Amendment 71 is a power grab by special interests

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

I am voting no on Amendment 71, otherwise known as “Raise the Bar,” a question that will be on your Colorado ballot that you will receive later this month. While Amendment 71 is being sold as a common sense reform package to the ballot initiative process, in reality, it’s nothing less than a power grab by the political and corporate elites and almost entirely funded by the oil and gas industry.

Amendment 71 would erode Coloradans’ right to petition their government for change, as well as reduce access to direct democracy through the ballot initiative process.

While there is a need for ballot reform in Colorado, there are plenty of reasonable approaches to do so without stripping away the rights of everyday Coloradans. Amendment 71 is not the solution.

Look no further than the powerful special interests that are funding this campaign to understand what this is all about: money and power. Nearly 75 percent of the money funding the pro-Amendment 71 effort, over three million dollars, comes from the oil and gas industry. Amendment 71 would not only make it much harder to bring forward initiatives to regulate drilling and fracking, it would also detrimentally impact nearly all the issues that we progressives care about.

For example, I was proud to help put forth Amendment 41 in 2006, a successful ballot initiative that banned lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers and established an independent ethics commission to protect the public interest from political corruption. Under the changes proposed in Amendment 71, our effort to protect the public interest from corruption would not have been successful.

Amendment 23 in 2000, which I helped bring forward to better fund schools, would also not have become law.

Amendment 71 changes the signature requirements for initiatives so that one State Senate District can veto the rest of the state’s wishes. It’s not hard to imagine how this will play out in future elections: Imagine, a group of civic leaders, teachers, parents and grassroots organizers come together to finally reform TABOR and provide adequate funding for Colorado schools. Now imagine the Koch brother’s vast network swoops in with a well-funded “decline to sign” campaign in just one State Senate District, say in El Paso county or Eastern Colorado, that prevents the grassroots effort from ever getting the signatures now needed under Amendment 71 to access that ballot. Teachers, students, and parents would lose, and dark-money Princes David and Charles Koch would win. This is unacceptable.

Let’s be clear, Amendment 71 dictates who is allowed to change the state constitution and who is not. Amendment 71 ensures that only corporations and the ultra wealthy will have the ability change the laws, and it shuts the door on citizens and grassroots movements from doing the same. In an era where we already have a dangerous level of concentrated power with the elites and special interests, Amendment 71 would be the nail in the coffin for grassroots social change in Colorado through initiatives.

I encourage you to join Colorado educators, Common Cause, and me in opposing dangerous Amendment 71 and spreading the word to your friends and neighbors.

I’ve been FRACKED

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

There is no other way to put it other than to come out and say that I've been fracked, like thousands of other Colorado families. My in-laws seeking refuge on our couch in our Boulder apartment, our plans in disarray.

For twelve years I've had a family farm just east of Berthoud in unincorporated Weld County. Some of you reading this have probably been to the Halloween party my partner, Marlon, throws there annually and, others might have gotten some of my "Polis Farms" honey we give out around the holidays from my five beehives there. I've grown a little corn, a little alfalfa, but mostly just enjoyed the occasional weekend by our little pond hanging out with the rabbits and turtles.

Our two-year old son runs joyfully through the fields and learned one of his first words there –  "turtle." My Berthoud home in unincorporated Weld County has been part of our family's Colorado dream.

For the last four years my partner Marlon's father, Perry, and his sister, Nicole, have been living there full time.

But just this last weekend, our dream became a nightmare when Perry noticed a few trucks and construction occurring on the neighbor's property across the street. They raise horses, so we thought maybe they were building a new stable. We were shocked when a couple days later this went up overnight (literally OVERNIGHT):

jaredfrack1

(more…)

A tale of two proms

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Like her classmates in Itawamba County School District in rural Mississippi, Constance McMillen looked forward to senior prom all year. Like her classmates, she was excited when she found a special person to go with. Unlike her classmates, however, Constance’s date was another girl.

Constance had been out as a lesbian since eighth grade, and naturally didn’t want to take anyone other than her girlfriend to prom. Unfortunately, the Itawamba County School District said she couldn’t bring a female date, and when sued by the ACLU they cancelled prom for everyone.

So thanks to the edict of one conservative small town school board, there will be no high school prom this year. And by disappointing high school students across the county in their perverse rush to prevent two girls from dancing together, the school board has made their sleepy town an epicenter of the gay rights movement.

Forward to Bleckley County High School in neighboring Georgia. Another conservative southern town, but one that unlike Itawamba has not been in the national press lately. That’s because when out high school senior Derrick Martin asked permission to bring his boyfriend to prom, the school district said yes. High school principal Michelle Masters said. “As a principal, I don’t judge him. I’m taught not to judge. I have to push my own beliefs to the background.” Bleckley County residents can sleep soundly knowing that their town won’t even be a footnote in the gay rights movement, which is exactly the way many residents prefer it.

If Rosa Parks had been allowed to sit on a Montgomery bus in 1955, it would have been perhaps another city and another person who were in our history books. Itawamba County’s biggest claim to fame had been as the birthplace of country singer Tammy Wynette. Now it will be known as the county that was so offended at young Constance’s choice of a date that they cancelled prom for everyone.

It takes more effort to exclude than include. In trying to marginalize an “alternative lifestyle,” the Itawamba County School District succeeded instead in attracting even more attention to homosexuality and the county’s own backwardness. As a result of their decision every child in their county and the state is reading about gays and lesbians.

Hopefully some good will come of it and Itawamba’s actions will lead to increased tolerance and respect for our differences, but that won’t recapture the magic of senior prom for this years senior class in Itawamba County.  

Letter to Eric Holder: stop medical marijuana raids

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

The DEA must do more to stop their agents from harassing and raiding our medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal under state law.

That’s why I sent this letter to Attorney General Holder today:

February 23, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

As you know, the voters in my state legalized marijuana for medical use, and placed it in the Colorado Constitution, Article XVIII § 14, the Supreme Law of Colorado.

