Dr. Dan Wik of Norfolk is our candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Congressional District 1 and is challenging longtime incumbent Jeff Fortenberry for the seat. Wik entered the race because Fortenberry isn't the moderate he pretends to be and has cast many votes that are harmful to senior citizens, veterans and women. Even though Fortenberry tries to lead people to believe he is a mainstream conservative who reflects Nebraska values, his record shows that he frequently votes with the most extreme members of his party.
As Dan Wik told me: "Jeff Fortenberry is a rubberstamp Washington, D.C. insider. Fortenberry is doing nothing. Doctors must come up with solutions to be successful." I had the opportunity to inteview Dr. Wik. I have found him to be a very intelligent, energetic and bright gentleman. He will make an excellent nominee in the race against Fortenberry.
DPC: Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.
DW: I am a physician with a practice that covers six counties in Northeast Nebraska. I'm a pain management expert for my patients to better their lives. My wife Katie is a former Marine who was with the first group of women who served on an aircraft carrier. Katie is a small business owner who runs a Big Apple Bagel restaurant that employs eight people.
DPC: Why did you decide to run for Congress in CD01 against Fortenberry?
DW: Doctors have been advocates for people for a long time. For the last fifteen years, I have lobbied for the A.M.A. for patient rights. I want patients to get good care and access to that care. Mr. Fortenberry is a rubber stamp, Washington D.C. insider. In this election cycle, the voters are frustrated with representatives like Fortenberry because he is doing nothing. I will take action because physicians must come up with solutions to be successful. This will translate into advocacy for all residents of CD01.
DPC: The economy has shown significant progress and improvement since President Obama took office in 2009. We've gone from losing 800,000 jobs per month to creating over 200,000 job per month. It's the best economic performance since Bill Clinton's second term. What would you do to build on that progress?
DW: We must create a more business friendly environment for American companies to thrive in the U.S. We must simplify and reform the tax code. We should substitute the current 35% top corporate rate with a single rate of 18%. We should also eliminate all of the many loopholes in the corporate tax code. We should revise the individual code to create two rates of 18% and 11%. This will cause the economy to skyrocket and allow business to create more jobs.
We need to re-negotiate NAFTA and TPP and stop U.S. companies from shipping jobs overseas. I would support closing the loopholes in these treaties that destroy American jobs.
DPC: Obama Care has improved several significant aspects of our health care system. The uninsured rate has been reduced from 18% to an all time low of 9% and insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people who are sick or injured. What would you do to improve health care delivery in America?
DW: The problem with the health care system is that companies are for profit first and patients second. I support a universal Medicare system with defined benefits and defined costs. Everybody would pay into universal Medicare - both employees and employers. At the same time, everybody would have the option to buy a supplemental policy from a private health insurance company. I envision a health care system with a combination of universal Medicare and private insurance.
DPC: What is your path to victory?
DW: This is a strange election year where just about anything can happen. The voters are clearly frustrated. I believe that Democratic voters will turnout in record numbers to oppose Donald Trump. At the same time, many of those same Trump voters will vote against a rubber stamp, Washington insider like Fortenberry. These Trump voters will be invited to vote for a fiscal conservative rural Nebraska physician. They will vote for the man and not the brand. We need to win rural votes as well as urban votes. Rural voters will support a physician who is a fiscal conservative who advocates for people.
I believe that in these unsettled times, the voters of Congressional District 1 will be receptive to Wik's message and realize that it is time to turn out Mr. Fortenberry. The GOP led Congress is one of the worst Congresses in U.S. history and has failed the American people. Unfortunately, Fortenberry is part of the problem.
The voters of Nebraska CD01 are ready for a fresh start in Washington. It's time for the voters in CD01 to get behind Dan Wik in his effort to end the harmful gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, D.C., which has been created by the radical Republicans like Fortenberry. If you want different results out of Washington, you have to elect different people. Dan Wik can make Nebraska a better place.
We have recounted Pete Ricketts' struggles with the legislature on this blog over the past seventeen months. For the most part, Ricketts' agenda of large, budget busting tax cuts has been significantly pared down and the state has maintained a healthy rainy day fund. At the same time, a coalition of Democratic and moderate Republican State Senators have overridden Ricketts' vetoes on a series of high profile bills including the repeal of the death penalty, a gas tax increase, as well as drivers and professional licenses for young immigrants.
The Governor has responded to these embarrassing defeats by investing a significant sum of his own money into reversing the decisions of the legislature. Ricketts and his billionaire father have spent $300,000 in an effort to restore the failed death penalty program. Moreover, a well informed source at the Unicameral told me on background that Ricketts and the Nebraska GOP invested another $300,000 into five legislative primary races this spring in which they targeted two Democratic incumbents and three Republican incumbent Senators.
What we have here is one very wealthy family trying to subvert the will of the duly elected Unicameral by attempting to replace it with a more pliable legislative branch. This attempt by Ricketts and his wealthy family to buy a new set of Senators is disturbing on a number of levels. No one person or family should have this kind of power in one state. It is simply undemocratic and sets a disturbing precedent.
In spite of Ricketts' attempt to influence the outcome of elections with lavish spending out of his own pocket, Nebraska Democrats had a good showing on May 10. For the first time since term limits were imposed - in each Legislative District in which a Democrat ran for the unicameral - a Democrat advanced to the general election on November 8. Moreover, several Democrats had strong showings in districts in which Republicans have a significant edge in registered voters.
In LD27, Anna Wishart finished first in a three way race with an impressive 62% of the vote. Wishart's large margin of victory shows that hard work wins. Moreover, Sara Howard, Mike McDonnell, and Kate Bolz dominated in their districts - as expected. In Republican leaning Grand Island, Dan Quick finished first in a three man race.
Sue Crawford, Ardel Bengston, Lynne Walz, Carol Blood, Jim Gordon, Larry Scherer and Bill Armbrust all had good showings in tough districts and are all within striking distance of winning the general election - especially with Trump on the top of the ticket. We can also expect a higher Democratic voter turnout in November.
