Thursday, June 30, 2005

World-Herald LIES About Malcolm X

by Kyle Michaelis
This is unforgiveable. This goes beyond our on-going series on "The Twisted World of Harold W. Andersen" because, in today's column, the former World-Herald publisher and contributing editor flat-out lies to his readers.

There has been a movement in Nebraska for some years, particularly from Omaha's black community, to honor the memory of Omaha-born Malcolm X, be it with a park or by induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame as, I believe, its first black member. In an obvious attempt to discredit and dismiss these efforts, Andersen runs through a litany of Malcolm's most outrageous statements and actions from his days as a militant preacher in Elijiah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, supposedly providing the "full story" to prevent his idealization by admirers.

Well, I think Andersen is being an idiot on this one because he shows a fundamental lack of understanding that it is precisely Malcolm X's life-long growth spiritually and as a leader of the black community that makes him so important to American history. His anger was righteous, even when over the top, making his redemption an instance of true American divinity. Malcolm's conversion to a more peaceful and hopeful form of Islam and community-building speaks to the very best in us all, especially those who have faced and continue to face adversity and oppression.

It is not Andersen's deceitful lack of understanding, though, that ultimately makes his latest column so treacherous. Instead, it is his saying the following to cast doubts on Malcolm's ties to his birthplace that draws my ire, as it should everyone who reads it:
Incidentally but importantly, in view of the continuing pressure to build some kind of memorial to Malcolm in Omaha because he was born here, the sole mention of Malcolm's link to Nebraska is covered in exactly two sentences in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," written by Alex Haley with Malcolm's cooperation. The two sentences: "My mother was 28 when I was born on May 19, 1925, in an Omaha hospital. Then we moved to Milwaukee."

If Malcolm X felt any tie at all to the city and state of his birth, it certainly doesn't show up in this autobiography. This hardly adds weight to the campaign to build a memorial honoring Malcolm as "a native son," ranking as a civil-rights leader with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom, it should be remembered, Malcolm consistently criticized as a "traitor to the Negro people."

LIAR! LIAR! Has Andersen even read the autobiography on which he speaks so authoritatively? Doee he truly know anything about the life of Malcolm X that he is so quick to judge? The quote Andersen uses is on the second page of Malcolm's book. Two sentences earlier Malcolm had just mentioned Omaha. More importantly, showing the true depth of Andersen's incompetent betrayal, the preceding page - the very first paragraph in the entire book - opens with this passage:
When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. My mother went to the front door and opened it. Standing where they could see her pregnant condition, she told them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching, in Milwaukee. The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of town because "the good Christian white people" were not going to stand for my father's "spreading trouble" among the "good" Negroes of Omaha with the "back to Africa" preachings of Marcus Garvey....

Still shouting threats, the Klansmen finally spurred their horses and galloped around the house, shattering every window pane with their gun butts. Then they rode off into the night, their torches flaring, as suddenly as they had come.

My father was enraged when he returned. He decided to wait until I was born - which would be soon - and then the family would move.

See for yourself. And, I know for a fact that Malcolm references this Omaha terrorist activity later in the book because, as anyone can see from reading the book's OPENING PARAGRAPH, it was an important development in making him the man he would become. The experience, while Malcolm was still in his mother's womb, hangs over the entire story, as it likely did his entire life.

This is pretty low journalism even by the Omaha World-Herald's Andersen-corrupted standards. Just pathetic. It's about time people demand better than this, not as a matter of simple fact-checking...mistakes can happen to anybody...but that the OWH immediately admit to and cease their twisting of facts and, here, making them up to serve their ideological interests. This is unconscionable and can not be allowed to stand.

It is also ironic that Andersen's last column, on Sunday, suggested it was foolish for the U.S. Senate to pass a resolution apologizing for failure to enact anti-lynching legislation in the decades following the abolition of slavery. Poor timing, old white man. I won't sink so low as to suggest the beating of hoofs and breaking of glass in Andersen's unfortunate choice of topics, but ask yourself this: if such circumstances surrounded someone the World-Herald disagreed with politically would they extend the same courtesy?

No, they'd go for the jugular, as they do every time they attack Howard Dean and as they did over Executive Director of the Democratic Party Barry Rubin's tame-by-comparison "Tio Tomas" comment. Already cartoonist Jeff Koterba would have Andersen wearing a white hood and carrying a torch in tomorrow's paper. This incident stinks. This newspaper stinks. And I'm sick of its stench polluting this great state. Be outraged! Let's give them hell.

Andersen must be made to apologize - for his lying to the public and for his libeling of Malcolm X, whose family was terrorized and driven away by "the good Christian white people" of Omaha. A park can not even begin to atone for sins such as that, but it would be a nice gesture to honor those who continue the fight. Andersen should also be forced to actually read Malcolm X's autobiography that he might finally learn something about tolerance and overcoming ones own ignorant bigotry.

In fact, the paper's entire staff, especially its editorial board, should get enlightened alongside him. Because one day, and I hope it will be soon, "the chickens will come home to roost", even for the mighty World-Herald.

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Reconsidering the Site

by Kyle Michaelis
Well, maybe I jumped the gun yesterday. Appreciate all the kind words I've gotten via e-mail and comments - swear I wasn't fishing for them, but it feels good. My main problem is that I don't have near as much time to dedicate to the site as I would like. I simply can't keep up with the news cycle, even confining myself to Nebraska politics and media.

Rather than giving up completely, though, I will instead simply temper my expectations of the New Nebraska Network and myself. As much as I would like to write about everything important - as much as I would enjoy being a one-stop filter on all the BS - it's just not going to happen. What I can commit to is, on average, about one article/post each day. I'll just be up-front about that, so no one has any illusions, most especially myself.

So, if anyone's still reading...I'm still writing. Sorry about the send-off yesterday. It's the sort of annoying little gesture that would make me consider deleting a site's bookmark, but I hope some of you can be more forgiving. The Blog for Nebraska is still a great resource, and I'm really excited by it's possibilities. Still, thanks to a few of you, I can again see the need for an alternative.

Back to work. No more self-indulgent site commentaries for a good long while. That's a promise.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Work is done here?

by Kyle Michaelis
I've only just realized that ALL of my last 3 posts on this New Nebraska Network were written about first on the Democratic Party's "Blog for Nebraska". When starting this site, I had a very specific goal in mind, and it wasn't to spout off my opinion on whatever's in the day's news. I wanted to inform. I wanted to fill a gap and do my part to keep the Nebraska media honest. Well, I'm beginning to think that the niche I envisioned for myself has now been filled by this new site, and I'm okay with that.

I don't like repeating myself. Even more than that, I don't like repeating what other's are already saying. At the Nebraska Democratic Party's Blog more voices are getting involved and, with their latest "News Round-Ups", a better job is being done than my schedule will allow of getting out timely information and a more progressive voice to the public. If the NDP can continue doing the same good work they've been doing, there's simply no place and no need for the New Nebraska Network.

It has been a joy. Perhaps this site (or one like it) will prove necessary in the future. For now, though, I believe it has probably run its course. If anyone disagrees, please e-mail me or comment. I do understand that it is a dangerous proposition putting too much faith in a political party that sometimes can't say what needs to be said, but in this state we've come to the point where we either work together or die. I trust the NDP Blog will be as open and active a home for ideas and discussion as seems to be their intent.

So...Kyle Michaelis signing off. Hope to talk to you all again at the Blog for Nebraska.


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Bush Country Shrinking

by Kyle Michaelis
A poll was released yesterday by the highly-respected SurveyUSA showing President Bush's approval ratings in all 50 states. Fitting with the general mood of the country, his support has plummeted nation-wide to 43% just 7 months after re-election. In only 11 states did Bush have even majority approval, including Mississippi, Kentucky, and his home state of Texas all where he was right at 50%. Meanwhile, in two states Bush won, both Ohio and Nevada, a truly staggering 57% outright disapproved of his presidency.

Of course, a few states did stand out for their reluctance to rethink their support. Utah had the highest support for Bush at 63%, but our beloved Nebraska was right behind as the only other state with a 60% approval rate. Who knows - if Nebraskans continue to put party label before the truth for long enough, we might just be able to pull ahead of Utah as the best-duped state in the nation.

Note that these numbers were released before Bush's evasive speech last night on the increasingly disastrous war in Iraq, where Bush again revealed his complete inability to see the situation outside the bubble of his own rhetoric. For a good ol' boy with such down-home charm, you'd think Bush would remember that little bit of country wisdom about crapping in one hand, wishing in another, and seeing which one is filled the fastest. Right now, we are in a load of crap in Iraq and the Bush Administration seems intent to pile-up even more by refusing to consider a different strategy less reliant on the Blue Fairy and pixie dust.

