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Category: Dave Brockington

Lost in the Shuffle

[ 23 ] January 21, 2011 |

of the senior Senator from Connecticut declining the opportunity to fail in his re-election bid is the retirement of Kent Conrad.  Lieberman’s retirement generated the news, Conrad’s is more salient for the obvious reasons.  While Conrad is not even in the suburbs of my political preferences, instinctively I’m a pragmatist; I’d rather have a right-leaning Democrat representing the 18 people of North Dakota in the United States Senate than a Republican, especially when control of the chamber is at stake.

The political map of the 2012 Senate elections suggests that control is at stake.  23 Democratic seats are up for election, against 10 Republican seats.  As this represents the results of the 2006 elections, a good year for the Democrats, several of these seats are potentially vulnerable in 2012.  Adding North Dakota to the endangered list does not come at an opportune time.  Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland should all be regarded as vulnerable.  The Democrats should “keep” Connecticut, and indeed it would likely be an upgrade from a progressive point of view, but the only seat I’d expect Democrats to possibly gain is Massachusetts (lacking some healthy exposure to the crazy in a few Republican primaries, see below).

Normally, I’d argue that we shouldn’t be all that concerned.  2012 will feature a very different electorate than 2010.  It will be more inclined to vote Democrat, and with several assumptions (the economy rebounds, the President appears successful in his dealings with the Republican House, and signature policy victories such as PPACA become embedded in the public consciousness as perhaps popular) a significantly more pro-Democratic electorate.  There were 101 million votes cast for House candidates in 2008 against 78 million in 2010.  The Republicans did win by around six million votes against that shifting electoral backdrop (the Democrats lost 29 million), which could be interpreted as a Republican high water mark (but even the Republicans shed 10 million votes between 2008 and 2010 in House elections).

However, it’s tenuous to make a turnout based argument in the context of the Senate in 2012.  The numbers from the 2006 Senate elections likewise represented an atypical Democratic year; while the dynamics of the 2012 electorate will be more pro-Democrat than 2010, it won’t be a repeat of 2008.  A saving grace might be successful primary challenges from the right to several Republican incumbents, which could replay Delaware or Nevada.

Losing North Dakota has increased the probability that the Republicans recapture the Senate in 2012.

[updates: link to 2012 Senate seats up for election added above.  I knew I was overlooking something.  also refined the House election vote comparisons between 2008 and 2010 in order to more accurately reflect reality.  Serves me to try to write the lecture I’m giving in 20 minutes and this post simultaneously.]


Random Jetlag Blogging

[ 9 ] January 12, 2011 |

I arrived back on the island where I am currently based “yesterday” morning (January 11).  I slept seven hours “last night”, awaking at 11pm (GMT).  I lecture in two hours or so.  I’m sure it will go well indeed, once I work out just where and when I am.

While the social science on a relationship between what passes for political rhetoric in the USA and the events in Tucson is understandably mixed, it is safe to say that the right wing are not the victims.  Unless, of course, you’re Trent Humphries, co-founder of the Tucson branch of the Tea Party International, who believes that “The Democrats are using this opportunity to bludgeon their opponents.”

Oh, if only we were that organized.  It shouldn’t take too much political moxie to work out that the best way to approach this if you’re on the hard right is to point out that Tucson was a senseless tragedy, that violence has no place in society or even politics, and maybe that some on the right have turned the rhetoric up perhaps a little too high on the inflammatory scale.  What you wouldn’t want to do is claim that you, too, are victims.  But at least he recognizes that guns are likely taking a back seat in politics for the time being: “I’m pretty sure that for a little while yet you won’t be seeing any politician holding an AK-47 or an M16. I’m pretty sure that’s going to go away, and the last place that would go away is Arizona”.

An AK-47?

In this review of the right blogosphere, the narcissism stretches far.  (h/t John Emerson and Mark Devlin).

UPDATE:  I was wrong.  It’s really all about Sarah.  “Blood libel” will henceforth enter the lexicon.

In different news, USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu has moved on loan from AC Milan to FC Twente Enschede, the defending champions of the Dutch Eredivisie (and also located right across the street and rail line from my old office at U. Twente).

Changing the Rules of the Game

[ 14 ] January 5, 2011 |

is undemocratic and evil, unless it suits your agenda.

