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Friday, April 22, 2005

Empty Suit Thursday: The Straddle

Posted by: Hammer / 9:48 AM

Blogger was down last night, so your Empty Suit Thursday had to wait for today.

Running out the clock on DeLay

Does Smilin' Norm support the ethically bankrupt Tom DeLay? Who can tell?
Minnesota Republicans in Congress appear to back embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, although they're not eager to talk about him.

"I'm a member of the United States Senate ... so I'll leave it at that," Sen. Norm Coleman said Thursday.

Pressed, Coleman said, "I fully support him today, there's no question about that," adding, "You're innocent until proven guilty."

Coleman also said "there are some questions out there, they need to be dealt with ... everything should be laid on the table, whatever the accusations are."

Judge Coleman rides again. Republicans are innocent until proven guilty. In DeLay's case, he's already been repeatedly admonished by a unanimous vote of the House ethics committee. So he's innocent even after being proven guilty on different, but similar charges. It's good to see Judge Coleman's enormous deference to fairness and principle extends all the way from the conservative wing of the Republican party all the way to the ultraconservative wing of the Republics party. If, on the other hand, you're the head of the United Nations, then you're guilty until -- and even after -- proven innocent.

Last rat off the sinking ship

Looks like Smilin' Norm understands two things. First, Republican primary voters want to take a flamethrower to the United Nations. Failing that, they'll settle for John Bolton, but nothing less. Second, never turn your back on a Bush:
Republican committee member Norm Coleman of Minnesota acknowledged that Bolton "raises a lot of passion."

"We hear the same things, and we come to different conclusions," Coleman said. "In the end, I think the question is, why does the president want to appoint him? It is about reforming the U.N."

That's true, Smilin' Norm. Your colleagues hear testimony about an abusive, reckless, vindictive man. You hear coins falling into your PAC's tin cup. Just a different perspective, that's all.

Smilin' Norm can straddle this issue, too. He supports Bolton and Voinovich:

Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, another Republican on the committee, defended Voinovich. "He's very conscientious, concerned. That's his nature. He heard things that he didn't have an answer to, and we didn't give him an answer. That was not a political move on George Voinovich's part."
In a truly (small d) democratic Senate, one could support Voinovich's call for more time to investigate and still support Bolton's nomination in the interest of fairness and in deference to the magnitude of the appointment. These are democratic concerns. The Republican run Senate is more democratic than the House, which is as faint of praise as calling someone more ethical than Tom DeLay. The political reality is that Voinovich has heard testimony of behavior so egregious that no person of good conscience could support Bolton's nomination. Rather than publicly make that statement, he's asking for more time in the vain hope that this White House can be shamed into withdrawing Bolton's nomination. Fat f'n chance so long as the White House needs support from every member of the Black Helicopter Right to push through its Social Security privatization scheme.

Whistleblower protections

Coleman is co-sponsoring a bill to strengthen whistleblower protections. We need to protect people who risk their livelihoods to expose serious wrongdoing. I'd like to see some sort of prizes attached, but given how often the administration breaks the law, prizes would brankupt the federal government even faster than privatizing Social Security.

Naivete of youth

This from the student newspaper of Luther College:
Republican Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota has always received my deepest disdain. I do not believe I have ever agreed with him on anything. Yet a few weeks ago, he voted in line with my values on two bills (funding Medicaid and protecting ANWR from oil drilling). This did little to cure my broad cynicism, but it destroyed my once static conception of him.

Perhaps when it really comes down to it, we all need to change our focus. Had I taken the time to look for common ground, I would have known that Coleman and I agreed on these issues. Perhaps there are other as-of-yet undiscovered similarities that I should seek out and encourage action on now.

Yes, the Medicaid vote was a good one. But Smilin' Norm has both supported and opposed drilling in ANWR. It's easy to find common ground with Smilin' Norm, because he's often on both sides of an issue. It's integrity that's hard to find.

Help for farmers?

This is little more than a press release:
Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to fix an inequity in the disaster assistance program for farm families who lost their crop last year due to weather.

