Appreciating asteroid risks..

Adapted from Effects of an impact event: an analysis of asteroid 1989FC

It is said that we live in a cosmic shooting gallery, under constant threat of orbital bombardment by the many objects that hurtle through the Solar System at breathtaking speeds each and every day. Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) have collided with our planet throughout its existence; more frequently during some time periods than others. Astronomers have discovered over 10,000 NEAs of all sizes, including nearly 1,000 NEAs with a diameter greater than 1 km – the so-called extinction level event asteroids. The consequences of an impact for our civilization cannot be overstated, yet, as encounters with NEAs are so rare, no government strategy exists to deal with one.

Dinosaur ELE

The impact of a relatively modestly sized stony asteroid (~300-500 m in diameter) would not likely result in an Extinction Level Event (ELE) such as those portrayed in two well-known ‘disaster’ movies of the last decade. Defined as the extinction of all or part of life on Earth, ELE’s have occurred at the K-T boundary (the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event) 65 million years ago and during the Great Dying of the P-Tr (Permian-Triassic extinction event) 251 million years ago – in both events, upwards of 50% of all species extant at the time die out. Too often public perception, fuelled by the media, focuses on the effects of these large-scale impacts involving objects over 1 km in diameter. All too familiar are the story-lines; debris ejected into the stratosphere, global heat pulses forcing planetary biomass to burn for weeks on end, day turning to one endless night as dust and soot shroud the planet, and photosynthesis grinding to a halt causing food chains to collapse as average temperatures plummet. These events, depicted in Hollywood, only occur with asteroids of much larger proportions – a breach of a threshold diameter barrier of 1 km is required for this kind of global devastation. However, it is certain that a large impact event would severely stress the environment and would lead to drastic population reductions of both terrestrial and marine life.

Oceanic Impact

Oceanic Impact of an Asteroid

The most devastating type of collision would be oceanic. This is also the statistically most probable as just over 70% of the Earth is covered by oceans. The principle effect, after several million tonnes of seawater had been flash-boiled, would be the generation of a tsunami that would wreak catastrophic destruction upon coastal cities and generate human casualties all along the affected coastlines. It has been calculated than an asteroid of roughly 300 m in diameter would generate waves carrying more than 300 times the energy of the 2004 Asian Tsunami. A 2006 paper by Chesley and Ward, entitled ‘A Quantitative Assessment of the Human and Economic Hazard from Impact-generated Tsunami’, goes further to state that such an impact in the Atlantic ocean would create a deep water wave, upon penetration of the impactor into the sea floor, of between 2-3 m high travelling at speeds of above 450 km h -1. Upon hitting the continental shelf on both sea-boards the accentuation of deep-water amplitude (due to a retardation of the leading edge over shallow water causing shortening of wavelength and growth in height) will run up a wave height of between 10-15 m depending upon coastal and ocean floor topography. About half the world’s population lives within 200 km of the oceans, and in excess of 650 million people living within 5 m of the high-tide mark along coastal regions globally would be vulnerable to such tsunami waves, although as Chesley and Ward state no single impact could affect them all. The predicted damage cost would be measured in the billions of dollars in terms of property damage and economic losses, perhaps much higher. As of 2010 the global insurance industry held just over $300 billion in reserves to cover catastrophic losses brought about by natural disasters; consider the vulnerability of $2 trillion of insured assets along the Florida coastline, and the threat posed to the insurance industry that keeps less than $½ trillion to cover all disaster losses everywhere globally in any one year. Jeremy Leggett notes all of this, and goes further to state that the global reserve could easily be entirely wiped out by one or two “mega-cats” – catastrophes striking large metropolis or economic centres – or by a series of rapid-fire smaller catastrophes. More significantly, additional recent studies show that an asteroid-induced tsunami exceeding 100 m in height would cause massive damage to low-lying areas along the US east coast and could totally submerge vast areas of Europe such as Holland and Denmark. A 100 m tsunami would travel around 22 km inland, and a 200 m tsunami would travel up to 55 km inland. Worryingly, the same study suggests that such impacts occur every few thousand years and that we are now overdue.

