Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Unconventional and Conventional: Thoughts on the Republican National Convention

It was an unconventional convention.  By all traditional accounts the RNC was a failure .  US Today, Politco, FiveThirtyeight, Roll Call, and other media sources all question whether Trump will get a traditional post-convention bounce.  Of course we need to wait for survey data to answer that question.  But let’s consider the reasons to think why there might not be a bounce.

Since the time conventions were broadcast on television presidential candidates have received bounces.  The bounces are the product of several factors.  The first is simply intense media coverage of the convention where lots of people watch the convention.  Conventions are advertising or education for the public and they get to see the candidate, often times for the first time.  Second, conventions traditionally received significant ratings or viewership, and they presented a  positive, upbeat, and optimistic message that people liked.  Finally, they also were visually appealing with flags, balloons, and pageantry, and all this looks terrific on television.

The size of the bounce generally has fluctuated over time.  Polls suggest that Carter and Clinton received double-digit bounces, Obama and McCain received modest single-digit bounces in 2008 and the same was true for Obama and Romney in 2012.  Possible reasons for this is the declining  audience for political conventions and a hardening of partisanship and the declining percentage of the electorate whom one can describe as swing voters.  Thus, as fewer people watch conventions overall and with fewer voters who are subject to switching their votes conventions may matter less and therefore there is a smaller potential bounce.  Assume all this is correct, perhaps one might guess that Trump and the RNC should have produced perhaps a 3-5 point bounce.

So why might Trump not even receive this modest bump?  By all accounts the RNC was a disaster.  Conventions have become predicable and boring infomercials over time (which is perhaps why in part viewership has declined) where the goal is to present party unity, an optimistic forward-looking message, and to begin to speak beyond the base and speak to the broader public, especially the swing voters.  The RNC did none of that.  It presented a dark scary view of the world every night, especially with Trump’s speech.  The best conventions over time have been bright and optimistic–1984 Reagan’s “It’s morning in America”; 1992 Clinton’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow’; 2008 Obama’ “Hope and change” and “yes we can.”  All this as absent last week.

The unity was not there either (except to oppose Clinton), and in many ways the party and Trump continued to talk to the base and bring party unity.  Pence was selected as VP to bring party unity, the speeches all seemed directed at appealing to Trump supporters and not to the swing voters.

In terms of choreography and scripting Trump’s speech was a mess.  It was too long and started too late.  The best speeches are ones that begin about 10:05 Eastern time.  They go 40 minutes.  That leaves 15 minutes for flag waving and balloons to drop.  There is then a five minute news wrap up and then the 11 PM news comes on and it is all repeated.  Trump who normally knows how to master the news cycle blew it.  Trump had better ratings that Romney in 2012 but it was lower than McCain in 2008.  I suspect viewership dropped dramatically after 11 PM eastern and the number of people watching the late news also was less than it could have been.  Finally, in terms of messaging, overshadowing Trump was news of his wife’s plagiarized speech and Cruz’s Brutus or Marc Anthony appearance.

Given the above, convention wisdom suggests a modest or perhaps no or even negative post-convention bounce for Trump.  But hold on, there are still reasons to think why longer term Trump may not be hurt by what happened.

First consider the message.  As noted political messages are historically positive not negative. Trump appealed not to our better natures (JFK’s inaugural line “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” or George H.W. Bush’s call for a “kinder and gentler America” seem quaint by comparison) but to base emotions and fear might still work.  The brilliance of his speech was to instill fear in Americans and then propose they only he can address those fears.  It was an appeal to the most basic Maslowian level of needs–address security–or an appeal to the most simple Freudian or Hobbesian concerns about fear and security.  In addition, Trump stole a page out of marketing and advertising–both of which often appeal to our sense of fear, anxiety, or dread.  Trump preyed upon the anxieties of an America (or a slice of it) fearing terrorism, police shootings, immigrants, and who knows what.  Fear and prejudice are powerful forces, and he tapped into them much in the same way Nixon did in 1968.

Don’t count out Trump yet.  Yes Democrats look at the RNC and the polls and are giddy.  Clinton  is a certainty.  Again don’t bet on it.  Clinton’s close up is coming this week.  She is banking on the  conventional to win it for her.  She picked an unexciting Tim Kaine as running mate, signaling both that she is assuming he helps with swing state Virginia and swing voters.  Her selection indicates she will run right to her party and that she assumes that the Sanders wing has no where to go and will vote for her out of fear of Trump.  Her convention will be tightly scripted and boring, following the playbook for conventions for the last generation or two.  Maybe boring and unexciting will win the day.

