Monday, January 30, 2012

Court Nomination of Bruce Harris Should be Opposed

In spite of the fact that the latest census reveals that 41% of the residents of New Jersey are minorities, the New Jersey Supreme Court remains an embarrassingly monolithic 100% white. In an effort to show sensitivity to issues of diversity, Governor Chris Christie recently nominated two new court members – Phillip H. Kwon, a Korean immigrant, and Bruce Harris, an openly gay black man. The nomination of Harris was initially greeted with excitement in civil rights circles, especially since Harris is both openly gay and partnered.

Unfortunately, Harris’ appointment is conditional upon his recusing himself from any same-sex marriage issues. Governor Chris Christie is on record as opposing same-sex marriage. Christie insists that Harris voluntarily offered to recuse himself, supposedly because three years ago he wrote to several state senators asking for their support of a same-sex marriage bill.

Whether this is Harris’ unsolicited offer or Christie’s requirement is immaterial: it is a dangerous (and illogical) precedent that enables the Executive and Legislative branches to stick its collective noses into the outcomes of judicial cases where it doesn’t belong.

Every Court nominee arrives at the bench with a history of advocacy, either through the legislative process, or through written judicial opinions. This is nothing new. What is new is the pre-emptive strike against specific judges from hearing certain issues.

When President Obama nominated the Hon. Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, there was a brief storm of opinion when she commented, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Sotomayor, who was ultimately confirmed to the Court, was not suggesting that Latina women were somehow smarter than white men; rather, she was expressing a well-settled understanding that diversity is important in the legal system. Those who have struggled to answer a police officer’s question because they do not speak the language; a woman who has feared for her life in spite of a restraining order issued against her abusive boyfriend; an immigrant afraid to report a crime because of their residency status; and a gay man who is denied justice after being beat on the street by someone who then claims the ‘gay panic defense' - understand life and the American legal processes in ways that are different than those who do not have to deal with such issues. That is why diversity is important, especially in the Judiciary.

To be certain, Judges should recuse themselves from some issues. Title 28 of the United States Judicial Code set standards for judicial recusal, naming four specific occasions. A federal Judge must recuse himself:

1) "where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding"
(This would not apply to Harris, since there is no particular case with identified parties at hand)

2) when the judge has previously served as a lawyer or witness concerning the same case or has expressed an opinion concerning its outcome;
(This would also not apply to Harris, since there is no specific case at hand)

3) when the judge or a member of his or her immediate family has a financial interest in the outcome of the proceeding. (This would not apply to Harris, since there is no particular case with any identified financial interests at hand)

4) in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

This is the only criteria where, on its surface, Harris might be accused. A logical analysis, however, as well as history, shows this to be utter nonsense.

Having an opinion on a legislative issue (what “should be”) does not inply that impartiality on a judicial issue (how the law “is” to be applied) is compromised.

First of all, being gay does not disqualify Harris from ruling on marriage issues. If it did, his being a black man would also disqualify him from racial discrimination cases. Furthermore, if being gay disqualifies him from cases involving same-sex marriage, then being heterosexual or married would also disqualify most other judges, since the opponents of gay marriage claim that same-sex marriage harms traditional marriage. This would disqualify both gays and judges in traditional marriages, thereby creating the unacceptable situation of only allowing single judges to rule in such cases.

Second, Harris’ advocacy on behalf of gay marriage can not possibly be deemed to render him impartial in a legal case. As stated above, advocacy for legislative issues does not imply impartiality in Judicial cases. As proof of this, I offer none other than Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

As a State Senator in Arizona, O’Connor not only advocated, but acually cast a procedural vote in favor of a bill to repeal the state's criminal-abortion statute. Later, she voted against a measure to prohibit abortions in Arizona state hospitals. In spite of this, no one ever suggested that O’Connor needed to recuse herself from abortion cases before the Court, and she was confirmed by a vote of 99-0.

Later, in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), which upheld some restrictions on second trimester abortions, O’Connor not only participated, but wrote a concurring opinion in which she explicitly opposed overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. In 1990, she was the critical swing vote in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S. 417 (1990), which looked at whether a state may require notification of both parents before a minor can obtain an abortion. Again, O’Connor not only participated, but provided the swing vote with the liberals in ruling 5-4 that a state could not do this, and then also provided the critical swing vote with the court conservatives in ruling 5-4 that such a law would be valid if there was a judicial by-pass in place of notifying both parents.

Never in the course or aftermath of these decisions was it ever suggested that Sandra Day O’Connor should have recused herself due to having a position on abortion issues as a state legislator.

The notion, then, that Harris should recuse himself from same-sex marriage cases simply because he favored same-sex marriage legislation in New Jersey is not only unprecedented, it is dangerous: it eviscerates the entire purpose of appointing a representative, diverse court, and calls into question a judge’s integrity before he or she has even had the chance to hear a case.

The caveat that Harris recuse himself is an unacceptable condition of his approval. If this is Christie’s doing, shame on Christie; if it is Harris’ offer, then shame on him.

Either way, this nomination deserves to be defeated as a rejection of the politics of control over judicial rulings.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Capital Gains Should be Taxed at Full Value: A Response to Dan Mitchell

Once a subject left to financiers and members of congress, the Capital Gains Tax has seen a much broader discussion this week. The combination of growing income disparity, Mitt Romney’s release of his income taxes two days ago, and President Obama’s call for more “tax fairness” in his State of the Union address last night has voters considering the societal implications of capital gains tax treatment as never before.

In brief, the Capital Gains Tax is a tax on income gained through the sale of capital assets, ie, income made by investing in a company, or by buying assets such as stocks and bonds at a low price and then selling them at a higher price. This type of income is taxed at a far lower rate than income earned through drawing a paycheck. Currently, if someone earns $100,000 from working at a job, that person falls into the 28% marginal tax bracket. However, if that person makes $100,000 by buying and selling stocks, they only pay a 15% on those earnings. The result has been that those who labor get taxed at one level, while those who sit back and “invest” by placing buy and sell orders with their online broker (and who produce *nothing* for the society) get taxed at far lower levels. This is the main reason why Mitt Romney, who made 20 million dollars last year, paid barely 15% of his total income in taxes, while average Americans making as little as 35,000 end up in the 25% marginal income tax bracket.

As Americans take a hard look at ending this preferential tax practice all together, corporate financiers have begun to circle the wagons to protect one of their most lucrative sources of income. On May 3, 2010, a video narrated by Dan Mitchell was uploaded onto YouTube titled, “Six Reasons Why the Capital Gains Tax Should be Abolished.” Mitchell is a former advisor to the Senate Finance Committee and currently a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank. The video has been uploaded and embedded in right-wing and pro-corporate sites all over the web, including the National Review Online, Freedom &, Kudlow’s Money & Politics Blog,, For Freedom’s Sake, the Lincoln vs. Cadillac website, and others. The original video can be found here.

In the video, Mitchell lists six reasons why the Capital Gains Tax should be abolished altogether.

This Economist takes the opposite position, and suggests that most capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as earned income. In support of our position, we will list refute Mitchell’s main proposition, which underlies all 6 of his arguments:

“The Capital Gains Tax results in less investment.”

This is the primary argument made by those who oppose the capital gains tax. They argue, with some validity, that the growth and expansion of business relies on investment; if potential investors are taxed for a successful investment, they will be more likely to place their capital somewhere where both risk and taxes are less, including in other nations.