Terrestrial Impact

Terrestrial Impact of an Asteroid

A land impact for a similarly sized asteroid would likely result in only localised to regional damage, less widespread than an ocean impact, but equally as devastating for the affected area. Upon impact with a land surface a characteristic bowl-form crater several kilometres across and bounded by a structurally elevated rim would be excavated. The blast-wave would obliterate the immediate area, up to a radius of 75 km, and probably severely devastate a much larger area up to 200 km in diameter (the size of a small US state such as West Virginia). The energy released would probably equal or surpass the total equivalent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, and eject some millions of tons of rock and dust into the lower atmosphere. As both the impactor and target area become fragmented and vaporized, the sun would be clouded for a length of time measured in days and weeks, not months and years. If the asteroid made landfall in an area of high population density, such as the north-east corridor of the US, Los Angeles, or Tokyo millions would die instantly. Indeed, even an impact outside of an urban area but within a 75 km radius of an urban conurbation would likely result in damage and fatalities on a currently unprecedented scale of natural disasters, particularly if there was little or no warning. The associated impact hazard, known as an ‘urban fire-storm’, where ignition of combustible materials occurs spontaneously if enough heat energy is applied, would only add to the catastrophe. It is postulated that this would be similar to the effects experienced by survivors of Hiroshima. The greatest harm though would be caused if sub-micrometer dust was able to reach the stratosphere; due to its long residence time in the atmosphere it could cause a fall in global temperatures. This could begin to threaten worldwide agricultural production and supply in the short-term although, due to the small nature of this impact event, not to such an extent as to begin to seriously endanger global populations. Localised acid rain may be induced due to the reaction of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere; acidifying lakes, soils, streams, and perhaps even the surface layer of the oceans for a short period. Again, however, this would not be a global event due to the size of the asteroid considered but affecting an area some hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of square kilometres around the impact site. It is important to consider that an impactor of a diameter around 300 m is going to only affect local to regional scales. Beyond a radius of around 200 km from the impact site, the event would merely be mostly a frightening experience rather than a fatal one, and would not be expected to lead to long-term climatic effects.

Atmospheric Impact

The third impact possibility is that of the ‘non-impact event’; a bolide exploding violently in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth. Such episodes have been recorded in recent history, such as the 1908 bolide that exploded above Tunguska, Siberia and are traceable only through the tell-tale iridium anomaly (an unusual abundance of an element rarely found in the Earth’s crust) on the ground as no fragmentary evidence is left. Indeed – some bolide impacts remain contentious due to the lack of any remnants from the asteroid/comet that exploded and alternative theories are frequently espoused. A bolide event typically requires a significantly different asteroid composition; that of carbonaceous chondrite. Volatiles – compounds with low boiling points – under the asteroid surface would heat up as the asteroid grazed the Earth’s atmosphere, forcing any hydrogen and carbon contained within to ignite. This would vaporize the asteroid into dust and gas in the lower atmosphere, leaving a layer of carbonaceous dust, melted metal silicates, and elements not typically found in the crust. The effects would be dependent upon the overpressure of the blast but likely to be relatively wide-ranging. Potentially, these could include blast-wave acceleration of window glass, radiant ignition of fires, structural failure of buildings, eardrum rupture, and injury from the blast wave itself. The combined effects of which are highly similar to those of a nuclear detonation at a similar altitude without the associated gamma rays or neutron bursts. There is also the perception within the scientific community that there would be the associated production of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) with bolide explosions, with an example of such a pulse as recently as 18th January 2000 in the Yukon Territory of Canada. This raises the unthinkable related hazard of a bolide blast being misinterpreted as the explosion of a nuclear weapon and the possibility of an auto-response by global powers before clarification is possible.

Current threat?

Although the probability of an impact, even by a medium-sized asteroid, is actually relatively small, the consequences of such an impact are enormous. It can be said that the risk to the individual is average and comparable to the risk taken when flying in an aeroplane (due to the product of the extremely low impact occurrence probability and the extremely high casualty expectancy). There is therefore a finite risk to the population of the Earth. The greatest challenge is intellectual; reconciling the exceptionally low annual probability of being killed by an asteroid impact against the almost unparalleled consequences of such an impact; it was the gradual hazard awareness of the late 80s and early 90s that prompted action to improve and expand detection of Near-Earth Objects. This was specifically outlined by Congressional reports submitted by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology – advocating that NASA engage in workshops to detect and intercept NEOs. The paper commissioned in 1990 by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) that looked at dealing with the threat of an asteroid striking the Earth put forward two disquieting points. The first was that the PCAS (Planet Crossing Asteroid Search; initiated in 1973, this was the first of two surveys by Eugene Shoemaker using the telescopes situated atop Palomar Mountain in California – now defunctand PACS (Palomar Asteroid and Comet Survey; the second of Shoemaker’s surveys using the Palomar telescopes, this program started in 1982 – like PCAS, it was terminated in 1994) projects are estimated to have discovered half of the known Earth-crossing asteroids; the second was that they project that an object this size comes by undetected once every 2-3 years. The saying goes that 300 m asteroids are a “dime a dozen” in the Solar System.

