Tag Archives: presidential election

The rock, the hard place, and the eternally sought-after undecideds

The elections podcast by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight team contained this rather interesting moment near its end on Monday:

NATE SILVER: Neither of these candidates has really won that many people over. Clinton is still at only about 42 percent in the [national] polls, down from about 44 or 45 percent right after the convention. 42 percent is not that good. It’s better than being at 39 percent, which is what Trump is at, but some of the marginal Clinton voters now have gone to [Libertarian candidate Gary] Johnson and [Green candidate Jill] Stein. How could Clinton potential lose this election if her favorables are slightly less bad than Trump’s?  If more of her voters go to Johnson and Stein. I think she needs a plan for dealing with that. If you assume that third party vote will fade… well, maybe… […]  but you certainly can’t count on that. I’ve never seen an election before where the number of decideds like goes up as the election goes on. [Laughter]

In this of all election cycles, maybe we should consider this before laughing.

This is an election cycle where, unlike in the last one, significant swings have proven possible and suggest exactly those unthinkable reversals. A lot of the restrictions I talked about in the last presidential cycle seem to continue to ensnare presidential contenders – most notably that Trump is trying what Romney wouldn’t, to say he’s at once in favor of two diametrically opposed immigration policies. But woven in between first Obama’s and now Clinton’s inability to effectively harness the news cycles and first Romney’s and now Trump’s need to hold two positions at once, there’s an almost supernatural destabilizing element: the decided voter who un-decides.

To fully credit them, there’s most likely no singular bloc of voters who fit that description. Even from the same part of the political spectrum, the motivation for a particular de-decider will vary, and as a result their undeciding can arrive at any number of times. While this seemingly new phenomenon is in some ways a reflection of this race – between two major candidates with net negative popularity, and maybe popular to get buyer’s remorse from – it’s also a manifestation of alienation from the two parties themselves.

That dislike for the two major parties doesn’t precisely fall evenly, and so neither do the un-decided. Amid recent allegations of corruption and other non-ideological criticisms, Hillary Clinton is perhaps more vulnerable to losing support for appearing to embody some of the greatest flaws in the system more generally. For Trump, similar allegations might limit or even undo his support, but the perception of him as an electoral outsider might also soften the blow.

Perhaps more coherently than any other recent presidential election, this one has been predicated on ideas of candidates’ relative flaws. With both major candidates facing limited enthusiasm and low popularity, running against their opponent has played a much bigger and more universal role this year than previously.

One of the problems that strategy poses, however, is that some of your support won’t kick in until it looks like you might lose. On the level of this that we have reached this year, what’s more, some of your supporters won’t necessarily stick around once it looks like you will safely carry the election. Conscientious voting has been raised as an issue in both primaries and into the general election, priming voters to ask themselves that if they don’t absolutely need to make a lesser-of-two-evils choice, then why bother.

2016-09-07_0936(The Princeton Election Consortium’s national meta-margin and FiveThirtyEight’s national polling averages, both showing the “sine wave” fluctuations Nate Silver mentioned earlier in the same podcast.)

For Clinton, someone absorbing support from her left and her right on the basis of her not being Trump, this creates boom-bust cycles of her support, or as Nate Silver put it – sine waves across the electoral polling. Like last year, the two major parties have pretty much played each other into a Democratic-leaning stalemate on the national level.

What seems to be new this year is that the sea is choppy, not that we’re in a different boat. The real proof of this dynamic, of course, will be born out in whether Clinton recovers some of these supporters now that the race is tightening again. Until then, as Silver said, we haven’t yet seen a race where the number of undecided voters goes up… but there’s always a first time.

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Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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Upcoming liveblog

The second debate in the Republican presidential primary will be held tomorrow, with a first round of less popular candidates at 3 pm Pacific and a second main debate at 5 pm Pacific. Like usual, you can follow along to see my reactions and thoughts on it on twitter, here.

