Sunday, July 24, 2011

Does the Breakdown of Talks Signal That A Debt Deal May Be Near?

This is just a hunch, but a deal on the debt ceiling may be approaching precisely because the Republicans have broken off talks with the White House. Ever the optimist, I want to view this as last-minute posturing; the parties are testing one another's resolve. A game theorist might describe it as a game of chicken in which neither "driver" - Boehner or Obama - has yet swerved, so that their cars remain on a collision course. One, probably both, are still likely to swerve before it's too late. As California Republican Dan Lungren, a nine-term representative in Congress observes (here), "I've been here long enough to see us go to the brink many times, and normally we find some way to avoid going over the top."

Each party has an incentive to hold-out for marginal last minute concessions by the other, even if the bulk of the deal is already agreed (which may or may not be the case). With last minute concessions in hand, members of each party could return to their constituents claiming some sort of political victory (or, at least, non-defeat).

On the other hand, I could be completely wrong, and we could be locked in a state of abnormal politics in which ideological purity trumps incremental change.

Winners in This Year's Tour de France

Official Winners
Cadel Evans - yellow jersey (GC)
Mark Cavendish - green jersey (Points)
Sammy Sanchez - polka dot jersey (King of the Mountains)
Pierre Rolland - white jersey (Best young rider)
Garmin-Cervelo - team classification

Unofficial Winners
Thomas Voeckler for tenaciousness
Johnny Hoogerland for unbelievable toughness
The country of Norway for four stage wins from two riders in the race
George Hincapie for tying the record for most TdFs ridden (16) and for being on the GC winning team for the ninth time
Jeremy Roy, Mikael Delage and the FDJ team for attacking virtually every single day
Race doctors for heroic work in patching up 90% of the peloton during the first two weeks
American-based cycling teams (BMC, Garmin-Cervelo, and HTC-Highroad) for dominating the race
Anti-drug agencies (apparently) (see here)
Australia for its first ever GC winner in the TdF
The UK for its first ever winner in the TdF's points classification 
All of us who got to watch one of the most interesting and competitive TdFs in many years 

Any other nominations?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Evans Blows Away the Schlecks

Cadel Evans is one of the world's best time-trialists. The Schleck brothers - not so much. It wasn't that they Schlecks rode badly - both finished in the top 20 to at least preserve the lower two steps on the podium in Paris tomorrow. But Evans rode like a man possessed. He started fast and stayed fast for the entire course, and came in second on the stage behind Tony Martin.

Evans will be Australia's first-ever GC winner, and he heartily deserves his yellow jersey. Often accused of riding too defensively in the past, this year he rode with finely controlled aggression and with the support of the strongest team he's ever had.  

Ultimately, the GC contest of  Tour de France tests all riding skills. The winner has to be able to climb well, descend well enough, TT with the best, and be careful and lucky enough to avoid the early-stage crashes. This year, the difference between Evans and the Schlecks really boiled down to the TT and, to a lesser extent, the descents. Unlike Contador and several of the other contenders, the three podium finalists avoided all the crashes. Some of that is luck, of course, but it's also an indication of good team management, placement in the peloton, and team work.

Two other contests were settled in today's TT. Yesterday's winner on the Alpe d'Huez, Pierre Rolland, confirmed for the white jersey (for best young rider), and Garmin-Cervelo wrapped up the team contest. At the end of yesterday's stage, Sammy Sanchez secured the polka-dot jersey for the best climber. All that remains for tomorrow's final is to see who wins the points contest for the green jersey. Mark Cavendish currently holds a fairly slim 15 point advantage over Jose Joaquin Rojas. Those two, and their teams, will duke it out on the Champs Elysee. HTC-High Road's well-tuned lead out train must give Cavendish the advantage, though Rojas will undoubtably be right on his wheel, hoping for any kind of miscue. If Cavendish wins, he will be the first citizen of the UK to win the green jersey.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Phil Liggettism of the Day

On Cadel Evans: "I think that tonight, in hindsight, he will have won the Tour de France tomorrow."

