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Some election notes

[ 73 ] December 14, 2016 |

*34 US presidential elections have featured a recorded popular vote.  In 24 of those elections the two leading candidates received a combined total of at least 90% of the vote.  In those 24 elections, the winning candidate who received the smallest percentage of the popular vote was Donald Trump.  Put differently, Trump received the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate in US presidential election history, excluding elections which featured a significant third-party vote.

*John McCain’s performance in the 2008 presidential general election is usually looked back on as something of a disaster.  McCain’s share of the popular vote was actually quite similar to Trump’s eight years later (45.65% to 45.99%).  Mitt Romney received 47.10% of the vote in 2012.

*There are some interesting parallels between the 2004 and 2016 presidential elections.  GW Bush’s margin in the popular vote was almost the same as Hillary Clinton’s (3.01 million and 2.86 million votes respectively, although Clinton’s margin is not quite final yet).  Bush avoided Clinton’s fate by barely winning a critical swing rust belt state, taking Ohio by 118,000 votes out of nearly 5.7 million cast there. If a few tens of thousands of marginal Bush voters had gone to Kerry instead, the 2004 election would have featured a losing candidate with a three-million vote win in the popular vote.  Of course if an even smaller total number of rust belt voters in MI, PA, and WI had voted for Clinton instead of Trump, the 2016 election would look practically identical to 2004.

*Following up on my little thought experiment in re Jill Stein:  I think it’s an open and basically unanswerable question whether Stein abandoning her campaign and endorsing Clinton would have actually produced enough votes for her to swing the election. I’m intrigued by Jameson Quinn’s data on this question, but it seems to me those data can ultimately not say very much about the extent to which Stein’s campaign dampened turnout at the margin for Clinton in the three states where the election was decided.

I also agree with various commenters that this hypothetical becomes more plausible the earlier that Stein pulls out of the race and endorses Clinton.

But ultimately this thought experiment had little relation to any real world possibility, because Jill Stein is a narcissistic fool who, I would guess, never even for a moment considered abandoning her idiotic self-indulgent little publicity stunt/grift.  Indeed I would further speculate that if you were to ask her today if, knowing what we know now, she would have done anything differently, she would say “no.”

Oh wait, I just googled it and it turns out there’s no need to speculate:

“It’s very clear from exit polls that there were very few Greens, 61 percent, that would have come out to vote if they didn’t have a Green candidate to vote for,” she said. “Of the remainder of those, over one-third would have voted for Donald Trump. It’s not supported by the numbers that the Greens would have made the margin of difference, not for a single electoral vote.”

Hopefully some new Dante will stick her in the ninth circle, with St. Ralph and an Intercept journalist or three, where Karl Rove can gnaw on their collective left feet for eternity and a day.

But the real point of the hypo is that contemporary presidential elections are now often so remarkably close (three of the last five have been decided by what was essentially an almost random handful of votes) that in retrospect a remarkable number of people could have altered the outcome if they had chosen to behave differently. This is of course most obvious in the case of the candidates themselves, who can be Monday morning quarterbacked from here to eternity, but the point is more salient in regard to various people who could have — again obviously in retrospect, but so what? — quite possibly stopped the candidate who was by their lights the greater of two evils from winning, but who chose not to for whatever reason.

(I’m giving Stein, Nader, et. al., the benefit of the doubt here by assuming that ultimately they really didn’t prefer Bush to Gore and Kerry, or Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.  I realize this assumption may well be incorrect).

In other words, in excruciatingly close presidential elections a lot of people end up being invested with a lot of power at the margin, and the moral responsibility for the outcome that goes with it.  That would be a nice thing for everyone to remember next time, assuming there is one.

 

 

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The road not taken

[ 211 ] December 13, 2016 |

When historians look back on the 2016 election, they will no doubt argue at great length about the remarkable number of factors that led to the still almost incredible fact that Donald Trump nearly became the 45th president of the United States.  But there can be little doubt that one simple act, by itself, almost surely saved the republic from that nightmarish outcome.

