Pete Ricketts Comes Clean

“I want to thank the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Nebraska legislature – and you too, Kintner – for inviting me to speak today. It is, as always, a great honor.

Today I’m here to speak about the progress of our state under my administration. As it happens, though, I accidentally took a double dose of Ambien last night, and boy am I feeling it. It’s like this drug physically compels me to tell the truth.

So here goes.

We could talk particulars, right? We could talk about my blockade of Medicaid expansion for the poor, how all those studies commissioned by you good citizen legislators showed that expanding Medicaid would not only greatly improve the health of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, it would also benefit the state economically and create thousands of jobs in the field. I saw that related report last year – that our rural hospital network is in danger of collapsing without expanded access to care for the self-employed folks in our rural counties, not to mention the federal subsidies – that’s dollars – that come with the newly insured, some of which will go to Nebraska insurance firms.

And it’s not like we’re saving any taxpayers any money by blocking the expansion. The federal dollars flow to the states that claim it, and those that don’t, well, they are watching from the sidelines.

So, sure, yeah, I’m aware of all that.

Then there’s Obamacare in general. I’m sure you all saw the article last week from Tribune Services, how  they examined all the states where insurance companies are bailing out of the exchanges, leaving the self-insured with fewer choices and less competition and higher premiums, how they were all red states led by GOP governors and legislatures intent on blocking the implementation – and by extension the success – of the president’s key health care initiative. Yes, I know, I stood in the way of Obamacare at every opportunity, with my Republican predecessor paving the way by refusing to provide even the slightest amount of input or any effort at  building a state exchange that would work for our needs, in fact rebuffing and insulting the entire program. I remember his “mantra” for the press: “We won’t need an exchange, because Mitt Romney’s going to win in November 2012 and we’ll abolish the whole thing.”

Of course we never built one, we had no intention of building an exchange. So the state’s poor have suffered greatly as a result, needless suffering, and coverage is extremely thin here in Nebraska as a result. All news I am acutely aware of.

Meanwhile, states like California and New York are doing great with their exchanges, enjoying efficient state management and plenty of insurers and plan options for folks looking to get covered.  Highly competitive. They really have it going on!

Just ask yourself one question: if we had cooperated, if we had expanded Medicare,  and if it did result in massive savings and job growth in Nebraska as well as the protection of our rural hospital network – who do you think gets the credit for that? Me? Pete Ricketts? No – the president gets it. That’s who.

Enough said. I mean, c’mon.

Then there’s the death penalty. Hoo boy, what a joke that is. No executions in, what, 20 years? Something like that? Fourteen million a year to feed a broken system, according to Goss’s report. And no approved method for execution, even with my illegal drug buys from India  that violated federal drug laws and ignored the stated policy of the manufacturer not to supply the drug to executioners. (And thanks again John Gale, top law enforcement official in Nebraska, for your help on that buy.) Feds stopped the drugs at the border, but how could I have known they would do that? I’m not one to think deeply about these things. I just wanted my drugs so I could kill my prisoners.

I know, I know, our death penalty is outmoded, ineffectual, crazy expensive — if you described it as a “government program” it would be roundly despised by Republicans, wouldn’t it? Ha ha, yeah we would hate that boondoggle. But seriously, dad and I decided that the will of the people, as expressed through their elected representatives, was just not what we wanted to do. So we dropped a few bucks (what, about $300,000? My last bike cost more than that) on the referendum, got John and other state officials and luminaries like Hal to jump on, called in some favors, you know. And here it is back on the ballot – just because I wanted it! It’s hilarious – here we are, “Put our ineffective, massively expensive, completely backward-looking priority on the ballot! Screw the people, and screw their representatives!” That’s us. We want it our way. And you know what? I think we’ll get it. There really is one born every minute, folks.

Anyway, I’m kind of woozy from the Ambien, but I hope you’re following the pattern here. There’s progress, there’s common sense, there’s the will of the people as expressed through their representatives in the legislature.

And then there’s us. My dad and me. And all the toadies who suck up to our money.

We don’t care about any of that.

