2012 - %3, January

12 Protesters Busted at Democrats' Iowa War Room

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 5:31 PM EST
Occupy Iowa Caucus protester Perry Graham, of Eugene, Oregon, is led out of the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel by police on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, 12 Occupy Iowa Caucus protesters were arrested after staging a die-in at a Des Moines hotel where the Democratic National Committee has set up a communications "war room" in preparation for Tuesday's caucuses. The move came after protesters delivered an invitation on Sunday asking the DNC chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, to hear their complaints in person. According to the occupiers, Schultz declined the offer, saying she would be out of town Monday.

In a press release, protesters claimed that DNC officials "hid in a second floor room, locked the doors, and called police" to avoid speaking with them after they returned to the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel on Monday. But no one was in the war room immediately before protesters arrived. A hotel staffer said the officials had left the building before the protesters arrived and planned to come back later in the day.

About 40 people, marching silently to the beat of a drum, had arrived at the hotel, where they criticized Democrats for the party's ties to Wall Street and Barack Obama's support of the National Defense Authorization Act. Two dozen protesters then lay on a lobby floor near a staircase to which the hotel's general manager, Rick Gaede, had blocked access. Across the lobby, two disinterested businessmen in suits ate lunch at a hotel restaurant. A hotel staffer called police, who told reporters and protesters that anyone (other than hotel guests and staff) who stayed in the building would face arrest.

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Organic Tomatoes in January: Sucking Mexico Dry

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 5:18 PM EST

Walk into a fancy grocery store today and you'll see them: stacks of pristine, glistening organic tomatoes. But what does it take to generate a bounty of organic tomatoes in January?

According to a great New York Times story by Elizabeth Rosenthal, the bulk of organic tomatoes now gracing the produce aisles of US supermarkets hail from Mexico's Baja Peninsula—a desert. Rosenthal reports that Baja's production of US-bound organic tomatoes has expanded dramatically in recent years. And growing large monocrops in a desert, organic or not, requires lots and lots of water. Here's Rosenthal:

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops.

That's a pretty brutal tradeoff: A luxury product for export—fresh winter tomatoes—squeezes out people who are trying to feed themselves from their own land. And lest anyone argue that the arrangement is somehow building wealth and pulling people out of poverty in this part of Mexico, Rosenthal notes that the going wage for working in these mercilessly hot fields is $10 per day—twice the local minimum wage, but not enough to pull anyone out of poverty and certainly not sufficient compensation for drawing down the water table and snuffing out other forms of agriculture.

Rick Santorum's Secret Weapon: The Duggars

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 2:22 PM EST

I have no idea what Rick Santorum told the crowd at Reising Sun Cafe in Polk City, Iowa, this morning. My guess is the former Pennsylvania senator's message was a lot like the one he's brought to Iowa's other 98 counties—he's a consistent social conservative, architect of the partial-birth abortion ban, Iran's worst nightmare, and a culture war veteran with the scars to prove it. But the diner was impossibly small, and so I was left standing outside in the Arctic chill with about 50 supporters and undecided voters, and maybe half as many press. Santorum was just a side-show in Polk City, though. That's because the Duggars showed up.

That would be the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting fame, a conservative Christian family from Arkansas. Twelve of the 19 Duggar children are with their dad Jim Bob in Iowa campaigning for Santorum, all dressed in their Sunday best—the girls in ankle-length skirts and the boys with shirts-and-ties. Everyone knows who Jim Bob Duggar is, but he introduces himself to everyone who walks up to him nonetheless: "I'm Jim Bob Duggar, and we have a show called 19 Kids and Counting." The Duggars duck into a boutique shop next door to the Santorum event and the whole gang takes turns posing for photos with Santorum volunteers and fans. "There's Josiah, he's got a gray jacket!" a woman says, pointing at one of the older Duggar boys. "I watch that show all the time. They're really strong Christians. I love them," says another.

"Everyone say 'Pick Rick!'": Tim Murphy"Everyone say 'Pick Rick!'": Tim MurphyMeanwhile, Jim Bob holds court. "Rick Santorum is someone with a proven track record to stand up for what's right, for lower taxes, less government intervention in our lives. He's always been an advocate for the unborn. He's somebody that he authored the bill that banned partial birth abortion. That's something that nobody else can say. Whereas Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he set up a Romneycare program, and included a program where any girl could go in and get an abortion for $50." (Full context here.)

