Mixed Bag Today: Obama, Congress, Afghanistan,
Nebraska State Budget, Suttle Recall Election

The first column of a new year seems a logical place to stimulate our thinking—yours and mine—as to the biggest 2011 issues facing Americans at the national and international levels and Nebraskans and Omahans at the state and local levels.

I have the advantage of you, since I’ve been thinking about this matter on and off for a couple of days in preparation for writing this week’s column.  But each of you is a quick study, I’m sure, as evidenced by the fact that you read my column (he said, immodestly).  So I offer my views with the hope that some of you will share your views with me.

As for my opinions:

The most troubling international issue facing President Obama and the Congress and the American people is, I believe, how long we are going to spend billions of dollars and sacrifice the lives of American soldiers in more than an increasing number of Americans feel is a vain effort to defeat the Taliban and bring something resembling a democratic government to Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan dilemma (which some are now calling “Obama’s War”) is another example of failure in our well-intentioned Middle East policy.

People are still being blown up as a result of centuries-old religious hatreds in Iraq (in a continuing aftermath to what some people called “Bush’s War”).  There is no sign of a truly stable, democratic government yet in that troubled land where we have spent so much of our resources and so many American lives.

And, of course, the prospect of agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with the creation of the Palestinian state promised the Arabs more than half a century ago, remains dim—so dim that a respected Jewish-American columnist, Tom Friedman of The New York Times, has suggested that we stop spending billions of dollars to prop up both Israel and the Palestinians and tell them to find a settlement on their own.  The United States would be involved as a helpful counselor but not a billion-dollar bankroller.

Will Voters Get What They Were Asking For?

On the national level, the major issue clearly is whether the decisive Republican victory in the November Congressional elections will bring the less-government, balanced budget reforms which Republicans believe the voters were asking for.

Also on the national level, there is a proliferation of “government by edict” rather than by legislation.  A prime example is the Environmental Protection Agency decision (apparently with President Obama’s tacit support) to adopt new pollution-control standards despite Congressional questions and opposition.

There is also the case of Obama by executive order approving the expenditure of federal funds for “end of life” medical advice, after failing to win Congressional approval.

I believe that such “end of life” discussion of options is for the patient’s benefit, but I don’t believe it should be proclaimed as Federal policy when Congressional approval apparently can’t be won.

In Nebraska, Possible Tax Increases Finally Mentioned

On the Nebraska state government level, the major problem which came into sharper focus in 2010 and must be addressed, painful as it may be, in 2011 is clearly the matter of the state budget.

It is, incidentally but importantly, heartening to finally see the possibility of tax increases mentioned in one of the stories discussing the $986 million gap between the present level of state government spending and the revenues estimated to be available for the two-year budget period starting July 1st.

It wasn’t until the 21st paragraph on an inside page that a state budget shortfall story mentioned the possibility of tax increases, but there, finally, it was, in these words:

“Bad news on the revenue front could increase calls to include tax hikes as part of the budget solution.”  (Increase calls?  If there have been such calls in recent months, they have been pretty muted.)

Speaking of the projected state revenue shortfall, I found it interesting that a request to legislative committees to come up with a list of potential spending cuts produced something less than $500 million in possible savings for the next two-year budget period.  (The largest potential cuts, predictably, were in appropriations for the University of Nebraska and for state aid to local school districts.)

Possible savings of less than $500 million through a variety of cuts large and small seems a very long way from addressing a projected $986 million shortfall.

Other Issues Worth Special Concern

Like most Nebraskans, I will have some issues of special interest beyond the dominant state budget issue.

My special issues will include a concern that the Legislature do nothing to harm the Niobrara River, one of Nebraska’s most precious natural resources.  Also a special interest in the defeat of any additional measures which attempt to make Nebraska a national leader in legislation designed to encourage—or force—pregnant mothers to deliver babies which are the result of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

The Roe v. Wade United States Supreme Court decision legalizing early-term abortions is still the law of the land.

Abortion opponents should work at least as hard to promote ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies as they are working to find ways around Roe v. Wade.

In Omaha, Inherited Problems Required Tax Increases

In Omaha, the clearly dominant local issue as the new year begins is the effort to recall Mayor Jim Suttle in a January 25 election.

One would hope that the level of the campaign will rise above the “he raised taxes—kick him out” theme which seems to be the main thrust of the campaign against Suttle.