In two races, strong allies of Ricketts were eliminated or are on the brink of defeat. Pat Borchers finished third in west Omaha's LD37. In south Omaha's LD7, it appears as though Democrats Tony Vargas and John Synowiecki will advance to the general election. Ricketts appointee Nicole Fox is most likely on the brink of elimination after finishing third by a mere fourteen votes. The provisional ballots still have to be counted but those ballots should favor the Democratic candidates.
Even though we made a good showing in the primary election cycle, we can take nothing for granted this fall. I fully expect Ricketts and his billionaire allies to spend vast amounts of money in the general election to move the legislature to the right. The Governor wants to break the Democratic-moderate Republican coalition that has thwarted his ambitions.
What Rickett is trying to do is reminiscent of Kansas Governor Brownback's intervention in the Kansas legislative elections in the 2012 election cycle. Brownback and the Koch brothers poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into legislative races to replace Democrats and moderate Republicans with radical Tea Party Republicans who would enact his extreme agenda.
After Brownback's 2012 purge, the Kansas legislature enacted a series of huge tax cuts for the wealthy that blew up the Kansas budget and credit rating. Earlier this month, Moody's downgraded Kansas' credit rating from "stable" to "negative." Currently, the Sunflower State suffers from a $228 million budget deficit and the worst job growth in the region.
Ricketts wants to do to Nebraska what Brownback did to Kansas. I have it on background from a prominent Republican that the Governor is a "true believer conservative." What that means is that Ricketts actually believes in the long discredited notion that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves and create jobs.
Nebraska still has a positive economic outlook and $687 million in our rainy day fund. However, there are some possible storm clouds on the horizon. The agricultural economy is slowing and the Department of Revenue released a report that indicates that the state is $71 million behind what was projected for the current fiscal year. Renee Fry of the OpenSky Policy Institute says that Nebraska's projected $234 million shortfall is likely to increase if tax receipts remain below what was expected.
This would be the worst possible time to embark upon some radical and risky tax scheme like the one that ruined Kansas. As Nebraska Democrats, we must have a successful election cycle. We need to preserve the good life in our great state. I'm confident that we will have a strong showing in November but we can't take anything for granted. Now let's get it done!
When the GOP primary cycle began in 2015, the pundits told us that the Republican Party had a "deep bench" of contenders and it's strongest field of Presidential candidates since 1980. What ensued was the most bizarre primary fight in the history of the U.S. We witnessed leading GOP Presidential candidates talking about the size of their "hands" and calling each other names on a regular basis. The GOP Presidential debates descended into screaming matches with almost no real discussion of the issues. At the end of the process, billionaire entertainer Donald Trump emerged as the nominee of a fractured Republican Party.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media about what made Trump's nomination possible. His rise was attributed to the difficult economic circumstances of many blue collar Americans, racial resentment and the gross ineptitude of his opponents and the GOP establishment. What was seldom discussed was the role of the right wing media in Trump's march to the nomination.
What was over looked by many in the media is that Trump's appeal to Republican voters is based upon the fact that he closely resembles the hosts that regularly appear on Fox News and AM radio. These hosts - like Trump - are obnoxious, mean spirited, opinionated and constantly call names. The mainstream media failed to recognize the source of Trump's appeal with GOP base voters because they simply don't pay much attention to the right wing media. The Republican voters who support Trump have marinated in the paranoia, hate, misogyny and race baiting that has been a daily staple of the right wing media for over twenty years. That's what created Trump.
The right wing media has had a profound and negative effect upon many Republican voters. Millions of Americans have been radicalized by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other right wing talk show hosts. Many conservatives have been convinced by the right wing media to believe that scapegoats like President Obama, Hispanics, labor unions and minorities have ruined the U.S. Moreover, many Republicans are convinced that the Democratic Party is deliberately destroying the U.S. and that some kind of "Armageddon" is inevitable.
This extreme paranoia on the right has caused many Republican voters to demand that their elected officials in Washington refuse to compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. Republican members of Congress have absorbed that message and as a result, they have shutdown the government and threatened a default on the national debt. Even now, the GOP led Congress is tied in knots by radical Republican members who absolutely refuse to compromise. This is the source of the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington.
The right wing media has also had a negative impact upon the last two GOP Presidential nominees. In 2008, it was Rush Limbaugh and the right wing media who influenced John McCain to pick the singularly unqualfied Sarah Palin as his running mate. Moreover, after the economy collapsed in September 2008, McCain and Palin wasted a lot of time talking about William Ayres. Because Fox and AM radio thought Ayres was an important issue, that caused the 2008 GOP ticket to make a big issue out of Ayres even though most voters were focused on the deepest recession since the 1930s.
The Romney campaign was similarly fooled by the right wing media into badly misjudging the electorate. In the fall of 2012, polls from Fox and Rasmussen assumed that the Democratic base wouldn't turn out and boldly predicted a GOP victory. The propaganda from the right wing media was so powerful that the Romney campaign's high priced pollsters and consultants made a similar assumption. As a result, Romney and Ryan were visibly shocked when they lost to President Obama. They even had to cancel an expensive fireworks display they had planned to celebrate their assumed victory!
The right wing media has already had a huge impact on the GOP in the 2016 cycle. Due to it's influence, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were the two finalists in the GOP primary process. Cruz was the architect of the disastrous 2013 government shutdown and has said that: "I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise." If Cruz was as obnoxious as Trump, he would've been an unstoppable candidate in the GOP nominating process.
As it turned out, Trump's personality and demeanor was the perfect fit for today's radicalized GOP electorate. Despite Trump's occasional deviations from conservative orthodoxy, many GOP voters simply preferred the billionaire entertainer because they liked his nasty attitude and outrageous behavior. In addition to that, as Nate Silver said: "Trump’s main differentiator was to double-down on cultural grievance: grievances against immigrants, against Muslims, against political correctness, against the media, and sometimes against blacks and women. And the strategy worked."