I agree with part of this argument. The error, however, is his assumption that most capital gains actually come from ‘investment’ that assists an actual struggling or embryonic business. The vast majority of capital gains do NOT come from investing in a business; most capital gains come simply from stockholders buying and holding stock from other stockholders.

When someone with capital to invest purchases stock directly from a company issuing the stock, or uses its resources as “venture capital” in a private transaction to help grow a new company, there is direct investment. But when someone simply buys and sells equities on the stock market, not one penny is flowing to the business; rather, it is simply cash trading hands between shareholders. Such a purchase provides ZERO additional dollars to the business. Such “investors” generally do not participate in the corporations decision-making, governance, hiring, or expansion decisions. They use their wealth to purchase stock in an online transaction, follow it for a year, and ignore everything except how their ‘investment’ – which was purchased from another such ‘investor,’ not from the company – is doing. When the time is right, they access their account and hit the sell button…and make instant cash.

They produce nothing. They hire no one. They create nothing. They provide no expansion possibilities for businesses. And they are given preferential tax treatment for this.

The following table provides some indication of the number of these kinds of transactions for 10 random companies from different industry sectors (based on company quarterly filings and Yahoo! Finance compilations). The first figure represents the number of shares of stock issued by the company, over their lifetime, for which they received a payment, or investment, once. The second figure represents the number of shares traded between traders in ONE year, for which for the company received nothing, but which still qualifies as an ‘investment’ for capital gains purposes.

(Click to Embiggen):

In each case, the number of shares traded between traders in a single year far outweighs the amount of investment recorded by the company over that company’s lifetime.

The “problem” of a capital gains tax limiting investment can be fixed very easily: eliminate the ability of sales and purchases between traders to qualify as “capital gains,” while continuing it for actual direct investment. Such a change would incentivize direct investment in a company, make online gambling less lucrative, increase necessary tax revenues, and begin to end the system whereby honest laborers subsidize stock gambling.

Mitchell goes on to make the argument that the capital gains tax makes the United States less competitive in world markets. He argues that numerous nations have no capital gains tax whatsoever, and suggests that American companies and US investors would be likely to relocate or invest elsewhere because of this. Further investigation reveals that his video contains serious errors in this area. For instance, he lists the following nations:

Belgium, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Portugal – He is simply wrong. Capital Gains are taxed at the Ordinary Tax Rate in Belgium and the Czech Republic. (There is in exception in the Czech Republic when between a parent company and a subsidiary). Mexico capital gains are taxed at 35%; Portugal taxes capital gains at 20%.

Hong Kong – while it is true that Hong Kong does not charge a capital gains tax, they *do* tax corporate executives on the full value of any stocks or stock options they receive as part of their compensation – at full value.

The Netherlands – He is correct in that the Dutch do not impose a capital gains tax based on the actual profit made on the sale of a capital asset; they actually do something far more onerous. They impose an Annual Wealth Tax on all assets, assuming that all assets will increase by 4% in value every year, whether they do or do not, and whether the asset is sold or not. It is, in effect, a presumed annual capital gains tax.

Switzerland – Corporations pay capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income; there are no capital gains taxes for individuals, *if* they are Swiss citizens, rendering Mitchell’s concern that US investors would flee to Switzerland moot.

Tax treatment that values gambling over the creation of goods and services, and that values “wealth making wealth” rather than compensating labor, is indeed class warfare…it is a declaration of war against laborers by the “investor class.” It is time to stop treating gambling as if it was investing, and to recover the wealth that has been steadily accumulating in the hands of the 1% because of our unequal treatment of income, as the following graph so vividly shows:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hypocrite Newt Gingrich Calls for English-Only Nation, Runs Spanish Ads

At his fiery theatrical performance in the South Carolina debates, Newt Gingrich drew applause from the socially conservative crowd when he called for English to be the official language of the United States government. Such an act would require the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, which requires foreign-language ballots in voting jurisdictions where minority languages predominate. Gingrich also opposes the use of foreign languages in naturalization proceedings, and has called for allowing employers to require their workers to speak English only. He defends these positions by stating that English is the language of commerce, and that young Hispanics would have a better chance of obtaining a job if they spoke English.

But that hasn't stopped Mr. "English-Only" from spending thousands of dollars on Spanish-language advertisements or hiring spanish-language radio voice-overs for those ads.

Preparing for the Florida Primary, Newt is overtly courting the Cuban ex-patriot media market in Miami by running the following Spanish-language ad (Click link at end of post to hear the radio ad), which I translate (roughly) as follows:

"Barack Obama's lack of experience has resulted in the failure of our economy. He promised us more money. We have less. He promised us more employment. We have no employment. He promised to save our houses. We continue to lose our homes. We should not make the same mistake. This Jan. 31, vote for Newt Gingrich, the unique candidate with experience, leadership and an economic plan to heal our country that we love so much."

Then Newt chimes in:

"I'm Newt Gingrich, and I approve this message."

The Republicans have been tripping over themselves dividing the American populace, and seeking conservative votes at the expense of the poor, those receiving food stamp assistance, immigrants, and gays. Gingrich called Obama the "Foodstamp President," proposed janitorial work for poor young students, referred to Spanish as the language "of the ghetto," and opined that the poor have no work ethic. To cheers, he called for an English-only nation and has made fun of Mitt Romney's ability to speak French. But Newt forgets that Spanish was spoken in this country before English was - in fact, it was first spoken on this continent in St. Augustine, in the current Primary state of Florida (which is Spanish for "floral land"), in 1565 - more than four decades before English-speaking colonists arrived at Jamestown.

I'd like to give Newt credit for attempting to reach out to Spanish-speaking Americans with this ad; but his record of using minorities as throw-away talking points to win the affection of red-meat conservatives, and his brazen hypocrisy at calling for an English-only nation at one debate while simultaneously running spanish-speaking ads in anoter state, only further cements his place in history as an unethical liar.


Spanish Radio Ad


Friday, January 20, 2012

Rupert Murdoch's Hypocrisy on SOPA/PIPA

Over the last week, internet activists and bloggers have inundated Congress with pleas to defeat the proposed SOPA/PIPA bills. These two pieces of legislation were purportedly drafted in an effort to stop web-based piracy of materials deemed copyrighted, trademarked, or patented; but the versions that emerged are overreaching controls that threaten to censor, blacklist, financially strangle and shut down sites that host user-uploaded materials, such as YouTube, Facebook, Blogger, Reddit, and Wikipedia. In the face of public outcry, many bill sponsors (as well as President Obama) withdrew their support, and it is unlikely that these bills, in their current form, will pass.

The bills continue to be supported by major music companies and corporate news outlets. The corporate news media are losing the battle to deliver time-sensitive and breaking news as bloggers, who have become an army of citizen journalists and photographers, have filled the gap left by sloppy and cavalier corporate reporting. The videos of pepper-spraying incidents at Occupy Wall Street protests became international symbols of the growing power of bloggers over the slow-responding corporate news media.

So it is not surprising that corporate news media mogul Rupert Murdoch had a near meltdown at seeing the SOPA/PIPA bills unravel this week. He took to Twitter and complained bitterly about Google (which hosts the popular site), accusing the them of being the “piracy leader,” of “plain stealing,” and of “hypocrisy” and “influence-buying” on Capitol Hill. Taken in a vaccuum, one might be led to think that Murdoch's fit of pique is an altruisitc defense of the ownership rights of various pictures, stories, and other copyrighted material.

Except for the fact that ‘across the Pond,’ Murdoch’s media empire is crumbling under the financial weight of being caught stealing privately owned information for its own profit.

