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Nebraska Democrats Take a Stand on Energy Crises

This morning, the NDP held a well-attended news conference outlining a positive new vision for a more energy independent Nebraska. Nebraskans have been burdened this fall by high gas prices and await the looming threat of high heating bills as our temperatures drop. Nebraska's Republican leadership shows no interest in making the changes necessary to protect Nebraskans from these rising costs. In fact, our state's Republican leadership would rather sit around and watch as other states run laps around us in their attempts to cultivate new energy technologies. Nebraska Democrats are taking a stand on energy -- and propose new policies that will economic development to rural Nebraska, while making us a national leader in the production of alternative energies.

NDP Chairman Steve Achelpohl outlined a series of energy proposals that should be considered by state leaders. They include easing Nebraska's requirements for its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the creation of a price gouging standard, new incentives for the ethanol industry, a 10% ethanol mandate, and the development of biodiesel and wind as alternative energy sources.

State Senators Matt Connealy and Gwen Howard also shared their commitment to making Nebraska more energy independent. Senator Connealy is a strong advocate for the ethanol industry and is proposing the 10% ethanol mandate in the legislature.

Congressional Candidates Jim Esch and Scott Kleeb also shared their ideas for energy. Esch spoke about the need to be committed to alternative energy because the cost of oil will continue to rise in the future. Kleeb spoke about how the US needs to become more energy independent because the price of a tank of gas is too dependent on what is happening in other parts of the world.

To check out the press release for today's event, visit the Communications Center.

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State GOP Leadership at Its Finest...

Here is another example of the incompetence of the Johanns-Heineman Administraiton. Whle our neighbors in Iowa (led by a Democratic Governor/Administration) qualified for a $6.3 million federal government bonus for their excellent work in getting welfare recipients back to work, Nebraska gets bubkus. That's right, nothing. This is after just 2 months ago, it was reported that Nebraska's economic growth ranked #50 while Iowa's ranked #1.

Nebraska placed in the bottom nine states in a variety of categories used to determine the bonuses. We lost ground on measures of job entry, job retention, earnings gain and success in getting children from working poor families signed up for Medicaid. Nebraska's failing to provide enough child care, health insurance and other support for working parents likely factored into the poor rating as well.

The Nebraska Republican Record: Corruption and Incompetence

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Johanns Finally Puts Nebraska First?

The proposed closing of Farm Service Agency offices is upsetting farmers across Nebraska. Over the last few weeks, many newspapers have done stories that include dozens of local farmers who are opposed to the planned consolidation of 23 FSA offices in the state.

The FSA and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns say the consolidation will improve service for farmers, but in reality, it will cause farmers to drive farther (and spend more on fuel) while taking away the familiarity farmers currently have with the workers in their hometown offices. Instead, it seems the FSA wants farmers to rely more heavily on the internet to file paperwork. That's a thought that leaves many farmers feeling unsettled.

Nebraska Democrats are ready to defend farmers from the FSA closings.

In today's Omaha World Herald, John Berge, a representative of Senator Nelson's office, said, "Sen. Nelson needs convincing that this is better for producers. FSA has had trouble delivering their programs, so it seems to the senator that they need to make a better argument. The Internet won't solve the consolidation problem."

At the end of last month, 3rd District Congressional Candidate Scott Kleeb criticized the FSA closings in a press release.

"As globalization puts growing competitive pressures on Nebraska farmers and ranchers, we need to strengthen and update our local FSA offices, not shut them down," Kleeb said. "These offices have supported agricultural innovation in Nebraska's rural communities since the Great Depression. That support is as vital today as it ever was."

"Modernized FSA offices at the county-level could be a powerful tool in helping our farmers take advantage of new opportunities in agriculture," Kleeb added. "They could and should play a central role in keeping Nebraska

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Columbus Day Open Thread

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Open Thread

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"Why Are You A Democrat?" (Day 10)

This is the last post in our "Why Are You A Democrat?" series. I hope you have enjoyed sharing your thoughts and seeing what make other folks so faithful to their Democratic beliefs.

I am a Democrat because I am my brothers keeper.

I am a Nebraska Democrat because I believe that being a Christian is not only talking the talk but it means that you are walking the walk because I believe every word of Matthew 25:32-46

I am a Democrat because I believe what Jesus taught and that is to give with your heart expecting nothing in return.

I am a Democrat because I believe it is moral to help the poor, sick, elderly and young. It is moral to be good stewards of the land and sea. It is moral to love my brother as I would love myself.

It is moral to be tolerant. I am a Nebraska Democrat because I know that it is right to show love patience and tolerance. That it is right to expect transparency and accountability in our elected officials.

I am a Democrat because being progressive isn't just a political choice but it is inherently who I am as a person. I am a Democrat because I know no other way to be.

