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Category: Dave Brockington

Sunday Crazy Blogging: Municipal Ordinance Edition.

[ 53 ] June 5, 2011 |

“Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless” in some city park.

It seems that the enlightened municipality of Orlando recently passed an ordinance that requires a permit to serve food to the homeless if there’s more than 25 of said homeless, and any given group with the temerity to encourage homelessness is limited to two permits per year per park.  This city law made it as far as the 11th Circuit, who unsurprisingly supported the constitutionality of the law.  While I’m no expert, I could see such a law easily passing constitutional muster (especially in the 11th Circuit), but that’s not the point.  It’s a ludicrous law.

I’d be interested to hear the public statements regarding the need for this law, and more revealing, the private motivations.  The latter are pretty easy to imagine: feeding the homeless en mass creates an incentive for these citizens to congregate and remain in the area, and that’s bad for business.  Or something.  (Or maybe the fine city of Orlando is just vindictive.)  Publicly, I’d guess the arguments went along the lines of requiring assurances of public safety and sanitation.  But why limit the permits per group to two per year?  The city doesn’t have the money to allow a volunteer organization serving donated food to do so more than twice per year?

At least the cops, demonstrating some PR savvy, “waited until everyone was served to make the arrests, said Douglas Coleman, speaking for Orlando Food Not Bombs.”

Is this ordinance anomalous, or are there other examples of the same throughout the US?

h/t Victoria Shineman


Sunday Crazy Blogging: Herman Cain

[ 12 ] June 5, 2011 |

Cain has been receiving quite a bit of press lately as he challenges for the Republican nomination.  The NYT discuss him in today’s edition here, noting his strong tea-party credentials, while a recent poll in Iowa has him tied for second on 15% (tied with some ex-governor of Alaska), behind Mitt’s 21%.  Silver suggests on May 26 that he should be taken seriously.

Should he?  He has no political experience, and history shows that candidates for nomination lacking in experience (where by lacking, I mean zero) don’t do very well at all.  Furthermore, he’s very much of the tea-party wing of the party; the Republican elite aren’t keen on nominating from that talent pool.  While Silver suggests here that his self-styled “bottom up theory” of nomination success has validity, he fails to consider the role the party elite have in channeling resources.  If Cain were to mount a proper run based on his surging support in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will need access to resources.

Perhaps the best analysis I’ve seen on Cain is from Ed Kilgore over at The Democratic Strategist.  Succinct, he suggests that Cain may have peaked too soon, and that the expected increase in media scrutiny will cause Cain considerable discomfort.  Quoted:

“Most of all, Cain will have problems with expanded media coverage unless he adjusts very rapidly. His cheerful indifference towards foreign affairs and national security issues–he’s said he’d figure out what to do in Afghanistan at some point between Election Day and his inauguration–may reflect the attitudes of his core Tea Party base, but not Republican elites, much less voters at large. And given his lack of experience in office, gaffes and tokens of ignorance–e.g., his manifest cluelessness on the issue of the Palestinian “right of return” in a recent discussion of the Middle East–will hurt him just as they hurt Sarah Palin in 2008. Conservative opinion-leaders supporting other candidates will be sure to mention that Cainsupported TARP and once served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. African-Americans are very likely to begin denouncing his denunciations of Obama and his appropriation of civil rights rhetoric. The Fair Tax gimmick which Cain has promoted for years is loaded with opposition-research dynamite. And in general, his whole act, including his habit of referring to himself in the third-person, could get old or weird.”

From the perspective of early June, it appears that the Republican elite are having difficulty coalescing around an establishment candidate, but the same could be said of the tea party.  Should both Bachmann and Palin run, the tea party have three editions of the crazy that warms their hearts to get behind, which is good news for Mitt.

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USA v Spain

[ 11 ] June 4, 2011 |

For something a bit lighter.  It’s good that the USMNT are playing Spain immediately before the Gold Cup campaign, which is of far greater importance.  As the ESPN article suggests, the US will be rotating and resting their key players in this friendly, thus do not expect a result similar to the last time the US played Spain, the stunning 2-0 victory in the Confederations Cup from two years ago.

