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Is President Obama a Socialist?

President Obama has been subject to an unprecedented torrent of abuse from his detractors since he emerged on the national scene.  His enemies have called him every name in the book and they (at times) have even stooped to attack his children.  One of the most misleading (and ignorant) epithets that has been hurled at Obama is that he is a "socialist."  Just what is socialism?  What do real socialists make of President Obama?  And what do the President's own policies say about this line of attack?

Socialism is a system where the government actually controls many of the major industries.  For example, in Britain between 1945-1979, the government acquired control (total or partial) of the following industries: auto manufacturing, coal mining, shipbuilding, freight rail lines, airlines and the health industry.  (Most of these industries were sold off to private investors during the Thatcher Administration in the 1980s.) 

Unlike the radical right, the Socialist Party USA is familiar with genuine socialism and they have firmly rejected the notion that Obama is one of them.  Burt Wharton - the co-chair of the Socialist Party USA  - stated that: "We didn't see a great victory with the election of Barack Obama, and we certainly didn't see our agenda move from the streets to the White House...(T)he assertion that Obama is a socialist is absurd...It makes no rational sense. It clearly means that people don't understand what socialism is."

President Obama's policies certainly rebut the notion that he is some kind of socialist.  In the fall of 2008, the Congress passed the TARP bill which partially nationalized the banking, insurance and auto industries in an effort to stave off a total economic collapse.  At the time, the right wing detractors of this legislation derisively labeled General Motors "Government Motors" and issued apocalyptic predictions that the auto industry was doomed to fail.  Mitt Romney even wrote an editorial at that time titled: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

As it turned out, the government rescue of these industries turned out to be a success and these companies returned to profitability.  Once these companies became viable again, the Obama Administration sold off the government owned stock to private investors and earned the taxpayers a tidy sum of $53 billion.  If Obama had been a socialist, these stock shares would still be in government hands.  

Perhaps the most most dishonest lies told about Obama's alleged socialist leanings have been in connection with the Affordable Care Act or Obama Care.  In 2009, long time GOP spin doctor Frank Luntz advised Republicans to falsely describe Obama Care as a "government takeover" of the health care system.   As Luntz said: "'Takeovers are like coups. They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom."  And GOP members of Congress repeatedly used that false buzz phrase and were rarely called on it by the so-called "liberal mainstream media."  

As it turned out, Luntz's phony "government takeover" allegation was named the 2010 "Lie of the Year" award by the non-partisan site Politifact.com. Luntz's allegation was clearly false since the ACA largely relies upon the private health insurance industry to provide most of the new coverage.  In addition, the law doesn't nationalize the hospital industry or make doctors government employees.  

The dishonesty of the charge that Obama is a socialist can be found in the performance of the economy since he took office in early 2009. When President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month.  In 2014, the economy created 250,000 new jobs per month and approximately 1 million jobs have been created in the last 3 months alone!  That is the best jobs growth since 1999.

The improvement in the stock market has been equally dramatic.  In early 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial average reached a low of 6,500. At that time, the entertainers in the right wing media blamed Obama for the deep decline in the stock market.  Currently, the Dow is hovering around 18,000.  

The conventional wisdom is that socialism is bad for business and will tank the economy.  That's why the Republicans combined their disingenuous charges of socialism with apocalyptic predictions that Obama's economic and health care policies would bring about "Armageddon" or cause America to "cease to exist."  Obviously, the strong performance of the economy should put to rest any notion that President Obama is a socialist.

The big picture here is that President Obama is a successful and effective President who is well within the mainstream of contemporary American political thought.  It is his opponents who are the extremists.

The Republican Party is the party of pessimism and fear.  The Democratic Party stands for optimism and hope.  Let's not let the voters forget that in 2016!

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Is Ricketts Up To The Job?

While many State Senators in both parties are praising Governor Ricketts' out reach and interpersonal skills, there have been many disturbing developments that call into question his very competence to do his job.  Already, Ricketts has provided misleading information regarding state taxes in his State of the State speech, blown up the budget for his own office and is paying a senior adviser out of his own pocket to avoid the open records law.   

Ricketts got off to an early, poor start with his State of the State speech.  In that address, he cited an obscure website nobody had ever heard of to make the unfounded claim that Nebraska has the third heaviest tax load out of all 50 states.  For years the consensus has been that Nebraska's tax load is squarely in the middle of the pack.

This grossly erroneous misstatement in Ricketts' speech to the State Senators indicates that he doesn't understand the magnitude of his new job and it also undermines his credibility with the Senators.  He wasn't addressing a meeting of the party faithful or the Platte Institute.  In addition, Ricketts' remarks hurt Nebraska's good reputation as a place to live and do business.  Any CEO would be fired if he ran down and trashed his company shortly after he was hired.

