Sunday, December 30, 2007

Is a Liberal Minnesota Congressman Electable?

Dick Day has described current First District Congressman Tim Walz as “the most liberal" while Minnesota GOP Party chairman Ron Carey issued a press release stating : "Walz's out-of-touch, left-wing agenda is wrong for the First District."

That got me thinking.

Assuming that Democrats would vote for their party’s nominee, would Independents and for that matter Republicans embrace a candidate who voted :

- FOR : Implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations including creating an independent civil liberties watchdog group within the executive branch Roll Call Vote #15
- FOR : Increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour over two years 18
- FOR : Allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug makers for lower prescription drug prices for individuals using Medicare. 23
- FOR : Assist in the provision of affordable housing to low-income families affected by Hurricane Katrina. 172
- FOR : A resolution to improve the management of medical care, personnel actions, and quality of life issues for members of the Armed Forces who are receiving medical care in an outpatient status.(aka the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act ) 204
- FOR : Ensuring the independence of United States attorneys 397
- FOR : Protecting consumers from price-gouging of gasoline (aka Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act) 404
- FOR : College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 link
- FOR : Approving funding for Transportation projects 715
- FOR : Moving the United States toward greater energy independence and security, developing innovative new technologies, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, protecting consumers, increasing clean renewable energy production, and modernizing our energy infrastructure (aka New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act) 832
- FOR : Expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program 906
- FOR : To restore the financial solvency of the national flood insurance program and to provide for such program to make available multiperil coverage for damage resulting from windstorms and floods, etc. (aka Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007) 921
- FOR : To establish the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund in the Treasury of the United States to provide for the construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of decent, safe, and affordable housing for low-income families 958

I should mention that all these roll call votes were opposed by a majority of Republicans (although many did have a significant number of supporters.)
Therefore, I would presume that these votes would indicate that rank-and-file Republicans would not support this Congressman for re-election.
As an Independent voter, I would support this Congressman after all he has been called “a true giant on behalf of all Minnesotans.”
The votes cited are the votes of Jim Ramstad – Minnesota’s Congressman for the Third District.

Are these the votes of a Liberal?
And For Dick Day and Ron Carey’s Information, Ramstad's votes were joined in the affirmative with First District Congressman Tim Walz.

When politicians, like Day, use the term Liberal it really is to denigrate their opponent … its childish characterization and illustrates the weakness of their own inability to articulate their own positions. Name calling may excite the Republican base, but it does not tell Independent voters the positions that the candidate would embrace. Looking at the Roll Call votes, it is pretty easy to see that MN-03 voters can look at the issues and know where Ramstad stands ... and the results is 65% of the voters embracing Ramstad.

Regarding Congressman Ramstad, who has announced that he will not seek reelection, he may be reconsidering that decision.
That would be welcome news not only for MN-03 but for the country.
Ramstad is currently the fourth ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee (which I consider to be the most powerful committee in Congress.) Jim McCrery, the ranking Republican, announced that he will not seek re-election.

Considering the need to address the exploding national debt and inequity of the current tax system, Congress will need to level-headed leaders like Jim Ramstad.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 Reflections : Best of What Was

As we prepare to sing "Auld Lang Syne", I take my look back at 2007. Last year’s, Reflections commentary included the Best and Worst; but this year, I will permit the reader to decide whether the winner should be recognized for Best or Worst performance. As such, much like Time’s Man of the Year recognition being the Best does not mean that good work was performed. Also, this year’s commentary will follow an Oscar’s format … supporting performance awards, technical awards building to the finish for Best Picture.

Supporting Actress : Sonia Morphew Pitt who was terminated as director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management at Mn/DOT. Just like a bridge gets its support from the footings, Morphew Pitt provided her best support to Mn/DOT and the Pawlenty Administration. And if that was her best , I guess we know we she was terminated.

Supporting Actor : Senator Larry Craig (R-ID). No bathroom humor jokes here – this is serious recognition of the Senator’s performance. Although Senator Coburn (aka Dr. Death) has been given proper recognition , Senator Craig’s efforts have been just as effective. As the former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Craig, objected to both unanimous consent agreements to move forward for final voting on S. 1233, the proposed "Veterans' Traumatic Brain Injury and Other Health Programs Improvement Act of 2007" and S. 1315, the proposed "Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007." Thank’s Larry for Supporting the Troops !

Song : Although Bruce Springsteen‘s Last To Die and John Fogerty’s Long Dark Night were worthy of consideration, my choice is Pink’s Dear Mr. President . It addressed a variety of issues - homelessness, schools, gays, working wages … or essentially problems that people face everyday – in a way that even a Compassionate Conservative can see.

Honorary Award : "Missed it by that much" : With due respect to Don Adams (aka Maxwell Smart), some may think that it should go to Tim Brewster’s 1-11
Gopher football team , but they won a game. So, I will go out of state to select another Men’s University Athletic Department for it’s unique 3-peat. It is very rare for a school to send a team to two NCAA championship games in a year … but The Ohio State University did that one better … in 2007, the Buckeyes lost the Men’s Championship Football, Basketball and Soccer. A remarkable achievement and since they will be playing in 2008 BCS Championship game, I hope they break the streak.

Fresh Face Award : On the political side, there were major changes in 2007, so there are a number of recognizable achievers.

Let’s start out with the Honorable Mention.

The Minnesota State Legislature : Larry Pogemiller, Dave Senjem, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Tony Sertich, and Marty Seifert deserve credit for getting a session done on time. The results could have been better, but their performance was much better than the days under from Dean Johnson / Steve Sviggum / Dick Day leadership.

Amy Klobuchar : as number 98 in the Senate’s seniority rankings, we should not expect a lot but she has exhibited abilities to move consumer issues to the forefront. To get the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act enacted she had to overcome Dr. Death’s hold . She has also been quite visible on toy safety .

Third Place : Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-06)

The Congresswoman hasn’t initiated a lot of new legislation, but she is the author of Make It Count Act (HR 4119). This act should be studied by grade school children on how NOT to write a bill. In short, the bill moves the due date from March 31st to December 15th for the date of submission to Congress of audited financial statement. As any competent federal tax attorney should be able to tell you, the calendar year is not necessarily the fiscal year. The Federal Government fiscal year ends on September 30th, so the poor grade school students might think that the Congresswoman’s legislation would move the due date OUT from March to December … but that was not the intent .. it was to move it IN. The legislation should have been written such as the “audited financial statements should be submitted by the 15th of the third month after the fiscal year is complete.” On the surface, this legislation may seem to be an effort by the Congresswoman to get needed data in a more timely fashion … but in reality, this is already happening. As departments and agencies are scheduled to submit their financial reports by November 15 (45 days after the end of the fiscal year), and Treasury has already issued the Financial Report for 2007 . In business, the term would be “Continuous Improvement” where the existing performance is challenged to improve … Congresswoman Bachmann’s bill is moving the bar to current level … not exactly innovative.

Second Place : Congressman Tim Walz (D-01)

Legislative assignments and natural disasters have challenged Congressman Walz to limits that most of us could not comprehend … yet, he has embraced these as opportunities. As a resident of the First District, I have not always agreed with all of Walz’s votes, but he is a vast improvement over our previous representative.

Farm Bill + Transportation Bill + Veterans Concerns + August Flooding = one outstanding effort.

First Place : Congressman Keith Ellison (D-05)

Congressman Ellison was welcomed to Congress with an attack on his religion and at the close of the session was again presented with another slap at his religion. Despite these efforts, Congressman Ellison traveled to to Syria with a House delegation and to Iraq at the request of Secretary of State Rice – promoting America’s agenda. Besides the foreign involvement, Ellison had a front row seat as the Bush Administration politicizing the Justice Department.

