Friday, December 5, 2014

What the NCAA should do about UAB players

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) recently cancelled their football program, thus leaving all of their current players adrift, among other things. Some will get scholarship offers elsewhere in Division I-A and others at lower Divisions, but some likely will not.

The NCAA should try to do what it can to accommodate these kids. There is room in college football for them to be absorbed, but the NCAA may need to help that happen.

The NCAA permits Football Bowl Subdivision schools to offer 85 football scholarships and Football Championship Subdivision schools to provide 63. The NCAA could allow schools to add UAB players without them counting against their scholarship cap. If that doesn't sweeten the pot enough, they could allow teams who add a UAB player to not only give that extra scholarship, but an extra scholarship in the year after they graduate (but only if they graduate).  I'm sure there are a lot of schools who would love to help these kids out, but not if it might cost them a player they really want. Removing the cap for them would take that away.

A last thing they could do is to agree to pay for some or all of the scholarship - with UAB pitching in. That would make it even more likely that everyone of their players would end up someplace where they can be on the football team with a scholarship - if that's what they want. Maybe some players will choose to stay at UAB.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Democrats should support DC Statehood because it's morally right and because it gives them more power

Earlier this month, a Senate panel considered a bill to create a new state out of most of DC, and though the bill is unlikely to pass, or even be voted on, it was in and of itself an accomplishment since it was the first time a congressional committee has considered DC statehood in over 20 years (the last time was a 1994 "informational hearing" in the Senate).

The last, and only, time Congress took a vote on DC statehood was 1993. Similar to the bill now, no one expected it to pass, despite the fact that President Clinton had voiced support for it and Democrats controlled both houses. But even though a majority of Democrats (and one Republican) supported it, more than 100 Democrats voted against it.

Opposition was varied, with some similarities and differences with today. Opponents argued then, as they do now, that statehood is unconstitutional.

Others argued that the new state would not be able to support itself without federal assistance, an argument that DC's balanced budget and full coffers makes less relevant today, even with the nearly $600 million in federal aid the District gets. "Should we be granted long overdue statehood, the District will be prepared to take on any responsibilities and mandates associated with being a state," Mayor Vincent Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy recently stated.

Another argument against statehood came from members like Rep. Tom Delay R-TX, who argued that DC was too mismanaged, "The District hasn't even shown the ability to govern itself as a city, let alone as a state" and added "The District is a liberal bastion of corruption and crime. Let's take it back and clean it up" and while DC's recent corruption issues have not helped, DC is a long way from the days when the control board took over.

Others were concerned that the District was too small, geographically and economically, to make it as a state and a few Republicans were openly worried that DC statehood would only add more Democrats to the House and Senate.

Among Democrats, most of the opposition was of two types. There were Congresspersons from Virginia and Maryland who voted against the bill out of concern that DC would institute a commuter tax, "They would take hundreds of millions of dollars from suburbanites to help the state of New Columbia," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-VA. And then there were Democrats from the south, the same group that had opposed home rule in 1973, some of whom, like Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, have since become Republicans.

What if the DC Statehood bill had passed? How would things have been different with New Columbia?

In addition to New Columbia's right to full home rule and the end of Congressional interference in local affairs, the other major difference would have manifested itself, as Republicans feared, in the Senate.

One more Democratic representative would have never changed control of the House from Republican to Democrat and likely would have had little impact elsewhere, and though the Electoral College would have lost one member, that wouldn't have changed the outcome; but in the Senate, adding two, almost surely Democratic seats would have swung the body to the Democrats for one period and changed the outcome on votes on many others.

During Bush's first term, Republicans controlled the Senate from the end of January 2001 to the beginning of June in 2001. With 2 Democratic Senators From New Columbia, Democrats would have controlled the Senate during that time, and that's the time when the first Bush tax cuts passed, which would have significantly strengthened their hand during those negotiations.

Furthermore, throughout Bush's presidency, Vice-President Dick Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote on 8 occasions, but with New Columbia's Senators those would have surely not been ties. These votes were not trivial issues either
Update: Vice-President Mike Pence has cast 9 tie-breaking votes. Two were to
motions to proceed. The others were:
  • 2017 Pence voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education
  • 2017 Pence voted to reverse an Obama administration rule that prevented states from withholding family-planning dollars from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions. 
  • 2017 Pence voted to undo a rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would bar financial firms from contracts that rule out class-action lawsuits related to their products. 
  • 2017 Pence voted to approve Ted Cruz's 529 amendment allowing people to use 529 money to pay for primary and secondary school tuition for public, private, and religious schools.
  • 2018 two votes that made Sam Brownback the Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom
  • 2018 Confirmation of Russell Vought as Deputy Director of OMB
And there were votes which would have turned out differently with two Democratic Senators from DC
These are things Democrats widely opposed and represent causes they care deeply about. With DC Statehood, these outcomes or the laws passed, would have been changed.

