By Rep. Ted Poe and former Rep. Jim Kolbe

Special to Roll Call

Oct. 19, 2011, Midnight

The United States faces myriad challenges around the globe. We are engaged in military conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. We are pursuing terrorists in far corners of the world. We respond when other countries need help by offering humanitarian aid to cope with crises — from famine in the Horn of Africa to earthquakes in Haiti and tsunamis in Japan. At the same time, we compete with China and other emerging economies to maintain our position as an influential and powerful force in the global economy. Clearly, the need for effective U.S. global engagement is more important than ever.

Meanwhile, at home, we are confronted with a skyrocketing domestic budget deficit that places enormous pressure on all areas of the federal government’s budget. While re-evaluating how we spend American tax dollars at home, we must also closely examine how and where we spend our international assistance budget.

The basic question is this: How can the U.S. maintain leadership overseas while adjusting to the shrinking federal budget at home? We believe the answer must be through smart and strategic reforms that make foreign aid programs more efficient and effective. The bottom line is that America cannot continue to advance our political, economic and security interests abroad without serious and long-overdue reform of foreign assistance programs. We believe that the best path forward is through enhanced coordination, accountability and transparency on both sides of the assistance equation — donor and recipient.

Since the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act in 1961, foreign aid programs have spread across 12 departments, 25 agencies and almost 60 federal offices. However, according to the conclusions of an independent study commissioned by USAID, “current monitoring and evaluation of most U.S. foreign assistance is uneven across agencies, rarely assesses impact, lacks sufficient rigor, and does not produce the necessary analysis to inform strategic decision-making.”

There are encouraging examples of effective monitoring and evaluation programs to be found, such as the Millennium Challenge Corp.’s Impact Evaluations and USAID’s new Evaluation Policy, but there is no clearly defined set of standards that is applied to all foreign assistance programs that would allow policymakers to make rational choices in a world of limited resources.

What’s more, most foreign assistance programs operate in the dark. No one really knows how the money got there in the first place or where it is going. In a recent comparative study by the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development, the U.S. ranked 22nd out of 31 countries when it came to transparency of its foreign assistance programs.

On Jan. 11, the State Department and USAID launched the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a public, online resource that allows users to examine foreign assistance investments in an accessible and easy-to-understand format. Although the site is a good start, by USAID’s own admission, it is incomplete — the site includes only aid programs from two of the 25 federal agencies that administer aid.

The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act gets at both of these problems. First, it requires the president to establish — and the heads of federal agencies to implement — guidelines on establishing measurable goals, performance metrics and monitoring and evaluation plans for all foreign assistance programs. Second, it codifies what is currently being done through the State Department and USAID’s Dashboard initiative. It would make foreign aid more transparent by increasing the amount of information available to the public, including country-development plans, Congressional budget justifications, actual expenditures and reports and evaluations by subjecting all agencies responsible for aid programs to exposure on the Dashboard.

There is growing bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for other reform ideas, as well. Research has shown that the earlier a government-administered program engages the private sector, the more likely it is that the program is going to lead to sustainable economic improvement. It is also common sense to require that recipient countries take proactive measures to combat corruption and promote financial transparency so that we have some assurance our foreign assistance dollars are not being diverted or wasted. These are just a few examples of reforms that have the support of taxpayers, the administration and nongovernmental organizations.

Many of these reform proposals would enhance the efforts that the Obama administration has undertaken through two forward-looking initiatives — the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Congressional action is needed, however, to ensure that the reforms enjoy bipartisan political support and have a lasting effect by codifying them into law.

Given the challenges that our country faces domestically and around the globe, it is necessary that we modernize and reform our foreign aid system, which is a relic of the Cold War. We need a leaner system where money is spent strategically in places where it is in the national interest of the United States. There must be measureable goals and ways to monitor the success (or lack thereof) of the assistance. We must make the foreign aid process more efficient and stretch our dollar further. Making the United States’ foreign aid process more strategic and efficient will strengthen our ability to confront global problems, overcome them and help lead the world to a brighter future.

Rep. Ted Poe (R) represents Texas’ 2nd district. Former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R), a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, represented Arizona’s 8th district from 1985 to 2007.

Originally printed in the Washington Times

Washington, Aug 24 -

If there ever was a time to get serious with China, now is the time. The recent news of fake Apple and Ikea stores is almost too absurd to be true. But in China, the rules don’t apply. Brand name and innovation mean zip. Intellectual property is free game. Anything is up for grabs, and if I were a betting man, I’d bet that the government is getting a nice cut out of it all. But that’s communism, right? It’s a system in which your ideas are my ideas, your success is my success.