Book Victor Gold’s Invasion of the party-snatchers : how the holy-rollers and neo-cons destroyed the GOP. Written by a Republican speechwriter, this book will tell you why so many independent voters like me have turned away from Republican candidates.

Actress Lt. Governor Carol Molnau : During Governor Pawlenty’s first term, Molnau acted as Transportation Commissioner until she was confirmed by the Senate on May 16, 2004 even though a March 30 Senate’s Transportation Finance Committee voted to not support her confirmation. Apparently, Molnau must have thought that she could keep acting instead of actually running the department in a competent manner.

Actor Senator Norm Coleman : For the first four years of his term, Coleman was a RoveRobot – voting for tax cuts and deficit spending as programmed while speaking forcefully to rally confirmation support for John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations over the objection of many of his fellow Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee. Now, with the lessons of 2006 mid-term elections, Coleman is acting as a moderate … and it works due to the Senate’s filibuster rules that allow him to know that those votes are meaningless … except for being able to tell the voters that he supported moderate solutions and even lead to resolve the Farm Bill impasse.

Director : Tim Pawlenty – Patricia Lopez had a great article on our Big Ideas Governor. And its’ good that he is an idea man, because the performance has been poor. But he looks and sound good on camera … so the result is that next summer, our Governor will start his 2012 Presidential campaign by accepting the Vice Presidential nomination. Maybe a job in the White House is best for Pawlenty as he exhibits the same loyalty for his Department of Health Commissioner and Transportation Commissioner just the way that Bush was loyal to Rumsfeld and Gonzales.

Picture : Although No End in Sight and Sicko are noteworthy, my pick is Amazing Grace . The reason is simple … that film not only had a happy ending but it also is a lesson for today’s politicians that the need to be passionate and committed to their personal ideals … not being servants for special interests.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fiscal Responsiblity in Minnesota's First District ... FINALLY !

As a fiscal conservative, there was a time when I thought Dick Day would be the next Congressman representing the First District. As his term limit pledge was approaching, Gil Gutknecht was talking of running against Mark Dayton. Gutknecht was a poster child for what fiscal conservatives want … a government that lives within its means. For me, that does not necessarily mean a small government. Government needs to serve the people and taxes are a definite necessity … but taxes should be equitable and fair. Day had the legislative experience, leadership experience, name recognition and strong support from the business community … this seemed to be a natural stepping stone and I told many Republicans that Day would easily win. But Gutknecht ceded his party’s nomination to Mark Kennedy and reneged on his term limit pledge.

During Gutknecht’s tenure, the Republican Party achieved total management of legislative-side of government – House, Senate and the White House. Alas, their opportunity was wasted as the Republicans seemed to more interested on controlling dissidents within their ranks, refusing to compromise, obfuscating their true agenda, focusing more on talking points than on policy. Gutknecht’s poster child status became as thin as a piece of poster board. The budget surplus became a budget deficit … not short term, but expanding. All the while, Gutknecht and his Republican associates talked fiscal discipline while avoiding addressing real issues … for example the Alternative Minimum Tax.

For years, the problem has been known … and for years, the Republicans have issued one year patches … moving the problem out for someone else to resolve. In fact, when confronted with the choice of addressing AMT or extending tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, Gutknecht rejected prioritizing AMT as the issue (HR 4927 February 8, 2006.) Further, on May 18, 2006 Gutknecht voted against a budget resolution which included requirements for a balanced budget by 2012 and "pay-as-you-go" rules.

Fiscal discipline was all talk.

The AMT, as an issue, has been effectively abused by the Republicans to maintain fiscal irresponsibility. Fear mongering that AMT will impact the middle class is very effective. It is true that the AMT, as construed today, will impact the average middle class family BUT it would have more of an impact on the wealthy. It’s the classic “share the pie” soft-shoe that the Republicans have been singing for awhile … the average middle class gets a piece of the pie, but those making in excess of $85,000 get an even bigger piece. Each year the ATM is not addressed, the borrowing continues forcing the next generations to pay. Equally troubling is that to finance this debt, we borrow from foreigners (individuals and sovereign nations) and at what time will those foreigners stop becoming our lenders ? After years of increased purchasing of US debt, China has now reversed course and has become a net seller of Treasury securities.

This shortsighted and irresponsible fiscal management must stop.

While Gutknecht was disappointing, as an independent voter, I was intrigued by Tim Walz’s campaign pledge of fiscal discipline.

I have not always agreed with all to Congressman Walz’s votes, but his vote on ATM (HR 3996 – the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2007) was a vote FOR RESPONSIBLE FISCAL MANAGEMENT.
I couldn’t be happier with Mr. Walz.

As the 2008 election season approaches, the Republican Party’s attack machine has Mr. Walz in its crosshairs. When I read the IR press release , I saw a political sleaze campaign starting. But then when I read Ron Carey's other press release , I saw exaggeration bordering outright falsehoods. The headline “Washington Walz Denies Tax Relief To 20 Million Americans” fails to mention that the legislation passed over the objection of Congressman Walz, so NO ONE was denied tax relief. Carey does not state that the original bill that Walz voted FOR would have actually benefited 466,700 Minnesotans (according to the Citizens for Tax Justice .) Nor does Carey state the $50 billion impact to the national debt.

Carey is a partisan, through and through. This is the mentality that has been advocated by the Tom Delay Republicans believing that political gain comes from sticking with your base, attacking your enemies, and destroying their positions. Party first, country and the future generations be damned.

Reading today’s Star Tribune Dick Day is quoted : "Out of all the people who have represented the district in recent decades, Walz is by far the most liberal."
Hogwash !
Walz’s vote exhibits true fiscal discipline that the First District hasn’t seen since the days when Penny/Weber represented the reconfigured district.

To attract independent voters, the district deserves a viable alternative.
A strong candidate would focuses less on the attacking the opposition and more on the strengths of his own positions, feeling confident that a majority of the district supports that honest position.
Thus far with Day’s obsession with immigration and strong partisan rancor, he has sadly disappointed.
Conversely, a strong independent leader is more focused on governance … that fits Tim Walz.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Carol : An Immigration Tale

For me, no Christmas celebration is complete without a viewing of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. Most of us are familiar with the story, but may not know of the underlying message.

Although Dickens wrote because he needed to make money, it was a social commentary. During Dickens’ time, overt religious celebrations complete with eating and drinking were taboo since the Cromwellian Revolt and magnified by the influence of the Puritans … in fact, for some years Christmas was abolished. To these radical Protestants, the holiday was more a pagan tradition and certainly not part of Christianity. It was deemed a wasteful day off. And even in America, the U.S. Congress met on Christmas day up until the 1850s. Most people worked on Christmas and schools were in session. For Bob Cratchit to ask for a day off would be a violation of Puritan values.

But Dickens’ message was as much about greed as the plight of the poor -- a time to reflect on man’s responsibility to his fellow man. Read more here.

Dickens uses the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to ask Scrooge to reevaluate his thinking … and so I will use these Ghosts to ask you to look at the illegal immigration question.
I think it is time to accept the fact that the Mexican-US border is now being addressed … fences are being built and additional border patrol agents are being hired link.

It’s time to ask the question, what about the people that are here now ?

The Ghost of Christmas Past
I grew up in a suburban lily-white environment of white-collar middle-class parents (albeit tipping to the upper end of middle-class.) My neighborhood was a blend of ethnic origins -- Irish, Italian, Germany, Polish, and Hungarian but my high school … how shall I phrase it --- oh, you could easily find the pepper in the salt shaker. But we all got along and most of us went to college. I had a girl friend … her parents were good people … her Dad was a crane operator and didn’t like me (or anybody else that would “date” his little girl) and her Mother was deeply religious … and a great cook. I recall going over for a “study-date” and her Mother said she would clear her books from the kitchen table. I asked her what she was studying … and she said she was studying to take the test to become a US citizen.
Turns out my girlfriend’s Father was first generation American as his parents came over on the boat, and he returned to family’s homeland to see relatives where he met and married my girlfriend’s Mother. I didn’t realize it at the time, but today, her Mother would be branded an illegal alien.
The message that The Ghost of Christmas Past is telling me is that we may not realize that there are good people among us that raising their children, being active in our communities, and supporting local business growing.

