Friday, June 29, 2007

Sorensen's Vision

by Ryan Anderson
Nebraska native and legendary speechwriter Ted Sorensen was asked by Washington Monthly to produce the "speech of his dreams", a hypothetical address to be delivered by a still nameless nominee at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Sorensen, best known as the man John F. Kennedy called his "intellectual blood bank", produced a characteristically lyrical and uplifting portrait of a campaign divorced from all Beltway conventional wisdom. His vision of what politics could be, of what the Democratic party should be, is a must-read for anyone concerned about the direction of their government and the future of their country:

My campaign will be based on my search for the perfect political consensus, not the perfect political consultant. My chief political consultant will be my conscience.

Thank you for your applause, but I need more than your applause and approval. I need your prayers, your votes, your help, your heart, and your hand. The challenge is enormous, the obstacles are many. Our nation is emerging from eight years of misrule, a dark and difficult period in which our national honor and pride have been bruised and battered. But we are neither beaten nor broken. We are not helpless or afraid; because in this country the people rule, and the people want change.

True, some of us have been sleeping for these eight long years, while our nation’s values have been traduced, our liberties reduced, and our moral authority around the world trampled and shattered by a nightmare of ideological incompetence. But now we are awakening and taking our country back. Now people all across America are starting to believe in America again. We are coming back, back to the heights of greatness, back to America’s proud role as a temple of justice and a champion of peace.

The American people are tired of politics as usual, and I intend to offer them, in this campaign, something unusual in recent American politics: the truth. Neither bureaucracies nor nations function well when their actions are hidden from public view and accountability. From now on, whatever mistakes I make, whatever dangers we face, the people shall know the truth—and the truth shall make them free. After eight years of secrecy and mendacity, here are some truths the people deserve to hear:

We remain essentially a nation under siege. The threat of another terrorist attack upon our homeland has not been reduced by all the new layers of porous bureaucracy that proved their ineptitude in New Orleans; nor by all the needless, mindless curbs on our personal liberties and privacy; nor by expensive new weaponry that is utterly useless in stopping a fanatic willing to blow himself up for his cause. Indeed, our vulnerability to another attack has only been worsened in the years since the attacks of September 11th—worsened by our government convincing more than 1 billion Muslims that we are prejudiced against their faith, dismissive of international law, and indifferent to the deaths of their innocent children; worsened by our failure to understand their culture or to provide a safe haven for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees displaced by a war we started; worsened by our failure to continue our indispensable role in the Middle East peace process.

We have adopted some of the most indefensible tactics of our enemies, including torture and indefinite detention.

We have degraded our military.

We have treated our most serious adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, in the most juvenile manner—by giving them the silent treatment. In so doing, we have weakened, not strengthened, our bargaining position and our leadership.

At home, as health care costs have grown and coverage disappeared, we have done nothing but coddle the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care industries that feed the problem.

As global warming worsens, we have done nothing but deny the obvious and give regulatory favors to polluters.

As growing economic inequality tarnishes our democracy, we have done nothing but carve out more tax breaks for the rich.

During these last several years, our nation has been bitterly divided and deceived by illicit actions in high places, by violations of federal, constitutional, and international law. I do not favor further widening the nation’s wounds, now or next year, through continuous investigations, indictments, and impeachments. I am confident that history will hold these malefactors accountable for their deeds, and the country will move on.

Instead, I shall seek a renewal of unity among all Americans, an unprecedented unity we will need for years to come in order to face unprecedented danger.

Whether you agree with all of the specific suggestions offered in this speech (and I myself am at least conflicted about the pledge to seek no further "investigations and indictments" against those who performed "illicit actions in high places"), you have to admire Sorensen's bold desire to move beyond the conventional narrative of our two-party system. Really, read the whole piece. Eschewing money for TV ads and personally buying the television time to host six more debates? That's different. Maybe it's just different enough to work.

Of course, writing this speech is one thing. Having it delivered, or having its spirit adopted, by an actual presidential candidate is another. But with the bully pulpit or without it, these words speak for themselves; speak loudly enough that they just might be heard.

Sorensen will be forever linked to JFK and the inaugural address that gave birth to an entire generation of progress. Kennedy's figure looms large, in Sorensen's life as well as our party and nation. But anyone who thinks Sorensen lives in a shadow hasn't read these words, hasn't seen the light they shine. And will continue to shine, long after their author has gone.


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jon Bruning: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

by Kyle Michaelis
Desperate for all the media attention he can get, Attorney General Jon Bruning has resorted to tossing any pathetic and hypocritical complaint he can muster at sitting Senator Chuck Hagel to boost his declared challenge for Hagel's seat in 2008. There's just one problem - along with the kitchen sink, Bruning has already tossed out all logic and principle.

See for yourself, as reported in the Lincoln Journal-Star:
Attorney General Jon Bruning criticized Sen. Chuck Hagel Tuesday for his vote to revive comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“Unfortunately, Chuck Hagel’s vote gives new life to a bill that the people of this country have soundly rejected,” said Bruning, a 2008 Republican candidate for Hagel’s Senate seat.

Hagel, a Republican, has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election next year.

Bruning said he supports improved border security and opposes any proposal that would grant amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States.

Hagel was one of 24 Republicans who voted to revive the immigration issue.

Nebraska’s Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, also voted with the majority on a 64-35 vote.
Now, here are the absurdities and inconsistencies that don't get reported in Bruning's cry for relevance:

(1) Jon Bruning is criticizing Hagel for merely re-opening debate. That's a world apart from voting for the legislation's final passsage. For instance, Ben Nelson also voted to re-open debate but there seems to be zero possibility of his voting for this legislation in its current form.

(2) Jon Bruning has built his young campaign on being more loyal to President George W. Bush than Chuck Hagel has been. Yet, Bush has declared that those who opppose building a comprehensive compromise on immigration "don't want to do what's right for America." Immigration reform is probably Bush's last chance at a legacy not wholly tainted by his mangling of the Iraq War and America's stature around the world, and Bruning has abandoned his President on the issue just to score political points with the most rabid fringe element of the Republican base.

(3) Jon Bruning declares "the people of this country have soundly rejected" comprehensive immigration reform - except he couldn't be further from the truth. Polling numbers show that the American public overwhelmingly supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country - the so-called "AMNESTY" Bruning opposes and about which we hear so much fear-mongering. If Bruning is looking for an issue "the people...have soundly rejected," he should look to our current policy in Iraq. But, for some reason, there he doesn't seem to care what the American people (or the majority of Nebraskans) think.

Jon Bruning - he's flying blind with nothing to guide him but his own ambition. I hope he keeps it up. If so, we're in for some very amusing and very pathetic moments of pure pettiness and political pandering in the months ahead.

[**Update, 1:30 pm - On today's vote for cloture, Hagel supported putting the above legislation to a final vote. Nelson was on the prevailing side in opposition, likely killing comprehensive immigration reform until after the 2008 elections. Hopefully, the debate over sane and reasonable border security measures will continue and find greater success, so we can eventually move forward with comprehensive reform that finally respects the plight of those in our midst stuck in a sorry state of legal limbo.**]

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scott Kleeb: "I'm Exploring"

by Ryan Anderson
Scott Kleeb's back in the arena. No, it didn't come with a press conference or a parade, but that's not really Kleeb's style. It begins, as his last campaign began, with a promise. And it ends with a bang.

The promise? A new brand of politics. A lofty goal, but Kleeb's "brand" isn't really new... at least not to anyone who followed his first campaign. That Nebraska could realize untapped potential if only it could recognize common interests and goals... this is the message that inspired the uninvolved and persuaded the straight-ticket Republicans. This is the message that brought Kleeb within ten points of victory, despite negative ads and dirty tricks, in a district Bush carried by 50%.