In Britain, Murdoch has just agreed to pay damages to the first 37 victims of an organized and pervasive scheme his paper employed to hack private phone and e-mail messages. The initial settlements include $200,000 to actor Jude Law, $61,000 to Welsh Rugby player Gavin Henson, and $50,000 to Member of Parliament Denis MacShane. The total bill for the first 18 victims whose settlement details were disclosed amounts to more than $1 million, and police report that there are approximately 800 additional victims. Murdoch’s News Group also agreed to pay the victim’s legal fees, which came to as much as $300,000 per victim in this first round.

Lawyers for the victims stated that senior managers at Murdoch’s paper, “The News of the World,” not only knew about the hacking and theft, but also destroyed evidence and lied about it as part of a cover-up. Murdoch’s media empire has admitted that the hacking and theft of communications was pervasive, with hundreds of potential victims still left to deal with.

So it is a bit hard to believe that Murdoch has any real interest in the integrity of privately owned property. Rather, Murdoch’s only interest in SOPA/PIPA can only be attributed to an arrogant, unethical, and hypocritical effort to stifle competition and expand his own empire at all costs.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

On MLK Jr. Day: Republicans Seek to Suppress Voters

What’s a Republican to do?

As the South Carolina Primary approaches, Republican Presidential candidates are falling over themselves trying to prove that they are the most viciously anti-gay candidate. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have all signed the NOM Pledge to end Marriage Equality in any state that chooses it.

And yet, Gallup Polls report that “…a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.”

In August, at the Iowa State Fair Mitt Romney openly argued that “Corporations are People.” And yet, Hart Research Associates found that 87% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and even 68% of Republicans support a constitutional amendment to eliminate “corporate personhood.’

The New York Times has found that the majority of Americans – including Republicans and those earning over $100,000 annually – support slashing Executive pay at companies receiving bailouts. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to mumble on about supporting free enterprise and opposing limits on pay.

At every campaign stop, the GOP candidates have promised to repeal “Obamacare;” and yet, the provision of that act that guarantees that individuals with preexisting conditions can be covered by insurance is supported by 63% of the American public, who agreed that insurers “absolutely must” cover such people in a recent Wall Street Journal poll.

With the Republican Party so completely out of touch with Americans on issues of health care, the economy, growing wealth disparity, corporatism, and social issues – how can they expect to win the 2012 Presidential election?

By suppressing voter participation.

Since the GOP can not win the majority of votes based on issues, they have turned to making it difficult – or impossible – for the most ‘contrary’ demographic groups to vote at all: racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and college students. Since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. devoted his life seeking the right to vote for all people, it seems appropriate on the holiday on which he is honored to expose these Republican efforts across the states.

Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the civil rights organization, Advancement Project," stated:

“Heading into 2012, we are seeing the largest assault on the right to vote since the post-Reconstruction Era. This is an unprecedented attack on voting that could affect more than 5 million voters in 2012; in states that represent nearly two-thirds of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Twenty new laws and executive orders in 14 states stand to turn back the clock and make it harder to vote. In 2012, two-thirds of the states introduced legislation that could impede voters and more is on the horizon for 2012.”

The GOP Plan:

1) Require Government Issued Voter ID Cards with Photos

New in 2012, a non-expired, state-issued photo ID is needed in Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. In Texas, 34 counties lack the required “Department of Public Safety Offices” to issues the required IDs. Four of those counties have Hispanic populations greater than 75 percent.

Additional legislation has been filed in North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri. It is particularly hypocritical in New Hampshire, where Republicans fought against the federal “Real ID” photo/drivers license program, but voted to implement the same obstacle to suppress votes, a bill that was vetoed by the Governor. In defiance, election officials in the Town of New Boston, NH, posted a huge “Photo ID required” sign at the entrance to the polls last year, in spite of the fact that no such requirement exists.

Those who do not drive are the least likely to have such an ID: minorities, lower-income people, seniors who no longer drive, those with revoked licenses, and students (College ID cards are not valid). NYU Law School has estimated that up to 11% of all otherwise eligible voters – 21 million Americans - do not have the requisite ID.

In order to get an official ID, the poor have disproportionate hurdles to overcome: In addition to fees, individuals are asked to provide birth certificates, passports, or other documents. While many Americans have these, those who have been thrown out of their homes, women or young people who fled after having been involved in abusive situations, those who have lost their homes to foreclosure and have documents in storage units, those who have lost documents in fires in substandard housing, those living in nursing homes, and those lacking personal autos to run to government offices to obtain the documents – are far unlikely to be able to assemble the required documents in a timely fashion. In addition, Arizona, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee now require proof of citizenship, a tactic meant to intimidate Hispanic and other naturalized citizens.

2) Restrict New Voter Registration Drives

Florida and Texas now have enacted strict time periods for these drives, and impose stiff fines for honest errors. Similar legislation is now pending in Michigan.

For those states that permit same-day registration, the GOP tactic is to turn back the clock. In recent years, the trend has been for states to make voting easier, not harder. Since most election boards are operated by local citizens, these citizens are able to provide a 'check’ on unlikely but potential fraudulent votes. But this year, that trend is being reversed: Ohio and Maine (a state with a long history of same-day registration) eliminated same-day registration. The same legislation is pending in North Carolina.

3) Ban Felons From Voting

If you are convicted of a felony in Kentucky and Virginia, you lose your right to vote for life. In Florida and Iowa the Republican Governors have tried to emulate this by issuing Executive Orders eliminating the rights of former felons to regain their right to vote. 48 states (all except Maine and Vermont) prohibit felons from voting while in prison. This sets up a dangerous process: all a state must do is find someone guilty of a felony, and they lose a major avenue to challenge the very laws and policies under which they convicted.

In the United States, 5.3 million people are unable to vote due to a felony conviction. At least one-quarter of these convictions were for non-violent drug offenses, crimes for which black men are twelve times more likely to be convicted and jailed with a felony record than their white counterparts. There are more black men in prison today than there were black men enslaved in 1850 (source). The War on Drugs has been the single most effective tool at disenfranchising black voters.

4) Ban College Students from Voting

In 1979, the US Supreme Court ruled in The United States vs. Symm that college students may vote in the communities where they attend school. That decision states, "there is no requirement that a student, in order to establish that he is a resident of the place where he wishes to vote, establish that he intends to remain there permanently or for any particular period of time."

In the "swing state' of New Hampshire, College students often represent 15% or more of the vote in college Towns such as Keene (Keene State College), Hanover (Dartmouth), and Durham (UNH). Bill O’Brien, the Republican speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings, voting as a liberal, because that’s what kids do.” In the statehouse, he shepherded new laws to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses, in direct violation of the Symm decision. In Wisconsin the state declared College-issued photos invalid, forcing college students wishing to vote to scramble to apply for new drivers licenses (requiring them to then re-register their autos, and obtain new inspections) – all at great expense – to vote.

In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King told marchers,

"Voting is the foundation stone for political action…The basic elements so vital to Negro advancement can only be achieved by seeking redress from government at local, state and Federal levels. To do this, the vote is essential."

Yes, the vote is essential... and Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters is antithetical to the America I was raised to believe in.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dutch Queen Beatrix Stands Firm Against Right-wing Hate

The Netherlands is known around the globe as one of the most tolerant societies on earth. When British rule came to New York City in the 17th Century, they found free blacks, an established doctrine of religious tolerance, and 28 different languages being spoken in the formerly Dutch colony. Today, The Netherland’s Queen Beatrix continues to be a voice for tolerance, peace, mutual respect and diversity in a world rife with ethnic clashes.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who hate – even in Holland.
The Queen has come under fire – and has fired back – by some on the far right for respectfully wearing a veil over her trademark hat as she entered mosques on a good-will tour of Arab nations this week. It is not the first time the far-rightists have criticized the Queen, who, in the Netherlands, is a traditional symbol of unity in this physically small but populous nation called home by almost 17 million people.

