The Showdown that Never Came: Trump vs. Carson

When the Republican National Committee released the 2016 primary debate schedule on July 6th, 2015, no one could have envisioned the second debate would headline real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson as Republican nominee front-runners.   A September 9th-13th New York Times/CBS poll revealed Republican establishment candidates Jeb Bush (13% to 6%) and Scott Walker (10% to 2%) have fallen off sharply with potential voters since the first primary debate in August.  With voters bucking traditional candidates, the buzz surrounding September 16th Republican primary debate promised an early showdown between non-establishment candidates Trump (24% to 27%) and Carson (6% to 23%).  That showdown failed to materialize as Carson seemed sedated during his performance and Carly Fiorina (.5% to 4%) represented the non-establishment clash with Trump.

The Trump-centric debate (speaking more than any other candidate) led to CNN’s highest rating ever: 22.9 million viewers.  But the three-hour marathon debate was terribly moderated by Jake Tapper as he tried to force clash between candidates rather than focusing on how candidates differed on policy stances. Did we really need twenty minutes on how all 11 candidates plan to defund Planned Parenthood?  In an effort to streamline the differences between candidates, this website is creating political baseball cards outlining 20 different social and policy stances to differentiate candidates. The first two candidates featured are the Republican front-runners: Donald Trump and Ben Carson.   Each of the political cards are inspired by famous/infamous baseball cards, which will be featured here as well.

Bip-thenDonald Trump Card

The Donald Trump card is inspired by Bip Roberts’ famous 1996 Score No. 36 baseball card. There’s no real explanation as to why Roberts is wearing a sombrero with eye black, but he simultaneously looks amazing and ridiculous; a stylistic condition that appears perfectly suited for Mr. Trump’s candidacy.  His 20 social, economic, domestic, and foreign policy positions below illustrates his adoption of conservative principles over recent years to appeal to Republican voters.

Donald Trump Back New

The Ben Carson political card is inspired by Michael Tucker’s Donruss 2003 Studio No. 42 isn’t generally on lists for the worst baseball cards of all-time, but you can imagine it made honorable mention somewhere.

Michael Tucker 1

Ben Carson1Dr. Carson’s cool demeanor and Christian conservative values has made him a strong candidate in the eyes of evangelicals.  His meteoric rise in the polls is reminiscent of Herman Cain in the 2012 election cycle as a non-establishment Christian conservative candidate preaching reason rather than hard partisan stances. His 20 political stances reveal a candidate with down-the-line Republican stances.

Ben Carson Back

Whether Trump and Carson can survive as viable candidates after equally uneven performances during the second primary debate remains to be seen.  Some are already calling the debate “the beginning of the end” for Donald Trump.  But the 2016 election cycle already feels different than previous campaign seasons and with traditional candidates mired in missteps, expect Trump and Carson to be viable in Iowa.

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2016 Collateral Damage: A Liberal Supreme Court

Scalia Full

The 2012 presidential race led the New York Times and Forbes to ponder what the Supreme Court’s future would look like with the reelection of Barack Obama. Two years into his second term the Court remains unchanged, which makes the 2016 presidential election all the more interesting. Current election coverage focuses on the Republican nominee horserace to determine who will compete against the presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton. Early polling data indicates that Clinton is a heavy favorite over potential Republican nominees. A January Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Clinton held a 53% to 41% lead over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Another Washington Post/ABC News poll also presented similar results for Clinton vs. Jeb Bush (54% to 41%), a now dropped out Mitt Romney (55% to 40%), and Rand Paul (54% to 41%). A Public Policy Polling survey revealed smaller leads over an unlikely to run Paul Ryan (50% to 45%) and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (51% to 44%). These poll numbers should be alarming to Republicans not just because of control over the executive branch, but also control over the Supreme Court. And yes, I did say control.

Recent rulings by the Supreme Court on campaign finance, public employee unions, and contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act were all 5-to-4 rulings along party lines. David Paul Kuhn wrote in The Atlantic in 2012:

“from 1801 to 1940, less than 2 percent of the Supreme Court’s total rulings were resolved by 5-to-4 decisions. Since then, more than 16 percent of the Court’s rulings have been decided by ‘minimum-winning coalitions.’ In the two most recent Courts, more than a fifth of all rulings were decided by 5-to-4 votes.”

