Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Did Chris Christie ruin his chances for the Republican presidential nomination?

By Marc Jampole
Everyone is saying that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie acted in his self-interest when he scheduled a special election to replace the recently deceased Frank Lautenberg in the U.S. Senate for three weeks before the general elections this coming November. The estimates for the additional cost to hold two elections in one month have run as high as $24 million. What makes this additional expenditure by a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative particularly absurd is the fact that Christie will appoint an interim Senator who will fill the seat until January no matter when the election is held.

The pundits seem to agree that Christie decided to hold this expensive second Election Day so that he wouldn’t have to face a ballot that had the popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker on the opposite ticket. Booker announced he was running for Senate long before Senator Lautenberg passed away, and Booker’s presence on the ballot would likely compel more minorities to vote, many of whom Christie fears would vote straight Democratic party line.

It’s not that Christie is afraid to lose the governor’s race. He’s afraid that he won’t rack up the awesome totals he thinks he needs to prove to the Republican Party that he can draw enough cross-over votes to win the presidential election in 2016.

But what some are calling a deft political maneuver by Christie with only short-term costs may come back to haunt New Jersey’s BMOC because Christie committed a cardinal sin of communications: he acted against the image that people have of him.

Christie’s enormous popularity among independents both in New Jersey and nationally is based on his bipartisanship. He talks like a centrist and in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy he reached across the aisle to President Obama for the good of the people of his state.

Flimsy, inconsequential, dubious—those are the words that come to mind when I consider the possible advantage to Christie by costing New Jersey taxpayers $24 million to hold a special election.

What makes it worse is that Christie has taken such a hard line on cutting programs that actually help the citizens of New Jersey. Among others, the New York Times has pointed that Christie has cut the New Jersey budget to the bone.

Christie cut $10 million from the after-school programs for at-risk children. He cut $8.6 million in tuition subsidies for college students. He cut $12 million in charity care at hospitals. He vetoed a $24 million plan for early voting in New Jersey.  Christie’s actions say that he thinks New Jersey can’t afford this help to the poor and disenfranchised, but it can afford to have a separate election for one office three weeks before the general election.

Christie is known for putting people ahead of politics. But in the case of the special election, he chose to put politics first. He didn’t do it to advance a piece of legislation, nor to help the Republican Party. No, he did it to benefit himself and himself alone. 

And everybody knows that Christie acted in extreme self-interest as opposed to acting in the best interest of his constituents. He is living in a dream world if he thinks people are going to forget, mainly because his opponents in both major parties will keep reminding everyone.

In one Machiavellian one act, Christie has soiled his image. He has lost his big edge in the competition against other Republican presidential hopefuls and destroyed the centrist “good guy” image he created for himself in his handling of the Sandy crisis. 

Chris Christie has destroyed his brand.

Nine billion mouths to feed

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: On a conference phone call with a bunch of farmers (and one fisherwoman) yesterday, we lamented the misunderstandings surrounding the farm bill. The theme of the call might have been: We may not even get the smallest amendments on the senate floor that we need. How can we build our capacity? We never got a free market and with so much corporate power we never will. The subjects were diverse—the farm bill, a Washington Post article announcing the end of subsidies (which keep many family farms profitable and keep food cheap for consumers), a new movie that repeats the bad old messages. The movie, which I haven’t seen yet, tells about a farm family fighting over their future. The heroes, as I’ve heard it, leave the farm. The thing is that the corporate have been honing their message for decades and it’s a good one: nine billion mouths to feed. Nothing about birth control, declining population in some lands, education for women to give them more options. Just five words, repeated and repeated and repeated by the big corporate powers. So we need five words.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

