Archive for August, 2008

LOS ANGELES — From her perch on a windowsill near a corner in South Los Angeles, Natasha Jackson could survey eight fast-food restaurants, and a sign promising one more to come.

“It would be good to have a health food restaurant here,” said Ms. Jackson, 20. “But to tell you the truth, I would probably just go to McDonald’s, because that’s what I know.”

Los Angeles lawmakers are hoping they can legislate away the eating habits of Ms. Jackson and thousands of her neighbors. In July the City Council passed a one-year moratorium, now signed into law and effective as of last week, on any new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area south of Interstate 10, and the city is offering prospective owners of new grocery stores and non-fast-food restaurants large financial incentives to set up shop in the area.

The impetus for the ban was the area’s large number of fast-food chains, which account for 45 percent of all its restaurants, along with high rates of obesity and related health problems and small numbers of fresh-food outlets, said Councilwoman Jan Perry, the bill’s author.

“Talking to people over the last 10 to 15 years, they have consistently demanded more grocery stores and sit-down restaurants,” Ms. Perry said. “We have precious little land left to develop in the district.”

The moratorium was opposed by the California Restaurant Association and is being closely monitored by fast-food chains.

“There is always that concern that it could expand,” said Brian Luscomb, a spokesman for Jack in the Box, which has nine restaurants in South Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles, the city’s poorest section, sits at the crossroad of a number of policy trends in the state and, increasingly, in the nation, in which governments seek to limit the availability of foods deemed by the medical community to cause harm. Last month California became the first state to ban trans fats in all restaurants and bakeries, following similar legislation in New York and other cities.

Further, as some consumers push for more local ingredients, community organizers have tried to bring farmers’ markets and other alternatives to South Los Angeles, which still lacks many basic grocery stores. Last year the city began offering tax credits, loans and energy discounts to new groceries, sit-down restaurants and fresh-food purveyors that settled in the neighborhood, and the ban on new fast-food restaurants, derided by some as misguided and an ineffective way to alter consumers’ behavior, is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. (Some other cities have introduced bans on fast-food restaurants, but for aesthetic rather than health reasons.)

Over the past five years, three farmers’ markets have opened in South Los Angeles, and while they do not enjoy the patronage of other urban markets, “we think they are a great asset in that community,” said Pompea Smith, chief executive of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, a nonprofit community development corporation.

Greg Good, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which is pressuring national grocery chains to bolster their presence in South Los Angeles, said: “South L.A. is a food desert of massive proportions. You have a city completely divided, not only in the ways so familiar to folks but in terms of actual food access. In the face of that, a general call to action is taking place.”

It may be that what many of the roughly 550,000 people in the area covered by the moratorium desire is not less of what they have, but more of what they do not.

“I don’t think such a ban has any point,” said Caroline Adeuole, who had just stepped off a bus with a shopping cart filled with fruits and vegetables procured on the city’s west side. “No matter where they put those restaurants, if people want that, they will drive to get it.”

Taking a container of blueberries from her cart, Ms. Adeuole added, “Not many people around here are ready to pay $5 for berries.”

Others denounce the ban as overreaching.

“I think it’s pretty ridiculous,” said Joe R. Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates Inc., based in downtown Los Angeles. “Limiting people’s food options is not really the way to go. Nor is it the role of government to tell people what they should or should not be eating. French fries aren’t contraband.”

During a drive around a nine-and-half-mile stretch of the zone where the moratorium began last week, a reporter noted 32 fast-food chain restaurants, nine mom-and-pop-style burger outlets and just eight other restaurants, most of them either Chinese or other ethnic places like a family-style Salvadoran restaurant. It is the hope for alternatives that has led some people here to support the ban.

“It’s either chicken or burgers around here,” said Ernest Herbert, who is 40 and has high cholesterol. “If I want something else to eat, I have to go all the way to Wilshire. I am very supportive of this.”


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Ten days after the announcement of his appointment as the Obama campaign’s coordinator for Muslim affairs, Chicago lawyer Mazen Ashabi resigned, saying he didn’t want investigations into his past associations to become “distracting.”

Mazen Asbahi became the campaign’s coordinator of outreach to Muslims on July 26, but earlier this week a report by the Internet newsletter Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report was surfaced by the Wall Street Journal that linked Asbahi to Jamal Said, a man thought by the U.S. Department of Justice to be involved in racketeering and fundraising for the Palestinian terror organization Hamas.

A pair of Detroit Free Press articles this week also revealed Asbahi spent part of the day of his appointment at a fundraiser at the home of Dr. Jukaku Tayeb, president of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.

