Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chuck Hagel Comes Clean About Iraq Hypocrisy

by Kyle Michaelis
Vote Was "An Act of Party Loyalty" Intended to "Embarrass" Democrats

USA Today reports:
[Sen. Chuck] Hagel has become a prominent critic of Bush's policies in Iraq and the Middle East generally. This culminated in an impassioned speech last month in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when he challenged his colleagues to take a stand on a resolution he co-sponsored disapproving of the president's planned troop increase in Iraq....

When his resolution hit the floor of the Senate, Hagel voted first against and then for allowing the debate to proceed. The first vote was an act of party loyalty, he said. He wanted to give Senate GOP leader McConnell negotiating leverage to win a vote on a separate resolution expressing opposition to cutting funds for troops in Iraq.

Hagel acknowledged that the vote McConnell was seeking was intended to "embarrass the other party," but argued, "Why not have the debate that we all say we want, let the resolutions come, let them be debated and let the American people sort it out?"

When it appeared that wasn't going to happen, he and other Republican war critics switched their votes, but the effort to force debate on a resolution of disapproval still fell four votes short of 60.
New Nebraska Network: 1
["Hagel's vote enabled the Republican Party to continue playing games with American soldiers' lives for political purposes."]
Nebraskans for Peace: 0
["We...don't share the New Nebraska Network's take on Hagel's original 'no' vote....The Democrats ... 49-47 vote was a gambit to make political hay at the Republicans' expense."]
You heard it from the Hagel's own mouth. Not that anyone's keeping score about these things. Besides, there's nothing to celebrate here - it's the American people and our troops in Iraq who continue to have their voices silenced by the Republican minority in the Senate.

Still, I have to give Hagel credit for his candor. His actually admitting his part in this game of partisan brinksmanship suggests that Hagel is quite aware of the legitimacy he sacrificed with his original vote and that he is still very interested in repositioning himself as a credible voice against this poorly conceived military escalation amounting to "stay the course" on steroids.

Of course, I've pledged not to be fooled again by Hagel. But that doesn't mean I'm pledging eternal cynicism towards his every action. In fact, I remain quite intrigued by what he'd bring to the Republican race for the Presidency and suspect that it would be in our country's best interest to have his voice singing in a slightly different key from the chorus.

The above USA Today article also talks up the possibility of Hagel running on the bipartisan Unity '08 ticket that would see the last lines between celebrity and politics fall away forever. The presidency would essentially become the grand prize in the latest version of American Idol, with Hagel hoping to be the next Kelly Clarkson or, at least, the next Clay Aiken.

All sounds a little bit absurd to me, but so does the attention the 2008 race is already getting from all corners of the national press. As ridiculous as things stand today, I suppose just about anything is possible.

Labels: , , , ,

Go to full text...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hypocrites, Hatchetmen... and Hope

by Ryan Anderson
Dismayed that Mike Fahey has somehow weathered scandalous charges that his administration (*gasp*) refuses to raise taxes, former OWH publisher/current Republican hatchetman Harold Andersen took the Mayor to task on Sunday for daring to dream of a career outside city hall:
Omaha's genial mayor, Mike Fahey, is definitely showing signs of "politicus incurabilis." The two term mayor has indicated that he is pondering not so much whether he should run for office again but rather whether he should run for a third term as mayor or possibly seek to become a U.S. Senator.

In regard to the Senate seat, Fahey's comments seem to indicate that if he doesn't run for the Senate, his decision will be based not on lack of desire but on the practical consideration that no incumbent U.S. senator seeking re-election in Nebraska has been unseated since 1942.
Of course, Andersen offers no such diagnosis for Senator Hagel, despite the appearance of this quote in the same edition of the World Herald:
[Hagel] said he won't run unless he's confident he could win, but it's even more important to him that he feels passionately about the race.
But enough of that nonsense. Pointing out these logical inconsistencies might be fun (and it is, believe me, it is), but it's also rather useless. Andersen is nothing more than a partisan hack, and like any partisan hack he lacks the ability to distinguish virtue and vice absent party labels. This is a fact, a perhaps immutable part of human nature, and not the sort of thing a humble young blogger is likely to change with blockquotes and hyperlinks.

Asinine as Andersen's commentary may be, it is possible to extract from this column a question worth asking: why are Democrats so willing to give Hagel a free ride? More importantly, why are we, the "progressive blogosphere", apparently resigned to roll over and play dead if this Hamlet on the Platte decides to stick around for another term in the Senate?

Andersen's criticism of Fahey is unwarranted because candidates -all candidates- naturally have concerns about getting mixed up in races they can't win. Why spend all that time away from your family, groveling for dollars and scrambling from one city to the next if Election Day promises little more than a shot to the ego and a kick in the ass? Similarly, parties, PACs and 527s have to worry about protecting limited resources and reassuring dubious donors. The whole system might grind to a halt tomorrow if it weren't for that one magical component that separates politics from so many other endeavors: hopelessly irrational, starry-eyed optimism.

It's the belief that miracles can happen, that it is possible to effect real change through this convoluted system of democracy... it's that dream that convinces qualified and talented individuals to give up promising careers in the private sector to pursue public life. It's that irrational, illogical, indefensible belief that keeps those coffers filled (well, maybe not filled...), those volunteers plentiful (well, maybe not plentiful...) and those voters lined up.

If the blogosphere -we who can dream without suffering the pains of electioneering- can't supply that hope, can't find it in ourselves to produce that one element capable of lubricating the cogs of doubt and despair, then we're pretty damned useless ourselves.

Can Hagel be defeated? Hell yes he can. Senator Hagel has the misfortune of serving in a field where he can be dismissed for any reason or no reason at all. It's possible to defeat a Goliath with a David... Hagel did it himself in '96, coming out of nowhere to win in a landslide over a popular sitting Governor. But you just can't kill a giant with an empty ballot line.

Let's leave the worry and the practical considerations to others. At the very least, let's leave it to later. If hopeless (even losing) Senate campaigns against powerful incumbent Republicans can lead to a Democratic renaissance in Montana and Virginia, why not here? We need to be bold so others can be brave. Brave enough to give up a promising career in the private sector. Brave enough to weather a shot to the ego or kick in the ass. Brave enough, at least, to stand up to the Harold Andersens of the world and remind voters that virtue knows no party.

Labels: , , , , ,

Go to full text...

Jeff Fortenberry: Thin-Skinned, Congressional Con Artist

by Kyle Michaelis
After accusing a student newspaper of being biased against him and writing a series of letters to the editor (1, 2) whining in similar fashion whenever anyone takes him to task for his voting record, it's becoming clear early in Congressman Jeff Fortenberry's second term just how sniveling and thin-skinned a politician he actually is.

In his first term, Fortenberry generally went unchallenged on the issues - getting a pass from Democrats and the media - and that carried over into his election match-up with Maxine Moul. Well, there's still a long ways to go, but there are definitely signs that things are starting to change and that Fortenberry is going to have to start answering some tough questions - questions he clearly does not feel comfortable with anyone asking after his weak attempts at intimidation and accusation to silence his critics.

This weekend, Fortenberry was at it again. After the Lincoln Journal-Star - the largest newspaper in the First District - published an editorial charging Fortenberry with "march[ing] lockstep to the Bush administration’s drumbeat" on Iraq and calling on he, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith to rethink their blind support of party and President, Fortenberry again complained about this unfair and unfamiliar treatment better known as accountability.

Acquiescing to Fortenberry's paranoia, the Journal-Star agreed to publish the floor statement Fortenberry had made during debate of the House's non-binding resolution opposing the Bush plan for escalation of the Iraq War. In preface, the editor of the Journal-Star wrote:
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry took issue with the Journal Star editorial criticizing his vote against the House resolution opposing the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq. With his agreement, we are publishing his statement on the House floor as his reply to the editorial.
Although the New Nebraska Network doesn't like to see such easy buckling to political pressure by the press, we're always happy to see a politician's actual words and record reported. So, in this case, we have little trouble with letting the baby have his bottle:
Madam Speaker, when I left home this week for Washington, my 6-year-old Kathryn was very sad. She has big beautiful brown eyes, and they had filled with tears at the prospect of my leaving again. And she said to me: “Daddy, why do you have to be a congressman?” And my thoughts went to the words of Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War author, when he said: “I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.”

Madam Speaker, this is a pivotal moment for our nation and a very grave and solemn policy debate. We cannot afford to allow the ups and downs of the daily news cycle to set the course for our deliberations. The stakes in Iraq are too high....

