goal, LPS and the city, together, would have to reduce their levies by 1 cent.

This is not a promise because both the city and school district are in the beginning phases of budget planning, but is a goal, leaders from both groups have said.

“We would like to keep the levy neutral, said Connie Duncan, a school board member.

Both the Lincoln City Council and the Lincoln Board of Education must approve the JPA and both groups expect to see the JPA issue on their agendas in mid-April.


Education
top story
Hundreds attend town hall meeting, take on gun control, school safety, mental health

Teachers, students, parents and others took turns at the microphone Thursday during an emotional town hall meeting on school safety where everything from gun control to building relationships was on the table. 

The event, with a panel of local leaders who responded to audience comments, drew several hundred people that nearly filled the auditorium at Lincoln High School.

Each panel member took a turn talking about various issues surrounding school safety, but Lincoln High senior Maia Ramsay got much of the applause. She urged people to listen to different perspectives because they matter.

“Being passionate about safety is what everyone is on the same page about,” she said.

A few people advocated for protecting schools by having people there to stop a gunman. Others urged gun owners to lock up their guns, and others said gun control measures and keeping guns out of schools was a better route to keeping schools safe.

Paul Burd drew applause for his appeal to limit people’s access to guns.

“I am white, male, mentally ill, I am autistic, I am a shut-in and I love my violent video games,” he said. “What I have to say is we have a problem. We have a problem with guns.”

While protecting the Second Amendment is important, he said, the only people that owners of semi-automatic rifles could reasonably fight against are other people who like semi-automatic weapons.

“We need to put a frickin stop to this -- nobody needs a f****** semi-automatic rifle,” he said.

The city and school district’s proposal to create a joint public agency to add school resource officers and beef up mental health services at schools took some heat from Jane Kinsey, with Watchdogs of Lincoln Government, who criticized it as a “power grab” to raise taxes, and the bottom line of all the suggestions for improving school safety comes down to one issue.

“The bottom line is who’s going to pay for it,” she said.

On the other side of the issue, some of the audience members and panel wanted school resource officers in all Lincoln schools, not just middle and high schools and said it was OK to raise their taxes to do so.

John Harris, a pastor on the panel, said much of the solution comes down to building relationships.

“it’s not the police’s fault, it’s not the schools’ fault, it's our fault,” he said. “Having a relationship doesn’t cost anything but a little time with a young person or older person who might be struggling.”

That drew a strong response from panelist Korey Reiman, who organized a group of parents who have advocated for several changes in school security including adding more school resource officers.

“I can’t parent other people’s kids,” he said. “The people we need to do a better job (of parenting) aren’t here tonight.”

One parent said schools don’t do enough to stop bullying, which can lead to other problems and students feeling isolated, and another speaker talked about how minorities are disproportionately targeted by police. Some parents brought up problems at Southeast that led to a fight that occurred shortly before the city’s most recent homicide.

Paul Smith, a teacher at Southeast, appealed to the crowd to maintain some decorum.

“They’re looking at us; we’re role models. We can do better,” he said, adding the discussion needs more student voices like Ramsay’s.

“I can guarantee you two things. I will love your black child, I will love your gay child, your transgender, your democrat or republican. And I will lay it out there for you. I will not carry a gun.”

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Joe Starita, who moderated the discussion, said he hoped the evening would allow people to get out of their “ideological silos” to discuss topics important to them and listen to each other.

In addition to Ramsay, Harris and Reiman, the panel included police chief Jeff Bliemeister, City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird, school board member Connie Duncan, LPS Superintendent Steve Joel and Child Guidance Executive Director Katie McLeese Stephenson.


GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star 

The SK: half shawarma (left) and half chicken tikka korma with taziki and Greek salad, at Sultan's Kite, 7350 S. 13th St.


Local
editor's pick topical
Tariffs could have big effect on Nebraska — if Trump follows through with tough talk

President Donald Trump's trade decisions are poised to have a big effect, much of it negative, on Nebraska's farmers, manufacturers and others.

Trump instructed the U.S. trade representative to consider slapping an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods on Thursday, a dramatic escalation of the trade dispute between the two countries.

“Hopefully the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts," U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse said in a news release.

"Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us," Sasse added.

On Wednesday, China announced plans to respond to Trump's threat of tariffs on $50 billion worth of that country's exports to the U.S. with tariffs of its own. Among the targets were many agricultural exports, including soybeans, pork, beef and corn.

If China goes through with its threat, it could have a disproportionate effect on Nebraska. The U.S. Department of Agriculture named Nebraska along with four other states as those likely to be most affected.

As Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon pointed out in a Tweet on Wednesday, China is the single biggest export market for Nebraska farmers, accounting for $1.4 billion of the $6.4 billion in agricultural commodities the state exported in 2016.

"Nebraska’s ag economy is the backbone of our state, and if these proposed tariffs take effect they will have serious, damaging effects on the entire Nebraska economy," Bacon said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The tariffs, initially pushed by Trump, add a 25 percent tax to imported steel and a 10 percent tax on foreign aluminum. Though Trump exempted some countries temporarily from the tariffs, they still are expected to boost the price of steel.

Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said proposed Chinese tariffs on pork and soybeans "have cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost value in agriculture markets at a time when they can least afford it."

"Nebraska farmers and ranchers and the markets they rely on should not be sacrificed as a negotiation tactic," Nelson said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University economist, said that it's too early for effects of the potential Chinese tariffs on ag products to be "reliably estimated," but he said if they do go into effect for a prolonged period of time, they will have an "outsized impact" on the state's economy.

Goss also said that the timing of the proposed tariffs couldn't be worse for Nebraska's agriculture sector.