On Christmas Day 2011, Queen Beatrix delivered her annual Christmas address, in which she called for responsible stewardship of the world’s resources and encouraged the nation’s youth:

"selfishness and extravagance blind people to the damage that is done to our natural surroundings and undermine community spirit... we have lost sight of the fact that the Earth's resources are finite and of behavior that is acceptable in a civilized society…[we must] “weigh the quality of the future when making decisions about today. …Everywhere, people are coming up with new ideas and ways to live in more sustainable, aware life. This is a source of hope in the future and for the future as it is young people who are behind these new ideas."

As Christmas messages often (and appropriately) look to the hope of the future, her address was applauded by most of the political spectrum: statements issued by spokesmen from the Christian Democrats, the Labor Party, and the GreenLeft all spoke positively of the message.

But not Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-rightist “Freedom” Party, who tweeted, “Good heavens, is her majesty a secret member of the GreenLeft party?” Wilders has criticized the Dutch Monarchy before, calling the Queen’s calls for tolerance “multi-culti nonsense.”

The rise of Wilders’ Freedom Party is a troubling development in this historically liberal nation, although the party appears to have much in common with extremist elements in the Republican Party in the United States. Wilder is known for his obsessively anti-Muslim political crusades, and his party has drawn enough support to now be the third-largest political party in the Dutch Parliament. In the 2010 elections, the party won over 15% of the vote, nearly tripling its 2006 showing, and winning 24 out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

Embracing an Ethnic Nationalism, the Party’s Platform calls for:

Recording the ethnicity of all Dutch citizens;
Restricting immigrant labor from Slavic European nations and Islamic countries;
Gutting anti-climate change programs (An amazing position, given that 27% of the Netherlands is reclaimed from the sea, and below sea-level, protected by a system of dikes and pumps that would be endangered by global warming and a rise in sea-level).
Abolishing the Senate;
Closing all Islamic schools;
Banning all Dual Citizenship;
Forbidding the exercise of Islamic practices that differentiate between men and women (ironically, many Christian groups engage in such practices);
Forbidding Governmental communication in any language other than Dutch or Frisian (virtually all Dutch are multilingual);
Constitutional protection of the dominance of the Judeo-Christian culture of the Netherlands; and
A prohibition of the opening of any new mosques.

The Party’s Islamophobia is particularly ironic, considering that a large number of the nation’s Muslim population comes from Indonesia, a nation that the Netherlands dominated through trade and colonization from the 1600s through World War II. Others came from Morocco: On December 24, 1610, the Netherlands and Morocco signed a free-trade treaty which was the first-ever official treaty between a European country and a non-Christian nation. Still, only 5% of the Netherland's population is Muslim.

This past week, Queen Beatrix lead a delegation of business and trade unions leaders on official state visits to the United Arab Emirates and Oman. They visited numerous sites, including the Sohar Industrial Port and Maritime College in Oman, and in both nations, the Queen visited mosques. On Thursday's visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman, the queen wore a veil over her hat as she was lead into the Mosque by Princess Maxima, who was also veiled.

Personally, I am an Episcopalian … but I have readily placed a yarmulke on my head when entering a Jewish Synagogue. It is an act of simple respect. But the Queen’s act of respect drew immediate criticism from none other than Geert Wilder, who termed it a “sad spectacle that legitimises the oppression of women".

In a highly unusual step for a European monarch, the Queen curtly responded, terming Wilders’ comments “utter nonsense.”

According to the Dutch News,

“…The queen’s uncharacteristic outburst could be taken as …an impatient swat at a mosquito that has been hovering around her head for some time. Wilders…has been critical of several of the queens’ new years’ speeches…”

But while many are quietly applauding the Queen for swatting at the mosquito, the public comments are a bit more reserved, as the few remaining modern European Monarchs rarely wade too deeply into political affairs. One paper, the Volkskraant, applauded the Queen on one hand, but added, “However, it is to be hoped that she does not develop a taste for speaking her mind publicly. Her position depends on her not getting involved with politics.”

Geert Wilders is a dangerous figure who is a clever and hateful master of political manipulation. At the same time he was criticizing the Queen, he called upon the nation to apologize for its ‘inactivity’ on behalf of Jews during World War II. By seeking to combine his criticism of Queen Beatrix with an oddly-timed defense of Jews, Wilders is not showing a new-found liberality; rather, he is employing a divide-and-conquer strategy to divide the normally liberal Dutch.

Hopefully for the Dutch - and for a world who looks to the Dutch as a model of civility and tolerance - Wilders will not succeed. Queen Beatrix, not Wilders, is the symbol of Dutch civility.

Dank u, Koningin Beatrix!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Monsanto: Indian Suicides, the American FDA, and Global Food Control

In my text, “Principles of Macroeconomics,” I include a chapter entitled “Government Failure,” which examines some of the systemic reasons why government policy often results in economic injustice. One of those reasons is called “Capture Theory.” Quoting myself,

“a regulated interest will always capture the agency designed to regulate it, and will use it as a tool for its own ends.”

Said theory explains why Michael Taylor, the former Vice-President and Chief Lobbyist for Monsanto, is the Deputy Commissioner for food at the US Food & Drug Administration – in effect, America’s “food safety” czar.

Taylor’s career has moved back and forth between representing Monsanto and formulating policy at the FDA for the last several decades..and in all of these roles, Taylor has been instrumental in defending and orchestrating the introduction of Genetically Modified Crops (GMOs) into the world’s food system, in spite of significant scientific warnings to the contrary.

Monsanto’s GMOs and the Suicide Crisis in India

India, like China, has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. With a population of over a billion, India represents an enormous market for global companies. It should be no surprise, then, that Monsanto has sought to take advantage of that market. But the untold story of India is an epidemic of indebtedness and suicide that has been left in the wake of Monsanto’s GMO explosion.

Maharashtra State is the epicenter of what has been called India’s ‘suicide belt,’ where more than 1,000 farmers commit suicide each month. So far, 125,000 farmers have taken their lives – most by drinking insecticide and dying an excruciating death, and leaving behind a generation of homeless children.

The seeds of the current crisis were planted when India, seeking to reduce its high rate of poverty, applied in the 1990s for loans from the International Monetary Fund for economic development. The IMF offered India funds – as long as they would open their markets to western companies.
Enter Monsanto. Monsanto sent teams of salespeople and lobbyists to India, promoting GMO crops. The company promised that GMO seeds would provide record crops, increase overall income, and be resistant to parasites and insects which had often reduced Indian crops in the past. They were so persuasive that many government seed banks banned traditional varieties of seeds and stocked up on the Monsanto seeds.

Because these seeds were supposedly of such higher quality, Monsanto was able to charge a far higher price for them. Traditional cotton seeds in India cost the US equivalent of fifteen cents for one kilogram of seeds; Monsanto’s modified seeds cost one hundred and fifty dollars for the same amount of seed. In order to afford these seeds – now often the only ones available – farmers borrowed money and went heavily into debt. Local moneylenders in India – often the only source of funds for low-income farmers - often charge interest rates in excess of 20%. Throughout India, families tell the same story as to how they were persuaded to borrow to purchase GMO seeds on the promise that the financial returns from the seeds would be worth it.