It should be abundantly clear what we care about. Look out, to other horizons. Look over at Wisconsin, where an incompetent governor made a national name for himself, who got a run at the nomination, by crushing public unions and public universities. That state is a mess. Look to Kansas, where they have untaxed their state into an unholy cluster of bankrupt government and failing schools, not to mention an eroding business climate. But you know the name Brownback, don’t you. You know it. Do I even need to mention Jindal? Complete idiot, and he was in the running for 2016 too. Because he screwed his state over like nobody’s business.

So what are we about? Anybody wanna guess? No? Really, it’s very simple (just like me).

It’s power.

Power is what we want. The power to decide who succeeds, and who does not. Who gets a driver’s license and who doesn’t. Who gets health care and who doesn’t. Who goes to prison (Hint: not our friends or their kids, at least not for long) and who dies there – at our hands.

Heck, we’re even suing the state of Colorado for their liberal pot laws. Why? Well, I’ll tell you – it’s an arbitrary thing. After all – ha ha – I buy illegal drugs myself! And try to smuggle them in the country! To deny “free people” (ha ha – sorry that always gets me) the right to grow and use a native plant for their own purposes that involve no offense to any other citizen, let alone the “state”– it’s the most arbitrary of power plays, with no reasoning behind it, just like the power to kill my prisoners. Hell, we won’t even let them have their no-THC cannabis oil for the sick kids. Why? Why forbid proven relief for these epileptic kids, beating their own brains out every day? Because we said so, that’s why. I want that power BECAUSE it’s arbitrary. I want it so that I have it – and you, dearest citizens – you don’t. And it’s important that you KNOW it, that you know it’s an arbitrary thing. A nonsensical, arbitrary demonstration of power you can do nothing about except write letters to me, or to your newspaper. Letters I don’t read.

This is the political dynamic we are fighting so hard to keep alive, for our kind and our descendents. Good governance is for suckers. We’re here to build a power base and to get recognized for it on the national political stage.

It really is as simple as that. Like Walker, or Brownback, or Jindal, if I prove I can wield arbitrary, nonsensical power over an entire state – if I can, with clumsy, empty rhetoric devoid of logic or pragmatism and a cadre of powerful toadies in official positions (not to mention tons of money) effect a reversal of fortunes for all of the people in my state who don’ t share my European heritage, skin tone, background, religion, income level – you know what I mean here – If I can pull that off, as dad has explained to me, I have put myself in the running for the White House in 2020. It’s a natural continuation of the path I’m on. It’s the next step for dad and me.

So yes, of course, you – all of you, from the lowliest immigrant to the loftiest official not in my dad’s pocket – all of you are expendable. Your state is expendable. Your aquifer is expendable. Your efficient public utilities are expendable. Your health and your lives are expendable in pursuit of my one overriding goal. Heck, remember my knee surgery? I went home to Chicago. I’m not letting you backwater hicks  touch my leg.

You are to me, Nebraska, a big flat stepping stone.

And as I’ve demonstrated in my first years in office, with nearly every initiative, I’m more than willing to step on you and step on you and step on you until I reach my goals, as told to me by dad.

Thank you. I would take questions, but I’m really very sleepy. And bald. Hm? Oh, ha, I didn’t mean to say that last part, did I. Or, heck, any of this. Dad’s gonna be pissed. Ha ha. G’night.”

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Weak Midwest Tea

Nebraska’s Tea Party Congressional representation demonstrated impressive lock-step talking point delivery following the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Obamacare subsidies. Each expressed heartfelt disappointment that this “terribly flawed” law will stand. Each promised to abolish the ACA and put in its place “patient-centered” health care solutions.

But there are two problems with such statements. First, the law, by every available measure, is working exactly as planned in helping millions of Americans obtain health care coverage that was previously out of reach. Even in states like Nebraska, where our “leaders” have shunned the law’s benefits on ideological grounds, it is working to improve the lives of tens of thousands. Meanwhile nationally, overall health care costs are falling, deficits are shrinking, markets are soaring, and the jobless rate is at 5.5%.

Second, if one were gullible enough to support repeal of Obamacare based on this empty rhetoric, keep in mind a vague promise is not an “alternative.” Repeal would not result in a “patient-centered” plan from Republicans, because no such plan exists.

I get that Tea Party libertarians desperately want the president’s greatest legislative achievement to fail. But wanting something is not the same as having it.