-Robin Quarles

I am a Democrat, not a Nebraska Democrat, or an Arizona Democrat, that's all just Geography. I am a Democrat because I believe in people. I believe that our party, the Democratic Party is dedicated to the service of the citizens of the United States of America. The founders said it best when they said they would build a Government By, Of, and For the people. That is the difference between us and the Republicans. We are a party striving to help working class America. The Republicans are striving to help the special interests and Corporate lobbyists they serve, they have little interest in the little guy working at the local automotive factory, who loses his job to a man in China, because it's cheaper for GM to make cars there.

The Democratic Party is all about that little guy that doesn't fall into the category of super-rich that need protection from the Estate Tax (you may have heard of it, the Republicans call it the Death Tax). Those so called little people will never have enough money to ever have to worry about Estate Taxes, or tax cuts that only benefit the super-rich. The Democratic party has men such as the Honorable Senators from Massachusetts, Kennedy and Kerry. These are very wealthy men, who benefit from the very taxes they despise. So why am I a Democrat? Because of men who have more but would insist that I have the same opportunities as they do in this, The land of the free and the home of the brave. I don't need another reason!

-Kevin Queen

I'm a Nebraska Democrat because I believe that all voices should be heard in this state -- not just the wealthy and the corporate. I believe that government is necessary to empower and protect the rights of those who can't buy access. I also believe in accountability and am tired of seeing political insiders rip off honest citizens. We deserve better.

-Mary Kelly

When I was 6 years old, my family lived in Denver. My dad took me out of my kindergarten class for a day because President Clinton was speaking downtown. The only thing I remember is eating too much cotton candy & sitting on my dad's shoulders because I couldn't see very well. But later, when my teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied The 1st Madame President. Now, I'm 17 and the President of the Scottsbluff High School student body. I am a Democrat because I also remember how passionate President Clinton was when he spoke, how the thousands of people who also saw him that day believed so deeply in what he had to say. Now I feel that same passion & I believe in the Democratic Party and what we strive for: equality, civil rights, and above all, the freedom to be an American.

-Emily Stein

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A Message from Sen. Barack Obama

Cross-posted from Senator Barack Obama's blog:

There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don't believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists -- a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog -- we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

It's this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts' confirmation hearings. A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don't think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession. Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence, a judge appointed by a conservative president who could have done much worse (and probably, I fear, may do worse with the next nominee). While they hope Roberts doesn't swing the court too sharply to the right, a majority of Americans think that the President should probably get the benefit of the doubt on a clearly qualified nominee.

A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt. That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.

I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning. But short of mounting an all-out filibuster--a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations--blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.

In such circumstances, attacks on Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and the other Democrats who, after careful consideration, voted for Roberts make no sense. Russ Feingold, the only Democrat to vote not only against war in Iraq but also against the Patriot Act, doesn't become complicit in the erosion of civil liberties simply because he chooses to abide by a deeply held and legitimate view that a President, having won a popular election, is entitled to some benefit of the doubt when it comes to judicial appointments. Like it or not, that view has pretty strong support in the Constitution's design.

The same principle holds with respect to issues other than judicial nominations. My colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, spoke out forcefully -- and voted against -- the Iraqi invasion. He isn't somehow transformed into a "war supporter" -- as I've heard some anti-war activists suggest -- just because he hasn't called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. He may be simply trying to figure out, as I am, how to ensure that U.S. troop withdrawals occur in such a way that we avoid all-out Iraqi civil war, chaos in the Middle East, and much more costly and deadly interventions down the road. A pro-choice Democrat doesn't become anti-choice because he or she isn't absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn't become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn't become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.

Or to make the point differently: How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation's fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist's threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won't be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won't go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won't change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won't have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won't have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won't have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more "centrist." In fact, I think the whole "centrist" versus "liberal" labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. Too often, the "centrist" label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don't think Democrats have been bold enough. But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don't work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans).

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Finally, I am not arguing that we "unilaterally disarm" in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response.

My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of "disagreeing without being disagreeable," and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone's greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

In that spirit, let me end by saying I don't pretend to have all the answers to the challenges we face, and I look forward to periodic conversations with all of you in the months and years to come. I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies. (Cross-posted on the Senate blog: http://obama.senate.gov/blog/.)

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GOP Response to Katrina: Cut Programs for the Poor

President Bush and the GOP controlled Congress -- using Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts as an exuse, are proposing to cut many of the programs that thousands of the hurricane survivors are relying on to recover and rebuild.

The proposal includes cutting $35 billion from non-military spending -- including food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and even a 2.5% across the board cut to ALL farm subsidies.

Add this to the rollback on laws that guarantee fair wages for workers and encourage the hiring of women and minority owned businesses. In fact, many minority owned businesses in the Gulf Coast have been left out of the bidding process of the re-building effort while Bush's cronies have scooped up no-bid contracts.

Now is not the time to be cutting the legs out from under those that are in the most need. We already have an additional million people living in poverty since this President took office -- BEFORE Katrina.

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Burr in Heineman's Britches

Tuesday, Governor Heineman told the press that the Hergert investigation should end, and the Legislature should move on to other topics. Oh really? I wonder why our appointed Governor who's running for election wants this scandal to go away

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Open Thread

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