Silver, Economic Indicators, etc.

[ 27 ] June 4, 2011 |

Silver has a new article up critiquing an over-reliance on economic models in predicting Presidential elections.  While this is in general good work, I’m starting to note a trend in his narrative.  To wit:

“But I also got a few replies wondering how to reconcile these findings against the claims, made with some frequency by political scientists, that presidential elections can be forecast with pinpoint accuracy provided that you know the economic fundamentals.”

This could be passed off as being attributed to some comments, but I’ve noticed this tendency in other articles as well.  It seems to me that his discussion of political scientists and our models etc. is increasingly becoming rather straw-esque (though I might be wrong and am quite open to being told so).  As I’ve said often, I’ve always respected his work since the days of BP, so this new approach seems unworthy of him.  Speaking as a political scientist who does electoral behavior, I would never use the the phrase “pinpoint accuracy” about any of my work.  I’m quite aware of the limitations of my models and methods, and likewise convey this awareness when teaching methods.  I strongly suspect that I’m not rare in this understanding and approach.

One thing I like about Silver is that he doesn’t have an apparent axe to grind beyond evidence-based analysis.  That said, while he’s examining the extant knowledge of political science, lately he’s doing so using rather unsophisticated bivariate analyses.  I share his appreciation for parsimony in modelling, but bivariate analyses don’t really tell us much at all, especially when attempting to confirm or critique existing sophisticated multivariate models.  As he’s well aware.  (That said I like what he did in exploring retro-predictive ability of the the Hibbs “Bread and Peace” model).

If I had the time this weekend I’d do a more thorough read of his latest article, but I typically play singe dad on weekends, and my four and a half year old daughter requires near constant attention, so we’re left with the above somewhat superficial analysis.


The Effect of (some) Economic Indicators on Presidential Elections

[ 143 ] June 3, 2011 |

Silver offers a rigorous exploration of the central point made in the NYT article I linked for the post I wrote yesterday.  He approaches the question on the relationship between the unemployment rate and the vote for the incumbent President (or party) from several different angles, including the basic unemployment rate, the change in said rate, limiting the analysis to post-war or back to 1912, etc.  Furthermore, where I said “While the 7.2% figure is arbitrary, and this election might not hinge on the usual simple domestic economic factors,”, his narrative was more expansive and informative.  The arbitrariness of 7.2%, for example; Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 by 18% while presumably hobbled by 7.2% unemployment.

Silver basically finds nothing, and in those few bivariate models where there was an observable correlation, the relationship was highly dependent upon one or two cases.

That said, and as Silver correctly points out, this alone is not a reason for optimism.  Intuitively and theoretically, the higher the unemployment rate, the lower the probability of Obama’s re-election, even if a relationship is not clear in a simple bivariate analysis of past presidential elections.  The reality of modelling presidential elections is complex, and as cases are so rare, the predictive value of said models is contingent.

This highlights the analytical risks associated with a focus on one measure.  While this is but one measure, as Bartels (1997) suggests, the economic context does matter:

“The clearest and most significant implication of aggregate election analyses is that objective economic conditions — not clever television ads, debate performances, or the other ephemera of day-to-day campaigning — are the single most important influence upon an incumbent president’s prospects for reelection.  Despite a good deal of uncertainty regarding the exact form of the relationship, the relevant time horizon, and the relative importance of specific economic indicators, there can be no doubt that presidential elections are, in significant part, referenda on the state of the economy.”

Furthermore, and germane to this discussion, unemployment is of relatively lesser explanatory power than other measures of economic context:

“Most of the available evidence suggests that voters weigh recent changes in economic conditions more than temporally distant changes — and more than absolute levels of economic well-being. It also suggests, though rather less clearly, that changes in disposable income matter more than changes in GDP (which are presumably less tangible), which in turn matter more than changes in unemployment (which produce relatively few direct losers) and inflation (which produce many losers but also a good many winners).”

