Monday, April 30, 2007

Norm Coleman – 21st Century Franken Pioneer

The ultimate incumbent’s freebie is the Franking Privilege which allows members of Congress to use government funds to pay for mailings to constituents. Now, I have no problem when my representative uses the Franking Privilege to reply to a question that I have asked … and it is somewhat infromative when a representative sends out a mass mailing summarizing for his constituents the highlights of the a completed session. But, I was offended when Gil Gutknecht used his Franking Privilege to mail to rural voters a glossy brochure on his 10/10 Ethanol legislation … that was target marketing to pander to rural voters for the upcoming election.

As voters realize the pandering, the politicians need to find other ways to expend our tax dollars to let us know what they are doing for us. One new method that is being used is "video news releases" (VNR). The use of VNRs is not without controversy, as the General Accountability Office concluded that the Bush administration had illegally spent taxpayer money from the Medicare Trust Fund.

While the Bush Administration may have paid columnists to write about their programs and used VNRs to peddle the Medicare Part-D program, Norm Coleman may have found the equivalent of the 21st Century Franking Privilege.

Twin Cities media will tell you that Norm Coleman is a press release machine. Unfortunately, the print media will generally want to ask a few questions and edit accordingly. But the television media may be easier to manipulate.

Case in point … KEYC in Mankato has run two VNRs highlighting Coleman in committee functions.
To KEYC, it may seem to be “reporting the news” as all they have to do is follow the tag line and run the footage.
To the viewer, he doesn’t realize that he is being feed a line.

The most recent example was after the Agriculture Committee Hearing on April 24th. Coleman issued a press release .

But somehow, KEYC ran a nice clip of Coleman talking about “the need for dairy groups to work together to strengthen the safety-net for America’s dairy industry”.
Was this news?
Well, to evaluate it, I waited to see what the print media said about the hearing. Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press, Washington Post and New York Times did not deem this hearing to be newsworthy … not one inch of column space ! But maybe KEYC deemed that it was newsworthy since the subject may have interest to its rural viewers … but how come there was no footage of Senator Klobuchar who also sits on the Agriculture Committee?

The other example was on March 6th when KEYC ran another clip presenting Coleman’s Agriculture Committee “face time” discussing school lunches.

Com’n KEYC, you’re being manipulated …. Or is there a bias For Republicans?
See my previous blog commentary for previous examples of KEYC and its favorable presentation of Republicans.

Com’n Norm, your wasting taxpayers monies.
This is not CSPAN where a committee hearing will show all the discussion … from all the elected representatives.
This is pure Norm face time.
This is wrong.
It doesn’t matter if it is being done by a Republican or a Democrat, it is wrong.
Someone has to edit the copy just for your face time and your comment and then distribute it to the media.
You may call it, keeping the public informed … I call it propaganda … and pure campaigning.
When I see this type of media manipulation (or co-operation), even "Fair and Balanced" news reporting doesn't seem so slanted.

Friday, April 27, 2007

For Bachmann, the War on Terror starts in Committee

While Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is vocal supporter for President Bush and the military intervention, the Global War on Terror is fought on many avenues.

After the 9/11 attack, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill stated “If we are going to prevail, it will take the combined efforts of people everywhere in the world to identify people who want to do evil things. While we know that there are military cadres in Afghanistan, there are other people in the world who do their dirty work by providing money to those who want to hurt others.”

Although the Bush Administration is aware of the role that money plays in funding al Qa'ida, it has failed to dismantle terrorist financing networks. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in October, 2005 using the title : Terrorist Financing: Better Strategic Planning Needed. In April, 2006, the House Financial Services Committee examined the findings of the GAO report. At the hearing, the Comptroller General testified that the three agencies have essentially ignored the GAO's recommendations and that the problems outlined in the GAO report continue to persist. Democratic Committee Members at the hearing criticized the agencies for allowing their turf battles to endanger the security of our nation and called upon them to adopt the GAO recommendations to develop an integrated strategy. read more here.

Finally, H.R. 1993 The Counter-Terrorism Financing Coordination Act has been introduced to address these problems and require interaction between the key agencies -- the Departments of State and Treasury. The first hearing will be by the House Financial Services Committee which Congresswoman Bachmann sits. This is a simple bill that has nothing to do with the politics of Iraq War funding. This is a bill that all Republicans and Democrats should co-sponsor … starting with Congresswoman Bachmann.

