Categories
Election 2008 McCain Politics Scandal-mongering

The Crimes Behind Cindy McCain’s Fortune

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[Photo courtesy of PaisleyPitbull licensed under Creative Commons.]

Cindy McCain – who was among the first people in the country to question Michelle Obama’s patriotism after Michelle’s poorly phrased comments in Wisconsin early this year – is now incredibly offended by Barack Obama’s suggestion that it is her husband’s fabulous wealth and opulent lifestyle that has made him less sensitive to the vast majority of Americans with only one home whose incomes have fallen despite the economy’s growth under the Bush administration. No – she apparently wants Obama to come up with another reason to explain away her husband’s doubling down on the economic policies of the Bush administration and calling for massive tax cuts for the biggest companies and the richest individuals while cutting taxes far less than Barack Obama would for 90% of Americans.1

To counter the suggestions that her fortune left her and John McCain out of touch, she defended her family’s fortune:

My father had nothing. He and my mother sold everything they had to raise $10,000. I’m proud of what my dad and my mother did and what they built and left me.  And I intend to carry their legacy as long as I can.
(Added after watching the complete interview): My father is the American dream!

She really makes it sound like there must be an inspiring story behind how James Hensley’s net worth went from $10,000.00 to over $200,000,000.00. It brings to mind Richard O’Connor, who, in writing how the oil barons created their vast fortunes, paraphrased the great storyteller Balzac:

Behind every great fortune, there is a great crime.

The corollary would be that behind a large fortune is a decent amount of crime.

The story of Cindy McCain’s father, James Hensley, begins when he ditched his first wife for a younger woman after returning from World War II a hero (Sound familiar?). He got involved with a character named Kemper Marley who is variously described as a rancher, a businessman, a murder suspect, and a top figure in organized crime in Arizona. While working for Marley, James Hensley and his brother were convicted of the felony offenses of concealing black market liquor sales and conspiracy. Later Cindy’s father was charged with falsifying records to evade taxes – although these charges were dismissed, no doubt due to the diligent work of one of Arizona’s top defense lawyers, William Rehnquist.

After getting through these legal difficulties in the early 1950s, the brothers Hensley bought a horse track – with several mobsters as silent partners. Cindy’s father, though, was yearning for a measure of respectability, and sold his stake in the track in the mid-1950s. Luckily for James Hensley, he got out just a few months before a statewide scandal focused on the track, making life difficult for his brother and all of the other owners. Hensley’s brother continued at the track and eventually was sent to prison in the late 1960s after he sold his portion of the track to Marley and a mob-connected front.

Meanwhile, Cindy’s father had decided to start a beer distributorship:

According to the official founding myth, Jim launched his own beer distributorship, Hensley & Company, in 1955, with the help of a $10,000 loan. (Unaccounted for is how a cash-strapped ex-convict would have secured the exclusive right to distribute Budweiser in Phoenix.) The distributorship became Hensley’s first step in a long march to respectability.

By most accounts, Cindy’s father worked hard to make his distributorship a success. And as Arizona began to grow in the sixties boom with millions of people moving to the southwest, Hensley’s beer distributorship grew with it – leading to the fortune now estimated in the hundreds of millions which financed John McCain’s start in politics and the McCain’s opulent lifestyle.

To wrap up this story, Cindy McCain says her father had nothing; and through hard work, his fortune is now worth hundreds of millions. But untold is that this fortune is based on gambling and liquor, mobsters and political connections, working hard and cutting corners, and always staying one step ahead of scandal and conviction. Because of his crimes, his connections and his hard work, he was able to provide Cindy McCain with a life of luxury. When the young Cindy wrecked her Porsche, her father bought her a Mercedes Benz. When she became a teacher and was criticized for driving a car that was too flashy, her father bought her a second car to drive to school. And of course, Cindy can’t imagine, even now, how anyone can get around Arizona without a private plane.

It’s easy to see how someone who has led the life that Cindy McCain has can believe that a little bit of hard work will get you a few hundred million – and how someone who’s father bought her a second car to keep the other teachers from making fun of her luxury car could fail to sympathize with the average American having trouble paying all of their bills. It’s not impossible for someone living such an opulent lifestyle to understand and advocate for the middle class and the poor – look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt – but if you are instead are insisting on economic policies that benefit the richest individuals and the biggest corporations – it’s hard not to see a connection.

It’s a bit rich2 of Cindy McCain to defend herself and her husband by invoking how hard her father worked for his fortune. And it’s yet another demonstration of how “in touch” she is with the concerns of most Americans.

