John McCain is refusing to release tax returns for his wife, whose wealth is estimated at $100 mln. Cindy Hensley McCain inherited controlling interest in a Phoenix beer distributorship from her late father, James Hensley, who had mob ties. McCain claims a prenuptial agreement in their 27-year marriage keeps Cindy’s assets separate. McCain reported $258,800 in taxable income on his own, mainly from his Senate salary, Navy pension, Social Security and book royalties. The return suggested that Cindy McCain’s income from the beer distributorship, Hensley & Co., was $432,991 in 2007, the Associated Press reported. Barack and Michelle Obama had a combined income of more than $4 mln, mainly from book royalties, and Hillary and Bill Clinton showed more than $20 mln income last year, mainly from the former president’s business ventures and speaking engagements.

Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com noted (4/18) that in 2004, then-Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie excoriated John Kerry when the presumptive Democratic nominee decided not to release information on his wife’s substantial assets. Teresa Heinz Kerry eventually did release a portion of her 2003 returns during the 2004 campaign. “But if McCain believes that he can get through this campaign while continuing to shield from the public information on his life and his background—the massive assets available at his disposal, his all-too-close relationships with lobbyists, his role in the Keating 5 scandal—he is sorely mistaken,” Singer wrote. “While I don’t expect the establishment media, with whom McCain is overly cozy, will truly call him on these issues—McCain effectively admitted this week that he expects the media to carry his water in order to get his message out—do not think for a moment that McCain will not be hit over and over again, in the progressive media as well as in paid media (i.e. television advertisements, direct mail, etc.), for his clear unwillingness to be open and honest with the American people.”

Also of some interest (though not so much to the mainstream media) is the history behind the Hensley beer franchise and James Henley’s ties to reputed mobsters (see “Haunted by Spirits,” by Amy Silverman and John Dougherty, 2/17/00 Phoenix New Times). Jerome Corsi, a rightwinger, noted at worldnetdaily.com (2/26/08) that Hensley was convicted by a federal jury in Arizona in March 1948 on seven counts of filing false liquor records. Hensley also was charged with conspiracy to hide from federal authorities the names of persons involved in a liquor industry racket with two companies he managed, United Sales Company in Phoenix and United Distributors in Tucson. The umbrella company, United Liquor, at that time held a monopoly in Arizona, organized and managed by Kemper Marley, who was accused of mob ties by a reporter who was murdered in 1977.

Bob Fertik wrote in “John McCain: Married to the Mob” (2/26/08) that “Hensley’s mob ties aren’t a secret—they are documented in court papers and investigative reporting. But just like Bush’s family scandals dating back to his grandfather Prescott’s criminal dealings with the Nazis, McCain’s family scandals are blacked out by the Corporate Media.” Fertik added that The Corporate Media blackout of the Hensley family fortune is especially surprising because it included the murder of reporter Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state.

John Dougherty told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! in 2004, “the murder of Bolles was the founding project for the Investigative Reporters and Editors. It was a major, major effort that came out [to Phoenix], and it uncovered massive amount of scandal in Arizona from across the board in the political system as well as in the police department, and in a number of other issues; and, ironically, the Arizona Republic, which was the paper Don Bolles worked for, refused to run the story because the I.R.E. was critical of Senator Goldwater and his family as well. It never ran in the Arizona Republic. It’s pretty amazing.”

James Hensley’s business and political contacts helped McCain get his start in politics and principals in his beer-distribution empire—the fifth largest in the nation—pumped $80,000 into McCain’s campaigns from 1982 to 2000, according to Pat Flannery of the Arizona Republic (2/17/00). Hensley & Co. officials donated another $24,000 to the McCain’s re-election campaign in 2006 and $22,700 to his presidential campaign so far, according to Opensecrets.org.

