"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
November 25, 2008
POLITICS: New York Senate Shuffle
So, assuming Hillary Clinton is, in fact, leaving the Senate to become Secretary of State (and assuming, see here, here and here, that she can Constitutionally take the job), that sets off the next round of political merry-go-round for New York: who will be appointed by Governor David Paterson to replace her?
Recall the setting. Hillary was re-elected in 2006, defeating Yonkers Mayor John Spencer; her term would be up in 2012, but Gov. Paterson gets to nominate a replacement, who would then face the voters in a special election in 2010. Gov. Paterson was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2006 and took over as Governor earlier this year after Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace. Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer is up for re-election in 2010, meaning that all three major statewide offices will be on the ballot in 2010, two of the three filled with incumbents who would be facing the voters for the first time, an unusually fluid situation.
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First of all, one thing that seems certain is that this alignment will result in Chuck Schumer running unopposed for re-election. Paterson and the new Senator, as well as the newly elected State Senators who have given the Democrats a majority in the State Senate, will all be juicy but expensive targets to take on in a state that tilts heavily Democratic; the NY GOP can only spare so many resources, and even in a good year for Republicans (as 2010 is likely to be), and Schumer is nearly bulletproof unless he goes the way of Spitzer.
Second, I don't think Bill Clinton will be interested in the job. Hillary, frankly, is apparently jumping at being Secretary of State to escape the dull anonymity of the Senate (bear in mind that Democratic Senators lacking seniority and committee chairmanships will now be expected to fall quietly in line with the Obama agenda no less than his Cabinet members) for the world stage and never have to campaign in Rochester and Buffalo again. I don't see Bill wanting to become a freshman legislator.
Third, while David Paterson is a protege of Charlie Rangel, Rangel's powerful position as Ways and Means Chairman means he won't be much interested in a "promotion" to the Senate. Likewise, Louise Slaughter would have been the logical choice among upstate Congresspersons, but Slaughter is 79 and chair of the House Rules Committee; like Rangel, she's too powerful and too old to leave her House slot and start over.
So who does that leave? There would appear to be five logical contenders.
(1) Andrew Cuomo is the logical favorite, for reasons of naked self-interest (Paterson fears, justifiably, that the State Attorney General and former HUD Secretary may challenge him for the nomination for his dad's old job). Cuomo has no particular regional base in the state - his father was from Queens, but Andrew has spent years in Albany and Washington - but has statewide name recognition and has won statewide election. Brian Faughnan suggests that the camera-hungry Schumer may be opposed to Paterson picking the high-profile Cuomo. Of course, Cuomo's tenure at HUD will sooner or later lead to tough questions about his role at the creation of the housing crisis. A Cuomo appointment would also set off a second round of musical chairs, as the AG job is a powerful one with many open investigations.
(2) Kirsten Gillibrand - I agree with ironman at Next Right that Gillibrand is a strong contender. Paterson is a black urban liberal from Harlem (if that's not redundant); to win statewide, he needs to draw support from upstate and reach out to white and/or Latino voters. Tabbing Gillibrand has the hallmarks of the classic ticket-balancer: she's relatively young (42), telegenic, Catholic, a mother of two young children and represents a traditionally Republican district she won in 2006 from the excessively hard-partying John Sweeney. Gillibrand might want to get out of Dodge - her district is sooner or later going to give her a tough re-election battle (in 2008, Gillibrand and her self-funding opponent combined to raise more money than the combatants in any other Congressional district in the country), and as Clyde Haberman notes, New York is likely to lose Congressional seats by 2012, so Democrats in marginal upstate districts will be scrambling to hold on.
The downside? Egos (of which New York politics has a perennial surplus) would be bruised if Gillibrand leapfrogs over more veteran lawmakers, including her old boss Cuomo (who she worked for at HUD). Democrats could well lose her House seat. And liberals may not be happy with picking a member of the Blue Dog caucus who has a 100% rating from the NRA, opposed Eliot Spitzer's plan to give drivers' licenses to illegal aliens, is a sponsor of the SAVE Act and of employer verification of legal status of workers and, supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. (I'd expect her to drift leftward in the Senate, but if you're a Democrat looking to install someone in a safe seat, you might want someone more reliable).
(3) Nydia Velazquez - Another NY City arch-liberal (she voted to investigate President Bush for impeachment proceedings over the Iraq War), Congresswoman Velazquez - the chair of the Hispanic Caucus and the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress - would cement Paterson's ties with Latino voters. There's speculation that she may prefer running the Hispanic Caucus, which makes little enough sense to me, and I'm not sure how well she would play in a statewide election. Wikipedia notes that "During her  campaign for the House seat, her medical records, including documented clinical depression and an attempted suicide [in 1991], were leaked to the press. She quickly held a press conference and said that she had been undergoing counseling for years and was emotionally and psychologically healthy." (This 1992 NYT report discusses the suicide attempt.)
(4) Byron Brown, the Mayor of Buffalo and a former State Senator. Brown is African-American, a mixed blessing for Paterson if he's looking to expand his appeal across racial/ethnic lines, but he's also the mayor of a key upstate city. Brown's record as an executive means he's less immediately identifiable along hot-button voting lines.
(5) Brian Higgins, a Congressman also from Buffalo, first elected in 2004. Higgins claims to be a New Democrat but is a much more conventional liberal than Gillibrand.
As for the GOP side, it remains to be seen. Mayor Bloomberg, now an Independent, has twisted many arms in the City Council to remove term limits so he can run for a third term in 2009; I assume that means he's staying put in 2010. Rudy Giuliani probably couldn't win a statewide election for the Senate at this point, but would be a very strong candidate for Governor if he was more motivated than during his disappointing presidential campaign; if the voters are unhappy with Albany, well, lots of politicians run on "change" but no living political figure has a record of bringing about as dramatic change as Giuliani did as Mayor of New York. Combative, maverick Long Island Congressman Peter King has talked about running for the Governorship as well, but King would probably be the GOP's strongest candidate for the Senate seat, depending who Paterson picks.
It's going to be an interesting two years here in the Empire State.
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November 24, 2008
BLOG: Banning Chemical Weapons in School
Now this is serious.
POLITICS: Bizarro World
Meanwhile, expect some interesting questions for Eric Holder.
WAR: Troubles For Hugo
Hugo Chavez: not that popular. Of course, Venezuela's entire economy rests on the price of oil, and like other oil producers, he's going to be a lot shorter of money in the near future. Chavez, of course, has used the combination of oil money with brutality and chicanery towards the opposition and electoral processes to stay atop Venezuela. With the money that supplies the carrot less plentiful, expect more of the stick.
LAW/WAR: Searching For Terror
Attorney General Mukasey's fainting spell at his Federalist Society speech (and his heckling by a member of Washington's state Supreme Court) have obscured an excellent speech on the Bush Administration's approach to terrorism and the rule of law. It's worth pondering in light of recent judicial developments, including from the Second Circuit (the federal appeals court sitting in Manhattan with jurisdiction over New York, Connecticut and Vermont) this morning.
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Judge Mukasey, as you'll recall, may not be the favorite of many conservatives on social issues, but arrived as Attorney General with pretty much a universally respected reputation in the New York City legal community for his many years as a trial judge and Chief Judge of the nation's busiest federal court. His speech took to task the vagueness and hyperbole of so many Administration critics, and the danger of criminalizing decisions made to protect the citizenry from terrorists in reliance on the legal advice of the Justice Department and the White House Counsel's office. A few samples:
As the end of this Administration draws near, you would expect to hear broad praise for this success at keeping our Nation safe. Instead, I am afraid what we hear is a chorus with a rather more dissonant refrain. Instead of appreciation, or even a fair appraisal, of the Administration's accomplishments, we have heard relentless criticism of the very policies that have helped keep us safe. We have seen this in the media, we have seen this in the Congress, and we have heard it from the legal academy as well.
Now it is hardly surprising that the questions of how we confront the terrorism threat should generate vigorous debate. These questions are among the most complex and consequential that a democratic government can face. There is, understandably, passionate debate about where the legal lines are drawn in this new and very difficult conflict and, as a matter of policy, how close to those legal lines we should go.
[I]n June of this year, 56 Members of Congress sent me a letter requesting that I appoint a special counsel to conduct a criminal investigation of the actions of the President, members of his cabinet, and other national security lawyers and intelligence professionals into the CIA's interrogation of captured members of Al Qaeda.
After going seven years without another terrorist attack, our intelligence professionals and national security lawyers now hear quite a different message. When 56 Members of Congress request a criminal investigation of the professionals and lawyers, they should have no doubt that those lawyers, and certainly their successors, will get the message: if they support an aggressive counterterrorism policy based on their good faith belief that such a policy is lawful, they may one day be prosecuted for it.
Read the whole thing.
Moving from the general to the specific, Orin Kerr looks at one of today's trio of Second Circuit opinions affirming convictions in September 11-related prosecutions (opinions here, here and here), noting the application of a different Fourth Amendment rule in cases with evidence developed overseas by anti-terror investigators:
In an opinion by Judge Cabranes, the court held that the warrant requirement does not apply to searches abroad conducted by U.S. officials: searches abroad are governed by a reasonableness standard instead of the warrant requirement.+++
Here the U.S. was acting alone, with intelligence agencies investigating in Kenya without the assistance of Kenyan authorities. Until today, there were no federal appellate decisions on this set of facts, and the only lower court decision (that I know of) was the district court decision below. The Second Circuit applied a different sort of reasonableness rule: It applied a totality of the circumstances test that generally balances the individual's privacy interest with the government's interest in collecting the information. Notably, in this case the test factored in the government's national security interests in investigating terrorism -- an interest that the court indicated was paramount and that the court was "loathe" to discount.
I suspect the court may in part be reading the election returns and realizing that the Obama Administration is likely going to be using the courts more against terrorists. There is, of course, a potential unintended consequence to courts working harder to uphold domestic prosecutions of terrorism: if terrorists are prosecuted by the same rules as ordinary criminals, and we need to bend the rules to make sure we can prosecute terrorists, they will stay bent for everyone. Coming up with a totality-of-the-circumstances test is something of a tried and true method for fact-driven jurisprudence that is designed to avoid explicitly using a different set of rules, although of course there remain compelling arguments that the reasonableness requirement should always be the standard under the Fourth Amendment (and, indeed, there is a legal-realist case that the many current exceptions to the warrant requirement proves that, de facto, it already is).
Gabriel Malor notes that restrictions imposed by the current rules of evidence, and the fear of exposing classified intelligence-gathering methods, are a big reason why terror detainees can't be convicted in judicial proceedings even when intelligence sources have good reason to detain them, quoting this from a recent decision by Judge Leon in the DC District:
To support it's [sic] claim that petitioners had a plan to travel to Afghanistan to engage U.S. and allied forces, the Government relies exclusively on the information contained in a classified document from an unnamed source. This source is the only evidence in the record directly supporting each detainee's alleged knowledge of, or commitment to, this supposed plan. And while the Government has provided some information about the source's credibility and reliability, it has not provided the Court with enough information to adequately evaluate the credibility and reliability of this source's information. See Parhat v. Gates, 532 F.3d 834, 847 (D.C. Cir 2008) ("[T]he factfinder must evaluate the raw evidence, finding it to be sufficiently reliable and sufficiently probative to demonstrate the truth of the asserted proposition with the requisite degree of certainty."). For example, the Court has no knowledge as to the circumstances under which the source obtained the information as to each petitioner's alleged knowledge and intentions.
From the outset of the War on Terror, while the Bush Administration has tried to find ways forward within existing legal frameworks, what we have needed most of all is to provide new a distinct rules for detention, interrogation and surveillance of terrorists that recognize that they are neither common criminals nor members of state militaries. (As David Rivkin and Lee Casey note, piracy presents a similar set of problems despite its ancient pedigree). It's unfortunate that, aside from the passage of a modernized FISA and Congress' passage of new rules for military commissions (which have since been wholly gutted by the Supreme Court), we have not had a new legal framework. The courts are going to have to be stuck with these problems for the foreseeable future.
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POLITICS: The Old Deal
WAR: The Wages of War
POLITICS: This Week In Weed
Apparently, marijuana-selling cafes near schools are too much even for the Dutch, and indeed there is broader concern that the cafes are, predictably, bad news:
The Dutch coffee shop policy has come under fresh criticism after the Dutch cities of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, located near the Belgian border, said they will close all their shops within two years to combat drug tourism and crime.
Is this the last hurrah for the land of the Hemp Festival? Perhaps not, as apparently the inevitable result of the continuation of the legal-pot policy is on the way: the government becoming the nation's monopoly dope dealer:
HOLLAND is pioneering cannabis plantations to supply the drug to coffee shops in a bid to cut out criminal gangs.
Marijuana policy is a slippery thing to get hold of; there's a libertarian case to be made for letting people waste their lives getting high on a drug whose ill effects are more similar to those of booze and cigarettes than to those of crack or meth or heroin, and of course there's the fact that enforcement against such a widely-used and easily-grown substance tends by nature to be arbitrary, invasive, cost-ineffective and shot through with hypocrisy. But legalization, as the Dutch have had time to experience, nonetheless presents its own perils. Personally, I tend to think the issue ought to be left to the most local governments possible, and the Dutch experiment reminds us that a local-control regime can lead even the most libertine communities gradually to wake up and smell the potheads.
November 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Billingsley Broken
Chad Billingsley has a fractured fibula from a fall on ice. Hopefully, the prognosis of being ready to go by the spring is on target. The Dodgers have a bunch of talented young pitchers, but as the one who has proven the most so far, Billingsley's probably the single player - even beyond Russell Martin - most important to the franchise's future, as a 23-year-old coming off his first 200 IP/200 K season.
POLITICS: Church and School
Sally Quinn of the Washington Post has a recommendation for the Obamas to choose the National Cathedral as their place of worship that is practically a parody of liberal attitudes towards religion:
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Washington National Cathedral also transcends politics and even the separation of religions. Though nominally an Episcopal church, it welcomes everyone. It is at once deeply Christian and deeply interfaith. The Episcopal Church has a long history of inclusiveness. The first black bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, John Walker, presided there. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church, was inducted there. And Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire was the first openly gay bishop in Christendom. "We are a place that welcomes people of all faiths and no faith," says Lloyd, echoing Barack Obama's words of two years ago. "Whatever we once were," Obama said then, "we're no longer just a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation and a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers."
The cathedral sponsors programs on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais and people of other faiths. Former president Mohammad Khatami of Iran attended a Christian-Muslim-Judaic conference there in 2006. Twice a year, there is an Abrahamic roundtable with Bishop John Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig and professor Akbar Ahmed of American University's School of International Service. Last spring, a "Lighting to Unite" event concluded the centennial. The theme: "One Spirit among many nations." With a background of sound and lights, the festival drew believers and nonbelievers from all over the country. "We wanted them to experience their humanity," says Lloyd, "to have the sense that they shared a common life with each other."
Now, peaceful civil relations between people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. Governmental recognition that we are a nation of people of all faiths, or no faiths, is a good thing. But this is pretty much the worst possible way to choose a church, the purpose of which is precisely the promotion of a single faith in the belief that it is the true path to God. You don't feed the body by browsing the supermarket; you pick food and eat it. You don't house the body by roaming the neighborhood; you pick a home to sleep in at night. Quinn's recommendation that the Obamas settle for spiritual homelessness is bad for their souls and, ultimately, bad for the nation if we are to be led by a lost soul. And it's even bad politics; a city as overwhelmingly African-American as Washington would be deeply offended if the nation's first black president chose, for reasons other than denominational compulsion, to turn up his nose at the District's many black churches. Quinn is, whether she realizes it or not, patronizing Obama by assuming that he has no particular faith, an attitude common to liberal opinions about Obama's faith. (It's likewise similar to the media's bafflement, in dealing with Sarah Palin, at the idea that she would pray for divine guidance in considering whether to run for president in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Obamas have already made a significant life-in-Washington decision by choosing to send their daughters to Sidwell Friends, one of the capital's most exclusive private schools, rather than sending them to one of the city's crummy (and largely black) public schools. I won't criticize this decision; it's undoubtedly the best educational option for the girls, and the Obamas' entry into politics doesn't forfeit their children's right to the best education their parents can afford to give them. But it would be nice if President Obama uses his influence to give the parents of other DC children more choices in getting their children into better schools. As I've said before, being a hypocrite may be bad, but making bad public policy is worse. If a little fear of the hypocrisy charge gives Obama pause in thinking about whether other DC families should have more educational choices, then his decision about where to educate his daughters will pay benefits for more than just the new First Family.
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November 21, 2008
WAR: Anti-U.S. Protest In Iraq
Peaceful protest. Which says it all, really, about how Iraq has changed since the days of Saddam; the fact that this is Sadr's people doing what people in democracies do also tells us how far we've come in the last 2-3 years.
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"You have reached the position of president, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you. A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted," the message [from Zawahiri] said.+++
On the subject of Iraq, the message said that while "evidence of America's defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun."
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POLITICS: Media Shocked To Discover How Farming Works
In a perfect emblem of (1) how insular the media really is and (2) the national spotlight that will continue to focus on the Governor of Alaska wherever she goes, Sarah Palin did one of those typical silly ceremonies politicians across the country get asked to take part in, and went and pardoned a turkey in advance of Thanksgiving. But while the President has a turkey brought to him, Gov. Palin went to the turkey, handing down the pardon from a barnyard in Wasilla, then giving a news conference to reporters.
