Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Following Nebraska's Lead?

by Ryan Anderson
Okay, so technically this was Maine's idea, and we Cornhuskers were about twenty years late in adopting it as our own (the Pine Tree state first passed their electoral reform in 1969, we followed in 1990). But in the long, long, long struggle to fix our nation's flawed system for electing presidents, that twenty year delay makes us wild-eyed radicals of reform.

I'm talking about a proportional system for awarding electoral votes for president, and apparently I'm not the only one talking. Word has it that such reform is a real possibility for the 2008 presidential election in the states of North Carolina and California, large states with relatively small but significant pockets of red and blue that could fundamentally shift our pathetically static political battlefield:

North Carolina:
North Carolina is one step closer to eliminating its winner-take-all method for distributing its 15 electoral votes, a move that would probably help Democrats score again in the state's presidential sweepstakes.....

A candidate would get one electoral vote for each congressional district he or she carries. The candidate who wins statewide would take the remaining two votes.

Republicans called the bill politically motivated and a way to attempt to eliminate their stranglehold on electoral votes in the state. House Minority Leader Paul Stam estimated that Democrats could receive three of the state's electoral votes if the new system took effect with the 2008 elections, with the outcome close in two other congressional districts
A Republican-backed ballot proposal could split left-leaning California between the Democratic and GOP nominees, tilting the 2008 presidential election in favor of the Republicans... "If this change is made, it will virtually guarantee that a Republican wins the White House in 2008," [Democratic consultant] Lehane said in an e-mail. Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. President Bush carried 22 districts in 2004, while losing the statewide vote by double digits.
Little surprise, of course, that the two parties support this plan when it benefits them and oppose it when it doesn't. What with a Republican state Senator in North Carolina decrying "This is a political act" and some liberal bloggers labeling the California initiative an "Attack on Democracy", you'd think there's nothing objective or principled at all about the struggle to make our elections fairer and more representative.

But the truth is the electoral college isn't fair, isn't representative, and isn't serving the best interests of anyone (unless you happen to be a professional political consultant or the head of a major national party). It's an undemocratic institution meant to smooth the transition from colonial monarchy to representative democracy, and after some 200 years of this nonsense it's time for the training wheels to go.

Since there's little hope and even less enthusiasm for amending this problem at the Constitutional level (where it really belongs), our best course of action for now is to embrace the Maine-Nebraska model and incorporate proportionalism into our existing electoral process. Such reform is imperfect and slow, but it's better than doing nothing at all.

Is it fair to ask one party to take an electoral hit (say, in the solid red state of North Carolina, or the Democratic stronghold of California) while waiting on the rest of the nation to maybe/possibly/hopefully follow suit? No, it's not fair. But that's what makes it objective, that's what gives this plan principle.

If we're not willing to forgo short-term political gain for reform that benefits democracy itself, then we don't deserve a party and we certainly don't deserve the presidency.

It's rare to see Nebraska described as a "trendsetter". Here's hoping this case proves an exception.


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Monday, July 23, 2007

Prayer and Silence in Grand Island

by Ryan Anderson
Some disturbing news coming out of Grand Island today:
Tension came to a head at a Grand Island meatpacking plant in June, when Jama Mohamed said his desire for 10 minutes to pray at sunset was met with shouting.
After he left the production line and began praying, Mohamed said, supervisors took his prayer mat, pulled him up by his collar and sent him crying to a lead supervisor, who fired him.

"I told him, 'Look, I know I am in America and I know in America there is a freedom of religion for everybody to practice their religion. . . . And as long as you fulfill that — as long as you let me pray — I will always work for you,'" Mohamed, 28, said last week through an interpreter. "And he said, 'No, that's not acceptable — your prayers are not acceptable here. You're here to work, not pray.'"

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has drafted a complaint to federal officials that is awaiting the signatures of dozens of Muslim Somali workers who say they were fired or harassed by supervisors at a Grand Island meatpacking plant for trying to pray at sunset.


[Mohammad] Rage [of the Omaha Somali-American Community Organization] said at least two dozen workers have been fired since May by Swift for praying. Swift disputes that number.

[Donald] Selzer [Swift attorney] said three Somali workers were fired for walking off the line without permission, not for praying. "These people are absolutely entitled to pray, and they should not be interfered with for doing so," Selzer said. "The only situations that I've been made aware of are people that walk off the job without permission, and that's a different kind of an issue."

Dan Hoppes, president of Local 22 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said he sees regular lists of those fired from the plant. Nothing in those lists raised his suspicions, he said, but he said the plant — which employs about 3,000 people in all and about 150 Somalis — generally has high turnover.

Hoppes said prayer breaks are not part of the contract, but he said he plans to revisit the issue with plant officials when the contract is renegotiated in 2010.

Rima Kapitan, a Chicago-based staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Swift has been "unwilling to work with us to create a solution where the workers can pray."

