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This feature is a collaboration, with contributions from all of us.

VC’s David Bernstein has an interesting post on the housing-cost demonstrations in Israel. Michael Walzer has a different take. Amoz Oz, another take.

Jihadi Jew suggests that Jews can relate to Ramadan (via).

Fareed Zakaria makes the case for cutting the defense budget.

Steve Benen thinks “Obama is the most effective politician since Reagan, and depending on the day, perhaps even the most effective politician since LBJ.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie has “no patience for survival Judaism.”

Shoshie, guest-blogging at Feministe, has an interesting post on why she is religious, in a feminist context.

A black and Jewish Hollywood writer describes her struggle with affirmative action.

SCOTUSblog is hosting a series of essays on the constitutionality of ObamaCare.

As it turns out, the Supreme Court relies on legal scholarship more than the Chief Justice thinks.

Rosie, the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York, comforts a young girl while she testifies about being raped, sparking legal debate.

Slate‘s William Saletan has a sobering article on twin reductions and abortions.

How the “hottest training camp in the NFL” deals with losing “collective[ly] 450 pounds of fluid during each two-hour practice last week.”

Op-ed piece from the Wall Street Journal completely misrepresenting Buffet’s Tax piece in the New York Times while failing to actually meaningfully disagree on the issues.

Let us know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

Teixeira’s Shift

By any reasonable standard, 2010 was a bad year for Yankee first-baseman Mark Teixeira. After putting up MVP-caliber numbers the year before (.292/.383/.565), Tex’s numbers fell in every offensive category, except walks (oddly enough, his otherwise-worst year at the plate also featured a career-high 93 walks). In my profile of the Yankee offense at the beginning of the season, I assumed, like everyone else, that it was a fluke.

Unfortunately, it might not have been. This year, although he’s produced plenty of runs (32 HRs, 86 RBI), his career-low .249 BA is hard to understand for a guy who, until last year, hadn’t hit below .280 since his rookie year. Teixeira knows that, at 31, he’s too young to be physically declining and especially so since his power numbers remain strong. But numbers don’t lie. So to what does he attribute it?

Asked to identify why a hitter who was once so complete might have experienced such a noticeable drop, Teixeira said he believed one factor was the defensive alignments teams are increasingly using against him when he bats left-handed.

In the shift, three of the four infielders move to the first-base side of the diamond to neutralize his tendency to pull the ball.

“Obviously I’m losing hits to the shift,” Teixeira said. “How much? I don’t know. But I’d guess something.”

According to Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Tex is losing 15-20 points off his batting average to the shift. I didn’t crunch the numbers myself but it makes sense. It explains why Tex still gets his walks, strikes out about the same, and hits for power. I started getting nervous when he went on a home run tear in June. Obviously, he was seeing the ball well, but during that span his batting average only hovered around .260. The power meant he wasn’t slumping. Something else had to be going on.

At the end of the day, a .850 OPS is nothing to sneeze at and the Yankee lineup is certainly deep enough to pick up any slack. But long-term, Tex has to adjust if he’s to continue contributing over the next few years. This isn’t a slump he has to get out of, like must of us assumed last year. Teams just figured out how to defend him.

There’s no shortage of ballplayers who have a few good years and flame out at 30. I’ve been a fan of Tex since the trade rumors about the Yankees first surfaced in ’08. At the time, I considered him one of the most complete players in the game. He hit .300, hit for power, drew walks, and played a Gold Glove first-base. But he’s on the verge of withdrawing into irrelevance if he doesn’t adjust his game. Next year will make or break Tex’s legacy. If he’s the elite hitter I always thought he was, we should see a dangerous Mark Teixeira back at the heart of the Yankee lineup.

This feature is a collaboration, with contributions from all of us.

Ezra Klein outlines the winners and losers of the debt-ceiling deal.

The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg on how terminology influenced the debt-ceiling negotiations.

WaPo’s Charles Krauthammer has a thought-provoking article on competing visions of American greatness, as illustrated by the debt-ceiling debate.

Will Wilkinson on presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s “theology of exceptionalism“.

Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork thinks the Balanced Budget Amendment is a bad idea.

Lawyer up in 15 minutes – will this make society MORE litigious (as if that is possible)?

Eugene Volokh has an excellent post on the meaning and scope of free speech.

Let us know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

Religiously Insane

Can a person be declared incompetent to stand trial based solely on his religious beliefs? Last week, the Ohio Court of Appeals said, no (via VC). But it’s not the victory for religious freedom that it may look like at first glance.

In March 2010, John Daley was charged with retaliation, intimidation, aggravated menacing, menacing, and telecommunications harassment, stemming from a threatening voice-mail and letter. At the court’s request, he was sent for a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed with psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified. The court found Daley incompetent to stand trial and “ordered him hospitalized for restoration to competency.” The Ohio Court of Appeals disagreed because the sole grounds for the defendant’s incompetency were his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. Continue Reading »

I have heard a lot of complaints lately from the news media that while corporate profits and earnings continue to rise unemployment is not improving.  Now, I understand that tax hawks have done a great job explaining to us that lower tax equals more investment – but there is simply no evidence that this is correct.  Supply-side economics doesn’t work, and never has – see here, here, and here (gathering additional sources).  Now, this is not an attempted justification for tax rates of 80%, but perhaps a more nuisance accounting of our nation’s fiscal situation would be helpful.

Initially, there is no logical reason to think that an actor with more money will lead to an improved economy.  (Please point me to any study suggesting otherwise.)  Why anyone would ever have believed that supply-side economics has any basis in reality?

