Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fortenberry and the Big Easy

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Lincoln Journal-Star had a pretty sizeable puff piece by Don Walton about U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry visiting a high school and local bakery (The Kolac Korner...which I highly recommend) in tiny Prague, Nebraska. Of course, the article makes mention of Nebraska voters' dissatisfaction with President Bush's conducting of the war in Iraq, but Walton gives Fortenberry free-reign to spout off the Republican party-line on this and Bush's failed energy policy without challenge.

The article reads:
Over morning coffee at Kolac Korner and during the usual round of beers at night, the topic in this rural community is Iraq.

“They’re blaming the president; they’re upset about the loss of American life,” cafe owner Mark Nemec tells Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

“They’re asking: ‘Why are we there?’”....

Concern about Iraq has been the leading topic on the minds of Fortenberry’s constituents as he has made the rounds during the August congressional recess.

It was the first question raised by a parent after the first-term Republican congressman wrapped up an informal discussion with 12 Prague High School seniors during their morning English class on Monday.

It was the first thing on Nemec’s mind when the 1st District congressman stepped into the corner cafe in this town of 300 people northwest of Wahoo for a pork sandwich.

Second was rising gas prices, which already have triggered price hikes by Nemec’s food suppliers.

“Gas prices are a fairly recent topic,” Fortenberry said as he drove back to Lincoln after lunch. “I think those are the two big issues right now.”

Fortenberry’s position on Iraq is resolute. “This is a war. It is dangerous and risky. In spite of terrible setbacks, terrible losses of American lives, I believe this is a work in progress that is progressing.”

Already, he suggested, Iraq is batting 4 for 4, having established an interim government, held national elections, created a transitional national assembly and prepared a constitution that will be submitted to a referendum vote in October....

Rising gas prices are largely a product of the economic laws of supply and demand, Fortenberry said.

The energy bill approved by Congress last month addresses the need to develop domestic energy sources, he said, including renewable fuels.

Wow, it's like a press release brought to life. Iraq and gas prices "are two big issues right now" - well, thank you, Captain Obvious.

Got to give these Republican Congressmen props for message control....even if it is with the assistance of local media who seemingly refuse to ask any tough questions.

Of course, I don't know who Fortenberry thinks he's kidding with this Iraq "batting 4 for 4" nonsense. If Iraq were a baseball game maybe one player has a stat like that, but every other player is 0 for infinity...and, by the way, every fan in the stadium has either been killed by the military, killed by a suicide bomber, or trampled to death in a mass panic that either of the previous two might occur.

Then, there's the same ol', same ol' excuse blaming supply and demand for our every energy woe. Fortenberry even has the audacity to act as if the Republican Energy Bill does one one-hundredth of what should be done to push renewable fuels and the development of alternative fuel technology. It was one massive corporate hand-out that noone in Congress can say with a straight face does a single thing to ween this country from its dependence on foreign oil. Shameful and pathetic.

But, the thing that's most obviously missing from this article, which could not possibly be more relevant, is Fortenberry's comments on Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Remember, Fortenberry has been a Louisianan most of his life - he's by far the most prominent Louisianan Nebraska's ever produced - and the Journal-Star doesn't even think to get his comment....EVEN WHEN HE'S TALKING ABOUT THE PRICE OF GASOLINE THAT THIS CATASTROPHE IS FORCING TO UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS???? Even when Bush and the Republican Congress are guilty of diverting funds and destroying habitats that would have helped protect New Orleans from the worst of this damage????

Talk about forgetting where you come from. Talk about a newspaper not doing its job. Then again, we wouldn't want to remind voters that our beloved first-term Congressman isn't a native son, not when there's another election just 14 months away.

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As if $3.40 gas wasn't bad enough....

by Kyle Michaelis comes word that the U.S. poverty rate rose in 2004 for the fourth year in a row.

Yes, census data indicates that every year of the Bush Presidency more and more Americans have fallen into poverty.

The AP reports:
Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million — up 1.1 million from 2003 — according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure.

The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, and that the number of people without health insurance edged up by about 800,000 to 45.8 million people....

While disappointed, the Bush administration — which has not seen a decline in poverty numbers since the president took office — said it was not surprised by the new statistics....

Overall, the nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year. Of the 37 million living below the poverty level, close to a third were children.

The last decline in overall poverty was in 2000, during the Clinton administration...

How'd Nebraska do by these standards? Well, actually, the poverty rate fell in the Cornhusker state by all of 0.6%.

Before celebrating, though, we must note this same census data also reports that Nebraskans' median income was down a full 1.3% in 2004, while the number of those without health care rose to 11.4% of the population.

And just think...these numbers are all before the economic shock of $3+ gasoline had reverberated throughout the economy. The cost of living is going to sky rocket if this lasts for long, certainly pushing more and more citizens into poverty and forcing them to cut the fat on expenses like health care.

4 years down, 4 years to go....who knows what President Bush has in store for us next?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

When Ignorance Kills - Sex and Politics

by Kyle Michaelis
Far too little has been said about the scourge of sexually transmitted diseases in Omaha that has undoubtedly spread throughout Nebraska. We should all be ashamed of ourselves for allowing public policy to be dictated by religious fanatics who would rather see young people suffer and die for their supposed sins rather than educating them about safe sex and healthy choices - emotional, mental, physical, and - yes - spiritual, if that's your cup of tea.

At least, it seems some brave souls in Douglas County are trying to do something to beat back this ignorance-inspired onslaught of preventable pestilence. The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Local health officials want young people in the community to talk about sexually transmitted diseases and become educated about their effects.

The officials also want teens and twentysomethings - groups in Douglas County that have seen epidemic rates of STDs in recent years - to get tested and treated for the diseases.

Two governments and a community group have come together to help fund that testing and treatment.

Douglas County included $40,000 in the budget it passed last month for STD testing and treatment, said Chris Rodgers, Douglas County Board member.

Since then, the City of Omaha has pledged $10,000 and the United Way of the Midlands has offered $25,000, Rodgers said.

Representatives of the groups gathered today outside the Charles Drew Health Center to announce the new funding and to spread the word about the need for STD testing and treatment.

In the past year, 1,000 young people turned to the Health Center at 2915 Grant St. for STD testing, said Dr. Richard Brown, Charles Drew's chief executive officer. Forty percent of those people were infected with an STD, he said.

The $75,000 in new funding will be used in part to support a Charles Drew program that notifies the sexual partners of those with STDs about the infections, Brown said.

"It is real. It is here," Brown said of STDs in Omaha and Douglas County. "The only weapon we have is education, information and intelligence."

The Douglas County Board of Health declared an epidemic of gonorrhea and chlamydia in the county in March 2004, said Dr. Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department.

In 2003, the latest year for which data are available, 522 people out of every 100,000 Douglas County residents had chlamydia, Pour said. In addition, 245 people out of every 100,000 people in the county had gonorrhea, she said.

The national rates were 304 people per 100,000 people for chlamydia and 116 per 100,000 people for gonorrhea.

Seventy-five percent of those infected in Douglas County were between 15 and 29, Pour said.

County health officials hope to have reduced the occurrence of each disease by 15 percent by 2010, she said.

This funding goes to testing and treatment - both of which are incredibly important - but we are failing our children and failing ourselves so long as we fail to make comprehensive sex education one of our very highest priorities. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it's being measured in human lives.

The Republican Party is imposing ignorance here in Nebraska and across the country, and no one is willing to stand-up to them on it. They don't care that their method of "education" doesn't work. All they care about is fulfilling an agenda that leaves young adults like innocent lambs before the slaughter in matters of their own sexuality.

It doesn't work. It's not education - JUST SAY NO to Abstinence-Only!

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Pardon My Idealist Rant

by Kyle Michaelis
In this so-called "political blogosphere", we all have our individual identities. We are defined by what we choose to write about, what we choose not to write about, what we simply never get around to writing about (increasingly a problem of mine), and - finally - what we actually write.

