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BREAKING: The Senate Just Voted Not to Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 3:19 PM EST
President Obama walks between sections of pipeline destined for the southern stretch of the Keystone XL pipeline.

UPDATE (11/18/14, 6:17 pm ET): A controversial bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline failed in the US Senate Tuesday evening. It received 59 "aye" votes, just shy of the 60 needed to send the bill to President Obama's desk. The fight isn't over yet; Republicans have said they plan to prioritize approving the pipeline once they take control of the Senate next year.

Below the headlines last week about President Obama's major climate agreement with China, another environmental story was gaining steam: a vote in Congress to force approval of Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline that would carry crude oil from Canada down to refineries on the Gulf Coast. On Friday, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the pipeline, as it has done numerous times in the past. The Senate is expected to vote on an identical bill today. Previous Keystone legislation has always stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Democrats. But the vote Tuesday will likely have more Democratic support than ever before, making it the closest the pipeline has yet come to approval.

Here's what you need to know:

What's happening with Keystone this week?
As of Sunday, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the bill is still one vote shy of the 60 it would need to break a Senate filibuster, pass Congress, and land on the president's desk. If enacted, the legislation would green-light a construction permit for the pipeline, removing that authority from the State Department, which currently has the final say because the project crosses an international border. President Obama has said that his administration would only approve the project if it didn't increase total US carbon emissions; a State Department report in January suggested that the pipeline was unlikely to affect America's carbon footprint because the oil it would carry would get exported and burned one way or the other. But the final decision was postponed indefinitely in April and is awaiting the outcome of a court case in Nebraska that could alter the pipeline's route. Congressional Republicans have accused Obama of willfully kicking the decision down the road for as long as possible; on Thursday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week's vote was long overdue after years of the administration "dragging its feet."

Why is the vote happening now?
When Republicans take control of the Senate next year, with a host of new climate skeptics in tow, they could pass a new round of Keystone legislation—perhaps even with enough support to override a presidential veto. So why rush? The answer revolves around the Senate race in Louisiana, where incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is locked in a runoff campaign with Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, who currently serves in the House. The special election is scheduled for December 6, and Landrieu appears to be trailing Cassidy. Landrieu represents a state with close ties to the oil industry, and she has long been one of the pipeline's most vocal advocates. Last week she introduced the Keystone bill in what many on Capitol Hill have described as a last-ditch political maneuver to score points with her constituents before the runoff. Cassidy introduced the House version of the bill shortly thereafter.

This morning, anti-pipeline activists set up shop in front of Landrieu's residence in Washington:

If the bill passes, will President Obama sign it into law?
Probably not. At a press conference in Burma last week, Obama said that his "position hasn't changed" and that the approval process should go through the proper State Department channels. It's hard to imagine that after all of Obama's statements on Keystone's carbon footprint, the approval process, and his series of climate promises last week, he would capitulate on the pipeline merely for the benefit of one Senate Democrat who appears unlikely to win anyway. It seems more likely that he would save Keystone approval as a bargaining chip to keep the GOP-run Congress from attacking his other hard-won climate initiatives. We'll have to wait and see how this all plays out over the next few days.

Update: I joined Huffington Post Live this morning to talk about today's Senate vote:

This post has been updated.

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Kids Today Are No Dumber Than Their Elders

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 3:01 PM EST

One of my little pet peeves—occasionally given expression on this blog—is the notion that kids today are dumber than they used to be. I'd say that both the anecdotal and statistical evidence suggest just the opposite, but it's hard to get good comparisons since children are tested constantly while adults almost never are. Every year we hear horror stories about how few teenagers can locate France on a map, but who's to say whether adults are any better? After all, we never get the chance to herd them into classrooms and force them to tell us.

Today, however, Andrew Sullivan points me to a lovely little tidbit that I can't resist passing along. As true evidence, it's pretty much worthless. But who cares? This is a blog! If I can't draw sweeping conclusions from minuscule data here, where can I? So here it is: a YouGov survey of a thousand adults asking them six grammatical questions. The results are on the right. As you can see, every age group did about equally well. In fact, if you average all six questions, the results ranged from 75 percent correct for the youngsters to 73 percent correct for the senior citizens. That's no difference at all.

So there you have it. The kids today are all right. Or alright. Or something. In any case, their grammar appears to be every bit as good as that of their elders.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 17, 2014

Mon Nov. 17, 2014 2:57 PM EST

Light armored vehicles fire on targets during a training mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman)

America Is the Developed World's Second Most Ignorant Country

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 12:20 PM EST

A couple of days ago Vox ran a story about a new Ipsos-MORI poll showing that Americans think the unemployment rate right now is an astonishing 32 percent—higher than during the Great Depression. The correct answer, of course, is about 6 percent. And this is not just a harmless bit of ignorance, like not being able to name the vice president. "It matters," we're told, "because the degree to which people perceive problems guides how they make political decisions."