Kapitan said Swift rejected her group's suggestion to allow the Somalis who work evenings to leave in small shifts to avoid disrupting lines. The prayer must be done within a 45-minute window surrounding sunset, according to Muslim prayer rules.

Selzer and Hoppes said the company suggested phasing evening workers to shifts earlier in the day that don't interrupt prayer times. "We're perfectly happy to try to pursue that angle so that we don't have this conflict," Selzer said, but noted many people prefer the second shift.

Somali workers also complain that other workers are granted bathroom or smoking breaks and say prayer time should be granted in the same way.

Mohamed said it is important for Muslims to pray within scheduled times and not to postpone prayers or say them early. "I would never forgive myself and God would not forgive me if I do not pray on time because I want to earn some money," he said.
The cliche, in this situation, would be to exclaim: "if only this were happening to Christian employees, there would be an outraged outcry in this nation!" As with all cliches, such rhetoric has little power to persuade... it's a dog whistle, heard only by those who want to hear it.

But it's true, damn it. The mainstream media and the public at large wouldn't accept such actions against Christianity because such actions are unacceptable. Not because Christians have or demand special protection, but because all people of all faiths demand and deserve respect. As well they should.

Respect is a basic human right, one guarded not by the government but by the community. Our community. You and me. If we don't provide it, if we don't protect it, then we don't deserve it.

We've been derelict in that duty, and (for now) the Muslim community is paying our penalty. It's certainly disappointing to see the union official comfortably waiting until 2010 to seek such basic and fundamental reform. It's even more disappointing to see the Swift company refuse to engage with CAIR on a compromise that might serve the interests of all.

But what would be absolutely devastating is if this story were to fall through the cracks; never to be heard and never to be resolved. It does us no good to pretend this is simply a Muslim problem: it isn't. It's a worker's rights problem, it's a problem of religious freedom... it's our problem. We own it. And we will be shaped by how we act -or fail to act- in response.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Announcement: NNN Summer Slow-Down

by Kyle Michaelis
My contributions to the New Nebraska Network are going to be pretty light over the next two weeks as I travel cross country on an assortment of adventures. I will blog as my schedule allows, but don't expect much of me (which shouldn't be a problem for frequent readers). Hopefully, Ryan will be able to pick up my slack a little bit, but it's not the end of the world if the site suffers a little bit from the summer doldrums.

And....just to whet your appetite.....when we return full force in early August, NNN 2.0 has the green light and is already being prepared for public consumption. This new platform is going to provide a fantastic opportunity to create a truly interactive online community that will hopefully bring new life to the hordes of Nebraska liberals, progressives, Democrats, and plain old watchful citizens.

Of course, the thing may fall apart and prove a disastrous fiasco, but I'm okay with that. In this world, you either get busy being born again or get busy dying....and we're going to try like hell to achieve the former before giving in to that great silence that has so long stood in the way of our common vision for a greater state that serves and reflect the very best of our people and our communities.


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Sham Hearing Produces Desired Results for Legislature & Lobbyists

by Kyle Michaelis
The all-mighty telecommunications lobby continues to dictate to Nebraska legislators, who have followed Governor Dave Heineman's lead in forsaking our state's economic and technological progress by closing off every avenue to public high-speed Internet service. Under the guise of protecting competition and the free market, our elected representatives continue to leave the people of Nebraska under-served and over-charged with few options and no incentive for the telecommunications industry to improve upon their wretched rates and worse service - especially in rural parts of the state.

In 2005, NNN covered the legislature's first selling out to these corporations by imposing a hardly-debated ban on state and municipal governments - as well as public agencies (i.e. power companies with the infrastructure in place and bandwidth to spare) - providing retail or even wholesale Internet service. That ban was rammed down the people of Nebraska's throats by then-Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear, who already worked for the telecommunications industry in his law practice and who now unsurprisingly works as one of their chief lobbyists seeing that State Senators stay bought and don't challenge this outrageous legislation.

In the two years since, the issue was to have been studied by a taskforce appointed by Gov. Heineman, although - of course - the makeup of that taskforce littered with self-interested industry executives made it a joke from the start. Again, it didn't come as much of a surprise when its final report read like a brochure from the telecommunications lobby protecting themselves from any possibility of the public's need being sensibly served by a public entity.

Now, this might be the lamest chapter yet in this still-developing controversy. The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Legislative efforts to allow Nebraska municipalities to provide wireless Internet service to residents appear likely to die for lack of interest, the chairman of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee said Monday.

State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine commented after the committee held a hearing on whether lawmakers should open the door to publicly provided wireless service.

"We scheduled the hearing to determine if there was any interest in municipal wireless service, and I didn't hear any interest," she said.

