Where will Hurricane Michael make landfall? A look at the science of track forecasts

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Gov. Rick Scott warned of a ‘monstrous storm’ along Florida’s coast and asked residents to heed evacuation orders for Hurricane Michael, which is expected to make landfall on Wednesday. (Oct. 8)
AP

Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall somewhere on the Florida Panhandle by Wednesday afternoon, creating potentially life-threatening conditions from the Alabama-Florida state line all the way eastward to the Suwannee River.

Whether Michael lands near Tallahassee or closer to Panama City Beach, Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center told USA TODAY that everybody in the hurricane warning and watch areas should be on alert.

“We don’t want anybody to get hung up on, ‘Well, is the storm going to go over this city or is it going over that city?’ — that’s immaterial here,” Feltgen said. “You need to be looking at the overall impacts of the hurricane.”

Around the skinny black line used on tracker maps, representing the hurricane’s projected path, the “cone of uncertainty” shows the average track forecast error in the last five years. Feltgen said impacts, such as those from storm surge and inland flooding, extend outside of that cone.

More: ‘Potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Michael charges toward Florida Panhandle

The accuracy of track forecasts has improved in the past 10 to 15 years to the point where the five-day forecast for Hurricane Florence in September was only off by two miles. “Little wiggles” or variations in a storm’s track by 20 or 30 miles to the left or right, however, can change impacts, Feltgen said. They cannot be predicted far in advance. 

To determine the track forecast for advisories issued every six hours, experts at the hurricane center use computer-generated models to process data collected by reconnaissance aircraft. Jets such as the NOAA G-IV sample the atmosphere around and ahead of the hurricane. Experienced specialists consider which models work best for different situations and factors, such as intensity. 

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Hurricanes can change paths because surrounding weather patterns steer them. For example, Hurricane Florence stalled when it made landfall because weather systems around it were in equilibrium. For Hurricane Michael, a distinct trough of low pressure in the mid- and upper-part of the atmosphere will push the storm, Feltgen said.

“Unlike Florence, Michael will be on the move,” he said. “This is not going to be a lingering storm. This trough of low pressure will actually help guide the storm from the Florida Panhandle, up through Georgia, up through the Carolinas, and then push it out into the Atlantic.” 

More: Evacuations ordered as ‘monstrous’ Hurricane Michael approaches Florida

More: Hurricane Florence leaves a trail of tragedy and lessons

The Pensacola News Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported Monday that Michael was likely to make landfall somewhere between Pensacola in the far western Panhandle and Apalachicola, directly south of Tallahassee on the coast.

Officials in Bay and Walton counties, both along the Panhandle, are among those that have issued mandatory evacuations. Hurricane Opal, in 1995, was the last major hurricane to hit the two counties.

Not including tourists, 130,000 are ordered to evacuate starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Joby Smith, chief of Bay County’s emergency management division, told USA TODAY. Two shelters for general and special needs populations will open at 10 a.m.

If the storm makes landfall to the west, Bay County will face unprecedented storm surge concerns, particularly in bay system areas. If Michael comes through the east, severe weather will be the main issue. Either way, Smith said the county will be worried about power outages and delayed emergency services.

The area of Panama City Beach, for example, is isolated by high-rise bridges that will close because of high winds. With about 20 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico, Smith said the county has a lot of exposure. Low-lying areas, heavily affected by flash floods and severely damaged by Hurricane Opal, are especially vulnerable.  

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The emergency evacuation order begins at 7 a.m. Tuesday in nearby Walton County, covering low-lying zones as well as coastal and waterfront areas, Emergency Management spokesperson Louis Svehla told USA TODAY. At that time, a pet-friendly shelter for general and special needs populations will open. 

A storm surge of 5 to 9 feet is expected to effect the entire south county area, Svehla said, representing the county’s primary concern. Its more densely populated coastline spans 26 miles and is a top tourist destination with high-value properties. 

The secondary concern is wind safety, especially in the rural majority of the county where power lines are above ground. Gusts could knock down trees and cripple utilities, Svehla said.

Although Hurricane Michael may be the county’s first major hurricane in 23 years, Svehla said emergency services monitors storms that come close every hurricane season. He remembered how Hurricane Irma was predicted to hit Walton County, but took an eastern turn at the last minute. 

“Our procedures don’t change,” Svehla said. “Whether it hits us or not, we’re prepared when we see it coming and we plan as if it’s going to hit us. So, this isn’t anything that’s new to us.”

