- Associated Press - Monday, December 10, 2018

Omaha World Herald. December 6, 2018

Society needs to help teens understand the major health risks from vaping

A local 17-year-old gave a sobering answer when asked recently how often he vapes.

“All day, every day,” he responded. He told World-Herald reporter Emily Nitcher that he started at age 15 and indulges in the vaping habit in school hallways, bathrooms and, sometimes, in the classroom.

Unfortunately, his situation is from far from uncommon. As Nitcher’s reporting showed, Omaha-area school personnel say they’re seeing a dramatic increase in the e-cigarette habit among high school and middle school students.

“I’m nervous that people won’t really understand what’s happening until we have an entire generation of kids addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes,” said Autumn Sky Burns, the Sarpy County coordinator of Tobacco Education & Advocacy of the Midlands.

Nationally, the number of students surveyed who say they’ve tried vaping has increased since 2017 by some 78 percent among high school students and almost 48 percent among middle schoolers, according to a new survey released by Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the survey, 3.6 million kids reported vaping at least once in the previous 30 days. In addition, 28 percent of high school respondents said they used e-cigarettes at least 20 days a month.

“It’s rampant,” said David Friedli, principal at Conestoga Junior-Senior High School in Murray, Nebraska. Friedli previously served as the project director of Toward a Drug Free Nebraska Project, a joint effort between the Nebraska Department of Education and the Governor’s Office.

The teen interviewed by Nitcher estimated 80 percent of his classmates use e-cigarettes. While 18 is the legal age to buy e-cigarettes, teens get around that, he said, by having friends buy the devices or by going to convenience stores that fail to check IDs.

E-cigarettes arose as a tool to help adults reduce their reliance on conventional cigarettes. But due to the addictive effect of the devices’ nicotine content, vaping can transition teenagers into cigarette smoking - and the major health threats it presents. This has quickly become a major public health challenge for our country. Nicotine, whether ingested through vaping or smoking, may affect adolescent brain development. Vaping has some of the same heart risks as smoking, and the chemicals in vaping liquids can harm lung tissue and trigger asthma attacks.

The appropriate response must be multi-pronged, involving government regulatory action at the state and local levels, restrictions by school districts, health education outreach and conversations between teens and their parents or guardians.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently announced his agency’s new restrictions to reduce teens’ access to vaping devices. He stated bluntly: “The bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes. We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, to continue to build.”

In generations past, many Americans took up smoking, belatedly coming to understand the harm they had done to their health. Now, society needs to help teenagers reach that important awareness before they travel too far down a road they may later regret.


Lincoln Journal Star. December 7, 2018

One down, one to go.

With the signing of the new USMCA trade agreement between the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada last week, one of the two largest hurdles facing Nebraska’s economy has been cleared.

In all honesty, little else beyond the name changed between President Donald Trump’s USMCA and the North American Free Trade Agreement he disparaged. But this isn’t time to worry about semantics - Nebraska’s agricultural and manufacturing industries needed market access to sell their goods to two largest international trading partners, our nation’s northern and southern neighbors.

Now, it’s time to tackle the other - tariffs.

Unfortunately, the agreed-upon framework of the pact allows for the U.S. to institute its “national security” tariffs on steel and aluminum. In response, allies turned to and continue to enforce retaliatory tariffs to punish the White House for its misguided, destructive choices.

As a result, Nebraskans lost. Big time.

A report from the Nebraska Farm Bureau found that tariffs instituted as a result of Trump’s actions directly cost Nebraska farmers and ranchers between $700 million and $1 billion in farm income. That’s before considering the $164 million to $242 million in labor income that stemmed from the loss of between 4,100 and 6,000 jobs.

For more than two years, Journal Star editorials have stressed the need for trade policy that will help those in Nebraska’s largest industry. Farmers and ranchers have already endured incomes halved within the decade, low commodity prices and ever-escalating property taxes.

Until recently, Trump - who this week proclaimed himself “Tariffman” - had failed to come through in any meaningful way, only exacerbating the pain felt in the ag economy. The trade deal will undoubtedly help to alleviate some pain, but permitting tariffs to continue allows governments to choose winners and losers - with ag producers still among the latter.

Nebraskans know what dangers tariffs pose to their economy, with Republicans such as Rep. Adrian Smith and Sen. Ben Sasse serving as vocal critics of such backward trade policy. They understand free markets promote innovation and prosperity. The rising tide of both lifts all boats in the end, even if thought it may churn up rough waters in certain fields for a time.