The right wing media's motivation to stir up cultural grievances, outrage and paranoia on a daily basis is largely profit driven. A 2015 study from Jackie Calmes, a correspondent for the New York Times, explored the rising influence of the right wing media on the agenda of the GOP. Her study concluded that the conservative media doesn't "give a damn about governing."
As it turns out, the business model for the right wing media is extremely lucrative. According to a recent report on Salon.com: "Fox reportedly earns over $1 billion in profits annually, making it a golden goose in the overall Fox corporate empire. Fox itself is one of the most valuable brands in the world with sales of over $13 billion. "
The leading personalities in the right wing media earn fantastic amounts of money. Salon.com reported that: "Rush Limbaugh raked in $80 million for himself in 2015 alone. Sean Hannity was paid $30 million. Glenn Beck is personally worth over $100 million. Bill O’Reilly’s television show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” generates over $100 million per year in advertising revenue." And the owner of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, is worth $12 billion!
The reality is that the conservative media dominates the Republican Party and sets it's agenda. As former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said: "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering that we work for Fox." As a result of this domination, the GOP is simply incapable of governing and has great difficulty winning Presidential elections. Since the rise of the right wing media in the mid-1990s, the GOP has lost the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections.
Having a major party in the U.S. dominated by right wing entertainers isn't good for the country. The U.S. is the only nation among the first world industrialized world that has a radical party that among other things, believes in supply side economics and rejects the settled science on climate change. Due to our unique system of checks and balances, the radicalized GOP has veto power over the decisions of the federal government. Since 2011, that has made our country all but ungovernable.
What needs to happen this year is for Donald Trump and the entire GOP ticket to be defeated - and be defeated badly. Perhaps only a huge loss will convince GOP voters to moderate and demand a more responsible party. After big losses by extreme GOP Presidential candidates in 1936 and 1964, the GOP moved to the center and became more reasonable.
As Democrats we must unite behind our Presidential nominee and entire ticket this fall. We are presented with a unique opportunity to punish an extreme opposition party and elect a Progressive majority in Washington. I'm confident that we will have a good election cycle but we must take nothing for granted. Let's leave it all on the field in 2016!
During the 2014 election cycle, the GOP told the voters that if they were given control of both Houses of Congress, they would get things done for the American people. For example, Deb Fischer told voters to vote Republican to "end the gridlock." Shortly after the Republicans won the 2014 elections, Mitch McConnell said: "I don't want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority."
Anybody who was paying careful attention to the long time GOP dysfunction in the Congress would have found Fischer and McConnell's promises to be laughable. As things have turned out, the dysfunction in the GOP led Congress - and especially in the House - has been worse than ever since the GOP gained control of the Senate in 2014.
The GOP led Congress got off to a very bad start in early 2015, when they nearly shutdown the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over a dispute regarding an unrelated immigration issue. At the time, the GOP made this threat to hurt U.S. national security, terrorists were threatening to attack the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and a shutdown was averted. Unfortunately, all of the Republicans in the Nebraska delegation joined in this reckless shutdown threat.
The only real "success" the GOP led Congress had in 2015 was passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling until after the 2016 elections. In order to get this done, John Boehner had to resign as House Speaker and get the support of Congressional Democrats to pass the budget. If Boehner had tried to maintain his post as Speaker after passing the budget, he would have been ousted as Speaker by the so-called radical House "Freedom Caucus."
An interesting aspect of this 2015 budget was that it slightly raised the deficit after several years of declining budget deficits. What that means then is that the only real "accomplishment" of this new GOP Congress increased the deficit. It wasn't too long ago where every Republicans' hair was on fire over the deficit and spending. Once again, this proves that the Republicans are deficit frauds.
Things in the Congress haven't improved in 2016 - in fact they have gotten worse. Thus far, the GOP has blown it's April 15 statutory deadline to pass another budget. It wasn't all that long ago when the right used to berate the then Democratic led Senate for not passing a budget. This talking point was repeated ad nauseam by GOP elected officials and the right wing media. It's been crickets from the GOP over Paul Ryan's failure to pass a budget.
The House Republicans haven't only failed to pass a budget, they have also neglected to act on a series of emergencies that are pending. Ryan and his fellow Republicans have failed to deal with the Zika virus, the impending default of Puerto Rico, the Flint water crisis, and the heroin and opioid painkiller problem.
Several prominent House Republicans have all but admitted that they are a failure. As the Huffington Post recently reported: "If you ask Republicans what's the most significant piece of legislation they've passed this year, you're unlikely to get a quick, definitive response. "I'd have to give it some thought," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Friday. "I'd have to go back and look," Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said earlier this week. "We're changing America," Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said with a laugh, in response to a question about Congress filling its days by renaming post offices and designating the bison as the national mammal."
The source of the failure and dysfunction in the House are the 40 members of the so-called "Freedom Caucus." Nothing is good enough for these radicals - they steadfastly refuse to compromise on any legislation. Ryan has empowered these extremists because - unlike Boehner - he refuses to reach across the aisle to Democrats to pass necessary legislation to even keep the lights on. Apparently, Ryan prioritizes keeping his job as Speaker over the good of the country.
It isn't only Paul Ryan who tacitly supports these nihilistic radicals, they are also empowered by Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith. These two Nebraska House Republicans supported Paul Ryan's election to the Speakership and are his steadfast allies. Moreover, Fortenberry and Smith have never spoken out against the "Freedom Caucus" and the gridlock their extremism has caused.
The only member of the Nebraska Congressional delegation who has worked to end the gridlock is Representative Brad Ashford. The Second District Congressman has worked on a bi-partisan basis to try to change Washington. Approximately 89% of Ashford's bills have bi-partisan support - including his legislation to build a new Omaha V.A. Center. Congressional Quarterly has named Ashford the sixth most bi-partisan member of the House.
The only solution to the failure of the GOP House majority is to re-elect Congressman Ashford and to support Dr. Dan Wik in his challenge to Jeff Fortenberry in CD01. Like Ashford, Wik has promised to work on a bi-partisan basis to end the gridlock in Washington and get things done. If you want different results out of Washington, you have to vote for different people.
