Parliamentary prerogatives

by Henry on October 19, 2004

Dan Drezner and I have been conducting a friendly argument over whether or not the European Union is a standard international organization (i.e. a creature of its member states) or something more. The “minor crisis”: surrounding Rocco Buttiglione, incoming Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs should be an interesting data point for our disagreement. The European Parliament has the right to vote no confidence in the European Commission as a whole. Over the last several years, as the “Economist”: notes, the Parliament has assiduously sought to expand this right into the power to make or break individual Commissioners whom it doesn’t like. The Parliament has very cleverly expanded its powers far beyond the intent of the member states, by instituting “confirmation hearings” in which it claims the right to judge whether or not individual Commission members are up to the job. Clearly, it doesn’t think that Italian nominee Rocco Buttiglione is suited for his responsibilities – he’s a conservative Catholic whose personal views on gay rights and single mothers sit rather awkwardly with his responsibility to protect minority rights. A majority of MEPs seems to be willing to vote Buttiglione down; but Italy, a powerful member state, is refusing to back down and withdraw his nomination. The Commission President, who decides the portfolio of individual commissioners, is caught in the middle. As the _Economist_ says, this dispute is a reflection of “a broader philosophical question: where should power really lie in the European Union?”

The Economist‘s hopes to the contrary, it seems that the Commission President has decided that it’s more important to please the Parliament than the member states. According to the _FT_, he’s negotiating a deal whereby Buttiglione would have his powers over human rights and minority affairs stripped away from him. Even more pertinently, the President seems to be contemplating a settlement in which Parliament’s powers vis-a-vis the Commission would be expanded very substantially. This would lead to a very clear shift in the balance of power within the European Union, in which the influence of member states would be weakened, and the Parliament’s relationship with the Commission would start to resemble that between the US Congress and the executive branch. If this comes to pass, it will be very hard (perhaps impossible?) to square with theories of international relations that emphasize the power of states to determine international outcomes – it would be a development that (a) certainly wasn’t anticipated in the Treaties signed by the member states, and (b) clearly wasn’t in member states’ interests. It would also have the incidental benefits of embarrassing Berlusconi’s government, and clipping the wings of a rather dubious potential Commissioner (regardless of his views on gay people and women, his enthusiasm for “camps for immigrants”: should be enough to disqualify him for the job).

Who lets foreigners vote?

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2004

James, in comments to my Condorcet post, writes

bq. It will only anger the American voter to suggest that foreign nationals should be involved in electing the US President.

Of course (some) foreign nationals are allowed to vote in British general elections (Henry, Kieran and Maria would be if they were resident). I’m guessing that there are other countries that also allow (some) foreign nationals to vote in national elections. [1] Information?

fn1. EU citizens can vote in countries other than their own in European elections and in the UK I think they can vote in local elections too.

The imperial presidency

by Henry on October 19, 2004

Teresa Nielsen Hayden makes a very interesting aside in a “long post”: about how GWB’s way of dealing with criticism reminds her of vituperative slushpile authors with middle-management backgrounds.

bq. You know how topical jokes are generally formed by adapting earlier groups of cognate jokes? I’ve been looking into the current batch of GWB jokes, and find that many of the jokes from which they’re drawn were originally about Stalin. But I digress.

This seems to me quite telling. “Mark Schmitt”: makes a good case for GWB as a “bad CEO,” but the administration’s refusal to brook criticism and wilful contempt for “reality” seems more grotesque and dangerous than that. It verges on what the French call _ubuisme_ (from Alfred Jarry’s _Pere Ubu_). When I read Ron Suskind’s “article on the administration”:, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book on the last days of Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, “The Emperor”:

bq. It was a small dog, a Japanese breed. His name was Lulu. He was allowed to sleep in the Emperor’s great bed. During various ceremonies, he would run away from the Emperor’s lap and pee on dignitaries’ shoes. The august gentlemen were not allowed to flinch or make the slightest gesture when they felt their feet getting wet. I had to walk among the dignitaries and wipe the urine from their shoes with a satin cloth. This was my job for ten years.

Ask the audience or Condorcet goes to Washington

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2004

What is the US Presidential election about? Well, one possible answer is that it is about which of George W. Bush and John Kerry would make the best President of the United States. Now there’s certainly room for disagreement about the relevant qualities to be best President, but much of the media and blogospheric discourse is couched in such a way as to appear to be discussing a matter of fact: best translates as “most competent”, “wisest” etc. I’m going to assume — for the purposes of this post alone and contrary to my saner instincts — that a matter of fact is indeed involved. Given that simplifying assumption, the matter of determining who would be the best President by a democratic vote is something we might justify by invoking “Condorcet”: ’s jury theorem. According to the jury theorem (which I cite in Zev Trachtenberg’s formulation [1])

bq. the probability that majority is correct ( _Pm_ ) is given by the formula
v h-k/(v h-k+e h-k
), where number of voters = n = h+k , where _h_ is the number of voters in the majority, _v_ is the probability that each voter will give the correct answer, and _e_ is the probability that each voter will give the wrong answer.

