Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Hagel-ween?

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska's senior Senator is making his move, doing what he can already to get his name out there for the 2008 GOP presidential caucus in neighboring, first-in-the-nation, perhaps make-or-break Iowa. On Sunday night, Chuck Hagel spoke at Iowa State University, following on the heels of a series of campus speeches in New Hampshire earlier in the year.

Of course, unabashed Hagel-admirer and political reporter Don Walton was there to report for the Lincoln Journal-Star:
Venturing into the state where the 2008 presidential sweepstakes will begin, Sen. Chuck Hagel on Sunday night outlined a broad framework of his views on U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Hagel made the case for U.S. alliances and international cooperation, free trade policies and reform of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and immigration policy.

In a demonstration of his independent streak, he called for U.S. engagement with Iran.

And he told an audience of 250 people at Iowa State University that the United States should propose a regional security conference on Iraq sanctioned by the United Nations to map out the future for that war-torn land.

“The United States should take a secondary role and allow Iraq and its neighbors to lead this effort,” Nebraska’s Republican senator declared in delivering the 2005 Manatt-Phelps Lecture in Political Science at the Memorial Union.

Earlier, Hagel told a news conference at ISU’s Reiman Gardens he has made no decision about a possible 2008 presidential bid and will not do so until after the 2006 elections....

Iowa Republican State Chairman Ray Hoffmann of Sioux City said Hagel will need to come to Iowa often if he hopes to compete.

“The earlier the better, the more the better,” he said. “You’ve got to meet the people and probably get involved in helping candidates and the party here in raising money. You’ve got to meet the activists and get your name out and get media attention.”

In that regard, Hoffman said, Hagel already is behind a number of potential Republican candidates, including Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Gov. George Pataki of New York.

James McCormick, chairman of the ISU political science department, said he views Hagel as “an extremely articulate spokesman for those in the Republican Party who are in the middle range on foreign policy"....

Hagel warned early against a precipitate U.S. military attack on Iraq without broad international support and careful planning for the aftermath of a U.S. invasion.

“America’s decisions and actions regarding Iraq have isolated and alienated us from much of the world,” he told the ISU audience Sunday night....

Answering questions from the audience after his speech, Hagel said questioning war policy “has nothing to do with supporting the troops,” no matter what critics may contend.

Hagel said it his duty and responsibility to go counter to public opinion, his constituents, his party and his president when necessary to express his own best judgment.

“I actually do know something about war,” he said, and about policies that “may commit young men and women to their deaths.”

Hagel served as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam war and was twice wounded in combat.

Asked about his commitment to party, Hagel said he believes in Republican principles, but “I question sometimes whether I’m in the same party I started off in.”

As a conservative, Hagel said, he is disturbed that the GOP has presided over the growth of government and apparent disregard for fiscal responsibility.

“I’m disappointed in my party in some areas,” he said, but Democrats provide no alternative leadership.

It's actually a pretty impressive speech from what Walton reports - emphasizing all the strengths Hagel brings to the table, mainly his willingness to at least speak boldly and question his party's increasingly incompetent leadership. That leaves the question to Republican voters whether they care to swallow the bitter yet still sugar-coated pill he offers.

David Broder of the Washington Post, one of the oldest of the old guard amongst national political reporters, has written about Hagel several times and also seems somewhat taken with the supoosed contrast he draws with his like-voting but trap-mouthed Republican colleagues. Sunday, he devoted his entire nationally-syndicated column to Hagel:
If you are looking for signs of the changing political environment in Washington and the Republican Party, Hagel's Halloween-festooned office is the right place to begin.

A reflective student of political trends here and abroad, as well as a skilled politician who has won two Senate terms without breaking a sweat, Hagel, 59, is one of many Republicans weighing the odds for the 2008 presidential contest....

"No one knows what the country, or the party, will be looking for when we get ready to choose a new president," Hagel said.

What is clear is that the Bush White House would be unlikely to view Hagel as its preferred successor. His loyalty is measured by his 94 percent support score on roll-call votes in 2004, two points higher than that of Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Congressional Quarterly ratings.

But while he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, he has strongly criticized the prewar intelligence, the military planning and the management of the war....

A classic business-oriented conservative with limited liking for the religious right's social issues, Hagel says the preoccupation with "satisfying the base" has meant, "no question, the Republican Party has become captive to extreme right-wingers."

Were Bush still riding high, were the Karl Rove strategy of mobilizing every possible vote on the right the accepted wisdom for 2008, Hagel's views might well be regarded as heresy.

But he thinks (he has much company among independent pollsters and operatives) that the public mood is shifting and there is a growing demand for what he calls "responsible governance."

That's not easily defined, but one characteristic, Hagel says, is clearly the search for consensus that commands more than a partisan 51 percent majority....

Hagel's concepts can sometimes be murky, as when he describes his hopes for a U.N.-sanctioned peace and security conference on Iraq. But as the postBush period of Republican history begins to take shape, there will be more room for Hagel's kind of independent thinking.

That's some write up. I left out the mentions of Hagel's Social Security and immigration reform agenda, but his willingness to at least broach these topics has obviously attracted some attention from on-high. Who knows how it will all end?

Since 1994, Republican voters have grown unaccustomed to candidates who will do more than tell them what they want to hear. Or, is that exactly what Hagel is doing...simply thinking long-term and betting on the Bush Administration's disastrous leadership continuing right up through 2008. So far, it seems like a pretty good bet.

Here's a blog post from last month's HUFFINGTON POST that also likes Hagel's chances. Title - The Next President of the United States.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Congrssional Halloween Costumes

by Kyle Michaelis
It must be Halloween because Nebraska's Republican Congressmen Jeff Fortenberry and Tom Osborne have been playing dress-up for the local press. In this magical time of year when children become ghosts, goblins, and fairy princesses, Fortenberry and Osborne are trying to make-believe that they have the ounce of spine or independence to stand-up to their party masters and do what's right for Nebraska, particularly its rural communities.

Frankly, they're not fooling anyone.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Nebraska GOP Reps. Tom Osborne and Jeff Fortenberry managed to soften the budget-cutting blow when they recently met face-to-face with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and delivered an ultimatum, Osborne said.

"We were prepared to vote no," Osborne said Friday. "We got the best deal we could."

The House and Senate are working on budget-cutting bills that seek savings of $35 billion to help pay for hurricane relief. Agriculture spending in the House bill was reduced from $4.2 billion to $3.7 billion in proposed cuts.

Osborne and Fortenberry, members of the House Agriculture Committee, said the change they negotiated reduced farmers' subsidy cuts from 3 percent to 1 percent. That would cost the average Nebraska farm $200 a year in lost federal subsidies, Osborne said.

Besides subsidies, cuts are proposed for conservation and other rural development programs.

The Senate is working on a bill proposing $3 billion in cuts. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has complained that agriculture programs are being cut more than is fair compared with other federal spending.

They got the best deal they could? They were prepared to defy Hastert and Tom DeLay? Who are they kidding?

The average subsidy cut is not what's at issue here. The question, as always, is WHO faces these cuts. It certainly should not be the family farmer, not while large agricultural congrlomerates are still receiving unlimited payments. And, what of this bill's cuts to the food stamp program...or is that tucked away in some other Republican travesty against working-class and rural families?

Frankly, this article is a press release - nothing more - a form letter from the Republican leadership to provide some political cover to their blindly loyal footsoldiers in the Midwest. I expect most every Congressional hyper-partisan who is supposed to be representing rural America - not the Republican Party - is doing the same song and dance about having done what they could....everything, that is, but voting "NO" as they damn well should.

This is the cost of Nebraska voters' allegiance to the Republican party. They will continue to be taken for granted - their interests neglected and their goodwill exploited. The trick's on us. Happy Halloween!

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Health Care Costs: Where Republicans Fear to Tread

by Kyle Michaelis
The University of Nebraska's Bureau of Business Research has released the latest results from a survey of Nebraska businesses concerning their cost-cutting priorities. Unsurprisingly, the leading priority - far and away - was reining-in ever-increasing health care benefit expenses. 62% of all Nebraska businesses included this as a priority, including 86% of those with 20 or more employees.

The report explains:
Nebraska businesses overwhelmingly listed health care benefit costs as their leading priority for cost reduction. The percentage was particularly high among large businesses, which more frequently provide these benefits. The high priority for health care costs is consistent with a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation which conducts an annual survey on health care costs. The foundation reported that health care costs continued to grow strongly; these health care costs have jumped 9.2% so far in 2005.