The new Governor doubled down on this blunder by increasing the budget for the Governor's office by 22% - while proposing a spending increase of only 3% for the rest of the state government.   This huge increase in the budget for the Governor's office is intended  to pay for two new positions that Ricketts created - a personnel director and a chief operating officer.  Apparently, Ricketts is hiring two people to do his own job for him after he spent over $7 million campaigning for the job in the first place.  

The person Ricketts hired to serve as chief operating officer - Felix Davidson - worked for the Governor at TD Ameritrade.  When Ricketts and Davidson worked together at that Omaha company, they oversaw a massive layoff of employees and outsourced the jobs to India.  If this past experience is any indication, don't be surprised if state jobs are out sourced to India or some other third world country.  

Ricketts then further compounded these mistakes when he hired long time GOP political operative and lobbyist Jessica Moenning as a senior adviser.   Ricketts' plan is to pay Moenning's salary out of his own pocket and not have her be a state employee.  This radical arrangement raises many troubling legal and ethical issues. 

Ricketts' & Moenning's scheme will shield Moenning from the state's open record laws.  As state party chair Vince Powers said: ""Nebraska has a very strong history of open records and transparency in government. What the governor has done goes against the entire history of this state." 

The need for transparency in government was neatly summed up by the Omaha World Herald in connection with the attempted secret hiring of a CEO by OPPD: “It’s always unfortunate when a public agency shirks its duty to operate in public,” said Mike Reilly, executive editor of The World-Herald and president of Media of Nebraska, a coalition of Nebraska newspapers and broadcasters.

Because this bizarre deal allows Moenning to operate in secret, the taxpayers will never know for certain what is occurring behind closed doors.   This sets up a potentially explosive conflict of interest that will hurt Nebraska's citizens.  

The Governor could eliminate this grotesque conflict of  interest by having Moenning go on the state payroll and serve as a public servant.  Ricketts could then make a donation to the State Treasury to make up the added cost of her salary.  Apparently, Ms. Moenning wants to have it both ways.  She wants to serve as a senior adviser to the Governor but she has forgotten why it is called public service.  

It's unfortunate that Mr. Ricketts is off to such a poor state.  Nebraska's economy and budget are in good shape but there are still many challenges that need to be met.  Heineman left the behind to his successor a government in a state of disarray.  His ineptitude caused the disintegration of the Departments of Corrections and HHS.  

We now need a competent Governor who can step up to the plate and clean up these messes.  Unfortunately, Ricketts' early mistakes call into question his very competence to do the job he campaigned so hard for.  

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So-Called "Small Government" Conservative Republicans Propose To Use Big Government To Take Away Peoples' Freedom And Liberty

One thing we commonly hear from conservative Republicans are claims that they support freedom, liberty and smaller government.  As usual, there is a vast gap between the claims made by conservatives and reality.  A good example of this vast gap can be found in several bills in the Unicameral that have been proposed by so-called "small government" conservatives that would actually take away freedom from thousands of Nebraskans. 

One of the most egregious big government bills being proposed by extreme Republicans is one requiring voters to show a driver's license or a valid state ID card before voting at a polling place.   This bill is being sponsored by several Senators who have (falsely) postured as advocates of freedom and liberty: Lydia Brasch,  Laura Ebke, Bill Kintner, and Ken Schilz.   Apparently, what they haven't told the voters is that they favor using the power of big government to infringe upon the peoples' sacred right to vote.

The reality is that voter ID laws reduce turnout and make it harder for minorities, the poor, young people and senior citizens to exercise their right to vote.  For example in Texas, in 2014, approximately 600,000 voters statewide were denied the right to vote because they lacked the required documents.   In neighboring Kansas, no less than 22,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship.  The strict voter ID law in the Sunflower state altogether reduced turnout  there by about 2 percent in 2014.

The rationale given by sponsors of voter ID laws is that in person voter fraud is rampant in the U.S.  The reality is that voter fraud is extremely rare - almost to the point of being non-existent.  According to a Loyola University law school professor, there have been about 31 credible allegations of voter fraud in the entire U.S.  since 2000.   The Bush Administration conducted a 5 year investigation of alleged voter fraud and charged only about 120 people and of those, only 86 were actually convicted.

The real (as opposed to the stated) rationale for voter ID laws is deeply partisan - the GOP simply wants to make it harder for Democrats to win elections.  For example, in 2012, a Republican legislator in Pennsylvania candidly explained why he wanted a voter ID law in that state: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”   After the 2012 election cycle, Florida GOP Party Chair Jim Greer admitted that the goal of the state's voter ID law was to suppress Democratic voters. 

