Thursday, July 31, 2008

First Proof ! Educated Voters Pick Sarvi, Reject Kline

My previous commentary addressed the importance of educating voters on Congressman John Kline (R-MN-02) stance on the issues. Now the first voice is heard as The Independence Party issued an official endorsement.
“The Independence Party occasionally endorses a candidate from a different party when we do not have a candidate from our own party,” said Marian Brown, Second District chair. “To be cross-endorsed, the candidate must agree with at least 75 percent of our key issues and meet several other qualifications. We look forward to having Steve Sarvi represent us in Congress.” The party’s core values include preserving the democratic process, justice, social inclusiveness, fiscal responsibility and protecting the environment.

This is significant.

The Independence Party offers voters offer an alternative to the two main parties and has proven to the deciding factor in a number of elections. Electing Jesse Ventura as Governor was not the result of some Hollywood screen play. It certainly did not happen because the rank-and-file Independence Party membership, but instead because independent voters were given a third choice. Current Governor Tim Pawlenty never got a majority of the votes in his two elections, as Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson provided independent voters someone to vote for that wasn’t a flawed DFL nominee or Pawlenty. In the 2006 election, voters knew Tim Pawlenty’s record and his margin of victory was less than 22,000 while Hutchinson garnered over 141,000 votes. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) barely received a majority of votes (50.05%) as no doubt John Paul Binkowski had an impact in her 2006 election. This year, my current MN Senate projection is that Norm Coleman will garner 49% of the vote with The Independence Party’s Dean Barkley getting 6%.

Neither the MN-GOP nor DFL have enough party members to decide this election … it will be the Independent Voters that sway the election.

By the Independence Party endorsing another party's candidate instead of offering their own, they are telling voters that they have reviewed Kline’s Congressional voting record and Sarvi’s stance on the issues and see that the Second District would be better served with Sarvi.
That recognition is good news and something that the DCCC should take notice.
Minnesota has seen how effectively Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN-01) can work in bi-partisan basis while Kline has shown that he is in the minority of Republicans.
Minnesota needs strong leadership, not someone that stands alone in dissent.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MN-02 IA-05 : Education key in Kline, King races

Following up on my previous commentary that one of the reasons for Congress’ low poll numbers is the obstructionists, there is new hope that fresh ideas may be on the way next January.

CQ Politics has looked at the upcoming House races and noting that there is a shift favoring Democrats.
Specifically for Minnesotans, it has made a change in the Second District ratings. “Steve Sarvi is an Iraq War veteran and the former mayor of Watertown whose biography and experience make him a strong recruit for Democratic efforts to take over the 2nd District from three-term Rep John Kline . CQ Politics is changing its rating on the race to Republican Favored from Safe Republican, indicating it is a race to watch. The DCCC has categorized the race similarly. It lists the 2nd District race as one of its 20 “Emerging Races,” …

So for those of us in Minnesota’s First District look north to see an emerging race, so can we look south to Iowa’s Fifth District.
Also elected in 2002, is Republican Steve King … aka the House’s Obstructionist-in-Chief.
The conventional wisdom about King is that it's going to be nearly impossible for any Democrat to unseat him when western Iowa remains a Republican stronghold, but Rob Hubler estimates he's driven about 180,000 miles during the past 18 months asking the question who is “Who’s Steve King?”
Hubler says, most voters don't know much about King except that he's opposed to immigration and a supporter of administration policy in Iraq.
Hubler says, they don't hear about his voting record on other issues because Democrats haven't done enough to challenge him, and King - now in office three terms - benefits from name recognition.
Hubler contends that Republicans are tiring of King as well, and he wonders whether King has alienated other congressional Republicans with his frequent headline-grabbing remarks.

Ah, I see a parallel … entrenched Republicans with name recognition playing on fear issues being retained in Congress.
The key to change in Washington is to educate the voters about the records.

Do you want a Congressman who votes :
NO on tax incentives for renewable energy:
NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies:
NO on investing in homegrown biofuel
YES on retaining reduced taxes on capital gains & dividends
NO on paying for AMT relief by closing offshore business loopholes
YES on denying non-emergency treatment for lack of Medicare co-pay
NO on requiring negotiated Rx prices for Medicare part D
NO on adding 2 to 4 million children to SCHIP eligibility
NO on giving mental health full equity with physical health
NO on assisting workers who lose jobs due to globalization
But, agrees with privatizing Social Security

Those are the votes by John Kline and Steve King.

They may want to make this an election on WMD -- WantMoreDrilling, but voters need to know that there are many other issues that are important --- jobs, healthcare, tax fairness and of course, the national debt. A year ago, we felt pain at the pump when gas was $3 / gallon, but there was no WMD talk then … but they voted on a lot of issues. Voters must remember those issues and not just be fooled by the glitzy advertisements.

This election will not be decided by the Republicans nor the Democrats … it will be decided by the Independents.
Educating Independents will require volunteers and money. If you have either to spare, please consider Steve Sarvi and
Rob Hubler

Both Sarvi and Hubler are veterans and experienced in local politics … it’s time to change Washington with people who know our issues.

Sources :
Steve King votes
John Kline votes
Des Moines Register

Monday, July 28, 2008

MN-01 : Brain Davis Hero gets Special Legislation – Vote 60

Why are Congress’ poll ratings at an all-time low ?

