Lincoln Journal Star. Dec. 23, 2020.

Editorial: Corrections issues just keep getting more complex

When we talk about overcrowding in our Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, our minds gravitate toward images of the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln or the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, which hold between them more than 2,200 men in maximum and medium security custody.

Walls, bars, fences, guards. These are the things we see. And there are the people. The state pen and Tecumseh were designed to serve just under 1,700 incarcerated individuals, meaning those two facilities together are almost 30% over capacity.

We hear numbers like these from the correctional services’ first-quarter report from 2020. We hear numbers like these discussed by legislators. And we hear them discussed by officials charged with adding prison capacity or reducing prison demand.

What we don’t often hear is a first-person description of what life is like for those being rehabilitated and those doing the rehabilitating. In a story last week, “’There are so many drugs: Workers talk about dangers at Lincoln prison,” Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young spoke with a former staffer at the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln. Young also talked with two current staffers and a person being held there who spoke anonymously. Their stories are concerning and point to the depth of issues facing the corrections department.

CCC-L, at 2720 W. Van Dorn St., in Lincoln, is designed to hold 460 people. It’s almost 33% over capacity with 611. It represents the lowest level of custody; individuals there are on work detail or work release.

Yet those who talked to Young cited widespread drug use, contraband and criminal activity among these people deemed closest to be ready to return to society. And their reports appear backed up in complaints received by Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick.

Department of Correctional Services Chief of Staff Laura Strimple said staffing at the facility has increased and is adequate for the current population, a claim Young’s sources disputed. Strimple also noted that addiction recovery – which many in CCC-L are wrestling with – can involve relapses.

It’s true that rehabilitation isn’t a straight shot. But the Department of Corrections owes society, the men and women it’s charged to “correct” and its staffers the safest environment possible.

Speaking of the people in custody, one staffer’s point would be disputed by no one: “I just want to see them get out and be with their families. I want them to be successful.”

There are no easy and cheap solutions in corrections, but the issues at CCC-L need attention quickly. For the sake of the people it serves and the community surrounding it.

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Omaha World-Herald. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Plan on being vaccinated. Find trusted sources, not social media

Indeed, Nebraskans, and all Americans, should get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Please, don’t choose not to get this vaccination because of something you read on Facebook,” said Dr. Kevin Reichmuth of Lincoln, a Nebraska National Guardsman enlisted last week by Gov. Pete Ricketts to encourage participation.

Humanity has been here before. In 1955, church bells tolled to hail the announcement of the polio vaccine. Vaccines also have largely eliminated the dangers of smallpox, tuberculosis, measles and more.

Vaccinations have extended life, reduced suffering and made society better. All 50 states require a battery of vaccinations for schoolchildren to protect others, with some religious and some broader exemptions.

The United States, though, has a long history of opposition to vaccinations, dating to smallpox in the 1800s, the first vaccine. In recent years, this inclination has grown, fueled in no small part by the internet and its ability to make balderdash seem plausible.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, this movement has found fertile ground, and an alarming number of Americans are reluctant to get vaccinated.

That our leaders must push back against myths and conspiracy theories that discourage use of the vaccines is but more of the ample evidence that social media carries grave risks to our society.

Facebook isn’t the worst of it. All social media, and particularly Parler, the newish conservative alternative to Facebook and Twitter, is loaded with nutty ideas about the vaccines, from the notion that the pandemic was planned as a means to exert control to how the inventor of a test used to detect COVID-19 died before the outbreak, “convientnently (sic) for those at the top.”

It’s tricky. Most of us enjoy social media to some extent, perhaps particularly over these past months of reduced basic human interaction. Our governor, now in a position to warn against at least one piece of the baseless information on social media, recently used an official state news release to encourage Nebraskans to get on Parler.

It’s fine to vent on social media or share cat photos if that’s your deal.

But, as we work to put this pandemic behind us once and for all, we might also inoculate ourselves against the notion that we’re getting actionable facts there. We might finally all accept that many posters, including some who appear to be aligned with us, are either ill-informed or are actively spreading lies.

We can roll up our sleeves and see if the ideas hold water. Let’s start here: Memes are not stories or facts.

