Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Timid Trio Tip-Toe Around Tom DeLay

by Kyle Michaelis
Congressional Kingpin Tom Delay is gone (for now), stepping down as House Republican leader after being indicted in connection with the illegal fundraising activities of his Political Action Committee. This turn of events has been a long time coming and is only one of numerous recent examples of Republicans' abuse of power from their position of preeminence in Washington D.C.

To date, the growing stench surrounding Republicans nationwide has yet to attach itself to the party and its elected representatives in Nebraska. This undoubtedly has quite a bit to do with the Republican registration advantage, not to mention a generally incurious and unmotivated local press that refuses to ask tough questions and force area Republicans to take a good hard look at their party's many failures of leadership and integrity on the national stage.

At long last, though, Nebraska's all-Republican Congressional delegation, has been compelled to address the ethics problems of the man they've followed so dutifully. From the pages of the Omaha World-Herald, Behold - the Timid Trio speaks:
On the day that DeLay, the hard-charging conservative known as "the Hammer," was indicted by a Texas grand jury, Midlands lawmakers had mixed reactions to the controversy and to the news that other members will take his place, at least for a while.

Nebraska Republican Tom Osborne said he shared (Iowa Rep. Steve) King's concern that the decisions of a prosecutor could determine who leads the House, but, he said, if allegations against DeLay turn out to be true "a change in leadership is very appropriate."

Republican leaders insisted that the elevation of Rep. Roy Blunt, a congenial Missourian, to majority leader would truly be temporary.

While few House members have recovered from indictments, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry said, "If anyone will, it'll be Tom DeLay. The guy is just so much a pit bull he won't let this destroy and bring him down"....

Freshman Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said Blunt has helped him learn the ropes in Congress.

Fortenberry called the party's action to elevate Blunt "a prudent move." He said he hoped partisan politics would not play a part in determining DeLay's case.

Regardless of the outcome, he said, "an accusation can sometimes become very damaging. That's frankly a very sad part of politics."

Terry said that as a former trial lawyer he had faith in the legal process, saying it worked 99 percent of the time.

"We'll know if it's an overzealous prosecutor or an overzealous majority leader" when the final verdict is reached, he said.

King was solidly in DeLay's corner. "I haven't seen a single fact that would indicate he's done anything unethical or illegal," he said.

If nothing else, I have to grant this to Terry, Osborne, and Fortenberry - they're a hell of a lot better than Iowa's King, truly one of the most reactionary, "out-there" politicians in the country.

Other than that, it's plain to see they're leaving themselves plenty of wiggle room. Distancing themselves from DeLay may prove difficult, however, particularly for Terry and Fortenberry who have taken thousands of dollars from his Congressional PAC. Fortenberry has received the maximum amount that he could under law - $10,000 - each of the last two years, money he likely sees as well-deserved having voted with DeLay astonishingly and disturbingly close to 100% of the time in his 9 months in office.

For more on these Nebraska entanglements in DeLay's cloud of corruption, you may want to read this post on the Nebraska Democratic Party's blog calling for Terry and Fortenberry to follow a fellow Republicans lead in returning these tainted donations. Also, read that site's talking points for a pretty good overview of the scandal and Republican attempts at spinning it.

Meanwhile, this is Nebraska, so we won't hold our breath for Chuck Hagel's comment on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's increasingly suspicious stock sale, which is currently under SEC investigation. I mean, it's not like we can actually tell anything about our Republican representatives by those they choose to lead them.

If that were the case, just what would the election of these alternatingly corrupt and complicit politicians ultimately say about us?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Are 2 City Councils Better Than 1?

by Kyle Michaelis
Well, maybe I should ask "Are 1 1/2 City Councils better than one," since less than half of Omaha's city council showed up for the annual meeting with their Lincoln counterparts. Perhaps this demonstates Omaha's approach to their I-80 neighbor - patronizing and half-assed, though likely short-sighted in the long-run.

While Lincoln does need Omaha, largely for its growing tax base's ability to feed state government, it's clear both cities can benefit one another by working together and pooling resources when necessary. These two cities in conjunction represent so mighty a percentage of Nebraska's population that they can accomplish great things by coordination and careful planning. The sky is the limit (or, in this instance, perhaps a high speed train).

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Put the heads of the Lincoln and Omaha city councils together and what do you get?

Two hours of talking about everything from a light rail system between the cities to the possibility of terrorist cells in Nebraska.

The Lincoln City Council and Omaha City Council got together for their annual meeting Wednesday, although only three of the seven Omaha members showed up. The mayors of Lincoln and Omaha also met privately.

The councils talked about the Interstate 80 corridor committee being assembled, ways to pay for growth, joint rescue operations during crises, legislation they both support and the cities’ underfunded police and fire pension funds....

Omaha Councilman Garry Gernandt brought up the issue of how much Lincoln and Omaha could help each other during major natural disasters. He wondered whether interlocal agreements should be made in advance of crises, saying a terrorism expert had evidence Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas have been targeted for terrorist cells.

“Whether you accept it or not, ladies and gentlemen, they are here,” he said....

