Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

Fremont Tribune. Oct. 26, 2013.

A first step against childhood obesity

As scary as some of this year’s Halloween costumes are, the reality of rapidly increasing obesity rates among children is far more frightening.

Since 1980, the U.S. Surgeon General reports, the rates of childhood obesity have tripled. Government estimates say there are 6 million American children who are now overweight and an additional 5 million who are on the threshold of becoming overweight.

This creates an obvious health concern. Doctors are seeing more children with what we typically consider adult diseases such as gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes. Health experts indicate this may the first generation not expected to outlive their parents due to the health problems associated with obesity.

And the issues surrounding childhood obesity extend into the classroom. Seventy-six percent of students who receive mostly D’s and F’s are not physically active on a regular basis, the Centers for Disease Control reports. Classroom teachers report the lack of fitness and health awareness contributes to lack of self-esteem, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior resulting in classroom disruptions/playground fights and experimenting with unsafe diet practices.

So while visions of Halloween Hysteria candy danced in the heads of some Fremont-area children on Thursday, students at Linden Elementary were celebrating the arrival of new fitness equipment.

Like Johnson Crossing Academic Center a few days earlier, Linden Elementary cut the ribbon on a Project Fit America playground. In addition to outdoor equipment that promotes children to be more physically active, the schools received indoor equipment and curriculum that includes games, activities and challenges for students.

Locally, there are now four Project Fit America sites. Each has been supported by Fremont Area Medical Center, Fremont Area Community Foundation and Project Fit America, a national nonprofit organization that builds sustainable physical education programs in schools. There are more than 800 schools involved in the program nationally.

If we truly want our children to succeed in life, we must continue to find ways to promote healthier lifestyles and regular physical fitness. Kids who are more active today are more likely to stay active in adulthood, which will go much further at controlling the cost of health care than any federal program. It also will help kids today. Health leaders say students who earn higher grades are twice as likely to get regular physical activity as compared to students who earn low grades.

Having Project Fit America playgrounds and the curriculums that go with them are a good start toward a healthier future for Fremont’s children. But it’s only a start. We must continue to work to get similar programs at all of our elementary schools.

That way, having a treat at Halloween won’t come back to haunt us later.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 25, 2013.

The problem of single-party rule

The negative effects of partisan strife have been on dreadful display in Washington for some time.

But if anyone thinks the solution is for one party or the other to finally take control, take a look at Nebraska.

Even one-party rule is no guarantee against partisan bickering.

State Auditor Mike Foley is a long-time Republican. With the GOP holding all offices in the Statehouse, one might conclude he is among friends.

One would be wrong.

Since Foley announced that he was a candidate for governor it’s become clear some of his fellow Republicans are out to take him down.

The conservative blog Leavenworth Street may have been the first to take note.

Noting that Gov. Dave Heineman at various GOP functions had been insisting Republicans must elect a governor who is pro-death penalty and “against giving benefits to illegal immigrants,” the anonymous author known as Street Sweeper wrote:

“Governor Dave Heineman, with these remarks, is calling out State Auditor and GOP Governor candidate Mike Foley. There is no other way to put it.” And “Governor Dave is taking a cut. . And he is swinging hard.”

Things jumped to a new level this week when the Department of Health and Human Services sent out letters to employees to tell them the auditor had copies of their personnel files.

The letters were unnecessary and unwarranted. The auditor is doing what all state auditors are supposed to do as a matter of law.

A cynic might wonder whether nerves are a bit raw in the department because Foley repeatedly has found multimillion-dollar mistakes there.

Then Heineman, at a news conference, said he would not support Foley’s budget request and made the startling assertion that Foley could not claim to be a fiscal conservative.

Foley said the $354,000 deficit budget request would restore his budget to the amount originally approved by the Legislature, and 34 senators voted for a resolution stating they backed restoration of the funds in the 2014 session of the Legislature.

If the resolution is not approved, Foley said, he will have to cut staff.

Considering how many millions in dollars Foley and his team have saved taxpayers over the year, the deficit budget request is well justified.

The Republicans in the Statehouse who have their noses out of joint because Foley made them look bad should recognize that the interests of the public should come before party politics. As events in Washington demonstrate, political games can interfere with governing. And now it seems to be happening in Nebraska.