Two years ago, lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 645, which prohibited municipalities and other local governments from selling high-speed Internet service in competition with the private telecommunications industry.

Although the Legislature now appears unlikely to change the law, two Columbus Internet service providers are ready to mount a petition drive seeking to overturn the law in the November 2008 election.

Paul Schumacher and Linda Aerni said Monday that their petition should hit the streets in about a month.

Both said they were unaware of Monday's legislative hearing and were disappointed to have missed it. Three of the five people who testified at the hearing represented the private telecommunications industry, and all were strongly opposed to allowing competition from the public sector.
A sham hearing outside the legislative session to which no voices of opposition or dissent were even invited, orchestrated by industry lobbyists and the senators who do their bidding - have you ever heard anything more pathetic?

One day, this will stand as a defining issue for this dark period of Nebraska's one-sided, Republican-controlled government that confuses corporate profits and the public interest, refusing to distinguish the one from the other because it would so quickly reveal the full extent of their backwards and diseased agenda.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Chuck Hagel Calls for the "Nuclear Option" Against Senate Republicans?

by Kyle Michaelis
The Republican minority in the U.S. Senate has effectively blocked most meaningful challenges to President George W. Bush's disastrous and unpopular Iraq War policy (strategy would be too kind a word) by closing ranks for a procedural filibuster that has prevented a host of bills from coming to a final vote.

Of course, it wasn't long ago that these same Republicans were decrying Democrats as obstructionists for employing these same tactics. The big difference here is that Senate Republicans are acting in direct defiance of the American people who long ago realized and rejected the Iraq War as a blackhole of money and lives unlikely to see any return but in heartache and suffering.

So far, the Democratic majority has avoided forcing a real showdown with Bush and Senate Republicans. Some suggest Democrats are too ineffective and too scatttered to carry a shared message that would truly take the GOP to task. On the other hand, they might just be giving the GOP enough rope to hang itself with in 2008.

Either way, Nebraska's Republican Senator Chuck Hagel continues to break farther and farther away from his party on Iraq, to the point where a man who just months ago talked about the possibility of Bush's impeachment now seems willing to lay the blame on his entire party for the continued mis-steps in Iraq.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
The Senate’s inability to force major changes in Iraq policy because of a 60-vote supermajority threshhold is weakening confidence in government, Sen. Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

“It’s a frustrating process,” he told his weekly telephone news conference from Washington. “It paralyzes us. The American people have lost confidence in our leadership.”

Hagel’s comments came the day after two of his Iraq amendments commanded majority support among the Senate’s 100 members, but fell to the 60-vote requirement to stave off a filibuster by invoking cloture to end debate....

[T]he 60-vote cloture procedure comes with “a standard of responsible behavior we’re not paying much attention to,” he suggested....

Hagel’s two amendments would have mandated more leave time at home for soldiers following deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and limited the length of time they could be deployed. One amendment attracted 56 votes for cloture; the other received 52 votes.
In singling out the Senate's procedural rules, one has to wonder whether Hagel isn't suggesting that drastic measures be taken to overcome continued Republican roadblocks to accountability and a change of course in Iraq. In essence, one could foresee from Hagel's statements an argument for resurrecting the Nuclear Option long-threated by Republicans to secure confirmation of right-wing judges.

Still, Democrats would have little to gain from such threats with a Republican President in office with veto power. Furthermore, these kinds of hard-ball tactics just aren't the modern Democratic Party's style and - besides - there's a lot to be said for letting the Republicans continue in their insanity as long they desire. Each day draws a clearer and clearer distinction for the American people. The only problem is that each day also brings new casualties that were never necessary in the first place.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why is Dave Heineman So Scared of S - E - X ?

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman has a son, so I guess we can assume that he and the First Lady do "make whoopee" - or, at least, have at one point. So, it might not be entirely fair to say Heineman is afraid of SEX. But, recent reports suggest that Heineman's administration has adopted a laughable-if-weren't-so-deadly puritanical policy against discussion of sex, even as a mattter of basic reproductive health amongst professionals in the Department of Health & Human Services.

More than sex per se, the Heineman Administration really seems to want to avoid any sort of controversy - with "controversy" defined as anything that might offend the farthest right-wing fringe of Christian fundamentalists.

Let's check in with the Lincoln Journal-Star to see who Heineman has been censoring:
Charles Housman said the notice came in late spring 2005: Gov. Dave Heineman’s office was clamping down on what state Health and Human Services System programs could say in communication with the public. And what they couldn’t.

No controversy. No sex. The governor’s office was to review everything before it was published or released, said Housman, who quit his state job last month as public education coordinator for HIV prevention....

Minutes from a public health management team meeting Nov. 4, 2005, confirmed the system’s adherence to a pro-life philosophy and to avoiding controversy.