Outside on the Bike

I just came in from a short bike ride in the neighborhood with my son - my first ride since my left knee was scoped (for a meniscus tear) three weeks ago today. It felt great (if a little hot and bumpy) to be cycling outdoors again. I started very conservatively, just spinning at about 12 mph, but I wanted to test the knee a bit (without overdoing it), so I got up to around 18 mph with no tweaks or twinges. I consider it a successful experiment. Hopefully this means I can pack up my trainer for the rest of the summer. Still, I'm not planning on any hard jumps, standing efforts, or hill climbs for at least another few weeks. That will be a tough commitment to keep after we complete our move to Bloomington next week; I haven't yet found any flat roads to ride there.

Still Unsettled at the Emirates

As the transfer season draws to a close and the Premier League season approaches, it remains far from clear which players will start the season in an Arsenal uniform. This situation is not all that unusual. Arsene Wenger is known for working quietly and pulling off transfers just before the window closes. But the stories coming out over the last 24 hours are, if true, quite disturbing. According to one, Wenger admits that Samir Nasri's situation is not yet sorted out (see here). Meanwhile, The Independent is reporting (here) that a Barcelona VP has arrived in London to negotiate the transfer of Cesc Fabregas. Losing either of those players, just weeks before the new season kicks off, would be bad. But to lose both could be, if anything, more disastrous than last season's last collapse.

Meanwhile, there's no sign of a new defensive signing, which is desperately needed (no matter what Wenger says in the press about the quality of his defensive unit). The only news on that front is that Everton's Phil Jagielka has rejected a move to the Emirates (see here); Everton seem willing to sell him but have rejected Arsenal's initial offer. If Fabregas goes to Barca, 19-year-old defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu could well  move in the opposite direction as partial compensation. That would help to fill the roster spot left following Denilson's departure on loan to Sao Paulo. However, to the extent lack of experience and mental toughness were Arsenal's chief problems last year, no improvement (yet) appears in sight for this season.

UPDATE: Arsene Wenger has just reassured fans that he "certainly" will sign a defender yet this summer (see here), although he is, as usual, playing his cards close to his vest.

Principles of Law and Economics, 2d Edition

The second edition of Cole and Grossman, Principles of Law and Economics (Aspen 2011) is now available, just in time for the fall semester (here). Here is what Tom Schelling has to say about the book (from the back cover): "I'm an economist who has taught economics and public policy to law students. This is the book I would have used if the authors had got around to it a couple of decades earlier."

Schleck or Evans?

Well, it looks like Voeckler's out of the race for yellow. He finally cracked today on the famed Alpe d'Huez, falling into fourth place, with little or no chance of recouping time in tomorrow's time trial or Sunday's stately promenade into Paris (which may not be so gentile, or gentle, for the green jersey contenders).

Today's stage was animated by the controversial Alberto Contador, who looked so miserably yesterday on the climb up the Galibier. Amazing that he could recover so quickly and thoroughly from his extreme fatigue and inflamed knee to attack on the Alpe d'Huez just 24 hours later. If he hadn't faded towards the end of today's climb - he was overtaken before the finish by Pierre Rolland, the impressive young French climber from Europcar - I would be even more suspicious.

Meanwhile, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans are the two riders left to fight for the GC. Evans is by far the better time-trialist, and must be favored going into the final stage of real competition for the GC. He should be able to take at least one minute out of Schleck, who currently leads him by 57 seconds. We should not underestimate, however, Schleck's desire or the effect of wearing the yellow jersey. Who knows, he may ride the TT of his life tomorrow. And his disadvantage to Evans won't be so great on the hilly terrain around Grenoble as it would have been on a flatter TT course. So, even though Evans should be favored, no one should write off Schleck before he starts down the ramp.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can Voeckler Win the Tour?