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Bankers give politicians something serious to think about

The politicians who sit on the federal Standing Committee on Economics are not known for their penetrating questions or flashes of brilliance, but they got it right when they invited Matt Comyn from Commonwealth Bank of Australia to be the first banker to cop a hiding in the latest round of parliamentary cross-examinations.

Comyn is a wise choice for the start of the two days of hearings on Thursday because his organisation has been involved in providing remediation to customers for just about every aspect of poor behaviour called out by the Hayne royal commission.

That puts him in the privileged position of being able to provide politicians with advice on the much-needed reforms to the law to make it easier and simpler to deliver financial services.

Complex laws have contributed to the mess in the financial services sector. That is not to excuse the banks for examples of law breaking and actions which were patently below community expectations outlined in Kenneth Hayne’s interim report.

"We support the removal of grandfathered commissions from superannuation and investment products across the wider ...
“We support the removal of grandfathered commissions from superannuation and investment products across the wider industry and believe a legislative approach should be considered,” said CBA.

Dean Lewins

Legal flaws

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All sides of politics, including the Senate crossbenchers, need to understand the flaws in the legal framework that prevailed when banks, wealth management companies and insurers created products and distributed them to customers.

The most pressing example of ill-framed laws was the carve out for grandfathered commissions approved by Bill Shorten when he was minister for financial services and superannuation.

Shorten’s Future of Financial Advice regime was admirable, but it carved out trailing commissions, also known as grandfathered commissions, from the ban on conflicted advice.

These commissions enjoyed special treatment because of perceived legal obstacles to prohibiting adviser payments in a blanket way. Grandfathering relief was given to allow payments to continue to be made to advisers in relation to clients who had been on the adviser’s books up to July 1, 2014.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott will front the parliamentary committee on Friday morning.
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott will front the parliamentary committee on Friday morning.

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The Hayne inquiry revealed that most, if not all, of these grandfathered commissions were being paid without the provision of advice.

Chanticleer understands the wealth management industry obtained legal advice which said a carve out was needed on the basis of the protection in the constitution that prevents laws which acquire property without giving compensation for that acquisition.

Those who saw the movie The Castle will be familiar with this legal protection, which is summed up with the line “on just terms”.

Legal advice, which must have been accepted by Shorten’s office, found that an adviser’s contractual rights to payments from product manufacturers could be considered to be property.

End of grandfathered commissions

Four years later, the banks and wealth managers such as AMP have struggled in their efforts to simply stop paying grandfathered commissions.

On Tuesday, CBA said it would start rebating all grandfathered commissions to Commonwealth Financial Planning customers from January 2019. It said this would benefit about 50,000 customer accounts by about $20 million annually.

CBA wealth management chief operating officer, Michael Venter said: “We support the removal of grandfathered commissions from superannuation and investment products across the wider industry and believe a legislative approach should be considered.”

This statement is in keeping with an announcement by the Australian Bankers Association, released last week, saying it was seeking new legislative changes to the Future of Financial Advice Act to remove all provisions that allow grandfathered payments and trail commissions in financial advice.

Lawyers tell Chanticleer that it is possible for the government to move quickly to amend FOFA and stop the payment of grandfathered commissions.

It could be argued that the constitution prevents such amendments. But others will say that the law has changed since the High Court delivered its judgment in the so-called Plain Packaging Tobacco case, where the validity of laws which prohibited branding of cigarette and other tobacco products was upheld.

Westpac recently showed the difficulties and complications in removing grandfathered commissions. It was able to remove grandfathered commissions for its salaried advisers but it was not able to act in relation to aligned or independent advisers.

These advisers have contractual rights to such payments and it is not a simple task for the product manufacturers who pay these amounts to stop the payments, as they would likely face legal action.

It is obvious from the recent announcements by ANZ Banking Group and Westpac Banking Corp about provisions for remediation of customers that neither of these banks had dug deeply into their records to find out who would need remediation and what it would cost.

ANZ said last week it would recognise charges of $374 million in the six months to September to cover funds to customers and related remediation costs. It said these relate to issues that have been identified from reviews to date. “These reviews remain ongoing,” the bank said.

The critical part of the ANZ announcement was the breakdown of the costs. It said about 57 per cent of the $374 million relates to customer refunds impacting revenue, with the balance relating to remediation costs recorded as an expense.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott and deputy CEO Alexis George will front the parliamentary committee on Friday morning.

