Friday, January 27, 2006

"Abort Fort"

by Kyle Michaelis
Abort Fort. Enough said. Ring it from the mountaintops (or the highest point along the prairie).

Here's the latest press release from the Nebraska Republican Party's website.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry addressed thousands at the National March for Life. Following are Congressman Fortenberry's remarks:

"Good afternoon. It is such an honor to be with you today to peacefully gather and celebrate the beautiful gift of life. I am particularly encouraged by the many young people here. Despite the culture of death that rages around you, you courageously challenge the nation's leadership -- especially the impoverished decisions of the Supreme Court -- showing the world that we can be a country of life giving love.

Together we say abortion is a fundamental injustice against women and their unborn children -- that abortion has caused a deep wound in the soul of our country, resulting in untold grief and violence....

We say that women deserve better, especially those who feel coerced into abortion. For abortion is so often a decision brought on by emotional and physical abandonment. And what is the result? An unborn child dies. A woman is left scarred. A man escapes his responsibility. And the abortion industry profits from this pain.

The beautiful thing about the pro-life community is that we offer hope. We pray, we plead to our society: Please do not make the choice for abortion. Please do not go down that road. You deserve so much better.

And yet even if someone makes the tragic decision for abortion, we still say we support you and we love you. We will help you heal. Our voices are the voices of hope and compassion....

Thank you all for your sacrifice. Thank you for your courage. And thank you for your wonderful dedication to our message of hope and healing. Together we will rebuild our society with a true respect for women--and the beautiful gift of life."

Abort Fort - 2006. Maybe not the most tasteful response ever, but between these comments and all the "Support Fort" sloganeering in the 2004 1st District Congressional race it's just too golden an opportunity to pass up. I'm thinking bumper stickers, buttons, t-shirts...and I'm sure my design team could put together one heck of a graphic to go along with it.

Honestly, I take very seriously the dueling conceptions of morality and freedom - both, not one against the other - at the heart of the abortion issue. Still, it is a speech like Fortenberry's above, so much a triumph of rhetoric over reason, that lowers the terms of the debate and has gotten the nation in this sad stalemate benefitting neither women, children, nor society as a whole.

America's is not a culture of death no matter the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on our military every year. What exactly does it mean for women to "deserve better" than being able to make their own life and health choices? Is this some sort of Orwellian "slavery is freedom"-proposition? I thought so.

Finally, while I have great respect and sympathy for the actual outreach and education efforts coordinated by the Pro-life/Anti-abortion community, why do they have so little faith in their message that they would choose to give up their principled pleading - please do not make the choice for abortion - in favor of legislation that takes that choice away, making less of our morality and a woman's humanity?

Of course, if you really believe this is genocide orchestrated by an imagined "abortion-industrial complex" rather than the complicated moral dilemma faced by real women and understandably wrestled with in any open society, then these are nonsense questions to you. In that case, Fortenberry's doctrinaire approach should be right up your alley (perhaps I should say, "back-alley"). But such is not the American way and does not reflect the true feelings of the Amerian public.

Pro-life is a beautiful message and a better ideal - one I only wish more people would truly live by - but, by itself, it makes for bad and injust law when so twisted and simplistic as the view offered by Fortenberry and his like.

No, I'll take no pleasure in it, but I think I'd better get to registering before someone else beats me to it. Abrasive and insulting - particularly with Fortenberry the new father of a 7-week-old baby - it's nevertheless a message he deserves to hear....a reminder that his religion does not trump other's rights and that women will not be trampled and constrained under his paternalistic idea of what's best for them.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

More Evidence of Terry Eyeing Hagel's Job

by Kyle Michaelis
Here's another bit of information I left out of last night's post remarking on Congressman Lee Terry's attempt to raise his profile for a 2008 bid for the U.S. Senate. According to, Terry's comments questioning, if not condemning, the Bush Administration and calling for the removal of "all the DeLay folks" for their corrupt style of governing were made in an exclusive interview with the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Now, tell me this...what's an Omaha Congressman thinking saying the first interesting things he's said in years to a Lincoln newspaper? Omaha has plenty of local TV news that would have gladly given him the spotlight, not to mention the mighty Omaha World-Herald. Who in Lee Terry's district reads the Lincoln Journal-Star?

Exactly. This isn't about re-election. Terry's thinking bigger and more long-term than that. And, you know what, I don't really mind because his momentary lapse of cowardice makes Lincoln's hometown (by-way-of Baton Rouge) Congressman Jeff Fortenberry sound like a sheepish putz by comparison.

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Nelson No Longer Alone on Alito

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska's Democratic Senator Ben Nelson received a lot of flack from liberal activists (generally meant in a good way) after announcing his rank-breaking decision on the Alito nomination. But, it appears Nelson will not be in quite so exclusive company on this vote as I'd hoped for reasons of symbolism and principle.

Reuters reports:
A second Senate Democrat broke ranks on Thursday and announced he would vote to confirm President George W. Bush's nomination of conservative federal appeals judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota said he had concerns about Alito on such matters as "executive power, his past opposition to the principle of one person, one vote, and his narrow interpretation of certain civil rights laws."

"Even so, I cannot accept an argument that his views are so radical that the Senate is justified in denying his confirmation"....

Johnson joined Ben Nelson of Nebraska as the only Senate Democrats to declare support for Alito, who appears certain to soon win confirmation in the Republican-led, 100-member chamber. Both Johnson and Nelson represent fairly conservative states that voted for Bush.

And, add one more Democrat to Johnson and Nelson's number - this time one that really hurts.....Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
"My considered judgment from his record, from his answers to my questions, and from his obvious intelligence and sincerity, leads me to believe him to be an honorable man who loves his country, loves his Constitution and will give of his best. Can we really ask for more?" said Byrd, the senior Democrat in the 100-member Senate.

He and other Democratic senators are calling for their party not to filibuster, the only weapon the minority party has left to try and stop Alito.

Democrats have not agreed to a time for a final vote, although Republicans are pushing for the 55-year-old judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to be confirmed before Bush's State of the Union on Tuesday.

Who among us will now dare to declare that Robert Byrd is not a real Democrat because of this vote? The longest-serving Democrat in the Senate. As much of a Constitutional authority as anyone in Congress (seriously, I think the guy was there when they wrote it). When Byrd defended the judicial filibuster last year from Republican attack, he was hailed as a hero. Will he now be vilified, just like that, as many have done with Nelson?

As I've said elsewhere, I can't look into these men's hearts and see what considerations truly hold dominion in this matter. Johnson above expresses reservations that at least indicate he sympathizes with those who share very grave concerns about Alito's record. As intelligent men, I expect the same holds true of Nelson, Byrd, and any other Democratic senators who might join them in the coming days.

I am not willing to make judgments of their character or their worthiness as Democrats on this basis. As I see it, it's really only their judgment and possible gullibility that is here called into question.

On this, I hope we can all agree, confining the debate to whether Alito truly deserves the faith in which he is being entrusted, rather than resorting to KKK-littered insults of past shames and silly reductions of a man's entire history of public service to some conveniently imagined but nevertheless toxic brew called Republican-lite.

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Lee Terry Makes His Move

by Kyle Michaelis
It looks like Nebraska's Second District Congressman Lee Terry wants to raise his profile, breaking years of generally unflinching silence on Republican misdeeds...perhaps in hopes of establishing himself as Sen. Chuck Hagel's successor should Hagel forego seeking a third term in 2008 to instead run for president.

Here's what the newly semi-critical Terry had to say to the Lincoln Journal-Star:

President George W. Bush should have gone to the secret intelligence court to authorize his administration’s domestic surveillance activities, Rep. Lee Terry said.

“I think the president could have accomplished the same thing by going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and I feel he should have,” the Omaha Republican said in a Lincoln interview. “The mechanisms are in place to do it constitutionally.”

Under terms of the 1978 act, he said, the administration could have acted immediately to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails involving suspected terrorists or their associates while seeking warrants within 72 hours authorizing those activities.

Once the administration responded swiftly to emergency surveillance opportunities, Terry said, he believes it should have gone to court. “I certainly understand wanting to tap phones right away,” he said, “but not going back to get a warrant after the fact baffles me"....

At the same time, the 2nd District congressman said, he believes the White House may “sincerely feel it has a constitutional right” to do what it did. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., plans to hold hearings on the constitutionality of the administration’s domestic surveillance tactics.

