Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Betting on Obama

As everyone knows, Barack Obama and John McCain are winding up for a historic campaign to become the next president of the United States.  The election is still months away, but that’s not keeping speculators from betting on the results.  The map above shows how interested parties with real money at stake are predicting the November election. 

Intrade is a “prediction market” that essentially lets you bet on anything.  You can wager on whether the positive results Dr. Yoshiaki Arata’s cold fusion experiment will be replicated successfully; you can put money down that the Incredible Hulk will gross less than $50 million on its opening weekend; and you bet that the Supreme Court will hold the District of Columbia’s anti-handgun law unconstitutional.  All these trades are made with real money, and members who predict correctly receive the money of members who don’t.  Intrade, then, is an excellent way to tap into the “wisdom of crowds.”

Intrade’s most recent success has been bets on the results of the upcoming November presidential election.  These predicted results are illustrated via a simple map, above–with red for Republican states, blue for Democratic states, and gray for states that are too close to call.  Click here or on the picture above to see a larger version of the map.

The current Intrade favorite is Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee.  Betters have him winning Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and making a strong showing in Virginia and Nevada.  McCain does well in this election too, with clear wins in Florida and Missouri, but it wouldn’t be enough to get him to the White House. 

The site updates the map “at least weekly” and allows you to scroll through previous versions.  So far, they closely resemble the map above.  Nevertheless, McCain’s fortunes can change quickly.  Although Obama is trading at over $61 per share, McCain still brings in $34 per share that he will be the eventual election winner. 


Power Tables

Anyone who’s ever visited Washington, DC knows that the halls of power extend far beyond the alabaster walkways of the Capitol and the White House.  K Street lobbying firms, NGO offices, and the infamous “smoke-filled room” all play a part in DC’s wheeling and dealing.  There’s even a deserted parking garage thrown in once in a while.   But though all these locations all play important roles in the politics of the capital city, no one should discount the impact of a small number of choice restaurants on the DC political scene. 

The map above, entitled “Power Tables,” is from the interactive features website of Conde Nast’s  It shows the most important of the restaurants that meet at the crossing of money, power, politics, ambition, and delicious food.  These restaurants, naturally, center around the White House and Penn Quarter areas of Central DC, within walking distance of many political offices.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

The map is interactive, as well: click on any of the fork-and-knife icons, and the map will tell you not the name of the restaurant, but also which notable figures can be found there and what they eat.  For example, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton dines at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel three times a week, and generally partakes of the Mediterranean food.  Want to “accidently” bump into Secretary of Defense Robert Gates?  You should reserve a table Morton’s on Connecticut Avenue.  And you can walk over to The Source, beneath the Newseum, to find Nanci Pelosi and Harry Ried.

Napoleon III and the Fall of an Empire

Electoral maps use simple colors and shapes to illustrate voter preference.  But by their very nature this simplicity belies a complex story of the class struggle, self interest, power, ideology, and money that influence politics.  Few maps, though, tell as important a story as the one above–a map of the Paris parliamentary elections of 1869, which shows the changing political tide that would lead to domestic turmoil, and eventually to a major international war and the fall of the Second French Empire.

As Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was born into a prominent and infamous family.  His family’s earlier fall from grace meant he was raised in exile, in Italy and Great Britain.  But when the Second Republic was established in France in 1848, Louis-Napoleon was free to return to his ancestral country and quickly became the clear Bonapartist candidate for the throne.  He was able to win a landslide victory in the Second Republic’s first presidential elections, and despite spending nearly all his life outside the country, was elected as the first-ever President of the French Republic.  Only three years later, in 1851, he led a successful coup against his own government and seized dictatorial powers.  One year later, the Republic was abolished, and Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

The 1850s proved fruitful for Napoleon III.  Not only had he seized and solidified imperial powers, but he also married and produced an heir, and led the country into a successful and victorious conflict with Russia in the Crimean War to increase his prestige at home and abroad.  But the 1860s proved more difficult for his regime.  Domestic political opponents forced him to reduce his authoritarian powers; his invasion of Mexico, though initially successful, was defeated and his puppet ruler executed; Victor Hugo was serving as the eloquent pen of the exiled Republican politicians; and Napoleon III’s war against Austria in support of Italian Unification alienated his Catholic political support, presaging later difficulties.  Most importantly, Napoleon III could only watch as Prussia gained power in Germany throughout the decade.