The story of that campaign has been told and retold many times, by myself and others across this state and beyond. But what's generally gone unreported (if not necessarily unnoticed) is the story behind that story: the hard work and solid instincts that helped turn an unknown ranch hand into a transformative political figure. Because Scott Kleeb isn't just an inspiring presence on the stump, he's a student and a laborer, a man who does his homework and isn't afraid to do the heavy lifting required of his campaign.

Kleeb has also impressed some independent observers: Diane Duffin, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, categorizes Kleeb as one of the smartest candidates she has seen and said she can’t remember the last time a candidate studied the district as academically as he has. (CQ Politics, Feb. 6, 2006)

When I interviewed him in December, I was impressed by his attitude and discipline as a candidate. He acknowledges and accepts the hard tasks of raising funds and proving viability as a personal burden, not something that comes free care of the party or the press or the blogosphere. It is that pragmatism that drives his campaign today.

Though uncommitted to any race (he says he is "currently exploring several options to continue and expand our campaign", options that could include another run for NE-03 or a shot at the Senate), Kleeb realizes that Democrats must prepare now for a campaign the NE-GOP has dominated since November. He starts with $64,000 in the bank and a volunteer organization in the most Republican part of the state. Not bad.

But he also starts with a significant deficit in a state all too comfortable with one party politics and cakewalk elections. That deficit is a burden we can share. Scott's willing to put in the long hours and shoulder the hard work. He asks us now only for our money. Believe me, it'll be well spent.

Click here to donate to Scott Kleeb.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bruning Goes National

by Ryan Anderson
Sorry this post is so late, but having recently ditched my daily dose of conservative radio for some good ‘ole classic rock, I missed Jon Bruning’s appearance on the Laura Ingraham show and had to wait for the podcast. It took a couple of days. And no, it wasn’t worth it.

Begging for a caption contest?

A repetition of Bruning’s standard strikes against Hagel (his stance on immigration, his position on Iraq), the interview is notable only because someone was talking about Chuck Hagel on a national news talk show, and this time it wasn’t Chuck Hagel.

Personally, I’m skeptical that conservative weariness of the Sunday Morning “Hagel Show” has produced any real appetite for Bruning’s “Anti-Hagel Show”. Bruning could’ve brought this campaign (and the issues of the day) out of the long shadow cast by Hagel’s ego and public image. Failing to take that opportunity makes him vulnerable to the same impatience and fatigue that’s slowly sinking the Senator.

And then what happens if Hagel decides to jump ship? Does Bruning really want to be the only person left in the race that still thinks it’s “all about Chuck”? Hey, that’s the bed he’s made. I hope it’s comfortable.

Bruning’s early and persistent attacks on Hagel have earned him the endorsement of the conservative RedState bloggers, an item that apparently impressed the people over at It’s not clear this endorsement means anything substantively, but rhetorically it has given weight to progressive blogger’s claims that this race has become a sort of Lieberman-Lamont in reverse, or one part of an even larger movement to eliminate anti-war dissent in the national Republican ranks.

It’s a good story, but one that seems a tad over-sold. Yes, this is a primary battle based almost entirely on the single issue of Iraq. And yes, the Lieberman story was portrayed unfairly as some unprincipled purge of Democratic dissent, a charge this story has somehow managed to escape.

The difference is that liberal bloggers were way ahead of the Conneticut Primary, actively seeking a liberal challenger long before Lamont expressed any interest. The conservative bloggers in this case are Johnny-come-latelys, activists seeking to capitalize on a homegrown fight that’s dominated by ego and personality.

But ego and personality only go so far. This story might continue to grow in national prominence as Hagel slugs back and Bruning finds new lines of attack. But it’s a story we Nebraskans have heard before, one we’ve heard maybe one time too many. And, believe me, it doesn’t end well for either candidate.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Nebraska Democrats Prepare for 2008 Presidential Caucus

by Kyle Michaelis
I've stayed almost absurdly quiet about the Nebraska Democratic Party's attempt to see that Nebraska Democrats might have a real say in who their party's 2008 Presidential nominee will be for the first time in more than three decades.

Right now, Nebraska Democrats' plan is to hold their first ever statewide Presidential Caucus on Saturday, February 9th - which would make it the first contest after the huge February 5th SUPER DUPER TUESDAY that looks likely to host more than 20 states' primary elections.

The presidential nominating process has simply become so screwy that it's really hard to pin down whether this is likely to prove a good or a bad idea. There is definitely potential for the idea to be remarkably sucessful and worthwhile, but there are also plenty of dangers considering that it will require statewide organizing that isn't currently in place without any outside funding or taxpayer assistance. And, of course, there's no guarantee of relevance since a) we're in a state with very little potential to vote for a Democratic President in 2008 and b) there's a very real chance the nomination could already be decided before February 9th rolls around.

In response to this latter concern, Thursday's Omaha World-Herald reports on an amended proposal that will be considered by NDP leadership this weekend:
Nebraska Democrats may join the throng rushing to hold presidential contests on so-called Super Duper Tuesday in February.

The party, which plans to hold its first-ever presidential caucuses next year, will discuss Saturday whether to move the date of the caucuses up four days to coincide with Super Duper Tuesday.

Currently, the Nebraska Democratic Party plans to hold a Feb. 9 caucus. Some in the party and some presidential campaigns would prefer that Nebraska join more than 20 states holding primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5....

Earlier this year, the Nebraska Democrats agreed to hold caucuses to try to lure presidential candidates into the state and attract some national attention.....

The Nebraska Republican Party does not plan to hold caucuses and will stick with its May primary to choose a nominee.

Nebraska Democrats will gather in homes, cafes and town halls to declare a presidential preference. Delegates are then chosen at the precinct level based on support for a presidential candidate.

[T]he party's caucuses already have generated interest from three presidential campaigns: former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
I'm going to be perfectly honest - Nebraska is never going to receive enough attention from candidates and the press to make this caucus worthwhile. Rather, what benefits are likely to result are those that fall quite naturally from just giving Nebraska Democrats a reason to get active and to give a damn.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has no doubt paid a price for the decades of disregard from its national counterpart and their 30 years of successive presidential campaigns. Although Nebraska's Democratic candidates have found most of their success in distinguishing themselves from the national party over those three-plus decades, our state's traditional Democratic voters have become increasingly disengaged - perhaps even politically alienated - as a result.

There is potential and promise in this Presidential caucus only because it might give those traditional Democrats a voice once again - not on CNN, not in the New York Times, but rather in their neighborhoods and in their daily lives.

The success of this caucus has nothing to do with how many campaign visits or campaign commercials Nebraskans see. Its success begins and ends with its ability to mobilize Democrats - getting them together, getting them involved, and getting them to believe that they can still make a difference right here in Nebraska. The hope is that, with this caucus, the people will find their voice and - in the ensuing months and years - the dream is that they will damn well learn to use it.

That's a tall order - with higher expectations than we have any right to in the Nebraska Democratic Party's first attempt at a project of this scale. At the end of the day, it's probably worthwhile to continue with the caucus just because Nebraska Democrats don't have much to lose. If they're a failure, our votes weren't going to count anyways, but at least we tried to do something different while Nebraska Republicans lazily sat back and let the rest of the country decide who'd be representing their party on the November 2008 ballot.

The caucus is a sign of life for Nebraska Democrats - proof that the party is willing to try new things to reach the people of Nebraska and to give them a voice in their own future. There are no guarantees of success - just the knowledge that we can't do a whole lot worse than our total voicelessness over the preceding three decades. For now, that has to be enough.

Tuesday, February 5th or Saturday, February 9th? Honestly, it probably doesn't matter much. It's going to be a craps-shoot either way, and we won't know which would have been the better date until after the fact.

