The Senate Races Chug Along

Sep 23 2014 @ 2:21pm

David Leonhardt figures that, “while the 2014 election is certainly is not the most important of our lifetimes, it is important in some stealth ways”:

Even if no major legislation is likely in the next two years, the people elected this November will be in the Senate for another four. The 2014 elections could well mean the difference between a Democratic Senate and a Republican Senate in 2017. (The map is more favorable to Democrats two years from now than this year.)

Imagine a Washington in 2017 in which President Marco Rubio and a Republican House want to cut top tax rates sharply — but Senator Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat who squeaked out a win in 2014, is part of a 51-member Democratic Senate caucus that stands in the way. Or imagine that President Hillary Clinton wants to push an immigration overhaul — but can’t get any momentum behind a bill in either a Republican-led Senate or House.

Nate Cohn maintains that “there’s plenty of time for Republicans to take the lead as undecided voters make up their minds”:

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Sarkozy’s Unseemly Return

Sep 23 2014 @ 2:00pm

Emily Tamkin furrows her brow at the former French president’s return to the political scene:

One might think that given [his] particularly expansive marital history, Sarkozy would decline to comment on supposed threats to the institution. But non. In a televised interview over the weekend, Sarkozy—who recently announced his intention to return formally to politics and lead his right-wing UMP party—criticized the policies of French President François Hollande, including the current president’s leadership on LGBTQ issues. The thrice-married politician believes that Hollande’s government, in introducing legislation allowing for same-sex marriage, is “humiliating families and humiliating people who love the family.”

Evan Mulvihill argues that Sarkozy’s stance makes him a bad conservative:

Sarkozy said he supports inheritance rights for gay couples, but doesn’t want to create “civil unions” because they would “harm the institution of marriage.” France already has a sort of civil union called PACS. How a conservative politician can justify wanting less families on the planet, we do not know. Would that Sarkozy were more like British PM David Cameron, his neighbor to the west, who has said that he does not support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative, but that he supports it because he is a Conservative.

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Here’s a fact you kinda know already if you watch Fox News, but it’s good to see it quantified in a new Pew poll. 50 percent of white evangelicals believe they are subject to a lot of discrimination, while only 36 percent of them believe the same thing about African-Americans. So it’s not just Bill O’Reilly who’s whining. White evangelical Fox News viewers really do believe they are subject to more discrimination than blacks. But this is not entirely about evangelicals; the belief that your own group is especially persecuted is pretty damn endemic:

While 61 percent of Hispanics say “there is a lot of discrimination against” blacks, 71 percent say the same of themselves … And while Catholics are less apt to see discrimination against their own, fully 33 percent agree that they face “lots” of discrimination. No other group sees Catholics facing even close to that amount of discrimination.

The data has some other little nuggets. When you look at the aggregate views, the balance seems about right to me. The victim pecking order goes like this, from the most victimized to the least: gays; Muslims; blacks; Hispanics; Jews; evangelicals; atheists; Catholics. The most empathetic group? The religiously unaffiliated. They believe that gays, Muslims, blacks and Hispanics have a harder time than they do. How ironic that it’s the faithless are those who are the most able to appreciate the struggles of other minorities.

What Nate Silver Hath Wrought

Sep 23 2014 @ 1:18pm

Philip Klein points out how “political coverage has moved from feverishly covering horse race polling, to hyping up daily fluctuations in predictive models of which party will control the Senate after 2014″:

Political news abhors a vacuum, and when trying to appeal to a broader audience, it’s inevitable that journalists will boil everything down to the question of “who is going to win?” Data journalism isn’t changing that. All that’s changing is that people are freaking out over fluctuations in statistical models instead of just daily polls.

And the election results won’t tell us which model is superior (at least not yet). John Sides makes that clear:

I will be pleased if our forecasts are correct — especially in races like North Carolina, where early predictions based on the underlying fundamentals were somewhat controversial. And some models might end up performing better in this particular election. But evaluating forecasting models will require many years of elections, not just November’s.

