The Grand Island Independent. July 29, 2012.
Despite negative campaigning, voter responsibility remains great
So far, hopes that the 2012 presidential campaign would feature in-depth discussions of policy differences between the two candidates have proven. well, hopeless. Negative advertising is rampant, as each campaign accuses the other of various perfidies. If both sides are believed, the public is being presented with two appalling choices for the highest office in the land.
Efforts to avoid serious policy discussions include the Obama campaign's demand to see more Mitt Romney tax returns. They say his most recent filings aren't enough, although there is no indication that he has ever had trouble with the IRS. Detractors further complain that Governor Romney is rich, which makes him incapable of understanding the needs and aspirations of ordinary Americans. Apparently forgotten is that two of the last century's richest presidents are Democratic idols: Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
President Obama is attacked, too. Opponents claim that stimulus money was nefariously steered to campaign supporters. But stimulus money is bound to have gone to at least some who supported the president. after all, lots of people voted for him. Other criticisms include the president's belief in a very strong role for government in our economy. This, it is declared, makes him a European-style socialist. which the president's defenders call a ridiculous leap to a ridiculous conclusion.
There are very important issues facing our nation today. Here are eight that deserve serious thought:
— The economy and jobs
— Debt and deficits
— Foreign wars
— Tax reform
— Welfare reform
— Medical care
These are tough issues will require difficult choices. Both candidates undoubtedly hold strong convictions about them, but each is afraid to offer much detail. They know that if they are too specific, opponents will quickly distort whatever is said.
Negative campaigning will not disappear. Nonetheless, a successful, free society requires voters to ignore foolishness and focus on issues like the eight. Despite obstacles, responsible voters must try hard to understand the choices that candidates will make about serious subjects.
This year, regrettably, extra effort is needed to distinguish between meaningful information and meaningless nonsense.
Lincoln Journal Star. July 29, 2012.
GOP filibustered accountability
When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the now-infamous Citizens United ruling that unleashed a deluge of unaccountable corporate cash into the political system, the court had a pollyannaish view of what would happen next.
"With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
It hasn't happened, thanks to the GOP.
Last week Senate Republicans — with Sen. Mike Johanns voting in lock-step — refused to let the Disclose Act even come to a vote. They filibustered the measure to death.
It's not difficult to figure out why.
The Grand Old Party thinks the current setup favors its side.
Back in 2010, Senate Republicans had a legitimate reason to vote against a previous version of the Disclose Act. Democrats had carved out exceptions from reporting requirements for a few groups like the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association.
Those carve-outs are gone now, but Republicans insist that provisions in the current bill exempting donations of less than $10,000 from individuals and less than $50,000 from affiliate organizations provide greater anonymity to unions. "It is apparent to me that the unions' pyramid-style, ground-up money funneling structure would allow unions to not be treated equally," Sen. John McCain argued on the Senate floor.
Those provisions, however, applied to everyone — corporations, unions, trade associations and 501(c) (4)s.
As Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center, said, the filibuster "gave hypocrisy a bad name."
The Citizens United ruling said the First Amendment protects the right of corporations, unions and other independent groups to make political expenditures.
Current reporting requirements are full of loopholes, and late deadlines mean groups can drop millions into a close race at the last minute and not have to identify themselves until the election is over.
Any citizen who has been paying attention knows campaign advertising has devolved into a flood of half-truths that cannot be taken at face value. One reason for that is that the people who put out the ads know they can do so anonymously.
The Republicans who killed the Disclose Act might have helped their party, but they should have taken Justice Kennedy's words to heart and put the interests of their country first.
Omaha World-Herald. July 30, 2012.
Fresh ideas could help lure visitors
Nebraska is one step closer to having an up-to-date plan for promoting tourism. A new draft plan suggests that resources can be maximized when various groups and attractions work together rather than individually, as often has been the case in the past.
Nebraska has what it takes to please visitors — scenery, nature, recreation, new experiences — but the facts aren't always getting out. Whether it's the Interstate 80 effect ("Nebraska is flat and boring"), inadequate promotion or some other shortcoming, not enough visitors get into the Sand Hills, the scenic Republican or Niobrara River valleys, the nature-lovers' delight along the central Platte River, the hands-on working ranches for tourists, the Wildcat Hills, the banks of the Missouri, the rural communities, the museums and other places of interest.
This new study was ordered in 2011 by the Legislature, which found itself in the middle of a dust-up between Douglas County and representatives of the hotel industry. Hotel spokesmen said the distribution of grants for tourism promotion didn't maximize the county's potential to increase its tourist draw. Douglas County countered that the system was working just fine. Similar disputes have occurred in other Nebraska communities.
State Sen. Ken Schilz responded with proposals that included establishment of the Nebraska Tourism Commission. Legislative Bill 684 gave that new commission the authority to order up a study, the draft of which is now being circulated for public comment.
The plan raises several interesting ideas. One appears to suggest that if various attractions around the state could work with each other, and with other resources such as the hotel industry and the new tourism commission, the chances for each individual location to lure more visitors would multiply.
It suggests that Nebraska also needs to develop a marketing strategy to tout the state's diversity of communities, landscapes and tourist attractions. And it needs to review and, perhaps, replace its old slogan, "Possibilities ... endless."
The state also should find ways to acquire land or somehow open public access to some of the most attractive nature-based experiences, the study suggests. The Sand Hills are mostly privately owned, for instance, but the best way to experience them is up-close and personal while hiking.
The report even says that I-80 could be turned into an asset. Electronic billboards at key locations, perhaps, pointing tourists to lesser-known but potentially valuable attractions. A satellite radio broadcast featuring discussions of Nebraska's fascinations, plus, as the plan suggested, interesting short historical skits, might appeal to some travelers.
Tourism is a major segment of the Nebraska economy. It is the third-largest industry and produces about $3 billion a year and 45,000 jobs for the state. An earlier study by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development indicated that each dollar a tourist spends here produces an additional $1.70 in business and income, making the overall economic impact $2.70, according to Susan Madsen of the Metropolitan Hospitality Association.
This month, Nebraska's newly created state tourism commission began operations. It will work similarly to the Game and Parks Commission and should give tourism promotion greater attention and flexibility, and the commission can be a vehicle to help implement a long-range tourism plan for the state.
Nebraska and its many attractions are missing out on capturing tourists as they plan vacations and pass through the state on I-80. Tourism could become a major growth industry with more cooperation and coordination among all the interests involved.
Scottsbluff Star Herald. July 29, 2012.
Awhile back, we discussed how the hot weather was taking a toll on the state's electrical power grid, with the potential of driving up future rates.
Now the Nebraska Public Power District is asking nicely: Please curb your power use.
In NPPD's north central region, in particular, the utility has seen overloading on the transmission grid as the continued heat and dry weather continues. There are no blackouts yet, but a voluntary reduction of electrical use wherever possible across the state would help ease the stress on the transmission system.
The hours of highest demand on NPPD's system are usually between 8-10 a.m. and 7-10 p.m., presumably when people are getting ready to leave for work and getting home at the end of the day.
"For the last couple of weeks, NPPD has been asking for statewide cooperation from customers to reduce their energy use," said NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope. "Their efforts have helped, but our plea continues. With no precipitation or temperature reductions in sight, concern grows for the continued wear and tear on our system during a season with the greatest demand."
While some states hit peaks in winter, when it's coldest, energy use in Nebraska peaks during the summer, with air conditioning and irrigation pumps working overtime. In fact, at least one-third of NPPD's summer electrical load is represented by the irrigation needs of the state's ag community. Many irrigation systems are powered by electricity. This year's increased demand for electricity, coupled with the extreme drought conditions, is challenging the electrical grid more than ever before.
"In addition to asking businesses, cities, residents and industry to reduce their energy use, we have made concerted efforts with our wholesale utility partners and their agricultural customers to identify timeframes for controlling load to help spread out the demand on our system," explained Pope. "This is helping some, yet demands on the system remain high."
NPPD serves 80 communities directly, as well as 75 other utilities in the state that deliver the power NPPD generates to their customers, primarily in small towns or rural areas. NPPD's electrical grid of more than 5,000 miles of transmission lines and substations interconnects with substations and distribution lines of other utilities throughout Nebraska.
"Everything is happening at once. We are in a drought at the height of the growing season. People are running their air conditioners to stay cool. Industries and businesses are operating as necessary, and our system, especially in north central Nebraska, has been consistently stressed to the max," Pope said. "We have some wind generation facilities in this area that, when operating, can inject generation right into the grid and help meet the demand, but when wind is minimal or absent, the transmission system can get overloaded. . The failure of transformers or critical components could bring about even more challenges to us and ultimately to customers, so we are making this appeal again and will do what we have to, to maintain system reliability."
We're happy to pass the message along, with the utility's gentle warning that sterner measures could be in store.
"We don't like to interrupt anyone's service," said Pope, "but if it means protecting equipment from damage or preventing cascading outages, we may have to force a limited interruption to service. These are purposeful, protective actions we take to preserve grid integrity; because the reliability of NPPD's transmission system ultimately impacts the ability to meet our customers' electricity needs."
So open some windows and doors during the evening. Run your appliances earlier or later in the day. Even a small change can help.
"Nebraska is the Cornhusker state with a reputation for helping one another in times of need," Pope said. "We are asking everyone to do what they can, without jeopardizing their safety, to reduce their use until we can get rain or a break in the hot temperatures."