Obama must be doing something right..


No, I don’t mean the more than eight million people who are now signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (although that is very exciting in and of itself).

I was referring to these two chaps:



David Axelrod (left) and Jim Messina (right) are both long-term strategists for President Obama (also pictured), and have been life-long Democrats throughout their careers.

Jim Messina, having worked on Democratic election campaigns since the early 1990s, served as Barack Obama’s first Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations from the president’s inauguration until January 2011 when he stepped aside to focus on his new role as Obama’s campaign manager for his successful re-election bid. Messina is now Chairman of the non-profit political action group Organizing for America, previously an explicit Obama campaign vehicle, which directly advocates the agenda of President Obama (and, subsequently, the Democratic Party). Messina is also co-chair, along with wildly popular former Democratic Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm, of super PAC Priorities USA Action which has positioned itself as a fundraiser for a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential bid, and is putting all of the connections from when Priorities USA was a financing vehicle for Obama’s 2012 re-election to good use.

David Axelrod’s time with the Democrats goes back even further; he worked on campaigns during the Reagan era in the mid-1980s through to the present day. Some of the more well-known candidates he has served, in one position or another, are Richard M. Daley (Mayor of Chicago 1989-2011), John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign, former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer, Deval Patrick (the Democrat who took over from Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts), Rahm Emanuel (Mayor Daley’s successor from 2011 onwards and President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff as well as Jim Messina’s boss) and, of course, Barack Obama himself. Axelrod has known Obama for over two decades but came to the front as the then-Senator’s chief strategist and media advisor for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign; he then moved into Karl Rove’s old job as a Senior Advisor to the President before taking on the role of Obama’s chief campaign strategist for his 2012 re-election campaign.


It was announced on Thursday that David Axelrod will be advising opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (pictured left) in the run-up to the UK 2015 General Election as a senior strategic consultant. This follows the news from August last year that the incumbent majority party, the Conservatives, had appointed Jim Messina as a campaign strategy advisor to lead them into the same election cycle. At the time, Messina was quoted as saying I have long admired Prime Minister Cameron. While I will not be moving to London, nor will I be managing any type of day to day political operations, I will be offering strategic campaign advice leading up to 2015“. David Axelrod seems to have said very similar things: that he had been struck by the power of the Labour leader’s ideas and the “strength of his vision“, as well as Miliband’s similarities with Obama in the “experience of everyday people“. This comes off the back of a recent poll which found that nearly half of voters find Ed Miliband to be very weird or somewhat weird (in a survey by YouGov), with David Cameron being given the same characteristic by less than a third of those surveyed (27%). This has been followed by more bad news for the Labour leader over the economy, which is continuing to recover apace.

Whilst some might think that Conservatives are natural allies of the Republican Party, I argued the opposite in a recent article over at Politically Inclined entitled ‘The Disappearance of Transatlantic Conservatism‘. All three mainstream UK parties are a lot closer to the Democrats than they are to the Republicans (UKIP is probably the exception). There’s a lot to be said for both Messina and Axelrod; both are veteran campaigners, and both picked a winner in Obama. David Axelrod has picked his losers in the past.. most notably John Edwards in 2004. When asked about Edwards’ failed 2004 presidential campaign, Axelrod commented, “I have a whole lot of respect for John, but at some point the candidate has to close the deal and – I can’t tell you why – that never happened with John“. That seems to be exactly Ed Miliband’s ongoing problem..

Students for Hillary

Two polls published in the last couple of days seem to confirm what we already know; Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, if she wants it, and that she will wipe the floor with any of the current GOP frontrunners who dare to challenge her.


A poll by Rasmussen Reports, conducted between April 13th and 14th, suggests two things: firstly, that some 91% of Democrats see Hillary Clinton as the likely 2016 nominee for their party and, secondly, that a majority of likely US voters have “at least a somewhat favorable opinion of Clinton“. Given Rasmussen Reports have been shown to be biased in favour of the Republican Party anyway, with many surveys commissioned under a subsidiary on behalf of Fox News, this is surprisingly good news for the as-yet undeclared Clinton campaign.

Additionally a new McClatchy-Marist poll, conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York with a slightly larger sample size from April 7th to April 10th, confirms that not only is Mrs Clinton the clear front-runner amongst potential Democrats but also is beating hands-down any Republican challenger one cares to name. As Marist Institute Director Lee Miringoff commented, “Hillary Clinton is jogging around the track by herself as far as the Democratic field is concerned. Republicans are all in the starting blocks“.

There seems to be a clog in the drain when it comes to the Republican challengers. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who last won their gubernatorial races in 2002, were both leading the GOP field with a whopping 13% support amongst Republicans or Republican leaners. Right behind at 12% each were Congressman Paul Ryan, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. In single digits were Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (7%); Wisconsin Govenor Scott Walker (5%); Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (4% each); former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Governor Rick Perry (3% each); and Ohio Governor John Kasich (less than 1%).