The Ghost of Christmas Present
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests during the past thirteen months have resulted in hundreds of illegal immigrants being deported leaving behind families in fear and uncertainty. It is estimated that there are approximately five million US children with at least one undocumented parent. These are the innocent victims. It has been reported that one of the targets of the 12/16/06 raid, Swift & Co. lost $53 million to decreased productivity, but business will go on … only the innocent are left to face the consequences.
If you will recall Scrooge became very upset and asked the Ghost of Christmas Present to cover his robe …. Why … he sees the children and the word on the boy’s forehead is “DOOM”.
They are truly the innocent victims.

The Ghost of Christmas Future
This Ghost would ask “What would it be like if all the illegal immigrants were deported ?”.

There are so many impacts that there are too numerous to mention, so here are just a few.

We would look at small towns with shrinking property values as illegals who owned homes were forced to sell; rental properties that were empty; and increased defaults for property taxes bills. Small businesses would fold without customers. If Tom Stiehm, the mayor of Austin, is correct that there are 5-7,000 illegal immigrants in a town with a population base under 30,000, a max exodus would have severe impacts on the local economy. The result would be higher property tax bills and smaller school populations raising the questions if some schools should be closed.

We would see a military draft. (Did you know that the “surge” in Iraq required the same number of soldiers as the military current has as non-citizen soldiers. link If first-generation soldiers decide that they will follow their deported parents home, the loss of recruits will force a military draft.

We may lose the leaders of tomorrow. Fourteen CEOs of Fortune 100 companies are foreign-born. Arnold Schwarzenegger became a U.S. citizen in 1983 after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Superior in 1979. Carlos Gutierrez, Bush’s Commerce Secretary is an immigrant from Cuba. Mel Martinez, Republican Senator from Florida, left Cuba when he was 15. Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s UN Ambassador was born in Afghanistan. Henry Kissinger grew up in Germany and then immigrated to America. These may be legal immigrants, but if America adopts a nativist policy, why will they want to come where they are not wanted. Even families could be affected -- Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba, is an immigrant from Mexico. We may not agree with all the policies that these people advocate … just as some may not agree with practices performed by Alberto Gonzales (who never explained how his parents arrived in America) or Jose Rodriquez (from Porto Rico and of the CIA tape destruction fame) … but they have made a contribution. And how about the number of doctors and scientists that come here … will they go elsewhere?

The message of the The Ghosts is simple : it’s time to move beyond fear mongering and address how we will operate as a society to legalize those that are here (if they want to stay here.) Admittedly, they have arrived illegally, but it is unfeasible to contemplate deporting all these people. The courts and detention facilities would be overwhelmed.

It’s time to reflect on man’s responsibility to his fellow man. What sort of America do we want – compassionate with laws that allow for past sins to be absolved – or a nativists promoting prejudice ?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dick Day for Congress Campaign theme :
“Smile and Wave While We Ignore the Real Problems”

Dick Day has penned an interesting commentary in the Mankato Free Press : “I’d like nothing better than for voters to speak up, to voice their toughest criticisms and their most honest frustrations without fear that they’ll be judged, silenced or ignored.

Great … here’s my criticism … you are hiding from the REAL ISSUES by focusing on illegal immigration.

I thought you knew what the REAL ISSUES are based on the Day’s campaign website , “I want to hear what you really think about the war in Iraq and the troop surge. I want to know if you support traditional Social Security or are intrigued by new options. Where should our tax dollars be targeted? How are health care plans and school systems meeting your needs?

Please explain why you focus on illegal immigration when the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll (released the same day your commentary was published) stated that the top priorities that Congress needs to address are :
#1, The war in Iraq;
#2, Health care; and
#3. Job creation and economic growth.

Your assertion that "I understand why Congress is nervous about the illegal immigration debate — they’ve chosen not to address the problem" … is not completely factual.
It has been addressed --but not resolved -- due to the obstructionist control provided by the Senate’s filibuster procedure.
Comprehensive immigration reform was debated as part of S 1639 but when a number of Senators including Minnesota’s Norm Coleman voted NOT to allow the bill to go forward, it stopped. So blaming “Congress” is too broad of a statement … blame the Senate … and if you feel so strongly, then as I outlined previously, run for the US Senate. Further, the border fence is being built and additional border patrol agents are being hired. (Read about it here.) Lastly, President Bush has spoken passionately about this issue and made it a top priority link . Bush has promoted this issue throughout his presidency, and while the Democrats are currently being blamed, the fault lies with the obstructionists.

Your obsession with the immigration issue has successfully produced campaign publicity, however, it has more importantly been a diversion for you not to discuss the REAL ISSUES.

Voters know how current First District Congressman Tim Walz voted on every roll call vote taken, but can you tell the voters how you would have voted ?

Let’s just look at some of the BIG ISSUES.

HR 6 - Energy Independence and Security Act was signed by the President with Congressman Walz affirmative votes. Do you side with Republicans Bachmann and Kline who voted against the bill (in preliminary form Roll Call 40 and in final form Roll Call 1177 ?)

HR 2419 - Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (aka Farm Bill) which has been passed by the Senate and the House. 35 Republican Senators (including Coleman) voted in favor of this legislation. Does this legislation coincide with your question of "subsidies for millionaire corporate farmers".

HR 3963 - Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (aka SCHIP) 12 Republican Senators (including Coleman) voted in favor of this legislation while House members Bachmann and Kline voted against the bill. Bush vetoed the legislation. The underlying question is at what level of poverty should this program be capped? Bush limits it to 200 % above the poverty line, but some states – which may have more poverty than the national average – want it higher. For example, the Republican-controlled legislature in Ohio approved legislation for a 300% cap.
It is important for voters to know your opinion and not just assume that you would be against this based on your vote in the Minnesota legislature this past session [SF2171] and against expansion of Minnesota Care in 2005 [SF2278].

HR 3648 - Mortgage Debt Relief Forgiveness Act of 2007 was signed by the President. Do you side with Republican Bachmann who voted against the legislation or the 165 other Republicans who supported this bill ?
In some ways, this legislation is a death knell for the FAIR Tax (or FLAT Tax) agenda as it raises the value of the home mortgage deduction thus eliminating any chance of Income Tax Reform.

HR 3996 - Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2007 (known largely for side-stepping the Alternative Minimum Tax [ATM] question). Initially, the legislation provided for fair tax assessment for Hedge Fund Managers and Corporate Executive Deferred Compensation which was opposed by the Republicans (Bachmann, Kline, Ramstad, and Coleman) but once that provision was withdrawn it was approved over the exception of Democrats McCollum, Peterson and Walz.
If you are concerned about Social Security funding implications, the ATM question is more pressing as the Republicans in Congress for the past six years have extend the problem out one year at a time without addressing the long term impacts. And it will have to be addressed again as the president's five-year budget plan would permit the number of AMT taxpayers to explode again in 2008. This problem is a true example of your comment - “We deserve better than status quo politics — today’s “Smile and Wave While We Ignore the Real Problems” brand of government that ignores any issue that can’t be solved in a sound bite.” Since McCollum, Peterson and Walz wanted to balance the ATM tax cuts with equitable tax revenue generation, I would state that they are not ignoring the problem.

HR 3074 - Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations for FY 2008 which Coleman and Ramstad approved but Bachmann and Kline voted against . This bill will approve projects that directly impact the First District (which may meet your question of pork barrel projects), but also prohibits the use of federal funds to implement the Administration's cross-border pilot program to allow Mexican-domiciled trucks into the U.S.