In 2008, he and the family (there were only 17 kids then) traveled to Iowa ito volunteer for Mike Huckabee and, truth be told, Jim Bob would have preferred the Arkansas Governor run again. "We begged Huckabee to run this time, but he felt that this was not the time for him to run," he says. "So we've been looking for a candidate that has our values, and somebody that's articulate, that has energy, that has a proven track record to do what's right—and Rick Santorum's the man." They plan on checking out a few more events, and then hitting the phone lines on Santorum's behalf. Jim Bob's oldest son, Josh, a car dealer, came up with the idea to rechristen the family bus the "Santourin' Express," and the thing looks so official—the candidate's website is splashed in big letters on both sides—that a few voters walked up to it expecting to meet the candidate.

In finail days before the Iowa caucuses, campaigns have dispatched their surrogates to Iowa in droves. Chris Christie parachuted in for Mitt Romney. Rand Paul's stumping for his dad. Rick Perry's campaign dispatched Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. They're effective in their own way, but the Duggars represent a unique form of micro-targeting that's perfect in Iowa. Like Santorums—and a disproportionately high number of Iowa conservatives—the Duggars home-school their kids in order to provide them with an education based on Christian principles. (Of the Santorum supporters I spoke with in Polk City, Michele Bachmann, another home-schooler, was the overwhelming second choice.) Home-schoolers helped push Huckabee over the top in 2008; if Santorum pulls an the upset on Tuesday, he'll have folks like Jim Bob to thank.

Peak Crazy and the Republican Base

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 2:20 PM EST

A few weeks ago, after Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain had successively peaked and then plummeted in the Republican primary race, the conventional wisdom was simple: Newt Gingrich was the last man standing. Whether by luck or by native shrewdness, he had peaked late enough in the game that there wasn't time for Republican voters to get tired of him before the Iowa caucuses.

Hah! Turns out that three weeks plus a gazillion dollars of brutal negative advertising was plenty of time. Gingrich began his fall to earth almost immediately, as the RCP poll-of-polls below shows. Because RCP is a poll average, it actually understates Gingrich's collapse, which has him barely breaking double digits in the latest Iowa polls. Instead, we're now seeing mini-boomlets for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

This is all amazing enough on its face, but if you ask me, it's even more amazing than that. It's not just that Republican voters can't make up their minds. And it's not just that they're really, really resisting their eventual doom of pretending to be enthusiastic about a Mitt Romney candidacy. What's really amazing is how fast every single candidate has fallen to earth after their initial surge. It turns out that even the Republican base got disillusioned with them after only a brief moment in the spotlight. The Republican base! These are people who believe the earth is cooling and Barack Obama was probably born in Kenya, and even they only needed a few weeks to realize that Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich were nutcakes who probably shouldn't be allowed to take a White House tour, let alone occupy the Oval Office for four years.

Alternatively, of course, you might think just the opposite: what really happened was that the Republican base needed only a few weeks to decide that these folks weren't quite batshit crazy enough for their taste. Maybe so. But that's such a glass-half-empty point of view, isn't it?

Your Daily Newt: A Terrorist Attack Now And Then...

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 12:31 PM EST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Asked in 2008 about the Bush administration's efforts in the war in terror, Gingrich expressed his frustration that the public wasn't sufficiently concerned about terrorists on a day to day basis. As he explained: "The better they've done at making sure there isn't going to be an attack, the easier it is to say there was never going to be an attack anyway. It's almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to go through just to remind us":

Gingrich was joking—sort of. He really did think serious changes needed to be made to the nation's law enforcement framework at the expense of civil liberties. That's why he'd create a new agency, separate from the traditional domestic crime-fighting FBI (which would still be forced to comply with the Bill of Rights). "I would have a small, but very aggressive anti-terrorist agency. And I would give them extraordinary ability to eavesdrop. And my first advice to civil libertarians would be simple: Don't plot with terrorists." To quote Jefferson. Or was it Jay?

Tuesday's Other Election

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 11:00 AM EST
An Egyptian man shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in Giza district near Cairo in the run-off of the second round of legislative election marred by deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Tuesday is shaping up to be a big day in the world of politics. In Iowa, Republican caucus-goers officially kick off the 2012 presidential election cycle at 1,774 precincts across the state. In Egypt, voters in nine of the country’s 27 governorates head to the polls in the third and final round of elections for the first People's Assembly to convene since last winter’s revolution.

At first glance, the contests couldn’t be more different. Egyptian voters will cast their ballots against a backdrop of continuing political instability and a volatile security environment. In Iowa’s gymnasiums, libraries, and churches, the greatest disruptions might well come from a handful of rowdy Ron Paul supporters.

