Thursday, March 31, 2005

Twisted World of Harold W. - Vol. 3

by Kyle Michaelis
Back to his old ways with a vengeance, today Harold W. Andersen took "a look at the local news scene" - meaning he took as many potshots at Democrats running for office as possible.

First, he ridiculously went on the attack against the Nebraska Democratic Party for having the audacity to file a complaint against Councilman Jim Vokal with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission for his failure to disclose, as prescribed by law, who was paying for his pre-recorded telephone messages.

Andersen claims this complaint makes "a mockery of state law" designating nonpartisan election of officers. He even goes as far as to say:
I can recall no case where a party has become so deeply involved in a supposedly nonpartisan election - so deeply involved that the party is filing a complaint with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Oh, who is he kidding? Andersen is the one making a mockery of journalism. Keeping Vokal's opponent, Anne Boyle, above the fray by having the Democratic Party file this entirely legal complaint is not dirty in the slightest - it's smart. For Andersen not to remember worse incidents indicates that his long-standing ideological dementia has crossed over into self-serving senility.

But it doesn't stop there. After paying lip service to the obviously more ludicrous example of false nonpartisanship, Republican city council candidate Rick Bettger's plea of "I am the only Republican in this election, and I promise to respect the nonpartisan nature of the office of City Council," Andersen resumes his tired cheap shots by going after Bettger's opponent, Councilman Mark Kraft, for advertising himself with Mayor Mike Fahey as "a great team for Omaha's neighborhoods!"

Get this, Andersen even attacks Kraft for advertising his endorsement by Bob Bell, former President of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce:
Campaign use of Bell's former position at the Chamber is inappropriate,as is Mayor Fahey's becoming involved in a City Council campaign.

Associating yourself with a popular mayor who will share the ballot with you is wrong? Endorsements by a community leader are wrong? By what insane standard?

Where does the unethical journalistic treachery stop? How dare Andersen sit in judgment on anyone for betraying the notion of nonpartisanship when he has been guilty of perverting jouralism and the entire Nebraskan media climate for purely partisan reasons for decades? Andersen makes this stuff up as he goes along, saying whatever is most convenient and makes for the best attack against Democrats. He's done so for decades from the OWH Editorial page. It's always been shameful, but here it's also just pathetic.

That Andersen ends his column with a supposed "lecture on journalism fundamentals" is what's truly horrible. Imagine that this state's future journalists are being educated at UNL in a building named for this abomination of their chosen profession. Their could be no lower tribute to the journalistic and academic integrity of that entire campus. I dare say that each time a student walks through the doors of UNLs Andersen Hall looking for knowledge and learning, she and her dreams are insulted by the very University in which she has entrusted her future.

No donation is worth a betrayal such as that.

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A Wal-Mart in Every Town

by Kyle Michaelis
Add Nebraska City to the ever-increasing cities with a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The store is tentatively slated to open in late 2006 or early 2007, surely putting the fear of God in local retailers and grocers.
"The emphasis that I placed with the Wal-Mart representatives was that they understand the uniqueness of Nebraska City, as far as our historic appeal and being the home of Arbor Day," Mayor Jo Dee Adelung said.

Oh, I'm sure they'll be more than happy to plant a few trees in front of the store. Expecting more than that from the largest corporation in the world, however, would be preposterous.

On the whole, I don't think Wal-Mart is the ultimate evil some make it out to be. Besides its violation of labor laws and the sickening lengths to which it will go to prevent collective bargaining, there isn't really anything innately wrong with their business model. It's just absolutely essential that the workers unionize and finally receive an honest share of the billions of dollars the company brings in annually, restoring some degree of balance to American commerce.

The rebirth of the labor movement lies in the inevitable confrontation between the American worker and Wal-Mart's Board of Directors. In it could very well lie the fate of univeral health care in this country, not to mention every protection on which the American worker has come to rely won by the progressive movements of the 20th Century. We must steel ourselves for the battle. We must also remind Wal-Mart's legions of hard-working, under-educated, uninsured employees that they are human, they are Americans, and - damn it - THEY DESERVE BETTER!

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Outrage Builds in Lincoln Elections - FIGHT BACK

by Kyle Michaelis
Here's a report on radio ads targeting City Councilman Terry Werner:
You might have heard the amazingly vicious and personal attacks against Terry Werner in radio ads by Scott Stewart, owner of NE Printing Center on N. Cotner. Mr. Stewart makes outrageous characterizations of Terry, including calling him the most divisive of council members. He insinuates Terry hates our military and is unpatriotic. He says Terry's leadership is "clueless" and "pathetic." And, this doesn't even begin to relate the tone of the attack.

The ads truly are a low in Lincoln politics. The scripts do not present a differing opinion on Terry's goals, policies or record. They are well-funded personal and inflammatory attacks geared to smear Terry; thus, smear all of us who believe ALL Lincolnites should have a say in what happens in our city.

And here's a letter to the editor from today's Journal-Star:
I am very concerned about the Lincoln school board race and one of the District 3 candidates...Barb Baier is a strong activist for the homosexual, bisexual and transgender lifestyle. I believe that she will bring an agenda to the public schools that is contrary to my values.

Next year I will have four grandchildren in the Lincoln Public Schools system. I don't want her personal beliefs used to make school policies that will influence my grandchildren.

I was concerned when I read in a Lincoln Journal Star article that she supported a gay rights march at the state Capitol. She is also a member of the Nebraska Democratic GLBT Caucus.

I also read that the Lincoln Education Association's political action committee has recommended Baier for election to one of the Lincoln Board of Education seats. I strongly oppose this recommendation. I do not want a school board member who will place a high priority on a sexual orientation agenda.

I write this to inform voters.
Darlene Moore, Lincoln

Will we let these sorts of people shape Lincoln's future? Terry Werner and Barb Baier are being attacked for nothing more than standing up and being heard against injustice. Now, we have to stand up and be heard in their defense against these vicious and insulting attacks.

Walk a precinct. Write a letter to the editor. Phone bank. Call all your friends and neighbors. Just do something for our progressive candidates. They need our voices just as much as we need theirs.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Private Accounts Dead Over World-Herald's Dead Body

by Kyle Michaelis
On the same day the Lincoln Journal-Star quoted Congressman Lee Terry saying "I don't see the votes there" for Social Security privatization and that there's much more likely to be "a little tweaking of Social Security to extend its life another 10 or 15 years," the Omaha World-Herald made yet another attempt to sell private accounts, this time blaming its critics for the plan's failure:
Critics, with deception and repetition, persuaded a good many people that Bush's real motive was to destroy the Democrats' most successful legislative accomplishment.

They painted a picture of naive citizens, lost in the wilds of the securities markets without the knowledge to invest wisely. They raised the specter of short-term market losses without mentioning the invariable pattern of long-term gains on which the private-investment concept is based.

And they harped on the fact that the guaranteed portion of the Social Security retirement package would be reduced - without mentioning the notion that the reduction would be more than covered by proceeds from the privately invested account...

Maybe the plan, with all its details open to view, will prove to be fatally flawed. But there's also a good chance, based on how much is known, that courageous, informed, risk-taking wealth-generation has met its match in a timorous intolerance for anything other than a perpetually small, and shrinking, guarantee.

To be fair, the OWH did call President Bush "an ineffective promoter," but that was it for balance. For all the fear-mongering the OWH is responsible for on a daily basis, you'd think that cautious nature would bleed into their politics, especially with as big a gamble as opening Social Security to the markets, effectively removing the "security" aspect that is the system's whole reason for being.

Ah, but yes, consistency and principle have no place interfering with the World-Herald's patently one-sided agenda. What else is new?

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Unicam Bloggers

by Kyle Michaelis
There was an interesting article in today's Lincoln Journal-Star about State Senator's keeping in touch with their constituents via the Internet. It's such a relatively cost-efficient means of communication that it's really too bad more haven't gotten in on the act.
Philip Erdman (Dist. 47) is likely the only state senator who blogs, with a daily personal report, though a few other senators offer weekly columns, written in the first-person blogging style, and sent out through e-mail or posted on a Web page.