The Department of Justice is to be commended for issuing formal written guidelines on October 19, 2009, clarifying that federal resources should not be used against people in compliance with state law in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.  When drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was in Colorado recently, I thanked him for taking this step and respecting our state law.

Despite these formal guidelines, Friday, February 12, 2010, agents from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the home of medical marijuana caregiver Chris Bartkowicz in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.  In a news article in the Denver Post the next day, the lead DEA agent in the raid, Jeffrey Sweetin, claimed “We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people…Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law,” he said. “The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They’re violating federal law; they’re at risk of arrest and imprisonment.”

Agent Sweetin’s comment that “we arrest everybody” is of great concern to me and to the people of Colorado, who overwhelmingly voted to allow medical marijuana.  Coloradans suffering from debilitating medical conditions, many of them disabled, elderly, veterans, or otherwise vulnerable people, have expressed their concern to me that the DEA will come into  medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal under Colorado law, and “arrest everybody” present.  Although Agent Sweetin reportedly has backed away from his comments, he has yet to issue a written clarification or resign, thus the widespread panic in Colorado continues.  

    On May 14, 2009, Mr. Kerlikowske told the Wall Street Journal: “Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”  The actions and commentary of Mr. Sweetin are inconsistent with the idea of not waging war against the people of the State of Colorado and are a contradiction to your agency’s laudable policies.

On Saturday, February 13, 2010, local Attorney Robert J. Corry, Jr. submitted a formal complaint regarding the raid and subsequent comments by Sweetin to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with investigating “waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct” from Justice officials.  I ask you to instruct the Inspector General to respond promptly to Mr. Corry’s complaint.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2010, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado David Gaouette announced his office’s intention to criminally charge Mr. Bartkowicz in federal court.  In order to ensure a fair trial for Mr. Bartkowicz, it is essential that the confusion about administration policy caused by the actions of Agent Sweetin be resolved ahead of jury selection in this case.  A response to Mr. Corry’s complaint would serve as point of clarity.

I again applaud your policy.  Treating drug policy as primarily an issue of public health, as opposed to an issue of criminal justice, is both practical and compassionate and it has been and will continue to be supported by the voters of Colorado.  Please clarify for me in writing whether Agent Sweetin’s comments that DEA will “arrest everybody” remains United States policy.  Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jared Polis

Member of Congress

cc: President Barack Obama

Happy New Year! (My holiday poems)

(How could we not promote poetry from a member of Congress? – promoted by Colorado Pols)

I wrote two poems for the new year, the first is a retrospective of 2009 and the second is my fondest wish for 2010. Happy New Year Coloradopols family!

Jared

(poems after the flip)

2009

2009 come and gone

May 2010 be more ripe for song.

A difficult year for our nation and world

Around us recession, war, strife, all swirled

People jobless

Their families without bread

Looked to our congress

To make them well fed

We passed several bills

“Drink from the public swill”

to AIG, autos, and clunker-owners we said,

And the result, of course: to a higher deficit it led

The mountains of Afghanistan we occupy still

Our troop levels there continue to build

I listened to generals, to scholars to spooks,

Yet Al Queda isn’t there,

In Pakistan and Yemen we should look

So too we occupy old Babylon

With a promise we must honor to soon be gone

While in Washington the Pachyderms and asses did battle

Fighting and bickering and sounding like rattlers

Hissing and striking, hemming and hawing,

Displaying plumage and pomp

Never listening always talking

But despite us the engine of America is strong

The free market’s cycles are not decades long

There is a natural rhythm to things

Of seasons Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring

Of what futures markets bring

Of Dows, Russells, Standards and Poors

Of bears and of bulls, of declines and of soars

Of jobs and good wages to support honest folk

Of people borrowing and then struggling to throw off debt?s yoke

Some cry “depression”!

Others “mild recession”!

Still the country presses on

awaiting the bright new dawn

As for my prescription,

Hardly worth an inscription

The doctors say it best

” Do no harm,”

And a night’s good rest.

Remaining Work

By the Statue of Liberty

My dear right side is angry

With certain justification

With rage we observe

Rampant disregard for the law of the land

No one guarding, miles of border sand

Bird flus and pig flus (not the kind for a vet)

Our schools overwhelmed, our hospitals overset

Our Laws flouted and violated,

Our border security degraded,

Without insurance, without taxes, without existence under the rules

Why does our policy this invasion fuel?

My dear left side outraged at tragedies and plights

The mother separated from her sons

The abuelita in flight

The worker paid less than minimum wage

Afraid to object lest he be seized and detained

The student who finds she can’t go to college,

The the detainee who languishes in taxpayer-financed squalor

Twelve million here but not here

Laws violated, not enforced

Each day we keep the pot from melting our valuable additions

The irony of our current policies that lead to sedition

An affront to I who hold the torch high

Give me your tired your poor

that I may look through them

Use them abuse them,

And neglect to see

That they are me

And I am but of them and their progeny,

as I always have been and always will be.

May 2010 bring Comprehensive Immigration Reform to our nation and our millions of families who wait in limbo for a chance to legally exist, contribute to society, and live the American Dream.

Copyright Jared Polis 2009[poll id=”1052″]

Summary of US-Mexico Parliamentary Exchange

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

The meeting with the Mexican Senators and Representatives was very productive. We had four sessions, and during each we all had the opportunity to speak and listen. All three major Mexican parties were represented, with both Senators and Representatives from the PRI (center-left), PAN (center-right), and PRD (left) parties.