While a proud Nebraska Democrat to the core, I have never and will never refrain from commenting when my party's actions fail to live up to my ideals. Hell, if I care about my party, I see it as my duty to speak-out specifically on those occasions. That's why I now must address a story that came out this weekend about two fellow Democrats buying potential domain names for websites Republican candidates are likely to desire for their own.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Everything is for sale in cyberspace, but Tony Ojeda, a candidate for the Legislature, figured there were some lines people wouldn’t cross. Then somebody bought a Web address he planned to use in his campaign: Ojeda got a little angry. Then he found out who bought it: Ryan Renner. And Ojeda’s lid blew off.

Renner is president of the University of Nebraska at Omaha College Democrats.

“This is very underhanded,” said Ojeda, a Republican running for the seat in District 30, which covers Gage County and the southern half of Lancaster County....

Renner confirmed he bought but declined to comment further.

But others in his party say Ojeda reeks of sour grapes. Snatching up name-based Web addresses has become a favorite game of political operatives with both major parties.

To date, though, Nebraska politicos haven’t used the trick much, if at all. Then a higher-up in the state Democratic Party added it to his regular battle arsenal.

Earlier this year, Heath Mello went on an Internet buying spree, picking up Web addresses containing the names of some of the state’s most well-known Republican politicians and candidates.

He is the owner of,,, and, referring to U.S. Senate candidate David Kramer, a Republican.

Mello, deputy director of the state Democratic Party, pocketed another Web address he thinks might come in handy:

That could someday lead surfers to a site criticizing U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican who represents the 1st District.

Mello says he, not the party, bought the addresses for about $10 each. But not as a “low-ball tactic,” he said.

“It’s a strategy to get the other side to think harder about marketing their Web sites,” Mello said.

“For tech-savvy operations around the country, it’s what people are doing — both Republicans and Democrats.”

Asked if he would sell some of the addresses to their namesakes, Mello said he’d be willing to negotiate.

Neither Mello nor Barry Rubin, executive director of the state Democratic Party, could recall instances where Nebraska Republicans bought addresses containing the names of Democrats.

Rubin said he has witnessed Republican name-snatching in other states. “Republicans started it,” he said.

Rubin’s counterpart in the state Republican Party, Jessica Moenning, scolded the Democrats and said she was confident nobody on her staff had used the tactic.

“It sounds like the Democrats are gearing up for a dirty campaign season,” she said.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't that big of a deal. Anyone who tries to make a big deal about buying up some domain names is pretty damn desperate to make a big deal about something, likely anything to get their name in the paper with a few partisan shots.

But, the guiding question when evaluating a strategy like this is: who does it serve? Does this really serve the interests of the public? Does this really help voters make informed decisions while reflecting the values we want to put forward?

No. I don't think so. A tactic such as this isn't so much under-handed as it is petty. I think it's beneath the Democratic Party I believe in. I don't like gimmicks. I don't like tricks. We are going to win or lose - live or die - on ISSUES ISSUES ISSUES. When you're running a campaign or building a party on issues, I think (I hope) you'll realize this isn't a game and shouldn't be played like one. We either uphold our values or they don't exist.

I don't mean to sit in judgment on Mello and Renner. They're just playing the game the way that it is played. From that perspective, they should probably be congratulated for their innovative strategy, but I'm bothered enough by this "innovation's" dragging us further down the road of making total mockery of true democracy and honest debate, playing into the worst cynicism of the American voter, that I can't condone it.

But I'm just one man - one man with an opinion. The Democratic Party has to do what it has to do. Yes, the Republicans would have engaged in this tactic. I'm certain that they soon will. Their actions in the Lincoln City Council races were far more despicable and repulsive. But, how can we make an issue of their tactics when we prove so willing to travel down the same road. Yes, we can continue to lower the bar in this sad game of the limbo that politics have become - Jack be nimble, Jack be quick - but remember this bit of advice from a little green man named Yoda: "Once you travel down the dark path, forever shall it control your destiny."

So long as we walk this road, we will lose (says a guy who just quoted Star Wars as a basis for his philosophy). John Kerry didn't take such a hit from the Swiftboat Veterans because he wasn't doing the same thing to Bush. He took such a hit because he couldn't stand up with integrity, look the American people in the eye, and denounce these stooges and their Republican masters for SINKING SO LOW because so many of his own people would have done the exact same thing.

In this world, you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Yes, negative campaigning works, but it works because voters don't expect anything more and we have no credibility telling them they should.
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On a side note - Mello's bit about encouraging the other side to think harder about marketing - that's one of the most ridiculous and perhaps genius bits of positioning I've ever heard. If that doesn't bring a knowing smile to your face (with maybe just a hint of sadness), you must live a joyless existence.

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Hagel Takes (a little) Friendly Fire

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald included a rare couple of potshots on their golden boy, U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, from our old friend Harold W. Andersen for Hagel's recent assessment that the U.S. is losing in Iraq. Andersen's critique includes the following:
I think it's fair to say that U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., continues - with the very considerable help of the Sunday morning TV talk-show circuit - to do a very effective job of informing the public of his frequently repeated views on the war in Iraq; i.e., that we're in deep trouble in Iraq and that the Bush administration has failed to develop a realistic policy for withdrawal from that country before it becomes another Vietnam.

I think it is also fair to observe that Hagel's Republican colleagues in the Senate get considerably less attention when they express views sharply different from Hagel's. Consider the way the Associated Press reported last Sunday's television talkshow appearances of three Republican senators - Hagel, George Allen of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Hagel's views were mentioned in 16 of the 24 paragraphs in the story. Sens. Allen and Graham, who disagree with Hagel, received attention in six paragraphs....

Despite the disapproval of some Nebraskans who were early Hagel supporters, it's highly unlikely, I think, that Hagel will choose to appear less often on the Sunday morning television talk-show circuit or use less combative language in his persistent criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Hagel would strengthen his case, I believe, if he would offer his plan for U.S. policy in Iraq - how many troops to leave and for how long and what conditions to leave behind: a stable government, continuing civil war, whatever. To date, his Iraq policy has been primarily to criticize what he says is the Bush administration's failure to develop a credible strategy for leaving Iraq.

Andersen can't possibly be stupid enough to fail to understand why 2 Republican senators giving stock answers and repeating the same crap we've been hearing from the Bush Administration for 2 and a half years isn't very newsworthy.

Hagel's criticisms aren't newsworthy because they're new - war critics have been saying the same things since before the invasion - they're newsworthy because they defy the Republican Party's self-imposed blindfolding on all the many fronts down which Bush is leading us toward disaster.

Of course, Andersen is right that Hagel's complaints are somewhat lacking in substance, but, honestly, that's okay. This war is Bush's baby. Congress has the ability to cut funding for it, but the day-to-day conducting of the war rests squarely on Bush's shoulders (though we all share in responsibility for it since he is our "democratically-elected" leader). Criticizing a mistaken approach, standing up and reminding the American people that it's the height of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, is an entirely legitimate action in the public's interest even if just to get people thinking about alternative solutions and strategies (especially when "solutions", in this situation, may not exist).

Perhaps Andersen should hold himself to the same standard he is holding Senator Hagel. If he's going to criticize Hagel's lack of a strategy to solve this coming quagmire of Bush's creation, doesn't he owe a strategy of his own? Or is "staying the course" despite all facts and reason good enough? I'd like to know.

Of course, Andersen was not alone in his commenting on Hagel in Sunday's OWH. Columnist Michael Kelly, though, wrote more of a love letter:
I met Hagel, a decorated, twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, when he returned to live in Nebraska in 1992 after more than two decades in Washington, D.C. I wrote a column, "Chuck Hagel Coming Home."

We're not close friends, and I don't agree with his every position. But after observing him before and after his 1996 election to the Senate, I disagree that he's speaking out now merely to boost his chances for a 2008 presidential nomination.

