"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
December 28, 2006
BASEBALL: Giants Bag Zito
First reaction to the news: this stinks for the Mets, who really could have used Zito and his durability. Second thought: 7 years and $126 million is crazy money for a guy who is a durable quality pitcher, yes, but not a championship-quality staff ace.
One thing that happens in Rotisserie baseball is that you sometimes realize that the economics are shifting - people are throwing stupid money at closers and speed is cheap, something like that. So you change your strategy. Starting pitching still matters, but it matters less than it used to, and yet has become obscenely expensive. I can't criticize the Mets for mostly staying out of the feeding frenzy. Glavine and Maine give the Mets two solid starters, and El Duque will hopefull be OK when available. Dave Williams and Jason Vargas may give the Mets some non-Lima-quality insurance. Which, with Trachsel, Bannister and Zambrano gone, leaves two rotation slots, one to be filled by Oliver Perez in the hopes of progress, the other open for competition between Pelfrey, Humber, and Soler, and Pedro to return at mid-season.
Not a great rotation. But with a deep bullpen and a solid lineup and defense, maybe the Mets are ahead of the game in shifting their strategy and saving their resources.
December 22, 2006
BLOG: Merry Christmas to All!
Well, in case you hadn't noticed I have been way too busy with work and other stuff lately to keep up on the blog much, especially the baseball content. Never fear! This too shall pass, I've been doing this for six years now, it always does.
Anyway, I'm unlikely to have much else up here until after Christmas. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and happy Hanukah and whatever other holidays you may be celebrating this season.
December 21, 2006
BASEBALL: Next Year's Free Agents
Good overview of the big fish that might be on next year's market. Carlos Zambrano is obviously the major prize here.
POP CULTURE: Deathly Hallows
BLOG: Mmmmmm....Taxpayer-Funded Studies
December 20, 2006
POLITICS: The Big "Mo"
Last I checked my calendar, it is not 2008. It is not 2007. It's still 2006. Yet National Review, the magazine that for decades has sought (and often deserved) status as the standard-bearer for the conservative movement, has chosen to put on the cover of its latest issue the dubious assertion that the 2008 Republican presidential primary field is already narrowed to two men: John McCain and Mitt Romney.
This announcement - which is, of course, the framing of the race that Romney, in particular, wants - is curious for two reasons. First, the article (available for now only in the print version and by subscription) gives only short shrift to Rudy Giuliani, despite polling that consistently shows the former NY mayor leading the field or running about even with Senator McCain. There is a potentially large helping of crow to be eaten by Jonathan Martin and the NR editors for this back-of-the-hand treatment to Mayor Giuliani, solely on the basis of his not having a large organization in place yet in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Second, NR seems to be abandoning the possibility - which you would think a conservative magazine would at least entertain - that a conservative champion could yet emerge from the field. Now, I too am skeptical that there is time and the right person for this to happen, as it increasingly looks like the GOP Right will be represented by Sam Brownback, a good man and a good Senator but not someone I regard as having much chance of winning a general or even a primary election. But it's one thing to speculate that it may be too late; it's another to run a cover story proclaiming the fight stopped.
More disturbing is the idea that NR has accepted Romney's effort to portray himself as the authentic conservative in the race. I don't dislike Romney, and I do think he has probably always been more conservative than he portrayed himself to win elections in liberal Massachusetts. But any realistic assessment of Romney has to begin in the same place as McCain and Giuliani - that is, with the fact that his past public statements make him out to be something other than a consistent conservative.
Time is indeed running short to set the field and identify the leading candidates. But NR should know better than to tell its readers they only have two options.
December 19, 2006
BASKETBALL: Iverson Moves West
If only they had had the calm, steady leadership of Allen Iverson, the Nuggets would never have had that brawl with the Knicks.
UPDATE: On a more serious note, Iverson is a great statistical puzzle. Now, basketball stats are subject to more illusions and limitations than baseball stats, and we still run pretty short when it comes to measuring a basketball player's defense. On the other hand, I don't buy the idea pushed by Iverson's champions (see this otherwise-excellent Bill Simmons column) that the numbers are entirely meaningless.
See, here's the thing. You win basketball games by doing three things: (1) getting more shot attempts (including free throws) than the other guy, (2) converting more of your attempts into points, and (3) preventing the other guy from converting his attempts into points. Period. Nothing else matters.
Leaving aside his defense, which I don't doubt is valuable, the statistical question is whether there is really any evidence that Iverson helps out with #2, or whether he does enough on the offensive end to help out with #1 to offset that.
To the casual fan, Iverson scores a lot of points, so he must be a good offensive player. But the fact is, for most of Iverson's career his points per shot attempt have been terrible, and his mediocre assist totals have suggested a player who isn't really setting up his teammates well enough to offset that. (Granted - and it's a big "granted" - he improved in both regards starting with the 04-05 season, largely as a result of pushing his free throws per shot attempt into the stratosphere). Plus, he turns the ball over a lot.
Defenders of Iverson will argue that he has made up for this historically by getting off a huge number of shots. Now, it's true that a team's go-to guy can and should have a lower ratio of points to shot attempts than, say, a guy who scores 10 points a game - the key scorer has to make the toughest shot attempts when the clock is running down, and it's worth a few misses to push your scoring average from 12 to 25, as long as the marginal extra points don't come with so many extra misses that you end up just sucking the life out of the rest of the offense.
Anyway, I haven't bored into the details of Iverson's Sixers teams closely enough to have a strong opinion on the subject, and as I said in recent years he has shown sufficient improvement that maybe the questions about his first eight years in the league are moot. But I don't regard it as simply received wisdom to be accepted without question that Iverson's high-scoring raw numbers automatically make him a superstar-level offensive player.
POP CULTURE: Harry Potter and the Ministry of Neocon Warmongers
Like any good fable, the Harry Potter books can be read to support a variety of worldviews and political viewpoints, although if there's a common theme in the politics of JK Rowling's writings it's more libertarian than anything, as she plays up the value of individual self-reliance and self-defense and trashes goverment in all its forms - dovish government, hawkish government, law enforcement, government interference in schools, government interference in the media, etc.
That said, only a lunatic would look at the fifth Potter book, in particular, as supportive of left-leaning politics as applied to the post-9/11 world (perhaps the sixth, to some extent, with its running storyline about an innocent detainee, but not the fifth). Jonathan Last has more, on an article I had meant to blog about myself but he's got it covered.
John Fund summarizes some of the reasons why Barack Obama might not run in 2008. This is really the biggest political strategy question of the year: should he run?
There are a number of reasons why Obama should run:
1. Seize the moment. Obama could run and win; his popularity is sky-high right now. For presidential candidates, like college athletes who could go at the top of the NFL or NBA draft, the usual rule of thumb is, if you can do it now, do it now. The moment may not come this way again.
2. The short trail. Obama's record in 2 years in the Senate and in the Illinois Legislature is one of unvarnished liberalism. The longer he stays in the Senate the longer that rap sheet will be. Better to run now while he can still create some uncertainty as to what he stands for. Relatedly, Obama will lose some of his "fresh face" appeal the longer he remains in DC.
