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Author Page for Dave Brockington

Born in San Jose, grew up in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in poli sci from University of Washington, worked for three years at Universiteit Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and have worked at the University of Plymouth for eight academic years now in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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"In previous decades people would have laughed about it."

[ 0 ] November 25, 2009 |

But, Bruce people laughed about a lot of hilarious things in previous decades that turned out, with the passage of time, to not be bloody funny at all.

So when Bruce Forsyth, CBE, so called “national treasure” of Britain (and still on the telly every week hosting the wildly popular and utterly pointless Strictly Come Dancing, the forebear to what I’m sure is the equally popular and pointless Dancing With the Stars in the U.S.), lamely attempts to convince us that Paki is as racist as Limey, meaning it isn’t racist at all but just something we should all laugh off, all we can do is sigh and continue to pay our license fee* (£142.50 this year, and I pay mine every December . . . )

Or maybe when you’re 81, you may still find things funny that haven’t been since Neville Chamberlin was Prime Minister?

* This is one of the more regressive taxes among the western democracies, and one I happily pay every year. Value for money and all that malarkey, Forsyth, Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, and George fecking Lamb aside . . .

Reading the Tea Leaves

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

The Observer published the new Ipsos-MORI poll on Sunday on voting intentions for the forthcoming British election, and the media are all aflutter about its implications. Specifically, the Tory lead has shrunk to six points down from over 20 this past summer: 37% Conservative, 31% Labour, 17% Liberal Democrat.

This matters not only because of the electoral system writ large, but the way the constituencies are drawn, weighted (Scotland and Wales still have a built in advantage in population : seats ration, even post-devolution), and how partisan support is distributed. Here at the University of Plymouth we are considered experts in the field of British electoral politics with our Local Government Chronicle Elections Center. Two of my colleagues in the Elections Center have produced a handy media guide that breaks down the redrawn constituency boundaries for the 2010 election, with a matrix that predicts the distribution of seats in the new parliament assuming a uniform national swing. When 37% Conservative is compared to 31% Labour, we end up with a distribution of C 283, L 273, LD 62: a hung parliament.

However, let’s not get carried away, yet. I do have a few critical comments about how the poll is being interpreted. Ipsos MORI are a highly respected polling firm, but nowhere in their releases, hence nowhere in the media, do we find any explicit information regarding the margin of error. We do, however, have the N: 1,006. This basically equates to an MoE of 3% assuming a 95% confidence interval. In other words, the “true” value of support for the Tories is between 40% and 34%, Labour 34% and 28%, etc., with 95% certainty. The best case scenario for the Tories with these numbers equates to: C 329, L 227, LD 63. A comfortable majority.

But wait, there’s more!

The overall N and the estimates reported by Ipsos MORI do not match. The support estimates are based on a rough likely voter model / filter which the firm terms “certain to vote”. This reduces the N to 513, and roughly increases the MoE to 4.5%. Meaning, the true value is somewhere between 41.5% and 32.5% for the Tories, and 35.5% and 26.5% for Labour. When matched against UK Polling Report’s poll tracker, the 6 point Tory lead is an outlier — not an egregious outlier as it is at least consistent with the trend from the past month, but an outlier nonetheless. (Anthony Wells at UKPR also has an informative take in his blog on this poll hitting different issues than I have here.)

Interestingly, the total size of the sample offering a voting intention of any likelihood is 799, and those numbers are 34-34-16. This suggests that Labour’s best strategy is to mobilize their base, or those that are unlikely voters but if they were to vote would vote Labour.

Considering the above, I’m not going to comment on Nick Clegg’s tactics regarding the Lib Dems role in a potential hung parliament, or his own grasp of what democracy is all about, nor am I going to consider all the possible ramifications and political gymnastics leading to a hung parliament, but then I am also not going to boldly come out and proclaim that a hung parliament ain’t gonna happen, cowboy.

I recognize that the media have a news hole to fill, and in terms of electoral politics here in the UK, this is the most interesting story in a while. However, let’s wait for a few more polls to see if this one is indicative, or merely an outlier, before we get all excited about the prospects of a hung parliament.

