Map of the Day

Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog with a look at American congressional districts in reality and if we used computer algorithms to create them for compactness instead:

NC even gets singled out since we are so gerrymandered currently:

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.35.35 AM

And Ingraham on why this matters:

Algorithms like this one prioritize compactness — that is, ensuring that voters are geographically close together. One of the telltale signs of gerrymandering is dramatically non-compact districts that squiggle and squirm out in all different directions — evidence of lawmakers trying to bring far-flung voters into a single district in order to achieve the partisan mix that best favors their party. Or, as Obama said: districts that let politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around.

Many political scientists are skeptical about the merits of drawing districts based on compactness. Their general argument is that districts are ideally based on communities of interest — people who share a common demography, culture, class, etc. There’s no particular reason, they say, that grouping voters by geographic proximity ensures this coherent community any more than drawing lines according to any other metric. Moreover, algorithms can be biased too.

It’s a point well-taken. But “community of interest” is an incredibly squishy term. You can define it pretty much however you want. As I wrote in 2014, if you’re a politician in search of a figleaf justification for putting voters from disparate corners of the state into the same congressional district, you can always find one. Communities of interest are a great ideal, but in practice they’re so fuzzy that they open the door to all manner of redistricting shenanigans, as we’ve seen.

Would this solve all of our political problems?  Absolutely not.  But it sure would be far more consistent with the actual democratic values of this country.

 

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A cool new tool to see who you should vote for

So, interestingly I got asked to work with an international consortium based out of the Netherlands that designs on-line tools to help voters figure out which candidate and political parties are closest to their own views.  They have done their “Election Compass” (Kieskompass in the Dutch) in over 40 countries.  And I can personally attest that they really work hard to get their instrument right for the political context of the particular country.  After much hard work, the Election Compass for the US is live, and I must say it’s pretty cool.  Now, you may well have things well figured out if you are a reader of this blog, but this is certainly a cool tool to share with your family and friends that don’t.  And, hey, if you’ve wondered what’s really the difference between Rubio and Jeb on law & order issues, or health care issues, the tool is amazingly nuanced.

There’s 30 questions that capture the US context quite well.  And when you are done, it shows how close you are to each candidate in two dimensional space.  For example, here’s where I ended up:

compass2

Hey, I guess I should be an O’Malley supporter!  There’s also the option to refine the tool by placing more or less emphasis on certain issues.  I started to try that, but damn it, I care about everything!  That said, here’s what happens when I restrict my concerns to economy, education, and health care:

compass3

O’Malley on the nose!  Well, now I guess I just need to hope he holds on until NC :-).

Or, you can see how candidates get sorted by each of the 30 issues you are asked about.  Here’s the sort for increasing the federal minimum wage:

compass4

Anyway, very good stuff.  Have a little fun with it.  And if you think you know people who would appreciate it, please share and like the FB page.

Photo of the day

From the Guardian’s photos of the day:

Beirut, Lebanon

The sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea and the Rawcheh Sea Rock

Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP

Iran and macho foreign policy

Two good pieces on the crisis that wasn’t with American sailors captured and very quickly released by Iran.  Fred Kaplan:

As news spread of the boats’ seizure and the arrest of 10 American sailors on a routine patrol from Kuwait to Bahrain, the GOP candidates jumped into action. “Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again,” tweeted Jeb Bush. On Fox News, Sen. Marco Rubio called Iran’s move “absolutely” provocative. “Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration’s resolve,” he said, “and they know that … the administration is willing to let them get away with many things.” They have accelerated these tests since the nuclear deal, he added, which is why he’d repeal it on his first day in the Oval Office. Donald Trump fumed on Twitter, “Iran toys with U.S. days before we pay them, ridiculously, billions of dollars,” referring to the sanctions relief that will follow the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. “Don’t release money. We want our hostages back NOW!” Sen. Ted Cruz found it “striking” that Obama didn’t even mention the detained sailors in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In the first 12 hours after the incident, none of the GOP candidates said anything like, “I think we should defer comment until all the facts are in,” a statement they could have made with commandingly furrowed brows. Instead, their motto seemed to be, “Shoot (or at least foment a crisis) first—ask questions later.” Or maybe don’t ask questions at all. Congressional Republicans vowed to bring up resolutions, the very next day, to impose new sanctions on Iran and to delay the release of frozen assets.

Meanwhile, well before Obama entered the House chamber at 9 p.m. to deliver his final ceremonial address to Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken by phone five times with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. It had been established that the two American boats had crossed into Iranian waters, very close to Farsi Island, a military site. The sailors were being fed and supplied with blankets. The violation was seen as an accident, and arrangements were in place for the release of the sailors and the boats at sunrise—which took place without a hitch.

If anything, the speedy, peaceful resolution of this incident could be seen as proof that Obama’s nuclear deal, which all the Republican candidates abhor, holds some collateral benefit in addition to its inherent merits—that the diplomacy it unleashed, after 36 years of official silence (Kerry and Zarif had been scheduled to talk on the phone Tuesday afternoon anyway), was what made the rapid settlement possible...

So Tuesday’s incident represented no crisis, no humiliation, no test of Obama’s resolve, no sign of his weakness, and—in retrospect—no need to clutter what Obama saw as a lofty speech about the past and the future with transient blips that would be forgotten in a week. Certainly the GOP candidates have forgotten the blips—and hope that the voters do, too. Not one of them has back-pedaled in the slightest from the storm and stress they incited in the heat of crisis—the sort of crisis that they would be called on to meet, and soberly deal with, 100 times or more in the course of their presidency, a test that they failed miserably this week. [emphasis mine]

And loved this Max Fisher piece in Vox expertly calling out the fact that so much of Republican foreign policy is really little more than macho posturing and theater (framed through a series of ridiculous Joe Scarborough tweets):

Scarborough’s position here is pretty clear: High-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.

All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation…

Scarborough’s position here is pretty clear: High-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.

All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation.

Yes!  Look, I know enough international relations theory to understand realism and get the importance of the signals a nation sends, but it really is utterly inane how much foreign seems to be driven by incredibly facile ideas of simply looking “tough” and macho.

 

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