There are many reasons, but one most certainly is Gamesmanship.
The Republicans have used a number of procedural tactics to delay and stymie movement on legislation.
Representative Steve King (R-IA) has been particularily effective in the Judiciary Committee requiring roll call votes in committee meetings and denying other Members of Congress from questioning witnesses.
In fact, the House has been prone to many Roll Call votes when Voice Votes were customarily used … even having some Representatives change their votes in midstream just to delay things longer.
The goal of the Republicans may be to kill legislation---or delay it interminably --- not find a middle and bipartisan ground.
As Trent Lott (formerly Republican Majority Leader in the Senate) stated “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail.” Lott's point was that a minority party can push as far as it wants until the public blames them for the problem, and so far that has not happened.

It’s time the public, puts the blame where it belongs.

In the House, the Democrats with a slight majority have joined with moderate Republicans to pass many bills onto the Senate … but that is where they stop. The Senate has a number of procedural rules that Senators can use to halt progress. For example, since January 2007, Senator Tom (a.k.a. Dr. Death) Coburn has used his senatorial "hold" to block more than 80 pieces of legislation. Some of the bills, including a child pornography law that passed the House 409 to 0 in November, are so non-controversial that they would normally sail through on voice vote.

Now, the Senate is now moving forward legislation that would roll 35 bills into one omnibus package … all designed to get enough Republicans – and particularly Senator Coburn -- to break their obstructionists grip.
This is not good government … but unfortunately necessary when obstructionists can use rules and parliamentary tactics to impede progress.

For some, Coburn may be a roll model.
As The Mankato Free Press reported during its first interview with Republican First District candidate Dr. Brian Davis : “As a living political hero, he lists Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a fellow physician who Davis said isn’t afraid to offend Republican colleagues when he thinks they are placing self interest over the interests of his constituents or the nation.”

Coburn … a hero ? Is this an indicator to what sort of tactics that Davis could use if elected?

Since Minnesota First asked about Davis stance on the issues, The Mankato Free Press article stated : “Davis, a fiscal and social conservative, emphasizes numerous issues that tend to be important to Republican activists: illegal immigration (he considers it very damaging to the middle class), abortion and gay marriage ( strongly opposed to both), stem- cell research (it can be done without embryonic stem cells), the estate tax (repeal it), the Bush tax cuts (make them permanent), the Iraq war (no hasty withdrawal) ...
That was October 25,2007.
That was the issues that he thought could garner votes, yet those are more controversial. But that’s his agenda.
Now, it’s OneIssueDavis … WMD … WantMoreDrilling.

So to the voters in Minnesota’s First District Republican Primary Election, please consider which candidate is bested suited for effective governance as you decide between State Senator Dick Day and OneIssueDavis.
Voters in November are starting to get an impression of Davis and it’s not good. From late tax payments to misinformed statements, Davis is showing that he is not prepared to represent the First District.

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.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

MN-02 : Did Reagan feel the Planet Shaking when Kline earmark funding was approved ?

''You could feel the planet shaking,'' President Ronald Reagan said when he vetoed legislation that contained 121 "demonstration projects".
Today, we would call those "demonstration projects" earmarks, but Reagan was quick with a quip to describe pork barrel projects, stating “I haven't seen so much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair.''

Well, I have a hunch that the shockwave that Simi Valley California felt about 5:50 PM on Tuesday night was President Reagan rolling over in his grave from what the House was funding.
At that time, John Kline’s legislation was approved.
That’s right Congressman John “Pork-Free” Kline sponsorsed the legislation that authorized $1 million dollars for a project that clearly fits the definition of pork – namely, congressional spending that applies to a very limited number of individuals or entities that don’t benefit the nation as a whole, or enhance the defense of the country.

H.R. 5235 establishes, and funds, the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.
That’s right, our tax dollars will be used to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth and lifetime accomplishments … George Washington didn’t get this observation.

Now, I have nothing against remembering Reagan, but with a national debt of over $9 trillion dollars and unfunded liabilities that make fiscal conservatives shudder, is this appropriate for the use of public money … i.e. your tax dollars?


This should be funded by private dollars. The Reagan Presidential Library gets over 300,000 visitors …. either increase the admission price or put out a collection plate.

Some may say, it’s only a Million Dollars, well, consider that on John Kline’s campaign website, he has a feature Stop The Pork in which he requests contributions and your approval on petition.

Kline cites the following projects :
-- $211,509 for olive fruit fly research in Paris (The Olive Fruit Fly is the world’s most disastrous olive pest and has infested thousands of acres of California’s olive groves.)
-- $591,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute (former Republican Senator Conrad Burns pet project)
-- $200,000 for a Lobster Institute in Maine (where both Senators are Republicans)
-- $100,000 to Develop a Walking Tour of Boydton, Virginia (requested by Republican Congressman Virgil Goode.)

Interestingly, though Congressman Kline does not mention the $500,000 requested for the Ronald Reagan Parkway in Indiana by Republican Congressman Steve Buyer that is considered an earmark in the same category as those listed above.

If Kline considered those projects as examples of Washington wasteful pork-barrel spending, then why not a Million Dollars for a Taxpayer-funded celebration ?

All I can say is mark February 6, 2011 on your calendar now for a Big Party at John Kline’s house. In the meantime, I can agree with Congressman Kline, that we must stop Congress from ”spending tax dollars on frivolous projects” and that should have started with Kline’s support of HR 5235.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where’s Norm Coleman Press Release on Tax Fairness ?

Republican Senator Norm Coleman is a PR machine … so when Norm doesn’t issue one there must be a reason.

