Thursday, September 25, 2008

MN-01 : Walz Should Teach a Class in Fiscal Responsibility

Before Congress could have an opportunity to weigh in adding $700 billion to our national debt, they had a vote to add $70 billion for the next year. So how did the self-identified fiscal conservatives - John Kline (R-MN-02) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) – vote ? They voted for it. In opposition were Tim Walz (D-MN-01) and Collin Peterson (D-MN-07). The bill passed by a large majority with only 30 Democrats standing in opposition (or in support of fiscal responsibility.) It was the easy political choice … it wasn’t fiscally prudent but being fiscally prudent won’t get you as many votes if it means that voters might be told by their opponent that the vote would be classified as a tax increase.

Walz has been down this road before.
He knows the Ron Carey and the MN-GOP will recycle their press release from the last time this legislation was approved. “Tim Walz promised to stand up for the middle class during his campaign but it’s clear he didn’t really mean it. With his vote against bringing a clean Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch to floor of the House, Walz once more sides with national liberals and against the interests of the First District.”
Hopefully, the Mankato Free Press will once again remind the voters as they did then “Ultimately, the minority Republicans won, utilizing a shrewd political move. They could say Democrats voted against reforming AMT if Democrats did not capitulate to approve the reforms even though there is no money to pay for them. Many Democrats in the House eventually relented, figuring they’d better vote to prevent average Americans from getting hit by the AMT, even if the government can’t pay for it and the vote effectively raises the federal deficit. Some House members, including Rep. Tim Walz, D-1st District, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-7th District, didn’t take the bait and voted for keeping the Paygo rules. Meanwhile, Rep. John Kline, R-2nd District, voted against Paygo, as did Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group, resoundingly thrashed lawmakers unwilling to pay for things they approve. We are just as frustrated but expect to be even more exasperated when the campaigns heat up. As part of the cover, opponents of Paygo will say Walz and Peterson voted for tax increases. We hope voters, who normally have short memories, will have a clearer mind on just what happened last week.

The big difference between last December and now is that the amount just continues to grow … then it was $50 billion and now it is $70 billion.

Ironically, when given the facts, a survey indicate that even Republicans support Walz position.

Fiscal responsibility includes tax fairness. Paying for AMT reform is a key problem. Rolling back the high-income rate cuts and the lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains enacted since 2001 would offset more than half of the revenue loss. If the tax cuts sunset, repealing the deduction for state and local taxes, as proposed by President Bush's tax reform panel, would more than offset the cost of reforming or repealing the AMT. But those choices are not ones that certain fiscal conservative want to address … they would rather ignore the problems … which helped produce today’s financial predicament. They don't even offer their own plan or even find any tax increase acceptable. That's being fiscally irresponsible.

There are many factors that resulted in the current $700 billion bailout proposal, yet I have to wonder if this could have been averted if some reforms had been put in place earlier. One of the points of contention is executive compensation. While the legislation may address “golden parachutes” for top executives, that is a red herring ... the "walk-away pay" may address a few executives, but the problem is deeper. The legislation must also address taxes rates allowed for hedge fund managers and investors who currently pay a tax rate half that applied to ordinary income.

This November, don’t fall for the campaign fodder, look at their votes … Tim Walz has proven that he is willing to confront fiscal responsibilities seriously.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MN-01 –vs— MN-02 : Walz and Kline Should Debate Civic Duty

From a Tim Walz press release :
“I’ve always believed that democracy functions best when people can make informed decisions about the candidates on the ballot,” said incumbent Congressman Tim Walz (MN-01 Democrat). “I think debates are critical to elections because they allow people to directly compare two candidates on the issues. I’m proud of the values I stand for and I believe my vision for the future of southern Minnesota stands in stark contrast to Dr. Davis’ view. I’m eager to ensure southern Minnesotans see the differences between us and I challenge Dr. Davis to join me at three debates.”

Talk about Country First, Walz is rejecting the power of incumbency and seeking an open discussion on the issues critical to our nation’s future. Somehow this smacks of Walz’s background that “civics" is not something taught in a classroom, but needs to be practiced in a democratic society.

From a Steve Sarvi press release :
EAGAN, Minn. – As of this afternoon, Rep. John Kline (R-Lakeville) still had not responded to the Goodhue County United Veterans Organization invitation to participate in a forum on veterans’ issues scheduled for next Monday, Sept. 29.
The Sarvi campaign confirmed Kline’s undetermined status in a phone call with the Goodhue County Veterans Service Office this afternoon. The invitation to the forum is dated July 23, meaning Kline’s office has had almost nine weeks to make a decision about his participation.
Sarvi will be participating regardless of Kline’s presence or absence. The forum is to be held at the Stary-Yerka VFW Post #5727, located at 25 1st Street East in downtown Zumbrota, Minn.
In response to the news about Kline’s undetermined status, Steve Sarvi had the following to say:
We’re creating new veterans every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. I challenge John Kline – who, like me, is a veteran himself – to defend his record and talk about how he plans to care for our veterans – if not at this event, then by working with my campaign to schedule a debate on veterans’ issues. We want to give the men and women who have fought for our country, and their families, a chance to decide who’s going to serve them.

The Second District deserves the same openness that Walz is offering the First District.

Kline’s performance needs to be thoroughly debated and he is doing a disservice by not participating in a debate concerning Veterans issues.
In February, while suicides among veterans were approaching all-time highs, John Kline participated in a hearing held by the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee during which Rep. Kline suggested PTSD is a distraction.
While Kline has “questioned” problems, Walz has led the charge for addressing veterans’ issues.
These problems are not going away. Just today, it was reported that the government plans to substantially increase disability benefits for veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries, acknowledging for the first time that veterans suffering from this less severe version of the Iraq war's signature wound will struggle to make a living.