Both houses of Congress tweak their rules on the first day of a new session.  The rule changes for the 112th Congress, while not revolutionary, are more sweeping than usual.  In the Senate, the Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) hopes to ever so slightly modify the rules of the asinine filibuster, which over the past 30 years has morphed from a genteel oddity of parliamentary courtesy to effectively requiring a supermajority in order to flush the Senate toilet.  This is anomalous, and not explicitly designed into the institution by the Constitution save for the handful of cases where it is (e.g. passing a treaty, over-riding a veto, deciding guilt at a trial of impeachment).

How do the Democrats plan to change the filibuster rule in a body that is only marginally more democratic (and in descriptive terms, probably less representative) than the House of Lords?  By requiring that the Senator executing the filibuster have the temerity to be on the floor of the Senate itself. Which, as anybody who has seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington understands, is how it ought to be.

Republicans, of course, are seething, but what else is new?  Senator Alexander (R-TN):

“Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard on the floor of the U.S. Senate,”

Except of course that’s precisely what the rule change will effect – ensuring that their voices are indeed heard.

This is a procedural alteration that should have limited impact on the actual execution of the filibuster, yet “Mr. Alexander and others have warned Democrats to brace for a backlash should they act unilaterally.”

Which is exactly what the Republicans are doing in the House.  The rule changes in the House are more substantive and clearly more political and ideological.  To wit:

“Members offering bills for new programs will have to explain how they will pay for them, not by raising new revenues but by finding other ways to cut costs. Each bill introduced will also have to cite the specific constitutional authority for its contents.”

Unless, of course, one wants to repeal health care reform:

“A big exception will be the bill to repeal the health care law that House Republicans plan to bring up next week. That bill will not be subject to amendments, nor will Republicans have to abide by their own new rules that compel them to offset the cost of new bills that add to the deficit; the health care repeal and tax cuts are not subject to this new rule.”

So in the Senate, the Democrats are suggesting a modest procedural change that does little more than return the filibuster to its original spirit, which has Republicans promising a “backlash”.  Yet Republicans in the House have no compunction against establishing rules that have an explicit political and ideological motivation and result, with the added dollop of hypocrisy in exempting their own pet project from their very rules.

This will be a fun Congress to blog about.

Tilting at Windmills

[ 28 ] January 3, 2011 |

A superficial analysis of the House Republicans’ pledge to vote to repeal health care reform is that it’s nothing more than a symbolic gesture.  While many might downplay their modest intellectual prowess, they must possess a rudimentary understanding of the basic institutional structure outlined in the very Constitution that they plan to patronizingly read on the floor of the House on Thursday, right?  A slightly more charitable reading of this vote involves internal Republican politics: placate the lunatic fringe that got you elected prior to getting on with the real work of misgoverning.

However, as both the NYT article above and the Chait article in The New Republic cited in an analysis by The Democratic Strategist suggest, this presents an opportunity for the Democrats to take the initiative in framing the debate on favorable terms, for a change.  Taken individually, many aspects of health care reform are popular.  This can be exploited.  Furthermore, the narrative of a party bereft of original ideas which seeks only to obstruct or destroy should be underlined.  If properly framed and executed, this is a debate that the Democrats and the White House can and should win.

Will they?  I wouldn’t bet on it, but I like to be surprised.  If the Democrats do take advantage of this opportunity, it would afford a more colorful interpretation of the Republicans’ pissing in the wind.

An End of Year Analysis of the Three Main British Parties

[ 0 ] December 31, 2010 |

can be found over at UK Polling Report.  They’re insightful, comprehensive, and informative reviews of 2010 and previews of 2011 of the Tories, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour.  Not surprisingly, Labour looks in a slightly better position than the other two.

Oh, and while I was typically pessimistic, bow down!

Random Sports Catch-up: Cricket, Plymouth Argyle on the Rocks, and UW

[ 4 ] December 29, 2010 |

I’m recently “returned” to Oregon from a week + in Kitsapland, hanging out for five days with my partner’s family, followed by an impromptu three-night stand with my fleet of cousins.  The latter was a non-stop holiday gala with excellent food, political debate, and, oh yeah, soaked with alcohol of all sorts (and at all times).  Beyond my phone I was well off the grid, literally, figuratively, metaphorically.

As predicted in Revelations, England retained the Ashes for the first time in 24 years in imperious fashion.  This now seems so long ago.  Whether or not this is a sign of the promised apocalypse I can’t say, but as the sun is currently shining in Portland, Oregon, I’m not making any long term plans.