As our deficit soars and the U.S. continues to borrow, borrow, borrow - as much as 43 cents on every dollar - we do not have the upper hand in this battle. China increasingly owns our securities, and thanks to its currency manipulation, our dollar continues to struggle on the world market. The U.S. faced fierce economic competition from Japan in the ‘80s, but that was far different. China represents one-fifth of the world’s population. (By comparison, Japan has less than 2 percent.) China can dominate the market and get away with its unfair theft of American goods and innovation because of its sheer size, wealth and power. But why must we tolerate the biggest robber baron of them all?

Beijing is connected to (or at least benefits from) networks of criminal thugs. Most recently, China admitted to operating the “Online Blue Army.” This is exactly what it sounds like: a military unit of hackers who operate offensively at the behest of Beijing. The U.S. has fallen victim to Beijing’s hackers at least several times over the past few years. In October 2006, the website of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) was locked down for more than a month after repeated attacks by hackers on Chinese servers. This wasn’t just some arbitrary target. No, BIS has responsibility over U.S. exports for commercial and military applications. The State Department’s Washington and overseas systems were downed thanks to Chinese hackers. It’s intolerable that we have yet to hold communist China accountable for these cyberdeclarations of war against the U.S.

As if accessing our “secure” government networks weren’t enough, the Chinese criminal networks also exploit our financially weak position by placing harmful pharmaceuticals on the market, making defective products and ripping off consumers left and right. Since I joined the House Judiciary Committee’s intellectual property subcommittee in January, I’ve heard from dozens of American businesses that have experienced significant economic harm from Chinese counterfeits.

Take, for example, Houston-based Farouk Systems, maker of Chi hair products. Several years ago, Farouk Shami, chairman and founder of Farouk Systems, expanded the company’s operations to China to save costs. When faced with an onslaught of Chinese counterfeits, he closed the factory in China. With that move, he brought production and 1,000 jobs back to Houston and accepted higher manufacturing and salary costs without passing them along to the consumer. But also with the move, he could better protect his intellectual property and innovation.

The Chinese have become so expert in ripping off Farouk Systems‘ Chi flatiron that the detailing on each package is almost identical to that on the legitimate product, including the exact same warranty, with a picture of Farouk Shami’s face for a bit of extra “authenticity.” Farouk Systems regularly fields complaint calls about broken products, but the products are counterfeit! Fighting Chinese counterfeits has cost this company approximately $10 million. That’s $10 million that it could be using to hire more workers or expand its business operations.

I also met Jim D'Addario, CEO of D’Addario Guitar Strings, an instrument strings manufacturer based in New York. This business, family-owned since the 1600s, has spent millions to stop the manufacture of counterfeit guitar strings in China. Mr. D'Addario has watched several coordinated raids on manufacturing facilities in China that exist solely to make counterfeit copies of D'Addario, Fender, Martin and other American companies’ guitar strings. On a website, it’s hard to tell the difference between a counterfeit and a legitimate D'Addario guitar-string set. As with the Chi flatirons, the packaging looks identical, but the fake package of guitar strings contains a hologram sticker - just to trick you - and the product inside is horrendous. It is that unbelievable.

So what do we do? The bottom line is that while Beijing benefits from these criminal networks, they hurt our government and American businesses. We must take every opportunity to (1) raise public awareness of the need for intellectual property enforcement and the dire impact on American businesses of rampant IP theft, (2) insist that China adopt strict enforcement measures to protect IP rights and (3) take action when our words fail (which they will). If China does not protect our intellectual property, we should block its imports into the U.S. It’s time to play hardball with China.

The need for enforcement of intellectual property rights is more than just preventing brand dilution - or in the case of Mr. D'Addario, protecting a reputation earned over four centuries - it’s about the principle of working hard and having it taken from you in an instant by a crook. Today’s criminals are a bit smarter and more high-tech than during my former days on the bench. They sit at laptops overseas, direct online traffic to rogue websites and make a heap of cash from selling fake goods. Many times, buyers never see the product they purchased, and by that point, it’s too late. Their identity is stolen; credit cards are racked up. The problem is too prevalent for us to continue to do nothing. It’s time to get tough on China. And that’s just the way it is.

Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, was a prosecutor and judge in Houston. He serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.