The Second District deserves the same commitment to Veterans that Walz is offering the First District.
Steve Sarvi will do that.

MN-01 : Davis Poll Reveals Challenger’s Threat

Dr. Brian Davis, Republican candidate for Minnesota’s First District, has commissioned a poll that reveals incumbent Congressman Tim Walz with a commanding 50-32 lead.

The obvious question is why did Davis waste his money on a poll when he could have read Bluestem Prairie and learned why he should lose ?

Let’s look at what Walz has going for him.
Being a former high school teacher, Walz used his “ student council ” to energize the district in 2006 and with 22% of the state’s population being between 18-29; this bodes well for Walz in 2008.
Walz has gotten the endorsement from the NRA. Statewide 41.7 households are gun owners.
Walz was a prime proponent in the passage of the Farm Bill (despite a veto from President Bush). The First District is primarily a rural district. Davis’ performance during the FarmFest debate was less than stellar as the crowd seemed to enjoy Walz’s defense of his support for farmers using wit and knowledge to his advantage.
Walz has listened to Veterans and brought their issues to the forefront during his first term. 10.5% of Minnesota’s households have a veteran.
Statewide, there are more DFLers (Dems) (38% in 2004) than Republicans (35%) leaving 27% as Independents. The inference is that Walz is getting support from Independents while Davis hasn’t even gotten all the Republicans ( not surprising when State Senator Dick Day amassed a third of the votes in the recent primary election. )

Now, let’s look at the poll results from Davis’ prospective.
From the statewide poll, Davis (32%) is underperforming Presidential candidate John McCain (45%) while Walz (50%) is beating Barack Obama (43%). The presidential coattails will certainly come into play in these races, but Davis has a lot to make up.
Also, the poll states that a generic Republican Congressional candidate should get (39%). Nationally and state GOP leaders will have to decide where to invest their monies with the choice being to defend Congressman Jim Ramstad’s MN-03 seat where Erik Paulsen (R) is in a “no clear favorite” dogfight with 30-year old Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (DFL) or send monies to Davis.

So, by all accounts Davis should lose … but that’s why they have elections. Polls are just an indicator of select group of people’s feelings --- that doesn’t meant that those people will actually show up and vote. The Davis poll does not tell us if this is likely voters which is a more reliable measure. Walz’ main challenge is still APATHY. Voters may feel comfortable with Walz and not bother showing up at the polls. Conversely, the Republicans have reasons to be motivated. The anti-Obama crowd is further re-enforced by the anti-Franken voters. With the potential of budget problems at the state level where, all House seats are on the ballot, the Republicans will want to have their voices heard. The First District voted for Republicans solidly in 2004 and may do so again.

Davis’ publishing of this poll may have more of an impact to suppress Walz voters and give Davis a squeaker victory. Be warned … Apathy is the real challenger.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MN-01 : Will Davis Use a Mankato Case to Explain His Health Care Concerns ?

When FBI attorney and whistleblower Colleen Rowley announced that she would oppose John Kline for the Second District Congressional seat for the 2006 elections, voters knew that the Global War on Terrorism would be at the center of their campaigns.
When Brian Davis, a physician associated with the Mayo Clinic, announced that he was seeking to represent the First District for the 2008 elections, I thought that health care would be a prime issue.

Health care is not only a concern for voters individually, but its financial impact weighs heavily on businesses that provide employee benefits and on the Federal budget.

Every voter has questions regarding health care coverage and government involvement, but mine include :
-- How do we get to universal participation (Senator David Durenberger in leading the Minnesota Citizens Panel on Health Care Costs has stated that the resolution of the health care crisis is universal participation) ?
-- How to handle high-risk patients that have pre-existing conditions and unable to procure health insurance ?
-- Should Medicare be subject to means testing ?
-- How do we address the shortage of primary care physicians ? (Specialists – in fields like radiology, orthopedic surgery, cardiology, and other tech fields – take home 2 to 3 times the income of primary care physicians, and have more time off.)
-- How do we reduce the $98 billion a year in excess administrative costs as McKinsey and Company noted in their study ?
--- How do we improve effectiveness of personal physicians ? According to Paul Grundy, MD, Director of Health Care Transformation for IBM says a humanistic, patient-centered approach can cuts costs by 30% and improves outcomes by 20%.
-- And the immediate question of how to fund the Medicare trust fund that covers hospital stays that will start running out in 2011 and may be emptied by 2019 ?

Alas, Dr. Davis has not used the health care as a prime issue in his campaign. His website is extremely lacking in details but he did tell KAAL television "I'd like to see a greater transparency in costs so that individuals can become better informed consumers, I'd like to see us have tort reform, the cost of malpractice is driving doctors and hospitals out of business," says Republican candidate Dr. Brian Davis.

It is disappointing that Davis focuses on malpractice rather than the other aspect of health care.

Essentially, Davis is going down the same road that President Bush has traveled in his successful elections. Although Bush and the AMA used tort reform as a campaign issue, a General Accounting Office report indicated that the crisis was overblown. Malpractice rates were impacted by insurers' losses in their investment portfolios, inadequate reserves to pay claims and artificially low rates set during the 1990s when many companies vied to attract policyholders.

The American Medical News reported that 84% of liability companies reported in 2007 rates held steady or dropped while the lowest rates for internists ($3,375), general surgeons ($11,306), and Ob-Gyns ($20.626), are all in Minnesota. Besides Minnesota, states ranking in low tier are our neighbors -- South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

That stated, malpractice is a serious problem.
But, is it as big as Dr. Davis implies ?

