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John Kline's Record

Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Silent John Kline is Mum on Iraq

It long ago became clear to me that, as one who supports John Kline's opponent, Coleen Rowley, Kline's office considers me persona non grata. They have not answered my questions via email, snail mail, or telephone. Personally, I think this is a foolish choice on their part, because it makes them look like they have something to hide. If John Kline has the courage of his convictions, he shouldn't hesitate to subject them to the scrutiny of his opponents.

But hey, I'm just one blogger, and no one much pays any attention to what I think, anyway. But in the last couple of days, I've noticed that Kline is giving the silent treatment to the mainstream media as well.

A few days ago, I noted that MPR asked every member of Minnesota's congressional delegation about the war in Iraq. Everyone but Kline, Gil Gutknecht and Collin Peterson responded.

Yesterday, the Strib asked Rowley and Kline about the war and the election:

Coleen Rowley, a Democrat and former FBI agent whose questioning of the war pre-dated the 2003 invasion, and who is challenging U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican, in the Second District, said once she secures party endorsement May 6 she will begin pitching a broader message focusing on how the middle class has been hurt by the war and the nation's debt.


Kline declined to comment. His spokesman Troy Young said: "We're not going to continuously air our political election views through the press. That's not the way we operate. That's not the way any incumbent operates."

Kline had an opportunity to talk about Iraq --- two, actually --- and refused them? This is puzzling behavior, considering that Kline has long been one of the war's most ardent supporters.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

John Kline's Auction Block

The DCCC has started up a new site called GOP Auction House. It attempts to catalog the full range of Republican corruption, and the ways in which Republican coziness with big business interests is hurting the country.

That's a mighty huge task.

It appears that they have info on every GOP member of Congress, including John Kline of course. It's worth explicitly making the point that I have seen no evidence so far that Kline is actually corrupt in the sense of Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney or Katherine Harris. It appears that unlike many of his colleagues, Kline actually makes an effort to maintain a clear distinction between his duty to his constituents and the PACs from which he receives money.

(The only caveat here is that Kline has remained remarkably loyal to DeLay, at one point voting to weaken Republican caucus ethics rules on DeLay's behalf, and until this very day holding on to $31,000 he's received in campaign contributions from DeLay or his PAC).

The real knock on Kline --- both in my opinion and according to GOP Auction House --- is simply that quite often he votes for bad legislation, because he votes with the GOP caucus 98% of the time. So he voted for last year's energy bill, which included $7 billion in giveaways to the oil and gas industry, at a time when oil companies were ringing up record profits. He voted for Medicare Part D. He opposed expanding TRICARE to cover all National Guard and Reserve troops (as I've discussed elsewhere). He championed Social Security privatization. And so on.

This site has raised the ire of at least one Kline supporter, but I'm just presenting Kline's record, as advertised. Those who don't like what I present need to take it up with Kline.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Pension Reform: A Tough Call for CD2

I've written about pension reform before, about how the House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill, and may be unable to reconcile them. Ultimately, all that matters is that according to the government's pension agency, whichever version gets passed will make the pension crisis much, much, worse.

Setting that aside for the moment, it seems that House and Senate negotiators are concerned that if they don't work out a final bill soon, nothing will be passed this session at all. In this case, nothing would be better than something, but legislators understandably want to be able to go home to their constituents and point to legislation they passed, even if it was bad legislation.

The problem for Kline is that he comes from the House, a chamber that did not approve special language bailing out airlines like Northwest Airlines, based in MN-02. The Senate did. But it is this very provision which is largely responsible for the fact that the bills will hurt more than they help:

The biggest single-industry pension break in the bill passed by the Senate is for the airlines, to allow them to keep their unstable pension plans going.

Among other things, the airlines would be given 20 years to close the shortfalls in their pension funds — nearly three times as long as other companies. They would also be allowed to factor in highly optimistic assumptions about their investment returns when calculating how much they needed to contribute to their pension funds each year.

The measures were written into the bill at the request of Northwest Airlines, which is in bankruptcy proceedings and is trying to keep its pensions alive, though in sharply reduced form. Northwest sought a 14-year breather on its pension contributions.

Kline nevertheless supports the provision, because:

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), one of the conferees, said he favors the airline relief because Northwest is in his district and added he hopes to overcome opposition from some conferees who don't like government bailouts of companies that have over-promised their employees.

"In the case of Northwest, this is not theoretical," he said. "They are in bankruptcy. They will dump their plan on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp."

The House bill, pushed through by now-Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), left out airline pension relief, which many conservatives oppose.

It's got to hurt Kline that Boehner dissed him on this; Kline was one of the folks leading the charge to make Boehner majority leader. Maybe this is why Kline took his glowing praise for Boehner off his web site.

But what is Kline to do? Should he support Northwest, as he is doing now, or should he accept the better provisions of the House bill (no airline relief) and work to include the better provisions of the Senate bill as well (force companies with low credit ratings to accelerate contributions to their pension plans even more, protect older workers in the conversion to cash-balance plans)?

I'm not sure what Coleen Rowley would do if she were in Kline's place, but it's a fair bet that if Democrats controlled Congress, we might actually see a bill that helps solve the problem, rather than two bills which exacerbate it. As it is, I suppose I would like to see Kline drop the airline provision. Yes, it means that Northwest will probably drop its pension plan on the PBGC, so Northwest's workers will receive reduced benefits. On the other hand, Northwest's plan is so underfunded, and the bill would allow them such unrealistic leeway in funding going forward, that reduced pensions for Northwest workers in a foregone conclusion.

A tough pill to swallow, especially in an election year, but right is right.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Silent John Kline Strikes Again

As you might imagine, I've signed up with Yahoo and Google to receive email alerts about John Kline. I received one recently and was directed to an MPR piece in which every member of Minnesota's congressional delegation was asked:

With an erosion of support for the war and growing concern about the Bush administration's handling of it, what, if anything, should members of Congress be doing to represent their constituents?

Are you eager to hear Kline's response to this question? Me too. However, get ready for disappointment because apparently: "Only Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn, and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. did not respond."

I'm shocked.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kline's Corner: Touts Peace Corps, Pension Reform. Throws Boehner Overboard?

Having thoroughly dissected the scary Terrorists in America!! feature of John Kline's spiffy new congressional web site, I have now turned my attention to Kline's Corner, an archive of quasi-weekly email updates Kline sends to favored constituents. I say "favored constituents" because since signing up sometime last October, I received exactly one of the newsletters, on February 3, and have received none of them since, despite the fact that I sign up rather frequently.

Anyway, on February 13, Kline's Corner was devoted to legislation Kline authored and championed which, in Kline's words, "removes the Peace Corps as a military recruitment option and will re-establish the distinction between Peace Corps volunteers and our military service members".

On this point, I agree with Kline, and I believe he did the right thing. For the safety of those who donate a year or two of their lives for the sake of helping others in underdeveloped nations, it is important to draw a bright, indelible line between them and members of the U.S. armed forces. This is especially true now, when America has lost the trust, faith and good will of a great many countries in the world as a consequence of Bush's bumbling arrogance.

