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photo courtesy wikimedia

Nancy Fulton
President of the Nebraska State Education Association

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. ~ Albert Einstein

As an avid bicycle rider, Gov. Peter Ricketts should know that not every child gets the hang of riding a two-wheeler at the same age.

Some children get their balance early and wheel away from home at age three or four. Others take a couple more years to gain the balance and confidence needed to master riding without training wheels.

It is the same with gaining reading skills. Some children read well in first grade. Others, many with lesser advantages at home, take longer to learn to read. Thus, I believe it is wrong for the governor to support a bill, LB651, that would flunk those young children who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade. That is what the governor proposed in his recent article, “Expanding Educational Opportunity (May 2, 2017).

Further, it is wrong for the state to mandate, and not fund, the summer reading camps that LB651 would require for those third graders.

The governor is correct when he says that children who cannot read proficiently by third grade are in danger of dropping out of high school later. He is in correct when he says those children are more likely as adults to be on food stamps, or in prison at some point in their life.

Teachers know reading skills are a key to learning. We also know there is not a shred of evidence that punitive measures are effective.

There are research-based interventions and strategies that have been proven to increase reading achievement – and mandating that a child be held in third grade because he or she has not yet passed a standardized test is not a strategy that works.

What works is reinforcing the importance of reading to children at all levels; providing resources (not the aforementioned unfunded mandates) needed to boost achievement; professional development on multiple strategies for teachers; and less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on teaching.

It means literacy and instructional coaches. It means universal pre-school, which has been shown to level the playing field between students who come to school with a limited vocabulary and those who have an extensive vocabulary when they enter school. Before and after school or “extended learning opportunities” also have been shown to increase reading achievement.

It means real commitment to teaching children to read – not lip service in the form of a bill devoid of resources – that would make that commitment a true value for these children.

Teachers should be encouraged and allowed to focus on the best teaching practices available.

It should be noted that Nebraska fourth graders perform well overall, ranking 10th in the country in the NAEP reading test. That ties Nebraska with Florida.

And by the 9th grade Nebraska readers have climbed to ninth place on the NAEP test, while Florida has fallen to 31st. Care to guess which state flunks third graders based on reading ability? (Yes, it is Florida.)

I urge policymakers to quit the “blame the teachers and their union” game for the failures of society. I urge state lawmakers to work with the educators in the classroom – and to leave the decision regarding whether a child is “held back” a grade up to those who are closest to the situation: the child’s parents, teacher and principal.

Teachers have committed their professional lives to their students and they have solutions to closing the achievement gaps.  They need to be invited to the decision-making table rather than just used as scapegoats for ill-conceived policies.

Trust the teachers. They know what they are doing. They know that learning to read is like learning to ride a bike.

Nancy Fulton is a 34-year teacher (third grade) and currently serves as president of the 28,000-member Nebraska State Education Association.

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Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

What seemed like an average Wednesday night for Nebraska football fans actually turned into a monumental phone call. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley dialed up his friend of 20 years and told him he no longer had a job at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Riley made the decision to not renew his life-long assistant and buddy, Mark Banker’s contract as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator on Jan. 11. This unexpected and sudden news came as a surprise to the rest of the staff, players and fans.

Who would replace Banker after two years in Lincoln? A man named Bob Diaco.

When fans first heard the news of the recent hire of new defensive coordinator Diaco, they asked the same question when they heard Mike Riley would be the new head coach two years ago. “Is this really the best guy we can get?”

The former UConn head coach has a long list of experience on his résumé, despite being just 43-years-old. Since his first job as a graduate assistant at his alma matter in Iowa in 1996, Diaco has been a defensive specialist for more than 20 years.

Diaco’s claim to fame was during his three years as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. In 2013, Diaco coached NFL linebacker Manti Te’o and led his defense to the national championship game against Alabama.

After Diaco’s success at Notre Dame, the New Jersey native took a job as the head coach at the University of Connecticut in 2014. Unfortunately for the young coach, the brief three-year stay was underachieved, and he finished with an overall record of 11-26. Diaco was released from the University this year after finishing 3-6 on the year. Nebraska quickly swooped in and made the move to hire him as defensive coordinator. Was this a plan in the making?

