Swing time in US

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THERE was a time when American presidential candidates won real landslides. In 1964, 1972 and 1984 voters re-elected incumbents by margins of around 20 percentage points; all three of those victors (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) won over 90% of electoral college votes. More modest wins have also brought resounding mandates for new presidents, thanks to the winner-take-all arithmetic of the electoral college. Reagan won 91% of electoral votes in 1980 while “only” beating Jimmy Carter by ten percentage points. His successor, George H.W. Bush, secured 79% of the college in 1988 with just a 7.7-point victory over Michael Dukakis.

Such lopsided electoral-college margins now appear to be a thing of the past. Although Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by 7.3 points, roughly the same margin as the elder Mr Bush achieved, he only secured 68% of electoral votes. The main reason is that the electoral college is less sensitive to changes in the popular vote than it once was. From 1948 to 1996, a gain of one extra percentage point in the popular vote corresponded to a pickup of four percentage points in the electoral college. Since 2000, that ratio has fallen to three.

For example, in the 1976 election, which Mr Carter won by two percentage points, 20 states were decided by a margin of five points or less. In contrast, George W. Bush won the 2004 vote by a similar amount, but the candidates were separated by fewer than five points in only 11 states. Similarly, half as many states were within a five-point margin for Mr Obama’s first victory than for George H.W. Bush’s.

According to Stacey Hunter Hecht and David Schultz, two political scientists who outlined the history of American “swing states” in a book published last year, one explanation for this trend is political and demographic “sorting” along geographic lines. In recent years liberals have tended to move to already liberal-leaning states. The same has gone for their conservative cousins. As a result, even presidential candidates who lose the national vote decisively can amass lopsided margins on their “home turf”. Mitt Romney, for example, won Wyoming by 41 points in 2012, even though Mr Obama beat him by four overall. These migration patterns have also increased the likelihood that states will vote for the same party from one election to the next, regardless of which side wins the presidency. That has made it harder for so-called bellwether states, with a long record of siding with the victor—as Maine did from 1832 to 1932, and Missouri from 1904 to 2004—to sustain this pattern.

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In 2008 Mr Obama won Indiana, a state that had not voted for a Democrat since 1964. This year polling indicates that two states previously seen as firmly in the Republican camp, Arizona and Georgia, now look competitive. South Carolina, an even more conservative stronghold, is not far behind. Donald Trump is prone to boasting of his ability to accomplish improbable feats. But turning the Deep South and Sun Belt blue is probably not what he has in mind.

More on the US election from The Economist here.

 

Trump campaign chief is registered to vote in Florida at unoccupied home

The vacant house under which Stephen Bannon is registered to vote in Florida. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

The vacant house under which Stephen Bannon is registered to vote in Florida. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

Donald Trump’s new presidential campaign chief is registered to vote in a key swing state at an empty house where he does not live, in an apparent breach of election laws.

Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s election campaign, has an active voter registration at the house in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which is vacant and due to be demolished to make way for a new development.

“I have emptied the property,” Luis Guevara, the owner of the house, which is in the Coconut Grove section of the city, said in an interview. “Nobody lives there … we are going to make a construction there.” Neighbors said the property had been abandoned for several months.

Bannon, 62, formerly rented the house for use by his ex-wife, Diane Clohesy, but did not live there himself. Clohesy, a Tea Party activist, moved out of the house earlier this year and has her own irregular voting registration arrangement. According to public records, Bannon and Clohesy divorced seven years ago.

Bannon previously rented another house for Clohesy in Miami from 2013 to 2015 and assigned his voter registration to the property during that period. But a source with direct knowledge of the rental agreement for this house said Bannon did not live there either, and that Bannon and Clohesy were not in a relationship.

Bannon, Clohesy and Trump’s campaign repeatedly declined to answer detailed questions about Bannon’s voting arrangements. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, eventually said in an email: “Mr Bannon moved to another location in Florida.” Miller declined to answer further questions.

Bannon is executive chairman of the rightwing website Breitbart News, which has for years aggressively claimed that voter fraud is rife among minorities and in Democratic-leaning areas. The allegation has been repeated forcefully on the campaign trail by Trump, who has predicted the election will be “rigged” and warned supporters that victory could be fraudulently “taken away from us”.

But it is not clear that Bannon is actually entitled to vote in Florida, one of the most important prizes for Trump and Hillary Clinton in their quest for the 270 electoral votes they need to secure the White House in November’s general election.

