Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are You Better Off than You Were Eight Years Ago?

The numbers certainly aren't.

Faiz Shakir
Think Progress
September 30, 2008

Marcy Wheeler breaks down the numbers:
January 19, 2001: 10,587.59
September 29, 2008: 10,365.45

NASDAQ Jan 19, 2001 = 2770.38
NASDAQ September 29, 2008 = 1983.73

CPI, January 19, 2001: 175
CPI, September 29, 2008: 219

Dollar exchange with Euro, January 19, 2001: 1.068
Dollar exchange with Euro, September 29, 2008: .695

CBS News's Mark Knoller 
 that the national debt has grown 71.9 percent since Bush took office, "more than under any previous president."

Copyright 2008 Think Progress

Palin Is Ready? Please.

McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, that is simply not true.

Fareed Zakaria
From the magazine issue dated Oct 6, 2008

Will someone please put Sarah Palin out of her agony? Is it too much to ask that she come to realize that she wants, in that wonderful phrase in American politics, "to spend more time with her family"? Having stayed in purdah for weeks, she finally agreed to a third interview. CBS's Katie Couric questioned her in her trademark sympathetic style. It didn't help. When asked how living in the state closest to Russia gave her foreign-policy experience, Palin responded thus:

"It's very important when you consider even national-security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America. Where—where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to—to our state."

There is, of course, the sheer absurdity of the premise. Two weeks ago I flew to Tokyo, crossing over the North Pole. Does that make me an expert on Santa Claus? (Thanks, Jon Stewart.) But even beyond that, read the rest of her response. "It is from Alaska that we send out those …" What does this mean? This is not an isolated example. Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. ("We mustn't blink.") But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly, gibberish. Couric asked her a smart question about the proposed $700 billion bailout of the American financial sector. It was designed to see if Palin understood that the problem in this crisis is that credit and liquidity in the financial system has dried up, and that that's why, in the estimation of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, the government needs to step in to buy up Wall Street's most toxic liabilities. Here's the entire exchange:

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

This is nonsense—a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head. Some commentators, like CNN's Campbell Brown, have argued that it's sexist to keep Sarah Palin under wraps, as if she were a delicate flower who might wilt under the bright lights of the modern media. But the more Palin talks, the more we see that it may not be sexism but common sense that's causing the McCain campaign to treat her like a time bomb. Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start.

The next administration is going to face a set of challenges unlike any in recent memory. There is an ongoing military operation in Iraq that still costs $10 billion a month, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is not going well and is not easily fixed. Iran, Russia and Venezuela present tough strategic challenges. Domestically, the bailout and reform of the financial industry will take years and hundreds of billions of dollars. Health-care costs, unless curtailed, will bankrupt the federal government. Social Security, immigration, collapsing infrastructure and education are all going to get much worse if they are not handled soon.

And the American government is stretched to the limit. Between the Bush tax cuts, homeland-security needs, Iraq, Afghanistan and the bailout, the budget is looking bleak. Plus, within a few years, the retirement of the baby boomers begins with its massive and rising costs (in the trillions).

Obviously these are very serious challenges and constraints. In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, it is simply not true.

Copyright 2008 Newsweek

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mad Dog Palin

The scariest thing about John McCain's running mate isn't how unqualified she is -- it's what her candidacy says about America.

Matt Taibbi
September 27, 2008 

I'm standing outside the XCEL ENERGY CENTER in St. Paul Minnesota Sarah Palin has just finished her speech to the Republican National Convention, accepting the party's nomination for vice president. If I hadn't quit my two-packs-a-day habit earlier this year, I'd be chain-smoking now. So the only thing left is to stand mute against the fit-for-a-cheap-dog-kennel crowd-control fencing you see everywhere at these idiotic conventions and gnaw on weird new feelings of shock and anarchist rage as one would a rawhide chew toy.

All around me, a million cops in their absurd post-9/11 space-combat get-ups stand guard as assholes in papier-mache puppet heads scramble around for one last moment of network face time before the coverage goes dark. Four-chinned delegates from places like Arkansas and Georgia are pouring joyously out the gates in search of bars where they can load up on Zombies and Scorpion Bowls and other "wild" drinks and extramaritally grope their turkey-necked female companions in bathroom stalls as part of the "unbelievable time" they will inevitably report to their pals back home. Only 21st-century Americans can pass through a metal detector six times in an hour and still think they're at a party.

The defining moment for me came shortly after Palin and her family stepped down from the stage to uproarious applause, looking happy enough to throw a whole library full of books into a sewer. In the crush to exit the stadium, a middle-aged woman wearing a cowboy hat, a red-white-and-blue shirt and an obvious eye job gushed to a male colleague they were both wearing badges identifying them as members of the Colorado delegation at the Xcel gates.

"She totally reminds me of my cousin!" the delegate screeched. "She's a real woman! The real thing!"

I stared at her open-mouthed. In that moment, the rank cynicism of the whole sorry deal was laid bare. Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed middle-American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

The Palin speech was a political masterpiece, one of the most ingenious pieces of electoral theater this country has ever seen. Never before has a single televised image turned a party's fortunes around faster.

Until the Alaska governor actually ascended to the podium that night, I was convinced that John McCain had made one of the all-time campaign season blunders, that he had acted impulsively and out of utter desperation in choosing a cross-eyed political neophyte just two years removed from running a town smaller than the bleacher section at Fenway Park. It even crossed my mind that there was an element of weirdly self-destructive pique in McCain's decision to cave in to his party's right-wing base in this fashion, that perhaps he was responding to being ordered by party elders away from a tepid, ideologically promiscuous hack like Joe Lieberman -- reportedly his real preference -- by picking the most obviously unqualified, doomed-to-fail joke of a Bible-thumping buffoon. As in: You want me to rally the base? Fine, I'll rally the base. Here, I'll choose this rifle-toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for oil pipelines. Happy now?

But watching Palin's speech, I had no doubt that I was witnessing a historic, iconic performance. The candidate sauntered to the lectern with the assurance of a sleepwalker - and immediately launched into a symphony of snorting and sneering remarks, taking time out in between the superior invective to present herself as just a humble gal with a beefcake husband and a brood of healthy, combat-ready spawn who just happened to be the innocent targets of a communist and probably also homosexual media conspiracy. It was a virtuoso performance. She appeared to be completely without shame and utterly full of shit, awing a room full of hardened reporters with her sickly sweet line about the high-school-flame-turned-hubby who, "five children later" is "still my guy." It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag.