Obviously, the first session of the 110th Congress addressed many other issues, but these are just some of the key issues that relate to the questions that your website implied that you wanted to discuss - how tax dollars should be spent.

The voters in the First District need to know if Dick Day is a Michelle Bachmann, Norm Coleman, John Kline or Jim Ramstad –type Republican. Since you are concerned about “massive social service programs, subsidies for millionaire corporate farmers, pork barrel projects, and schooling, health care”, these pieces of legislation should tell us how you really feel.

From these issues, voters can decide … Will Dick Day be part of the Solution or part of the Obstruction ?

After all, we certainly don’t want a “Smile and Wave While We Ignore the Real Problems” Congressman.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How will TV and the Newspapers cover the next Terri Schiavo case ?

The Do-Nothing 109th Congress’s crowning achievement was the speed at which it passed S.686 - Terri Schiavo Incapacitated Protection bill . Initiated by the Senate on March 20, approved by the House on March 21 and signed into law by the President on March 21st. Easter recess – no problem – heck, even the President flew back from Crawford with pen in hand.

What S. 686 proves is that when Congress wants to act, it can.

But the impotence of Congress was on display yesterday.

Yesterday, the FCC changed the rules of that make it possible for owners of newspapers more leeway to buy radio and television stations. This was in direct contrast to the Senate’s advice as the Senate Commerce Committee has already unanimously approved legislation requiring Martin to defer action. Further, in a letter from 25 Senators asked the FCC to delay this decision.

Considering the bias in news reporting (you can decide who is more biased FOX, CBS, New York Times, etc.), the freedom of the press is curtailed when mandated by the owners’ political viewpoint. The next Schiavo case may be reported more consisently … using the same talking points.

How ironic it is that President Bush can get so vocal about judicial activism yet regulatory activism is barely discussed.

And that’s the Senate’s problem. Senator Dorgan (along with 22 co-sponsors) introduced S.2332 earlier this month … but getting it passed and getting the President to sign it at “Schiavo-speed” did not happen.
And do you really think that Bush would sign a bill that restricts what his regulatory agency wants to do ?

Many citizens will remember the Bush presidency for Iraq, yet we citizens will feel the effects of his regulatory rulings (FCC, SEC, FTC, FEC, EPA, etc.) for generations.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

VOTE 60 : Norm Coleman Leadership produces Republican Victory in Farm Bill

"Judge me, Norm Coleman, by what I've done. By my ability to bring people together and my ability to make good things happen. You can measure it versus a guy who's been there 12 years; 12 years, which by the way is the time when your kids go at first grade to the time they graduate high school. If you're there, get the job done. Be measured by your ability to get the job done. I think that's fair." Candidate Coleman 2002

That was Candidate Coleman who presented an image of a can-do coalition builder. When the election results were announced that Coleman would be the representing Minnesota for the next six years, Independent voters, like me, thought “Let’s give the guy a chance ... if can work across the aisle, that would be great”

Coleman garnered two prime committee assignments – Foreign Relations (which he has disappointed me repeatedly) and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Agriculture would be the big one for many Minnesotans.

Before discussing the current Farm Bill, it should be noted that the previous Farm Bill was signed by President Bush on May 13, 2002 to be effective with the beginning of the Fiscal Year on October 1, 2002 and expiring at the end of FY2007 ( or September 30, 2007). Coleman’s challenger in 2002, Paul Wellstone was on the Agriculture Committee and despite 9/11 and the military action thereafter, Congress was able to get the bill done in a timely manner. Farmers and bankers knew what to expect.

The House of Representatives held hearings and developed a bill that was passed in July 2007. The Senate though operates on its own time table.
The technically the Farm Security Act of 2002 expired on September 30, but through Public Law No: 110-92 continuing funding for many programs was extended (at the previous funding rates.)
The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the farm bill in October without any dissenting votes. The bill then languished on the floor as Republicans and Democrats clashed over how to deal with the nearly 300 amendments that had been filed.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to select a list of amendments that were directly related to farm policy, but Republicans said that he should not be allowed to limit their proposals on such wide-ranging legislation.

On Friday, November 16th, the Senate finally addressed the issue with a procedural vote (meaning “Do we really want to vote on this?). The vote failed as 42 Republican Senators voted “No” (meaning “We are going to drag this out”).
According to Norm Coleman’s interview with former First District Congressman Tim Penny on Friday, Reid suggested that each side be allowed 20 amendments to be considered. Coleman stated that he convinced his fellow Republicans that they should precede. [ Now, we know what Coleman meant when he said “ my ability to bring people together, he meant bringing his fellow Republicans to action. ]

The Senate proceed to consider a number of amendments. EVERY Amendment FAILED …including the amendment known as the Dorgan-Grassley amendment which would have closed loopholes, placed a hard cap of $250,000 on payments and invested the savings in small business development, beginning farmers and other initiatives to create future in rural America. President Bush had requested that payments be limited to $200,000 but the Senate bill is for $1,000,000. This fiscally more responsible amendment failed by four votes with Coleman supporting the $1 million subsidy (read more here) .

So what was the point of waiting ?

We must remember that although subsidies got a lot of media attention, the bill also is the major authorization for nuitrition programs … (Food stamps, emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), etc.) I have already written how Republicans Love Subsidies but Hate Welfare.

This delaying of approval has hurt the people who need these nutrition programs. Although Congress approved a Continuing Resolution in September, it was at the existing levels. As The Star-Tribune reported today “Food inflation has more than doubled during the past 12 months.” For example, nationally, eggs cost 37 percent more than a year ago. Chicken feed -- made mostly of corn -- is 60 to 70 percent of an egg farmer's costs. Dairy farmers pay more for feed, too, up by as much as 40 percent since last year. And why is corn up … demand for ethanol … another highly subsidized product and which will increase sixfold based on the Senate approving the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 the day before it voted on the Farm Bill.

Let’s look at just how just one program will be impacted … milk and cheese account for about 40 percent of WIC food expenditures. As a result of higher food prices, it will cost significantly more for the people to buy these commodities … but the dollars were capped at last year’s rates … so the additional cost is being born by the needy … or they go without. Further, since the cost of the foods has increased faster than the budget, state WIC programs could have to reduce participation and establish waiting lists.

The end result is a cut to the Safety Net for the working families … but the Safety Net for $1 Million Dollar Mega-Farms is retained.

Thanks, Norm. I’ll be glad to “"Judge me, Norm Coleman, by what I've done.” … you’ve done a horrible job … on a Key Assignment … but I suspect that your Republican colleagues are pleased.
You delivered legislation late, that rewards the wrong people (even above what President Bush wanted) and hurts those that need it most.
By my account, you didn't "get the job done" !

FYI – The VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future commentaries and you can read about it here .

Saturday, December 15, 2007

VOTE 60 : Klobuchar loses Fiscal Fight to Coleman & Coburn

FYIThe VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future commentaries and you can read about it here .

Wanna get a Fiscal Conservatives blood to boil ?

Ask if it is right that $3.1 million in farm payments went to the District of Columbia … or $4.2 million has gone to people living in Manhattan … And $1 billion of taxpayer money for farm payments has gone to Beverly Hills 90210 ?

Fiscal Conservatives see that as wasteful government spending.

Farm subsidies have been getting a lot of media attention … and rightfully so.

Good news for Fiscal Conservatives … we have a Senator who wants to fight for taxpayers’ monies and added an amendment to the Farm Bill to address those excessive payments.

Bad news for Fiscal Conservatives … we have too many Senators that talk about the need for fiscal conservatism, but when it comes to the vote, they side with special interests.

