Omaha recycling: A breakdown of funding issues

Omaha residents don’t have to pay an additional fee for “basic city services” like solid waste. Photo courtesy of Magda Ehlers.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert was “stunned” last week by Firstar Fiber’s $4 million bid to process Omaha’s recycling through 2026, and city officials are scrambling to find other options.

Currently, the city pays Firstar $25.92 per ton to process recycled materials, but if they accept Firstar’s bid, Omaha will pay up to $200 per ton.

This would not be unreasonable if Omaha residents paid a separate garbage pickup fee, like other cities in Nebraska (Bellevue, Papillion or Scottsbluff), said Joe Norris, Certified Public Accountant at Firstar.

According to the city of Omaha’s website, Omaha, as Nebraska’s only metropolitan city, is required by law to provide garbage pickup for its residents free of charge.

Norris said if Omaha required its residents to pay a separate pickup fee, the $4 million-dollar bid would break down to $2 per month per household.

“That’s why $4 million becomes a label on a page, because you can’t actually adjust it to that reasonable number,” Norris said. “It becomes one big lump sum tax that has to go against real estate, along with a whole host of other city services. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Some city officials, like Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding, have suggested the city budget for recycling costs, yet both Melton and Harding expressed concern about Firstar’s processing price tag. The council members said they wanted to ensure the services were reasonably priced.

The mayor and city officials recently approved a bid with FCC for waste pickup. Stothert said their “reliable trash pickup” is worth $7 million more a year than their contract with Waste Management, putting their contract at $22.7 million.

“Is Waste Management a Nebraska company? No,” Norris said. “The money we’re spending is basically staying in Nebraska. It’s a real possibility that we could be more of a regional processor and do better recycling for the region.”

The Bookworm hosts “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms” reading

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No one was crying at the Bookworm Friday.

The bookstore, located on 90th and Center streets, hosted a reading and discussion of “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms,” by author Kristin Gilger.

The senior associate dean for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication described her own experiences in the field of journalism. Over the course of her 20-year career in journalism, Gilger worked at various publications including the Times-Picayune, The Arizona Republic and the Statesman Journal.

Part qualitative research, part anecdote and practical advice, Gilger’s book (co-written by Julia Wallace) shines a light on women in the male-dominated field of journalism and the “quadrupled” expectations they’ve faced—and continue to face—throughout the decades.

Gilger recounted a story from a woman who was groped by a co-worker in a TV control room and after realizing she could, in fact, swear, loudly said, “take your hand off my ass.”

She also read an excerpt from her book that described a woman dissuading Dan Rather from needlessly entering a warzone.

During the Q&A session, Gilger said her favorite experience as a journalist was as the suburban editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans from 1983 to 1993.

“That was a great place for news and a wonderful organization at the time,” Gilger said.

To conclude, Gilger signed copies of her book and imparted wisdom to those in attendance. Her next public reading and discussion will take place Oct. 22 at Harvard University with co-author Wallace.

Joker: A ‘call to action’? Or a ‘call to self-reflection’?

Joker Photo
Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

Joker is not for the soft or faint-hearted.

I was eager to see Joker—thrilled that Detective Comics (DC) was finally getting away from campy Marvel-imitating Box Office blunders and moving toward a darker tonality, bringing out the well-rounded personalities of the villains (consistent with the tone of the comics in recent years)—but I was extremely disappointed.

From the moment the film started, I was on edge. Every moment was filled with tension, and not the fun kind.

It may have been my nerves or the terroristic threats that surrounded the film, but I was acutely aware of a movie theater employee that hung around the entrance to the theater during the first five minutes of the first scene, slightly concerned that my night at the movie theater would hit headlines for nightmarish events (i.e. another mass shooting in the public sphere).

Eerie silence and moments of anxious awe were punctuated with sudden gunshots, intense violence and unsettling fits of laughter. Woven throughout were feelings of true sympathy and extreme sorrow for the movie’s main character Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).

Let’s talk about him for a paragraph or two. [SPOILERS AHEAD: Stop reading here if you plan to watch the movie.]

Fleck leads a painful life, working as a clown-for-hire and taking care of his aging, ailing mother (Frances Conroy) in an impoverished neighborhood of Gotham City. Additionally, and perhaps more devastatingly, he struggles with a debilitating mental illness.

Although Fleck’s medical chart is never explicitly read, it’s clear he struggles with involuntary laughter, handing out a card to explain his condition to disturbed onlookers.

As the movie proceeds, Fleck’s story becomes clearer and more devastating. After investigating his mother’s claims that he was Thomas Wayne’s (Brett Cullen) son, he’s directed to Arkham Asylum to comb through their records. He finds that his mother was schizophrenic, harboring delusions of having a child with Thomas Wayne, while in reality, adopted, neglected and abused Fleck as a child.