Unemployment is but one piece of the puzzle when we attempt to operationalize the concept of “economic conditions” into measures that are useful in modelling presidential elections.  All this said, I’d still be more comfortable if unemployment was going down.

Unfortunately, I anticipate we’ll be hearing the opposite today.

It’s the Economy Stupid. Oh Shit.

[ 162 ] June 2, 2011 |

This could be problematic.  I’ve been fairly sanguine about Obama’s re-election chances, but no incumbent has been re-elected with an unemployment rate over 7.2% since FDR (and the 7.2% belonged to Reagan).  It’s currently around 9%, and could possibly increase with tomorrow’s data.  It will not improve to 7.2% in time to have a (positive) effect on Obama’s chances in time for the election.  While the 7.2% figure is arbitrary, and this election might not hinge on the usual simple domestic economic factors, it is still cause for some concern.

While Obama is currently ahead of the extant / potential Republican field (Romney +7, Gingrich +14, Palin +17), and there is an informative debate surrounding the utility (or lack thereof) on polling data this far in advance of the election (which I wrote about here in February), I likewise don’t find much comfort from these numbers in June 2011.

What is clear is that Congress and the Administration are unlikely to find common ground over economic policy, and the Republicans are playing a game of chicken over the debt ceiling.  Indeed, I’m sure it’s not lost on some Republican members that it’s in their electoral interests to hurt, not help, the economy; hopefully they don’t seriously use the debt limit as their primary bargaining tool.  So in all likelihood, this is the economic context in which the 2012 election will be fought.

What could help?  It’s beyond blaming the previous administration.  Rather, a sustained, perceptible, positive movement over the next year would help, but that’s largely beyond politics or campaigning.  It may come down to having faith in the Democratic Party in framing an issue or issues to their favor, such as the Republicans’ Medicare policy.  Relying on faith in the Democrats’ ability at electioneering rarely places me in a comfortable position.  At least, as with our newest colleague here at LGM, I have a wedding to look forward to (one month from today no less).

As my grading is finally done for the academic year as of an hour ago, I imagine that it’s in my interests to start paying some more attention to said event.

FIFA Shenanigans (Again)

[ 25 ] May 29, 2011 |

It appears that Sepp Blatter’s cunning ploy succeeded.  Mohamed Bin Hammam has pulled out of the race to serve as FIFA President, leaving the field about as competitive as a number of US House seats (though Blatter himself is now also under investigation for corruption).  Refreshingly he didn’t pull out to spend more time with his family, but rather to prevent the sullying of the FIFA name.

However, in the wake of Chuck Blazer’s apparently well evidenced and documented allegations last week, FIFA still have some ‘splaining to do.  Tory MP Damien Collins has launched the charmingly named “International Partnership for the Reform of FIFA“.  As its blog suggests, this is an embryonic organization.  It’s not clear to me just what leverage such a body, or the politicians from among Germany, Australia, and the United States that constitute it, can have to encourage or force reform of FIFA.  The most effective play that they can make is trying to convince member associations to leave FIFA and set up a new governing body.  This is a long shot at best, though Collins has not rejected such a move.  The mere threat of withdrawal may convince FIFA to reform from within in order to save its role in the sport, especially if one of the regional associations (e.g. UEFA) goes along.

With Bin Hammam out of the way leaving the election uncontested, I doubt there will be any substantive reform from within; indeed I fully expect Qatar 2022 to go ahead as insanely planned.  Likewise, any movement for reform brought on exogenous to FIFA lacks the leverage necessary to effect change from without.

I hope I’m wrong, but optimism eludes me.

In other soccer news, there was a small match in London yesterday, where Barcelona owned Manchester United.  I didn’t shed a tear, but then I’d root for the New York Yankees against Man U.