GM Seed Performance

Monsanto justified the higher prices by saying that pesticides would not be needed for these ‘super seeds.’ But instead, many of their ‘pest-proof’ cotton crops were devastated by Indian Bollworms. In addition, it was discovered by the farmers that these GM seeds required twice the amount of water that traditional varieties required, and for many farmers, this was impossible due to water infrastructure or climate; entire crops of GM crops simply died.

When crops had failed in the past, farmers could still prepare for the following year by saving the seeds produced by surviving plants for replanting the following year, thus eliminating the need to purchase additional seeds. But not so with Monsanto’s GM seeds: GM seeds contain so-called 'terminator technology', which means the plants have been genetically modified so that viable seeds are not produced.

Season after season, farmers are forced to buy Monsanto seeds, at higher prices, with borrowed funds, to produce crops that fail. Faced with humiliating, mounting debt and imminent homelessness as their farms are repossessed, the suicide crisis grows.

Monsanto brushes this all aside as being the result of 'untimely rain' or drought, or by cavalierly suggesting that the victims are alcoholics or that suicide is just a part of traditional rural Indian life.

Because of the close historical relationship between Britain and India, Britain’s Prince Charles travelled to India to examine the situation first-hand. He was indignant at what he saw, calling the issue of Monsanto’s modified seeds a "global moral question" and setting up a charity – the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation - to help farmers establish organic farms using traditional seed varieties.

Monsanto and the FDA

From the Institute for Responsible Technology:

“When the FDA was constructing their GMO policy in 1991-2, their scientists were clear that gene-sliced foods were significantly different and could lead to “different risks” than conventional foods. But official policy declared the opposite, claiming that the FDA knew nothing of significant differences, and declared GMOs substantially equivalent.

This fiction became the rationale for allowing GM foods on the market without any required safety studies whatsoever! The determination of whether GM foods were safe to eat was placed entirely in the hands of the companies that made them — companies like Monsanto, which told us that the PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange were safe.

GMOs were rushed onto our plates in 1996. Over the next nine years, multiple chronic illnesses in the US nearly doubled—from 7% to 13%. Allergy-related emergency room visits doubled between 1997 and 2002 while food allergies, especially among children, skyrocketed. We also witnessed a dramatic rise in asthma, autism, obesity, diabetes, digestive disorders, and certain cancers.

In January 2009, Dr. P. M. Bhargava, one of the world’s top biologists… concluded that the GM foods in the US are largely responsible for the increase in many serious diseases.

In May, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine concluded that animal studies have demonstrated a causal relationship between GM foods and infertility, accelerated aging, dysfunctional insulin regulation, changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system, and immune problems such as asthma, allergies, and inflammation.

In July, a report by eight international experts determined that the flimsy and superficial evaluations of GMOs by both regulators and GM companies “systematically overlook the side effects” and significantly underestimate “the initial signs of diseases like cancer and diseases of the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive systems, among others.”

Who oversaw this FDA policy to fast-track the introduction of Monsanto’s GM seeds?

Michael Taylor.

He is now making policy about the American food system. And the FDA is wasting no time going after non-corporate food systems.

FDA Moves to Ban Organic Milk Sales

Unsurprisingly, the FDA is now moving against organic, non-corporate farmers here in the United States. Witness news reports from the lastfew months:

“On the morning of August 3, 2011, armed agents of the U.S. government and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office conducted a raid on a small private club in southern California, seizing the substances being sold therein and arresting three individuals on felony charges. It was the second raid on the club in two years and the culmination of a yearlong investigation by 10 local, state, and federal agencies that, according to the Los Angeles Times, ‘used high-tech video equipment hidden on a utility pole for round-the-clock surveillance and undercover agents to make covert buys.’

In what nefarious substances was the club trafficking? Marijuana? Cocaine? Heroin? No, the members of Rawesome Foods of Venice, California, were accused of the heinous crime of consuming milk and other dairy products that had not been pasteurized — products that the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies insist are so dangerous that individuals must not be permitted to ingest them.

Advocates of unpasteurized (“raw”) milk consumption beg to differ. They argue that raw milk is nearly as safe as pasteurized milk and that its benefits outweigh its slightly increased risks. Many go to great lengths to obtain raw milk, joining private food clubs like Rawesome, entering into agreements whereby they purchase shares in cows and in turn receive the cows’ milk (called “herd sharing”), and, in some cases, openly defying the FDA’s ban on interstate raw milk sales”

But Americans are fighting back.

In Maine, three towns – Penobscot, Blue Hill and Sedgwick - adopted a “Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance,” asserting that Maine towns can determine their own food and farming policies locally, and exempting direct food sales from state and federal license and inspection requirements. In addition, the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund is filing suit against the FDA to stop the raid on farm-to-consumer sales.

The FDA's Response?

"...plaintiffs' assertion of a new 'fundamental right' under substantive due process to produce, obtain, and consume unpasteurized milk lacks any support in law."

In non-legalese, the FDA is claiming in court documents that Americans have no right to farm, produce, or eat the food they desire; rather, the FDA can decide what foods we can eat.

Not unlike Indian governments banning traditional seeds and forcing farmers to purchase products from Monsanto.

In related news, according to Bloomberg, Monsanto is now the world’s largest seed company. For the three months ending November 30, Monsanto exceeded financier's estimates on rising sales of corn and soybean seeds in Latin America and cotton seeds in Australia. Sales rose 7.8 percent to $1.83 billion, and net income was $6 million.

But India is also fighting back:

In an unprecedented decision, India's National Biodiversity Authority(NBA), a government agency, declared legal action against Monsanto (and their collaborators) for accessing and using local eggplant varieties (known as brinjal) to develop their Bt genetically engineered version1 without prior approval of the competent authorities, which is considered an act of "biopiracy."

The Journal of Nature Biotechnology reported:

"An Indian government agency has agreed to sue the developers of genetically modified (GM) eggplant for violating India's Biological Diversity Act of 2002. India's National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is alleging that the developers of India's first GM food crop--Jalna-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) partnered with St. Louis--based seed giant Monsanto and several local universities--used local varieties to develop the transgenic crop, but failed to gain the appropriate licenses for field trials. At the same time, activists in Europe are claiming that patents on conventionally bred plants, including a melon found in India, filed by biotech companies violate farmers' rights to use naturally occurring breeds. Both these pending legal cases could set important precedents for biopiracy in India and Europe."


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Did Obama Campaign Forfeit New Hampshire Convention Delegates?

While the Media focus on the New Hampshire Primary has been on the actual number of votes each candidates will receive, the purpose of a primary is actually to permit the parties to choose Delegates to their respective national conventions. These delegates are the people who will spend several days in Charlotte, NC (starting September 3, 2012 for the Democrats) or Tampa, FL (starting August 27, 2012 for the Republicans) choosing their party’s standard-bearers, cheering and applauding televised speeches, politicking and partying in one of the grandest of political traditions. When voters cast their votes in the Primary, they are actually choosing Delegates who are supportive or ‘pledged’ to the candidate for whom they vote.

And while the attention has been on the Republican Party, the Democrats also will have a convention, presumably to nominate President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden for a second term. And that means that in each state, Democratic partisans must also cast votes, caucus, or otherwise choose their Convention delegates.

Except in New Hampshire, it appears that the Democratic Party may have forfeited their right to send delegates pledged to President Obama.

