Sunday, October 28, 2007

Minnesota Loses while Pawlenty Backs Bush’s Ineffective Sanctions

Today’s Star-Tribune reports that “A deal with Indian company Essar Global to build a $1.6 billion taconite mill on the Iron Range may be on the rocks, just three days after it was announced, because of the company's developing ties with Iran.”

Earlier, the Star-Tribune reported : BANGALORE, INDIA - Gov. Tim Pawlenty's trade trip took a welcome turn Thursday as the governor learned that Indian firm Essar Global has closed on its acquisition of Minnesota Steel Industries and will proceed with plans to build a $1.6 billion taconite-to-steel mill on the Iron Range.[SNIP] "We are talking to them about timetables and about their expectations about what they expect from the county, the Iron Range Resources Board, and the state," Pawlenty said of Essar, adding he is hopeful that construction can begin early next year.

Yet, just a day before Reuters described the Iran project: “The facility, estimated to cost $8-$10 billion and which would be the first foreign-invested downstream project in sanctions-hit Iran, will boost the OPEC member's stagnant refining sector that is struggling with petrol shortages.” [SNIP] “Essar, owned by the Mumbai-based Ruias family, will take a 60 percent equity stake in the project with Iran taking the rest, said the Tehran-based and India-based sources.
"The priority of the new refinery will be to meet domestic gasoline and diesel requirements, and we will export the surplus products," said an India-based source familiar with the deal. ”


Pawlenty should be personally embarrassed by this episode.

Why wasn’t Pawlenty briefed by the US State Department prior to his visit to India ?
Pawlenty was previously scheduled to dine privately with the company's controlling Ruia family prior to the announcement of the MSI deal. He should have known about the company's Iran plans as Reuters reported in January that an Essar official stated the company wanted to strengthen its relations with Iran and was looking to buy into Iranian exploration and production blocks to help meet electricity needs for its planned steel plant.

This should have been a RED FLAG.

As mentioned in my previous commentary Coalition of the Only there is a 1996 US law which mandated action against any foreign company that prop up Iranian Government by investing more than $40 million there.

DUH. 60% of $8 Billion is more than $40 million. This was going to be a problem regardless of Bush’s ineffective sanctions.

What Pawlenty and residents of the Iron Range are learning is that sanctions hurt America.
Does anyone think that Iran will not be able to get foreign investment ?
America tried and failed to get pipeline project terminated between Iran and India. It is possible that Krupp-Thyssen may not pursue a steel production project with Iran, but that just opens the door for Essar. Read my commentary cited above for Russia's and India's plans. America has had a variety of sanctions against Iran since the 1980’s and even supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. And we don’t seem to be able to get compliance … even from ourselves as The New York Times reported in September : officials acknowledge that the United States has not carried out existing Security Council penalties on several companies linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs

It’s time to end these ineffective sanctions.

Candidate George Bush spoke how he would act as President I view free trade as an important ally in what Ronald Reagan called ''a forward strategy for freedom.'' The case for trade is not just monetary, but moral, not just a matter of commerce, but a matter of conviction. Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy. There are no guarantees, but there are good examples, from Chile to Taiwan.

As Baron de Montesquieu wrote in his 1748 work, The Spirit of the Laws, “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

Democratic candidate for President, Senator Chris Dodd recently observed the United States' most potent weapon against totalitarianism is the influence of ordinary American citizens. They are some of the best ambassadors we have.

Simply stated -- Trade is a building block for peace.
Yet Bush’s sanctions strategy is depriving Minnesotans of being the Ambassadors of Peace that we could be. If only President Bush would remember the words of Candidate Bush Freedom is not easily contained. Once a measure of economic freedom is permitted, a measure of political freedom will follow.

Governor Pawlenty should work with Senator Coleman and the other Republican leaders to change this ineffective stategy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

IRAN SANCTIONS : The Coalition of the Only

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iran President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and reached a number of agreements involving economic and political affairs.

