Thursday, February 28, 2008

VOTE 51 : MN Jobs at stake while Congress chooses whose Tax Break to Extend

Arguably, the American tax system is chock-full of tax credits and provisions that have created an unfair system which are dominated by lobbyists and special interest groups. Congress is in the midst of making a decision concerning which industries should have their tax breaks extended. Should industry profitability eliminate a few companies from the tax credit? How should America's vision of the future and the jobs that could be created be factored into the equation ?

Choice A – Re-enact tax incentives - now set to expire in 2008 - which will end all federal tax credits on solar, wind and other alternative energy installations. Allowing the tax incentives to expire, would effect investors as they would be unlikely to pump much new money into clean power unless they are sure the credits will be available next year. When the tax credit expired at the end of 2003, the construction of new wind farms dropped by 75 percent the next year. The American Wind Energy Association has already detected a drop in new capital spending. An economic study by Navigant Consulting finds that over 76,000 jobs are put at risk in the wind industry, and approximately 40,000 jobs in the solar industry. The states that could lose the most jobs include: Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and California.

Choice B – Permit the scheduled tax credit increase which was at 3% in 2005, that was raised to 6 percent in 2007 and to increase to 9 percent in 2010 for MAJOR oil companies.

That’s the choice.
Jobs – current and future - or reducing corporate income taxes to the five largest oil companies.

A little history : The American Jobs Creation Act allowed the deduction of up to 3 percent of qualified income for qualified domestic production activity income. In January, 2005, when this deduction took effect, the spot price in West Texas was $46.84/barrel. Recently, the posted price of West Texas Intermediate oil is $94.62. The big five oil companies made a combined profit of $123 billion in 2007 alone. Major integrated oil companies are defined as those with all of the following: (1)average daily worldwide crude production of at least 500,000 barrels for the taxable year: (2) gross receipts of $1 billion per year; and (3) average daily refinery run in excess of 75,000 barrels. Currently that fits only FIVE companies. All non-integrated oil companies would still be able to claim a 6 percent domestic manufacturing deduction. All other manufacturers would get a 9 percent deduction starting in 2010.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that removal of the credit for major integrated oil and gas producers would bring in $9.433 billion in federal revenue over the next eleven years. Additionally, the proposal freezes the current deduction for all other oil and gas producers to its current 6 percent of qualified income. That portion of the proposed modification would have the effect of freezing the effective corporate income tax to those producers at 32.9 percent, rather than allowing the effective rate to fall to 31.85 percent if the deduction was fully implemented.

The chairman and CEO of Exxon-Mobil testified that if Congress took back the billions of dollars, it would not affect Exxon-Mobil (the Joint Hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 109th Congress, November 9, 2005).

The bill also proposes a clarification to an existing tax code which would eliminate the potential for major oil and gas companies to manipulate their extraction income in order to achieve beneficial results under U.S. foreign tax credit rules. This small clarification would raise approximately $4.08 billion over ten years, and would more than cover the proposed renewable energy and energy efficiency tax incentives.

Taking oil out of the equation, let’s look at how Minnesota could be affected. With the new Southwest Minnesota wind farm project, Minnesota is ranked as the nation's third largest producer of wind energy capacity, behind California and Texas.

But the future is clouded because of the tax question, putting at risk pending in-state projects.

I acknowledge that any change how energy is acquired can have impacts that the current system is not prepared (the capacity for the nation's high-voltage lines to accept wind turbine energy, local community concerns, safety concerns, etc.) and that mistakes have been made by embracing ethanol so eagerly. Yet, the first question needs to be, do these five major oil companies still need the tax reduction? The second question is, will extending the tax credit for alternative energy programs create (and maintain) jobs?

Those questions are simple to answer.
And the House of Representatives voted yesterday Roll Call 84 with Minnesota’s delegation voting in favor 6 to 2. Keith Ellison was co-sponsor of HR 5351 . Support for alternative energy is not surpising as previously, Tim Walz introduced with the co-sponsorship of Jim Ramstad, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Ellison, HR 2691 to provide incentives for facilities producing electricity from wind.

Why is it that Representatives Bachmann and Kline do not see the value of alternative energy and the jobs involved that the other Republicans and Democrats see ?

