Political Notebook -- Candidates have no sweet tooth for sugar industry
By Don Davis
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL - Neither major presidential candidate appears to have a sweet tooth -- at least when it comes to subsidizing the American sugar industry.
"I would stop subsidizing sugar," Republican John McCain flatly said the other day on "60 Minutes."
In 2005, Democrat Barack Obama wrote in the Chicago Tribune that he opposed "indefensible sugar subsidies that benefit a handful of wealthy growers."
While McCain is a strong opponent of most agricultural subsidies, Obama generally is a supporter.
"It provides a strong safety net for farmers," Obama recently wrote about subsidies, "and gives them the certainty needed in a sector that provides an important human resource -- food -- amidst the unpredictable dynamics of weather and markets."
However, Obama's campaign lately has been hard to pin down about his stance on subsidies to help make ethanol from corn. That process has been getting bad press of late and the Obama camp apparently is not anxious to get into that debate.
McCain has not avoided the controversy. He famously walked into an Iowa meeting -- in the middle of corn country -- and declared he is against corn ethanol subsidies. Period. End of conversation.
Farm Bureau says 'no'
The Minnesota Farm Bureau has come out against a constitutional amendment that would boost the state sales tax to support outdoors and arts programs.
Farm Bureau President Kevin Papp joined former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams in opposing the plan to slightly raise the sales tax for the next 25 years. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also opposes the proposal.
"If this measure passes, it will result in a tax increase of over $11 billion over the next 25 years," Papp said.
The Minnesota Taxpayers League, leading the vote-no campaign, has $100,000 to spend on its first round of radio commercials and lawn signs against the amendment, which voters will decide in the Nov. 4 election. League President Phil Krinkie said more ads are on the way, but he will not have nearly the $4 million-plus amendment proponents likely will spend.
"Vote yes" commercials begin airing soon. They will be on television and radio, with direct-mail literature also planned.
Ready for digital?
Americans are not well informed about the February 2009 switch to all-digital television, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., says.
A Wilmington, N.C., test proved her point, she told the Senate Commerce Committee.
"The experiment in Wilmington shows that there is still a lot more work to be done," she said.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that thousands of Americans will not be able to receive the digital signals once the change-over occurs. There will be dead spots where TV reception now is possible.
Klobuchar has been trying to increase federal efforts to inform Americans about the switch. Once it happens, television viewers who get their signals over the air will need television sets that can handle digital transmissions, or converter boxes that convert digital signals to ones existing televisions can use. For the most part, users of cable and satellite systems will not be affected.
The senator's Web site at http://klobuchar.senate.gov/DTVinfo.cfm has information about the digital conversion.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is in Europe for the next few days.
"Exports have been one of the few bright spots in our economy and it's more important than ever to continue to increase our state's foreign trade," Pawlenty said. "During this trip I'll have the opportunity to share Minnesota's success stories, including renewable energy, and also encourage investment in our state."
The governor had been considering the invitation for some time, but decided earlier this month to accept, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. That was after John McCain passed Pawlenty over to be his running mate.
This is not like full-scale trade missions Pawlenty has taken to China and India, McClung noted.
Here is his schedule, listed in local times:
Sunday, 7 p.m., Madrid, Spain. Pawlenty meets with the Eduardo Aguirre, United States' ambassador to Spain.
Monday, 11 a.m., Madrid. Pawlenty and Aguirre meet with Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain's minister of foreign affairs and cooperation
Monday, 1 p.m., Madrid. Pawlenty meets with Secretary General Bernardino Leon.
Monday, 1:45 p.m., Madrid. Pawlenty delivers the keynote address at the 2nd European Union-U.S. Business Roundtable on Energy and Technology.
Tuesday, 9 a.m., Madrid. Pawlenty meets with the Fundacion Consejo Espana-Estados Unidos (Spain-U.S. Council). The council promotes cooperation between Spain and the United States in the economic, commercial, business, scientific and cultural fields.
Wednesday, 8 a.m., London. Pawlenty meets with Robert Tuttle, the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Wednesday, 5 p.m., London. Pawlenty meets with Simon McDonald, chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Wednesday, 5:45 p.m., London. Pawlenty meets with Kim Howells, minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Thursday, 12:30 p.m., London. Pawlenty delivers the keynote address at the Atlantic Partnership.
Not a TV show
A letter U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman sent to supporters shows one angle his campaign is using against Democratic challenger Al Franken, a long-time comedy writer:
"The U.S. Senate isn't like a skit on Saturday Night Live, where you can play fast and loose with the facts to get a good laugh. The lives and livelihood of real folks -- our friends and neighbors -- are at stake. There's just too much on the line to get your facts wrong."
Medical unit ready
The state is ready to step in when local health-care facilities temporarily are not usable.
The Minnesota Mobile Medical Unit is a 53-foot semi-trailer that will include two critical care beds, six general care beds and 1,000 square feet of floor space.
"This mobile facility fills an important gap in our ability to provide needed health care under emergency conditions," Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said. "We believe the MMU will be an invaluable tool for responding to the health care needs of communities where local health care facilities are no longer able to provide care, or have been overwhelmed by large numbers of patients."
The MMU can provide initial care to patients, and stabilize them so they can be transported to another location for care.
"The MMU will provide communities with critically important backup capacity in situations where local health care resources are no longer available, or local health care capacity has been exceeded," said John Hick, medical director for the Office of Emergency Preparedness at the Minnesota Department of Health. "This is a critically important part of our health and medical emergency response capability in Minnesota - one that's been missing until now."
The unit was used during the Republican National Convention St. Paul to provide first-aid services.
Volunteers will staff the unit.