Within minutes, Palin had given TV audiences a character infinitely recognizable to virtually every American: the small-town girl with just enough looks and a defiantly incurious mind who thinks the PTA minutes are Holy Writ, and injustice means the woman next door owning a slightly nicer set of drapes or flatware. Or the governorship, as it were.

Right-wingers of the Bush-Rove ilk have had a tough time finding a human face to put on their failed, inhuman, mean-as-hell policies. But it was hard not to recognize the genius of wedding that faltering brand of institutionalized greed to the image of the suburban American supermom. It's the perfect cover, for there is almost nothing in the world meaner than this species of provincial tyrant. Palin herself burned this political symbiosis into the pages of history with her seminal crack about the "difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick," blurring once and for all the lines between meanness on the grand political scale as understood by the Roves and Bushes of the world, and meanness of the small-town variety as understood by pretty much anyone who has ever sat around in his ranch-house den dreaming of a fourth plasma-screen TV or an extra set of KC HiLites for his truck, while some ghetto family a few miles away shares a husk of government cheese.

In her speech, Palin presented herself as a raging baby-making furnace of middle-class ambition next to whom the yuppies of the Obama set -who never want anything all that badly except maybe a few afternoons with someone else's wife, or a few kind words in The New York Times Book Review -- seem like weak, self-doubting celibates, the kind of people who certainly cannot be trusted to believe in the right God or to defend a nation. We're used to seeing such blatant cultural caricaturing in our politicians. But Sarah Palin is something new. She's all caricature. As the candidate of a party whose positions on individual issues are poll losers almost across the board, her shtick is not even designed to sell a line of policies. It's just designed to sell her. The thing was as much as admitted in the on-air gaffe by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who was inadvertently caught saying on MSNBC that Palin wasn't the most qualified candidate, that the party "went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives."

The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance. A classic example of what was at work here came when Palin proudly introduced her Down syndrome baby, Trig, then stared into the camera and somberly promised parents of special-needs kids that they would "have a friend and advocate in the White House." This was about a half-hour before she raised her hands in triumph with McCain, a man who voted against increasing funding for special-needs education.

Palin's charge that "government is too big" and that Obama "wants to grow it" was similarly preposterous. Not only did her party just preside over the largest government expansion since LBJ, but Palin herself has been a typical Bush-era Republican, borrowing and spending beyond her means. Her great legacy as mayor of Wasilla was the construction of a $14.7 million hockey arena in a city with an annual budget of $20 million; Palin OK'd a bond issue for the project before the land had been secured, leading to a protracted legal mess that ultimately forced taxpayers to pay more than six times the original market price for property the city ended up having to seize from a private citizen using eminent domain. Better yet, Palin ended up paying for the fucking thing with a 25 percent increase in the city sales tax. But in her speech, of course, Palin presented herself as the enemy of tax increases, righteously bemoaning that "taxes are too high," and Obama "wants to raise them."

Palin hasn't been too worried about federal taxes as governor of a state that ranks number one in the nation in federal spending per resident ($13,950), even as it sits just 18th in federal taxes paid per resident ($5,434). That means all us taxpaying non-Alaskans spend $8,500 a year on each and every resident of Palin's paradise of rugged self-sufficiency. Not that this sworn enemy of taxes doesn't collect from her own: Alaska currently collects the most taxes per resident of any state in the nation.

The rest of Palin's speech was the same dog-whistle crap Republicans have been running on for decades. Palin's crack about a mayor being "like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities" testified to the Republicans' apparent belief that they can win elections till the end of time running against the Sixties. (They're probably right.) The incessant grousing about the media was likewise par for the course, red meat for those tens of millions of patriotic flag-waving Americans whose first instinct when things get rough is to whine like bitches and blame other people -reporters, the French, those ungrateful blacks soaking up tax money eating big prison meals, whomever -for their failures.

Add to this the usual lies about Democrats wanting to "forfeit" to our enemies abroad and coddle terrorists, and you had a very run-of-the-mill, almost boring Republican speech from a substance standpoint. What made it exceptional was its utter hypocrisy, its total disregard for reality, its absolute unrelation to the facts of our current political situation. After eight years of unprecedented corruption, incompetence, waste and greed, the party of Karl Rove understood that 50 million Americans would not demand solutions to any of these problems so long as they were given a new, new thing to beat their meat over.

Sarah Palin is that new, new thing, and in the end it won't matter that she's got an unmarried teenage kid with a bun in the oven. Of course, if the daughter of a black candidate like Barack Obama showed up at his convention with a five-month bump and some sideways-capwearing, junior-grade Curtis Jackson holding her hand, the defenders of Traditional Morality would be up in arms. But the thing about being in the realitymaking business is that you don't need to worry much about vetting; there are no facts in your candidate's bio that cannot be ignored or overcome.

One of the most amusing things about the Palin nomination has been the reaction of horrified progressives. The Internet has been buzzing at full volume as would-be defenders of san-ity and reason pore over the governor's record in search of the Damning Facts.

My own telephone began ringing off the hook with calls from ex-Alaskans and friends of Alaskans determined to help get the "truth" about Sarah Palin into the major media. Pretty much anyone with an Internet connection knows by now that Palin was originally for the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she opposed it (she actually endorsed the plan in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign), that even after the project was defeated she kept the money, that she didn't actually sell the Alaska governor's state luxury jet on eBay but instead sold it at a $600,000 loss to a campaign contributor (who is now seeking $50,000 in taxpayer money to pay maintenance costs).

Then there are the salacious tales of Palin's swinging-meat-cleaver management style, many of which seem to have a common thread: In addition to being ensconced in a messy ethics investigation over her firing of the chief of the Alaska state troopers (dismissed after refusing to sack her sister's ex-husband), Palin also reportedly fired a key campaign aide for having an affair with a friend's wife. More ominously, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin tried to fire the town librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, after Emmons resisted pressure to censor books Palin found objectionable.