How many malpractice lawsuits may be settled out of court is not readily available, but last week a Blue Earth County jury found a physician liable.
Excerpts from the Mankato Free Press article : The jury’s unanimous award totaled $975,501. The jury awarded $118,001 for past medical expenses, $137,500 for bodily and mental harm, $420,000 for future damages and mental harm, and $300,000 for loss of future earning capacity.
“This was a horrific injury,” said Michael Djordjevich, the plaintiff’s attorney. During the baby’s delivery, her shoulder was injured. The injury, her lawyers argued, will cause lifelong limitations and significantly reduce future earnings. Djordjevich had shown jurors a radiology report that said measurements of the fetus were “suggestive of a macrosomic fetus.” Macrosomia is a medical term describing a fetus or newborn of excessive weight. He said accepted, published medical standards suggest a C-section be done with macrosomic fetuses.
Djordjevich also showed notes made by the obstetrician prior to the delivery in which she suggested she would order a C-section if the labor did not progress well. Djordjevich, using charts of the progression of the labor, said the obstetrician failed to follow her own plans by not ordering a C-section when the labor did not progress as quickly as it should have.

NOTE : The physician’s and family names were omitted in my excerpt but listed in the MFP story as I do not believe that is relevant to the discussion of medical malpractice.

Now, $975,501 is a lot of money … but is it outlandish ?
The $118,001 for past medical expenses is in line with the current Medicare philosophy of not paying for medical errors or mismanagement. The $300,000 for loss of future earnings amounts to less than $7,500 over a normal 40 year working career … if anything that seems small. The concern is that the shoulder, which was injured during the delivery, will experience lifelong limitations … without knowing the extent of the range of motion, it is quite possible that the child may be limited in career opportunities … such as becoming a physician such as Dr. Davis and thus deprived of earning a salary of $411,780 per year … which is more than what the jury awarded.
This jury members did their job … they listened to the testimony and rendered a verdict. In this case, the system worked ... even if my future health insurance rates eventually reflect this verdict.

Instead of crying for tort reform, Dr. Davis should acknowledge that mistakes are made and that is why malpractice insurance is warranted.
Instead of attacking trial lawyers, he should be promoting efforts to get other states to improve to Minnesota’s performance level. It’s not just blind luck that impacts malpractice insurance rates … it’s also by effective management. For example, Minnesota Medical Insurance Company (MMIC) has sponsored aggressive programs focusing on reducing malpractice risks, patient safety, communication, and quality which has attributed to Minnesota's low malpractice rates.
If patients did not have the remedy of lawsuit, the medical community may not be motivated to improve itself.

In July, I wrote about candidate Dr. Davis Prescription for Health Care.
Now, that Dr. Davis is the officially on the ballot, he should inform voters of his past and current relationship with the medical industry.
#1. Davis’ personal financial disclosure form indicated ownership in a pharmaceutical company. Will Davis sell the stock outright ? Senator and Doctor Bill Frist moved his investments into a blind trust and that did not stop a SEC investigation involving sale of his HCA stock.
#2. As a Co-director of the Prostate Cancer Program at the Mayo Clinic and as Vice President of the American Brachytherapy Society, have you ever been compensated (monies or trips) for educational lecturers, participation in seminars, and/or educational research grants from pharmaceutical companies ? From 1997 through 2005, drug makers paid more than 5,500 doctors, nurses and other health care workers in Minnesota at least $57 million. Another $40 million went to clinics, research centers and other organizations. More than 20 percent of the state’s licensed physicians received money.
#3. Will Dr. Davis release for public review his complete income tax records so that voters can determine if any compensation recieved as noted in #2 has been properly recorded ? The Schedule D will provide insight into investments in the medical industry.
#4. Lastly, will he support the McCain health care plan which will make employer-provided health care taxable income for employees (resulting in a average tax increase of $2870 in taxes), deregulating the health care insurance industry and potentially eliminating coverage for 20 million citizens ?

Just as Dr. Davis recommends "a greater transparency” so that individuals can become better informed consumers, voters need the same "transparency” to evaluate his candidacy.

Voters need to know if Dr. Davis will represent the AMA and the pharmaceutical and medical industry ... or the citizens of the First District.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walz makes correct votes on Off-shore Drilling

Before the House passed H.R. 6899, the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, it had to decide whether HR 6709, the National Conservation, Environment, and Energy Independence Act, which Congressman Tim Walz (MN-01) co-sponsored, should be considered. The vote to consider Walz’s bill failed.
Walz stood in opposition of the majority of Democrats and voted with a majority of Republicans to consider his bill. That failing, Walz voted with the Democrats to move forward HR 6899. It should be noted that Republican Jim Ramstad (MN-03) joined Walz in his support for HR 6899 while Republicans John Kline (MN-02) and Michelle Bachmann (MN-06) voted against drilling.

Is HR 6899 (the one that was approved) an inferior bill ?
Depends upon your viewpoint.
For those who have read my blog already realize that I do not oppose drilling, but want a fair return in royalty payments directed to the US Treasury and not to the bordering states. I also oppose subsidies for nuclear power and the oil industry.
HR 6899 is a narrower bill than some of the others being considered and meets my main objectives. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office report “enacting the legislation would reduce future budget deficits (or increase surpluses) by about $3.5 billion over the 2009-2013 period and by about $6.7 billion over the 2009-2018 period.” That’s good. It would repeal $18 billion in oil industry tax breaks and use the money to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. And it would force oil companies to pay additional royalties for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

What’s this mean ?
Not much … Walz’s bill is not dead, just that the House just determined that it wanted to move HR 6709 forward instead.
And more importantly, not much because the Senate must approve it. That is not likely since it has its own version of legislation it may consider plus the clock is running out on the session. Also, the White House has said it will veto HR 6899.