In head-to-head contests, Hillary Clinton’s closest rival was Mitt Romney’s 2012 pick for vice president: Paul Ryan. However, even this opponent lags behind Clinton by some 8 percentage points amongst a poll of nationally registered voters; 51% currently support Clinton compared with 43% for Ryan with 5% undecided. Clinton (52%) led Ryan (44%) by the same margin in February’s McClatchy-Marist poll when 4% were undecided.

You can read the full McClatchy-Marist poll here (pdf).

One final point comes from an excellent article over at Mother Jones by Patrick Caldwell: “polls have found that voters ages 18 to 39 are more likely to view Clinton favorably than their parents“. This key demographic, college students and young adults, was one that ultimately derailed the Clinton 2008 campaign by throwing their support behind Obama’s message of hope and change, which resonated strongly with a voting bloc very much disenfranchised and disillusioned by eight long years of George W. Bush. In an attempt to tackle this head-on, and before any other Democratic candidate gets into the fray, the Clinton campaign (come on, what else do we call it?) has half-inched Rachel Schneider, a former Obama campaign coordinator for the youth vote, to get the pro-Clinton message reverberating around school and college hallways up and down the length and breadth of the country. From Nevada to New Hampshire, from North Carolina to New Mexico, from Missouri to Michigan, there are now 33 Students for Hillary groups across the nation and the number is growing with each new Clinton (non)campaign speech.

Republicans have announced that they will highlight Clinton’s age should she become the Democrats’ nominee. All that is needed is a Reagan-esque comment from Hillary: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience“. What is certain is that much of the youth will not be buying that particular ploy from the GOP’s bag of dirty tricks.

Are we Ready for Hillary? Yes We Are!

The ridiculousness of Bundygate

What is it about folks named Bundy in the United States?

The two times that we, on this side of the pond, have seen the name Bundy come out of North America have both been related to negativity; serial killer Ted Bundy and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. Now, I’m not equating the two at all nor do I draw any similarities between them other than their surname.. Ted Bundy was a vicious murdering ba***rd whilst Cliven Bundy is a misinformed states’ rights self-proclaimed patriot who hates the federal government.


Cliven Bundy’s dispute with the federal government began in 1993 when Bundy refused to pay bills to the US government for his cattle grazing on federal lands near Bunkerville, Nevada. Bundy was eventually prohibited from grazing his cattle on the land by an order issued in 1998 by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada in United States v. Bundy. Rancher Cliven Bundy has accumulated over $1 million of debt in unpaid grazing fees and has variously claimed that he inherited some “pre-emptive grazing rights” on federal land because his ancestors had kept cattle in the Virgin Valley since 1877, and that the federal government is infringing upon states’ rights.

The phrase states’ rights used to be (and, to some in the South, still is) a watchword for Jim Crow laws and represents the belief that state-wide government has the authority (and moral imperative) to stand up to abuses by the federal government; lest we forget that states’ rights led to de jure racial segregation in Southern states of the former Confederacy and systematisation, for African Americans, of a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. The Declaration of Independence (which, as a Brit, I still find cheeky!) says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” meaning that individuals have rights, and governments are furnished with powers to protect those rights, and are constitutionally restricted from abusing them.

Bundy, in his point about ownership of the land, is just wrong – plain and simple. In a recent interview with conservative radio host Dana Loesch, Cliven Bundy commented that he believes “this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” and, whilst he abides by all of Nevada state laws, he doesn’t “recognize the United States Government as even existing.” I would suggest that Bundy looks more closely at the Constitution of the State of Nevada which states, under Section 2, that “the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States“.

As Reuters reported, a number of Bundy’s supporters, who included militia members from California, Idaho and other states, dressed in camouflage and carrying assault rifles and pistols, had descended upon Nevada to defend “states’ rights” against the tyranny of the federal government.


I’m ready to pull the trigger if fired upon,” one man identifying himself only as Scott said.

I’m thankful we don’t have this kind of nonsense going on in the UK..

Why Kathleen Sebelius had to be thrown under the bus (and why it was still a shame to do it)


Kathleen Sebelius, the 21st Secretary of Health and Human Services and President Obama’s choice for the position after Tom Daschle’s nomination became untenable, resigned Thursday last and almost five years to the day since she had assumed office.

Citing over 7.5m sign-ups for health insurance through the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius commented that the sign-up deadline was a good opportunity for a transition, suggesting the president would be better served by making a clean break and appointing a replacement who was less of a political target. The incumbent Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, has been nominated by President Obama to succeed Sebelius as the next HSS secretary.

I have to admit that I very much admire Kathleen Sebelius and, looking over from across the pond, it seems that Republicans have been sharpening their pitchforks and oiling up the guillotine for a long time. The botched roll-out of the insurance exchanges and the federal healthcare website provided them with an excuse to call for her head and, once the Tea Party had scented blood, nothing but Sebelius’ resignation (or forced dismissal) would sate their hunger or quench their thirst. The real reason for their vendetta against this administration official had nothing to do with Obamacare, which Republican governors had blocked at every opportunity, and was more about their hatred of Sebelius’ pro-choice positions on abortion. Further, Sebelius had never been quiet at her distaste over Republican attempts to not only repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, but also their determination to take away benefits in Medicare, cut back Medicaid and eliminate health services provided by Planned Parenthood in what Sebelius termed the GOP’s war on women’s health. “In other words, they don’t just want to go after the last 18 months, they want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America,” Sebelius said.


