Hillary Clinton Reigns as Queen of Federal Pork

Hillary Clinton Reigns as Queen of Federal Pork

I have written a lot about Hillary Clinton and her overabundant usage of earmarks. She has declined to release her earmarks to the public. Obama is the only Democratic presidential candidate who has released his. He dominates in calling for earmark reform.

The media is starting to pay attention. This is from Kevin Hasset of Bloomberg News:

Hillary Clinton Reigns as Queen of Federal Pork: Kevin Hassett

By Kevin Hassett

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Democrats came into power this year promising meaningful earmark reform to a U.S. electorate that was rightly disgusted with Congress's free-spending habits. Today, earmarks continue to be out of control, and the predictable result is that the Democratic Congress is now even less popular in national polls than the Republican one before it.

There is an underappreciated angle to the story of how lawmakers steer federal funds toward their pet projects that may yet swing the next presidential election. Democrats have been so busy preparing the coronation of Hillary Clinton that they have failed to train a critical eye on her record.

When it comes to earmarks, an issue that voters responded to more than any other in the last election except for Iraq, her record is about as bad as it gets. If Dennis Hastert was the king of earmarks, Hillary Clinton was his queen. Republicans had their ``bridge to nowhere.'' Hillary has her knitting mill.

The statistics speak for themselves. Ever since she arrived in Washington, Hillary has worked tirelessly to bring the pork home to her adopted state, New York. It used to be that such efforts were cloaked in secrecy. No longer.

To their credit, the Democrats made earmarks a central issue in the 2006 campaign and helped pass a series of reforms. Today, all earmarks are publicized in an online record which, most importantly, identifies the name of the member who submitted each request. Numerous online watchdog databases have since popped up, notably ``Taxpayers for Common Sense,'' which provides a directory of every earmark request for 2008 appropriations bills.

Oddly, this transparency has had a big effect on the Republican presidential candidates, but not on the Democrats.
Among the presidential candidates, many Republicans currently holding office have responded to media requests to make public all their earmarks, including Representatives Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. (Senator John McCain notably claims to not submit any such requests). They presumably have done so because they have nothing to hide.

On the Democratic side, however, the major candidates have been much less forthright.

Only Barack Obama has voluntarily made his earmark information publicly available. The others are covering their tracks. Senator Joe Biden's spokeswoman explained, ``We don't release them until the committee has had the opportunity to review the requests.'' A spokeswoman for the Dennis Kucinich campaign argued, ``We never have made our earmarks public.''

The Clinton campaign refused to respond at all to requests that she identify her earmarks.

Top Earmarker

A little digging shows why they are so evasive. In fiscal year 2006, Chris Dodd and fellow Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman were jointly responsible for more than $100 million worth of earmarks for their home state, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Yet Clinton, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, placed $2.2 billion worth of earmarks in spending bills from 2002-2006. One would have to concede that she is good at it. In the fiscal 2008 defense-spending bill alone, Clinton successfully attached 26 earmarks worth $148 million, which was the most of any Democrat except Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is now chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The earmark game is a treacherous one because it is so easy to find specific instances, like the bridge to nowhere in Alaska, that are repulsive to voters. With such a successful track record, this will be a genuine liability for Clinton.

Bury the Record

That probably explains why she's trying to bury her record. But even digging through the limited list of earmarks I could acquire suggested that Clinton has deftly spread federal taxpayers' money around to parochial projects of questionable public value, sending, for example, $250,000 to the Seneca Knitting Mill, and $200,000 to the Buffalo Urban Arts Center.

Such spending projects might be great local politics, but they produce national outrage as our federal dollars are bled away from health care and national security. Each one may seem small, but collectively they are not.

Clinton might want to join Robert Rubin on the high horse of fiscal discipline and rail against Republican deficits. But if she is the queen of pork, she loses her moral authority.