Of the significant items are listed in the Putin/Ahmadinezhad agreement include :
--- development of oil and gas fields in Iran, including the Southern Pars gas field, and creating in Iran industrial facilities to produce, store and export natural gas.
--- interest in continuing cooperation in the energy sector, including the modernization of thermal and hydro-electric power plants built with Russia's help and the construction of new ones, including the Tabas coal thermal power plant in Iran.
--- the construction and launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be carried out in accordance with the agreed timetable and in full compliance with the requirements of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
--- a contract to supply Iran with five Tu-204-100 aircraft
--- confirming their readiness to expand cooperation with the aim of building a fairer and more democratic world order which would ensure global and regional security and create favourable conditions for stable development. It was stressed that such a world order should be based on collective principles and the supremacy of international law with the United Nations Organization playing a central coordinating role, while any international and regional conflict and crises should be settled in strict compliance with the UN Charter and norms of international law.

On Thursday, October 24, the Bush Administration announced new sanctions (while it needs to be noted that existing sanctions have not worked. )

The Russian / Iran agreement shows why sanctions have not – and will not - work.

If Bush really wanted sanctions that would work, it would not be America announcing the sanctions but instead, it would be in concert with other countries and business enterprises. If the French oil company, Total SA, or the French automaker Renault, or Shell/Royal Dutch, or a consortium of international businesses announced their disapproval of Iran that would mean something.
Why haven’t the Bush Administration pushed “our friends” harder ? It’s all about business.
But this is nothing new. The Clinton Administration failed in its trade sanctions efforts despite a 1996 US law which mandated action against any foreign company that prop up Iranian Government by investing more than $40 million there.

And Russia is not alone in willingness to work with Iran.
Look at recent actions by the two countries that America has combat troops engaged in the Global War on Terror – Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Thursday, October 18th, the New York Times reported that Iran would build and an electric power-generating plant in Sadr City and “also agreed to provide cheap electricity from its own grid to southern Iraq, and to build a large power plant essentially free of charge in an area between the two southern Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.”
On Saturday, October 20th, Afghanistan hosted the Council of Ministers (COM) of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) meeting at which Afghan President Hamid Karzai emphasized the friendly ties between Iran and Afghanistan (it should be noted that Iran provides financial aid to the Afghanistan government.)

Turkey, UAE and even India have lucrative business interests in Iran.
How ironic it is that Bush announced on July 18,2005 a civil nuclear agreement with India - although it never signed the Non-proliferation Treaty and even developed nuclear weapons. Now, India is facing internal questions regarding supporting America as one of its leading political party is demanding that India not comply with America’s sanctions.

In short, cooperation will be largely symbolic and circumvented by companies and countries.

It’s time America reject politicians that advocate pseudo-punishment of sanctions.
They don’t work and don’t address the real issue.

With Iran, the real issue is nuclear weapons. Iran says it wants nuclear power but not nuclear weapons. We can debate whether Iran’s words are true, but why not – to quote Ronald Reagan – “trust but verify”. Nuclear power is not nuclear weapons. To obtain nuclear weapons, fissile material is needed. Controlling fissile material is essentially the proliferation question. Sadly, the US stands virtually alone in objecting to control of this material. While the world voted overwhelmingly to control fissile material, the US blocked a UN resolution that would have created a verifying body. The vote was 147 to 1 (the USA) with two abstentions. Hence, it is not surprising, that as noted above, that Putin and Ahmadinezhad are pushing for UN involvement.

If they can accept a verification procedure, isn't that a good first step ?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Questioning Priorities : Sioux Gift and University of Minnesota Football

Like a Golden Gopher football game, you must look beyond the score.

The headline was that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is donating $10 million for the Gophers' new $288 million football stadium.