But you could say that this is simply a natural extension of greater and greater sophistication and data processing than anything we’ve done before. So why be surprised that we’re just as OCD now as we were before? We’ve just got more tools to work obsessively – as the interwebs try to capture your attention every second of the day.

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A reader throws up her hands:

We must congratulate you on lulling us in to a false sense of security. This is quite possibly the hardest “view” you’ve ever posted. Our best guess is my dad’s: Williams County, North Dakota. We base this on the mountains, and the look of the buildings, which seem to resemble an industrial mining or fracking operation.

Next time, perhaps something between “nondescript mountain range with weird building” and “stadium with identifiable flag”? Thank you as always for a fun contest!

Another anticipated a hard one after a few weeks of easy contests:

Well, we knew this was coming, didn’t we? We have what appear to be prefabricated buildings of recent vintage, on a rocky, barren, and otherwise undeveloped landscape, with snowy mountains off in the distance. Somewhere in the Arctic, during the summer. A woman and child walk in the foreground – Inuit, perhaps? So let’s say Alaska, somewhere along the North Slope, and for sake of specificity call it Barrow, even thought I cannot pin down these buildings on maps of the town.

Another gets fictional:

Taken from the office of Gustavo Fring at the Los Pollos Hermanos Compound, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Another heads much farther south:

After spending a disconcertingly long time on Google Maps in Satellite View, I’m going to go with Potosí, Bolivia. It actually might be any other city in the Bolivian Altiplano, but I’m tired of satellite view and Potosí looks about the right amount of brown. Plus, it’s an important mining city, and the edge of that pit looks like a mine.

But for all I know, that’s a tar-sands operation in Alberta and I’ve just spent two hours in the wrong hemisphere. This might be the most challenging contest you all have done! I opened the photo today and said, “Ugh.”

Wrong hemisphere. Another gets the wrong planet:

Mars? There was a story on This American Life / Love + Radio last week about a Mars station to host 4 humans is 2023. This may be the terrestrial training ground. Looking in the arid, iron rich soils of greater Mongolia I worked my way to some disputed lands between China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan. Is this an homage to Chini or a nose-thumbing after two easy weeks? I’m not sure what Aksai Chin is, but it showed up on my Google map, and one can only assume the people who live there would be the Chini. There don’t appear to be any roofs in the area, but just by name association alone, I hope this is close, and I hope Doug found it.

To the right country:

To me the picture said Northern Canada, or possibly Alaska. But I’m guessing it wouldn’t be the US three weeks in a row. So after some half-hearted googling, I guess somewhere in Yukon, Northwest Territories, Canada. A vague guess, because it was a gorgeous weekend and I went apple picking on Saturday and then simply had to make pies and crisp on Sunday. I’d send you one, but Internet.

Another reader nails the province and town:

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Beard Of The Week

Sep 23 2014 @ 12:49pm

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That’s Vin Diesel’s new look – as posted on his Facebook page – for the upcoming movie, The Last Witch Hunter. Not everyone is impressed. And, of course, it’s almost certainly a fake. It’s still pretty bad-ass for pogonophiles like me.

A reader writes:

Mitchell had me until the final paragraph of your excerpt: “In the meantime, in the interludes of peace, diplomatic and cultural outreach and, above all, higher education initiatives intended to help the younger generation understand and thrive in the disenchanted world it will inherit offer perhaps the most constructive ways to engage the region.”

Empirical study of Islamist extremism, looking both at political and ideological commitment and at participation in violence, have shown that higher education correlates with higher, not lower, commitment dish_Tocqueville_by_Daumierto the dream of “returning to an enchanted world for which an imagined Islam provides a ready guide.” (See Krueger and Maleckova’s “Education, Poverty, and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?” for an entry into the modern literature.)

Worse for Mitchell’s conclusion is that the correlation between education and Islamist radicalism is more pronounced among those who have earned advanced degrees in technical subjects rather than religious studies – and also more pronounced among those who have studied in the West.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to any reader of Tocqueville – his world was one that had only recently emerged from a generations-long spasm of violent religious extremism in which the best-educated and most entrepreneurial few fueled the violent radicalization of the many in the name of ever purer faith. The shadows of Reformation extremism and violence cast themselves across Tocqueville’s view of America, overtly in several chapters. When Weber wrote of the “Puritan work ethic” eighty years after Tocqueville, he was describing a continuity of habits of thought and conduct from the time when educated, industrious, entrepreneurial Protestants plunged Europe into maniacal religious terror.