On other matters, Terry said he believes House Republicans should hold new elections on all leadership positions other than Speaker of the House so they can “get rid of all the DeLay folks.”

While Republicans are poised to elect a new majority leader to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who resigned his leadership position under a cloud of ethics charges and alleged campaign finance law violations, Terry believes four other positions also should be open to change.

“We need to get rid of the DeLay group and elect new blood that was not caught up in the DeLay style and is open to reform,” he said. “I think we need a clear break from the old regime.

Terry has signed a petition designed to force elections for every leadership post except that held by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert....

The House needs to approve “a very harsh, tough ethics reform bill,” Terry said, and get its moribund ethics committee “up and running again.”

Charges of congressional corruption are hurting Republicans, he said. “But people (in my district) say to me they think this is not just a Republican thing, but a congressional thing.”

That sure reads like even Terry thinks Bush's domestic spying program is unconstitutional, not only as a matter of protecting personal freedoms but also for violating the law of the land according to the U.S. Congress. With even Sen. Specter admitting such offenses may justify impeachment, this is a radical break from five years of near-complete Congressional acquiescence to highly questionable and dangerous extensions of presidential authority post-9/11.

Of course, it's Terry's criticism of the Republican culture of corruption and its standard-bearer, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, that demonstrates the most significant shift in Terry's pubic persona. He's clearly doing everything in his power to separate himself from the very leadership he has supported and received support from throughout his tenure.

He wants to get rid of "all the DeLay folks"? That's funny since, by almost any standard imaginable, he's one of them. Terry has taken their money, voted their interests instead of the people of Nebraska's, and even joined in Republican efforts to weaken Congressional Ethics Rules so DeLay could hold on to power as the House of Corruption over which he's presided started showing its first cracks.

Still, better late than never to feign a political conscience and actual expectations of integrity from one's own party. To bring Terry to this point, you almost have to assume that he knows the worst is yet to come for Congressional Republicans as the full extent of DeLay and company's dirty dealings comes to light. In a situation like that, it's hard blame the guy for doing what he can to steal some political cover - at least, if he cares about his job.

So, what of the Hagel factor? Immediate political considerations aside, can Terry possibly break free from his record of toeing the party line enough to make it feasible that he could possibly stand on at least one of his own two feet?

The Journal-Star might think so, going so far in an editorial as to thank Terry for bravely "risking the wrath and disdain of the Bush administration." Well, gee golly, good for him, but let's not make too much of Terry's ability to recognize which way the wind is blowing and adjust his positions accordingly. Smart? Yes. Gutsy? Not so much.

And, Senate material? Is that even a question worth asking? I'm not so sure.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mike Johanns' Wildest Dream

by Kyle Michaelis
An amusing article in today's issue of much-beloved publication The Onion. Do note that this is mostly a work of satire:
Beltway insiders report that since his appointment in February 2005, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been preoccupied with the fact that he is ninth in the line of presidential succession.

Said Johanns: "It's really something to think that, if the president and the vice-president, the speaker of the house, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of defense, the attorney general, and the secretary of the interior were somehow unable to fulfill their capacities as president, I would have to be the one to take up the mantle."

Those close to him say that Johanns never expressed any particular knowledge of or interest in presidential succession prior to his appointment as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture....

Johanns said he has promised his children that should he become president, he will not allow the press to exploit them or put them in the spotlight.

"I used to be intimidated by it a little," Johanns said. "But now that I've had a chance to settle into the post of the presidency nine times removed, I finally feel up to the challenge. God forbid it should ever come to that, but if my country needs me to take the helm of the ship of state, I'm ready."

Last Thursday, Johanns testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee On Agriculture, Rural Development, And Related Agencies about the potential dangers of avian flu communicability within the poultry industry.

"Alarmingly, bird flu can attack, and possibly kill, people in their prime. If we don't take aggressive preventive steps now, people from all walks of life — even the eight most important people in the executive branch of our government — could be victims."

A December visit by officials from Mexico's Agricultural Ministry was marked by Johanns' insistence on distributing number-nine-embossed T-shirts, pencils, and coffee mugs to all assembled...Johanns "kept saying things to them like 'the president didn't make me numero nueve for nothing.'"

In recent weeks, Johanns has taken his preoccupation to a new level, formulating contingency plans in the event he is forced to assume control of the presidency. During a four-hour meeting earlier this month, Johann debriefed his staff on possible scenarios, and their corresponding duties.

"He rattled off everything from mass assassination to a catastrophic roller coaster disaster...."

Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or to be frightened that former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns is only nine successions away from the presidency. Johanns' left this state's economy in tatters (50th/49th in the nation), while turning state budgeting into an all-out assault on the University system and Nebraska's low-income working families.

It's not a legacy Nebraskans will look kindly upon in the future. I've got to say, Johanns probably made the right call jumping ship to the Bush administration where such incompetence will be less noticeable and might even pass for the norm.

"You're doing a heck of a job, Jo-Jo!" You can almost hear President Bush saying those exact words in the midst of some total agricultural disaster he doesn't want to acknowledge, can't you?

Doesn't make Johanns' proximity to power any less troubling, but I can certainly appreciate the bit of laughter this article inspires that should also serve as a warning about the quality of leaders running this country, at least for those of us in Nebraska who've seen their failures for ourselves.

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When Good Prayer Goes Bad

by Kyle Michaelis
Tuesday morning, Nebraska state senators received an unexpected sermon in place of the customary, non-denominational prayer usually opening the day's legislative activity. Rev. Tom Swartley of First Christian Church in Elm Creek delivered the following:
Almighty God, we come humbly into your presence this morning, seeking your favor.

I thank you, God, that in the great state of Nebraska we do have a Legislature that does not deny you God, but who rather seeks your favor and guidance. I do ask, Lord, that you would guide these leaders of our people. I ask that you would give each of them a renewed sense of conscience, of conviction and courage to do what is right.

I do also come, Lord, this morning with a heavy heart. I ask your forgiveness on our people, a people who have killed 47 million of my fellow Americans since the year I was born. We have aborted 47 million babies made in your image. God, forgive us. Forgive us for our complacency. We go to work and school, and come home and watch television, while genocide, infanticide and homicide is being committed on our own children. Open our eyes, Lord. Open our eyes to your morality that when you said "thou shalt not murder," you meant even the most innocent and unwanted among us.

Open our eyes to the other aspects of this 33-year-long bloody nightmare. Open our eyes to see that we've killed 47 million young American taxpayers, and indeed Social Security is in crisis. Open our eyes to see that 47 million of our countrymen are gone - doctors, lawyers, inventors, authors, musicians and artists. Forgive us, oh God, and open our eyes and change our path. Comfort the mothers and fathers who have great wonder and regret. Heal us, oh God.

Forgive us also, Lord, for the teaching of the religion of evolution to our young citizens, a religion that tells us that we are only here by chance; that we are here for no reason and human life means nothing more than any other life; that we will never face a Judgment Day. We've put our children into the same category as other mammals, and we wonder why sometimes they act like animals. Forgive us for sowing the seeds of anarchy in the hearts of children.

Open our eyes, God. We can see, when we look at our wristwatches, intelligent design, but when we gaze into the incredible complexity of biology and nature, we see chance. Open our eyes; change our path.

Lord God, I pray that in these halls this and every day our leaders would make the right choices; they would make decisions based upon right and wrong, not on politics. I pray that you and your will would indeed be done through these leaders. Bless them, oh God; strengthen them; guide them. I pray that your will indeed would be done on earth as it is in heaven, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Well, that's certainly one way of celebrating this weekend's 33rd anniversary since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. A captive audience of state senators and plenty of local media hungry for a story probably beats protesting outside a women's clinic any day of the week. That the text of this political speech appeared on-line so quickly after it was delivered leaves one wondering if Swartley didn't have copies already available for the press - maybe he even e-mailed it to them as a .pdf file.

Regardless, it seems pretty clear this was more an instance of political grandstanding than fulfillment of any supposed moral duty. I mean, seriously, the guy went so far as to call aborted fetuses "taxpayers", while mourning their inability to pay into Social Security.

