Wall St: embedded like a tick in politics

For all the talk about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, she’s hardly the only presidential candidate Wall Street is investing in.

No matter who wins the Democratic and Republican nominations and the November election, the securities and investment industry will be embedded like a tick in Washington.

occupy-wall-street-political-cartoon-lobbyistsThe industry is one of the top interest groups supporting members of the 113th Congress so far during the 2015-2016 election cycle, with $157,708,874 in contributions that have been spread on both sides of the aisle like honey.

For example, the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have taken in $2,244,256 while the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) have collected $1,342,094.

In 2015, the securities and investment industry contributed $102 million to all the candidates and their super PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In fact, the industry led all industries tracked by the Center in terms of contributions.

This continues a pattern begun in the 2012 election cycle when the securities and investment industry became the single largest source of political contributions. In that cycle, the industry was responsible for $283 million in contributions, most of it coming from individuals who work in the industries, rather than corporate PACs, according to the Center.

Considering just the current candidates, the industry was the top donor to Clinton ($17.2 million) and Rubio ($9.9 million) in 2015 when their campaign committees and super PACs are combined. In addition, the industry’s contributions represented a significant share of total contributions to Cruz ($12.2 million).

The industry was no slouch in supporting some of the candidates who have dropped out either. Ron Paul took in $4.3 million and Fiorina $2.8 million from the industry, though the industry poured the most money down the drain with Bush, contributing $34 million to his campaign.

So don’t count on popular angst about Wall Street’s role translating into diminished influence for Wall Street after the 2016 presidential election.

Just sayin’.

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Paralyzed Veterans of America: hold the applause

Who wouldn’t sympathize with, and want to help, paralyzed American veterans?

A glossy, multi-colored letter and pamphlet came in the mail the other day from the Salem-based Oregon Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). The principal message was a plea for me to be a sponsor or buy tickets to a May 14, 2016 gala and auction in Wilsonville.

paralyzed-veterans-of-america-the-phone-call-feat-ben-affleck-large-9

Like so many other pleas to help our veterans, it sounds good…until you look behind the curtain at the non-profit’s finances.

The national PVA organization is among the top charities that collect the bulk of public contributions to veterans’ causes.

But according to the Center for Public Integrity, The national headquarters of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has a long history of high fundraising expenses and low program expenses that actually help disabled veterans.

The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Giving Alliance says the PVA doesn’t meet its standards, principally because the BBB is unable to verify that the PVA spends at least 65 percent of its total expenses on program activities and no more than 35 percent of related contributions on fund raising. Related contributions include donations, legacies, and other gifts received as a result of fund raising efforts.

The BBB reviewed PVA’s 2014 audit report for fiscal year 2014 and concluded that it didn’t provide an accurate presentation of PVA’s fund raising and program service expenses.

According to the audited financial statement, PVA incurred joint costs of $58,587,922 for informational materials and activities that include fund raising expenses in 2014. Of this, PVA allocated $32,132,043 to program service expenses and $24,945,288 (21%) to fund raising expenses. The BBB disagreed with PVA’s decision to count $32,132,043 of direct mail appeals to the program service category, arguing that most of that expense should be considered fundraising.

If all the proper spending was allocated to fundraising, the PVA actually spent $57,077,331 on fundraising in 2014, or 39 percent of its expenses. Add what it spent on administrative expenses, and 42 percent of its budget went to non-program expenses, a monstrously high level.

The PVA’s financial records also show an dismal performance at the state level in Oregon. According to information the Oregon chapter submitted to the IRS, in its fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, the Oregon Chapter’s expenses totaled $628,567.

The chapter reported spending just $139,868 on professional fundraising services, but it spent another $62,863 on “Public Awareness” and $6550 on “advertising and promotion”. That adds up to $209,281 focused on fundraising, or 33 percent of total spending.

Look even closer and you find that the Oregon Chapter spent just $92,164, 15 percent of its total spending, on grants and other assistance to individuals in the U.S. and on benefits to or for members in 2014. Almost all the rest went to fundraising, salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, legal expenses, accounting, office expenses, travel, insurance, depreciation, and contract services.

“The scoundrels and the thieves and the rip-off artists … that want to make a lot of money know that these are categories of charities where the American public is gravitated, it pulls at the heartstrings and they know that the tendency of Americans is to give impulsively, emotionally with that pull,” Ken Berger, president and chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator, told the Center for Public Integrity. “They exploit that and they use that.”

Gov. Brown & campaign finance reform: time to silence the megaphone

Governor Kate Brown says she wants campaign finance reform.

“No one should be able to buy a megaphone so big it drowns out every other voice,” Brown said last year. “It’s time to reopen conversations about reasonable campaign limits in Oregon.”

megaphone-review-abuse

But Brown can safely advocate campaign finance reform now because if it is imposed it won’t be until after her next race and all the usual suspects of unions, attorneys, and hangers-on have already contributed to her re-election campaign, some in jaw-dropping amounts.

