Posts Tagged ‘Iowa’

Pine Cones, Politics and Power

Friday, January 19th, 2024
The pine cone revolution. RJ Photography

The pine cone revolution in Pine Bush.
RJ Photography

By Bob Gaydos

    Ivan Pavlov, who knew a bit about how to figure things out, had this bit of advice which can apply equally to journalists as well as scientists: “Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.”

     In a week of mysteries (to me, at least), the big mystery around my neck of upstate New York right now is why  there are so many pine cones on the ground. Even allowing for recent rainy weather, it’s been a mystery since the phenomenon started appearing on our property in the fall. Hundreds of cones were strewn about, still are, and social media chatter confirms that lots of neighbors have remarked on the same phenomenon, alternately complaining and wondering what to do with them.

      Responding as Pavlov would have me do, I tried to find answers, which proved to be not that simple. For me, the easiest answer to the pine cone glut appears to be evolution, which is both common sense and remarkable. The theory is that every two or three years (called “mast years”), pine trees produce far more than their normal number of cones, which contain seeds, in order to throw off the seed-gathering routine of their natural predators, such as squirrels, insects and birds, thus assuring the likelihood of enough seeds surviving and turning into future pine trees.

    Survival of the species. Something that is still taught in our schools. I think this is pretty darn clever of the pines, if you don’t mind crunching on the cones while you walk your dog, which I don’t. Mind, that is.

     What I do mind very much is a mystery which I have been struggling to understand for more than eight years. That is how an amoral, self-obsessed con man with no understanding of or regard for the Constitution has captured the minds and votes and loyalty of so many Americans.

    That phenomenon played out again in Iowa this week as Donald Trump swept the Republican caucuses for the party’s presidential nomination without even participating in any debates. Instead, he gave speeches about ordering mass deportations on his first day in office, if re-elected, talked about getting revenge on his enemies, and insisted he was immune from prosecution for the 91 felonies with which he is charged, many of which stem from his continued lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

     The mystery to me in Iowa (though not exclusively there) is that more than 90 percent of Republicans who said they voted for Trump also said they believed Joe Biden was not their legally elected president. This, after all the evidence produced to the contrary over nearly four years.

      Following Pavlov’s suggestion, I think the origin of this magical, self-deluding thinking might be found in the failure of schools and religious institutions in Iowa (and elsewhere) to actually fulfill their purported missions. Certainly, there has been little obvious evolutionary progress in many states in the development of tolerance and respect for others or for the value of actually learning something in school. Anyway, that’s my operating theory.

      The operating theory behind that theory is that it’s all about wealth and power. Control what people are taught and you can control the people and how they think and vote and there are wealthy, influential people behind the scenes doing just that within today’s Republican Party.

     The other mystery of the week took place in Denmark, where Queen Margrethe, the longest reigning monarch in Europe, which is big on monarchies, abdicated her throne to her son, Crown Prince Fredrick.

     My puzzlement is not so much over the 83-year-old queen turning over the keys to the kingdom to her son after 52 years of ruling, but rather why there is still a royal family being treated royally in Denmark. 

     While the queen’s role is purely ceremonial, with no connection whatever to the government, many Danes apparently like the history, fairy tales and traditions associated with their country, home of fairytale master Hans Christian Andersen. A kind of once-upon-a-time power.

     Margrethe was also very popular for her earthiness and rapport with other, non-royal, Danes. Some said they felt she explained to the world what Danes were all about.

      For this contribution to the Danish reputation, the royal family received 88.9 million Danish crowns, or a bit more than $13 million, in tax funds in 2022, a pittance, compared to what British royalty receives, but still, we’re talking millions.

       There’s no word yet on what the new king and his wife, soon to be queen consort, will receive as an allowance from grateful Danes. But this tradition of paying a “ruler” a handsome sum just because might explain why a certain greedy American politician might be doing all he can to take this crown-fighting democratic republic back to the days of rule by royal edict. Devolution from the revolution. The Danes’ fairy tale story would be an American horror story.

