The ‘toolkit’ and the West Coast climate action plan

I received today the kind of e-mail every professor dreams of receiving. It began:

In September 2003 you promised us a PMP toolkit that would enable us to succeed in any circumstance. You didn’t tell us it could help us change the world.

The former student, Tanya,* is referring to my Policy-Making Processes course, which I teach every year to our candidates for the professional Master of Pacific International Affairs degree. I am not sure I promised that PMP would get them through any circumstance, but I do tell them I will give them a set of tools to allow them to determine who makes a given policy, how the policy-maker is held accountable, and who holds the policy-maker accountable. With the basic set of skills grounded in the logics of collective action, delegation, and political institutions, I tell them they are ready to go off and understand policy and how to influence it.

Tanya continues:

Last summer, I was hired by British Columbia’s Office of the Premier to write a strategy paper on how the Province of BC could strengthen its relationship with the State of California.

She developed a paper for the Premier based on her analysis of the electoral incentives of the actors and produced a California Strategy Paper which envisioned collaboration on climate change and even connecting BC and CA’s “hydrogen highways” and cooperation on transportation.

As of yesterday, this cooperation is now official policy. From the Vancouver Sun, 16 March,** I will quote the first and last two paragraphs of a news account:

It’s a political plot nobody saw coming: the West Coast’s inveterate policy wonk Gordon Campbell [the BC premier] and Hollywood’s Terminator-turned-“governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger teaming up as the West Coast’s climate-action heroes. […]

That “climate action plan” will include such things as more precise details of how B.C. can introduce California’s emission standards for automobiles, take part in a regional market for trading greenhouse gas emissions and build a “hydrogen highway” for fuel-cell automobiles to travel from Whistler to California.

Campbell said he found Schwarzenegger supportive of B.C.’s plans, as well as of a strategy to create “green ports” up and down the West Coast that set environmental standards to protect the oceans and air quality.

Tanya indicates that she helped bring this process about by beginning with

the premise that any high-level dialogue between the Premier and the Governor would need to provide significant short-term political benefits to the Governor to even be considered given the upcoming election, hence opportunities to showcase the Governor’s platform initiatives must be highlighted.

(In the midst of the campaign for reelection, Schwarzenegger pushed for and signed major legislation to implement greenhouse-gas emissions reductions in the state, and since his reelection, he has issued regulations to implement the law that have not always been well received by his own nominal party.)

Tanya’s initial research–just as PMP teaches–was to determine which agencies in California were directly accountable to the Governor. Then from press releases, she found out what the Governor was personally invested in. Regarding the prospects for cooperation between California and British Columbia:

Both are traditionally liberal constituencies that place a high value on quality of life. Both had relatively conservative leaders that had found a win with environmental issues. The Governor and the Premier both demonstrated an interest in taking a leadership role in the context of sub-national cooperation.

Tanya “recommended creating opportunities for the respective leaders to showcase their roles in leading North America in advancing regional climate change initiatives, pioneering the adoption of clean energy and transportation technologies and championing health and wellness initiatives.” She also identified several global issues affecting the West Coast that could be included in the dialog.

And, before we knew it, the Governor and the Premier were announcing big steps to move beyond what their respective federal governments have been willing to do in fighting climate change.

Congratulations, Tanya! And thanks for putting PMP to work! And for making my day with your e-mail.

* Of course, I am quoting her with her permission.

** Sorry, I do not have the link.

A threat from Mexico?

Update: See the very interesting comment by Dan.

When the California Avocado Commission objected to federal government plans to expand the amount of Mexican avocados imported into the USA and the range of destinations to which they could be shipped–a policy just implemented last month–critics claimed that the domestic avocado growers were concerned only about market competition. The Commission, which we growers fund by a tax on all Hass avocados that we sell,* always claimed that its (our) opposition was based on legitimate concerns over pests found in Mexico and other countries that we do not (currently) have here in California. Of course, producers who will be subject to import competition always make such “objective” claims, so those who are not the producers always have good reason to be skeptical that opposition to expansion of imports is just protectionism based in economic self-interest.

Well, it turns out growers’ fears are real. While the incidence of armored scale in a recent shipment inspected by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was less than initially reported, the pest is indeed arriving on shipments from the south. The CDFA and the federal officials are currently disputing whether armored scale is a sufficiently serious pest to lead to a ban on shipments. So, this policy issue has a federalist dimension to it, with the state agency being more supportive of producers who are concentrated in its state and the federal agency being more attuned to broader trade interests (exactly as we would expect).

The Mexican government in the past has threatened retaliation against imports of US-grown agricultural products if the liberalization of avocado imports is curtailed. So this policy issue certainly has an international-relations, two-level-games dimension.**

There is little doubt that the armored scale could be a serious pest if it ever were to be released somehow from a shipment of fruit and find its way into a grove in California. Because scale do not move much, the threat is not as great as with other pests like the fruit fly. But the threat is significant. For one thing, there is currently no US-approved pesticide that would combat this type of scale for conventional growers, let alone for those of us who are organic. Most of our current scale problem (from other species) is kept in check by biological controls (natural predators, such as wasps, that are released in groves). But there is currently no known predator for the armored scale. It is likely that such a predator exists in Mexico or elsewhere, but is currently being killed by broad-spectrum pesticides being sprayed in Mexican groves. (Broad-spectrum pesticides kill good bugs as well as bad; the bad bugs often are better at developing resistance and thus surviving chemical warfare than are the good bugs.)