Why did this end up in the national news, including a sneering report on MSNBC? Well, the turkey farm went on with its usual business this time of year of slaughtering turkeys for Thanksgiving tables, and cameras caught a farm employee doing just that in the background while Gov. Palin talked to reporters:
The NY Daily News pronounced this a "shocking video" (you can catch the longer video of the whole pardon ceremony from the NY Post, although the Post's video - via the Anchorage Daily News - has to keep panning away from Gov. Palin to follow the guy slaughtering turkeys).
Folks, this is how farming works: you raise animals, then you kill them and eat them. Here in New York City, we don't get much exposure to the business end of that process, but people across the country who have farmed or hunted know that it's part of life, and has been as long as human beings have been eating animals. It's not a bad thing to have some people in public life who aren't shocked by where our food comes from.
November 20, 2008
POLITICS: Freezer Burn
Quin Hillyer tells the inspirational story of Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant who rose up from his youth in re-education camps after the fall of Saigon and lived to survive the decimation of his community in Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of his house in Hurricane Gustav, and is now the Republican challenger to William Jefferson. Cao has an uphill battle; we'll see if the voters in that District are willing to give honest government a chance or if they'll stick with the old loyalty to Jefferson.
BASEBALL: Start Me Or Trade Me
Aaron Heilman wants to start in Queens or start somewhere else. Heilman's failure last season at least takes away the "he's too valuable in the pen" card - I personally think that (1) he needs a change of scenery so badly the Mets probably have to sell low and get rid of him and (2) the logical destination is St. Louis. Heilman's 30 years old, reasonably healthy, has a history of some success but has lacked consistency and has lately been failing - that is, to a T, the profile of the kind of pitcher LaRussa and Duncan have made their careers with, from Dave Stewart to Eckersley to Chris Carpenter to Lamarr Hoyt to Isringhausen to Storm Davis to Looper to Lohse to Todd Stottlemyre, etc.
BASEBALL: Utley Uh-Oh
Needs hip surgery, could be out as long as until June. Given his tail-off this season, that could be very worrisome. Much as I loathe the Phillies, Utley is one of the game's real stars, and this has all the hallmarks of a "he was never the same again" injury. I hope I'm overreacting.
BASEBALL: Moose It Or Lose It
While he was still issuing non-denial denials last night, it certainly looks all but official that Mike Mussina is retiring. It's a shame for the game, and a decision Mussina may regret later on. Mussina can afford to retire, of course - according to Baseball-Reference.com, he's made $144 million in his career - but even if he hung on 2 or 3 more years, he'd still be 42 or 43 years old and never have to work again, with maybe 40+ years of retirement ahead of him. But you only get a limited number of years to play Major League caliber baseball.
Sure, Mussina's very unlikely to have another year like 2008. After a a 4.59 ERA in 2004, a 4.41 ERA in 2005, a 5.15 ERA in 2007 and a 5.75 ERA in his first four starts in 2008, Mussina, who turns 40 in December, can be forgiven for thinking that the pendulum will swing back down sooner rather than later, and deciding to go out on top. But still: the man has won 270 games and is coming off a 20-win season when he struck out 150 batters and walked 31. Mussina almost certainly deserves to go to Cooperstown, as discussed below, but from here on in, even another 5 or 10 or 15 wins is going to make his case that much easier, and it's hardly improbable for him to get to 300 wins; given the exclusivity of that club, it's hard to imagine a competitive professional athlete never looking back and wondering if he could have done that. Plus, of course, Mussina's on the Yankees; if he drops back to a 5.00 ERA next year, he'll still win games. And who wants to retire having pitched 8 seasons with the Yankees and never won a championship?
Mussina's logic in retiring now is that he really felt like that if he was going to continue playing, it was going to be because he would pursue 300 victories -- and with 270 wins, he felt that realistically, he probably would have to pitch three seasons to get those last 30 victories. And he did not want to pitch three more seasons, not at a time when his youngest children are beginning to play youth sports and he can coach them.
Well, OK...I get that if his family's in Pennsylvania he doesn't get the same kind of time at home as if they were in New York, and he'd still be 3-4 hours from home even if he signed with the Phillies. But this is a guy who is off for three full months of the offseason, the kids can come to NY for the summer...it's still not a bad life.
Anyway, assuming Mussina calls it quits, will he make the Hall? I'd assume he will - especially now that the "he never won 20" knock is gone, and probably the writers, ever suckers for a human interest angle, will give him a break on falling short of 300 because he could have if he'd wanted to.
And he should. Let's look at the career records of pitchers since 1893 with between 250 and 300 wins, ranked by ERA+ (park-adjusted league ERA divided by career ERA; 100 is a league-average pitcher, higher is better; G+ is games over .500). I've left off here 5 such pitchers who pitched mostly or entirely before the mound moved back in 1893 (Al Spalding, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Jim McCormick), of whom only Spalding's in the Hall, since there's no point comparing Mussina to the standards by which those guys are judged:
Now, there are two guys on this list who still don't belong here - Randy Johnson will most likely cross the 300-win barrier next season if he's healthy for even about a third of the season, and Bob Feller would probably have won 300 and had better career averages if he hadn't missed more than 3 years of his prime to World War II. And of course, career totals aren't the be-all and end-all (Roberts, in particular, is in the Hall for his dominant prime, not his career totals). That said, two things should jump out at you here: a lot more of these guys are in the Hall than out, and Mussina looks a lot more like the guys who are in with no questions asked than like the guys who are out (243-game winner Juan Marichal comes up as the most similar player to Mussina). He may be superficially similar to Jack Morris, but he's really much more similar to Jim Palmer - all three had good offenses behind them (Mussina probably had less defensive support than Morris, and definitely less than Palmer), but Mussina's record is pretty consistent with his ERAs. The worst you can say is that Mussina, in line with modern practice, has thrown a lot fewer innings, but recall as well that he's thrown an extra 139.2 innings of postseason work. And he's been fantastically consistent - 17 straight seasons winning in double figures with only one losing season, 9 straight 200-IP seasons, 12 straight with ERA+ better than 100. In today's American League in particular, that's more than enough for me.
POLITICS: Keep Counting Until You Win
If you want an illustration of why Republicans are so mistrustful of Democratic efforts to recount and recount and keep counting until they can overturn the Election Day results (and then immediately stop counting) - as Al Gore tried unsuccessfully to do, and as Christine Gregoire succeeded in doing in the Washington Governor's race four years ago, look no further than Minnesota and Al Franken's effort to pick off the 59th Democratic Senate seat by invalidating Norm Coleman's Election Day victory.
I haven't covered all the twists and turns of this lawyer-intensive effort, but a few to give you the flavor. Franken has been pressing to have all "undervotes" by Obama voters counted as votes for Franken on the theory that they are Democrats who undoubtedly meant to vote for Franken. The Orwellian name "undervote" aside, these are ballots where there's no vote marked for the race Franken was running in. It was silly to suggest, in 2000, that it was impossible for voters who voted Democrat in other races to have decided they really didn't want to vote either for Bush or for Gore - certainly plenty of voters found both candidates unsatisfactory, and if some of them accidentally forgot to vote, it was possible they meant to vote for Nader (or Buchanan - hey, if people could vote for both Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008, they can surely vote for any number of odd combinations). But it's positively ludicrous to make this argument in this race. First of all, we heard all year about Obama's "historic" appeal and whatnot...now we are supposed to believe that it's impossible that anybody would vote for Obama and not be equally enamored of Al Franken? Second, even losing the state by 11 points, John McCain won 44% of the vote in Minnesota (1.275 million votes) - more than Franken or Norm Coleman, who each got 42% (1.211 million votes). Obviously, a fair number of people on both sides of other races were not as enthused about the two Senate candidates. One reason was that there was a serious third party challenger in the race - Dean Barkley, who got 15% of the vote. A truly accidental undervote could just as easily have been a Barkley voter. This is why it makes sense to count only actual votes as votes.
Now, after all that recounting, resulting in improbably large but not sufficient gains for Franken, what's his response? "the Franken campaign said the race starts over today tied 'zero-zero, with 2.9 million to go.'" In other words, no count matters except a count that gives the race to Franken. Repeat as often as necessary to create an excuse to have the count resolved not by Minnesota voters but by the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate.
On a humorous note, Erick notes that "Franken said that he was 'cautiously optimistic' that he would prevail in the recount," and contrasts that with this quote from one of Franken's books:
Cautiously optimistic? That's not good. That's an optimist's way of saying, "We're screwed." I've instructed my wife that if a doctor ever tells her that he's "cautiously optimistic" about my test results, she is to pull the plug immediately.
Pull away, Al.
November 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Jeter and Everett
I just located online Bill James' article from the Fielding Bible following the 2005 season using Derek Jeter and Adam Everett to illustrate different approaches to evaluating shortstop defense. It's an excellent read, as always. From the conclusions:
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All three systems agree that Jeter has extremely limited range in terms of getting to groundballs - and all three systems provide essentially the same statement of the cost of that limitation. It is very, very difficult for me to understand how all three systems can be reaching the same conclusion, unless that conclusion is true. It's sort of like if you have a videotape of the suspect holding up a bank and shooting the clerk, and you have his fingerprints on the murder weapon, and you recover items taken in the robbery from his garage. Maybe the videotape is not clear; it could be somebody who looks a lot like him. Maybe there is some other explanation for his fingerprints on the murder weapon. Maybe there is some other explanation for the bags of money in his garage. It is REALLY difficult to accept that there is some other explanation for all three.
[W]e have not exhausted the issue of defense. There are other elements of defense which could still be considered - turning the double play, and helping out other fielders, and defending against base advancement, I suppose. The defensive ratings that we have produced, while they are derived from meticulous research, might still be subject to park illusions, to influences of playing on different types of teams, and from influences by teammates. There is still a vast amount of research that needs to be done about fielding.
(Note: I assume James, a Kansas University basketball fan, was just drawing a momentary blank when he professed not to know who the worst free throw shooter in NBA history was).
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BASEBALL: Great Moments in MVP Voting
In 1967, Elston Howard finished 17th in the AL MVP balloting. The 38-year-old Howard, who appeared in 108 games that season, batted .178/.233/.244 for two teams. Presumably he got named on ballots for his 42 games with the pennant winning Red Sox, for whom he batted .147/.211/.198, scored 9 runs and drove in 11.
BASEBALL: Mauer for MVP
As I have noted previously, this year's AL MVP race is a mess because so many of the possible candidates got hurt. Carlos Quentin went down for the season from his own foolishness at a key point in the race for a team that went all the way to a 1-game playoff. Evan Longoria, the best player on the league's best team, missed a month; Ian Kinsler missed more. Curtis Granderson played brilliantly upon his return from injury, but his team was already down for the count when he started his season. A-Rod, the defending MVP, led the league in slugging again but missed 24 games. Milton Bradley was the league's best hitter, but he was only able to appear in 126 games (and the Rangers were happy to get that much from him).
Nor can you really give it to a pitcher. I've explained already why K-Rod is a silly MVP candidate. And Cliff Lee had a great year, but not the kind of super-dominant season necessary to give the MVP to a starting pitcher who threw 223 innings for an also-ran team (I did argue for Pedro as MVP in 1998, 1999 and 2000 - in retrospect, that 1998 column looks kinda silly - so I'm not averse in extreme cases to giving it to a pitcher).
What does that leave? I'm fine with giving the award to a player on a non-competitive team, but not if it's a guy who doesn't play a key defensive position and isn't clearly the best hitter in the league, so sorting through Josh Hamilton (and his gaudy RBI totals), Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore (neither of whom even had a particularly great year by their own standards), Aubrey Huff, and Nick Markakis is pointless. Among the contenders, Justin Morneau likewise was just another good first baseman. You want the award with your bat, you have to seize it.
Probably the best offensive player among the guys who stayed healthy all year and played for a contender was Kevin Youkilis, who batted .312/.390/.569, drove in 115 runs and grounded into only 11 double plays and pitched in as a respectable substitute at 3B in addition to playing first. Youkilis would not be the worst MVP, but fundamentally, it comes down to the two guys who were competitive with him with the bat and contributed more on the defensive side: Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia. Let's look at the offensive tale of the tape:
As you can see, you can make a case for either of them with the bat. Mauer has the 37-point edge in on base percentage; Pedroia has the 42-point edge in slugging. Pedroia scored 20 more runs and racked up 80 more total bases on the strength of 93 more plate appearances, but he also used up 80 more outs in those extra 93 plate appearances, so the marginal offensive value to the team was pretty much negative. On the other hand, that also translates to an extra 19 games in the field (Mauer caught 139 games), which is important when comparing two good defensive players at key defensive positions. Pedroia stole 20 bases, something Mauer at age 25 has already stopped doing. But note the LgOPS figure: Fenway was a much more favorable offensive environment this season, so while both players hit better at home than on the road, overall you have to apply a bigger discount to Pedroia's numbers.
Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which rates hitters compared to a replacement-level player at the same position, rates Pedroia #3 and Mauer #4 in the league, with A-Rod at #1 and Sizemore at #2.
What about "clutch" performance with the bat? I'm not a great believer in clutch ability as a persistent trait, but there's no question that in determining value in a particular season, it's fair to look at who actually did come through in big situations. Let's look how they hit with men in scoring position, men on base and in the late innings of close games:
Both fine performances, but advantage: Mauer for his superior batting and OBP figures with men on base, which is how he managed more RBI in fewer opportunities. Pedroia, of course, finished the season withg a flourish, but Mauer, with his team in a death struggle for the division title, batted .365/.414/.490 the last month of the season, a tough time of year for a guy who's been behind the plate all season.
It's a close call, but at the end of the day, I have to rate Mauer slightly ahead with the bat, given that most of Pedroia's offensive advantages simply come from playing in a better hitters' park and burning a lot of extra outs. And then you turn to the defensive side. That's more subjective, given the difficulty of getting good defensive stats. The Win Shares system, which tabs Mauer as the AL MVP over Youkilis and Morneau (with Pedroia tied for sixth), rates him second only to Kurt Suzuki for the most valuable defensive player in the league (Suzuki's the only catcher in the AL to catch more innings than Mauer), with Pedroia seventh. ESPN's Zone Ratings peg Pedroia as the second-best AL 2B behind Mark Ellis; among the catchers, Mauer's rated #3 behind Suzuki and Dioner Navarro in catching base thieves. The Fielding Bible +/- ratings rate Pedroia at +15, the fifth best 2B in MLB. Clearly, both guys contributed a good deal with the glove.
It's hard to get a good comparison, but good catchers who can hit are really hard to come by, and ones who can stay in the lineup for 633 plate appearances are even rarer. And consider that the 25-year-old Mauer also did such a good job with the Twins' young pitching staff - the overachievement of the Twins' young arms (between Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano, the Twins gave 128 starts to four pitchers who had an average of 20 career starts and 126 innings entering the season) was a big part of how they ended up in the race to the season's final day despite being buried by most commentators after the Santana trade. Catchers used to win a lot of MVP awards; that's fallen out of favor (Pudge Rodriguez in 1999 is the only catcher to win the award since Thurman Munson in 1976; Mike Piazza couldn't even win when he batted .362/.431/.638 and drove in 124 runs playing for a contending team in Dodger Stadium), but Mauer is pretty much the textbook example of how a catcher can make a big difference on several fronts, from getting on base to hitting in the clutch to cutting off the running game and handling the pitchers (he's the closest thing we'll likely see in our lifetimes to Mickey Cochrane). He could easily have been MVP two years ago when he became the first AL catcher to win a batting title; between Mauer's offensive and defensive contributions, I'd say he should win it this year after being the second.
UPDATE: Pedroia wins, Morneau finishes second. The tools of ignorance once again get no respect. The good news? K-Rod finished sixth.
SECOND UPDATE: I suppose Pedroia's strong second half was just too much to overcome. Pedroia was batting .262/.313/.365 on the morning of June 14, but from June 15 to the end of the season he hit .375/.422/.590 and scored 78 runs in 88 games. That sort of thing tends to leave an impression. I really have no idea what we should expect from Pedroia next year - my guess would be less power overall, but maybe a few more homers.
FOOTBALL: There's No Tying In Football
Yes, it's definitely Andy Reid's responsibility to make sure his players know that it's possible to have a tie in an NFL game. I mean, that doesn't let Donovan McNabb off the hook for the fact that he still doesn't know the rule:
"I guess we're aware of it now," McNabb said. "In college, there are multiple overtimes, and in high school and Pop Warner. I never knew in the professional ranks it would end that way. I hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl and in the playoffs."
But Reid's been McNabb's coach since 1999. And he never covered this? Wow.
November 17, 2008
BASEBALL: The Right Choice
POLITICS: Rove's Road Out
I'm pretty much in agreement with all of Karl Rove's thoughts on rebuilding the GOP, and in fact a fair amount of it overlaps with my Obama Administration Survival Guide. Obviously, Rove's list isn't comprehensive, but it's a start.
POLITICS: Saluting History
Yes, this is the actual picture gracing the back cover of the NY Daily News' "Man of History" special edition:
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He really should stop doing that. (UPDATE: Here, too).
If you are wondering, November 2 was the last time the Daily News didn't have Obama's picture on the front page.
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BASEBALL: My NL MVP
The NL MVP balloting will be announced this afternoon. To my mind, there's only one candidate: Albert Pujols.