M’CAIN ‘WORKING-CLASS’ TAX CUTS HELP RICH. John McCain offered sweeping rhetoric about the economic plight of working-class Americans as he spelled out a tax and spending agenda that would spur corporate growth and cut taxes for the rich. The Arizona senator played to his maverick image, saying that in his administration, “there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders, no more corporate welfare.” But the economic plan he outlined 4/15 was a corporate special pleader’s dream, Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman wrote in the Washington Post (4/16), including a cut in the corporate income tax rate, from 35% to 25%, a proposal to allow businesses to write off the cost of new equipment and technology from their taxes, a ban on Internet and new cellphone taxes, and a permanent tax credit for research and development. McCain also promised to remove the “myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair and inconsistent with a free-market economy.” Shear and Weisman noted that McCain’s proposed “middle-class tax cut”—a full repeal of the alternative minimum tax—stretched the definition of middle class. Of the 4 mln taxpayers paying the AMT, 93% earn between $200,000 and $1 million, according to the Tax Policy Center (taxpolicycenter.org), a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

McCain said his support for making Bush’s tax cuts permanent would benefit people from all income levels by making sure that taxes on dividends and capital gains stay low. But most lower- and middle-income investors have the vast majority of their stock and bond holdings in retirement accounts that are exempt from federal taxation. A worker with income between $50,000 and $75,000 got an average tax cut from the dividend and capital gains changes of $43, according to the Tax Policy Center. Those with incomes over $1 million saved $37,962 on average.

McCain advisers acknowledged that costs to the Treasury would be substantial. Full repeal of the AMT would cost $1.6 tln over 10 years, assuming the extension of Bush’s tax cuts. A summer gasoline tax holiday would cost the Treasury roughly $9 bln. The corporate tax cuts would cost $100 bln a year, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s senior policy adviser. In all, Holtz-Eakin said, McCain’s proposals would cost about $200 bln a year in tax revenue but would be offset by ending congressional earmarks, growth in the economy and other savings.

That presents a problem. McCain claimed that he would cut $65 bln in earmarks. ThinkProgress.org noted that a 3-year-old Congressional Research Service report found at most $52 bln in earmarks, including things like aid to Israel, military housing, drug eradication funds for Colombia, assistance programs to Egypt and Jordan and humanitarian aid to Haiti. Scott Lilly of Center for American Progress noted that in the past year an Office of Management and Budget analysis found earmarks totaling $16.9 bln, and the Taxpayers for Common Sense analysis found $18.3 bln. In either case, Lilly noted, “earmarks account for only about 0.6% of government spending. More importantly, neither earmark tally would put a dent in the massive spending cuts required to offset McCain’s tax proposals.”

Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com defended earmarks (4/18): “Personally, I’ve never really seen the harm in allowing members of Congress to have a certain level of influence over allocating federal funds in their states and districts. They’re elected by the people, after all, and part of the whole democracy thing is that they’re supposed to be the ones who have the best sense of what their constituents would like to see their tax dollars spent on. So why not allow them some control? If you keep it both transparent and modest, there’s nothing really all that wrong with it.”

M’CAIN SKIRTS HIS OWN LAW. John McCain’s presidential campaign has devised a creative way to skirt the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the Wall Street Journal reported (4/19). Campaign manager Rick Davis said the “McCain Victory 08” fund is a joint committee, combining the McCain campaign, the Republican National Committee and four key states under a “hybrid legal structure” which will tap donors for more than the $2,300 limit set by the campaign finance law McCain sponsored. An individual can donate a maximum of $2,300 to a presidential primary campaign and the same amount to the general election campaign. The new structure allows up to $70,000 in individual contributions by channeling the money into different McCain-centric funds. The first $2,300 of that would go to McCain’s primary campaign. The Republican National Committee would receive $28,500 of the donation. The remaining funds would be divided equally, up to $10,000 a piece, among four states the campaign has designated as battlegrounds for November: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and New Mexico. McCain will not be the party’s official nominee until the convention in September—so he is still running a primary campaign.