New Hampshire State law reads as follows:

RSA 655:50 Selection of Delegates: Each presidential candidate who has filed pursuant to RSA 655:47 shall file with the secretary of state no later than the third Friday following the last day of the filing period before the presidential primary the names and addresses in alphabetical order of the delegates and their alternates, one alternate per delegate, who shall represent him as his delegation to the national convention.

That would have been November 18, 2011 for this election cycle. Former Republican candidate Gary Johnson flew to New Hampshire in a panic on that day because his campaign had forgotten to file their delegate slate. But apparently the Gary Johnson campaign was not the only campaign to forget to file.

A check of the NH Secretary of State shows that Barack Obama’s campaign also forgot to file.

I expect this will not make much of a difference at Convention time. After the primary, NH Secretary of State Bill Gardner will announce that Barack Obama won the Democratic Primary (he only has token, frivolous opposition). The Credentials Committee of the National Democratic Party will find some way to seat delegates from New Hampshire anyway.

And the Republicans will make some political hay about the Democrats cavalier approach and sloppy attention paid towards New Hampshire – the only “swing state” in the American northeast.

Not really a bright move for the Democrats….


Dixville Notch, Hart's Location Results are in....

Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, two tiny hamlets nestled high in the White Mountains, have started - and completed - their Primary Votes.

The Dixville Notch GOP Results are:

Jon Huntsman - 2 votes
Mitt Romney - 2 votes
Ron Paul - 1 vote
Newt Gingrich - 1 vote
Rick Perry - 0
Rick Santorum - 0

The Hart's Location GOP Results are:

Mitt Romney - 5 votes
Ron Paul - 4 votes
Jon Huntsman - 2 votes
Rick Perry - 1 vote
Newt Gingrich - 1 vote.
Rick Santorum - 0

So, taken together, that's Romney - 7; Paul - 5; Huntsman - 4; Gingrich and Perry, 1 each; and Santorum a big Zero.

Shades of things to come?


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Perry & Romney Evade Issues, Reveal Constitutional Ignorance

Before giving the my first test each semester, I have a humorous – but very serious – discussion with my students about how to think critically and attack essay questions.

“If I ask you, 'which is more expensive, per ounce – the lemon or the orange?', the following are not appropriate answers:

“I think oranges are too expensive”
“I really, really like oranges!”
“I actually prefer limes in my drinks.”
“Do oranges grow anywhere except Florida?”

Students often laugh at this, but it is a very common college freshman approach on an essay test to write ‘something’ about the subject, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with answering the specific question that was asked. Sometimes it is because the student is evading the question, because they don't know the answer; other times, it is a serious inability to engage in critical thinking.

It is, apparently, not an error limited to college freshman: it appears to be standard operating procedure among Republican Presidential candidates…an error (or tactic) that is exacerbated by their frightening ignorance of basic constitutional law.

At a campaign stop last week, in Iowa, Rick Perry was asked to reconcile his support for limited government with a state anti-sodomy law that was on the books while he was Governor. The questioner mentioned Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the law, in effect legalizing private consensual sexual activity of any flavor. Perry was governor at the time of the court decision.

Perry rambled the following answer:

“I don’t dislike government, I just want government to work” [not an answer]. “We have a federal government that is out of control from the standpoint of spending [not an answer]. And, you know, I wish I could tell you I know every Supreme Court case. I don’t. I’m not even going to try to go through every Supreme Court case. I’m not a lawyer.[ignorance of basic constitutional law decided while he was Governor of the state which was the subject of the decision]. But here’s what I do know. I know they’re spending too much money in Washington, D.C., and $15 trillion worth of debt is on that young man right there [not an answer]. We can sit here and play I-gotcha questions on ‘What about this Supreme Court case?’ [you should know this, Rick] or whatever, but you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C. It’s not some Supreme Court case.[Fail]

Later, when asked by reporters if he knew what the Lawrence v. Texas case was, Perry answered, “I don’t. I think I explained … that pretty good there, that I didn’t understand it. I’m not taking the bar exam.”

That was at least a direct, honest answer to the question. It also revealed startling ignorance.

Last night at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney pulled the same “I prefer limes in my drinks” non-answer.

The exchange began when ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos asked whether Romney believed that the US Constitution contains a Right to Privacy. The question was clearly seeking his opinion on the 1965 case, Griswold vs. Connecticut, in which the Supreme Court invalidated a Connecticut statute that prohibited birth control, even between married adults. This decision established a right to privacy (especially in family matters) in the Bill of Rights, and has been cited for almost 50 years by the Court in subsequent decisions ranging from reproductive rights to home education rights. Here is the exchange:

Romney: “George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising [non-answer; buying time]. States have the right to ban contraception? [No, they don’t, due to Griswold vs. Connecticut]. I can’t imagine that states would want to ban contraception. If I were a governor or a legislator in a state, I would totally oppose any effort to ban contraception [non-answer]. So you’re asking -- given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so -- you are asking could it constitutionally be done? We could ask our constitutionalist here” [pointing at Ron Paul, and buying more time].

Stephanopoulos: “I am asking you, do you believe states have that right or not?”

Romney : “George, I don’t know whether the state has the right to ban contraception. [Ignorance]. No state wants to. The idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do is kind of a silly thing, I think [continued Non-answer. Attack the questioner rather than answer the question].

Stephanopoulos : “You went to Harvard Law School, you know very well …”

Romney: “Has the Supreme Court decided that the states do not have the right to ban contraception? [startling ignorance]”

Stephanopoulos: “Yes, they have. 1965. Griswold vs Connecticut.”

Romney then went on to a rambling non-answer about how Americans have the right to amend the Constitution, and that he favors amending it to ban same-sex marriage [an obvious, “ I-prefer-limes-in-my-drink response]. “But I know of no reason to talk about contraceptions…Contraception, it’s working just fine, just leave it alone" [non-answer].

Stephanopoulos: “Do you believe the Supreme Court should overturn it or not?”

Romney: “Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v Wade?” “Yes, I do.” [Not even limes any more...he jumps to Kumquats now…]

Kudos to Ron Paul at this point: Stephanopoulos posed the question to Paul, who succinctly answered that the 4th Amendment of Constitution's Bill of Rights includes a right to privacy in the home, and the Commerce Clause, regulating commerce among the states, overrides a states effort to prohibit goods, including contraception.

It really doesn’t matter to me how Perry reconciles his small-government philosophy with his state’s former anti-sodomy statute. Nor does Romney’s stance on Griswold vs. Connecticut matter to me. There is no conceivable way I would vote for either of them. But their failure to grasp basic constitutional law, and their inability – or refusal – to offer direct answers to the questions asked calls into question their fitness to be the Chief Executive branch official of the United States Government.


Friday, January 06, 2012

Santorum’s Hypocrisy – and Ignorance – on Health Insurance

Being the week before the New Hampshire Primary, it is hard to go grab a loaf of bread in this state without running into some campaign entourage. Rick Santorum, after being booed off the stage for his anti-Marriage Equality screed yesterday, and having missed a traditional “must stop” at Lindy’s Diner this morning, finally showed at the Community Room of the Keene Public Library to press the flesh. In the most interesting exchange of the morning, Santorum tried to defend the practice of charging higher health insurance premiums to people with pre-existing conditions, and criticized the clause in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that prohibits insurers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

In explaining this position to one member of the audience, he stated that "Americans need to be educated” about health care costs. This condescension was met with expertise greater than his: he was speaking with a woman who had been a nurse for over 30 years, and whose son was a childhood cancer survivor. She asked Santorum why her son should have to pay higher health premiums, or even go without insurance for the rest of his life.

