Saturday, November 23, 2002


I've read over and over again for the last several years about this "death tax" -- the estate tax that causes families to have to sell the family farm or business to pay the federal estate tax, and leaves the grieving heirs with nothing for their (usually) father's hard work. But I have yet to see one specific example of such an occurrence. As was pointed out in a previous commentary ("Another Look at Tax Cuts"), the stories of selling the family farms to pay estate tax are rural legends.

But I am willing to keep an open mind. So I will now make an offer to readers of this commentary: if anyone can offer me proof of any resident of Nebraska whose family sold their farm because the owner died and the estate tax was so high that the farm had to be sold to pay it, I will appear at a GOP function and admit that it does happen, and then salute a picture of Ronald Reagan.

Before you start deluging me with e-mails, though, here is the proof I require (I am , after all, a lawyer and must define terms): 1) You must produce the final estate tax calculation by your accountant or attorney for your decedent; 2) You must produce clear evidence that the decedent's estate was not sufficient to pay that tax (i.e., that the tax was more than the money or other property he left behind, not counting the family farm); 3) you must show that there were no other debts against the farm that were not paid out of his estate (this means you have to prove that you sold the farm solely to pay off the estate tax); and 4) you must show that once the farm was sold, the proceeds from the farm went to pay the estate tax (i.e., the heirs didn't pocket the proceeds and default on the tax).

Is that too stringent to require? I don't think so. If you will claim that it was the "death tax" that cost the family the farm, you have to show that it was this tax that did it, not that it was some other debt or just the desire to fold up the farm and move to the city on the part of the heirs.

I've been doing some reading about the French Revolution recently as I prepare for auditions for Les Liasons Dangeruese at the Lincoln Community Playhouse. It's very revealing. Consensus these days on the cause of the revolution (in a simplified form) seems to be the following:

1) High deficits on the national budget as a result of several badly-managed wars (including, oddly enough, supporting our own American Revolution);

2) A wealthy plutocracy/nobility which paid no taxes, held most privileges in society, held the overwhelming majority of wealth, and continued to concentrate the nation's wealth in its own hands without allowing it to move back to the remainder of society;

3) A national leader -- the king -- which was linked closely with the religious leadership, exempted the nobility from taxation, involved the nation in wars which drained the economy without replenishing the national budget from those who had the most to contribute

4) Increased separation between the wealthy and poor, increased suffering among the poorest, increased indifference of the most wealthy to the plight of the poorest, and a sense of isolation of the majority from the government.

Does any of this sound familiar? Just as a side note, I did find the plans for erecting a guillotine...

Thursday, November 21, 2002


According to this morning's Journal-Star, ("Hagel Lead Uprising by Caucus") Senator Chuck Hagel was shocked, shocked to discover that Trent Lott and some of his Republican cronies had snuck some special interest provisions into the Homeland Security bill that just marched through Congress after the GOP "mandate" was handed down from the People. He rallied his troops and stormed into Trent Lott's office and told him that if these special interest provisions weren't taken out, Chuck would vote against the bill.

Did they get taken out? "Lott subsequently obtained pledges from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and newly elected GOP majority leader, Tom DeLay, to help remove the disputed provisions next year and took that commitment to the Senate floor." So the provisions are still in the bill; they are still the law of the land; the pork still lives, and all Chuck got was a promise to "help remove disputed provisions." And we all know how much value promises have in Congress.

Chuck, you oughta know better after all these years in the Senate. Your "revolt" looks good in the headlines but it doesn't mean doodly-squat and this time next year when the economy is so far in the toilet that even roto-rooter couldn't get it out, no one will remember these "promises." It was a good political move, though.