The graph below illustrates the marked increase in 5-to-4 decisions since 1940.

One Percent Supreme Court

Adam Liptak of the New York Times noted after the Supreme Court ruled on campaign finance in April 2014: “That 5-to-4 split along partisan lines was by contemporary standards unremarkable. But by historical standards it was extraordinary. For the first time, the Supreme Court is closely divided along party lines.” Garrett Epps of The Atlantic further supported this argument, “On the [Chief Justice John] Roberts Court, for the first time, the party identity of the justices seems to be the single most important determinant of their votes.” With four out of the past five presidents serving two terms in the White House, the smart money is on the next president serving till 2024, which could potentially mean appointing four new members to the Supreme Court.

Currently, four members of the Supreme Court are 75 or older, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg (81), Antonin Scalia (78), Anthony Kennedy (78), and Stephen Breyer (76). And if Ginsberg’s comments are indicative of the rest of the justices’ thoughts on retiring, only Father Time will prompt their exit from the Court (see Adrienne LaFrance’s Slate piece on potential age limits for Justices). Much to the chagrin of the Obama administration that would love to lock in another liberal justice for 30 years, Ginsberg stated: “Now I happen to be the oldest…but John Paul Stevens didn’t step down until he was 90.” By 2024, Ginsberg will be 90 and the over-75 justices will now be in their mid-80s making their replacement by the next president not just likely, but important for shaping America’s political landscape. This Pelican Brief scenario doesn’t feature a sinister assassin named Khamel, but rather an omnipotent Morgan Freeman character waiting for them at the pearly gates. The political ramifications of the 2016 presidential election are ever more present with the two least productive Congresses in U.S. history leading to more political discourse and influence from the justices.

Take immigration for instance. In 2012, after President Obama refused to deport many illegal immigrants that arrive in the U.S. as children, Justice Scalia stated,

“Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrant who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Must Arizona’s ability to protect its borders yield to the reality that Congress has provided inadequate funding for federal enforcement — or, even worse, to the Executive’s unwise targeting of that funding?”

Scalia’s public dissent drew ire from critics, arguing Scalia’s political assertions violated unwritten rules for justices to avoid such political discourse. Richard A. Posner wrote in Slate, “These are fighting words. The nation is in the midst of a hard-fought presidential election campaign; the outcome is in doubt. Illegal immigration is a campaign issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Justice Scalia’s opinion were quoted in campaign ads.” Certainly, we could debate over the ethical implications of the Justices potentially influencing the political discourse in America, but a larger concern is the potential for varying legal interpretations based on who appoints them.

Our nation’s political polarization has crept into our highest judicial body that has no business being political. Regardless of the ethics, the politicization of the Supreme Court is here for the foreseeable future, which makes the 2016 presidential election all the more important. Let’s return to the initial premise: Republicans should be wary of believing the 2014 midterm massacre provides any insight into 2016 election. While Molly Ball argued in The Atlantic that Republican Party has been winning without rebranding, no statistical model can change the realities of the electoral map. Let’s take a look at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 electoral maps to gain some perspective:

2004 Map

President George W. Bush’s 286 electoral votes in 2004 illustrate the importance of three states: Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Bush won these three states (Florida 52.1% to 47.1%; Ohio 50.8% to 48.7%; Virginia 53.73% to 45.53%) and any 2016 Republican win would have to include them.

2008 Map

The 365 electoral vote landslide by President Obama in 2008 revealed a nation clamoring for change after President Bush’s two terms. In turn, Florida (50.91% to 48.1%), Ohio (51.38% to 46.8%), and Virginia (52.63% to 46.33%) all voted for Obama. The largest swing and least likely to change is Virginia, which with the influx of young voters moving into Northern Virginia has made Virginia essentially a blue state. By the 2012 election, the Hope and Change promised by the Obama administration had worn thin and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney proved to be a formidable challenger. Even though Romney was surprised he lost (He should have listened to Nate Silver and not his staff), Obama still achieved Electoral College dominance in 2012.