During the debate on Walz’s bill, Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from Hawaii, spoke the truth blasting John Boehner, the Republican Minority Leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, for both pushing legislation that could only be supported by a majority of their own political parties claiming that the bi-partisan HR 6709 that would generate the most support.

To me, Tim Walz and Jim Ramstad get a thumbs-up but Nancy Pelosi gets a thumbs-down.
For Tim Walz, this is just the first step. This bill was largely a to have Democrats go on record supporting some version of off-shore drilling. The Democrats who voted for HR 6899 have now voted for off-shore drilling. They cannot move back from that position. Next term, a more expansive bill ... possibly Walz's will be enacted.
For Jim Ramstad, this is just another example of a responsible Congressman who will be sorely missed in the 111th Congress.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Politics aside, Politicians Praise MN Largest Earmark

It certainly wasn’t a Mark Antony moment ( you know, ”I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him), yet for less than an hour on Monday, September 15th, the poisonous pox of “earmarks” was not acknowledged … no they came to praise the largest “earmark” project to built in Minnesota in a very long time.

It was a good day … no sneering of the evils of “earmarks” … just a spirit of accomplishment … as it should be. In alternating speeches, Republicans and Democrats gushed in a esprit de corps. Yet there were some differences in the scope of how they approached their few moments of allocated time to address the audience. Congresswoman Michele Bachman (R-06) spoke of in her “Minnesota Nice” manner assuring the crowd that private donations will quickly be funding the 35W Remembrance Garden while Congressman Keith Ellison (D-05) saw this as only a minor start on the need to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. There was much praise for the workers who built this project… Congressman Tim Walz (D-01) thanked the rescue workers … and the children who were on the bus as the bridge was collapsing thanked the volunteers with the Salvation Army and Red Cross for all their assistance since the tragedy occurred.

And throughout it all there was no mention that the only members of the Minnesota delegation voting against a funding bill that included $195 million for funding the reconstruction of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis were Representatives John Kline (MN-02) and Michele Bachmann, both Republicans … as that could have been embarrassing since they were both on the podium giving speeches.

My question is : Isn’t this proof that all “earmarks” are not wasteful government spending ?

While Bachmann and Kline are on a “pork-free” diet, they are not recognizing that the “earmark” process actually dispenses monies for needed projects.
Joe Bodell asked the right question … is this a principled stand against pork, or is Kline cutting off his nose to spite his face ? Bodell’s column is dated, but the intent is valid and he reviews the “earmarks” requested by Congressmen Oberstar, Ellison, Kline and Walz. Bodell finds minor problems with the “earmarks” in the Transpiration bill. My conclusion based on reviewing the Defense and HHS funding bills is that Minnesota’s members of Congress are not abusing the system but that Bachmann and Kline are short-changing their Districts and the State. In Bachman and Kline's world, others get a larger share of the pie ... as the pie does not get smaller ... our needs are not served ... but our monies go elsewhere.

In the First District, Congressman Walz is being challenged by Dr. Brian Davis who has campaigned on “earmark” reform.
Walz has been transparent on his funding requests publishing his 47 "earmark" requests for 2009 appropriations.
From Walz’s press release : “While it is likely that only a few of these meritorious projects will ultimately receive funding, I believe it is important for residents of southern Minnesota to be able to see the list of projects I am supporting and I am proud to release this list of local priorities.”
In this way, voters know Walz’s vision for the District’s needs … Dr. Davis needs to tell voters which projects he does not believe should be funded and any that he would add to the list. If it’s “wasteful government spending”, then tell us and if you plan to adhere to a “pork-free diet” tell us that.

For one hour on Monday, “earmarks” were not evil … they were a bridge to improving our infrastructure ... and there are a lot of bridges that need improving.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

John McCain - War and Divorce

I vote on issues and not personalities (even if that disappoints Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager - “This election is not about issues,” Davis said. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”)

Divorce is not a consideration in my evaluation of a candidate.
Yet, when divorce happens, it can be a learning tool that voters can use to see how the candidate responded to the situation. Does the candidate see the causes of the divorce and see the need to prevent the situation from repeating itself … in his own personal life or in others?

While some cite John McCain’s divorce from his first wife, Carol, in 1980 as a “personal deficiency”, it should be noted that McCain has been married to his current wife, Cindy, since 1980 (one month after his divorce was finalized). That’s a long marriage by all standards.

John McCain life has been well documented including his return home as a disabled POW.
Physically, the injuries were evident … but what about the emotional toll?
The toll was felt by the soldier but also by the soldier’s wife and children.

Carol McCain tells her story that includes an endorsement that McCain “is the best man for president.” She holds no bitterness stating yet I have to wonder how the war affected his family relationships.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) report that “Twenty percent of married troops in Iraq say they are planning a divorce. Multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50 percent. These psychological injuries exact a severe toll on military families.”
IAVA supports the creation of new VA programs to provide family and marital counseling for veterans receiving VA mental health treatment.

These emotional problems are not going away. Just this week, Department of Veterans Affairs reported that veterans are killing themselves in record numbers.

While those of in Minnesota’s First District are well aware of Congressman Tim Walz dedication for Veterans and their families, the battles still go on and the next President and his administration will have to address these problems.

What can we expect from a President McCain and Vice President Palin ?

Previously, I wrote “How long have Republicans opposed PTSD ?” , documenting McCain’s lack of support for funding these types of funding. Additionally, McCain was not supportive of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 which was only passed since it was included in the Supplemental Appropriations for war funding. Patrick Campbell, chief legislative counsel for IAVA said "Here you had John McCain opposing a proposal that was endorsed by every veterans' service organization, endorsed by a majority of the Senate and two-thirds of the House, with huge bipartisan support on either side of the aisle, and John McCain said it's too generous."

