Republicans can’t resist the urge to cut Medicare. Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times (10/6) that the GOP tried to gut the national health plan for seniors during the Clinton years (that’s what the 1995 shutdown of the federal government was all about). When Sarah Palin ended her debate performance with a quote from Ronald Reagan about how, if we’re not vigilant, we’ll end up “telling our children and our children’s children” about the days when America was free, she was referring to his warning against the bill that set up Medicare in the 1960s.

Now John McCain proposes to start taxing the value of health benefits people get through work, to encourage worker to seek private insurance instead. If an employer spends $10,000 for worker health insurance, the worker would pay taxes on that money and employers would lose the tax break for providing it. McCain would offer everybody a tax credit—worth $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families—that they could apply towards the purchase of health insurance (which costs $12,000 for the average family). The credit would be valid whether people buy insurance through their employers or on their own.

Krugman noted that McCain proposes to do for health care what deregulation has done for banking. McCain recently wrote that “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

Laura Meckler reported in the Wall Street Journal (10/6) that McCain proposes to pay for the tax credits with cuts from Medicare and Medicaid health-care spending for seniors, poor families and the disabled. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain’s plan would cost the government $1.3 tln over 10 years and allow as many as 5 mln more people to buy their own insurance. But an estimated 20 mln Americans would lose their workplace insurance if employers lose the tax breaks. The center estimates that Obama’s plan, which would create a government-run marketplace in which people could buy coverage and would guarantee benefits, would cost $1.6 tln over 10 years and cover 34 mln more people.

PALIN’S GLASS HOUSES. Sarah Palin went on the offensive in attacking Barack Obama, saying that “Obama pals around with terrorists” such as Bill Ayers, a University of Illinois professor with whom Obama has served on civic boards in Chicago. Barbara Morrill noted at DailyKos.com (10/6) that Palin has her own very personal association with the America-hating Alaska Independence Party (AIP), a secessionist group whose founder, Joe Vogler, damned America and cursed the flag, and was later murdered in a “plastic explosives sale gone bad.” Palin probably attended the party’s 1994 convention, certainly attended in 2000 and taped a welcoming message to them in 2006. Palin’s husband, Todd, was a registered member of the party from 1995 until 2002, changing his party affiliation when she began her first statewide campaign.

In a interview published 10/6, New York Times columnist William Kristol asked Palin if controversial sermons by Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should be an issue. She replied: “I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave—to me, that does say something about character.”

Morrill noted: “Naturally Kristol didn’t mention that Obama wasn’t present for the incendiary sermons by Wright, nor did he ask Palin why she didn’t have the character to get up and walk out during [a] sermon by Thomas Muthee ... where he said: ‘The second area whereby God wants us, wants to penetrate in our society is in the economic area. The Bible says that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous. It’s high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers, you know, who are men and women of integrity running the economics of our nations. That’s what we are waiting for. That’s part and parcel of transformation. If you look at the—you know—if you look at the Israelites, that’s how they work. And that’s how they are, even today.’

“Not only did Palin not get up and leave, she joined Muthee on stage ... so he could pray over her. And by the way, Palin later credited Muthee’s prayer with helping her win the governorship of Alaska. But Kristol wasn’t interested in asking Palin about her associations with the AIP or the anti-Semitic Thomas Muthee. That wasn’t his job.”

Joe Klein also noted at Time-blog.com (10/6) that “Embarracuda” Palin didn’t “get up and leave”—at a sermon by David Brickner, the founder of Jews for Jesus, who argued that Palestinian terrorist acts against Israel were God’s “judgment” on the Jews because they hadn’t accepted Jesus.

M’CAIN’S GLASS HOUSES. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said (10/6) “Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended an unrepentant terrorist, or had a convicted felon help them buy their house.”

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic noted (10/6), “Neither of these things is true of John McCain. However, McCain has befriended a convicted felon [Gordon Liddy, who served 4 years for his role in the 1972 Watergate burglary], and his many houses were purchased due to the fortune of convicted criminal Jim Helmsley, his father-in-law.”

Helmsley was working for reputed mobster Kemper Marley’s wholesale liquor outlet in Tucson when he was convicted in 1948 of seven counts of making false entries in federal liquor records and conspiracy with his brother, Gene, who was convicted of 23 counts. In 1952 the brothers bought a racetrack in Ruidoso, N.M., with Teak Baldwin, a Phoenix gambler. The Helmsleys sold the racetrack in 1955. Jim, a cash-strapped ex-con, somehow secured the exclusive right to distribute Budweiser in Phoenix, Noam Scheiber reported at TNR.com (8/20). A family fortune that later launched McCain’s political career was born.

