Friday, July 29, 2005

Osborne Fears White House Retaliation

by Kyle Michaelis
Ahh, Republican leadership in action. It seems yesterday's 217-215 vote in the House of Representative to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was not won on the merits of the bill but on Republican Represenatives' fears of reprisal from their own party if they didn't vote as told. At least, that seems to be very much the case for Nebraska Congressman and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, after siding with a two-vote House majority to approve a controversial trade agreement with Central American countries, said Thursday he feared the sugar industry would suffer reprisals if the pact failed.

Osborne, whose district includes western Nebraska sugar beet growers, said he had heard suggestions from Bush administration officials that the industry's lack of flexibility on trade could hurt it when federal farm programs are rewritten next year.

"One thing about the administration, whether you disagree with them or agree with them, they tend to keep their word. So I didn't take it as idle threats," Osborne said.

He declined to say who had made the threats or what they were. But Osborne said he spoke with President Bush, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and high-ranking trade officials.

Meanwhile, Osborne told the Grand Island Independent:
"There were, I think, some very real threats that sugar would pay a price in the next farm bill if CAFTA was pulled down."

Well, that's comforting - our government is being run like the Mafia. While there's always going to be an element of this sort of retribution politics in government, one has to wonder how bad things must actually be to have forced Osborne to talk about these mob-style tactics publicly.

Of course, there's no evidence that any of these pressures or fears were required to win the votes of Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry. Their votes and eternal allegiance were bought with Tom DeLay's PAC-money long ago. The independent-spirited if not independent-minded Osborne had been something of a rarity these days - a Republican hold-out. His vote going the other way with that of just one other Representative's would have stopped Bush's CAFTA gamble in its tracks.

But, fear won out. Osborne ended up reasoning that the damage this bill might do to the industry in his district wouldn't be near as bad as that a vindictive Bush Administration would have done if the vote had gone the other way. Not much bold leadership in a vote like that, but you've got to give Osborne a point for his pragmatism. Only one point, though - because this is no longer the man who went for two against Miami. Age and Republican politics have beat that sort of fight right out of him.

How sad. The Timid Trio rides again.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nelson "Leaning" to Confirm Roberts

by Kyle Michaelis
No surprise here. None at all. And I don't mean that in a bad way. The AP reports:
U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson now leans toward voting for President Bush's Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.

The Nebraska Democrat was noncommittal a week ago, when Roberts' nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was announced by the White House.

"I am looking forward to being constructive as the Senate considers and deliberates on the qualifications of Judge Roberts," Nelson said on July 19.

On Tuesday, during a telephone news conference, Nelson at one point said, "I'm not undecided," then soon said, "I'm leaning his way."

"Based on everything I've seen," Nelson said, "I see no reason to oppose him."

But, he said, he reserves final judgment until after his meeting with Roberts on Thursday and after the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

Thank you Senator Nelson for at least doing your job, even when it might be easier in Nebraska to follow in your Republican colleagues' footsteps offering shallow pledges of unqualified support before the facts are even known.

Roberts deserves a fair hearing, and I've seen no indication from any quarter that he won't receive exactly that. Still Republicans persist nation-wide with war cries and high pressure tactics that can only be honestly intended to prevent an impartial accounting of John Roberts the man and jurist. What are they afraid of? Today, the Bush Administration revealed it wouldn't even make Roberts' tax returns from the last three years available to Congress, breaking with decades of entirely reasonable expectations of disclosure. If Roberts has nothing to hide, they sure are going out of their way to see that it stays that way.

Meanwhile, high-profile Republicans are making spectacles locally every chance they can get to swoon over Roberts and butter-up to their party superiors. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning boasted at a press conference last week in the state capitol, "This nomination ought to be a slam-dunk."

At a similar such sham at the Iowa state house coordinated around the same talking points on the same day, Des Moines lawyer and Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts said, "It's hard to conceive of a better nomination."

Glad to see the art of being a Yes-man is alive and well. Does anyone really believe either of these men, especially boy wonder Bruning, really knows the first thing about Roberts? They know President Bush picked him, and that's all it took to win their unthinking, unwavering support. And they want Ben Nelson to do the exact same thing, neglecting his constitutional duty as a Senator just as they have neglected their personal responsbilities to know what the hell they're speaking about before opening their mouths.

Luckily, Chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party Steve Achelpohl rose up to challenge this absurd and insulting behavior, writing in the Public Pulse of Monday's Omaha World-Herald:
Republican leadership in Nebraska is more interested in partisan press conferences than in educating themselves about Sen. Ben Nelson's position on President Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Nelson has made it clear that he sees no "extraordinary circumstance" at this point that would prevent him from supporting Roberts.

Despite Nelson's cooperative attitude, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale and other Republican lawyers met in the State Capitol rotunda last week to pressure Sen. Nelson to support the president's pick.

At the same time, Sen. Chuck Hagel left himself some room to wiggle out of his commitment if "a major, major thunderbolt from left field" is uncovered. Maybe Gale, Bruning and other Republican leaders should be calling on Hagel to fully support the president's nominee.

Their partisan efforts are wasted in trying to influence Nelson, who has proved time and again that he rises above partisan politics to do what is right for America.

Even the president said as much last February.

Steve Achelpohl, Omaha

Ben Nelson has promised to wait until after Senate hearings before making a final decision on his vote. He is willing to support the President's nominee. He just wants the information to enable him to offer advice and consent in a qualified constitutional capacity. What is it exactly that the Republican Party has against an elected representative, a servant of the people such as Nelson, doing his job?

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Andersen's Surprising Compassion

by Kyle Michaelis
Search the archives and it's plain to see the New Nebraska Network tries pretty hard to keep fading Omaha World-Herald power-broker Harold W. Andersen honest in his old age.

Along with criticism, though, this site also strives to meet in its own conduct and perspective the high standard to which the Omaha World-Herald is so often found lacking. That means recognizing and even thanking Andersen and the World-Herald in those times when they fulfill their duties and actually help make this state a better place.

One such instance occurred yesterday when Andersen went out of his way at the end of his column - a space usually reserved for personal asides and random factoids - to speak in kindness and solidarity of a UNO professor undergoing the difficult process of gender reassignment.

Andersen wrote:
What a remarkable story it is - a well-known and widely respected University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor and his mate of 37 years courageously going public with the news that the well-known professor had taken steps toward becoming a woman rather than a man.

Professor Wally Bacon now goes by the name Meredith Bacon, has had facial-feminization treatment and hormone treatment and now dresses as a woman.

Remarkable also is the fact that Lynne Bacon, married to Wally Bacon for 37 years, agreed to continue as Meredith Bacon's mate in a new relationship. Bacon expressed fear of "becoming a social outcast." I don't think so.

A college campus environment should be a positive factor as Bacon continues to teach at UNO. And people who have known and respected Wally and Lynne Bacon, as Marian and I have, will, I believe, praise them for their courage, wish them well and consider Meredith and Lynne Bacon as good friends as they did Wally and Lynne Bacon.

This show of support and affection comes on the heels of a column earlier in the week by Michael Kelly that included mention of the potential legal ramifications of Professor Bacon's operation. Thanks to Nebraska law, as well as the controversial 2000 amendment banning same-sex unions thrown-out once by the courts but still under appeal, Lynne and Meredith Bacon risk dissolution of their marriage against their wishes, prompting Lynne to declare such action "highly unfair after two people devoted the better part of their lives to each other."

In this matter, the World-Herald and Andersen have done a service to their community, putting a human face on one of those who fall through the cracks of the majority's half-hearted attempts at tolerance. Though Andersen makes no call from his vantage of power for respect of the Bacon's marriage nor for the logical larger-scale unions of all those in "non-traditional" partnerships based in love, he at least attributes the dignity to these people as individuals that so often gets lost in these debates as the personal and private are used for political purposes.

Of course, I wish Andersen had said more, but this is a start. It's ironic, however, that in this instance Andersen celebrates the "college campus environment" that will allow Professor Bacon to continue working with minimal interference and discrimination. That environment of tolerance, openness, and respect is rooted entirely in the liberalism that Andersen and the World-Herald have so-often decried on campuses when it has not suited their agenda nor benefitted someone known by them personally.

If only everyone in this state had friends like Meredith and Lynne Bacon. What a different people, seeing the world through different eyes, we would be. Most importantly, one would hope sad but all too frequent (and under-reported) incidents such as this, where a group of friends received death threats coming out of a Lincoln gay bar and the verbal assailant received no more than a warning from local police, will cease entirely.

