Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ricketts: Another Day, Another (500,000) Dollar(s)

by Kyle Michaelis
Later in the same day that it came to my attention Pete Ricketts had donated a whopping $2.5 million to his campaign for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, Ricketts must have decided to take up my estimation that there was "plenty more where that came from" as something of a challenge.

Having already broken all previous Nebraska records for personal spending in a primary election, Ricketts' quickly dropped another $500,000 into his campaign warchest on Wednesday, matching the same amount he'd reported a week earlier. One million dollars in one week brings Ricketts' personal investment in the Republican primary to a staggering $3 million ($3,000,000).

Now, the family has plenty of money - Daddy (Joe) Ricketts is, after all, a billionaire to whom all these zeroes are not quite as mind-blowing as they would be for your average Nebraska citizen. Still, I can't help thinking that Pete's putting this amount of cash into his political efforts at least required an advance on his allowance.

Heck, if he makes it out of the primary, I'd expect Ricketts might even have to break open the old piggy-bank for a challenge to incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson.

With the ink not even dry on the Ricketts' family bank ledger, it's interesting to wonder what this sudden influx of cash can possibly mean. Ricketts has had the money for focus groups and internal polling all along, but there's really been no indication of what sort of feedback he's been getting.

Is this an act of desperation - pulling out all the stops to make one last go at winning this thing after months of failing to connect with voters? Or, is this a show of confidence, putting Ricketts' money where his mouth is to be prepared to transition his primary campaign into the strongest general election bid possible?

Finally, aren't there any concerns about voter fatigue? I mean, there's only so many ways you can try selling yourself - despite the biggest advertising budget in the world - before you sometimes have to admit that no one's going to buy a defective product.

Of course, when Republican "consumers" have three defective products to choose from on May 9th, who knows how they'll ultimately choose Generic Brand X over Generic Brands Y & Z? Finding out the answers to questions like that is precisely why Ricketts is now spending the big bucks.

And, of course, there's always plenty more where that came from....

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The David Hahn Difference

by Kyle Michaelis
Today is not the day to write about how exciting a Democratic nominee for governor David Hahn might prove in 2006. The man has courage, conviction, and - more importantly - a true vision for the future of Nebraska. How well his campaign will come together remains to be seen, but I believe he has the potential to be the most exciting and generation-spanning candidate this state has seen since Bob Kerrey ran for governor in 1982. Still, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves with such proclamations - especially with the steep and mighty odds standing before his young campaign.

No, for now, let's let Mr. Hahn's words, his passion, and his knowledge speak for themselves. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn said Monday he’d veto legislation similar to South Dakota’s restrictive new anti-abortion law.

Taking a position counter to the three Republican candidates, all of whom said they would sign such a bill, Hahn said the issue shouldn’t be approached in theoretical terms.

“What the South Dakota law means,” he said, “is that I as governor would have to look a young woman in the eye who has been raped by a family member or by a stranger walking home and tell her she and her doctor are going to jail if she has an abortion.

“I’m unwilling to say that,”
Hahn declared in a telephone interview.

The South Dakota law prohibits abortions except when required to save the life of the mother. Hahn said he essentially agrees with abortion rights defined by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

“And, frankly, I get a little grumpy when people suggest I am anti-life or pro-death or not a good Christian if I have what I believe are moderate views on abortion,” he said.

“We can be religious and still believe allowing a woman to make that choice is the right thing to do.”

Hahn said he’d also have practical reasons to veto a law patterned after the South Dakota legislation. “It’s against the law of the land,” as determined by the Supreme Court, he said, and therefore would be “constitutionally unsound”....

During a Republican gubernatorial debate in Lincoln Monday night, Gov. Dave Heineman, Rep. Tom Osborne and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity all said they would sign legislation patterned after South Dakota’s new abortion restrictions.

As a Christian, Hahn said, he is comfortable with his own view on abortion rights.

“I’ve sought counsel of clergy, I’ve studied Scripture, I’ve read the writings of theologians and I’ve prayed about this,” he said. “On certain moral issues like abortion and divorce, there are times when individuals need to make their own decisions, taking into consideration their own faith.”

If government controls that decision, he cautioned, “they’ll soon be in our gun cabinets, too.” Hahn said he is a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment gun ownership rights.

A total ban on abortion does not reflect the will of the people of Nebraska. On this, it's clear Hahn is the only moderate in the race....the only candidate who isn't pandering to the anti-choice activists' insistence that public policy be controlled by religious doctrine.

An educated man of reasoned rather than reactionary faith as governor; dare we even dream? Obviously, here is a candidate who prides himself on asking the tough questions and who might just have the vision to lead Nebraska through the challenging days ahead, everyday made more challenging by the ruling Republicans' proven inability to move this state forward after eight years in power.

The people of Nebraska are conservative but not of the sort who inhabit an ideological bubble. No, we are common people with real concerns who care about doing things the right way, not doing things the Right's way.

Yet, here we have Tom Osborne, Dave Heineman, and Dave Nabity each trying to seal themselves away more completely than the others behind a brick wall of false promises and petty partisanship. How refreshing, at last, to have a candidate such as Hahn who will be more about tearing walls down than building them up. Pardon my Clintonism, but this is a man who will actually build a bridge to the future rather than blowing it up and taking out a mortgage on the property (to be paid, of course, by future generations).

You can call Hahn the rational choice. You can call him the principled choice. But, let's be honest. If this state is going to get back on the path to prosperity, the voters of Nebraska will recognize that there is no choice here. In 2006, it might just be David Hahn or bust.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An Invitation (spread the word)

by Kyle Michaelis
For those of you in Lincoln or who might have friends or family in Nebraska's capital city, the following event might be of interest:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Enron! Tom DeLay! “Is Our Children Learning?”
Hunting Accidents! Pootie-Poot! WMDs! Shop-lifting
at Target! 34% Approval! $9 Trillion in Debt!

Laugh So Hard You’ll Cry
(for our country)
at the Nebraska Young Democrats’

April Republicans Day
Joke-Telling Contest

“A Celebration of Republican Stupidity”

Saturday, April 1st 7 – 9 pm
P.O. Pears - 322 S. 9th St. - Lincoln, NE

Anything Goes – Free for All
Prize for the Winner – Voted By the Audience

18 & Over – Warning: Material may not be
suitable for a younger audience

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Stenberg Will Not Show for First Debate

by Kyle Michaelis
The first debate between Nebraska's 2006 Republican Senate candidates is scheduled for Thursday at noon at the Omaha Press Club. This Omaha World-Herald article, the Nebraska Republican Party's website, and even this hilarious press release from Don Stenberg's campaign all make it abundantly clear that Stenberg has no honest intention of participating. What a little weasel.

The press release (and the awkward sound clip accompanying it on-line) certainly take the cake for being the surest testament to Stenberg's shameless duplicity:
Former Nebraska Attorney General and Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Don Stenberg, said today that he would participate in the Omaha Press Club Senate debate this coming Thursday, March 30, if his Republican opponents will agree to the Positive Campaign Pledge which he proposed in early January. "I look forward to debating my Republican challengers," Stenberg said.

Stenberg's proposed pledge urges his GOP opponents to refrain from engaging in personal attacks; distorting or misrepresenting positions on issues; and making any references to each other in paid advertising....Thus far, both of Stenberg's challengers have refused to sign the Pledge.

Stenberg has already accepted an invitation from NBC's Meet the Press to debate Senator Nelson on nationwide TV this fall.

"If Republicans want to defeat Ben Nelson (and we do), it is absolutely essential that the Republican Senate primary be a positive campaign on the issues," he said. "If the winner of the Republican primary wins by mudslinging and attacks on his fellow Republican candidates, Nebraska voters, including many Republicans, will choose Ben Nelson next fall."

"In order to promote a positive primary campaign and put the winner of the Republican primary in the best possible position to defeat Ben Nelson, I will not agree to a debate schedule with my Republican challengers until they agree to a Positive Campaign Pledge," Stenberg said.

For my thoughts on Stenberg's silly little pledge, see this post from January. All in all, I just find this a fairly perfect example of the pathetic childishness that dominates Republican Party politics. It's bad enough that, at the national level, we have the entire lot of GOP politicians running around with their hands pressed against their ears singing "La La La La" so they don't have to recognize what's really going on in the world, but now - here in Nebraska - we have to witness Stenberg's tortured explanation of why he won't just be a man and show up for a couple of debates.