Some source—the news media perhaps or the committee which is working in support of Suttle—should work hard—and quickly—to bring the controversy into proper focus.  This, as I see it, would involve a careful, objective look at the record:

–What, point by documented point, were the problems (especially the budgetary problems) which faced Suttle and the newly-elected City Council when they took office in May of 2009?

–What, point by carefully documented point, did Suttle and the City Council majority do to address the problems which faced them—problems to a large extent inherited from previous city administrations?

–Make clear, repeatedly if necessary, that the changes to which some Omahans are vigorously objecting, especially the tax increases, were ultimately the responsibility of a City Council majority—council members who took Suttle’s recommendations, amended them in some instances and voted them into law.

Despite Tax Complaints, Omaha Economy Is Strong

The news media coverage of the recall campaign should also surely include a comprehensive “state of the city” report—such absolutely relevant facts as the city’s continuing to retain a AAA rating for its bonds and the other positive developments summarized by Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce president David Brown:

“Omaha is on a roll with 47 national rankings in 2010.  My 2011 resolution is to move Omaha even higher on each ranking’s list.  Instead of being among Money’s ‘top five metro areas that are hot,’ let’s become the hottest.  And my goal is to beat Washington, D.C. to take over the No. 1 spot on the MarketWatch ‘Best Cities for Business’ list.”  (Omaha was ranked No. 2 on that list in 2010.)

I would hope that the news media will give such comprehensive attention to all the pertinent facts surrounding the recall attempt rather than concentrating on the charges and countercharges and urging all registered voters to go to the polls January 25.  (I believe in large voter turnouts only if the voters are well informed.  The cause of good government is not advanced by people who vote their emotions, not their intellect.)

Incidentally, an early news media effort to focus attention on the January 25 election included some surprising language.  Voters were asked to consider who might be nominated to succeed Suttle in the special election which would follow recall and to consider whether voters have “any assurance that we won’t end up with a mayor who will perform worse than Mayor Suttle or prove just as polarizing.”

To speak of a potential successor as possibly “worse” than Suttle or “just as polarizing” would seem to some to be something less than fair comment on Suttle’s performance.

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Just Call Me ‘Enlightened,’ If You Please

It’s not just in The New York Times, of course, but a column in a recent issue of The Times demonstrated how far some liberals are going in trying to make their leanings to the left more attractive by re-labeling themselves as “progressives.”

The column, filled with left-leaning views, appeared under a headline carrying the description “Progressives.”  The column itself, never using the word liberal, spoke of “progressives” half a dozen times.

Can anybody play this game?

I consider myself a “moderate” or perhaps a “moderate conservative.”

Some “progressives” have a knee-jerk rejection of “conservative” views, even “moderate conservative” views.

In the future, if you have occasion to refer to me or my views, please use the description “enlightened.”

* * *

Husker Fans Have To Hope That 2010
Was Just A Detour On Comeback Road

Is there a glimmer of hope for the future despite the “ridiculous” way (head coach Bo Pelini used that word) the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished their 2010 season?

Perhaps a glimmer—in a negative sort of way—is the fact that both Michigan and Michigan State, who are in the western division of the Big 10 along with Nebraska as of next year, looked even more pathetic than the Cornhuskers in their bowl game performance.

And Wisconsin—co-champion in the Big 10 with Michigan State—looked like something less than an intimidating football power in losing to TCU.  (The Huskers play Wisconsin in Madison early next fall.)

But it’s not exactly uplifting to find comfort in the fact that a couple of prospective Big 10 rivals played as poorly—or even more poorly—than the Huskers did in that 19-7 loss to Washington, a game in which Nebraska penalties exceeded the total yards gained by rushing.

Husker fans should hope, rather, that Pelini, the returning squad members and new recruits can establish, in their first year in the Big 10, that 2010 was just a detour on the Huskers’ road back to national prominence.

* * *

Lot Of Effort To Watch Huskers Lose

Speaking of the Husker performance in the Holiday Bowl brings to mind our preparations for watching the game on our high-definition TV screen.  For three hours, I was in contact with Cox Cable and Sony technicians, trying everything they suggested to get a picture on that screen, which had gone dark.

After making an appointment for a technician to call Monday morning, the earliest date I could get, Marian and I prepared to watch the game on a non-high definition set.

Then I looked, one last time, at the myriad of connections which go into the back of the TV screen.

I discovered that someone had dislodged the electrical power connection, so it was no wonder that the screen went black.

So, after all, we got to watch what you might call a highly-defined Huskers humiliation.

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