The first topic we discussed was border security. Drug and human smuggling  from Mexico to the US, and arms smuggling from the US into Mexico, are rampant. Ninety percent of the guns used in drug-related killings in Mexico originated in the United States.  The Mexican contingent expressed great frustration with our lack of gun control laws and found fault with that apparently there are gun fairs that operate just on our side of the border basically to cater to Mexican bandits. Our delegation patiently explained the importance of America’s second amendment and why our political constraints often prevent us from doing more to reduce arms-smuggling. Both sides aired their frustrations: Mexico’s main frustration  is that the U.S. is  the origin of the arms ,, and our main frustration is that several Mexican states have corrupt authorities that have been unwilling to crack down on the drug trade.

The next topic was immigration. We listened to their concerns about the treatment of Mexican nationals within our borders, and since our group was generally pro-immigration reform we encouraged them to speak out on the security risk that the status quo has created.

We discussed the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform, including requiring all immigrants register to help fight crime and drug-smuggling. You’ll be hearing me speak out a lot on this issue in the weeks and months ahead, and I invite you all to join our rally for comprehensive immigration reform on Saturday, June 13th in Northglenn.

After immigration came trade.  On this topic both sides were divided. I’d estimate that about two-thirds of the Mexican delegation (mostly PRI and PAN) were pro-NAFTA and one third (mostly PRD) was anti-NAFTA. Likewise, our delegation had diverse voices but was largely pro-NAFTA. Personally, I think we need to focus on the next phase of economic integration and look toward building an even stronger North American block to compete against Asia and Europe. A rising tide of workplace protection and safety will sweep our region.  The European Economic Union pulled in economically diverse countries like Greece, Portugal, France, and Germany and built even stronger protections for workers than we enjoy in our country today.  If they can do it, so can we.

The final topic was the environment. Mexico, like the United States, is undertaking several green initiatives to combat climate change. I encouraged the Mexican delegates to continue down the path of sustainable development and warned them that any attempts to take advantage of our new carbon-pricing regime will be short-sighted and backfire in the long-run. Mexico is an oil-producing nation, and understands that it must diversify its energy sector to continue  energy leadership.

Just as importantly, I started to forge relationships with Mexican legislators, and will follow up on email with several who I hit it off with. One Senator skis in my district (Vail) and I hope to see him next winter. These parliamentary-level relationships can play a critical role in setting things back on the right track when the normal diplomatic channels suffer breakdowns, as well as allow us to work together on a collaborative vision for the future.

Congressman Jared Polis

Mexico-US Parliamentary Exchange

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

As members of Congress we opine and work on many issues of importance to our constituents. However, it’s also important to have a legislative focus. Truly effective legislators not only cover broad issue areas but also go deep in a couple areas of expertise. While I am active as a strong green voice in Congress as Vice-Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Caucus, and while I continue my efforts through the Progressive Caucus for universal health care and a re-thinking of our militaristic ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, my main legislative focus areas are education and immigration.

So too within the realm of foreign affairs, many members of Congress “adopt” a country and focus on building a specialty in that area. Many members are involved with “Friendship Caucuses” for countries like Switzerland (Rep. Tammy Baldwin), Norway (Rep. Earl Pomeroy) , Mongolia (Rep. Joe Wilson), Greece, Armenia, China, etc. I believe that each member of Congress should adopt at least one country and devote some time and effort towards understanding and being a part of that strategic relationship.

These “friendship caucuses” are a rare island of bi-partisanship in an otherwise fractured Congress.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to make my own personal foreign policy focus within Congress the US-Mexico relationship. I feel that this is one of the most important strategic relationships for our country, My ability to speak Spanish together with my familiarity with the country and its culture will help me serve as a bridge to Congress. I was frankly very surprised to find that there was no US-Mexico Friendship Caucus, so I decided to form one and am currently in the process of doing so and inviting my colleagues to join. I also signed up to be part of the Mexico-US Parliamentary exchange which is occurring this weekend. Five other members of the House of Representatives and myself, along with Senator Dodd, are en route to Seattle Washington for the 48th annual parliamentary exchange.

During my campaign, I had a difference with my primary opponents on our relationship with Mexico. Unfortunately it is popular Democratic red-meat to rail against NAFTA. While of course NAFTA has areas that we need to work to improve upon, I never blasted NAFTA during my campaign and quite the opposite, frequently talked about how the United States and Mexico need to have closer political and economic ties. We should work with Mexico to improve NAFTA, particularly with provisions to protect workers and our environment, as well as to build our overall relationship.

Unilaterally “cancelling” NAFTA, which is an existent albeit minority position in the Democratic Party (and I realize that some readers of this blog are in that camp), would have a disastrous impact on our relationship with Mexico, one of our most important strategic partners.

An example of the sensitivity around such issues is the mini-diplomatic crisis over the pilot trucking program. As part of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, a provision was slipped-in that cancelled a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to cross the border and continue on to their final destination in our country. While the debate around the program is valid and there are many issues to consider such as vehicle safety, emission standards, wage considerations for drivers, etc, handling it unilaterally through the Omnibus Appropriations Bill understandably caused extreme ill-will in Mexico. According to the AP, Mexico retaliated with tariffs on American goods:

Then the Mexican Economy Department told a news conference in Mexico City that the new tariffs will affect about $2.4 billion in trade, impacting 90 agricultural and industrial products exported to Mexico from some 40 U.S. cities…

These measures no doubt hurt American working families including unionized farm-workers a lot more than they benefit a few truck drivers. The trucking program is a legitimate issue to discuss, but we need to address it in a bi-lateral way with Mexico. I voted for the Omnibus Appropriations bill despite the trucking language because the good outweighed the bad and the trucking language was a meager afterthought in a $410 billion bill, but I opposed that component.

Our relationship with Mexico is important for many reasons. The issues that we will discuss and this parliamentary exchange include immigration, trade, security, and the environment, and I look forward to providing a summary in my next post, as well as ongoing updates from time to time about the US relationship with Mexico.

