Monday, August 31, 2009
Published Monday August 31, 2009
By Jeffrey Robb
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Sarpy County could be at the center of a political tug-of-war when the Legislature looks to draw Nebraska's new congressional boundaries.
The redrawn districts will be one of the major consequences of next year's U.S. Census population count.
And population trends point to the likelihood that an even larger portion of Sarpy County — perhaps one of its three largest cities — will join the Lincoln-based 1st District to help balance the size of Nebraska's three congressional districts.
Given President Barack Obama's electoral college victory in metro Omaha's 2nd District, the political stakes have been raised for how the boundary lines are drawn.
The good news for Nebraska is that the state most likely will hold on to all three U.S. House seats. Iowa, on the other hand, could lose one of its five seats.
After the 2010 population count is done, both states will take up redistricting in 2011.
Lawmakers will have a number of options for redrawing Nebraska's congressional districts. Each is projected to include about 600,000 residents.
In the Omaha area, this much is clear: Douglas and Sarpy Counties combined already have 58,000 too many people — based on U.S. Census estimates — to fit together in a single, redrawn district.
And if Douglas County stays intact in redistricting, as many expect, that means even more of Sarpy County will wind up in the 1st District.
For the Omaha area's resurgent Democrats, redistricting offers an opportunity to increase their voting strength by shedding Sarpy County Republicans.
Loree Bykerk, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Republicans will be looking closely at how to balance the 2nd District population without losing many of their voters.
Papillion is one community that could be key. It has enough people to help make the numbers work, sits on the 2nd District boundary and already gives up a sliver of land to the 1st District. Papillion has an estimated 23,739 people in the city limits, with thousands more in neighborhoods just outside the city.
Papillion also is more Republican than neighboring La Vista, which has 16,643 people in the city and another sizable population just outside it.
So moving Papillion into the 1st District could prove more appealing to Omaha-area Democrats looking ahead to the 2012 elections, while moving La Vista would do more to help Republicans.
“This is going to be interesting,” Bykerk said.
In 2001, the Legislature moved Gretna, Springfield and Chalco into the 1st District to balance the population numbers.
That debate centered on how to keep different communities within Sarpy County in one district. At one time, for instance, Offutt Air Force Base was to be separated from Bellevue.
This time, the Legislature may have to take more than western and southern Sarpy County, which today have roughly 30,000 people in the 1st District.
Lawmakers have a variety of options besides moving Papillion or La Vista. If Bellevue went into the 1st District, for instance, the rest of Sarpy County might be able to stay with Douglas County.
None of the options is particularly appealing to Sarpy County leaders, whose communities are in many ways interrelated.
La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig said he wants his city to stay in a metro-area Omaha district and wouldn't want any more neighboring cities moved. “I'd hate to see us split up,” he said.
If any of those cities go, the Papillion-La Vista School District would be substantially split, as well. The district's two newest schools already are in the 1st District.
But spokeswoman Annette Eyman said the school district sees having two congressional representatives as positive.
“If they divided our district and we have more individuals to work with, we'll work with them,” she said.
Ken Ragland, chairman of the Sarpy County Republican Party, said he is concerned that losing a large section of Sarpy County to the 1st District would hurt the local GOP.
Mike Leahy, chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party, said his party isn't looking forward to any territory leaving the 2nd District. He said Democrats want to gain support by appealing to more Sarpy County voters.
“We're interested in breaking new ground, not losing ground,” he said.
The Omaha-area shifts are just one redistricting issue facing the state.
Population declines in western and central Nebraska mean that 3rd District boundaries are likely to spread even farther east, spurring debate about whether to move Madison County and Norfolk out of the 1st District. Madison County currently is the westernmost county in the 1st District and a Republican stronghold.
Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature, said he has yet to hear lawmakers discuss how they might redraw the congressional districts.
“I know this is important work,” Flood said, “and I know this has an impact on a lot of different issues and elections. Obviously we want to do a good job.”
Sunday, August 30, 2009
The largest reason why it is contested is the definition of marriage, and who is privileged enough to receive matrimony (although no one would state it in this way). People against gay marriage say that marriage should be strictly between a man and a woman. The reasoning behind this seems to be officially understood to be because only a man and a woman are capable of having a child, and for a couple of the same sex, this is physically impossible. This statement makes little sense, since for some heterosexual couples it is still impossible to have children. It is not fair for couples who want marry to be told they cannot marry because they cannot have children with their chosen mate, for anyone.