Details of the apparent breach of election laws by Trump’s campaign chief came as it was revealed that Bannon was once charged with misdemeanor domestic violence after a violent argument with his first wife. Court documents first obtained by Politico describe how, in 1996, his wife was left with red marks on her neck and wrist after the New Year’s Day argument at their home in Santa Monica, California, which began when she woke early to feed their twin daughters and he “got upset at her for making noise”.

The case was closed after Bannon’s ex-wife failed to appear in court to testify to the accusations. Five months later, she filed to dissolve their marriage. In a police report of the 1996 altercation, she described three or four previous arguments that “became physical”.

Bannon, who only recently came into the Trump camp in a move to reset the ailing campaign, is now under fresh scrutiny over his right to vote.

Under Florida law, voters must be legal residents of the state and of the county where they register to vote. Guidelines from the Florida department of state say that Florida courts and state authorities have defined legal residency as the place “where a person mentally intends to make his or her permanent residence”.

Wilfully submitting false information on a Florida voter registration – or helping someone to do so – is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Election officials in Miami-Dade make clear to prospective voters that they are required to actually live in the county and to use their home address in election paperwork. “You must reside in Miami-Dade County,” their website states. It adds: “When you register to vote, an actual residence address is required by law.” A county spokeswoman did not respond to questions relating to Bannon’s situation.

Three neighbors said the house where Bannon is currently registered to vote had been abandoned for three months. When the Guardian visited the property on Thursday a large window in the front aspect was missing. A soiled curtain was blowing through it. The driveway was a mess of tree branches and mud.

Bannon never appeared at the house, according to the neighbors. One of them, Joseph Plummer Jr, who lives next door, said Clohesy lived at the house until earlier this year and that a man of Latino appearance in his 20s was the only male ever seen there. Asked whether a man of Bannon’s description stayed at the house, Plummer said: “No, that was not that individual, not at all.”
Read more at The Guardian newspaper site here…. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/26/steve-bannon-florida-registered-vote-donald-trump

Prize-winning pot plants debut at Oregon state fair

 One of the nation’s most family-friendly traditions will feature marijuana plants. Photograph: Lauren Dake

One of the nation’s most family-friendly traditions will feature marijuana plants. Photograph: Lauren Dake

This week, Nathan Martinez’s family will head to the Oregon state fair to view the prize-winning pot plants he’s hydroponically grown and lovingly cultivated: both the sativa super sour diesel and the indica granddaddy purple.

That’s right: one of the nation’s most family-friendly traditions – synonymous with the tilt-a-whirl, funnel cake and blue ribbon pigs – will feature marijuana plants.

“Cannabis is taking its rightful place next to tomatoes and other agriculture,” said Don Morse, with the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, noting that it’s the first time pot plants have been displayed at a state fair.

But unlike the tomatoes, the marijuana plants will only be viewable by those 21 and older. And the plants will be guarded by security. Still, cannabis advocates called it a monumental step in removing the stigma around a product they believe should be considered the same as any other Oregon crop.

Ed Rosenthal, also called the guru of ganja, was the contest’s head judge. Carrying a clipboard and wearing a black shirt with green marijuana plants, he evaluated each plant on a range of criteria: color, aroma, shape of leaves and overall health. The plants are judged before they flower, and the type of high they produce isn’t a factor in their overall score.

Rosenthal’s priority, he said, is “helping cannabis socialize into the mainstream”.

Among the hopefuls was Peggy Anderson, a petite silver-haired woman, retired from her job at the Portland Business Alliance to open a pot-growing operation with her son. At 63 years old, Anderson said she’s never felt healthier. She walks three miles a day and can vouch for her own product.

She believes the industry is poised to be the next cash crop.

“If you think about Oregon and the agricultural industry, in the Willamette Valley we’re primed to do just as well as the wine industry,” said Anderson, who brought an indica strain called So Mango to display.

 Greg Seybert, head farmer at marijuana grower Synergy Farms, inspects a marijuana plant with his girlfriend, Samantha Aune. Photograph: Gillian Flaccus/AP

Greg Seybert, head farmer at marijuana grower Synergy Farms, inspects a marijuana plant with his girlfriend, Samantha Aune. Photograph: Gillian Flaccus/AP

Read the full article at the Guardian newspaper web site here.

Summary of the Liveability Ranking of Cities and Overview August 2016

The Economist Intelligence Unit has released its August 2016 liveability index listing the top cities, aka best cities, around the world.

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Although the most liveable cities in the world remain largely unchanged, there has been movement within the top tier of liveability. Of the 65 cities with scores of 80 or more, 17 have seen a change in score in the past 12 months. As global instability grows, these movements have been overwhelmingly negative, with no city in the top tier registering a score improvement.