We must provide meaningful and vigorous congressional oversight. I commend Chairman Lantos for taking the lead on this in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and for his commitment to a substantive and reasoned debate. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to support a constructive bipartisan initiative, drawing upon the substantive resources, like the Iraq Study Group, to enhance congressional oversight and set out meaningful benchmarks to measure progress toward stabilization of Iraq and drawdown of our troops.

While it would be politically easier for me to vote for this resolution, I cannot....

If we flinch now — regardless of the goodwill behind our motivations — if we are perceived as weak and divided and eager to throw up our hands in frustration, we will pay a heavy price. And every nation that counts upon us as a friend and an ally will pay a heavy price. None of us wants to see a repeat of the last helicopter out of Saigon. I urge my colleagues: Let’s find constructive ways to get the job done.
With a line of BS like that, I have to join Fortenberry's daughter in asking "couldn't we find a better Congressman than this?" Seriously, I can not believe this man would have the audacity to quote Thomas Paine while making such a self-serving argument intended to stifle the freedom of dissent that is and forever shall be Paine's legacy as both a writer and a patriot.

To be honest, while I completely support the Journal-Star publishing Fortenberry's statement, I think they have a duty to do more than hand Fortenberry the microphone and let him say anything he damn well pleases. They have a duty to provide the context readers require to be less easy prey to Fortenberry's manipulation.

For starters, Fortenberry should not get away with perpetuating the myth that the troubles we're seeing in Iraq somehow result from the media's negativity. What a slap in the face to logic and the American public to suggest that four years of directionless death and destruction, at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, has made for an unpopular war only because of how the media has presented it.

Sorry, Fortenberry...we're not that stupid.

I would also love to know when Fortenberry suddenly started supporing "meaningful and vigorous congressional oversight." In his first two years in Congress, he certainly wasn't challenging his party's totally irresponsible dereliction of their constitutional duties as a separate but equal branch of the federal government. No, Fortenberry stayed silent - like a good little rubber stamp Republican - and he would still prefer to stay silent on Iraq if it were not for the new Democratic majority forcing the sorts of debates we should have been seeing for the last four years.

Fortenberry claims he wants a "constructive bipartisan initiative." Sounds great, but what the hell did he do in the last Congress to actually make it a reality? NOTHING!

This is nothing more than empty rhetoric to hide the entire Republican Party's four years of failure and incompetence behind an illusionary call for compromise that they did everything they could to prevent when they were in power. Now that they are out of power and the people again have a voice, they make these sorts of disingenuous and insulting declarations that every voter in this country should see right through.

Sorry, Fortenberry....we're not that stupid. Not anymore.

With his record of being nothing more than a rubber stamp, it's also hard to understand what Fortenberry's talking about claiming it would be "politically easier" for him to support the resolution. All he's done on this latest vote is continue his two year record of voting as told by Tom Delay, Dennis Hastert, and various other string-pullers in the Republican Party. Being a good little puppet seemed like the easiest thing in the world for Fortenberry in his first term, and it's just plain ridiculous for him to suggest that still isn't easier than being the actual representative Nebraska's First District deserves.

Probably the saddest and most revealing of Fortenberry's comments is his warning us to avoid the perception of weakness and not to flinch in Iraq. He knows as well as anyone that the pereception of our weakness is not the problem - it's the reality of our weakness and our inability to establish any sort of control that makes our situation in Iraq so perilous and perhaps even hopeless.

Fortenberry's talk of not wanting to see "a repeat of the last helicopter out of Saigon" is also quite troubling. If that was an instance of America "flinching," what would he have honestly preferred happen? Would he prefer that we still be in Vietnam - that we still be losing soldiers and sapping resources in a vain attempt to save face? Is that really better than realizing this isn't our war to fight, this isn't a war we can win, and we were probably wrong to have ever thought otherwise in the first place?

If Jeff Fortenberry's main worry is the appearance of weakness, then he is a far weaker man and representative than I'd previously feared. He offers platitudes like "Let's get the job done," but he shows no understanding and little concern for what that job is and what it truly entails. He seems to imagine that by will and stubborness alone, there's some victory that is ours for the taking. But, if he's wrong, all he's done is invited even greater catastrophe and more horrific tragedy - seemingly without reason and without end.

Sorry, Fortenberry....we're not that stupid. Not anymore. And, hopefully, never again.

Labels: , , , ,

Go to full text...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Should the Unicameral Take a Position on Iraq?

by Kyle Michaelis
Seriously, what do you think?

The New York Times reports:
Frustrated by the inability of Democrats in Congress to pass a resolution opposing President Bush’s policies in Iraq, state legislators across the country, led by Democrats and under pressure from liberal advocacy groups, are pushing forward with their own resolutions.

Resolutions have passed in chambers of three legislatures, in California, Iowa and Vermont....

Letters or resolutions are being drafted in at least 19 other states. The goal is to embarrass Congress into passing its own resolution and to provide cover for Democrats and Republicans looking for concrete evidence back home that anti-Iraq resolutions enjoy popular support.

“The end of this war has to start sometime and somewhere,” the president of the Iowa Senate, John P. Kibbie, a Democrat, said Thursday. “And stopping the expansion of these troops needs to happen now”....

Many Republicans in state legislatures have remained silent on the resolutions, seeing no advantage in signing or voting for them. Others have called the actions essentially votes of no confidence in the troops on the ground.

“These resolutions are a colossal waste of time,” said Kris Kobach, chairman of the Republican Party in Kansas, where a resolution was killed in committee. “Legislatures are spending valuable and limited time acting in an area where they have no authority. If all we are doing is sending messages, we should be concerned about the fact that soldiers are being told that their states are not behind them. I think that is particularly troubling.”

Many resolutions use language from the Progressive States Network that apes language in a proposed resolution in Congress that says President Bush should obtain explicit Congressional approval before adding troops in Iraq.

Other resolutions go further, calling for a deadline for departure, immediate troop withdrawal or stopping the financing of the war. The votes have largely fallen along party lines — Democrats for and Republicans against — although there have been exceptions. In North Dakota, a Democrat and a Republican are sponsoring a resolution urging Congress and Mr. Bush to “disengage American combat forces in Iraq.”

In a vote [last] Thursday in the Iowa Senate, Republicans insisted on a voice vote rather than a roll call on a resolution to condemn the increase in troops. The measure, which passed, is headed to the House, where its fate is uncertain....

In states where Republicans control the legislatures, passage of such antiwar resolutions seems unlikely. Kansas lawmakers held a perfunctory hearing, only to have the committee chairman, Senator Pete Brungardt, Republican of Salina, say he would not schedule a vote.

“A number of people felt that was a rather public vote without an upside,” Mr. Brungardt said. “There is not really a winning answer for them.”

It's interesting that neighboring states such as Iowa, Kansas, and even North Dakota should figure so prominently in these actions. According to the Progressive States Network, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas also have such resolutions before their state legislatures, provoking public debate and pressure on Congress regardless of their likelihood of passage.

Believe it or not, that leaves Nebraska the only Big XII state in which no such legislation has beeen introduced. Using the model language provided by the Progressive States Network for an Anti-Escalation resolution, it would read:
BE IT RESOLVED, That the state of NEBRASKA, on behalf of its citizens, urges that in a period when the Iraq Study Group, leading military and diplomatic officials and allies around the world are calling for a reduction in troops and withdrawal of the US from Iraq, the United States government should not escalate its involvement in Iraq or increase troop levels; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That, at a minimum, the President should obtain explicit approval from Congress if he wants to send more American troops to Iraq.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Congress should pass legislation prohibiting the President from spending taxpayer dollars on an escalation in Iraq unless he first seeks Congressional approval.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a suitable copy of this resolution shall be sent to George W. Bush, President of the United States, to the Congressional delegation of NEBRASKA, and to the United States Congress.
I'm genuinely curious how readers would feel about Nebraska's Unicameral taking up such a measure. I can't say I'd make it my highest priority, but - with the over-taxing of the National Guard, more than 30 Nebraskans killed, and a reported cost to Nebraska taxpayers of $2.7 billion - it's hard to say with a straight face that the war in Iraq is not a state concern.

So, tell me: should the Unicameral be considering a resolution opposing Bush's escalation of the Iraq War? And, in all honesty - in our supposedly non-partisan legislature, on an issue that has become such a partisan lightning rod for politicians and activists - how would you really see such a resolution faring before our state legislature?