As initially proposed, the quality loss program would not have fully compensated Minnesota wheat farmers for quality losses they sustained, leaving thousands of Minnesota farm families exposed to huge losses.

I like farmers. I respect the work they do. I think small farms are far superior to enormous feed lots where the pools of pig shit infect the ground water and make rotting flesh smell like a bed of roses. I'm suspicious of this announcement, but not because it comes from Smilin' Norm. At least, not only because it comes from a self-serving paragon of selfish achievement. Too often aid for family farms is nothing more than yet another giant subsidy for agribusiness. Agribusiness, of course, is but one small step away from winning legal authority to install high fructose corn syrup IV drips into American youths. So this proposal will be one to watch.

Refund anticipation loans

Coleman supports predatory lending by credit card companies. He opposes the much smaller predatory lending practiced by tax preparers:
"They're really taking advantage of a vulnerable population," said Bonnie Esposito, executive director of AccountAbility Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that provides free accounting and tax assistance to people with low incomes. But many more, she said, don't take advantage of the free assistance and instead go to the big preparers.

Last year, more than 4,000 low-income Minnesotans who obtained an RAL were hit with surcharges by such companies, for a total of $40,000, Coleman said. The interest rates they paid were far higher.

"In addition to being costly to consumers," the senator told about 40 people at the hearing, "my investigation has determined that these products are highly profitable -- generating over $200 million in revenue in 2004 for H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, the two largest tax preparers in the country."

The RAL process works this way: When a taxpayer is due a refund and wants an RAL, he or she can authorize the IRS to send the refund to the bank that's issuing the loan. The bank deducts the tax preparation charges and the application fee and sends that money to the tax preparer. The bank further deducts a fee for setting up a bank account, as well as a finance charge and any outstanding balance that might be due from a prior RAL. The taxpayer gets what's left.

Coleman is right on the issue. Abusive refund anticipation loans need to be curbed. I hope he follows through with a legislative proposal, but suspect he is simply hitting up another industry for a campaign contribution.

The sweet release of perfect legislation

Smilin' Norm supports a plan to screw trial lawyers and help out Hallibutron (2001 story):
A bipartisan group of senators rolled out a massive bill Wednesday to settle 300,000 pending asbestos injury claims and to compensate all victims for the next 30 years through a $140 billion trust fund. ...

The measure would compensate thousands of victims who now collect little or nothing on their claims because of the bankruptcies of 74 defendant companies, he said. The sickest victims could go to court if the fund fails to compensate them within nine months of the bill's enactment.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he expects to vote for the bill. He noted that it also would benefit 3M, which has been swamped with asbestos claims over a face mask it sold for 25 years, and the St. Paul Cos., a major insurer. ...

It still faces tall hurdles. It drew opposition last week from insurers and several victims' groups, including one led by Susan Vento, the widow of Minnesota congressman Bruce Vento, who died of asbestos-related mesothelioma.

Asbestos plaintiffs' attorneys, who would all but lose their franchise under the legislation, have launched multifaceted lobbying efforts to try to kill the bill.

Wouldn't it be easier to legislate an obscenely low cap on asbestos damages and call it reform?

And the last word goes to...

Some French guy

Some French guy doesn't like Smilin' Norm, either:
For French philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, meeting Sen. Norm Coleman last summer wasn't a particularly edifying experience.

During the August 2004 Republican Convention in New York, Lévy visited a yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y., and encountered Coleman, R-Minn., and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., pounding the pavement for President Bush's re-election campaign.

The "two strange characters'' -- as Lévy describes them in a cover story on his U.S. travels for the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic -- made a less-than-favorable impression on the writer, who called Coleman "a sort of blond yuppie with exceeding white teeth and the smile of a wolf."

I'm beginning to loathe the phrase "a sort of..." It's a long-winded "umm" or "err" or hedge. It's a pause for thought in mid-sentence better filled with silence.

More importantly, Coleman is less a wolf and more a hyena. Less predator, more scavenger. Less Blato, more Ed.


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