I hope Hagel does seek the GOP nomination - though his speaking out against the war may have a negative effect politically, which makes his stand all the more principled.

Time would test his ideas and whether he is the person for the top spot on the ticket or the top seat in the nation. But for now, we need his willingness to ask hard questions, which few others are doing....

Agree with him or not, Sen. Hagel should at least be allowed to continue asking questions without being vilified.

Criticize Hagel, certainly. But some critics, including some veterans, say you can't have it both ways, that you can't "support the soldiers and oppose the war."

The logic of that criticism is puzzling. What is more puzzling is questioning a combat-hardened United States senator's patriotism.

A little history lesson in there for you on how far back the World-Herald's selection of Hagel as its next golden boy goes. Nice to see that Kelly is more dedicated to that appointment than his superiors. Of course, notice that even Kelly's glowing assessment of Hagel's remarks makes clear they aren't made MERELY to boost his presidential prospects. Doesn't mean that's not a HUGE factor.

Meanwhile, for a final bit of perspective from another area journalist who generally proves similarly infatuated with Hagel, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton notes:
Here are contrasting views on Chuck Hagel’s latest critical assessment of U.S. policy in Iraq.

Rush Limbaugh: “It’s odd to me that (he) would apparently like to be lumped in with (the) far-fringe American left. I think what (Hagel) is really excited about is he thinks he can be the lone Republican here to get out in front of what’s really happening and be the guy who sounded the warning bells, but he’s wrong about it.”

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson: “As the nation shuns the war, Hagel is becoming the principled face of revulsion from within.” Jackson compares Hagel’s position with that of Democratic Sen. William Fulbright, who turned against President Johnson’s war in Vietnam in spite of party.

The Hotline, a must-read on Capitol Hill, was in full speculative flight last week.

“Considering the wrath Rush Limbaugh delivered to Hagel on his radio show yesterday (an audience comprised of likely WH GOP primary voters), it’s hard to see how Hagel gets primary traction” in a possible bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

“But is the GOP nomination what Hagel is after, or the WH? Considering the level of polarization between the parties, is it really hard to imagine someone bolting a major party and attempting a WH run as an indie? The ability to test a third-party bid in the Internet age is going to tempt some major player in ‘08.”

Some mighty, mighty speculation going on there. But never under-estimate the press' power of suggestion, especially in this age of media hype. Hagel running for President as an independent, though - that's pretty damn crazy. For now on, Walton should probably look for comment from people a little less biased than Rush Limbaugh and The Hotline, as if they really represented opposing viewpoints. Walton conveniently fails to mention that the Hotline is a product of the notoriously conservative National Journal.

The Hotline, for all its fanciful notions, may be a must-read in certain corners of Capitol Hill, probably even the White House, but let's call it what it is - the Republican Party's daily dose of talking points and hack-speak - Rush Limbaugh for people who want to read what they're supposed to think rather than being told over the radio. Maybe Walton should be a little more clear about that the next time out.

********Disclaimer and Apology************
The above post makes some unfair assessments of the Hotline blog, which, at the time of this post, I was confusing as a product of the Right-wing National Review rather than the less discernibly partisan National Journal (with which it is actually affiliated). I apologize for misleading readers with so embarrassing a display of ignorance, and I apologize to the Hotline and Don Walton for my unfair denunciations.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Our Man in the Third?

by Kyle Michaelis

Things are getting a little bit more exciting on the candidate front for the Nebraska Democratic Party. Yesterday, on his 30th birthday, Scott Kleeb announced he's running as a Democrat to replace Rep. Tom Osborne in the state's Third Congressional District. Young, well-spoken, and smart as hell, Kleeb might be just the man long-suffering Democrats in Western Nebraska have been waiting for.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Scott Kleeb, 30, a Yale graduate who works on a Dunning ranch, said Tuesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to succeed Republican Rep. Tom Osborne.

Kleeb is the first Democrat to enter the race for the 3rd District, long considered a GOP stronghold.

Six Republicans already are dueling for their party's nomination. The primary election is May 9.

Kleeb, who opposes abortion and the death penalty, said that as a congressman he would work to improve agriculture markets and the district's infrastructure, including its schools, roads and hospitals.

He also said he supports ethanol, the Iraq war and efforts to find alternative energy. "Wind in the 3rd District is wonderful, it's huge and it's an untapped resource," Kleeb said.

Kleeb also believes his unusual background, and his education, will be a plus.

"We need young people coming back to our state. Folks who get their education and come back to the communities that they're from. That's exactly what I'm doing," he said....

Kleeb said he has always considered himself a Nebraskan, especially since his first year at the ranch.

"What makes me a Nebraskan is that I have identified with this place. I know what it's like to deliver a calf and get it breathing at 3 a.m. ," Kleeb said.

From the sound of it, I might disagree with the man on a few issues, but I'm keeping an open mind because - damn it - these issues are more complex than the thumbs-up or thumbs-down being reported this early in the game. Self-appointed labels are convenient for newspapers but anyone who votes on their basis rather than a careful examination of an individual candidates' actual statements is doing a great disservice to our democracy.

To be honest, though, a Democrat talking about Nebraska's potential in wind energy production already is in my good graces. This techonology has sat under-developed and under-utilized for too long. I've seen reports that this state is 4th in wind energy potential but 46th in its actual production. How pathetic and short-sighted can we be?

It's high time our great system of public power makes this investment in a cleaner, less oil-dependent future. In the Third District, alternative energy and agricultural policy are the areas where a truly PROGRESSIVE voice with BOLD ideas is so needed...especially with the Republicans talking about drastic changes coming in the 2007 Farm Bill that, if recent legislation serves as any indicator, is sure to benefit giant agricultural interests and corporations at the expense of family farms and the American taxpayer.

On a side note, Kleeb's announcement follows on the heels of an exciting development in Omaha last week with Democrat Jim Esch, 29, announcing his own bid to unseat four-term Republican Rep. Lee Terry in the 2nd Congressional District. Great to see these young energetic candidates, hopefully with some fresh ideas, taking the lead.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the state Democratic Party Barry Rubin is quoted in today's Lincoln Journal-Star promising Democrats soon will have candidates in the 2006 governor's and 1st Congressional District races. That is most welcome news.

Nebraska Democrats must offer an alternative - the people demand and deserve it. The Republicans have gone unchallenged for too long. It's allowed them to make a mess of so much without being held accountable in the slightest. It is time for Nebraskans to wake-up to the new Democratic Party with new faces, renewed passion, and a freedom from dogmas of Democrats past - an independence on hot button issues rooted in character, principle, and conscience - that no Republican in this state has the guts to match.

It is time for a new Nebraska with a new political identity, rooted in the issues and values of the citizenry rather than the label they wear. It is time to turn off the blinders, say good bye to the color coded maps, and get back to the work of building a stronger America and a better world.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hagel in the Headlines

by Kyle Michaelis
Sen. Chuck Hagel's weekend attention-grabbing has obviously worked. At this moment, his remarks this morning on ABC's "This Week" are the lead story on both the Drudge Report (GOP Senator Says Iraq Looking Like Vietnam) and the Huffington Post (Sen. Hagel: "We're Not Winning"..."We Are Locked Into A Bogged Down Problem" Like Vietnam...).

Impressive. Most impressive. It's amazing how much of a big deal one Republican senator's breaking with the party line has become in George W. Bush's hyper-partisan America. All this just for applying a little bit of common sense to the Iraq problem and admitting it doesn't look good for us. Of course, Hagel continues to try his best to spin the war into being something more than a total mistake and one of the worst foreign policy blunders of all time, but one gets the feeling it's only to save his skin for supporting the damnable thing in the first place.

But here, let's allow the man to speak for himself (as reported by the AP):
A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said Sunday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq.

Hagel scoffed at the idea that U.S. troops could be in Iraq four years from now at levels above 100,000, a contingency for which the Pentagon is preparing.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq ... we're not winning," he said....