On a hot summer day in Houston, Texas, one woman prepared to bury the last of her four brothers. His final request was that he be buried in a memorial service at the local Veteran cemetery with all four of his brothers who had served in the militarytwo in World War II and the other two during the Vietnam War. On the day of the service, there were full military honors with the Patriot Guard lining the streets and the military color guard with the full 21-gun salute. Military was an important part of this family. Religion was also important to them, so their pastor was on hand to conduct a religious service. Unfortunately, in my hometown of Houston, freedom of speech and religion have recently come under attack by none other than the federal government. This authoritarian behavior and attack on the First Amendment rights of our veterans is deeply troubling.

This week I met with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who shared other disturbing stories with me about the aggressive and hostile censorship of religion and speech that is occurring at the nations second largest cemetery for Veterans. The director of the Houston National Cemetery, Arleen Ocasio is accused of attacking the constitutional rights of our military who have fought and died for our country. The thought that someone would have the audacity to censor religion and speech anywhere in this country is despicable. Censoring the funeral services of the veterans who spent their lives protecting the First Amendment is particularly malicious and simply unforgiveable. Director Ocasio is an unelected bureaucrat, non-veteran who is clearly out of touch with our veterans and the constitution. It is unbelievable that she has been put in charge of this sacred burial ground in Houston.

Director Ocasio has acted with authoritarian zeal in her quest to remove Christianity and religion from funeral services. She has banned the words God and Jesus Christ in the burial ceremonies of deceased veterans. It is the very utterance of the word God that has Director Ocasio in a tizzy so much so that she wants to personally approve each prayer (which are subject to her censorship) in advance of a burial service. With an average of 60 burials of veterans at the Houston National Cemetery each week, thats an awful lot of systematic, bureaucratic and unconstitutional action. The list goes on. She has apparently removed the Bible and the cross from the chapel. Shortly after she arrived at the cemetery, she shut down the chapel and turned it into a meeting facility. It is not the business of the federal government to be engaged in anti-religious activity, especially at what is considered by many to be a religious ceremonythe burial of one of our veterans. The philosophy behind such policies is anti-Christian, anti-religion and anti-American. According to the Constitution, it is the job of the federal government to protect speech and religion, not assail it.

The First Amendment comes first in the Constitution because it is the most important. Our forefathers founded this nation on the belief that our rights are endowed by our creator, not by the government. The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776, was an indictment of King George III by the people for his failure to recognize these rights. From the very beginning, it has been the people of this country who have always come to the rescue when freedom is threatened. That is the same reason why the Founding Fathers included the protection of speech and religion in the First Amendment of the Constitution. These inalienable rights guaranteed to all Americans in this sacred document are what set our nation apart from other countries where people cannot speak out or openly practice their religion. The cemetery does not belong to the federal government it belongs to the veterans of America and their families.

Americans are irate about this government attack on religion. I have heard from veterans and their loved ones all over the country who are shocked that this government official has chosen to attack the constitutional rights of American veterans and their families. One man in particular stood out to me who called my office in tears because his father (a World War II veteran) was days away from death, set to be buried in Houston National Cemetery. His father does not want to be buried there anymore because he will not be able to have the funeral service that he wants and deserves. It is no wonder that so many are shocked by the actions of Director Ocasio, after all we do not live in the old Soviet Union, we live in the United States of America.

The First Amendment is sacred; funerals are sacred, and when our veterans are buried, that soil becomes sacred. If these allegations are true, the director of the Houston National Cemetery should be terminated. The Houston National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of veterans who fought in places all over the world. The governments attack on the very freedoms that they lived and died for is a blatant violation of the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion promised to all Americans in the Constitution.

And thats just the way it is.


Standing on the beaches of Normandy, a man found himself silent.  Like a scene ripped from the movie Saving Private Ryan, this American GI was overwhelmed with memories.  Memories so vivid, so real, that in an instant he was a soldier again in the 7th Army, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, fighting through the cities of Aachen, Stuttgart, Cologne and Bonn.  The graves before him transcended time, taking him back in history to a time when freedom was on the line.

Born in the 1920s, he grew up in the Depression of the 1930s poor, like most rural American children.  Fresh vegetables were grown in the family garden behind the small frame house.  His mother made sandwiches for school out of homemade bread.  Store-bought bread was for the rich.  He grew up belonging to the Boy Scouts, playing the trumpet in the high school band, and he went to church on most Sundays.

In 1944, this 18-year-old country boy that had never been more than 50 miles from home, found himself going through basic training in the United States Army at Camp Wolters in Texas.  After that he rode the train with hundreds of other young teenagers to New York City for the ocean trip on a cramped Liberty ship to fight in the great World War II.