3. The map. The red states that went for Bush in 2000 gained electoral votes in the 2000 census, placing Bush in a slightly more favorable position in 2004. That will happen again by 2012. That's not to say it's impossible for Democrats to break the GOP's hold in those states (in some of them it looks rather tenuous after 2006), but the most reliable blue states are shrinking and the most reliable red states are growing.
4. The GOP field. To avoid running too closely associated with Bush, two of the stronger GOP candidates (Jeb Bush and Condi Rice, who may match up especially well with Obama) will sit out 2008 (although it's not impossible that Secretary Rice could get a VP nod). That leaves a GOP field that isn't exciting the conservative base, and the likelihood that Republicans could nominate either a candidate some Republicans might stay home for against a non-Hillary opponent (McCain or Giuliani) or a guy with as little experience as Obama (Romney), or that the party could splinter with a third party run, the best hope for Democrats who have won a national majority just twice since FDR died.
5. Bush fatigue. 2008 is the end of Eight tumultuous years of GOP control of the White House. The political stars may not favor the Democrats as much by 2012 or 2016, especially if Hillary wins this one and especially if Obama runs with the baggage of an 8-year Clinton Administration and the associated scandals that comes with that (ask Al Gore).
That said, there are also persuasive reasons to sit out 2008:
1. Obama's color. No, not black - green. This is Fund's main point. We've had an astonishing proliferation recently of candidates who either never ran for public office (Wesley Clark), have yet to finish a term in statewide office (Obama) or served just one term and didn't run for re-election (Romney, Edwards, Mark Warner). (This would be an issue for Rice as well, but Rice has been in the national spotlight as perhaps the President's closest foreign policy adviser for six years of war, so she's more like Eisenhower in 1952). Such candidates are often better served by adding a VP run or a term in the Cabinet or something before trying for the big job. Indeed, the general consensus is that Obama's best bet may be to run as Hillary's running mate.
2. Hillary! John Edwards may have forgotten quite how rough the Clintons play against members of their own party, but as Fund points out, Obama lost his first race for federal office against a candidate endorsed by Bill Clinton. Does Obama really want to be painted as the man who is against strong women in public life, who wants to deny little girls everywhere the role model of the first female president? (Yes, you know Maureen Dowd, Anna Quindlen, Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift already have those columns written). Is he ready for how nasty that race will be? Would he rather line up behind the Hillary bandwagon and assure himself a similar coronation by a unified party in later years?
3. The Pelosi Factor. This is more of a wild card, since we don't really know how long the Democrats will be in power, but there are plenty of reasons to think that the Democrats will take all sorts of counterproductive steps the next two years. Obama may be better served waiting for Pelosi to leave the Speaker's chair and the old Class of 1974 Democrats to leave office, and perhaps run against a Republican Congress down the road.
4. Iraq. Yes, Iraq and the War on Terror will still be a significant issue in 2008. Perhaps, in years to come, less so. Obama's conspicuous lack of experience or interest in foreign affairs could be less of a liability in less tranquil times.
If I had to guess, I'd say Obama will ride the groundswell for a while, and bow out of the race on terms that make it hard for the nominee to resist putting him on the ticket. But we shall see.
LAW: Estrich to Court: Disqualify Nifong
Susan Estrich is, by any definition, a liberal feminist and naturally inclined to side with rape victims - but she nonetheless concludes what any thinking person must, which is that the Duke rape case is the shoddiest bit of prosecutorial misconduct in recent memory.
Seriously, the evidence we have seen has been so overwhelmingly one-sided for the defense that Perry Mason would watch this trial and think, "damn, I never had a defense this good." DNA evidence of pretty much everyone but the defendants? Check. Wholly unreliable "victim" contradicted by the only witness in a position to corroborate? Check. One defendant with an ironclad, time-stamped, videotaped alibi? Check. Heck, Nifong shouldn't just be disqualified, he should be disbarred.
December 18, 2006
LAW: Death Penalty Box
As I have said before, while I am ambivalent on many aspects of the death penalty, at least as applied to ordinary crime, few things make me more likely to support it than the shenanigans of its opponents. For yet another example, Patterico tears to ribbons a flimsy opinion declaring the California death penalty unconstitutional.
I am probably not alone in having decidedly mixed views of the death penalty. On the one hand, I've always had a gut-level affinity for applying the maximum penalty to the worst crimes, and while I am pro-life I recognize that there is a world of difference between executing the guilty after due process and exterminating the most innocent of lives without any legal defense at all. Certainly the State has every right to take a life for a life, by any measure; that's almost the definition of the purpose of the State. And my support for the death penalty tends to rise in direct proportion to my exposure to its opponents.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church has long been at best deeply skeptical about the death penalty (call me a theocrat, if you will, but that does matter), and one does have to bear in mind at all times that this is, after all, the deliberate taking of a particular human life. There are problems with administering the death penalty on a broad scale to ordinary criminals - not least that it's frightfully expensive - it's potentially unfair if applied selectively to such criminals, and the deterrent effect is questionable if you limit it to the really spectacular cases of gleeful and unambiguous evildoing.
The strongest case for the death penalty would seem to me to be where it is used as a weapon of societal self-defense to incapacitate members of an organized group - terrorists especially, but arguably members of organized criminal syndicates. Such organizations are notoriously effective at continuing to use imprisoned members as an asset. And - at least for those who are in the crime business as opposed to religious fanatics - executing members of a particular organization may have a more focused deterrent effect on their remaining cohorts.
One argument that sometimes gets made by death penalty opponents is that life imprisonment is worse punishment than death. But there's an obvious response to that: if it really is a more effective punishment, it should be viewed that way by people who are sentenced to death. And yet, virtually without exception, the vast majority of death row inmates take every possible avenue of appeal to overturn their sentences. If you count how they 'vote with their feet,' they vote overwhelmingly that they would prefer life in prison to execution.
WAR/LAW: One of These Things Is Not Like The Other
Salon's Alex Koppelman has a silly article contrasting the Jose Padilla case with that of Demetrius Crocker, a right-wing Timothy McVeigh-style nutjob who was criminally prosecuted for plotting to bomb a courthouse in Tennessee and to use lethal gas against the local black population. (Via Bashman). What is silly about the article is Koppelman's thesis that the successful prosecution of Crocker through the traditional criminal justice system shows that no alternative procedures are needed to deal with Al Qaeda and other foreign-based jihadist groups.
The differences between the Crocker case and cases involving international terror organizations are so obvious that it is astounding that Koppelman never even tries to explain why they don't matter:
By then, Adams had learned a lot about Crocker's background: his previous membership in the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, his anti-government beliefs, his fascination with Adolf Hitler and idolization of Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh. . . .
Unquestionably, Crocker was a serious danger and a would-be terrorist by any definition. But note what is missing from the case: no ties to a foreign organization, no logistical support or terrorist training, no indoctrination in the methods of secrecy. Regardless of the merits of the Padilla case - a subject for another day* in itself - the fact that Crocker was prosecuted does not show that similar methods would be successful against a radically more organized threat, nor does it disprove the Bush Administration's claim that different methods would be more effective in doing so.
