Even for three members of the Buffett family—father Warren and children Susie and Howie—the past couple of weeks have brought an unusual amount of public attention.
Most significant of the variety of news stories was, of course, Warren’s announcement that he has prostate cancer but the seriousness is rated as only 1 on the traditional 1-to-5 severity scale. Reassuring, but another part of Buffett’s announcement has drawn some questions.
Warren said that the low-predictable-risk cancer is being treated with radiation. This in the face of considerable medical opinion that level 1 prostate cancer should be monitored but not treated with radiation, since the radiation treatment can make more difficult if not impossible more radical treatment—like removal of the prostate—if the cancer spreads.
As The World-Herald reported last Sunday, the Boston Globe’s Debra Cotz wrote that a government taskforce has recommended against even screening for prostate cancer in men older than 75, saying this can lead to more harm from over-treatment than life-saving benefits. Better to just monitor a tumor to make sure it isn’t growing fast.
The World-Herald story reported that “others also said they were surprised Buffett planned to have radiation treatment, which can cause other problems.”
Buffett, however, clearly wanted to assure Berkshire Hathaway shareholders and others of his legion of admirers that he was taking aggressive action against even a level 1 cancer. And, of course, Buffett has the advice and active involvement of his own doctor.
Susie Lands Another Celebrity Speaker
Other Buffett family news involved daughter Susie, whose intense interest in the work of Girls, Inc. helped attract the sold-out crowd which showed up to hear First Lady Michele Obama address a fund-raising luncheon this week. Obama’s appearance continues a string of celebrity appearances—then-Senator Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright—all attracted by the Buffett name as well as the Girls, Inc. cause.
Son Howie Buffett’s time in the spotlight resulted from announcement of his plan, co-sponsored by the Archer Daniels Midland agriculture marketing giant, to encourage farmers to donate one acre’s worth of crops each year to Feeding America, a non-profit that supports food banks.
Farmers can donate to the “Invest An Acre” program at ADM grain elevators across the country.
The spotlight fell on Warren Buffett when he paid a well-merited tribute to Saunders County native Jeff Raikes as Raikes was honored by the Omaha Press Club in its traditional “Face on the Barroom Floor” proceedings in which Buffett took part.
Raikes, who grew up on the family farm—still owned in the family—near Ashland, Nebraska, runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquartered in Seattle—a foundation to which Buffett pledged $30 billion—the then-current value, which has since increased—of Berkshire Hathaway stock.
Raikes attended Stanford University, then went on to become a top executive in the Microsoft Corporation founded by Bill Gates.
Raikes Retains Close Nebraska Ties
Raikes has maintained close ties to Nebraska, including a share of ownership in the family farm in Ashland, construction of an impressive second home close to the farm and, very importantly, continuing major financial support of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The one “downer” in the Buffett presence in the news these recent days was the reaction to President Obama’s effort to use the so-called “Buffett Rule” as not a sincere effort to raise more tax revenue but as a political ploy to embarrass Republicans.
Obama knew that the proposal didn’t have a prayer of a chance and would not accomplish anything substantial even if it were enacted.
I agree that tax increases are necessary, and not just for the wealthy, but they simply must be accompanied by reduction in the annual federal deficit by reducing spending.
The so-called “Buffett Rule” would supposedly have assured that every wealthy American with income of more than a million dollars a year pay at least a 30% federal income tax rate. Several Republicans have pointed out the total raised by this tax would have had an impact of less than 1% on the annual federal deficit. But Obama has pitched it as a substantial part of the answer to the federal deficit. Utter nonsense.
Predictably, the “Buffett Rule” was voted down decisively in the House of Representatives and failed to receive a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
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Lo-o-o-ng Article Fails To Turn Up
Wrongdoing In Bruning’s Wealth-Building
One of the more unusual “blockbusters” that I’ve seen in any major newspaper was the nearly-three-page article which the Sunday World-Herald did on the wealth of Attorney General Jon Bruning, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate.
The focus was not on the overall picture of Bruning’s qualifications for the senatorial nomination and the positions he would take as a United States Senator but rather on the single issue of the fact that Bruning has become relatively wealthy while working as a private attorney, then as a state legislator and as Attorney General.
A full page was given to the story of a Botox-employing body-building spa of which Bruning was a part owner.
When allegations arose as to improper conduct by a doctor employed by the spa, an investigation was started by the State Department of Health and Human Services which sent its findings to the Nebraska Medical Board. The board turned the results of the investigation over to the Attorney General’s office which determines whether there is a legal basis to take action. In the case of the spa—six months after Bruning had sold his interest in the business—the Attorney General’s office settled with the doctor involved—a settlement approved by Nebraska’s Chief Medical Officer.
The doctor was fined $7,500 and required to take a course in prescribing drugs.
A Broader Focus On Fischer, Stengerg
The full-page story gave no indication that Bruning had used his office as Attorney General for the benefit of the business in which he held part ownership, an ownership which he had sold before the case had been fully investigated by the Health and Human Services Department and the Nebraska Medical Board before being turned over to the Attorney General’s office for possible action.
