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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.)
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August 19, 2010
Why don’t we just face up to an increasingly obvious question: What, realistically, are the chances that we will achieve our goals in Afghanistan?
If we can’t realistically expect to win in Afghanistan, let’s make plans for as prompt withdrawal as can be done in orderly fashion.
Abandon the country to the Taliban? Yes, if there seems no reasonable prospect of our eliminating the Taliban or neutralizing them in a way that would be effective for the long term after our withdrawal.
Abandon the effort to replace a tribal-dominated, fragmented governmental system with a strong elected central government? Yes, unless we can point to substantial progress and a strong prospect of success in that effort within a reasonable timeframe. (I’m not talking about 10 years.)
In addition to the continuing loss of lives of young Americans in our armed forces, there is the cost of waging war by a government which is piling up record deficits and faces a possibility if not the likelihood of a disastrous national debt burden if the present trend continues.
It seems reasonable to raise these questions when even friends of President Obama like the editors of The New York Times conclude a 32-paragraph “State of the War” editorial with these words:
“…the administration has sent a host—a cacophony—of conflicting signals about the deadline, the strategy and its commitment to the war.
“Americans need regular, straight talk, from President Obama about what is happening in Afghanistan, for good or ill, and the plan going forward. More ambiguity will only add to the anxiety and confusion.”
* * *
A tip of my columnist’s cap to the four city council members who voted to pass the proposed police contract which is likely to result in an unpopular but necessary tax increase next year.
One of the four, Councilmen Chris Jerram, said that the contract represents the first step in reforming the police contract, “reversing decades of pension benefit increases.”
The three other councilmen with the courage to face the issue: Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray and Thomas Mulligan.
The new contract includes wage freezes for 2009 and 2010, pay raises in later years and, very importantly, higher pension contributions from both taxpayers and police officers. The retirement age would be raised and officers would be stopped from spiking their pensions through overtime.
It is at least a first step towards dealing with an estimated $620 million shortfall in the pension fund.
The three remaining council members, who seem to think the pension crisis can be solved by simply saying “No,” are Jean Stothert, Pete Festersen and Franklin Thompson.
Stothert, incidentally, incredible as it may seem, is already involved in a fundraiser to help finance her campaign for re-election in May, 2013—nearly three years from now. Invitations have gone out for a $100-a-person reception.
The invitation carries the name of more than 60 persons—some of them prominent in the community—who are willing at this early stage to back the re-election of a City Council member whose most noteworthy performance has been her outspoken opposition to any form of tax increase to address the city’s critical financial condition.
I must add that I was surprised at some of the names which appeared as co-sponsors of this Stothert-for-re-election event. They are persons who, I would have thought, would have had reservations about aligning themselves with a re-election campaign without waiting to see Stothert’s performance in the next two years.
Incidentally, it doesn’t take much to get a lot of attention when you are opposed to tax increases.
Top-of-the-page play was given to a recent story with this headline: “Police contract foes not swayed by grim outlook on pension fund.”
Five paragraphs into the story, you could learn that 30 people—that’s right, 30 people—attended the public forum which, according to a subhead over the story, turned into a sort of “verbal boxing match” between protesting taxpayers and city officials.
* * *
Some random thoughts, briefly stated (at least I tried to be brief!):
--The University of Nebraska-Lincoln produces “champions of academic excellence” in other categories than the much-publicized No. 1-in-the-nation total of 273 Academic All-Americans in the full range of Husker athletic teams.
A recent invitation to a celebration of academic excellence among UNL students listed, in addition to the Academic All-Americans total, these impressive figures listing other outstanding examples of UNL’s academic excellence:
Twenty-three Rhodes Scholars, 22 Truman Scholars, 24 Goldwater Scholars and 56 Fulbright Scholars.
--One feels, of course, great sympathy for the four motorcycle riders and their families after the accident which killed four bikers, including two aged 62, on Interstate 29 north of Council Bluffs.
But hanging over the whole tragic accident is the fact that by traveling on motorcycles without the protection which other vehicles offer in the body of the vehicle itself and seat belts and airbags, bikers fit the description with which The World-Herald’s Michael Kelly ended a recent column:
“More than fearful, most bikers are careful. But they are also so vulnerable.”
--If you are into golf, you perhaps watched part of the PGA Championship tournament which ended last Sunday with a ruling which cost Dustin Johnson a chance to enter a three-man, three-hole playoff for the championship.
It was a sad ending for Johnson, who had to take a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in what was officially designated as a sand trap but looked more like simply a patch of sandy soil.
Johnson’s sad experience was, as I see it, a direct result of a golf course designer, with the encouragement of the Whistling Straits Golf Resort owners, producing a golf course with more than 1,000 sand traps or so-called sand traps.
The much-publicized Whistling Straits course was described by television announcers as resembling a links course of the type you find in Scotland and Ireland (and, in the United States, at the Sand Hills Golf Club near Mullen, Nebraska—a course ranked by Golf Digest Magazine 11th best in the United States and among the best in the world—a golf course to which one sand trap was added as the course was “laid out on the land”).
Any course that includes 1,000 manufactured sand traps and extraordinarily large greens impresses me as a goofy golf course. It certainly doesn’t deserve comparison with true links-style courses which are simply laid out on the land rather than “manufactured” like Whistling Straits—a course that well-known golf architect Pete Dye should not be proud of.
* * *
My roommate celebrated her 82nd birthday last week with a greatly appreciated flurry of phone calls and cards and small luncheons and a number of birthday cakes ranging from cupcake size to a good-sized chocolate cake with chocolate frosting which, refrigerated, is still providing tasty servings for the both of us.
The occasion provided yet another example of Marian’s remarkable memory and her remarkable interest in other people.
When I told her that a friend named Julie had called to wish her a happy birthday, Marian’s response was something like, “That was very nice of Julie. Incidentally, she has a birthday coming up. It’s October 16.”
Name a good friend and Marian can promptly tell you the date of that friend’s birthday and probably the names of the friend’s children.
Marian and I long ago gave up the practice of exchanging any substantial birthday gifts. (I do recall the summer when we got our first color television set. Marian said it was a birthday gift for me.)
This year, on the occasion of her 82nd birthday, I gave Marian a $100 bill—a dollar for each year and then, generous husband that I am, I told her, “Keep the change.”
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