Then there's the God stuff: Palin belongs to a church whose pastor, Ed Kalnins, believes that all criticisms of George Bush "come from hell," and wondered aloud if people who voted for John Kerry could be saved. Kalnins, looming as the answer to Obama's Jeremiah Wright, claims that Alaska is going to be a "refuge state" for Christians in the last days, last days which he sometimes speaks of in the present tense. Palin herself has been captured on video mouthing the inevitable born-again idiocies, such as the idea that a recent oilpipeline deal was "God's will." She also described the Iraq War as a "task that is from God" and part of a heavenly "plan." She supports teaching creationism and "abstinence only" in public schools, opposes abortion even for victims of rape, denies the science behind global warming and attends a church that seeks to convert Jews and cure homosexuals.

All of which tells you about what you'd expect from a raise-the-base choice like Palin: She's a puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs who had to be educated as to the fact that the Constitution did not exactly envision government executives firing librarians. Judging from the importance progressive critics seem to attach to these revelations, you'd think that these were actually negatives in modern American politics. But Americans like politicians who hate books and see the face of Jesus in every tree stump. They like them stupid and mean and ignorant of the rules.

Which is why Palin has only seemed to grow in popularity as more and more of these revelations have come out. The same goes for the most damning aspect of her biography, her total lack of big-game experience. As governor of Alaska, Palin presides over a state whose entire population is barely the size of Memphis. This kind of thing might matter in a country that actually worried about whether its leader was prepared for his job -but not in America.

In America, it takes about two weeks in the limelight for the whole country to think you've been around for years. To a certain extent, this is why Obama is getting a pass on the same issue. He's been on TV every day for two years, and according to the standards of our instant-ramen culture, that's a lifetime of hands-on experience. It is worth noting that the same criticisms of Palin also hold true for two other candidates in this race, John McCain and Barack Obama.

As politicians, both men are more narrative than substance, with McCain rising to prominence on the back of his bio as a suffering war hero and Obama mostly playing the part of the long-lost, futureembracing liberal dreamboat not seen on the national stage since Bobby Kennedy died. If your stomach turns to read how Palin's Kawasaki 704 glasses are flying off the shelves in middle America, you have to accept that middle America probably feels the same way when it hears that Donatella Versace dedicated her collection to Obama during Milan Fashion Week. Or sees the throwing-panties-onstage-"I love you, Obama!" ritual at the Democratic nominee's town-hall appearances.

So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we're actually going to need in government if we're going to get out of this huge mess we're in.

Here's what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins "Country First" buttons on his man titties and chants "U-S-A! U-S-A!" at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas.

The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn't that she's totally unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and horked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we'll not only thank you for your trouble, we'll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for a few hours around election time.

Democracy doesn't require a whole lot of work of its citizens, but it requires some: It requires taking a good look outside once in a while, and considering the bad news and what it might mean, and making the occasional tough choice, and soberly taking stock of what your real interests are.

This is a very different thing from shopping, which involves passively letting sitcoms melt your brain all day long and then jumping straight into the TV screen to buy a Southern-Style Chicken Sandwich because the slob singing "I'm Lovin' It!" during the commercial break looks just like you. The joy of being a consumer is that it doesn't require thought, responsibility, self-awareness or shame: All you have to do is obey the first urge that gurgles up from your stomach. And then obey the next. And the next. And the next.

And when it comes time to vote, all you have to do is put your Country First -- just like that lady on TV who reminds you of your cousin. U-S-A, baby. U-S-A! U-S-A!

© 2008 Independent Media Institute

Sunday, September 28, 2008

McCain Sticks It To Palin?

September 28, 2008

Paired with Sarah Palin's absence from Friday night's Presidential debate, this photo-op of the McCain's boarding their campaign plane that afternoon for Mississippi is phenomenally awkward.

Given that the "visual vernacular" in a photo like this tends to reference the presidential and vice-presidential couple combined with the fact John, Cindy, Sarah and First Dude have been stuck together lately like super glue, this shot of Giuliani and Judy Nathan is particularly attention grabbing.

Typically, I would caution anyone from assuming, based on a photo like this, that McCain was even thinking of throwing Palin overboard. Considering how McCain not only trotted out Giuliani this way, but also lined him up against Biden as McCain's main post-debate spinmaster, though, it almost destines the photo to raise such speculation.

But then again, punitive acting out -- in this case, temporarily "elevating" Giuliani in order to publicly humiliate Palin for embarrassing McCain with her dismal interview with Katie Couric -- is also consistent with how McCain flies.

NBC post debate spin: Biden vs. Giuliani (video via YouTube)

(image: Brian Snyder/Reuters Pictures. Arlington, Virginia. September 26, 2008)
Copyright 2008 BAGnewsNotes

McCain and Team Have Many Ties to Gambling Industry

BocaGuy: McCain's gambling has reached into his campaign. He goes from one gimmick to another.

The New York Times
September 28, 2008

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party’s evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain’s campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world’s second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain’s affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

As a two-time chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. McCain has done more than any other member of Congress to shape the laws governing America’s casinos, helping to transform the once-sleepy Indian gambling business into a $26-billion-a-year behemoth with 423 casinos across the country. He has won praise as a champion of economic development and self-governance on reservations.

“One of the founding fathers of Indian gaming” is what Steven Light, a University of North Dakota professor and a leading Indian gambling expert, called Mr. McCain.

As factions of the ferociously competitive gambling industry have vied for an edge, they have found it advantageous to cultivate a relationship with Mr. McCain or hire someone who has one, according to an examination based on more than 70 interviews and thousands of pages of documents.

Mr. McCain portrays himself as a Washington maverick unswayed by special interests, referring recently to lobbyists as “birds of prey.” Yet in his current campaign, more than 40 fund-raisers and top advisers have lobbied or worked for an array of gambling interests — including tribal and Las Vegas casinos, lottery companies and online poker purveyors.

When rules being considered by Congress threatened a California tribe’s planned casino in 2005, Mr. McCain helped spare the tribe. Its lobbyist, who had no prior experience in the gambling industry, had a nearly 20-year friendship with Mr. McCain.

In Connecticut that year, when a tribe was looking to open the state’s third casino, staff members on the Indian Affairs Committee provided guidance to lobbyists representing those fighting the casino, e-mail messages and interviews show. The proposed casino, which would have cut into the Pequots’ market share, was opposed by Mr. McCain’s colleagues in Connecticut.

Mr. McCain declined to be interviewed. In written answers to questions, his campaign staff said he was “justifiably proud” of his record on regulating Indian gambling. “Senator McCain has taken positions on policy issues because he believed they are in the public interest,” the campaign said.