The Fiscal-Fraud Du Jour is Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn (R). There doesn’t seem to be a bill that comes to final vote in the Senate without Senator Coburn offering an amendment … that’s why I call him Doctor Death .
The Farm Bill was no exception as Coburn offered Amendment 3807 : To ensure the priority of the farm bill remains farmers by eliminating wasteful Department of Agriculture spending on golf courses, junkets, cheese centers, and aging barns.
Sounds like a reasonable suggestion … but seven days later the amendment was withdrawn.

The efforts to reign in subsidies had an aggressive amendment known as the Dorgan-Grassley amendment (of which Senator Klobuchar was a co-sponsor.) It would have closed loopholes, placed a hard cap of $250,000 on payments and invested the savings in small business development, beginning farmers and other initiatives to create future in rural America.
Coburn and Coleman voted against this amendment and it failed the SuperMajority requirement (see VOTE60).

Despite that aggressive amendment failing, Senator Klobuchar offered an amendment Roll Call 426 which would allow payments only to full-time farmers making less than $750,000 a year and part-time farmers making less than $250,000, after expenses and use the savings to provide additional funding for certain programs and reduce the Federal deficit.
Once again, Coburn and Coleman voted against this amendment.

Former First District Congressman Tim Penny interviewed Coleman on Friday. Penney is the ultimate Fiscal Conservative and a former member of the House Agriculture Committee and his first question was, “Why did you vote against this?” After hedging for a bit about how others voted, Coleman answered that there are some farmers with million dollar loans and they needed coverage.

Wow. I thought subsidies were to provide a safety net.
IF someone has a million dollar loan, they must also have the collateral and asset base to support that loan. Why one million … what about the poor farmer with $1,000,001 loan ? What about the $2 million dollar farmer?
Isn’t this argument akin to the Social Security argument concerning means testing ?
What is more important subsidizing mega farms or family farms? When smaller operations are driven out of business that destroys the culture of family farming and undermining rural communities.

What is a reasonable safety net ? According to Coleman, not $250,000 … not $750,000 but One Million Dollars !

That’s not a safety net.
That’s protecting a system that ensures subsidies for special interests.
According to Senator Klobuchar the average income of a Minnesota farmer is $54,000 yet there were only TWO Farm Business receiving Crop Subsidy Payments in Minnesota for 2005 that exceeded $750,000 ( oh by the way, they also exceeded $1 million ) and a total of 71 that exceeded the $250,000 threshold.

The bill will now go to a conference committee at which Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) wants to get the threshold down to $900,000.

As a Fiscal Conservative, I do not have a lot of hope for Congressman Peterson’s efforts as Republicans Love Farm Subsidies .

Coleman is Fiscal Irresponsibility in Action !

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

MERRY CHRISTMAS : Bishop puts Hold on Christmas while Congress celebrates

How ironic is that two news story related to celebrating Christmas hit the news wires at the same time.

Archbishop Imad al Banna said Christians in Basra should still pray to mark Christmas, but should forgo such celebratory trappings as trees, gift-swapping and family gatherings to protest the deaths of a brother and sister, both Christians, as bombings and mayhem struck at cities throughout Iraq.

Meanwhile, half a world away, the US Congress passed House Resolution 847 sponsored by Steve King (R-IA), Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), John Kline (R-MN) and others to recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

I guess our world is coming together now that Virgil Goode ( you may remember that he wrote “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America”) and Keith Ellison can both support this resolution … somehow I am not surprised by Ellison – he’s impressed me as a class act.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Virgil Goode and Steve King (along with too many others) who voted “Present” on HR 635 recognizing the commencement of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and commending Muslims in the United States and throughout the world for their faith.

Will there come a day when people of all faiths can respect the faiths of others ?

For me, I will heed the advice of Archbishop al Banna and celebrate by going to the store to purchase items for the ECHO Food Shelf.
And in my prayers, I will remember the missing soldiers in Iraq (Byron W. Fouty, Alex R. Jimenez, Ahmed K. Altaie, Keith Matthew Maupin), the British hostages , American contractors held by FARC in Chile since February 2003, and all other hostages and soldiers that cannot be with their loved ones.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Does Dick Day think the Surge is working ?

How should a politician respond when the President of the United States announces Operation Jump Start requesting National Guardsmen to report for duty?
And how should a politician react when the operational commanders announce that the success is now being achieved?

The primary mission of Operation Jump Start is to assist U.S. Border Patrol in preventing illegal border crossings and searching for illegal immigrants crossing the border. 6,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen (including some from Minnesota) have been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border.

And the results are encouraging.
On Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said : “First of all, if you look back on fiscal year 2007, apprehensions at the border were down a little over 20 percent for the fiscal year, which combined with other indicators, strongly demonstrates to us that we are seeing fewer people that are attempting to cross.
One of the metrics, by the way, that kind of suggests we are having an impact on illegal migration is that apparently remittances are down. Remittances, as you know, are the payments that people send back to their home country. And at least some people interpret that as a sign that people are either going back on their own or they're at least prepared to go back and therefore they're beginning to bank more of their money.
We are on pace to double the size of the Border Patrol. We're at about 15,000 or will be at the end of this year, end of the month. And we have also dramatically ramped up interior enforcement efforts. …”

U. S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said “For the first time, we’re getting ahead of the criminal organizations” (which would include drug smugglers and illegal immigration rings.) Aguilar also said the number of Border Patrol agents will rise to 18,300 at the end of next year.

That sounds like good news … but not if you are a politician who is mounting an election campaign on a Strong Borders, Strong Future theme.

One of the things that military generals have been accused of throughout history has been the tendency to 'fight the last war' assuming that the wars of the future would look much like those of the past. Unfortunately, history suggests there is some truth in that accusation.

And politicians fall into the same trap -- running the next election based on the past.

The Republicans fell for the Tancredo Trap and suffered badly in 2006 elections. Immigration is a decisive issue. President Bush’s plan is a lot different than Tancredo’s. Tancredo is running to replace Bush but polls indicate that he is not getting support. Other leading candidates seem to realize that there is a broader problem that goes beyond just “walling off the border”. Rudy Giuliani can visualize a path to granting legal status to illegal workers. Mike Huckabee has voiced compassion for illegal immigrants and as governor of Arkansas offered taxpayer-financed scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants. John McCain has spoken passionately and sponsored legislation.

Why is Dick Day following Tom Tancredo and not the other leading Republicans ?

Dick Day followed an advocacy group to the Mexican border. As a State Legislator it is surprising that Day didn’t also contact some of the local governments. For example, the Eagle Pass Texas City Council passed a resolution against the border fence and is refusing to allow the federal government to build the wall on river-front city property. Eminent Domain is a big issue and Homeland Security is right in the middle of it. There are also economic concerns that impact the border communities … Day should have also contacted members of the Texas Border Coalition which is made up of elected officials from the cities of Brownsville, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Harlingen, Hidalgo, Laredo, McAllen, Mission, Rio Grande and Roma Texas.

Immigration is a complex issue. And any politician that can so easily be enticed by advocacy groups exhibits extreme naiveté.

Photo ops may make good campaign propaganda but anyone wanting to be a US Congressman better open his mind to all sides of the issue and not become beholden to advocacy groups … especially when the Surge is working.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

VOTE 60 : Why is Dick Day running for the House of Representatives ?

State Senator Dick Day of Owatonna wants to represent the First District of Minnesota in the House of Representative and his major platform is illegal immigration.
Using the motto, Strong Borders, Strong Future; he hopes to write a bill to overhaul the entire immigration system.
Day told KEYC_TV , ''I can assure you every place that I've went in the first district eight out of ten people when I sit down and say what's your biggest concern they say illegal immigration.

Is the First District any different than the entire State of Minnesota ?
Is this a problem that Dick Day can best resolve as a member of the 435 member House of Representatives ?
If Dick Day really wants to resolve this issue, he needs to be in the US Senate.