Dr. Joann Schaefer, newly appointed chief medical officer and director of HHSS regulation and licensure, “reminded staff that this is a pro-life administration and she supports that,” the minutes read. “We have a process in place to look at anything that could be controversial.”

Sure enough, Housman said, over the next two years, communications and conference plans were scrutinized, sometimes changed and, in some cases, eliminated.

This spring, for example, planners of a conference for state public health workers on sexual health were notified they would have to change its name from “Issues Impacting Sexual Health” to “HIV, STDs and Reproductive Health: A Topical Update.”

“I thought it was a joke,” Housman said. “If we can’t say the word sexual in a sexual health conference, this is sad. It’s beyond sad”....

In addition to changing seminar titles, Housman and others said, workers have gotten the word that brochures, posters, Web sites and conference speakers must conform to the goal of avoiding controversy.

* Pat Tetreault, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sexuality education coordinator, was told by an HHSS staff member she was in danger of being dropped from a panel scheduled for the spring conference because the communications staff looked up her name on the Internet and saw she was associated with gay and lesbian issues....

* Dr. Bruce Trigg, a New Mexico public health physician and pediatrician with 19 years of experience in public health, was not allowed to participate in this year’s sexual health conference because Osterman Googled his name and found out he was involved in an abstinence-only controversy and dropped as a panelist at a national Centers for Disease Control conference. Trigg said he had planned to discuss recent scientific research that concluded abstinence-only programs were ineffective....

* A poster printed by HHSS’ reproductive health program to alert underage girls that having sex with a man 19 or older was against the law was not allowed to be distributed. It quoted a state law verbatim that used the word “sexual” but, workers said, officials did not want the word used on the poster.....

* A brochure for people with diabetes that had a list [of] possible symptoms eliminated “a change in sexual functioning.”

Said [Health and Human Services spokeswoman Kathie] Osterman: “We decided to take it out. … I don’t remember why. I suppose because that is kind of a personal issue. … We wondered, ‘What will people think?’

* This spring, some members of two Health and Human Services diversity teams quit because department leaders removed a speaker from a family diversity forum who was in a same-sex partnership and stopped a program in which a panel was to focus on gay and lesbian issues....

* Housman said that as administrator of the state’s HIV prevention Web site, he was not allowed to post information about human sexuality week. Earlier, he said, he couldn’t post an announcement about National Condom Week.
Is it just me or did the credibility and maturity levels of our state government just drop to zero? They actually censored a list of symptoms of diabetes for mentioning "sexual functioning". What a contemptible violation of their duty to protect the public health.

And just imagine a team of bureaucrats Googling each and every speaker, researching their backgrounds, and eliminating anyone who might challenge the party line. That's not America. That sure as hell isn't medicine. This is a tactic straight out of George Orwell's Ministry of Propaganda.

Probably the worst is HHSS spokewoman Osterman's absurd attempt to justify these outrageous policies:
The public views and interprets information in different ways, she said, and the department has to be careful not to cross a line between information and advocacy.

“Our role isn’t advocacy,” Osterman said. “Our role is to provide information and education.”

That information, she said, has to be provided in such a way as to be inclusive and to not offend people....

“I don’t see it as political.”
If your chief medical officer declaring her support for Heineman's "pro-life administration" isn't an instance of advocacy, then I don't know what is. And, honestly, what could be more political than forsaking the public health to remove mention of sexual symptoms of diabetes for fear of offending fanatics who can't tolerate sex as an issue of public debate.

This was medicine. HHSS once had a mission of information and education. But, it's Heineman's administration that has perverted this noble mission and twisted it to serve their political agenda, no matter its cost to the people's health.

Ladies and gentlemen, the patients have taken over the asylum. What's even scarier is that they seem to be politicians as well.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Coming Soon: NNN 2.0

by Kyle Michaelis

A new idea.

A new opportunity.

A new community.

The next step towards a
New Nebraska begins.....

Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jon Bruning: A Man Lost to His Own Ambition

by Kyle Michaelis
In September 2005, I wrote a glowing piece thanking Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning for his principled, common sense demand that Nebraska politicians reawaken to the value of mercy in the exercise of their pardon and commutation powers. At the time, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported:
Sometimes the get-tough attitude on crime should be tempered by mercy, Attorney General Jon Bruning said during an unsuccessful attempt Wednesday to get an inmate’s life sentence reduced.

Bruning failed to persuade the other Pardons Board members — Secretary of State John Gale and Gov. Dave Heineman — to give a second chance to a man sentenced when he was 18 to life without parole for his role in a murder.

Bruning admitted this stand could jeopardize his own re-election bid. “We are continually trying to get ourselves re-elected by trying to be tougher than the next guy,” Bruning said. “And at some point, it’s got to end”....

With the 2-1 decision, the Pardons Board continued its 14-year record of denying requests to commute life sentences. But the decision sparked a passionate debate on being tough on crime.