This has the remarkable consquence that just in case we expect each voter’s competence slighly to exceed the tossing of a fair coin (say we expect each voter to be right 50.1 per cent of the time), and just in case we can interpret “each voter” to mean “the average voter”, then with an electorate of, say, 100 million, the probability of a majority getting the result right approaches one. Of course, there’s a flip side to this: if the each voter has a < .5 probability of getting the right result, the majority will almost certainly be wrong! So what should we think, _ex ante_ , about the competence of the average American voter? The votemaster at the excellent "": opines: bq. Are the voters stupid? It is not considered politically correct to point out that an awful lot of voters don't have a clue what they are talking about. A recent "poll": from Middle Tennessee State University sheds some light on the subject. For example, when asked which candidate wants to roll back the tax cuts for people making over $200,000 a year, a quarter thought it was Bush and a quarter didn't know. And it goes down hill from there. When asked which candidate supports specific positions on various issues, the results were no better than chance. While this poll was in Tennessee, I strongly suspect a similar poll in other states would get similar results. I find it dismaying that many people will vote for Bush because they want to tax the rich (which he opposes) or vote for Kerry because they want school vouchers for religious schools (which he opposes). (Lest Carol Gould or her apologists think that this post reflects the anti-Americanism of a sneering Brit, let me say (a) I'm quoting an American and (b) that I'm far from convinced that citizens of the UK would fare much better than the people of Tennessee were _their_ competence to be evaluated in a similar poll.) [2] fn1. Trachtenberg, _Making Citizens_ p. 281 n. 6 fn2. A commenter to a recent post of mine asked, sarcastically, whether the I thought flipping a coin would have been superior to having the Supreme Court decide on the outcome in 2000. Actually, I do think flipping a coin would have been a better method then. Whether it would be a better method than having the US electorate decide is questionable, although _if_ voter-competence is such that individuals are more likely to get the wrong answer than the right one, it would yield a better chance of choosing the best President. Observant and thoughtful readers will also notice that, since Al Gore won a majority of the popular vote in 2000, I ought to believe that either Bush was the right answer then or that average voter competence has declined below the .5 level in the past four years....or perhaps I should believe that voter competence then as now exceeds .5 and that Kerry will inevitably triumph, or do the permutations.

Other People’s Money

by Ted on October 19, 2004

Sinclair Broadcasting, the company which is forcing its stations to run an anti-Kerry film this week, fired one of its bureau chiefs for speaking out against its decision. As Joe Gandelman at the Moderate Voice points out, this rather strongly undermines the premise that the film is a news event.

In the event of a Kerry victory, Sinclair is painting a big bulls-eye on themselves that says “FCC, screw here”. But even if Bush wins, they’ll be too radioactive for the new Bush administration to help. Kerry supporters are furious at Sinclair’s unprecedented descent into blatant electioneering on public airwaves. They’ll continue the boycott of their advertisers, challenge the FCC licences, and use every means possible to punish Sinclair. Either way, Sinclair is not going to get the deregulation they need to stay viable.

In the words of Lehman Brothers, airing the film “has no upside and only multi-dimensional downside”. And it’s not as if this company was in a strong position to pull a stunt with their shareholders’ money. From their most recent 10-K:

[click to continue…]

Time to degree

by Eszter Hargittai on October 19, 2004

Kudos to Duke for collecting and making public data about the time to degree and the rates of completion in their PhD programs. I would be curious to see similar data from other campuses. It’s unclear how many schools collect such data systematically and they certainly don’t make them public very often as the details are usually not very glamorous and can seem pretty discouraging. But it’s important information for people to have as they prepare for their graduate school experiences. It can also help students from other campuses as they try to argue for better/longer support for their training.

More on flying the friendly skies

by Eszter Hargittai on October 19, 2004

I couldn’t (but why oh why?) let Kieran be the only one with interesting flight experiences. The other day I was on a flight that taught me why you don’t want to take the last flight out.. and why giving flight attendants the power to throw people off planes may not be such a good idea.

We were sitting in the waiting area quietly waiting for the plane to board. Twenty minutes before boarding we were told that the flight crew’s plane was getting in late so we would be boarding late. The person telling us had a nice sense of humor and everyone seemed pretty low-key about the issue. Eventually the crew arrived and we boarded the plane. Some people didn’t seem so calm anymore. There was some bitterness going around about fitting luggage into various compartments. One of the flight attendants was among the most annoyed people. And sure, passengers can be very annoying, but her reactions seemed a bit excessive.

At this point we were only about fifteen minutes behind schedule. But nothing happened. And still nothing happened. Eventually we were told that we would not be taking off for another half an hour as we were the last flight out and so we had to wait for one more plane that had passengers connecting to our flight. Take note: go for earlier flight next time.

A man in the row in front of mine noticed that there was a cart of luggage still sitting next to our plane. He mentioned it to above referenced bitter flight attendant. She clearly had no idea what was going on and dismissed his comment as none of our business. So he asked again. Next, the following exchange took place:

Flight Attendant: You want to go to Chicago?

Passenger: I am going to Chicago.

Flight Attendant: I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Ouch. At that point the passenger stopped pursuing the question. Twenty minutes later the remaining passengers arrived. Then nothing happened. And we waited. Finally we were told that 1. There was a crate of luggage next to our plane that still had to be loaded, but no appropriate personnel could be found; and 2. We needed to be pushed out, but no appropriate personnel could be found. Eventually, after a two-hour delay, we took off for our less than two-hour flight.

Added annoyance: the bitter flight attendant was not wearing an ID. The ID badges of the other two attendants were put on backwards.