Even if a gay or lesbian couple does have a child, it is believed that the child will be worse off than children of heterosexual families. There can be nothing further than the truth. The children of gay parents are just the same as children of heterosexual parents, except the children of the homosexual parents tend to be more accepting of diversity and less likely to judge due to being different. This has been proven through numerous scientific studies.
Another reason why people will tell you that gay marriage should be illegal is because of their religion. Religion shouldn't even be a consideration for politicians when it comes to marriage, since a) the whole "separation of church and state" shouldn't even allow religion to be a consideration, but b) not all religions believe that gay couples are bad, or shouldn't be allowed to marry. Despite the separation of church and state, there really are many who would say that their religion is the reason why they believe gay marriages should be illegal. This is, yet again, unfair.
Gay marriage has worked quite well in other countries. Denmark has made it legal for gays and lesbians to be married since 1989. They have almost full rights, and are only not allowed to adopt or be married in a church, which, according to the author of "Gay Marriage: The Arguments and the Motives" the Danish government has a proposal to change the two restrictions. The Dutch have also allowed gay marriage, and even call it marriage.
Gay marriage will probably be a heated topic for generations, even if there is a resounding yes or no (especially in the case of the former). However, if people come to understand each other better and actually accept that if a gay or lesbian is in love, it is just as real as if a straight couple were in love. So it is up to each of us to come up with a decision based on facts and not just what we are told to believe.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Stem Cell Research
What would you say if I told you doctors can treat cancer, strokes, and Alzheimer's disease? I'm sure you would be very interested in a way of fighting back against these diseases and many more. With stem cell research, this can all be possible. The only problem you ask? Doctors cannot practice this research as effectively as possible due to ethical standards. I believe this needs to be changed.
Stem cell research is a fairly new development in which stem cells can be used to help treat diseases. They can reproduce themselves which is extremely valuable in treating illnesses. The cells use mitosis which creates new cells that are identical to the first. Each new cell brings new weapons in which to fight ailments.
We are wasting a perfect opportunity to act on helping to cure people, but instead are debating ethical issues. Opponents of stem cell research believe that this is a step in the wrong direction and can lead to cloning. The real idea is that these stem cells can eliminate ailments that have been previously incurable. Stem cell research has already been proven effective helping treat leukemia with bone marrow transplants. Eventually it is believed that stem cell research will be able to effectively treat blindness, deafness, spinal cord injuries, and even baldness. Why are we not acting on medical potential of this research?
It is time to take action and begin what could possibly end up being the solution to most diseases. All researchers are asking for is the ability to pursue testing stem cells, but the government offers little support. With proper funding, these dreams of cures can be realized. My only question is: what is holding us back?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
$33,000,000. That’s more money than the majority of people in the United States will make during their entire life. $33,000,000 just happens to be the 2008 salary of, New York superstar, Alex Rodriguez. After 30 years in the Navy my father isn’t even close to that number.
Athletic salaries need to be regulated because of what it takes away from the sport and the fans. In this current economy all prices are on the rise and outrageously priced at sporting events. Food, gear, and tickets are all so expensive now because of these huge salaries that have to be paid. Why not go to a high school game instead and get the same enjoyment for five bucks.
Some players use the excuse that they are at risk to career ending injury so they need the money. I answer that question with another, why aren’t members of the armed service paid in the millions. They put their lives at risk every day to keep every American citizen safe.
In another way salaries take away from sports. For example Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs was let go because they couldn’t afford to pay his high salary. That disappointed many baseball fans including myself. It showed how greedy athletes can actually be and it takes away from the game.
I love playing baseball and basketball. If I ever got the chance to play professionally I wouldn’t ask for so much money. Sports are fun and we are paying these big athletes monstrous sums to have fun every day. It just doesn’t seem fair to me.
pen name: Dr. Kenneth Noisewater
Monday, August 24, 2009
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
It's not exactly algebra or the ABCs, but schools are emphasizing hand washing so much that it seems like part of the curriculum.