We Democrats have the rare opportunity to elect a Democratic President and Congress this fall. Both of our Presidential candidates hold a wide lead over Donald Trump. Moreover, the Democrats are heavily favored to take back the Senate. Twenty four of the thirty four Senate seats up this fall are held by Republicans. In addition, many of those Republicans are running for re-election in blue or purple states.
The Democrats may even have an outside change of regaining control of the House this year due to the damage inflicted on it's ticket by Trump. Some of the leading political experts have said the House is in play this year. In addition, a well connected insider told me that national polling indicates that if the election were today, the Democrats would pick up twenty seats.
Progressive majorities in D.C. are rare in American history. The last Progressive majority was during the first two years of President Obama's first term. In 2009-10, Democratic majorities passed the Recovery Act, the Ledbetter bill, the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. We may have an opportunity for similar achievements in 2017-18. Now let's get to work and make it happen! I know we can do it!
When Ricketts was elected Governor in 2014, many Nebraskans were concerned that he would be able to ram a radical agenda through the legislature that would squander Nebraska's hard earned rainy day fund and turn our state into a Kansas type budget dystopia. Moreover, there were legitimate fears that Ricketts would destroy the unions like Scott Walker did in Wisconsin. However, as early as January 2015, a prominent Democratic State Senator told me that many of the newly elected Republican Senators were more moderate than expected and that Ricketts' agenda might very well be thwarted.
That prediction turned out to be correct in the 2015 session. A plucky band of Democratic State Senators and some moderate Republicans stood up to the rookie Governor and stopped his extreme agenda in it's tracks. Ricketts' fiscally irresponsible property tax cut scheme didn't even make it out of committee. Moreover, the Unicameral passed over Ricketts' veto a bill allowing the Dreamers to obtain drivers licenses and the repeal of the death penalty.
Prominent Republican insiders speaking on background (justifiably) termed Ricketts' first legislative session an "embarrassing start." Two long time Republican lobbyists who spoke to me on background were both highly critical of Ricketts' handling of his first legislative session. One lobbyist said the Senators perceived Ricketts' approach as "heavy handed" and another told me that the Ricketts Administration only got engaged with the Unicameral very late in the session.
The Governor's second legislative session - which has just been completed - turned out to be another embarrassment for him. Once again, Ricketts' scheme to cut taxes and reduce school funding met determined opposition and largely went nowhere. Thanks to this opposition from fiscal conservatives in the Unicameral, a $124 million revenue shortfall was plugged and the State still has a $643 million rainy day fund. It would have been foolish to blow the rainy day fund now since commodity prices are on the decline and the agricultural economy is slowing down.
Ricketts' most stinging defeat this year was the passage of the professional licenses bill for young immigrants over his veto (LB947). Before the passage of this vital legislation, the DACA children or Dreamers weren't allowed to obtain professional licenses. Over one hundred professions as diverse as hair dressing, plumbing, law, medicine and nursing require a license from the state. So what we had was a situation where a Dreamer could finish vocational or professional school in Nebraska but couldn't work in their home state in their chosen profession.
Many of the Dreamers were brought to Nebraska by their parents when they were young children. It wasn't their decision to come to Nebraska. In addition, many of these young people have lived in Nebraska most of their lives, have gone to school here and would like to stay in Nebraska once they complete their studies. It would be ridiculous to force the Dreamers to leave the state once they complete their education.
The licenses for Dreamers bill enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. It was backed by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. Only Ricketts and his extreme right wing allies in the Unicameral opposed this common sense bill.
Both the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World supported LB947. The Lincoln Journal Star termed Ricketts' opposition to the bill as "mean spirited" and "anti-business." The World Herald editorial asked the obvious question: "(W)hy educate these ambitious young people only to send them out of Nebraska.
The Governors' irrational opposition to this bill only makes sense if you understand the bizarre world of right wing politics. A prominent lobbyist told me on background that Ricketts was very impressed by Heineman's upset victory over Tom Osborne in the 2006 Nebraska gubernatorial primary. In that campaign, Heineman attacked Coach Osborne for supporting in-state college tuition rates for the Dreamers. The so-called "lesson" that Ricketts learned from his immediate predecessor is that it pays politically to be "tough" on the poor and immigrants.
During the debate regarding the override of the young immigrants license bill, Senator Heath Mello - who sponsored LB 947 - blasted Ricketts. Mello stated that he was: "utterly disappointed with the governor" for his use of "misinformation, demagoguery and political rhetoric" to attack the bill, including a suggestion that granting work licenses to lawful residents somehow represented "amnesty." "It's sad to see what he has chosen to do," Mello said. "We're talking about people who are part of the future of our state."
Fortunately at the end of the day, reason and justice prevailed. Rickett's veto of LB947 was overridden by an overwhelming bi-partisan 31-13 margin. After the vote, NDP Chair Vince Powers released the following statement: “Pete Ricketts remains out of touch with Nebraskans and out of touch with the Nebraska Legislature. All fair-minded Nebraskans thank the Legislature for overriding the Governor’s petty, mean-spirited veto intended to crush the dreams of aspiring citizens to live and work in our great state."
Even though the 2015-2016 legislative sessions turned out to be better than expected, our work isn't done. We have a very important election cycle in 2016 since eleven State Senators - including some real Democratic stalwarts such as Heath Mello and Ken Haar - are termed out. We must do everything we can to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral.
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, Ricketts said he would continue to pursue his right wing agenda and would seek re-election in 2018. What that means is that is extremely important that we have a good cycle this year. We must continue to keep Ricketts in check and prevent him from hurting working families.
I believe that we are facing a historic opportunity this year. The Republican Party has become very extreme and is in disarray. Donald Trump will most likely be the GOP Presidential nominee. The New York billionaire and entertainer will be the most unpopular major party nominee in history. Many Republicans are fearing a rout up and down their ticket this fall. We Democrats must take advantage of this rare opportunity and elect as many Democrats as possible to the Unicameral this year. Let's get to work!
