Time To Ease Up

Much as I enjoy the time-consuming researching and writing of my columns (even though I no longer get paid for it!), I feel the need for more time to attend to some personal matters.  So I plan on going to a 3-out-of-4-weeks formula.

There will be advance notice of the weeks I choose to take off.  There will be no new column next week.  Earlier columns will still be available, of course, on this website.

So, time to ease up.  I hope you will continue reading me three out of every four weeks.  Thanks for your readership, and please remember that I welcome reader reaction.

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Egypt An Example To Rest Of The Mideast?
U.S. Should Help But Not Expect Too Much

Quite properly, people around the world who believe in honestly-elected governments are rejoicing in the unseating of Egyptian President/dictator Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak.  But, in a very real sense, as I see it, the hard part of a battle for popularly-chosen, responsible-to-the-people government in Egypt has just begun.

Down through history, the overthrow of monarchs or other dictators—like Louis XVI in France or Stalin and his successors in Russia and Saddam Hussein in Iraq—has been followed by long periods of violence as in France, reversion to what looks very much like one-man rule in Russia today to bloody sectarian violence in Iraq.

In the wake of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, will there be a domino effect across the Middle East, with the rise of more “power to the people” governments?  In Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example?  No way, I fear, although the opposition in Iran, including young people, is making a courageous effort.

In Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan?  Doubtful, I would think.  But one can always hope.

And if there are more “popular” governments, will it be as a result of mobs in the street as in Egypt or will other mobs in the street produce less promising results?

My good friend Thomas Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, expresses a hopeful view.  The Egyptian story shows disaffected young people in the Middle East how they can channel their time, energy and resources into changing things rather than seeing their country’s leadership’s abuses encourage intervention by radical groups like al-Qaida.

Gouttierre suggests that if youth-led reform movement in a country can lead to freedom from oppressive, dictatorial rule, external forces like al-Qaida terrorists have little or nothing to offer that would appeal to the internal forces of reform.

Americans should hope, of course, that the fall of Mubarak in Egypt opens the door for the kind of democratic development that Tom Gouttierre envisions as possible in other Middle Eastern countries.

Such a result would certainly be helpful as the United States continues to play an important role in the Middle East—a role which, one must hope, will not continue to require major military intervention which has seen many thousands of American troops, including Army Reserve and National Guard units, called up to try bring peace and reform to governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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So Obama Team Succeeded In Nebraska’s 2nd District;
So Now Let’s Get Back Into The National Mainstream

The case for awarding three of Nebraska’s five presidential electoral votes on the basis of the winner in each of the three Congressional districts might conceivably be stronger if details of Barack Obama’s Second Congressional District victory in 2008 were not so well known.

The Obama campaign, of course, didn’t need another electoral vote.  The all-out push in the Second District seemed to be an effort to prove that Obama was so popular that he could pick up a seat in a state with a tradition of voting for Republican presidential candidates over the previous 68 years.  (There was only one exception—Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.)

What the Obama campaign really proved, as I see it, was that with enough money to spend you can indulge in a kind of political showmanship.

David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, singled out Nebraska’s Second District as one of his pet projects.  He called it his “personal favorite target” in his book, “The Audacity to Win.”

Nebraska was a logical target for such a personal target, since only Nebraska and Maine allow some of the state’s electoral votes to be won by the vote within individual Congressional districts.

In the 2008 targeting of the Nebraska’s Second Congressional District by Obama’s campaign manager, Democrats opened three election offices in Nebraska and had 13 paid staffers concentrating on getting out the Democratic vote, primarily in northeastern Omaha where the predominance of black voters offered a logical target of support for an Obama candidacy.

State Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha has introduced a bill that would put Nebraska back in the national mainstream in delivering all of the state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who carried the state.

McCoy’s legislation would be consistent with the argument that those who wrote the Constitution creating the Electoral College envisioned electors representing an entire state, not Congressional districts.

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New Arena?  Where Would Mavs Put 15,000 Fans?
Enough Already About Tiger Woods’ Comeback Struggles

Some thoughts prompted by reading the sports pages (something which I do with some regularity but certainly not as assiduously as my teammate, Marian):

Those crowds which turned out for the University of Nebraska at Omaha Maverick hockey team as it handed two defeats to a traditional hockey powerhouse, the University of Wisconsin Badgers, won’t exactly advance the cause of building a new hockey arena to provide the Mavericks with their own home ice.  Consider:

The Mavericks, with some special promotions and discounted ticket prices, attracted more than 15,000 fans to the Qwest Center arena for the first game against the Badgers.  A few more than 10,000 were on hand for the Mavericks second victory over the Badgers the next evening.