Lincoln Councilwoman Patte Newman suggested a light rail system between the cities be studied by the Interstate 80 corridor committee. And Omaha Councilman Jim Suttle said the cities need to be thinking in terms of a transportation corridor, much like Texas is planning 50 years out with its plans for a mammoth road across that state.

Frankly, I think a light rail system between Omaha and Lincoln is just the forward-thinking, big idea that this state needs in the 21st century. I want to thank Newman and Suttle for their daring to look beyond the next wave of endless Interstate construction for systemic changes and progressive development.

Of course, paying for an idea like light rail, not to mention the additional expenses it would imply for both cities' public transportation, is where the real hang-up lies. But, the longer we wait to be bold, environmentally-friendly, and - yes - leaders in public planning, the farther behind we will fall.

We must work to maximize and emphasize these two great cities' close proximity as an asset to the entire state. What is good for one is good for the other. What is good for both is good for Nebraska.

Unless we don't want to succeed because it will make us a more likely terrorist target? "They are here"..."they are here" and cover!

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Roger & Me

by Kyle Michaelis
Probably posting this to take advantage of the title more than anything else. Doesn't have much at all to do with progressive Nebraska politics, but I figure the average reader who doesn't do the comments-thing might get a kick (or be incredibly annoyed) by this recent debate between a reader/blogger, Roger Snowden, and myself on the role of government in the free market.

Consider this an open thread (ha...I'll try anything) for everyone but Roger and I to tell us how stupid one or both of us are, to score by rounds, or simply to add to the discussion.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Ben Nelson's Big (but easy) Gamble

by Kyle Michaelis
Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Don Walton devoted a bit of today's column to Senator Ben Nelson's reasoning for supporting John Roberts's nomination to replace William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court.

Nelson provides an altogether dismaying explanation, demonstrating he recognizes that Roberts has expertly ducked and dodged his way through the confirmation process without revealing who he is and what he stands for. Yet, Nelson is willing to risk the next three decades of American jurisprudence on an ill-founded hope that anyone with eyes and ears open these last 5 years should have learned not to trust the Bush Administration with.

Some lessons can't be learned soon enough. Some obviously can't be learned at all. See for yourself:
Lost in the shuffle last week were Sen. Ben Nelson's remarks in announcing his decision to vote to confirm the nomination of John Roberts as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was not an unexpected decision, but here is some of the reasoning.

"Only time will tell where Judge Roberts will come down on the prevailing legal matters that come before the Roberts Court.

"I can only take him at his word that he will approach his role on the court without a pre-determined agenda, without activism, and with only the intention to balance the scales of justice for all Americans."

The terms Nelson uses above suggest he understands what's at stake, so his refusal to hold a higher standard of disclosure and good faith on the part of a Supreme Court nominee is dumb-founding.

In experience and knowledge, Roberts is a highly-qualified individual, but this nation deserves an accounting for the man's values and a glimpse at his humanity before granting him this incredible responsibility to uphold the Constitution as a reflection of American character and ideals.

It should take more than preparation and a quick wit to meet the Senate's responsibility to provide informed consent. Who is John Roberts? I don't know, and it's clear Nelson doesn't either.

Is this a failure of conscience, a failure of will, or just politics as usual? Anyone care to venture an opinion?

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Rich & Powerful Not Powerful Enough?

by Kyle Michaelis
When you get as many die-hard Nebraska Republicans in a room as were at their State Central Committee meeting in Gering yesterday, someone is bound to say something outrageously stupid. Still, you generally hope it's not one of your candidates for the United States Senate, not to mention that he won't be quoted in the state's largest newspaper.

No such luck for Pete Ricketts.

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the party faithfuls' early assessment of the Republican field:
The three-way race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate appears to be wide open as Republicans try to determine which of the candidates has electability.

Several party activists said Saturday they were taking a wait-and-see stance as they try to determine who would best challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson in 2006.

"I want one of the three to make great strides in the next couple of months that lead me to believe they can beat Ben Nelson," said Doris Cordes of Papillion.

Two of the GOP Senate candidates - Omaha attorney David Kramer and Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts - attended this weekend's Republican State Central Committee meeting in Gering. Former Attorney General Don Stenberg was campaigning elsewhere in the state....

If the 100 Republicans at Saturday's meeting are any indication, any of the three hopefuls has a chance to shoot to the top of the pack as voters weigh each of the candidate's pluses and minuses.

In the end, they said, electability would rule....

For many, the meeting was the first chance to meet Ricketts, who announced his candidacy last month. He is the son of Joe Ricketts, founder of Ameritrade.

In his talks to GOP voters, Pete Ricketts stressed his business background and his commitment to traditional conservative positions, including his support of President Bush's tax cuts and his opposition to abortion.

"Business people, I believe, are seriously underrepresented in Washington," said Ricketts, who worked for Ameritrade for 12 years.