So far this month, there have been thirteen, such as :
--- FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR MINNESOTA CRITICAL-NEED LANGUAGE PROGRAMS (somewhat notable since Senator Obama has been criticized for encouraging foreign languages, yet, Coleman states “Allowing our young people to become more connected with the global community will not only enrich students’ education, it will strengthen America’s place in the world for years to come.”);
--- SENATOR COLEMAN ANNOUNCES FUNDING FOR HOMELESS VETS CENTER IN ST. CLOUD (somewhat notable since Representative Michele Bachmann has taken the “No Earmark” pledge and St. Cloud is in her district.);
--- COLEMAN, LANDRIEU, BAYH ASK SEC. RICE TO NEGOTIATE WITH VIETNAM ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION (somewhat notable since Coleman does not acknowledge that other members of the Minnesota delegation also signed the letter … including Jim Oberstar immediately below Coleman’s signature, Amy Klobuchar on the same page as Coleman, then after the other Senators starts Tim Walz on page 7, Keith Ellison on page 8, John Kline and Betty McCollum on page 10 and finally Collin Peterson on page 11. Absent are Michele Bachmann and Jim Ramstad and for those that complain about how the presidential campaign has affected the involvement of the principles, Barack Obama signed the letter while John McCain did not.);
--- BILLINGS USED DEAD DOCTORS' NAMES (notable because this involved Coleman’s role on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.)

What a second … wasn’t there some other notable news from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations this week ?

Yes, there was … on Thursday, the Tax Haven Banks and U.S. Tax Compliance hearing was held.

From news reports : Wealthy Americans are hiding about 1.5 trillion dollars in overseas tax havens in a "deceptive" partnership with top foreign banks such as UBS, resulting in 100 billion dollars in lost US tax revenue.
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asked the fundamental question : Why would a U.S. taxpayer open a UBS account in Switzerland, when it could bank with UBS right here in the United States? Why would 19,000 U.S. clients with nearly $18 billion in assets choose to open Swiss accounts?

And that’s just one bank.
Think about it … that’s millions of dollars in each account ! Dollars that should be going to pay for the Global War on Terror and reducing the national debt.

Senator Coleman said, “It is simply unacceptable that some individuals are using offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions to shelter trillions of dollars from taxation, forcing working families to shoulder the tax burden. By exploiting gaping loopholes, these foreign banks are enabling felony tax evasion. Simply put, foreign banks should not be Al Capone safe-houses for evading taxes. Closing these loopholes means we must strengthen reporting requirements, broaden the scope of the audit program, and extend the amount of time the IRS has to investigate cases involving an offshore tax haven.”

I think all of us can agree with Senator Coleman’s statement, yet I have to ask two questions :
This story has been rumbling around for years, so why did it take until Senator Levin took over as Chairman of the Subcommittee to get the investigation moving?
Why hasn’t Coleman issued a press release reporting these findings ?

I can only speculate that the answers to both questions are the same --- it might be embarrassing for Senator Coleman and for others.

Coleman was thrilled to get his assignment in 2003 to be the Chairman of the Subcommittee. Others have identified at least 18 oversight opportunities that Coleman did not investigate, so I will not go into detail on this. Suffice it to say, that the Republican Congress allowed the Executive Branch to operate without oversight wasting billions of dollars, lives, and America’s standing in the world. By his assignment, Coleman is complicit in those failings.

But the second question is more relevant.
By issuing a press release Coleman would be further highlighting people that may be problematic for the political parties. After all, bundlers and campaigns need money and where do you get money but from the affluent. The violator’s names are not listed, but I am sure that many have contributed to members of both political parties.
And as who those people may be mystery at this time, it is not surprising to hear the name of Cindy McCain being mentioned in the blogosphere. With an estimated wealth of $100 Million (before the InBev buyout), she certainly would fit the mold of a candidate that could use UBS’s Private Wealth Division. Add to that, that Phil Gramm, who until Friday was John McCain’s campaign co-chair, is vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank and a former lobbyist on behalf of UBS. (Note : this is not the UBS division that is involved with the offshore tax haven scandal, but it would be surprising that a US vice-chairman would not be aware of his company’s Private Wealth Division.) It would be wise for Mrs. McCain to release her complete tax returns for the past ten years. It would be also advisable for every member of the current Congress, and every candidate for this upcoming election, issue a statement whether they have investments in offshore bank accounts.

$100 billion dollars in lost revenue is a lot of money. As the candidates talk about issues that voters can relate … like the impact of the rising cost of a gallon of gas and the cost of health insurance, we must talk to them about tax fairness. We struggle though life -- struggle with tax forms -- paying our fair share, but some have access to hid their income.

Coleman’s right when he says that it is wrong for ”working families to shoulder the tax burden” … now the question, what will Coleman do about it ?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Debate Topic : Best Burger Place

Minnesotans have debated where the best burgers are, but if the question is where is the best place for a debate and a burger?
Then the answer has to be The Channel Inn in Fairmont Minnesota … especially if the debate topic is America’s Energy Future.
Fairmont, which is nicknamed the City of Lakes, features as a main attraction, The Channel Inn which offers dining inside, or on the deck outside. All of the great varieties of burgers are scrumptious, but one thing that is immediately noticeable once you sit down, is the wind propellers across the lake.

With John McCain talking about 45 to 100 new nuclear power plants and the Republican endorsed candidate for the First District Dr. Brian Davis and Senator Norm Coleman seeming to be in agreement, the obvious question is, could a city actually be able to generate enough wind energy to become self-sufficient or should one of those new nuclear plants be built in southern Minnesota?

That’s the debate question.