Swartley's total misconception of evolutionary theory - calling it a religion and speaking as if it's all dependent upon chance - only further establishes the fact that this was no innocent gesture of conscience. It was an ignorant abuse of the legislature's goodwill and the people's trust, masking one man's political agenda in terms of spirituality and Godliness of which his own conduct shows no evidence.

The Omaha World-Herald reports on the response of the state senator resposible for Swartley's opening "prayer":
State Sen. Jim Cudaback of Riverdale, who invited Swartley to serve as chaplain for the day, said he was disappointed by Swartley's actions.

"There's a time and a place for such things, but it's not on the floor of the Legislature," Cudaback said. "It's a privilege to have a minister come in the morning - and to have one break the rules doesn't make your day."

Legislative guidelines call for pastors to offer nondenominational prayers and to refrain from discussing issues pending before the Legislature and other political topics.

Must be the influence of those "seeds of anarchy" Swartley was talking about. The Lincoln Journal-Star continues:
Sen. Ed Schrock, whose district includes Elm Creek, where Swartley is the pastor at First Christian Church, shook hands with him after he gave his prayer. But he didn’t offer any congratulations.

“I told him he shouldn’t have brought abortion into this — keep politics out of your prayer,” Schrock said. “We have enough trouble keeping prayer here without having political issues inserted.”

The saddest thing about this is that some are going to uphold Swartley as a hero for this disrespectful and Constitutionally suspect behavior. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see him use this momentary infamy to embark on a speaking tour across the state - or, hell, maybe even turn it into his own campaign for the state legislature.

Think about it: both Cudaback and Schrock (take your pick) are being term-limited this year, and Mike Foley of Lincoln - the state senator best known for engaging in his own anti-abortion theatrics - is hoping to make the leap to State Auditor in November. That leaves Swartley a prime candidate for Nebraska to reload on its single-issue zealots in the legislature. After all, a state can never have enough of those.

Now, let's just hope that's my taste for whimsy talking and not my other tendency towards keen political insight. 'Tis a curse, I tell you...a miserable curse.

**For more worthy commentary on this incident, see Ed Howard's column at Nebraska StatePaper.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

World-Herald Looks to North Carolina for Nelson's "Weakness"

by Kyle Michaelis

I don't know about you, but when I want to know the concerns of the average Nebraska citizen, I don't usually think of North Carolina Senator and former would-be first lady Elizabeth Dole as the person to ask.

Seems from this article, however, that the Omaha World-Herald might have a different opinion on the matter:
What is Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson's greatest re-election vulnerability?

It's the court-ordered $145 million payment Nebraska made stemming from Nelson's tenure as the state's governor, says the head of the GOP political committee hoping to help defeat Nelson this fall.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, singled out that payment Monday as she gave an overview of this fall's U.S. Senate contests.

"That $145 million is something that folks back home will not be very happy with," Dole predicted. The payment settled a legal dispute with the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission. In 1998, when Nelson was governor, a license for the disposal facility was denied by the state.

Besides that, Dole cited Nebraska as a "very red" state that strongly backed President Bush in 2004 and a recent Senate vote where Nelson opposed drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Responding, Nelson spokesman David DiMartino said: "If they plan to highlight Senator Nelson's record of putting Nebraska first, like when he chose ethanol and Nebraska farmers over oil company profits and Nebraska's health and natural resources over nuclear waste generators, we won't stop them."

Glad to hear Liddy is so in-touch with the "folks back home." Now if only her handlers would have provided her an actual issue with which to level an attack rather than falling back on a convoluted, 20 year bureaucratic nightmare from which Nelson - in the eyes of many constituents - comes across as perhaps the only "good guy" in the whole damn mess.

Let me assure you this....Liddy Dole has never been to Boyd County, where this nuclear waste dump was to have been forced upon the state. She's never talked to the families of Butte and Spencer nor heard the fearful concerns for their children's health and safety. In fact, by doing the Republican Party's bidding and focusing solely on the legal wranglings and the politically-suspect court proceedings that finally brought this ordeal to a close, I'm not so sure the World-Herald even remembers what was truly at stake (nor the paper's own role in creating the lose-lose situation Nelson inherited).

But heck - Dole's right - Nebraska is a "very red state"....right up to the point where our families' well-being and our childrens' futures are threatened. At that point, we look for more than polished politicians and demand actual leadership - the sort of which Republicans have failed to provide from the statehouse since Kay Orr was governor. The people of Nebraska were bullied and bilked under Orr and, later, Mike Johanns. The only time they had a champion who was actually willing to stand up for them was with Nelson in office - and now the Republicans want to turn THAT into a liability.

Yeah, you'd have to have lived in Washington D.C.'s partisan bubble for decades like Dole to think that's going to work. Still, it's worth noting that even she might know better. National reporting on Dole's predictions for 2006 (couresy of the AP) makes no mention of Nelson's as a top-tier a year when the national mood is leaving Republicans increasingly desperate for a bright spot or two on which to rest their hopes.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Republicans Lose Their Manners

by Kyle Michaelis
Surprise, suprise....the Republican National Committee has taken away Sen. Ben Nelson's gold star and replaced it with a far less impressive red check marking his support for Samuel Alito's nomination to the US Supreme Court on their website.

Also gone is the request (mentioned below) that voters call and thank Nelson - even including his office's phone number to facilitate the efforts. Seems worries about the mixed signal this sent as Nebraska Republicans desperately attempt to defeat Nelson forced a reconsideration.

Hilarious. Wonder how many phone calls it took before that complaint got through to GOP High Command. Still, I'd say it's kind of rude to take back a thank you like this. Miss Manners would not approve.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Andersen's Obvious Oversight

by Kyle Michaelis
Omaha World-Herald institution Harold W. Andersen may no longer be a registered Republican - last year, announcing he was becoming an independent after his disgust over the GOPs exploitation of Terri Schiavo and her family - but I'm sad to report that single act of self-liberation has not been reflected in his thinking and writing.

Today's column offers a good example of the crippling limitations on his still-partisan perspective, whether such partisanship is official or not. After running through some of the enormous expenses on the horizon for the state of Nebraska and hinting at the inadequacy of Gov. Dave Heineman's calls to study them further, Andersen writes:
This is primary election time, and the governor's proposal to reduce taxes has the appearance of greater feasibility if inexpensive studies and delayed action can be substituted for appropriating funds to address problems now.

It also helps to borrow $191 million from the state's cash reserve. The governor's taxcutting budget also depends on optimistic estimates of growth in state tax collections in coming months.

Heineman's performance is probably about what could be expected as he approaches a May primary election showdown with U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, who is challenging Heineman for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

As for Osborne, his call for larger tax reductions than Heineman has proposed is not unexpected but is nonetheless subject to question.

I believe that until the need for tax revenue has been better determined - the need to deal with such things as the meth epidemic and the well-documented malfunctioning of the state foster care system - it is obviously premature for Heineman, Osborne or any state legislator to propose tax-rate reductions.

Osborne's approach to state taxing and spending issues would be more credible if he would offer some evidence of what he calls hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary state spending and how he would go about reducing such spending, beyond his expectation that a comprehensive study by experts from the private sector would come up with recommendations.

Let's hope that the Legislature, in which nearly three-fourths of the members are serving their last term, will deal more realistically with state spending needs than we apparently can expect from candidates whose political future, at least for the next four years, will be determined by Republican primary voters some 16 weeks from now.

How sad it is to see an old man so lost to low expectations that he refuses to even look for a better alternative to the irresponsible political pandering of the Republican candidates for governor. He writes of the legislature as the state's last hope for common sense and actual leadership, conveniently forgetting or failing to even realize that there is another candidate for governor in this state asking the same questions as Andersen and pointing out the same weaknesses in Heineman, Osborne, and Co.'s tax-cut proposals.

Mr. Andersen, meet Mr. David Hahn (from Sunday's Lincoln Journal-Star):
As the Republican gubernatorial primary battle rages to a drumbeat of competing tax cut promises, Democratic candidate David Hahn suggests a more “prudent and realistic approach.”

Tax reductions, he said, “always would be on the table in my administration, but I think it’s important to look at things realistically.”

One of the factors that deserves serious consideration, Hahn said, is legislative fiscal analyst Mike Calvert’s conclusion that the state may need a much larger cash reserve to avoid substantial budget cuts or tax increases in the near future.

Careful consideration also ought to be given to future obligations attached to such issues as current and new business tax credits, Medicaid reform and prison overcrowding, Hahn said in a Friday interview.

