Saturday, January 11, 2003


Blogger guru Mark A.R. Kleiman, tipped off by other bloggers, is unhappy that some in the Bush administration want to use Iraqi oil money to pay for our attack on Iraq. I guess it all depends on how you view the war against Iraq.

If you buy the premise that Saddam Hussein is an evil man; that he should die; that any means necessary to eliminate him should be used to oust him; then anything that follows makes perfect sense. If you accept that this stance is required to scare would-be terrorists from further attacks against our country, then saber rattling like this is part of the act. In other words, if you accept that there is a reason to attack Iraq in the first place, it's not a far stretch for anything else.

But if you don't think there are grounds for an attack on Saddam; if you think there has been no evidence presented that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction OR the capability to build same; if you figure he's no worse than the dictators we support elsewhere around the world, then nothing this administration is doing can meet with your approval.

There's a part of me that wants to think the gang of four (Dubya, Cheney, Connie Rice and Rumsfeld) really believes this is the way to prevent further terrorist attacks against the US. The word goes out that if you support terrorism, the US flattens your country, with or without justification.

The motto of the Gang of Four seems to be: "Oderint, Dum Metuint -- Let Them Hate, So Long As They Fear." Countries who are feared, I guess, don't get attacked. But neither do countries who are liked and respected; who are a constructive part of the world community instead of a bully.

Call me a raving peacenick. I, personally, would rather be in the second group.

Nebraska State Senator Ed Schrock of Elm Creek has proposed a state constitutional amendment which would protect the right to hunt, fish, and trap in the state of Nebraska. "Schrock said he doesn't know of any threats to hunting, fishing and trapping in Nebraska. He said the amendment is an effort to prevent hunters and other sportsmen from being harassed."

Maybe he's afraid that PETA will start hoodwinking the people of Nebraska, jumping hunters out in the fields, freeing trapped muskrats, or god knows what else.

I'm more afraid that this will lead to other constitutional amendments to protect special interests under the state constitution. We have a constitutional amendment prohibiting corporate farming . If hunters get an amendment protecting them, will we get an amendment protecting large-scale hog confinements, barge shippers, or a host of others who feel like their slice of the economic pie is dribbling away?

Not too long ago there was a proposal to require two votes on all amendments to state constitutional amendments. It failed, more's the pity. Because constitutions, as the essential contract between the people and the government we establish, should be tinkered with only with the greatest of care. This amendment is an example of a breach of that need for care.

The Daily Kos has a very good summary of the last couple of days' news about the First Cowboy's administration gingerly stepping back from its commitment that we will be in Baghdad for Memorial Day (okay, no one actually said that). There's also indications that no one in the administration has a clue what to do with North Korea.

North Korea has become Bush's worst foreign policy nightmare. Nothing anyone else could have done could have shown up the pure folly and arrogance Bush's contrived war on Iraq so much as Kim's announcement that that the DPRK has nuclear weapons and won't play by the rules. It's particularly telling that no one in Bush's administration (or at least no one with any pull with the First Cowboy) figured on this happening.

North Korea is an Oriental country with Buddhist roots (fifty years of Stalinist communism not withstanding). You can't deal with such a country the way you would deal with Iraq. (Especially when you have it in your mind that one deals with Iraq as one would deal with a camel.) It requires long-standing relationships between people in the government; it requires mutual respect; it requires dialogue. None of which the Bush administration seemed interesting in developing. (Come to think of it, that's the heart and soul of diplomacy anywhere.)

The entire Bush foreign policy has been premised on the concept that we are the biggest, baddest mofo in the valley and that no one else would use a nuke against us. Kim Daejong just showed that this basic premise is wrong. No wonder the Administration is in disarray over Korea.

Is there another potential problem area the First Cowboy has ignored that's about to bite him in the butt? If, for example, Pakistan has a coup (not at all unknown to that country since its split from India) while its godfather is busy in Iraq and Korea, will its nukes be offered to Iraq or otherwise used to distract the US from Iraq? Who else?