Nebraska is home to two U.S. Senators who have played absolutely essential roles in opposing Bush's escalation, including the leading critic from Bush's own party. Yet, we're also home to three Congressmen who couldn't exercise more deference to Presidential authority and the dictates of the Republican Party. With our hypothetical resolution, which of those opposing mindsets wins out in our non-partisan Unicameral?

Please discuss.

Labels: , ,

Go to full text...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Reality Check for Smith & Forten-Terry

by Kyle Michaelis
Freshman 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith's very first floor statement was made in opposition to HR4, which would give the Medicare program the power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices on prescription drugs. Smith stated:
As a representative of the great State of Nebraska, I rise in concern over H.R. 4. There are 208,040 Medicare prescription drug beneficiaries in the third district which I represent. Everyone wants to make sure that seniors get the prescription drugs they need at the lowest possible price. But, H.R. 4 will not reduce their prices, it will reduce their choices.
In his remarks, Smith also declared, "I disagree with H.R. 4 in a fundamental philosophical way." In that, he clearly was not alone, as both of Nebraska's elder Republican Congressmen - Jeff Fortenberry of the 1st District and Lee Terry of the 2nd - joined Smith in voting against it.

Still, HR4 passed as one of the cornerstones of the Democratic Congress' "100 Hours Agenda," ending up with unanimous support from the Democratic majority and even 24 votes from Congressional Republicans. Now, a new study has been released that should force every Congressman who voted against HR4 - including Smith, Fortenberry, and Terry - to rethink their position and to admit they were probably wrong.

The Washington Post reports:
Federal number crunchers said yesterday that the new Medicare drug benefit appears to be slowing the growth in national spending on prescription medicines because the drug plans are negotiating lower prices with drug companies....

The findings provide new fuel for the debate about whether Medicare could get better drug prices if the government negotiated with pharmaceutical companies. Many Democrats in Congress say it would, and the House has already passed legislation requiring the government to use its negotiating muscle. President Bush maintains that the current system achieves the best prices, and he has threatened a veto....

Several national polls have shown that a majority of the public believes government negotiations would hold down drug costs even more. A survey of 1,000 adults released yesterday by AARP, for instance, found that 87 percent of respondents -- including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- supported allowing the government to use its bargaining power.
The American people support giving Medicare the ability to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. It won't solve our entire health care crisis, but it's a common sense solution that is now supported by the evidence.

Democrats support the plan. Republicans support it. Independents support it. The only people who don't are the Republican politicians and their close friends in the pharmaceutical industry who have raked in such un-Godly profits on the back of the American taxpayer.

If this were really a question of doing what's right for the people and keeping prices low, Adrian Smith would come out right now and admit he was wrong about H.R. 4. But, this isn't a matter of finding practical solutions to real problems. No, he, Fortenberry, and Terry all disagree with a bill like this "in a fundamental philosophical way" because it would cut into the billions of dollars in giveaways to private companies using corporate welfare to boost profits and to line their own pockets.

They don't care what the American people think. They don't care what Nebraska voters want. They don't even care what the evidence shows. They have their "philosophy" of greed, and neither public opinion or the basic facts is enough to get through to them.

Smith, Fortenberry, and Terry only answer to power. On every day but Election Day, that power equates with money. That's why, at our next opportunity, we can't pass up the chance to deliver the one wake-up call that voters have left - an Election Day reality check our Republican politicians will never forget.

Labels: , , , ,

Go to full text...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NNN Mailbox: "In Defense of Chuck Hagel"

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraskans For Peace have responded via e-mail to my taking issue with their recent Hagel-palooza, and the New Nebraska Network is pleased to share that response with readers.
NFP adopted the position it did to support Hagel with the view in mind that once you split an elite you begin a process of change. Hagel's unrelenting criticism of the White House has split the Republicans' 'united front' on the war in a way that Ben Nelson, or Barack Obama or Ted Kennedy never could have. That alone is invaluable.

On virtually every other issue (taxes, health care, global warming, campaign finance reform), we assertively part company with Hagel. But on Mideast policy, Hagel has been saying the sensible thing continually for the past five years--and drawn national media attention to the subject by doing it.

As both Senators Biden and Levin have acknowledged, it was Hagel who approached these ranking Democrats with the original idea and original resolution on the 'surge'--not they him. And Sen. Nelson's version, as you know, was not as strong as Hagel's.

We also don't share the New Nebraska Network's take on Hagel's original 'no' vote. To actually have a senate debate on the war resolution, the body needs 60 votes. We don't blame Harry Reid for doing some political grandstanding for the Democrats, because that't how the game is played. But that basically 'party line', 49-47 vote was a gambit to make political hay at the Republicans' expense. It didn't--and wasn't ever going to--produce a senate debate on the subject. Hagel wanted a debate, and wanted Reid and Mitch McConnell to hammer things out so a real debate could occur before the recess.

When it became obvious McConnell--at the White House's behest--wasn't going to permit a debate under any circumstances, Hagel voted with the Democrats the second time around. In that 56-34 cloture vote, seven Republicans voted with him, and ten did not vote. And although this vote too fell short of the total needed, it better sets the stage for more dialogue when Congress reconvenes. There are lots of reasons to chastise Hagel. In our book, this isn't one of them.

Ben Nelson obviously deserves credit for his leadership during this discussion as well. But many other Democrats have gone out front on this issue, while Nelson (understandably in our view, considering he represents a 'red state') has held back.

If NFP's position turns out to be wrong, so be it. But we believe the political realities argue that it is worth wholeheartedly supporting Hagel in his effort for what he's doing. The anti-war movement is stronger today for what this man has done. We think that's courageous.


Paul Olson and Tim Rinne
The New Nebraska Network thanks Mr. Olson and Mr. Rinne - NFPs State Coordinator - for so generously offering their very reasonable counterpoint on Sen. Chuck Hagel. I disagree with NFPs defining Hagel in such mythic, near-messianic terms, but I otherwise respect their appreciation of Hagel - even sharing it in many regards.

More than anything else, I appreciate NFPs thoughful response to my earlier post. Reasonable people - even reasonable progressives - are bound to have different ideas and interpretations when it comes to politicians and their priorities. If my own "rhetorical flourishes" (questioning their rationality and lambasting the idea of Hagel as an "Anti-War Santa Claus") were in any way offensive to Nebraskans For Peace and its supporters, the New Nebraska Network apologizes and will strive to be less combatative and more constructive in any future criticism.

I got out-classed on this one and am not afraid to admit it. Hopefully, I'll learn a lesson, but - alas - I can make no absolute assurances.

Labels: , ,

Go to full text...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nebraska's "Lockstep" Republicans Out-of-Step With Voters

by Kyle Michaelis
With Congress in recess for the week, I'm going to turn my attention back to the state legislature and stop repeating myself on the Iraq War debate. But, there was an excellent editorial in the Lincoln Journal-Star today that at least deserves some mention for its unflinching challenge to Nebraska's Timid Trio in the House of Representatives.
The Bush administration desperately needs oversight from Congress to change course in Iraq. Nebraskans who want to see members of their own delegation help provide that guidance can’t help but feel frustrated.

In the House of Representatives, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry and Adrian Smith still march lockstep to the Bush administration’s drumbeat.

They were on the losing end of the 246-182 vote Friday when the House passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the administration’s plans to temporarily increase the number of troops in Iraq....

There’s little doubt that as time moves on the need for Congress to intervene in the Bush administration’s mishandling of the war in Iraq will become more acute.

The chance for united, democratic Iraq has passed...The House vote on the nonbinding resolution against the troop surge was only a token expression of the American public’s realization that the war in Iraq is taking lives and draining U.S. resources without a commensurate increase in national security.

But the vote was the first sign in a very long time that Congress finally has found the backbone to assert oversight.

Reps. Fortenberry, Terry and Smith need to reconsider their support of administration policies in Iraq that are being proved every day to be unrealistic and ineffective.
Congress may have found its backbone, but Nebraska's House delegation has not. Nor will they show any spine on Iraq without the green light from their party leaders.

Until the next election, the people of Nebraska will not have a true voice in the House where Iraq is concerned (along with many other issues). We will have only these rubber-stamp Republicans and our hopes of more progressive, more reasonable, and more independent representation in 2009 and beyond.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Go to full text...

Nebraskans For Peace - Perpetuating the Hagel Myth

by Kyle Michaelis
I've been meaning for some time to congratulate Nebraskans For Peace for their beautiful new website. In particular, they've started a weekly "Peace Blog" that makes for a nice addition to Nebraska's online community.