In response to this revelation, Fleck has a complete breakdown, murdering his mother. He then seeks comfort from his girlfriend, Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), who is revealed to never have known him. He realizes their entire relationship was a delusion as she protests his presence in her apartment. It is unclear what happens to Dumond and her daughter, as the screen fades to black after an unsettling confrontation and he’s shown leaving the apartment.

It was at that point my friend and I left the theater, too disturbed and anxiety-ridden to sit through another moment.

“Joker”—as noted by other critics (notably, at Bloomberg and New York Times)—presents a world and feeling akin to “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” movies set in the 70s and 80s that portray mentally ill white men committing strings of felonies to cope with their ever-racing thoughts.

Fleck is plagued by brutal circumstances that seem to compound and lead to his mental break. However, it seems as though his character progression (regression?) exists as a continuation of the media’s ongoing narrative with white mass shooters; that mental illness is the culprit.

The controversy surrounding “Joker” is about gun violence, but maybe it should surround the lack of content warnings at the beginning of the film.

If the aim was to put the viewer in a state of mind similar to the main character, the director may have fulfilled his goal. It felt anxious, disturbing and paranoid. If the aim was to call for self-reflection as a society, the movie failed.

My advice? Save yourself from triggers, panic attacks and high blood pressure, and stay at home (or wait for Zombieland 2 for a lighter-hearted take on a lost society).

Five things you need to know about climate change

(Originally published on The Gateway.)

The U.S. Youth Climate Strike saw a massive turnout two weeks ago and will see it again May 3. Students across the United States joined students around the globe in a day of protest, leaving their classrooms to demand action from lawmakers. They warned inaction will doom their generation to inheriting an uninhabitable planet.

Lawmakers and leaders worldwide have been slow to implement legislation that would fast-track the transition to renewable energy and put a stop to deforestation. The Senate voted Tuesday against a motion to consider the Green New Deal, a multifaceted piece of legislation which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez penned.

Closer to home, after a balmy, 70-degree Wednesday, snow was in the forecast Friday for parts of Nebraska. Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, a Political Science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert in Environmental Studies, says extreme weather changes like this—and the historic flooding we’ve experienced– are “absolutely” because of climate change.

The first step to healing the Earth is realizing there is a problem. To shift the trajectory of the planet, read up on the most important takeaways from Dr. Chalecki on climate change:

1. Climate change is REAL. While talking heads and President Donald Trump might say otherwise, the science is well-documented. In the not-so-distant future, we will have to face the harsh realities of rising sea levels and depleting natural resources. “We need to figure out how we’re going to deal with this without resorting to partisan name-calling and denial of reality,” Chalecki said.

2. You are making it worse. “Most scientists” would agree humans are responsible for expediting global warming. Although the greenhouse effect happens naturally, humans make it worse by depleting forests and using fossil fuels, which emit more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide. “Pretending it’s natural,” Chalecki said, “that’s a bit disingenuous.”

3. We need to work together. Climate change is not a partisan issue, nor is it a problem that China or the U.S. could fix by themselves. “Although states and the international system are sovereign, they have to work together to solve a problem that crosses borders like this,” Chalecki said. The Paris Climate Accord could help the global community work together if all countries were on board.

4. The United States needs to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Historically, the U.S. has been a leader in environmental matters, but in the last 20 years, we have not claimed responsibility for contributing to global warming. “We are part of the problem,” Chalecki said. “Every country is part of the problem, so every country needs to be part of the solution.” House Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would force Trump to honor the Paris Climate Accord, so we may see this happen.

5. It’s not hopeless. “This is something we can absolutely turn around,” Chalecki said. “We can help turn this problem around by the choices we make.” Start at the individual level: carpool, eat less meat, fly less, commute by bike.

The most important way to change the trajectory of climate change is to register to vote and vote; not for candidates along your party line, but for the candidates that engage with the climate change issue. Vote in the small elections and the big ones. Demand action from elected officials at all levels and hold your representatives accountable.

“We need to start with the sustainability issue,” Chalecki said. “All the other issues– taxes, jobs, security– everything else is going to be useless if the planet is not inhabitable.”


Project Harmony partners with Omaha Police to help children

Collaboration, awareness and generosity, not more abuse, are responsible for Project Harmony’s ability to help more children.

As part of a collaborative and convenience efforts, the child advocacy center provides space for community partners in its headquarters, located on Q and 120th streets.

Among these partners is the Omaha Police Department.

In 2017, the advocacy center saw the number of child witness interviews triple to 293 from 2016 after OPD assigned the domestic violence unit to Project Harmony in June, according to Project Harmony’s 2017 Annual Report.

The increase in witnesses has less to do with the relocation of OPD’s domestic violence unit, and more to do with higher awareness and more education on the issue of children involved in domestic abuse situations, said Angela Roeber, director of communications at Project Harmony.

