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A Preemptory Note

[ 176 ] January 4, 2015 |

Obviously, Lions fans will be upset about the bizarre decision to pick up the flag on the PI call — and rightly so — but more criticism should be reserved for Jim Caldwell’s idiotic #punttowin on the ensuing 4th-and-1. (Note that Garrett went for it 4th-and-6 on the subsequent drive and made it.)

“Except, once my pants are on, I endorse world-historically idiotic transit projects.”

[ 25 ] January 4, 2015 |

Shorter one-term Seattle Mayor Ed Murray: “Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription.. is more tunnels!”

(To be clear, in isolation the West Seattle/Ballard transit tunnel could be a perfectly OK idea. But using it to rationalize the staggeringly idiotic previous tunnel project he endorsed is disingenuous in the extreme.)

The Ongoing Influence of Michele Bachmann’s Historical Theories

[ 89 ] January 3, 2015 |

Shorter Greg Mankiw: “Thomas Piketty is crazy to think that large inequalities in wealth undermine democracy. Why, the founding fathers were all rich, and American citizenship was always granted on equal terms without any large classes of people excluded from basic rights from the very second the Constitution was ratified.”

NFL Playoff Picks/Open Thread

[ 169 ] January 3, 2015 |

I really should retire from public sports predictions after an unusually good run with the NHL last year, but I won’t. As always, remember that when you’re right 40% of the time you’re wrong 60% of the time.

CAROLINA (-6 1/2) over Arizona This is where right-thinking people are supposed to denounce a not-even .500 team getting a home playoff game against a division winner. Only I don’t object to the system in principle — a balanced schedule is impossible, so division winners should be privileged over wildcards. In addition, in 16-game samples records aren’t always reliable indicators of team quality, and this is a case in point: Arizona’s run of luck in close games notwithstanding, these teams are similarly unimpressive. And, of course, Arizona’s below-average DVOA was mostly compiled without the starting services of the worst QB ever to start a playoff game. The market understands all of this better than it would have 5 years ago, and 6.5 is a lot to give up to take a below-average team in a playoff game. But it would be hard to get the line high enough for me to take Ryan Lindley.

PITTSBURGH (-3) over Baltimore If real money were involved in this, I wouldn’t put 5 bucks on this game if I was in Vegas. You can make a good case for the Ravens, who are getting 3 points as a top-5 DVOA team. Pittsburgh’s long-deteriorating defense has hit rock bottom, and if Tim Tebow can shred a late-period Dick LeBeau game plan in his second-last ever professional start, Joe Flacco certainly can. But not only do I put less weight on the loss of Le’Veon Bell than most people, the damage is particularly minimized in this game, as the Ravens are fielding a very good run defense but a secondary the late John Idzik would be embarrassed to have assembled. This figures to be battle between aerial attacks even more than usual, and I’ll take Roethlisberger over Flacco.

Cincinnati (+3 1/2) over INDIANAPOLIS I don’t think Lewis and Dalton have any special inability to win in the playoffs beyond the latter’s mediocrity. And if we leave this aside, the teams are essentially dead even. It’s hard to bet against Luck, only despite some early MVP rumblings he conspicuously failed to advance into the elite ranks of QBs this year. The Colts also apparently intend to pretend that Trent Richardson could still be an NFL-caliber player. The market is trending heavily in the direction of the Bengals — the line opened at 6 — tempting me to switch back, but I don’t want to take 4 favorites so I’ll reluctantly take the points even with Green probably out.

DALLAS (-6 1/2) over Detroit Like almost everyone, I was wrong about the Cowboys this year — not because I don’t like the always-underrated Romo but because I didn’t think their defense could even be competitive. I guess it could have been foreseeable that moving on from a 325-year-old Monte Kiffin would help, but Rod Marinelli did a remarkable job making this defense not-terrible. It’s still not a good defense, and I don’t think the Cowboys are a championship-caliber team. But while the Lions should be able to contain Murray I don’t think they have the offense to take advantage of the Cowboy weaknesses — Stafford remains Daltonseque even with impressive passing weapons, and like the Colts the Lions running game is so bad you can’t ignore it entirely (Bell, the 38th-ranked RB in DVOA, barely beats Richardson at #41.) I’ll be rooting for my team-in-law, but I can’t pick them.

Chutzpah of the Day

[ 27 ] January 2, 2015 |

Chris Christie.

In fairness, his investment in Atlantic City casinos for which there was no demand certainly worked out better than desperately necessary transportation infrastructure would have.

Rockefeller, Cuomo and the War (On Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs

[ 114 ] January 2, 2015 |

Eric Schlosser’s (terrific) 1998 article on the prison-industrial complex is making the rounds in the wake of Mario Cuomo’s death. But the lesson some people seem to be drawing from it — i.e. that Cumomo was a major villain in the WO(SCOPWUS)D — seems very strange to me:

When Mario Cuomo was first elected governor of New York, in 1982, he confronted some difficult choices. The state government was in a precarious fiscal condition, the inmate population had more than doubled since the passage of the Rockefeller drug laws, and the prison system had grown dangerously overcrowded. A week after Cuomo took office, inmates rioted at Sing Sing, an aging prison in Ossining. Cuomo was an old-fashioned liberal who opposed mandatory-minimum drug sentences. But the national mood seemed to be calling for harsher drug laws, not sympathy for drug addicts. President Reagan had just launched the War on Drugs; it was an inauspicious moment to buck the tide.