Okay, so it's not a huge verbal blunder but what a sickening display of the Republican Party's BIG MONEY mentality. In what kind of twisted view of the world is business really underrepresented in Washington, be it the all-access pass they have to the Bush Administration or the legion of corporate lobbyists, unelected by anyone, who have seized control of the United States Congress (going so far as to operate out of Republican Congressmen's offices).

All this and Ricketts is claiming business people are underrepresented? Such statement has some merit talking about the small businesses that are the backbone of this nation's communities but certainly doesn't apply to the "Fortunate Son" of an investment empire. Ricketts and the rest of America's wealthiest one-tenth of the top 1% have infinitely more than their fair share of representation.

To just how much more power does Ricketts think he is entitled to scoop up with his silver spoon? I can't imagine, but it certainly doesn't seem to be in the interest of Nebraska voters to encourage such political gluttony.

On a positive note for Ricketts, the article did at least reiterate what many are saying about Stenberg, considered to be his chief competition - mainly, that Republicans are fully aware he's already run twice, losing both times, and seem hesitant to give him a third opportunity.

Since the folks at this meeting are unlikely to be as offended as I am by Ricketts' assertion (and probably, in fact, cheered at the idea) that today's ruling business elite aren't elite enough, he's probably in very good standing indeed.

After all, "the business of America is business" has worked so well for us in the past.

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Another Nebraska Failure

by Kyle Michaelis
We all know what dangers the world holds for children, especially those trapped in poverty, neglected by their families, and forgotten by society. Does the Republican Party in Nebraska give a damn?

Read this report from the Omaha World-Herald on the ruling party's failure to help hard working families keep their heads above water:
Only one state did less than Nebraska to help low-income parents pay for child care, according to a new national report.

Nebraska cut off child care subsidies when parents' incomes reached 117 percent of the federal poverty level - $18,804 for a family of three. Missouri cut off subsidies at 111 percent of poverty.

All other states and the District of Columbia offered child care assistance to families with higher incomes, according to the study released this week by the National Women's Law Center....

Nebraska's comparative standing didn't surprise Rebecca Gould, an attorney with the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.

The center filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging then-Gov. Mike Johanns' decision to reduce the income cutoff level from 185 percent of the poverty level. The action saved an estimated $4.5 million and helped the state close a major budget gap.

Gould said Nebraska's income cutoff level has forced parents to forgo pay raises or restrict their work hours so they can still qualify for child care help. Some have quit work and gone on welfare to survive.

"There's definitely more people that need child care than can get it," she said. "It puts people in a trap. The way we are setting the child care subsidy up now, we're setting people up to fail."

I hope Tom Osborne and Dave Heineman - in their race to promise the largest possible, vote-grabbing tax cuts no matter the peril to real people - will at least have the decency to fulfill the state's faltered obligations before testing the limits of irresponsbile governance (a la Mike Johanns).

This isn't to suggest some sensible relief of the working class tax burden isn't in order, but the people of Nebraska deserve better than to have the details decided by pandering politicians and the powerful business lobby. Real lives - in this instance, the futures of real children - are at stake.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Daub Dabbles Again in NE Politics

by Kyle Michaelis
"Like a bad penny...."

Over at the UNO Democrats' Blog a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about former Congressman and Omaha Mayor Hal Daub's sudden resignation as head of the American Health Care Association, a chief lobbyist for the nation's elderly care/assisted-living industry.

It seemed from the World-Herald's report that the AHCA hadn't been too disheartened to see Daub depart ("there was mutual agreement that the group needed new leadership"). Nevertheless, talk of Daub re-entering the political fray in Nebraska began immediately.

Now, it seems those predictions had some merit. According to today's Lincoln Journal-Star, Daub planned to attend the Nebraska Republican Party's state central committee meeting today, expecting to assume the title of National Committeeman:
“I want to do what I can to assist the Nebraska Republican Party in being well-positioned to succeed,” Daub said Friday in a telephone interview.

That includes effective fund-raising, aggressive recruitment of candidates and successful voter registration efforts, he said.

“I offer my background, training and network of connections (for) what I think is a pivotal year for Republicans in Nebraska and nationwide,” Daub said.

Daub certainly is well-connected, so he's probably the ideal man for this sort of coronation so long as he is kept as far away from voters as possible. Over the course of Daub's career, he has become increasingly noxious and grating to Nebraska voters...his oily demeanor failing to make up for his generally toxic personality.

Still, qualities like that can come in handy behind the scenes. Daub's main task next year is going to be keeping money flowing to Republican candidates no matter who comes out of their increasingly convoluted primaries. With a job like that, assuming no truly divisive split fractures the party, a lot of favors can certainly be earned.

Who knows? We may not have seen the last of Hal Daub at the ballot box after all. Even if voters have rarely been so happy as when they've been rid of him, memories are sometimes short and money can do amazing things.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Abstinence Education Redux

by Kyle Michaelis
My new friend Roger Snowden just replied to a post from several weeks back on the outbreak of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Omaha and the general foolishness of abstinence-ONLY education.

Roger asserts:
Your comment, "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." left me laughing....

The article and it's related article on "How well do condoms work against STDs?" make it quite clear condoms are hardly a good solution for STD prevention. And condoms are presented as the only solution available.