“Not one Republican is talking about this,” the Lincoln attorney and Internet entrepreneur said....

“How can you talk about tax reductions until you talk about the cost of business incentives? It’s not that I’m against tax credits to (stimulate) business, but we need to know what the costs are.

“And I am not against tax cuts,” Hahn stressed. “They will always be under consideration by me. But one of the reasons I got into this race was I was not hearing reality-based positions on these issues.”

What's the problem here? Andersen writes as if Heineman and Osborne's hijinks are the best voters can expect, yet here's a candidate who's taking the high road, being sensible, and speaking truth and he acts as if Hahn doesn't even exist. What's up with that?

While opinionated and prideful enough that he's never been strictly constrained to the Republican party line, it's clear Andersen has the unfortunate inability to think as anything but the life-long Republican he remains at heart. It's impossible to know whether he fails to mention Hahn and give him credit for being a better, more principled candidate because he doesn't want to say anything nice about a Democrat or simply because he's deaf to the truth when it comes from a Democrat's lips.

Let's just pray the people of Nebraska aren't similarly afflicted - trapped by a partisan allegiance that violates common sense, shatters hope, and can actually bring a man to betray his own intellect.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Nelson the ONLY Democrat for Alito?

by Kyle Michaelis
So far, at any rate.

After Ben Nelson's announcement that he is voting for Alito, I was a bit surprised (and impressed) that moderate Democratic Senators Ken Salazar (CO) and Max Baucus (MT) answered so forcefully to the contrary. That leaves it looking like the immediate fate of the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court will rest with the five Democratic Senators from the Dakotas and Arkansas. Their votes - wrestling with the example of Tom Daschle and facing a political climate somewhat similar to Nebraska's - will set the course from here on out.

Honestly, if Nelson was going to vote for Alito anyways, I'm glad he announced early and got it out of the way. It eliminates uncertainty and gives the Party a chance to otherwise build a united front, standing boldly on Democratic principles and putting the screws to those Republicans in Democratic-friendly territory to decide whether they are willing to sell the Supreme Court and possibly their careers to the radical right's cultural agenda. Nelson's one vote hardly undermines this effort. If his one vote is joined by three or four others, it may be a different matter.

Of course, voting against Alito does not necessarily indicate willingness to engage in a filibuster. They really are different votes depending on a Senator's philosophical approach to government and the constitutional role of the presidency. Democratic leaders might be obligated to the women, labor unions, and minorities most threatened by "Associate Justice Alito" - not to mention the history books - to at least attempt a filibuster, but the moment the media's focus turns to "the gang of 14" and the nuclear option this is going to become a melee in which the message of why Samuel Alito is not right for America could well be lost.

If the message is truly what matters, do you forsake it just to make a point or do you let the votes speak for themselves? Such is the choice before the Democrats in the Senate - who may well be justified causing all sorts of ugliness to stop (or stall) Alito's nomination but might also have nothing to gain by doing so.

Regardless of what happens, it's impossible to fault those Nebraska Democrats disappointed by Nelson's failure to represent their values. Last night, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist gloatingly referred to Alito as Democrats' "worst nightmare." If that's not a warning sign that something's amiss about this nomination, I don't know what is.

Since Nelson will not heed this warning, I hope he will at least consider speaking to the principles on which he is basing his vote by condemning Frist's callous and cynical treatment of the nation's highest court like a political trophy. Nelson is uniquely positioned to deliver such a reproach in a manner that every American could appreciate and know as truth.

Seriously, Frist and the Republicans wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Beyond President Bush's often cited accolades, even the Republican National Committee has gotten in the business of hailing Nelson, literally giving him a gold star and telling Republicans to call and thank him for his leadership.

Disturbing? Yes...but also an opportunity.

And politically-speaking, what could possibly be more frustrating for the Nebraska GOP and their failed attempts at portraying Nelson as out of touch with Nebraska voters? Hell, they can't even convince their fat cat superiors in Washington D.C. of that one.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fun with the Nebraska Legislature

by Kyle Michaelis
Two weeks into the 2006 legislative session, I regret that I haven't been able to write more on the issues being addressed and votes being decided. Thanks to term limits forcing 40% of the legislature out the door and this only being a 60 day session, senators are pulling out all the stops to get their ideas out there (and maybe even into law) while they have the chance. It's damn near impossible to keep-up.

Of course, there is always the big time legistlation that makes the headlines in the newspapers. So far, I haven't even gotten a chance to register my two cents on these, as the conceal & carry handgun permit and fetal assault bills made it through their first round of debate and have pretty much had a lock on media attention. Both have momentum on their side, though opposition - particularly to conceal & carry - is still likely to be fierce.

Personally, I can hardly conceal and carry my disgust at this horrible proposal. If people want to live in the Old West, the government should be investing more money into researching time travel. The argument that this is going to put criminals on notice and restore freedom to the long-suffering gun-nuts amongst us just doesn't really add-up.

Owning a gun is not a bad thing - its fine. But those who get off on owning guns are a scary bunch. Theirs is just so childish a mentality, antithetical to the whole idea of a civilized society, that it's ridiculous how our politicians placate them and their little club, the NRA. What these people need is a spanking and some time in the corner apart from their deadly toys.

Were it not for the extremely obsessive nature of the gun culture and all its obvious trigger-pulling power-tripping, I'd be a lot less inclined to worry about things like conceal and carry. Rationally, these permits, if well-regulated, are not the end of the world. It's just that the people who want them most are so irrational and rabid about it that forces one to start seeing the world through a prism of fear that must reflect their own stunted worldview.

Well, that's enough on that. We'll just see in the coming weeks what else will transpire. For now, here's a couple of note-worthy legislative proposals from just yesterday that caught my eye (courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald).
DRUNKEN DRIVING: People convicted of drunken driving who did not cause property damage or hurt someone would have an ignition locking device installed on their vehicles, instead of being subjected to the current penalties for DUI that involve license suspension, under a bill (LB1169) by Sen. Pam Redfield of Omaha. The device requires a person to blow into a breathalyzer and test below the legal limit for alcohol before the vehicle would start. Upon a first conviction, the device would be installed for a year on each vehicle the person owned. It would be in place for five years if there was one prior conviction, 10 years for two prior convictions and for life with three or more prior convictions.

Actually a pretty interesting proposal that you have to respect for its open-mindedness. Seems a little bit "futuristic" but that certainly isn't a bad thing. Still, likely charges by activists that this would be a lighter sentence, not to mention worries about offenders getting around the technology, make it hard to imagine this would become a reality any time soon. Doesn't mean it would be a bad idea, though.
BOOZE TAX: The tax on beer, wine and liquor would increase a whopping 630 percent under a measure (LB1209) by Sen. Lowen Kruse of Omaha. The $130 million generated would be put into a fund to compensate for loss suffered as a result of death, personal injury, or property damage incurred by anyone affected by an alcohol-related crash. Under a more modest bill (LB1206) by Sen. Leroy Louden of Ellsworth, the alcohol tax would go up enough to generate about $2 million. That money would be made available as grants to law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime.

While we're at it, why not raise the tax on alcohol by 8000%? Why not tax condoms? After all, we don't want people having sex, do we? And why not tax the hell out of guns??? Oh wait, that last one actually isn't a bad idea beyond the fact that all these "sin taxes" are cheap moralizing that make mockery of our freedoms. Imposing such taxes on cigarettes was one thing because smoking inherently results in cancer and other respiratory diseases with enormous social costs. Drinking, though, is not the same class of social ill if it is even one at all.

It's all a question of responsibility. You can drink responsibly. You can have sex responsibly. You can own a gun responsibly. If these Senators are so eager to expand the tax base, they should really be considering legalizing and taxing the hell out of marijuana and prostitution. I'm not actually advocating either, but it would be more reflective of our society's actual values rather than those here being imposed upon us.
AMERICANISM: Each school district would be required to form a "Committee on Americanism" under a bill (LB1211) by Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue. Each committee would "examine, inspect, and approve all textbooks used in the teaching of American history and civil government" and "adequately stress the services of the men and women who achieved our national independence, established our constitutional government, and preserved our union." The bill also would require American history courses to "include and adequately stress contributions of all ethnic groups to the development and growth of America into a great nation, to art, music, education, medicine, literature, science, politics, and government and to the war services in all wars of this nation."