There seems to be a fair amount of sentiment for Ryan Howard, as there was before the Mets' collapse for Carlos Delgado, and for the same reasons....but Pujols is the best player in the league, he had arguably his best year with the bat, he's a better defensive player and baserunner than Howard or Delgado or Lance Berkman, he doesn't play in an offensive haven like Philly or Houston, and his team, with a deeply unimpressive collection of supporting talent, won 86 games, was within 2 games of first place on July 22 and 4 games on August 1, and within 2 games of the wild card lead on August 16 and 3 1/2 on September 9. Pujols led the league in Slugging and OPS, was second in batting and on base percentage, and despite missing two weeks with an injury he managed to lead the league in Total Bases and Times on Base and finish third in homers, fourth in RBI, third in hits, second in walks and fourth in doubles (Chipper Jones was the only really comparable hitter in the league in percentage terms, but Pujols had 641 plate appearances to Jones' 534). There's really no serious dispute that if you put Pujols on the Phillies or Mets in place of Howard or Delgado, the team with Pujols would have improved by several games, and the Cardinals would have gone nowhere.
Pujols batted .357/.462/.653 on the season, .335/.443/.613 on the road. Howard batted .251/.339/.543 on the season - a 106 point gap in batting average, a 123 point gap in OBP, and a 110 point gap in slugging. Howard may have had the great September, but Pujols batted .398/.491/.745 in August and .321/.427/.702 in September. With 2 outs and men in scoring position he hit .326/.592/.791. On the whole, Ryan Howard batted .276/.370/.638 with 18 HR and 51 RBI and 38 Runs from August 1 to the end of the season; Pujols, with a lot less help from his teammates, batted .363/.461/.725 with 16 HR, 49 RBI and 35 Runs over the same period.
Howard batted .241/.317/.514 on the road, making him an easier out on the road than Yadier Molina, Cristian Guzman, Brian Schneider, Kazuo Matsui, Aaron Miles, Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger, or Rich Aurilia (Pujols led the majors in OBP on the road), and a less fearsome slugger away from Citizens Bank than Jayson Werth, Xavier Nady, Casey Blake, Cody Ross, or Mike Cameron (Pujols led the majors in Slugging on the road).
Pujols batted .354/.494/.638 with men on base, compared to Howard's .309/.396/.648 (yes, Howard really did elevate his game with men on base - there is some reason for him being in this discussion). Pujols batted .339/.523/.678 with runners in scoring position, compared to Howard's .320/.439/.589. The difference? Howard had 47 more plate appearances with men in scoring position (223 to 176) and 29 more with men on base (351 to 322). As with Francisco Rodriguez' save opportunities, Howard is an MVP candidate almost entirely because of the opportunities his teammates gave him. He may have raised his game in those situations, but even then, as in the stretch run, he couldn't raise it to Pujols' level.
Berkman had a better year than Howard, but also doesn't stack up to Pujols, and unlike Howard's RBI advantage he did nothing better than Pujols except steal 18 bases. He batted .312/.420/.567, .306/.413/.514 on the road. He had a horrendous September, batting .171/.343/.289.
There are a number of other guys who have good arguments for being on the ballot besides Howard and Berkman - Jones, Delgado, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, four other Mets (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana), Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, maybe even Manny down at the end of the ballot. But there's only one choice for #1: Albert Pujols.
November 14, 2008
POLITICS: The Kiddie Porn Party?
Honestly, I read things like this post at Ace, and it makes me wonder how Republicans ever manage to win elections. Ace notes two stories about aides to Democratic Senators getting arrested for possession of child porn. My reaction to reading the story about the aide to Barbara Boxer this morning was to think that this was something we Republicans could run with. But really, I couldn't get my head around making this a partisan issue with a straight face. And Ace, who is certainly not above bare-knuckles partisanship, can't really either:
Personally I don't think it's a trend, or indicative of Democratic sexual habits, either. Some people are wired wrong, and it really doesn't matter what philosophy such people embrace -- if they get off on child porn, they're going to get off on child porn.
And therein lies our problem. Most of your major conservative bloggers and pundits are going to point to this sort of thing as a media bias story rather than going for the jugular by accusing the Democrats of all being a bunch of perverts. Because that's exactly how the Left side of the blogosphere plays this sort of game - think of the Mark Foley or Ted Haggard stories in 2006, in Haggard's case a guy most conservative bloggers had to go Google because we'd never heard of him. All you heard was how these particular screwups were emblematic of something larger. People lingered over this stuff, writing about the stories again and again and again. Foley got replaced in Congress with Tim Mahoney, who turned out to have a horribly messy sex scandal of his own involving payoffs to his mistress. We didn't get 24/7 media saturation with Mahoney the way we did with Foley, not even the media looking into what the Democratic House leadership knew and when they knew it. Partly that's because the national media doesn't want to go there, but maybe, in some sense, because our hearts weren't really in making it so. And until that changes, we're still going to have a serious online activism deficit on the Right.
Excellent move by the Yankees to buy low and pick up Nick Swisher (don't be fooled by David Pinto's headline) coming off a terrible year in which he hit .219. Swisher's only 28, he can play 1B and RF and even play center in a pinch; he was an excellent player in 2006 and 2007, and he had productive stretches in 2008 (in 71 games from June 3 through August 26, he batted .262/.374/.545, averaging 41 HR, 91 walks, 116 Runs and 116 RBI per 162 games). It was really just his batting average that fell off, as his Isolated Power was essentially unchanged from 2007. Swisher will always struggle with his average, but basically he's a good player hitting .255, but not when hitting .220.
Pinto notes that Swisher particularly struggled on the road, so a change of park alone won't help him. It's certainly possible that he's just washed up young, as sometimes happens to young players with his skill set (the Yankees had a similar failed experiment with Morgan Ensberg, who's a couple years older, this season), but the odds favor a return to productivity, similar to Johnny Damon after his off-year at age 27. Swisher was probably miscast as a leadoff man, batting .210/.354/.324 in the role (by contrast, he actually hit better when playing center field than 1B, so you can't blame the strain of a tougher defensive position). My guess is that he's the kind of player who will particularly benefit from a lower-profile role down in the lineup, even on the bigger stage New York provides.
The Yankees got him fairly cheap (cheap enough that I'm left wondering why Omar Minaya didn't go after him, given the Mets' holes in the OF corners). Part of the reason, as usual, was money: Swisher "has three years left on a five-year, $26.75 million contract." Wilson Betemit has his uses but is pretty much your classic expendable utility infielder at this point, and has been used mostly as a first baseman of late. Jeff Marquez, a 24-year-old starter who posted a 3.65 ERA with just 5.45 K/9 in 2007 at AA and a 4.47 ERA with 4.47 K/9 mostly at AAA this season, would appear to be a marginal prospect at best. 23-year-old Jhonny Nunez has a career minor league ERA of 3.64 and has pitched just 27 innings above A ball, and so can't really be projected much; I don't know anything about him but his numbers, but my guess is that a guy his age with good K rates and spotty control will probably get converted to the bullpen. As Pinto discusses, Kanekoa Texeira, the reliever the Yankees got in return, seems a much better prospect than either of them; he "does exactly what a team wants; lots of strikeouts, few walks and a minuscule number of home runs."
POLITICS: The Budget By The Numbers
Time for some hard numbers to follow on this post discussing "fiscal conservatism" and provide some historical perspective on the GOP's successes and failures in controlling taxes and spending. Here's the budget presented as a percentage of GDP since 1947, along with the partisan control of the three elected branches. The fiscal year numbers generaly refer to the year after the budget was passed, as discussed below the fold - thus, for example, Reagan was elected in 1980, took office in 1981, and his first budget was Fiscal Year 1982. Given the ongoing nature of appropriations, 2008 and 2009 are still estimated numbers. I left off the estimates for beyond that, since those will be Obama's budgets and nobody knows yet for certain what his budgets or the economy will look like, and anyone who makes any sort of fiscal projections that far ahead has no clue what they are doing. In addition to revenues, spending and the deficit I added in the national debt and expenditures on interest to give some perspective on the impact over time on the budget of deficit spending.
I continue to believe that the number that matters most is spending as a percentage of GDP, which peaked over 20% twice under all-Democrat governance (the first time, on the eve of the GOP wave of the 1952 elections), started booming regularly above 20% after the Democrats got their post-Watergate majorities in Congress (Fiscal Year 1975, actually the budget the year of Watergate before those elections when the White House was prostrate, saw spending spike from 18.7% to 21.3% in a single year) and peaked at 23.5% in the second year of the Reagan defense buildup (and while the economy was still in recession), when the GOP held the White House and the Senate, and bottomed out in 2000, Clinton's second term, when the GOP held both houses of Congress and the economy was riding the dot-com boom. Spending under Bush - driven partly but not wholly by wars and entitlements - crept back up to pre-Gingrich levels, and looks to set new post-1994 highs since Pelosi and Reid took over. One of the lessons of which is the influence of Congress, and specifically the House, on the budget. We're creeping back towards 21% for the first time since the last time we had unified Democratic governance.
As to taxes, fiscal years 1998-2000 under Clinton were the all-time high watermark for the nation's tax burden, peaking at 20.9% of GDP and setting the stage for Bush to run on a tax cut platform. Taxes under Bush bottomed out in the first year of the full Bush tax cuts at 16.4%, the lowest share of GDP since 1951, but have been rising since then with economic growth through FY 2007 (unlike spending, taxes are directly linked to the economy, but the distribution of economic activity still impacts tax receipts). Obviously that will abate with the economy's decline this year.
The deficit, of course, is the number you're familiar with; it peaked the same year as federal spending (FY 1983), dropped by two thirds from FY 2004 to FY 2007, but is rising rapidly again since the GOP Congress left town. The national debt has never really recovered from its sustained growth from FY 1982-FY1996, but lower interest rates have made the costs of that debt much more tractable (which also means that if rates ever return to late-1970s levels, the federal taxpayer is doomed).
Where do we go from here? On spending, the item most directly under political control, I'll be very surprised if we're not above 22% by Obama's second budget (and that's assuming that the checks he plans to cut to non-taxpayers are not counted as "spending"). Tax revenues will probably drop in the next year or two, as the chaos in the financial and housing markets have slashed the tax base, and that's before we get to the impact of rising marginal and investment tax rates.
Anyway, the bottom line here is pretty much what you'd expect: Republicans have had better luck cutting taxes than spending; a GOP Congress and specifically a GOP House is more important to fiscal discipline even than a GOP President (this would be even more dramatic if we looked at the size of the GOP caucus in the House); and unified Democratic governance is a recipe for growth of the federal government across the board.
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The budget data is explained here, including this note on fiscal years:
The Federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on the subsequent September 30. It is designated by the year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2007 began on October 1, 2006, and ended on September 30, 2007. Prior to fiscal year 1977 the Federal fiscal years began on July 1 and ended on June 30. In calendar year 1976 the July-September period was a separate accounting period (known as the transition quarter or TQ) to bridge the period required to shift to the new fiscal year.
I use 1947 as a starting point, as it's the first year after full demobilization from World War II; the war budgets were colossal - in Fiscal Year 1943, the deficit was over 30% of GDP. And before the New Deal, federal spending was generally less than 10% of GDP.
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POLITICS: No Way To Lose An Election
UPDATE: Mary Katherine Ham has more.
BLOG: Talking Down
So, I have reached the point with our two-and-a-half year old daughter where she actually talks down to me. Coupla examples.
1. She's sitting on the toilet (having been potty trained earlier than her siblings) and wants me to read her a book, one with the "Wheels on the Bus" song in it. I can't find it in her room.
Me: "I can't find the Wheels on the Bus book in here. Do you know where it is? Can I read you another one?"
Her: "It's the one with the stripes on the side. Now do you understand?"
2. She tells me she wants to play cars, but I can't make out whether she said wanted to play cards or play cars.
Her: "I want to play cars"
Me: "Cards, or cars?"
Her (leaning her face in and speaking slowly and deliberately): "Say cars."
November 13, 2008
BASEBALL: Pieces of Seasons
Steve Treder has an excellent Hardball Times piece on the best short seasons by hitters, including parts of seasons when a player switched teams. Two current free agents are prominently featured, as you might expect.
LAW: The Election and the New York Courts
POLITICS: "Fiscal Conservatives" Unclear On The Concept
The Washington Post, looking at the GOP rout in the Northeast, sells the hoary old myth that there is a large and coherent "fiscally conservative and socially liberal" faction that got ignored by the national party:
What happened, say some current and former Republican leaders, is that the national party moved away from the issues of fiscal conservatism, small government and lower taxes. As the base of the party shifted to the South and West, social conservatives and evangelicals moved to the forefront, and issues such as abortion, school prayer and gay marriage took primacy on the national party's agenda -- in the process turning off more moderate voters in this part of the country.
I'll leave aside for now the social-issue side of this argument (hey, when did Congress vote on school prayer?), the short answer to which is that smaller government and more federalism is the best way to reassure Northeastern voters that they can support social conservatives nationally without disturbing their own states' social policies at home, and focus on the problem with the use of the term "fiscal conservative": it has no fixed meaning.
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You can see this in the bold passages in what I quoted: you have some people saying fiscal conservatism is about low taxes, but then you have Chafee voting for higher taxes and opposing tax cuts proposed and passed by a Republican President and Congress, also on the theory of being "fiscally conservative." These people can't agree what they stand for.
The problem is that too many people have gotten locked into two notions peddled by the Democrats and their media allies: that balancing the budget is the be-all and end-all of "fiscal conservatism," and that spending cuts are impossible, so the only way to ever balance the budget is to raise taxes - and then, when spending keeps rising, raise them again. The WaPo, typically, simply assumes these premises.
No wonder voters who want lower taxes abandoned these people. And maybe if they'd made a concerted effort to beat back overspending, they'd have been listened to. It is a fair criticism of Bush and the GOP Congress that they failed to restrain federal spending, and even added a new and hugely costly entitlement by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare. But where were the Northeastern "fiscal conservatives" when the spending battles were going unfought? Where were they when the GOP nominated a genuine spending hawk for President in John McCain and he couldn't even win New Hampshire? In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that the best spending records in the GOP come from people like Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint who are also rock-ribbed social conservatives. Even in the Northeast, the guy who's fought the toughest spending battles is Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri, a solid social conservative. (Cato, for example, gives Carcieri the best fiscal report card of any Republican Governor in the Northeast). The social liberals in the party, with precious few exceptions, haven't held up their end of the deal.
Consider two candidates. Candidate A promises that he'll spend 15 cents for every dollar you make, and tax you 12; he'll make up the difference by issuing Treasury bills. Candidate B promises you a balanced budget...he'll spend 22 cents of every dollar and tax you 22. If your interest is in smaller government and lower taxes, how can you favor Candidate B? How can you call Candidate B the "fiscal conservative" if you intend that term to have any meaning whatsoever?
I suppose if you play with the numbers long enough you can argue that excessive federal deficit financing leads to runaway growth in interest expenditures, but in the real world the federal government has the world's lowest borrowing rate and has rarely been close to as heavily leveraged (in terms of debt service as a percentage of annual expenditures) as the kinds of corporations that get themselves in serious trouble with too much debt. Some debt is healthy. And even if you are concerned about deficits, the cure is certainly not to let spending run free and just keep jacking up taxes; it's to bring spending in line with tax revenues. That's what living within your means is really about.
The key to winning back voters disenchanted with the GOP as a steward of taxpayer funds is spending and the size of government; show we can cut those, and broader support will follow. I don't agree with all of P.J. O'Rourke's diagnoses but he's surely right that the GOP lost credibility by failing to deliver tangible progress in shrinking the federal footprint. The opportunity for the GOP's revival will come from the fact that the whole federal government is now in the hands of people who intend to expand that footprint like there's no tomorrow. Sarah Palin gets this, as several Republican Governors do, but of course, she and other GOP Governors who grasp the theory now have to go back and prove they can pare back their own state budgets in tough economic times. Because at the end of the day, holding the line on spending is the real test of fiscal conservatism.
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November 11, 2008
BUSINESS: Liar's Poker Folds
I've been waiting for Michael Lewis to write the definitive account of the credit crisis. This is an excellent start.
Here's a few of his vignettes on the housing market madness at the foundation of the crisis, although he has much more on how it worked its way through the financial system:
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There's a simple measure of sanity in housing prices: the ratio of median home price to income. Historically, it runs around 3 to 1; by late 2004, it had risen nationally to 4 to 1. "All these people were saying it was nearly as high in some other countries," Zelman says. "But the problem wasn't just that it was 4 to 1. In Los Angeles, it was 10 to 1, and in Miami, 8.5 to 1. And then you coupled that with the buyers. They weren't real buyers. They were speculators."
The juiciest shorts - the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default - had several characteristics. They'd be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking homeowners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.
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BASEBALL: Holliday On The Road To Fremont
Now, we're starting to get some real activity in the baseball offseason. The big news is a projected, non-finalized blockbuster deal sending Matt Holliday to the A's for a package that reportedly includes Greg Smith, Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez. I'll try to look at the on-the-field angle once we have a final report of the players involved, but this is an interesting deal from the perspective of analyzing the A's franchise, since it represents the A's doing the big-market thing and packaging young players for an established star, represented by Scott Boras, who is going to command a huge salary on the free agent market after the 2009 season (much like when they acquired Johnny Damon, who promptly had a lousy year and then left). It remains to be seen whether Lew Wolff is planning to pull the trigger on a big contract for Holliday now that the A's are heading for a new stadium and a new city.
On that subject, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman ran for re-election as a supporter of finally bringing the A's to Fremont by 2012 (his opponent was against the plan), and Wasserman's victory is widely seen as a victory for the new stadium. Wolff sees it that way, and is still hopeful that the park can be ready by 2011:
Despite challenges to building a new baseball stadium, Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff said "we can get it done" in Fremont.