The voter ID bill isn't the only legislation being introduced by radical Republicans that would take away peoples' freedom.  Senator Ebke has sponsored legislation that would  make it so that public employers couldn't deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks. In addition, Ebke's bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that call for such deductions.

Ebke's intrusive, anti-union bill would greatly impair what Ronald Reagan once called "one of the most elemental human rights - the right to belong to a trade union."  Thousands of middle class voters exercise their right to participate in the political process in Nebraska by being a union member.  Unions turn out voters and contribute to candidates who support working families. This bill - if passed - would cause a big decline in union budgets and membership.  

If it were to become law, Ebke's anti-union legislation would reduce the influence of the middle class in elections and cause a further erosion in middle class earning power.  Unions are the only remaining check and balance to corporate influence in elections.   

When it comes to freedom, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm correctly stated that: "The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem....(T)heir freedom only applies to businesses, not individuals."  

Granholm's perceptive statement tells us a lot about what many contemporary conservative Republicans believe about freedom and liberty. (I would submit that these so-called conservatives aren't conservative - they're radical.)  As Democrats, we need to let the voters know that we are the true party of freedom and liberty. We can't surrender this issue to the Republicans.   That is because we are the party of the people - not the powerful.  We can begin by calling our State Senators and urging them to oppose these bills that would violate our sacred rights to vote and belong to a trade union.  

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President Obama - Keeping America Safe

National security is back in the news in light of the recent and tragic terrorist attack in Paris.  Once again, the Republicans are playing their rancid, hyper-partisan blame games by attempting to convince the voters that somehow President Obama is responsible for these attacks.  (Imagine the outrage from the right if the Democrats had tried to turn the 13 embassy attacks during the Bush Administration into a political football?)  This pathetic attempt by the GOP to blame Obama for everything that goes wrong in the world is a desperate effort by the GOP to reclaim it's former reputation for competence in the area of national security.

The GOP lost it's reputation for being the party best suited to keep America safe during the Bush Administration.  This shift in perception occurred in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  Shortly after these terrorist attacks, Bush publicly boasted that he wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive."  Unfortunately, the next seven and half years demonstrated that there was a huge gap between Bush's cowboy like bluster and his Administration's actual performance.

The Bush Administration got off on the wrong foot when its incompetence allowed OBL to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. After that blunder, Bush no longer made the killing or capture of OBL a high priority.  Instead, on March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes of Fox News that an "emphasis on bin Laden doesn't fit with the administration's strategy for combating terrorism."

Another factor that contributed to the Bush's Administration's failed search to find Bin Laden was it's disastrous decision to invade Iraq and conduct a multi-year nation building project in that country.  In the run up to the Iraq war in 2002-03, the Bush Administration assured the American people that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators,  the war would only last a few weeks, Iraqi oil would finance the reconstruction of that country and U.S. forces would find a vast weapons of mass destruction arsenal.

As it turned out, just about every pre-war prediction made by the Bush Administration turned out to be very wrong.  No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.  In addition the war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.  

After his inauguration, President Obama took a very different and much more effective approach to national security issues.  As a starting point, in early 2009, Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority.  It was, in other words, a major shift from the previous administration. Thanks to that change in priorities, Obama did in two and a half years what George W. Bush, despite all of his "dead or alive" big talk and swagger, couldn't do in over seven years.

Another big change from the previous Administration was that President Obama ended America's large ground troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What is seldom discussed is that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that mandated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was signed in late 2008 by the Bush Administration.  The Iraqis refused to allow a permanent U.S. troop presence in their country unless the U.S. agreed to have our troops subject to the jurisdiction of the Iraqi courts.  The Bush Administration (correctly) rejected that condition.  

I have mentioned the 2008 SOFA with Iraq for the reason that many Republicans have contended that the U.S. should have maintained an indefinite U.S. troop presence in Iraq.  What these same Republicans don't tell you is that they apparently want to allow our troops to be hauled into Iraqi courts in the event of alleged wrongdoing.    

As we all know, conditions in Iraq began to deteriorate in 2014.  ISIS forces invaded and conquered portions of Iraq.  In response to that offensive, prominent Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney blamed Obama for the ISIS offensive and demanded that U.S. ground troops return to Iraq.  McCain and Romney even went so far as to call for a U.S. ground invasion of Syria aimed at the overthrow of the Assad regime.   

To his credit, President Obama resisted the overwhelming pressure from the GOP, much of the foreign policy establishment and many in the mainstream media to get the U.S. involved in another ground war in the Middle East.  American surgical strikes and advisers have stemmed the ISIS advance and rolled it back.  That's why you don't hear the Republicans talking about Iraq anymore.  