We are better than this. We are more than the sum of our fears and worst impulses. There is no place for hate in the Nebraska that will be.

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A Team of One

by Kyle Michaelis

I have finally unearthed the message 2nd-tier challenger for the Republican nomination for governor Dave Nabity thinks will carry him to victory next year. It reads something like this:

"Dave Nabity likes to drive. Dave Nabity likes to drive fast. Dave Nabity wants to cut taxes while driving fast. Vote Dave Nabity for Governor in 2006."

That's pretty accurate, isn't it? Of course, his campaign website also includes some hooey about transforming Nebraska into "the Jewel of the Midwest" (did you think of that one yourself?), but, in the end, it becomes clear that driving fast and cutting taxes are really what this guy is all about.

Here's the man introducing himself in the Sunday Lincoln Journal-Star:
Underdog. That's the role in which Dave Nabity is cast as the opening act of the high-profile 2006 Republican gubernatorial race unfolds.

Just wait until Republican voters have a chance to hear his message of significant tax cuts, aggressive economic development and protection of family values, the Omaha businessman says.

"They won't start paying attention until this winter," Nabity said.

It's hard not to notice a guy who is running a three-year marathon in a Chrysler Crossfire sports car convertible decorated in racing car motif. Team Nabity race car T-shirts and small checkered flags fill boxes in the trunk.

Neither rain nor snow nor Tom Osborne nor a newly minted incumbent Republican governor kept Nabity out, or drove him out, of this race....

"I represent the future," Nabity said Friday over a cup of iced tea at The Mill in Lincoln's Haymarket....

A pledge to reduce property and income taxes immediately separates him from his opponents, Nabity said. "We absolutely have to cut taxes. If we don't fix our tax structure, we are going to implode"....

"I'm the only one committed to these reforms, the only one committed to cut taxes," Nabity said. "I'm the only guy who's going to fight the battle the way it needs to be fought"....

Osborne would not be in position to make and sustain the kind of dramatic changes that are needed with his preference to serve a single four-year term, Nabity said.

Heineman did not demonstrate the kind of cost-cutting that is required when he vetoed "only one-tenth of 1 percent" of the Legislature's state budget package this year, he said.

Nabity said he wants to be able to explore all these issues with Osborne and Heineman in a statewide series of at least six debates before the May primary election.

And in the closing weeks, the 46-year-old financial adviser, jazz band drummer and Porsche driver said he hopes to make some noise.

"I'm going to draft them (follow closely) for about 20 laps, study them, make my move in the last two laps, pass them both and get the checkered flag."

Well...go Speed Racer, go! In the article, Nabity also throws out the idea that taxpayer dollars subsidizing business developments (i.e. Cabela's) would result in a new motor racing complex along I-80 and increased tourism. He doesn't quite get to the how of the state's paying for all this after cutting all those taxes. Then again, Republican voters don't care about the how...that would be too responsbible...they just want to hear "CUT TAXES CUT TAXES CUT TAXES" and Nabity and Heineman, as evidenced by the previous post, know it.

Got to hand it to Nabity, though, for thinking that his collection of Porsches and Convertibles is really going to endear him to the common Nebraska voter. Quick, someone ask this guy how much a jug of milk costs before he speeds away.

Racing cars and cutting taxes - my God, is that how cheap our votes have become? Are we really so easily played? If I believed it for a moment, I'd wave my checkered flag right now and leave this whole darn state to the Nabitys and Heinemans to make more a mess of.

No. Can't believe it. Won't believe it. Not ever. Besides, this race doesn't end on Election Day 2006. We're still warming up.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Heineman Taunts Osborne, Sells Himself

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman goes out of his way to emphasize that he's not going to hand over the governorship to Tom Osborne without a fight in a North Platte Telegraph interview from earlier this week:
Governor Dave Heineman says he is not intimidated by Tom Osborne. In next year's primary election, Heineman will be challenged for the office by the popular football coach turned congressman.

"He is a better football coach than I am," Heineman said Wednesday in North Platte. "I am a better governor than he is."

Nebraskans reward good work, Heineman said. "I can feel and see momentum, and Nebraskans are getting more comfortable with me"...

"I don't hear anybody saying I am not doing a good job. He is running against me, I'm not running against him. By next May I will have been governor for a year and half and people will ask themselves, 'is Dave doing a good job?' I believe the answer will be yes. If I continue to be a good governor, he is going to be asked why he should replace me."

That's some tough words and likely more than a little bit of wishful thinking on the part of Heineman. This whole "he is running against me"-bit doesn't really sound like an angle that's going to help him much. A little bit more humility on the part of the unelected governor when he's facing a man of Osborne's stature would certainly seem to be in order.

Heineman doesn't have the charisma or presence to sell this idea that he's the man in charge. If he wants to hold onto his job, he should get used to the idea that he's the underdog here and try to make it work for him as best he can.

There is a possibility, no matter how slight, that the Republican primary voters will make Heineman their nominee just to keep the supposed "Johanns-machine" intact. If that happened, though, and Osborne still wanted the job, he could just as well run as an independent and still give Heineman a pretty ugly beating in the general election. Somewhere in there, there might even be room for a Democratic candidate to rise above the fray and capture the imaginations of Nebraskans disillusioned by these two self-appointed heirs to the throne.

Hey - a guy can dream, can't he?

Anyway, as further evidence that Heineman isn't messing around here, he's already hard at work appealing to the Republican base, even if it means speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In the same interview, Heineman admits to the spiraling cost of Medicaid set to bankrupt the state in the next decade but denounces cost-saving efforts to merge elementary-only Class I school districts with existing K-12 districts. Then, in expectedly irresponsible Republican fashion, he starts promising tax relief:
"Excess revenues need to be turned into tax relief," Heineman said. "Otherwise if we don't, it will be spent"....

"We have to keep a balance with sales, income and property taxes. We have an opportunity to reduce taxes in this state if we can get the economy growing. That is what we will look at next."

So, the state is on course for bankruptcy, while ranking 50th in the nation in economic development, and Heineman's talking about tax relief??? Meanwhile, moments earlier, he'd had the audacity to sell himself with, "I think Nebraskans appreciate straight talk and honesty."

Is that what this is? Doesn't seem like it to me, but I guess I have the unfortunate ability to work a calculator and recognize when a politician's promises imperil the entire state. Now, the question becomes just how far will Heineman go - just how irresponsible will he get - in his attempt to hold onto power?

Keep watching. It won't be long before we find out. But, I reckon the sky's the limit to Heineman's ambition, meaning there's no depth to which he won't sink.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chambers vs. Hergert

by Kyle Michaelis
Sounds like a heavyweight championship bout from the early 1980s, doesn't it? But no, State Senator Ernie "King Cobra" Chambers and University of Nebraska Regent David "The Degenerate" Hergert are duking it out not in the ring but in the court of public opinion. Probably a good thing, too, because Chambers is ripped and even at 68 years-old would seem likely to tear the 65 year-old Hergert apart.

At issue, of course, are Hergert's violations of state law in seeking election to the Board of Regents last year and whether or not they are impeachable offenses. On Tuesday, Chambers threw this opening blow in an Omaha World-Herald commentary:
Impeachment is a process created by the Nebraska Constitution involving charges lodged by the Legislature and trial by the Nebraska Supreme Court. If convicted by clear and convincing evidence, the official is removed from office, banned from future office and ineligible for a pardon.

The Supreme Court declared in State v. Hill (1893): "The object of impeachment is to remove a corrupt or unworthy officer." Also, it ruled, an official can be impeached for conduct occurring during a preceding term.

Since the State Constitution says a person can be impeached for a "misdemeanor in office," some contend that "in office" applies solely to the period between taking the oath and the end of the term. However, nothing in the words themselves nor in court decisions supports so restrictive an interpretation but, rather, the opposite. Resolution will hinge on the court's interpretation of the two words.

It borders on the absurd to acknowledge that an official can be impeached for conduct during a term of office as well as a preceding term but contend that impeachment is unavailable for repetitive violations in connection with procuring the office. Such a contention is like asserting that a brigand who breaks into a house and vandalizes the interior can be prosecuted for vandalism but not for breaking and entering.

Hergert, having figuratively broken and entered, is impeachable.

Hergert fired back in Thursday's World-Herald, through his attorney W. Scott Davis:
State Sen. Ernie Chambers has made an argument for impeachment of University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert. As counsel for Regent Hergert, I note that the law of Nebraska does not support Chambers' argument.

