A medical doctor once asked me in a public forum if healthcare is a right. I paused, having not fully considered the question, and I've thought about this for a long time since. Fast-forward to last Monday’s town hall in Lincoln where I asked those gathered the same question. Is health care a right? Most in attendance boisterously said yes. I followed with another question: Is health care a responsibility? Most thought it was not.
I followed with my own answer. I told the audience that I believe it is both. We are all familiar with the part of the Declaration of Independence which speaks of the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Basic healthcare is an extension of the "life" principle, and correspondingly, we have a responsibility to properly care for ourselves and for those under our authority, to the best of our ability. This also begs the deeper questions in the healthcare debate about the duty of the individual, the opportunity of the community to ensure a vital insurance and care delivery system, and the needed backstop protections of the government for those most vulnerable.
I intended to get to another question Monday evening, but I did not have the chance. Do you support Daylight Saving Time (DST)?
According to Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: the Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, the idea was originally promulgated by the Boston Chamber of Commerce to ostensibly benefit farmers. However, farmers fought DST. They explained, “The sun, not the clock, dictates a farmer’s schedule, so daylight saving is very disruptive. We do not want to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate to harvest hay. Our hired hands work less since they still leave at the same time for dinner. And cows aren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier because human shipping schedules dictate it.”
DST was widely adapted worldwide after WWII. It was supposed to save energy, yet studies largely show no significant changes in energy expenditure. A 2008 United States Department of Energy report found a statistically irrelevant 0.03% reduction. States like Indiana actually showed an increase in energy use from shifting patterns of air conditioning and heating.
During the spring, not only do we lose an hour of sleep, but also our productivity suffers. Economists estimate a total annual United States productivity loss of between $434 million and $2 billion. These disruptions come in many forms, some more deadly than others. One study demonstrated that the one-hour change from DST could cause disruptions in sleep patterns that “persist for up to five days after each time shift.” A university review of hospital data found that the rate of heart attacks increased by 25% the Monday after Daylight Saving Time. Another study found an 8% increase in traffic accidents on the Monday after the “spring forward” time change.
It feels like DST is an attempt to get “extra daylight” without understanding the complex collateral effects of an often-unquestioned American tradition. With all these negatives, and with so few empirically provable benefits, why do we continue with Daylight Saving Time? It seems unnatural.
Twice a year I go through the same decision process. On my stove is a clock. The mechanism to change the clock is broken. I can either choose to mentally subtract or add an hour each time I look at it, or get the pliers and painstakingly manipulate the remnant of the clock shaft to change the time. Perhaps the question seems trivial at a time of more pressing national debates like healthcare, but maybe it is time to eliminate Daylight Saving Time. What do you think?
Washington, D.C.– Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today issued the following statement on the one year anniversary of his genocide resolution, which passed the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 393-0:
“One year ago today, the House of Representatives spoke with a united voice to name and decry the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others as ‘genocide.’ Three days later, on March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry came to the same conclusion on behalf of the United States Government. The United States has spoken with clarity and moral authority to condemn this grave violation of life and order. This week offers an important opportunity to commemorate the occasion and refocus efforts to help those in dire need.
“The genocide resolution and subsequent United States Government recognition elevated international consciousness and confronted the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered peoples. The genocide against Christians, Yezidis and minority Muslim communities is not only a grave injustice to theses ancient faith traditions—it is an assault on human dignity and civilization itself.
“I will continue working on policy initiatives to help those confronting genocide. Successful efforts to support them will help bring stability to the Middle East, benefiting both persons in need and, ultimately, America’s national security. The rich, religiously diverse tapestry of the Middle East will be restored only if Christians, Yezidis, and others are empowered to once again take their rightful place.”
In September 2015, Fortenberry along with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced H. Con. Res. 75 in the House. Following the unanimous vote behind the resolution, Fortenberry spoke on the floor of the House urging the State Department to include both Christians and Yezidis in a genocide designation.
Earlier, Fortenberry made the case for recognizing the genocide in the Middle East during an exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Fortenberry pleaded for a comprehensive genocide designation that encompasses these ethnic and religious communities, which are facing brutal persecution in the region.