Santorum’s answer: “Insurance works when people who are higher risk end up having to pay more, as they should.”

Not only does Santorum lack basic compassion, his answer shows that he fundamentally misunderstands the nature of most illnesses, and, worse, is a hypocrite to boot.

If we take him at his word, then those who statistically have a higher risk of incurring health care costs should pay higher premiums. If he really believes that, then he should look at his own family size.

Rick Santorum and his wife had seven children (one died soon after birth.) As any doctor’s office or hospital can verify, the more children one has, statistically, the higher the health costs associated with those children. This blogger has 6 children, and we used to joke that the local hospital ought to have a room reserved just for our family.

But most major Health Insurance Plans do not charge “per child.” Insurers generally provide plans for singles, married couples, single parent/child plans, and family plans. The Family Plans are without regard to the size of the family or number of children. Rick Santorum's Congressional Family Plan does not charge for additional chidlren.

So does Rick Santorum support increasing health premiums for families with large numbers of children? Doubtful: in Iowa, he proposed tripling the income tax deduction for each dependent child (from $3,500 to $10,500), which would virtually make the largest families exempt from income tax at the expense of single people and smaller families. This massive distortion of the tax code would accomplish the very thing he opposes when it comes to health care: subsidizing those who receive the most services with dollars paid by those who receive the least services. The hypocrisy is palpable.

It also shows that Santorum’s understanding of Insurance Pools is crude at best, and simply parroting Corporate Insurance Lobbyists at worst.

Insurance pools are based on the notion that everyone’s risk is shared. The first known successful Insurance pools existed as far back as 1235 with the birth of the "Hanseatic League," an alliance of shipowner-merchants along the Baltic Sea. Because this was the height of the era when Vikings ruled and pillaged the seas, there was always a good chance that a merchant's ship – and along with it, the merchant's life investment – would be captured by marauding Danes. Members of League chose to each take an ownership stake in all the other members’ ships to prevent against the possibility of a total loss. Shipowners forced to sail closer to Denmark were not thrown out of the pool in favor of those who plied waters further away; each shared equally in the losses – and surpluses – recorded by the entire group of merchants. It was a system that lasted for 300 years.

An insurance pool that favors the low-risk members, and penalizes the higher-risk members (as Santorum defends), is not an insurance pool at all, but a profit-making engine that distorts and misrepresents its purpose.

Fortunately for those with large families, most Americans really do understand this concept, and Mr. Santorum has benefitted from it.

Perhaps it is Mr. Santorum, not the American people, who need to be educated about health care costs.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why This Progressive will vote for Ron Paul in the NH Primary

Here in New Hampshire, independents (or, more precisely, the “Undeclared”) are allowed to vote in any party’s primary. And in spite of having been a candidate for the statehouse as a Democrat just two years ago, I will be casting my vote for Ron Paul in the Republican Primary this Tuesday.

Let me say from the outset that I disagree with Ron Paul on many issues – significant policy issues. I favor universal access to health care for all; I want to see Glass-Steagall reenacted at the federal level, and increased regulation and oversight of the financial industry; I would like to see profit made from stock gambling - "capital gains" – taxed at the same rate that honest labor is. I believe the climatologists who are pleading with us to change our environmental habits. I believe unions need to be stronger, not weaker; and, as a gay man with an interracial family, I am a strong supporter of federal civil rights laws and the recognition, nationally, of marriage equality. I have no doubt that I would be frustrated on all of these issues by a Ron Paul Presidency.

Nonetheless, as a liberal, I see him as the clear choice for my vote in the Primary.

First, on all the issues I mentioned above, I believe Dr. Paul is wrong – but so is every other Republican running, not just Dr. Paul. Rick Santorum would invalidate same-sex marriages and supports state prohibition of birth control; Mitt Romney’s most significant financial support comes from the financial industry, and openly supported the disgusting level of retained corporate profits at a stop in Manchester yesterday; Newt Gingrich would break the back of labor on the altar of corporatism. The Republican field, to me, is a horrifying mix of the brutal and the uncaring.

But where Ron Paul differs from the other candidates, he differs in critical and important ways. Those differences make me shout, “Yes!,” and deserve my support.

Alone among the Republican candidates, Dr. Paul opposed the Patriot Act – the single largest erosion of American’s civil liberties in history - and its extensions. Alone among the GOP, he also opposed the recently passed NDAA, permitting the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial who are ‘suspected’ of aiding terrorists. Alone among the Republicans, he sees that the so-called “War on Drugs” has resulted in creating a permanent black underclass, as one in six adult black males now has a felony criminal record for non-violent offenses (Compare that to the Fed-backed banksters who wiped out a global economy and walk free). And alone among the Republicans, he has consistently voted and argued against the building of a global American Empire. Trillions of dollars and millions of lives have been affected by American militarism abroad, in endless wars and exercises that enrich military hardware industries and maim and kill our young soldiers and civilians worldwide. As I write, we are preparing for military exercise with Israel, based largely on politician’s efforts to pander to the “Second Coming” theocrats in the GOP.

And where Dr. Paul contrasts with the Republicans, he also provides a sharp contrast to President Obama and the Democratic establishment.

Obama has been no friend of progressives, but has governed as “GOP Light.” In each of my criticisms above, the Democrats have been complicit with the GOP. Obama signed the NDAA and has suppported SOPA; Obama’s Justice Department has argued for Executive immunity from lawsuits; Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has aided and abetted brutal attacks by police forces on OWS protesters; Obama’s FDA has raided raw milk producers, and Obama’s DEA has raided Medical Marijuana facilities in California. Obama signed sanctions meant to cripple Iran and draw us closer into military conflict.

It is no surprise to me that in the Iowa Caucuses, exit polls proved that Ron Paul won the vote of moderates, of liberals, and of independents. The American people are tired of corporate favoritism, fraudulent home foreclosures, endless wars, and the whole-scale destruction of civil liberties – all at the hands of both the Republican and Democratic establishments who, in spite of their differences, have pursued a common agenda.

Ron Paul is the one candidate – symbolic though his candidacy may be – who represents a whole scale “NO” to business as usual. And for this progressive, that is a message worth sending to both parties.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Iowa Caucus Analysis: Romney Loses, Even as he Wins

The Republican Iowa caucuses are over, and 122,255 votes were recorded as follows:

Mitt Romney 30,015 (25%)
Rick Santorum 30,007 (25%)
Ron Paul 26,219 (21%)

Trailing behind these three were Newt Gingrich with 16,251 votes, Rick Perry with 12,604 votes, and Iowa native Michelle Bachmann with 6,073 votes.

In dividing their votes largely between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul, caucus goers starkly represented the three philosophical ‘factions’ comprising the GOP, as well as age and income differences. Our conclusions from the votes and the exit polls:

Ron Paul won 50% of those in the 17-24 year old category, 45% of those in the 25-29 year old bracket, and 34% of 30-39 year olds. The younger the voter, the stronger the support for the messages of libertarianism and/or non-interventionism. Paul did well in all college towns.

He also won a majority of voters making under $30,000 annually by more than a 2:1 margin over all the other candidates, and won voters making less than $50,000 by a slim (2%) margin over Rick Santorum. He increased his win from only one county in 2008, to 18 in 2012, with his largest margin in Jefferson County (49%) – home of the Maharishi School of Management and center of Iowa’s peace-oriented Transcendental Meditation community.

Perhaps most importantly, Ron Paul won caucus-goers who were self-described independents, moderates, liberals, and first-time caucus-goers. Every national campaign knows that the battle for the Presidency is won by attracting the great ‘moderate middle,’ something neither Romney nor Santorum were able to do in Iowa.