Make no mistake, voters are disgusted with our government. Clinton's biggest political liability has always been that she, the ultimate insider, may not be able to run as a credible agent of change. The earmark numbers are important, because an able opponent can accurately portray her pork barrel record as shameful. How can someone who is one of the biggest contributors to the problem be part of the cure?

If Democrats aren't careful, voters will ask themselves that question in the general election. It seems unlikely that the Republican nominee will have a pork-stained past. If so, Democrats may regret giving Clinton a free pass on the earmark issue during the primaries.

Clinton Gets Snippy Over Questions about Iran

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
NEW HAMPTON, Iowa -- At a campaign stop here, Hillary Clinton sparred verbally for several minutes with a man who pressed her on her recent vote to call Iran's army a terrorist organization.

Randall Rolph, from nearby Nashua, asked why he should support Clinton's candidacy when she did not appear to have learned any lessons from having voted to authorize force in Iraq.

Clinton thanked him for the question and explained her Iran vote would lay the groundwork for using diplomacy and sanctions to pressure that government.

Clinton accused the man of being a plant who had been sent to ask the question, to which he took exception, saying the question was a result of his own research.

"I apologize," Clinton said, explaining that she had been asked the very same question in three other places.

Read more here

Barack on Tyra Banks Show

Barack on Tyra Banks Show

Here are some links to Barack's appearance on the Tyra Banks show. (It's divided into seven parts).

Added note: I watched this interview after posting it, and I have to say that Obama is one of the most charming presidential candidates I've seen in a long time. He wins the likeability factor hands-down. Tyra was gushing (well, ok, she's always gushing), and it was obvious that he swept her and a lot of the female audience off their feet.

The fact that he's married to such a strong, beautiful and intelligent woman only makes him that much better. And it's so refreshing to hear him speak so openly and fondly about his wife. We really believe that he is a good husband. (Or as Tyra would say, "I see goodness in your eyes.")

He and Michelle Obama could be the black Kennedys in that they would bring grace, manners and style back to the White House.

Enough of my gushing. Get this man on talk shows... NOW!!!

Tyra Banks Interview of Obama Parts 1-7

NY Times Picks up Penn/Blackwater Story (finally!)

NY Times Picks up Penn/Blackwater Story (Finally)

Without tooting my own horn too much, I have to just say that I was way ahead of the mainstream media on this story. The New York Times has finally picked up on the story. (What took them so long?) Too bad it's buried in the Caucus Blog .

I'm really tired of the way Hilllary Clinton is being treated with kid gloves in the news. You know that if that if Karl Rove was CEO of a PR firm that represented Blackwater, it would be all over the news and the Dems would be on it like white on rice.

If it were discovered that Obama's campaign strategist were repping Blackwater, his campaign would be instantly over, finito, dead in the water.

Well, we perservere and do what we can. Maybe one day the American people will be outraged and figure out why they should care, and why this is important.

Until that day comes, all we can do is keep hope alive.

October 5, 2007, 5:10 pm
Clinton Strategist Represents Blackwater
By Patrick Healy