In fact, recall that Koppelman's own account makes clear that catching Crocker was a stroke of blind luck, precisely because Crocker - unlike foreign jihadists with the support of a foreign organization - trusted the wrong guy:
You want to take a chance that the next Mohammed Atta will be that stupid? The last one wasn't.
On the other hand, Koppelman does concede a point that undercuts much of Salon's ongoing theory that Padilla and other terror suspects were no danger because they were not all that bright:
But tapes of the conversations between Crocker and Burroughs reveal that Crocker knew what he was doing. He had made a version of Zyklon B, the gas used in the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps, and he accurately described its manufacture. He had made nitroglycerin. He had the ingredients for a rudimentary bomb in his home, where he also kept several guns he told Burroughs he would use to kill any government agent sent to capture him.
I'm glad the government was able to take Demetrius Crocker out of circulation. But we were lucky, very lucky, just to get him - and that's one man working largely alone. Organized and well-funded terrorism is a greater threat, and we can't afford to wait to be lucky.
*I will note here that Koppelman takes everything Padilla's lawyer says at face value, including the fantastical claim that he was given a hallucinogen while being interrogated. Really.
December 17, 2006
BASEBALL: Sisco for Gload
The Royals deal Andrew Sisco to the White Sox for Ross Gload. This is an interesting deal. My gut reaction is to say that it is a horrendous deal for the Royals. Sisco is a 23-year-old lefthander who could throw a feather through a brick wall, and those don't grow on trees, especially for the pitching-starved Royals. He had a fine rookie campaign in 2005 followed by a terrible year, but 6'10" power lefties have something of a history of coming along slowly, and they are dealing him when his stock is down. I'm also not sure it's a great deal for Sisco; while he gets into a much better organization for developing pitchers, he is probably more likely now to get pigeonholed as a situational lefty reliever, which is not the best role for a guy with his upside but also his control problems.
All of that said, though, the deal may yet be partly salvaged if Gload turns out a few good years as a regular. He is a pretty good hitter, probably better than, say, Jeff Liefer or Jeff Abbott or Greg Norton. While his upside is lower than Sisco's, he's a better bet to be productive in 2007. That may not be the profile you are seeking if you are KC and building for 2008-09, but it's something.
UPDATE: Pinto says Sisco may have been dealt for eating tacos during a game in Mexico. Or something.
POP CULTURE: Eragon
Yesterday I took my 9-year-old son to see the film version of Eragon. I read to him every night, and in between the six Harry Potter books, the Hobbit and (currently) the Fellowship of the Ring, we did Eragon and its sequel in a proposed trilogy, Eldest.
The Eragon books are well-done, and certainly an impressive achievement for a teenage author. My son enjoys them, and while they are perhaps not books I would bother to read on my own, Christopher Paolini keeps the story going well enough to keep my interest.
That said, they aren't the most original things in the world. Some people have suggested that they are a Tolkein knockoff, but they are more accurately described as a Star Wars knockoff transplanted into a Tolkein-like universe:
*Ancient order of guardians of peace and justice reigns for a thousand years, gets done in by the treachery of one of their own.
*Ignorant farmboy who lives with his uncle discovers that he is the last heir to the order, is guided by old bearded hermit type who used to be one of them after the bad guys toast his farm and his uncle.
etc., etc., etc. The parallels grow stronger as the story goes on and into the second book (for any of you who may read the books or see the movie without having read both books, I'll keep the spoilers below the fold). What is stolen from Tolkein is more the world this takes place in - Paolini's elves and dwarves are almost entirely indistinguishable from Tolkein's, for example.
The movie wasn't terrible, taken in its own right, but I had a couple of specific problems with it. The most baffling problem was that the filmmakers systematically eliminated all of the plot elements that tied the story to its sequel, including eliminating key characters (Katrina, Jeod, Elva, Solembum, the dwarves, the Twins, the Cripple Who is Whole) and even appearing to kill one other character who survives to the third book. I assume they made this movie without either reading Eldest or consulting with Paolini, because the sequel will make far less sense without an explanation of how the threads of the story connect. Either that or they just assume that no sequel will be made.
A second problem is that the film changed all sorts of things big and small that did not need to be changed, and in many places by doing so removed the elements of Paolini's book that were original, or at least were cribbed from sources other than Tolkein, Peter Jackson and George Lucas. The Shade, for example, is a very vividly distinctive character in the book, with pale skin and red eyes to signify the extent to which he is possessed by evil spirits. In the film his skin doesn't approach that hue until the end, and his eyes are normal. But other characters, the Urgals, have red eyes. And about the Urgals: unlike Tolkein's orcs, they aren't supposed to be simply misshapen but rather are almost minotaur-like, standing taller than humans (the tallest breed run some eight feet tall), broad-shouldered and with horns. In the movie, no horns, and they are basically just ugly men with bad makeup, and look like rejects from a Peter Jackson casting call.
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Specifically, the film appears to kill off one of the Ra'zac, the Nazgul/dementor-type horrors whose pursuit remains a theme into the third book.
I also thought some of the more theatrical scenes in the book had been undone unnecessarily - a classic example is the scene where Eragon is grievously wonded by the Shade (a wound that is a key element of the second book's plot) but is able to kill him when Arya and Saphira break the dwarves' treasured stone, distracting him. In the movie, no wound, no stone, no Arya, just Eragon defeating Durza in an aerial battle. Ajihad also suffers - Djimon Honsou plays him as a proud tribesman rather than the savvy politician he is.
Anyway, I could go on, but the basic point is that the film stripped away the epic sweep that allows us to see how Eragon becomes not only a warrior but also a leader, one who learns to understand the vast consequences of each of his acts and decisions. All that is left is the knockoffs.
« Close It
POLITICS: The Wedge Worked!
As I have noted before, Democrats are very proud of themselves for using the destruction of embryonic stem cells for medical research as a wedge issue, one that seems to have been a crucial factor in some of this year's Senate races, notably Missouri. Conservative concerns about the horrifying incentives created by turning the tissue of unborn humans into an input in scientific research were brushed off as hysteria.
No longer; the inevitable is now with us:
Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.
Read the whole thing, in all its horrifying detail. Only those unfamiliar with human nature could have failed to predict this.
Those Democratic campaign consultants must be so proud. But then, they won the election, didn't they?
December 14, 2006
POLITICS/WAR: Connecting the Dots
BLOG: Quick Links 12/14/06
*One of the more doleful implications of a very narrowly divided polity is the places it leads partisans to go in search of that one last vote that turns an election, a court, a majority, a presidency. So it is difficult for Republicans to resist the temptation to hope for a change in the Senate upon the news that South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is in critical condition after what may or may not have been a stroke. The right thing to do, of course, is to wish Senator Johnson and his family well (this is especially so because Tim Johnson, whatever his ideology, is not a loathesome human being like Ted Kennedy). Thinking otherwise may be only human, but it's a reflex to resist.
