Will the three Gs matter in Iowa?

In the first and most important caucus state, the GOP candidates are putting "gays, guns and God" is

Iowa, as one US citizen put it, is a place with pictures of piglets on postcards (PPPP, if you will). In other words, it is representative of rural America; a state in the "American Heartland" that is rich in cornfields and farmers, who receive $5 Billion a year in ethanol subsidies. "Sure, downsize government, but don't think about touching my farm subsidy," is the general feel within the state. It comes as no surprise, then, that the GOP candidates have treaded carefully over the issue of corn subsidies in the first and most important caucus state.

But another acronym may carry weight in the PPPP state- that of the three Gs (gays, guns and God). The acronym was used by Thomas Frank in his book What's the matter with kansas to explain why poor white Americans would vote for the Republican party- one that offers tax cuts for the wealthy and supports cutting government wellfare.

Iowa has always been an important state because of it's first-in-the-nation status, and since the Iowa primaries come earlier, they are litmus test of sorts. Other states resent this status, using the argument that it is too small, too white and too rural to represent the American demos.

But historically, it has always been considered the key to nomination. Out of 16 Iowa winners, 11 have become their party's candidate (six democrats-Carter, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; and five Republicans- Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush, and Bush).

But will the three Gs hold sway in Iowa in the same way that it has done in the past? In a rural state with a high number of social conservatives, where half of the republican electorate are evangelicals- it would make sense. The Republicans have great pride in having a strong evangelical base. But this year, with unemployment at 9 per cent and ubiquitous house foreclosures, it seems that whether a candidate believes in the same God, or the same religious values, might not be that important as divine intervention in the form of a candidate who will guide the American people through tough economic times.

A recent Gallup poll conducted in early 2011 reported that more than half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 27 per cent in 1997. And in Iowa, gay marriage became legal in 2009 through the courts, although a 2010 poll showed that 44 per cent of Iowans were against same-sex marriage- the only state in the US with same-sex marriage in which support was below half. Indeed, in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who ruled homosexuals should be allowed to marry were kicked out of their positions in a historic decision by voters. It was the first time since 1962 that any justices had been brushed off.

And when it comes to guns, President Obama seems to be protecting the right to bear arms enough, with little if no mention of fire-arms and no legislation against it.

Over at the NY Tiimes Opinionator, Timothy Egan argued that the three Gs could do more harm than good to Republican candidates in 2012:

"Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney's Mormonism, and Gingrich's switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich's case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives. Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it's by accident?"

A recent New York TImes/CBS News poll suggests that voter's concerns are mainly about jobs and the economy (40 per cent) and the budget deficit (23 per cent), with only nine per cent saying their concern was social issues.

But Republican candidates seem to be flirting with the three Gs. Rick Perry released an add titled "Strong" about why he is a christian and criticising "Obama's war on religion". And in the December 15 GOP candidates debate in Iowa, there were plenty of questions on morality. Newt Gingrich (who is leading the polls with 26 per cent) was attacked for once suggesting he supported Republicans who support some abortion rights. Romney was attacked by Fox host Chris Wallace, who suggested he Romney shifted positionsguns and gay-related issues since running for for senate 17 years ago. "In 1994 and throughout my career, I've said I oppose same-sex marriage," he shot back.

If the three Gs apply anywhere else, it is in Iowa, where far-right conservatism seems to be a safe bet. But with Americans angrier than ever about the state of the country (a recent CNN poll asked the question: Are you angry about the state of the country, with 74 per cent answering yes) the three Gs and moral issues might not carry the same weight as in the past.

 

 

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The wildfire victims of forestry neglect – and the trees that saved them

Events in Portugal show how present mismanagement of the natural world reaches far beyond climate change, while also leaving communities more vulnerable to its effects.

When guesthouse owner Liedewij Schieving first heard about the wildfire in nearby Pedrogado Grande, she wasn’t overly concerned. “We always have fires here,” she explains at her home deep in the central Portugese forest.

It was only later that night, eating outside with her 11 guests, that the fear set in: “The wind was starting to smell and the sunset looked weird and dark.” By early the next morning the vast wall of flames had breached their remote valley. “I’ve never been in a war,” Liedewij says, still shaken, “but it was how I imagine war to sound.”