N.B. This post was written in the midst of an obviously contentious election campaign – one in which I had strongly considered supporting Senator John McCain – as I’ve detailed elsewhere – but after careful evaluation, had come to the conclusion that Barack Obama was the only candidate suited to our current challenges. While I stand by the content of the post, in retrospect, the tone is a bit overheated. I don’t especially care where her fortune came from. The Kennedy fortune is widely rumored to have come from similarly shady sources – and I don’t hold it against them. But in the context of a campaign in which Obama’s every contact with a questionable individual was the subject of advertisements and smears by the McCain campaign, I found it astounding that this rather close contact with unsavory characters was mentioned in passing but not explored.

  1. Would she prefer Obama infer actual malice, placing ideology above country, or class warfare to explain away McCain’s insistence on screwing the middle class? []
  2. Referring to the 4th and 5th defintiions in the link. []
Categories
Economics Election 2008 Obama Politics

Obamanomics

[digg-reddit-me]In the past ten years, a Democratic consensus has emerged from opposing poles represented by Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, and Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Clinton.

The consensus stems from a shared conclusion:

In the past generation, the American economy has been benefiting the vast majority of Americans less and less; and the trends that are causing this cannot be stopped.

There are many factors that have caused, worsened and continued to escalate this core problem:

  • the demise of America’s manufacturing base;
  • the increasing gap between the pay of CEOs and top corporate officials and the average worker;
  • the way the tax code has begun to tax labor at a far higher rate than it taxes capital;
  • the shrinking of organized labor;
  • the increasing instability due to globalization.

All of these are the symptoms and all of these are the causes.

Our economic system is breaking – the middle class is being squeezed; we are transferring a tremendous amount of our wealth to autocracies and our rivals around the world because of our dependence on oil; budget deficits are burdening our government which now practices a nefarious for of socialism, only for the rich; globalization is creating insecurity; our society is becoming more stratified1, with many traditionally class-conscious European countries becoming more socially mobile; our infrastructure is eroding.

Barack Obama’s answer to this – accepting the Democratic party consensus – is a mix of short-term and long-term measures.

  • To alleviate the squeeze on the middle class as certain industries leave America looking for cheaper labor, he proposes to create jobs with infrastructure improvements and to push the development of a green energy industry.
  • To aid small businesses and to reduce the instability created by the greater turnover in jobs in a globalized marketplace, he proposes a universal health care plan that combines a government plan open to all citizens, various incentives for businesses to offer coverage, and various incentives for individuals to get coverage on their own.
  • With regards to taxes, he proposes tax cuts (graph) to those who need it and tax increases to those who have benefited most from our society – those making over $250,000.00.
  • To prepare the next generation for the globalized marketplace, Obama proposes various improvements to education.
  • Barack Obama is also the only candidate who has pledged to protect the foundation of the internet. (John McCain has recently come off the fence to support a policy that directly undermines the architecture of the internet since it began.)

For a more in-depth and reflective look at Obamanomics, check out David Leonhardt’s cover story this weekend in the New York Times Magazine.

Addition: What Obama and the Democrats have been struggling with is a way to frame this in a visceral way that can be easily understood. Here’s my proposition:

McCain and the Republicans want to give big corporations whatever they want – even if it hurts American in the long term. (Offshore drilling; telecom immunity; free trade without sensible provisions regarding labor and environmental regulation; tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy while the government needs more income; opposing the protection of the basis of the web, net neutrality, so that internet providers can make a bigger profit.)

Obama and the Democrats want corporations to do well, but at the same time, they want to protect American society from the destabilizing forces of globalization and to protect what has made America the most prosperous nation on earth – including a stable middle class and social mobility – both of which we are in danger of losing due to reckless Republican policies.

That’s the narrative – it’s not class warfare. It’s about protecting what has made America great against the forces of globalization, overly greedy corporations, and rapid change.

  1. Subscription now required. []
Categories
Economics Election 2008 McCain Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Change Before It’s Too Late

Frank Rich in yesterday’s Times coins a new slogan for Obama’s campaign:

…[T]he unsettling subtext of the Olympics has been as resonant for Americans as the Phelps triumph. You couldn’t watch NBC’s weeks of coverage without feeling bombarded by an ascendant China whose superior cache of gold medals and dazzling management of the Games became a proxy for its spectacular commercial and cultural prowess in the new century. Even before the Olympics began, a July CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans fear China’s economic might — about as many as find America on the wrong track. Americans watching the Olympics could not escape the reality that China in particular and Asia in general will continue to outpace our country in growth while we remain mired in stagnancy and debt (much of it held by China).