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. He represents America’s largest Yezidi community. Along with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), he is co-chair of the Religious Minorities of the Middle East Caucus and represents America’s largest Yezidi community.
Washington, D.C.– Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today announced that he will hold a Community Town Hall Meeting at Lincoln Southwest High School (7001 South 14th St.) on Monday, March 13, from 5:30 to 7:00 PM. He will discuss the dynamics of the proposed health care legislation, listen to ideas, and take questions.
Fortenberry is a Member of the House Appropriations Committee.
I once drank some Russian vodka. It was not ordinary vodka; it was special vodka laced with pepper. I rarely drink vodka. However, given my circumstances and in deference to my host, I decided to take it. It was very nasty.
Given the news stories about contact with the Russians, I should tell you that I have met with the Russians. As an order of business, I frequently dialogue with members of the diplomatic community from countries with which we have strong bonds, budding friendships, or deteriorating relationships. In fact, last fall, as tensions with Russia were rising on multiple fronts, I called the Russian Ambassadora central figure in controversial stories that are dominating the media these daysafter I learned that the one remaining thread of scientific cooperation between our two countries regarding the disposition of spent nuclear material was dying. The conversation was tense at first, with much back and forth. I said, “I do not think you want America to blow up. I do not think you want Russia to blow up. Neither do I.” It ended more constructively.
Not all my interactions with the Ambassador have been fraught with tension. During an earlier, more pleasant conversation, I said, “Mr. Ambassador, I have no Russian ancestry. I have never been to Russia nor dived deep into your history. Yet, my daughterI can’t tell you whyannounced to me that she has undertaken self-study in the Russian language. Mr. Ambassador, would you be willing to write her a note? Her name is Kathryn.”
The Ambassador politely obliged my request, producing a note in Russian. When I tried to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet, I had to ask him, “What does it say?” He cryptically replied, “That’s between me and Kathryn.”
Jokes and intrigue aside, these conversations form part of an ongoing dialogue with nations around the globe to help ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Nevertheless, we must remain mindful that engagement with Russia should not be interpreted as softness on the hard and complex questions before us. President Vladimir Putin’s acts violate clear international agreements. He has stolen land from Ukraine. He continues to meddle in the Baltics and the Balkans. He has intervened in Syria and has a transactional relationship with Iran. These are hard facts. Furthermore, debates continue about the extent and impact of Russian involvement in our domestic affairs.
Befriending Russia is not a necessary precondition for dialogue, but history can inform why we need to talk to one another. During the Cold War, America conversed with Russia in ways that resulted in “taking down that Wall.” In this context, at a more dangerous time, President Ronald Reagan and the USSR’s Mikhail Gorbachev initiated important talks. Their personal rapport helped create the conditions for the historic 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and ensured START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations. Our acts of soft power, including diplomatic, cultural, and educational exchanges, as well as Voice of America broadcastswhich helped tap into the deepest longings of the Russian peopleplayed a vital role in the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain.
We also have to be mindful that America cannot always just prescribe outcomes. Relations can be fragile, history is complicated, wounds and suspicions heal slowly, ethnic and nationalistic bonds run deep, cultures differ, and ambitions for power and possessions plague humanity. Lapsed connections and short-term horizons can lead to miscalculations and poor decisions.
Perhaps my interaction with the Russian Ambassador might be viewed by some as inappropriate. Properly understood, semi-regular encounters of this nature can make a difference. Stomaching complex realities to create even a thin thread of connection is critical in dealing with other powers to prevent escalating danger. Even if it involves swallowing some nasty vodka.
Washington, D.C.– Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today issued the following statement on the 100th anniversary of Boys Town and the release of the newly minted commemorative coin marking the occasion:
“Nebraska's Boys Town affects the lives of more than two million Americans each year,” Fortenberry said. “This commemorative coin rightly honors an institution that has saved children and helped heal families for 100 years.”
In 2015, President Barack Obama signed Fortenberry’s legislation observing the centennial of the founding of Boys Town by directing the United States Treasury to issue a commemorative coin. The Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act authorizes the production of a series of commemorative coins—in gold, silver, and clad--with designs emblematic of Boys Town’s 100-year history.