Way to be a better American than everyone who didn't propose this bill, Sen. Cornett. That all it does is add another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy hardly matters, not when we all now know how much you love your country. Having witnessed the glory of forced multiculturalism in algrebra class and celebrated Constitution Day by attending a lecture on its being unconstitutional, I'm sure this politically-motivated government mandate in our public schools would be no less a success.

But seriously, rather than a committee, couldn't we just have an "America WOW!" day? I think it would be a hit. Also, how long before we finally get back to our roots and create the more important "Committee on UnAmericanism" that will root out the insidious forces corrupting our children and threatening this nation?

Then, we'll truly know how far we've come.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Nelson First Democrat to Announce FOR Alito

by Kyle Michaelis

The AP broke this expected but nonetheless disheartening news Tuesday evening:
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska on Tuesday became the first Democrat to announce he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Nelson, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, said in a statement that he had made up his mind to support Alito "because of his impeccable judicial credentials, the American Bar Association's strong recommendation and his pledge that he would not bring a political agenda to the court."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on Alito's nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often casts the swing vote on controversial cases.

All 10 Republicans on the panel have endorsed him, assuring him of approval even though most of the eight committee Democrats are expected to oppose his confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has announced that debate on the nomination will begin in the full Senate on Jan. 25. Alito seems assured of confirmation there, too, despite strenuous opposition from many Democrats.

Nelson, who is seeking re-election this fall in his Republican state, said in his statement that he has "supported more than 215 of President Bush's nominations to the federal bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts."

I don't want to be all gloom and doom. The immense responsibility of serving on the US Supreme Court has forced many judges throughout history to set aside the ideology expected of them for the good of the country, the advancement of freedom, and the defense of the Constitution.

Certainly, the worst fears about Alito's confirmation may never come to pass. Also, though incredibly powerful, the Supreme Court does not exist in a bubble - its actions have consequences that reverberate throughout the republic and across every other political institution. No battle is lost by a single vote - even in an exclusive company of nine. No, the battle for the soul and the future of this nation is much greater in substance and scope than that, instead resting entirely on the compassion and wisdom of the American people.

In that, we must trust even if it causes us trepidation and pain. Democracy is an act of faith, particularly for those in the minority whose rights are most likely to be trampled. Of course, I'm not advocating faith without action - in democracy, there is no concept of grace to fall back on. Every victory is fought for and progress is by no means assured. We would be foolish not to be disappointed at the difficult path that lies ahead, and I would be remiss if I did not admit to some disappointment at Sen. Nelson's own role in its making.

Who is Samuel Alito? Is Nelson justified in taking him at his word that he will be a fair jurist above partisanship and extremist ideoloogy? Those are questions for which only time can provide an answer.

But if this is not a political vote - if Nelson's choice reflects honest consideration and fulfillment of his duty to advise and consent - then, there is no more we can truly ask of him. The power he here entrusts to Alito emanates from us, an extension of those we first placed in him.

Elections have consequences. That is the only wisdom I have to offer. Senators know it. The people demand it. For our own good as Democrats and/or liberals, we must even accept it...learning what lessons we can and finding the will deep within ourselves to make "Never again!" a reality.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Stenberg Update: A Profile in Arrogance

by Kyle Michaelis
Updating my previous the name of fairness, Ed Howard at put up a new column today that gets a little bit closer to the point about the ridiculousness of Don Stenberg's debate ultimatum.

Howard also manages to work in a worthy alternative perspective on Stenberg's actions that goes beyond the "what is he afraid of"-angle, further illustrating the extent of the former Attorney General's convoluted political machinations. Howard suggests that this is more than just defensive posturing and is more a case of Stenberg throwing around his weight. The only problem with this theory is that it imagines, as Howard puts it, that Stenberg is the solid frontrunner - "if anyone else wants to play with him, it will be according to his rules."

Now, I'm on record seriously questioning this proposition - and I've neither seen nor heard (from voters) any actual evidence to support Stenberg holding this position of preeminence.

Yet, Howard isn't alone in his assertion. It's quite clear from Stenberg's arrogance (both dictating terms and imagining himself beloved by the people) that he considers himself the frontrunner. Or, at least, that's the image he's trying to sell.

One must consider the possibility that, as in the school consolidation court cases he's attached himself to, Stenberg's every action at this point might well be an attempt at image control, cementing himself in a position of power with no basis in reality. His reported failure to gain any traction against his rivals in fund-raising makes this seem all the more likely because he needs every bit of free press that his arrogance can buy. In fact, it may be his only chance at survival.

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Don Stenberg: A Profile in Cowardice

by Kyle Michaelis
What is it exactly that has Don Stenberg - Nebraska's political bridesmaid ("always a candidate, never a Senator") - so scared?

Two weeks ago, Stenberg declared that he would not debate fellow Republican Senate hopefuls Pete Ricketts and David Kramer unless they all agreed to an absurd proposal that they not refer to one another in campaign advertising. Say what?

It seems Stenberg is worried about the fact that he's the only one of the three with an actual record to run on (or against). While one might assume this experience would play to his advantage, it doesn't look like Stenberg sees it that way. Obviously, he recognizes something in his record that's a major liability, though what it could be beyond his history of big-time electoral failure, his gross politicization of the Attorney General's office, and his attempt since leaving office to make a fortune by helping corporations screw-over state governments is beyond me.

Of course, Ricketts and Kramer refused to tie their hands and their tongues as Stenberg requested. Yesterday, they announced they'd come to a joint agreement to a series of 3-5 debates before the Republican primary, giving Stenberg until this Friday to decide whether or not he would be joining them.

In their invite to Stenberg, Ricketts and Kramer vowed, "we will not make any personal attacks, nor will we distort or misrepresent the position of any of our opponents.” Still, they insisted, “a candidate’s record, experience and differences on issues should be open to debate and review by the voters.”

That's where Stenberg disagrees, and it seems to be enough of an issue for him that he's still not planning on participating, going so far as to sickeningly declare "My inexperienced, unknown opponents need debates. I don’t," without even a hint of concern for the people's best interest.

Stenberg has tried to portray his rejected proposal as a restriction against "attack ads", but his vagary masks what is actually a call for the candidates not to mention each other at all - as if mere mention of another candidate is inherently malicious and anti-democratic. Who cares if what the advertising has to say is honest and informative?

Sadly, some in the press have allowed Stenberg's rhetoric to obscure his fear of the truth, as if it were actually some sort of stand on principle. Both Scott Bauer of the AP and long-time Nebraska journalist Ed Howard have failed to make the distinction between what Stenberg is actually asking for (censorship, plain and simple) and what he wants people to think he's asking for (a polite and gentlemanly campaign).

Kudos go out to the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton for at least showing some understanding in his reporting of the deceitful game Stenberg is playing, though even he fails to push Stenberg to address what his possible objection is to the far more reasonable rules laid out by Ricketts and Kramer in their letter. Who can imagine what kind of lawyerly evasion Stenberg would employ to avoid answering for his own inexplicable foolishness?

Also note that the most obvious and important question arising from Stenberg's posturing has yet to be asked - mainly, is he suggesting that these rules of not mentioning your opponent should carry-over into the general election against incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson? What basis Stenberg could possibly conceive of for requesting a polite, say-nothing primary if he isn't willing to conduct his campaign in similar fashion leading up to November is impossible to fathom. If the same rules would not apply, this is outright hypocrisy, and the people of Nebraska deserve to hear about it.

So, who will dare to ask the egotistical Stenberg to actually live up to the fake principles behind which he is hiding? And even Ricketts and Kramer - they too should be held to the standards they've espoused if either should make the general election - "we will not make any personal attacks, nor will we distort or misrepresent the position of any of our opponents.”

Ben Nelson is one of those opponents. They owe him no less dignity and respect than their fellow Republicans while making their respective cases to the people of Nebraska. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to hold them to their word, and I ask all readers to do the same over the ensuing 10 months.

After all, anything less would be uncivilized.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Illustrated Guide to Campaign '06

by Kyle Michaelis
(click image to enlarge)
Hope I'm not too blatantly violating anyone's copyright with this post. This illustration by Nebraska cartoonist Neal Obermeyer appeared on the cover of the Lincoln Journal-Star a few months back, and I just thought everyone in the state might enjoy it.