Congressman Jared Polis

polis.house.gov

Afghanistan

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

I wrote this two days ago, but wasn’t able to post it until now. I am now back home in Colorado:

Afghanistan

We just landed in United Arab Emirates.  Sorry I’ve been slow to reply on my Iraq posts, but it was because I was in Afghanistan the last two and half days.  I wasn’t allowed to announce it ahead of time but now that I am back on “friendly” soil I can share my experiences as part of a Congressional Delegation visit to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan

We visited two cities in Afghanistan, Kabul the capital and Kandahar in the south near the Pakistani border.  What a mess.  What another world.  No one can make sense of Afghanistan because it doesn’t really make sense.

We hardly glimpsed the real Afghanistan.  Through the bullet-proof windows of our van, we saw a few children playing, women in Burkhas, and men going about their daily business as we drove from the airport to the Embassy, but our briefings were all in military bases or government buildings.  

I grew up loving Afghan food.  My parents befriended an Afghani immigrant in the early 1980s in San Diego.  My parents gave him our old pots when he started an Afghan restaurant in the area.   Later, he opened an Afghan import shop next door to the restaurant and it was a special treat as kids when we would go there and I could pick out some little Afghan trinket in addition to having a delicious meal.  A few years ago he moved his restaurant to one of the most posh areas of San Diego and it has been great to watch his success.

On this trip to Afghanistan, unfortunately not a single bite of Afghan food passed our lips.  We stayed on the military bases and embassy compound, ate in cafeterias, and the only Afghan we even met with was the Minister of the Interior.

Thus, despite travelling thousands of miles and visiting the country itself, my context and understanding of Afghanistan is pretty much the same as the average American’s-based on the same information that the Obama administration and US military have given us in making their decisions.  If I had a few weeks I would love to really try to get to know some Afghans.  

Despite our short stay and limited exposure, it was a great opportunity to learn from our generals, NGOs, and diplomatic officials as well as leaders of the Afghan government.

No one has any idea how many people live in Afghanistan.  Intelligence estimates range from 22 to 32 million people.  There has been no census since 1959.  The Ministry of Education has no idea how many kids are in schools.  Most likely more than 75 percent of the population is under 30 years old and has only known civil war their entire lives.  25 is considered middle-aged there because the average lifespan is only 46 years.  One American soldier charged with working with local groups told me that when he arrived in a remote village he was assumed to be Russian because they hadn’t heard that the Russians had quit Afghanistan (in 1989!).  This is the kind of information gap we are talking about.

It is generally believed by us that the Taliban is not popular here.  Whatever a poll means in this social context, apparently 80-90 percent of Afghans do not want the return of the Taliban.

President Obama has articulated a clear strategy for our presence in Afghanistan, which has been long awaited and is much appreciated by both the Afghans and our military: “Defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and prevent their return to either country in the future.”

First of all, I commend Obama for not only articulating a strategy that is both concise and (in my opinion) correct.  The reason that we have “chosen” Afghanistan is that it provides sanctuary to those who perpetrated 9/11 and still scheme to do our nation harm.  With this new clear mission, however, I fear that our current tactics are not mapped correctly to our strategy.

The first aspect of our new tactics-a diplomatic surge-is indeed well suited to our goals.  Not only do we have a senior Special Envoy to the region in the form of Richard Holbrooke, but we have an extremely capable Ambassador in Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, a former 3-star general, and we also have Deputy Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., who himself would be a senior Ambassador at any other post (he recently completed four years as Ambassador in Cairo).  

We need all the high-level diplomatic support we can to master the diplomatic complexities of fighting against an enemy holed up in two countries, as well as navigating the complex regional politics.  Iran, for instance, a generally a hostile nation that is currently attempting to develop nuclear arms, is helping with redevelopment in western Afghanistan even though we don’t have direct dialog with them regarding it.  This is the just the tip of the iceberg of the vast complexities our new diplomatic team will face, and I’m thrilled that we have a top-notch team that is ready and up to the challenge.  

The second part of our new tactics-a military surge (more troops)-includes a renewed focus on the building effort.  Building wells, schools, and promoting economic development are all nice things, but if the goal is merely to “do good and help people” we could probably bring Africa or Latin America ten times as far along with the same resources than Afghanistan.  The real battle in Afghanistan and Pakistan is against Al Qaeda and we should gauge our actions with that in mind.

Our best estimates show there to be no more than 5,000 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Geographically, they operate out of the Pashtun areas in the south and east of Afghanistan and on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.  The Pashtun tribe constitutes about 40 percent of the population of Afghanistan and is the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.  President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun, and there is a tradition of Pashtun leadership of the nation.  Do we really need to occupy an entire country of around 30 million people to root out 5,000 enemies?  

Unlike Iraq, there is no definitive time frame for our operations in Afghanistan to succeed.  The general consensus of our military, NGOs, and diplomats is that “our mission” will take at least ten years and but probably more like a generation.  Our international coalition is trying to advance Afghanistan from feudalism, through the industrial revolution, and into the information age-in just one generation.  That’s a tough challenge even if you’re not battling terrorists at the same time.

I harbor a deep degree of ambivalence about the military surge.  The diplomatic surge is good, increasing our covert ops and intelligence abilities focused on Al Qaeda is good, but adding tens of thousands of American troops for years doesn’t necessarily get us closer to defeating Al Qaeda.

I don’t see how the new troop surge follows from Obama’s announced policy.  We should engage “the enemy” (Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts) in the south and east of Afghanistan and the Pakistani border.

The only actual Afghan we spent significant time with was the Secretary of the Interior.  He had one fake leg, having lost the other fighting with the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan.  He was trained in Moscow, married to a Bosnian, and spoke fluent English.  Extremely charming, if a little slick, he told us exactly what we want to hear on all counts.

While I was warned not to be biased to like officials just because their English is good and they are charismatic, this minister has received excellent marks so far from the US.  He impressed me as a CEO would and sounded like an MBA.