For news stories linked on social media, it’s wise to actually read the story and evaluate the source. Has this information outlet been around for a while? Was the source founded with an agenda, such as Epoch Times’ affiliation with the Falun Gong Chinese religious movement, and how might that color its posts? Does the story cite or link to research or known authorities whose credentials can be checked?

Being an information consumer used to be easier. We mostly trusted Walter Cronkite and it was harder for crackpots and propagandists to widely spread hokum. In the face of a multitude of websites peddling skewed perspective as fact, good citizenship and good sense requires a little skepticism and basic research.

All available science and sourced information says the vaccines, formulated in record time in a marvel of modern medicine, are safe and effective. At least 70% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve a level of immunity that halts the virulent spread of COVID.

For most of us, tens of millions of other Americans will have been vaccinated before it’s our turn — and tens of thousands more will have died of the infection. Any significant side effects would become evident and public health authorities would change course if problems emerge.

The end is in sight. Just as polio and other scourges are almost entirely behind us, so can be COVID-19. At last.

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North Platte Telegraph. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Local ‘George Baileys’ helped save businesses

When Times Square’s famous New Year’s Eve “time ball” touches the ground at midnight Thursday, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” might be a better song this time than “Auld Lang Syne.”

(We suggest dropping something else to dismiss this mostly misbegotten year. Perhaps substitute a spherical container of whipped cream that flies everywhere on impact, so 2020 doesn’t leave such a bad taste in New Yorkers’ mouths?)

If you’re like us, you’re mostly relieved that this year of COVID-19 is finally over (even though we’re stuck with the virus until enough people are vaccinated).

But we encourage you to thank our neighbors who helped us make it to this particular New Year’s Eve with our community not too much worse for wear.

In such a year as this, our health-care workers and first responders come to mind first, naturally.

Remember also those who serve our community and country in uniform, some of whom pitched in with COVID-19 testing; our teachers who have kept our children’s education going; and our street and utility crews who kept our basic services functioning.

And our bankers.

Yes, we’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” many times. But don’t think of Old Man Potter. Think of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey and his family building and loan.

We know a lot of George Baileys. So do Nebraskans all across our state.

They’re the community bankers who live alongside us, prosper when we do and share the pain when we don’t.

As North Platte chamber President and CEO Gary Person says, their yeoman work during several critical April days averted the local and statewide economic disaster many feared from COVID-19.

The Telegraph presented a partial picture that month of how North Platte bankers were hustling to get as many forgivable loans as possible from Congress’ emergency Paycheck Protection Program so small businesses could pay their bills and survive to see better days.

They succeeded. So did community bankers across Nebraska, more so than any other state in the Union (a fact that mystified the “experts” on either coast).

The full extent of their victory in west central Nebraska was presented in Saturday’s Telegraph, which analyzed new Small Business Administration data that a federal judge ordered released in a lawsuit by several news organizations.

National reporting on PPP has focused from the start on larger corporations and chains who got the emergency loans, even though Congress limited them to employers of 500 or fewer.

Even so, we must point out that mostly didn’t happen in Nebraska, our region or our city. And our community bankers are the reason.

Our story didn’t report the names of local PPP recipients. But we’ve seen the names of the largest loan customers and the amounts of all 3,716 loans in 22 west central Nebraska counties.

We can tell you that the largest employers in North Platte, the ones with more than 500 people, appear nowhere among the PPP loans for our two ZIP codes.

The largest employer to get a PPP loan in our region listed 281 employees, not much more than half the 500-person limit.

And while one-eighth of our region’s recipients didn’t report the size of their payrolls, 85% of those that did employ 10 people or fewer. Eighty-five percent.

That’s small business.

Congress, in its wisdom — and, in this case at least, we would call it wisdom — set up PPP so local banks could get the money to small businesses quickly to pay their people, landlords and utility bills.

What The Telegraph reported in April, we can confirm now: Most of our state’s and region’s PPP loans were secured in the program’s first two weeks, against competition from 49 other states.

A few businesses didn’t make it. Most did.

We’ve been amazed, as we’re sure you have been, by the run of good local economic news these past few months.

It’s because our local bankers, along with our entire community, resolved not to let our small businesses wither away.

So as we say “good riddance” this week to 2020 — and we won’t question anyone who says anything even stronger — we hope you’ll thank the community bankers you know for helping us make it through.

Because of them, we feel more confident that 2021 will be a happy new year indeed.

END