President Obama's advisers have accurately distilled his foreign policy approach to a single, pithy phrase:  "Don't do stupid stuff."  That approach is similar to the ones followed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  The forty first and forty second Presidents' foreign policies were marked by an emphasis on diplomacy, a limited and cautious use of American military power and a realistic exit strategy when military force was applied.  

The U.S. is now much safer thanks to President Obama's more realistic and cautious approach.  (It would be fair to say that George W. Bush's national security policy was reckless and irresponsible.)  Unfortunately, the U.S. won't be able to prevent every terrorist attack - foreign policy experts all agree that the world can't be completely safe from terrorism.  However, we can diminish the threat by not doing "stupid stuff" like inflaming the Middle East with reckless and ineffectual military action.  President Obama has been very successful in that endeavor and the American people should be thankful for it.  

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Just Call Me Irresponsible: The Republicans On Spending & The Deficit

One of the most misleading and pernicious myths in American politics today is that the Republicans are fiscal conservatives and the Democrats are fiscally irresponsible.  That false perception originated with a statement made in the 1930s by FDR adviser and confidant Harry Hopkins who said that Democrats were going to: "Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect."  There has been a lot of water under the bridge since Hopkins made that statement and modern history clearly demonstrates that it is the Democratic Party that is the fiscally responsible party - not the GOP. 

The last fiscally responsible Republican President was Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1950s.  Eisenhower was the last Republican President to balance the budget - way back in 1957.  Ike was also the last Republican President to leave behind to his successor a smaller budget deficit.  Every other Republican President starting with Nixon has left behind a larger deficit to his successor than the one he inherited.   In contrast, every Democratic President since Carter has reduced the deficit and bequeathed a smaller deficit to his successor.  

Republican fiscal irresponsibility and even recklessness escalated during the Reagan Presidency due to his adoption of supply side economics or what George H.W. Bush aptly labeled "voodoo economics."  Reagan's borrow and spend policies tripled the national debt.  Contrary to the contentions of his Republican apologists, Reagan never submitted a balanced budget and the Congress during his Administration spent less money than he originally proposed.  

It took a Democratic President and Congress to clean up the fiscal mess left behind by Reagan and H.W. Bush.  In 1993, Clinton proposed both tax increases and spending restraints to reduce the deficit.  Every prominent Republican opposed Clinton's budget and claimed it would cause a recession and an increased budget deficit.  

All of the Republican predictions of doom and gloom made in 1993 proved to be dead wrong.  When President Clinton left office, the budget enjoyed a record $238 billion surplus and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a ten year surplus of $5.5 trillion.  

Unfortunately, the hard earned surplus built up during the Clinton Presidency was squandered during the Administration of George W. Bush - who doubled the national debt during his disastrous Presidency.  Between 2001 and 2006, a Republican Congress rubber stamped Bush's two wars, two tax cuts for the wealthy and the budget busting Medicare Part D program.  By the time Bush left office, the annual deficit was $1.3 trillion and 10% of GDP.

Since he has taken office, President Obama has succeeded - over bitter and hyper-partisan GOP opposition - in reducing the deficit to $450 billion and 2.8% of GDP.  In fact, the deficits during Obama's Presidency have been lower than the ones during the Reagan Presidency.  By the time President Obama leaves office, the deficit will be 2% of GDP - a level considered to be very manageable by most economists.  

Closer to home, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and a Tea Party dominated legislature racked up a $435 million deficit out of a $5.9 billion budget after passing a large cut tax for the wealthy in 2012.  Brownback and his extreme allies in the Kansas legislature have scrambled to make up this shortfall by raising sales taxes, raiding teacher pensions and cutting funding for education and roads.  

Brownback's failed experiment in Kansas should provide an object lesson to Governor Pete Ricketts and the newly elected Republican members of the Unicameral who call themselves "Rickett's Crickets."  They would be wise to heed the promise made by Ricketts last fall when he said he wanted to: "gradually reduce income tax rates for all Nebraskans and bring down the rate of growth in state spending a step at a time." Ricketts essentially rejected Brownback's policies when he promised that:  "Reform is not a one-and-done thing." 

The overwhelming majority of Nebraskans who voted last fall didn't support or expect radical changes to Nebraska's budget.  They expect Ricketts and the legislature to keep the new Governor's promise to continue the steady, moderate fiscal policies that have made the Nebraska economy and budget the envy of the nation.  Radical changes aren't needed here because Nebraska is doing well thanks to the responsible, bi-partisan fiscal policies that have proven to be so successful.  

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Johanns' Revisionist History

In a recent interview, outgoing Senator Mike Johanns contended that President Obama:  "Never developed the art of working across the aisle."  Johanns further alleged that  after the 2010 election cycle - when the Republicans regained control of the House - the President "was not prepared, tested or experienced in how to operate successfully in that new environment ... and  never developed the ability to work with Congress in a bipartisan way." 

