a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Poor Romney. Maybe.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th November 2012

The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Murray and Patrick O’Connor propose a surprising, but well-reported theory why Romney lost the 2016 election. Despite 2012 being the most expensive election in American history at $6 billion (NYTimes), Romney’s campaign failed for lack of money! — lack of money at the right time, that is:

The GOP nominee emerged late last spring from a long and bruising Republican primary season more damaged than commonly realized. His image with voters had eroded as he endured heavy attacks from Republicans over his business record. He also felt compelled to take a hard line on immigration—one that was the subject of debate among his advisers—that hurt his standing with Hispanic voters.

The Romney campaign decided to prioritize fundraising, but…

… in the eyes of top aides in both campaigns, that early summer period when Mr. Romney was busy fundraising was perhaps the biggest single reason he lost the election.  The Obama campaign spent heavily while Mr. Romney couldn’t, launched a range of effective attacks on the Republican nominee and drove up voters’ negative perceptions of Mr. Romney.  The problem: Mr. Romney had burned through much of his money raised for the primaries, and by law, he couldn’t begin spending his general-election funds until he accepted the GOP nomination late in the summer.

Digby, at “Hullabaloo,” dismisses the theory (“the silliest rationalization for his loss yet”), wondering why Romney didn’t dip into his own millions, if he was in such dire straits in the early summer.  She’s one of my favorite pundits — she ought to be writing for the Post or the Times — and this is a good question that should have been answered in the article. (A possible answer is that even rich people prefer spending other people’s millions when possible, and their own only when necessary.) But Digby might also admit it’s pretty telling that what Romney actually did — whether because he was cheap, or because he had to — was to fundraise in the early summer, instead of campaigning in swing states or fighting back hard with ad buys of his own.

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GOP soul searching is something to see

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th November 2012

After Romney loss, GOP soul searching begins” (CBS); “Election aftermath: GOP soul-searching: ‘Too old, too white, too male’? “(Politico); “After stinging loss, GOP soul searching begins” (USA Today); etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  It’s tempting to suggest there’s an unproven premise in each of these headlines, but I’m not theologically qualified to go there.  Instead, I want to discuss just a few of the more archetypal, classic conservative responses I’ve run across to Obama’s workmanlike defeat of Romney on Tuesday.  I have no idea if any of them will feature as the Right’s deepest response to “What just happened to us? What now?”  It may be that Republican stalwarts will simply choose first one and then another from one occasion to the next, as needed, convenient, and/or comforting.

America was not worthy of us (Kevin Williamson, National Review):

“…offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives. This is what Oakeshott had in mind when he wrote that liberty was something that many people simply are not equipped to “enjoy as an opportunity rather than suffer as a burden.[…]

Though the article is ostensibly about “How Romney Lost,” this passage is clearly more about Mr. Williamson’s self-image and outraged sensibilities than it is an attempt to understand events around him.  In the “Easy to be Hard” chapter of his extremely interesting book “The Reactionary Mind,” Corey Robin summarizes this kind of thinking as one of the central features of conservatism (which, in his well-argued view, almost always boils down to a reactionary response to class insubordination).  Robin writes: “If the ruling class is to be vigorous and robust, the conservative has concluded, its members must be tested, exercised, and challenged” — the burden must be borne.  He also quotes ur-conservative Edmund Burke: “The subordinate turn on reliefs, gratifications, and indulgences; and are therefore more lovely, though inferior in dignity.  Those persons who creep into the hearts of most people, who are chosen as the companions of their softer hours, and their reliefs from care and anxiety, are never persons of shining qualities, nor strong virtues.” It’s as if Burke was there on the FOX News set with O’Reilly and Rove on Tuesday night, shaking his head as soft America scorned the virtues of shining, predatory capitalism.

They lie! they’re the ones who do the stuff they say we do (Karl Rove):

“The president, he succeeded by suppressing the vote. By saying to people, ‘you may not like who I am and I know you can bring yourself to vote for me, but I’m going to paint this other guy as simply a rich guy who only cares about himself.’ 53% in the exit polls said that on election that Mitt Romney’s policies only helped the rich and they voted for Obama by a 9-1 margin,” Karl Rove said on FOX News today.

As Joshua Green noticed back in 2004, Rove loves to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable,” e.g., start a whisper campaign that an opponent known for caring about children’s issues is a pedophile.  This is a related tactic: take charges leveled against his side — e.g., vote suppression in this case — and simply recycle them as charges, however absurd, against his opponents.  It’s a neat verbal trick — simultaneously minimizing the meaning of the concept of vote suppression, and turning it to his own advantage.  But it’s a tactician’s reflex, not a leader’s answer.  Democrats should hope Rove — a now discredited wielder of SuperPAC millions — stays in the discussion with his empty rhetorical gimmicks and grifter’s mentality.