How we dig out of this quagmire is the American story that Obama must tell…Americans must band together for change before the new century leaves us completely behind. The Obama campaign actually has plans, however imperfect or provisional, to set us on that path; the McCain campaign offers only disposable Band-Aids typified by the “drill now” mantra that even McCain says will only have a “psychological” effect on gas prices…

Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?

R.I.P., “Change We Can Believe In.” The fierce urgency of the 21st century demands Change Before It’s Too Late.

Categories
National Security Politics

Defying Common Sense Since 2001

Mr. Bush would like to be remembered for his leadership in fighting terrorism, but his decisions have defied common sense, including his dismissal of the fact that Mr. bin Laden remains at large. In a 2002 press conference, he said, “I just don’t spend that much time on him.” In 2006, he told conservative columnists that sending troops “stomping through Pakistan in order to find bin Laden is just simply not the strategy that will work.”

Mr. Bush is operating according to a logic that says the right way to win against Al Qaeda is to invade Iraq, which had no connection to Al Qaeda. And the right way to dismantle Mr. bin Laden’s terrorism network is to express unconcern about chasing him down while relentlessly pursuing his driver.

The New York Times editorializing on the Hamdan case.

Categories
Domestic issues Politics The Opinionsphere

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Socialism for the Rich

Paul Krugman takes a break from Obama-bashing – including not a single reference to the candidate in an entire column – in order to try to take a sensible position on the current near-collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – and with them, potentially, the entire worldwide financial system.  While Krugman comes out in favor of a government bailout, he points out that these two companies are problematic institutions:

The most important of these privileges is implicit: it’s the belief of investors that if Fannie and Freddie are threatened with failure, the federal government will come to their rescue.

This implicit guarantee means that profits are privatized but losses are socialized. If Fannie and Freddie do well, their stockholders reap the benefits, but if things go badly, Washington picks up the tab. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Such one-way bets can encourage the taking of bad risks, because the downside is someone else’s problem.

The Financial Times’s Willem Butier takes a similar position, but with more verve:

There are many forms of socialism. The version practiced in the US is the most deceitful one I know. An honest, courageous socialist government would say: this is a worthwhile social purpose (financing home ownership, helping my friends on Wall Street); therefore I am going to subsidize it; and here are the additional taxes (or cuts in other public spending) to finance it.

Instead the dishonest, spineless socialist policy makers in successive Democratic and Republican administrations have systematically tried to hide both the subsidies and size and distribution of the incremental fiscal burden associated with the provision of these subsidies, behind an endless array of opaque arrangements and institutions…

So let’s call a spade a bloody shovel: nationalise Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They should never have been privatised in the first place. Cost the exercise. Increase taxes or cut other public spending to finance the exercise. But stop pretending. Stop lying about the financial viability of institutions designed to hand out subsidies to favoured constituencies. These GSEs were designed to make losses. They are expected to make losses. If they don’t make losses they are not serving their political purpose.

So I call on Secretary Paulson, Chairman Bernanke and Director Lockhart to drop the market-friendly fig-leaf. Be a socialist and proud of it. Come out of the red closet. The Soviet Union may have collapsed, but the cause of socialism is alive and well in the USA.

Many reporters have been using the phrase “too big to fail” to refer to the crisis surrounding Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – Butier acknowledges this for what it is – a socialism for the rich, in which concentrations of power are protected, profits are privatized, and losses are spread across the social spectrum.

Categories
Election 2008 National Security Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

Barack Obama, FISA, and Telecom Immunity

As I posted previously – there has been a lot of anger by a significant subset of Obama supporters at his reversal on how he would oppose the telecom immunity provision in the FISA bill.

As part of the group that is the center of much of this protest – “Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right“ – I have had a front-row seat to observe the raw feelings of the most disappointed supporters.  I argued in my previous post that many of these supporters had lost perspective – as they abandoned Obama over a position that was a rather minor element in his campaign.

But one thing my response missed – and most of the angry Obama supporters missed – is precisely what Obama changed his mind about.

Obama – through a spokesperson – had promised to support a filibuster of any law that would give the telecommunications companies immunity from civil liability for their actions relating to the warrantless wiretapping program:

To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies

Throughout his campaign, this promise was reiterated.

In February, Obama voted to strip away the provision that gave the telecoms immunity from the FISA bill – but the amendment failed to garner sufficient votes to override a presidential veto.

As the FISA bill came up for a vote this July, Obama announced that he had changed his mind about the degree to which he would oppose telecom immunity.  Yesterday, he voted for an amendment that would strip the immunity provisions from the FISA bill, but voted to pass the bill even though the amendment failed to get the required support.