Westpac’s $235 million provision for customer payments and related costs to be incurred in the six months to September covers a range of issues, including “customer refunds associated with certain advice fees charged by the group’s salaried financial planners due to more detailed analysis going back to 2008”.

Westpac said this included where advice services were not provided, as well as “where we have not been able to sufficiently verify that advice services were provided”. It is believed the cost of running this program is about $50 million.

Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer and chief financial officer Peter King will front the parliamentary inquiry on Thursday afternoon.

National Australia Bank has yet to give details of its total cost of remediation. But judging from the fact that Westpac’s estimate of its fee for no service was only $6 million in August, the NAB hit could be significant.

NAB’s chief executive Andrew Thorburn and chief customer officer, corporate and institutional banking, David Gall, will front the inquiry on Friday week.

Comyn, who will be accompanied by chief risk officer David Cohen on Thursday, is the expert when it comes to remediation because CBA started its program, called the Open Advice Review, in August 2014. It took two years to complete.

CBA knows better than any other bank how to go back and find the paper records to determine who should be compensated for being mistakenly or deliberately charged the wrong fees, charges or premiums.

If the politicians on the committee ask the right questions they will discover compelling reasons why parliament should move with bipartisan alacrity to reform the law and wipe out grandfathered commissions.

Tony Boyd

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M&A activity soars as bidders pull out all the stops to win

A rush of mergers and acquisitions this year has strategic bidders and cashed up private equity players being increasingly tactical in pursuit of targets, by using blocking stakes, reverse break fees, and making so-called bear hug approaches.

That is the view of lawyers and bankers canvassed by The Australian Financial Review who see conditions as conducive for continued strong deal flow, even as announced M&A activity has soared to its third highest year-to-date level on record.

This week, a spate of deals have continued the dealmaking momentum with global buyout giant KKR & Co making a tilt for accounting software group MYOB  and data centre operator NextDC moving to seal a protracted transaction for the 71 per cent of Asia Pacific Data Centre Group it doesn’t already own.

KKR, however, is just at the outset of its manoeuvring for MYOB after lobbing a $3.70 a-share bid in conjunction with buying a large stake in the target. MYOB has told shareholders to take no action as it assesses the proposal and considers granting due diligence.

“Bidders across both private equity and industry are swinging hard for assets,” MinterEllison partner Alberto Colla said, noting for the right assets suitors were prepared to fiercely contest takeover situations and pay “healthy premiums” or agree to larger reverse break fees. 

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A break fee is paid when the target walks away from a deal. They are increasingly being applied to the bidder as well, which is called a reverse break fee. 

“​The pool of assets that tick all the boxes is really shrinking,” Mr Colla said.

M&A ‘very strong’

Morgan Stanley Australia chief Richard Wagner said the M&A environment continued to be “very strong”  and that acquirers were thinking more tactically about winning assets.

“M&A tactics are very important and buyers are figuring out ‘how do we win’. Quite a few recent transactions have seen bidders acquire pre-bid stakes before being granted due diligence by the target board, putting them in a strong position,” he said. 

“My take on it is that market conditions have been pretty stable, corporate balance sheets are generally under-leveraged and interest rates are still low… I don’t see the end to favourable conditions any time soon and, if anything, the RBA [Reserve Bank of Australia] is going to be staying lower for longer on rates and the economy is in good shape.

“So long as equity markets, the economy and interest rates are stable, boardrooms will continue to selectively pursue EPS [earnings per share]  accretive transactions.”

Announced M&A in 2018, including domestic and inbound transactions, amounts to almost $US88 billion ($124 billion) as at October 8, up from $US49.9 billion at the same time in 2017, according to Dealogic.

This year’s tally is not far off the $US89.3 billion total for calender 2017 – which included the mammoth $32 billion Westfield takeover – and trails only year-to-date totals in 2011 and pre-global financial crisis highs in 2007. 

Local private equity and venture capital firms have $9.2 billion to deploy and have been joining their global counterparts in hunting ASX targets. Pacific Equity Partners has snapped up LifeHealthcare, Affinity Equity Partners has agreed to acquire Scottish Pacific while KKR is stalking MYOB.

Bear hug

Among the largest announced transactions this year are CKI Group’s $13 billion offer for gas pipeline company APA, which is awaiting approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board, and a Transurban-led group taking majority control of Sydney’s WestConnex

MinterEllison partner Con Boulougouris said he expected takeover targets to increasingly offer business or operational warranty and indemnity insurance to acquirers and for the local market to see more traction in the use of the bear hug technique. ​

A bear hug typically refers to an offer pitched at a compelling takeover premium, where there is doubt the target company’s management is a willing seller.