Not true at all. Abstinence is demonstrably 100% effective.

First, thank you for your response, Roger. I hope you don't mind my pulling it from the archives to make my own retort.

While true that condoms are not without fail at preventing STDs (or unwanted pregnancies), it is silly and fallacious to hold-up abstinence as a more "effective" sex practice. It is only effective in the same sense that teaching a child never to go in the water is the surest way to prevent drowning.

Of course, we could just teach kids to swim - not that they have to or SHOULD be swimming right now - but just so they know how if they ever do decide to go into the water. Not giving them that knowledge and power of self-determination is to cripple them needlessly with fear.

The simple fact of the matter is that nothing in life is without risk. Sex has risks, but - with proper education on the choices available and a more complete understanding of the human body - these risks can AND SHOULD be minimized...and that includes risks within the confines of a loving marriage where such couple should be empowered to start their lives together and their family in the manner they see fit.

The purpose of sex education is more than the prevention of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. These are certainly benefits, yes, but the purpose of sex education is to investigate and seek understanding of this incredible biological - for many, spiritual - function from which all life flows and in which so many human motivations lie. To neglect this study is to shy away from one of the fundamentals of existence.

As a matter of science, young people should understand that abstinence is likely the safest choice to protect their physical and mental well-being. But we have a concurrent responsibility as a society to prepare them for a day of their choosing - that will come whether we like it or not - to explore this mysterious aspect of their own lives. We should hope to get them to this point without fear but with understanding of the risks, without embarrassment or shame but with courage and, I dare suggest, enthusiasm.

From there, ones understanding can be informed by the individual's faith and morality as it will.

At least, that's my perspective on this whole matter. I welcome whatever debate it might elicit, straying somewhat from this site's usual Nebraska-focus...but, damn it, I'm advocating comprehensive sex education ("abstinence-plus") here as well.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Truth About "Getting Tough on Crime"

by Kyle Michaelis
Wonders never cease. I'm not one to constantly assume the worst of those with a different party label or a different ideological perspective, but it's still a weird feeling when someone you normally disagree with completely surprises you by breaking with party orthodoxy and the status quo and making an impassioned plea for true reform totally out of the blue.

Such was the case yesterday when Nebraska's Attorney General, Jon Bruning, called for common sense and humanity in taking a good hard look at the politics of criminal sentencing. Let's let him do the talking (from today's Lincoln Journal-Star):
Sometimes the get-tough attitude on crime should be tempered by mercy, Attorney General Jon Bruning said during an unsuccessful attempt Wednesday to get an inmate’s life sentence reduced.

Bruning failed to persuade the other Pardons Board members — Secretary of State John Gale and Gov. Dave Heineman — to give a second chance to a man sentenced when he was 18 to life without parole for his role in a murder.

Bruning admitted this stand could jeopardize his own re-election bid. “We are continually trying to get ourselves re-elected by trying to be tougher than the next guy,” Bruning said. “And at some point, it’s got to end”....

With the 2-1 decision, the Pardons Board continued its 14-year record of denying requests to commute life sentences. But the decision sparked a passionate debate on being tough on crime.

Bruning pointed out that, historically, the state Pardons Board commuted life sentences several times a year until the early 1990s. And Bruning admitted his own get-tough record. “I’ve been so tough on crime, it makes me want to throw up sometimes,” he said.

But there is a time to consider mercy, he noted. Bruning said he was willing to commute this sentence “at my own political peril.”

Gale pointed out that state legislators and Congress have toughened crime laws. “And it’s costing the taxpayers more and more and more and more,” Bruning replied. “At some point it has to end.”

“It’s the voice of the people driving this issue of law and order,” Gale said.

“It’s the voice of politicians who are trying to get re-elected,” Bruning said.

“At some point we need to have some realism in this process,” said Bruning, pointing out that the current system lets some violent rapists off with just a few years in prison. And in this particular case, it sends a teenager who isn’t violent to prison for life, with taxpayers footing the bill.

All three men on the Pardons Board are seeking election or re-election. Gale said after the meeting that politics had nothing to do with his decision.

Bruning is so right it's not even funny. "Getting tough on crime" is an effective campaign slogan that has been a total disaster as public policy at every level of government. We have lost sight entirely of the concept of justice and the goal of rehabilitiation in a sickening display of political brinksmanship, fear-mongering, and pandering without any sense of reason or proportion.

This is not a question of the rights of criminals - it is a question of who we are as a people and as a nation.

I have disagreed immensely with Bruning in the past, particularly on his handling of the state's ridiculously expansive and discriminatory attempt at defining marriage in the state constitution. But, here, I feel like giving him a big fat kiss right on the lips (ironic, eh?).

I'm going to assume Bruning has no ulterior motive. I'm going to assume this is just a man speaking his mind...from his heart...on an issue that too few politicians have had the courage and integrity to touch. And, for today, I am proud to call him my Attorney General.

Wow, the rare instance of a politician doing the right thing (a Republican, nonetheless) truly does work to purge my system of its occasional build-up of cynicism. How refreshing.