Erdman's daily report, which also goes out by e-mail to several hundred constituents, friends, and interested people, is a brief synopsis of the bills being debated that day, with a touch of Erdman perspective and humor.

See for yourself - that's a very, very light touch with the humor. Still, it's a nice site and I'm sure his constituents appreciate young Erdman's efforts.

State Senator Lowen Kruse (Dist. 13) also has a fairly adequate website, even if a little messy. One thing, though, his weekly column "Krusin' the Capitol" could seriously use a name change. I really don't think Reverend Kruse intends association with the activities suggested by this title (a long-standing "tradition" in Lincoln's gay community if police reports are not mistaken).

Someone please throw the guy a bone (no pun intended) and let him in on the joke - maybe he won't mind but most likely Kruse will be able to come up with something just as clever without the double-entendre.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Water War Won't End Anytime Soon

by Kyle Michaelis
As cities across the state, especially in the drought-ravaged West, unite in calling for increased representation on Nebraska's Water Policy Task Force, the Omaha World-Herald today did its best in an editorial to make their actions seem trivial and uninformed.
Sidney, Neb., officials have claimed that the task force is packed with irrigation interests to the detriment of municipal concerns. Indeed, many members (nearly 80%) of the 49-member task force are irrigators, answer to boards or agencies involved with irrigation in some way or have family members in those situations. Two of the five members who represent municipalities also are irrigation farmers.

However, the task force does not operate on a majority vote. Its decisions are governed by consensus. All 49 members must agree in order for a decision or recommendation to become official. One member can, for any reason, stop the process until his or her concern is addressed.

It is clear from the reports of some task force members and decisions reached that the group did operate fairly and equitably. Many members (including municipal representatives) used the consensus mechanism to resolve differences. Sidney officials' charge of bias or undue influence is without foundation.

Wow, the Omaha World-Herald is entirely off base in their reading of the situation. Don't they understand that consensus by people with the same interests and agenda means nothing. It is the MAKE-UP of the task force that is at issue, and consensus votes do NOTHING to address that.

Without a greater diversity of interests represented on this task force, both municipalities and other indrustries, it serves only to legitimize the very narrow irrigators' agenda. Without meaning to antagonize ag growers who rely on irrigation, their powerful and important voice needs balancing on the part of the 80%+ of Nebraskans who live within city limits.

Governor Heineman must act to address these concerns immediately before water problems exacerbate in the Western half ot the state and the little room for common ground we have on which to build vanishes. In fact, I think city councils in Eastern Nebraska, especially Omaha's and Lincoln's, should lend their support to this effort as a matter of good public policy, passing resolutions in the name of their own citizens standing with our water-deprived brothers and sisters to the West.

This state's water belongs to the people. No single industry should be setting public policy in regards to it. As McCook City Manager John Bingham was quoted in the World-Herald, responding to claims this was only a matter of local concern:
"Their time is coming. If the makeup of the task force doesn't change, a lot of people in this state will learn that this is not a Sidney issue."

He's right. Someting must be done. That the Omaha World-Herald and Governor's office don't see that says one of two things - either they simply don't understand the potential magnitude of this problem or they have unstated reasons for supporting this grossly inequitable status quo. Either way, the people must be heard on this issue. Our water must be protected, be it from short-sightendness, greed, or even lazy politicians that refuse to make a stand.

Read previous post on this issue:Water War Brewing

What we don't want to happen: Just Upstream of Omaha - North Dakota's Dry Wells

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

NE Republican Standard-bearer Wises Up

by Kyle Michaelis
Harold W. Andersen, long-time publisher and current contributing editor of Nebraska's king-maker the Omaha World-Herald, made a surprise announcement today in response to the Right's political exploitation of the Terri Schiavo tragedy:
For Republicans who consider their party a captive of the religious right on matters like medical research and right-to-die legislation and now legislative intrusion into the judicial system, there is a way to at least feel more comfortable with their political consciences.

That way is to leave a party whose leadership is currently attempting to leave behind in the dust of American constitutional history the principle of separation of powers that has served this country well for more than 200 years...

I would think that I'm not the only Republican who feels the party's leadership has engaged in an irresponsible and perhaps unprecedented effort to subvert the traditional separation of government powers. How to express our disapproval?

I'm going to the Douglas County Election Commissioner's office on Monday to change my political registration from Republican to Independent, while continuing to feel sympathy for Terri Schiavo and her parents and believing that the most compassionate course is to free her from her sad existence, Republican Party politicians to the contrary not withstanding.

What does this mean? Not much in and of itself, but as a symbol of things to come Andersen's defection may be very telling. A very obvious crack is beginning to show in the Republican Party, whose success has been entirely predicated on the bridging of ideological conservatives and Christians, as if they were a single political force. Now, the enormous weight of the Republicans' success is causing that bridge to crumble as these different masters each expect their own reward.

By emphasizing common sense and fiscal responsibility before ideology and religious fervor, a very obvious window of opportunity has opened for the Democratic Party, even in Nebraska. We can't expect mass conversions like Andersen's, but voters are going to be looking for a message that actually brings us closer together rather than falling prey to hot button hysterics.

Of course, Andersen himself is still wrong on damn near everything and a change in labels isn't going to change the general approach of his work. But today at least I welcome his temporary moment of enlightenment with open arms and invite all those of an open mind to follow suit.

For 10 years, the Republican Party has ridden a wave of viciousness to victory, never thinking twice before zealously tearing their opponents to pieces. I can't imagine how ugly it might get if the Greed-Heads and Holy Rollers openly turn against one another. The Almighty vs. the almighty dollar - I'll bring the popcorn, but we'd all better be ready to welcome the flock home with a better message and new vision for America.

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

NNN Special Report: "We Have A Problem"

by Kyle Michaelis
The New Nebraska Network is honored and pleased to present its first article from a contributor. All opinions are those of the author, but we are happy to host them and look forward to future contributions from our readers.

We have a Problem
By: Peg O’Dea Lippert, MSW, LCSW
Sarpy County
“I’ve got a lot of educating to do to convince people not only that we have a problem, but we need to come up with a solution to Social Security,” said the President after a two-day swing through three Southern states. (Omaha World-Herald, 3-12-05)

Perhaps, the “educating” should begin in the White House.

We have a President who appears to have chosen, regrettably, to capitalize on the terrible events of 9/11 and use the crisis of that dreadful day to define his presidency. Wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein, which had nothing to do with 9/11, became the crisis of weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction became the crisis of pre-emptive war. Likewise, mislabeling the long-term viability of Social Security as a crisis becomes the excuse for privatization, to “create wealth.”

When the President criticizes his opponents he does not acknowledge their disagreement with him regarding personal accounts, but rather accuses them of denying there is a problem. Reasonable leaders see there is a problem, not a crisis, as he would have us believe...(continues)

We are honored to have two such leaders in Nebraska. Senator Chuck Hagel had the courage to propose a specific plan, something the President has not done. His plan, however, continues the Bush myth about “creating wealth” by establishing private accounts. “Creating wealth” is a Wall Street term and, for certain, Wall Street will benefit by the creation of such plans. That’s where the eight hundred billion to three trillion dollars--borrowed from foreign countries and increasing our national debt beyond reason or imagination--to set up the accounts will go and not to solve the Social Security “crisis.” He agrees with Bush on not raising taxes, thus, disallowing consideration of raising the ceiling on which current Social Security contributions are made, something that has been done in the past. In theory, raising the upper salary/wage limit on which contributions are made, is not raising taxes, it is taxing at the same rate on a higher amount.

Senator Hagel proposes delaying the retirement age. The latter is a realistic approach as many people continue to work beyond the age, previously, believed to be retirement age and/or seek other employment upon retirement. In fact, in 2003 the eligible age of receiving full Social Security benefits began to move upward. That upper limit could be further extended. As now, people would retain the choice of drawing a lesser amount at an earlier age.

Senator Ben Nelson, on the other hand, identifies two issues. (Meet the Press, 3-13-05) He acknowledges a problem, not a crisis. Solvency is the number one issue, he says. The other issue, the one marketed by the President as the solution, is the creation of personal investment accounts. The two are mutually exclusive.

