The opinions and spurious connections presented as "fact" in recent Star Tribune articles regarding a trip I took in December 2008 do not stand up in light of the actual facts. The Star Tribune's account must be corrected. Here are the facts:
• The Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN), a registered 501c3 in our state, invited me -- in writing -- to participate in a trip to Hajj, a religious pilgrimage of the Muslim faith.
• I submitted the invitation to the House Committee on Standards, also known as the Ethics Committee, for its review.
• The Ethics Committee approved my trip to Hajj in writing.
• I complied with all House rules governing the trip, both before and after. The trip was reported on the annual House disclosure form, in accordance with specific guidance provided by the Ethics Committee.
The Star Tribune knows that I followed the spirit and the letter of the House rules, as communicated to me by House ethics lawyers, at every step of the process. It is too bad that they did not clearly report these facts.
The Star Tribune believes I should have disclosed more than the House rules require. It is entitled to its opinion, but that does not justify an attack on me for following the rules!
Reasonable minds may differ on whether a public figure should disclose more than the law requires, but the Star Tribune should at least acknowledge that I have a reasonable basis for my position.
One might ask, why not disclose more? After all, if you have nothing to hide then you should have nothing to fear.
Wrong. Privacy is not undiscovered dishonesty. Some things are private. For example, family and religion. My trip, which was not at taxpayer expense, and paid for by a nonprofit organization that does not lobby, was handled according to the House rules, which balance disclosure and privacy.
Now, some might argue that I waive any and all privacy rights as a public servant. I disagree. I don't mind disclosing further details of the trip if the Ethics Committee so decides. I will gladly comply, even though the trip was taken for a private purpose.
The Ethics Committee's review of this trip cited in the article is a routine matter generated by the Star Tribune's inquiry, and not by any error in my reporting. The Star Tribune reporter knew this. His suggestion that there is an ethical question hanging over me is disingenuous.
To my knowledge -- and to the House Ethics Committee's knowledge -- I have followed the House rules carefully and fully. These series of stories are like getting a ticket for not wearing a helmet when the law only requires a seat belt.
On second thought, it's not like getting a ticket at all, because the cop, the House Ethics Committee, told me what to report and I did.
It's really more like being subjected to public derision by a powerful media organization for not wearing a helmet when only a seat belt is required.
REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-MINNEAPOLIS
President Obama speaks favorably of the Democratic health care bill. The Mayo Clinic has been critical of the same bill. I'd recommend that Minnesota's politicians in Washington, D.C., side with the Mayo Clinic. My guess is the folks at Mayo know more about health care than the folks in D.C.
GREG ANTHONY, ROCHESTER
Opposition to health care reform: too soon, too quick, too costly. Why weren't these arguments valid when the Iraq invasion was getting shoved down our throats?
However, in the case of health care reform, this has been desperately needed for many years; it may save costs in the long run to provide preventive care and treat smaller problems rather than wait until it becomes an expensive emergency care visit; we, as a nation will prosper only when we are healthy and strong; and with 9 million children uninsured in our country and millions more adults in the same boat, certainly, we need to look at alternatives to employer based-coverage. Please, put politics aside for once and find answers for the American people, not for the lobbyists and political strategists. We can do this.
SYBIL AXNER, MINNEAPOLIS;
CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND MINNESOTA
Anyone who is wondering why our country needs to address our growing health care crisis only need look at the business section of the July 22 Star Tribune. UnitedHealth Group reports that profits soared 155 percent over the previous year for the quarter ending June 30. For one quarter, this "nonprofit" corporation posted net earnings of $859 million.
UnitedHealth Group is just one of a multitude of health care conglomerates in the United States that are siphoning health care dollars from our pockets and the pockets of health care providers in record amounts. By inserting themselves as middlemen in the transactions of health care services performed in our country, these mega corporations have been the impetus for the huge increase in our cost of basic health care over the last 25 years.
That is why it is imperative that any health care plan passed in our country starts with addressing the issue of the health care middlemen.
The HMOs, PPOs, POS and other private insurance providers in our country need to be greatly restricted or done away with all altogether if we want to even start to try to control our health care costs. A government funded program would go a long way toward keeping our health care costs in check.
CRAIG BROWN, BLOOMINGTON
The president wants to sign legislation to expand health care coverage and improve quality while bringing down costs. Then focus on the aspects that will do that. A public option will lead us away from what he is looking for.
The president will accomplish his goals by regulating the health care insurance industry, by doing away with preexisting conditions, opening up competition by giving all the ability to purchase insurance in any state, and mandating that all Americans obtain catastrophic health insurance. Increasing the pool of people while increasing locations to obtain insurance will reduce premiums as the risk pool expands. Why can't President Obama understand this?
CHRIS LUND, HAMBURG
Here's an idea for the airport signs -- how about dumb and dumber?
SANDRA WILDE, MAPLE GROVE
A good question: Who is paying for Gov. Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign trip to Afghanistan and Iraq?
Surely not Minnesota taxpayers, because according to King Tim, every "family has to tighten their belts" when there is no money to spend.
TIM WRENN, RAMSEY