US cities have recently seen further declines in scores. This partly stems from unrest related to a number of deaths of black people either in police custody or shot on the street despite being unarmed in the past couple of years. Paris is another city that has seen a sharp decline in its ranking, due to a mounting number of terrorist attacks taking place in the city, and in other parts of the country, over the past three years.

Nevertheless, with such high scores already in place, the impact of such declines has not been enough to push any city into a lower tier of liveability. Although 17.2 percentage points separate Melbourne in first place from Warsaw in 65th place, all cities in this tier can lay claim to being on an equal footing in terms of presenting few, if any, challenges to residents’ lifestyles.

Nonetheless, there does appear to be a correlation between the types of cities that sit right at the very top of the ranking. Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. These can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure. Six of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, which have, respectively, population densities of 3.1 and 3.9 people per square kilometre.

Elsewhere in the top ten, Finland and New Zealand both have densities of approximately 18 people per square kilometre of land area. These densities compare with a global (land) average of 57 and a US average of 35. Austria bucks this trend with a density of 104 people per square kilometre. However, Vienna’s population of over 1.74m (2.6m in the metropolitan area) people is relatively small compared with the megacities of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo.

It may be argued that violent crime is on an upward trend in the top tier of cities, but these observations are not always correct. According to the most recently released statistics, after a record low number of murders in 2013, Vancouver saw its murder rate increase in 2014, but 2013 and 2014 were still the years with the lowest national murder rates in Canada since 1966.

Although crime rates are perceived as rising in Australia, the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is located, recorded a crime rate of 7,489.5 per 100,000 people in 2013/14. This reflected an increase of 3.7% compared with 2012/13, but despite the increase in the crime rate in three consecutive years, the 2013/14 rate was still 1.6% lower than ten years earlier.

In Austria the murder rate was just 0.5 per 100,000 people in 2014. In the same year there were reports that only nine murders had been recorded in Vienna, a city of 1.74m people, with a murder rate matching the national average. Overall, crime rates have remained steady. These figures compare with a global average of 6.2 murders per 100,000 people (2013) and a US average of 4.5 per 100,000 (2014).

Global business centres tend to be victims of their own success. The “big city buzz” that they enjoy can overstretch infrastructure and cause higher crime rates. New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems than are deemed comfortable. The question is how much wages, the cost of living and personal taste for a location can offset liveability factors.

Download the complete Economist Intelligence Unit report here. 2016 Liveability Index Economist Intelligence Unit

Why did early North America’s largest city vanish?

The Cahokia site covered an area of nine square miles. Illustration: William R Iseminger

The Cahokia site covered an area of nine square miles. Illustration: William R Iseminger

Long before Columbus reached the Americas, Cahokia was the biggest, most cosmopolitan city north of Mexico. Yet by 1350 it had been deserted by its native inhabitants the Mississippians – and no one is sure why.

The story of Cahokia’s decline and eventual end is a mystery. After reaching its population height in about 1100, the population shrinks and then vanishes by 1350. Perhaps they had exhausted the land’s resources, as some scholars theorise, or were the victims of political and social unrest, climate change, or extended droughts. Whatever, the Mississippians simply walked away and Cahokia gradually was abandoned.

Tales of Cahokia don’t even show up in Native American folklore and oral histories, Emerson says. “Apparently what happened in Cahokia left a bad taste in people’s minds.” The earth and the mounds provide the only narrative.

Monk’s Mound, centrepiece of the Cahokia world heritage site in southern Illinois. Photograph: Alamy

Monk’s Mound, centrepiece of the Cahokia world heritage site in southern Illinois. Photograph: Alamy

 

As archaeological studies here continue, Monk’s Mound is now the centrepiece of the 3.5 square-mile Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1982), which includes 2,200 acres of land, 72 surviving mounds, and a museum. The US National Park Service is considering whether to take the area and nearby surviving mounds under its wing.

Federal designation could bring Cahokia additional recognition and tourism. Currently about 250,000 people visit the site every year; by comparison, the rather more modern, Eero Saarinen-designed Gateway Arch in St Louis attracts four million visitors annually.