Well, Bush can go ahead with this mental constipation, but the American people - at least, outside Mormon and Husker country - have obviously gotten a whiff of this one and aren't happy. They're demanding a leader with eyes open and an actual grasp on reality. Until we get that, there's going to be a whole lot more suffering on every every state...and, yes, that includes Nebraska.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

NE: 2004 Stagnation National Champion

by Kyle Michaelis
Disappointing news about the health of Nebraska's economy was released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that few in the Nebraska media seem willing to recognize. We ranked 50th, that's right - DEAD LAST - in terms of economic growth for the year 2004. Our Gross State Product from 2003 to 2004, the equivelant of the nation's GDP, was a meager 0.9%, far below the national average of 4.2% and more than a full percentile below any other state save Michigan, which came in at 49th with a GSP of 1.5%.

Maybe this isn't the worst news ever, but it sounds pretty bad for young people (like myself) deciding whether or not Nebraska is the place they want to live the rest of their lives. As much as I love it here, opportunity is largely a matter of economics and these numbers aren't promising. Perhaps most disturbing is the approach of the Nebraska media to this news, which appears to consist of dismissal and outright denial.

This Lincoln Journal-Star article includes countless justifications and explanations of why Nebraska's horrendous showing isn't as bad as it looks, with Gov. Dave Heineman promising "a year of good weather could go a long way toward improving our standing." This despite the fact that last year's crop production was about as close to ideal as it gets.

Meanwhile, it appears the Omaha World-Herald has chosen to act like this report doesn't even exist, except to run a single short little article from the AP about our neighbor to the east Iowa actually having the highest GSP of any state in the country at 8.1%. Yes, Iowa officially kicked our ass, as well as every other state's in the country save Nevada, which came in a close second. Astonishingly, the article the OWH ran didn't even mention Nebraska's pathetic performance...not one sentence.

How could they miss this sort of story? What possible reason do they have to hold off on it? Is closing our eyes and wishing this state were in better condition suddenly going to make it so? Hopefully, I just missed the article and it fails to show-up in their archives because it's horrifying to think they wouldn't report on this distressing data that SHOULD serve as a wake-up call to all Nebraskans that our leaders might not have this state moving in the right direction.

Iowa #1...Nebraska #50...if that doesn't scare you just a little bit and make you wonder what the hell is wrong, well, you must be from Iowa. Maybe this is the ultimate effect of 6 years of Iowa-born and bred Mike Johanns as governor. Either he was an economic Benedict Arnold or simply an economic disaster - take your pick. And, heaven help us, it's his same people that are still calling the shots.

Sure, someone has to be last, but does it have to be us? Seriously, it's time to demand new leadership. This state is in trouble. Whether it's as bad as this report indicates or not, things are pretty bad either way. As it looks now, in 2006 you'll either be able to vote out of habit for Heineman, out of obligation for Osborne, out of humor for Nabity, or out of common sense for NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Here's praying the Democratic Party gets someone respectable to run for the office. This state can't afford to be without an alternative any longer. Nebraska not only deserves a choice, but it's survival may depend on it.

Iowa #1...Nebraska #50...remember that come Election Day 2006.

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Timid Trio on Iraq

by Kyle Michaelis
"It has tormented me, torn me more than any one thing...To see what these guys in Iraq are having to go through and knowing what I know here: that we didn't prepare for it, we didn't understand what we were getting into. And to put those guys in those positions, it makes me so angry."

As Chuck Hagel came under fire from Vice-President Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and the like for his wake up call to the Bush Administration, warning last week that "we're losing in Iraq," his fellow Nebraska Republicans in Congress went out of their way to distance themselves from Hagel's bleak, reality-based assessment and fall in line with the Pollyannish proclamations of the President. Friday's Omaha World-Herald reported:
Hagel's pessimism wasn't shared by Nebraska's three Republican House members, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Tom Osborne, though each congressman said the war remains very tough....

Osborne, who visited Iraq for a third time this spring, said that despite insurgent attacks, he sensed that morale remained solid among U.S. soldiers. They have a strong sense that they are working toward accomplishing their mission, he said.

"I hope I'm not deluded," he added.

Terry said he "would completely disagree" that America is losing in Iraq. "I think we're winning the war against the terrorists and insurgents."

In recent months, noted Fortenberry, the Iraqi people have held a successful election and set up an interim government.

"I do think we're making progress," he said. "But it still is a very dangerous, risky situation."

If an award for stoogery had to be given here, it would undoubtedly go to Omaha's Lee Terry for his description of the Iraq situation in terms so out of touch with reality that it may as well be Never-Never-land.

But seriously, all three of Nebraska's Congressmen should be ashamed for their pathetic political re-enactment of "Three Blind Mice" that completely disregards the rising number of American casualties this summer, not to mention the literal dozens of Iraqi civilians who are dying each day in the wave of terror for which WE ARE LARGELY BLAMED in the streets of Baghdad.

Not our bombs, not our bombers, but this is a situation we created for which we were not and likely could not be prepared. And now the Iraqi people must suffer the consequences. For this we thought they'd be grateful?

It's unsurprising that Chuck Hagel is the only one of these Republicans with military or combat experience. His loyalty to his fellow soldiers and actually having learned a lesson or two from Vietnam have obviously broken through the partisan conditioning that so cripples Terry, Osborne, Fortenberry, and damn near every other Republican in Congress.

"See how they run, see how they run" - each one scurrying to have the biggest, tightest blindfold covering their eyes keeping them from the truth that, as Hagel told the OWH:
Insurgent attacks are more frequent than a year ago. Bombs used by insurgents are growing more deadly, piercing America's best protective clothing and equipment. Oil production is down. Electricity is less available than a year ago. Economic development is lagging. Ninety percent of the humanitarian and economic aid pledged by 60 nations hasn't reached Iraq because of the continuing violence. Only one Middle Eastern country has an ambassador in Iraq.

Meanwhile, we've got Sec. of Defense Don Rumsfeld making an extreme about face and admitting the Iraqi insurgency, which minus our presence qualifies as a civil war, may last 12 years or more. Still, the Timid Trio remains quiet and unquestioning.

"Did you ever see such a thing in your life as three blind mice?"

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Fortenberry Nebraska's PAC-Man

by Kyle Michaelis

As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the legendary arcade game Pac-Man, let's take a moment to recognize Nebraska's own PAC-Man, freshman Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. Like the original Pac-Man, Fortenberry has proven quite adept at eating up gold pieces for his campaign and staying one step ahead of the ghosts chasing him, especially his ties to corrupt House Leader Tom DeLay. Here's the AP report that earns Fortenberry the comparison:
Donations from special-interest groups accounted for 41 percent of the money raised in the 2004 election cycle by Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry - ranking him 10th among 41 freshman House members.

Nationally, freshman House members got an average of 28 percent of their money from such groups during the 2004 election campaign, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the report, Fortenberry got $500,000 of the $1.2 million he raised during the 2004 election from political action committees, or PACs....

His largest PAC donations - $10,000 each - came from the American Bankers Association; Americans for a Republican Majority; Future Leaders; Keep Our Majority; and Together for our Majority.

At least three of those PACs were fundraising arms of fellow House members, including Americans for a Republican Majority run by House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Keep Our Majority, run by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois....

So far during the 2005-06 election cycle, Fortenberry has received $106,500 - or nearly 67 percent - of his total of $159,000 from PACs, according to the report.

The average for a freshman House member was 43 percent, according to the report, which analyzed Federal Election Commission data.

His largest donation this cycle was $10,000 from the Americans for a Republican Majority PAC. The Farmers & Merchants Investments PAC gave $8,750 and the Credit Union National Association PAC gave $8,000.

The report said PACs accounted for 41 percent of the money raised by all House members in the first quarter of this year....

Republican Rep. Lee Terry raised a total of $1.3 million for the 2004 election cycle, which helped him to a fourth term representing the 2nd District. Of that, 48 percent came from PACs and 49 percent came from individuals.

Thus far in this cycle, he has raised $119,000 - 60 percent from PACs and 38 percent from individuals.

Whether or not his ghosts will ever catch up with him remains to be seen, but Fortenberry will surely continue to chomp-chomp-chomp on that campaign cash until they do.

Of course, note that fellow Nebraska Republican Terry actually took more money and a higher percentage from special-interest groups in the last cycle. The difference that earns Fortenberry the title of PAC-Man is that he was running for the first time. He'd been bought and paid for before even casting a vote in Congress. It takes most representatives several terms to sell themselves so completely. Now, watch as those lobbyists who fund DeLay and Hastert's PACs keep pumping their quarters into Fortenberry as long as Nebraska voters let them.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Perverting of PBS

by Kyle Michaelis
A new front has opened up in the Bush Administration's "War on Reality." The Republican Right is doing everything they can to either take-over or destroy public broadcasting. In the new worldview they seek to impose on PBS, guests are judged not for the quality of their arguments but by whether they support President Bush or dare to criticize the corrupt Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. Even token dissent will not be tolerated, with Senator Chuck Hagel being declared a "liberal." Such is the new balance on Bush TV - not left to right, but right to INSANE. The New York Times reports:
Sixteen Democratic senators called on President Bush to remove Kenneth Y. Tomlinson as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because of their concerns that he is injecting partisan politics into public radio and television....

