Monthly Archives: November 2014

John Kasich is a Good Las Vegas Bet for 2016 Republican Ticket

The two big winners in the Republican presidential derby after the November 4th elections were Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
It’s easy to make predictions when they don’t have any consequences, and won’t be recalled if they turn out completely wrong, so here goes:

If I had to make an academic prediction today, I’d say Scott Walker will be the R’s standard bearer in 2016.  But John Kasich right now is a much better Las Vegas bet. He has longer odds than Walker (or any R candidate showing up in the Real Clear Politics polls), but also a huge (under-appreciated) upside. It’s all about seeking out the undervalued stocks.

If you prefer betting “win and place,” Kasich is an even better bet for one of the two spots on the R’s ticket in 2016.  If R’s nominate a hard right winger for the top spot, what’s better for them than a more moderate, charismatic Ohioan for veep?

After taming the public sector Unions in Wisconsin and beating back a “ground zero” recall election, Walker has stayed the course as a darling of the Republican base. He won a big victory this November in a blue state and has been careful not to harm his own Keystone Pipeline from Koch Industries to Madison. Kasich, on the other hand, after his resounding re-election in a purple swing state, hasn’t tried at all to hide his tilt to the center, which clinched his big win in Ohio.

Kasich’s brand of moderation was almost garishly on display at the recent Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) forum, featuring Kasich, along with Governors Walker, Spence, Perry, and Jindal. Only at a Republican gathering can something be both moderate and garish at the same time.

The RGA event, hosted by Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd, had the feel of a Republican primary debate. But it received very little coverage. Kasich stood out, positioning himself as a bridge builder (both metaphorically and in his maverick support for replenishing the Highway Trust Fund). It’s a big story, buried for now. But it won’t be for long, if Kasich repeats this act more often and at better venues.

If you watch the RGA forum, it’s clear that Kasich tried to put daylight between himself and the other Governors. He was already physically separated on the stage, ironically at the far right, but then kept turning sideways and leaning backward, placing him still further away from his brothers, and at a distinctly different angle.  Check out:  Kasich at RGA on C-span, and his comments on bi-partisan unity, amnesty, common core, and obamacare

Kasich has been amazingly invisible in the Republican polls. Yet he was a Tea Partier long before there was a Tea Party, and a Ryan-esque conservative budget guru long before anyone heard of Paul Ryan.

In the 1990s Kasich was a young star and first lieutenant in the Newt Gingrich revolution, chairing the House Budget Committee. Kasich was the real thing as budget sage, not just a master of buzz words, like Mr. Ryan. (Ryan causes Republican audiences to swoon when he refers to the “budget base” or says things like “carry forward” and “bow wave”).

If the Ohio Governor can convince a few powerful conservative king makers (with shekels) that his new brand of moderation (which went over real big in the beast of all swing states, Ohio), can do well with swing voters, Latinos, and disillusioned Obama supporters, while being tolerated by the Party’s base, he has a great chance. Yes, I know, that’s a big IF. Kasich has some of the same inconvenient attributes for an R primary as Christie, but Kasich is a mid western good ole’ boy out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and he’s not obnoxious.

The resume seems perfect: Budget Czar of the first Republican Revolution, resoundingly popular Governor in the king of swing states, a solid record of spending and tax cuts and real regulatory reform in Ohio, joined with good economic results there (whether or not that had anything to do with the policy reforms).

But here is the rub: At the RGA forum, and elsewhere, he’s taken nuanced positions on
Obama Immigration Policy, Common Core Education Standards, and Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion. Even a hint of any one of those is usually enough to doom a Republican’s presidential aspirations.

But if R’s want a real chance to win, the king-making donors might be persuaded that a smart, authentic, humorous, popular Ohio Governor beats the bland (Walker) guy from Wisconsin, Florida’s Bush,  who is further to the left on immigration and common core, the fringy and goofy retreads from 2008 and 2012, and the flip flopper in chief (the “severe conservative”) who the R’s nominated in 2012, then Kasich is a really interesting bet. Think about it, if you happen to be visiting Las Vegas over the holidays.






“It’s the Propaganda, Stupid”

Biologists say ostriches are really stupid

Biologists say ostriches are really stupid

It’s easy and tempting to brand the American voter as “stupid,” and getting dumber all the time.  But, the accusers miss the real point and ignore the real perpetrators. All of us are only as smart as the information we receive; and when voters in America are (more than ever) receiving “news” and political” information in the form of propaganda and unabashed lies, what do you expect? It’s not stupid voters, “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid!”

The money behind the propaganda is also a big factor,  and getting worse; but we’ve been operating with gross mis-information well before Citzens United.

