Culture

# My Problem With PER

From a chat with John Hollinger:

Mike (Chicago)
I know you love PER, but it’s YOUR made up stat. Why should fans trust it when clearly our eyes can tell us that D Rose is playing way better than Paul and when PER doesn’t account for how a player has to play when teammates are hurt?

John Hollinger
I trust you reached this eye test after watching all the Hornets’ games too?

Everybody’s right here. As Hollinger says, statistical measurements are absolutely necessary. You can’t watch all the games or distinguish by eye between a 91% free throw percentage and an 87% free throw percentage.

But it’s also true that Hollinger’s PER formula is an oddly arbitrary mix he dreamed up one day. I think you can easily see this my trying to total PER up and ask what the resulting number is supposed to be. PER, after all, is an individual stat representing a per-minute quantity. So if we take a player’s PER and multiply it by his minutes played, we’ll get that guy’s PERMinutes. Then we can add up all of a team’s PERMinutes and we get . . . what?

The idea of a system like Dave Berri’s “wins produced” is that if you add up all the “wins produced” of the individual 2009-2010 Los Angeles Lakers you get a number that’s approximately equal to the total wins of the Los Angeles Lakers. People can (and have, and do, and should continue to) raise questions about whether the Berri formula is accurately allocating credit for these wins to individuals, and also can (and have, and do, and should continue to) raise questions about the predictive value of these quantities. But there’s no question of what’s being measured. By contrast, what happens when I add up the 2009-2010 Lakers’ PERMinutes:

What is this supposed to be a model of? If you calculated the total team PERMinutes for each time, would the resulting quantities have a strong correlation with team performance? If so, I’d love to see Hollinger work up the spreadsheet.

But I have my doubts. For starters, by definition the average player has a PER of 15. And if you take the Lakers’ aggregate PERMinutes and then divide them by minutes to get a measure of the quality of a statistical construct “Laker,” the team turns out to have a 15.73 PER—just slightly above average. But the team in question won 57 games and the NBA championship.

Yglesias

# Efforts To Discriminate Against Muslims Dragging Others Into The Mix Accidentally

Another one to remember next time conservatives start wondering why Jews are liberal, is this story about how conservative passion for discriminating against Muslims winds up stepping on the toes of Jewish groups as well:

House Bill 45, introduced by Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, states “it shall be the public policy of this state to protect its citizens from the application of foreign laws when the application … will result in the violation of a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” The bill also would prevent arbitrators or tribunals from enforcing a foreign law that didn’t meet constitutional standards.

Jacobs, a lawyer and vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Fulton County Daily Report the bill would “ban the use of Sharia law in state courts.” He acknowledged that he was not aware of any instances in Georgia where a plaintiff or defendant asked the court to apply Sharia law but believes it has happened elsewhere.

But:

A bigger problem, [Michael Broyd, director of Emory University's law and religion program] added, is that the bill “violates the Federal Arbitration Act and becomes an unconstitutional exercise of state authority.”

“Arbitration is a routine business exercise by people who are prepared to sacrifice some of their constitutional rights in return for reduced cost and expediency,” said Broyde, who also is an ordained rabbi and member of the Beth Din of America — the largest Jewish law court in the country.

The punchline is that obviously the bigots in question have no particular interest in restricting Jewish practice, nor is there any real principle at work here, they’re just trying to discriminate against Muslims:

Jacobs said he’s hoping to resolve any perceived problems in Judiciary Committee meetings.

“I’m certainly willing to hear from practitioners who have concerns about specific applications of the bill as it is introduced.”

Not super-closely related, but it seems to me that many Americans of Christian ancestry, both those who are observant and those who aren’t, tend to walk around blind to the extent to which Christian religious law influences American public policy. The United States Postal Services delivers mail 6 days a week, and it’s not a coincidence which day is the exception. The calendar of federal holidays celebrates four individuals, three of whom (Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Martin Luther King) are major figures in American history and it’s not a coincidence who the forth one is.

Yglesias

# The Mind’s Eye

As perhaps befits a book about visual impairment, I listened to Oliver Sachs’ The Mind’s Eye on MP3 rather than actually reading it. The whole audiobook experience is kind of interesting—the material just kind of flows past at a fixed speed rather than speeding up or slowing down according to what I’m paying attention to. Old fashioned reading definitely has a lot of advantages, but you can listen to MP3s while walking to work.