A review of the records of the Kate Brown Committee during 2015-2016 (below) reveals dozens of $10,000 and up contributors, so there’s obviously no shortage of people and organizations willing to shovel out cash to ensure Brown has a big megaphone.

The Kate Brown Committee has already received contributions during 2015-2016 totaling $1,646,337 and has a current balance of $1,123,196.

Some of those contributions look like payback, such as the $100,000 contribution from the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) following the state’s generous contract agreement with the labor union in 2015 and Governor Brown’s support for big increases in the minimum wage.

Other union contributions are undoubtedly intended to keep Brown on the straight and narrow in terms of supporting union agendas.

Another $10,000-and-over contribution that looks like payback is one from the Motor Vehicle Software Corporation, a California-based creator of DMVdesk electronic vehicle registration (EVR) software. The company began a phased introduction of its title and registration solutions, as well as training program, in Oregon last year. This is part of the company’s plan to automate registration nationwide.

I don’t doubt that there are more questionable contributions.

If Brown sincerely believes no one should be able to buy a megaphone, she could start by limiting her own contributions now.

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Gov. Kate Brown’s $10,000-and-over contributors, listed on the Secretary of State’s website, are noted below:

Contributor/Payee Amount Aggregate Amount
Laborers’ Political League 75000 75000
Democratic Governors Association 10544.83 10544.83
James Summerton 10000 10000
Nike Inc. and Affiliates 10000 10000
Deloitte Services LP 10000 10000
AllCare Management Services, LLC 10000 10000
Stoll, Stoll, Berne, Lokting &Shlachter, PC 10000 10000
AFSCME 100000 100000
Jon Stryker 25000 25000
Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon (4327) 10000 10000
DaVita Total Renal Care Inc 10000 10000
The Corson and Johnson Law Firm PC 10000 10000
Democratic Governors Association 10624.47 64920.75
John Koza 10000 10000
Oregon School Employees Assoc. – Voice of Involved Classified Employees (2307) 10000 10000
Global Companies LLC 10000 10000
Josh Kardon 10000 10000
Joshua Steiner 10000 10000
Motor Vehicle Software Corporation 10000 10000
Local 48 Electricians PAC (4572) 10000 35000
Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton 10000 10000
Steve Silberstein 10000 10000
Pfizer, Inc. 10000 10000
Timothy Quenelle 10000 10000
Kafoury & McDougal 10000 10000
Rosenthal Greene & Devlin PC 10000 10000
The Barton Law Firm, P.C. 10000 10000
jeffrey Bowersox 10000 10000
Johnson, Johnson & Schaller, PC 10000 10000
Erin Olson 10000 12500
D’Amore Law Group, PC 10000 10000
Tichenor & Dziuba LLP 10000 10000
Miller & Wagner LLP 10000 10000
Piucci Law 10000 10000
Mark Bocci 10000 10000
James Kelly 10000 10000
Linda Eyerman 10000 10000
Katherine Keane 10000 10000
Joseph Hawes 10000 12500
Charles Paulson 10000 10000
Stan Amy 20000 20000
Jane Paulson 10000 12000
Teevin Brothers Land & Timber 10000 10000
John Coletii 10000 10000
Democratic Governors Association 40000 54296.28
James Fuiten 10000 10000
Willamette Dental Management Corp. 10000 10000
Junki Yoshida 10000 10000
Democratic Governors Association 14296.28 14296.28
Robert Ball 10000 10000
Oregon State Fire Fighters Council 10000 10000
Barbara Lee 10000 10000
Local 48 Electricians PAC (4572) 25000 25000

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary wants campaign finance reform….later.

Frankly, it makes me sick.

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Hillary Clinton says she wants aggressive campaign finance reform to end the stranglehold that wealthy interests have over our political system and restore a government of, by, and for the people—not just the wealthy and well-connected.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee are working arm in arm to jigger campaign finance rules to spur more donations from fat cats. Maybe they figure nobody cares.

 

hillary-clintonWhatdoesitmatter

What difference at this point does it make?

In 2008, when Obama was running for president, he set in place restrictions that banned donations to the Democratic National Committee from federal lobbyists and political action committees. The Washington Post just reported that the Committee has rolled back those restrictions, opening up the floodgates for more big money to go to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

The Victory Fund collects money from big donors and then distributes it to Clinton’s campaign and 33 state Democratic Party committees. According to the Post, a recent Clinton solicitation asked supporters to give up to $366,100 to the fund. Her campaign then received $2,700 of the total for the primary period, while the rest went to the DNC and 33 state party committees.