Also on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers joined other supporters of public broadcasting, including children and characters from PBS children's programs, to protest House Republicans' proposed cuts in financing for the corporation.

The Democrats' letter follows a series of disclosures about Mr. Tomlinson that are now under investigation by the corporation's inspector general, including his decision to hire a researcher to monitor the political leanings of guests on the public policy program "Now," the use of a White House official to set up an ombudsman's office to scrutinize public radio and television programs for political balance, and payments approved by Mr. Tomlinson to two Republican lobbyists last year....

A new problem emerged for Mr. Tomlinson on Tuesday, when evidence surfaced that he might have provided incorrect information about the hiring of a researcher last year to monitor political leanings of the guests of the "Now" program.

In a letter to Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, on May 24, Mr. Tomlinson said he saw no need to consult with the board about the contract with the researcher, Fred Mann, because it was "approved and signed by then CPB President, Kathleen Cox." But a copy of the contract provided by a person unhappy with Mr. Tomlinson's leadership shows that Mr. Tomlinson signed it on Feb. 3, 2004, five months before Ms. Cox became president....

Mr. Mann, who was paid $14,170 for his work by the taxpayer-financed corporation, rated the guests on the show by such labels as "anti-Bush" or "anti-DeLay," a reference to Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader. He classified Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as a "liberal," even though Mr. Hagel is well-known as a mainstream conservative Republican.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the contract he signed and what he wrote to Mr. Dorgan, Mr. Tomlinson declined through a spokesman to comment.

We live in some interesting and scary times. Is it only a matter of time before G. Gordon Liddy has taken over for Gordon on Sesame Street? With the passing of Mr. Rogers, is Janice Rogers Brown going to be taking over his neighborhood?

This is the world we live in. The Bushnik "War on Reality" continues.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Hagel: Bush "Disconnected From Reality"

by Kyle Michaelis
I think someone has seen the poll showing more than half of Americans now think the Iraq invasion was a mistake, not to mention the daily reports of dozens of innocent Iraqis dying in the streets. Here's AFP on Nebraska's own Chuck Hagel opening his eyes:
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel slammed the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policy as "disconnected from reality" in some of the harshest comments to date about the war from a member of the president's own party.

Hagel, a top Senate Republican said to have presidential aspirations, said in an interview in US News and World Report, set to hit newsstands Monday, that US troops are "losing" the Iraq war, and that "things aren't getting better, they're getting worse."

"The White House is completely disconnected from reality," said Hagel. "It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq," said Hagel, who added that increasingly, fellow Republicans are coming to share his view.

"More and more of my colleagues up here are concerned," he said.

For once, I'm not going to say a thing about Hagel's suspect motives and his history of shamelessly buckling to Bush's will after flirting with doing the right thing. No, I'm just going to appreciate that, for today, he's saying something that needs to be said - something that should have been said long ago.

Thank you, Senator Hagel.

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Public Power & the Fixed Free Market

by Kyle Michaelis
Corporations, in and of themselves, are neither good nor evil. They just are. Their possible encroachment into public utilities, however, sets off all sorts of warning bells. Power is not a market primed for competition - the infrastructure demanded creates inherent monopolies. Mixing greed and monopoly power is never a good idea. Nevertheless, courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald, look at what an Omaha billionaire, an Omaha multi-millionaire, and the Republican Congress have in store for us - doing everything possible to shackle the energy-consuming American public to the profit motive like never before:
After decades of pushing to repeal a law that limits corporate investment in electric utilities, Warren Buffett's and David Sokol's best chance for victory will be on the Senate floor this week.

As the chamber takes up a comprehensive energy bill, stalled in past years over other disputes, the two Omaha businessmen will keep their fingers crossed. If the bill dies this time, Sokol, chief executive officer of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., said he is afraid the repeal will take a back seat to elections and may not come up again until the next president takes office in 2009.

"I think the U.S. Congress has the next two months to get it done," Sokol said while on a trip to Washington last week to push for the bill.

The Senate is expected to pass the energy bill, but many in that chamber are locked in a protracted dispute with House leaders, who insist that the bill waive liability for makers of a gasoline additive said to have contaminated groundwater. The two chambers must reconcile their views before the bill can be passed for a final time and sent to President Bush.

If such agreement is reached and the Public Utility Holding Company Act is repealed, Buffett has said he would invest $10 billion to $15 billion in the energy sector, known for its steady, though not spectacular, returns. Much of that investment probably would pass through MidAmerican, of which Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns 80.5 percent.

In past efforts to repeal the law, public utilities, like the Omaha Public Power District, and consumer advocates have expressed fear that without the law unscrupulous business executives would buy utility companies in faraway states and drain their coffers, diverting funds to risky, unrelated business deals....

The American Public Power Association, which counts OPPD among its 2,000 members, is taking a more neutral stance on the legislation than before. Though it believes investors and consumers would be better off if PUHCA remained in place, the Domenici-Bingaman agreement is a "workable compromise" and "an improvement over some that we've seen before," said Alan H. Richardson, chief executive officer of the association.

It would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expanded authority to ensure that a proposed purchase or merger would not lead to subsidization of other businesses or encumber the utility's assets...

Sokol said repealing the law would be good for both the energy sector and consumers. "It needs to be fixed," he said. "Ultimately, it severely inhibits our ability for intelligent capital to be put to work in an industry that has massive demand for it..."

The requirements, which aimed to keep utility company owners local and small, made sense in 1935, when the law was enacted, Sokol said, but have not for some time. He estimates that it has blocked industry investments since the 1950s that could have helped modernize the system of distributing electricity, perhaps avoiding summer-time shortages and other problems that have plagued the system.

Consumer advocates, however, worry that the act's repeal could lead to consolidation that would increase electricity rates. That probably would not affect Nebraskans, the public power association's Richardson said, because the state's publicly run utilities largely have their own power sources.

Richardson said his main concern is the possibility that unscrupulous businesspeople will be attracted to the industry. "I would like to think that if PUHCA is repealed, every corporation that gets into the electric utility business will have someone of Mr. Buffett's reputation," he said, but instead "it opens the door to utility ownership by anybody who's got the money to play the game."

Does anyone remember Enron, the elephant in the room that doesn't even get mentioned in this article? Are we sure we want to make it easier for corporations to manipulate such an essential market? Despite all this talk about the development it might spur, what really would be the motive for such investment when the people are held so captive by their energy needs - civic responsibility? Are we really going to assume faceless corporations would enhance infrastructure and technology unless it also enhances their bottom line?

Buffett would invest $10-15 BILLION if this bill passed - isn't that horrifying? Why would he do that? Easy, because it's a low risk market with a fixed/trapped customer base that can be bled dry over a course of decades. What's not to like about those odds?

Why, they're not odds at all - the fix is in, and it's our own Congress that's selling us down the river.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Mad Cattlemen Disease

by Kyle Michaelis
The instincts to protect ones livelihood and industry are understandable but they should never run the risk of costing human lives. Such, however, seems to be the case when the Nebraska Cattlemen recently questioned the USDA for breaking protocol and, basically, being too careful in their testing for Mad Cow Disease. The Wednesday World-Herald reported:
Members of the Nebraska Cattlemen think the U.S. Department of Agriculture veered from its protocol by allowing a new test of a previously tested animal, which then indicated a potential case of mad cow disease.

In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, leaders of the group said they "need and encourage your solid leadership" in the testing program.

Johanns announced last Friday that the USDA Inspector General's Office had decided to retest tissue from three cattle that tested "inconclusive" for bovine spongiform encephalopathy last year. After the inconclusive reading, the USDA used its standard, more extensive test that yielded negative results.

Last week, however, a sample from one animal produced a positive result in the "Western blot" test, which is used by foreign countries. A sample will be sent to a lab in Weybridge, England, for further testing to confirm the results.

Nebraska Cattlemen asked why the USDA allowed the Western blot test after government officials had determined a negative result with their own testing method, which has been called the "gold standard" for finding mad cow disease.

The cattlemen's group also wants to know why the testing procedure was "enhanced," meaning a larger sample was used than in previous tests. "Perception in the industry is that the sample was concentrated in order to achieve a 'weak' positive," the group's letter states.

Ed Loyd, a USDA spokesman, said that the agency hasn't changed its testing protocol and that it always has used the Western blot in instances when a sample was starting to degrade....