The book is from the medical journals of Oliver Sachs, writer/neurologist extraordinaire and all the stories are pretty gripping. It’s not at all a book about public policy, but thinking about some of the patients does put certain things in a different light. One woman lost the ability to read, and then over time the optical centers of her brain are continually—and mysteriously—degenerating in a seemingly uncurable way. It seems like a terrifying, miserable experience to me. But she still had a nice middle class life and income in New York. The whole thing struck me as an excellent case study in the idea that in modern day rich countries you start to get a lot of disjoint between happiness and well-being and money and income.

Economy

# Kasich Proposes Another Privatization Scheme To Finance Tax Breaks For The Rich And Corporations

During his campaign for office last fall, ThinkProgress exposed the absurdity of Governor John Kasich’s (R-OH) promise to fix his state’s \$8 billion budget shortfall and improve Ohio’s economic performance through massive corporate tax breaks. Since entering office last month, with an inaugural ceremony sponsored by corporate donors, Kasich has repeatedly called for lower taxes for corporations even while eliminating private sector jobs, demanding 20 percent cuts in the state’s education budget and advancing a dubious scheme to put the state’s jobs program in the hands of private interests.

Kasich has already shown that he is not afraid to sacrifice his constituents jobs and his state’s Race to the Top funding while pursuing his pro-tax cut agenda. But yesterday he reached a new low when he proposed privatizing the state’s turnpike and using the revenue to fund a new round of tax cuts. In a twenty-minute extemporaneous talk, the Governor told Cleveland business leaders that:

He might find money for incentives to new businesses by privatizing state assets; he used the Ohio Turnpike as, he emphasized, a hypothetical example. He said he could lease the Ohio Turnpike for \$3 billion and use most of that money, after repaying \$600 million in outstanding turnpike debt, to attract business to Ohio.

“I’m not telling you this is going to happen,” he said, but it was just one of the ways his administration might raise a kitty of money for business expansion in a time of budget belt-tightening.

Mr. Kasich also suggested that he might favor what he called a “capital gains differential” to keep wealthy shareholders from moving out of state.

Although Kasich insists that the proposal is a “hypothetical,” this isn’t the first time he’s proposed it in public without any prompting. Furthermore, the turnpike scheme fits well with what has already become the two dominant features of Kasich’s administration: ineffective privatization schemes and unfunded corporate tax breaks. A recent poll shows that only 30 percent of Ohioans would support a privatization of the turnpike even if it was used to balance the budget.

What is most unfortunate about Kasich’s latest proposals is how little it would do to actually create jobs and revive Ohio’s economy. As ThinkProgress has reported, the types of tax breaks that Kasich offered in Cleveland to help the state “get its mojo back” have a poor job growth record, but are excellent at increasing deficits. As Plunderblund’s Brian Hester writes, “Kasich cares more about protecting corporate welfare and giving himself and his rich corporate buddies more tax cuts than he does the people who are actually suffering from this economy.”

Yglesias

# Catastrophe Keeps Us Together

The euro can’t work without deeper political integration. To some, that was a bug in the plan and they thought the EU shouldn’t move to a single currency until the dawn of some more integrated political future. But the theory that won the day was that the best way to drive future political integration was to march ahead with the Euro, then count on integration to arrive when the system proved unworkable. It’s a bit sick if you ask me, but it’s working:

Initiating a bold effort to strengthen the euro, Germany and France on Friday laid down far-reaching plans to deepen integration among the 17 nations that use the currency. The move prompted immediate opposition, but could lead to embryonic economic government for Europe.

The architects of the world.

Politics

# 10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan

Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, and all week, conservatives have been trying to outdo each others’ remembrances of the great conservative icon. Senate Republicans spent much of Thursday singing Reagan’s praise from the Senate floor, while conservative publications have been running non-stop commemorations. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich are hoping to make a few bucks off the Gipper’s centennial.

But Reagan was not the man conservatives claim he was. This image of Reagan as a conservative superhero is myth, created to unite the various factions of the right behind a common leader. In reality, Reagan was no conservative ideologue or flawless commander-in-chief. Reagan regularly strayed from conservative dogma — he raised taxes eleven times as president while tripling the deficit — and he often ended up on the wrong side of history, like when he vetoed an Anti-Apartheid bill.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the top 10 things conservatives rarely mention when talking about President Reagan:

1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology,” Brinkley said.

2. Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit. During the Reagan years, the debt increased to nearly \$3 trillion, “roughly three times as much as the first 80 years of the century had done altogether.” Reagan enacted a major tax cut his first year in office and government revenue dropped off precipitously. Despite the conservative myth that tax cuts somehow increase revenue, the government went deeper into debt and Reagan had to raise taxes just a year after he enacted his tax cut. Despite ten more tax hikes on everything from gasoline to corporate income, Reagan was never able to get the deficit under control.

3. Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. Unemployment jumped to 10.8 percent after Reagan enacted his much-touted tax cut, and it took years for the rate to get back down to its previous level. Meanwhile, income inequality exploded. Despite the myth that Reagan presided over an era of unmatched economic boom for all Americans, Reagan disproportionately taxed the poor and middle class, but the economic growth of the 1980′s did little help them. “Since 1980, median household income has risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled or quadrupled,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted.

4. Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously. Reagan promised “to move boldly, decisively, and quickly to control the runaway growth of federal spending,” but federal spending “ballooned” under Reagan. He bailed out Social Security in 1983 after attempting to privatize it, and set up a progressive taxation system to keep it funded into the future. He promised to cut government agencies like the Department of Energy and Education but ended up adding one of the largest — the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which today has a budget of nearly \$90 billion and close to 300,000 employees. He also hiked defense spending by over \$100 billion a year to a level not seen since the height of the Vietnam war.

5. Reagan did little to fight a woman’s right to choose. As governor of California in 1967, Reagan signed a bill to liberalize the state’s abortion laws that “resulted in more than a million abortions.” When Reagan ran for president, he advocated a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother, but once in office, he “never seriously pursued” curbing choice.

6. Reagan was a “bellicose peacenik.” He wrote in his memoirs that “[m]y dream…became a world free of nuclear weapons.” “This vision stemmed from the president’s belief that the biblical account of Armageddon prophesied nuclear war — and that apocalypse could be averted if everyone, especially the Soviets, eliminated nuclear weapons,” the Washington Monthly noted. And Reagan’s military buildup was meant to crush the Soviet Union, but “also to put the United States in a stronger position from which to establish effective arms control” for the the entire world — a vision acted out by Regean’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, when he became president.

7. Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Reagan signed into law a bill that made any immigrant who had entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty. The bill was sold as a crackdown, but its tough sanctions on employers who hired undocumented immigrants were removed before final passage. The bill helped 3 million people and millions more family members gain American residency. It has since become a source of major embarrassment for conservatives.

8. Reagan illegally funneled weapons to Iran. Reagan and other senior U.S. officials secretly sold arms to officials in Iran, which was subject to a an arms embargo at the time, in exchange for American hostages. Some funds from the illegal arms sales also went to fund anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua — something Congress had already prohibited the administration from doing. When the deals went public, the Iran-Contra Affair, as it came to be know, was an enormous political scandal that forced several senior administration officials to resign.

9. Reagan vetoed a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act. which placed sanctions on South Africa and cut off all American trade with the country. Reagan’s veto was overridden by the Republican-controlled Senate. Reagan responded by saying “I deeply regret that Congress has seen fit to override my veto,” saying that the law “will not solve the serious problems that plague that country.”

10. Reagan helped create the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Reagan fought a proxy war with the Soviet Union by training, arming, equipping, and funding Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan. Reagan funneled billions of dollars, along with top-secret intelligence and sophisticated weaponry to these fighters through the Pakistani intelligence service. The Talbian and Osama Bin Laden — a prominent mujahidin commander — emerged from these mujahidin groups Reagan helped create, and U.S. policy towards Pakistan remains strained because of the intelligence services’ close relations to these fighters. In fact, Reagan’s decision to continue the proxy war after the Soviets were willing to retreat played a direct role in Bin Laden’s ascendancy.

Conservatives seem to be in such denial about the less flattering aspects of Reagan; it sometimes appears as if they genuinely don’t know the truth of his legacy. Yesterday, when liberal activist Mike Stark challenged hate radio host Rush Limbaugh on why Reagan remains a conservative hero despite raising taxes so many times, Limbaugh flew into a tirade and demanded, “Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes?

##### Update

Salon has more in their series “The Real Reagan,” including how he cared more about UFOs than AIDS and how Reagan destroyed respect for the social compact that rebuilt America after World War II.

Climate Progress

# Question: How can you be most employable in a world of global warming and peak oil and food insecurity?

I’m giving this talk to college students for the second year running.

Yglesias

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been having a fun time trying to scare people with the idea that if the ACA is constitutional, then congress would also be within its rights to mandate that people buy broccoli.

Legal issues aside, I really think these efforts to scare people with the specter of unlimited government founder on the fact that any government empowered to levy excise taxes is conceptually pretty much unlimited. The government is allowed to tax everyone, and use the revenue to subsidize broccoli consumption. Now maybe you think that’s legally distinct from the idea of fining people for failure to consume broccoli. But the practical impact is identical. Whether or not non-eaters of broccoli end up subsidizing broccoli consumption has everything to do with congressional politics and nothing to do with the Supreme Court.

