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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:38 pm

Hurricane Cindy and the RNC’s Potemkin Gustav Relief


On Monday, I had this to say about the the Cindy and Laura show, a.k.a. the Republicans’ hurricane Gustav relief efforts:

Cindy McCain look like, uh. . . .  Well.  Hmmmm.

How do I put this?

She looks like she spent more money on her dress, pearls, make-up, manicure, and hair than the Republicans will raise on behalf of Hurricane Gustav victims.

Turns out I was more right than I thought:

Yes, something from Arizona was certainly shining at the convention, but it wasn’t the sun. It was Cindy McCain’s citrine dress from Monday night. And her three-carat diamond earrings. Oh, and don’t forget the Chanel J12 white ceraminc watch.

Cindy’s dress, designed by Oscar de la Renta, cost $3,000, and the watch, another $4,500. Her four strand pearl necklace cost between $11,000 and $25,000, and her shoes set her back $600. But the real whoppers were the earrings, priced at $280,000, putting the total cost of the outfit beteween $299,100 and $313,000.

Here’s the only press report I could find about the RNC’s hurricane relief campaign.  Just so you know, it’s from Fox:

As Gustav pummels the Gulf Coast, several delegates are missing the breezy, beautiful weather locally to man the phones at a telethon effort set up at the downtown Hilton in Minneapolis. About 150 red phones were set up in the ballroom and Cindy McCain not only helped make the calls, she and husband John McCain donated $25,000 dollars to relief efforts. In all, 90 delegates, volunteers, campaign staff and others in the Twin Cities for the convention were helping out at the telethon.

The telethon opened at 2 p.m. ET and had raised $1.165 million by 3 p.m. ET. One donation was in the form of $1 million, but officials would not release the identity of the donor.

If the $1 million pledge actually comes through, then the Republicans did a worthwhile thing (more on that in a second).  But if it didn’t, that means that they raised $165,000, or $140,000 if you don’t count the McCains’ contributions — or about half of what Cindy’s outfit cost.

But even if the $1 million pledge comes through — and even if the RNC/McCain campaign managed to raise more money than this report indicates, there is still one little fact that isn’t going anywhere:  Cindy McCain spent between twelve and fifteen times as much on her outfit as she and her husband donated to Hurricane Gustav relief efforts.

And they have the huevos to call Democrats elitist?  As Vanity Fair put it, “Wow! No wonder McCain has so many houses: his wife has the price of a Scottsdale split-level hanging from her ears.”

A couple of questions for the McCain campaign:

1.  How much did your relief efforts raise?

2.  Did your campaign donate the time, website server costs, and other associated expenses?  If so, can you account for it?  How do you plan to report these expenses to the FEC?

3.  Were the relief efforts run out of St. Paul separate from or part of the phone banks set up by the AidMatrix Foundation?  If separate, how did you arrange for these funds to get to relief organizations?

4.  Both FEC and IRS non-profit reporting rules require the identification of donors, particularly large donors.  Why are you not identifying the donor who made the $1 million pledge?

5.  How much did Cindy’s outfit really cost?

This whole McCain/RNC Gustav relief operation looks more and more unreal.  Not illegal, mind you, but suspiciously like a Potemkin Village.  Earlier this week, I raised other questions about the McCain relief effort, focusing on the relationship between he McCain campaign, the Bush Administration/FEMA, and AidMatrix, the charity that supposedly is managing the money (and which received a big FEMA contract in 2006):

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 [Aidmatrix's] 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 [Aidmatrix CEO, McCain supporter and former Wisconsin Governor Scott] 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?

To see the full post, go here.

| posted in media, politics, pop culture | 1 Comment

2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:06 pm

Live Blogging Dubya’s Speech


9:46  Laura going on about how wonderful Palin is.

9:47  Laura gives a shout out to women in GOP.  Tepid response.

9:48  Laura descirbes W as “the man I love.”  Poor woman.

9:48  Is it me or are the GOP delegates middle aged and up?  Not just white, but really not young.

9:49  Laura highlights W’s achievements:  education, judges “who respect the constitution” (isn’t Laura pro-choice?), faith-based initiative (surprisingly not much of a response from audience), HIV/AIDS reduction in Africa (better response than faith-based initiative, Laura takes a shot at Obama), malaria reduction, Iraq and Afghanistan, “keeping the American people safe” (sanding ovation)

9:53  Okay, how long will the ovation last? Bush cuts it off.  Was it taped?  Or is he unable to hear?