Personally, I say just pick one. I'll be at my caucus regardless - even if I'm not yet sure for whom I'll be caucusing. If readers have any suggestions, consider this an open thread - except for you Nebraska Republicans who aren't going to have any say at all.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dave Heineman: Corrupting the Young

by Kyle Michaelis
Republican Governor Uses Strong Arm Tactics on Student Leaders

Recently, I wrote about Governor Dave Heineman's bullying and behind-the-scenes manipulation of the 2007 Nebraska Legislature. What we've seen is the work of man who's a seasoned Republican Party operative willing to use every trick he's learned along the way to have his way with the future of our state.

Having bitched (in prison slang) the cowardly majority of state senators by manipulating the committee system and by applying the basest partisan political pressures, Heineman has made a mockery of the legislature's institutional integrity. The man has an agenda, and he's not going to let democracy, our nonpartisan tradition, nor our state Constitution get in the way of that agenda.

Now, though, comes a disturbing example of just how far Heineman is truly willing to go - making threats and promising retribution against the University to force student leaders to do his political bidding. David Solheim, President of the student body at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln explains:
Last week the University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted to increase tuition by six percent. For the 2007-2008 academic year, in-state students will now pay $169.60 per credit hour.

In the interest of accountability and transparency, I feel it is my responsibility as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's student regent to inform students why I voted "yes" for the latest tuition hike.....

In January, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman recommended only a 1.1 percent increase in state funding to the university. Had this recommendation carried, UNL students would be facing tuition increases in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent....

Luckily, members of the Legislature were wise enough to up the recommendation to a 4 percent increase in state funding, but that still left [the University] with a deficit of some $9 million. Worse yet, the governor has the ability to line-item veto parts of the state budget and in May it appeared that he might target [the University].

At that point, the four student regents, myself included, met with Heineman and consented that if he did not veto the state appropriation, we would support a tuition increase to cover the $9 million deficit. Heineman followed through, [the University] escaped his vetoes unscathed, and last week all four student regents honored our commitment by voting to increase tuition by 6 percent.
This is, of course, a sad follow-up to last week's report on Heineman's shameless hypocrisy talking about the importance of affordable and accessible higher education after pushing for his Brain Drain Budget throughout the 2007 legislative session.

Heineman has never paid anything but lip service to the fact that many talented young people are being priced out of Nebraska's universities and forced out of the entire state to seek better opportunities elsewhere. From his record, he honestly doesn't seem to give a damn about higher education, though he can pride himself for teaching a lesson to these student leaders in how to abuse their office and pull peoples' strings to achieve their political objectives.

I'm sure those students learned Heineman's lesson quite well. After all, the man is a master. It's just unfortunate more Nebraskans aren't paying attention to our Governor and how he really does business, so the people might learn a thing or two for themselves . . . before it is too late.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Will the Democratic Party Follow Ben Nelson's Lead on Immigration?

by Kyle Michaelis
Sen. Ben Nelson is a man who knows how to get things done. We've seen that on Iraq, where Nelson has quietly but confidently helped lay out the pathway for establishing accountability and Congressional oversight over a war that was allowed to spiral out-of-control unchecked for almost four years under the Republican Congress. Now, on immigration, the other cable news-approved BIG ISSUE of the day, there are reports that the Democratic Congress again seems ready to follow Nelson's lead, keeping faith with the American people and proving to them the Democratic Party can overcome the gridlock and partisan procedural hurdles that have too long stood in the way of progress.

The following U.S News article is based on a story from the ultra right-wing Washington Times, so it's somewhat suspect. But, what truth there is in the report reinforces Nelson's place as one of the Democratic Party's premiere power-brokers and expert navigators through treacherous political waters when people are finally ready to listen to the American people and get serious about getting stuff done.
The immigration bill is back, with the Senate expected to debate it over the next two weeks. Senate passage is by no means assured, but the measure appears to have a fighting chance of surviving the legislative maneuvers and counter-maneuvers expected of the next couple of weeks. Keen observers of the current debate, however, have long expressed reservations about the chance of anything close to the Senate "grand bargain" (the bipartisan legislation including both border security measures and a "path to citizenship") making it through the House. In the House, Republicans seem firmly opposed to the legislation -- while Democrats are wary of passing any immigration bill without GOP support.

But now Democratic leaders may have found a partial way out of this impasse. The Washington Times reports this morning House Democrats "say they may break the immigration issue up into a series of smaller bills that would put off the tougher parts and allow others to pass, such as border security, and high-tech and agriculture worker programs that have clear support." That "could buy Democrats more time to work out the tougher aspects of immigration, such as what to do about the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now here, but it would go against the Senate's massive catchall approach and contradicts President Bush's call for a broad bill to pass."
I've long advocated comprehensive immigration reform and have taken issue on numerous occcasions with Nelson's playing the "Amnesty" card with such unprincipled abandon. But, comprehensive reform does not require a single piece of comprehensive legislation if our politicians are truly willing to tackle the full scope of our nation's immigration problem in a responsible and timely manner.

By adopting the "Border Security First" approach that was so successful in Nelson's 2006 re-election effort, there is a definite opportunity for Democrats to make a reasonable start tackling what is understandably a very complicated issue. But, the problem is actually backing-up and proving their commitment to a total overhaul of our broken system after getting the easy stuff out of the way.

Border Security First is a great's probably even a good strategy....but, just like saying we need to withdraw our troops from Iraq, the American people must demand a more complete answer from any elected official who is honestly deserving of their trust.

Although I differ with Sen. Nelson on a number of issues, his political acumen is not in question. In fact, as we've seen on Iraq and perhaps now even on immigration, national Democrats would do well to take his counsel and his example seriously if they have any real intention of restoring their party as a viable alternative in America's Heartland. My only hope is that they cut a few less corners and avoid Nelson's unfortunate tendency to occasionally use a good soundbyte at the expense of good policy.

Nelson is a politician - a damn good one at that. On immigration, though, real lives are at stake. It's important to establish who is here as a matter of national security. But, figuring out where things stand so we can move forward in a humane and responsible manner does not support lining up millions of people as if they were pawns on America's political chessboard.

We're not the party of Iowa's xenophobic, Joe McCarthy-loving Congressman Steve King (featured in yesterday's Omaha World-Herald). Thank God for that - we can do so much better. By learning from Nelson's success but improving upon his message by answering the tough questions, that's precisely what we'll do.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

New Nebraska Network Libeled in Omaha World-Herald

by Kyle Michaelis
I'll admit it. I'm pissed off. In Thursday's Omaha World-Herald, the state's most powerful newspaper published a letter to the editor that had no other purpose but to undermine me and to delegitimize the work we've been doing for almost 2-1/2 years at the New Nebraska Network.

What's most appalling is that the letter I'd written last week to which this responded was published by the World-Herald with all criticism of the World-Herald's biased and self-serving coverage of the 2007 legislature censored. Yet, they've now published a direct, libelous assault on this website without even having the common courtesy of providing its name or its Internet address that readers might judge its merit for themselves.

Shameless cowards! See for yourself:

Public Pulse, OWH 06/14/2007
In his June 8 letter, Kyle Michaelis called Republican state senators partisan "puppets" and implied that Gov. Dave Heineman is so devious that his arm of influence could "threaten the independence of our Legislature as a separate branch of government."

Kyle Michaelis is lecturing us on partisanship? That's rich. For those unaware, Michaelis is president of the Young Democrats of Nebraska and runs a very liberal blog, which he uses to make destructive and personal negative attacks on Republican elected officials.

In my opinion, Michaelis is exhibiting unprincipled hypocrisy. The next time he considers giving a sanctimonious lecture about the perils of political partisanship, I think he ought to first look in his own mirror.

Lloyd J. Smith, Lincoln
So, let's get this straight - because I'm politically active and have a blog, I shouldn't be allowed to express a personal opinion? I've never been anything but upfront about my partisanship at NNN, but I've also never been anything less than absolutely respectful and supportive of the nonpartisan ideal in Nebraska politics.