Some may scoff at wind until Rock Port Missouri is considered. The Columbia Tribune reported “Officials in this northwest Missouri town christened a four-turbine wind farm this week, making Rock Port the first U.S. city to get all of its electricity from wind power.
In fact, the wind farm produces more than it needs.
The construction cost to the taxpayers for the project … zero. The impact to the county … more than $1.1 million annually in county real estate taxes.
Impact on consumer rates over the next decade … zero … zilch … no price increases.
Jobs created during the one year construction period … 500.
And, of course,
No air pollution,
No greenhouse gases,
No nuclear waste,
No nuclear proliferation,
No trade deficit.

Conversely, nuclear has its debate points.
Cost to taxpayers for subsidies … unknown, but the S.2191 Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007, which Senator Norm Coleman is a co-sponsor, encourages new nuclear plants and potentially $500 billion (or more) in taxpayer subsidies could be directed toward new nuclear reactors. Would any new construction occur without government subsidies … doubtful.
Time from construction to yielding energy … a senior industry representative said on April 7 that any new nuclear plants are more likely to come online in the US in the 2016-2017 timeframe … 8 years.
Construction cost to the taxpayers? Some states allow utilities to recover from ratepayers the cost of plant construction when it's incurred — years before the plant goes online -- whether the units are completed or not.
And what about the nuclear waste ? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the motto here. And as Senator Coleman recently commented about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s performance, "I'm still not convinced they fully grasp the psychological and economic impact that even a small dirty bomb attack would have on the American public."

OK, so there could be a great debate about harnessing wind energy versus nuclear.

We know that Minnesota already has two nuclear power plants, but could Rock Port happen here in southern Minnesota?

It is !

The Trimont Area Wind Farm, which has been in operation since November 2005, will be soon be increasing wind energy production as the 99-megawatt Elm Creek Wind Power Project construction has begun.

"In Southern Minnesota, we are showing the rest of the nation what is possible in renewable energy development," said Congressman Tim Walz. "With skyrocketing energy prices, it is imperative that we work together to ensure that our growing wind industry remains strong. In Congress, I have been a strong advocate of legislation that promotes wind development and research into other forms of renewable energy."

"Property taxes from the Trimont wind farm and now the Elm Creek project benefit county programs and schools," said Jackson County Commissioner Roger Ringkob. "The wind projects are not only a good fit with agriculture in rural Minnesota. They also bring in business to our local hotels, restaurants and campgrounds." Production tax revenues from the project for Jackson and Martin (where Fairmont is located) counties are expected to range from $350,000-$400,000 annually.

Even Minnesotans that don’t see wind farms in their area are becoming more aware of the potential. Boone Pickens is now running radio and television ads for his Pampa Wind Project which I addressed on June 12th.

Unfortunately, not everyone is voting to support wind energy. Republican Congressman John Kline (MN-02) and Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-06) voted in opposition to H. R. 5351 Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008. The bill is languishing in the Senate and as I wrote in February, if Norm Coleman really wants to exhibit his ability to bring people together, he needs to get this bill to a final vote. Sadly, while John McCain comes to Hudson Wisconsin and talks up wind energy as part of the solution, he fails to attend Senate sessions to vote on the issue. For that matter, he has failed to appear for over 80 consecutive votes since April. Admittedly, that Barack Obama has also missed many votes, but he has shown up for the critical ones … including the FISA vote which did not endear him to his base. By failing to vote, McCain is not only delaying more investment in wind energy (and bringing America closer to energy independence,) but is actually hiding from the voters his true feelings – billions for clean coal and nuclear plants while his goal for renewable energy is for it “no longer merits the taxpayers' dollars.

What a great subject for a debate over a burger at the Channel Inn that would be --- do we want look at Wind Farms in Motion or a Nuclear Power Plant.
Across Minnesota’s First District, Wind Farms are popping up everywhere … would you rather have these or a Nuclear Power Plant in your backyard?

I don’t know how the Energy debate will be resolved, but I guarantee that you will agree that The Channel Inn burgers are tops !

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

MN-02 : Kline Protest results in 8% Cut in Federal Dollars for Minnesota

The next time that your filling up your tank, remember that John Kline’s protest is sending your Minnesota tax dollars elsewhere.
That’s right.
For every gallon of gas that you buy, you pay a Federal Tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. Originally these tax dollars went into the general treasury, but since the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was established, it stipulated that 100% of the gas tax be deposited into Highway Trust Fund. Those dollars are then re-distributed back to the states. If your congressman is doing his job, all your Federal Tax dollars will be returned to your state resulting in jobs and well maintained infrastructure.

But John Kline decided to protest the system. The result according to Bob Hofstad of MnDOT is that the state receives about 92 cents for every dollar that its residents send to Washington. According to Tony Kellen, president of the Minnesota Public Transit Association, about 40 percent of the money in the state's transportation budget comes from the federal gas and diesel tax.

Now, Kline may give the impression since his favorite imported vodka is SurReal (from Latvia) that he would be a pretty savvy investor, but an 8% loss is not a good return on our tax dollars. Now, maybe private citizen investor Kline is okay with that, but these are our public dollars.

Kline’s concern is with the “earmark” system whereby Congress authorizes specific projects. We can all agree that there are many examples of “wasteful Washington spending” but not all “earmarks” are wasteful.

John Kline believes the “earmark” system is a broken process” and has pledged not to seek earmarks. According to Kline, the best way to fight an irrational process is not to take part in it but protest it, as a handful of other congressional members have agreed to do. Kline is now joined by Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in taking the “no earmarks pledge”.

Some may see that as a noble cause, but taxpayers should view this as unwise idealistic quixotical lonely persuit using our tax dollars.

There are better ways to address the abuses in the “earmark” system.

