Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Jamie Radtke was supposed to be the Tea Party's next giant-killer. She'd put together the biggest movement convention ever, a two-day gathering in Richmond, Va., under the banner of her Virginia Tea Party Patriots. When George Allen took the stage, subliminally begging the grassroots to support his comeback bid for Senate, the irony was just too sweet: Radtke used to work for this guy, and now he was kowtowing to her.
And so, two days after Christmas 2010, Radtke announced her Senate campaign. It was national news for reporters looking for the next Christine O'Donnell, the next Joe Miller, the next Sharron Angle. When three freshmen senators launched the Tea Party Caucus in January 2011, she scored an invite to speak at the meeting. Rand Paul talked for five minutes. She talked for seven. In short order she started appearing, and talking, at all sorts of Tea Party events in Washington. She raised more than $250,000—not much, only one-tenth as much as Allen, but not fringe candidate money.
So, how's the giant-killing quest going? Terribly. Earlier this month, a Public Policy Polling survey gave Allen a 68 percent-to-6 percent lead over Radtke, with the rest of the vote split among more marginal candidates. Tea Party activists in the state say they've been focused on this year's state elections, and anyway, she's not unifying the movement.
On Wednesday, the Radtke campaign euthanized its old win-over-the-tastemakers strategy by attacking RedState blogger Erick Erickson and claiming that he hadn't done enough to promote her. Not so, said Erickson: He endorsed her, and then she proceeded to induce comas whenever she talked to activists, and then she screwed him over.
And that's one measure of how the next round of Tea Party challenges is going. Another: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who actually tied Sen. Orrin Hatch in some polls of Utah Republicans, just announced he was taking a pass on the campaign. Another: Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, whom Erickson says is now the ripest Tea Party target for 2012, is waiting to see whether a conservative state senator will jump into his primary, split up the conservative vote, and help him win. Another? Sure, why not. Sen. Olympia Snowe may be beatable in Maine, but she's only got to beat a fractured field of nobodies.
Are we witnessing the end of the Tea Party's electoral rebellion? Did the GOP civil war reach Appomattox, and nobody noticed? Those questions assume that the Tea Party's goal was to purge Republicans in primaries. That was just one of the movement's goals, and we're finding out that, yes, it may have run its course.
In 2010, when they wanted to take out Republicans, the Tea Party had relatively easy pickings. Their three biggest victories were in Delaware, Alaska, and Utah. Delaware and Alaska are, respectively, the 45th and 47th most populous states. Only 57,582 Republicans voted in the Christine O'Donnell-Mike Castle primary; only 109,750 voted in the Joe Miller-Lisa Murkowski primary. Utah nominates all candidates at party conventions, which put Sen. Bob Bennett's fate at the hands of 3,500-odd Republicans. Compare that to the stakes in Indiana. In 2010, when Dan Coats lucked out and beat a split conservative field for the GOP's Senate nod, he won more than 217,225 out of 550,000 votes.
So: It's hard winning elections. It's even harder because the Republican "establishment," insofar as such a thing still exists, consists of fairly smart people who know what happened last time. When Bob Bennett's slayer, Mike Lee, arrived in the Senate, Hatch started copying his homework and showing up at every Lee presser. He kept up his outreach to Utah's Tea Party leaders, like classic car dealer David Kirkham. He used his powerful position as ranking member of the finance committee to add credibility to Tea Party arguments about the debt, like the idea that the administration was fibbing about the impact of passing the Aug. 2 deadline without raising the debt limit.
Yet when Chaffetz passed on the race, those Tea Partiers Hatch had been courting were still shocked. "It was quite surprising," Kirkham says. "He'll still be vigorously challenged. We're looking for someone who's been more reliably conservative, but we had been working really hard to work with Hatch."
This was a victory that looked like a loss. The Tea Party, the Club for Growth—the whole movement has succeeded in driving Republicans further to the right. Nuking a few moderates in primaries was only part of that—a great story for the horse-race media, but not something that would keep up as the GOP was purified. Think about the Tea Party as repeating (and perfecting) the strategy liberals used in 2006 and after, when online activists and unions banded together to beat Joe Lieberman in his U.S. Senate primary in Connecticut.
Lieberman ended up returning to the Senate. Liberals would oust only a couple more Democrats, like Maryland's Rep. Al Wynn, in the next election cycle. But the Lieberman challenge drew a neon line in front of the party's candidates: Oppose the Iraq War, oppose the surge, or you go nowhere. The party's presidential candidates obeyed. Its next presidential nominee won the primaries in a squeaker in part because he, alone among the frontrunners, had always opposed the Iraq War.
Republicans seem to have figured this out. It's increasingly likely that no incumbent Republican will lose a primary to a Tea Partier in 2012. The movement can consolidate its gains. Safe districts and the fear of primaries do more to keep Republicans straight than the occasional wins.