The President seems to be losing ground on his “solution.” A recent AARP survey in Nebraska revealed when people understood that the creation of private accounts would reduce the guaranteed benefit and increase the national debt, even those who originally favored the idea of private accounts, dropped to as low as 14% or as high as 31%, depending on particular elements. (AARP Nebraska Social Security Survey, February 3, 2005.) Even he seems to be saying something different as he travels in the West. He continues to cling to private accounts. One might ask: “Why is the President traveling across the country selling investment accounts that do not solve the Social Security problem?” ” Whom does he work for? Wall Street? The American people?”

Farmers and mechanics know when to overhaul the machinery and when to replace it. Mothers know the difference between a well-baby check-up and a trip to the emergency room.

This is the part of “educating” the President. In his crisis leadership style, he would have us get a new tractor and take the baby to the emergency room when an overhaul or a well-baby visit would suffice. He picked the solution he wanted, privatization, before defining the problem, which he labeled a crisis. (Hey, why not, it worked before!) He, apparently, missed school the day the scientific method was taught: define the problem, identify the possible solutions, select the best approach, implement the solution (make the repairs necessary to sustain the program), and continue to evaluate over time.

Consider the market for the last five years. Investors saw their stock reduced by one-third or, in the case of many in Nebraska and across the country, by nearly 100 percent with the demise of Enron and World-Com and the crash of Utilicorp/Aquilla--due to corporate greed. Investing remains a gamble. Remember the old axiom, “Only invest what you can afford to loose.” Who can afford to gamble his/her basic retirement income? Certainly, it is not those with a limited income and little or no ability to save when even those with considerable investments can loose all of their savings, as in the above situations.

Although, unspoken, it appears the Administration’s purpose is to change Social Security, to use corporate benefit terms, from a “defined benefit” plan to a “defined contribution” plan. The former guarantees a fixed amount of retirement income over the life of the insured, opportunity for a survivor benefit and with no risk to the insured. The latter creates full risk for the investor with no guaranteed benefit and is the trend in the corporate world today.

If the federal government takes this approach--even in part--a welfare safety net will be required to provide for those who may, at time of retirement, be in poverty. This is in direct conflict with the intent of a social security system. Social Security was designed to save the retired or disabled worker and his/her survivors from poverty. It was not designed to create wealth.

Preserving and protecting families from poverty is not to be confused with creating opportunity for families to have more income at their retirement. Diverting some of the input to Social Security in the name of “creating wealth,” via privatization, while reducing the guaranteed payout to create that opportunity, puts both at risk. As Senator Nelson pointed out, they are separate issues: solvency and the creation of personal accounts.

Senator Ben Nelson wants the actuaries to look at the numbers. All options are to be considered, he says. There are solvency issues such as increasing retirement age, and/or raising the ceiling of taxable salary and, possibly, a different ratio of employee to employer contribution at a certain salary level. How can such options be “tweaked” without reducing the benefit? Citizens might ask, “Mr. President, where do you stand on these issues?”

The other issue, the issue of personal accounts, has to do with opportunity. How can the government enhance the opportunity for ordinary wage earners to increase the long-term quality of their lives during and after employment? Again the actuaries and financial experts are needed to look at the overall implications of such possibilities as: increasing the IRA annual contribution level, raising the ceiling on SEP contributions, giving tax credits to small businesses who set up matching saving accounts (401k-type) for employees, and other possibilities. How can such opportunities be created/enhanced, apart from Social Security, without jeopardizing basic retirement income?

Such assessments call for a reasoned approach by analytical minds and, a willingness to come to the middle, the gray, and look after the well being of all the people. Such considerations do not suit the style of our crisis-orientated president who leads with the emotional dialectics of either/or, good/bad, for me /against me,
black/white, all/nothing.

Who can we trust to look at all the possibilities? Do we need a commission to fully, and with integrity, evaluate the possibilities--a commission, that will seek and listen to the testimony of citizens representative of all the people, not just the experts and the privileged?

It is the President who needs the educating, and maybe a little therapy, to turn his mind, to listen, to plan and to foster a rational approach, not a crisis approach, not shooting from the hip, Texas-style.

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Heineman Only Cares About the "R"

by Kyle Michaelis
Showing concern for party label above all else, Governor Dave Heineman named six finalists yesterday to replace out-going State Senator Nancy Thompson (District 14-Papillion). All six are Republicans, including John Strawn, chairman of the Sarpy County Republicans.

Although unsurprising to see this sort of stacked deck, it's disappointing whenever the legislature is treated in such blatantly partisan manner. Is it just me or is this not also rather insulting to voters in the 14th Legislative District? Eventually making a pick of a candidate in one's own party is perhaps justified on Heineman's part because that is the world we live in, but showing so little interest and respect for voters of a different stripe that you discount them entirely is just bull-headed. It's exactly this sort of blind partisanship that led to previous Governor Mike Johanns' abysmal and embarrasing appointment of Ray Mossey (District 3-Gretna).

With Heineman unelected to the governorship, one would expect him to be more careful and concillatory with voters because he's entirely lacking of a mandate from them to act in so disrespectful a manner. Seems he's more interested in kissing up to the party faitful rather than securing the trust of actual voters. No matter how much of a registration advantage Republicans may have in this state, Nebraskans have always proven willing to look beyond party labels and have in fact been proud of their doing so. Sad that Heineman is not endowed with the same spirit of independence and would use something so silly and arbitrary as an "R" by someone's name as a litmus test.

This is especially disheartening because the State Capitol will be a less friendly place to women and children without Nancy Thompson, a 2004 Congressional nominee, who is leaving the legislature to become executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands. I'm sure she'll be wonderful in her new position. Hopefully, District 14 will remember how good a job they did at electing their last State Senator, and they won't simply be content in 2006 with whomever the unelected Heineman puts on their ballot.

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Nelson Feeling Safe on Social Security

by Kyle Michaelis
Seems like Bush's inability to sell his privatization plan even holds true in supposed Republican strong-holds such as Nebraska. The OWH reports:
If Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is feeling political pressure to take sides on Social Security, it wasn't apparent in meetings with Nebraska voters this week. Only one person urged Nelson to support President Bush's call for private retirement accounts.

Many expressed concerns with Bush's plan, saying they had more questions than answers about the proposed accounts. Others agreed with Nelson that solvency of the current system should be Congress' first objective.

Just goes to show, you can't fool all Nebraskans all of the time, even if they have a tendency to be fooled come election day.

Don't back down, Ben. This is an issue on which our ever-so-cautious Senator needs to lead the people rather than follow. After four years of working with Bush, Nelson has earned his stripes as a "moderate conservative." This is just the time to prove he has a bold, principled voice as well - standing WITH the people by standing UP for Social Security.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Judge Murphy's Wisdom

by Kyle Michaelis
We live in a time when public discourse has descended to a level where those who dominate the discussion do so, not by the strength of their ideas, but rather by how loudly they shout and by their willingness to degrade and debase those that oppose them. The 'marketplace of ideas' is cluttered with those who call critical analysis elitist and confuse invective with insight and diatribe with debate.

On the national level, this can be seen in the labeling of opponents of the present administration as naive, unpatriotic and un-American. On the local level, it can be seen in disputes in which the cacophony of personal attacks drowns out any reasoned discussion of what is good for all in the community....

Our existence as a free people has always depended on the protection of all the First Amendment rights - freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government. It is for all of us to safeguard these rights and to honor the First Amendment through principled debate and enlightened discussion. As Americans, we should demand no less from government and no less from ourselves.

The Honorable John Murphy
District Court Judge
North Platte, NE
March 17, 2005

Who says there's no hope for our brothers and sisters in the Third Congressional District? Makes ya' pretty damn proud to be a Nebraskan, not to mention an American - doesn't it?

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Twisted World of Harold W. - Vol. 2

by Kyle Michaelis
In another not-so-subtle but incredibly pathetic jab at Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, Andersen writes:
I read with interest that Mayor Fahey has opened a South Omaha office to carry forward his re-election campaign. The banner reads: "Vota por Mike Fahey para nuestro Alcalde," which translates to, "Vote for Mike Fahey for our mayor."