Rick Santorum’s popularity exploded in the two weeks leading up to the caucus, and appeared to galvanize Iowa’s strong Evangelical Christian vote, winning many of the counties won by Mike Huckabee in 2008. He took the majority of those in the 40-64 year old age bracket, who often represent a more socially conservative, ‘family values’ voting bloc that has been ascendant in the GOP since the 1980s.

Santorum won over 61% of the vote in Lyon County, and won neighboring Sioux & O’Brien counties with more than 40%. These counties, in Iowa’s northwest corner, are some of the most conservative counties in Iowa, and are home to large, ‘Dominionist’ Reformed Churches that teach that government and laws should be structured on Biblical principles.

The biggest disappontment of the night was reserved for supporters of Mitt Romney – even though he won, statewide, by 8 votes.

Representing the old establishment blue-blood wing of the party, Romney won only one age group – seniors over age 65.

Four years ago, in the 2008 caucuses, Romney won 29,949 votes (25.2%) and took 24 counties. Last night, he won with 30,015 votes – also representing 25% of the vote cast. In other words, with four years and a supposed $10 million dollars of advertising under his belt, Romney was unable to expand his base even a tiny bit, increasing his vote by a mere 66 voters.

On the Iowan map (see bottom of post), it appears that the fact that he matched his performance four years ago was due largely to increased organization in a few key locations:

In the eastern part of the state, (which Romney won solidly in 2008 ) Romney lost 7 counties he won in 2008 to Ron Paul, and 1 to Rick Santorum, without picking up any new ones.

On the western border (the Missouri River counties), where Romney also did well in 2008, he lost 4 of the 7 he had won in 2008 to Rick Santorum, picking up only one new county.

It was in the middle of the state – particularly the growing Des Moines – West Des Moines area, where the GOP establishment organized for Romney - that Romney was to pick up 5 counties over 2008, while still losing one to Rick Santorum.

Make no mistake: Romney’s base is aging and shrinking. In spite of 4 years of campaigning, organizing, and spending, he was unable to expand his showing beyond his 2008 performance.

Perhaps Democratic operative James Carville said it best when describing voters attitudes towards Romney:

“It’s like trying to give a dog a pill. They keep spitting it out.”


Monday, January 02, 2012

Why Iowa IS Relevant

Are the Iowa caucuses “relevant?”

Yes. Perhaps now more than ever.

In the interminable weeks and marathon of debates leading up to tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses, pundits and media gurus have been raising the question as to whether the Iowa caucuses will be relevant “if they turn out wrong.” There is no doubt that Iowa Republicans are more likely to reflect agricultural interests and Evangelical Christian fervor than the rest of the nation; but over the last 30 years, the Republican Iowa caucuses have been an accurate snapshot of political temperament in America.

First, it has accurately reflected the mood of the national Republican Party.

In 1980, George H. W. Bush (32%) and Ronald Reagan (30%) virtually tied; libertarian-oriented Congressman Phil Crane took an additional 7% of the vote. The caucuses almost pre-ordained a Reagan-Bush ticket, and foreshadowed a growing conservative-libertarian bloc within the GOP.

In 1988 (Reagan was unopposed for his second term in 1984), the winner was Bob Dole(37%); televangelist Pat Robertson took second with 24%, and George H. W. Bush limped in at third place with 19%. Once again, Iowa taught an important lesson: while George H.W. Bush went on to win the nomination and the election against Democrat Mike Dukakis (in a record-low turnout year), Iowa signaled that Bush was headed for trouble, and would be limited to a one-term Presidency. At the same time, Robertson’s second place finish indicated the growing power of the religious right within the GOP.

In 1996, the winner was Bob Dole with 26%. He went on to win the Republican nomination that year.

In 2000, George W. Bush won with 41%. He went on to win the Republican nomination that year.

In 2008, Mike Huckabee won with 34% of the vote. This win reflected the continuing strength of social conservatives and the religious right in the GOP. The eventual winner of the nomination that year – John McCain – drew only 13% of the vote. His lackluster performance in Iowa found its fullest expression in the general election, when he was defeated by Barack Obama, losing formerly “safe” GOP states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. Interestingly, Mitt Romney took second place in Iowa that year (25%), foreshadowing his own strength this year.

Second, as a “swing state,’ it has been a bellwether in the national election.

Iowa has voted for the winning candidate in the general election in four out of five of the last Presidential elections, and 7 out of the last 10 Presidential elections. In other words, in recent years, it has become even more predictive of the national outcome. One can point to its racial makeup or economic base as 'unrepresentative,' but the objective facts are that Iowans laregly have their finger on the pulse of elections, rather than simply being a "red state" or a "blue state."

But lastly, the current ‘winnowing process’ that has resulted in a virtual three-way race between Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and a late-surging Rick Santorum, is an accurate reflection of the current makeup – and divisions – within the Republican Party.

On Jan 23, 2011 – just about a year ago – we published an analysis
of the tripartheid nature of the Republican Party as reflected in elections for leadership with the state of New Hampshire Republican Party. We wrote,

In the wake of yesterday's election of Jack Kimball over Juliana Bergeron as New Hampshire State Republican Chair, many news articles have attempted to present this as a battle between "two sides." And in America, we tend to simply battles into just two sides: Republicans vs. Democrats, Packers vs. Bears, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Toby Keith vs. The Dixie Chicks. But the reality behind the scenes is that the state GOP can be divided into at least three different factions, and the direction the party - and the State - will take is a function of how those coalitions come together - or fall apart - on individual issues.

In brief, the three main factions are The Establishment Yankees, The Theocrats, and the Libertarians

Nowhere have three factions become as starkly clear as in Iowa in the last week.

Mitt Romney is the clear establishment favorite: The son of former Michigan Governor George W. Romney, he holds a joint Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard. He was the co-founder and head of Bain Capital, a highly profitable private equity investment firm. With the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, Romney represents the Republican Establishment Blue-Blood tradition.

Ron Paul, a twelve-term Congressman from Texas, is perhaps the single most recognizable voice in the libertarian wing of the GOP. Consistently voicing libertarian positions, Paul often votes against his Republican colleagues on issues involving civil liberties, militarism, and spending. In 1988, he ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket; He was one of only 66 Congressmen (out of 435) to oppose the original Patriot Act, and one of 26 Republicans to oppose its extension this past year. A veteran, he alone among the Republicans has opposed sanctions on Iran and has called for significant slashing of America’s international military budget.

Rick Santorum represents the clearest and most extreme personification of theocracy in the United States. A strident evangelical Christian, Santorum is actively seeking to galvanize Iowa’s Pat Roberston voters as he openly campaigns on behalf of a “Christian America,” vowing this past week to invalidate all same-sex marriage that have already taken place, and winning endorsements from Bob Vander Plaats, Chief Executive of the Family Leader, and Chuck Hurley, President of the Iowa Family Policy Centre. In an overture to the Second-Coming crowd, he vowed a direct military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In the last week, the media have used the words “irrelevant,” “overhyped,” and “unrepresentative” in describing Iowa and it’s voters. They have used all sorts of facts and figures about race and religion to try and prove their point. They also question what an unexpected (or “undesirable”) outcome could mean.

But in spite of their nay-saying, the three front-runners - Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum – are an entirely accurate representation of the elements of the current schizoid Republican Party, and the results of the Iowa caucuses for the last thirty years have been highly predictive of the American political mood.

Iowa *is* relevant.