“Boys Town offers a remarkable model of academic and spiritual engagement,” Fortenberry continued. “Youths learn more than math and grammar. Their teachers and caregivers provide them with solid formation by recreating a positive, structured, engaged environment. Boys Town is so effective that about 90 percent of its graduates integrate successfully back into their communities.”
The U.S. Mint will announce when the coins will be available for purchase by the public. Sales will more than offset the cost of minting by the Treasury. There will be no cost to the taxpayer or Treasury.
Fortenberry is a Member of the House Appropriations Committee.
For 150 years, Nebraska has held a special place in the history of America. Nebraskans take justifiable pride in the values of hard work, community life, and the proper stewardship of our precious resources. The mystique of the Great Plains, the nobility of the family farm, and the vibrancy of our people create the conditions for “The Good Life.” Our story is one of strength and dignity. That is why I am so proud to celebrate our 150th anniversary.
Some time ago, I attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the National Homestead Monument near Beatrice. The National Park Service personnel who run the Monument were kind enough to invite me to the dedication of the new center. During the event, a young woman from a seventh-generation farm family—and in high school at the time as I recall—gave a beautiful talk about Nebraska values: our connectedness to the land, the deeper meaning of living on the plains, and the ideal of maintaining the continuity of family life.
Her remarks moved me so much that I tossed my own speech aside and spoke off the cuff. I said something like this: “Perhaps it was on a day like today when a settler family came over that hill and looked at the great expanse of the plains before them. Perhaps that day they felt the warm spring sun on their cheeks, they heard the chirp of the western meadowlark in the air, and they watched as the beautiful bluestem prairie grass swayed in the wind. Perhaps it was then that they made a decision: we stay right here. Nebraska will be our home.”
When I finished, I sat down, very proud of myself. Then the next speaker came up, another political figure, and he had this to say: “Well, my family came here because they were horse thieves!” So much for my poetic words. Nebraskans’ colorful history and droll wit were simultaneously captured in that moment.
Nebraska’s official motto is: “Equality Before the Law.” It makes sense, since Nebraska was the first state admitted after the Civil War, a time of great woundedness in our country. However, our unofficial motto is: “Nebraska Nice.” It is true. Nebraskans are generally nice. At the same time, beneath the friendly veneer is an unmistakable, unvarnished realism. Nebraskans have a unique ability to look at a situation and size it up accurately, if often humorously. “Git er dun”—with a nod to my friend Larry the Cable Guy—is an often-used phrase that can be safely attributable to us.
Sometimes Nebraska has been pejoratively described in the popular imagination of our country. First, as the “Great American Desert” because it was thought that nothing would grow here. Today, we have the largest amount of acreage under irrigation in the country. In addition, we are a leader in livestock production and multiple types of commodity production, as well as specialty crops, like popcorn.
Nevertheless, sometimes we are still castigated as “Flyover Country.” I hear that around Congress occasionally. You might even believe that caricature—right up until you come to Nebraska and realize that it is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family. Our state is relatively free of congestion, pollution, and crime (including horse thieves). Nebraska routinely has the highest high school graduation rate and lowest unemployment rate in the country.
I am proud to serve in the United States Congress seat once held by William Jennings Bryan, who is arguably the most famous politician in our state’s history. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Nebraska’s admission to the United States, I recall Representative Bryan’s words from over 100 years ago. His words are outside of the University of Nebraska football stadium, Memorial Stadium, home of Tom and Nancy Osborne Field. It says this: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.”
And perhaps we can add to that quote the following: “And the choice to be good makes the destiny arrive well.”
Happy Birthday, Nebraska.
Stitched in among the quilt of Vietnamese restaurants, Mexican mercados and Middle Eastern groceries along North 27th Street, Lincoln’s Yazidi community added its own patch to “Cultural Row” on Friday.
Yazda, an international organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the religious minority’s heritage in the wake of a genocide launched by the Islamic State group in 2014, opened the first Yazidi Cultural Center in North America.
The center at 300 N. 27th St. will exist as a bridge between Yazidi people moving to Lincoln -- they make up the largest community of Yazidis on the continent -- and young members of the community seeking to connect to their cultural heritage.