No amount of training could have prepared him for what he was about to experience.  As a teenager, he, and thousands like him, put his life on the line for freedom.  He saw the concentration camps and the victims of the Nazis.  He saw incredible numbers of other teenage Americans buried in graves throughout France.  But like so many of his generation, he never really discussed the details, only saying that the real heroes were the ones buried in Europe today.

Some 60 years after the war, my hero stood before the monument at Normandy and paid tribute to his heroes.  The price of freedom was enormous.  The memories of the sacrifices made were overwhelming.  Amid the whirlwind of imagery flashing before his eyes, Dad began to recollect life after the war and what victory in Europe meant for Americans, what freedom still means today.

After Germany surrendered, he went back to Fort Hood, Texas, expecting to be re-equipped for the land invasion of Japan.  It was there he met Mom at a Wednesday night "prayer meeting'' church service.  Not too long after that, he opened a DX service station where he pumped gas, sold tires, fixed cars, and began a family.

Deciding he needed to go to college, he moved to West Texas and enrolled in a small Christian college called Abilene Christian University.  He and his wife and his two small children lived in an old converted army barracks with other such families of veterans.  He supported us by working nights at KRBC radio and climbing telephone poles for "Ma Bell .

He finished college, became an engineer and worked 40-plus years for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in Houston.  He turned down a promotion and a transfer to New York City because it wasnt Texas and he said it was "no place to raise a family.''   Mom and Dad still live near Houston, not too far from where I grew up.

After his recent trip to Normandy, he opened up a little more about the Warstill humble about his contributions, but looking back on the significance of victory through the eyes of an 85-year-old-man.  Dont get me wrong, he hasnt mellowed in his years, he still rants and raves about the East Coast media and he has a strong opinion on politics and todays fight for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He gives plenty of advice to everyone, including me.

He has two computers in his home office and e-mails with his buddies all around the world.  He still mows his own yard and can fix anything.  He flies the flag on holidays and marches with theVFW.  He goes to church on Sunday and he takes Mom out to eat almost every Friday night.

On Fathers Day we praise all fathersbut we especially should honor all who fought in the great World War II and achieved the victory in Europe.  Without the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, America would not be the great country it is today.  My hero, my Dad, was one of those individuals.  He is the best man I ever met.  Virgil Poe: a good man, a good father.  That is plenty for one life.

And thats just the way it is.

Memorial Day 2011

May 30, 2011

Their names were George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivanbrothers all under the age of 27 years old. The Sullivan brothers left their sister and parents behind in January 1942 to enlist in the Navy during World War II under the condition that they would not be separated. They wrote: We will make a team that cant be beat. The Navy complied and they all were assigned to the doomed vessel USS Juneau. In November, the Juneau was wiped out by the Japanese.  All five of the Sullivan brothers perished in the attack leaving behind what was left of their family. There are thousands of heart-wrenching stories of Americans lost during wars throughout our history and the families they leave behind. Warriors go off to war and unfortunately, not all of them return. Many of the fallen gave up their youth so we could have a free future. We must remember these American heroes today and every day.  

For 143 years, on the last Monday of May, Americans across our country have celebrated Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time for Americans to pause from our daily lives to remember and honor the patriots that have died protecting our freedom. Today we also pray for those who are still serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. The men and women that wear the uniform of the United States military are truly the finest in the world.

Memorial Day was first observed on a large scale three years after the end of the War Between the States in 1868, known then as Decoration Day.  It was a day to decorate the graves of more than 600,000 men who died in that conflict with flowers and American flags. By 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May as Memorial Day; a national holiday to honor those who died in all American wars.

In our nations capitol there are monuments to the American Warriors of our countrys history. There is a massive cemetery on the shores of Normandy, France where more than 9,000 D-Day heroes are buried from one of our history's fiercest and most costly victories. All of these tributes are memorials to our troops that have always answered the call to serve their country. 

Today America faces a new enemy and fights a different kind of war. Our military still answers the call. It has been nearly ten years since September 11, 2001 when our world was changed forever. Since September 11th, American troops have been involved in two wars in the Middle East, including the longest war in American history in Afghanistan. We have lost over 6,000 men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, 35 brave warriors from Texas 2nd Congressional District area have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. My staff and I honor their memory every single day. We have put each of their photos on a Wall of Honor in all of my offices. Their photos serve as a constant reminder of their sacrifices to each of us.

