Bill introduced by Julie Slama on civics education easily advances in Nebraska Legislature after filibuster ends

LINCOLN — State legislators easily advanced a bill aimed at increasing civics education on Tuesday after ending a filibuster led by State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

Legislative Bill 399, introduced by State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, advanced on a 42-3 vote after senators invoked cloture to end debate.

The bill, which awaits two more rounds of discussion, would revamp a state law dealing with civics education and American government that dates to 1949.

Among other changes, LB 399 would repeal language that now calls for schools to instill “love of liberty, justice, democracy and America” in the hearts and minds of students. In its place, the bill would require that students get the chance to become “competent, responsible, patriotic and civic citizens.”

Chambers has fought the measure, calling it a propaganda piece. Among his objections, he pointed to sections dealing with “American heroes.” Most of those heroes, such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, were slaveholders, he said.

At one point during the debate last week, Chambers referred to the flag as “a rag,” which inspired a backlash from some in the public, as well as an impassioned defense of the flag by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, a decorated veteran.

U.S. StratCom chief warns of need for military to ‘go fast,’ take smart, ‘informed risks’

WASHINGTON — The head of U.S. Strategic Command warned lawmakers Tuesday that America has become too timid.

Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the country needs to recapture the ability to “go fast,” an ability that produced the most technologically advanced military in the world.

“Over my 38 years in military service I’ve watched as our nation has collectively developed an increasingly unhealthy expectation of trying to remove all risk from everything that we do,” Hyten testified. “The challenge I’ve issued to my command is go break down the bureaucracy, take some smart risks, informed risks. … And we have to move fast. It’s critical if we are to stay ahead.”

More specifically, he stressed the importance of preserving and modernizing the nuclear triad — the three-legged system of nuclear-armed submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Each leg has its own advantage, he said. While some have questioned the necessity of ICBMs today, Hyten said they pose a crucial targeting problem for adversaries who would have to independently target hundreds of missiles in order to take them all out.

He also talked about the challenges posed by adversaries exploring new nuclear capabilities — from hypersonic delivery platforms to unmanned underwater vehicles — and the need to respond to those potential threats.

Hyten leads StratCom, which has its headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha. Hyten told the committee he plans to focus this year on the continued operation and modernization of America’s nuclear capabilities, new responsibilities overseeing command and control of those capabilities and the transition to a new space-focused organization.

Hyten has pushed back against calls to rein in spending on nuclear weapons. He said Monday that money represents a relatively small percentage of overall defense spending and that nuclear deterrence is the most significant element of national defense.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee who has focused on nuclear modernization. In response to her questions, Hyten said there is no intelligence to support cutting U.S. nuclear forces.

“Is it your view that taking such actions would make us more vulnerable and reduce our ability to deter threats?” Fischer asked.

“It would significantly reduce our deterrent,” Hyten said.

Hyten also was asked about the potential of cyber threats. At one point, he observed that during his 27 months on the job he hasn’t once lost connectivity with the nuclear force.

“That shows you how resilient, reliable and effective the current command and control system is,” Hyten said. “But what concerned me about it is I really can’t effectively explain that to you. Because it’s been built 50 years ago through different kinds of pathways, different kinds of structures.”

It’s clear those systems will have to be replaced in about a decade, he said, and the challenge is how to replace ancient equipment with modern technology that might actually be more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“One of the great things about being so old is the cyber threats are actually fairly minimal,” he said.

Hyten also noted that StratCom is poised to start moving into its new headquarters at Offutt with the hope of an opening ceremony in October. “That will be a big day because we’ll be able to do our mission even better,” he said. “That will become the hub of nuclear command and control.”

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