The political reality of our near-total Republican domination demands a viable Democratic alternative for the good of the state, and I will fight like hell to see that Nebraska's middle-class and working families have that alternative. But, I have never allowed this site's purpose to be clouded or manipulated by purely partisan machinations.

In fact, in terms of honesty with my readers that is the true stuff of that mythical journalistic integrity, I will put my record up against that of the World-Herald any day of the week.

This liar Lloyd J. Smith, as well as the Omaha World-Herald, can both go to hell for this inexcusable insult to this website and myself without any recourse or possibility of correcting their outrageous accusations.

"Destructive and personal negative attacks on Republican elected officials" - are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This website has always been dedicated to the ideas, the votes, and the policies affecting Nebraska's future. I can't even say what a slap-in-the-face it is to be maligned and demeaned like this after years of working so hard to avoid the easy temptations of personal attacks on those officials with whom I disagree politically.

I stand by my record, and I am prouder than ever of the work we have done and the work we will do. This state's insufferable slaves to the Republican status quo are not used to being challenged - they're not used to being called out on their hypocrisy. So, they'll use strategies and baseless accusations like those you see in this Letter to the Editor to avoid facing the truth and to keep the wool pulled over the peoples' eyes. They couldn't be more obvious, with a local Republican blog just expresssing its delight at using precisely these underhanded tactics to attack me and this site because they are so morally bankrupt and incapable of competing in the realm of actual ideas.

I can handle their nonsense. I expect it and have gladly suffered their pathetic previous attempts to kill the messenger. But, now the World-Herald has given them voice in what's probably the widest public arena in the state. This has to be one of the most unprincled and hypocritical acts imaginable - allowing this site and its publisher to be attacked baselessly while editing any criticism of the World-Herald's own bias from my letter that offered actual concrete evidence of their one-sided spin and distortions.

This is what we're up against, Nebraska. In the media, as in politics, the powers that be have had their way for so long that they can't even imagine a world where they're not calling the shots behind the scenes and controlling the public's perceptions.

I have no delusions about this site's reach or even its quality, but I do know that sites like this and voices like ours are very real threats to the status quo. And, those who serve that status quo and have benefitted so much from it - at expense to the people and our democracy - are scared as hell.

And, you know it as well as I know it - they damn well should be....because change is coming and there's not a damn thing they can do to stop it.

Stay strong. Talk hard. They ain't seen nothing yet.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Brain Drain Budget: Gov. Heineman's Higher Education Hypocrisy

by Kyle Michaelis
This is what reporting without context looks like, another press release from Governor Dave Heineman as published in today's Omaha World-Herald:
Gov. Dave Heineman issued a challenge Wednesday to get more Nebraska students into college....

Heineman noted that Nebraska ranks among the top five states for high school graduation, but barely exceeds the national average for the number of students who go on to college.

He challenged state education leaders to boost the college-going rate from its current 59.7 percent.

Increasing that rate by 5 percentage points would give Nebraska one of the top five college attendance rates in the country, Heineman said....

State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said many students don't believe college is possible for them.

Those whose parents did not attend college or who come from lower-income families may feel the doors to higher education are closed, he said.
Christensen is absolutely correct that the doors to higher education have closed for many Nebraska students - except it's Heineman and his cohorts who've locked that door and thrown away the key.

In Heineman's 2-1/2 years in office, he's consistently paid lip-service to making higher education accesible and affordable, yet by his actions and his priorities before the state legsilature he's clearly a roadblock standing in the way of Nebraska's making any true progress on these fronts.

In the 2007 legislative session that just ended two weeks ago, Heineman's proposed budget included increases to the University of Nebrask's budget of only 1.1 percent in the first year and 2.2 percent in the second year. This is at a time of booming revenue for the state, after years of the University's funding becoming a smaller and smaller share of the state budget while rising costs of energy, facility maintenance, and health insurance have far, far outpaced the rate of inflation.

So, where have the burdens of those costs been shifted? On the backs of students and their families, of course, who've faced skyrocketing tuition rates and student fees each and every year.

When Gov. Heineman has had a real opportunity to lead and to commit this state towards investing in our youth - our most precious natural resource - he instead went precisely the opposite route, making a short-sighted and destructive budget proposal that should have had every student, parent, and Nebraska business leader up in arms. Heineman offered a brain drain budget that would have sacrificed many of our best and brightest students, practically forcing them out of the state to continue their education.

University leaders and a few bold members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee fought tooth and nail against Heineman's brain drain budget, getting the legislature to increase state aid by an average of 4% annually over the next two years. Although Heineman ultimately acquiesced to this reasonable but still insufficient funding, he used it as a bargaining chip to convince those Republican State Senators who are in his pocket not to override his vetoes of increased funding for a wide range of social services targeted at Nebraska's neediest citizens - from the elderly who rely on the Meals on Wheels program, to prostitutes seeking rehabilitation, to anyone with mental illness, substance abuse problems, or developmental disabilities. Jesus Christ must be so proud!

Now, the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents has come forward with a plan that raises tuition by 6% in the next school year. One can only imagine how bad the tuition increase would have been had Heineman gotten his way with his original brain drain budget.

As is, this 6% increase is hardly a victory after a decade of Republican "leadership" in the Governor's Mansion that has turned a blind eye as tuition has more than doubled. Let's look at tuition rates (per credit hour) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln since 1997, the year before the Johanns/Heineman-machine took over our state government:

1997 $78.50 4.7%
1998 $82.75 5.4%
1999 $87.25 5.4%
2000 $92.00 5.4%
2001 $101.25 10.1%
2002 $111.50 10.1%
2003 $128.25 15.0%
2004 $143.75 12.1%
2005 $151.00 5.0%
2006 $160.00 6.0%
2007 $169.50 5.9%

What's saddest is that tuition increases have followed the same pattern across Nebraska's University system. Meanwhile, tuition at our state colleges in Wayne, Peru, and Chadron has also skyrocketed, with a 7% increase expected this year to $110 per credit hour.

In the midst of this crisis - to which Heineman's continued neglect, failed leadership, and lack of vision have been some of the worst contributing factors - it's simply outrageous that he would now act as if he gave a damn about making higher education more accessible and affordable. The numbers tell a different story, as does Heineman's actual record.

Everything we needed to know about Heineman's concern for higher education was revealed by his brain drain budget. Why no one will call him on his record, why he hasn't been exposed as the hypocrite and fraud his record reveals him to be, is a question each of us must ask of our leaders and of ourselves.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Quietly Disproving a Republican Lie

by Ryan Anderson
Sorry, but this post isn’t timely because this information isn’t news... except maybe to the Republican hacks, who aren’t listening and probably don’t care. But if not for their sake then at least for the record, allow me to briefly revisit last year’s race for NE-03.

In December, Scott Kleeb posited that the most effective attack on his candidacy was “the claim that was, on its face, the easiest claim to make, but the one that I actually think was the most wrong. Which was... not being from here.” I happened to agree, and so too did the state’s conservative bloggers, who couldn’t seem to cover this race in any capacity without some gratuitous attack on Kleeb’s heritage and identity:

“enough of the indignation about his family being from Nebraska. His parents are. He’s not.” “he has no legitimate ties to western Nebraska”, “I consider him a carpet-bagger, and nothing I can find out about the man changes my mind....”

Not content with merely slashing and rehashing Kleeb’s past (you know, the awful sins of growing up on a military base and attending school at Yale), the conservative attack dogs offered a glimpse into the future, informing us helpfully that Kleeb “already has his saddlebags packed and the stagecoach tickets bought” in order to flee the state after losing the election:

“Don’t cry for Scooter Kleeb, Argentina - by sun-up this morning he was doubtless humming “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” while thumbing through his Rolodex in search of what he hopes this time will be a real soft spot in the underbelly of the great American Body Politic.”

So successful was this attack in the blogosphere that by fall the fantasy of a Kleeb exodus had reached more legitimate partners in the “vast rightwing conspiracy”, with the Grand Island Independent suggesting “it will be interesting to see if Kleeb stays on as a highly-educated ranch hand or vanishes like tumbleweed on a high plains wind if he loses this contest.”

It’s difficult to overestimate the nastiness of this attack or its devastating impact on the state as a whole. This was not a policy difference or a shot at Kleeb’s resume and experience. There was no suggestion of either professional or personal wrong-doing, no gaffe-induced feeding frenzy… no attack on anything Kleeb had ever said or done.

No, this was a coordinated effort to rob a man of an identity he’s held his entire life. An identity as a Nebraskan. And in doing so, the conservative blogosphere and its mainstream allies have helped rob this state of a "Husker Nation" that extends far beyond the number of Nebraska ballots or driver’s licenses. A community that includes a great number of people seeking a path that may wind its way around the world but always (hopefully, always) finds its way back home.

Before you make an argument like that, you’d better be damn sure. But on this matter our would-be punditry was damn wrong:

Former Democratic congressional candidate Scott Kleeb turned down a chance to return to his alma mater, Yale University, but says staying in Nebraska doesn't necessarily mean he's decided to run for office again...

This week, Kleeb took his name out of consideration for a job directing the Yale-based World Fellows Program, a training program for young leaders.

Kleeb was a fellow in the program in 2002 and three times has hosted fellows on an educational tour of his relatives' ranch near Dunning, Neb. That is the ranch where Kleeb worked during breaks between studies at Yale and the University of Colorado and where he established his residence.

Kleeb said the Yale job was hard to turn down, but Nebraska "is home. This is where I need to be. This is where I belong."

Kleeb recently married Jane Fleming, the outgoing executive director of Young Democrats of America, whom he met during the campaign. The couple reside in Hastings.

Kleeb has been hired to teach an introductory course in American history at Hastings College, said Rich Lloyd, academic dean of the school. Currently, Kleeb is working for a Nebraska ranch to build its international beef sales and helping form a coalition of agricultural and environmental groups on climate-change issues. (Omaha World Herald April 14, 2007)
Scott Kleeb is a Nebraskan... not just by heritage, but by choice. His journey has brought him halfway around the world. It could've brought him back to Yale, or at least (for those cynics out there) to greener political pastures. But instead it brought him back to Nebraska, the one place that always was and always will be "home".

The least he deserved for making that decision was to be taken seriously as a candidate, to be allowed into a dialog of ideas and to be heard. That's the least Western Nebraska deserved as well. They didn't get it in 2006.

Unfortunately, I think the only thing the attack dogs learned from this ordeal is that such "below-the-belt" strategies work, that they might even be their only weapon against the inevitable erosion of our rural one-party system. Already it seems they're gearing up for the next election, this time turning their rhetorical guns on Kleeb's wife, another (new) Nebraskan by choice.

What can I say? Some things never change. But for the sake of our politics and the future of this state, some things must. We can no longer afford this despicable attack, this self-defeating notion that a man can't cross our borders and remain a Nebraskan at heart.

The Husker Nation deserves better. Scott Kleeb deserves better. And we sure as hell deserve more.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Who Will Stand Up to Governor Heineman?

by Kyle Michaelis
Coming out of the 2006 elections having vanquished Tom Osborne in the Republican primary before capitalizing on that momentum to achieve the widest margin of victory in Nebraska gubernatorial history, it's understandable that Governor Dave Heineman should be in a strong position politically. But, the loss of a record number of incumbent state senators to term limits, along with Heineman's behind the scenes manueverings as a seasoned political pro, allowed Heineman to exercise power and influence over the 2007 Nebraska Legislature that, by the end of the session, proved almost downright despotic in scope.

Nevertheless, rather than taking the legislature's power-brokers to task for abdicating their responsibilities to the people of Nebraska by subservience to the executive branch, a trio of editorials published on consecutive days in the Omaha World-Herald last week instead went out of their way to squash dissent to Heineman's de facto takeover of the Nebraska Unicameral.

OWH Editorial (06/03/2007)
The 2007 legislative session stands out as a historic one for the way that lawmakers and the Governor's Office worked to tackle [several key challenges], each of which was duanting in its complexity and difficulty:...

Lawmakers reached agreeement - despite self-indulgent excesses during floor debate - on a large if flawed tax reduction package.
OWH Editorial (06/04/2007)
[P]erhaps the most discouraging episode during the 2007 session was the Legislature's debate over tax policy. A few lawmakers displayed remarkable disrespect toward the Revenue Committee, its chairman, Sen. Ray Janssen, and the overall process by working to short-circuit the committee's work and by repeatedly trying to revive tax proposals even after they had been decisively rejected by the full Legislature.

In the wake of that sunseemly episode, some lawmakers need to ponder a few things:

How bombast and displays of egotism ill serve the Legislature and the state, for instance. How partisan machinations hold a particular danger for a nonpartisan Legislature. And how the highest compliment a Nebraka lawmaker can receive is "He's a workhorse," while one of the most damning insults is "He's just a show horse."
OWH Editorial (06/05/2007)
Partisan politics has, of course, played a role to some degree in the nominally nonpartisan Nebraka legislature as the two parties jostle to score points. But the partisan fervor this session was unusually pronounced at times.

The Nebraska Democratic Party probed for opportunites, for example, and in general appeared to have more success coordinating its partisans than did the GOP.

At times, the political manuevering grew frantic and particularly counterproductive, as during the raucous efforts to hijack the work of the Revenue Committee during the debate over tax policy.

Lawmakers should go to the Capitol to serve the Legislature, not to make the Legislature a servant for one's personal political interests or those of a particular political pary. Otherwise, the legislative process is undermined.
Got to give the World-Herald credit for its ability to stay on message with its misdirection to cover for Heineman & Company, the real culprits behind the more partisan atmosphere taking hold in the Nebraska legislature. One can't help wondering if the World-Herald's rhetorical refrains aren't a result of their recently hiring Heineman's spokesman as an editorial writer.

Either way, I attempted to challenge the World-Herald's take, especially its obscuring of Heineman's hijacking of the legislature, with the following Letter to the Editor (appearing in Friday's edition, sanitized to remove any criticism of the newspaper itself):
The Omaha World-Herald has gone too far with its absurd attacks on several Democratic state senators for their supposedly legislating with a partisan agenda. Seriously, who does the World-Herald think it’s kidding?

This last session, we saw several Republican state senators flip-flop on the death penalty under heavy pressure from their party. We also saw Gov. Dave Heineman’s influence build to a point that it threatens the independence of our legislature as a separate branch of government.

Both in committee and on the statehouse floor, too many of our Republican state senators proved nothing more than puppets on Heineman’s string. For perfect examples, look no further than their rush to approve the budget with little substantial debate, their wholesale abandonment of promises to provide homeowners with significant property tax relief, and their unprincipled capitulation to Heineman’s veto pen.

This level of control in the governor's hands is a very disturbing development that is the true threat to Nebraska’s nonpartisan Unicameral, no matter the World-Herald’s partisan slight-of-hand.

If anything, we should be thanking those Democratic and Republican state senators who still have the courage – when necessary - to stand and fight against the "business-as-usual" status quo.

Kyle Michaelis
Of course, I regret that I wasn't able to provide more coverage of the legislature this spring. In particular, I failed to provide any real-time discussion of the tax-cut debate and completely neglected the appropriations side of things as soon as it became clear that the worst excesses of Heineman's budget weren't going to be enacted.

What's scariest about the 2007 legislative session is that Heineman has realized he can get away with almost anything without getting challenged directly by the legislature. He hasn't quite gotten to the point that he can dictate policy, but he can present a tax-cutting scheme fueled by deception and a radical, irresponsible budget that sets the tone for debate throughout the entire session without being called out for either offense.

