The Iowa caucus yesterday was a disaster for country that claims to be a democracy. Want to vote for a presidential candidate? Go to a corner and get counted. Want to decide on a delegate? Toss a coin. Want to have somebody run a caucus? Pick somebody who just showed up to vote and is clueless about structure and responsibilities? Then there’s the winner. Marco Rubio came out first to declare himself a victor because he got third place for the Republicans—something accurately predicted by polls.
Then there’s the super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Every donor is white. Of the $417,250 received in donations, $400,000 came from Robert Mercer, hedge-fund sugar daddy for Ted Cruz. The sole beneficiary of the super PAC is Raynard Jackson, a GOP black political consultant based in Washington, D.C. The money is for events encouraging blacks to join the Republican party.
While the Iowa caucus controlled media content, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) admitted that he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), current chair of the Benghazi investigation, created the attack on Hillary Clinton to keep a Democrat from being elected president. They hope that the committee’s persecution and pushing Clinton’s emails can cause her to lose to “a devout socialist who wants to nationalize almost everything in America,” according to Issa. That can be the rationale for concentrating on her emails and overlooking other high-profile leaders who use private servers for their government emails.
While House members constantly attack Clinton and repeal health care, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) protects his party members by doing nothing for the next nine months. No decision about ISIS, no criminal justice reform legislation, and probably no trade deals. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) claim that the Senate doesn’t even need to pass a budget, despite the GOP complaints about the Dems in the same position. McConnell plans to string out the 12 annual appropriation bills to appear that he’s doing something. Of the 34 seats up for re-election in the Senate, 24 are held by Republicans including Johnson and Portman. Losing five of those seats turns the majority in the Senate back to the Democrats.
People of the United States did experience a victory last Friday. For a few months, the United States won’t be giving out any new permits to frack for oil or gas off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where Exxon Mobil and other oil companies operate platforms. The settlement from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles also requires the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the deadline of May 28, 2016, the public has at least 30 days to review and comment on the assessment.
Over 200 cases of fracking in state and federal waters off California have rubber-stamped permits from federal regulators, and the oil industry dumps over 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean off the California coast every year. At least ten fracking chemicals routinely used offshore kills marine life, including otters and fish. Some of the many fish species that could be harmed by fracking pollution include white seabass, sand and kelp (calico) bass, lingcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, sculpin, yellow croaker, barred surfperch and dozens of species of rockfish.
The settlement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking, including that in the Gulf of Mexico which has never had any environmental review. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 could protect these species, but it has never been fully implemented and enforced, with no protection for ocean pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture, and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.
A state panel to determine so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California between 2009 and 2012 was led by a oil industry lobbyist. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force as her industry fracked the waters with little or no government oversight. State officials promised to review the “marine protected areas” every five years but changed to 10-year reviews.
Conservatives angry about protecting the ocean are also going to be furious about Facebook’s announcement that it will ban users from selling guns on both its main site and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Licensed gun dealers can still post with the requirement that they do not conduct purchases on the site, but it applies to the private gun sales not requiring background checks in most states.
Facebook rules cover gun parts and ammunition as well as guns. Federal laws don’t cover guns if they are 80 percent or less complete, like an “unfinished lower receiver.” In this way, people can buy “incomplete” guns without serial numbers or background checks, and people can buy these parts and put them together for an untraceable gun. Some websites even sell the machines to complete receivers with the promise that buyers can build unserialized firearms legally in your own home. The federal government can’t block this, but Facebook can decide what it doesn’t want to sell—such as marijuana, pharmaceuticals, or other potentially illegal objects.
With one debate before next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, media will be consumed by presidential candidates. At least that state uses real ballots. Both parties debate next week—Dems on February 11 and GOP on February 13—before decisions on a Democratic candidate in Nevada and the GOP candidate in South Carolina on February 20. The two parties can’t even vote on the same day in those states: Democrats wait another week to vote in South Carolina and the GOP won’t caucus in Nevada until February 23. Four weeks from today is Super Tuesday with a solid dozen states. Maybe that will produce a decision—or not.
Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee on the GOP side have both dropped out. Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008, said, “The voters are sick of me.” In the 2012 Iowa caucus, the first winner was Mitt Romney. After Iowa GOP decided they made a mistake, they selected Rick Santorum and then went on to declare Ron Paul the real winner. The next dropout may be John Kasich who said that he’ll be gone if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire. No one knows what Donald Trump will decide.
Ted Cruz’s campaign has outdone Trump’s outrageousness by spreading the news during the Iowa caucus that Ben Carson was planning to drop out of the race. Later Cruz apologized, calling it a “mistake” but said that it was “fair game” to update his “grassroot leaders” that “Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.” Twenty minutes after the caucuses began in Iowa, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the Cruz campaign’s national co-chair, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”
Cruz had already gained the ire of Iowa’s secretary of state after Cruz sent mailers that misrepresented state election law. A warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page was followed by that statement that people were receiving notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area.” The flier continued, “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” After that were a list of names, letter grades, and percentage scores.
The highlight of my week will be the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday, February 4–if it happens. Moderator Rachel Maddow will moderate, and Fox can watch to see how debates should be run. It’s still up in the air because Bernie Sanders first said he wanted the debate, but now he says he won’t debate unless Hillary Clinton agrees to his conditions on future debates.
And the joke that the U.S. calls democracy continues.