All things considered, it probably would be for the better if more states had laws that require the appointment of a replacement Senator of the same party, followed by a special election, if an incumbent dies or needs to be replaced - I believe such a law is in place in Hawaii, which has a GOP Governor and two elderly Democratic Senators, and a similar law (the details of which I forget) was enacted in Massachusetts when John Kerry was running for president. That said, existing practice in the absence of such a statute is to replace the Senator however the governor wants, as happened when the Republicans lost Paul Coverdell's Senate seat in Georgia and John Heinz's seat in Pennsylvania (both of which the GOP recaptured at the next election), or when Jesse Ventura appointed an independent to fill out Paul Wellstone's term.
*Count Rudy Giuliani and John McCain with the skeptics about the Iraq Study Group. As of Sunday, Mitt Romney was ducking the issue and saying he hadn't read the report, although a commenter at RedState has a purported statement from Romney that likewise hits the right notes in rejecting consensus for its own sake and rejecting negotiations with Iran and Syria. Still, there's a worrisome pattern to Romney's delayed reactions. The GOP needs its next candidate to be someone who can roll with the punches and drive the public narrative.
On the other hand, Syria loves the ISG report:
The United States will face hatred and failure in the Middle East if the White House rejects the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, Syria warned on Sunday, according to The Associated Press. Syria's ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper urged President Bush to take the group's report seriously because it would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in region," AP reported.
*Academic Elephant over at RedState notes a movement (see also here and here and here), apparently with at least tacit U.S. approval, to break up the current governing coalition in the Iraqi Parliament so as to remove the increasingly ineffectual al-Maliki as leader, build a new coalition that does not depend on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, and set the stage for a second and hopefully final military showdown with the Sadrists. This would be a necessary step to finishing the job in Iraq.
*This is just a really cool article about turtles. It also pretty well captures the NY Times science section, which still does about the best stuff in the paper - but the headline writer couldn't resist going for an anti-people headline that is really only a small part of the article.
*Great New Republic profile of Sam Brownback, once you make allowances for Noam Scheiber's view of the Catholic Church as a secretive cult. I'm not inclined to support Brownback for president because I don't think he can win (not least of which, the man isn't exactly Mr. Charisma), but I probably agree with him on more issues than most of the other candidates. He'd make a great Senate Majority Leader someday.
*Peter King (the football writer, not Peter King the Congressman) admits error, supports Art Monk for the NFL Hall of Fame.
*I'm all for attacking terrorism at its roots, but poverty ain't it. It's political and religious extremism married to anti-American and anti-Israel ideologies.
*Eliot Spitzer under pressure from Democratic legislators to allow drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants. New York moved to require more secure driver's licenses after September 11 by requiring social security number background checks before issuing a driver's license. Little faith though I have in our new Governor, you would think he won't be this indifferent to law enforcement and security concerns, let alone allowing the privileges of citizenship without its burdens.
*I'm sorry, this is just hilarious.
*Linda Greenhouse on the shrinking Supreme Court docket. This point is a useful fact:
One [reason] is the decreasing number of appeals filed on behalf of the federal government by the solicitor general’s office. Over the decades, the Supreme Court has granted cases filed by the solicitor general’s office at a high rate. In the mid-1980s, the office was filing more than 50 petitions per term. But as the lower federal courts have become more conservative and the government has lost fewer cases, the number has plummeted, opening a substantial hole in the court’s docket.
This, I'm less convinced of:
In private conversations, the justices themselves insist that nothing so profound is going on, but rather seem mystified at what they perceive as a paucity of cases that meet the court’s standard criteria. The most important of those criteria is whether a case raises a question that has produced conflicting decisions among the lower federal courts.
I can certainly attest from my own practice that I routinely encounter issues of federal law that are deeply unsettled or as to which a circuit split exists (in areas like securities law, RICO, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, class action procedure, etc.). The Court has been wise to trim its docket from the days of the 1960s-70s; the quality and care with which opinions are crafted has noticeably increased, and it's crucial for the Court to get things right because it often will not return to a particular question again for decades, if ever. But if the Court really wants to take on a few more cases it should have no problem finding appropriate vehicles to clarify unsettled issues.
*Consumer fraud statutes as a remedy for descendants of slaves? (See p. 14). (H/T). I know at least under New York's consumer fraud law, you need to show some loss beyond than just having bought something you would not otherwise have bought, and Justice Breyer has worried about the free speech implications of such lawsuits, which I guess puts him to the right of Judges Posner and Easterbrook on this one.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:08 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Football | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | Politics 2008 | War 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 13, 2006
BASEBALL: Dumb de Dumb Dumb
Boy, the Mariners are just idiots, aren't they? First they trade Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez - at first glance a deal of two young-ish pitchers with good arms and bad injury histories, but really a deal of a guy with a great record (when healthy) as a reliever (2.89 career ERA), who could easily hold down an elite closer job, for a starter who has never pitched decently or had good peripheral numbers at any stage of his career. Then, they trade one of their few promising (albeit also injury-prone) young bats, Chris Snelling, for a manifestly washed-up and expensive Jose Vidro - and, in the process, eliminate the job of 23-year-old Jose Lopez, who for all of his second half swoon last year is a promising young hitter whose top ten comparable players include three Hall of Famers.
Win now, or build around youth. The Mariners will do neither in 2007.
BASEBALL: Free Agent Contracts By EWSL
For those of you who have been wondering what I was doing instead of blogging about baseball lately - besides being swamped with work and a not-sleeping-well baby - I decided to take a systematic look at this year's free agent signings thus far, using Established Win Shares Levels. These are all the signings through Monday, drawn from ESPN's list. [UPDATE: Yes, I know the chart is already a bit out of date - I may re-run this later to include Drew, Lugo, and Pettitte, as well as some of the people who sign later in the offseason].
EWSL is explained here, and the age adjustments I used, developed from the 2004-05 results, are here (I have not yet had time to add the 2006 results). As you will recall, EWSL is not a predictive tool and is not individually tailored to the player; it simply looks at the established level of quality a player has produced over the last three years, applies an age adjustment derived from actual experience, and concludes that a particular level of Win Shares is a player's current established level of production. I see it as a baseline or starting point for an analysis of this nature, rather than an endpoint - in other words, if EWSL says a player's current established level is 6 Win Shares, you need a really good reason to explain why you are paying a guy with the expectation that he will give you 20. I don't exclude the possibility that a closer statistical analysis or some teams' scouting and coaching staffs may have such good reasons, but the bigger the gap is, the more skeptical we should be.
The chart below is mainly self-explanatory. The last five columns list, in order, (1) the average per-year contract value, (2) the player's 2007 EWSL, (3) the average contract value divided by 2007 EWSL, (4) the player's average EWSL for the life of the contract, and (5) the average contract value divided by the average EWSL for the life of the contract. The chart is ranked by the final column, with the best bargains in terms of dollars per EWSL for the life of the contract at the top, and the worst deals at the bottom. I explain below some of the biases in the study, however.
EWSL more than a year out was computed by successive application of the age adjustments (I'll spare you the algebra). Obviously that's a crummy way to project a player as far as 8 years into the future, but then I'm not convinced that the Cubs have a better way to project a player 8 years into the future.