“These sorts of bear hug type transactions are going to be increasingly used in the next few years. There is a big increase in indicative non-binding proposals as a means to give the bidder exclusivity or get an auction started,” he said.

“It is a mechanism that sharpens the minds of directors and boards.”

Mr Colla added that foreign acquirers would continue to be a force in Australian M&A as the local currency floundered and they looked through any geopolitical instability.

“There is no doubt that foreign bidders will continue to play an important part,” he said, noting a pullback from China but strong demand from the US, Japan and Canada. 

MinterEllison also cited China’s CDH Investments’ takeover of Sirtex Medical, which it advised on, as an example where a foreign acquirer went to great lengths to outbid a rival offer and agree to a supersized reverse break fee, which was tendered as a deposit to the target, to secure the deal.

Defending against disruption

Greenhill Australia co-head Roger Feletto is also upbeat on M&A and is of the view that dealmaking will in part be underpinned by companies defending against disruption. 

“Whilst a more challenging organic growth outlook clearly motivates some M&A, with clients seeking to reposition their business mix via either acquisitions, spin-offs or divestments… the strongest driver continues to be longer-term strategy including positioning businesses against future disruption,” he said. 

The bullishness in advisory circles comes, however, as investors still take a cautious view on M&A following Wesfarmers’ disastrous foray into the United Kingdom and as the big banks unwind many of their wealth purchases.

Still, Rothschild Australia’s joint boss Gareth Cope expects strong conditions in M&A to continue across sectors including oil and gas, infrastructure, healthcare and business services.

“For corporates, equity and debt funding remain readily available for on-strategy acquisitions, and management and boards remain keen to add to organic growth or reposition their portfolios,” he said.

MinterEllison’s Directions in Public M&A report for fiscal 2018, being released this week, found renewed opportunism for transactions and that cash was still the dominant consideration for listed deals. 

It analysed transactions worth at least $50 million, finding strong mid-market activity and seven transactions worth more than $1 billion. 

Foreign bidders accounted for 78 per cent of listed transactions up from 56 per cent the prior fiscal year.

In the announced M&A league tables, UBS leads with deals amounting to $US47.3 billion, followed by Morgan Stanley at US$44.7 billion and Macquarie Capital at $US43.4 billion.

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‘Potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Michael charges toward Florida Panhandle

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Hurricane Michael is moving towards the Florida panhandle, where it is expected to hit midday Wednesday. Meteorologist Bobby Deskins has more details.
USA TODAY

Hard-charging Hurricane Michael, which has blossomed from a seemingly minor tropical storm off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula into a mighty threat to some 300 miles of Florida’s coastline, could further strengthen Tuesday to Category 3 status.

The National Hurricane Center, citing Michael’s dangerous trifecta of storm surge, flash flooding and winds, described the seventh hurricane of the Atlantic season as “life-threatening,” and the Florida Division of Emergency Management warned on Twitter of the storm’s “rapid intensification” ahead of landfall. As of 2 a.m. EDT, Michael was moving north-northwest at 12 mph and positioned about 425 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

The National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 5 a.m. ET that the storm was moving north-northwestward through the southern Gulf of Mexico, and that storm surge and hurricane warnings were in effect for the northeastern Gulf coast.

Tracker: Follow Hurricane Michael’s path

More: Hurricane Michael: The science of predicting landfall

Related: Hurricane Michael forces cruise ships on Western Caribbean itineraries to reroute

“It’s a big storm,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday night during a press conference at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center near Pensacola. “It’s a massive storm. We haven’t seen anything like this in the Panhandle in decades.”

In its 11 p.m. Monday update, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Michael “a potentially catastrophic storm” and added, “Preparations should be completed no later than Tuesday morning.”

The hurricane center is already warning of storm surge up to 12 feet in some areas, plus heavy rainfall through Florida’s Panhandle and into Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and “tropical storm”-force winds.

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A hurricane warning was in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, with a hurricane watch in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

On its current track, Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico throughout Tuesday and then move inland over the Panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida on Wednesday, according to the hurricane center. From there, Michael would move northeastward across the southeastern states on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Scott has already declared a state of emergency in 35 counties, and the Florida National Guard has activated 1,250 troops for planning, logistics and emergency response.

President Donald Trump, speaking Monday to the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Orlando, urged residents to heed local warnings and pledged the federal government’s support.

