Govt likely to take on divisive issues as 111 banned players return to the public stage
2011 was a year of political transition that saw a change of government following the general election in July. For political observers, last year was rather dull compared to the preceding years, which were full of political drama – albeit some of it violent, vicious and vile.
2012 is likely to be more exciting politically.
The “honeymoon” for the government – if that really exists in Thai politics – appears to be over. And politicians from the government camp seem to be more confident, venturing into controversial issues that have led to conflicts in recent years – such as constitutional amendment and an amnesty for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
This year will also see the end of five-year bans imposed on 111 executives from Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party, who were prohibited from political activity after the 2006 coup.
The administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will find it more difficult to convince
the public that its failure to tackle certain problems effectively is due to the fact it “has just come to power” and that it has inherited problems from the previous government. Her administration used that excuse with limited success
for its flawed attempt to tackle the severe flood in the Central region. Although Pheu Thai won sympathy from its supporters – particularly red shirts – many victims were unimpressed and decided to sue the politicians and bureaucrats responsible.
The biggest political event of 2011 was Pheu Thai’s victory in the July 3 election, winning more than half the seats in the 500-MP House of Representatives and leaving the rival Democrat Party in opposition.
The government managed to avoid major political headaches, but Mother Nature brought a big one of her own for the new regime. Many provinces, including Bangkok, were hit by severe flooding that was described as the country’s worst in half a century. The government and its supporters blamed a series of rainstorms that hit the country in the space of a few months for the massive deluge, which topped most of the country’s major dams. However, the opposition and critics said it was simple mismanagement and politicisation of water oversight.
Pheu Thai politicians have begun testing opinions on issues that have in the past led to disputes, such as constitutional amendments and an amnesty for Thaksin, who is on the run from a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power. Pheu Thai has explained this by saying both issues figured in their election campaign, and their victory pointed to popular support on these issues.
Thaksin, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the ruling party, said repeatedly that he had no plan to return to power, but politicians loyal to him continued to push for an amnesty in order to “return to Thaksin the justice he deserves”.
In May this year, all 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives will complete their five-year bans. Although many have been politically active behind the scenes, it will soon be legal for them to get involved in any public activities and even return to power. Not all of the 111 – which includes Thaksin and many veterans – are expected to make a comeback, but those who do are likely to make an impact, judging from their stature and influence.
Pheu Thai appears to be steering clear of calls by a number of acade-mics, critics and red-shirt activists for amendment of Article 112 of the Penal Code, which involves lese majeste. The party explains that tackling the issue was not among its campaign promises. Such an explanation is likely to upset many opponents of Article 112, but the party may have decided the issue is just too hot to handle.
Last year saw no severe clashes of the kind seen in 2009 and 2010, but it is undeniable that the deep-rooted political conflict continues. Any contentious issue – big or small – could fan the flames. Both sides have their supporters, but Pheu Thai’s red shirts appear to have been more politically active.
Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who also heads the Democrat Party, warned recently that the country’s political stability in the coming years hinges on the government’s stance toward Thaksin. “If the government wants peaceful years in office, they can have it. But if they want to provoke controversy, it’s there,” he said.
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It’s been an extraordinary year in politics. In no particular order, here are ten books I enjoyed that can help make sense of what the hell is happening and what can be done.
@ is for Activism by Joss Hands:
Pluto Press, 2010
The past year of riots and revolutions has proven beyond doubt that the terrain
of collective action is being transformed by the internet. How exactly remains
unclear since, too often, mainstream scholarship lags woefully behind the practice.
Joss Hands’ book is a powerful exception. It provides rigorous theoretical analysis of
how digitally-mediated social movements mobilise to challenge centres of power,
placing recent developments within a broader history of technological
Hands discusses the fashionable idea of “swarm intelligence” but
argues – rightly, in my view – that this concept lacks the necessary space for democratic
deliberation within movements. He prefers to talk of Quasi Autonomous
Recognition Networks (QARNs); loose associations, such as UK Uncut, bound
together by agreement on certain things and able to expand rapidly through
digital networks of communication. The QARN may be too much of a mouthful to
catch on, but it’s a useful theoretical framework for activists and scholars to
get to grips with as we enter a year in which networked movements will undoubtedly continue to play a critical role.
Liberalism: A Counter History by
Domenico Losurdo: Verso, 2011.
This is a major revisionist history of our dominant political tradition. If I
had my way, it would be obligatory reading for schools minister Michael Gove,
who, along with the neoconservative telly don Niall Ferguson, and other
collaborators, is re-writing the History curriculum in line with the most
boorish and parochial Whig triumphalism.
According to this self-congratulatory view,
liberal ideas of individual independence, natural rights and limited government
are discovered by progressive thinkers from John Locke onwards and then exported,
along with the values of property and free trade, to initially resistant but
ultimately grateful native populations in less civilised parts of the world. This
is the mythology that Losurdo explodes. Since its earliest beginnings, he
shows, liberalism has been profoundly at ease with inequality and exclusion.
Liberals were systematic apologists for the most appalling practices of
slavery, colonialism, ethnic genocide, patriarchy, and exploitation. Lorsurdo
has great fun parading the most outrageous statements by the pantheon of
liberal heroes, such Locke, de Tocqueville and Mill. This isn’t, he insists, a
case of applying our own anachronistic moral standards to the past. All too
often, it was liberals advocating barbaric practices against contemporaries,
including ancien regime thinkers,
such as Jean Bodin who combined a preference for absolute monarchy with staunch
opposition to slavery.
