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I have been on the ground in Ukraine for almost a month. The things I have seen and the things I have been told by scores of soldiers and government officials in the cities and towns I visit would fill a book. It’s hard to know where to begin because I try to keep this weekly update to about five hundred words. In this installment I will try to describe some history behind this war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to re-unify the old Soviet empire, and he sees Ukraine as a buffer between Russia and the NATO countries to the west. The Russians see Ukraine much the same way China sees Taiwan. It is a break-away province of the mother country who have never been sovereign in their own right. Following this thinking, some will argue that had President Biden assured Mr. Putin that Ukraine would never be a member of NATO, there is a good chance this war would never have happened. I don’t know if this thinking is accurate, but it does force you to ask when did the entirely peaceful and defensive NATO alliance adopt an expansionist policy?
Since the 18th Century, Ukraine has had its own language and culture. They have a very strong sense of national pride and identity. In contrast, the civil wars in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan were fought by soldiers who put religious sect or tribal affiliation before national identity. The war in Ukraine is about the survival of their modern country. One way or another they have been fighting the Russians for their independence since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They lost this fight and were forced to become part of the communist Soviet Union. Nearly four million Ukrainians were starved to death during the “holodomer,” the man-made famine created by Stalin in the 1930s. I fear we will see another one of these when winter sets in.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine began building itself into a sovereign country from the ground up. Ukraine celebrates August 24 as their Independence Day, when they declared by a 92 percent vote of the people to become independent from the USSR. This was the first time in centuries Ukraine was an entirely independent country. In 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton signed the “Budapest Memorandum.” In exchange for turning over the world’s third largest stock pile of nuclear weapons for safe disposal, Ukraine received “security assurances” from the USA and the United Kingdom. In 2014, millions of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest for a more democratic and European-oriented future for Ukraine. Russia reacted to this by invading the country and occupying the Crimean Peninsula. Today’s war is a continuation of this aggression.
At that time President Obama responded by sending humanitarian aid. Besides stern language, nothing was done to provide Ukraine security assistance and enforce the Budapest Memorandum. When combined with America’s shameful departure from Afghanistan, it became very clear to Mr. Putin that the United States had betrayed its allies yet again, and wasn’t going to do anything about his war against Ukraine. Weakness has invited aggression since the dawn of man.
The US congress has passed a $53B aid package for Ukraine. Next week I will report on how much of this is actually reaching the 2.9 million refugees and the soldiers fighting for their country’s national survival.
This year I am spending the 4th of July holiday in Ukraine. During my long military career I spent countless holidays deployed overseas, but this one is particularly poignant. I have had a chance to see much of the battlefield. The destruction, death and suffering is beyond anything I have ever seen in person. Photographs of Berlin at the end of WWII is the kind of destruction now found in Ukraine. This is not a war with insurgents and irregular guerrilla fighters launching hit-and-run ambushes with roadside bombs like the Taliban or ISIS. This is two very modern, uniformed militaries of countries that are both represented in the United Nations. This is a mechanized, force-on-force, combined arms death match.
The Ukrainians are fierce warriors. Every inch of territory occupied by Russia has cost them dearly. Accurate casualty figures are tough to find, but the BBC reports that between 100-200 Ukrainian soldiers are killed each day, with over 500 being wounded. I have toured hospitals and visited the combat wounded. Rooms designed for two patients have six or more. The medical staff work round the clock. They are short-handed and constantly in need of supplies. Ukrainians under the age of 60 cannot leave the country and many have been pressed into service. Their need for combat training is just as critical as their need for logistics in general, and medical supplies in particular.
In the three-plus months this war has been going on, the Russians have suffered horrific casualties as well. Nearly 35,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded or missing. That’s almost 300 a day. They’ve lost almost 1,500 tanks, over 200 aircraft and fourteen of their ships and boats have been sunk. When you read these numbers remember that most of these troops are conscript teenagers with very little training.
The situation in Ukraine reminds me of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, “Don’t ask what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” From what I have seen so far, the Ukrainian people are stepping up and doing the impossible for their country.
Back home in the USA, the Fourth of July holiday celebrates the fundamental essence of what it means to be an American. It is a holiday that recognizes our never-ending fight to preserve and protect our freedom as Americans with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of individual happiness and prosperity. The Ukrainian people I meet remind of this spirit because they want the same thing. The unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine is their version of the British occupation of Boston and the early battles at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. The Ukrainian people know this US history very well and are quick to point out the comparisons to a visiting American.
The best part of my trip to Ukraine is being reminded of my own nation’s struggle for freedom and to never take what we have in the USA for granted. I hope everyone has a happy and blessed Fourth of July!
