Omaha World-Herald. July 22, 2020.

Let’s not hurt others while we cheer for our sports teams

One positive effect of our racial reckoning spurred by the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer has been renewed attention toward treatment of Native Americans.

After years of resistance, the Washington Redskins will finally change their name, born of a denigrating stereotype tied to white mythology about the Old West.

Mutual of Omaha will remove its iconic chief logo, which it says it meant as a symbol of strength and respect.

“But we are still using a symbol from another culture that isn’t ours,” Mutual CEO James Blackledge told The World-Herald’s Henry Cordes. “We don’t want to or need to appropriate that symbol … we want to be part of the change that’s happening.”

He makes two really good points: Change is happening, and we don’t need that symbol. The latter is a terrific yardstick for assessing the use of native names and imagery. Is this necessary?

In pro sports, which have broad influence because of the teams’ high profile, the Cleveland Indians organization, which dropped its cartoonish Chief Wahoo logo in 2018, has indicated a name change is likely.

“We recognize our unique place in the community,” the team said, “and are committed to listening, learning and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city.”

The Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta Braves have said they are not considering a change. The Braves are examining the silly and stereotype-driven tomahawk chop, a chant also used by Kansas City Chiefs fans. The Super Bowl champion Chiefs, at the height of their popularity, have so far been silent.

Using Blackledge’s measure, we’re confident that Braves and Chiefs fans don’t need the chop. Both may face corporate pressure, as the Redskins did, to go beyond chopping the chop to examine their name.

White people cannot fairly evaluate the impact of stereotypes and caricatures that might, to them, seem either respectful or harmless.

We’ll let the National Congress of American Indians weigh in, from a 2014 statement:

“Born in an era when racism and bigotry were accepted by the dominant culture, ‘Indian’ sports brands have grown to become multimillion-dollar franchises.

“The intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos or symbols have very real consequences for Native people … derogatory ‘Indian’ sports mascots have serious psychological, social and cultural consequences for Native Americans, especially Native youth.”

Whoops, chants, even waving wigs to mock Native Americans have been documented in sports events and hate crimes.

The legacy of George Floyd may be that the brazen disregard for his humanity as Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck has caused deep introspection about not only attitudes toward people of color, but of indifference toward others’ harmful attitudes.

If in cheering for a favorite team we have been indifferent to the pain caused by the team’s symbolism, could we not enjoy a victory just as much if it doesn’t hurt a group of our fellow American citizens?

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Kearney Hub. July 25, 2020.

Executions, secrecy don’t mix

It now has become clear why the Nebraska Department of Corrections refused to release information about the source of drugs used in the state’s latest lethal injection. Records unveiled this week following a lawsuit by the ACLU of Nebraska, the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star newspapers reveal that the drugs used to execute Carey Dean Moore in 2018 had been supplied by a Gretna pharmacy.

By denying access to his records, Corrections Director Scott Frakes was protecting the identity of the pharmacy because supplying the fatal drugs is contrary to the mission and life-respecting values of pharmacists. They swear to act in the interests of their patients’ health, just like physicians who are guided by the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Providing drugs that are deliberately used to end someone’s life clearly violates professional ethics, and it’s why so many pharmaceutical companies refuse to play a role in executions.

Appropriately, the Gretna pharmacy issued a statement that it regrets the decision to supply the drugs.

Frakes and the Department of Corrections deemed that the process in Moore’s execution would unfold in secrecy, and it did, right up to the end. Witnesses said Moore turned purple as the four lethal drugs were injected. Then the death chamber’s curtains were closed, so witnesses were not able to observe the entire process.

Did Moore’s execution result in unusual pain and suffering, which our Constitution bans? Nebraskans may never know, but we must, as a state, prevent secrecy from occurring in future executions.

The Nebraska Legislature repealed capital punishment in 2015, but Nebraskans voted in 2016 to reinstate it. If our state intends to employ the ultimate punishment, then every step in the process must be done openly and by the book. Use of the death penalty should be scrutinized more than any other state function. Taking a human life is a grave, irrevocable act. Mistakes and secrecy at each step must not be tolerated.

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The Grand Island Indepedent. July 26, 2020.

Accountability crucial as State Fair rights ship

It’s that time of year when Nebraska State Fair Board officials should be worrying about wrapping up ticket sales to concerts, confirming entries for any one of the livestock shows and promoting attendance at the annual statewide celebration. Granted, the 4-H and FFA activities will proceed as scheduled this year, but the rest of the State Fair’s activities have been shelved because of the coronavirus upheaval.

Earlier this week Nebraska State Auditor Charlie Janssen released audit findings that “noted certain internal control issues” involving several areas of the State Fair’s money. To remedy the financial upheaval Janssen recommends policy and procedural changes to ensure that the State Fair’s money is handled properly. And, to the credit of the State Fair Board members, they already have begun to address some of the financial issues by hiring a Lincoln CPA firm to complete an independent audit and beginning the process to hire an outside accounting firm to oversee its finances going forward.

There were several financial concerns pointed out in the audit, including:

— Two checks totaling $149,415.60 written to a company that former Chief of Finance Patrick Kopke had incorporated a few months before and through which he paid for a pickup, trailer, ATV, real estate, used parts for the truck, insurance for the trailer and the cost of licensing the truck. According to subpoenaed bank records of Kopke’s company and DMV records, most of the assets were sold and as of Feb. 28 none of the proceeds had been deposited back into the company’s account;

— There were excessive charges — $186,421 during the 17-month period examined — on the State Fair’s credit cards at local and out-of-state restaurants, unsupported fuel purchases, expenditures for spouses and other “questionable transactions.”

— Performance bonuses were paid out in 2019 to several State Fair employees, including $17,510 to Kopke, who was among the highest paid, nearly two weeks before the State Fair Board approved them.

— More than a month after the board adopted a dual-signature requirement for any check more than $5,000, there was a check written for $47,000 with only one signature.

The road to failure is paved with good intentions.

No doubt the State Fair Board members and new Executive Director Bill Ogg understand the need “to quickly and thoroughly assess and implement recommendations from the state auditor, as well as those from a recent forensic investigation” — their words from a Tuesday press release. But to begin to earn the trust of Nebraskans, the fair board and staff members must move quickly from new policies and procedures on paper to acting as trustworthy stewards of the State Fair money by being transparent and accountable going forward.

Seeking an outside accounting firm to manage the fair’s finances is a logical first step. Again, good intentions that are ignored will reopen this conversation, as we’ve learned from the dual-signature requirement that was not followed.

We are certain that lessons have been learned and we have faith in the State Fair Board, Ogg and his team to right the ship.

We are not certain how the current financial issues will be resolved, but we do know that we don’t like this roller-coaster ride.

Rather than fretting about State Fair finances, we’d rather worry about which topping we want on our funnel cake and which shows we must see.

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