2012 - %3, January

WATCH: Canada for President! (NSFW)

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 4:30 AM PST

Less Iowa, more Ottawa: Courtesy of the Canada Party.Less Iowa, more Ottawa: Photo courtesy of the Canada Party

Have you hit your Iowa caucus threshold? Still waiting for your presidential prince to come? Our neighbors in the north have a humble suggestion: Elect Canada in 2012. A couple of comedic Canucks calling themselves the Canada Party announced their country's candidacy for White House in an online video Tuesday (watch it below). "We've seen your candidates," the party spokesman says, "and frankly, they scare the shit out of us. So we're volunteering our country to lead your country."

They make a pretty compelling case, starting with a list of the commonwealth nation's capstone achievements: Human rights, employment rate, gun control, lumberjack fashion, Bigfoot sightings, human kindness, barley production. "That's just what our hippies have accomplished," the narrator says. "Wait till you see our redneck cred." No, seriously: "Our prime minister is a muppet version of George Bush, our oil sands are so dirty it makes Texas look like a Greenpeace retreat, and we have the same problem you do with illiterate foreigners invading our southern borders to steal our jobs."

So far, the Canada Party appears to be operating on a shoestring budget; its web presence is limited to a sparse Facebook page and Twitter account—a function, no doubt, of their country's more stringent campaign finance laws. But assuming they've got a longform birth certificate on hand (who are we kidding? They've probably been here longer than your ancestors!), this could be the start of something big. Let's just hope that if they're elected, they won't screw with the rules of American football.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 4, 2012

Wed Jan. 4, 2012 3:57 AM PST

Soldiers from Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry (2-38th), patrol an area of the Shorbak Desert, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, December 11, 2011. Photo by Spc. Phil Kernisan.

Romney Wins the Iowa Bowl!

| Wed Jan. 4, 2012 12:16 AM PST

It looks like Mitt Romney has won the Iowa Bowl in triple overtime by a margin of 8 votes over a resurgent Rick Santorum. Very exciting! So now we have a new anti-Romney who will suddenly learn the dangers of being in the spotlight and having voters actually get to know him; a promise from a bitter Newt Gingrich that the gloves are off and he's now going to crush the Mittster and sow the smoking remains of his campaign with salt; the apparent end of Rick Perry; and a few days of chuckleheaded nonsense from people who should know better that Ron Paul owes a big part of his third-place success to his anti-war message and might now ride the burgeoning isolationist youth vote in the Republican Party to victory. (Actual reality: Ron Paul owes his success to his usual combination of economic crankery and fanatic opposition to social welfare in every possible form.) 

I have my own theory about Rick Santorum, though, and here it is: he surged because there were no debates in the final three weeks before Iowa. Santorum is possibly the whiniest, least appealing debate candidate I've ever seen in my life, and I figure he lost a few thousand votes every time he went on the air. So the calendar helped him a lot. Unfortunately, there's a debate coming up this Saturday, which should be perfectly positioned to allow the voters of New Hampshire to remind themselves that they really don't want to see this guy on their TV for the next four years. That's bad luck for Santorum, but them's the breaks.

UPDATE: Dave Weigel points out something interesting: in 2008, when conservatives were supposedly down in the dumps, about 102,000 Republicans showed up to vote in Iowa. (The balance of the votes were independents and crossover Democrats.) This year, when conservatives are supposedly psyched to crush the demon Obama, about 91,000 Republicans showed up to vote. What happened to the enthusiasm gap?

The Ron Paul Show Goes On

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 10:54 PM PST

Ron Paul took to the podium at the Courtyard Marriott hotel Tuesday night to celebrate results in Iowa that didn't quite live up to expectations. While he led in the polls just days ago, he finished third, with 21 percent of the vote. If the Paul devotees packing the room were feeling disappointed, they did a good job of hiding it. They offered exuberant cheers of appreciation that Paul returned with gracious praise for their countless hours of campaign work. Paul's supporters are still optimistic he can capitalize on the momentum that catapulted him from something of a fringe candidate in 2008 to a contender in Iowa in 2012.

"I really thought he'd get second, if not first," 59-year-old Eric Riedinger, of Des Moines, told me. "I was a little bit shocked by Romney's turnout in my district," Mike Fortune, a 39-year-old caucus-goer from West Des Moines, said. But, Fortune added hopefully, Paul's third place finish means that "he's now officially in the top tier."

During his speech Tuesday night, Paul told his supporters that he was "one of two [candidates] who can run a national campaign and raise some money," presumably a shot at the surging Rick Santorum, who will now be scrambling to build out his campaign operation elsewhere. "There were essentially three winners, and we will go on," Paul continued. "We have a tremendous opportunity to continue this momentum. It won't be long that there's going to be an election up in New Hampshire."

