Happy Halloween From The Obama Campaign

October 31, 2008

God, these people are clever – hat tips to The Daily Kos and Jane Hamsher…

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It’s Peanut Butter And Jelly Time, Indeed

October 30, 2008

Barack Obama predicts John W. McBush’s next line of attack…


A Neocon “Mixed Nut” Attacks ACORN Again

October 29, 2008

A full-page ad appeared in the New York Times today from what purports to be an advocacy group called RottenAcorn.com, claiming that, in addition to “ACORN’s voter registration scandal,” the group “intimidates and fires its own employees if they try to unionize,” “works for its political allies, not for the poor,” and “has misappropriated millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded government grants,” among other charges.

The charge that ACORN fights efforts to unionize is interesting to say the least, given that, on page 11 of a .pdf available from the group’s web site (listing all of ACORN’s alleged offenses), it is stated that, “ACORN has adapted its broader ‘living wage’ effort to ‘foster union organizing among low wage workers.’”

And as far as working for “political allies and not the poor,” I searched the .pdf for the phrase “political allies” and came up only with this…

ACORN’s SEIU Local 880 in Illinois (which files its financial disclosures from ACORN’s office in New Orleans) reported 10,580 members in 2000. Local 880 now claims to represent 80,000 employees. Thus, in roughly five years, it grew by 750%.

This astounding growth can largely be explained by political machinations involving support for the candidacy of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The two major events that sent membership skyrocketing from 10,000 to 30,000, and from 30,000 to 80,000, resulted from a political quid pro quo that first signed up homecare workers and then childcare workers. In each case, Blagojevich forced the state to recognize the union and negotiate with it, costing the taxpayers of his state but benefiting his candidacy and his political allies.

In an academic article written in 2004, former ACORN organizer Fred Brooks predicted:

Local 880’s role in the fall 2002 Illinois gubernatorial campaign may hasten recognition of the [childcare] union by the state. Local 880’s political action committee, with major support from the International Union and the SEIU state council, worked hard to elect Rod Blagojevich as the first Democratic governor in Illinois in over twenty years. In return, Blagojevich agreed to support recognition and collective bargaining rights for both homecare and family child-care providers if he were elected governor. In February 2003, he signed Executive Order 2003-8 granting collective bargaining rights to over twenty thousand personal assistants (homecare workers) from Local 880’s DHS/ORS unit … Although Blagojevich has committed to recognizing the child-care workers union, he has not yet signed an executive order to that effect.44

So, the year after he received election help, Blagojevich signed an order giving Local 880 20,000 new homecare members. He waited until 2006—the year of his reelection— to make good on the promise of nearly 50,000 new child-care members.

Notwithstanding the unsubstantiated charge that union membership was costly to taxpayers (and assuming that we’re talking about the unvarnished truth here otherwise), does anyone see anything illegal in that last excerpt? I don’t.

And as far as the charge of “misappropriation of funds,” I searched the .pdf for “misappropriate” or “misappropriated” and found nothing.

Well then, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering just who’s behind RottenAcorn.com, and at the bottom of the group’s web site, it provides the address for the Employment Policies Institute.

As this Sourcewatch article tells us…

The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman (pictured), who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. While most commonly referred to as EPI, it is registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization under the name of Employment Policies Institute Foundation. In its annual Internal Revenue Service return, EPI states that it “shares office space with Berman & Company on a cost pass through basis”. [1]

The Sourcewatch article also tells us that Berman named the group as he did to create confusion with the Economic Policies Institute, a “much older, progressive think tank with ties to organized labor.” The article also tells us that you can count on Berman and his fellow propagandists to poke their heads out from under their respective rocks and scream whenever minimum-wage legislation is introduced affecting, in particular, workers in the fast-food industry, continuing as follows…

(The Employment Policy Institute’s) standard tactic is to trot out a study using contrived statistics designed to show that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost if the wage is raised. (In reality, studies by labor economists show that the job-loss effect of increasing the minimum wage is either small or nonexistent and that its benefits to low-wage workers and their families far outweigh the costs. Even the Food Institute Report, an industry trade publication, admitted in 1995 that “the weight of the empirical evidence suggests that the effects [on the number of available jobs] of a moderate raise from its current level are likely to be negligible.”)

