Kearney Hub. Feb. 14, 2015.
Real trick is co-pilots for regional airlines
Our appreciation to Rep. Adrian Smith, who is attempting to help airports in Kearney, North Platte and Scottsbluff land $1 million each in federal Airport Improvement Program funds in 2015 and 2016. In the past, the FAA has awarded the money to those three airports and others with federally subsidized commuter airlines when they log a minimum of 10,000 enplanements in a year. The airports use the money to improve runways, taxiways and other infrastructure which, in turn, enhances safety and the capacity to handle more commercial flights.
Smith is going after the money because of the bad hand Congress has dealt smaller airports and the regional airlines that serve them. Responding to a tragic 2009 crash in New York State, Congress enacted stiff requirements for co-pilots. Previously, they could qualify to fly with only 250 hours experience, but the new threshold is 1,500 hours, which is quite a feat for beginning pilots, such as the ones who normally would fly to airports the size of Kearney's.
Lacking pilots, many flights were canceled in 2014 across the nation, which led to big dips in enplanements and airline reliability.
Rescuing the FAA's $1 million incentives, as Smith hopes to achieve, will be the easy part. The tougher trick will be finding ways to get pilots the necessary experience so smaller commuter airlines have a chance to stay in business.
Congress is unlikely to roll back the stiffer standards, especially because people who lost loved ones in the 2009 crash still are actively demonstrating on Capitol Hill. Even celebrity pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame, has thrown his support behind the stiffer standards.
Helping new pilots to attain the 1,500 hours of flight experience would be one solution to the current dilemma.
Smith and other members of Nebraska's Washington, D.C., delegation — including Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse — know that air service is essential to economic development in rural Nebraska. However, Congress enacted its pilot experience requirements to make flying safer, and pressing for reduced standards for smaller airports would eventually raise the question: What is more important, passenger safety or pilot availability?
Given time, that question might become irrelevant as commuter airlines without pilots park their aircraft. Although keeping planes on the ground is a certain way to prevent crashes, it's a lousy way to provide airline access to rural communities such as Kearney, where airports play key roles in economic development.
Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 14, 2015.
A plan to focus oversight
One of the few topics on which Congress has found bipartisan agreement in recent years is the need to improve America's food safety.
In 2010 it passed the Food Modernization Act. Although implementation has been slow — the Obama administration is just now moving from rule-making to setting compliance dates — the law represented a significant improvement in the food safety system.
So perhaps the proposal by President Obama to create a single food safety agency will fare better than the rest of his proposed budget, which Republican congressional leaders have already declared dead on arrival.
The case for food safety to be centered in a single agency is a strong one.
Currently, food safety oversight is scattered among 15 agencies in the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Commerce.
This leads to inefficiencies and increases the potential for ineffectiveness.
For example, the FDA is responsible for the safety of frozen cheese pizza. But the safety of pepperoni pizza is the responsibility of the USDA.
Eggs are another example of the inordinate complexity of food regulation. The USDA is in charge of grading eggs, but the FDA is responsible for egg safety. The overlap creates food safety issues, according to a law-review article written by Baylen Linnekin of the Keep Food Legal Foundation.
The presence of the USDA's egg graders at laying facilities "did nothing to ensure the eggs were safe," Linnekin wrote in a law review article. "The egg graders presence and oversight merely offered a false veneer of safety — a facade that made food less safe."
One oddity of the administration's proposal is that it would strip the FDA of the new authority that it was given under the Food Modernization Act, just as the administration was finally preparing to use it.
The new agency would be created within the sprawling Health and Human Services Department.
Christopher Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America said the new agency should be independent. "HHS is a massive organization," Waldrop told the Washington Post. "A new food safety agency would be lost among the other priorities of the department, and would likely not receive the recognition or resources for it to be effective."
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the purpose of the proposal was to "begin the discussion and begin the debate."
Let's hope that the politicians in Washington give the proposal the attention it deserves.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 148,000 people a year are hospitalized because of foodborne illness. About 3,000 people die. America's fragmented food safety system needs more work.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Feb. 12, 2015.
Helmet law: The requirement for motorcycle safety equipment protects more than riders' heads
In Nebraska, as in virtually every other state, vehicle drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts. Children are required in be in safety seats. Many places require bicycle and ATV riders to wear helmets. Participants in racing and extreme sports strap on as much protective safety equipment as they can.
Yet motorcyclists have been persistent in their efforts to get rid of Nebraska's requirement to wear a helmet when aboard a motorcycle. Lately they've framed it as a tourism issue, saying all the states surrounding Nebraska don't require helmets and that motorcyclists go out of their way to avoid passing through. Some insist that they're safer not wearing a helmet because of vision obstructions or other concerns.