Has the Latinoization of South Omaha reached the point where a significant number of potential voters - presumably citizens of the United States - have to be urged in Spanish to become involved in an American political campaign? Don't they understand English, which used to be the linguistic glue that held American society together?

That's a rather shamelessly racist appeal for this day and age. A Spanish-language banner is now to be held as an object of ridicule? This when our schools are teaching Spanish to children of every color and background?

What Andersen doesn't recognize is that this banner isn't about language. Speaking to Latino voters in Spanish isn't a means of pandering to those who don't speak English, it's a show of respect for a growing culture and a vibrant community. If anyone's pandering here, it's Andersen, who so vilely plays on voters' xenophobia on behalf of the Republican Party.

Respect based on our common humanity and the strength we gain through diversity rather than the material BS that divides us??? These are things people like Andersen will never understand. Not because he can't - I won't disrespect him like that - but because he chooses not to.

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The Twisted World of Harold W. Andersen

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald just would not be the paper that it is without former publisher Harold W. Andersen (1966-1989) and his on-going series of rants in the guise of column-writing. This state owes him a great debt of gratitude for making the OWH's institutional biases so blatantly obvious over the years.

Today, he goes after Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey for, get this, NOT RAISING TAXES!!... specifically, for raising the bulk of money for public works from private donations. Andersen says:
Count me among those - there must be at least a few like-minded Omahans out there - who don't understand why city government can't raise taxes to finance all or a major part of desirable public projects. Must we continue what might be described as government by panhandling, "brother, can you spare a few million" government?

Give me a break. Where do the attacks on Democrats stop? If taxes had been raised one bit, Andersen would be singing an entirely different tune about Fahey's irresponsibility and untrustworthiness with public money. Seems like Fahey's business acumen has simply made him too slippery and too difficult to frame in those old Democratic caricatures.

Good for him. Good for Omaha. Bad for Harold W. Andersen and his vicious, pseudo-folksy partisanship.

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Doubling State Senators' Salaries Excessive

by Kyle Michaelis
I want to see more Nebraskans able to serve in the Legislature, and that means there needs to be some salary increase. $12,000/year just isn't enough to compensate for the sacrifices and hassle that go along with serving. However, doubling this salary to $24,000 all at once, as State Sen. Dianna Schimek of Lincoln has proposed (LR12CA), is simply too much, especially if she actually wants to see this increase approved by Nebraska voters. The AP notes:
Voters have been wary of approving salary hikes. Since 1875, pay raises have been approved just seven times, an average of once every 19 years. The last raise was approved in 1988. At that time, the salary increased from $4,800 a year to the current $12,000.

Whether to raise salaries isn't up to state senators. Their salaries are in the constitution, which means if a ballot measure clears the Legislature, it also must be approved by voters.

More reasonable and acceptable would be a raise to $18-20,000/year. It doesn't seem like much of a change, but percentage-wise it would make a world of difference in the minds of voters. Also, it's just a more balanced salary for the time actually served (which is not exactly 365 days a year). Even so, I'm thinking any raise higher than up to $15 K will be a tough sell with voters. Claiming a person can't live on $12,000 isn't enough, especially when term limits are in-place saying we don't want professional legislators.

So, bet the farm and likely get nothing or bet the cow and have a pretty damn good chance at a steak? I don't think Schimek is being greedy - she knows as well as anyone the demands of the job. However, I've always thought her too smart to actually think this large an increase would pass. Maybe term limits really do make legislators more likely to take risks and think outside the box. Sadly, those tendencies usually go right along with less understanding of the issues and more slavery to personal passions.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Democrats' Time for Social Security Reform?

by Kyle Michaelis
There's a vacuum right now, can't you feel it? Bush's private accounts are dying on the vine, and it just might be the time for Democrats to seize the debate. Bush's plan isn't coming. The empty suit has been revealed and, if we can now hit the ground running with OUR ideas and drown out privatization for good, the Republican Party will be humiliated before we start to seem like do-nothings.

I know I'm not the only one saying this, but I'm all for Social Security reform that addresses the most regressive elements of payroll taxes. EVERY American worker should be excluded from paying the employee's share of payroll taxes (employers' would not change) on their first $10,000 of income. To do this, however, each worker would only be allowed to designate one qualifying job per year to prevent fraud and confusion for people working more than one job.

Accompanying this idea would be raising the cap on payroll taxes to 150 K/year, meanwhile also considering a 1% Social Security Surcharge tax (joint emloyer/emloyee) on all salaries above this cut-off. Beyond these reforms, if solvency is still an issue, there will simply have to be some sort of gradual and minimal adjustment of Social Security benefits.

What do you think? It's not the ONE plan that will change the world, but I think the time has finally come to start playing more than defense on this issue. We've got to be talking about this. Private accounts have failed to click, but we can't let Republicans claim "at least they tried to do something." Right now, the best way we can show how bad their idea was is to come out with a better one while the issue is still hot and the President is beating a dead horse.

If we wait for '06 on this one, we may already have missed our chance to show Americans our true colors. Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I don't think so. My every instinct screams on this issue, "Our time is NOW."

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Celebrating Expanded Public Housing in Keystone

by Kyle Michaelis
This battle between the Omaha Housing Authority and residents of Keystone hasn't made a whole lot of sense to me from the start. While I understand concerns about what this low-income development will do to the neighborhood, the Omaha city council simply should not have balked as long as it has before giving this project its full approval. Frankly, as an outsider, I'm concerned that elected leaders halted this project for as long as they did when this housing was so desperately NEEDED, especially when the motivations of those seeking to stop the project have seemed to be reactionary, perhaps even racist but definitely economically-biased.

Maybe this is an unimformed reading of the situation. I can't look into the hearts of all those involved. But this plan will benefit Omaha's less fortunate, and I'm unconvinced that it poses any threat whatsoever to the existing neighborhood. I hope new residents will be welcomed with open arms because the surest way to disaster and exacerbating the problems so many fear would be ghettoizing these neighbors and excluding them from this wonderful community.

Suggested reading for citizens of Keystone: "The Displaced Person", a short story by the brilliant Flannery O'Connor.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Legislature asks, "Who haven't we screwed lately?"

by Kyle Michaelis
Answer: The Unemployed.

In the spirit of Jesus, going squarely after the most desperate among us (and their families), LB739 will freeze unemployment checks while extending the period a worker who quits must wait before receiving unemployment from approximately seven or 10 weeks to a full thirteen.

On the other hand, the AP tells us:
Since 1983 employers have only paid taxes on the first $7,000 a worker earns. The bill (LB739) would increase that to $8,000 next year and $9,000 starting in 2007.

The current $7,000 threshold is the lowest allowed under federal law.

Victory? A bill that only partially sells working people down the river and at least has some expectation of employers. No, that doesn't make it right.

All this is intended to address the solvency of the unemployment insurance fund. Freezing benefits for a year or two...that may be necessary, but cutting people off from the only lifeline available for an extra month reeks of discrimination against anyone trying to make the difficult transition to more gainful employment - which many can attest to being a full-time job in itself.

Unemployment compensation should either be there for the people who need it, especially those who need it only temporarily while they try to better themselves, or not at all. Sadly, I think we all know which of these sentiments truly lies at the heart of a bill such as this. Need a hint?

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Lincoln Public Transportation Update

by Kyle Michaelis
A prior post (see link above) discussed the "Ride for $5" program providing low-income Lincolnites much-reduced monthly bus passes for $5. The mayor had decided to raise the price to $10 and cap the number of passes sold at 1000, a proposal to which the city council proved less than receptive. Well, a week later the city council has found the funding to keep the program running under the original parameters through its original end-date in August.

This is a great thing. This program's already proved an incredible success, and giving it a full year to flourish shows a lot of forethought and dedication on the part of the city council. However, as said before, I can't say I disagree with the mayor's general idea.

With this program's success, measures should be taken to make it permanent and at least somewhat self-sustaining. Reduced bus fares are good public policy, but the $5/month is remarkably LOW. Doubling that to $10 to at least help cover fuel expenses is a significant enough benefit for riders to be worthwhile while lessening the incredible burden on the city.

