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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:51 pm

Context


Josh Marshall puts John McCain’s promises to clean up Wall Street in context:

John McCain’s top economic advisor, former Sen. Phil Gramm, is the guy who authored the deregulation law that most agree is the ultimate cause of today’s financial meltdown. Tomorrow’s and probably next week’s too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. John Thain, CEO of Merrill Lynch, which swirled into brokerage oblivion today, is one of McCain’s top economic advisors too. And now McCain says he’s going to clean up the mess by putting in tighter regulations and oversight even though he’s always supported lax oversight and his top economics guy is the one who loosened the rules in the first place.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Compare and Contrast: Obama and Paulson on Economic Crisis


Here’s part of what Barack Obama said today about the problems plaguing Wall Street:

The situation with Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions is the latest in a wave of crises that are generating enormous uncertainty about the future of our financial markets. This turmoil is a major threat to our economy and its ability to create good-paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills, save for their future, and make their mortgage payments.

The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren’t minding the store. Eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans have brought us to the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Now here’s part of what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said today:

We’re working through a difficult period in our financial markets right now as we work of some of the past excesses, but the American people can remain confident in the soundness and resilience of our financial system. . . . We’ve got excesses we need to work through and we need to work through them as quickly as possible, and I think we’re making progress.

I appreciate the fact that Paulson is, along with Bernanke, doing his best to prevent a total meltdown of the economy, and I recognize that both men are largely trying to fix problems created by their predecessors.  But come on — who exactly does Paulson think was responsible for the “excesses” that brought about this mess?  Or is the Bush Administration going to try to do what they did with 9/11: blame it on the Clinton-Gore team?

The reality is that for the past seven (nearly eight) years, the Bush Administration has allowed the rich to play with everyone else’s money in ways that has left many Americans exposed to real risk.  In the process, it also has failed to fix many any of the other problems the country is facing — a weakened industrial base, an eroding infrastructure, a blooming debt, a growing climate crisis, a continued dependence on foreign oil, and a declining dollar, just to name the first six that come to mind.

I do not discount the role played by people who bought houses they could not afford.  But who allowed the market to exist in the first place?  Who ignored the problems we faced until it was too late?  Republicans’ arguments that this is all somehow the fault of people who took out sub-prime loans is little more than blaming the victim.  That is so typical of Republicans:  blame the middle class and the poor for the fat cats’ mistakes.

Should things really go south, there really isn’t a safety net capable of preventing the slide.  Face it:  we’re broke.  As a government, we’re no different that Lehman Brothers:  our debits exceed our assets.  Do people really think that the Chinese are going to continue to bail us out, especially now that they’re beginning to find other markets for their goods?  (For the Chinese perspective, read between the lines of this piece.)

Large segments of the world would like nothing better than to see the United States economy crash and burn.  Yes, there will be some short-term impact on global markets, but the reality is that the rest of the world will quickly find that it can live quite well with a weakened United States.

This is, in many ways, even worse than the Depression, even if the final economic consequences prove not to be as dire (something we are not yet assured will be the case):  this time, the government doesn’t have the ability to turn this around.  Unless, of course, à la Zimbabwe, we start printing worthless money (but of course that just creates a new set of problems).

I don’t know whether Obama or McCain or anyone can reverse this slide.  I do know that an Obama administration would be far more likely to convey the reality of the situation than a McCain administration.  An Obama administration would be able to work with a Congress more likely to act on his prescriptions.  But that doesn’t mean that what he wants will work.

In my gut — and that’s all it is at this point — I can’t help believing that this isn’t merely the start of another recession/depression.  It feels much more like the beginning of America’s slide off the top of the pyramid.  I hope I’m mistaken.

In the meantime, you might want to go back and take a look at this James Fallows piece from 2005.  He gets some of the details wrong, but I think he’s scarily on target in terms of the big picture.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:15 pm

Denial or Another Lie?


Our economy is still strong?  What is McCain smoking?

The man is either in complete denial or he’s become addicted to lying.  He knows a meltdown could sink his campaign, but instead of talking about it, he’s pretending it doesn’t exist.

| posted in globalization, media, politics | 1 Comment

15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

The Future of Music in China


Former Ministry/Public Image Ltd./Killing Joke drummer Martin Atkins went to China in 2006 to meet and record the next generation of Chinese musicians.  The result is Sixteen Days in China.  Here’s the trailer:

My favorite line:  “He’s such a good scratcher, he should have leprosy.”  Heh.