Republicans, in the House especially, have been determined to punish the president and his party over the flawed roll-out of the law. Very much the lightning rod for Obama, Secretary Sebelius had been grilled in front of both Senate and House committees over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and had resisted multiple lines of attack from hostile opponents.. in the process taking much of the flack on behalf of the administration. Lest we forget that, as of her resignation announcement, Sebelius’ tenure in the post of HHS secretary was some 500 days longer than the running average for her predecessors. As Politico commented, in a sign of support from across the administration as Sebelius gave her resignation speech, Vice President Joe Biden joined Obama, Sebelius and Burwell behind the presidential lectern, and Cabinet secretaries including John Kerry, Anthony Foxx, Tom Vilsack and Shaun Donovan sat in the front row.

As Hillary Clinton might say, “what difference at this point does it make?“. Sebelius resigned gracefully and with the full support of her administration colleagues and the president; she now has the opportunity to consider her future reflectively and I doubt that we will have seen the last of her. I imagine she will be a very early supporter of Hillary’s 2016 campaign once the former Secretary of State makes her declaration in January next year. What matters now is that her replacement, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate to head up the federal government’s budget department less than twelve months ago, which will prevent Republicans from realistically objecting to her appointment to HSS. That said, where Obamacare is concerned, there are some within the GOP who would happily testify – with a straight face – that black is white, up is down and short is long; this sort of war is peace doublethink is central to the Republican anti-intellectual thread running through the party these days.

Former Clinton and Obama advisor, David Axelrod, put it best:Axelrod

For President Obama, Sebelius’ departure allows him to focus on the upcoming midterms and protecting his healthcare legacy without the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over the head of his HSS secretary. No doubt Republicans will be crowing about this for a few weeks to come, but Sebelius has left with her head held high and – more importantly – with more people signed up to Obamacare than the administration had projected.

Tuition fees.. an all-party consensus

You know, there are occasions when I look across the pond at the American political system with a twinge of envy. Not because I think their House of Cards style is an improvement upon the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy that we enjoy here, nor do I believe that the American people are better served by the ideological warfare that rages between the Democrats and the Republicans. Perhaps it’s more a hearkening back to the way things were in the 1980s in Britain under the party leaderships of Thatcher and Foot/Kinnock. At least, back then in the UK as now in the States, you could identify with parties easily on issues and nail your colours to whichever particular mast you wanted to.

Although I am, and have been for much of my life, a Tory I gave my vote to the Liberal Democrats on principle in the 2010 General Election. At the time I was the Vice President of Reading University Students’ Union with particular responsibility for both education policy and academic representation; obviously a key and personal focus was the ongoing Browne Review into higher education funding. The constituency I was registered in was a safe Tory seat so my vote on principle wasn’t going to run the risk of my local MP losing their seat, but I felt strongly enough on the tuition fee issue that I wanted to vote in favour of the party who had absolutely and categorically promised that, if elected, they would not vote to raise tuition fees. It was, in fact, a pledge that included all 57 Lib Dem MPs who were subsequently elected to Parliament.. including one Nick Clegg.


More than 500 Liberal Democrat candidates signed NUS pledge, and many students like myself switched political allegiance for the 2010 election on this issue. I remember many Tory friends, after the event, being both derisory and baffled by the switch.. but I have never supported my party on the issue of tuition fees as I believe them to be unsustainable and unfair. As the great Kathryn Janeway once said, “I dread the day when everyone on this ship agrees with me“. The switch was largest from Labour to Liberal Democrat but I am quietly confident that, although perhaps in a minority, I would not have been the only Tory to have switched to the LDs on this issue in this election. The phrase “never again” comes to mind..

Aaron Porter put it best, in a blog posted in October 2010, when he said:

“If the Liberal Democrats renege on their promise to vote against higher tuition fees, if they back out, if they turn a blind eye to the situation, then an entire generation of students would justly feel betrayed. Now is their time to implement their flagship policy or face the consequences at the ballot box.

Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats now all appear to be in lockstep over the issue of tuition fees; in principle, they all agree that students should be forced into unparalleled levels of debt to fund (unsustainably fund, I might add) the university sector.

Conservative Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts, less than a month ago, refused to rule out raising tuition fees for students after the next election, and said the government would “have to see how the income of universities performs” when asked whether he would consider raising fees after 2015.

Labour’s Douglas Alexander, Liam Byrne and Ed Miliband have been proposing cutting tuition fees down to a capped level of £6,000 per year – meaning that all universities would charge the full £6k for all courses (as explained here) – but haven’t confirmed whether there would be a corresponding rise (again) in the HEFCE central funds to offset the lost income to universities. As HEFCE funding comes from public taxation, this reduction of money from the student loans system and increase in funding council money wouldn’t result in any saving in public spending.. just a move of the money from column A to column B in a spreadsheet.