Bruning pointed out that, historically, the state Pardons Board commuted life sentences several times a year until the early 1990s. And Bruning admitted his own get-tough record. “I’ve been so tough on crime, it makes me want to throw up sometimes,” he said.

But there is a time to consider mercy, he noted. Bruning said he was willing to commute this sentence “at my own political peril”....

“It’s the voice of the people driving this issue of law and order,” Gale said.

“It’s the voice of politicians who are trying to get re-elected,” Bruning said.
How right Bruning was. Unfortunately, today Bruning betrayed every principle and every truth he spoke by letting his ambition to run for higher office in 2008 guide his taking action that would have made him "want to throw up" less than two years ago.

Tuesday's Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
The three-member Board of Pardons refused 2-1 to commute the life sentence of a man who has spent 29 years in prisons for the death of a retired postal worker. The decision means Reginald Bennett has no chance to be paroled out of prison....

Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning said Bennett’s case was not extraordinary enough to merit commutation....

Bruning...pointed to Bennett’s decision three decades ago to follow his attorney’s advice and reject the plea agreement. “Ultimately I’m not sure the system failed him. He could have taken the deal,” Bruning said.

Bruning also pointed to death penalty opponents, who say the state should do away with the death penalty because “life means life.” But a decision to commute a life sentence “is proof that life doesn’t mean life,” he said.

In addition, approving one commutation would open a flood gate for the 200 people in Nebraska’s prison system with life sentences, Bruning said.

“If we open the gate, it is going to be very difficult to say no to anyone. So do we want to open the gate?”....

Only Secretary of State John Gale said he believed Bennett’s case was one of the exceptions....

Gale pointed to Bennett’s record in prison, his lack of a previous criminal record, the fact he called for an ambulance and stayed with the victim until it arrived, and his strong family and church support and his record in the prison.

“I think this is one of those rare cases that deserves an opportunity for commutation.”
What changed between 2005 and 2007? Only Jon Bruning's taste for power. What a shameless and pathetic son of a bitch. Here, Bruning finally had the opportunity to prove that he stood for something - ANYTHING - more than Jon Bruning. This is a pretty clear demonstration that he's forsaken conscience and humanity for his own ego and ambition.

Did Bruning ever care about the value of mercy? Was ever really willing to take the right action at his own "political peril"? I suppose it doesn't matter now. He got his headlines at the time. Maybe that was all he ever wanted.

Bruning can fabricate whatever justification he wants - a 30 year-old plea bargain rejected by a 21 year-old kid, "life means life", opening the flood gates - but it's hard to imagine a worse load of complete bullshit.

I don't often use such harsh language on the site, but I don't know any other way to convey the full degree of my outrage at this sinful, unforgivable hypocrisy. It is sad enough that Nebraskans have elected three straight governors like Heineman who have let politics trump compassion for 16 years. But, Bruning has brought this ongoing controversy to a new low - pandering to our worst instincts in violation of that which he knows is right.

These other politicians? Maybe they really don't know better. Maybe they really do believe that being blindly tough on crime serves the public interest. Maybe they really do believe that there's no place for mercy and rehabilitation in our criminal justice system.

Jon Bruning, though, does know better. He's gone on record saying so. And, that makes his action all the more shameful and all the more sinful.

Below is a picture of Reginald Bennet's mother responding to Bruning's unsurprising flip-flop that decided her son's fate. She may be alone in her tears, but her loss is our loss - a blow to everything that is good and right about Nebraska and its people, who are better than this and deserve better from their elected officials.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

GOP: Desperate Already?

by Ryan Anderson
Sen. Tom White's barely into his first term in office, his promising Nebraska Leadership Project has only just begun, but already this titan-in-training has the Nebraska GOP running scared: whooping and hollering and trying every lame trick in the book to kill this revolution in its crib.

The source of their consternation? White's unsuccessful but politically brilliant effort to reframe the tax debate, challenging Governor Heineman's attempt to package regressive income tax reform as "middle class relief" by offering real relief to the real burden of Nebraska's middle class: property taxes. White's bill would've offered every homeowner a $500 tax credit to help offset the rising cost of local and county government, a plan Nebraskan taxpayers support by an overwhelming 85-13%.

How do you kill something that popular? A few boogeymen might help:
Sen. White, who is a high-priced trial attorney from Omaha and a long time Democrat activist, had every opportunity this year to put aside his partisanship and help eliminate the tax-and-spend mentality that has so brutally stifled economic growth in Nebraska. But rather than do what’s best for our middle-class, working families, Sen. White teamed up with Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy and assumed their nationwide Democrat strategy of unproductive negative criticism.
Sadly, that emphasis is theirs, not mine. Odd that they didn't bold "trial attorney" and "Democrat activist" as well, but maybe the names Dean and Kennedy have lost some luster since their unsuccessful deployment against Ben Nelson last spring.