Atkins believes that what’s happening in China now is not unlike the London punk scene circa 1977 and New York’s new wave circa 1980:

The backdrop is different, but the immersion, the focus on just the music and attitude feels like a definite ripple from those times. It doesn’t feel strategized in a careerist way. The guys in D-22, who now have a label called Maybe Mars, and their venue reminded me of the vibe of CBGBs. . . .I think a natural process is underway. One of the reasons I mentioned New York in 1980 and London in 1977 is that both of those places and times seemed to be on another planet to me. . . . I thought I was going to get shot in Times Square while eating pizza. Whether that was true or not, it certainly adrenalized our activities and adrenalin opens up the pathways.

You can find more on the documentary, including the full interview with Atkins, here.  I can’t wait to watch the whole thing.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

Thought of the Day


Wall Street might just be in free fall.  Rick Perlstein got an email from a friend on Wall Street who writes,

The collapse of Wall Street will hit Main Street like Ike hit Houston.

That’s not good news, but it misses the point.  The most important question is, will Treasury and the Federal Reserve respond to the collapse of Wall Street like FEMA and DHS did to Katrina?  Because if they do, we’re completely, totally, utterly screwed.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Paralympics: Shame on NBC


You may not know it, but the Paralympics are going on in Beijing right now.  Not that any network is covering it.   That’s a shame, because it looks just amazing.

For more of these photos, go to The Big Picture, The Boston Globe’s fantastic photo blog.  Time has more photos here.

When the regular Olympics were on, NBC had six networks covering them — NBC, MSNBC, USA, CNBC, Univision, and Universal (their HD channel).  For the Paralympics, they couldn’t be bothered to show it on even one.

Do they think the Paralympics are less dramatic?  Do they think that people wouldn’t want to watch these amazing athletes?  I would bet good money that this would draw more than whatever crap USA or Universal is showing every day.

This is just part of what makes NBC so blinkered.  If you watched NBC’s primetime coverage of the “regular” Olympics, you might have thought that there were only four sports:  swimming, gymnastics, track and field and freaking beach volleyball.  The only time other sports got coverage was if the United States won a gold medal.

What is so infuriating about this is that people don’t remember, but gymnastics never was popular until Olga Korbut came along in 1972.  First Korbut and then Nadia Comaneci made gymnastics into the hugely popular Olympic sport it is today.  And they weren’t even Americans, for crying out loud.  That couldn’t happen today.  NBC would never give it a chance.  For all we know, there is another sport that has the potential to break through now the way gymnastics did then.  Perhaps the Paralympics have that potential.  But thanks to the soul-sucking money-grubbing pinheads at NBC, we’ll never know.

Guess what?  The ChiComs are broadcasting them.  According to Time, it’s making a huge difference in China in terms of how people there see the disabled:

The disabled have traditionally been marginalized in China. Ahead of the Olympics, organizers issued an official apology for a manual cautioning volunteers that the disabled can have “unusual personalities” and can be “stubborn and controlling.” Beijing alone is home to nearly 1 million disabled, but they’re a largely invisible part of the population. Those that can work are funneled into the few jobs that are open to the disabled, like paraplegics who can drive three-wheeled motor taxis or those who are sight-impaired and work in massage parlors. The Paralympics offers the hope that watching disabled athletes compete will change old attitudes and improve opportunities for the nation’s 83 million handicapped.

It is possible that the Paralympics will have an impact in China similar to the passage in the United States of the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping to mainstream the disabled into society.  But, as Time notes, that is going to take more than installing a few ramps in Beijing.  But at least the whole country is getting to see these talented athletes in action.

Unlike those of us in the United States.

Shame on NBC.  Shame on them for putting a misguided sense of profits ahead of an incredibly compelling and exciting story.  Shame on them for treating these talented athletes as somehow second class.

| posted in globalization, media | 3 Comments

12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:48 pm

Ike


Hurricane Ike very well could be another Katrina.

This will be the real test for FEMA and the rest of the emergency responders.  Let’s hope that they’re up to the task.

| posted in globalization | 0 Comments

11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 pm

The Invisible Hand Revealed


This ad ran many, many years ago.  That doesn’t make it any less condescending or unfortunate.  It  unknowingly foreshadows one of the worst disasters of the industrial age.

From Wikipedia:

The Bhopal disaster. . .in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, [resulted] in the immediate deaths of [at least] 3,000 people. . . . A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that the same number have since died from gas related diseases. However, testimonies from doctors who provided medical assistance during the tragedy claim over 15,000 were dead in the first month and approximately 20,000 in total.