There are some difficulties with Losurdo’s approach, not
least who he defines as “liberals” (see here for an in-depth review by Ed
Rooksby), but what lessons does it imply for radical thought? My own view is
that the universal normative commitments of liberalism should not be repudiated
entirely. It is far better to see liberalism as an incomplete version of
socialism, rather than its polar opposite. The task of emancipatory thought is
to radicalise the content of the liberal tenets of liberty and equality and
dramatically expand the sphere of social relations to which they apply. This
means first and foremost, challenging the property relation, the bedrock of
exclusion, which, Losurdo shows, liberals have long been prepared to defend
with terroristic violence.
Live Working or Die Fighting by
Paul Mason: Random House, 2008. In the run up to
the November 30th strikes there was a meme doing the rounds which
pointed out that if you enjoyed weekends, eight hour days and basic employment
rights you’d better get behind the unions because you owe them one.
ignorance about these past totemic struggles is what Mason sets out to counter in this gripping history of the international labour movement. The book
is explicitly didactic. Each chapter begins with a description of the harsh and
squalid conditions of today’s global proletariat, from Shenzen
factories to Nigerian slums, before drawing parallels with earlier battles by
workers in similar conditions. Starting with the Peterloo massacre, Mason runs
through the history of French silk weavers, American Wobblies, and Shanghai
factory workers (to name but a few) interweaving socio-economic analysis with
inspiring personal stories of legendary figures like Paris Communard Louise
Michel and IWW organiser Bill Hayward. The main lesson I took from this history is
that the biggest gains made by the labour movement were won before the era of
centralized bureaucracies and full-timers when workers organised along
syndicalist lines. With union leaders preparing to sell out on pensions and the
Coaliton itching to criminalise all but the most ineffectual forms of trade
union activity these earlier struggles have a newfound relevance.
Debt: The First
5000 Years by David Graeber, Melville House, 2011. “If history shows anything,”,
says Graber “it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on
violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the
language of debt-above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the
victim who’s doing something wrong.”
That debt has long been used as an
instrument of discipline and social control, probably won’t come as a surprise
to most people. The particular cultural forms this has taken in past
societies and the story of how others have successfully repudiated it all together is something
we know far less about. Part of the problem is that we’ve inherited our
understanding of money and debt from economists and they have conveniently made it seem like
relationships of market exchange are the most natural way in which humans
relate to each other.
The mainstream account of the origins of money,
expounded by the likes of Adam Smith, claims that money arose to replace an
extremely awkward and time-consuming system of bartering. The only problem with this story is that no
evidence of a primitive “barter society” exists. This is the kind of factual
detail that may not trouble economists but is less than satisfactory for an anthropologist, such as Graeber. Many cultures, it turns out, share out resources in elaborate and
complex communal rituals. The Eskimo, for example, will share any surplus food
they have with you and react quite indignantly if you try and thank them. As an
egalitarian society, they have developed complex cultural mechanisms to avoid any
relationships of debt and hierarchy (“thank you”, it
turns out, originates with “think of you”, as in, “I will remember I am in your
debt”). Even in our own society there is what Graeber terms “baseline communism”: forms of giving, based on need that underpin all human sociability (think, for example, of the way in which cigarettes are freely
shared, even among strangers) Baseline communism, he says, is what “makes society possible”
Intriguingly, Graeber shows how many Ancient societies had in-built
systems of debt forgiveness. Every so often all debts were cancelled and the
slates were literally wiped clean. Under the Ancient Jewish Law of Jubilee all
debts were automatically cancelled every seven years “in the Sabbath
year” and all those in debt bondage were freed. This system of debt
cancellation was thought preferable to the alternative of social breakdown and
Fight Back! A Reader on the
Winter of Protests ed Dan Hancox et al 2011. One year on, this remains the essential starting
point for anyone seeking to find out more about last year’s eruption of student
militancy in opposition to fees and the cutting of EMA.
Published as a free
Ebook, the collection brings together high-energy blogs, articles and interventions
from activists, journalists and academics. Some of the posts – written in the
excitement of the moment – come across a touch naive and hyperbolic (I know my
own politics has developed a fair bit in the past year) but on the whole they
stand up well. It was particularly pleasing to see the Fight back! publishing
model cross the Atlantic where it has brought together the various debates
emerging from the extraordinary struggle in Wisconsin.
23 Things They Don’t Tell You
About Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, 2011. That the term “free market” is
still used at all in serious debate is, in many ways, a vindication of the arguments made by the
student movement; a testament to the corruption of knowledge that takes place when moneyed
interests enter the universities.
In 23 things, Ha Joon Chang takes apart the
disastrous ideology of the free market with admirable patience and clarity.
Chang is himself an economist, but the approach he takes is comparative and
historical, and rich with examples, rather than reductive and pseudo-scientific.
In truth, it’s difficult to escape the
conclusion that mainstream Economics is no more a “science” than the various tribal myths,
related by Graeber, which present an image of an ordered universe, balanced and
flowing harmoniously with everything in its proper place. 23 Things is by no
means a total critique of capitalism (only its “free market” variant) and Chang
doesn’t deal with the fact his preferred system, of social democracy, faced its
own crisis in the 1970s. Still – a
Capitalist Realism: Is There no
Alternative? by Mark Fisher, Zero Books, 2009. While Chang can be said to
provide a critique of the ideological content of neoliberalism, Mark Fisher
does a wonderful job of showing how it functions at a cultural level through
everything from mental health treatment to gangster rap.