9:54  Bush focuses on Gustav and achievements of the coastal governors.

9:54  Bush:  McCain a “great American.”

9:55 Shout out to mom and dad.

9:55  Did I hear that right?  The resolute desk?

9:55  McCain is “ready to lead this nation.”

9:56  Focuses on POW time of McCain.  Says that if Hanoi Hilton can’t break McCain, the “angry left” never will.

9:57  McCain believes that “human life must be defended.”  Does anyone know McCain’s position on the death penalty?

9:57  Tax cut, offshore oil, blah blah blah.

9:58  McCain doesn’t hesitate to tell you when he disagrees.  But they haven’t talked since May.

9:59  Democrats in Congress threatened to cut off funds for troops.

9:59  “rather lose an election than see his country lose a war” line.  All that’s left is for Bush to call him a maverick.  But Bush seems to think he and McCain were on the same side.

9:59  9/11! Where’s Rudy?

10:00 Bush:  Sarah Palin “strong and principled.”  That’s it — moves on.

10:01  Voters will look and judgment and experience of candidates and vote for McCain-Palin

10:01  Laura joke and praise

10:02  Laura giving a shout out to Cindy McCain.  Makes her sound like she has more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin.  Heh.

Bush’s speech was pretty standard.  Only one Bushism, and his criticism of the Democrats were indirect.  No mention of Obama.  Laura was as negative as he was.  All in all a pretty anodyne speaker.

| posted in politics | 0 Comments

2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:28 pm

RNC: Unconscious Sexism


Via Marc Ambinder, here’s a photo the McCain campaign is shopping around today:

Okaaaay.

Is it me, but shouldn’t this be either

a) a picture of Todd Palin, Laura Bush, and Cindy McCain, or

b) a picture of Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and John McCain?

And the Republicans are saying that Democrats are sexist?  And that Sarah Palin should be taken seriously?

They’re kinda sorta just maybe almost definitely undermining their own case here.

| posted in media, politics, pop culture | 3 Comments

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.

| posted in globalization, politics, world at home | 1 Comment

2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Laura and Cindy, Burning down the House in St. Paul


America’s new fun couple:

Or maybe not.

Laura Bush looks like she’d rather be under house arrest in Burma.

Cindy McCain look like, uh. . . .  Well.  Hmmmm.

How do I put this?

She looks like she spent more money on her dress, pearls, make-up, manicure, and hair than the Republicans will raise on behalf of Hurricane Gustav victims.

| posted in media, politics, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

The World’s Most Powerful Women


Forbes Magazine has put out its list of the world’s most powerful women.  As you would expect from Forbes, there’s a strong emphasis business leaders.  Here’s the top ten:

  1. Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany
  2. Sheila Blair, Chairman of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
  3. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive, PepsiCo
  4. Angela Braly, Chief Executive WellPoint U.S.
  5. Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive, Anglo American U.K.
  6. Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and Chief Executive, Kraft Foods
  7. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
  8. Ho Ching, Chief Executive, Temasek Holdings, Singapore
  9. Anne Lauvergeon, Chief Executive, Areva France
  10. Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and Chief Executive, Xerox

At first I was surprised that I had only heard of three of those in the top ten:  Merkel, Nooyi, and Rice.  But then I saw how Forbes had determined its rankings:

We measure power as a composite of public profile — calculated using press mentions — and financial heft. . . . The economic component of the ranking considers job title and past
career accomplishments, as well as the amount of money a woman
controls. A chief executive gets the revenue of her business, for
example, while a Nobel winner receives her prize money and a U.N.
agency head receives her organization’s budget. We modify the raw
dollar figures to allow comparisons among the different financial
realms so that the corporate revenue that an executive controls, for
instance, is on the same footing as a country’s gross domestic product,
ascribed to prime ministers.

Well, no wonder it’s all business executives.  But what isn’t clear is exactly how both Merkel and Rice, who have little “financial heft” made the top ten, while Hilary Clinton, who Forbes said was the woman with the highest public profile, is only #28, behind the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, for crying out loud.

Another interesting contrast is that of Shelia Blair (#2) and Nancy Pelosi (#35).  Isn’t control over U.S. government’s purse strings greater financial clout than managing the U.S. banking insurance system? And what financial heft does Laura Bush (#44) have?