Education, at least in the near term of a few generations, is not the answer. Or anyway, education for men will not solve the pathologies of the Middle East – better education and entrepreneurial spirit among Middle Eastern men may in the long run be necessary and virtuous, but in the short run, more educated and industrious men likely means more extremism, illiberality, and violence, not less.

It’s an American heresy to believe that education may not be the answer to everything. But it can be true. I think Mitchell’s core point is that violent Jihadism is a response to the bewildering terror that modernity evokes for many in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is thereby reactionary in content but truly modern in form and style. We see this in a much milder fashion with American Christianists. Modernity for many Christianists is really a function of sin and decadence; and the more modern the world the more reactionary and pure must the religion be. And so we have seen a remarkable surge in fundamentalism in an era when the Founding Fathers assumed we’d all be deists at most.

Some liberals forget this. Liberals forget it because many find religious faith ludicrous and cannot quite internalize the fact that fundamentalism often has the strongest appeal to some of the most intelligent people around. Some conservatives don’t get this because they always assume that religion is a force for tradition and continuity, while in actuality it can become radically disruptive and, in its fanaticism, very modern indeed. Modernity emits the fumes that fundamentalists huff.

What does this mean about the Middle East?

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What The Hell Is Happening In Yemen?

Sep 23 2014 @ 12:10pm

Maria Abi-Habib explains how the Yemeni capital came to the brink of a coup this weekend during the worst fighting since the 2011 overthrow of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh:

The militants known as Houthis have been protesting outside government ministries in the capital Sana’a since August, complaining about Houthi rebels take position around Yemeni Government TV in Sanaarising fuel prices and demanding the government quicken the pace of political overhauls. By Sunday evening, they had taken over the central bank and the defense, interior and finance ministries, adding to advances last week that included the airport.

Shortly after Sunday’s takeover, the Houthis, President Abed Rabbo Mansour al Hadi and most of the country’s major parties signed a United Nations-mediated cease-fire that included an agreement to form a new government. Mr. Hadi will choose the next prime minister but must consult with the parties that signed the agreement, details of which were scarce. The Houthis are likely to have an edge in those negotiations after their recent display of force.

Khalil Harb suggests that the Houthi movement acted “strangely” by inking a deal “while having all the makings for a successful coup d’état in their grasp.” Meanwhile, Peter Salisbury notes that many Sana’a are skeptical that the deal will hold:

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Militia Rule In Iraq

Sep 23 2014 @ 11:55am

Omar el-Jaffal explains how Iraq’s militias feed off the country’s political dysfunction:

[The militias] cannot sustain themselves except through manufacturing sectarian fear mongering and cannot attract new fighters except through the new wars that they wage. The egregious economic situation, coupled with the rise of unemployment rate among youth, plays a significant role in the increase of those who enlist in the militias and in the expansion of their scope of activity both in Shi‘i and Sunni areas. This is particularly due to the fact that these militias receive international, regional, and local funding. …

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Now Will Turkey Tackle ISIS?

Sep 23 2014 @ 11:27am

John Kerry - Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s hostages were freed over the weekend:

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that the release of 49 hostages held by Islamic State had removed the main obstacle to joining a U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group, spurring hopes that Ankara would take a more robust role.

The US is certainly eager for Turkey to join the fight. Joshua Keating explains:

The U.S. badly wants Turkey to take a prominent role in its anti-ISIS coalition, including allowing its bases to be used to launch airstrikes. Ankara has been reluctant to fully commit to the effort so far, due to fears of blowback and, in particular, concerns about the status of the Turkish hostages. Secretary of State John Kerry said today that now that the hostage situation has been resolved, he expects Turkey to commit its resources to the fight. “The proof will be in the pudding,” he said.

Joshua Walker encourages Turkey to act:

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