Dem Lynch Mob Might Hang President’s Hopes - 07-16-09
A Varied Menu For You To Consider - 06-25-09
Notre Dame And Obama
Offer A Splendid Lesson - 05-21-09
Upsets Even Liberals - 03-26-09
‘Adults In Wonderland’
Need To Get Real - 01-15-09
This Time It’s Indians
Who Break The Treaty - 12-18-08
Me? A Grumpy Old Man?
One Reader Thinks So - 12-11-08
Top Athletes Should
Know When to Quit? - 7-24-08
Omaha Stars Again
On National TV Stage - 7-02-08
Obama ‘Stumbling’ To Victory? - 5-08-08
"‘Charisma’ Not Always a Good Thing" - 2-27-08
"Nosy Congress Makes
Three Bad Calls" - 10-26-07
"Right Decision Could
Help Both Fair, UNL" - 10-12-07
"Stop Trying To Make God A Republican" - 10-6-07
A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
February 4, 2010
Today a mixed bag, including my reaction to some public comments made by a variety of figures, including Nebraska state senators and some advocates of expanded gambling in Nebraska. Also, some observations on the performance of the news media.
First target: The effort—yet again—to get the Nebraska Legislature to repeal the law which requires motorcyclists to wear helmets.
State Senator LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth provided the key vote to bring the helmet repeal bill out of committee, explaining his reasoning with this remarkable statement: “Do we have to tell everyone to brush their teeth?”
Another remarkable legislative quote, this one from Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, sponsor of a bill to allow gambling on horse races to be conducted in sites—many of which could wind up in taverns—scattered across Nebraska. Sen. Karpisek said the Thoroughbred horse racing industry in Nebraska needs help, “something to help them stand on their own…four feet.”
One has the impression that the estimated several million dollars to be extracted from gamblers would go to two-footed recipients, the owners of the four-footed horses. But whatever type of creature is involved, two-footed or four-footed or both, how can you argue that collecting millions of dollars from gamblers is allowing either the horses or their owners to stand on their own feet?
Another unusual quote came from Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue, who said the proposal is not for expanded gambling since betting on simulcast races is already allowed at several horse tracks in Nebraska.
Well, if the proposed constitutional amendment doesn’t expand gambling, where will the estimated $6 million of additional gambling profits come from?
Still on the subject of legislative language, let’s turn to a bill introduced by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk. It is this session’s bill of choice for Nebraskans who oppose abortion. News stories indicate that it carries the title “Abortion Pain Prevention Act.”
The bill is designed to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Bellevue from performing late-term abortions—abortions which are legal under federal law, incidentally but importantly.
Dr. Carhart has said he would perform late-term abortions only in cases where the fetus could not survive outside the womb—a fact which is sometimes omitted or buried well down in news accounts.
Sen. Flood’s bill would allow abortions after a fetus reaches 20 weeks only in cases necessary to save a woman’s life or to “avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” (Flood, incidentally, has said he believes a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. I have not seen any public explanation of the basis for his belief.)
Dr. Carhart says he would perform a late-term abortion only in a case where the fetus could not survive outside the womb. This could be read as going farther than Flood’s language, which would allow short-of-death-threat late term abortion if necessary to avoid serious risk of a major irreversible health threat.
Questionable legislative statements are not, of course, confined to the Nebraska Legislature. Consider a quote from Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns.
Johanns has helped organize a group of about 20 U.S. senators to lobby for continuing federal subsidy to keep small airports open. In support of that proposition, Johanns offered this remarkable quote: “Our small airports are the lifeblood of what we do.”
Well, if small airports are Nebraska’s “lifeblood,” our state’s economy is in a lot worse shape than I had realized.
* * *
Turning to the subject of news media performance, which I said would be one of my topics today:
The helmet law issue was reported in a story which carried this headline: “Helmet law repeal ripe to be revisited.” The headline writer might have been influenced by the fact that the news story said that the 2010 debate of helmet law repeal would be the first such since 2008. Count me among those who would not consider that a one-year recess in the continuing debate over Nebraska’s helmet law would not make repeal of that law “ripe to be revisited” in 2010.
My compliments to the World-Herald for its editorial stand on the helmet law repeal effort.
An editorial carrying this headline, “Keep this law on the books” indicated that so far as the helmet law is concerned, what Nebraska needs is not repeal but enforcement. The editorial pointed out:
“Here’s how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) summed up one report in the 1990s about the effects from Nebraska’s helmet law: The study ‘found that the universal law produced sharp declines in the numbers and rates of injuries, hospital transports, hospital admissions, severe injuries to the head and deaths.’
