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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Riot hyperbole in history

If you are disturbed by the discussion of what is happening in Baltimore tonight, then I offer some context.

My junior year in college, 1981-1982, my debate colleague and I advocated for fairly strict limits on police use of deadly force. Among the advantages we claimed was reduction in the risk of urban riots, which historically are often triggered by police violence.

Because we were 20 years old and every argument needed to involve significant threats, we used to reference portions of this quote in virtually every affirmative debate. It is from Louis H. Masotti, et al A Time to Burn?, 1969, p. x-xi:
To a very great extent, riots are a cry of utter despair, pleading for someone to hear and respond. Yet our response has been more talk, more unfulfilled promises, more tokenism, and recently, more suppression. And while we are talking, the disillusionment and frustration of the ghetto is accelerating at a frightening pace. The civil rights efforts of the past decade and the continual bombardment of the mass media have heightened the consciousness and raised the expectations of the Negro far beyond the level of our response. Those who say that riots have nothing to do with the civil rights movement are either engaging in enormous self-delusion or are attempting to protect the good name of a phase of the movement which is more palatable to themselves and the American public. They are blind to a long history of social revolutions which have often begun as broad-based nonviolent efforts to change institutionalized injustices, only to merge as violent social revolutions when more moderate efforts failed. As a minority of slightly more than ten per cent of the population, Negroes stand little chance of winning in a violent confrontation. But before the militant leaders push the Negro community beyond the point of no return, we must do some sober thinking about the consequences of such a confrontation. American society itself would be the ultimate loser. We would become the captives of fear and hate of a magnitude that would make Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa seem like meccas for civil libertarians. Such a confrontation would make a mockery of the American Revolution and the entire history of our experiment in democracy. But even this might be a relatively minor consequence. In a mood of rage and hate, the balance of power in this nation might very well shift into the reckless hands of those who would disrupt the precarious balance of peace between the nuclear powers and plunge the whole world into nuclear holocaust.
Update: here's a review of Masotti et al from Edward B. McLean in The Review of Politics, 1970. It is not kind:
"A Time to Burn? not a very good book and is already quite dated. The summers of 1968 and 1969 have not supported the assumption that the 1967 summer riots were a prelude to continuing and expanding violence in the Negro areas....Although the authors insist that theirs is a scholarly work, it is far more in the vein of commentary an effective and relevant examination of the problems of race in the country in 1960 and 1970, it has little value....Serious questions can be raised about the balance and seriousness of the evidence which is the basis of the book and the support for the authors' contention that" the U.S. is a country "on the verge of a race war, and very possibly on the brink of self-destruction." 
The book was coauthored by four colleagues from the Civil Violence Research Center at Case Western Reserve University. The coauthors are Kenneth Seminatore, Jeffrey K. Hadden, and Jerome R. Corsi. That last name is probably the most familiar as he is a well-known backer of Obama conspiracy theories.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Bolts from the Blue

For the 27th consecutive year, I'm competing in the Hardy House fantasy baseball league. Our auction draft was held four Saturdays ago, March 28, in Louisville. Two owners participated by phone, including a "new" returning owner. We will all miss a long-time participant who left the league (at least for now). After the auction, the group had some pub grub and watched the Elite Eight basketball game between Arizona and Wisconsin. Then we walked up the street to a terrific local brew pub and watched Notre Dame-Kentucky. The Friday night before the draft, many of us ate pizza and even more drank a beer at the nearby Holy Grale of brews. Oh, and we watched the Louisville-North Carolina State game. 

As a reminder: the league has 12 teams and uses American League players exclusively to accumulate statistics in various hitting and pitching categories. For 22 years, we tabulated results in the traditional 8 categories (HR, RBI, SBs, Batting Average, Wins, Saves, Earned Run Average and ratio/Walks-plus-Hits per Inning Pitched), but in the hot stove period prior to the 2011 season we voted to dump BA in favor of On Base Average. Also, we added runs scored (R) for hitters and strikeouts (K) for pitchers.

