A workshop about the environmental and social implications of fracking—also known as hydraulic fracturing—is starting right now at Duke University's Reynolds Theater, which is in the Bryan Center. It is open to the public; there are a few seats left. It runs until 3 p.m.
If you can't attend, the workshop is being streamed live at nicholas.duke.edu/hydrofrackingworkshop2012
In Town Manager Roger Stancil's eyes, Chapel Hill Police made "the best decisions that could be made given the information available at the time," when a Special Emergency Response Team armed with assault rifles arrested "anti-capitalist occupiers" who claimed the long-vacant Yates Motor Co. Building downtown in mid-November.
Stancil released his much-anticipated, yet-unsurprising internal review of the incident late Friday. He backed the police, who report to his office, because no one was injured in the Nov 13. raid, the building had not been inhabited or a decade and was unfit and because attempts to communicate with those inside were unsuccessful.
"The use of the SERT Team was appropriate because of their continuous training for special situations and their habitual training to act as a team," Stancil wrote. "This training minimizes the potential for unintended consequences and injury."
He found fault only with the way the two members of the press, Katelyn Ferral of the News & Observer and freelancer Josh Davis, were detained on scene. To that end, Stancil and Police Chief Chris Blue have met with some local media to create a fresh media relations policy that will be used by the police, emergency management and the fire department as protocol during emergency response situations.
So, Mitt Romney has won the popular vote here, by the extraordinary margin of eight votes over Rick Santorum, out of over 100,000 votes cast. The winner of the popular vote total is not significant in terms of determining the composition of the Iowa delegation to the GOP national convention. Iowa will end up sending 25 delegates, out of over 2,000 total. Winning precinct caucuses determines how many delegates will attend the state GOP convention in Iowa, which will determine later in the Spring, who the national delegates will be. In other words, there are several degrees of separation between what happened last night and the GOP convention.
Santorum’s success is already the big story in the national media and has vindicated his brand of retail politics. He spent a fraction of the money that Romney and Rick Perry did — the relatively paltry sum of $500,000, compared to the millions spent by Romney and Perry. He visited all ninety-nine counties, held over 350 town hall meetings and covered every nook and cranny of the state. It remains implausible — despite some media chatter to the contrary — that he could win the nomination. But it will certainly keep the pundits busy talking about the ongoing lack of enthusiasm among GOP voters for Romney.
In any event, I did visit a caucus site last night to observe the proceedings. Some precinct caucuses are quite large and several hundred voters will show up. Others are much smaller. I attended a precinct caucus in Des Moines in which 27 voters turned out. The usual protocol at GOP caucuses is that each candidate can have one surrogate speak on his or her behalf for up to five minutes (it was four at our precinct). The candidates themselves appeared at larger, higher profile caucus sites. For example, in Black Hawk county, there is only one caucus site for the whole county. An estimated five thousand people showed up and Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann were there to make their own cases. Des Moines, by contrast, has dozens of sites - some are large and some are similar to what I observed last night.
At the precinct I attended, surrogates spoke for Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Perry. Once those finished, the precinct captain asked if anyone else wanted to speak and a Ron Paul supporter made some very brief remarks. There was a brief back and forth about Paul’s views on Israel and the national security credentials of the candidates — one woman described Bachmann as “practically CIA” because she receives classified briefings as a member of the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence. After that, the attendees cast secret ballots and the results were announced aloud prior to adjournment. At the precinct caucus site I attended, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich won, with six votes each. This will likely to translate into one delegate each to a regional convention, which will then determine the composition of the state convention and so on, as described above.
The Republican caucuses work quite differently from the Democratic ones. At Democratic caucuses, participants sit or stand together in different parts of the room, with other supporters of the same candidate. Then surrogates can speak on behalf of candidates, after which people can move from one candidate to another. It’s a much messier, more fluid process, with more emphasis and made for a more interesting observing experience in 2008 than was the case last night.
There are strong and valid criticisms of Iowa’s disproportionate influence on the nomination process. It’s a small state, demographically unrepresentative of the country and those problems are exacerbated by the fact that caucuses are low turnout events, requiring as they do substantially more time commitment than does just showing up to pull a lever.