Businesses are being bankrupted by health care costs, and the Republican Party isn't even willing to talk about it because they don't have an answer - not in Nebraska and certainly not in the halls of Congress. After so manipulating the last attempt to provide a true overhaul of the U.S. Health Care system, polluting the debate and bringing the entire industry to the verge of collapse for purely political gain, they now turn a blind eye to what can only be said to have become a blight on the entire U.S. economy.

It's not just businesses that are hurting. The number of uninsured continues to skyrocket - approaching 50 million Americans - as more and more are simply priced out of being able to afford basic medical care. And, with the current rate of increase, those who still can afford insurance may not be able to for long. Meanwhile, every one of us taxpayers is seeing an increased burden on that front as well. Why, just here in Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported Saturday:
State employees will pay 22.1 percent more for health insurance next year, after union representatives and administrators failed to reach a compromise.

And the increase will cost taxpayers millions.

Employees received a 3 percent pay increase in July, but for many, higher premiums will wipe out any take-home pay increase, said Bob Corner, spokesman for NAPE/AFSCME, the union covering state workers.

“Just about everyone who has family insurance will see less take-home pay,” he said....

The rising premiums will cost taxpayers about $21.4 million over the next year because the state, as the employer, pays 79 percent of the premium costs.

Where's the leadership? Where's a single voice out there willing to stand-up and offer a solution? Sure, it would be great if we'd tackle this problem as a nation, but the Republicans have made those waters so toxic that any true reform is still years in the making. At the state level, though, we here in Nebraska have the potential and the responsibility to try something new and set a better example. My God, nothing we could do could be worse than the Republicans' "do nothing" approach of the last 7 years.

We should listen to our own Bureau of Business Research:
Policy-makers...may want to focus on business priorities whether or not Nebraska is a leader or a laggard on those priorities. There may be as much gain from further expanding the state’s advantage on certain cost factors as in addressing an area of disadvantage.

Yes, health care costs are a problem for everyone...everywhere in this county. But, that's never going to change without some true leaders - both policy-makers and their constituents - stepping-up and taking the initiative.

You want to create jobs? Start here. Health care costs, not more tax subsidies, are business' highest priority. Similarly, the public is not crying out for more hastily-enacted, politically-calculating tax cuts, but rather the restoration of some degree of sensibly-priced insurance coverage with actual assurances of care.

Don't be fooled. It can begin in Nebraska. All it takes is the will to dare, something our current batch of pandering ideologues unable to see beyond their own anti-government rhetoric will, sadly, never possess.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Barry Switzer Endorses Osborne

by Kyle Michaelis
Early in the third quarter of today's Oklahoma/Nebraska football game, famed Sooners coach Barry Switzer carefully interjected an endorsement of Tom Osborne as Nebraska's next governor during their joint appearance in the ABC press box. Former rivals on the field with very different personalities, it was cute to see good ole' boy Switzer tell the ever-reserved Osborne to "go ring up a hundred on the other guy."

ABCs announcers laughed at the announcement, remarking that Switzer's "even a Democrat." Not only that but Switzer has also been active in campaigning for Democratic candidates, as evidenced by the following:
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE" (02/03/2004): The (John) Edwards campaign called to chew me out. So while I had them on the phone, I asked them, why this surge in Oklahoma? We thought it would be a Wes Clark/John Kerry race. Why this amazing surge at the end by Edwards? They told me two words, Barry Switzer.

Barry Switzer, the legendary coach of the Oklahoma Sooners football team, from 1973 to 1978 won three national championships for the Sooners there - he endorsed John Edwards. In the last 24 hours, they had coach Switzer make robo-calls, that is, call in and record phone calls and bomb them into Oklahoma Democrats's homes.

And they believe that's what behind that surge. Now, there's a track record for this. Brad Henry, the Democratic governor of Oklahoma, is governor today because Barry Switzer campaigned for him. In fact, 16 percent of Henry's vote in the 2002 election said they voted for him just because of coach Switzer.

No word yet on the reaction of "other guy" Dave Heineman to Switzer's endorsement, which probably has considerably less pull in Nebraska than in Oklahoma. Still, that's now six national championships against Heineman's zero. How can he even be expected to compete?

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Harriet, Sweet Harriet

by Kyle Michaelis
The next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court will not be Harriet Miers. President Bush's first choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor withdrew her nomination Thursday morning after an embarrassing couple of weeks for Bush that brought renewed attention to his administration's worst unsettling tendencies to cronyism and subterfuge.

Working so hard to install a loyalist with little written record or judicial qualification blew up in Bush's face when the religious Right proved unwilling to take him at his word that Miers would do their bidding from the bench. Moreover, revelations about Miers hyperbolic flattery towards President (and then-Governor) Bush portrayed both as sharing a laughably indefensible relationship predicated on pure, unadulterated ass-kissing. Whoever said "flattery will get you nowhere" obviously hadn't encountered Bush's degree of egotistical narcissism.

Making this a little bit relevant to the Nebraska political scene, here's what Senators Hagel and Nelson had to say on Miers' withdrawal. The AP reports:
Criticism of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers by social conservatives likely will have a long-term political fallout for the Republican Party, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said on Thursday.

"I think by the way she was treated, the Republican Party can kiss the women's vote goodbye," Harkin said. "I think the right wing has captured the Republican Party. They are going to keep pushing their right-wing agenda and they are making it very difficult for moderate Republicans to do anything"....

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. said, "This certainly is not the kind of action that any administration would like to see. I think the White House made a very clear calculation and came to the conclusion that this was a nomination that was going to have significant difficulty.

"I think Harriet Miers did a very principled thing in taking herself out of contention. I admire her for that. Her selflessness should be acknowledged. She put the interests of the president and the country over her own interests and that's significant, especially in this town."

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said, "Ms. Miers' nomination was troubled. I respect her decision to withdraw"....

Harkin said Democrats had withheld judgment on Miers, and that damage to her nomination was largely inflicted by conservatives hoping for one of their own to be named to the high court.

He said Bush's decision to allow GOP conservatives to undermine the Miers nomination shows the extent to which social conservatives are now in control of the White House.

"I think the pressure from the right wing just got to be too much," Harkin said. "It shows the power they have."

Hagel, of course, didn't comment on the Right's now-proven ability to destroy this nomination, but I'm sure he's taking notes since these are the cannabilistic lions he thinks he's going to have to win over to have a shot at the presidency.

What's funny is that, had the Miers nomination continued to a vote, it's difficult to imagine either Hagel or Nelson having voted against her confirmation. In fact, with a 10-seat Republican majority in the Senate, I can't bring myself to accept the notion that these sickeningly well-conditioned Republicans would have so repudiated their first-in-command as to actually reject anyone he put up there and stuck behind. They would have fallen in line eventually because that's all this current crop of Republicans knows how to do.

What does it all mean? What secrets - what lessons - does this whole ordeal hold for the future? Will Bush give his crowd the fundamentalist whackadoo to whom they believe themselves entitled even though such a show of their true nature would threaten the integrity of the U.S. Constitution and the fortunes of the Republican Party (not to mention Bush's place in history)? Or, will he go the easy route of selecting someone such as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has already passed muster with the Senate once and would be the nation's first Latino Justice. Perhaps he'll go the even safer route of choosing one of the Senates' own members?

It's all really a matter of how much a "game of chicken" Bush wants to make of this. He's already flinched once. That doesn't put him in a position of strength. With all their recent undermining of the Miers' nomination, Republican rhetoric about every judge deserving an up-or-down vote is going to sound mighty hypocritical if push comes to shove and Democrats are forced to challenge a proven partisan ideologue via a filibuster. In general, Democratic filibustering has been a disasterous course - one that should have been reserved solely for the Supreme Court. Because of Bush's weakness and unpopularity, however, it might well present an opportunity this time around for the Democrats to prove their mettle and stand up for the living, breathing progressive Constitution that the American people demand.

For once, I think it might be time that we borrow a line from Bush (at his most cowboy-ish) - "Bring it on!"

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Hysteria Builds

by Kyle Michaelis
Why do I feel compelled to stand up for the scum of the universe? It's a question that continues to bother me in the face of an ever-expanding movement to impose tight restrictions on the residency of sex offenders across the Midwest.

Why? Because it doesn't feel right. Because this seems to be a lot more about cheap political points than about sound public policy or protecting children. Perhaps most of all, precisely because it is so difficult to stand with these "lowest-of-the-low" who have committed some of the most heinous and vile acts imaginable.

Part of me wants these criminals to suffer and doesn't give a damn about their rights. I do reject the notion that they can ever truly pay their debt to society. But, we are a nation of laws...and here the inflammation of our passions and our outrage - not our reason and intellect - are being used in targeting a defenseless and indefensible population. America has too weighty a history of injustice to tread on such territory lightly.