So, score one for Kline.

On March 10, however, Kline devotes the bulk of his missive to extolling the virtues of the pension reform bill. Given that the government's pension agency has concluded that both the House and Senate versions of the bill will make America's pension problems worse, Kline is either ill-informed or intentionally misleading constituents by promoting the bill as a solution to the pensions crisis.

The only other comment I have for the moment is that the letter Kline sent out on February 3 appears to have been removed from his site. As it happens, this is the only issue of Kline's Corner I received via email, so I can report that the focus of that letter was to loudly trumpet incoming House majority leader John Boehner as "a breath of fresh air to a body in need of reform" (emphasis in original).

I wonder whether this letter has vanished simply because Kline's site is set up to remove back issues of Kline's Corner after three months or so (in which case there's not much point in the "browse by" feature they've implemented), or if Kline is understandably trying to distance himself from his overblown support of the notoriously lobbyist-friendly Boehner?

Independent John Kline versus John Murtha

I'm well aware that John Kline, like many other Republicans in Congress, were outraged when Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated Vietnam veteran John Murtha called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq last November. At the time, Kline called Murtha's statement "unconscionable" and said "he should know better".

Recently, I ran across an article from May 2004, immediately after the Abu Ghraib abuses were revealed. In it, Murtha expresses his frustration with the war effort, saying:

"We cannot prevail in our policy today. We either have to mobilize or get out," said Murtha, who called for increasing the force in Iraq to 200,000, perhaps even by reinstating the draft.

"I'm going to support the troops, but I'm going to tell them (the administration) to change course"' added Murtha, a Marine Vietnam veteran.

The suggestion that the U.S. should increase its troop strength in Iraq upset Kline even more. Kline was "furious" with Murtha, "because when that message gets out to our forces they won't feel love and support. They'll feel betrayal."

So publicly calling to leave Iraq is "unconscionable", but suggesting that we send more troops will make our soldiers in Iraq "feel betrayal". In other words, independent John Kline won't tolerate any deviation whatsoever from the administration's conduct of the war.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Iranian Diplomats in America!!

Apparently Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior aide to Iran's top nuclear negotiator, in currently visiting Washington D.C. Ordinarily I wouldn't bother to mention such a mundane event, except for two things.

First, it seems Nahavandian isn't here in any official capacity, as he is not meeting with anyone from the U.S. government.

Second, no one is quite sure how Nahavandian managed to enter the U.S., especially since the Bush administration is currently urging other countries not to allow Iranian diplomats to cross their borders.

But don't worry. I'm sure that no one with criminal intent, like, say, a terrorist for instance, could manage to slip through the formidable wall of defense John Kline and the other congressional Republicans have built in more than four years since 9/11. Nope. No way.

I feel safe.

John Kline is Just a Click Away

Of course, that doesn't mean he'll actually respond to the questions you send.

Last Thursday, I received a flier from John Kline's office --- printed and mailed at taxpayer expense --- publicizing Kline's new congressional website. In addition to summarizing the various features of the site, it also devotes about half of its content to discussing the possible ways constituents can contact Kline, insisting "Congressman John Kline wants to make sure you have access to him, and know how to reach him to share your views and concerns". This pitch was pretty much wasted on me, since I've made numerous attempts to extract information from Kline's office, and have received for my trouble only this mailing and another one like it on immigration reform.

Actually, I'm probably just whining. After all, the flier only says that Kline wants us to know we have "access to him" to "share our views and concerns", and encourages us to "contact him with questions or comments". It never actually says that Kline plans to answer any of those questions.

Still, on the assumption that Kline has, perhaps, turned over a new leaf, and given that emails sent to Kline's office apparently do get read, I decided to take another stab at getting an answer to one of my long-standing questions: where does Kline stand on Bush's illegal NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens? I sent in the following letter:

Yesterday, I received a mailing from your office, printed and mailed at taxpayer expense. The focus of this mailer was your new web site, pointing out among other things how accessible John Kline is.

I beg to differ.

I have called your office at least twice in the past 4 months (it may be more, I lose count) to get John Kline's answer to a very simple question, yet I have so far received no answer. Since you are now promoting congressman Kline's accessibility, I thought I would make the effort to ask again.

As you no doubt know, George Bush authorized the NSA to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens without first obtaining a FISA court warrant. Bush has acknowledged making this authorization dozens of times, and has also made it clear that he intends to continue such authorizations. Despite some ex post facto rationalizations by the Bush administration, it is painful clear that the President is willfully and repeatedly breaking the law.

I was taught in my 5th grade civics class that Congress has a Constitutional obligation to act as a check on Executive abuse of power. Senator Russ Feingold, who clearly takes this obligation seriously, has introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for his lawbreaking.

I know that John Kline is a member of the House, not the Senate, but it is amazing to me that these NSA wiretaps have been public knowledge for more than four months, yet I am unable to find any public statement by Congressman Kline stating his position. So my question is very straightforward:

Do you believe it is appropriate for Congress to ignore willful, repeated lawbreaking by the President? And if not, what actions do you personally plan to take to hold President Bush accountable?

I plan to keep asking this question until I get an answer.

To be updated as events warrant (don't hold your breath).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

For years, conventional wisdom has held that the Democrats are the "mommy" party, mainly championing issues like social programs, increased minimum wage, education and so forth, while Republicans are the "daddy" party, mainly concerned with national security and the rule of law (don't blame me for the implicit sexism in these labels, I didn't invent them).

Needless to say, the insecurity and fear which followed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has benefited the "daddy" party, as fears of future terrorist attacks make the public eager to support leaders whom they perceive will do the best job of keeping them safe. It is hardly surprising that Republicans have picked up seats in both the House and Senate the past two election cycles, and that despite serious questions regarding his competence, trustworthiness, and conduct of the war in Iraq, George Bush was able to eke out a re-election victory.

All of this, of course, is the subtext behind John Kline's Terrorists in America!! feature on his revamped congressional website. Sure, he says the purpose is to recognize the efforts of those who have helped keep us safe, but the unstated implications are:

  1. Terrorists have attempted attacks within the U.S. since 9/11.
  2. Hundreds of them, in fact.
  3. Look to the "daddy" party to continue to keep you safe.
  4. So vote for John Kline in 2006.

I have spent considerable time and effort debunking implications (1) and (2), and I wrap up my dissection of Terrorists in America!! today by examining item(3). If national security is your top priority, it does make sense to support the "daddy" party. However, contrary to popular perception, the Republicans have done little to improve our nation's security since 9/11, and in many ways they've done exactly the opposite.