Meanwhile, others are shocked, shocked to discover that under the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act and several of the other acts that people rushed to pass in a blind panic after 9/11, the FBI, CIA, INS, and the military now has all kinds of authority to look at everyday citizens. Even conservative Kathleen Parker is outraged. ("If you're not paranoid, you're not paying attention")

It's all well and good to be outraged, paranoid and angry. But, boys and girls, that's just what got voted into office. Kathleen Parker is right: if you voted unquestioningly for the Republican agenda, you weren't paying attention. And if, now, you're all unhappy, you have no one to blame. Liberals and Democrats have been warning everyone for a year of what these bills would do, and we were told we were anti-patriotic, paranoid, overreacting, or not going along with the President, who, after all, knew better than we did.

Right now, your bank accounts can be reviewed by law enforcement -- any law enforcement from the FBI to the local sheriff -- if someone in law enforcement "certifies" (not swears under oath) that you are "suspected" (not that there is evidence against you) of terrorist connections. The standards for a search warrant are that the law enforcement official must swear under oath and show evidence that there is probable cause that you have committed a crime, and the warrant must name with particularity (in other words, specifically) what is to be searched and why. Don't believe me? Ask Sen. Doug Bereuter, who, in an article published in the Journal Star used exactly the same wording as I did in the first sentence of this paragraph to calm our fears.

Don't blame me. I'm a liberal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

I am told by my friends in the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys that the American Trial Lawyers Assocation (ATLA) is forming some kind of Republican Trial Lawyers Association to engage in dialogue with the new Republican powers that be about trial lawyers' concerns.

Well, hush ma mouf.

I suppose it was inevitable. First the unions start pandering to the GOP, now the trial lawyers. The reason, of course, is the same in both cases: the GOP has the power. I don't quarrel with that, I suppose. Talking never hurts. And there is the "take over from within" argument. After all, for years I was a liberal in the most conservative of all organizations: the US Military. And I felt like "taking over from within" was exactly what I was doing.

But there's something about it that smacks of "Please don' beat us po' ole slaves' massah!" I mean, after all, the GOP has made trial lawyers the whipping boys and girls of their programs for years. "Tort reform" is a central issue now. What in the world makes anyone believe that the GOP will talk to us, now that they have no reason to do so? They can ride roughshod over us and the people we represent now. It seems like we'll be coming to them hat-in-hand.

Still, as I said, talking is always good. Maybe something can be salvaged. So I wish the Republican Trial Lawyers' Group well. If I can help, I will. But, let the Democrats take notice: when "tort reform" passes (and it will) in Nebraska and in Congress, and when the voters realize what they've really gotten, somebody better be there with a better plan, and it better be something other than a Democrats' Trial Lawyers' Group.

[In case the reader was not aware, the author is a trial attorney practicing in Nebraska]

Monday, November 18, 2002


If video killed the radio star, surely Chuck E Cheese killed civilized behavior by children at restaurants.

I recently had the misfortune to dine at a local Chinese buffet -- not perhaps the most high-class of settings, but surely a cut above Fred's Diner. The place was overrun with urchins screaming and galloping between their tables and the soft-serve ice cream dispenser (which should be forbidden to children under 18). These vagabonds seemed to believe that this establishment and its fare existed not to feed them (is this the time to talk about starving children in Asia?) but to replace the jungle gyms that should have been there if this had been a proper kids' restaurant.

Where were their parents? At their tables, eating and bovinely ignoring their get as they lurched into other diners. This is the sort of thing one expects from Chuck E Cheese, "where a kid can act like a kid" (tm). Unfortunately, the parents seem to have carried that concept over to whatever place they are dining. It happens at the Royal Ming Buffet, at El Nacho Grande, or at Cherrybee's Neighborhood Family Restaurant.

Conservatives will cry, "This is the result of the permissive 60s!" Crap. Based on my observation, these parents are either the sort who listen to Rush, go to the First Temple of Holiness Pillar of Fire Tabernacle and vote straight ticket GOP, or else they are the ones who write the checks to fund the GOP. The hippie types are the ones in the corners, whispering to their kids, "Inside voices, Rainbow and Venus, please..."