Regent Hergert won his election, 55 percent to 45 percent; 45,846 informed western Nebraska voters fully supported him. He carried 29 out of 35 counties in District 7 by a collective margin of 10,000 votes.

There was no voter fraud, no hanging chads and no contested election. But once Regent Hergert voluntarily settled his differences with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and announced his opposition to fetal-tissue research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the liberal senator from Omaha decided to disenfranchise the voters of western Nebraska by any means possible, including the false suggestion that errors made by the Hergert campaign in filing campaign-finance forms somehow constitute an impeachable offense.

Hergert continued with this quick three-punch combo:
There are three independent grounds prohibiting consideration of impeachment by the Legislature:

• The Nebraska Supreme Court has stated that an impeachable act must be the equivalent of willful and corrupt conduct in office. Mistakes of judgment or acts of negligence are insufficient to impeach. With respect to a possible violation of a statute committed by a person while in office, the court said the following: "But where it consists of a mere error . . . without the element of fraud . . . it is not impeachable"..."

• Under the Nebraska Constitution, Regent Hergert is only "liable to impeachment for any misdemeanor in office." The Nebraska Supreme Court has held the meaning of that language to be "that acts committed by a person while in office are alone impeachable."

The campaign filing errors occurred in October or November during the 2004 election, clearly prior to the time when Hergert was sworn into office on Jan. 6, 2005. Therefore, there is no basis for impeachment under the constitution.

• Finally, the Nebraska Supreme Court has held that for conduct in office to constitute an impeachable offense, it must "relate to the duties of the office." The filing errors made by candidate Hergert before he was sworn into office relate only to campaign finance, not the duties of office of regent.

Now Chambers was pissed off, so he struck back:
The court, to effectuate the purpose of impeachment, should interpret the words "in office" to embrace conduct committed "in connection with" procuring the office. Significantly, the Political Accountability and Disclosure Act, which Hergert brazenly violated, states that the penalties provided therein "do not limit the power of the Legislature to impeach a public official" (Section 49-14,137).

Directly on point is the illuminating case, State v. Krepela (2000), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a judge could be disciplined for conduct that occurred before the judge took office. It proceeded to suspend Judge Richard Krepela for conduct occurring more than a dozen years prior, when he was a county attorney. The court interpreted constitutional provisions in a manner to carry out their purpose.

As to whether Hergert's multiple violations were intentional, court decisions provide clear guidance to resolve the matter. Intent can be established through circumstantial evidence inferred from the nature and results of the conduct. The court declared in State v. Costanzo (1988): "The intent with which an act is committed is a mental process and may be inferred from the words and acts of the defendant and from the circumstances surrounding the incident."

Repetitive violations forming a coherent pattern are especially compelling evidence because they disclose purpose, motive, benefit to Hergert and detriment to his political opponent, who was denied public campaign funds as a direct result of Hergert's self-serving, multiple violations of the law.

Hergert countered...:
The fines paid by Hergert to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission were a civil penalty. The commission did not find reason to bring any criminal charges after its initial investigation and declined to do so again when a second complaint was brought by Sen. Chris Beutler. Chambers continued on the offensive:
Permitting Hergert to retain office simply because he paid a civil fine is tantamount to permitting a student who blatantly cheated to get an "A" on an exam and thereby passed a course to receive a mere public reprimand and keep both the "A" and credit for the course. It smacks of unjust enrichment, capitalizing on fraud and granting a thief good title to stolen goods.

The law is neither so blind nor so helpless. When a thief is caught with the goods, he's got to give 'em up. That's the law. And Hergert is not above the law.

Hergert danced and worked in an effective jab:
Sen. Chambers is clearly wrong on the meaning of "in office." "In office" cannot mean "before in office," "while campaigning for office" or "as long prior to office as will justify what the Legislature wants to do." As the senior member of the Legislature is fond of saying on the floor, "words mean what words mean" (no matter how much it might hurt Sen. Chambers' argument).

Chambers, hearing his own words used against him, erupted, moving in for the kill:
It is shameful, unacceptable and unconscionable to allow a self-confessed, serial scofflaw to encumber a high office of trust, honor and esteem and to formulate polices for the state's university system, whose role and mission is to inspire the mind and ennoble the spirit. How can one who is ignoble speak of nobility? How can one speak against cheating when cheating got him to where he sits? What parent would desire that his or her child follow Hergert's nefarious example?

But, Hergert wasn't done yet. He lunged:
Violations of Nebraska's campaign-finance laws have never been used to set aside elections or as grounds for impeachment, even against a sitting regent such as Drew Miller, who admitted to intentionally violating campaign-finance laws while "in office." Sen. Chambers has made no argument that would justify the dramatic step of overturning the results of a democratic election....

Rather than debate the issue in the press or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on private lawyers for a special committee, we all should save the taxpayers the cost and expense of a useless impeachment proceeding.....

If the Legislature proceeds on the false assumption offered by Sen. Chambers and fails to persuade the Nebraska Supreme Court, the taxpayers of this state would pay for Sen. Chambers' folly. The taxpayers also would pay all of Hergert's attorney's fees, expert fees and costs, thanks to Sen. Chambers, who helped enact Nebraska Revised Statute 25-1808, which requires the state to pay the fees and expenses of Hergert when the impeachment fails.

As the closing bell sounded, though, Chambers was unfazed. He took a few more goood body shots, leaving the decision to the judges at home:
As long as Hergert the Horrible remains a regent, a banner should festoon every meeting room proclaiming, for the edification of students and the public: "Lying, Cheating and Crime Do Not Pay . . . Except for a University of Nebraska Regent!"

If Hergert refuses to resign before the deadline imposed by Legislative Resolution 98, the Legislature has a moral and constitutional duty to impeach him. The Nebraska Supreme Court, then, should discharge its constitutional duty.

Ding. Ding.

Alas, that's not as easy a match to call as it should be. Of course, if Hergert had an ounce of integrity he would have resigned long ago. But one can almost sympathize with him for feeling ganged-up upon when he was largely doing as Regents Miller and Ferlic had done before without getting called on it.

If Hergert's willing to get off on a technicality, via legal loopholes, he might just survive this, as disgusting as that possibility is. Ultimately, though, his fate is going to rest in your hands, those of the people of Nebraska. Your outrage and your expectations of honesty and fair play from elected officials, especially during the course of elections, is the only thing necessary to drive Hergert and his unprincipled cohorts from power.

Because Chambers is right here...without a doubt...even if state law doesn't allow him to knock-out Hergert completely. We do deserve better - the students of Nebraska deserve better. Hergert sets a terrible example. He brings shame upon the University system, our electoral process, and the entire state. It's time for us to do our part and to join Chambers in seeing justice prevail.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hagel & Nelson Comment on Roberts

by Kyle Michaelis
Updating that previous post, Senators Hagel and Nelson have both weighed in with their reactions to Bush's choice of John G. Roberts to join the U.S. Supreme Court. As one would expect from their ideological demeanors, Hagel seemed unthinkingly delighted about the pick with Nelson cautiously optimistic. Glad one of the two takes the confirmation process seriously enough to at least want the facts before handing out a lifetime appointment.

But, we'll let the men speak for themselves, as reported by the LJS:
Sen. Ben Nelson said he was looking forward to a constructive confirmation debate in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Hagel went further, calling the nomination a "wise choice"...

Nelson said the confirmation process will shed light on what kind of Justice Roberts might become.

"There's always a danger in being defined as an activist judge with an agenda and a willingness to legislate from the bench," Nelson said. "The best case scenario for Judge Roberts, the President and the country is for Judge Roberts to emerge from these proceedings with broad appeal."

Hagel said, "(Roberts) should receive widespread support in the Senate following his confirmation hearings."

Again Nelson indulges voters with easy talk about "activist judges" that simply makes little sense under scrutiny. But he can't really be blamed for this throw-away soundbyte's replacement of logic in the public imagination. At least he understands the task at hand and seems willing to ask questions of the nominee, even if they are grounded in misguided rhetoric. Sure beats Hagel's rubber stamp.

I would like to draw readers' attention to an even more troubling element in the article above that has nothing to do with Hagel's irresponsible posturing. Rather, this is about the reporter, Josh Swartzlander's, irresponsible reporting that contributes to the dishonesty at the heart of so many of the far Right's attacks on the Supreme Court. At one point, Swartzlander unhesistatingly cites former Chief Justice Earl Warren as "President Dwight D. Eisenhower's infamous pick."