But some activists still like to think about bloodying up the party some more. Virginia activists, while bearish on Radtke, are bemused and annoyed that Allen has his own prefab Tea Party group to make it look like he's gotten right with them. It's possible that Lugar could go down—even if the primary is split, even if his main challenger, Richard Mourdock, keeps pulling in weak numbers. "That would all make it more difficult," says George Ethridge of the Corydon Tea Party, "but Mourdock can beat Lugar."
What about Utah, where a likely coup just turned into a frantic search for a self-funding candidate with great hair? Kirkham hasn't talked to Hatch recently, but he wants to keep putting the fear in him.
"He scored a touchdown, but he shouldn't be dancing in the end zone," he says. "The game is still on."
What accounts for the collapse of history's great civilizations? Retired anthropologist and author Brian Fagan blames it on the weather, and in particular on the pernicious effects of El Niño, a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that brings a hotter, drier climate to tropical countries worldwide. Fagan and others have suggested that El Niño had a hand in the biblical droughts in Egypt, the disappearance of the Mayan Empire, and even the French Revolution.
A newly released study in this week's Nature suggests that there may be some science underlying this speculation and that El Niño's effects on the wealth and stability of nations has continued into recent times. Combining cutting-edge climate science with data on civil conflicts during the second half of the 20th century, the researchers estimate that more than a fifth of violent flare-ups worldwide may have been triggered by El Niño. And if climate experts are correct in predicting that in the next century El Niño-like conditions will become more commonplace due to climate change, the study's findings point to a hotter, drier, and more violent planet in the years ahead.
The primary mechanism by which warmer, drier weather potentially causes civil conflict is none too subtle—heat and drought reduce the food supply, leaving hungry, rebellious populations in their wake. The unruly hordes take up arms against the government or fight amongst themselves for scarce resources.
El Niño promises not just one lean season but up to 18 months of heat and drought, which can sometimes be predicted well in advance. Indigenous societies have for centuries had ways of divining El Niño's arrival. Andean potato farmers, for example, learned to predict El Niño's onset from the brightness of stars in the Pleiades constellation. Why bother tilling the soil if you know there's nothing but drought on the horizon? Better to prepare for war instead, especially if you expect your neighbors will be taking up arms as well.
The new Nature study isn't the first to consider the link between global climactic changes and war. But most large-scale shifts in weather take place over centuries or millennia, amid technology revolutions and social upheaval that make it impossible to discern any measurable effect due to climate. Saying that the world is less violent now than it was 500 years ago—or more violent than it was during the last ice age—isn't a very useful observation, even if we had comparable data on violence going back that far. El Niño causes the tropics to randomly flip back and forth between weather extremes every few years, which allows the researchers to compare the level of civil conflict within a given country under very different climactic conditions but just a few years apart.
The authors (who include eminent oceanographer Mark Cane, the first person to successfully forecast El Niño through numerical modeling) classify El Niño months based on equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures, with extended periods of warming as the indicator of El Niño's arrival. Unusually cool surface temperatures indicate the onset of La Niña, El Niño's kinder, wetter mirror image. Using data on armed conflicts during 1950-2004 compiled by Swedish and Norwegian researchers, they compare the likelihood that conflicts flare up during El Niño versus La Niña years. (The researchers use a standard measure of conflict onset, defined as a new civil dispute that breaks out between the government and an organized adversary, resulting in at least 25 battle-related deaths in that year.)
In regions affected by El Niño fluctuations the authors find a doubling of conflict risk during El Niño as compared to La Niña. El Niño is a relatively frequent event, occurring every four to seven years, and it affects fully half of the world's population (including most of Latin American, South and Southeast Asia, and all of Sub-Saharan Africa). Given this high frequency and wide-ranging impact, the paper's findings suggest that El Niño has had a hand in triggering as much as 21 percent of recent conflicts worldwide. In a "placebo" set of countries relatively removed from El Niño's influence—including most of North Africa, the Middle East, and northern parts of Asia—conflict risk is the same during both El Niño and La Niña periods, bolstering the claim that weather is indeed behind their results. The authors also found that El Niño's impact on conflict took place relatively soon after its arrival, and well before food shortages would have really set in. While they don't speculate on the explanation for these patterns in the data, they are broadly consistent with the critical role that expectations of future hardship play in causing people to switch from agriculture to waging war.
These findings are of grave concern, if you believe—as many climate scientists do—that climate change will produce global weather patterns that are more El Niño-like, with just as much year-to-year climate variability as exists today, but with warmer and drier conditions overall. While it would be premature to draw any conclusions, given the randomness in year-to-year appearances of El Niño and the extreme complexity of global climate systems, it does hint at one more reason to worry about a warming planet.
But linking the onset of violence to a relatively predictable phenomenon like El Niño might help us head off impending conflict before it starts. Scientists can with some certainty spot an El Niño half a year away, which means aid organizations should have more than enough time to deliver El Niño-dependent relief that can diminish the conflict-inducing effects of drought and famine before bad weather even arrives. By uncovering the link between El Niño and violence, this study may serve as a very early first step in shielding the developing world from the ill effects of its hotter, drier future.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
August 22, 2011 | Los Angeles Times
Better to post late than never.