I’m referring of course to Jill Stein’s remarkable speech at Oberlin College on November 5th, just three days before the election.  After acknowledging the hard work and dedication of her campaign staff, and the many contributions of thousands of volunteers, Stein stunned her audience with the following exhortation:

I’ve emphasized throughout this campaign that America needs an alternative political vision to that offered it by our major parties.  And I still believe that.  But I’ve also come to believe something else: Donald Trump represents, in many ways and on many levels, a unique threat to progressive values.  For all my deep disagreements with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party, I am now, on the eve of the election, genuinely frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency.

There have been times during this campaign when I have said things that could in all fairness be understood as claims that there was no real difference for America between electing Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump president of the United States.  Now, as we approach the moment of truth, let us speak the truth in the shadow of the unprecedented threat our nation faces: Donald Trump must not become the most powerful man in the world. We must not place a nuclear arsenal and an unparalleled security apparatus at his fingertips.  We must not give a man of his low character, his evident lack of emotional self-control, his bottomless ignorance, or his open bigotry, the keys to the American governmental system.

This is a moment of genuine crisis in America.  I am therefore asking anyone who is planning to vote for me, or who was considering doing so, or who was choosing not to vote as a kind of protest against the failure of the Democratic party to provide a sufficiently progressive alternative, to instead go to the polls on Tuesday and cast your vote for Hillary Clinton.

In retrospect, this remarkable gesture almost surely kept the incomprehensible disaster of a Trump presidency from becoming a reality.  Recall that Clinton won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes, Wisconsin by 22,000, and Pennsylvania by 44,000.  That is a total of 77,000 votes out of the nearly 14,000,000 cast in those states. If one in every 200 voters in those three states had either voted for Stein or — and this is the really key point — chosen not to bother to vote at all rather than vote for Clinton, then the presidency would have been Trump’s.

If she had insisted on continuing her quixotic campaign right through election day, Stein’s ability to both draw voters to herself, and, more crucially still, dampen turnout among progressives who had taken to heart her earlier message that there was little or no difference between a Clinton or a Trump presidency, would have almost surely, given the razor thin margin in the key swing states, handed the election to by far the worst candidate in American presidential history.

That at the last minute she did everything she could not to be responsible for the unspeakable reality of a nation ruled by Donald Trump ensured that this otherwise obscure political figure will have a permanent place in the annals of Americans who saved the nation from its worst impulses, and kept it from traveling down the darkest of historical paths.

And that has made all the difference.

The liberal university: a Nick Kristof joint

[ 224 ] December 13, 2016 |

In his latest column decrying the PC university, Nicholas Kristof indulges in the rhetorical pleasures of assembling and then incinerating a parade of strawmen.   Before getting to that, let’s note how he also gets tangled up in various unintentional ironies:

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.

In the midst of a column calling for sensitivity to the value of social diversity, Kristof doesn’t even notice the extent to which his own whiteness remains, for him, a completely unmarked category: “we” PC liberals who live in “our” elite bubbles in the universities and the coastal enclaves etc. etc. “want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us,” that is, white.

In other words Kristof’s modal liberal is someone who looks and talks like Nicholas Kristof, which, ironically, happens to be exactly what Fox News et. al. want people to think when they hear the word “liberal,” which in turn allows for nonsensical claims that the 66 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton constituted some sort of out of touch coastal elite.

Moving right along:

Some of you are saying that it’s O.K. to be intolerant of intolerance, to discriminate against bigots who acquiesce in Trump’s record of racism and misogyny. By all means, stand up to the bigots. But do we really want to caricature half of Americans, some of whom voted for President Obama twice, as racist bigots? Maybe if we knew more Trump voters we’d be less inclined to stereotype them.

Or maybe if “we” (a pronoun that’s doing so much invisible work in this column that it should get paid overtime) knew more Trump voters “we” would conclude that racism and misogyny were extremely commonplace among his supporters.  If only there were some social institution set up to study such questions!

But since there apparently isn’t, we’ll just have to settle for anecdotal bullshit, aka opinion editorial columns in elite media fora published deep inside bubble-like coastal enclaves.

The weakest argument against intellectual diversity is that conservatives or evangelicals have nothing to add to the conversation. “The idea that conservative ideas are dumb is so preposterous that you have to live in an echo chamber to think of it,”[Cass]  Sunstein told me.