Finally, during Obama's first term, DC's Senators would have extended the time that Democrats had a super-majority from three scattered periods totaling about 5 months, to one, continuous 10 month period.

Two additional Democratic votes would have even helped during the super-majority period. Concessions made to gain the individual votes of conservative Democrats to break the filibuster for the Affordable Care Act would not have been needed. The public option, for example, was dropped in order to get the vote of Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, and concessions on abortion funding and what was later known as the "Cornhusker Kickback" were made to get the vote of Ben Nelson.  With Senators from New Columbia, one of these deals would not have been needed.

Opposition has been partisan, and so has support, but Democrats need to unite behind statehood, even if it is for partisan reasons.

Not since the 23rd Amendment was passed in the early 1960's and the DC Home Rule Act passed in 1973 have Republicans shown much support for DC voting rights or home rule, and in most cases they've shown outright opposition. Only Democrats, lukewarm though it may have been at times, have been moved by the cause.

In the last three periods during which Democrats have had full control of the legislative process (House, Senate and Presidency) some sort of DC voting rights legislation has been seriously considered or passed.

In 1978, the DC Voting Rights Amendment was passed by the Democratic House and Senate . But it was only ratified by 16 states before it expired in 1985.

The next opportunity came in 1993-95 when the Statehood vote failed. By that time DC had held a constitutional convention (in 1982), passed a state constitution and chosen the name New Columbia for the proposed state.

The most recent opportunity came in 2009-2011, and this time voting rights proponents were focused on the DC Voting Rights Act. The DC Voting Rights Act would have given DC one representative in the House. After failing three times in Republican-controlled Houses, it first passed in 2007, when Democrats were in control. But it failed in the Senate, despite support from a majority of members, because it could not overcome a Republican filibuster. Finally in 2009, with Democrats again in control, the bill passed in the Senate. Republican Senator John Ensign, however, had successfully attached an amendment that would have gutted DC's gun laws and removing that amendment proved impossible, so it was never submitted to the House.

Eleanor Holmes Norton has said that one thing preventing DC Statehood is that it is "not a national issue," but the chance that New Columbia would have been able to preserve the public option, stop the Bush tax cuts, keep Betsy Devos from being Secretary of Education or protect family planning money makes it very much a national issue.

There are all kinds of moral reasons to support DC voting rights. It is a civil rights issue and those who oppose it are on the wrong side of history. There's even a practical reason to support it, namely that DC Statehood, and the end of the 23rd Amendment, would reduce the chance of a tie-vote for President by changing the number of electoral college votes from an even number to an odd one. But so far those non-partisan reasons have been crushed under the foot of partisan politics by Republicans. Perhaps it's time for advocates to use partisan politics to its advantage.

DC Statehood is good for America and the right thing to do, but it's also good for Democrats as it means that Democrats control the Senate more often. It means Democrats get an extra half seat in the House. DC Statehood means that Democrats pass more of the laws they want, and stop more of the laws they oppose. That's why every Democrat should support DC Statehood.

The upcoming midterms are turning into a battle for control of the Senate, and one would have to suspect that right now Democrats were wishing that they had two DC Senators seated among them. If they should lose control of the Senate, DC voting rights advocates should remind them of the chances they've already squandered and prepare them to vote for DC Statehood the next time they get the chance.

**For those concerned with a Commuter Tax, the solution is simple. DC could earn about $1.2 B from a commuter tax. Currently the federal government pays for DC's criminal justice system at the cost of about $600M. Simply add a line to the DC Statehood law that ends this relationship if DC enacts a commuter tax and then sends the savings to Maryland and Virginia in proportion to their lost tax revenue from a commuter tax. Or increase DC's payment by $600M to make them whole.

***DC Statehood would change the Electoral College from 538 members to 537. In some years, when the state that lost a seat in the House to give one to DC is "Blue" that would hurt Democrats by changing a tie to a loss, in other years it would hurt Republicans when that state is "Red." This is random and it's likely a 50-50 proposition. And it's unclear how a tie would play out. So it's possible - though unlikely - that DC Statehood will change the outcome of future presidential elections, but to whose advantage it's impossible to say. It's a coin toss.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tiger Woods and the difficult path to 19 Majors

Tiger Woods set the goal of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. For 14 years, he has been on track to do just that, with each of his major victories coming earlier than Nicklaus', but late last month Tiger did something he rarely does. He fell behind. If Woods wins his 15th, he'll be older than Nicklaus was when he won his 15th.