Berman continued to fight against mandated insurance in 1992 and 1993, when president-elect Bill Clinton attempted to make health care reform one of his first legislative priorities. Berman created yet another front group, called the Partnership on Health Care and Employment, representing mostly large companies known for paying low wages and high worker turnover. It sponsored a study in 1992 claiming that compulsory insurance for business would wipe out nine million jobs. During the health reform debate in 1994, the Employment Policies Institute issued its own “study,” claiming that the Clinton plan would wipe out 3.1 million jobs. The EPI study was cited in TV commercials sponsored by the Republican National Committee, which continued to air even after Berman admitted that his study had actually been produced before the Clinton administration even formulated the details of its health plan.

And to find out about more of Berman’s rancid ventures, click here (I don’t begrudge the Times accepting ad revenue from Berman, but some actual reporting to counterbalance Berman’s odious charges would be a good thing, I must say).


Three Funny Numbers For John W. McBush

October 29, 2008

This New York Times story today profiled Iraq war veterans and their influence on the 2008 campaign, on either side. And that would include supporting Tom Manion, as noted below…

Three hours north and a few days later, another group of young Iraq veterans gathered at a bar in Philadelphia to help raise money for Tom Manion, a Republican Congressional candidate.

David Bellavia, 33, founded Vets for Freedom, a “pro-victory” group that has spent $6 million on television advertisements this year. Pete Hegseth, 28, is the group’s executive director. They both served in Iraq, and as is the case for many young veterans, loyalty to fallen comrades is the dominant force behind their decision to become politically involved.

When asked what motivated them, they spoke less of policy than people. “We lost 37 men in my unit,” Mr. Bellavia said, his voice rising with emotion. “That sacrifice is holy to me. All of them I knew and I loved.”

Tom Manion nodded with understanding. He is running against Patrick J. Murphy, a Democrat and the only Iraq veteran in Congress — one of the 30 or so who are pursuing seats in the House this year, up from about a dozen in 2006.

Mr. Manion has attracted Vets for Freedom partly because he shares the group’s “pro-mission” viewpoint. He is also a retired marine colonel, and the father of Travis Manion, a marine and Naval Academy graduate who was killed last April in an ambush in Iraq’s western province of Anbar.

Mr. Manion said he never would have become politically active were it not for his son’s death. “It made me realize that if I wanted to make a difference, it wasn’t enough to sit on the sidelines,” he said.

The last thing I intend to do here is give precious free space to Tom Manion, but I just wanted to note that, for someone selling himself as a Washington “outsider,” he seems pretty comfortable with the support of a “527” group (which is what Vets for Freedom is in the final analysis, a group that dovetails nicely with the human stains of Freedom’s Watch, as noted here; perfectly legal for Manion as far as I can determine, though).

And while I don’t recall any pledges from Manion about 527s, Oliver Willis notes here that a certain Republican presidential candidate rallied with Vets for Freedom, though he once vowed to get the FEC to “crack down” on 527 groups.

This is another reason why McBush needs to act on the advice John Kerry gave him here, though to be honest, it’s probably too late for that now anyway.


From Crisis To Crisis

October 27, 2008


With the recent market turmoil in mind (including another tumble today – someday this will end, I keep telling myself), you can rely on “The Old Gray Lady” to consult their resident financial gurus in search of an answer, or at the very least, a halfway intelligent diagnosis.

The problem, though, is that, although they have both the Nobel prize-winning Paul Krugman and David Leonhardt on their staff, they also have Greg Mankiw and Ben Stein to negate a lot of what I consider to be the former pair’s sound, reasoned analysis.

When we last heard from Mankiw, he was telling us here in early June that another round of tax cuts should be financed by an increase in the gasoline tax (for real). And yesterday, he decided to do a little “compare and contrast” between the Great Depression and what we currently face.