Helicopters over Libya

[ 25 ] May 27, 2011 |

As Rob wrote on Wednesday, Britain and France are deploying attack helicopters to support the mission in Libya.  Last night, Radio 4 reported that the British contribution is four Apaches (why only four?  surely HMS Ocean can have a few more on board), while France is supplying 12 Tigers.

I’m curious as to what people think of the inherent trade-off involved.  While the precision of targeting, especially target identification, is enhanced, Helicopters are considerably more vulnerable to individually operated anti air ranging from rifle fire to shoulder launched missiles (though I have no idea about the loyalists’ assets and capabilities in this area).  If this NYT story is accurate, Qaddafi is playing for time, banking on a continued attenuation in European public and governmental support for the mission (what other options does he have at present?)  If one of these British Apaches goes down with casualties, public opinion here will rapidly head south.  While I’m confident that both the British and French will have search and rescue assets in the air, that far from guarantees recovery.  Hence, the risk.

Of course, it could be the threat of the helicopters that has Qaddafi reportedly hiding in hospitals at night.

FIFA. Corruption. Qatar. Elections.

[ 5 ] May 25, 2011 |

Chuck Blazer weighs in.

I still believe that this is an admittedly risky tactic that Blatter is using to ensure his reelection, and once that’s secured normal business will resume (FIFA is not corrupt!  How dare you imply otherwise!) but there remains an outside chance that Qatar will be stripped of the 2022 World Cup.

Lords Reform

[ 29 ] May 25, 2011 |

In my department I am something of an all-rounder: a lot of what I teach is outside my official areas of expertise, at times chilling out in the Oort cloud of my expertise.  Political institutions is in a close orbit, thankfully.  Pedagogically, I attempt to engage my students to think critically (don’t we all?) regarding a balance between democratic theory and empirical example.  The House of Lords (and the United States Senate) serve as useful foils to explore this tension.

Over at Britain Votes, an ex-student of mine, Chris Terry, offers a splendid examination of the current proposals by the Government regarding democratic reform of the House of Lords.  I don’t have too much to add to what Terry has offered beyond a few comments.

Largely powerless, the value that the Lords add to the democratic process in the UK is, as Terry offers, a house of “experts”.  With 80% of the new Lords to be directly elected, it is difficult to imagine how that expertise can be sustained.  A solution, which would likewise be in the interests of both Labour and the Tories, is to abandon the proposed STV electoral system in favor of a closed list PR; this would allow the parties to choose whom to place in the Lords, thus allowing a continuation of the expert convention.

Second, the new Lords will be term-limited to single 15 year terms.  The proposed eligibility for candidacy for the Lords includes a rule stipulating one can not run for the Lords until five years have passed since their last service as an MP, nor can a term-limited Lord stand for Parliament until five years have passed.  While this is likely to serve as a disincentive for the career-minded politician, I’m not sure how the proposed waiting period for eligibility works to further either the goal of an independent institution or attracting a “different sort” of politician.

Finally, the retention of 12 Lords Spiritual (Church of England Bishops) is questionable (down from the current 36).  While not a particularly religious country (if the Rapture had or does indeed occur, sudden depopulation wouldn’t be Britain’s biggest problem) retaining members of the upper management of one faith is inconsistent with a reform claiming to democratize the institution.

Ultimately, I agree with Terry: while this is a limited step, nothing in this country changes but through methodical incrementalism.  Of course, if the Lords is subjected to democratic reform, I’d have to re-write a couple of lectures; perhaps that’s the source of my criticism.

Celebrity Privacy v Press Freedom (Farcical UK Edition)

[ 41 ] May 24, 2011 |

Ryan Giggs v 75,000 Twitter users; Lib Dem MP comes to the rescue confirming what we already knew.