What, might I ask the reporter and his editors at the Journal-Star, is so deserving of infamy in breaking with 200 years of consitutional hypocrisy that allowed the scourge of racism to thrive? What, pray tell, demands Warren's name being dragged in the mud for asserting that even the poor have the right to defense in a court of law?

Shame on the entire Journal-Star for allowing this morally indefensible attack to weasel its way onto its news page. Language is power and using the language of those who would set-back this country 50 or even 100 years wtihout criticism or perspective is an unforgiveable abuse of the responsibility of a free press.

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The Next Supreme Court Justice?

by Kyle Michaelis
President Bush made his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor official last night, naming Judge John G. Roberts as his first nominee to the highest court in the land. Roberts' nomination now moves on to the Senate for confirmation, requiring a simple majority that seems likely barring any disastrous revelations during hearings by the Judicial Committee.

The word on the street is that Roberts is a "mainstream" conservative. The problem is that label doesn't say much. It leaves a whole lot of room for guess work on his views about abortion, states' rights, and the role of the federal government in regulating commerce. On abortion, he told the Senate during hearings to become a Federal Appeals Court Judge in 2003:
"Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. It's a little more than settled...There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

That's all well and good, but there's going to be a lot of temptation to open up this unsettling can of worms again so long as there are votes to be squeezed out of it. Were Rowe v. Wade ever truly accepted as settled law - even in principle, not necessarily without restriction - the Republicans would lose their most salient bond with Christian voters. The question becomes whether or not Roberts will respect legal precedents even when he has the power to move beyond their interpretation and actually over-turn them, a question of far greater consequence than its application to the old Roe v. Wade debate in which the very fate of 70 years of social and economic progress hangs in the balance.

Roberts selection ends weeks of speculation yet comes earlier than expected. Most importantly for Nebraska's immediate purposes, it ends brief and somewhat silly local discussion that Sen. Ben Nelson may have been in the running. Though Nelson won't be joining the bench, however, there is still the possibility of his holding considerable say in the confirmation process - both as a decidedly non-partisan swing voter and as one of the de facto heads of the 14 member judicical pact in the Senate that could decide the fate of a highly unlikely filibuster of Roberts' nomination.

Last week, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported:
Sen. Ben Nelson said Thursday the coalition remains intact and available as "a safety net"....

"We are hoping the process will work without our involvement," he said. "We would like nothing more than to become unnecessary"....

Nelson said Bush's efforts to reach out to senators from both parties seeking their advice in advance of his Supreme Court nomination may be an indication that he "most likely will choose someone who won't even raise the question of extraordinary circumstances"....

If the process breaks down, Nelson said, the coalition of 14 senators remains available to prevent "any imploding of the Senate that might occur."

Nelson said he's hopeful the president will "come up with a nominee more in the mainstream, somebody who is not going to be a judicial activist."

Already, he said, the bipartisan coalition may have had an effect by calling upon Bush to recognize the Senate's constitutional authority to provide advice as well as require its consent.

So, Nelson seems content, although he was speaking when it seemed Bush would allow for more input from Senate leaders before making his choice. I guess even minor overtures of giving a damn what others think are good enough. Still, with Roberts' appartently uncontroversial past and the relative ease with which he was already once confirmed to a lower court, it seems unlikely Nelson would even consider voting against him.

Of course, that won't stop special-interest groups from trying to pressure Nelson on both fronts, even if it's only to emphasize that he has a "D" by his name before the 2006 election. Say what groups will of this being about some hypocritical idea of religious freedom or nonsense notion of "judicial activism" - at the end of the day, for most of the players on the board - this is politics. Pure and simple. Sad but true.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Nelson's War Chest at $2.3 million

by Kyle Michaelis
Ben Nelson has officially flexed his political muscles, revealing heretofore unknown fundraising prowess that must have Nebraska Republicans worried as all get out. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Sen. Ben Nelson has built his campaign war chest to $2.3 million after stepping up fund-raising during the second quarter of the year.

Nelson raised $867,000 from April through June compared to $519,000 during the first three months of the year.

The Democratic senator's $2.3 million in cash on hand as of June 30 compared to nearly $23,000 for Republican challenger Don Stenberg, who didn't enter the Senate race until April 28.

Republican candidate David Kramer announced his candidacy on June 28 and will not file a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission until the end of September.

All told, Nelson has raised more than $2.6 million and spent $323,000, according to his FEC report filed Thursday.

$2.3 million vs. $23,, Ben Nelson has raised a full 100 times the amount Don Stenberg has been able to put together. That's a 10,000% difference. Of course, there's a huge advantage in incumbency, but I don't think it explains this sort of disparity. It seems painfully obvious from these figures that even die-hard Republicans don't believe in Don Stenberg. His campaign is floundering right out of the gate.

Meanwhile, the Omaha World-Herald added this little bit of information:
[Nelson] is on target to far exceed the amount he raised in beating Stenberg in their first contest. Stenberg spent $1.8 million in that campaign; Nelson spent $2.7 million.

To have already raised as much money as he spent to win election in the first place a full year before the race will even heat up - that's pretty damn impressive.

Of course, I'm not one to gush over big money in politics, but it's inescapable. Ben Nelson, in just one term, has become a force to be reckoned with in the U.S. Senate. He has maintained the respect of his own party and gained that of many, many Republicans without even a hint of the flashy, parlor-room politics to which his partner Chuck Hagel so often resorts.

Nelson is a man with whom it is frustratingly easy to respectfully disagree because he so obviously does care that his votes reflect the values of his constituents. He is an asset to his country and his state....and today he is flush with cash and seems plenty ready to ask the people of Nebraska for another term.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

World-Herald Soft on Crime (in the White House)

by Kyle Michaelis
Oh, those silly, shameless folks at the Omaha there no depth to which they will not sink? In their latest attack on jouralistic integrity - also known as their pathetically partisan editorials - they have the audacity to treat revelations about Karl Rove's criminal act of political retribution via media manipulation like it's just some hatchet job by the Democratic Party. The sub-heading of the editorial reads:
Hasty judgment would provide unearned score for political foes of the president.

How disgusting. They think this is just some game without giving a damn about the facts of the case. Wait, it gets worse:
Headlines out of Washington said President Bush has confidence in his adviser, Karl Rove. Of course he does. But that's not at issue. The question is whether Bush will allow himself to be stampeded into firing Rove, thus giving Democrats a symbolic victory in the political wars.

The only issue is whether or not the Democrats will gain points when the most senior level White House adviser, who some have called the most powerful man in Washington D.C., has likely committed a crime that borders on treason at a time of war??? It doesn't matter that the president continues to put his trust in such a man??? This is all just symbolic???
Yes, Bush said earlier that he would fire anyone in his employ who told reporters that the wife of an administration critic worked for the CIA. And it now appears that Rove disclosed such information, or at least enough information to allow a reporter to infer that the person was Valerie Plame Wilson....

If subsequent investigation demonstrates that Rove broke the law, he should of course be held accountable. If he was merely using his access for an act of political retribution, he has damaged his own good name.

But a crime is one thing. Political retribution, however tawdry, is another. So if Bush still wants to get to the bottom of this, let him find out which it is and not rush to judgment. A president who allows his adversaries to dictate his agenda can only weaken his own ability to lead.

What delusion - as if the President's acknowledgment of criticism, which he usually deflects by smirking and repeating himself in an endless spin cycle, would make him a weaker leader? The World-Herald really thinks the Administration's permanent block-out of reality, creating the political landscape of their choosing by turning a blind eye to anything that doesn't conform to their fantasy, can go on forever.

Worse than that, this newspaper seems eager to contribute to this fantasy. The World-Herald hasn't been duped into "drinking the Kool-Aid"; they're begging for more and want to share it with each and every one of their readers on a daily basis. They may even be addicted to the stuff...

Karl Rove may have ruined "his good name?" That's precious - a man who's become a legend for his ability to win elections through the sleaziest means possible (Ann Richards' sexuality, McCain's black child) has a good name - HA! Only in this backwards world they're trying to perpetuate.

Nevermind that then-Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie said on 'Hardball' when these allegations first arose, "I think if the allegation is true, to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative -- it's abhorrent, and it should be a crime, and it is a crime." Nevermind that when asked by Chris Matthews if it would be worse than Watergate, he said, "Yeah, I suppose in terms of the real world implications of it."