It appears that Riley had a plot brewing for quite some time after this season. Nebraska logged four losses on the year, but it was the way they lost that had most fans upset. Something had to change in Lincoln, and according to the Omaha World-Herald, Banker knew it.

“It’s easy—62 points against Ohio State, 40 points against Iowa and 38 in the bowl game,” Banker said. “Big plays. All those things. That’s what people don’t like.”

Since being relieved of his head coaching duties, Diaco can now return to his specialty, and can ooze all of his focus on the 11 Black-shirts. He’s been successful once, who’s to say he can’t do it again?

After frantic Google searches of Diaco, Nebraska fans realize that this guy could be the change the Huskers needed to become a playoff contender each year. He could be the small addition to finally clinch those late-game, close fourth quarter battles the Huskers have been prone to losing the last few years.

Bob Elliott, a former colleague of Diaco, voiced his opinion on the young defensive specialist.

“I think that this is a great opportunity,” Elliott said. “I think Nebraska is getting maybe the best defensive coordinator in the country, in my opinion anyway, and I think Bob is going to a place that’s just ripe for success in the Big Ten West.”

Diaco mentioned his appreciation of the history Nebraska has to offer in it’s football program. In his first interview as a Nebraska coach on Sports Nightly, Diaco noted that Riley and the tradition were the two big reasons why he took the job in Lincoln.

“If you love college football and you live in the continental United States, then you know Nebraska football,” Diaco said. “And if you’re a defensive coach or player, you know the Blackshirt defense.”

So, who is Bob Diaco? Only time will tell for Husker fans, but the clock in Lincoln always seems to tick faster than usual.

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Marissa Wiese
CONTRIBUTOR

Want to make the holiday break rock? Omaha’s Downtown music scene is keeping the beat throughout the student holiday.

The Slowdown is a rock club and bar located on North 14th Street that promises to be a hot spot during the cold weather. The club will be hosting Frostival 2016 on Saturday for an all evening event of music and fun.

Frostival 2016 is an all ages’ music set like many of the others The Slowdown offers the public. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. with doors opening to Happy Hour. The music starts at 7 p.m. and promises to last all night and into the next morning.

Rock the night away with the several bands The Slowdown put together for their 9th annual charity event presented by Rad Kadillac and Tribal Equinox. The bands Blue Martian Tribe, Linear Symmetry, Djem, Funk Trek, and Midland Band will all take the stage along with the Pink Floyd tribute band Floyd and David Bowie tribute band Rock and Roll Suicide.

The proceeds for the event go to a good cause this holiday season. The Slowdown is supporting the Open Door Mission for this annual snowy gig. Tickets are available for $10 with a donation of unwrapped toy or five cans of food to the charity or $15 without a donation.

The band Floyd pledged, “We’ll be performing a rocked out set for this benefit for the Open Door Mission.”

While not the usual holiday jingles for the weather, all the bands promise to be unique rock with encore worthy beats to dance to, en-ergetic features, and crowd pleasing tributes.

This Frostival won’t be the first for some bands. Midland Band stated that they’re “looking forward to being back at Frostival this year” and that “it’s been awhile since the last time.”

All of the bands are based out of Nebraska with most claiming Omaha as their hometown. Frostival 2016 won’t just be an amped up event open to everyone, it will be a gig that honors Omaha’s music scene.

The Slowdown keeps a lifeline to the pulse of the rhythm. The club mentions how it got its name from an early band with the same title: “We thought it was a cool homage to that band, the early Omaha music scene and where we come from.”

The club regularly announces new sets that draw attention to the bands Omaha and the surrounding areas have to offer and hosts three to four events per week.

Some activities to expect at any of the events are “rock shows, socializing, dancing,” according to the club. They also offer more laid back opportunities to enjoy their club and bar. However, Frostival will be a loud night of good bands and dancing.

Frostival 2016 is a great chance to kick off the student break to a good beat. Once tickets are sold out, there won’t be extra tickets on the day of the show or at the door so consider Frostival 2016 now to warm up to good music on a cold winter night.

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Photo Courtesy of theatlantic.com
Photo Courtesy of theatlantic.com

Katherine Hartner
CONTRIBUTOR

If the presidential election had not been so dramatic, the death penalty controversy would certainly have been a major point of contention for voters in Nebraska this November. As it was, the elections pulled attention away from the death penalty.