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Haunted by history

Trigger Warning: nuclear warfare, racism, genocide

The first Republican presidential primary debate will be held tonight at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Much of the pre-debate analysis has so far emphasized the newly invented (and continuously updated) metrics for determining which of the seventeen major candidates could appear on stage and otherwise be as visible as possible. I won’t be able to livetweet tonight’s debate, and probably won’t even be available to offer any commentary at all while the debates occur, so I won’t be around to question and complicate that somewhat narrow focus on the debaters themselves. Instead, I want to ask a small thing of you while you watch it without me. Before the debate begins, meditate on two curiously coincidental anniversaries that fall on today of all days, and cast their long historical shadow on the current policy prescriptions of the Republican Party.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used the first atomic weapon ever used in wartime on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The vast majority of affected people were non-combative civilians, which by some estimates caused approximately 66,000 deaths in the initial blast. That fails to account for many of the deaths in the following months, form exposure and resulting poverty as well as from radiation sickness and related complications – but which are also estimated to number in the thousands.

The overwhelming nature of the death and destruction in Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) is something that the United States has failed to fully grapple with, if the tantrum-like demands for a similarly apocalyptic war with Iran among some political figures is any indication. Instead, conflict and war has become almost an invisible backdrop of American life, shielding those who expect war without debate or question from criticism. US military deployment has become a perpetual state of being on multiple continents, seemingly without even a hypothetical end. As Guantánamo reminds us, this military infrastructure is often on other countries’ land, unwanted, and in some senses an occupying force. We have yet to fully break with this expansive militaristic tradition, but keep your ears peeled tonight to see how much the Republican Party’s major candidates want to reject the possibility of ever doing that.

On August 6, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) into law, securing most particularly the rights of Black citizens of the United States of access to the ballot box, but giving similar protections to various other systemically disenfranchised groups – namely indigenous and Latin@ communities. Since then, these guarantees have come under an unforgiving cynicism from conservative figures either coordinating with or directly a part of the Republican Party. The aims are at times quite transparent, particularly in the less official political circles, where talk of “demographic winter” makes obvious the racist fears underpinning a large swathe of the conservative movement.

As the United States steadily returns to being, among other things, a less White country, there have been a number of political responses. Chief among them has been to softly roll back numerical presence as a force within our democratic system, most obviously by resurrecting voter suppression tactics common in places where the White population was a minority or a much slimmer majority than electorally desirable. Jim Crow and related policies of racist political, social, and economic control have not been dismantled fully, but the specific policies of the Republican Party have become ones designed to maintain what has remained and reconstruct what parts of those have been dismantled. Listen to hear the new, politically correct (or not so much) those policies will be discussed tonight.

hiroshima also vra(Left – Hiroshima after the bombing, Right – President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks after the VRA was signed. From here and here respectively)

So, on the night of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the VRA help the phantoms those events raise haunt the Republican Party. As desires of military confrontation with Iran are raised, let the image of the shattered Atomic Dome rise in your mind. When talk of the need to protect the ballot box from voter fraud comes up, allow the pain of the tear gas used on those on the March to Selma pass over you. These are our ghosts, and we cannot will them away. Don’t help the Republican Primary brush them off either – either in how they talk about them, or refuse to talk about them altogether.

The featured image for this article is an drawn rendition of the Oglala Lakota’s Ghost Dance as performed at Pine Ridge in 1890, from here. There are many ghosts in US history.

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The F Word

TW: racism, heterosexism, cissexism

With both the 2016 presidential race now beginning to dominate national media and a whole host of Republican candidates running, many people have felt its time to check the temperature of one of the US’s two major parties.

