Friday, August 31, 2007

Obermeyer's View of....the Omaha World-Herald

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska cartoonist Neal Obermeyer had a pair of classics this week. I'm not quite scoundrel enough to lift both of them for NNN purposes, no matter how big a fan.

Still, I'm happy to share the following as we kick-off the Labor Day weekend. As published in this week's Omaha Reader:

Also, be sure to check out Obermeyer's most recent depiction of Hal Daub. I've given the old man a hard enough time lately, but it would be downright impolite of me not to share.

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Did Jon Bruning Vote For Kerrey?

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

Back in 1993, you may recall, Jon Bruning was a young liberal law student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 1996, he ran for legislature as a die-hard conservative. Quite the evolution in such a short time, and quite typical of Bruning's ruthless ambition.
In between, there was an election, and Bruning - as the civic-minded person he no doubt must be, to have such an interest in public service - voted. And it's not hard to imagine, given Bruning's positions at the time and Kerrey's 55% of the vote, that Jon Bruning voted for Bob Kerrey the last time that Kerrey ran for office in this state. Will Bruning change his position on Bob Kerrey just to win the Republican nomination? The answers to some questions are not such a mystery.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bob Kerrey & Chuck Hagel: Best Friends Forever???

by Kyle Michaelis
In Nebraska politics, we've all seen how ambition for higher office has driven Attorney General Jon Bruning from declaring himself "a Hagel guy" to making Sen. Chuck Hagel a target of any attack he could think of in just a matter of weeks.

Unreported has been the similar flip-flop by Hal Daub, who went from announcing in December that he would not consider a U.S. Senate bid if Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel seeks a third term to now declaring "I don't care who runs."

And, how can anyone forget the August fundraiser for the Nebraska Republican Party where praise for Hagel by the night's keynote speaker was met by nothing but silence from his party's faithful.

With responses like these, you might expect Hagel to be feeling a little bit lonely. A little bit isolated. A little bit betrayed. But, then, of all people, there is Bob Kerrey - the lone voice in Nebraska politics defending Hagel, praising Hagel, and even encouraging him to run for re-election.

What might distinguish Kerrey even more than the respect he continues to show towards Hagel, though, is that he's actually been consistent regarding his friend and former colleague.

Well, if the following article from the Omaha World-Herald or the above picture are any indicator, it looks like Kerrey is still the one leader on whose support Hagel could actually count:
Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Sen. Bob Kerrey appeared together Wednesday, following the same script: Both smiled and both sidestepped questions about which, if either, of them may run for the Senate next year. The Vietnam veterans teamed up at a Capitol Hill press conference to voice support for the Omaha-based Wounded Warriors organization, which hopes to build a retreat for wounded service members, their families and relatives of those killed in combat on 80 acres near Crawford in northwest Nebraska. But neither Kerrey nor Hagel had much to say when the subject turned to next year's U.S. Senate race.... 
Before Wednesday's press conference, the two met behind closed doors in Hagel's office in the Russell Senate Office Building. Loud laughter could be heard outside....  
"I just told him I knew it is a tough decision, since I went through the same thing seven years ago, and I told him I hope he goes for third," Kerrey said in an e-mail sent later in the day. "It will be a big loss for Nebraska and the nation if he leaves the Senate," Kerrey added.
Admittedly, the New Nebraska Network has not always been so praising of Hagel, but I certainly appreciate his leadership and insight in foreign policy matters going well beyond his outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq. More importantly, it is heartening to see a politician of Kerrey's stature disregarding party lines and political games with the same independence and integrity for which he's always been known by the people of Nebraska.

Of course, it's understandable why ambitious Republicans like Jon Bruning and Hal Daub would turn their backs on Hagel, hoping to appeal to all those silent Republican activists who don't care to face the truth about President Bush's failures. One wonders - one might even expect - that they will change their tune if Hagel announces he won't be seeking re-election - an effort to create a false united front, as if they hadn't just been preparing his political destruction.

It shouldn't matter. However Hagel ultimately chooses to position himself politically, the people of Nebraska have seen these men's true colors for themselves - pandering to their party's extremists. At the same time, the people have seen Kerrey stand by Hagel, reflecting Nebraska's tradition of nonpartisanship. In doing so, Kerrey is also representing the vast majority of Nebraskans who overwhelmingly elected Hagel in 2002 and - looking to 2008 - have concerns far greater than protecting President Bush and the Republican status quo.

Bob Kerrey is a man for all Nebraskans. He was as Governor. He was as Senator. Let's hope he'll again be the candidate for all Nebraskans very, very soon.

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One Brave Nebraskan Highlighted In John Edwards' Health Care Crusade

by Kyle Michaelis
Highlighting the differences between Democratic presidential candidates in their plans to provide health care for every American (or not), the campaign of former Senator John Edwards has drawn national attention to the remarks of an unidentified Nebraska woman at a New Hampshire rally telling her story of struggle as a breast cancer survivor.

This woman is not alone - not as a Nebraskan, and not as an American.  To share this video with family or friends, please go to

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pete Ricketts: If At First You Don't Succeed - BUY, BUY Again

by Kyle Michaelis
The Clown Prince of the Nebraska Republican Party Returns
Hal Daub just resigned as National Committeeman for the Nebraska Republican Party, prompting the Lincoln Journal-Star to print the following story that shows our old friend Pete Ricketts re-entering the political scene:
In a prelude to a possible Senate bid, Hal Daub resigned Monday as the Nebraska Republican Party's national committeeman.  
Pete Ricketts, the party's 2006 Senate nominee, emerged as the most likely successor to Daub. Republicans will fill the vacancy at their state central committee meeting in Kearney Nov. 17.

This calls for a quick history lesson. Probably the most inexcusable unreported story of Nebraska's 2006 elections was the money flooding in to the Nebraska Republican Party and its candidates from the multi-billion dollar family fortune of Senate challenger Pete Ricketts.
Ricketts was not content to spend more than $12 million dollars from his Ameritrade trustfund on his own laughing-stock Senate campaign - so fundamentally flawed that it saw him lose to Sen. Ben Nelson by nearly 30%, with 56% of Nebraska voters actively disliking him by the end of the race. He also dropped campaign donations in the thousands of dollars all across the state - as if they were nothing more than bread crumbs. 

Most notable was the way Ricketts coordinated the funneling of close to $100,000 to the Nebraska Republican Party - with nine members of his extended family contributing the full $10,000 allowable by law. Also worth noting was the thousands of dollars Pete and his parents contributed to Don Stenberg to help pay-off Stenberg's campaign debt after losing to Ricketts in the Republican primary.

That might be a nice gesture - helping a vanquished foe who's fallen on hard times - but this was at the same time that he was running his own multi-milllion dollar self-funded campaign. Could Ricketts have made it any more clear that money meant absolutely nothing to him? Honestly, is it any wonder that a guy like that would fail to connect with the people of Nebraska? That they would - in fact - end up hating him?

Still, it makes sense that Ricketts would end up re-emerging in the Nebraska Republican Party's hierarchy. The people of Nebraska don't have to like him for Republican candidates to be very grateful when he writes them a check. For all of his own failures as a candidate, there's no denying that the kind of money he was dropping in Nebraska politics was bound to buy Ricketts some loyalty. Republicans up and down the ballot hardly even had to ask before having thousand dollar hand-outs thrust in their direction.

And, that mentality didn't end with the 2006 election. Ever since, Ricketts seems to have been just as busy as ever writing campaign checks and buying his party's loyalty with cold, hard cash.
Let's just take a look at who Ricketts has been contributing to lately (since the 2006 election):
$8,000 to Ken Svoboda (failed candidate for Mayor of Lincoln)  
$5,000 to Jim Vokal (Ambitious Omaha City Councilman, not even up for re-election until 2009....additional $2,5000 contributed by Ricketts' father, Joe)  
$1,000 to Jon Camp (independently wealthy incumbent on Lincoln City Council)  
$1,000 to John Erickson (failed candidate for Lincoln City Council)  
$2,300 to John Thune (U.S. Senator from South Dakota, up for re-election in 2010) $1,000 to Pat Roberts (U.S. Senator from Kansas, up for re-election in 2008)  
$4,600 to Chuck Hagel (U.S. Senator from Nebraska who already received tons of free advertising from Ricketts in 2006)  
$4,600 to Jeff Fortenberry (maxing-out to 1st District Congressman's 2008 re-election campaign)  
$500 to Lee Terry (spare change from under Ricketts' sofa cushion for his own Congressman in Nebraska's 2nd District)  
$5,000 to "For Our Republic's Traditions Fund", aka "Fort Fund" (Fortenberry's very own "Leadership PAC", i.e. mechanism to skirt campaign finance laws and buy influence in Washington D.C.)  
$5,000 to Sandhills PAC (Chuck Hagel's "Leadership PAC")  
$10,000 to Nebraska Republican Party (just another drop in the bucket)
Are you starting to get a sense of why Ricketts is the favorite to replace Daub in the Nebraska Republican Party? Those are some heavy-hitters, and that is a lot of money.