President Bush supported the Senate's "comprehensive" approach to immigration reform which was passed in May 2006 with the support of Republican Senator Norm Coleman's vote.
The comprehensive immigration reform would have strengthened border security, but would also create a program permitting illegal immigrants who had resided in the United States for five years or more to "earn" their citizenship after paying a fine and back taxes, learning English and holding a job for six years. It also would allow illegal immigrants who have resided in the United States from two to five years to apply for a guest worker program.

Previously, in December 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437).
Actually, the immigration issue has been a major issue in the House since the establishment of Immigration Reform Caucus in May 1999.

The differences were so significant that the House and Senate were never resolved during the 109th Congress.

During the 110th Congress, the Senate has tried to address the issue with a compromise bill offered by Senators Kyl (R) and Kennedy (D) but that failed to be brought up for a final vote. This failure caused Morton Kondracke to name some Senators - including Republican Norm Coleman - the "cowardice caucus" for having voted "yes" in 2006 and "no" this year. This was not a vote For or Against the legislation … it was just a vote to whether to debate the issue … hence “cowards”.

Obviously, Norm Coleman and the Senate is where the problem lies. Day would have a greater impact on this issue in the Senate … especially since the issue has seen a number of proponents of strict immigration reform will not be in the House in 2009. The Immigration Reform Caucus will be losing its founding member – Tom Tancredo – plus other prominent members who have announced they will not be up for election including Barbara Cubin(R-WY), Terry Everett(R-AL), Duncan Hunter(R-CA), Chip Pickering(R-MS), and Rick Renzo(R-AZ). Now, I know that there is no guarantee that the people who take those seats won’t have the same passion as Day, but in the 2006 election Immigration Reform Caucus members J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), John Hostettler (R-IN — the chair in the 109th Congress of the House Immigration Subcommittee), Chris Chocola (R-IN), Anne Northup (R-KY), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Charles Taylor (R-NC), Richard Pombo (R-CA) and of course, former First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht all lost. The Minuteman successfully got Randy Graf on the Republican ballot to replace retiring Representative Jim Kolbe … Graf lost. Conversely, there was strong support against Republican Chris Cannon since he opposed strict immigration laws but Cannon successfully beat a fellow Republican in the primary and a Democrat in the November election.

Politically, I see immigration as a decisive issue that is ripping the Republican Party apart. But if Day feels that passionately it about it (and 8 or 10 people tell him so) then he needs to challenge Norm Coleman in the Republican primary.

The US Senate Straw Poll is February 5th so if you are part of the "8 out of 10" remember the name, Dick Day !

FYI – The VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future commentaries and you can read about it here.

VOTE 60 : Your only Vote that matters

The 2008 elections will be for President, 33 Senate seats and all House seats but your vote that will contribute to America's future is the election for US Senate.

Oh sure, you can vote for President, but the President is actually elected by the Electoral College. Historically, most states will overwhelmingly select one candidate leaving only a few states to determine the outcome.
Florida (with its butterfly ballot in 2000) and Ohio (with its allegations of voter suppression and disenfranchisement in 2004) may play an important part in 2008.
Some speculate that the tri-state grouping of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin could be important in 2008, but I have no doubt that your vote - or my vote - will not determine the outcome.

Through the practice of gerrymandering to maintain favorable districts, the House of Representatives generally allows incumbents to be reelected 90 % of the time. When districts are won by 20 % or more, you know there is a problem. Look at the 2002 election where all the incumbents were re-elected with the minimum margin win by 19 % and (actually one Congressman won 72 to 27 %). Now, the 2006 elections did produce one incumbent losing (52-47%) but the other incumbents were reelected comfortably (the closest race was by 16%). In 2008, MN-01, MN-02, MN-03(retiring) and MN-05 will be contested, but otherwise, don’t expect a close call.

Should you care ? Of course, but temper that with the knowledge that party discipline is critical in the House to move any agenda. Historically, one party has had a dominant majority … currently the Democrats have a 33 seat advantage.

That might make one think that the Democrat agenda would be quickly enacted.

Not so.

The Senate operates under different rules. Under Senate Rule 22, the Senate does not have to act on any legislation unless 60 senators want to proceed with a vote.

Hence VOTE 60.

This year, voters need to weigh carefully if they wish to vote for more of the same Do-Nothing Senate or vote for progress on a variety of issues … ranging from immigration to war funding … from confirmation of judicial nominees to White House appointees.

In some ways, the 60 vote filibuster / cloture procedure allows a Senator to “hid” behind the cloture vote. It should not be surprised that a number of Republican Senators (notably, Coleman, Collins and Smith) who are up for re-election are siding with the Democrats to allow votes to move forward … knowing that it will take nine Republicans to bolt provides cover to tell the voters that you wanted to vote on it, but it was filibustered.

The 2008 Senate elections will determine domestic policy as much whomever is elected President.
The Republicans have 21 seats to defend while the Democrats have 12.
With six Republican Senators already announcing that they will not be in the 111th Congress when it convenes in January 2009, the make-up could definitely change.
If you reside in Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and of course, Minnesota, your vote in the Senate election will determine what happens for the next six years.
Weigh your choices carefully.
You're not voting for a candidate ... you're voting whether your want progress to resolve issues, or more of the same.

FYI – The VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future Senate-related commentaries.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Top Issue in MN First District : Immigration ? ? ?

They’re at it again !

The Star-Tribune continues to lead its online Politically Connected section with Mark Brunswick’s article Illegal immigration emerges as key issue in First District race : At the behest of an advocacy group, Republican candidate Dick Day went to the U.S.-Mexican border, and others may follow.

Let’s address the Star-Tribune first and then the immigration issue.

As an online media source, readers want to read current news. I believe this story was first released on November 28 … yet here it is at the top of the page as with notation that it was updated on December 4th. So what was the update?

Bluestem Prairie has done some amazing reporting on Day’s trip long before the Strib and has done thorough follow-up questioning some aspects of the Brunswick’s story.

The Strib should provide its readers with an explanation of what the update is.
Was it to correct an error in reporting … readers might like to know what was misstated. Was it to add information … that is common and readers might want to just read that part … if it was a major change, should it have been a follow-up / reaction story. Or was it to recycle the story to generate more attention to the issue and the Republican candidates?

Now to the issue itself.
First off, who says this is a top issue ? ”At the behest of an advocacy group”, tells me that it was not First District residents.
But this is an issue that Day has been pushing for awhile. On September 5th, Day told KEYC-TV ''I can assure you every place that I've went in the first district eight out of ten people when I sit down and say what's your biggest concern they say illegal immigration.”
WOW … 8 out of 10 !
Funny that makes the First District out of step with the rest of the country … and even Republicans. Fifty-two percent of Americans say the economy and health care are most important to them in choosing a president, compared with 34% who cite terrorism and social and moral issues, according yesterday’s Wall Street Journal . In a WSJ September 2007 survey of Republican voters, the question was asked : President Bush has proposed to allow foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States to apply for legal, temporary-worker status. 30 % percent of the respondents strongly opposed that position (down slightly from the 32 % in March 2006) while 37% were somewhat favorable to Bush’s position (up from 32 %).
This is not an issue that even Republican can agree what the solution should be ! And does Day have a solution ?

Ask yourself these few questions.
During the past year have you meet an illegal immigrant and did they cause you any problem?
During the past year have you visited a doctor?
During the past year have you seen an increase in your health insurance expense?
Does the cost of gasoline and reduction in home values concern you?

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.
And before someone blames the rising health care costs on undocumented aliens, the University of California's School of Public Health researchers issued a study that determined “illegal Mexican immigrants had 1.6 fewer visits to doctors over the course of a year than people born in the country to Mexican immigrants. Other undocumented Latinos had 2.1 fewer physician visits than their U.S.-born counterparts.