The incident took place in the early hours of the morning of December 3, 1984, in the heart of the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. A Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, killing approximately 3,800 people instantly. The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster. . . . Two decades later, more than 100,000 people have permanent injuries, light or severe. The groundwater around the plant area remains contaminated, and the question of cleaning up the area is still unresolved.

Proof positive that yesterday’s progress is tomorrow’s horror.

The ad also offers what, I am sure, was an unintentional allegory for the dangers of globalization.  The Bhopal disaster demonstrates what can happen when unregulated and unrestrained globalization intersects with weak local government.  Corporations take advantage of lax regulations, get lazy, and people die. Despite what the right wants us to believe, we can’t count on the “invisible hand” of free market capitalism to regulate corporate behavior.  All too often, that hand, instead of regulating its own behavior, releases toxic chemicals into the ground, air, or  water.

Hat tip:  Ultrabrown

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 pm

Are You Staying Up Late. . .


. . .wondering whether the large Hadron Collider has destroyed the world yet?

Rest easy.

It hasn’t.

But if you’re still worried, go here.

| posted in globalization, pop culture | 0 Comments

9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Russia-Georgia: The Other Shoe Drops


This isn’t good:

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

September 8, 2008

The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (the so-called ‘123’ Agreement). As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.

The U.S. nonproliferation goals contained in the proposed Agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civil nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities, and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global nonproliferation issues.

We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.

We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.

For those not familiar with 123 agreements, they are named after Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which requires that the U.S. government negotiate and sign an agreement with a given country before commerce in nuclear materials can be established.

Although 123 agreements can be controversial in and of themselves (as is the case with the U.S.-India pact), they also offer a way to help promote nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

The era of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nukes may have just come to an end.

Hope Saakashvili is feeling more secure now — because something tells me that a few of those missiles are now pointed his way.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 pm

Overnight Thread


Could someone please explain to me how the U.S. Government assuming SIX TRILLION DOLLARS in debt caused the Dow Jones industrial average to climb nearly three hundred freaking points???

Because like John McCain, it looks like I do not understand the economics.

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6 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Words Matter


Interesting bubble graph showing which words the candidates used during the Conventions:

What I found most interesting is that the Republicans never uttered Dick Cheney’s name once, nor did they ever talk about “four more years.”  The Democrats mentioned Bush nearly seven times as often as the Republicans did.

I knew the Republicans would run away from Bush.  They have to.  But I didn’t expect them to do it to the degree they have.

The last thing I would note is how infrequently foreign policy was mentioned (unless you count energy, but most of the time candidates were talking about American energy independence).  Only four topics made the cut — Iran, Iraq, “war,” and “terror(ism)/terrorist(s).”  The Democrats spoke of these issues 64 times, the Republicans 46 times (although the numbers may have been more even had Russia-Georgia been included — Obama mentioned it at least once, and virtually every Republican speaker highlighted it).

What’s striking is what’s not on the list:  torture (which I believe only Bill Richardson and Rudy Giuliani mentioned, and in the case of Giuliani, it was in reference to John McCain), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, democracy, human rights, climate change/global warming.

That’s not to say that some of these issues were not covered — they just didn’t make the cut for the graph.  It’s therefore hard to say whether the speakers did not discuss foreign policy or the graph has a built in bias against those issues.

Hat tip:  Switchblog

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, media, politics, war & rumors of war, world at home | 1 Comment

5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:34 pm

Everything You Need to Know about the World Food Crisis


And it’s only a minute long.  

Hat tip:  UN Dispatch

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:30 pm

Obama, McCain, Palin, and Analogies


Assume for a moment that John McCain is a transitional figure, and that he will serve only one term if he actually does manage to get elected.  If that is true, where does the Republican Party go after he leaves office?

Sarah Palin represents a dead end for the Republicans.  A Palin candidacy in 2012 will be to the Republicans what George McGovern was to the Democrats:  a transitional, highly partisan individual who appeals to the base without significantly expanding it the way Reagan did.

To make an even more forced analogy, Palin is the Republicans’ Neil Kinnock, the Labor Party leader who preceded Tony Blair.  Kinnock was an old-school traditional Labor ideologue who helped solidify the base but could never translate that into electoral success.  It may be that Republicans have to go through a similar period where they enjoy the false comfort of an ideologue in charge, one who gets trounced regularly, before moving back to a centrist, more inclusive place in American politics.