Under Capitalist Realism not
only is the status quo lauded as the perfect embodiment of freedom, progress
and rationality, but the very possibility of alternatives is rendered – as it were
– unthinkable thanks to an all-pervasive feeling of passivity, boredom and
pragmatic resignation. Fisher’s descriptions of “business ontology” and “market
Stalinism” capture the contemporary zeitgeist in such a penetrating and astute
way that I lost count of how many times I stopped and put down the book whilst reading
to think to myself, “Yes, that’s exactly it”. A must-read.
Machiavellian Democracy by John
P. McCormick, Cambridge University Press, 2011. Machiavelli isn’t generally
known as a theorist of democracy. In popular legend he is the scheming and
amoral advisor to Princes (most recently captured in the fun but ridiculous HBO
drama, The Borgias), whilst republican political thinkers, such as Philp Pettit
and Quentin Skinner, have revived him as a theorist of liberty as
Both are wrong, according to McCormick. The Skinner and Pettit
school, he argues, mistakenly places Machiavelli within the tradition of “aristocratic
republicanism” that he consciously set himself against. This tradition, which
includes the Founding Fathers, de Tocqueville, and Joseph Schumpeter, sees the
central problem of democracy as how to curb the wild and irrational passions of
the mob, the so-called “tyranny of the majority”. Machiavelli, it turns out,
was far more concerned with what we might call the tyranny of the minority. His
over-riding preoccupation, according to McCormick, was the question of how to
secure self-government in societies marked by profound inequalities of wealth
and status. In such societies the “grandi” – the noble class – have an
insatiable desire to dominate and oppress the “popolo” – the mass of ordinary
citizens – who will fight to maintain their freedom and independence.
Machiavelli therefore recommends a set of political institutions designed to
foster class consciousness and political contentiousness amongst the popolo.
This, he believed, was necessary to preserve a free and stable republic. Some of the institutions he prescribes, such as the Tribune -
an assembly of the people empowered to try political elites for corruption and
abuse of power – have lost none of their appeal today.
Hatred of Democracy by Jacques Rancière,
Verso, 2007. Whereas
Machiavelli takes an institutional approach to democracy, French political
philosopher Ranciere locates democracy – and indeed the practice of politics,
as such – wholly in extra-institutional uprisings of the people that disrupt
the coercive political order of “the police” and subvert the elite “consensus”
that underpins it.
Democracy, according to this view, is not to be found in parliaments,
governments or even in the body of the people assembled. It consists instead in
a “rupture in the order of kinship”; a disorderly, egalitarian disruption of
orderly inequality by groups systematically excluded from politics. Through
their disruptions, these groups challenge the order of the public and the
private – most especially the private realm of capital accumulation – and
expand the realm of equality and freedom. This vision of “radical democracy” is
compelling. It furnishes a valuable framework for understanding the
increasingly common forms of political contention that exist beyond law and
formal politics. If I have a difficult with Ranciere it’s that there are very
few real world examples of the contentious politics he idealises and the
exclusive emphasis on spontaneity does seem to be at the expense of any
possibility of ongoing democratic self-rule.
Moments of Excess, The Free Association, 2011.
This book brings together a series of energetic and illuminating essays written
over the course of the authors’ involvement in the alter-globalisation
movement. The title refers to those exceptional occasions when political
movements manage to break through the cordons of capitalist realism and achieve
some collective agency and traction. “At
these times which may have spanned several years or literally a few moments”,
they say ,“we have glimpsed whole new worlds”.
It is common for activists
involved in non-hierarchical movements against austerity today to disparage the
alter-globalisation movement for its spectacular protests and summit-hopping,
which lead it to neglect everyday struggles over material conditions. Much of
this rings true. But the alter-globalisation movement also achieved an
extraordinary amount (had anyone even heard of the IMF or World Bank before
1999?) and many of the organisational forms and protest repertoires in use
today have been inherited from that time. Anyone looking for a lucid and
critical account of those struggles, from the point of view of activists
involved, could do worse that start here.
Urbandale, Iowa (CNN) — In an empty parking lot off New York Avenue, the rumpling sound of a plastic Herman Cain 2012 banner can be heard flapping in the wind. The sign on the window at Cain’s headquarters here still reads, “Come in, we’re open.” Inside, a table full of bumper stickers, yard signs and buttons gathers dust.
It’s a haunting scene for the presidential candidates pinning their hopes on a respectable finish in the January 3 Iowa caucuses, a reminder that a candidate who has the nation talking can suddenly put a period on the end of the sentence.
The key to survival: ever-spreading circles of support. And nowhere is that support stronger than in the hearts of true believers.
It takes a true believer to bravely pick up the phone or go door-to-door to coax strangers and neighbors into talking about politics, then sell them on a particular candidate. Conviction must run even deeper if that candidate struggles to be seen as a real contender.
We traveled to Iowa in mid-December to talk to the die-hard volunteers for candidates who kept being put in the back of the pack by the polls. We wanted to know: What continues to motivate them?
At the time, the political conversation centered around a two-man race — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — in the nation’s first caucus. But in a matter of just days, the political winds shifted, with Gingrich faltering, Ron Paul joining the lead and Rick Santorum making a run.