“Cahokia is definitely an underplayed story,” Brown says. “You’d have to go to the valley of Mexico to see anything comparable to this place. It’s a total orphan – a lost city in every sense.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Scientists on the verge of discovering a new fifth force of nature that will change how we see the universe

“If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe,” says UCI professor of physics & astronomy Jonathan Feng, including what holds together galaxies such as this spiral one, called NGC 6814. ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt Spiral galaxies together with irregular galaxies make up approximately 60% of the galaxies in the local Universe. However, despite their prevalence, each spiral galaxy is unique Ñ like snowflakes, no two are alike. This is demonstrated by the striking face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6814, whose luminous nucleus and spectacular sweeping arms, rippled with an intricate pattern of dark dust, are captured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. NGC 6814 has an extremely bright nucleus, a telltale sign that the galaxy is a Seyfert galaxy. These galaxies have very active centres that can emit strong bursts of radiation. The luminous heart of NGC 6814 is a highly variable source of X-ray radiation, causing scientists to suspect that it hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass about 18 million times that of the Sun. As NGC 6814 is a very active galaxy, many regions of ionised gas are studded along Êits spiral arms. In these large clouds of gas, a burst of star formation has recently taken place, forging the brilliant blue stars that are visible scattered throughout the galaxy. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt Text credit: European Space Agency

“If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe,” says UCI professor of physics & astronomy Jonathan Feng, including what holds together galaxies such as this spiral one, called NGC 6814.
ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
Spiral galaxies together with irregular galaxies make up approximately 60% of the galaxies in the local Universe. However, despite their prevalence, each spiral galaxy is unique Ñ like snowflakes, no two are alike. This is demonstrated by the striking face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6814, whose luminous nucleus and spectacular sweeping arms, rippled with an intricate pattern of dark dust, are captured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. NGC 6814 has an extremely bright nucleus, a telltale sign that the galaxy is a Seyfert galaxy. These galaxies have very active centres that can emit strong bursts of radiation. The luminous heart of NGC 6814 is a highly variable source of X-ray radiation, causing scientists to suspect that it hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass about 18 million times that of the Sun. As NGC 6814 is a very active galaxy, many regions of ionised gas are studded along Êits spiral arms. In these large clouds of gas, a burst of star formation has recently taken place, forging the brilliant blue stars that are visible scattered throughout the galaxy.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
Text credit: European Space Agency

Since the mid-1970s, modern physics has rested on the knowledge of four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force.

Now scientists are on the verge of discovering a fifth force of nature, which could change the field of physics forever.

Jonathan Feng, from the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues conducted an analysis of data that were gathered by researchers from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences during a research on the so-called dark photons.

The mid-2015 study detected evidence of the previously unknown subatomic particle 30 times heavier than electron. Dark photon, the hypothetical elementary particle, is proposed as an electromagnetic force carrier for dark matter, which comprises 85 percent of the mass of the universe. It was first proposed in 2008.

The Hungarian physicists’ study merely indicated the discovery of a new particle, but findings of the new study by Feng and colleagues suggest that it was not dark photon that was discovered but a protophobic X boson. The existence of this particle could be an indication of a fifth force of nature.

Spinning Hillary: a history of America and Russia’s mutual meddling

A mural in Vilnius depicting Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

A mural in Vilnius depicting Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

A Guardian article writes – Donald Trump once again shocked Americans when he appeared to call on Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails from the personal server she used while she was secretary of state.

His comments came as allegations swirled that Russian authorities had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails in an attempt to sabotage Clinton.

This isn’t even the first time the US and Russia have interfered in each other’s presidential campaigns. In a little-known quirk of post-cold war history, the 1996 re-election campaign of Putin’s mentor, Boris Yeltsin, was secretly managed by three American political consultants who on more than one occasion allegedly received direct assistance from Bill Clinton’s White House.

There’s even a movie about it.

The 2003 comedy film Spinning Boris dramatises the true story of three American consultants who were hired to manage Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign. The film stars Liev Schreiber as Joe Shumate, a Republican data analysis expert, Jeff Goldblum as George Gorton (who later became the campaign manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Anthony LaPaglia as Richard “Dick” Dresner, a highly skilled political consultant who in the early 1980s helped elect Bill Clinton governor of Arkansas.

Indeed, Spinning Boris, while ostensibly a film about the Russian presidential election, is actually about how in a globalised world, unshielded by Iron curtains, it should come as no surprise that Russia and the United States have a vested interest in one another’s political elections and, to quote a Russian expression, dirty politics “has no nationality”.

For this reason, the continued outrage over Donald Trump’s ties to Russia rings hollow to anyone willing to recognise some fundamental truths about the way foreign policy really works. Outside intervention in domestic politics is as old as politics itself. Maybe Putin does want Trump to be President, maybe he doesn’t. The only real question is – who’s going to play them in the movie?

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.