And then on Friday of this week Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, refused to rule out any rise in tuition fees higher than £9,000-a-year after the next election, and could not guarantee what Liberal Democrat policy would say going into 2015.

No wonder the NUS has recently voted at its annual conference to back the principles of free higher education again, and drop all support for a modified fees system or a graduate tax. Students no longer have any advocates left in the political system.. they have all come to a compact and agreed that Lord Dearing was clearly befuddled when he wrote of the vital importance of students not being over-burdened by their contributions into the financing of their educations.

And politicians despair at the disengagement of today’s youth from politics.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Taxpayers are already being left to fund the £6.6bn shortfall from the £14.6bn per year paid out by the government in student loans which are never recouped. For every £1 invested on teaching and learning in the higher education sector, £7.50 is being spent on cancelling students’ debts. Put another way, the government is taking more taxpayer money to service irreconcilable debt in the higher education funding system than it spends on the entire railway network (£5.1bn) or more than nine times as much as is spent on pre-primary and primary education combined (£0.7bn).

This is not going to get any better by a proverbial rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic; a radical rethink of how we fund university education in this country is required.

A graduate tax? Yes please!

Update (17/04/2014): Letter published in Times Higher Education in response to Emran Mian

We’ve been hearing arguments against the introduction of a ‘graduate tax’ for years now, stretching back almost two decades to the findings of the much-cherished Dearing Report in the late 1990s. Amongst the many recommendations put forward by Lord Dearing at the time was the principle that higher education should be funded by a tripartite contribution of state, student and employer in which graduates should pay no more than “around 25% of the average cost of higher education tuition”.

The Browne Review, published back in October 2010, represented a wholesale abandonment of this compact and recommended removing the cap on fees altogether as indeed vice-chancellors of some Russell Group universities were advocating. Those of us who were elected officials within the student movement at the time were rightly horrified by the findings of this Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, although not entirely unsurprised at Browne’s direction given the lack of student representation on the review panel itself.

As Education Officer for Reading University Students’ Union during the two academic years the Browne Review was being conducted, I was committed and mandated to ensuring that students’ voices were heard in the debate. Our union was one of the first to pass policy supporting the principles of a graduate tax, rather than increasing the upfront fees payable by future generations of students, and – like many other students’ unions around the country – we lobbied our local representatives hard on the impact of the marketisation of higher education. I attended Parliament with our local MP, Rob Wilson, in late November 2009 to question Patrick McFadden and David Lammy about the scale of the review and the (lack of) inclusiveness of student opinion on fees and funding.

Students at the University of Reading were extremely concerned about the wide-ranging implications of the removal of the fee cap; we hosted regional planning days for unions across the south-east to discuss the Fund Our Future campaign against education cuts and, on the day of the national demonstration on 10th November 2010, more than 600 of our students marched through London to protest the recommendations of the Browne Review; indeed, more students from the University of Reading attended than from any other education institution outside of London.


The National Union of Students worked throughout the Browne Review to highlight two key points: firstly that the current system of higher education funding was broken and was leaving graduates broke, and secondly that an alternative funding mechanism was both viable and necessary in the form of a new People’s Trust for Higher Education or graduate tax. It was extremely unfortunate that, when the Browne Review was published, only an extremely lazy and insubstantial critique of the ‘graduate tax‘ option was given which in no way represented the NUS proposal as set out in the so-called Blueprint document. There were many elements in the Browne Review with which students, and their elected officials, took issue but none more so than this misrepresentation of one of our most cherished policies. The review’s purist approach to a graduate tax assumed three fundamental flaws which were never part of any NUS policy: lifelong repayments throughout a graduate’s working life, a funding mechanism that kicked in at the threshold for the basic income tax rate, and no upper limit for contributions.

Emran Mian, writing last month in the Times Higher Education, makes the same mistake when he calls a graduate tax ‘a terrible policy at a terrible time’. He makes a point, and a strange one at that, that a graduate tax as proposed by the NUS, with limits on the total amount due and the period over which it is repaid, is ‘something more like repaying a loan‘. Mian goes further and makes the critical error that everyone earning over £10,500 – the new income tax threshold – would have to make a contribution; this is simply false. As the lead author of the Browne Review, Mian repeats the same erroneous points over a graduate tax now that were published as part of his report in 2010: students do not want a graduate tax, a graduate tax would not be progressive, and the increase in uncertainty over repayment rates. This uncertainty exists within the system already: the universities and science minister David Willetts, with whom I discussed the impact of a removal of the cap when he visited the University of Reading in 2010, has refused to rule out a rise in tuition fees should it become necessary.