It’s great that the monies dirived from Mystic Lake Casino are going to “benefit” a state resource.
But somehow it raises a number of questions.
-- In 2005, didn’t Governor Pawlenty demanded that tribes pay the state $350 million or risk losing their casino monopoly ? $10 million seems like small pocket-change.
-- If Mystic Lake Casino revenues are estimated to be between $600 million and $1 billion a year, once again doesn’t $10 million seem small ?
Remember the revenue is annual, but the donation is a one-time expense.
-- The first priority from the state Education Department for 2008 spending is $59.21 million for funding for the Red Lake School District for new facilities renovation and other investments. Since 1992, the Red Lake School District has received $51.6 million in state bonding for schools. source It should be recognized that the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has given $100 million to various charities in the past five years including $1 million dollars to the Red Lake Nation. Will this donation stymie any criticism from some legislators and Governor Pawlenty about the tribe not doing enough to share its wealth?

But hidden below the headline is the notation that another $2.5 million will be donated to develop a scholarship fund for Indian students. The university will match the $2.5 million.

That’s where the monies need to go … to scholarships and research … not to plazas and stadium construction.
Those scholarships will be an investment in the future and a better State of Minnesota.

It’s great to support a college football program, but that football program will produce few jobs and tax resources for the state.
The state needs to be cultivating strong engineering programs for the future ... for example to support fuel cell technology.
Fuel cell systems require sophisticated manufacturing in ceramics, polymers, metalworking, electrochemistry, electronics and other subsystems … and that means jobs.
That industry is still in its developmental stage and Minnesota seems to be far behind. The State of Ohio has proclaimed itself the leader. Yes, Ohio State has a good football team, but must they also lead in innovation?

Do a quick Google search on the terms “Pawlenty Fuel Cell” and you will be disappointed.
Yes, the Governor does have his Next Generation Energy Initiative but the NextGen Energy Board seems to be focused on agriculture and natural resource sustainability. This is sad not only for the University of Minnesota, but also for Minnesota State University – Mankato which has a strong Center for Automotive Research (CAR) program.

Just as congratulations are due when the Golden Gophers win a football game, the missed opportunities must also be recognized.
As the Gophers "won" a donation from the Sioux, it was not the largest donation awarded last week.
The University of Cincinnati on Thursday link announced that Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) would receive a donation valued at more than $420 million of computer software and hardware from a consortium of businesses. Earlier this month, it was announced that Wayne State University's engineering school stands to receive a contribution of sophisticated software and equipment, possibly worth more than $300 million link . To date, forty universities already are PACE institutions …and shouldn’t Minnesota colleges be striving for that ?

So as we THANK the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community for their donation, we need to ASK the Governor to do more. Heck, it’s just about the State’s future … not a Bowl Game.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Norm Coleman & Betty McCollum should lead Desmond Tutu protest

The influence and financial power of the Israel lobby appears to be affecting all aspects of foreign policy and now potentially intimidating Free Speech here in Minnesota.

Just as concerning as their impact on foreign policy, the decision by the College of Saint Thomas to deny permission for Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu to give a speech is a surrender of the public desire to hear all viewpoints.
Archbishop Tutu's visit is being organized by youthrive, a nonprofit organization that provides youth with leadership and service-learning opportunities, especially around the concepts of peace building, social justice, anti-racism, human and environmental rights, and ethical leadership.
The topic of his visit is "Making friends out of enemies."
The Strib reports it : was scuttled by university officials who did not want to offend the Jewish community over the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The Pioneer Press reports : that Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas pointed to a 2002 speech Tutu made in Boston that was pointedly critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, including a passage where he referred to a "powerful" Jewish lobby in the U.S., which she said invoked a stereotype of Jewish power, and another where he asked aloud if Jews had forgotten that God cares about the downtrodden.”

The headline was that Tutu said “Israel is like Hitler and apartheid.”
But if you read the text of his speech, although Hitler’s name is mentioned, the context must be considered. link People are scared in this country [the U.S.] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful – very powerful. Well, so what? This is God’s world. For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: What is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgment.
We should put out a clarion call to the government of the people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is God’s dream, and you will be able to live amicably together as sisters and brothers.