I also remain steadfast in the opinion that Lincoln should see the potential here in reducing its monthly fares, increasing ridership, and expanding services. Stronger public transportation would benefit the city in many ways, most importantly relieving infrastructure problems that will eventually impose incredible expenses on Lincoln taxpayers. The city has expanded much in recent years, so must its services (and I'm talking more than location).

This summer, I hope to see serious consideration given to amending the "Ride for $5" program, hopefully made permanent under the Mayor's guidelines minus the silly cap on beneficiaries. In turn, re-shaping the entire StarTran system should be on the table if Lincoln's community-based progress is to continue.

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$$ What is a good Governor's worth? $$

by Kyle Michaelis
State Sen. Dianna Schimek has introduced LB 683 to the legislature, which proposes to raise the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, state auditor and members of the Public Service Commission.

"Why," you ask? Well, mostly it seems because Nebraska lags rather tremendously behind the rest of the nation in payment of these officials. This doesn't surprise with the anemic salaries of our state legislators, which I think is an even more serious issue because it so severely limits our pool of citizen representatives.

Our own beloved OWH reports:
Nebraska ranks close to last in pay for elected officials. Only Arkansas pays less across the board to its top elected officials, according to a survey by the Council of State Governments.

A few other states pay less for one position or another than Nebraska. But the Cornhusker State ranks 47th or lower for the salaries paid to the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and state auditor.

Unsurprising to the political-minded, it seems very possible, should this bill be passed, that Governor Heineman would veto it, as Governors Johanns and Nelson had done before him. Seems they all think voters might not like the idea of a man approving of his own pay-raise, at least not with tax dollars.

The question then is have these short-term personal politics hurt the offices in general? Someone thinks so.
Barry Rubin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party, called the current salaries "laughable" and endorsed the proposed salary hikes.

Elected officials sacrifice much to serve the state, he said. They lose time with their families, subject themselves to public scrutiny and often forgo higher salaries they could be earning in the private sector.

"I am in favor of pay increases for all elected officials," Rubin said. "You get what you pay for."

Personally, I agree, but a Democrat in this day and age should have learned to speak a little less eagerly about spending the people's money. Not that I blame Mr. Rubin - he's still new to Nebraska and doesn't seem to have fully grasped the conservative and, yes, semi-populist impulse in this prairie state to keep its elected officials at the level of the people they are to represent.

The VAST majority of people reading this article aren't going to be concerned so much with upping the Governor's salary to $100 K as they are with the fact that 61 state employees (NOT including the University) are already making more than that. I guarantee there'd be a lot of public support for raising up the Governor by bringing down those around him.

Even a lot of Nebraska Democrats would question a Governor's needing to make more than $80 K/year, as they would anyone else dependent on THEIR dollars for a living. We don't call them public SERVANTS for nothing.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Brashear the Technology Basher

by Kyle Michaelis
As rural Nebraskans seek-out access to broadband Internet service, one man stands firmly in the way of their taking advantage of existing infrastructure to get it - State Sen. Kermit Brashear of Omaha. The AP reports:
A state lawmaker is trying to head off pending legislation that would allow local governments from competing with telephone and cable companies by offering cut-rate broadband service. The broadband bill (LB 645) was offered by Omaha Sen. Kermit Brashear.

He said allowing municipalities, which can issue tax-exempt bonds, to compete for broadband customers "would place private providers at a tremendous disadvantage in an industry in which competition is fierce and margins are thin..."

Telephone and cable companies are pushing bills in legislatures across the country aimed at keeping local governments from competing with them to offer broadband - a wide spectrum of products that includes Internet access, cable television and telephone services.

Consumer advocates say the big companies have avoided building broadband systems in many rural areas and have put the cost of broadband out of reach for many low-income people.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said the cost to consumers for broadband generally ranges from $30 to $70 a month. Mark Cooper, of the Consumer Federation of America, said local governments can build and operate systems that could offer broadband for $10 a month or less.

So, even though private providers show little interest in offering service to Western Nebraska, Brashear is going to rob these people of the one cost-effective alternative that could already be available to them. Meanwhile, he's going to continue to allow companies like Time Warner Cable here in Lincoln to charge an insanely exorbiant price of $50/month for internet service by closing off a ready-made competitor in public power that could offer service at half that price, maintaining unnecessary elitism in internet access.

This bill, and Brashear's entire corporate agenda, are targeted squarely at screwing over Nebraska's working families. Technology will eventually be able to bring us all closer together and close the information/communication divide between economic and geographic haves and have-nots, but corporate interests will do everything in their considerable power to see it doesn't happen.

With Nebraska's proud tradition of public power, we know better. We must fight against Brashear's selling out our childrens' future and embrace with hope rather than fear the promise of a better tomorrow through affordable techonology in all our lives.

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Nebraska Republicans Wish Ethics Charges "Would Go Away"

by Kyle Michaelis
An OWH article today truly demonstrates how pathetic Nebraska's Congressional delegation is, with Representatives Tom Osborne, Jeff Fortenberry, and Lee Terry proving the full measure of their blind and ignorant partisanship. All admitted not knowing the facts of Majority Leader Tom Delay's reported ethics violations yet refused to allow an investigation as a demonstration of party loyalty. In fact, they've crippled the Ethics Committee and removed its chair just to shelter their disgraceful leader. Have they no shame?

"It's uncomfortable and it's something that you just wish would go away," said Rep. Tom Osborne, who represents Nebraska's 3rd District.

Midlands members, all Republicans, say they do not know the details of DeLay's case but think the issue is becoming too politicized.

Fortenberry, Terry, Osborne and Steve King, of western Iowa's 5th District, on Tuesday voted against a resolution introduced by Pelosi this week that called for creating a bipartisan commission to recommend changes to the ethics committee.

Osborne said he did so because he thought Democrats were "trying to make a circus out of it." Fortenberry objected to the timing - Pelosi called for the vote during scheduled debate on a bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. King characterized many of the allegations against DeLay as "guilt by association."

Look at them make up any damn justification they want, all in hopes that the truth will JUST GO AWAY if they can silence it for long enough.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that Osborne is quoted saying, with no sense of his blatant hypocrisy:
"If we're going to err, we ought to err on the side of being overly safe in terms of making sure we're ethical."

Coach, you don't even know what you're saying, do you? Both your actions and your votes cotnradict your token soundbyte. You make a mockery of every Christian principle you claim to uphold for what reason? To be a whipping boy? How sad to see a hero to this state brought down to the level of your common political hack.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

2006- Heavy Republican Losses in the House?

by Kyle Michaelis
Not that I put much stock in the reporting of Robert Novak, the likably contemptible old codger of the Right, but his Sunday column begins with a note that should be of interest to all -
Analysts at the Republican National Committee have sent this warning to the House of Representatives: The party is in danger of losing 25 seats in the 2006 election and, therefore, of losing control of the House for the first time since the 1994 election.

Although some Republicans on Capitol Hill believe the RNC is just trying to frighten them, concern about keeping the present 232-202 edge pervades GOP ranks. The second midterm election of an eight-year presidency often produces heavy congressional losses for the party in power.

What's at work here? Is the tide turning or is this just wishful thinking? The excesses of the Congressional Republicans, especially House-Master Delay and his whipping boys, are sickening but haven't seemed to sink in with the American public. Maybe the Republicans see their blatant abuses of power starting to crack the surface and fear the repercussions.

So, do we hope that they wise up for the good of the nation or do we give them more rope to hang themselves with and threatren the fabric of our democracy? 16 seats are all that are needed to take back the House. Of course, I want to see that happen, but think about how much damage they could still do in the next 22 months. I know what they say about making an omelette, but it's not so easy when what's being broken are constitutional freedoms and the backs of working families.

This Politics is an ugly game - trust no one who says otherwise.

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"Day of Reckoning" Coming for Unicam

by Kyle Michaelis
They're past the half-way point for the 2005 legislative session at the state capitol. There hasn't been a single shouting match or violent outburst yet that I've heard about. Here's the Omaha World-Herald on why that might be changing soon:

"It does seem like the more controversial issues are being pushed back. Ultimately, there will be a day of reckoning," State Sen. Mike Foley said.

Foley ticked off a half-dozen senators' priority bills that promise to generate heated debate. Among those issues: Allowing the carrying of concealed weapons with a permit, easing helmet requirements for motorcycle riders and making it a crime to injure a fetus.