As I see it, this analysis has three biases you need to take account of before using it to analyze contracts.
1. You will notice that the top of the chart is dominated by short-term deals for low-cost, low-quality players, while most of the stars are in the bottom half. There's a rational reason for that that doesn't depend on GM stupidity. Lots of players can give you 1 Win Share; very few can give you 30. And there are still only 25 roster spots. In a perfectly efficient free agent market, that marginal 30th Win Share should be more expensive; the stars ought to cost a premium for scraping the right end of the bell curve. That's an argument that the best measures analyze contracts by marginal value, but I didn't have time to run an analysis of that nature.
2. Win Shares accords a fairly large share of the value of preventing runs to fielders as opposed to pitchers. As a result, especially with declining innings totals, all but the very best starters and nearly all relievers will top out in the mid teens, comparable to a solid but not star-level regular. While you could argue that this is a reflection that real-world teams should spend less on individual pitchers, you still need pitching, and accordingly the pitchers generally come in as more expensive. Another way of viewing this is to recognize that pitching is scarce and thus more valuable.
3. Unsurprisingly, players returning from long injuries preceded by periods of injury-reduced effectiveness are rated by EWSL as not being worth much. Naturally, the teams employing Randy Wolf and Octavio Dotel know that they are taking on a risk.
That said, some thoughts:
*I see Adam Kennedy as a guy nearing the end of his effectiveness, at least as an offensive player, but EWSL sees him as a guy who has been a consistent producer and is not that old, and just signed for a lower annual salary than Jose Valentin. The Cards don't need to get a ton of value from Kennedy for that to pay off. Credit the savvy Walt Jocketty for that one.
*Yes, I recognize the inherent skepticism that accompanies anything that rates Kaz Matsui as a good deal. Just because he appears to be a good use of money doesn't mean he's a good use of at bats. Although I do still think Matsui may have a revival in him in Colorado.
*No, I do not actually think Gary Matthews and Juan Pierre are better investments than Glavine. Don't forget the value of their defense, but I do see Pierre in particular as a guy who is in rather faster than usual decline.
*Note that Aramis Ramirez is the only player on the chart who has an EWSL of 15 or higher for the duration of his contract. Obviously, he's a steal.
*I was a little surprised to see Jason Schmidt in the rogues' gallery with Eaton, Wells, Meche, Lilly, and Padilla, none of whom are pitchers of comparable quality.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Baseball 2006 | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 11, 2006
BLOG: $1200 Necktie
I was reading a few weeks back an article in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, discussing high-end neckties. There were a variety on offer at different prices: $79 tie, $100+ tie, even a $220 tie. And then...a $1200 tie.
See, this is where I get lost. I mean, while I personally don't have the kind of disposable income to go throwing $220 after a tie, I can imagine the situation where it would seem reasonable to do that. Say you are a corporate CEO making millions, and always need to look impressive. Or you're Jay Leno: you appear in a suit and tie on national television something like 200 times a year. A $220 tie, I can see.
But $1200? I don't care how rich you are, I just can't see where it would ever seem worth it. How much visibly better can it be than the $220 tie? Plus, even if I was a billionaire I'd still be worried about spilling something on a tie that expensive.
December 9, 2006
POP CULTURE: Driven Astray
So let me get this straight: we know that Princess Diana's driver was drunk, speeding and trying to flee paparazzi, and she wasn't wearing a seatbelt...and yet some people still find her death mysterious?
December 8, 2006
BASEBALL: Jose Uribe, RIP
Slick-fielding, light-hitting 1980s Giants shortstop Jose Uribe was killed in an auto accident late last night; he was 47 and living back home in the Dominican Republic:
Uribe owned a hardware store and other businesses in his hometown of Juan Baron in recent years, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor earlier this year.
For some reason, I found this description especially touching, symbolizing both the importance of ballplayers to the Dominican and the bond between generations of players:
Guerrero blasted music out of a van as they marched from the Uribe family home to the town's baseball field. Among the mourners was Chicago White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe, a second cousin of Jose Uribe and from the same town.
The article mentions that Uribe's widow is named Guerrero as well, so Vladimir may also be some sort of kin. Pinto notes that his first wife died in 1988. A postscript, not to blame the dead but as a reminder to the living: like Derrick Thomas, Uribe wasn't wearing a seat belt.
BASEBALL: Cause and Effect?
Let's see - the wholly unaccomplished Adam Eaton and the injured Randy Wolf sign $8 million/year contracts, Vincente Padilla, Gil Meche, Ted Lilly and Greg Maddux sign $10-11 million/year contracts, even though Maddux is past 40 and got plastered for three months straight last season and Meche ran out of gas in the second half last year and hasn't had a good ERA in seven years.
Now word comes that Andy Pettitte, still in his prime and with a chance at 300 wins and the Hall of Fame if he sticks around, has decided not to retire. Gee, what do you think convinced him?
I'll have to do a more comprehensive roundup of the free agent deals soon, but so many of these contracts are just insane.
WAR: The Model ISG
I have not had time yet to plow through the entire Iraq Study Group report, although I've been digesting a lot of the reaction. The above is from the front page of yesterday's New York Post, under the headline "Surrender Monkeys," which seems apt.
After thinking about it a few days, though, it occurred to me what the ISG reminds me of: the Model UN from high school. Now, for those of you who did not attend a Model UN conference, the idea was that each school's delegation represented a country and you were supposed to be like the real UN, sitting down to hammer out compromises on an array of international issues. In fact, a lot of people were there to get away from their parents for a few days, party and pick up girls . . . which maybe isn't so different from the real UN after all, when you think about it.
That said, the emphasis at the Model UN was all on reaching compromises and consensuses, but it quickly became obvious to me, even as a teenager, that this was an absolute sham because everybody wanted to make a deal and nobody actually had any real interests at stake or real leverage other than the hollow threat to not make a deal.
This is essentially what the ISG is: Model UN for retired public servants, a bunch of people sitting around reaching meaningless compromises. There are two ways to make decisions: do what you think is right, or reach a compromise that represents a middle ground between what two or more people think is right. But consensus-based decisionmaking only has a chance at working when the people reaching the consensus actually represent the contending interests and can compel them to accept the deal.
And on that score, the ISG is no more representative of the contending parties than I was of Botswana back in high school. Not only are the members of the ISG representative of nobody, elected by nobody and answerable to nobody, but their composition includes nobody from the military, no real left-wingers, no libertarians, only one conservative (Ed Meese, who has little foreign affairs experience), no Israelis, no Iraqi Shi'ites, no Iraqi Sunnis, no Kurds, no Saudis (unless you count Jim Baker), no Iranians, no Syrians, etc. They're making deals with Monopoly money, but they can't make anybody accept the whole deal, which means they ended up proposing an unprincipled compromise as the starting point for negotiations.
They probably didn't even get any decent parties out of it.
December 7, 2006
Blez gives the pros and cons of Mike Piazza signing with the A's to DH for $8.5 million. Personally I think Piazza's value is wasted on a team that barely uses its backup catcher and will make him #3. Oakland probably would have been better off with Bonds, but I don't know the whole story there. Still, there are only so many good hitters available and freeing Piazza from the daily grind of catching should keep him healthy. I agree that the A's are rather short of offense after replacing Frank Thomas with Piazza, who whatever his other virtues is not Frank Thomas.