During my time in Congress I have had the privilege to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan several times. Our military are truly the finest in the world. They operate in the hot and dusty deserts and the rough and rugged mountains of Afghanistan where the summer temperatures reach almost 120 degrees in the parched desert landscape. They track down terrorists under the worst possible conditions, but no matter what hole-or mansion-these cowards try to hide in, our military are able to hunt them down and to keep America safe. Even in the desert of the sun and the valley of the gun, our troops are not deterred.  These natural obstacles do not stop the best trained and most capable military in the history of the world.   Our brave men and women in uniform are unequaled anywhere in the world.  They are an all volunteer force, educated, tenacious, and motivated.  They bleed red, white and blue. 

So today whether you are at a backyard bar-b-que or with your family at the beach, take time to pause and think what today is really about. Thank a soldier, a marine and an airman. And thank their families for their sacrifices as well. Think of the Sullivans and the thousands of other families who have lost their loved ones. Remember the fallen, celebrate those who have served and pray for the safe return of those who are still fighting. It is important to show our appreciation not just today, but every day. Always remember the heroes who have protected our freedom in the past and continue to protect it for the future.

And thats just the way it is.



Right now, someone is sitting at a large oak table in the EPAs marble palace in Washington, D.C., sipping a vanilla latte and dreaming up a new rule to impose.  Without fail, the EPA continues to come up with ideas that leave you scratching your head in wonderment because of the questionable science used to justify these regulations.  Instead of protecting the environment, these rules dreamed up by the EPA in Washington are destroying American industry and killing job creation, which is just what our economy needs right now.  This type of federal meddling is exactly what causes companies to lay off workers, move overseas, and in many cases, fail.  The purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the environmentnot to regulate American industry into nonexistence.

The EPAs blatant disregard of the fragile state of our economy is alarming.  Businesses in the United States already are operating in an environment of uncertainty, which makes investors hesitant to invest in American businesses.  The EPAs efforts to force companies to comply with its expensive (and many times environmentally unnecessary) regulations will inevitably increase the cost for businesses, and accordingly consumers, and destroy job growth.  If the EPA continues on its crusade of destruction and over-regulation, manufacturing and energy companies will take their business to friendlier lands overseas, jobs will be destroyed, and the environment will not be any better off.

In the name of saving us from ourselves, the EPA continues to abuse its power.  The mother of all mandates is the proposed cap-and-trade regulations.  Houston, Tex., is the energy capital of the world, and my area of southeast Texas is home to more energy companies and facilities than almost any other location in the United States.  What I hear most often from the businesses that supply the energy that our country demands is that these questionable regulations will significantly increase costs that make doing business in the U.S. too difficult.  This type of over-regulation will crush the economy and put thousands of people out of work.  What makes the EPAs proposed regulations most disturbing is that Texas has been successful on its own in ensuring clean air through the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality.  Despite Texas own progress, the EPA is looking for more to control, arrogantly ignoring the will of the people and the will of Congress.

The American people have rejected the EPAs cap-and-trade regulations overwhelmingly, and this month, the House of Representatives passed the Energy Tax and Prevention Act that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses (i.e., carbon dioxide).  Of course, this caused the fear-mongerers to scream that we dont care about the environment. What was left out of their talking points is that this legislation does not prohibit the EPA from regulating those hazardous pollutants that are harmful to public health.  We await the Senate's action on this bill.

The Environmental Police Agencys assault on our economy and state does not stop there.  It wants to control what kind of light-bulbs Americans use, how much power the utility companies generate, the particulate coarse mattermore commonly known as dust found on farms and ranches, how much water we have in our toilets, and one of the newest ones:  What kind of anti-bacterial soap we use to wash our hands.  Thats right, the EPAs overstepping of authority now touches almost every aspect of our lives.  So, if youre a mom who has been using the same soap for years to protect your children from spreading germs, sorry.  You need to go to the pharmacy and buy some new improved EPA-authorized soap.  While youre there, you should pick up a box of only-Made-in-China compact fluorescent bulbsbecause thanks to the EPAincandescent bulbs will be banned by 2014.

