Thursday, September 27, 2012

Response to Claim that the Final Play of the Seahawks-Packers Monday Night Game was Officiated Correctly

A friend showed me this link:

As a bored Cheesehead with no homework, I felt compelled to respond. Enjoy.

"Much like in NBA games where officials basically never call a foul with under 5 seconds left, NFL referees are not going to call a subjective penalty on the last play of the game if they can help it." - Yes, but that was not a "subjective" penalty. It was a blatant penalty that definitively changed the outcome of the play. I agree players get more leeway in the closing seconds, but that doesn't mean anything goes. It means minor, ticky-tack things like boxing out, jostling for position, in-air contact, hand grabbing on the way up, etc should be allowed. For instance, the big mass of bodies that went up for the ball were all bumping one another and impeding one another's track to the ball, but that's within the "last play" boundaries. Shoving somebody in the back with two hands so had that they fall three yards forward, directly in front of the referee, is beyond that line. Shields had the best position on the ball of anyone; had Tate not illegally removed him from the vicinity, he would have made the play. That means Tate cheated. Using the basketball analogy, the refs will allow more contact on a drive to the lane on the last play, but they won't allow the defense to shove the ballcarrier to the ground. That's a fair equivalent to the blatantness of that foul.

"You would be unlikely to convince this NFL fan that any other referee crew would have flagged Tate for the push, either." - There's no way to know this for sure, but let's just say I've never seen a more blatant penalty that more clearly impacted the outcome of the play let go right in front of a referee before. The side-ref had a perfect view, and in my opinion the only reason he didn't call it was a lack of confidence. The reason referees in all sports are more hesitant to call fouls in the closing seconds is because it's extra pressure on them: most people notice a penalty on the last play much more than they notice a non-call, so calling one draws attention to the ref. With the weekend and game going the way they had, the last thing the replacement refs wanted was more attention on them! It was clear from the hesitation and nervous glances at one another that neither of those referees wanted to make that last call. As it was in the air, I guarantee you they were thinking to themselves "please, please just drop incomplete so we don't have to worry about a judgement call on the determining play of a Monday night game." The negative publicity that had already surrounded those refs hurt their confidence and made them too hesitant to make a bold but necessary call. Regular referees who are used to making those decisions and did not have the stigma of being "replacements" over their head would have been unhindered by those concerns.

"One important thing to note is that Tate’s left hand never releases the ball...Tate’s left hand has partial control over the ball at all times" - The author confuses "contact with the ball" as "control of the ball". Tate never had anything to release with his left hand, because his left hand was merely resting underneath the ball wedged between Jennings' forearm and torso. That is not control, and it is not possession. Tate's hand (but not arm) got stuck in between the ball and Jennings' chest, and he was able to use that leverage to pull Jennings towards his torso. But that's very different from having "partial control" of the ball. It's almost impossible for someone to have control of the ball with one hand on a reception. It's very difficult for most people to palm a football even when they're just picking it up off the ground; how much more difficult is it to palm the ball with one hand after a contested reception when it's wedged against an opposing players chest?

"saying he loses all control at the point he readjusts his right hand is very dubious." - Actually, Tate never "readjusted" his right hand: if you look at the video, tate's entire right hand never even comes in contact with the ball until after his feet are planted on the ground. In the initial jump, his right hand bounces against the outside of Jennings' right arm; only once he's almost in a seated position (and Jennings' feat are on the ground) does he ever reach the right had back in the fray. Jennings, meanwhile, had a full two hands on the ball from the beginning, and had it cradled against his chest in the ballcarrier position throughout the entire process. Tate never relinquished control, because at no point during the play did he have control to relinquish.

"At this point Jennings has way more of the ball due to torquing his body and Tate is holding on for dear life. That has nothing to do with the actual catch, just shows how Jennings had better positioning. There is no questioning Jennings had more control of the ball and better positioning, but the play was over when both hit the ground." - In addition to the above fallacy of saying Tate had any control at all, this is a misinterpretation of the rule. Contrary to what this author is saying, the catch is not made as soon as a receiver's feet hit the ground; rather, they must MAINTAIN possession all the way to the ground. Jennings does this and Tate does not. For proof of this rule, remember the Calvin Johnson play against the Bears a few years back?

Johnson caught the ball with two hands, landed both feet and a hip in bounds, and was trying to come back up again to celebrate when the ball came out, and was STILL not awarded possession or the touchdown. Watch: So suggesting that Tate is awarded a touchdown as soon as his feet touch the ground and he has a hand on the ball is preposterous. Even if you agree that Tate got his right hand onto the ball before Jennings' feet hit the ground (which is not conclusive from his pictures), that is irrelevent: the players must maintain an equal possession of the catch all the way through the process for the simultaneous catch rule to apply. By the author's confession, that does not happen.