Sloppy as these scare tactics may be, the NE-GOP remains a master at that other classic move: playing dumb.
Governor Heineman led the effort to eliminate the Estate Tax which Senator White believes only benefits the wealthy. Apparently, Senator White hasn’t ventured outside his comfy confines of Omaha to talk to middle-class Nebraska farmers who can’t afford to leave the family farm to their children due to the unjust and punitive Estate Tax.
Uh-huh, except White's proposal also included a provision to eliminate the estate tax. On this issue, the Republican "fact-checkers" weren't even close. This isn't just spin, this is lies.
A property tax cut was not “scuttled by the Governor and his allies.” This is a flat out distortion. Property tax relief was incorporated into the largest tax relief package in the history of the state. This package was permanent, lasting, and curbed uncontrolled government spending....

Senator White suggested an income tax credit for homeowners, not a property tax cut. So a homeowner would still pay the same amount in property taxes, but later get an income tax credit paid for by a surplus in the cash reserve. Sound confusing? That was Sen. White’s intent.
Sound confusing? Really? Does anyone out there really not understand the concept of an income tax credit for people who pay property taxes? I mean, anyone who isn't on the Republican Party payroll?

In fact, Sen White's proposal offered relief far more effectively and directly than Governor Heineman's plan, which repreated the tried-but-not-true tactic of diverting more state funds into county coffers in the hopes that rates will come down. Of course, that's exactly the same strategy that Heineman so vocally denounced as a "tax shift" and not a "tax cut".

Confused? That was their intent.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Chuck Hagel vs. George W. Bush

by Kyle Michaelis
With President George W. Bush's approval rating below 30%, you'd expect the Republican Presidential candidates to be putting a little more separation between themselves and Bush's record of incompetence and corruption. But, they are so fearful of offending the Republican base that stands by Bush in defiance of reason and reality that they are hopefully dooming themselves in the general election.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, on the other hand, is speaking as one freed, position himself as Bush's harshest Republican critic even though his votes reveal him as the U.S. Senate's most consistent supporter of Bush's agenda. It's an interesting, perhaps unprecedented niche - that of a man uniquely aligned with the principles for which Bush has stood who's watched in horror as Bush's arrogance and incompetence have done untold, inestimable damage to their shared agenda.

Hagel undoubtedly sees himself as the Defender of the Republican Faith from destruction at Bush's hands. This role requires no small degree of arrogance itself, but he's a politician so - seriously - what did we expect? What's ironic, though, is that Hagel's putting first what he considers the long-term interests of his party has invited such outrage and scorn at the hands of his party's activists, who would prefer to see loyalty to their president, marching lock-step with him into political oblivion.

Loyalty? Marching lock-step? Well, that's just not Chuck Hagel. And, as far as the Bush Administration is concerned, I say thank God for that.

Let's take a look at some choice quotes by Hagel from his Tuesday townhall forum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (which can be viewed courtesy of the Lincoln Journal-Star):
On Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez – “I’ve called for his resignation. I think he’s a disgrace to this country.”

On the Bush record - ”History will not be kind to this Administration.”
While the frontrunning Republican Presidential candidates also rallied around Bush's outrageous and insulting commutation of White House aide "Scooter" Libby's felony conviction for leaking classified information in an act of political retaliation, the LJS reported:
Sen. Chuck Hagel said...he disagrees with President Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence. Hagel described the president's action as "unfortunate"....
I'll admit that I think Democrats are very lucky that Republicans haven't heeded Hagel's warnings, embracing him and rejecting Bush. The easy appeal of their claimed "conservativism" backed by a voice that actually projects some measure of accountability, strength, and competence would be a formidable challenge in 2008 despite the American public's low opinion of its standard-bearer for these last seven years.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chuck Hagel: Casualty of War?

by Kyle Michaelis
Sen. Chuck Hagel made some enlightening remarks in today's Lincoln Journal-Star that might just be the best indicator yet of where he's at mentally and emotionally looking at the 2008 elections:
Hagel said he willingly accepts whatever political price he may be asked to pay for opposing a president of his own party on the war.

“A senior statewide Republican politician berates me now around this state on Iraq and immigration,” Hagel noted.

Attorney General Jon Bruning already has entered the 2008 GOP race for Hagel’s Senate seat. Hagel said he still has not decided whether he’ll seek re-election to a third term.

“I may be a political casualty before people figure this out,” Hagel said. “I’m prepared to take that risk. I accept that. I couldn’t do it any other way.

“Your career could be ended,” he said. “But you’re here to do what you think is right.”

Hagel hasn’t ruled out the thought of a 2008 presidential bid. “Is there a place I could fit in nationally where I could make a difference,” he wondered, “maybe even be elected president?”....