But dig a little deeper, and one finds some uncanny parallels. If democracy really is God's gift to the world, He’s infused it everywhere with His own quirky sense of humor. Here are a few to look out for as the first voting of the new year gets underway.

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Obama Signs Controversial Defense Bill On New Year's Eve

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 8:04 AM EST

Following a long tradition of tactical White House holiday news dumps, President Barack Obama quietly signed the National Defense Authorization Act Saturday. Obama released a signing statement that pledged to avoid, disregard, and in some cases grudgingly accept new restrictions imposed by Congress.

Detention of American citizens. This was the most controversial section, of the bill, and the most misreported. A Senate compromise amendment to the bill leaves open the question of whether the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks authorizes the president to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism who are captured on American soil. This matter may never be settled, as the risk of getting smacked down by the courts may dissuade presidents with even more expansive views of executive power than Obama from ever trying it.

In his statement, Obama says he wants "to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens." He continues: "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation." Note what the president does not say: that indefinitely detaining an American suspected of terrorism would be unconstitutional or illegal. Obama's signing statement seems to suggest he already believe he has the authority to indefinitely detain Americans—he just never intends to use it. (In the context of hot battlefields the courts have confirmed he does indeed have that power.) Left unsaid, perhaps deliberately, is the distinction that has dominated the debate over the defense bill: the difference between detaining an American captured domestically or abroad. This is why ACLU Director Anthony Romero released a statement shortly after Obama's arguing the authority in the defense bill could "be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield."

Newt Gingrich's War on the War on Dust

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Newt Gingrich's biggest applause in Atlantic, Iowa, on Saturday wasn't his condemnation of President Barack Obama as a "Saul Alinsky radical." It wasn't his pledge to destroy Obamacare. It certainly wasn't his name-drop of consulting pioneers Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker. It was his promise to bring the troops home, declare defeat, and end major combat operations in the War on Dust.

Referring to the Environmental Protection Agency as a "job-killing dictatorial bureaucracy," Gingrich invoked the name of one of the state's leading Republicans to make his case. "Many of you have probably followed Sen. Grassley’s fight for the dust regulations," Gingrich says. "The EPA technically has the ability to regulate 'particulate matter,' as part of the Clean Air Bill, which I don’t think any congressman thought of as 'dust.' But of course it’s now interpreted to include dust. If you were to plow on a windy day, and some of the dirt was carried by the wind into your neighbor’s field, you would be polluting your neighbor's field with your dirt. Now, since your neighbor's field is exactly the same geologic dirt as your field, it’s implausible that you would actually be hurting it."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 2, 2012

Mon Jan. 2, 2012 6:57 AM EST

PFC Christopher Sauber, 24, of Athens, OH pets Sgt. 1st Class Zeke at brigade headquarters located in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Zeke is part of the 113th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control and offers support to soldiers from Task Force Arctic Wolves from Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. Photo by JR Ancheta/ZUMA Press.

Ron Paul's Top Secret Iowa Youth Camp

| Sun Jan. 1, 2012 12:38 PM EST
Outside the YMCA camp building in Iowa rented out by Ron Paul's campaign.

At a rented YMCA camp lodge outside the town of Boone in central Iowa, young Ron Paul volunteers are preparing for Tuesday's caucuses under a veil of secrecy. When I stopped by on Saturday, after driving down a winding gravel road surrounded by woods and farmland, the place appeared deserted, aside from a couple cars and a white van with a Ron Paul sign in the window. "At Y camp you don't have to make friends, they're given to you," a sign greeted me near the the Pioneer Hybrid Outdoor Education Center where the volunteers work.

In Ron Paul's case, those friends are  hundreds of out-of-state college students who paid their own way to travel to Iowa in support of their libertarian hero. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that once they arrive at the camp, the volunteers are "under strict orders" to "look, dress, shave, sound and behave in a way that will not jeopardize Mr. Paul’s chances." That means no boozing, no visible tattoos, and no scraggy beards (although I did spot a guy with earrings). Or as one volunteer from Ithaca, New York, told the Times, "What would Ron Paul do?"

The volunteers have also been told "not to speak to journalists or make postings on social media sites about their activities in Iowa," the Times explained. That became immediately clear on Saturday, when I walked into a meeting room where about 20 volunteers prepared campaign flyers. "Are you with the media?" a young woman asked as someone turned off the music. I was ordered to leave the room, and after I was told that I could "absolutely not" take a flyer with me a woman shut the door to the lobby behind me. A young man watched me intently from behind a glass window as he called someone on his phone.