It’s a humbling dose of reality to the perennially successful — and inspiration for the torch bearers who still believe in a good underdog story.
An Iowa-eye view
“I think Iowans are spoiled rotten,” Kathy Potts says with a smile.
She moved here from Mississippi more than a dozen years ago, and believes Iowans don’t understand what a unique opportunity it is to meet presidential candidates face-to-face every four years.
“There’s an old joke about a New Hampshire farmer and an Iowa farmer,” she says, referring to the nation’s first two contests. “The New Hampshire farmer asks the Iowan, ‘Have you decided who you’re going to vote for yet? And the Iowan says, ‘No, I’ve only met them each three times.’ “
It’s caucus week in Iowa, and it’s also the week Potts is getting her barn sign. She already has two yard signs, a bumper sticker and countless T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. The five-by-seven “Rick Perry for President” banner will stretch across her entire front porch like a billboard. (Unlike many Iowans, she doesn’t actually have a barn, not on her busy Cedar Rapids street.) Potts says a campaign staffer once told her each bumper sticker is the equivalent of $300 in advertising. What must her barn sign be worth?
Potts is a community activist, a mother to four grown children and a volunteer for the Texas governor’s presidential campaign. He’s the fourth Republican candidate she has helped support since she moved to the state.
Four years ago, Mitt Romney was her man. Now she’s rallying hard behind Perry, who she believes is honest and straightforward. To those who have labeled Perry’s campaign in Iowa his “apology tour,” an attempt to make up for a series of gaffes that dropped the candidate out of the top of the polls, she has this to say: “I like a man that can say oops.”
But even Potts, who dedicates around 20 hours a week to making calls, going to events, posting on her Facebook page and chatting with folks in her neighborhood, had a gut check when a controversial Perry campaign ad hit the airwaves. In it, Perry describes what he calls the hypocrisy of a nation that allows gays to openly serve in the military but forbids children from praying in schools.
Potts, an evangelical who supports gay marriage herself, says continuing to campaign was difficult. “Picking up the phone is the hardest part,” Potts says. “I was honestly afraid that there would be backlash after the ad came out.”
It turned out the most vocal cry of foul came from inside her own family. “My daughter called me up and said, “I can’t believe my parents would vote for someone so ignorant. She was convinced (the Perrys) were just horrible and hated gay people.”
Potts didn’t quite know what to say. “I knew (the Perrys) were not anti-gay,” she says. ” I just could not support somebody who hated somebody based on their sexual preference.” So Potts took advantage of her status as a spoiled Iowan: She buttonholed Perry’s wife.
Anita Perry’s answer at a campaign event reassured Potts. “She said they had a lot of gay friends. I didn’t tell her what my daughter said.”
Before Potts left the event, Anita Perry handed her a gift: an official Texas Christmas ornament from the governor’s mansion.
Asked why the ornament was in a box and not on her tree, Potts smiles. “My daughter put (the tree) up this year.”
Love and politics
The McIntyres of Indianola trace their current political passion to the Ames Straw Poll of 2007.
Forty-one-year-old Crystal McIntyre says she and her family were walking around the grounds at Iowa State University after the results were announced when they passed by Ron Paul’s campaign booth.
The family had gone in support of another candidate , but a “Ron Paul Revolution” T-shirt snagged the eye of the oldest of her six kids. McIntyre approached a volunteer to ask about the shirt and what it cost. The family hadn’t brought any money, so when McIntyre politely said thank you and began to walk away, the volunteer tossed her a T-shirt and said he would pay for it.
McIntyre grabbed some literature, just to be polite, and on that long car ride home, she became a true believer.
“I was going through everything and I said, honey, this guy is a true constitutionalist. I don’t believe he’s for real. I’ve got to research him and find out. And my husband turned to me and said, ‘I’ll give you two weeks. You research this guy and if he’s really who he says he is, our family is getting behind him.’ And that was it.”
McIntyre is a Gulf War veteran whose politics were shaped by her military service and some tough times her family has gone through when there was little work for her husband, who is in construction. She says America is in need of a rebirth, and she believes Ron Paul, a former OBGYN, is just the man to deliver it.
She dedicates at least five hours a week to calling fellow Iowans on behalf of the Texas congressman. The campaign has rented the space next door to its headquarters to use as a day care, allowing home-schooling moms such as McIntyre the opportunity to take a break and even get a free lunch for her kids while she works for the candidate.
For her door-to-door canvassing, she wears a Ron Paul baseball cap, a T-shirt and a button her young son made with a cracked Liberty Bell sticker and the candidate’s name scrawled in marker. Once a week since this year’s Straw Poll, she and her husband, Tom, have gotten gussied up and driven nearly 40 minutes to the candidate’s headquarters in Ankeny to call strangers.
For the McIntyres, it’s become “a date night thing.”
The couple has had a regularly scheduled date night for as long as they can remember. Now, instead of spending money going out to dinner or seeing a movie, they put that cash toward gas.
In the past few years, Crystal’s passion for Ron Paul has become a family affair.
“They’ve met him several times,” she says of her children. “They look at him as a grandpa. Anytime they see a sign or something they’re like, ‘Hey Mom, Ron Paul!’ So it’s just kind of a catchphrase around our house. Are we doing Ron Paul tonight? It’s a way of life.”