No matter what he decides to do, Hagel said, he will not withdraw from the policy arena. “Whatever I do, I want to continue to have the opportunity to influence the world and the outcome of policy,” Hagel said. “That does not have to be within politics, as Bob Kerrey and others have demonstrated.”
Berated by Bruning. Still imagining the presidency. Ready to follow Bob Kerrey's footsteps, perhaps even trading places (Hagel's not heading into Academia, but you know what I mean).

As for Hagel's willingness to be martyred by the Republican Party over the Iraq War, it's impossible to know whether that's a genuine stand on principle or a calculated political risk, but it sure is a refreshing contrast from the silence of our Republican Congressmen and Bruning's pandering to the far right-wing.
If President Bush doesn’t change policy in Iraq, the Congress will force change through its appropriations power this autumn, Sen. Chuck Hagel said...

“The American people have left Bush on this,” Hagel said, “and many Republicans will not stay with him now” if he doesn’t change course.

“The political reality is coming down the track, and my Republican colleagues know it.”
On Iraq, the time of reckoning is at hand. Chuck Hagel knows it and hasn't been afraid to say so. The question is whether his fellow Republicans - especially those in his home state - have any real understanding of what's truly at stake, or are they so sheltered in their partisan bubble that even after 50 months they're still incapable of acknowledging this war for the disaster that it is.

And, for Nebraska's purposes, here's maybe the most interesting question of them all - just when Republicans seem ready to break from Bush on Iraq, does Jon Bruning really believe he can position himself for a Senate seat by riding Bush's tattered, lame-duck coattails straight into 'stay the course'-oblivion? When the tide has already turned, does Bruning really think it smart to condemn Hagel and make an enemy of him for having had both eyes open and daring to speak the truth?

Of course, this is Nebraska. Maybe the real question is just how far removed from reality and lost to their partisanship our average Republican voter truly is. For that answer, the coming months will be most telling as the fall approaches and our empty suit Congressmen meekly position themselves on the most important issue of our day.

What will our Timid Trio of Lee Terry, Jeff Fortenberry, and Adrian Smith have to say? How will their supporters respond? How will the rest of Nebraska respond? The time is now to stand up and be heard - to force the change of course that Hagel predicts. Where is the pressure? Where is the outrage? With these Congressmen, do we really expect them to take the initiative? Have we given up on reaching them? If so, have we given up on beating them? Or - despite all the polling data - at the end of the day, do we really just not care what happens in Iraq?

If so, the true casualty of this war will be a far more tragic loss than Hagel's political career but rather the loss of our faith in the character of the American people and the genius of democracy.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day tomorrow. Celebrate that patriotic spirit. Then, live it, and - by doing so - earn it.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Bruning Cashes In as Hagel Considers His Options

by Kyle Michaelis
From the Associated Press:
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said Monday that he had raised $721,200 by the end of June to prepare for a possible campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel.

Bruning’s campaign said more than 80 percent of those donations came from Nebraskans, including a few prominent donors like legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and billionaire Walter Scott, retired CEO of Omaha construction giant Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc.....

Bruning’s campaign released preliminary fundraising figures on Monday even though his quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission isn’t due until July 16....

Hagel has said that he will make an announcement about his political future later this year.

Hagel’s political director, Kevin Chapman, said Monday the campaign won’t report its fundraising figures until the deadline, “but we’ll be well beyond $700,000.”
There's no doubt about it - that's a hefty chunk of change Bruning has managed for himself, quite impressive indeed if major Republican donors are still under the impression that Hagel might actually run for re-election.

Still no word on how much Omaha businessman and Bruning Campaign Finance Chair David Sokol has given to each candidate after last month's leak of Sokol's letter on personal stationary promising Hagel his financial support on whatever course he decides. More even than the somewhat dubious claim that Hagel's fundraising figures will be "well beyond $700,000," this silly little anecdote in the early days of the 2008 campaign is all the illusration one needs of Hagel's desperation and lack of confidence at the prospect of a Bruning challenge.

Although some are claiming quite assuredly that Hagel will not be running for re-election, my own not-particularly-insightful reading of the situation suggests he hasn't yet made up his mind what he's going to do. Rather, I suspect Hagel is keeping those cards close to his vest and his ear close to the ground still looking for the angle that best serves his interests and his ambitions (in his mind, probably even his country).

Rest assured, none of these options include getting beat by Bruning in a primary battle, but Hagel might be forced to commit earlier than he'd anticipated just to keep a potential Hagel-free race with Bruning competitive....unless plans are already in place for former Gov. Mike Johanns to step in and assume control of "the Hagel faction" in a seamless transition. In fact, it wouldn't surprise if Johanns had privately committed to deferring to Hagel's decision and, at our most fantastical, perhaps even waiting in the wings to assume a Senate appointment from Gov. Heineman should a jointly elected Senator and Vice President Hagel need to relinquish the former post.