Not to mention, everyone knows there's more where that came from.

Of course, what I find most funny is all the various occupations Pete Ricketts reports for himself on the above campaign filings. They range from Ameritrade Executive to Director of the "Platte Institute for Economic Research" (whatever that is). A few times, Ricketts even declares himself "Retired" (at, I believe, the ripe old age of 42).

No, we haven't seen the last of Pete Ricketts in Nebraska politics, and I say thank God for that. Despite all the money in the world, with this guy calling the shots - so disconnected from the people of Nebraska and their real world concerns - the Nebraska Republican Party might be flush with cash but will only become further removed from the common people already struggling to find a reason to continue identifying with this party that has become so synonymous with greed, corruption, failure, and lies.

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Don Walton On Hal Daub (maybe "Gets On" would have been more correct)

by Kyle Michaelis
The Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton goes above and beyond trying to make the ever-unlikeable Hal Daub seem like a legitimate contender for the Republican Party's 2008 Senate nomination. Restrain your gag reflex and read for yourself:

Ideaman. That's Hal Daub. Intensity is the first word that comes to mind when describing the former Omaha mayor and former four-term Republican congressman. Usually, the body is in restless motion; last week in Lincoln it was the mind. At the end of a workday, Daub sat down in a semi-circle with about a dozen people in a meeting room at the Cornhusker Marriott to exchange views about the country's challenges and concerns....  
For two hours, Daub poses questions, seeks opinions, raises alternatives, proposes solutions. It is a tour de force. If Daub decides to enter the 2008 Senate race, he'll take the debate deeper than most candidates will want to go. Below the safety of the surface where many candidates prefer to float in consultant-tested life jackets, down into dangerous waters. Hal Daub is a deep sea diver....

You'd have to be a deep sea diver to wade through the remainder of Walton's Daub-loving drivel. Frankly, I don't know what Walton's talking about describing Daub as an "ideaman" known for his "intensity". To most people, the impression of Daub that usually comes to mind is "asshole" ("slimy politician" and "arrogant prick" are tied for second).

And, seriously, what sort of "tour de force" involves sitting around and talking with a dozen like-minded Republicans who weren't going to challenge a damn thing Daub had to say - not to mention the Journal-Star reporter looking around for a bigger spoon just so he could get a bigger bite of Daub's BS. Eat it up, Don. And, by all means, enjoy it while it lasts.

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Anti-Immigration Protestors Show Their True Colors

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

If you've been around Omaha for the last couple of years, you may have noticed the protestors that show up every so often in front of the Consulado de Mexico on 36th and Dodge St. Their thinly-veiled racism, however, is no match for the atrocious display of racism that is coming this weekend:
The National Socialist Movement will shut down Dodge street Saturday to protest illegal immigration. The Nazi protest at the Mexican Consulate is becoming a cause for community concern. So much concern in fact, the white supremacist group will receive a police escort in and out of Omaha as well as police security during the event, according to both the Consulate and protestors.
Well, that's great. I'm sure the people of Omaha will appreciate a bunch of Nazis choking off the main artery to the city for a few hours. Fortunately, everyone will be glued to their TV sets watching the season opener between Nebraska and Nevada, but that's not the point. It's disturbing how similar the Nazi message is to the right-wing party line on immigration. Put this together with the rising ranks of the KKK in recent years because of strong feelings against immigration, and it's not hard to see what kind of people are driving the debate on this issue. And it's sickening.
"This is not Mexico and we don't want it to be Mexico," says Col. Tim Bishop with the National Socialist Movement. Illegal immigration threatens the self described Nazi group's main goal. "The preservation and the promotion of the white Arian Caucasian people," says Bishop.
And it's at this point that we have to bring up the thing that fails to get through to these people each and every time:
Only the swastika emblazoned protest against illegal immigrants will happen outside the one place in Omaha Mexicans can obtain legal identification. "I guess because it has a Mexican flag out front or they misinterpret what we do," says the Consul. "They're telling people to come here. They're telling people where they can get social services. They're telling people how to exploit the system," says Bishop.
At least these folks make their racism very clear, so it becomes easier to expose the racism of those who hold the exact same beliefs as them. How could this not be blatantly obvious at this point? This isn't about "border security" or "amnesty" or any of the other buzz words that politicians in Washington like to throw around. This is about Mexicans. This is about fear. Quite simply, this is racism. And it's unfortunately very politically acceptable, to the point where people who should know better are buying into the buzzwords and phrases. To the point where people are treated like criminals and separated from their families for wanting to make a better life in America. To the point where the "compromise" position has us relegating people to a status of virtually permanent indentured servitude. One last point, which I cannot stress enough: Don't take the bait.
The Consul's concern is not the demonstration but the potential for violent public reaction and damage to his building.  
"A counter-demonstration is not productive in any way and that's exactly what these people are looking for."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kos Predicts "Likely" Victory for Potential Kerrey Campaign

by Kyle Michaelis
Markos, founder of the DailyKos community and probably the best-known political blogger in the country, has released his projections for the 2008 election cycle in the U.S. Senate. Quite stunning is the fact that he ranks a Nebraska Senate race without Republican incumbent Chuck Hagel and with Democratic former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey as one of the Democratic Party's absolute best hopes for expanding their Senate majority.  He writes:
Here are my rankings of races most likely to switch parties at this point in time. TOP TIER 4. Nebraska (Hagel - R)
Another race assuming someone gets out (Hagel) and someone gets in (Bob Kerrey). If this happens, it would mark one of the DSCC's biggest recruiting coups and force Republicans to play defense in a likely losing battle -- the best of all worlds.

Now, I think it's great that some prominent voices in the Democratic Party and the new media are starting to take a good, hard look at the Nebraska Senate picture. With Kerrey in the race - even with Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey - this race is well-deserving of top tier status. But, I won't deny being more than a little bit concerned with overhyping a Kerrey candidacy. To say that Kerrey gives Democrats' their best chance in Nebraska is undeniable. To suggest that he's "likely" to win, though, seems somewhat extreme from where I'm standing.
I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but we have to be practical. We can't completely forget that it's been 13 years since Nebraskans last voted for Bob Kerrey. Nor can we be totally oblivious to the barely legitimate but no less effective criticism of Kerrey for living in New York City since leaving the U.S. Senate in 2001. Furthermore, the shadow of former Gov. and current Agricultural Secretary Mike Johanns hangs over the Republican field of candidates, probably as close to evenly-matched as they could get should both he and Kerrey enter the fray.

Nevermind that we still have no assurances from Kerrey that he is running - even if the rumor mills and inside buzz all say he's practically on the verge of announcing.

There's a lot to be said for a Senate bid by a re-emergent Kerrey in 2008. But, there are also real dangers for Nebraska Democrats becoming so caught up in Kerrey's star-quality that they lose sight of the 2008 election as it actually stands. And, for all the excitement about Kerrey's possible return to Nebraska politics, I just can't wrap my brain around any situation where he becomes an instant favorite - as Kos seems to suggest.

What do you say, Nebraska? Am I failing to see the forest from the trees? Am I too caught up in the minutia of Nebraska politics - too close to memories of the 2002 and 2004 elections - to the point that my perceptions of this race are corrupted and prone to excessive skepticism?

Again, I think we have a real opportunity in this race. Looking at Kos' list and the Cillizza list that preceded it, I'd agree that it's definte Top 10 material in terms of simple competitiveness. I just can't, for the life of me, call this a "likely losing battle" for Nebraska Republicans.

But, maybe that's just me. I hope so. It's certainly a beautiful dream, but no one should think for a second we won't have to fight like hell to make it an actual reality.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Hal Daub Finishes His Magical Mystery Tour (w/new poll)

by Kyle Michaelis
Former Congressman and Omaha Mayor Hal Daub wrapped up his statewide listening tour with a couple of events in Omaha this week, leaving the door open to his third campaign for the U.S. Senate.
 The Associated Press reports:
Daub said he's found overwhelming support across the state for Bush and his decisions about Iraq.... 
Daub wouldn't say Friday how much money he's raised for a possible run, or how much of his own money he's spent on the listening tour. He also won't say whether he'd run against Sen. Chuck Hagel, a fellow Republican whom Daub says he considers a friend...

But Daub did say he "won't be dissuaded by whoever the candidates might be."

If he decides not to run, Daub says he'll return the money he's raised with interest and will pass the ideas he's gathered along to elected officials.

Boy, I'm sure Nebraska's elected officials can't wait to have Hal Daub tell them what the people of Nebraska are thinking. I still refuse to accept Daub's exaggerated and illegitimate claim that Nebraskans support President Bush and his war policy. This demonstrates nothing more than that the kind of people who'd attend a Hal Daub event are just as fringe-worthy and out of touch with the mainstream as Daub himself. I'm curious what others think of Daub's claim, though, so please answer our latest NNN poll.