Friday, January 10, 2003


Nebraska now has the dubious honor of having the youngest attorney general in the country. He was sworn in yesterday and admits that he has a lot to learn.

No sh*t, Sherlock.

Bruning, who has made it clear that the AG's office is merely a stepping stone to the governor's mansion and beyond for him, has absolutely no experience as a trial attorney. He's argued one case before the Nebraska Supreme Court. He's never tried a criminal or civil jury trial. He's never managed a law office. He went almost directly from law school to the legislature. That's a great career path for a politician but a miserable one for an attorney general. Still, he was elected fair and square, drawing 63% of the vote (the least of any state constitutional officer, by the way -- not that it matters really).

But he has a good day's work ahead of him. He's made it clear what he will and won't do as attorney general. He will place special emphasis on consumer protection and white collar crime. That's great if you live in New York City. But this is Nebraska. We grow corn and cattle. What about the laws against corporate takeovers of family farms? In an election debate at the University of Nebraska law school he said he has no intention of enlarging the current staff of one -- count 'em -- one attorney who enforces violations of these laws.

He also faces some serious fights over Nebraska's death penalty laws. Despite a special session called specifically to revise our laws on the death penalty to bring them within the ambit of U.S. Supreme Court guidance recently handed down, we still have the electric chair as our only means of execution. That almost certainly will fail as being "cruel and unusual punishment." Bruning refused to take a leading role during his time in the legislature to change the death penalty statutes when he could have. In fact the only leading role he has taken during his tenure as a state senator is to be a major lighting rod for Ernie Chambers' (senior state senator, liberal powerhouse and the only African American in the legislature) criticism.

As Attorney General, I suspect Bruning will get even more from Chambers. I also suspect that he'll do his best to earn it.

Thursday, January 09, 2003


I try to read web sites of the local papers of the larger towns in Nebraska. The Nebraska legislature convened yesterday and, with more budget cuts coming, that took the first page on many papers. Some talked about changes in local government; some about the drought. But this lead story on the front page from the Columbus (population about 30,000) Telegram brought it home to me why people laugh when I say I'm from Nebraska:

Potato-peeling contest a winner

I can't add anything to that.

A little while ago I speculated whether it was too early for the Democrats to begin planning for the 2006 governor's race. Of course not. Here are some thoughts, offered from the Barricades free of charge:

- Mike Meister. I've said my piece on him before and won't beat it to death. He's the only non-Lincolnite in the Democratic party, I think.

- Dave Landis. You want politically savvy? He just got elected chairman of the Revenue Committee and, in this year of serious cuts, this makes him a very, very powerful man. He knows everybody, is very personable, and is well liked by almost everyone I know. He will be term-limited out in 2006 and will be looking for a job (besides his teaching, law practice, acting, DJ, and mediating gigs. When does he ever sleep?).

- Diana Schimek. Another state senator on her way out after this term. Another one everybody likes and who has no qualms about calling things like she sees them. She may be at the point where she just wants to kick back and watch the fireworks. But maybe not.

- Don Wesley. Much will depend on a) if he gets re-elected as mayor of Lincoln and b) how good he does his second term. If he keeps Lincoln financially afloat while the rest of the state drowns in red ink, he may have a good shot at the job. Especially if he can overcome his public image problem.

- Stephen Charest. Get real.

Nebraska, for those of you who don't live here, is the only state in the Union with a one-house legislature. We have a Unicameral, engineered largely by the late Gov. George Norris, hence the reference to the State Capitol as the House that Norris Built. (It's also called other things which you'd only understand if you'd seen our capitol. Here's a picture and you can come up with your own ideas.

State Sen. Dianna Schimek has proposed changing back to a two-house system. Her reason is less that she thinks the Unicameral is a bad idea; it's just that she thinks that term limits are a bad idea.

In my humble opinion, I think it's a great idea, for several reasons having nothing to do with term limits:

- It would make it more difficult to get legislation passed. Anything that slows legislation usually makes me happy.