Their methodology doesn’t make much sense.  But it does make interesting reading.

Other figures of note in the top 100: 

  • Cristina Fernandez, President of Argentina (13);
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, Prime Minister of Ukraine (17)
  • Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress (21);
  • Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile (25);
  • Oprah Winfrey (36)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (37)
  • Gloria Arroyo, President of the Philippines (41)
  • Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister (52)
  • Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (56)
  • Queen Elizabeth II (58 — profession listed as “Queen.”  Heh.)
  • Meredith Vieira, co-host “The Today Show,” NBC (61 — higher than Katie.  That’s gotta hurt.)
  • Katie Couric (62)
  • Barbara Walters (63)
  • Diane Sawyer (65)
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia (66)
  • Tarja Halonen, President of Finland (71)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg (72)
  • Mary McAleese, President of Ireland (74)
  • Christiane Amanpour, CNN (91)

I’m sorry, but I have a hard time taking seriously any list that thinks that the foreign minister of Greece is more powerful than Angelina Jolie.

| posted in globalization, media, politics, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:31 pm

So Much for Auspicious Numbers


From Reuters:

Myanmar’s junta arrested 48 activists on Friday for a protest march marking 20 years since the army crushed an “8-8-88″ democracy uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, an opposition official said.

So at almost the very moment that the Chinese chose to start the Controlympics, the artists formerly known as SLORC decided to revisit the crackdown of twenty years ago.

Isn’t that what the ChiComs would call auspicious?

Maybe not.

Don’t worry.  I’m sure that Laura Bush is on the case.

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

8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:38 am

Reindeer Games: Bush, Human Rights, and China


I know I’m a little behind on this, but I just read in the papertubes that Dubya gave a speech about human rights in China .  And that the ChiComs are not happy about it.

My first instinct was to applaud him for speaking out.  After his appearance before the foreign press last week, during which he set a new personal record for inanity, obsequiousness, and malapropisms,  I was sure that he would be so busy begging Hu “Is Lying Now” Jintao not to liquidate China’s dollar holdings that he wouldn’t dare talk about human rights or democracy.  So reports that he did, and that the Chinese got mad as a result, came as a pleasant surprise.

Then I read the speech.

The first thing I noticed was that he gave it in Thailand.  Not at the Embassy dedication in Beijing, not during his visit to the Olympics, but in Bangkok.  He might as well have given it in Timbuktu.

The second I noticed was that he does not mention human rights in China until the twenty-sixth paragraph — out of twenty-nine total.  It comes only after he’s praised the Chinese for their economic achievements, highlighted their role in the six-party talks on North Korea, begged them not to foreclose on our economy, and reiterated America’s belief in a “one China” policy.

It also comes after he wishes the Queen of Thailand a happy birthday, praises the economic achievments of Thailand and other countries in the region, invokes the threat of terrorism, discusses North Korea, and gives a shout out to his wife for her work on Burma.  (That’s right, of all the people working on Burma in this world, he chose to praise Laura.)

The actual criticism takes up two paragraphs of twenty-nine.  They look almost like an afterthought.  And they include the following sentence:

Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions.

I just ran that little gem through the Diplospeak Translator, and this is what came out:

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: We’re not really serious about this, but Congress and those whiny human rights organizations back home will kick my butt for the rest of my term if I don’t pretend to care. Please please please please don’t be mad at me.

What nonsense.  And the ChiComs got in a lather over this? Here’s what the Foreign Ministry said in response:

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang admonished Bush, saying “We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues.” He also said the Chinese government is dedicated to promoting basic rights, and that “Chinese citizens have freedom of religion.These are indisputable facts.”

This isn’t foreign policy.  It’s Chinese Opera.  I don’t know which I find more distressing.

  • The fact that the White House is spinning this as courage;
  • The fact that the Chinese have gotten their collective Communist capitalist noses out of joint for such innocuous language; or
  • That the Western media bought the whole thing as a real controversy.

The games have started, Bush will forget about his admonition, the Chinese will welcome him, and everyone will enjoy the spectacle and the athleticism.  Nothing else will happen.

There’s a term my summer camp friends used to have for such hypocrisy:  Reindeer Games, which we defined as pretending to care about something when you really didn’t give a damn what happened.  I think that pretty much summarizes the situation here.  All posturing, no content.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

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