My 2014 team finished second for the third straight season, this time only 1.5 points behind the championship squad (People's Choice). Last year's Bolts from the Blue squad led the league in ERA and WHIP and finished in the top three in all categories other than OBA (6th) and saves (7th). With one more HR and two more steals, the Bolts would have tied for first. The top team also picked up a couple of points that it could have lost with a slightly weaker performance in September. It was a very close pennant chase. 

I always mention another roster quirk now in its eighth year: we use 10 man pitching staffs, but only 4 outfielders -- one fewer than the "normal" roto squad. We were probably among the first leagues to accept the fact that this distribution of players better reflects roster management decisions that real major league baseball teams have made over the past 20 years. 

As usual, we allowed the purchase of any player on an American League 40 man roster. After the auction, only players on 25 man active rosters or the major league Disabled List (DL) can be obtained. We now allow teams to retain ownership of players sent packing to the National League -- but only for the remainer of the current season. The league uses a salary cap, but it expires after the trade deadline. This means contending teams can spend their free agent cash in September. Because we drafted in March, some positional battle results were unknown and some rookies-to-be were not yet on 40 man rosters and were thus ineligible for purchase. 

The 2015 Bolts from the Blue (5 retained players in blue):

C Alex Avila (DET) $8
C Jorge Alfaro (TEX) $1 (minors)
1B Eric Hosmer (KC) $23
2B Omar Infante (KC) $1
3B Evan Longoria (TB) $28
SS Xander Bogaerts (BOS) $16
MI Brett Lawrie (OAK) $15
CR Ryan Rua (TEX) $1
OF Alex Gordon (KC) $27
OF Leonys Martin  (TEX) $24
OF Rusney Castillo (BOS) $23 (minors)
OF Oswaldo Arcia (MIN) $10 
DH David Ortiz (BOS) $22

Hitting $199 (up $17 from last season, which was probably too much)

P Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) $25
P Jake Odorizzi (TB) $5
P Kris Medlen (KC) $4 (DL)
P Jesse Chavez (OAK) $2
P Hector Santiago (LAA) $1

P Brad Boxberger (TB) $4
P Wade Davis (KC) $5
P Junichi Tazawa (BOS) $5
P Charlie Furbush (SEA) $1
P Grant Balfour (TB) $1 

Pitching $53 ($25 less than last year, likely too little)

One team had more than $20 cash left at the end of the auction and another had $9, which meant inflation was a bit lower than it might have been. The total unspent by the league was $46, which is a lot, but not nearly as much as last year. The Bolts unfortunately had $8 left this year, but cash saved to purchase some specific players proved to be insufficient in the late rounds of the auction. Because of mismatched positional needs in the endgame, a few players were purchased then at what I viewed as bargain prices (Infante and Rua). 

The Bolts were also hurt by the fact that I could not retain relatively inexpensive starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who worked for the New York Yankees last year after a mid-season trade, but now pitches in the NL in LA. He would have cost $6 if he had remained in the AL. Additionally, I decided not to retain close to market-priced OF Adam Eaton at $17 and pitcher Chris Sale at $32. I didn't want to foreclose OF options and was worried about Sale's injuries. These players ended up selling for $20 and $35, respectively. It probably would have been better to retain Eaton and forego Castillo. 

Once again, I did not purchase any relief pitchers with a strong lock on a closer job. To compensate for this, I bought pitchers with good strikeout rates on teams with old or iffy guys in front of them (BOS and SEA). I did not intend to buy Balfour, he reflects the danger of throwing out someone for $1 that might not garner any additional bids. Various online sources were listing him as the favorite for the Rays closer job and I thought someone at the table would bid $2 and fill a pitching slot. It didn't happen and that hurt me in the endgame. I had other pitchers to buy, but could not because of the lack of roster space.

Actually, my team has its share of young and/or iffy guys. Medlen is returning from his second Tommy John surgery. Alfaro is in double A. Castillo is beginning the year at Pawtucket and I obviously overspent on him. Rua is an untested rookie and has been injured. Going forward, he will not qualify at CR in the Hardy House until he plays first or third 3 times this season. 