On the other hand, I appreciate the open deliberation of the caucus process. There’s at least some effort to persuade people to re-consider their preferences (for the reasons mentioned above, this is truer on the Democratic side than the Republican). There is, potentially, an actual discussion of issues — that happened briefly last night about support for Israel at my caucus site. The caucuses also present a rare opportunity for ordinary folks to standup in public and make arguments. The conversation at the precinct caucus I observed wasn’t especially well informed (I am being a little polite). But still, this feels something like real, direct democracy, however limited and problematic. That Iowa should not go first — and certainly not in every election cycle — seems clear. But I do find myself somewhat heartened by the open forum that the caucuses afford.
In the bigger picture, I second a number of Matt Taibbi’s criticisms of the entire spectacle of our presidential election seasons: provocative arguments and candidates who might shake-up our political discourse tend to get marginalized; on some of the biggest issues of the day, like Wall Street’s influence on politics and American militarism, there is much less difference between the parties than election year coverage suggests; and there is an illusory quality to our elections and election coverage, which exaggerates the degree to which ordinary Americans influence meaningfully the political process.
OK, signing off.
As the caucuses wrap up, and regardless of who wins tonight, the identity of the eventual nominee seems clear. Despite months and months of debating and campaigning, and as the GOP’s base seemed desperate to anoint a new non-Mitt Romney every month, the former Massachusetts governor is clearly the man to beat. He has unmatched organizational assets, the backing of much of the GOP establishment, enormous financial support from Wall Street and an image as a palatable alternative to independent voters that the other GOP contestants lack.
Winning the caucuses would certainly burnish Romney’s front-runner status, but the GOP’s eventual 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, finished a distant fourth here.
Perhaps it’s the sense of anti-climax that has stripped the passion and intensity from the run-up to the 2012 caucuses. Among the candidates I saw here, by far the most passionate and fiery has been Ron Paul, whose supporters believe fervently that they are not merely supporting him but participating in a movement to fundamentally change the United States. Other candidates here have spoken in similar terms, but none of their supporters with whom I spoke talked as eagerly and enthusiastically about their man as did Congressman Paul’s.
The candidates still went through their desultory paces, grinding their way through stop after stop, hewing close to their favored talking points and—despite efforts to draw distinctions among themselves—emphasizing the same issues over and over again: Obama’s regulations and high taxes are destroying business. We need to exploit to the maximum degree possible domestic sources of energy. Iran is a serious threat to the United States and the world (Paul was a clear exception in this respect). The Constitution is under assault. What makes America great is the freedom to make it on our own, not to give handouts to people who don’t deserve them.
This is depressing as spectacle, but more to the point, it’s unhealthy for the country. It’s not that we have all the right answers to all the hard questions, if only Democrats could rule. Quite the contrary. The Democratic Party is divided, incoherent and, of course, filled with its own pandering careerists and compromised by its own ties to Wall Street.
State lawmakers will meet Wednesday at 2 p.m. to decide whether to uphold the historic Racial Justice Act, a law passed in 2009 to spare the lives of death-row inmates who could prove that their trials, convictions or sentences were influenced by racial prejudice. Under the law, inmates who successfully prove their cases would be allowed to serve life sentences without parole instead of being put to death.
Recently released studies have shown patterns of racial bias in the selection of juries in North Carolina over the past 20 years, as well as in the application of the death penalty to defendants, based on their race or the race of the victim.
But in 2011, a mostly Republican ensemble of legislators set out to dismantle the law. Many have argued the legislation is too broad, and others have criticized it as death penalty opponents' way to simply stave off further executions in this state.
During the summer and fall, both chambers of the Legislature supported Senate Bill 9, which effectively guts the RJA. Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the passing of SB 9 on Dec. 14 and chose Jan. 4 as the date Legislators could vote to override her veto. The Senate will consider the bill first, then the House. Three-fifths of the present and voting members in each chamber must agree to override the governor's decision. An override in the Senate looks certain, but it could prove more challenging for House opponents of the Racial Justice Act to gather enough support to pass the bill.
Even if the Racial Justice Act is repealed, the issue will continue in 2012. Expect the more than 150 death-row inmates who have filed motions under the law to return with additional legal action based on their in-progress appeals.
See tomorrow's paper for more new stories to watch in 2012.
Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro will enter its second phase next week when the group removes its tents from Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street, according to press release issued this morning.
Occupiers have been holding camp in front of the Post Office there since Oct. 15, but amid the coming cold, and safety and morale concerns drawn from sleeping on the street in close quarters each night, the group is shifting strategy.
