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Warren, public opinion, and inequality

[ 38 ] January 18, 2015 |

Paul Rosenberg has a good response to Amitai Etzioni’s rather lame attempt at a hatchet-job on Elizabeth Warren at The Atlantic:

Taking Norton and Ariely’s results seriously, we can say that the American people want a much fairer society than they live in, but that the means for articulating this desire—the stories, concepts, policy proposals, etc.—are in scandalously short supply, a de facto example of hypocognition thwarting what people want. Elizabeth Warren is particularly popular precisely because she provides some of the missing means that people are so hungry for—an antidote to the hypocognition that thwarts their desire for a fairer, more just vision of America, which respects both their hard work and their compassionate values. There may be relatively little polling to support this view (though there’s considerably more than you’d expect) but that’s partly just another example of how elites dominate the landscape of acceptable thought to protect their interests, as underscored by recent research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Warren represents a clear alternative to this narrow-minded view. Her popularity derives in large part from her ability to shape narratives that reflect the hidden majority’s shared values and articulate them in policy terms, reversing a decades-long trend by which elites of both parties have turned their backs on the welfare of ordinary Americans.

While Rosenberg offers a much more accurate portrait of American public opinion than does Etzioni, there are reasons to think this offers an overly optimistic account. He’s right, of course, that Americans want a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and income than they’ve got. But it’s almost certainly the case that partisan identity is likely to significantly diminish the ‘hidden majority’ support for redistribution when it turns into an actual plan promoted by and associated with Democratic politicians (as the continued unpopularity of something called “Obamacare” demonstrates). Raising the minimum wage manages to remain broadly popular despite the partisan divide, so it’s important not to be too fatalistic about this. (I suspect one reason for this is the simplicity of the policy; it’s harder to spin or dissemble the basic fairness of it away.) But the lack of specific policy proposals cuts both ways–lots of inequality-reducing proposals could be quite popular in the abstract, but once they become “Democratic” proposals support is likely to conform to a more familiar partisan pattern.

“Should the sounds of sodomy echo through the halls of a Christian home?”

[ 66 ] January 5, 2015 |

Marriage equality in Ireland is on the ballot in Ireland in May, and the forces of discrimination and bigotry appear to have their work cut out for them. Opponents of marriage quality have produced a piece of political propaganda that instantly becomes a classic of the genre; unintentional hilarity worthy of Maggie Gallagher herself.

She’s not getting any better at this.

[ 144 ] December 30, 2014 |

Shorter Phyllis Wise: “I apologize for using the wrong crap excuse for firing Salaita. (No, I won’t be identifying an alternative.) Also, what’s wrong with this guy that he won’t take a payoff to go away?”

Selective racial innocence

[ 95 ] December 10, 2014 |

I was struck by how many commenters in this thread, including some regulars who I think of as more or less reality-based, demonstrated an affection for a version of the pundit’s fallacy regarding Democrats and the south in this thread. I do think there’s a kernel of truth somewhere in this complaint–political views and ideologies are not two dimensional and single peaked, the median voter approach ignores complexities of preference distributions. It’s plausible there are instances where chasing a slice of the center-right electorate creates problems just as large as that slice you might hope to gain with other parts of one’s coalition, while doing some long term damage to the project of the Democratic message.

But commenters are saying much, much more than this. The Democrats, we’re repeatedly assured, could do just fine in the South if they had a strong candidate who articulated a strong progressive message. This is almost completely untethered from any concrete empirical claims; the first thing I’d want to see is evidence that non-voters are a) ready to be persuaded to vote by a different kind of candidate or message and b) the kind of candidate and message they’re waiting for is distinctly liberal in the context of contemporary American politics.

What’s striking to me is the extent to which people who aren’t particularly naive about America’s racial history and its implications for contemporary politics in other contexts manage to forget this context so easily when it’s convenient to do so. Southern whites have never, in significant numbers, engaged in any political project of note that required cooperation with blacks. When emancipation made it appear as though such compromise and cooperation might be necessary, they waged a campaign of terrorism to prevent it. When Roosevelt came to them with a radical in the context of American politics set of poverty alleviation measures, they made the exclusion of blacks a condition of their support. When voting rights became entrenched, 100 years late, and Southern blacks joined the coalition of the Democratic party, they abandoned the Democratic party over the course of a generation.

One can make a plausible case that race relations are, however slowly and unevenly, improving. (Or as Chris Rock more accurately puts it, that white people are getting less crazy). It is not inconceivable that Southern Whites and Blacks might cooperate on a significant political project at some point in the future. But it’s the height of naivety to assume that the only reason they’re not doing so now is that no one is coming along giving the right kind of stirring populist speeches about the public option and the 1% and more aggressive regulation of the financial sector–that there’s a rhetorical trick or policy fix that would inspire southern whites to abandon a three century old refusal to cooperate with their black neighbors.

I flipped on MSNBC briefly on the evening of the non-indictment of Garner’s killer. Ta-Nehisi Coates was briefly a guest on Chris Hayes show. Hayes was enthusiastically reporting about what appeared to him to be a moment of ideological comity against police brutality against black people, pointing to a number of prominent conservative voices expressing shock and outrage over the non-indictment. He breathlessly speculated about how maybe just maybe this will be the moment that inspires an effective movement about police violence and accountability, and asked Coates to comment on that. Coates reply was patient and a bit indulgent of Hayes’ optimism, but his answer was clear–the fight to get America to recognize the full humanity of black people is staggeringly slow, a multi-generational project, and to see it as something that needs the right media firestorm to fix isn’t a position worthy of a serious political analyst.

America’s racial history has been, and will continue to be, a major impediment to a variety of worthwhile and necessary political projects. I, too, wish there was some shortcut, some fix, some “hack”, to get around this monumental hurdle to a better, more just, more functional society. But indulging in the fantasy such a shortcut exists is a mistake, because it produces bad political analysis but also because it constitutes a failure to look at America’s racial history squarely and directly, and seeing it for what it is. The temptation to avert our gaze is understandably strong but must be resisted.

Happy Bertha-Day!

[ 126 ] December 7, 2014 |

I’ve written before about one of the most ill-conceived infrastructure projects in the country currently–a plan to build a deep bore tunnel under downtown Seattle so highway 99 (currently an elevated freeway as functional as it is unacceptably dangerous) can, theoretically, bypass downtown Seattle efficiently. If this project managed to be completed on time and under budget, it would not come close to justify the project; it will be useless for a majority of users of the viaduct today, as its most common use is to get to and from downtown. Given that the technology in use was experimental–the kind of tunneling machine they’d be using had never been used for a tunnel this size before, and the condition of the soil so close to Puget Sound raised serious concerns–the odds of a such an outcome were, already quite slim for such megaprojects, were surely slimmer than usual for this one.

It was a year ago that “Bertha” the tunneling machine stopped working, around 1019 feet into her planned 9270 foot journey. Since that day, the news about Bertha has been, alternatingly, vague, implausible optimism and alarming admissions that reveal how uncertain the future of this project actually is.  From January to April, we went from “Bertha will start drilling again next week” to “We plan to begin drilling again in March 2015, once we dig a vertical pit to access the machine so we can fix it.” Various theories about why Bertha stopped working were presented as fact, only be to later be revealed as mere speculation. In April, the plan was to complete the new tunnel to Bertha by September, conduct repairs over the Winter, and resume boring in March. It’s now December, the tunnel to Bertha is only 60% complete. This has yielded an admission that drilling might not resume in March–we might have to wait until April for that. As grim as the news is, it’s actually quite lucky the machine broke down where it did, as a Popular Mechanics article reported:  “To be honest, if Bertha was going to break down anywhere, that’s about the best possible place it could have happened on the job—they’ll get her fixed,” Amanda Foley, North American editor of Tunnelling Journal, told me in an email.” Further alone, she’ll be under skyscrapers; access of the sort that’s being attempted now will become difficult to impossible. This raises the stakes a great deal for fixing whatever is wrong with it, of course–it’s not at all clear how the project could be completed if it gets stuck again further down the line. David Kroman has a well done account of Bertha’s (first?) lost year.

The point of all this, of course, was to produce an alternative to the unsafe viaduct freeway. Damaged by a 2001 earthquake, it’s a another Cypress Street waiting to happen.  Which is what makes Bertha’s anniversary news –that the segment of the viaduct near the vertical tunnel sunk and additional 1.2 inches in two weeks in November alone particularly alarming. Earlier this year WSDOT told the council that the viaduct’s sinking over an additional inch may cause serious safety concerns. So the WSDOT spokesman’s line here–“don’t worry, everything’s safe, and we’re going to try and figure out if it’s actually safe ASAP” isn’t terribly reassuring.

One of the many ironies is that this project is a direct consequences of the viaduct’s unsafe condition; other than that it’s an ugly-but-highly functional piece of infrastructure. In addition to being the worst available option for replacing the viaduct’s functionality (a cut and cover tunnel and a surface replacement+enhanced transit option would have served far larger percentages of the population of vehicles utilizing the viaduct today), it was the worst available option for safety as well, as both of those project would have enabled the viaduct to be torn down sooner. The failures of the project to replace it are both ensuring it’ll probably remain up longer, while quite possibly making it less safe in the interim.

Transit advocates are often accused, absurdly, of engaging in a “war on cars”. If we were indeed committed to such a war, I’m not sure we could have come up better with anything than this. The overruns will likely cannibalize WSDOT’s budget, including all manner of road repair and construction projects (some of which are necessary and useful) for the foreseeable future. If, as appears increasingly likely, the viaduct must be shut down before the tunnel is ready, transit will become even more crucial for accessing downtown, and far fewer cars will be able to do so with any efficiency at peak travel times.  Meanwhile, Sound Transit’s tunneling project for light rail, using well established, off the shelf tunneling technology and conservative cost estimates, chugs along ahead of schedule and under budget, and Seattle just voted itself a tax increase to fund more bus service.


Rod Dreher: A Piece of Work

[ 79 ] December 5, 2014 |

This is Roy’s beat, but his rundown didn’t cover Dreher, whose blog I’ve found myself lurking on lately for reasons I can neither explain nor defend.

Dreher starts off sounding more or less sane, decent, and human, calling the non-indictment “deeply, deeply disturbing” and approvingly quoting a Southern Baptist leader that ” it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

But then…the updates start. “Bobby” whom we are assured is a lawyer, sets him straight (while getting a key point of law wrong), explaining the non-indictment was the proper outcome. This relieves Dreher of the burden of worrying about things like racial injustice and police accountability, allowing him to settle back into his comfort zone of sneering at liberals. Via more missives from “Bobby” we learn that liberals who purport to be troubled by…exactly what Dreher appeared to be troubled by just the other day are nothing but posturing hypocrites because they hold the absurd expectation that police should work to prevent crime while not unnecessarily killing black people, which is apparently a completely unreasonable request. Yoga classes, “SWPL”s, kale, and gentrification all make guest appearances in what Dreher tells his readers is Bobby’s “wisdom.”

Cuomo’s share of the blame

[ 6 ] December 3, 2014 |

As New York’s cretinous governor scrambles to appear to be troubled by today’s outcome, let’s not forget the role he played in today’s miscarriage of justice.

Declining divorce

[ 193 ] December 3, 2014 |

I’m sure most of our readership is sufficiently well-informed to have not fallen prey to the “half of marriages end in divorce” and “divorce is on the rise” myths that have been so persistent (I’ve taken to asking some of my classes about this, I’ve yet to encounter a student who doesn’t believe both these things to be true), but this article presents the story of our declining divorce rate with one of the best visualizations of the data to present it I’ve seen.

Obviously, one reason the myth persists is that is serves the purposes of social conservatives, and they promote it. First, in their search for a reason to deny marriage rights to same sex couples, they largely settled on “marriage is a fragile institution in crisis, and worked to make it immune from new evidence. Second, though, and more importantly I suspect, it demonstrates rather clearly that to the extent that they were narrowly correct about a relationship between feminist advances and rising divorce rates, more recent trends show that those same advances are a big part of the story of the subsequent decline in divorce. Marriage was an institution that served men, and imposed extremely high exit costs on women. When those exit costs declined, men were less able to trap women in marriages that weren’t working for them, and they left in large numbers. Now, marriages are more likely to constructed in such a way that women get something closer to as much value out of them as men do, so divorce goes down. Feminism made marriage stronger, by creating the conditions under which women are more likely be in a position to marry, and construct their marriage, on their own terms.

Non-believing clergy

[ 116 ] November 28, 2014 |

An interesting but flawed and limited take on a phenomenon I’ve long been fascinated with. I’ve met a few such people, over the years, and they’ve suggested to me the ranks of clergy who fit that description are far greater than anyone realizes. Clergy have a set general tasks–counselor, community organizer, etc.–and their and their parishioners religious beliefs and commitments are one of the primary tools they’re expected to use in these tasks. This gives them a perspective on their faith lay people are considerably less likely to have–they see how it can work, but also how and when it doesn’t. There are a variety of ways to cope with that, and some of them, it seems to me, could have a significantly corrosive effect on faith.

It’s limitations and flaws are largely a function of viewing the phenomenon through the eyes of evangelical atheism. Such a perspective treats non-believing clergy instrumentally and teleologically. There’s no evidence any critical energy was directed at the coincidence that the outcome best for Cristina’s political movement is also, exactly and precisely, what is best for such individuals. Now that they’ve abandoned religious belief they rightfully and properly belong on team public atheist; they merely need help to find the resources, psychologically, financially, and otherwise, to make that next big step and become what they’re supposed to be. (The silliest part of the article is the breathless fantasy of a mass public conversion to atheism by clergy triggering the collapse of organized religion.)

But conversion stories are old and familiar. I’m much more interested in those who chose to stay in their positions. Not the megachurch grifters and profit-takers, but the ordinary and decent people making a modest living and trying sincerely to do good and help people. Some of them, no doubt, are like Rumpole’s father: “a Church of England clergyman who, in early middle life, came to the reluctant conclusion that he no longer believed any of the 39 articles” but “as he was not fitted by character or training for any other profession” he soldiered on. Some of these people might appreciate the rescue Christina wishes to offer; others may simply be comfortable where they are. But it’s a third group that interests me the most: those who have ceased to believe but don’t see that as a reason they should leave their position. How do they view the positive value of the religious beliefs they teach and reinforce? How do they counsel or approach fellow doubters? For obvious reasons, such a perspective is very rarely stated forthrightly. Christina closes by quoting and endorsing the position that if churches would merely abandon religious dogma and ritual and become community centers, the good work they do would just continue but would be enhanced. There’s no argument offered for this position, which should provoke some skepticism from anyone as empirically minded as evangelical atheists like Christina purport to be; I’d be far more interested in hearing the perspective of a practicing but non-believing religious leader on the subject.

Immigration and the rule of law II: Reply to RAF

[ 90 ] November 26, 2014 |

(Title is a bit off because there’s nothing much about immigration here, but I started the series with “I” and III will return to a substantive discussion of immigration, and this belongs in the series).

Russell Arben Fox has written a thoughtful reply to my last post, in which he also gives his answer to some pointed questions that were posed to him in comments. This post is helpful in that it’s clarifying to me; I think I have a much better sense of what he’s coming from than I did before. That clarity doesn’t move me toward his position, however, if anything it makes me more confident in my own. Russell takes from my post and related discussion four questions for him which he seeks to answer here:

1)  What is the difference between constitutionality and legality, and do I think one is prior to the other?
2) What does procedural traditions, norms, and precedents have to do with either of those?
3) What specific norms do I think Obama’s action violated, in light of the actually existing history of executive orders?
4) Isn’t it irresponsible to toss around terms like “unconstitutional” in our current political climate anyway?