As usual, I bought several players from the KC Royals (5), the hometown-favorite team of my youth and surprisingly the defending AL champions. Hosmer had a slow start last year, but hit fairly well prior to his injury last summer and had a big post-season. Gordon has been a solid hitter for many seasons now. I've got very mixed feelings about Infante, but he was really cheap in the end. Davis is now widely recognized as a first-rate setup man who could close on a team without Greg Holland. Medlen has no history as a Royal, but his NL stats were fantastic.

Gordon was on my 2014 team and I bought him again for the same salary he would have cost as a retained player. 

In addition to those 5 Royals, I have players from about half of the AL teams, including 4 Red Sox, 4 Rays, 3 Rangers, 2 Mariners, 2 A's, plus 1 Tiger, an Angel and a Twin. 

To replace initially injured or minor league players Alfaro, Castillo, and Medlen on my active roster, I bought C Carlos Corporan (TEX) and OF Daniel Nava (BOS) for $1 each, plus P Zach MacAllister (CLE) for $7.  I also nabbed 2B Micah Johnson (CHX) for $7 during the second week because the team needs speed and Lawrie can play CR for the injured Rua. The Bolts are going to need a quality starting pitcher or two to replace the now-injured Iwakuma (lat). 

You can find posts about the 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013;and 2014 auctions elsewhere on this blog.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Free" Enterprise

The University of Louisville recently announced it had received millions of dollars of contributions from Papa John's head John Schnatter and the Koch Brothers to fund a "free enterprise center" in the Business School on campus. Apparently, the contract gives the donors somewhat unusual leverage over the personnel hired by their funds and the content of new academic programming.

English Professor Martin Kich of Wright State discussed the gift and voiced a major criticism that is often associated with the terms. First, however, he quotes a University official:
“’The [UofL Economics] department is in the process of hiring a new full-time faculty member but is struggling to get enough funding, faculty and class offerings to keep pace with student demand,’ said university spokesman Mark Hebert. 
“Hebert said the department focuses on applied microeconomics, which includes statistics and econometrics instruction needed for health, industrial organization, labor and environmental studies. ‘The department would like to expand all of these areas if funding and faculty were to become available,’ he said.” 
What this spokesperson is actually saying is that the ideological slant of the department is up for auction. Since it is very clear that the Koch gifts are not going to fund “labor and environmental studies,” in the absence of competing gifts from progressive donors, one can only conclude the Koch views on labor and environmental issues will dominate, if not go completely unchallenged.
Personally, I find it interesting that the Koch brothers and Schnatter could end up funding free market critics of the practices that help make them rich. While the Koch brothers are famous for their libertarian and anti-government policy positions, they frequently use their corporate lobbying clout to win lucrative government contracts -- mostly involving the Department of Defense. Roughly 80% of their DoD contracts do not involve competitive bids. Their timber and cattle ranching interests take advantage of cheap government leasing rights that are famously priced well below market rates. Their oil and related energy businesses seek to benefit from government seizure of private land under eminent domain. Though the Koch brothers have apparently argued against them in DC, their corporations have apparently accepted $1 billion for ethanol subsidies.

Schnatter too fairly directly benefits from government subsidies. After all, Papa John's Pizza is a food business and agricultural subsidies of pork, grain and dairy products help him keep costs artificially low. That means he personally profits from tremendous government spending that has very little to do with the free market.

One of my earliest blog posts from December 2003 quoted a letter from over 100 economists arguing that "government subsidies of irrigation, logging, livestock grazing and mining prop up activities that could not survive in efficient market conditions." The result is often subsidized environmental destruction. Government leasing needs to be priced at market rates, preferably involving full environmental costs.

Ann Hagedorn in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect emphasized the economic costs of government outsourcing of security functions to private business:
Blackwater went into the annals of government contracting as one of the great disgraces of privatization. A staff report prepared for the Oversight Committee found that Blackwater billed the government $1,222 per day per guard, “equivalent to $445,000 per year; over six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier.” Reeling from scandals, Blackwater later reorganized and changed its name to Xe, and then again to Academi, which is now part of a holding company called Constellis.
Hagedon's article appears as part of a special report, "What the Free Market Can't Do." See this and this, for example.

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