It's a pretty great illustration. Of course, Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn doesn't look quite so much like an ewok as he does above (particularly since shaving), but the pictures of Pete Ricketts on his throne (a la Lex Luthor) and Dave Nabity in full NASCAR regalia are too priceless for words.

If I had a budget of any kind, I'd commission a whole series of these illustrations throughout 2006. As is, I just hope the Journal-Star appreciates the talent it has on-board and encourages its artists (not to mention, its writers) to try something new and be a little bit bolder in their campaign 2006 coverage. As this drawing shows, you can even have some fun with it. Politics should be fun, and it would be if the press and Nebraska voters would take it upon themselves to ask tough questions of politicians and expect nothing less than straight-forward answers, raging at even a hint of the run-around.

Honesty is not too much to ask. These people work for us (or, at least, desire to do so). Don't ever let them forget that.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

by Kyle Michaelis
Following up on a post from a few days ago about Gov. Dave Heineman's abusing his office to maintain an unprincipled and unearned information gap about the health and operations of state government between he and his gubernatorial rivals, the Omaha World-Herald editorial board has now registerd its distaste with such a childish display of insecurity and intimidation.

They write:
Campaign seasons can spur candidates to make dumb decisions. An example came this week with news that Gov. Dave Heineman has taken a particularly petty action against his chief political rival, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

Heineman has issued an oral directive that whenever Osborne visits a state agency director, the meeting also must be attended by a gubernatorial staff member or even Heineman himself.

This is hardly the first Nebraska political campaign in which childishness has reared its head. But Heineman's decision smacks of remarkable small-mindedness.

The executive branch is not the governor's personal fiefdom. And Osborne's meetings with agency directors are not at all the equivalent of one business executive holding meetings in a bid to oust a competitor.

The Nebraska government is grounded in the sovereignty of the people, not the supposed sovereignty of the state's chief executive. If a candidate for governor - not least a respected, energetic candidate such as Osborne - seeks to deepen his already considerable understanding of state government by meeting with agency heads, the process should facilitate that effort, not be twisted to hinder it.

The governor's restrictions, moreover, send a message of pointed disrespect not only to Osborne but to state agency heads as well....

Nebraska prides itself on the commendable openness of its government. Heineman's needless action against Osborne tramples on that tradition.

A remarkably on-point editorial reflecting most of my own previously stated concerns, it nevertheless calls the question of why more voices haven't come forward to criticize Heineman's actions. In particular, where are the Nebraska Democratic Party and its presumptive gubernatorial nominee David Hahn?

While Osborne and the state employees he sought meetings with may be the ones personally slighted by Heineman's outrageous demand, the insult at its heart goes against the people of Nebraska and the principles on which our entire idea of government is founded. To have so brazenly violated the expectations of his office and character demands reproach, swift and immediate, from any who might hope to offer an honest alternative.

Yet, to my knowledge, there's been nothing but silence on the matter from both corners. Of course, it's only been three days since this information was first revealed, but the chance to strike while the fire was hot and really take a lead on the issue (before the World-Herald could get in its "final word" from on high) has likely already come and gone. That's disappointing for Nebraska Democrats and voters, in general, who might like to know that there is someone out there willing to hold those in elected office to a higher standard.

Because Osborne isn't going to risk alienating Republicans by attacking Heineman on this issue, though it be entirely warranted, a void is here going unfulfilled in the common sense and political conscience of the people of Nebraska. The fact that Hahn and/or the NDP would not be speaking directly for their own benefit - but rather asserting the rights of Osborne and the will of the people - would have even strengthened their hand, speaking for once on principles untainted by the obvious self-interest that usually makes such complaints dismissible as purely partisan gestures.

Here was a chance to lead on a progressive issue with which any voter could relate. How can you possibly pass up an opportunity such as that? can't. Not if you really want to reconnect with voters and establish a new identity. Maybe there's more to the story. Maybe I am speaking out-of-turn. But my gut tells me this has been a great opportunity totally wasted.

Perhaps some of the thinking behind this silence has been that Osborne stood most to gain from the fully justified all-out attack on Heineman for which I've advocated - and, sure, there might be concerns that Osborne would be the more difficult foe in a general election that is going to be pretty damn difficult no matter what. But, to be honest, Nebraska Democrats don't have the luxury and aren't in a position to make such calculations.

Being outspoken on this, taking Heineman fully to task, would only have made Osborne's meek response - putting loyalty to party before principle - look all the more pathetic by contrast. People need to know that SOMEONE is going to stand up for them...SOMEONE is willing to speak out for them. This situation not only demonstrates the Nebraska Republican Party's abuse of power but also its institutional inability to correct itself.

On a national level and here in Nebraska, the Republicans have so insulated themselves from reason and criticism, while becoming evermore enamored of their assumed political might, that they are completely out-of-touch. They are the Party of Narcissus and Bill O'Reilly, staring at their own reflection in the water and marveling at how great they have become. As Democrats, we can wait and hope for the good of the country that they fall into the lake, or we can give them a well-deserved push. Here, we had just such an opportunity - not that it would have gotten them into the water, but it would have put them one step closer to sealing their own demise - and we blew it.

Heineman's abuse of power and Osborne's weak response to it are not seperate issues - they are one and the same - and Nebraska deserved far, far better from both of them. Nebraska deserves, demands, and is, in fact, screaming out for a voice that will neither tolerate nor excuse such gross failures of leadership.

And, if that voice is only coming from some self-important, over-opinionated kid's blog and the pages of the Omaha World-Herald (of all places), frankly, SOMEONE ELSE isn't doing their job.

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Fahey's "Omaha of the Future"

by Kyle Michaelis
On Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey delivered the annual State of the City address on UNOs main campus. The following excerpts highlight some of the key aspects of his impressive and progressive vision for the city:
The past year has brought challenges, but with it, greater opportunity. We've seen the economy show signs of recovery and our strict budget management pay off. Economic development can be seen across the community and we've placed a new emphasis on how we market our city to the nation. And to ensure Omahans continue to enjoy the great quality of life our city provides I continue to stay focused on our neighborhoods and make public safety our greatest priority.

But we stand today at a crossroad. Having been reelected last summer to a second four-year term, it is natural to reflect back on the first term and, at the same time, wonder what the future holds....

With this in mind, I will dispense with the usual recitation of the last few years' accomplishments and go directly to the topic that really matters - namely, where do we go from here. What should our city look like four years from now, ten years from now, even fifty years from now? What kind of city will be here for the students in this room after graduation? Can they find fulfilling work? Can they live and raise their families in safe, clean neighborhoods? Will they be able to live a satisfying and happy life in Omaha?

The answer is yes to all those questions, but it will not come easily. In fact, it will take hard work and the commitment of this and future administrations, as well as the City Council and all our citizens.

There are a few broad concepts that I intend to concentrate on over the next several years. If successfully implemented, I believe they will insure our future success and make Omaha the kind of place young people from here and around the country will be proud to call home.

First, we must continue to develop new neighborhoods and, at the same time, maintain and improve our existing ones. There is nothing more important then believing that your neighborhood is safe and can provide a stable environment for your children....

The second concept I want to touch on today is the importance of making certain Omaha stays a development-friendly city - both for neighborhoods as well as new and existing business districts.

Our country is replete with examples of communities that have restrictive, or even hostile development policies - and in my opinion, they have suffered for it. We certainly need rules and standards, and the bar must be set high. But that said, planned, high quality development is in the best interest of all our citizens. And it is the job of city government to see to it that our development process is rigorous and demanding, yet not overly restrictive and bogged down by pointless red tape. I believe we must send the message that we are pro-business and pro-development, and we will continue to do so as long as I am Mayor....

City government must be in a position to serve as the catalyst for new development. We will continue to aggressively attract new development and work to redevelop existing areas. And we will continue to work with our strong and able partner, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, to keep growing businesses here and to attract new ones from around the country....

We've embraced a citywide initiative to strengthen our design codes and this year we will take the recommendations of Omaha By Design and officially incorporate them into our building codes. We've added the tools, defined a structure, and rallied consensus to ensure desirable outcomes. It compliments my vision as it embraces neighborhood planning and empowerment and tailors unique economic plans. This effort is the largest initiative of its kind ever undertaken by a city in the United States and will forever impact future building in our city.