Nevermind that Bush had already characterized this action as a crime and had promised the perpetrator would be "taken care of" back when it was being sworn up and down Rove had nothing to do with it. Bush can't do as he promised: a)he'd be admitting he was wrong and b)he'd be admitting to more Republican abuses of power that could hurt his party politically.

We can't have that. No, this is all just a game. It's all just more vicious partisanship by Democratic Party attack dogs.

They're so sure that if they hold-out against the truth long enough, it will just go away. It's happened before. It will happen again if the World-Herald and the Bush Administration have anything to say about it. Are we going to let that happen? Do we have such contempt for democracy and ourselves that we're really willing to accept this behavior from our leadership or their self-appointed mouthpieces in the press?

History cries for vigilance against abuses of power. The World-Herald says wait and see, hoping all this fuss will just disappear...serving their agenda while rotting away our democracy. Better to protect the president's power than to protect the people from the same.

How long, O long wilt thou look on?

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I-OWE-A Nebraskan for my Education

by Kyle Michaelis
These are BOOM times for Iowa Casinos. In the last fiscal year, the four casinos on the Nebraska border took in a whopping $486 million in gross revenues. That's almost half-a-BILLION dollars.

I hate to guess how much of that is out of Nebraska pockets, but - as anyone who's looked at the license plates of the cars parked in the casinos' lots can tell you - it's A LOT!!!

The three Council Bluffs casinos certainly seem to have the most bang for the buck among Iowa's quarter-munching monstrosities. As only three of 13 total state-licensed casinos, they accounted for 39% of all wagering. The Bluffs Ameristar alone had gross revenue of $180 million - tops in the state.

Meanwhile, the recently remodeled Sioux City casino was the fastest growing in Iowa, taking in 24.2% more of Northeast Nebraska's money than in the previous year.

Doesn't it seem about time that Iowa's school children start sending thank you notes for their education to the citizens of Omaha and the surrounding area who so generously open their pocket books for others' benefit? Thanks are also in order to Nebraska voters for keeping this gravy train running by rejecting ballot measures last year that would have allowed their own state to take on some of the benefits that go along with the addictions and bankruptcies that are already costing Nebraska so dearly.

At least our moral superiority is still long as we can afford it - which may not be long with our last in the nation economic growth, as opposed to Iowa's best in the nation growth just across the river. That's some sort of inequity.

When are people going to put 2 and 2 together and realize what's happening here? These are not isolated statistics. Iowa is creating jobs and building industry with Nebraska money. We want to be competitive with neighboring states in handing out enormous benefits to companies, but we refuse to make the changes necessary to pay for them. So, our schools suffer, our social services are slashed, our public properties sit in disarray...the most legendary steakhouse in the state shuts down with barely even a whisper.

We're living on borrowed time, with borrowed money - because money that should be being spent or saved or sucked up by the state in Nebraska is being shipped by the truck-load to Iowa. We get to be holier than thou, sure, but "judge not, lest ye' be judged."

Today, simple economics judge us a bunch of damn fools.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Nebraska as Montana

by Kyle Michaelis

Much has been made of the Democratic Party's winning 2004 formula in Montana that saw the election of a Democratic governor despite President Bush's winning the state by 20-percent. Me...I'm not so sure. Each election in any given year and any separate locale is its own beast not to be confused with any other. Still, this article on the lessons of Montana from IN THESE TIMES, a progressive news magazine, does provide some definite reason to hope.

More than the election of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, what really draws ones attention is the state-wide formula that Montana Democrats needed to win. They came to realize what we in Nebraska have had a hard time coming to grips with: we can not win if we're not going to fight for every vote.
A decade ago, the Montana Democratic Party began a period of rebuilding. The Republican Party held the governor's office and controlled both chambers of the legislature by overwhelming majorities. The Democrats committed themselves to the basics. They engaged in a strategic planning process that defined clear, attainable goals. They focused on recruiting candidates who would work hard and win. And they trained candidates and volunteers in the organizing model of grassroots advocacy groups. Democrats soon started making gains in legislative races....

Democrats decided to make sure that their Montana candidates did not fall prey to national Democratic stereotypes. They sought out key constituencies by starting agriculture, small business and sportsman roundtables. The party hired a communications director to move beyond the basics of press releases. And the party recommitted itself to building its grassroots base--central committees and volunteers.

Montana Democrats realized they had another problem...Voters didn't know that Democrats had an economic plan. "The party did a statewide listening tour," he says. Legislative leaders crossed the state to meet with business and labor leaders and compile an economic plan. "We took it to small towns, large towns. We literally laid out a 22-point plan."

It's good to see the Nebraska Democratic Party has already under-taken many of these efforts. We should take note, though, that:
2000 was to prove a bad year for Montana Democrats. With Al Gore running, the Democrats lost the top-of-the-ticket race by 25 percent. Bush's coattails proved too much to overcome down-ticket and strong, experienced Democrats lost their races for the governor's office and for Montana's lone House seat....

It's not going to happen in a single cycle. There are going to be losses, but we just need to keep learning from and building off them. Right here is the fundamental reason we meed a legitimate Democratic candidate for Governor in 2006. This will be a high-profile race in which we have to offer an alternative - even if it's an alternative the people aren't yet ready to embrace. The people need a chance to recognize that an alternative even exists.

Meanwhile, for any prospective candidates:
Schweitzer started running for governor virtually the day after he lost his race for the Senate (in 2000). "For a year and a half," he says, "I read all the newspapers in Montana, read the letters to the editor. When I read a cool letter, I would write them a letter and tell them that. So many candidates think that two weeks before the election, they're somehow going to gin up people to write letters for them. We'd build relationships with people who already wrote letters rather than trying to get new people to write letters to the editor."

He drove across the state, meeting people in rural areas and asking what they needed from government. Those discussions resulted in an agenda that included healthcare reform, economic development and a new approach to higher education with an increased emphasis on community colleges and technical schools. Schweitzer then took his new issue agenda and crossed the state again, giving speeches that never fell into wonk speak. Instead, Schweitzer ran on values, delivering a talk about his family homesteading in Montana, building a church and a community with their friends and neighbors. He talked about being a Bobcat (a graduate of Montana State). He talked about talking to people.

The article finally makes these suggestions for Democrats, all of which apply here in Nebraska:
* Fight everywhere. Schweitzer didn't write off the rural areas of Montana that have recently become Republican strongholds. He campaigned statewide, winning two counties typically lost by Democrats and narrowing the margin in dozens of others.
* Fight back. When Schweitzer got "Swift Boated," his campaign staffers didn't sit silently. They hit back fast and hard. And in his first months in office, Schweitzer didn't refrain from criticizing the president who received more votes than he did. He aggressively criticized Bush on a number of fronts. Now he's more popular than the president among Montana voters.
* Actions speak louder than words. Unlike other Democrats who revel in meta-analysis or theorizing over values, Schweitzer simply did it. Rather than saying he was a real Montanan, he talked about his homesteading ancestors. Rather than talking about reclaiming the flag, Schweitzer just did it--prominently on his Web site and on pens the campaign distributed. And both Schweitzer and the Montana Democrats had plans. They just realized that having the plans was more important than talking about them non-stop.

That last lesson is probably the most important one. If we want Nebraskans to expect better than the Republican status quo provides, we have to start by holding ourselves and our candidates to a higher standard. We need to make promises we can keep about who we are and what we'll accomplish. We do that...and we continue to do that...and the voters will come around in time.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Timid Trio Targets 'Reading Rainbow'

by Kyle Michaelis
Those damn Republicans. Having failed (for now) in their efforts to completely slash the funds for public broadcasting, they've been left simply cutting-off PBS from a promised $102 million necessary for modernization and support of educational programs, while slowly taking over the entire operation to try and quench the progressive and inquisitive spirit on which the station is founded.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star:
The House...did not restore an additional $102.4 million that helps underwrite the production of PBS' "Ready to Learn" children's programs such as "Reading Rainbow."

The $102.4 million also covers satellite technology, basic equipment purchases and a federal mandate to convert public TV stations from analog to digital signals....

[Nebraska Educational Telecoummunications General Manager Rod Bates] particularly was distressed to learn Nebraska's Republican representatives Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Tom Osborne voted against restoring the funds. The vote drew support from 87 Republicans.

Osborne, a longtime public broadcasting supporter, said he voted against it because he didn't want to see the $100 million taken from elsewhere to offset restoring CPB's funding.

"(The amendment) was going to take a big chunk out of education and the Department of Labor and a couple of other areas that I didn't want to see money taken out of," he said....