One of the more interesting and significant developments in this year's legislative session was the failure of the Nebraska GOP to ram through a bill returning Nebraska's electoral vote law to the previous winner take all system. That previous law made Nebraska completely irrelevant in the Presidential general election. A Democratic led filibuster stopped the party bosses of the Nebraska GOP and preserved Nebraska CD02 as a battleground in this year's general election.
Nebraska's nearly unique electoral vote law originated in 1991. The law change that allowed Nebraska to split it's electoral vote was passed in 1991 and signed into law by then Governor Ben Nelson. It passed the Unicameral by a narrow 25-23 vote margin. At that time there were twenty one Democratic Senators and thus the bill had the support of three Republicans and one independent. (One of the Republicans who voted for the split electoral vote law was current Democratic U.S. House Representative Brad Ashford.)
The Nebraska GOP was so infuriated by this change that one of their Senators would introduce a bill every session to restore the winner take all system and return Nebraska to the status of fly over country. At the present time, the GOP has tried (and failed) 15 times to change the 1991 law. The GOP continued to persist in these partisan efforts despite the fact the GOP nominee swept all of five of Nebraska's electoral votes in four consecutive cycles between 1992 and 2004.
In 2008, after building a successful organization in Nebraska for the caucuses, the Obama campaign targeted the electoral vote in Nebraska CD02 during the general election. David Plouffe - Obama's 2008 campaign manager - said that the Omaha centric district was “my personal favorite target.” In Plouffe's excellent book, "The Audacity To Win," he mentioned that one "national scenario envisioned an electoral-college tie, and the single vote from Nebraska could have made a difference. Plouffe wrote that he had “mused to Obama” about the possibility. “Plouffe, that’s interesting daydreaming,” Obama said with a laugh. “Let’s try not to have it all come down to Nebraska 2.”
The Obama campaign's decision to compete in Nebraska CD02 made our state relevant in the general election for the first time since 1964. Hillary Clinton came to Omaha to campaign for then Senator Obama. The GOP followed up Clinton's visit with a campaign stop by Sarah Palin. As it turned out, Obama carried CD02 by the narrow margin of 3,325 votes. It was the first time a Democratic nominee had picked up an electoral vote in Nebraska since LBJ carried Nebraska in his 1964 landslide victory over Barry Goldwater.
President Obama's re-election campaign didn't compete in Nebraska CD02 in 2012 because it was a tougher cycle than 2008. Due to the five GOP appointees' decision in Citizens United, the GOP had much more money to spend during the 2012 cycle than it did in 2008. This forced the Obama campaign to focus on traditional battle ground states like Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.
Because the GOP will put up a crippled and deeply unpopular nominee this fall, it is expected that the eventual Democratic nominee will compete in Nebraska CD02 this year. This will also have the impact of helping Democrats like Brad Ashford in down ballot races. That is one the reasons why the Nebraska GOP was so insistent upon returning to the winner take all system.
The Nebraska GOP has correctly perceived that Trump or Cruz probably can't carry CD02 Moreover, the Nebraska GOP has also figured out that Brad Ashford is most likely to be re-elected this fall. It was that lack of confidence in their candidates that led them to make this 15th attempt to change our electoral vote law.
The Nebraska GOP party bosses don't only lack confidence in their candidates, they are also embarrassed by Trump and Cruz - and don't want them in Nebraska. As Nebraska Democratic Party chair Vince Powers said: “Nebraska Republicans recognized that they do not have a qualified Presidential candidate who could win the 2d CD this November so they tried once again to change the rules. True Nebraskans love our unique state with its Unicameral and the electoral college split. The Nebraska GOP party bosses are desperate to keep Trump or Cruz from campaigning in Nebraska this fall. These are sad days for a once-proud political party as it descends into the chaos created by FOX News and hate radio’s constant angry badmouthing of America. This fall a Democrat will win the 2d CD as a result of a positive, enthusiastic campaign which will champion the greatness of America. "
This lack of confidence and sheer embarrassment weren't the only reasons for the Nebraska GOP's attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game. The Nebraska GOP is also motivated by arrogance and the raw partisanship that generates. The Nebraska GOP is still mad that President Obama carried CD02's electoral vote in 2008. This deep seated hatred of the President of the United States motivated 32 GOP Nebraska State Senators to attempt to give Nebraskans no say in the 2016 general election.
We Nebraska Democrats need to thank the Democratic State Senators who stood up to the Nebraska GOP's party bosses and allowed the actual voters to decide the outcome of the Presidential election in Nebraska CD02. I'm very confident that our nominee will carry CD02 this November and pull many of our Democratic candidates across the finish line. We are positioned to have an excellent cycle this year. Let's get it done! I know we can do it!
The press - both national and local - is forever in search of the ever elusive moderate Republican. Many reporters are baby boomers (or older) and have fond memories of the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Many in the press are still hopeful that a new version of one of these moderate heroes can emerge from today's dysfunctional and radicalized Republican Party.
The great hope for the national press in the comical GOP Presidential cycle is Ohio Governor John Kasich. Unlike Pete Ricketts, Kasich actually relied upon empirical evidence - rather than blind ideology - and signed into law the Obama Care Medicaid expansion.
Not only did Kasich approve expanded health care for the poor, he is the only Republican who has taken responsibility for the disastrous Bush Presidency. As the Ohio Governor once said: "A Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president blew" in 2001 what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office at the time had projected as a $5.6 trillion surplus between 2002 and 2011. "Look, I've been saying for a long time - and not just here - when I saw $5 trillion being blown, I never thought it was possible."
Alas, notwithstanding his isolated acts of heresy discussed here, Kasich is no moderate. As Governor of Ohio, he signed into law a tax cut for the rich that was financed by a regressive sales tax increase and big cuts in school funding. As a Presidential candidate, Kasich - like all Republican Presidential hopefuls - supports a large, deficit financed tax cut that largely favors the wealthy.