Reading the World-Herald's editorials above, you'll notice that they talk about the need for State Senators to serve "the Legislature." They want service to decorum and slavishness to procedure and politeness. What the World-Herald doesn't want to see is State Senators who are actually willing to serve and to fight for the people they represent.

Yes, there is a need for respectfulness in law-making, but it cannot and should not come at the expense of actual democracy. We can't leave the truth unsaid just because it might ruffle some feathers. Nor can we allow Governor Heineman to bully the legislature just because he does so gently and behind-the-scenes - which is precisely what we've seen in the 2007 legislative session on a whole host of issues. Probably the only notable exception was the Omaha Public Schools debate in which it was Heineman himself who "undermined the legislative process."

Funny how the World-Herald never took him to task for that. Nor did any state senator but Ernie Chambers, whose "bombast and displays of egotism" have protected the people of Nebraska - especially the voters he represents - from any number of state actions that would have been directly against their interests.

Doing what's right and what's best for the state of Nebraska should not provide our state senators an excuse to forget the voters who elected them. Compromise is essential, but it's fundamentally undemocratic to expect senators to work always towards consensus. And, damn it, in a democracy there is a time and a place - maybe even a duty - to raise a little hell ... even if it is inconvenient for Heineman, the World-Herald, and those state senators whose hypocrisy and double-speak are thereby revealed.

It is not partisanship to do the job you were elected to do. There is no betrayal in having some balls and refusing to play this game of go-along-get-along that puts Gov. Heineman in the driver's seat working with a legislature over which he - constitutionally - has no authority.

This isn't about any single issue. This isn't about who's being more partisan, the Democrats or the Republicans. This is about the principles underlying our democracy - especially the separation of powers to which Heineman has displayed clear hostility while most state senators have demonstrated unforgiveable complicity - like so many puppets on so few strings.

This is one of those instances where, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. The problem is that noone is paying attention - not the press, not our state senators, not the public. Dave Heineman, however, knows damn well the power now at his disposal and - unchecked - he's going to be having his way with this state for years to come.

That might be what the World-Herald wants to see. But, how about you?

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Friday, June 08, 2007

A Sad Day for Nebraska Blogs

by Kyle Michaelis
Leavenworth Street Embraces A New Low in Local Online Politics

Today is a very important day for blogging in Nebraska. I would propose that it is a sad day as well. Although sites such as SmithWatch, Paging Power, Leavenworth Street, the UNO Democrats Blog, and New Nebraska Network each have their respective political agendas, they have always seemed works of passion, reflecting on who their contributors are and what they honestly believe.

But, our Republican counterpart at Leavenworth Street has changed all that with the anonymous Street Sweeper's allowing his site to be used as a tool of shameless, outright political manipulation. Some might contend that Leavenworth has always been such a tool, but - in our own way - the same could have been said of the other sites mentioned above as well (including NNN).

That changed today. With no pretense of fairness, objectivity or public service - without even the author's identity that there might be some measure of personal accountability - Street Sweeper has crossed a line from which I fear there will be no turning back. The world of online Nebraska politics just got ugly, folks, and that ugliness is probably here to stay.

Below, you see a personal note published this morning at Leavenworth Street. It is from homegrown corporate giant David Sokol - CEO of MidAmerican Energy - to U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, expressing Sokol's continued support of Hagel in whatever decision he might make for his future political career.

With Sokol having allied himself with upstart Hagel challenger Jon Bruning - not only paying for Bruning's statewide opinion polling but also recently announced as the Bruning campaign's Finace Chair - the above note might seem a statement of outright hypocrisy that would be relevant to interested political observers. But, this is politics, and a careful reading of Sokol's qualified statement reveals only continued support and "friendship" for Hagel, along with a promise of future contributions. The note does not swear any particular allegiance or fidelity to Hagel that would preclude Sokol's pursuing other options and lending his support to other potential candidates.

Regardless, I don't really care who some Omaha multi-millionaire is hedging his bets with in the 2008 Republican primary. Sokol isn't an elected official. He's a guy with money, and he should be able to do with it whatever he damn well pleases within the confines of the law. If there's some suggestion of corruption here, there's a story to be told. But, if Sokol just wants to play games with Hagel and Bruning - pretending to be buddies with both while playing one against the other in the real world of electoral politics, it's hard to see how that justifies turning the tables on a private citizen in so public a forum with no concern for the principles at stake.

Here's what's probably most disturbing - this correspondence could only have come from Sokol's people or Hagel's. And, considering the tone of Leavenworth's commentary and the site's history of publishing inside information directly from the Hagel camp, it looks to definitely have come from the latter. In fact, Street Sweeper might very well be a paid Hagel lackey.

In my mind, release of this note can only really serve two possible functions - (a) embarrassing Bruning for over-stating Sokol's support or (b) reminding Sokol that politics is a two-way street and that an experienced politician in a free fall makes for a very dangerous enemy. In either event, this is a leaked document that is strictly private in nature. By publishing it, Leavenworth Street has gone beyond the pale. This article is nothing more than an instance of raw political manuevering, making a private citizen a pawn of an anonymous blogger's (not-so) hidden political agenda.

Of course, Leavenworth Street has always been suspect. Despite its first introducing itself as a site for humorous, middle-of-the-road, independent political commentary, it was obvious from the start that Street Sweeper only took the part about being funny seriously. Other than that, the site has proven itself little more than an occasionally amusing online weapon of Nebraska's Republican establishment.

But, no matter how ugly things have gotten in the Nebraska GOP, no matter how quickly, this latest post simply goes too far. Leavenworth has gone beyond the free-for-all world of politics with an attack on a local business leader's integrity that is very, very personal. For this, I don't feel much sympathy for Mr. Sokol, but I am very worried by the precedent it sets across the spectrum of Nebraska politics.

When this sort of private correspondence is fair game for leaking to local bloggers who are without principle and accountable to no one, there is no logical end to the ugliness and stupidity that will eventually result. This day has been a long time coming. From this point forward, I'm afraid we are likely to see more of the same - even if I expect it to be quite amusing should two powerful factions of the Nebraska Republican Party engage in the full-on, open warfare that seems to be developing.

Their loss could be our gain. What troubles me is the just-as-likely scenario in which, quite simply, we all lose.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chuck Hagel vs. Jon Bruning: Guns a'Blazing

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning took the big step today of offically announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by two-term Republican incumbent Chuck Hagel.

This move has, of course, been expected for some time. Although it was only March when Bruning declared himself "a Hagel guy" who would only run if Nebraska's senior senator decided not to seek a third term, Bruning has since become convinced that it's time to go for the Nebraska Republican Party's king-maker.

What's probably most surprising is how upfront Bruning has been with his accusations of apostasy. In Thursday's press conference, Bruning used every angle he had to portay Hagel as out of touch with Nebraska and as a traitor to his party and president at a time of war.

This went above and beyond attacking Hagel's half-hearted impeachment talk and his siding with the Democratic Party in opposing Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric and escalation of the war in Iraq. Bruning actually accused the sitting Republican Senator of being a carpetbagger from Virginia more interested in making a name for himself on TV than serving the people of Nebraska. He also went after Hagel for talking about an independent bid for the Presidency as yet another betrayal of the Republican Party.

When challenged with Congressional Quarterly's report that Hagel was more loyal to Bush's agenda than any other Senator in the country in 2006, Bruning bet the questioner "a nickel" that no such report existed. Besides owing that reporter a nickel and looking a bit unprepared and ignorant about Hagel's actual record, Bruning was still able to save some face with the suggestion to “Call the White House and ask them how they feel about Senator Hagel.” Considering the Bush Administration's vindictiveness and Vice President Dick Cheney's outright denunciation of Hagel, it's hard to believe there isn't some behind the scenes support for an anti-Hagel insurgency here in Nebraska (which Bruning appears to have tried tapping with a fundraising trip to New York last weekend).