This doesn't mean we can't craft good laws punishing and restricting those who committ evil and disdainful acts, but we do have a duty as a freedom-loving democracy to take great cares when doing so. It is this care that is lacking in the rush by cities and the entire state of Nebraska to prevent a flood of displaced sex offenders across our borders.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
It's even more critical that Nebraska enact statewide law limiting where sex offenders may live, now that the City of Lincoln is considering such restrictions, State Sen. Gwen Howard said Tuesday.

Her comments came after Lincoln Mayor Coleen Seng said she had asked the city's staff to draft a proposed ordinance that would restrict where sex offenders could live.

If approved, it would add Lincoln to a rapidly growing list of cities and states that prohibit sex offenders from living in large areas within their boundaries.

Such a law took effect in Iowa in September. South Sioux City and Dakota City, Neb., both just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, have since enacted ordinances.

Some members of the Omaha City Council have expressed interest in an ordinance, and the Sarpy County cities of Papillion, Springfield and Gretna also are considering them.

"I am concerned that if Lincoln does not act, we could see a migration of sex offenders who have been affected by the laws of other communities," Seng said. "We need to do what we can to protect our children."

Howard praised Lincoln for "getting on the bandwagon."

But the senator said the ordinances ought not be enacted in a patchwork fashion. "It needs to be statewide, not just in urban areas and large cities. This happens in rural communities, too," she said.

Howard said she would introduce a bill when the legislative session starts in January.

Some other lawmakers said they thought residency restrictions are an ineffectual way to deal with sex offenders.

State Sen. Carol Hudkins of Malcolm said a Lincoln ordinance most likely would push sex offenders from there into the small neighboring towns in her district. But she said she didn't think such a law would prevent predatory behavior or that one could pass the Legislature.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he would oppose residency restrictions. He said such laws make pariahs of people who have paid their penalty under the law. Communities will be no safer if they are pushed underground.

The laws "are an overreaction, politically motivated and counterproductive," Chambers said. "They do not protect children, they have nothing to do with protecting children."

Lincoln's mayor agreed that questions remain about such a law, including which offenders should be covered and what places should be protected.

Iowa's law bars anyone convicted of a sexual offense against a minor from living within 2,000 feet of schools or child care centers. Some communities also are banning offenders from areas near parks, libraries and playgrounds.

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said the proposed ordinance needs to be thought through so it doesn't lead to unintended consequences.

Among factors to consider are the potential for state action, the effects of Lincoln restrictions on the rest of Lancaster County and the effects of restrictions on sex offenders living in group homes or treatment facilities in the city.

Casady said that if he had his way, there would be no sex offenders living in Lincoln.

The city has 426 registered sex offenders in residence, including 197 offenders classified as Level 3, the most dangerous. Casady said 57 sex offenders are at the Lincoln Regional Center, which has the state's only treatment program for adult sex offenders.

Two lines in that article just stick out in the above article and bother the hell out of me: 1)State Sen. Howard's praising Lincoln "for getting on the bandwagon"; and 2)Police Chief Casady's stated desire that there "be no sex offenders living in Lincoln." Both of these comments reveal a dangerous mindset and raise serious concerns about the true motivations behind this push - not that the people advocating such laws are bad people (or legislators), simply that they may not realize their own vengeful and impractical purposes.

The following map of Council Bluffs demonstrates the full extent of these residency restrictions ridiculousness:

Quite simply, there is nowhere left for these people (criminals, "scumbags", monsters, but people nonetheless) to live. The accompanying and quite enlightening World-Herald article on the difficulty of enforcing this new Iowa law reveals:
It's not too hard for Deputy Sheriff Jim Matthai to tell sex offenders where they can't live in Pottawattamie County, now that Iowa's residency restrictions are in effect.

Telling offenders where they can live is a lot tougher....

"Realistically, there is really nowhere that a sexual offender can live in Council Bluffs"...Matthai estimates that between 85 percent and 90 percent of offenders in the county will have to move....

The only residential areas not off-limits are one mobile home park and several neighborhoods with newer, high-end homes....

Responding to fears that sex offenders would be corralled into small areas, the Des Moines City Council passed an ordinance last week extending the 2,000-foot restriction to include parks, swimming pools, libraries and recreational trails. That essentially excludes sex offenders from living in the city.

Several other Iowa towns have taken similar steps, saying they had to enact their own ordinances because the state law created pockets of sex offenders....

Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan said Des Moines' move has spurred debate in all corners of Iowa and in communities across the border in Nebraska. "Des Moines," he said "is tightening up, and other cities are saying, 'Wow, what do we do?' If you don't follow suit, all of a sudden are you the haven?"

This is insanity, and it can't be allowed to spill over into Nebraska. If states are going to impose these restrictions (which is their right, though the 2,000 ft. requirement may simply be too burdensome), they have a concurrent responsibility to see that cities and townships don't just "jump on the bandwagon" and impose an endless assortment of restrictions of their own that serve to evict undesirables from the entire area.

This is un-American. We can not pick and choose who is an American and who has rights as such. If this can happen to sex offenders, it's appalling but only slightly exaggerated to say that this could happen to anyone.

Admittedly, sex offenders are more deserving of the scorn and discrimination of years past than that faced by Communists, homosexuals, and people with the wrong skin color. But, there must be limits on our thirst for vengeance and, yes, even limits on the lengths to which we go "to protect the children," a cry under which every freedom we hold dear could be sacrificed.

The line must be drawn. It is where we draw these lines that defines us and by which we will one day - ourselves - be judged.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Buffett's Crystal Ball

by Kyle Michaelis
With Warren Buffet's track record at prognostication, it's hard not to take what he says seriously when, as he did Monday after a charity event with the always impressive U.S. Senator Barack Obama, he called the odds on the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

It's SO early to make any such prediction, but in many ways this is how the man made his tens of billions. Note how Buffett's taking the safe bet and going with conventional wisdom reflects the generally practical investment style that has made him such a success. Whether you like what he says or not in this Michael Kelly column from the Omaha World-Herald, we'd probably be fools not to pay Buffett some heed.
In national politics, Barack is a rock star. He could almost go by one name, like Sting, Prince or Madonna.

His charisma and clear speech patterns call to mind John F. Kennedy, elected president at 43.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., born in the first year of the JFK presidency, turned 44 on Aug. 4 and is still in the first year of his Senate career.

He says he is not running for anything in 2008. But someday? How could the Democrats not run a smart, well-spoken guy like Obama?

He spoke well Monday in Omaha, where he enjoys the unabashed support of the town's most famous family. Susie Buffett put it plainly.

"I want him to be president," she said. "And my dad is a huge fan of his."

Dad is Warren Buffett, the famed investor and second-richest man in the world. He met Monday morning with Obama before the senator spoke to 1,500 people at a Girls Inc. luncheon at the Qwest Center Omaha.

The meeting was at Susie's house, where about 25 people attended a private fundraiser.

"He's a natural leader," Warren told me Monday afternoon. "He really wants to find solutions to some of the country's problems, and he listens. He's very smart and articulate."

Buffett said chance plays a large part in politics, and 2008 is a long way off. Odds are, he said, that Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York will get the Democratic nomination for president. The Oracle of Omaha, though, sees Obama as presidential timber.

"I hope I'm around when he's running," said Buffett, 75. "I'm as enthusiastic about him as I am about anybody in political life."

Seemingly high praise for Obama, depending on the esteem in which Buffett holds most politicians. I don't think Buffett really intends to show personal favor here for Senator Clinton, but I could be wrong. Talk about Clinton raising 60-80 million dollars just for her 2006 reelection campaign has to make people think the sky's the limit....assuming the American people can stomach another 4-8 years of the dueling Bush and Clinton dynasties.

Personally, for all Hillary's strengths, I would like to see a new era in progressive politics that I don't think the name Clinton can provide. But, dare I question Buffett's undiscussed reasoning? Someone had better. One needs to remember that it was only 2 years ago Buffett was pushing Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. True to form, he picked a winner....but Schwarzenegger's been a real loser for the people of that state ever since.

I'm not suggesting Buffett has lost his touch - just making a friendly reminder that there's no such thing as a sure bet. Besides, politics is a different sport than investing...even if it is increasingly played on the same field of dollars and cents.