His two biggest challenges are understaffing and

corruption.  To put things in perspective, most officers aren’t literate, a requirement to be promoted to Sergeant.  It’s hard to imagine police officers who aren’t literate, but that is to be expected in this nation. He told us that the ratio of police in Afghanistan 1.3 per thousand, far less than in major western cities, where it us usually around 4 per thousand.  To retain staff, the minister is working on institutional reform and figuring how to better train and pay the police force.  

The minister’s other major challenge is corruption.  Afghanistan produces a lot of opium, and the money generated from this illicit trade is used to buy politicians and police, as well as fund terrorist organizations.  Rather than poppies, the US is trying to get Afghanistan to grow pomegranates (good luck).  The minister is focused on building the institution of the police, which is a lot more than just training.  Of the three players in Afghan security-the army, the intelligence force, and the police-the minister bemoans the fact that the police are the last to be built up by the allies.

In addition to our briefings from generals in Kandahar and Kabul, we got to spend an hour with troops from our home states in Kabul, and it was fun to visit with four young soldiers-two Air Force, two Army-from Colorado who signed up to meet me.  I am happy to report that the troops are well fed, lodging conditions are decent, and safety is pretty good.  In fact, one of their biggest complaints is that the military is taking too many precautions about their safety. For instance, one of the soldiers from Colorado trains police officers.  He, along with other Americans and members of the international force, mentors Afghan police officers, usually 1 on 1.  Mentor and mentee spend all day together, teaching and learning the importance of professionalism, service, and the many skills they need to succeed.  This young man was invited by his mentee to dinner to meet his wife and kids.  The military prohibits this kind of activity for security reasons, even though it would help build lasting bonds.  

While the US government and military leaders have nothing but his safety in mind, I do sympathize with the soldier.  I wish that we had more freedom on our Congressional Delegation trip (CODEL) and could have interacted with actual Afghanis, the men and women outside the bases and embassy walls.  The only time we even went through the “real Afghanistan” was as we were being ferried between military bases with inches of bullet proof glass separating us from reality.  I never even smelled the scents of the stores and shops we passed.  I would have gladly taken on a reasonable level of risk to make the overall experience more useful and informative, but was prohibited from doing so.  Maybe there is some way to empower individual solders to make these kinds of decisions subject to some ground rules.  I would go stir crazy if, like these soldiers, I was living in a place for a year and could never go out and see the real country and get to know the people I’m working with during the day!  Surely these kinds of interactions and relationships could further our cause of defeating terrorism.

One final note about our military is that they are an incredible and impressive fighting force.  These men and women are consummate professionals and part of an expert military machine; I am amazed anyone would want to go up against our troops.  And yet Mulla Omar, Osama Bin Laden, Zakari, and other terrorists are all still at large, along the Pakistani/Afghan border. I’m not sure that our occupation of Afghanistan will help bring them to justice, but our efforts along the Afghan/Pakistani border hopefully will, and I think it’s only a matter of time until we find them and prevent Al Qaeda from taking innocent lives again.

Congressional Visit to Iraq, Part II Observations on strategy (my return to Iraq, 1.5 years later)

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

From an undisclosed location somewhere in the Middle East…

I am writing most of this entry from the backseat of a helicopter bound to Mosul from Baghdad. Wearing my flak jacket and helmet, grasping my laptop and typing, I see the Iraqi landscape beneath us, my earplugs protecting me from the roar of the blades and wind.

Scratch our destination.  Due to weather, we actually didn’t make it to Mosul and had to land and spend the day at an Air Force Base in the middle of Iraq.  We are near where the Tigris and Euphrates split at Joint Base Balad, home of the 332nd, the descendents of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

We spent the day learning about the airbase (which is a likely candidate to remain in operation after the “withdrawal” and visited the air command center, saw a Predator (unmanned drones), visited their hospital, and their chapel where their chaplain happens to be one of the few Rabbis in the Air Force.

We had lunch in the expansive mess hall and I sat at a table with servicemen from other parts of the country and listened to their experiences and opinions drinking purified water from the Tigris that they bottle on campus!

Upon arriving in Iraq yesterday, our first briefing was with General Ray Odierno, the Commander of the Multi-national Force in Iraq and the Charge D’Affaires and Interim ambassador Patricia Butenis.  

Iraq is still waiting on the Senate ratification of Obama’s new ambassador, Christopher Hill, so we have a Charge D’Affairs as acting ambassador as she is the highest ranking state dept official in Iraq.  Hopefully the ambassador will get here soon as surely this is one of the most complex and delicate diplomatic assignments in the world for the United States.

The General presented a simplified summary of the sectarian concerns as summarized in a quote from Ambassador Ryan Crocker: “Shia fear for the past, Sunnis fear for the future, the Kurds fear both” and gave us the big picture on our operation in Iraq and his command.

In the afternoon in Baghdad, we went to the Iraqi Parliament and met with two female members.   Both covered their heads and wouldn’t shake the hands of men.  One said that no men wanted to be on the Family, Women, and Children Committee because they considered that a woman’s committee.  I have to admit, it’s depressing to see the role that women are relegated to, even more so in Iraq, which has historically been more progressive in that regard than our allies in Kuwait.  The Iraqi Parliament is 25 percent female, by law.   Parties who compete have to list one quarter female candidates.  Considering that our own Congress is only 18 percent female, we must remember that those in glass Houses shouldn’t throw stones, although to our credit we do enjoy the diversity we have absent any quota.  

The two members of parliament were the only Iraqis we formally met with; this visit was skewed toward visiting with our own military and learning about our mission and successes and failures from the American perspective.  The few times we talked to Iraqis on their own, they told us only what they want American officials to hear.  I learned more about the situation in Iraq on my previous visit, in November 2007, when I met with Iraqi refugees in Jordan who spoke much more freely about their observations and opinions.