Earlier this year, I made it clear that my number one priority in the Legislature was to pass a permitless concealed carry bill. I believe that our laws should allow Nebraskans to exercise their right to keep and bear arms without asking permission, paying a fee, or jumping through other bureaucratic hoops. Civil rights should not come with a price tag from the state.
My permitless carry bill, LB 773, was supported by the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, and the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association. After winning the first two votes on the floor of the Legislature, on the third round we failed to get the thirty-three votes necessary to overcome the filibuster by senators who support gun control. When the bill stalled, I pledged that I would introduce a new version of the bill as soon as we convene the Legislature for the 2023 regular session. Four states joined the growing list of permitless carry states in 2022, bringing the national count to twenty-five states with “constitutional carry.”
Opponents of the right to keep and bear arms have been fighting back. They jumped on tragic criminal acts in New York and Texas as opportunities to promote more wrong-headed gun control laws. The United States Congress has passed today a new package of gun control legislation now waiting on the President’s signature. I do not think that violent crimes should be used as a sales pitch for victim disarmament laws. I wish someone in that New York grocery store had been able to fight back with a gun. I wish that even one teacher or staffer in that Texas elementary school had been prepared to defend those innocent children from a mad man set on making them his victims. It is likely the recent Supreme Court decision will make some of the provisions in this bill unconstitutional the moment the President signs it. More “gun control” laws are utterly pointless. Their only effect is to deprive law-abiding citizens of their civil rights.
It turns out that the Supreme Court of the United States agrees that violent crimes are not a good reason for giving up on the Second Amendment. In the Court’s latest case the issue was whether or not New York’s almost total ban on public carrying of firearms violated the Constitution. The New York law requires people to show some extraordinary reason why they face unusual risks that necessitate carrying a firearm. Justice Clarence Thomas and a majority of his fellow justices made it clear that New York’s harsh law restricting public carry in this way is unconstitutional.
Americans should not have to prove to the government that they deserve their civil rights. The Court’s written decision also puts five other states and the District of Columbia on notice that their own handgun restrictions are also unconstitutional. The Court makes it clear that if a permit program exists, it cannot act as a ban on bearing arms for most people. Most importantly, the Court explained the reasoning that lower courts should use in the future to analyze the constitutionality of gun laws.
I welcome this new development from our federal Supreme Court, but let me be clear: this new decision establishes the bare minimum for a constitutional passing grade. I believe that Nebraska can do better than the bare minimum. We should join the half of our sister states that have enacted permitless concealed carry. Next January, we will resume the fight to make that happen.
Early last session, my friend Sen. Steve Halloran passed Legislative Resolution 14. This was Nebraska’s application to Congress to call a convention of the states for proposing amendments to the federal constitution. Nebraska became the seventeenth state to pass this resolution. Since last January, the West Virgina and South Carolina legislatures have passed this resolution bringing the total to nineteen states. Six other state legislatures have passed the measure in one chamber, including our neighbors Iowa and South Dakota. Two-thirds of the states (34) must pass the resolution for the convention to be called.
Article five of the US constitution provides two ways to propose amendments to the federal constitution. Two-thirds of both the house and the senate can propose an amendment, or two-thirds of the States in a convention can do so. In either case, three-fourths (38) of the States must ratify the amendment before it becomes part of the constitution. This safeguard applies equally to both methods. Thirty-three amendments have been proposed in the history of the country. Twenty-seven of these proposed amendments have been ratified by the States. The article five process clearly works.
The second part of article five was written on the next to the last day of the constitutional convention. As the delegates read the final draft of the Constitution, Colonel George Mason of Virginia was worried. Article five in the final draft only had the two-thirds of congress method to propose amendments. He argued;
“Col Mason thought the plan of amending the Constitution exceptionable & dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, in the second, ultimately, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case.” (See Madison’s notes 15 Sep 1787). His colleagues agreed. The two-thirds of the State’s method was then added into article five without debate on a unanimous vote of the delegates.
Americans have watched, with increasing alarm, the horrific events our country has suffered these last two years. Eight months of riots burning American cities. Record inflation. A daily invasion crossing our southern border. Over one hundred thousand Americans dead from fentanyl brought in by international criminal cartels. Trillions of dollars of wealth have disappeared just this year from American’s retirement savings, and scores of Americans continue to be held without bail in solitary confinement for misdemeanor charges from the January 6th protest at the US Capitol. On top of everything else, our congress has voted to give over $50 billion dollars in printed money, that Americans yet unborn will have to pay back, to the war in Ukraine. This throws fuel on the inflation fire here at home and escalates tensions with a nuclear-armed Russia whose leader is not right in the head.