Do we want "the next Clinton" (the name) or "the next Clinton" (a leader who can win)? I have a hard time believing they are one and the same, but I'll keep my ear to the ground and would be more than happy to be proven wrong.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Heineman Plays Politics with Education

by Kyle Michaelis
By his handling of the near-simulatenous, controversial decisions to dissolve "elementary-only" school districts in rural Nebraska and to merge various metro-area school districts into Omaha Public Schools, Governor Dave Heineman has proven himself completely undeserving of the office that he holds.

At every turn, Heineman has used people's fear and passion to boost his meager chances at election in 2006 rather than leading this state into the 21st Century. He has chosen to play regional and economic divides to his favor rather than healing these still-developing rifts. His actions have been shameful, his positioning irresponsible, and his leadership non-existent.

How sad that a man who seems to have dedicated so much of his life to public service should forsake his integrity at the first taste of power. Even more than Mike Johanns' incompetence and our Congressmen's blind partisanship, Heineman's ambitious manipulation may well be the ultimate example of the Nebraska Republican Party's failure to protect this state's future.

In his Sunday column, the Omaha World-Herald's Harold W. Andersen wrote:
Continuing the sequence of unusual aspects of the Heineman candidacy was his injecting the Governor's Office into a local controversy, i.e., the Omaha school district's "one city, one school district" proposal. The OPS plan has engendered fierce opposition among residents of suburban school districts - districts with heavily Republican voter majorities among whom Heineman is now something of a political hero, an image enhanced by his appearances at anti-Omaha school district rallies.

One aspect of Heineman's involvement in the school redistricting controversy would be almost laughable if the subject matter were not so serious. I refer to the fact that after indicating very clearly that he is taking the side of the suburban districts, he offered himself in the role of peacemaker, asking both sides to come together for negotiations under his sponsorship.

It seems to me that it's rather hard to offer yourself in the role of an honest broker when you already have announced that you favor one side over the other in the negotiations that you say you would like to sponsor.

Meanwhile, an article in Monday's World-Herald included:
Voters will get a chance next year to decide whether to repeal a law forcing elementary-only schools to merge into larger

But the vote outcome may not matter unless a judge first decides to suspend the law. That's because the mergers will take effect five months before the vote will take place....

Gov. Dave Heineman, who vetoed the bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year and signed the petition, supports suspending the law until the vote.

"That would be applying a little Nebraska common sense," he said during a news conference call in which he was asked about the issue....

The law angered small-school advocates, who said it was unnecessary because many elementary-only, or Class I schools, are closing on their own, primarily because of a lack of students. But backers of the law said it was needed primarily to ensure equity in education and financial resources in districts across the state.

I feel for the parents and communities that are trying to keep their schools open and/or independent. But, Heineman's pandering for votes in one instance to let small schools die a slow death (at great student/tax-payer expense) and in the other to protect a privileged class violating every principle on which public education is founded is outrageous and despicable.

Heineman, for all his bluster, is flat-out wrong on both these issues. There is nothing populist or principled in protecting waste and privilege. Where compromise may have been possible, Heineman's fool-hardy, line-in-the-sand approach has emboldened short-sighted idiocy in public policy. In so doing, he has actually hurt those with whom he so cynically stands, whose well-meaning causes must now be defeated entirely if we are to maintain any degree of responsible governance.

Heineman deserves a similar fate for the very same reason.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Future They Stole From Us

by Kyle Michaelis
The future is now - except in Nebraska, where the state legislature has put the interests of large corporations who make large campaign contributions and pay large sums to lobbbyists before the long-term technological, economic, and educational needs of our state.

Iowa, on the other hand, has not been so fooled, as its citizens get the chance our representatives robbed us of to embrace municipal broadband as an equalizing and enlightening force in the 21st Century.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Voters in 31 cities and towns across Iowa will consider ballot proposals next month that would allow local governments to provide broadband Internet access.

The measures would authorize the creation of municipal communications utilities, which could develop local networks capable of delivering high-speed Internet service.

"Cities have always owned the infrastructure for delivering essential services," said Rick Young, who is heading the effort in Waterloo.

Supporters say that Iowa communities aren't getting broadband service from traditional providers and that they should move forward on their own.

Behind the effort is Opportunity Iowa, an advisory group formed by Cedar Rapids telecommunications entrepreneur Clark McLeod. Other members of the group are former Govs. Terry Branstad and Robert Ray; Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general; retiring University of Northern Iowa President Robert Koob and Des Moines developer Bill Knapp.

Cities need broadband service to remain competitive, McLeod said. "A fiber utility is a logical, efficient and critical infrastructure for any community."

The point is not whether the people ultimately decide to embrace public is that in Iowa - unlike in Nebraska - the people actually had a choice. The Corporations didn't decide for them. Their legislature didn't betray them.

If only we could say the same.

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Tuition & Inflation: A Tale of Two Regents

by Kyle Michaelis
It always amazes me how some elected representatives actually understand the needs of the people, while others show almost no such understanding whatsoever. This latter bunch seem generally to depend on raw ideology and partisanship to fill in the gaps and decide their actions at the expense of real people and the common good.

Case in point, let's look at two University of Nebraska Regents' very different responses to the Board's decision to set targets for tuition hikes of 9-percent and 8-percent, respectively, over the next two years.

On one hand, we have "the Good": Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons. On the other hand, we have "the Bad": Regent Drew Miller of Papillion. (We'll leave "the Ugly": degenerate Regent David Hergert out of things for once.)

In a Daily Nebraskan article reporting on the planned jumps in tuition rates - compounding upon what has already been a dismaying 64.1% increase since 2000 for Nebraska residents and a sickening 78.8% increase for out-of-state students - Miller responded:
"Overall I thought they were reasonable...they're really not much above inflation rates, which is nice, and they give us some money to put into quality education."

Hassebrook, our hero for the day, offered a different perspective:
"We act like increasing tuition at twice the rate of inflation is somehow a very modest increase."

More than just the ridiculousness of such thinking, however, Hassebrook showed even more understanding of the ramifications of these annual increases, continuing:
"If we're going to rasie tuition like our peers then we better get serious about getting need-based aid up there like our peers...It's also about working families who make modest incomes. They need aid, too. We've got to get serious about addressing this if we're going to serve all Nebraskans."

Contrast that view with Drew Miller's repeated, nonsensical calls over the years for abolishing need-based aid, erasing one of the great forces of equal opportunity that make a college education accessible to all who show the talent, commitment, and work-ethic to earn admittance.

Need I even mention that the National Report Card on Education has given Nebraka an F on its college affordability, ranking it as one of the worst states in the nation for its level of need-based aid?

Does Miller care? No...for ideological reasons he betrays his constituents - rich and poor alike - who benefit from a true society of opportunity. Does Hassebrook care? Damn right he does...and this state needs more leaders of his sort who hold sacred the promise of public education and our responsibility to see it became more accessible rather than evermore the domain of the wealthy, ruling elite.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bush Sinking Even In Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis
Thanks to those glorious folks at DailyKos for linking to the latest SurveyUSA tracking poll showing the same as every other nationwide poll that the tide of public opinion has turned against President Bush. Bush's approval rating is pretty consistently abominable around 38-40%.

Now, SurveyUSA's state-by-state tracking shows this trend even working its way into Nebraska.

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In just four short months (that were surely very long months for the Republican Party as their record of incompetence and corruption began to catch-up with them), Nebraska voters have shifted a full 8 percentage points away from Bush, giving him a current approval-disapproval rating of 52% to 45%. In June, those numbers stood at 60-37%.

And with the continued scandals surrounding Vice-President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Senate GOP Leader Bill Frist, and Tom DeLay's entire House of Horrors (or is it whores?), the hits might just keep on coming. Right now, Nebraska is one of only seven states where more voters still approve of Bush's job performance than disapprove, and his numbers seem to be getting worse by the minute.

Neighboring South Dakota disapproves of Bush by a margin of 15%, while Iowa and Missouri have disapproval margins of 23% and 20%, respectively. All three of those states went for Bush in 2004 and are showing significant buyer's remorse that has to be scaring Republicans throughout the Midwest.

No wonder we have Republican candidates criticizing Bush. His numbers slip any more and it's going to be open season as the likes of Don Stenberg, Pete Ricketts, and perhaps even Nebraska's Congressional delegation start trying to distance themselves from the failed Bush agenda Americans have so completely rejected.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Poor Journalism and the Myth of the Independent Republican

by Kyle Michaelis
Columnist and political reporter Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal-Star has always come across as a very genial and good-hearted man. That's why it pains me to emphasize once again how intolerable his uncritical, near-thoughtless writing on the Nebraska political scene has become.

For one, I've never had much appreciation for the brain-droppings style of Walton and the Omaha World-Herald's Harold W. Andersen seemingly intended to convey some sort of downhome folksiness by skipping around from topic to topic without rhyme or reason. It makes for cheap and vapid journalism of less journalistic value than the football box score or the week's Powerball numbers.