Atypical Monday Daddy Blogging

[ 0 ] November 23, 2009 |

Both pictures of Imogen were taken this weekend; the only major political event to temporally intercede was the Senate vote on that silly anti-democratic procedure called cloture allowing debate on health care reform.

With my careful guidance and tutelage, I’m sure she will correctly decide between progressive politics and supporting the BNP by the time she is 18.

It’s either that, or she simply thought I was a Nazi for telling her to eat her veg . . .

Who?

[ 0 ] November 20, 2009 |

The European Union selected its President and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President for External Affairs. In the classic stereotype of the dull gray bureaucrat, they’ve selected a couple of relative lightweights (given the nature and stature of the position) whom nobody outside of their jobs, families, and closest work colleagues know anything about. I’ll admit to having “fleshed out” my knowledge of the two appointees just this morning.

The President is the Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy. He’s only been Belgian Prime Minister since December 30 of last year, and then, he was reluctant to take up the position following the political collapse of the imagined state of Belgium. The King had to cajole him.

The High Representative for a Number of Important Things is Catherine Ashton, life peer since 1999 so commonly referred to as Baroness Ashton of Upholland, or Lady Ashton here in the UK. She has had a proper lefty background, studied Sociology at University, worked for the CND for a couple years, had a stint working with businesses about issues of social inequality, before entering politics. I’ll admit to gleaning most of her pre-politics background from her Wiki as well as a couple other sources.

I’ll try to imagine some strengths of these appointments before discussing the obvious weaknesses. Van Rompuy has held a country together that by all accounts should not be a country, and nearly ceased being a country in 2007-08, a crisis that I exploited for its humor value early and often in class. By all accounts, his success in holding Belgium together was more than mere competence; he was able to rebuild a modicum of trust between Flanders and Wallonia. These skills should serve him well in trying to keep the 27 member states of the European Union on the same page. Of course, there is fear that Belgium has lost its healer and will once again descend into chaos.

Lady Ashton was the Leader of the House of Lords for a bit over a year, has held the post of EU Trade Commissioner (replacing Peter Mandelson) for a bit over a year, has a reputation for . . . well, hell, I really don’t know anything about her.

I wrote about this on Halloween. While my post was primarily a befuddled questioning of Tory tactics on several issues, I had this to say about the positions:

Second, I don’t see the value in European leaders wanting a “chairman rather than a chief”. A recognizable, public face as the putative leader or figurehead representing the EU will help not only abroad, but within the EU itself. Not noted for its democratic transparency, distrusted by more than just the British, and perceived to be run by faceless Eurocrats in Brussels, such a “president” would help raise the profile of the EU within the EU.

These appointments will help the image or profile of the EU neither abroad nor within. What they do suggest is that the 27 member states, especially the leaders of the large leading countries (e.g. Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and . . . Italy? Poland?) did not want these posts to have a higher profile than they. So, we get a perhaps diplomatically and politically gifted Belgian Prime Minister whom nobody outside of Brussels or Antwerp has really heard of, and a British politician who, as The Guardian argues, is as obscure as she is unelected. Can you even be a politician in a democracy if you’ve never stood for election?

Critics of the EU will have a field day with this, indeed already are here in the UK. The leader of UKIP (and an MEP), Nigel Farage, argued

We’ve got the appointment of two political pygmies. In terms of a global voice, the European Union will now be much derided by the rest of the world. Baroness Ashton is ideal for the role. She has never had a proper job and never been elected to public office.

But then we would expect UKIP to say that.

A greater problem will be the legacy that they establish in designing their positions. The descriptions are suitably vague enough that a strong political force could have developed them into something useful vis-a-vis the various heads of government in the EU. However, George Washington they ain’t.

Speaking of American Presidents, Obama did claim that these appointments would make the EU an “even stronger partner” to the United States.

Did he say this before, or after, looking them up on wikipedia?

