When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

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The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

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A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.


Obama's Political Moneyball Could Be The Shape Of Campaigns To Come

Nov 14, 2012
Originally published on November 14, 2012 2:36 pm

A good deal of credit for President Obama's re-election has gone to his campaign's sophistication at interpreting data about potential voters and its use of behavioral research to get supporters to actually vote.

And because success in politics spawns imitators, the approach could well shape how future campaigns are run.

Remember, Republican strategist Karl Rove's and George W. Bush's campaigns of the 2000s get credit for early mining of consumer data. Obama's campaign, however, is credited with taking the data analysis to the next level, refining the process campaigns have used to score potential voters on their likelihood to turn out for a particular candidate on Election Day in much the same way credit issuers score consumers on their likeliness to repay debts.

This meant mining consumer data and other information from millions of would-be voters to find patterns that indicated political leanings and how persuadable they might be.

The election results, in which Obama captured 332 electoral votes and virtually every competitive swing state, "testify to many dramatic changes, particularly demographic and ideological ones, that mark life in Obama's America," wrote Sasha Issenberg in an article in Slate. "But within the practice of politics, no shift seems more dramatic than the role reversal between the two parties on campaigning competence," wrote Issenberg, whose book, The Victory Lab was required reading this election cycle for its explanation of how social science is changing elections.

"Today, there is only one direction in which envy can and should be directed: Democrats have proved themselves better — more disciplined, rigorous, serious, and forward-looking — at nearly every aspect of the project of winning elections," wrote Issenberg.

What exactly did the Obama campaign do? Using techniques gleaned from social science experiments aimed at determining how to get occasional voters to the polls, it targeted Obama backers with weak voting habits who were most likely to vote with enough persuasion.

And there were the reported 66,000 daily computer simulations the campaign ran to model Election Day variables to help it decide where to expend more time and money.

"We had to win this on the micro stuff," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said at a post-election conference of political consultants, according to Buzzfeed.

It's not like the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney wasn't also using data and modern political science tools to try to maximize turnout for its candidate. It just seemed to have less success.

The frustrations Republicans had in getting out their vote on Nov. 6 was symbolized by the Election Day crash of Project Orca, the GOP's digital voter turnout and monitoring system.

While it's impossible to quantify how much data-driven and social-science approach accounts for the president's success, Obama's strong showing surprised many political observers, and certainly many in Romney's presidential campaign. They had assumed Obama couldn't match, let alone exceed, his strong 2008 showing with key parts of his coalition, especially African-Americans and young voters. But he did.

"I think the broader challenge is incorporating the science into the culture of the Republican campaign professionals. I know that it's been an uphill battle at times even within the Democratic Party," said John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University and a lead contributor to The Monkey Cage blog, in an interview. "Grizzled consultants who have done this for years don't like being told by nerds that their stuff doesn't work. It's going to take some explicit investment by GOP activists and leaders to begin to transform how the party conceives of voter mobilization and persuasion."

But James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said it's going to take more than political moneyball for Republicans to be competitive in national elections going forward.

"I think it's going to take them a long time to catch up because they're basically the Confederate South and the Plains states, if you look at the map," said Thurber. "They're basically white males and evangelical Christians. They've got to reach out. It's not just statistics. It's reaching out with the right policies as well as message to the future of America."

Issenberg and other journalists in Slate, Time, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times all have noted the data-driven and messaging work done in the Obama campaign's back office to figure out where the campaign should focus its resources.

But a great deal of how the Obama campaign prepared its get-out-the-vote effort was more traditional, and also showed the benefits of incumbency.

Obama's operation never closed many of its campaign offices in battleground states after 2008, for instance. It also had significantly more of them than Romney. That allowed Obama's campaign to remain a neighborhood presence and develop relations in critical precincts and counties.

But there was also the political equivalent of moneyball: the use of data to focus on which fair-weather or first-time voters to target. And Issenberg says the Democrats' greater embrace of techniques tested by social scientists gives the party a significant and maybe durable advantage over Republicans.

"The gap between the sides may be too large for mere enthusiasm to close it anytime soon," he writes.

Not all Republican political consultants and political scientists are panicking. They acknowledge that Obama's campaign operation had a few steps on Romney's, but they see the advantage as strictly temporary.

"The Republican Party will not have a difficult time catching up ... if they make some systematic changes," said Cyrus Krohn, who once headed the Republican National Committee's e-campaign efforts and is co-founder of Crowdverb, a consulting firm for political campaigns and corporations.

Krohn advised that after taking some time to recover from the bruising campaign, Republicans make the kind of improvements to their use of technology and data that will at the very least put them at parity with Democrats. The GOP must start, he said, even before it fully sorts out the inevitable leadership changes that come after losing a presidential election.

Some political scientists shared Krohn's view that it wouldn't be long before Republicans were at parity or beyond, at least on the technology front.

"I'm less convinced than Issenberg and others that Democratic techniques are all that transformative and made a big difference in the election," said Philip Klinkner, a political scientist at Hamilton College, in an email interview.

"Most of these ideas are out there in the public realm, and Republicans can read journal articles," he said. "There are plenty of right-leaning academics who do this kind of stuff."

And after the nation's most expensive presidential race, Klinkner noted: "Money talks. I'm sure there are plenty of otherwise lefty academics who will work for GOP groups in return for nice consulting fees or access to good data."

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