A few notes from the campaign trail yesterday. In addition to Paul, I saw three other candidates — Michele Bachmann, the surging Rick Santorum and the presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney. Each candidate argued that Iran posed a grave threat to America and the world. Bachmann vowed that if she were president, she would not preside over a nuclear Iran that targeted American cities. Santorum, in a creative reading of a Washington Post article yesterday, said that Iran was setting up terrorist training bases in South America. And Romney claimed that Obama was lying down, rather than standing up, in the face of the Iranian threat.
Both Santorum and Bachmann attacked Paul harshly — Santorum because of Paul’s insufficient defense of gun rights and the sanctity of the unborn, and Bachmann because of Paul’s irresponsible and dangerous view on American foreign policy. Incidentally, I was curious about Santorum’s attack on Paul’s abortion record, so I looked up some of his interest group ratings. In the last Congressional cycle, the National Right to Life Committee gave him a 100% rating, though it was somewhat lower than that in previous cycles.
Santorum, who is a close third according to polls released yesterday, told a crowd at a Pizza Ranch in Jasper County, an hour east of Des Moines, touted his family of seven children and asserted that it was faith and family, not our system of government or even our constitution, that made America great. Then Santorum quickly added, “but not any type of families—men and women bonding together to have children.” Santorum, it should be noted, has spent more time campaigning in this state than any other aspirant. He’s visited all 99 counties (as has Bachmann) and held hundreds of town hall meetings. Even if Santorum were to pull off the upset tonight, he has no real shot at the presidency. But he’s staked his campaign on the hope that he could galvanize Christian conservatives here the way Mike Huckabee did four years ago. And his message was clearly calibrated to advance that appeal.
Last night, I saw a Romney rally at the warehouse of Competitive Edge, an Iowa-based manufacturing company that outsources much of its work to China. I mention this detail, because Romney spent a good deal of time last night bashing China, for “stealing our intellectual property” and other transgressions. According to a Talking Points Memo (TPM) report this morning, the owner of Competitive Edge is a Romney supporter and told TPM that he doesn’t think Romney’s attacks on China — a staple of his campaign are much more than rhetorical.
Romney’s event was certainly the most slick I’ve seen — he had a large advance team, there was a cordoned off aisle through which the candidate charged through to raucous music and applause and in word and bearing, Romney acted the part of the presumptive nominee who was best positioned to knock off Obama in the general election. He attacked Obama on jobs, on regulations, on debt and promised to end Romneycare—oops, I mean Obamacare—on day one (sorry, couldn’t resist).
He also added that this election would come down to two very different visions: one predicated on the principles of our founding fathers and a merit-based opportunity society, and one based on European social democracy, “where the government takes from some to give to others.” I confess I find this particular line—another Romney staple—especially fascinating. There is certainly much to debate about the relative pros and cons of various European social welfare states compared to the American model. But if you’re trying to present to people a nightmare scenario of an intolerable future, invoking societies in which, by and large, people live longer, there’s less crime and the workweek is shorter—well, I just fail to see what precisely is shudder-inducing about that vision.
Romney may not win tonight. But it’s pretty clear the GOP nomination fight is all but over.
Twenty years ago, I saw Noam Chomsky speak at UNC-Chapel Hill. After rehearsing his usual litany about U.S. foreign policy crimes, someone in the audience asked what he would do differently if he were president. Chomsky answered that the first thing he'd have to do is arrest himself on charges of war crimes—that the office essentially demands that you be a war criminal.
I've been thinking about this in relation to Ron Paul. Congressman Paul is running neck and neck with Mitt Romney here in Iowa and the Revolution PAC, an independent political action committee that supports Paul's presidential bid, has put out an extraordinary new ad in support of Paul and reflective of his foreign policy views. A longer version is available here. (Spoiler alert: I give the punch line away in the next few sentences).
The commercial, in dramatic and nearly throbbing tones, asks the audience to imagine how outraged Americans would feel if a foreign army—say China's or Russia's—was occupying American soil, sometimes killing civilians and doing so under the shield of almost total immunity from American law. The punch line of the ad is that this is exactly how folks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have had reason to feel about our occupation. Among presidential aspirants, and not just in this cycle, Paul is unique in American public life in so insistently raising these sorts of issues— of urging Americans to think seriously about the nature of our empire and how the rest of the world is likely to see it.