Although still a major, national party in this country, it’s easy to forget the Republican Party technically went into the “political wilderness” after losing the presidential election and remaining the minority in both houses of Congress in 2008. While congressional elections since then have chipped away at the federal dominance of the Democratic Party, internal divisions have made it hard to talk about there being any unifying, specific themes to the Republican Party. The only near universal trend seemed to be opposition to the Democrats and President Obama specifically. Even though the presidential field is quite wide this year, the fact that only one candidate can secure the nomination promises that there will at least be some open debate among Republicans and others about who Republicans are and what they represent.

The meaningfulness of who stands in for the party in the presidential race is compounded by the possibility of someone less of a consensus candidate, like Romney or McCain, taking the lead. Both of them were able to navigate different types of popular conservative circles and placate (or even represent) the wealthy interests that exert considerable influence over the Republican Party. If they symbolized anything, it was the increasing difficulty to maintain the Reagan era bargain between various non-economic populisms and the most economically powerful individuals in the country. 2016 may ultimately come down to a similar tortured dynamic, but so far, there’s a palpable hope among Republicans for something far more engaging to emerge (and among Democrats for something even less effective).

As of now, Trump remains the front runner and the clearest embodiment of a possible alternative. Although he more or less shares Romney’s and McCain’s economic status, he openly notes his wealth rather than hides it or attempts to have it overshadowed. He argues for his candidacy in part on the basis of it. Also like Romney and McCain he similarly comes with a far more moderate-seeming past, but again he’s broken with their tone. He taps into the contemporary conservative political language and philosophy so deeply that he so far has largely not been declared an outsider seeking support. Gone are the days of economic elitism donning the mask of virulent faction politics – he’s coming across as openly wealthy and truly motivated by conservative cultural and social standards.

Trump hasn’t just changed how leading primary candidates speak but are also spoken about. Noting that Republican ideals seem to be increasingly uncomfortably close to fascism – once the third rail of politics in the US – is something that no longer has to wait until after Republicans are elected or remain unnoticed outside of alternative media. Newsweek ran an opinion piece that doesn’t even stop at the low-hanging fruit of Trump’s racial, religious, and “traditional” convictions (although it notes their historical, fascist analogues) but delves into how he demands a return to the specific mercantilist moraines long ago fossilized within fascism and abandoned in democratic capitalism. Slate has already put up one response which reminds us that this isn’t just a fascist “Trumpism” but “the underlying passions of the GOP base.” That’s why he’s the frontrunner after all.

But again, just like Trump isn’t just shouting what McCain and Romney tiptoed around, here Trump isn’t even the only one excavating a fascistic philosophy from within the Republican Party. While his image-conscious campaign draws most national attention, among others his fellow candidate and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been making more or less the same noises. His comment about possibly waging a war on Iran from his first day in office managed to attract some attention, but Walker has a long history of more or less hitting the same notes that have galvanized Trump’s surge to the top of the primary’s polls. And that’s paid off for him almost as well as Trump – he’s now contended for second place with Jeb Bush, once the presumed nominee.

This sort of politicking defines Walker though. It’s not a gimmick, as some are quick to dismiss Trump’s most recent political incarnation. There’s his lengthy history when it comes to a disquieting comfort with racism and his contempt for economic redistribution perceivable as “socialism” or “communism”. His recent statement about warfare only add a checkmark under most definitions for fascism, with its obsessive drive towards conflict and conquest. It almost seems as though Trump’s bombastic style is lending credibility to calling him fascist, which unfortunately lets a more mild-mannered packaging of the same politics slide by with possibly no criticism of that type. A not too distant cousin of the invisible racist, are Walker and possibly others in the current campaign now inaudible fascists? Is the US public at risk of not just letting Trump get away with this, but failing to hear the same dangerousness coming out of a more calm mouth?

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Can’t look away

TW: racism, sexism, rape apologetics, classism

Nick Gillespie’s recent article in the Washington Post which attempts to “debunk” popular myths about Libertarians is absolutely fascinating, in much the way a dramatic car accident or Roland Emmerich disaster flick can hold your attention longer than you want it to.


(All Gillespie needs is a fedora to complete his ensemble, from here.)

