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EMILY BLOBAUM, Journal Star 

Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski (32) and Holton Harman celebrate their win over Kearney during the HAC Tournament championship at Lincoln Pius X High School on Monday.



Monday's unseasonably mild weather was good for window washers working on the south side of the state Capitol. The temperature reached 56 degrees. There is a wind advisory posted for the area through 6 p.m. Tuesday, but no precipitation is forecast until possibly Friday night.

editor's picktopical
Ricketts proposes scholarship for high-need professions

A state-funded scholarship program proposed by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts would help connect college graduates to high-paying jobs throughout the state, the governor said Monday.

Among the biennial budget recommendations Ricketts will release next week will be $3.5 million in state-funded scholarships and education initiatives for students at the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska State College System, and the state's community colleges.

"One of the things we've talked about in my administration is our strategy to grow Nebraska," Ricketts said at a news conference with higher education and economic development leaders. "The first pillar of that strategy is to connect those Nebraskans to good-paying job opportunities."

The Nebraska Talent Scholarship would create 250 scholarships for NU students enrolled in math, engineering, health care and computer information systems. Recipients would receive $4,000 per year for up to four years.

The same scholarship would be set up for students at Peru State, Wayne State and Chadron State colleges studying range land management, computer information systems and criminal justice.

Ricketts said an additional $260,000 would be set aside for community colleges to work with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and local businesses to determine which career fields would be able to offer scholarship assistance to 65 students.

"The idea is to develop those types of talent we are in need of directly here in our state," Ricketts said.

In the second year of the program, funding would double to accommodate a second group of students. Future Legislatures could decide how to continue the program.

Ricketts' plan also calls for expanding the state's Developing Youth Talent Initiative, which stokes an interest in manufacturing and information technology fields for the state's middle-school students by creating partnerships between schools and private industry.

The proposal would boost the program from $250,000 to $1.5 million, allowing for up to 12 grants per year across the state.

Higher education leaders lauded the proposal, saying it will help their respective institutions meet the state's workforce needs, even if some gaps remain.

State college chancellor Paul Turman said the proposed scholarship program would develop the workforce in key areas as identified by a months-long community engagement effort in rural Nebraska.

The program, the idea of which was brought to Ricketts by the state college system, would also help more first-generation students attend college, find internships, and graduate with degrees in high-need fields.

Greg Adams, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association, said the Nebraska Talent Scholarship demonstrates that the state is taking action to address its workforce needs, not just talking about it.

"It's not going to fix everything, but it's a step forward," he said.

The six community college systems in the state "look forward to sitting down with employers and identifying high-need" areas to allocate scholarship money to fill those needs, Adams added.

And NU President Hank Bounds said as the state is in the midst of a "workforce crisis," the scholarship program would help the university educate students who could fill some fields that have ever-growing needs.

There are 1,700 information technology openings in Nebraska — a number Bounds noted is expected to grow — as well as 1,400 nursing positions and 1,000 accountant and auditor jobs, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor.

"Clearly, at the current rate, we cannot produce enough young people to fill those jobs," he said.

While Nebraska ranks in the bottom 10 states for offering taxpayer-funded assistance to college students, Bounds said the Nebraska Talent Scholarship is "a step in the right direction."

But, Bounds added, with more than one-third of college graduates leaving to work in other states, and a large percentage of the state's highest-achieving students attending college in other states, Nebraska could do more to be financially attractive for students.

The Nebraska Talent Scholarship and expanded Developing Youth Talent Initiative are two parts of Ricketts' proposed budget priorities to be unveiled next week.

Ricketts said Monday he will recommend funding the salary and benefit increases requested by both NU and the state college system.

In August, the NU Board of Regents approved a biennial budget request that would add $17.3 million to the university's state appropriation in the first year, plus an additional $21.7 million in the second year, bringing the university's total state appropriation to $610 million.

Regents warned the requested increase may not cover all of the increased costs borne by NU, however. Along with salary and benefits, NU expects increased costs to utilities and operations. Those costs would need to be managed by more cuts, potentially to programs, or through tuition hikes.

Ricketts did not reveal how the $3.5 million for the scholarship program would fit into the state's already squeezed fiscal picture.

"It will be prioritized within my budget," he said.

Smoking is at a record low in the US, but the benefits aren’t shared equally

Cigarette smoking is at an all-time low in the United States, but the benefits of the public health achievement are not being shared equally by all Americans.

A new analysis published Monday of health data from the nation's 500 largest cities shows that the people who live in neighborhoods with the highest smoking rates are more likely to be poor, less likely to be white, and more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases.

"The degree of inequity was surprising," said study leader Eric Leas, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

Smoking might be a choice, but if you want to live a long and healthy life, it's a bad one. In the U.S., life expectancy is at least 10 years lower for smokers than for nonsmokers, and smoking is responsible for roughly 20 percent of deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1965, when the National Center for Health Statistics began tracking tobacco use, 42 percent of U.S. adults were cigarette smokers. By 2017, that figure had declined to 14 percent.