Mr. McCain’s spokesman, Tucker Bounds, would not discuss the senator’s night of gambling at Foxwoods, saying: “Your paper has repeatedly attempted to insinuate impropriety on the part of Senator McCain where none exists — and it reveals that your publication is desperately willing to gamble away what little credibility it still has.”

Over his career, Mr. McCain has taken on special interests, like big tobacco, and angered the capital’s powerbrokers by promoting campaign finance reform and pushing to limit gifts that lobbyists can shower on lawmakers. On occasion, he has crossed the gambling industry on issues like regulating slot machines.

Perhaps no episode burnished Mr. McCain’s image as a reformer more than his stewardship three years ago of the Congressional investigation into Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican Indian gambling lobbyist who became a national symbol of the pay-to-play culture in Washington. The senator’s leadership during the scandal set the stage for the most sweeping overhaul of lobbying laws since Watergate.

“I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes,” the senator said in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination this month.

But interviews and records show that lobbyists and political operatives in Mr. McCain’s inner circle played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing Mr. Abramoff’s misdeeds to Mr. McCain’s attention — and then cashed in on the resulting investigation. The senator’s longtime chief political strategist, for example, was paid $100,000 over four months as a consultant to one tribe caught up in the inquiry, records show.

Mr. McCain’s campaign said the senator acted solely to protect American Indians, even though the inquiry posed “grave risk to his political interests.”

As public opposition to tribal casinos has grown in recent years, Mr. McCain has distanced himself from Indian gambling, Congressional and American Indian officials said.

But he has rarely wavered in his loyalty to Las Vegas, where he counts casino executives among his close friends and most prolific fund-raisers. “Beyond just his support for gaming, Nevada supports John McCain because he’s one of us, a Westerner at heart,” said Sig Rogich, a Nevada Republican kingmaker who raised nearly $2 million for Mr. McCain at an event at his home in June.

Only six members of Congress have received more money from the gambling industry than Mr. McCain, and five hail from the casino hubs of Nevada and New Jersey, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics dating back to 1989. In the presidential race, Senator Barack Obama has also received money from the industry; Mr. McCain has raised almost twice as much.

In May 2007, as Mr. McCain’s presidential bid was floundering, he spent a weekend at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas strip. A fund-raiser hosted by J. Terrence Lanni, the casino’s top executive and a longtime friend of the senator, raised $400,000 for his campaign. Afterward, Mr. McCain attended a boxing match and hit the craps tables.

For much of his adult life, Mr. McCain has gambled as often as once a month, friends and associates said, traveling to Las Vegas for weekend betting marathons. Former senior campaign officials said they worried about Mr. McCain’s patronage of casinos, given the power he wields over the industry. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We were always concerned about appearances,” one former official said. “If you go around saying that appearances matter, then they matter.”

The former official said he would tell Mr. McCain: “Do we really have to go to a casino? I don’t think it’s a good idea. The base doesn’t like it. It doesn’t look good. And good things don’t happen in casinos at midnight.”

“You worry too much,” Mr. McCain would respond, the official said.

A Record of Support

In one of their last conversations, Representative Morris K. Udall, Arizona’s powerful Democrat, whose devotion to American Indian causes was legendary, implored his friend Mr. McCain to carry on his legacy.

“Don’t forget the Indians,” Mr. Udall, who died in 1998, told Mr. McCain in a directive that the senator has recounted to others.

More than a decade earlier, Mr. Udall had persuaded Mr. McCain to join the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Mr. McCain, whose home state has the third-highest Indian population, eloquently decried the “grinding poverty” that gripped many reservations.

The two men helped write the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 after the Supreme Court found that states had virtually no right to control wagering on reservations. The legislation provided a framework for the oversight and growth of Indian casinos: In 1988, Indian gambling represented less than 1 percent of the nation’s gambling revenues; today it captures more than one third.

On the Senate floor after the bill’s passage, Mr. McCain said he personally opposed Indian gambling, but when impoverished communities “are faced with only one option for economic development, and that is to set up gambling on their reservations, then I cannot disapprove.”

In 1994, Mr. McCain pushed an amendment that enabled dozens of additional tribes to win federal recognition and open casinos. And in 1998, Mr. McCain fought a Senate effort to rein in the boom.

He also voted twice in the last decade to give casinos tax breaks estimated to cost the government more than $326 million over a dozen years.

The first tax break benefited the industry in Las Vegas, one of a number of ways Mr. McCain has helped nontribal casinos. Mr. Lanni, the MGM Mirage chief executive, said that an unsuccessful bid by the senator to ban wagering on college sports in Nevada was the only time he could recall Mr. McCain opposing Las Vegas. “I can’t think of any other issue,” Mr. Lanni said.

The second tax break helped tribal casinos like Foxwoods and was pushed by Scott Reed, the Pequots’ lobbyist.

Mr. McCain had gotten to know Mr. Reed during Senator Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, which Mr. Reed managed. Four years later, when Mr. McCain ran for president, Mr. Reed recommended he hire his close friend and protégé, Rick Davis, to manage that campaign.

During his 2000 primary race against George W. Bush, Mr. McCain promoted his record of helping Indian Country, telling reporters on a campaign swing that he had provided critical support to “the Pequot, now the proud owners of the largest casino in the world.”

But Mr. McCain’s record on Indian gambling was fast becoming a difficult issue for him in the primary. Bush supporters like Gov. John Engler of Michigan lambasted Mr. McCain for his “close ties to Indian gambling.”

A decade after Mr. McCain co-authored the Indian gambling act, the political tides had turned. Tribal casinos, which were growing at a blazing pace, had become increasingly unpopular around the country for reasons as varied as morality and traffic.

Then came the biggest lobbying scandal to shake Washington.

Behind an Inquiry

At a September 2004 hearing of the Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. McCain described Jack Abramoff as one of the most brazen in a long line of crooks to cheat American Indians. “It began with the sale of Manhattan, and has continued ever since,” he said. “What sets this tale apart, what makes it truly extraordinary, is the extent and degree of the apparent exploitation and deceit.”

Over the next two years, Mr. McCain helped uncover a breathtaking lobbying scandal — Mr. Abramoff and a partner bilked six tribes of $66 million — that showcased the senator’s willingness to risk the wrath of his own party to expose wrongdoing. But interviews and documents show that Mr. McCain and a circle of allies — lobbyists, lawyers and senior strategists — also seized on the case for its opportunities.