Wolff would change the team's name to the Athletics at Fremont, and the classic brick ballpark, scheduled for completion in 2012, would be named Cisco Field after the computer networking company.
Ugh. I suppose "at" conveys their transience better than "of" ... given the franchise's history, they may as well just call them the Traveling Athletics and be done with it.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:14 AM | Baseball 2008 | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: How To Tell The "Culture Wars" Are Not Over
Peter Beinart had an article in the Washington Post the Sunday before Election Day arguing that the culture wars are over; according to Beinart, Sarah Palin was failing to connect with voters because
Palin's brand is culture war, and in America today culture war no longer sells....Although she seems like a fresh face, Sarah Palin actually represents the end of an era. She may be the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time.
Beinart is wrong - completely wrong. We can tell that the "culture wars" are not over because Democrats and liberals are still fighting them. We know culture warriors won't disappear from national politics because one of them just won the presidential election. And if Beinart means that conservatives are losing the culture wars, that's far from a certain bet, and one the Democrats would be ill-advised to take.
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I. It Takes Two Sides To Have A War
A. The False Narrative
At its core, Beinart's thesis is grounded in one of the familiar tropes of passive-aggressive liberal pundits: the idea that the "culture war" - political battles over cultural and social issues ranging from abortion to crime to immigration to racial preferences to same-sex marriage to guns to the role of religion in the public square - consists entirely of conservatives picking fights against liberals who just want us all to get along. In this narrative, two things are true: (1) that liberal positions on, say, economic issues are popular but liberal candidates keep losing elections over cultural issues that shouldn't matter in elections; and (2) that conservative positions on cultural issues are outside the mainstream and doomed by their unpopularity. Of course, it's logically impossible for both of these things to be true (unless liberals win all the time, and it will take more than two bad election cycles to prove that), but that's not really my point.
The point is this: we have political conflict over social and cultural issues because we have two sides that disagree on a broad range of issues, and neither is willing to change its position. If these issues were actually unimportant or indefensible, the side that was losing elections on them would throw in the towel and adapt its positions, as for example happened with the end of the political battles over segregation and Prohibition. And if cultural liberals disdained conflict, they would never start battles on these issues - yet they do so all the time. Indeed, abortion wasn't an issue in national politics until Roe v. Wade; the NRA wasn't a force in politics until liberal politicians pushed increasingly intrusive gun-control measures.
Pundits like Beinart like to frame these issues as a "war" promulgated by only one side because they can pander to the sensibilities of voters who think it's rude to fight about these issues. It's a political strategy designed to seize the moral middle ground. But Beinart and his ilk can't possibly be so insular as to believe that any of this this is true. Let's do a little thought experiment to show the unreality of this entire theme.
B. Imagine There's No Culture War. It Isn't Hard To Do.
Let's imagine that Beinart was right. Let's imagine that social and cultural conflict are political losers. Let's imagine that the wise Democrats who were just swept into power last week have no intention of using government power to alter the social and cultural landscape. Consider what things would be true if that were the case:
(1) Not only would Barack Obama make Supreme Court and other federal judicial nominations entirely without regard to how his nominees might handle hot-button issues like abortion, but Obama would face no significant pressure from interest groups on the Left to choose nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade, roll back restrictions on racial preferences, etc. These issues simply would not come up at confirmation hearings. In fact, we know that the Democrats raised such hot-button issues in the confirmation hearings of numerous nominees for the Supreme Court and lower federal courts (probably the single Democrat who pressed these issues most frequently was Joe Biden), we know that Democratic candidates were quizzed on the issue throughout the primaries by liberal interest groups, and we know that there is absolutely zero chance that Obama would nominate a Supreme Court Justice who he suspected of being less than 100% committed to upholding Roe.
(2) The Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress would not seek to push change on social and cultural issues through new legislation and executive orders. Yet there is extensive evidence that they will do just that. Obama promised in 2007 that "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do" - and FOCA is all about abortion, sweeping and comprehensive new federal legislation to repeal the ban on partial birth abortion, preempt every single state law placing even modest limitations around abortion - "effectively nullify informed consent laws, waiting periods, health safety regulations for abortion clinics, etc." and remove legal protections for doctors and hospitals who refuse as a matter of conscience to perform abortions. Obama's people are talking about rolling out a battery of new executive orders that will go into effect immediately, including on stem cell research and federal funding for abortion providers overseas. (In fact, Obama has said in the past that he opposes the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of taxpayer money to subsidize abortions in the U.S.). The wish-list of "progressive" actions on social issues is likely to get a lot longer in the weeks to come, and every time you see an Obama Administration or Democratic Congress pushing new laws or new regulations or executive orders on these topics, ask yourself if the Democrats really aren't interested in a battle over the culture.
(3) Democrats would not run campaign commercials seeking to gain political advantage on social and cultural issues. Yet where they believed that they could gain advantages by doing so, they did. Obama was so eager to run ads attacking the GOP for its unpopular opposition to embryonic stem cell research (a big electoral winner for the Democrats in 2006) and attacking Republican opponents of immigration that he cut radio ads claiming that John McCain opposed stem cell research and was anti-illegal immigration *, in both cases the polar opposite of McCain's actual position. Obama ran, in some jurisdictions, ads about abortion, as did many Democrats nationwide (even in a State Senate race in my part of Queens).
(4) Speaking of Sarah Palin, Democrats would not have attacked her on cultural grounds. As Ramesh Ponnuru noted in response to Beinart:
[T]hat bit about Palin's brand is, I think, incorrect. It's not culture-war crusading that made Palin the most popular governor in America. And while it's clear that her being pro-life was a prerequisite for her getting on the ticket this year, I doubt McCain put her on it in order to fight the culture wars: He probably saw her pluses as 1) she's a fresh female face, 2) she's a popular governor, 3) she has a record of fighting corruption, including Republican corruption, and 4) she's acceptable to the party base. The resulting ticket has not done much to elevate the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion.
If you don't believe Ramesh, go back and read Palin's convention speech or her speech when McCain introduced her as his running mate and compare the amount of time she spent talking about hot-button social issues as opposed to economic issues, government reform and national security. It was Obama's supporters who pushed attacks on Palin over things like book-banning, the teaching of evolution, sex education and rape kits, none of which were things Palin set out to talk about in this race.
I'm not suggesting that Palin never engaged in cultural wedge politics, just underlining the fact that an awful lot of the social and cultural wedges driven over Palin came from her opponents, which would not have happened if the culture wars were over as Beinart imagines.
(5) The Democrats would not have picked a culture warrior of the Left as their nominee. Obama is the furthest thing possible from the kind of anodyne, Mark Warner-ish technocrat who is concerned only with economic issues and the functioning of government programs. Look back at Barack Obama's career, from the State Senate up through the Democratic primaries, and you'll see that this is a guy who put a disproportionate amount of his time and energy into issues like abortion, sex education, racial profiling, gun control, the death penalty, drivers' licenses for illegal aliens, racial preferences, and race-specific redistricting. His long affiliation with the divisive Jeremiah Wright was, plainly, an effort to play to the cultural sensibilities of his State Senate constituents. The millions of dollars he poured through Bill Ayers into things like "Afrocentric" public education in Chicago was certainly all about cultural politics. (This is aside from the extent to which Obama's "historic" campaign marketed Obama as one big walking racial-politics issue). As noted above, Obama picked as his running mate a guy best known to the country from the Bork, Thomas, Roberts and Alito hearings, and Obama himself voted against Roberts and Alito on strictly ideological grounds. The Democratic Congressional leadership is studded with culture warriors - there are many more Nancy Pelosis there than Harry Reids.
(6) The Left wouldn't have an active infrastructure for pushing its side on social issues in election campaigns. Yet we have, for example, TIME Magazine reporting with a straight face on the existence of a "Gay Mafia" (their term, not mine) pouring money into races over gay issues - "Among gay activists, the Cabinet is revered as a kind of secret gay Super Friends, a homosexual justice league that can quietly swoop in wherever anti-gay candidates are threatening and finance victories for the good guys." (I swear, these are actual quotes from the article). We have Emily's List, "dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office." Heck, in North Carolina the Democratic Senate candidate accepted the endorsement of "Godless America PAC."
(7) The Left would accept its losses and move on. Instead, we have fierce battles to take to the courts whatever the cultural Left loses at the ballot box, most recently the lawsuits filed to enjoin Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban. A lengthy and concerted campaign also knocked the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-racial-preferences proposal, off the ballot.
There is simply no way to look at the Democratic Party as presently constituted, and the interest and pressure groups that support it, and argue with a straight face that they are disinterested in fighting a culture war. They have their positions, they'll fight to win, and they make political hay when they can. It's insulting to our intelligence to claim otherwise.
II. Is Beinart's Side Winning?
The alternative reading of Beinart's argument, which he's not quite willing to come right out and say, is that yes, his side is waging a culture war - and winning. Obviously in the aftermath of a decisive election victory by a candidate like Obama, with increasing margins for the Democratic majorities in Congress and in a number of state legislatures, that's a tempting claim to make. But I'd suggest that there are some cautions before the cultural Left engages in triumphalism here.
The first is the referenda - even if Republicans were quite unpopular on this Election Day, socially conservative positions did a lot better in referenda. Besides Proposition 8 passing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in gay-friendly deep-blue California, you had similar ballot initiatives pass in Arizona and Florida. A ban on racial preferences passed in Nebraska and a similar measure lost only narrowly in Colorado. (Pro-life initiatives did less well in some places like South Dakota where they were poorly funded). These are not the results you would expect from a nation that has suddenly taken an abrupt left turn.
Second, while the Democrats are still intent on fighting a culture war, their behavior over the past 3-4 years suggests that they nonetheless recognize that there are serious downsides to them doing so. Even with the nomination of Obama, the national party has run away as fast as it can from its previously aggressive agenda on gun control, which is just as bad politics for the Democrats in most districts as stem cells is for most Republicans. Obama did try to avoid talking much about a bunch of the wedge issues he'd used throughout his career. And at the Congressional level, we've seen a lot of putatively pro-life, pro-gun, and even anti-illegal-immigrant Democratic candidates, a nuber of whom have been elected. Only time will tell if these rank-and-file Democrats will have any impact in muting the culture-warrior inclinations of the party's base and leadership, but the fact that they were supported by the party at all suggests that a more conservative stance on many social issues is still necessary to get elected in many parts of this country.
Third, Beinart's own analysis suggests that we shouldn't read too much into 2008:
In 2000, in the wake of an economic boom and a sex scandal that led to a president's impeachment, 22 percent of Americans told exit pollsters that "moral values" were their biggest concern, compared with only 19 percent who cited the economy.
Most analysts of politics and history would find bizarre Beinart's argument that social and cultural issues are off the table during times of economic stress (tell that to Jerry Falwell, who started the Moral Majority during the pit of the Carter years). But an economic crisis eight weeks before a national election is another matter. So social and cultural issues don't seem to have mattered much in this election - well, neither did national security, yet nobody would seriously argue that national security is no longer an issue in American politics. It just happened that we had a race unusually dominated by a sudden economic crisis. Democrats who build a long-term strategy on re-creating those conditions will end up disappointed.
Has the political landscape on social and cultural issues moved left? Certainly the Left is now empowered. But ironically, the status quo argument of pundits like Peter Beinart will become completely and openly indefensible if the next few years are characterized by broad-ranging efforts to use the federal government to impose change on the social and cultural landscape; voters who hate hearing about these issues may discover they're not fond of a party that wants to spend its first month in office pushing taxpayer funding for abortion. If the Democrats believed the culture wars were over, they'd leave them be. If they push their agenda and hit stiff resistance from the American people, they may find out that their side of the war isn't as popular as they'd like to believe. And ironically, their doing so may be the ticket back to the top for Republicans who lead the resistance.
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November 10, 2008
POLITICS: Score Another One For The Palin Critics
Except that the Senator in question, John Sununu, is pro-life.
And except that the other candidate wasn't running for the Senate (Newsweek may have missed this, but Sununu was up for re-election, so there were not two Republicans running for the job this year).
And except that she did do public appearances with both men.
But you know, other than getting basically every possible fact wrong, Newsweek's doing OK there.
POLITICS: Not Letting Up
For conservatives and Republicans tempted to follow Fred Barnes and lay low a while, just notice what sites like the Huffington Post are up to these days: the #1 topic over at HuffPo right now, by the frequency of tags used, is "Sarah Palin":
The Left will not let up its assault on Gov. Palin for any "honeymoon" period. We on the Right will indeed need both patience and perspective, as Barnes suggests, and elected Republicans will surely need to find some common ground with the new Administration. But we're all adults here; let us not pretend that calls for "unity" are intended to be mutual.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:13 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2012 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Palin Push-Back
As has often happened with Gov. Sarah Palin during the campaign, we've had a battery of headlines from a single report, putatively based on an unnamed source, and only later do we get the facts. Let's look at some of the McCain and Palin aides now going on the record to respond:
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Stapleton told ABC News the Fox News report on Africa and NAFTA was taken out of context. She explained that during a briefing session, someone asked Palin to explain the McCain-Palin stance on an issue, and as she was responding, "in the middle, she said 'country of Africa' and somebody instantly wrote it down and said, 'Oh, my God, she thinks it's a country.'"
Regarding the $150,000 worth of clothing, Stapleton claimed it was the campaign that said, "This is what you need as a VP candidate, and it was the campaign and/or the RNC [Republican National Committee] -- but it wasn't the governor -- saying this is what she needs."
Then we have McCain foreign policy adviser Steve Biegun:
He says there's no way she didn't know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn't must be distorting "a fumble of words." He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.
Scheunemann suggested the Africa and NAFTA incidents were inaccurate.
"I was not present for all of her sessions, so I can't disprove that," he told ABC News. "I severely doubt that it is accurate. It's certainly not accurate in any of the sessions I had with her."
Steve Schmidt, the campaign's chief strategist, defended Mrs. Palin in an e-mail exchange with The Times concerning, among other articles, a Newsweek report that at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Mrs. Palin had greeted Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter in her hotel room while "wearing nothing but a towel, with another [towel] on her wet hair."
(The Washington Times report has more quotes from people properly noting, in any event, that the informality suggested by that story isn't exactly unusual on the campaign trail).
Charlie Black, on the NAFTA and other specific stories:
"Answer to all of this is no, except she was victim of hoax perpetrated by Canadian talk radio re Sarkozy," Mr. Black said. "Even then, she said nothing wrong in the call. We think she did an excellent job and added a lot to the ticket. 'We' includes John McCain."
And here, of course, is Gov. Palin's own response:
Believe what you want, but in my book when you have multiple named sources standing by specific accounts, and on the other side you have reporters making vague allegations purportedly based on the word of unnamed and unidentifiable sources, the people going on the record and giving specifics have the better argument.
You can watch more of Gov. Palin's most recent press conference back home in Alaska here.
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POLITICS: Daley Thoughts
If you've read my Integrity Gap series on Barack Obama, or lengthier treatments like David Freddoso's book, you will be familiar with what was probably the most scandalously under-reported story of 2008, which is President-Elect Obama's deep and longstanding ties to machine politics in Illinois, most notably to the Daley machine in Chicago. You'll also recognize two other key themes: Obama's ties to politically well-connected housing interests ranging from slumlords like Tony Rezko to Beltway powerhouses like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ACORN, and Obama's practice of providing official favors to his benefactors.
Last week we saw the first sign of these dynamics playing out in Obama's first staff hire, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago pol and former "senior adviser and chief fundraiser" for Mayor Daley who made hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting on Freddie Mac's board during a time when the board was criticized by the SEC for failing to stop the company's accounting irregularities and shady campaign donations. * *
Now, the second act: Obama reportedly wants Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a/k/a "Public Official A" in the Rezko indictment, to appoint as his replacement in the U.S. Senate Valerie Jarrett, the co-head of Obama's transition team. Jarrett, of course, is a former Daley aide and Chicago housing developer who gave Michelle Obama her first big job working for Mayor Daley.
Let's recall Jarrett's involvement in Grove Parc Plaza, one of the conspicuous failures (at least from the perspective of the tenants, rather than the developers) among the housing projects built by Obama's friends:
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Among those tied to Obama politically, personally, or professionally are:
Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers - including Jarrett, Davis, and Rezko - collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama's campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors.
Jarrett, a powerful figure in the Chicago development community, agreed to be interviewed but declined to answer questions about Grove Parc, citing what she called a continuing duty to Habitat's former business partners....
Yet again, a reminder that Obama's "new politics" is just a new name for the oldest kind of politics there is.
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November 9, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: Joe Biden Was Right
...for the first time in decades, in fact, on foreign policy: within the first day after the election, Russia and Iran both rattled their sabers to start testing President-Elect Obama. And an Obama foreign policy adviser reacted immediately by backing down in the face of the Russian statement. (It will be good to have Obama start getting his advisers confirmed so we don't have to keep sifting through his hundreds of foreign policy and economic "advisers" trying to figure out which ones speak for him).
Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Obama. The rest of us have been given no choice but to depend on you.
BASEBALL: Least Valuable of All
A little detour to the days of yore: Looking back in baseball history, no discussion of the least valuable players in any single season can be complete without Joe Gerhardt in 1885.
Baseball in the 1880s had a number of very good 1- or 2-year teams (such as those turned in by NL franchises in Detroit and Providence), but the decade was really dominated by three franchises: in the NL, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) of 1880-86 and the New York Giants of 1885-89, and in the American Association the St. Louis Browns of 1885-89 (the Browns moved to the NL after the AA folded in 1891, and are now the Cardinals).