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Long Time No Post

by Kyle Michaelis
Sorry to everyone for my failure to perform recently. 10 days between posts is, admittedly, pathetic and doesn't at all fit with my intentions for the site. However, between school, family, organizational committments, and a broken heart I'm doing the best I can.

I'll try not to be so neglectful in the future, but I can honestly make no promises. If any reader would like to pick up some of my slack, I'd be happy to take another writer on-board. Just contact me at my e-mail address. Otherwise, "the dude abides" and you'll just have to make do with as much as I can give.

Now, back to work.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

The Abortion Divide in Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis
Thanks to DailyKos for drawing our attention to another in a long line of Suvey USA's on-going state-by-state polls, this time gauging where Nebraskans categorize themselves in the abortion debate. Read the full poll results here for Nebraska and here for the entire country.

With 49% of Nebraskans self-declared "Pro-choice" and 47% declared "Pro-life", it's clear we, even more than the rest of the nation, are pretty evenly divided. Other than that, not much surprises. Men are still more likely to consider themselves "Pro-life" than women, a gap of more than 6% between the sexes. Similarly, young people aged 18-34, who are most affected by the issue, remain the most supportive of abortion rights at 52-43%.

Interestingly, Democrats and Independents in Nebraska mimicked each other almost exactly, with both tending towards "Pro-choice" at 60+ to 34%. That poses a stark contrast to Republicans who tended "Pro-life" at 60 to 37%.

Sadly, the distinction between "Pro-life" and "Pro-choice" has become so blurred over the years as to be all but meaningless, resulting in an over-politicized yet muddled debate feeding off a sea of subjectivity. I generally tend to think division along these lines radically inflates numbers for the Pro-life camp, perverting the true character of the American public.

The important distinction in the abortion debate is not whether you think abortion is a negative, likely immoral, act, which is all it takes to qualify traditionally as Pro-life. No, the question - the SOLE QUESTION for public policy purposes - is whether abortion should be criminalized...whether women who seek to terminate a pregnancy, the doctors who assist them in doing so, and - yes - perhaps even the responsible (/irresponsible) man (or boy) should be held as criminals (perhaps murderers) and punsihed for their actions.

THAT is the question that needs to be asked - should abortion be a crime...yes or no?

I think for many who believe abortion a sin or even just a personal tragedy - who are Pro-life as a matter of conscience - they would not go so far as to desire seeing the unfortunate women who receive such operations punished for their plight. The entirely inadequate "Pro-choice" vs. "Pro-life" distinction masks this base level of compassion on the part of the American people, including the people of Nebraska.

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Ernie Chambers on Rehnquist

by Kyle Michaelis
State Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha wrote a letter to the Omaha World-Herald's Public Pulse today sharing his own personal feelings about the career of recently-deceased Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Last week, I wrote a post of my own seeking to balance the World-Herald's unthinking worshipfulness of the man, but Chambers cuts to the heart of Rehnquist's shameful legacy. Let's let "the Legend", aka "King Cobra," have his say:

This word attaches to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist and to the genocidal mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.

Rehnquist did more to undermine and, in some instances, erase the fragile "rights" of black people than any chief justice since Roger B. Taney, author of the notorious Dred Scott opinion of 1857 that contained the infamous declaration that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Rehnquist was Taney's alter ego.

Although, like God, I "take no pleasure in the death of the wicked," I also am like Native Americans who wept not at the demise of George A. Custer and like Jews who did not mourn the execution of Adolf Eichmann. I neither weep nor mourn due to the passing of Rehnquist. In fact, he hung around too long.

Racism is behind the criminal policy of mini-genocide visited upon the poor, black people in New Orleans. Regardless of how white apologists may temporize, the facts speak for themselves. And the world is watching, listening and learning.

The height of political cynicism is President Bush's hypocritical call for a "day of prayer" on Sept. 16 when what is needed is action.

Ernie Chambers, Omaha
Nebraska state senator, District 11

Though I certainly respect Chambers for his tenacity and passion, I'm not always on the Ernie bandwagon. Still, the man is willing to say things (some needing to be said) that not even this humble blogger would dream of emulating. He answers to Ernie Chambers and his voters - no one else - and here I'd venture a guess he's made them both proud, though the Eichmann comparison is even too much for me.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fortenberry Holds His Tongue

by Kyle Michaelis
Friday's Lincoln Journal-Star ran an article I'd called for last week with Louisiana native Jeff Fortenberry's response to the devastation of New Orleans and much of the Mississippi Delta.

Most notable in the article is the 1st Congressional District Representative's careful refrain from assigning any blame for the incompetent, blundering response to this deadly catastrophe.

See for yourself:
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was born in Baton Rouge, grew up there, went to college there, worked there and is keeping a close eye on the beleaguered city where his mother still lives.

“She’s fine,” Fortenberry said.

And so is Baton Rouge compared to New Orleans. One is stressed by the tide of Katrina’s refugees, the other lies devastated in a ghastly lake of polluted water.

