Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bush's Third Term

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By Rosemary Regello

Politics is a fishy business. Just ask John McCain's top economic policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who told a news anchor at PBS recently that Sen. Barack Obama, if elected, would guarantee a Bush third term.

"It is Barack Obama's budget plan, not Senator McCain's, that resembles Bush's policies," Holtz-Eakin explained to Judy Woodruff.

Now isn't that the kind of vague, unsubstantiated criticism we've come to expect from the staff of this year's presidential campaigns? Unless your opponent's name happens to be Clinton, opposition research just doesn't rate the attention to detail anymore. And with that Roosevelt-hugging populist sidelined for the moment, the job of sifting facts from all the jabber seems now to have fallen on the shoulders of America's "most trusted name in news". I mean the Internet, of course, and its crusty ranks of independent journalists. Far from chanting "Yes, we can" each morning before heading off first to Starbucks, then the broadcast studios for their "make-up" sessions, these unsung heroes of cyberspace live by the adage "Have Google, will travel." What's more, some of us cling to another rubric handed down through the ages: "If it looks like a rat, smells like a rat, walks like a rat..." etc., etc.

But getting back to the notorious McCain slime machine, the bad news here - or good, depending on your preferred candidate - is that Holtz-Eakin is right. While his inane budget reference comes straight out of right field, there's plenty of other evidence to suggest Obama will do a far better Bush impersonation than even Bush himself. He's simply not "the most liberal senator in Congress" that all the Fox News pundits would have us believe.

And the proof, my friends, is in the hyperlinks:

1. Obama's presidential campaign is supported by corporate lobbyists and investment banks tied to the market speculation of oil prices. Why?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama's top ten campaign contributors include the investment firms Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and UBS Securities. In fact, Goldman Sachs and some of the others have been propping up the hope and change candidate for some years now, even when he was still a relative unknown with no grassroots network or any real resume to run on. Other banks topping the donor heap early in the campaign: Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse and Citadel Investment Group.

In addition, five large corporate law firms registered as lobbyists on behalf of their clients also ranked in the top 14 as of last February, even though Obama regulary states in his stump speech (without challenge from the press covering him) that “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign, they won’t run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president”.

The lobbyist firms include Sidley Austin LLP; Skadden, Arps, et al; Jenner & Block; Kirkland & Ellis; Wilmerhale, aka Wilmer Cutler Pickering.

Now four of the big banks have surfaced as players in the scheme to vault the cost of crude to over $140 a barrel. By utilizing their tremendous purchasing power, they've taken massive quantities of oil futures out of the market via a company formed by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley called ICE Futures. As in the case of wheat, rice and other global food commodities, this hoarding has generated a shortage on paper, thereby driving up prices.

Pretty clever, huh? Also coldblooded. It's similar to what Enron did to California in 2000. By ordering power plants offline to create rolling blackouts, Ken Lay's company could charge the state inflated rates to buy electricity from other plants. That same year, a piece of legislation was slipped into an 11,000 page appropriation bill to set up this scam. Sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar, the rider was called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. And by some coincidence, one of the two firms responsible for Ice Futures, Goldman Sachs, places first on Obama's money bags list (again) for 2008. Its executives, employees and spouses have donated $571,000. So far. (ICE Futures scheme)

To make the Illinois senator's oil slick even stickier, in March his handlers began running an ad that claimed he didn't take money from the oil companies. Was it a pre-emptive strike in the face of rising gas prices? According to, the TV and radio spots failed woefully in the accuracy department, although CNN incessantly repeated a clip of the candidate himself making the statement in the lead-up to the Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana primaries. Obama has received nearly a quarter million dollars from gas and oil industry executives, their employees and spouses this year. And those donations were rolling in through the course of the ad buy.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center (which maintains the Factcheck site) also noted in its analysis that "two oil industry executives are bundling money for Obama – drumming up contributions from individuals and turning them over to the campaign. George Kaiser, the chairman of Oklahoma-based Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., ranks 68th on the Forbes list of world billionaires. He's listed on Obama's Web site as raising between $50,000 and $100,000 for the candidate. Robert Cavnar is president and CEO of Milagro Exploration LLC, an oil exploration and production company. He's named as a bundler in the same category as Kaiser."