I would be remiss if I didn't toot the horn of the Holy Cross Crusaders for taking the fight to Duke. And yes, moral victories count, for a program like HC.
LAW: Not As Equal As Others
David Bernstein notes a Ninth Circuit opinion that kicks the remaining logical props out from under an already overstretched interpretation of an 1866 civil rights statute (a decision apparently forwarded to him by yet another of my law school classmates). His conclusion:
I think it's too clever by half for courts to hold that minorities are protected from discrimination by a law that grants them the same rights as "white citizens", if "white citizens" (among others) do not have these rights to begin with. Put another way, it's hard to read the language of the 1866 Act as doing anything other than creating legal parity between whites and others. Any interpretation of the Act that disrupts that parity with regard to any right that is perceived to come within the protections of the Act lapses into incoherence.
Read the whole thing. Bonus fun fact from the opinion: did you know that "[a]t the time of the arrival of the first nonindigenous people in Hawaii in 1778, the Native Hawaiian people lived in a highly organized, self-sufficient subsistence social system based on a communal land tenure system with a sophisticated language, culture, and religion"? I have no specific quarrel with this statement, but did you know that it was the law of the land? See 20 U.S.C. 7512(2).
LAW: Order in the Court - Or I'll Shoot!
Law.com notes a growing trend of judges taking security into their own hands - by carrying guns:
Earlier this month, a Florida judge was ordered to accept mentoring after warning a defense attorney that he was "locked and loaded." In May, a judicial ethics committee of the New York State Unified Court System found that it was ethical for a judge to carry a pistol into his courtroom.
In Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas, incidences of violence in the past year have prompted new laws or solidified rules allowing judges to bring guns into courtrooms.
As I've said before, I'm something of a moderate on gun issues, but I could hardly imagine better news for fans of the Second Amendment than having people on the bench with a practical appreciation for the use of firearms for self-defense.
POLITICS: Preemptive Apology
December 5, 2006
BASEBALL: Worth Waiting For
Ryan McConnell tears apart a supremely silly column by NY Daily News writer Bill Price complaining about the Mets' patience in waiting out Tom Glavine's decision to re-sign. Price somehow manages this screed without once explaining how the Mets suffered from waiting for Glavine or how he is not worth the $10.5 million price tag compared to the alternatives in the market, and his overwrought comparisons to Tom Seaver and Sandy Koufax just sound stupid, given that Glavine is a certain Hall of Famer who will almost certainly pass 300 wins next season.
It really is amazing how stupid and consumed by petty envy so many sportswriters are.
LAW: No Class
For those of you who follow class actions and/or securities litigation, today's Second Circuit decision, vacating the order by Judge Shira Scheindlin and ruling that the massive initial public offering securities litigation could not proceed as a class action, is huge news. Among other things, the decision brings the Second Circuit in line with the other Circuits to address the question of the standard of proof and the proper methods of weighing evidence in determining whether to certify a lawsuit as a class action, and required the panel to explicitly repudiate a number of prior opinions written by the members of the panel to get there.
Full disclosure: my firm represents one of the defendants, and I worked on the appeal (it's the reason I've been checking and refreshing the Second Circuit website like a rat trying to get the last pellet ever since the case was argued in June). I have a much lengthier summary of what this all means, but that's for the paying clients ;)
BASEBALL: Figgins Must Go!
Matt Welch, as part of his top-ten list of the best seasons by an Angels DH (see if you can guess who is #1), has a lengthy and exhaustive analysis of why the Angels need to trade Chone Figgins for the same reasons as the Dodgers benefitted from dealing away Bobby Valentine before the 1973 season. Welch's analysis sold me, as well as reminding me exactly how much young talent the Angels really have. The interesting question is where to deal Figgins, who has great speed and flexibility but fell off to a career-low .336 OBP last year at age 28, making him a dicey prospect at best as a leadoff man (I'm thinking St. Louis, which has a couple of weak spots in its lineup, a few injury-prone stars at 3B and CF, and a manager who worships defensive flexibility).
SCIENCE: To The Moon, and Not Back
POLITICS: ACLU: Democratic Victory Renders Election Law Claims Moot
OK, that's not precisely how they put it, but this letter ending a major dispute over voting machines in Ohio would not have been written if the plaintiffs had any reason to claim that the just-completed election showed evidence of disenfranchisement. (H/t).
Which is sort of a shame - the underlying Sixth Circuit decision, if appealed to the Supreme Court, could have given the Court the opportunity to clarify a point I always thought was implicit but not properly explained in Bush v. Gore (see here, here and here): that the real risk of unequal protection of the law was not the existence of differing standards for vote-counting but rather the use of a standardless post hoc, non-statutory judicial remedy devised only after the election (and by an appellate court, no less, reversing the judgment of the trial court and overturning the pre-litigationstatus quo). In short, what the Court in practical effect did was to apply a heightened level of scrutiny to judicial remedies in election law cases filed after the election has taken place and not based on neutral rules laid down before the voting was done.
POLITICS: Um, Never Mind
Patterico catches the LA Times yet again stirring up unnecessary racial animus in a feature story and then burying in a correction the real facts that destroy the entire point of the article. You should go and read the whole thing, but the central point is that there is a big difference between a population that is 69% white male and one that is 69% white - the latter figure being smaller than the proportion in the population as a whole.
WAR: That 80s Show?
Apparently Bananarama is staging a coup in Fiji.
POLITICS: A Child, or a Choice?
December 4, 2006
FOOTBALL: A Cry For Help
BASEBALL: Plain Foulke
The Indians are looking at Keith Foulke to shore up a bullpen that just killed them in 2006. Foulke may well be a good gamble for a team that has made extensive use of re-built relief pitchers like Bob Wickman and Bobby Howry in recent years, but he has to be regarded as a reclamation project unless and until he proves that he's healthy again.
BASEBALL: Not A Humble Carpenter
Chris Carpenter signs for five years at $13 million a year. Presumably Carpenter's long injury history (including missing the 2004 postseason) will prevent this deal from being a ceiling on Barry Zito, who is a lesser but more durable pitcher (although I would prefer not to shell out more than $65 million for Zito, given that he's really not a legitimate #1 starter, as Carpenter is).
BASEBALL: The Bullpen Option
I know I'm a bit of a broken record on moving starters to the bullpen and vice versa, but I would feel a lot better about the Mets keeping Orlando Hernandez around if I thought there was at least a reasonable possibility that he could be shifted to the pen if needed (I gather he was not happy pitching relief with the White Sox). Hernandez is ideally suited to middle relief work, as he eats up righthanders and his unorthodox motion will be quite off-putting to a hitter who has taken a few at bats already against someone else. I looked at his career record and if you count the postseason, Hernandez has made 10 career relief appearances (mainly with the White Sox, and half of them in October). The results? 0.76 ERA in 23.2 IP, 24/8 K/BB ratio, and just 11 hits allowed (2 of them solo homers). I'm not saying it has to be done ASAP, but with the departure of Bradford, Hernandez signed to a two-year deal and a bunch of young arms on the way, that has to be an option the Mets should consider down the road.