The elections of 1863 saw anti-Bonapartist factions gain seats in the parliament, demanding more liberties from the Empire.  Given his foreign policy failures, Napoleon III lacked the legitimacy to oppose them, and further liberties were granted.  Socialism was taking root among the working classes, who came to oppose the monarchy despite Napoleon III’s explicit pro-labor positions.  These pressures came to fruition in the elections of 1869.

The map above was developed by Leon Montigny, a French mapmaker and author.  It depicts the electoral results of the French parliamentary elections in May and June 1869.  Montigny demarcates the boundaries of each Parisian neighborhood by mapping the streets that form their boundaries.  Over each area, he provides a rectangle whose area is proportional to the number of voters in the district, with each square centimeter representing 1,000 voters.  Each neighborhood’s rectangle is subdivided into smaller rectangles, colored to represent the parties that received votes.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

In this map, the candidates representing Napoleon III’s government are represented in yellow; the anti-Bonapartist opposition from the previous election are in pink and blue; and the socialists are represented in orange.  Even a fleeting glance at the map shows the explicit failure of the Emperor’s politics–his government’s candidates came in a distant second or third in nearly every neighborhood.  In some areas, they received almost no votes at all.

Socialists seem to have resided for the most part in the southern and east-central parts of the city, while the pro-government voters apparently lived in the city center, potentially near their places of employment in government offices.  Overall, the city outskirts voted overwhelmingly against the government.  It was the end of Napoleon III’s absolutist rule.

The successes of the opposition in the 1869 election forced Napoleon III to award multiple concessions, transforming his regime from an absolutist empire to a much more liberal one.  But while the domestic opposition seemed content for the moment, the exiled Republicans were more determined than ever to overthrow the Empire.  Facing dissent at home and abroad, and a dwindling prestige and legitimacy, Napoleon III turned to a frequently-used tactic by unpopular leaders–war.

As Napoleon III’s domestic power had weakened, Prussia’s military power had grown.  In 1866, Otto von Bismarck and Helmuth von Moltke had led Prussia to victory over Austria, consolidating their country’s leadership of the fragmented German states.  Now, in 1870, Napoleon III looked toward Prussia as a way to again legitimize his rule in the face of unyielding Republican opposition.  His wife, the Empress Eugenie, was quoted as saying “If there is no war, my son will never be emperor.”  If Napoleon III could defeat Prussia and show his strength, he could leverage it into renewed domestic political strength and the preservation of his imperial dynasty.

In 1870, on the tenuous pretext of opposing a Hohenzollern appointment to the throne of Spain, the French Empire declared war on Prussia, beginning the Franco-Prussian War.  Throughout the 1860s, Prussia had built a modern, mobile army under the steady leadership of von Moltke and Albrecht von Roon, and whatever challenges remained in its development were solved during the war with Austria four years earlier.  Now, the Prussians and their German allies stormed into France at the head of a remarkably modern military.  The French suffered a staggering series of defeats until, on September 2, 1870, the French army was routed at the Battle of Sedan, and Napoleon III himself was captured.  Two days later, the French parliament deposed him and declared the Third Republic.

A drawing of Bismarck conversing with Napoleon III after the latter’s capture in the Battle of Sedan on September 2, 1870.

After Sedan, Paris held out under siege for several months, leading to many more deaths and a great deal of destruction.  The treaty that finally ended the war awarded Prussia the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.  Using the prevailing German nationalist feelings to his advantage, Bismarck formalized the establishment of the German Empire, which was officially declared in the occupied Palace of Versailles, further diminishing France as the Continent’s leading military power.  Defeated and deposed, and having led his country to ruin, Napoleon III went into exile in Britain.  He died there on January 9, 1873.  He is buried in Saint Michael’s Abbey, in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, along with his wife, and his son who died while serving with the British Army in the Boer War. 

Montigny’s map, above, depicts with startling clarity one of the most important turning points in Napoleon III’s political career.  His defeat in the elections of 1869 forced him to seek domestic political legitimacy through international conflict.  But like many leaders after him, Napoleon III found that he had more than met his match in his enemy of choice.  The results of Napoleon III’s war would form one of the most important causes of World War One.