2012 Map

Given that Obama’s initial freight train appeal had worn off by 2012, his second presidential campaign victory might be the more impressive accomplishment. He won the popular vote by almost five million votes and won 332 electoral votes. Obama repeated victories in Florida (50.01% to 49.13%), Ohio (50.67% to 47.69%), and Virginia (51.16% to 47.28%), which were all very similar results to his 2008 campaign. But here’s why Republicans should be worried about the 2016 presidential election: they can win all three states and still lose.

2016 Map

Myra Adams argued in the Daily Beast that Democrats are starting with 246 electoral votes which is 91 percent of the way to 270 votes. With this bleak outlook of the electoral map, it is not surprising that the Republican Party is giving serious attention to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Swinging Wisconsin red would allow for more creative math to take place. Unfortunately for Republicans, Adams doesn’t have faith in a red Wisconsin:

“Every four years the Republican mindset says Wisconsin will be a swing state. Then, a few months into the campaign the state loses it’s coveted ‘battleground’ status as polls begin to show its ‘blue’ reality. The truth is that not since 1984, when Reagan won in a landslide against Walter Mondale, has Wisconsin seen red.”

Similarly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might give some Republicans hope he could swing his 14 electoral votes red, but the residual effects of Bridgegate have relegated Christie to career lows in approval ratings in New Jersey. Given the realities of the electoral map, the election of a Republican candidate for president appears unlikely.
Certainly, various things could happen that might derail Hillary Clinton from being the nation’s next president, but she’s a much stronger candidate today than she was in 2008. Clinton will undoubtedly appoint liberal Supreme Court Justices that will, for better (for Dems) or worse (for Reps), shape the country through legal decisions. To illustrate the potential change in rulings based on partisanship, Ian Millhiser of American Progress Action pondered in 2012 the different rulings from the Court based on an Obama or Romney administration:

Supreme Court Rulings

This week the Supreme Court will hear its third challenge to Obamacare which, according to the Economist, could be brought down by a total of four words: “established by the state.” The Economist explains:

“The trouble is this: only 16 states opted to set up their own insurance exchanges. The rest were established by the federal government. When the Internal Revenue Service drafted its rules, it provided the tax credits to people who bought health insurance on both state and federal exchanges. But based on a literal reading of the law, the challengers in King contend, anyone who uses a federal exchange to buy health-care should not qualify for a federal subsidy.”

As the Justices (really just Roberts and Kennedy) decide the fate of Obamacare based on the legal interpretation of those four words, potential Republican presidential candidates will continue to court conservative donors for the most expensive campaign season in human history. But it won’t be enough; Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States which will most likely end the conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Seemingly, the only way to avert Clinton appointing four Supreme Court Justices is through clean living (Perhaps a preponderance of government approved broccoli! or timely State of the Union naps!). While the eventuality of the president essentially deciding legal interpretations by appointment appears inherently bad for our democracy, it does appear to be an eventuality. If only getting Congress to work with the president was that easy. C’est la vie.

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Tony Dungy’s Transcendence Backpedal: Differentiating Distraction from Distraction

This certainly isn’t the first nor last story covering Tony Dungy’s remarks and clarification that he would not have drafted Michael Sam.  Tampa Tribune writer Ira Kaufman’s broad story about the NFL trying to reign in player behavior spotlighted Michael Sam’s entrance to the league as its first openly gay player. Dungy’s comments in the article argued against drafting Sam:

“I wouldn’t have taken him,’’ said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it…It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’

Dungy’s comments have brought an inordinate amount of criticism his way, ranging from ESPN’s Dan Graziano suggesting Dungy’s comments “better left unsaid” to Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel arguing Dungy’s assessment of Sam “shows stunning lack of courage.”  Rather than focus on the political and social ramifications of Dungy’s assessment of Sam, this article focuses on Dungy’s image repair efforts.

On Tuesday July 22nd, Dungy released a statement clarifying his remarks.

On Monday afternoon while on vacation with my family, I was quite surprised to read excerpts from an interview I gave several weeks ago related to this year’s NFL draft, and I feel compelled to clarify those remarks.

 I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him.  I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.

I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL.  He absolutely does.

I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process.  It should not.

I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team.  I would not.

 I have been asked all of those questions several times in the last three months and have always answered them the same way—by saying that playing in the NFL is, and should be, about merit.