It's looking increasingly as if he can. For all of Andy Schleck's heroics on today's climb up the Col du Galibier (and he certainly was heroic), Voeckler impressed me even more. He could easily have thrown in the towel after yesterday's semi-debacle on the descent from the Primartino, when Voeckler, who has a reputation as a terrific descender, twice misjudged turns and veered off the road. Today, he showed massive guts by keeping up the other "heads of state" (something Alberto Contador couldn't manage to do) on the day's final climb. He finished 2 minutes and 21 seconds behind Schleck to maintain a 15 second lead in the General Classification.

Unless either Schleck brother can remove the yellow jersey from Voeckler's shoulders tomorrow, I don't think they would be able to do it on the final time trial on Saturday. Voeckler may not be the best time-trialist in the world, but he is at least equal to, and probably better than, either Schleck Brother.

Cadel Evans clearly is the top time-trialist of riders still within shouting distance of the top step of the podium. But can he recover a more the one-minute deficit to Voeckler in the time trial? Voeckler is such a motivated rider, and they say that wearing the yellow jersey gives you wings. I may be naive, but I don't see him giving up more than a half-minute to Evans on Saturday, which means that the outcome of this year's Tour de France hinges on tomorrow's mountain finish atop the most famous climb of all: the Alpe-d'Huez. If Evans takes at least a half-minute out of Voeckler tomorrow, I think he will win the GC. If Voeckler can stay near him, and not let either Schleck escape for too great a time advantage, we will have our first French champion of the Tour de France since 1985. And a worthy champion as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When Is an Executive Order Not an Order?

When it merely asks agencies to comply.

Traditionally, presidents have operated on the assumption that they have direct control, via Executive Orders, over the activities of Executive Branch agencies, but not "independent" regulatory agencies established by Congress outside the Executive Branch of government. A few years ago, Bob Hahn and Cass Sunstein, the later of whom is currently head of the Office or Information Regulatory Affairs in President Obama's Office of Management and Budget, wrote a paper (published in 2002 in the Pennsylvania Law Review) in which they argued that the President's could, by Executive Order, bind independent as well as Executive Branch agencies. Today, Mr. Sunstein took a step in the direction of testing  that argument, when the OMB published Executive Order No. 13579 on "Regulatory and Independent Regulatory Agencies."

 EO 13579 orders that independent agencies should promote the goal of producing a regulatory system that protects "public health, welfare, safety, and our environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation." The quoted language is from EO 13,563, which the OMB applied to Executive Branch agencies earlier this year. The new EO says that independent agencies should comply with the requirements of that earlier EO "to the extent permitted by law," and should produce a plan to do so within 120 days.

As a matter of principle, I support efforts to improve regulatory (and de-regulatory) decision making. But the new EO raises important interpretive questions, which, depending on how they are settled, could generate constitutional issues for judicial review.

Using words like "should" suggests that the White House is urging, but not requiring, the cooperation of independent agencies. On the other hand, an EO is by definition an "order." So, the question is, does the EO really impose obligations on independent agencies? The only way we'll find out, I suppose, is if one or more independent agencies declines to do what the new EO says they should do. If that happens, and the OMB tries to enforce the provisions against them, a constitutional separation-of-powers issue would arise for the courts to resolve.

UPDATE: Michael Livermore sent me the President's cover letter accompanying EO  13759, which would clarifies that the EO is not, in fact, obligatory on independent agencies. After noting what Executive  Branch agencies are "required" to do, the President goes on to write: "With full respect for the independence of your agencies, I am asking you today to join in this review and produce your own plans to reassess and streamline regulations" (emphasis added). Apparently, then, the new Executive Order is not an order at all, but a request, which seems a very odd use for an EO. Why didn't the President choose instead to issue less formal memorandum agency heads? My best guess (and it is only a guess), based on Hahn and Sunstein's 2002 article, is that this is a first tentative step toward a bolder assertion of presidential authority over independent regulatory agencies.