For some hard data, consider the following votes in Congress, where the majority Republicans struck down Democrats' efforts to improve our national security (it's interesting to note that although Kline is attempting to remake himself as an "independent Republican", he voted with more than 200 other Republicans in each case below):

  • In one of Kline's first votes in Congress, he joined 220 Republicans and one Democrat in defeating an amendment to add $3.5 billion for first responders and $90 million to the CDC to monitor the health of the first responders at the World Trade Center site.
  • Not long after that, Kline joined 216 Republicans and zero Democrats in killing an amendment to add $250 million to port security grants.
  • More recently, Kline voted with 224 Republicans and zero Democrats in opposition to maximum funding for Border Patrol and Immigrations enforcement, which according to Senate Democrats amounted to $284 million.
  • Kline joined 226 Republicans and 3 Democrats in defeating an amendment to increase the 2006 Homeland Security budget by $6.9 billion.
  • About 45 minutes later, Kline, 225 other Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against an additional $400 million for airline safety and security, as well as tighter security regulations.
  • Just last month, after the outcry over the sale of U.S. port operations to Dubai, Kline and 209 other Republicans defeated an amendment to increase funding for port security by $1.25 billion.

Of course, if homeland security already has all of the money it needs, then none of this matters. But just last December, the 9/11 commission issued a report card indicating that George Bush and the Republican Congress have done a very poor job in keeping our country safe:

The federal government received failing and mediocre grades yesterday from the former Sept. 11 commission, whose members said in a final report that the Bush administration and Congress have balked at enacting numerous reforms that could save American lives and prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

So much for the Republicans as the "daddy" party. And Kline's opponent this November, Coleen Rowley, is attacking the Republicans' hypothetical strength on national security head on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kline's Congressional Record: March 2006

The House of Representatives convened on only 13 days in March. And John Kline only shows up in the Congressional Record on one of those days, March 29, talking about Medicare Part D. His speech is fairly lengthy, but it boils down to making the following two points repeatedly:

  1. We don't have time to debate the merits of the bill because there are confused seniors out there who need help signing up.

  2. This was a good bill

To demonstrate what a great thing Medicare Part D is, Kline gives anecdotal evidence from some information sessions he's held for seniors. And it's great that he's making an effort to help seniors figure out Part D, considering he could have stopped this disaster from happening if he'd stood up for his principles in 2003. Also, Kline's mother is happy with the plan. I wonder how happy she and these other seniors will be in a few months when they fall into the donut hole?

As to Kline's first point, this is a well-honed Republican gambit by now. First they screw things up, then they avoid responsibility by insisting that the situation is too dire to waste time pointing fingers. Don't bother investigating why the 9/11 attacks happened; it distracts us from the War on Terror. Don't criticize the administration's great disaster in Iraq while troops are in harm's way. Don't point out that short-sighted budget cutbacks left New Orleans vulnerable to the devastation of Katrina; the important thing is to help the survivors. And so on. I suppose we could wait until all the messes were cleaned up before we asked Republicans to take responsibility for their actions, but that would require Republicans to stop making messes.

Moreover, Kline is intentionally misleading his audience when he claims "27 million seniors now have coverage under Medicare Part D". While this is true, he states it in a way to suggest that all of those 27 million folks signed up because they eventually realized what a good deal the program is. But the majority of those 27 million people were enrolled in Medicare Part D automatically on January 1 (or would have been if the system hadn't been so poorly implemented). Only 7.2 million of that total are people who have signed up for the program voluntarily.

One last telling detail: Note how Kline states that "65,000 senior citizens" in MN-02 have registered for the prescription drug benefit, yet later on he touts the "hundreds of people in Minnesota's Second District" who are saving money with the plan.

Here's the full transcript, with occasional interruption by Republican Phil Gingrey of Georgia:

Mr. KLINE. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his bringing this issue to the floor tonight and certainly his leadership over these months.

I just wanted to touch on a couple of points. I think it is important, as the gentleman from Georgia said, that we recognize there was a spirited debate on this bill, and not everyone in this House voted for it. There are still people today who think that it was a mistake when we added the prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

But I think the point to my colleagues, and I know that my good friend Dr. Gingrey would agree with me, and I hope that senior citizens across the country understand that we need to set that debate aside right now. We have a law in place that provides a tremendous benefit for our senior citizens, particularly our lower-income senior citizens.

I think that chart that Dr. Gingrey showed that says a total of 27 million seniors, 27 million seniors now have coverage under Medicare Part D, says an awful lot about the acceptance of this program, regardless of the heat and the debate that took place when this bill was passed.

I know that we now have registered for the Medicare prescription drug plan in Minnesota, in the Second District, 65,000 senior citizens, and that is a very, very good thing. We found early on, and I think my colleague probably did, that as we moved from the discount cards, which I thought were a tremendous benefit themselves, I know that my mother, who lives on Social Security and Medicare, has saved literally thousands of dollars with that interim program. When we moved from those cards to the sign up for Medicare Part D there was certainly confusion. Seniors were confused. Pharmacists were confused. Doctors were confused. It was not what we would call a smooth start.

Having said that, we have now moved past that rocky start, and seniors that have had the chance to look at this understand that it is really an important benefit for them.

We wanted to help, in my office, and I know many of my colleagues did this on both sides of the aisle. They held town hall meetings and workshops. We chose to have what we call sign-up workshops. We got some tremendous support from the Minnesota Board of Aging Senior Linkage Line provided volunteers to come and help us, help the senior citizens in Minnesota's Second District understand what their options were. We advertised the workshops. We had seniors call my office to make an appointment to come in for one-on-one counseling. And as these seniors came in and they sat down with experienced volunteers and members of my staff who have become quite expert on this, and they looked at the program that was offered in front of them and they looked at their list of medications that they are taking and that the options that were there, in case after case after case, they were able to make wise choices, and I don't know anyone who came to our workshops who didn't leave feeling that they had gotten the information they needed and were able to make a wise choice.

I have some quotes here that I just thought I would share with my colleagues here, and I know that Dr. Gingrey can empathize with this, and he experienced much of the same, I am sure, when he was working with the folks in Georgia. But just a couple of quotes. There is a man from Shakopee came to the workshop and he said, quote, "I got an honest comparison and found out the plan I was leaning toward would cost twice what I could get. Now I can save $2,000 on a different plan." That is quite a bit.

Lady from Eagan said: It was wonderful. I wouldn't have known what to do or where to begin without that session. The woman that worked with me was very knowledgeable and did all the computer work for me. She printed up the nine cheapest prescription drug coverages for me, and I can see already that I am going to save $100 a month. I was very, very pleased. And so forth.

Lady from Inver Grove Heights said: They were wonderful. They were extremely informative. In 45 minutes, they probably saved 8 hours of work and confusion.

These programs, if you just take the time to sit down with somebody who knows what they are doing, it is actually pretty easy to decide what plan is best for you. And we have seen that in case after case after case. And I very much regret that there are, in fact, some of our colleagues who are still perhaps upset over the bill itself and are not providing this kind of help and encouragement to the seniors in their district.

I know my mother, as I mentioned before, she was a beneficiary of the interim plan with the cards, and now we have got her signed up for this Medicare Part D and she is going to save thousands of dollars a year.

