Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

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The Grand Island Independent. Aug. 23, 2014.

Hoping the ice bucket challenge brings ALS relief

It's probably the coldest activity ever to sweep the country, but that's certainly what has happened with the ice bucket challenge to benefit ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) research.

The craze has swept the celebrity and media world, from President Barack Obama to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, just about every celebrity has taken the challenge.

But they're not all. A lot of everyday people have gotten wet and cold for a good cause.

In the ice bucket challenge, a bucket of ice-cold water is dumped over the head of the participant, who then challenges three others to do the same or make a donation to the ALS Association. Many, most in fact, do the challenge and make a donation both.

The challenge has been so successful that the ALS Association has raised more than $41 million. The money and the research it is going for is much needed.

There is no cure and no treatment for ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Muscle movement and strength seems to waste away.

Besides seeking treatments and a cure, the ALS Association also assists patients in finding care.

Plenty of Grand Island residents and Central Nebraskans have also got in on the challenge. A story and photo in Tuesday's Independent showed Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center staff getting cold water dumped on them not from a regular bucket, but from the bucket of a front-end loader.

Many others in the community have also taken the challenge. Besides the money raised, what is great about the challenge is the attention it is bringing to ALS. People have suffered with this disease for too long without much progress being made in finding the cause or a cure.

Grand Island has been touched by ALS before. Community leader and attorney John Brownell died from it in 2005. Brownell was an active individual in both physical activity and community causes. The city's hike and bike trail was named for him because he was so instrumental in getting it built.

Now, once again, a community leader has been struck by ALS. This time it's Densel Rasmussen, who has been so active in making Grand Island a better place to live. From the Heartland United Way to Stuhr Museum and many other good causes, Rasmussen has been there leading the charge.

In fact, it was Rasmussen's family who helped get the ice bucket challenge rolling in Grand Island. They all took the challenge last weekend at Stuhr Museum to honor Densel and to bring attention to ALS.

Lou Gehrig suffered from the disease that bears his name in the 1930s. It's time that a massive effort, such as what is being spurred on by the ice bucket challenge, was undertaken to fight it.

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Omaha World-Herald. Aug. 23, 2014.

A new tool for rural needs

For decades, a highly visible University of Nebraska presence across the state has been some of its people — the university's agricultural extension agents. They're experts in understanding Nebraska's rural areas and their specific needs.

Now NU is taking a smart step by making Extension Services a key component in a new effort to boost the state's rural communities.

Called the Community Vitality Initiative, the effort, currently in the planning stages, will focus on three key goals:

— Strengthening rural communities in several ways: Bolstering community assets and amenities. Supporting local leadership. Strengthening workforce development.

— Facilitating entrepreneurship and business development.

— Promoting outreach to young people, to increase the chances of their returning to rural communities after they complete their educations.

Extension Services are a part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's nationally respected agricultural departments. The idea isn't for UNL or its Extension Services to be taking on this work by themselves, though.

Rather, this new initiative is intended as a broad partnership in which all four NU campuses as well as nonprofits, the private sector and communities would share ideas and work together on the three common goals.

The initiative will include multi-disciplinary NU teams with expertise in areas such as agricultural economics and child needs.

A key organization will be NU's Rural Futures Institute. Rather than hire a huge staff, the institute will work with partners, including UNL Extension, to get results in the most cost-effective way.

Staff members within UNL Extension have been selected to lead the planning for building the network of organizations involved in this new venture. Even at this preliminary stage, practical needs have been identified. It's important to create feedback processes, for example, so that the effectiveness of specific projects can be gauged and adjustments made as needed.

Nebraska is right to be proactive on this issue.

Drawing on the knowledge and capability of the university's Extension personnel is a sensible strategy in helping the state's rural communities build a stronger future.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 24, 2014.

Senate needs to fill its role

Dysfunction in Congress can damage the country in many ways, but none may be as serious as a failure to fill its role in the system of checks and balances set up by the U.S. Constitution.

When Congress heads back to Washington after the August recess, members of the Senate face a serious test on whether they can assert control over the U.S. intelligence agencies.

Late in July, just before senators and representatives headed for home, Central Intelligence Director John Brennan admitted that CIA staffers had broken into the Senate's computers.

Remember, this is the same official who scoffed in March at those claims. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said then. "I mean, we wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the scope of reason."

Now we know that those actions that seemed so unthinkable actually occurred.

Why is this issue important?

Because it's the responsibility of the Senate to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies.

If the CIA can undermine or sabotage the Senate's oversight, Americans have reason to worry that the country's intelligence agencies are running amok.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, U.S. intelligence operations metastasized.

In a 2010 series, the Washington Post documented some of the growth. "In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings, about 17 million square feet of space."

Not only has the size of intelligence operations grown, advances in technology have made their surveillance activities more pervasive and powerful. When Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on how the National Security Agency was spying on Americans, his revelations seemed incredible to some. But it was not long before even the giant technology companies admitted they were surprised by the extent of surveillance and joined the call for reform.

Now it turns out that the CIA is spying on its boss: the U.S. Senate. The CIA apparently was worried about a report the committee is working on about interrogation tactics used by the military.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein told the New York Times earlier this month that how the hacking of Senate computers is resolved will show whether the committee can be effective or "whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee."

Feinstein is right.

This controversy should not be brushed aside as another partisan squabble. It's about the basics of the American system of government. Senate oversight is the only way the public can get America's spies under control.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Aug. 20, 2014.

Despite dangers, nonlethal force still preferable when possible

"Don't taze me bro!"

It was a viral video a few years ago, but the ACLU of Nebraska thinks our state's law enforcement agencies are misusing the electronic stun devices.

Tasers apply 50,000 volts to the body, incapacitating the subject long enough to be subdued, but sometimes causing death — the ACLU cites figures showing 540 deaths in the past 13 years, including three in Nebraska.

Federal guidelines say Tasers should not be used as coercion or punishment, but only if someone is exhibiting active aggression or resisting in a way that will injure themselves or others — guidelines the ACLU says are violated in about 65 percent of the incidents it examined.

To be sure, Tasers aren't always used correctly, such as a time when a Hastings subject with Hepatitis C was Tasered for spitting on officers, a mentally ill woman in Grand Island was zapped while sitting, and a 10-year-old boy who was Tased twice, including once for 18 seconds, in the chest after pushing, punching and injuring an officer who was attempting to take him to the ground after refusing to listen to school staffers. The police report said the officer punched his shoulder, kicked the side of his head and used the Taser in "drive-stun" mode.

The latter involves applying the device directly without firing probes and wires that are used in the conventional mode.

Officials disagree about the deaths, saying Tasers would not have been fatal had the subjects not already had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease.

They also cite studies showing fatalities among the public and officers have declined with the advent of Tasers, and specific instances, such as a suicidal teenager who was tazed after she rushed an officer while clutching two butcher knives. The girl would have been dead had the officer been forced to use his pistol because a Taser was not an option.

Like it or not, there are times law enforcement officers must use force to prevent injury to themselves, others, or the subject involved in a violent incident.

Given the choice between lethal force such as a firearm, or nonlethal force, the latter should be encouraged or even expanded, within reasonable guidelines.

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