POP CULTURE: Like A Virgin
Gwyneth Paltrow says she relies on Madonna for "advice about how to say no". The punchline pretty much writes itself, doesn't it?
BASEBALL: Glavine and More
Well, the Mets' pitching staff is coming into focus. Glavine will be back next year, but Roberto Hernandez won't, nor Chad Bradford. I also didn't get the chance at the time to comment on the deal that sent Royce Ring and Heath Bell to the Padres for reliever Jon Adkins and outfielder Ben Johnson. I don't like that deal - I realize that Bell and Ring had lost the confidence of the organization, but I just don't see what in Adkins' record suggests a useful pitcher, and Johnson seems like a guy whose upside is that he might be Xavier Nady someday.
Looks like the Mets' pen will depend a lot on (a) the return from injury of Duaner Sanchez and Juan Padilla and (b) who doesn't make the rotation.
I can't believe that the Mets are paying more to keep El Duque than to keep Glavine. If you look at the pitcher salaries this offseason, Glavine is a pretty good deal even before you consider the fact that it's just a one-year commitment. Here's how this year's pitching free agents stack up (in millions per year):
Mike Mussina 11.5
BLOG: Quick Links 12/4/06
*This essay on the Democrats' coming move to strip funding from missile defense programs is one of the best I have read on the subject of SDI. This is an especially good point about the Democrats' insistence that the program be shown to be 100% effective before money is spent improving or deploying it (a rather different tack than they take when dealing with, say, medical research or alternative energy sources - or global warming, for that matter, even though unlike the battle against combustible fuels money spent on missile defense is a single, transparent cost and imposes no burdens on individual liberty):
[L]ike software, most successful weapons systems are best debugged after being deployed. And some weapons systems were never tested at all before deployment.
Yes, missile defense is expensive and unlikely to ever be 100% foolproof, and yes, we have other means of deterrence. But especially if we are unwilling or unable to act militarily to stop nations like Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the reduction in the potential threat to the U.S. and its key allies is enormous, and well worth the money. But then, it's never really been about the money but about guys like Carl Levin having an ideological fixation on stopping missile defense no matter the underlying facts. The Democrats' move will also break faith with and alienate one of our key allies, Japan. As usual, when they get on one of their left-leaning foreign policy jags, the Democrats treat the actual commitments of our allies as a worthless trifle.
*This December 2005 Iraq analysis from Steven den Beste looks prescient now. I'm still deeply alarmed by the mounting indications that Maliki is taking orders from Sadr and Sadr is taking orders from Iran. We are now locked in a battle for regional supremacy to see if the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Taliban-Al Qaeda axis can strangle democracy in its crib in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon - a battle that looks more and more everyday like the battles we fought in Central America in the 80s and Southeast Asia in the 70s against Communism.
*Patterico catches the LA Times consistently telling only part of the story of a discrimination lawsuit against the LAFD. This is one of those stories I had seen and thought there was something missing from it - Patterico fills in the blanks, which make the whole episode sound more like a sophmoric prank than racism.
What galls me is this, from an LAT editorial:
Scathing audits have outlined the LAFD's erratic disciplinary policies, poor leadership and hostile work environment, yet those reports have failed to dislodge the frat-boy culture. Maybe a public airing of its dirty laundry will.
Now, fixing a bad disciplinary system is fine, and stamping out racism is a noble cause. But a "frat-boy culture" is the concern of the law, why? These are firemen. They run into buildings that are on fire for a living, buildings that have a nasty habit of collapsing on or under them or otherwise acting in a highly dangerous and unstable fashion. Fire departments, like military organizations and police departments, are sustained in their dangerous mission by their unique institutional cultures. People who haven't walked a mile in their boots should be very hesitant to tamper with that culture.
*Speaking of employment law, the Democrats are also poised to add homosexuals to the list of protected classes who can raise the shield of federal litigation to prevent them from being fired or passed over for promotions. Via Bashman. Now, in theory, private businesses (as opposed to, say, religious organizations) should not be able to fire people because they are gay. But anyone with even passing familiarity with the three-ring circus of employment law can tell you that these statutes do not exist in theory - they are, instead, a practical weapon reached for by the kinds of people who get fired from jobs, and usually deservedly so, or to force companies to go through all sorts of contortions in figuring out the proper demographic composition of layoffs rather than just running the best business case.
What is more, what is often an issue is whether a person is perceived as being a member of a protected class, or what the employer knew about their membership in that class. Now, it's usually not hard to figure out who is black, or a woman, or in a wheelchair, but after that things get complicated, and with sexual orientation we enter unchated ground. Do we really want to create a whole cat-and-mouse industry over employers' knowledge of their employees' sex lives? A federal gaydar jurisprudence? ("The court finds that the company's awareness that the plaintiff enjoyed men's figure skating. Summary judgment denied.") If there's one thing the Democrats are experts at enacting, it's the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Or maybe, for their backers in the plaintiffs' bar, not so unintended.
*Good RCP Blog look at Barack H. Obama. I'm split on whether, as a matter of practical politics, this really is Obama's moment to run at the top of the ticket. On the one hand, his liberal record will only grow the longer he is in the Senate, especially now with a Democratic majority, blunting the appeal of his rhetorical moderation. The usual rule is that you run when people want you to run - that's the moment. On the other hand, it seems awfully presumptuous to run after one unfinished term in the Senate, when he has manifestly not accomplished anything. My guess is that moreso than John Edwards in 2004, Obama would be well served by running for VP even if on a losing ticket.
*Speaking of finding the right moment, the GOP field seems to be attracting people whose moments would appear to have passed - like Tommy Thompson and Frank Keating, two star GOP governors from the 1990s.
*Matt Welch takes a harsh look at John McCain from his perspective as a left-leaning libertarian. I loved the subtitle.
*Via Instapundit, Eugene Volokh notes a decision from the Washington Supreme Court recognizing an individual right to bear arms. This only sharpens the conflict I noted three years ago with a Ninth Circuit decision holding that California could impose tort liability on legal sales of firearms within Washington State.
*TV sictom/romantic comedy comes to the factory floor. I will be more than a little surprised if Hollywood gets this one right and is entertaining in the process.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:34 AM | Blog 2006-14 | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2006 | Politics 2008 | War 2006 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
December 2, 2006
BASEBALL: Trivia Time Again
Here's a good brain-buster - name the ten players since World War II to score 140 or more runs in a season (it's been done 12 times in that period, two guys doing it twice). I guarantee you can keep this one going for a good while in a group of reasonably knowledgeable fans - a ten-man list is the right length for this kind of question and none of these guys is truly obscure, although you may need to think about the ballparks they played in to get two of them.