Mark Penn is the chief strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, working 24/7 on her behalf (indeed, he is known to send email at 2 a.m.) and earning tens of thousands of dollars in fees.
With that sort of day-and-night job, you would think Mr. Penn would have time for little else. Indeed, other Clinton senior advisers took leaves of absences or turned down clients in order to work for the campaign.
But he somehow manages to remain president of Burson-Marsteller, a publicly traded global public affairs firm. And as such, he is inevitably linked to Burson’s clients — not all of whom are, shall we say, on Mrs. Clinton’s Christmas card list.
Today we learned that recently one of those clients was Blackwater — the American contractor that provides security to some top American officials in Iraq, and which is under investigation for allegedly aggressive tactics and the role of its guards in the shooting at a Baghdad city square where 17 Iraqis were killed.
Mr. Penn was on a plane this afternoon and could not be reached for him; a phone message has been left for a Burson spokesman as well. But Mr. Penn and the spokesman told other news outlets today that Blackwater was only briefly a client in a temporary assignment for a Burson subsidiary, BKSH. That assignment involved preparing Blackwater for a recent hearing before Congress. Blackwater is no longer a client, said Mr. Penn, who added that he never worked on the piece of business himself.
“Through a personal relationship, BKSH, a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, helped Blackwater prepare for their recent hearing before Congress. With the hearing over, BKSH’s temporary engagement has ended,” said the Burson spokesman, Paul Cordasco.
A blog for the Nation and the Associated Press carried stories on the Burson-Blackwater connection first.
Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said that Mrs. Clinton had not asked Mr. Penn for an explanation about Blackwater — about which she has expressed concerns on the campaign trail — nor asked him to take a leave from Burson.
“Mark is an extremely valuable member of this team,” Mr. Wolfson said. “He is our senior strategist. Senator Clinton clearly believes Blackwater must be held accountable for its actions.”
About Mr. Penn’s ongoing ties to Burson, Mr. Wolfson said. “His situation is very typical for presidential campaigns. There is nothing unusual about a consultant maintaining outside affiliations. Hillary has trust in Mark.”
Other Democratic and Republican candidates do have consultants whose firms have a bevy of clients as well; Harrison Hickman, the pollster for former Senator John Edwards, one of Mrs. Clinton’s rivals, continues to be a member of Global Strategy Group, which represents insurance and drug companies, for instance.
But Mr. Penn’s firm has netted the sort of bad headlines that Mrs. Clinton would not seek: Other than Blackwater, clients have included Countrywide Financial, which has been tainted by the subprime mortgage scandal, and Cintas Corp., which has fought the unionization of its workforce.
One of Mrs. Clinton’s rivals, former Senator John Edwards, went on the attack this afternoon, meanwhile. His campaign e-mailed a statement from Mr. Edwards:
“Bush has been a perfect example of cronyism because Blackwater has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to republicans and to President Bush. I also saw this morning that Senator Clinton’s primary adviser, Mark Penn who is like her Karl Rove — his firm is representing Blackwater. I think it is important for Iowa caucus goers to understand the choices they have in this election. And it is the reason I continue to say we dont want to replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats. I think it is important for caucus goers to see this choice.”
Asked to comment on Mr. Edwards’ shot, Mr. Wolfson repeated that Mr. Penn was a valuable and trusted member of the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Edwards himself was a consultant in 2005 and 2006 with a hedge fund, the Fortress Investment Group, which has had investments in subprime mortgage companies that have foreclosed on victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Edwards has also had a portfolio with Fortress, but has divested holdings that related to the mortgage

Chief Clinton Strategist Is CEO of Firm that Represented Blackwater

As I've posted before, back in February, before Blackwater was even on the media radar, Barack Obama was at the forefront of the issue, introducing legislation calling for more accountability from military contractors.

His official statement from the campaign:

Barack Obama, who opposed the war in Iraq in 2002, has consistently said that America cannot defeat 21st century threats on a conventional battlefield. And America cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors. Barack Obama has been the leader on this issue in the U.S. Senate, having introduced legislation to address this problem in February. Obama’s plan will make these operations more transparent and accountable.

...An estimated 48,000 private security contractors are operating in Iraq, and more than 1,000 contractors have died in Iraq since 2003. The recent shooting on September 16 involving Blackwater that killed 17 Iraqis and wounded several others has increased attention to U.S. reliance on private security contractors in Iraq. But that incident was just the latest in a series of incidents in which that company’s employees have engaged Iraqi government personnel or killed Iraqi civilians.

Yesterday, the Chairman of Blackwater testified before Congress that nearly 30 Blackwater employees have been killed in Iraq. On Monday, the House Oversight Committee released a report that found Blackwater guards had engaged in 195 shooting incidents since early 2005. Despite several instances of excessive use of force, including one drunken Blackwater employee killing a bodyguard of one of the Iraqi vice presidents, there is no evidence the State Department sought to hold anyone with Blackwater accountable.