Falling oil prices have devastated the budget of the Iraqi government.  Iraqi oil was bringing in $1.3 billion/week at its height and is now bringing in around $300 million/week.  Given the continuing lack of other meaningful economic activity, the government relied on this revenue for rebuilding.  They have a huge budget gap to fix. The silver lining is that the decrease in oil prices and global recession is giving their fledgling democratic institutions a real-world chance to make tough decisions.  It will be nice to have an Iraqi election this coming December that is likely to revolve around economic messaging rather than ethno-centric or theo-centric messaging.

One of the more interesting briefings was by the multi-national security transition command team led by General Frank Helmick.  He is charged with building the capacity of the Iraqi military and police forces.  For better or worse, we are doing an excellent job increasing the capabilities of the Iraqi military.  Several Iraqi military leaders have stated that their military is stronger than it ever was.  

Some credit increased stability and progress in Iraq to our troop surge that occurred around the same time the violence started to decrease, but I believe that the surge was incidental and that the real factors in the decrease of the violence, which also occurred around the same time as our surge, to be:

1)The use of Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils

Many former members of the resistance are now on the payroll of the US government as militia security forces.  There are just over 100,000 “Sons of Iraq,” potentially a potent fighting force for stability or instability.  Many are former Baathists, former military and police officials under Saddam Hussein, and former members of the post-invasion resistance.  

If we had started this policy sooner after the invasion, we no doubt could have prevented loss of life.  As can be expected, some of them turn out to be corrupt and attack us anyway but most seem to be helping to keep the order.  The challenge is to bring them into the fold of the new Iraqi government and a proper chain of command structure.

2)The completion of ethnic cleansing in many areas

By 2006, many Sunni majority areas were purged of Shias, and Shia majority areas were purged of Sunnis.  The families kicked out of their former neighborhoods are still by and large in exile, with 750,000 internally displaced peoples and over 2,000,000 Iraqi refugees residing in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.  

3)The growth of strength of the Iraqi government and its willingness to take on Shia militias.

While our “surge” increased the American troop presence from 132,000 to almost 170,000, the Iraqi military has grown to 220,000 members from about 130,000 in June of 2007.  In addition to the increase in numbers, their training, equipment, and command structure has improved tremendously.

The Iraqi security forces are probably the single largest cause of the decreased violence. The security of the green zone itself was turned over to the Iraqi security forces on January 1, 2009, although I’m still not sure what that means as the actual security of the green zone still resides firmly in the hands of Peruvian mercenaries (I will write more about this later).

According to our military, the Iraqi special ops force is now the most capable in the region.  

The Iraqi military has ordered M1s, C130Js, and is considering purchasing a few dozen F16s.   Our mission to remilitarize Iraq is succeeding.  Our command, charged with setting up an effective fighting force in Iraq, has already achieved its mission and built a force more powerful than the pre-invasion Iraqi military.

As we assess the success of the capacity building command, we need to ask ourselves if it makes strategic sense to have another highly armed power in this volatile region.  While the answer may indeed be yes, it’s not an easy calculation and deserves due consideration.  

While the existence of a Costa Rica or a Japan of the Middle East might not seem realistic given the geopolitical and military climate of the region, we have been down this road before and armed those who became our enemy or the enemy of their own people.

The hippie in me (my family legacy, my parents were hippies) bemoans the fact that we defeated the Iraqi military only to help them build an even stronger one that might one day be used against children and innocents, as often is the case.  When will all the killing end?  Where have all the flowers gone?  And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and they shall study war no more.

Alas, the Iraqis are studying war under our all-too-capable tutelage.

More soon on mercenaries, logistics, and Kuwait.

Congressman Jared Polis

Congressional Visit to Iraq, Part I (my return to Iraq, 1.5 years later)

(We’re suckers for the “undisclosed location” – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) Middle East CODEL: Iraq, Part I

From an undisclosed location somewhere in the Middle East…

When I first visited Iraq in November of ’07, I flew commercial to Jordan and the Baghdad, crammed into coach the whole way.

This time, on a Congressional CODEL, we flew business class from Dulles to Kuwait, where I sat next to a contractor from KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary accused of various human rights abuses and contracting abuses.

As we settled in, we started to chat and he asked me whether I was going to Kuwait for business or pleasure.  I responded business.  We are not supposed to tell anyone ahead of time about these trips, so when he asked what my business was I murmured “e-commerce” in response.

I doubt that he believed me, as I’m not a very convincing liar, but I don’t think he really cared what I did and I highly doubt he guessed I was anything close to a member of Congress.  People travelling to this area of the world have all sorts of cover stories for what they’re doing and have learned to respect the privacy of others.  To his credit, despite my highly suspicious answer, he didn’t press nor did I have any more reason to talk to him, so I delved into my book, Brothers by Yu Hua.  I didn’t want to take out my briefing materials on Iraq, lest my neighbor learn the true purpose of my trip.

We arrived in Kuwait around 5:00 pm Sunday night, had a buffet dinner and then went to sleep.  Since I tried hard to stay awake during the long plane ride, and only dosed for two hours, I was easily able to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

Monday morning, we met in the lobby of the hotel at 5:30 am and after a nice boxed breakfast, boarded a military C-130 for the flight to Baghdad.  The US has been flying these aircraft since the 1960s, and I was informed that the one we were on was built in 1967. (You can tell because of all the old school pressure gages and manual controls.)  The cockpit looked antique.  I divided my time between talking with the crew up-front and the troops in back, including one from my Congressional district in Thornton, CO.  It wasn’t the most comfortable flight, as wearing the heavy flak jacket and helmet really heats you up and wears you down.

By 9 am we were in Baghdad.  Two years ago, we drove from the airport to the green zone on the “highway of death” that, they assured me, had just cleared been cleared of land mines.  That was before I was a Congressman.  This time, we hopped in helicopter and 15 minutes later we landed in the green zone.