As far as Daub actually running for Senate, I'd love to see him get the Republican nomination, but that's just not going to happen. I know it's said that "the third time's the charm", but we saw how well that worked out for Don Stenberg in 2006. No, as proven by the choice of Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Republicans might still nominate a candidate who is a total loser - but not a proven loser like Hal Daub.

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Fishing With Joe in NE-02

by Kyle Michaelis
Omaha reporter Joe Jordan is fishing for stories about who might run against Lee Terry for Nebraska's Second Congressional District. The person he's cornered most recently is none other than Omaha State Senator Tom White.

KMTV 3's Joe Jordan: Senator, I was wondering where you are regarding a possible run for Congress?  
State Senator Tom White: Ha, ha, ha....   
Jordan: No really, do you think you're going to run?   
White: Joe, I'm just trying to get property tax relief for my constituents.
Jordan also remarks on the improbability of 2006 challenger Jim Esch making a second run at Terry's seat. Word on the street is that Esch will be announcing his intentions very soon - perhaps as early as Labor Day.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure: The Famous "Assface" E-mails

by Kyle Michaelis
Remember those Republican staffers working for Sen. Tom Coburn who were out to get Sen. Ben Nelson. Well, we at NNN thought you might all like to see their artful displays of childish contempt for yourselves.

Note: A black Sharpie has been used to protect the innocent.

TAC is, of course, Sen. Thomas A. Coburn, whose staff seems to be prodding him to take this issue farther and farther for their own personal and political reasons. The hit piece being celebrated by these jokers is an August 2nd article in The Hill reporting Coburn's grandstanding against a single earmark for a Nebraska company in the Defense appropriations bill for not filing one particular disclosure form.
Whether hoping to embarrass Ben Nelson, make a name for himself, or just "shut that fucker up", Coburn completely fails to point out that, according to government watchdogs at the Sunlight Foundation, no defense contractors are filing the obscure forms he seeks. That's a damn shame because the lobbying practices they pertain to should be disclosed, but it also reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of this whole stupid situation.

Just another great moment in democratic discourse brought to you by our friends in the Republican Party.

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Bob Kerrey One Step Closer to ???

by Kyle Michaelis
Following up on NNN's previous post, the Omaha World-Herald chimes in with some additional details and a slightly different take on Bob Kerrey's potential return to Nebraska's campaign trail:
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey told trustees at his New York university Thursday that he is seriously considering running for the Senate again if Republican Chuck Hagel announces his retirement. "I'd like the answer to be 'yes' or 'no' as close to when Chuck makes his decision," Kerrey said in an interview. "I wanted to let them know the answer might be yes"....  
Kerrey, a Democrat who served two terms in the Senate and one as Nebraska's governor, said the New School trustees understood why he is interested in possibly returning to public life. He said they hope he decides not to leave the university. "The odds still favor me saying no," Kerrey said. 
If he were to win election again, Kerrey said, he suffers no illusion that he'd be happier than he is now. "It's not about happiness," Kerrey said. "It's about does the country need me to try?"Kerrey said he has been giving serious thought to the race because he thinks he could contribute to shaping American policies on national security, intelligence, trade and entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.... 
If Hagel decides not to seek re-election, Kerrey said he will announce his own plans soon after. He has talked the matter over with his wife and would decide with her, he said."In some ways, it's not a difficult decision. It's just, do I want to do it?" 

I don't know, Bob. You tell us.

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Bob Kerrey One Step Closer to Coming Home

by Kyle Michaelis
Bruin606 had the quick draw on this story, breaking that the Lincoln Journal-Star had just broken the news that former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey has notified the trustees of New School University that he is seriously considering a return to Nebraska and a run for the U.S. Senate. Kerrey promises an announcement within weeks, no longer willing to let his friend Chuck Hagel sit back and dictate the entire decision-making timetable in Nebraska politics:
Bob Kerrey stepped to the brink of a possible 2008 Senate bid Thursday.... A decision on whether to return to his roots and attempt to once again represent Nebraska in the Senate is likely "within the next couple of weeks," Kerrey said in a telephone interview.....  
Kerrey said he has become convinced Sen. Chuck Hagel will not be a candidate for a third term next year. "I am more and more certain Chuck is not going to seek re-election," Kerrey said, "and my intention is to make my decision before he makes an announcement." Hagel is expected to reveal his decision next month.....
"This is a very personal decision for me," Kerrey said. It requires him to balance personal happiness with the opportunity to "try to do something good for my country," he said.... Kerrey said he has received no signal from Hagel about the senator's intentions. "The only signal I get is connected to the fact that I went through this too at the end of my second term," he said. "I know that with me it could have gone either way."
There does seem to be a minor disconnect between Kerrey's attempts to be respectful of Hagel's indecision while announcing that he's not going to wait around for Hagel to make up his mind. Of course, that's nowhere near the outright insulting flip-flop by Attorney General Jon Bruning - going from calling himself "a Hagel guy" to attacking Hagel at every chance he could get in a matter of weeks.

Should Kerrey run (not something we can firmly count upon until he actually commits), there's certain to be silly attacks that he's somehow a carpetbagger. The buffoon Bruning even used that term, delighting in the idea of using it against Kerrey as a potential opponent. But, Kerrey's work at the New School was an incredible opportunity for a man of his near-boundless creative instincts that he probably would have been a fool to pass up. It's hard to imagine how serving as President of an out-state University could honestly be said to nullify Kerrey's undeniable record of proven commitment to the people of Nebraska - especially when he was serving his country, helping us come to terms with one of the worst tragedies in our nation's history, as a member of the 9/11 Commission.

Still, there will be plenty of time to talk of such things. For now, though, we remain in the realm of speculation. It's hard to be content with that when there's so much work to be done, but - take heart - the clouds are beginning to part and all will soon be revealed.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lincoln's Partisan Divide Erupts Into Trench Warfare

by Kyle Michaelis
Following-up on a diary from last week on the question of whether the partisanship on Lincoln's City Council is being exaggerated by the Lincoln Journal-Star's coverage, before Monday night's final budget vote whatever conflict exists over funding of the Lincoln Fire Department turned quite personal between two Council members - Democrat Jonathan Cook and Republican Jon Camp.

The LJS reports:
The latest fire department flareup was ignited when Cook made a motion to restore $100,000 that Republicans on the council, led by Camp, cut from the fire department budget earlier this month.... Cook said the cut undermines public safety for no reason and accused Camp of being motivated by a vendetta against the fire department, recounting controversial statements Camp has made over the years about firefighters and the fire department. Cook said he doubted fire officials in other cities - such as Minneapolis, where rescue workers recently responded to a major bridge collapse - endure the kind of criticism Lincoln's do. He asked: Were they accused of having too many workers on site? Spending too much on overtime? Putting in too many workers' compensation claims?...  
Instead of being proud of Lincoln's specially trained team of firefighters who respond to national emergencies, Cook recounted Camp's accusation last year that firefighters had tried to "elevate themselves" by exaggerating their role at Ground Zero after Sept. 11. "I think it's part of an effort to turn heroes into villains and pick, pick, pick at a fire department that two studies have shown is a very efficient department," Cook said. "It's time to end these attacks on the fire department."  
In return, Camp accused Cook of twisting his words, trying to get media attention and "trying to cause alarm in our citizens." He said Lincoln has a good fire and ambulance service, but could do better and needs to be "fiscally prudent." "I'm tired of your tirades," Camp said. "And if you don't cease with this, I'm going to ask our colleagues to censure you because you've gone too far." He then called on Cook to apologize to him and the citizens of Lincoln. After the meeting, while Camp was being interviewed by the Journal Star, Cook approached and Camp became angry, calling him a "mouthpiece for the fire union" and saying, "get a life" before stalking away.  
It doesn't appear Camp will be getting an apology from Cook, who said, "I don't owe him an apology. He owes the men and women of the fire department an apology for constantly defaming them".... Cook's motion to restore the money failed by a 3-4 vote, with Republicans voting "no" and Democrats "yes."
It's hard to say where this Cook vs. Camp battle royale has its beginnings. Maybe partisan loyalties have colored the debate, but anyone who follows Lincoln city government can tell you that the idea of the proudly belligerent Camp accusing anyone of making tirades and seeking media attention is quite ridiculous on its face. Camp's made an artform of precisely that sort of grandstanding and - if anything - seems to resent having his own tactics used against him.

Both Cook and Camp were re-elected in Lincoln's May election, so they're probably going to have to put up with each other for four more years on the City Council. Both have also expressed past interest in seeking the Mayor's Office, so who knows just how far their skirmishes might ultimately go?

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Childish Republican Staffers Target Ben Nelson in Earmark Battle

by Kyle Michaelis
A story from last month that ended with Sen. Ben Nelson retracting a controversial earmark request for an Omaha-based company that employs his son found renewed life thanks to a series of e-mails coming to light that suggest the controversy and criticism directed at Nelson may have been quite personal and probably even partisan in nature.