The death penalty is an issue with wide-reaching connotations; the answer is not as simple as “yes” or “no.” The question of the death penalty is actually a broad sweep of questions masquerading as a single question. For instance, is the death penalty relevant any more, since no one has been actually executed in Nebraska for nearly 20 years? Is it morally sound, given the possibility of executing an innocent person? Does it work as deterrent? Should this even be an option, given potential for abuse? Should the government have the right to execute a convicted person?

In a letter to the editor printed in the Omaha World-Herald a few weeks ago, the author (a police officer) wrote that he supported the death penalty at one point, but no longer does, citing facts such as the lack of convictions, the possibility of innocent people being convicted and executed and that when people commit crimes they think they won’t be caught, so the death penalty is not a deterrent at all.

For many people, the death penalty controversy takes on religious overtones. The verse Romans 12:19: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”—is quoted frequently and used as a supporting argument on both sides. Even within denominations, there is a disparity of belief regarding the death penalty. Popes John Paul II and Francis have both spoken out against the death penalty, but some Christian denominations support it. There seems to be no broad consensus across all faiths.

However, the real problem was not that one side was right and the other was wrong, or even the way religion skewed opinion on the death penalty. The real problem this November was that we weren’t discussing those questions. True, the death penalty was discussed— but it wasn’t discussed enough. The only way to reach a sensible decision is to discuss pros and cons, and the presidential elections seemed to detract from the issue of the death penalty. We were so focused on Clinton versus Trump we ignored important issues right in our own backyard.

One of the saddest things about the internet and even the news media is that widely-covered stories don’t get read as much as equally important but less prestigious ones do. There is a wealth of information at our fingertips, and rather than researching the issues and deciding for ourselves, we fall back on what the majority seems to be thinking—or thinking about.

Perhaps it was predictable for the death penalty to be reinstated in Nebraska, but I would have expected, certainly in Omaha, if not elsewhere in the state, that it would be discussed more.

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Photo Courtesy of omaha.com
Photo Courtesy of omaha.com

Phil Brown
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Money has poured into Nebraska’s 2016 race for the 2nd Congressional District. We’ve been bombarded by campaign advertising on both sides, some featuring the candidate’s faces, others masquerading as impartial infomercials.

A particular favorite of mine has been the commercial that suggests Brad Ashford, the incumbent Democrat running for re-election, is helping ISIS due to his vote against a measure that would cut funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.” Hilariously, the ad seriously intoned that “extremists can hide, and wait” in such cities, threatening a terror attack.

In reality, so-called “sanctuary cities,” of which Omaha is sometimes included, do little more than protect an already-vulnerable immigrant population from further oppression, out of practicality more than anything. Also in reality, sanctuary cities, according to a study released in the Washington Post, do not suffer from an increase of crime.

The suggestion that Brad Ashford is turning the Midwest into a terrorist hotbed is, obviously, laughable. But it’s the kind of underhanded tactic that boths sides have freely engaged in since the race’s start, when the Democratic party released a painfully transparent attempt to drum up support for Bacon’s primary rival in a campaign ad of their own.

Ashford’s response to the ISIS ad was indicative of his overall strategy: retreat right. He insisted that he opposed sanctuary cities, and cited his maniacal stance on the middle east, which can be boiled down to what he said after a trip to the region last year: “Kill them.”

Indeed, if Ashford has any single identifiable strategy as a Democratic candidate, it is to insist upon how conservative he is, and how Republican. His campaign ads frequently cite his abilities to “cross the aisle,” and be “bipartisan,” which in practice means he votes Republican for seemingly everything except some social issues.

Bacon, on the other hand, is an extremely typical Republican hand-picked by the Washington establishment for the job. While he cites in his advertisements a “Political Outsider” status, the term is meaningless when applied to Bacon, who has taken advantage of political connections to win key endorsements from Republican tastemakers around the country. He is a so-called Republican “Young Gun,” a designation the National Republican Congressio-nal Committee gives to their most promising acolytes, and was openly preferred by the Committee over his primary opponent, Chuck Maxwell.

The difference between the two is slight, but it is there. Ashford is an ally of the Nebraska school system, while Don Bacon supports “school choice,” a euphemism used to weaken public school systems.