We didn’t lie enough (Tom Knapp, “Libertarian Republican”):

“This takes me back to January, when I asserted that Newt Gingrich was the only candidate who had both a shot at the GOP nomination and a chance of beating Obama. Gingrich will piss down your back and tell you it’s raining — and if you turn around and catch him with his pecker still out and dripping, he’ll get huffy and ask you if you believe him or your own lying eyes. The only time Romney showed that kind of backbone was with his “Jeep is getting ready to move to China” play, which failed not so much because it was a bald-faced lie as because it was a bald-faced lie aimed precisely at the only constituency in America who knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it was a bald-faced lie (voters in Ohio’s auto manufacturing areas).”

Nixon biographer (“Nixonland”) Rick Perlstein , writing for Baffler, tells of a conservative conference he attended as a speaker.  After listing example after example of conservative “exuberants” (Nixon’s term) blithely lying , cheating, and ratfucking their way to victory, the first prominent conservative rose to tell him during the question period, “I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.”  Perlstein’s contention: “Lying is an initiation into the conservative elite. In this respect, as in so many others, it’s like multilayer marketing: the ones at the top reap the reward—and then they preen, pleased with themselves for mastering the game. Closing the sale, after all, is mainly a question of riding out the lie: showing that you have the skill and the stones to just brazen it out, and the savvy to ratchet up the stakes higher and higher.


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Thoughts on Lawyers, Guns and Money at the End of an Election Cycle

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th November 2012

Dear sirs,

Thomas Nephew


As I’ve noted before, the level of disrespect and intolerance for alternative left viewpoints at the well-known “Lawyers, Guns & Money” blog and elsewhere bothers me.  So I’ve rewritten my comments here, and hope that a simple chart and reasoned discourse are better than the angry post I started off with.  Let us read  Robert Kuttner:

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I voted for Jill Stein. Global warming is one reason why.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd November 2012

This Jill Stein ad only scratches the surface of the two-party pro-carbon consensus on display during the debates she was locked out of — and you know it:

  • “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.” (Obama, Oct 16 debate)
  • “I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal.” (Romney, Oct 4 debate)
  • “…we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter.” (Obama, Oct 16 debate)

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  At one point, Obama even took Romney to task for closing a coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts.

And that may not be the only consensus you’re excluded from with Obama and Romney: they share the same regrettable outlook on austerity, on growing the military, on preserving a system of all-but-untrammeled financial predation, on pushbutton drone assassinations(-plus-bystanders)(-plus-rescuers), on wholesale warrantless surveillance, on pre-emptive prosecutions, on indefinite detentions.

I voted for Jill Stein yesterday. Global warming is one reason why. No matter where you live, but especially if you’re in a “safe” state — one where one of the two major party candidates is far ahead, e.g., CA, CT, DC, GA, MA, MD (like me), ME, MO, NJ, NY, PA, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, or WA — I think you should strongly consider it.

Voting for a third party candidate in yet another “most important election ever” sends a message — to be sure, one it’s best to amplify with blog posts, letters to the editor, tweets, and whatever other means you have to hand.  But it also helps future Green Party candidates get on the ballot — both indirectly, by drawing attention to a party whose values you share, and directly, by helping them qualify for the ballot more easily. You’ll likely be glad to have that choice in the years ahead. Give that choice a chance with your vote.

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Emergency Management, Climate Denialist Parties tied; Disaster Prevention Party distant third

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st November 2012

So far, the Obama administration appears to be doing a good enough job with post-Sandy relief efforts that even Republican governor Chris Christie has been effusive in his appreciation.  Adding to the surreal atmosphere was the Return of Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown, criticizing the Obama administration for being  too quick with their federal response — and then doubled down the next day asserting that Obama hadn’t got enough political mileage out of the disaster.  With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Get ready for more like this.

As Democrats bask in the glow of being the Party of Better Emergency Management, though, some voters were on the lookout for a little more: a commitment to fighting the global warming that’s fueling ever more frequent and powerful weather disasters — heck, even just acknowledgement of the problem.

We sure haven’t seen it in the presidential debates;  after the second debate, Charles Pierce of Esquire noted,

On Tuesday night, we had two guys arguing about who’s a bigger friend to coal, about who will allow the most oil drilling on federal land, and about who will best extract the most carbon-based fuels out from under the country over the next four years.