The fourth question wasn’t from me and I’m not particularly worried about it; I could see this being a reasonable worry if he were using his idiosyncratic definition of ‘unconstitutional’ (yet lawful) without further explanation in an op-ed in a major newspaper or something, but in a philosophically inclined intra-blog discussion such worries seem out of place to me. I’m most interested in the third question. I’ll follow Fox in taking the first two together in this post, and address #3 at greater length in a separate post.

Taking the first two together, Fox basically defends a conception of his focus on a conception of constitutionalism and the rule of law that focuses entirely on, as I put it, the relationship between different parts of the government and not the relationship those parts have with the governed, situating himself in a venerable tradition of democratic political theory associated with, amongst others, Hannah Arendt and Sheldon Wolin (One that I’m hesitant to call ‘radical’ even as it has become customary to do so; as Fox’s deployment of it clearly demonstrates it can have quite conservative implications, in both the small-c and contemporary political uses of the term).

The primary source for my disagreement is my rejection of the substantive claim that Obama’s executive order “violates symbolic precedents and procedural norms” and “show(s) disrespect for (admittedly, always evolving) informal expectations and procedural rites” to a degree that we should be troubled by. I’ll take this up again in my next post addressing Fox’s answer to the third question. A more detailed response here would get deeper into the inside baseball political theory disagreements than is necessary, so I’ll limit myself to one clarification and one general observation about the shortcomings of this approach.

A probably unnecessary clarification: in my previous response to Linker I sought to take him to task for conceptualizing the rule of law in a way that appeared to ignored the government/governed relation altogether, and focused entirely on the relationship between the parts of the government. That doesn’t mean I don’t think intra-government relations aren’t important for the rule of law, of course. What I did mean is that I don’t think there’s much value or utility in separating out the two kinds of rule-of-law concerns. The question “what does X mean for the rule of law?” simply can’t be meaningfully answered by bracketing out one half of the equation. The evaluation of X must weigh any rule of law damage to intragovernmental relations (which I don’t grant in this case, but let’s say I did) and weigh it against rule-of-law repair to the government/governed relationship. Neither will ever be perfectly consistent with the rule of law, a goal that will forever remain out of reach (this seems obvious to me, which is one thing that frustrates me about the treatment of the rule of law in much political and legal theory, where it’s treated more like a threshold concept than an aspirational one).

While leads to my more general observation.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a class in graduate school with Joel Migdal, a scholar who influenced me a great deal in how I think, conceptually and analytically, about “the state.” Here’s his not as famous as it should be definition of the state:

The state is a field of power marked by the use and threat of violence and shaped by (1) the image of a coherent, controlling organization in a territory, which is a representation of the people bounded by that territory, and (2) the actual practices of its multiple parts. (from pg. 15-16 of this book).

It is, for my money, a great shortcoming of contemporary political and democratic theory that we discuss the state primarily in terms of (1) at the expense of (2). Some of the most interesting things we might want to say about the state can only come into focus only when we examine (1) and (2) side by side, noting the gaps, tensions, and contradictions between these two faces of the state (my next post will draw on the scholarship of a Migdalian immigration scholar doing exactly that). The state—and its rules, norms, conventions, and practices—only interest us because they interact with society. If we focus on (1) at the expense of (2) we risk becoming dazzled or mesmerized by the image of itself the state is selling, embracing its self-serving ideology uncritically. Another scholar whose work I know Russell finds quite powerful and who helps us keep this danger sharply in mind is James Scott, who does an outstanding job of demonstrating some of the dangers that accompany unofficial ideologies of states (his “seeing like a state” and its high-modernist assumptions about societies and terrain) that only become discernable when we focus on (2) alongside (1). I tried to capture the attitude toward the state I advocated for in this post:

Five hundred-odd years ago, give or take, in Europe, the configuration of social power changed. A kind of entity called the state began to emerge as victorious in struggle for social power. This power grab wasn’t at all noble or particularly justifiable in normative terms, indeed, war making and state building were intimately connected developments. The quasi-monopoly this kind of entity was able to create on the exercise of legitimate violence created extraordinary new opportunities for exploitation but also contributed to an environment that allowed for extended periods of peace and prosperity, at least for certain lucky segments of the population. To state the obvious, the arrival of the state as the dominant form of social and political power was both wonderful and horrible: the state created new opportunities for wealth and security, and perpetrated brutal, oppressive crimes against humanity with staggering efficiency.