For McCain-connected lobbyists who were rivals of Mr. Abramoff, the scandal presented a chance to crush a competitor. For senior McCain advisers, the inquiry allowed them to collect fees from the very Indians that Mr. Abramoff had ripped off. And the investigation enabled Mr. McCain to confront political enemies who helped defeat him in his 2000 presidential run while polishing his maverick image.

The Abramoff saga started in early 2003 when members of two tribes began questioning Mr. Abramoff’s astronomical fees. Over the next year, they leaked information to local newspapers, but it took the hiring of lobbyists who were competitors of Mr. Abramoff to get the attention of Mr. McCain’s committee.

Bernie Sprague, who led the effort by one of the tribes, the Saginaw Chippewas in Michigan, hired a Democratic lobbyist who recommended that the tribe retain Scott Reed, the Republican lobbyist, to push for an investigation.

Mr. Reed had boasted to other lobbyists of his access to Mr. McCain, three close associates said. Mr. Reed “pretty much had open access to John from 2000 to at least the end of 2006,” one aide said.

Lobbyist disclosure forms show that Mr. Reed went to work for the Saginaw Chippewa on Feb. 15, 2004, charging the tribe $56,000 over a year. Mr. Abramoff had tried to steal the Pequots and another tribal client from Mr. Reed, and taking down Mr. Abramoff would eliminate a competitor.

Mr. Reed became the chief conduit to Mr. McCain’s committee for billing documents and other information Mr. Sprague was digging up on Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Sprague said, who said Mr. Reed “did a great to service to me.”

“He had contacts I did not,” Mr. Sprague said. “Initially, I think that the senator’s office was doing Reed a favor by listening to me.”

A few weeks after hiring Mr. Reed, Mr. Sprague received a letter from the senator. “We have met with Scott Reed, who was very helpful on the issue,” Mr. McCain wrote.

Information about Mr. Abramoff was also flowing to Mr. McCain’s committee from another tribe, the Coushatta of Louisiana. The source was a consultant named Roy Fletcher, who had been Mr. McCain’s deputy campaign manager in 2000, running his war room in South Carolina.

It was in that primary race that two of Mr. Abramoff’s closest associates, Grover Norquist, who runs the nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, ran a blistering campaign questioning Mr. McCain’s conservative credentials. The senator and his advisers blamed that attack for Mr. McCain’s loss to Mr. Bush in South Carolina, creating tensions that would resurface in the Abramoff matter.

“I was interested in busting” Mr. Abramoff, said Mr. Fletcher, who was eventually hired to represent the tribe. “That was my job. But I was also filled with righteous indignation, I got to tell you.”

Mr. Fletcher said he began passing information to John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s chief political strategist, and other staff members in late 2003 or January 2004. Mr. Weaver confirmed the timing.

Mr. McCain announced his investigation on Feb. 26, 2004, citing an article on Mr. Abramoff in The Washington Post. He did not mention the action by lobbyists and tribes in the preceding weeks. His campaign said no one in his “innermost circle” brought information to Mr. McCain that prompted the investigation.

The senator declared he would not investigate members of Congress, whom Mr. Abramoff had lavished with tribal donations and golf outings to Scotland. But in the course of the investigation, the committee exposed Mr. Abramoff’s dealings with the two men who had helped defeat Mr. McCain in the 2000 primary.

The investigation showed that Mr. Norquist’s foundation was used by Mr. Abramoff to launder lobbying fees from tribes. Ralph Reed was found to have accepted $4 million to run bogus antigambling campaigns. And the investigation also highlighted Mr. Abramoff’s efforts to curry favor with the House majority leader at the time, Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, a longtime political foe who had opposed many of Mr. McCain’s legislative priorities.

Mr. McCain’s campaign said the senator did not “single out” Ralph Reed or Mr. Norquist, neither of whom were ever charged, and that both men fell within the “scope of the investigation.” The inquiry, which led to guilty pleas by over a dozen individuals, was motivated by a desire to help aggrieved tribes, the campaign said.

Inside the investigation, the sense of schadenfreude was palpable, according to several people close to the senator. “It was like hitting pay dirt,” said one associate of Mr. McCain’s who had consulted with the senator’s office on the investigation. “And face it — McCain and Weaver were maniacal about Ralph Reed and Norquist. They were sticking little pins in dolls because those guys had cost him South Carolina.”

Down on the Coushattas reservation, bills related to the investigation kept coming. After firing Mr. Abramoff, the tribe hired Kent Hance, a lawyer and former Texas congressman who said he had been friends with Mr. McCain since the 1980s.

David Sickey, the tribe’s vice chairman, said he was “dumbfounded” over the bills submitted by Mr. Hance’s firm, Hance Scarborough, which had been hired by Mr. Sickey’s predecessors.

“The very thing we were fighting seemed to be happening all over again — these absurd amounts of money being paid,” Mr. Sickey said.

Mr. Hance’s firm billed the tribe nearly $1.3 million over 11 months in legal and political consulting fees, records show. But Mr. Sickey said that the billing statements offered only vague explanations for services and that he could not point to any tangible results. Two consultants, for instance, were paid to fight the expansion of gambling in Texas — even though it was unlikely given that the governor there opposed any such prospect, Mr. Sickey said.

Mr. Hance and Jay B. Stewart, the firm’s managing partner, defended their team’s work, saying they successfully steered the tribe through a difficult period. “We did an outstanding job for them,” Mr. Hance said. “When we told them our bill was going to be $100,000 a month, they thought we were cheap. Mr. Abramoff had charged them $1 million a month.”

The firm’s fees covered the services of Mr. Fletcher, who served as the tribe’s spokesman. Records also show that Mr. Hance had Mr. Weaver — who was serving as Mr. McCain’s chief strategist — put on the tribe’s payroll from February to May 2005.

It is not precisely clear what role Mr. Weaver played for his $100,000 fee.

Mr. Stewart said Mr. Weaver was hired because “he had a lot of experience with the Senate, especially the new chairman, John McCain.” The Hance firm told the tribe in a letter that Mr. Weaver was hired to provide “representation for the tribe before the U.S. Senate.”

But Mr. Weaver never registered to lobby on the issue, and he has another explanation for his work.