Just Checking In

OK, so I know it’s been a while. But again, no one is reading this, so no big deal.

As for today, I am feeling restless, so thought I would submit an entry, blog-like, rather than the usual planned essay.

Today is September 12, one day after September 11. Last week, we had a great excitement as one Terry Jones (not the Monty Python Terry Jones), leader of a Christian church of sorts down in Gainesville, FL, finally hit a hot button that got him the media attention he so desperately craves.

Apparently this guy, whose church’s basic Christian tenet is that Islam is evil, has been trying to get the attention of the media for several years, announcing this or that plan for his church designed to foment ire and street violence among the worlds Muslims. Problem was, nobody was paying any attention to him and his crackpot pronouncements.

But this time, he got it right. He announced “International Burn a Koran Day” and sent out a release saying his church was going to burn Korans on September 11 as a way of “getting their message out” about Islam.

Cue media frenzy. Admittedly, it was a slow news week. So slow, apparently, that all anyone talked about – apart from someone named Snookie – was this guy and his whacko church.

In the end, and under pressure from Barack Obama and General Petraeus and the whole gang, Jones announced that, on second thought, they would not burn Korans on September 11.

Whew! Close one.

Now, you may or may not consider it ironic that at least two people were killed in street protests in Afghanistan which anticipated the non-event. But I for one would hate to be the guy who died while demonstrating my opposition to an outrage that never actually occurred.

But anyway, speaking of religious nuts, we had our own little weird celebration here on the plains a couple of weeks ago, right down the street from my house.

We were heading out on Saturday morning to the farmer’s market to get some good tomatoes. That time of year, you know. But we got over on the main street, and were surprised to encounter a huge throng of folks lining the sidewalks near the Lutheran church, holding signs, chanting and all the rest. Turns out the main group – hundreds of them – were actually counter-protestors who were there to face down the crazies from the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. These folks like to protest at the funerals of soldiers who’ve died in our of our imperial wars. Their reasoning is that the soldiers are dying because God is visiting retribution on our country for – are you ready? – its tolerance of homosexuality, apparently the vilest of sins. So they show up at the funerals with big signs that say “God Hates Fags” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” .

That’s their thing.

On this day, in fact just after we passed through on our way to the farmer’s market (my wife gave them a thumbs down, and I gave the Westboro folks a version of a “thumbs up”, which involved a different finger) another event occurred. A veteran drove down the same street and unleashed a barrage of bear repellant – basically mace – from the window of his pickup truck, aimed at the Westboro protestors.

The gay-hating protestors, though, are not rookies at being broadly despised. They had their signs at the ready. They maneuvered them in front of their faces and avoided getting maced. The counter-protestors, probably less experienced at this sort of thing, got the brunt of it. Several ended up in the hospital.

It is surely so that God works in mysterious ways.

It’s 2010 – Now Shovel!

Another new year, fresh like a just-opened jar of peanut butter with that pristine swirl it feels so good to dig your knife into.

Oh I could talk about how this marks the first year out of the “0” years and what we might call them now that they’re gone – the “aughts,” or the “naughts”,  or the suckiest decade since the 1930s if we’re being honest.

Or I could, blogger-like, conjure up some best-of-the-decade lists, for movies or records or porn stars or something.

Or I could lament, in full middle-aged fashion, the sheer lack of originality and freshness in all things media-rich, the repetition of styles and endless remakes of vintage culture  – the sequels and prequels and boxed sets – a sure sign that the one so lamenting is himself not so fresh anymore. (“If you are tired of London you are tired of life.” )

Or I could remark, as a side note, on the failed Christmas underwear bomber. But perhaps what’s more interesting is that this attempted terror attack is, according to the media, merely a side note. This may be the year we warm up to terror as the English and the Israelis have – relegating it to the ordinary risks of life, as it should be, rather than the sole focus of the government’s efforts (hello – jobs?). Me – I’m much more convinced I will die not in a conflagration of Islamist vengeance but at the hands of a sober, inexperienced and wholly disinterested teenage driver staring at a cell phone.

Mark those words – I’ve seen it in a vision.

Instead, though, I’ll just talk about the weather. Because it’s the most remarkable thing about this year so far. At least around here.