Note: while I may appear to be overly critical of Belgium, I rather love that country, and spent a lot of time in it when I lived in the Netherlands. In fact, one of my top five beer bars on the planet is in Antwerp.

La main de Dieu, for a New Generation

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

France 1 (1) – 1 (0) Ireland. AET.

France qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
I recall watching the 1986 World Cup on TV, which was a rarity at the time from the United States. I vaguely recall watching the Argentina v England quarter final match as well. However, not being an England fan, and only an 18 year old American at that, the infamous Hand of God goal by Maradona didn’t resonate at the time as it did on the island where I now reside. Living six + years here, and being a soccer fan, I quickly learned just how fantastically lame that was. In my mind, the so-called “goal of the century” that Maradona scored a few minutes later didn’t absolve him of that central sin. For all of his greatness as a player, his reputation is also blighted for being a cheat.
Thierry Henry’s glorious career, likewise, took an unrecoverable turn last night:

(UPDATE: I originally included a clip from youtube, but Sportsfive, who own the rights to the broadcast from the match, have been busy scouring the intertubes for copyright infringements. Or something like that. Did I mention that they are French? Anyway, check out the comments for an active clip).

Granted, it’s not a World Cup quarter final, but it was the final few minutes of qualification, and the match looked to be heading ineluctably towards penalties. It also was not the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1999, either.

I was in the pub for this match (technically only the second half). While Henry claims that he did not do it on purpose, I strongly disagree. The first hand ball was incidental — still a foul, but not purposeful. The second hand ball he appears to direct the ball with intent. Before the replays, we knew something was up: virtually every Republic player had their hands raised, and Shay Given storms out to first the referee, then the linesman, to protest. The replays made the foul plain.
It’s difficult to blame the referee for this; in the main he had a good match. The Anelka dive may have led to a penalty against Given, but that was a judgment call; the hand ball was not. The linesman should have spotted it, and either didn’t, or didn’t believe his eyes. But then he also failed to spot the clear offsides at the same time.
I’m not buying into any of the conspiracy theories — while FIFA and UEFA have a clear preference for large nations to qualify, they sorted this out in the playoff draw. If there was a conspiracy involving the ref, he would have called that penalty against Given, not waited for a few minutes remaining in stoppage time to ignore a hand ball.
As my English club has always been Arsenal, even before the Wenger years, I should be inclined to give Henry the benefit of the doubt and wax eloquent about how any player would have done the same thing.
But I’m not. That hand ball was intentional, and should be called what it is: cheating. And Henry’s legacy will forever be tied to this moment, which is a shame.

UPDATE: The Irish Justice Minister is calling for a replay. I heard rumblings about this on both BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live last night and this morning, which is why I cited the Sheffield United – Arsenal FA Cup Fifth Round tie in the above.

It’s not going to happen. How would it? Any such match has to happen soon, but the next international window is months away, so the players would have to be coaxed from their clubs. While FIFA and UEFA can pry players from their clubs during international breaks, to the best of my knowledge they have no leverage outside of international windows. The current French squad play for such clubs as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Lyon . . . when these clubs say no, and they would within a second of receiving the request, the French players have no incentive to challenge the club position: they’ve already been handed their trip to South Africa (sorry for the dreadful pun, but about half the newspaper headlines today make the obvious easy play).

The Travails of a One Man Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

Apparently, Landon and Becks have kissed and made up.

While there’s doubt on this here island on which I live, if Beckham plays as well for Milan during his loan spell this season as he did last season, he should get a spot on the England team for the World Cup (not so, however, Michael Owen). He won’t be playing in the center of midfield, where Arena has been playing him with Los Angeles, obviously, but he is still in possession of a couple skills that warrants inclusion.

Of course, Beckham is still only the second best player on the Galaxy (if that — I’m sure others will disagree), to Landon Donovan. To wit:

There were other factors in the Galaxy’s resurgence. Donovan has become routinely brilliant.

It would be nice for the routinely brilliant Donovan to move to a league where he can be consistently above-average. There is still time for him to improve as a player, although at 27 (28 at the World Cup) that time is rapidly running short.