“The Hance law firm retained me to assist them and their client in developing an aggressive crisis management and communications strategy,” Mr. Weaver said. “At no point was I asked by Kent Hance or anyone associated with him to set up meetings with anyone in or outside of government to discuss this, and if asked I would have summarily declined to do so.”

In June 2005, the tribe informed Mr. Hance that his services were no longer needed.

Change in Tone

After the Abramoff scandal, Mr. McCain stopped taking campaign donations from tribes. Some American Indians were offended, especially since Mr. McCain continued to accept money from the tribes’ lobbyists.

Resentment in Indian Country mounted as Mr. McCain, who was preparing for another White House run, singled out the growth in tribal gambling as one of three national issues that were “out of control.” (The others were federal spending and illegal immigration.)

Franklin Ducheneaux, an aide to Morris Udall who helped draft the 1988 Indian gambling law, said that position ran contrary to Mr. McCain’s record. “What did he think? That Congress intended for the tribes to be only somewhat successful?” Mr. Ducheneaux said.

Mr. McCain began taking a broad look at whether the laws were sufficient to oversee the growing industry. His campaign said that the growth had put “considerable stress” on regulators and Mr. McCain held hearings on whether the federal government needed more oversight power.

An opportunity to restrain the industry came in the spring of 2005, when a small tribe in Connecticut set off a political battle. The group, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, had won federal recognition in 2004 after producing voluminous documentation tracing its roots.

The tribe wanted to build Connecticut’s third casino, which would compete with Foxwoods and another, the Mohegan Sun. Facing public opposition on the proposed casino, members of the Connecticut political establishment — many of whom had received large Pequot and Mohegan campaign donations — swung into action.

Connecticut officials claimed that a genealogical review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was flawed, and that the Schaghticoke was not a tribe.

The tribe’s opponents, led by the Washington lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers, turned to Mr. McCain’s committee. It was a full-circle moment for the senator, who had helped the Pequots gain tribal recognition in the 1980s despite concerns about their legitimacy.

Now, Mr. McCain was doing a favor for allies in the Connecticut delegation, including Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a close friend, according to two former Congressional aides. “It was one of those collegial deals,” said one of the aides, who worked for Mr. McCain.

Barbour Griffith & Rogers wanted Mr. McCain to hold a hearing that would show that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was “broken,” said Bradley A. Blakeman, who was a lobbyist for the firm at the time.

“It was our hope that the hearing would shed light on the fact that the bureau had not followed their rules and had improperly granted recognition to the Schaghticoke,” Mr. Blakeman said. “And that the bureau would revisit the issue and follow their rules.”

Mr. McCain’s staff helped that effort by offering strategic advice.

His staff told a lobbyist for the firm that the Indian Affairs Committee “would love to receive a letter” from the Connecticut governor requesting a hearing, according to an e-mail exchange, and offered “guidance on what the most effective tone and approach” would be in the letter.

On May 11, 2005, Mr. McCain held a hearing billed as a general “oversight hearing on federal recognition of Indian tribes.” But nearly all the witnesses were Schaghticoke opponents who portrayed the tribe as imposters.

Mr. McCain set the tone: “The role that gaming and its nontribal backers have played in the recognition process has increased perceptions that it is unfair, if not corrupt.”

Chief Richard F. Velky of the Schaghticokes found himself facing off against the governor and most of the state’s congressional delegation. “The deck was stacked against us,” Mr. Velky said. “They were given lots of time. I was given five minutes.”

He had always believed Mr. McCain “to be an honest and fair man,” Mr. Velky said, “but this didn’t make me feel that good.”

Mr. Velky said he felt worse when the e-mail messages between the tribe’s opponents and Mr. McCain’s staff surfaced in a federal lawsuit. “Is there a letter telling me how to address the senator to give me the best shot?” Mr. Velky asked. “No, there is not.”

After the hearing, Pablo E. Carrillo, who was Mr. McCain’s chief Abramoff investigator at the time, wrote to a Barbour Griffith & Rogers lobbyist, Brant Imperatore. “Your client’s side definitely got a good hearing record,” Mr. Carillo wrote, adding “you probably have a good sense” on where Mr. McCain “is headed on this.”

“Well done!” he added.

Cynthia Shaw, a Republican counsel to the committee from 2005 to 2007, said Mr. McCain made decisions based on merit, not special interests. “Everybody got a meeting who asked for one,” Ms. Shaw said, “whether you were represented by counsel or by a lobbyist — or regardless of which lobbyist.”

Mr. McCain’s campaign defended the senator’s handling of the Schaghticoke case, saying no staff member acted improperly. The campaign said the session was part of normal committee business and the notion that Mr. McCain was intending to help Congressional colleagues defeat the tribe was “absolutely false.”

It added that the senator’s commitment to Indian sovereignty “remains as strong as ever.”

Within months of the May 2005 hearing, the Bureau of Indian Affairs took the rare step of rescinding the Schaghticokes’ recognition. A federal court recently rejected the tribe’s claim that the reversal was politically motivated.

Making an Exception

That spring of 2005, as the Schaghticokes went down to defeat in the East, another tribe in the West squared off against Mr. McCain with its bid to construct a gambling emporium in California. The stakes were similar, but the outcome would be far different.

The tribe’s plan to build a casino on a former Navy base just outside San Francisco represented a trend rippling across the country: American Indians seeking to build casinos near population centers, far from their reservations.

The practice, known as “off-reservation shopping,” stemmed from the 1988 Indian gambling law, which included exceptions allowing some casinos to be built outside tribal lands. When Mr. McCain began his second stint as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee three years ago, Las Vegas pressed him to revisit the exceptions he had helped create, according to Sig Rogich, the Republican fund-raiser from Nevada.

“We told him this off-reservation shopping had to stop,” Mr. Rogich said. “It was no secret that the gaming industry, as well as many potentially affected communities in other states, voiced opposition to the practice.”

In the spring of 2005, Mr. McCain announced he was planning a sweeping overhaul of Indian gambling laws, including limiting off-reservation casinos. His campaign said Las Vegas had nothing to do with it. In a 2005 interview with The Oregonian, Mr. McCain said that if Congress did not act, “soon every Indian tribe is going to have a casino in downtown, metropolitan areas.”

Prospects for the proposed California project did not look promising. Then the tribe, the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, hired a lobbyist based in Phoenix named Wes Gullett.