First District Congressman Tim Walz is a practioner of transparency in his funding requests. According to Walz, “Minnesota sends more money to Washington that it gets back, and it’s appropriate for us to advocate for the good use of tax dollars (in the district).
Walz stands up and fights for our dollars, while Kline is inclined to stand in protest.

As I wrote in August, 2007, members of Congress must work with state DOT so that monies are allocated based on the needs and not a Congressman’s personal vision.

So transparency and MnDot agreement is what is needed.

According to the Star-Tribune, Kline's rejection of earmarks has reverberations in Second District.

Voters need to consider Kline’s stance versus his challenger, Steve Sarvi … but also John McCain and Barack Obama.

McCain has vowed to veto all legislation that contains “earmarks” … another idealistic quixotical lonely persuit, but as President he could affect some spending. If he is successful, in theory, Congress will have no impact on how gas tax dollars are returned to the states … it is possible that our 8% loss could grow if the new McCain Administration deemed that infrastructure needs are greater in faster developing states like Arizona.

Barack Obama will address the infrastructure challenge by creating a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. This independent entity will be directed to invest in our nation’s most challenging transportation infrastructure needs. The Bank will receive an infusion of federal money, $60 billion over 10 years, to provide financing to transportation infrastructure projects across the nation. These projects will create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs per year and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity. link

The next president will enter office with a fragile economy. No doubt that some stimulus package will be suggested. One of George Bush’s first actions was in June of 2001 with the “Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001" which included tax cuts and rebate checks. McCain is talking of maintaining those tax cuts (and the other Bush cuts.) Obama may act instead to push investment in infrastructure that will produce jobs.

If Kline is re-elected and McCain is president, “earmarks” may be over … however if Kline is re-elected and Obama is president, Minnesota will have one Congressman standing in protest.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

MN-02 : Is Guilt the cause of John Kline Earmark Pledge ?

To state that "This Congress and this Administration have failed to meet their responsibilities to manage the government. " is a rather tough critique.
And the conclusion "That is simply inexcusable." is harsher.

That was part of the speech that Republican Presidential candidate John McCain gave on Monday. McCain is staking his economic plan on cutting earmarks but earmarks may not be as much of the problem as poor oversight by Congress and poor management by government agencies.

Republican John Kline (MN-02) has taken the “No Earmarks Pledge”.
But why ?
There is a vast difference between earmarks and wasteful government spending … although an earmark could be a wasteful government project, many earmarks are good investments and ensure that the monies are spent according to Congress’ (that would mean the People) desires and not the Administration.

But John Kline has called the earmarks a broken process
and his pledge is a form of protest. So, fast growing communitities suffer, while Kline protests.

Yet, I wonder if it isn’t guilt.
As a member of Congress, Kline has been part that has seen --in John McCain’s words--"Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years."
RoveRobots had to support Bush, but Kline also has a responsibility in his committee assignments to make sure that monies were spent wisely.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report addressing ineffective management of weapons systems that "cost increases that add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, schedule delays that add up to years, and capabilities that fall short of what was promised."
Some projects cited include :
Global Hawk was $900 million; the first review increased that prediction to $967 million. The current estimate is $3.15 billion.
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) was $1.1 billion, but it is expected to cost nearly $3.6 billion.
Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) was $338 million and is now $2 billion.
The GAO concludes that if this trend "goes unchecked and fiscal pressures to reduce spending continue to grow as expected, Congress will be faced with a difficult choice to either pull funds from other federal programs to support Defense acquisitions or accept less warfighting capability than promised."

In an earlier commentary, the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) which the CBO estimates will grow 60% over budget, and the increase in fuel costs were discussed.

It has been well reported that Congress lacked oversight in the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres, but "That is simply inexcusable" for Congress to allow the DOD to mismanage activities right here in the USA.

Is it guilt that makes John Kline deny obtaining justifiable earmarks for the Second District as he knows of how dire Congress is managing our monies ?

Instead of taking the “No Earmarks Pledge”, Kline should take the “No Lobbyists and PAC Money Pledge … after all his Freedom & Security PAC has received monies from Lockheed Martin, and other government contractors. Last year, the largest federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, received contracts worth more than the total combined budgets of the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Congress. And No-bid (non-competitive) contracts have grown by 115% during Kline’s years.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MN-01 : Dr. Davis offers a Prescription for Health Care

When I heard that there was going to be a doctor running to represent Minnesota’s First District in Congress, I wondered what type of doctor he would be?
No, not what his specialty would be … but would he be part of the growing majority of doctors who take a different view of the intertwining of health care and private insurance industries ?

A survey published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine reported that 59 percent said they support legislation to establish a national health insurance program, while 32 percent said they opposed it, "Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care, and a majority now support national insurance as the remedy"

Yes, the health care system is facing challenges. It has been widely reported that there are 47 million Americans without health insurance, but that is just the start. Nearly all businesses with more than 200 employees offer coverage, but only 48 percent of the smallest firms do. While small businesses represent the majority of employers in this nation, it is clear they are having extreme difficulty in providing their employees with health care coverage. But even those that have insurance may not be seeking the care they should. Reuters reported : “About 20 percent of the U.S. population delayed or were unable to get access to medical care when they needed it in 2007, up from 14 percent four years earlier … For the insured, individuals said they were unable to get their health insurer to pay for treatment, or that a doctor or hospital would not accept their insurance. … medical costs - driven by drugs, hospital and doctor fees -- have risen at least twice the rate of inflation for several years, making it more expensive for those with insurance to afford care.”

The Brian Davis For Congress website has a very brief section on health care, including : “The cost of practicing medicine continues to escalate, partly because of an increase in malpractice awards which have risen at rapid rates. A government takeover of our health care system is not the answer. We should build a system that emphasizes preventive health care as well as continued progress in curative treatments. More competition in health care is part of the solution.