“Never ends, but we’re all prepared and hopefully it won’t be as bad as it’s looking,” Trump said. “It looked a couple of days ago like it was not going to be much, and now it’s looking like it could be a very big one, so we’re prepared. And good luck.”

Contributing: Melissa Nelson Gabriel and Kevin Robinson, Pensacola News Journal, USA TODAY Network.

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In NFL ratings, good football trumps politics

Who’s winning, President Trump or the NFL?

We dove into the numbers to see what’s really been going on since quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem in 2016, and since player protests became a political rallying point for President Trump in 2017.

We examined TV viewership for Sunday Night Football in 37 markets in 2016 and 2017. The data, courtesy of Comscore, shows the percent of TVs in a market that were tuned to the big game. Then, we looked at how people in those places voted in the last Presidential election — plus a bunch of football factors.

There was some evidence of a Trump effect. But it was, at best, weak.

What really stood out was that people stuck with football if there was a “football reason” to watch. The data show that quality football and home team loyalty drove the TV audience far more than political tribalism.

As has been well-documented, NFL viewership on TV was down in most places. A little over half of markets we analyzed saw a year-over-year decline in the share of the TV viewers watching Sunday Night Football.

We excluded the local ratings figure from weeks when the home team was on to get a better measurement of broad interest in the NFL.

It’s tempting to draw conclusions based on this chart alone. The five biggest ratings dips are in regions Trump won the 2016 vote.

But, that’s misleading. With more people cutting the cord, a decrease on its own isn’t too surprising. And the big outliers are driven by football reasons.

A flailing home team dampens interest in football in a market, regardless of politics.

Take a look at those five Trump-leaning markets with the worst NFL ratings drops and you’ll find bad football.

The worst plunge happened in Phoenix. There, Trump was strong. Cardinals football was not. Fans came into the 2016 season with Super Bowl hopes that never materialized. There was no such delusion in 2017, and the TV audience tanked, falling more than 27% across the area. The Cardinals limped to a .500 record and their second straight season missing the playoffs.

The next biggest drop was in Houston. The region voted Trump in 2016. But the far more likely explanation for the ratings slide is that Houston fans lost interest after superstar J.J. Watt broke his leg Oct. 1, laying waste to the Texans’ hopes. The team went from a division winner in 2016 to four wins in 2017.

Indianapolis was similarly snakebit. Andrew Luck missed the entire season due to injury and the team struggled. Ratings were off by 21%.

The other two biggest ratings dives happened in markets without their own NFL teams — and where Trump won the election by double digits. Oklahoma City and Little Rock are Cowboys country. Ratings plunged more than 20%. In 2016, the Cowboys ripped off 11 straight wins. In 2017, they didn’t even make the playoffs. Distance didn’t help, as those markets saw a far bigger drop than in the Dallas market, down 6%.

Richard Lapchick, Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and an expert on the intersection of politics and sport, said the nature of partisanship in those areas may have played a role.

“You have those factors that are hard to figure out exactly — the regional base, the southern nature of Oklahoma City and Little Rock. And Arizona is probably a similar grounding in politics. And of course, not having a good team definitely hurt,” he said.

We see football playing a role at the other extreme too, in markets where ratings were up. When the home team’s on a good run, we see a TV ratings boost in all games, even when the local team is not on.

The biggest increase among the markets we studied was in Minneapolis. The hometown Vikings ran roughshod over the NFL, clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Interest in Viking country was high.

The effect was true regardless of politics. Consider New Orleans, where Trump won by double digits. After a humdrum 2016, the Saints saw their football fortunes rise in 2017, winning eight consecutive games and sweeping the division rival Panthers after an 0-2 start. The New Orleans market saw ratings climb 13%. 

 

Indeed, eight of the 12 markets where the home team made the playoffs saw ratings increase year over year. In six of the eight nonplayoff markets with declining ratings, the home team lost at least half of its games.

No politics when home team’s on

For most of our analysis, we ignored the ratings for cities when their home team was in the game that Sunday. Why? Because no factor moved the needle more than if the local team was playing. Ratings went up by 16 percentage points, on average.

That trend held in places Trump won big. And it held before and after Trump made it a big issue early in the 2017 season.

Take Green Bay, where the president won nearly 60% of the vote. The Packers were featured in the Sunday night game four times in 2016 on their way to winning the NFC North for the fifth straight year. Those games topped out at a whopping 43.8 rating in the TV market serving Green Bay and Appleton.

Not bad.