Mr. Gullett, who had never represented tribes before Congress, had known Mr. McCain since the early 1980s. Mr. Gullett met his wife while they were working in Mr. McCain’s Washington office. He subsequently managed Mr. McCain’s 1992 Senate campaign and served as a top aide to his 2000 presidential campaign. Their friendship went beyond politics. When Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy, brought two infants in need of medical treatment back to Arizona from Bangladesh, the Gulletts adopted one baby and the McCains the other. The two men also liked to take weekend trips to Las Vegas.

Another of Mr. McCain’s close friends, former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, was a major investor in the Guidivilles’ proposed casino. Mr. Cohen, who did not return calls, was best man at Mr. McCain’s 1980 wedding.

Scott Crowell, lawyer for the Guidivilles, said Mr. Gullett was hired to ensure that Mr. McCain’s overhaul of the Indian gambling laws did not harm the tribe.

Mr. Gullett said he never talked to Mr. McCain about the legislation. “If you are hired directly to lobby John McCain, you are not going to be effective,” he said. Mr. Gullett said he only helped prepare the testimony of the tribe’s administrator, Walter Gray, who was invited to plead his case before Mr. McCain’s committee in July 2005. Mr. Gullett said he advised Mr. Gray in a series of conference calls.

On disclosure forms filed with the Senate, however, Mr. Gullett stated that he was not hired until November, long after Mr. Gray’s testimony. Mr. Gullett said the late filing might have been “a mistake, but it was inadvertent.” Steve Hart, a former lawyer for the Guidivilles, backed up Mr. Gullett’s contention that he had guided Mr. Gray on his July testimony.

When asked whether Mr. Gullett had helped him, Mr. Gray responded, “I’ve never met the man and couldn’t tell you anything about him.”

On Nov. 18, 2005, when Mr. McCain introduced his promised legislation overhauling the Indian gambling law, he left largely intact a provision that the Guidivilles needed for their casino. Mr. McCain’s campaign declined to answer whether the senator spoke with Mr. Gullett or Mr. Cohen about the project. In the end, Mr. McCain’s bill died, largely because Indian gambling interests fought back. But the Department of Interior picked up where Mr. McCain left off, effectively doing through regulations what he had hoped to accomplish legislatively. Carl Artman, who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary of Indian Affairs until May, said Mr. McCain pushed him to rewrite the off-reservation rules. “It became one of my top priorities because Senator McCain made it clear it was one of his top priorities,” he said.

The new guidelines were issued on Jan. 4. As a result, the casino applications of 11 tribes were rejected. The Guidivilles were not among them.

Kitty Bennett and Griff Palmer contributed to reporting.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

McCain’s Suspension Bridge to Nowhere

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 28, 2008

WHAT we learned last week is that the man who always puts his “country first” will take the country down with him if that’s what it takes to get to the White House.
For all the focus on Friday night’s deadlocked debate, it still can’t obscure what preceded it: When John McCain gratuitously parachuted into Washington on Thursday, he didn’t care if his grandstanding might precipitate an even deeper economic collapse. All he cared about was whether he might save his campaign. George Bush put more deliberation into invading Iraq than McCain did into his own reckless invasion of the delicate Congressional negotiations on the bailout plan.

By the time he arrived, there already was a bipartisan agreement in principle. It collapsed hours later at the meeting convened by the president in the Cabinet Room. Rather than help try to resuscitate Wall Street’s bloodied bulls, McCain was determined to be the bull in Washington’s legislative china shop, running around town and playing both sides of his divided party against Congress’s middle. Once others eventually forged a path out of the wreckage, he’d inflate, if not outright fictionalize, his own role in cleaning up the mess his mischief helped make. Or so he hoped, until his ignominious retreat.

The question is why would a man who forever advertises his own honor toy so selfishly with our national interest at a time of crisis. I’ll leave any physiological explanations to gerontologists — if they can get hold of his complete medical records — and any armchair psychoanalysis to the sundry McCain press acolytes who have sorrowfully tried to rationalize his erratic behavior this year. The other answers, all putting politics first, can be found by examining the 24 hours before he decided to “suspend” campaigning and swoop down on the Capitol to save America from the Sunnis or the Shia, or whoever perpetrated all those credit-default swaps.

To put these 24 hours in context, you must remember that McCain not only knows little about the economy but that he has not previously expressed any urgency about its meltdown. It was on Sept. 15 — the day after his former idol Alan Greenspan pronounced the current crisis a “once-in-a-century” catastrophe — that McCain reaffirmed for the umpteenth time that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong.” As recently as Tuesday he had not yet even read the two-and-a-half-page bailout proposal first circulated by Hank Paulson last weekend. “I have not had a chance to see it in writing,” he explained. (Maybe he was waiting for it to arrive by Western Union instead of PDF.)

Then came Black Wednesday — not for the stock market, which was holding steady in anticipation of Washington action, but for McCain. As the widely accepted narrative has it, his come-to-Jesus moment arrived that morning, when he awoke to discover that Barack Obama had surged ahead by nine percentage points in the Washington Post/ABC News poll. The McCain campaign hastily suited up its own pollster to belittle that finding — only to be drowned out by a fusillade of new polls from Fox News, Marist and CNN/Time, each with numbers closer to Post/ABC than not. Obama was rising most everywhere except the moose strongholds of Alaska and Montana.

That was not the only bad news raining down on McCain. His camp knew what Katie Couric had in the can from her interview with Sarah Palin. The first excerpt was to be broadcast by CBS that night, and it had to be upstaged fast.

But even that wasn’t the top political threat McCain faced last week. Bigger still was the mounting evidence of the seamless synergy between his campaign and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage monsters at the heart of the housing bust that set off our current calamity. Most of all, it was the fast-moving events on that front that precipitated his panic to roll out his diversionary, over-the-top theatrics on Wednesday.

What we were learning — through The New York Times, Newsweek and Roll Call — was ugly. Davis Manafort, the lobbying firm owned by McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, had received $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac from late 2005 until last month. This was in addition to the $30,000 a month that Davis was paid from 2000 to 2005 by the so-called Homeownership Alliance, an advocacy organization that he headed and that was financed by Freddie and Fannie to fight regulation.