I mean, what the hell, the guy claims to have already agreed to a national debate on NBC - in front of a national audience - and he's worried about what's going to be said at an Omaha Press Club luncheon? Who does Stenberg think he's kidding?

At the end of the day, Stenberg's positioning on this has a lot to do with money and a little to do with beating Ben Nelson, but it has absolutely nothing to do with positive campaigning. The Stenberg campaign doesn't have the resources to compete in a real primary campaign (certainly not with "Richie Ricketts" down below) - all he's got is his name recognition after 12 years of doing the right wing's bidding as Attorney General. And, playing his cards right, he hopes that's all he'll need, then counting on the "R" by his name to carry him the rest of the way.

Of course, we'll see what Mr. "Positive Campaign Pledge" has to say about Sen. Nelson if he makes it out of the primary. Hope Stenberg wears a good pair of dancing shoes because otherwise he might just hurt himself trying to pull off the total one-eighty (180-degrees) that is likely to require.

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Ricketts Smashes Campaign Contribution Records

by Kyle Michaelis

As of March 22, Senate candidate Pete Ricketts has already donated $2.5 million of the family fortune to his campaign for the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Republican Senate candidate Pete Ricketts has plowed another $500,000 into his campaign, bringing his personal contributions to nearly $2.5 million.

Ricketts, who stepped aside as chief operating officer at Ameritrade to seek the GOP nomination, has shattered personal campaign funding records in Nebraska.

In 2000, only 188,000 voters cast ballots in the Republican Senate primary won by presumed 2006 front-runner Don Stenberg. Ricketts' trying to buy that pool of voters with a $2.5 million personal check comes down to more than $13 per vote. And, in the Ricketts family, there's plenty more where that came from.

Of course, this year's high-profile gubernatorial race is likely to pull in a higher turn-out for the GOP primary. But, Ricketts is still likely to have spent more than $12 per voter...with enough zeroes next to his name that he's sure to add to that total before all is said and done.

Eventually, you have to start wondering if just cutting a check - or sending a $20 bill - to voters might not have been a better use of all that money than the unprecedented six months of advertising over TV and radio. Still, it's his money (or his daddy's) - who am I to question?

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Venturing Across the Missouri River

by Kyle Michaelis
Pssst! Iowa. Hey, Iowa. Yeah, all you good people in Council Bluffs and throughout Iowa's 5th Congressional District. How about you do the nation a favor and get rid of this stooge Steve King? With the exception of Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo (in a league all his own), King is on that very next tier of Republican whack-jobs whom the country is begging you to remove from the national debate.

Sure, with Nebraska's Timid Trio, I don't have too much room to judge. But, at least Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Tom Osborne aren't actually taking the lead in destroying America. Like good little lemmings, they're just following the likes of your Congressman King as he openly advocates sweeping changes in immigration and tax policy so fundamentally deplorable that his faction within the Republican Party must rightfully be considered enemies of the Constitution and the American public.

But, don't take my word on it. Look at his record yourself (from the pages of the Omaha-World Herald):
King...has long advocated the "fair tax," a consumption-based sales tax, as a replacement for the federal income tax.

He supports eliminating both the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Service, replacing them with the fair tax. The fair tax would implement a sales tax of 23 percent on the final sale of all goods and services.

King said product prices already are inflated by a rate of 22 percent because of the federal income tax. Under the new plan, he said, prices would drop....

Both Joyce Schulte and Bob Chambers, the two Democrats who are vying to face off with King in November, oppose the measure.

Schulte called it a "regressive tax," that would unfairly benefit the rich. Because the tax is consumption-based, Schulte has argued, those who need most of their income to pay for everyday living expenses would be taxed the highest.

Rebate checks issued each month for the amount of taxes paid, up to the poverty level, would alleviate that concern, King said. He accused Democrats of playing politics with something that is essentially an economic issue.

"Those who oppose it do so because they want to maintain a dependent class of people they can manipulate for votes," King said.

King's position on issues are frequently on the opposite side of Democrats in Congress. In a ranking by the nonpartisan National Journal, King was dubbed the most conservative member of the House based on his voting record....

King's critics say he has gone too far to the right at times. He made national headlines last fall for praising former Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy as a "hero." McCarthy gained notoriety in the 1950s for accusing people of membership in the Communist Party or of Communist sympathies.

King defended his statement last week. "Joe McCarthy was right far more than he was wrong, and that's more than I can say for his critics," he said.

Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

I mean, seriously, calling McCarthy, one of the most distasteful characters in American history, a "hero"? At the same time, he wants to attack Democrats for relying on "a dependent class" of voters, while he's advocating a monthly rebate check from the federal government?

Excuse me, but isn't relying on a check from your Uncle Sam to survive a sign of a whole lot more dependence than - under the progressive income tax - just letting people keep their money in the first place?

Someone is certainly manipulating voters with such talk - but it's the ignorant being manipulated by King, not the poor being manipulated by Democrats. This national sales tax thing has zero to do with economics and everything to do with shifting the tax burden even further onto the backs of America's working-class.

Steve King is an embarrassment. Worse than that, he is a dangerous ideologue running on an agenda of fear and distrust. From one Heartlander to another - screaming across the digital banks of the Missouri River and praying that someone is listening - I ask that you please stand up for our shared culture of common sense and compassion and show this joker the door.

2006 may or may not be the year when the Democratic Party rises-up and retakes the U.S. Congress, but it must definitely be the year when all Americans rise-up - for the future of the country - and put an end to the reigns of incompetence, corruption, and ideological savagery for which Republicans like Steve King stand.

Besides, the guy just makes the whole Midwest look bad. Please do your neighbors a favor and strip this would-be King of his crown this November.

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Foley's Folly: What Price Has He Paid for His Lies?

by Kyle Michaelis
You know, I have long appreciated what Nebraska State Paper tries to do offering a zero-cost, mostly journalistic on-line alternative to Nebraska's published press. That a real community engaging in interesting and dynamic discussion of the issues has developed on the site over the years is a testament to the purpose it has served and the success it has achieved.

Still, for all the respect I have for the site and its managing editor/main contributor, Ed Howard, there's something vaguely disturbing about the supposedly straight-talking style of its editorial content that nevertheless doesn't quite say what needs to be said and doesn't quite ask what needs to be asked.

Now, maybe this is just a matter of my own biases showing through - indeed, perhaps I have become so self-indulgent on this website that any opinion not my own is going to appear invalid - but it honestly seems like purposefully holds back and purposefully lets things slide when the truth might offend it's more conservative readership.

Case in point, the Mike Foley/Planned Parenthood affair. In his Friday column, Howard started right off the bat with a pandering and conclusory assessment of the situation, writing:
Senator Mike Foley of Lincoln paid the price for lying to his colleagues.

Great opening line, Ed, it's a real clincher. Just one problem - there's nothing in the whole rest of the article to support it.

Howard goes on to mention that Foley's stated motives in seeking approval of his amendment to the budget have been proven false - his deceit acknowledged without shame by Foley and largely denounced by his fellow Senators. Howard also writes that, because of the reversal of several Senators, Foley's anti-Planned Parenthood amendment has now been stricken from the budget.

Well, that's all well and good, Ed, but WHERE in this situation has Foley yet paid any real price for his lies? The man was one of the state's most high-profile anti-abortion zealots before this action; he remains so now. He was on course to become this state's next State Auditor before this action; he remains so now - THERE'S NO ONE ELSE ON THE DAMN BALLOT!

Sure, the guy might have lost a little bit of esteem in the eyes of voters and senators, but Foley hasn't even felt compelled to apologize for his lying on the floor of the state legislature. So, where, again, has he paid a price?

The funding of women's health programs that he so improperly politicized and manipulated has simply gone back to the status quo. As far as the books are concerned, Foley's folly never even existed. So, again, where has he paid a price?

The way I see it, there are three ways Foley could have paid an actual, legitimate price for his disdainful conduct:

1)The State Legislature could have maintained the increase in funding of women's health programs while striking Foley's language targeting Planned Parenthood and opening such funds to other providers.

This would have been a completely called-for, direct repudiation of Foley's underhanded tactics rather than a restoration of the status quo - and, my God, women would have benefitted for a change. But, no, why would anyone want to see a thing like that?

2)The State Legislature could pass a resolution censuring Foley for his sinful handling of this matter.

HA! Likely story. Even while a handful of state senators have come out and denounced Foley's tactics, you have Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha all-but coming to his defense in the Omaha World-Herald:
Regarding the Foley matter, Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha said lawmakers should be careful when they question others' integrity....