“It’s not about countries anymore,” said Hadi Pir, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army who serves as the vice president of Yazda. “Since they lost everything back in Iraq, they are staying here. They need someone to introduce them to the new culture, their new life.”
With the help of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant, Yazda will begin providing opportunities for newly arrived Yazidis to learn English, get driver’s licenses and work toward citizenship, Pir said.
At the same time, young Yazidis who have grown up in the U.S. will find resources to preserve their heritage by learning about their culture as well as the Kurmanji language, said Ziyad Smoqi, an Army interpreter who came to the U.S. in 2010 on a special immigrant visa.
“Many people who go away from their home country adapt to another culture and gradually forget about their own,” Smoqi said. “In addition to their new culture, we want to teach them about the culture we have.”
The inside of the center is filled with posters depicting Yazidi holy days and religious traditions, including one of a man sitting on the steps of the Lalish Temple -- a holy site for Yazidis.
Small statues and paintings of peacocks, revered by Yazidis as the representation of an angel, bring color to the office that includes a small computer lab, office space, classroom and a full kitchen.
Hanging above the front desk is an American flag, the symbol of a new life for hundreds of Yazidi people.
“The grant is going to help Yazidis in the United States, but part of our job will be teaching other people about the Yazidis, where they came from and their background,” Pir said. “I think bringing people together is going to be unique.”
Salema Merza, a former social worker and math teacher who taught kids in the Sinjar region, will be the cultural adviser at the center, teaching the Kurmanji language spoken by Yazidis to community members who grew up learning English in school.
She said the cultural center will be able to teach as many as 20 students at a time with the goal of having the young Yazidis become proficient in both reading and writing the Kurdish dialect.
“I’m so excited to get started,” Merza said.
Program manager Jolene McCulley said the center will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some evening classes and other special events.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry joined the celebration Friday, shaking hands with Yazidis -- both young and old -- eager to meet the politician who has taken up their cause in Congress.
Spearheaded by the Republican lawmaker, Congress gave its unanimous approval to a declaration of genocide against Yazidis and minority Christians in Iraq about a year ago, drawing attention to the plight of groups there victimized by the Islamic State.
“It’s so important to become established here,” said Laila Khoudeida, secretary of Yazda, who helped bring the Yazidis’ story to Fortenberry’s office in 2014. “Having you with us today encourages us and inspires us. You have been a great advocate.”
Fortenberry thanked the Yazidis for their commitment to rebuilding their lives in Lincoln and the example they are setting as new Americans. He pledged to keep working to secure their homelands in northern Iraq to allow some to return.
Fortenberry also helped a Yazidi family navigate the travel ban enacted by President Donald Trump in late January after they were turned away from boarding a scheduled flight to join family in Lincoln.
“I am so proud to be with you today, because you not only faced persecution in your ancient homeland, you came to a new place and you have tried to integrate quickly and have done so successfully while preserving your ancient culture,” he said.
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Lincoln, Nebraska – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today issued a statement on the passing of former Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter:
“Last night at the Nebraska Statehood Day dinner, I learned that my friend and former Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter died. He was a remarkable man, a steady and gentle leader, with a marked humility in the midst of an extraordinary list of accomplishments in service to America.
“Clayton always was respectful and kind, and he had a heart for public service. A little while back, he wrote me a personal note of encouragement, which I treasure. Secretary Yeutter lived up to the noble ideal of what it means to be a statesman. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Cristena and the family.”
LINCOLN, Neb.- "It's very important for them to show that we resisted for thousands of years and trying to preserve our culture and we can do it here in the United States too", says Hadi Pir,Yazidi Cultural Center Director.
The Yazidi community held a "Welcome Home" grand opening today for their brand new cultural center in Lincoln.
Lincoln hosts one of the largest yazidi community in North America. The Yazidi community turned to America for freedom and peace.
"When you have been faced with a genocide in the 24th centry, something as small as having a center in america where people can come and re-connect with their people is so important",says Laila Khoudeida, Director of Women Affairs at Yazda.
The Yazidi Cultural Center was started in Lincoln so familes could build a strong foundation and bring the community together so that they can be better established in the United States.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry played a role in making the Yazidi Community Center possible.