The McCain campaign tried to pre-emptively deflect such revelations by reviving the old Rove trick of accusing your opponent of your own biggest failings. It ran attack ads about Obama’s own links to the mortgage giants. But neither of the former Freddie-Fannie executives vilified in those ads, Franklin Raines and James Johnson, had worked at those companies lately or are currently associated with the Obama campaign. (Raines never worked for the campaign at all.) By contrast, Davis is the tip of the Freddie-Fannie-McCain iceberg. McCain’s senior adviser, his campaign’s vice chairman, his Congressional liaison and the reported head of his White House transition team all either made fortunes from recent Freddie-Fannie lobbying or were players in firms that did. ... (

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"The Keating Five Scandal"

Jamison Foser
Media Matters
Media Matters for America
September 27, 2008

Ignoring Keating

Every few days, John McCain or his campaign lashes out at the news media, often focusing their ire on The New York Times, for alleged bias against the Republican presidential candidate. It's a strange claim coming from the politician who has enjoyed a cozier relationship with the national media than any other in memory.

Patrick Healy's article in this morning's New York Times provides yet another of the countless examples that undermine McCain's claim. Though most public polling -- including the Times' own poll -- shows that more people have confidence in Barack Obama's ability to handle the economy than in McCain's, and more people think Obama understands their needs and problems, Healy asserted that Obama is "out of sync" with the public and accused him of "convey[ing] a certain distance from the ache that many voters feel."

On Monday, the McCain campaign accused The New York Times of being "150 percent in the tank" for Obama. On Friday, the Times demonstrated the absurdity of that accusation by publishing an article that baselessly asserted that Obama is struggling to connect with the public on economic issues despite the fact that polling shows the exact opposite -- it is McCain who is struggling. But that wasn't the only bizarre element of the Times article: Seemingly out of the blue, Healy invoked Obama's race:

He wants to appear fired up over the economy, but he has written before about wanting to avoid appearing like a stereotypical angry black man. Unlike Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other black leaders whose fulminations could scare white voters, Mr. Obama is not from and of New York, Detroit, or the segregated South; he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. To some degree Mr. Obama faces the opposite challenge from fiery black leaders who came before him: Is he too cool for a crisis like this one?

So, according to Times reporter Patrick Healy, Jesse Jackson is too hot, and Barack Obama is too cool. Presumably, Healy will let us know when he finds an African-American who is just right.

And this, remember, is the newspaper that the McCain campaign says is "150 percent in the tank" for Obama.

But the week's most striking indication that the media are inadequately scrutinizing McCain rather than, as he claims, unfairly doing so is that in the midst of a banking crisis, there is virtually no media examination of McCain's role in a similar crisis 20 years ago.

Sure, the Keating Five has been mentioned in news reports during this campaign. But when McCain's involvement in the scandal comes up in the media, it tends to be a brief mention -- and often one that paints McCain in the best possible light. On Monday, Politico reporter Ben Smith gave a telling response to the Obama campaign's complaints that insufficient attention has been paid to McCain's relationship with Keating:

The Keating Five scandal, though, is hardly a secret. Indeed, the story is central to McCain's political narrative. He's called his actions a mistake, and the episode is what transformed him into a self-stylled [sic] reformer.

"He has basically dedicated his career since that moment to the cleaning up of Washington," McCain aide Douglas Holtz-Eakin told me last week.

As Smith's reaction demonstrates, the version of the Keating Five story the media typically tell is the version that is "central to McCain's political narrative" -- that the experience turned McCain into a political Mr. Clean, rampaging against corruption in the nation's capital. We are told McCain's tale of redemption -- but little of what he did to make redemption necessary.

Take, for example, one of the most damning -- and under-reported -- facts of the case: Not only did McCain take campaign contributions and free Bahamas vacations from Keating, but his wife also invested more than $350,000 in a Keating real estate development shortly before McCain met with federal banking regulators on Keating's behalf.

Yes, John McCain's wife -- in whose houses McCain lives and entertains throngs of adoring reporters -- had a direct financial relationship with Keating. And according to The Boston Globe, one of the regulators who felt like he was pressured by McCain to go easy on Keating believes McCain intervened in part because of Cindy McCain's investment with Keating.

A New York Times editorial earlier this year touched on the investment in arguing for the release of Cindy McCain's taxes:

There is no question that Mr. McCain -- the candidate -- has reaped considerable benefits from his wife's wealth, including discounted use of her company's corporate jet to fly from state to state during this campaign.

Voters also deserve to know whether any of Senator McCain's official actions have benefited his wife, family members, or their business associates, as they did in the case of Charles Keating, the Arizona developer and savings and loan operator at the center of the Keating Five scandal two decades ago. A year before Mr. McCain's 1987 meetings with bank regulators on Mr. Keating's behalf, Mrs. McCain and her father invested more than $350,000 in a strip mall developed by Mr. Keating.


Senator and Mrs. McCain should show that they're both committed to open government and release Mrs. McCain's returns.

But Cindy McCain's tax returns still have not been released. And the news media (which obsessively demanded the release of Bill and Hillary Clinton's tax returns) have all but ignored the topic. And the fact that Cindy McCain was a business partner of Keating's has been treated as a state secret by the national news media. Since January 1, 2007:

  • The New York Times has not mentioned the investment in a single news article, even though the paper's editorial board has explained its significance.
  • The Washington Post has not mentioned the investment -- not once. The Post has run two separate profiles of Cindy McCain that mentioned the Keating Five controversy, each of which ran more than 2,500 words. But, incredibly, neither article mentioned the strip mall investment. Nor has any other Washington Post article during the campaign.
  • Neither USA Today nor Time magazine has mentioned the investment.
  • Neither ABC, nor CBS, nor NBC has mentioned the investment -- not a single time.

CNN has mentioned the investment in profiles of McCain that have aired several times. In one, the cable channel even aired video of one of the Keating regulators who felt pressured noting that "Senator McCain was unique among the five senators in having a direct financial conflict of interest involving direct investments. ... On judgment, ethics and truthfulness, he failed this test as badly as you can fail." But CNN has been an exception among national media, not the rule.

In 1990, in the midst of the Keating Five investigation, the Phoenix New Times noted that the scandal had scuttled McCain's hopes at national office:

The stakes are incredibly high for McCain. There was a time, before the Keating bubble burst, when he was reportedly being considered for a spot on the Republican ticket as vice president.

Those days are over.

Now, with the nation in the midst of another banking crisis caused in part by deregulation, John McCain is running for president -- and the national media are keeping the details of his involvement in the Keating fiasco a secret.

© 2008 Media Matters for America