But Clinton needs to do several things next week.  She still lacks an narrative and explanation for why she should be president.  Her speech needs to articulate that.  She needs to address her honestly, credibility, like-ability, and lack of enthusiasm for her problems.  The e-mail controversy damaged her, and her negatives in the high 50s are a liability.  She needs to provide a reason why voters should show up and vote for her and not simply stay home and not vote for either her or Trump.  Maybe she too will use fear of Trump to motivate voters, and maybe that will be enough, yet Clinton does seem to be counting on the fact that playing conventional politics will triumph over Trump’s  unconventional in a year when the conventional seems under assault.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Convention(al) Wisdom: Why Political Convention Locations Don't Matter

Conventional wisdom pervades presidential politics, even in 2016.  Among widely held  tales by politicians and pundits is that a political party's placement of a national convention in swing states such as Ohio for the Republicans or Pennsylvania for the  Democrats this year  can affect presidential voting, flipping it to its presidential candidate or ensuring that it will be held by them. Second, that the selection of a vice-presidential candidate from a specific state as a favorite son (or daughter) will deliver its electoral votes to a presidential ticket.   Both beliefs are wrong.
As Republicans and Democrats selected a convention site for the 2016 presidential election, each certainly considered location as a major factor, as demonstrated by the selection of Philadelphia by the Democrats and Cleveland by the Republicans.  In 2012 during the general election, Pennsylvania was seen as a battleground state, one of the few states that at least one of the presidential candidates visited after the general election.  Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, is a state Democrats want to hold in 2016, thereby endorsing the wisdom of holding their national convention, the DNC, there.
Ohio is the critical swing state to the electoral success of presidential candidates.  Obama won it in 2008 and 2012, Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Clinton in 1992 and 1996.  If the convention location thesis is correct, then locating the Republican National Convention in Cleveland makes sense.
If convention location matters, the perfect example is the placement of the 2008 DNC in Colorado.  Democrats went from losing the state in 2004 by 4.7 percent of the popular vote to winning it with Barack Obama in 2008 by a margin of 8.95 percent– a pickup of 13.65 percent.  Yet Obama’s 2008 victory in Colorado seems to be the exception.  For the most part, there is no location benefit.  Look to the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Republicans, including Minnesota’s then-governor Tim Pawlenty, thought Minnesota was a purple state and that holding the convention there might turn it red.  It did just the opposite.  In 2004 Kerry won Minnesota by 3.5 percent, Obama then won it by 10.24 percent.  The Republicans did 6.75 percent worse in Minnesota by holding a convention there.
Since 1948, there have been 17 presidential elections with 34 national conventions for the Democrats and the Republicans.  Of those 34, there was no change in who won the state compared to the previous election in 23, or about two thirds, of the situations. There are only five instances of apparent lifts producing a flip.  In 1976 and 2008 the Democrats held conventions in New York and Colorado, both of which flipped from the previous election cycle when they had gone GOP. In 1948, 1952, and 1968 Republicans held conventions in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida, which flipped from the previous election cycle when they had voted for the Democratic candidate.
Conversely, there were six times when convention locations seemingly hurt a party’s prospects in the state.  In 1948, 1952, 1980, and 2012, Democrats held conventions in North Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York and North Carolina but lost those states even though they had won them the previous election cycle. In 1960 and 1964, Republicans held conventions in Illinois and California and lost them even though they had won the last time. Five states flipped, six states counter-flipped, and 23 states saw no change..  If anything, there is a slightly better chance of a party losing the state by hosting presidential convention than by not doing so.
A second myth is that Clinton or Trump should select as their vice-president someone from a critical swing state such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia, or Colorado, believing that such a candidate will help them deliver their home state for the presidential ticket. There is potential evidence suggesting vice-presidential candidates might help this way.  Bill Clinton did win Tennessee in 1992 and 1996 with Gore on the ticket after Bush won the state in 1988.  However, Paul Ryan did not deliver Wisconsin for Romney in 2012. Since 1948, the party of the vice-president won 24 or 70.5% of the home state contests and lost 10.   Yet look at the flip factor--did the party of the vice-president change the results from the previous election--then there are only six examples of flips (17.6%).  These are in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1976, 1980, and 1992 where the presence of favorite sons appeared to flip the state's popular vote from the previous election. There was also one counterflip, in 1960 where the presence of Henry Cabot Lodge's appearance as the Republican vice-presidential nominee for Richard Nixon did not produce a Massachusetts win.   Six examples of flips and one counterflip provide flimsy evidence of a favorite son factor.
Perhaps winning a state does not tell the whole story.  One needs to consider the selection of the vice-presidents or convention locations  as making the state more competitive, forcing the opposing party to devote more  resources there to hold it.  The evidence does not support that support this claim.
Convention locations and favorite son or daughter vice-presidential candidates do not matter. Shouldn't advisors and pundits stop making political decisions based on myths and start making them on what matters -- the amenities of the host city and the qualifications of the running mate to serve as vice-president, and, if disaster strikes, as president of the United States?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Legal and Financial Reasons Why Police Stop and Shoot People like Philando Castile