 The best players make the team, and everyone should get the opportunity to prove whether they’re good enough to play.  That’s my opinion as a coach.  But those were not the questions I was asked.

 What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.

 I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.

 I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction.  Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.

 I wish Michael Sam nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.

 My sincere hope is that we will be able to focus on his play and not on his sexual orientation.

Using Crisis Communication scholar Bill Benoit’s image repair typology, Dungy’s statement can be viewed as an exercise in reducing the offensiveness of his actions.  Dungy could have employed mortification (a sincere apology) for his remarks, but he decided to clarify (expand; double down) on his remarks through the image repair strategies of transcendence and differentiation.


Although differentiation (redefining the act in question) plays a more central role in his defense discourse, Dungy’s use of transcendence (placing act in larger context) provides a necessary precursor for his use of differentiation. He began by stating that his remarks were made weeks ago in reference to the NFL draft:

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him.  I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael’s first season had been announced.

The contextual addition Dungy adds here is the Oprah Winfrey reality show, which was unsurprisingly postponed by the OWN network after considerable scrutiny. The show, critics argued, could have provided unwanted pressure on Sam and alienate him from his teammates. In a similar way that coaches try to avoid HBO’s Hard Knocks, Dungy’s argument about television cameras in the locker room being a distraction seems reasonable.

Yet, Dungy continued expanding on his previous comments through the larger context of “distraction.”

“What I was asked about was my philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years, which was to minimize distractions for my teams.”

For Dungy, bringing in any player with any off-field baggage would be considered a distraction.  This distinction allowed him to further explain his previous comments through differentiation.


Throughout his statement, Dungy uses differentiation to assert that he was not evaluating Sam based on his sexual orientation. Certainly, Dungy’s public views supporting a gay marriage ban could influence the way the media and public interpret his opinion on the NFL’s first openly gay player.  Dungy undoubtedly knew this, which might explain why his image repair discourse was nuanced and complex.  He was seeking to repair his image with the media and general public while maintaining a positive image with the Christian community, which appears to be a delicate balance.

He contended that Kaufman did not ask him further questions that would have shown he wanted Sam to have the same opportunity as everyone else in the NFL:

“I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL.  He absolutely does.

I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process.  It should not.

I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team.  I would not.”

Here, Dungy is trying to reduce the offensiveness of his Tampa Tribune comments by suggesting the range of questions did not allow for a fully developed evaluation of Michael Sam as a player and person.  Implicit in this use of differentiation is shifting some blame on Kaufman, but his statement continues to focus on his prior remarks and not on the work of Kaufman or the Tampa Tribune, which keeps the focus on differentiation rather than shift the blame.  In all, Dungy’s “I was not asked” statements sought to clarify that he does not believe Sam should be discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. 

Later, Dungy expands his use of differentiation in reference to why he wouldn’t have drafted Sam.  Returning to his initial Tampa Tribune comments appears appropriate as it will provide some context for his July 22nd statement:

“Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it…It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”

Dungy’s July 22nd statement tries to clarify what he meant by “deal with all of it” and “things will happen.”  Again, he used the larger context of distraction to redefine his comments:

“I do not believe Michael’s sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.

 I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction.”

The nuance Dungy employs here is unwise because it provided more questions and debate (most notably by an inane back and forth by ESPN’s Mike and Mike). Dungy tries to redefine his assertion that he would not have drafted Sam because of the media distraction, not Sam’s sexual orientation.  But obviously, Sam is receiving attention because he’s the NFL’s first openly gay player.  To assert that one can detach the reason behind the attention from the actual attention is nonsense. 

Overall, I find Dungy’s image repair discourse to be ineffective.  Clarifying his statement through the context of the NFL draft and the Oprah Winfrey show appeared to be appropriate choices which added important detail to his Tampa Tribune comments.  However, Dungy erred when he suggested the audience should view his comments though the broader context of distraction.  This use of transcendence provided Dungy the link (even if illogical) to differentiate between the distraction of Sam’s sexual orientation and the media distraction due to Sam’s sexual orientation.  Dungy’s use of differentiation only brought upon more media attention (including a Dan Patrick Show interview), which could have been avoided with a more straight-forward statement.