M’CAIN RENEGES ON KEATING CONTRITION. Obama’s campaign reacted to the McCain campaign’s attempts to smear Obama with former 1960s radical Bill Ayers by bringing up McCain’s role in the Keating 5 scandal. While Obama was only 8 years old when Ayers was a leader of the Weather Underground, McCain was a senator when he was implicated with four other senators in an attempt to get federal regulators to lay off Charles Keating, a developer, savings-and-loan executive and political benefactor, during the S&L meltdown of the late 1980s. McCain accepted the rebuke of the Senate Ethics Committee, which said he used poor judgment. As recently as last year, he told the Arizona Republic, “I was judged eventually, after three years, of using, quote, poor judgment, and I agree with that assessment.”

But McCain’s lawyer, John Dowd, took an entirely different tack (10/6) when he said McCain and Charles Keating, owner of the S&L, were “social friends” and called the Ethics Committee investigation was a “classic political smear job.”

John Aravosis wrote at Americablog (10/6) that the new message “opens up the entire question of McCain’s supposed contrition. If McCain thinks he did nothing wrong, and that it was wrong for the Senate to scold him for his actions during the Keating Five Scandal, then he isn’t contrite at all, he isn’t sorry at all. He’s learned nothing.”

Ben Smith of Politico.com (10/6) reflects the danger of McCain’s shift. “I’d always thought McCain’s great strength in defending the Keating affair was that he’d acknowledged making a huge mistake, and spent his career repenting by recasting himself as a reformer. So when his campaign puts his lawyer on the line with reporters to contest the details of a congressional inquiry that, largely, let McCain off the hook, doesn’t that cloud the sin-confession-atonement dynamic a bit?”

E-VOTE ERROR FOUND IN NEW MEXICO. An electronic voting machine test in Santa Fe County, N.M., revealed a programming error that, had it not been caught and corrected before the start of early voting the following week, would not have counted hundreds—or possibly thousands—of straight-ticket votes for president and US Senate in the Democratic stronghold, Steven Rosenfeld reported at Alternet.org (10/4). The software error concerned straight party voting, where voters fill in one oval on their paper ballot that indicates they want to vote for all the candidates from a political party. The test revealed that the precinct optical-scanner computers, which read hand-marked paper ballots and compile the precinct vote totals, were not counting “straight party” votes for president and US Senate. “It was a simple error,” said Rick Padilla, a senior system supervisor for the Santa Fe County Clerk office, which runs county elections. “When they did the programming, they didn’t link the oval to the (presidential and senatorial votes on the) straight-party ticket.” New Mexico moved to hand-marked scannable paper ballots after paperless electronic voting machines in 2004 did not record more than 21,000 votes for president—many in Democratic strongholds. George Bush beat John Kerry by less than 6,000 votes in New Mexico. The ES&S Model 100 tabulator used in New Mexico also is used in numerous other swing states, such as Iowa and Indiana, according to VerifiedVoting.org, a nonpartisan group that tracks e-vote issues.

DEMS STRONGER IN CONGRESS RACES. As Obama starts to pull away from McCain in national polls, Democrats are doing better in Senate and House races. Charlie Cook of National Journal wrote (9/27) that it is still a longshot that Dems, who now have 51 votes, including independent Sens. Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, can reach 60 votes in the Senate, which would reduce the filibuster threat. The best Republicans can hope is to hold losses to four seats, as Dems expect to take open seats in Virginia and New Mexico and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is an underdog against Anchorage Mayor Steve Begich as Stevens faces trial on ethics charges in Washington. Six other Republican seats are rated as tossups, with GOP candidates trailing in New Hampshire and Colorado, about even in Minnesota, Oregon and North Carolina and a bit ahead in Mississippi. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have solid leads but Dem challegers still hope to overtake them. The best hope the GOP had to unseat a Dem is unraveling as Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) appears on track for a third term.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) may also be vulnerable after two polls in early October showed his lead over Jim Martin (D) within the margin of error.

A new round of SurveyUSA polls for Roll Call magazine suggests that Dems are poised to sweep competitive House rematches. In all seven races in which Dems defeated GOP incumbents in 2006, picked up open seats or fended off challengers who are trying again this year, the Dems are winning. Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com projects (10/6) a Democratic net gain of 15-19 seats, which would put the composition of the House anywhere from a Democratic majority of 251-184 to 255-180.