Tariffs, meanwhile, are essentially taxes that raise the price of goods for businesses and consumers. Customers in countries where American farm commodities were subject to tariffs unsurprisingly turned to buy products from suppliers in nations with lower barriers - which, as the Farm Bureau report demonstrated, had devastating consequences for Nebraska.

To paraphrase Bon Jovi, we’re halfway there - but Nebraska’s ag producers don’t want to be living on a prayer. They need the certainty provided by the USMCA trade deal extended removing the tariffs that have already cost them so much and will continue to do so until they’re rescinded.


The Grand Island Independent. December 4, 2018

The spirit of giving lives on

Charitable giving is on the rise in Grand Island and across the U.S.

According to the latest figures provided by “Giving USA 2018: the Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017,” charitable giving topped $400 billion for the first time. The booming economy and accompanying robust stock market spurred charitable giving by individuals, corporations, foundations bequests and testamentary gifts to U.S. charities estimated at $410 billion in 2017.

Despite concerns about sweeping changes in tax policy and polarized political divisions across the land, charitable giving grew by 5.2 percent over the year prior. This is good news for nonprofits as the positive effects of tax reform will contribute to stronger giving in 2018 and beyond.

The report also noted that contributions to nearly all categories of charities enjoyed significant growth, with giving to foundations experiencing a double-digit growth rate.

In return, contributions distributed by foundations have been increasing significantly over the past seven years. The Foundation Center calculated an annualized average growth rate of 7.6 percent that greatly outpaces the 4.3 percent annualized average growth rate for total giving.

Strong investment returns have generated a great number of multimillion-dollar philanthropic donations made to foundations by individuals, including two gifts of more than $1 billion, as reported by Dr. Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Pasic observed that “some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”

In 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffett partnered in a campaign called the Giving Pledge in which they challenged their billionaire peers to pledge to give away half their wealth. This past year 14 mega-wealthy philanthropists signed the pledge, bringing the total to 283 donors from 22 countries.

Gates and Buffett have also pioneered a new philanthropic movement designed to create dramatically more impact from donated funds by using more sophisticated approaches in applying resources to solve social problems. The increased availability of data, new technology and new ideas is helping to drive growth in giving while delivering maximum social benefits with fewer dollars going to administrative and overhead costs.

The spirit of giving, of course, starts at home. The Giving USA report importantly notes that individuals accounted for 70 percent of the $410 billion donated to charities last year. In this holiday season in Central Nebraska the needs are great. Central Nebraskans have been recognized for having the highest per capita giving rate in the state. You give generously of your time, treasure and talent. We salute you in this Christmas season for making a difference in the lives of others.


Kearney Hub. December 4, 2018

Tax fixes depend on reduced spending

We support the three major legislative initiatives for 2019 announced last week by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The initiatives are workforce development; individual and corporate income tax reform; and government efficiency. Although we support those goals, we wonder why the state chamber is not calling upon legislators to fix the state’s flawed property tax system, which overburdens farmers and ranchers and threatens to fatally harm many operations.

As Nebraska’s No.1 industry, agriculture literally is being taxed into ruin under the current property tax system. For years Nebraska has determined taxes based on the market value of farm and ranch land rather than the property’s income-producing ability, as in some other farm states. Our current approach spells trouble because farm land skyrocketed in value, so property taxes are artificially high, and that’s at a time when farmers are encountering sluggish markets on most ag commodities.

High property taxes paid by farmers and ranchers must be addressed because the tax burden is so great it could contribute to farmers and ranchers losing their livelihood. If farmers are put out of business, other owners of real property will be left to prop up tax collections for local government.

By omitting mention of property taxes, business leaders may be signaling lawmakers that they believe property taxes are better left untouched. That’s a message the urban-tilting Legislature doesn’t need to hear because proposals to fix the property tax dilemma will require the full Legislature’s attention.

We agree with the chamber on its other initiatives:

Workforce readiness: Nebraska has a shortage of skilled workers and our economic development will stall if we don’t address lingering labor shortages.

Income tax reform: Individual and corporate income tax rates are not competitive and are stifling economic growth.

Government efficiency: Lowering taxes will be impossible unless lawmakers and the governor can reduce state spending by making government services more efficient, flexible and focused.

Reining in the cost of government may be the most important initiative because reducing taxes will not happen without an accompanying reduction in spending. Cutting spending is the only way to reduce income taxes as well as property taxes.


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