Lack of Transparency and Accountability: Americans have the right to know about the role of and
accountability for private security contractors. There are an estimated 180,000 or more contractors working in Iraq under contracts awarded by the Department of Defense, the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other federal agencies. Little is known about what functions these security contractors are actually performing, at what cost, the rules of engagement under which they are operating, and how many have been killed or wounded. Moreover, there is no clear legal framework under which contractors can be held accountable for criminal behavior. Accountability is essential in America’s larger effort to bring a responsible end to the war in Iraq.

Security Contractor Accountability Plan: Unaccountable security contractors can act as if the law doesn’t apply to them – because it doesn’t. Obama’s plan would require contractors to coordinate with the U.S. military to stop contractors from acting in ways that undermine our mission. Contractors would also have to follow rules of engagement when they use force and comply with U.S. laws. When contractors break the law, they will be prosecuted. Obama’s plan would also establish F.B.I. in-theater units to investigate every incident for which there is reasonable suspicion of criminal felony misconduct. This should not just be a temporary job for the F.B.I. – it should be one of their permanent responsibilities.

...In February Obama introduced the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act. The act would clarify the legal status of contractors, subjecting them to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to ensure that all contractors working in war zones – regardless of contracting agency – would be held accountable under U.S. law. Passed in 2000, MEJA says that contractors for the armed forces can be prosecuted under US law for crimes committed overseas.

However, because companies like Blackwater have contracts with the State Department rather than the Defense Department, the company is not technically subject to that law. Obama’s bill would also require federal agencies employing private security contractors to report to Congress on the details of those arrangements, such as the total number and cost of contractors, the number of contractors killed or wounded, information about the military and safety equipment provided to contractors, and details of disciplinary action taken against contractors.

Obama has sent letters to President Bush, Secretary Gates, and Secretary Rice requesting answers on the Blackwater incident and on the role and accountability of contractors in general.

Obama has also stood firm in his opposition in using all methods of torture as a means of interrogation. This is his statement in response to the New York Times report on the Bush administration's secret authorization "to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer - it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration's approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America's standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It's time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It's time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won't work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values," said Obama.

In the last presidential debate, Hillary tried to play both sides of the fence and agreed with Barack, giving her own blanket denunciation of torture, even though this is a contradiction of a previous position she has taken.

Blackwater is in the midst of a lot of media and governmental scrutiny right now, and are in need of a major public-relations overhaul. What firm do they call when they want to clean up their media image? Well, no other than PR Giant Burson-Marsteller. Blackwater is one of their latest clients and they will be in charge of selling a cleaned-up Blackwater to the American people. From Associated Press:

Public relations giant Burson-Marsteller has vast experience steering companies through tough times. But there's a limit to how much it can help Blackwater USA, a new client that's been battered by negative publicity.

The State Department, which pays Blackwater hundreds of millions of dollars to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has stringent rules barring the private security contractor from discussing with the media the details of its work, according to those familiar with the arrangement.

Under those limitations, it's difficult to repair a corporate image, said one official close to Blackwater.

The department allows little room for error. On Sept. 16, Blackwater guards were involved in a shoot-out in Baghdad that left 13 Iraqis dead. Blackwater issued a statement to reporters saying its personnel acted lawfully and appropriately to a "hostile attack" from "armed enemies."

As it turns out the president and CEO of the firm is Mark Penn, who is also the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Think of him as Hillary's Karl Rove. From The Nation:

[P]erhaps the most important figure in the [Clinton] campaign is her pollster and chief strategist, Mark Penn, a combative workaholic. Penn is not yet a household name, but perhaps he should be. Inside Hillaryland, he has elaborately managed the centrist image Hillary has cultivated in the Senate. The campaign is polling constantly, and Penn's interpretation of the numbers will in large part decide her political direction.