And what about Alaska’s governor ?
Commenting on Veterans care, Palin said on September 22, 2006 “It's a shame that they have to fight for that. That it's not just a given, that promises made will be promises kept by the state and federal government. It will be my job that, rest assured, the promises in health care and for benefits due them are provided. It's unfair though, and it's disrespectful to make a promise that we can't keep. That being, that we'll provide all health care facilities and services here in the state of Alaska. Unreasonable, disrespectful to make that kind of promise.”
Palin should be concerned. Alaska ranks at the top of military veterans (17.1% according to a 2002 report) and at the top of suicides per 100,000 veterans with 23.6 (according to a 2004 report). Compared to the past, a larger percentage of returning troops are physically or emotionally wounded, says Jerry Jenkins, executive director of Anchorage Community Mental Health Services. "We're seeing a greater increase of kids in need already, because the families have split up," Angie Aiken of the North Star Behavioral Health System says. "Then when the parents return, it's quite difficult for them, because often the parents who are returning are traumatized in some way."
I can find no reporting on this issue of any action being taken by Governor Palin.

But some Governors are taking action on their own. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) pressed leaders of the Montana National Guard to explore its treatment of combat veterans and implement necessary changes. The Guard responded by forming a PTSD task force. After more than a year of study and exploration, the Guard announced it had implemented more than a dozen changes to its system in an effort to address PTSD and traumatic brain injury in returning soldiers. Barack Obama wants the Montana Program to be implemented in every state.

Voters should be less concerned the candidate’s family status and more concerned about the policies they will advance to address the stress that military families experience.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

MN-01 : Walz Challenger Proves Strong in Primary

Following up on my prior commentary, Congressman Walz’s supporters should see a great cause for concern from the Primary Election results. Overall, Walz underperformed from his 2006 primary performance by approximately 20 %. His opponent proved strong … his opponent being Apathy. Now, I know it’s only a Primary and everyone doesn’t participate ( as an Independent voter, I do not vote in partisan contests), but there was no doubt that Dr. Brian Davis was able to excite his core voters to go to the polls.

In the state’s largest county, Olmstead (Rochester) where Walz beat Gutknecht in the November election (by 1848 votes) after trailing him in the primary (195 votes), Davis tallied more votes in a contested party primary than Walz got running unopposed (add Dick Day who received in excess of 1900 votes in the Republican contest and the result indicates this county will be strongly contested.)

Another county that the Republicans showed strongly is Martin County (Fairmont). Gutknecht beat Walz by 1,195 votes in the General Election and Davis once again outpaced Walz (once again, add in Day’s votes and there are a lot of people preferring the Republican Party.) Walz can take some solace in that he actually increased the number of votes he received from the prior Primary Election (the school bond referendum may have brought more voters to the polls.)

For those that think that this is just a primary, are missing fact that the First District has been a Republican base for years.

The Republicans will attack the November elections by focusing on social issues (which will play well in the evangelical western portion of the district) while portraying Walz as “Pelosi’s Pawn in Washington”. As anyone listening to how Sarah Palin is portrayed ( Jet sold on eBay, earmarks, rejecting bridge funding, gas pipeline in progress, etc.) knows that the factual truth is not a perquisite for a campaign. Walz has voted against Pelosi on many issues – Iraq war funding, FISA, Alternative Minimum Tax, and pushed her on ethics and drilling legislation – but the Republicans will not acknowledge that.

The Republicans will not want to promote their economic philosophies based on privatization, deregulation, and lowering of taxes on the wealthy … best categorized as the misguided concept of "trickle down" economics.
Trickle-down, supply-side economic policy hasn't ever made sense: it has left the vast majority of Americans struggling just to stay even. The Labor Department now classifies 1.8 million citizens as "long term unemployed". August’s official unemployment numbers indicate 84,000 jobs were cut by employers in August meaning that 605,000 jobs disappeared for the year.
The median household income in Minnesota fell from $58,363 in 2001 to $55,802 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). Hourly wages haven't kept up with inflation forcing more people to maintain multiple jobs (estimated to be 8.1 million workers or about 5.5% of the total employed population).

The Republicans will blame Walz and the Democratic controlled House as the problem without ever acknowledging the obstructionist and delaying tactics that they have employed.

To the McCain camp we are just being “whiners” and he proposed making the Bush tax cuts (which are especially beneficial to multinational corporations and the wealthy) permanent while proposing that employees with company provided health insurance pay $2870 more per year in income taxes.

Our problem is the not that we need a tax cut, but we need tax fairness.

Voters in the First will have a choice of a neophyte ideologue versus a Congressman who has extended himself to everyone throughout the district.
Voters need to remember Walz efforts on behalf of Veterans, Seniors, Farmers, SCHIP, and working families.
Dr. Davis has not only embraced the Bush tax cuts (not surprisingly for someone making $411,780 salary) but also permanently ending the estate tax.

With this being a Presidential Election year, the Republican base will be engaged and strongly supporting Dr. Davis.
The question for the Walz supporters is, will you educate the apathetic voter ?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Did Bachmann Lead the Platform Fight Against MN Farmers ?

Michele Bachmann convention speech focused on Minnesota Nice …so, how did our guests respond ?
The RNC enacted a platform that says the "U.S. government should end mandates for ethanol and let the free market work." (Note: As previously stated , Congresswoman Bachmann was part of the Platform Committee.)
Responding, Bruce Stockman, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Grower’s Association (MCGA), said "Here in Minnesota I don't know how you could say something more devastating” He said that the policy was seen as somewhat of a slap in the face to Minnesota and the entire Midwest. “It’s my view that so-goes the Midwest goes the election of the president, ” Stockman continued. “To be so opposed to the renewable fuel standard as a platform seems like not a good decision.”
The position marks a major change from the 2004 platform, and ethanol is a key part of reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil yet John McCain supports cutting the mandate that requires 9 billion gallons of biofuels, such as ethanol, be blended into gasoline this year and about 11 billion gallons next year.