Now, that the legislation has been approved, the Senate will consider it. Based on past votes, it will be close. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced S. 2642 that would establish a national renewable energy standard; to extend and create renewable energy tax incentives, so she should be supportive. Senator Coleman has voted to move forward for a final vote the previous legislation. It failed by one vote to achieve the 60 vote requirement. Senator Durbin reacted : “The future just failed by one vote, the past was preserved the oil companies are now celebrating in their boardrooms. Not only do they have the highest profits in history, they continue to have a death grip on this Senate.”

That’s part of the problem … the 60 vote requirement to move legislation forward is causing inaction.

Now, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, said
Democratic leaders are considering advancing the House bill under fast-track procedures related to the budget. This process would not permit an indefinite GOP stall. In essence, it would require just 51 votes to force Senate action.

If, the Senate approves, then the legislation will go to President Bush who has already promised a veto.

Assuming this plays out, it will be up to Bachmann and Kline on the Veto Override Vote to decide on Minnesota jobs or Billions for the FIVE Oil companies.
Voters should let Bachmann and Kline know now who they wish to support.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Question for John Kline :
Are Comic Books Pork Barrel Spending ?

Congressman John Kline (R-MN-02) is on a crusade against earmarks, yet the question needs to be asked if ”earmarks” are the problem or “pork-barrel spending” ?

Kline and many of his fellow Republicans have launched a media blitz challenging other Congressman not to request ”earmarks”. Obviously, it’s the basis of the November elections strategy when challengers like Dick Day, party managers like Ron Carey, and even President Bush will tell us that ”earmarks” are the problem. Politicians are salesmen – selling a message – and like any good snake oil salesman, beware of the claims. The implied target is the Democrats, yet for change to occur, Republicans can lead by example … if they are serious.

Not all ”earmarks” are pork barrel spending projects; “Earmarks” may be abused as pork barrel spending projects, but they essentially are instructions by Congress to ensure that monies are spent according to the peoples’ wishes. The Constitution under Article I Section 9 empowers Congress with the powers of appropriations.

One of the ways that the ”earmarks” campaign is being waged is through The Club for Growth RePORK Card of all members' votes on 50 anti-pork amendments. And based on that assessment, Second District Congressman Kline gets a perfect score at 100 % while First District Congressman Tim Walz fails with 0%. Ron Carey was quick to issue a Press Release to announce this meaningless assessment.

A couple of observations concerning this analysis.

First, by and large, Republicans are not so clear on this issue. In the old Tom DeLay days, the legislation moved if a Majority of the Majority (Republicans) wanted it … so if a majority in the Republican caucus approved it got put to a floor vote where the Democrats could participate. So based on that logic, how would these 50 anti-pork amendments have fared … 41 would have passed. And the votes were not overwhelming as a minimum of 80 Republicans approved of these amendments. Overall, only one anti-pork amendment did pass … it had a bare margin of 6 votes from Republicans but the Democrats had a 69 vote margin.
The GOP needs to change its act, before Ron Carey's MN-GOP should be so loudly congratulating one of its members.

Second, the RePORK Card seems to ignore the largest area of spending. The Defense Appropriation had 2,161 earmarks valued at $7.9 billion. Surely, there must be some “pork-barrel spending” in this appropriation .... I suspect that you could write a book about it … maybe even a COMIC BOOK [see below].

Now, John Kline has sworn off earmarks and has recently convinced Michele Bachmann to join him, while other members of Congress still request funding for various programs … albeit, the benefit may be for more than just the requestors home area. For example, First District Congressman Tim Walz has requested $125,000 for the Sheriffs Youth Program of Minnesota, Inver Grove Heights, MN for chemical dependency treatment services. The SHERIFFS YOUTH PROGRAMS OF MINNESOTA serves various locations throughout Minnesota (Austin, Hayward, Mankato, Isanti, Waverly, Winona, St. Cloud, and Rochester) which means they serve Bachmann, Oberstar and Walz districts.

Are programs that treat chemical dependency important ?
The day after Bush’s State of the Union (during which he complained about "earmarks"), he visited the Jericho Program,where he said, "Addiction is hard to overcome. As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life." The Jericho Program is part of Bush’s earmarked programs having received over $1.3 million in federal dollars.

So, is it okay for Bush to spend millions but Congressman Walz shouldn’t try to help people in our state ?