Hagel, who was among those who advocated sending two to three times as many troops to Iraq when the war began in March 2003, said a stronger military presence by the U.S. is not the solution today.

"We're past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have"....

"What I think the White House does not yet understand - and some of my colleagues - the dam has broke on this policy," Hagel said. "The longer we stay there, the more similarities (to Vietnam) are going to come together."

The Army's top general, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, said Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press that the Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq - well over 100,000 - for four more years as part of preparations for a worst-case scenario....

Hagel described the Army contingency plan as "complete folly."

"I don't know where he's going to get these troops," Hagel said. "There won't be any National Guard left ... no Army Reserve left ... there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years."

Hagel added: "It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won't be four years. We need to be out."

For the Republican party line with which Hagel has broken (in words, yet not at all in deeds), the same story goes on to mention:
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the U.S. is winning in Iraq but has "a way to go" before it meets its goals there.

Well, at least we don't have a stooge like that representing us in the Senate (3 in Congress...but hey, no state's perfect). Stay tuned. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this: Hagel either backing off when undesirables use his own words for their purposes or perhaps - maybe, just maybe - building a bit of a coalition between like-minded Democrats who have been saying the same things for months and those last bastions of reasonable Republicans who haven't totally lost their grasp on reality.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Hagel's "truth to power"

by Kyle Michaelis
U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel has attracted some attention nationally (isn't that the point?) in the last few days with comments criticizing President Bush's conducting of the war in Iraq, as well as questioning his handling of the Cindy Sheehan situation.

In both cases, Hagel earns gold stars for his mere willingness to break free of the Republican Party's "See no evil, Speak no evil" stranglehold on all matters concerning Iraq (or really any of the federal government's numerous, disastrous failings since Republicans seized control of every branch). It is always refreshing when Hagel speaks candidly even if his words strike hollow and are rarely backed up with action.

If the illusion of independence is really what Nebraska voters want, then this is their man (not to be confused with a genuine non-partisan like Ben Nelson). But let's just see what Hagel had to say.

Reuters reports on Hagel (and Nebraska voters' discontent) from Broken Bow:
In the solidly Republican state of Nebraska, voters are expressing deep anxiety about rising gasoline prices and the war in Iraq, a possible early warning sign for President George W. Bush in one of his most reliable strongholds.

When Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel traveled around his home state this week, citizens at every stop brought up Iraq policy and the inexorable rise in fuel prices.

"Is there anything the United States can do to get some stability in crude oil prices in the world, because it affects everything we do?" Larry Ahlers, a manager at medical device manufacturer Becton and Dickinson in Broken Bow, asked Hagel in one of dozens of such encounters.

Hagel, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, responded that gasoline prices were likely to stay high for the foreseeable future because of rising world demand and the U.S. failure to develop new energy sources and conserve.

Earlier the same day in Lincoln, an elderly woman asked about Iraq. "Why are we there in the first place?" she asked.

On Tuesday in the central Nebraska town of Lexington, after a meeting with law enforcement officials on drug problems, three sheriffs expressed serious doubts about what the United States was doing in Iraq and whether it could succeed.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, acknowledged the U.S. military presence was becoming harder and harder to justify. He believes Iraq faces a serious danger of civil war that would threaten Middle East stability, and said there is little Washington can do to avert this.

"We are seen as occupiers, we are targets. We have got to get out. I don't think we can sustain our current policy, nor do I think we should," he said at one stop.

In an interview, Hagel said uncertainties over Iraq and oil prices fed off and reinforced each other.

"The mood is one of a certain sense of unsteadiness," he said. "I have sensed that since September 11, 2001. Our people have still not found an equilibrium and when you get these shocks, like gasoline at $2.50 a gallon and projecting natural gas costs doubling and tripling from what they paid last year, that further shakes them...."

"I think there's this steady unsure sense about where is this all leading - the constant daily reports on Iraq, our people being killed there, the money being spent there," he added....

Hagel said even some who had previously backed Bush strongly on Iraq now felt deep unease.

"The feeling that I get back here, looking in the eyes of real people, where I knew where they were two years ago or a year ago - they've changed," he said....

Hagel said Bush faced a growing credibility gap. "The expectations that the president and his administration presented to the American people 2 1/2 years ago is not what the reality is today. That's presented the biggest credibility gap problem he's got," he said.

"I hope he has some sense that something's going on out in the country, that there's a lack of confidence that has developed in our position."

Those are damn harsh words from a Republican Senator, even harsher if you think about them. Hagel is indicating not only that Bush is out of touch with the American people but that he has lost their trust, even in Nebraska. That is a pretty serious charge even if it is backed up by every bit of polling data and common sense this country has to offer.

Can you imagine the uproar if Ben Nelson even said half of what Hagel's saying? Radio ads would be declaring him a dangerous pinko from Scottsbluff to Beatrice.

Meanwhile, today's Washington Post quotes Hagel referring to the President's foolish handling of Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son in this war and only wants an answer to why:
Some Republicans have concluded that the White House mishandled the Sheehan situation. Bush sent two top aides to talk with her but refused to see her himself, having already met her once last year as part of a larger session with relatives of war casualties.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said yesterday that Bush would have been smarter to see Sheehan. "I do know that he met with her and other families prior, but I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her into the ranch," Hagel said on CNN.

Sorry Chuck, I think Bush may have ruined the idea of "compassionate conservatism" on which he ran forever with his continued policies making mockery of both terms. Might need a new angle to run with if it's the presidency you're after.

Still, Hagel is right on, speaking as a Veteran himself, in calling for the dignified treatment Sheehan deserved and most certainly has not received. I dare say it is an insult to all those who have lost loved ones and all those who fight to this day.

So, keep speaking truth to power Sen. Hagel, even if that truth only comes out when it's convenient and that power is intended to be your own.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cindy Sheehan's Struggle Hits Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis

Yesterday, there were an estimated 1,625 vigils across the country supporting grieving mother Cindy Sheehan's continued efforts to speak with President Bush during his month-long Texas vacation about his reasons for going to war in Iraq - a decision that has resulted in the deaths of more than 1800 American service men and women, among them Sheehan's 24 year-old son Casey.

The Omaha World-Herald estimated 300 Omahans came out to the vigil at Memorial Park, while another 150 people stood along O Street in Lincoln in support of the troops but in opposition to continued Iraqi military operations. At the Lincoln event, one Nebraska mother participated who knew all too well Sheehan's pain and frustration. The World-Herald reports:
Becky Henderson would love to go to Crawford, Texas, and join Cindy Sheehan in her vigil.

The Lincoln woman said she would camp out with her fellow grieving mom and also try to talk to President Bush about what it means to lose a son in what she called an unnecessary war.

"I'd tell him what it's like to go to bed at night and see your child's life flash before your eyes like a slide show," Henderson said.

Other obligations keep Henderson from going to Texas. But she joined about 150 others Wednesday night in Lincoln in a candlelight vigil supporting the California woman who is camped near Bush's ranch.

Henderson, 55, shares a painful bond with Sheehan, having also lost a son to the Iraq war last year. Matthew Henderson, a 25-year-old Marine, was killed in May 2004 by a roadside bomb.

While Sheehan's vigil has become politicized, Henderson said, she doesn't think that was the original intent.

"She's just a mom who wants to talk to the president. I would love to, too," she said. "My involvement is as a mother who does not want to have other families go through what we've gone through. When is enough enough?"

Meanwhile, on a similarly heart-felt note, Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Cindy Lange-Kubrick writes today:
I feel guilty that someone else's sons and daughters are a world away patrolling the streets of Ramadi and the rest of us are here watching reality TV and worrying about the price of filling up the minivan.

I feel guilty because most of the time the war doesn't pierce the protective bubble we've built around ourselves.

Have we been asked to plant victory gardens? Save scrap metal? Change our habits?

No. Instead, we've been told to travel, to spend, to go about our daily lives with little more than yellow ribbons on our bumpers.

And so we do.