The largest donor to the Victory Fund to date is the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which has donated $366,400. Portola Valley, CA philanthropist Laure Woods, president of the Lyme Foundation, has also donated $750,000 to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, according to OpenSecrets.org.

In December 2015, NPR reported that Clinton can now ask donors to give nearly three-quarters of a million dollars each. Here’s how:

According to NPR, Donors who are rich — and willing — can give $5,400 to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,000 to each of the state parties, about $360,000 in all. A joint fundraising committee lets the donor do it all with a single check.

On Jan. 1, the contribution limits reset for the party committees, and the Hillary Victory Fund can go back to its donors for another $350,000 in party funds.

All told, a single donor can give more than $700,000 for the election. That’s a hell of  lot more than most of us could ever afford.

OpenSecrets.org recently revealed how complicated and corrupt this whole process has become. Open Secrets noted that the Hillary Victory Fund reported taking in $26.9 million during 2015 and has transferred $7.4 million to the participants as of Feb. 19, 2016. The largest single contributions to this joint effort are not $86,000 (which would have been roughly the limit had the rules not been struck down) but rather $358,400 –including $2,700 to the Clinton campaign for the primary and $2,700 for the general along with $33,400 to the DNC and as much as $320,000 to state party committees.

These contributions would seem to have improved the financial health of many state party organizations that would never have received support from many of their donors without the JFC process.

But the way the contributions were used tells another story, OpenSecrets said. Virtually none of the $1.86 million given to state parties as of mid-February2016 spent more than one night with its designated recipient. In nearly every case, all of the funds given to state parties by the Hillary Victory Fund were immediately sent to the DNC. This structure has allowed a small number of elite Democratic donors to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the DNC for the purpose of affecting the presidential campaign.

If you are a federal lobbyist, the revised DNC rules amount to a shakedown. Donate more or your failure to do so will be remembered. If you’re a regular Joe (or Jane), you’re out of luck.

 

 

No Deal: Kill the Flint bail-out

“I’m a victim of greed, corruption and mistakes and the blatant stupidity of our government.”

Melissa Mays, resident of Flint, before the Flint City Council, Jan. 26, 2015

flintwaterprotest

Update, Feb. 24, 2016:

Senators from both parties reached a tentative deal on Wednesday to address the water crisis in Flint, Mich.—and allow a long-stalled energy bill to move forward.

A proposal by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and James Inhofe (R., Okla.) would authorize $100 million in emergency aid to fix and replace the city’s lead-contaminated pipes, as well as $70 million in loans to improve the city’s water infrastructure. The deal also authorizes $50 million nationwide to bolster lead-prevention programs and improve children’s health. http://on.wsj.com/1QFcvy2

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Unobservant and calculating politicians, bungling bureaucrats, greedy unions. You name it, everybody and their brother is responsible for the fiasco that is Flint, Michigan’s lead contaminated water.

So what do some Democrats do right off the bat? They call for the federal government to bail out the city with millions in federal aid.

The Democrats initially proposed $600 million in federal aid, with $400 million of that for drinking water infrastructure improvements and $200 million for dealing with the health fallout from lead exposure.

On Feb. 4, Senate Democrats blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill after lawmakers failed to agree on including the $600 million aid package, or even a smaller alternative, as an amendment to the bill.

The New York Times editorial page, as usual, lambasted the Republicans for their callous disregard of human suffering, particularly of children, tied their resistance to racism and endorsed the proposed bail out. As expected, the paper also laid the blame for the problem at the feet of Michigan’s Republican governor.

“The state government, whose officials caused this crisis, has been loath to commit substantial funds to long-term needs, and Congress, under the control of Republicans, is finding excuses not to rescue this poverty-stricken, majority-black city of nearly 100,000 people,” said the NY Times editorial.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton jumped in, asserting that the response to the water crisis has been “immoral” and calling for immediate passage of bail-out legislation. “This is no time for politics as usual,” Clinton said cynically. Her obvious goal – to shore up the African-American vote in states with later primaries.

Further, in an attempt to portray Republicans opposed to the amendment as heartless scrooges, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said ,”100,000 people in Flint, Michigan, have been poisoned, and Republicans do nothing…Nine thousand little children . . . have been poisoned. Still, Senate Republicans refuse to help.”

But why should all federal taxpayers bail out Flint when it’s abundantly clear that Flint’s desperate financial situation is self-inflicted by a succession of Democratic administrations and the water debacle is a result of negligence and failure at all levels of government, local, state and federal.

It’s equally clear that the economic catastrophe that is Flint, with its high debt, high poverty rate, crime and depopulation, is the result of years of negligence by incompetent politicians.

In essence, the politicians are now asking the rest of us to cover their asses.

In 1965, in Flint’s heyday, the city had 200,000 residents.