You can save a lot of money, and I hope that our colleagues will help the constituents in their districts, the senior citizens, understand the value of this program, set aside the bitterness of the debate that took place over the bill itself and recognize that this is a tremendous benefit, it can save their senior citizens hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, and help those seniors to sign up.

I don't know if the gentleman from Georgia is continuing with his workshops. I know we are. We have a couple more scheduled next month. We are looking at the schedule deadline. May 15 is the deadline for signing up for this prescription drug benefit, the Part D, without paying a penalty, suffering a penalty. So we are encouraging our seniors to sign up. We are scheduling some more of these workshops and encouraging them to come. The wonderful volunteers from Senior Linkage Line are going to be there to help us again. We hope that every senior will take a look at this option and decide whether it is for them or not. If they have any questions, we would love to help. I will yield back to the gentleman from Georgia here. I know that he has spent a lot of time helping seniors in his district in much the same way.

Mr. GINGREY. Well, if the gentleman would yield.

Mr. KLINE. I am happy to yield.

Mr. GINGREY. Actually, just for a question. And I wanted to ask the question, if he has had an experience really similar to what I have. We have been working on this program, like I say, for a year and half during the transitional phase, and Representative Kline has held a lot of town hall meetings; I have certainly held a lot of town hall meetings. You sort of lose count after a while.

But what I wanted to ask Mr. Kline, Colonel Kline, is, in your experience, when you first started doing these programs, and there was so much angst and rhetoric and doom and gloom possibly from certain Members of the body, did you feel that what you heard then and what you are hearing now was a little bit different? Has that changed a little bit?

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield. I think it is fair to say so. We took a different approach in how we were going to reach out to the seniors. We sent them mail to alert them to what they were doing. We invited them to call our office and make appointments so they could get that one-on-one attention. But I am sure the gentleman will agree that back in January and early February, when there was a great deal of confusion, many seniors were afraid to get started. They didn't know where to start. And we found that by continually offering the opportunity for seniors to come in and get one-on-one help, that we moved through that. And I know that the gentleman from Georgia and most of my colleagues who have been working on this issue for some time have seen a change in the understanding and the attitude of not just seniors, but I think many of us who are at that stage in life where we are helping to take care of seniors.

You know, the gentleman from Georgia, I don't know if he has advertised what his age is. It is a matter of public record, as you know. But those of us that are in our 50s, many of us are in the position of having parents who are not as able to take care of themselves, and we are anxious to make sure that we are providing the best for them. And so I found that not just the seniors, but a lot of times, their children, I hesitate to think of myself as a child anymore, but those people who are responsible for the health care for their parents and elderly relatives have also come to understand that, with just a little bit of attention to this, it has proven to be a very good program that can save them hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. And I know that Dr. Gingrey knows that not only is it saving individuals money, but this whole process, the competition in this process, which was hotly debated and much discussed, has actually started to drive down the cost of those prescription drugs and the cost of the whole program to the taxpayer. So we are seeing competition work in the large scheme of things, a sort of macro economics. But we are also seeing a payoff in these examples that I read from constituents in my district of where it is helping the individual seniors, the elderly couple and those who are helping to take care of them. So a change in attitude, I think we are seeing everybody who has come to our workshop, whether they have signed up on the spot or just taken the information and gone home, has left very relieved that this is a program that can help them, and it is not nearly as scary as they thought a few months ago. And I will yield back to the gentleman.

Mr. GINGREY. I thank the gentleman. And that really is an experience, Mr. Speaker and my fellow colleagues, that I have had as well. Early on, we, almost every town hall meeting on the subject it seemed like there was someone there that was reading the talking points from the opposition in regard to oh, you know, you have done nothing but let the pharmaceutical industry write a bill, or this is just a giant giveaway to the drug companies. And you heard that kind of rhetoric almost every time. But what I am hearing, and I think Representative Kline as well, that people now understand that in this process that we go through, nothing that we do, no bill, Mr. Speaker, is perfect. I wish that it were. But that the product that we delivered in November of 2003 is a very, very good product, and our seniors are beginning to understand that. They are seeing through a lot of this negative rhetoric, mostly from the other side of the aisle. And what is said is they are even in the last throes of the implementation of this program, we are down to the last 5 or 6 weeks, it is my understanding, and I know this because I have actually seen this, Members are holding town hall meetings and in some instances discouraging people, continuing to discourage them.

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield.

Mr. GINGREY. I will be happy to yield to the gentleman from Minnesota.

Mr. KLINE. I thank the gentleman for yielding. You know I find that absolutely remarkable. I was just thinking, I could not help but smile to myself when the gentleman was pointing out that there is no such thing as a perfect bill. And I would argue that many times there is a perfect bill. It is perfect to me, but it is not perfect to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, or I dare say sometimes not even to the gentleman from Georgia and vice versa. So we work these things out. We try to do the very best we can. Every large bill is going to have a flaw in it from one of our perspectives. There are some flaws in this bill from my perspective and I am sure from the gentleman's and from our colleagues. But I think what is very important, that we all understand, that our constituents understand and that our colleagues here understand is that debate is for now behind us. What we have now is the opportunity, with a deadline of May 15, for our constituents to see what is available to them and see if it can't save them money. And we are seeing in case after case after case of the now hundreds of people in Minnesota's Second District that it can save them money. It is saving them money. And if you are discouraging one of your constituents from looking into this program because you are unhappy with the bill, I would argue that you are doing them a great disservice. And I would argue that you are not doing your job as their Member of Congress because that debate may come again another day. There will no doubt be changes in Medicare legislation as we go down the road. But for now, it is very important that we set that acrimony aside and make sure that our constituents know that they have a program here that can save them an awful lot of money. And I will be happy to yield back.

Mr. GINGREY. If the gentleman would yield. And the gentleman said, you know, doing your job, and that is exactly what we should be doing. In fact, I think what we are hearing from the other side as they continue to oppose everything that this majority has tried to do in the 109th Congress, and of course the rhetoric gets worse and worse as we approach November, and we all know it is an election year. But it is not only, I think, not doing your job for your constituents, but it is kind of like one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs, it's shameless. It is absolutely shameless to think that someone would hold a town hall meeting and discourage, as the gentleman from Minnesota said, seniors from signing up for something that is going to save everybody some money, but it is an absolute Godsend to those of our seniors who are low income, low assets, the very neediest in our society. And I think most of the legislation that we try to pass, and I think the attitude should be the same whether we are Republicans or Democrats, is to try to help those in the greatest need who really can't help themselves through no fault of their own (((Indeed, it is the fault of Republicans, especially Kline. But it's considered bad form to mention that right now.)))

We need to put some wind beneath their wings to kind of uplift them.

And I know there may be a few in the gentleman from Minnesota's district and I know there are some in the 11th of Georgia who still need to get the message, and maybe they do not know and they do not realize. They have not gone to the Social Security Web site and found out that they qualify because their income is only $14,450, or if they are married, $19,250 a year; and they do not have assets worth more than $11,500 if they are single, or $23,000 if they are married.

We need to get them signed up, and I know the gentleman would agree with me on that.