But Paul's time to get out the vote may be running out. Mitt Romney has consistently held more than a 20-point advantage in the polls over Paul in New Hampshire, whose primary is next Tuesday. And in South Carolina, which votes on January 21, Romney and Newt Gingrich both hold double-digit leads over Paul.

Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus was the candidate's best opportunity to create real momentum and cement his status as a contender for the GOP nomination. The state's same-day voter registration was perfectly tailored to the non-traditional voters to whom Paul owes much of his success. They didn't turn out in large enough numbers, though, to overcome Iowans' tendency to flock to a social conservative. Nor could they ultimately compete with a wider focus on Mitt Romney as perhaps the only candidate with a real shot to beat Obama. Yet the energy behind Paul remains substantial, and he'll continue to have an effect on the race at least in the near term. Earlier in the night, when returns showed Paul in a three-way tie for first, one supporter in the crowd summed up the night succinctly, shouting, "We may not win, but we've got the passion!"

Rick Santorum: "The Militant" Candidate

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 8:46 PM PST

They've tallied up the results at Johnston, Iowa's precinct 481 and the big winner is...well, that's not totally clear. But here are the basics: Out of 335 votes cast, Mitt Romney claimed 76; Rick Santorum had 75—and further down, Michele Bachmann had 15; Jon Huntsman trailed former Alabama supreme court judge Roy Moore, by a 2 to 1 margin (Moore had 2, Huntsman had 1). Huntsmentum, feel it.

Over at Santorum headquarters at the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, the mood is fairly jubilant. There's a sizable crowd around the television, chanting "Rick! Rick! Rick!" (and the occasional ear-piercing whistle) whenever Fox News returns from commercial and updates its results. Steven Wagner's monitoring the television, as the results begin to show, for the first time, Santorum, creeping into first place. He's actually from DC—he flew to Iowa this weekend because Santorum's a family friend. And as much as it might pain him to say it, he wasn't quite sure Santorum was ever going to catch fire. "I was really waiting for Rick to make a move and was kind of perplexed as to why he hadn't caught on," he says. "I didn't think that it was his year, in a structural sense. There was somehow this environment in Iowa that was preventing him from catching on."

But now that he's caught on, Wagner thinks there's no stopping him. "I think Rick's the kind of militant candidate that'll give the president a run for his money. He means what he says to his bones."

How the Rich Get Richer

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 7:41 PM PST

While we're all waiting for the Iowa straw poll to finish up, here are some new income inequality charts for you to munch on. These come from a new CRS report, and the first one shows where most of us get our income. For 80% of us, the answer is: almost all of it comes from ordinary wages and salaries. We get a grand total of 0.7% of our income from dividends and capital gains.

For the top 0.1%, it's flipped around. They get less than 20% of their income from ordinary wages and more than half from dividends and capital gains. So when Republicans eagerly insist on reducing or eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains, this chart shows you who benefits. Most of us get nada, but the very rich benefit handsomely.

Got that? Onward, then. This next chart comes from Jared Bernstein, based on the same CRS report, and it shows how various kinds of income contributed to growing income inequality between 1996 and 2006. Overall, America's Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, increased by 0.057 points between 1996 and 2006. Of that increase, most comes from dividends and capital gains, which became a higher percentage of the pay of the rich, and taxes, which went down a lot for rich people.

There's more detail at the link, but you get the picture. For the rich, the amount of their income that comes from capital gains went up, while the taxes they paid on their capital gains went down. As a result, income inequality zoomed ever higher. Pretty sweet deal, no?

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Undecided in Iowa

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 6:44 PM PST

Through some stroke of luck*, I've made it to a caucus location at an evangelical church in Johnson, Iowa—just down the street from Rick Santorum's caucus night party at the Stoney Creek Inn. The stage is still set for Christmas services—there are five Christmas trees on stage, and a baby grand piano; the place is about three-quarters full. Santorum's wife, Karen, is here and, by all accounts, she gave voters the hard sell (although it was Santorum's Florida campaign chair who gave the official endorsement speech). 