So, if funding may be a good idea for chemical dependency programs, are there any wasteful “pork-barrel” programs that should be eliminated ?
Of, course.
With all those earmarks in the DOD authorization, surely some programs should be questioned.

How about eliminating funding COMIC BOOKS ?

That’s right … the US Government is currently requesting bids - M68450-08-Q-0021 : The dollar value of the award is not anticipated to exceed $2,400,000.00. The resulting award will be a Firm Fixed Price contract. The detailed specifications for the twelve (12) issues of 6th Brigade Comic Book series are as follows: Requesting the design, production and distribution of 12 issues of 60,000 comic books per issue for a total of 720,000 comic books of the 6th Brigade Comic Book series to highlight the professionalism of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and to enhance the public perception of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as a capable, well-trained, and professional fighting force IAW Information Operations Objectives as outline in the Multi National Force West Operation Order MNF-W (OPORD) dated September 2007.
That's right, folks ... $2.4 million for COMIC BOOKS !

How long have we been in Iraq … and has our success been delayed because the Comic Books haven’t conveyed the proper message ?

It is commonly accepted that the resolution in Iraq is not a military solution but an economic and political solution. When former First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht returned from his only visit to Iraq, he said the key was economic and the need to get jobs for Iraqis.
So, if Comic Books are the key, why don’t the Iraqis produce them ?
Frankly, Americans don’t know the Iraqi culture much less the language … I suspect more cartoonist have read The Far Side then can read Farsi … or Arabic, Dari, Pashto, or any of the other languages spoken in the region.

Instead of John Mr. Earmark-Free Kline proclaiming a "pork-free diet" why doesn't he scrutinize the Bush budget and comment on the "necessity" of Bush's earmarks.
How hard can that be in a $3 trillion spending plan?
For example, Aircraft and weapons: $45.6 billion, a $4.9 billion increase, which would include purchases of fighter planes such as the F-22A. The F-22 was originally designed as an air superiority fighter for use against the Soviet Air Force. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent a 13-page letter on June 20, 2006 to then-House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young urging Congress to stop funding this program due to its high cost and the fact that the aircraft is out of date. The GAO said, "DOD has not demonstrated the need or value for making further investments in the F-22A program." The GAO also noted that the F-22s "are not sufficient to be effective in the current and future national security environment." There are 22 test F-35 aircrafts that are more modern, effective, and cheaper. In 2003, Popular Science reported the F-22 had a price tag of $120 million each while the F-35 cost $35 million. In June 2006, the GAO report raised the F-22's numbers, concluding that the multi-year contract would drive per-plane costs up to $183 million from $166 million.

Sadly, Bush’s FY2009 does not adequately fund the on-going Global War on Terror … and before they authorize another supplemental spending bill, Congress first needs to look at other DOD spending.

The Republicans loudly protesting “earmarks” is strictly an election-year ploy when they --and the Democrats-- need to take a serious look all spending.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Don’t tell Ron Carey, but Norm Coleman leads Earmarks race

The Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) has evaluated the FY2008 appropriations bills and determined that Congress inserted 12,881 earmarks worth $18.3 billion into FY2008 spending bills. Congress also documented more than $20 billion in presidential earmarks.

Evaluating the Minnesota Congressional Delegation, Norm Coleman leads the list with $10,780,000 solo earmarks while Keith Ellison and John Kline have requested zero earmarks.

Solo earmarks may not tell the total story, since funding can also cross-district needs. Kline for example did not assign his name to any project while all of Ellison earmarks were ones that the President wanted. Looking at the delegation in this manner, Kline would be first followed by Bachmann at $3,787,600; Walz in third at $9,562,500, then Ramstad at $12,472,300, and on.

Not all earmarks are pork-barrel spending.
They can be good projects that “promote the general Welfare” for the citizens. Article I Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution is clear … Congress controls the purse .. (No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law).

Bush’s FY2009 budget is a sham.
Yet as TCS documents above, presidential earmarks outnumber Congressional earmarks.
For example, Bush knows that the continuation of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System (and other similar projects) will be funded by Congress. By not including these dollars in his request, he understates what funding is required to make the fiscal imbalance not as large as it is. Water and other related projects requests totaling about $1.8 billion -- some date back to 2000 (or essentially throughout Mr. Bush's presidency) -- are awaiting funds.