And if we're against the war, we're afraid to say it too loud. We don't want the troops to think we don't support them. We don't want our neighbors to think we're not patriotic.

But the latest polls show more than half of us think getting into this war was a mistake, and more than that think we're less safe from terrorism now than we were before we bombed Baghdad.

We don't know if we're fighting to protect ourselves or to free the Iraqi people, to secure an oil supply or simply finish a job we started.

A grieving mother named Cindy Sheehan has set up camp outside of Crawford, Texas, asking her president to meet with her, to explain what it was her son died for.

Some people think she's a hero and some people think she's a pawn. They can debate her motives in letters to the editor until the cows come home and they'll never know for certain what's in her heart. I don't know, either.

I guess I think she's a mom who probably wishes her boy was 3.2 miles down the road in a dorm room, worrying about the first day of classes.

How true and how tragic that it takes such sadness and loss to finally capture the media's attention and the public's imagination. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Sheehan, Ms. Henderson, and all those who've paid price immeasurable in this sad and ill-reasoned conflict.

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One of the Good Guys

by Kyle Michaelis

The New Nebraska Network celebrates the election Tuesday night of Kevin Bernadt (dude on the left above) as Chair of the Lancaster County Democratic Party.

Kevin is a leader of passion and vision who will do great things in the coming years for the voters of Lincoln and the surrounding community. For anyone interested in getting involved in progressive Lincoln politics, now is certainly the time because you have a new champion and friend who is not only a man of action, but also a reasonable man with true concern for the voices of those too often neglected by the standard political process (youth, minorities, and anyone who labors for a living).

A great way to make that first step - getting involved locally and getting to know Kevin - would be to attend the "Donkeys at the Zoo" fundraiser at the Zoo Bar (136 N 14th St) on Sunday, August 28th from 5 to 8 pm. $10 gets you in for live music by the Tijuana Gigolos, with all proceeds going to the Lancaster County Democrats.

Well, that's all the soliciting the New Nebraska Network will be doing anytime soon. We salute Bernadt and the wisdom of Lincoln's Democratic activists, looking forward to what they have in store for us next.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Osborn vs. Nelson After All?

by Kyle Michaelis
After Representative Tom Osborne dashed the hopes of the Nebraska Republican Party by refraining from challenging Democratic Senator Ben Nelson in 2006, instead challenging Republican gubernatorial stand-in Dave Heineman, Nelson's chances of re-election undoubtedly improved. Yet, Republicans may still get the match up they hoped for, at least phonetically.

Today came word that Shane Osborn (no relation and minus the -e, not to mention 37 years), a Nebraska semi-celebrity for his brave service in the 2001 shooting down by the Chinese military of a U.S. spy plane he was piloting, is considering joining the recently-expanded three-man race for the Republican Senate nomination.

According to Osborn, the main factor that might prevent him from running is money, an understandable concern with a candidate such as Peter Ricketts in the fold who has an estimated worth of more than 200 million dollars (which he contends is closer to $25 million). At 31 years-old and discharged from the Navy less than a year ago, Osborn's work as an insurance broker in Omaha is yet too have paid off so handsomely.

Word of Osborn's interest in running for public office has been in the papers ever since the Norfolk-native's name made headlines following the China incident. Someone somewhere in the Republican Party has been advancing this kid for big things in the future, and it seems Osborn's bought into the notion in full if he's talking running for the U.S. Senate right out of the gate.

But honestly, I would guess it's not going to happen. This seems to be more a case of Osborn keeping his name in the papers with speculation that he might run just so people will still remember him when he finally takes that plunge. Having not yet formed a campaign committee or even started raising funds, it would seem pretty foolish for the young Osborn to try and throw a campaign together from scratch, running on media exposure alone, when he has a lot of years ahead of him to do this thing right. Don't you think?

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe this is more than a publicity-grab. Just don't count on it. Surely, Osborn's handlers understand they may only get one chance to convert his military honors into electoral capital (aka VOTES). I can't see them taking these long odds when a surer bet is probably right around the corner.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

D-Day for "the Degenerate Regent"

by Kyle Michaelis

It's past midnight folks, making it Friday, August 12 - the end of the 60 days afforded by Nebraska's legislature to Regent David Hergert for him to resign without facing the possibility of impeachment for his flagrant violations of state campaign finance laws during the 2004 election.

Hergert's response? "Hell no, I won't go"...

This sets up an interesting showdown. The legislature voted 31-0 calling for Hergert's resignation, showing there's definitely some resolve in that body to remove him from office. The question is whether impeachment is even an option, since state law generally reserves it for offenses committed "in office." A reasonable case can be made, however, that how one goes about securing such office is related enough to their elected duties as to be indistinguishable.

Because of Hergert's refusal to resign, the matter could well go to the courts to be settled, although the Lincoln Journal-Star already mentions censure being discussed in the legislature as an alternative means of punishment to avoid a prolonged and very costly battle.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Omaha World-Herald provided it's usual one-sided spin, lionizing Hergert as a beleagured old man and choosing only to quote voters from Hergert's district who support his staying in office. Have a taste of this garbage:
With a legislative deadline looming, University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert repeated that he has no plans to resign.

"I paid the penalties, and as far as I'm concerned, the issue is closed," Hergert said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The next move will be determined Aug. 22, when the Legislature's nine-member Executive Board meets to consider appointing a special committee in the case....

Also pending is a criminal investigation of Hergert's campaign activities by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. That investigation, requested by some lawmakers, is being conducted by the State Patrol. A spokeswoman for Bruning said the investigation continues.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, another Executive Board member, said he will distribute a lengthy legal memorandum to lawmakers Friday, coinciding with Hergert's deadline.

Chambers said it will spell out legal reasons why the Legislature has the authority to impeach Hergert for violating campaign finance laws.

"I'm more convinced of that now than I was at the outset," Chambers said.

Hergert's representatives have argued that the Nebraska Constitution authorizes impeachment only for misdeeds in office - not while campaigning for office....

In western Nebraska, where Hergert carried 29 of 35 counties in defeating incumbent Don Blank of McCook last November, random interviews found citizens with mixed feelings about Hergert's campaign finance problems.

Connie Amateis of Bridgeport said she thinks voters should have another crack at deciding whether Hergert should represent them.

Without that opportunity, she said, "senators should listen to the input of citizens, because we voted him in."

Like several of those interviewed, Amateis was critical of Hergert's violations but was not convinced that he should resign. "I'd like to know more about it," she said.

Mike Kantz of Gering said he voted for Hergert because he likes what the Panhandle businessman has done to promote agriculture.

"While an investigation is under way is not the time to be saying whether he should stay in office," Kantz said.

Sidney barber Loren Avey, a city councilman, said the Legislature should stay out of it. "When the voters vote something in, that should mean something," Avey said. "If not, why do we bother?"

Frank Gillick, who lives in Hergert's hometown of Mitchell, said it is understandable that someone could get behind on paperwork and miss deadlines.

"I don't think he was outright trying to scam the guy (Blank)," Gillick said. "He should stay in office."

Tim Holzfaster, owner of Ole's Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge in Paxton, said he has heard people criticize Hergert's actions while also supporting his remaining on the Board of Regents.

"What is more important to most people is that he would be an effective leader for western Nebraska," Holzfaster said. "That's why he carried the vote like he did."

Dora Livingston of Broadwater said she had mixed emotions about Hergert.

"I did vote for him. I'm not sure he should be ousted, but if he's going to run for office, he should know the law and follow it to the letter."

After some more thought, Livingston added: "I don't think he should resign."

Well, there you have it folks. No one ANYWHERE in Western Nebraska thinks Hergert should resign. Nope. Not one person gives a damn that a liar and a cheat who plays games with state law without even the pretense of honor to hold onto an ill-gotten office is sitting pretty on the Board of Regents dictating policies intended to develop University students who up-hold traditions of honesty, integrity, and excellence. My God, have we sunk so low that leadership by example is too much to expect?