Not much there …. as it seems to be a retread of George Bush’s junk lawsuit campaign strategy that doctors "should be focused on fighting illnesses, not fighting lawsuits." It got Bush votes, but nothing got done … even with a Republican Doctor as the Senate Majority Leader and Republicans in control of the House and Senate. (NOTE : S. 354 HEALTH Act of 2005 was introduced in January 2005 and got six cosponsors. Norm Coleman was not one of them.) Putting caps on damages is at the heart of the legislation but there is a universal consensus that caps would do absolutely nothing to reduce medical errors or to compensate injured patients.

A candidate’s website being void of concrete solutions is not that unusual, but Dr. Davis was recently interviewed by the Austin Daily Herald and expanded upon his views :
In his long-time field — health care — Davis said a major step is ensuring more cost transparency, thus allowing consumers to shop for elective procedures, and teaching them the market value of their care.
“We have a third party system, so they don’t see the cost of care,” he said.
Davis also advocates for more uniformity nationwide in the health insurance sector, which he believes would allow companies more opportunity to operate across state lines, thus increasing competition and reducing cost.
“We have the best health care system in the world,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s perfect … but I think a free market works best.”
He also recommends more consistency in medical research funding for entities like the Hormel Institute, which can experience interruptions in research as grants periodically become smaller and less available.
“I know it’s a competitive market,” Davis said. “I think what I’d like to see with the government is that they keep a very steady funding amount as long as it yields results.”

So no mention of how to address the un-insured or the under-insured or preventative care.
But he does mention transparency … getting patients to shop around for the best deal.
Well, I suppose instead using Mayo Clinic’s Immanuel-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mankato … a quick 12 mile jaunt, I could check the prices at the hospitals in New Ulm (25miles) or Madelia (40 miles) … I’m sure that my spouse wouldn’t mind the extra travel time, gas and unfamiliarity with the doctors and staff, etc..
Dr. Davis is suggesting something along the lines of checking the Internet for the cheapest gas … that may work since all gas is formulated similarly … but health care is dependent upon the expertise and equipment of the doctors and staff.
But this idea is being tried. is a for-profit Web site that is designed for high-deductible health care insurance plans by giving consumers the information they need to get good, cost-effective medical care. Most of the information is supplied directly by Carol's 30 tenants. These are hospitals, clinics and specialty groups that pay a fee to list their services and prices on the Web site. Carol CEO Tony Miller says a site like Carol can really only work in a metropolitan area where there's health care competition.
If Dr. Davis was running for MN-03 and it’s large metropolitian area, his idea may have some merit, but out in the vast rural area of MN-01, the idea is without merit.

If Dr. Davis wants to promote transparency, it should be the transparency in how well the doctor and staff perform. For example, sites like Health Grades can provide information about a doctor, but that information may be best used by the hospital administration than the layman.

Frankly, I am not sure how increasing competition will impact price. Dr. Davis salary in 2007 was $411,720 … and I thought most insurance payments are based on “usual and customary fees for the service and area” ? And in an earlier commentary, the American Medical Association warned that smaller paydays would give doctors an incentive to stop taking Medicare patients if the 10.6% fee cut was implemented.

One other aspect in Dr. Davis’ interview that is interesting. He mentions “consistency in medical research funding for entities like the Hormel Institute’. That funding is typically done through the “earmark” process in appropriations and I thought that Dr. Davis opposed earmarks.

From his website and this interview, Dr. Davis is not going to advance my interests if he is elected.
So who’s interests will he advance ?
Reviewing his most recent FEC filing of donations to his campaign reveals that 20% of his top contributors are in the medical field … donating 20% of the funds … and representing 17 states outside of Minnesota.

On the other hand, voters know where current First District Congressman Tim Walz stands on health care. His votes in support of SCHIP, Mental Health Parity, Veterans Care are well known … plus he has co-sponsored over 20 health care bills.

Dr. Davis’s prescription for health care is bad medicine.

Monday, July 07, 2008

MN-01 : Dr. Davis Donates $500 to get $5000 !

With the news that Dr. Brian Davis, the Republican endorsed candidate to be Minnesota’s First District Congressman, “raised $391,000 during the latest period, and finished with $376,000 in cash. His $100,000 loan comes on top of a $24,000 loan he made during the first quarter of the year.”

That got me thinking I wonder how much he supported previous candidates. Checking the website, reveals no record of any contribution to any candidate in 2006. The website would report donations exceeding $200, so it is possible that Dr. Davis could have made donations less than that amount.

Interestingly, though three donations were made in 2007.
Brian Davis of Rochester MN 55902 gave $1050 on October 9, 2007 to the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Dr. Brian Davis, a Mayo Clinic/Doctor Rochester MN 55905 on April 30, 2007 gave $500 to American Society/Therapeutic Radiology.
Brian J Davis of Rochester MN 55902 on May 2, 2007 gave $500 to Rudolph W. Giuliani.

American Society/Therapeutic Radiology typically donates funds to influence legislation, so who they do give their money ?

Now, looking at the distributions from American Society/Therapeutic Radiology contributed $2,500 to Dr. Davis’ campaign.

UPDATE This post was orginally written before I found the FEC report which included the second quarter. On May 13, 2008, the American Society/Therapeutic Radiology gave an additional $2,500 for a grand total of $5,000.

In investing jargon, it’s called a 5-bagger. UPDATE 10-bagger.
A pretty good deal … especially since there is not a record of Dr. Davis making a contribution before he thought of running.