In other words, while he still agrees with the position that the telecom companies should not get immunity, he has made a tactical decision that the costs of opposing the full measure were not worth the benefits.

Many who have expressed disagreement with Obama have talked about how he has changed his mind about defending the Constitution, how he is now agreeing to eviserate the Fourth Amendment, etcetera and so on.  They argue against the full FISA law itself – as well as the telecom immunity provision.  But although Obama has said that he sees the law as flawed, he did not commit himself to opposing it.

Most of those who are disillusioned by Obama’s vote don’t seem be interested in the subtlties.  They speak in terms of betrayal, in terms of being with-us-or-against-us, and they judge Obama harshly by an ideological purity scale.  But if any of these people had evaluated Obama seriously before – they would have seen that he was not the ideological purist they claim he was.

As Gail Collins put it in an insightful column today (an unusual event for her):

But if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb.

Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns — attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance.

On the common-ground front, he’s called for giving more federal money to religious groups that run social programs, but only if the services they offer are secular. People can have guns for hunting and protection, but we should crack down on unscrupulous gun sellers. Putting some restrictions on the government’s ability to wiretap is better than nothing, even though he would rather have gone further.

Dumb-avoidance would include his opposing the gas-tax holiday, backtracking on the anti-Nafta pandering he did during the primary and acknowledging that if one is planning to go all the way to Iraq to talk to the generals, one should actually pay attention to what the generals say.

Touching both bases are Obama’s positions that 1) if people are going to ask him every day why he’s not wearing a flag pin, it’s easier to just wear the pin, for heaven’s sake, and 2) there’s nothing to be gained by getting into a fight over whether the death penalty can be imposed on child rapists.

I’ll take this opportunity to point out that Collins is misleading about how she uses the death penalty example as Obama indicated he was in favor of the death penalty for child rapists before the recent Supreme Court decision in The Audacity of Hope.

But her basic point is right.

Categories
Domestic issues Election 2008 McCain National Security Obama Politics Reflections The War on Terrorism

Why I Am Still Supporting Barack Obama After His Vote For Telecom Immunity

[digg-reddit-me]Feelings are running high among us Obama supporters who also are strongly opposed to telecom immunity and the current FISA bill.

As the New York Times noted this weekend, the largest and most quickly growing group in Barack Obama’s social network was “Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right“.  I had joined the group a few days before the article had come out because I, like many others, felt strongly about this issue.  I still do.  And I believe Barack Obama took the wrong position.

But what has astounded me in the past few days has been the overwrought emotionalism that – from my perspective – has caused many of Obama’s supporters to lose perspective on this issue.  Here’s a sample of some of the sentiments that have been sent out to all of the members of the “Get FISA Right” group in the past few hours, since Obama voted in support of the bill:

“A dream died today!”

“Obama just lost my vote!!!”

“As we are about to throw out the 4th amendment shall we redefine the Bill of Rights as the first 9 amendments, or should we just leave a blank between 3 and 5 as the 13th floor is left out in high rise buildings.”

“I think we finally got to see the side of Obama we all deep down, thought was there. Another money grubbing lawyer going along with the pack; saying one thing doing another.”

Please stop giving your hard earned money to this fraud!”

“Today, the Constitution will be shredded at the hands of Democrats and Barack Obama. I no longer believe that voting makes a difference. I am completely dispirited. Obama’s talk of change is a sham.”

“I find myself today looking for Ralph Nader’s campaign website.”

Perhaps more honest than these sentiments, one writer started with this caveat:

“At this very moment, this is how I FEEL. It does not mean it is how I will follow through, merely how I feel…”

He then unleashed a tirade.  But at least he could see that he had lost some sense of perspective.

Glenn Greenwald, probably the foremost expert on this topic, one of the most influential opponents of this bill, who has been tirelessly pushing this issue through his blog and through guest appearances on radio shows was able to keep perspective when Obama first announced his turn-around on this issue:

There is no question, at least to me, that having Obama beat McCain is vitally important. But so, too, is the way that victory is achieved and what Obama advocates and espouses along the way.

The overheated rhetoric by these passionate supporters lends credence to the scoffing of the right-wingers who have insisted that Barack Obama’s support is weak because the young are naive and credulous and easily marginalized.

Truly – how many people supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel because of his position on telecom immunity?  Far fewer than are now peevishly demanding refunds for their donations.  This is an important issue – but it is far from the only issue.