It began in mid-December. We were all feeling fine about the news from the meteorologists that it would be a mild winter. But before winter had a chance to get here and be mild, we had about 11 inches of snow dumped on us.

Mild snow, I guess. And mild zero-degree temperatures. And mild fatal car wrecks.

Then, a couple of weeks later on Christmas eve, an old-fashioned, Laura Ingalls Wilder type blizzard rolled in. Whiteout conditions, and another twelve inches of snow. We had to eat the horses.

OK, we didn’t eat the horses. I wanted to, but there was plenty of peanut butter.

Nobody moved – Christmas was effectively cancelled (a small bright spot) – the city froze solid for a few days while everyone either looked out the window and marveled or – we the unlucky ones – were marveled at as we lifted endless shovels full, tried to find a place to put the four-foot snow drifts that had collected in the driveway. Turned our faces from the biting crystals as we blew them aside and the North wind blew them back at us.

As the gutters filled with pounds and pounds of ice, a solid wall of it gushing a freeze-frame cascade of watery stalactites.

I had to buy a roof rake and actually shovel the snow off the roof. It’s just not natural.

But hey, we’re plains folk. We’re hardy, or so I’m told. So we got the job done, got the walks shoveled and the roofs raked, and the cars unstuck and the snow blower gassed up again.

Because here it is next week, and the forecast is for snow, snow, and snow.

Here on the plains.

October

I awoke to the first cold Monday morning today. The bed, with its pillow-top mattress and down comforter, seemed mighty preferable to the cold floor, dark hallways and…work. How many personal days do I have left…?

The day brightened up as I got some hot coffee in me and made it to the car–I mean it literally did. The slanty sun himself came up over the city as I crested the highway North, the first time I’ve seen it do that in months. And it did not disappoint. A hazy red gumball, a Japanese flag. Later on, a small V of geese, black in silhouette, passed overhead, heading down the Missouri to wherever they are going. A fog monster glided up over the stubble field they crossed, trying to act threatening as the sun burned its edges into feathery wisps of cold smoke.

I do love October. Yesterday I spent all morning cleaning windows, to let that strong October sun in the house, perhaps also an unconscious attempt to head off that snowbound feeling before it starts. In the afternoon I walked a golf course alone, cheating and cursing myself into a pretty good score. My calves are sore now, remembering all those uphill par fours.

The day before we took our annual pilgrimage to Nebraska City, home of Arbor Day and Arbor Lodge, which is now a state park. The Lodge, on 160 acres (bought from Uncle Sam at ten cents per), was originally a four-room frame house built in the 19th century–the first one, they say, West of Nebraska City and East of the Rockies. Through several generations and additions it ended up as the impressive mansion home of J. Sterling Morton, secretary of agriculture and founder of the Morton salt company as well as Arbor Day itself. There’s a fantastic carriage house with various period carriages from the 1880s to about 1910, bought on a whim when Morton could snatch them up for a song (cars, you know). There’s also a working apple orchard and many varieties of trees planted throughout the estate. There’s also some new commercial crap they’ve built to increase the tourist factor–I think they call it “Tree Adventure”–but we always avoid that area of of the park.

We had lunch at Johnny’s Corner Cafe in downtown Nebraska City, where I had the massive hot beef sandwich, famous in three states. We bought some nice Fujis and come cherry cider at an old orchard outside of town.

As I walked the grounds of Arbor Lodge with my little family that afternoon, full of roast beef and mashed potatoes, I was able to capture for a little while a bit of that unattached contentment that is so rare, and so valuable. As my daughter swung on my arm and we walked up the rutted carriage path to the house, she scattering squirrels and us laughing at her, the sun friendly on us and not too warm, the clouds like big scoops of mashed potatoes themselves and the sky that curious October blue, the moment lapsed into one of perfect ease. For those few minutes, absolutely nothing else was on my mind, nothing nagged at my attention. I was, the day was, we were–it all was, and always will be nothing more nor less. Time unconstrained, simply lived.

That night the crescent moon lulled low among silvery clouds, the clouds being their unique October selves. Friends came by for dinner, I built a little fire outside and drank a couple of beers with my friend, feeling the chill of the air and the warmth of the flames and the conversation. He told me about his garage sale, and of course we talked about music and life.

It was continuing to be a good day.