In 20011, the city was placed under an emergency manager when a state-appointed review panel recommended a state takeover of the city.

The panel found a structural deficit, recurring cash flow shortages, an unsustainable pension program for public employees, and other financial deficiencies that left the city with a $14.6 million deficit a the end of fiscal year 2010.

By 2013, economic decay had caused the population to drop below 100,000 for the first time since the ’20s, with 40 percent of the residents living in poverty and the median income just $24,834 a year, compared with a state median income of $48,411.

The water problems began in April 2014 when Flint switched to Flint River water from Detroit’s water supply in a money-saving effort. The decision to switch was driven, in large part, by the fact Flint was swamped with debt, including an immense public employee pension burden negotiated by unions and Democratic city leaders. Pension and retiree health care obligations have grown so much that they now consume about 33 cents of every dollar spent from Flint’s general fund.

According to a team of students at Virginia Tech who conducted a comprehensive study of Flint’s water problems, contrary to popular assumptions, there’s essentially no lead in the drinking water being distributed in pipes leading up to property lines in Flint, but there is lead in many old service lines from water mains and in the plumbing systems of many older homes.

That wasn’t a big problem when Flint bought its water from Detroit because Detroit put a corrosion inhibitor in its water. But when Flint’s emergency manager decided to switch to the Flint River, without a corrosion inhibitor.

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech who led the team of students, says the city could have addressed the problem early on for minimal cost. But now it’s gotten out of control.

“There is no question that if the city had followed the minimum requirements under federal law that none of this would have happened,” said Edwards.

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For a sobering and disheartening, yet inspiring, look at the Flint water debacle, I urge you to watch this video reviewing the work of the Virginia Tech Flint Water Study team: http://bit.ly/1JWRps9

VaTechWaterTeam

 

 

Washout: Hillary’s foreign policy experience does her no favors

HillaryCaricature

Hillary Clinton and her backers figure she’s got at least one advantage, public trust in her foreign policy experience and judgment.

Hillary tried to highlight that factor when she told a questioner at a recent New Hampshire town hall meeting, “When you vote for someone for president, you’re also voting for a commander in chief.”

But why, exactly, does Hillary, or anybody else, think her foreign policy experience is a plus when you review her screw-ups.

Consider:

Libya

Then: Hillary Clinton urged President Obama to back a military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, over the opposition of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other national security experts.

Now: Libya has deteriorated into a virtual failed state run by hundreds of private militias. Eighteen months after the initial airstrikes, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in attacks by militants on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi. The North African nation has become a primary outpost for the Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to take territory, train soldiers and prove its strength outside Syria and Iraq. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Iraq

Then: On voting in favor of a resolution to take military action against Iraq in the face of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, “I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” Clinton said in a Senate speech the day before the vote. “It is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…It is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein — this is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.”

“We’ve ended the war in Iraq,” Obama said on June 25, 2012, at a New Hampshire rally in New Hampshire. “I’ve kept the commitments that I’ve made,” he said in Iowa on Oct. 24, 2012. “I told you we’d end the war in Iraq. We did.”

Now:

Although the Iraq war has technically been over for more than four years, Iraqis are still dying in large numbers. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries has risen considerably as the conflict between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government and associated forces continues. The U.N. has described the violence as “staggering” and noted the Islamic State may be guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.

A Jan. 2016 report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq also accuses ISIS of holding an estimated 3500 people as slaves across Iraqi territory, using many as human shields, and pressing 800-900 children into military service for the conflict.

Meanwhile, animosity Between Sunnis and Shiites is threatening the Iraq’s stability. Neighboring Iran, home to the world’s largest Shia population, is behind the country’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

Syria

Then: Hillary Clinton joined President Obama in declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would cross a “Red Line” if they used chemical weapons. On Aug. 11, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Istanbul that it’s clear to the Assad regime the use of chemical weapons is “a red line for the world.” On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is a red line. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now:

Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Today, 4.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. World Vision

Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Mercy Corps

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against President Bashar al-Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alewite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension. BBC

Russia

Then: In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red button with the Russian text “перегрузка”, which was intended to be the Russian word for “reset”. Clinton explained that she wanted to reset relations between Russia and the United States, to spur a new era of better ties. “The reset worked,” Clinton told CNN in August 2014.

Now: In March 2014, Russia decided “To hell with the reset” and annexed Crimea. This led to the installation of a pro-Russian government in Crimea, the holding of a disputed, unconstitutional referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence.

 Russia subsequently:

  • blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on Crimea’s referendum
  • provided a Russian-made Buk missle to Ukrainian rebels who used it to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board
  • granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who’s wanted in the United States for leaking information about National Security Agency surveillance practices.
  • Provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hillary, a tested,  brilliant, strategic foreign policy expert the American people can trust? I don’t think so.