Dungy would have been better suited by continuing to use the Oprah Winfrey show context by suggesting that without the reality show Sam would not have provided near the media distraction and that he would be welcomed on any of Dungy’s teams. Maybe Dungy’s religious convictions provided the impetus for his nuanced approach, but whatever the cause, Dungy could have quelled the media firestorm with a statement focusing on embracing equality and meritocracy not just in sports, but in all professions. What a statement that would have been! But alas, we only have this distraction.



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Examining The Home Run Derby Myth

Somewhat in the same vein as the Madden curse, during the past decade MLB players have avoided the Home Run Derby contest because competing in it causes an imminent second half collapse. Well…at least that’s how the story goes. The game’s best player Mike Trout skipped the Derby this season at the behest of his manager Mike Scioscia. The Angels’ manager argued,

“The number of full gorilla swings you take, it’s like being on a driving range and hitting 10 buckets of balls. It’s tough. I haven’t seen someone come away from that Derby and be a better player for it.”

The problem with Scioscia’s statement is that it isn’t true. Below is the list of all the first and second halves of Home Run Derby winners from 1987-2013 (the 1988 Derby was rained out). Using Scioscia’s logic, the batter with the most “full gorilla swings” should have a worse second half. Among the stats included here are home runs per at bat since the All-Star break continues to be pushed back after the halfway point of the season and batting average because one of the tenants of the myth is that the Home Run Derby “ruins a line drive stroke.” I prefer to use more traditional stats to see their overall results, but if you’d rather a more advanced metric approach you should look at Neil Greenberg, 538, and Fan Graphs that have all examined the Home Run Derby myth.  My analysis revealed four different types of players: those who performed better, players who maintained their first half performance, those who regressed to their career means, and those who performed worse. 

Players Who Performed Better After Winning the Derby

Players better

These eight hitters all had a higher OPS after winning the Home Run Derby and their home run rates stayed consistent or improved in the second half. Additionally, their batting averages stayed consistent or improved and all of their on-base percentages improved during the second half. Without question, their performance improved after the All-Star break.  In particular, Fielder, Howard, Sosa, and Bonds had significantly better second halves after winning the Derby crown.

Players Who Maintained Their 1st Half Performance

Players maintained

Interestingly, home run rates for these players all improved except for McGwire, but batting averages all declined except for McGwire as well. Additionally, their first and second half OPS numbers remained within 50 points of each other. While Morneau won the 2008 crown, the star of the 2008 Derby was Josh Hamilton with a record 28 home runs in the first round. Hamilton gassed after the first round home run barrage and lost to Morneau in the finals. His 2008 splits reveal a slight decline:

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton’s second half wasn’t as productive as demonstrated by a higher home run rate, but his second half was only slightly less productive than his first half. Including Hamilton’s numbers, these seven players did not perform significantly worse after their Home Run Derby performance.

Players Who Regressed to Their Career Mean

Players regression 2

These four players were having career home run seasons which they rode to the Home Run Derby title. Anderson was riding the last year of his prime at 31, where he posted home run totals of 35, 28, 29, and 29 from ages 28-31. Yet, his highest home run output outside of those four years was 21 in 1999 and he never hit more than 17 homers in a season after his 2003 season. Martinez’s 1997 season was a career year where he placed 2nd in MVP voting only to Ken Griffey Jr.’s monster year. Martinez’s 44 homers in 1997 was only one of three seasons with 30 or more homers, with 34 in 2001 being his second highest total. His 11.8 home run rate in the first half of 1997 was far beyond any of his other seasons, which illustrated that Martinez was bound to regress in his solid 1997 second half.

The two Hall of Famers in this regression to the mean list is certainly not intended to diminish their seasons or their careers. At 31, Ripken posted his only season of 30 homers or more during his illustrious career, which paced him to his second Most Valuable Player award. But Ripken only batted .257 and .250 in the two years prior to his 1991 MVP season and .251 and .257 in the two years following his career year. Ripken clearly regressed in the second half of his 1991 season, but he was still markedly better in that second half than in almost any other post-All-Star break performance of his career. Much like Ripken, Sandberg posted a career high in homers the year he was the Home Run Derby champion. The previous season was the only other season Sandberg hit 30 or more homers, making his 40 homers in 1990 a statistical outlier.