The security situation has improved tremendously in Iraq.  When I was here last in November of ’07 mortar attacks were frequent in the green zone, and indeed there was one on Thanksgiving eve a few hundred meters from where I stood.  Now they are a rarity; there hasn’t been one reported in weeks.

The city’s economic life is starting to return: cars on the road, power on (most of the time), and people going about their business.  It is a far cry from the extremely tense world of two years ago, and I am much more relaxed even while wearing flak jackets and a helmet and travelling through unsecured areas.  Last time, picking up on the general ambiance, I was in a constant state of heightened alertness knowing an attack could come at any time.  This time you can feel that an actual attack is quite unlikely to occur.  We still go through all the motions for a war zone, but they are now just precautions against the unexpected.

There is also a definite change in mindset among the military from when I was last here.  I couldn’t count the number of sentences that began with “When we leave in 2011…” a sign of commitment to withdrawal that, thanks to President Obama, is now inserted in the military political culture.  To be sure, questions remain, such as what are we to do with our air bases or the enormous eight billion dollar embassy compound whose guest rooms I enjoyed last night?  Still, the commitment is clear that we need to prepare for our forces to approach zero and to have no ongoing role in maintaining Iraqi security after 2011.

However, the “near zero” levels that are contemplated still represent 35,000-50,000 troops in 2011. The difference is that these troops would be a regional base of operations for us for operations outside Iraq and not to maintain stability in Iraq, and of course our presence would be subject to the permission of the Iraqi government just as our presence in Kuwait is subject to the blessing of the Kuwaiti government.

One of the more helpful activities we have done here is meeting with soldiers from our districts and home states.  They are not screened by the military and represent an excellent cross-discipline focus group for us to learn from.  I can’t overestimate how important it is to facilitate this relationship.  

Most members of Congress really know their district and are closely connected with the people, one of the advantages of running every other year; I can learn a lot more from residents of my district in two hours than I can from, say, residents of North Carolina or Texas, and I am confident that it is similar for other members of Congress. We speak the same language, know the same people and share the same culture.  I’ve been to their high schools, know their high school teachers by name and even know friends of their families.  Meeting with these folks and seeing a friendly Colorado face instantly dispenses with pretense, and allows me to gather meaningful information and really connect.  

I had dinner with five troops from Colorado in Baghdad, including an MP Ensign, a Petty Officer, someone from Military Intel, an enlisted mechanic, and two other enlistees.  Our two hour discussion was wide ranging from the challenges they face in their jobs each day to the veteran services they feel are important when they and their peers retire.  We even hit the current political issues of the day such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (all of them thought it was a bad policy and that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve since we need quality men and women in our military) and the issues that integrated male-female units face and what they’re doing to ensure that diversity is a source of strength rather than division.  

They were all 19-30 years old, and on their first or second tours in Iraq.  Afterwards, one said that he didn’t know what to expect and debated signing up to meet with me because he thought it might just be a photo-op, but was really pleased that I was really there to listen.

We have left Iraq and are now in a safe country. We were advised not to post about the trip prior or while we were in Iraq, but now that I have landed elsewhere in the Middle East I will begin to share my experiences.

Jared Polis

Member of Congress

Polis.house.gov

Posting soon: Observations regarding the Iraq War and current strategies

Crossposted to Dailykos if you like it please recommend the diary there

Fair and Balanced!

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Governor Ritter’s efforts have helped make Colorado a leader in green energy jobs. In my district, Namaste and Abound Solar have added dozens of jobs.

The passage of the Recovery Act is already starting to create even more green jobs in Colorado. By passing a comprehensive carbon-policy, like the cap-and-trade we talk about in this piece, it will lead to even more job growth in this important sector.

Gotta love fair and balanced coverage!

Congressman Jared Polis

Support tuition equity!

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

At a United States Student Association rally supporting the DREAM Act outside the U.S. Capitol today, I called upon the Colorado State Legislature to pass SB 170 and allow qualified Colorado high school graduates, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges and universities.

I haven’t taken positions on any other laws before our state legislature this year, but this one is compelling enough for me to issue a statement. It also ties into federal policy and puts Colorado in an excellent position for us to benefit the most under the federal DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.

These kids are as American as anyone else; many of them have been in the country since they were infants and speak English better than you or I and know no other nation. By denying these students-our future teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs-the opportunity to go to college and succeed, we are only shooting ourselves in the foot.

This week, I am co-sponsoring the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Minors) Act, a bipartisan proposal to create a pathway to both college and citizenship for thousands of young students who were brought to the United States years ago as children, which will be reintroduced in the U.S. House and Senate. Without SB 170, however, thousands of young Coloradans would never be able to take full advantage of the DREAM Act, since tuition equity requires state legislative action. Ten states have already enacted tuition equity, including Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.

SB 170 would increase state revenue, help close the achievement gap in our schools, enrich our workforce, and strengthen our economy. What’s not to like?

With this bill, Colorado has the opportunity to gain maximum benefit from comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act by ensuring that our future citizens are well-educated and ready for work. I call upon Colorado’s lawmakers to invest in our state’s future and pass SB 170.

I deeply appreciate the efforts of Governor Bill Ritter for supporting the legislation and State Senator Chris Romer (D-Denver) and State Representative Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) for advancing the bill through the legislature.

We are a nation of immigrants. When we look into the faces of our newest Americans, how can any of us help but seeing the eyes of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents staring back.  

Congressman Jared Polis

Remember the Ladies

( – promoted by redstateblues)

“In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” ABIGAIL ADAMS TO JOHN ADAMS, MARCH 31, 1776

One of the most important pieces of legislation we’ll soon be acting on in Congress is a national economic recovery package. A large portion of the new federal spending-perhaps  as much as 20 percent-will be focused on infrastructure construction, including transportation and school projects, energy efficiency improvements, and green economy investments such as smart grid expansions.

