Archive for January, 2014

Do Nicer Train Stations Attract More Riders?

But are transit stations really “destinations” in the absolute sense? More to the point: Do riders really care how nice they are?

Based upon this piece’s observation, combined With the dilemma of limited funding, perhaps we should be focused on creative partnerships with entities to ensure train stops are perceived highly. Design and furniture companies, for instance. Art organizations and public relations entities as well.

Building a better parking sign

A daily inconvenience ripe for a redesign.

2014 Gates Annual Letter: Myths About Foreign Aid

I imagine much of the same could be said about domestic aid. Great presentation and what a great conversation to restart in this nation.

Ford CEO says more cars aren’t the answer to cities’ problems (paywall)

“I think the most important thing is to look at the way the world is and where the world is going and to develop a plan,” Mr Mulally said. “We’re going to see more and more larger cities. Personal mobility is going to be of really ever-increasing importance to livable lifestyles in big cities.”
Mr Mulally admitted to not knowing what role Ford would play in facilitating movement around future big cities and added that he believed there would always be a market for cars.

But he added that the company might be involved in integrating the various technical systems driving cities’ transport systems, since it had skills in that area.
“Maybe [our focus] will be on components; maybe it’ll be on pieces of the equipment,” Mr Mulally said. “I don’t know.”

Gigantic words from one of the biggest car companies in the world. Let’s hope more automotive companies begin to think outside of the car.

How much Pappy Van Winkle is left after 23 years of barrel aging?

The most sought-after bourbon in the world, Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old, begins life as 53 gallons of new-make whiskey at 114 proof.


So I decided to run the numbers on how much Pappy Van Winkle is left in the barrel every year after evaporation (aka the “angel’s share”).

✁ Recess

On Monday, the Supreme Court held oral argument on a 2013 D.C. Circuit case, NLRB v. Canning (pdf) discussing a procedural aspect of Article II of the Constitution. The case concerns the president’s power of recess appointment. The Constitution enumerates this power in Art. II, sec 2, cl. 3.

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

Presidents have been making recess appointments since the beginning of the Union. Washington was the first to make such an appointment. Reagan made 240 recess appointments. Bill Clinton, 139. The issue in Canning surrounds President Obama’s use of this power to appoint members to the NLRB, which then had only 2 of its 5 seats filled, preventing the Board from convening a quorum (required to conduct business). The reason for these vacancies had to do with the Senate filibustering Obama’s nominations, presumably to prevent union elections from occurring. (Democrats in the Senate filibustered some of President Bush’s appointments to different agencies in his tenure.) After the filled seats permitted the NLRB to function again, the company the actions affected sued. The question presented in that case were whether President Obama’s NLRB appointments under Art. II, sec. 2, cl. 3 were appropriate when the Senate only recessed in spirit by not officially recessing, choosing instead to hold pro forma sessions specifically to prevent such appointments from occurring.

I’d like to comment on a few choice excerpts of the transcript from Monday.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, of course, Justice Ginsburg’s question points out that your argument is, it seems to me, in search of a limiting principle. A lunch break, a one-day break — you’ve — you’ve thought about this — a 3-day break, a 1-week break, a 1-month break; how do you resolve that problem for us?

GENERAL VERRILLI: I think the — the way we resolve that problem is by looking to the Adjournment Clause. We think if it’s a break that is sufficiently short, that it wouldn’t require the — wouldn’t require the one House to get the consent of the other, but that’s a de minimis recess and that’s not a recess in which the President would have authority -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Is that 3 days?

JUSTICE KENNEDY: And what about the pro forma sessions, then? They don’t — or correct me if I’m wrong. They don’t require the consent of the other house.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, but the problem with the pro forma sessions, I think, Justice Kennedy, is in thinking about the length of the recess. The recess, we would submit, and this
dictionary definition of “recess”
founding and now, which is “a suspension of business,” the recess was from January 3 when the session started until January 23. And the reason I think that -­
JUSTICE KENNEDY: So — so you think there’s
no recess during pro forma sessions?
GENERAL VERRILLI: There is a recess. And the reason is because the Senate has issued a formal order that no business shall be conducted and that’s a formal -­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, let’s just talk — let’s focus on that. What if, instead of saying “No business shall be conducted,” the order said, “It is not anticipated that any business will be conducted.” Does that suffice to eliminate that period as a recess?