Please buy California and organic avocados if you can!

* Especially for my students: An excellent case of what I mean by “coercion” of collective action. In order to sell our products legally, we individual growers must pay this tax to support the Avocado Commission’s collective goods of research, marketing, and, yes, lobbying, on behalf of our interests.

** By targeting other US products for import restrictions, the Mexican government could engage domestic actors on this side of the border who otherwise would not care about avocados in opposing limits on avocado imports.

Six Senate seats now lean Democratic

Democrats need a net gain of six seats to win the majority in the US Senate. According to Stuart Rothenberg’s latest projections, there are now six seats that are either “likely takeover” or “lean takeover.” In addition, there is one “toss-up” that leans their way, though there is also one current Democratic seat that is rated toss-up.


* DeWine (R-OH)
* Santorum (R-PA)


* Allen (R-VA)
* Burns, (R-MT)
* Chafee, (R-RI)
* Talent (R-MO)

TOSS-UP (1 R, 1 D)

* TN Open (Frist, R)
* Menendez (D-NJ)


* Kyl (R-AZ)
* MD Open (D-Sarbanes)

Midterm election projections

Ed Fitzgerald has a very useful compilation of various midterm-election projections. The mean and median estimates (of over thirty different projects) are 223-204 Democratic majority in the House and 49-49 in the Senate (with eight House and two Senate seats, on average, deemed by the forecasters as too close to call).

Ed also has a graph of generic partisan-preference polling for the House that includes the undecideds. It is striking how flat the Republican preference has been since September, 2005, while the decline in undecided has been almost entirely to the benefit of the Democratic party.

Candidate quality isn’t everything

Back when I first started posting about the relationship between generic party preference and likely actual performance of real candidates in the 2006 US midterm election, I referred to the truism of US congressional elections: The personal vote matters a lot in the USA, and we can’t assume that party preference translates into preference for actual living, breathing candidates of the preferred party; voters may vote for the more qualified individual candidate instead.

However, as Stuart Rothenberg notes, this election is shaping up to be one of those rare cases in which candidate quality may not matter all that much. Surveying the races, including many that are surprisingly competitive, Rothenberg notes:

it is remarkable how similar this group of Democratic candidates is to the GOP class of 1994, when, by my count, 37 freshmen were elected without having held a previous elective office.

Why I blog

UPDATE: Antonio has some extremely kind words in the comments! In his last paragraph, he refers to five grandes maestros of contemporary political science: Lijphart, Taagepera, Linz, Grofman, and Sartori. Indeed, he has named those whom I consider to be my principal role models among senior scholars I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with, as their student or colleague (and I would also add Bing Powell and the late Harry Eckstein). Since my grad school days or shortly thereafter, each of these men was a role model not only for his remarkable, foundational academic achievements, but also for guidance graciously offered in the formative years of my academic experience.

Sure, some aspects of blogging are vanity, no doubt: the chance to do things I love to do (write and profess) and be read by people other than the readers of political-science journals (a narrow readership if there ever was one) or my students (who have little choice in such matters). Then there is the public service aspect: Someone may learn about a newly available fruit variety or growing technique, or maybe even understand electoral systems better from one of my posts. But there is a very direct individual benefit, too. Sometimes a reader points me to something in the academic literature that I might otherwise have missed. From Antonio’s comment to a remark I made in the Brazil presidential election thread about methods of electing presidents under different configurations of presidential power:

regarding your comments whether the majority runoff system is best for premier-presidential systems, but the logic for plurality (or qualified plurality, DCR…) is stronger the stronger the presidency a recent work by Heather Stoll argues that the greater the power of president (“the power of prize”) the more electoral coordination we will find both within electoral districts and aggregating accross them. In a more recent paper also Allen Hicken (your disciple?) suggest a non-linear relationship between the powers of the president and the number of presidential candidates. Increasing presidential powers is associated with fewer presidential candidates over a moderate range of presidential power. However, where presidents are extremely weak or extremely powerful increasing presidential power actually produces a larger number of candidates. Hicken demonstrates that the substantive effect of presidential powers on the effective number of candidates is more than twice as large as the effect of the electoral formula (plurality, majority run-off…).

Nifty. And thanks, Antonio!

This experience is a twist on the “blogging and academia” theme that I first noted back when this orchard was newly planted.

Clare Short quits Labour

The Guardian reports that Clare Short, a UK Labour MP for 23 years, has quit her party and will be an independent for her Birmingham Ladywood constituency, “free to campaign for a hung parliament, a check on the executive and an end to presidential government.” (The latter remark represents a common misnomer that assumes that an overly centralized parliamentary party has been “presidentialized.”)