He starts with a muddled point that Libertarians aren’t “the hippies of the right” (whatever that even means) because there’s a lot of them according to a poll put out by an avowedly Libertarian media outlet (Reason, which Gillespie edits). The conservative framing here should be obvious: hippies are recently formed and marginal agitators who ruin everything, which Libertarians can’t be compared to because they’re historied (at least for a few more decades by Gillespie’s odd count) and central to the political culture in the US.

Both Gillespie’s logic for classifying assorted movements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “libertarian” and the rational behind his magazine’s polling are the same – that Libertarianism is semantically devoid outside of a distaste for government policy (quirkily defined). He argues that libertarianism wasn’t a strange reaction to communism (which others have argued), but instead rooted in movements within the United States against formal imperialist structures over the proceeding century.

That libertarians arguably only oppose government-run imperialism today when it’s convenient to them is one quibble, but it’s also worth noting that disinterest in imperialism is being reduced by Gillespie to disapproval of it when conducted by the government. It’s apparently unthinkable that those liberal movements might be the antecedents to calls for governmental intervention to prevent commercial groups or other organizations from profiting from and reinforcing the conditions left by overt government-run colonialism.

This is revealed in the simplistic questionnaire that Reason used, which merely asks-

“1. ‘The less government the better’; OR, ‘there are more things that government should be doing’.

2. ‘We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems’; OR, ‘People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement’.

3. Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?”

Occasionally (as the article states) over the years this survey was put out, a question actually pertaining to an issue (only marijuana decriminalization though!) rather than a vague philosophical moral would be asked. A nuanced perspective that governments’ actions are legitimate or unacceptable depending on what those actions are, is apparently by and large anathema to getting the results that 24 percent of US citizens agree with them (compared to 27 with “liberals” and another 27 with “conservatives”).

His other points are poorly strung together, and really amount to two admissions: that libertarianism doesn’t offer much to people of color and women, as well as that libertarians are a contentious political bloc that is already contending with others within the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential nomination. For the former, he only points to opposition to the drug war, support for “school choice”, and the idolization of Ayn Rand (and a few other decades-dead women, none of whom were a part of libertarianism in the past 31 years).

Prominent libertarians quite clearly only want to soften the drug war, namely by reducing the penalization for drugs which like marijuana are commonly used among more affluent Whites. School choice is openly a means of shifting the cost of maintaining de facto segregation from White families on to the government (while also making parochial education more competitive). And do we really need to run down why Ayn Rand isn’t a feminist idol? (Hint: she wanted her audience to excuse rape.)

In the end, Gillespie is left arguing that it’s a myth that “Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party” and yet that the party leadership is “worried about the party’s growing libertarian streak” so much so that Chris Christie (presidential nominee apparent, unless libertarian Rand Paul has his way) called libertarians “dangerous”.

Is it hard to be so very wrong about everything, Mr Gillespie?

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The Навальный Case comes to a close

Last week, the corruption trial against the Russian journalist-activist Алексей Анатольевич Навальный (Alexej Anatolevich Navalnyj) came to a close with his closing remarks, which are now available in English courtesy of the New York Times. While I don’t feel qualified to judge the quality of the charges against him, it seems worth noting that this case against Navalnyj was previously dismissed for lack of evidence. This doesn’t seem like the most honest judicial process, although we’ll have to wait until July 18 to see the outcome of whatever dishonest might be in play.

In the meantime, I think it’s worth attempting to parse Navalnyj’s intent behind various parts of his statement namely where he declares the existing Russian state to be recreating a “feudal” social system “under which 83 percent of national wealth belongs to 0.5 percent of the population”. He, in fact, expressed gratitude that the case involved the resources in the Kirov Oblast, as there, “you can see that the world of fantasy and fairy tales does not exist” as it’s portrayed by the Putin-headed government. That rhetoric raises at least one question: what makes him think that that’s the argument he should use to rally support in an Oblast (or province) where more than 59 percent of voters in 2012 (supposedly) cast their ballots for Putin?