Colonel George Mason of Virginia was absolutely correct to be worried about the federal government he and his fellow countrymen had just created becoming “oppressive.” It has become unmoored from the constitution. Its proper role can only be restored by the states. Thank the lord the framers had the wisdom to make sure and include in the constitution the power the states need to secure the blessings of liberty and save our country. Nineteen states have recognized this pressing need. I pray the remaining fifteen states reach this conclusion swiftly.
By now everyone is familiar with the Uvalde, Texas mass murder. As one of the strongest supporters of the second amendment in the Nebraska Legislature, I felt expressing my opinion on this matter was something many people expected me to do. Out of respect for the families of the victims, I wanted to wait for the funerals to at least be finished before making any public comments.
A number of politicians here in Nebraska and in Washington, D.C. felt the need to comment on the story within hours of the tragedy. Politicizing this event to promote utterly failed policies is ghoulish and inappropriate to say the least. Yet again, this tragedy provides another horrifying example of the fact “gun free zones” do not work. Evil maniacs determined to murder people cannot be stopped with a sign.
We’ve had more guns in the United States than we’ve had population since the early days of our nation. We’ve only had mass shootings in the United States for about the last twenty years. This is not a “gun problem.” This is very obviously a mental health and physical security problem, to say nothing about our culture. The idea that somehow law-abiding citizens are causing mass shootings because they are unwilling to give up their God-given right to keep and bear arms is not only ridiculous, it is anti-American.
The 2nd Amendment was not made part of the constitution so a person could go to the gun range and target shoot or go hunting. Our young nation had just finished a war with the world’s super power at the time. The Founding Fathers implemented the Second Amendment so that the new United States government would always be beholden to its citizens. They believed it was crucial that future generations had the same power to overthrow a potentially tyrannical government.
When President Kennedy was assassinated, how we secure and protect our elected officials saw big changes. When 9/11 happened, we created a whole new federal government agency to secure and protect airline passengers. More young people die from fentanyl overdoses and being murdered by illegal aliens, than are being shot by AR-15’s, yet I don’t see our federal government doing anything to secure our southern border. Instead they want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens with “assault weapon” bans. I’m forced to ask, is the federal government more interested in disarming their political opposition, or saving American lives?
If you look at all of the deadly school shootings in the United States, all of them share a common fact: On the day of the shooting, no good guy with a gun was inside the school. Other critical links in the chain of events include the fact the shooter was known to local law enforcement as a disturbed person, yet no one acted on this knowledge. The physical security of the school was also compromised by multiple, unattended points of entry into the building.
It’s time to stop playing politics with the lives of our children. We need a sober analysis of the critical events that lead to these tragedies and then apply changes to school security policies that actually work. I look forward to introducing or co-sponsoring legislation that actually accomplishes this important goal for Nebraska.
Taking constitutionally-protected rights away from law-abiding citizens does absolutely nothing to stop school shootings.
One of the rules we are currently following in the Nebraska legislature is plainly unconstitutional and it needs to be changed in the next session. The beginning of first sessions is when a motion to change the rules is in order.
Rule 3, Section 8 reads, “The chairperson of each standing and select committee shall be selected by secret ballot on the floor of the Legislature.”
The Nebraska Constitution says:
“Article III, Section 11. Legislative journal; vote viva voce; open doors; committee votes.
The Legislature shall keep a journal of its proceedings and publish them, except such parts as may require secrecy, and the yeas and nays of the members on any question shall at the desire of any one of them be entered on the journal. All votes shall be viva voce. The doors of the Legislature and of the committees of the Legislature shall be open, except when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret. The yeas and nays of each member of any committee of the Legislature shall be recorded and published on any question in committee to advance or to indefinitely postpone any bill.”
One of the most important votes an elected member of the legislature can cast is their vote for the chairman of the fourteen standing committees. The Nebraska Unicameral Legislature is designed around the “weak speaker” model. The speaker has twenty-five priorities he or she can use, and they also control the agenda. Besides that, the speaker has no control over what is voted-out of a committee to the floor for debate. In our system, the committee chairs control most of the political power in the body. I cannot imagine a more important vote the constituents of the elected member would like to know about.
I’m told that the practice of secret ballots began sometime in the 1970s, so it wasn’t always like this. The argument behind doing it is simple: Senators who ran their campaigns as conservative Republicans can vote for a liberal for a committee chair position without their constituents’ knowledge. People on the political left will say the secret ballot for the committee chairs is essential for our unique “non-partisan” unicameral to function as George Norris designed.