There are many reasons why police stop and shoot people like Philando Castile.  And it is not so much about good cop versus bad cop or individual racism.  One can point to individual, institutional, or societal racism.  There is racial and urban discrimination and poverty that was forcefully described back in 1968 by the Kerner Commission and which as a country we have done little to address nearly 50 years later.  There is the flooding of guns onto the streets of America (thanks to the NRA and a weak-spine Congress which is afraid of them) which puts police on alert whenever they stop someone with conceal and carry.  There is a 50 year legacy of politicians exploiting fear of crime and race including Nixon running on law and order, Reagan’s war on drugs, and Clinton’s 100,000 cops.  There was the criminology theory of broken windows which said that the way to combat serious crime was to go after the small stuff first (such as broken tail lights) before it escalates. And then 9-11 gave new legitimacy to racial profiling. They were all part of a massive push to get tough on crime.
But there are two other factors relevant to understanding why police stop and shoot people such as Philando Castle.  The first is that the Supreme Court has empowered this behavior.  Second, it is the rise of for-profit policing.
Begin first with the Supreme Court.  There are two lines of Supreme Court precedent that empower the police to stop and shoot people.  The first line goes back to Terry v. Ohio.  In that  1968 case the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional a police officer who stopped and frisked several Black men whom he observed walking back and forth in front on a store.  He had a hunch they were casing the place.  He stopped and frisked them.  The Court said that such a stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment and it did not require the police to have probable cause to search.  Instead, all the officer needed was reasonable suspicion based on “"specific and articulable facts"  to stop and do a quick search for weapons.
Terry gave broad discretion to police to stop individuals, with articulable suspicion often times being no more than violation of minor driving offenses.  Broken tail lights became the pretext to stop or search someone a police officer wanted to stop but otherwise lacked real probable cause to detain and search.  Terry was further expanded in other cases where in Whren v United States (1996) the Supreme Court said that any traffic violation by a police officer was a legitimate basis to stop someone.  And earlier in 1977 in Pennsylvania v. Mimms the Court said that there was no constitutional violation when police stop someone in a car for a routine traffic violation and to require them to submit to a pat down.    These three cased among others give police broad discretion and ability to stop individuals and search them.  Critics have correctly argued that these cases legitimize racial profiling by making it easy for police to justify any stop.
A second line of cases goes back to the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner decision which gave significant authority to the police to use deadly force. In Tennessee v. Garner the Supreme Court ruled that the use of deadly force is a Fourth Amendment violation, that is, a kind of illegal search and seizure. To determine police liability, one must balance the citizen’s interest versus the government’s. The citizen’s interest is substantial, of course: not to die. To overcome that interest, police must show that the officer believed that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.  In Graham v. Connor the Supreme Court created an even softer standard for the use of non-deadly force, based on whether the use of force would be justified from the perspective of a reasonable officer with 20/20 hindsight.  To show that the police used excessive force one thus had to show that police officers in a particular cases were incorrect in their reasonable belief that a person posed an immediate physical threat.
Excessive use of force cases are hard to win. The law simply favors the police here and with other criminal and state tort liability issues for the misuse of force. Moreover, public fears of crime complicate matters.  So does racism, especially in situations with mostly white officers – and often mostly white prosecutors, judges and juries – and people of color as victims. But another reason why these cases are hard to win is that the law determines excessive force from the perspective of the police officer, not the victim. Few juries are willing or able to second-guess a cop.
The point is that the law on use of force–including deadly force–has arguably so tipped in favor of the police that it is almost impossible to win a case against them, as can be seen in the recent Baltimore trials against officers accused of killing Freddie Gray.
If the law were not enough in terms of empowering the police to stop and shoot then the rise of for-profit policing had given an economic incentive to do that.  Specifically, again over the last 25 or more years the courts have sanctioned civil forfeiture laws which allow the police to confiscate and sell assets of those convicted of crimes.  In addition, many cities, such as in Ferguson, Missouri as we learned last year, heavily depend on the revenue generated by routine traffic stops and fines to pay for cities services, including police salaries.  In Minnesota, traffic fines are a part of general  revenue that the state and many cities often depend upon as sources of revenue.  Simply put, the more people whom you stop and ticket the more money you generate for a state or local government.
So why do police stop and shoot people like Philando Castile?  The law allows them to do both, and there are economic incentives that also encourage this behavior. Yes this behavior is symptomatic of broader racial and class issues that must be addressed.  But a good public policy start could begin with taking the financial incentive out of this.  In addition, while it was Supreme Court doctrine that gave the legal justification to these stop and search policies, nothing prevents state and local governments or police agencies from implementing more restrictive laws or procedures regarding  stops, searches, and uses of force, including adopting better rules regarding police criminal and civil liability.