In other words, let’s treat states as a historically bounded and contingent form of social power. Let’s avoid, as Jacob Levy puts it, the over-moralization of historical processes that lead us to a teleology of political forms.

This feels a bit vague to me so I’m going to try and sum up my argument with as much clarity as I can muster presently: When evaluating the the legitimacy of state action we ought to attempt to do so, as much as possible, from a position of epistemic and conceptual independence from the state’s legitimating stories.  I think a version of “the rule of law” might be a useful part of that assessment, and living up to their own commitments about how they’re supposed to govern could very well be part of that. But, if we’re starting from such a place of independence we can’t privilege that worry over the worry about the government/governed relation at the level of theory, as doing so concedes far too much ground to the state’s self-serving narratives about legitimacy. In short: I encourage Russell to work on his “anarchist squint.”

Immigration policy and the rule of law I

[ 44 ] November 22, 2014 |

Scott addressed the most glaring flaws with Damon Linker’s column the other day, but I want to discuss another one: his invocation of his commitment to “the rule of law” as a reason to oppose this executive action:

The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done. If Obama does what he appears poised to do, I won’t be the least bit troubled about the government breaking up fewer families and deporting fewer immigrants.

As Scott said, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny first and foremost because the case that Obama is operating outside the law is simply incorrect, as Russell Arben Fox, who holds a view congenial to Linker’s, has acknowledged in comments. But there are additional reasons to be troubled by it. I confess I’m increasingly dubious of the way the rule of law is used in political debates; Judith Shklar’s observation that the rule of law “may well have become just another self-congratulatory rhetorical devices that grace the utterances of Anglo-American politicians” rings true to me, especially with an “and pundits” added. But let’s consider it more carefully. The conception of the rule of law advocated here is one that appears to only apply to how the different parts of government relate to each other, and not how the government relates to the governed. This is consistent with an old and venerable tradition—one that predates liberalism and democracy—in ‘rule of law’ thinking; that the rule of law is satisfied when the monarch (and his agents) operate in a manner consistent with the law, whatever that may be.

But the rule of law is an essentially contested concept, and there are other uses of it in circulation. In a liberal and democratic world, we have some very good reasons to care about how the law governs not just the interaction of different parts of government with each other, but how it shapes the interactions of the different parts of government with the governed. Jeremy Waldron:

There may be no getting away from legal constraint in the circumstances of modern life, but freedom is possible nevertheless if people know in advance how the law will operate and how they have to act if they are to avoid its having a detrimental impact on their affairs. Knowing in advance how the law will operate enables one to plan around its requirements. And knowing that one can count on the law’s protecting certain personal property rights enables each citizen to know what he can rely on in his dealings with other people and the state. The Rule of Law is violated, on this account, when the norms that are applied by officials do not correspond to the norms that have been made public to the citizens or when officials act on the basis of their own discretion rather than norms laid down in advance.

On this account, it is difficult to square existing immigration law with the rule of law: it authorizes the deportation of many millions of current settled residents, while a) explicitly authorizing significant administrative discretion, and b) only appropriating the resources for a small fraction of those eligible to be deported in any given year. As Ilya Somin puts it,

To the extent that the rule of law is in jeopardy here, it is because the scope of federal law has grown so vast that no administration can target more than a small percentage of violations, thereby unavoidably giving the president broad discretion.

In other words: when statutory law is simply too vague, broad, or general to authorize a predictable pattern of governance as written, the rule of law is enhanced when administrators prioritize and systematize with administrative law, assuming they do so in a manner consistent with the spirit and general intent of the law and other constitutional norms.