As reported by The Hill:
A battle between the offices of Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) over a controversial earmark intensified earlier this month, displaying how debates on Capitol Hill sometimes can turn personal.
The senators had been at odds over the matter for much of the summer, but it would reach a new level when John Hart, communications director for Coburn, forwarded a news article detailing his boss's request for an investigation of a defense contractor. The target of the would-be investigation, 21st Century Systems Inc. (21CSI), employs Patrick Nelson, the son of the centrist senator. Sen. Nelson had requested an earmark for 21CSI, triggering a heated battle between the senators that has raged for weeks. 
"This will shut that fucker up," Hart stated in an Aug. 1 e-mail sent from his Senate account to several of his colleagues. "I can't wait to send an In Case You Missed It to Nebraska press that will be forwarded to assface".... Hart has since said that his missives were directed at Nelson spokesman David DiMartino, not Sen. Nelson.

I wish I could hold this e-mail up as an example of Republicans' super-partisan mentality, but this seems to be more a case of simple stupidity. Why might Coburn's staff bear such animosity towards Nelson - or, even towards his spokesman Mr. DiMartino? I suspect it has something to do with the following article from July's Omaha World-Herald that proved Nelson's staff quite adept at putting their Republican assailants back on the defensive:
Sen. Ben Nelson had a message Tuesday for Sen. Tom Coburn: Take care of your own backyard before you attack other lawmakers' earmarks. The Oklahoma Republican filed an amendment last week to eliminate $7.5 million that Nelson, D-Neb., wanted to steer to Omaha defense contractor 21st Century Systems Inc., which calls itself 21CSI. A Coburn spokesman compared 21CSI military computer software to video games and criticized the project as classic pork barrel spending. Nelson's office staff responded by defending the earmark as important to national defense, but also decided to take a look at earmarks in the defense bill that would benefit Oklahoma. They came across a $5 million earmark for military simulation training in Oklahoma. The earmark was inserted into the bill by the other Oklahoma senator, Republican James Inhofe, who could not be reached. That simulation training program has involved the Institute of Creative Technologies, which has received millions through federal earmarks over the years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. One product of the funding was a video game called Full Spectrum Warrior that proved commercially successful but of limited military use, according to the group. "Senator Coburn's derided the research and development work done in Nebraska by mischaracterizing it as 'video games' and deemed it unworthy of funding, while ignoring and tacitly approving a $5 million earmark for his home state that actually does fund video game development," said Nelson spokesman David DiMartino.
That's a pretty damn fine retort if you ask me. Regardless of the ultimate merit of the 21CSI funding, there's nothing quite like the revelation of this blatant hypocrisy to make Coburn and his staff look like a bunch of fools.

Of course - as previously stated - Nelson has withdrawn his earmark request, but the actual spending remains in the Senate's appropriations bill. It faces a long road in the House, though, because Nebraska's Republican Congressmen are so uniformly lacking in stature and influence. And, I fear the same will hold true of every dollar Nebraska seeks back from the federal government until we elect some Representatives who are honestly worthy of their colleague's respect.

Until then - to paraphrase Second District Congressman Lee Terry - if you want something done in this state, you should "just go talk to Ben."

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ES&S Faces $10 Million Fine in California

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald's corporate sibling, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), continues to gain negative publicity - even if it never makes it into the Nebraska press (for quite obvious reasons).

After last week's damning report by Dan Rather on the conditions under which their machines are manufactured and the defects in their finished product, now comes word of a very serious failure to properly certify ES&S machines that could end up costing the company millions of dollars.  The Inquirer reports:
The California Secretary of State's office announced today that it is investigating ES&S for allegedly selling uncertified voting machines in violation of state elections laws. ES&S's Automark 100 voting machines have been certified in California since August 2005. However, ES&S is accused of selling its later model Automark 200 machines before they had been tested by the Federal government in August 2006. The Automark 200 machine still has not been submitted to the State for its examination and certification, according to a Secretary of State spokesperson....  
According to California law, ES&S could be fined $10,000 per uncertified machine, or $10 million dollars for 1,000 machines. In addition, ES&S could be required to make full refunds to counties that bought the uncertified machines, which reportedly would cost another $5 million dollars. ES&S could also be barred from doing business anywhere in the State of California for one to three years, which could mean headaches and unanticipated voting machine replacement costs for the 14 counties that currently have ES&S voting machines. It's not known how many such uncertified voting machines ES&S might have sold in other states.
I've called for the World-Herald to divest from ES&S several times out of principle. But, with these sorts of liabilities and this level of incompetence, it might be time to consider divesting to protect their own economic interests.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Did Chuck Hagel's Slap Down of Republican House Leader Even Get Reported by the Omaha World-Herald?

by Kyle Michaelis
Seriously, five days ago, Sen. Chuck Hagel delivered as straight-forward and stunning a rebuke to the Republican Party's entire Iraq War noise machine as any that has been reported across the country. Without resorting to sound bytes - simply stating the facts - Hagel managed to single-handedly debunk every fantastical notion of success just around the corner that Congressional Republicans and the Bush Administration continue grasping onto in such sick desperation.
In particular, Hagel embarrassed House Minority Leader John Boehner with his merciless recitation of the cold, hard facts. At the same time, he shamed Nebraska's Republican Congressmen - who spent the week fundraising with Boehner across Nebraska, earning every blood-drenched dollar with their silent embrace of Boehner's and Bush's Iraq War fantasies.

Still, to my knowledge, the Omaha World-Herald managed to completely neglect coverage of Hagel's outright refutation of the party-line concocted by Boehner and his ilk. Did I miss something or is this oversight nothing short of outrageous on the part of Nebraska's supposed paper of record?

Even though Hagel's statements may have been made to the Lincoln Journal-Star, it's impossible to justify disregarding their importance or their implications for the national political scene and for Nebraska's stooge-like House delegation. A sitting U.S. Senator from Nebraska denounced his own party's leader in the House of Representatives - essentially calling him a liar or a fool - and we're left to assume our state's largest and most powerful newspaper somehow didn't find that newsworthy. Are you kidding me?

Once again, the World-Herald proves itself either incompetent or corrupt for keeping the people of Nebraska in the dark on issues and stories that are not convenient to its Republican political bent. Nothing we haven't seen before (or, failed to see, as the case may be). But, this is definitely a failure we must rage against if we're ever to put the World-Herald on notice that Nebraskans might - one day - expect better and find themselves seeking a more honest alternative.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bob Kerrey: Keeping Us On Our Toes

by Kyle Michaelis
Last April, Bob Kerrey told the Lincoln Journal-Star that he wouldn't run against Sen. Chuck Hagel should he seek re-election, promising that he would, in fact, make a contribution to Hagel's campaign. At the same time, Kerrey declared, "I'm almost 100 percent certain I'm not going to run."

Well, speaking to the NY Times, Kerrey recently repeated, "If Hagel runs, not only would I not run, I would write him a check." One blogger at MyDD took issue with Kerrey's display of Nebraska-style nonpartisanship. But, the real story might be Kerrey's subtle change of tune should Hagel sit this one out:
"At the moment, I don't think I'm going to run. But these moments don't happen very often. It's a possibility."
Of course, I wouldn't expect a retiring Hagel to make any contribution to a potential - probably still unlikely - Kerrey campaign. But, even if it is but the faintest of possibilities, a lame-duck Hagel having to choose between a hypothetical Jon Bruning versus Bob Kerrey match-up would be a situation so ripe for political farce not even Shakespeare could have imagined it.

Dare we even dream?

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Nebraska Senate Race Hits the National Radar

by Kyle Michaelis
What do ya' know, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is keeping an eye on Nebraska's 2008 Senate race and actually ranks it as the eighth most likely in the country to end in a partisan flip:

8. Nebraska: Can anyone claim to know what's going on in the mind of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R)? The Fix expects him to announce his retirement from the Senate some time this fall, but Hagel has proved us wrong before. If Hagel retires, Democrats are expected to make a major push for his seat. The likely candidate is Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, although former Sen. Bob Kerrey has also expressed some interest and might well have the right of first refusal. Republicans would quickly move to recruit Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, a former Nebraska governor, but it's not clear that Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is already in the race, would back out. The eventual Republican nominee should be helped by the state's strong GOP bent.

That certainly reads like Nebraska's chances of being a Democratic pick-up in the U.S. Senate are being taken very seriously - perhaps more than I'd previously entertained as possible.

No doubt, that's an exciting prospect. Sure, there's a long ways to go and plenty of variables that have yet to play out before any true judgment can be made, but it's nice to know that they're thinking of us and that Nebraska isn't being written off just because we've picked up a couple of nasty voting habits somewhere along the way.