That is an amazingly weak argument, which is why it’s so shocking that prominent liberal academics such as [citations omitted] have made it.

Of course, we shouldn’t empower racists and misogynists on campuses. But whatever some liberals think, “conservative” and “bigot” are not synonyms.

Yes I remember well when “some liberals” won the 2015 Nobel prize in multicultural gender studies for arguing that conservative and bigot are actually synonyms.  That was indeed a dark day for academia.

I could go on (and on) but I’m temporarily out of snark.

Turns out Trump is also going to spend the next few years giving speeches to Goldman Sachs execs

[ 38 ] December 12, 2016 |

They will be called “cabinet meetings.”

 

FOLLOW THE MONEY: CLINTON’S SIX FIGURE PAID SPEECH PAYOUTS AND THEIR SECRET TRANSCRIPTS

Clinton’s Paid Speeches Are “One Of Mrs. Clinton’s Biggest Vulnerabilities…” “But the new attacks strike at what even some allies believe may be one Mrs. Clinton’s biggest vulnerabilities: not her positions on financial regulation, but her personal relationships with Wall Street executives, along with the millions of dollars Mrs. Clinton, her husband, and their family foundation have accepted in speaking fees or charitable contributions from banks, hedge funds and asset managers. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama has never earned speaking fees from Wall Street.” (Nicholas Confessore And Jason Horowitz, “In Race Defined by Income Gap, Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street Ties Incite Rivals,” The New York Times,1/21/16)

Official Trump campaign website, September 28, 2016

NFL coach fired minutes after receiving contract extension

[ 89 ] December 12, 2016 |

December 4th, 2016:

 

Despite the increasing calls for Los Angeles to move on from coach Jeff Fisher as the franchise steamrolls towards its fifth straight sub-.500 record under his leadership, the front office apparently thinks highly enough of Fisher to keep him around. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the Rams and Fisher had, in fact, signed a two-contract extension through 2018.

December 12th, 2016:

Jeff Fisher has been fired as coach for the Los Angeles Rams, per sources. More to come.

OK 11,520 minutes.  Sad!

Hey, look at the new Secretary of State

[ 97 ] December 10, 2016 |

It’

It’s the CEO of Gazprom ExxonMobil!

[Insert email server joke here.]

 

Over his decades at the company, Tillerson’s work took him all over the world, including to Yemen and Russia. That, along with his experience as CEO, apparently provides the basis of his familiarity with international diplomacy.

On Twitter, a former ExxonMobil employee who is now at Brookings Institution defended Tillerson’s experience. “Oil folks know stuff: anyone who manages multibillion dollar, multi-decade projects needs deep, nuanced understanding of political context,” Suzanne Maloney wrote on Twitter. “… Tillerson rose to top of a company that prizes technical excellence, rock-solid financials, hard work and integrity. State could do a lot worse.”

Tillerson received the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013. Tillerson’s work with ExxonMobil included a stretch working for Exxon Neftegas Ltd., putting him in charge of the subsidiary’s fields in Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Two years before receiving the award, ExxonMobil won a contract to explore for oil in a Russia-controlled portion of the Arctic Ocean, which was made more economically viable for drilling in part thanks to the sea ice decline that’s followed global warming. Putin himself announced the deal at a meeting in Sochi (where the Winter Olympics would be held the next year).

Tillerson’s stake in ExxonMobil will certainly raise questions at a confirmation hearing. Once Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the United States instituted sanctions against Russia that froze ExxonMobil’s Arctic agreement. Were those sanctions to be lifted, the deal would probably move forward — making Tillerson’s shares of ExxonMobil stock much more valuable.

 

The fraud against America

[ 123 ] December 10, 2016 |

Clinton now leads Trump by 2.84 million votes and more than two percent of of all ballots cast. (Latest numbers here.)

Again, I think it’s important to hammer home how astounding these figures would have seemed if they had been available immediately after the election, as opposed to a month later.  A couple of days after the election I estimated that Clinton would finish with two million more votes — a prediction which was roundly derided as far too high by quite a few commenters in the subsequent thread.  It now looks like the final margin is going to be around 50% greater than that.  In addition Clinton may well finish with more votes than Obama received in 2012.