Tiger needs four more Major wins to tie Nicklaus, and 5 to pass him. How hard will that be? 5 Major wins alone would give a player the 20th best career total. So, he now needs to have the 20th best Major golf tournament career in golf history - starting at 38. He needs to win more majors from this point than Ernie Els has over his career. Starting now, he needs to have Byron Nelson's entire Majors career. Not easy.

There have been only 10 major winners over the age of 43, and none of them have repeated. If Woods is limited to the same total,  he needs to win 4 majors over the next 5 years. Early in his career that would have been easy, from the time he was 19 until he was 29, there was never a 5 year period where he failed to win 4 majors. But that was 8 years ago. This is the real testament to what Nicklaus did - not that he won 14 by the time he was 38 (though that is still an incredible feat, only matched by one person) but that he then went on to win 4 more. Even if Woods does do that, then he still needs to win one more over the age of 43. The oldest major winner in history was 48. So the window closes in about 10 years.

If Woods can't win 4 over the next 5 years, then he needs 2 wins over 43. That would be a first.

So, in order to break Nicklaus' major record, he will likely have to break other records, like oldest Major winner, most Majors over 40 etc...He's still the tour's top player - last year's Player of the Year with top 5 finishes in two majors, but his injuries and the steady march of time are working against him.

I think 10 years ago I would have bet on Woods to break the record, but now I'd bet against it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DC's Tax Reform still leaves us taxing the wrong people and the wrong things

The tax reform that Council Chair Mendelson rushed through last week represents a very large change in DC's tax code. In addition to being rushed through quickly, it also contains several flaws.

The District of Columbia has perhaps the most progressive tax system in the United States, nonetheless one of the goals of the commission in the authorizing legislation was to make it more progressive as the tax rate for the bottom 20% (6.6% of income) is higher than for the top 1% (6.1% of income). The commission therefore takes several steps to make DC's taxes more progressive, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and reducing the tax on income between $40,000 and $80,000. But other changes, like raising the threshold for the estate tax and lowering the tax rate on high income earners, counteract those changes. DCFPI points out that the cuts for high earners are a "minority" of the total cuts, but what isn't clear - in either the tax commission's proposal or the budget that the council voted for last week - is whether or not it will actually be more progressive once all the changes are considered, and if so, by how much. The chart below is from the commission's report and shows the current DC tax paid by income group, with the middle 20% paying the highest rate. What would such a chart look like under the bill approved last week? That's a question that isn't answered.

Some of the counter-progressive proposals don't even make much sense when the justification is considered. The tax rate on income above $350,000 is lowered to a rate below Maryland's to send "a positive signal about the District's commitment to controlling taxes." That's an expensive signal and not one of the committee's goals.

In addition, the threshold for the estate tax is raised (meaning people inheriting large sums pay less tax) not to keep the wealthy from moving away (it will, after all, lower tax receipts), but to simplify the tax code and make auditing easier - also not a goal. When Congress voted to raise the threshold for the "death tax", DC's lone voice in Congress disagreed with it, but now DC is following Congress' lead, even though a reduced estate tax works against the goal of making the tax code more progressive. Even if cutting taxes for the wealthy is a good idea, an argument for cutting taxes on work is easier to justify than one on inheriting is.

The new budget doesn't even eliminate the exemption for out of state bonds even though the commission admitted that they struggled "to find a policy justification for the exemption," noting that it mostly benefits high-income residents and that, because DC gives a blanket exemption instead of reciprocal exemptions, it "not only represent substantial lost revenue for the District, but such broad relief eliminates an incentive for residents to purchase District bonds over those from other jurisdictions. In other words, it essentially subsidizes investments outside the District."

In addition to the inclusion of these bad ideas there were several ideas that were not considered at all, ones that would make the system more progressive, while also reducing the total federal burden of DC tax payers.

For example, if DC were one taxpayer, their accountant might recommend that they pay as much of their local tax in the form of property tax and either income or sales tax, since that money would then be deductible on federal returns. Instead DC assesses all three taxes on citizens and charges some fees that aren't based on property value, but could be.

DC could reduce or eliminate the sales tax. Many DC residents are unable to deduct this tax, and eliminating it would make the DC tax system more progressive while making DC businesses more competitive. It's at least as positive a signal about the District's commitment to controlling taxes as lowering taxes on the wealthy is. This could be offset with an increase in property and/or income taxes or with a tax on pollution.

DC could replace vehicle registration, license and inspection fees with a revenue-neutral annual vehicle property tax based on the value of the car similar to the excise tax. Such a tax would then be tax deductible, with the added advantage of being more progressive.