This behind-the-scenes gravy train may explain why Obama's response to the price spikes has been lukewarm at best. While Sen. Clinton harassed the Bush Administration to order a D.O.J. inquiry into the market scam, demanded that Congress close the Enron loophole, and urged for the release of oil from the country's strategic reserve, Obama was ridiculing a proposal by her and McCain to make oil companies pay the gas tax this summer as "a political stunt". Due to his objections, Clinton's bill was ignored by her colleagues in the senate.

So what is Obama's solution to this crisis? Detroit should start building more fuel-efficient cars and Americans need to do a better job of conservation. Car and Driver has criticized his hypocrisy on both scores, pointing out that the Clintons and John McCain drive hybrids, while the change candidate opted to buy a gas-guzzling Chrysler 300C this year. Writer Jared Gall bristled with derision, exclaiming "... every time he starts that V-8, he's choking dolphins and using the corpses to club baby seals."

As for Obama's long-range commitment to alternative energy, you might want to take another look at that donor list. Nuclear giant Exelon was his fourth biggest contributor in 2006 and came in 12th this year. It's money well spent, too. The firm got its quid pro quo a couple years back when Obama took the teeth out of a bill requiring public disclosure of radiation leaks. The year before, Obama supported the Cheney energy boondoggle that caused such heartburn for environmentalists, they sued the Veep over his secret meetings with coal, oil, and gas producers. (McCain, Clinton and most other Democrats opposed the legislation.) And in 2007, he co-sponsored a bill to direct $8 billion worth of subsidies for the conversion of coal to liquid fuel. The process generates twice the emissions as regular gasoline.

As for the corporate law firms bankrolling Obama, they got their payback when Obama voted for a tort reform bill that made class action suits more expensive to pursue and harder to win. According to an article in Counterpunch, "This legislation, which dramatically impaired labor rights, consumer rights and civil rights, involved five years of pressure from 100 corporations, 475 lobbyists, tens of millions of corporate dollars buying influence in our government, and the active participation of the Wall Street firms now funding the Obama campaign." Called the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, it was opposed by Senators Biden, Boxer, Clinton, Durbin, Feingold, Kerry, Leahy and other Democrats.

2. Obama's economic advisers come from the University of Chicago, where the Milton Friedman/Alan Greenspan model of free markets run amuck is paving the way for an age of neo-feudalism.
Regarding the candidate's position on this complicated science of supply and demand, progressive journalist Naomi Klein has published a new article in the June 30th issue of The Nation. Klein says Obama's choice of advisors suggests no real policy shift from the past eight years.

"Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC, 'Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market,'" the story opens. "Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart's most prominent defenders..."

Klein continues: "Another of Obama's Chicago fans is 39-year-old billionaire Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. Griffin, who gave the maximum allowable donation to Obama, is something of a poster boy for an unbalanced economy. He got married at Versailles and had the after-party at Marie Antoinette's vacation spot (Cirque du Soleil performed)--and he is one of the staunchest opponents of closing the hedge-fund tax loophole. While Obama talks about toughening trade rules with China, Griffin has been bending the few barriers that do exist. Despite sanctions prohibiting the sale of police equipment to China, Citadel has been pouring money into controversial China-based security companies that are putting the local population under unprecedented levels of surveillance." (Klein more recently characterized Griffin as a "Bush campaign pioneer" during a July 15th broadcast of the program Democracy Now!)

Those of us following the election are already familiar with Obama's former chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, another of the University of Chicago boys. Klein, who is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explained that Milton Friedman first set out some decades ago to reverse Roosevelt's New Deal from his perch at the the university's school of economics.When he died in 2006, Goolsbee penned one of the few appreciations to the free-market guru that appeared in the New York Times. And shortly before the Ohio/Texas primaries, a memo from a Canadian official surfaced about Goolsbee. It said the advisor had assured diplomats at that country's Chicago consulate that Obama's tough talk on the campaign stump about NAFTA was “more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.”