In my other home, the third tier “professional” soccer team, Plymouth Argyle, are insolvent.  In American sports, this wouldn’t matter; when was the last time a major league baseball, football, or basketball team was allowed to go bust?  In Britain, it can, and does, happen; the most recent example being Scottish club Gretna FC who folded in 2008.  Argyle need at minimum something around £750,000 by February to pay their tax bill to the Inland Revenue, otherwise they appear to be done.  Indeed, Argyle face three concurrent “winding up orders” and require between £3 and £4 million by February to clear their immediate debts.  The board is in chaos, the staff (including the players) haven’t been paid on time for the second straight month, gates are significantly down from last year due to their relegation to the third division and their (charitably) mediocre play in said division, are under a transfer embargo by the league thus preventing them from so much as retaining a decent player on-loan from Chelsea, and they will certainly be forced to sell their two best players this January in order to possibly stay afloat.  In addition to selling off their best players, thus enhancing the probability of a second successive relegation, there’s talk of selling the stadium to property developers.

UPDATE: less than 24 hours after writing this, a bid has been accepted for winger Craig Noone.  As he’s in his final contract year, and the bidding team is fellow League – 1 side Brighton, the transfer fee won’t clear the tax debt.

Matt Slater at the BBC has the most comprehensive overview on the causes of what could be the end of a 124 year-old club.  Fans have taken matters into their own hands by setting up a supporters’ trust, in part organized by my student and friend John Petrie.  Ironically, Argyle’s Devon rivals Exeter City were saved from liquidation in 2003 by a similar trust, so there might be hope yet.  (Of course, it should be noted that when Exeter City drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup at Old Trafford, the £675,000 cash infusion from the 67,000+ gate did not hurt City’s chances of financial survival).

Back in April, I posted here about how Argyle were officially relegated following their 0-2 loss to Newcastle United at Plymouth.  I had experienced a couple promotion seasons in Plymouth, that was my first relegation season.  Now, being relegated following a match against Newcastle United, or even Huddersfield Town, looks a lot more enticing than experiencing a rare, entirely possible, liquidation season.

And finally, there’s the small matter of my alma mater, the Oregon of the North, playing in the much vaunted Holiday Bowl in San Diego against 17th ranked Nebraska, tomorrow.  I’m certain that Nebraska are all aflutter with the privilege and honor of playing Washington.  I’m equally certain that Nebraska’s 56-21 victory in the third game of the season has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the bowl game.

Umm, go Huskies.

Random Friday Blogging: Cricket, US Politics, Egg Nog.

[ 11 ] December 17, 2010 |

We can all rest easy now, because in the Cricket, normal business has resumed.

An analysis of player performance through the second test at Adelaide can be found here.  Dated, obviously, as Mitchell Johnson no longer rates as “atrocious” following Friday’s haul, so perhaps he should be upgraded to “mercurial”.  Also, I disagree with the analysis of Andrew Strauss.

A charitable interpretation of the budget-busting extension of the Bush tax cuts is that the Democrats understand that compromise is an essential part of democracy.  This is charitable because it sucks in policy terms, and that progressives are bemused and consider it yet another example of how the Democrats love to roll over and have our tummies scratched, but it’s far closer to the spirit of compromise than the other party has been capable of since the halcyon days of the 1980s.

A vote on the repeal of DADT tomorrow?  One that should garner the 60 votes necessary to do so much as use the toilet in the US Senate?  That’s my Christmas present.  I do believe that we can now safely close the book on progressive policy advancement for the next generation or so.

Every year in my final year American Politics class, I show the 1994 documentary entitled “Taking on the Kennedys”, which is an excellent illustration of retail politics (and anything with a Blossom Dearie track as a theme song has to be good).  It also demonstrates to the students that I can also be critical of Democrats.  On occasion.  (An advantage of working in the UK is that I don’t feel the professional obligation to hide my partisan inclinations in the classroom that I did in the United States).  Somehow showing it won’t be the same any longer, and for whatever sentimental reason, I do find this a little sad.  However, comparing the passing of the Kennedys with the emergence of the storied Paul family is  just a bit wide of the mark.

I’m making egg nog this afternoon, which will result in a festive and merry version of me.  A friend recommended this recipe (h/t Jeff Frane).  It’s reasonably close to mine, except for how it isn’t.  I don’t use rum, only bourbon (Makers Mark) and brandy (technically an inexpensive V.S. cognac).  The milk/cream ratio is the same.  I use 4x the eggs, and I do separate the eggs, and use slightly more yolks than whites.  I also don’t use a blender.  It is fantastically drinkable.

