2012 - %3, September

How the Tea Party Killed Mitt Romney

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 10:26 AM EDT

Via Ed Kilgore, Ron Brownstein tells us today that Mitt Romney's problems aren't due to an incompetent campaign. They're due to decisions he made a long time ago:

Of all Romney’s primary-season decisions, the most damaging was his choice to repel the challenges from Perry and Gingrich by attacking them from the right—and using immigration as his cudgel. That process led Romney to embrace a succession of edgy, conservative positions anathema to many Hispanics, including denouncing Texas for providing in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants; praising Arizona’s immigration-enforcement law; and, above all, promising to make life so difficult for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants that they would “self-deport.”

....Romney’s inability to dent Obama’s support among Hispanics (or other minorities) means the GOP nominee probably can’t win without attracting at least 61 percent of white voters. Yet a second early decision has greatly compounded that challenge. Through the primaries, Romney embraced an unreservedly conservative social agenda (such as defunding Planned Parenthood and allowing employers to deny contraception coverage in health insurance plans), especially after Santorum emerged as his principal rival. That positioning helps explain why polls consistently show Obama drawing a majority of college-educated white women—not only the most socially liberal sector of the white electorate but also the fastest-growing. If Obama can hold a majority of those women and match his 80 percent with all minorities in 2008, Romney would have to carry two-thirds of all other whites to win—as much as Ronald Reagan won among those remaining voters in his 1984 landslide.

Sure. This is just another way of saying that the Tea Party has been Romney's downfall. They forced Romney too far to the right and didn't give him the room (or the trust) to move back toward the center during the general election.

My basic take on this election has been pretty much the same since the first day: incumbent parties don't lose the presidency after a single term unless the economy really sucks. (It's only happened once in the past century — though in 2004 Bush came close to making it twice in a century.) But although the economy right now is in poor shape, it's not in terrible shape, and this means Obama is the likely winner of a close election. But the key word here is close. The economy for the past year has been weak enough that a good challenger had a real chance to win.

In other words, the fundamentals predicted a fairly close election, which means that the candidate and the campaign really mattered this year. All that horserace stuff played a real role. But the tea party made it impossible to play that role smartly. They've moved so far outside the mainstream that they make demands on politicians that doom them in a general election.

We saw this dynamic play out already in 2010. In congressional elections, the tea party probably helped Republicans win more conservative districts than they otherwise would have. But when you move up to the Senate, where you need to have a broader appeal, the tea party foisted several terrible candidates on the GOP, causing them to lose at least three winnable races. And now, in a presidential election, which requires the broadest appeal of all, Mitt Romney's subjugation to the tea party has all but ruined him. Sic transit etc.

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"New" CO2 Source Spells Trouble for Marine Life

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:07 AM EDT

CO2 from water pollution interacts with atmospheric CO2 in a warming ocean to intensify changes in acidity, spelling trouble for marine life: Witches: ~Brenda-Starr~; Scallop: walknboston; Anemonefish: lakewentworth; Seahorse: Mr. Mohammed Al Momany | NOAA. Starfish: MikeMurphy. Mashup: Julia Whitty.Witches' brew: CO2 from water pollution interacts with CO2 from atmosphere in a warming ocean to intensify acidification: Witches: ~Brenda-Starr~. Scallop: walknboston. Anemonefish: lakewentworth. Seahorse: Mr. Mohammed Al Momany | NOAA. Starfish: MikeMurphy. Mashup: Julia WhittyA new kind of witchy interaction is underway in the oceans, report the authors of a new paper in Environmental Science & Technology.

William G. Sunda and Wei-Jun Cai created a model to predict how CO2 from water pollution—that is, runoff from chemical fertilizers (farms), human waste (sewage), and animal waste (feedlots, ranches), plus nitrogen oxide from fossil fuel burning—might interact with the better-known source of CO2 that enters the ocean from the atmosphere, much of it a result of fossil fuel burning.

In either case, too much CO2 entering the ocean lowers the pH of seawater, which raises the acidity of the waters, preventing many marine organisms from getting access to the calcium carbonate needed to make their shells or skeletons. The result, called ocean acidification—sometimes called the "other CO2 problem," global warming being the original—is already impacting commercial oyster beds in the Pacific Northwest. This process has been firmly on the scientific radar for the past 10+ years.

But no one has spent a whole lot of time thinking about the excess CO2 created by water pollution running off the land. Here's what happens. Enriched waters wash off farms, feedlots, and cities to fertilize the ocean. Enough fertilized runoff triggers a cascade of catastrophic events:

  • Fertilizing huge algal blooms
  • Which lead to massive die-offs of the huge algal blooms
  • Which settle to the bottom and feed the growth of bacteria
  • Who consume much of the available oxygen in the water and release large amounts of CO2
Clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and finfish could be the most heavily impacted in affected coastal regions such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea.