Considering that Hagel's 1996 Senate victory is rightfully understood as the foundation on which Nebraska Republicans built their position of outright dominance in Nebraska politics, Bruning comes across quite like Robespierre declaring "Louis must die, so that the country may live." (i.e. "Hagel must fall, so that the party may live.")

If history is any indicator, Bruning might just get his way. . . but he's also likely to get his soon thereafter.

It would be one thing for Bruning to have announced that he couldn't wait any longer for Hagel to make up his mind. . . that he's running because it's his time, he's the best candidate for the office, and refuses to be constrained to decisions and time tables outside his control.

Rather than that more respectful approach that would have allowed Hagel to walk away from this race with his dignity intact, Bruning made quite clear today that - besides his own out-sized ego - this campaign is mostly about getting rid of Hagel. Bruning could have left Hagel an out but has instead chosen to define himself as "the anti-Hagel," essentially slapping Hagel in the face and daring him to do something about it.

This might appear to back Hagel into a corner but one can't help wondering if it isn't truly a reflection of the corner into which Bruning had already been backed. Whether or not Hagel was going to seek re-election, the institutional, inner-party forces at his disposal were likely going to work against Bruning and for another candidate no matter what.

In essence, every bit of influence Hagel has (most importantly, that behind the scenes) was probably going to someone who wasn't Jon Bruning. I suspect Bruning realized that and is now taking Hagel on and making him the issue not just as an attention-grabbing strategy but also as a matter of his own political survival. What's impossible to know is whether division in the Nebraska Republican Party made this conflict inevitable (with Bruning permanently wait-listed to make the next step) or whether Bruning's raw ambition simply wouldn't allow him to wait his turn any longer.

An intriguing dynamic any way you look at it. For now, this is a two-man race. But, we don't know if it's Jon Bruning vs. Chuck Hagel or Jon Bruning vs. himself. Bruning is trying very hard to make this a race about Hagel in hopes that Hagel's perceived weakness will play to his benefit whether or not Hagel ever appears on the 2008 ballot.

As Hagel and his people are concerned, Bruning's is pretty much a scorched earth strategy, which suggests divisions in the Nebraska Republican Party even greater than we might have previously imagined. Either that or Bruning just doesn't have the agenda to back up his ambitions and plans to win this race on negativity and personal attacks.

After attacking Hagel with every weapon he had, this latter possibility became especially evident in the delight Bruning showed at suggestion of a general election showdown with potential Democratic candidate and former two-term U.S Senator Bob Kerrey. With perversely little concern for winning an election based on ideas, Bruning's campaign strategy was succinctly revealed in his confidently dismissing Kerrey as "so easy to assail."

For now, Bruning gets points for going on the offensive with such reckless abandon. But, it's very, very early, and there's a lot of fight left - not to mention plenty of other potential challengers waiting in the wings.

Scorecard Through Three Rounds
Jon Bruning 09 - 10 - 10
Chuck Hagel 10 - 09 - 09

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Blogger Brawl 2007

by Kyle Michaelis
Welcome to Thunderdome! What began as a simple note of appreciation for Sen. Bob Kerrey's latest contribution to the debate of the Iraq War has quickly evolved in that article's comments section into a broader and much more heated discussion of where our nation's Iraq policy truly should go from here between myself and two highly-regarded contributors to Nebraska's liberal blog community.

As much as I appreciate the views of TedK and Dave Sund - both with whom I have worked in the past and look forward to working with in the future - I see little evidence of progress in our deliberations - meaning that, as much as I might have hoped otherwise, the solution to the international crisis in Iraq won't be coming from the New Nebraska Network (at least, not yet).

Still, I'd be very interested in any third person's perspective (or fourth person's, as the case may be). Comment away. I'm going to be away from the computer until tomorrow afternoon, but will look with great curiosity to see if any further discussion develops.

Also, consider this my call for reinforcements in case Dave and Ted decide to gang up on me in my absence.

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Omaha: One City, Period.

by Ryan Anderson
Schools Controversy Highlights Nebraska's Political Shortcomings

I'll admit LB 641 was an imperfect and messy solution to a poorly defined problem. It's frustrating that compromise required the creation of yet another layer of bureaucracy, and there's certainly no guarantee that the separate districts will keep their promises to cooperate in a way that minimizes redundancy and waste.

Actually, there's no guarantee that any of the provisions in this bill will do what they were intended to do and eliminate the shameful achievement gap between black and white, wealthy and impoverished. It's probably fair to characterize this law, as one recent letter to the editor did (OWH, 6/2/07), as a "social experiment with no basis for guaranteed success." There are no guarantees here. This is a gamble. But considering the magnitude of the problem and the absence of any solution offering "guaranteed success", a gamble was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The few alternatives the Legislature could seriously consider -either ignoring the problem entirely, or funding study after study while allowing more and more kids to fall through the cracks- were morally unacceptable. There is at least some hope that any serious overhaul of the status quo might produce the grassroots optimism, innovation and dedication necessary to make our schools work. But by embracing a bold and equitable plan to confront the issues of race and wealth, the Unicameral has given their bill a fantastic chance to succeed, and that is reason enough for our enthusiasm and praise.

But even if I thought these concerns were legitimate, they wouldn't explain the size and volume of 641's opposition. No, there is a bigger issue at work here, one that's more familiar and more universal to Nebraska politics in general. Let's take another look at those letters to the editor:
I moved to Gretna years ago to avoid the big-school problems of the Omaha Public Schools, and I dislike being dragged into it now. The schools in towns like Gretna or Springfield have nothing in common with OPS and shouldn't be a part of it. (OWH, 6/2/07)

The message the Legislature has sent to Sarpy County students is clear: Those who reside in a district that values education and produces high-achieving students will work hard and be rewarded by having funds seized from their district and given to districts that need it more. That concept is straight from Karl Marx: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Sarpy County needs to find a legal way to kill this awful plan or look into seceding from Nebraska. (OWH, 6/1/07)
Sound familiar? This is the "rugged individualism", the "my way, my money, my rights" attitude that has defined Nebraska politics to a greater extent than either conservatism or Republicanism.

The problem with this attitude, in part, is that I hesitate to even call it a problem. Frankly, it's endearing. It's the very quality that makes this state "home". And it's done a lot of good for politics on both a state and a national level, in both parties and in every decade.

Without this attitude and our subsequent identification with the loner and the iconoclast, we may never have produced figures like Democrat William Jennings Bryan or Republican George Norris, statesmen who played invaluable roles in the Progressive reforms of the early 20th century and the passage of the New Deal. And yes, if any solution should ever arise from this mess in Iraq, it may come in large part thanks to the efforts of current mavericks like Senators Hagel, Nelson and Kerrey, all of whom demonstrate a unique willingness not only to cross party lines, but to break them down.

But even when the lone wolf shows remarkable success at building consensus, he cannot by his very nature build a community. That is the nature of Nebraska: politically, culturally, at every level and in every corner of the state. LB 641 is an affront to that sense.

That's the only real gamble. Our schools will work for us when we work for each other. But, frankly, that's asking a lot. It's asking us to overcome history and inertia. To part with the very quality that makes this state home.

Is there some middle ground, some way we can build that sense of community while maintaining our individualistic identity? Maybe, but it starts with us recognizing the need for that same consensus building and risk taking in a realm outside our government.

It's not enough to just win elections. If it were, Omaha would be in far better shape than it is today. Policy can only do so much, it is we the people who must find that optimism, innovation and dedication necessary to make this city work. We must find it in ourselves. Our rugged, egotistical selves.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Bob Kerrey Strikes Back

by Kyle Michaelis
Two weeks ago, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey provoked some very understandable outrage with a column decrying the American left for its short-sighted and reactionary approach to the Iraq War. I offered a half-hearted defense of Kerrey because there was a valid point somewhere in the middle of his apologetics and revisionism, but it was not an easy argument to make because Kerrey was just so wrong about so much.