Todd Miller, the standing chairman of American Bikers Aiming Towards Education of Nebraska, said his group supports freedom of choice, although the group does not try to dissuade motorcyclists from wearing helmets.
"An adult should have the right to choose instead of it being mandated by the state," he said.
Tyler Godsey isn't among those who agree. He went out of his way to testify in favor of helmets after running his motorcycle into the back of a truck Monday. The law compelled him to wear a helmet, he told the Omaha World-Herald, and the helmet saved his life.
"Before yesterday morning, I would have been completely OK with not wearing a helmet," said Godsey, 24. "I was fearless. I didn't think anything could happen to me."
Godsey was trying to pass the truck when it changed lanes. After the collision, his head struck the truck and then the pavement.
"I thought I was going to die," he said at a press conference at Bryan Medical Center's west campus, whose trauma center treated Godsey after the accident.
His worst injury was an 8-inch gash on his left thigh that severed some leg muscles. He didn't lose consciousness and didn't suffer a concussion, said Dr. Reginald Burton, the trauma center's medical director. Dr. Burton said Godsey's accident shows that wearing a helmet is important.
"We can heal his leg, we can stop his bleeding, we can save his life," Burton said. But "brain tissue and spinal tissue don't regenerate."
Godsey said his accident was a learning experience. Before the accident, he said, he didn't always wear a helmet. Now he supports the helmet law.
"I think a lot of people have to go through it before they can learn," he said. "I didn't expect to total my bike, end up in the hospital and almost die."
The Nebraska Legislature is once again considering a bill that would repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement, allowing drivers to choose whether they want to wear a helmet. Pictures of Godsey's banged-up helmet were shown to state senators during a legislative hearing Monday.
ABATE is unmoved by stories like Godsey's.
"It's unfortunate to have an accident by any means," Miller said. "But just because a helmet saves you in one case doesn't mean it's the right thing for every case or every person."
The appeal of riding bare-headed in the open wind is easy to understand. For many, as Millar insists, it's a matter of freedom. They say those who crash a motorcycle while not wearing helmets put only themselves at risk.
But it's more complicated than that. If a law could be written that required anyone not wearing a helmet to be fully insured, the freedom argue might hold water, but that's rarely, if ever, been part of the discussion. A few requiring it would be difficult to enforce.
Fact is, motorcycles are inherently more risky than other vehicles. Those who die in motorcycle crashes often leave behind loved ones, including children. Who assumes the responsibility of supporting them if one or more parent is killed? If a rider survives, who shoulders the cost of expensive emergency care that might have been avoided if the rider had acted responsibly? The answer is: family members, hospitals, insurance companies, taxpayers. The argument that no one else is affected simply isn't valid. That's a main reason, along with the desire to save lives, that responsible lawmakers support safety regulations.
Every organized sport in which head injuries are a hazard requires helmets. Medical professionals are virtually unanimous in their support for helmet laws. Efforts to repeal the law have been defeated every time they come up. Isn't it time for lawmakers to treat the issue as a matter of settled Nebraska law and move on to more important matters?
McCook Daily Gazette. Feb. 12, 2015.
Facebook 'legacy' option welcome addition to site
Achieve immortality through social media?
Some of our church page columnists might have another point of view, but thinking about Facebook and death isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
Facebook for many of us fills a void that used to be filled by phone calls, letters and postcards — postcards from the turn of the last century (1899-1900) seem eerily like the text messages, tweets and Facebook posts of today.
Old letters and scrapbooks can be an invaluable resource for those of us who want to find out more about our dearly departed, whether just to remember the good times or even something as important as settling an estate.
With Facebook serving as a channel for that information these days, however, the information that used to exist in physical form can vanish as quickly as a broken hard drive or a dead URL link.
Facebook's latest action seeks to remedy that somewhat. The company announced that Facebook users can choose a "legacy contact" to make one last post on your behalf when you die. That contact can respond to a new friend request, update the cover photo and profile, and archive your Facebook posts and photos.
Previously, when family or friends notified Facebook that a user had died, the company verified the death and "memorialized" the account, meaning the account could be viewed, but it could not be edited or managed.
We're glad the company, which has 186 million users in the United States, has been sensitive to the needs of friends and family members who have lost a loved one.
Too often, Facebook accounts have been lost by insensitive survivors who have altered or deleted accounts of those who have died, robbing other friends and families of precious memories.
Add "designate a Facebook legacy contact" to your list of things to do, along with writing a will, making funeral plans and buying necessary insurance to care for those we leave behind.