The Global War on Terror will not end with George Bush’s term. Regardless if the next administration is Republican or Democratic, the State and Treasury Departments need to work to eliminate the terrorist financing networks … those networks are funding the insurgents and assassins whose endgame is based on exhausting our resolve. Bachmann will get to the first to vote on this legislation, so Minnesotans need to hold her accountable.

For more on Counter-Terrorism Funding, see read more in my blog here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Cheney dictating Norm Coleman’s inaction ?

On Rush Limbaugh’s April 5 radio program, Dick Cheney was interviewed :
THE VICE PRESIDENT: “I'm obviously disappointed. I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn't done it”
Earlier in the interview, Cheney stated : “Obviously, she's the Speaker of the House and ought to travel to foreign nations” [snip] “In this particular case, by going to Damascus at this stage, it serves to reinforce, if you will, and reward Bashir Assad for his bad behavior. He's done all kinds of things that are not in the interest of the United States, including allowing Syria to be an area from which attacks are launched against our people inside Iraq. He, obviously, is heavily involved right now in supporting an effort by Hezbollah to try to topple the government of Lebanon. This is a bad actor, and until he changes his behavior, he should not be rewarded with visits by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

So “bad behavior” must be a Cheney code word to tell others not to go to Syria. But since Cheney was not there, he does not know what message Speaker Pelosi conveyed.

Even the editorial page of The Washington Post blasted Pelosi, but what doesn’t get the same attention is a letter in response from Congressman Tom Lantos who was on the trip with her. Describing the meetings of April 3rd, he wrote : “As a part of that delegation and a participant in its every meeting, I would like to set the record straight. [Snip] the Speaker told Assad that Syria must end its support for terrorists, including Hamas and
Hezbollah, if it wants peace talks with Israel.
[Snip] She delivered tough messages to Assad regarding Iraq, Lebanon, and the Hariri assassination tribunal. As the Speaker said during her visit, she supports the Administration's policy goals in Syria [Snip] … constructive dialogue is a critical means of addressing our concerns with Damascus. The Administration's approach has yielded nothing but more Syrian intransigence. Five Republican congressmen have visited Assad this week. Based on the traffic to Syria, a growing number of Republicans and Democrats share the Speaker's misgivings about the White House's ineffectiveness in the region.

My reaction to Pelosi’s trip is that it should have been recognized as America demonstrating its diversity and commitment to promote Israel-Syria peace and discouraging Syria from support terrorist organizations. Think about it – a Holocaust survivor (Lantos), a Muslim (Keith Ellison,) and three Democratic and one Republican Congressmen are lead by a woman to address the most critical issue of modern times. Congress has a responsibility in foreign affairs … after all, the House is budgeting $35.3 billion for the International Affairs.

In my blog entry of of January 23,2007, I encouraged Norm Coleman to follow the path of Senators Arlen Specter, Bill Nelson, Christopher Dodd and John Kerry and visit Syria first hand. They visited Syria this past December and Specter after meeting with Bashar Assad, stated "Assad stated an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the U.N. doctrine of land-for-peace. "

Why wasn’t Norm Coleman there ? Well, would going to Syria interfere with his ability to attend a $100 per person fund raiser offered by Ventura County California on his behalf on April 5th ?

It’s too bad that we have a Senator that is too addicted to soliciting monies for a re-election campaign, then pursuing a dialogue with the other countries. Funny how in his “Bringing People Together to get things done” campaign for US Senate in 2002, he stressed the need to “put aside partisan politics and listen to the average person.” Well, he doesn’t have to listen to me, but how about the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group ?

The 9/11 Commission Report tells us that investing in international programs today will help reduce the costs of having to engage military for humanitarian or other reasons in troubled regions in the future.

The Iraq Study Group encourages high level diplomacy stating "In diplomacy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests."

Cheney’s statements and the media’s proliferation only help to discourage Coleman from doing his job as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Coleman needs to realize that Bush is a lame duck and there will be a new administration in place after the 2008 elections.

It’s time to shake the shackles of Cheney and go to Syria.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bush defies Constitution and Senate, AGAIN !