Leas and his former colleagues from Stanford wondered how the resulting health gains were spread across the country. To find out, they examined data from the 500 Cities Project, a joint effort of the CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that gauges health risk factors in 27,204 census tracts in America's largest cities.

They found that smoking was more popular in some census tracts than others — and that there were certain things the census tracts had in common.

For starters, the people living in neighborhoods with higher smoking rates tended to make less money than people in neighborhoods with lower smoking rates. The researchers calculated that a $10,000 increase in a census tract's median household income corresponded with a 0.92 percentage point decrease in smoking prevalence.

In addition, neighborhoods with higher smoking rates were more likely to be populated by African-Americans and Latinos, while the reverse was true for non-Hispanic whites. A 10 percentage point increase in a census tract's white population corresponded with a 0.84 percentage point decrease in the prevalence of smoking.

The Stanford team also found that the popularity of smoking and the prevalence of diseases rose or fell in tandem. For instance, if the smoking rate in a neighborhood were to increase from 10.7 percent (the 10th percentile of all census tracts) to 27.6 percent (the 90th percentile), the prevalence of coronary heart disease would rise by 27 percent, asthma would jump by 39 percent, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease would climb by 120 percent.

In each of the 500 cities, the researchers quantified the degree of "smoking prevalence inequity" on a scale from 0 (perfect equity) to 1 (complete inequity). All cities in the study had a score of at least 0.03, representing at least a small degree of inequity, and the bulk of them had scores between 0.1 and 0.15. The most inequitable city in America was Washington, D.C., with a score of 0.23.

Leas said he was amazed by the differences in the nation's capital: The smoking prevalence in some neighborhoods was 8.8 percent, while in others it reached 49.1 percent.

"A rate of 49.1 percent is higher even than where the national average was in the 1960s, highlighting how far many neighborhoods need to come to catch up to the national trends," said Leas, who is now an assistant adjunct professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

People in neighborhoods with higher smoking rates were more likely to encounter stores selling cigarettes and other tobacco products — an increase of five tobacco retailers in a census tract corresponded with a 0.11 percentage point increase in smoking prevalence there, the researchers found. Regulations aimed at "limiting the quantity, location, and type of tobacco retailers" in an area might lead to reductions in smoking there, they wrote.

Raising taxes on cigarettes to make them more expensive would probably reduce demand among low-income smokers, helping to erase at least some of the inequity, they added.

editor's picktopical
Ricketts proclaims he will not sign proclamation for 2019's One Book One Nebraska

The honors began stacking up soon after the book’s publication.

The James Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Award. Smithsonian’s 10 Best History Books of 2017. The All Iowa Reads choice for 2019. Accolades from newspapers and sustainable agriculture organizations.

And the announcement that “This Blessed Earth” would be this year’s One Book One Nebraska selection from the Center for the Book.

That last award put its author, Ted Genoways, in good Nebraska company. His story of a  year in the life of a family farm would join Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers!” “The Home Place,” by Wright Morris. “Local Wonders,” by Ted Kooser. “Crazy Horse,” by Mari Sandoz.

In the 15-year history of the selection, the winning novels and works of nonfiction, the prose and the poetry, all had one thing in common: an endorsement from the sitting governor when asked.

It didn’t carry any real weight. A ceremony and a signed proclamation, urging Nebraskans to read and talk about the book. A chance to smile for the cameras.

Not this year.

Last week, Genoways received an email letting him know that Gov. Pete Ricketts had declined to sign the pro forma proclamation.

Monday morning, Ricketts let the reason be known.

“The book that they are proposing was written by a political activist,” Nebraska’s governor said in response to reporters’ questions. “He’s somebody who is out-of-touch and it was not going to be something that united Nebraska.”

Courtesy photo 

Ted Genoways

The governor went on to say that Genoways, a Lincoln East High School and Nebraska Wesleyan University graduate, had been “very critical” of national leaders and is “somebody who is trying to be more divisive,” and that he decides who he signs proclamations for.

Which is true. In 2017, Ricketts refused to sign a proclamation to honor the Nebraska State Education Association’s 150th anniversary. More recently, he pulled Nebraska Navy Admiralships from both a UNL professor and a graduate student/instructor.

The most recent snub caused a stir on social media, and presumably will be good for book sales. (The author will be at Francie & Finch Bookshop, 130 S. 13th St., Saturday from 4-5 p.m.)

Genoways took to Twitter before Ricketts made his morning remarks.

“Withholding or rescinding ceremonial honors is petty and shows a narrowness of spirit and of mind. More importantly, it’s a message to educators in public schools & universities and now to librarians & humanities officials: Don’t give a platform to opposing viewpoints.”

And after hearing the governor’s rationale: “I guess first and foremost, I find it really surprising that the governor would seek to quell conversation about important issues impacting the state ... and especially rural areas.”

The governor’s position is a disservice to readers, said Karen Shoemaker, whose novel, “The Meaning of Names,” was the 2016 One Book One Nebraska selection.