"If Jennings has sole possession, and Tate doesn’t, why can’t Jennings get the ball away from Tate at all?...Tate’s left hand is around the ball tight the entire time." - No. Jennings can't get the ball away from Tate because Tate's arm is wedged between his. Tate's left hand is touching the ball, but it is the only part of his body in contact with it. However, since his hand is pinned, he's able to pull the airborne Jennings in tight against him - at least until Jennings hits the ground and pulls back. Once both butts are on the ground, Jennings wrestles his torso and takes the entire ball with him, exposing who clearly has control of the ball itself. The author says this is just because Jennings had "leverage", but that's not true because he was working against gravity. Tate was on the bottom, while Jennings was on the top; if they truly had equal possession of the ball, it would've been much easier for Tate to keep the ball down than for Jennings to pull it up. If they had an equal grip, then in order to wrench the ball upwards, Jennings would've had to have dragged Tate up with him. But he didn't have to do that, because they didn't have equal possession; Jennings only needed to swivel the weight of the ball itself, and the only resistance to that motion was Tate's left bicep, because Tate's forearm was never on the ball and he never had it against his chest like Jennings did. By the time the final picture in the article was taken, Jennings already has the ball "tucked" in the nook of his elbow, with the other arm which is what every coach in the world tells a ball carrier to do for maximum ball security.

"Does anyone doubt this would not be as big of a controversy had it been reversed, with the Seahawks losing?" - well of course it wouldn't have been, because the right call would have been made! People are angry over injustice, and that's why this call is such an outrage. Yes, it was tough to tell for sure in real time. Yes, I can understand the call being made the first time. No, I cannot understand why it wasn't overturned, and no, it most certainly was not the "correct" call. Nor was the pass interference non-call. Nor was the pass interference on Shields that got them into that position in the first place. Add in a questionable roughing the passer that took away a Packers interception and the fact that they gave Rodgers a sick, untreated kicking ball to throw for the 2 point conversion, and Packers fans have every right to bitch. So does the media. It is beyond question to any reasonable observer that had the final 7 minutes been properly officiated, the Pacers would have won the game. The league knows it too, and that's why they finally got the real refs back.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Democracy in the US Constitution

Republicanism in the US Constitution

"We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." – James Madison

Even before the constitution was created, one of the most striking features of colonial politics was that in almost every colony, the people had some democratic input in how they were governed. This was noteworthy because for the most part, Europeans hadn’t paid this idea anything more than lip service since the Ancient Greeks and Romans; most monarchs and leaders cited their lineage or divine right to rule for legitimacy as opposed to any official show of popular support. Indeed, “taxation without representation” had been the rallying cry against the British crown. A great challenge facing the framers of the Federal government, therefore, was determining how to incorporate representation into the new system. How much representation should the people have? How direct should this input be?

The political norms of the day were very different from the political norms of our day, and as such so were the debates on this issue. Today, debates on this subject usually are between a fully inclusive direct democracy on one hand, and an indirect republican system on the other. This summer, I arguedthat an indirectly representative republic was superior to a directdemocracy. This was primarily because the people are highly fallible, meaning that they too need a check on their power (just like the people they elect). As I wrote in the above entry, “too many people are too ignorant, too preoccupied, too intolerant, too fickle, and too apathetic to be entrusted with complete, direct, and immediate control over how the government should operate.” Did the framers agree with me?

Having just shed the tyranny of an unelected monarch, most of the framers deeply distrusted the idea of giving the people no input at all (with Hamilton, who disdained the uneducated masses, admired the British Crown, and argued for a monarch with lifetime terms who could appoint Congressmen himself, once again as the strong outlier). But they were also highly wary of giving the people too much power – indeed, far more wary than I am. This was primarily due to the context of the times. No level of democratic input in a nation as large and diverse as the colonies had never really been tried before. Many were skeptical that so many diverse peoples from faraway localities could function together peacefully in one democracy. Granting power to the people was seen as a novel and dangerous concept, an “experiment” as Madison called it, and one which the framers were hesitant to overdo.

But beyond the simple problem of overcoming social norms, the wisest of the framers expressed many of the same logical concerns with direct democracy that exist today. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison discussed the problem of faction, and explained how he’d devised mechanisms within the new government to mitigate this problem by checking factions against one another. This was accomplished partially by keeping the people’s representation indirect. In all three branches, the people voted on those who would make decisions for them, rather than on the policies themselves. Furthermore, there were checks on just who they were allowed to select. In the executive branch, the Electoral College served as a check on the power of the strong states, and a defense of the people in the smaller states. In the legislative branch, the people voted directly for the House of Representatives, but the Senators were selected by the state legislatures (although this has since been amended to make them direct too). And in the Judicial Branch, the judges were to be appointed by those elected by the people in the other branches. Additionally, all three branches had age requirements, further limiting the options available at the people’s disposal. In each arm of the federal government, the people got a say. But in each arm, this say was indirect, because middle-men representatives of the people’s input made the actual decisions.