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield, I think that is an excellent point. We sometimes forget that when we passed that bill, the one we have been discussing which was debated with some spirit, it was designed, it was designed to help seniors who are low income first; and I think that the implementation of this part D is showing that to be true. When we have low-income seniors come to one of our workshops and they are taking sometimes a passel of prescription drugs, they are saving thousands of dollars. That is what the bill was designed to do.

I remember a lot of the debate and discussion, and we talked about seniors who were forced into the terrible position of choosing whether to take a prescription drug or having the next meal or paying rent or perhaps arbitrarily choosing to cut their tablets in half. This part D for low-income seniors removes that. There is no low-income senior who should not be getting their prescription drugs with tremendous savings, virtually free in some cases, but saving lots and lots of money.

What we are finding very interesting is that there are thousands of middle-income seniors who, when they come to our workshop and look at the choices and they sit in front of that computer terminal where you can very quickly rate the different choices, they are seeing that they can save an awful lot of money and it is to their benefit.

If it is not to their benefit, certainly they can choose some other form. Perhaps they have private insurance or they have VA benefits or something. It may not be for them. But many are finding out that they can save money.

And so it goes back to the point the gentleman was making earlier. It is incumbent upon all of us, certainly the administration; some organizations like the AARP are working very hard to get this word out, and Members of Congress, our colleagues, to make sure that the citizens know that this is something that they ought to investigate.

And I know that we found early on and even last year when we were looking at the interim discount card that there are seniors who are not comfortable, frankly, sitting in front of a computer and going on line. Many are and I am always very heartened to see that. Some of them, in fact, are much more computer literate than I am. But in many cases they are intimidated, and that is why it is important that this help be offered to them, either in one of our workshops or yours, or there are other ways that you can get help.

Medicare, CMS itself, will be happy to provide help. Seniors can call 1-800-Medicare. There are ways that they can get help without having a computer and without having to sit down by themselves and try to figure this out.

So I encourage all of my colleagues to do everything they can to make sure that their constituents, their senior citizens, know that even if they are not low income, this is a program they ought to investigate.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Terrorists in America?!?

For some time now, I've been dissecting John Kline's alarmist web page put up for the putative purpose of recognizing the unheralded efforts of Americans who have fought successful battles in the war on terror here at home. The page starts of by giving some Justice Department statistics about numbers of arrests, convictions and so forth, and goes on to cite six specific examples of "victories on the home front" (there were seven, but one of these examples was removed, perhaps in response to a letter Kline's office received from a certain intrepid blogger).

I have worked through these seven (now six) examples one at a time to show that at most one and a half of them actually count as "victories" in the war on terror. But people of good will may disagree with my analysis, and in any case, Kline can point to those Justice Department statistics:

  • Five terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), and Northern Virginia have been broken up;
  • 401 individuals have been criminally charged in the United States in terrorism-related investigations;
  • Already, 212 individuals in the United States have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to terrorist charges;
  • 113 individuals in 25 judicial districts have been charged with terrorist financing-related crimes, with 57 convictions or guilty pleas to date

One might reasonably argue that even if I'm right about the specific examples Kline has cited, it proves nothing more than Kline (or rather, his staff) didn't pick the best examples. One could argue that if we look at the big Justice Department picture, there's no doubt that there are terrorists in America, and the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security are doing their jobs in keeping us safe.

One could argue this. But I'm sorry to report that the Bush Justice department has a well-established record of misleading the public about the scope of terrorism-related arrests, prosecutions and convictions. Beginning in June, 2003:

Under post-9/11 rules promulgated by the Justice Department -- which created a number of new terrorism-related categories by which to classify cases, but left it to district attorneys to determine which crimes fit the bill -- federal prosecutors across the country are turning in creative anti-terrorism records to their superiors in Washington, who are under enormous pressure to produce results and have little incentive to double-check them. The result is an epidemic of phony reporting. According to a January report by the General Accounting Office, at least 46 percent of all terrorism-related convictions for FY 2002 were misclassified; of those cases listed as "international terrorism," at least 75 percent didn't fit the bill.

Then in September, 2004:

Until that reversal, the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the Attorney General was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists.

The mendacity which originated under John Ashcroft has continued under his successor, Alberto Gonzales. In June, 2005:

Many people appear to have been swept into US counterterrorism investigations by chance -- through anonymous tips, suspicious circumstances, or bad luck. They have remained classified as terrorism defendants, years after they were cleared of connections to extremist groups.

For example, the prosecution of 20 men, most of them Iraqis, in a Pennsylvania truck-licensing scam accounts for about 10 percent of those convicted -- even though the group was absolved of ties to terrorism in 2001.

So how many of the 401 criminally charged, and 212 convicted of terrorist charges actually are "Terrorists in America?!?" There's really no way to tell. All we know for sure is that the numbers are wildly inflated. But the systematic use of misclassifying defendants as terrorists for PR purposes means that the data from the Justice Department, far from being the strongest part of Kline's case, is actually the weakest.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gratuitous Tom DeLay photo

From an anonymous reader:

John Kline and Tom DeLay

Of course, we know that DeLay has been to the Twin Cities fundraising for Kline. The key thing to remember is that Kline continues to maintain that DeLay is innocent, even as he claims credit for being the first Republican in the Minnesota delegation to call for DeLay's ouster.

And the fact that Kline still has $31,000 in campaign contributions from DeLay.

And Kline flip-flopped on softening ethics rules for DeLay.

jmjm has another Kline/DeLay photo, apparently from the same event.

The Many PACS of John Kline

From DumpJohnKline, maintained by someone who clearly has more patience for copying and pasting links than I ever would.

Sorry about the lull in posting. I've been working on another project, and spent some time goofing off. New original post tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Hot off the presses: John Kline wrote a letter to the Star Tribune to clarify some facts about his support for Tom DeLay.

Actually, Kline was responding to this letter:

Good riddance to disgraced Republican Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas and his corrosive brand of politics (Star Tribune, April 4).

As for Second District Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.: His constituents await his public apology for his shameful vote to allow DeLay to retain his leadership position while under criminal indictment.

And here's Kline's response:

An April 5 letter writer neglected to mention that I was one of the Republicans who voted to reinstate rules stripping Rep. Tom DeLay of his leadership position when he came under indictment. Most recently, I was the first Republican from the Minnesota congressional delegation to call for DeLay to step aside from his leadership post.

Apparently Kline wants everyone to know that although he voted in November 2004 to weaken House ethics rules so that DeLay could keep his leadership post even if indicted, he eventually reversed himself and voted to restore the rules after Democrats and the media embarrassed him into it.

So Kline wants everyone to know he flip-flopped on ethics. Got it.

Box Tops for Education

I hope I don't give people the impression that I oppose everything John Kline does. If you sift through all the posts, occasionally you'll see me agreeing with his positions on some issues, or applauding certain actions he's taken.

For example, consider the Box Tops for Education program. Box Tops for Education is an organization which has been around since 1996, with the goal of providing parents with "easy ways to raise cash for their children's schools", and has donated over $175 million so far to 86,000 schools nationwide.