Maverick Coach Dean Blais was quoted very recently as having said if a new arena is built, between 8,000 and 9,000 capacity would be preferable.  It hardly need be pointed out that you can’t get 15,000 people or 10,000 people into an arena with a capacity of 8,000 to 9,000.  This, as I see it, seems to be an argument for the Mavericks continuing in the Qwest Center if they want to continue to, from time to time, draw crowds of 10,000 and upward.

As I have written in this space before, the major need of the Mavericks seems to be not a new $60 million arena, but “practice ice”—which certainly ought to be providable for a great deal less than $60 million.

But for now, let’s end media speculation about whether “deep pocket” contributors will come up with $60 million for a new arena.  Let’s concentrate on rejoicing about what Coach Blais and his young team are accomplishing and cheer them on in their crucial remaining games.

Still reading the sports pages, I was not surprised that an Associated Press story last Monday dealt almost entirely with Tiger Woods, the onetime top golfer, who finished in a tie for 20th in the Dubai Desert Classic.

The news media seem to regard Woods as still the dominant golf story, as he more understandably was during the days when he was playing No.-1-in-the-world golf.

Woods’ continuing failures are interesting news—and good news to some golf fans who find it impossible to forgive him for his admitted private life sexual escapades.

But should Tiger’s failure to regain his form—made more difficult by the fact that he is trying to develop a new swing—dominate the news whether he wins or loses on the comeback trail?

The Associated Press story from Dubai mentioned the tournament winner—Alvaro Quiros—briefly twice in the 12-paragraph story.  The 10 other paragraphs dealt exclusively with Woods’ performance which wound up with a 75 final-day round and a tie for 20th place.

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Home Ownership Isn’t A Right;
Renting Needn’t Hurt Family Life

My own family history undoubtedly influences my reaction to the continuing news media stories which indicate sympathy for those families which attempted to buy a house with little or no down payment and attractive interest rates on the loans which are supposed to be repaid.

You read or hear little else but sympathy for the would-be homeowners when—entirely predictable in many cases—the would-be homeowners fail to make the required monthly payments and the owners of loan-based mortgages quite understandably foreclose on those mortgages.

Such loans—obviously risky in a good many cases—are costing the federal government billions of dollars because two agencies created by the Congress—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—agreed to underwrite the risky loans.

Where is it written that, as a matter of social and government policy, every American family is entitled to a guaranteed route to fulfillment of “the American dream” of homeownership?  It certainly isn’t in the Constitution, and it isn’t in the realm of common sense when federal government policies overlook the reality that a good many families are economically better prepared for renting a home than buying one.

I point to my family’s experience because I think the same fundamental renting vs. owning question still must be answered on the basis of fiscal common sense, not wishful thinking.

Members of our family, ranging from three up to six at different times, lived in a total of four rented houses and an apartment.  We spent the longest span of years in a five-room-plus-kitchen rented house, where at one time six family members lived comfortably after the “parlor” had been converted into a bedroom.

Renting as against owning didn’t constitute any form of discrimination or handicap, so far as I can see as I look back over those rented-house years.

Responsible home ownership is certainly to be encouraged, provided it can be offered on a sound economic basis rather than as a sort of federal-subsidized welfare program.  And renting should continue to be a socially and governmentally acceptable alternative.

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How Do You Pamper Already Pampered Dogs?
How About Throwing An Annual Birthday Party?

Our Prairie Avenue home again this year was the site of what must rank as one of the world’s shortest birthday parties.

This past Monday, Marian gave her usual birthday bash for our two cocker spaniels—Claire, who turned nine on Valentine’s Day, and Charlotte, whose seventh birthday was Tuesday.

A special guest was Muggins, who runs the household of our next-door neighbor Sue Conine.

In keeping with tradition, ice cream and a frosted cupcake apiece was offered to our dogs and their guest.

The whole affair was over in perhaps 15 seconds, and a good time was had by all, including the dog owners, of course.

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