As much as I frequently disagree with Andersen and don't like his style, however, he will at least provide some occasional analysis of issues, as opposed to Walton's increasingly inane recitations of the prior week's news that show little to no evidence of the intelligence he surely possesses.

For instance, in today's column, Walton writes:
Senate candidates Don Stenberg and David Kramer aim sharp criticism at the deficit-spending record of a Republican government in Washington that has sent the national debt soaring.

[Sen. Chuck] Hagel, of course, has demonstrated considerable independence in the Senate. He’s been a leading critic of Bush administration policy in Iraq, warning from the beginning against a precipitate U.S. military attack without broad international support and careful planning for the aftermath.

And, although he has an overall voting record predominantly in line with his Republican colleagues and the president, Hagel has steered an independent course on some high-profile domestic issues.

Hagel voted against the president’s No Child Left Behind education reform plan, against broad prescription drug coverage under Medicare and against the 2002 farm bill.

In the recent past in Nebraska, Doug Bereuter was the only other leading Republican officeholder who occasionally strayed from the GOP pack.

Perhaps independence is catching on around here.

First things first - there has not been a damn thing "independent" about the statements by Stenberg and Kramer. They've had no choice but to say the things they've said because the American people have awakened to the Republican incompetence that holds the federal government in its thrall. Neither has broken with their failing party on any issue of substance, instead choosing to portray themselves as more Republican, more conservative, and more destructively detached from reality than those whose ranks they hope to join.

Since when is extremism a form of independence?

Meanwhile, on the issue of Hagel's so-called independence, it was nice to see Walton at least mention (though, rather dismissively) his over-whelming record of VOTING right in line with the Republican Party. I don't mean to undervalue Hagel's criticism of the Bush Administration's disastrous foreign policy, but - at the end of the day - the votes by which history will judge him portray Hagel as a clear and continued enabler of these blunders.

Of course, the most glaring problem with Walton's mini-column is its failure to even mention the one man in Nebraska's delegation who might reasonably be called an independent - Sen. Ben Nelson, perhaps the nation's foremost conservative Democrat. Nelson's absence in an article on this subject is so glaring that it begs the question whether Walton is lifting his words directly from GOP Talking Points.

Moreover, former 1st District Congressman Doug Bereuter - a moderate Republican who served for more than 25 years and left office with a high-profile declaration that Bush's Iraq invasion had been a mistake - was replaced by partisan fundamentalist and sycophant Jeff Fortenberry. Fortenberry has yet to break with Tom DeLay's goose-stepping legions on any important vote, let alone criticize the rampant corruption that has become business-as-usual in the People's House under Republican leadership.

He is joined in Congress by Lee Terry of Omaha, emerging as a leader in the most reactionary and shamelessly partisan element of the House, and Tom Osborne, who in 5 years has yet to offer more than a peep of independence, seemingly erring on the side of doing the Republican Party's bidding rather than protecting the interests of Western Nebraska. With his popularity, Osborne doesn't even have the excuse of voting in this manner for political and fundraising purposes but rather out of laziness alone.

How does any of this square with Walton's suggestion that "independence is catching on around here"?

Wishing it certainly doesn't make it so. The mere suggestion, at least as framed by Walton, is laughable at best and blatantly deceptive at worst. I would be inclined to ask for a retraction, but I suppose this is a matter of opinion...even if it's becoming clear that Walton's opinion - where it concerns Nebraska Republicans and demands some degree of objectivity - doesn't really count.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation"

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraskans for Peace held their annual conference in Lincoln Saturday. The keynote address was given by Greg LeRoy, a prominent critic of the short-sighted and out-of-control race by states to provide more and more tax breaks and government subsidization to businesses in the name of job creation.

This, of course, is relevant in Nebraska where the hallmark of the 2005 legislative session - as well as the crowning moment of Governor Heineman's short career - was the passage of its "Nebraska Advantage" $430 million expansion of the state's long-standing LB775 program.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Job creation tax breaks are a costly scam that hinders long-term economic health, a leading national critic of corporate tax incentives said Saturday.

“In most cases, they pay companies to do what they would have done anway,” Greg LeRoy told about 150 people at the annual conference of Nebraskans for Peace.

The cost in lost revenue in Nebraska is likely to approach $200 million a year, LeRoy said. “When the big boys pay less,” LeRoy said, “everyone else pays more, or the quality of public services goes down, or both occur.”

LeRoy, founder and director of Good Jobs First, is author of a widely discussed book called “The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation.”

The better avenue for cities and states to pursue healthy economic growth would be through development of a skilled workforce and infrastructure improvement, with an emphasis on quality education, LeRoy said.

“Corporate windfalls divert resources from things that could really strengthen the economy,” he said.

Under the current corporate tax break program, education is denied needed resources, LeRoy said. “If it undermines public education,” he said, “we should get rid of it.”

Donald Mihovk, public affairs vice president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, rejected criticism of Nebraska’s business incentive package. “We believe in it, and we think it works,” he said.

Nebraskans for Peace, which marked its 35th anniversary at Saturday’s event, has spearheaded legislative efforts to reform the business incentive and job growth initiative originally enacted as LB775.

A second-generation plan approved by the Legislature earlier this year includes new disclosure provisions that LeRoy hailed as a critical breakthrough.

Although the new plan may turn out to be “LB775 with steroids,” he cautioned, the disclosure requirement over time may allow Nebraskans for Peace and other monitors to “find lots of stinky deals.”

That, in turn, will help critics mount public support to overturn runaway tax breaks, LeRoy said....

Too often, LeRoy said, companies fail to keep the promises associated with tax breaks.

Too many of them pay “poverty wages,” he said, when the thrust of the economic incentive program was to create good jobs. Tax breaks often go to companies that do not provide health care benefits for their employees, he said, shifting increased costs to taxpayers through programs like Medicaid.

I missed the conference this year but have attended in the past. Though I don't always agree with the scope and tone of various peace groups' messages, Nebraskans for Peace have long provided an important alternative voice in this state, and I - for one - am thankful for their continued efforts to create a better informed and more just society.

With so few senators willing to ask the tough questions about these corporate tax subsidies, this state is dangerously dependent on the likes of NFP and like-minded civic crusaders to maintain even some minimal degree of accountibility in government. I hope they are up to the task because those business interests for whom plans like this mean hundreds of millions of dollars most definitely have their end covered.

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Lee Terry Hates PBS

by Kyle Michaelis
When I last wrote about Republican efforts to destroy PBS (or, at least, slash its funding so that it can't possibly function as an uncommercial, unbiased public entity), I didn't realize that one of the architects of its destruction was our own Congressman Lee Terry of Omaha.

Today's Lincoln Journal-Star ran a good article about what's at stake with the continued Republican effots to take the axe to PBS. The article, however, similarly fails to mention Terry's role in this assault:
Imagine public television programming in Nebraska without "Masterpiece Theatre." Or "Frontline." Or "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Or even "Sesame Street."

Rod Bates can't — but he said the scenario isn't so far-fetched, especially if federal funding is eliminated from the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications budget.

"The federal funds by and large pretty much pay for all the PBS programming," the NET general manager said. "In a simple way, all PBS programming would go away. If all PBS programming goes away, we would have a serious problem because it's the bulk of our schedule."

Bates is one of several public broadcasting administrators closely monitoring events in Washington, D.C., these days.

Three weeks ago, a group of more than 100 conservative House Republicans proposed $500 billion in spending cuts to offset the cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Among their suggestions was eliminating $400 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that funnels money to PBS, NPR and other public broadcasters....

The proposed cut is the latest instance of public broadcasting finding itself in a political turf war....

A February 2004 RoperASW Poll found that PBS ranked first in public trust, ahead of broadcast networks, newspapers and Congress....

In June, a House subcommittee voted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the CPB, starting with a 25 percent cut in the agency’s $400 million budget for next year.

The House reversed the committee’s decision to eliminate all funding and restored the $100 million. Nebraska’s Republican representatives Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Tom Osborne voted against restoring the funds.

But the House did not restore an additional $102.4 million that helps underwrite the production of PBS’ Ready to Learn children’s programs such as the Emmy Award-winning “Reading Rainbow,” co-produced by NET Television....

Federal funds make up 9 percent or nearly $3 million of NET’s budget, which is $23,130,000 for the 2005 fiscal year. NET, which operates NET Television and Radio, also receives money from the state, the university, corporate and private donations, grants, contracts and multimedia sales.