Several commentators have noted that Paul represents a standing challenge to the moral accounting that partisans on both sides of the political divide routinely engage in. And this is consistent with something I mentioned in my earlier blog post on Paul: that his supporters seem particularly uninterested in partisan labels, though Paul's overall voting record tacks far to the right. On the progressive side of the ledger, Paul's newsletters, including their overtly racist and homophobic content, and his utterly lame attempts to explain their provenance, merit—and rightly so—harsh condemnation. But then shouldnt progressives also harshly condemn presidents who launch predator drone strikes that kill substantial numbers of civilians, and not just when its a Republican president doing the killing?
Just went to a Ron Paul event at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines. The ballroom in which the event was held was packed, perhaps 400 people strong, including lots of media, among them Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, David Gregory and Joe Klein.
I spoke with several Paul supporters before the event, including Monty, a bus driver in his mid-50s; Dara, a 43-year-old grandmother who came from Seattle to volunteer during the caucuses, and Michael, a 28-year-old textile worker sporting a shirt that said “I am a stoner and I vote.” Each person with whom I spoke expressed great concern about the erosion of American liberties in general and in particular the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act. (I wrote about the act for the Indy on Dec. 14.) Not one of the Paul supporters with whom I spoke was at all enthusiastic about any other Republican in the field. When I asked them what most concerned them about a second Obama term, each one said that it would be more of the same: erosion of freedom, an erosion which each thought clearly pre-dated Obama’s presidency.
In short, at least among the sample of folks I talked to, there was very little sense of partisanship. This was reflected in Congressman Paul’s own speech, which lasted barely 10 minutes and touched on all of the familiar themes of his campaign: liberty is at stake because of an out-of-control government; American militarism abroad does the world no favors and is a standing threat to our own security; we live way beyond our means and are about to be inundated by a tidal wave of debt-induced inflation and instability.
In none of the talk was Obama the villain. Instead, the threat to the United States derived from entrenched habits and interests of establishment Washington. When Paul’s son, Rand, introduced him, he argued that both parties would have to give up cherished values to solve our debt problems. Republicans could not continue to support profligate Pentagon spending. And Democrats could not afford to continue supporting unlimited social spending. I’d say that the crowd cheered equally lustily for both statements.
The crowd was raucous: They love their man and genuinely believe he can win and that he, alone, has the perspective, wisdom and humility to solve this country’s problems. One thing that I hear a lot from Paul supporters is that they feel as though he is genuinely educating them about how the world works, showing them a way of understanding it that they had not previously fathomed. I don’t think even Romney’s or Gingrich’s most ardent supporters feel that they are being schooled in the same way. It’s an interesting aspect of the Paul phenomenon.
I flew into Des Moines, Iowa, earlier today. I’ll be in the Hawkeye state until Wednesday, covering the Iowa caucuses and will plan to post here a couple of times each day between now and Tuesday. After checking in at the media center in downtown Des Moines, I drove out to Marshalltown, population 25,000 or so, located about 50 miles northeast of the state Capitol.
The big event: a Newt Gingrich “meet and greet” at Junction Sports Bar and Grill (a nice bonus: while we waited for Gingrich, who was about 30 minutes late, I got to watch some football). When I arrived at 2 p.m., the scheduled beginning of the event, the place was packed—perhaps 150 people crammed into a pretty tight quarters. It’s been noted that Gingrich’s most favorable demographic is older (white) Americans and that was certainly true of this gathering. Just ball-parking, I’d venture to say there were fewer than 20 people under the age of 40 in the room, with the clear majority over 60. I know the numbers will be significantly different when I see Ron Paul.
When Gingrich arrived with his wife Callista, he was greeted by enthusiastic applause. He and his wife worked their way through a makeshift aisle that snaked through the center of the bar, shaking hands and stopping to sign the occasional autograph while the former Speaker made his way toward an audio set-up in the back of the bar. Gingrich wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter—a plea that his supporters persuade the many still-undecided voters to come off the fence and caucus for Gingrich. His closing argument here has been that he is the only candidate with a real track record of success in governing effectively in Washington. He took credit for working with Reagan when Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts, according to conservative mythology, set off a boom for the remainder of that decade. He also took credit for creating 11 million new jobs and four straight balanced budgets in the 1990s, when he was Speaker.
Of course, Gingrich is fudging here, since he was ousted as Speaker and left the House shortly after the 1998 mid-term elections, at the beginning of the second of those four consecutive fiscal years in which balanced budgets occurred. And needless to say, the name “Bill Clinton” never passed Gingrich’s lips when the former Speaker was touting his extraordinary economic successes.