“The domestic violence unit being housed with Project Harmony is such a great fit because we know, statistically, that hundreds, millions of kids in the U.S. witnessing some type of domestic violence going on in their house,” said Kim Retzlaff, adjunct professor for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Retzlaff, who teaches special topics in domestic violence and sociology of deviant behavior, also discusses the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) exam, used to indicate trauma.

An indicator of traumatic childhood experiences, the ACE exam refers specifically to instances from birth to age 18. The exam asks questions about emotional and physical abuse as well as the respondent’s environment as a child such as their parents’ marital statuses and mental health standings.

Children who score 10/10 on the ACE exam “have a higher incidence of mortality early on in life,” Retzlaff said.

For child interviewees, Project Harmony has worked to reduce trauma and stress by using forensic interviewers, trained specifically to speak to children, in the information-collecting stage of the reporting process.

At Project Harmony, forensic interviewers perform non-leading, recorded interviews, with a team of professionals watching next door. This prevents children from becoming re-traumatized by telling their stories repeatedly and re-living emotionally-scarring events, Roeber said.

“The nice thing about the forensic interviewing is they’re child-friendly, so they’re not sterile like a police department,” Retzlaff said. “There are games, there are sofas, there are tiered rooms—so kids can climb. Kids can’t sit like you and I are and have a conversation.”

Education is crucial to breaking the cycle of abuse. Project Harmony has led an initiative, Trauma Matters Omaha, to educate, train and inform the community about trauma and the appropriate response to its effects.

“We’re getting better at that, that educational piece, but we know that children who witness domestic violence have problems with school, behavior problems, if it’s not addressed,” Retzlaff said.

In addition to training for the public, Trauma Matters Omaha provides training for OPD.

The institute creates training experiences where actors portray domestic violence situations, and officers are asked to respond to situations with limited information before being exposed to the “whole picture,” Roeber said.

“Our team does a really great job at providing some great experiences to prepare law enforcement for the different interactions that they’ll have with families,” Roeber said.

This April, OPD assigned Capt. Anna Colon to oversee the officers at Project Harmony.

OPD’s priority to assign a police captain to Project Harmony is a testament to the strength of their professional relationship, Roeber said.

“It just shows that the Douglas County police are supporting and backing what we’re doing. They see the need and they believe in the process, and that they value the relationship just as much as we do,” Roeber said. “We couldn’t do this work without the police department and, I think, vice versa.”

Political commentators and polarization

Political commentators play a heavy hand in the polarization of the national political conversation. Mainstream media outlets like CNN, Fox, CBS and MSNBC use panels of political commentators as a way to enhance the objectivity and credibility of their reporting. Unfortunately, these functions are often overlooked. Similarly, political Youtubers like Steven Crowder and The Young Turks offer opinion in response to current events, and invite guests of differing views to balance the scales.

(In the above videos, the political divide is visualized. Stephen Crowder, a right-leaning political commentator, has a nearly opposite viewpoint from The Young Turks, left-leaning political commentators, about the Ford-Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary hearings.)

The problem occurs when people fail to use critical thinking, or simply are too lazy to seek out news from varying sources. Selective exposure is an avoidance of information that opposes one’s beliefs. People use the practice of selective exposure to reserve energy that would otherwise be used to create a case for their opinions, according to Thomas Ridout’s “New Directions in Media and Politics.”

When people participate in selective exposure, especially in the current political climate, they are, in fact, strengthening their own biases and becoming more partisan. Think about the differences between Fox News and CNN’s news coverage. Fox News tends to focus on undocumented immigration and President Trump’s successes while CNN tends to focus on healthcare and Trump’s failures. Respective audiences of the networks would not agree on what the issues are, let alone how to approach them. In fact, when viewing commentary that’s in-line with one’s political beliefs, those beliefs are strengthened, said Ridout.

Partisanship has become more powerful and influential of an identity marker than race. As a result, people are much more likely to trust and believe someone of their own party. When partisans see prominent figures on their side attacking a member of the opposite party, they’re more likely to justify the action, and this is true of those on the right and left, according to a study by Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood.

“The level of animosity across party lines also implies a reduced willingness to treat the actions of partisan opponents as legitimate, resulting in more intense contestation of policy outcomes,” said Iyengar and Westwood.

People are more likely to think something is true if they’ve been exposed to it in the past, according to a study by David Rand and Gordon Pennycook. This is dangerous, because in participating in selective exposure, people are only gaining information from one side, and that information may be opinion, or may simply be inaccurate.

The problem of polarized commentary began as CNN was established in 1980, and became the first news station to cover the news around-the-clock. The 24-hour news cycle required more than just journalists to cover breaking news events–paving the way for commentators to weigh in–and allowed for more in-depth reporting of issues. In the late 80s, the Big Three followed the lead of cable news and began to favor opinionated guests over hard news reporting. In 1996, Fox News emerged as a right-leaning contender in the 24-hour news world.