The Giants, in fact, got the nickname that stuck with them largely from the 1885 team, which featured six Hall of Famers in their primes:
*Towering, slugging 27-year-old first baseman Roger Connor (at 6'3" a huge man for the era) was probably the second-best hitter of the decade behind Dan Brouthers - Connor held the career home run record until Babe Ruth, although in those days power was mostly about doubles and triples, which he also produced in bulk - and Connor had his best season, batting .371/.435/.495 compared to a league Avg/OBP/Slg of .241/.284/.322, for an OPS+ of 198 (i.e., nearly twice as good as the league-average hitter).
*25-year-old catcher Buck Ewing, at 5'10" also on the tall side even for a mid-twentieth catcher, batted .304/.330/.471 (OPS+ 155). As Bill James has documented, Ewing's peers regarded him as the best player in 19th century baseball; his batting stats don't entirely bear that out, but in his prime he was as good a hitter relative to his leagues as all but a handful of catchers in the game's history, and that's before you get to his defense. We don't have stolen base data before 1886 or caught stealings before the mid-teens, but in 2008 the average team stole 0.57 bases per game in the NL, 0.58 in the AL; in 1886, the NL average was 1.35. So, even adjusting for the open-ended definition of stolen bases in those days, there were a lot of people running. A typical modern catcher averages less than an assist every two games, with around half of those being caught stealings; Ewing, for his career, averaged 1.6 assists per game - a role much more active, between gunning down base thieves and pouncing on bunts, than today's catchers (Ewing's career range factor, measuring number of plays made per game, was 11% better than the league, and 8.6% better at third base, where he played part-time in his later years).
*34-year-old center fielder Jim O'Rourke had a year typical of his long career, batting .300/.354/.442 (155) and scoring 119 runs in 112 games. The team's two other veteran outfielders batted .326/.346/.421 (146) and .293/.317/.362 (118).
*They also had 25-year-old shortstop John Ward, a Hall of Famer more for his pitching and his role as a union organizer and all-around poineer; Ward was the team's second-weakest hitter at .226/.255/.285 (73).
*The team had two ace starting pitchers, both 300-game winners; against a league ERA of 2.82, 25-year-old Mickey Welch had his best season, going 44-11 with a 1.66 ERA, while 28-year-old Tim Keefe went 31-12 with a 1.58 ERA. The two accounted for 89% of the Giants' decisions.
Overall, in the shortened seasons common at the time, the Giants cruised to an 85-27 record, for a .759 winning percentage, a 123-win pace in a modern schedule. (Their Pythagorean record was the same, reflecting the league's second-best offense - by a run and a quarter over #3 - and by far its best pitching/defense team.) But there was one problem:
They finished second.
You see, the White Stockings, behind among others Hall of Famers Cap Anson, King Kelly and John Clarkson - the latter going 53-16 with a 1.85 ERA, the second-highest win total of all time - went 87-25 (.777), a 126-win pace by today's schedule and good enough to take the pennant by two games. They didn't have the Giants' pitching depth and defense, or a hitter as good as Connor, but other than a .209-hitting half-time catcher they had no real holes in their lineup, and so scored a run a game more than the Giants. Despite winning the season series against the White Stockings 10-6, the Giants spent the last two thirds of the season looking up in the standings, and scored just 8 runs in three straight losses to Chicago at the end of September to ice the race.
In the middle of this you had the 30-year-old Gerhardt (himself 6 feet tall), who played every inning of every game at second, and batted a staggeringly anemic .155/.203/.195 (29), considerably worse than the team's pitchers. Gerhardt scored just 43 runs, compared to 51 for the pitchers and a team average of 85 for the other 7 lineup spots. Amazingly for the day, he had more strikeouts than runs scored. He may not have been that fast, either - in a league where everybody ran constantly, he played everyday in 1886 as well and stole just 8 bases. This is just a breathtakingly disastrous offensive showing for a guy on a great team that was having a great season and coming up short. It's hard to think of a team this good that had a guy whose OPS was less than a third of the league playing anything like every single game.
Did Gerhardt make up for it with his glove? At a remove of 123 years, based on the numbers alone, it's hard to say. Manager Jim Mutrie, who won 3 pennants and more than 60% of his career games, must have seen something in him besides the absence of warm bodies on the rosters of the day to justify that awful bat. The Giants were a tremendous defensive team, which speaks well of Gerhardt - while they led the league in strikeouts handily (4.61/game compared to a league average of 3.75), the low ERAs testify more to a great record on balls in play - their defensive efficiency rating (% of balls in play becoming outs) of .701 was almost 30 points higher than that of the #2 team and good even for a 21st century team, let alone a team with guys playing the infield barehanded or wearing gloves that to the modern eye look more like Isotoners; their .929 fielding percentage was likewise 13 points above the nearest competition, and in those days fielding percentages really made a difference, with most fielders making an error one times in ten.
Individually, Gerhardt's numbers don't really stand out. His range factors and fielding percentages had been much higher than the league from 1877-1884, but in 1885 he was at .911 fielding percentage compared to .900 for a league-average second baseman, and 5.95 range factor compared to a league average of 5.70 - good but hardly great for a guy playing every inning. On the other hand, his range factors jumped back up in 1887 when he left the Giants, so some illusion created by the team context may be involved even beyond the fact that Keefe and Welch were comparatively high-K pitchers for the day.
Anyway, the evidence suggests that Gerhardt was probably a pretty good fielder, but it's hard to see at this distance how he could possibly have been good enough to make up for that catastrophic showing with the bat, when a mere .210 hitter would likely have won the Giants the pennant.
Maybe Gehrhardt wasn't as disastrous on both sides of the ball as the famous John Gochnauer, who in 1903 batted .185/.265/.240 (54) and made 98 errors at shortstop (with fielding percentages and range factors far below the league averages of the day) for an Indians team that somehow finished 77-63, and maybe he wasn't as epically futile with the bat as Bill Bergen, who compiled a career OPS+ of 21 including three years at the end of his career as a starting catcher batting .139/.163/.156 (1), .161/.180/.177 (6) and .132/.183/.154 (-4). But in the annals of guys who turned in a total flop at the plate when even ordinary incompetence would have been the difference in a pennant race, Gerhardt's place in history is surely secure.
November 7, 2008
POLITICS: No Class
The President-Elect wasted no time kicking Republicans when they're down with his petty, graceless crack today (for which he had to apologize) at the expense of 87-year-old Nancy Reagan, last seen leaving the hospital a few weeks back with a broken pelvis:
Obama was asked at his press conference today if he'd spoken to all the "living" presidents.
As Ben Smith notes, Obama's left-wing talking points on this one weren't even accurate. But hey, I guess sneering at the Reagans is "in" again.
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Crichton On The Rags
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
One of my recurring themes on the media is that the preference for liberal politics - big government, social liberalism, political correctness, disdain of conservatives and the religious - is really only the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with the mainstream media. The state of sportswriting, business and legal journalism, pretty much anything that gets covered in the papers and on TV is subject not only to political bias but also to a whole host of other individual and institutional biases and prejudices and axes to grind, laziness, sloppiness, failures of substantive knowledge and logical reasoning...the blogosphere has no shortage of flaws of its own, but the fact that so many bloggers have had careers doing things (the law, the military, business, medicine, etc.) means in general that you get a class of people who have substantive knowledge and exposure to more rigorous disciplines than the typical journalist. Crichton, with his medical background, brought that same advantage to his craft as a novelist, and we were richer for his work (I read a whole bunch of his books; my favorites were The Great Train Robbery and Disclosure).
BASEBALL: Rapid Robert
Bob Feller at 90. A nice profile of the last remaining star of the 1930s (Feller broke in in 1936 and went 24-9 in 1939; he and Stan Musial are reallly the only major stars left from the pre-war era). H/T.
Given how short a pitcher's prime can be (Feller's last year as a great pitcher was at age 28, although he managed a 22-8 record at age 32 and 13-3 as a sore-armed 35-year-old), Feller probably lost more of his best baseball to the war than any other great player; he missed three full seasons and most of a fourth to the war from age 23-26, after winning 24, 27 and 25 games the prior three years and 26 his first full year back, and retired 34 wins short of 300. Granted, we don't know if he would have broken down earlier without that break in his years of carrying a major league workload (the man averaged 309 innings and 26 complete games a year from age 19-22), and we don't know if he would have lasted longer if he hadn't thrown 371.1 innings and 36 complete games for a team going nowhere his first full year back. When I ran my translated pitching stats project some years ago, Feller was one of four pitchers who really stood out as throwing a lot more innings per year in his prime than his contemporaries, the others being Robin Roberts, Phil Niekro and John Clarkson. He was and is, in any event, one of the all-time greats.
POLITICS: Never Right
Will Collier cautions that conservatives tempted to listen to David Frum should remember his history of making the same arguments - conservatism is doomed, we need to hand over more power from the grassroots to the elites, etc. - in the 1990s, including on the very eve of the great 1994 wave:
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Most famously, his tome Dead Right proclaimed the intellectual and electoral barrenness of conservatism in general and the GOP in particular, and offered Frum's own prescriptions for the renewals of both. The blurb on the original edition's cover read, "The great conservative revival of the 1980's is over. Government is bigger, taxes are higher, family values are weaker, and the Democrats are in power. What will the Right do next?"
Read the whole thing.
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POLITICS: The Honeymooner
It's rather poignant to watch the media love-fest over Obama's 'honymoon' period - the fawning over Michelle's pricey fashions, the breathless announcements of how wonderful everything will be as hope soars on clouds of euphoria - and wonder how the Bush presidency would have started if we'd been given a beginning like this, rather than the corrosive and unrelenting assault that consumed his presidency from Election Day 2000 onward. I don't think there's a better metaphor than the NY Daily News running front-page headlines about the Obamas bringing a dog to the White House while Bush's dog Barney bites a Reuters reporter. Victor Davis Hanson: "When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years." H/T. Indeed, they expect that we won't; they count on it. Ace, unsurprisingly, is having none of the pleas for unilateral unity:
Sorry, folks. No frakkin' sale. We remember "Jesusland." And stuff like this. And if you have a few hours, scroll through Malkin's "Bush Derangement Syndrome" archive. We remember everything - being called racist warmongers, Christianist nutbags, racists, and all the rest of the vitriol you folks threw at us in your "AAAHHH CHIMPY MCBUSHITLER HALLIBURTON IS THE EVILEST" stage of political development.
I've already said my own bit on how the Right should respond. We certainly should not have any illusions that a good deed today will ever be repaid. And we can all enjoy a laugh at the whiplash on the other side. Goldberg: "Alas, that [dissent is patriotic] standard only works for liberals. When conservatives dissent it's called being 'divisive.'" Lileks: "I'm off to the Mall to sell razor blades so people can scrape off their 'Question Authority' bumper stickers."
POLITICS: Where His Bread Is Buttered
Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's first and most important staff hire as Chief of Staff: on the wrong side of the credit crisis, but the right side for his own pocketbook. Shocking, I know. The good news about making his first pick a hyper-partisan Chicago pol with a scandalous financial past is that it does away with the whole "new politics" pretense right from the outset. Even the NYT notes that "Democrats are second-guessing one of his first and most important post-election decisions: Why is he asking Representative Rahm Emanuel - "Rahmbo," one of the capital's most in-your-face partisan actors - to be his chief of staff?" Obama will be coming for the GOP with the long knives, and Republicans will need to go into that with our eyes open. Washington never changes, after all; only the names change, and so far those aren't changing much either.
Then there's Rahm's plan for compulsory national service. And they said Republicans were the ones plotting to bring back the draft.
On the upside, Emanuel supported the Iraq War:
On Iraq, Emanuel has steered clear of the withdraw-now crowd, preferring to criticize Bush for military failures since the 2003 invasion. "The war never had to turn out this way," he told me at one of his campaign stops. In January 2005, when asked by Meet the Press's Tim Russert whether he would have voted to authorize the war-"knowing that there are no weapons of mass destruction"-Emanuel answered yes. (He didn't take office until after the vote.) "I still believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, okay?" he added.
If that signals Obama sobering up on Iraq now that he actually has to govern, all to the good. The nation needs the Democrats to govern responsibly. It's not like the anti-war faction has anywhere else to go, after all.
November 6, 2008
BASEBALL: When To Hang It Up
Thomas Wayne at Dugout Central looks at where Ken Griffey might land next season. I'm just not sure he brings anything to the table at this point...I mean, would the Mets have use for Griffey to take Endy Chavez' job, for example? Teams keep around reserve outfielders who can do specific things, not just old guys who might or might not have one last good season in them as a part-timer. He notes that they had Moises Alou this year (lotta good that did), but Alou was coming off hitting .341. I just don't see the upside to giving him a roster spot at this point. He'll probably sign somewhere, but the smart move at most is a spring training invite.
BASEBALL: Being There
Let us consider five relief pitchers' MVP candidacies:
What would you say if I told you that only one of these pitchers even got a single vote for the MVP, even though Pitcher C pitched for a contending team (a second-place team that finished four games out of first place) and the other four all pitched for division winners? Could you guess which one placed in the MVP balloting?
You might guess A, who carried the largest innings workload, was clearly the most effective (most strikeouts, by far the lowest opposing slugging %), and allowed easily the fewest inherited runners to score. Then again, Pitcher A didn't convert a very large percentage of save opportunities. He did finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting, though.
You might well guess C, who had the best ERA, the best save percentage, the second-most games and innings, and the fewest walks, although his home run rate was the second-highest. Unless you count him out for his team losing the pennant race. He, too, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting.
What about Pitcher E? He appeared in the most games, and had a better ERA than Pitchers B and D, but he also pitched less than an inning per game, significantly fewer innings than A or C; his save percentage was only the third best on the list; his strikeout rate was easily the lowest without offsetting advantages in the walks or homers column.
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If you have read this far, I'm sure you can guess that Pitcher E is Francisco Rodriguez in 2008...and Pitchers A-D are Francisco Rodriguez in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively. * * Despite some brilliant relief pitching over the years for a series of division-winning teams, K-Rod has never received a single vote for the MVP. Yet there appears to be serious consideration for giving him the AL MVP this season, solely on the strength of his having been given 69 save opportunities, compared to 2004-07 totals of 19, 50, 51, and 46. That's it - it's not even that he was unusually efficient in converting them, either, he just had more chances.
By the way, that declining K rate is one of the reasons why I'm a bit leery of anyone coughing up big dollars over multiple seasons for Rodriguez. Maybe he'll keep on trucking, or maybe he'll end up like the most-comparable pitcher through age 26, Gregg Olson. (See also #3 on that list, Bobby Thigpen, or #8, Tom Niedenfeur; by contrast, the rest of the list is guys who at least had 5 more good years like Bruce Sutter).
« Close It
November 5, 2008
POLITICS: Emanuel In Or Not In As Chief of Staff
The first major personnel announcement of the new Obama Administration is out, and the word is that Congressman Rahm Emanuel has been offered the post of Obama's chief of staff. The announcement didn't exactly go off smoothly, as this NBC report shows:
If you're reading tea leaves for what kind of Administration Obama will run, Emanuel does not exactly embody "new politics" and a "post-partisan" future. He's a Chicago Democrat who worked as a "senior adviser and chief fundraiser" (his words) for Mayor Daley and later worked in the Clinton White House, and he's known as a hardball-playing scorched-earth arch-partisan in the Tom DeLay mold. He's been widely seen as a possible future successor to Nancy Pelosi.
Will Emanuel take the job? If his spokesperson is publicly denying that he's taken it, that's basically a public slapdown to Obama's people for jumping the gun in leaking his name, and it's certainly a sign of initial dysfunction in the naming of what is probably the single most important staff position for a new president who will be facing a sharp learning curve as a new executive.
SECOND UPDATE: After the initial fumbling, Politico reports that Emanuel accepts the job.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: President Obama and the National Pastime
Lester Munson at ESPN has a long and interesting look at what Obama's election means for baseball and the world of sports in general, including his likely strong support for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago:
Japanese Olympic officials already have expressed their concern that Obama could turn the tide in favor of Chicago when the IOC votes in October.
(OK, I didn't have to include that paragraph about McCain, give me more than a day on that reflex...the irony is that the bribery investigation led to Mitt Romney taking over the Salt Lake City Games, which led to Romney's political rise - talk about your chains of unforeseen consequences).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:32 PM | Baseball 2008 | Other Sports | Politics 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Council of Elrond Reconsidered
Over at RedState yesterday a bunch of us had some Election Day fun with a little tongue-in-cheek geostrategy about the Council of Elrond. A good diversion from a discouraging day.
POLITICS: The 2012 GOP Field (First Call)
As promised, here's my initial thoughts on what the Republican field will look like in four years. Obviously, there are many variables along the way, ranging from how beatable Obama looks to the 2010 midterms; I'm just forecasting with the known knowns we have today. As usual there will probably be 10 or so candidates, but from where we sit today there look to be four slots from which to put together a credible primary campaign:
(1) The Populist Candidate: With its Washington leadership beheaded, the GOP is likely to become more of a populist and culturally conservative party in the next four years. Mike Huckabee showed this year the power and the limitations of a pure populist campaign, far exceeding expectations with nearly no resources or name recognition (although Huck was out of step with the populists on one of the major causes of grassroots frustration with DC, immigration). Against the backdrop of a tax-spend-regulate Obama Administration, a crucial challenge will be squaring populism with the GOP's need to appeal to economic and fiscal conservatives to expand out of the Huck-size niche. Realistically, the populist candidate is likely to end up as the most moderate serious candidate in the field.