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Nelson on Iraq: Calls for Troop Reduction But Recognizes Long Term Commitment

by Kyle Michaelis
It doesn't make me particularly popular with readers, but I have genuine respect and admiration for Senator Ben Nelson's cautious and well-reasoned position on the war in Iraq. Today's Lincoln Journal-Star includes Nelson's honest assessment of where things should head from here:
[Sen. Ben] Nelson said he favors transforming the U.S. military mission in Iraq without setting any troop withdrawal date. Iraqi forces need to take responsibility for security and stability in Baghdad, he said, while U.S. troops "go after al-Qaida in a much more robust way." That transition naturally would lead to a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, Nelson said. "We need to challenge the Iraqi government to do what it needs to do" to reach political accommodation and stabilize the country, he said. "But we'll have a presence there for a long period of time," Nelson said.
It saddens me to see how anti-war activists, the media, and the Republican Right have worked together to re-imagine the 2006 election as being driven by a single supposed demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, setting an irresponsible and self-serving standard that undermines the more general cries for change that were truly at the root of the Democratic Party's success.

Nevermind that this destructive fantasy neglects every other failure and outrage during years of Republican corruption and abuse. Probably worst is how the Democratic Presidential candidates have allowed their positions to be defined and dictated by this false construct, forcing them to extremes that will ultimately hurt their candidacies while making responsible Democratic legislators look weak and any true Congressional reforms impossible.

Voters should be wary of Nelson's statement that "we'll have a presence (in Iraq) for a long period of time" - not because he's wrong but because we can't lose sight of the goal of withdrawal. But, to do so responsibly requires the sort of change in strategy Nelson is talking about and can help make a reality - if Democrats avoid the sort of demagoguery that doomed the Republicans in 2006 and that got us in this mess in the first place.
It is going to fall to our next President to set the terms of our commitment to the Iraqi people and - hopefully - our military's withdrawal from their country. It is good to be talking about exit plans, but they are no excuse and no replacement for an actual strategy.

Battles over cutting funding for the war and when to demand complete withdrawal will not only hurt the Democratic Party's larger agenda but will also force precisely the sort of gridlock and inaction that will put our Armed Forces and our next President in even worse positions. The Bush Administration, Republican filibusters, and the prevailing uncertainty about our mission in Iraq are all realities we must deal with if any true progress is to be made.

The coming Congressional debate does not need to be a zero-sum game between warring partisan factions. There is room for principled stands and impassioned debate without giving in to the easy rallying cries and expected brinkmanship from both sides that would close the door to compromise and leave President Bush completely unchecked by Congressional authority. What Nelson offers is a path to avoid this worst-of-all-worlds, "do-nothing Congress"-scenario that is otherwise so likely and so damaging to the entire cause of Democratic reform.

This isn't to say that Nelson can be trusted implicitly. In this coming debate, he must remain stronger than he sometimes has in years and on issues past - asking tough questions, demanding honest answers, and insisting on accountability. If he can do that, he will have served the people of Nebraska and this country honorably - keeping faith with the ideologically diverse Nebraska voters who re-elected him in the real 2006 election.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Absurdities of 2008 Senate Race Explored in Detail

by Kyle Michaelis
Two of the more respected old-timers of the Nebraska press corps, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton and Nebraska State Paper's Ed Howard, each published separate accounts today updating readers on the outlook for next year's race for the Senate seat currently held by Chuck Hagel (whose recess activities are the topic of our latest poll).

Walton reports on Jon Bruning's attack dog tactics before taking a wider look at the campaign landscape:
Target: Johanns. The bulls-eye has moved. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a Jon Bruning news release issued last week: "Attorney General Jon Bruning criticized the recent decision by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to close 10 Federal Farm Service agencies in Nebraska. 'These closings are not in the best interests of Nebraska,' Bruning said. `I intend to protect and defend our family farms as a member of the United States Senate.'  
As mounting circumstantial evidence points toward the likelihood Chuck Hagel will not seek re-election, the spotlight begins to turn toward Johanns. Bruning, who had been targeting Hagel for his views on Iraq and immigration, may see Johanns emerging now as the chief obstacle standing between him and the 2008 Republican Senate nomination.....  
Hagel has not announced whether he'll seek re-election. That decision presumably will come soon....Although he'll be in Nebraska for a number of events this month - including a visit to Husker football practice last Friday - Hagel has not scheduled his usual August congressional recess swing across the state. Meanwhile, Johanns isn't talking. But the wind is whispering yes....  
Bob Kerrey is interested - if Hagel doesn't seek re-election.... "Is Bob Kerrey heading back to Nebraska?" The New York Post asked in its featured Page Six column last week. "At the recent fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton..., several Dems, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, were urging Kerrey to run for the seat of Sen. Chuck Hagel...." the report stated. It's not the first time Kerrey and Schumer have talked.  
No matter how this all shakes out, Nebraska is going to be a nationally-prominent Senate battleground state in 2008.

For all intents and purposes, Walton should be absolutely right about this race making Nebraska a battleground state. But, national attention has remained relatively scant - probably under the assumption that this doesn't become a race until Hagel decides not to run for re-election. In that sense, the national press is waiting for Hagel to announce his intentions every bit as much as the other potential candidates - whom Howard examines in greater detail:
Bob Kerrey and Mike Fahey and Mike Johanns are politicians from Nebraska, but it only seems like they are endlessly waiting for Senator Chuck Hagel. The situation has become an overlong example of politics of the absurd.... Johanns has not said he will not run against Hagel. Johanns and Hagel are not pals. Never have been. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  There are very strong signs, subtle and not so subtle, that Johanns wants to run.  
There is no question that Johanns represents the strongest possible Senate candidate the GOP can offer. Attorney General Jon Bruning has declared for the Republican Senate nomination. He can't beat Johanns.  
Kerrey and Johanns were both popular governors. Kerrey is known for a touch of charisma. Johanns is not.... Several political watchers in Washington anticipate Hagel's retirement, but no one is certain, at this writing, what he will do....  
[N]o one can ever be certain of what Kerrey will do. In addition, Kerrey has a reputation for sometimes changing his mind, even after he says he has decided what he will do.
Seems a rather bold statement to declare that Bruning "can't beat Johanns" in a Republican primary. Howard may be right, but I think he might be over-estimating voters' affinity for Johanns - who definitely carries some baggage from his days as Governor and his involvement with the Bush Administration that would provide some easy fodder for Bruning if he's truly willing to keep those guns-a-blazing. Also, in contrast to Kerrey's legendary charisma, Bruning has a lot more personality than Johanns - even if it is the fake charm of an overgrown frat boy who seems to be permanently running for student body President.

So far, much of the speculation around this race has relied upon some expectation of coordination between Hagel and Johanns - which Howard goes out of his way to refute. Regardless, the unspoken idea driving this whole hypothetical is that Johanns (and his blandness) could reunite Nebraska Republicans - both those who've been offended by Hagel's criticism of President Bush and those who've been offended by Bruning's criticism of Hagel - and see them to an easy victory.

Sounds like a perfect little plan, doesn't it? But, politics rarely play out in these sorts of paint-by-the-number schemes - especially with wild cards like Hagel and Kerrey in the deck. That first card should be played soon, though....stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for as much chaos and ridiculousness as possible.

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Public Pulse Taken Over by Republican Spin in Omaha Budget Battle

by Kyle Michaelis
Ten days ago, Omaha Republican City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson attempted to embarrass Democratic Mayor Mike Fahey and to pin the blame on him for not doing enough to prevent Omaha's rash of gun violence this summer. To do so, they leaked a letter they'd sent last December recommending a temporary increase in property taxes to fund a temporary increase in the number of police officers.

Leaving out the obvious but highly-relevant fact of who had released this letter in the first place, the Omaha World-Herald reported:
Fahey's chief of staff, Paul Landow, said the...council members privately sent the letter to Fahey but didn't push the issue further. "If they were really interested in adding 50 police officers, why didn't they say it publicly at the time?" Landow asked.....  
Landow also said Fahey has been steadily increasing the number of police officers, including adding 15 officers in 2007 and another 15 next year. But Fahey won't be calling for a temporary surge in police officers, Landow said.  
In their letter, the council members suggested that the number of officers increase by 40 to 50, then decrease after three years, or after violence in north Omaha has lessened. Under the plan, the tax increase that would fund the officers would also be rolled back.  
Landow said the idea of a temporary surge in police officers is unworkable. "What are we supposed to do at the end of the three years? Fire all the additional cops?"
So, essentially, Fahey is planning a permanent addition of 30 police officers rather than the 40 - 50 temporary officers Vokal and Sigerson had recommended. And, Fahey is budgeting for these new officers without relying on the property tax increases Vokal and Sigerson had called for last December.

It's rather ridiculous that they would even attempt to milk that difference for political gain, particularly when Omaha's Police Chief, Thomas Warren, had just told the Council, "I'm comfortable with the personnel allocation that we are proposing for the 2008 budget."