Soaring to temperatures of over 800 centigrade - high enough to melt windscreens and sink tyres into tarmac - the inferno eventually burned over 30,000 hectares of forest. By the time it was quelled, 64 adults and children had lost their lives, some dying trapped in their cars as they tried to escape down an unsafe road. “The biggest tragedy of human life we have known in years,” is how the country’s Prime Minister responded to the news on 18 June.

Two months later, the Pedrogado fire has proved the precusor to another summer of extreme weather events. Across southern and central Europe recent weeks have seen high winds and low humidity whip up wildfires everywhere from Spain to Serbia. At time of writing, 2,000 people in Portugal are trapped in the town of Mação as flames and smoke block their exit. In France, fires recently forced over 20,000 people from their homes and campervans.

Climate change is an unmistakable culprit. A Carbon Brief analysis of 140 studies from around the world found that 63 per cent of extreme weather events are linked to human-caused warming - making them either more likely or more severe.

Yet as countries assess the damage, evidence of humanity’s wider mismanagement of nature is also becoming harder to ignore. In Portugal, the excessive planting of eucalytpus trees is taking some of the blame for recent events. The species is the timber of choice for the country’s powerful paper industry, covering both industry-owned plantations and hundreds of tiny private smallholdings who sell it on. But it also happens to be highly flammable: think Grenfell cladding but spread over nearly a million hectares of land.

Liedewij’s story is evidence of this. Where dense eucalyptus forest once hid her home in dappled shade, the hillside is now charred and bare. “It was terrible,” she says of the moment she opened the gates for the farm animals before fleeing the valley, “we thought we were leaving them behind to grill”. Except that, as in all good disaster films, Liedewij’s goats didn’t burn - and nor did her picturesque house. Instead, fire-retardant willow trees by a nearby stream held the flames naturally at bay. On returning the next morning, she even found the hens laying eggs.

Liedewij Schieving outside her B&B at Quinta da Fonte - the bare hills behind the house show just how close the fire came.

Seen from above, her remote farmstead is now a tiny island of green amid a sea of black. She still panics at the smell from the woodfired heating, but support has poured in from friends both in Portugal and her native Holland, and she soon plans to fully re-open Quinta da Fonte B&B. Many guesthouses in nearby villages have already got back up and running.

Others among her neighbours, however, are not so lucky. Over 10,000 separate fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares of land in Portugal this year alone, with the annual cost of wildfire losses estimated to reach around €200m. A situation that risks further perpetuating the cycle of poverty and neglect that also played their part in the tragedy.

According to Domingos Patacho from the environmental NGO Quercus, the forest has become more hazardous as many of central Portugal's thousands of smallscale landholders leave their land untended to seek better wages elsewhere. Meanwhile, those who remain are often financially dependent on the income from the eucalyptus. They could choose to plant less flammable and water-hungry species, such as native corks or oaks, Patacho explains, but these can take twice as long to mature and provide a return.

The result is rising tension between the Portugese paper industry and the central government. After the June fire, the parliament pledged to push ahead with plans to limit the monoculture plantations. But the country’s Association of the Paper industry has previously warned that any ban on new plantations could hurt exports and jobs.

The reality is that both sides of the eucalyptus spread - both industry-owned and private - need improved regulation. But in a country only recently released from EU imposed austerity measures, debates over how enforcement could be financed are particularly tense. Not least since many areas do not even have an up to date land register, Patacho expplains.

At ESAC, an agrarian research base in central Portugal, professor Antonio Ferreira believes the time is now ripe for discussion between politicians, citizens and researchers about the future of forest land-use as a whole. The country needs to encourage people “to re-introduce native species, which will diversify the landscape and economic activity in those areas,” he says.

And the impulse is far from limited to Portugal. “We need to look at all the social aspects to get the full picture as well as the scientific side of forest management,” says WWF’s Jabier Ruiz of Europe’s wider wildfire problems. One route out of the woods may be greater EU policy support for those living in marginalised, rural areas, he adds.

What is clear is that as the continent warms, the need to improve the balance between social, environmental and commercial interests becomes ever more crucial. And while politicians debate, work at Liedewij’s home is already underway. Over the next few weeks, a group of her eco-minded friends, builders and topographers will help her re-build and re-landscape her farm. From digging terraces to stop landslides, to preventing the eucalyptus from re-emerging too close to the roads, their aim is to regrow a forest that works for all: a slow-burn project perhaps, but a bright one.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.