Kasich is a standard, party line right wing Republican on issues in addition to taxes. During his tenure as Ohio Governor, Kasich signed into law a bill that took away the rights of many working people to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. (This anti-middle class law was subsequently repealed in a voter referendum.)
The alleged moderate Governor of Ohio took another shot at working families when he signed a bill that radically reduced early voting, decreased the availability of absentee ballots, and cut back on the minimum number of voting machines counties must have available - potentially causing the longer lines we saw at polling places that we saw in Arizona earlier this year. This voter suppression law is very similar to the one in Wisconsin that a former GOP staffer in the Badger State said was going to help Republicans win elections.
One of the reasons why the press has termed Kasich a "moderate" is because he simply much better behaved than Trump and Cruz. Unlike his rivals, Kasich isn't angry and he campaigns with a sunny disposition. That is unusual in Republican circles these days since many of them are - like Ben Sasse - expecting America to "cease to exist." However, one must judge Kasich by his actual policies rather than his personality.
Another Republican who has at times successfully passed himself as moderate due to a normal personality is current House Speaker Paul Ryan. Like Kasich, Ryan is well behaved and doesn't scream into microphones or hurl deeply personal insults at President Obama, other prominent Democrats, Hispanics and women. This calm and reassuring demeanor has fooled many in the national press to believe that Ryan is some kind of responsible leader who is serious about the governance of the U.S.
Like Kasich, Ryan must be judged by the content of the policies he has pursued as House Budget Committee Chairman and Speaker. Ryan's signature policy since 2011 has been his extreme and regressive budget proposal that has become the centerpiece of GOP economic policies.
The Ryan budget would end the Medicare guarantee to senior citizens and convert it into a voucher program. It would bring back pre-existing condition clauses and require senior citizens to purchase private health insurance policies. Needless to say, this would significantly increase the amount of out of pocket medical expenses paid by senior citizens. The Republicans in Congress have yet to explain to senior citizens how they could afford comprehensive health insurance with the return of pre-existing condition clauses.
This regressive budget plan would completely repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it. Total repeal of the ACA would cancel approximately 20 million insurance policies and double the uninsured rate in America.
Approximately 69% of the budget cuts in the Ryan budget come from programs for the poor. These cuts come in the following categories: Medicaid; health care; food assistance; college grants; school lunches, and the EITC;. At the same time this budget reduces the top income tax rate for individuals from 39.6% to 25% and also reduces the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.
One of Paul Ryan's most loyal supporters is Representative Jeff Fortenberry - who is widely (and falsely) considered to be a moderate Republican. Mr. Fortenberry has voted for the Ryan budget approximately five times, supported the 2013 government shutdown and voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security last year when terrorists were threatening to attack the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Despite this extreme voting record, Fortenberry is considered by some to be a moderate because he is a nice guy and on rare occasions does buck the GOP Party line. (Fortenberry still votes with the GOP 90% of the time.) Shortly before the 2013 government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion and 100,000 jobs, the Lincoln Journal Star editorial page made the mistake of terming Fortenberry a "compassionate conservative" and found his alleged independence from the more extreme elements of the GOP to be "inspiring."
Republicans like Kasich, Ryan and Fortenberry must be judged by their actual policy proposals - not their personalities. The press must cease to act as theater critics and actually dig deep into their plans. I realize this is hard work but the American people deserve the truth. As prominent political scientist Norm Ornstein wrote: "The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
As Democrats we must get the message out that we are the moderate and responsible party that can be trusted to responsibly govern the country. This is because the stakes in 2016 couldn't be much higher. If we can elect a Democratic President, the country will continue to prosper and have a responsible national security policy. On the other hand, if the GOP were to win the election, the deficits would explode, the economy would crash and we would back to war in the Middle East. Failure is not an option. We must win and we will win!
Last month marked the sixth anniversary of the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA). The goal for this legislation was to insure more Americans and bend the cost curve in health care inflation. Thus far, this 2010 health care reform law has met many of it's goals despite bitter opposition and at times, outright sabotage from the GOP.
At the time the ACA was passed, the Republicans prognosticated disaster for the U.S. John Boehner predicted that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin our country." The GOP House leader's apocalyptic prediction was a mainstream position within the GOP at the time the law passed. His statement was not some isolated incident.
Three years later, then candidate Ben Sasse predicted that the implementation of the ACA would cause "America to cease to exist." Some quibble over his statement and contend that what Sasse really meant was that the ACA would change America for the worse. However, Sasse said what he meant and meant what he said. Moreover, this kind of prediction of doom about the consequences of the ACA was shared by about every prominent Republican at the time.
As readers of this space know, Boehner and Sasse's predictions were simply ludicrous. Since the passage of the ACA, the economy has created more jobs every month. The U.S. has now had 73 consecutive months of job growth. The unemployment rate has been reduced from 10% to 5%. Just about all of the jobs created in this recovery have been full time jobs. The labor participation rate is currently at a two year high.
Most importantly, median family household income is finally rising after sixteen years of decline and stagnation. According to Sentier Research, median family household income is now higher than it was at the onset of the recession in 2007. “We have recaptured all of the income losses that have occurred since the beginning of the last recession in December 2007,” said Sentier’s Gordon Green, a former U.S. Census Bureau official. And incomes are now up 0.4% from where they stood in January 2000.
The Republicans didn't only make the general prediction that the ACA would cause an economic Depression - they also made a series of specific predictions about how the ACA would be a failure. Let's now take a trip down memory lane and review some of those GOP predictions:
- There would be death panels. Former Alaska Governor and right wing entertainer Sarah Palin alleged that her special needs son would be hauled in front of a so-called death panel and she would have to plead for medical care for her son.
- The ACA website will never work.
- Nobody will want to buy insurance from the exchanges.
- The ACA wouldn't meet it's enrollment goals.
- Only people who already have insurance will want to sign up.
- The ACA would cause a net loss of insurance.
- The Democrats would join the Republicans in repealing the ACA before the 2014 elections.