The candidate even makes it to their dinner table. Every year, the Paul family puts out a small cookbook featuring their favorite recipes, and McIntyre says she’s cooked a number of them for family meals.
“He has an influence on a lot more than politics around here.”
Wooing friends and neighbors
Just up the road from Cedar Rapids in the small suburb of Robins, Denise Mitchell fans out American flag napkins in front of a crock-pot full of cocktail meatballs. The mood in the kitchen is a bit frantic as ladies from around the subdivision whisk star-shaped platters of vegetables and crackers from counter to counter, neatly arrange red, white and blue cupcakes and stir vats of red punch that will serve as the evening’s only libation.
Homemade and artfully designed “Rick Santorum for President” signs rest on every serving surface. Chairs borrowed from neighbors fill the living room.
Mitchell spends about 20 hours a week volunteering for Santorum’s campaign, making phone calls, sending out e-mails and coordinating events with the campaign’s Iowa director. But the biggest contribution she will make is tonight. Dozens of supporters and undecided friends are coming to her home to meet the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
“I have friends that don’t get into politics,” Mitchell says. “But I tell them this election is different. We’re trying to save our country.”
The doorbell rings, and Aaron Rupp of Cedar Rapids is the first guest through the door. He heads for the back row of chairs and starts setting up camera equipment. Tonight will be the ninth time he’s met the candidate. He’s snapped countless photos with him, but this will be his first chance to immortalize the visit on film.
“I hope to get video, because this is a very unusual thing to get a presidential candidate to come to a house and sit down in a living room with us.”
Rupp, like many who support Santorum and other candidates who have at various times trailed behind in the polls, says it’s important for each voter to vote for the candidate who speaks to them, and in Rupp’s case, that’s become literal.
“This is the right guy to be the nominee,” Rupp says as he affixes his camera to a tripod.” It doesn’t matter if he’s been an underdog. “They say Americans vote for the candidate that they want to have a beer with. This is the guy.”
More folks trickle in, spilling into every corner of the heart of the home. Everyone fills out a name tag, but it’s obvious many don’t need one, greeting each other with a hug.
Santorum appears in the foyer with little fanfare. There’s no big campaign bus outside and no entourage, save for his Iowa campaign manager. After some handshakes and small talk, he makes his way to the front, beckoning guests to sit in the first few rows of chairs. Instead, most attendees hang back in the kitchen, milling about, as if the personality of a nationally known politician is a bit too big for a living room in Robins.
Jeanne Heil, however, sits front row center, beaming up at the senator as he speaks. She says she’s driven 20 minutes to meet him for a fifth time. Heil is wearing a new Rick Santorum for President sweatshirt and says her cubicle at the insurance company where she works is filled with Santorum 2012 stickers. She also has a yard sign, and says she and a neighboring Ron Paul supporter are in a silent battle.
“Ron Paul supporters, they’re nuts,” Heil says. “She put hers up right after I put up my Rick Santorum sign. I’d like to take hers out in the middle of the night, but I know that’s just not right.” Heil chuckles. “We put Christmas lights around mine to really light it up.”
The party winds down, the punch stops flowing and soon the living room is nearly empty. As Denise Mitchell and her husband, Mark, begin to clean up, they make an assessment of the evening.
Did anyone jump the fence to Team Santorum?
They’re not sure.
But this much is clear: They had a full house — all potential voters.
A call to arms
Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign headquarters sits tucked inside a nondescript strip mall in Urbandale, a sprawling suburb of Des Moines. Next door is Groucho’s Sports Bar and, just across the way, Herman Cain’s now-desolate office.
Inside Bachmann’s digs, an impressionist painting of the Minnesota congresswoman seemingly guides visitors down a hallway toward the heart of the operation — the phone bank. Since the official announcement of her candidacy in June, Bachmann’s staff has occupied this space. It’s the same place John McCain rented in 2008, so it was already perfectly set up to mount an offensive to entice the good people of the Hawkeye State.
Denise Bubeck, 49, is heading up that charge. She and a pair of high school seniors are busy making phone call after phone call. But it’s less about how many people they reach than how many more those people can reach. The goal: Get 1,000 Iowans to make 50 calls each.
Bubeck says she gets some hang-ups, but almost no one argues or openly complains about the calls. That’s one of the perks of working in Iowa, where folks are friendly enough to listen and say no thank you if they’re not interested.
“People have said she doesn’t stand a chance,” Bubeck says. “But I always come back with, if we all believe in her, if we all gather our support together, what a difference that could make for Michele Bachmann.
What inspired Bubeck to work for Bachmann was the congresswoman’s call for people to come to Washington to march against Obamacare. “I thought, she’s a true leader.”
Often Bubeck is the only volunteer at the office, staying late into the night to make calls for up to eight hours at a time. She says her family supports her dedication and understands that the weeks leading up to the caucuses are crunch time.
Bubeck has met Bachmann several times and feels a special connection.
“On Sunday, we went to church with her, and she just turns around and looks at us and says, ‘I was on ‘Face the Nation,’ ” Bubeck says. “And it was almost like a friendship thing to say that. And she was so excited. I was able to introduce her to my husband for the first time, and she was so personable that both my husband and my son said, ‘OK, Mom, we know why you support Michele Bachmann.’ “
“They still might wonder where their dinner is some nights.”
Such is the sacrifice for families of the true believers.