He said it is up to constituents to decide a lawmaker's credibility and integrity.
Oh, good grief! What kind of world do we live in where a man lies, and you can't even call him a miserable, shameless liar...which is exactly what Foley has proven himself as by his refusal to apologize?

3)A real opposition candidate could rise for the State Auditor's position, inspired by the horror at what a man of Foley's absolutely unscrupulous manner might do with such high office.

Unlikely as it may be, this seems to be the people of Nebraska's only potential recourse, assuming they would not like a liar as their state auditor, particularly one who has already shown such disrespect for the budgeting process over which the Auditor exercises no small degree of oversight.

This man has treated the people's money, not to mention women's health care, like nothing more than a political football to be handed-off to his friends on the far-right fringe. It's utterly contemptible and dangerous. I can only hope this realization might be enough to force someone (a woman, perhaps) of competence, courage, and expertise to stand up for the future of this state and say enough is for me because, at the very least, I'm not a proven liar running for a job where integrity and honesty are the only true expectations.

Still, to my knowledge, no such candidate has stepped forward. The status quo stands. Foley remains in office, unapologetically biding his time until he becomes state auditor by default. At worst, he'll find himself with one or two fewer Christmas cards from former colleagues to put on the desk in his new office this winter. It's an altogether sickening situation - one that perfectly demonstrates the destructive absurdity of the near-total one-party Republican domination in this state.

But, that price is being paid by the people of Nebraska, not State Sen. Mike Foley. So, Mr. Howard, rather than offering vague and ultimately false reassurances that the bad guy is paying for his crimes, how about joining me in the call to see that he actually does?

Let's not put the cart before the horse, and let's certainly not confuse the cart for the horse, leaving the horse back at the stable.

Note: A Friday World-Herald editorial holds Foley up as a poor example for the 20 new state senators who will join the legislature next year. Again, though, they fail to mention that - if Foley has his way, if things play out as set now - there will be 21 new state senators counting Foley's appointed replacement. Foley has applied for advancement - and is on course to receive it - from a job in which he has earned the scorn of the state, yet no one will talk about it.

WHY? WHY? WHY? A thousands times, WHY?

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New Nebraska Network on MyDD

by Kyle Michaelis
I don't know what exactly this means or how it came about, but I've just discovered that this website is linked directly from the main page of - a site credited with leading the way in the development of the progressive online community. In the "State Blogs" section of the far left hand column, the link for "Nebraska" will bring you direcly to the New Nebraska Network.

This seems like quite the honor. I will work to earn it. Note that the double D's stand for "Direct Democracy," which I like to think I contribute to in my own little way.

Enough tooting my own horn, though. Let's get back to the more fun and more essential work of giving the bastards (every last one of them) hell.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hagel Endorses Democratic Gains?

by Kyle Michaelis
That's what it certainly sounds like to me.

The Omaha World-Herald reports from one of Senator Chuck Hagel's New Hampshire speaking events:
A caller from Keene, N.H., upset about federal spending, accused Republicans of "acting like drunken sailors."

Hagel agreed, saying the GOP could be "judged harshly" in this fall's elections - "and should be."

Either Hagel is just one damn principled politician, or he's come pretty much to the same conclusion as myself that only a total 2006 disaster for the Republican Party could provide a spark for his Presidential bid.

Lucky for both of us, he might get just that. But, I'm not counting on it at this point - way too early.

And, as for Hagel, it doesn't sound like he's the only would-be Republican President who might be counting on catastrophe. Time Magazine reports:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who masterminded the 1994 elections that brought Republicans to power on promises of revolutionizing the way Washington is run, told Time that his party has so bungled the job of governing that the best campaign slogan for Democrats today could be boiled down to just two words: "Had enough?"

Hmmm....Chuck Hagel, Newt Gingrich, and me. If being the company you keep extends to political observations, I suddenly don't feel quite so good about myself.

Still, when Hagel's right, he's right. Both Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry should be judged very harshly by the voters of Nebraska.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hergert Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fryer?

by Kyle Michaelis
I long for the day when Degenerate Regent David Hergert is, at last, removed from office or resigns. The day can not come soon enough when his legacy is little more than an embarrassing stain on both the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and Nebraska's justice system.

With this week's announcement by Attorney General Jon Bruning that he would not be filing charges against Hergert, at the same time releasing evidence of Hergert's felonious criminal misconduct, this case seems finally to be nearing its close. Although one can argue with Bruning's decision not to prosecute further - coming to the conclusion that his hands were tied by Hergert's settlement with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission for violations of Nebraska campaign finance laws - the mounting evidence that now stands before the state legislature of Hergert's flagrant violations might just be enough to force senators who'd previously leaned against impeachment to take action.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
State Sen. Mike Flood for months has been at the forefront of lawmakers who believe the State Constitution does not allow impeachment of NU Regent David Hergert for campaign finance offenses committed before he took office.

Now, Flood says, the situation may have changed.

A newly released Nebraska State Patrol report on its investigation of the case alleges that Hergert filed a campaign report containing false information on Jan. 11, 2005 - six days after he took office.

"I was steadfastly against impeaching Mr. Hergert, prior to reviewing the investigative reports," Flood said Tuesday. "I wasn't aware of any alleged fraudulent filings that had occurred after he took office. Since I learned about the January 11, 2005, filing, I've been reconsidering my position."

The Norfolk senator is one of 11 lawmakers on a special committee exploring what actions the Legislature may take after Hergert refused lawmakers' demand for his resignation....

Last summer, Flood authored a legal brief arguing his position against impeachment. He disputed the position taken by State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who argued in his own brief that campaign misconduct may be grounds for impeachment....

State Sen. Vickie McDonald of St. Paul, said she's no lawyer and doesn't know if the Legislature has legal grounds to impeach Hergert.

Nonetheless, she leans toward voting for impeachment, if it reaches that point.

"It appears to me there were some things done intentionally, and that's what disturbs me. I was surprised at what lengths someone would go to win an election," McDonald said.

McDonald said she didn't buy Hergert's rationale that Nebraska's campaign law is difficult to follow.

"This wasn't his first election," she said. "In first elections, there's a lot to learn and papers to file. . . . When it's not your first election and you've been through it before, to me there's no excuse for not getting it right."

Hergert ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000.

State Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek, who led the early call for Hergert's resignation, said he doubts the Legislature will do anything further.

"My opinion is that when we passed the resolution (demanding resignation), he should have hung his head and resigned," Schrock said. "If he's going to serve and we're not going to proceed . . . it's going to be a service of shame. That's just the way it is."

A "service of shame"? Is the state legislature really so lacking in courage and principle that it will allow such an affront to stand? Are Hergert's stubbornnes and total lack of integrity really enough to break their will? What a shame that would be for this state and for the rule of law.

If Hergert will not step down, the legislature has the obligation to pursue his impeachment...for all to see, that some measure of justice can finally be brought. If hearings do not result in his expulsion from the Board, let him at least stand before the students and voters of Nebraska upon whom he has brought so much disgrace. Let him be brought from out of the shadows in which he has hidden to be held accountable before all those whom he betrayed in his campaign and whom he mocks by his shamefully presiding over one of this state's most precious institutions.

I ask the state senate to take a good, hard look at the World-Herald's write-up on the state patrol's interview of Hergert's own campaign treasurer, Mike Jacobsen.
In the interview, Jacobson tells how he voiced concerns to Hergert about how the campaign was reporting its finances but that Hergert knew "how to play it to the edge"....

"Jacobson stated that Hergert explained that when the ... affidavit was mailed ... it would not arrive until Monday, Nov. 1, 2004, and at that time it would be too late for his opponent to react to the report, or the ads."

Jacobson also said, "As you go back and look at the chain of events ... does [Hergert] know the rules and does he know how to play it to the edge? Yeah, I'm pretty convinced he does.

This is the edge, Senators. The time to make your stand is now. Hergert has played his waiting game long enough. Do what's right. Call his bluff. All it takes is the will to expose Hergert for what he is and to finally bring an end to this pathetic charade.

Cast away the clouds. Let justice be done. If the People of Nebraska will never have their day in court, at least let them hear the full story of Hergert's deceit. Let them see his true face - the lies, the masquerade - that they may know it and never be fooled by his like again.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Great Editorial . . . BUT . . .

by Kyle Michaelis
The ability to recognize a problem is an important skill. Sadly, simple recognition of a problem does not indicate true understanding of it. It similarly fails to guarantee that one has any real solutions to offer.

