Nebraska’s general election is just over a month away now, with several contested races to be decided on the state and local level. We’ve had a welcome break from the wave of political campaign ads that deluged our mail boxes and media outlets last spring, but the pace is starting to pick up again in that regard, just a little too soon in my opinion. The campaign rule of thumb these days seems to be go negative early on, spend a lot of money and ignore voter concerns that there has to be a better way to select our governmental leaders. That’s disappointing, frankly, since the “go negative” strategy simply does not reflect Nebraska values. I for one will be sharing that message with candidates for governor and U.S. Senate every chance I get.
Rankings of the most generous American philanthropists in 2013 have been publicized and the top 50 contributors made donations totaling $7.7 billion and pledges of $2.9 billion. At the top of the list was Mark Zuckerberg and his wife who made a donation of 18 million shares of Facebook stock valued at more than $970 million. Anyway you count it, that’s quite a chunk of change. Many people say, “Well they can afford it!” Many times that common comment has raised my ire and those critics fail to miss a couple of points. First, we should remember these major philanthropists don’t have to make any charitable gifts. They can keep the dollars, spend it on themselves, or give it to family members. Instead they have chosen to make educational grants to college and universities, plunk money into health-science research programs, aid poverty issues, back environmental programs and other causes. These are causes that benefit all of us.
Just five years after lawmakers made a bold decision to move the Nebraska State Fair out of Lincoln, the event seems at home now in its new Grand Island venue. This year’s fair was another winner, with a number of new features, a brand new Nebraska Building and many of the tried and true attractions that have kept this show going for 146 consecutive years. Attendance was down slightly this year, from 334,931 to 317,785, though that can be attributed almost entirely to some wet and threatening weather. Despite some soggy parking lots and the inconvenience of occasional showers, the mood was festive each time I ventured out. From the retired farmer inspecting an antique tractor, to the kids in the petting zoo to the pair of Aurora women enjoying a “Beef Sunday” on a park bench, the smiles and sense of relaxation were genuine. There is in fact something for everyone at this 11-day gig.
Now I know how the pioneers must have felt, plodding their way across unchartered terrain. The American west is a vastly different landscape than the digital realm of today’s modern explorer, but there are some similarities. There is no map pointing the way to where you want to go. And the harsh reality is when you get there the challenges have only just begun. The News-Register launched a new website last week, which is why I now feel a bit like a technologically challenged Davy Crockett of the digital era. My mission for the last 18 months or so has been to research the various vendors, platforms, bells and high-tech whistles available online, then figure out the best approach to reach our audience.
I believe every home has a “junk” drawer. The drawer may be in the hubby’s workshop, the little woman’s sewing room, or in the laundry room. I would be willing to wager most “junk” drawers are found in the kitchen ... and that is where my betterhalf has chosen to place one collection of stuff she really can’t decide where to place. Did you notice I said, “one” collection of stuff? My betterhalf never liked to be outdone and I initially assumed that must be the reason she has another “junk” drawer located in the laundry room. Before I continue, I thought a little deeper on this subject. I came to the conclusion the reasons we have two junk drawers is because we both are savers and the betterhalf likes to keep a tidy house which in her plan means, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Technology has changed our world in wonderful ways on several fronts, including the means in which we get our information. Indeed the pace of change has picked up exponentially, creating a challenge for those of us in the news business who gather and share information on the local scene. The News-Register took a step forward in that regard last week, debuting a new website that has all sorts of news bells and whistles. Former publisher Butch Furse planted a steak in the digital realm with the paper’s first website way back in 1995 (light years ago on the World Wide Web timeframe) and we’ve updated it several times since then. The latest change is substantial, both in the way it looks and the different methods readers and viewers are now able to find out what’s happening in Hamilton County, America.
It’s easy, if we’re not careful, to get down on ourselves when we face some difficult challenges in our lives. However, have you noticed no matter what difficulty we face, someone seems to have faced something that was even more difficult? A prime example of that was found in the pages of the Fergus Falls (MN) Daily Journal a few weeks ago when a story reported the death of Bryan “Lefty” Anderson, age 57. “There was never a cloud in Bryan’s life. It was always a rainbow,” a friend said. For Bryan, he had every right to have those rainbows clouded over because he faced challenge after challenge throughout his 57 years and still maintained a positive attitude of “Life is good.” I can’t help wondering how many of us could continue with that attitude when confronted with his lifetime of challenges.
Hamilton County’s valuation increased by a staggering $603 million this year, continuing a troubling trend that doesn’t add up for long-term financial stability. Though in some ways the increase in valuation reflects $26 million worth of new, positive growth, the lion’s share ($577 million) of the 2014 increase can be attributed to state-mandated adjustments in ag land values. With land selling for $12,000-$13,000 per acre, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years, the county assessor had no choice but to up the taxable value of farmland throughout the county. Times have been good for agriculture in recent years, no doubt about it. Danger lurks, however, when those values rise too far, too fast, without a corresponding link to the land’s ability to generate additional income. With input costs on the rise and corn currently selling for $3.50 a bushel, adding 27 percent to farmers’ property tax bills will be a painful blow.
Sometimes I get the feeling this old world is determined to pass me by. Now I’m not talking about personal values and moral issues. I’m talking about those physical things that surround me in my effort to stay in tune with what’s going on today, but will change tomorrow. It’s no secret that technology is my culprit and my nemesis. Over the years I’ve fallen behind to a bevy of changes and then seem to catch up only to find I am behind again. Slow reflexes could be the cause. However, the betterhalf has attributed my dilemma to my own stubbornness and resistance to something new.
It’s like cracking open a new book for the very first time. Crisp pages. Fresh material. Anxious eyes ready to dive in and see what lies in the pages beyond. The first week of school is upon us, with a familiar look and feel that reminds us another year of change, learning and opportunity has arrived. Whether your family is embarking on that first, magical day of kindergarten, the jump into high school, that quantum leap into college life or somewhere in between, these are exciting, memorable times. It’s even starting to feel a bit like fall, though somewhat prematurely. We’ve not heard many complaints about the cooler temperatures and start of another school year, except for perhaps a few farmers hoping for another heat wave to help finish out this year’s late crop.