Why you’re wrong about who’s going to be elected president next year

Newt Gingrich interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Photo: AP/NBC News, William B. Plowman

It’s 2011, do you know who’s going to win the presidential election next year?  The answer is no, you don’t. Even if you predict now that someone will win then, and that person ends up winning, it won’t be because you knew. You don’t know.

How do I know what you don’t know? Maybe I don’t. But I do know this: Most of what people “know” in the year or two before a presidential election turns out to be wrong. Take a look at the last half century or so, and you’ll see what most people thought was a shoo-in at some point in the calendar year before the election turned out to be, well, a shoo-out.

Examples:

We begin with a tragedy. Throughout most of 1963, the entire country assumed President John F. Kennedy would most certainly be his party’s nominee in 1964. Perhaps he would be reelected as well. We all know what happened on November 22, 1963. Before that date, no one knew Lyndon B. Johnson would be president.

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Activists plead for UN action as Syrian forces move to crush protests in town near Turkey

Syrian refugees in a camp set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in the Turkish town of Yayladagi in Hatay province, Turkey, on Thursday. Photo: AP

Updated | 11:12 a.m. As tanks and armored divisions moved into a town in northwest Syria that has been the scene of intense clashes over the last several days, activists and opposition figures called once again on the international community to condemn the regime’s bloody crackdown on protests, which has so far killed more than 1,300 people, according to human rights organizations.

Thousands fled the town of Jisr al-Shoughour in a desperate bid to escape the violence, crossing over into nearby Turkey as the Syrian army amassed tanks and infantry on the outskirts of the town. Witnesses in Turkish refugee camps reported that the city is now “pretty much empty,” said Nadim Houry, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, in an interview from Beirut.

Syrian soldiers have been dispatched to Jisr al-Shoughour, a quiet market town on the country’s northwest border with Turkey, after a series of violent clashes that the regime claimed left as many as 120 police dead. The official state news agency called the incident a “massacre” perpetrated by “armed terrorist gangs.” But Houry and others have disputed that account, saying the deaths resulted instead from the soldiers’ refusal to fire on unarmed protesters.

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Photo: Anywhere but here

Residents are encouraged to leave town as the Wallow Fire approaches Springerville, Ariz., Wednesday. A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona has scorched an area the size of Phoenix, threatening thousands of residents and emptying towns as the flames raced toward New Mexico. Photo: AP /Marcio Jose Sanchez

What’s the endgame in Syria? Military defections are key to turning the tide, analysts say

Syrian protesters carry national flags and banners during a rally in Talbiseh, in the central province of Homs, Syria. Photo: AP/Shaam News Network

Will the Syrian regime’s depravity be its downfall?

The government of Bashar al-Assad has crossed new thresholds of ruthlessness in its desperate bid to cling to power, spraying bullets indiscriminately into funeral processions and returning the mutilated body of a 13-year-old boy to his horrified parents. Human Rights Watch puts the death toll in the Syrian uprising at about 1,300 people, and with tanks rolling into towns such as Hama and Jisr al-Shughour, the crackdown shows no signs of slowing.

As The New York Times reports, Assad may now be turning to his brother, Maher, to intensify the army’s brutal repression of protesters in the dusty agricultural towns and coastal cities that have been the scenes of the most intense fighting. So what, if anything, will break the government’s tight grip on power in Syria, given the regime’s apparently insatiable penchant for barbarism? Mass defections of Syrian soldiers, experts say.
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Photo: Fire in the sky

Lightning strikes over the Puyehue volcano in Chile on Monday. More than 3,500 residents have been ordered to leave the area as ash from an eruption on Saturday blanketed towns nearly 100 kilometers away in neighboring Argentina. Photo: AP/Francisco Negroni, AgenciaUno

Photo: Times Square gets the news

New Yorkers in Times Square stop to read the news reports of the D-Day invasion of Europe, when Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on this day in 1944. Photo: Library of Congress

The chronic fatigue syndrome Rubik’s Cube

Photo: Flickr/o5com

Two new studies released this week have thwarted hopes that a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome may be imminent.

After a 2009 study linked chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, to a virus called XMRV, some sufferers hoped the link would lead to a cure. But two studies published this week in Science refute the initial link, claiming it was the result of laboratory mistakes. The authors of 2009 study stand behind their research.

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In teachers we trust?

A classroom in Shanghai. Photo: Flickr/ Harald Groven

Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog recently featured a guest post by Columbia University journalism student Dana Goldstein entitled “Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?” Goldstein focuses on the findings of a recent National Center on Education and the Economy’s study, which compares education policies in five top performing countries — Finland, China, Japan, Singapore and Canada — with the United States. One of the main conclusions is that, basically, the way the U.S. recruits, prepares and evaluates teachers is completely out of step with this group of high-achieving countries.

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Dangerous by design

A new study conducted by the transportation advocacy group, Transportation for America, finds that crossing the road in many parts of the country can be, well, deadly. Between 2002 and 2009, more than 47,000 people were killed and 688,000 were injured while walking on American roads. Children, the elderly and the poor are more likely to be killed than other groups, the study said.

To see what they’re talking about, take a look at this Blueprint America report (and below) showing just how dangerous it is to cross the Buford Highway, a major thoroughfare outside of Atlanta, Ga. Buford is the poster child for the kind of multilane highway, lined with stripmalls and suburban housing tracts, originally built with cars — not pedestrians — in mind. It’s frightening to see how risky it is for pedestrians to get from one side of it to the other.
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