Is Johanns right?  Is President Obama incapable of working across party lines in a bi-partisan fashion?  A more important question would be whether the Republicans in the Congress were ever prepared to work with President Obama in the first place?

In looking at Obama's first two years in office, it is pretty evident to all but the most bitterly partisan Republican, that the Republicans in Congress had no intention of working with the President and cooperating with him when the country faced it's gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  

It all started out when influential right wing entertainer Rush Limbaugh said even before the inauguration that he hoped that Obama "failed" and that he wanted the stimulus blll to "prolong the recession." 

On the evening of President Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, the Republican House leaders met at an upscale restaurant in Washington, D.C. and began to plot their strategy of all out obstruction.  At that meeting, then House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy said that Republicans had to "challenge Obama on every bill" and  show "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies."

It wasn't any different on the Senate side in the early days of the Obama Administration.  Mitch McConnell schemed to prevent any Republican Senators from entering into any  deals with the Democrats.  In early 2009, several Republican Senators revealed McConnell's cynical strategy to Vice President Biden:  “The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back." Biden said.

As it turned out, President Obama's major legislative achievements in his first two years contained many Republican ideas and amendments.  For example, the Affordable Care Act was based upon Mitt Romney's successful health care reforms in Massachusetts that insured 98% of the population in that state. As a matter of fact, Romney even wrote an op ed piece in U.S.A. Today on July 30, 2009, advising President Obama to adopt the individual mandate on a nationwide basis.  

As we all know, the 2010 mid-term elections went poorly for the Democrats and the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives.  Just two days after that election, Mitch McConnell was asked by the press what the Republicans' top priority would be now that the GOP was once again a player in Washington.  Was it to create more jobs during what was then a very slow recovery?  Was it to improve the health care system to insure more Americans and reduce health care costs?  No.  Instead, McConnell stated:  "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term President."  

Since the 2010 election cycle, President Obama has tried to reach out to the Republicans on the deficit - an issue in which the Republicans have claimed they are deeply concerned about.   (They're not but that is a topic for another column.)  In 2011 - when the GOP threatened a default that would've caused another recession - Obama offered to raise the Medicare eligibility age if the GOP would agree to tax increases on the wealthy.  In response, the GOP sabotaged a so-called "grand bargain" on the budget because they thought a bi-partisan agreement reducing the deficit would help President Obama get re-elected in 2012.

Shortly after his re-election in early 2013, Obama once again reached out to the Republicans on the budget deficit issue.  In his fiscal year 2014 budget, President Obama proposed to reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits for senior citizens.  In response to that offer, the Republicans cynically attacked the proposal and accused the President of wanting to "balance the budget on the backs of seniors."

As we can see from this review of recent history, Johanns' remarks about Obama and partisanship is revisionist history at it's worst.  The reality is that Johanns and the Republican members of Nebraska's Congressional delegation were part of this unprecedented partisan wall of obstruction.  They refused to cooperate with the President during one of the greatest crises in American history.

Despite the fact that Obama is the first President in modern history to lack bi-partisan support for his economic policies, they have proven to be a success.  We have gone from losing 800,000 jobs per month in 2008 to creating 244,000 jobs per month in 2014. The Dow Jones has risen from a low of 6,500 in early 2009 and is now in excess of 18,000.  The deficit has been reduced from 10% of GDP when Obama took office to less than 3% of GDP in fiscal year 2014.  Since the implementation of the ACA in 2013, the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen to it's lowest level since 2008.  If a Republican President had this kind of record, the GOP would be lobbying to put his visage on Mount Rushmore.

These successes give us a great record to run on in 2016.  Let's make the voters aware of this record.  I'm confident that once the voters understand the progress we've made as a country since 2009, we will have a very good election cycle in 2016.

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Will "Ricketts' Crickets" Blow Up the Unicameral?

One thing we can always count on from Republicans is a great sense of over confidence and hubris in the event they win an election.  After a successful election cycle, the GOP invariably believes that the voters have given them a mandate for their entire agenda and even their toxic tactics.   We are now beginning to see this kind of arrogance from the Nebraska GOP even though Governor-elect Ricketts promised that any changes in spending and taxation would be phased in over several years and would be very gradual in nature.

The all but inevitable GOP over reach is beginning to manifest itself in the Unicameral.  A group of newly elected Republican State Senators have labeled themselves "Ricketts' Crickets" and are now ready to blow up the venerable tradition of non-partisanship in the Unicameral in order to aggressively pursue a partisan and divisive agenda.  (Apparently, these newly elected Senators fail to realize that they don't work for the executive branch and that the legislative branch is an independent and co-equal branch of the government.)