Also controversial are bills to ban smoking in restaurants, change unemployment benefits, merge elementary-only school districts into K-12 districts, restrict access to a key ingredient of methamphetamine and change the school aid formula.

Battles over which entities should be allowed to supply natural gas and telecommunications services also promise fireworks.

Then there are the two big money issues. By law, the Legislature must set the state budget for the next two years before adjourning. The Appropriations Committee has until April 28 to put together its recommendation to the full Legislature. The budget must be passed and sent to the governor by May 18.

Some argue that this year's Legislature also must address economic development by reworking the state's business tax incentives.

Those are some tall orders. Obviously, not everyone of these issues will be resolved this year. With $133 million more in the coffers than the budget originally called for, we'll also see what lobbies are best situated to bring that money their way. All for the good of the taxpayers, of course.

Where do YOU want to see that money go? Which of the BIG issues coming up in the legislature do YOU want to see decided immediately?

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Equality Before the Law

by Kyle Michaelis
It's hard to argue for either of the two phallic symbols also in the running for Nebraska's state quarter (chimney rock, state capitol) over the simple beauty of this Chief Standing Bear design. If there is a story we can give to this country, from which its children can learn and draw inspiration (with only a hint of shame for the "sins of the father"), this is it.

In my mind, William Jennings Bryan and Charlie Starkweather are the only other two Nebraskans whose stories reveal so much about the heart of the heartland, but one of those is too political and the other too horrific. Chief Standing Bear's isn't a simple story of populist heroism or evil stripped bare, it's about the struggle to undue injustice. If Nebraskan's truly stand by that revered motto "Equality Before the Law," there is no greater testament to this highest of principles we have to offer. Governor Heineman should proudly select this design to represent our state.

For a look at preliminary sketches of other possible designs, look here.

For my thoughts on the state quarter from way way back in 2002, check out the archives here.

How funny that our unelected governor of 2 months COULD be judged primarily on the basis of the quarter design he selects when up for election next November. It's unlikely Heineman will take any other action in the next year that will be as noticable to the entire state. I'd be interested to know just how dangerous he considers this choice, if at all.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due

by Kyle Michaelis
As much as it pains and surprises me, I must admit the Omaha World-Herald ran a pair of fine editorials in today's edition (3/18). The first covered an issue I wrote about only yesterday - President Bush's use of public funds to manipulate news media and jointly commit fraud against the American people.

Although, I feel the Omaha World-Herald is too often an eager participant in the Republican propaganda machine, there's no arguing with their making a statement, at least in principle, against such abuse of the public trust. How heartening to read:
"These attempts to manipulate the free flow of information amount to something more than a perceived contempt for the press. There's also an implicit disrespect for the people. Bush can argue all he wants that these practices are legal. It would be a harder argument, though, to claim that they are honorable."

Dare I say I couldn't have said it better myself?

The second editorial displaying a surpising degree of critical thinking concerned Democratic Party efforts to reform the Presidential Primary process. There's no doubt New Hampshire and Iowa exercise undue influence over the election, and it's become even worse as media hype has become more prevalent in recent years. The OWH wrote:
"It's good that Democrats are re-evaluating the system. Republicans would do well to do likewise. With all respect to our Iowa readers, a perpetual "first in the nation" status for any state may not be best for the nation."

That one I actually could have said better, but - still - it's nice to see anyone take up the cause of primary reform. There are a number of different reforms on the table. Personally, I like the idea of a rotating non-regional schedule spread out over 2-3 months. Just an idea. Maybe not doable entirely before 2008, but eventually something should be done. What time better than the present? Sadly, there seems to be a lot of reason to think nothing's going to happen on this front any time soon.

And good Lord, did the OWH Editorial Board just praise the Democratic Party? Even tempered as it was, this is a rare occurrence indeed, and it must be savored. One hates to be so distrustful (and perhaps paranoid), but could they have gone on record praising the Dems just so they could later condemn them when no reform gets passed?

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Goodbye Charlie

by Kyle Michaelis
So it begins - Campaign '08. Sentor Hagel's failure to win over UNLs campus last week hasn't deterred him from plans for a speaking tour across New Hampshire.

Since returning to Nebraska in 1993 to run for the Senate (World-Herald was already pushing their golden boy to run in 1994) and winning a seat in 1996, I've been surprised more voters haven't cared that Chuck Hagel isn't really much of a Nebraskan. He called Virginia home for 15-20 years from the 70s through early 90s, and now, as a Senator, he's done the same for almost another decade. At least to this point, however, Hagel has had to act the part of a Nebraskan because he was dependent on our support for a job.

Well, now he's looking for a new job, and it seems increasingly likely Hagel will be spending the next 3 years trying to appeal to voters in New Hampshire. With this new constituency, I wouldn't count on much action for us folks back in Nebraska except for where our interests bleed into that of neighboring Presidential Primary powerhouse Iowa.

So, how does this work? Iowa gets a half, and New Hampshire gets the other. That leaves Ben Nelson Nebraska's sole representative in the Senate. I hope Nebraskans remember who's actually been working FOR them in 2006, as well as who hasn't come 2008. Are we really so desperate for a President who calls Nebraska home (on paper) that we'll screw ourselves just for the chance?

Maybe I'm rushing to judgment on this, but I think it's fair to expect that we be our own Senator's top priority no matter his ambitions. Is that really asking too much?

Heck, we're already giving one of our seats in the House of Representatives to Louisiana. Where does it stop?

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Conceal This !@#$@*!!

by Kyle Michaelis
What the world needs now is guns sweet guns?

Someone has to stand up against this conceal and carry crap. It's one of the most backwards exercises in the perversion of freedom imaginable. Remember back to the Old West, how they'd clean up towns full of crime and lawlessness - well, they'd start out by banning concealed weapons. How this nonsense has had any sort of resurrection in the public consciousness simply defies belief? Do these people really feel so unsafe? Do they really have so much contempt for their fellow man that they need to have the power to kill in their hands constantly? Then my God, take Judo classes.

At least Ernie Chambers has the sense to fight this one. That more state senators aren't willing to get on board against the so-called gun lobby is just pathetic. A vote not to end a filibuster isn't enough - nowhere NEAR enough. This is not a 2nd Amendment issue - this is common sense. I don't care where you live in this state, rural or city, this is bad law that has no place corrupting and killing our spirit of community.

From the archives, check out my somewhat different take on this noxious issue the last time it came around.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

OWH Editorial Watch

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska's own illustious predecessor to that den of spin the Fox News Channel, ran a delightful little editorial today insisting that should the Republicans in Congress refrain from breaking established Senate tradition by ending the filibuster of judicial nominees, the Democrats owe "a commitment to good faith in the advise-and-consent process." "Good faith" that so?

10 of President Bush's 229 judicial nominees have been subjected to the Democratic filibuster. With the lock-step voting of Congressional Republicans, this has proven the only way to prevent Bush's most ideologically and professionally suspect picks from getting lifetime appointments to the most sacred institution in the country. Notice that this sub-5% rejection rate is nothing compared to the disastrous display of democratic recklessness by the Republican Congress during the Clinton Administration, letting judicial openings reach catastrophic levels in the name of partisan warfare. Where was the Omaha World-Herald's one-sided assault on the Republicans when 60 of Clinton's picks were never put to a vote?

The Democrats owe good faith? Ha. If anything, it's the Omaha World-Herald that should finally live up to the people of Nebraska's expectation of good faith and FAIR reporting.

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Mike Foley vs. Abortion - Round 472

by Kyle Michaelis
You know, as much as I disagree with Nebraska State Senator Mike Foley's never-ending politicization of the abortion issue, I appreciate that he's at least fairly straight-forward about his beliefs. He may seem a one-issue demagogue that constantly puts his supposed religious agenda before the interests of his constituents, but maybe that's exactly what the voters of South Lincoln want. I also like the example he sets by writing a simple letter to the editor of the local paper.