- It opens the possibility of a "House of Cities" and a "House of Farmers." Now, I know that a division like that may well never pass the "one person, one vote" rule for state legislatures. And, as a liberal, if there were even stronger influence from rural counties, the "liberal" influence of the cities would diminish. (Maybe. Sometimes those ranchers out west will fool you). But as the population of this state has become a larger and larger urban majority, I fear that the agricultural sector in the state gets left behind, despite all our lip service to the contrary. I think official corporate farming is just a vote or two away. If there were two houses of the legislature, one of which gave a better opportunity for the rural counties to have control, maybe the farmers and ranchers could make their voices heard more clearly on their livelihoods, instead of having to kowtow to the whims of ConAgra and the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

It will never work, of course. The unicameral is Nebraska's "peculiar institution" and we are not about to get rid of it. But what the hell -- let's put it to a vote. You never know how it will turn out. I could be surprised.

I received the following from former state senator Barry Reutzel which gives some background on early attempts to save the Niobrara and the beautiful region along its banks:

I served in the Unicameral 1976-80 and in 1979 or 1980 Sen. Steve Fowler and I introduced the Scenic Rivers Bill which would have provided a mechanism for obtaining scenic or recreational easements along the Niobrara developing into a scenic river protection system on a willing seller basis. Our argument was it would be easier to work with state officials rather than federal officials in DC and sooner or later part of the Niobrara would be a scenic river designation.

Of course all hell broke loose with the Sandhillers shouting we were taking their land away from them etc. which of course was not the case.

I was chairman of the Constitutional Revision and Recreation Committee at the time, a standing committee through which all constitutional amendments as well as recreational or Game and parks legislation flowed. In an effort to diffuse the situation, we held a summer hearing in Valentine on the subject. The situation was more dire than we thought because our state plane was met at the airport by the State Patrol who left guards at our plane while the hearing was held. The Patrol drove us into town where we were greeted by every pickup truck in the world which contained a gunrack. The State Patrol escorted us inside and stood conspicuously by the doorway during the hearings which were packed with irate Cherry County people who had no intention of listening to reason or explanation of the bill. All they really were wanting was an old fashioned lynching with Sen. Fowler and myself as featured guests.

We left Valentine later in the day and flew a good portion of the Niobrara back and marveled at the beauty.

As chairman, I scheduled the official hearing of the bill at the last possible moment, in March. The day of the hearing we were caught in a horrible snowstorm. Western Nebraska was even worse. We considered ourselves lucky to get to the capitol building. Upon arriving we saw busloads of our opponents unloading. Caravans of busloads of Cherry County and other anti scenic river people had slogged through the snow packed roads to quash this bill they didn't want to understand.

The buses kept arriving all morning. By mid morning it was obvious our hearing room would not hold the expected crowd and I commandeered the old senate chambers for the hearing. By hearing time the old senate chambers was packed on the floor, the galleries and under the the galleries. The overflow was packing the capitol rotunda. In all, roughly 600 people were there for the hearing.

As per custom, when I opened the hearing and Sen. Fowler introduced the bill, I asked how many wished to testify in favor of the bill. Eleven hands went up. The other 589 were not so inclined.

During the hearing I had to gavel the crowd to order and was on the verge of having some of the many State Patrol officers there clear the hearing room because the crowd was becoming unruly, jeering at any attempt to explain the bill was not anything as pernicious as they believed and applauding and shouting vociferously as the opponents spoke.

The day wore on with proponents taking a beating from the opposition which had no clue as to the actual provisions of the bill.

Of course the bill went nowhere but years later after Sen. Fowler and I both had left the Legislature we took some satisfaction when Congressman Bereuter pushed the Niobrara as a federal scenic rivers designation with Sen. Exon helping in the Senate.

Barry is still active, publishing Vox Populi Nebraska, a liberal webzine for the state of Nebraska. Thanks for the background, Barry and welcome to the Barricades!