It is disappointing that Dick Day and his fellow Republicans candidates are listening to advocacy groups and not the people that they wish to represent. It’s also disappointing that the media becomes part of the publicity machine changing focus from issues that truly need attention.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dick Day is right ... there is a Leadership Failure

Dick Day’s Op-Ed piece : Leadership failure? Look to the DFL aptly uses a variety of phrases – “shifting blame is laughable”, “It's good theater” and ”I suggest we stop the grandstanding”.

Day’s right … but he’s doing all those things in his editorial.

Frankly, it is embarrassing that someone of Day’s stature would resort to comments that might be more attributed to a “political hack” or blogger.

The calumny used by Day in describing Congressman Oberstar “-- whose name never appears in print unless it is accompanied by "the powerful chairman of the House Transportation Committee"” is childish.
I have never meet, nor spoken with, Congressman Oberstar although I have written negative and positive commentaries about his proposals … yet it is inappropriate to mock how the news media may describe Oberstar. Petty personal attacks may be best described as "grandstanding".

What is outlandish is that Day complains that Oberstar's proposal of a “5-cent federal gas tax, but we know now that's not going to happen. Congress has been unwilling to raise the federal gas tax in 15 years” yet Day in February 2005 proposed a nickel-a-gallon gas tax hike to pay for transportation projects, which would violate Pawlenty's staunch no-new-taxes pledge. link . If Day “knew” that 435 members of Congress would not approve a tax increase, Day certainly knew that Pawlenty would not approve a Tax Increase.

Transportation has been a major issue for Day, yet his Leadership has failed.
Day was the Minority Leader in the State Legislature from 1996 to 2006. When Day abdicated his party leadership position, Sen. Steve Dille (Republican from Dassell) thought it was time for a change in leadership. "I think we need to decrease the partisanship and increase the bipartisan decision-making around here," Dille says.
The I-35 bridge catastrophe was such a massive event that all the world could see. The lack of investment in transportation infrastructure did not start August 1, 2007 … it has been a constant complaint for Minnesotans for decades. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has lead the charge and argues that Minnesota's transportation funding is running approximately $1 billion a year behind what is needed to maintain and expand the existing transportation network.
It is the failure of leadership to resolve these issues … and also the failure of the citizens to actively vote for officials that would address these issues. Alas, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce needs to evaluate its priorities when making endorsements ... if elected officials are not funding transportation as deemed required, why do you continue to endorse those candidates?

But shifting blame is what this is all about. Day and the other members of the legislature for years have underinvested in transportation. Day complains about Highway 14 … and those of us who have traveled it know that this is not a new problem … but decades old. But Day knows that.

Day blames Senator Murphy for “jeopardizing important projects”. Yet, it was MNDOT that testified before a legislative panel, the Contingent Appropriation Group, on Monday, October 1, that it would have to delay or defer projects link to fund the I-35W bridge replacement. Projects delayed would include $4.8 million for right-of-way acquisition for the expansion of Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna. It would seem to me that MNDOT decision-making is putting projects in “jeopardy” - NOT Senator Murphy.

It cannot be ignored that Day is campaigning for the Republican nomination for Congress. It also cannot be ignored that the present Congressman Tim Walz and Tim Kuntz, the mayor of Owatonna and the president of the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership, penned an October 30th Op-Ed piece in the Winona Daily News which chastised MNDOT’s threat and concluded “For the sake of rural Minnesota and the communities that Highway 14 serves, we hope that some real leadership will be shown in St. Paul this year.

The timing of Day’s delayed response to the Walz/Kuntz Op-Ed proves why Highway 14 has taken so long to be upgraded … no leadership ! The First District suffered through all the years of Gil Gutknecht failing to deliver on Highway 14 funding … we don’t need Dick Day's leadership representing us in Congress.

Day’s equivocation that this is “good theatre” may only be true if you like tragedy !

Friday, November 30, 2007

Why Republicans Love Farm Subsidies but NOT the Farm Bill

At the Republican Presidential Candidates debate, Ted Faturos asked “I'm curious which candidate could label themselves fiscally responsiblee, will endorse the elimination of farm subsidies if they are elected president in 2008.”

Mitt Romney responded “I believe in supports” and Rudy Giuliani added “The governor's right.” Giuliani went on to say “The subsidies in Europe are far higher than they are in the United States. We could reduce subsidies here if they would do it there. But we shouldn't do it on our own.”
{NOTE : For an additional comment on this logic, please see the SIDEBAR below.}

So the two leading Republican candidates professing love for subsidies … but what about the people who really authorize spending – Congress ?

With all the media attention about farm subsidies ( Link -Farm Subsidies Go to Billionaires “Farmers” of New York City , Link - Deceased Farmers Got USDA Payments , Link – How Growers Double their Subsidies , etc.), Congressman Ron Kind tried to address these issues during the House debate. Kind’s proposal would have overhauled the farm bill by ending payments to farmers earning more than $250,000 a year (which was in line with what President Bush proposed), limiting payments farmers can receive under guaranteed loan programs, expanding conservation programs and replacing many subsidies with crop insurance and other protection that pays only if farmers lose money.
Roll Call Vote 747 was voted down by the Republicans 151 – 44 with Minnesotans Bachmann and Kline supporting continuing the subsidies.

Therefore, to an overwhelming majority of Republicans, subsidies are good government. So why hasn’t the Senate moved the bill forward ?

Well, like so many other pieces of legislation, there are a number of competing purposes. So, while Republicans Love Subsidies, there are other parts of the bill that they don’t like – taxes and welfare.
Collin Peterson said at FarmFest "We are spending less than 12 percent on farmers. Over 68 percent of the farm bill is for nutrition, for food stamps and the other feeding programs." {MORE on this in a commentary tomorrow.} Further, the bill would impose taxes on some foreign and multinational corporations operating in the United States that do not now pay taxes on some earnings as a result of international treaties.

There we have the crux of the Farm Bill problem. Republicans Hate Taxes ( I suspect as much as they Love Subsidies) … even closing loopholes to help to pay for the subsidies. Futher, they Hate Welfare (unless its Corporate Welfare which is synomosis with Subsidies.)

There is reason why Congress's approval is so low ... all they want to do is reward potential contributors and not be fiscally responsible in ensuring that our citizen’s receive the essential needs of substance.

SIDEBAR : Romney and Giuliani both complained that foreign governments pay subsidies. Therefore, if America didn’t do also, American farmers would be a competitive disadvantage.
Yet, neither recognize that many of these same governments also provide health care for their citizens … thus the logic would be that American business should not have to provide health care for their employees but instead it should be provided through the government. Don’t US companies that provide health care benefits operate at a competitive disadvantage to their competitors?
Oh, uh … I can see another “subsidy” program in the making.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Winners and Loser : Farm Bill, Death Tax, Politicians versus Me, the taxpayer

Gil Gutknecht aptly called the US Senate “the graveyard of all good ideas” and this week the Senate applied a lethal Double Dose to two good pieces of legislation. Gutknecht was part of the 109th Do-Nothing Congress and the Senate seems to be acting to ensure that the 110th does no better.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said Thursday that "If we can't get a farm bill through the Senate that came out of the committee without one dissenting vote ... If we can't do that then what's the use trying to do it next year with the same Senate?" and effectively postponing the legislation until after the 2008 election And Republican House members seem to be in agreement. So lobbyists will continue to make contributions until the legislation is resolved. And that’s why there will not be any legislation this term … the politicians win.

We may – or may not – like the Farm Bill, but to pass it along to the next Congress and President is not only shameful but woefully irresponsible.