Such is the case in the Lincoln Journal-Star's Tuesday editorial scolding the Republican Party for their fiscal recklessness and their pathetic attempts to avoid being held responsible for their incompetent management of the federal government.

After running through some very scary statistics that could threaten our entire way of life, the Journal-Star writes:
Republicans in Congress continue to act as though the nation’s financial problems are someone else’s fault. Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, “Bureaucrats in Washington (will have) to tighten their belts,” the Washington Post reported.

Aw, man. How long can get they away with that old trick? The Republicans have been in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency for the past five years....

It’s time Americans started heeding those warnings. After all those years of promised fiscal restraint, the Republicans in charge in Washington have proven only that they can’t live within their credit limit. Their promises are as empty as the nation’s treasury.

A great point forcefully stated - I wish I could thank the Journal-Star for saying precisely what the people of Nebraska need to hear. But, the simple fact of the matter is that this wrist-slapping just does not go far enough.

Now, that isn't a call for exaggeration or hyperbole. None is needed when the facts, by themselves, are so dire.

Nor am I asking that the Journal-Star engage in name-calling or even that they be more vicious in attacking the Republican Party for its never-ending cycle of lies covering-up incompetence born of deceit (though such attack would be justified).

No, where the Journal-Star goes wrong - as it often goes wrong - is by speaking too broadly and in too general of terms. Chiefly, it fails to make this issue relevant to readers because the newspaper refuses to speak-out on the local level. For whatever reason - fear of offending, strategic editorializing, plain old negligence - the Journal-Star refuses to perform its most essential purpose, holding Nebraska's elected representatives accountable.

Nebraska has three Republican Congressmen: Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Tom Osborne - the Timid Trio I call them for the near-constant and nearly universal lack of spine that prevents them from standing up and voting against the foolish excesses of the Republican agenda.

These are the men whose records Nebraskans must actually judge. These are the men whose failures have helped set this nation on course for catastrophe. These are the men who, each day, enable and encourage the Republican Party's unforgiveable irresponsibility in the name of maintaining political domination.

Yet, as is almost always the case when the Nebraska press dares to utter a negative word about the Republican Party, the names of those elected officials who deserve to share in their party's scolding are nowhere to be seen. They are let off the hook, as the newspaper refuses to remind readers that not only should they recognize the problems facing this country, they should actually do something about them.

Voting the bastards out would be a good place to start.

But, alas, the Timid Trio are sheltered from their failures - sheltered by an even more timid press. All the while, voters suffer for the silencing of the obvious and obscuring of the relevant.

How sad. Until the press is willing to do its job and actually take our politicians to task - until the people receive a wake-up call that actually reminds them that they deserve better and can have better - the reign of the Timid Trio...and all those just like them...will never end.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One More "Republican-for-a-Day"

by Kyle Michaelis
I forgot to include Frank Graham, editor of the North Platte Bulletin, in my growing list of party-hoppers who want a say in the Republican primary on May 9th. He writes about the experience at Frankly Speaking, his personal blog.

Now, Graham was a registered independent, but he writes about a pair of prominent North Platte Democrats, Mayor G. Keith Richardson and City Councilman Dan McGuire, who have made the same decision to temporarily re-register as Republicans.

Aside from the statewide races with numerous GOP candidates, these men all have the added consideration of local Lincoln County races in which the primary is likely to be the only real vote for lack of Democratic candidates. Graham notes that contested Republican primaries exist for Lincoln County Register of Deeds, Lincoln County Treasurer, and Lincoln County Sheriff - none of which have a Democratic alternative on the ballot.

At least, they do have Scott Kleeb, an exciting Democratic candidate to replace Tom Osborne in the 3rd Congressional District, but - even there - voters might feel tempted to vote in the Republican primary where there are five candidates in the running. It's hard to blame anyone who might find one of these would-be Congressmen far more impressive than the others for changing parties to show their support...just so long as they come home to Kleeb and the Democratic Party in the general election.

Here's hoping.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Return of the "Republican- for-a-Day" Phenomenon

by Kyle Michaelis
Last fall, I wrote on the possibility that Nebraska Democrats would change their voter registration to have a say in the GOPs May 2006 primaries, especially in the important but thus far incredibly dull Tom Osborne-Dave Heineman race for governor.

Well, with the primary election now just around the corner, it's not surprising that this possibility is suddenly attracting a lot of media attention. In a close race, the "Republican-for-a-Day" vote could prove a real force in deciding who wins Nebraska's GOP primaries. Tim Rinne, a well-known liberal activist, acknowledged as much in a guest column that ran in the Lincoln Journal-Star on February 27.

Rinne wrote:
If a liberal like me doesn't want the Don Stenberg wing of the Republican Party deciding who the next governor of the state of Nebraska is going to be for the next four and conceivably the next eight years, I need to have an 'R' behind my name so I can have a say May 9....

I confess, it's not easy to know I'm a member of the same party as Dick Cheney. But if I want to do more than look on in horror as Don Stenberg and his fundamentalist cohorts pick who our governor will be possibly through the year 2014, I'll bite the bullet and be a member of the GOP.

And if you're a Democrat or an Independent and want to have a say in your destiny, you'll exercise your democratic right and do the same.

Of course, it's important to note that a postscript after Rinne's column informed readers he will be "re-registering as a Democrat May 10, the day after the primary." That's all well and good. I hope he remembers because the Democrats' registration disadvantage in this state is daunting enough as it is.

Yet, no offense to Rinne, but the real reason the media has been reporting on this phenomenon came with last week's announcement by Warren Buffet, Nebraska Democrat and 2nd richest man in the world, that he would be temporarily changing his registration to support Osborne in the governor's race. Buffett also volunteered to oversee the performance audit of state government that Osborne has been vaguely alluding to since the beginning of his campaign.

On the heels of Buffett's announcement, the Channel 7 News then ran this report (with video) showing non-billionaire and life-long Democrat, Deborah Gilg, making the same decision to temporarily change her registration.

Personally, I would only even consider changing my registration for one reason - the lower profile but still contested race for Treasurer between Ron Ross and Shane Osborn. With the Nebraska Democratic Party failing to recruit a candidate for this office, I am troubled that I might be left disenfranchised entirely in this race. That is an incredible let-down that, as a responsible citizen and voter, deserves some serious consideration.

Sadly, the offices of State Auditor and Attorney General look to be uncontested in both the primary and the general election, so there's no need to worry about changing your registration to have a say. In fact, without someone stepping up and getting their name on the ballot one way or another, we may as well not even vote. Breaks my heart to write that, but it actually makes me outraged to think about what this says about our democracy.

Then, there are the races receiving all the attention, the ones that have drawn Rinne, Buffett, Gilg, and others to become "Republicans-for-a-Day." To be honest, though, I don't support this crossing of enemy lines. It's not a big deal, but I just don't think it's called-for.

Between Osborne, Heineman, or Nabity for governor and Stenberg, Ricketts, or Kramer for Senate, I've paid a lot of attention and am generally left cold on the whole damn lot of them. Each is using the same soundbytes to appeal to the same reactionary mind-set, so - unless you're a big Husker fan or a Husker-hater - I can't really see having a say in these races being worth the trouble of re-registering....especially when I can proudly cast my vote for David Hahn for governor - a Democrat with some actual vision - and Ben Nelson for Senate - a man who, at the very least, has experience and integrity putting him head and shoulders above any of his competitors.

Still, voters must do as they see fit. Note that you have until April 21st to re-register by mail and May 1st to re-register in person at the election office. Just remember to save a stamp or to make another trip on May 10th because, eventually, we're going to have to quit playing games and start playing for keeps.

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Hagel For President Hoopla

by Kyle Michaelis
This week, Sen. Chuck Hagel returns to New Hampshire, making a series of appearances hoping to get his foot in the door for the 2008 presidential primary. The Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton is joining Hagel for the three-day tour and today sets the stage for it with an article making clear the significant hurdles that stand before Hagel's even establishing himself as a credible candidate:
Sen. Chuck Hagel returns to New Hampshire today on a profile-raising tour as traffic picks up in the nation’s first 2008 presidential primary state.

Hagel will speak at events in three cities, headline a Republican fund-raising dinner and answer questions on New Hampshire public radio. The three-day visit will mark Hagel’s first trip to the Granite State since a tour last May.

“The field is still wide open” almost two years before the GOP primary, said Dante Scala, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in suburban Manchester....

But two Republican prospects, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and neighboring Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, hold the early advantage in New Hampshire, Scala said. Hagel, he said, is “very low on the radar screen right now"....