That seems to be the line the World-Herald is trying to sell, but don't believe it for a second. Why, look at this. Here's some people the World-Herald definitely didn't talk to (or at least didn't quote) from Hergert's home county who aren't willing to give his multiple offenses a free pass, and I'm sure there are PLENTY MORE who similarly recognize the rules are there for a reason and that they must have consequences.

The Scotts Bluff County Democrats passed the following resolution calling for Hergert's resignation:
WHEREAS University of Nebraska Regent C. David Hergert violated campaign finance laws resulting in his election in November of 2004;

WHEREAS the Legislature of the State of Nebraska has embarked on proceedings that could lead to impeachment of Regent Hergert based on those violations which caused his opponent to lose public matching money of more than $15,000;

WHEREAS these violations will continue to gain attention and subsequent activities by the Legislature and other state government bodies will continue to mount just as important items are to be discussed by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents which will ultimately impact interests in western Nebraska;

WHEREAS though many western Nebraskans, including many registered Democrats, voted for Mr. Hergert in the hopes that someone from the panhandle of Nebraska would provide a voice for western interests, it is apparent that his current legal woes inhibit his ability to perform his duties;

NOW THEREFORE, the Scotts Bluff County Democratic Party resolves that the appropriate action for Mr. Hergert is to resign his office and allow the Governor to name a replacement who can perform effectively without a shroud of controversy.

They didn't even touch on the integrity of the office or the good of the students, so I say there was plenty more indecency and impropriety where this came from. Still, it's good to see someone make a stand even if the powers-that-be in this state choose not to recognize their voice.

Wow, can you imagine how up-in-arms these citizens the World-Herald dug-up calling for the legislature to respect the will of the voters must have been when the Republican Congress actually impeached their duly-elected President, Bill Clinton, for fibbing about a sexual relationship that had zero bearing on his office?

Yeah, I'd just love to hear their opinions on that one. I reckon there'd be more hypocrisy there than I could even muster the sarcasm to mock.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Another EndORRsement

by Kyle Michaelis
Just what do Republican candidates hope to get out of the endorsement of former Nebraska governor Kay Orr? Orr was never very well-liked and left office downright loathed in several corners of the state. Nevertheless, it's obvious she imagines herself something of a king-maker to this day in state Republican politics.

A few months back, Orr endorsed little-known Dave Nabity for governor, getting him a headline or two, and today the AP reports on her doing the same for a candidate in a different race:
Former Gov. Kay Orr is endorsing John Hanson for Congress.

Hanson, a former district director for U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., is one of four Republican candidates who have announced campaigns to succeed Osborne representing Nebraska's 3rd District.

Orr served as governor from 1986 to 1990. She and her husband, Bill, will serve as honorary co-chairs of Hanson's campaign, Hanson announced on Monday.

Hanson, 43, of Kearney described Orr as one of his political mentors.

Orr said she believed that Hanson's experience with the political process as a member of the state Republican Party's executive committee, as well as his work with Osborne, prepares him well for the office.

Other announced Republican candidates for the seat include state Sen. Adrian Smith of Gering, David Harris of Kilgore, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Biodefense Council, and Doug Polk, 45, a substitute teacher from Kearney.

No Democrat has announced plans to run for Osborne's seat.

In my mind, there's some very real doubt whether the thumbs-up from Orr is an asset or a liability with Nebraska voters. Of course, she's bound to have some pull with hardcore Republicans, but - again - this is not a woman who was well-loved in office, and her stature hasn't really improved ever since.

It's interesting, however, that she would choose to endorse a former aid of Osborne's on the basis of that relationship while at the same time endorsing Nabity who is a long-shot challenger of Osborne's for the governorship. Doesn't that seem like something of a disconnect?

Then again, maybe the purpose of these endORRsements is not to get a headline or two for the candidates but to grab them for herself. What shred of legitimacy her name provides Nabity has already proven something he hangs onto quite tightly against Osborne and Dave Heineman, both for whom Orr could have done very, very little. This maximizes her share of the spotlight, further perpetuating the illusion that she has reach even if Nabity doesn't connect with more than a handful of NASCAR-loving voters.

It's with this endorsement of Hanson, though, that we could see what Orr's blessing amounts to. This isn't the out-of-left-field choice that Nabity was - in this race, that would probably have been the substitute teacher. That means there's going to be some real expectations of Hanson to come through the primary with such a would-be establishment figure lining up behind him.

Who knows? Orr's endorsement didn't prove a kiss of death for Jeff Fortenberry in last year's 1st District race. Maybe she deserves a whole lot more credit than I know. Hanson comes through this all right, and I'll have to reconsider whether voters really hated this woman or just didn't care for her very much. Nabity gets that nomination for governor, though, and this whole darn world will have gone topsy-turvy. Orr would look like Nebraska's own cross between Machiavelli and Nostradamus.

Anyone care to make a bet? Check back often. We'll have the line from Vegas shortly.

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Politics of the Pump

by Kyle Michaelis
You know, in an industry as expansive as oil, it is certainly foolish to assign too much blame for high costs on any one factor. Nevertheless, this is too important an indicator of the ability of an average American to thrive in today's economy for it to receive as little political attention as it has.

As this Omaha World-Herald article suggests, it's about time President Bush and the Republican Congress start taking note:
Nebraska set a record high gas price today.

The average price for regular unleaded reached $2.34 per gallon. That beats the record set July 13 by about two pennies, according to AAA...

Prices probably will continue to rise for at least the next week, said Rose White, AAA Nebraska spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the price of crude oil hit an all-time high at $64 a barrel. Mid-to-low income American families are being hit terribly hard by such fast-rising gas prices, and Washington politicians all seem content to say there's nothing they can do about it.

Worse than that, these record prices are being framed by both politicians and the media as inevitable. They'd have us believe it's all just a matter of China's using more of the world oil supply. No one even seems willing to link the War in Iraq and its obviously unsettling influence throughout the Middle East, nor the record profits that American oil companies have brought in over the past year, to this upward shift in prices. Why is that?

With a Republican President and a Republican Congress who work so hard to cozy up with the oil industry and the dictatorial ruling family of Saudi Arabia, the American people rightfully deserve a better accounting of what's going on. Moreover, they deserve some sort of assurance that something is being done to relieve this enormous economic pressure on those least able to afford it.

President Bush just signed an Energy Bill that does nothing to address this country's addiction to foreign oil. Common sense steps such as investment in renewable energy and enforcement of stricter efficiency standards both took a back seat to a near-endless list of corporate hand-outs. Rather than looking to the future, American energy policy is being used to help big-time Republican contributors cash-in.

Well, it's time for voters to recognize how they're being played and how they're being ripped-off. The Democratic Party may not be able to offer any simple, immediate solutions to the problem of rising energy prices, but they can sure as hell be trusted to do a whole lot better than this.

The Republican Party controls every level of the federal govenrment and their policies aren't working for the American worker. In fact, they are failing across the board. Now that they're in power, though, and failing on so many levels, they have no one to blame, so they say there's nothing they can do. That's BS, and it's about damn time the American people call them on it.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

World-Herald Targets Nelson AGAIN

by Kyle Michaelis
This isn't the first time and it surely isn't the last, but it continues to dismay this reader that the World-Herald persists in singling-out Sen. Ben Nelson, the lone Democrat in Nebraska's Washington delegation, taking every opportunity to cast him in a negative light while his Republican counterparts get a free pass for the exact same practices.

There is a gross double-standard at work, and the World-Herald's recent focus on funding for a downtown Omaha garage Nelson secured in the unprecedentedly free-spending Transportation Bill passed by Congress last week is only its latest example. Read for yourself from their Thursday editorial entitled "Pork Is As Pork Does":
How interesting it was to read the defense by U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's office for its role in securing federal funds to build a parking garage at Creighton University.

The garage and accompanying public safety center will help revitalize the neighborhood of 24th and Burt Streets, a Nelson aide said. It will improve traffic safety in the area of the university and help motorists get around to other nearby destinations, including Qwest Center Omaha.