The result is a dead zone: where oxygen levels are too low (hypoxic) to support most marine life. A good example is the Gulf of Mexico dead zone that "blooms" every spring and summer when the spring and summer rains wash the excess nutrients from the bread basket of the American heartland downstream into the ocean. I wrote more about that here and here.

But there's the excess CO2 of a dead zone too—which also causes ocean acidification. Basically the other other CO2 problem.

So the authors wondered: what happens when you get ocean acidification from the atmosphere mixing with ocean acidification from water pollution?

Their model predicts that rising acidity from water pollution will interact synergistically—that is, more than just the sum of the two sources—with rising acidity from air pollution at intermediate to higher temperatures. Together, the two processes could substantially increase ocean acidification and impact commercial fisheries in places with dead zone problems, like the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea.

Lead author Bill Sunda says: "The largest acidification effects from decaying algal blooms actually occur in colder waters such as those in coastal waters of Northern Europe or Alaska. However, in warmer ocean waters, where the acidification effects from this source are currently smaller, the rising atmospheric CO2 not only lowers the pH (raises the acidity) of the water, but makes the additional acidification effects from decaying algal blooms much worse; i.e., there's a synergistic effect (the effect of the two processes together are more than additive in lowering pH [or are more than multiplicative in raising acidity])."

From the paper:

Thus, while the impact of the two acidification mechanisms by themselves may be moderate in many instances, the combined effect of the two can be much larger. Such large combined acidification effects may cause significant negative impacts on coastal benthic [seafloor] ecosystems that are already stressed by hypoxia and rising water temperatures. Coastal systems support most world finfish production and the overwhelming majority of shellfish production, so the combined negative future impact of these anthropogenic stressors to marine ecosystems and fisheries production could be substantial. However, future impacts will not only be dependent on increasing atmospheric PCO2 [partial pressure of CO2] or the amount of respiratory depletion of O2 [oxygen], but also on temperature and salinity, which will be influenced in the future by a changing climate linked to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

 

The bubbling brew of CO2 synergies: Witches: ~Brenda-Starr~. Diagram: Sunda and Cai, ES&T doi: 10.1021/es300626f. Mashup: Julia WhittyThe bubbling brew of CO2 synergies: Witches: ~Brenda-Starr~. Diagram: Sunda and Cai, ES&T doi: 10.1021/es300626f. Mashup: Julia Whitty

The paper:

William G. Sunda and Wei-Jun Cai. Eutrophication Induced CO2-Acidification of Subsurface Coastal Waters: Interactive Effects of Temperature, Salinity, and Atmospheric PCO2. Environmental Science & Technology (2012). DOI:10.1021/es300626f

 

"The Master": One Long, Impressive "Meh"

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:01 AM EDT
Dodd complex: Philip Seymour Hoffman as fictional '50s cult leader Lancaster Dodd.

The Master
The Weinstein Company
137 minutes

The Master is the kind of movie destined for dissection and canonization by critics and film students for eons to come—and for all the wrong reasons. It's tremendously ambitious and gorgeously shot (in 65mm, no less). It's the latest big-screen offering from the sadly not very prolific writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant 42-year-old maestro behind classics like Magnolia (1999) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002). The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern, and Amy Adams, all of whom have built filmographies that speak volumes for themselves. Hell, Radiohead's lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is back working with Anderson on the score!

It's the type of movie you'd be silly not to root for. And yet The Master achieves little more than being a film of ravishingly empty beauty, choked off by an untiring indulgence in flat visual metaphor.

I take no joy in typing this. As a fan of Anderson's challenging, often beautiful work (he has an eye for character, photography, and epic sweep that few of his generation possess), this letdown stings just as badly as the pangs of disappointment felt after Pixar disproved the longstanding theory that they are incapable of making a bad movie.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

quote of the week

"I mean, if somebody here has a $10 million check—I can't solicit it from you, but feel free to use it wisely."
—Barack Obama, speaking to guests about donating to outside spending groups at a fundraiser hosted by Beyonce and Jay-Z. As the Huffington Post reported, the remark was "seemingly in jest" but also the latest example of how closely campaigns have flirted with the ban on coordinating their activities with outside groups. That rule is hardly ever enforced, though, and as Campaign Legal Center senior counsel Paul S. Ryan told HuffPo, Obama's comment was vague enough to not qualify as a direct request for contributions.