I will be discussing the UEFA playoff first leg matches within a day or two; I will be watching the Ireland – France match (not in person, shame) with an Irish colleague of mine.

With Friends Like These . . .

[ 0 ] November 10, 2009 |

The Sun (of all papers) manufactures a controversy about . . . Gordon Brown.

The time line is telling. Brown, blind in one eye and of notoriously illegible handwriting (something I can say that I understand), pens a letter to the mother of a fallen soldier expressing sorrow over her son. The illegible scrawl could be interpreted as clumsy, hasty, and riven with sloppy spelling (including, allegedly, her surname). Jacqui Janes, the mother, with the help of The Sun, decry the obviously anti-military inclinations of the PM.

The story leads the news for a day. The PM phones the mum. The mum has a rant.

And it’s conveniently on tape.

What is lost in this furor is the more important issue: the British services are under-equipped, and it’s entirely possible that more helicopters in the theatre might have increased the probability that her son’s life was saved.

Rather, what we have is a typically shrill manufactured tabloid critique of a Prime Minister that The Sun is already on record as not supporting.

But at least Rupert Murdoch regrets his papers’ anti-Brown stance, a man he considers his friend.

In a Desperate Search for Connections . . .

[ 0 ] November 10, 2009 |

Sesame Street turns 40, the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago.

Discuss.

A Regular Guy Does Books

[ 0 ] November 5, 2009 |

I know that Glenn Beck is a soft target, but holy crap, this has the potential for some serious hilarity, especially as the legendary author of The Christmas Sweater is in a position to shape the reading habits of a few million self-aware, open minded, critical thinkers.

There are some decent quotes in the story:

“Let me just say, it’s almost conservative porn,”

Almost conservative porn . . . which would be, what, showing an ankle? A little leg perhaps, but no higher than the calf?

“You’re on the liberal side of things, which is, you know, fine,”

While the porn remains conservative, the tepid support for that damned First Amendment is reassuring.

“Glenn is a regular guy, and regular Americans like thrillers,” said Mr. Balfe, an editor of Mr. Beck’s current nonfiction best seller, “Arguing With Idiots.”

The research for which could have been entirely based on tape recordings of Beck talking in his sleep. To himself.

While I doubt that anything appearing on his show, or on his bookcase for that matter, will be short-listed for the Man Booker Prize any time soon, at least this is evidence that Beck, unlike Michele Bachmann, might be able to read (if not well read, as Dave Noon pointed out a couple months back . . . )

Do tune in.

It’s The Turnout, Stupid

[ 1 ] November 4, 2009 |

As I feared, breathless, fatally flawed analysis follows the election results in NJ, VA, and to a lesser extent, NY-23.

Most of this article is remarkably sound, but the first paragraph sets the wrong tone:

The Republican victories in the races for New Jersey and Virginia governors put the party in a stronger position to turn back the political wave President Obama unleashed last year, setting the stage for Republicans to raise money, recruit candidates and ride the excitement of an energized base as the party heads into next year’s midterm elections.

It’s difficult to argue that the Republicans are not in a stronger position in general, but as I argued yesterday, these elections had precious little to do with either Obama or national politics. The Democrats lost those two gubernatorial elections because they were either unpopular, ran lame campaigns, or both. It wasn’t a newly energized base that swung the races; rather it was a combination of independents breaking R and a good chunk of the “Obama coalition” staying home.

Which we knew they would all along. Minorities, the young, the less wealthy, new voters do tend to stay home in odd years (and while I anticipate an uptick in turnout amongst these groups in 2010, it won’t come near the level of 2008). These were the demographic categories that largely put Obama (way) over the top in 2008.

This, of course, is simply bollocks:

CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger says that the projected GOP win in the Virginia gubernatorial race – and exit polls showing independents voting overwhelmingly for Republican Bob McDonnell – could be a problem for the president.

“This is a signal to this White House they have some problems right now – particularly on the economy and on the deficit,” she said.