To further strain the analogy to the breaking point, the fundamental question is who will be the Republicans’ Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/Bruce Cameron — the thoughtful, charismatic, and young centrist who pulls his/her party back into the mainstream of the political discourse.

Another way to look at it is that John McCain is to Ronald Reagan as John Major was to Margaret Thatcher:  the last exhausted gasp of a once-vibrant worldview.

There really are three types of political leaders in the United States:  base mobilizers (McGovern, Mondale, Bush II, Palin), centrists (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain), and game-changers (FDR, Goldwater, Reagan, and perhaps Obama).

The problem for Republicans is that they will see Palin as a game-changer when in fact she is only a base-mobilizer. And with the (disastrous) exception of Dubya, most base-mobilizers don’t win elections.

Discuss.

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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Hey, Kids! Let’s Play Hide the WMD!



Back when I was in graduate school, Chernobyl happened.  Being graduate students, we responded to this tragedy in the only way we knew how:  we threw a party.  We covered the walls with aluminum foil, replaced all the light bulbs with flashing red lights, and renamed the keg the cooling tower.  We had so many people there, that the floor almost collapsed and the heat generated by the foiled-up walls caused the air conditioning unit for the entire building to fail.

That was the last time I remember connecting nuclear power to dancing.  Until now.  If you’ve been watching the conventions, you’ve seen this commercial:

You may not have noticed it, given the awesome animation and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” playing in the background, but if you pause at 0:09, you’ll notice a couple of words down in the lower right hand corner:

YELLOW CAKE

So that’s where Saddam put it!  Canada!

And what is up with this ad?  Funkytown?  The happy shiny strip mining?  And the apparent argument that we should have nukes so that people can play Dance Dance Revolution in Shanghai?

So the ad is at least two years old.  The first version was in French.

{{PAGENAME}}You wouldn’t know it from the commercial, but after a check of The Googles, I found out that Areva is “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that is mainly known for nuclear power.”

Oh.

Did I mention that the company also manages those yellow cake mines in Niger?  More happy shiny strip mining!

That means Areva played a role, albeit indirectly, in the whole Valerie Plame scandal.  And the Iraq war.  And, of course, the lies of the Bush Administration to justify both the war and the Plame leak.

Now that’s some serious funk.

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2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:41 pm

RNC: Are the Gustav Relief Efforts Legitimate?


Last night, I watched Laura Bush and Cindy McCain tell delegates at the Republican National Convention that they should take immediate action to help the victims of Hurricane Gustav.

Certainly helping those in distress is something worth encouraging and celebrating.  But how exactly are the Republicans getting the funds they raise to those in need?

You might guess the Red Cross.  But you’d be wrong.

During their presentations, Laura and Cindy encouraged people to go to the website of something called called “Cause Greater.”  I had never heard of this particular charity, so I visited their website.  Here’s a screenshot:

“Cause Greater” is not a charity, but rather a wholly owned subsidiary of the McCain campaign. Rather than directing assistance to existing charities (which is what the Obama campaign has done by encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross and/or Save the Children), they are instead directing charitable donors to a campaign portal that also happens to include a link to the McCain home page.

Wait — it gets even better.

If you look closely at the screenshot, you’ll notice that Cause Greater redirects donors to six sites,  Four link to state-sponsored disaster relief funds.  One links to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a community foundation that has established a Gustav relief fund.  None of those are particularly controversial.

The sixth is something called the Aidmatrix Foundation, which is listed both as a charity working in Louisiana and the place to call if someone wants donate by phone.

Here’s what their website has to say:

Aidmatrix is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit headquartered in Dallas, Texas, USA, with offices in Germany and India. The Aidmatrix Foundation, Inc. builds and operates powerful technology hubs that support diverse stakeholder groups in their efforts to work together to solve the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises. More than 35,000 leading corporate, nonprofit and government partners leverage our solutions to mobilize more than $1.5 billion in aid annually, worldwide. The donated goods, money and services impact the lives of more than 65 million people.

That didn’t really clear things up for me, so I went to Wikipedia:

The Aidmatrix Foundation, Inc., (Aidmatrix) is a U.S.-based nonprofit 501 (c) (3). It is a supply-chain software developer for nonprofits and those involved in the supply chain of humanitarian relief (disaster relief, medical relief, and hunger relief.) It is headquartered in Dallas. . . .