In 2017, the Packers were eliminated after week 15. But despite a year that saw the president call for people to tune out the NFL, fans in Wisconsin kept watching. In fact, the Packers’ late November game against the Steelers got a 46.2 rating in Green Bay, the highest recorded in any market during the two-year stretch.

That general trend of good home football overcoming politics proved true in market after market, even in the deepest of Trump country. Overall, places where Trump won by double digits had roughly the same decrease as we saw elsewhere.

In the moment impact

If political tribalism was playing a significant role, we’d expect to see ratings take a big hit in early fall 2017. At no time was the spotlight brighter on the NFL protests.

On Sept. 22, Trump told supporters at a rally in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who took a knee during the national anthem.

Three days later, he followed up with a twitter barrage slamming players, owners and the league about the players’ protests against police violence.

On October 8th, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game in Indianapolis after members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem.

Yet, there’s not much evidence of real-time impact on football viewing.

Again, we excluded the ratings in any market for the weeks when the hometown team was featured in the Sunday night game. We found that NFL ratings dropped slightly from mid September through late October, but at around the same rate as in 2016, regardless of whether the market supported Trump or Clinton or was lukewarm on both.

Lapchick said that finding was especially meaningful.

“It underlines the fact that fans either are coming back or they aren’t going away,” he said. “Maybe it didn’t have as big of an impact as (Trump) said he did.”

Perhaps the most telling example of football overwhelming politics is Pittsburgh, where the president won nearly 55% of the vote.

As the president criticized the sport last September, the Steelers organization’s reaction became a lightning rod. Amid league-wide demonstrations following Trump’s remarks criticizing players who protested, coach Mike Tomlin decided the team would remain in the locker room during the anthem for one game as a show of unity without making a political statement. Some fans still viewed the move as anti-Trump and lambasted the Steelers, some vowing to switch favorite teams or burn their black and gold gear. 

Yet, football got more Pittsburghers’ eyeballs. TV ratings for Sunday Night Football in the market were up whether the Steelers were playing in the game or not. Their top-rated Sunday night game in 2017 — against the Detroit Lions in late October — rated three points higher in the western Pennsylvania TV market than the Steelers’ lone Sunday night game in 2016.

What happens if we boil this question down to a single number? 

Let’s again account for the phenomenon of the home team being on, given the massive impact that can have. After we exclude those games, we see that the places Trump won in 2016 indeed saw a Sunday Night Football ratings decline that does not exist in Clinton country. The number is just small.

Places Trump won big — by 10 points or more — saw NFL TV ratings dip less than a single percentage point. That’s the same decrease as experienced in markets where neither candidate won by double digits.

Places Clinton won big also saw a tiny decline. It’s worth noting some pretty good football teams were in Clinton country, including three of four teams in last year’s conference championship games.

This might be as close as we can get to a clear answer about whether Trump’s campaign against player protests influenced NFL TV ratings.

Emily Thorson, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who has researched the intersection of sports and politics, said it’s difficult to separate non-football issues — such as politics, concussions, cord-cutting and other unknown factors — from the events on the field. As much as we may want a single explanation, the truth a combination of factors are at play, she said.

The NFL remains the king of TV ratings. All TV programming is taking a ratings hit as cord-cutting consumers switch to streaming services and other digital entertainment options. Yet, NFL games still dominate the list of most-watched shows week after week. The NFL’s prime time games on Sunday and Thursday were among the Top 5 shows on TV last year among viewers ages 18-49. And a whopping 37 of the 50 top-rated shows in 2017 were NFL games, Nielsen says.

And, what about NFL ratings so far this year? Ratings are generally up for Sunday games.

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John Kerry Sounds Like a 2020 Candidate

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Despite the chatter, John Kerry probably isn’t running for president again—though he says he wants to be part of the future of the Democratic Party, and the country, no matter what.

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He’s sticking to his insistence that any White House talk distracts from 2018. But there’s clearly still an ember of desire to run again. “I’ve only done it once, unlike a lot of people who’ve been out there, and came pretty close,” he told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. It was a conversation he ended with a standard-politician four-point list of priorities, some 40 minutes after delivering a standard-politician evasive answer about a 2020 candidacy: “I haven’t eliminated anything in my life, period, anything—except perhaps running a sub-four [minute] mile.”