Nebraska Cattlemen isn't the only group questioning procedures in the USDA's mad cow testing program. Consumers Union, a national group that advocates for stronger government safety measures, Tuesday urged the USDA to adopt the Western blot test as a standard testing method.

For the Nebraska Cattlemen to question the most thorough testing of their product possible is simply unconscionable. While the market for beef has proven quite susceptible to disease scares and bad publicity, these short term worries can not be allowed to trump the long-term sustainability of a healthy and trusted American food supply.

Are they actually trying to dismiss this alarming test result as a "weak positive?" There is no such thing as a weak case of Mad Cow Disease, I assure you. There is far too much at stake over these steaks. Those in this industry should know better.

As further proof of the dangerous game Nebraska Cattlemen are playing, the World-Herald reported thus earlier in the week on this same situation:
Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, said he spoke to several producers Monday who questioned why the USDA would retest. The animal did not make it into the food supply, Kelsey said, so the additional testing isn't a big deal.

"What's frustrating is this shouldn't be a news story at all," he said. "This shouldn't be an issue."

Questions arose in the USDA's Inspector General's Office because the United States uses a different test from the standard test in Europe and Asia. Those countries use the "Western blot," which is considered more sensitive and requires more tissue than the standard testing method used in the United States.

Kelsey and the Cattlemen don't seem to get it. Where the health of consumers in America and around the world is concerned, the USDA can not be too careful. If caution makes the Nebraska Cattlemen's lives more difficult by making the markets more volatile, that is certainly unfortunate but may be unavoidable.

I could support steps that assure some measure of secrecy until results are final, thereby preventing needless market scares. These steps, though, should not include turning a blind eye to inconclusive results and refusing to recognize European testing standards that may actually be more effective than our own. If this is really what the Nebraska Cattlemen are asking of the USDA, it can only be assumed that greed has woefully corrupted their judgment.

It is exactly this sort of throwing their weight that makes any level of secrecy in testing dangerous because Cattlemen have proven so willing to use intimidation to get their way. They tried it with Oprah Winfrey when she raised a red flag about Mad Cow, and here it seems they're trying to do it to Mike Johanns and the USDA. Do they need disaster to wake-up to the risks? Let's get serious and remember what our mothers taught us about an ounce of prevention. Your mothers did teach that one, didn't they?

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Hagel/Nelson Talk Torture

by Kyle Michaelis
What's this? Sen. Chuck Hagel, idol of the Nebraska Republicans, is actually buying into the notion that closing the Gitmo detention camp may be a good idea. Read it and weep:
Raising concerns about prisoner mistreatment, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says the Pentagon should close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and ship foreign terrorist suspects to a military base in the United States.

Stories circulating about possible prisoner abuse make the center "seem like an old Soviet gulag up in Siberia or something," Harkin said Thursday. "That's not what we stand for."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said shutting down the detention center and moving prisoners elsewhere should be among alternatives considered by President Bush.

Harkin and Hagel, although political opposites, joined a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill speaking out in recent days about conditions at the base where hundreds of suspected terrorists are being held.

Harkin called for closure as well. He said that if the prisoners were transferred to a U.S. military base in the states, they might receive more outside oversight.

"I lay the responsibility for this on the commander-in-chief, President Bush. He could stop this tomorrow," Harkin said.

Hagel, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said classified files he has seen on prisoners suggest that many of them are "very hardened, hardened criminals and terrorists."

But he said their treatment is among a number of issues causing the U.S. image abroad to suffer.

"Any form of torture or implied torture or implied methods of torture is absolutely unacceptable," Hagel said. "We've got to be very clear on that."

He faulted civilian leaders at the Pentagon for not doing enough to make that point, resulting in the earlier examples of mistreatment at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq...

There are real questions about living conditions and interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay, said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Nelson also said, "Closing the prison has a significant symbolic meaning, so we need to know more about the allegations and the impact of closing or moving the prison on military operations and national security."

Of course, the Democratic Harkin is fair game - may as well be Jimmy Carter Jr. - but come on Omaha World-Herald, where's the editorial denouncing your patron saint Chuck Hagel for saying that even implied torture is not acceptable? Don't you see that laying the blame with "civilian leaders at the Pentagon" is a direct swipe at the Bush Administration?

Or, does the knowledge that Hagel will only talk the talk of an independent while voting the votes of a Republican lackey buy him a free pass? Let's give them a day or two to decide.

That Ben Nelson, though, what a trooper. He politely questions the administration's policies while simultaneously questioning their questioning. I can't help liking this guy. He doesn't have "a pair" but somehow it works for him. I'd certainly take Nelson the Contortionist over Hagel the Illusionist's slights-of-hand any day of the week. God bless Gentle Ben.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

World-Herald Spins Guantanamo Bay

by Kyle Michaelis
The OWH ran another in a long line of editorials today gleefully characterizing anyone who questions the Bush's Administration's tactics in the War on Terror as fear-mongers who jeopardize the security and resolve of the nation. Their chief target this time, unsurprisingly, was former President Jimmy Carter, the peacemaking patriot and America's unofficial goodwill amassador to the world.

Carter recently called for the closing of the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention camp for the questionable, likely illegal tactics reported there that have done much to destroy America's credibility as a freedom-loving democracy the world-over. Here's the World-Herald's response:
Americans like their public policy direct and unambiguous. They can be impatient with nuance, indirection and seeming contradiction, deeply uncomfortable when something upsets their innate sense of fair play.

All this may be a factor in whatever support former President Jimmy Carter has received for his call to shut down the Guantanamo detainee facility. Guantanamo is unpleasant to contemplate, the thinking goes, so it ought to be eliminated. Carter's call, however, is at best premature.

Certainly a moment may come when the facility is no longer useful in the war against terrorism and could be retired. We hope the moment arrives soon. For now, however, no such need to shut it down has been established.

Instead, we are seeing a political campaign that has embraced and exaggerated allegations of detainee abuse and made them a political vehicle against the foreign policy of President Bush. This has been aided at times by news organizations overzealous in their efforts to document examples of detainee abuse.

No story of human mistreatment is too lurid to be circulated on the Sunday morning talk shows and the streets of the Muslim world, so long as America is the villain....

The world that exists in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, is different in significant ways from what went before. Bush, in determining to frame the U.S. response to al-Qaida as a war on terrorism, helped clarify the realities.

It was a new kind of war, without borders, without an organized enemy - a war, consequently, in which the established rules often don't apply....

Terrorists by definition have waived the rules of civilized behavior. While the detainees have a human right not to be physically injured or religiously humiliated in the course of being interrogated, civilized society also has its right to defend itself - even if that requires interrogation methods lying somewhere beyond the outer limits of the Miranda warning.

Americans might ask themselves: What kinds of interrogation would have been justified if, by making the right person talk, 9/11 could have been avoided? Would sleep deprivation be too much to tolerate under those circumstances? Dripping water on the person's head?

Guantanamo may be an unpleasant reality of the times, a necessary weapon in the war against terrorism. But it is no gulag, the incendiary term with which Amnesty International chose to politicize the anti-Bush campaign. Closing it now might make America more popular in Arab countries, as some contend, but even that's far from provable. It might just be seen as another example of the infidel's lack of backbone.

Jimmy Carter says just shut it down. Fortunately, any future decision will be made by people who are in a far better position to weigh the consequences of being wrong.

Nothing new there. The World-Herald again refuses to question any of the Bush Administration's actions. They stick with the party line, making a complete mockery of the independent media ideal, insulting those who criticize the Administration (overzealous, politically-motivated, sensationalistic) and seek to safe-guard basic freedoms from fear-mad excess. Everything is justifiable in the wake of 9/11 - there is no sin too great.

But wait, while targeting the usual suspects - Democrat Jimmy Carter and Amnesty International - the World-Herald completely neglected to mention Guatanamo's most recent critic - Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, a former member of the Bush Cabinet. They ran the story of Martinez's call for Guantanamo's closure this weekend yet left it entirely out of their editorial. Wonder why because I'd love to hear how they could dismiss him as just another Bush-hating liberal with political motivations.

Here's a bit from the World-Herald's own pages that points out just how cheap and dishonest they are in feeding us the Bush agenda with no regard for the facts:
Sen. Mel Martinez, who served in President Bush's first Cabinet, on Friday became the first high-profile Republican to call for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorism suspects.

Speaking at a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in Key West, the Florida politician called the camp "an icon for bad news."

"At some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio: How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez said. "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it? Or can this be done some other way a little better?"

The high-security prison camp in Cuba has been a lightning rod for controversy since it opened in January 2002, three months after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Inmates have accused their American captors of abuse and of violating their Muslim beliefs as a method of interrogation. The International Red Cross and internal FBI documents have corroborated some of those allegations.