CAIR has been accused in the book “Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out”, published by WND books, of being a co-conspirator in funneling $12 million to Hamas, operating as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood and extensive connections to terrorist organizations.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, which initiated the events leading to Asbahi’s resignation, is published by a Washington think tank that tracks the Muslim Brotherhood, a world-wide Sunni Islam fundamentalist group based in Egypt.

The Report revealed Asbahi had briefly served in 2000 on the board of an Islamic investment fund called the Allied Assets Advisors Fund with Jamal Said, imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois. Said, in turn, was named last year by the U.S. Department of Justice as an unindicted co-conspirator in a racketeering trial surrounding alleged Hamas fundraisers, which ended in a mistrial.

According to the Wall Street Journal, after it learned of Asbahi’s connection to Said, the newspaper submitted a list of questions to the Obama campaign about Asbahi’s background.

Rather than answers, however, Asbahi responded with his resignation.

Referring to his time on the Allied Assets Advisors Fund board, Asbahi wrote in his resignation, “I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board.” The letter also said, “Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down … to avoid distracting from Barack Obama’s message of change.”

Immediately following Asbahi’s resignation, CAIR spokesmen came to his defense, calling the investigation into his past and his subsequent resignation an example of Americans’ fear of Islam.

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, told the London Guardian that links between Asbahi and terrorist groups were “baseless smears” and said, “This incident just shows how Islamophobic the political climate is right now.”

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago Council of CAIR, told the Chicago Sun-Times the Asbahi resignation demonstrates “the difficulty of charting the waters of Islamophobia in this election cycle.”

Meanwhile, an Obama campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, told the Wall Street Journal the senator’s campaign is in the process of searching for a new national Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator.

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Aides Say She Would Have Won Iowa if Edwards Affair was Exposed.

Sen. Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee if John Edwards had been caught in his lie about an extramarital affair and forced out of the race last year, insists a top Clinton campaign aide, making a charge that could exacerbate previously existing tensions between the camps of Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

“I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee,” former Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson told ABCNews.com.

Clinton finished third in the Iowa caucuses barely behind Edwards in second place and Obama in first. The momentum of the insurgent Obama campaign beating two better-known candidates — not to mention an African-American winning in such an overwhelmingly white state — changed the dynamics of the race forever.

Obama won 37.6 per cent of the vote. Edwards won 29.7 per cent and Clinton won 29.5 per cent, according to results posted by the Iowa Democratic Party.

“Our voters and Edwards’ voters were the same people,” Wolfson said the Clinton polls showed. “They were older, pro-union. Not all, but maybe two-thirds of them would have been for us and we would have barely beaten Obama.”

Two months earlier, Edwards had vociferously, but falsely, denied a story in the National Enquirer about the alleged affair last October, and few in the mainstream media even reported the denial.
The lie “certainly had an impact on the election,” Wolfson said.

Former Clinton adviser James Carville told “Good Morning America” that Wolfson’s comments are just speculation.

“My instinct tells me she probably would have done better if Senator Edwards wouldn’t have been on the ballot,” said Carville. “But that wasn’t the circustances at the time. I think Howard is fine in engaging in this kind of speculation, but it doesn’t really mean very much.”

Wolfson said the Clinton campaign was aware of the issue, but did not try to fan the flames.
“Any of the campaigns that would have tried to push that would have been burned by it,” said Wolfson.

But he says he is mystified about the failure of the national media to pursue the story as it has allegations of other candidates’ affairs.

“I can’t say I understand the rules of the media and I’m not sure they do either,” he said.

Wolfson’s suggestion comes at a delicate time in negotiations between the Clinton and Obama camps, as the Obama campaign decides whether the convention later this month should feature a roll call vote allowing Clinton’s delegates to voice their enthusiasm for their candidate. Many Clinton supporters are already resentful of Obama, whom they see as having only won the nomination with the support of a sexist media and Democratic establishment. Wolfson’s argument that these same players helped keep Edwards in the race, thus hurting Clinton — a highly debatable contention — will likely only fan the flames of Democratic division.

Wolfson’s contention is not shared by the Obama campaign, whose officials never bought the argument that Clinton was the second choice of Edwards voters. Immediately after Edwards dropped out of the race at the end of January, Obama won eleven straight contests in a row.

And Clinton’s steadfast refusal to say she regretted her vote to authorize use of force in Iraq — unlike Obama, who always opposed the war, and Edwards, who said his vote for war was a mistake — turned off many anti-wars liberals in Iowa, who make up a disproportionate number of caucus goers.