SCHIP OFF OLD BUSH. The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states’ ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said 4/11. The GAO said the new policy “amounts to a marked departure” from a longstanding, settled interpretation of federal law. It is therefore a rule and, under a 1996 law, must be submitted to Congress for review before it can take effect, the opinion said. The ruling strengthens the hand of at least 22 states that already provide coverage to youngsters with family incomes over 250% of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four) or want to do so, the New York Times reported 4/19. At issue is the future of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, financed jointly by the federal government and the states. Congress last year twice passed bills to expand the popular program, but President Bush vetoed both and House Republicans sustained both vetoes. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in October told CNN he agreed with Bush’s vetoes, saying the bill provided a “phony smoke and mirrors way of paying for it.” Expanding the SCHIP to cover children in families up to 400% of the poverty line would an “unfunded liability,” McCain said.

BUSH LEAST POPULAR PREZ. A few weeks after historians voted George W. Bush the worst president ever (see “Historians rate Bush worst,” Dispatches, 5/1/08 TPP), USA Today noted (4/22) that the current occupant of the White House now has “the highest disapproval rating” that has ever been recorded in the Gallup Poll’s 70-year history. In a weekend poll, 69% said they disapprove of President Bush. His rating has worsened amid “collapsing optimism about the economy,” says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies presidential approval. Record gas prices and a wave of home foreclosures have fueled voter angst.

Bush also holds the record for the highest approval rating of any president in Gallup’s history. In September 2001, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s approval spiked to 90%. But the percentage of Americans who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reached a new high, 63%, in the latest poll.

PRESIDENTIAL SHILLING. A Pentagon inspector general report finds the award of a $50 mln Air Force contract was “tainted with improper influence, irregular procurement practices, and preferential treatment,” the Washington Post reported (4/18). Among the high-ranking Air Force officials pushing for awarding the contract to a well-connected company called SMS, formed for the purpose of securing this particular contract, according to the Post, was Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein, who was found to have gone to great lengths to see the contract awarded to SMS, while senior Air Force leaders socialized with the company’s partners. According to the report, Goldfein even arranged for President Bush to videotape a testimonial in the White House Map Room that was included in the SMS contract proposal as a demonstration of the company’s credibility and access. Goldfein is now the vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. (Davd Kurtz, talkingpointsmemo.com)

KEEPING UP WITH ‘MIDDLE CLASS.’ Plutocrats are screeching over Barack Obama’s proposals to balance the budget on the backs of the rich. First during the Philadelphia debate ABC Anchor Charlie Gibson took Obama to task for plans to let the tax on stock dividends return to the level before George W. Bush took office, which would hit families with over $200,000 income. Then Larry Kudlow criticized Obama’s plan to resolve shortfalls in the Social Security fund by increasing the ceiling on taxable income from the current $97,500. “Uncapping the payroll tax reveals still another cultural misstep by Sen. Obama,” Kudlow wrote at corner.nationalreview.com (4/18). “He apparently has a difficult time understanding that nowadays, a veteran fireman or a veteran cop, married to a veteran schoolteacher, will make well over $100,000. In fact, they can make close to $200,000. Yet Obama still wants to go ahead and tax both the first and last payroll dollar of this group at a very high marginal tax rate by uncapping the Social Security (FICA) tax.” But as a reader to eschatonblog.com noted, “The FICA cap is an individual cap, unaffected by income earned/payroll taxes paid by your spouse.”

PENTAGON TIES BIND MEDIA ANALYSTS. A “blockbuster” report by David Barstow in the New York Times (4/20) documented the Pentagon and US mainstream media’s joint use of pre-programmed “military analysts” who posed as objective experts while touting the government line and having extensive business interests in promoting those views. The Times had to sue to compel disclosure of the documents on which the article is based. But Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (4/20) that the report constituted “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials on whom it focuses.” He added, “In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations—which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones—turned to them in the first place.” To its credit, the article acknowledged that “at least nine” of the Pentagon’s trained military analysts wrote op-eds for the Times.