With that kind of leadership as a backdrop, I’ve seen discussions literally comparing New Yorkers — and perhaps coastal dwellers everywhere — to the Jews in pre-Holocaust Germany: doomed unless they leave or unless they’re saved by a political miracle, and wondering what it is that is paralyzing all of us from taking sensible action.  The fear is not far-fetched; it turns out to be an engineering exercise.   According to a Nature Climate Change article (Lin et al, Jan 2012):

…the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs [global climate models] show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1m SLR may cause the present NYC 100-yr surge flooding to occur every 3–20yr and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25–240yr by the end of the century.

(Via Corey Robin; emphases added.) Realizations like this shouldn’t just result in support for higher seawalls, though; it should re-energize political support for addressing global warming itself.

It seems to me we have an obvious opportunity to do that: if you’re in a “safe” state where Obama leads Romney by a wide margin or vice versa — like New York —  voting Green next Tuesday ought to be a pretty simple, low-risk, high gain experiment.*  A lot of people are on the verge of really getting it about global warming — but others are on the verge of giving up about it. Let’s raise our hands, vote Green, and show them all — and Democratic apparatchiks besides — that there could be a “fight global warming” bandwagon to get on.

You should follow up your “vote” message with some “messages about your vote”: letters to the editor, Facebook posts, tweets, and/or musical productions explaining what you’ve done and why; there may well be other reasons, from the war on civil liberties and human rights to the war on the safety net to the possibility of war with Iran.  But I would stress Hurricane Sandy, because people get that pretty easily right now.

Sure, there’s no guarantee the message will be received, or that it will be acted on.  But if you’d like your message to be heard, you’ve got to send it.

UPDATE, 11/1: Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On (The Onion)
* If you’re in a swing state, vote Green too, *if* Stein really represents your views best — there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that, Obama never owned your vote, he can only earn it or lose it. I’d vote Stein in Ohio this year, because Obama lost my vote. And while I get why many would not, I think it should be because they, on balance, really *prefer* Obama over Stein when *all* is said and done — and not out of some misplaced sense of shame about otherwise helping Romney win.

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Greens: reject Ellsberg’s advice, or don’t – just don’t run away from it

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th October 2012

October 23 video of discussion between Daniel Ellsberg , Matt Stoller (Roosevelt Institute, “naked
capitalism”), Emily Hauser, (Daily Beast), and Ben Manski (campaign manager for Green Party
presidential candidate Jill Stein), moderated by Huffington Post’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin.

An article by Daniel Ellsberg and a reply tweet by Matt Stoller set the stage for a very interesting online roundtable last Tuesday attended remotely by Ellsberg, Stoller,  Emily Hauser (a blogger for the Daily Beast ) — and the disappointing Ben Manski, campaign manager for Jill Stein’s presidential campaign.

Daniel Ellsberg’s October 18 article “Progressives: In Swing States, Vote for Obama” was probably not a hit at the White House; the recommendation was despite seeing Obama as “a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together.” But Matt Stoller — a one time staffer for Representative Alan Grayson — caustically summarized the inherent contradiction: “Daniel Ellsberg argues for both the impeachment of and reelection of Barack Obama.”

My point here won’t be to review Stoller’s arguments — developed more fully a few days later in “The Progressive Case Against Obama” — though I think they’re well worth considering, and though I think replies have generally been of the familiar, bullying, spluttering “policing the left” quality I saw in responses to Conor Friedersdorf’s foreign policy/human rights Obama critique in September.

Instead, I want to take up Ellsberg’s arguments during the roundtable — because they went quite a bit beyond merely urging “tactical” voting by progressive voters in swing states.  Ellsberg *:

The two women who are running for the Green Party […] as I said, I’ll probably vote for her or for Rocky Anderson […]  On the other hand, I do object to the idea that he and Jill Stein and [Cheri Honkala] do, will, by their way of running, in the swing states, whether you regard them as 3 or 4 or as many as 12 or 13 […] are running in those and peeling off a net balance of Democratic voters.  They are increasing the chance of Roe v. Wade will be eliminated.  I think that is not a position that a progressive of any kind should be in, let alone a feminist one. I’m actually amazed, I think they’re acting very counterproductively for their own cause overall.  […]

Among progressives, there shouldn’t be disagreement on Roe v. Wade.  And I’m afraid that Stein is acting, by running not only in the 35 to 40 states where she would not be increasing the chance of Roe v. Wade being overturned, she’s also running in the states where she *is* helping Roe v. Wade be overturned.

So not only are voters counterproductive for contemplating a Stein vote in a swing state, Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are bad for running in one.  Not only that, Ellsberg had earlier asserted that “urging other people, getting a leverage, [having] an influence on a large number or a small number” — i.e., Joe Birkenstock with his lawn sign — was similarly wrong.