In May 2007, Mike Henry, then Clinton’s deputy campaign manager, thought the terrain so hostile to Clinton he wrote a memo to “propose skipping the Iowa caucuses and dedicating more of Senator Clinton’s time and financial resources on the primary in New Hampshire on January 22, the Nevada caucus on January 19, the primaries in South Carolina and Florida on January 29, and the 20 plus state primaries on February 5th.”

There was no comment from the Obama campaign.

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Obama may soon discover that glittering generalities only get you so far.

By Thomas Sowell

Many years ago, when I was a college student, I took a course from John Kenneth Galbraith. On the first day of class, Professor Galbraith gave a brilliant opening lecture, after which the students gave him a standing ovation.

Galbraith kept on giving brilliant opening lectures the whole semester. But, instead of standing ovations, there were now dwindling numbers of students and some of them got up and walked out in the middle of his lectures.

Galbraith never got beyond the glittering generalities that marked his first lecture. After a while, the students got tired of not getting any real substance.

Senator Barack Obama’s campaign this year reminds me very much of that course from Professor Galbraith. Many people were ecstatic during the early primaries, as each state’s voters heard his glittering generalities for the first time.

The media loved the novelty of a black candidate with a real chance to become president, and his left-wing vision of the world was largely their vision as well. There was a veritable media honeymoon for Obama.

There was outrage in the mainstream media when ABC anchor man Charles Gibson asked Obama a serious question about the economic effects of a capital-gains tax. Who interrupts honeymooners to talk economics?

The fact that Senator Obama did not have a very coherent answer made things worse — for Charles Gibson. Since Obama can do no wrong in the eyes of many of his supporters, they resented Gibson’s having asked him such a question.

The question, incidentally, was why Senator Obama was advocating a higher capital-gains tax rate when experience has shown that the government typically collected more revenue from a lower capital-gains tax rate than from a higher rate.

Senator Obama acted as if he had never thought about it that way. He probably hadn’t. He is a politician, not an economist.

Politically, what matters to the left-wing base that Obama has been playing to for decades is sticking it to “the rich.” What effect that has on the tax revenues received by the government is secondary, at best.

What effect a higher capital-gains tax rate will have on the economy today and on people’s pensions in later years is a question that is not even on Senator Obama’s radar screen.

Economists may say that higher capital-gains tax rates can translate into lower levels of economic activity and fewer jobs, but Obama will leave that kind of analysis to the economists. He is in politics, and what matters politically is what wins votes right here and right now.

The kind of talk that won the votes — and the hearts — of the left-wing base of the Democratic party during the primaries may not be enough to carry the day with voters in the general election. So Senator Obama has been changing his tune or, as he puts it, “refining” his message.

This was not the kind of “change” that the true believers among Obama’s supporters were expecting. So there has been some wavering among the faithful and some ups and downs in the polls.

Despite an impressive political machine and a huge image makeover this year to turn a decades-long, divisive grievance-promoting activist into someone who is supposed to unite us all and lead us into the promised land of “change,” little glimpses of the truth keep coming out.

The elitist sneers at people who believe in religion and who own guns, the Americans who don’t speak foreign languages, and the views of the “typical white person” are all like rays of light that show through the cracks in Obama’s carefully crafted image.

The overwhelming votes for Obama in some virtually all-white states show that many Americans are ready to move beyond race. But Obama himself wants to have it both ways, by attributing racist notions to the McCain camp that has never made race an issue.

The problem with clever people is that they don’t know when to stop being clever — and Senator Obama is a very clever man, perhaps “too clever by half” as the British say. But maybe he can’t keep getting by with glittering generalities, any more than Galbraith could.

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WASHINGTON – If you’re a senior citizen and earn less than $50,000 a year, Barack Obama has a deal for you: a life free of federal income tax.

Sounds appealing, right? Maybe to many seniors. But tax policy experts in Washington are giving it bad reviews. They see it as another subsidy for senior citizens, who already get federal help through Social Security and Medicare and often have economic advantages over other demographic groups.
Seniors typically have paid off their mortgages, many have investments and usually don’t pay taxes on their Social Security benefits. The kids are usually grown, so they’re not saddled with day care or college costs.

“The odds are the retired folks – they’re getting pensions, they’re getting Social Security, they have investment assets, they own a house – so … they’re better off than somebody who is 30 or 40 years younger who’s trying to buy a house (and) trying to start saving,” said Clint Stretch, managing principal of tax policy for Deloitte Tax.