Hagel’s independence and willingness to challenge his party and president on high-profile issues like Iraq might make him a more formidable presidential candidate in a general election than a Republican primary, said Stephen Hess, professor at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution....

The problem for Hagel in 2008, if he chooses to seek the GOP nomination, is that he appears to be “a shadow of McCain, who has been a much more potent and serious candidate.”

In a sense, Hess said, McCain and Hagel are on a teeter-totter, with Hagel’s fortunes rising if McCain’s decline.

One advantage for Hagel could be Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, which precede the New Hampshire vote. McCain didn’t actively compete in the 2000 Iowa caucuses. Hagel hails from a bordering state....

Hagel has said he won’t decide on whether to seek the presidency until he has an opportunity to view the lay of the land after this November’s national elections. In the meantime, he said, he’s concentrating more on probing potential fund-raising opportunities than piling up campaign miles.

One gets a sense that the one thing that could really make Hagel a player in 2008 is a total electoral catastrophe for the Republicans this November. If Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Republican Party's continuing string of ethical lapses leave Republicans in retreat, party leaders and GOP voters might suddenly like the idea of a man who's managed to separate himself from the incredibly unpopular current president while maintaining a voting record that is as partisan as they come.

In other words, Hagel might make for a fine "comfort food" candidate - different in tone, same in substance - around whom Republicans would rally in case of total and utter disaster. But, aside from that possibility, his chances aren't looking too good.

Still, it's worth mentioning here that proud right-wing Nebraska blogger, PTG, has discoved a "Chuck Hagel for President" Blog he describes as "fakey."

Supposedly run by a Hagel fan from South Carolina, it's not really clear what sort of hand Hagel's own campaign might have in the site, though it does seem suspicious that the guy running it would discover the website for Hagel's Sandhills PAC the day it went online without a little assistance.

But, such is the role of the Internet on modern campaigning. Voters can never really be sure exactly what they are reading or who it is coming from. Unless, of course, we're talking about your good friends at the New Nebraska Network...where, frankly, I'm too in love with my own BS to let anyone else do my talking for me.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sloppy Reporting in the World-Herald

by Kyle Michaelis
I've come to expect certain journalistic sins of omission when I read Nebraska newspapers. In general, they seem fundamentally incapable, if not opposed on principle, to the idea of connecting-the-dots and drawing together the news in a way that actually reflects reality.

Instead, they report on some minute sliver of the truth - often relying on sound bytes that are little more than talking points - obscuring the real story and leaving it to the reader (or the New Nebraska Network) to actually put things together and to grasp what's really going on. Case in point (from my previous post), note that reporting on Sen. Mike Foley's dishonest and deceitful manipulation of the state's women's health funding conspicuously failed to mention his campaign to be Nebraska's next auditor, a campaign in which Foley does not even have a challenger.

The Omaha World-Herald did not include this information (here or here). The Lincoln Journal-Star did not include this information (here or here). Even failed to draw readers' attention to this incredibly troubling fact. Frankly, it's pathetic. Journalists have a responsibility to their readers to put this sort of news into context, making clear exactly what's at stake...and, yes, what the future holds for one of the state's constitutional offices.

A man who abuses the faith of his voters and the trust of his colleagues to advance his own vindictive agenda as a state senator will do the same as state auditor. That the Nebraska media don't recognize this (or simply don't want readers to recognize it) is curious and disturbing. But, again, this type of journalistic neglect is not at all surprising. It seems to almost be the norm.

Still, there are worse journalistic sins than this sort of omission (assuming it is born of imcompetence rather than intent). There is also just plain getting the facts wrong, as the World-Herald's Harold W. Andersen did in today's column.

Now, Andersen's faulty reporting isn't over an issue of any great importance. It is, in fact, quite insignificant but for what it says about the standards of the World-Herald and the low priority they put on getting the facts right.

Writing of Sen. Barack Obama, Andersen mistakenly stated:
Obama, of course, clearly is a fast-rising star in the Democratic political firmament. He is described in his Internet biography as the first AfricanAmerican to hold the prestigious position of editor of the Harvard Law Review. (In fact, Obama's lineage is white on his mother's side and African on his father's side.)

After seven years in the Illinois State Senate, Obama took office as a U.S. senator a little more than 14 months ago at age 43. After serving only a few months in the Senate, he was named keynote speaker for the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Attentive readers will note the contradiction that Obama could not have possibly been sworn-in 14 months ago and still have been a U.S. Senator during the national convention in the summer of 2004. In fact, Obama was still a candidate for office at that point, well on his way to an over-whelming victory that November.

Not a big deal, admittedly. Indeed, Andersen's apparent nit-picking about Obama's racial classification is probably far more troubling just because his motives are so unclear. Also, far, far, far more troubling was the instance this summer when Andersen flat-out lied about civil rights leader Malcolm X's relationship to Omaha.

No, Andersen's confusion about the timeline of Obama's rise to prominence is significant only because such an obvious factual error shouldn't make it to press. Whether this is a matter of Andersen's decline in old age or just a lack of focus in reporting, it's clear he's not the only one letting readers down.

I say this not to beat up on an old World-Herald war horse but simply to speak up for readers who deserve a better effort. 1) Get the facts right (Obama). 2) Share the right facts (Foley). That's really all we ask from the Nebraska press, and - sadly - that's more than they've been delivering.

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Will We Elect A Liar as State Auditor?

by Kyle Michaelis

Mike Foley, Nebraska's king of single-issue automatons in the state legislature, is running unopposed for state auditor in the 2006 Republican primary and, so far, in the 2006 general election.

As an "appraiser" this job might seem a natural fit, but it's become painfully clear in recent days that this man does not have the integrity to serve as the people's watchdog in state government. Rather, Foley has been revealed not only as a dangerous zealot but as a fraud and a cheat - cutting corners, bending the truth, and lying when necessary to advance his extremist anti-abortion agenda.

This week, in one of the Unicameral's sadder displays of deceit and crooked intentions, Foley outright lied to his fellow state senators about his motivations for tinkering with the state budget to expand state funding of women's health programs to more health care providers than the 14 family planning agencies that now receive it.

Although the $520,000 in question was clearly designated for treatment of cervical cancer and sexually-transmitted diseases, critics immediately challenged Foley's proposal as a back-handed, yellow-bellied attempt to eliminate state funding to Planned Parenthood. Foley outright denied that his actions had anything to do with abortion or the abortion-related activities of the affected health care providers.

On Tuesday, twice winning approval of his supposedly innocent measure, Foley promised that his budget amendment "simply opens the door to other providers."

The Omaha World-Herald even reported, in no uncertain terms:
Foley, who opposes abortion, denied that he was motivated by abortion politics or a desire to steer money away from family planning agencies.

But wait. Not so fast. Only one day later, the World-Herald would report from private correspondence:
In a Wednesday e-mail addressed "Dear Friends," Foley said he found it "insulting" that Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Council Bluffs receives state tax dollars, even though the money is not used for abortions.

"Planned Parenthood doesn't deserve any of our money and we need to start doing something about it," he wrote.

Foley said the budget amendment would "at least begin to cut into the disbursement of our tax dollars to Planned Parenthood," and he asked people to pray that the amendment would prevail.

Wow. Talk about playing both sides of an issue. Here, Foley proves himself totally willing to lie and tell people what they want to hear to fulfill his own political and religous agenda. That is a dangerous trait, indeed, for a man on the verge of becoming Nebraska's next state auditor. Every check and balance on state spending his office might offer would be immediately cast in a suspicious light, questionable not only for his motives but for his truthfulness as well.

To politicize women's health like this is the work of a truly sick individual. Frankly, a man who will lie to get his way when the lives of our mothers, sisters, and daugthers are on the line will lie about anything.

Other state senators acknowledge Foley's outrageous and disgusting betrayal. Sen. Ernie Chambers called Foley "a pious hypocrite," while Sen. Don Pederson, chair of the Appropriations Committee, admitted "I believe we were deliberately deceived."

Sen. Joel Johnson even felt it necessary to draw attention to Foley's sin, reminding of The Ten Commandments' teaching "Thou shalt not bear false witness."

What's more, Foley's agenda of lies is driven by far more than the abortion issue for which many supporters might actually seek to justify this deception. No, his agenda is far broader, more judgmental, and more burdensome to American women, going well beyond abortion to imposing gag orders on physicians with female patients.