I wonder if Rudy G. will be coming to Minnesota for a Davis fundraiser … but then again Rudy’s stance on Gay and Abortion issues did not produce many votes in the Republican primary.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Feeling Pain at the Pump ? Congress needs to pass the PUMP Act

Congresswoman Bachmann, Congressman Kline and Senator Norm Coleman, all seem to believe that by opening areas for drilling will reduce oil prices.
That may be true, but how long and how much ?

Guy Caruso of the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration said “Drilling in U.S. waters offshore would produce nothing for five or 10 years and even then only add a minimal amount of oil for the supplies. And so, in the year 2018, it would not knock more than a nickel off your gallon of gas.”

While ANWR and OCS may part of the solution, the emphasis on those proposals will take too long. Plus, no one mentions how much the royalties will be nor who will get those royalties (individual states or the US Treasury) nor if they will be subject to any cap.

At a hearing held by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on June 23rd, Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) posed a timely question. Inslee forced witnesses to chose between opening up undeveloped Alaskan oil fields and increased government regulation. All panelists said regulation would have an immediate impact, whereas new Alaska oil would take years to affect the market.

The solution must address the abilities of speculators to impact the market price.

Don’t believe that speculators are driving the price?
Americans are consuming less (as of March highway travel is down 4.3% and the auto industry is seeing a dramatic drop in sales of SUVs and trucks as people look to more fuel efficient vehicles) but prices have continued to rise.
The Saudi petroleum minister, Ali I. Al-Naimi, said his country will reach the 9.7 million level by July (up from 9 million) and the Saudi government will invest in oil projects that would allow Saudi Arabia to have the capacity to produce 12.5 million barrels per day by the end of next year; yet prices have continued to go up.

So while our consumption is going down and world production is increasing, prices are rising.

To address the problem, the government needs to have all the tools it needs.

There are two types of oil futures speculation. Market trading takes place through the New York Mercantile Exchange and is overseen through the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). However, most oil futures speculation occurs “over-the-counter.” This speculation is conducted off of the market, without any regulation or oversight by the CFTC. The CFTC needs to have the manpower and mission to address this problem. It is not unreasonable that a 30% reduction in price could occur if the CFTC had greater control to collect trading data on foreign trading boards.

This legislation would make immediate impacts … not years.

Congress has a number of bills pending, but the most comprehensive was proposed by Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) in the “Prevent Unfair Manipulation of Prices Act of 2008″ ( HR 6330 ) – aka the PUMP Act. It was initiated June 20 and already has bi-partisan support. There are 58 co-sponsors including Jim Oberstar (MN-08) and Tim Walz (MN-01) .
The Minnesota delegation needs to expedite the passage of this bill. It has been assigned to the Agriculture Committee where Collin Peterson (MN-07) is the chairman and Walz is a member. Peterson and Walz were effective earlier this year in the farm bill when Congress addressed the controversial “Enron loophole”; however that piece of legislation only closed the door to natural gas trades on unregulated exchanges - not oil trades.
Please contact your member of Congress to encourage them to become a co-sponsor of this legislation. If they do not wish to support it, then ask the question how they will address the speculators influence on the price of oil. Those that do not have a plan are the problem -- and those that only believe that drilling is the answer -- are dictating a decade of higher prices.

FYI - a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate - S 3185
Please encourage Senators Coleman and Klobuchar to support this bill. Once again, because their positions on the Agriculture Committee, they will be the first to address the legislation.

Regardless of your opinion on drilling, this legislation can only help.

Friday, July 04, 2008

MN-02 : Will John Kline respond to fuel prices and the DOD budget

Reflecting on this Independence Day has to make one think of the sacrifices that our military is making today and yesterday, but also an increased concern about tomorrow.

Independence Day may mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but it also a reminder of the efforts made by the Continental Army. The similarities to today’s military are appropriate … that Army was also a volunteer army … enlistment terms were extended to three years or "the length of the war".
Oh, yeah, it was also under-funded and under-equipped.

But today, that cannot be possible … could it ? ? ?

After all, President Bush signed the latest War Supplemental bill on June 30th stating
We owe these brave Americans our gratitude. We owe them our unflinching support. And the best way to demonstrate that support is to give them the resources they need to do their jobs and to prevail. The bill I sign today does exactly that. It provides necessary funds to support our troops as they conduct military operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in other theaters in the war on terror.

So how long before the budget gets blown ?

How about July 1st !

From the Defense Energy Support Center, we learn that military units in Iraq and elsewhere will see another hike in fuel costs -- the second midyear increase because of soaring oil prices –- as the cost for refined fuel used by troops will jump from $127.68 a barrel to $170.94 — an astounding 34 percent jump in just six months and more than double what the Pentagon was paying three years ago.

And the Pentagon’s response … a $400,000 a month increase in fuel costs won't affect ongoing military operations, it will require a "reprioritization of daily support activities."
Wow !
Shades of Don Rumsfeld and his re-assuring response to a soldier who questioned the shortages of equipment : "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Let’s face it, our military has been shortchanged since the beginning – from personal protection like body armor shortages to MRAP (the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle), DOD has done a poor job. There were stories of not enough tourniquets, as the Baltimore Sun reported in 2005, quoting one infantry surgeon, "There is no good reason why wounded soldiers are continuing to die on the battlefield from extremity bleeding." Parents had to send batteries … and even tampons (to be used to treat wounds.)
Plain and simple, the government has failed to ensure rapid acquisition capabilities … which could be caused by unnecessary layers of bureaucracy.