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Dec 31 2011
by Magnus Gardham, Daily Record
johann lamont scottish labour leader Image 2
NEW Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont has used her New Year message to challenge Alex Salmond to call a 2012 referendum on independence.
She told the First Minister: “If you are confident of your case, stop ducking and diving and dodging and deflecting.
“Name your day and make 2012 the year of the referendum.”
Lamont, who won the leadership this month, added: “The longer Alex Salmond delays, the more it suggests he fears the verdict of the Scottish people.”
Salmond told voters shortly before the SNP’s thumping election victory that he would hold the vote in 2014, 2015 or 2016.
And in his own New Year message, he said 2012 would “mark a further shift in the debate on Scotland’s future as we move toward a referendum on independence in the second half of the parliament”.
Salmond said Scots such as James Watt, John Logie Baird and Alexander Fleming had helped “shape the modern world” by inventing the steam engine and television and discovering penicillin.
But he claimed: “If we are going to shape the future we must make some changes to the present – and that means taking more control over our destiny.
“I am confident Scotland will decide to take full control of our own destiny and join the international community in our own right.”
As well as a referendum question on independence, Salmond wants voters to be given the option of greater powers for Holyrood.
But Lamont said she would oppose a second question.
She said: “If we need new powers to renew Scotland, we will campaign for them and deliver them. But separation and devolution are completely different concepts which cannot be mixed together.”
Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson also demanded an immediate referendum in her New Year message. She branded Salmond an “agitator-in-chief”, picking fights with Westminster to fuel calls for separation.
Salmond accused the Con-Dems at Westminster of a “counter-productive obsession with austerity at all costs”.
And Scots Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie admitted in his message that his party had suffered badly from their alliance with the Tories.
Rennie said the deal had been “difficult for many to accept” and had seen the Lib Dems “nearly wiped off the map” in Scotland.
But he added: “However uncomfortable it is for me, for Liberal Democrats and for many of our supporters and former supporters, I know it was the right thing to do.”
It’s partly because of a Supreme Court decision that allowed unions, corporations and individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. As a result, new outside groups, known as super PACs (political action committees), that are aligned with the candidates sprang up. These groups have paid for an avalanche of hard-hitting TV and radio ads, as well as aggressive literature in mailboxes and harsh messages online.
31 December 2011
Last updated at 09:44
The Welsh government wants to improve ‘energy performance standards’ in new homes
Making homes more energy efficient will be one of the first aims of the Welsh government as it receives new powers.
Responsibility for building regulations is being transferred from the UK government on Saturday.
The Welsh government said the powers would lead to new homes that were much warmer and cheaper to heat.
House builders have previously raised concerns that changes would push up the cost of developing new homes.
Environment Minister John Griffiths said the new powers would help to ensure “sustainable and environmentally friendly construction in Wales”.
“One of our first actions will be to raise energy performance standards in new homes,” he said.
“As a government we are committed to reducing the carbon emissions of the built environment and to moving to building standards that will deliver housing that is much more energy efficient.
“We have already made significant efforts to achieve these aims through our planning policies. However we recognise that building regulations will be one of the key tools in helping us to reach our goals.”
Eight members of a Building Regulations Advisory Committee for Wales, which include house builders and architects, have been appointed.
The environment minister is expected to consult on the plans in March next year.
Redrow Homes chairman and founder Steve Morgan has previously criticised the Welsh government over a Welsh law which would make fire sprinklers compulsory in homes.
He said fewer homes would be built as developers would be deterred by the cost, particularly when added to any extra expenditure to meet the new building regulations on energy efficiency.
Mr Griffiths is expected to consult on the plans in March.
31 December 2011
Last updated at 00:09
The looming independence referendum has dominated New Year messages from Scotland’s four main political leaders.
First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond called on Scots to start taking control of their own destiny in 2012.
Labour’s Johann Lamont said a vote on independence should be held next year, while Conservative leader Ruth Davidson wants it “sooner rather than later”.
Willie Rennie acknowledged hard times electorally but said “strong” Lib Dem voices were still needed in Scotland.
ALEX SALMOND, SNP LEADER AND FIRST MINISTER
First Minister Alex Salmond called on Scots to live up to their country’s international reputation as a land of technological and scientific innovation and take control of their own destiny, in his New Year message.
But he said the country needed “the political and economic power to make the most of these strengths and resources”.
“The Scottish people have shown a hunger for more powers in order to secure a fairer, as well as a more prosperous future, and I believe optimism has been chosen over pessimism,” he said.
“My priority as First Minister as we go into 2012 is to ensure all Scots have the security and fulfilment that comes from the opportunity to work.
“That’s why we are investing in a range of capital projects to create jobs, guaranteeing an education or training place for every 16-19 year old and delivering 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year.
“With greater powers we could do so much more and we would be much less at risk from the UK’s counterproductive obsession with austerity at all costs.
“Next year will mark a further shift in the debate on Scotland’s future as we move towards a referendum on independence in the second half of the parliament.
“I am confident that Scotland will decide to take full control of our own destiny and join the international community in our own right.”
JOHANN LAMONT, SCOTTISH LABOUR LEADER
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont used her New Year message to “challenge Alex Salmond to make 2012 the year of the referendum”.
Ms Lamont also called for “urgent action to tackle unemployment” which she described as a “national crises”.
She said: “There are now over a quarter of a million Scots out of work. Unemployment has risen for the last three months. We now have higher unemployment than the UK as a whole. One in four young people is out of work. Scotland is in the grip of a national jobs crisis.