Yet Penn is no ordinary pollster. Beyond his connections to the Clintons, he not only polls for America's biggest companies but also runs one of the world's premier PR agencies [Burson-Marsteller]. This creates a dilemma for Hillary: Penn represents many of the interests whose influence candidate Clinton--in an attempt to appeal to an increasingly populist Democratic electorate--has vowed to curtail. Is what's good for Penn and his business good for Hillary's political career? And furthermore, can she convincingly claim to fight for the average American with Penn guiding strategy in her corner?

...Burson-Marsteller is hardly a natural fit for a prominent Democrat. The firm has represented everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of massive human rights violations in Nigeria. B-M pioneered the use of pseudo-grassroots front groups, known as "astroturfing," to wage stealth corporate attacks against environmental and consumer organizations. It set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris to fight tobacco regulation in the early 1990s. Its current clients include major players in the finance, pharmaceutical and energy industries. In 2006, with Penn at the helm, the company gave 57 percent of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates.

Private security firms like Blackwater have been implicated in human-rights violations like Abu Ghraib. From Amnesty International:

...credible allegations of contractor involvement in serious human rights violations – including participation by contractors in the Abu Ghraib tragedy – have emerged, yet Bush administration officials apparently have made virtually no effort to hold contractors accountable or compensate victims. Even though reporting of crimes is basically voluntary by the companies, serious allegations of human rights violations have surfaced.

Civilians working for private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are alleged to have committed serious incidents of abuse including assault, torture and sexual abuse, some of which occurred at Abu Ghraib prison. While reports of alleged incidents of abuse by civilians have been forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Virginia, there have been no convictions and only one indictment, though at least 20 cases were forwarded by the Department of Defense and the CIA to the Department of Justice since the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan. In addition, according to press reports, there have been hundreds of incidents of private security contractors firing at Iraqi civilians and even U.S. military personnel.

The question I have for you is this: How can we ask our elected officials to demand accountability in such important ethical issues like torture, which goes against the grain of everything America is supposed to stand for, when their most trusted advisors are profiting from it?

UPDATE: Since the Associated Press story broke, Penn explains: "It was a temporary
assignment based on a relationship that has concluded."

I would place money on the bet that part of the relationship ending is because of an increasing amount of media attention.

I called the Clinton campaign's press office to get some clarification on Mark Penn and his firm's relation to Blackwater. I left a message with my name and question with the receptionist. I never got a response back.

Let's just call this one, "From Whitewater to Blackwater."

Obama Unveils Bold New Energy Plan

Obama Unveils Bold New Energy Plan

From the campaign:

Obama Unveils Bold Energy Plan

Portsmouth, NH | October 08, 2007

Portsmouth, NH - In a major policy address today, Barack Obama will announce a visionary plan to make America a global leader on energy. After years of broken promises and unfulfilled plans that have fallen victim to the Washington status quo, Obama will pledge to provide real leadership on the issue by challenging conventional thinking and loosening the grip of special interests. Obama's plan lays out bold steps to combat global climate change, free America from the tyranny of oil, and create millions of new jobs and entire new industries here in America.

Senator Obama has been a proven leader on energy with a strong record of fighting to invest in renewable fuels and raise fuel economy standards. Obama has been honest in telling the defenders of the status quo that when he's President, the same failures won't do.

Senator Obama's plan to make America a global leader on energy includes:

- Implementing an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level recommended by top scientists to avoid calamitous impacts

- Investing $150 billion over the next ten years to develop and deploy climate friendly energy supplies, protect our existing manufacturing base and create millions of new jobs

- Dramatically improving energy efficiency to reduce energy intensity of our economy by 50 percent by 2030

- Reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing oil consumption overall by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels of oil, by 2030

- Leading a new international global warming partnership
The plan can be viewed in full HERE.