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Jeff Bagwell (152 in 2000, 143 in 1999)
« Close It
December 1, 2006
POLITICS: Defending the 17th
It's a hardy perennial in the more philosophically-oriented conservative circles, despite its manifest political infeasibility: the argument that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed or should never have been passed. While this argument does have its virtues, I disagree. Regardless of whether it was a good idea at the time, repealing the 17th Amendment today would only weaken the mechanisms that are essential to conservative policies and conservative philosophy. Specifically, restoring to state legislatures the power over the election of Senators would make the Senate less directly accountable to the people and insulate the federal courts even further from public accountability, would increase rather than decrease state spending of federally-raised revenues, and would increase the importance and influence of gerrymandering over public policy and electoral politics.
The Role of the 17th Amendment
Just to review, the Framers of the Constitution provided that the House of Representatives would be elected directly by the people; the Senate would be elected by the state legislatures; and the President and Vice President would be the top two vote-getters in the electoral college, which would be elected by the people of each state. It was a carefully drawn compromise designed to balance parts of the government responsive to the people with those insulated from popular pressures, and to balance the interests of the nation as a whole, the interests of states, and the interests of local districts. Senators, with extended six-year terms, were given unique responsibilities not given to the House, such as the ratification of treaties, the confirmation of federal judges and executive officers, and the trial and removal of officers (including the President) impeached by the House. The sole power given to the House over the Senate is the power to originate "[a]ll Bills for raising Revenue," although the Senate is permitted to offer amendments to such bills, a power that in practice renders the House's privilege largely meaningless. Const. Art. I Sec. 7 cl. 1.
The Framers were wise and worldly men, but even they weren't perfect, which is why they made the Constitution subject to later amendments. The part of the system dealing with presidential elections broke down almost immediately and had to be scrapped to abolish the practice of saddling the President with a hostile Vice President, and the electoral college soon thereafter became a formality, with voters and candidates alike assuming that the electors (who today aren't even named on the ballot) were automatic proxies for the candidates they pledged to support. The House has remained unchanged since 1789, but its responsiveness to the people was limited almost from the outset by the venerable practice of gerrymandering, so named after a man who signed the Declaration of Independence and was a delegate to the Constitutional convention.
The current system of direct election of Senators was instituted by the 17th Amendment, one of a pair of "progressive" amendments ratified in the spring of 1913 as Woodrow Wilson entered the White House; the other was the 16th Amendment, which overturned Supreme Court decisions to give the federal government, for the first time, explicit authority for an income tax. Before 1913, federal sources of revenue were spotty and dependent on tariffs. At the time, proponents of the 17th Amendment argued that it would reallocate power from vested financial interests to the people - a project expressly intended to facilitate liberal economic programs of expanded federal regulation.
Federal power, federal spending and federal regulation, of course, have grown exponentially in an almost unbroken march since 1913, and opponents of the 17th Amendment often argue that making Senators once again answerable to the States would thus shift power back from the federal government to the states. In my view, that bell cannot be un-rung, at least in this way, and the desire to make Senators into creatures of the state legislatures fundamentally misunderstands the way politicians behave. More specifically, critics of the 17th Amendment fail to understand that the goals of repeal would fail utterly so long as its companion, the 16th Amendment, remains on the books.
The first and most significant reason to prefer direct rather than indirect election of Senators is that direct election means direct accountabillity to the voters. It's true, of course, that the voters have a checkered record of holding federal officeholders accountable on issues of spending, regulation and arrogation of federal power. But time and time again we have seen that the directly elected branches of government, and only the directly elected branches of government, will stand up for conservative principles on taxes, national security, and especially social issues. Why? In part because of the "elite consensus" phenomenon, where people who answer only to other politicians end up listening only to other politicians and the things they believe in, rather than being compelled to tailor their ears as well as their messages to the population as a whole.
If you want examples, look no further than the world's most prominent examples of indirect government - the European Union and the United Nations. Both consist of representatives appointed by governments rather than elected by the people. And both are easily captured by faddish political correctness and infamously disinterested in limited government. If you like the EU and the UN, if you adore federal regulatory agencies and the federal judiciary, you will love an indirectly elected Senate.
Or look at parliamentary systems, including our own systems for electing legislative leaders. Throughout Europe, parliamentary systems are famously unresponsive to "populist" concerns they deem to be beneath their notice, like crime and immigration. Here at home, both parties often end up with congressional leadership that is out of step with the majority of the party's voters - how many rank-and-file Democrats would vote for Nancy Pelosi, if given a chance? Did you vote for Trent Lott? No, but your Senator may have.
Or consider the issue of judicial nominations. Your red-state Senate Democrat will run for re-election, it is true, on a menu of issues - but he or she can be pounded for obstructing good judges or supporting bad ones. It's the Senator's own vote. This was a key issue in a number of Senate races in 2002 and 2004. But it's much harder to hold a local state legislator responsible for those votes in far-off Washington, cast by someone else. The state legislator will have his or her own record to run on as well, and probably much deeper local community ties that help him or her to get re-elected regardless of votes on Senators who vote on judges who vote on social issues - or, specifically, judges who vote to take social issues out of the hands of state legislators who may not want to have to vote on them anyway.
Experience has shown that better government, and more in line with conservative principles, comes about when government officials can be held directly accountable for the things they support and oppose, while liberal priorities are best promoted when lines of accountability are blurred and power removed from those who can be fired by the electorate. Let us not cast away that lesson in a vain pursuit of 1912.
The accountability issue takes on a particularly problematic cast when you consider spending. One of the developments that disturbs me most about federal spending, whether it's done through pork-barrel earmarks, block grants, or entitlement programs, is the tendency to use the vast revenue-raising powers of the federal government to raise money, and then kick it back to states and localities to spend. More local control of how funds are spent may be the lesser of evils here, but either way, state and local officials are getting the retail political benefits of handing out goodies, without being held responsible for having extracted the money from taxpayers for things they might not have agreed to pay for if given the choice. Because the money comes from the vast federal till, people are less apt to think of it as coming out of their own, local community. (I discussed some detailed examples from my own congressional district here).
The dynamic is bad enough as it is under the current system. If you think we could solve this accountability shell game by creating a class of Senators whose only constituency is state legislators . . . well, it just wouldn't work. State legislators would love nothing more than to solve all their budgetary problems by taking handouts raised by the federal treasury (I discussed a classic example of this plea in the 2003 Democratic response to the State of the Union - or just listen to Hillary Clinton some time and count the number of references to federal money being sent to state and local governments). Put another way: an indirectly elected Senate would be AFSCME's dream.
Consider: the Senate is the only legislative body among the two Houses of Congress and the various state legislatures where the elected officials don't get to choose their voters. At present, state legislatures (or, in a few states, nonpartisan commissions) get to draw the district lines for the state legislature and for the House. And those lines not only lead to a lot of partisan mischief but also to efforts to place incumbent-entrenchment above even the interests of the parties.
Today, the Senate alone is free of that concentration of power, providing a genuine democratic check on the power of the gerrymander. Having Senators elected by the state legislature would remove that check.
I haven't discussed here all the possible objections, but these three stand out. Conservatives should stand for accountable government because our principles are best enforced directly by the people. Whatever the original intention of the 17th Amendment, it has become an ally in that battle, and should not be disregarded.