(Kirov Oblast, marked with the red one, does have a lower degree of support for Putin based on 2012 outcome when compared to most of its neighboring provinces. Only those that are a darker shade of blue provided Putin with a smaller vote share. From here.)

To be fair, he might consider this line of argument to be his only chance at convincing Kirovskie people to heed his political warnings over Putin, but it certainly seems like the fictions of the Putin government are largely believed in the Kirov Oblast in percentages that are comparable for the rest of Russia. Navalnyj does seem capable of using idealism in his arguments, but I don’t want discount him as being pragmatic here. While Kirov did (seemingly) vote for Putin at more or less the national rate, it did have above average support for various anti-capitalist and anti-modernist parties’ candidates.

One interpretation of this that might be worth exploring is whether Putin’s support in the Kirov Oblast and other rural oblasti has eroded or is otherwise more precarious than recent elections suggested. Otherwise, Navalnyj is potentially taking a shot at the ultra-nationalists that are also attempting to make gains against Putin’s government, particularly in more rural regions like the Kirov Oblast. In either case, I hope that Navalnyj is doing something smart here as a way of challenging the political status quo in Russia.

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Morsi’s presidency is disintegrating

TW: graphic depictions of state killings

Mouin Rabbani has an excellent run-down of the major developments over the course of the past three years of the “Arab Spring” which you can read in full over at Jadaliyya. The key bit, however, is his third point, which I’ll reproduce in full:

“[W]hile the Muslim Brotherhood may yet emerge victorious in Egypt, the increasingly widespread opposition to it signals not so much a disillusionment with Islamism as it does a revulsion for any attempt to establish and practice unfettered power. These uprisings are first and foremost about establishing the rights and rites of citizenship as inalienable and indeed inviolable. Any attempt to once again make citizens servants rather than masters of the state will require massive force and subterfuge to succeed.”

Rabbani was careful to hedge his assessment in the prediction of extensive resources being required to prop up the existing government, without noting that the government is nothing if not cash-strapped, among other issues. Likewise, he has done an excellent job of pointing out why Mohamed Morsi’s presidency is unlikely to last, but has failed to specify which arenas he was thinking of when he spoke of “unfettered power”. Still, the current example of the Sinai Peninsula makes starkly clear the economic, political, social, and regional dimensions of inequality in Egypt to this day, particularly in the light of how support for Morsi’s presidency is likely receding.

To provide some background, the Sinai Peninsula was by no means against Morsi’s victory in the relatively narrow final round of the presidential elections in June. North Sinai, which contains the vast majority of the peninsula’s population handily provided Morsi a 22 point lead. While the far less populous South Sinai, in contrast, broke for his opponent, it provided Ahmed Shafik with his smallest advantage of governorates he won, with his lead being fewer than two hundred votes. While it’s a statistical stretch to credit Sinai with Morsi’s election, it’s clear that he enjoyed a healthy degree of support, at least among those who participated in that final round of elections.

But as recent, excellent, and gruesome reporting by Al Jazeera shows, Sinai’s economic and political status within Egypt seems to be defined by exploitation or exclusion. The more pronounced social conservatism of its primarily Bedouin population and the consequent security-influenced response of the Egyptian state to nearly every major event  in the region reveals additional social and regional dimensions to Sinai alienation from the existing state. Surely, the environmental, economic, and political struggles faced by many in Sinai are common to many in Egypt, but the additional complicating elements seem to be accelerating distaste for Morsi’s presidency to profound levels across the peninsula.


(The view of Egyptian-occupied Sinai from Israel-occupied Palestine, from here.)

Morsi’s presidency seems destined by its failure to clearly end the failings of the Mubarak regime to be radically reformed, quickly ended, or beleaguered into irrelevancy. Sinai is merely the canary in the coalmine with the highest number of potential grievances to raise against Morsi’s rule. If Morsi doesn’t dramatically shift his political focuses, he should expect these problems to only grow and spread.