A Pivgovian tax on pollution, as referenced earlier, could help make the city cleaner while raising revenue. One way to to that would be to raise the gas tax. Last year, DC modified the gas tax to index it to inflation, but DC's gas tax is still lower than Maryland's and in the bottom half nationwide. Raising the gas tax would do more to capture the negative externalities associated with gasoline use, and make those who use gasoline responsible for paying those costs.

Or DC could tax carbon. Adding carbon to the atmosphere causes global warming and ocean acidification, and a tax on this would pass the cost of these side effects on to polluters. Though DC doesn't have any coal burning power plants left, DC could still join Maryland and eight other states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and use the allowance proceeds to cut the sales tax. For example, Maryland has made $190 million on its proceeds over the last 4 years.

DC could also increase the impervious area charge

Do some councilmembers support such changes and modifications over the ones in the budget? Possibly, but we'll likely never know. Because no one got a chance to discuss it.

DC Tax reform and cuts should not be rushed through without debate

A couple of weeks ago, the DC council held an initial vote on the District's 2015 budget that includes tax reform that was recommended by the District of Columbia Tax Revision Commission.

As part of the fiscal 2012 budget, the District of Columbia created a Tax Revision Commission to analyze the District's tax system and propose innovative approaches to meet future revenue needs. In February the commission completed its work and produced a set of recommendations that it hopes will make taxes more progressive, while attracting more business and ensuring future revenue. After the proposals became public in December, Mayor Gray only supported a few of them and it looked as though the proposals would not become law. But then, starting Memorial Day weekend, Chairman Mendelson announced that he would attempt to implement many of those recommendations.

While the commission's plan has much to admire and gets kudos from outside groups like the Tax Policy Center and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, these reforms are very complex, and Mendelson's attempt to enact them at the last minute has left almost no opportunity to debate them. A final vote on the package is set for June 17, and Mendelson says it will be difficult to make any changes to it before then. I think this is all by design. In fact, I hate to say it, but I agree with Marion Barry. Mendelson is behaving like a “tyrant” for arranging the last-minute vote on the tax package and for limiting debate.

Now, normally the "going to fast" claim is one made by NIMBY's who want to stop a change, and I normally oppose it. But this is different. The equivalent would be for DDOT to put together a committee to redesign 16th street and then after that committee submits its recommendations for DDOT to decide not to implement them, but then for DPW to announce that they were creating a final design based on the recommendations that they would make available for approval the next day (with limited debate) and then implement two weeks later. The committee part went at a normal speed, but the end was rushed. Legislation shouldn't move this fast from recommendation to implementation.

There are three problems here:

1. Once Gray made it clear that he was not going to implement the recommendations of the commission to which he appointed half of the members, everyone quit paying attention. This is why the yoga tax has now become such a big deal. But this budget modifies dozens of taxes, in ways that have not been studied, and people need time to consider that.

2. There might be an argument for moving quickly on this if the Council is just going to rubber stamp the committee's recommendations, but there should still be some time for debate on the actual law proposed, not just the recommendations. Nonetheless, the Council really shouldn't act as a rubber stamp for a commission that most of its members had no say in selecting (only the Mayor and Council Chair picked members).

3. The council isn't even acting as a rubber stamp. They've made several critical diversions from the recommendations, and so this pacing is particularly inappropriate then.

Among the recommendations that Mendelson ignored, this most critical was to make the tax reform into a tax cut. This tax cut is a result of the decision to ignore commission recommendations to raise the sales tax (an increase I oppose) and to levy a "local service fee" on employers that is designed as a proxy to the commuter tax. The only way to fund this cut was to cut future funding for the streetcar.

Mendelson dismissed criticism of the late addition of these changes, and the limits he placed on debate, "saying the recommendations of the tax commission had been public since December." This is true, but he never let it be known that he would pursue these recommendations. If he done that in December, instead of the day before the vote, the public and the council would have had adequate time to consider and debate them. Such a radical change at such a late point is all-too-reminiscent of the District's controversial last-minute settlement with Jeffrey Thompson's company in 2011.

As an example, the yoga tax isn't actually mentioned in the recommendations, and the word yoga is nowhere in the report. Instead it is a tax on health clubs. So it would be reasonable for the public to not realize that yoga is to be taxed. Add to this that a specific function of the commission was:

"To identify economic activities which are either beneficial or detrimental to the District's economy and which should be either encouraged or discouraged through tax policy."

and one can see how yoga enthusiasts were caught off guard, despite the recommendations being out since December.