“In 2008, a total of 19 motorcyclists died on Nebraska roads. Of those, 16—that’s 84 percent—were not wearing helmets”
Then there was the news story reporting the unfortunate plight of mothers in this country illegally who are to be deprived of taxpayer-financed prenatal care for their children who, when born, become United States citizens under the provisions of our national constitution.
Singled out was a case of a mother, pregnant with her fifth baby, who is in this country illegally. (Of course, the word “illegal” is never mentioned. We read instead that she is “undocumented.”)
Up until this year, such mothers have received prenatal care based on the reasoning that the babies, still in the womb, will become United States citizens on birth and therefore it is somehow legally or at least morally the taxpayers’ responsibility to provide prenatal care.
(The news story, incidentally, said that the Guatemalan whose story was featured, started her prenatal care with a smile. The two authors of the story did not indicate how they knew that the pregnant Guatemalan was smiling. But such colorful imagining has become, too often, a result of efforts to create news stories of the “human interest” variety or to tilt the story in favor of the subject.)
This is not to suggest a lack of sympathy for the mother and the unborn future United States citizen. Some way should—and will—be found to provide continuing prenatal care.
But it would have been good journalistic practice, I would think, to pursue the question of whether the once-smiling mother featured in the news story had ever tried to become a United States citizen or is content to continue living as a Guatemalan enjoying the advantages of life in this country, including taxpayer-subsidized prenatal care.
Still on the subject of journalistic performance:
The headline read: “Private funds boosted NU leaders ’08-’09 pay.”
On an inside page, in the 14th paragraph of the story, we come to much more current news: “This school year, Milliken (University of Nebraska President J. B. Milliken) and other administrators turned down both privately-funded raises and raises in their state-funded salaries.”
I’ll leave it to you to speculate as to why the journalistic decision was to play year-old salary-increase news above current no-salary-increase salary news.
Then there is the matter of the way gambling news—of which there is a limitless supply—has been reported or not reported.
In the story of the nun who stole church funds allegedly totaling more than $300,000 and gambled away $67,650 at Council Bluffs casinos, the details of her casino addiction were not reported in any of the many stories which I read or heard on TV. Slots? Blackjack? Craps? What led her to the casinos? Was a nun’s gambling addiction never noticed by any of her associates or casino operators? Did she make any effort to cure it?
Ironically, the much-publicized story of the nun’s release (she is barred from casinos and has to join Gamblers Anonymous) after serving less than a year of a supposed 3 to 5 year sentence comes at a time when the Nebraska Legislature is considering a number of gambling proposals.
Ironic, too, that the story of the casino-barred nun’s release was spotlighted at a time when Council Bluffs interests are being praised for establishing an 85-acre park at the Council Bluffs end of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge—the span which extends across the Missouri River from the booming downtown renaissance area of Omaha to currently undeveloped property on the Iowa side of the river.
Prominently mentioned in the story and in enthusiastic editorial comment was the fact that the Council Bluffs development will be financed in part by a $5.45 million grant from the Iowa West Foundation. No mention, of course, that the Iowa West Foundation’s source of its philanthropic funds are the losses of gamblers attracted to Council Bluffs-based gambling casinos.
An editorial commenting on the development—apparently influenced by the architect’s rendering of a huge “great lawn” area to be developed at the Iowa end of the Bob Kerrey Bridge—carried this headline: “A healthy dose of green.”
“Green” certainly in terms of the park developed with the aid of money lost by gamblers but “green” also in terms of that lost money.
Further on the subject of journalistic performance: A recent New York Times dispatch from China gave a misleading impression of the extent to which China will depend on renewable energy—including wind energy—to meet its energy needs.
A picture carried this caption: “As China takes the lead on wind turbines and solar panels, President Obama is calling American industry to step up.”
If you read far enough into the story, on an inside page you learn that China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8% of its electricity-generating capacity in 2020. Eight percent, of course, is a very small percentage of total energy production, and the goal is 10 years away and involves renewable sources other than wind.
Hardly enough to create alarm justifying the headline that “China is leading race to make clean energy.”
* * *
We were beginning to feel that we really should disconnect the Christmas tree lights from a small evergreen tree in our front yard. But snowdrifts made approach to the tree quite challenging. So we left the lights on for a good five weeks after Christmas.
Triggering our decision to finally get son David to plow through the snow and disconnect the lights was this incident:
A man appeared at our front door one recent evening and said he was looking for the home of John and Susan Zeilinger, who live one house up Prairie Avenue across from us. He said Mrs. Zeilinger had told her the house is across the street on Prairie Avenue from “the house with the Christmas tree lights on,” or words to that effect.
I pointed out the Zeilinger’s house—and agreed with Marian that it was time to turn our Christmas tree lights off.
# # #