The use of the “injunction” or “super-injunction” is fairly common in the United Kingdom.  It is essentially a preemptive gag order, through which one can prevent the media from reporting on an issue relevant to the individual in question.  To the best of my knowledge, a super-injunction is distinguished from the more bog-standard variety where the former prevents the media source from even revealing the existence of the injunction itself.  As freedom of the press is considerably less legally sacrosanct in the UK than in the USA, this comparative lack of protection for the press allows a Premiership soccer player, rich, famous, skilled, or otherwise, to preemptively gag the media from reporting on allegations regarding his “private” life.

The issue has been somewhat controversial this year (see a decent overview here) and all quite comically came to a head yesterday as outlined in the Guardian article linked above.  That purveyor of truth and reason, The Sun, had been arguing in the High Court to have an injunction lifted against its reporting of an allegation of an extra-marital affair between Giggs and a reality TV star.  Simultaneous to a hearing in court, a Lib Dem MP announced in Parliament that it was Giggs, confirming what 75,000 Twitter users, the foreign media, the Glasgow Sunday Herald (claiming that English / Welsh law doesn’t apply in Scotland), and David Cameron himself already knew (Cameron is quoted in the above-linked Independent article as saying he knew the identity “like everybody else”).  Newspapers couldn’t even report the (not entirely clever) chants and taunts Blackpool fans directed at Giggs during the Man U v Blackpool match on Sunday.

As recently as Friday, the Giggs legal team was preparing to sue Twitter to reveal the identity of the 75,000 miscreants, presumably in order to sue them as well.  The Sun duly lost its case, and even after the revelation in Parliament (thus allowing the media to report the words of the MP), the High Court judge on the case refused to lift the injunction, claiming (as quoted in the NYT article here) “The fact that tens of thousands of people have named the claimant on the Internet confirms the fact that the claimant and his family need protection from intrusion into their private and family life”.

Essentially, the core question here is libel law; in the UK the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove she or he did not commit libel, whereas (my understanding at least) in the US the burden of proof is the opposite.  Courts in the UK also have far less room to manoeuvre in terms of judicial review, which explains both the high court’s unwillingness to lift the injunction even after everybody knows, and the following quote by Justice Eady of the High Court:

“Should the court buckle every time one of its orders meets widespread disobedience or defiance? In a democratic society, if a law is deemed to be unenforceable or unpopular, it is for the legislature to make such changes as it decides are appropriate”.

The result is the sort of ludicrous hilarity that we witnessed yesterday.

FIFA to take a Mulligan?

[ 29 ] May 23, 2011 |

This hasn’t really been picked up by the media, but according to Prost Amerika Soccer, FIFA is entertaining the possibility of overturning Qatar’s sensible victory in hosting the 2022 World Cup.  Slightly more here at The Guardian.  Of course, refusing to rule out a re-vote is likely a ploy, given that current FIFA chief Sepp Blatter is being challenged by Mohammad Bin Hammam, from . . . Qatar.  Bin Hammam was “heavily involved in lobbying for his nation to win”, hence if corruption existed, he was likely aware.  Anything that tarnishes Qatar’s bid conveniently undermines Blatter’s opponent.

The 2022 selection vote was between Qatar, the USA, South Korea, Japan, and Australia.  Presumably a re-vote would exclude Qatar, and neither South Korea nor Japan ought to receive much attention as they recently hosted it in 2002.  Among the existing bids, it would be between the US and Australia; with Australia only receiving one vote in the first round of voting, the USA should be favored.  A new entrant or entrants is possible, but with 2018 being held in Russia, a European bid would be ruled out (sorry, England).

Blatter, shockingly, is on record as denying that corruption exists in FIFA.

In soccer news not involving corruption, the rise of AFC Wimbledon is good story.  I’ve been loosely following their rise since their founding in 2002.  After five promotions in nine seasons, AFC Wimbledon are now in the Football League proper, promoted to the fourth tier of English soccer.

UPDATE (5/24): Qatar play the “disgruntled ex-employee” card to dismiss the allegations of corruption, pointing out that said allegations are “completely unsubstantiated and false”.  Of course.

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