Mitt Romney crushes Newt Gingrich in Nevada...

...but the dog-whistling Gingrich refuses to quit the race.

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Money and religion are the reasons Mitt Romney won Nevada on Saturday, his second straight victory since losing to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. Romney outspent his rivals five-to-one (in fact, he's spent more than John McCain did during his entire 2008 campaign) and enjoyed the backing of a sizable Mormon bloc, which made up 26 percent of the electorate. In another instance of political ecumenism between differing faiths, Romney, a Mormon, appealed to nearly 50 percent of Nevada's white evangelical voters.

Poor Newt Gingrich has been losing ground since his come-from-behind win South Carolina. In Florida, Romney quit focusing on Barack Obama and began focusing on Gingrich; he crushed the former House Speaker with tsunamis of attack ads. Some say those ads caused poor voter turnout in Florida. That only got worse in Nevada. Compared to 2008, about 25 percent fewer voters came out.

Gingrich may be cash-poor but he's always been calumny-rich. In Florida, he said Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had prevented Holocaust survivors on public assistance from eating kosher. That was kittenish compared to his latest. In creating distance between Romney and the hardline conservative wing of the GOP, Gingrich called him "Obama-lite" and a "George Soros-approved candidate." In dog-whistle-speak, that translates roughly to: He's like an uppity black man and a rich Jew.

Gingrich said voters "want a candidate who represents Americans who work, pay taxes and believe in the Declaration of Independence, not somebody who is clearly against the American ideal." Gingrich cashed out on his political connections for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage lenders. He's now a millionaire.

Gingrich held a press conference after the Nevada results that sparked speculation that he may be pulling out. No such luck. Instead, his staff announced a "delegate-based" strategy. That means what we've known since Florida. The new rules of the Republican Party mean states are no longer winner-take-all. Instead, candidates win a proportion of delegates. Gingrich has reason to stay in the race, which is what he said he'd do.

Of course, the longer Romney has to fight, the more banged up he will be in November. He's said that a prolonged battle will better prepare him, and maybe that's true. The real damage may be self-inflicted and at this rate, who knows what condition Romney will be in.

In January, Romney took heat, somewhat unfairly, for saying he likes to fire people. That was taken out of context, but still. He said it. After winning in Florida, he told CNN that he's "not concerned about the very poor." That line is unfortunately the same in context or out.

A long fight for the GOP's heart has Romney worried insomuch that he's made secret deals with Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate. They have agreed not to savage each other. A partnership like this brings the promise of Paul's energetic and young followers, and also the potential for reviving Tea Party fanatics who love Paul but yawn whenever Romney enters the room. The upside for Paul is that he might get a speech at the convention and therefore pave the way for his son, the truly weird Rand Paul and his nascent presidential ambitions.

That may backfire if Gingrich can hold on. Paul is the guy most people believe could lead an insurgent third party but Gingrich, in his quest to peel away every delegate he can from Romney, may be positioned just for that. His biggest problem, however, isn't money. His biggest problem is that so few people like him.

John Stoehr is a lecturer in English at Yale University.

 

 

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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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.