01 Feb

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


With Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump setting the tone, conventional political wisdom has had little place in the 2016 presidential race

iowa snow

Iowa, before the storm. Photograph: David Taylor for the Guardian

The rural, snow-frosted landscape of Iowa is so sparse, the horizon so broad and the sky so huge that weather can declare itself with great ceremony. Rain, sleet and snow don’t just happen to you here – when the clouds part, you can see them coming.

As Iowans gather at caucus sites on Monday night to be the first people in the United States to help pick the next president, a blizzard will barrel over the plains. By the next morning, it will have dumped several inches of snow on the state as it heads north-west, leaving a trail of chaos and disruption.

This remains about the only clear prediction that anyone can make about what Iowa will look and feel like come Tuesday. This American primary season has been too volatile, dissentious and just plain eccentric for any over-confident forecast prior to the event.

The old rules, regarding financing, policy, gaffes, accuracy and media management, have ceased to apply. In normal times, for a candidate to call himself a ‘socialist’, skip the final debate, denigrate entire religious and national groups or have her emails the subject of a federal inquiry would damage, if not destroy, that candidate’s prospects. An endorsement by Iowa’s main paper, the Des Moines Register, was once universally regarded as a coveted prize; today, some see its support of Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio as a liability that paints them as establishment candidates.

And appearances can be deceptive. Some of the people who waited for close to two hours in sub-freezing temperatures in Marshalltown, Iowa to see Donald Trump were Democrats who came for the show, others might be categorised as celebrity seekers who had no intention of caucusing……………..


Tensions running high between courts, family attorneys and child protective services, who are unsure where lines are drawn in a world of legalized cannabis

Raymond Schwab

Raymond Schwab with his family in undated photo. ‘People who don’t understand the medical value of cannabis are tearing my family apart,’ said the father of five. Photograph: Courtesy of Raymond Schwab

When Raymond Schwab talks about his case, his voice teeters between anger and sadness.

“People who don’t understand the medical value of cannabis are tearing my family apart,” says the Kansas father of five and US veteran, who has a prescription for marijuana in neighboring Colorado, where it is legal.

Nine months ago, Schwab tried to move to Colorado to grow medical marijuana for fellow veterans. While he and his wife were there preparing for the move, the state of Kansas took their five children into custody on suspicion of child endangerment, ensnaring his family in interstate marijuana politics.

Cases like the Schwabs’ have become a lightning rod for marijuana activists and have left courts, family attorneys and Child Protective Services (CPS) unsure of where the lines are drawn in this brave new world of legalized cannabis.

“There’s still a stigma against parents who use medical marijuana,” says Jennifer Ani, a family law attorney who says she sees around five similar cases a month – in 95% of which she believes the child was in no reasonable danger. “As much as marijuana is a moving target throughout the nation, with Child Protective Services it’s even more so.”

She says that concerns about contact-highs or children eating raw cannabis are often cited but are not scientifically sound arguments that a child is in danger. Contact-highs have been widely discredited as a myth, and cannabis must be cooked before it can get you high………………

Isis-claimed attack near Shia mosque leaves dozens of people dead, while airstrikes and sieges across the country continue to afflict civilians

The aftermath of a bomb attack on Sayyda Zeinab, Damascus, on Sunday.

The aftermath of a bomb attack on Sayyda Zeinab, Damascus, on Sunday. Photograph: Uncredited/AP

Fifty people were killed and dozens more injured on Sunday in coordinated bombings near a Shia Muslim shrine in Damascus as Syrian government and opposition officials exchanged accusations at long-awaited UN peace talks in Geneva. The attacks were claimed by Islamic State (Isis).

Syrian state media said the first blast was caused by a car bomb and then two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the revered Sayyida Zeinab mosque in the south of the capital, a site of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. Broadcasts from the scene showed footage of burning buildings, a huge crater in the road, and charred and wrecked vehicles.

“Two soldiers of the caliphate carried out martyrdom operations in a den of the infidels in the Sayyida Zeinab area, killing nearly 50 and injuring around 120,” Isis said in a statement circulated on social media.