In calling for the camp to be closed, Martinez joined former President Carter and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, both Democrats, who also said this week that the camp should be shut.

They don't even need to read their own newspaper to write editorials - just Karl Rove's talking points. This doesn't even qualify as spin - it's flat-out dishonesty.

How long can this continue? When will the people of Nebraska finally be free of the World-Herald's daily dose of deception?

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The Damnation Game

by Kyle Michaelis
The Secretary of State has issed a report that "defends" Omaha's Republican Election Commissioner from accusations of voter suppression in minority-heavy districts dating from the Nov. 2004 election. His defense - the vote was botched all over the city, not just in North Omaha. The World Herald reports:
Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale's investigation of problems with the November presidential election in Douglas County has found no evidence of discriminatory treatment, deliberate voter suppression or civil rights violations in north Omaha.

Gale released a statement Tuesday about the investigation following the election and its findings. He was responding to criticism by state Democratic leaders of outgoing Douglas County Election Commissioner Carlos Castillo, who, like Gale, is a Republican.

Gale accused the Democrats of making unfounded and unfair statements. "These suggestions unjustly undermine public confidence in the election system in the county," he wrote.

The Democrats have said the complaints they received about the election came from the eastern parts of the city, in particular north Omaha, which has a large black population...

Gale on Tuesday took issue with the Democratic Party's allegation that election problems disproportionately affected north Omaha and other eastern parts of the city.

He wrote in the statement that Douglas County experienced some problems in the election, including long lines and an inadequate number of ballots. But those complaints were from west, not north, Omaha, Gale wrote.

Gale also investigated the large number of provisional ballots cast by Douglas County voters. "But there was no indication that the problem was centered in north Omaha," Gale wrote....

Castillo welcomed Gale's statement Tuesday. He said that when more than 200,000 people turn out to vote, a few are bound to have a bad experience.

Castillo actually seems to be celebrating this report. Huh? Doesn't he understand the gist of the report beyond its partisan posturing? This isn't even "damning with faint praise." No, this is a straight up admission that screw-ups were prevalent, whether or not they disproportionately impacted minority voters (which conveniently remains unproven).

To paraphrase these Republican office-holders: "We're not racist, just incompetent..."

I'll drink to that.

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Republican Noise Machine in the Press

by Kyle Michaelis
The state's two largest newspapers' Editorial pages have been used quite effectively by area Republicans to milk Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin's "Tio Tomas" comment for every bit of self-serving self-righteousness it is worth.

What's pathetic, though, is that it's been largely the same "offended" Republicans writing in both newspapers despite the World-Herald and Journal-Star's long-standing policies of not running the same letters. Obviously, they're willing to put that policy aside when it comes to overblown political potshots that the rest of the population sees right through for the exaggerated nonsense that it is.

Here are your examples:
Omaha World-Herald
Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin crossed the line this week when he called departing Douglas County Election Commissioner Carlos Castillo Tio Tomas, an Uncle Tom, on the Democrats' official Web site. Castillo is a Republican.

This deliberate comment went far beyond the typical back-and-forth rhetoric that goes on between the two political parties. Rubin should be admonished for this type of inexcusable behavior.

At a time in which national Democratic leaders are distancing themselves from the negative rhetoric of Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, it is unfortunate that Rubin has taken a page from the Dean handbook.

As long as Dean keeps giving money to Nebraska Democrats, we no doubt can expect more of the same from the state party's executive director.

I urge the leadership of the Nebraska Democratic Party to show Rubin another line to cross - the state line. The use of a racial slur is not acceptable to the people of Nebraska. Shame on Rubin!

Wayne Bena, Omaha

Lincoln Journal-Star
Racism is never acceptable. Nebraska Democratc Party Executive Director Barry Rubin crossed a sacred line when he decided to use a racial slur when writing about a Republican official on the Democrats' official Web site. This deliberate comment went far beyond the typical back-and-forth rhetoric that goes on between the two political parties.

Rubin should be admonished for this type of inexcusable behavior. In a time in which national Democratic leaders are distancing themselves from the negative rhetoric of Howard Dean, it is unfortunate that Rubin has to take a page from the Dean handbook. And as long as Dean keeps giving money to Nebraska Democrats, we can no doubt expect more of the same from the state party's executive director.

I urge the leadership of the Nebraska Democratic Party to show Rubin another line to cross — the state line. Use of a racial slur is not acceptable to the people of Nebraska.

Shame on you, Barry Rubin!

Wayne Bena, Omaha

Omaha World-Herald
How dare Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin question the cultural integrity of Carlos Castillo. In a message posted on the Nebraska Democratic Party's Web site last week, Rubin called Castillo Tio Tomas, or Uncle Tom. Castillo, a Republican, has resigned as Douglas County election commissioner effective June 23.

As a Hispanic, I long for the day when the Democratic Party will stop seeing me as a hyphenated American - a political token to be pulled out and exploited every election cycle and then promptly stuffed back inside its pocket once the votes are tallied.
The modern-day Democratic Party is in sad, sad shape if it has to resort to this type of low-brow and racist political rhetoric.

It seems to me that if Mr. Rubin were truly a man of integrity and wanted to represent his party with dignity, he would follow the hopeful and color-blind words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who etched into our memories his dream of a day in America when children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Donald A. Aguirre, Roca, Neb.

Lincoln Journal-Star
How dare Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin, a shallow and self-righteous political elitist, question the cultural integrity of Carlos Castillo. It is obvious that Rubin is of the racist and dangerous mindset which believes all minorities should be chained like slaves on the political plantation of the Democratic Party so white liberal masters can watch over us and keep us in check.

As a Hispanic I long for the day when the Democratic Party will stop seeing me as a hyphenated American, a political token to be pulled out and exploited every election cycle and then promptly stuffed back inside their greasy pocket once the votes are tallied. The modern-day Democratic Party is in sad, sad shape if they have to resort to this type of low-brow and racist political rhetoric.

It seems to me that if Rubin were truly a man of integrity and wanted to represent his party with dignity, he would follow the hopeful and colorblind words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who etched into our memories the dream of a day in America when our children would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Don Aguirre, Roca

Good work boys. To be honest, though, I'm kind of disappointed. I was really hoping the Nebraska Republican Pary could find more ways to spin this one, not to mention more people to fake indignation. With that huge registration advantage, I would expect a wider variety of people to take leave of their senses on behalf of the party line. Isn't there anyone else willing to make mountains out of mole hills with these two?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Nebraska's War on Terror

by Kyle Michaelis
For such a "conservative" state, we Nebraskans sure do love spending other people's money. While I can appreciate our taking in more money from the federal government than our citizens actually pay in because of our immense agricultaral resources and the subsidies that follow from which all Americans supposedly benefit, there should be a flip-side to this where we see fewer federal dollars in other areas.

In this, I don't mean roads and infrastructure, and I certainly don't mean education, but government spending on homeland security would definitely qualify. By any stretch of the imagination, we just are not under the same threat-level as our more populous counterparts. Yet, sure enough, Nebraska counties have been having a field day with federal grant money intened for terror prevention and preparedness. Here's the World-Herald's report on the matter:
Nebraska's 93 counties spent a total of $46.2 million in 2003 and 2004 using federal homeland security grants.

A review by The World-Herald shows that Nebraska counties stocked up on everything from night vision goggles, body bags and portable weather stations to heavy-duty cutting tools, radios, heat-sensing cameras and decontamination showers.

The grants, state officials say, have made Nebraskans safer. "We've made very, very good progress on preparedness," said Gov. Dave Heineman.

The national grant program dramatically expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. It has drawn criticism in three areas:

• First, critics in urban states say too many small counties got money they didn't need because they are unlikely terror targets. Urban critics said more money should go to high-risk cities.

Nebraska, for example, got more than twice as much money per capita in 2004 as California, New York or Pennsylvania. Iowa got roughly double, according to research by a homeland security expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

• Second, some communities spent money for such items as air-conditioned garbage trucks in New Jersey, a Dale Carnegie speaking course in Washington, D.C., and a paging system at the South Dakota State Fair. A House Homeland Security Committee report called those cases of "waste and abuse."

• Third, many counties bought emergency response gadgets that local police, fire and emergency responders have wanted for years but couldn't afford.

"We've had the philosophy wrong, and we've just been throwing money at the problem," said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation. "The best way to make your state safe is to fight terrorism, not to use the money for pork barrel spending."

Recently, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a bill that could sharply reduce homeland security grants to rural states, tipping the balance toward urban areas.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said that vote reflected the House's big-state bias. He supports a Senate alternative that would make smaller cuts for rural states.

"If you're not safe in your hometown, you're not safe in the homeland," Nelson said.