And he tells us this…

In 1928, the Fed maneuvered to drive up interest rates. So interest-sensitive sectors like construction slowed.

But things took a bad turn after the crash of October 1929. Lower stock prices made households poorer and discouraged consumer spending, which then made up three-quarters of the economy. (Today it’s about two-thirds.)

Uh…I suppose that’s true for many people, but for the vast majority of this country, here’s what happened (and I checked with the person who I consider to me the foremost expert on this topic, and that would be my mom, because she actually lived through it).

It’s hard to imagine this now, but there was no such thing as credit back then. Everything was “cash and carry” built on the gold standard, which FDR ended in this country in 1933 (some argue that that induced inflation that exacerbated the Depression). But after the stocks crashed, the banks closed, and that created a more devastating “credit crunch” than what we have seen so far.

And I’m sorry, but though I definitely am not an economist, I don’t see how “lower stock prices” mattered for the vast majority of the people of this country (directly I mean, again, unless you’re talking about the effect on the banks).

Continuing, Mankiw also tells us…

President Roosevelt made things worse when he encouraged the formation of cartels through the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. Similarly, they argue, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 strengthened organized labor but weakened the recovery by impeding market forces.

You could argue that the National Industrial Recovery Act (which led to the formation of the National Recovery Administration) was a bit of socialist overreach on the part of FDR (the Act was declared unconstitutional in 1935), but we have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight here, and it was in part a psychological effort to show that government and business was trying to revive this country’s economy (the “market forces” Mankiw says were impeded here actually participated in the legislation, particularly Gerald Swope of General Electric and Harry Harriman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce). The Act also “help(ed) workers by setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours. It also allowed industry heads to collectively set minimum prices.”

Also, the following should be noted about the National Industrial Recovery Act…

Recovery was pursued through “pump-priming” (that is, federal spending). The NIRA included $3.3 billion of spending through the Public Works Administration to stimulate the economy, which was to be handled by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Roosevelt worked with Republican Senator George Norris to create the largest government-owned industrial enterprise in American history, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which built dams and power stations, controlled floods, and modernized agriculture and home conditions in the poverty-stricken Tennessee Valley.

So the NIRA sponsored public infrastructure projects to help spur economic growth. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Do you?

And as far as Stein is concerned, his column yesterday featured a lot of pitiable whining about his money and scolding others on the virtues of thrift, as noted here…

The need for the government to take action seemed so clear — and still seems so clear that I cannot believe a day passes without its happening. But the days pass, nothing happens, and I am proved wrong again. And I lose some of my life savings and it hurts.

Take a number and sit down, Ben.

And Stein also echoed his infamous call to “give Exxon and Chevron a hug” by using the excuse of our current calamity to state as follows…

What do you say, folks? Let’s acknowledge that we were a bit hasty. The oil companies are just corks bobbing up and down on the ocean of worldwide demand and supply, exactly as the oil companies said they were. They are not going to be starving, but they are clearly not the invincible demons that their enemies said they were. Now that we see how vulnerable they are, is there any reason to hit them with a surtax?

As we know, Stein made a name for himself playing an economics professor in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” What a shame he didn’t halt his career in “the dismal science,” as Krugman has called it, but decided to play an economics writer also.


Remembering…

October 25, 2008

Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila and six other people died in a plane crash six years ago today.


Perhaps The Gipper’s Greatest Blunder

October 24, 2008


The New York Times published what I thought was an interesting Op-Ed yesterday written by former Reagan Administration National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane; the timing was the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 of our people and 58 French soldiers.

As McFarlane tells it…

The attack was planned over several months at Hezbollah’s training camp in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon. Once American intelligence confirmed who was responsible and where the attack had been planned, President Reagan approved a joint French-American air assault on the camp — only to have the mission aborted just before launching by the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger. Four months later, all the marines were withdrawn, capping one of the most tragic and costly policy defeats in the brief modern history of American counterterrorism operations.

One could draw several conclusions from this episode. To me the most telling was the one reached by Middle Eastern terrorists, that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack, a conclusion seemingly borne out by our fecklessness toward terrorist attacks in the 1990s: in 1993 on the World Trade Center; on Air Force troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; on the destroyer Cole in 2000.