It is not for me, having now left the student movement, to outline in detail the finer specifics of a Blueprint 2.0; there are many policy experts within the National Union of Students, including the incredibly talented Graeme Wise, who would be able to refit the framework and the numbers around the current funding situation. I will, however, make these few specific points on the subject of a graduate tax, as envisaged by the NUS Blueprint at the time of the Browne Review, in rebuttal of the argument that a graduate tax need be open-ended and not progressive:

  • Students should be provided for according to their true needs while they study, and should make a contribution to the costs of higher education according to the true benefit while they work; this is defined as a progressive approach.
  • Full-time and part-time fees would be abolished; no up front payment at all, for either full-time or part-time students.
  • The actual proportion of earnings sought in contributions would be variable and progressive; rates of contribution would range from 0.3% of earnings for the lowest quintile in the graduate workforce to 2% for the middle quintile and 2.5% for the top quintile.
  • The actual payment rate for an individual, at any given time, would be variable and calculated through formulae; the intent of this is to produce a progressive structure for contributions, so that the proportion of earnings taken in contributions rises with income.
  • A payment time limit of twenty years would ensure people do not contribute for their whole working lives, and have time to plan to reduce their level of work or take early retirement.

Now, I’m not by any stretch of the imagination saying that a graduate tax is perfect nor am I sanctifying the NUS proposals as being ready to be implemented forthwith. What is certain is that the rise in cap on fees has proven utterly irresponsible and wholly reckless to the continuing success and excellence of the UK higher education system. We have gone from losing some 30-odd pence in every pound lent out under the old fees regime to rapidly approaching a threshold within the resource account and budgeting (RAB) charge, or loss rate on the student loan system, of 48.6% at which point more money is lost than would have been had the cap not been lifted.

Taxpayers are already being left to fund the £6.6bn shortfall from the £14.6bn per year paid out by the government in student loans which are never recouped. For every £1 invested on teaching and learning in the higher education sector, £7.50 is being spent on cancelling students’ debts. Put another way, the government is taking more taxpayer money to service irreconcilable debt in the higher education funding system than it spends on the entire railway network (£5.1bn) or more than nine times as much as is spent on pre-primary and primary education combined (£0.7bn).


(p.s. A massive congratulations to my old colleague Toni Pearce on her landslide re-election as President of the National Union of Students for another year; very well deserved and an excellent advocate of students leading the movement).

Hillary Clinton is REALLY thinking about 2016


As bombshells go, this one was not unexpected and already overdue. Answering a question from Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo which is sponsoring the Marketing Nation Summit 2014 at the Moscone Center, on a possible 2016 presidential bid keynote speaker Hillary Clinton confirmed that she is “thinking about it“.

In front of some 3,500 delegates in San Francisco – assembled to celebrate Innovation in the Nation – and as part of her current three-state West Coast tour, Clinton gave her strongest hint yet that she is going to run for the presidency again. As I commented a couple of weeks back, Clinton had remarked at a Clinton Global Initiative University event in Arizona that she is “obviously thinking about all kinds of decisions“. Adding further fuel to the fire on the will she / won’t she question, Hillary made the point that “too many people think that somehow if they don’t get what they have worked for right away, that either they have failed or it wasn’t meant to be, or they give up because they can’t bear the energy or the disappointment of going on“.

The polls would seem to suggest the numbers are in her favour. A recent Pew survey shows that some 59% would support Clinton if she ran for president in 2016; this is supported by a Gallup poll earlier this month that indicates her gender as well as her foreign policy expertise and political experience puts her head and shoulders above both any other Democratic candidate and the usual Republican party challengers. Loathe as I am to quote Fox News as a source, even they admit that the Republicans have an image problem when it comes to women (as well as with millennials and Latinos). 

Whilst this isn’t really an announcement that she definitely will run, and admitting that she has once again danced around the question asked, it would seem that Mrs Clinton is getting closer to fulfilling her previous comments that “you just have to decide what you really care about

As Ben Shapiro put it this week, the elderly grandmother of the nation is being called back to service by her ailing country. All we’re left to do is wonder how long until she officially declares, and who will be the 45th President of the United States’ Vice President.

My money is on Elizabeth Warren.

Rick Santorum and 2016 – another Republican who must be kept away from the White House

Where to start with Rick Santorum..

I had honestly thought that Governor Rick Perry was bad enough, but a recent look at this former United States Senator for Pennsylvania has left me gob-smacked and horrified. Whereas Governor Perry is seemingly just idiotic for some of the beliefs he holds, although a good many of his positions are hateful in and of themselves, Rick Santorum goes beyond the pale in sycophantic ideologies and odiously abhorrent opinions on a range of issues. Bear in mind that this is a politician who hasn’t held elected office since the end of the 109th Congress at the start of 2007.

From abortion to women to marriage equality to racial prejudices, Santorum is so rooted in his base as a Christian conservative that he finds it utterly impossible to separate his religion from his politics: this is the man who, whilst serving as Senator for Pennsylvania, was one of creationism / intelligent design’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill and proposed incorporating pro-intelligent design language into the No Child Left Behind Bill in 2001. Thankfully the so-called Santorum Amendment was rejected outright after a coalition of 96 scientific and educational organizations wrote to Congress urging them not to take up Senator Santorum’s proposals.