As things stand today, Sarah Palin is the obvious populist candidate and, for now, the very-very-early frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, given her now-massive name recognition (the woman's every TV appearance is a ratings bonanza), amazing talents as a retail politician, appeal to the base, and the GOP tendency towards nominating the next in line. Granted, only two candidates in the part century (Bob Dole and Franklin D. Roosevelt) have won a major party nomination after being the VP nominee for a losing ticket (not counting Mondale, who'd already been VP), those two waited 12 and 20 years before doing so, respectively, and recent history has been unkind to those who tried (Edwards 2008, Lieberman 2004 - see also Quayle 2000).
I'll expand another day on the challenges facing Gov. Palin - the short answer is that inexperience is the easiest thing in the world to fix, but she'll have to face tougher budgetary times in Alaska in light of falling oil revenues, she'll have to withstand what is likely to be an ongoing national campaign by the Democrats to take her down or hobble her re-election efforts to cut off the likeliest threat to Obama, and she'll have to develop and sell her own, independent agenda and demonstrate a greater breadth and depth of knowledge on national politics than are required from the running mate slot. Upside in the primaries: the socially conservative, moose-hunting hockey mom could potentially be well-suited to the early GOP primary/caucus electorates in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.
(2) The Establishment Candidate: The GOP by tradition tends to fall in behind whoever is the candidate of the establishment - of country clubs and boardrooms and Beltway insiders. Part of being a Republican, of course, is having the maturity to understand that being the establishment candidate is not a bad thing. But an angry grassroots is going to take some serious persuading to pick another establishment figure.
The best establishment candidate should be Jeb Bush, for a variety of reasons, but four years won't be enough - if any length of time is - to rebuild the Bush brand within the GOP, let alone the general electorate. That leaves Mitt Romney as the logical next step; Mitt is currently out of office and thus less equipped to get more experience, but he'll have the money and energy to spend four years staking himself out as a consistent conservative voice and putting the distance of time between 2012 and the flip-flop charges of 2008. South Dakota Senator John Thune is also sometimes mentioned, but after 1964, 1996 and now 2008, the GOP has hopefully learned its lesson about nominating legislators for President, especially sitting Senators. Newly re-elected Indiana Governor and former Bush budget director Mitch Daniels (see here and here) will have his name come up but more likely as a VP nominee.
(3) The Full-Spectrum Conservative: The Fred Thompson role from 2008 but one that will pack a lot more potential appeal in 2012. Bobby Jindal is the best of the lot, but while he's already got an impressive resume, Jindal's so young (he's 37, which makes him the age Romney was in 1985), so he can afford to wait out several more election cycles; he's up for re-election in 2011, which makes running in 2012 very problematic; and he really and genuinely wants to stay in Louisiana long enough to make real changes in his beloved home state's legendarily corrupt and dysfunctional political culture. The other main contender for this slot is South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, now in his second term as Governor after 3 in Congress. SC is the most favorable turf for a candidate of this type among the early primary states, so with Sanford running as a favorite son he could basically block out any other challengers, and if he doesn't run for re-election in 2010 (offhand I don't know whether he's term-limited), he'd have a logistical advantage over Palin, who will presumably still be in office as governor of a geographically remote state.
(4) The National Security Candidate: After four years of Obama, there's also likely to be strong sentiment for adult leadership on national security. Traditionally, the GOP has tended to prioritize this issue (in 2008, both McCain and Giuliani ran primarily as national security candidates). But especially with Senators in disfavor, the supply of candidates with more national security credentials than a typical Governor is short - most of the Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld types in the party will be past their prime by 2012, and I continue to doubt that Condi Rice could be a viable candidate for a multitude of reasons. The name you're likely to hear is CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, but Gen. Petraeus - who I assume will remain on active duty for another year or two, at least, and who President Obama dare not fire - has no political experience and no known domestic-policy profile (we don't even know if he's a Republican). My guess is that if we nominate a governor in 2012, Gen. Petraeus will be much in demand as a running mate. After that, I'm not sure who will even try to fill this slot in the primaries.
Sorry, but that's the list; the no-more-McCains sentiment among the base will make it impossible for someone like Tim Pawlenty to mount a credible campaign as a moderate, nobody will bother trying to re-create the crippling damage inflicted on Rudy Giuliani from running with a record as a social liberal, and no Ron Paul type candidate (especially Ron Paul) is ever going to make a serious dent. It's those four slots or bust.
And I, for one, am definitely not committing yet to who I'll support as between Palin or a Sanford or Jindal run or maybe somebody else (obviously I'm not a Mitt fan). There's two long years ahead of us before that choice begins to arise.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Politics 2012 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Obama Administration Survival Guide
The nation awakens today to a grim day (although less grim than it might have been, as the late Senate races come in and the prognosis for a decent-sized GOP resistance looks much better). But America has endured worse. Here's 12 ways I recommend that conservatives and Republicans prepare to face the next four years under President Obama (yeah, get used to that one):
(1) Oppose Obama, Not America: The absolute wrong way to react to life in the minority is ... well, what we saw from too many people on the Left the past 8 years: calling everyone from the President on down to individual soldiers and Marines war criminals, parroting the propaganda of our enemies, exposing classified national security secrets on the front pages of the newspapers, and generally doing whatever possible to stymie the national defense and convince the nation and the world that America is the bad guy. We're better than that. When Obama fails to act to defend America and its interests and allies, or violates the basic common-sense principles of national security and foreign policy, we will of course be unsparing in our criticism. But we should not emulate the Left; indeed, the day may even come when Obama needs defending from the Left for doing what needs to be done, and we certainly want to encourage him to take actions that provoke that reaction.
(2) No Chicken-Hawking: This is a corollary of #1: given his shaky draft history, Bill Clinton at times appeared afraid of criticism over deploying the military on grounds that he didn't serve. We should never make Obama feel that he should blanch at defending the nation simply because he never wore the uniform (fortunately, on that score, Obama's defining personality trait is hubris). We've had civilian leadership before, we'll have it again.
(3) Don't Question The Verdict: Was there voter fraud in yesterday's election? Were there other shenanigans both legal and illegal? I'm sure there were, and others who follow those stories will no doubt be expanding on them in the weeks to come. Chronicling specific instances of misconduct is an important service - to expose the miscreants and their connections to the Obama campaign, to punish and deter and provide a basis for someday preventing a recurrence (although don't expect the Obama era to see anything but massive resistance to taking even the most tepid steps against voter fraud). And likewise, of course, there is still plenty more to be examined in Obama's fundraising, to say nothing of the untruths he told to get elected and the really shameful behavior of the media.
But fundamentally, he got more votes where it mattered and he won the race. Supporters of Gore and Kerry who refused to accept those realities in 2000 and 2004 ended up doing a lot of lasting damage to public confidence in our electoral system. The step of challenging the results of an election is a grave one not to be taken without serious evidence. Let's not repeat their mistakes with conspiracy theories.
(4) Don't Blame The Voters: Yes, it's tempting to go off into the place where Democrats were fuming about "Jesusland" four years ago. And yes, Obama got a lot of votes for bad reasons or from vacuous people. Hey, there are a lot of stupid people in the world, and in America, and a fair number of them vote - they vote when we win, they vote when we lose. Winston Churchill was a great believer in democracy as the least-worst system of government, but he's also the guy who once said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
For all that, it's counterproductive to lose faith in the collective wisdom of the American voting public over the long term. Even when the public makes a mistake, it usually has a reason - and while electing Obama will be clearly shown over time to have been a mistake, the GOP also has some serious introspection to do about how we let things come to the point of giving the public a reason to do what it did. And we need to retain faith that rebuilding our party around the principles that have succeeded in the past, and adapting those principles for the world of the next decade, will win them back.
(5) Don't Get Mad, Get Even: Yes, it's a cliche, but unfocused rage goes bad places. There's a lot of work to do to prepare the ground for the GOP to come back as it did in 1994, 1980, and 1966-68. The Left drew first blood on the Bush second term only a few weeks after the election, with the Bernard Kerik nomination. We'll have a target-rich environment to work with as the kind of urban machine politics the Democrats have made famous comes to the White House, and we'll have fun doing it.
(6) We Play For 2010, Not 2012: I'll be writing up shortly my early thoughts about the GOP presidential field in 2012, and plenty of others will too. Do it, get it out of your system, come to the aid of the people who will make up future presidential fields, but whatever you do, don't get into primary-season, my-gal/guy-or-the-highway mode again until we are through the 2010 elections. There will be a need in the party's future for Palin and Jindal and Sanford and Huck and Mitt and all the rest; we're all in this together.
(7) Prioritize: More on this later, but Obama and the Congressional Democrats are going to have a long list of issues they want to press, and we can't stop all of them. The GOP needs to divide issues into four buckets:
a. Things we are prepared to go to the mat to stop
(8) Watch Your Budget: We're all going to have to prepare for tougher economic times, plus the burden of Obama's tax hikes. Don't overextend your own finances.
(9) Grow A Thick Hide and Get Your Taxes in Order: Joe Wurtzelbacher won't be the last Obama critic to feel the weight of government intrusion for standing up to Obama. David Freddoso and Stanley Kurtz won't be the last conservative journalists to have their investigations stonewalled and campaigns organized to drive them off the radio. And get used to being called a racist, as everyone who gets in Obama's way is, sooner or later. Understand now that you will need to stomach all that and more, and you won't get rattled.
(10) Buy More Life Insurance: Well, at least if, like me, you live or work in a city that's a top terrorist target, and have roots too deep to leave. Our risk tolerance will have to go up.
(11) Pray: Well, this one speaks for itself. Pray especially for the unborn.
(12) Get On Living: Life is short and there's more to it than politics. We'll need committed activists, and as a whole our movement will need to be relentless - but thinking about politics too much is unhealthy, especially when you have a long wait ahead for any progress. For my part, starting tomorrow I'll be back to doing more baseball blogging. Take a break whenever you need one, spend more time with your family. And teach your kids that every minute of life is worth it even when the world seems to have gone mad. Many generations before us have done so in tougher times than these.
November 4, 2008
POLITICS: Karl Rove Has Been Vindicated
One of the most unambiguous conclusions from Obama's victory? Karl Rove was right.
For the past 8 years, we've had a debate over the best political strategy for approaching a national election. There were, in essence, two contending theories.
Karl Rove's theory - one he perhaps never explicitly articulated, but which was evident in the approach to multiple elections, votes in Congress, and even international coalitions run by his boss, George W. Bush - was, essentially, that you win with your base. You start with the base, you expand it as much as possible by increasing turnout, and then you work outward until you get past 50% - but you don't compromise more than necessary to get to that goal.
Standing in opposition to the Rove theory was what one might call the Beltway Pundit theory, since that's who were the chief proponents of the theory. The Beltway Pundit theory was, in essence, that America has a great untapped middle, a center that resists ideology and partisanship and would respond to a candidate who could present himself as having a base in the middle of the electorate.
Tonight, we had a classic test of those theories. Barack Obama is nothing if not the pure incarnation on the left of the Rovian theory. He ran in the Democratic primaries as the candidate of the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.' His record was pure left-wing all the way. He seems to have brought out a large number of new base voters, in particular African-Americans responding to his racial appeals and voting straight-ticket D. As I'll discuss in a subsequent post, the process of getting to 50.1% for a figure of the left is more complex and involves more concerted efforts at concealment and dissimulation, but the basic elements of the Rovian strategy are all there.
John McCain, by contrast, was the Platonic ideal Beltway Pundit-style candidate, and his defeat by Obama ensures that his like will not win a national nomination any time soon, in either party. McCain spent many years establishing himself as a pragmatic moderate, dissenting ad nauseum and without a consistent unifying principle from GOP orthodoxy; McCain had veered to the center simply whenever he felt that the Republican position was too far. McCain held enough positions that were in synch with the conservative base to make him minimally acceptable, but nobody ever regarded him as a candidate to excite the conservative base.
Now, it's true enough that the partisan environment was terribly challenging for Republicans in 2008. That's why so many of us on the Republican side were willing to go with McCain in the first place. But here's the thing: if you believed the Beltway Pundit theory, that shouldn't matter. If a significant and reliable bloc of voters consistently preferred the moderate, centrist candidate over the more ideological and partisan candidate, in the same way that conservatives prefer the more conservative candidate and liberals prefer the more liberal candidate, you would have a base from which a candidate like McCain could consistently prevail against a candidate like Obama, and partisan identification would be trumped by moderation and proven bipartisanship.
But there is no such base. Centrist, moderate, independent, voters are generally "swing" voters, always have been and always will be. Among those who are at least modestly well-informed, they are a heterogenous lot - some libertarian, some socially conservative but economically populist, some fiscally conservative and socially liberal, some isolationist and anti-immigrant, etc. It's not possible to make of them a "base" - the only way to approach the center is to lock down the real base at one end or the other of the political spectrum, and then reach out to voters in the middle, understanding the real tradeoff that what appeals to one "swing" voter may be anathema to others.
Of course, the dismal approval ratings of the Bush Administration at the end of its days testify to the serious arguments over whether Rove and his boss chose the wrong mix of reaches out to the center as they built their "compassionate conservative" coalition; that's a separate debate. It is likewise a fair debate over the ways in which future conservative candidates can and should make compromises to get the GOP back to that 50.1%. But what's not open for debate, after tonight, is the sheer futility of trying to build a coalition from the center out. Because the center won't stand still for any candidate.
POLITICS: Welcome Back, Carter
Well, we have our answer now: at this writing, it's pretty clear that Barack Obama has won the Presidency, bringing back the Carter Administration with a vengeance. Needless to say, I'll have a number of postmortem posts on this, but don't expect them all in one gulp, as there's a number of angles to approach here over the next several days and weeks.
POLITICS: Optimistic To The End
I'm not making an electoral college prediction, other than to reiterate yet again that whoever wins Pennsylvania, wins the election. If pressed, my popular vote prediction would be Obama 52, McCain 48, but of course I remain hopeful things will go differently.
This, which I've seen linked in a few places, makes the argument for why Obama is toast, based in part on looking at where the candidates have been traveling. It may be right; I can't know (they gotta go somewhere). All I can say is, the people on the Right writing these things are going to look like either fools or geniuses in a few hours. (Although I think the comparison of the Kerry and Obama media strategies is spot-on either way, and I'm not endorsing his assault on Nate Silver - Nate has his obvious biases, but he's a data guy, and like Gerry Daly in 2004, he's working with the data, right or wrong. I've already had to eat crow once this year when I challenged the PECOTA system's projection that the Rays would win 88 games).
POLITICS: Palin Power
Unsurprising poll result of the year: Sarah Palin is more popular with Republican voters than John McCain. 71% of GOP voters say Palin was the right choice for VP, compared to 65% supporting McCain as the best choice for the Presidential nominee, 74% of Democrats who say Obama was the right choice, and 76% of Democrats who say Biden was the right choice. (It's perhaps unsurprising given the nature of primary battles that both parties' presidential candidates face more lingering doubters in the ranks).
POLITICS: "People who love their country can change it!"
Just in case you were wondering whether the Obama campaign's "change" slogan means changing the government or changing America...here's an actual SMS message received by one of my RedState colleagues today from the Obama campaign:
People who love their country can change it! Make sure everyone you know votes for Barack today.
Contrast John McCain:
My country has never had to prove anything to me, my friends...I've always had faith in it and I've been humbled and honored to serve it.
America remains, in Reagan's words, a country with a government, not the other way around. Let's hope it stays that way.
POP CULTURE: Personally, I'd Vote For Lando's Running Mate
See more funny videos at Funny or Die
Via Gabriel Malor at Ace's place. Amazingly, Billy Dee Williams was available.
The Weather Underground, the SDS, the anti-war movement...hey, what's a 60s radical reunion without the Black Panthers?
Just when you thought we were done with the 60s for good, too.
November 3, 2008
POLITICS: Gov. Sarah Palin Cleared In "Tasergate"
Ah, the death of a talking point...we have news from Alaska that the investigator for the State Personnel Board has issued a report - contrary to the findings of the Legislature's independent investigator - and concluded that Gov. Palin did not abuse her authority in the case of State Trooper Michael Wooten, the controversy over "Tasergate" or, if you prefer, "Troopergate."
Let's do a Q&A on the 263-page Branchflower report, which I read from cover to cover, and on the 125-page Petumenos report, which I have only yet had the chance to skim. I may return to this after the election when we have more time to walk through the evidence (win or lose tomorrow, Gov. Palin will continue to be an important figure in national politics).
First, the Branchflower report:
(1) A report was issued by one man, Stephen Branchflower.
(2) Branchflower was handpicked, and his investigation directed, by Hollis French - an Obama supporter who has a personal axe to grind in the facts under investigation. Branchflower, French and Walt Monegan, the chief witness in the case, all appear to go way back together in Alaska law enforcement circles.
(3) The only wrongdoing Branchflower could find was under a general statute that says public officials may not engage in an "effort to benefit a personal ... interest through official action" - he did not find a violation of any specific statute, rule or regulation. To conclude that Gov. Palin's actions were in her personal interest rather than the best interests of the Alaskan people and their government, you must believe that her actions were actually wrong.
(4) In order to find that Gov. Palin's actions were actually wrong, Democrats must be willing to argue that an irresponsible and abusive state trooper who made death threats against Gov. Palin's father and menaced her sister in her hearing and used a Taser on a 10-year-old is a good person to have wielding armed authority on behalf of the State of Alaska. Because otherwise they are making a technical legal argument that she did the right thing in the wrong way - yet they don't have any technical violation to hang their hats on.
