Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

  McCain helped create the BlackBerry

John McCain's top economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, today credited him with helping to create the BlackBerry personal digital assistant. This grandiose claim invites ridicule and unfavorable comparisons to Al Gore's (accurate) statement that he had a hand in the internet's creation – and it will get both.

But before the chorus of laughter drowns out everything else, one point should be emphasized. Holtz-Eakin bases his absurd claim upon McCain's service on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Though McCain was chairman of the committee in 1997-2001, it's far from clear what McCain achieved that helped to create the (Canadian) Blackberry (released in 2002). What we can say with certainty is that McCain is doing absolutely nothing now on the Senate Commerce Committee. That's not an exaggeration. Back in July when I was investigating McCain's absenteeism in the Senate, I discovered that McCain has attended no hearings this year of the Commerce Committee or any of its subcommittees. Not a single one. That continues to be the case, evidently. He simply walked away from his Senate duties in order to run for president –McCain hasn't shown up in the Senate since April – in order to bring reform to Washington, he now says.

In other words, the preposterous BlackBerry claim raises a host of questions about McCain's campaign and his Senate career. What precisely are his achievements during the long Senate career he boasts of? He talks endlessly about his 'experience' but is vague about what he's used it for. Since when was McCain an economic reformer? And why should voters give him a new job when he can't be bothered to do his current one?

Here's what Holtz-Eakin told reporters today:

"He did this," Douglas Holtz-Eakin told reporters this morning, holding up his BlackBerry. "Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years, comes right through the Commerce Committee. So you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that's what he did."

The Associated Press report mocks Holtz-Eakin's argument, pointing out that McCain neither owns a computer nor sends email, before explaining what the nonsense was supposed to be about.

Holtz-Eakin...said McCain's service on and leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee put him at the intersection of a number of economic interests, including the telecommunications industry.

The Arizona senator's handling of regulation and deregulation of that industry in particular left him with the skills to help revive the economy amid a mortgage crisis, an energy crisis and a Wall Street meltdown, the adviser said.

The latter point is what the McCain campaign was aiming for, clearly. McCain has frequently admitted he knows too little about economics; his campaign staff is heavily dependent on lobbyists (and extremists) like Phil Gramm; his campaign finances are dependent on lobbyists' money; and his economic and financial policies past and present, such as he has any, have been drafted by lobbyists to emphasize deregulation of markets and industries. In March McCain told the Wall Street Journal "I'm always for less regulation."

Rather hard to explain that philosophy to the public now, since it's the very thing that led to the current collapse of the financial sector. The New York Times has a profile today of the contrasting economic approaches of Obama and McCain:

While Mr. McCain has cited the need for additional oversight when it comes to specific situations, like the mortgage problems behind the current shocks on Wall Street, he has consistently characterized himself as fundamentally a deregulator and he has no history prior to the presidential campaign of advocating steps to tighten standards on investment firms.

He has often taken his lead on financial issues from two outspoken advocates of free market approaches, former Senator Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman. Individuals associated with Merrill Lynch, which sold itself to Bank of America in the market upheaval of the past weekend, have given his presidential campaign nearly $300,000, making them Mr. McCain’s largest contributor, collectively.


Mr. McCain has sold himself to many voters as an agent for change, despite his party’s unpopularity after years of dominating in Washington, and despite his own antiregulation stances of past years.

Mr. McCain was quick on Monday to issue a statement calling for “major reform” to “replace the outdated and ineffective patchwork quilt of regulatory oversight in Washington and bring transparency and accountability to Wall Street...

Mr. McCain’s reaction suggests how the pendulum has swung to cast government regulation in a more favorable political light as the economy has suffered additional blows and how he is scrambling to adjust. While he has few footprints on economic issues in more than a quarter century in Congress, Mr. McCain has always been in his party’s mainstream on the issue.

In early 1995, after Republicans had taken control of Congress, Mr. McCain promoted a moratorium on federal regulations of all kinds. He was quoted as saying that excessive regulations were “destroying the American family, the American dream” and voters “want these regulations stopped.”

So taking a little credit for helping to create the Blackberry was meant to give McCain credibility where he has the opposite, a hard-earned reputation for contributing to the deregulation that has caused the pillaging of the American economy, from Enron to the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

McCain is so desperate to shore up his credibility that he this morning he pretended that he's been warning of economic collapse for years – even though until yesterday he kept repeating the mantra that 'the fundamentals of the economy are strong'.

McCain said he wants an inquiry into what led to the current mess, though he did not offer details.

"We're going to need a '9/11 Commission' to find out what happened and what needs to be fixed," he said. "I warned two years ago that this situation was deteriorating and unacceptable. And the old-boy network and the corruption in Washington is directly involved, and one of the causes of this financial crisis that we're in today. And I know how to fix it, and I know how to get things done."

A "9/11 Commission"? You'll recall that when the 9/11 commissioners unveiled their report, they announced rather proudly that when they first sat down they agreed immediately that they should avoid investigating who was to blame for allowing the disaster to occur. McCain wants another commission that will studiously avoid "the blame game". That's all the detail you need to know about his vague pronouncement – it would be more Republican CYA in the grand tradition of George Bush.

Too bad McCain couldn't be bothered to cover his own ass by showing up for a few Commerce Committee hearings this year – just to pretend that he really cares.

Update: A little further digging turned up a surprising rather amusing fact about the McCain campaign's claim that he created the BlackBerry by means of innovations passed through the Commerce Committee. The most important such bill, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, was enacted even though McCain voted against it. In the Commerce Committee, too, McCain opposed the bill mainly because he thought it didn't go far enough in eliminating nearly all regulation of telecommunications industries:

Deregulation has a clear and consistent track record. In virtually every case, consumers have benefited from lower prices, better services and increased choices.


There was a time when Congress could create, through regulation, orderly and predictable markets in which all competitors succeeded. That time has passed.


Regulators are not the best judge of when regulation is no longer needed. Congress has entrusted regulators before with the task of deregulating: Years ago Congress gave the Interstate Commerce Commission authority to eliminate regulation. So disappointing were the results that Congress was forced to intervene, as it will likely do again later this year.

This is the man who says he now wants to "replace the outdated and ineffective patchwork quilt of regulatory oversight in Washington".

crossposted at

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