McCook Daily Gazette. March 8, 2013.
Reasonable voter ID law will help legitimize elections
Americans are used to showing identification for everything from writing a check — remember those? — to working out in the gym. Why, then, is it too much to ask that voters prove they are who they say they are before exercising the most basic American right, casting a vote?
That's the argument proponents like State Sen. Charlie Janssen are using to push laws like the Nebraska Voter ID law, which Janssen presented to the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
Janssen is a gubernatorial candidate from Fremont, the Nebraska town that passed a controversial ordinance requiring landlords to check the immigration status of residents before renting them housing.
Parts of that ordinance have been ruled unconstitutional, and a similar voter ID law last year was filibustered to death, one state senator referring to it as "Jim Crow Lite."
This year's bill will probably meet the same fate as last year, if it makes it that far.
Opponents point out, correctly, that voter fraud is virtually non-existent, and proponents are more likely to be interested in reducing turnout for the opposite political party than ensuring a fair election.
Secretary of State John Gale stopped short of endorsing Janssen's bill, commending the senator for addressing the "issues of potential voter fraud" and calling the bill straight forward and constitutional, but calling for an interim study — code for "thanks but no thanks."
"I think the bill has identification standards that are the strictest among the 33 states that have Voter ID, and may be stronger than Nebraska needs," Gale said.
Saying he recognized that a significant percentage of Nebraskans think some form of Voter ID is necessary to protect the integrity of the state's elections. "At the same time," Gale said, "since we have not experienced any systemic fraud in Nebraska, despite some occasional and isolated incidents. I'm not sure the strict standards of LB 381 and the costs involved are necessarily the best answer for Nebraska."
It's true we need to encourage voting by informed citizens as much as possible. A reasonable voter ID law, however, is not too much to ask to remove any question of doubt about the legitimacy of those votes.
Scottsbluff Star Herald. March 10, 2013.
Texting: Technology might bring a solution to needless traffic deaths
About a year ago we predicted that it would take more than common sense to persuade American drivers, especially the young ones, to quit believing that they can send and read text messages and drive safely at the same time.
"It's likely, given the propensity of kids to flout the law," we wrote, "that the problem will one day be solved with technology — car features that jam keyboards, for instance, or cellphones that work only in voice mode when their built-in GPS tells the phone that it's traveling faster than a certain speed."
It seems that folks with more tech talent than ours are working on a similar idea. The Omaha World-Herald carried a story Friday reporting that researchers from West Virginia University propose to equip cars with devices that make it impossible to send a text message, check your favorite traffic app or dial home while the car is in motion.
The problem isn't going away. Thousands of people are dying in car crashes caused by their own or someone else's distraction by cellphone usage. Texting is a chief culprit. Researchers found that drivers using cellphones cause an estimated 333,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths per year, and texting alone accounted for more than 16,000 crash-related deaths between 2001 and 2007.
"Simply stated, handheld portable devices must be rendered unoperable whenever the automobile is in motion or when the transmission shaft lever is in forward or reverse gear," the researchers wrote in a Viewpoint essay in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Automobile and cellphone equipment manufacturers have the engineering capabilities to implement these safeguards, and they should be required to do so."
Many states have passed laws against cellphone usage behind the wheel. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 10 states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, and 39 states and the District of Columbia have made it illegal to text while driving. People still ignore the dangers.
Although evidence indicates that even talking on a cellphone while driving can be dangerous, we're uncomfortable with banning all cellphone use in vehicles. For one thing, it's 2013. Cellphone use is part of everyday life for millions of Americans. In surveys, 40 percent of drivers admit to talking on the phone when they're behind the wheel. While it might be irritating to see drivers who can't seem to put their phones down, the business world often demands it. Passengers shouldn't have to give up their cellphone use when it poses no danger to themselves or other motorists. And a cellphone is a lifeline in emergencies, including some in which it might endanger a driver's life to have to stop her vehicle.
As we said in that previous editorial, "The trick will be to prevent drivers from texting and driving while permitting passengers to use their phones safely."
The foolish assumption that a driver can thumb messages onto a keyboard and still keep control of a car is a different matter. After all, the thing is a phone. It may come as a surprise to some, but you can still actually use it to communicate without sending text messages.
Hands-free systems have been allowed in some states where cellphones are banned. They allow voice dialing and speaking through a speakerphone arrangement. That exception keeps drivers safe from themselves without being too intrusive or unenforceable. It's not hard to imagine a day when smart cars will handle calls for the driver, rendering a ban on cellphone use unnecessary.