The garage also will be a "compensation" to Creighton for parking spaces lost through street improvements in the area, the aide said.

True, all true. But these comments don't explain the logic behind federal funding, perhaps because no such logic exists.

This is not to criticize Nelson for securing the funds nor Creighton for accepting them.

But let's just call it what it is.

The maneuvering to pass the federal highway bill was described by the Wall Street Journal as a historic spending spree as members of the House and Senate added thousands of personal requests.

All told, the $286.4 billion highway bill exceeded President Bush's veto limit by $2.4 billion....

Such historically useful terms as "pork barrel" and "log-rolling" almost lose their meaning in light of the way the game is played today. This is not about the care of federal facilities and the carrying out of federal responsibilities but, rather, constitutes a raiding of the Treasury for the purpose of bringing extra goodies home.

It's all by mutual consent. So long as I get mine, you can have yours....Let's not struggle too hard to find a substitute term for pork. And let's remember this the next time our elected officials complain about deficit spending.

A little honesty in these matters might help keep the situation from getting too far out of touch with reality.

How cute of the World-Herald to say they're not criticizing Nelson while using the full force of their editorial to associate him with government waste. Where's the mention that Omaha's Republican Congressman Lee Terry and former Gov. Mike Johanns also supported this spending? In despicable fashion, they target a Democratic Senator, as if the blame for this over-whelmingly Republican Congress' fiscal insanity belongs on his shoulders. How reprehensible.

The Lincoln Journal-Star took a much more even-keeled approach noting Congress' irresponsibility, writing:
Nebraska's congressional delegation — especially Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a former Lincoln City Council member following up on the previous efforts of his predecessor, Rep. Doug Bereuter, and Sens. Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel — were helpful in making sure Lincoln and Nebraska received a fair share of funds from a process that is dismayingly flawed.

In Lincoln, the Antelope Creek project was awarded $24 million. The money will be used for the Big T overpass south of the Devaney Center and for ramps and roads leading east and south.

Another $10.2 million was awarded for Lincoln's south and west beltways; $3 million was designated for widening Interstate 80 to three lanes between Interstate 180 and the 56th Street interchange; $500,000 was designated for the east beltway.

In all, the bill will provide $1.4 billion to Nebraska, an increase in federal highway funds of about 30 percent.

Unfortunately, the process used by Congress to dole out the money is so loosey-goosey that it's hard to imagine any attention at all was paid to the individual merit of projects.

Odd little provisions, such as a tax break for manufacturers of fly fishing rods, are tucked away in its pages.

The number of special projects, or earmarks designated by individual members, continues to eat up an increasing proportion of the overall bill. In 1982 there were only 10 special projects, according to the Cato Institute.

The number has zoomed steadily upward to 538 in 1991, 1,850 in 1998 to an amazing 6,371 in the bill approved last week.

"This bill will be known as the most earmarked transportation bill in the history of our nation," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Rep. Don Young of Alaska is well positioned as chairman of the House Transportation Committee to funnel money to his home state. But at what point does inequity become intolerable? Sen. John McCain pointed out that Alaska receives almost 500 percent more money than it pays in to the highway trust fund. That return will rise to 530 percent in 2009, McCain said.

Money going to Alaska includes $223 million for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, with a population of 50. The bridge will replace a seven-minute ferry ride.

By comparison, the $24 million for the Antelope Valley Project almost looks tiny. At least it will be put to good use.

Need it even be said that Don Young is a Republican or that the ridiculous rise in vote-driven ear-marking of funds has occurred with the Republican Party in power. Conservatives my foot. Republican Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert also has more than $200 million coming into his Illinois district. Compare that with the $11.2 million that this seemingly quite advantageous Creighton garage will receive.

At least, the Journal-Star does not engage in so sickeningly partisan an attack by picking one elected representative - a Democrat, of course - to take the fall for the failings of an entire system. It's time the World-Herald be put on notice that their fanciful guilt-by-association tactics will no longer be tolerated. Such writing is careless and far too convenient given their partisan bent not to call it for what it is - deception.

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Politics in a "Conceal & Carry" State

by Kyle Michaelis
It was only a few months ago that State Sen. Jeanne Combs of Milligan was featured in the Omaha World-Herald brandishing a hand gun and talking about her push to allow concealed weapons on Nebraska streets and in Nebraska businesses. In the article, she spoke of life in Kentucky, where 11 years earlier:
She purchased her stainless steel Smith & Wesson revolver when she was a home health-care and hospice nurse in Jackson County, KY....

"In that culture, everyone has a gun," she said. "They carry them clipped to their belt, like people around here do a Vise-Grip."

Note that Combs was speaking of everyone carrying a gun in a good way. And, she's just doing her part to bring that backwoods Kentucky charm to her newly-adopted home. Of course, she never quite got to the downside of this gun culture she's doing her best to import into Nebraska, which is pretty clearly demonstated by the following article:
Fight about Iraq war ends in fatal shooting

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) - A disagreement between two friends over the war in Iraq ended with the fatal shooting of one of the men.

Prosecutors and Kentucky State Police determined that Douglas Moore, 65, of Martin, acted in self-defense when he shot Harold W. Smith, 56, in the chest on Thursday.

Both men had booths at a flea market when they began arguing over the war. "I think Doug was supporting it, and this other guy was against it," said Floyd County Coroner Roger Nelson.

Police said the argument escalated into a fight, and Smith drew a small pistol from his pocket, threatening to kill Moore. Witnesses said Moore pulled a .38-caliber pistol from his pocket and shot Smith once in the chest.

That may sound like home, sweet home to Jeanne Combs but it's not the Nebraska I've grown-up in and love. Combs' bill to bring this sort of absurd violence into Nebraska didn't receive a vote in the 2005 session of the Unicameral but she received a promise from Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear that it would be put to a full debate and vote in 2006.

When that time comes, I pray the Unicameral proves reasonable enough to protect Nebraska's way of life from the childish insanity of eccentric gun enthusiasts who have proven incapable of restraint and without any regard for reason when it comes to temporarily separating them from their weaponry.

But, be warned, Senators - arguing with Combs could prove a dangerous proposition. As the above story attests, those immersed too heavily in this gun culture sometimes have a different way of deciding political debates. Purchasing a Kevlar vest may not be a bad idea.

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Friday, August 05, 2005

$218 million - now, THAT'S a Republican

by Kyle Michaelis
J. Peter Ricketts, an Omaha businessman with an estimated $218 million in holdings of Ameritrade - a company founded by his father, J. Joe Ricketts - seems poised to throw his hat in the ring to become the Republican challenger to incumbent Senator Ben Nelson in 2006.

Right off the bat, if reports proves true, it seems safe to say there's a new front-runner for the Republican nomination. Neither of the previously announced candidates, David Kramer and Don Stenberg, have the ideas, charisma, or momentum to take on that sort of money. Nebraska Republicans are going to be so desperate for a candidate who can beat Nelson, which so obviously doesn't seem the case with Kramer or Stenberg, that the simple fact of Ricketts money could well "buy" him the nomination without hardly spending a dime.

The World-Herald reports:
If J. Peter Ricketts runs for the U.S. Senate, he and the wealth he acquired through Ameritrade could shake up the race.

Ricketts, son of the founder of Ameritrade and worth at least $218 million, could become the third Republican to enter the 2006 race in hopes of unseating Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said several people active in the Republican Party.

Ricketts, 40, said Thursday he was resigning as chief operating officer of Ameritrade Holding Inc., the Omaha online brokerage. The company said he was leaving to "explore an opportunity in public service."

Ricketts, a key opponent of casino proposals in Nebraska last year, declined to talk about his future....

Ricketts has been talking with friends and supporters the past couple of weeks, exploring a possible run.

He also met in Washington with Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"He's met with the committee, and we think he'd be a great candidate. Senator Dole had a great meeting with him and was very impressed," said Brian Nick, a spokesman for the committee.