And John Kline, as a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is participating in the first-ever Box Tops for Education Kids' Caucus:

"The Box Tops for Education Kids' Caucus has provided legislators on Capitol Hill with the unique opportunity to listen to student perspectives on the critical issue of parental involvement in education," says United States Congressman John Kline (MN), a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "The Kids' Caucus is contributing to the ongoing dialogue between students, parents, educators and policymakers to ensure we are providing the best education for our children."

Good for him.

Terrorists In Saudi Arabia!!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been analyzing John Kline's presentation on Terrorists In America!!, which he has posted to his congressional website for the purpose of recognizing the "heroic actions" of those who have achieved "victories on the home front in the War Against Terrorism." Most recently, I wrote Kline a letter about the case of the Hayat family, in which FBI agents in the case broke fundamental rules of interrogation and relied on the testimony of a highly-paid and unreliable witness. To his credit, Kline removed the reference to this case from his site shortly after the letter was written; I'm assuming he was persuaded by my presentation.

Today's case is more complex than the Hayat case, but of greater concern to those who care about constitutional protections for U.S. citizens. That is the case of Abu Ali, who was recently convicted of conspiring with al Qaeda to assassinate President Bush:

A federal jury in Alexandria convicted Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen, on all nine counts against him in November. They included conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, providing material support to al-Qaeda, plotting terrorist activities in the United States and conspiring to kidnap members of Congress.

. . .

Abu Ali, who was studying in Saudi Arabia at the time he joined an al-Qaeda cell, was held in that country for 20 months before U.S. authorities requested he be turned over to them. He was brought home in February 2005 and has been held in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center since then.

The trial was the first in an American criminal courtroom to rely so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service. Security officers from Saudi Arabia provided the bulk of the government's case, testifying via video from the kingdom.

Abu Ali's conviction was based primarily on his confession to Saudi authorities while in detention there. His defense attorney argued the confession was coerced and obtained only after he was tortured by Saudi officials and denied legal counsel.

Ali was arrested and detained by the Saudis, and convicted almost wholly on the testimony of Saudi intelligence officers. So there aren't a lot of American actions to recognize here. And the actions our government did take, far from being laudatory, are appalling. Attorney Elaine Cassel, who specializes in civil liberties issues and who has intimate knowledge of the Ali case, enumerates the problems, which are basically these:

  • Ali was originally arrested in Saudi Arabia for suspected involvement in a bombing which killed 23 people. He was eventually convicted in the U.S. on totally unrelated charges.
  • Despite pleas from Ali's parents, the U.S. government insisted it was impossible to extradite Ali to the U.S. This despite the fact that three men who were arrested at the same time as Ali were returned to the U.S. immediately, and that the U.S. succeeded in obtaining his extradition when it suited their interests.
  • Once returned to the U.S., the government used a recently-passed law of questionable constitutionality to deny him bail.
  • Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has a notorious record of torture and a draconian legal system, the defense was not permitted to present such evidence during the trial.
  • The only U.S. evidence against Ali was obtained using constitutionally questionable provisions of the Patriot Act, and consisted of "radical Islamic writings" and a gun magazine.
  • Finally, Ali was ultimately convicted of a conspiracy to assassinate the President, even though his indictment alleged neither an agreement to carry out the assassination, nor an overt act in furtherance of that goal. According to Ms. Cassel, both of these elements must be present to prove a conspiracy.

When an American citizen is arrested in a foreign country such as Saudi Arabia, with such a notorious record of torture and abuse of prisoners, the U.S. government should make every effort to return that person to U.S. custody, regardless how serious the crime with which they are charged. In Ali's case, our government let him rot in a Saudi jail for 20 months. Ms. Cassel, writing before Ali's conviction, spells out explicitly what this case means for every American:

Such a result will mean that this nightmare is viewed as an entirely legal reality: The U.S. can work with a foreign government to arrest and imprison a U.S. citizen and torture him. It can allow the imprisonment to go on indefinitely; Abu Ali's took over twenty months.

Citizens of U.S. allies, too, should beware: Canadian citizen Maher Arar was kidnapped by CIA operatives from New York's Kennedy airport, and taken to Syria for "questioning." There he remained for a year, until Syria got annoyed with the United States and returned Arar to Canada.

Then, if the U.S. (or allied country) citizen confesses under torture - and virtually everyone does, even if the confession is a lie - the U.S. may try to use the confession against him in a U.S. court, as well in a foreign court.

Ali may very well be guilty on all charges brought against him, but that's hardly the point. The point is that this case tramples on everything which made our legal system the best in the world. There was no due process, no presumption of innocence, and quite likely a forced confession. The principles which our government allowed to be controverted in this case are the very principles which were put in place to insure that the law is only used to protect our citizens, not to oppress them.

But as of this writing, at least, this is a case John Kline holds up as worthy of recognition for the "heroic actions" of our government.

Update, 4/9/06: Edited first paragraph a bit to remove use of the insipid editorial "we" and to improve clarity (we hope).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Obligatory Tom DeLay Post

DeLay is gone, or will be soon. When I heard the news this morning, my thoughts were:

  1. Hmm, I wonder what he's up to?
  2. I wonder if Kline will return the $31,000 DeLay gave him now?
  3. Really, what's DeLay up to?
  4. I bet Kline regrets the fact that he voted to change House ethics rules so that DeLay could continue as majority leader even upon indictment.
  5. Seriously. It's not like DeLay to walk away from a fight. So what's he really planning?

Republicans will do what they can to put a good face on this, praising DeLay even as they show him the door, and claiming that DeLay's exit puts an end to the "so-called culture of corruption".

But the thing about culture is, it's not controlled by a single individual. And while DeLay may have been one of the principal architects of lobbyist-run government, the machine he built is still running, and still needs to be smashed in.

DeLay's $31,000 must really be burning a hole in Kline's pocket about now. If Kline returns the money, it will go to DeLay's defense team and Kline will effectively be helping DeLay in his efforts to avoid the slammer. But Kline can't very well keep the money, either, especially once DeLay is convicted. So the most likely choice is that Kline will donate it to charity, a la Duke Cunningham.

The real question is, how long will he wait?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Coercive Interrogation and Paid Witnesses in America!!

Congressman Kline,

I have recently noticed your redesigned congressional web site, and in particular the section titled Terrorists In America, on which you recognize the "heroic efforts" of "our fellow Americans, who have made us all safer". I'm writing to call your attention to one of the examples you cite as a victory "on the home front in the War Against Terrorism", the case against Umer and Hamid Hayat. I'm concerned that by highlighting this case, you may give your constituents the impression that you support the questionable and unreliable interrogation and investigation techniques the FBI used to build their case.

To begin with, it is clear that both Umer Hayat and his son Hamid were coerced into their separate confessions to visiting terrorist training camps in Pakistan, and that their limited English proficiency and misplaced desire to please their interrogators makes it unlikely that they truly understood what agents were asking and what they were confessing to:

The agents appealed to the father by saying he should be loyal to his family and to his god. They told him terrorist camps were a part of Pakistani culture, repeatedly comparing them to American colleges. "I know this much about Pakistan," agent Timothy Harrison tells the elder Hayat, "that going to camps is an important part of growing up there."