STEALTH BAILOUT FOR CARMAKERS. Largely overlooked in the turmoil over the $700 bln Wall Street bailout, Congress approved $25 bln in loan guarantees for US carmakers, including foreign automakers with plants in the US that are more than 20 years old. The loan guarantees were included in a continuing resolution that included funding for the US government and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the first loan guarantees since Chrysler got a $1.5 bln loan guarantee in 1979-80, but independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader noted that Congress was not as much of a pushover back then. The new loan includes a modest requirement for automakers to increase their average vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 mpg—“a benchmark we should have set decades ago, and would allow the companies to have their way with virtually no oversight or accountability,” Nader said.

“As a part of the Chrysler deal in the late ’70s, the government took out preferred stock warrants and after the company turned itself around and repaid its loan seven years early, the government ended up cashing out, receiving $400 mln in the appreciated stock,” Nader said. “And Congress made clear to Chrysler that it had specific conditions the company had to meet before receiving the loan guarantee. It forced the company to contribute $162.5 mln into an employee stock ownership trust fund geared to benefit at least 90% of its employees, design more fuel efficient autos to help reduce consumption of foreign oil, and prohibit wages and benefits from falling below a level set three months before the legislation was passed.

“Today, congressional actions to grant multi-billion dollar loans to the corporations lack the reciprocity some in Congress demanded 30 years ago. Before Congress irresponsibly dips into the public piggy bank, this time it would be wise to look back at how the government once dealt with Chrysler’s dilemma, require clear benchmarks to deliver on the next generation of green collar jobs, improved fuel efficiency and gain a substantial return on its investment, not just in monetary value, but in the longterm viability of the domestic motor vehicle fleet.” (See votenader.org.)

GOP SEEKS TROOPERGATE SHUTDOWN. Republicans appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court to shut down the Alaska Legislature’s Troopergate investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin. The Supreme Court (10/3) agreed to hear an emergency appeal after an Anchorage judge (10/2) threw out the lawsuit by a group of GOP legislators who want to stop the investigation by the bipartisan Legislative Council into whether Palin, her staff and her husband improperly pressured the state’s public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, to fire a state trooper divorced from Palin’s sister. “The plaintiffs and Alaskans will suffer irreparable harm if the investigation at issue continues and if the resulting investigative report issues as planned on Oct. 10, 2008,” lawyers for the anti-investigation legislators wrote in their appeal.

The investigationg has been proceeding since 7/31 and the council’s investigator was to make his report on 10/10. The Supreme Court is to act by 10/9. Meanwhile (10/5), seven aides of Gov. Palin as well as her husband have reversed their opposition and said they will cooperate with the investigation.

M’CAIN DENIES COLORADO WATER-SHARING PLANS. During an interview with the Denver Post (10/3), John McCain claimed, “I will not and have never supported renegotiating the Colorado River Compact,” an agreement that governs how seven Western states, including Colorado and Arizona, share Colorado River water. But ThinkProgress.org noted (10/3) that in August, McCain did exactly that, telling the Pueblo Chieftain that the compact “obviously, needs to be renegotiated.” McCain was quoted, “I don’t think there’s any doubt the major, major issue is water and can be as important as oil. So the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties,” as “conditions have changed dramatically” since the 1922 deal.

COURT APPROVES SAN FRANCISCO ‘UNIVERSAL’ HEALTH PLAN. The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals on 9/30 upheld San Francisco’s universal health care plan. Nathan Newman noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (10/2) that in the past year San Francisco has been enrolling 600 residents per week (30,061 as of 9/20) with the goal of covering everyone in the city up to 500% of the poverty line (about $100,000 a year for a family of four) by early 2009. Businesses claimed the local law violated federal law because employers not providing health care for their employees are required to pay $1.17 to $1.76 per hour to the city to cover their employees’ costs under the city health care plan. A federal judge in 2006 found that the Employment Retirement Income Security Act preempted a Maryland law that required large employers to spend 8% of their total payroll on health insurance or pay the same amount to the state. “Whereas the Maryland law gave employers and their employees nothing in return for those fees paid to the state, the San Francisco law enrolls all uninsured employees for whom fees are paid in the city health plan, giving employers and their employees a clear benefit for the fees,” Newman noted, as 950 employers have enrolled their workers in the city health plan.

The court decision is also good news for the Massachusetts health plan, which also includes a modest employer responsibility provision and the state has just increased the funds it is collecting from employers to assure full funding for its program. The 9th Circuit decision provides clearer guidelines for legislators and advocates working to create “health care for all” plans that include employer responsibility components. See ProgressiveStates.org.