It was one of the worst attacks in a government-controlled area of Damascus and one where there has been a strong presence of Hezbollah and other Shia militia forces in recent months. It served as another vicious and bloody reminder of what is at stake in the Geneva talks, which are yet to produce anything more than anodyne statements by both parties.

Airstrikes by both Syrian and Russian warplanes have continued unabated, as have sieges of 15 areas where hundreds of thousands of people are living in rapidly deteriorating conditions. The opposition Syrian national coalition said on Sunday that 34 civilians, including three women and six children, had been killed since the Swiss talks formally opened last Friday – a week after the talks were originally scheduled………….


Ted Cruz has presented ‘misleading’ information in the Senate, scientists say, while Marco Rubio rejects ‘destroying our economy’ – despite pleas for action coming from officials in his own state

A woman walks through a flooded street that was caused by the combination of the lunar orbit which caused seasonal high tides and what many believe is the rising sea levels due to climate change, in September in Miami Beach, Florida.

A woman walks through a flooded street that was caused by the combination of the lunar orbit which caused seasonal high tides and what many believe is the rising sea levels due to climate change, in September in Miami Beach, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

They have bloviated about carpet bombing, bickered about walls, and waxed anti-Muslim and -migrant, but over more than 16 hours of debate, the Republican candidates for president have almost entirely ignored what most of the world fears most: the rising tides and temperatures of climate change.

Last week, Fox News moderators asked only one question relevant to climate change, about whether Florida senator Marco Rubio would support regulation to lower emissions. Rubio said he would not: “I do not believe that we have to destroy our economy in order to protect our environment.”

On the trail, former Florida governor Jeb Bush interjected to say the free market would resolve climate change before government could.

“There’s someone in a garage somewhere,” he said, “parochially I hope it’s in Miami, that’s going to have a clue, to have an answer to this.”

Miami will settle for anyone doing something – so long as it’s before environmental changes driven by humans destroy the city’s economy. Late last week, Mayor Tomás Regalado joined 14 other south Florida mayors in signing an open letter to Rubio, asking him to give up his opposition to climate change action.

The low-lying city and its nearby resorts and islands suffer near-yearly floods from rising sea levels, costing the city hundreds of millions. The mayors warned that a 1ft increase in sea level could “wipe out as much as $4bn” in real estate, and 3ft could cost $31bn and swallow large sections of the Florida Keys and greater Miami area……………

US politics


Both of America’s main political parties need to ask themselves big questions that reflect changed times not old battles. Only the Democrats seem capable of doing so

Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate

(L-R) Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate on 14 January 2016. ‘The party’s larger problem is that neither Mr Trump nor Mr Cruz offers a route back to the electorate from long years of collective conservative psychodrama.’ Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty

In a more perfect democracy than America’s dysfunctional system, it might be possible to depict the 2016 US presidential election process that finally begins in earnest in Iowa this week as an opportunity. The six months before the nominating conventions could enable two contrastingly bruised parties to reflect on their past, to look to their future and to plot paths and priorities for America and the world that will engage a majority of voters. Both Republicans and Democrats have much to reflect on: the Republicans on why they so often have failed to win recent presidential contests; the Democrats on why victory in four of the last six White House races has not been matched by congressional success but instead marked by serious reverses.

Hillary Clinton goes into the process as the favourite to emerge in July with the Democratic nomination. She has a formidable record. The opportunity to elect her as America’s first female president is historic. But she is also a lacklustre campaigner, a divisive figure whom many mistrust, and an establishment candidate in an era in which voters across the world are looking to outsiders as never before.

Mrs Clinton is also the candidate of continuity with a more prosperous era in which her party embraced corporate America, not least when her husband was president. Those days are in the past now, and America feels more threatened and unequal than it did in the boom years following the cold war. The country is still big, powerful and rich; but median household income is almost $4,000 lower than eight years ago and college leavers are on average $35,000 in the red. The legacy of her support for unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still lingers, as it did in 2008.

Hence the appeal of the leftwing Bernie Sanders. He is mounting a strong challenge and may do well in the early contests. But at least Mr Sanders forces the Democrats to focus on the right big question raised through the Obama years: how to equip their party to try to build a fairer and more inclusive America in the face of the continuing radicalisation of American conservatism………………..



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