 

attack ad of the week 

This week, Mother Jones made waves with the release of a secretly recorded video of Mitt Romney making a pitch to wealthy donors in May at the Boca Raton home of private equity manager Marc Leder. Pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action has already pounced on one of Romney's most controversial statements in the video, in which he dismissed 47 percent of the electorate as entitled, government-dependent "victims" who will vote for Obama no matter what. After showing an image of a wealthy home and Romney's comments, the Priorities ad cuts away to a modest house as a narrator replies, "Behind these doors, middle-class families struggle, and Romney will make things even tougher."

 

stat of the week

More than 70: The number of dark-money 501(c)(4) groups, ostensibly operating as tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations, that the Internal Revenue Service is investigating. The groups can't legally make political activities the majority of what they do, although many make little effort to conceal their political spending, and the IRS has had its eye on groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS for several months now. Even so, the agency hasn't stripped a single group of its 501(c)(4) status in the past six months.

 

chart of the week

The Daily Beast and Center for Responsive Politics dug through tax filings to do their best job to piece together the interconnected world of dark-money 501(c)(4)s. The chart doesn't paint a complete picture, since numbers from the 2012 election won't all be released until at least mid-next year, but it does list known grants made by the groups and to whom they were given. (Obscuring sunlight further, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court's decision, in Van Hollen v. FEC, to require tax-exempt groups to reveal their donors.)

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Romney Funder's Israeli Newspaper Buries Video Controversy: Sheldon Adelson spends millions on ads for Mitt, but tries to downplay the GOP candidate's gaffes.
Crossroads, US Chamber, and Other Dark Money Groups Notch Big Court Win: A federal appeals court has overturned an earlier ruling demanding that nonprofits unmask their donors for certain ads.
Liberal Super-PAC Targets Koch Brothers With Attack Ads in Wisconsin and Iowa: Patriot Majority takes the fight to the Kochs in the state that, for liberals, made them infamous.
Who Was at Romney's "47 Percent" Fundraiser?: Some possible guests at the $50,000-a-plate Florida event where the candidate cast Obama voters as moochers.
SECRET VIDEO: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters: When he doesn't know a camera's rolling, the GOP candidate shows his disdain for half of America.

 

more must-reads

• Sen. Bryan Dorgan (D-N.D.) joins the campaign finance reform cause. Center for Public Integrity
• Outside spending groups have accounted for close to half of all political ad spending, according to one analysis. MSNBC
More charts from the Daily Beast and Center for Responsive Politics.

Does GMO Corn Really Cause Tumors in Rats?

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mammary tumors that developed in rats fed GMO corn and/or low levels of Roundup. Whether the feeding regimes can be said to have caused the tumors remains a matter of debate.

This week, a French research team published a paper in a peer-reviewed US journal showing that rats exposed to low doses of both genetically modified corn and the widely used herbicide Roundup had negative health effects. The results, already generating plenty of debate, are not as clear-cut as they seem at first glance. But they do shine a harsh light on the ag-biotech industry's mantra that GMOs have indisputably proven safe to eat—and establish an urgent need for more long-term research.

Before I dig into the study's details, it's worth pondering what we know about the long-term effects of eating genetically modified foods. Surprisingly little, it turns out, given how ubiquitous they are in the US food supply. Genetically engineered seeds first hit commercial farm fields in 1996, and quickly became ubiquitous in the largest and most subsidized of US crops. Today, most non-organic US corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets are GMO—and combined, they provide a vast portion of the sweeteners, fats, and additives used by food manufacturers, and nearly all of the feed used by the meat industry.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: Chick Flicks & Dick Flicks Edition

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss:

  • The Master, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's hotly anticipated new drama (with a central character inspired by the L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology). I give the movie (and prime 2012 Oscar bait) a very sad, disappointed "meh." It opens Friday, September 21.
  • End of Watch, an acclaimed cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Alyssa gives the film her enthusiastic endorsement. It opens Friday, September 21.
  • Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood's latest flick, in which he plays an aging, reliably crotchety baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. (Hold all of the empty-chair jokes, or so help me god.) It opens Friday, September 21.
  • More on the third and current season of Boardwalk Empire on HBO.
  • The Mob Doctor on Fox.
  • "Chicks flicks" and "dick flicks," and also GQ's epically dumb "Men's Guide to Fall TV."
  • A little bit about Mitt Romney, just cuz.

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

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Another Conservative Conspiracy Theory Bites the Dust

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This week the modern conservative id took center stage when Mitt Romney was caught on video telling a bunch of wealthy donors what they wanted to hear: that the poor are a bunch of lazy parasites who refuse to take personal responsibility for themselves. Coincidentally, the same week another bit of the conservative id reached the end of its road. I'm talking about their obsession with Fast and Furious, the gun-walking operation in Arizona that Republicans have been in a lather about for the past two years.