Let’s not forget though that during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, Rick Santorum carried the popular vote in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. He also took second place in 15 states and 2 territories, as well as third place in another 17 states and the US Virgin Islands. Clearly, this was a candidate who had a message that resonated with voters – although, interestingly, not in his home state of Pennsylvania where Romney was widely tipped to trounce Santorum before the latter pulled out of the presidential race altogether citing irreconcilable campaign funding problems as well as health problems relating to his daughter Bella. Regardless of the reasons of Santorum dropping out, Romney would have won Pennsylvania.

As with Governor Perry here’s is my run-down of the political positions of Rick Santorum, and why his own state didn’t want him to be president in 2012. If Pennamites didn’t want him back in 2012, this list will show you why the country won’t want him in 2016:

  • This is the chap who believes strongly that Obamacare is not only setting out to kill your children, but also compared the Republican fight to prevent universal healthcare to the decades-long struggle by Nelson Mandela against apartheid in South Africa. Lest we forget, Republicans had long hated Nelson Mandela and the entire anti-apartheid movement leading Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 to characterise then-President Reagan’s administration as “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian” as reported by the New York Times in the year Tutu won the Nobel Peace Price for his role as a unifying figure in resolving the problem of South African apartheid. Prenatal testing, a procedure that is commonplace in most progressive healthcare systems including in the US, has now become a politicised issue for Santorum and one that allows his supporters within the religious right to hijack women’s bodies for their own nefarious purposes; what should be a private dilemma for high-risk category pregnancy families is now firmly a banner-issue for these fanatics.
  • Santorum is also firmly in the abortion should be uniformly illegal camp, even in cases of rape and incest, and strongly feels that any physician involved in abortion should be charged with murder in the first degree.. as well as believing that the morning-after pill is equivocal with having an abortion because “life begins at conception“. Perhaps this deeply held hatred for abortionists stems back to the six-year affair his wife, Karen, had with an abortion doctor in the 1980s, two years before they married. This is the man who has said, loudly and clearly over the years, that he believes that a pregnancy, even if it arises from a brutal and horrific sexual assault, is a “gift from God” and that women must “make the best out of a bad situation“. Pity his four daughters (Elizabeth, Isabella, Sarah and Maria) as he holds that even if they were raped and pregnant, begging for an abortion, he would counsel them against a termination on purely religious grounds.
  • By forcing women to share his religious views on abortion (views which became more hardline after he decided to run for public office), Santorum continues his stubbornness and outright refusal to accept the constitutionally-mandated precept of separation of church and state saying repeatedly that he does not “believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute“. Referring to a key speech by then-President Kennedy in 1960, where the Commander-in-Chief lays out his firm conviction that “no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials“, Rick Santorum said that he almost threw up at reading those words. Believing that President Obama holds to “some phony theology” not based on the Bible, and refusing to correct his supporters who believe that the President is a Muslim, Rick Santorum’s opposition to the separation of church and state does not extend to available birth control for employees of Catholic institutions, flip-flopping across the aisle when convenient, to assert that “the state has no business telling what the church to do“. This is in reference to Obamacare’s requirement that all institutions that provide health insurance, including Catholic hospitals, cover birth control and emergency contraception.
  • Rick Santorum really really hates women, and I mean really. Not only are y’all far too emotional to serve in the military but, saints preserve us, you might cause weakness in your male colleagues who serve alongside you due to sexual attraction or some kind of perverted chauvinistic protectionism. This is the same kind of nonsense (on the sexual attraction part) that Republicans espoused as to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in that you have to know that the person next to you on the front lines always has your back. Santorum is of the belief that women are just too physically limited to serve in combat roles; he might as well of said “Get back in the kitchen!“. There’s also obviously not much sex in the Santorum household, unless Rick’s aiming for anal, as contraception is a “grievous moral wrong” and that he views it as a personal mission to rid America of the evil of contraceptive protection. So obsessed is Santorum with what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms that he misses the simple fact that, without contraception, abortions occurring in the United States would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and similarly high among teens. As far as Santorum is concerned, contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be“. Equality for women is not something that Santorum is a particular fan of: he regularly blames radical feminism for “brainwashing women” and that women are somehow incapable of thinking for themselves on the issue of equal opportunity, questioning the value of women in the workplace. Santorum fully believes that single mothers are to blame for the expansion of the welfare state and that there is a misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect; there are some parallels here with UK Conservative policy on promoting marriage, including the belief amongst some senior Tories that “Britain should be more ‘judgemental’ and criticise parents who split up“.
  • Gays wouldn’t get much of a pass under a Santorum presidency either. As Mother Jones points out, Rick Santorum has a Google problem: Dan Savage, a well-renowned and syndicated columnist, created a website back in 2003 dedicated to spreading the definition of ‘Santorum’ as “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex” in response to a comparison by the eponymous then-Senator of bestiality and paedophilia with homosexuality. Very much wanting to “turn back the clock” on the gay marriage issue, Santorum believes that gay marriage will doom the U.S. and that unless he personally protects the family unit through the institution of marriage “our country will fall“. Not only would “thousands of years of civilization go out the window” but he fully believes that gay marriage is as dangerous an issue to America as the terrorist attacks on September 11th, and that the ultimate homeland security is standing up and defending marriage. Driving his homophobic point home, Santorum has said previously that the movement to gain equality before the law is nothing more than an attempt to defy nature because a certain group of people want to be affirmed by society. To paraphrase Thaddeus Stevens (as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in the 2012 film Lincoln): “How can it be held that all men are created equal when here stands stinking, the moral carcass of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, proof that some men ARE inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wits impermeable to reason with cold, pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood! You are more reptile than man, Rick, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you! Yet even YOU, Santorum, who should have been gibbeted for treason long before today, even worthless, unworthy you deserve to be treated equally before the law!”
  • Not content to demonize just women and gay voters, Santorum has also turned his guns on black African-Americans in U.S. society. Clearly not comfortable in extending the social security welfare net, Santorum is quoted as saying “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” As the Huffington Post comments, whilst his reasoning about entitlement spending is normal by conservative standards, the fact that he singled out black people as the recipients of welfare certainly raised eyebrows. His statement is particularly hateful when considering that the black unemployment rate continues to be twice that of white folks and this has been the case for the last fifty years; other factors, including institutionalised prejudice against blacks in the courts, school system and healthcare system stack up overwhelmingly in favour of the white (non-Hispanic) population. It’s interesting to note that Rick Santorum has previously said that America stopped being great in 1965.. the year of the landmark Voting Rights Act that prohibited discrimination in voting (mainly to ensure the mass enfranchisement of minorities, especially in the racist South).