She had been repeatedly warned by party leaders that her support for a hung parliament meant she was opposed to the election of some Labour MPs. The LibDems had hoped to lure her, but her resignation letter pointedly says she will remain a social democrat (and is thus not a liberal).

She has been a dissenter from the Blair government’s Iraq policy since the beginning, and as No Right Turn (NZ) notes, the surprise is that she did not quit much sooner.

Short is also an advocate of eletoral reform, which is, of course, totally consistent with her position against centralization of executive authority.

The authoritarian bent of the Katsav Commission proposal

In a previous thread, we have discussed the Yitsug Shalem electoral system proposed by Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s commission on governance. The proposal is a single-vote mixed-member system with a 75/25 split between the nominal-plurality and compensation tiers. (It is not a list tier, because the proposal has no party list, per se, but rather is based on “best losers.”)

For reasons already discussed in the previous thread (mainly by the propagators), the electoral-system proposal is a bad one for minority representation (despite the claims of the proposal’s principal author).

Here I want to highlight a few other aspects of the proposal that are not specifically matters of the electoral system, but rather of the broader system of governance. They amount to a logically incoherent and broderline authoritarian set of proposals.

The author of the proposal and of the Haaretz overview of it, Aharon Nathan, gives as one of the key advantages of the proposed electoral system its creation of single-member constiutency MKs, “which creates a bond between the MK and his/her constituents, increasing accountability in the process.”

Yet any alleged benefit from constituency linkage and accountability would be meaningful only if it gave the members so elected the ability to dissent from the party line if doing so was in the interest of the constituency. But such dissent is manifestly not the intent of the proposal’s authors.

In order to add to the stability of future governments, the introduction of this new electoral system needs to be accompanied by measures to strengthen the cohesion of political parties in the Knesset and the position of the prime minister.

How to do this? The proposal would force–yes, force–MKs whose parties formed a governing coalition to vote with the government or else forfeit their seats (with a by-election in the case of a constituency MK or replacement by the next-best-loser in the case of a compensatory member).

As if that were not enough, while it would take 61 of 120 votes in the Knesset to confirm a new Prime Minister, “Dismissing him/her should necessitate a majority of, say, 80 or 90 MKs.”

As if that still were not enough, the PM would have the right to appoint anyone to a cabinet position and to dismiss ministers unilaterally.

It is worth noting that the increased independence of the chief executive (stemming mainly from the supermajority requirement for a vote of no confidence) would enhance the incentive of MKs of the governing coalition to dissent from their party line (because doing so would be less likely to put the government itself at risk), and thus would be consistent with the desire for constituency accountablity of individual MKs. Yet the proposal has severe penalties for just such dissent from the party line.

This proposal would greatly enhance central executive authority, without making that executive accountable to the electorate, through popular election.

In previous discussions, I said that I noted that a presidential system would be inappopriate for Israel. This is worse.

Maybe Katsav (whose office is essentially ceremonial) was too distracted to notice his commission had become a rogue.

Bolivia and Morales’s “socialism”

[UPDATE: Eduardo posts the data and a discussion of the departmental elections below. Thanks, Eduardo!]

I want to call readers’ attention to an excellent radio program on Bolivia. On Open Source, it aired on January 3, but I just now have had a chance to listen to it.

It features Jeffrey Sachs and Miguel Centellas. Sachs, of course, is an internationally renowned development economist and advisor on economic reform in Bolivia during the hyperinflationary crisis twenty years ago (as well as in post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere). Centellas is familiar to F&V readers from his many excellent comments here in various threads on Bolivia and MMP systems. Jim Schultz, of the Democracy Center and Blog from Bolivia is also on the program. Continue reading

PMP as a job

This is a service for my students (or anyone else who might be interested, or else why would I post it here?). Students often ask me what sorts of jobs there are in applying the principles covered in my Policy-Making Processes course, in which students are trained to “read” a political system. There was a series at Slate in early 2004 that is directly related to this question–a weeklong journal about analysts at the Eurasia Group.

The author of the Slate journal has a Ph.D. But I am fairly confident (though I admit as yet I don’t have direct evidence) that well trained Masters students (such as those with MPIAs, especially in our Public Policy track [PDF]) are indeed qualified for jobs of this sort–in fact, I am convinced that we train people better for this kind of career than do most Ph.D. programs.

Bolivia: What to do about Morales?

Bolivians vote on Sunday, and the most likely outcome remains a plurality of the vote for MAS, the party of Evo Morales. He will not win a majority, and so a joint sitting of the two chambers of congress that will be elected on Sunday will select the president. Its choices will be restricted to either Morales or the candidate who is second in votes–almost certainly former president Jorge Quiroga. Continue reading

Mexico: Madrazo in third place

On November 15, commenting on a poll that had PRD candidate López Obrador (“AMLO”) at 39%, the PRI’s dinosaur Madrazo at 29%, and newly nominated PAN candidate Calderón at 25%, I said:

The real race right now is for second place […] If Calderón can pull ahead of Madrazo, I could see it developing into a two-way race between the PAN and PRD, pushing the PRI into into 25-percent territory.

Well, I never imagined it could happen so fast. Continue reading