Honestly, it's sad that the World-Herald even printed this sad bit of partisan spin attacking Fahey and playing on people's increased fears about local crime. But, having opened that door, it was only fair that Fahey's office decided to fight back:
Mayor Mike Fahey's chief of staff is accusing two City Council members of playing politics when it comes to addressing gun violence. Chief of Staff Paul Landow said Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson have alternately advocated in letters to the mayor for both an increase and a decrease in the city's property tax rate....  
Vokal and Sigerson...wrote Fahey last December that they would support a tax rate increase in 2008 to hire an additional 40 to 50 police officers. Then in June, Sigerson and Vokal wrote Fahey asking him to lower the property tax rate in response to what was projected to be a significant increase in property valuations....  
"It's clearly disingenuous, political nonsense," Landow said. "One minute they are calling for a tax increase, and the next they want a decrease. Which is it?"..... Landow said the shifting positions were intended to bolster Vokal's possible mayoral bid in 2009. "This is all being done in the name of political ambition."

Thoroughly established as opportunists and flip-floppers taking advantage of the surge in gun violence for their own political purposes, you'd expect Vokal and Sigerson to shut up. Instead, today's World-Herald ran three curiously-timed and similar-sounding letters in the Public Pulse that attempt one last time to shamelessly spin the fears and heartache of Omaha families to the Republican Party's advantage:
Mayor Mike Fahey claims to want input from community leaders in an effort to solve Omaha's crime wave. But where was this concern in December when City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson offered to work with the mayor on addressing the sudden increase in gun violence in Omaha? Omaha has again seen a dramatic increase in violent crime this summer. Now, Fahey accuses the councilmen, through his Chief of Staff Paul Landow, of playing politics. If Fahey had been attentive to Omaha's needs and responded to the councilmen's ideas in December, maybe he wouldn't need to play politics now. Possible solutions already would have been in the works.  
Joe Risko, Omaha

Landow called the efforts by Vokal and Sigerson politically ambitious. This is ridiculous. Landown's attempt to twist the facts of the situation and turn it into a political attack is abhorrent. In December, Vokal and Sigerson proposed increasing the number of police officers in Omaha by 40 to 50 and were willing to authorize additional funding to do so. But Fahey refused this offer. In June, Vokal and Sigerson responded to the de facto tax increase caused by property valuation increases by demanding a tax cut. These two positions are entirely consistent. Vokal and Sigerson are in favor of using additional funding to curb violence in Omaha with additional police officers. They are not in favor of raising tax revenues through higher assessments just to pad city coffers. It is time for Landow and Fahey to quit playing politics and start doing something to keep our children from dying on the streets of Omaha.  
Scott Knudsen, Omaha

It seems to me that when these councilmen sent a letter to Fahey back in December, they were putting the interests of the people of Omaha above their own political futures. When it became clear to the them that their suggestion to add more police to stifle a crime wave was rejected, they were free to move on to resolve another increasing problem: Douglas County Assessor Roger Morrissey's desire to increase taxable property valuations. As a voter, I prefer leadership that is sensitive to the changing landscape of the city, not oblivious to it.  
Pete D. Pedersen, Omaha
I always hate to see the opinion page littered with these faux-letters pre-manufactured by party hacks and signed with the names of loyal Republican footsoldiers. It's sort of amusing, however, how each of these three letters contains its own carefully-crafted message attempting to obscure Vokal and Sigerson's hypocrisy while turning the tables on Fahey and Landow for who's really "playing politics."

Of course, in this little skirmish, the real question of who was "playing politics" begins and ends with who first tried to use this issue for their partisan advantage. Clearly, that was Vokal and Sigerson. They simply got out-played, despite the World-Herald giving them every possible advantage.

The facts speak for themselves. Sadly, the World-Herald appears to be concerned very little with Letters to the Editors adhering to those facts, instead allowing fabrication by repetition on its own opinion page.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Adrian Smith's House Votes 7/30/2007 - 8/5/2007

by Kyle Michaelis
by: Lisa Hannah

I've been delayed in getting this posting together because 1) It's summer and I'm busy, and 2) it was a big, long week before the summer recess full of all kinds of drama. Essentially I had to weed through all the muck as the Republicans threw a great big temper tantrum.

This last week before the recess really showed Adrian Smith in his true form: A follower who will do whatever his party leaders and biggest contributors tell him to do, even at the expense of his own constituents.
So what exactly did he do? Adrian Smith:

- Voted against continuing health insurance coverage for children who's parents work and make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford insurance for their children. That would have ended coverage for 45,000 of Nebraska's children. He did so because of cuts in the Medicare Advantage program. A program that has not proven cost effective, and is a nod to the insurance and drug manufactors.

 - Voted against tax credits for renewable energy because loopholes were closed that ended much of the ongoing corporate welfare to the Big Oil companies during a time of record profits. It's a tax credit that benefits Nebraska's ethanol industry.

- Voted against a maximum continuous deployment period for troops of one year, as well as minimum rest periods between deployments. There were exceptions made for the President to waive those in times of emergency, as well as in cases where troops volunteer for redeployment.

 - Voted against ensuring that workers receive fair, prevailing wages on federal contracts that are granted to build renewable energy systems. If that NO vote had prevailed, it would have prevented those in the Third District working on building any ethanol plants that receive federal funds from being assured a fair wage.

- He voted against fair wages for working women. When the Supreme Court ruled against a woman that filed suit for receiving wages less than her male counterparts, they dismissed it saying she filed too late. The bill that was submitted clarified and protected this timeline for women in the future.

- He voted against an earmark to continue research into protecting grapes from disease, among other things, to ensure a better crop. He sided with those saying it would benefit the wine industry. He forgot that there is a growing number of small, independent wine producers in Nebraska that would benefit from this research.

- He voted against the energy bill, which contains so many benefits through wind and ethanol promotion for Nebraska.  - Smith joined in with his party to play petty, political stalling games all week by voting for every motion to adjourn (except the one time a Democrat moved for it), and voting against the approval of the journal every time.

Finally, Smith failed to even vote for the Agriculture Appropriations Bill because, after a confusing vote, he did what his party leadership told him to do and WALKED OUT. They threw a major temper tantrum when there was some confusion, and chose to walk instead of staying and working things out. He then joined the same leadership to cosponsor a resolution to try and bring the bill back to the floor.

The night of the walkout, there was confusion as to whether or not a motion to recommit had passed or failed. Votes were being changed, the board was fluctuating, and there was chaos. The Republicans felt they had won the vote, but the board changed to that not being the case. The House Majority Leader (a Democrat) moved to vacate that vote so the Republicans could redo it and the vote would be without controversy. They wouldn't accept. They demanded that they won. They then walked out. In the ensuing votes, the Democrats agreed to redo the vote, but with the Republicans leaving (and all but a few of them choosing to stay), they redid the motion to recommit that then failed on a voice vote. They then passed the bill.

In cosponsoring the new resolution, Smith joined with his party leadership saying they wanted to have a redo to add the provision that illegals don't have certain rights (that are already on the books, by the way). They had their chance to have a "Do Over", but they walked out. They demanded it again well after the fact.

After all that, he still managed to miss another vote on the Water Resource Development Act. Why? Well, he said he was at a meeting. The interesting thing was he was there voting 8 minutes before on another vote, and this vote took place around 10:30 IN THE EVENING. Why would someone have a meeting that late at night?

Adrian Smith spent the entire week never once speaking up on any issue. Not one statement on the record. He let his party leadership do everything for him. He never showed any kind of leadership of his own, and he took positions that were not of benefit for the people of Nebraska.

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Chuck Hagel Delivers Devastating Blow to Republicans' BS

by Kyle Michaelis
House Republican Leader John Boehner visited Nebraska this week to make appearances at a series of high-dollar fundraisers for all three of Nebraska's Republican Congressmen - who've each remained good little partisan lap-dogs despite the nationwide implosion of the Republican Party.

Taking advantage of a few news reports that suggested some minor progress in Iraq, Boehner fantasized to the Lincoln Journal-Star:
After "investing all their political capital on failure in Iraq," Democrats soon will need to adjust to signs of U.S. success, House Republican Leader John Boehner said Wednesday.... The Bush administration's surge of additional U.S. troops into combat in Iraq has been "very successful," Boehner said....  
While the Iraqi government needs to make more progress in meeting U.S. benchmarks for political accommodation and stability, Boehner said, "the Iraqi parliament has made more progress in keeping its promises than the Democrats in Congress."
I'll give Boehner credit for working in a couple of choice soundbytes. The trouble is that they're so far out of touch with reality that they can't even be taken seriously. And, who better to hammer that fact home than Nebraska's Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel:

Hagel took issue with House Republican Leader John Boehner's own assessment that the Bush administration's strategy has been "very successful" in Iraq. "Everyone is entitled to his opinion," Hagel said, "but the facts do not bear that out".... "On the same day Boehner was boldly proclaiming we were winning in Iraq, Basra was under siege by roving gangs and militias," Hagel said. "Shiite militias are in charge in the southern third of Iraq," he said. On the same day, Hagel said, as many as 500 people were killed in the north. 
"All Sunni cabinet members of Nouri al-Maliki's government are gone," he said. "There is no functioning government in Iraq." Five U.S. soldiers were killed that day, Hagel said, and the Green Zone was hit by 25 mortar attacks. "I'm not sure on what basis Boehner says the surge (of additional U.S. troops) is working," Hagel said.
Thank you to Senator Hagel for refusing to join Nebraska's Republican Congressmen in burying their heads in the sand to the harsh realities of the Iraq War. By continuing to stand with John Boehner and President Bush through four-and-a-half years of delusion and deception, Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith have all proven themselves completely undeserving of the people's trust and the offices they hold.