The elder Hayat, like his son, appears on the tape to have difficulty understanding the agents in English, and he, like his son, gives many answers that had been previously suggested by the agents, who did most of the talking. At one point, the father named three other young men in Lodi as possible terrorists. His son named two different men - his cousins - as attending Pakistani camps.

The unreliability of their confessions is evident in the LA Times article you reference on your site, which explicitly notes that the statements of father and son differ dramatically in their details:

In a potential problem for the government when the case goes to the jury, the father's and son's stories about the alleged terrorist camp differ sharply. Hamid Hayat said the camp he attended was miles from the family home, tucked in a remote forest. Umer Hayat said it was in a huge basement only six miles from Rawalpindi, where his prominent father-in-law operates a large madrassa, or religious school.

James J. Wedick, a 34-year FBI veteran who worked on the Abscam and Capscam investigations, confirms that the agents interrogating the Hayats made several mistakes:

In court, Griffin said Wedick would have testified the FBI agents who obtained the confessions should have told the Hayats they were free to walk away from the interrogations.

They also shouldn't have invoked Umer Hayat's loyalty to his family or religion, "because it created a false sense of hope so he told agents whatever they wanted to hear," Griffin said. "Wedick says agents are trained not to talk about God, religion or family because that could lead to an invalid confession."

. . .

Griffin said Wedick could testify the FBI agents who got the confessions didn't take into account the Hayats' education, language skills and mental capacity.

Unfortunately, the coerced confessions aren't the worst part of this. Apart from these confessions, the government's case hinges on the testimony of a key informant, Naseem Khan, whom they knew from the outset wasn't reliable:

If law enforcement was [Khan's] dream, it came true soon after Sept. 11, 2001, when a Portland FBI agent came to talk to him about an alleged money-laundering investigation involving a Naseem Khan.

The FBI determined he wasn't the right Naseem Khan, according to testimony, but during the encounter, Khan noticed a picture of al-Zawahri on TV and said he had seen the al-Qaida leader in Lodi in 1998 or 1999.

In testimony last week, the FBI agent who served as Khan's "handler" said she concluded the information was "probably not true," but the FBI hired Khan anyway.

At the time Khan began working with the FBI, he had a job as a convenience store manager, but he was eager to help ensnare terror suspects for the FBI for a salary of $50,000 a year. Again from the LA Times article you cite:

Key to the government case, Griffin said, is the credibility of FBI informant Naseem Khan, who went from a fast-food worker and convenience store manager to a full-time FBI operative who earned more than $200,000 in salary and bonuses.

The FBI referred to their plant in Lodi's Muslim community by the code name "Wildcat." But Griffin said Tuesday that Khan's greed for FBI cash caused him to push and prod the Hayats to exaggerate their Pakistani terrorism connections.

"Wildcat literally cashed in on the war on terror," Griffin said.

It appears that the FBI didn't really get their money's worth, as Khan recorded over 1000 hours of conversations with the Hayats, but the transcripts show that Khan is more interested in generating evidence for the FBI than the Hayats are in terrorism:

Over hundreds of hours of transcribed conversations with Wildcat, Hamid Hayat emerges as a young man badly in need of a friend, and a boaster who enjoys bragging about his uncle, a former mujahadeen (holy warrior) in Afghanistan, and his grandfather Saeed ur Rahman, a cleric who Hayat claimed had trained the Taliban leadership.

During their conversations, it is Wildcat who tends to bring up jihad.

In a fairly typical exchange on March 6, 2003, Hayat and Wildcat talk about cricket, cigarettes, movies and Hayat's forlorn love life. He tells Wildcat "how his marriage proposal was refused" and "speculates someone has jinxed him with black magic."

. . .

Later that month, Hayat finally leaves Lodi and returns to his family's village in Pakistan, telling his friend he's going to marry. In their long-distance conversations, he sounds in no hurry to get terrorist training, despite Wildcat's exhortations.

Not surprisingly, veteran FBI agent Wedick confirms that Khan's evidence is worthless, and that Khan never should have been used as an informant in the first place:

Griffin, referring to a taped conversation where Khan threatened to grab Hamid Hayat by the throat and throw him into his grandfather's madrassah as a first stop toward terrorist training, said, "Mr. Wedick will opine that no informant should either jokingly or otherwise make threats to a potential target."

Wedick, a former FBI supervisor in Sacramento, told The Bee, "You can't use the blessed Virgin Mary to catch these guys - you've got to use criminals. But, if you don't supervise these guys they'll take you to the cleaners every time."

Wedick said the FBI should have pulled the plug on Khan as an informant when it could not corroborate his claim that he saw Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama Bin Laden's second-in-command, in Lodi in the late 1990s and his investigation of two imams in Lodi had fizzled.

"I know a similar situation involving an informant used against organized crime in New York - the subsequent lack of supervision caused the bureau to have to pay out millions of dollars," Wedick said.

Congressman Kline, while I understand your desire to recognize the efforts of our brave agents in the FBI and Homeland Security who are working every day to keep our country safe, it is clear that in this case the FBI used tactics that we don't want to honor or promote. I'm making the effort to call this to your attention so you don't inadvertently lead the voters of Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District to believe that you support indictments and prosecution of U.S. citizens based on coercive interrogations and the testimony of unreliable, some might say mercenary witnesses. Neither the Constitution nor the goal of protecting Americans from terrorists are well-served by such prosecutions.

David Bailey

Update: As of April 4, the reference to the Hayat case had been removed from Kline's congressional web site. I infer from the removal that Kline agrees that the actions of the FBI in this case are neither heroic nor deserving of recognition.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Once More, Kline Votes to Sweep Corruption Under the Rug

Reader K.W. calls out a little-noticed vote which took place in Congress on March 30:

Less than 24 hours after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in prison for fraud committed in connection with the purchase of a casino cruise line in Florida, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered a privileged resolution today calling for an immediate investigation into Abramoff's ties to members of Congress and staffers.

The vote was not to pass this resolution, but to table it. Much to the surprise of no one, the resolution was indeed tabled by a vote of 216-193. Six Republicans joined 186 Democrats and Bernie Sanders in voting to do the right thing; none of them were John Kline.

Kline and 215 other Republicans voted against investigating Abramoff's ties to Congress. That new majority leader, John Boehner, really is a breath of fresh air, isn't he?

And for the record, when NRCC communications director Carl Forti said "[Pelosi] would 'not make a big deal' out of a Democrat Member attacking a police officer, she refuses to condemn Rep. Jefferson amid his bribery scandal, and she has remained silent on his staff's charges that Mr. Conyers forced them to work on his wife's campaign," he's partly right. While I don't know anything about Conyers and his wife, and while Cynthia McKinney's behavior is more bizarre than unethical, William Jefferson is a disgrace to the Democrats, and should be dumped overboard. Pelosi and the national party can't expect Americans to accept the Democrats as the party of reform if they aren't even willing to discipline their own members.