And the plot thickens. On March 27th, Obama delivered his historic address on the U.S. economy, carried live on three cable channels. (None of Clinton's economic speeches received this level of coverage.) Introduced by billionaire media mogul and mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, the opus was "followed by a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at the offices of Credit Suisse, which has been entangled with the sub prime loan issue," according to USA Today. For her part, Clinton interlaced her speeches with a series of roundtable discussions featuring teary-eyed homeowners recounting their foreclosure nightmares to the traveling press corps. m

To be sure, not every borrower was scammed by the banks. Obama got a cut rate on his own home mortgage from Northern Trust that saved him approximate $300 per month, on top of no extra fees. And with the nation grappling with the worst foreclosure crisis since the Depression, our presumptive nominee tapped Jim Johnson, former CEO of Fannie Mae, to head his VP search team. Fannie Mae enjoyed a close fiduciary relationship with Countrywide Financial Corp., one of the top lenders implicated in the sub prime meltdown. The Los Angeles Times reported that Johnson obtained reduced rates from Countrywide on a mortgage of his own. "He also has been criticized for compensation and other perks he received as an official of mortgage giant Fannie Mae and for compensation decisions made while he was a board member of United HealthCare, one of the nation's biggest medical insurers." The VP vetter eventually relinquished his heavy assignment with the Obama campaign.,0,1290201.story

Then there's Obama's national campaign-finance chairwoman, billionaire Penny Pritzker. Her family business, the subprime-mortgage lender Superior Bank, collapsed in 2001. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Government investigators and consumer advocates have contended that Superior engaged in unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices. Ms. Pritzker, a longtime friend and supporter of Sen. Obama, served for a time as Superior's chairman, and later sat on the board of its holding company."

3. Obama has interviewed two Republicans to serve as secretary of defense and secretary of state in his administration, if elected.
According to a March 2nd article in the London Times, Obama met with G.O.P. Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana to discuss posts in a potential cabinet. Hagel said back in 2004 that he was interested in the presidency and has been distancing himself from the Bush Administration ever since. A former lobbyist for Firestone, he served in the Reagan Administration before moving to Nebraska in 1992 to run an investment banking firm. He's also the former CEO of Election Systems & Software, one of the country's top manufacturers of electronic voting machines. Incredibly, Hagel openly criticized John McCain and expressed support for Obama during the primaries, yet remains in good standing with his party.

Lugar, father of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (see article on ICE Futures above), is being considered as a possible secretary of state. Since Obama first arrived in Washington in 2005, the Indiana senator has gone out of his way to maintain good relations him, although it's not exactly clear what, if anything, the two men have in common. That year, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee brought Obama with him on a trip to inspect nuclear facilities in Russia. He even added Obama's name to his non-proliferation measure that the President signed into law in January 2007. It's called the "Lugar-Obama bill". Normally a reliable vote for the Bush Administration, Lugar appeared to break ranks with his boss over the Iraq War last year when he gave a speech criticizing its conduct. He later tempered his remarks, insisting that timetables and benchmarks don't belong in congressional legislation. (The Democratic leaders apparently took this sage wisdom to heart, because none are included in the latest war-funding bill.)

Of the two prospective cabinet picks, the London Times story added, "Larry Korb, a defence official under President Ronald Reagan who is backing Obama, said: 'By putting a Republican in the Pentagon and the State Department you send a signal to Congress and the American people that issues of national security are above politics.'"

Recently, Hagel announced he would be interested in the VP spot on Obama's ticket. The candidate has since suggested that Robert Gates would make a great defense secretary. Was this supposed to be a joke? Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell with Obama. As his acolytes in the media like to remind us, he's still "introducing himself to Americans." At least Gates we already know something about. Before being tapped by the current President Bush, he served as the top staffer to CIA Director William Casey during the Reagan/Bush Administration. After the Iran-Contra scandal was exposed, Casey died of a brain tumor before Congress could question him, and the Senate subsequently rejected Gates as his successor. Two decades later, he was confirmed to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, and now stands accused of turning a blind eye to Iraq corruption scandals involving Halliburton/KBR and the security firm Blackwater.