Ever the critic, however, I must instead take this opportunity to challenge NFP's buying wholesale into the myth rather than the reality of Sen. Chuck Hagel's positioning on the Iraq War.

I make every attempt at objectivity on this site and in my thinking. I don't promise balance. I can't promise non-partisanship. But, in so far as it is able, the New Nebraska Network strives to provide an honest and progressive perspective on Nebraska politics devoid of the twin evils of spin and hype.

That's why I can't allow it to slide when Nebraskans for Peace - an organization for which I hold great affinity and respect - allows itself to become little more than a Hagel cheerleader totally blind to the deficiencies and inconsistencies of his Iraq War stance.

Readers should trust me when I say that I have a true appreciation for Hagel's willingness to speak his mind on Iraq and to use his voice to challenge the Bush Administration's policies. But, man - let alone a politician who talks for a living - cannot be judged on words alone. Speeches must be backed up with actions. And, responsible citizens have a duty to look beyond the spotlight's glare from Hagel's high-profile media appearances, giving his voting record the same scrutiny and attention he receives in his Sunday morning make-up sessions.

It is in this latter regard that I must object to Nebraskans For Peace taking such a one-sided and Pollyannaish view of Hagel as a hero of the Anti-War movement. The facts simply are not there to support such a claim.

Besides a single mention on January 30th that Hagel's "votes may not always have matched his words," Nebraskans for Peace have persistently imagined Hagel as they would desire him over who he actually is. NFP may see this as a means of increasing their clout and inspiring their membership, but it comes at great expense to their credibility and integrity.

NFPs most recent offense in creating and perpetuating the Hagel myth is its call for members to rally around Hagel and to communicate their support for him across the state. Their website requests:
Sen. Hagel is being publicly attacked for his courageous stance. Nebraska citizens like yourself are the key to ensuring that Senator Hagel is not singled out.

We are asking each of you to send a message to Sen. Hagel. And please pass this along to at least five of your friends.

Your efforts and those of hundreds of other people today will make a difference as to how the world will look in the next 25 years. It's that important.
At the same time, NFP mailed a two-page "Action Alert" to its membership, entitled "TELL HAGEL THANK YOU." Serving the dual purposes of kissing Hagel's ass and calling on him to oppose the Bush Administration's reported plans for attacking Iran, the letter reads:
[T]he closer we get to being able to finally unload this disastrous presidency, the more dangerous it's becoming. And it could be more dangerous than anything we've seen since 1945....

In Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, conservative 'red state' Nebraska has the most well known opponent of the Iraq War in the entire country. And he is unquestionably our best bet for keeping the White House from pushing the planet to the brink of nuclear war as well....

Contact Sen. Hagel's office and thank him yet again for speaking out so fearlessly and forcefully in opposition to the administration's policies in the Mideast - and in support of a diplomatic resolution of the growing crisis in the region. Telling Hagel 'thank you' right this minute is the most important thing you can do for peace in the entire world. And the whole world is counting on you to make that call.
Uhhhhhhhhhhh.....do you think NFP has ever heard the term "delusions of grandeur"? I'm all for giving Hagel the credit he deserves as a voice of dissent, but casting him as the world's savior in this manner is just plain ridiculous. In fact, I might go so far as to declare Nebraskans for Peace crazy for ever sending out such silly, overblown, and self-serving rubbish.

Frankly, looking at Hagel's four years of complicity to Bush's Iraq agenda with his actual votes, the "entire world" is in a lot of damn trouble if it's counting on Hagel for leadership. The "whole world" is in even worse trouble if it's resting its future in the hands of Nebraskans and their ability to write "Thank You" notes.

This degree of total obliviousness is just not healthy. It undermines NFP as an organization and makes me question whether its leadership has any sense whatsoever. Do they really need a reminder that it was only two weeks ago that Hagel shattered his credibility and hurt his cause by supporting the Republican filibuster of the Warner-Levin Resolution?

And, honestly, where do they get off singling out Hagel for such high praise? In the last two months, Hagel's Senate counterpart Ben Nelson has arguably been even more active in changing the course of the Iraq War while proving himself a whole lot more consistent in principle and persuasive in tone. The only area in which Nelson has lagged Hagel is in marketing himself.

It's supremely disappointing to see Nebraskans for Peace endorsing such triumph of salesmanship over substance. Even worse, though, is the misleading of its membership. Peace activists may be stereotyped as aging hippies and naive college students, but they're not children and shouldn't be treated as such.

People cannot make an honest assessment of their representatives without seeing their statements in the context of their actual votes. Provided that, they can decide for themselves what kind of message Hagel truly deserves. But they definitely shouldn't be the letters NFP imagines to some fictional anti-War Santa Claus who's going to save the world.

That's not Chuck Hagel....and, to be honest, thank God for that. The world is a scary enough place as it already is.

Labels: ,

Go to full text...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Iraq: As Ben Nelson Goes, So Goes the Nation

by Kyle Michaelis
I have no doubt the time will come that I am again compelled to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson on his moderate-to-conservative voting record. But, for today and for the manner he's conducted himself in the last month, I could not be prouder to be represented by this man and to have shared in the wisdom of Nebraska's voters by playing some small part in his landslide reelection last November.

With the newly emboldened and newly Democratic Congress finally putting the Iraq War at the forefront of its agenda where it belongs - finally reflecting the American public's concerns - Ben Nelson has been an inspiration and, I dare say, a vision of moral clarity.

Personally, I do not believe there is a Senator more in touch and attuned to the American people on the issue of Iraq than Nebraska's own Ben Nelson.

Now, that is not wholly praise because we all bear some burden for this situation ever getting to the sad point at which it now stands. But, it remains to Nelson's and Nebraska's credit that he now offers such a voice of passionate pragmatism that will no longer stand silent as the U.S. Armed Forces and the Iraqi people suffer for President Bush's "stay the course" status quo.

Nelson - like the voters he represents, like the American public - has given Bush the benefit of the doubt and has strived, for four years, to see our mission in Iraq clearly articulated with honest and achievable goals. Finally - in unison, in Nelson's voice - Bush's bluff has been called after a painful period of realization forced by Bush's plan to escalate military operations without any real change in our disastrous course.

We, the people, are torn by the Iraq War. Most of us do not have the luxury to claim, in any absolute terms, that we know how to make the best of this horrible situation. What we do know and what unites us is the simple understanding that President Bush and the Republican Congressional leadership are, each day, failing this country and our troops by steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that their strategy and their assumptions have been so flawed that we must totally rethink this war or suffer casualties and long-term consequences almost unimaginable in scale.

The line has been drawn. There is no single, dominating idea for where we go from here, but the people will not and should not tolerate more of the same. Yet, "more of the same" is precisely what Bush proposes, and that defiance of reason and democracy has wakened the unexpected wrath of Nelson, a mild-mannered Midwestern Senator who has often been a Bush ally but who can not stand for this persistent imperiling of American lives in the name of a cause that long ago lost any shred of credibility or pretense of principle, giving way to more empty and cynical war-mongering rhetoric than was seen even during the Vietnam War.

In the last month, Sen. Nelson has emerged as a titan in the shadows demanding an honest debate of our policy in Iraq. More than that, he has demanded that the American people at last be heard in opposition to Bush's escalation. There have been legitimate questions about how best that opposition should be expressed - not all have agreed with the resolutions that Nelson has played such an indispensable role in crafting - but Nelson has earned the respect and the thanks of the nation for the integrity he has displayed in making every attempt to forge a powerful and substantive statement of opposition that could achieve the true bipartisan support it holds in the American public but not in the halls of Congress.

Best of all and truest to Nelson's character, he has made himself clear on this issue not by putting himself front-and-center in the media spotlight but by doing the work and by getting things done. No other U.S. Senator has been as close to this debate and as essential to forcing each Senator to take a stand on Iraq as Sen. Nelson. And, certainly, no other Senator has played so great a role with so little fanfare and self-aggrandizing. That's just who Ben Nelson is.

The New Nebraska Network takes this opportunity to salute Sen. Nelson - thanking him for all he has done and will do to give the American people the debate and our Armed Forces the honesty that is the very least they all deserve.

In closing, I will let Sen. Nelson speak for himself - quoting, first, his statement from the Senate floor preceeding yesterday's vote on the House Resolution and, second, his expression of outrage and dismay at the Republican leaderships' continued tactics suppressing the dissent of the American people whose voice they so clearly fear.
Before Vote

[T]oday I think it's pretty clear there's been much debate about the debate. My friend from Kentucky indicated that he is frustrated. I think we are all frustrated.