Nebraska's spending reports don't include any air-conditioned garbage trucks. Many communities did buy equipment they are likely to take off the shelf for routine traffic accidents, house fires and chemical spills, or for the occasional tornado, grassfire or flood.

Heineman, who was the state's lead homeland security official as lieutenant governor, said dual uses - for terror and everyday emergencies - always were supported by the Bush administration.

Further, Heineman said, spending in rural areas is just as important as in big cities. "It is a nationwide threat, not just a big-city threat," he said...

Prior to 2004, the federal government sent Nebraska a pot of money. The state then gave every county a base payment and a sum based on population.

In 2003, counties could - and did - buy all kinds of emergency equipment. They loaded up on seat belt cutters, binoculars, digital cameras, hand tools, generators, laptops, chemical suits, latex overboots, GPS tracking devices, gas monitors, protective clothing, a semi-trailer truck, and a $6,250 GATOR all terrain vehicle.

Scottsbluff County got a $24,000 bomb response vehicle. Rural Stanton County, about 90 miles northwest of Omaha, got a $36,500 mobile command post. A $150,000 mobile robot for detonating bombs and cleaning up hazards stands ready in urban Douglas County.

"I really can't think of any equipment that's just going to sit and go to waste," said Steve Lee, Douglas County Emergency Management director.

But in 2004, counties competed for dollars based on risk. Local groups identified their needs and applied....

In 2004, Nebraska used $12.2 million - nearly half the year's total - to beef up communications by encouraging counties to buy dozens of radios, radio towers and communications consoles. The goal is to enable fire, police or emergency aides at an event scene to talk to officials statewide, Heineman said....

Cherry County's use of federal grants to buy cattle-related equipment is worthwhile because its chief threat is agri-terrroism...Cows outnumber people there 125,000 to 6,000. So, cattle intentionally infected with something highly contagious, such as hoof and mouth disease, could be catastrophic, said (Eileen) Brannon, the county's emergency coordinator.

"Probably a lot of people don't think anything bad is going to happen here. Those of us who deal with it all the time know there are things that could happen that could be devastating. I guess if we can see those things, the terrorists can, too," she said...

Dakota County homeland security coordinator Pat Foust has a similar explanation. Among numerous emergency response items, the county picked up two special cameras for about $21,000 that can identify hazardous materials in fires or the location of bodies.

After the 9/11 attacks, even if a truck runs into a bridge it raises the specter of terrorism. "We like to think in the Midwest, in the more rural areas, it's just a traffic accident," Foust said. "But we don't know that."

It makes me sick to my stomach but I agree 100% with the otherwise evil Heritage Foundation on this one - this spending bonanza in the wake of 9/11 uses that tragedy for pure opportunism. It is a shameful abuse of the public's trust even if it is hard to blame any one county for taking advantage of this program when everyone else is doing it.

Stanton County spent $36,500 on a mobile command post??? My God, Stanton County only has 6000 residents - HOW DARE THEY COMMITT SUCH WASTE AND FRAUD in the name of Homeland Security?

To be honest, I can understand the spending on Emergency Communications statewide. I can understand the spending on securing the food supply, which is the true threat in rural America. Omaha and Lincoln, meanwhile, have large enough population centers and host large enough events that it makes sense for them to have the technology and equipment to deal with terrorist threats. Aside from these uses, however, this seems to be a long list of one absurdity after another.

There is no such thing as being truly prepared for a terrorist attack in rural America. Heineman and Nelson are fools if they believe there is, though it's far more likely they just don't want to tell Nebraska voters their lives aren't worth twice as much as peoples' in New York City.

Have hysteria and paranoia driven all reason from public policy? I mean, heck, I'd love a pair of night vision goggles myself, but I don't expect the federal government to buy them for me. Seriously, get real people. Do we want to live with crap like this the rest of our lives, or are we going to focus our resources on actual threats so one day we can move beyond this pathetic condition?

Anything could happen. This post could have a secret code in it that is actually a message to a terrorist sleeper cell. Stupid and unlikely, absolutely, but this idea is every bit as feasible as your common pick-up truck accident in rural Nebraska being a terrorist act. What have we become? Even worse, what are we becoming?

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Monday, June 13, 2005

World-Herald Singling-Out Nelson for Scorn?

by Kyle Michaelis
Today, in a report on the wealth of Nebraska's and Iowa's congressional delegations, the World-Herald led with Democrat Ben Nelson's being the richest member. This in itself is not a bad thing at all, except it isn't necessarily accurate:
Sen. Ben Nelson retains his title as the richest Midlands-area lawmaker through his investments in stocks, bonds, annuities and Berkshire Hathaway stock, according to new personal financial disclosure reports...

Nelson, a former Nebraska governor, lawyer and insurance executive, reported assets valued between $3.9 million and $12.9 million, down a bit from the previous year.

He held at least $1.5 million of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, Omaha investor Warren Buffett's company. Nelson's largest asset apparently was U.S. Treasury notes worth $1 million to $5 million.

Lawmakers are required to report assets only within a range of values, so the disclosures are imprecise. They tell where lawmakers are invested but do not include their homes.

Nelson's Nebraska colleague, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, listed assets worth $2.2 million to $7.7 million, an increase from the previous year.

A former investment banker, Hagel's largest asset remains with his former company, Omaha-based McCarthy Group Inc., where he is invested in stocks and money market funds worth $1.5 million to $5.5 million.

Another Nebraskan in the millionaire group is former Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne, who reported assets between $2.8 million and $12 million.

As anyone can see, it's entirely possible that both Osborne and Hagel are actualy worth more than Nelson, with their upper limits of $12 and $7.7 million, respectively, well above Nelson's lower-limit of $3.9 million. Of course, none of this should matter much but it may demonstrate a trend in recent OWH coverage to single Nelson out undeservedly for harsher scrutiny than his fellows. Here it's just a matter of wealth, which means nothing to some but has a definite distancing effect on low-income voters. The far more suspect example actually occurred in this April 27th article by the same reporter, Jake Thompson:
Three years ago, hunting buddies Ben Nelson and Phil Gramm flew to Wyoming to talk to the Big Horn Canyon Ranch Hunting Club, which paid their way and helped them blast away at some pheasants.

The trip that Nebraska's Democratic senator took with the former Texas Republican senator is one of several dozen privately financed trips taken by Midlands lawmakers since 2000, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, by watchdog group, provides details of 5,410 privately financed trips that 600 members of Congress have taken in the past five years.

It was released at a time when such excursions are under increased scrutiny because of ethics concerns related to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who may have taken trips paid for by lobbyists, a violation of House rules.

There is no suggestion that lobbyists paid for any of the privately financed trips taken by Midlands lawmakers. But groups paying for the congressional trips don't have to disclose where the money comes from, which concerns those who track money in politics.

"It's a long-held practice in Washington that smells funnier the closer you look at it," said Steve Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Midlands lawmakers and their spokesmen said their policy decisions are not affected by the travel. Generally, they said, the trips provide them with opportunities to learn and listen and are appropriate...

Among Midlands lawmakers, (Sen. Chuck) Hagel took the most privately financed trips, 39 in all, at a cost of $36,521, according to the report...

Nelson, who took 13 trips costing $32,770, including the one to Wyoming during which he hunted pheasants, is the 2005 co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus, his spokesman said. The group promotes hunting, fishing and conservation nationwide.

"These meetings provide an opportunity to listen and discuss the issues openly, free of political pressure and posturing," Nelson spokesman David DiMartino said. "These meetings are fully disclosed and transparent."

(Tom) Osborne, who accepted four privately paid trips at a cost of $16,269, said he has avoided taking costly overseas travel paid by nonprofits, organizations or educational groups....

(Lee) Terry accepted five trips from groups paying $19,185, three of which were to Las Vegas for meetings of broadcast groups. Terry is on the House Commerce Committee overseeing broadcast matters.

Hagel spent more money on more of these questionable trips, yet Nelson's trips were made the centerpiece of the article. Meanwhile, both Osborne and Terry spent more $$$ per trip than the state's lone Democrat in D.C., one of them spending that time in the self-proclaimed sin capital of America, Las Vegas. Still, Nelson was the centerpiece.

Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's just a coincidence that this reporting goes out of its way to serve the World-Herald's right-wing agenda, first by unreasonably targeting Nelson, who already stands alone, for a near-universal offense and then by exaggerating (even slightly) his wealth in respect to other Nebraska lawmakers. I don't know if there's any real bias here. I just think, knowing the World-Herald's partisan leanings, we need to be on the look-out for this sort of thing that just doesn't quite pass the smell test.

In large part, that's why we're here. To watch. To keep a record. I hope they know we're watching. I hope they know someone's out there ready to hold them accountable. There's not a new sheriff in town...not yet...but there might just be a new traffic cop. Okay...maybe more like a hall monitor at the local high school. But, hey, change has to start somewhere.