Lucky for us - as Nebraska Democrats wanting to maintain faith in one of our party's favorite sons and as progressives wanting constructive ideas for challenging the Iraq War's disastrous stay the course status quo - the conscience of the American news media, Bill Moyers, provided Kerrey an opportunity to elaborate upon his ideas and to vindicate his vision for our future military engagement in the entire Middle East.

On PBS' Journal this weekend, Bob Kerrey stated in his own words:
I would say we end the occupation today. Our mission should not be to occupy Iraq. Our mission should be to be a reliable ally of the Iraqi government in their effort to survive.....

I think it's likely that the Iraqi government will say, we need some kind of U.S. force to make certain that a much stronger in Syria, much stronger military in Iran, and much stronger military in Turkey don't take advantage of a potential power vacuum. But they have to ask us what they want....

I would say yes to maintaining some kind of military force for that purpose. And if they ask us to have forces left not as occupiers, but to help make certain that those borders are protected, I would say yes....[T]hey ask us for economic and military assistance, I would say yes, up to a point.....

I think where we get in trouble is where we are out there operating their prisons, operating their jails, operating and even training their police force. It's very difficult to get that done in a fashion in the modern age, without these images of us knocking down doors, which I think undercuts essentially what we're trying to do....

I don't think Iraq and Vietnam are the same. But there are things that are very much alike. The first is, you're occupying this country. And you can't expect a kid that we've trained to be a good soldier to understand the difference between Shi'a and Sunni. We're trying to sensitize them. But at the same time, you're training them as soldiers. And...they're not trained as diplomats. They're not trained as aid workers. They're not trained as policemen. I do not think a mission of occupying Iraq is going to be successful.

I think that going after radical Islamic jihadists is absolutely essential. And I think as well, remaining a reliable ally of Iraq is important. But a reliable ally does not mean that we have to say yes to everything that's asked of us. And I think finally I would say...within reason -- and there's a lot in that statement, "within reason" -- you have to constantly press to expand the negotiations that are going on, both in the region and internationally, about what to do to make certain that Iraq has a chance of becoming a stable government in the aftermath of this war....

[T]he problem is that we don't have a bipartisan foreign policy today to deal with these radical Islamic jihadists. And...for the sake of our...soldiers that we're sending over there and for the sake of this larger battle, [we've got to] find a way to get bipartisan consensus on what to do about global jihadists.....

I think that the politicians in Washington understand that they can't survive the status quo. I don't believe that you're going to get Republican members of Congress very smiling ear to ear when they hear the President and the Vice President say we don't care about public opinion because we don't have to face the voters again. Republican Congress, people in Congress do face the voters. And they understand that that status quo is unacceptable. That's what the voters are saying....

The casualties are up. The cost is up....And the President still refuses to go to funerals. And the coverage of the caskets coming back are not national news. At home, they are....Those kids are coming home and they're being buried, and their families are grieving them, and their families are welcoming back their sons and daughters without legs, with brain damage, et cetera. And they don't like it. And I do not believe that Republicans or Democrats in Washington, D.C. misunderstand that. They know it....

The problem is, the very people who criticize us getting rid of dictatorships will then go on to say our problem is we're supporting all those dictators in the Middle East....[W]hich way do you want it? Do you want us to support dictators or oppose dictators.

We brought the dictator down....What's going on now is a war against a government....[T]hat war against...[the Iraqi] government is being fought by people who not just see liberal democracy in the United States as a problem, but liberal democracy in Iraq as an even bigger problem.

[M]any people in this debate are saying get out, period. Bring them all home tomorrow...[T]hat basically says...we're not going to help you in any way, shape or form. It was a mistake for us to go in. It's your problem. You fix it. And what we're doing is making the same mistake that many people made prior to the 2003 invasion, imposing our own ideas upon them.....

Iraq has become central to the war on terror. But the question now is, what do you do about it? And how do we responsibly respond to that fact? And it's very difficult to do because you could play an Air America piece and get a radio piece that was critical of what I said...It's sort of what's going on in many parts of the world. People who are trying to express a moderate view get driven out of the debate because they become the most important target....

I don't like the status quo of us saying, well, we have to support these dictators, because look what happened in Iraq....I mean, for the United States foreign policy to say we're just going to accept the status quo and go back to the status quo, putting our arms and cozying up to dictators because at least they provide stability. Saddam Hussein provided stability in Iraq by killing any Shi'a and any Kurd and anybody who opposed him....that's what he did. Was it stable? Yes. Was there violence inside of Iraq? Yes. If you were a Kurd, if you were a Shi'a, if you were anybody who opposed, he drove you either into prison or he drove you out of the country. was more acceptable for us, because it wasn't the kind of sectarian violence and brutality that we're seeing right now. And our troops weren't on the ground....

[T]he loss is incalculable. I mean, you've got a young person who dies and never develops, never, you know, sees their kids...It's an incomparable loss. And I think it's one of the things that I think the President has made a mistake in not doing -- going to funerals and allowing us to grieve these losses. And the losses are as great in Iraq, with families who are losing -- losing loved ones as well. Two million refugees...have left Iraq.

Allow[] yourself to feel that. Otherwise, it's not proceed in a correct fashion. You can be paralyzed by it. I would definitely say I do think that if this government of Iraq survives....if it survives as a democracy, I do believe that you're going to be able to say that the price was worth it....

The end game for me is one, we have to say we are not the occupying force. And it's not a small matter. We're not occupying Iraq any longer. We're ending the occupation. Secondly....that we are going to work to create bipartisan domestic and global strategies to deal with global jihadism. And thirdly, that we will remain an ally of Iraq and let the Iraqi government...make your requests. Tell us what you want. And we will say yes or no, depending upon whether or not we believe that it's an appropriate mission and appropriate for us to do it, or we have the resources....

I just see both the left and the right choosing to use words like betrayal and treachery any time somebody reaches a compromise....The problem is we don't have the conversation to find out where we agree and that's what's missing - the means by which the public can have a conversation and discover where the agreement is and then urge the Congress to do something in that area....

[Last November,] voters basically said "no" and that's not very clear instructions. In Nebraska, it's the number one issue. 49% of Nebraskans self-identify the Iraq war as the number one issue....I've never seen that situation, but if you poll...what should be done. Equally divided - withdraw, stay the course....

But neither answer is an answer. That's the problem.
Of course, there's some pretty heavy-duty editing going on above. I've left out Kerrey's defense of the Democratic Congress' recent compromise with President Bush from charges of capitulation, as well as his controversial call for refocusing the War on Terror on more surgical strikes with seemingly little to no regard for Middle Eastern countries' territorial sovereignty. Frankly, I agree with Kerrey about the former but am quite severely troubled by the implications of the latter and its potential to ignite a true regional conflict that could quickly become global in scale.

But, for now, its worth emphasizing to precisely what degree Kerrey has vindicated himself with a well-reasoned and comprehensive vision for ending the occupation of Iraq and moving forward with a new idea for American involvement. You don't have to agree with Kerrey on every point he makes, but his central proposal is as bold, as thought-provoking, and as deserving of respect as any I've seen put forward.

That Kerrey has now articulated himself in a manner that still challenges established liberal orthodoxy without going out of his way to blame its adherents for the four years of failure and the nationwide fatigue resulting from a war they opposed from the start should go a long way towards restoring confidence in Kerrey and confidence in his credibility as a true voice for reform.

As for talk of Kerrey returning to Nebraska politics, there's nothing I can say about such speculation that isn't said more entertainingly and probably more astutely by the following piece of brilliant editorial cartooning by Neal Obermeyer, as it appeared in last week's Lincoln Journal-Star.

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