4. Obama has been linked to war profiteering.
Speaking of Iraq, Obama may not be the unwavering anti-war candidate that he has led us to believe. For one thing, there's no independent corroboration that the speech he claimed to have given in 2002 ever took place. (At least, not the one he later posted on his website.) Moreover, his long-time benefactor Tony Rezko is close friends with two Iraqi exiles tied to U.S. foreign policy. The website Rezko Watch has tracked the rap sheets for this triumvarite in great detail over the last several months.

In particular, Aiham Alsammarae was appointed as Iraq's Minister of Electricity by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and soon afterward signed a contract with Rezko to build a power plant in Iraqi Kurdistan. Like many other exiles appointed by L. Paul bremmer, Alsammarae is now accused of stealing $650 million reconstruction aid. Thanks to Blackwater's help, he made an Al Capone-style escape from a Baghdad jail in late 2006. Lucky thing,too, because the former minister and current fugitive was back in Ilinois in time to donate $2,300 online to the senator's presidential campaign.

Which begs the question: where's the rest of the $649,997,700, Aiham? (Anyone with leads, please contact Greta Van Susteren.)

Incidentally, Rezko raised $4 million for President Bush's re-election campaign in 2003, the year we invaded Iraq.

5. Obama has promised to expand Bush's controversial "faith-based initiative", which funnels millions of tax dollars each year to religious organizations, some of whom oppose civil rights.
In an attempt to woo right-wing evangelical voters away from McCain, Obama has recently called for an expansion of the President's program to transfer funding for social programs away from traditional nonprofits and into the coffers of churches. A $500 million package involving a public/private "partnership" is already on the drawing board, no doubt keeping hope alive for convicted housing project developer Rezko and five other associates who are longtime Obama fundraisers.

"Every house of worship that wants to run an effective program and that's willing to abide by our constitution - from the largest mega-churches and synagogues to the smallest store-front churches and mosques - can and will have access to the information and support they need to run that program," Obama announced recently at a community ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, adding that the faith-based initiative would be "central" to his administration.

Since many church programs, including the Salvation Army, have a long-running antipathy towards lesbians and gays, as well as a low opinion of women's rights, civil liberties groups like the ACLU have frowned on the initiative ever since it was first introduced. The Bush Administration, however, took extra measures to implement it, establishing special oversight offices at many federal agencies to make sure the religious groups got their fair share of contracts.

John DiIulio, who served as the first director of Bush’s office on faith based initiatives, told the New York Times, “Senator Barack Obama has offered a principled, prudent, and problem-solving vision for the future of community-serving partnerships involving religious nonprofit organizations.”

6. Obama supports warrantless surveillance, including the FISA bill.
Setting aside an earlier commitment to filibuster the controversial revision of the 1978 FISA Act, Obama supported the so-called compromise that strips many safeguards from the bill. The new measure legalizes the eavesdropping activities conducted by the Bush Administration since 2001, even though they violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Obama's spokespeople have erroneously stated that the original legislation was about to expire, forcing the candidate's hand.

Salon correspondent Glenn Greenwald reduced Obama's policy shift to the brass tacks when he wrote on June 21st, "What had been a vicious assault on our Constitution, and corrupt complicity to conceal Bush lawbreaking, magically and instantaneously transformed into a perfectly understandable position, even a shrewd and commendable decision, that we should not only accept, but be grateful for as undertaken by Obama for our Own Good."

To be sure, the timing of the FISA vote is puzzling. Republicans seem not at all concerned about the prospect of a President Obama using those extra fortified snooping powers to gather dirt on them. Even a McCain presidency might prove no picnic for hardcore neocons, and those legislators who have participated in the Bush family crime spree for years could conceivably find their own heads painted with bull's eyes. But then, perhaps it's the ongoing warrantless surveillance that allows some of them to know already how this election will turn out. (See the "Bamboozling" article below for more on this subject.)

- Rosemary Regello

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