In 2006, Aidmatrix secured a major cooperative agreement grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build a national Internet-based network for humanitarian aid. Known as The Aidmatrix Network®, the project was to create a virtual exchange or marketplace that would connect the state and local governments with donors and nonprofits. It focused on in-kind donations management, cash donations management, and volunteer management.

That’s a little clearer, but the problem is that Wikipedia’s editors have posted a warning that this page “appears to be an advertisement,” which means it probably was written by Aidmatrix itself.

But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment.  Aidmatrix uses techology to provide supply-chain logistics support for NGOs working on humanitarian relief and crisis response.  Its website includes statements of support by some well-known NGOs.  Its main donors are the Accenture Foundation and UPS.  It also gets a big chunk of money from FEMA, but it’s not clear how much.  It does not, like many NGOs, have its IRS form 990 available on its website — if it did, we could answer a lot of these questions.

What’s not clear is whether Aidmatrix won the FEMA grant through a competition or if it was yet another sole-source award, which has been the rule rather than the exception with homeland security and defense contracts awarded during the Bush Administration.

Now let’s take a look at their executive leadership.  Their President and CEO is Scott McCallum, who served as (Republican) Governor of Wisconsin from February 2001, when he succeeded Tommy Thompson (after Thompson resigned to become Secretary of Health and Human Services) to January 2003, when he was succeeded by Jim Doyle (who defeated McCallum in November 2002).  Before he became governor, McCallum was lieutenant governor for fourteen years and before that, was a state senator.

Here’s what Aidmatrix’s website says about McCallum:

Governor Scott McCallum has more than 30 years of executive experience leading cross-functional divisions including operations planning, supply management, media and public relations, marketing and development, government relations and strategic partnerships. He served as Wisconsin Governor, with a career spanning more than a decade in public service office. . . .

McCallum acts as President and CEO of the Aidmatrix Foundation, a nonprofit that uses advanced information technology to create efficiencies between donors and those in need.  As CEO, he has grown the Aidmatrix Foundation to globally transact $1.5 billion annually with operations in six continents to 35,000 nonprofits. The work ranges from distribution of medical products for U.S. Free Clinics and international Non-Government Organizations (NGO) to program partnerships with global organizations like International Red Cross and the World Food Programme.  Most charitable food in the United States goes through Aidmatrix technologies for contribution and distribution. The Aidmatrix bundle of solution systems was recently designated as “the Network” to be used in preparedness for American disaster relief, with endorsements from federal branches and inter-state coalitions.

It’s not clear when McCallum became Aidmatrix’s CEO, but it’s fair to speculate that it was before FEMA awarded it the contract.  An April 2004 press release from the Discovery Institute announcing his appointment as a Senior Fellow says that McCallum is head of the McCallum group and does not mention Aidmatrix.

And yes, you did read that right:  McCallum is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is best known for its promotion of intelligent design.  But they also take conservative positions on other public policy issues.  As far as I can tell, the one op-ed McCallum published (on November 16, 2004) under Discovery’s imprimatur focuses on the issue of voter identification, which Democrats have argued is code for voter supression.  In the op-ed, McCallum suggests that there were questions about whether John Kerry “really carried Wisconsin,” and argues that a system requiring photo identification for voting would prevent fraud.

In the end, however, a CEO’s political or religious beliefs don’t matter as long as they don’t affect corporate policy and the person in question is a good manager.  When it comes to Aidmatrix, we don’t know whether those things are true, but there’s no evidence of Aidmatrix advocating the positions put forward by the Discovery Institute.

There is, however, have evidence of McCallum’s management skills during his tenure as governor of Wisconsin:

A big shake-up has occurred in the Wisconsin governor’s office, and that may not be all. The governor, Scott McCallum, a Republican, has been getting a lot of criticism recently for proposing to erase the state’s $1.1 billion deficit by ending aid to local governments.

His management style has also been criticized. Disgruntled supporters say he is short on people skills, slow to cultivate important allies and slower still to respond to requests and calls from constituents.

A poll released a few weeks ago found that 40 percent of Wisconsin residents viewed Mr. McCallum unfavorably and that he might be defeated by any of four Democrats eager to take him on in November.

Little wonder, then, that in recent days Mr. McCallum began firing and hiring, starting with the chief of staff and working down. His spokesman, Tim Roby, explained, ”When you get to the point of people telling you that you’re not the right one for the job of governor of Wisconsin, you get concerned.”

So if he wasn’t a good manager while Governor of Wisconsin, how did McCallum get named to lead an organization that claims to manage more than $1.5 billion in “global transactions”?  What did he bring to the table that made him appealing to Aidmatrix?  And how did McCallum, a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, come to head an organization based in Dallas, where he has no history and no known connections.  Except, of course, this guy.