Like it or not, Hagel is going to be a solid V.P. consideration for most any Republican candidate who gets the presidential nomination because of his singularly mainstream position on the Iraq War that would offer a near immediate balancing of the hardline stance each candidate is likely to maintain through the primaries. His actual combat experience and mostly undeserved reputation as a maverick would also likely be held assets to any of the potential Republican nominees.

If Hagel is angling for the V.P. slot, though, a high-profile primary challenge could alienate him even farther from the Republican base, making him a less attractive option. But, so too might Hagel's resigning himself to lame-duck status in the Senate if he foregos a re-election bid and just sits in the Senate with his fingers crossed hoping his prince shows up with his glass slipper. If Hagel looks like he was spooked away from the Senate by a primary challenger or like he's lost his drive for public service, his movement towards retirement could prove deadly to his own ambitions.

But, again, what the hell do I know. I'm just tossing hypotheticals out there. Honestly, what do you think?

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Chuck Hagel Lashes Out

by Kyle Michaelis
From Friday's Omaha World-Herald, here are some choice quotes by Nebraska's Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on last week's brutal killing of the comprehensive immigration reform package that would have probably created as many problems as it would have solutions:
Three of the four U.S. senators from Nebraska and Iowa joined with a majority of their colleagues Thursday in killing a controversial immigration bill and likely putting off action on the emotional topic until after the 2008 elections.

With 46 senators supporting it, the bill fell well short of the 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle.

The legislation, backed by President Bush, included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a large guest-worker program and increased border security and workplace enforcement.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was the lone Midlands senator to vote in favor of keeping the legislation alive. Voting against it were Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Hagel had harsh words for those who helped bring down the legislation.

"We walked away from a tough problem, and we failed America today," Hagel said....

Even supporters weren't in love with the bill that was before the Senate this week. Hagel said it was inferior to one the Senate passed last year.

But the country's immigration problems have to be addressed, Hagel said. "We continue to defer the tough choices," he said.

Hagel blamed TV and radio talk shows and "political hacks" for giving the public the impression that nothing was being done on border security when, in fact, the country has spent billions on such efforts.

He said the number of illegal immigrants — there are an estimated 12 million in the country — will continue to balloon before the matter resurfaces in Congress.

Hagel said the illegal immigrants will remain hidden, not pay taxes and not be as productive as they could be. He said unscrupulous employers will continue to hold workers' illegal status over their heads as a means to hold down wages.

"Most are decent people who came here for the right reasons," Hagel said. "We lose all the way around".....

Hagel's office...was getting plenty of correspondence. A spokesman said the office had received more than 3,000 contacts related to the immigration bill over the past few weeks.

"My phone lines right now are jammed — nobody can get in, people upset with me," Hagel said during a conference call immediately after the bill died.
I'm not for passing bad legislation just so Congress can show its accomplishing something. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin call this bill "an unworkable mess." Even though he's gearing up for a re-election campaign and surely taking those considerations to heart, I'm inclined to agree. Still, I appreciate Sen. Hagel's apparent sense of moral duty on this issue and his calling out the rightwing talk show circuit for their shameless lies and fear-mongering about the present condition of our nation's borders. It's also pleasant to see Hagel speaking of our undocumented workers as true human beings who love and support their families rather than the law-breaking vagrants imagined by most Republican commentators (and whatever the hell Lou Dobbs qualifies as).

Still, even though an overhaul of our entire immigration system is long overdue, it now falls on Congressional Democrats to take charge of the border security debate by using their majority to pass practical and humane solutions that don't betray our national character. This issue has been left to fanatics such as Iowa's Steve King and Colorado's Tom Tancredo for far too long. Furthermore, it's time to make some headway on new security, identification, and enforcement measures so that questions of what to do about the 12 million-plus immigrants who are undocumented can no longer be dismissed by the likes of Sen. Nelson, who at least seems to have backed away from his previous progress-impeding rhetoric that drummed up opposition to any plan with a perceived Amnesty component.

By the way, an anonymous Republican Senator just denounced Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Washington Post columnist Robert Novak because of McConnell's flip-flopping on immigration and his inability to rally the party faithful behind their President's agenda. Although it would be incredibly uncharacteristic for Hagel to say anything off the record - giving up the opportunity to get his name in the headlines - there is a definite air of familiarity to the statement below:
"If this were a war, Sen. McConnell should be relieved of command for dereliction of duty."
Hagel may still want to keep his options open for 2008, and a good way of closing those in a hurry would be his publicly attacking the only national party leader this side of John McCain (who doesn't have such a hot track record in Nebraska) who would actually came to Nebraska to campaign on his behalf. Still, that definitely reads like a Hagel statement, and the fact that it ran in the always Hagel-friendly Washington Post certainly doesn't dissuade from this quite reasonable inference.

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