How is concealing information about how an elected member of the legislature voted ever a good thing? It isn’t.
The briefest reading of history will reveal Sen. Norris’s thoughts on the matter. There is a large body of scholarly work on the topic of what George Norris thought of transparency in government. He would be rolling in his grave if he knew about this corrupt practice. Secret ballot for committee chairs has nothing whatsoever to do with our special unicameral system. Norris once said: “To get good government and to retain it, it is necessary that a liberty-loving, educated, intelligent people should be ever watchful, to carefully guard and protect their rights and liberties.”
Memorial Day weekend is upon us. This is the day we honor those who died wearing the uniform of our country. This holiday is for our “Gold Star” families.
A “gold star” refers to a small service flag that was invented and approved by the Department of Defense during World War 1. The rectangular flag with a white field and a red border with up to five blue stars in the field signifies family members in the military. I have one with three blue stars for my son and daughter and son-in-law who are in the military. When a “gold star” is displayed instead of a blue one, that signifies a family member who died in the line of duty.
The service members we honor on Memorial Day were ordinary people. They came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities that I believe are a hallmark of growing up with the values, morals and ethics that are commonly found here in Nebraska. They possessed courage, grit, pride, determination, selflessness and dedication to duty and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.
I often wonder though; are we still doing a good job of instilling these virtues in our young people today? How do we teach someone how to recognize something bigger than themselves? What is it about ordinary Americans that makes them run to the sound of the guns and respond to mortal danger in such extraordinary ways?
It worries me to see just how disconnected ordinary Americans have become from our Armed Forces. Most Americans today don’t have a personal relationship with anyone in uniform. Statistically, that’s understandable; less than one percent of the population have actually served in the military.
A majority of Americans today can’t look at a map and identify the countries where American soldiers are currently fighting and dying. Many can’t even identify the branches of the military, or explain the relevance of the wars we’ve fought, or the importance of the freedoms we enjoy as a result. Wars today require essentially no sacrifice from the civilian population, and therefore the average person has very little understanding of what is going on. If a person doesn’t understand something, there’s little chance they will appreciate it. Through no fault of their own most Americans no longer have a powerful sense of gratitude for all the blood their fellow countrymen have sacrificed for them. I feel the growing absence of this gratitude is a clear and present danger to our American culture.
I think President Reagan understood this danger. He once gave a Memorial Day speech that ended with a challenge for his audience.
He said, “I can’t claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don’t know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does:
Does that flag still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
I think the best way for someone to honor a fallen American soldier is to take a moment this holiday weekend and teach a young person about all the sacrifices made on their behalf. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
In the six years I have been a Nebraska State Senator, I have never received so many calls and messages from citizens concerned about things that only the federal government can address. I think people go home after work and turn on the news and see yet another example of federal government incompetence causing problems. This upsets them and they want to vent their frustration to an elected official. I’m happy to hear from folks, don’t get me wrong, but it depresses me to have to tell so many people there is nothing the Nebraska legislature can do about it, and the subject is a “federal issue.”
I often share these concerns with our federal congressional delegation, especially Rep. Adrian Smith who has been particularly helpful over the years. It is clear to me that there is little that can be done until a new Congress is seated in January.
US economic policy, for example, is something I receive a great many calls and messages about. Last week President Biden said, “You want to bring down inflation? Let’s make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share.”
Apparently the president is unaware of the fact that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more (the rich?) already pay well over half (58.8%) of all federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all taxpayers. Let’s not forget that corporations do not pay corporate income taxes – their customers do.
I cannot believe the President of the United States thinks raising taxes and deficit spending will lower inflation. Generations yet unborn will have to pay for all this printing and borrowing. Any junior high student can tell you that these things cause inflation.
Take natural gas prices. They are above $8.00 per million BTU now, the highest price in 13 years. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, but production is down because of the Biden administration’s energy policies. Natural gas is the #1 ingredient in the manufacture of fertilizer. It’s not surprising that fertilizer costs are over 250% more than this time last year and climbing. Russia and China are two of the world’s largest exporters of fertilizer, but they have placed export restrictions on their fertilizer production. Big plants in the US have had production stoppages for lack of feedstock. The war in Ukraine has also made this a far more serious problem. A significant amount of the wheat that feeds Europe normally comes from Ukraine. Most of that crop was not planted this year because the farmers were made refugees by the war. Famine in Europe is now a real possibility.
These conditions, coupled with the federal government’s continued de-valuing of the US dollar by printing more fake money cannot help but cause a severe shortage of this incredibly important commodity. Fertilizer produces the crop yields that enable Nebraska’s ag producers to feed much of the world. Many are warning of impending food shortages as a result of this situation. I really hope we see sane federal policy restored before people start going hungry. I believe Americans are going to see things in the next six months that were once thought unimaginable.