We're frustrated because it's time to end this charade and move forward to the consideration of the Resolution so that the Senate can be on record with senators voting for or against the surge plan. The American people can see what's happening here. They know that some want to prevent a vote at all costs....

Let us debate and vote on this Resolution. We owe it to the American people. We owe it to the American people because of the importance of this Resolution to making clear that we do not support...putting our troops in harm's way in the middle of a civil war or a war that is simply between Shias and Sunnis, Shias and Shias, and other civil groups within the community.

We don't have to understand 1400 years of this battle to know that this is an inappropriate to put our troops into the middle where it's impossible to identify the enemy. We put our troops into a situation where they are going door-to-door, hopefully with some support from the Iraqi troops, hopefully with some support from Prime Minister Al-Maliki, hopefully with some support from the Iraqi government. But, in any event, the surge, which the president has said is going forward, will put our troops in that situation.

I, for one, do not believe that that is an appropriate use of our troops, and I believe today that this is the opportunity for the Senate to be able to say "no" by saying "yes" to moving forward on this Resolution

After Vote

This is a dark moment in the history of the United States Senate. By failing to consider this measure, the institution has failed the American people. Blocking an up-or-down vote on this Resolution prevents the Senate from expressing its opinion on the most pressing issue facing the nation: the proposed deployment of troops to the crossroads of civil war in Iraq.

The Majority has offered the Minority several proposals to allow votes on different resolutions. All offers have been rejected. And now, again, the Minority has obstructed an up-or-down vote on the Resolution passed by the House of Representatives yesterday.
Above, Nelson may speak for himself, but he expresses the frustration and outrage of a democracy that will no longer be denied this overdue debate. Nelson may be Nebraska's junior Senator, but - on the issue of the Iraq War - he has proven himself an unheralded leader to the entire nation.

Labels: , , ,

Go to full text...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Announcement: Triple-N Transition

by Kyle Michaelis
Readers may have some difficulty accessing the New Nebraska Network over the next 24 hours, as the site transitions to "NewNebraska.Net" as its main page. Blogspot has been wonderful over the last 2 years, but in the interests of growth and progress this move is an essential next step for NNN. I have assurances that the "NewNebraska.blogspot.com" address will still direct people to our new online home and that our archives will remain accessible and intact.

Here's hoping this transition goes as smoothly as promised. Cross your fingers, folks. And see you on the other side.

Labels: ,

Go to full text...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Nebraska Unites in Rejecting Bush's Iraq Escalation

by Kyle Michaelis
Thank you to Sen. Ben Nelson (D) and to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) for their votes this afternoon to allow the U.S. Senate and the American people to be heard in opposition to President Bush's plan for escalation of the war in Iraq.

Hagel was one of seven Senate Republicans who sided with the Democratic majority in support of advancing the non-binding resolution passed by the House of Representatives earlier in the week. Still, with only 56 votes, the measure was unable to overcome a filibuster by the Rubber-stamp Republicans - maintaining their 4-year blockade on honest Congressional debate of this continuing debacle Bush & Co. have created.

Only 33 Republicans (& one Joe Lieberman) actually had the audacity to tell the American people they couldn't be heard on this Resolution. But the abstentions by 9 Republicans on the most important issue of our day served the same cowardly purpose and will not be forgotten by the voting public.

It's nice to see that Hagel has come around and realized that the Republican leadership will do everything in their power to prevent this debate from happening. How unfortunate that just 2 weeks ago, in the vote on the Warner-Levin Resolution, Hagel sacrificed so much credibility in service to their bad faith agenda.

Chalk this one up as another in a long history of Hagel flip-flops on Iraq. Still, though it's taken four long years, this vote is probably worth celebrating as Hagel's first real vote outside of committee and before the full Senate challenging Bush's Iraq policy with something more than talk show rhetoric.

For once, Hagel backed-up his bark with just a little bit of bite. Guess we'll have to wait and see how he handles that tiny taste of principled defiance. Sadly, the Iraq War isn't going anywhere, and Hagel will have plenty more opportunities to prove his dedication to truly changing the course of this disastrous war.

Of course, our embarrassing House delegation - the Timid Trio of Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith - all fell in-line on President Bush's escalation and will spend the next two years blaming the Democratic majority for every failure in Iraq for their emboldening "the enemy." But, I have faith that our Republican Congressmen's gamble on Nebraskans' gullibility won't be paying-off as they hope in 2008. By then, voters might even be ready to collect on their false promises and empty spin, finally holding these jokers accountable at the ballot box.

At the same time, these last several weeks, it has been a pleasure to see Sen. Ben Nelson demonstrate such courage, conviction, and consistency on the war in Iraq. With the same voice of common sense and steady leadership with which he has always served the people of Nebraska, Nelson is to be commended for his realizing - along with the people he represents - that the time has come to take a stand against Bush and the Republican Party's "stay the course" policies.

The New Nebraska Network has a representative in whom it can be proud in Sen. Ben Nelson. Today, we can even say that of both Nebraska Senators, as they stood up for the people's right to be heard in opposition to Bush's escalation. Nelson and Hagel may have been on the losing side of a procedural vote today, but the people of Nebraska and their loved ones fighting overseas clearly won an important victory.

Though it may take more time - and some new faces in the House - the tide is turning, the truth will be heard, and the people will have their day.

Labels: , , ,

Go to full text...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hype and Hypocrisy in Unicameral Scandals

by Kyle Michaelis
Freshman State Sen. Danielle Nantkes of Lincoln made a very poor choice on Tuesday night, apparently driving while under the influence of alcohol and crashing into a snow plow. Thankfully, this foolish mistake did not end in outright tragedy, and no one was hurt in the crash.

Still, the news media have jumped on the story - on tv, on the radio, in the newspapers - and already public cries of outrage and indignation have reached borderline ridiculous levels. For proof, look no further than the Lincoln Journal Star's website, where a mind-boggling 170 comments have already been made in response to this story.

Without making light of the very real, very dangerous, and very illegal decision Nantkes made to drive while impaired, it's hard to reconcile the amount of criticism she's receiving with the generally lackadaisical approach of the Nebraska media to our elected officials. The New Nebraska Network's archives are replete with stories of politicians making just as grave of decisions, except in a public capacity and with much more lasting effect.

Of course, I understand that a controversial vote is never going to be as sexy as a scandal. But, I have to question the priorities and the integrity of those who've made such a spectacle of the Nantkes incident while turning a blind eye to the would-be scandals of even greater public concern that abound in Nebraska politics. For a perfect example, let's take a look at the following story from Wednesday's Omaha World-Herald:
Ex-Senator Lobbies for Deal He Initiated

Fomer State Sen. Don Pederson is being paid $20,000 to help push through a $12 million deal for the state to buy a Lincoln office building - a deal that he helped initiate while a member of the Nebraska legislature....

The possible purchase of the Assurity Life building became public last month, when Gov. Dave Heineman included it in his budget proposal. The purchase must be approved by the Legislature....

William Schmeeckle of Assurity Life said Pederson was the first person the company approached, about 18 months ago, to learn whether the state had an interest in the building. Pederson took the idea to the governor.

Pederson said Assurity Life President Tom Henning asked him about the idea at church one Sunday. Both men attend First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln.

Jack Gould, a spokesman for Common Cause, criticized Pederson for taking the job and said he found it particularly concerning that the purchase was under way before Pederson left the Legislature....

"State Senators are entrusted by the public to serve the public," Gould said. "When you turn that public trust into profit, that's wrong."

Schmeeckle said $20,000 was the amount Pederson requested for the job. As a state senator, Pederson was paid $12,000 a year.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is not the sort of "scandal" the media typically hunts because, frankly, they are so commonplace at all levels of government.

Here, there's not going to be a smoking gun. Rather than a shadowy backroom, we're talking about a deal that was supposedly made at church. None of that changes the fact that this entire situation stinks and that - yes - it represents a much greater threat to the people of this state and the integrity of their democracy than Nantkes getting ticketed for drunken driving.

Has Pederson broken the law? Probably not. But, I would contend that the impropriety of his receiving what is basically a "finder's fee" for actions taken as a state senator is a far more serious problem, more relevant to the future of our state than the potential illegality of Nantkes' conduct.

But, which story will get the Letters to the Editor? Which one will invite more complaints and calls for investigations? Which one are we going to hear about for months - if not years - in strawman arguments and partisan attacks? Sadly, I think we all know the answer to those questions.