Note: For six years at Hamline I taught classes in its Criminal Justice program, including a course that covered police criminal and civil liability.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

An American Coup

It was not so much that he made America great again, but when Donald Trump was elected president on November 8, 2016 he transformed the United States in ways that few, including he, could have imagined.
Right from the start establishment politicians and pundits just never understand Trump.  He was consistently derided as having no chance.  First it was that his repeated insults against John McCain, Megyn Kelly and women, immigrants, or Muslims that would doom him. But with each insult his fame only grew.  Then it was the claim that he could not win in Iowa but he did.  Or that his loss in Wisconsin would doom him.  Or that his tirades against the media, his name calling of Hillary Clinton, or even selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate would surely kill his campaign.  Back in June of 2016  as stories mounted about how little money he had raised, or that Clinton had double digit leads in some polls, he was still dismissed.  Nat Silver, the whiz kids of political money ball, said that Trump had barely a 20% chance of winning and who could doubt the person who had so brilliantly declared that Clinton was a cinch to win the Michigan primary .
Even as late as the July Republican convention, despite the riots and arrests outside and one final push by party elites to use the rules to oust him, some thought that Trump would not get the nomination.  But he did.
Trump’s success was in exploiting fear, prejudice, and ignorance.  These are the core elements of what most advertising does–appeal out our vanity insecurities,  and fears.  Trump as the consummate  salesman understood that.  But he also exploited the failures of the Republican and Democratic parties which for the last generation or more has sold the public on free trade, globalization, and open borders, saying that it would benefit us all.  Somewhere along the way these promises did not add up and mainstream national journalists, living in New York City, socializing on the upper east side, and vacationing in the Hamptons, for some reason just did not realize that average people were not reaping the benefits of NAFTA and free trade.  Perhaps they were too busy attending or covering the six figure speeches Hillary Clinton was giving to Wall Street to notice that most people were making less money now while working harder than they did twenty years ago.  Yes as F Scott Fitzgerald once said, the rich are different–they do have more money–but with money comes attitude and Trump played on resentment toward them and the elitism that they, the media, and the Washington establishment all represented.
Trump also understood they way that politics and entertainment had converged.  Politicians  no longer campaigned and the media no longer covered politics–both were marketed.  Trump understood the for-profit spectacle that politics had become and which the news industry wished to deny but depended on. He knew that CNN, MSNBC, and the rest could not resist a good headline and that if he dropped a comment–no matter how outrageous–the media would pick it up and it would fill the news cycle for an entire day.  Trump thus understood how getting headlines for him also meant the media  would get ratings.  They were trapped, and forced to market the presidential elections on Trump’s terms.
But Trump also benefited from running against for many a hugely unpopular and uninspiring candidate who was the face of the establishment and status quo in a year where   neither was a plus.  Clinton struggled to win the Democratic nomination against an aging self-described socialist who  never considered himself a Democrat until he decided to run for president.  Clinton should have easily defeated him, but her difficulties revealed how poor of a candidate she was.  She started a race with 70% approvals and a 50%+ lead over Sanders only to see it disappear.  Some of it yes was sexism.  No doubt there is about 30% of Americans who will never vote for a woman and thus Clinton faced problems from the start.  But she also had many other problems they were not the result of sexism but self-inflicted.
At the end of the day Clinton had no narrative for her campaign.  It was all about breaking the glass ceiling and being the first female president.  That did not cut it with young people, including women, who preferred someone who shared their politics and not simply their gender.  Additionally, whatever narrative Clinton had was one that was either too conservative for an emerging Millennial generation of voters, or one that harkened back to her husband.  In so many ways she was still running, as she did in 2008, for Bill’s third term.  Yet times had changed and what was once thought of as good public policy in the 90s was no long seen the same in 2016.
Hillary–a once youthful Republican turned New Democrat turned sort of progressive during the 2016 primaries and then back to a centrist Democrat who tried to appeal to Republican voters–was perplexed why no one trusted her.  This perplexity was also shared by her core supporters–women over 40–who saw in every criticism of her sexism.  Yet what was also perplexing  in the campaign was why Democrats supported her, let alone women or even people of color.  Clinton  who supported the death penalty, fracking, TPP and globalization , and a militaristic foreign policy, (at least until the primaries), and in the past who supported welfare reform, her husband’s crime bill, and oppose marriage equality until recently, hardly seemed like someone who Democrat or women should support.  Given her positions, it is wonder why she was a Democrat and why so many women who considered themselves progressives supported her beyond the fact that she was a woman. Clinton had a narrative problem along with an identity problem–voters did not trust her and did not like her for sexist and legitimate policy reasons.
