Kearney Hub. Oct. 19, 2012.
Can't waste our way back to prosperity
If Barack Obama were a diving instructor, Americans would risk their own necks taking lessons from him. Why? Because the president has a knack for underestimating, as he has with budget deficits the past four years.
Obama predicted deficits that were about half what they actually became. The result is a historical record of four annual budgets with deficits exceeding $1 trillion that have swelled the national debt by $5.1 trillion, all in one term.
This has occurred despite Obama's inauguration day pledge in 2009 to cut the federal deficit in half.
If Obama had kept his word, the 2009 deficit would have been $557 billion, but instead it was $1.4 trillion. The next three deficits were, respectively, $1.29 trillion, $1.3 trillion, and $1.1 trillion.
This catastrophe is fueled by a stunning lack of leadership.
The U.S. Senate has not adopted a budget since April 29, 2009. For his latest budget, the president could not get a single congressional vote. The spending proposal failed unanimously, with all 513 voting House and Senate members giving the Obama budget thumbs down.
Think about it. Obama could not convince a single lawmaker to support his plan.
One strategy would be to lead by example. If the president tightened his belt and demanded the same from federal employees, lawmakers might fall in behind him. Instead, his administration is producing monuments of waste.
The USDA spent $2 million, including $192,500 for housing, to launch an internship program for one intern.
President Ronald Reagan started the Lifeline program that provides free cellphones for the poor. Under Obama, costs have exploded, from $772 million in 2008 to $1.6 billion today.
In his zeal to develop new green energy, Obama has frittered away mountains of greenbacks.
A firm he invited to the Rose Garden in 2010 for a $249 million stimulus grant to produce auto batteries declared bankruptcy this week after burning through $132 million of its federal money.
That battery firm is among 14 green companies that got money from Obama. An employee of one of the other failed companies told a reporter, "Our solar modules worked, as long as you didn't put them in the sun."
Most Americans know better than to dive head first into shallow water. They also know better than to foolishly throw money around. If only Obama were so wise.
McCook Daily Gazette. Oct. 22, 2012.
Most dangerous part of bus ride isn't the ride itself
Declining rural populations and the resulting consolidation over the years have had the unfortunate effect of forcing students to spend more and more time on the road, getting to and from school.
It's a dangerous activity for young drivers, especially when electronic distractions are combined with bad weather and teenage attention spans.
But even official transportation like a public school bus can be hazardous, even in McCook, where three neighborhood elementary schools were combined into the old North Ward site, meaning fewer children are able to walk to school, and more catch a bus or a ride with parents.
"Studies have proven that the most dangerous part of the school bus ride is when children get on and off the bus," said Cindy Houlden, Safety Education and Research Manager for the Nebraska Safety Center. "All drivers need to remember to pay close attention to school buses both when the buses are moving and stopped to load or unload."
Her facility is observing National School Bus Safety Week this week, with the theme "I See The Driver-The Driver Sees Me."
Houlden also recommends children have a solid education in the proper way to get on and off a bus and makes the following recommendations:
Students riding a school bus should always:
— Arrive at the bus stop five minutes early.
— Stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the edge of the road.
— Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it's OK before stepping onto the bus.
— Check both ways for cars before stepping off the bus.
Students crossing the street should always:
— Walk in front of the bus, and never walk behind the bus.
— Walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 10 giant steps ahead of the bus.
— Be sure the bus driver can see them, and they can see the bus driver.
— Wait for the driver's signal to cross the street.
Parents are also reminded to be sure their children are aware of the "Danger Zone," which is basically anywhere within 10 feet of a bus. More than 22.5 million students in the United States, over half of all students, ride a bus at one time or another during the week.
Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 22, 2012.
Legislature should take another look at pipeline law
The Nebraska Legislature would be very well advised to have another look at the law that is supposed to allow Nebraska to regulate where oil pipelines pass through the state.
If there is any recent policy issue that deserves to have Nebraskans all on the same page of law, this is it.
Some presumably well informed Nebraskans, witnessing a Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing last week on its siting responsibilities, discovered that the agency, a type common to all states and typically the state regulator of pipelines, will not be the first point of contact for siting future pipelines in Nebraska.
Only if the state's environmental regulator — the Department of Environmental Quality — steps aside in a given case will the PSC exercise siting authority over future pipelines.