Dangerous Psychopaths in America!!

This is the third in a series of posts discussing what John Kline evidently believes is the most important domestic issue facing us today: Terrorists in America!! We previously discussed how Kline's focus on the issue contradicts the Flypaper Theory justification for the war in Iraq, and how few of the seven recent examples he cites of terrorist activity in America amount to much.

But some of these recent examples deserve closer inspection, like the case of Michael Curtis Reynolds of Wilkes-Barre, PA, Pocatello, ID and a quite a few other addresses.

It seems that Mr. Reynolds had a protracted online discussion with someone whom he believed to be a member of al Qaeda, and in the course of this discussion, formulated a plot to disrupt the U.S. economy by blowing up some oil refineries and large sections of the Alaskan pipeline. According to federal prosecutor John Gurganus, his motives were

. . . to "disrupt government function," provoke opposition to the war in Iraq, drive up fuel prices and "lend to the efforts by al-Qaeda to terrorize this nation."

Fortunately, Mr. Reynolds wasn't really communicating with members of al Qaeda at all, but rather with a Montana judge named Shannen Rossmiller, who has been surfing the net since the 9/11 attacks, searching for possible al Qaeda recruits and reporting them to authorities.

So no one in this story really had anything to do with al Qaeda. And although Mr. Reynolds talks the talk, the more you learn about him, the clearer it is that he has no political agenda or ideology, and is likely a garden variety crook who will say or do anything for his own personal profit --- including the $40,000 that "al Qaeda" was going to give him to carry out his attack.

The most striking thing you learn is that Reynolds evidently tried to murder his parents in 1978 by blowing up the house while they were sleeping in it. His father talked authorities down to charging him with attempted arson. Reynolds was married in 1982, against the wishes of his father-in-law, Richard Danise, an ex-Marine who apparently did not appreciate Reynolds "blood and guts" bravado. Although Danise tried to help Reynolds and his daughter financially, Reynolds was unable to carry through on his plans to build a castle (yes, a literal castle), and the two eventually divorced.

We lose track of Mr. Reynolds until July 2004, when he surfaced in Wilkes-Barre, living in a small house with his mother, who had lost a leg to diabetes. Apparently Reynolds then spent many hours doing some kind of unspecified electrical work in his van, which on one occasion he crashed into a neighbor's parked car. When the neighbor inquired about Reynolds taking responsibility for repairs, Reynolds "flipped out" and the police had to be called in.

In his lifetime, Reynolds has been charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and breach of the peace, in addition to his attempted arson conviction in his youth. Reynolds is currently being held not on charges of terrorism, but for unlawful possession of a hand grenade.

Two things here are clear. Mr. Reynolds has no ideological or operational associations with al Qaeda, but was almost certainly willing to agree to anything to get his hands on some money (he reportedly had a net worth of $24.85 the day he was arrested). The other is, he almost certainly would not have followed through on any plan to blow up pipelines or refineries even if he were dealing with al Qaeda. His effort to kill his parents failed because he flooded the lower part of the house with propane, but set an igniter on the upper floors (propane gas does not rise). He didn't follow through on plans to build a castle. He couldn't drive his van without hitting a parked car, and he had just been fired from his job before he was arrested. Finally, there are suggestions (though I can't find a working link to them) that one of the oil refineries he meant to target no longer exists.

Don't get me wrong --- it's pretty clear Reynolds is a psychopath, and America is a safer place with him locked up. But is this really a case of Terrorists in America!!? Pretty clearly not.

And note one final detail: terrorist or not, Reynolds was arrested using an old-fashioned sting operation. No Patriot Act provisions or illegal warrantless surveillance required.

Terrorists In America!! (Sort Of)

We now return to our dissection of the only issue currently mentioned on John Kline's congressional web site: Terrorists In America!! In part one, we noted that by admitting the possibility (if not necessarily the reality) that al Qaeda operatives may be active in the U.S., Kline has obliterated the basis of the Flypaper Theory as a justification for the war in Iraq.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty.

In addition to citing some Justice Department statistics about the hundreds of terrorists who have been arrested in the past few years, there are links to several news stories, purportedly about Terrorists In America!! Here they are, with the titles Kline has chosen to give them:

  1. Guilty Plea for Al Qaeda Charity Chief
  2. Trial for Ca. Men who Received Terrorist Training
  3. U.S. Sanctions Syrian Bank
  4. U.S. Deports Iraqi with Suspected Al Qaeda Ties
  5. Pa. Man accused of Plot to Hit Pipelines
  6. Al Qaeda Member Sentenced to 30 Years for Assassination Plot
  7. Suspected al Qaeda supporters arrested

Of these, only the final one appears to be an open-and-closed case of al Qaeda sympathizers arrested in the U.S. The rest are questionable, laughable, or outrageous. And at least three of them deserve separate posts of their own.

So let's dispense with the easy ones. As already stated, item (7) appears to be a genuine case the FBI infiltrating, monitoring, and producing evidence for trial against two men who are al Qaeda sympathizers and who planned to set up an al Qaeda training facility in Long Island, New York. One interesting thing I noticed when reading the FBI's statement is that apparently, they were able to track and arrest these men without the help of the Patriot Act or illegal warrantless surveillance.

For item (1), Kline's headline is simply misleading. What appears to be beyond dispute is that Enaam Arnaout, the head of a charitable foundation called the Benevolence International Foundation, was using that foundation to funnel money to Chechen rebels and to soldiers in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But this is hardly the same as aiding al Qaeda --- some would argue that the Chechens at any rate are freedom fighters, not terrorists.

The reason why it is misleading to describe Arnaout as an "Al Qaeda Charity Chief" is that the government dropped charges of funneling money to al Qaeda. And while there is no doubt that Arnaout has had close ties with Osama bin Laden, that seems to have been mostly in the late 80's, when the United States itself was supplying money and weapons to al Qaeda in its fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

(Indeed, the fact that the U.S. has for years quietly aided "good terrorists" while denouncing "bad terrorists" makes the whole War on Terror morally ambiguous. That and the fact that we're now applying that policy to torture as well).

Item (3) seems pretty meaningless, since it apparently has to do with a Syrian bank, not terrorist sympathizers in the U.S., but I can't really be sure since the article it links to is gone.

Item (4) is the laughable one. The man who is being deported, Sam Malkandi, was originally arrested for fraudulently obtaining immigration benefits for himself and his family, and is being deported for lying on his 1998 application for political asylum. "Although he has been investigated by the FBI since at least 2002, he has not been charged with any terror-related crime."

It seems he did once try to help one of bin Laden's bodyguards obtain a U.S. visa. But clearly the government doesn't really believe he has meaningful ties to al Qaeda, or they wouldn't be returning him to Iraq.

Update: Items (2), (5) and (6) are discussed in separate posts. As of April 4, item (2) was removed from Kline's web site.