Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 10, 2014.
In the battle ranks against Ebola
Staffers at the Biocontainment Patient Care Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center received a round of applause at a homecoming tailgate party thrown by interim NU President Jim Linder.
The applause was deserved. The staffers successfully helped cure Dr. Rick Sacra of Ebola last month. Nebraskans ought to be proud of the work being done at the unit.
The unit has had a low profile since it was opened almost 10 years ago. In fact, before Sacra was successfully treated there last month, the unit previously had cared for only one patient, who turned out to have malaria and did not require quarantine.
But the unit has been ready and waiting to help quell the threat of diseases like Ebola, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and anthrax, as well as dealing with bioterrorism.
In fact, Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control, called the Biocontainment Unit a “national treasure” when the unit was unveiled in 2005.
The risk that Ebola poses was spotlighted for Americans this week by the death of the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease in the United States.
As concern rises - airline cabin cleaners went on strike Thursday in New York because of Ebola fears - it’s important for Nebraskans to know that the unit is specifically designed to ensure that it does not become a health risk to the community or the medical personnel who volunteer to work there.
The unit, on the seventh floor of the Nebraska Medical Center, is essentially a series of independently constructed concrete boxes contained within a larger concrete box. The unit is sealed physically and environmentally from the rest of the hospital with a series of negative airflow systems, to guard against the escape of pathogens into the atmosphere.
The specially trained medical professionals who volunteer to work in the unit use personal protection suits and follow special protocols.
The unit is now caring for its second patient with Ebola. Photojournalist Ashoka Mukpo has been given the experimental oral antiviral tablet Brincidofovir, as well as a serum created with the blood of Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly. Mukpo believes he may have contracted the disease in Liberia when he cleaned a car in which someone with Ebola had died.
More than 3,000 people have already died from the current outbreak, and the World Health Organization has warned that the toll will continue to rise.
But when caught early and treated properly, some victims can survive.
When Sacra was pronounced free of the Ebola virus and released from UNMC last month, he declared that he was now a lifelong Cornhusker. He pumped his fist and said, “Go Big Red!” That’s a tribute to the dedication of the UNMC staffers on the front line of the global fight against Ebola.
Kearney Hub. Oct. 10, 2014.
Dishonest attack ads paid for with dark money
During the presidential election two years ago, Democratic and Republican campaigns spent an estimated $6 billion, mostly on negative advertising. Nobody is shocked by that fact, but as American voters, we should worry that much of the $6 billion was “dark money” that financed negative, misleading attack ads that can potentially cause voters to cast their ballots for the wrong reasons.
Dark money ads sway voters to be influenced by messages that twist the truth and unfairly malign candidates’ records and positions, or condemn their records or statements on issues that have no bearing on the office which they seek.
The problem with dark money, beyond the bankrolling of unfair and misleading campaign ads, is that it cannot be traced. That means the outsiders who funnel it into the various campaigns did so with only a small risk of ever having to answer for the messages they broadcast.
Think about it. Vast sums of money are plowed into campaign ads, and no one will be held accountable for the content or accuracy of the ads. There’s something wrong with this picture.
It’s one thing when candidates hit the airwaves to build name recognition and familiarity among voters. But how can voters wade through the deceitful content spewing into homes so that, come election day, they can cast their votes for candidates who really do represent their interests?
The target of our opinion is the outsiders who use dark money to unfairly discredit candidates, but the state and local media that broadcasts and distributes such putrid messages also is culpable. Why should election season be an excuse for the media to set aside the ethics that otherwise determine what content is suitable for audiences?
If the media, which so willingly accepts the windfall of money it receives to broadcast negative and misleading ads, won’t clean up its act, it is time to legislate a solution. It’s time for some accountability. It’s time that the people and organizations who pump all the money into the ads face the light of day.
It is time for donors and supporters to stand behind the deceitful attacks they trowel out with their big money. If they are forced to be accountable for their money, it might end all the poisonous messages that continue to undermine our elections.
Sunlight is one of the best disinfectants. Let’s shine a light on unfair and dishonest campaign tactics, starting with the dark money and anonymous advertising it makes possible.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Oct. 8, 2014.
Energy: Research group ranks Nebraska low in overall energy efficiency
The average American household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, almost half of which goes to heating and cooling expenses.
Nebraska is the nation’s only public power state, generating and selling all of its electricity through publicly owned utilities. With no shareholders to pay, you’d think we’d have cheap power. But in 2011, Nebraska’s statewide average electricity price ranked only 11th lowest in the nation, based on federal data.
It turns out that we’re even farther from being the most energy efficient state. When the website WalletHub measured the energy efficiency of cars and homes in 48 states (two lacked sufficient data to be included) Nebraska ranked 40th, close to the bottom in energy efficiency.