     At least the pine cones make sense.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

       

Iowa Caucus Eccentricities: Heads I Win, Bernie, Tails You Lose

Friday, February 5th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Three questions in the wake of whatever it was that just happened in Iowa:

  • Can anyone – preferably a Democrat – tell me what Hillary Clinton stands for? In other words, what is her message?
  • Why do mainstream media assume there’s no way Bernie Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, never mind the presidency?
  • Since when does winning an election, or caucus or whatever else you may call it depend on the flip of a coin?

Let’s start with Hillary. As far as I can tell, after 16 years (at least) of running for president, the only message I still hear is that Hillary should be president because she’s been around, she wants it and it’s her turn. She’s been patient through Bill’s years in the White House and she’s been running ever since they had to vacate (penniless, I believe she initially claimed).

Yes, she took time to serve as senator from New York, but that really was necessary to fill out the resume for a presidential run. Being secretary of state was a bittersweet consolation prize for losing the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, who apparently never got the memo that it was Hillary’s turn to run. It certainly topped off her resume.

Yet all I hear is that she’s really smart, has a lot of experience, knows a lot of stuff and will do a good job of running things. Now, that’s clearly more than can be said of pretty much all of the Republican presidential candidates, but she’s not running against any of them yet.

What is she going to do as president? What is she going to change about a system with which Americans of all political persuasions are disenchanted, to say the least? Maybe it’s me, but all I hear is that she’ll do a good job, even a better job, of managing what Obama leaves behind.

 A lot of the major media seem to have bought into this message. That was pretty much the essence of the New York Times editorial endorsing Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Iowa primary. Hillary has the experience to carry on the way we have been carrying on.

Unfortunately for Clinton, the New York Times, and other establishment media that support her candidacy, a lot of Americans don’t seem to want to carry on the way we’ve been carrying on. That’s undoubtedly why a lot of young people, not thrilled with the future being crafted for them, have flocked to the Sanders candidacy

In fact, it seems to be why a lot of people have flocked to a host of Republican candidates who are anything but establishment figures. The fact that virtually all of them aren’t qualified to be president is another matter.

For what it’s worth, I think Obama has done a pretty good job cleaning up the mess left by Bush/Cheney. He’s done this in the face of non-stop resistance from Republicans from his first day in office. There’s no reason to believe that Clinton, no favorite of congressional Republicans, will have any easier time of it in that regard. Furthermore, her ties to the banking industry and corporate America (through Bill and the Clinton Foundation), cast serious doubt on any claim she might make that she is different from Republicans. (Her claim the other night that she is not part of the Democratic Establishment is laughable.)

And, as I recall, she couldn’t get her healthcare plan through a Democratic Congress in Bill’s first term. How does that make her a manager who “gets things done”? It’s a claim that much of major media have apparently accepted as fact because she and her supporters keep saying it: Why Hillary? Because she’s a manager.

Sanders, by contrast, is an “eccentric” senator with “unruly” hair, as he was characterized in an Associated Press story the morning after the Iowa caucus. This was supposedly a straight news story reporting on the outcome of the caucus. There were no adjectives attached to Clinton’s name implying some not-so-subtle judgment. Where were the editors?

Again, maybe it’s just me, but when someone writing in Iowa describes Sanders, with a lifetime in public service, as “eccentric,” I can’t help but wonder if it’s code for 74-year-old Jew who still speaks with the accent of his native Brooklyn. New Yorkers are pretty good at cracking codes.

As for that Iowa vote, what a joke. Clinton claimed victory after edging Sanders by less than three-tenths of a point. Democrats don’t even vote privately in Iowa. They stand in opposite corners and try to convince others to join them. The biggest group gets the delegates from that district. When there’s a tie, they split the delegates — two for you, two for you. But when there’s an odd number of delegate at stake, the odd vote is awarded by flipping a coin. Clinton won six out of six flips — go figure — so she got a couple more delegates than Sanders. Smashing victory.