The White House did have a problem in Virginia: they knew that the Democrats had a mediocre candidate, which is specifically why they didn’t invest too much time there. While this will be played up as a “signal” to the White House, it simply isn’t. As several sources are reporting, the electorate that turned out in Virginia last night went 51%-43% for John McCain; in 2008 Virginia went 53%-46% for Obama.

The same was largely true in New Jersey. While the exit poll data do not appear to have asked vote choice in 2008, Obama’s approval rating amongst those who voted in 2009 in NJ is 57%: yet 27% of those approving of Obama’s job performance voted against Corzine.

In some ways, I think that there is more good than bad in these results for the Democrats. In New Jersey, for example, the 18-29 age cohort voted for Corzine by a fairly decent majority of 57% — the only cohort to give him a majority (granted that cohort only represented 9% of the electorate, which is not terribly surprising given what I’ve been suggesting the past two days). While this did not hold in Virginia, of those that did turn out, the younger cohorts were more supportive of Deeds than the older cohorts. It would appear that a greater percentage of the “Obama coalition” did turn out in New Jersey whereas in Virginia they were more likely to stay home, which is a further nail in the coffin of those who argue that Obama has no pulling power. He campaigned heavily (for a sitting President) in New Jersey, and basically ignored Virginia.

And then there’s NY-23. While it has been argued that NY-23 voted for Obama, therefore is not as Republican (or at least as Conservative) as conventional wisdom suggests, I suspect that the same patterns of turnout applied there as well as in NJ and VA. This one is the only one of the three that perhaps touched on national issues (though I’ll stick to my original analysis that it was going to swing on local politics all along) as it ended up being a confrontation between a moderate Democrat and a Palinesque Republican. That the wingnut lost in a traditionally Republican district in an election where turnout patterns would strongly favor the Republicans if they ever do suggests that the ‘return to core conservative values’ model of reform in the Republican Party is not a winner, at least in non wingnut constituencies, and that perhaps 2009 was more about the Republicans than the Democrats / Obama all along.

UPDATE: and of course, leave it to the Brits to get it hilariously wrong:

Major Republican victories in two states last night left the fate of President Obama’s signature health reforms in doubt and Democrats licking their wounds a year before the 2010 mid-term elections.

. . .

A year ago, Mr Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to carry Virginia in a presidential race. This time voters expressed concern about major Obama initiatives on energy and stimulus spending as well as healthcare. Exit polls showed that independents broke heavily for Mr McDonnell.

. . .

“This reflects a sea change in the electorate,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Sigh.

Election Over-reaction

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Several races today have received an inordinate amount of attention as tests of public opinion regarding the policies and effectiveness of the (still) nascent Obama administration. The Democrats will lose two of the three races being hyped, and very possibly all three.

Many will argue that this will be a setback for Obama, especially considering the political capital he has expended in NY-23, and especially in the New Jersey Gubernatorial election.

This is, largely, bunk. While special elections (NY-23) or even Gubernatorial elections can be suggestive of public opinion towards national politics (the 1991 special election for the Senator of PA is a good example here), this is relatively rare in American politics. Gubernatorial elections are about state politics, not national politics. The incumbent in New Jersey, Jon Corzine, is in a statistical draw at the moment because he’s Jon Corzine. As Silver reports at 538, Corzine has not polled higher than 44%, and 53% of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the incumbent. This is a race about neither the Obama administration nor the relative popularity of Republicans in a blue state; rather it’s a race about the unpopular incumbent governor facing off against a lackluster challenger and a third-party spoiler.

In Virginia, an argument that this is a referendum on national rather than state politics is more credible, but where Silver assigns a 3-1 split between national and local, I’d go no more than 50-50, and only then if I were sniffing glue. Contextual factors specific to the state matter. Deeds, the Democratic nominee, participated in a three-way primary that, while he handily won, could not have helped position him against Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee. Second, while these very two faced off for Virginia Attorney General in 2005, and McDonnell only won by something like 300-odd votes, McDonnell has spent the last four years as a state-wide elected official, while Deeds did not. I’m not suggesting that this gives McDonnell an insurmountable edge in the rematch, but it does give him a marginal (perhaps very marginal) advantage.