Bates said losing any amount of government funds would be difficult.

“We would probably have to eliminate our local programming if we wanted PBS programming,” he said. “That's the kind of choice we would have to make. We couldn't afford PBS programming unless we drastically cut something else."

The 100 conservative House Republicans pushing for these cuts are better known as the Republican Study Committee, and chief among their numbers for our purpose is the aforementioned Lee Terry - his name's right there on the website.

Of course, the past votes of Congressmen Fortenberry and Osborne demonstrate that they too will go along with the scheming of these partisan zealots at the expense of Nebraskans who rely on Public Broadcasting and treasure its services.

But, only Terry (so far - Fortenberry's application might well be in the mail) has come out as an avowed enemy of PBS and the wonderful educational programming it provides.

Take notice. Take action.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

More GOP Candidates Agree: "We Suck!"

by Kyle Michaelis
One day after Republican Governor Dave Heineman's admonishment of Tom Osborne and the spend-happy Republican Congress, two of Nebraska's three Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate stated their own dissatisfaction and disappointment with the direction this country is headed.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Frustration over spending by the Republican-controlled Congress and White House is becoming a key issue in the GOP Senate race in Nebraska.

Two of the three Republican candidates - David Kramer and Don Stenberg - have been critical of their GOP colleagues in Washington for what they believe is out-of-control spending.

Kramer received a hefty round of applause recently in Gering, Neb., when he questioned Congress' ability to rein in spending and whether Republicans were forsaking their claim as the "party of fiscal responsibility."

"I'm worried that we've become those people (Democrats) we were so gleeful to get rid of in 1994," Kramer said Thursday.

Stenberg, who campaigned in 2000, his last Senate race, as part of George W. Bush's team, also has distanced himself from national Republicans. In a statewide tour he criticized Bush and congressional Republicans for "skyrocketing" spending.

"The Republicans in Washington have lost their way on spending issues," Stenberg said Thursday.

The third candidate, Pete Ricketts, has said repeatedly that he supports Bush and his conservative agenda. He said that he is concerned about federal spending but that he would not play the "blame game"....

It is clear that Kramer and Stenberg are tapping into what appears to be growing concern among rank-and-file Republicans about record federal budget deficits.

It is projected that the deficit could hit $500 billion this year, while the federal debt grows to almost $8 trillion....

The talk in the Senate race about big-spending Republicans has some Democrats feeling vindicated.

"The last time I checked, a Democrat president was the last one to balance the budget," said Barry Rubin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

"I think the Republicans have started to realize that President Bush couldn't lead a Cub Scout troop out of a phone booth."

Kramer and Stenberg say electing Democrats is not the solution.

How bad must things be for President Bush, Tom DeLay & company when even in Nebraska we have Republicans looking to win by attacking their own party? Of course, what choice do they have as people wake-up to the Republican incompetence and corruption that has left a mere 28% of Americans believing this county is headed in the right direction?

And Kramer and Stenberg think electing more Republicans is the solution. Oh, please.

The problem is not that Republicans have lost their's that the Republican way doesn't work. And guess what, the American people - even the people of Nebraska - have noticed.

Mr. Ricketts, I wouldn't want to play "the blame game" either: not in 2006, not with an "R" by my name, not with the miserable leadership that little letter has come to represent. Good luck with the whole "head in the sand"-routine. If that's how you're going to play it the next 13 months, I'm sure that beautiful bald head of yours will come in very handy.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Heineman Attacks Irresponsible Republican Congress

by Kyle Michaelis
As Congressman Tom Osborne continues to take digs at Governor Dave Heineman for his failure to push for a tax cut in the 2005 legislative session, Heieneman has chosen a defense that, frankly, it's pretty hard to argue against.

The Omaha World-Herald quotes:
[Heineman]...said Osborne has no credibility in criticizing him....

"With all due respect to the congressman, he's been part of a Congress that has given us runaway spending, pork-barrel spending and record deficits," said Heineman.

That's a pretty powerful condemnation of this Republican dominated Congress, not to mention - by implication - the man who has signed-off on all this insane spending and stomache-churning debt, President George W. Bush.

Give'em hell, Heineman! Restore fiscal discipline and responsibility in government. Listen to what the good governor says...the Republican Party can't be trusted with your money or this nation's future. Vote Democratic in 2006.

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Tax Cuts 'R Us

by Kyle Michaelis
It's becoming incredibly clear that Governor Dave Heineman is going to have one agenda for the 2006 session of the Nebraska Unicameral, and that agenda is cutting taxes. Well, the true agenda is actually getting elected in his own right, but tax cuts are obviously the means by which he thinks that's most likely to happen.

The Omaha World-Herald reports on Heineman and his fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates' attempts to turn next year's primary into a dangerous game of the limbo, each one promising lower taxes than the other with little concern for anything but the votes they might win:
The possibility of tax cuts turned up the heat in the Republican governor's race Wednesday.

Gov. Dave Heineman defended himself against criticism that his suggested tax-cut package should have come sooner or was politically motivated.

With state tax revenues on the rise, Heineman said this week that he might offer a tax-relief package in the next couple of months.

His opponents for the Republican nomination - U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity - said the cuts should have come sooner.

Nabity said talk of tax cuts now, rather than in the last legislative session, "reeked of politics."

Heineman denied that charge.

"I realize there is an election - that happens every four years - so people can make that argument. But I'm trying to find a way, as I have said repeatedly, to grow this state's economy," said Heineman.

Since July 1, Nebraska has collected 13.4 percent more in taxes than in the same period last year, or about $85.7 million more than a state forecasting board predicted in April....

Osborne said he would have pushed for a tax cut in the last legislative session rather than allow state spending to grow by 7.2 percent over the next two years.

"We didn't pay down. We spent the money," said Osborne.

Heineman responded that his two opponents were "playing politics" and that his proposed tax cut was always part of his plan.

He said he pushed for an economic development package last spring in hopes that tax revenues would grow and a tax cut would be possible....

The debate on taxes in the Republican primary is not surprising. It isn't unusual for candidates to push for tax cuts at election time, said John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"I think it's going to be an arms race. Each candidate is probably going to offer more tax cuts, and everybody is going to try to out-tax (cut) the other person," Hibbing said.

He also noted that the timing of a tax cut next year could work to Heineman's advantage. As governor, he could shepherd a tax cut through the Legislature a few weeks before voters go to the polls May 9....

But it also could pose a political risk to the governor, he said. Heineman could open himself to criticism for the size or type of cut. He also has to get state lawmakers onboard.

At least one state senator, Lowen Kruse of Omaha, said he would rather put the money into a savings account to protect against future economic downturns. He also noted that because of term limits, many senators will not have to worry about re-election.

"We simply will be looking at what's best for the state, and if a tax cut is best, we would do that. But we would not do that reflexively, as we might have done in the past," said Kruse.

How ironic it would be if the term limits pushed so vigorously by Nebraka's anti-government, anti-tax crowd ended up preventing tax cuts because state senators don't feel as much need to pander to voters' pocketbooks and are actually able to put the long-term interests of the state ahead of their political fortunes.

Wishful thinking? You never can tell, but it sure would throw one hell of a wrench in Heineman's election game plan.

I'm not saying tax cuts shouldn't be on the table or that, targeted correctly, they might not do a lot of good for Nebraska's economy and its working families. The problem is that the state has incredible responsibilities to live up to in education, in health care, and in any other endless number of social services that are easily forgotten in election year pushes for tax-payer bonanzas.

The long-term solvency of our government, vitality of our economy, and security of our citizens should be our leader's true priority.

We need to remember the lean times of just three years ago that forced very real cuts in services - few of which have been restored - that hurt very real Nebraska citizens, particularly the young and those on the verge of poverty.

Also, as the World-Herald points out in a separate article today, the state's tax receipt windfall may not be all that it's cracked up to be:
Nebraska's economy is stronger than expected this year, but it's not booming as much as state tax collections might suggest.

Conservative state projections and unexpected spikes in tax receipts have resulted in Nebraska collecting an $85.7 million tax surplus so far this year, said State Tax Commissioner Mary Egr Edson.

Only about 20 percent of that surplus has come from better-than-expected economic growth.

The forecasting board's cautious estimates, used by legislators to prepare the state's two-year budget, came on the heels of lackluster tax receipts in February, Edson said.

"Things were still a little unsure," Edson said. "They wanted to stay a little bit on the conservative side."

The legislature was cautious and conservative in estimating the state's tax receipts and balancing its budget (besides the whole corporate give-away). They should take no less cautious an approach to any proposed tax cuts, no matter the political pressures coming from the Governor's Mansion.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005


by Kyle Michaelis
Just in time for Halloween - be a Republican-for-a-Day!