A promising young woman just starting her political career made a terrible choice that jeopardized other's lives, and - for it - she will pay a steep price. At the same time, however, a man in the twilight of his political career also made a terrible choice that betrayed the public's trust, but - for it - he will cash-in on $20,000.

The scandal-mongers have spoken. Their concerns are clear. But, those concerns are most definitely not the best interests of Nebraska or we'd be talking about a much different balance between these respective controversies.

State Senators are only human. Of the corporations that own our major media outlets, I can only ask, "What's your excuse?"

Labels: ,

Go to full text...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dave Heineman: Tax Shifter

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman and the Omaha World-Herald have been fairly brutal and one-sided in their denouncement of efforts by state legislators to address voters' concerns about Nebraska's property taxes.

As the New Nebraska Network has (constantly) reported over the last month, Heineman and the World-Herald have combined rhetoric and joined forces in an attempt to convince voters that their own checkbooks are lying to them and that - despite all evidence to the contrary - the tax they should really want to see cut is the state's income tax. And, not only that, but they should also support shifting the tax burden onto the backs of working-class families to benefit the state's wealthiest citizens.

Why? Because Heineman and the World-Herald said so. Duh!

To build a case for such an argument, the most consistent weapon in their arsenal has been the notion that the state's attempts to relieve property taxes collected at the local level amount only to "tax shifts," not actual tax cuts. Needless to say, I've found this particular line of attack an incredibly illogical one reliant on an unnatural understanding of tax policy that completely disregards the inescapable fluidity and interconnectedness between state and local governments.

Still, even giving Heineman and the World-Herald's charges the intellectual weight they do not deserve, it is very telling that - when pressed - even Heineman caves in to the public's demands for property tax relief. In fact, as numerous proposals for credits, circuit breakers, and exemptions intended to lighten the property tax burden on homeowners are being debated by the Legislature's Revenue Committee, Heineman is cynically using his budget's promise of a "tax shift" as one of its primary selling points.

In an article last week comparing Heineman's LB 331 (targeting income and estate taxes) with the most talked about alternative - Sen. Tom White's LB 453 (providing homeowners a $500 reimbursement from their property taxes), the World-Herald reported:
Heineman...says his proposed budget includes property tax relief because it would boost state aid to schools and local government to an average of $1.2 billion per year, a record.
Ironic, huh? To salvage his larger tax agenda, Heineman is actually relying on the idea that tax shifting works. He knows that both Senators and voters remain persistent in their calls for property tax relief, so he's counting on the very same strategy he'd denounced for months to suffice and to appease their demands - mainly, throwing money at local governments and expecting that to do the trick.

One minute, tax shifts are a bad idea. The next, they're the backbone of the governor's make-shift plan for property tax relief. Amazing, wouldn't you say?

Of course, the truth behind a budget is always a question of the priorities it reflects. No matter Heineman's disingenuous and contradictory arguments, his plan to boost funding to public education is the least direct and most precarious form of property tax relief. It can hardly even be taken seriously as such - offering far less appreciable difference on this front than any of the actual property tax credits and exemptions that are also being debated.

Property taxes are not Heineman's priority. Accoding to prior statements, they are hardly even his concern. That Heineman would even make argument to the contrary reeks of desperation. It speaks to a man starting to realize just how little common ground exists between his agenda and that of most Nebraskans.

Labels: , ,

Go to full text...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Timid Trio - "Standing Silent" On Iraq

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday, the Omaha World-Herald's front-page headline read, "Standing Silent on Surge," referring to the coordinated but cowardly choice by Nebraska's Republican Congressmen not to engage in an honest debate of the Bush Administration's conducting of the war in Iraq - especially its escalation of our military operations by sending 20,000 to 40,000 more troops and personnel into harm's way.

Our "Timid Trio" of Representatives - Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith (now in version 2.0) - have instead chosen to play the same games we saw for the last four years as House Republicans stood in the way of any substantive discussion, disclosure, or even criticism of the ill-fated direction of Bush's supposed strategy.

To really understand the patheticness of their position, let us first look at the actual resolution the House is debating this week over the objections of the Republican minority:
Concurrent Resolution on the President's Escalation Plan

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That—

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
Pretty simple, wouldn't you say? We support the troops but not the troop surge.

Now, you can question the sufficiency of such a statement and whether - like the Warner-Levin Resolution - it shouldn't endorse specific changes in our Iraq policy and military priorities. But, look instead at the attempted misdirection and intentional confusion of the issues from the Timid Trio's most recent statements in response to so straight-forward a resolution.

First, let's give the Second District's Lee Terry the floor (as reported in the World-Herald):
I would like to say that we should re-communicate our support for our
troops there and not cut funding for them, while standing silent on the surge"....

I'm not willing to pull the rug out from under the troops that are over there. I'm willing to go along with (the surge) with the goal that this could actually quicken our ability to get out of Iraq.
With the suggestion that Congress should "stand silent" like it has for the last four years, the Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, Steve Achelpohl, immediately released the following all-too-deserved rebuke:
It is time for Lee Terry to begin speaking up for the people of Nebraska and stop hiding in the corner, hoping someone else will lead for him.

All Nebraskans should stand by the men and women who are fighting daily in this war. However, “standing silent” on the tough decisions does nothing to support our troops. They deserve a rigorous debate. They deserve to know where their representatives stand on the issues and proposals being considered. They deserve leadership, not silence.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Of course, Terry's remarks invited such criticism because his call for continued Congressional silence is such a clear violation of democratic tradition and duty. Reps. Fortenberry and Smith have not made statements so offensive but only because they have not been as honest as Terry about their true objectives.

On Tuesday, the World-Herald reported:
[Fortenberry] said he wants clear benchmarks for the Iraq government to meet, more aggressive congressional oversight and support for U.S. troops now in the field.

And, today, the World-Herald quotes Fortenberry speaking on the House floor:
I see no useful purpose in supporting a nonbinding resolution that may have the unintentional consequence of undermining our efforts while our troops remain in harm's way.
After his call for "more aggressive congressional oversight" and the House Resolution's express statement of support for the U.S. Armed Forces, can anyone explain what the hell Fortenberry is talking about? He implies that simply stating opposition to a single Bush proposal has an "undermining" effect. With that mentality, just what sort of "aggressive" Congressional oversight does Fortenberry really support?

Oh yeah, the same kind we saw for the last four years - none at all.

As for Adrian Smith (whose latest Iraq spin I've already written about), it's still worth taking a look at his most recent recitation of GOP talking points. The World-Herald reports:
Smith said he will oppose any resolution that doesn't offer solutions to the problems in Iraq....

"I want to give the president's strategy a chance because I believe that's how
we best support our troops."
So, basically, Smith will oppose Congress acting as anything but Bush's poodle, deliberately confusing support for the President with support for the troops and hoping that no one will tell the difference.

Smith's "support" for our troops would allow thousands more to die in Iraq without question, comment, or criticism. I think our brave men and women in combat - not to mention their families - would politely tell Smith to take that kind of "support" and shove it.

Thankfully, the days of the Timid Trio's style of Congressional complacency are finally over. Although, honestly, complacency is far too kind a characterization. Their real agenda is to confuse the issues and to kill debate. For evidence of this fact, you need look no further than a letter that Republican Congressman John Shadegg recently sent to his colleagues calling for just the sort of misdirection and contradictions on Iraq that we're seeing from our own Congressmen.

Shadegg wrote:
The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.
Apparently, Fortenberry, Terry, and Smith all got the memo. After all, not one of them has so far contributed anything of substance to the Congressional debate.

Since last year, the only thing that has changed is their slogans. Like President Bush, the Timid Trio supports staying the course on everything but use of the phrase "stay the course." If anything, with this escalation, they're now endorsing a policy of "stay the course on steroids" but don't even have the decency to admit it.

Each day, they betray our soldiers in the field, the voters that they serve, and the offices that they hold by standing in the way of an honest debate about where we stand and what options we really have in Iraq. And, as we can see here, they will continue in that betrayal so long as we - the people - allow it.

For all of our sakes, I hope we won't allow it much longer.

Labels: , , , ,

Go to full text...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Invitation to Readers - Let's Have a Drink

by Kyle Michaelis
It was about a year-and-a-half ago that I was first contacted by the Drinking Liberally organization about "promoting democracy one pint at a time" by designating a time and place for like-minded Nebraska progressives to get together, have a drink, have some fun, and maybe even talk a little bit of politics somewhere in between.