I Don’t Understand The Cricket

[ 13 ] December 16, 2010 |

Australia 268 all out; England 29 for 0.

Ashes Third Test, Perth, Day 1 of 5.  England lead the series 1-0.

It’s not cricket that I don’t understand; it’s this cricket.  England should struggle mightily against Australia in England, and when they pull out an Ashes victory (e.g. 2005, 2009) they should be classic, close-faught affairs that serve as an “advert for the sport”.  Indeed it was watching the 2005 series that hooked me.  In Australia, England should lose, be it 4-1 as in 2002-03, 3-1 as in 1998-99, or the somewhat humiliating 5-0 as in 2006-07.

This, on the other hand, is not part of the script.  England winning a test match by an entire innings?  In Australia?  So dominating a performance that the Ozzies were seriously considering bringing their very own Brett Favre out of retirement?  In between the second and third tests, the Shane Warne story was the story from the Australia camp.  While still semi-active at 41, he hasn’t participated in a full test match since 2007, so it was a long shot, and probably better for all concerned that he didn’t come out of retirement.  Nevertheless, it’s becoming quite apparent that Australia aren’t the same without Warne and Glenn McGrath.  Whereas in the past Australia simply reloaded, now they’re rebuilding.

I don’t think every test will be close to the second in Adelaide, but the odds of England retaining the Ashes for the first time in a long time are excellent.  As the current holders, all they need to do is draw the series.  1-1 would suffice with three draws.

As for Adelaide, I’d have loved to have been there, if only for my love of Coopers Brewery, which from my old brewing incarnation still ranks as one of my favorite breweries.

You Know You’ve Made It

[ 2 ] December 11, 2010 |

when LibDemVoice somehow picks up a conference paper of yours (this one presented at EPOP in Essex mid September of this year).  Long story short: the electoral consequences of raising taxes impacts different parties differently.  Caveat: the version cited would seem to be an earlier draft, as my co-author has since argued that we mis-interpreted the interaction term in the model, hence the clean findings related in the link above are, we believe, a bit more muddled in reality.

Coming Out of Hibernation: Education Cuts Edition

[ 18 ] December 9, 2010 |

For a variety of reasons, my time has been quite limited the past three months or so.  Long story short, the job has been atypically demanding (above average teaching load, heavy research hits this term, my university is in a state of permanent revolution: dropping majors, designing new majors, re-desinging majors, dropping those majors; moving departments here, there, and elsewhere; branding, rebranding, unbranding; dropping faculties, merging faculties — the latter just happened again yesterday –it makes for an inefficient enterprise), I’m a single dad at weekends, I’ve chosen to put my house on the market in the worst context outside of Ireland, and I’m on the job market at the worst time since . . . well, you get the idea.

Whining aside, I’m finally coming up for air and for better or worse should be a more regular “feature” on LGM again.

As readers are likely aware, the UK coalition government has dramatically cut spending across the board.  From Defence, where the HMS Ark Royal (and associated Harrier wing) is facing imminent retirement, to Education.  Regarding Education, central government funding for universities is to be somewhat slashed.  I’m not overstating the case: on average, it’s an 80% reduction in the teaching grant paid by the central government per student.  For the lucky disciplines in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, it’s a mere 100% cut.  The plan put forth by the government is to make this up by increasing tuition anywhere from 200% to 300%.

Students, shockingly, aren’t terribly happy about this.  At the University of Plymouth, they have occupied a classroom for the past two weeks.  It’s a largely insignificant teaching space (I’ve taught two or three classes in that room in the past few years), but it’s in a highly visible location in a relatively new, signature building.  It’s not quite Berkeley in the 1960s, but it’s as close as Plymouth can get.

The vote in Parliament on these proposals is due today.  It will likely pass, and that the operative word is likely is a large enough hint at the nature of the controversy.  This has several possible ramifications.  First, it threatens to divide the coalition; specifically, the junior partner.  Second, it can’t at all help the Liberal Democrats, who have sunk to historic polling depths.  But more critically, from my point of view, it will radically alter higher education in England (not necessarily Scotland or Wales, devolution has put paid to that.)