There’s not much good news in that. The sort-of-good news is that we got a worse ranking for vehicle-related efficiency (41st) than for energy use in our homes (27th). If you want a more energy efficient vehicle, you can at least make a choice about what to drive.
In home-related energy efficiency, the options are more complicated. Weather - both hot and cold - plays a role in energy demand, which also affects pricing. Different regions produce energy in different ways. Idaho, which has the nation’s cheapest electricity, gets 80 percent of its power from clean, renewable hydroelectric power. In Nebraska, about 80 percent of our energy comes from coal and nuclear plants. Moving to cleaner, modern energy sources takes investment and political vision.
But a McKinsey & Company report estimated that a $520 billion initial investment on energy efficiency measures could save the nation’s economy more than $1.2 trillion. In addition, annual greenhouse gas emissions could potentially be reduced by 1.1 gigatons - “the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.”
Nationally, electricity retail sales peaked at 3.77 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2008, dropped in 2009 and 2010, recovered a bit in 2011, and fell in each of the next two years, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The 2013 total of 3.69 trillion kilowatt-hours was down 2 percent from 2008. The lagging economy played a role in that, but so did gains in efficiency.
It goes far beyond turning out the lights when you leave the room. Consumer and corporations are replacing archaic appliances and light bulbs with models that use far less energy, and will continue to do so for decades. They’re installing solar panels on homes and businesses and windmills in their yards. Hawaii has the most expensive electricity, but 14 percent of what it uses is produced behind the meter, by solar panels. Some home energy systems are made affordable through utility or government incentive programs to encourage more clean energy, or through buy-backs of the excess power they produce … but here, not so much.
So how do you make your home more efficient? Some utilities and appliance retailers offer energy audits to help determine where power is being used and wasted. Such audits can give you an idea of changes you can make to save the most electricity at the lowest cost, such as sealing doors and windows, adding insulation, replacing doors and windows or upgrading your heating and air-conditioning with more energy-efficient units. An audit can give you an idea of how long it will take for the up-front costs to be recovered. Some of the cheapest projects, such as caulking old windows, can provide the largest and most immediate savings.
The trouble with relatively cheap electricity is that the low cost doesn’t motivate people to make big improvements. Without education and incentives, customers tend to ignore energy issues. But some costs, such as carbon emissions and pollution, aren’t included in the price of electricity. And when improving energy efficiency means reducing demand for electricity, utilities facing declining sales aren’t that enthusiastic about subsidizing it.
So for the most part, you’re on your own. Seal up your air leaks, use high efficiency lights, turn off lights that aren’t being used and consider future energy use when you’re replacing appliances. The extra cost is money well spent. Buying high-efficiency windows may not be an exciting way to shop, but they’ll save you money over time.
Meanwhile, consumers should take time to learn more about energy issues and encourage their local utilities to be more aggressive about modernizing our electrical systems and energy policies. As they like to remind us, Nebraska is a public power state. They’re supposed to be working for us.
Fremont Tribune. Oct. 8, 2014.
Just one word of advice: Manufacturing
In the 1967 Oscar-winning film “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire provides one word of advice to recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock.
It was sound advice in the 1960s, even if it left Benjamin - played by Dustin Hoffman - a bit befuddled. Of course, career advice wasn’t the focus of that movie.
But we have some real career advice to today’s students.
Last week, Barry Kennedy, the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Nebraska needs more skilled workers to fill manufacturing jobs throughout the state. There are jobs out there, but they require someone who has been trained to work with sophisticated technology.
We’ve heard that a few times over the past year, notably in January when the Fremont Dream It! Do It! committee took teachers on tours of Overland Products and Christensen Lumber. Then the goal was to show educators the opportunities that exist for their students, especially those who are not planning on a traditional four-year college degree.
Now, thanks to that need for skilled labor and the motivation to develop a solution, a public-private partnership between Fremont Public Schools, Metropolitan Community College and Valmont Industries is helping to fill at least one of those voids. Through the partnership, students can earn dual credit and an industry certificate upon completion of the welding program.
It helps Valmont, which needs skilled welders. It helps FPS and Metro in their missions to prepare students for the future. And it helps the students, who can develop a skill that can pay dividends for years to come.
But we need to address more than just one trade. We need to foster the spirit of cooperation that pushed through renovations to Fremont High’s welding lab and its unique program. We need to identify other companies and industries that can replicate this feat. We also need to encourage students who show a desire to learn one of these skilled trades.
We recognize a career in the trades isn’t for every student - just like a traditional four-year college degree isn’t for everyone. More and more, though, we are seeing that to obtain the better-paying jobs that are available, students need some advanced training.
It’s just one word. Manufacturing. But that one word holds a promise for a better future - a promise we need to make sure we keep.
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