The Lincoln Journal-Star quotes Foley declaring rumors that his real target was family planning services “nonsense.” He since admitted he doesn’t want state tax dollars going to any clinic that even offers information about abortion, prompting the Journal-Star to warn:
Withdrawal of funding would force some smaller family planning clinics in the state to close....

Rather than helping women, Foley’s amendment would damage the existing network of providers and leave women uncertain where to go for issues relating to contraception and reproductive health....

Duplicity should not be rewarded. The change in funding advocated by Foley is not in the best interests of women’s health in Nebraska.

Let me take it a little bit further and say what actually needs to be said - more than just his tactics, Mike Foley himself is not in the best interests of Nebraska. As a state senator, he has proven lacking in integrity - a traitor and a shame to his colleagues. That these dismal qualities would follow him into the state auditors' office is undoubted, as is the fact that Foley would likewise pervert the entire machinery of that office to advance the outrageous and unprincipled agenda to which he has so single-mindedly devoted his legislative career.

This man is not fit for higher office. I only hope someone with the credentials and passion to offer a reasonable alternative agrees and is willing to do something about it.

2006 is our chance to de-Foley-ate. If Nebraska doesn't take it, after sinful and sickening conduct such as that described above, who can say when (or if) we will ever get the opportunity again?

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The World-Herald's Elitism of Idiocy

by Kyle Michaelis
Yet again taking its cues from right-wing talk radio rather than doing actual research, the Omaha World-Herald's editorial board today engaged in an ignorant and malicious assault on a group of law schools who formed the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights.

The World-Herald celebrates these schools' failed attempt (in Rumsfeld v. FAIR) to defend the integrity of their anti-discrimination policies against a ban on federal funding when, in protest of the biased and unreasonable "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" homosexuality standard, these schools have refused to allow U.S. military recruiters on campus.

While the World-Herald might be justified in agreeing with the Supreme Courts' decision as a matter of law and public policy, it proves just how unprincipled its editorial slant is by playing the old "liberal elite"-card to dismiss and defame the schools involved in this action.

In an editorial so inappropriately titled "A Defeat for the Elite", the OWH writes:
No one doubts that the First Amendment is a crucial part of the federal Constitution. Still, courts should reject attempts to apply the amendment inappropriately. The U.S. Supreme Court underscored that point last week in rejecting claims by elite law schools that the First Amendment gives them the right to deny access to military recruiters....

Law schools had sued to challenge the constitutionality of the so-called Solomon Amendment. That measure denies federal funding to any law school that prohibits visits by military recruiters.

To allow such recruiters on campus, the law schools argued, would signal to students that the law schools endorse the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy requiring removal of gay service personnel who acknowledge their sexuality. That claim was the core of the lawsuit - and was flatly rejected by the Supreme Court justices....

The argument over military recruiting is tied, of course, to deepseated cultural differences that separate left-leaning elite law schools from the American military....

Law schools at Harvard, Columbia, Yale and other top-level universities would do well to end their knee-jerk hostility to the military. As the court case shows, living in an ideological echo chamber is not serving these elite schools well.

What the World-Herald fails to admit in denouncing the law schools that have partaken in this principled, though unsuccessful, defense of minority rights is that they are by no means confined to the Ivy League. In fact, though many "elite" law schools were involved in this challenge in some capacity, neither Harvard, Columbia, or Yale were among the 24 that officially joined FAIR and openly announced their participation in this lawsuit.

Rather, FAIR was comprised of the faculties of DePaul, Stanford, Georgetown, Hofstra, and the University of Minnesota Law Schools, as well as the entire George Washington University Law School, New York University School of Law, and Vermont Law School.

Now, there are certainly some quality law schools in that bunch but the World-Herald's attempt to designate them as some sort of out-of-touch, liberal cabal of the privileged and powerful is so blatantly dishonest and misrepresentative that, well, you'd only expect it from a two-bit, one-note partisan shill like the Omaha World-Herald.

Still, even while INVALID, how sad it is to see a newspaper pathetically play a class of schools' prestige against them because it knows it can tap into the well-paved doubts and resentments of its readers. Here, the "ideological echo chamber" the World-Herald inhabits and sustains by its total disregard for the truth is again on full display, revealed as lies and deception at the tiniest bit of scrutiny.

If they were not so well-established, if they had not been feeding people's heads with similar mistruths for decades, such sloppiness would have brought the World-Herald's partisan agenda crashing down long ago. As is, we're waging a battle against years and years of unchallenged spin and message control.

While no one expects the World-Herald editorial board not to have a perspective, they at least have a responsibiltiy not to deceive and misinform in its advancement. It is this crime against the people of Nebraska for which they continue to prove themselves guilty. It is this crime against the people of Nebraska for which we must continue our work to hold them accountable.

The lies must end! The lies must end now! The people of Nebraska deserve fair and honest reporting from the state's most powerful media source...not more of this one-sided garbage lifted from this morning's latest Rush Limbaugh rant.

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Why Do GOP Governors Fear UNL Students?

by Kyle Michaelis
In an eerie repeat of 2002, Gov. Dave Heineman is proving that he's cut from the same cowardly and calculating cloth as his predecessor, Mike Johanns, by refusing to step foot on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus for a gubernatorial debate. Proving just how little he cares about reaching out to students and young voters in general, Heineman is using a silly technicality to try to get out of a March 26th debate in Lincoln that has already been agreed to by his opponents, Tom Osborne and Dave Nabity.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Gov. Dave Heineman could find himself in a debate of one if a squabble among the Republican gubernatorial candidates isn't ironed out within two weeks.

U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity have agreed to participate in a March 26 debate in Lincoln, sponsored by a student group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Heineman refuses to take part because the proposed sponsor violates an agreement signed by all three campaigns, which said only accredited media groups would be allowed to sponsor any of the six governor debates, said Carlos Castillo, Heineman's campaign manager.

Instead, Heineman has agreed to participate in a debate that same night sponsored by KLIN radio in Lincoln....

Nabity and Osborne said they agreed that the original arrangement among the candidates should be modified to accommodate the request from the Association of Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to sponsor the debate.

"We felt that a modification or some flexibiliy in the agreement in this particular debate was in order," said David Buchholz, an Osborne spokesman.

"What is the harm of having a student organization support the debates?" asked Nabity.

Castillo said neither he nor Heineman has anything against students but believe the original agreement should be honored.

"The major concern is that we said it's in the best interest that all debates be handled by independent media organizations. Everyone agreed. Everyone signed off on that. Now they want to change the rules," Castillo said.

The AP describes the format of the debate in question as follows:
The debate will include a panel consisting of representatives of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications and the Daily Nebraskan student newspaper at UNL. Questions were also being solicited from students, to be given to the panelists and a moderator from Lincoln television station KOLN/KGIN-TV, who could decide whether to pose them during the debate.

Oh, the horror. The horror! What must Heineman be thinking to fabricate this excuse about accredited media when both local and statewide news sources are intimately involved in the current debate plans? Talk about pulling a Stenberg - if voters have any sense whatsoever, this will be little dictator Heineman's Waterloo.

There is a very simple solution here. ASUN should hand over responsibility for the debate to the Daily Nebraskan, the independent campus newspaper, putting to rest Heineman's fearful and obnoxious complaint. ASUN could still take a lead role in getting word of the debate out to students but concerns about impartiality in the format and questions would be alleviated.

Of course, it's likely that even under these guidelines, Heineman would try to wiggle his way out of this debate. He's simply following in the footsteps of Johanns, who pulled the exact same stunt in 2002 so he wouldn't have to take questions from UNL students. What a pathetic display of weakness and disdain for the youth who are the future of this state.

Shame on Gov. Heineman. He is a discredit to the office that he holds - to which he was never elected and to which I increasingly hope the people of Nebraska have the good sense to see that Heineman never be elected in his own right.

So petty a man - who, at every opportunity, has put his own political interests before the interests of the state - deserves such a trivial finish to an ignominious career.

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New Nebraska Network: Year Two

by Kyle Michaelis
Happy Birthday to the New Nebraska Network. Though it technically went on-line a few days earlier, it was on the 14th of March, 2005, that I announced the site to the world (aka "my friends and family").

I'd planned on doing something special to celebrate the New Nebraska Network's first birthday, but the massive redesign to make the site more visually appealing quickly gave way to other commitments. A possible review of my "Top 10" favorite posts has also gone by the wayside....because, quite frankly, I don't have the time to scour the archives when I'm hardly producing enough material that there even needs to be an archive.