But that is not the point for Kerry, whose public life stretches across modern political history, from the day in 1971 when, as a young Vietnam veteran, he testified before the Senate in opposition to the Vietnam War, to walking out of the State Department for the last time in 2017. He’s already done fundraising, and endorsed several Democratic candidates in 2018—including a few of his former State Department aides running for House seats. He says he’ll be out campaigning for the midterms. And he says he’ll keep proselytizing in speeches on college campuses from the example of his own life, about how activated young people have always been the ones to change the course of political history.

“I’m engaged, man, I’ve done this my whole life. I’m not going to suddenly stop and say I’m not going to be involved in these choices, you know,” Kerry said. “You know that old question that sometimes was asked [after] World War II or Korea: ‘Daddy, what did you do in the war?’ Well, people are going to ask, ‘Daddy, Mommy, kid, what did you do in this moment in our history, where our democracy is threatened, where the challenges are as great as they’ve ever been, and where the world is not coordinating very effectively?’ That’s a big challenge.”

Kerry comes with a little advice for the people who are looking to lead his party forward, as a person who says he never goes to bed still thinking about the what ifs of being president, but whose take on the questions about voting machine irregularities in Ohio—which theoretically could have been enough to swing the state and the election to President Bush—is a suspicion that is “not lingering, it’s real.”

In the 2004 primaries, Kerry beat back Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a liberal outsider-insurgent, on an argument of electability and experience in Washington. And ahead of 2020, he sees those qualities as again being political assets.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a year for total newness, because people want the trains to run on time, people want to re-establish something, and I think there may be a premium for some relevant form of experience,” Kerry said, though adding that such experience “doesn’t have to be [in] politics.”

In 2004, Kerry was worried about restoring national unity—it was, he said, one of the principal reasons he considered selecting Sen. John McCain as his running mate in that year’s elections. Kerry said that bridging America’s divisions is an even bigger concern ahead of 2020, but he’s not sure he’d counsel the Democratic nominee to think about a Republican running mate. The fissures defining American life right now, Kerry suggested, are more complicated than a simple Democratic-Republican divide.

In his book and in our interview, he is still clearly upset about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against him in 2004—in which fellow Vietnam veterans accused Kerry of lying about his experiences in the war—and remains frustrated by everyone from George W. Bush on down who was involved in that campaign. Don’t make the mistake that in retrospect, he says he and his campaign made in not responding forcefully to spurious attacks: “You’ve got to take it on.”

“I’m convinced that there’s a lot of fakery going on right now, in terms of what’s being done versus what is said to be done” by the Trump administration, Kerry said. And to Democrats who complain that they don’t want to do interviews to simply shoot down untrue accusations by President Trump or others, Kerry can relate. But ultimately, “that’s not the way to do it,” he said. “You can answer where you have to answer, but you’ve got to be expressing a point of view about where the country needs to go.”

Kerry says he understands many of the factors that led to Trump’s win, from voters’ sense of being left behind after the economy cratered in 2008, to the lack of voter turnout in 2016.

But he thinks those are obstacles that Democrats can overcome if they remain vigilant about holding Donald Trump accountable.

“Back with Richard Nixon, you know, he won 49 states in 1972,” Kerry said. “A year and a half later, he was gone. That’s because people kept hammering and stayed focused on the truth.”

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Why are housing rights activists intimidated in South Africa?

New York, United States – S’bu Zikode, the leader of a shack dwellers’ movement in Durban, South Africa, said he received a tip-off from police in July that he was being targeted and his life was under threat.

Since then, the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) organiser has been living underground, away from his family, between safe houses.

“I had been receiving threats from a number of local ANC councillors via AbM members and others, warning me not to step into their communities … the ANC have basically created no-go zones,” Zikode told Al Jazeera on the sidelines of an event in New York on September 29 to raise awareness on his story.

ANC is South Africa’s ruling party, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zikode says AbM members routinely face censorship, intimidation and even murder by local city officials as they attempt to pressure them into providing housing, improving living standards or preventing the violent eviction of people in informal settlements – all charges the city denies.

“The police have confirmed that there is a hit on me and offered me state witness protection but I had to refuse because when I asked them for how long, they said until elections [in 2019].

“This means that they will protect me in order to neutralise me from my work ahead of the election … I couldn’t do it,” Zikode said.

On Monday, AbM held protests in South African cities and New York against what it terms as state repression, threats and assassinations.

A police spokesperson said around 3,000 people rallied in Durban, where AbM is headquartered.

AbM says six of its members have been killed since 2017.

It also alleges that three other members from the Eastern Cape have also gone into hiding, citing mounting threats on their lives. 