Players Who Performed Worse After Winning the Derby

Players worse

This list includes the season the Home Run Derby myth started to gain more traction. Abreu’s 2005 second half is the worst of any Home Run Derby champion and the combination of his abysmal 44.2 home run rate with a .787 OPS made many question his Home Run Derby performance. All three of Griffey Jr.’s Derby crowns were followed by second half regressions (albeit a strike-shortened 1994 season) and his 1999 second half regression, in hindsight, previewed the struggles he would face playing in his 30s after playing so hard in his 20s. Yet, the major takeaway from the players who performed worse after winning the Home Run Derby, is that beyond Abreu’s 2005 season, these players all posted an OPS above .850 after the All-Star break. To put that in perspective, only 25 players have an OPS above .850 before the All-Star break this season. So yes, they declined, but they were still obviously better than most players in baseball.

Even though Scioscia’s “full gorilla swing” narrative seems to have some common sense reasoning, it does not have any real basis in statistical reality. So have no fear next season Mr. Trout, I think we’d all like to see the best player in the world compete in the Derby. 

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An Unanswered Question 13 Years Later: What Should the U.S. do with Gitmo Detainees?

Gitmo 2 On May 23, 2014, Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler lifted an order that barred the military from force-feeding Syrian detainee Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab at Guantanamo Bay. Kessler’s order came only a week after she ordered the military to stop force-feeding Diyab because “force-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process.” Through his lawyers, Diyab has challenged the military’s force-feeding protocol and hoped to have the procedure moved to the base hospital rather than being strapped into a chair and have the tube remain inserted only once during the feeding rather than being reinserted and removed for each feeding cycle. As Charlie Savage of the New York Times reported, the Department of Defense has refused accommodating Mr. Diyab’s requests and the force-feeding of Diyab will proceed under current DoD protocol. Kessler’s court decision revealed her anguish in the decision-making process stating, “Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions. However, the Court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.” Diyab’s current situation is an ominous reminder of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to close Gitmo within the first year of his presidency. Furthermore, the case questions the ethics surrounding our detainee program as we become further removed from 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Rushing to detain anyone suspected of terrorism was one of the early follies of U.S. War on Terror policy. According to NPR National Security correspondent Jackie Northam, at its height, Gitmo held around 750 prisoners that were primarily rounded up in Afghanistan. Due to limited intelligence about the region pre-9/11, a sizable portion of detainees were gathered through a bounty program. In 2007, Amnesty International reported that bounty hunters turned over 369 people to the U.S. for as much as $5,000 U.S. dollars per suspected terrorist. While certainly a minority method of capturing suspected terrorists, the use of bounties was indicative of the Bush administration’s haste to gather intelligence and punish Al Qaeda for 9/11. Unfortunately this swift action by the U.S. virtually bypassed the rule of law, which is how the U.S. ended up detaining men like Diyab.

Diyab’s case is indicative of the detainee crisis; during his 11 years at Gitmo he’s never been charged of a crime and he was cleared to be released by a task force years ago. In 2013, 86 of the 166 detainees were cleared for transfer but were not released, which led to a much publicized hunger strike by over 100 detainees last summer. Now releasing Diyab and the other 85 detainees cleared of charges is more complicated than releasing Joliet Jake due to various political realities. First, in 2011 the Armed Services Committee released a report that stated 27 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been “confirmed or suspected to have been engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities.” The “suspected” phrasing should give one pause for how credible this assessment is, but in 2007 the Department of Justice argued the recidivism rate for Gitmo detainees was around 16 percent. In any case, the threat of detainees returning to terrorism is a real threat. Second, many of the nations (Yemen in particular and Syria in Diyab’s case) the detainees would return to are politically unstable and could increase the chance of recidivism or upon returning home, the nation might torture or kill the freed detainee. Given these potential eventualities, one could understand and maybe even condone the actions by the Department of Justice and the White House to hold these detainees indefinitely.