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Heineman "on the move"

by Kyle Michaelis
Today, Gov. Dave Heineman got a big wet kiss from Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal-Star, who says Heineman's not entirely dead in the water in his attempt to secure the Republican nomination for Governor in his own right against Rep. Tom Osborne. As much as Walton and the rest of the Nebraska media would probably like that to be true to keep readers interested for the next 11 months, it really doesn't seem likely in the slightest, not from where I'm standing. Sure, Heineman's bound to finish "better than expected" but only because expectations couldn't be lower. Still, here's Walton's contention otherwise:
All the right moves. Dave Heineman keeps making them. And so, 11 months ahead of the 2006 Republican primary election, some political oddsmakers are beginning to take a fresh look at the governor's chances of surviving a contest with Tom Osborne.

Osborne remains the heavy favorite, but Heineman has moved from no shot to long shot with time to go.

Heineman's choice of Chimney Rock for the state's quarter design and his veto of legislation absorbing rural Class I school districts should play well in western and central Nebraska. Not only is that Osborne's congressional territory, it's the conservative ground that tends to dominate statewide Republican primary elections.

The governor's swift post-legislative session appearances at events trumpeting new business development tax incentives and increased resources for University of Nebraska research turned the spotlight on leading ingredients of his upcoming campaign message.

Throw in a few vetoes shaving a little from the Legislature's appropriations package and a relentless statewide travel schedule and you've got a politically savvy governor on the move.

None of this is intended to suggest that political motives were the only, or even the determining, factor in any of those decisions. But the end result appears to be a series of political pluses for an incumbent governor who can continue to control the agenda.

Talk about your wishful thinking. What a bunch of nonsense to suggest that Heineman's cutting a paltry $8 million from a $6 billion+ budget is going to win him any converts - only if press like this continues to inflate the importance of this middle finger salute to college students and the uninsured.

And since when has Western Nebraska had all this say in deciding the Republican nominee for Governor? Not in the last 20 years it hasn't, as every Republican nominee has been from Lincoln or Omaha. Heineman can obviously pander to the Chimney Rock contingency all he wants, these same people have known Tom Osborne for 30 years and aren't going to turn their back on him now when he comes asking for one last victory. After all, these state quarters will come and go but those 3 National Championships will last forever.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ben Nelson Pushing His Luck

by Kyle Michaelis
Today's Omaha World-Herald had some very troubling news about Sen. Ben Nelson, as he seems poised to run for re-election on an agenda that would pervert the once-sacred U.S. Constitution to forever reflect the biases and social passions of today. Read for yourself:
Prompted by a federal judge's ruling striking down Nebraska's gay marriage ban, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said Friday he now supports a national constitutional amendment barring same-sex unions...

Nelson previously said that states should regulate marriage and that he might support a federal constitutional amendment if an "activist judge" overturned a state law.

"Well, that's happened," the Democrat said. "At this point I will support a federal amendment to protect marriage. My position has been triggered by an event."

This change of "heart" (which breaks many) comes in the wake of District Court judge Joseph Battalion's May 13th decision tossing out Nebraska's ban on homosexual unions for its potential encroachment on civil liberties far outside the realm of marriage.

That Nelson would find this ruling, based upon the law's excesses of scope rather than the principles on which it is founded, objectionable demonstrates a hostility towards the rights of gay citizens that I had previously mistaken for simple lack of concern. Nelson could have acknowledged Battalion's constitutional concerns and called for a more even-keeled amendment but has instead taken this short-sighted approach that panders to the far right-wing.

This news is more than troubling - it is downright sickening. While I can accept with suspicion the defining of marriage as between a man and a woman, this article suggests Nelson is calling for something far more extreme and, dare I say, sinister. There is a world of difference between preserving marriage as a relation between man & woman as opposed to "barring same-sex unions" completely (as the OWH wrote).

If this latter is not what Nelson is calling for, and he asks only for a general defining of marriage, the World-Herald has made a terrible error in reporting, not recognizing the delicacy of this very complex issue. However, if such is not the case and Nelson truly is targeting civil unions and partnership benefits for gay couples, then the mistake is all his own. The American people are too great and the American idea is too powerful to ever again succumb to such hateful policy.

I truly hope this report is wrong - that the culprit here is actually poor words being chosen to describe Nelson's positon. That I even have to question, though, whether Nelson would go to this shocking extreme demonstrates a lack of confidence in his basic humanity and leadership on my part that I had not previously realized. I should be able to read a report like this and know that ISN'T my senator...that ISN'T the man I voted for. Today, as much as I want to, I can't confidently say anything of the sort.

What does this mean? I don't know - I have been a fairly vocal defender of Nelson in the past and don't consider myself particularly susceptible to hot button hysterics. A candidate is always more than his or her position on any one issue. But this....this is not the action of a Democrat, at least not since the days when George Wallace made mockery of the label. Nelson's alleged position here is so devoid of compassion and understanding that I could not TODAY vote for him in good conscience.

Something needs to be done. I am not alone in being appalled when I read an article like this (where Chuck Hagel is the voice of reason). In a perfect world, I'd call on a Democrat of vision to run against Nelson in the primary, that the party might have a choice in its standard-bearer. But, in our desperate condition with so little to build from, that just isn't really an option. There are so many other fights that need fighting - for the good of the people - that I fear we just can't afford an honest battle over the very soul of our party. Not today. Not yet.

But be assured, one day soon, there will be a reckoning. We can do so much better than this, and we will.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

The Passing of a Giant: Farewell to Jim Exon

by Kyle Michaelis
The titan of Nebraska Democratic politics, former governor and senator Jim Exon, died tonight at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital of natural causes. He was 83 years old. The AP writes of Exon's long career of public service:
Known as one of the founders of the modern Democratic Party in Nebraska, Exon managed Frank Morrison's successful campaign for governor in 1960 when Morrison defeated incumbent Republican Dwight Burney.

Ten years later, it was Exon's turn. The Lincoln businessman defeated Norbert Thiemann, launching one of Nebraska's most memorable political careers.

Exon never lost an election. He was re-elected governor in 1974, elected to the Senate in 1978, and re-elected in 1984 and 1990.

He is the only Nebraskan besides George Norris, the architect of the state's one-house Legislature, to win five consecutive statewide elections.

"He showed that the Democrats could be a party that could elect representatives to the various offices and it wouldn't have to be an occasional occurrence," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., once said....

Bob Kerrey, a fellow Democrat who followed Exon in defeating an incumbent Republican governor and later served with Exon in the Senate, called his friend: "Relentless, decent, honorable and all the things you'd want in a good friend."

Condolences to Exon's friends and family. Tonight, the entire state mourns with you, especially those generations of Nebraska Democrats to whom Exon restored a sense of pride and purpose. We owe him much - let us keep him in our thoughts and honor his memory by our never-ending struggle for progress and prosperity for all.

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Who says blogs in Nebraska get no attention?

by Kyle Michaelis
The Nebraska Democratic Party's blog has finally gotten some of the media exposure it needs to reach citizens of the state, but it didn't go exactly as they would have wanted. Rather, a post by the party's Executive Director, Barry Rubin, has caused something of a firestorm because of its alleged use of a racial slur in reference to outgoing Douglas County election commissioner Carlos Castillo.

Rubin, celebrating Castillo's resignation, referred to him as "Tio Tomas," Uncle Tom latinized to reflect Castillo's ethnicity, for his role in the systematic disenfranchisement of Omaha's low-income and minority voters in the last election.

It wasn't a very tactful statement, but it was very obviously written with a lot of passion and outrage at what was either Castillo's shameless behavior or his gross incompetence during the November vote. Having read the post on the blog (which has since been removed), it did seem a bit exaggerated and personal to be coming from one of the state party's top people. However, the faux outrage from Republicans hoping to use this matter for political gain has been exaggerated beyond belief in their estimation of Rubin's offense.

Today's Lincoln Journal-Star contained the following:
Castillo said he hopes Democratic leaders will condemn the party's state executive director, Barry Rubin, for posting the blog item on Tuesday and ask him to resign...

"I am disappointed Barry would use a racial slur to describe me," said Castillo, who was born in the United States and whose father is Mexican...

"I don't know Barry," Castillo said, "and he's never met me. No wonder people don't want to get involved in the political process when people talk about other people's race..."
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Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson should denounce his party and Rubin, GOP executive director Jessica Moenning said...

Nebraska Democrats should be outraged by Rubin's posting, Moenning said, and send a message that "personal attacks, racial slurs and East Coast-style politics are out of touch with Nebraska values...."
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Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel characterized the Web site entry as "truly one of the more irresponsible pieces of political garbage I've seen in Nebraska politics."