Yet Clinton was supposed to win according to pundits and politicians.  But she did not.  She selected Tim Kaine from Virginia and played conventional politics in a year when the normal rules of politics changed.  Similar to Frank Skeffington in the Last Hurrah who never understood how the  New Deal had changed politics and therefore was clueless to how the old rules of campaigning had changed.  Clinton campaigned like it was 1992 again, just like she did in 2008.
The election came down to a core of swing states again, with Ohio and Florida again decisive.  The media and Clinton were distracted by Trump’s huge negatives and by how well she was doing in the popular vote and fund raising comparatively.  She went toe-to-toe negative campaigning but in the end Trump was able to dig deeper, go nastier, and insult better than her. He knew fear, prejudice, and ignorance would make the difference.  Benghazi, her e-mails, and all the other rumors around her stuck along with the image of Crooked Hillary.    In the end, Clinton, like Gore in 2000, won the popular vote by racking up huge majorities in Democrat states, but she lost among swing voters in swing states, handing the Trump-Palin ticket  an Electoral College victory.
Trump’s January 20, inauguration and swearing in were a made for TV event.  The inauguration ball and swearing in was held at the Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, newly remodeled and just down the street from the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania  Ave. The cost of doing both was billed to the taxpayers and Trump of course profited from it, serving also Trump champagne and steaks. At his swearing in he also announced that Air Force 1 would be sold to save tax payer money, replaced with a Trump charter jet that would be rented by the government from him.
Trump’s inaugural speech–or rant–was exactly what was expected from him.  He said that his first order of business would be to expel all Muslims from the US, along with deporting all immigrants from Mexico. He also renounced NAFTA and all the free trade agreements with China and issued a 40% tariff on their goods.    He issued orders suspending enforcement of Obamacare and declared all EPA orders null and void. Palin was put in charge of a special task force on energy and the environment, and he declared all federal lands open to mining and drilling for oil. Drill Baby  Drill was now the official policy of America.
Trump thought he could simply push through want he wanted but with a Republican House and Senate that flipped to the Democrats, he found that they were less they willing to do his bidding.  He insulted in bipartisan fashion but it did little good.  As the economy began to tank Trump saw his approval rating slip more.  Legal challenges to his orders and actions mounted, coming from both Congress and citizens.  The cases began to choke the federal courts, necessitating Supreme Court review.  But since the death of Scalia the Court was operating one justice shy and it did not look as if Trump was going to be able to get through his judicial appointments.
But whatever one can say about Trump he finally achieved the impossible–he got the Democrats and Republicans to agree on one thing–his impeachment.  Fed up quickly with his presidency there was bipartisan agreement to impeach him.  By the time Trump was to be impeached Palin had already resigned.  Trump was without a vice-president and his impeachment was for self-dealing and disregarding the Constitution and the Supreme Court which had declared many of his act illegal.  This left Paul Ryan as the successor.  Except Trump refused to leave office, defying both the Congress and the Courts.
But Trump’s troubles did not stop there.  Following up on comments he made during the campaign, he ordered th US out of NATO. He ordered troops out of Japan and South Korea, and he torn up the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Early on  much of the career diplomatic staff at the State Department had resigned, leaving the US with few trained officials.  Trump named almost all of his friends as ambassadors, but they shared a common Trump trait–no diplomatic tact.  Soon the US was rhetorically fighting with everyone–even Great Britain who elected their own Trump like figure after Brexit, and President Le Pen in France. Tensions escalated in the Middle East as reaction to the Muslim US ban kicked in and domestic and international terrorist attacks against the US mounted.  Tensions with Iran, China, and North Korea reached a fever pitch, and finally Trump began talking  about nuclear weapons to be used to resolve all these disputes.
Finally the day came, July 4, to be exact.   Trump ordered the military leaders to act or face removal. With the Joint Chiefs of Staff worried about what Trump would do next, and seeing that Congress and the Courts were unable to restrain him, they did they only thing they thought patriotic to save the United States.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Trump, Brexit, and the Failure of Mainstream Politics and Economics

The Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump have stunned the world.  Neither should.  They
are both the product of the failures of mainstream politics and economics, especially the overselling of both in terms of how they would benefit the world and more specifically, the middle and working class in the UK, the US, and perhaps around the world.
The roots of the Brexit and Trump begin in what some call the Neo-liberal restructuring of the world that begin in the late 70s and 80s with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan.  Faced with severe economic slowdowns in the UK and the US, the criticism was that the economically liberal policies of the welfare state had created high inflation and unemployment–stagflation.  The solution was to cut taxes, economic regulation, and weaken labor unions.  The theory–part of the supply side economics mantra–was that we needed to free up corporations to invest, to give them more flexibility to innovate, and to remove barriers to invest.
The Conservatives in the UK under Thatcher and then  Major and the US under Reagan and George H.W. Bush cut taxes, government regulations, waged war on the unions, and embraced international policies that took Neo-liberalism globally.  The result was GATT, NAFTA, the WTO, and other international free trade agreements that opened up the borders to capital and to some extent, labor mobility.  Yet Labor under Tony Blair and the Democrats under Bill Clinton similarly  embraced such policies, as did Cameron, George Bush, and even Obama.  All of them accepted as legitimate globalization as we know it, along with policies that embraced tax cuts and deregulation.
Even Obama–whom many Americans think as so liberal–really fell into this trap.  Upon taking office in 2009 he continued the economic policies of his predecessor that bailed out the banks but not the home owners after the 2008 economic crash, he endorsed TPP as a trade agreement, and otherwise  at best only made marginal changes in the Neo-liberal economic agenda.  Even the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank were no more than market-orientated approaches to addressing social-economic problems.  Yes, the Republicans in the US obstructed Obama, but he never did really oppose even in his first two years in office with large Democratic majorities the core trajectory of Neo-liberalism.
This Neo-liberalism was politically solid by politicians and the major parties in Europe and the US as economically a win-win for all.  It was described as producing the greatest economic good for all.  Mainstream economists–sitting from the luxury of their tenured chairs or luxurious offices a top Wall Street, described free trade, globalization, and economic restructuring as economically efficient–both in a Kaldor-Hicks way (the greatest good for the great number) and Pareto (producing the winners without any or significant losers).  The few jobs lost in manufacturing would more than be made of by the benefits of free trade.  Together, orthodox economics and the mainstream parties sold the world, or at least voters in the US and UK, a story of economic prosperity.
Yet it never happened.  Somewhere along the line the economic benefits did not trickle down.  Wages have stagnated over the last 40 years, the gap between the rich and poor exploded, and the loss of manufacturing and other jobs has totaled in the tens of millions. The working class has disproportionally taken the hit, with the costs of Neo-liberalism falling on them while few of the benefits reaching them.
Now combine that with another political failure–the Bush War on Terrorism, He and Blair  launched politically disruptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have destabilized the Middle East, creating the forces that have nurtured ISIS and the crisis in Syria that has now thrown millions of refugees across Europe. In the US, NAFTA helped destabilize the Mexican economy, creating the impetus for immigrants there to flee to the US for jobs.
The result is economic insecurity for many white working class, major parties largely blind to their fate, and a ready scapegoat of immigrants to blame.  Enter Brexit and Trump.
The Brexit vote is a statement that the status quo is not working.  The vote in the UK to exit was mostly in working class England.  In the US, the core of the Trump support was originally among white working class without college educations.  The same who supported Brexit, those who have lost out in the last generation or two  who perceive it is the immigrants who are taking their jobs.    The British Independence Party, Donald Trump, and others such as LaPen in France are appealing to economic insecurities, fear of immigrants, nationalism, and simply racism and religion.  And their appeals are effective.  Brexit gives credence to claims that trump has tapped into a phenomena that might put him in the White House.  Hillary Clinton, while enjoying many political advantages, seems largely clueless to the Neo-liberal paradigm of which she is a part.
Yes, all of this is disgusting, but given the failures of mainstream politics and economics to address or recognize the world it has created, the reaction here should not be a surprise.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why Orlando Will Not Change the Politics on Gun Control (Okay, Maybe a slight chance)