Yet, I find these reasons for holding detainees without cause more reprehensible and damaging to the U.S. than the risk involved by releasing them. Judge Kessler’s decision on Friday made me think of my favorite speech: Robert Kennedy’s eulogy of Martin Luther King Jr. on the 1968 campaign trail in Indianapolis. Kennedy had become a master of empathy; you could visibly see the softness in his eyes as he referenced the tragedy of his brother’s assassination to demonstrate his compassion for the audience. But along with eulogizing MLK, Kennedy questioned what the tragedy meant for understanding who we were as a nation.

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

Certainly Kennedy’s thoughts were tendered toward racial justice in the U.S., but his question appears appropriate for any major crisis the nation faces. Thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 thrust the U.S. into the War on Terror, the nation would benefit by heeding to Kennedy’s question with regards to Gitmo and our national strategy after President Obama stated the War on Terror was over. What kind of nation are we by continuing to keep detainees at Gitmo after they have been cleared to be released, as they have been in Diyab’s case? Furthermore, what kind of nation are we by keeping the 46 we’ve deemed too dangerous to ever release, but lack the evidence to convict them by trial?

With regards to handling detainees, Kennedy’s question of “what direction do we want to move in as a nation” is an important and revealing question for understanding the balance between maintaining our principles and preserving the nation’s security. For me, restoring our faith in the rule of law, due process, and justice outweigh any concern over security. Beyond the treatment of detainees at Gitmo being used as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, our holding of detainees without formal charges violates our virtue of justice. It was our commitment to justice that led the Allies to have military tribunals for Nazis war criminals at Nuremberg after WWII. William Shawcross, son of Britain’s chief prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials, wrote about the lessons of Nuremberg in the New York Times in 2011: “Nuremberg not only dispatched justice swiftly, it also created a historical narrative that has survived.” The narrative of Nuremberg is one of justice and virtue. The Allies could have rounded up Nazi war criminals and killed them without trial. I very much doubt history would even footnote such killings. But they didn’t do that. They took the harder and just route. Shawcross further noted that taking detainees to trial “would not be precisely modeled on the successful tribunal at Nuremberg, but it would follow in that hybrid tradition of using the best civilian and military advocates, prosecutors and processes all carrying out their tasks in the full view of the press.”

The burden of being the leader in the free world is standing up for and adhering to our values even in the shadow of terror. Our finest hour of the 20th century wasn’t just defeating the Nazis in WWII, it was also treating the agents of mass murder and genocide through military tribunals rather than kangaroo courts. The U.S. should have the same courage today in the wake of the War on Terror as it did after WWII. President Obama could start by releasing Diyab to Uruguay who has offered to grant Diyab asylum. Would this move be without possible recidivism? No, but I don’t want to live in a nation that bends its values due to potential risk. If we’re not a nation standing up for the virtue of justice, as Diyab has never been charged with a crime, we should ask ourselves Kennedy’s question again, what kind of nation are we?

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Moving the Unmovable: Swapping Uggla for Weeks

With less than a month before the July 31st trading deadline, many MLB teams are trying to decide whether they’ll be buyers or sellers before the deadline. With the addition of the second Wild Card, the buyer/seller dichotomy has probably outlived its utility. Last summer, Jayson Stark attributed the lackluster trading deadline because the second Wild Card increased the amount of teams in the buyer category than ever before, which provided a shortage of quality players to acquire. Given the dearth of players available leading up to the 2014 trading deadline, teams will have to be creative in their acquisition of players. Due to the addition of the second Wild Card, two teams that are almost guaranteed buyers at the deadline are the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. Both Braves General Manager Frank Wren and Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin will be looking to add players to help their playoff chances. A move that would make sense for both teams is trading underperforming second basemen Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks for each other. This essay will examine their contracts and why each team should pursue this deal.

The Contracts and Performance
Both teams wanted to move each player (Uggla; Weeks) before this season, but they had similar unmovable contracts. Weeks has the more favorable contract, making $11 million this season with an $11.5 million vesting option for 2015 if he’s healthy and reaches 600 plate appearances this season (or 1,200 PAs in 2013-14), which won’t happen since he only has 146 PAs with 76 games to play. Uggla has a more undesirable contract, making $13 million this season and a guaranteed $13 million in 2015. For this deal to workout, the Braves would have to consume Uggla’s entire 2015 contract in order to get any compensation in return. As ESPN’s Dan Schoenfield argued for the Braves to cut Uggla in April because his performance has made his contract virtually untradeable. As such, the only way to get any value in return for Uggla is for the Braves to eat his entire 2015 salary.
What is amazing about these two players is how similar they have been over the past three seasons.