Commissioner Jerry Vap, the PSC's hearing officer, said he was mistaken in contending otherwise.
Indeed, Vap's earlier mischaracterization of the PSC role says something about the circumstances under which state lawmakers acted on LB1161 in April.
Much of the detail in LB1161 was added during floor debate in the closing days of the legislative session and without the public hearing that typically would have occurred.
Recall the maelstrom of information and disinformation that flew around the issue of TransCanada's move to build the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska to ship crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
"Every person we ask to say if they're familiar with the pipeline issue and describe to us what LB1161 does — every single person gives us a different answer," Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, still fighting the pipeline, told the Journal Star.
If one of the state's regulators was confused about what the law does, how can the rest of us be reassured?
A spokesman for The American Petroleum Institute and the Association of Oil Pipelines objected to some of the proposed PSC siting rules on the grounds that the state would be infringing on the federal government's role, assuring pipeline safety.
Safety is a top priority with pipeline companies, he said, but they also need "a stable, predictable regulatory environment" to do their jobs. No argument there.
Add the news that the existing Keystone pipeline, already pumping oil north to south through Nebraska, was shut down late last week for an "anomaly" that apparently caused no breach, and we are compelled to say: Let's have another look.
North Platte Telegraph. Oct. 21, 2012.
'The Waste Book' identifies the pork
Defenders of federal spending often equate suggested cuts to the inevitable loss of school teachers, firefighters, police officers and nurses.
If we cut anything from the federal budget, some contend, our children will suffer in school, our house will burn down, marauders will pillage our towns, and we will suffer horribly from a lack of nursing care.
For those who agree with this line of thinking, we would recommend a report put out this week by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, titled "The Waste Book." It lists 100 examples, totaling $19 billion, of outrageously wasteful spending by federal agencies, spending that could easily be cut without laying off one teacher, firefighter, police officer or nurse.
In the tradition of the late Democratic Sen. William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece Award," Republican Coburn provides a checklist of great places to cut some hard-earned, or borrowed, federal taxpayer dollars, without endangering anyone. Proxmire called it the "fleecing" of the American taxpayer. Coburn calls it the "let them eat caviar" mindset in Washington.
For example, a National Science Foundation grant of $325,000 went to creating a robotic squirrel to study how snakes interact with squirrels. Without getting into the importance of how these two species get along, that grant alone equates to the average salaries six school teachers (average salary nationally, $46,752 according to the NEA), or six police officers (average annual salary $50,299), or seven firefighters (average annual salary $42,053), or five nurses (average annual salary $62,450).
NASA spends more than $900,000 per year studying menus for astronauts should they someday spend time on Mars. That's almost 19 teachers, or 18 cops, or 21 firefighters, or 14 registered nurses.
Our federal government has spent $27 million trying to improve the economic competitiveness of Morocco, including giving them tips on making pottery, which they have been making since the fifth century B.C. That equates to the annual salary of 577 teachers, or 536 police officers, or 642 firefighters, or 432 registered nurses.
According to Coburn's report, our federal government spends $2 million per year to maintain 28,000 grant accounts with the Department of Health and Human Services that are empty and have expired. The service fees amount to $173,000 per month, and 34 percent of the accounts have been empty for three years or more. That would fund 42 teachers, or 39 police officers, or 47 firefighters, or 32 registered nurses. Per year.
Free cellphone service to 16.5 million Americans costs $1.5 billion per year. That equates to 32,084 teachers, or 29,821 police officers, or 35,669 firefighters, or 24,019 registered nurses.
The examples of wasteful spending go on and on (a musical on climate change for $700,000, a "Prom Week" video game funded to the tune of $516,000 by the National Science Foundation, etc., etc.), and we invite you to check out "The Waste Book" on the Web. It might, however, make you seriously unnerved.
We don't buy the notion that because there is such a huge amount of waste that cutting any one thing is a spit in the ocean, and therefore not worth doing. Bear in mind that it is our kids and grandkids who will be saddled with our shameful debt.
The point here is that huge amounts can be cut out of our bloated federal budget before the first teacher, police officer, firefighter or registered nurse needs to be fired anywhere, despite what you hear from the defenders of wasteful spending.