Even here, major media (NPR even) felt it necessary to weigh in after the fact to educate us that Clinton didn’t win Iowa on coin flips. Rather, they spelled out the entire ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated system by which Iowa Democrats award convention delegates. Seems there’s county delegates and state delegates and who-the-heck cares delegates and formulas for calculating percentage of delegates. It’s a system set up by the establishment to try to control the votes, so that candidates like Bernie Sanders, from Brooklyn via Vermont, can’t win.

But he did. The “virtual tie” was a statement for Sanders against the establishment — Democratic Party and major media.

My humble recommendations:

  • For Clinton: Figure out what you really stand for and tell us. If you think you have to be a shill for banks and corporations in order to be effective as president, tell us why. At least it would be honest.
  • For the major media: Listen and report the facts. Ask questions about real issues. Stop with the horse-race reporting based on polls. Do your job.
  • Iowa Democrats: Have a simple vote, privately, for convention delegates. No coin flips. In case of ties, split the baby, as Solomon said. In this case, it works.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Who Says Corporations are People?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos
While most of the country was going about the business of welcoming the new year and hoping it would be more rewarding than the departing one, an event was taking place in a sparsely populated state in the middle of the country that could have a profound effect on the future political landscape of America.

What? Oh God, no. Not the Iowa caucuses. What a joke that is. Every four years, about 100,000 mostly older, mostly white, mostly conservative, almost certainly evangelical Christians pay their dues, eat a bunch of free food and vote for a Republican who hasn’t got a chance in hell of ever being elected president of the United States. They call it democracy in action. Except for TV news channels, the rest of the country ignores the process, never mind trying to understand it.

No, the big political news was made farther west and north, in an even less-populated state — Montana. In a decision it released late Friday, when no one was paying attention, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state’s century-old law banning direct corporate spending on political candidates or parties was still valid, despite the 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which said corporations have the same rights as individual citizens when it comes to making contributions to candidates.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, control of the political process –candidates, legislation, regulation, entire agendas — by major corporations is the chief problem with the political system in the United States today. Whoever raises the most cash almost always wins and that cash always comes with strings and muzzles attached. Unlimited corporate contributions also inevitably lead to negative, sometimes downright nasty, political advertising because candidates don’t have to affix their names to the ads. They are paid for by corporations and fueled by anonymous sponsors.

Ask Newt Gingrich, who asked his fellow Republican candidates to play nice in Iowa, what he thinks about the nasty ads attacking him paid for by groups that support Mitt Romney. Newt simply called Mitt a liar directly.

Romney, of course, has famously said that “corporations are people, too.” Funny about that. The Montana court ruled 5-2 against that view and perhaps the most powerful argument against the corporations-are-people argument came from one of the dissenting judges.

Justice James C. Nelson, one of my new heroes, dissented because he does not think the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allows for states to exempt themselves from it. But he left no doubt where he stood on the matter of equal rights for corporations:

“Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people — human beings — to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government.

“Worse still, while corporations and human beings have many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”

Montana’s long opposition to corporate spending in politics stems from a time when copper and coal industries dominated the sparsely populated state, using their vast resources to buy elections. The case involved a corporate alliance that did massive fundraising based on the lure of no one ever knowing who donated to their cause. It’s what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about today — the vast disparity in control of the political system and government with the richest 1 percent of the population dominating the agenda.

Montana gets it. The hope is that other states will follow suit. The immediate hoped-for effect is that the American Traditions Partnership will appeal the ruling, saying that the federal court’s ruling applies to state laws as well. That would set up a test case in the
U.S. Supreme Court.

One senator isn’t waiting for that to happen. With this year’s campaign spending by “non-political” groups sure to approach $1 billion, Vermont’s independent Bernard Sanders has introduced the Saving American Democracy Act. It would set up a process for a constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United ruling. The amendment would make clear that corporations are not people with constitutional rights, that they cannot contribute to election campaigns, that they are subject to regulation and that Congress and the state can regulate election campaign spending. The New York City Council voted Wednesday to support the amendment. The Working Families Party is circulating a petition on the issue. Other groups are planning protests for Jan. 21, the second anniversary of the Citizens United ruling.

Overturning the ruling will not be a quick or easy process, but it has to start somewhere. Big Sky country sound like a perfect place.