COAL MINERS DEFEND OBAMA. One of the big questions in this election season has been whether white working-class voters would support Barack Obama, and West Virginia was thought to be a particularly long shot for the Democratic nominee. But coal miners took the day off from the Blacksville No. 2 mine on 9/29 to protest an anti-Obama ad the NRA was shooting at the Consol Energy mining site (with the permission of management, which normally is very guarded about whom it allows on the property) looking for anti-Obama sound-bites from coal miners. But miners who supported Obama called United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, who declared a Memorial Day (which is allowed under the contract) to protest the NRA’s filming and show support for Obama. “This was a surprise visit,” local union Safety Chairman Eric Greathouse told WBOY-TV of Clarksburg, W.V., “and a lot of the miners felt this was a direct slap in the face of the union because they were trying to coerce our people into saying things against Barack Obama.”

TRADE IMBALANCE DRIVES GLOBAL COLLAPSE. The US must raise $700 bln a year just to cover our annual trade deficit, the Institute for America’s Future noted in an ad in the *New York Times* (10/7) questioning free-market fundamentalism, titled, “Even the Rope We’re Hanging Ourselves With Is Made in China.” Since 2000 we’ve lost one of out five manufacturing jobs. For those that remain, wages and benefits have declined. We are running a deficit with China in high-tech goods and Mexico exports 50% more cars to the US than we export to the entire world. Now foreign central banks, gorging on US dollars, have set up “sovereign investment funds” to buy into strategic US companies. “We are in danger of becoming, as Warren Buffett warns, ‘a nation of sharecroppers.’”

The ad, which is part of a series, calls for a global strategy that works for working people, not just for the multinationals. Start by slashing our trade deficit (nearly half of it’s from oil) with a concerted drive for energy independence, investing in renewable energy technologies and making the US a leader of innovative manufacturing once again. Second: Invest in life-long education and training and build the most modern and efficient infrastructure to increase our competitiveness. Third: Regulate our commerce with mercantilist nations like China, while pushing for global rules on labor rights and environmental protection that will lift standards up around the world instead of driving them down here. See ourfuture.org.

TRADE DEFICIT COSTS JOBS. In 2007, 5.6 million jobs were lost or displaced by the US non-oil trade deficit, Robert E. Scott of Economic Policy Institute wrote (10/2). Despite strong export growth over the past few years, that deficit still totaled $473 bln in 2007, only $48 bln less than its record peak in 2006. More than 4 mln (70%) of the jobs displaced by this trade in 2007 were in the manufacturing sector. Non-oil trade deficits represent reduced domestic demand for goods produced in every region of the US and have displaced jobs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than 400,000 jobs or job opportunities were lost in each of California and Texas, and more than 300,000 each in New York, Michigan and Ohio. For details, see “Snapshots” at epi.org for 10/2.

The Center for American Progress also noted that employment declined by 159,000 jobs in September, the largest single-month drop since the current period of job loss began. That’s a loss of 760 ,000 jobs in 2008. Average weekly earnings declined by 81 cents, to $610.51.

BUSH THE MEGALOMANIAC. George Bush’s odd combination of ignorance and arrogance fascinates WashingtonMonthly.com’s Steve Benen (10/6). He noted that Newsweek reported a few years ago, “It’s a standing joke among the president’s top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States. ... Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty.”

Similarly, Time reported a “youngish” White House aide, described as a Bush favorite, who said, “The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me. Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, ‘All right. I understand. Good job.’ He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.”

So a recent report from Ron Suskind didn’t come as too big a surprise:

“One morning in 2001, one of President Bush’s most senior economic advisors walked into the Oval Office for a meeting with the president. The day before, the advisor had learned that the president had decided to send out tax-rebate checks to stimulate the faltering economy. Concerned about deficits and the dubious stimulatory effect of such rebates, he had called the president’s chief of staff, Andy Card, to ask for the audience, and the meeting had been set.

“As the man took his seat in the wing chair next to the president’s desk, he began to explain his problem with the president’s decision. The fact of the matter was that in this area of policy, this advisor was one of the experts, really top-drawer, and had been instrumental in devising some of the very language now used to discuss these concepts. He was convinced, he told Bush, that the president’s position would soon enough be seen as “bad policy.”

“This, it seems, was the wrong thing to say to the president.

“According to senior administration officials who learned of the encounter soon after it happened, President Bush looked at the man. ‘I don’t ever want to hear you use those words in my presence again,’ he said.

“‘What words, Mr. President?’

“‘Bad policy,” President Bush said. “If I decide to do it, *by definition* it’s good policy. I thought you got that.”

“The advisor was dismissed. The meeting was over.”

