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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

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Kearney Hub. April 5, 2014.

Gender flap, acceptance make news this week

Don't tell the Nebraska School Activities Association or its executive director that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Fresh off the controversy over a policy for sports participation by transgender athletes, the NSAA this week was again wrestling with the issue of gender identity.

This time, the controversy involved a poem, "Swingset," about children who question whether their teacher is a boy or girl. The message — that children are more accepting of gender differences than adults — fit the theme of a group of poems performed at last week's state speech championships by Gordon-Rushville competitor Michael Barth.

He had performed the poetry throughout the speech season without backlash from judges. As the state's Class C1 poetry champion, Barth was invited to perform for the Nebraska Educational Television network's annual program highlighting the state's best competitive speakers.

But wait, not so fast. The NSAA told Barth he wouldn't be allowed to perform "Swingset" on NET. The decision set off a storm. Speech competitors and coaches protested, and so did Barth. NET said it would broadcast whatever poems Barth chose to perform.

A few hours after the controversy began, NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green told Barth he could include "Swingset" in his NET performance.

Barth is to be commended for his courage in standing by his material. The reaction of fellow competitors and coaches also is to be commended, but it's not surprising. In their world, probing the human condition and exploring controversial ideas is all in a day's work. It's common for competitors to speak out on issues involving those who are voiceless and misunderstood.

What distinguished Barth's poetry and his message from other similarly themed state performances was his gold medal and the invitation to perform for a statewide audience. NSAA initially lacked the confidence to stand behind one of its state champions and weather the criticism his TV performance might attract. However, we support the NSAA's ultimate decision allowing Barth to recite "Swingset" on NET.

We encourage Nebraskans who view the NET special to reflect on the variety of messages they'll hear. Each championship performance required hours of research, writing and rewriting, rehearsals and — in at least one case — the courage to face up to criticism.


McCook Daily Gazette. April 4, 2014.

It will be good to see Capitol completed

Ninety two years after it was begun, Nebraska's Capitol is poised to be completed.

That's despite the best efforts of Gov. Dave Heineman, who saw his veto of $2.5 million for four bronze fountains, one for each of four open-air courtyards, that were part of the original design, overturned

The current Capitol is the state's third, built in stages, from 1922 to 1932, replacing two earlier buildings which were poorly constructed and had to be torn down.

In true conservative Nebraska fashion, the towering structure was built in stages, paid off by the time construction was completed.

Since that was in the depths of the Depression, lawmakers put off some finishing touches such as the fountains.

The fountain plan was neglected for a generation or two, revived a few years ago by former state senators with an eye toward completion in time for Nebraska's 150th anniversary as a state in 2017.

They hoped to raise the money privately, but came up with only a few thousand dollars toward the project.

The idea that taxpayers should pay for improvements to a public building prevailed, however, both through passage of the funding, and the overturning of Heineman's veto.

Nebraska can be proud of its Capitol building, truly an architectural and artistic marvel. It will be good to finally, at long last, see it completed.


North Platte Telegram. April 6, 2014.

Imagine if these tables were turned

Outraged senators and representatives in Congress grilled General Motors CEO Mary Barra this week over faulty ignition switches that have resulted in 13 deaths over the past decade.

GM certainly deserves to be on the carpet over the switches, which reportedly can turn the car off unexpectedly, disabling power steering, power brakes and air bags. The company also has some explaining to do regarding the delay in recalling the 2.6 million cars involved.

Automotive executives, bankers and oil company CEOs have all had their turns in the barrel of public scrutiny in recent years, and the questioning of such powerful executives strikes us as a relatively good thing. Our only complaint regarding this process is that one group of very powerful people is left out:

Congress itself.

When you watch committee members fume with outrage at these executives, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are making the most of an opportune moment and grandstanding.

And one must wonder how these indignant, often rude elected officials would do if the tables were turned, and it was their turn to appear at the long table beneath the raised dais and answer difficult questions, under oath, regarding how they do business.

For instance, imagine members of Congress facing outraged interrogators over the common practice of not reading bills before they vote on them. "Isn't it your job to read these bills and understand what is in them before you vote to inflict them on the American people?" they could easily be asked.

It would be powerful television if some sweating congressman was asked, "Did you agree with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that you had to pass the Affordable Care Act to find out what was in the Affordable Care Act? Don't you agree, Mr. Congressman, that not reading bills upon which you vote is the very definition of dereliction of duty?"

Auto execs were skewered several years ago by committee members for flying to the hearing on corporate jets. Members of Congress could just as easily be attacked for their three-day work weeks, their long vacations and the fact that in many instances, their own re-election is their primary goal of "public service."

They could easily be roughed up over bailing out General Motors while the ignition switch problem was going on. "What did you know, and when did you know it?" our elected officials could be asked.

Imagine the tough questions that could be asked over our $17 trillion debt, their failure to pass budgets in some recent years and their never-ending appetite for new, expensive, often-redundant federal programs.

Next time you see a member of Congress bearing down on some hapless CEO, just imagine the questions that could be asked if the tables were turned.

Again, we agree that powerful CEOs often deserve the scrutiny they get, but spare us the sputtering outrage from elected officials who could never withstand such scrutiny themselves.

Spare us the outrage


Lincoln Journal Star. April 6, 2014.

The right focus on climate change

The United Nation's new emphasis on the need to adapt to climate change is welcome.

Previously the U.N. was focused too narrowly on trying to stop the world from growing warmer.

But global climate talks have shown repeatedly that the world's nations are too worried about damaging their economies, too focused on gaining advantage over their rivals and too suspicious of each other to take effective action to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

Developing effective ways to adapt is a worthwhile step while the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise. In the event catastrophic change does prompt global cooperation at some point in the future, adaptation will still be necessary.

The Atlantic magazine pointed out that early climate change reports in the 1990s from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scarcely mentioned adaptation.

As recently as 2007 its report had only two pages on adaption options. In contrast, the preliminary report released recently devotes four chapters to adaptation strategy.

The nature of discussion on climate change also increasingly is focused on its potential to interfere with food production.

Expect to hear a lot in the future about steps that should be taken to help Nebraska and other breadbasket states preserve their ability to feed the nation and the world.

Proposals on how to adapt to climate change will not produce the same amount of backlash as schemes to limit greenhouse gases.

In many cases the ideas that will help food producers adapt to a warmer planet will also help them cope with the ordinary fluctuations of weather.

Nebraska already has a focus on that type of planning. Later this year the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will release a report on the effect of climate change on Nebraska.

And the Legislature continues to work on strategies for keeping water usage in Nebraska at a sustainable level. With leadership from Sen. Tom Carlson, the Legislature this year set aside $31 million for projects to help achieve that goal.

More needs to be done. State Sen. Steve Lathrop and others pointed out that the state needs a framework to encourage natural resource districts to work on basinwide strategies for sustainable water use.

The debate over climate change is essentially over. It's happening. The deniers will always be among us, in the same way a segment of the population rejects the theory of evolution.

The IPCC report points the way for the world to finally take meaningful action to cope. As Chris Field, co-chair of the working group that produced the report said, "climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried," and this "forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change."

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