Unable to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws, Cuomo decided to build more prisons. The rhetoric of the drug war, however, was proving more popular than the financial reality. In 1981 New York’s voters had defeated a $500 million bond issue for new prison construction. Cuomo searched for an alternate source of financing, and decided to use the state’s Urban Development Corporation to build prisons. The corporation was a public agency that had been created in 1968 to build housing for the poor. Despite strong opposition from upstate Republicans, among others, it had been legislated into existence on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, to honor his legacy. The corporation was an attractive means of financing prison construction for one simple reason: it had the authority to issue state bonds without gaining approval from the voters.

Over the next twelve years Mario Cuomo added more prison beds in New York than all the previous governors in the state’s history combined. Their total cost, including interest, would eventually reach about $7 billion. Cuomo’s use of the Urban Development Corporation drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Robert Gangi, the head of the Correctional Association of New York, argued that Cuomo was building altogether the wrong sort of housing for the poor. The state comptroller, Edward V. Regan, a Republican, said that Cuomo was defying the wishes of the electorate, which had voted not to spend money on prisons, and that his financing scheme was costly and improper. Bonds issued by the Urban Development Corporation carried a higher rate of interest than the state’s general-issue bonds.

The machinations Cuomo went through to build prisons certainly look ugly, but they were a result of the familiar fact that the public’s appetite for locking people up substantially exceeds its appetite to pay taxes to do it. On the larger issue, it seems to be that the primary villains here are Rockefeller and the many legislators on both sides of the aisle who enacted draconian drug laws. Unless there was something Cuomo could have done to repeal the draconian drug laws — which in the political climate of the 80s and with a Republican-controlled Senate seems vanishingly unlikely — his actions represented the worst course of action except for all the others. Perhaps the assumption is that if Cuomo didn’t build more prisons the number of convictions would have been substantially reduced, but this kind of logic has a horrible track record even by the standards of heighten-the-contradictions arguments. It seems far, far more likely that the result would have been similar numbers of convictions only with California-style horrific prison overcrowding. I don’t really understand what Cuomo was supposed to have done differently on this.

The Liberal Cuomo

[ 35 ] January 1, 2015 |

R.I.P.

As Joan Biskupic observed on the Tweeter, Mario Cuomo was Clinton’s first choice for a Supreme Court justice, but as was his wont waited for Godot instead. Evidently, the justice Clinton nominated instead has worked out extremely well.

…it’s hard to imagine his son giving this speech:

But the moment that made him a national figure was his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, one of the most forcefully and unapologetically liberal speeches that any major Democratic politician has given since the 1960s. Responding to President Reagan’s reference to America as a “shining city on a hill,” Cuomo declared, “Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ than it is just a ‘Shining City on a Hill.'”

Democrats, he said, “believe in a government strong enough to use words like ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.” The party speaks, he claimed, for those who “work for a living because they have to, not because some psychiatrist told them it was a convenient way to fill the interval between birth and eternity.” Cuomo attacked the Reagan administration on everything from social issues to welfare policy to foreign affairs: “We give money to Latin American governments that murder nuns, and then we lie about it.”

UPDATE: Some thoughts on Cuomo and prisons here. Tomasky has a good take.

Don’t Forget Hugo Black!

[ 83 ] December 31, 2014 |

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: “BILL AYERS! ROBERT BYRD! That word “venerate,” it does not mean what I seem to think it means.”

From the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Calhoun, An Endless Series

[ 72 ] December 30, 2014 |

Shorter John Boehner: “I’m told that the No. 3 leader in the House Republican conference spoke to a white supremacist group. Your point being? And even if we assume arguendo that this was wrong, who could have known that David Duke’s “European-American Unity and Rights Organization” was a white supremacist group? It was a youthful indiscretion. And if only Strom Thurmond had been elected president, we wouldn’t have had all of these problems.”

…Shorter John Scalise: “David Duke is unelectable, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”

The Year In Civil Liberties

[ 3 ] December 30, 2014 |

Not a good one.

The Rise of Sotomayor

[ 12 ] December 29, 2014 |

I have a piece up at The Week about Sonia Sotomayor’s apparent emergence as the Court’s leading voice for civil liberties.

Calculated Misery

[ 120 ] December 27, 2014 |

The evil of American airlines.

On the massive hidden fees issues, because of a change in her business schedule my wife paid $200 to get on an earlier flight. The plane stayed on the tarmac for more than an hourin perfect weather , didn’t take off for some reason, and she was put back on the same flight she was originally booked on — but the airline, of course, kept the 200 bucks.

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