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The state remains king

TW: gun violence

As the United States is gripping for another round of debates on whether the state can actually enforce gun laws, it’s worth looking to the rest of the world to check the American skepticism about the state’s potency is necessarily a universal problem. Luckily, the events of the past week are a pretty resounding counterpoint to the idea of laws being option and states being delicate creatures.

In Japan, the recent election handed the Liberal Democratic Party near total control of the government, ostensibly in response to the party’s tough talk concerning Japan’s mineral rights to the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese), as well as similar border disputes with South Korea. The Japanese state is clearly a major player, as a national conversation begins on whether and how to expand nuclear power capabilities (or “nuclear power” capabilities?) and augment the power and size of the military-esque defensive forces Japan is constitutionally permitted to have. Even having lost an empire, an actual military, and the right to preemptively declare war, Japan is a force in the region.


(The Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands are not only strategically located, but thought to have oil or gas reserves trapped beneath them and conveniently lack an indigenous population. Originally from here.)

In the recent Ghanaian election, which I’ve discussed before, the primary policy-focused difference between the mainstream presidential candidates concerned how to direct the state’s resources, not whether the state should direct them. Incumbent President John Mahama argued for recent windfalls from oil exports to be put to use in infrastructural development, while challenger Nana Akufo-Addo called for the primary focus of state-led investment to be in education. There are clear trade-offs involved. Education spending will more likely to be available to urban-dwelling Ghanaians, to say nothing of the class politics of forcing children to potentially choose between their livelihoods and their education. On the other hand, infrastructure typically translates into lucrative contracts for the well connected, but a product that’s often useful to a wider group of the population. In total, 97 percent of the population voted for either of these candidates, as part of the election became a referendum on the particulars of state involvement in the economy, not the concept itself.

Earlier today, the UN War Crimes Court acquitted militant leader Mathieu Ngudjolo, who participated in violent anti-state activities in the northeastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) almost a decade ago. So, while the DRC has been considered incredibly impotent in putting down the almost constant state of revolution in that portion of its territory, it successfully detained one of the premier leaders of an earlier uprising and maintained at least partial control over the region. In contrast, the sub-state actors, like Ngudjolo, who are sometimes referred to as warlords, have never been able to establish even de facto independence for very long even in the unstable corner of one of the most defunct states. To top it off, the non-state entity of the United Nations can’t even persuade its own judges that a warlord is guilty of war crimes. Even one of the least stable states in the world has come out ahead of everyone else in this situation.

Even the DRC can outfox armed gun men, but the US has paralyzed itself into believing its own laws can’t be enforced.

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Testing…

In Egypt, there’s indications that the liberal coalition forged during the Tahrir Square protests that brought down the military regime almost two years ago is being tested against a new force: the more than eighty year old Muslim Brotherhood. The question being asked now is if democratic activists have the same sort of upper hand against the increasingly authoritarian Morsi presidency that they did against Mubarak.


(Pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi protesters have clashed with each other and police in recent days throughout Egypt. Originally from here.)

In Ghana, a similar test is unfolding. Today’s election is a choice between competing (and somewhat regionally distinct) ideas about how to best invest the growing national wealth from the oil industry – whether in physical infrastructure improvements or mass funding of public education. With the region having recently suffered from numerous recent civil wars, political conflicts, and even a coup, this is a clear test if Ghana’s democracy is more substantive than that of its neighbors.

Finally, India is testing its markets with significant changes to its laws on foreign investment and economic control. Historically cautious of international economic “cooperation” which was a significant component to British colonial dominance in the country, the Indian government has spent the past few decades gradually easing protectionist policies. With this change, a bit of a test is underway to see if protectionism was the reason why many Indians’ standard of living didn’t increase dramatically after independence. As the past years have been fairly inconclusive, with the majority of the benefits of the more “free market” economy going to specific groups, it remains to be seen if more foreign investment solves the problem.