Greenwald then undertook the thankless task of watching “more Sunday news shows than a human being should ever have to endure,” and reported, “it is striking—though unsurprising—that not a single one saw fit to mention this NYT story demonstrating that these news programs all fed government propaganda to their viewers. That they refuse to comment on this story and will now black it out says as much about what they really are, and what they really do, as the NYT story itself does.”

MANDELA NOT WELCOME. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently condemned the “embarrassing” US travel restrictions on former South African President Nelson Mandela. “I really do hope we can remove these restrictions” on the African National Congress, said Rice, Reuters reported (4/9). But Vanity Fair reports that Rice’s State Department has repeatedly fought a bill that would remove the restrictions on Mandela. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would lift all such travel restrictions on ANC officials. But a Capitol Hill staffer familiar with the subject told VF Daily the bill was drafted more than five years ago but was adamantly opposed by State and the Republican-controlled Congress. Lawyers at the State Department “fought it tooth and nail,” arguing that if the ANC was removed from the list then other groups would want to be removed, too, the staffer said. A State Department spokesman “said she was not aware of any past resistance to the bill and reinforced Rice’s recent statement.” (ThinkProgress.org, 4/14)

UNION BLOCKS ZIMBABWE ARMS TRANSFER. A Chinese ship carrying arms destined for Zimbabwe was forced to turn back after South African unions refused to unload it, claiming that to do so would be “grossly irresponsible,” South African media reported. according to the Times of London (4/19). President Mbeki had said that the government was powerless to stop the shipment of three million rounds of AK47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3,000 mortar rounds and mortar tubes to Zimbabwe President Mugabe’s armed forces.

It was not clear where the ship was destined, but the retreat represented a victory for human rights activists, who had filed a legal petition to block the transfer of the goods, and also for the 300,000-strong South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, who had said that the arms would worsen the political crisis in Zimbabwe. “Our members employed at Durban container terminal will not unload this cargo, neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road,” Randall Howard, a union spokesman, said. “South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time where there is a political dispute and a volatile situation between Zanu (PF) and the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change],” he said. The Times also reported that armed Chinese troops were seen this week in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third-largest city, where up to ten soldiers, carrying revolvers, booked into a Holiday Inn with 70 Zimbabwean officers and men. “DHinMI” noted at DailyKos.com, “In previous crackdowns Mugabe has used troops on loan from North Korea. China should be asked why it has military advisors in Zimbabwe during a political crisis. ... In fact, it’s the kind of pressure the world’s most powerful state might be able to exert ... if the Bush administration hadn’t so devalued our international influence by its disdain for international law and institutions and for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

COPS SEIZE $400G FROM BURGLARY VICTIMS. Meredith and Luther Ricks worked hard at the Ohio Steel Fountry, saved carefully and raised a family in their modest Lima, Ohio, home. They were poised to enjoy their retirement years in peace until two violent intruders broke into the Ricks’ house last summer. Luther and his son fought with the burglars. After his son was stabbed, Luther broke free, got his gun and saved the family by shooting one of the intruders and scaring the other off.

But when Lima police arrived, officers found a small amount of marijuana inside the home—used by Luther to ease his painful arthritis, hip replacement and shingles. The police decided to confiscate Meredith and Luther’s entire life savings, more than $400,000, under civil forfeiture procedures that allow police to seize property merely on suspicion that it was used in connection with a crime or resulted from criminal activity. Civil forfeiture does not require that the owner even be accused of a crime, much less convicted. Since the government proceeds directly against the property it wants to take, owners are not entitled to any of the protections they would receive if they were accused of a crime.