South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [D], Iowa Congressman Steve King [R] and Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz [D] have issued a joint statement of support for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project that would serve the three states.

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System will deliver safe drinking water from aquifers near Vermillion, S.D., to roughly 300,000 people in a 5,000 square mile area.
Lewis & Clark will be funded … and it will be an earmark in the budget … and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is not “pork-barrel” wasteful project.

It’s a game. And part of the game may be who will sign their name to the earmark ?

I question how John Kline can say that he serves the people when he does not support any earmarks. I am proud that Tim Walz is fighting for our well being.

Why do I mention Ron Carey ? When The Club For Growth issued their RePork Card on House of Representatives votes on earmarks, Carey was quick to issue a press release condemning Walz. Will he be so quick now to acknowledge Coleman’s use of earmarks ? (More on the RePork Card in a future commentary.)

We can debate about what is wasteful spending … I question $97,000 to continue the "Lighten Up, Iowa" anti-obesity initiative, but believe that is in the country’s best interest to have a clean water supply. It will be easy for people to denounce earmarks, but we need a serious discussion about what the projects are.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Could U2 Earmark a Rock for Infrastructure Concert for Wilmar ?

Investment in infrastructure seems to be a continual need … regardless if it is in Africa or Wilmar.

While President Bush is in Africa reviewing his five-year, $1.2 billion plan to cut malaria deaths in half in the hardest-hit countries, communities in America are languishing behind needed investments.
As compassionate Americans, we applaud his desires for a better world, but ask how our local communities can get their projects funded?

No doubt that the work of Bono involving Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill in a tour of Africa made an impact. In Uganda, O’Neill remarked "Forty-five percent of the people don't have clean water. The amount of money that's required to give everyone here clean water is maybe $25 million." Later, he cited the example of Ghana's need for clean water supplies, noting that in many cases, it could be solved by drilling $5,000 wells.

At that time, Bono was asked about a Rock for Infrastructure Tour with his band U2. I doubt that Bono thought he would have to earmark a stop in Wilmar, but I wonder if that is what it will take.

The Willmar City Council has authorized the city to file for a state loan to finance construction of the new wastewater treatment plant and conveyance system, estimated at $87.2 million.
The new estimate is up $7 million from a December 2005 facilities plan estimate of $80.2 million. Willmar’s project is among a pool of requests totaling about $1.8 billion. Some date back to 2000 (or essentially throughout Mr. Bush's presidency) and are awaiting funds.
Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar and Representative Collin Peterson have been requested to assist in the federal grant.

If they succeed, will they be charged with “pork barrel spending” ?
Essentially, this would be an earmark … an instruction within an appropriations bill that designates monies to a specific project. The Constitution under Article I Section 9 empowers Congress with the powers of the purse. The departments and agencies of the executive branch may not spend any money that Congress has not appropriated, or use federal money for any purpose that Congress has not specified. Although the Congress may provide agencies with a funding, if they do not specify which projects should be funded, the agency would be liberty to spend it as they see fit.

With the 9% cost increase over the past two years, the longer the project is delayed the more it will cost. As a fiscal conservative, I was disappointed when Congress passed and Bush signed a $168 billion H.R. 5140: Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 , but the one shining star of fiscal restraint was Congressman Peterson who voted against it.

The business tax cuts included in the stimulus package are unwise. A 2006 paper published by the Federal Reserve Board shows that the economic bang for the buck of "bonus depreciation" for businesses is very modest.
The personal rebates may be spent – possibly buying products that were made in China, thus helping their economy, not ours - or may be put in savings depending upon the recipients needs.

A better stimulus would have been the passage of S. 1926 National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007 which has been introduced by Senators Dodd and Hagel with co-sponsors Clinton, Obama and others. Disappointingly, neither Coleman nor Klobuchar have signed on. Frankly, I don't understand why Coleman with an upcoming election has not signed on. Do you think Barak Obama's speech in Janesville, Wisconsin at a GM assembly plant helped him excite his voters :
For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America. I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years.
This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs -- many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by this housing crisis. The repairs will be determined not by politics, but by what will maximize our safety and homeland security; what will keep our environment clean and our economy strong.

Invest in America.
Did you know that a recent Veterans Affairs Department report found that 18 percent of the veterans who sought jobs within one to three years of discharge were unemployed, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year?
Hire a Vet.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Will Dick Day and Ruthie Hendrycks face the Inconvenient Truths on Immigration ?