GMO wheat OMG

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: We had two pieces of good news on Friday—the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that land cannot be condemned for the sole reason of making money for a corporation AND several big box stores, including Target and Whole Foods—are refusing to handle GMO salmon because consumers don’t want it. Then, the good news was followed immediately by the mega bad news that GMO wheat, which is another thing that consumers absolutely don’t want, has been discovered in Oregon. Wheat, like corn, canola, soy and sugar, is an ingredient in much of what we eat, from meat with gravy to fried foods to bread to cookies and other baked goods. European culture is often called a wheat culture. For the people on the planet with anti-wheat conditions like celiac disease, eating is a real challenge. So, for those of us that don’t want any more problems with our food, the idea that an untested GMO wheat might spread into the food system is horrifying. Even before genetic engineering, wheat has been changed from the original. It has been hybridized for years. That is, varieties with a desired strain have been crossed by farmers with another strain to provide some kind of benefit. Modern wheat is shorter, more protein-laden, and has more chromosomes than original wheat. It can be harvested by big equipment more easily. It can tolerate more nitrogen without falling down and usually requires one or more blasts of nitrogen as it grows. On my farm we grow ten varieties of non-hybidized wheats that haven’t been popular since the 1920s. They vary from Fultz, which was the most popular wheat in America at one time, to Touzelle, a French variety that Louis IX thought could cure him of an unknown malady. One of our wheats is almost as tall as me, and we have to harvest with scythes. Oregon is very far from Missouri, thank goodness. If we got GMO genes in our wheat, I’d be devastated.

What’s the difference between DNA and fingerprints? Both can be used and abused

By Marc Jampole
My natural instincts were to disapprove of the Supreme Court decision allowing police to collect DNA evidence at every arrest. But when I thought about it more, I saw that taking DNA is no different from taking fingerprints or mug shots.

Fingerprints and photographs are routinely taken at every arrest at the discretion of the police. Many if not all end up in a national database, which can be checked when the police are investigating future crimes.  The information contained in both fingerprints and photographs could, and sometimes is abused. A police officer could plant a fingerprint or encourage a witness to select one photo in an array of suspects.  The fingerprints could be sold to private security or investigative firms. 

So what’s the difference between DNA and these more traditional forms of identification?

Maryland v. King may mark the first time that I have ever been on the same side as Clarence Thomas in any Supreme Court decision that wasn’t unanimous (and therefore devoid of controversy).

Civil rights activists are concerned that a DNA swab represents an invasion of privacy, which was outlawed by the Fourth Amendment. It seems no less an invasion of privacy than getting a scan checked at an airport or having your luggage checked. Everyone gets scanned and searched at the airport. The DNA check—like fingerprinting—only occurs to people who are arrested. And in most of the 28 states allowing DNA to be swabbed at arrest, it’s not for every arrest—it’s only in the case of crimes for which DNA can provide special knowledge, such as rape.

There is no doubt that sooner or later some authority is going to misuse DNA evidence. It’s this misuse and the general abuse of police power about which we should be concerned. Since 9/11, Congress has passed a series of laws that have eroded our civil rights and invaded our privacy, such as allowing government to search the books we checked from libraries or to place warrantless wire taps. Then there are the drone kills.

It should be against the law to snoop into our reading habits. And it should be against the law to arrest people merely for congregating at a street corner. New York City’s stop-and-frisk is a disgrace to this bastion of liberalism. Racial profiling is always wrong. Planting evidence or keeping exculpatory evidence from the defense—wrong. Beating a confession out of a prisoner—wrong. False arrest—wrong.

But once someone is in the system, under arrest and turning a grim face to the camera, I see nothing wrong with taking a swab from his or her cheek.

What’s so ironic about the objections being raised against this decision is that the same people tend to support the rights of defendants and prisoners. What DNA is mostly known for is exonerating people from crimes they did not commit.

Everything costs time and/or money. Most of the people speaking against this decision are getting paid by their respective organizations. To the degree they waste time on bemoaning what many call the 21st-century equivalent of fingerprinting, they are unable to spend time fighting the real abuses of civil liberties and personal privacy that take place every day in the United States, some sanctioned by ill-advised laws.  I’m not saying the ACLU and others aren’t fighting these real abuses. What I’m saying is they should do more of that and forget about DNA testing at arrests for violent crimes.