Wednesday, January 08, 2003


The impact fee issue in Lincoln is pretty much a done deal. It looks like the votes to pass it are locked up on the City Council, despite heavy propaganda from the Homebuilder's Association, the Realtors' Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Independent Business Association and the other usual capitalists. However, the brouhaha that erupted when Terry Werner had his moment of crisis over one amendment -- to grandfather those with existing agreements to pay for infrastructure with the city -- has cast Don Wesley in a rather bad light. Don took to the airwaves yesterday to refute those contentions.

I have to admit it the first impression caused me a bit of heartburn, too. The press in the Journal Star was to the effect that those exempted from impact fees were only those who were friends of Wesley's. Nothing was said in the press about existing contracts until that fateful night. Precious little has been said so far about how infrastructure has been funded at all. (I didn't really understand it until I talked to Terry Werner a few weeks ago at KZUM.) As a good liberal, I have no problems making developers pay for the cost of extending services like sewage, streets, etc. to their new burbs. The impact fee ordinance won't change whether they pay; it will only pay how the payments are calculated. Right now, developer "A" can cut a good deal with the city and pay next to nothing per house for his infrastructure; developer B, who doesn't have the clout at city hall, pays a bunch. That's not fair.

But I didn't come here to write about the impact fees themselves. I came to write about why Don found himself up against the wall again yesterday. Don needed some early spin control before the Werner switcheroonie incident. He or his staff should have realized that when the story got out that he had made a promise to some developers that they would be exempted from the impact fees, it would look like "cronyism." If he had been proactive instead of reactive, none of this would have happened.

This lack of awareness of how people would react has plagued Don throughout his term as mayor. I don't understand why it keeps biting him in the ass. He's got good people: Diane Gonzalas is as good a public relations person as you can find. And as I have said several times before, Don in a one-on-one situation is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, even if you just slammed him in print.

With the economic numbers he's got and other progress he's made, this mayoral election is Don's to lose, no matter how much money the Republicans pump into Lincoln. I hope he can find a way to show the nice guy that he is.

Steve Achepohl, the chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, has announced a plan to rebuild the Nebraska Democrats.

I'm all for it. He didn't ask me, nor did I expect him to. But I like what he's saying. Some specifics that deserve applause:

- This is a long-term plan targeted at 2006, not next week. Question: Do we have a list of possible contenders for governor yet? Look west, young man, look west!

- He wants to "connect with Hispanic people, African-American groups and seniors, get people to events all across the state, make our party more visible." Great idea. Don't forget women, the GLBT gang, and the usual left wing suspects. We are the base of the Democrats, even in Nebraska.

- He wants to reconnect with labor. That's a great idea and I'm glad he's talking to organized labor. I just hope the Party doesn't forget "unorganized" labor, which is the vast majority of workers in this state. When we're doing our grassroots work, let's make sure we talk to the guys in Columbus and Norfolk who don't belong to unions.

- He wants to put paid staff in the field to "be the backbone of the organization. . . . We need to hire field personnel who are out there organizing volunteers, conducting get-out-the-vote or registration efforts and delivering our message." This may be the best idea I've heard all year. A party that doesn't have staff anywhere except in the state capitol will lose touch.

The party central committee is supposed to review and approve this plan soon (it meets next month). I hope like hell it does so. While the Journal Star article doesn't show the details of the plan, it looks like a winner to me. Kudos to Steve Achepohl and others (whom I have earlier castigated) for learning a lesson.

I hope to hell Terry McAuliffe is listening.

Monday, January 06, 2003


The Grand Island Independent has concerns about balance now that the Nature Conservancy has purchased "conservation easements" along about 12 miles of the beautiful Niobrara river. For you non-Nebraskans, this is a river that runs along the northern part of the state but hits its stride east of Valentine, Nebraska. It's a popular spot for canoeing and rafting (just drifting, not whitewater rafting) and generally being mellow)

It's been happening quietly, with little to-do, and some are unhappy that it's happening without time for "public comment." But the result is that a good stretch of the beautiful river is being cut out of further commercialization and apparently will be left in its wild state. The Independent isn't sure that's a good idea. I guess they want more campgrounds, boat launches, fish shacks, and floating beer cans on the river.