Brad Ashford acknowledges that climate change is a “real, man-made environmental problem,” while Don Bacon is openly skeptical. Ashford also supported civil rights for gay couples, while Bacon agitated against the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling.

In this race, the candidates have little of substance to separate them. It’s frustrating to be bombarded by attack ads from both parties when they are often not far apart politically. The difference, however small it may be, is enough to indicate that Ashford is a more reasonable choice for the office than Bacon.

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Phil Brown
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Last year, Nebraskans around the state were dismayed with the news that ConAgra, an Omaha institution for nearly a century, would be absconding from the city, with the company headquarters and thousands of jobs, in search of cheaper business. The news came as a slap in the face after the city had bent over backwards to accommodate the company, demolishing an entire historic district and replacing it with an ugly, suburban-style, space-squandering corporate headquarters. Why the betrayal?

ConAgra had been infiltrated by a particularly noisome pest in the world of big business: the activist investor. Perhaps more aptly called “vulture funds,” these parasites buy a significant share in a company in order to force the board to make drastic changes to the company’s direction. The funds care nothing for the jobs they control, they simply want to do whatever it takes to inflate the company’s stock price to turn a profit, even if it costs hardworking families their livelihoods.

In the case of ConAgra, the vultures at Jana Partners quickly forced the company’s exodus to Chicago after gaining control last year, leaving workers in Omaha floundering in their wake.

Now, it seems recent history is repeating itself. The activist fund Elliott Management announced their infection of storied Nebraska company Cabela’s nearly a year ago, and have increased pressure on the company until last week, when the company’s sale was finally announced. The sporting-goods store chain, founded in Nebraska in 1961, will be sold to their rival Bass Pro Shops for $5.5 billion.

It seems certain that this will result in the loss of many Nebraskan jobs. Especially concerning the plight of Sidney, Nebraska, where the company is currently headquartered and where their 2,000 employees make up around 30 percent of the town’s entire population.

Bass Pro Shops would likely eliminate most of the operations in Sidney, especially the ones that would be duplicated by their own head-quarters in Missouri. This acquisition seems poised to turn Sidney into a ghost town and it threatens the jobs of Nebraskans in Lincoln, where a significant amount of work is done in the company’s credit card division, as well as jobs at the Kearney retail location and the La Vista retail store in the Omaha metro. These changes won’t happen until next year, but they are likely inevitable.

Another Wall Street scavenger has been allowed to sabotage a Nebraskan corporation and threaten the jobs of Nebraskans across the state for short-term profit, and this just a year removed from the ConAgra debacle. There’s no reason to suspect Wall Street will suddenly begin to care about working Nebraskans: any publicly traded company the New York financiers see as vulnerable will continue to
be fair game.

Who’s next? Union Pacific? Mutual of Omaha? Peter Kiewit? At 86, Warren Buffett isn’t getting any younger, and his Berkshire Hathaway would be a tasty morsel for the wolves of Wall Street if it showed the slightest sign of weakness.

Handwringing won’t help. Nebraska should take action to defend its working citizens from Wall Street adventurers. One measure to preemptively guard against similar moves would be a corporate exit tax. Such a tax would penalize companies that try to smuggle jobs and resources over state lines, and the tax revenue could be funnelled back into the Nebraska economy by the state.

Another way to curb the influence of activist vultures would be for government agencies to specifically regulate their activity. Currently, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision doesn’t acknowledge activist investors as a problem, and won’t regulate them as such.

Either they must introduce new regulations targeting activist in-vestors, or state authorities, like Nebraska’s Department of Banking and Finance, must beef up minority shareholder protection. Regardless, action should be taken immediately to prevent more Wall Street thievery of Nebraskan jobs and resources in the years to come.

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Photo Courtesy of wowt.com
Photo Courtesy of wowt.com

Phil Brown
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Last year, when the Nebraska State Legislature repealed the use of the death penalty, overriding Governor Ricketts’ veto and achieving bipartisan support, I was ecstatic. It seemed like such a progressive measure: conservatives uniting with liberals and citing a mosaic of religious, economic and social reasons, putting a penalty that did not work for Nebraska or Nebraskans in the past.