The End of a Family Tradition (and a Movie Review)

My family has three traditions relating to Harry Potter: (1) I read each book aloud to the family upon publication; (2) we attended the midnight showing of each film upon its release; and (3) we bought each VHS/DVD as it went on sale. Obviously, the first tradition ended a few years ago. The second ended about a half hour ago. And, based on what I saw tonight, I'm hopeful that the third tradition will have ended with the purchase of the DVD for the second-to-last film in the series. The Deathly Hallows Part II is simply a terrible film; the worst in the series (with the possible exception of the fourth). It combined just about all of the worst features from all of the previous films, including stilted (or just plain bad) acting; unnecessary and inappropriate changes to the story line; absence of character development; and poor editing. Maggie Smith's performance was its only redeeming feature, and she was not in enough scenes to save the film. Instead of the  sense of loss I thought I would feel at the end of the film, I feel only relief that I will not have to sit through another Warner Brothers adulteration of Harry Potter.

The final installment in the Harry Potter film series confirms my oft-repeated assertion that the only way to do justice to the books is through a (possibly animated) mini-series on television, where the screenwriters, directors, and editors, have ample time and space to tell the story as J.K. Rowling originally and expansively told it in her wonderful books. I won't be holding my breath. Instead, I expect the next we'll see of Harry Potter is on Broadway in musical form. Perhaps an Andrew Lloyd Webber production?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Costs of Moving

Insouciant individuals would, by definition, take professional and geographical moves in stride. I hate such people (because I am not one of them). My personality ranges towards the obsessive-compulsive, which means that every aspect of moving produces anxiety ranging between high and extreme.

So much of my time and energy is focused on getting my family relocated 60 miles to the south that I have not been able to do any work, other than copy editing and proof-reading, during the past several weeks. This week, I even had to withdraw as co-author on a casebook (in Natural Resources Law) for which a new edition was due this summer. I completed two of my three assigned chapters, but  my inability to complete the third chapter (on Mining Law) was holding up my co-authors, and the publication process. So, I made the decision to remove myself from the project, which can't have disappointed my co-authors any more than it disappointed myself. In fact, one of my co-authors is will be able to complete the necessary revisions much more quickly and easily than I could have done, even if I had not been moving.

I can only hope the long-term benefits of moving are worth the really high short-run costs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The "Tour de Crashes" Continues

Just when I thought it could not get worse, today's Stage 9 of the TdF was marred by even more bizarre and consequential crashes than any stage so far. First, Contador hit the deck early in the stage. He quickly remounted and rejoined the peloton, but that's his fourth crash in nine days of racing. More significantly, a huge pileup at the front of the peloton on a fast and bendy downhill section took out at least two GC contenders as well as America's top time-trialist. Alexander Vinokourov broke his femur; Jurgen Van Den Broeck fractured a shoulder blade; and Dave Zabriskie broke his wrist in the accident. The lone remaining Team Radio Shack contender, Andreas Kloden, also went down hard and hurt his back; he finished the stage, but team manager Johan Bruyneel is worried about his ability to continue, even after a rest day tomorrow (see here).

Most bizarre, and inexcusable of all, an irresponsible media car took out two of the four riders in the breakaway,  Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, in a truly horrific crash. Amazingly, both riders were able to continue and finish the stage. One can only hope that they will manage to start the next stage on Tuesday. The car hit Flecha, pushing him into to Thomas Voeckler, who somehow managed to keep his bike upright - he finished the stage in second place behind Luis Leon Sanchez, and took over the maillot jaune as GC leader. Hoogerland, riding immediately behind the pair, went over the top of Flecha and somersaulted into a barbed wire fence from which he was extricated with great difficulty and that left him with several deep lacerations. Upon finishing the stage, Hoogerland was rewarded with the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey, which he earned during the stage.

Here is a video of the crash:

Tour de France : Une voiture France Télévisions... by thony911

And here is a photo of the aftermath:

The driver and the car were kicked out of the Tour, but I think the driver should be charged with reckless driving (or its equivalent under French law).

It looks increasingly as if this year's Tour de France will be won by the last cyclist left pedaling.