At issue is whether the state of Nebraska should continue to subsidize Pap smears and chlamydia tests for low-income women at Planned Parenthood clinics. Foley claims Planned Parenthood's "advocacy and participation in the killing of unborn children" makes it unsuitable for public funding, even if that money is being directed solely to this low-income women's health program. He also complains that the nearest alternative provider under the program is in Beatrice.

His solution? Give the people choice by removing the one option they already have...

Funny logic. Foley never gets to the part where he announces women wouldn't need these tests if they'd just go to church and stop having sex outside of marriage, though I'm sure his chosen provider would be all too happy to inform their clients on such matters.

If only these people would care as much about children after birth as they do before, some truly great works might be accomplished.

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Gimme Some Truth

by Kyle Michaelis
In the on-going battle between fiction and fact in America 2005, fiction and its allies in the Bush Administration are continuing their search for a new level of despicability and show every sign of having gained the upper hand. This just in from the Sunday edition of the New York Times:

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.

Federal agencies are forthright with broadcasters about the origin of the news segments they distribute. The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the "reporters" are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.

Some reports were produced to support the administration's most cherished policy objectives, like regime change in Iraq or Medicare reform. Others focused on less prominent matters, like the administration's efforts to offer free after-school tutoring, its campaign to curb childhood obesity, its initiatives to preserve forests and wetlands, its plans to fight computer viruses, even its attempts to fight holiday drunken driving. They often feature "interviews" with senior administration officials in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy...

An examination of government-produced news reports offers a look inside a world where the traditional lines between public relations and journalism have become tangled, where local anchors introduce prepackaged segments with "suggested" lead-ins written by public relations experts. It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as "independent" journalism.

OH BRAVE NEW WORLD! If there is a man of our times, surely it is President Bush in his empty suit with all those layers of genial deceit and smiling disdain for everything once held sacred about American democracy, especially the freedoms of the First Amendment.

Between these latest incidents of mass news-feeding, along with the paid columnists and conservative toadie Jeff Gannon defiling the White House press room, truth is taking quite the beating of late. Amazingly, even as these stories continue to break, they show no sign of sticking to Bush and his Decepticons. Have our expectations sunk so low, or do we really just not give a damn?

Makes one wonder if the Office of Strategic Influence isn't alive and well and operating (quite effectively, I must add) on American soil. Are you scared yet?

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Water War Brewing in Western Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis
Okay, so the title's a bit sensational, but there does seem to be something amiss with irrigation interests having almost 4/5's of the votes controlling Nebraska's water policies. Tuesday, the Sidney city council unanimously passed a resolution asking Governor Heineman to reconstitute the 49-member State Water Policy Task Force by appointing more representatives from the 80% of Nebraska citizens living in cities.

With all due respect to this state's ag producers, there has to be a greater balance of voices when concerning our most precious natural resource. Yes, Nebraska irrigators use about 97 percent of the state's groundwater, but rights to that water are shared by all. Heineman should heed Sidney's call and take action to address this problem before a truly devestating divide erupts in the drought-afflicted West.
Sidney City Manager Gary Person said he hopes the council's action starts a statewide, grassroots effort by communities to call attention to "the huge inequities" in state laws and potential conflicts of interest among task force members.

I don't have much in the way of knowledge about this situation or water policy in general, but I appreciate the city of Sydney's call to action. Conflicts of interest, as broad as the term is, aren't very popular around these parts. I have a hard time believing Nebraska wouldn't benefit from a few different voices being heard when deciding its water policies.

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Bush's Environmental Blitzkrieg Continues (ANWR)

by Kyle Michaelis
A Democratic-led effort to prevent President Bush and Congressional Republicans from destroying the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by deceptively squeezing an oil drilling provision into the national budget failed on a 51-49 vote today. As usually the case with the Bush Administration, Big Oil got its way.

Ben Nelson stood up for the environment and against the special interests, not an easy vote when there's this much money involved, while Chuck Hagel turned his back on common sense and common decency by allowing this dishonorable, deceitful provision to pollute the entire budgeting process. A sad day, indeed.

All this for an unverified oil supply that, at best, will account for less than 2.5 percent of U.S. oil needs, while doing nothing to impact today's soaring gas prices and tight oil supplies. But, heck, why destroy later what we can deplete today? Children and Caribou be damned.

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Republicans Endorse Massive Debt and Cutting Social Security Benefits

by Kyle Michaelis
The NY Times reports:
President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security fared poorly on Tuesday in a test vote on Capitol Hill, with the Senate splitting 50 to 50 on a nonbinding measure declaring that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that would require "deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt."

Five Republicans joined the Senate's 44 Democrats and one independent in voting for the resolution, a symbolic effort to demonstrate opposition to Mr. Bush's plan to allow workers to invest part of their taxes in private retirement accounts. Although the measure failed with one vote short of a majority, Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has been a leading opponent of the plan, later said it was a "significant vote."

Look at our boy Ben Nelson doing his D-thing. Of course, independent-speaking but slave-to-the-Right-voting Chuck Hagel was on the other side of the fence, refusing to come out against benefit cuts and huge deficits (which he's actually proposing).

Seriously, is this the Republican Party Nebraskans love so dearly? When are the American people going to realize all that Republican talk about fiscal responsibility is a load of BS? These are the most reckless and spend-happy bunch of jokers this nation has ever seen, and that's saying A LOT.

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Public Transportation Program Too Successful?

by Kyle Michaelis
A mini-battle has erupted between Lincoln Democratic Mayor Colleen Seng and the Democratic majority Lincoln City Council over a program offering reduced bus prices to low-income people. At only $5 for a month's worth of bus rides, this program is a steal, but I can't believe its incredible success isn't being seen as a positive. Hell, this program should be expanded as much as possible.

Empty busses are in nobody's interest while reliable and cost-efficient public transportation is in everyone's. With gas prices as high as they are now and showing every sign of going even higher, there could be no greater time to renew our efforts in promoting and expanding public transportation - protecting both the environment and citizens' pocketbooks. What could be more in line with Democratic Party philosophy than that?

Personally, I agree with Mayor Seng that the $5/month may be a bit low if the program is ever to be self-sustaining, but putting the 1000 permit cap on it is just a bad idea. $10 a month seems reasonable for low-income individuals, but maybe there's a compromise to be had in further price reductions for children of such families. With the success this program has had, consideration should also be given to lowering the monthly rate on bus passes for all citizens, perhaps from $30 to $20-25, as a way to boost fixed revenue that could even allow Lincoln to expand its bus service. Let me tell you, a Friday and Saturday night downtown bus service running until 2 am could keep a lot of drunken fools off the roadways. It's hard to put a value on a service like that.

Then again, this would all be dependent on Americans' economic sensibility over-riding their intrinsic love for driving their own automobiles. I don't see the harm in trying, assuming the mayor's office and city council can quit their bickering and work together.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bush the Coward

by Kyle Michaelis
A reporter for the Omaha World-Herald and other regional papers sat down with President Bush in the oval office for a half-hour interview on Social Security. I'm thinking the questions weren't too hard-hitting since the only numbers reported in the article are the Republican noise machines'.

The one really interesting thing in the article is getting Bush on record on the fact that he hasn't provided his own plan for social security "reform." He's going on a campaign across the country to hype a problem for which he refuses to offer his own solution. What kind of leadership is that?
Many Democrats, Ben Nelson included, have implored Bush to outline a Social Security restructuring plan and send it to Capitol Hill, saying they want to see details to determine how it would protect the 70-year-old program.

Bush brushed that idea aside.

"The bill I send up will be - phhtt!" the president said, making a sound like air escaping from a balloon. "The first bill to go down."

Instead, Bush said, he wants Congress to develop a consensus around specifics that can pass the House and Senate. Although Republicans control both bodies, Democrats in the Senate hold enough votes to block action through use of the filibuster.

Bush and the Republicans have majorities in both Houses of Congress, yet they refuse to do the heavy lifting. How cowardly that they lack the courage of their convictions and won't lay their purely ideological motivations on the table for every American to see. The Republicans dearly want the political cover of a bi-partisan effort, so the destruction of Social Security doesn't blow up in their faces. We can't let them have it.

Private accounts do nothing to make Social Security more solvent. Their being drawn from payroll taxes is antithetical to the very notion of Social Security. In fact, private accounts are the single greatest threat to Social Security out there, far more so than the so-called crisis some 40-50 years down the road.