While President-Elect Obama is to be applauded for proposing a recovery plan that focuses on a wide number of areas, including education and healthcare,  the proposed infrastructure spending in the plan overwhelmingly benefits men and won’t be of much help to unemployed women. In 2007, only 9.4 percent of the 11.9 million workers in the construction industry were female and in major infrastructure occupations with an employment base of 100,000 jobs, women held only about 3.9 percent of jobs. Without efforts to increase workforce diversity, this could lead to a massive shift of hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth from women to men.

 

Women make up nearly half-46 percent-of the total U.S. labor force of 153 million. While the overall unemployment rates of women and men have been similar since 2000, women with children experience much higher unemployment rates. Worse still, there is evidence that women who lose their jobs face a harder time finding new jobs than their male counterparts.

We must not let disparities between men and women in employment and compensation worsen as a result of the recovery act. A few simple steps, if incorporated into the economic recovery package, could help ensure that infrastructure investment can and will benefit women.

1. Expand Training for Women in Non-Traditional Jobs:

We should expand the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women in Apprenticeship and Non-traditional Occupations (WANTO) grant program that “awards competitive grants to recruit, hire, train, and retain women in apprenticeships and non-traditional occupations.”

Also, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 allows states to use funds for “preparing students for employment in fields that are traditionally dominated by one gender.”  Not only should funding for the Perkins Act increase, but the program should be more narrowly geared toward gender diversification in infrastructure-related jobs through gender equity set-asides and the reestablishment of equity coordinators.  

2.Emphasize goals for hiring and retaining women in non-traditional jobs funded by federal contracts and enforce contracts for full compliance:

We should increase the targets for female employment by federal construction contractors and require them to design and implement plans for hiring and retaining qualified female workers.  Selection criteria for contracts could include assessments of these strategies and past performance.  The Office of Federal Contract Compliance should rigorously enforce implementation.

3. Provide Incentives for Companies Employing Women:

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) encourages employers to hire members of families receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, commonly known as welfare) program, among other disadvantaged populations, whose beneficiaries are overwhelmingly women.  Increasing the size of the credit would make it an even stronger incentive for employers.

Another option entails assisting contractors that meet a certain threshold of female employees in non-traditional sectors.  There is already a program in place to help women obtain federal contracts.   While we must do a better job at ensuring that female-owned businesses access more contract dollars, we should also explore a similar assistance program for companies with female workforces above 25 percent in non-traditional occupations, especially in construction.  Gender parity goals should be expanded beyond the capitalist class to the vast majority of women who do not own companies.

I further describe these options and others in a letter to the Predident-Elect.

These steps can be implemented swiftly; during World War II, with the urgent need to ramp up war production, women entered traditionally male jobs that necessitated skilled training-welding, iron molding, skilled machine work-within months.  We must ensure that the biggest jobs program since the Great Depression does not redistribute America’s wealth away from women and funnel their federal taxes and debt obligations into paying for jobs for men.

Responding to the Obama Analysis

The incoming administration has been pro-active in addressing concerns regarding the demographics of the beneficiaries of the act. A recently released report states:

Summing across industries suggests that the total number of created jobs likely to go to women is roughly 42% of the jobs created by the package. Given that so far in the recession women have accounted for roughly 20% of the decline in payroll employment, this calculation could reflect that the stimulus package skews job creation somewhat toward women, possibly as a result of the investments in healthcare, education, and state fiscal relief.

The shortcomings with their argument are:

1) 42% is not reflective of the 46% of the workforce composed of women.

2) The jobs they count on for reaching gender parity, like “retail”, “financial activities,” and “leisure and hospitality” are NOT directly created by the stimulus bill and are optimistic that the economy actually recovers quickly. While some of the areas like education and government jobs are directly created, their formula showing overall gender parity uses extremely optimistic projects for secondary job creation not directly caused by the recovery package.

3) Also, their own analysis shows that women will likely get most of the lower-paying jobs and fewer of the good-paying jobs in construction and “green” areas.  As for the 13% of women they cite in the construction industry, apparently it includes lower-paying clerical jobs (boosting it from under 7% to 13%). The data on the higher-paying occupations, like carpenter and electrician, only emphasizes the point that women need equal access to good-paying jobs, in which they have traditionally been underrepresented.  

The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to reach gender parity when 20% of the money spent is going into an area that benefits 93+% men. The best way to address this is to take this opportunity to provide for more opportunities for women in construction and infrastructure-related jobs to narrow that gap and lead to a more balanced overall package.

Incorporating some of these ideas and others to promote an increase of women in construction-related jobs into the recovery act would meet both the immediate needs of the recovery package and the long-term goals of improving the skill and preparation of our workforce by offering a future filled with greater economic security for women and their families.

You can help by contacting your Representative and encouraging them to sign the Polis letter on gender equity or by emailing the Obama transition team. You can also read the full letter to the President-Elect here.

Let’s work to ensure hope and opportunity for all Americans.

Jared Polis

Member of Congress

Colorado, 2nd Congressional District

Cross-posted to Dailykos, recommend me over there if you get a chance!

Incentive for privately funded automobile bailout

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

We will soon find out if an “automobile industry bailout” will occur this year. Although I don’t get to vote on the matter, there will likely be a second phase considered after our new Congress begins on Jan 6th, 2009.

I authored an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which I discuss my opposition to a Congressionally-engineered bailout and instead suggest incentives to encourage a privately funded bailout.

By waiving the future capital-gains tax on all investments in the automobile industry, we enhance the projected return models and therefore the likely occurrence of a privately funded “bailout.” There are turnaround firms and funds, and they are experts at what needs to be done. Tax exemption for gains would certainly get their attention. It also wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything because it only forgoes future government revenues that wouldn’t exist absent this incentive.

You can see the full piece here

I have deeply appreciated the input from my constituents on this matter, which is running about 4-1 against the bailout.

What are your thoughts on how to successfully restructure our automobile industry?