What’s the motivation for this change ?
The amount of the subsidy (which was reduced in the last Farm Bill) ?
The Food –versus – Fuel debate ?
The desire to promote domestic drilling versus renewables ?

Since the Farm Bill was so contentious and will be in effect for a few more years, the likelihood of changing the subsidy is not realistic.

There is no easy answer to the Food –versus – Fuel aspect of the debate, but reducing tariffs could increase supply.

That leaves “Drill, Baby, Drill”.

The debate should not be whether to provide subsidies for the ethanol industry, but whether we should be providing sweetheart deals for the established oil industry. Bachmann, who voted against the Farm Bill, and the RNC are picking the international oil industry.

As the New York Times reported … industry analysts who compare oil policies around the world said the United States was much more generous to oil companies than most other countries, demanding a smaller share of revenues than others that let private companies drill on public lands and in public waters.” [SNIP] “ “They are giving up a lot of money and not getting much in return,” said Robert A. Speir, a former analyst at the Energy Department who worked on the report. “If they took that money, they could buy a whole lot more oil with it on the open market.”

Some Republicans see the inequity of the subsidy / royality question. As I noted Alaska has raised its tax rates that it collects from the oil industry. Alaska is not alone, Canada’s Alberta province will require oil and gas companies to pay $1.4 billion more a year in royalties.

Why does the GOP pick the oil industry over farmers ? That will be for the voters to decide if they agree with that concept ... but all Republicans are not the same.

In Minnesota’s First District Republican primary voters will be the first to weigh in. State Senator Dick Day recognizes the huge economic benefit for southern Minnesota stating If there’s any place in the U.S. that the Farm Bill is going to pump money into our economy, it’s the 1st District in Minnesota.”. Conversely, growers will recall Brian Davis’ non-committal support for the Farm Bill during FarmFest while proclaiming strong support for “domestic energy production without government placing too many obstacles in the way in the form of regulations and new taxes, fees or royalties.”

McCain Ignores Minnesota Voter’s Biggest Concern

Poor Dick Day.

He wants to represent Minnesota’s First District in Congress, but every speaker that I heard during the Republican Party’s nominating convention ignored the issue that eight out of ten people say is their biggest concern (according to Day). Now maybe it was mentioned by someone during all the convention speeches but not by Fred Thompson, not Michele Bachmann, not Rudy Giuliani and not Sarah Palin. John McCain barely broached the issue and not in the way that Day and other proponents wanted to hear … unless you consider “we believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential, from the boy whose descendents arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers.” as addressing the issue of illegal immigration.
If anything that could be interpreted as approving a “pathway to citizenship” and recognition that citizenship can be gained by birthright.
I’m sure that Day’s opponent in the Republican Party, Dr. Brain Davis who also supports a tough stance against illegal immigration, was also disappointed.

But that was what this convention was about … ignoring the problems while creating an image that the McCain-Palin ticket will solve our problems.

Immigration was the “hot” issue during the Republican nomination process, but now seems to be forgotten. Instead the chants during the Republican Convention were “Drill, Baby, Drill”. Both issues are important issues, but the emphasis on them is to have “low-information voters” thinking about subjects that will draw them to the Republican column in November.

This emphasis may win an election but not help the country in the long term.
It’s not that the Republicans don’t know what the problems that are impacting us greatly, it’s just that they don’t have solutions that “low information voters” will like.
As President Bush’s ex-speechwriter David Frum writes an article entitled The Vanishing Republican Voter :
What the middle class needs most is not lower income taxes but a slowdown in the soaring inflation of health-care costs. If health-insurance costs had risen 50 percent rather than 100 percent over the Bush years, middle-income voters would have enjoyed a pay raise instead of enduring wage stagnation.”
Frum analysis backs-up my assertion. As I wrote in my commentary when Day was suggesting that Top Issue in MN First District : Immigration ? ? ? ”I suspect that most First District residents would agree that health care and the economy are a greater concern than illegal immigration.
On a personal note, the monthly premium for my health insurance has increased $154.50 in one year (or $1854 in total) … and my spouse and I are in excellent health.
Health care should be the number 1 issue.

(Note : that’s a lot more than my gasoline expenditure.)

John McCain has a plan that the average worker will see an increase of $2870 in taxes to pay for health care benefits that were previously provided by employers as a free fringe benefit. That will only exasperate the problem as workers may want to go without coverage. McCain’s objective is that somehow competition will drive down policy costs that individual families will then purchase. The logic is incomprehensible to me (Note : Dr. Brian Davis subscribes to the “competition” argument.)

McCain’s big line in his acceptance speech was "Change is coming."
Well the first change would be to terminate the “earmark” funding for political conventions as the federal government gives each party $16.4 million for general convention expenses and $50 million for security. That's $112.8 million of taxpayer dollars !
What do the political parties get – besides media attention ?
Money … lotsa money !
The Democratic National Convention host committee raised more than $50 million from private donors; the Republican National Convention committee has said it is shooting for $58 million. Funding to the RNC in Saint Paul included some prominent companies in the health care industry including Medtronic ($1 million), St. Jude Medical ($1 million) and Eli Lilly ($250,000).

Voters need to be ignoring the Convention speeches and television commercials that attempt to brainwash us to embrace "their" issues, and instead ask the candidates what they will do about “our” problems.

But for Senator Day and the others that believe that illegal immigration is still the number one issue, how do you think President McCain will act ?