Average Family Wealth by Race and Ethnicity, 1983-2010

  • Continuing to flaunt his racist stripes, and his ignorance, Rick Santorum famously said that he believes Obama goes on official trips abroad “to bow to more Muslims” and has questioned the president’s competence on more than one occasion. Indeed, many within Santorum’s own Republican party – including leading GOP governors – have come to the president’s defence in the past over outrageous comments made by Santorum on Obama’s desire to expand educational opportunities for the nation’s children. Showing his true colours on March 27th 2012, at a campaign event in Wisconsin, Rick Santorum tells us what he really thinks of America’s first black president: “We know the candidate Barack Obama what he was like, the anti-war government nig-..”; now the jury is out on whether he was on verge of saying nigger or not, but watch the video and decide for yourself.
  • Santorum is yet another Republican madman who believes that climate change is a hoax, and that both man-made global warming and the proposed remedies are utterly “bogus“. Going further, calling climate change a “liberal myth“, Santorum questions the dangers of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels saying “The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is“. Let’s not forget that ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. According to Santorum, the liberal conspiracy that is man-made climate change is all part of a scheme for more regulation and more government control of people’s lives. This is the politician who has stated a policy of “drill everywhere” for oil and that there is “enough oil, coal and natural gas to last for centuries“. You can read more on Santorum’s nonsensical positions on climate change, and the comparison to actual science, here.

As with Rick Perry I could go on and on listing the reasons why Rick Santorum is mad, bad and dangerous to know. There is his claim that “no Palestinian” lives in the West Bank and his tacit agreement with Newt Gingrich that the Palestinians themselves are an invented people. There’s his hatred of the French and his belief that France owes its freedom and very existence to America.. never mind the fact that Britain stood alone in the face of Nazi oppression from the Fall of France in June 1940 until the Soviets joined in June 1941 after Operation Barbarossa; the U.S., typically, didn’t join in until after Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Santorum is also a firm believer in gun rights; he has a lifetime A-plus record with the NRA.. enough said on that one I think.

2012 was the year when time ran out on Rick Santorum. Santorum conservatism is not yet buried but its epitaph can now be written. It would impoverish and disenfranchise millions. It promoted lies and mediocrity. It persecuted ability and talent. It will not be missed.

I’ll leave you with this from Bill Maher:

Debunking creationism

Falling further down the proverbial rabbit hole, whilst continuing to open up the Pandora’s Box that is the creationism versus evolution debate, I can’t resist stoking the fire and fanning the flames. Creationism, especially Young Earth creationism, is such idiocy that it must be confronted by all right and reasonable people wherever possible to prevent the spread of this.. disease.. into wider society. It’s bad enough that some 48% of self-identifying Republicans believe that humans “existed in their present form since the beginning of time”; what’s worse is that this number is increasing year-on-year. Americans are not only holding on to their deeply felt pre-existing notions that defy reality, but are also passing these convictions on to their children and trying to appeal to outdated religious standpoints: how can public schools teach that the Earth is both simultaneously 6,000 years old and 4.55 billion years old? The scale of this error is the same as teaching children that the distance across the United States is 17 feet! This nonsense begins to have real-world impacts when we begin to consider theist resistance to combating the key issues of the 21st century: climate change, population growth, pandemic sexually-transmitted diseases, etc.