But they are stuck out of luck. You need to remember that Nebraskans are very jealous of private rights of property owners. The Nature Conservancy bought their easements fair and square. Most of the Niobrara's banks are private land; indeed, its owners have rabidly fought efforts to create a state or federal park along its banks. Now that the Conservancy went to the owners and paid good cash money for legal rights to the property, as they say up in those parts, "there ain't much nobody can do 'bout it."

The Independent would, no doubt, be cheering on the rights of an individual property owner over the state or federal government. That's the Nebraska way. I don't think they have much grounds to have "doubts" about the wisdom of the Nature Conservancy exercising its own property rights on the Niobrara. I say more power to them, and if you have an extra nickel or two, slide it to the Nature Conservancy. It's another private solution to a public problem, and an elegant one at that.

Got this article from the AP through The Daily Kos, one of my blogging gurus. He reprinted it in its entirety; so will I:

The Bush administration has dropped the government's monthly report on mass layoffs, which also had been eliminated when President Bush's father was in office.

The report by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded layoffs of 50 or more workers regardless of duration.

It was started in 1984 but was dropped for lack of funding during the last recession in 1992, when the first President Bush was in office. Lack of funding was cited this time, too. The program had been revived in 1995 under President Clinton.

The last report was issued on Christmas Eve with November's figures showing that U.S. companies laid off more than 240,000 workers in 2,150 mass layoffs.

A Labor Department spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

If we don't count how many people are out of work, we can't blame it on the administration, right?

Clinton lied about sex. Bush lies about everything.


Consider whether North Korea's announcement that it had nuclear weapons was coordinated with Iraq. Did Kim Jong-Il pick up the phone, call Saddam Hussein, and say, "Hey, Saddam, I see you're having problems with the capitalist running dogs. Anything I can do to help?" Probably not. Is there a secret treaty between the two countries? Naaaw. Although I think there's pretty clear evidence that North Korea has sold war materials to Iraq, and I would bet long odds that Iraq has gotten oil to North Korea for its part, I don't think they have any kind of formal deal.

What they do have is two leaders who recognize opportunity when they see it. Prior to the Bush administration's hardening of the US's stance towards North Korea (N.Korea communist. Communist bad. No talk to Communist) there was some dialogue and some possibility that North Korea might relax and eventually join with South Korea. (You may say I'm a dreamer...). But Bush re-instituted a variation on the Cuba policy and cut Pyongyang out of anything meaningful.

Remember that countries are led by people. Kim Jongil gets up in the morning and pees like everyone else. He's not a megalomaniacal dictator any more than his father at least he is no worse than Kim Ilsung. Anyway, he wants his country to be taken seriously, not dismissed out of hand. I will bet that this is the goal of every country's leader, from the Duke of Andorra to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. That doesn't mean we have to kowtow to them; that doesn't mean we have to let Andorra on the Security Council or that we have to support the violent land reform policies of Mugabe. But we can't just say "we won't talk to you any more."

Back to the Axis of Evil. We're calling up reserves. We're gearing up for a war. It looks pretty serious. But what happens if, once we are committed to a buildup and the troops are just waiting for the starter's gun (pardon the metaphor), North Korea decides that's just the time to put pressure on South Korea for concessions from the US. They build up troops along the 38th parallel and wait. Will the US sit idly by? Will we fire up a nuke and put it on the runway and dare them to come on? Will we divert troops from the Gulf? Rumsfeld says we can fight two wars on two fronts. Kim Jongil may well say, "Okay, asshole, prove it."

No, I doubt that Kim called Saddam and said, "Hey, go ahead, take on the US, I've got your back!" But Kim and Saddam are savvy enough to know an opportunity when they see it. Saddam knows we can't afford to ignore Kim; Kim knows the same. So they maneuver watching each other. And we get stuck having to watch both of them.