That the framers chose to include some democratic input was revolutionary, progressive beyond their times, and commendable; it does not mean that it was or is a good idea to have majority rule decide everything. And once again, the framers were in nearly unanimous agreement with me on the need to check popular input. Observe:

"The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor." -- John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson [November 13, 1815]

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society."
-- Thomas Jefferson

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” – Benjamin Franklin

“A republic, if you can keep it.” – Benjamin Franklin (when asked what type of government the convention had formed).

So or the most part, the Framers agreed with me here too. They distrusted direct democracy to handle many national matters. They knew that the opinions of the populace were often fickle, radical, overly emotional, irrational, shortsighted, uninformed, and too easily swayed by misinformation. Modern polling proves that this is still the case today by highlighting the ignorance, contradictions, and indifference most American citizens; how much more of a problem would this have been in the 18th century, then, when the people were largely uneducated? The framers recognized that 51% agreement is far too low of a bar to justify the use of force. They worried openly about the possibility of a “tyranny of the majority”, in which the most powerful factions took away minority rights. For this reason, they intentionally implemented a constitutional republic, rather than a democracy. Each of the three branches has some democratic input; this is just. But they also intentionally made that input indirect; this is prudent. They placed checks on the power of the people just as they placed checks on the representatives they elect, and they were right to do so.

Obviously, the framers were not sufficiently progressive to extend the vote to anyone beyond land-owning white males. But I’m not grading the framers alone; I’m grading the US constitution as it stands today, amendments included. And with those amendments considered, the underlying truth is that our nation is clearly a democratic republic, rather than a pure democracy.

Federalism in the US Constitution

(Author’s Note: With school starting I’ve hit a bit of a lull in my blogs recently, and during the school year I’d like to transition to more of an as-it-happens-reaction format. Before we get there, I’d just like to tie up some loose ends in regards to my analysis of the US constitution’s strengths and weaknesses. These blogs are less fun to write, because they’re much less opinionated and much more fact-oriented; I’ve already proposed how I think the constitution should read, and now I’m merely analyzing how it does read. Nevertheless, I think this is important for establishing the constitutionality of policy going forward, so just tune me out if you’re tired of the topic. I’ll revisit three issues I discussed in the abstract, applying them to the American constitution specifically. Those issues are Federalism, the directness of Democracy, and the concentration of power. As you can tell from the title, this post will deal with federalism.)

When I advocated for Federalism this summer, I cited five main advantages that it provided:

  1. It enhances political efficacy by giving each individual a larger say in how he is governed.
  2. It maximizes the number of voters who get their way.
  3. It allows the law to be custom tailored to fit local nuances and practical realities.
  4. It enables regional governments to serve as laboratories of democracy.
  5. It separates the government’s power without reducing it on sum, enabling it to perform necessary functions without concentrating too much power in one place.
To make a long story short, the framers pretty much agreed with me on these points. There was some disagreement on which powers were federal and which were state, and those (like Hamilton) who felt federal power should be virtually unlimited felt the federal government should always trump. But within their specified scope, the autonomy and individuality of the state governments was never seriously questioned during the convention. And in the final result, the constitution clarified the distinction between state and federal power rather bluntly in the 10th amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Like much of the constitution, this is trampled on today, but in theory that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Additionally, each of those states retain the ability to erect subsidiary governments at the local and town level, which all of them did and all of them do today. The people were left free to choose not only who would run the country, but also who would run their town council, or (eventually) their schools. These latter decisions were deemed much more important in people's daily lives, because they were supposed to have more power over local affairs than the federal government did. Federalism is an integral part of the US constitution, which is a very good start.

However, I do wish there were substantially greater limits on state power than there are. I just finished a friggin’ dissertation on why enumerated powers are a superior protective device for liberty than open-ended powers are. Unfortunately, the state governments were not designed with enumerated powers, and as such, they can be dangerous to liberty even when they operate in legal ways. The constitution granted state government expansive powers limited only by explicit constitutional constraints (particularly those in the Bill of Rights). The Supreme Court has taken it upon itself to determine which of these rights are “incorporated,” for the state governments, and which limits apply only to the Federal.

As a libertarian, I’m obviously for full incorporation, because additional restrictions on the state governments are fine by me. Ideally, I’d go even further; I’d have the state powers be enumerated too. I don’t like the “do whatever you want, so long as it’s not banned” approach for state governments any more than I like it for national governments, since I don’t want states to oppress people either. However, I also recognize this system was politically unavoidable at the time of ratification, and for the time being, it still is. People still enjoy the ability to pass virtually any law they want at the local level. Sometimes these laws are oppressive and morally imperialistic and backwards and highly illegitimate, but supposing they don’t violate the limits placed on those powers (bill of rights, due process clause in the 14th amendment, habeas corpus, etc.), I have to admit they are at least constitutional.