The AP reports on the possibility of Nebraska Democrats and registered independents changing their party affiliation to have a say in the 2006 Republican primary, particularly in the closely-watched gubernatorial race pitting would-be incumbent Dave Heineman against coaching-legend-turned-Congressman Tom Osborne.

The article quotes liberal Nebraka activist Tim Rinne extensively, as he explains his reasoning for putting a temporary "R" by his name:
Last month Rinne, a registered nonpartisan, walked into the Lancaster County Election Commissioner's office and switched to the Republican Party. Why?

Rinne said Tuesday he wants to have a voice in who the next governor is. And at this point, there are no Democratic candidates and three Republicans. People registered as Republicans will have a vote in the May primary on the candidates they want to see advance to the general election in November.

Everyone else - about 50 percent of registered voters - would not get a say. "Half the electorate of Nebraska is going to be disenfranchised," Rinne said....

The latest official registration numbers compiled by the state are from November. They show 50 percent registered as Republicans, 34 percent as Democrat and 16 percent as something else....

Election commissioners across the state contacted Tuesday - including those in the three most-populated counties of Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster - said most people who switch their parties before the primary will do it closer to the May 9 vote.

The registration changes in September for Lancaster County didn't show any trends, said election commissioner Dave Shively. Thirty people switched from Republican to Democrat and 32 switched from Democrat to Republican. Twenty-two switched from nonpartisan to Republican, and 28 switched from nonpartisan to Democrat.

So, basically, there is no story here...not yet...but this article is doing everything in its power to create one with its none-too-subtle suggestion to non-Republicans to join the party, even if just for election day.

One can only speculate what the effect of such a movement might be. Some think it would amount to a bunch of Husker fans crossing-over to help Osborne, while others suspect Nebraska Democrats might support Heineman in hopes that their eventual candidate would have a better chance against him.

Who knows? There might even be a voter or two who want to have a say between the two candidates based on actual issues. Hey, anything's possible.

But, note the following assurance before thinking this is a real clever idea:
Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin said he expects the party to have a candidate named within a month. Rubin said he hadn't heard of any movement toward Democrats switching to vote Republican for the governor's primary.

"I'd encourage anyone who's thinking of doing that to do not do so, because we will have a strong candidate who will compete in this race," Rubin said.

Let the countdown begin. I'm curious to see who the Democrats pull out of their hat. Regardless of who it is or their chances, this election is about more than winning for Nebraska Democrats. It's about legitimacy and proving to the people of this state that they have a voice of their own and deserve a seat at the table.

Voters' trust and confidence must be earned. New connections must be formed - a new identity forged - on the issues people care about and on that most basic human level where our shared values and common interests shine through.

Of course, a mountain of campaign cash couldn't hurt either, as much as I hate to admit it. But, no dollar amount is going to mean a damn thing unless the candidate in whose name it is spent can look his Republican rival in the eyes, tell him he's wrong, then look to the voters of Nebraska and tell them why and what he (or she) as a Democrat - more importantly, as a Nebraskan - is offering as a better alternative.

At least, in theory, that's how it's supposed to work....

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Where the Money Is

by Kyle Michaelis
A quick update from Stenberg's primary Primary competition from the Omaha World-Herald:
Pete Ricketts has made the first two big hires in his GOP U.S. Senate campaign.

The Omaha businessman named Pat Fiske, a veteran Republican strategist, as campaign manager. He also hired Nathan Mick, former deputy chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as his political director.

Fiske has served as chief of staff for two members of Congress, Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., and former Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash. Last year, he managed Bob Schaffer's bid for U.S. Senate in Colorado. Schaffer lost the Republican primary to Peter Coors.

Looks like this Fiske fellow learned some lessons from his candidate's 20% defeat in the 2004 Colorado primary - mainly, in Republican politics, next time go with the super-rich candidate who can fund his own campaign.

Well, he's found exactly that in Ricketts. What Ricketts lacks, however, is the name recognition of his Colorado counterpart, beer-icon Coors. That doesn't seem to have stopped Fiske from copying his former opponent's playbook on Ricketts' behalf.

See one of Coors' primary campaign themes: "The Senate has 57 lawyers and does not need another one...I've said all along the Senate needs more people with business experience." (08/10/2004)

Compare that to Ricketts' recent statement: "Business people, I believe, are seriously underrepresented in Washington." (09/24/2005)

Stick with what works, I guess. Then again, Coors' bid for the Senate was ultimately unsuccessful, but I'd bet Fiske is taking this one step at a time.

Just hope he keeps Ricketts from attempting to lower the drinking age...or - with his particular brand of riches from his family's stock-trading company - perhaps defending Enron or calling for less regulation on Wall Street.

He's a Republican. Of course, that's all in the agenda somewhere. You just don't say it. Surely, Fiske's gameplan already has that covered.

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Stenberg the Independent?

by Kyle Michaelis
In what is surely one of the sillier columns about Nebraska politics in recent memory, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton today turned a blind eye to almost two decades of Don Stenberg's being a Republican lackey, daring to suggest that the Stenberg seeking the 2006 Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate is newly-independent:
Don Stenberg lit a fire under his Senate campaign last week.

First came a declaration of conservative principles that disassociated him from the Republican record in Washington and effectively erased any image of him as a rubber stamp for President Bush....

On earlier travels throughout the state, Stenberg found Nebraska’s conservative Republican base upset with Washington Republicans. Just as he is.

Nebraska Republicans let Stenberg know they support the war in Iraq, but oppose the apparent abandonment of fiscally conservative government by a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Just as he does.

Oh puh-leeze!

This is a man with only one campaign style, and that's riding coat-tails while saying anything to get elected. In 1996, he thought he could capitalize on the "Republican Revolution" by being a Right-wing extremist. Didn't work. In 2000, he thought he could capitalize on Chuck Hagel's popularity by being Chuck Hagel's clone (in his words, "Chuck Hagel Jr."). Didn't work.

Now, playing weatherman once again, Stenberg senses the winds of change turning against the inept President Bush and corrupt Republican Congress and is doing what he can to differentiate himself from the failed agenda he has served for so long.

It's not going to work, but look at him try at his formal campaign announcement last week:
“Many Republicans in Washington have lost their way and no longer support smaller government, restrained federal spending or local control of education,” Stenberg said at a news conference at Eppley Airfield.

“Under a Republican Congress and a Republican president, federal spending has skyrocketed,” the former three-term attorney general said.

But the answer to that problem will not come from Democrats, Stenberg stressed. It must come from voters who elect fiscally conservative Republicans, he said.

It is time for change in Washington,” he declared. “Republicans in Washington need to be reminded why they were sent there in the first place"....

Stenberg...did not hesitate to include Bush in his criticism of Republican governance in Washington.

“Overall, I think he’s done a good job,” Stenberg said when asked. Stenberg gave Bush high marks in waging war against terrorists, securing tax cuts and nominating conservative judges to the federal courts.

“But I have been disappointed with the president in some regards,” he said before setting sail on a 12-community statewide tour.

Bush has not vetoed a single spending bill during his presidency, Stenberg said, even as federal budget deficits have soared. And federal control of education through mandates imposed on local schools is “bad policy,” he said.

However, Stenberg said, Bush was “the right person to deal with the terrorist attacks” at a critical moment in U.S. history.

Nelson, he said, is associated with the “blame-America-first crowd,” as exemplified by the Democratic leadership he has helped try to elect.

“Since an election is approaching,” Stenberg said, Nelson “will be doing everything he can to convince Nebraskans that he is not really a Democrat.”

Asked to identify specific issues on which he would have voted differently than Nelson, Stenberg chose three.

If he had been in the Senate, Stenberg said, he would have supported oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and voted to confirm the president’s nomination of Judge Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court seat.

Furthermore, Stenberg said, he would be firmly committed to legislation making the president’s tax cuts permanent....

Stenberg, who was defeated by Nelson in 2000, will face former Republican State Chairman David Kramer and Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts in next May’s GOP primary election.

What is this "blame-America-first crowd" Stenberg tries to box Nelson in? Did he really say that with a straight face? What a despicable, dishonest, and petty little man this Stenberg proves himself every chance he gets.

Meanwhile, on his disappointment with Bush, can you say Flip-Flop? Less than six months ago, in a vastly different political climate, Stenberg vowed he would be a Senator Bush could "work with even better" (than the always affable Nelson). Back then, he hoped to win as nothing more than a Republican rubber stamp. Now, he's attempting to frame himself as the forgotten conscience of this lost president and his wayward party.