My first thought when I saw this is the same one I have a lot: how has this changed over time? After all, if Americans always think the unemployment rate is way higher than it is, then it doesn't mean much. But I couldn't find any previous polling data on this. I made a few desultory attempts in between football games this weekend, but came up empty.

Luckily, John Sides is a stronger man than me, and also more familiar with the past literature on this stuff. It turns out there's not very much to look at, actually, but what there is suggests that this Ipsos-MORI poll is a weird outlier. Generally, speaking, most people do know roughly what the unemployment rate is:

In this 1986 article....two-thirds, stated that the unemployment rate was 10 percent, 11 percent, or 12 percent — a substantial degree of accuracy.

In this 2014 article....approximately 40-50 percent of respondents could estimate this rate within 1 percentage point.

In this 2014 article....most respondents gave fairly accurate estimates — which is reflected in the median.

So the whole thing is a little odd. In past polls, people weren't too far off. In this one, they're off by more than 25 points. Something doesn't add up, but it's not clear what. In any case, it's worth taking this whole thing with a grain of salt.

But all is not lost. If you decide to take this poll seriously anyway, you might be interested to know that the unemployment results are merely one part of a broader report titled "Perils of Perception." Basically, it's an international survey showing just how wrong people in different countries are about things like murder rates, number of Muslims, teen birth rates, voting, and so forth. This is then compiled into a handy "Index of Ignorance."

So who's #1? Not us. We came in second to Italy. But that's not too bad! We're pretty damn ignorant, and with a little less effort we might take the top spot next year. Still, even though Germans and Swedes may feel smug about their knowledge of demographic facts, can they launch pointless wars in the Middle East whenever they feel like it? No they can't. So there.

POSTSCRIPT: On a slightly more serious note, Sides tells us that not only is the Ipsos-MORI poll an odd outlier, but that his research suggests that ignorance of the unemployment rate has very little impact on people's attitudes anyway. I'd say the Ipsos-MORI poll accidentally confirms this. The German public, for example, has a much more accurate view of the unemployment rate than the American public. So has that helped their policymaking? It has not. Over the past few years, Germany has probably had the worst economic policy of any developed country, while the US has had among the best. A well-informed public may be less important than we think.

1 in Every 30 US Children Is Homeless

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 11:07 AM EST

The number of homeless children in America reached nearly 2.5 million last year, an all-time high, according to a new report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

The report, titled "America's Youngest Outcasts" and published Monday, concluded the current population amounts to 1 child out of every 30 experiencing homelessness. From 2012 to 2013, the number of homeless children jumped by 8 percent nationally, with 13 states and the District of Columbia seeing a spike of 10 percent or more.

National Center on Family Homelessness

"The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children," co-author of the report and director of the center Carmela DeCandia told the Associated Press. "As a society, we're going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms."

Researchers behind the study cited several major drivers behind the recent surge including high poverty levels, insufficient affordable housing across the country, and traumatic stress experienced by mothers. Different reports have cited 90 percent of homeless mothers have been assaulted by their partners, with children overwhelmingly exposed to similar acts of violence.

According to Monday's report, youth homelessness is particularly problematic in some parts of the South, Southwest, and California:

National Center on Family Homelessness

 

Sunni Awakening 2.0? Don't Hold Your Breath.

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 10:57 AM EST

Back in 2007, the military success of the famous "surge" in Iraq was due largely to the fact that many Sunni tribal leaders finally turned against al-Qaeda and began cooperating with the American army. This so-called Sunni Awakening was a key part of the tenuous peace achieved a year later.

It was a fragile peace, however, and eventually it broke down thanks to the lack of a serious political effort to include Sunnis in the central government. By last year, the Sunni areas of Iraq had once again begun to rebel, and ISIS took advantage of this to storm into Iraq and take control of a huge swath of territory. If we want to regain this ground from ISIS, the first step is to once again persuade Sunni tribal leaders to cooperate with us, but it looks an awful lot like that particular playbook isn't going to work a second time:

Officials admit little success in wooing new Sunni allies, beyond their fitful efforts to arm and supply the tribes who were already fighting the Islamic State — and mostly losing. So far, distrust of the Baghdad government’s intentions and its ability to protect the tribes has won out.

....Much of the Islamic State’s success at holding Sunni areas comes from its deft manipulation of tribal dynamics. Portraying itself as a defender of Sunnis who for years have been abused by Iraq’s Shiite-majority government, the Islamic State has offered cash and arms to tribal leaders and fighters, often allowing them local autonomy as long as they remain loyal.