H1N1 flu is the reason.
Schools have always stressed hand washing, but usually during the winter, when colds and the regular seasonal flu are the problems.
This year, school districts in Omaha and Lincoln and elsewhere are emphasizing it at the start of the year — and not just with little kids. Middle school and high school students may get reminders during morning announcements.
“It's going to be front and center,'' said Judy Zabel, supervisor of health services for the Lincoln Public Schools.
In an era when health care is often high-tech, something as basic as scrubbing hands remains one of the best ways to keep safe from the flu.
Kids are great spreaders of the virus because they don't always clean their hands or cover their coughs.
Schools are demonstrating proper hand washing, hanging posters and taking other steps to remind parents, teachers and students that it is essential.
The Millard school district is asking elementary and middle school teachers to designate a time each day for kids to break out the soap and water.
Schools in Sioux City, Iowa, and other communities are using newsletters and school Web sites to urge parents to encourage their children to scrub.
“That's the key to prevention,” said Nancy Nielsen, head nurse for Millard.
Reagan Maulick, a kindergartner at Millard's Willowdale Elementary, said she gets plenty of reminders at home and school to wash. She knows she's doing it right if she sees one thing.
“Bubbles,'' she said.
Germs can stay on doorknobs and other surfaces for two to eight hours, said Dr. Kirti Gupta, a pediatrician with Alegent Health. That means flu germs on a desk could infect numerous children during the school day.
Children and young adults have been particularly vulnerable to H1N1. The rate of reported cases nationally was highest this past spring and early summer among those ages 5 to 24, federal health officials say.
Districts also are washing down desks and telling parents to keep sick kids home.
Teens can be tougher than little kids when it comes to getting them to wash their hands because you can't march middle school and high school students to the bathroom, nurses say.
“I think they'd rebel against that,'' said Sharon Wade, The Omaha Public Schools' supervisor of health services.
She advises explaining how germs on hands enter the body through nasal membranes if you rub your nose. If that doesn't work, you just have to hope teens realize that hand washing is the smart thing to do.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Artist who created image of Obama as the Joker tries to weather the storm
Since Top of the Ticket wrote about Firas Alkhateeb, the college student has been flooded with fan and hate e-mail and has received interview requests from media outlets spanning the globe.
By Mark Milian and Johanna Neuman
August 23, 2009
Over the last few days, Firas Alkhateeb, the artist behind the picture of President Obama as the Joker from "Batman" whom Top of the Ticket profiled on Monday, has become the unlikely poster boy for several issues.
To some, he's a hero for using art to craft an image that embodies widespread frustrations with the president.
To others, he's a fascinating topic of conversation -- one who threw off expectations when he unveiled himself as a so-called liberal.
And the technology community sees him as the most visible representative of free speech after photo-sharing site Flickr removed his image of Obama.
But the University of Illinois history student has more important things to worry about: Classes start Monday.
His e-mail inbox is flooded. In the last few days, Alkhateeb has received 30 to 40 interview requests from online, print, radio and TV stations spanning the globe. He's had to turn a lot of them down and is still trying to find time to respond to the rest.
That's not even counting all the fan and hate mail. "The day after your article, I had gotten 50 friend requests on Facebook from people I didn't know," Alkhateeb, 20, said on the phone Thursday.
For the most part, the responses have been positive. People write in to tell him "good job" or call him a hero.
Others aren't so flattering. "I've gotten a couple of e-mails here and they're saying, 'What you did was horrible and reprehensible,' " he said.
Alkhateeb has something to say to every camp that has adopted him as its sort-of leader.
To the hyper-conservative fans: Thanks but no thanks. "If I knew that it would have gotten this big, I wouldn't have made it," he said. He doesn't necessarily regret the poster.
It had a time and a place -- shortly after Obama's election. "The point I'm trying to make is that all of the excessively pro-Obama stuff is going a little too far," Alkhateeb said.
"I don't regret making it. I regret the way it's being used," he said, referring to a poster that captioned the Obama image he created with the word "socialism."
To the leftists who were hoping for a radical right-winger to be their scapegoat: "I'm sorry to disappoint them," Alkhateeb said sarcastically. "A lot of news agencies were expecting a racist, far right, big white guy."