Just like the Republican Party to make Osborne choose between funding the Department of Labor or educational programming. Maybe Nebraska's Timid Trio of Fortenberry, Terry, and Osborne even made the right choice. The problem is it's not a choice they would have had to make if even one of them had the courage to stand-up to Tom DeLay's lock-step Republicanism.

Their silence speaks volumes about their individual lackings in character and leadership. It is wrong that they kill 'Reading Rainbow' without a one of them raising a stink about money going to a crack-pot researcher hoping to uncover the alleged bias of PBS news programming, who went so far as to declare Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel "a liberal" and just barely refrained from designating Oscar the Grouch a communist.
Entering its 22nd season, "Reading Rainbow" is a book series aimed at children ages 6 to 8. It's co-produced by NET Television...

The show has won 24 Daytime Emmy Awards, including nine for best children's series. A recent PBS-commissioned study showed "Reading Rainbow" is the No. 1 tool used in classroom study.

Yet, according to Bates, the Department of Education, which gives money to PBS to fund the show, isn't happy with it.

The Department of Education, he said, is leaning toward programs that "teach" reading rather than those such as "Reading Rainbow," which "encourages" reading.

"Whether (money) is restored or not, the future funding of ‘Reading Rainbow' is in jeopardy," Bates said.

As are the other "Ready to Learn" services, which provides resources to parents, child care providers and teachers to make children better readers.

Better readers? We can't have that.

This is actually a pretty succinct example of Republican-brand pragmatism: people should know how to read, they just shouldn't love it. After all, when people read too much, they have this nasty prediliction for getting different perspectives, asking too many questions, and eventually (*gasp*) starting to think for themselves.

How could we expect our Republican Congressmen - Nebraska's Timid Trio - to make a stand for principle like that, especially as they themselves vote as told by Tom DeLay every chance they get. Think for yourself? What a foreign concept to a man like Jeff Fortenberry so addicted to DeLay's money machine he can barely wait to do his greenback-toting master's bidding again and again and again.

Terry's the same way. Osborne...well, he's a different story. It's not about money. He could stand up for the things that matter - the things that count - he just doesn't. I guess it's just so much easier not rocking the boat.

Maybe Osborne knows in Nebraska's Third District no one has expectations that he be anything more than a Republican rubber stamp. That's 'good enough.' What a pity, then, he doesn't have higher expectations of himself.

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These things come in threes

by Kyle Michaelis
This morning, at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Ogallala, former Democratic Lt. Governor and Congressman Don McGinley was laid to rest. He was 85 years old.

McGinley's death comes at the end of a six week period that has seen the passing of what seems an entire generation of former Nebraska Democratic office-holders. In the last week of May, we said goodbye to Congressman Claire Callan, followed on June 10th by legendary two-term Governor, three-term Senator J. J. Exon.

McGinley joins these men as the last Democrat in Congress to be elected from Western Nebraska, elected for a single term from 1958-1960. He also served three terms in the state legislature and is credited with being perhaps the winning component to former Gov. Bob Kerrey's 1982 election in his ice-breaking role as the ticket's Lt. Governor.

Kerrey has been quoted in the Nebraska press saying:
"It's possible I would have won election (as governor) without him, but I'm not sure of that. He helped me a lot, especially in understanding western Nebraska and cattle country...."

“He was a smart, solid man with a wicked sense of humor who loved the west." also ran a touching tribute to McGinley from long-time Nebraska reporter Dick Herman hailing his "great charm and story-telling wit." Herman even suggests McGinley was a singularly talented figure in Nebraska political history.

The Nebraska Democrats are a weaker party than they were one week ago, let alone 6 weeks ago before this unfortunate but inevitable series of farewells began. We carry-on in these men's memory and to their honor that a new generation of Nebraska Democrats who can win will emerge and return government to the people and principles they loved so much and served so proudly.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Ferlic's Flip-Flop

by Kyle Michaelis

The Omaha World-Herald reported yesterday that University of Nebraska Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha's 8th District will abide by campaign spending requirements as he seeks re-election in 2006. This follows on the heels of Regent Chuck Hasebrook of rural northeast Nebraska making the same committment. The difference is that Democrat Hassebrook, as opposed to Republican Ferlic, didn't win election in the first place by cheating and making a mockery of the state's spending laws.

Here's an AP dispatch from Ferlic's 2000 campaign:
Nebraska's campaign-finance law has become subject to a lawsuit in the wake of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents race.

Regents candidate Randy Ferlic discovered a loophole in the law and filed a $300,000 revised spending estimate Sept. 8. He claims the 1992 campaign-finance law, which calls for voluntary spending limits, is unconstitutional and violates his right to freedom of speech.

His lawsuit, filed in Lancaster County District Court, says the state has no compelling interest in ensuring candidates have similar funds when campaigning for office. Ferlic's revised estimate would allow him to spend $120,000 before his opponent, Rosemary Skrupa, could receive any funds.

The voluntary limit on spending in the regent's race is $25,000, which Skrupa has agreed to. If Skrupa remains under that spending limit and Ferlic goes above it, she is entitled to state funds. He reported to the Accountability and Disclosure office Sept. 8 — after being denied a temporary restraining order that would have kept the state from enforcing the law — that he plans to spend an additional $300,000 to gain a spot on the board.

Ferlic's spending in the race so far has jumped from twice the voluntary spending limit at $50,000 to almost six times the limit.

To break that down for everyone, Ferlic purposefully raised his estimate and held-off to the last minute for a MASSIVE all-out spending assult that wouldn't give Skrupa the opportunity to collect her share of public funds by dancing around the figure that would trigger their disbursement until it was too late for them to do any good. Ferlic's winning strategy was dirty, slick, and showed total disdain for the spirit of Nebraska law.

Oh, but that was Ferlic in 2000. Here he is in 2005:
University of Nebraska Regent Randy Ferlic, who spent $290,000 to get elected five years ago, said Wednesday he will abide by the state's voluntary spending limit of $50,000 when seeking re-election in 2006.

As an incumbent, Ferlic said, he no longer needs to spend large amounts of money to gain name recognition with voters.

The Nebraska campaign finance law has been in the news since Regent David Hergert of Mitchell, who spent nearly $90,000 to defeat incumbent Don Blank in November, paid fines of $33,000 for failing to meet filing deadlines.

The violations kept Blank from receiving state funds....

Ferlic's spending in 2000 to unseat incumbent Rosemary Skrupa set a record for regent races. That was topped in 2002 when winner Howard Hawks of Omaha spent $405,000.

Now Ferlic is on the other side of the fence. If a challenger spends the money necessary to win, he said, he would receive state funds to help with his campaign.

The World-Herald fails to mention that Hergert - "The Degenerate Regent" - not only had to pay more than $30,000 in fines for ineptly following Ferlic's campaign strategy but faces a call from a majority in the state legislature as well as a fellow regent to resign, risking impeachment for his dishonorable actions if he fails to comply. Hergert is also under investigation by the state attorney general.

If I were Ferlic in the wake of that much criticism, I'd be damn careful myself to avoid the improper, unethical means that carried him into office to begin with. The sad thing is that his 2000 campaign has had a corrupting influence on the Board of Regents in every race that has followed, making manipulation of money and the public's trust the central form of campaigning...all for an UNPAID position that is supposed to be about safe-guarding the public's investment in higher education.

If these men (Ferlic, Hawks, Hergert - all Republicans) are going to be this corrupt in their own management of funds, how can the people possibly trust them with the purse-strings of the University system?

Already a Republican candidate for the open District 4 seat, Jim Nagengast, has vowed to follow in these treacherous footsteps by not following the spending limits - opening his candidacy up to the highest bidder. His only announced opponent, Lawrence Bradley, hasn't decided yet, but - seriously - what choice does he have?

Ferlic and friends have already polluted the entire well, and most of Nebraska hasn't made a peep. That gives a candidate like Bradley two options: keep drinking that dirty water or drown...unless, of course, the people of this state stand-up in the face of this corruption and finally demand better in Nov. '06.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Hagel: "Democrats are Better", More Honest

by Kyle Michaelis
With all the bombs bursting in the air, I somehow missed this interview from the Sunday New York Times with Sen. Chuck Hagel. It contains some of the boldest, most honest talk we've heard from a Republican in Congress since 1994. I almost don't care if he's just doing it for press attention....every politician in Congress should be more willing to ruffle some feathers and speak their mind, especially when that means bucking the party line - be they Democrat or Republican.