There's not much question that Fast and Furious was a cockup. ATF agents wanted to track guns that were being sold to Mexican drug cartels, but poor planning, idiotic infighting, and a tangle of laws that got in the way of arresting obvious gunrunners produced little but chaos. Thousands of guns ended up in Mexican hands, one of which was eventually used to kill ATF agent Brian Terry. Katherine Eban wrote the best take on the whole sorry affair three months ago in a long piece for Fortune called "The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal."

But this was never enough for Republicans. Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican attack dog who was the point man for congressional hearings into the affair, insisted that Barack Obama was using Fast and Furious to "somehow take away or limit people's Second Amendment rights." This was pretty much the party line in the fever swamps of the right: It wasn't just a local mess, it was a carefully planned operation from Eric Holder on down to set the stage for a massive new effort to take away people's guns. As Ann Coulter explained things, Fast and Furious put guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels "to strengthen liberals' argument for gun control…Innocent people dying was the objective of Fast and Furious, not collateral damage."

On Wednesday that all came crashing down when Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice inspector general, finally released his lengthy report on the operation. Horowitz is no Democratic hack. As Time's Massimo Calabresi reminds us, "Horowitz managed to impress the House GOP in briefings over the past week, and the report itself was met with support from all quarters…Issa himself called Horowitz and his report 'courageous.'" But there's more:

What none on the right are admitting is that Horowitz's report systematically reveals how irresponsible and speculative the accusations from their side have been. The report criticizes Holder's Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer for failing to inform Holder or his deputy that "gun walking" had taken place in the Bush administration in another case in Arizona called "Wide Receiver." But the report shows that Breuer knew nothing about gun walking in Fast and Furious, and that therefore the scandal existed three levels below Holder (let alone the White House)…As for the source of the false statements to Congress, Horowitz finds they were the result of inaccurate reassurances given to Breuer’s deputy Jason Weinstein, by the U.S. attorney in Arizona, Dennis Burke. 

…Horowitz destroys the conspiracy theories on both sides of the aisle over 471-pages, but it’s the right wing screamers who come out looking worst. Horowitz shows definitively that the Arizona ATF agents and prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office there were responsible for the operation, not the White House or the Justice Department in Washington and that the primary source of the inaccurate testimony given to Congress was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke.

For over a year, it's been an article of faith on the right that Fast and Furious was a carefully constructed scheme directed by the White House to trash the Second Amendment and build support for more gun control laws. It wasn't. Neither the White House nor Eric Holder had any idea what was going on. It was just a local operation that was badly botched. This makes Fast and Furious offically yet another lunatic conservative conspiracy theory that has bitten the dust in the cold light of reality.

Mitt Romney: The GOP's Very Best

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 12:55 AM EDT

I would like to take this chance to remind everyone that earlier this year Mitt Romney was pretty unanimously considered the strongest candidate in the Republican field — by a large margin. He was, without much question, the most electable of the primary bunch and the toughest opponent for Barack Obama. He was disciplined, well-funded, and had a moderate background that appealed to independents. He was, in short, the very best the Republicans had to offer in the year 2012.

This was not a fantasy, either. It was an accurate assessment. Romney was the best they had. The very best.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Be More Cynical!

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 8:21 PM EDT

Keying off Mitt Romney's complaint that 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax, David Gregory asked Tim Kaine today whether everyone in Virginia should pay at least something. Kaine, for some unfathomable reason, didn't respond that he's not in favor of raising taxes on the middle class, full stop. Instead, he said:

I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.

Why would he say that? Dave Weigel, after noting that Kaine is trying hard to portray himself as a pragmatist after his stint as chair of the DNC, takes a stab at explaining what happened:

So: David Gregory asks the tax question again and again. Kaine's been programmed to never rule out anything bipartisan. He gives his dumb answer. But I don't think the dumb answer appreciates how cynical you need to be to win elections in 2012. Look: The House and Senate passed mandatory defense and discretionary spending cuts because Republicans demanded them in exchange for a debt limit hike. A year later, the existence of these cuts are being used against Democrats.

It doesn't matter if Republicans are talking up the need to decrease the number of lucky duckies. Be more cynical! Telling a skeptic that the "47%" don't need to pay income taxes may sound partisan, but it's one of the party's winningest stances.

This is probably sound advice, politically speaking. Stick to the script. Don't feel like you have to respond to momentary uproars. Don't worry if you sound like a hack. Just smile and repeat your talking points. It's maddening for all of us who write about politics, but it seems to be the path to victory.

Corn on MSNBC: Romney's Kitchen Sink Election

Thu Sep. 20, 2012 7:33 PM EDT

With his campaign flailing, Romney throws in the kitchen sink. What is his campaign strategy? Does he have one...or five?  Mother Jones' DC Bureau Chief David Corn discusses Romney's evolution from a moderate Massachusetts governor to a right-pandering presidential candidate on MSNBC's PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.