Nebraska GOP Party Chairman J.L. Spray is now exhorting Republican voters in Nebraska to demand so-called "open votes" when State Senators select fourteen committee chairs when the Unicameral convenes in January.  Apparently, the GOP is still smarting from the fact that 9 out of 14 committees were chaired by Democrats in the last legislative session.  (This sour result for the GOP occurred in early 2013 after then GOP Party Chair Mark Fahleson  made a similar attempt to change this long standing rule in the Unicameral and it badly backfired on the Nebraska GOP.)  

Democratic State Party Chair Vince Powers correctly pointed out that:  “It is shameful that the Nebraska Republican Party wants to replace the USA’s best legislative system, comprised of hard-working independent senators, with a party-boss system based solely on loyalty to partisanship.”  

What this means is that Spray and the Nebraska GOP want to bring to Nebraska the poisonous and destructive partisanship of Washington, D.C.  The last thing Nebraska needs to do is to import to our state the dysfunctional system and mores of the broken U.S. Congress.

If Spray and the freshman GOP Senators are successful in this effort, they will blow up the best legislative system in the U.S.  Nebraska's unique non-partisan legislature is a model for the entire nation - and even the world. Elected representatives from other states marvel at our system and wish they could operate in a similar, non-partisan system in their own states.

If the extreme Republicans in the Unicameral manage to change the rules, it will be done in an effort to enact a partisan and radical agenda that most voters in Nebraska didn't vote for and aren't expecting.  We could see a big push for large, budget busting tax cuts that favor the wealthy.  As recently as this weekend, the lead Omaha World Herald editorial warned against the kind of reckless tax cuts that blew up budgets in Kansas and North Carolina.  

Things are going very well for the State of Nebraska at the present time.  Nebraska was recently designated as one of the best run states in the country and our economy is the envy of the nation.  We don't need radical changes right now and the voters certainly didn't vote for radical changes in November.

We need to contact our State Senators and urge them to maintain the long standing non-partisan feature of our legislature.  The future of the state is on the line and our State Senators need to stand up to the excessive partisanship and extreme agenda of a cabal of radicals within the Nebraska GOP. 

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Ricketts' Shaky Start

In a recent editorial, the Lincoln Journal Star evaluated Ricketts' use of special interest funds to finance a talent search for key department heads and asserted that Ricketts showed "executive savvy" and that it's "clear that he's off to a good start."  Unfortunately, it is way too early to tell if Ricketts is off to a good start and there are tell tale signs that should concern all Nebraskans. Just what are those signs?  Why should the voters be concerned?

Nebraskans should be troubled by the fact that Ricketts has solicited funds from a special interest group with a stake in his Administration's decisions - the Omaha Chamber of Commerce - to finance an executive search firm to find candidates to head up the agencies that have fallen into disarray during the Heineman Administration.  The retention of a private search firm isn't the problem - it's about who is paying the bill.  The better practice would have been (as State Senator Jeremy Nordquist said) for Ricketts to go "through a community foundation rather than an interest group.”

This decision to solicit to special interest funding certainly creates the unfortunate impression that the Omaha Chamber is  buying influence with the prospective Ricketts Administration.  Just what will the Omaha Chamber want in return for these donations?  Will they expect support for a narrow agenda that favors the interests of corporations and the wealthy at the expense of most Nebraskans?  The voters deserve answers.  Unfortunately, Governor-elect Ricketts hasn't told anybody what the Omaha Chamber expects.  

Similarly, Mr. Ricketts has't provided any real answers to the unfolding prison scandal. As we have learned,  the Heineman Administration has dealt with the thorny problem of prison overcrowding by running a secret program in which it has expedited the parole of prisoners - even ones who have committed violent crimes. This premature release of many dangerous criminals has endangered the safety of the public. 

What makes the prison scandal so crucial is that we now have some explosive evidence that this (formerly) secret policy of early paroles has reached as far as Heineman's chief of staff, Larry Bare.  However, sometime before these revelations about his office's involvement in this scandal, Heineman denied he exerted any pressure on the Parole Board to prematurely free dangerous criminals.  

This was the following exchange from a recent Judiciary Committee hearing: State Senator Steve Lathrop: "And so your testimony today is, I was not exerting pressure to have these people parole more folks?"  Heineman: "Yeah, I don't feel like. I mean it was a casual conversation like we're having, and so I didn't feel like I was exerting pressure."

As it turns out, Heineman's sworn testimony was directly contradicted by two members of the Nebraska Parole Board.  Esther Casmer testified under oath that "she felt intense pressure from both Houston and the Governor’s Office to increase the number of furloughed and paroled inmates." Casmer also testified that "her job was threatened by the governor’s chief of staff unless she increased the number of paroles."

