Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Falsifying Prophets

Something of a backlash is occurring against Nate Silver's steady prediction of a 73 percent chance of an Obama win (75 percent now-cast). Here's Joe Scarborough yesterday:
Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.
I get the point, but a toss-up can still have a favourite, and a 27% chance of victory is still not a bad chance. Tim Stanley has even more harsh words:

Trident Renewal: Where Do Our Spending Priorities Lie?

The Defense Secretary has announced £350m in more spending on replacing the unnecessary Trident nuclear submarines:
The Defence Secretary also announced a test launch of an unarmed Trident ballistic missile in the Atlantic Ocean last week which [The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] branded "profligate and unnecessary", at a cost of over £25 million per missile and at least that for the test itself.
£25 million for a single test- that's over twice as much as the funding provided by the Home Office to address gang violence in problem areas (£10 million). For one test. Of a program that may end up costing £130 billion (!) in the long-term. That's over one-hundred times the cost of benefit fraud (£1.2 billion), supposedly so costly to the country as to be a governmental priority. So what's the purpose of Trident? Even Tony Blair admitted renewal was only for political expediency, and that Trident's efficacy was non-existent militarily. The spending priorities of the Coalition are quite striking. Some of the biggest social cuts have been so far.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Game: UK

The Centre for Social Justice's much-publicised report on gang violence in the UK is harrowing reading. It paints a picture of a government using the riots as a pivot to make the coalition look tough on crime whilst neglecting the root causes of serious social unrest in urban Britain. In short, the strategy of going after high-profile gang leaders in the wake of the riots (on paper, a fairly sensible approach) backfired:

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Lies and the Lying Liar Running for President

Waldman asks what everyone's thinking:
As the end of this election approaches, it's worth taking a step back and asking this question: In the entire history of the United States of America, from George Washington's election in 1789 on down, has there been a single candidate as unmoored from ideological principle or belief as Mitt Romney?

It's a question I asked myself a short while ago, to which the only worthy contender that comes to mind is, perhaps, Nixon. Yet beneath Nixon's blatant corruption, his boiling contempt for the electorate and the smirking insincerity of his attempts to convince people he was an individual possessed with ordinary mental function, there was a thread, a narrative - you knew where the guy stood. His lies were detectable - you knew enough about who he was to detect when he was deliberately trying not to be it.

Grading Barack Obama

I've got a new piece over at Global Policy Journal regarding Obama's presidency here. Check. It. Out.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Third Debate: First Impressions

Let's be realistic here, as a non-US citizen, I'm clearly in the tank for Obama, or so says a recent BBC World Service opinion poll. Gary Younge, writing for The Guardian, thinks that preference is misguided, they're both as bad as each other. I get his point - but rather than equivocate, I would instead offer a bad versus worse dichotomy and Obama is clearly the former.

Last night, Romney's message was clear: "Obama's effort is admirable, but as President I would be better, because, leadership, prosperity, jobs - can we talk about the economy now, please?" Romney's vague tack to the center might be a successful strategy for issues on which the President is weak, like the economy. But Americans regard the Obama foreign policy as one of the President's strengths, and Romney's hazy promise to be somehow better than the current administration made him look like a lightweight.

Body language scored points for Obama - throughout the 90 minutes he fixed Romney with a combative stare that reminded me of Gordon Brown, sans psychopath. Obama seemed comfortable in his skin, like he knew the material and was eager to offer a vigorous defense of his record. Romney wasn't First Debate Obama bad, but he stuttered more than usual and it's clear that foreign policy is not his strong suit.

Will this debate alter the outcome of the race? Perhaps - in a neck and neck race like this one, one or two points could be the line between victory and defeat. Obama clearly fucked the dog in the first debate, giving undecided voters a good reason to vote for Romney, blowing a clear lead and disappointing supporters, but seems to be clawing back some support. Even the smallest shift could affect the outcome on November 6th.

It's a shame that foreign policy hasn't been given the prominence in this election it deserves, since the US President exercises far more control over it than any other branch of government. On the economy, the President is merely a player in a political system which is itself a player in a market economy. On foreign policy - the President has something close to dictatorial power.

Three wins for Obama/Biden and one win for Romney/Ryan, then. And yet on debates, it still feels like 1-0 to the Republican ticket.

(Image source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/23/obama-fires-romney-falters-presidential-debate?newsfeed=true)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Yes, Obama's Shitty Debate Performance Matters

Debates don't matter, some people say. Except, of course, when they do. Historically speaking, a weak debate performance from an incumbent rarely alters the outcome of an election in any meaningful way. Debates come along too late in the game - most voters have made up their minds already about who to vote for and a little rhetorical flourish, or an appearance of self-assured confidence for 90 minutes in a controlled environment won't convince anyone to vote for candidate X or abandon their support of candidate Y. Moreover, most people watching are not crucial swing voters - but those with active interests in politics; in other words - those who have probably already made up their mind. Sure, Obama 'won' all of the debates against John McCain in 2008, but McCain was an especially weak opponent and let's remember - Obama also lost all his debates against Hillary. Equally, Reagan got flattened by Walter Mondale in the first 1984 presidential debate - turning in a tired, confused performance against Walter 'One State' Mondale. Debates are more political spectator sport than pivotal moments, and a lacklusture yet competent performance by an incumbent may not spell death for his campaign. Conversely, a commanding performance from a challenger can generate a bout or two of favourable headlines without significantly affecting either voter turnout or swing-voter preference.