Friday, April 18, 2014

Northwest Angle: How the US gambled with Canada and lost a South Carolina

I once lost a bet with someone about the northernmost point in the US that is not in Alaska. I thought it was in Maine, but it's actually in Minnesota, in a little area called the Northwest Angle. Now the guy I lost the bet to was from Minnesota and when I asked him how they had acquired such an odd appendage, he didn't know. Over the years I asked many Minnesotans and none of them have seemed to know or to be interested in it at all. Which I find odd, but not as odd as the way it which this little accident of geography happened. It all has to do with, appropriately, a small gamble between the US and Canada and one that the United States lost.

It all starts with the Treaty of Paris, the treaty that ended the American Revolution and defined the boundaries of the United States. That treaty set the border of the United States in the area of the Northwest Angle as such:
Thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the Water Communication between it & the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; Thence through the said Lake to the most Northwestern Point thereof, and from thence on a due West Course to the river Mississippi
Right up to the "Northwestern Point" part, it describes the current border. The problem is (for anyone who knows their geography) is that the Mississippi River doesn't go that far north. So, you can go west forever from the Northwester Point of the Lake of the Woods without coming to it.  The reason for this mix up is that in 1783 no one really knew the geography of that area very well, and so no one knew where the Mississippi River was.

By 1794, people began to become aware of this problem. So when the Jay Treaty was signed that year they addressed it.
Whereas it is uncertain whether the River Mississippi extends so far to the Northward as to be intersected by a Line to be drawn due West from the Lake of the woods in the manner mentioned in the Treaty of Peace between His Majesty and the United States, it is agreed, that measures shall be taken in Concert between His Majesty's Government in America, and the Government of the United States, for making a joint Survey of the said River, from one Degree of Latitude below the falls of St Anthony to the principal Source or Sources of the said River, and also of the parts adjacent thereto, And that if on the result of such Survey it should appear that the said River would not be intersected by such a Line as is above mentioned; The two Parties will thereupon proceed by amicable negotiation to regulate the Boundary Line in that quarter as well as all other Points to be adjusted between the said Parties, according to Justice and mutual Convenience, and in Conformity, to the Intent of the said Treaty.
So, they punted.  By 1803, Great Britain was able to prove that the Mississippi did not go north far enough and the United States was preparing to draw the line south from the Point to the Mississippi River. But then they bought Louisiana and the whole border debate had to be reopened, since the location of the Mississippi River was somewhat moot.

Even when the location of the Mississippi River was determined, there was another problem. Nobody knew where the Northwestern Point of the Lake of the Woods was, but they figured it was somewhere near the 49th parallel. In 1807, negotiations were heading towards setting the 49th as the border, but other issues got in the way of an agreement. And then there was a war.  So at the end of the War of 1812 in the Treaty of Ghent, both sides decided to appoint some Commissioners to deal with it.
The said Commissioners shall by a Report or declaration under their hands and seals, designate the boundary aforesaid, state their decision on the points thus referred to them, and particularize the Latitude and Longitude of the most North Western point of the Lake of the Woods, and of such other parts of the said boundary as they may deem proper.
Now at Ghent, the British had tried to push the boundary way south claiming, rightfully, that the area west of the Ohio River was mostly populated by Canadians. But the US resisted such efforts. There was also a problem from the 1783 Treaty that referred to something called "Long Lake." No one knew what that was. So it was still a mess.

By 1818, there was still no one who knew where the North Western point of the Lake of the Woods was or what Long Lake was and people were starting to settle the area of the border west of there. They needed to know if they were in Canada or the United States. So, this is where they decided to gamble. At the Convention of 1818 they signed another treaty, one which defined the current border, sort of
It is agreed that a Line drawn from the most North Western Point of the Lake of the Woods, along the forty Ninth Parallel of North Latitude, or, if the said Point shall not be in the Forty Ninth Parallel of North Latitude, then that a Line drawn from the said Point due North or South as the Case may be, until the said Line shall intersect the said Parallel of North Latitude, and from the Point of such Intersection due West along and with the said Parallel shall be the Line of Demarcation between the Territories of the United States, and those of His Britannic Majesty, and that the said Line shall form the Northern Boundary of the said Territories of the United States, and the Southern Boundary of the Territories of His Britannic Majesty, from the Lake of the Woods to the Stony Mountains.
I say sort of because no one knew whether the 49th Parallel was north or south of the Point. Instead of continuing the line west of the Point, which had been the original border, the US agreed to go to the 49th parallel. And then in the Treaty of Oregon in 1844, the border was extended from the Rocky Mountains (or Stony Mountains) to the Straits of Georgia.