Lastly, the most glaring comment during the RNC came from Rudy Giuliani who admonished the Democratic Party’s Convention speakers :( "for four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the words 'Islamic terrorism'." ) That comment could equally apply to the RNC convention … in fact, McCain never spoke the name Osama bin Laden or mentioned the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan … which is Ground Zero for Islamic terrorism.

Yes, McCain did acknowledge Iraq … “I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.”.
But Iraq is not Islamic terrorism.
After all, McCain was a prime proponent of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338) which stated that the “ policy of the United States to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.
Iraq is a war caused by a desire for a regime change that was not a part of the Islamic terrorism.

How soon we forget.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

MN-01 : Davis opposes Palin Oil Plan

Dr. Brian Davis’ Letter to the Editor in the New Ulm Journal seeking votes in the September 9th Republican Primary, states his bottom line as “We need to increase domestic energy production without government placing too many obstacles in the way in the form of regulations and new taxes, fees or royalties.
Domestic energy is his primary, if not only, issue.

Since this is a Republican Primary, the comparison to other Republican’s positions tells voters a lot about Davis knowledge of the issue.

John McCain has praised Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) for her knowledge of domestic energy production.
Yet her policies are in stark contrast to Dr. Davis.
In August 2007, Alaska Gov. Palin called state lawmakers into special session to enact her "Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share" plan. The Palin administration said its tax plan would place Alaska about average worldwide in terms of government receipts and it would also end tax credits for past oil field investments.
The legislation that was enacted raised taxes on the oil industry and sent money to struggling consumers. For fiscal year 2008, the state projects that the tax increase Palin pushed will generate an extra $2 billion for the state. This year, she used some of the proceeds to provide a $1,200 rebate to residents as energy prices rose.
The logic is simple. As the price of oil goes up, oil company profits rise. And as profits rise, so does the tax rate on oil production. When prices are $80 a barrel, the tax rate is roughly 37 percent, and the state’s budget runs a slight surplus. When oil hits $120 a barrel, the tax rate reaches about 50 percent of profits.

In many ways, what Palin has implemented on the state level is what Obama and other Democrats have sought as a “windfall profits” tax on oil companies.

Palin, at the state level, recognized that her citizens were not getting a fair share return on the state’s resources. According to Wood Mackenzie, a Scotland-based energy industry consulting firm, tax or other fiscal terms have changed in 28 countries since oil prices began their dramatic climb in 2001. Readers of my blog, know that I chastised Gil Gutknecht and John Kline in 2006 for their votes that did not correct this situation. Now, Davis is staking his campaign on the same misguided philosophy.

A study entitled "State Taxation, Exploration, and Production in the U.S. Oil Industry" concludes that raising oil production taxes has little effect on long-term oil production. The study states "Public officials in oil producing states have an incentive to increase severance taxes because they risk little lost production and stand to gain a substantial amount of tax revenue". It also notes that oil companies would not feel the full brunt of a state tax increase because they can deduct such taxes in figuring their federal corporate income taxes.
The report credits "a well-organized energy industry lobby" for keeping tax rates low.

Davis’ philosophy seems to understand the “energy industry” needs, but not the taxpayers.
Davis is committed to helping the “energy industry” to be able to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Yet once again, Palin’s words should be considered “In advocating for oil development in ANWR, I have never guaranteed that this new domestic production would immediately reduce the price of oil. However, incremental production from the coastal plain should help reduce price volatility in the U.S. Additionally, ANWR development would send a strong message to oil speculators …” (Source : 6/23/08 Letter to Senator Harry Reid.)
Davis has not acknowledged the impact of speculators on oil prices.

Referring again to Davis’ LTE, he writes “Minnesotans are looking for honesty in their elected officials, people who can deliver real solutions to our most pressing problems. As a father of four, physician, taxpayer, and engineer with prior energy industry experience, I am confident that we can do better.”
I agree that we want “honest” elected officials.
Yet based on Davis’ Facebook page which states that he worked eight months in the energy industry in 1983, that comment is misleading.
Further, we do want our elected officials to be taxpayers, yet Politico reported that Dr. Davis failed to pay his property taxes on time “every year from 2003 to 2007.” Since Dr. Davis has not released copies of his income tax filings, voters do not know if they were filed timely or correctly.

As an Independent voter, I believe it is inappropriate for me to participate in either Party’s primary, yet I have a concern for the November election. The First District is an extremely competitive with the western portion having had Republican representation for over 20 years until Democrat Tim Walz’s victory in 2006. Additionally, the district’s largest county, Olmsted County, voted for Republican Tim Pawlenty for Governor in his last election.
If the District is going to be represented by a Republican, Dr. Davis does not have the knowledge, experience or philosophy that will help taxpayers.
To paraphrase Dr. Davis, "I am confident that the Republicans can offer a better candidate.”
When Gil Gutknecht’s term limit pledge indicated that he would not run in 2006, I advocated State Senator Dick Day for the job.
Day has legislative experience that Davis does not.

If you’re voting in the September 9th primary, vote Day.

Monday, September 01, 2008

MN-01 : New Poll – Davis versus Day

Ask any Minnesotan who will win this year’s NFL season opener – the Vikings or Packers – and even the casual fan will have an answer. Most likely, it will have a partisan bent …. more heart than head. The casual fan will pick the winner … But the sports junkie will be able to get into the game details and predict the score based on touchdown runs by Adrian Peterson or touchdown tosses by Aaron Rogers.

And as with sports junkies, political junkies can go beyond just who the winner will be in November’s elections.

For this Challenge, there is no sense in asking who will be the next Congressman to represent the Minnesota’s First District as that response would most likely be based on a partisan bent.
But just like pre-season football, the political game has a pre-season … called a primary.