Any solution should allow advances in technology to carve out such exceptions. But until that day arrives, it's not unreasonable to require drivers to keep their attention off of their gadgets and on the road.
Lincoln Journal Star. March 11, 2013.
Last call on the pipeline
The Obama administration deserves compliments for scheduling another public hearing in Nebraska on the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
It will give Nebraskans and others an opportunity to express themselves in person before a decision is made on whether to issue a permit for the pipeline. (The date, time and location of the hearing have not been set.)
The federal public hearing in Nebraska and a 45-day comment period will be one of the last opportunities for opponents to register their complaints and suggest changes in the project.
The dynamics of the debate on the pipeline have changed considerably since the first public hearing held by the State Department in Atkinson.
Since then, many of the concerns expressed by Nebraskans have been allayed by TransCanada's decision to revise the pipeline route away from the state's fragile Sandhills, where the water table often is close to the surface and re-vegetation sometimes is next to impossible after the porous, sandy soil has been disturbed.
The revised route has been studied by the state Department of Environmental Quality. Based on its report, which was the subject of several public hearings across the state last year, the risks of the revised route would be minimal. Damage would be limited to small areas.
To be sure, there remains a dwindling vocal minority of Nebraskans who oppose the pipeline. Like their colleagues elsewhere in the country, the remaining pipeline opponents oppose the use of fossil fuels in general. They contend the pipeline will present a significant threat to the climate.
But, as many have concluded, the effort to fight climate change by stopping the pipeline is misguided.
The new 2,000-page State Department report makes clear that rejecting the permit for the pipeline that will move oil from Canada to oil refiners in the Gulf will do little to decrease global emissions. Canada can and will, if the pipeline permit is rejected, sell the oil in other markets.
A properly designed, constructed and operated pipeline is an efficient way to transport crude oil that, according to the report, will do less harm to the environment than shipping it by truck or rail. It will bring economic benefit to Nebraska and the rest of the country.
The last federal public hearing in Nebraska is an important and necessary step of a process that has been fair and open. Nebraskans can be gratified that their voices were heard and that the revised pipeline project has been improved significantly from the initial proposal.
North Platte Telegraph. March 10, 2013.
Like cranes through an hourglass, such are the seasons of our lives
They arrive around Valentine's Day, and they're gone by Tax Day.
That's what the old timers tell us about the annual Sandhill Crane migration, which is currently going on all around us.
During this time of year, between 450,000 and 550,000 of the birds stop for about three weeks in Nebraska, eating corn, wheat, sorghum and other delicacies, gathering strength for their flights further north. According to Greg Wright, a wildlife biologist with the Crane Trust at Wood River, the cranes began arriving a little early this year, "because of the high temperatures."
Fossil remains tell us that Sandhill Cranes have been visiting the Platte River valley in Nebraska for about 2.5 million years, with most landing east of us, from Chapman to Overton, but many preferring our neighborhood, from North Platte to Sutherland. They are on their way from wintering grounds in Texas, New Mexico, Utah, central Mexico and even Cuba, and will head north to Canada and northeast Siberia.
According to biologist Wright, Nebraska is "the middle of the hourglass" on their migration route.
The males weigh about 10 pounds, and the females 9 pounds. They stand from 2.5 feet to 4 feet high, and have wingspans as wide as 7 feet, allowing them to stay aloft for hours, with only occasional flapping of the wings. They can live to be around 21 years old.
They will be back in the fall, but will only stay about a day as they head for warmer climes.
According to "The Birds of North America," romance is budding out in the cornfields, even as we speak. "Pair formation" is under way, a process that is "strongly associated with staging in Nebraska." (Who knew our state was such a destination for love?) "Dancing plays an important role in mate selection," and once the cranes pair off, they are "perennially monogamous."
National Geographic reports that during mating, the pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling. They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet - an extended litany of coordinated song." (And to think, all of this romance is going on between here and Sutherland.)
The female Sandhill Crane, according to Wikipedia, "makes two calls for every single call of the male."
The male Sandhill Cranes are a fine example of sharing housework, as they participate with the females in nest building and incubation. They also shoulder the responsibility of protecting the nest.
The egg laying takes place from April to late May, after they have headed north, with the female producing one to three eggs. The newborns can leave the nest in about 24 hours, but stay with the parents for the first couple months.
It is a fascinating process, currently going on all around us. And it is rather humbling for our species, which prides itself in being in charge of darned near everything, and far too preoccupied with yesterday and today to appreciate something that has been going on - without any help from us - for 2.5 million years.
The Sandhill Cranes will be amongst us for a few more weeks. This is a special time in Nebraska.
Get out and see them while they're here.