“Imagine Omaha moving to Lincoln overnight,” Fortenberry said in a telephone interview from Washington this week. That’s what happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s state capital and home of Louisiana State University, Fortenberry’s alma mater.

“There’s no house for sale, no apartment to rent, no hotel room available,” he said.

While the strain on Baton Rouge is intense, the tragedy is 80 miles to the southeast in New Orleans.

“A unique city of tremendous historical and cultural proportions,” Fortenberry said. “There are very few historic cities, and it is one.”

New Orleans needs to be rebuilt, using “innovative, modern techniques” that provide improved hurricane and flood protection while recognizing some areas of the city are unsustainable, Fortenberry said....

Fortenberry, a Republican, said he’s not inclined to “point fingers of blame” for what went wrong in terms of preparation and response as the hurricane gathered, took direct aim at the Gulf states and swept ashore.

Instead, he said, he’s told House Speaker Dennis Hastert he’d be interested in serving on a select committee the Speaker plans to form to assess what happened.

“We need to make a real commitment to address the dimension of human suffering,” Fortenberry said. “And we need a proper evaluation outside the realm of emotion and finger-pointing so we can be better prepared for the future.”

Fortenberry said there were “some tense moments” when President Bush’s cabinet officers met this week with members of the House to discuss what happens next.

When it came Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman’s turn, Fortenberry said, “I waited and waited and waited for him to give some estimate or judgment about (the continuing) impact on gas prices.”

Understandably, the congressman said, Bodman would not venture an immediate answer, but he promised to provide Fortenberry with an economic analysis of the situation.

Glad to see Fortenberry owning up to his Louisiana roots, though I wonder what good he can possibly serve on this supposed House Committee assessing this historic event when he's not even willing to question or call-out the Bush administration on it's completely failed response. The people whose lives have been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina deserve a champion, not another Republican yes-man.

It's appalling that Fortenberry didn't take this chance to directly challenge Speaker Hastert's recent statements suggesting "we ought to take a second look" at rebuilding New Orleans. Nor did he challenge the votes of 11 of his fellow Republicans in the House, including neighboring Iowa's abominable Steve King, for opposing federal aid to Katrina's victims despite their support of countless billions to far-fetched military efforts across the globe.

Fortenberry's silence on these fronts and so many others is an unforgiveable betrayal of his native state and the good citizens of his adopted home making perfectly clear his subservience to the Republican Party before all else. How sad to see a man forsake his humanity and integrity for the sake of partisan unity that now has cost in human lives.

Louisiana and this entire nation are screaming out for leaders of conscience to speak-out and fight on their behalf rather than serving the letter by their name on a ballot. Fortenberry proves here he is nowhere near such a man or such a leader.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Osborne, Stenberg Stake "Poll" Positions

by Kyle Michaelis
The numbers are in on a recent poll that shows the lay of the land 8 months out from Nebraska's Republican primaries for the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominations. Unsurprisingly, Tom Osborne led the pack in the governor's race, though he polled under the magic 50% mark that would have spelled almost certain doom for would-be incumbent Dave Heineman.

Meanwhile, our old friend Don Stenberg, the perennial wannabe, led the way in less distinctive fashion in the much lower-profile race to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
An independent poll showing Rep. Tom Osborne with a 12-point lead over Gov. Dave Heineman stirred Osborne’s competitive spirit Wednesday and prompted celebration in the governor’s camp.

“I expect it to be a very competitive situation, which is good,” Osborne said.

“I like competing and I’m looking forward to it,” the former Nebraska football coach said.

Heineman’s campaign manager, Carlos Castillo, said poll figures represent “independent confirmation of what we’ve been seeing and hearing on the campaign trail, providing a pretty good indication things are moving in our direction.”

The poll of 305 likely Republican voters by Victory Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa, showed Osborne leading Heineman by 49 percent to 37 percent in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary race.

Dave Nabity, the third Republican candidate, trailed with 4 percent.

Ten percent of respondents in the telephone survey conducted Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 were undecided.

The 49-37 margin for Osborne represented a substantial swing from the congressman’s 62-22 lead in the last public poll undertaken for KM3 News in Omaha last May, Castillo said.

“I think this is huge for the governor. If Tom Osborne is below 50 percent, that’s a big deal. I’d say anyone who thinks this is not a close race now has a screw loose"....

Jordan McGrain, Nebraska state director for Victory Enterprises, said poll results suggest the race will be “closer than most casual observers expect"....

Poll results showed former Attorney General Don Stenberg leading the Republican Senate race, with former military hero Shane Osborn running a strong second, even though he is not a declared candidate.

Those figures: Stenberg, 36 percent; Osborn, 21 percent.

Trailing were former Republican State Chairman David Kramer with 3 percent and Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts with 2 percent....

The Nebraska poll has a margin of error of 5.61 percent.

I don't think much can be garnered from these numbers. Of course, they show some upswing for Heineman, but for all his pandering to rural and suburban voters on local issues of school consolidation with no concern for the long-term health of public education in the state one has to wonder how much more movement he can possibly expect.