- Insurance premiums will "skyrocket."
- The private health insurance industry would be gone.
I think we can safely say that everyone of these specific predictions about the future of the ACA made by the Republicans were not just wrong but spectacularly wrong. The Republicans should be embarrassed.
There never were any death panels. It was named as the "Lie of the Year" in 2009 by the well respected and non-partisan Politifact.com fact checking site. In the unlikely event anybody is ever hauled in front of the alleged death panel described by Sarah Palin, I pledge I will represent that person for free.
Many of the other silly GOP predictions can be rebutted by simply pointing out that the ACA has insured 20 million additional Americans. The uninsured rate in the U.S. has been reduced from 18% to an all time low of 9%. The uninsured rate would be even lower if Nebraska and nineteen other Red states didn't foolishly reject the Medicaid expansion. What's more, approximately 129 million people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage or charged more as a result.
This dramatic reduction in the uninsured rate has been accomplished at a lower cost than was initially projected. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the ACA will cost 29% lower than expected. Moreover, the CBO has also projected that the ACA will reduce the deficit by $118 billion in 2025.
The ACA is also a factor in the encouraging trend of reduced health care spending. According to a study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the growth in health care spending was 3.6% in 2013 — the lowest yearly increase since 1960.
The reduced growth in medical spending has also had the salutary effect of slowing the growth in health insurance premiums for consumers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums have grown at a much slower rate since the passage of the ACA: "Premiums increased more slowly over the past five years than the preceding five years (26 percent vs. 34 percent) and well below the annual double-digit increases recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "
Obamacare hasn't only saved the taxpayers and consumers money, it has also saved lives. In December 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that ACA programs to improve hospital safety had resulted in 50,000 fewer preventable deaths since 2010.
The Republicans' response to the successes of the ACA has been muted in the 2016 cycle. Instead, the GOP's Presidential candidates are focused on other issues such as immigration, the size of their "hands," and the candidates' wives. The current GOP primary fight is a freak show. What this should tell the voters is that expanding health care to more Americans simply isn't a priority for the GOP.
The reality is that the GOP's record on health care has been a disgrace over the last forty years. During the George W. Bush Administration, the GOP did nothing when 8 million Americans lost their health insurance policies. Since 2009, the GOP has promised over twenty times to introduce a consensus health care plan and hold an up or down vote on that GOP replacement plan. However, all the GOP members of Congress have done on health care is mindlessly vote to repeal Obamacare over fifty times.
The actions of the Republican Party since 2009 clearly indicate that their actual position is to repeal - but not replace - the ACA. The Republicans want to take away insurance from 20 million Americans and bring back the status quo that existed before 2010 when people could go broke if they got sick or injured.
As Democrats, we need to aggressively message the successes of the ACA. We're not only proud of the ACA - we standing willing, ready and able to improve the 2010 health care law We also need to let the voters know that if the GOP wins the election, millions of them will lose their health insurance and access to their doctors.
We can't count on the press to tell the voters about the improvements in the health care system since 2010 and the Republicans' ridiculous predictions of doom. It is entirely up to us Democrats to get that message out and win this election. As Harry Truman said in 1948: "I will win this election and make these Republicans like it—don't you forget that!"
Tragedy struck again last week when terrorists attacked Brussels in a series of bombings. Before the smoke even cleared, the Republicans turned this tragedy into a partisan food fight and blamed President Obama - not the terrorists - for the attacks. The air time on Fox News and AM radio was dominated by the likes of such has beens like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani who went to so far as to allege that President Obama is some kind of traitor. It's no wonder that the likes of such clownish figures as Trump and Cruz are dominating the GOP nomination race.
The remarks from Donald Trump shortly after the tragic attacks were every bit as ridiculous and intemperate as the ones from the disgraced former House Speaker and former Mayor of New York City. The GOP front runner said that he would be open to using nuclear weapons against ISIS and would bring back the Bush Administration's illegal and ineffectual torture policies. Trump further displayed his ignorance of national security policy when he said NATO was "obsolete" and U.S. involvement with that organization should be significantly reduced.
GOP Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz's response to the Brussels attacks was every bit as ignorant and inflammatory as those from the former reality TV show star. Cruz said we should patrol and secure so-called "Muslim neighborhoods." The junior Texas Senator's proposal is unconstitutional and would alienate moderate Muslims around the world who support the international coalition's effort to defeat ISIS.
Trump and Cruz's ludicrous response to the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium have the unfortunate and unintended effect of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, a veteran of Navy intelligence, blasted Trump for doing the propaganda work of ISIS: "Good God, they're probably cutting videos of this right now. Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that they tell their operatives…that America is a racist nation, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and that that's why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them…It's irresponsible and it needs to stop."
In sharp contrast to the remarks by the leading GOP contenders, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders were the adults in the room following the Brussels attacks. Senator Sanders rejected the GOP's call for "perpetual war" and maintained that we need "to put together a very effective coalition of Muslim nations who lead the effort on the ground, supported by the United States, the U.K., France, and other major powers in the air and through training." Sanders correctly pointed out that Qatar is currently spending $200 billion to put on the 2020 World Cup and requested that Qatar and other nations in the Persian Gulf spend more money to combat the threat from ISIS.
Hillary Clinton's remarks on terrorism were as equally realistic and measured as those from the Vermont Senator. Clinton called for an "intelligence surge" and indicated that she would build on the policies already put in place by President Obama. In a foreign policy speech at Stanford University Clinton stated: “It would be a serious mistake to stumble into another costly ground war in the Middle East. If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.”
The next President would be wise to maintain and accelerate President Obama's strategy to defeat ISIS. Just last week, a U.S. airstrike took out the number two official in ISIS who was in charge of that organization's finances. Experts described this development as a "hefty body blow" to the Islamic State. According to the Washington Post, during the Obama Administration, U.S. armed forces have taken out over 30,000 terrorists. Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Magazine has labeled President Obama as "the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency."