Benen added, “Shortly after leaving his job as the president’s press secretary, the late Tony Snow defended the decision-making process in the Bush White House and said, ‘When people look back at this White House, they’re gonna find its one that had a lot of intellectual vigor.’ I doubt that very much.”

CLARKE: AL QAEDA MIGHT TRY TO HELP M’CAIN. Richard Clarke, writing at USNews.com (10/2) speculates that al Qaeda might try to influence the US presidential election. “At the very least,” he wrote, “expect another Halloween video from the scary man in the cave.” Why would al Qaeda try to influence the US election? It is likely that al Qaeda would hope the attack would benefit John McCain. Opinion polls, which al Qaeda reads closely, suggest that an attack would help McCain. “Polls in Europe and the Middle East also suggest an overwhelming popular support there for Barack Obama. Al Qaeda would not like it if there were a popular American president again.”

POLITICS KILLS IRAN DIPLOMACY. In July, President Bush authorized the most significant US diplomatic contact with Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Bush planned to send a high-ranking diplomat to talk with Iran regarding its nuclear program. The Guardian reported (7/17) that the Bush administration was even planning “to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran.” But in the first presidential debate (9/26), McCain condemned talking to Iran without preconditions. Since then, Bush reportedly has “shelved plans to set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran.” The Associated Press reported (10/4) that two administration officials argued that canceling the plans may have been an attempt to help McCain.

CAMPAIGN BLINDERS. The McCain campain won’t allow reporters covering Sarah Palin’s campaign to talk to Palin, of course, but now they apparently are not allowed to talk to her supporters, either. According to the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times (10/6), media weren’t permitted to wander around inside Coachman Park to talk to Palin’s supporters. “When reporters tried to leave the designated press area and head toward the bleachers where the crowd was seated, an escort would dart out of nowhere and confront him or her and say, ‘Can I help you?’ and turn the person around. When one reporter asked an escort, who would not give her name, why the press wasn’t allowed to mingle, she said that in the past, negative things had been written. The campaign wanted to avoid that possibility.”

WHAT $700B COULD BUY. While Congress was negotiating the bailout package, Ruth Coniff of Progressive.org came up (9/24) with the following items deemed unaffordable by the administration and Congress:

• Covering health care costs plus out-of-pocket medical expenses for all of America’s uninsured: $100 billion.

• Universal preschool: $35 billion.

• Rebuilding New Orleans: $100 billion.

• Free college education for everyone: $50 billion.

• Total energy independence for the US, with a shift to renewables within the next ten years: $500 billion.

Coniff noted: “The Appollo Alliance’s proposed $500 billion investment in clean energy would create 5 million new, high quality, green-collar jobs, repair aging energy infrastructure, vastly increase energy efficiency, and stimulate the economy.

“The Free Higher Ed campaign cites a Congressional report that showed the post-World War II GI Bill generated $6.90 on the dollar in increased output and higher taxes paid by the 40 percent of servicemen who never would have received a college education without it.

“It doesn’t take a genius to explain why maintaining an electrical grid, roads, bridges, levees, and basic first-world infrastructure in major US cities is worthwhile.

“Studies of high quality preschool programs show that early intervention saves about $7 in corrections, police, and other services for every dollar of investment.”

She added, “National health care is the most dramatic example. The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized country in the world that doesn’t provide health care to all its citizens. Yet we spend more on health care, at 15% of GDP, for our inefficient, bureaucratic system than any other country. In 2005 Emory economist Dr. Kenneth Thorpe published a report for the National Coalition for Health Care that found that a universal, single-payer health care system would save the United States $1.1 trillion over ten years.”

NADER BLASTS BAILOUT. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader called on voters to summon their senators and representatives before the election and instruct them to work for the taxpayers, “not for the corporate greedhounds with your pension, mutual funds and small investor’s money.

“Ask why they didn’t require speculators to fund their own bailout while you, the taxpayer, pay 5-10 percent sales tax for necessities. Speculators buy $500 trillion of securities derivatives each year and don’t pay one penny. A mere 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax on purchases of these derivatives would raise $500 billion per year to pay for their bailout. Let the speculators fund their own bailout.

“Why didn’t they comprehensively re-regulate the financial services industry to prevent future collapses?

“Why didn’t they give shareholders the authority to control the companies they own including their out-of-control bosses?

“Why didn’t they provide the resources for a corporate crime crackdown?”

Nader noted that Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher chalked up the cause of the financial markets crisis to “a sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior.” Nader added, “Now Congress has engaged in its own sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior.”

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2008

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