“We need to see a radical change of course. There is no doubt that what the Tories are doing is a disaster for the economy, but the Scottish government pointing and blaming someone else is not a sufficient economic response and does nothing to help those on the dole.”
Ms Lamont said she was offering to work with the Scottish government in efforts to curb unemployment but stressed that uncertainty over the country’s constitutional future must be addressed.
She said: “Like so many people, I love Scotland too much to believe in separation. But the SNP have won the right to hold a referendum on Scotland leaving the rest of the United Kingdom.
“There is nothing in the SNP manifesto which stops them from naming the day for a referendum now. They should get on with it. Waiting is holding Scotland back.
“I say to Alex Salmond – if you are confident of your case, stop ducking and diving and dodging and deflecting. Name your day and make 2012 the year of the referendum.”
RUTH DAVIDSON, SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVE LEADER
In her New Year message, Ruth Davidson called on Alex Salmond “to stop acting like an agitator-in-chief” and challenged him to hold a referendum on independence as soon as possible.
She also acknowledged “tough times” across the UK “since the full extent of Labour’s debt-and-deficit fantasy economics came home to roost”.
Ms Davidson said: “The medicine is a painful remedy but not acting would be catastrophic – think of the situations in Greece, Italy and Ireland. The UK coalition government is working hard and doing well in steading the ship and rebalancing the economy.
“Against this backdrop – when ordinary Scots are worried about their job, making ends meet and their children’s futures – it can seem anachronistic for Scottish politicians to spend so much time talking about the constitution.
“People are right to wonder why but it is the elephant in the room. I want nothing more than for Scottish MSPs to do what they were elected to do and for the Scottish government to do what it was elected to do – represent the people of Scotland and work hard to improve the health, education, justice and culture of our nation.
“Alex Salmond was elected First Minister of the devolved administration, but often acts like the agitator in chief.
“He is picking fights with Westminster, creating division to further his goal of separatism when what Scotland really needs and wants is both of its governments – in Westminster and Holyrood – working together to improve jobs, training and opportunities for all.
“That is why I believe we need a referendum that is clear, unambiguous and not open to legal challenge. And, as two thirds of Scots agree, we need it sooner rather than later.”
WILLIE RENNIE, SCOTTISH LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LEADER
In his message, Willie Rennie acknowledged difficult times for his party in Scotland after it had joined a coalition government at Westminster with the Conservatives.
He admitted it had been “nearly wiped off from the Scottish Parliamentary map” during May’s Holyrood election.
“I got it. I understood why that happened,” he said.
“But equally I am convinced that liberalism, not nationalism, will dominate Scottish political landscape in the years ahead. Our values are embedded in a rich seem of Scottish history and endure despite political setbacks.
“Our small team in the Scottish Parliament has shown over the last six months why we need strong liberal voices.
“On centralising of the police, places for college students, housing for those in need, the Supreme Court, equal marriage, riots, prison reform, sectarianism and so many other issues we have struck a strong liberal note whilst others have been silent or ineffective.
“My liberal vision is a Scotland which politicians in Holyrood give power away to local communities rather than horde it for themselves; makes decisions for the long term interest, not quick fixes; is socially mobile where people from all backgrounds get a chance to get up and on in the world; and is outward looking, maintain strong alliances with the rest of the UK family, Europe and the world.”
Mr Rennie compared the challenge of reversing his party’s fortunes to climbing a mountain, and added: “The party started to climb in May and we’re now able to look back to where we started. I am determined to keep on climbing in 2012 because Scotland needs strong liberal voices.”
31 December 2011
Last updated at 02:42
The Games will be an “incredible expression” of Britain’s culture and history, says Jeremy Hunt
The culture secretary has rejected claims that the London 2012 Games should be an “austerity” Olympics.
Jeremy Hunt told the Daily Telegraph that rather than cutting its budget, the economic downturn meant the event’s opportunities must be “harnessed”.
Mr Hunt said voters would not forgive the government if it failed to make the most of the Games.
The government has provided £9.3bn for the Games – up from an estimate of £2.4bn at the time of the bid in 2005.
Mr Hunt said: “You can take two attitudes to the Olympics. You can say: these are times of austerity and therefore we should pare them down as much as possible.
“Or, you can say: because these are times of austerity we need to do everything we possibly can to harness the opportunity of the Olympics.”
The minister said hosting the Olympics would have a “massively positive impact” on economic confidence.
Continue reading the main story
London 2012 – Begin your journey here
“We’re going to be the centre of global attention and it will be the first time that we’ve had a major sporting event that’s watched live by half the world’s population.
“People would not forgive us if we didn’t make the absolute most of this moment.
“This is going to be an incredible expression of Britain’s culture, Britain’s history and Britain’s creativity.
“So, we decided that the sensible thing to do is to make sure that we finance it properly.”
The government recently more than doubled the budget for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies – from £40m to £81m – after Prime Minister David Cameron saw the plans.
The extra money came from within the £9.3bn Olympic public funding package.
The venue security allocation has also risen by £271m to £553m after the estimated number of security guards required more than doubled from 10,000 to 23,700.
31 December 2011
Last updated at 00:28
Lord Carlile, 63, stepped down as terrorism legislation reviewer in 2011
Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile has been made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to national security.
The barrister was appointed to the role of independent reviewer of terrorism legislation on 11 September 2001 – hours before the US attacks.