Why is that challengers veer to wedge issues to launch their campaigns ?

Dick Day’s resume is full of a pro-business agenda that should easily make him a qualified candidate for US House, yet his immigration agenda is what the papers are reporting.

Ruthie (Ruth) Hendrycks announced her campaign, to replace Brad Finstad representing Minnesota House District 21B, with a focus on immigration. I suppose this should not be a surprise since in her 2006 campaign for Minnesota Lt. Governor, she was running to “preventing the balkanization of Minnesota.” At that time, she announced “that the lack of political experience is one of our team's biggest assets.” Well, since she did not acknowledge any “political experience” in her announcement, she might need to a little advice.

William J. Stuntz in the February 18 issue of The Weekly Standard has an article entitled The Inconvenient Truths of 2008 :” The Republican base wants the country to reacquire control over its southern border, and wants to see the millions of illegal immigrants already here expelled or punished--because anything less rewards them for their violations. The first goal is both good policy and good politics. The second is a practical impossibility and a political disaster. No American government can afford to track down and expel, fine, or otherwise penalize 12 million of its residents: 17 times the number of convicted felons who enter prison each year (and today's imprisonment rate has shattered historical records). That much law enforcement is beyond government's capacity--a fact for which conservatives, of all people, should be thankful.
Not only will the illegals themselves remain, so will generations of their offspring: a large voting bloc that will be forever barred to the party that wanted to ship their parents and grandparents back to their Central American homes. If the penalties for illegally crossing the border are more than a pittance, immigrants will simply refuse to pay them and remain underground, and no future government will spend the money needed to catch and prosecute them. Given those circumstances, amnesty is less a policy choice than a statement of political reality: the rough equivalent of bankruptcy for a debtor who, without it, will never pay another creditor another dime. To put the point differently, the size of America's Latino population means that the nation's border control problem must be solved with that population's consent.

Stuntz assessment is that no matter how passionately held the belief, reality must be considered.
Wishing doesn't make it so.

Yep, that was from The Weekly Standard ... not exactly part of the liberal media elite.

IF any candidate pushes wedge issues in lieu of the national debt, health care, foreign relations, the environment, job creation and growth, and an energy policy, they are just avoiding addressing the real issues.

For more of my thoughts on immigration, click any of these link

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

VOTE 60 : Norm Coleman Rejects Role of Dissident

While the House mourns the death of a Human Rights advocate, Norm Coleman is leading the opposition against dissenting at a human rights conference.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The freedom of speech and the right of the people peaceably to assemble form the bedrock of the American democratic spirit.

Politicians need to embrace these rights even if they are the target of dissidents.

Recently, Barak Obama was confronted by abortion protesters at a campaign rally. While Obama’s supporters wanted to out-shout the protesters, Obama defended Free Speech stating "Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That's part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard."

Barak Obama sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and through CSPAN, citizens have been able to see Committee sessions. Long before Obama had announced his candicacy for President, viewers saw an intelligent, thoughful Senator in action. At the other side of the Committee, viewers also saw Norm Coleman in action … most memorable was Senator Barbara Boxer schooling Coleman in the US Constitution during the John Bolton confirmation hearings during which Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said "I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton" for the United Nations.

Coleman's battles with the United Nations have been well documented and he is at it again.
Now, Coleman is leading a group of Senators (not one Democrat in group) to demand that America not participate in the Durban II Conference - UN World Conference on Racism in 2009. Many of the specifics involved in plans for Durban II remain vague, but the Conference participants include Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, and Russia.

Now the participants’ agenda at the Conference may not yield the results that America wants. Yes, there could be complaints of human rights abuses on Cuban soil … but those complaints could concern Guantanamo Bay. After all the first Durban Conference resulted in Secretary of State Colin Powell stating “You do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world — Israel — for censure and abuse.”

That’s the point. Obama’s words are apropos – “standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard."

By not being a disadent at the conference, hateful talk will be unchecked.