AbM says their requests to President Ramaphosa and General Bheki Cele, the minister of police, for a Commission of Inquiry into the killings of AbM members have gone unanswered.

But a spokesperson for Zandile Gumede, the mayor of eThekwini, the metropolitan municipality including Durban, dismissed AbM’s claims. The mayor is the regional chairperson of the ANC.

“This is an old, repeated, fabricated allegation by Abahlali … they must approach relevant security agencies if they have evidence instead of the media,” the spokesperson said. “Making such a serious allegation without going to court will not assist anyone. The failure to report such is counterproductive and equivalent to defeating ends of justice,” Gumede said.

Colonel Thembeka Mbhele, a spokesperson for the South African Police Services (SAPS), confirmed to Al Jazeera that police had opened “a case of intimidation” in Durban, raised by the organisation, but said she had no knowledge of Zikode being tipped off by members of the police force.

Bheki Ntuli, the ANC’s regional spokesperson, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

AbM members have been killed over the years for their work because they do it outside of a political party or electioneering process

Axolile Notywala, general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition

Since its inception in 2005 at the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban, AbM members say they have faced hostility from police and the ruling ANC government, particularly city officials.

This is the fifth time Zikode has gone into hiding since the organisation, which now has 55,000 members, was formed.

Activists working with poor and marginalised communities in KwaZulu-Natal, the province of which Durban is the capital, say that there is a history of systematic violence against the AbM.

In 2016, two ANC councillors and a hired hitman were found guilty of murdering Thuli Ndlovu, an organiser with AbM. 

Ndlovu was shot dead in front of her daughter by a gunman who had been offered $1,000 and a home to kill her. 

In 2017, a court found a police officer guilty of killing 17-year-old AbM member Nqobile Nzuza during a protest in Cato Crest, an informal settlement 7km south of Durban.

“Abahali members have been killed over the years for their work because they do it outside of a political party or electioneering process,” Axolile Notywala, general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), told Al Jazeera. 

“They have [direct] experience of corruption and lack of service delivery, therefore speaking out against the ruling party is dangerous,” Notywala said.

AbM focuses on impoverished and working-class communities, traditionally the ANC’s voter base.

“We were not expected to be so vocal and radical and to speak against the ruling party. The ANC behaves like they own the poor. And when we speak, we offend them, because they have always claimed to champion us,” said Zikode, the AbM leader.

Since 2014, at least 100 people have been killed in politically motivated murders in KwaZulu-Natal, the home province of former president, the ANC’s Jacob Zuma.

“Zuma was like a warlord in KZN,” Zikode says. “We don’t have that much of confidence in President Cyril Ramaphosa to change the economy but he might be able to tackle the violence …  unlike Zuma, he has some fear for international reputation.”

‘AbM keeps politicians on their toes’

With the heartbeat of the economy in urban centres, black South Africans have moved to cities in search of employment and opportunities. 

But the lack of affordable housing has meant millions resort to living in informal settlements, often on vacant land on the outskirts.

According to the PEP, a non-profit organisation that supports communities living in informal settlements, around 12 million South Africans live without proper housing.

In April, the World Bank said South Africa was the most unequal country on earth. More than half the country lives below the poverty line.

Youth unemployment has also reached record highs.

Two decades after the end of apartheid, land reform remains one of South Africa’s most divisive issues [File: Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

“As long as there’s still poverty and exclusion, the [AbM] movement is here to stay since it plays a critical role in a political landscape … they keep politicians on their toes,” Baruti Amisi, CEO of KZN Refugee Council, told Al Jazeera.

Zikode said people occupy land “so they can get closer to dignity”.

Twenty-four years since the onset of democracy, most land remains in the hands of white South Africans, who make up less than nine percent of the population.

In December, the ANC resolved to expropriate land without compensation, but Zikode said the ANC is using the issue to win votes.

“They have lost credibility; the question of land has been raised because the ANC wants to restore trust and confidence. After the elections, all of this will be put aside.

“As much as we agree with the concept [of expropriation without compensation] we have a lot of questions. For us, it suggests they will take land from white elites and give it to black elites, and this will not benefit landless, homeless and ordinary people,” Zikode said.

When it comes to the future of AbM, Zikode regrets that in the organisation’s 13 year-history, “we haven’t been able to organise houses for our people”. 

He hopes to build a larger base to push for change. But first, he has more immediate challenges. 

“Reality will hit when I return to South Africa; I return to uncertainty,” he said.

Additional reporting by Lizeka Maduna

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