Still, despite such persistent disappointments, I don't intend to denigrate this site or what it has accomplished. Though I'm yet to take on cohorts to help this site achieve its statewide potential and the site clearly hasn't broken into the public consciousness in the manner I might have hoped - for the effort I've put into it, this last year has been a success.

When able, this site is offering an alternative voice, and, when necessary, it's asking questions of politicians and the press to which the people of Nebraska deserve an answer. We're still not in a position to force that answer but I trust my contribution is at least adding to the pressure that might one day result in accountability from our elected officials and actual honesty from our unelected, self-appointed ministers of message control in the local media. What role the site may ultimately play in building Nebraska's progressive community into a true political force with an actual identity will only be icing on the cake.

Of course, I look back to my three posts that first day and my more than 30 posts those first two weeks, and I can't help but be disappointed that I've been unable to maintain that level of output. It is not for a want of material, as there is need for the sort of criticism we provide on so many levels and on so many issues that are currently passing under this site's RADAR. That is unfortunate, but I can only hope that my example, along with the wave of personal empowerment following the natural evolution of the Internet, might encourage other voices to rise up and fill the critical shortage for progressive Nebraska alternatives.

In one year, the New Nebraska Network has seen 332 posts - if I were able to do this as more than a hobby or if there was an entire team working across the state, I have no doubt that number could have easily been in the thousands without those posts ever repeating themselves. Such is the desperate state of Nebraska's unquestioning and generally complacent press - that someone, somewhere must rise up and do their job for them if this state is ever going to get back on the path to righteousness and political sanity.

Please stick with us for our second year - when I will perhaps finally decide, once and for all, whether to write in the first or the second person ("I" or "we"). It's also an election year, so you can hopefully count on some human drama to help liven things up a bit.

But, at the end of the day, it's ideas that matter, as well as the changes they are able to bring about. The New Nebraska Network will continue to contribute, as best it can, to the debates that stand before us and that are still to come. But, the site is nothing without its readers. I thank you for your interest, your time, your trust - maybe even a bookmark in your web browser. I promise to continue doing what I'm doing - always welcoming your comments and your criticism - and maybe even getting better with experience and old age.

The queen is dead; long live the queen. Let "New Nebraska Network: Year Two" begin!

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Clock Ticks on Out-of-Whack Legislature

by Kyle Michaelis
Whose priorities are these? Does anyone else get the feeling that the Nebraska Unicameral has not only bitten off more than it can chew but might also be barking up a couple of wrong trees? Pretty impressive for one body to violate multiple metaphorical maxims at once.

Here's the Omaha World-Herald giving us the skinny on what seems a rather gluttonous legislative agenda:

With 19 working days left before Nebraska lawmakers call it quits and leave town, they have yet to tackle most of the legislative session's biggest issues.

The full Legislature hasn't started debate on the budget, tax cuts, water management, Omaha schools, sex offenders or the possible impeachment of University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert.

Nor have lawmakers addressed 43 of the 49 bills that senators designated as their priorities, or 16 of the 29 committee priority bills.

Only 34 bills and one proposed constitutional amendment have passed since the 60-day session began Jan. 4. It is scheduled to end April 12.

Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear of Omaha isn't fazed.

"The day count is the easiest thing to do. That doesn't say anything about the hour count," he said. "We're two-thirds of the way through in days, but not in hours."

Other legislative veterans expressed confidence lawmakers will find ways to accomplish what needs to be done.

"Every year it looks as if there's no way on God's green earth we're going to get through the agenda - and almost every year it all gets done," said State Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln....

This week will see the first round of debate over the budget. The Appropriations Committee has offered proposals that would add $18 million to the $6.13 billion, two-year general fund budget passed last year.

"The budget's the main deal," said State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. "That's the one we have to get done. There's certainly a lot of things we'd like to get done."

I don't mean to be Mr. Negativity, but - this far into a short legislative session - I think Nebraskans are right to be concerned that senators might try squeezing in too many votes with too little actual debate and too little concern for the long-term interests of the state. Although it's clear the 20 senators being term-limited after this session want to shape a legacy, the state would likely benefit most from their using that expertise to put Nebraska on the solidest possible economic footing rather than trying to do everything for everyone and solve every problem on the horizon.

It's disappointing that the two controversial bills that have actually seen real movement are the authorizations of Fetal Assault as a crime and "Conceal & Carry" weapons permits - two incredibly divisive issues made suspect by the apparent political motivations of their backers more than the actual legislation. That both bills seem on the verge of passage - when they are so limited in scope, divisive in character, and largely irrelevant but to an elite group of conservative special interests - suggests this year's agenda is not being set according to the real priorities of the common Nebraska voter.

Still, more than these peanuts being thrown to right-wing monkeys on the people's time, I'm far more worried about the state trying to do too much, especially concerning school reorganization. It's unfortunate that the Omaha Public Schools situation has gotten to this point, but a problem 40 years in the making is not going to be corrected by a snap of the legislatures' fingers - especially when the law as it currently stands offers terms for negotiation and and/or a court fight that may prove unavoidable no matter what the legislature attempts.

This issue is so contentious that to even think of tackling it while the state's budget is on the line and talk of tax cuts yet fills the air seems quite irresponsible. These are two very different and time-consuming roads - for the legislature to attempt traveling down them both might prove disastrous without having made more headway this late in the game.

Responding to threats by Sen. Ernie Chambers to bring the legislature to a stand-still to halt the progress of the aforementioned Fetal Assault and Conceal & Carry indulgences, Sen. Patrick Bourne of Omaha, at least, shows some understanding that the Unicameral needs to tighten its belt and reign-in its agenda. He told the Lincoln Journal-Star, "The Legislature will craft an appropriate budget bill that will provide for the needs of the state. We will have a meaningful tax cut. And we will do what the public needs on sex predators, and meth treatment."

That there is a reasonable agenda for the time remaining, but the legislature's setting its sights on much more will mean that even these areas where real necessity and real room for compromise exist are likely to be short-changed or even shelved in favor of rush jobs and pet projects that don't serve the interests of the voters.

This is in no way a call for a "do nothing" legislature. All I ask is that what they do, they do well and they do responsibly. That means giving everyone a chance to be heard. That means setting priorities and making choices that will prevent the legislature from getting bogged-down in a hell of pomp and procedure.

There are real problems before this state - very real problems that show no sign of alleviation and actually seem likely to get a whole lot worse in the decades to come. We can either recognize these and start sensibly preparing ourselves accordingly .... or we can short-sightedly allow the legislature to be a playground for the children fighting their silly culture wars.

Time is tight. Duty calls. Let's hope our senators have the sense to recognize that recess is over.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Hagel: The Mock Maverick Rides Again

by Kyle Michaelis
"The Kansas Project" Wrap-Up (prior entries: 1, 2, 3)

I was not particularly surprised to learn that Tuesday's vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee on whether to hold hearings investigating the Bush Administration's domestic spying activities ended on a straight party-line vote. Clearly a loss for the American people and those interested in seeking the truth, President Bush's 8-7 victory should make any fair-minded Republican hang his head in shame.

Particularly shameful in this matter is the conduct of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, whose choice to do Bill Frist's bidding rather than sticking to his guns and actually demanding accountability from the Administration reveals but once again the world of difference between "Talk Show" Hagel's rhetoric and the voting record of the real thing. Yes, Hagel talks the talk of an independent-minded straight-shooter, but - when it comes to walking the walk - this guy may as well be a quadriplegic.

Whitewashing Hagel's vote and his complicity in tightening the blindfold over the eyes of the American people, the Omaha World-Herald truncates the New York Times:
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that they had reached agreement with the White House on proposed bills to impose new oversight on domestic surveillance. The agreement would allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.

The agreement dashed Democratic hopes of starting a full committee investigation because the proposal won the support of Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine. The two Republicans had threatened to support a broader inquiry if the White House did not disclose more.

The proposed legislation would create a seven-member "terrorist surveillance subcommittee" and require the administration to give it full access to the details of the program's operations.

The measure would require the administration to seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court whenever possible. If the administration elects not to do so after 45 days, the attorney general has to certify that the surveillance is necessary to protect the country and explain to the subcommittee why the administration has not sought a warrant.

All seems straight-forward enough. What the World-Herald leaves out, in its editorial discretion, is the larger story and context provided by the New York Times:
The plan by Senate Republicans to step up oversight of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program would also give legislative sanction for the first time to long-term eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant, legal experts said on Wednesday.