“Literature allows us to talk about difficult topics,” the Lincoln author said.

Shoemaker’s book explored the German-American immigration experience in post-World War I Nebraska, told through the lens of one rural family.

“I went to every corner of the state and talked to dozens and dozens of small groups … they were hungry for conversation about important subjects, for the chance to talk about nuanced ideas. His (Ricketts') action, or inaction in this case, is an insult to those Nebraskans.”

Agreed, said Nebraska author Joe Starita, whose book on Chief Standing Bear, “I Am a Man,” was the 2012 One Book One Nebraska selection.

“The inscription on our state Capitol eloquently proclaims ‘The salvation of the state is the watchfulness in the citizen” — not of the citizen,” Starita said via email. “After all, the Good Ship '1984' sailed 35 years ago. So it seems a bit ironic that we would want a governor telling his citizens what they should and shouldn’t read in 2019."

The thing about books is this: The best books make people think. They expose them to new ideas. They engage our brains and widen our lens.

That’s the point of One Book One Nebraska, said Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, which provides publicity and cheerleading for the annual selection.

“We just encourage people to read," Wagner said. "To enjoy celebrating the great writing that happens in Nebraska.”

In “This Blessed Earth,” Genoways and his photojournalist spouse, Mary Anne Andrei, follow Rick Hammond as he and his family navigate the challenges of 21st century agriculture.

The fourth-generation farmer opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, struggles with the impact of GMOs and, in the recently released paperback edition of the book, is critical of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

Genoways spent a year watching Hammond and his family at work.

And he hoped the book helps readers see how closely farmers are tied to the wider world, the author said Monday.

“We tend to think of farmers as distant from the modern world and the cares of politics, but a farmer in the combine in Hamilton or York county is more at the nexus of international policies set by the U.S. government than anybody.”

The book makes that point in its clear-eyed telling of not only one family’s life, but in the history of the land and the business of making a living from it — from calibrating the exact dryness of a soybean field for optimum yield to brief histories of hybrid corn and shelter belts.

Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff.

“I hope that people will read the book and see for themselves that it’s not what the governor is portraying it as,” Genoways said.

Monday morning, Ricketts said he wasn’t in the business of recommending alternative books to the Center.

And one thing more.

No, the governor said.

He had not read Ted Genoways’ book.

W.W. Norton & Co. 

"This Blessed Earth" by Ted Genoways is the choice for 2019 One Book One Nebraska.

Tribune News Service file photo  

Leyland Foster has a cigarette break last month in Seattle. A new analysis of health data from the nation’s 500 largest cities shows that the people who live in neighborhoods with the highest smoking rates are more likely to be poor, less likely to be white, and more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases.

juliekoch / David J. Phillip 

CFP National Championship Clemson Alabama Football

Trump plans border visit as shutdown enters 3rd week

WASHINGTON — With no breakthrough in sight to end the partial government shutdown Monday, President Donald Trump planned an address to the nation Tuesday night and a Thursday visit the U.S.-Mexico border to highlight his demands for a border wall. Newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — are stepping up pressure on Trump and GOP lawmakers to reopen the government.

Trump said he would discuss the "Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border" at 8 p.m. (CST). He maintains that more than $5 billion for a wall is necessary to secure the border.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Monday that Trump will use Thursday's visit to "meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis."

As the shutdown lurched into a third week, many Republicans watched nervously from the sidelines as hundreds of thousands of federal workers went without pay and government disruptions hit the lives of ordinary Americans.

Trump has offered to build the barrier with steel rather than concrete, billing that as a concession to Democrats' objections to a solid wall. They "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel," he said.

But the Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.

White House officials affirmed Trump's funding request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting Sunday with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress. The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought sought funding for a "steel barrier on the Southwest border."

The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats' questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration still failed to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested for the wall from Congress. Trump campaigned on a promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.

The administration letter includes a request for $800 million for "urgent humanitarian needs," a reflection of the growing anxiety over migrants traveling to the border — which the White House said Democrats raised in the meetings. And it repeats some existing funding requests for detention beds and security officers, which already were panned by Congress and would likely find resistance among House Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.

Among the Republicans expressing concern was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.

"Let's get those reopened while the negotiations continue," Collins said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But Vought said customary rules will be changed to make funding available to pay tax refunds. He told reporters Monday that refunds will go out as normal.

The IRS might recall a large number of furloughed employees to process returns — probably without pay.

Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week's paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on "Meet the Press" that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, "then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."

Over the weekend, the federal agency tasked with guaranteeing U.S. airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees calling off work. But Trump and the Department of Homeland Security pushed back on any suggestion that the call-outs represented a "sickout" that was having a significant effect on U.S. air travel.

At the White House, on Monday, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.

"Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table," she said. "We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government."

Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.

Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC's "This Week" that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be "wide-open" to a court challenge for a border wall. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a "nonstarter."

Trump asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren't getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to "make adjustments" to deal with the shutdown shortfall.