Here's some particularly candid and refreshing excerpts from the interview:
On challenging the President on Iraq:

If someone says I am a disloyal Republican because I am not supporting my party, let them say it. War is bigger than politics.

On Iraqi War's similarities to Vietnam:

Congress was absent during the Vietnam War, and they didn't ask the tough questions, and consequently we lost 58,000 Americans and lost a war and humiliated this nation. It took a generation to get over it. As long as I am here as a U.S. senator, I am going to do whatever I can to make sure that isn't going to happen.

On the constant speculation about his running for President:

There's a dynamic to politics that has lately been overtaken by show business. Politics is show business. It's just show business for the ugly. It's Hollywood without all the beautiful people.

On the current $400 billion annual deficit with a Republican-controlled White House and Congress:

In terms of the deficit, we have blown the top right off. We're a bunch of Democrats...(but) we're less honest about it. We built the biggest government history has ever seen under a Republican government. The Democrats are better because they are honest about it. They don't pretend. I admire that. They'll say: ''We want more money. We need more money.''

My God, a Republican who actually recognizes and talks about the Republican Party's daily betrayal of every principle it claims to uphold. Thank you, Sen. Hagel.

It's about time someone mentions the true choice that lies before the American people between "Tax & Spend" Democrats and "SPEND & SPEND" Republicans, who should honestly change the nickname of their party from the GOP to the IOU.

America needs politicians who stick to and speak openly about their ideals - whatever they be - and needs a whole lot less hypocrisy from its ruling party. Since the Democrats can't make the case for themselves while the press cowers and refuses to challenge those in power, it pains me to admit that the future of this country may very well rest in the hands of Republicans of conscience willing to put country first.

For today, at least, it seems our fate rests with people like Chuck Hagel.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

by Kyle Michaelis

Fresh from his continued assault on the first amendment, White House svengali Karl Rove looks to be making a stop in Omaha this weekend. The World-Herald reports on why the smell of brimstone and sulfur is suddenly in the air:
Karl Rove, principal political adviser to President Bush, is expected to visit Omaha on Friday, according to Nebraska Republican Party officials.

Rove is expected to talk about Social Security and perhaps attend a party fundraiser, the officials said Tuesday....

Rove is the political strategist dubbed by Bush as the architect of his 2004 re-election.

He created a political stir in June when he accused liberals of wanting to offer "therapy and understanding" to the Sept. 11 terrorists. Democrats accused Rove of politicizing the 9/11 attacks.

A Rove visit to Nebraska comes as two Republicans, Omaha lawyer David Kramer and former Attorney General Don Stenberg, are running for the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Elizabeth Dole, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said the attempt to unseat Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., will be near the top of the party's agenda in 2006.

Well, well, well....this doesn't sound like good news for Nelson. Where Rove goes, dirty tricks are sure to follow. Despite Nelson's popularity and the kind words President Bush has had for him in the past, this visit suggests the Republican Party isn't content to have Nelson humbly reaching across the aisle. They want a puppet with a few more strings that will take orders rather than needing actual convincing.

So far, in Kramer and Stenberg, I'd say they have two candidates who are more than up to that task. Let's just sit back and see what sort of dance Rove will have them least until it's time to show Nebraska voters those strings and demand they make a choice.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Reporting Live from Munchkin Land

by Kyle Michaelis
Three days later...the Omaha World-Herald again mentioned Nebraska's being declared 2004's "Stagnation National Champion," this time in an editorial. Again, though, they dismiss and discredit the news rather than reporting it.

Here's more of the same white-washing by the World-Herald, this time verging on the poetic:
An early-summer automobile trip across the Cornhusker State gives an impression different from realities depicted by the midterm census - and in a recent bleak report on the state's economic growth.

Nebraska looks good right now. Very good indeed. Spring rains have replenished drought-lowered rivers and lakes. Golden waves of wheat in the Panhandle await the combines. Sleek yearlings, Angus and Hereford and exotic mixes, graze beside sparkling Sand Hills lakes. Bales and rolls of hay, and farther east the cornfields and feedlots, stand in indisputable testimony to the importance of agriculture in this state, now and in the future.

The towns are decked out in summer finery. Green lawns and floral plantings do a lot to suggest prosperity and fun. Add the results of spring painting and residential touch-ups, and the banners and posters advertising community rodeos and county fairs, and you have an overall picture of a place where it's summertime and the livin' is easy.

It is easy to travel through the emerald countryside at a time like this and believe that the recent health of the state's revenue picture reflects a solid turnabout. People across the state are upbeat about their lives and prospects. Roads are being upgraded. New bridges are materializing over the Loup and Platte Rivers.

But last week came a midterm census estimate showing that Nebraska has sustained population declines in the majority of its 93 counties since 2000 and we now have reached the point where more than half of all Nebraskans - and, in due time, presumably, half the Legislature - reside in Douglas, Sarpy or Lancaster County.

And several days before that, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Nebraska's economic output grew less than 1 percent last year, making this the slowest-growing of all the states, economically speaking.

One conclusion is that appearances can be deceiving. Another is that the statistics and their analysis are wrong. But how about a third way of understanding all this: The positive and the negative can comfortably coexist. And in Nebraska in 2005, they do coexist.

Weighed against disturbing population shifts and slow economic growth:

• The population has reached a new milestone - 1.75 million.

• Recent surges in tax revenues suggest that a general economic upturn may have accelerated after the 2004 results were in.

• Sources from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority attest that tourism and entertainment have been exceptionally active in recent months.

Somewhere there is balance enough to prevent a beautiful summer season from being ruined by downbeat statistics.

I neither expect nor desire doom and gloom from the local newspaper, but actual reporting isn't asking too much either. The above editorial makes the World-Herald sound like Dorothy prancing happily around Munchkin Land, as if hard economic data were the work of the Wicked Witch trying to spoil all the fun. This isn't some fairy tale, though, bad news about the Nebraska economy can't be wished away by clicking the heels of your ruby red slippers...even in this reddest of red states.

The way they're depicting Nebraska here, you'd think there wasn't one hungry person in the entire state - let alone potholes or unpaid medical bills. How high up must they be floating in the clouds to really believe that? The only things they forgot to mention are that Nebraska's football team is still #1 throughout the land and J.J. Exon has risen from the grave.

This isn't writing with one eye closed - this is a dispatch from a world that does not exist. The World-Herald should leave the poetry to Ted Kooser and start reporting from reality. That doesn't mean never-ending pessimism, but it certainly doesn't mean the world is all cupcakes and unicorns like this editorial suggests.

The World-Herald is like a confused Chicken Little declaring, "the sky isn't falling, we're just rising up into the heavens." Wishing don't make it so, though. How many anguished cries must we deafen ourselves to before we even admit that people are suffering? Each of these statistics they dismiss represents hundreds of families in crisis - families for whom the livin' is NOT easy and whose prospects most definitely do NOT leave them upbeat.

Look around you. Ask a recent college graduate. That grass sure is green (for now), but all is not as well as our self-appointed handlers in the press would have us believe. Why, then, would they have us believe a lie? Who does it serve? That, dear friends, IS the question.

So, there is your ticket up the rabbit hole, Nebraska. Welcome to the reality-based community.

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Readers Defend Malcolm X

by Kyle Michaelis
The last three editions of the Omaha World-Herald have included letters in "the Public Pulse" defending the memory of Malcolm X from Harold W. Andersen's malicious and deceitful column last week.

While these letters each made passionate arguments for honoring Malcolm, it was sad to see they did not call Andersen on his complete and utter fabrication about Malcolm only mentioning his birthplace of Omaha once in his best-selling "Autobiography." This site has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Andersen's claim was a total lie with the sole intention of undermining community efforts to pay tribute to this fallen leader.

This sort of "by any means necessary" non-journalism is intolerable and can not be allowed to stand. Someone at the Omaha World-Herald must be held accountable and restitutions must be paid. The people of this state deserve the truth, and - just as importantly - Omaha's black community, who shared in the suffering and triumph of Malcolm X that Andersen now tries to cover-up - deserves an immediate apology.

Say it with me every Nebraskan who sees these under-handed tactics for what they are and has had enough - we won't be silent any longer - "we are all Malcolm X."

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Silence of the (Sacrificial) Lambs

by Kyle Michaelis
Don't mind the title of this post. I'm just having fun.

Although some argue otherwise, the Nebraska Democratic Party needs to have a legitimate candidate for governor on the top of its 2006 ticket. We need someone we can be proud of in this state, someone who offers a true alternative to the Republican status quo that has failed this state so terribly.