On September 9th, the Republicans candidate will be chosen --- Dr. Brian Davis or State Senator Dick Day.
So here is the Challenge, predict how many votes each candidate will get. Everyone is invited … from bloggers to “casual readers”. The experts probably have access to campaign data driven down to who the likely voters are in each precinct, yet I have a hunch that we “casual” fans will probably get it closer than the experts.

The prize : The ultimate … bragging rights as the Most Knowledgeable Political Junkie in MN-01.

The deadline : Since this is pure prognostication, there is no reason to wait. The winner will be determined based on entries made by SUNDAY, September 7th … just two days prior to the election.

To vote, simply make your forecast for Dr. Davis and Senator Day by clicking how many votes each candiate will get on the “POLL QUESTION” at the top right corner of the home page.

To be eligible for the prize, submit your prognostication by clicking “Post a Comment”. Anonymous entries are welcome … I have no edit requirements on this blog. Pass the link onto other political junkies or just plain old good citizen voters.

For historical data, in 2002 Gil Gutknecht got 25,978 … in 2004 Gutknecht got 17,651 … and in 2006, Gutknecht got 24,725 while his primary challenger got 3,600.

For the record, my projection is that Dr. Davis will get 21,900 votes (or 71%) while Senator Day will get 8,900 (or 29%) of the total 30,800 cast votes.

The choices are :
Davis will get less than 10,000
Davis will get between 10-15,000
Davis will get between 15-20,000
Davis will get between 20-25,000
Davis will get more than 30,000
Day will get less than 5,000
Day will get between 5-10,000
Day will get between 10-15,000
Day will get between 15-20,000
Day will get more than 20,000

Vote once for Davis and once for Day.

Good luck and thanks for participating.

McCain Insults Minnesota with Palin VP pick

The GOP awarding St. Paul their National Convention was an indicator that they cared about Minnesota, but John McCain has shunned us … with three viable candidates that’s inexcusable.

Upon reflection, maybe our Minnesotans didn’t get the VP nod because McCain holds grudges.

The First candidate would be fellow Senator Norm Coleman. Coleman’s has his positives … he knows all the same secrets as Joe Biden from his Foreign Relations committee work … but McCain wants this is be an election about earmarks and Coleman is Minnesota Leading Earmarker.

The Second candidate would be Governor Tim Pawlenty who does double-duty as McCain’s National Co-Chair. On the surface, Pawlenty would seem to be a lock, but then those pesky past quotes from January 2007 that T-Paw was skeptical of the increase in troop levels. That would be too good for the opposition TV ads.

And finally, the Best candidate … Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who I have been campaigning for since May 2007. A pro-life, NRA-supporting, oil-drilling expert, Mother of 28 (which includes being a foster mom to 23 children) with legislative experience at the State and Federal level, decries Republicans for being “wimps”, and her knowledge of Iran’s plans that “ half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called the Iraq State of Islam, … makes her the perfect candidate. But her denouncement of McCain ( "He is not my man," she said. "Our candidate was chosen by the media. But there are other races out there." ) killed her chances with the old GrudgeMaster.

But Sarah Palin ?

How can you pick a VP who never set foot out of the country until 2007 ? Current Vice-President Richard Cheney will soon visit Georgia … how would VP Palin be treated ? Media reports that foreign governments treated Secretary of State Rice with less respect than Colin Powell … yet they were both implementing President Bush’s policies.

She cites that she’s a reformer but this year she requested 31 Earmarks from Congress ( including $80 million for the Alaska Railroad, $13 million for wind generation in Nome, and the Fairbanks North Star Borough asked for about $25 million.) And her basis for rejecting the “Bridge to Nowhere” was it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,'' Sept. 21, 2007 (and that was after she told the Ketchikan Daily News in August 2006 that "We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge, and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." She was clearly supporting the project until Congress turned off the tap. So what happened to the money … it’s being direct it to other Alaskan transportation projects. As the Anchorage Daily News reported work is under way on a three-mile road on Gravina Island, originally meant to connect the airport and the new bridge. State officials said last year they were going ahead with the $25 million road because the money would otherwise have to be returned to the federal government.”
The Bridge to Nowhere earmark may have been terminated, but not the Road to the Bridge to Nowhere.

McCain has cited her “Executive” experience as Governor of Alaska. Well, while most states face a budget crisis on a too frequent basis, Alaska has no state income tax and is 50th in rankings of state sales tax (yep, that’s the lowest in the nation.) Additionally, the Alaska Permanent Fund paid dividends in the amount of $1654 to every eligible man, woman and child in 2007. Governor Palin said Friday, "When oil and gas prices went up so dramatically and the state revenues followed with that increase, I sent a large share of that revenue directly back to the people of Alaska." Good for Alaska, but why didn't she send the money back to the US Treasury ? Increasing ANWR drilling will increase this “subsidy” so any increased drilling rights should be a boom to the US Treasury, not the State of Alaska.

The real problem I have with McCain’s pick is it reflects the “insider” selection that is typified by the Monica Goodlings and Michael Browns of the Bush Administration – people selected for their ideology and not their abilities. McCain met Palin at a February 2008 Governor’s meeting and then brought her to his home for an interview last week. The question must be asked is: Who is making this selection ? McCain seems intent on focusing on foreign affairs which could leave domestic affairs largely to be run by underlings. Who are the powerbrokers in a McCain Administration ? Who will be directing government action (or inaction) ?

When Rick Warren asked McCain to name the “wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration?, McCain responded General David Petraeus. Would Petraeus recommend Palin ? Would Palin be able to “command” Petraeus or would the military leadership overtake the civilian role in management of military affairs.
For that matter, if Palin had to be confirmed by the US Senate to be Vice-President, how many Republican Senators would tell McCain the country needed a more experienced leader?

McCain's pick may be an effective tactic to win an election, but voters should be concerned about governance.