If anything, I'd suspect that whatever weakness Osborne may be showing is more a result of the Nebraska Cornhuskers' poor prospects in the 2005 football season than anything Heineman has said or done. If the Cornhuskers continue to underperform, much of the goodwill Osborne built for himself as coach could well vanish as fond memories of the pride and national championships he helped bring to this state become tinged with bitterness. It may be absurd, but I'm not kidding in the slightest when I say the Huskers missing a bowl game is Heineman's best shot.

Of course, in the general election, Osborne would undoubtedly perform better with Nebraska's independents and Democrats, but Republicans are a different bunch that operate by their own strange rules - I won't claim to understand their thinking and can't really say that I'd admit to it even if I could. Frankly, a rejection of Osborne in the Republican Primary wouldn't do much to end Osborne's campaign for governor if he would be willing to run as an independent. But, that would be between he, his conscience, and his loyalty to the big "R" that has milked Osborne for just about everything he's good for these last 5 years in Congress.

On the Stenberg front, these numbers obviously show a lot of dissatisfaction with the front-runner, who has so much more name recognition than anyone else in the running. This probably has a lot to do with Stenberg's being perceived as a loser.

It's early, not to go too far out on any limbs at this stage in the game. Young Osborn's 21% showing is obviously impressive though raises immediate questions as to how many poll-takers are operating on last-name alone, with its obvious advantages as a homophone. So chin up, Mr. Ricketts - you have not yet begun to spend!

All shall be revealed in due time. Keep your feet on the ground, your head in the clouds, and keep reaching for the stars.

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Why Are Nebraskans Getting Screwed At the Pump?

by Kyle Michaelis
Not only are Nebraskans paying all-time highs for gasoline (the state average is $3.20, higher even than in the early 1980s, a comparison the George Wills of the world have used deceptively in recent months to make current prices seem less abominable), but for reasons unknown prices in Nebraska have also risen higher and faster than other parts of the country.

All Americans are taking a hit at the pump, but we Nebraskans are just plain getting screwed.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
So much for Nebraskans finding solace in their out-of-state neighbors being pummeled at the pump at the same rate. According to statistics released by the American Petroleum Institute, Nebraska has an unenviable standing: It’s the only state west of Arkansas that saw gas prices jump more than 50 cents per gallon during the high-spike period of Aug. 30 until Tuesday. Prices have begun to drop the past two days.

Motorists have another distinguishing fact to ponder. As of early Wednesday morning, according to AAA, only five states and the District of Columbia had a higher, average price per gallon of regular unleaded than the Nebraska average of more than $3.19 per gallon, which was about 15 cents more than the national average.

The other states are on the East Coast, where fuel prices skyrocketed more than any region in the country after Hurricane Katrina crippled key fuel refineries and pipelines now in the process of being put back on-line.

“Oh, you’re in the red,” Rayola Dougher of the American Petroleum Institute said after looking at a map that showed Nebraska was the only state outside the East Coast, Mid-Atlantic and Arkansas colored red because prices jumped more than 50 cents a gallon over the previous week.

Dougher had the same response as fuel wholesalers, experts and a representative of the state’s fuel retailers when asked why Nebraska has yet another reason for being painted red — she didn’t know.....

Attorney General Jon Bruning is among those interested in finding the answer.

“If these numbers are accurate, they are very troubling,” said Regan Anson, spokeswoman for Bruning. “I can assure you the attorney general will get to the bottom of it"....

East Coast prices ballooned more than in other regions...because two key pipelines that feed them fuel were crippled by Hurricane Katrina. But Nebraska gets fuel from a variety of sources, much of it from refineries outside the Gulf of Mexico, including those in Indiana, Oklahoma and Kansas....

The executive director of the Nebraska Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association was asked what, if anything, is unique to Nebraska’s supply, marketing and delivery system that may have caused a higher-than-average price jump.

“The last time I checked, it was a free market,” said Tim Keigher.

“They can price it at whatever they want to,” he continued. “It’s all individual businessmen. They make all their own decisions. I have no control over them.”

I wish we could take Bruning's vow to investigate Nebraska's outrageously high gas prices more seriously, but it's highly unlikely he'll do more than offer lip service when it comes to enforcing standards of decency and fair play that might offend his Republican friends in the Chamber of Commerce who, like this Keigher fellow, will defend to the death the "free market" without any concern for the blatant price-fixing that makes mockery of the term.

Hard-working, cash-strapped Nebraskans deserve some answers for why they have been singled out for price-gouging. Pity that we don't have more elected representatives at the state level like U.S. Senator Ben Nelson who has called for a congressional probe of sky rocketing gas prices nationwide. Alas, our bunch of Republican corporate lackeys in state government are unlikely to display Nelson's independence, common sense, and true Nebraskan grit.

Meanwhile, we pay out the...I believe it's called...wazoo.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

World-Herald "Heils" Rehnquist

by Kyle Michaelis
Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist died this weekend. The Omaha World-Herald mourns his passing in its Tuesday editorial:
William Rehnquist leaves behind a formidable judicial legacy. His record can be best understood as providing a needed correction to two important shortcomings he witnessed during his professional life: the excesses of Warren Court liberalism, and the administrative bumbling of Earl Warren's successor as chief justice, Warren Burger.