After Representative Giffords was shot they said it would change the politics on gun control in
America.  The same was said after Aurora, Colorado.  Sandy Hook.  Charleston.  And Waco. It’s too unlikely that Orlando will change the politics on gun regulation.  The reason is simple:   The political forces and incentives to change the laws just do not exist as a result of the political geography in the United States.
This year I have already given several dozen talks on the 2016 elections, seeking to make sense of the politics this year.  To do that I have drawn a contrast, examining how American politics  has changed since 1976 compared to today.  My discussion begins with drawing a bell curve.  The curve  represents the distribution of American public opinion in 1976. If one were to look at a series of survey s or polls we would find that the vast majority of public opinion converged toward the center.  Yes there were some far right and left voters, but a large percentage of the public shared a powerful consensus on a range of social, economic, and foreign policy issues.
With the majority of the public sharing similar views, it also made sense for the Republican  and Democratic Parties to nominate centrist candidates.  After all, that it were most voters were and if you want to win nominate candidate centrist candidates.  In many ways, in 1976, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were good examples of that; two candidates who ideologically were not that far apart.
Additionally, we know back in 1976 that both the Democrat and Republican Parties were more coalitional and less ideological than today.  There were liberal Republicans in NY and New England and conservative Democrats in the South.  The two major parties had liberal, moderates, and conservatives among their ranks.  Such ideological diversity made bipartisanship possible and in 1976 the percentage of straight party-line votes was quite small compared to today.  Additionally, in 1976 political scientists estimated that about one-third of the 435 US House of Representative  seats came from swing districts–those where either a Democrat or a Republican could be elected.  It was these swing districts too which helped drive bipartisanship.  Representatives there had an incentive to work across the aisle–become too partisan on one side and you would lose an election to someone on the other side.
But 40 years later politics has changed.  Today the state of public opinion looks more like a camel’s back–a double  hump curve.  The percentage of voters describing themselves as moderate has decreased and the percentage saying they a liberal or conservative has increased (although those who say they are very conservative has increased far more than those who say extremely liberal).   This means that the center of the Republican and Democratic parties is moving apart from one another and that within each party candidates who wish to win their nomination must increasingly appeal to where their shifting bases have moved.
Why the electorate has bifuricated and sorted itself out in such a way that partisanship and ideology overlap is a product of many factors.  These include the embracing of civil rights by the Democrats, social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, generational shifts, and economics. All this has contributed to a sorting.  But another sorting is occurring–geography.
At the same time that America has become more conservative and liberal it has also become more segregated many ways, including politically.  We now politically sort ourselves out with Democrats choosing to live in the cities and inner-ring suburbs, Republicans in outer-ring suburbs and rural areas.  The Red and Blue states the media describes really are red and blue cities, regions, even streets and blocks.  We wish to live near others who share our political views and avoid those with whom we disagree.
We have created overwhelming Republican and Democratic areas.  Nationally now the best estimates are that barely 20-25 House seats are swing.  Instead 95% are securely one party.  Candidates from these safe seats have no incentive to compromise politically and if they do they will get primaried from the right if a Republican or from the left if a Democrat.  Geography reinforces  and exacerbates partisanship and extremism.
The result is that now there are fewer bipartisan bills and a greater percentage of straight party-line votes than in 1976.  Evidence suggests that the most conservative Democrat now is still more liberal than the most liberal Republican.  Fewer swing districts and more safe seats mean polarization.
One result is that there is a cluster of core issues over which there is manor disagreement.  One example is guns.  There are some regions of the US where there is strong support for gun control and some where there is not.  These are areas where guns are and are not part of its culture.  Representatives from the gun regions in so many ways are actually representing their constituents  interests in the same way were those from the non-gun regions represent their voters.
Simply put, representatives in areas such as the south or rural areas have little political incentive to support gun control.   If they do they face political reprisals from within their party.  On  top of that, the NRA supports these candidates, occupying a powerful interest group role to reinforcing Republican, rural, and outer ring-suburban opposition to gun control.
Those who favor gun control include urban dwellers, people of color, women, and Democrats.  They do not live in the Republican areas or at least in sufficient numbers to matter politically, or they do not vote sufficiently Republican to move Republican voters.
Now consider Orlando.  It is perhaps an issue about LGBT phobia and how someone targeted  a gay night club.  This issue might move some but think about it–how many in the LGBT community  are voting Republican, identify Republican, or even live in Republican areas in sufficient numbers to move Republican Congressional members?  To be blunt: LGBT issues are not the kind that receive support from the Republican community and casting Orlando as such will not change the political debate or vote .  In addition, because the killer was Muslim it implicates another set of wedge issues, terrorism and Islamaphobia, there too is little indication that it will alter the political debate and forces within many pro-gun districts to support ne gun regulations.
Overall, the simple point here is that there is little chance that Orlando will change the debate and politics on gun control.  The one slight chance is that if the LGBT community can unite with other gun regulation forces, creating a powerful bloc of voters to challenge the NRA.  But even them it will require this new bloc to leverage political power in areas where there is little support for LGBT issues and a lot for guns.  Until and unless this happens, do not look to Orlando to change the politics of gun control.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How the Associated Press Crossed the Journalism Ethics Line in Declaring Clinton had enough Delegates to Clinch the Democratic Nomination