7 years after the border was set, British astronomer Dr. Johann Tiarks determined where the Northwest Point was. It was about 26.58 miles north of the 49th Parallel. If the US had continued to insist that the border go due west from the point, then the US would have gained a territory pushing 26.6 miles north running for 1269.5 miles. That's an area of 33,744 square miles, which is larger than the state of South Carolina. Among other things, this would mean that the entire city of Vancouver, British Columbia, would actually be in Washington state.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reforming Campaign Finance Reform

The Court's recent McCutcheon decision, brings up something I've been thinking about for a long time: How can we keep money and wealth from influencing lawmakers (the goal of most campaign finance reform) without limiting people's freedom to support whoever they want and to what ever extent they want (the principle the Supreme Court cited in the decision).

Currently campaign finance reform works by limiting funds, increasing disclosure and bribing candidates to forego fundraising. What if there were a way for people to give as much money to a candidate or a group of them without it influencing the officeholder at all?

I think I have a way, and here is how it would work.

Once a person files the paperwork to run for federal office, an account is set up for them at the FEC. There would also be accounts for each political party that fields candidates for federal office or PACs that want to influence them. If you want to give money to a candidate, party or PAC, you create and fund an account at the FEC, and transfer money from that fund to your candidates or causes. Candidate websites would take you to the FEC donation website and there would be no cash collections allowed etc... You can give as much money as you want to anyone you want to, but you will not receive any sort of a receipt, account statement or cancelled check that shows WHO you gave money to.

Periodically, the FEC will send checks to candidates with a certain percentage of the donated money (perhaps randomly selected within a narrow band, or perhaps using smoothing) to disguise large donations and prevent donors from trying to time them as proof of donations. "Hey did you see that big bump this week? That was me."

A donor can even ask for a refund, and if the candidate still has the money in their account, it will come back to them.

At some point in time after the race is over, or perhaps after the candidate is no longer in office or is no longer seeking office, the FEC will release a list of all the people who donated to that candidate/campaign and how much they gave  (and how much they asked to be refunded). For donations to parties or PACs, disclosure will come a certain number of years after the person closes their account (and is this no longer actively trying to influence elections).  For business donations to parties and PACs it would have to be a certain number of years after the campaign, and it would have to be many years - like 20.

The whole point is to keep candidates from knowing who is giving them money, and how much they are giving them. If they don't know, it can't influence them. Certainly people will TELL candidates they just gave them some money, and where there is trust based on shared beliefs, the candidate will likely believe them. Candidates getting money from like-minded donors is not the problem. The problem is candidates getting money from donors who want something the candidate would otherwise not support. But even then, the candidate can never really know if a person gave them money until it is too late to do anything about it.

This will mean no more dinners for big donors, or trips to the White House for bundlers and such because no one will know who the big donors are. And that's a good thing. It should also result in less money going in (since many donors will lose interest without the hope of currying favor)

This should reduce the quid-pro-quo element of campaign fundraising. It should allow for people to give all they want to give. It would create more privacy in the short run, but more disclosure in the long run.

Friday, March 7, 2014

19th-century behavior in the 21st century

Charles Krauthammer has a op-ed in the post recently in which he criticizes the Obama administration for, among other things, calling Putin's behavior "19th-century behavior in the 21st century" and  saying that “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” Now, I'm surprised anyone would disagree with this, but CK manages to find a way.
This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.
And on the claim that nations should not try to dominate one another he asks "on what planet." Answer: this one.

What CK seems to be ignoring is that we fought a pair of World Wars in the 20th Century - mostly against the seeking of national power, territory and dominion - and we decided not to allow that any more. Whereas in the past, a country could invade another and annex part of it and much of the world shrugged it off; since World War II we have been more likely to oppose that. Korea, Kuwait, Afghanistan (Soviet invasion), West Berlin, South Ossetia etc... the world has - sometimes with war and sometimes with actions short of that - stood up to oppose that. We've been better at opposing that than we have been at stopping genocide. In fact, I can't think of a time that another country has successfully invaded and annexed foreign territory since the end of World War II. [Caveat: You could count the invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam and their eventual reunification as such an event. But since everyone in the world was agreed that reunification was something that should eventually happen, it's not quite the same. South Vietnam was not 100% foreign territory.]

And part of that is because very few countries have tried. Other than the Soviets/Russians, none of the major world powers have tried. None of the G-7 countries. So, yeah, on this planet, for the last 70 years, this kind of behavior has not been done by G-8, major-nations and when it has, it has been opposed by the international community.