Whether you are a Democrat who thinks there were too many stupid voters in 2014, or a Republican who has the same view of the 2012 electorate, you are focusing on symptoms rather than root causes, and blaming the victims. Solving the propaganda (and money) issues is so daunting, we are more comfortable with scolding average people for not being better informed.

Charges of “stupidity” have been in the news a lot lately, and from some people who ought to know better, especially the usually level headed Fareed Zakaria.  Zakaria featured a new international survey on his last Sunday morning program. It says the American electorate is the second most ignorant among the fourteen nations studied.  The USA trailed only Italy. (Manifestly non democratic systems, like North Korea, were of course not surveyed).

Zakaria’s commentary surprisingly lacked perspective. I think he knows the information lifeblood of our democracy has been terribly degraded. Maybe he meant the whole segment to be whimsical? It was admittedly amusing, on top of shocking, to learn that French voters think 31 percent of their population is Muslim. (Its really 8 percent).

Zakaria wasn’t the only one talking about “stupidity.”  While economist Paul Krugman didn’t use the “S” word to express dismay about the November 4th outcomes, you could feel him chomping at the bit, as he called the election results “so wrong about so much.”

Republicans of course aren’t calling the 2014 decisions of the electorate “stupid.”  But they are still saying that about voters in 2012; loudly and explicitly.  I found that out driving eight hours north from San Diego to Monterrey recently, through areas of California where all I could get on the radio was Limbaugh and Limbaugh clones. Four hundred miles of unabashed propaganda drowning out anything resembling real news; literally clogging the “public” airways.

For some time now, the political and economic information used by most Americans hasn’t been much better than what Pravda fed to the poor Soviet masses.  Is that extreme or alarmist?  I would understand if you thought so. But all of the recent (non partisan) studies of voter information sources, such as a series by Pew Research, show that Americans are receiving more and more of their political information from polarized, “non traditional” sources – ones not even trying to be objective or fact based.

I concede that voters share some of the blame for liberally using bad sources of information. But I’ll bet propaganda helped move them there in the first place. I can’t blame average people, overwhelmed by daily life, looking to tweets, bumper stickers, and conversations on the Wal Mart check-out line, for political intelligence.

In Escondido (near San Diego), where I live, good political and economic information is scarce. One daily newspaper with significant circulation survives, but its coverage of Escondido is rare and superficial. The paper’s stated mission (from its still relatively new owner), is to promote a particular ideology in the region, not just through its editorials, but also in its “hard news.”  He doesn’t understand (or care) how shocking that sort of statement would have been from a metropolitan area newspaper owner even just a few years ago. A few good on-line news sources and “free” print news papers have emerged in San Diego County, but their reach is still very limited.

Most of the “information” about the local candidates in Escondido came in the form of mailers. The candidate I supported (and who lost by a big margin) couldn’t afford to send out nearly as many as her opponent. The information she did provide, which was (relatively) nice, honest, and substantive by today’s standards, was overwhelmed by an avalanche of propaganda, made-up economic data, sheer lies, sprinkled with some dog-whistle hate lines, arriving in the mail on an almost daily basis.

Yes, “turnout” was low, which hurt the loser a lot more than the winner. By my rough estimate, the winner received the votes of about 10 percent of the voting age population in Escondido. That’s deplorable, regardless of which candidate won. But stupidity certainly was not the reason for either low turnout or the outcomes of the election in Escondido. “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid.”

Obamacare Could Easily Unravel After Tuesday’s Election: More Supreme Court Drama Ahead

GOP Judges Eyeing Obama Care

GOP Judges Eyeing Obama Care

The U.S. Supreme Court has given itself the opportunity to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA), wipe out President Obama’s signature policy achievement, thumb its nose at the I.R.S.,  and align itself with last Tuesday’s electoral outcomes……all at the same time, in just one legal case.   And, oh yes, they also get to diss Harry Reid and the new judges appointed by the President to the D.C. Court of Appeals, after Reid exempted judicial appointments from the Senate 60 vote requirement; again, in the same legal case.  What an opportunity!

In a story drowned out by wall to wall coverage of Tuesday’s election, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its intention to hear an appeal to a 4th Circuit Court of  Appeals decision in King vs. Burwell,  concerning subsidies under the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA).  The 4th Circuit’s decision in Burwell rejected claims which would have gutted the ACA. The High Court’s sudden announcement last Friday to hear the case this term should be viewed as an existential threat to Obamacare.  I would not have characterized it that way before Tuesday’s election.

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The Road Not Taken: Why Didn’t Alex Gordon Try Stealing Home?