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North Platte Telegraph. Oct. 27, 2013.

Remember when math was simple?

Back when we learned arithmetic in grade school, there was a wonderful certainty about it all. There was one right answer, and a whole world of wrong answers.

Nobody questioned the fact that two plus two equaled four. There was no debate about five going three times into 15. And any student who wanted to argue about the fact that three plus three plus three equals nine would probably be repeating the grade.

Like gravity, death and very few other things in life, there was a universal acceptance about what was obvious to us all. Arguing about gravity, death and math was just silly.

We thought about all this last week when the latest unemployment numbers showed that the jobless rate had dropped a tenth of one percent. In a perfect world, that would be a simple matter of arithmetic, something we could all absorb, process and use to reach good conclusions. Unemployment down slightly is a good thing.

Unfortunately, that seemingly good number was accompanied by the news that more people have dropped out of the labor market, which most of us would agree is a bad thing. That rendered the good news about unemployment moot, and what we were left with was the exact opposite of grade school arithmetic — numbers that cloud the issue instead of bringing clarity. The right answer about what is actually happening escapes once again into politics, never to be seen again, and what you believe is no more reliable and justified than what the next guy thinks.

We hear repeatedly that polls show the Affordable Care Act is very unpopular with Americans, but then the next poll shows that it is a dead heat, with nearly half of us in favor of it and half of us against it. How poll questions are asked and to whom they are asked, renders the entire exercise worthless. Good luck reaching a conclusion that is backed up by anything close to facts when it comes to public opinion.

And just this week, we were told that thanks to “sequestration,” federal spending is actually going down, on the heels of revelations the week before that unless we raised the debt ceiling, we could no longer borrow money to fund our deficit spending. Default, we were told, was a real possibility.

Complicating matters further, we learned that both Republicans and Democrats want to get out from under the spending restrictions of sequestration — to undo the one thing that seems to be doing some good. As Charlie Brown likes to say, “Good grief!”

The irony of all this is that here in the Information Age, there is so much information from both sides bombarding us that it has become nearly impossible to discern the right answer from the wrong. In this age of trying to take sips from data fire hoses, everyone has statistics to back up their varied opinions and math has become a weapon, not an answer.

Oh, how wonderful it would be to go back to the days when two plus two equaled four, the matter was settled and the right course of action was clear to one and all.

We’re sipping from a fire hose

__

The Grand Island Independent. Oct. 22, 2013.

Some words of advice for the tea party

With the U. S. government’s paralysis postponed, commentators on both the right and left are roundly criticizing tea party activists for holding Congress and the president hostage to their demands.

Instead of simply condemning, however, it might be helpful to examine why these individuals hold so fiercely to their beliefs that they were willing to pour sand into the financial gears of government.

First, most tea party people are not the lunatic fringe. A USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that most are over age 30, employed or retired and have good incomes. Most have some college education or are college graduates. Although they are very Republican and conservative in their views, independents also make up a large part of their membership.

Second, unlike most groups that march on Washington, tea partiers want less from government, not more.

They are concerned that almost half of U. S. households pay no federal income taxes, and that welfare spending has grown from 22 percent of the federal budget in 1955 to 66 percent in 2012. They worry about the long-term consequences of too many people becoming dependent on government for survival, agreeing with George Bernard Shaw’s opinion that “A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul.”

Tea partiers are angered by a seemingly endless procession of regulations proclaimed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the dozens of other agencies that rule our lives. They understand that regulations must be part of a global economy, but they think that the tyranny of unelected federal bureaucrats is overwhelming the goals of job growth and economic freedom.

They are profoundly worried about federal debt, which they fear will overwhelm their children and grandchildren. They are disgusted with both Republican and Democrat promises to do something about it . promises that have been routinely made (and ignored) for decades.

What too many tea party members don’t yet believe, however, is that the way to change the direction of the nation must be through winning elections, not government shutdowns that anger most citizens. This means they must put together coalitions that will elect candidates who support most of their goals, but never insist on all.

The elections of 2016 will test whether the tea party embraces this belief.

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