The one point on which Hagel was wrong in his response is that Boehner is NOT entitled to say whatever he damn well pleases about the Iraq War - not when he's an elected representative with a responsibility to protect our men and women in combat and to speak the truth to the American public.

The fact that Boehner - as Minority Leader in the House of Representatives - continues selling this disastrous and failed war policy of the Bush Administration is an undeniable testament to the sad state of the Republican Party.

The fact that he speaks for Nebraska's Republican Congressmen when engaging in this deadly game of spin and deception- with their approval and with their support - should be the only call to action we need to clean house in 2008, replacing these mere Republicans with true leaders who won't betray their oath, sell their silence, and forsake our trust in the name of partisan loyalty.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Obama Says Democrats Must "Show Up" in Nebraska (to raise money?)

by Kyle Michaelis
The Associated Press reports:

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says it gets a little lonely sometimes being a Democrat in Nebraska.... But Buffett had plenty of company Wednesday night at an Omaha fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama....  
The total raised wasn't immediately available, but the minimum price to get in was $500 per person, and organizers estimated the crowd at about 200. About 40 of those people attended an earlier reception, and each donated at least $2,300.  
Obama said two Nebraskans - U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and former Sen. Bob Kerrey - are proof that a Democrat can win in a historically red state. "We can elect Democrats here, but we've got to show up," Obama said.

Offering some further details, the Omaha World-Herald reported:

The Illinois senator was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters: 9-year-old Malia and a very sleepy 6-year-old Sasha. Attendees included some of Nebraska's top Democrats, including Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, Omaha attorney James Martin Davis and State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha.

Using the numbers provided, we're looking at Obama receiving somewhere around $172,000 from his Omaha fundraiser - not bad by Nebraska standards, but a drop-in-the-bucket where Buffett is concerned.

Buffett hasn't made any official endorsement of Obama and has also hosted a New York City fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton. But, it's great his legendary status as the Oracle of Omaha was at least enough to entice Obama to show up. And, this was not the first time Obama's appeared in Nebraska after holding a community rally in North Omaha and serving as keynote speaker at the Nebraska Democratic Party's Morrison-Exon Dinner in May 2006. Long time readers may even remember the NNN interview with Barack Obama from that event.

John Edwards also made a fundraising appearance in Omaha earlier this summer, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson spoke at a National Conference of the Young Democrats of America hosted by Nebraska Young Democrats in May. So, honestly - at least, more than in years past - Nebraska is seeing a little bit of love from the Democratic Presidential candidates.

Of course, they still don't seem to be very concerned with or aware of the presidential caucus being planned by Nebraska Democrats for Saturday, Februrary 9th, 2008. But no one knows quite how things will shape up in the 2008 primary. It does seem a long-shot, but these candidates might still come back to Nebraska - hopefully asking for our vote.

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Jim Esch Acknowledges Concerns About Clinton

by Kyle Michaelis
With Hillary Clinton making a campaign stop in Council Bluffs Tuesday night - just across the state line from Omaha and Nebraska's Second Congressional District - 2006 Democratic challenger Jim Esch was asked by KMTV's Joe Jordan for his response to fears that Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for president would hurt potential down-ballot candidates like himself in Republican-dominated districts where Clinton has very high unfavorable ratings.

KMTV 3 Action News reports:
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) brought her presidential bid to Southwest Iowa on Tuesday night, and her campaign is talking up a big turnout. The campaign is estimating that 1,100 people showed up at the Iowa School for the Deaf, where Mrs. Clinton's biggest applause came when she urged the President to bring the troops in Iraq home....  
According to a recent Associated Press report dozens of Democrats around the country are privately complaining that if Mrs. Clinton wins the party's nomination next year, many Democratic candidates down the ticket (especially those running for the House of Representatives) will lose in an anti-Hillary backlash.
Omaha Democrat Jim Esch, who ran for Congress last year and lost, tells Action 3 News he understands that fear, especially in this part of the country. Esch has not decided if he'll run again in 2008, but says he knows he has to make that decision soon.
Of course, if Esch is concerned about being lumped-in with Clinton, it seems rather unfair to toss Esch into these reports that otherwise cover what sounds like a very successful Clinton campaign appearance. Note that Esch wasn't actually at Clinton's rally, so this talk of an "Anti-Hillary backlash" is really quite the manufactured angle.
Esch's response might make for a worthy story in its own right - especially placed within the larger national context. But, here it is completely out of place, serving only to undermine Clinton's appearance and to weaken a base of support Esch might still wish to call upon in some not-too-distant future campaign.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Scott Kleeb: Waiting for a Sign

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald checks in with the 3rd Congressional District's 2006 Democratic nominee, Scott Kleeb, giving little clue to his current plans but proving his continued commitment to public service and to the people of Nebraska:

Democrat Scott Kleeb has been hitting up supporters for campaign contributions this summer, but he hasn't made up his mind to run for public office again. "It's more of a declaration to supporters from last year that I'm still engaged," Kleeb said of his fundraising e-mails and letters. He said he is staying in touch "to let people know I didn't do what a lot of people expected me to, which was to pick up and move out of state."  
Kleeb gained national attention in his losing bid last year against Adrian Smith in Nebraska's heavily Republican 3rd Congressional District...Smith, who won by 10 percentage points, depicted Kleeb as a carpetbagger. Kleeb grew up on military bases overseas and attended college in Colorado and at Yale University. He and his wife now live in Hastings. Kleeb's campaign committee reported about $70,000 cash on hand as of June 30 and no debt. Kleeb could opt for a rematch with Smith, run for the U.S. Senate or none of the above.  
Much is unclear about how the Senate field will shape up. Incumbent Republican Chuck Hagel has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey and Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, both Democrats, are possible contenders if Hagel retires.  
Regardless of which race he considers getting into, Kleeb said, he needs to make a decision by midfall. In the meantime, he is teaching at Hastings College and working on a project to encourage community service among students. Kleeb also is trying to promote the development of alternative energy sources and helping a Nebraska ranch market its beef internationally.
It's good to see the World-Herald hasn't forgotten about Kleeb, whom they endorsed for Congress in 2006 praising his intellect, his eloquence, and his ability to "provide common ground across partisan and ideological lines." And, of course, we can't forget the World-Herald's criticism of Smith for his lack of skills, his poor reputation, and his inability to lead.

No doubt, there's still a lot of excitement about Kleeb and supporters who are still very much onboard should he run for office again in 2008. But, the natural urge to strike while the iron is hot and tap into that base while it is still very hungry has to be balanced against practical considerations. Smith's incumbency. The sheer size of Republicans' registration advantage in the 3rd District. The added difficulty of running alongside a Democratic Presidential ticket. Not to mention, well-founded concerns about establishing a reputation for losing elections.

Kleeb has what it takes. I know I'm not alone in being excited about his potential and his future in Nebraska politics. But, he's also a young man who can probably afford to think about things a little more long-term. Only he and his family can know when the time is right for them. On the other hand, Kleeb has to be mindful so the opportunity to win and to serve doesn't pass him by.

It sounds like we can expect Kleeb to announce his intentions within the next few months. That puts him in pretty good company amongst potential 2008 candidates for Congress and the U.S. Senate who should be giving us a clearer picture of next year's races soon after Hagel decides on his next course of action (supposedly before Labor Day).

I'll refrain from offering any further speculation about Kleeb in 2008 and beyond. But, readers are encouraged to partake in our new poll to have some say of their own. And, as always, please comment freely. You never know who might be reading.

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Note to Omaha World-Herald: There's No Excusing Karl Rove

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald included an editorial that went out of its way to make a false and preposterous equivocation between political strategist and White House adviser Karl Rove (aka "Bush's Brain"; aka "The Architect"; aka "Turdblossom") and political players from year's past - particularly in the Clinton years:

The purpose of political parties and their operatives, so it is said, is to win elections. Karl Rove, about to depart the Bush administration 17 months shy of its eight-year limit, devoted himself fervently to that purpose. Just as people like James Carville did for Bill Clinton and other partisan devotees did for presidents long ago.......  
[A]s 2004 nominee John Kerry said this week, "the politics of division may win some elections but cannot govern America." But he ascribed the proof to Rove alone, as though Clinton's team didn't do its share. The pursuit of electoral success and the formation of wise public policy can be mutually exclusive.... 
Leave it to practitioners of his trade to weigh Rove's success or failure in building the long-term Republican majority that he craved. (That is, after they analyze how a more deeply rooted Democratic regime in Congress crumbled more quickly on the watch of Carville & Co.)
The World-Herald reveals its bias quite plainly for all to see by writing as if Rove's notoriety were a fabrication rather than a reflection of his singular legacy in modern American politics.