My reading is that the challenge in his speech was the same as it would have been in the 2008 speech - "Making friends out of enemies."

When will people stop referencing Hitler in speeches ?
The Rochester Post-Bulletin criticized Norm Coleman for his comment concerning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being invited to Columbia University "I think it's terrible," Coleman said. "Would we be toasting and providing forums for Hitler?"
The P-B assessment is that “America can't boast of democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press while squelching the views of those who disagree with us. The rest of the world is watching, and there are those who will seize on any opportunity to shout "Hypocrites!" at the top of their lungs.
IF Tutu’s comments were as headlined, St. Thomas should have stilled allowed him to present his views and confront his critics. But after reading his complete speech and promotion of peace, it is obvious that St. Thomas errored.

So who should lead the charge to right this wrong. I nominate Senator Norm Coleman and Representative Betty McCollum.

Both Coleman and McCollum have had the opportunity to recognize Tutu’s efforts at the PSI/YouthAIDS Annual Gala Faces of Africa in 2005 … three years after his Boston speech. McCollum also knows first hand how words and threats can be used by the “powerful” Jewish lobby … despite having a solid pro-Israel voting record, since she opposed one bill in committee an AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) representative stated "McCollum's support for terrorists would not be tolerated". Hardball to say the least.

So how vocal will Coleman and McCollum support free speech ?
Time will tell.
Let us not worry about "offending the Jewish community" but instead reaching-out to all communities. After all, the theme is "peace building, social justice, anti-racism, human and environmental rights, and ethical leadership" ... a theme that needs constant preaching in today's turbulent world "where peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Norm Coleman votes for Enragement – not Engagement – AGAIN !

On September 26, Senator Norm Coleman affirmative vote on Roll Call Vote 349 was a vote against diplomacy. The item was a Sense of the Senate Resolution offered by Senate radicals regarding Iran.

Was this resolution offered as a knee-jerk reaction to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visit to Columbia University (which Coleman criticized and the Rochester Post-Bulletin Editorial Department then criticized Coleman) ?
I would like to think that the delibrative body (that the Senate is supposed to be,) would have had this debated in the Foreign Relations Committee.
Coleman is a member of that Committee .
If so, that resolution may not even have made it out of committee.
When you see that 8 members voted against the resolution ( Biden, Boxer, Dodd, Feingold, Hagel, Kerry, Lugar and Webb ) including both the Ranking Democrat and Republican leaders, that tells me that people that know about diplomacy, question this action.

Coleman once again votes to enrage other countries and not use diplomacy to engage them.

This is sad.

Cooperation is possible.

As the Washington Post reported : Since al-Qaeda fighters began streaming into Iran from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Tehran had turned over hundreds of people to U.S. allies and provided U.S. intelligence with the names, photographs and fingerprints of those it held in custody, according to senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials.

But not if the Bush Administration is unwilling to respond when Iran has offered.
It has been reported that Iran in May 2003 sent word that it would consider far-reaching compromises on its nuclear program, relations with Hezbollah and Hamas and support for a Palestinian peace agreement with Israel, but Rove and Rice did not respond.

Bush’s Axis of Evil speech branded Iran -- but not bin Laden and al-Qaeda whom attacked America.

Iran may not be America’s ideal world partner, but Coleman’s own review of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program should prove that sanctions do not work. Iran’s President may be a “nut job”, but he is not the power … Iran is a theocracy which controls the military … and Ahmadinejad will be up for election in 2009 and the moderates may vote him out … unless America continues to make him a “rock star” in the Muslim world.

For Coleman who likes to project an image of someone who is committed “ to working across party lines to get things done", it’s time to put those words into action …. Heck, I just wish he would listen to Dick Lugar.

Lastly, a salute to Minnesota's junior Senator, Amy Klobuchar, who voted against this legislation.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Coleman, Dems wrong on Iraq Federation Vote

On Wednesday, September 26th, Senator Norm Coleman broke with the majority of his Republican collogues to vote on Senate Amendment 2997 to express the sense of Congress on federalism in Iraq.