Maybe Mark Kennedy was right when he said that the Senate does not need another attorney. But I don’t think a Doctorate in Jurisprudence (or for that matter a Doctorate in Remedial Reading) is required to see that President Bush has misread the Constitution.

Once again, Bush is exerting Executive Authority when the Constitution clearly intended that the Senate participate in their “Advice and Consent” responsibility. There was a reason for the length of the terms … House is two years so that Congressmen would be responsive to the immediate needs of the people … the President for four years … and the Senate for six staggering terms so that they would extend longer than the President’s term.

Bush’s latest excursion beyond his scope is in Article II, Section 2.2 of the US Constitution:
He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.
The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

The process is clear. The President nominates and the Senate confirms.

Originally Congress was thought to be a citizen legislature and it was not uncommon for it to be in session for only half the year and the other half as citizens attending to their personal businesses. The Founding Fathers recognized the necessity for continuation of government and included a provision to allow appointments that occurred during the recess period to be filled until the end of the Congressional term. Since the 20th Century, Congress is essentially in year-round session. The Senate declares a “recess” but in actuality it is a time period when they are just not voting on legislation. John McCain was certainly not “vacationing” in Iraq last weekend … more likely he was “fact-finding”. Senator John Thune held a field hearing of the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Ag Committee on April 4th in Brookings while other Senators had informative sessions with their constituents such as Amy Klobuchar who participated in Connecting with Government: Public Forums with Minnesota's Elected Officials.

Yesterday, while the Senate was in recess until April 10th, Bush made a number of recess appointments. One has gotten a lot of publicity – Sam Fox as Ambassador to Belgium. Fox was nominated by Bush on January 9 but pulled March 28th, Bush withdrew his nomination. During the White House new briefing, Bush’s spokesperson was asked about it.

Did senators threaten to put holds on him…

PERINO: I don’t know. I do know that they were — his nomination would not have passed today if the vote had been called up.

And why not let the vote go ahead?

PERINO: We just decided to withdraw his name.”

So, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (which Norm Coleman sits) was scheduling a vote, Bush pulls the nomination and waits until the lights go out in the Senate to make a recess appointment.

The Fox nomination is a clear example of Bush’s rejection of the Senate’s Constitutional duty … yet, technically since his nomination was pulled, one could argue that the vacancy became open during the “recess” period and Bush was within the guidelines.

But that is not the only recess appointment that Bush made. On November 13, 2006, Andrew Biggs was nominated to be Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, however the Republican-controlled Senate under Senate Rule XXXI did not approve his nomination. On January 9, 2007, Bush re-nominated Biggs.

In February, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus announced that “ It’s time to move on to a real discussion about the long-term finances of Social Security and the Federal budget. ” Further, Baucus stated “Mr. Biggs has championed Social Security privatization in the past, and he continues to think it’s a good idea today. It’s a bad idea to give the number-two position at the Social Security Administration to someone who still supports this failed proposal. Baucus concluded that the Biggs nomination would not be addressed by the committee.

Besides Baucus philosophical concerns of how Biggs would lead the department, there was also allegations Biggs violated a federal ban on congressional lobbying by federal employees when he edited the prepared testimony for a lobbyist [named Derrick Max] appearing before Democratic Policy Committee Social Security hearing.

This is not the first time that Bush has used recess appointments – most significantly, John Bolton to be the United Nations Ambassador. And Bush is not unique … Clinton did the same thing.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee with Coleman, thinks the appointment may have violated Senate rules. "I seriously question the legality of the president's use of the recess appointment authority in this instance. I intend to seek an opinion on the legality of this appointment.

The motivation for the replacement of the Gonzales-8 US Attorneys was to be able to utilize a provision in the Patriot Act that allowed the Attorney General to make appointments without Senate confirmation. Once again, another example of the Executive Branch assuming powers from the Legislative Branch.

It’s time for Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar to address this issue … it should not matter if the President is a Republican or Democrat. Everything may change as a result of the 2008 election, so now is the time for the Senate to exert is responsibility. Two actions should be taken :
1. A Sense of the Senate Resolution needs to be passed informing the President that this is a violation of his authority.
2. A lawsuit should be intiated to have the Judicial Branch interpret the Constitution once and for all.

Link to news story