Of course, advising against third party campaigns or advocacy when they allegedly increase the chances of an undesirable outcome (i.e., Romney in 2012, or Bush in 2000) is the logical consequence of advising against third party votes in such situations.  But it’s also an illustration of what’s wrong with Ellsberg’s position — at least if you value the actual exercise of free speech, freedom of association, or a vigorous contest of ideas in our country, as opposed to merely genuflecting in the general direction of those values.  Ellsberg would have a Stein or a Nader short-circuit their own campaigns and abandon their own supporters in states whenever it might benefit the worst alternative to their victory.  Since by Ellsberg’s logic that’s roughly “always,” third party campaigns are doomed to “Groundhog Day” like re-enactments of these arguments every four years, for ever and ever, amen.

Worse, I think, it’s not clear when that ought to begin, or where that logic ends.  It was relatively clear that Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, and North Carolina would be 2012 “swing states” — big enough to matter, close enough to be in doubt — ever since, oh, 2008, when they were exactly the same thing.  It was also relatively clear that Obama would face a tough re-election since at least 2010.  Taken to its logical conclusion, Ellsberg is saying Stein was wrong to even try to qualify for the ballot in those states.

So what did Manski have to say to all this?


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Change we can accomplish

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th October 2012

Via Facebook, I see that an old California friend, Melinda Welsh, has written an editorial — in her capacity as founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review — urging Barack Obama’s re-election: Past/president/future: This time, it’s about change we can accomplish. We’ve corresponded a little about this before; we disagreed, but amicably, I think.   So I hope it will be OK to disagree again, a (very) little more publicly this time.

I know she’s sincere.  I know there are many more who agree with her than will agree with me — and I recommend her article to them, it’s thoughtful and well written.  But I still think Ms. Welsh doesn’t make the case she sets out to make, whether about Obama’s skeptics and the reasons not to vote for him, or more broadly about the change she thinks we can — or rather can’t — accomplish.

Straw man skeptics
First, readers are given a straw man version of Obama skeptics, one that says we just want to “punish President Obama [for not achieving all that was hoped for].”

Not at all.  The NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions, for those deemed simply supportive of groups associated with terrorist organizations; the drone kill list/”disposition matrix”, up to and including extrajudicial assassinations of Americans; a radically expanded warrantless surveillance state; chilling, tragic, trumped-up persecutions and prosecutions of Muslim-Americans, activists, and whistle-blowers; a new war without Congressional approval: these aren’t worthwhile, unaccomplished to-do items, these are deplorable, accomplished to-do items.

Worse, they’re betrayals of what Obama professed to be and was understood by supporters to be in his first presidential campaign: one who used soaring language to reject “a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand,” one who affirmed that a president “does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack,” one who acknowledged that the president did not have “inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants.”

His administration, his supporters, or both?

Maybe these are secondary issues to many readers, or they are by now. OK, everyone is different, everyone has different priorities.  But maybe, too, all too many of us have given up on what we wanted and on what we thought we were getting.  My recollection of Obama’s 2008 campaign was that it was fueled by hope for change — hope for a real, fundamental repudiation of the Bush era.  Obama evoked that hope time and again in his 2008 stump speech every time he tied McCain to Bush, every time he promised voters could “finally put an end to the Bush-McCain philosophy.” 

Instead, “Yes We Can” was followed by “But We Won’t.” (And by now, they’re even giving themselves awards for that.)

Especially in California (where I understand Obama has a very comfortable lead), Americans on the left have an opportunity to …well, yes, I suppose it is to punish Obama for these betrayals. But that wouldn’t just be because he didn’t do enough (though there are very strong cases to be made there as well).  It’s also because he’s done the wrong things, things he said he wouldn’t do. That’s not self-centered or starry-eyed, that is what democracy looks like: you say you’ll do something I want, I vote for you; you do the opposite, I don’t vote for you again.  Break the contract — lose my vote.

As good as it gets?
Where I also part ways with Ms. Welsh on her underlying analysis of what is and is not intrinsically possible, summed up by her claim that “Obama is, in every way, as good as we’re ever going to get.”  Again, not at all.  For one thing, we didn’t even get Obama — not the guy we thought we were working so hard to elect, that is.  (Me, too.)  “Yes, We Can” was true if the question was “can the American left elect a promising candidate?”  “No, we didn’t” is just the answer to whether we got a candidate who lived up to that promise, and to our achievement: his election.