As for Trump he’s going to finish with less than 46% of the popular vote. When combined with the known facts regarding judicially-sanctioned voter suppression and grotesque media irresponsibility, as well as the likely facts regarding Russian interference in the campaign, Trump’s election is now looking roughly as legitimate as Bush’s 2000 “win.”

In other words, by taking full advantage of various combinations of judicial skullduggery, journalistic malpractice, and foreign intrigue the GOP has pretty much flat-out stolen two of the last four five presidential elections (of course 2004 was in large part a consequence of 2000 so you could count it as 2.5 or 3 of the last five if you’re so inclined, as indeed I am).  No wonder they’re so obsessed with voter fraud.

Happy birthday Kirk Douglas

[ 32 ] December 9, 2016 |

Born 100 years ago today.

 

In his 1988 autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, Douglas notes the hardships that he, along with six sisters and his parents, endured during their early years in Amsterdam, New York:

“My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. … Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.[3]”

College graduation, 1939

Growing up, Douglas sold snacks to mill workers to earn enough to buy milk and bread to help his family. Later, he delivered newspapers and during his youth worked at more than forty different jobs before getting a job acting.[11] He found living in a family with six sisters to be stifling: “I was dying to get out. In a sense, it lit a fire under me.”[12] In high school, after acting in plays, he then knew he wanted to become a professional actor.[12] Unable to afford tuition, Douglas talked his way into the Dean’s office at the St. Lawrence University and showed him a list of his high school honors. He received a loan which he paid back by working part-time as a gardener and a janitor. He was a standout on the wrestling team, and wrestled one summer in a carnival to make money

 

Douglas played the lead with an all-star cast in Spartacus (1960). He was the executive producer as well, raising the $12 million production cost, making it one of the most expensive films made up to that time.[54] Douglas initially selected Anthony Mann to direct, but replaced him early on with Stanley Kubrick, with whom he previously collaborated in Paths of Glory.[55]

When the film was released, Douglas gave full credit to its screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who was on the Hollywood blacklist, and thereby effectively ended it.[9]:81 About that event, he said, “I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”[56]At the time, his career was at risk, with Hollywood people claiming Douglas would never get work again. “I was scared to death, but I insisted on doing it,” he said.[56] George Clooney has said that “in the history books, it’s marked as the moment that the Hollywood blacklist ended.”[57]

OK this is all just a reality TV show right?

[ 145 ] December 8, 2016 |

I don’t think I ever really appreciated the psychological concept of denial until the last 30 days.  On some level, I’m still in denial that all this is actually happening.

Donald Trump will remain as an executive producer on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” even while serving as president of the United States.

That agreement, first reported by Variety and confirmed by sources at NBC and the Trump campaign, means the president will have an interest in a show aired by a media company that also reports on his presidency — a major conflict of interest for the network.

 “The Apprentice,” which Trump hosted for 14 seasons, was created by Mark Burnett and is owned and produced by MGM. The 15th season, hosted by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, will air on NBC starting January 2.

NBC Entertainment, NBC News and MGM all did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the decision to keep Trump as an executive producer.

It is unclear how much Trump will be paid per episode.

I’ve never seen The Apprentice in any of its forms.  Until the middle of last year Donald Trump was, for me, a bit of trivia from the 1980s, like an MTV veejay who I hadn’t thought about in a couple of decades.  I mean I still saw his name here and there, but I also still heard a Cyndi Lauper song once in awhile.  (No offense intended to Ms. Lauper, who I would in all seriousness much prefer as POTUS to Trump.)

2016 is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.

 

RIP Greg Lake

[ 68 ] December 8, 2016 |

Is this year ever going to end?

A scene from Alfonso Cuaron’s fantastic but ever-less fantastical film Children of Men:

 

President-elect attacks steelworker for criticizing him

[ 176 ] December 8, 2016 |

Donald Trump seems incapable of tolerating criticism from anyone, which is a disturbing personality trait in a soon-to-be president of the United States:

Chuck Jones uses a flip phone, so he didn’t see the tweet. His friend of 36 years called him Wednesday night and said: The president-elect is smearing you on Twitter.