Teaching creationism to kids is nothing short of child abuse.

Having initially studied evolutionary biology for several years at the wonderful Ripon Grammar School under the tutelage of Keith Miller and Chris Charlton – two of the best teachers I ever had the good fortune to be taught by – followed by several modules in human evolution and Earth structure and formation by similarly inspiring lecturers at the University of Reading as part of my BSc Physical Geography degree, I had something of an understanding about the course of human evolution myself (although by no stretch of the imagination could I be considered anything more than proficient).

Following on from yesterday’s blog about Earth history and the evolution of modern humans, and the ensuing debate on Twitter (involving Canadians, Australians, Brits and Americans), I sent an email off to Daniel Lieberman – Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University – to get an answer from an expert in the field. I wanted to know more about how macroevolution and microevolution can drive the process of speciation, and whether devolution (as espoused by John Sanford and his creationist supporters) is a valid scientific precept that can be used in opposition to evolution itself.

I was very pleased when Professor Lieberman came back this morning with a response, considered and well-thought out, which posited the following points:

  1. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it is pointless to argue with creationists because they do not believe in science. Neither logic nor facts have any effect on their firmly held beliefs. 
  2. Devolution, the idea that species can evolve into more primitive forms is not a necessary concept in biology because it is merely a form of evolution.  It is also astonishingly rare and partial (organisms as a whole never evolve towards more primitive forms)
  3. Microevolution is just evolution within a population; eventually, if there is enough different microevolution in two or more populations, they become separate species, which is termed macroevolution.  There is nothing different about the two processes, other than scale and eventual reproductive isolation.  
  4. I have recently argued that we are subjecting ourselves to a new form of cultural evolution, which I term “dysevolution,” but that is something entirely different.  My book “The Story of the Human Body” explains all of this and the evidence for our species’ evolution and its relevance to health and disease.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on Lieberman’s The Story of the Human Body as soon as I am able; I am sure that it will be both a fascinating read and a well-evidenced explanation into how evolution works. The concept of cultural dysevolution would seem to be what has taken hold of the Republicans in recent years and is perhaps what is responsible for their ongoing anti-intellectualism on a whole range of issues. Many thanks to Professor Lieberman for taking the time out of his day to respond to this Brit!

For anyone wanting to read up a bit more about how human evolution has progressed from 4.5 million years ago through to our “upright man” antecessor, Homo erectus, should check out the link below:

What were the major events in hominin evolution between c. 4.0 and 1.5 million years ago?

I’ll leave you with this thought from a hero of my youth, Bill Nye:

Earth History – Evolution of Modern Humans

So a debate has erupted on my Twitter feed, amongst some of the more liberal Democratic tweeps, as to the legitimacy of creationism / intelligent design versus evolution.. and the teaching of both in public schools in the States. I made my own thoughts on this quite clear in a recent blog post on why Rick Perry must not become the GOP nominee for 2016: the separation of church and state is a constitutionally-mandated precept dating back to Thomas Jefferson and enshrined within both Article VI of the US Constitution (no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office) and the First Amendment to the US Constitution (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion). The teaching of creationism in public schools is a clear violation of this separation of church and state, and this principle has been upheld by legal decision after legal decision: “If a teacher in a public school uses religion and teaches religious beliefs or espouses theories clearly based on religious underpinnings, the principles of the separation of church and state are violated” Webster v. New Lenox School District (1990).

The debate then continued on to discuss whether creationism and evolution could be held to the same scientific precepts, and how evolution could even be possible from one species to another without the antecessor species becoming extinct or evolving completely. I had to bang my head at this a little bit, as did some of the others within the debate.

Rather than getting drawn into a protracted argument on the point, I thought it prescient to dig out a couple of pieces of university coursework from my time at Reading which outline, in more detail, how evolution works and what the theory actually is.

So here you go:

Evolution is the process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations (Moran 1993), and can be defined in the specific biological sense as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next (Curtis & Barnes 1989: 974) – alleles are different variants of the same gene, coding for different traits.

However, evolution in this context is still rather vague – as we are looking at timespans of some million years, rather than changes from a generational standpoint. Hence we look at macroevolution; any evolutionary change at or above the level of species (Wilkins 2006). It is the combination and interaction of events linked to the origin, diversification and extinction of organisms that comprise the population of the Earth and frequently involves large-scale evolutionary change (Farabee 2000). Macroevolution is also referred to as speciation; this can be described as the evolutionary development of new species, usually as one population separates into two different populations that are no longer capable of interbreeding. (Art 1993).

According to Cameron and Groves, the term hominin is that given to groups closely related to the human lineage, yet does not necessitate that said groups have to be directly ancestral to humans. Instead, there is a degree of shared features between the two – indicating an immediate common ancestor to the exclusion of other hominids. (Cameron & Groves 2004: 61).

i’ve attached an Evolution Chart, taken straight from a piece of coursework from my undergraduate degree, which should explain the relationships and differences between early modern humans and their evolutionary ancestors.

As always, please do leave a comment with your thoughts!