Third on today's list of topics is the importance of diversity and tolerance. The great city of the future will be a place where people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations are comfortable and welcome. Omahans have always had a "live and let live" philosophy, and the continuation and enhancement of this philosophy in the future will be necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

The makeup of our population has changed over the last few years. Right now, over forty languages are spoken by the families of OPS children. And the Hispanic student population of the district has more then quadrupled in the last five years. The African American population in Omaha is about 13 percent and the Hispanic population has grown from 7 1/2 percent in 2000 to over 11 percent today.

In the future, we must keep our homegrown talent, but also attract bright new people to our city. And as Professor Richard Florida notes, talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people size up a new community by evaluating its levels of diversity and tolerance. Creative-minded people enjoy a mix of influences. They want to hear different kinds of music and try different kinds of food. They want to meet and socialize with people unlike themselves, trade
views and spar over issues.

I will continue working to insure that Omaha is the kind of place that judges people on their merits and welcomes smart, talented achievers, regardless of their ethnic background or sexual orientation....

Four and a half years ago, Omahans believed in my vision and put their trust in me to serve as their mayor. They believed in what my administration could do. Last May, voters paid me an even greater compliment when they reelected me to another four-year term. It reaffirms what we have accomplished and lays the groundwork for what we will seek to do over the next four years. I am up to the task and look forward to the future with excitement and optimism. Together we can create an even stronger Omaha, and with hard work, secure our city's future for the students here today, as well as our children and grandchildren.

Fahey also put a great deal of emphasis on public safety, while unveiling some long-term development projects that include a downtown streetcar system and a new baseball stadium for the Omaha Royals.

Still, it is Fahey's ability to balance economic necessity with social idealism that truly defines him as mayor. When Fahey speaks of cities suffering for their restrictive and hostile development policies, it is hard to imagine he doesn't have Nebraska's second-city in mind. As unfair as this common (mis?)conception may be, I would expect that Lincoln's Republican Councilman Ken Svoboda is already taking notes, hoping to sound as forward-looking as Fahey in his eventual bid for mayor. Add in the talk of eliminating red tape, not to mention the shout-out to the Chamber of Commerce, and Svoboda must think he's hit the jackpot.

But, what you won't hear from a Republican that Fahey brings to the table is the emphasis on community as more than just a protective institution. For Fahey, community is about more than just guarding your own and providing an infrastructure for basic social services. No, his community is a living and breathing thing to be cherished for the bonds it creates between citizens and the quality of life it makes possible.

Fahey's emphasis on diversity will surprise some, particularly his compassionate and liberal attitude towards minorities of different sexual orientations. In Nebraska, such talk places Fahey in rather exclusive company, particularly as an elected politician. What's remarkable, though, is that Fahey's policy of inclusion in no way overshadows his vision for a greater Omaha. Rather, he makes it seem an essential component, the only viable and human option for the future. And, he's right.

So, hats off to Mayor Fahey. May he continue his hard work on behalf of the voters of Omaha, maintaining his particular brand of corporate populism that will no doubt shape the city and, yes, the state of Nebraska, for years to come.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fortenberry's $20,000 Corruption Cameo

by Kyle Michaelis

There has been a lot of very disturbing news recently about the extent to which Congress has become held in thrall to suspect campaign donations and to lobbyists' perks under Republican leadership.

The Jack Abramoff scandal has put this culture of corruption out front and center, reaching all the way to the White House. Meanwhile, House Republican leader Tom DeLay has been indicted and forced to give-up his post.

Through all this, Nebraska's Republican House delegation has managed to remain incredibly silent, apparently hoping the public's attention and outrage will blow-over, leaving them unscathed. Particularly distressing is the fact that 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been given such a pass on these issues from the local media when, in his first year of office, he has managed to become more ensnared in this business than either of his counterparts, Lee Terry or Tom Osborne.

Terry, at least, went on record with the Omaha World-Herald on DeLay's resignation, saying "I appreciate his dedication and hard work for the GOP...his decision to step down as majority leader was the right thing to do."

Osborne has taken a less qualified stance against the influence-peddling in Washington D.C. but has always been very careful to portray it as a pox on both political parties. From his five years in Congress, he's testified about the degree to which campaign funding “drives legislation and influences votes" but also seems to instinctually recognize that his personal popularity is most responsible for his not having to dirty his hands like his peers.

And dirty they are. Though not accused of any wrong-doing, Fortenberry has received $20,000 from DeLay's Congressional PAC, the Texas statehouse arm's actions for which he is now under criminal indictment. That Fortenberry has refused to return these tainted funds is one thing, but, to my knowledge, the local press has not even gotten him to comment on the political downfall of their source.

How dare Fortenberry remain silent when he has welcomed this apparent corruption into our elections! Even if he refuses responsibility, he at least owes his voters an explanation. Heck, even something like Terry's vapid farewell to Delay would be a step in the right direction.

Where has the press been on this? If Fortenberry will not answer for his actions or speak on his past support of Delay, the press at least has the obligation to ask him to do so.

$20,000 is a lot of money. These scandals are not going anywhere, and the people deserve to know their elected representative's response. Silence is not acceptable - not from the press, not from Fortenberry.

Have Nebraska Republicans really become so insulated, so sure of victory, that they don't have to answer to voters? If so, I don't foresee their changing until voters finally sicken of being taken for granted and deliver a long overdue wake-up call to the dominant party.

Addendum - 1/12/06 - 12:30 am
The Lincoln Journal-Star did run an editorial Monday calling on Nebraska's congressional delegation to do more for the cause of House reform. Still, Fortenberry's direct involvement with DeLay and his glaring absence in this debate received no specific mention, despite his being Lincoln's congressman.

This sheltering of politicians' names and refusal to call them out directly is in no ones interest but those in power. Does the press' complacency simply reflect the people's apathy or create it?

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Heineman's Insecurity Exposed

by Kyle Michaelis
Dave Heineman is bordering on the pathetic in his efforts to hold on to the governorship. That his every position since assuming the state's highest office last year has been driven by blatant political calculation is one thing. Now, however, he's using state resources, including his own time and that of his staff, to sabotage his opponent Tom Osborne's campaign by limiting access to state officials.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Gov. Dave Heineman gives new meaning to the political maxim "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

He has issued a verbal order that either he, or one of his staff members, should attend any meetings between state agency directors and his chief adversary, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

Heineman attended a meeting between Osborne and State Property Tax Administrator Cathy Lang, and he wanted to attend a meeting of Osborne and Nebraska National Guard Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke. The latter meeting eventually was scrapped.

Heineman even requested that Osborne's session with Lang be held in his office, said Osborne and Lang. Osborne refused. When Osborne showed up for the meeting in Lang's office, Heineman was waiting for him.

Heineman, traveling Tuesday in western Nebraska, said through a spokesman that it made "common sense" for him to sit in on meetings that include his rival and that are political in nature.

Osborne, whose campaign set up the meeting with Lang, said he was "surprised" by Heineman's actions and planned no more meetings.

"If this is the policy, it's not worth the trouble. But that's OK. We'll just do it another way," Osborne said....

Heineman spokesman Aaron Sanderford said the governor issued the order after learning that Osborne and his campaign manager, Vickie Powell, had met with the director of the Revenue Department.

Heineman's insistence on sitting in is unusual, but it also points out that each governor handles challengers differently.

In 2002, then-Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, allowed his budget director to give Democratic challenger Stormy Dean a one-day briefing.

"Actually, they were fairly open with showing us stuff . . . if we had a specific question and we asked it of somebody, we always got a response," Dean said.

But, Sanderford said, this is an unusual race.

"I don't know if there's ever been protocol for a (primary) race quite like this...this is a sitting governor versus a sitting congressman," he said.

Sanderford said Osborne's requests for meetings are like one business executive applying for another's job, then asking to talk to current employees to find out "how the business worked and how it can be improved."

In such a situation, it would only make sense for the current business executive to monitor any meetings between his rival and his staff members, he said.

What a load of crap. For all the talk of running government like a business, there's one important difference that Heineman doesn't seem to understand - he is not the boss; the people of Nebraska are.

There's absolutely no justification for a public servant resorting to pettiness such as this. What kind of game does Heineman think he's playing? As a citizen, let alone a Congressman, Osborne has every right to know how this business works. As a candidate, he is obligated to offer ideas how it can be improved.