Despite the unconstitutionality of government controlling every aspect of our lives, were left without any grounds for why this nanny state is needed.  The EPA has not adequately defended its destructive policies.  Recently, the EPA has chosen to miss several Capitol Hill hearings.  My colleague Joe Barton fairly referred to them as the Evaporating Personnel Administration.  But when the EPA has actually chosen to show up for a hearing, what Congress has heard from its administrators is worrisome.  This month, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus testified before the House Environment and Energy Subcommittee.  Congressman Cory Gardener (R.-Colo.) asked Administrator Stanislaus whether the EPA took job creation into account when it analyzes new regulations.  This simple question sent Stanislaus on a five-minute-long frenzy, where he let it slip that the EPA could care less about job creation.  Apparently, the EPA comes up with regulations in the marble palace without considering the effect that its policies will have on job creation.  You cant make this stuff up.

The reality is that the EPA policies are driving up energy costs at a time when gas is nearly $5 a gallon, destroying jobs when unemployment is hovering at 8%, and sending companies overseas at a time when investment in America is at a low.  Many of these regulationssuch as regulating dust on farmsjust make no sense.  It is understandable, but not defend-able, how someone who does not set foot out of his marble palace might think that dust on farms should be regulated.  This just shows how disconnected some people in Washington really are, coming up with rules based on no science or knowledge.  This is why the Constitution does not give the government the power to decide what kind of light-bulb you use.  The pure absurdity of the ridiculous and expensive federal regulations is what makes normal Americans all across our country so frustrated with Washington, D.C.  The regulators sitting at the table in the marble palace are out of touch with America.  The EPA needs to do its jobprotect the environmentand get out of the way of American businesses and job creators.

And thats just the way it is.
Now that the space shuttle program is ending, no other place in the world deserves a retired shuttle more than Houston, Texas. Put simply, this decision should be a no-brainer.

But Houston has been overlooked. Shuttles are going to Los Angeles, Florida, and Washington. The prototype Enterprise is headed to New York City. "We were tremendously surprised," said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York after NASA made the announcement. No kidding.

Sadly, it seems partisan politics permeates this announcement. And we are demanding answers.

The first word spoken on the moon landing was "Houston," not New York City. It defies logic for a shuttle not to land in "Space City, U.S.A." NASA has been ingrained in the culture of Houston for generations. The men and women who work at Mission Control in Houston have guided every single shuttle mission since the program began. Astronauts have raised their families in Houston. The families of the astronauts who perished in the Challenger and Columbia missions still live in Houston.

The families said in a statement: "We again share a collective loss as a result of the political decision to send the space shuttle elsewhere." It is disrespectful to these heroes and their families not to bring a shuttle home to Houston in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation's space program.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden justified his decision by saying that the locations he chose would give "the greatest number of people" the "best opportunity" to see the shuttles. He also cited access to national and international visitors.

Here's our justification for Houston: Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, visited by nearly 7 million international visitors every year. More than 750,000 people a year visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston to glimpse the history of space exploration. Houston doesn't seek an orbiter because it wants to add a relic to a museum to highlight a marvel of modern engineering. It is more profound than that. To Houston and the men and women of Mission Control, who dedicated their careers to human space flight; it represents a life's work.

We can find no logical explanation for this mind-boggling decision. People from across America, including cities that also sought an orbiter, expressed disbelief that Houston would not receive a shuttle. This leads us to conclude that this administration allowed political favors to trump logic.

The home of Mission Control deserves answers and that is why our Texas colleagues joined us in sending a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asking him to explain his decision to Congress, the people of Houston and the American taxpayers.

NASA should be honest and provide the answers we seek on the criteria used to reach this decision and why Houston failed to meet those criteria. If, as we suspect, the measures were purely political, we will do everything in our power to make this right.

Above all else, NASA is an agency that has always served above politics and the amazing people who work at the Johnson Space Center have always risen to every challenge presented to them. They deserve answers.

Right now, someone is sitting at a large oak table in the EPAs marble palace in Washington, D.C., sipping a vanilla latte and dreaming up a new rule to impose.  Without fail, the EPA continues to come up with ideas that leave you scratching your head in wonderment because of the questionable science used to justify these regulations.  Instead of protecting the environment, these rules dreamed up by the EPA in Washington are destroying American industry and killing job creation, which is just what our economy needs right now.  This type of federal meddling is exactly what causes companies to lay off workers, move overseas, and in many cases, fail.  The purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the environmentnot to regulate American industry into nonexistence.

The EPAs blatant disregard of the fragile state of our economy is alarming.  Businesses in the United States already are operating in an environment of uncertainty, which makes investors hesitant to invest in American businesses.  The EPAs efforts to force companies to comply with its expensive (and many times environmentally unnecessary) regulations will inevitably increase the cost for businesses, and accordingly consumers, and destroy job growth.  If the EPA continues on its crusade of destruction and over-regulation, manufacturing and energy companies will take their business to friendlier lands overseas, jobs will be destroyed, and the environment will not be any better off.