One quirk of the caucus system is that, at each location, each candidate has an official endorser. An endorsers' pitch can have a big impact on how voters come down. None of the voters I spoke with were 100 percent sure who they were going to vote for. Here are four snapshots from the crowd:

  • Tara Helwig: "I'm not completely sure. I'm swayed a little, but it's possible I'd switch." Her candidate for now? "Mitt Romney. I just kinda feel like"—she motions to her friend sitting next to her—"we were discussing this. He's the one with the most experience in the area I'm most concerned about." That's the economy. "I'm not saying for sure; I'm not saying definitely. I chatted with [Ann Romney] and she answered some of my questions very well." But not her questions on Santorum's experience on the economy. That's key. She voted for Romney in 2008, too.
  • Lee Sellneyer: "I guess for me, maybe Romney and Santorum." He'd met Karen Santorum a few moments earlier, and it's part of the reason he's thinking of voting for him. "She basically just talked about his issues, the economy, right to life. I mentioned being NRA and she said she was. I'm impressed that she's doing it. It's a lot of effort." He voted for Huckabee in 2007.
  • Alan and Barbara Morton: "I think we're getting close," says Alan, wearing a Packers hat. They're leaning toward Rick Santorum "because we talked to his wife," Alan says. "We've been flipping back and forth between Herman Cain and Rick Perry and Rick Santorum." Their one concern about Perry: He's not on the ballot on Virginia—and just as important is how he responded to that. They docked points from Perry when he filed suit in federal court to reverse the state GOP's decision, pointing out that it contradicted his 10th Amendment arguments. They voted for Fred Thompson in 2008, "and then he dropped out." 
  • Liz Smith: "I'm not 100 percent," but she's leaning toward Ron Paul. "I just think he's different—he's way different from what we have." What could sway her away from Paul? "Possibly hearing more of the candidates' stances on education." (As it happens, that's pretty much all Bachmann's endorser talks about.) Smith voted for Obama in 2008, but says she won't make that mistake again.

As I write this, they're voting. It's mostly quiet, although one guy is concerned that the press will be allowed to vote (we won't be). The endorsements were fairly low-key, the highlight probably coming when Ron Paul's endorser bragged that Paul had voted to authorize the use of force to go after "Obama." It was a slip-up, and he apologized for it, but he was greeted with laughs and a round of applause.

*By which I mean "no traffic"; these events are open to the public and press—they even allow you to register to vote right before you go in. Voter fraud, it turns out, only becomes a serious issue when you allow Democrats in.

New Hampshire Lawmakers Revive the Evolution Wars

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 1:58 PM PST

New Hampshire kicks off the year with the presidential primaries, but also with a round of anti-evolution bills. The National Center for Science Education reports that there are two different proposed laws making their way through the state legislature:

House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism," while House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes."

In an article in the Concord Monitor last week, Bergevin, the author of the first bill, blamed both the rise of Nazis in Germany in the early 20th Century and the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School on the teaching of evolution:

Bergevin is less interested in the science of evolution than he is in the political and religious views of Darwin and his disciples. His bill would require schools to teach evolution as a theory, and include "the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."
"I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview and it's godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they've been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don't respect human rights," he said.
"As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That's evidence right there," he said.

His comments make those from Hopper—the sponsor of the second measure—seem pretty reasonable by comparison. Hopper's measure would force teachers to also include "intelligent design" in their science curriculum because, he argues, scientists are "just guessing" and "science is a creative process, not an absolute thing" anyway.

The newspaper notes that these are the first anti-evolution bills introduced in the state since the late 1990s. They've been referred to the House Education Committee, and hearings are scheduled for early February.

Coming Back to Earth

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 1:49 PM PST

Time Lapse From Space - Literally. The Journey Home. from Fragile Oasis on Vimeo.

For all those finding the gravity of work kinda debilitating after the rarified air of the holidays...

Update: How Iowa Really Works

| Tue Jan. 3, 2012 12:52 PM PST

A reader writes in to explain how the Iowa caucuses really work:

What’s going on in Iowa is that four or five election cycles ago, Republicans decided that the best way to deal with the precinct caucuses for maximum media impact was to simply hold a straw poll at the start of the caucuses and report that to the press as the result. After that, the hard-core insiders would hang around for the actual precinct caucus — the delegate selection phase. The straw poll is non-binding, but there’s kind of a conspiracy of the press and the state party to report it as the result because it comes in earlier and the results are clearer.

I didn't know that. Maybe I should have, but I didn't. That Des Moines Register piece that I linked to earlier, for example, describes the process this way:

  1. Pick a candidate.
  2. Votes tallied.
  3. Elect delegates.
  4. Elect alternates.

Tricky! I didn't quite catch that "Votes tallied" really had nothing to do with "Elect delegates." But apparently it doesn't. You cast your vote, the tally gets reported to the press, and then if you feel like sticking around to elect delegates you can do that. Or not. But your vote doesn't really matter unless you do.

Pretty good system for choosing a leader of the free world, isn't it?