I came across Montigny’s map via Michael Friendly’s excellent site here.

Cluster Bombs

Cluster bombs have been in use since the Second World War, but have developed into formidable weapons through years of technical and tactical refinement.  But like other many other weapons, cluster bombs have additional deadly consequences for nearby civilian populations, sometimes long after the conflict has ended.  Now, ongoing talks in Ireland seek to ban the weapons because of the harm they can cause to noncombatants. 

The map above shows the relationships of countries around the world to cluster bombs.  Some countries produce the bombs, while others stockpile them or have used them in combat.  Other unfortunate countries have been on the recieving end of these weapons.  The interactive map allows users to sort the world map by countries that produce, use, stockpile, or have been affected by cluster bombs.    Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

As a quick glance will show, nearly every major country in the world either produces or stockpiles these weapons.  The major military powers are major producers of the weapons, along with some countries in the developing world.  The bombs are stockpiled by nearly ever industrialized country on earth, from Peru to Finland to Mongolia.  But most of the countries affected by cluster bombs are in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia, where they have been used in civil and international conflicts such as the Angolan Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War, ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and the Vietnam War.  Russia has used these weapons in its conflict with Chechen separatists.

When fired, these weapons separate into hundreds of tiny “bomblets” that each falls and explodes independently, creating the potential for large-scale destruction over a wide area.  This potential for destruction makes them desirable weapons for militaries around the world.  However, all the bomblets do not always explode on contact, and some remain on the ground still live and armed .  As with landmines, these unexploded bomblets can cause civilian casualties long after the warring parties have made peace.

The Economist produced this map as part of its coverage of a series of international talks that seek to ban the use of cluster bombs.    The talks have some high-level American supporters, as demonstrated by this article’s description:

“There is no doubt that cluster munitions have some military utility. You could say the same of land mines. I suppose you could say the same of poison gas. But we do ban some weapons,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led American efforts to outlaw cluster munitions and provide support to their civilian victims.

“Weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century,” said Leahy, who in February led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster bombs.

The current round of talks is occurring in Dublin, Ireland though the 30th of May.  Although over 100 countries have signed on to the attempt to ban cluster bombs, several leading military powers–Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and the United States–have not participated in the talks, suggesting that any treaty will have at best a limited effect.

The Golden State Bullet Train

Modern high-speed rail travel hasn’t caught on dramatically in the United States as it has in Europe and Japan.  The exception is the Northeast corridor, between Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, served by Amtrak’s Acela Express Train.  But now, California is looking to create its own statewide high-speed train system to ease congestion and improve the state’s environment.  If built, the California High Speed Train System would connect the state’s major cities with a state-of-the-art transportation conduit for people and goods.

The map above shows a segment of the proposed train lines crisscrossing California.  Click here or on the picture above to see a full route map.  You should also click here to explore an excellent interactive route map that allows you to plot distance, time, and cost of travel between any two of the proposed stations.  Cleverly, the map also shows the pounds of CO2 saved for each trip plotted. 

A few examples:  a trip from San Jose to Irvine would take 2 hours and 45 minutes and cost $55.  San Francisco to Los Angeles would take 2 hours and 38 minutes and save 325 pounds of CO2.  Like the fist example, this trip would also cost $55, compared to $126 for a flight and $86 by car, according to the map.  The longest possible trip on the system–Sacramento to San Diego–would cover nearly 600 miles in 3 hours and 35 minutes, for only $68. 

To build the train system, California voters will have to pass a $9.95 billion bond proposal on the November 2008 ballot.  The state government is pulling out all the stops to convince voters to support the proposal.  The project’s website claims the trains will create 450,000 new jobs, eliminate 10,000 automobile accidents per year, save 22 billion barrels of oil per year, and attract tourists and business to less accessible parts of the state.  The site also includes snazzy videos that show gleaming trains speeding across California rural landscapes dotted with environmentally friendly wind turbines:

America has lagged behind much of the rest of the world in developing high-speed trains like those California is proposing.  If the studies are to be believed, these trains can reduce congestion, improve the environment, and make it easier and more affordable for people to commute and travel long distances.  Whether it succeeds or not, California’s plan is on the right track.  If the system is built, it may rightly spur other states to develop similar transit plans.