I’ve written about Joe Carens excellent work on the political theory of immigration here before. One of his smarter pieces of non-ideal theory is this defense of what he calls the ‘firewall’ requirement for states that have a population of irregular migrants. Carens assumes for the sake of argument that states have the right to deport such individuals. However, insofar as they’re not deporting them, they ought to have a number of basic legal rights and protections in common with residents in general. This can be framed as a matter of basic human rights, as Carens does, but it’s also a rule of law issue—for one’s life to be governed predictably by law one must have access to the parts of the state that provide for various protections. But the threat of deportation cuts of access to what the rule of law provides:

The fact that people are legally entitled to certain rights does not mean they actually are able to make use of those rights. It is a familiar point that irregular migrants are so worried about coming to the attention of the authorities that they are often reluctant to pursue legal remedies and protections to which they are entitled, even when their most basic human rights are at stake….States can and should build a firewall between immigration law enforcement on the one hand and the protection of basic human rights on the other. We ought to establish a firm legal principle that no information gathered by those responsible for protecting and realizing human rights can be used for immigration enforcement purposes. We ought to guarantee that people can pursue their basic rights without exposing themselves to apprehension and deportation.

Carens’ firewall does not, unfortunately, exist (although many municipal governments have moved in this direction) and Obama’s executive order doesn’t create it. But for those eligible, it contributes to the same goal; it makes it more possible and likely that they’ll have reasonable access to the predictability and protections that the rule of law affords.

While we can acknowledge its important role in the history of the concept, it’s difficult for me to see any good reason for the use of a strictly formal concept of the rule of law indifferent to the nature of government/governed interaction today. It is the character and quality of those interactions that cause me to care about government in the first place. Linker’s clumsy attempt to use the rule of law against the Obama administration in this case highlights the shortcomings of that particular version of the concept.

Are the Mariners the best team in the American League right now?

[ 48 ] November 22, 2014 |

Ask 100 Mariners fans this question, and 85 would say immediately say no, and other 15 would eventually say it when they stopped laughing. So I expect I’m not the only Mariners fan struggling to process this. As the team managed to succeed and stay into contention through September this year, missing the playoffs by a single game, I became vaguely aware that the team was not, in fact, significantly overperforming or getting particularly lucky, but were, in fact, a borderline playoff team in true talent. But it never really sunk in or felt true.

Initially I approached this data with a similar skepticism. Surely this is a story about the flaws of projection systems in general.  But looking under the hood a bit, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable. The projections include some regression for Seager, Hernandez, and Cano, their three best players, as well as the bullpen as a group. The flawed prospects who underachieved in 2014, Zunino and Miller, are projected to continue to be flawed, making only modest improvements, mostly revolving around a correction for bad BABIP luck. Ackley is projected for a third consecutive modest step forward with the bat, to be cancelled out by regression on defense giving him no improvement at all. Austin Jackson is also projected for a modest bounceback from last season’s dismal showing, but given his age, talent, and three year track record, how could you not?

The most implausible sources of optimism, to my mind, are the playing time estimation for Saunders, the team’s fragile third best hitter and plus RF, as well as the IPs for Walker and Paxton. On the latter, though, it’s worth noting they’re not projected to be especially good, which will lessen the impact if they can’t stay healthy, assuming the team finds some passable inning-eaters on the cheap, which isn’t an implausible assumption.

As for DH, they’re projected to be just above replacement level, which would be a massive improvement over last year’s parade of horribles. I’m not buying the projections for non-prospect Romero; I’ve watched him try to hit at the major league level  and I don’t see a sustained 300+ wOBA there, but based on the current roster they could get that by using whichever SS isn’t playing the field that day. And, of course, they’ll presumably add a bat that projects to be above replacement level, although after the Hart/Morales fiasco it’s hard to be too optimistic about this seemingly modest task. So…huh. I’m not ready to be optimistic, but it’s nice to have a reason to think my pessimism might be not be entirely rational. Via Jeff Sullivan.

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