The Democrats who supported this were wrong and so is Senator Coleman.

First, if Iraq is to be a sovereign nation, it should decide how it should be structured. How would America feel if a foreign country recommended that the United States be broken up ? Based on GDP, California and Texas would be in the top ten in the world, so what if they wanted to be there own country? Oh, don’t worry, we in Minnesota, being the equivalent of Norway, could be number 56 in world rankings. Should we disband and each become our own entity ? No more Red State –v- Blue State ?

Iraq’s political leaders have not appreciated the Senate’s vote. In fact, The Associated Press reports “U.S. Embassy rips Senate plan on Iraq”
In a highly unusual statement, the U.S. Embassy said resolution would seriously hamper Iraq's future stability. "Our goal in Iraq remains the same: a united, democratic, federal Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself," the unsigned statement said. "Iraq's leaders must and will take the lead in determining how to achieve these national aspirations. ... attempts to partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means into three separate states would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed," it said. The statement came just hours after representatives of Iraq's major political parties denounced the Senate proposal. The Kurds in three northern Iraqi provinces are running a virtually independent country within Iraq while nominally maintaining relations with Baghdad. They support a formal division, but both Sunni and Shiite Muslims have denounced the proposal. At a news conference earlier in the day, at least nine Iraqi political parties and party blocs — both Shiite and Sunni — said the Senate resolution would diminish Iraq's sovereignty and said they would try to pass a law to ban any division of the country. "This proposal was based on the incorrect reading and unrealistic estimations of Iraq's past, present and future," according to a statement read at a news conference by Izzat al-Shahbandar, a representative of the secular Iraqi National List.
On Friday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that "dividing Iraq is a problem, and a decision like that would be a catastrophe."

Second, breaking up the country made actually lead increases in the Iraqi Civil War.
The national government needs Senate support … not interference.
Al Qaeda is the “poster boy” enemy, but the real problem is corruption and division within the country.
LA Times reports : BAGHDAD -- Iraqi and U.S. special forces have arrested at least 59 army officers and enlisted men accused in killings, bombings and kidnappings in the latest case linking elements of the Iraqi army to sectarian militias and criminal gangs, authorities announced Wednesday. [SNIP] The U.S.-Iraqi raid Tuesday on the Defense Ministry's military academy in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Rustamiya provided the latest evidence of the Iraqi army's continuing struggle to weed out lawless elements. Authorities said the academic dean was the ringleader of a criminal gang on campus. The group was wanted in connection with killings, bombings and kidnappings, including the slaying two years ago of the school's director, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. [SNIP] This month, the U.S. military arrested an Iraqi commander suspected of expelling Sunnis from neighborhoods and ordering attacks on American soldiers. The officer had led the Baha Araji battalion, a special unit created by the Defense Ministry under pressure from Sadr loyalists in government.[SNIP] The leadership of one of the top-rated units in the Iraqi military, the 2-2 battalion, was arrested on charges of homicide and kidnapping in the spring. Its members were accused of working in tandem with the Mahdi Army in east Baghdad.

Earlier A/P reported on the killing by Al Qaeda of Sheik Abu Risha, the leader of the new Sunni alliance in Al Anbar: Lt. Col. Jubeir Rashid, an Iraqi police officer in Anbar, said Friday that “Abu Risha's security chief, Capt. Karim al-Barghothi, confessed al-Qaida in Iraq had offered him $1.5 million for the slaying but that he was arrested before he could collect the money.”

Based on these examples, if Iraq was broken up, these "gangs" would become mini-military powers.

Third, if Iraq is broken up, it will cause more havoc for the neighboring countries … notably the Sunnis in Saudi Arab, the Shiites in Iran, as well as Jordan and Syria (which are already overrun with refugees/immigrants).

IF the US Senate wants a stable Iraq, it needs to support engagement with Iraq’s neighbors and not enragement with Iraq’s Parliament.