I let these children live. God alone knows why. If I had slaughtered them, a la Elijah and his bears (or was it Elisha?), it would have improved the gene pool, and future generations would have thanked me. But I hope to hell I never meet the bastard who invented Chuck E Cheese.


Those of you who know me personally are painfully aware that I am not a fan of the Journal Star. I've even unleashed my vitriol on the publisher when I found a "cutsey" picture occupying half the front page the day Congress abdicated its Constitutional power to declare war. Since that day, I've taken a closer look at this paper and I find that, if you dig deep enough, you can still find a few nuggets of real journalism hidden amongst the USA Today-style pablum.

A case in point is today's column by Don Walton, "One More Look at Tax Cuts." Don is no Michael Moore or James Carville. He's as mellow as they come. But when he runs a column like this, maybe it's worth considering.

A few pertinent quotes:

"• The 13,000 richest families in America now have almost as much income (1998 figures) as the 20 million poorest households; those 13,000 families had incomes 300 times that of the average family."

"• Between 1979 and 1997, the after-tax incomes of the top one percent of families rose 157 percent, compared with a 10 percent gain for families near the middle in terms of income distribution."

"• When fully in effect, the proposal to repeal the estate tax would provide as much in tax reductions to the 4,500 largest estates as the entire Bush tax plan would provide to 142 million people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities."

"Only the top 2 percent of estates paid any tax at all in 1999, [Paul] Krugman wrote in the [New York] Times article.

"'Tales of family farms and businesses broken up to pay the estate tax are basically rural legends,' he said."

Read the whole article. It's worthwhile.

Don puts it gently: "Hey, you talking class warfare? C'mon." I put it more forthrightly: If this be class warfare, then make the most of it. Otherwise we are on our way to a society where a wealthy plutocracy is served by our children and our children's children.

Meanwhile, the Journal Star still has a few decent writers. Don't let the word get out: they'll get the boot and we'll all be reading about nothing but Husker football and meandering barns.

Sunday, November 17, 2002


I finally figured it out, why the Democrats have died in Nebraska. It's because all I did was slide Mike Meister a few bucks and go to a couple of fundraisers. Granted, that's more than most do. Still, I could have done more. About a month before the election, I had a call from Lincoln city council member Terry Werner, probably the most outspoken and proudest member of the liberals in the state. He wanted to go put up yard signs, knock on doors, stand on street corners, and generally do what needed to be done. I knew nothing and referred him to the county and State party (who of course had nothing coherent going on). I didn't offer to join him. So it's all my fault.

Terry, Jon Carlson, and Jonathan Cook seem to be three of the rising stars of progressive politics in Lincoln and Nebraska. That's where our hope lies for the future. Especially if Jon will go back to his neighborhood roots and quit trying to have it both ways, both "developer" and "neighborhood activist." I don't think you can do both. At least most voters won't buy it.

Here's my resolution: I will take Michael Moore's advice and start going to the NDP meetings and make a nuisance of myself until the state stands up for the progressive, liberal causes it needs to embrace. And I will work my neighborhood -- even the nine block area around me -- to get the vote out. That's my part. It's a start. Remember, "all politics is local!"

Having said all that, what's the next big struggle for the local Democratic party? The mayoral race, of course! Don Wesley has pissed off enough people that his chances of winning next year are not great. Witness the votes on the two bond issues, fire stations and sidewalks. You can try to claim that the rejection of those two was a rejection of higher taxes, but I think it was a rejection of the never-ending stream of political payoffs we've seen since Don got elected. I liked and supported Don when he ran the first time. But he has been so blatant about his political patronage (there's a word you don't see often enough these days!) that I can no longer support him.

Please, please, please, Oh Democrats and progressives of Lincoln, find another candidate to run against Don Wesley! To support him is to lose more confidence in this last bastion of semi-progressiveness! Maybe Terry Werner will run? How bout it, Terry?