GENERAL VERRILLI: I think that it’s a -­ that’s a different case and I think, concededly, a significantly harder case for the Executive because here -­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yeah. Well, it’s difficult and harder, but it also suggests that you’re just talking about a couple of magic words that the Senate can just change at the drop of a hat. So maybe the point is not that significant.

This is your Chief Justice suggesting that exact wording doesn’t matter. To think that interpretation of the law is anything but analyzing the exact language of the law is mind boggling. If a sentence reads differently, the purpose behind the sentence will be different.

But the Attorney General (and thus the Court) makes the wrong argument here. To suggest that deciding whether any break is actually recess surrounds the length of time of the break ignores the very obvious point that the Senate is attempting to subvert the purpose of the Constitutional clause by preventing this specific aspect government from functioning altogether. Why else would such a clause exist? That’s the irony of the Chief Justice’s prior words. If he doesn’t care much for the specific wording, then he must care about the intent. But if he’s concerned with the nuance of whether a pro forma session is or isn’t a recess, then he clearly does not care much for the intent of this clause.

Let’s look at presumed intent. In times when Congress recessed for months at a time (due to the time of travel, among other things), the founders wrote this clause, almost certainly, to ensure the continuation of our Union’s functioning in such instances when Congress’s absence would put such continuation in jeopardy. The thinking is, if it takes weeks to travel back to the Capitol to reconvene, important decisions requiring immediate attention might prevent the Country’s ability to function. But similar to how the filibuster today (or a supermajority requirement for cloture) could not have been anticipated by the founders when drafting the Constitution, it is unlikely they could have anticipated the Senate preventing appointments by design due to the minority’s goal of de facto agency abolishment.

Obviously, none of this is of issue if the filibuster was properly dealt with. But with the perverse idea (particularly how it is used today without the requirement of chamber presence, at a minimum) in place, other perversions develop. To rid one without getting rid of the other (because of course, the filibuster is not a Constitutional concept) is to interfere with founder’s intent. The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution. Any interpretation that does not ensure our Union functions as outlined by the Constitution is wrong. Due to this axiom, it is irrelevant why or how a Senate recess came to exist. All that should matter in evaluating this case is whether our government can continue functioning as intended even when some attempt to pervert the adjournment clause with pro forma sessions.

Not surprisingly, it seems obvious from the questions asked in the transcript that few, if any of the Justices will agree with me and that the recess appointments will be declared unconstitutional.

Repeating the past, Anxious Youth, Then and Now

Enlightening piece in the NYT.

The idea that millennials are uniquely “stuck” is nonsense. Young Victorians grasped for maturity as well, embarrassed by the distance between their lives and society’s expectations.

These Americans were born into an earthquake. During the 1800s America’s population exploded from 5 million to 75 million. By 1900 nearly as many people lived in New York City as had lived in the entire country during the Revolution. The nation went from a rural backwater to an industrial behemoth — producing more than Britain, Germany and France combined — but every decade the economy crashed. America saw the kind of wild change we see today in China, and in a new society with little to stabilize it.

For rootless 20-somethings, each national shock felt intimate, rattling their love lives and careers. Many young adults could not accept that their personal struggles were just ripples of a large-scale social dislocation. So each New Year’s, they blamed themselves. In a Jan. 1, 1859, entry in her journal, 19-year-old Mollie Dorsey, stuck on a Nebraska homestead in the middle of a recession, castigated herself for not being “any better than I was one year ago.”

Perspective is refreshing.

Policy without personality is just an idea.

The Anti-Scientific Revolution in Macroeconomics

Krugman on the current dismissal of demonstrable economic theories, something currently hurting policy progress (I’m sure you could swap out the word economic above for climate, development, poverty, medical, etc., and discuss similar concerns today). If you have any interest at all in understanding macroeconomic theory in depressionary times, this entry is a wonderful start.

But I thought I could squeeze out a few minutes to talk about something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the remarkable extent to which powerful groups, including a fair number of economists, have rejected intellectual progress because it disturbs their ideological preconceptions.

The greatest fallacy a voting citizen can make when looking at politics is to assume that both sides are correct and merely separated by a philosophical divide. It is a rare thing in this world where two solutions, each occupying opposite sides of the solution spectrum can both be right. This is why labels like Democrat or Republican make policy discussion so difficult: the public tends to see only partisan bickering, bickering which often times is done by design to conflate policy debates.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

Niccolo Machiavelli