In the name of saving us from ourselves, the EPA continues to abuse its power.  The mother of all mandates is the proposed cap-and-trade regulations.  Houston, Tex., is the energy capital of the world, and my area of southeast Texas is home to more energy companies and facilities than almost any other location in the United States.  What I hear most often from the businesses that supply the energy that our country demands is that these questionable regulations will significantly increase costs that make doing business in the U.S. too difficult.  This type of over-regulation will crush the economy and put thousands of people out of work.  What makes the EPAs proposed regulations most disturbing is that Texas has been successful on its own in ensuring clean air through the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality.  Despite Texas own progress, the EPA is looking for more to control, arrogantly ignoring the will of the people and the will of Congress.

The American people have rejected the EPAs cap-and-trade regulations overwhelmingly, and this month, the House of Representatives passed the Energy Tax and Prevention Act that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses (i.e., carbon dioxide).  Of course, this caused the fear-mongerers to scream that we dont care about the environment. What was left out of their talking points is that this legislation does not prohibit the EPA from regulating those hazardous pollutants that are harmful to public health.  We await the Senate's action on this bill.

The Environmental Police Agencys assault on our economy and state does not stop there.  It wants to control what kind of light-bulbs Americans use, how much power the utility companies generate, the particulate coarse mattermore commonly known as dust found on farms and ranches, how much water we have in our toilets, and one of the newest ones:  What kind of anti-bacterial soap we use to wash our hands.  Thats right, the EPAs overstepping of authority now touches almost every aspect of our lives.  So, if youre a mom who has been using the same soap for years to protect your children from spreading germs, sorry.  You need to go to the pharmacy and buy some new improved EPA-authorized soap.  While youre there, you should pick up a box of only-Made-in-China compact fluorescent bulbsbecause thanks to the EPAincandescent bulbs will be banned by 2014.

Despite the unconstitutionality of government controlling every aspect of our lives, were left without any grounds for why this nanny state is needed.  The EPA has not adequately defended its destructive policies.  Recently, the EPA has chosen to miss several Capitol Hill hearings.  My colleague Joe Barton fairly referred to them as the Evaporating Personnel Administration.  But when the EPA has actually chosen to show up for a hearing, what Congress has heard from its administrators is worrisome.  This month, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus testified before the House Environment and Energy Subcommittee.  Congressman Cory Gardener (R.-Colo.) asked Administrator Stanislaus whether the EPA took job creation into account when it analyzes new regulations.  This simple question sent Stanislaus on a five-minute-long frenzy, where he let it slip that the EPA could care less about job creation.  Apparently, the EPA comes up with regulations in the marble palace without considering the effect that its policies will have on job creation.  You cant make this stuff up.

The reality is that the EPA policies are driving up energy costs at a time when gas is nearly $5 a gallon, destroying jobs when unemployment is hovering at 8%, and sending companies overseas at a time when investment in America is at a low.  Many of these regulationssuch as regulating dust on farmsjust make no sense.  It is understandable, but not defend-able, how someone who does not set foot out of his marble palace might think that dust on farms should be regulated.  This just shows how disconnected some people in Washington really are, coming up with rules based on no science or knowledge.  This is why the Constitution does not give the government the power to decide what kind of light-bulb you use.  The pure absurdity of the ridiculous and expensive federal regulations is what makes normal Americans all across our country so frustrated with Washington, D.C.  The regulators sitting at the table in the marble palace are out of touch with America.  The EPA needs to do its jobprotect the environmentand get out of the way of American businesses and job creators.

And thats just the way it is.

The United States/Mexico border is a lawless warzone controlled by violent drug cartels. More than 34,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since the narco-terrorists began their reign of terror in 2006. Drugs and people are smuggled north into the United States and guns and money are flowing south, enabling the drug cartels to continue to wage their violent war.

Weapons from the United States reach the outlaws in Mexico, mostly because Mexico does not protect its own border any better than we do. Recent whistleblower allegations claim that tactics of the United States government, through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), may be contributing to the problem of delivering weapons to the criminals in Mexico, rather than trying to fix it. I am deeply concerned about this.