"They have the right to be able to return, they have the right to be able to be protected, they have the right to be intergrated in goverments structures that allow for them to have a stable future",Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.
The Community Center will offer english as a second language classes as well as citizenship classes and assistance with immigration papers. The center will also offer classes so that yazidi children can come to learn to read and write in their own language so that it doesn't get lost.
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Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) national and regional leaders concluded two days of policy-level consultations with key State Department officials and Members of Congress, as part of a nationwide advocacy campaign aimed at leveraging America’s political transition to advance a broad array of Armenian American policy priorities.
ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian led the delegation, which included ANCA Eastern Region Chair Steve Mesrobian, ANCA Western Region Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. and national board member Ken Hachikian. They were joined by ANCA staff, including Government Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian. Among the policies advanced during their meetings were expanded U.S.-Armenia relations, security and freedom for the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), justice for the Armenian Genocide, and support and safety for Middle Eastern Christian communities. During each of these meetings, the ANCA also raised awareness about the upcoming April 21st release of the Armenian Genocide-era epic film, “The Promise.”
“During this time of national transition, it’s particularly important for our community to remain actively engaged, holding policy discussions with Administration officials, exploring legislative strategies with senior Senators and Representatives, and expanding our cooperation with our coalition partners,” noted ANCA National Board Member and ANCA-ER Chair Steve Mesrobian.
“Working, on a bipartisan basis, our local chapters, regional leaders, and Washington office are leaning in to the new realities of our nation’s capital, creatively and concretely advancing the full array of Armenian American policy priorities – a strong Armenia, a free Artsakh, and a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide,” noted ANCA WR Chair Nora Hovsepian.
At the State Department, the ANCA held policy meetings with officials responsible for a range of regional areas and issues, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bridget Brink, who is responsible for the Caucasus, among other regions, and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Libby, who plays a lead role in handling U.S.-Turkey relations. On Capitol Hill, the ANCA leadership met with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Chairman and Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), respectively, House Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Brad Sherman (D-CA), and the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Human Rights Karen Bass (D-CA). They also consulted with the bipartisan Co-Chairs of the Armenian Caucus including Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Jackie Speier (D-CA), David Trott (R-MI) and David Valadao (R-CA). Meetings were also held with Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who led the unanimous passage of H.Con.Res 75 in the previous Congress, a measure, backed by the ANCA, that condemned the genocide against Christians, Yezidis and other minorities in the Middle East.
ANCA leaders held a working dinner with the senior leadership and staff of In Defense of Christians, led by President Toufic Baaklini, to discuss expanding efforts to address the ongoing violence against Christian and other minority communities in the Middle East. The ANCA joined with IDC in co-hosting their 2016 convention, which brought together hundreds of citizen advocates from across the U.S. in support of a broad range of issues, including the protection of Christian communities in the Middle East and U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
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1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Jeff Fortenberry was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2004 to serve Nebraska’s First Congressional District. His work in Congress is rooted in the belief that the strength of our nation depends on the strength of our families and communities. Jeff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates United States government expenditures. He serves on three subcommittees with importance for Nebraska: Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Jeff previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he placed particular focus on human rights concerns, Middle Eastern affairs, and nuclear weapons non-proliferation. He also represented Nebraska on the Agriculture Committee, where his work on two Farm Bills advanced opportunities for young and beginning farmers and promoted agricultural entrepreneurship.
Prior to serving in Congress, Jeff worked as a publishing industry executive in Lincoln, where he also served on the Lincoln City Council from 1997-2001. Jeff also has significant personal experience in small business, and early in his career he worked as a policy analyst for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jeff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and two master’s degrees, one in public policy. He and his wife Celeste live in Lincoln and have five daughters.
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Enjoyed seeing students from Bishop Neumann this morning after the Nebraska Breakfast. Go Cavaliers!
Wonderful talking to students from Wisner-Pilger this morning. Go Gators!
Great to meet up with seniors from Gross Catholic High School today on the Capitol steps. Go Cougars!
Yezidi refugee Nadira Broka, along with her son Falah Rashoka, was in my Lincoln District Office Monday to tell the story of her son Fayisal
It feels like DST is an attempt to get “extra daylight” without understanding the complex collateral effects of an often-unquestioned American