I found the original information on this train system via Greater Greater Washington.

The Highest Bidder

George Washington once said that “Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”  Since the earliest days of American government, money and politics have gone hand in hand.  And as voters, we tolerate many accusations about our duly-elected representatives–including that they are corrupt.  Today’s map shows a part of how members of the United States House of Representatives fund their campaigns by mapping the percentage of each Representative’s campaign contributions that came from Political Action Committees (PACs)

Under Federal law, a group officially becomes a PAC by “receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a Federal election.”  PACs operate by focusing and directing money dedicated to a specific cause, such as labor rights, gun control, or immigration policy.  PACs will only contribute money to candidates who support their ideology.  Critics of this process say that by accepting money from a PAC, a politician is beholden to that group’s ideology–a process that they say constitutes corruption.  As an example, here are the ten largest PACs from the 2004 presidential election and how much they contributed, according to Wikipedia:

  1. EMILY’s List – $22,767,521
  2. Service Employees International Union – $12,899,352
  3. American Federation of Teachers – $12,789,296
  4. American Medical Association – $11,901,542
  5. National Rifle Association  – $11,173,358
  6. Teamsters Union – $11,128,729
  7. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – $10,819,724
  8. National Education Association – $10,521,538
  9. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – $9,882,022
  10. Laborers’ International Union of North America – $9,523,837

Today’s map was developed by Change Congress, a organization dedicated to exposing and reducing the degree to which American politicians accept money from PACs, lobbyists, and special interest groups. As an organization, Change Congress seeks to reduce PAC contributions and earmarks, and increase public campaign financing and Congressional transparency.  To see the full map, click here or on the picture above and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The map shows each Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The darker the “sludge” color on the map, the more money the congressman representing the district has accepted from PACs.   When you click on a district, a pop-up appears telling you the name of the congressman, their party affiliation and the number of their district, as well as the dollar value of their PAC campaign contributions for 2008.  The map also shows the percentage of each congressman’s funding that came from PACs.

After a quick review of the map, the congressman with the highest percentage of PAC contributions I could find was Al Green, a Democrat representing southern Houston in Texas Congressional District 9.  According to the map, 94% (nearly $60,000) of Green’s 2008 campaign contributions came from PACs.

The figures for notable members of the House vary widely.  Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House, took 48% of her 2008 campaign funds (about $777,000) from PACs.  PACs provided 60% of the campaign funds (or about $1.5 million) for Steny Hoyer, the current House majority whip, and they provided 55% (or over $1 million) of minority leader John Boehner’s campaign funds.  Dennis Kucinich, a frequent progressive presidential candidate, received 30% (or $15,000) of his reelection funding from PACs. And even Ron Paul, the conservative/libertarian hearthrob, took 9% of his funding ($10,000) from them.

On the other end of the spectrum, former Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, of California’s 52nd congressional district, took no money for his 2008 congressional campaign from PACs, nor did Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Arkansas’ 2nd district, or Todd Platts, a Republican from Pennsylvania’s 19th.  Tom Tancredo, another former Republican presidential candidate, took only $500 from PACs for his 2008 congressional campaign.

Change Congress clearly believes that PAC money distorts the American political process.  Whether you agree or not, this map provides a glimpse into how Congress, money, and politics converge.

A Bigger Down Under

I’ve sometimes heard people try to argue that Australia is not a continent.  They usually say this after looking at a Mercator projection map and remarking that it’s hardly bigger than Greenland, so why should it be a continent?  It may come as a surprise to these people that not only is Australia a continent, but the United Nations just officially made it bigger.  Much bigger.

With certain exceptions, continents are generally defined as the limits of a very large landmass and its associated underwater continental shelf.  As such, it’s usually the limit of this continental shelf that determines where a continent ends and the deep sea begins.  Since continental shelves can hold huge quantities of oil, natural gas, and other resources, delineating their borders can be an important and politically charged subject.

The Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, which came into effect in 1994, established rules for how countries could claim underwater continental shelves as part of their territory.  Based on these rules, Australia laid claim to 2.8 million square kilometers of new underwater territory, and submitted its claim to the United Nations for ratification.  On April 21, 2008, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, made up of “experts in the field of geology, geophysics or hydrology,” declared for Australia. 