Shortly afterward, the FBI got involved—not to help the stricken family, but to claim the money for the federal government. The Ricks have filed a notice with the Cleveland office of the FBI demanding the return of their life savings, Bob Ewing of the Institute for Justice, an advocate for property rights, wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/20). (Prorev.com)

HIGH AG PRICES SHOULD SPUR DEVELOPMENT. Governments have been limited in their ability to help farmers take advantage of higher prices due to free trade economics pushed by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. Anne Laure Constantin wrote in “A Time of High Prices: An Opportunity for the Rural Poor?” for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (iatp.org), where she is trade information project officer. Trade liberalization has encouraged the dismantling of agriculture programs in many developing countries, making it difficult to ramp up production and manage supplies to stabilize prices. “The push to deregulate national and international agriculture markets needs to be reassessed,” said Constantin. Trade ministers who recently gathered in Accra, Ghana for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) should take steps to support agriculture and manage supplies to address price volatility, she wrote. “UNCTAD has historically been at the intersection of commodities and development. They could play a constructive role in addressing unfair markets and stabilizing prices.” See the paper at www.iatp.org.

HILLARY BACKER DOWNPLAYS NAFTA REDO. A former US ambassador to Canada told Canadians not to worry about Democrats’ threats to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to Canadian press accounts. Jake Tapper of ABC News noted (4/18) that James Blanchard, former Michigan governor who served as US ambassador to Canada during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, is a state co-chair of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and one of her major “HillRaiser” fundraisers. Hillary Clinton has pledged to voters that she will force Canada to re-negotiate the deal or the US will opt out of it. But Blanchard seemed to pooh-pooh that bold statement, telling attendees that Democrats are more concerned about China and Mexico than they are Canada. “Their concern is job loss or unfairness in dealing with countries that have low wage and labor standards and low environmental standards,” Blanchard said, according to the Canadian Press. “I have not seen anything that would constitute a threat to trade with Canada.”

BUSTED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS. Former president Jimmy Carter should be applauded for holding unofficial discussions with Palestinian Hamas officials in Syria in an effort to find movement toward a peace accord. Instead, some rightwingers are calling for him to be prosecuted under the Logan Act, which dates from 1799 and prohibits private individuals from negotiating with foreign governments against the interest of the US.

Carter came away from the Damascus meeting thinking he had a commitment from Hamas, the militant Muslim party that rules the Gaza Strip, to support Israel’s right to exist if Israel withdraws to the borders it occupied before the 1967 war. Hamas officials later clarified that the would accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and a 10-year truce with Israel, but they would not recognize the Jewish state. Bush administration and Israeli officials were unimpressed in any case, as they clearly prefer the status quo, with Jewish settlements continuing to expand into occupied Palestinian territory.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Hamas should prove it was ready for peace by renouncing violence and ending the shelling of villages in southern Israel. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has no credibility in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rice was fresh from a surprise visit to Baghdad, where she mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on 4/20, hours after the Shi’ite leader threatened to declare war unless US and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers.

HILLARY ON SOUTHERN WHITE WORKERS: SCREW ’EM. Sam Stein of HuffingtonPost.com noted (April 17) that in January 1995, as the Clintons were licking their wounds from the 1994 congressional elections, a debate emerged at a retreat at Camp David. Should the administration make overtures to working-class white southerners who had all but forsaken the Democratic Party?

“Screw ’em,” she told her husband. “You don’t owe them a thing, Bill. They’re doing nothing for you; you don’t have to do anything for them.”

Author Benjamin Barber witnessed the statement and wrote about it in his book, The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House. It stands in stark contrast to the attitude the New York Democrat has recently taken on the campaign trail, in which she has presented herself as the one candidate who understands the working-class needs.

“I don’t think [Obama] really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you,” she said.

But in the 1995 debate, as reported by Barber, Clinton “stepped in, calm and judicious, not irritated, as if rehearsing an old but honorable debate he had been having with his wife for decades.” Clinton said, “I understand Hillary’s sense of outrage. It makes me mad too. Sure, we lost our base in the South; our boys voted for Gingrich. But let me tell you something. I know these boys. I grew up with them. Hardworking, poor, white boys, who feel left out, feel that our reforms always come at their expense. Think about it, every progressive advance our country has made since the Civil War has been on their backs. They’re the ones asked to pay the price of progress. Now, we are the party of progress, but let me tell you, until we find a way to include these boys in our programs, until we stop making them pay the whole price of liberty for others, we are never going to unite our party, never really going to have change that sticks.”

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2008

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