UgglaWeeks is the more athletic player as demonstrated by his 16 steals in 2012, whereas Uggla has demonstrated more plate discipline as he led the NL in walks in 2012. Their last two seasons of fulltime service produced very similar OPS numbers (.728 to .732 in 2012; .663 to .671 in 2013). Additionally, both have been long described as a defensive liability, which further makes the comparison apt. While both players have displayed significant declines, they also are former All-Stars who could possibly benefit from a change of scenery.

Why the Braves Should Make this Deal
The Braves should trade Uggla for Weeks for a variety of reasons. First, the Braves would receive a former All Star in Weeks who is three years younger than Uggla (31 to 34) and has performed reasonably well this season. He hasn’t been an everyday player so these numbers could be misleading, but a .265/.336/.409 slash line demonstrates Weeks can still produce at a reasonable level. Second, Weeks also has extensive experience hitting from the leadoff position, which is a position the Braves have been looking to fill since they decided to sign BJ Upton over retaining Michael Bourn. While he’s never been a prototypical leadoff hitter, Weeks would provide more balance to the Braves lineup that would allow Jason Heyward to hit fifth, which is a more natural fit for Heyward. Third, prospect Tommy La Stella could be a steady major league second baseman in the future, but he’s just 2 for 27 since moving into the leadoff position on June 18th, which probably indicates he’s not ready for that type of pressure. Lastly, the Braves could remove the “Dan Struggla” hangover from their roster. Uggla is a renowned positive clubhouse guy, but Braves fans have long since turned on him and he represents the second worse signing in the Frank Wren era with only BJ Upton besting him. Yes, the Braves will have to pay his entire 2015 salary, but they would have to in every other possible scenario. Trading Uggla would allow the Braves to close the Uggla chapter and hope that Weeks can provide some stability at second base. Is it a stretch to think Weeks will be a productive everyday player? Yes, but you know Uggla isn’t a productive everyday Brave.

Why the Brewers Should Make this Deal
The Brewers should trade Weeks for Uggla for several reasons as well. First, the Brewers have an everyday second baseman in Scooter Gennett, who has demonstrated over the past year that he can hit in the big leagues. Second, much like Uggla in Atlanta, Brewers fans turned on Weeks last season and management is probably unhappy with Weeks after he refused a possible position change to left field in May. Weeks is still very popular with teammates, but he’s been a poor investment for the Brewers and a change of scenery could help both parties. Third, the Brewers have only made the playoffs twice since 1982 (most recently 2011) and Uggla, who won a World Series with the 2007 Marlins, could provide veteran leadership to a club hoping to fend off the St. Louis Cardinals in the second half. Uggla’s role with the Brewers could be similar to that of Jason Giambi’s with the Cleveland Indians as a leader in the clubhouse and be a potential game changing pinch hitter. Lastly, Gennett struggles against lefties, just slashing .129/.156/.161 and Uggla could spell Gennett against tougher lefties while not having to carry the burden of being an everyday player like he did with the Braves.

An underlying assumption to this trade is that a change of scenery could help both players. Fangraphs’ Max Weinstein provided an extensive examination of the change of scenery effect, which illustrated the 25 best and worst player performances after changing teams. Weinstein does not make any causal claims about when a change of scenery works, but both the Braves and Brewers should be optimistic about their chances. The possibility that Uggla or Weeks could be any worse than they have been over the past three seasons is unlikely. Both players signed long-term deals to be cornerstone second basemen for their franchises. This trade would take that pressure off of them and their clubs, provide more reasonable expectations, and provide them with a fresh start. These former All-Stars probably won’t make a considerable difference for either team, but this trade would allow both teams to move on from players they clearly would have sooner if their contracts weren’t so bloated. The worst thing that could happen is that both players continue to be awful and their respective fans create new demeaning Twitter accounts for them. And at least that’s better than the status quo, right?

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