Yet for some reason, we believe that an increase in corporate profits or earnings will necessarily result in an increase in wages and/or employment for non-owners.  I am baffled.  Of course, an increase in profits and earnings could result in increased wages, etc., nevertheless it is not necessarily the case that it will.

In connection with the deficit talks, Republicans appear to have asserted that all new taxes are evil.  Unfortunately (for them), the economy and deficit do not agree.  Additionally, economists have always argued for taxes to account for our externalities.  For example, a gas tax approximating externalities rather than cost of constructing/maintaining federal highways.  But I digress.  Economists may disagree as to how the government should tax, what money should be spent on, etc. but there is no doubt that Republicans (and to a far lesser extent Democrats) are not basing their decisions on sound economic principals but are instead arguing for lower taxes for lower taxes sake – because certain high income earner want to pay less (and who can blame them).

Perhaps a little more honesty on this point would be in order – Republicans and fiscal conservatives should simply say that people who make more money don’t want to pay for food, shelter, and medical care for the poorest and neediest amongst us.  That the needs of those individuals are simply less important than the needs of poor children, single mothers, and seniors.  I’m not sure that Democrats care about what is “best” for society, but there is one thing I do know – Republicans decidedly do not care about what is best for society as a whole.

The budget deficit and debt talks are the big news, and in the age of the soundbite its not surprising that newspapers don’t report all the details.  Eyes glaze over with numbers.  So here are some succinct, and overly simplified points to bear in mind.

  1. The budget estimates are based on 10 year plans. But Congress is supposed to pass a new budget every year. How often do those future expected cuts actually come about? Well, every year Congress votes against cutting Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for doctors. Do the math.
  2. The federal government spent $3.552 trillion in 2010 of which $2.16 trillion came from taxes and ~1.4 trillion came from borrowing.
  3. Over 10 years we’d need to borrow $14 trillion, or double our total debt, in order to keep spending the same amount today.
  4. But spending doesn’t stay stagnant. In 1996, President Clinton’s budget was $1.6 trillion. In other words, we borrow today about as much as President Clinton’s entire budget spent. Every single year.
  5. So our likely debt over the next 10 years is probably a lot higher than $14 trillion.
  6. The number being spoken in the media point to a $3-4 trillion spending ‘cut’ over the next 10 years.
  7. That would be the equivalent of a 10% cut per year. But as we’ve mentioned in points 4 and 5, spending won’t stay the same.
  8. How much will spending grow? President Obama’s budget for 2011 and 2012 increased spending by another 10% to $3.7-3.8 trillion per year.
  9. So the budget talks today are aimed at increasing our debt by another $10 trillion to $24 trillion over the next 10 years.
  10. Now for fun Washington stuff. If you cut $1b today, that’s a $10 billion cut over 10 years. Whoa. So if you cut $300 billion today that’s a $3 trillion spending cut…
  11. Any doubts whether we can find $300 billion to cut today? Anyone?
  12. Now what makes it better is this – if today we spent $10 and we expect to spend $20 next year but then change that to $15, according to Washington accounting we’ve just had a $5 spending cut. Per year. Whoa. In other words, we “cut” spending not by spending less but by spending less than we thought we’d spend before. Heck, Congress should pass a $10 trillion budget, cut it to $3 trillion and then claim a huge savings.
  13. Back to that $3-4 trillion reduction we discussed earlier. According to media reports, VP Biden’s suggestion (and one reason House Republicans didn’t like it) cut a total of, get ready for it, $2 billion next year. That’s 2 with a b. Not a t. So a $2b cut on a $3.5T budget. Most of the spending “cuts” would come in later years, but as we saw from point #1 that doesn’t always happen.
  14. Did I mention that Congress today can’t bind a Congress five years from now? So spending “cuts” today, the cuts that don’t actually lower spending, might not happen. But the extra borrowing? That’ll definitely happen. So you’re agreeing to allow definite borrowing (for the next year’s budget which is pretty easy to predict) for future possible spending cuts which can easily be reversed by a future Congress trying to bring home the pork.
  15. Why don’t newspapers put the $3-4 trillion spending cut in perspective. Tell me how much that is relative to the federal budget over 10 years. C’mon, I’m waiting. Cuz $4 trillion on a $50 trillion spending plan? Not so great.
  16. Now the calls to not up the debt ceiling make more sense. Those opposed don’t want a $3-4 trillion cut spread over 10 years. They want no more borrowing. That spending cut would be more than $10t over 10 years.

Maybe I’m getting my government accounting wrong, and if so, someone correct me. But there seems to be a lot of gimmickry going on.

Let’s put it this way. If Congressional members had to comply with the same rules that corporations do for accounting, and if they were threatened with jail, gimmicks like this would never happen.

This feature is a collaboration, with contributions from all of us.

Commentary‘s Omri Ceren calls out NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman on his “faux Middle East expertise”.

Professor Nancy Sherman has an interesting article on “the moral logic of survivor guilt.”

DSK and Casey Anthony: The American Justice System at Its Best

Philip Getz responds to The Nation‘s anti-Birthright piece.

TNR’s Michael Kazin on how the president’s “short-sighted view of U.S. politics” prevents him from becoming the FDR-like leader that liberals hoped for and conservatives feared.

Some troubling trends about emigration from Israel.

Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick reminds us of the importance of criminal juries in the aftermath of Casey Anthony’s acquittal.

Let us know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

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