Not only is the Islamic State's leadership structure under heavy strain, ISIS has also lost 40% of the territory it controlled at the peak of it's power in 2014. The Washington Post has reported: "Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack." In addition to those losses on the ground, ISIS has reduced it's fighters' salaries by 50% and cut back on other perks for its soldiers.
President Obama has put in place a strategy that is slowly but surely rolling back ISIS. The 2016 election will decide whether or not we continue that winning strategy or go back to the failed policies of George W. Bush. GOP front runner Donald Trump has called for U.S. troops to conquer and hold ISIS oil fields in Syria and Iraq. If the GOP wins this election, the U.S. will once again be involved in another major ground war in the Middle East.
The Democratic Party is the party of national security. Our Presidential candidates will avoid reckless foreign wars and keep the U.S. safe. Despite the failure of the Bush Presidency, the mainstream media still pushes the false conventional wisdom that the GOP is the party of national security. We need to get out the message that the GOP will unwittingly help ISIS and send our young men and women back into combat in the Middle East. We need to get our message out and elect more Democrats in 2016. I know we can do it!
As I've written here on previous occasions, the Republicans have been making predictions since 1993 that the policies of Democratic Presidents will cause recessions and even destroy the country. In 1993, every prominent Republican boldly prognosticated that President Clinton's deficit reduction bill would cause a recession. Beginning shortly after his inauguration, the Republicans upped the ante and predicted that President Obama's policies would not just cause a recession - they would ruin the country.
The GOP predictions of doom reached their apex in the multi-year debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Approximately six years ago, John Boehner contended that the ACA would cause "Armageddon" and "ruin the country." In 2013, Ben Sasse foolishly maintained that: "If the Affordable Care Act survives, America will cease to exist. "
State Party Chair Vince Powers and I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the press to pay attention to these ludicrous predictions and hold the GOP accountable. We aren't just trolling the GOP when we try to hold them to account. These repeated predictions of doom and gloom from the GOP are actually very significant.
The apocalyptic predictions of disaster from the likes of prominent Republicans like Boehner and Sasse matter because many Republicans genuinely believe that America is doomed. That feeling of deep pessimism on the right means that the GOP is willing to adopt any tactic - regardless of how toxic and harmful - in what they believe to be a last ditch effort to save the country.
Many Republicans don't only believe that America isn't great anymore, they also believe that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to deliberately wreck the country. For example, GOP establishment darling Marco Rubio stated during his recent ill fated Presidential campaign that: "Obama had deliberately weakened America." After the junior Florida Senator made those remarks, his spokesman was asked by a reporter if President Obama was intentionally trying to destroy the country. Rubio's spokesman answered: "Absolutely."
In a recent speech, President Obama brilliantly distilled the current attitude of paranoia and pessimism that pervades the Republican Party: "That the other side isn’t simply wrong, or we just disagree, we want to take a different approach, but the other side is destroying the country, or treasonous. I mean, that’s – look it up. That’s what they’ve been saying....I mean, conservative outlets have been feeding their base constantly the notion that everything is a disaster, that everybody else is to blame, that Obamacare is destroying the country. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. It’s not, ‘We disagree with this program,’ ‘We think we can do it better,’ it’s, ‘Oh, this is a crisis!’
What many people don't seem to know or understand is that this kind of doom and gloom discourse is a regular feature on Fox News and AM radio. For example, right wing entertainer and college drop out Rush Limbaugh has alleged that President Obama is "purposely destroying the economy." Millions of Americans - probably around 30% to 35% of the voters - imbibe this toxic message on a daily basis and are heavily influenced by it.
Rank and file Republicans aren't the only ones that have been swayed by this allegation that President Obama is allegedly a traitor. Most GOP officeholders and candidates are equally swayed by this divisive and hateful message. That tells us why the GOP has adopted it's strategy of all out obstruction during significant portions of both the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
This sense among the GOP that America is doomed and Obama is intentionally destroying the country has had a major impact on how the GOP governs. In 2011, the GOP threatened to stiff American's creditors unless President Obama cut Social Security and Medicare. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this hostage crisis concocted by the GOP cost the economy 1.4 million jobs and caused a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in our history.
The GOP resorted to sabotage again in October 2013 when they shutdown the government shortly before the ACA was implemented. Like the 2011 default threat, the 2013 shutdown hurt the American people. This ridiculous shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and 120,000 jobs.
The GOP's pattern of scorched earth obstruction continues to the present time. As we all know, the GOP is refusing to allow an up or down vote on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many Republican Senators won't even meet with Judge Garland! This is absolutely outrageous since Judge Garland is highly qualified to serve on the nation's highest court. During the Clinton Administration while serving in the Justice Department, Garland over saw the successful prosecutions of the "unabomber" and the terrorists who attacked Oklahoma City in 1995. Beginning in 1997, Garland has served with distinction on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The U.S. is fairly exceptional among first world developed countries in that we have a Presidential system. Most other advanced countries have parliamentary systems where the same party controls both the executive and legislative branches. The U.S. system requires a certain degree of cooperation between the two parties in order for the country to be properly governed. Due to the GOP's current extremism, it's hard for the Congress to even pass a budget anymore - let alone address the serious problems facing the country.
Due to their deep pessimism and paranoia, the GOP has abandoned the former governing norms that allowed the wheels of government to turn. Before the Obama Administration, refusing to raise the debt ceiling or rejecting a well qualified Supreme Court nominee without even a hearing was simply unheard of. The GOP has justified this nihilism due to their deeply pessimistic attitude about the future of the country and their belief that Democrats are traitors. This misguided belief system has caused the GOP to determine that literally anything goes when it comes to opposing a Democratic President. That's why the GOP's predictions of Armageddon matter.
The country will be at a crossroads in the 2016. Will we return a party to power that is completely dysfunctional and whose platform would bring back the failed policies of George W. Bush? Or will the voters elect a party that has successfully turned around the economy and insured over 20 million Americans? I'm confident that the Democratic Party will have a successful election cycle in 2016. Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. Let's get to work!