In the specific case of the ACA, the stakes are in fact quite high. That’s because the 111th Congress favored the ACA whereas the 112th congress doesn’t. So if the Supreme Court undoes the law, the votes won’t be there to re-achieve the same thing through a technically different process. But that’s just the same as the case of the broccoli mandate. We don’t have a broccoli mandate because there’s no congressional support for a broccoli mandate. If congress decides to financially penalize people for not eating broccoli (as it currently penalizes people who don’t eat corn) then it will do so and the Supreme Court has no way to stop it. What’s happening now is a quirk of America’s odd legislative process. The votes aren’t there to repeal ACA and the votes aren’t there to pass ACA, so whether or not the court strikes it down is hugely important. That’s an interesting fact about American politics in 2011, but it has implications whatsoever for the conceptual boundaries of congressional power. As ever, the best guarantee that congress won’t do something you don’t like is to win elections.

Media

# Washington Post ‘Conservative’ Blogger Aligned With the Pro-Israel Far Right

Our guest blogger is Eli Clifton, a New York-based journalist who blogs daily on U.S.-Iran relations at LobeLog.com.

Jennifer Rubin, who authors The Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blog, claims that her blog offers coverage of “politics and policy” for “conservative readers.” But you’d be excused for thinking that her foremost interest is Israel’s conservative politics and policy.

Rubin, a prolific blogger, has published 415 posts since she started at The Washington Post at the end of November. Her blog categorizes her posts by topic and shows that: 29 were about “Israel;” 11 were about “American Jews,” and 16 were about “Iran.” In just the past few weeks, she attacked the signatories of a letter calling for the Obama administration to support a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the Occupied Territory. Rubin also attacked HSBC for an advertisement which the bank was running to call attention to the high number of female filmmakers in Iran.

Now, her hard work on behalf of the Israel right has earned her a free trip. “In the interest of full disclosure,” she revealed yesterday, her trip to Israel’s Herzliya Conference, an Israeli strategic confab, will be paid for by the Bill Kristol front group, The Emergency Committee For Israel (ECI).

The ECI first came to attention in July 2010 when it began running attack ads against politicians who it deemed insufficiently tough on terrorism or who had dared to criticize Israel. The group is directed by neoconservative upstart Noah Pollak and board members include: Kristol, Rachel Abrams, and Gary Bauer. Former Bush White House official Margaret Hoover has registered the ECI’s domain name. ECI was briefly housed at Orion Strategies, a consultancy which has advised Sarah Palin and served as the home of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a group which played a key role in pushing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and promoting Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress.

The Washington Post’s claim that she is representative of the conservative movement is deeply misleading. Her close relationship with ECI, her gleeful promotion of the “military option” against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and her proclivity towards smearing her opponents as “Israel-bashing” show that Rubin represents the interests and ideology of the hawkish, pro-Israel right-wing. While the Post claims that her blog is representative of conservative politics and policy, her posts have shown a very different focus.

Education

# Indiana’s New Evaluation System Shows Race To The Top Is Paying Off

Our guest blogger is Robin Chait, Associate Director for Teacher Quality at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The Indiana Department of Education recently introduced a new evaluation system for principals that raises expectations for effective leaders in the state and will soon introduce a teacher evaluation system that raises standards for teachers as well. Even though Indiana is not a recipient of Race to the Top funding, it is still implementing one its core provisions.

This development is one of many that demonstrates that Race to the Top is having an effect that extends beyond the states that are receiving funds. Other examples include the fact that Colorado continues to implement the teacher and principal evaluation system that it proposed as part of its Race to the Top application, despite not receiving an award. Similarly, Louisiana continues to implement its new teacher evaluation system, despite not receiving an award.

Yet members of Congress and some practitioners are criticizing the value of the program:

[House Education Committee Chairman John] Kline (R-MN) repeated his concerns over reauthorizing the federal Race to the Top funding and his plans as chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. “I’m supportive of reducing the federal presence from the federal government and fixing No Child Left Behind,” Kline said.

This is unfortunate since the program has gotten tremendous bang for its buck. RTTT only provided \$4.35 billion in funding, yet many states have adopted reforms that would have been unimaginable two years ago. For example, 43 states so far have adopted a set of rigorous, common state standards in language arts and mathematics.

Congress should authorize another round of the Race to the Top when they consider the President’s budget this sprint. It’s hard to imagine a more productive use of federal education funds.

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