On Wednesday, the Senate held hearings entitled “The Federal Estate Tax: Uncertainty in Planning Under the Current Law.” What is at stake is potentially $24 Billion in revenues, but the statements by Senators Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley indicate a strong opinion that this tax loophole be continued. Ironically, Warren Buffet appeared at the hearing and spoke of continuing the tax. The argument is full of dramatic misinformation that these taxes are largely unfair inheritance taxes paid by hard-working owners of small and medium companies. In reality most estates don't owe any estate tax at all. Gutknecht like to talk how people like Buffett would create trusts and nonprofit groups to avoid paying inheritance taxes. That’s true and a separate argument … (why isn’t the same argument made when nonprofit groups are created to avoid paying ordinary income which is commonplace with sports stars? Yes, those monies can support a number of great charities (for example, the Pohlad Family Foundation)
and we thank them … but we helped created their wealth by our support) There are a number of tax planning strategies (generation skipping trusts, etc.) and a number of significant exemptions that apply such that the number of estates that actually are taxed are relatively small in number. The tax only applies to the amount over the exemption (for example in 2009, the provision is for a $3.5 million exemption).
The people who potentially may pay it are the super-rich. For example, here is a list of 24 individuals from anti-estate-tax families on the Forbes 400 list, 20 owe their good fortune to their forbearers, since only four represent the first generation of family wealth. In fact, since they inherited their wealth, they received step-up tax cost basis thereby reducing the capital gains tax (talk about double-dipping on the taxpayers !) These people are lobbying Congress hard (i.e. making contributions to their "favorite" candidates ... fyi - Mitt Romney's first TV commercial was about the unfair death tax.) And that’s why there will not be any legislation this term … the politicians win.

So this week, the politicians have won twice … by doing nothing … delaying and denying good legislation. So who lost … that would be the taxpayers. As long as the politicians don’t act, the unfair tax system remains in effect and working Americans pay while good programs are not enacted. The national debt rises and the US dollars loses value.

The House has done a good job getting a Farm Bill passed as well as the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 (H R 3996) that would do a number of things including revising the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that impacts working middle class families. But that Senate's inaction proves the axiom is correct : “the graveyard of all good ideas”.
How will Norm Coleman explain how he sat on the Agriculture Committee that passed the Farm Bill, yet he could not get it passed by the entire Senate ?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FACT OR FICTION : Did CIA operative Mitch Rapp mislead Bush on Iraq ?

Some want to blame CURVEBALL or Ahmed Chalabi for misleading the Bush Administration on Iraq's W.M.D. programs, yet George Bush was the one who made the final decision to go to war. This was not a decision that one makes lightly, yet I wonder if he wasn't mislead by Mitch Rapp.

Never heard of Mitch Rapp ?

Mitch Rapp, is the relentless, marble-hearted CIA assassin and counterterrorism operative, who was assigned a seemingly impossible task when the rumor was that Saddam Hussein had acquired nuclear weapon components from North Korea. Further, the Iraqis are assembling them in a factory buried beneath a Baghdad hospital. This calls for a gutsy mission, one that entails stopping Saddam while avoiding the PR nightmare that bombing a hospital would cause.
Or so Vince Flynn wrote in his 2002 book, Separation of Power. Well, if you read the book, you know that Rapp succeeded in getting the nuclear warhead out of Baghdad to prove to the world that Saddam was definitely pursuing a nuclear program. And as a result, Rapp was lauded by the president as "the single most important person in America's fight against terrorism."

Flynn's fictional President and George Bush have something in common ... they're both fans of Mitch Rapp. Flynn revealed on KFAN radio that Bush has read all his books and even requested an advance copy of his Flynn’s new book Protect And Defend in which Mitch Rapp looks into the destruction of Iran's secret nuclear weapons facility. Now, we know why Bush is talking about Iran and World War III ... Mitch Rapp told him. Oh, goody … Flynn revealed that Bush liked the book, so we all better read it to find out how WWIII turns out in Bush’s mind.

So is that the problem … Bush thought that a team of CIA operatives would save the world from Saddam’s WMD and we wouldn’t even need to be liberators nor would the Iraqis need to “welcome the US forces with flowers and sweets." Ah, in a fictional world, everything is good and easy … but not so in real life. Yes, Bush had a shoot-out with the "bad guys" in Iraq last week, playing a computer game with war veterans that simulates a firefight in Baghdad.

But computer games and books are not real life.

Now, I enjoy a good book … mostly non-fiction, but when need a fiction-fix, I enjoy a political thriller. So when Vinny the bartender wrote his first book, Term Limits, I supported the Minnesota kid and read it. It was good but his later works have stretched from political fiction to science fiction … and that’s scary if Bush cannot see it.

I shudder at the thought that Bush may have read Robert J. Serling's, The President's Plane is Missing. The book was published about the time that Bush was in the Texas National Guard. In the novel, the country is faced with the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with Communist China. President Jeremy Haines is concerned that any wrong diplomatic move by the US could result in disaster. Badly in need of a vacation, Haines and his staff leave for a Palm Springs retreat. On route, Air Force One encounters atmospheric turbulence and disappears off the radar screen. Is the President dead? No, there is a good deal of trickery and mystery, but in the end the President takes charge. Well, I suspect that Bush would probably see himself as Harrison Ford (as in President James Marshall) in Air Force One ... and save the day.
No need for phony Mission Accomplished banners if you have a good writer.

If Bush is looking for some reading, maybe he should stay away from fiction.
If he wants to read a first hand account from people on the ground in Iraq, I suggest Hope Is Not A Plan written by participant-observers brought to Iraq to diagnose the insurgency and develop a get-well plan. The book is written to anyone interested in first-hand information about the workings of a coalition staff during wartime.
Hint : it’s kinda critical as even General David Petraeus was criticized for his pre-surge management.

And if Bush is ready to look beyond the Iraq situation, Osama bin Laden might suggest Perilous power : the Middle East & U.S. foreign policy : dialogues on terror, democracy, war, and justice by Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar. Bin Laden called Chomsky “among one of the most capable of those from your own side.”
Hint : you can learn a lot from your enemy.

And if he wants to learn how the Republican Party has lost its way, read Victor Gold’s Invasion of the party-snatchers : how the holy-rollers and neo-cons destroyed the GOP.
Hint : Gold co-wrote a book with Lynn Cheney, so she may have passed a copy to her that you can borrow.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Saddam Hussein is to WMD as George Bush is to waterboarding

Tomorrow, many high school students will be taking the SAT reasoning test … you know, “Dog is to puppy, as Cat is to ???”

Hence, if the question was “Saddam Hussein is to WMD as George Bush is to ???” could the answer be “waterboarding” ?

While Richard Cheney may still believe that there may still be WMD in Iraq (after all the Reagan Administration supplied numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" and other items to the regime), others believe that Hussein disposed of them.

So the question was asked, why didn’t Saddam say so?
The simple answer is that Saddam wanted to maintain the image. It was prudent to keep the threats and fear in his enemies’ minds. He didn’t need bullets, all he needed was to show that he had a gun.

So now the question is being asked of waterboarding in relation to the confirmation of Michel Mukasey as Attorney General.
On the surface it seems like a simple question, but Mukasey has offered a rather troubling answer.
Now, the New York Times is reporting that Senator Arlen Specter said he was trying to persuade the administration to brief Judiciary Committee members on the C.I.A. program, so that “we can talk it out amongst ourselves and try to come to a consensus.” But he said Mr. Bush’s aides had been “noncommittal.”

So, why would the Bush administration be “noncommittal”?
Could it be that they realize that they gain more with our enemies if they think waterboarding will be used?
It’s image-building … (you won’t question if there are bullets in the gun, if you see the gun.)
The Washington Post reported that “It is believed that fewer than five high-value detainees have been subjected to waterboarding, and the technique has not been used since 2003.”
ABC News reported that CIA Director Hayden had banned waterboarding in CIA interrogations in 2006.

While I would like to believe my supposition; I could not trust Saddam Hussein, and I cannot trust the Bush Administration.

Is waterboarding torture?
That shouldn’t be a question.
The question should be, “What techniques are effective?”
John McCain and others have spoken loudly that torture does not produce viable intelligence … and I believe John McCain.

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 ?