Although these "Drinking Liberally" events are a fantastic idea and a proven success that offer a great model for community-building, I've so far held off on actually committing to the idea because I've never been much of a host and have always had doubts that anyone would actually attend (at least, without someone much cooler than myself organizing it).

Well, I still have those same doubts and am not announcing Nebraska's first, long-awaited "Drinking Liberally" chapter. A similar opportunity has arisen, though, that should make for an excellent trial run for the general concept.

So, to any New Nebraska Network readers who will be in Lincoln this Thursday, February 15th, I want to invite you to join the recently reinvigorated Under 40 Democrats for a mixer and social hour they'll be hosting from 5:00 until 7:30 pm at the awesomely-named "Marz Intergalactic Shrimp & Martini Bar" on 1140 'O' Street.

The New Nebraska Network has had no hand in planning this event, but I've attended some of their prior socials and have really met some very nice people - of all ages, despite the Under 40s name. And, since I'll be attending this Thursday's event as well, I thought I'd at least hold out the opportunity for any interested readers to join myself and some really fantastic people for a drink or two.

If anyone cares, here's your chance to break through our usual online anonymity, putting an actual face and even some personality on this guy who loves the sound of his own typing so much (me). Maybe no one will take me up on that offer, but I figure - what the heck - might as well give it a try.

If anyone does decide to attend after reading about the Under 40s here at NNN, please track me down at the event and introduce yourself. I'd love to hear some ideas for what I could be doing better and on what sorts of issues readers are really passionate about. Of course, it's not a business meeting. The whole point is to have a good time, and I intend to do just that - hopefully meeting some great people in the process.

I should mention that the event and appetizers are free, although drinks are not. And, the Under 40s will be taking free will donations at the door. From there, we'll just have to see if there's any interest in having these sorts of get-togethers with some regularity. I do know, however, that there are already rumblings about getting some Under 40s events going in Omaha this spring, and the New Nebraska Network will certainly be giving Omaha readers a heads up on that opportunity if/when it gets off the ground.

So, remember:
Thursday, February 15th; 5 - 7:30 pm
Marz Intergalactic Shrimp & Martini Bar
1140 'O'Street (corner of 12th & 'O'); Lincoln
Hope to see you there!


Go to full text...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Adrian Smith Plays Guinea Pig for GOP's 'Iraq War' Talking Points

by Kyle Michaelis

Lisa at SmithWatch made a great catch this weekend, reporting on the twisted logic and say-anything approach of 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith. In speaking with KNEB Radio out of Scottsbluff, Smith seems to have positioned himself on the cutting-edge in Republican talking points, making probably the most insulting and intellecutally shameless defense of President Bush's plan for a "troop surge" in Iraq that you'll find anywhere:
Third District Congressman Adrian Smith of Gering says a vote for a resolution opposing the placement of additional troops in Iraq is "by default a vote for the status quo. "

The freshman Republican told reporters during a press conference at his Scottsbluff district office that the President's plan offers a "quantified plan" to stabilize Iraq. Smith says he agrees with those that say "the status quo" is not the right policy, but claims because of the lack of alternatives proposed by critics, the resolution amounts to support for the administration's previous strategy.
To be making such a disingenuous argument, Smith - Nebraska's least capable legislator - must have gotten so confused by Sen. Chuck Hagel's recent self- contradictions on Iraq that he can't even think straight.

Either that or the Republican Party is using him as a guinea pig to test out the latest (and the lamest) in bald-faced Republican spin because, honestly, what we see above is about as low and illogical as an argument can get.

Has Adrian Smith even read the Warner-Levin Resolution? I assume not since he fails to recognize the very clear alternatives it proposes in Iraq beyond stating opposition to Bush's proposed "troop surge" (aka "escalation"; aka "augmentation").

Smith now says that "stay the course" is not the right policy, but - by supporting Bush's plan - he's just endorsed "stay the course" on steroids.

To then sit in judgment on those in Congress who are actually speaking up for our soldiers and for the majority of the American public who no longer trust Bush's leadership in Iraq is just utterly shameless.

Make no mistake - Smith stands for the status quo in Iraq. No matter what comes out of his mouth, he stands for the status quo because he wants to see the U.S. Congress be the same rubber-stamp for Bush's disastrous policies as they were during the last 4 years of Republican domination.

Smith doesn't want debate. He doesn't want dissent. He doesn't want the people to be heard. And, the same holds true of fellow Republicans Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry - all of whom have failed their constituents and their country by continuing to write Bush blank checks signed in the blood of young Americans.

The only thing I can say positve about Adrian Smith on this issue - where he's proven incapable of thinking for himself - is that it is nice to see actual evidence he can read the scripts laid out for him by staffers and Republican strategists.

Hey, so long as this guy is in office, we have to take what we can get.

Labels: ,

Go to full text...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why Heineman's Tax Plan is Just Plain Wrong

by Kyle Michaelis
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that some semblance of balance had finally been attempted by the media as both the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star reported on the very real shortfalls of Gov. Heineman's proposal to shift the tax burden onto the working class and the poor. The World-Herald's article was particularly relevant because it also delved into the raw numbers that show Nebraska's tax problem is a property tax problem - one the people will not forget and the state can no longer ignore.

The World-Herald reported (it's not always I can write that with a straight face, but here deserved):
Supporters of a broad income tax cut being pushed by Gov. Dave Heineman say it's a simple way to get significant change for nearly all taxpayers.

The governor's plan, Legislative Bill 331, also would deal with what business leaders long have argued is one of the biggest impediments to job growth: an income tax rate on top earners that is among the highest in the nation...Nebraska's current top rate, 6.84 percent, is the 17th-highest in the country....

National tax comparisons do show that the state's property tax rate stands out more than income taxes. Nebraska also is one of about a dozen states that don't have an exemption, credit or lower rate for property taxes for the typical homeowner....

Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, a veteran member of the Legislature's Revenue Committee, defended the way Nebraska treats higher incomes. The other primary taxes that fund state and local government - property and sales taxes - take a bigger amount, percentagewise, from modest earners' paychecks.

"Income tax is the only progressive tax we have," he said....

Overall, national rankings do suggest Nebraska's property taxes are more out of step than its income taxes....

[T]he state's property taxes rated 18th nationally and income taxes ranked 29th. Income was the one tax area that was in the bottom half, with sales taxes (18th) and automobile taxes (10th) also ranking high.

Even at the $150,000 income level, the study put Nebraska's income taxes 23rd - still below the state's property tax rank.
So, let's just get a few things straight about where Nebraska stands in terms of high taxes:
Automobile Taxes - 10th
Sales Taxes - 18th
Property Taxes - 18th
Income Taxes (at $150,000) - 23rd
Income Taxes (generally) - 29th
And, here is a nice look at what percentage of the state's total taxes come from what source (courtesy of the Legislature's Revenue Committee):
With numbers like these, Heineman's focus on income taxes clearly doesn't make much objective sense - except for the fact that he is a Republican and benefitting the rich is generally what Republicans do.

The income tax is our least burdensome tax (in national rankings) and our only progressive tax (in asking more of the wealthy). While the system could certainly use some tweaking, it has no place being Gov. Heineman's main priority because it is not the people's priority. Nebraskans want property tax relief, and the facts are on their side.

As the illustration shows above, the people of Nebraska pay more than 20% more in property taxes than they do in income taxes. The property tax is regressive. It undermines our communities and our stake in home ownership. And, we are actually out-of-touch in our treatment of property taxes as one of the only states that does not provide some sort of credit or exemption on a taxpayer's home.

The facts speak for themselves. And, the people have spoken as well. So far, Gov. Heineman has refused to listen. We can only hope that the state legislature will respect the voters who elected them enough to speak with one voice - loud and clear - rejecting Heineman's agenda and demanding that the state focus on property tax relief.

Labels: , , ,

Go to full text...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Numbers Don't Lie, But Those Who Manipulate Them Do

by Kyle Michaelis
Ernie Goss, an economics professor at Creighton University, has long been the Omaha World-Herald's expert-of-choice on all matters of tax policy and the economics of the Great Plains. Although in no place to question the man's credentials, this privileged status seems to have more to do with Goss' history of telling the World-Herald what they want to hear than with the quality of his scholarship.

For a plain-as-day illustration of Goss' World-Herald-approved but academically questionable work, you need look no further than the column he co-wrote in the World-Herald's Tuesday edition. In it, he sounds a familiar alarm against state legislators listening to their constituents and focusing their tax reform efforts on relieving our state's heavy reliance on property taxes:
Over the next several weeks, Nebraskans will witness an important debate between Gov. Dave Heineman and several key state legislators. Gov. Heineman seeks to provide Nebraskans with tax relief via an income-tax reduction, while many legislators wish to promote tax relief through property-tax cuts.....