Sunday, January 05, 2003


There is currently a medium hue and cry over a Pew Research Center Poll that says, in an oversimplified summary, that a lot of people around the world, especially in the Middle East, don't like Americans. The baffling (to some) wrinkle is that those same people love American culture and American ideals. They just don't like America right now. Setting aside some of the reliability indicators of the poll (many countries' governments severely limited the questions that could be asked, for example), the poll really doesn't tell us anything that we don't know already.

Certainly it didn't come as a surprise to my friend Hassan (name changed to protect the innocent) who runs a little grill in downtown Lincoln. Hassan came here many years ago from Iran to escape the extremism of the religious right in Iran, and just to find the American dream: to set himself up in business, to make a little money, and to raise a family. You need to know that Hassan is well educated: he holds a university degree from Iran; his English, while accented and somewhat colloquial, is fluent. He also speaks French, Turkish and Arabic. He knows US history probably better than most Americans, and is very familiar with Middle Eastern history. And he is opinionated without being angry.

I sat in Hassan's grill downtown a couple of evenings before this poll was released and listened to him holding forth on the coming war on Iraq and on US policy generally:

"For twenty years that f*ker Saddam was in Iraq and he was a f*ker and killing people. We knew it in Iran -- we fought him ourselves -- the Turks knew it, everybody knew it, but the US didn't give a damn. Now all of a sudden we have to fight him. What changed?"

"We in the Middle East have always looked to the United States as the kind of democracy everybody wants. Every country that is controlled by another had help to get free. Even the US had France to help it in the revolution. We want the US to come and show us how to start the democracy, and then to get the hell out of our country and let us run it. But the damn CIA and the oil companies want to run our countries, and the damn British and French are just waiting to see if we kick the US out so they can get a turn."

"I hated Khomeini. He was f*ing crazy. You here in America don't realize that Jerry Falwell would be just like Khomeini if he had the same kind of power. Falwell said that Muhammad was a terrorist. Falwell hasn't even read the goddam Koran. But he says all Muslims are terrorists. I say Falwell is as bad as Khomeini, he just has the American constitution to prevent him from taking over. Religious fanatics are the most dangerous people in the world, and they are the worst when they have a the power of a country behind them. Khomeni was a fanatic. bin-Laden is a fanatic. The Taliban is all fanatics. The Saudis are fanatics, they just have money and take baths. Falwell and that other f*ker, Pat Robertson, they are fanatics too. If they get power, watch your ass."

"Jesus and Muhammad preached about love and being good. It was the people after them that screwed everything up."

"The United States Constitution is the greatest kind of constitution in the world. Everybody knows that. It's better than the British parliament. It's better than the Sharia [Muslim law]. The students in Iran now want the American constitution in Iran. Everybody in the Middle East wants the Constitution. They just don't want the Americans."

On American corporations in Iran: "Sure, if it's on a fair deal. Under Reza [Pahlavi] Shah, the Americans got almost all the money from the oil, and the rest of the money went to Reza Shah's family. And we didn't get to pick our own shah. The CIA and the oil companies put him in power. But if an American company wants to come in and do fair business, that's okay with everbody, they just have to be goddam fair."

Would he go back to Iran? "Hell no! Not until the government changes, and that is not going to happen."

On the 9/11 attacks: "Everybody here says 'We were innocent, we didn't deserve it.' Bullsh*t. For fifty years, or more, since the Turks got beaten after First World War, British and French, and then the Americans, have been trying to control the Middle East. People in the Middle East have been trying to tell the West about this, and nobody listens. Americans don't pay attention to what's going on in the Middle East until there's no gas for their cars. Let us run our own goddam countries!"

"I don't think it's right for Al-Qaeda to kill thousands of people, and those people may be innocent themselves. But American people need to find out what's going on in the world beyond Nebraska and Big Red football."

I don't think I can add anything to that last comment.