Interestingly, the statement that CK is upset about it almost an exact quote of President George W. Bush when Russian troops went into Georgia "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century" he said. His response to that invasion was less severe than Obama's has been so far. It consisted almost entirely of humanitarian aid.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Mack Brown retirement domino

I'm a pretty rabid fan of Texas Longhorn football and so the Mack Brown "retirement" was a tough one to take. But I realized that for several people in the coaching world, this would be an opportunity to move up. One of the top college football coaching jobs would open up and that would create a void that would trickle down to the bottom of the pile. So how did that work out? Here's the chain reaction that the Brown retirement created. It involves 6 coaches at 4 schools.

Head Coach Mack Brown retired from Texas
Head Coach Charlie Strong left Louisville to replace Brown
Head Coach Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky to replace Strong
Offensive Coordinator Jeff Brohm was promoted at Western Kentucky to replace Petrino
Special Teams Coordinator Tyson Helton left Cincinnati to replace Brohm
Graduate Assistant Marc Nudelberg was promoted at Cincinnati to replace Helton

Ostensibly, some kid will get a job as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati to replace Nudleberg, but I don't know who that is. That is unlikely to be announced and they aren't usually listed along with the coaching staff.

So Marc Nudelberg, you should send Mack Brown a thank you note for your promotion.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Minimum wage job loss and teens

One thing I don't see anyone talking about in the wake of CBO report on job losses and wage gains resulting from a minimum wage increase is who will lose those jobs. I think most people would agree that it's better if middle-class teens working part time lose their jobs than for single moms working full time do. And it turns out that is just the case.

Teenagers would be disproportionately hit. The CBO estimates that the elasticity for directly affected adults is about 1/3 of that for teens. See page 25 & 26 of the report.

And from page 30
The reductions in employment would be concentrated more among teenage workers than among older workers
That doesn't mean that it is a good or bad trade-off (higher wages for some and job losses for others) but it does tilt the scales a little.

Update: Here's why this is relevant, The Heritage Foundation has objected to raising the minimum wage because "most minimum-wage earners are young, part-time workers and that relatively few of them live below the poverty line." Dubious claim, but the underlying idea is that we should not try to help suburban teenagers, but rather the working poor. OK, well, the CBO report says that teenagers will bear the brunt of the job losses. So, it seems that raising the minimum wage will help the working poor at the expense of suburban teenagers. Isn't that what conservatives want?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Airline seat map improvement

So I'm flying with an infant in my lap. When choosing my seats I chose a window seat with an empty middle seat. There are a few other empty middle seats on the plane so I'm hoping no one takes the one next to me, because we could use the extra space and I won't have to worry about my boy bothering the person in the seat next to us.

Now, I figure that if people who are picking their seats knew that I was travelling with an infant, they would choose to sit in one of the other middle seats - for their own good. But the seat map doesn't tell us that information. So, I think it would be useful if it did. The airline could make this an option for me, to show that to others. I care what other people choose, and so I'd like to communicate information to them that will help with that. The airlines should think about letting passengers do this.

They could even go farther. If someone is single, let them display their age, sex and single status. People could choose to mingle (or not). People may not want to sit near people with kids. There may be more options (photos, show me who on my flight is facebook friends with me, etc...). I think this could be how things are going with social networking and such.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Quantifying Political Party Power in the 21st Century.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I would be interested in an attempt to quantify political power for each party by looking at which offices they hold at any given time and then plotting that over time. To some extent, this was based on the way my dad taught me chess. He taught me to the standard values of chess pieces in points (Pawn is 1, Knight and Bishop are 3, Rook is 5, Queen is 9) and that helped me to think about trades in a more strategic fashion.

This is an incredibly difficult task for several reasons. First of all, there are over 500,000 elected offices in the country (not all of which are partisan) so there is an enormous amount of data to track. Second, you have to make some sort of value judgement about the relative value of each office (how much more valuable is it to win a senate seat than a house seat? for example). And third, these offices don't exist in a vacuum so we have to consider how they interact. Normally people would value a senate seat over a house seat, but what if the senate seat increases the party total from a minority 43 to a minority 44, but the house seat is the one that gives your party control of the house?

Despite this, I've taken a stab at it, but I've incredibly simplified it in several ways.

1. I only considered the President, Senators, Representatives, Governors and who control each legislature. I have ignored Nebraska's legislature because it is non-partisan and figuring out which party is actually in control is not easy, especially in the past. I realize that other elected offices wield great power and can even determine the outcome of federal races (see: Florida 2000), but this has to be kept manageable.

2. I only went back to 1/1/2000. I probably could have gone back a few more years, but by the mid-90's tracking down state legislature data becomes difficult.

3. The hardest part was assigning points (and I'd love it if someone had some thoughts on it). I started by making the total of all state governments equal to the federal government. And then making the executive equal in power to its legislature. But then I decided that the President was more powerful than Congress because there is much he can do on his own (regulations, executive orders) or with little oversight (appointments) but the only thing Congress can do on its own is investigations.  I had hoped that economists had already taken a stab at this, but the only analysis I could find (S. Brams) compared the President to Congress for purpose of legislation, and the President (and Senators) have more power than just that. In the end I set the President as 20% more powerful than Congress.