The Obama campaign says the idea would give tax cuts averaging about $1,400 to 7 million seniors who are battling inflation with mostly fixed incomes. The campaign also says the plan would relieve millions of older people from having to file complicated tax returns.

“If you work hard and pay into the system, you’ve earned the right to a secure retirement,” says a description of the plan on the Obama campaign’s web site. “But too many seniors aren’t getting that security, even though they’ve held up their end of the bargain. Lower and middle income seniors are struggling as their expenses on health and energy skyrocket while their incomes do not keep pace.”
Some of Obama’s allies in Washington think he’s onto a bad idea.

“Most low- and moderate-income seniors already owe no income tax. Among seniors with incomes below $50,000 who do owe income tax, a significant number have modest incomes because they are retired but possess substantial assets,” said Robert Greenstein, who heads the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. “Given all the problems and needs the nation faces, targeting relief to this group isn’t a priority.”

The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, gave the idea bad grades in a recent study of the two presidential candidates’ tax plans.

Seniors already get preferential treatment in the tax code. They can claim an additional standard deduction and only a portion of their Social Security benefits are taxed. Many don’t pay payroll taxes because their income is from investments rather than wages.

“The proposal would exempt comparatively well off, though not affluent, senior citizens from taxes and give them a benefit not generally available to working Americans,” said the Tax Policy Center paper. It “helps only those low-income seniors who currently pay income taxes. Those too poor to owe any tax – arguably those most in need – would get no benefit.”

Even the powerful seniors’ lobby doesn’t seem excited about Obama’s idea. An AARP bulletin on the presidential candidates’ tax plans barely mentions it, noting that Obama’s proposal could partly offset additional taxes that Obama would impose on seniors through higher tax rates on dividends and capital gains.

Tax experts across the spectrum also fault the Obama plan’s abrupt $50,000 per year threshold. As described by the campaign, seniors making $48,000, for example, would pay no income tax, while someone with income slightly more than $50,000 could pay several thousand dollars in income taxes. Seniors nearing the $50,000 threshold would have an incentive to quit working.

Lawmakers would likely add a phaseout, according to tax experts. “Everyone knows there would never be this $50,000 cliff,” said Ben Harris, a senior research associate at Brookings.

The proposed new tax break for seniors is one of about a dozen tax changes proposed by Obama, including raising rates on people making more than $250,000 a year, extending most of the rest of President Bush’s tax cuts, subsidizing Social Security and payroll taxes for low-income workers and boosting income and child care tax credits for low-income workers.

Barack is obviously ignorant about economics, foreign policy, military matters, abortion issues, etc. But he is profoundly knowledgeable when it comes to graft, mortgages, rhetoric…

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The Muslim-outreach coordinator to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama has resigned amid questions about his involvement in an Islamic investment fund and various Islamic groups.

Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi, who was appointed volunteer national coordinator for Muslim American affairs by the Obama campaign on July 26, stepped down Monday after an Internet newsletter wrote about his brief stint on the fund’s board, which also included a fundamentalist imam.

“Mr. Asbahi has informed the campaign that he no longer wishes to serve in his volunteer position, and we are in the process of searching for a new national Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

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A group purporting to tell the “real truth” about Barack Obama’s views on abortion wants a judge to rule it is not subject to federal election restrictions on fundraising and advertising.

The Real Truth About Obama Inc., a group formed by anti-abortion activists, is trying to establish a Web site and air radio ads. But the group’s attorney says his clients fear they will be prosecuted for breaking federal rules that restrict fundraising and advertising by political action committees, or PACs.
The Richmond-based group argues it is not a PAC because it would be talking about an issue, not advocating Obama’s defeat or election.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer has scheduled a Sept. 10 hearing on a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department from imposing the restrictions.

“The Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that you are free to discuss the petitions of candidates on issues and how officials have voted in office without being subject to campaign finance restrictions,” said the organization’s attorney, James Bopp Jr. of Terre Haute, Ind.

The high court, in a 5-4 decision last year, upheld a lower court’s ruling that a Wisconsin anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 election.

The Real Truth About Obama wants to post ads on its Web site and on the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity talk shows in key states during the “electioneering communication” blackout period 60 days before the general election. The ad features an “Obama-like voice” saying he would make taxpayers pay for all abortions, ensure minors’ abortions are concealed from their parents, appoint more liberal Supreme Court justices and legalize the late-term procedure that abortion opponents call “partial-birth” abortion.

A spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign declined to respond to the organization’s proposed ad. Obama supports abortion rights.

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