The 2006 ranks by the Tax Foundation placed Nebraska sixth-highest in the nation in terms of state and local tax burdens. The same rankings for Nebraska's geographic neighbors were as follows: Colorado, 38; Iowa, 26; Kansas, 18; Missouri, 34; South Dakota, 45; Wyoming, 33....

Nebraska politial leaders often place special emphasis on property taxes. However, policy-makers should keep in mind that, as a percentage of total tax collections, property-tax receipts in Nebraska (32.1 percent of total tax collections) are in line with those in Colorado (31.8 percent), Iowa (35.6 percent), Kansas (35.1 percent), Missouri (26.8 percent), South Dakota (36.8 percent), and Wyoming (30.6 percent)....

In our judgment, the special attention paid to property taxes is misdirected and obscures the need to reduce the growth in Nebraska's overall tax burden in order to increase the state's economic competitiveness....

There are several objectives in implementing changes in tax policy or burdens. First, changes should make administration simpler and compliance easier. Second, changes should contribute to economic growth and long-run properity. Finally, changes should more equitably distribute the tax burden....

The goal of the tax policy change should be to increase economic competitiveness while maintianing a fair system. Thus the change must reduce tax burdens and not merely shift them.
Where to even start? Quite frankly, Goss' column is so full of spin and so lacking in objectivity that any self-respecting economist should be embarrassed, if for no other reason than the sheer obviousness of these defects. Economists are notoriously ideological and selective with their facts, but it's a sign of a very bad economist when even a layman can see through as weak an argument as Goss has here put forward.

For starters, Nebraska's ranking by the so-called "Tax Foundation" as having the 6th highest tax burden comes in direct conflict with an alternative study Goss makes no mention of that put Nebraska's overall tax burden at 21st in the nation. Nothing to be proud of either way, but it's clear Goss would rather use the numbers that best serve his agenda without even acknowledging that other - less inflammatory - numbers exist.

Then there's this matter of Goss playing the percentages game to make it look like Nebraska isn't so over-reliant on property taxes. After he's just admitted that our overall tax burden is too high, he then wants to undermine efforts to reduce the tax that is most responsible for our high ranking. This is not legitimate criticism, and it pretty well establishes Goss as willing to say anything to advance the Goss/World-Herald/Heineman agenda focusing on cutting income taxes for Nebraska's wealthiest citizens.

Think about it - if our total tax burden is too high, it's absurd and insulting to claim that cutting the tax that makes up the largest percentage of that total burden (the property tax) is somehow "misdirected." Worst of all, Goss is the one who obscures the truth about Nebraska's property tax burden by only reporting it as a percentage of our total burden without making any mention that, by the same per capita measure he'd just used for our overall ranking, the people of Nebraska face much higher property taxes than our neighboring states (which the people already knew, despite Goss' attempt at deception).

Meanwhile, Goss again attempts to deceive with his call for a more equitable distribution of the tax burden. Why doesn't Goss just come out and say what he really means with that statement? He wants the poor and the working class to take on more of the tax burden so the corporations and the wealthy will pay less.

With the help of Goss and the World-Herald, Gov. Dave Heineman was already able to deliver on that equation for the corporations with the Nebraka Advantage Act. Now, all three are doing everything in their power to back that up with a repeat performance for the rich and the upper-middle class who will see the bulk of the benefit under Heineman's LB331, while some of Nebraska's lowest income wage-earners would actually see a tax hike - not just as a percentage of their burden but in cold hard cash.

Of course, it should come as little surprise that Goss chooses to end his column by repeating Heineman and the World-Herald's "tax shift" bullshit. What's ironic this time is that a World-Herald editorial on the opposite page makes a half-hearted concession of just how dishonest their constantly denouncing property tax relief in this fashion has been. Special thanks are owed to the Nebraska Democratic Party and its Executive Director, Matt Connealy, for forcing the World-Herald to make the overdue concession that property taxes very much ARE a state issue that no responsible leader or honest newspaper can disregard in their mutual rush to provide tax cuts for the rich:
The state, Connealy rightly says, gives local governments property-tax powers and "the responsibility to provide critical services." It also limits local tax-rate and budget growth. So how, he asked, is property-tax a local and not a state issue?...

Well, it's both, really....Neither Connealy nor Heineman is wrong.
Funny, that's quite the change of tune from what the World-Herald's been singing for the last three months. But, it's nice to see the World-Herald take a step back from its self-appointed position as Heineman's mouthpiece to essentially acknowledge how one-sided and misleading their lame protests of "it's a tax shift" have been.

That this acknowledgement comes on the same day that Ernie Goss uses that simple lie as his fall-back position is rich with irony and just a tinge of sadness. It's a stark reminder of the extent to which the people of Nebraska are held hostage by the manipulation and message control that prevails in our media - particularly in the pages of the Omaha World-Herald.

Maybe the saddest thing is that we've heard it all before. And we will here it all again. And again. And again. And again...until Heineman and the World-Herald have achieved their burden-shifting objectives or have finally realized that the voters and the legislature won't be fooled on this one. At least, not today.

Labels: , , , ,

Go to full text...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chuck Hagel's Credibility Gap

by Kyle Michaelis
I have mostly recovered from my painful two-day-long realization that Sen. Chuck Hagel will never have the courage to truly back-up his tough talk on the Iraq War.
1. Chuck Hagel & Ben Nelson Do Nebraska Proud in Iraq Debate
2. Chuck Hagel's True Colors - Party Before Principle
3. Chuck Hagel: Shoe Salesman
4. Chuck Hagel Loses the War With Himself
I don't know if this is a symptom of his 30 years in Washington D.C. or if it's just the nature of the beast that is Republican politics, but the mix of Hagel's ambition with his ranking as the Senate's #1 supporter of President Bush's agenda have left him all but incapable of standing up to Bush when it really counts - even on this issue he's called the most important of our day.

Hagel now wants to reimagine his Monday vote to filibuster the Warner-Levin Resolution and to keep debate of Bush's Iraq policy off the Senate floor as nothing more than a procedural vote. He has to say that to avoid looking like the overhyped phony and hypocrite he continues to reveal himself as at every opportunity. But, as the leaders of both parties and as Hagel himself certainly understood, Monday's vote was a moment of definition and declaration, drawing the lines that will shape Congress' role in the Iraq War through the next election.

Less than two weeks prior, Hagel had insisted that it is time for all for all 100 Senators to be "on the line" and to take a stand on our nation's Iraq policy. Monday's vote put Hagel on that line - it demanded that he take a stand - and, when all was said and done, he stood with the President and his party rather than the American people and the supposed principles he's espoused.

This Republican filibuster had one primary intent - to kill the momentum building against Bush's "troop surge." By insulating Bush from criticism and by delaying the debate of his Iraq policy as long as possible, it becomes harder and harder for Congress to effectively challenge Bush's policy without taking extreme measures that would divide Congress and the American public along reactionary lines that may be the Republicans' only path to regaining power.

Hagel's vote enabled the Republican Party to continue playing games with American soldiers' lives for political purposes. Now, to save their skins in 2008 and to salvage some shred of credibility, Hagel and a tiny band of six non-Neocon Republicans have denounced the "stalemate" Hagel helped create.

They say they will force the debate by other means if they must, but it's TOO LITTLE TOO LATE. On Monday, Hagel had the opportunity to stand on principle to give the Iraq War the fair, open, and official debate it deserves - that owed to more than 3,100 dead and to untold scores of the physically and emotionally wounded who have been all but abandoned by Congress over the last four years.

As we all know, that isn't the choice Hagel made. Instead, he chose to play along with the Republicans' political games. And, when he's being criticized for such unprincipled hypocrisy, his answer is to play more games with procedure - as if two wrongs make a right. But, he's already had his chance to stand and be counted in defense of this long overdue debate. Hagel had that chance, and he chose not to take it. Whatever his justification, he can't hide or deny that choice - as shameful as it was.

But, Hagel is right about something. This debate is going to happen - the Democratic Party will make sure of that. What we see here is just Hagel's usual attempt to take the credit for it and to position himself for media glory. But, on Monday, he showed his true colors. The New Nebraska Network has seen Hagel for who and what he is, and we won't be fooled again.

Labels: , , ,

Go to full text...