Australia’s new territory is anything but insubstantial.  The 2.5 million square kilometers of continental shelf the UN awarded equal nearly one third of the country’s land area.  The area includes territory south of Tasmania, toward New Zealand, and out into the Indian Ocean.  It also includes territory that adjoins Australia’s claims in Antarctica.  According to Australia’s Minister for Resources and Energy, the new area is “five times the size of France, seven times the size of Germany and almost 10 times the size of New Zealand.”  Click on the header picture above for a full map of the new territory.

The UN decision gives the Australian government the right to drill for oil and natural gas in its new territories.  Perhaps more importantly, it gives them the authority the deny the right to drill to others.  This decision could prove to have long-lasting economic repercussions in Australia’s energy sector. According to one official, “a larger continental shelf means a larger canvas upon which we can paint our resource and energy future … We really know very little about the perceptivity of these areas, however, and increasing that knowledge will … encourage explorers into these areas.”

Zoning Out

Today is May 1.  To most folks around the world, that means Labor Day or May Day.  To most Americans, it’s just another day.  Except if you live in Washington, DC, where May 1, 2008, means Meter Day.

On October 17, 2007, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the city’s cabs would be switching from the old zone system, established during the Great Depression, to a meter-based fare system.  To those unfamiliar with DC’s zone-based fare system, it’s a simple concept: the city is divided into zones, and taxi fares are calculated based on the zones covered rather than a true distance covered.  Click on the picture above to see the full zone map from the website of the DC Taxicab Commission.

The major benefit of the system was that riders weren’t penalized for their cabs getting stuck in DC’s notorious traffic, and drivers had an incentive to take riders on the fastest route to their destination because the on-the-ground distance or drive time didn’t matter.  The downside, though, was that visitors to the District had no knowledge of the zones and were sometimes (perhaps frequently) cheated by unscrupulous cabbies.  Some riders (myself included) are also guilty of taking a cab to a zone line and walking a couple of extra blocks to save a buck or two instead of crossing the line and incurring an additional charge.

Cab drivers in DC have generally been opposed to the idea of meters–partly becuase they can be pricey and the drivers will have to provide them at their own expense, and partly because it alters a system that, quite frankly, most DC residents had grown accustomed to.  The District has required that all cabs be running on meters by today, and fines for noncompliance are as high as $1000. 

Regardless of the outcome, it looks like the familiar zone maps in the back of each DC cab are going the way of the dodo.  Farwell, zones!

And We Will Defeat The Drought!

The Soviets weren’t ever known for their subtlety.  Observe, as evidence, this stunning propaganda poster of Joseph Stalin engaged in a modification of the Russian climate so large that it borders on terraforming.

In the late 1940s, the Soviet government embarked on what they called “The Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature.”  This plan called for many ambitious ecological manipulation efforts across the USSR’s central plains.  Trees would be planted in massive belts across the steppe, fresh water from the Russian Arctic would be channeled into the semi-arid Soviet heartland, and land that was once useful only for grazing would become a new breadbasket of arable land.  The Soviet scientific community bought into this plan to end Soviet agricultural problems forever, mostly due to the influence of crackpot biologist Trofim Lysenko.  Lysenko deserves as much credit for the development of this plan as he does for its collapse: as millions of trees died due to his misguided theories, Lysenko was ostracized from the Soviet scientific community and his techniques abandoned.

This poster was printed during the heyday of the Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature.  Stalin, dressed here in a military uniform, calmly smokes his pipe as he draws lines of forests and canals across the Soviet Union, sentencing millions of rubles and trees to elimination with each swipe of his pencil.  In its giant letters, the poster screams “And We Will Defeat The Drought!”  For a larger image, click on the picture above.

Notice the relationship of the man to the map.  Stalin, by way of his power and wisdom, wields total control over nature, and has the power to change entire ecosystems with the quick, calm stroke of a pencil.  Notice also how he towers over the map, looming over the entire nation as he asserts his dictatorial authority.  Even the Earth itself is his subject.   Soviet propaganda frequently included images of communist symbols over or around the Earth, but in this example, Stalin is literally manipulating the surface of the planet to suit his wishes.

Thanks to Claire Pogue for the translation!

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