One other little tidbit:  On February 14, 2008, the McCain campaign announced the formation of its Wisconsin Steering Committee.  Scott McCallum is the first name on the list, ahead of his former boss (and the much more prominent) Tommy Thompson.

Aidmatrix may be an entirely legitimate organization, but there’s a real lack of transparency regarding how they got the FEMA contract and how they got involved in the McCain campaign.

To learn the truth, Aidmatrix, FEMA, and the Bush Administration need to answer some questions:

1.  How did Aidmatrix get its FEMA grant?  Was it sole-sourced or competed?  How much is it for?  What percentage of Aidmatrix’s budget comes from the FEMA grant?

2.  If their main focus is logistics — using “advanced information technology to create efficiencies between donors and those in need” — what are they doing managing donations for the McCain website?  And where will these donations go after they receive them?

3.  Did Aidmatrix get the hurricane relief gig because of McCallum’s connections with the McCain campaign?

4.  If not, why did McCain choose Aidmatrix instead of better-known and more established non-partisan humanitarian relief organizations such as the Red Cross?

5.  Did AIdmatrix inform and/or clear its involvement in the McCain campaign with FEMA or other U.S. government officials?

Josh Marshall, white courtesy phone, please.

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1 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:30 pm

Gustav: The Spin Begins


From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the first assessment of Gustav by the Feds:

While it’s too early to proclaim the federal response to Hurricane Gustav a success, federal officials said Monday that damage from the storm was mostly contained and the rebuilt flood-protection system around New Orleans appears to have passed its first major test since 2005.

“I think we’re seeing a very well-prepared nation for Hurricane Gustav,” said Adm. Harvey Johnson, the deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in an afternoon conference call from Washington.

Johnson said a preliminary assessment, conducted while the storm was still raging through Louisiana, found no major damage to the levees and floodwalls around New Orleans and said the evacuation of residents away from the most vulnerable areas went better than three years ago.

So the spin begins — keep in mind that Johnson may be an admiral, but he’s also a political appointee.

I’m guessing that Bush and McCain will follow with statements praising the heroism of the relief workers and congratulating themselves on the heckuva job everyone did.

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1 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

McCain-Palin: Why Aren’t Ecocons Up in Arms?


When I first heard that Sarah Palin was John McCain’s pick for vice president, I expected economic conservatives to be up in arms.  After all, Governor Palin presides over a state whose main source of revenue is taxes on large corporations and whose major employer is the government.

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t thought much about Alaska’s economy other than to know instinctively that oil plays a major role.  Here are a few points you might want to know:

In 1968 vast reserves of oil and natural gas were discovered on the Alaska North Slope near Prudhoe Bay. The petroleum reservoir was determined to be twice the size of any other field in North America. The 800-mi (1,287-km) Trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to the ice-free port of Valdez opened in 1977, after bitter opposition from environmentalists, and oil began to dominate the state economy. The Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1977, receives 25% of Alaska’s oil royalty income. The fund is designed to provide the state with income after the oil reserves are depleted and has paid dividends to all residents.

“Oil royalty” is merely a another term for taxes on oil companies.

So what we’re talking about here is a state government that forces large corporations to pay high taxes in order to do business there.  The state then uses these “royalties” to fund its operations.  The remaining surplus is then redistributed equally among all citizens of the state.  It’s not a tax rebate or refund — that would imply that the citizens had actually paid taxes.  It is, in fact, a redistribution of oil profits to average citizens.

As a progressive, I have no quarrel with this approach.  But it is not exactly laissez-faire capitalism.  And as governor, Palin hasn’t exactly pushed to change the current system:

Republicans in Congress this June united to defeat a proposed windfall tax on oil companies, deriding it as a bad idea that would discourage investment in U.S. oil exploration.  Things worked out far differently in the GOP stronghold of Alaska, a state whose economic fate is closely tied to the oil industry.

Over the opposition of oil companies, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and Alaska’s Legislature last year approved a major increase in taxes on the oil industry — a step that has generated stunning new wealth for the state as oil prices soared. . . .

Alaska collected an estimated $6 billion from the new tax during the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. That helped push the state’s total oil revenue — from new and existing taxes, as well as royalties — to more than $10 billion, double the amount received last year.  While many other states are confronting big budget deficits because of the troubled economy, Alaska officials are in the enviable position of exploring new ways to spend the state’s multibillion-dollar budget surplus.