Aside from the obvious, that there will be fewer students attending university (200% to 300% tuition increases will not spur interest, oddly enough), what students will choose to study will also be altered.  One of the many differences between US and British higher education is that here in the UK prospective students apply to degree programs, not universities.  They’ve chosen their major from day one.  At the University of Plymouth, Politics students pretty much take what I tell them to, as I largely designed the program.  With the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences receiving unfortunate extra attention, it’s in the interests of universities to drop those programs (and the associated labor costs) and concentrate their offering on programs that bring in marginally extra revenue.  I suspect that in the next five to ten years, these disciplines will be the purview of elite universities, while second- and third-tier universities will concentrate on vocational or professional degrees.  Those that survive, that is.

Here at my fine enterprising university, things are possibly grim.  Some colleagues in my department are optimistic, which is good, and I’d love to have some of the kool-aid they’re drinking.  The union meeting I attended last week paints a less rosy portrait.  I’d supply some figures from the email I sent my department following the union meeting, but the email server is down on campus at the moment (perhaps the cuts are already hitting?)  From memory, over the last two years “academic staff” has decreased by 9%, student numbers have increased an equally impressive 9% (literally doing more with less), labor costs as a percentage of turnover has been reduced from 59% to 53%, yet the Vice Chancellor’s salary has increased an “obscene” (to quote the local union branch chair) 28%.  (She’s on around £280,000 a year).  That increase alone could fund two new junior professor positions (or she could buy my house with eight months’ salary alone).  Of course, the plan from the high command is to drastically cut labor costs further, and unlike 2008, they’re targeting entire departments.

From an American perspective, students taking to the streets over the government having the temerity to charge a real tuition is quaint.  However, before 1997 (?) universities were free, and since 2006 tuition has been set at only £3000 per year.  The culture here is for a cheap, highly subsidized university education.  An irony is that while the higher education sector will remain state run and controlled, the government will be funding anywhere from 80% to 100% less in supporting these institutions.  Universities will receive little money from the state, yet the tuition that they can charge is regulated by the state (as is the curriculum to a loose degree).  The current arrangement is little different from my experience in state universities in the US, where in state students were subsidized by the state legislature to the tune of 90%.  Take that away, every student is paying out-of-state tuition.

In addition to a diminishing role for the arts, humanities, and social sciences in UK Ltd., more British students will be looking to the United States for their university education, as it’s suddenly become more competitive on price (and frankly, is a superior education in my opinion, but what do I know?)  Nick Clegg will be out of a job come 2015 if not sooner, along with a lot of my less ‘academically mobile’ colleagues.

You’ve Got To Be Joking

[ 25 ] December 2, 2010 |

I’ve been (finally) writing a couple posts, one a ‘coming out of hibernation’ omnibus, but holy crap, FIFA have challenged the laws of physics with this.

I’ll have a bit more of a run down later tonight (or early tomorrow) but I had ranked Russia second or third likely to get the 2018 cup, and Qatar?

I didn’t even consider that bid a realistic possibility.

When was the last time Qatar were in the World Cup finals?  They’ll be there in 2022.  I’m sure they’ll progress far.

At least with England not getting the 2018 cup, we won’t have the embarrasment of Plymouth hosting matches with a 3rd Division club (assuming they’re still in business next week) and I don’t have to worry about any roadblocks preventing the continued depreciation of the value of my house.

Update [Paul]: I’ve got $20 that says the 2022 World Cup won’t be held in Qatar. First the bid is based on assertions that yet to be invented technology will be deployed to deal with the heat in open air stadia (it’s 115 in the afternoon in the summer). Second the security situation is likely to be bad. Third not enough people are going to want to spend big bucks to go to a desert nation with a population of 1.2 million where you can’t drink in public. So what will happen is that in a few years FIFA will raise “serious concerns” about infrastructure, security etc. After an ugly wrangle the thing will get moved elsewhere (cf. the 1986 Cup). The bribes, however, will not be refunded.

Dave Niehaus 1935-2010

[ 5 ] November 11, 2010 |

Dave Niehaus, the broadcaster of the Seattle Mariners since their first game, died yesterday.

Stories / tributes here, here, and here.

I’ll add the usual narrative: for me, Niehaus was baseball.  From their first season in 1977, at the age of nine, I was hooked.  After I moved to Europe nearly ten years ago, I would listen whenever I could when back in Seattle.

Niehaus would call 5,284 out of the 5,385 games that the Mariners have played.  There was a lot of really bad baseball, but Niehaus made it more than endurable, he made it enjoyable.

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