The tax reform represents some pretty big changes. Ones that I'm sure that many on the council oppose. Such large changes, some submitted at the very last minute, deserve more debate than the council of residents have been afforded.

In my next post, I'll discuss flaws in the proposed tax reform.

ESPN borrows my idea

I actually very much doubt they got the idea from me. But this post on how Mack Brown's leaving Texas rippled through the college coaching world is similar - if broader in scope - to mine.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Winning the Show: Malcolm in the Middle

With Godzilla out, I thought I would do Malcolm in the Middle, Bryan Cranston's old show. Cranston is the star of Godzilla, FYI. Anyway, I watched the show and liked it. There a quite a few great jokes from it that I quote and it was a show that did a great job with the call-back (like the gerbil in his plastic ball that would periodically show up). The two-shows-in-one (one about the family and one focused on Francis, with two rarely meeting) was, and still is, unique in television; it isn't talked about as much as one would expect and was never emulated, but I could see how it would make the writing easier.

If you were a fan of the show, then you probably expected Jane Kaczmarek, who played Lois the mom to break out. She got an Emmy nomination every year the show was on. But it hasn't worked out that way. Bryan Cranston landed on Breaking Bad one of the best shows of recent times, for which he won four Emmys and a Golden Globe. He's had steady work and shown up in several hit shows and the movie Argo. Clearly he has won Malcolm in the Middle. How do the rest stack up? It gets tough with child actors, but I'd rank them thus:

1. Bryan Cranston (4 Emmy wins and 3 other nominations, 1 Golden Globe win and 3 other nominations, 1 big hit show, 2 hit movies, and steady work)
2. Jane Kaczmarek (steady work)
3. Frankie Muniz (steady work)
4. Christopher Masterson (sporadic work)
5. Justin Berfield (1 role, some production work)
6. Erik Per Sullivan (4 roles)

It gets tough between Kaczmarek and Muniz, but the former has been on a few series and the latter has not.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Winning the Show: A recurring feature

A friend of mine and I have this stupid game we've played since we were kids called "winning the show". The basic idea is to take a television show that has been off the air for some amount of time and to then decide which of the featured actors on the show has gone on to have the best career. So, for example, if the show were Family Ties, the winner would be Michael J. Fox.

Sometimes it's easy to pick the winner (ER, Moonlighting, Alias). Sometimes it's hard to come up with one (Webster) and sometimes it's hard to pick from a few very solid possibilities (Cheers or The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

The rules are that:

1. The actor has to be featured for at least one year, no guest appearances. So Leonardo DiCaprio can, and does, win Growing Pains, just as Ralph Macchio wins Eight is Enough, but Kurt Russel's one appearance does not win him Gilligan's Island.

2. Anything can be considered in their career. So Ron Howard can win Happy Days, even though he went into directing (whether he does is debatable) and Gopher can win The Love Boat because he went into Congress.

3. But in general, a featured role on a hit TV show (one that lasts more than 2 years, or preferably 5), leading role in a hit movie, or awards are what really seal the deal. Steady work and good guest appearances can also factor in.

4. Only work AFTER they leave the show counts. Katherine Heigl will get no credit for Knocked Up when Grey's Anatomy finally goes off the air.

4. No looking at your phone/the internet. You have to go from memory.

If we really want to push it, we might try to rank the cast from winner to loser. So for Friends, that might look like this (I confess that I went to IMDB to help with this. It's for education):

Jennifer Aniston (Meet the Millers, Marley and Me and one Emmy nomination)
Matt LeBlanc (Episodes, one Golden Globe win, two other Golden Globe nominations, and two Emmy nominations)
Lisa Kudrow (Web Therapy and three Emmy nominations)
Courtney Cox (Cougar Town and one Golden Globe nomination)
Matthew Perry (The Ron Clark Story, one Golden Globe nomination and one Emmy nomination)
David Schwimmer (The Madagascar movies)

It's actually a tough one to rank. LeBlanc and Kudrow haven't worked as much as Cox or Perry, but what they have done has been more successful and they've been noticed for it. Perry and Schwimmer have both landed basically one good role, but Perry gets more work and Schwimmer hasn't been nominated for any awards. Aniston wins because she's still a legitimate leading lady in movies. The whole cast has basically bunched up and more time is needed before someone breaks out from the pack the way Julia Louis-Dreyfus did from her Seinfeld cast mates. Before Episodes, LeBlanc was clearly losing, for example.

Anyway, there you go. You now have a new bar game. Expect to see semi-regular editions of this as I declare who has won certain shows from time to time. The grand-daddy of them all will be SNL (which obviously is still on the air, but I'll make an exception. Spoiler alert: the winner is Robert Downy Jr.)

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.