The American people may not much care, but among the foreign-policy elite, public opinion is undergoing its sharpest shift since the Iraq War went south. Fears of overstretch are out; fears of vacillation are in. Russia’s shrewd and thuggish behavior in Ukraine has alarmed not just the Dick Cheney-Bill Kristol crowd, for which every American adversary is Nazi Germany and every contested space is the Sudetenland, but many in the sensible center as well. The clearest evidence yet comes courtesy of that tribune of worldly prudence, The Economist, which declares in this week’s cover essay that “America is no longer as alarming to its foes or reassuring to its friends.” The Obama administration’s “retreats,” warns the magazine’s accompanying editorial, have sparked “a nagging suspicion among friends and foes that on the big day America simply might not turn up.”
This is bunk.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/The Atlantic]
Some countries are accustomed to U.S. reports deploring their human-rights abuses. But on Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) retaliated with a human-rights report of its own titled “News Analysis on Poor Human Rights Records in US.” In it, KCNA claim that the U.S. is the “world’s worst human rights abuser” and a “living hell.” Do the agency’s claims hold up to scrutiny? Here’s a fact-check of the report.
Read more. [Image: David Gray/Reuters]
In fact, we’ve pushed U.S. power further east than anyone could have imagined when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Baz Ratner]
Every year, Reporters Without Borders ranks 180 countries in order of how well they safeguard press freedom. This year, the United States suffered a precipitous drop.
The latest Press Freedom Index ranked the U.S. 46th.
That puts us around the same place as UC Santa Barbara in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. If we were on the PGA tour we’d be Jonas Blixt of Sweden.
If we were on American Idol we’d have been sent home already.
Read more. [Image: eliszeba/Flickr]
Gallup has released new data on religious observance in the United States, with one major takeaway: Nothing much has changed. Since 2008 when the firm started gathering data on this question, roughly the same percentages of respondents have self-identified as religious, somewhat religious, or non-religious.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. It’s pretty easy to guess which states are America’s most religious: The most fervent states are almost all southern, with the notable exception of Mormon Utah. But the geography of the “nones”—people who said that religion wasn’t an important part of their lives and that they rarely or never attend services—is a little more interesting.
Read more. [Image: Gallup/The Atlantic]
Conservatives are right: The attitudes they say make America special—religiosity, patriotism, and mobility—are fading. And it has nothing to do with Barack Obama.
Read more. [Image: Justinday/Flickr]
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is the first line of the first amendment in the United States Constitution; religious freedom was clearly a legal priority of the men who drafted the Bill of Rights. Yet, 225 years later, the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project has said the United States places a "moderate" level of restrictions on religious practice compared to the other countries in the world. According to Pew, the U.S. saw a marked increase in hostility toward religion starting in 2009, and this level remained consistent in the following years.
What does this rating actually say about the state of religious freedom in the United States? At first glance, one might assume this is bad news for religious folks in the land of the free, but that may not actually be the case. Especially in comparison with the rest of the world, the United States still has fairly robust protections for spiritual practice.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The debate over a final nuclear deal with Iran can be mind-numbingly technical. To what percentage will Tehran be allowed to enrich uranium? What rules will govern inspections of its nuclear sites? Which sanctions will be lifted and how?
But to a large extent, that debate misses the point. Yes, an agreement may contain Iran’s nuclear program somewhat. Yes, it could make the program more transparent. But deal or no deal, Iran will be a threshold nuclear power, able to build a nuke relatively quickly whenever it wants. (Attacking Iran, according to experts like former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, would only speed that process up). One day, I suspect, the people obsessing about the details of an Iranian nuclear deal will look a bit like the people who obsessed about the details of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in 1987. In retrospect, what mattered wasn’t the number of ballistic and cruise missiles each side dismantled. What mattered was ending the cold war.
When the cold war ended, America and the Soviet Union stopped viewing every third-world regime as a chess piece in their global struggle. They realized that by fueling civil wars in countries like Angola and Nicaragua, they were wasting money and subsidizing murder. Once the world’s superpowers scaled back their arms sales and began urging their former proxies to reach political agreements, some of the world’s most horrific wars stopped.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid]
A few years ago I told a friend that the culture wars were over. You might think, given the recent controversies about the whiteness of Santa and Jesus, to say nothing of the racial divides that opened up after Trayvon Martin’s killing, that I was terribly wrong. But I stand by the claim. The culture wars are over—all over, that is, but the shouting.
There is plenty of shouting, to be sure, on cable and social media. But the fundamental shift has already occurred. To paraphrase James Baldwin, America is white no longer, and it will never be white again.
I don’t mean statistically: We have a few more years before the group called whites will be a minority of the U.S. population. Nor politically: Pretty much every power structure in America is disproportionately white and will remain so, long after the population figures tip. I mean simply that the cultural die is cast. We are now a country that defines Americanness in terms that are no longer reflexively, primarily white.
From the start, people calling themselves white have claimed the default setting for American public life. Now demographic change and its shadow are displacing that default. This is what drives so much of the white status anxiety today in politics and popular culture. It also suggests that the much-maligned Millennial generation will be our deliverance. They’ve grown up more comfortable with diversity and less inclined to privilege whiteness automatically than any generation in the country’s history.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/The Atlantic]
There’s a relatively long tradition, in the field of data visualization, of tracking the way we swear. This makes sense. Not only is it fun to track, but cursing is also conveniently specific as a data set; you’ve got your f-bombs and your double hockey sticks and your bodily functions, and, factoring in their permutations, you’re good to go. Plus, you don’t need much sophisticated sentiment analysis to ensure that your data are accurate: An f-bomb is pretty much an f-bomb, regardless of the contextual subtleties. As a result of all this, we, the public, get treated to sweary heat maps. And more sweary heat maps. And sweary interactive maps. There’s just something about big data and sailor-cursing that complement each other—like peanut butter and mothereffing jelly.
Traditionally, those maps are based on text—on swears that are typed into Facebook or, even more publicly, Twitter. Making a map of the sweariest states requires simply gathering geocoded posts, isolating the swears, and going from there.
Read more. [Image: Marchex]