Some of that new cash will end up in the wallets of Alaska’s residents.  Palin’s administration last week gained legislative approval for a special $1,200 payment to every Alaskan to help cope with gas prices, which are among the highest in the country.  That check will come on top of the annual dividend of about $2,000 that each resident could receive this year from an oil-wealth savings account.

State Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat who supported the windfall tax, said the oil companies ” … were literally printing money on the North Slope. We decided to strike the balance a little bit more on our side.”

Now let’s take a look at what economic conservatives think of the idea of a windfall profits tax on oil companies.  Here’s what the Club for Growth said back in 2006 about an effort by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to apply such a tax nationally:

The Senate took a procedural vote on the Dorgan (D-ND) amendment no. 2587 to the tax cut bill. His amendment would have imposed a 50 percent tax on oil company profits. The pro-growth vote was “nay” because such a tax would single out and punish the oil industry for making profits deemed by lawmakers to be too high, leading to less investment in finding and developing new sources of oil. This would cause job-killing higher energy prices and greater dependence on foreign oil.

And here’s what a 2005 letter signed by Grover Norquist, among others had to say:

A windfall profits tax undermines the crucial roles played by prices and profits in the market. Rising prices and profits serve as signals for increased investment and expanded supply. A windfall profits tax accomplishes the exact opposite of what is now needed as it diminishes incentives to expand energy supplies.

Oil is no different from any other commodity. Congress must allow our economy to weather the challenges of fluctuating oil prices without interference. We must remember that worldwide supply, demand, and competition surrounding crude oil are the most important factors in the national average price of gasoline.

Higher taxes will do nothing to reduce the price of a gallon of gas at the pump. Instead of adopting failed policies of the past, Congress needs to focus on solutions that help to stabilize and increase supplies.

Here’s what Jonah Goldberg said back in May of this year:

“Windfall,” of course, is just another word for “undeserved,” which is why windfall profits are defined as the profits earned by someone other than you. If we were honest with the people having their profits yanked away, we’d call it the “well-earned and richly deserved profits tax.” . . . . So why are Democrats keen on treating oil companies like they’re comic-book villains and the windfall profits tax is just a well-deserved enema that will teach Big Oil to pay its fair share?

In 1977, when Jimmy Carter proposed the first windfall profits tax, he said through those enormous teeth, we “will ask private companies to sacrifice just as private citizens do.” But corporations aren’t normal citizens.  If you tell oil companies that they won’t be able to keep their profits past a certain point, you know what they’ll do? They’ll make money right up until that point and then they’ll stop. Unlike the guy building the better mousetrap, oil companies aren’t in it for the glory, they’re in it for the money. No oilman will go home hungry and wake up like Scrooge on Christmas morning, having repented because of a windfall profits tax.

Given these positions, you would think that economic conservatives would be up in arms about McCain’s choice of a crypto-socialist like Palin as his VP.

You would be wrong.  Curiously, the ecocons are saying that they are pleased with McCain’s choice of Palin.  Let’s start with the Club for Growth:

“At a time when many Republicans are still clinging to pork-barrel politics, Governor Palin has quickly become a leader on this issue,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “She is a principled reformer who understands how badly wasteful spending has marred the Republican brand.”

Governor Palin has proven herself to be a reformer unafraid to take on the establishment, which she did early on when she took on the incumbent Republican governor of Alaska in 2006. Only nine months in office, Governor Palin instructed the state to abandon the notorious pork project secured by Alaska’s politicians, the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere.” While many Republicans in Congress are afraid to antagonize Washington’s biggest porkers, Sarah Palin stood strong for fiscal responsibility. Palin is also a persistent advocate of drilling in ANWR and expanding America’s domestic oil supply in general.

And now, Grover Norquist:

She stands dead center of the Reagan Republican party — an economic conservative who fights against wasteful spending and a traditional values conservative who lives her principles. She is a trailblazer in the fight for financial transparency in government, posting her state’s spending on the Internet.

Her focus on spending continues the McCain strategy of putting distance between himself and the greatest liability of the Bush presidency — its failure to even try and limit overall spending. More like Reagan, less like Bush. Obama is the guy who wants to spend like Bush.

And here’s Jonah Goldberg:

As something  of a Palin booster, I’m having some flop sweats at the idea it’s actually happening. . . .She’s the best of the dark horses because she’s an exciting, exotic (yet heartlandish) female pick.  The base will love her. She’s a true outsider and the only person in the race with serious executive experience.