Fulfilling its chosen role as puppet to the administration, the OWH article ended with:
The virtue of private accounts, Bush said, is that they would enable today's younger workers to earn higher returns. He noted that $35,000 set aside today could develop into a $250,000 retirement nest egg.

Not mentioned was the possibility of that $35,000 going bust - the magic empty nest egg. Do we really want every one approaching retirement to jump out a window come the next stock market crash? Then again, maybe that's Bush's real solution to the Baby Boomer problem.

Hey, in this debate, there's no reason they should have a monopoly on fear-mongering....

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"We don't need no education...."

by Kyle Michaelis
The Unicameral had better take some action making college education affordable to Nebraska students, or this state will be in a world of hurt for years to come. Nebraska ranks a lowly 38th in need-based aid per student, as tuition costs have sky-rocketed (a sickening 74% over 7 years at UNL) and a number of rural Nebraska counties rank as the poorest in the nation. Doesn't anyone see a problem here?

Of course, what can we expect when Regent Drew Miller of Papillion, whose job it is to look out for students and protect this state's future, is too blinded by ideology to even recognize the need for need-based aid. Anyone who calls making college education affordable to lower-income students a "policy of entitlement" isn't fit for office. I hope to God voters in Miller's district wake up soon and replace this disgrace with someone remotely deserving of future generations' trust.

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Hagel Supports Giving U.N. the finger

by Kyle Michaelis
The Bush Administration's telling the United Nations to go to hell by its appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the UN has gotten approval from Chuck Hagel after all. How sad. This was a place for Hagel to make a stand for the common sense and decency he claims to uphold. Seems it's just so much easier to make friends with the neo-con uppity-ups who might help in a Presidential bid than to do your job.

Hagel throws his support to U.N. nominee

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said Monday he would support the nomination of John R. Bolton, who has criticized the United Nations, to be U.S. ambassador to the world organization.

Hagel's backing means the Foreign Relations Committee most likely will confirm Bolton. Hagel, of Nebraska, was the only Republican on the panel who had declined to express support after Bush nominated Bolton.

"His experience and knowledge will serve him well as he represents America's interests in the U.N. at a critically important time," Hagel said.

Bolton is notable for saying "there's no such thing as the United Nations" and "if the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Jesse Helms also once called him "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at the gates of Armageddon."

Oh, you'll get your chance Jesse...and now Chuck Hagel will be standing right alongside ya'. After all, that's how this sort of bargain works.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Hagel for President Hype

by Kyle Michaelis
Don Walton in the Lincoln Journal-Star today again returns to his favorite theme - Chuck Hagel's presidential hopes. He also mentioned Hagel's Social Security speech at UNL's campus last Monday. From Walton's column, you'd think the students came together in a circle and held hands singing Hagel's praises.

What wasn't mentioned about this event BY ANY MEDIA was that the majority of questions from the audience were skeptical to downright disdainful towards the privatization aspects of Hagel's plan, with Hagel being heckled as a liar and applause supporting a young single mother who demanded to know why our generation was being asked to take on such an incredible burden in the trillions of dollars. I also didn't see it mentioned anywhere that Hagel had bussed in select students from across the state for the speech, stacking the deck in his favor and making it seem as if students actually supported his proposal.

Hagel came and saw UNL, but he most definitely did not conquer. In fact, with the reception he got, it might be quite awhile before he returns, even with his stooge Regents Drew Miller and Randy Ferlic there to back him up. Seems like its back to the friendly confines of your local Chamber of Commerce for ol' Chuck. But seriously, good luck with those voters in New Hampshire and Iowa since that's who this whole spectacle was really for anyway.

On a happier note, Walton reports:
Ben Nelson has fallen from the top of the list of most vulnerable Senate incumbents to fourth on the National Journal's scorecard.

Nebraska Republicans lost their "A-list" challenger in 2006 when Mike Johanns left the governorship to become U.S. secretary of agriculture, the newspaper stated.

"Republicans would be so lucky to find even a second-tier challenger to the incumbent Democrat who should be the country's most vulnerable," the Journal said.

"Still, as we saw in 2000, basically any Republican who isn't a complete embarrassment can do well against Nelson," the newspaper stated.

"Nebraska isn't a state that kicks out incumbents very often, and while Nelson certainly isn't the perfect ideological match for the state, he doesn't seem to have done anything to warrant being fired."

Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania are ranked as the most vulnerable Senate incumbents.

Getting a good Democratic Senator in Pennsylvania to replace that smirking Golem of the Christian Right Santorum? Dare we even dream?

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Democratic Free Agents

by Kyle Michaelis
Seems like our new Liutenant Governor, former Hastings mayor Rick Sheehy, isn't the only recent Democratic defector in office. Has the Democratic party really abandoned these people or is this just personal ambition and daunting demographics working their mojo? Either way, something's got to be done. It's pretty obvious the Nebraska Republican party isn't content with the majority they've got, as they're still making an active effort to bring the best and brightest over to their team.

These defections at the local level have to stop because that's where we most need to be making in-roads if we're going to have a chance at taking back this state. The Republicans are proving to be like George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees using every ounce of capital they've got to squeeze us out. Here's hoping we've got some of that Boston Red Sox underdog magic from last year working for us.

Remember what happened to the Evil Empire in Star Wars - "the more they tighten their grip, the more people who will slip through their fingers."

Then again, did Princess Leia really know a damn thing about Nebraska politics?

Published Monday, March 14, 2005

Democrat Lynam's switch gives Republicans a sweep at Sarpy courthouse


Until last month, Tom Lynam was the only elected department head in the Sarpy County Courthouse who was a Democrat.

But the 48-year-old Sarpy County surveyor has taken the path of some other courthouse Democrats before him and switched his party affiliation to Republican.

His crossover puts the GOP in charge of all the courthouse departments.

The GOP holds a 3-2 advantage on the county board.

In voter registration, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the county by a wide margin: 41,643 registered Republicans versus 25,196 Democrats and 15,838 Independents.

Until the 1980s, however, Democrats held the lead in registration. From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Republicans held just two partisan posts in county government.

Lynam, a Catholic who has been surveyor 14 years and is up for re-election in 2006, said said his pro-life view fits better with the Republican Party.

He also said he gained a new perspective when his son, Andrew, 18, enlisted in the Marines last November.

"A stronger military is more important to me now," he said.

Bill Forsee, treasurer of the Sarpy County Democratic Party, said Lynam is responding to a demographic shift in the county.

John Strawn, chairman of the Sarpy County Republican Party, welcomed the conversion, which he said Lynam had contemplated for several years.

Several other converts, including County Clerk Deb Houghtaling, who switched to the GOP in 1997, urged him to join the party, Strawn said.

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Announcing the "New Nebraska Network"

by Kyle Michaelis
Okay, so the name's a bit corny, but that's to be expected in the land of the Cornhuskers. From here on out, I promise to avoid such unwitty puns as much as possible, though I have a sad proclivity to them.

So, what is this place and why is it here? It's equal parts experiment and self-amusement in the name of progressive community-building. It's also a chance for me to vent on the issues of the day while serving as something of a self-proclaimed watchdog over the media in this state. If you haven't noticed, there's a bias in the Nebraska news that needs to be addressed, and it ain't liberal. Nebraskans have been betrayed by their guardians in the fourth estate, and I hope to record and expose that betrayal each time it rears its ugly head.

I'll need help. This place is called the "New Nebraska Network." Right now, that's a network of one. For now that will have to do, but I'd love to see this place grow and pick-up other contributors (maybe a real website) if there proves to be an interested readership. Of course, that's the question right there.

I've heard no voice promising "if you build it, they will come." It's more something I just feel - a gaping hole in the conscience of this state waiting to be filled, not with my voice, let me assure you, but with a new idea waiting to be unlocked inside us all rooted in our hopes and inseparable from our humanity.

This is a start, an attempt, nothing more. Now, let's see how it all plays out.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Testing #2

by Kyle Michaelis

E-mail posts functioning. Congratulations.

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by Kyle Michaelis
How much of a need is there for a progressive voice on the Internet in Nebraska?

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