To reiterate, the probability that a dangerous asteroid will impact by the close of this decade is negligible, as is the probability that this asteroid will impact the Earth at any point within the next century. Yet, if such an impact were to occur – there are four key potential hazard targets that would either exacerbate the effects of the actual impact or prevent effective handling of the disaster. These include (i) sensitive national security sites such as national capitols or command centres, the total destruction of which (and associated decapitation of a highly centralized government) would contribute disproportionately to the chaos; (ii) sites with hazardous materials that may be released by impact such as nuclear power plants or weapons depots, chemical plants and oilfields; (iii) geologically sensitive sites such as volcanoes and earthquake regions; (iv) sites with essential roles for food production, storage, or distribution – food interruption generates the threat of starvation and societal disorder. Whilst an international response may be effective for regional-scale impacts, there would be no recovery for a devastating larger impact; the question of just how resilient our agriculture, commerce, economy, and societal organisation might prove in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe remains unanswered. As of now, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) have no hazard mitigation or contingency plans in place to deal with the threat of an asteroid impact and the associated dangers. Equally, the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM, which absorbed the U.S. Space Command in 2002) makes no mention of planetary defence in its Long-Term Vision, although the ability to detect Earth-crossing objects is listed amongst its deficiencies.

Conclusions

Events of the size described are expected, on average, once every 100,000 years or so; whilst most astronomers would say that we are “over-due” for such a sizeable impact, we can be by no means certain when that impact will occur. There are still untold numbers of asteroids (estimates range up to some hundred thousand) that remain either undiscovered or uncharted, many of which will be of a similar size or larger. It is perhaps recklessly irresponsible that the findings and reports of the organizations whose very remit is space exploration – agencies with such spine-tingling titles as the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) – are widely ignored by the elected officials, committees, and public bodies with oversight on planetary defence. There have been continued cuts in funding since the late 1990s for both civil and government space programs like the NEAT (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking; a program begun in 1995 by Eleanor Helin as part of the Spaceguard Survey, aimed at taking over and consolidating the studies of PCAS and PACS) system under Administrations with other agendas. With intense competition between more traditional recipients of what little NASA funding is available, those bodies responsible for detection have found it harder year-on-year to continue progressively scanning the skies above for potential asteroid threats. It is more and more likely that the events of Tunguska in 1908 will be repeated, only next time with potentially devastating results. We, as a species, could find ourselves learning of an impact event only after it has occurred.

When social media implodes..

Following quickly on from the US Airways debacle over Twitter, the New York Police Department have made a catastrophic error in public relations over the same medium.

Whichever clown is in control of the NYPD’s social networking accounts, especially within the open-ended crowd-sourced arena of Twitter, made a colossal boo-boo on the afternoon of Tuesday 22nd. Reaching out across the Twittersphere, the official Twitter account of the New York City Police Department suggested that fellow New Yorkers might want to share their photos with city police officers.. obviously in the (somewhat vain) hope that the returns would be of glowing positive endorsements of police activity.

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What happened next was an unmitigated disaster..

Slowly, but surely, a steady flow of tweets began to appear – all using the hashtag #myNYPD – mocking and ridiculing the arrogance of the New York Police Department for daring to presume that this open-ended invitation into social media would not receive responses from a wide-range of opinionated citizens. This brazen attempt at whitewashing their actions, from an organisation whose (unofficial) motto on Twitter is Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect, has backfired spectacularly..

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And, my personal favourite..

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Is this reaction any surprise for a police department that is widely denounced for their racism and autocratic interpretation of legislation and executive orders? The ongoing resistance to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempts to fix New York’s broken approach to cannabis arrests is an example of the NYPD’s cavalier attitude to law enforcement. This includes criminal possession in the fifth degree (the lowest misdemeanour marijuana charge): NYPD officers now routinely ask the hundreds of thousands of people they stop annually on New York streets (85% of whom, in 2013, were black or Latino) to empty their pockets. When the cannabis is pulled out of a pocket, it enters “in public view,” and the police officers can (and do) make an arrest for criminal possession in the fifth degree. This continues to run counter to a directive given in 2011 to stop the practice.

Anyone taking a casual look at the Twitter feed of @NYPDnews will see a complete lack of engagement over the feedback from the community.. which, if corporations have learnt anything from the social media fails of 2013 and British Airways’ failure to get to grips with customer feedback, only comes back to bite you even harder in the ass..

Sorry NYPD.. you’ve severely dropped the ball on this one!

Obama must be doing something right..

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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(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

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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: