Global Warming hits Wisconsin

by Harry on March 2, 2011

Extraordinary. (From Paul Krugman via Dan Hausman).

And I’d refer Fox news to this, which actually did happen in a warm place.

The Wisconsin Idea

by Harry on March 2, 2011

A very nice piece by long standing CT friend Christopher Phelps in the Chronicle (SM and I have known him for about 50 years between us), about the Wisconsin movement. An excerpt:

The crowds in red, as in the old Bangles song, are walking like an Egyptian. But they are also engaging in something we haven’t seen on this scale in a very long time: a dignified outpouring of a whole American community on behalf of labor. The events of late February are a striking example of what the English labor historian E.P. Thompson called “customs in common,” the web of shared traditions whose violation can propel people into the streets.

Custom in this case is the Wisconsin Idea, a notion that sometimes refers to the relationship between university and state but has a richer and more resonant history tracing to the state’s pioneering Progressive tradition. Its personification was the Republican Robert M. La Follette, who served as congressman, governor, and senator between the 1880s and 1920s. Through direct primaries, voter recall, civil-service standards, corporate taxation, regulation, and expert policy counsel from university scholars (rather than, say, corporate lobbyists)—a set of reforms together known as the Wisconsin Idea—La Follette sought to deal with what he called “the problems of vast financial power in private hands” on behalf of “the common man­—the worker, the farmer.”

It has been a very long time since a Republican senator from Wisconsin has said, as did La Follette, “The only salvation for the Republican Party lies in purging itself wholly from the influence of financial interests.” But Madison is a capital city filled with public employees who take pride in the knowledge that Wisconsin was, in 1959, the first state to recognize public workers’ collective-bargaining rights. The Wisconsin Idea—a classroom staple of the very schoolteachers whose labor rights are now threatened—has been given new life by the multitudes chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”

I was unaware of Phelps’ use of the Wisconsin Idea until I read this piece — on my end of State Street a different version, which concerns the value of the University to the State and its population, tends to prevail, but the version Phelps adopts is, in fact, another version with real currency, that I didn’t know. A small irony for me is that the person who first introduced me to the idea of the University version of the Wisconsin Idea, when he was a student in a political philosophy class — and went to great lengths to convince me I should start really learning a lot about education policy issues so that I could make some sort of practical contribution — is now one of the Democratic Assembly members leading the movement (and moment), and totally committed to the version of the idea that Phelps cites. Reading Phelps’ piece reminded me how much I owe to Cory Mason — I must thank him when he gets some time to relax. (By the way, he has a narrow majority, so if your name is not Koch, he’ll probably welcome donations, if you can figure out where to send them).

An aside: I came home from delivering the boy to preschool this morning and found the signs my middle one and her best friend made at my wife’s crisis committee meeting last night. “Soccer Rocks! So Do Unions!”, “We Want Unions!” etc. Can you imagine a city in the US in 2011 in which hundreds of 10-year-olds are making signs like those? It is surreal.

The Washington Post Editorial Page Strikes Again

by Henry Farrell on March 2, 2011

Michael Froomkin writes letters.

Just sent this to the Washington Post’s Ombudsman:

Today’s lead editorial on the Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft case blindly repeats a piece of government propaganda that has been decisively falsified in the court proceedings of that very case.

“High Court Should Overturn Kidd v. Ashcroft” begins like this:

ABDULLAH AL-KIDD was arrested at Dulles International Airport in 2003 after purchasing a one-way, first-class ticket to Saudi Arabia.

In fact, testimony and subpoenaed airline records establish that Al-Kidd had a round-trip coach ticket. The government’s false statement — originally made to the court to justify arresting him — misled the court and it is this very pattern of government misrepresentations that played a significant role in the judicial turn against immunity which the Post (in my opinion wrongly) critiques. The Post’s error is no mere detail but serves as means of obfuscating — avoiding — the central facts that undermine the argument the Post wishes to make.

I guess if you use fake facts it’s easier to write editorials in favor of unlimited and un-accountable state power to detain US citizens (AP: “Over the next 16 days he would be strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes. On a long trip between jails, a federal marshal refused to unlock al-Kidd’s chains so he could use the bathroom.”).

No mere factual correction can fix this problem since that would fail to make clear that the factual change undercuts the entire logic of the editorial, but I have never yet seen a correction which makes such an admission, and don’t have much hope here.

The question for you, though, is this: how could the Post allow someone to write an editorial on such an important matter who isn’t even aware of one of the better-known facts of the case? And who doesn’t then check the facts. … the accurate facts were and are no secret: it almost takes work to avoid them.

I can’t say that this is particularly surprising. The editorial board of the _Washington Post_ is a disgrace. It’s the major reason I stopped my subscription some years ago, despite liking some people who write for the newspaper. When the senior editors of the newspaper repeatedly tell lies to their readers, some “obviously self-serving”:, others, like this, in pursuit of a sinister and insane national security agenda, it tends to corrode one’s trust in the institution.

Shutdown backdown

by John Q on March 2, 2011

The shutdown of the US government has been deferred for two weeks, as a result of a Republican proposal which gives them $4 billion of facesaving but uncontroversial cuts (some already proposed by Obama, the rest unspent money set aside for possible earmarks, which they have already decided not to include in the Budget). This is a pretty big backdown, given the kind of rhetoric being thrown around after last year’s recapture of the House, suggesting positive eagerness for a shutdown. Among the factors contributing to the backdown, I think the vigorous resistance being mounted in Wisconsin, and the significant public sympathy it is attracting, would have to be the most important. Secondary, but also important is Obama’s bounceback in the polls. The bounce has been modest but surprising given the continued weakness of the economy. If the shutdown is blamed on the Reps[1], and the economy is recovering by 2012, their chances of victory don’t look so good.

That said, on past form, the odds have to favor an ultimate capitulation by the Dems. Given their relative strength, and the extreme demands of the Rep leadership (let alone the Tea Party), a pre-emptive capitulation sufficient to avert a shutdown looks unlikely. At the other end of the probability distribution, the chance that, in the context of an extended shutdown, the Reps might buckle as they did in 1995 looks more promising than before.

fn1. As Frank Rich points out, there is a compelling logic to blaming the Republicans for a shutdown, namely that the Republicans would clearly like to shut down the (non-military bits of the) Federal government, whereas the Dems would not.

fn1. And, as Frank Rich observes, it

The ECJ has ruled that it is illegal discrimination for the insurance industry to treat men and women differently.

This is currently mainly being covered as an excuse to do larf-o-larf items about “weren’t people funny about women drivers in the 1970s! But actually women are safer drivers! Imagine!”. In actual fact the car insurance thing is not that big of a deal since the no-claims bonus swamps any gender effect within a couple of years; all it really means is that nobody will insure teenagers at all, which I count as not necessarily an unmitigated cost. The real issue is pensions.

Women live longer than men. That’s one of the few actuarially reliable things you can say about life expectancy[1]. And so it requires more resources to provide a given level of life expectancy for women than it does for men. (NB: it is easy to get confused about this – remember that “risk” in context always means “financial risk to the insurer” rather than “health outcome or mortality risk to the insured”, and that living for a long time is bad news for the person who’s agreed to pay you an annuity).

Because it costs more to give women a retirement income, you can basically choose two options from the following three:

1) Equal retirement incomes for women and men
2) Equal commitment of society’s resources to providing retirement savings for women and men
3) A functioning pension annuity industry

There are a load of interesting questions about the nature of equality which might be considered relevant to the choice between 1) and 2) (although they might be considered a lot more practically relevant in a society where there was a greater degree of equality in lifetime earnings). I’m just interested to see that for the first time, a major society has decided that 3) is potentially the one to give up on. Edit: Just realised I probably ought to give my own favoured solution – I think it’s fairly obvious that 2) is the one to give up on and we just have to accept that the biological facts of the matter are that society needs to arrange things so that a given woman has a larger pool of retirement savings allocated to each other than an otherwise qualitatively identical man[2]. It’s rather like the number of social and economic consequences that we accept as flowing from the biological fact that women give birth and men don’t. Historically, capitalist economies have implicitly given up on 1), by allowing retirement incomes to be determined by savings out of lifetime labour income.

[1] by the way, don’t hold out too much hope for genetic testing as a silver bullet solution that will give us all individualised life expectancies and annuity rates. And even if it does, those rates will still be better for men as a group than women as a group, so the discrimination problem will still be there).

[2] the concept of “a woman and man who are identical in all properties except gender” perhaps not being terribly firmly anchored in reality, but as an actuarial construct I can probably save it.

Update (March 2nd): The ASA has just posted their audit statements for the past two years. Looks like someone from HQ was reading Prof. Disgruntled.

My pet Theory of Professional Academic Associations is that the discipline’s organizational life inverts its core intellectual commitments. Thus, Political Science is the discipline of government and especially of democracy. Yet, the last time I checked, all of the high-level positions in APSA are decided by committee deals rather than free and fair elections by the membership. Or, Economics is the discipline of decentralized coordination through the efficient operation of the market. Yet its job “market” is in fact an administered queue, with departments explicitly ranking their candidates, departments effectively ranking themselves, and a direct matching process operating between the two as top-ranking candidates slot into open positions in top-ranked schools. (This mechanism also includes an effective method of rent-extraction from Deans in the form of a salary ratchet.) And, to get to the present case, Sociology is the discipline that analyzes the many forms of collective social action, on the one hand, and is the social science most oriented towards the exposure of the workings of power, on the other. So naturally it follows that the ASA is not very good at organizing anything, and that its financial arrangements are as secretive as legally possible.

So, via Brayden King at OrgTheory come the efforts of The Disgruntled Sociologist to ferret out some of these details by way of the ASA’s tax statements and discusses them in a series of detailed posts. Some of the more striking findings include the following:

  • The ASA spent $10M on a “condo.” (Its office building, a couple of blocks from the White House.)
  • From 2003 to 2008, total revenue has been flat, but revenue from dues has increased substantially — almost 17%.
  • The staff of the ASA grew 26% in five years. Wages and salary increased roughly the same amount.
  • Total expenses for the the ASA ($7.6M) are greater than any of their peer organizations: American Political Science Association ($6.2M), American Economic Association ($7.1M), American Anthropological Association ($4.7M), and American Historical Association ($3.5M).
  • Total compensation of headquarters staff for the ASA is substantially higher than for the other organizations (with the exception of the AEA, which lists more than twice the number of employees).
  • The ASA has substantially higher interest expenses than the other organizations.
  • In 2008 the ASA spent its cash reserves of $1.8M – “from approximately $3M at the beginning of the year to $1.2M at the end,” presumably to make up for that year’s 28% loss in investments.
  • The ASA has $8M in bond liabilities (mostly stemming from the purchase of the DC offices).
  • The big change in liabilities comes in the ominous category, “Other liabilities.” This increases twentyfold, from $101,000 to $2,000,000. The ASA describes these liabilities on the tax form as an “interest rate swap obligation.”

An interest rate swap obligation? As in, a derivative? Looks like investment advice gone badly wrong to me. [Update: It turns out the swap obligation is a hedge against the cost of servicing the debt on the Condo, rather than a separate investment.] Now, perhaps there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this, and there is nothing odd about these points at all. (I note in passing from the comparative data that the ASA reported 100 unpaid volunteers the last year it filed. Meanwhile, the AEA reports zero volunteers.) The thing is, though, that this is the first that members have heard of any of this. The most recent audited financial statement available is for 2007, and as far has I can tell you cannot actually navigate to it from anywhere on the website. Instead you have to search for it directly. Meanwhile the official organs of communication to members (newsletters and so on) have been completely silent about these financial downturns. The level of transparency is astonishingly low in comparison to its peer associations.