Independent Counsel has concluded the wrong statute was used as a basis for the conclusions contained in the Branchflower Report, the Branchflower report misconstrued the available evidence and did not consider or obtain all of the material evidence that is required to properly reach findings.
Read More »
Q: What is this story about?
A: In broad outlines, two things. One, the Palin family had a long-running dispute - predating Sarah Palin's campaign for Governor - with Alaska State Trooper Michael Wooten, the ex-husband of Gov. Palin's younger sister Molly. Trooper Wooten remains employed as a State Trooper. Two, in July 2008, Gov. Palin fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, a Cabinet-level employee whose job includes supervising the State Troopers. (Technically, Monegan was demoted, not fired, but the point is that he was removed from his job, and chose to decline the reassignment). The issues are whether Gov. Palin acted improperly in seeking to get Trooper Wooten fired or in firing Monegan.
Q: So, what did the Legislature find?
A. Nothing. As Beldar explains, the Legislature's not in session, so it hasn't done anything, and neither has the 12-member bipartisan Legislative Council under whose authority the investigation was conducted. (As the Anchorage Daily News noted when the Council voted to release his report: "His report was released Friday by a 12-0 vote of the Legislative Council, with eight Republicans and four Democrats voting. Some members of the panel said they didn't agree with Branchflower's findings, however." This despite the axes to grind against Palin by both Republican and Democratic members of the Council) The investigative report by Stephen Branchflower, a retired prosecutor living in South Carolina, is entitled to no more and no less deference than previous determinations by Ken Starr, Robert Ray, Lawrence Walsh, Donald Smaltz, George Mitchell, and other investigative one-man bands. And to the extent that Branchflower shows his own work, you or I are perfectly qualified to second-guess his opinions - and so is Petumenos, the Personnel Board investigator.
Moreover, Branchflower's report is inherently one-sided, as he didn't have access to Gov. Palin, her husband, her sister or a number of other people supportive of the Governor. Obviously, that's due to the battles over the scope and authority of Branchflower's investigation, which in turn were driven by the McCain-Palin camp's justifiable concerns about the fairness of the investigation. Branchflower refused to reference or incorporate the written response by Gov. Palin to the Personnel Board's investigation or the sworn statements of Todd Palin and other witnesses who provided statements late in the game. He also does not appear to have interviewed Trooper Wooten, receiving only a written statement from him. (See Branchflower Report ("BR") 5, 7). But he did find time to interview Democratic Senate candidate Mark Begich, who was actually the first person he interviewed. BR 2. As such, his report should be considered only as one part of the story. Indeed, if you look at his crucial conclusion on page 67 of the report regarding the Palins' concerns about Wooten, Branchflower draws inferences against the Palins while admitting that "in the absence of an interview with either Governor Palin or Todd Palin, the specific answers to [his] questions [about the genuineness of their motives] are left unanswered," then goes about construing the remaining evidence against them on what, as I note below, is a fairly slender foundation. Gov. Palin has, of course, subsequently submitted to an interview that will be part of the conclusions to be drawn after the election by both the Legislature and the Personnel Board, in both of which Gov. Palin obviously has more faith than in Branchflower.
I should also note here that the meandering and repetitive 263-page report is only the public volume. There is also a confidential portion the public can't examine. We can only evaluate Branchflower's public work to see if it supports his conclusions. As discussed below, the public report simply does not purport to address many of the important issues.
Q: Who is Stephen Branchflower?
Branchflower has a longstanding working relationship with Monegan dating to Branchflower's time as a prosecutor in Anchorage, where Monegan was Chief of Police * (as does Branchflower's wife). Likewise, Democratic State Senator Hollis French is "a former prosecutor and colleague of Branchflower". * That's not all that surprising (it's a small law enforcement community), but obviously Branchflower was likely to be predisposed favorably towards Monegan and French, both of whom are aligned against Palin here.
Q: Who is Hollis French and what does he have to do with all this?
Branchflower was handpicked as the investigator by Hollis French (over the objections of the Alaska Attorney General, a Palin ally, who wanted a retired judge or other more objective figure), and French effectively controlled the investigation including the witness list. * (Alaska TV station KTVA describes French as "responsible for managing the case"; the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) calls him the investigation's "project director." *). Here is the basis for concluding that French was running Branchflower's witness list:
Rep. David Guttenberg (D.) asked Branchflower why he was requesting subpoenas for only those people attending the meeting and not Tibbles himself.
Hollis French isn't just a Democratic State Senator on the Legislative Council; as I note below, his de facto alliance with Monegan in the events that led up to Monegan's firing means that he's effectively involved in the facts under investigation, and really ethically should have recused himself from this entire process. But French is also a prominent Obama supporter whose testimonials are featured on Obama's own website * * *, and he had a job to do: provide what he promised would be an "October Surprise" for the McCain-Palin campaign. Speaking to Newsweek in early September, "French ... acknowledged that some of his public comments about the ongoing probe may have been out of bounds. 'I said some things I shouldn't have said'"...
Palin questioned French's impartiality from the time that "French was quoted in The Wall Street Journal [in early August] saying the governor could be impeached as a result of the [Branchflower] probe." (French argued that he'd been misquoted). * Here's how Beldar describes French's conduct:
Democratic state senator Hollis French, who's managing the investigation, is already jumping to conclusions, muttering about "impeachment" to the press, and yet simultaneously he's short-circuited any kind of basic due process by refusing to share with Gov. Palin or her counsel the historical evidence (e.g., emails) that the Legislature's investigator is collecting to use against her! At least one Alaska legislator has already called for French to step down, citing his obvious bias. French has already boasted to ABC News of his desire to "release his final report by Oct. 31, four days before the November election," as an "October surprise" that's "likely to be damaging to the Governor's administration."
John McCormack notes:
Hollis French is now managing the investigation into Monegan's firing, and French has already made partisan remarks about it to the press, saying to the Washington Post: "It undercuts one of the points they are making that [Palin] is an ethical reformer."
Amanda Carpenter notes that some press reports support the notion that Wooten's union, the PSEA (which as discussed below was at loggerheads with Palin in the dispute that precipitated Monegan's demotion) is also coordinating with the Obama campaign:
The same week PSEA filed their complaint, CNN reported that Obama campaign officials had been contacting Wooten's union, although Obama spokesmen have vehemently refuted CNN's report as well as one from the Wall Street Journal's John Fund that said more than 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researches had been deployed to Alaska to dig up dirt on Palin.
As for Monegan's credibility, certainly Branchflower presents him as a respectable law enforcement figure, and his testimony seems reasonable on its face. That said, he obviously has an axe to grind against Palin. And Monegan himself was once subject to a domestic violence order of protection for making death threats against his now-ex-wife, so he may not be the most unbiased observer of Wooten's situation.
Q: Who is Timothy Petumenos?
I'm not, as yet, as familiar with Petumenos, though I am sure we will learn more about him and the Personnel Board. I assume, given that Gov. Palin submitted her own request for a Personnel Board investigation, that she felt it would be a more sympathetic venue.
Q: OK, that's all well and good, but let's discuss the merits here. Did Gov. Palin act improperly or illegally in firing Walt Monegan?
Branchflower says she had every right to fire Monegan - he exonerates the Governor on the totally obvious ground that she was entitled to fire such a high-ranking officer in her cabinet for any reason or no reason; Monegan serves at the pleasure of the Governor. (See Finding Number Two at p. 69-71 of Branchflower's report). As discussed below, Branchflower's only basis for complaining about Monegan's firing is that he believes that it was partly motivated or precipitated by the dispute over Wooten. In other words, all roads lead back to Wooten.
The evidence shows fairly overwhelmingly that Gov. Palin had legitimate policy-related reasons to want Monegan gone; in her written response to the investigation ("PR"), Gov. Palin refers to these as "good-faith disagreements about appropriate government policy." PR 4(paragraph 16). Monegan was insubordinate; he broke openly with Palin over her efforts to cut his agency's budget, siding instead with Hollis French, of all people, in a budget dispute tied to Palin's Administration's negotiations with the Troopers' union, the PSEA, whose contract was due up in June 2008:
* 12/9/07: Monegan holds a press conference with Hollis French to push his own budget plan.
In a July 7 e-mail, John Katz, the governor's special counsel, noted two problems with the trip: The governor hadn't agreed the money should be sought, and the request was "out of sequence with our other appropriations requests and could put a strain on the evolving relationship between the Governor and Sen. (Ted) Stevens."
Consider how even Andrew Halcro - a 2006 Gubernatorial candidate defeated by Palin and now the blogger who started this whole kerfuffle, and thus a person most ill-disposed towards Sarah Palin - described the budget battle:
the Palin administration wanted Monegan to go in another direction. They wanted him to cut corners on a budget that had already fallen behind over the last decade. Under Former Governor Murkwoski there was significant investment made to try and catch up with growing costs but Palin's budgets have again started to starve the agency.
Monegan and his department were getting too far out in front of Palin, acting in ways that were independent and contrary to the governor's wishes. Palin needed to replace Monegan with someone who would be seen but not heard while doing the governor's bidding.
Walt Monegan was fired because he fought too hard. Governor Palin fired Monegan because she understood too little and wanted a puppet as commissioner.
Regardless of whose side you took in the budget battle, the fact is, taking public sides against your boss' budget decisions is very close to the top of the list of ways to get yourself fired in politics. There's simply no way to gloss over the differences of policy and politics that led Monegan to get demoted. Branchflower really had no choice but to find that demoting Monegan was a legitimate exercise of Gov. Palin's authority.
Petumenos concurs that there was no impropriety in demoting/reassigning Monegan.
Q: So, if Gov. Palin had legitimate reasons to fire Monegan, what on earth is Branchflower complaining about?
It's all about Wooten.
Branchflower found that Gov. Palin "abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act," which provides:
The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.
It's undisputed that Gov. Palin did nothing to act in her financial interest, so the question is whether she acted to benefit a "personal" interest. As noted above, it's undisputed as well that she had other legitimate reasons to remove Monegan, and no personal interest in doing so.
But let's assume for the sake of argument that the strongest case against Gov. Palin is true: that she pressured Monegan to fire Wooten, and that the degree of the pressure to fire Wooten is illustrated by the removal of Monegan from his position when he wouldn't do it himself. (This involves multiple leaps over gaps in Branchflower's evidence, but we'll go there for now for the sake of argument. I'm also glossing here over Branchflower's confused legal definition of what state of mind is required to "knowingly" violate the Ethics Act, although I would argue as well that as a legal matter, Branchflower really has no basis to argue that Gov. Palin "kn[e]w that ... her conduct [was] in violation of the Act," BR 51).
Branchflower's theory is that firing Wooten would be a "personal benefit" to Gov. Palin because it would benefit Gov. Palin's father and sister and that she wanted "to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons." BR 65, 67. Now, as a legal matter, Palin's lawyers note that there's pretty much no precedent in Alaska law for finding a violation of this provision of the Ethics Act in the absence of any financial interest. And of course in a material sense, as noted below, it's hard to see how getting him fired would benefit his ex-wife.
That said, obviously it's not hard to see why in the aftermath of a bitter divorce, and with child custody issues still open to revisiting, one could see a benefit to Gov. Palin's sister to ruining Wooten. Branchflower has no evidence of this, as a result of which it's improper for him as an officer of the State to jump to that conclusion, but leave that aside for now. The fact is, "personal interest" is at best vaguely defined (Beldar suggests as an example that it could possibly include such things as pardoning someone who could incriminate a governor).
To the extent the Governor is alleged to have sought a non-financial personal benefit from an attempt to have Mr. Wooten dismissed, that benefit would have been a benefit shared generally with the public -- namely, the benefit of a trooper force free from rogue officers who have been found guilty of acts of violence and recklessness against the public. The Ethics Act specifically permits state officials to act in such circumstances, and thus even if the allegations were true -- which they assuredly are not -- there would be not probable cause to pursue the claim in this matter.
Beldar has his own take on what a "personal interest" is (he notes that "Branchflower reads the Ethics Act to prohibit any governmental action or decision made for justifiable reasons benefiting the State if that action or decision might also make a public official happy for any other reason," which I suppose might be a useful rule where you have a clear-cut benefit like a financial interest), as does Paul Mirengoff.
Petumenos, at pp. 17-19, essentially agrees with the Governor's lawyers, and specifically notes that it would be problematic to construe the statute as broadly as Branchflower does - apparently without precedent in Alaska law - in a way that would act as a positive constraint against a Governor acting in the best interests of the public on a matter in which she has no concrete interest similar to a financial interest.
My own view is much the same: acting to get rid of a trooper who is a hazard both to the public and to the State Treasury (through the risk of lawsuits against the State if he misbehaved) is not just a defensible use of the Governor's authority, it's her job. It's illogical to find a significant ethical violation - as required by the precedents cited by Gov. Palin's attorneys - if the Governor reasonably and sincerely believed she was acting in the best interests of the people she was elected to represent. The Governor is, after all, the state's Chief Executive, with sole and really irreplaceable responsibility for public safety and the public fisc. If she had information causing her to believe that one of her subordinates represented a threat to public safety, there's really no good reason why she should have been precluded from doing everything in her power to remove that threat (this is especially true in a small state where people are more apt to know each other).
I just don't see how a legal prohibition on Gov. Palin acting for a "personal interest" - where she had no financial interest at stake - could be triggered if she reasonably and sincerely believed she was acting in the best interests of the public in the case of a trooper who was a menace to society. The fact is that if it is shown that she reasonably and sincerely thought that Wooten should not be a trooper, the benefit of removing him from that position would not be significantly greater for her - as the sister of his estranged and presumably embittered ex-wife - than for the average citizen. There should only be any sort of ethics complaint here if there's a reasonable basis for finding that her concerns about Wooten were pretextual and not supported by a reasonable and sincere desire to protect the public interest, in which case the personal aminus becomes a more significant element in the decisional matrix. As I discuss below, Branchflower does not come close to meeting that standard.
Q: Did Gov. Palin pressure Monegan to take action against Trooper Wooten?
Branchflower dedicates the bulk of his investigation to this question. As to Gov. Palin personally, the evidence suggests that while she repeatedly made clear to Monegan her grievances with Wooten as a trooper, she (1) never directly or indirectly instructed Monegan to fire Wooten and (2) took to heart Wooten's admonition early in her term that for legal reasons she should not talk directly to Monegan about Wooten.
On the first point, Monegan has been unequivocal:
"For the record, no one ever said fire Wooten. Not the governor. Not Todd. Not any of the other staff," Monegan said ... "What they said directly was more along the lines of 'This isn't a person that we would want to be representing our state troopers.'"
Now, Monegan admits that he was never asked to fire Wooten. He also admits that after he advised Gov. Palin early in her term (February 2007) that it would be unwise to discuss the employment of a particular trooper with him, she did not raise the issue again.
That said, and for today at least I'm skimming over some of the details here that were covered exhaustively in the reports, basically the investigators' conclusions turned on Todd Palin and some of the Governor's key staffers constantly pestering Monegan about what a bad trooper Wooten was.
The argument as to why this was improper is, mainly, that Monegan really couldn't fire Wooten - apparently, under the collective bargaining agreement (and possibly state law as well, I'm writing quickly here and can't recall offhand) since he'd already been investigated and given a slap on the wrist, there was no way to reopen his case.
Of course, (1) the Governor can change the law and (2) the collective bargaining agreement was open to renegotiation - it expired in June 2008. That's not to say in either case that Gov. Palin had imperial power to just rewrite the civil-service laws, but it's worth remembering that the rules here were not cast in stone forevermore, and in fact the example of how Wooten got away with the things he had done seems to have stuck in Gov. Palin's craw as an example of why she should be reconsidering the supervision of the troopers.
Q: Did Gov. Palin reasonably and sincerely believe that Trooper Wooten should not be a State Trooper?
I believe the evidence shows rather compellingly that Trooper Wooten's conduct, and specifically the conduct that the Palins complained about, demonstrates his unfitness to serve as a State Trooper and that his continuance in that position presented a risk to public safety as well as a liability risk to the State of Alaska. The record clearly supports that both Gov. Palin and her husband believed this to be true. Thus, to challenge the Palin family's complaints about Trooper Wooten, her critics must argue that Trooper Wooten is a good person to have exercising armed authority on behalf of the State, or, alternatively, that the Governor should not have done anything about him even though he was a menace.
And it's not just limited to dangers to the public. The evidence is also quite clear that Gov. Palin was concerned, repeatedly, about the possibility that Wooten could do something to a member of the Alaskan public that would open the State to the threat of a big-dollar lawsuit, a concern apparently triggered by public reports about other troopers whose conduct led to such judgments during the time period in question. If you know anything about litigation, you know that if the State continued to employ Wooten after the Governor herself knew that he was a 'ticking time bomb,' that would present elevated risks of a massive damages award in the hands of a skilled trial lawyer. New Governors are not required to check at the door the things they have learned in life outside government; there would be no way in such a lawsuit to keep it from coming out that the state's chief executive knew of an extensive history of Wooten's misconduct that rendered him unfit to carry a gun and a badge.
Consider Monegan's comments to the Washington Post, which support the conclusion that Gov. Palin was concerned that Wooten was a symptom of larger problems with the State Troopers that could lead to harm to the State:
Monegan said Palin mostly backed off, but kept raising the matter indirectly through e-mails. In the fall of 2007, Monegan said he alerted her to a bad jury verdict against a trooper in rural Alaska, and she replied by mentioning Wooten, but not by name.