Fast-forward to the 00s and 2010s; with the rise of social media, anyone could espouse their opinions and become a “political commentator” without training. Today, most people take advantage of social media platforms to share their political views. In 2016, in fact, over half of social media users found discussing politics to be “frustrating,” according to a study from PEW Research. The rise of social media led to the rise of political Youtube channels like Steven Crowder and The Young Turks (which started as a radio talk show in 2002).

As a result of an increasingly polarized political climate and the ease of posting our thoughts on the internet, opinion is found in every medium. In print journalism, news organizations label their opinion pieces clearly. In other mediums, however, we aren’t afforded the same luxury.

When watching and reading information, it’s hard to distinguish fact from opinion. People can see bias, normally when it is coming from across the aisle. A liberal can identify bias from a conservative espousing opinions rather than facts. However, a liberal cannot necessarily see bias when it is coming from their own side, said Ridout.

This relates back to the argumentative section of the class because people don’t have debates anymore. They’ve grown accustomed to shouting their opinions over others’ opinions. Additionally, as a result of selective exposure, people have become apathetic and cold to the views of those with opposing viewpoints.

“This may be reinforced by a tendency for political differences to be decreasingly addressed through genuine debate and increasingly replaced with media coverage of political vilification or grandstanding,” said John Duca and Jason Saving in a study published in 2016.

When in doubt, balance it out. Seek to at least understand the reasoning behind opposing viewpoints, and actively work to bridge the divide where possible.

Challenging your beliefs will make you a better consumer of the news, and inspire change in others.

Further reading:

This article won’t change your mind

The real story about fake news is partisanship

Technology and our brains

Advancements in technology within the past decade–specifically our smartphones– have made the world smaller and more accessible for the average human being. Long distance relationships are a Skype call away. Venmo simplifies paybacks. Yelp helps traveling foodies can find fresh eats in unfamiliar cities, and GrubHub delivers those eats.

Thanks to the progress Silicon Valley has made, the world is at our fingertips. Nearly everything we may want to know is accessible, free or otherwise. While convenience and knowledge aren’t inherently bad, they haven’t proven to be healthy for humankind in unlimited quantities.

Tech-Use Fallout

Human-technology interactions over the past decade have delivered blows to the human brain. Smartphone addiction is real; we check our phones 50-300 times per day, we spend two hours per day on our phones and we are prone to “text neck,” a real medical problem.

Bill Gates, Tim Cook and the late Steve Jobs severely limited their children’s interactions with technology for a reason. 3D Robotics executive Chris Anderson said of his own tech limits with his children, “We have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

We should start placing serious limits on our personal cellphone usage because it has produced a need for instant gratification, shortened the human attention span and reduced our memory capacity.

Immediate Gratification

Because the answers to our questions are a google search or a conversation with Siri away, we’ve gotten used to speed. It’s nearly impossible to imagine having to ask a stranger for directions, or having to use an encyclopedia to find out who the king of England was during the Black Death (King Edward III). It just takes too long.

We are shelling out more money for faster things; the highest speed of internet, next-day shipping, fast passes at amusement parks. We get frustrated when it takes longer than 15 seconds to load a YouTube video, prompting us to give up immediately and find something else to occupy our eight-second attention spans.


Eight Seconds to Win It

Yes, eight-second attention spans. The human attention span is now that of goldfish. This means we’re now less likely to have the patience for a book and more likely to play Candy Crush; an app that bombards the senses with stimuli.

Having smartphones means were always plugged in. We get notifications regularly, acting as the bell in our own Pavlov’s Dog experiment, or the lever in our own Skinner’s mice experiment. Because we’re anticipating that notification, we will check our phones more than necessary just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. When we finally get that notification? Sweet, sweet dopamine.


Memory Shrinkage

Our need for speed combined with our reduced attention spans, in some cases, results in the overuse of a brain function called “cognitive offloading.” Cognitive offloading is using the body to help relieve cognitive demand (i.e. a child uses their fingers to help them count). In small doses, cognitive offloading helps our brain function. However, with the rise of smartphones, we have become more reliant on our devices for important information.

Instead of using our memory to learn our family members’ phone numbers (the ones who don’t or can’t text) or to recall trivia about our favorite TV shows, we rely entirely on our phones. Put simply, we are confident that our phones will present us with the desired information at will, therefore, using our brains to learn the information seems like a waste of brain energy.

Rethink Your Screen Time

While our smartphones aren’t the “big bad,” we do need to exercise restraint when it comes to spending hours on our devices.  If the draw to your phone is interfering with your social life or your sleep cycle, it may be time to rethink the time you spend scrolling.