Heineman using his influence to stand in the way of this shows total disregard for the public good and the democratic process. Those he seeks to intimidate and silence with this de facto gag order work for Nebraska's tax-payers and owe no special allegiance to this would-be tyrant.

Heineman's spokesman is right; this is an unusual race - unusual because it involves a sitting governor so consumed by fear and jealousy that he is willing to turn the entire engine of government to serve his lust for power.

It is a sad display of his true character and where Heineman's true interests lie - not with what's best for the state but what's best for his political career. I just hope Nebraskans are paying attention and will show this unelected egomaniac the door.

Much can be said of Osborne's faux-modesty, but there is no doubt he would show more respect for the enormous faith with which a governor is entrusted, that he might serve the voters with the honor and dignity such office deserves.

Alas, it is a dignity that Heineman has here proven himself entirely lacking and, hence, unsuitable for the job to which he so desperately clings.

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"Because she was poor? Or because she was gay?"

by Kyle Michaelis
There was an excellent two-part story in the Omaha World-Herald the last two days that put a human face on the state of Nebraska's policy of discrimination against homosexuals in the placement of foster children, even to the point of shamelessly breaking-up actual families.

Brandon's Story - Part 1

Brandon's Story - Part 2

Now, this is no convenient, movie-of-the-week tale of an absolutely saintly woman's fighting for custody of her nephew, their remaining seperated only because of ignorant prejudice towards her for being a lesbian (though there's plenty of that).

No, this is real life where even the most loving of families has real problems. Regardless of the aunt's sexual orientation, there are circumstantial facts in this case that do raise questions about the environment in which Brandon would be raised - obvious family issues, hinted economic considerations, and the aunt's history of drunken driving convictions.

Still, the fact remains that this is the boy's family. This is the home in which his mother wants to see him raised. It is where his sister lives, as well as his twin baby brothers. Had he never gotten caught in "the system", this is where he would be growing-up. Even within "the system", there is no doubt this is where Brandon would have been placed by Health and Human Services were it not for their policy of homophobia here flying in the face of any possible conception of family values.

The World-Herald reports:
Nebraska is the only state with a policy preventing homosexuals from being licensed foster parents, according to the national gay rights organization Lambda Legal....

The policy was created after the issue was highlighted in the 1994 governor's race. Republican challenger Gene Spence expressed outrage that the state licensed homosexuals as foster parents. Then-Gov. Ben Nelson criticized Spence for "fear-mongering."

Democrat Nelson won by a landslide; but three months later, Spence's position prevailed.

Mary Dean Harvey, then the social services department's director, issued a memo barring unmarried, unrelated adults who live together from serving as foster parents....

The memo specifically addressed gay people: "Children will not be placed in the homes of persons who identify themselves as homosexuals"....

Harvey, who left the department that year, promised in the memo that public hearings would be held, but they never have been.

"It's been working effectively. There's really no reason to change it," HHS spokeswoman Jeanne Atkinson said of the policy.

The 1995 memo did include this exception:
It is current Department policy to encourage placement with relatives. Situations in which a relative placement is considered and the relative is known to the agency as being homosexual or is unmarried and living with another adult should be assessed by the worker on a case-by-case basis.

Family is family. There's nothing case-by-case about it. Where a child will be loved and cared for by his own kin, that is where he belongs.

That HHS' spokeswoman can look at this situation and claim this policy has been "working effectively" is ludicrous and insulting. Brandon has been forced into an unnecessary game of tug-of-war, parted from his siblings and an aunt that loves and has proven herself willing to fight for him.

Meanwhile, the foster parents who cared for him during this unjust seperation have seen their hopes raised - then dashed - and their hearts broken. This seemingly well-meaning (if perhaps over-zealous) couple simply never should have been involved in the first place.

All that pain and HHS can see no reason to change their policy? Their prejudice has, for two years, prevented the unification and hoped-for rehabilitation of this family. How has that served Brandon's interest? How has that reflected the people of Nebraska's spirit of compassion and social responsibility with which HHS has been entrusted?

This is appalling. It is bad enough that this poor child and those who care for him have suffered in the cracks of justice for nearly two years, but that the state has not even learned a lesson from this example - from its own failure, from its actually making a difficult situation worse rather than providing assistance - is a sad testament to the destructive politics of bigotry that linger and continue to corrupt our government at every level.

We are made less as a people and a state by such perversion of "the good life" that forgets and betrays the values that truly lie within our hearts - a goodness that transcends the political manipulation of religious doctrine, protecting families rather than seeing them sacrificed in the name of false piety.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

My Take(s) on Alito

by Kyle Michaelis
Alito's America: It's Not Our America.

The Nebraska Republican Party held a news conference at the state capitol last Thursday attempting to pressure Sen. Ben Nelson to support President Bush's selection of District Court Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nevermind that, much to my chagrin, Nelson has already provided tacit approval of the nomination. Also, nevermind that only 3 months ago, the Republicans organized an even larger press conference at the same site to support Harriet Miers for the post, before that nomination was shot-down by right-wing power-brokers who refused to take Bush's word that she'd vote their interests. Obviously, there are no such worries with Alito, a known quantity no matter the fancy two-stepping around his disturbing record on the Federal bench.

On the Democratic Party's Blog for Nebraska, I posted the following in response to another's call for extreme measures against this nomination:
Regrettably, Democrats are not in a position to think of Alito’s confirmation in terms of wins or losses. This fight was largely decided in November of 2004 when the American people gave Pres. Bush a second term and expanded the Republican majority in the Senate.

The people will get the court they deserve – that they have asked for – one way or another. Democrats going to extraordinary lengths to protect the people from the Republican Party’s agenda will only delay, if not nullify, the painful but necessary realization of our country’s regression into corporate and religious tyranny.

Democrats, including Sen. Nelson, should stand up against this agenda by voting AGAINST Alito’s confirmation. This is different, however, than engaging in judicial filibustering, which should not be entered into or even considered lightly.

The sad fact is that the Supreme Court is a political football and, right now, is in the hands of the Republican Party. We can use our timeouts and challenge the rulings on the field, but it’s not going to help in the long-run. It’s time to stop looking to the refs to save us and start playing a better game, meeting Republicans head-to-head and showing the American people how we’re different.

An overwhelming Democratic rejection of Alito and the backwards direction he will take the court says a lot about who we are in terms the American people can understand.

A filibuster, on the other hand, is perceived less as principle and more as procedural manipulation. When it is rooted in questions of competency, suggestions of corruption, or perhaps giving evasive and misleading testimony to Congress, such action may be justifiable if the transgression can be made obvious enough to voters. Political philosophy alone, however, isn’t going to suffice. Alito almost eerily represents the Bush Administration’s every priority. Whether we like it or not, that agenda has the electoral endorsement of the American people.

At the end of the day, in a democracy, we can’t protect the people from themselves. Some lessons simply must be learned the hard way. We must remain true to our principles and fight for them…...but not all the way to the grave.

Leave it to the consciences and politcal fortunes of this nation’s so-called Republican moderates whether we take this backward step. Though dangerous and sure to have sad consequences, barring some turning of the tide against Alito in public opinion that might empower a filibuster, we have little choice but to give the Republican Party this rope with which to hang themselves. It is “the peoples’ noose,” and they have chosen whom they wish to wear it.

Of course, I've had second thoughts on this approach since posting the above. There are some fights that deserve pulling out all the stops. Indeed, look at my incredible flip-flop from when I speculated on Bush's next choice after the withdrawal of Miers' nomination in October:
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!"

What happened since then? Have I lost my fighting spirit? Is Nelson's would-be "pragmatism" (some might call it cowardice) rubbing off on me? Tough to say.

If the Democratic Party doesn't make a true fight of the Alito nomination, I do fear they may be selling America down the river. But, I just don't know that there's the strength, solidarity, and recognized urgency there to support taking any other approach.

So, which of my takes do you agree with? Maybe you have your own. As always, I'd love to hear what any of you have to say. Is this a battle we can win? More importantly, if we aren't willing to draw the line here, what claim do we possibly have to purpose or principle? Does letting the ruling Republican Party have its way - registering our objecting but not pulling out all the stops - absolve us of their sins?

Tough questions all of them. What saddens me is that I don't trust Senator Nelson is even asking least, not anymore, not during an election year.

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