To the outraged tech community: He's with you. "More than anything, it's a free speech issue," Alkhateeb said of Flickr deleting his creation. "I really don't think it should have been taken down in the first place." Flickr says it was responding to a takedown notice sent to the company. Alkhateeb plans to file a counterclaim.
Even with that crusade ahead of him, he hopes the whole ordeal settles down fairly soon. "The first day after you published, the home phone was ringing all day," Alkhateeb said. "With school starting next week, I've got other stuff to worry about."
Published Aug 22, 2009
Published Saturday August 22, 2009
By Joseph Morton
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
WASHINGTON — The 2010 midterm elections are more than a year away, but Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and a likely challenger already are trading shots in the intensifying health care debate.
State Sen. Tom White of Omaha said that Terry has offered nothing more than a “glib sound bite” in response to the massive problems posed by runaway health care costs, while Terry defended his central health care proposal and said that White is attacking him without offering any concrete alternatives of his own.
Terry, in his sixth term representing Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, is holding a town hall meeting Tuesday where the dominant topic is expected to be health care.
That meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Millard North High School located at 144th and Pacific Streets. Passions on the issue of health care are clearly running high.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has seen overflow crowds at his meetings in Omaha and Lincoln, with hundreds of people stuck outside at both events.
Millard North's auditorium has a capacity of about 600, according to assistant principal Kelley Hood, and the school cafeteria is being eyed for use as overflow space.
Since January 2001, Terry has been a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key committee with jurisdiction over health care legislation. Terry voted against the bill approved by the committee before Congress left town for its August recess.
Included in that 1,000-page bill is a new government health insurance plan, or public option.
During committee debate, Terry offered an amendment that would eliminate the public option and instead allow uninsured individuals to join the program used by members of Congress and federal employees. That program includes a choice of many different insurance plans.
Those joining the federal benefits program under Terry's plan would be responsible for their full premiums, although some government subsidies would be provided on a sliding-scale basis.
Terry has said that a basic family plan would be available for premiums of about $500 a month. Various high deductible family plans included in the program are available for under $600 a month, but other plans are more expensive. Many of those cost $1,000 a month or more in premiums.
Terry's amendment was defeated.
White, a Democrat, is expected to challenge Terry in next year's election. He said he still is gauging support but has established a campaign committee and started raising money.
White said that he would have cast the same vote as Terry against the Energy and Commerce Committee bill. He said its public option did not come with adequate protection for the private insurance industry.
White said he's open to a public option, but only if it includes protections to ensure government does not have unfair access to capital and that the private sector has the same ability to negotiate prices on services as the government.
But while he agreed with Terry's vote, White said that the alternative offered by the congressman is simply a page-and-a-half amendment, not a comprehensive proposal.
White said that Terry's proposal would induce many profoundly sick people to enter the federal program, causing premiums within the program to increase greatly. He also said that Terry's plan would do nothing to control costs.
“It is clearly poll tested and very popular, but it won't help people who don't have insurance,” White said of Terry's plan. “Most importantly, it won't help any of the struggling middle class who are trying to hang onto insurance, and it sure could screw up both private group insurance and the federal employee group insurance.”
Terry disputed that primarily sick people would take advantage of his proposal, saying that many of the country's uninsured are actually healthy young people who simply can't afford insurance.
He said his plan would foster competition and that the federal program has seen relatively low cost increases compared to others. He also said that his proposal's simplicity is a virtue.
“It is a simple plan, but a plan nonetheless to allow the uninsured access to affordable health insurance. I thought that's what this health debate was about,” Terry said.
White said that while he doesn't have a specific alternative proposal, he is committed to fighting for general principles such as controlling costs and improving competition.
Ways to control costs include cutting down on duplicative tests and improved record-keeping, White said.
Terry said that he shares the same principle of controlling costs and that White needs to offer up a more detailed proposal.
“Come up with your plan. Let's compare apples with apples,” Terry said. “If you don't have the guts to do it, then don't criticize mine.”
White said Terry's the one who has been serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee for years.
“One of the things I don't think is responsible is to give people a neat, pretend answer when it won't work,” White said. “We're talking people who are desperate, people who are dying, or watching loved ones dying for lack of care, and glib sound bite answers are nothing but cruel.”