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By their fruits you shall know them

I started off yesterday with a quick jaunt through some of the major predictions for how the electoral college would pan out yesterday during my live-blogging of the night’s returns. What I think is absolutely necessary to do now is the review those and look at exactly how things turned out. A few more honest predictors have already admitted it, but whether they recognize it or not, a shorter version of this is already well-known and getting passed around the internet today:

Keep calm and trust Nate Silver
(I first saw it here, but who knows who put this together originally.)

That conclusion having already been drawn, I think it’s worth analyzing it further. How much is trusting in Nate Silver actually worth (in comparison to other sources)? There’s a simple measurement to be done in terms of how accurate his calls were in comparison to the overall outcomes (hint: pretty much spot on). But there’s a variety of different problems with other predictions having flaws other than inaccuracy, most typically unwarranted uncertainty. It might be safe for pundits to only predict states that you can be absolutely certain about, but if you can’t provide an estimation for trickier situations, why should viewers rely on you for information? I want to be provided a service and I want it to be excellent. I’ll allow for some uncertainty, as it’s inevitable, but beyond a certain point, it’s an excuse for not doing your job, if your job involves predictions.

With those two potential problems in mind, I think it’s worth looking at both accuracy and overall information provided. To freshen in your minds what the various predictions were and to make comparisons easier to understand, here are the major predictions that were made as of Monday night, in map-form:

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And here’s how those translate into the usefulness of the prediction:

Prediction Correctly Predicted Polities (#) Predicted Polities (#) Correctly Predicted Polities of Predicted Polities (%) Correctly Predicted Polities of All Polities (%)
Nate Silver (1) 51 51 100% 100%
Nate Silver (2) 50 50 100% 98.0%
RCP 40 40 100% 78.4%
Sam Wang 50 50 100% 98.0%
Michael Barone (1) 43 51 84.3% 84.3%
Michael Barone (2) 43 49 87.8% 84.3%

*I’m counting with 51 electoral blocs, as neither Nebraska or Maine appear to have split, and the District of Columbia gets 3 electoral votes as well.

You’ll notice, it’s relatively easy to get a high score in predictions, if you don’t make any for the tighter states. On the other hand, it’s a bit trickier to translate your predictions into a high degree of accuracy for the entire map unless you actually know what you’re doing (like, say, a professional statistician). In fact, counting only the errors in polity predictions understates the problem in the flawed analyses. I count 25 polities with fewer than 10 electoral votes each which all other these predictions agreed on. Allowing them to be factored in gives everyone a greater than 50 percent prediction rate while only working with 127 electoral votes. To be fair, there’s only 115 electoral votes from 9 states that the various models included here disagreed on. For the terminally curious, those are Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida.

Looking just within those selected states creates a very different perception:

Prediction Correctly Predicted Select (#) Predicted Select (#) Correctly Predicted Select of Predicted Select (%) Correctly Predicted Select of Total Select (%)
Nate Silver (1) 9 9 100% 100%
Nate Silver (2) 8 8 100% 88.9%
RCP 0 0 N/A 0%
Sam Wang 8 8 100% 88.9%
Michael Barone (1) 1 9 11.1% 11.1%
Michael Barone (2) 1 7 14.3% 11.1%

So there you have it. Sam Wang and Nate Silver are both highly accurate and highly useful. Real Clear Politics was accurate, but only because they literally said nothing about where it really mattered. As for Michael Barone, whose hilarious predictions can be read here in full (although they might disappear shortly), there’s a reason he could only get published at Rasmussen. Take note, statistics just defeated an actually baseless “sense” in yet another round. I’ll hope that Real Clear Politics’ cowardice and Michael Barone’s wrongness don’t go unnoticed, but I won’t hold my breath.

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