Under Rehnquist, the nation's highest court moved back to a sensible center. In contrast to the dreaminess of Warren court jurisprudence, the court majority under Rehnquist insistently signaled that the soundest constitutional approach is often an incremental one of narrowly drawn rulings. Prudence, of a moderate conservative sort, became the order of the day, and the nation was better for it....

The Supreme Court is ever a work in progress. So, with the death of Rehnquist and the retirement of O'Connor, the court is about to step forward into a new era, with new personalities, a new institutional dynamic and, perhaps, a new tone in interpreting the law.

In looking back at Rehnquist's legacy, Americans can see that there is much to be said for the benefits of prudence, moderation and balance.

It would be interesting to hear the World-Herald actually try and defend its attack on the "liberal" Warren Court for all its excesses and dreaminess. What exactly do they object to - school desegregation? The end of poll taxes? A defendant's right to legal counsel? If so, Rehnquist was definitely their man - Nixon's gift to the John Birch Society.

For some much-needed perspective on the real Rehnquist, the man obscured by the World-Herald's partisan white-washing of recent history, I give you famed legal scholar Alan Dershowitz:
Chief Justice William Rehnquist set back liberty, equality, and human rights perhaps more than any American judge of this generation. His rise to power speaks volumes about the current state of American values.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Rehnquist bragged about being first in his class at Stanford Law School. Today Stanford is a great law school with a diverse student body, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it discriminated against Jews and other minorities, both in the admission of students and in the selection of faculty....

Rehnquist not only benefited in his class ranking from this discrimination; he was also part of that bigotry. When he was nominated to be an associate justice in 1971, I learned from several sources who had known him as a student that he had outraged Jewish classmates by goose-stepping and heil-Hitlering with brown-shirted friends in front of a dormitory that housed the school’s few Jewish students. He also was infamous for telling racist and anti-Semitic jokes.

As a law clerk, Rehnquist wrote a memorandum for Justice Jackson while the court was considering several school desegregation cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. Rehnquist’s memo, entitled “A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases,” defended the separate-but-equal doctrine embodied in the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Rehnquist concluded the Plessy “was right and should be reaffirmed.”

When questioned about the memos by the Senate Judiciary Committee in both 1971 and 1986, Rehnquist blamed his defense of segregation on the dead Justice, stating – under oath – that his memo was meant to reflect the views of Justice Jackson. But Justice Jackson voted in Brown, along with a unanimous Court, to strike down school segregation. According to historian Mark Tushnet, Justice Jackson’s longtime legal secretary called Rehnquist’s Senate testimony an attempt to “smear[] the reputation of a great justice.” Rehnquist later admitted to defending Plessy in arguments with fellow law clerks. He did not acknowledge that he committed perjury in front of the Judiciary Committee to get his job.

The young Rehnquist began his legal career as a Republican functionary by obstructing African-American and Hispanic voting at Phoenix polling locations (“Operation Eagle Eye”). As Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote, “[H]e helped challenge the voting qualifications of Arizona blacks and Hispanics. He was entitled to do so. But even if he did not personally harass potential voters, as witnesses allege, he clearly was a brass-knuckle partisan, someone who would deny the ballot to fellow citizens for trivial political reasons -- and who made his selection on the basis of race or ethnicity.” In a word, he started out his political career as a Republican thug.

Rehnquist later bought a home in Vermont with a restrictive covenant that barred sale of the property to ''any member of the Hebrew race.”

Rehnquist’s judicial philosophy was result-oriented, activist, and authoritarian. He sometimes moderated his views for prudential or pragmatic reasons, but his vote could almost always be predicted based on who the parties were, not what the legal issues happened to be. He generally opposed the rights of gays, women, blacks, aliens, and religious minorities. He was a friend of corporations, polluters, right wing Republicans, religious fundamentalists, homophobes, and other bigots.

Rehnquist served on the Supreme Court for thirty-three years and as chief justice for nineteen. Yet no opinion comes to mind which will be remembered as brilliant, innovative, or memorable. He will be remembered not for the quality of his opinions but rather for the outcomes decided by his votes, especially Bush v. Gore, in which he accepted an Equal Protection claim that was totally inconsistent with his prior views on that clause. He will also be remembered as a Chief Justice who fought for the independence and authority of the judiciary. This is his only positive contribution to an otherwise regressive career.

What more is there to say? Even more than the company you keep, you are the heroes that you hold. I don't expect the World-Herald to speak ill of the recently-deceased, but a little bit of balance would be nice, especially when the weight of Rehnquist's personal and judicial shortcomings is so great.

And now we have Rehnquist's avowed underling John Roberts named as his successor.....ahh, what could have been if only "anybody but Bush" occupied the White House. Let us take a moment to mourn this lost opportunity for the advancement of America's ideals before taking up the fight once again.

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