Civil liberties advocates called the proposed oversight inadequate and the licensing of eavesdropping without warrants unnecessary and unwise. But the Republican senators who drafted the proposal said it represented a hard-wrung compromise with the White House, which strongly opposed any Congressional interference in the eavesdropping program....

The negotiations that produced a deal on the eavesdropping program left Senate Democrats fuming on the sidelines, adding to the partisan squabbling on the Intelligence Committee that longtime observers of Congress say is unprecedented....

On Tuesday, [Sen. John] Rockefeller said he believed that the committee's Republicans were "under the control" of the White House....

"Aside from the civil liberties dimension, there's an invitation here to the president to go on indefinitely with warrantless surveillance," said William C. Banks, a law professor at Syracuse University.

Caroline Fredrickson, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, said it was "profoundly disappointing to see lawmakers willing to lower the bar to allow the president vast powers to spy on Americans"....

Republicans were miffed that Mr. Rockefeller, the committee's ranking Democrat, had portrayed them as caving in to White House pressure.

On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Hagel...called that notion "laughable." Mr. Hagel said he and Senators DeWine and Snowe were "three of the most independent Republicans" in the Senate and added, "I have never been accused of buckling to White House pressure."

Well, Chuck, "never" might have been too strong a word, especially since right here, right now, you do stand accused of buckling to White House pressure. How do I justify such an accusation? Why, by proving it, of course.

From the Lincoln Journal-Star (12/21/2005):
Sen. Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that Americans can be protected against terrorism without violating the law or ignoring civil rights.

Hagel is one of two Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who have called for an investigation into President Bush’s decision to order domestic intelligence surveillance without court approval.

“No president is ever above the law,” Hagel said in a telephone conference call from Washington. “We are a nation of laws. You cannot avoid or dismiss a law.”

At issue, Hagel said, is whether the decision to order such surveillance violates a 1978 law requiring approval by a secret U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance court. Bush has claimed legal and constitutional authority to act....

Asked about Vice President Dick Cheney’s warning that Bush’s critics could pay a heavy political price, Hagel said: “My oath is to the Constitution, not to a vice president, a president or a political party.”

What's changed since then to shift Hagel's allegiance to the President? Is it simply that the cameras are no longer rolling - this story was milked for all he could squeeze from it? Or, did Cheney's threat of "a heavy political price" become a whole lot more persuasive when it became clear getting shot in the face was a possibility?

Either way, that's some fine buckling to White House pressure, Chuck - you liar. Called for hearings in December. Voted against them in March. It doesn't get much clearer than that - on this issue, on the sad state of the Republican Party, and in capturing the essence of Hagel's self-serving hypocrisy.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Did I Share Faulty Info on Open Ballots?

by Kyle Michaelis
Since I don't have much of a background in Nebraska election law, I'm worried that my recent post ("Keep Hope Alive!") calling for candidates by petition as our last remaining hope for offering an alternative to the Republican status quo might have been off-base.

Particularly in question is whether or not the Democratic Party can choose its own candidates to take its ballot spot for offices where no candidate filed for the primary. From my reading, this was only an option when a candidate had already filed but had to back-out of (or "vacate") the race. Yet, a column in yesterday's Lincoln Journal-Star suggests this candidates-by-appointment strategy IS still available...or at least was back in 1998. The column reads:
The Democrats have no candidates in three of the five constitutional offices this year, the bleakest situation in the past 36 years. But it isn’t the only time Democrats have been unable to field candidates for every constitutional office race....

State records since 1970 indicate that the Democrats did not field a candidate for a constitutional office in three elections. In 1982 Democrats had no candidate in the secretary of state race or the attorney general race.

In 2002 the party had no candidate in the treasurer’s race.

In 1998 the Democrats had no candidate in the primary, but after their write-in candidate declined, the Democrats selected Pat Knapp to appear on the November ballot.

So, basically, a write-in campaign might be the first, best alternative. And, from there, it sounds like slate filling is a possibility if the state party can find anyone willing to wear its colors in the field of battle.

Of course, I've been unable to find the provision in Nebraska's state statutes that would govern such a process, hence my earlier post's assumption that it was not an option. Regardless, this demonstrates that there might be even more avenues available to potential candidates who would be serious in standing up with passion and ideas and giving Nebraskans a real choice in November for state treasurer, state auditor, and attorney general.

Keep hope alive! It's not too late to do this right, but it will be soon. Don't hesitate. Contact the Nebraska Democratic Party and offer up your name, your expertise, or even just your idea for who else might be up to this important challenge. Do it today!

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Got to side with the World-Herald on this one.....

by Kyle Michaelis
Or, should I say the World-Herald has decided to side with me in denouncing what I declared in December "Ben Nelson's Iron Curtain"?

Tuesday, the Omaha World-Herald editorialized:
A balanced approach to the immigration issue, this is not.

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., last week weighed in on the increasingly explosive debate with a revised version (S. 2368) of a bill he first introduced in November.

To say the least, it lacks the practical weighing found in bills from Nelson's Nebraska colleagues, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Rep. Tom Osborne....

Nelson says he focused on border security in the hope of advancing work on a comprehensive bill. Well and good. But one of the provisions in Nelson's bill seems unrealistic. Another is disturbing.

Nelson and two Republican co-sponsors are the first senators to call for what anti-immigration hawks have espoused: a 1,951-milelong fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico at an estimated cost of $5 billion.....

Build a fence, the hawks say, and illegals could not simply walk in from Mexico where the U.S. Border Patrol isn't watching. Fewer people could physically defy attempts to regulate the flow of noncitizens. The move would ease the multibillion-dollar drain on governments.

All of these are undeniable problems. A final bill needs to address them. But remember this fact:

The Israeli anti-terrorism security fence, touted by some who back a Mexican border fence, will extend about 400 miles around the West Bank when completed. A would-be fence separating the United States and Mexico would be nearly five times as long - longer than some estimates of the length of the Great Wall of China.

Some stretches of the Mexican border could use more physical barriers. But are Americans truly willing to swallow a multibillion-dollar, 2,000-mile fence? And how would smugglers of illegal immigrants be prevented from tunneling under the border, which already happens in some places?

Nelson and his co-sponsors, Sens. Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn, may have reasonable answers to such questions. What cannot be defended, however, is the bill's embrace of the radical provision the House passed in December that would put religious and humanitarian groups at risk of federal prison if they help the wrong people.

Editorials here in December and January decried the inclusion in H.R. 4437 of prison terms of up to five years for anyone who "assists, encourages, directs or induces," "transports or moves" or "harbors, conceals or shields from detection" an illegal immigrant, "knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien."

It takes little imagination to see how a church or a nonprofit group, confronted with someone ill, hungry or needing shelter or medical care, could run afoul of this threat.

The stakes on this matter were underscored just last week by Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, who said he would direct his priests to defy such a law rather than ignore their spiritual duty.

Surely the time to ascertain a person's immigration status is not when his life depends on it. Surely it would deny the impulse toward generosity that has typified Americans throughout our history. Surely our leaders can do better than this.

What Nelson has proposed here goes far beyond the "splitting the middle" pragmatism Nelson usually employs with such contentious issues. In fact, it says a lot that the co-sponsors of this effort, Sessions and Coburn, are two of the most reactionary and extremist Republicans in the U.S. Senate. I'm afraid that here, on this issue at least, Ben Nelson might just be the company he keeps.

I mean, seriously, even the World-Herald considers this plan unreasonable. While they reserve the label "disturbing" only for its possible consequences for non-profit groups - opening them up to all sorts of criminal liability for doing nothing more than providing humanitarian relief - I believe that term is a more than apt description of Nelson's Iron Curtain as well.

This is bad legislation - beneath us as a state, a nation, and definitely as a people. Without engaging in too much hyperbole, I must say that the moment the United States puts up a fence like this, we may as well take down the Statue of Liberty because that torch will have died and lost its meaning. Lady Liberty's message of hope and brotherhood will have been sacrificed on an alter of outsized political ambitions without any regard for principles of common sense, practicality, and the beautiful idea of what it means to be an American.

In other words, this extreme measure is not the work of the Ben Nelson Nebraskans have come to know and respect. Despite pressures to the contrary on what is a complicated, even desperate, issue, we nevertheless hope THAT Ben Nelson will return to his senses and come home to the voters of Nebraska - who still demand, above all else, an immigration policy of concscience, humility, and humanity. None of these are evidenced by an intercontinental fence, holding us hostage to our fears, which will only continue to gather and build as, all in all, just more bricks in the wall.

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