McCook Daily Gazette. Aug. 12, 2014.
Combination of causes for a tragic death
Few deaths have been felt more deeply by more people than that of Robin Williams, who spent his life making other people happy only to fall victim to his own misery.
Comedy often sprouts from pain, and if Williams' brilliance as a performer is any indication, the pain must have been very deep indeed.
One of the world's most beloved celebrities, Williams spoke of feeling alone as he battled depression and substance abuse.
He truly wasn't alone, at least in facing those problems.
In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control reported, more people died from suicide than from car accidents.
Economic worry and widespread use of prescription painkillers have had made suicide danger to baby boomers like Williams, although wealth was no issue.
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans age 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Men are far more likely to take their own lives than women, 27.3 deaths per 100,000 for men compared to 8.1 for women.
"Robin was as sweet a man as he was funny," comedian Jimmy Kimmel tweeted Monday. "If you're sad, please tell someone."
But don't wait for friends or loved ones to tell you they are in despair.
Take action if someone begins talking about suicide in an ambivalent way.
Or, if someone who has been sober begins abusing substances again.
— Expresses hopelessness, the opinion that their problems are insurmountable or that people would be better off without them.
— Exhibits signs of depression such as fatigue, insomnia, apathy toward daily activities, sudden weight changes, loss of attention span or uncontrollable anger or sadness.
— Suddenly becomes calm after having contemplated suicide before, which can mean they've made a decision to do so.
— Begins setting affairs in order, such as straightening out finances or writing a new will.
Suicide, if that's what Williams' death is confirmed to have been, rarely stems from a single cause; most commonly it's from mental illness and substance abuse, both treatable diseases, if only help would have been sought, one more time.
In the end, that's the most tragic part of the story.
Omaha World-Herald. Aug. 17, 2014.
Feds should listen to concerns of ag
The country needs to protect the environment. It also needs a vibrant agricultural economy.
It should be possible to have both.
But farm and ranching organizations are voicing concerns about 371 pages of proposed federal water rules. The changes would require regulation of some types of small streams and ponds, roadside ditches, low-lying farm ground that floods at times and spots where water pools when it rains.
If the feds don't get this right, the result could be big complications for agricultural production and needless expense and delays for individual producers. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the proposal could impose new costs on other industries as well.
Regulators say the proposals exempt an array of "normal farming activities." Ag groups disagree, saying that because of looseness in the proposed language, permits could be required in some instances before farmers and ranchers could put in or change drainage ditches; put in small dams and terracing; apply fertilizer, pesticides and manure; and use stock ponds for watering animals.
Regulators say they intend no restraint on land use. The American Farm Bureau Federation counters: "If a farmer cannot redirect a ditch to improve drainage on his soybean farm, then that is regulating land use."
Business groups express concern, saying that businesses might need a federal permit before building in areas containing what the feds' proposal deems "ephemeral streams." Such requirements "can take longer than 12 months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says. The same concerns apply to road building by state and local governments.
Reaching a workable solution will be possible only if regulators listen closely to the legitimate concerns being voiced by the private sector. Then the feds should nail down the regulatory language as tightly as possible to address specific problems.
The controversy began in March, when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a sprawling package of regulations called "Waters of the United States."
Regulatory authority over these bodies of water has long been unclear. In 2001 and 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court chided federal agencies for failing to provide clear boundaries for their authority. In 2006, the court said the EPA could regulate small bodies of water that are part of a "significant nexus" connecting them to navigable waters.
The EPA's newest proposal aims at identifying those smaller bodies of water. The problem is defining which ones are part of that "nexus." It's more than semantics; there are real-world consequences for agriculture and industry if this issue is not handled responsibly.
Farm and ranching organizations say a host of activities would, for the first time, require federal permits that bring lengthy delays and added costs. Those critics note that even if regulators don't require permits, loosely written rules could lead to lawsuits against farmers and ranchers.
John Winkler, top administrator for the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, says there is "unanimous concern" among Nebraska's 23 NRDs over the EPA plan. "I believe it would affect terracing, all soil and erosion programs, all small dams," requiring them to receive federal permits for the first time, he said.
That's a major concern, Winkler said, because it normally takes three to five years to get a federal permit under water regulations.
Then there is the regulators' one-size-fits-all approach. "There's no flexibility on anything they do," he says, something Omahans know from the EPA's refusal to provide any leeway on the city's $2 billion sewer separation project.
EPA officials say they respect ag concerns and will address them. An EPA water administrator wrote: "The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule does not regulate new types of ditches, does not regulate activities on land. ... The proposal does not change the permitting exemption for stock ponds, does not require permits for normal farming activities like moving cattle and does not regulate puddles."
The EPA needs to live up to those reassurances by listening to critics and narrowing the new rules to reasonable, practical parameters.
Responsible environmental projection is sensible. Bureaucratic overreach and costly complications for agriculture and industry are not.
Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 15, 2013.
The endangered town hall meetings
Credit Rep. Jeff Fortenberry for doing his part to keep alive the grand tradition of town hall meetings by members of Congress.