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Your patriotic musical point counterpoint

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th October 2012

Jose Feliciano sings the national anthem
National League Championship Series, San Francisco, 10/14/12
(via Latino Rebels, who provide the back story)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Meat Loaf performs major musical malfunction
Romney rally, Ohio, 10/25/12

We need a real recovery.

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Yes, -10 LT -5, but -10+6 GT -5+0

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd October 2012

If everyone quoting Daniel Ellsberg’s piece at me were even one-tenth as active as Daniel Ellsberg has been in opposing Obama’s worst policies, they might have a point. But (by and large) they aren’t, they don’t, and so, with respect, I think Ellsberg’s point isn’t as strong as he does.

It’s not just Romney vs. Obama; the quality of the opposition from the left to either of their administrations matters, too — and that’s where Obama might come up short: the majority of the left have so far let him get away with just about anything whatsoever, while they’d (rightly) not let Romney do so.

Still, while the past four years haven’t given enough reason to expect it, I’d be very happy to be proven wrong in the next four.

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The possible electoral college controversy ahead — and what *not* to do about it

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th October 2012

Like most of news-following America, I suspect, I’ve been visiting a lot recently.  And while I don’t see a way to discern trends for the numbers, it’s my impression that Nate Silver’s multiple poll, multiple simulation-based estimates of the likelihood of controversial outcomes have been rising; as of today, those included…

  • Electoral College tie: 0.5%
  • Obama wins popular vote but loses electoral college: 1.9%
  • Romney wins popular vote but loses electoral college: 5.2%

As of mid-October, poll results suggest the chance of the US
presidential election winner not being the popular vote winner
is about the same as drawing a jack from a deck of cards.

Adding these up, the likelihood of the popular vote winner not winning the electoral college is 7.6 percent — about the likelihood of drawing a jack from a random deck of cards.

Of course, unlike in 2000, in 2012 it’s the Democratic candidate who is most likely to benefit from an electoral college override of the popular vote.  And while that may cause a little heartburn for some well-meaning people on the left, I’m going to argue it shouldn’t.

First of all, of course, that’s how George W. Bush won in 2000.*  A little historical balancing of the books isn’t a bad thing.

But it’s also high time to admit that in principle, the electoral college is a pretty good idea for a diverse, federal, continental-scale democracy like the United States.

First, it provides refuges for many voters to vote based on their convictions rather than for the so-called “lesser evil.”  Second, it preserves the need to compete for the majority of votes in actual political subunits of the country — the states — rather than merely in the aggregate national mass media market.  Finally, and perhaps most decisively, when states prove to be harming the exercise of the vote, the electoral college helps isolate democratic damage to the state or states responsible, and helps limit the remediation needed when corruption or irregularities occur.

Third party democratic refuge
The electoral college system of 51 state winners inevitably allows voters in some states greater flexibility than in others.  For example, in Maryland (where Romney has no chance at all of winning) disaffected but wavering left wing voters can more easily choose to protest against Obama and vote for a third party candidate, with much less concern than if they were in neighboring Virginia, where the race is closer.  This opportunity would diminish in a national popular vote election format.  Let’s say that voters tend to vote for their second choice rather than for their true first choice once the reported margin between the two most likely contenders in their voting zone is below, say, 2%.  Even when that’s the national margin — so that very few voters would take the risk —  inevitable state by state variance allows voters in some states to avoid that dilemma in the electoral college election format.

Bulkheads of federal democracy
The biggest problem with abolishing the electoral college is that you’re only half done. Without truly national, vigorously enforced voter registration, election, counting, and verification standards, a state or group of states could rig election processes to exclude or “underinclude” voting groups, fraudulently and undemocratically skewing the vote tallies they report. Other states, the ones running legitimate elections, would then face the perverse risk of designating presidential electors based not on their own legitimate results, but on fraudulent results elsewhere — and would have no recourse.  As I wrote in 2007 in opposing the National Popular Vote (NPV)** proposal  (emphasis added),

Under the NPV system, Maryland would routinely risk forfeiting its electoral votes to a candidate its voters didn’t favor — a candidate who necessarily only won elsewhere, in elections that were by definition completely unaccountable to Maryland voters.

This is no abstract, theoretical concern:  Florida was already known in 2000 for its voter list purges of ex-felons and, conveniently, people with similar names and addresses to ex-felons.  And there’s a systematic push to suppress the vote nationwide: the corporate-funded, right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is notorious for pushing voter suppression(/”identification”) laws nationwide to receptive, generally Republican state legislatures. The intent and the effect is to keep minorities and the poor off the voter rolls, making it easier for parties of the white or the rich to gain or keep their hold on power.

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