Lib Dem MP Bob Russell and Conservative MP Roger Gale were both knighted while Labour’s Joan Ruddock becomes a dame.
And Baroness Hayman – the first elected Speaker of the House of Lords – becomes a Dame Grand Cross (GBE).
Thousands of honours are awarded each year – at New Year and the Queen’s official birthday in June – to recognise “merit, gallantry and service”, with recipients nominated by an individual or organisation, or a government department.
Stop and search
Lord Carlile spent a decade as the government’s terrorism legislation reviewer – largely under the previous Labour government – in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
The period saw much controversy over terrorism laws – including efforts to extend the time terrorism suspects could be held without charge to 90 days – which resulted in Tony Blair’s first Commons defeat as PM.
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Over the years I’ve been cited on both sides of most arguments, which satisfies me of the independence I sought to keep”
The 63-year-old QC has warned about the dangers of laws undermining human rights and criticised the increased use of police “stop and search” powers.
But he also supported the government’s controversial control orders, which put terrorism suspects under close supervision, and has criticised human rights rulings in Strasbourg which he said had made the UK a “safe haven” for suspected foreign terrorists.
He was replaced in the role by David Anderson at the start of 2011 and has since led an inquiry into child protection at Ealing Abbey in west London.
The peer said the honour was unexpected: “I was never looking for such a thing, but it’s nice for one’s work to be recognised.
“It was challenging and I had to be conscious every single day that I was independent of the government and independent of any lobbying or special interest group.
“In my view the task was to get it right, even if that involved satisfying nobody. Over the years I’ve been cited on both sides of most arguments, which satisfies me of the independence I sought to keep.”
Three MPs made it onto the list.
Mr Russell becomes a knight in recognition of his public service. The former journalist has been MP for Colchester since 1997, used to be the Essex town’s mayor and served as a borough councillor for 31 years.
Former TV producer and director Mr Gale, MP for North Thanet in Kent, was first elected in 1983 and has served on various committees – including home affairs and a former Conservative Party vice chairman.
He has been honoured for public and political services, as has Ms Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford since 1987, who made her name as a CND campaigner, environmentalist and feminist.
And Baroness Hayman was honoured for services to the House of Lords, where she became the first elected speaker in 2006, chairing debates in the upper chamber – a role that was previously carried out by the lord chancellor.
The former Labour minister, now a crossbench peer, is also a former chairwoman of Cancer Research UK and was made a life peer in 1996.
31 December 2011
Last updated at 16:39
A government review of data used to assess the risks posed by faulty breast implants is to be carried out, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.
Mr Lansley said the review was due to conflicting data on implant ruptures.
He reiterated government advice that the implants, which 40,000 UK women have, do not require routine removal.
The implants by French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) were banned last year after they were found to contain a non-medical-grade silicone filler.
Last week, French authorities recommended that 30,000 women have faulty breast implants removed as a precaution.
The French government will cover the cost of the removals.
Mr Lansley repeated the stance, expressed by the UK government last week, that there was “no evidence” of a safety concern over the implants.
But he said he was concerned by the content and quality of some data, which required further analysis to answer issues around rupture rates.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has previously indicated that its data suggests the risk of rupture is only 1%, rather than the 5% estimated in France.
It relys on data from private providers concerning safety problems with implants. Of the 40,000 implant operations, 95% were carried out in the private sector.
Continue reading the main story
Now that the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has ordered a review of the safety data on the banned PIP breast implants, we may be closer to solving a puzzle.
The puzzle is this – why did the French medical watchdog find that the implants have a 5% rupture rate, whereas the equivalent body here, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), found a 1% rupture rate – no worse than other makes?
Yesterday, a significant private health provider gave conflicting new evidence which revealed a higher rupture rate than their previous submitted data.
This prompted Mr Lansley to launch a review of the evidence.
Although this announcement means a further period of uncertainty for many women, the speed of the review should mean that they will have clearer answers about the safety of the implants within a matter of a week or so.
On Friday a significant private health provider gave conflicting new evidence which revealed a higher rupture rate than their previous submitted data.
Mr Lansley said the NHS Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, had been asked to launch a review into PIP breast implants and scrutinise the data.
The group of experts will report back to ministers next week.
Mr Lansley said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure that women with these implants get the best possible advice.
“So far all the evidence from around the world suggests that women should not be worried and that there have not been abnormal levels of problems reported with these implants. But if any woman is worried, then they should contact their surgeon or GP.”
No cancer risk
In France, eight cases of cancer have been reported in women with the implants but authorities in the country say these are not necessarily linked to faulty implants.
One woman with an anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) cancer died. However, French and US experts have said there appears to be a small increased risk of this kind of rare cancer with any brand of implant.
The authorities in France and Britain have said categorically that the PIP implants do not carry a breast cancer risk.
PIP used non-medical-grade silicone believed to be made for mattresses, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). This meant the low-cost devices were more likely to split.
PIP went into administration last year and the use of its implants was banned. At least 250 British women are taking legal action against the clinics that treated them.
More than 300,000 implants are believed to have been sold globally by PIP over the last 12 years in some 65 countries.
More than half of its exports went to South America, including to Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. In Brazil, some 25,000 women are believed to have had the implants, according to the AFP news agency.
Western Europe was another major market. In addition to the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and Ukraine are known to have imported PIP silicon sacs.