Part of ATFs mission is to protect American communities from the illegal use and trafficking of firearms. Put simply, part of ATFs duty is to make sure guns dont end up in the hands of the bad guys. Through the program Project Gunrunner," ATF uses electronic tags to trace gun movements on both sides of the border. What has been alleged, however, is that while the program has been successful in apprehending weapons and criminals, too many guns have been intentionally let go into the hands of Mexican drug lords when it is almost guaranteed that the guns will be used in violent crimes.

We know about these allegations through a whistleblower, an ATF agent who recently came forward with troubling allegations that he was ordered by his superiors not to intercept weapons that were sold to "suspicious characters," including well-known gun suppliers for Mexican drug cartels. And thats not all -- the whistleblower alleges that ATFs Phoenix Field office knowingly allowed and facilitated the sale of over 2,500 firearms in straw man purchases destined for Mexico. According to these allegations, one well-known trafficker, Jaime Avila, was allowed to purchase 3 assault weapons in Glendale, Arizona on January 16, 2010. It is also alleged that at least one of the gun dealers tried to stop selling to Avila; however, ATF asked him to continue selling guns to this criminal.

What happened next is deeply troubling. Avila went back to Mexico with the guns he had purchased and sold them to the drug cartels. The weapons travelled freely through the streets of Mexico for nearly a year. During that time, Avila continued to purchase more weapons, sending them from the United States into Mexico. We have since learned that 2 of the 3 weapons purchased by Avila were recovered at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Apparently ATF let 2 guns get sent down into Mexico, and as a result an American citizen and federal government employee was murdered.

The murder of Brian Terry is concrete proof that ATFs system is flawed and dangerous. While Jaime Avila was arrested the day after Brian Terrys murder, the question is, why wasnt he apprehended during the 11 months before when we knew he was up to no good? Project Gunrunner is a sting operation with no sting. Guns are handed to the criminals when we know they will be used for harm. It seems that the ATF just sits back and waits to see what happens.
 
If these allegations are true, we have much cause for concern. It is my understanding that ATF has denied these allegations. Senator Grassley of Iowa has requested more information from the various agencies involved in investigating Agent Terrys murder. Ive been told that one letter that the Senator received back denied that ATF knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser and stated that ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation into Mexico. However, the documentation provided to Senator Grassley, including copies of ATFs national tracing center records, seem to tell a different story.

As this investigation continues, we are left with a murdered Border Patrol Agent and his grieving family who is searching for answers. Carolyn Terry, mother of Brian Terry said, I truly feel that our sons death is a cover-up and they hope that we will go away. That will not happen. We want to know who allowed the sale of that gun that murdered our son. The Terry family deserves to know the truth. As members of Congress, it is our job to demand a full investigation of this murder since the Department of Justice is blissfully silent about whether or not they will investigate the ATF. Agent Terry is one of many unsolved American murders in the ongoing Drug War along the Third Front, the border.

The Judiciary Committee should look into this matter to see if the ATF is contributing to the gunrunning problem in Mexico or not. Congress needs some answers. One murdered agent is one too many. In my opinion, the ATF is playing with fire.

And thats just the way it is.

Congressman Poe was a chief felony prosecutor and felony court judge in Houston, Texas for over 30 years. He currently serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees as well as the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of the $1 trillion stimulus package. As a result of this reckless spending our national debt has reached a record $14 trillion. The stimulus was based on the false premise that the government can take taxpayer money and gamble it on ridiculous projects. My personal favorite was a project in Florida where the government designated $3.4 million in stimulus funds to build a turtle tunnel under the road in Tallahassee. That is about four times as much money as the average working American will earn in their entire life. But the stimulus slush fund dished out $3.4 million for the tunnel for turtles to cross the highway underground. I wonder how turtles crossed the road before that?

Since February 2009 the stimulus has been exposed as nothing more than a bundle of broken promises. We were told that the national unemployment rate would not exceed 8%. The unemployment rate has been 9% or higher for 21 months. We were also told that the package would save or create 3.5 million jobs. In reality, 2.5 million jobs have been lost. Real jobs are not created by Uncle Sam, they are created by the private sector and small business communities. We need to put money back into the hands of American businesses so that they can create jobs.

In order to get ourselves out of this mess we must stop spending money that we dont have on ridiculous projects that we dont need. We are currently borrowing 42 cents for every dollar spent from our good friends-the Chinese- to pay for this irresponsible spending. We currently owe China nearly $1 trillion.

The American people are fed up with the feds. They want the government to stop the spending on wasteful projects with borrowed money. The way we stimulate the economy is less spending, less borrowing, less taxing and less federal regulations.

And thats just the way it is.