But then again, Coleman has been idle when presented with other opportunities. For example, the Republicans have shown no leadership in approving the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a UN Resolution `to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises'.
To date, over 180 countries have ratified the agreement.
The United States is the only industrialized country that has not ratified CEDAW. By not ratifying, the US is in the company of countries like Iran, Sudan, and Somalia. Senator Klobuchar has indicated her support for passage, but she is not on the Foreign Relations committee which has jurisdiction. Senator Coleman has not responded to my request for action.

It is with sadness, that Coleman leads the Durban II protest while the House mourns the death of Congressman Tom Lantos who was the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee.
Lantos was a strong supporter of Israel and is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. As chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, he advocated on behalf of human rights, championing pro-freedom activists in China, Burma, and elsewhere. In 1993, he bitterly complained to the State Department for failure to be a dissident as China sold missiles to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Lantos was one of the key lawmakers who helped establish a dialogue with Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, when it became apparent that Gaddafi was preparing to switch sides in the war on terror and support the United States. Lantos had visited Syria and encouraged Speaker Pelosi to visit there also. Lantos wanted to visit Iran. "We talked to the Soviet Union for over half a century, and there is no doubt in my mind that the tremendous amount of interchange had something to do with the collapse of the system."

Lantos was not limited to talking about human rights abuses, in August of 2006, he and five other members of Congress participated in a protest that lead to their arrest. "We have been calling on the civilized world to stand up and to say, 'Enough,' " Lantos said. "The slaughter of the people of Darfur must end."

That’s the key Norm … talking with your adversaries … convincing them to change their ways … not rejecting an opportunity to present an alternative view.
Sanctions don’t work. Engagement works.
There is a role for a dissident.
We can respect a man who can “stand in the midst of people who disagree with you and let your voice be heard."

Senator Coleman could have learned a lot from Congressman Lantos.

NOTE : 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.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Vote 60 :
Norm Coleman Endorses McCain
( and Torture )

If Norm Coleman will support John McCain for President, why won’t he support McCain’s position on torture ?

During a Republican presidential primary debate, Fox News moderator Brit Hume asked the candidates about the use of waterboarding as an acceptable interrogation technique.
John McCain was the first to answer "We could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people, " he said. "It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know."
When Rudy Giuliani was given a chance to responded, he offered a different view “I would — and I would — well, I’d say every method they could think of.

Two different views … yet Coleman was able to make a decision whom to endorse as the Republican Party nominee.

In announcing Coleman’s endorsement of Giuliani for President, the Star-Tribune reported that Coleman thought about the endorsement for awhile and based it on “Giuliani's strong stance on national security."
How could anyone endorse a candidate for President that has absolutely no foreign affairs or defense experience and state that it was based on national security ?
The President is The Decider and the duties are fairly well defined in Article II of the Constitution. As Commander in Chief, the President sets the tone for what is an acceptable interrogation technique.

Douglas A. Johnson, executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, wrote a powerful OpEd chastising Coleman for his announced opposition to an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 would hold the CIA to the rules of the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation (Section 327 of the Conference Report).

Perhaps, Coleman should read the letter Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, sent May 10 to all U.S. troops there: “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information…. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary…. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight … is how we behave. In everything we do, we must … treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect.
The following 30 military leaders who have endorsed this policy:
General Joseph Hoar, USMC (Ret.)
General Paul J. Kern, USA (Ret.)
General Charles Krulak, USMC (Ret.)
General David M. Maddox, USA (Ret.)
General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Ret.)
Admiral Stansfield Turner, USN (Ret.)
Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, USA (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Donald L. Kerrick, USA (Ret.)
Vice Admiral Albert H. Konetzni Jr., USN (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Charles Otstott, USA (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Harry E. Soyster, USA (Ret.)
Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.)
Major General Eugene Fox, USA (Ret.)
Major General John L. Fugh, USA (Ret.)
Rear Admiral Don Guter, USN (Ret.)
Major General Fred E. Haynes, USMC (Ret.)
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, USN (Ret.)
Major General Melvyn Montano, ANG (Ret.)
Major General Gerald T. Sajer, USA (Ret.)
Major General Antonio 'Tony' M. Taguba, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General David M. Brahms, USMC (Ret.)
Brigadier General James P. Cullen, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Evelyn P. Foote, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General John H. Johns, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Richard O'Meara, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Murray G. Sagsveen, USA (Ret.)
Brigadier General Anthony Verrengia, USAF (Ret.)
Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, USA (Ret.)