The nursing home situation in rural Nebraska is facing some very serious challenges. Last year, there were at least six nursing homes that closed in rural Nebraska. We lost the nursing home in Valentine and the facilities in Ainsworth and Crawford are in tough shape. Skilled nursing facilities across the state face similar challenges.
Back in April, the legislature sent the Governor the budget adjustment package made up of three bills. The Governor used his line-item veto and removed about $105M in funding from the package.
LB 1011 was part of this package. It contained $51.8 million in provider rate increases in four programs within the state Department of Health and Human Services: behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disability aid and Medicaid. The Governor argued that COVID relief money received from the federal government would provide sufficient resources for the provider rates. LB1011 raised the rates 15 percent; the Governor’s veto would have reduced the rate hike to 5 percent.
The body then approved the motion offered by the Appropriations Committee to override all but one of these line-item vetoes. The vote to override the veto was 42-3.
I am a fiscal conservative. Normally I am happy to vote to reduce state spending. Unfortunately, our incompetent federal government has printed too much fake money and now all of us are paying for it with historically high inflation. There is no free lunch.
One in four people in western Nebraska is over sixty-five years old. Our part of the state has an abundance of folks who absolutely depend on either Medicare or Medicaid to pay for skilled nursing care to live. Rural nursing homes are facing workforce vacancies of up to 35 percent. If they manage to find a qualified employee willing to work in a little western Nebraska town, the cost of that labor is dramatically higher than it was just a year ago.
Besides spikes in labor costs, delivering food to these facilities has skyrocketed in price. Remote little towns in western Nebraska pay a transportation premium because of the large distances and transportation costs involved in just delivering necessities. Even with the 15% rate increase, inflation will quickly consume this extra money the legislature put back into the bill.
One of the immutable facts of eight-grade economics is that a business that doesn’t bring in enough revenue to cover operating costs, let alone make a profit, will not last very long. As inflation continues to increase, these already-stressed facilities will reach a point they have no choice but to close and/or declare bankruptcy.
By next January when we are back in session, I suspect this situation will have grown much worse. In the meantime, we need a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution. Congress needs to understand that deficit spending, and the inflation it has caused, is making our country poor like never before in my lifetime. We simply must do better for our most vulnerable senior citizens who depend on these government programs they paid into their whole lives.
Abortion is an important issue for a clear majority of Nebraskans. The recent leak of a Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) draft opinion concerning an abortion case before the court is shocking. My lawyer friends tell me something like this is unprecedented in history, and represents a huge betrayal of the integrity of the court and all the dedicated Americans who work there. The person responsible will likely be disbarred and will never practice law in the United States again. It’s possible they could even be charged with serious federal crimes.
The argument laid out in the leaked draft opinion by Justice Alito is about power, not abortion, and who should control that power. Should it be the choice of the people and their state legislatures, or should it be the federal creature lording over the people with pronouncements from on high?
Justice Alito said: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” he writes. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
I am very pleased to see a justice on the supreme court defend a God-given right of the people, through their elected legislatures, to choose the sort of laws they want for their state. Roe v. Wade made abortion an exception to this reasoning by conjuring a “right” to an abortion not found anywhere in the text in the constitution. Overturning this flawed decision and returning the power to the people to decide for themselves is the very essence of our democratically-elected constitutional republic, and Justice Alito articulated this beautifully.
Abortion supporters are upset because they know they do not have the votes to pass a pro-abortion law in most state legislatures. Abortion proponents depend on a ruling from the court to force the practice of abortion on the states. They know the United States Constitution does not provide or protect a “right” to an abortion. That is what the “Roe vs. Wade” decision has been these last forty-nine years; a federal pronouncement making abortion legal nation-wide and not something the states have the ability to broadly regulate. The left knows that if this issue is ever left up to the states to decide, a majority will pass laws to outlaw or severely restrict abortion.
It bothers me to see riot fencing now installed around our nation’s highest court. I’ve read reporting where conservative justices and their homes and families are being threatened in an attempt to intimidate them. All of this is happening because a small but loud group of extremists do not want the question of abortion to ever be a question answered by the people.
Speaker Mike Hilgers has said that if the SCOTUS does eventually overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, the Nebraska Legislature will likely be called into Special Session by the Governor to address Nebraska’s laws on the subject. I look forward to restoring the people’s voice to this issue. I have no doubt our local chapter of abortion proponents will make their presence known in the Capitol should a special session occur. I sincerely hope they bring some dignity with them this time.
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