What a hoot!

Shame on Walton for buying this crap hook line and sinker without challenging it in the slightest. With Stenberg's would-be big brother Chuck Hagel having ruffled some Republican's feathers with his own Bush criticisms, at the very least Stenberg should be expected to account for where he thinks his beloved Hagel has it wrong on Iraq (a prime example of an issue where he will never ask a question and never have the courage to lead).

Damn straight, "it is time for a change in Washington." It is time we clear the Congressional deck of every Stenberg-like joker who always puts partisanship before country - his only higher priority saying whatever it takes to get elected.

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Sex Offenders Near Schools: Hysteria or a Call to Action?

by Kyle Michaelis
If anyone tests the limits of compassion (i.e. liberalism), it is a child sex offender. I live less than one block away from McPhee Elementary in Lincoln, and yesterday's Lincoln Journal-Star reported that 15 registered sex offenders live within this same 2,000 foot vicinity.

That's a horrifying statistic, particularly for parents, in the face of two recent events that have shaken the community:
With such high-profile incidents as the Sept. 22 sexual assault of a kindergarten boy at Arnold Elementary School by a 27-year-old group home resident who lived miles away, parents, school officials and the public are searching for more ways to protect children....

On Tuesday, the safety of children was dealt another blow when authorities arrested a man on suspicion of 10 misdemeanor counts of child enticement near Prescott School, 1930 S. 20th St. Authorities on Wednesday charged him with felony attempted first-degree sexual assault of a child.

15 within 2,000 feet. 15 of my neighbors. Sadly, the next-closest elementary school in the city has even one more sex offender than that.

Numbers like this aren't going to sit well with anyone who has the slightest clue about the rates of repeat offenses for this type of crime. But, honestly, what can we do about it?
More than a dozen states, including Iowa, have chosen one method of dealing with the problem of child predators: They ban convicted child molesters from living within a specified distance of schools and child-care centers. Iowa’s law restricts convicted child molesters from living within 2,000 feet — a little more than four blocks — of a school or child care center.

State Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha has said she plans to introduce similar legislation during the Nebraska Legislature’s next session....

Is that right? Is that just? Do I/Should I care? Would I care if I were a parent in one of these neighborhoods?
Tim Butz, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nebraska, said Friday residency restriction laws do not necessarily make a community safer.

“Not everyone who is a predator is listed on a registry,” he said. “A lot of unprosecuted sex offenders are not registered.”

Residency laws create instability in the sex offender community by forcing offenders to move, and, in some cases, causing them to lose jobs.

They will go underground, Butz predicted, and thus off law enforcement radar scopes. And, he said, they likely won’t register or complete treatment programs.

Kristen Houser of Omaha has done anti-sexual violence work for 15 years and in 2004 was president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. She said communities spend too much energy, time and money talking about this small, unrepresentative group of registered sex offenders.

Most predators are repeat offenders who go undetected, she said, because their crimes are not reported by victims who don’t trust the community to believe them.

“I am much more concerned about offenders out there that law enforcement doesn’t know about,” Houser said.

High-profile cases attract the public’s attention, she said, and reactions like residency laws end up giving people a false sense of security.

So, do we do nothing? Do we just lock-down our schools and keep a good eye on the look-out for suspicous characters around the playground? For all my opinions, I don't have an answer to a question like this.

These criminals have served their time, even if their debt to society can never be repaid. Even scarier - it's true - the sex offenders we know about are only those who've been caught. If the state reports 15, who knows how many are really in the area? 1 more, 10 more - is that even possible?

I don't want to infringe on anyone's rights. Nor do I want children to be the prey of monsters.

Is the shattering of a child's innocence and identity sin enough to forsake rights that are otherwise held as sacred. It's hard not to respond "absolutely," but one must always be mindful that it's far easier to jump on the bandwagon on its way to a lynching than it is to apply the brakes.

For more on what can and should be done to protect our children in Nebraska, read this guest column that ran in Saturday's Omaha World-Herald about the 2001 report of the Governor's Working Group on the Management and Treatment of Sex Offenders. The author, editor of the Nebraska Criminal Justice Review, accuses Governors Johanns and Heineman of neglecting this report at our children's peril, suggesting all state legislators and local politiicans read it before considering future legislative actions.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tell Fortenberry & Terry to Return DeLay's Dirty Money

by Kyle Michaelis
Thanks to JoEllen Polzien for forwarding this to me:
Congressional Republicans in Nebraska took $28,308 from Tom DeLay.

Tell Nebraska Republicans to Return DeLay's Dirty Money.

On Tuesday, I told you about a petition we've launched telling House Republicans in Nebraska to return DeLay's dirty money. Since then, Republicans across the country have faced an avalanche of press, with more than 20 stories in local and national outlets that question their financial ties to the indicted leader they served so loyally for so long.

This was due in no small part to people like you making a simple demand that House Republicans keep the proceeds of DeLay's pay-for-play politics out of their races.

We need to keep up this momentum. We need more national and local papers to put the press on their elected officials to stand up for the American people...and not their man, Tom DeLay.

I am asking you again to please sign this petition. Every American who adds their name turns the pressure up another notch. Join the tens of thousands of people who told their local House Republicans DeLay's Dirty money must go!...

We can send a warning to all the rest of the Republicans that America will not stand by while they continue operating on Tom DeLay's influence-peddling status quo.

We can't let up. Add your name and tell your House Republicans to clean up their act and return DeLay's dirty money...

Thanks for standing up.

John Lapp
Executive Director, DCCC

For a fairly succinct run-down on the recently-indicted DeLay's crimes against democracy, check out No matter what side you fall on the ideological spectrum, DeLay's despicable conduct angers and offends. For our Congressional representatives to remain complacent (and complicit) on this matter is simply shameful.

Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry - for once, rise above the partisan fray and just do the right thing. Give DeLay's dirty money back and reject, once and for all, the corruption and influence-peddling he has made so commonplace in the halls of Congress.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Who Will Stand Up for Affordable Education?

by Kyle Michaelis
I know budget cuts by the state in 2002 put an incredible burden on the Univesity of Nebraska, some of which had to be born by the students. But, quite frankly, tuition costs have gotten out of control, and it's just plain pathetic that no one will stand up and say so.

Students, by large, are so brow-beaten and crippled by apathy that they have pretty much resigned themselves to an endless series of tuition hikes. Meanwhile, the collective wisdom of the state legislature and the Board of Regents demonstrates so little concern for maintaining quality AND affordability in higher education as to constitute a complete dereliction of their duties to the state.

Tuition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has more than doubled in the last decade. How is that in any way, shape, or form reasonable or acceptable to the people of Nebraska, as the state's premier research facility and engine of economic development becomes less and less accessible to the everyday citizen who doesn't want to take on endless debt just to earn a simple but so very essential undergraduate degree?

Read about the future prospects for this on-going joke of a public policy that won't have anyone laughing a few years from now, and marvel at the lack of outrage, courtesy of the AP:
The University of Nebraska hopes to keep tuition increases between 8 and 9 percent in the next two school years, President James B. Milliken said Friday.

Milliken, along with the chancellors of the university’s four campuses and the Board of Regents set tentative tuition benchmarks on Friday, agreeing tuition should not increase more than 9 percent from fiscal year 2006-2007 and 8 percent for the following fiscal year.

Between 2002 and this year, tuition increased more than 45 percent. The tuition increase for the current year is 5 percent, below the 7.1 percent national average increase for large, public universities, the board said.

The tuition figures are targets and help the university plan its future, said Howard Hawks, chairman of the board.

“We hope to hold tuition at or below these targets, but realistically we may need to revisit them over time,” Hawks said.

The university said it hopes to balance trying to make attendance affordable while dealing with rising costs of utilities, health care, inflation and attracting faculty, among other challenges.

Friday’s planning session also involved setting benchmarks for aggressive growth in funding for federal research and enrollment increases.

Ha...and then the University wonders why its enrollment is down. Simple - precisely because of this "realistic" leadership by the likes of Hawks so lacking in vision that it is an insult to 100 years of tradition and the entire idea of the land-grant university.

Please note the subtle deception in the above article's opening paragraph that seems to suggest tuition hikes of 8 or 9% over the next two years, as opposed to the actual plan for raising it that much EACH of the next two years. That's a hike of almost 18% over two years, and the University refuses to commit even to restraining itself to this embarrassing level of theft from students and their parents.

Around and around and around we go - the rich get richer, the poor get stupider with fewer opportunities, and no one makes a peep.

A country (or state) without the foresight to invest in its future doesn't have a future. And rightfully so.

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