The base unit, 1 point, is equal to 1 Representative. For the minority party, the score is equal to the number of members. For the majority it is 500 points, plus 1 for every extra house member. If a party had all the house seats that would give them 717 points

Each Senator is equal to 5 points and for the minority party the score is simply the number of Senators times 5. Having a simple majority in the Senate is worth less than in the House because of the filibuster so that is equal to 325 plus 5 for each additional Senator. Having a filibuster-proof, super majority is equal to 550 points plus 5 for each additional Senator. Because the Senate weakened the filibuster rule in December of 2013, I increased the value for a simple majority to 330 (since it only involves votes on appointments and not Supreme Court justices) following that point. If a party had control of all Senate seats that would be worth 750 points.

Each Governor is worth 20 points. Each state legislature is worth 10. Trying to getting a more nuanced count for each state legislature was too daunting, so I made it binomial. That makes all states combined worth 1980 (no Nebraska legislature).

The President is worth 1200 points. More than control of both houses.

This is probably very very wrong, and I'm open to criticism of it.

4. I did not count non-voting delegates or the local government of the District of Columbia.

Here is what the graphs of each political parties power looks like since 2000. [The Reform Party had a Governor and, briefly, a Senator, in the early years]



This isn't too surprising. When a party controls the presidency, they are in the driver's seat. There are four big swings - when Republicans take the White House in 2001, when Democrats take the House and Senate in 2007, when Democrats take the White House in 2009 and when Republicans take the House in 2011.

The peak power that either party reached during this period is from November 3, 2009 to December 22, 2009 when Democrats controlled the White House, had a super majority in the Senate, and controlled the House, 28 governors and 61 of 98 legislatures. Specifically this period started when John Garamendi (D-CA) and Bill Owens (D-NY) won special elections to the House and ended when Rep. Parker Griffin of Alabama switched parties to the Republicans.

The Republican peak was from December 9, 2003 to January 20th, 2004 (except for January 12th). They controlled the White House, the Senate and the House along with 28 governors and 53 of 98 legislatures. This peak started when Ernie Fletcher became Governor of Kentucky and resigned his House seat and ended when Bill Janklow (R-SD) resigned from the House following a felony conviction related to a traffic crash. There was a brief interruption in the peak because Democrats took the Louisiana governor's mansion on January 12th, but then the Republicans took Mississippi's the following day.

The nadir of power for either party was on January 20, 2009, the day Barack Obama was sworn in, when Republicans power was cut by more than 50%. But, on the same day, Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned as Governor of Arizona to become Secretary of Homeland Security and so the next day, Republican Jan Brewer was sworn in as the new Governor of Arizona pulling the party back up - if only a little bit.

The low point for Democrats was from November 25, 2002 to November 30, 2002. On Nov 25th, Jim Talent (R-MO) took the seat Jean Carnahan (D-MO) had been temporarily filling in the Senate, technically giving control to the Republicans (50-50 tie with Vice-President Cheney as the tie-breaker). But the Senate didn't go in session again, so it never reorganized. 5 days later, Ed Case (D-HI) was seated in the House to fill the term of Patsy Mink who was elected posthumously, pulling Democrats up by 1 point.

Another thing we can see is who won each year. By the end of January or in early February everyone who won a race in a year has been seated and there is usually a lull in change. So using that, we can determine who won year by year and by how much. Won meaning increased their power.

2000 - Republicans (1175 points)
2001 - Democrats (80 points)
2002 - Republicans (60 points)
2003 - Republicans (38.5 points)
2004 - Tie (Both -5 points due to split of the Montana state house)
2005 - Democrats (Republicans lost 0.5 points when Duke Cunningham resigned)
2006 - Democrats (619 points)
2007 - Democrats (20.5 points)
2008 - Democrats (1299.5 points)
2009 - Republicans (50 points)
2010 - Republicans (696.5 points)
2011 - Republicans (10.5 points)
2012 - Democrats (19.5 points)
2013 - Democrats (40 points)

It might surprise people to find out that Democrats won 2013 with all the attention paid to Obamacare problems, but the year was mostly a status quo year in which none of the special elections resulted in party changes but the Democrats picked up points in three places.

1. Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who was elected as an Independent, became a Democrat
2. Democrats won the governor's race in Virginia and took that from Republicans
3. Democrats changed the filibuster rules in the Senate making their simple majority slightly more powerful.

Anyway, much of this model changes if you change the assumptions, but it sort of jibes with what has happened on the ground.