Mike Gravel, who surely has no particular motive to side with Palin, thinks this is plenty of reason to want the man off the force:
This trooper should have been fired ... if the unions didn't want to step up to the plate. ...
"We had a lot of conversations about a guy who threatened my family and verbally assaulted my daughter. We talked about my concerns. We talked about Wooten possibly pulling over one of my kids to frame them, like throwing a bag of dope in the back seat just to frame a Palin," he said of his conversations with one Palin aide.
"I make no apologies for wanting to protect my family and wanting to publicize the injustice of a violent trooper keeping his badge and abusing the worker compensation system. The real investigation that needs to be conducted for the best interests of the public at large is the Department of Public Safety's unwillingness to discipline its own."
As I said, I have not had time to synthesize in a post all of the evidence here. Let's note the big one. In February 2005, as the marital dispute between Mike Wooten and Molly McCann was escalating, Sarah Palin (then a private citizen) was called by her sister to listen in on a big argument between Wooten and his wife (Palin noted in an August 2005 email that this particular altercation was precipitated by the revelation that Wooten had been cheating on his wife). Fearing for her safety in a heated argument, Molly called her older sister Sarah "in case I do need help," and Sarah stayed on one open line and had her son Track listen in with her. You can read the State Trooper investigator's interview 2 months later with Sarah Palin here (I'd block-quote at greater length but I can't copy and paste from these PDFs) - what they heard was chilling, and I wonder how Democrats can read her witness statement and take sides with Wooten as he storms in yelling at his wife in a rage (Palin notes that he's a very big guy, towering over his wife, and was likely wearing his service revolver) and tells her, "If your dad helps you through this divorce, if he gets an attorney he's gonna, he's gonna eat an F'n lead bullet. I'm gonna shoot him." and "I know people in all the right places, in high places. I know judges. I know attorney's [sic]. I have relationships with these guys. You guys are all going down." Palin got concerned enough that she had Track call Molly's neighbor, and Palin drove over to their house herself, eventually leaving when Wooten seemed to have calmed down. Palin noted in an August email the history of Wooten's "physical abuse of his wife." On April 11, 2005, Molly obtained a Domestic Violence Protective Order against Wooten.
Just for one example out of many, this, which also comes from an April 2005 report originating with Molly and Chuck Heath, should give a flavor of Wooten's menace:
Page also relayed that Inv. Wooten may be taking some kind of steroid supplement and having problems with alcohol and relayed a story where (nv. Wooten drove while intoxicated from the Mug Shot Saloon. Page said he had encouraged Molly and Heath to report this behavior to the troopers but they are scared. Page has personally observed Jnv.Wooten's behavior change over the last few months and described him as "disconnected."
Mike has also told Molly that he is taking a testosterone supplement that is illegal. He gets the substance from a friend he weight lifts with whose name she does not know. She cannot recall the name of the substance, just that it has a three letter initial name like MTD, and comes in small, blue pills.
(That's aside from the drinking and driving angle in that particular report).
So far as I can tell, nobody but Wooten himself seriously disputes that Wooten made the threats in question. Wooten "told troopers he never said anything like that about his father-in-law," but the state troopers' investigation did not find in his favor on the facts, concluding only as follows:
Molly McCann, Sarah Palin and Track Palin allege that on February 17, 2005, Investigator Wooten made a comment to Molly McCann that he would shoot her father if he hired a Iawyer for her. McCann advised that Investigator Wooten made this comment to her, and that Sarah and Track Palin who were listening over an open telephone line overheard it. Investigator Wooten was questioned about the comment and denied ever making the statement. Although McCann, Sarah Palin and Track Palin all recalled hearing the statement, a statement 'or implied threat to a non-present third party is not a crime. Although McCann and Sarah Palin felt that their father's life was in danger by the statement, neither mentioned the threat to their father for several weeks. Nevertheless, a statement of this sort by a trooper reflects badly on [Alaska State Troopers].
Newsweek cites subsequent comments by the divorce court judge asking Palin and her family to cool the jets on their complaints about Wooten and eventually dissolving the domestic violence protective order, but those are steps, as Beldar notes, that are fairly common for a divorce court looking to put the family dispute behind everyone, and they don't really address whether the death threats are consistent with believing that Wooten is a menace to public order as a State Trooper. Certainly the Washington Post's characterization of his remarks suggests a concern for something other than getting to the bottom of whether Wooten was a bad Trooper:
Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock reviewed the complaints filed by Palin and her family. At trial on Oct. 27, 2005, the judge expressed puzzlement about why the family was trying to get Wooten fired, since depriving the trooper of a job would harm his ability to pay family support to Palin's sister.
(See also BR 53-54). Branchflower mainly concluded that concerns over Wooten must be pretextual because the Palins dispensed with much of their security detail...but that's a logical non-sequitur; you could believe that Wooten is a dangerous guy with a hair-trigger temper who has no business in law enforcement and still not think he would hunt down and kill the governor of the state. At the same time, Branchflower's report makes clear that Gov. Palin expressed not wanting to have Wooten at events she was attending.
There's a whole bunch of other problems with Wooten I lack the time here to fully explore (including a number of findings against him by a state police internal investigation) - some minor, some more serious, but collectively giving the impression of a guy who drank too much, was very confident that he was above the law, and had little respect for rules - a bad combination indeed. The most notorious is the time he Tasered his 10-year-old stepson (he "offered" to do the same to Palin's daughter Bristol, who witnessed this lunacy). Wooten himself - who has been married four times - tries to minimize the Taser incident but nonetheless admits it was terrible judgment:
He said that he was a new Taser instructor, and his stepson was asking him about the equipment. "I didn't shoot him with live, you know, actual live cartridge," Wooten said.
This is a guy the state was supposed to trust with deadly force?
Q: What did Petumenos find?
Here's his summary of findings:
1. There is no probable cause to believe that Governor Palin violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act by making the decision to dismiss Department of Public Safety Commissioner Monegan and offering him instead the position of Director of the Alaska Beverage Control Board.
We can pick over as we go the debates about the details here, but the argument that there's somehow a formal and uncontested finding that Gov. Palin acted unethically is now unsupportable.
MORE READING: The
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POLITICS: Say What He Will
H/T. As I have said over and over: vote for the left-wing Democrat machine politician, if what you want is a left-wing Democrat machine politician, no more and no less. But really, if he wins, don't expect anybody, a year from now, to take seriously the idea that he was ever anything else. The two-steps like this are just about concealing who he is and what he stands for.
POLITICS: Stay Classy, Wonkette.com
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Yankee GObama
A rare combined baseball and politics post - well, sort of; this is obviously intended to be a little more lighthearted. Updating and correcting this June 2003 post - the Hated Yankees haven't won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. Counting since 1921 (their first pennant), the Yankees are 19-3 in the World Series (with just three playoff losses) in 40 years of Democratic Administrations, but just 7-10 in the World Series (with five playoff losses) in 48 years of Republican Administrations. They've gone 0 for the last five GOP Administrations while failing to bring home a championship on the watch of only one Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.
The breakout, by World Series W/L/No Pennant:
Harding/Collidge/Hoover (R): 4-3-5
So, you know, if you're not a Yankees fan...
UPDATE: Corrected. Somehow my brain blocked out the Yankees losing the Series in 2001 & 2003.
POLITICS: Just A Reminder
No outrage, but no surprise either - the Democrats don't care so much about campaign finance reform when they are raising and spending more money.
WAR/POLITICS: The Missing Victory
There's been a strange silence lately in the Presidential election: silence about victory in Iraq.
Number of U.S. combat fatalities in Baghdad this October? Zero, for the first time in the war. It's part of a larger trend:
Thirteen deaths were reported during October, eight of them in combat. The figures exactly match those of last July and reflect a continuing downward trend that began around Sept. 2007. October 2007 saw 38 deaths reported (29 combat); in October 2006 there were 106 U.S. deaths (99 combat) and in October 2005 there were 96 (77 combat).
U.S. deaths in Iraq fell in October to their lowest monthly level of the war, matching the record low of 13 fatalities suffered in July. Iraqi deaths fell to their lowest monthly levels of the year....The sharp drop in American fatalities in Iraq reflects the overall security improvements across the country following the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the rout suffered by Shiite extremists in fighting last spring in Basra and Baghdad.
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Perhaps the most tangible sign of victory in Iraq is the removal of the security walls in Baghdad; one would have to be positively churlish towards the war effort to resist being moved by the sight of those walls coming down, and what they mean to life in the Iraqi capital. And it's not just walls of concrete crumbling as the counterinsurgency "surge" pays its dividends:
On Oct. 1, the Sunni-dominated Awakening movement, widely credited with helping restore order to neighborhoods that were among the most deadly, passed from the American to the Iraqi government payroll in Baghdad. There is deep mutual mistrust between the new employer and many of its new employees, many of whom are former insurgents.
Have we gone so far along the path to victory that even Barack Obama couldn't screw it up? Not so fast:
U.S. commanders are also worried that security could worsen if the Iraqi parliament refuses to approve a new security agreement by the end of December, when the U.N. Security Council mandate under which the coalition operates in Iraq expires.
December, of course, is still on George W. Bush's watch, but nobody doubts that the President-elect will have real influence on that process, let alone on the U.S. military's ability to keep faith with our allies in Iraq going forward. But while an Obama Administration may still present a threat to victory in Iraq, the declining public interest in the conflict and the prominence of economic issues at home has basically made it politically impossible to make the case against Obama's wartime leadership, even as he plainly and inarguably got one of the two most important decisions of his time in the U.S. Senate - his opposition to the surge - as wrong as possible (on the other, preventing the financial crisis, he did no better).
Republicans in the 1990s tasted the bitter fruit of electoral irrelevance of one issue after another on which conservative policies had been implemented and succeeded - the Cold War, crime, welfare. (The Democrats don't have this problem). If John McCain loses, it may be because he really did prefer losing an election to losing a war. Certainly many Iraqis would prefer to see McCain win. It will be too bad if American voters don't see things the same way.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Politics 2008 | War 2007-12 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Making It A Long Night
I mostly agree with Allahpundit's view that McCain could be dead and buried early, given some of the poll-closing times:
7 p.m. Indiana, Virginia 7:30 p.m. Ohio, North Carolina 8 p.m. Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri
Granted, there's been talk that Ohio may not be call-able until very late (traditionally, Indiana and Virginia get called pretty quickly, but that may not be true in IN this year), but if McCain's winning the states he needs to stay in the game, I doubt very much that he loses either Ohio or Florida, at least unless something really...wrong is happening in Ohio, a possibility I'm trying to keep out of my mind right now. In fact, I tend to agree with Erick that "if McCain wins Pennsylvania, he's the President. If McCain loses Pennsylvania, he is not the President. It's that simple."
If McCain pulls out PA, even if he loses NH and longer shot 2004 blue states like MN and WI, he can afford to lose IA, VA, CO, and NM out of the 2004 Bush states and still win the election (go here; that gives him a 273-265 lead). If he doesn't take PA, he really does need to hold the line in most of the Bush states besides IA (in which he's been doomed all along due to the politics of ethanol).
Anyway, if McCain is still in the game at 9:30 or 10pm, it will be time to get optimistic, and not before.
POLITICS: Speaking of Obama's Unexamined Past
Business International, Obama's first employers out of college had substantial ties to SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), the radical (but nonviolent) Sixties group that gave birth to the Weather Underground (Bernadine Dohrn was one of the heads of SDS before joining the WU). H/T. This longer article pretty well covers the waterfront (including established fact, informed speculation and links) of why this should not surprise us and why there's a shroud of secrecy around Obama's life in the early 80s.
POLITICS: Change, The Mainstream, and Content-Free Politics
Stepping away for a moment from the right/left axis, there are fundamentally two worldviews of American politics that will, in theory, face off tomorrow.
One is the notion of the Mainstream. Basically, the Mainstream view of American politics is that there's a center to our politics, that things best get done when the two parties work together and marginalize the ideological extremes. This view holds that the real impediment to progress is the resistance of the Right and the Left to compromise. Pretty much by definition, the candidate of the Mainstream is John McCain, the man who practically embodies this view of Washington.
The opposite pole is the idea of Change. This view holds that Washington is at its worst, not its best, when the two parties conspire together against the general population. The Change view notices that Washington has long tended to chew up and spit out grand ideological schemes and idealists and impose a moderating pull towards the inherently corrupt center. The ideal Change candidate must be made of sterner stuff - must be willing to stand sometimes alone against misguided bipartisan consensuses, calling out the whole rotten edifice of favor-sharing and back-scratching. And of course, as I've been through repeatedly in this space, the Change candidate as well, by any sane reckoning, must be John McCain, given the contrast between his dogged pursuit of reform and Obama's business-as-usual attitude towards the corrupt machinery of government.
So given that we have two basically competing visions and one candidate represents both, how is that candidate not obviously winning?
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At the end of it all, there remain only three arguments for voting Obama that are not built entirely on willful ignorance or willful deceit regarding his record:
(1) The partisan argument: if you are determined to vote for a Democrat, any Democrat, Obama fits the bill. He's a member of the Democratic Party.
(2) The ideological argument: if you really and truly want to see the left wing take over, then the argument for voting Obama is basically the same as the argument for voting for Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich. He will, in fact, move the government to the left as much as he is able to do.
(3) The race argument: if you think the nation ought to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin, well, you're going to vote for Obama no matter what. (I disagree with Moe Lane's reading of this WaPo profile of an Obama supporter - I think the really distressing thing is her apparent sole fixation on Obama's race. But if, as Moe argues, that also renders her vulnerable to being used for Obama's political purposes, well, there's that too). This should not be confused with the argument that Obama would somehow be good for race relations as a whole in this country; to the contrary, the relentless effort by Obama and his supporters to play the race card against any and all criticism is a difficult instinct to turn off once it is activated, and is almost certain to have a corrosive effect over the next four years. Remember, people once thought electing David Dinkins would be good for race relations in New York City, too.
But that's pretty much it. Everything else that's been trotted out as a basis for voting Obama requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Instead, we get compelling political arguments like this one:
I'm not convinced that Obama's going to win. I'm convinced that he's significantly more likely than not to win, but of course by now we've all been through the reasons to question the polls, and for McCain supporters to refuse to submit to media efforts to declare the race over. But win or lose, certainly the GOP will need to do some serious thinking about how we got to the pass in which a candidate like Obama became thinkable, in which the illusions on which his candidacy has been based have never really been effectively punctured. In the event of defeat, certainly there will be much fun to be had exploiting the gulf between the Obama of his record and the Obama of his image, as it will be impossible for him to govern as both even if he is able to summon the executive competence and fortitude that he has never in his life had reason to display. But the nation should never have had to contemplate being punished with an Obama Presidency.
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POLITICS: A Confident Prediction About Barack Obama
I will make now a prediction about one thing we will see in the event of an Obama Presidency, and stick by it: Obama will never be free of his past.
During the 8 years of the Bush presidency, we have heard relatively little new information about his pre-presidential career, with the exception of the 2004 effort to dig further into his Texas Air National Guard service to contrast him with John Kerry. There's a reason for this: when Bush ran for President in 2000, the media crawled all over whatever they could find, most famously culminating in the story of his 1976 DUI arrest that broke the week of the election.
Much the same was true of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The press dealt mostly with their tenure in office, having already fully vetted them prior to their elections. We have seen in recent months the same process for Sarah Palin, with every aspect of her life being turned over by investigative reporters. And of course, John McCain as well.
Contrast the Clinton Administration - during the Clinton years, we had a steady stream of stories, often starting either with legal processes or with reportage by conservative media outlets, bringing us new information about the Clintons' past, ranging from Hillary's 1978 commodities investment (which was fully concealed during the 1992 campaign by concealment of the Clintons' tax returns) to the ins and outs of the Whitewater investigation to Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick to things like the Mena airport saga that came out gradually.
Not all of the stories about the Clintons' past were blockbusters (the Mena story never amounted to anything that really connected all that directly to the Clintons), and obviously the credibility of the he-said-she-said stories of women like Jones and Broaddrick remains in the eye of the beholder (as for Whitewater, the New York Times did a single story on it during the primaries in March 1992 and then promptly dropped the issue). But voters should have had the opportunity to evaluate them before giving Bill Clinton the job, and certainly would have, if he'd been a Republican; and if the media had done its homework, these would all have been old news by 1993. The most egregious case was the commodities deal, which came out in 1994 (see here and here), and which probably would have been the one scandal too many to sink Clinton if it had been properly ventilated at the time. Obviously some of this was due to concealment by the Clintons rather than just media lassitude, but politicians don't get a pass for concealing things if the media wants them dragged out.
Anyway, that said, I will predict with great confidence that if Obama is elected, we will not by a long shot have heard the last of new information about his past in Chicago politics. So much of Obama's early years remains a cipher, due to the destruction of his State Senate papers, his refusal to release scores of other types of documents (as Jim Geraghty relates here, here, and here), to say nothing of the many "missing witnesses" (noted here) who can't be located or won't speak to the media. All those dams can't hold forever. While Republicans and conservatives will, if Obama wins, have plenty to do exposing his activities in the White House, at the end of the day, Obama's past remains a fertile field with many areas of investigation that have yet to be exhausted. We will not have heard the last of it. He will carry his past in the White House like Jacob Marley's chains, precisely because the media has not made him face it all on the trail.
BLOG: This Week's Schedule
1. Baseball content, and in general a more normal balance of content, should resume around Thursday.
2. Sadly, I never did get to the end of my list of posts to write up before the election. I'll be rolling a few more things out if I have the time.