This is bizarre.  Both Norquist and the Clubsters focus on Palin’s efforts to cut wasteful spending, without acknowledging that she presides over a state whose economic system is a direct contradiction of their core principles.  And Goldberg is in full swoon mode.

So what’s up ecocons?  Why isn’t Palin a Harriet Miers figure for you?  I just don’t get it.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics | 0 Comments

1 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:40 am

Gustav: Thoughts and Prayers


The latest tracking information on Gustav:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast.  Let us all hope that this is nothing like Katrina, and that the federal, state, and city responses are up to the incredibly important task of helping those affected.

| posted in globalization, world at home | 0 Comments

31 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Five to Watch: McCain, Bush, and Gustav


Here’s the latest tracking on Gustav.

New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain are at roughly 30° North, 90° West on the map above.  They’re the part of the red line that appears to run inland from the coast.

Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s not heading directly at New Orleans anymore.  If anything, the current path is worse:

If, as currently predicted, Gustav lands west of New Orleans on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds up to 155 mph (249 kph), its 16-foot (4.9 metre) storm surge could break through the same levees that failed three year ago.

In the face of what is likely to be one of the worst natural disasters in American history, it may seem a bit insensitive and even vulgar to talk about the storm’s political implications. But the timing and location of the storm — during the Republican National Convention and on the same path as (and on the third anniversary of) Katrina — ensures that politics are inevitably part of the bigger story.

Right now, it looks like the Republicans are going to go forward with the Convention.  They have promised to make it a more subdued, muted affair, but you can bet that every media outlet in town (well, everyone other than Fox) is going to be cruising for revelers.

In addition, the White House has announced that neither President George W. Bush nor Vice President Lord Voldemort Dick Cheney will attend the convention (which doesn’t preclude their addressing it via a live feed or even videotape).  The Cheney announcement alone may lead some delegates to celebrate — the last thing McCain wanted (other than, of course, Hurricane Gustav) was that guy showing up.

John McCain has promised that the convention will not be a celebration, and is visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast today apparently to show just how cynical he can be he really truly does care a whole lot about the danger Gustav poses.  Barack Obama, smartly in my opinion, is staying away and not criticizing McCain’s decision.

Here are five issues to watch as Gustav makes landfall:

1.  The mainstream media will portray McCain’s visit to Mississippi as a sign of leadership rather than as a cynical ploy or a foolishly rash act (after all, we’re talking about a person who wants to be the next POTUS putting himself in the way of a “monster” storm).  The one exception is Anderson Cooper, who may just go postal on McCain, just as he did three years ago on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Senator Mary Landrieu, and others.

2.  No matter what the Republicans do in St. Paul, they’re facing a split screen convention, with coverage of the devastation competing with their rhetoric and ruffles.  It is a comparison from which they cannot benefit, no matter how muted or subdued they make the event.  And iff New Orleans is badly damaged by the storm — even if its residents evacuate — they’re going to find it almost impossible to hold the media’s (and by extension the public’s) attention.

3.  Gustav is both bad news and good news for the McCain campaign.  The bad news (other than the issue of a split screen convention) is that Gustav will cost McCain all or part of his convention bounce — even if it fails to hit New Orleans.  The good news is that Ron Paul’s alternative convention will disappear off the radar.

4.  No matter what happens — good or bad, direct hit on New Orleans or not — the Administration (and more than likely the McCain campaign) will attempt to portray the federal response to the crisis as fast, smart, and a reflection of the lessons learned from Katrina.  And chances are that it will be an outright lie.  The big question is not what the Administration will say, but rather how the media responds.  Again, Anderson Cooper will be a bellwether.

5.  Sooner or later, a prominent Democrat (not Obama or Biden, but someone) will be tempted to talk about how great it is that Gustav is hitting New Orleans just when the Republicans are holding their convention (much as Michael Moore did on MSNBC Friday night).  If that Democrat fails to shut the hell up, it will negate any and all bad publicity for the Republicans.  The most likely purveyor of such idiocies is New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who once again will be portrayed by Republicans as utterly incompetent.

Both parties have to be careful here.  Gustav is a potential tragedy in the making, and hundreds if not thousands of people will lose their lives.  Hundreds of thousands will at best find themselves displaced and at worst homeless.  Any effort by either candidate (or party) to use this terrible development for political ends will not play well either on the Gulf Coast or in the rest of the country.

| posted in globalization, media, politics | 0 Comments

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