I don’t know if McFarlane considers former President Clinton to be “feckless” for apprehending seven of the eight suspects in the ’93 bombing, as noted here (Ramzi Yousef, the eighth, was captured in Iraq – yeah, that ol’ Saddam sure was collaborating with al Qaeda, wasn’t he…interesting blog title, by the way).

And, as noted here, Clinton launched air strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and the Sudan in response to Al Qaeda’s bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 20, 1998 (some have questioned the intelligence used to justify the attacks, but Clinton did respond).

Also, the indictments in the Khobar Towers bombing were issued after Clinton left office (noted here), and no action was pursued in the bombing of the Cole partly because we did not have an extradition treaty with Yemen at the time (the country where the suspects were located), and also because of the timing of the bombing so close to the 2000 presidential election. Anyone who wants to blame Clinton will do so regardless of what I say, I realize, but those are the facts.

McFarlane continues…

In 1983, the Marine battalion positioned at the Beirut Airport was assigned the mission of “presence”; that is, to lend moral support to the fragile Lebanese government. Secretary of State Shultz and I urged the president to give the marines their traditional role — to deploy, at the invitation of the Lebanese government, into the mountains alongside the newly established Lebanese Army in an effort to secure the evacuation of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon.

Secretary Weinberger disagreed. He felt strongly that American interests in the Middle East lay primarily in the region’s oil, and that to assure access to that oil we ought never to undertake military operations that might result in Muslim casualties and put at risk Muslim goodwill.

Cabinet officers often disagree, and rigorous debate and refinement often lead to better policy. What is intolerable, however, is irresolution. In this case the president allowed the refusal by his secretary of defense to carry out a direct order to go by without comment — an event which could have seemed to Mr. Weinberger only a vindication of his judgment. Faced with the persistent refusal of his secretary of defense to countenance a more active role for the marines, the president withdrew them, sending the terrorists a powerful signal of paralysis within our government and missing an early opportunity to counter the Islamist terrorist threat in its infancy.

These are particularly damning charges, and I’m sure a response will be forthcoming (I’ll keep an eye out – not saying McFarlane is wrong, though).

I want to also focus on one of the events that followed the attack, and that was our invasion of the island of Grenada soon afterwards. This New York Times story from October 1983 captures the reactions of some of the senators in office at the time (Chris Dodd maintained a “wait and see how the facts play out” posture, along with former NJ senator Bill Bradley; Frank Lautenberg said, “I’m not willing to make my final judgment on Grenada. I think the reasoning they got us there is a relatively weak argument.”)

Also, former New York senator Patrick Moynihan said about the Grenada invasion that ”There is something that makes me uneasy. An act of war may be in the interests of the United States or maybe not, but it was not in the interests of democracy in Grenada. I don’t think they should have gone in, in the way they did.”

I wanted to get the reactions from the senators in office at the time to make it clear that, despite what McFarlane tells us, the invasion was not as universally accepted as he would have us believe (indeed, the strongest condemnation, as noted in the Times story, came from former Republican Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker).

And I also have to say that moral judgments from McFarlane are a little funny when you consider the fact that, as noted here, he would end up hip deep in the Iran-Contra scandal a few years later like many others in the Reagan administration, including Ronnie himself; sadly, he tried to kill himself over it, but fortunately he was unsuccessful, and was eventually pardoned concerning Iran-Contra by Poppy Bush in 1992.

I will admit that McFarlane is hardly a typical neocon, having served this country with distinction in the military (Wikipedia also tells us that he’s an advisor to the Palin-McBush campaign). And that makes his disrespect for his former chain of command all the more surprising to me, to tell you the truth.

However, I always though it was ridiculous to put our people in the middle of a Beiruit airstrip expecting nothing would happen, and then engage in an invasion of a Caribbean country to rescue medical students as a diversionary tactic in response. And if McFarlane’s column draws more attention to that sorry chapter for the purpose of reasoned analysis, so much the better.


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