  1. If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues

  2. Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!

Jones, a union leader in Indianapolis, represents the Carrier workers whose jobs Donald Trump has pledged to save. He said the sudden attention from the country’s next leader didn’t feel real.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, that’s not very nice,’ ” he told The Washington Post on Wednesday night. “Then, ‘Well, I might not sleep much tonight.’ ”

Jones, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, told The Post on Tuesday that he believed Trump had lied to the Carrier workers last week when he visited the Indianapolis plant. On a makeshift stage in a conference room, Trump had applauded United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, for cutting a deal with him and agreeing to keep 1,100 jobs that were slated to move to Mexico in America’s heartland.

Jones said Trump got that figure wrong.

Carrier, he said, had agreed to preserve 800 production jobs in Indiana. (Carrier confirmed that number.) The union leader said Trump appeared to be taking credit for rescuing 350 engineering positions that were never scheduled to leave. Five hundred and fifty of his members, he said, were still losing their jobs. And the company was still collecting millions of dollars in tax breaks.

Trump’s orangeshirts are already punishing the insolence of anyone who dares to question their Leader:

Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

Lovely.

That this despicable person is going to be president is a national disgrace.  The situation’s only saving grace is that Trump is going to be laughably easy to provoke into self-destructive behavior.  There’s a downside to that, however, which is that Trump may destroy the nation in the course of destroying himself.

The apotheosis of false equivalence

[ 218 ] December 7, 2016 |

Following up on Scott’s various posts on this extraordinarily important topic, a new Harvard Kennedy School study finds that Hillary Clinton received more negative press coverage over the entire course of the presidential campaign than Donald Trump:

Criticism dogged Hillary Clinton at every step of the general election. Her “bad press” outpaced her “good press” by 64 percent to 36 percent. She was criticized for everything from her speaking style to her use of emails.

As Clinton was being attacked in the press, Donald Trump was attacking the press, claiming that it was trying to “rig” the election in her favor. If that’s true, journalists had a peculiar way of going about it. Trump’s coverage during the general election was more negative than Clinton’s, running 77 percent negative to 23 percent positive. But over the full course of the election, it was Clinton, not Trump, who was more often the target of negative coverage (see Figure 1). Overall, the coverage of her candidacy was 62 percent negative to 38 percent positive, while his coverage was 56 percent negative to 44 percent positive.

Consider how utterly astonishing this finding ought to be, at least in any halfway sane world (obviously I’m positing a hypothetical here).  Donald Trump is, by an enormous margin, the least-qualified candidate to ever receive a major party nomination for president.  This is true even without reference to his extensive history of personal corruption, his lack of any apparent interest in public policy, his overt unapologetic racism, sexism, etc. etc.

It gets worse:

Even those numbers understate the level of negativity. Much of the candidates’ “good press” was in the context of the horserace—who is winning and who is losing and why. At any given moment in the campaign, one of the candidates has the momentum, which is a source of positive coverage. Figure 2 shows the tone of the nominees’ coverage on non-horserace topics, those that bear some relationship to the question of their fitness for office—their policy positions, personal qualities, leadership abilities, ethical standards, and the like. In Trump’s case, this coverage was 87 percent negative to 13 percent positive. Clinton’s ratio was identical—87 percent negative to 13 percent positive. “Just like Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” as Barry Goldwater said dismissively of America’s two parties in the 1960s.

How’s that for fair and balanced?

You can believe, as I do, that Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate in all sorts of ways, and that belief is still just completely irrelevant to evaluating this level of false equivalence.  It’s as if the sports media were to compare a far from optimal NFL quarterback — say, Trevor Siemian — to somebody who has never even played football, only to reach the conclusion that neither was a “good” quarterback.

Well now we’re going to get random person off the street quarterbacking our team for the next four years.  Actually worse than random person off the street — I would quite literally prefer a random person as POTUS to Donald Trump, and that’s true even if the random selection pool included infants, lunatics, and Jill Stein.

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