AP ethically blew it on Monday.  It did that when after 5 PM and just hours before the critical California primary it declared that Hillary Clinton now had enough delegates to clinch the
Democratic nomination.  AP’s decision to run this story, along with the mainstream too repeating it, especially Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the Washington Post, was an enormous breach of journalistic ethics in a year where traditional norms of media impartiality and objectivity seem already gone.
Factually it is simple.  AP on Monday night June 5,  filed a story declaring that Hillary Clinton now had enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination even before the remaining primaries, including that in California, would be held on Tuesday, June 6.  That estimate was based on its calculation of earned delegates plus super-delegates.  So what is the problem with that story?  There are several.
First, technically the super-delegates do not vote until the convention.  However they may say they are pledged, they can change their minds on how they will decide up until they actually vote at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July.  While they may be pledging for Clinton, nothing says that events between now and the DNC could not lead them to change their mind.  While potentially unlikely, big wins by Sanders in California and other states, along with polling data suggesting him to be a stronger candidate, might be fodder for him arguing that he and not Clinton  should get the support of the super-delegates.  AP’s story is thus based upon their interpretation and the counting  of the stated intentions of super-delegates and not upon real earned delegates.  Thus, factually depending on how one cuts it, the AP story may not be true.
But the bigger problem is the timing.  The story ran simply hours before the last big primaries when there will be little if no ability by Sanders to counteract the report.  Sanders’ campaign was given effectively to opportunity to comment or to offer rebuttal that can reach voters and supporters in a way to challenge this AP declaration of the state of the campaign.  AP has not so much reported the news as it did create a story that potentially creates a self-fulfilling prophecy  that favors Clinton.
News reporting can produce what is known as the bandwagon effect.  Political scientists and  behavioral psychologists have described the bandwagon effect as a situation where when journalists declare a candidate to be a winner–based on polls–it impacts voting in several ways.  First, it depresses voter turnout for those who might have considered voting for the loser.  Second, it may convince independent voters to go with the winner and not necessarily with their choice whom they have heard as having been declared the winner.
There is empirical data supporting the bandwagon effect.  It supports political theories by the like of Alexis DeTocqueville, James Bryce, David Riesman, and Elizabeth  Noelle-Neumann, all great political scientists or sociologists, who described the powerful role that public opinion plays in swaying voters or individuals.  Why should I go with my preference when the majority says otherwise?  No one wants to go with a loser, we all want to support winners.  The best application of the bandwagon effect is how it is used with advertising.  The famous “three out of five doctors recommend” or polls describing customer preferences are more than efforts to describe factual situations, they are meant to sway opinions and get people to buy your product.  Another variation of this is called the Hawthorne effect where psychologists have noted how that when human subjects are being told they are being observed they change their behavior.
AP’s report on Clinton’s clinching of the nomination hits directly at the bandwagon effect.  It runs the risk of altering election turnout and results in several states and thereby crossing the line from reporting news to effecting the news.  It is like a journalism Hawthorne effect.  This type of reporting is unethical and crosses the line from impartiality and objectivity to being a newsmaker,  potentially favoring one candidate over another.
But this would not be the first time AP blew it.  Back in the 1980s William Brandon Shanley put together a documentary entitled “The Made for TV Election,” narrated by Martin Sheen.  It described overall how the mainstream television media reported the 1980 presidential election and slanted coverage to maintain ratings and market share.  But central to the documentary was how on election night AP called the race early for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter on election night while  polls were still open on the west coast, including in California.  As a result, evidence suggested that when voter heard of the AP call as reported on television, voters walked away from polls or in some cases changed their voting preferences.  This documentary was a major indictment of the television  news media–and no mainstream television station or news service has ever chosen to show it or discuss it results.
What AP decided to do in 1980 was to say that not every vote counts.  It did the same with  its Monday story and the mainstream media echoed that message.  It declared the race over hours before a new round of voting would occur.  The AP could have waited 24 hours to issue the story but it choose–ethically wrong–to run the story for the purposes of getting a headline.  The rest of the media ran the story too for headlines and audience.  But this story is not the first instance of journalism ethics taking a backseat to profits.  Repeatedly this year one has seen the media slant headlines or hype stories to enhance ratings or readers which means to maximize profits. This is not reporting the news, it is marketing or selling it and that is not what journalism is supposed to be.