Those of us who have been involved with politics before know that no matter how great the individual, you should never place your faith in a politician.  A knowledge of history teaches us that every great person is still limited by their times.  Abraham Lincoln – perhaps our greatest president – was vilified by the abolitionists of his day for being too pragmatic, for compromising too easily, for not sticking to his principles.  In the end, Lincoln’s greatness came not from the fact that he stood on principle and defeated his adversaries – but that he skillfully managed our nation through a great crisis and took every opportunity he thought prudent to achieve the ends he sought. But it was the people and the battles that created the opportunities.  Lincoln was only a great leader because during that long, hard war, we became a great people, willing to die for the fragile idea of freedom.

Barack Obama is not Abraham Lincoln, and we are not in a civil war.  But we do face a very real crisis of identity and very real threats from at home and abroad.  What we need to remember – as citizens – is that Obama is not and cannot be our savior.  What Obama’s campaign has always been about is us.  Unlike Hillary Clinton or John McCain or any other candidate, Obama’s campaign was about the movement that was supporting him.  Which is why both Clinton’s and McCain’s campaigns have focused their attacks on Obama’s supporters as well as the candidate himself.  For the past few weeks, McCain has been trying to put a wedge between Obama and his supporters – based on the theory that if he can paint Obama as “just another politician,” the youth vote that has been expected to throw the last few elections to the Democrats will forget to show up, again.

Obama is another politician.  An uncommonly good one.  An uncommonly thoughtful one.  An unusually astute one.  But like very person, and like every politician, he has made a mistake and voted for an awful bill.

I still support Obama.  And so should you. Winning this election is not about Obama – but about the movement.  If we do not become a great people, then neither Obama nor any other politician can become a great president.

Obama has spoken positively about how this movement should put pressure on him and every other politician to do the right thing – and with his campaign he has created and with his presidency he has promised to create more of the tools to do just that.  No one will get every issue right – but the core reason to support Obama, as Lawrence Lessig has argued, is because he supports reforming the process to allow citizens to truly engage with power – by making the government more transparent and more accountable.  He also happens to be on the right side of most of these issues – supporting increased transparency in Washington, restoring habeas corpus, ending our neo-empire in the Middle East, opposing wars of choice, net neutrality, and many other issues.

For those who have declared that the “dream” died today – stop dreaming about Barack Obama and start working to get our nation back on the right track.  Electing Barack Obama is only the first step, as today’s events have proven.

I am disappointed in him.  And I think criticism is warranted.  But temper tantrums rarely do anyone any good.

This disappointment will not diminish one iota my determination to have Barack Obama elected the next President of the United States of America. This is our moment.  Let’s not let momentary disappointment lead to a disengagement with politics.

Categories
Foreign Policy Life Politics

Quote of the Day

Commenting on Europe’s low birthrate and the high rate of men and women in their twenties living with their parents, David Willets, the British politician said:

Living at home with your parents is a very powerful contraception.

Categories
Election 2008 Humor McCain Politics The Opinionsphere

One of Rush Limbaugh’s sentences

One of the sentences Rush Limbaugh wrote in response to a question by Zev Chafets in the Sunday Times:

“McCain and Reagan do not belong in the same sentence.”

Limbaugh’s fabulous wealth was most impressive though – especially in the context of his $400 million contract.  I have not had the time to get to know Limbaugh’s though – as I have tried to with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, George Will, and other conservative opinionators.

Categories
Domestic issues Election 2008 History Liberalism Obama The Clintons

Krugman throws a tantrum

Paul Krugman, after defending the Clinton legacy for many long months, and trashing Obama for criticizing it, finally decides it is time to agree with Obama’s critique of Clintonism.  Of course, Krugman only does so in order to taunt Obama as Krugman demonstrates an incredibly shallow grasp of politics and recent history.

The problem with Krugman’s little tantrum here is that he confuses politics itself, especially in a two party system, with Clintonism.  It’s not as if Bill Clinton himself invented compromise.  That was invented some time before Pericles.

The problem with Clintonism was not in the fact that the Clintons compromised in order to gain power – it was that they believed the only thing needed to change America was for one of them to be in charge of the system as it was.  So they played the game, campaigned on trivialities and money, and took over, only to realize with the health care debacle and Somalia that they couldn’t force their way.

Obama’s approach is clearly different.  His campaign is less about himself, and more about a movement.  His policies are less about top-down government demands and more about adjustments that will gradually change the way the system works.

Krugman doesn’t see it. Instead, he projects from the mild events of the past week an abrupt turnaround on Obama’s part to embrace the Clintonism he rejected.  The blindness is glaring.