Here's the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton on the continuing search:
Still looking. Early last week, Lincoln attorney Jim Harris appeared to be a potential Democratic candidate for governor. On Friday, he said "no."

With Nebraska Democrats determined to field a credible gubernatorial candidate in 2006, no matter the odds, Matt Connealy remains a possibility.

Connealy, the party's 2004 nominee for the 1st District congressional seat, isn't talking just yet. But the Decatur state senator has remained active and visible, positioning himself for a possible bid for state or congressional office next year.

Last year, Connealy performed well in his losing battle with Jeff Fortenberry, although he lost by a greater margin than anticipated when Fortenberry surged at the end.

"Matt would be an excellent candidate," says Harris, who was an intriguing possibility himself....

There's good reason to view the 2006 gubernatorial contest as a daunting challenge with the Democratic nominee facing either Tom Osborne or Gov. Dave Heineman — unless Dave Nabity can pull off the upset of the new century — as well as confronting a huge Republican voter registration advantage.

"But it would be sad for the state if the Republican nominee would automatically become governor without a race," Harris says. "Our system works best when both parties are represented and there is a vigorous and honest debate of the issues."

It's silly for Walton to suggest the unelected Heineman has anything to do with the difficulty finding a Democratic candidate. Osborne is the Goliath here....pure and simple.

I can't really blame anyone for not wanting to go up against a Nebraska legend, but the simple fact of the matter is that Bob Devaney chose Osborne to be his successor as football coach not to be the state's governor 30 years down the line. I can't help thinking that if Osborne really cared about this state and giving us our pride back, he'd return to UNL in some capacity and get those Huskers back on top where they belong.

That's obviously too tall an order and Osborne thinks being Governor will give him more time to relax, without messing with his legacy. As much as it pains me to say it, though, in the face of Nebraska's economic stagnation and emerging crisis of confidence, Osborne is not dynamic or passionate enough to lead this state into the next year...let alone the next decade. If his time in Congress is any indicator, his will be a legacy of unthinking Republican orthodoxy...4 years more of which the working people of this state simply can't afford. This is about more than the legacy of a man...this is about the legacy we want to leave our children. We need to be thinking about the Nebraska of tomorrow instead of voting with former football glories on the brain.

Matt Connealy would be an excellent nominee for Governor - someone who would make both his party and his state proud. We'd be lucky to have a candidate of his caliber and experience. Running for Congress didn't always seem to fit Connealy last year, as his true passion was so obviously the interests of the common Nebraskan rather than hot button national issues. At the state level, though, where Connealy wouldn't have to wear as many ill-fitting labels, I truly believe the freedom to be himself, along with his command of local issues, would make him an infinitely stronger candidate...which he would need to be to face Tom Osborne.

Well, it does us no good to go any further down this path of endless speculation. Not right now - not until we have a little better sense of who, if anyone, is willing to take this enormous risk for the good of all Nebraskans. I hope someone is up to the challenge - someone who's able and willing to do it right for the right reasons. If you're that person, the people certainly deserve a choice and they might just deserve you!

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Failing Economy Finally Mentioned...barely

by Kyle Michaelis
It took almost two weeks for the Omaha World-Herald to mention in its pages that Nebraska was recently ranked 50th - yes, DEAD LAST - in 2004 economic growth. Should have been a huge story, right? In all that time, surely they were just writing the perfect article about the horrible condition of the Nebraska economy after 6 years of Republican non-leadership...right?


Instead, the World-Herald has covered this one up as much as possible, choosing to hide the facts instead of reporting them. The mention they finally gave to this terrible economic news was buried in this story about a Creighton study focuing on the weakness of a single industry (food processing) rather than the failing of the entire state's economy. Here's what the World-Herald wrote so belatedly and inadequately:
Growth in Nebraska's manufacturing sector continued to accelerate in June despite weakness in the state's large food processing industry, according to a regional manufacturing survey.

The report puts into perspective a study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicating that Nebraska had the slowest growth nationwide in gross state product in 2004.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index report showed that growth in Nebraska's manufacturing sector accelerated for the third time in four months. The state's index rose to 63.7 from 61.4.

A reading of more than 50 means supply managers foresee growth for the state over the next three to six months.

"Economic strength in most sectors offset much weaker numbers for food processors in the state. I expect international economic embargoes of U.S. beef like that of the Japanese and Taiwanese to continue to negatively affect the Nebraska economy in the months ahead," said Ernie Goss, director of the Creighton University Economic Forecasting Group and author of the report.

His analysis echoed that of economists from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which released the report showing Nebraska ranked last nationwide in 2004 economic growth, increasing at a rate of just 0.9 percent...

How good of the World-Herald to finally "put into perspective" news that they never reported to begin with. Not on the front page. Not anywhere. Even this article ran deep inside the paper on the second page of the business section. It also ran on Saturday, which is the least-read day of any newspaper. How crooked is that?

My God, it's not every year that your state gets the dishonor of being declared the unofficial Stagnation National Champion. Closing your eyes to this fact, hiding it from your readers before explaining it away doesn't make the numbers any less true.

A newspaper that covers-up rather than covering the news? This is reprehensible. This is appalling. More and more, it seems to me....this is business as usual with the Omaha World-Herald.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

World-Herald Paves Way for Persecution

by Kyle Michaelis
Today, the Omaha World-Herald went ahead and revealed in a front-page story the name of the plaintiff in "ACLU Nebraska and John Doe v. the City of Plattsmouth," the local variant on a series of court cases nationwide challenging the constitutionality of displays of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments on public property.

They'd been itching to pull the trigger on this one for some time, getting into quite the verbal and legal battle with the ACLU over their planned revealing of "John Doe's" true identity. The ACLU lawyers in the case claim to have faced incredible harassment from the public themselves and wanted to shield their client from such pressures, including potential death threats.

After the World-Herald's uncovering the identity of "John Doe", the ACLU sought a court injunction to prevent them from publishing this information, but the effort failed. Ever since, the ACLU has been a frequent target of pithy editorial comments for their supposedly hypocritical attempt to impugn the rights of a free press by fulfilling their duty as lawyers protecting their client.

At the time, the World-Herald promised they only wanted to serve the public interest - not endanger anyone - while questioning the ethics of anonymous lawsuits that seek to influence public policy. Well, obviously, as evidenced by today's story, it serves the public interest not only to know the plaintiff's name but also to see his picture and that of his license plate. Otherwise, why would the World-Herald run these photos?

The article also revealed that "John Doe" drives a Toyota, listed his employer, and described the make and location of his family's home in Plattsmouth. Tasteful. Very tasteful.

Poor man. For someone who claims to have already "had threats to firebomb my house, to have my son beaten" this has to seem like a contract on his and his family's lives. Is this really the treatment one deserves for standing up for something they belive in against the majority? Pretty damn despicable of the World-Herald if you ask me. Shame on writer John Ferak, photographer Jeff Bundy, and the whole damn outfit for showing such a complete lack of sensitivity.

Hopefully, the good people of Plattsmouth will show more concern and compassion, keeping this battle in the courts where it belongs.

What's most pathetic about the World-Herald's running this article today, though, is actually its lead editorial which has the audacity to demand a federal shield law that protects the identity of anonymous sources in the press.

How hypocritical is that to reveal the identity (and so much more) of a man afraid for his life on the same day they demand reporters be exempted from ever being forced to reveal such things in a criminal investigation. Talk about a power trip - the World-Herald wants to be judge, jury, and executioner...above the law in every way.

Now, personally, I support some legal assurances of confidentiality in the press, but I'm not the one who just violated the very principle on which such an idea should be founded - not some precariously vague notion of freedom of the press but rather serving the public good by protecting whistle-blowers and those who challenge the status quo.

In the "Valerie Plame" incident that forces this issue, there is no honest claim to serving the public good. The name of a CIA operative was leaked to the press as payback against a critic of the Bush Administration. Of course, here comes the World-Herald to defend a principle they violated on the exact same day - perhaps because the identity of this anonymous source could very well be none other than "Bush's Brain" Karl Rove.

Just goes to show: actions speak louder than words and - when both are twisted to serve such a blindly partisan political agenda as the World-Herald's - all bets are off.

Does the World-Herald do this intentionally - are they so hypocritical just to see if they can get away with it? In that case, how much must they hate their readers because this....this is ridiculous. I would suggest this was a new low if I wasn't so sure the next one's right around the corner.

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