"You're invited," his website proclaims, and it provides the details on when and where seven town halls were held while Congress was in recess this August.
Such a schedule once was commonplace.
Times change, however.
"The town hall, the most common summer forum for constituents to interact with constituents, is effectively a relic," Sam Stein of huffingtonpost.com wrote earlier this month.
The New York Times last year traced the decline in the number of town hall meetings to 2009, when the tea party members helped create dramatic video moments at town halls.
"It seems that one of the unintended consequences of a movement that thrived on such open, often confrontational interactions with lawmakers is that there are fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents," the newspaper reported.
In Nebraska, Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith have reduced the number of town halls. Terry apparently has scheduled no town halls open to the general public during the August recess, although he has "telephone town halls," office "coffees" and other public events.
Fortenberry's town hall meeting in Lincoln attracted about 200 people and resulted in "spirited conversation," the Journal Star's Don Walton reported last week.
Subsequent letters to the editor almost sounded as though the writers had attended different meetings. A common complaint was that it was difficult to hear the questions and that Fortenberry sometimes failed to repeat the questions for the benefit of the rest of the audience.
Shouting did break out when discussion veered to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Fortenberry finally had to intervene. "Stop yelling," he said. "Stop. We're going to have an orderly discussion."
The most reflective letter came from Moni Usasz, who wrote, "Human behavior was on display in all its great variety. Rep. Fortenberry was well prepared, organized and passionate about what he does and committed to listening to his constituents. It was also abundantly clear that everyone in attendance had strongly held beliefs and wanted the congressman to share them with their level of fervor. Poor man!"
Fortenberry's town hall meetings in other locations were more sedate events, based on newspaper accounts.
Town hall meetings at which constituents can discuss issues face to face with members of congress have long been a valued part of American democracy. In today's harsh political climate, compliments are due to the elected officials and constituents who try to keep the custom alive. As always, courtesy helps preserve social bonds.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Aug. 17, 2014.
Fair elections: Bureaucracies shouldn't be able to use public funds to oppose candidates
Survey Nebraskans and you'll find that support for development of wind energy and other renewable sources comes in at better than 80 percent. Yet Nebraska lags in wind energy development, despite having abundant potential and despite being the only state in the nation with 100 percent public power.
The reason for that is entrenched opposition to wind and solar energy from some of the state's largest energy brokers, who prefer the simplicity of nuclear and coal-fired generation — sources that can be run at stable levels — to the challenge of blending clean, renewable sources into the energy mix. Last week the Nebraska Supreme Court found that two public power district employees took that opposition too far by using public money to campaign against a board candidate who supported wind energy.
The wind energy proponent, Michael Van Buskirk, was running for a spot on the Northwest Rural Public Power District board in 2010. Rolland Skinner, then-general manager of NRPPD, and Les Tlustos, the district's consumer services director, authorized a district-funded series of radio advertisements in the month leading up to the 2010 general election that criticized wind energy. The ads didn't specifically name Van Buskirk, but they attacked his key campaign issues, and each of the three aired more than 70 times during the run-up to the election.
Van Buskirk, who went on to win the election, was the only candidate running on wind energy issues. According to an Omaha World-Herald report, he filed a complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, the agency that handles complaints about violations of Nebraska campaign laws. He alleged that Skinner, who has since retired, and Tlustos went too far in attempting to prevent his election, violating a state law barring public officials from using public resources "for the purpose of campaigning" for or against a candidate or ballot measure. In 2012, the commission agreed, and ordered each to pay a $2,000 civil penalty.
Skinner and Tlustos appealed to the Lincoln County District Court, which overturned the commission's findings on the basis of the radio ads never specifically identifying Van Buskirk by name. The higher court overturned that ruling, stating that the district court should have considered whether ads were run "with the intent to influence public support for or against a particular candidate, ticket or measure."
The case has been sent back to the district court to determine whether the radio ads took a position for or against the issues central to Van Buskirk's campaign, the timing and frequency of the ads and how the ads compared to the district's prior public service announcements or ads.
Away from the big-money battle royals that determine federal and statewide races, campaigns are run on a smaller, more personal scale, without the benefit of outside contributions. Candidates campaign on their own time, with their own funds. Clearly, it would be dirty politics for a school district or city government, for example, to campaign against local candidates who expressed opposition to their present policies. A city manager or school administrator has the right to be concerned that such a candidate might upset plans to fund a water-treatment project or build a new school. They have the right, even the duty, to provide the public with factual information regarding such projects. But using city or school funds to pay for a barrage of political ads intended to ensure such a candidate's defeat is crossing the line, as the Accountability and Disclosure Commission ruled.
The law barring such campaigning helps to keep elections honest. When candidates advocate change in the way an agency of government is run, that agency shouldn't be allowed to use taxpayer or ratepayer funds to skew the election results. Candidates should be able to compete in a fair campaign against their opponent, not against the bureaucrats they hope to oversee.