"Nebraska’s 2018 farm income is likely to fall to its lowest level since 2006. Nebraska tax collections had already been under significant pressures with the state’s reserve fund at a dangerously low level (approximately $275 million)," Goss said in an email. "China’s actions can only worsen an already difficult economic situation."

While Nebraska farmers could take the brunt of damage from a U.S. trade war with China, other industries are also seeing negatives in the president's trade moves.

The tariffs instituted last month sent steel prices soaring, and though they have moderated since then, manufacturers are still feeling the effects.

Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing is one of the largest manufacturers in the state and uses millions of dollars of steel every month at its rail car and consumer products plants in northwest Lincoln.

In an interview last month before the steel tariffs had been implemented, Senior Manager Jason Hellbusch said the company was still evaluating the possible long-term effects but was bracing for cost increases.

"Though most of our steel is purchased through domestic sources, we anticipate cost increases will still be felt due to the higher demand on U.S. steel," Hellbusch said in an email. "We have already noticed some of this effect starting to occur."

Hexagon Lincoln's main products — tanks for alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas and hydrogen — are made out of composite fibers, but the company uses plenty of steel for other purposes, such as framing for large fueling station modules.

Hexagon Lincoln President Jack Schimenti said most of the company's steel is from U.S. suppliers, so he doesn't foresee a big effect from the tariffs. However, a new product the company is rolling out uses high-strength steel that may be affected by the tariff, he said.

"This would put our product at an economical disadvantage outside of the U.S.," Schimenti said late last month, and make it hard to compete in places like Central and South America.

On the other hand, the steel tariffs could provide somewhat of a competitive advantage for the company, because most of its competitors make steel tanks and use mostly imported steel, much of it from China, Schimenti said.

Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said a full-scale trade war between the U.S and China "would be negative for the Nebraska economy, and Nebraska agriculture in particular."

He also said the uncertainty created by the recent trade moves could reduce investment in the state's agricultural sector.

However, Thompson said the key is whether the recent moves actually result in a trade war, something he said he doubts will happen.

"The pattern so far is that the Trump administration is willing to settle trade negotiations quickly with only modest concessions from our trading partners," Thompson said in an email. "This suggests that the most likely outcome is that there will be minimal disruption in trade with China, including trade in agricultural goods."


Business
AP
Facebook: Most users may have had public data 'scraped'

NEW YORK — Facebook's acknowledgement that most of its 2.2 billion members have probably had their personal data scraped by "malicious actors" is the latest example of the social network's failure to protect its users' data.

Not to mention its seeming inability to even identify the problem until the company was already embroiled in scandal.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Wednesday that Facebook is shutting down a feature that let people search for Facebook users by phone number or email address. Although that was useful for people who wanted to find others on Facebook, it turns out that unscrupulous types also figured out years ago that they could use it to identify individuals and collect data off their profiles.

The scrapers were at it long enough, Zuckerberg said, that "at some point during the last several years, someone has probably accessed your public information in this way."

The only way to be safe would have been for users to deliberately turn off that search feature several years ago. Facebook had it turned on by default.

"I think Facebook has not been clear enough with how to use its privacy settings," said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. "That, to me, was the failure."

The breach was a stunning admission for a company already reeling from allegations that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica inappropriately accessed data on as many as 87 million Facebook users to influence elections.

Over the past few weeks, the scandal has mushroomed into investigations across continents, including a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Zuckerberg himself will be questioned by Congress for the first time on Tuesday.

"The FTC looked the other way for years when consumer groups told them Facebook was violating its 2011 deal to better protect its users. But now the Cambridge Analytica scandal has awoken the FTC from its long digital privacy slumber," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Washington-based privacy nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy.

Neither Zuckerberg nor his company has identified those who carried out the data scraping. Outside experts believe they could have been identity thieves, scam artists or shady data brokers assembling marketing profiles.

Zuckerberg said the company detected the problem in a data-privacy audit started after the Cambridge Analytica disclosures, but didn't say why the company hadn't noticed it — or fixed it — earlier.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on when it discovered the data scraping.

In his call with reporters Wednesday, Zuckerberg said the company had tried "rate limiting" the searches. This restricted how many searches someone can conduct at one time from a particular IP address, a numeric designation that identifies a device's location on the internet. But Zuckerberg said the scrapers circumvented that defense by cycling through multiple IP addresses.

The scraped information was limited to what a user had already chosen to make public — which, depending on a person's privacy settings, could be a lot — as well as what Facebook requires people to share. That includes full name, profile picture and listings of school or workplace networks.

But hackers and scam artists could then use that information — and combine it with other data in circulation — to pull hoaxes on people, plant malware on their computers or commit other mischief.

Having access to such a massive amount of data could also pose national security risks, Winterton said.

A foreign entity could conceivably use such information to influence elections or stir up discord — exactly what Russia is alleged to have done, using Facebook and other social media, in the 2016 presidential elections.

Privacy advocates have long been critical of Facebook's penchant for pushing people to share more and more information, often through pro-sharing default options.

While the company offers detailed privacy controls — users can turn off ad targeting, for example, or face recognition, and post updates that no one else sees — many people never change their settings, and often don't even know how to.

The company has tried to simplify its settings multiple times over the years, most recently this week.

Winterton said that for individual Facebook users, worrying about this data scraping won't do much good — after all, the data is already out there. But she said it might be a good time to "reflect on what we are sharing and how we are sharing it and whether we need to."

"Just because someone asks us information, it doesn't mean we have to give it to them if we are not comfortable," she said.

She added that while she no longer has a Facebook account, when she did she put her birth year as 1912 and her hometown as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Neither is true.