At the same time, as it has expanded into new towns, the Islamic State has immediately identified potential government supporters for death. Residents of areas overrun by the Islamic State say its fighters often carry names of soldiers and police officers. If those people have already fled, the jihadists blow up their homes to make sure they do not return. At checkpoints, its men sometimes run names through computerized databases, dragging off those who have worked for the government.

“They come in with a list of names and are more organized than state intelligence,” said Sheikh Naim al-Gaood, a leader of the Albu Nimr tribe. The most brutal treatment is often of tribes who cooperated with the United States against Al Qaeda in Iraq in past years, mostly through the so-called Sunni Awakening movement supported by the Americans.

Obviously ISIS may overplay its hand here, or simply overextend itself. They aren't supermen. At the same time, it's obvious that ISIS is well aware of how the original Sunni Awakening played out, and they're doing an effective job of making sure it doesn't play out that way again. Sunni leaders are already distrustful of Americans, having been promised a greater role in governance in 2007 and then seeing that promise evaporate, and ISIS leaders are adding a brutal element of revenge to make sure that no one thinks about believing similar promises this time around.

All this is not to say that things are hopeless. But a replay of the Sunni Awakening isn't going to be easy. Sunni leaders have already been burned once and were unlikely from the start to be easily persuaded to give reconciliation another chance. ISIS is reinforcing this with both deft politics and brutal retaliation against collaborators. It's not going to be an easy dynamic to break.

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Love's New Album Is Finally Released—40 Years Late

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Love
Black Beauty
High Moon

Fans have been waiting a long, long time for this one. The LA ensemble Love, best known for the 1967 folk-pop classic Forever Changes, assumed a variety of guises during its turbulent and intriguing history. On the band's 1966 debut, frontman Arthur Lee and company displayed a heavy debt to the Byrds, though his songwriting was too original to qualify the band as imitators. By the time Love recorded Black Beauty in 1973, Lee was the only remaining original member, and the sound echoed the psychedelic hard rock of his friend Jimi Hendrix.

While this previously unreleased album isn't a lost masterpiece, it's well worth hearing. The quartet is brawny and nimble at once, while songs like "Young & Able (Good & Evil)" and "Lonely Pigs" range from romance to meditations on social justice and race. (Like Hendrix, Lee was a black man navigating the predominantly white rock-and-roll world.) Lee subsequently experienced extreme ups and downs, including jail time in the '90s and an overdue celebratory comeback after his 2001 release from prison, before passing away in 2006. Black Beauty fills in a significant gap in his story.

Elevate Your Mood With the Cool Ghouls

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Cool Ghouls
A Swirling Fire Burning Through the Rye
Empty Cellar

Psychedelic in the sense of "anything goes," as opposed to tired DayGlo nostalgia, San Francisco's Cool Ghouls project a sloppy party-going-overboard vibe that belies their considerable assets. This vibrant sophomore album was recorded by Sonny Smith, leader of Sonny and the Sunsets, and like that lovably slackerish crew, this snappy quartet uses a studied casualness to mask major pop smarts. Guitars veer abruptly from snarling fuzztones to folk-rock chimes and back, while the cascading three-part vocal harmonies are sunny exuberance exemplified, but never fussy or precise, and the songs are downright catchy. Recommended to fans of the Beau Brummels or Robyn Hitchcock—and anybody else needing a quick mood elevator.

Squirrel Steals GoPro Camera, Runs Up Tree, Becomes Internet Celebrity

| Sun Nov. 16, 2014 10:30 PM EST

Via Mike Issac, here is a cute video of a squirrel stealing a GoPro, running off with it, trying to eat it, then returning it.

Head on over to the Daily Mail if you're the type that likes your viral videos explained.

 

Have a great night.

Why Won't Orrin Hatch Blame Republicans For the Failure of Immigration Reform?

| Sun Nov. 16, 2014 10:28 AM EST

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch cracks me up:

[Hatch] expressed concern that President Barack Obama may soon take executive action on immigration and protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. "It would be catastrophic for him to do that," said Hatch. "Part of it is our fault. We haven't really seized this problem. Of course, we haven't been in a position to do it either, with Democrats controlling the Senate. I'm not blaming Republicans. But we really haven't seized that problem and found solutions for it."

...."Frankly, I'd like to see immigration done the right way," Hatch added. "This president is prone to doing through executive order that which he cannot do by working with the Congress, because he won't work with us. If he worked with us, I think we could get an immigration bill through ... He has a Republican Congress that's willing to work with him. That's the thing that's pretty interesting to me."

You know, it was only 17 months ago that the Senate passed a vigorously negotiated and tough-minded bipartisan immigration bill that was actively supported by President Obama. You know who voted for it? Orrin Hatch. The only reason it's not the law of the land today is....Republicans in the House. That's it.

So what's the problem here? Why shouldn't we blame Republicans?