Fellow Parole Board Member James Pearson corroborated Casmer's testimony when he stated: “I was in that meeting. I heard the same words she heard, and I support Esther’s testimony 100 percent. There was no doubt in my mind what came out of that man’s mouth.”

This contradictory evidence on the early release of dangerous criminals demonstrates the urgent need for a special prosecutor.  What did Heineman know and when did he know it?  Ricketts could get off to a fresh start and prove he will not be part of a cover up by appointing a Special Prosecutor to review this burgeoning corrections scandal.  The appointment of a special prosecutor would potentially vindicate the Journal Star's assertion that Ricketts is off to a "good start."

Ricketts will soon be facing a bigger challenge than the burgeoning prison scandal.  He will need to decide if he is going to keep his campaign promise to make any changes in spending and taxation very gradual in nature or if he is going to pursue the extreme agenda of the Platte Institute.  Once again, Ricketts hasn't told the voters anything about his plans or agenda. 

We still have a lot of unanswered questions about the incoming Ricketts' Administration.  The former Ameritrade Executive can have a successful administration if he maintains the moderate, bi-partisan fiscal policies that have made Nebraska one of the country's economic success stories.  In contrast, Ricketts will doom his governorship to failure if he attempts to emulate Kansas Governor Sam Brownback by pursuing extreme tax and spending policies.  It's about time that the voters get some answers from Ricketts on all of these issues.  The time for campaigning is over.

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Will the Republicans Shutdown the Government Again?

Last month, President Obama issued an executive order on immigration that will shield 5 million undocumented workers - also known as "aspiring citizens" - from deportation from the U.S.  This order will keep families together and allow many aspiring citizens an opportunity to come out of the shadows.

In response to Obama's order, the Republicans - as usual - went on the attack.  Instead of acting on the immigration bill that passed in the Senate last year or offering up a legislative solution, the GOP resorted to their usual, tired hyper-partisan attacks.  House Speaker John Boehner alleged that President Obama was acting like a "king" and an "emperor."   Influential conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the immigration order an "impeachable offense."  After six prominent right wing Senators contended that Obama's order created "a constitutional crisis that demands action by Congress," they left Washington and took yet another lengthy, taxpayer financed vacation.

Does President Obama's executive order really create a "constitutional crisis?"  Is he really acting like a "monarch?"  How does it compare to executive orders from previous Republican Presidents or what was contemplated by Mitt Romney in 2012?

If President Obama's executive order on immigration creates a "constitutional crisis,"  then Presidents Reagan and Bush41 created constitutional crises of their own.  As a matter of fact, both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued similar executive orders that granted deportation relief to family members who were not covered by the immigration reform bill that passed the Congress with bi-partisan support in 1986.  After those executive orders, no Republicans accused them of violating the Constitution or threatened them with impeachment.

Reagan and Bush41's executive orders were fairly modest in nature compared to the ones issued by George W. Bush in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.  During his first term, Bush43 issued executive orders in secret allowing the torture of captured terrorists and to monitor, without a search warrant, just about all communcations between any party outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication was within the U.S.  Both of these sweeping executive orders were in clear violation of the Constitution, federal statutes and international treaty obligations.  Yet the GOP fiercely defended Bush's executive orders.

If he had been elected in 2012, Mitt Romney promised to be as aggressive as George W. Bush in exercising executive power.   On his first day in office, Romney promised to halt or even reverse the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of executive orders.  Romney would have issued an executive order halting the establishment of the ACA insurance exchanges, ending financing for the implementation of the law, and creating various exemptions from the individual mandate.  As political science professor Norm Ornstein said about the GOP reaction (or lack thereof) to this proposal:  "I have searched to find cases of conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz, or constitutional scholars, much less columnists like Charles Krauthammer, raising alarm bells about this brazen plan to short-circuit the policy process, give the middle finger to the Senate, and thwart a duly enacted law, or raising questions about an imperial president-to-be shredding the Constitution. Strangely enough, I can’t find any."

As we discussed, the Republicans' response to Obama's executive order on immigration is dramatically different than their response to those from previous Republican Presidents and Presidential candidates.  The Republicans are now reacting with their usual fits of rage and anger, and vowing to do something to stop it.  It has even reached the point where many Republican members of Congress are demanding another government shutdown.

This Tea Party temper tantrum has caused the hapless GOP Congressional leaders to engage in a mad scramble to create a process that will allow right wingers to express their outrage but prevent a shutdown.  (Good luck with that.)  Why don't these Republican "leaders" show some real leadership for a change and suggest legislating?  What a concept! 

The last thing our economy needs is another government shutdown.  One of the reasons why the economy has made a strong comeback in 2014 is because the GOP hasn't shutdown the government or threatened another default.  Another government shutdown could bring this economic progress to a halt and send us back into another recession.