Jackie Stealing Home on Yogi

Jackie Stealing Home on Yogi

We will debate forever whether the Kansas City third base coach should have sent Alex Gordon home on the outfield miscue with two outs in the 9th inning of game seven in the 2014 world series, and unhittable Madison Bumgarner on the mound.  It seems like we’ve already been debating it forever. But only one sports writer I could find, Craig Calcaterra, has asked the question: “Why didn’t Alex Gordon try to steal home?”

Good question Craig!  Poets and philosophers from Robert Frost to Yogi Berra have waxed eloquent about Roads Not Taken and Forks in the Road. Frost took the Road Less Traveled. Yogi just urged “taking it.”  And Gordon died at third base.

Gordon stealing home crossed my mind too, as I watched him standing on third, two outs, KC up against the wall, and Bumgarner in total command. He and just about everyone else, must have felt in their gut that the next hitter — poor, banged up Salvy Perez — was already toast; and the Giants just one out from winning their third world series in five years,

What would Jackie Robinson, Pete Reiser, or Rod Carew have done in this situation?”  Why, of course, they’d have attempted a steal to tie the game, and give KC a fighting chance of winning in extra innings.  At least I like to think so. They wouldn’t have just died at third base.  Or would they?

Craig Calcaterra was being fair to Gordon and manager Ned Yost, admitting that he’s not enough of a SABRmetrician (a Money Ball analyst) to know if the odds favored an attempted steal. Here is what I think a good SABRmetrician would say.

Since there have been so few attempts to steal home since the stat geeks started recording every play in every baseball game, there aren’t good data on the success of home plate thefts or on the all important “break even point.”  The “break even point” is the rate of success needed for an attempted steal of home to make sense (in Gordon’s situation).  Since there are so many other ways to score from third base, an attempted steal of home can be a bad play. Would it have been a bad play for Yost and Gordon?

The best analysis I’ve seen on this subject is by SABRmetrician, Josh Goldman, in a 2011 Fangraphs article. Mr. Goldman says that, in general, a prospective thief of home plate , with two outs, needs to succeed about one-third of the time for the play to make sense. i.e., below a success rate of 33%, the runner is more likely to score due to a base hit, passed ball, error, wild pitch, balk and several other scoring possibilities. So, again, an attempted steal would not make sense…..if the expected rate of success is below 33%.

Did Alex Gordon have a better than 33% chance of stealing home?  I would say the answer is clearly YES, though, I don’t fault either the player or manager for not having read (or understood) Josh Goldman’s article.

Why am I so bullish on the steal option?  First, the probability of the hobbled Perez getting a base hit, or even putting the ball in play, against the unhittable Bumgarner,  was much smaller than in Goldman’s “break even” calculation (for the average case).

But, there’s a lot more:

Even though Bumgarner was throwing from the stretch, he doesn’t have an especially quick delivery. In fact, he reaches back quite far in his motion, as you can see in this video.  And, with first base open, all of Bumgarner’s pitches were (deliberately) high and out of the strike zone, meaning the catcher would likely have had a long way to go to apply a tag to a sliding Gordon.

And,  Perez is a right handed batter, which makes it marginally harder for a catcher to react to an attempted steal.  Also, Bumgarner as a lefty, would not have seen Gordon roaming off third base quite as quickly as a right-hander.   The stars were aligned for a steal of home in the world series.  Only thing missing was Jackie Robinson and Yogi Berra; or Yost’s familiarity with SABRmetrics.

So, under these special conditions, for an attempted steal to make sense, Gordon would have needed even less than the 33% success rate derived from Mr. Goldman’s generic data; maybe something in the 20 to 25 percent range.

Based on data I found for 2012, among the few runners who attempt straight steals of home, the success rate was about 40%.  These included many speedsters, but also some runners with average speed.  How fast is Alex Gordon?  He’s a big guy, but has stolen 50 bases in the last four years; a lot in this era.  A Kansas City Star sports writer who watches Gordon all the time, thinks he’s got pretty good speed.

So, why didn’t Yost or Gordon take the road less traveled?  As I mentioned earlier, the play is so rare these days, not only is it possible that Yost didn’t give it more than a nano second of thought; it’s likely Gordon had never tried it before, maybe not even in little league. Was there even a sign for a steal of home that Gordon might have looked for?  Probably not,

If Robert Frost had been manager, he would no doubt have coaxed Gordon into taking the road less traveled, perhaps in a poem slipped to Gordon by the third base coach.  Yogi would have just told Gordon to take the fork in the road.  Alex might have been picked off third base while pondering that one.

Either way it would have been a helluva play; one of the memorable ones in world series history, and replayed for years, even if it failed.  A Road Not Taken.