EPA Tries to Reboot the Acid Rain Trading Program

I've been too busy (with the move, knee surgery, and all) to keep up with EPA's new sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations under the Clean Air Act, which were finalized this past week (see here). These rules are especially important because the extremely successful acid rain trading program has been moribund for more than a year, largely because of legal uncertainties stemming in part from a 2008 court ruling overturning the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). I  previously posted (here and here) on the death of trading under the acid rain program.

Instead of describing the new rules myself (I haven't had time yet to actually read them), let me refer you to the description from economist Richard Woodward, which has been reprinted at the Environmental Economics blog (here). I may have more to say about the rules myself, once I've had a chance to read and digest them.

What I'm Reading Now

Cormac McCarthy is considered among the favorites (at least among American novelists) for the Nobel Prize in literature. In any case, he has a reputation as a very great writer, which makes it embarrassing for me to admit that I have never before read one of his books, despite the fact that he has been recommended to me by people I trust on more than one occasion. When he was recommended to me again most recently, while I had my Kindle in tow, I immediately downloaded the recommended book, Suttree (Random House 1992). The book certainly confirms McCarthy's greatness as a writer; his vocabulary and capacity for imaginative flights of literary acrobatics are truly impressive. He also knits a mean yarn. Suttree is a very interesting story to read, and an impressive piece of literature. And yet. And yet, I can't say that I've truly enjoyed reading this book. McCarthy is well-known as a writer of dark stories about dark people. In them, he finds some humor and a surprising amount humanity but mostly darkness. For that reason, I cannot say that reading McCarthy has been an unalloyed pleasure; and I'm not sure he'd want me to be able to say that it has been. The official website of the Cormac McCarthy Society (whatever that is) suggests that "[r]eading Suttree is like sorting through the entrails of an eviscerated saint." I think that about nails it.

David McCullough is among America's greatest living non-fiction authors. His biography, Truman, is among my all-time favorite books. While walking around Costco a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see that he had released a new book, about which I had heard nothing. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon and Schuster 2011). Needless to say, I picked it up - anything by David McCullough is self-recommending. It is, in a sense, an antidote to the McCarthy novel described above, a light history of interesting people, ranging from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Samuel Morse to Mark Twain and Mary Cassett, each of whom found lifelong inspiration from the City of Lights. Like all of McCullough's work, it is a great pleasure to read, and chock full of interesting facts, relations, and connections. In contrast to the literary gymnastics of McCarthy (which I do not mean to slight), McCullough writes with a simple elegance that keeps the pages turning almost of their own volition.

The Economist on US Budget Negotiations

The Economist, a sober publication if ever there was one, minces no words about which side is to blame for the continuing budget/debt-ceiling crisis in the US:
the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.... [T]he closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look.
Read the entire article here.

Hat tip: Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tour de France

The first week of the Tour de France has been very interesting to watch, but quite brutal (and bruising) for the riders. As far as I can tell,only Team HTC-High Road and Team Leopard-Trek have come through the many crashes largely unscathed (perhaps because they've been riding at the front most of the time). Defending champ Alberto Contador has crashed three times so far; Levi Leipheimer seems to be averaging about one crash per stage so far. Another of Team Radio Shack's four GC contenders, Janez Brajkovic, crashed out of the race yesterday. Even on today's seventh stage, favored by good weather, a mostly flat course, and pretty wide roads, several yellow-jersey contenders were caught in a huge pile-up. The main loser from today's carnage was Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins, who finished the race in an ambulance with an apparent broken collarbone. And Team Radio Schack's dynamic American duo of Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner have just about crashed out of contention for the yellow jersey (on the other hand, their large time gaps may allow them to escape on breakaways, once the race gets to the Pyrenees this weekend).