Add to that failings, consider that the House Armed Services Committee was appraised last September that $6 billion worth of military contracts are under criminal review and $9 billion unaccounted for. John Kline (MN-02), who sits on that Committee, reacted ”So I am doubly appalled, triply, quadruply appalled at this day at the horrific conduct of commissioned officers, at a clear breakdown in leadership.

Other programs are also being questioned due to higher costs and delayed times … such as the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) which the CBO estimates will grow 60% over budget and may be unaffordable in the long term given the many other pressing needs facing the United States Army.

So, what will the military do to combat this budget shortage ? How will it balance the short term needs and the long term priorities ?

My immediate concern is that the soldiers in the field will suffer.
The current Congress needs to take action. John Kline is Minnesota’s sole representative on the House Armed Services Committee and thus far, he has allowed President Bush to fund the war through deficit spending. The rise in gas prices may have been unexpected, but it is inexcusable that Kline has allowed Bush to submit budgets without fully funding the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

DOD has problems, but Congress needs to step up. Kline has been in Congress long enough to see the problems and to have taken action. He has failed --- too many opportunities have been missed. Oversight has been lacking. He has failed to push for a streamlined procurement system.

Kline’s attitude is demonstrated by his comment - “Well that's just the situation we find ourselves in" - is not responsible.
Kline attitude is reminiscent of Rumsfeld’s … it’s time for someone that may be closer to current active duty - and military - needs.
Voters need to hear from Steve Sarvi and reprioritize who represents the Second District !

Thursday, July 03, 2008

MN-01 : Did Dr. Davis Talk to Congressman Cole about Pay Cuts ?

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) is coming to Minnesota on Thursday, July 3rd with scheduled appearances on behalf of Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-06) and Republican endorsed First District candidate Dr. Brian Davis.

Externally, there will be much discussion about gas prices and the suggestion by Democrats to tax the oil companies. Bachmann contends any effort to tax oil companies will only backfire on the consumers. "Taxes are passed through, that's what businesses have to do, so it will be the American people that will pay and the price will continue to shoot up at the pump."

Hopefully, Internal discussions will be on another subject that is on Congress’ legislative calendar and also one that effects more than 44 million Americans directly and the rest of us indirectly.
That would be a Health Care costs.
Recently, the House had a chance to vote on the H.R. 6331: Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008. At hand was a 10.6% cut in Medicare’s payments to doctors. To compensate for this payment, the bill proposed trimming costs in the Medicare Advantage program. The basic question was whether the health care for the elderly and disabled should be shouldered by insurance companies or physicians. Overwhelmingly, the bill was approved 355 to 59 with Representatives Bachmann and Cole supporting the insurance companies.

Here’s the question for Congresswoman Bachmann, will the doctors respond - just as you suggest the oil companies would - and raise their fees to other groups … that would be me and everyone else not on Medicare. As a physician, Dr. Davis, who reported a salary of $411,720 in 2007 may be impacted if he accepts Medicare eligible patients. What would Dr. Davis recommend to his colleagues? The American Medical Association warned that smaller paydays would give doctors an incentive to stop taking Medicare patients. Further this is a political issue as it may hit politicians right where it hurts … in campaign contributions and support by Seniors. The Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee abruptly rescinded its endorsement of Senator John Cornyn after he failed to support the doctors in the Senate vote.

Why would this bill so be passed so overwhelmingly in the House but be stalled in the Senate. Obviously, the strength of the Insurance lobby versus the AMA lobby is at the crux. The House looked at it without the blinders of lobbyists and instead with a look toward fiscal sanity. After all, Medicare Advantage program, which uses private insurers; and these health plans get net payments that are approximately 12 percent higher than traditional Medicare's per capita costs. Duh, it should not be a battle between lobbyists but instead a vote for fiscally responsible government. PAYGO should be the Bible in every piece of legislation.

No doubt that we can all see the “pain at the pump” every time a gas station is passed. And we know that gas that was just under three dollars a year ago is now at the four dollar mark. Yet, the increase in health care insurance is not visible to everyone. Some may have coverage through work, some may decide they cannot afford it, and there are those of us who are self-insured. My insurance company notified me that my next renewal premium would be raised $104 … that’s per month … or $1248 per year. Trust me, my vehicles do not use that much gas in a year … and that is just the increase. This “pain” is not as evident as the seen at the “pump” but it is real. If your employer provides insurance, they are seeing the same impact. With gas, I have a few things I can do --- maintain my vehicle properly, consolidate trips, reduce trips, walk, etc --- but my choice for health insurance is limited. Pay it or chance it. In Fargo today, Barak Obama stated that the impact caused by the uninsured is $900 per year … that is borne by the others in higher premiums.

The insurance industry has found the southern Minnesota media market a relatively inexpensive buy and in the past have launched print ads in papers like the Mankato Free Press, television ads and radio ads targeting Congressman Tim Walz. Walz has stood by his convictions and continued to vote in support of SCHIP and Medicare programs. NOTE : Walz’s vote in favor of SCHIP while Bachmann and Cole opposed.

Congressmen are not “one issue” representatives … although Davis may want to talk about today’s issue-de jour – gas prices and drilling -- voters are concerned about a lot of other issues … the national debt, the Global War on Terrorism, jobs, global warming (Dr. Davis has already spoken on that issue "Let me be clear: I totally reject the man-made global warming religion,"), but Health Care is at the tops of everyone’s concerns.
Voters need to know where Dr. Davis stands on this important issue. Is he part of the Bachmann / Cole insurance-backing crowd --- or part of the Doctor-backing crowd --- or is he a visionary that believes there is a better system where insurance companies are not dictating doctor services and citizens can receive preventative and needed medical care at a reasonable price.