Hagel said he hopes every Democrat, beginning with Nelson, would disavow those remarks and call upon Rubin to apologize. "I'd even go so far as to remove every party official with responsibility for that," he said.

Wow! Wow! That is some amazingly over-blown rhetoric, but you've really got to admire how well these Republicans stay on message, even with attempted career assassination. Meanwhile, here's the Democratic response in the same article to such an unflinching, unabashed onslaught of hyperbole:
Rubin said his reference was "absolutely not a racial slur," but rather a description of the kind of activities that resulted in changed polling locations, long voting lines, an insufficient number of ballots and the challenge of a disproportionately large number of voters in north Omaha.

"Several hundred, if not thousands of, people were denied the right to vote," Rubin said. That's the real slur, he suggested.

In recent days, Republicans have described Nelson, an avid hunter, as "a panda killer" and state Sen. Nancy Thompson, who changed her mind about leaving the Legislature, as "a runaway bride," Rubin said.

"I apologize for stooping to their level," he said.
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Democratic State Chairman Steve Achelpohl said the reference was "unfortunate," but he agrees with the substance of Rubin's criticism about what had the appearance of "voter suppression activities" last November.

That was the message of the posting, Achelpohl said, and it came in the form of a blog entry, not a press release or public statement. "Republicans like to create distractions," he said.
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(Sen. Ben) Nelson had no comment, said David DiMartino, his media spokesman.
Besides Nelson's all-too-predictable non-response, I'd say the Democrats handled that quite well and can hopefully move beyond this unnecessary incident that will surely serve as a learning experience.

All in all, referring to anyone as an Uncle Tom, as a traitor to his or her people - be it in Spanish, English, French or Farsi - is a highly offensive accusation that should not be tossed around lightly. But, it's more than a stretch to claim this as a racial slur. Simply making reference to a person's ethnicity, even in an attempt at being clever, can not and should not be considered offensive in and of itself.

Achelpohl had something of a point about this being posted on a blog and not in a general press release. They are different creatures as the internet demands more openness and less holding-back if people are going to give a damn. Rubin was right to be passionate in this format but will need to be more careful with his words in the future.

Honestly, though, the biggest disappointment from the whole incident is actually the NDP's removal of Rubin's post from the blog archives. It reeks of having something to hide and covering their tracks rather than properly acknowledging and apologizing for any over-statement as an addendum to the original post, allowing people to vent and see for themselves what this mess was all about. Such action would have been more in keeping with the idealist spirit of the blog, as well as the committment to a new, more open and honest relationship with the people of Nebraska that it represents.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nelson Confirms Bush's "Most Objectionable" Judge

by Kyle Michaelis
It's times like this when Sen. Ben Nelson's alleged common sense centrism doesn't seem to cut it. Here's the World-Herald on one of those moments we have 17 months to forgive or forget before voting for the man come November 2006:
After a personal meeting with her, Sen. Ben Nelson cast the lone Democratic "yes" vote as the Senate confirmed, 56-43, California Judge Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Nebraska Democrat met recently with Brown in his Senate office, where he asked her whether she would be a judicial activist and use cases to promote an ideology, Nelson spokesman David DiMartino said Thursday. "She didn't think her decisions could be classified as judicial activism"....

In Wednesday's vote, other Democrats opposed Brown for comments in speeches, such as her saying that senior citizens "blithely cannibalize their grandchildren" through entitlement programs.

Brown told Nelson that the comments didn't reflect how she handles cases...Nelson voted for Brown because he "felt she was very open and very honest and addressed his concerns," DiMartino said.

Sometimes it's an act of courage to stand alone. Other times you deserve to be solo because you're just plain wrong. This profile of Brown in today's New York Times suggests the latter on this one as Nelson broke with his fellow Democrats:
Janice Rogers Brown, the African-American daughter of Alabama sharecroppers who was confirmed Wednesday to the federal appeals court (in Washington D.C.), often invokes slavery in describing what she sees as the perils of liberalism.

"In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery," she has warned in speeches. Society and the courts have turned away from the founders' emphasis on personal responsibility, she has argued, toward a culture of government regulation and dependency that threatens fundamental freedoms....

This week, some Senate Democrats have singled her out as the most objectionable of President Bush's more than 200 judicial nominees, citing her criticism of affirmative action and abortion rights but most of all her sweeping denunciations of New Deal legal precedents that enabled many federal regulations and social programs - developments she has called "the triumph of our socialist revolution"....

She has often said that she has been guided through the challenges of her life and work by her deep Christian faith, and she has often argued that judges should look to higher authorities than precedent or manmade laws in making decisions.

If that last bit isn't the very definition of "judicial activism," I don't know what would be. Most judges are Christian, and that's great - but the idea that they should look to their religion rather than the law for guidance is incredibly deadly to democracy.

Did Nelson at least ask Brown how she could make such an utterly unconstitutional claim? If so, what possible excuse could she have made? There is no justification for this inserting of personal ideology in the most sacred of American institutions - its courts of LAW. A court without respect and deference to the law is not home to justice but rather judicial tyranny of a sort far more radical and dangerous than the progressive interpretation of the living constitution upheld by liberals.

Ben Nelson knows this and should be ashamed for this cowardly vote. Now that it's over, it's a matter between he and his constituents and he and his conscience (if there's a difference). I tell ya' - that's got to be some sort of moral gymnastics being performed in that brain. Either that, or he just really doesn't give a damn (a consideration I'll be forced to take far more seriously if Nelson continues in this vein, especially if he votes to confirm John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations).

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A New Era for Nebraska Democrats

by Kyle Michaelis
The Nebraska Democratic Party has unveiled its new website, and - I must say - it's pretty impressive. Not only is the site more attractive than its predecessor but it also takes some giant technological leaps that should make for a more responsive organization and a more vibrant Democratic community.

The NDP has already proven itself just slightly ahead of the curve in Nebraska with its original blog,home to much interesting and worthwhile discussion over the last 6 months, but this new site, incorporating the all-new "Blog for Nebraska" (which continues to be tweaked and improved), seems poised to take all that promise to the next level.

Probably even more exciting than the new blog, however, is the Event Center, where Democrats will be able to come together and arrange all sorts of community-building events. This is obviously an idea inspired by the Meetups that caught on in cities across the country last year, minus all the annoying distractions of that commercially-driven site.

Of course, more than bells and whistles, the most essential feature of the NDPs new site is obviously the information it provides. Under the About Us section, you can find bios of the staff, as well as the contact info of state officers. Meanwhile, there is also an absolutely essential breakdown of the registration numbers, upcoming elections and more for every county in the state. It's a wonderful and very engrossing resource that reminds us all of how much is at stake and how much work remains, even while proving that - despite belief to the contrary - there are proud Democrats in every corner of Nebraska.

So, explore the site, check out the blog, and be sure to read up on some of those county-by-county breakdowns. We've got work to do. This NDP website, no matter the hype surrounding any new technology, isn't going to perform miracles, but it could very well be a spark. Then, it's up to us - by our passion and commitment - to keep this flame alive and make it thrive anew.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Unicam Wrap-Up: The Broadband Betrayal

by Kyle Michaelis
In a state with a proud tradition of public power, you'd think state senators would be expected to provide more than knee-jerk rhetoric against the establishment of new public utilities. However, as the idea of low-cost municipal internet access has captured the imagination of several cities across the country looking to make the benefits of modern technology available to rich and poor alike, our legislature has instead climbed into bed with the very powerful, very rich telecommunications lobby to prevent such a populist notion from taking hold in Nebraska.

LB645, first proposed by Speaker Kermit Brashear in one of his myriad conflicts of interest (Cox Communications - a company sure to benefit - is a client of his law firm), was passed in the legislature and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Heineman last week. It blankly prohibits public power suppliers, as well as agencies and political subdivisions of the state from offering broadband, Internet, telecommunications, or video services.

The bill also placed a two year moratorium on the leasing of publicly-held information infrastructure to private industries, awaiting the findings of the Broadband Services Task Force it creates comprised of several elected and agency representatives along with members to be appointed by the Governor who "shall represent consumers." Yeah right! Since consumers haven't been heard from at all on this issue as their interests have been sold out from under them, these appointees are unlikely to have even a hint of the backbone and vision required to be true advocates of the people in the face of so much corporate tyranny.

This isn't the only place where the telecommunications lobby has forced these outright bans on the agenda, but few states have proven so eager with so little resistance to do as told and shut off what should be an important debate about the future of this state and the need for affordable technology.

For an excellent, eye-opening analysis of the controversy surrounding municipal broadband across the county, as corporate greed declares an all-out assault on the public good, read here.

I wonder how many state senators even considered the other side of this issue. Or is it really, as it seems, just an issue of "what big business wants, big business gets" in the halls of the state capitol?

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