I can't recall a previous tour where so many of the GC favorites lost so much time during the first week. Here is how much time some of them have lost to current race leader (but not yellow-jersey contender) Thor Hushovd:

Ivan Basso 1:03
Alberto Contador 1:42
Christian Vande Velde 1:57
Levi Leipheimer 4:29
Roman Kreuziger 5:35
Chris Horner 12:59

It's possible, of course, for great climbers like Contador to pull back large chunks of time in the mountains, but he's going to have to leapfrog a number of strong climbers to get back to the two step of the podium, including Cadel Evans, the Schleck brothers, Andreas Kloden (Team Radio Shack's only GC contender to have survived the first week of racing), and Robert Gesink. Each of those riders leads Contador by at least one minute. And several of them, including the Schlecks, Kloden, and Evans, have stronger teams to help them. If Contador comes back to win the Tour this year, it will be his greatest victory.

What seems most clear after the first week of racing in France is that no American rider will stand on the podium in Paris on July 24th.

UPDATE: Cyclingnews is reporting (here) that Horner's TdF may well be over. He finished today's stage, but apparently has no memory of it. He suffered what must have been a pretty serious concussion as well as a broken nose. Those injuries occurred in the same crash that put Bradley Wiggins in the ambulance and out of the race. Team Radio Shack, which started with four potential podium contenders, are now basically down to one, Andreas Kloden. And if Horner is not there to help protect him, Kloden's prospects are definitely diminished.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Welcome Elliana Blaike Perler

And many congratulations to the proud parents, Adam and Stacey.

3 Minutes of Glory

A week after arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, I was back on the bike today. I saw the doctor this morning, who was very pleased with my progress - no pain or meds since the evening after the surgery, no crutches since Monday, and no limp. He gave me marching orders for physical therapy, and authorized me to get back on the bike, but only in the basement and for just three minutes. If I feel no ill effects tomorrow, I can double the spinning time to 6 minutes. At least I'm a few wheel revolutions closer to being back on the road.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Clichy to Man City Almost Done Deal

Various sources are reporting that Arsenal left back Gael Clichy is undergoing a physical at Manchester City today. His departure now seems virtually guaranteed, leaving Arsenal weaker in both in attack and on defense. Arsenal fans are desperate to hear some good news from the club about improvements. So far, we are mostly hearing about undesired departures.

UPDATE: Replace "Almost" in the title of this post with "A"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Parting Gifts

This is what you get for a parting gift after 20 years of faithful service at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis. To be fair, I also received a very nice pen and pencil set in an engraved box.

The Costs of Complying with Environmental Regulations

Dan Farber explains (here) why those costs cannot possibly have a large negative impact on jobs and the overall economy. And it's important to note that Dan's analysis is based on the most pessimistic (and dubious) estimates of regulatory costs. The fact of the matter is that federal environmental regulations, overall, provide substantial net social benefits.

July on the Couch

I have been accused (by someone who knows me well) of scheduling my knee surgery for July 1st for two reasons: (1) to have an excuse to sit on the couch and watch the Tour de France for the next three weeks (starting today); and (2) to have an excuse not to lift or carry anything during our household move from Indy to Bloomington at the end of July.

My response to this rather cynical accusation: "No comment." (But I would rather be riding.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Still Waiting for Arsenal's Summer Spending Spree

After last season's debacle, the Arsenal brass virtually promised a spending spree this summer, aimed primarily at strengthening the defensive backbone of the club.

So, far we are seeing very little action, but all indications, so far, are of business as usual: a focus on attack and too little attention to defense. Wenger seems ready to sign Lille striker Gervinho, who would be a fine addition to the offense. But that's not a high priority need right now. In the meantime, the captain, Cesc Fabregas seems likely to be leaving for Barcelona, and Man City are bidding to lure away Arsenal's reliable left back Gael Clichy and the erratically brilliant midfielder Samir Nasri. Worst of all, two players who really should be on their way out - Tomas Rosicky and Denilson - are suggesting they might stay.

We can only hope that Arsene Wenger has a hand full of good cards, which he is playing very close to his vest (as he usually does). If not, this summer could turn out to be even more calamitous than Arsenal's late season collapse in the Premiership.