To suggest, as the World-Herald does, that the Clinton White House practiced the same "politics of division" as Rove and the Bush Administration is - frankly - a damn lie. Clinton - in policy-terms and in presentation - was always a uniter seeking to bridge the gaps that predominate in American life. Bush, on the other hand - under Rove's tutelage - long ago embraced a presidency of paranoia and endless power plays that saw a sitting president campaign for re-election speaking almost exclusively to audiences that had to sign a pledge of support to even get past security. Gone was even the pretense of representing a united American public. Rove's was a game of numbers - pure and simple - in which victory was not just the ultimate goal but the only principle.

It is absurd and patently hypocritical for the World-Herald to simultaneously accuse the Clinton White House of divisiveness while mocking it for the Democratic Party's 1994 defeat. The anti-Clinton backlash that resulted in the Republican Party's takeover of Congress that year was a manifestation of the GOP's politics of division, proving just how effective a weapon it could be.

The whole Clinton impeachment ordeal was an extension of that style of politics, which the American people eventually rejected as Clinton left the White House with high approval ratings and the affection of many voters. Still, it wasn't until Karl Rove that we saw the true culmination of that ethos - at the very highest level of power - bringing us to the present where the sorry state of George W. Bush's presidency hopefully spells an end to what will be remembered as a very dark political era.

The World-Herald's attempt at defending Rove is insultingly idiotic and utterly preposterous. No matter their self-serving desire to portray Democrats as just as devious and just as corrupt as their Republican counterparts, there is only one Karl Rove - and thank God for that.

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Partisan Sensationialism at the Lincoln Journal-Star?

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Lincoln Journal-Star ran a Letter to the Editor that pretty well nailed the paper for framing the city's budget process as nothing more than a partisan showdown:
I watched much of the City Council budget meetings Aug. 6 and 8. I found the seven members of our Council to be voting for themselves (or, rather, their constituents) more so than down their respective political lines.  
Why, then, must Journal Star coverage mislead us where partisan politics are concerned? The Aug. 9 article on the budget mentioned the dreaded R & D words nearly 10 times. Might we remind the reporter that mayoral elections are not partisan and nowhere on the general ballot was there an R, D or any other letter by the candidates' names.  
I wish the paper would report the news, not create it. That's why we have FOX News.  
Barbara Arendt, Lincoln
Maybe we should look at the article Ms. Arendt was talking about to understand the merit of her accusation:
It came down to streets, police officers and firefighters Wednesday, as the Lincoln City Council spent several hours putting the final touches on the municipal budget. Campaign promises not to increase the city's property tax rate made for difficult decisions.....  
As usual, the fire department budget provided fodder for controversy. In July, Councilman Jon Camp proposed cutting its budget by $175,000. Wednesday, he reduced that to $100,000. The four Republicans on the council went along with that, over the objections of the three Democrats....  
Republicans rebuffed a last-minute attempt by Councilman Jonathan Cook to restore the money by using several revenue sources that materialized since the mayor prepared his budget - such as money from a new StarTran advertising contract. Instead, Republicans moved the unallocated money into the city's contingency fund.  
Cook said later he was shocked they refused to restore money to the fire department after doing so for the aging and police departments. "What does that say?" Cook said. "I don't believe many councils nationwide would refuse to appropriate that money to its fire department"....
Democrats were unable to dissuade Republicans from cutting the Affirmative Action office in half and folding it into the personnel office.... Republicans on the council were dogged about diverting more money toward street construction and maintenance, and had succeeded in moving about $800,000 toward that end until the end of the meeting. But in a last-minute move, Cook convinced two Republicans to instead move a portion of that - the general revenue - to the police department. After the meeting, Budget Officer Steve Hubka said it amounted to nearly $328,000.
In all fairnes, there does appear to be a partisan divide in Lincoln politics where the Fire Department is concerned - as their union has been an important source of support for local Democrats with Republicans frequently targeting the Fire Dept. because of that relationship. But, otherwise, the letter writer makes an excellent point.

There seems to be a general trend in the Nebraska press towards over-emphasizing party labels at the local level in an attempt to make local politics (hence, local news) more sexy. While the subjective interpretation of local politics through the prism of partisanship sometimes has merit, this isn't the first time a reporter's laziness has resulted in some spin and manufactured conflict along artificial lines.

Then, at the same time, reporters continue to turn a blind eye to the decade-old Republican political machine running our state government that derives its whole power from that label. Ironic, don't you think?

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Nebraska Still Failing Minority Students

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Nebraska's college-bound students are scoring higher on the ACT college entrance exam and showing increased readiness for the college courses that await them. Among students in the class of 2007, the average score rose to 22.1 from 21.9 the year before, according to a report from the testing company being released this morning. That increase kept Nebraska's result among the nation's best. The highest possible score is 36. Nebraska also showed improvement in other key indicators. Scores were up for every racial category compared with 2006....  
Education Commissioner Doug Christensen called the results "fantastic." "Needless to say, our teachers are doing a great job of educating all students," he said in a statement....  
While officials applauded students' and teachers' work, the results showed room for improvement among the state's black, Latino and American Indian students. Students in those groups made slight gains in narrowing the test score gap with white students. But the average black, Latino and American Indian composite score was below the score of 20 that would earn them admission to the University of Nebraska. Latino and American Indian students scored an average of 19.2 and 19.1, respectively. Black students' average score was 17.9....  
Across Nebraska, 27 percent of all test-takers met ACT's college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects on the test: math, science, reading and English. The national average was 23 percent....  
The readiness scores are far lower for Nebraska's black, Latino and American Indian students. Among black students, for instance, just 5 percent of test takers - 25 students statewide - met all four benchmark standards.
I'd say "room for improvement" doesn't really do justice to the continued need of our state's minority populations - sounding far too happy a note that allows Nebraskans to persist in their sad state of apathy and unconcern.

These results are not all doom-and-gloom. They even show signs of improvement over years past. But, it's hard to see how our State Education Commissioner can find anything "fantastic" in so appalling a racial divide that sees only 25 black students in the entire state prepared for a college education.

One also has to keep in mind that even the disturbing scores seen above are probably inflated because they only reflect students who actually took the ACT. Without a doubt, minority children from impoverished backgrounds are less likely to take the test at all - for lack of encouragement, for lack of motivation, for lack of resources, and for the simple fact that many have already dropped-out of school.

Remember, 60% of black children in Omaha are being raised in poverty - the highest rate in the nation. These are numbers that deserve our attention. And, these are facts that demand our outrage if we're ever going to realize the full scope of these problems and finally discover the will to confront them head-on.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dan Rather Reveals Troubling Practices By Nebraska Vote-Counters ES&S

by Kyle Michaelis
Having moved online to pursue the kind of investigative reporting that no longer has a home on TV news, longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather has just struck a devastating blow to Election Systems & Software (ES&S), an Omaha-based company specializing in vote counting technology and overseeing elections.

Last fall, I challenged the Omaha World-Herald's biased coverage of ES&S' failures in the 2006 elections, while taking issue with the World-Herald's ownership of a significant stake in ES&S. But, nothing then reported was so damning as Rather's new report, The Trouble with Touch Screens, which should be viewed by absolutely anyone concerned with the integrity of our elections and our democracy.

Rather's hour-long report spends the first 30 minutes focusing almost exclusively on the shoddy manufacturing of ES&S' Touch Screen voting machines, which became all the rage after federal tax dollars were sent to the states through the Help America Vote Act to purchase tens of millions of dollars worth of such machines in response to the supposed failures of more traditional practices in the 2000 Florida presidential election. Rather makes a convincing case that the rush to embrace these new technologies might actually have created more problems than it solved, using the 2006 Congressional race in Florida's 13th District where ES&S machines showed very high rates of failure to set the tone for the entire report.

Of ES&S' manufacturing, Rather uncovers terrible work conditions and almost no quality control with overseas workers in the Philippines paid as little as $2.15 a day. There are also suggestions that ES&S is tied in with a corrupt Filipino family and that they knowingly used touch screens with obvious material defects. In fact, a plant manager estimates that as many as 16,000 defective machines were delivered in the United States.

Perhaps most disturbing for our purposes in Nebraska - where the Omaha World-Herald is so dominant a force in the local media - is the documented evidence of ES&S being so much more concerned with avoiding negative publicity than correcting problems with their software and their machines.

The second half-hour of Rather's report is just as thought-provoking and scary, looking back at the circumstances of the 2000 election to advance a plausible theory of intentional sabotage by the vote machine industry to force adoption of new and more expensive technology.

Again, I strongly urge readers to watch Rather's full report. It is sad that the Omaha World-Herald does not offer this sort of investigative reporting in its own pages. What's even sadder is that they continue to own so questionable a stake in ES&S, leaving open the possibility that their journalistic complacency is actually corporate-dictated journalistic corruption.

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