Johnson’s Op-Ed concludes "Minnesotans should be able to count on Coleman's leadership to help restore America as a global leader."

Coleman needs to listen to McCain.
They may have had different experiences during their youths. It has been well documented that McCain, a Navy pilot, was shot down in 1967 and spent 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison while Coleman was roadie for 10 Years After and attended the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969.

Now McCain may be busy on the campaign trail, so Coleman should have a direct conversation with a fellow member of the Foreign Relations Committee – Chuck Hagel – a Vietnam veteran who is championing the legislation.

I am one independent voter who could invision a scenerio where I would vote for John McCain for President and against Norm Coleman’s re-election … and that decision would not be tortureous.

Norm, do the right thing. Endorsing a candidate is easy … show some leadership and denounce torture !

NOTE : 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.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

VOTE 60 : Minnesota loses out on Clinton and Coleman policy choice

Hillary Clinton and Norm Coleman seem to agree that an embargo is good foreign policy tool even if it is ineffective and Minnesota suffers.

This week’s Fareed Zakaria Newsweek column, declares that “America's approach toward Cuba is brain dead. No one even remembers why we've imposed a total embargo on the country. A policy that was put into place at the height of the cold war, when fears of Soviet missiles and communist penetration were at their peak, has been maintained even though the threat that prompted it has collapsed. What exactly are we afraid this moth-eaten island will do to America today?

Barak Obama’s Op-Ed of August 2007 described his position. Zakaria writes “Clinton immediately disagreed, firmly supporting the current policy. This places her in the strange position of arguing, in effect, that her husband's Cuba policy was not hard-line enough”.

Clinton is battling for a Presidential nomination and may be affected by the desire to garner potential Florida Cuban voters.

Candidates may say something to get elected, but then once elected, their positions may be different.

That appears to be the case for Coleman.

In 2002, when he was campaigning for Senate, Candidate Coleman distinguished himself from Bush’s policy stating disagree with him [the President] on trade with Cuba.

Coleman had to react to Governor Jesse Ventura's (as part of the U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition) visit to Cuba. The trade group included St. Charles, Minnesota farmer Ralph Kaehler who was excited about new business opportunties.

Less than a year later, things changed as Kaehler complained "The difficult part, has been for the most part working with our government -- getting visas for Cuban livestock inspectors and veterinarians to come up and inspect the animals, like every other country does. That took forever. It's just fighting the politics side of doing business."

Further, Kaehler says Coleman is helping undermine the success of the Ventura trade mission.

On March 21,2003, Coleman was appointed to the Senate Working Group on Cuba . The mission acknowledged that the sanction policy has been ineffective and places America at an international competitive disadvantage and to address the issue of restricting travel to Cuba.

Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government forbids its citizens to travel. Republican Senator Michael Enzi has proposed Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2007 . Interestingly, fellow members of the Working Group, (Baucus, Bingaman, Cantwell, Dorgan, Hagel and Lincoln are co-sponsors,) but Clinton and Coleman have not. Travel restrictions allow governments to shield their actions from public view … look at how people reacted after visiting to South Africa to see what Apartheid was all about. The best commentary comes from Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who sponsored similar legislation ”If my travel which I think is my human right is going to be restricted, then it seems to me that a Communist government ought to be the one doing the restricting -- not my own government of the United States of America.”

Yet another bill Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2007 also has widespread bi-partisan support from the Working Group (Baucus, Bingaman, Cantwell, Dorgan, Lincoln and Roberts are co-sponsors), but Clinton and Coleman are not.

So how did Coleman go so far astray?

Could it from Coleman’s battle with the United Nations and his allegiance to John Bolton ?

For 16 years the United Nations has passed a resolution condemning the US embargo, most recently in October, 2007 by a vote of 184-4 (the US, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau against while the UK, Australia, Canada, etc denounced the US.)

On May 6, 2002 , Bolton alleged that Cuba had a biological weapons program and his confirmation hearing was highlighted by accusations that he tried to shape intelligence conclusions and punish intelligence professionals who worked on Cuba .

Coleman believes Bolton "was the best" of Bush's U.N. ambassadors

And what is the business opportunity cost for America ?

Cuban agricultural imports that America missed is $663 million in 2006Dollars based on US International Trade Commission analysis. It is not unreasonable to project that Minnesota’s ag-business could benefit $100 million directly and additional downstream dollars for other related businesses.