We need to demand that our Congressional delegation make a pledge to take another government shutdown off the table.  In 2013,  Senator Johanns correctly termed the government shutdown a "fool's errand."  As recently as October, Representative Fortenberry - who voted for the shutdown - admitted that: “The consequence of shutting down the government was not healthy.”

I urge everybody to contact our Congressional delegation and remind them of what Johanns and Fortenberry said about the last government shutdown.  If our Congressional delegation once again joins the Tea Party in another destructive shutdown, we must redouble our efforts to throw the rascals out in 2016!

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Will the Affordable Care Act Cause America To Cease To Exist Or Bring About Armageddon?

One of the things you can count on from Republicans are apocalyptic predictions of what will supposedly occur if some measure supported by a Democratic President should be enacted into law by the Congress.  We certainly got one of the most apocalyptic predictions of our time when Ben Sasse predicted last year that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist. "  This follows on the heels of John Boehner's over heated 2010 prediction that passage of health reform would be “Armageddon" and would “ruin our country.”  

Now let's unpack those predictions for a moment.  Apparently, according to Sasse, the passage of the ACA is a greater threat to the U.S. than the British Empire, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Osama Bin Laden.  For example, if Sasse is right, Hitler could've brought down America at a much lower cost and risk than waging World War II by providing affordable health care to millions of uninsured Americans.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in early 2010, has the U.S. experienced Armageddon?  Just what has happened in the U.S. since Sasse predicted about 13 months ago that the ACA would bring about the end of the world's strongest and greatest nation?

We certainly haven't experienced any kind of "Armageddon" on the jobs front.  In early 2009, when President Obama took office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month.  It was the worst performance since the Great Depression.  In 2014, the economy has been creating over 220,000 new jobs per month.  This is the best jobs performance since 1999 during the Clinton Administration.

The news on the stock market has been equally encouraging.  Back in early 2009, when the Dow Jones was as low as 6,500, the Republicans blamed Obama for the stock market decline.  College dropout and right wing entertainer Sean Hannity said on March 10, 2009: “Obama, since he's elected, has tanked the markets."   You don't hear Hannity or other right entertainers on AM radio talk about the stock market anymore since the Dow Jones has reached record levels time and time again.  As of the writing of this article, the Dow Jones is at 17,810.  Right wingers used to blame Obama for the decling stock market.  Will they now give him credit for its big comeback?

One thing you routinely hear is Fox News blaming Obama for an alleged runaway federal deficit.  Let's stop for a minute and look at the record.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion and 10% of GDP from George W. Bush.  Since then, we've had the greatest decline in the federal deficit since the late 1940s.  The federal deficit for fiscal year 2014 is 2.8% of GDP and $506 billion.  The deficit is now smaller than its average over the past 40 years of 3.1 %. 

The turn around on the health insurance front since 2008 has been every bit as impressive as the reduction in the federal budget deficit.  It is seldom discussed that when Bush was President, eight million Americans lost their health insurance policies.  Since the implementation of the ACA a little over a year ago, 10 million Americans who used to be uninsured now have coverage.  In addition, the percentage of the population that is uninsured has fallen from 18% in 2008 to 13% in 2014.  

All of these reforms were accomplished in the face of all out GOP obstruction and gridlock.  Even before President Obama was inaugurated, the GOP settled on it's policy of all out opposition in the hopes of making President Obama look bad and to regain power.  As Mitch McConnell candidly admitted to the press,  the key to pushing down Obama's approval ratings was to deny him the aura of bipartisanship, and that meant keeping Republicans united in total opposition even while the U.S. was in it's deepest economic crisis since 1933. 

President Obama and the Democrats didn't only overcome the most hyper-partisan and bitter opposition in U.S. history since 1860, they also over came efforts at outright sabotage of the economy and the ACA.  The GOP's threat to default on the obligations of the U.S. in 2011 crushed consumer confidence and snuffed out a promising economic recovery.  In 2013, the GOP's government shutdown cost the national economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.  Just imagine how much better the economy would be doing today in the absence of the obstruction and sabotage of the GOP!

We Democrats should be proud of President Obama and the records of our members of Congress who supported these reforms during the dark days of 2009-2010.  In my estimation, the national Democratic Party made a mistake in the recent election cycle by running away from President Obama's record.  If a Republican President had a record similar to that of President Obama, the GOP would have not only campaigned on it, they would have lobbied for him to be put on Mount Rushmore. If only the American people were aware of this record, the election could have turned out much differently.  

A majority of the American people (and even Nebraska voters) prefer Democratic policies over Republican ones.  What this means is that we Democrats have to get out our message again, again and again.  I'm convinced that once the American people (and the people of Nebraska) become familiar with our message and accomplishments, we will win the elections in 2015 and 2016! 

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