Finally, and most critically (for all three races), the composition of the electorate will be significantly different in November 2009 than it was in November 2008. When turnout decreases, as it does for off-year elections and especially for odd-year elections, the underlying composition of the electorate is altered at differing rates. Those with lesser levels of education, lower levels of income, lower age, and less attachment to place drop off at a much higher rate than the wealthy / educated / home owners / etc. It’s not terribly difficult to make the leap (actually, a small hop) from this to speculating (correctly) which party will benefit from the changed demographic composition of lower turnout.

As for NY-23, it’s a Republican district. Yes, there was significant ticket splitting in 2008, but it’s a strong Republican district: a Democrat wasn’t even on the ballot in 2002. Perhaps it is not a wingnut Republican district, but it looks likely that it will be represented by a credible wingnut following this election.

Indeed, as Silver points out, the Republicans in the two Gubernatorial races aren’t exactly hyping up their Republican street-cred. Granted neither are the Democrats especially so, but the Republicans are running from their label. If these were truly referenda on national politics, one would expect to see this distinction made more plain.

None of this is to suggest that Democrats still have it easy. The Republicans and right wingers are, as usual, far more adept at framing the narrative and mobilizing their support. Furthermore, the Democrats will lose seats in the House in 2010. But then aside from 1998 and 2002, the incumbent party in the White House always loses seats in the off-year Congressional elections. But, the results that I will wake up to tomorrow will not have me terribly concerned about the fate of the Obama administration, progressive (or even centrist / moderate) politics, or the fate of the free world. Furthermore, seeing how the New York Yankees can’t possibly have won the World Series by (my) tomorrow morning, it’s all good.

And all the better if Sarah Palin takes credit for any or all of these election results.

Me, I’ll be watching R-71 in Washington State and Prop 1 in Maine . . .

The Tories and Europe: More of "What the Hell"?

[ 0 ] October 31, 2009 |

I was going to write something about this, but that’s too easy: the “drug czar” of the UK gets the sack for very publicly disagreeing with the Government’s drug policy, and terms Gordon Brown and the cabinet “irrational luddites”. He has a point, but it’s too simple to point out the hilarity of a Government, in its waning days, ignoring its chief scientific advisory panel on drugs. Could they be scrounging for votes instead?

Rather, I’m perplexed by this bit of amateur diplomatic tomfoolery. What the hell is Cameron playing at? First, partially through the hack handedness of the otherwise steady William Hague, shadow foreign minister, Tony Blair’s chances of being named the new EU President have faded dramatically. While it looks as though it is typical Euro-dithering that has led to the rejection of a Blair candidacy, it doesn’t help to have the opposition in your own country (and likely next Government) publicly reject you.
I have to admit, I don’t understand this for two reasons. First, why threateningly come out against one of your own citizens for the top job? It smacks of petty politics domestically, and in to the EU the threatening tone of Hague’s remarks instantly remind all and sundry of the not-exactly-cooperative approach adopted by earlier Tory administrations. Second, I don’t see the value in European leaders wanting a “chairman rather than a chief”. A recognizable, public face as the putative leader or figurehead representing the EU will help not only abroad, but within the EU itself. Not noted for its democratic transparency, distrusted by more than just the British, and perceived to be run by faceless Eurocrats in Brussels, such a “president” would help raise the profile of the EU within the EU.
Then the Tories did themselves no favors with Cameron’s recent stunt in writing a letter to the Czech president which appears to be encouraging the Czech president to delay being the final signatory to the Lisbon treaty until after a Tory election victory in (likely) May of 2010. It’s always sound to piss off, say, Sarkozy, Merkel, and José Luiz Rodríguez Zapatero, the latter of whom matters because Spain will hold the rotating EU presidency from January to July of 2010. The Tories will already have the lion share of the anti-EU vote in 2010, so I’m not too sure just what they’re playing at.
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