Coleman and Clinton are wrong. It’s time for the Cuba embargo to end.

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.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Norm Coleman Challenge :
Walk and chew gum at the same time

Norm Coleman said "We're a great nation and we should be able to, you know, walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to do both right."

That was his assessment after two days of hearings discussing one aspect of the Global War on Terror; but the real question is not whether America can wage war on multiple fronts on the GWOT, but will American leaders promote peace at the same time ?

Last week, Coleman in a lead role along with his Foreign Relations committee received reports from the Afghanistan Study Group [ASG] report sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency (co-chaired by General Jones and Ambassador Pickering), the Atlantic Council report (co-chaired by General Jones) and a paper written by Dr. Harlan Ullman and others, “Winning the Invisible War: An Agricultural Pilot Plan for Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, which two years ago was largely viewed as a defeated movement, has been able to infiltrate and control sizable parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan, leading to widespread disillusionment among Afghans with the mission.

"The prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible," the ASG study says, warning that Afghanistan could revert to a "failed state."

Further Coleman said, "I think it's an indisputable fact that we have missed opportunities in Afghanistan because of what is happening in Iraq. We cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. The mission is faltering. "

The ASG report is online and it includes a number of recommendations … one of which is the similar to a recommendation from the Iraq Study Group … namely “ Initiate a regional process to engage Afghanistan’s neighbors including Iran and other potential regional partners in the future sustainable development of Afghanistan.

After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Iran's relations with Afghanistan improved, their trade grew and Iran helped build roads and power lines in Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran continues to play a role in Iraq's economy, supplying Iraqis with electricity, household goods and food. Iraqi leaders from the Shiite bloc that are now in power have strong ties with Iran's governing Shiite Persians. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stated on Friday that Iran is stronger today because of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The reality is that engagement with Iran is the best chance for peace … from Iraq to Afghanistan and even to Palestine … Iran is the key. The longer America waits, the more entrenched, demonized and alone we become. If President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation to visit Baghdad, why won’t the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee pressure the State Department to engage directly with Iran. The nuclear crisis with North Korea was at a standstill until the State Department started direct talks. The Russians are not going to support the US against Iran. The Senate cannot afford to wait until Bush leaves office … and the best ones to lead the charge are the Republicans …. i.e. Norm Coleman.

This plea has been made before and before. It’s time for Coleman to assume leadership not just occupy a chair on the committee. He needs to hold to the pledge that he made when he accepted the responsibilities the he would seek“ an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.”

“Walk and chew gum at the same time” is just the start of our challenges as Chairman Joe Biden lists Afghanistan as number one on his list but quickly includes Pakistan, Darfur, the Balkans, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, HIV-AIDS, non-proliferation and arms control, China, India, Russia, energy security and climate change.

Obviously, the order must mean something. Afghanistan has just been discussed and Pakistan is easy to understand but Durfur? Actually, if you read the news today, it is clear. The Taliban of Chad have moved from its Eastern frontiers have scored a strategic victory not only against the Government of the Chad but to establish Islamist-rule. Militants involved in the Darfur conflict have been attacking villages and towns in eastern Chad. It is estimated that 200,000 refugees from the Darfur region of northwestern Sudan currently claim asylum in eastern Chad. The GWOT is not Iraq but all over the Middle East and Africa. Overemphasis that Iraq may become a safe haven is shortsighted propaganda ... al Qaeda and the Taliban are spreading in other areas.

Coleman has an opportunity to do his job on the Foreign Relations Committee or look at a legacy of failure. Thus far his performance has been disappointing. While other Republicans on the Foreign Relations committee have spoken out, Coleman has been Blinded-by-Bush in his support for John Bolton, his attacks on the UN mission, and his failure to investigate fraud and abuse. The Defense Contract Audit Agency has reported that $10 billion of about $57 billion in contracts for services and reconstruction in Iraq "is either questionable or cannot be supported because of a lack of contractor information needed to assess costs."

Coleman wants to be re-elected.
Although I am critical of his performance, I am one independent voter who still has an open mind.
His best course for re-election is better performance … and it’s now or never time.
Don't do it to be re-elected, do it for the 28,000 troops that are assigned to Afghanistan and the 482 soldiers that have been killed.