In contrast to the focus on Bruning’s building of wealth starting during his days as a private attorney, the newspaper gave broader attention to two other major candidates for the Republican Senatorial nomination May 15th—State Senator Deb Fischer and State Treasurer Don Stenberg. In both cases, the stories included details about the campaign positions being taken by the candidates.
My reaction: Stenberg comes across as a decent, rock-solid conservative who hasn’t had many if any progressive ideas in his entire political career.
Fischer comes across as also a rock-solid conservative except in one significant regard. She should have some explaining to do in regard to a sweetheart deal with the federal government involving her family-owned Sand Hills ranch. The Fischers lease a good portion of the ranch from the federal government at a price, according to The World-Herald story, around $100 thousand a year below private-market prices for annual rental of a similar acreage of Sand Hills range.
The fact that this is common Federal-land-lease practice doesn’t make it less questionable when a supposed financially conservative political candidate takes advantage of it.
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John Mackiel Is Given Well-Deserved
‘Thank You’ For Dedicated Service
John Mackiel—who I described a number of times as having the toughest job in the state of Nebraska—was properly honored Sunday evening with a reception which attracted a long line of school teachers and parents and children who wanted to say a collective “Thank you” to Mackiel.
Mackiel is retiring after 40 years with the Omaha Public School District, the last 15 years as superintendent. He stirred controversy by his efforts to see that the entire Omaha metropolitan area shared to some extent in the burden of educating the underprivileged children residing largely in eastern Omaha in the Omaha Public School District.
Mackiel’s efforts were at times controversial but properly on target. They helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the Douglas County/Sarpy County Learning Community which to some extent involves the Omaha metropolitan area in the particularly challenging problems of educating children residing largely in eastern Omaha.
Well done, John Mackiel. Count me among the admirers who wish you a happy, productive retirement.
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Arkansas Coach, Tiger Woods Properly Targeted
The subject was “futuristic” football uniforms and you may recall I heartily endorsed World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel’s comment: “I hate the idea of changing the Big Red look this week more than I did last week.”
I promised to tell you, in a future column, of some other of Shatel’s views with which I am in total agreement. For example:
Shatel wrote: “Most college coaches are arrogant because they are allowed to be.” He raised the question of whether the University of Arkansas would fire Head Coach Bobby Petrino after he was involved in an accident riding a motorcycle with a 25-year-old female employee with whom he was having an affair.
I’m sure Shatel was pleased, as I was, when Petrino was fired.
Another Shatel comment with which I agreed:
“What did we learn about Tiger Woods last week at the Masters? He wants to be a soccer player. Or a field-goal kicker. Tiger’s dropkick display was more than embarrassing. It was shocking, even for him. At that venue, like spitting in Rae’s Creek.”
Shatel was referring, of course, to Tiger’s dropping and kicking his driver after an errant swing.
I believe that the fan interest in Tiger Woods now includes a strong element of interest on the part of those who want to see him flop. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more pro-floppers than pro-Tiger fans.
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Massive Sales Pitch Doesn’t Sell Me
On Those Grotesque Football Uniforms
Speaking of a large-scale single-subject journalistic concentration like that on Jon Bruning’s wealth, there comes to mind another such recent performance in my favorite newspaper.
This was the page and a half of space given to World-Herald sports staff member Sam McKewon’s recent “In My Opinion” column. McKewon used the space to reflect a special personal passion for “futurizing” Cornhusker football uniforms.
If a reader waded all the way through it, as I did, he or she would have been struck by the grotesque—in my opinion—examples of possible new football uniforms, including particularly grotesque helmets.
McKewon is apparently deeply impressed by the bizarre uniforms adopted in recent years by the University of Oregon team and by the blue artificial turf with which Boise State has offended a good many football traditionalists.
McKewon quoted a “futuristic” uniform designer named Charles Sollars who was described as talking with Virginia Tech and Illinois in regard to some of his futuristic designs. Sollars was quoted as saying that future Husker uniforms should include black.
It’s one thing for a columnist to have a personal preference for a “futuristic” uniform, but quite unusual to turn a page and a half over to him to make his case in words and a variety of designs of futuristic uniforms.
For McKewon, it’s simply a question of “What part of the (Husker) brand…has to change soon?”
I’ve sounded this note of caution before, but after more careful study of Sam McKewon’s impassioned pitch for “futuristic” uniforms for the Cornhuskers, I repeat my advice to UNL Athletic Director Tom Osborne:
Proceed with caution, great caution, Dr. Tom. There is simply no evidence that a majority of Husker football fans would approve of “futuristic” uniforms.
Or that such uniforms would attract recruits or younger fans. A possibility? Of course, but no solid evidence to support the possibility.
Dr. Tom, you have said something about trying a “futuristic” uniform next fall, but included some assurance that it will not be extreme.
Careful, Dr. Tom, careful.
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