But something troubling happened after the veto was overridden, the repeal became official and news outlets around the country hailed the unicameral’s bipartisan achievement. Governor Rick-etts, with a few senators, began to agitate against the measure. I was troubled by how much of Ricketts’ personal fortune he began funneling into a referendum effort, paying political strategists who knew which areas to avoid in order to get their signatures, paying petition gatherers who would spin the referendum as a matter of voter rights, not a matter of life and death.

His organization, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, is grotesque. I was horrified that an organization that dedicated itself to the pursuit of death could be taken seriously and indeed that a sitting governor would conduct himself in such a way as Ricketts, pouring his mon-ey and his family’s money into this death race. What was once a shining moment for Nebraska, as one of the first conservative states to repeal the death penalty, became another moment ruined by Ricketts, as national news outlets began to notice the corruption and Ricketts’ frantic attempts to kill.

The petition drive was successful, halting the progress of the repeal measure, but Ricketts ran into nagging troubles on his desperate quest to execute the ten men in his prisons. Nebraska was embarrassed again and again as his fumbling to procure illegal drugs, his failure to smuggle them into the country and his failed requests for a refund to his drug dealer, were revealed to a laughing national eye.

Finally, in November, we will vote to put this all behind us, one way or the other.

It should go without saying that this is a bipartisan issue. One of the most troubling falsehoods the death-penalty backers propagate is that the initial repeal was the result of a liberal legislature that was out of touch with its citizens. But in reality, the movement would not have passed without a very strong conservative coalition, voting from their hearts and minds.

As someone who grew up in a deeply religious community, I know those who would cringe at being called a liberal, but fully support the legislature in its repeal. These are conservative Christians who take Bible verses like “love your enemies” and “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone,” seriously. The idea that the unicameral acted in spite of con-servatives is nothing but spin.

Whether conservative or liberal, there are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. One of the biggest reasons is that the penalty, as it is administered by the state, is unfair.

Around seven out of ten death penalty cases within the last few decades have been found to be erroneous, and wealth and race show disparate statistical influence on whether the penalty is administered at all. It’s also expensive, even if one doesn’t factor in the tens of thousands Ricketts spent pursuing illicit drugs in India. Creighton University economist Dr. Ernest Goss found that the death penalty costs $14.6 million per year over the cost of life without parole. In addition, research shows that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent of further crime.

The death penalty is an unfair, expensive and ineffective treatment, based on research from multiple sources across and beyond party lines. Its repeal showcased the best of Nebraska politics: the ability to work across the aisles (so to speak) and unite on an important issue regardless of political ideology. The ensuing referendum revealed the worst: the corruption and the manipulation of Nebraskan voters. In November, the state will have a chance to set the record straight once and for all. Conservatives and liberals must stand together to make our state the best it can be.

Photo Courtesy of Mariel Richter
Photo Courtesy of Mariel Richter

Mariel Richter
CONTRIBUTOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha recently opened a special exhibit, Inspired by Shakespeare’s Work: The 30th Anniversary of Nebraska Shakespeare, in the Criss Library Archives and Special Collections area.

The exhibit, which will be on display through Aug. 12, gives insight into the planning, educating, and entertaining performed by the Nebraska Shakespeare group. The nonprofit got its start in 1986 and performed its first Shakespeare on the Green the following year.

Archives and Special Collections Director Amy Schindler explained that the Nebraska Shakespeare exhibit includes programs, photos, costume and set designs, among other memorabilia. Documents from Nebraska Shakespeare operations and productions teams are also on display.

“We hope students will learn a bit about the long and varied history of Omaha cultural institution Nebraska Shakespeare, and especially about Shakespeare on the Green, which is literally right outside the library’s doors every summer,” Schindler said.

Shindler hopes spectators will gain an appreciation for the diverse stories, people, and information from the records available in the exhibit.

Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, Inc. has more than 200 volunteers and local collaborators, such as the City of Omaha, Creighton University and UNO, that help produce annual productions.

The UNO exhibit coincides with the 400 year commemoration of William Shakespeare, making the exhibit even more appropriate as Omahans crowd the UNO campus to see the new Shakespeare on the Green performances.

This exhibit does not show the extent of the full archived collection, as it highlights primary pieces of the records. Researchers can find additional archived information in the UNO online database or by contacting Criss Library Archives and Special Collections.

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