Ricketts also met with Presidents Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, when Rove visited Omaha July 8 and spoke to Ameritrade employees....

With his wealth and business contacts, Ricketts could be a formidable opponent for the two other Republicans who have already declared their candidacies: former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg and Omaha lawyer David Kramer.

Both candidates said they would not be intimidated by Ricketts' wealth, and both said they would welcome him into the race.

"If he does run, this primary is starting to look more and more like the 2000 Senate primary, in which I defeated two candidates who spent about a million dollars of their own money," said Stenberg, who is making his third bid for the U.S. Senate after losing in the 2000 general election to Nelson.

"Peter's willingness to get involved in this race continues to demonstrate Nelson's vulnerability. And, having people of Don and Peter's capabilities in the primary will benefit me in the general election," Kramer said.

Who are Stenberg and Kramer kidding? This sucks for them, and they both know it. The question is how bad could this be for Ben Nelson, who's very popular (more popular, in fact, than Republican counterpart Chuck Hagel) but still faces an incredible registration disadvantage as a Democrat.

Of course, it can sometimes be a hard sell for a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars to connect with common people. Otherwise, we'd just be coming out of Steve Forbes' second term as President. For his sake, I hope Ricketts isn't so rich that he doesn't even have to blink.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Help Us Governor Vilsack

by Kyle Michaelis
Surely, Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa knows how much Nebraskans have done for his state (especially creating jobs and funding education) in recent years. Now, he can return the favor by helping us elect a Democratic Governor of our own who can make up some of the difference between Iowa's best-in-the-nation economic development and our worst-in-the-nation ranking by the same standard under Republican leadership.

The AP reported recently:
Gov. Tom Vilsack is forming a new political action committee to help finance Democratic candidates in the 38 gubernatorial elections to be held this year and next.

The effort is called Heartland PAC. Vilsack said Tuesday that it will be designed to develop issues and ideas, as well as raise money.

In a video on the group's Web site, Vilsack described the effort as "a call for action for Democrats to regain the mantle as the party of ideas."

Vilsack will launch the new PAC on Aug. 1, and his success will go a long way toward determining his political future.

The governor Monday took over as head of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that former President Clinton used to pave his way to the White House.

Vilsack is not seeking a third term and has said he'll campaign hard for Democratic candidates for governor nationwide as his final term winds down. His success and the message developed by Democrats over the next year will help determine whether Vilsack can become a viable candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

"We must close the idea and message gap," Vilsack said in the video....

The naming of the PAC is far from a coincidence. Vilsack and other potential Democratic candidates outside of Washington often argue that Democrats must offer messages that resonate in the nation's heartland.

Where better to start in these efforts than with a neighboring state that could certainly use an influx of cash to draw a top-flight candidate into what could otherwise be an Election Day massacre?

If Vilsack is serious about offering a message that resonates in the Heartland, no place is in greater need than Nebraska. Of course, Iowa has it's own gubernatorial race in 2006, and there will be other states with a less formidable (some would say "unbeatable") opponent than Nebraska's Tom Osborne, but it is not in the national and cultural interest of the Democratic Party to forsake such challenges any longer. Yes, it's difficult, but that's why we have to do it. That's why we need the help of leaders like Tom Vilsack.

Today, this AP update ran on the state of Heartland PACs finances:
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and his new political action committee, Heartland PAC, have raised $635,000 in just five weeks to help elect Democratic governors across the country, a new disclosure report shows.

Vilsack took over as head of the Democratic Leadership Council last month and vowed to travel across the country to help elect Democrats in the 38 gubernatorial elections over the next two years.

He's been raising money for a couple of months, but Vilsack's new PAC became effective only this week. The report covers the period from April 29 to June 30.

In the filing with the Internal Revenue Service, Vilsack showed that he has raised $635,000 during that time and spent $68,240.

The report shows that Vilsack transferred more than $50,000 from the PAC that financed his gubernatorial campaign to Heartland PAC. He also got a boost from labor unions, which contributed about half of the money raised, or about $315,000.

$635,000 - that's a pretty damn impressive figure in just three months. It's almost double what Nebraska's Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who's also got eyes on 2008, raised in six months through his similarly-themed Sandhills PAC. But Hagel's funneling that money to local Republicans like Gov. Dave Heineman and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry. We need someone like Gov. Vilsack to take a chance on Nebraska and help counteract that sort of influence.

What do you say, Tom? Can we count on you to be a good neighbor?

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Bush Unleashes Bolton on the UN

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald reports on Chuck Hagel's decidedly unenthusiastic response to President Bush's recess appointment of tyrannical "serial abuser" John R. Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations:
Three Midlands senators had mixed reactions Monday to President Bush's giving John Bolton a special recess appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa were not effusive, but both supported Bush's decision to override Senate Democrats who had blocked a vote on Bolton's nomination.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin called the appointment a "slap in the face."

Bolton had stirred controversy over his sometimes brusque treatment of co-workers and past critical comments about the United Nations.

"I would have preferred to see our U.N. ambassador go to the U.N. with the support and confidence of the Congress," Hagel said. "However, Mr. Bolton will be judged on his performance at the United Nations"....

Harkin said that making an end run around Congress "sent exactly the wrong message" to the diplomatic community that Bolton will work with.

"John Bolton now goes to the United Nations without the support or confidence of the Senate, instead representing only the president of the United States," Harkin said. "Unfortunately this go-it-alone strategy is all too familiar with this administration."

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., could not be reached for comment.

Former State Department Chief of Intelligence Carl W. Ford Jr., who worked with Bolton, told the Senate, "I've never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton. ... I don't have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority."

What a sad day indeed this is for America when a man such as that is our representative to the world community. To be honest, though, I'm almost happy Bush made this sickening gesture of contempt for not only the UN but also for the U.S. Senate's rightful place in the appointment process. He's spared me from being pissed off at Ben Nelson for making what would have likely been an indefensible vote to confirm a jackass such as Bolton.

Now, the shame of his appointment rests squarely on Bush and the Republican Party, prompting the Lincoln Journal-Star to write in today's editorial:
If Bolton proves to be the inept, counterproductive bully that his detractors say he is — embarrassing friends and energizing foes — the president should waste no time dumping him.

Bolton supposedly goes to the United Nations with the goal of reforming the world body.

That objective is worthy enough...As needed as reform may be, however, there are considerable questions on whether Bolton is the best person for the job.

Testimony on Bolton's qualifications inspires little confidence that he has the persuasive tools of a diplomat. Charles W. Ford Jr., former chief of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research said Bolton was an "800-pound gorilla" and a "serial abuser" of staffers.

Even some Republicans were unwilling to support Bolton. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio put it this way: "It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be"....

President Bush had the legal right to name Bolton without the consent of the Senate. But if Bolton can't "get things done," or even worse, actually damages U.S. credibility and impedes progress toward reform, Bush ought to waste no time replacing him with someone better suited for the job.

A fine editorial. The only thing missing is a call that Bush actually be held accountable for Bolton's behavior.

If Bolton proves the insult to diplomacy that history and the words of Republican Senator Voinovich suggest, Bush's simply replacing him will not be enough. No, with this recess appointment, Bush has gone out on a limb, personally staking his own reputation and that of this country on the seemingly most undeserving Bolton. If this action blows up in our faces, Bush owes more than a replacement - he will owe the people of this country and the world an apology.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

5 days since my last post

by Kyle Michaelis
There's no excuse for this sort of negligence on my part - especially since there's been plenty going on in Nebraska news and politics this past week. Damn life and laziness for conspiring to keep this site from fulfilling its potential, not to mention its beloved readers' expectations. Now, I'm stuck with such a glut of articles and happenings to comment upon - some going back 2-3 weeks - that I don't know where to start to get back in the game. Bear with me as I try to prioritize recent events and make sense of them all in the coming days. Stay tuned.

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