Today, JSOnline missed a huge opportunity to sneak a great Simpson’s reference into a headline:
>There’s no way in heck that the ratepayers should pay for a choo-choo that only goes two miles.
Naturally, I had to take the opportunity for myself.
Funny headlines aside, the issue is worth talking about. The above quote is from Alberta Darling, describing her opposition to a Streetcar Projecct in Milwaukee. This is yet another case of state Republicans getting in the way of attempts at mass transit. Many people are aware of how Governor Walker blocked a proposed high speed rail project that would have connected Chicago to Madison to Minneapolis. Fewer people are aware that the state legislature repealed Dane County’s regional transit authority. Now, it appears, they’ve set their sights on Milwaukee.
If it were the case that the state would be required to fund the rail, that would be one thing. However, Milwaukee has completely funded the rail system itself. There’s no reason for the state legislature should be involved in this issue at all. Perhaps there are legitimate reasons why Milwaukee shouldn’t build a light rail, but that should be up to Milwaukeeans, not the state legislature.
As we’ve seen, far from being the party that’s for local control, state Republicans are the party of imposing their will on cities. Madison Alder Mark Clear listed some of the ways the state legislature is interfering with how Madison governs itself. These issues won’t affect anyone outside of Madison, and the state legislature should let us deal with our problems in the way we prefer to deal with them.
Thankfully things aren’t as bad in Wisconsin as they are in Michigan where the state legislature has claimed the ability to appoint unelected “emergency managers” to literally take over for duly elected city officials.
Apparently limited government means state government limiting the democratic process in cities.
When lawmakers are mad at someone for their handling of taxpayer dollars, it’s usually because money has been lost.
Yesterday, that anger was cash found instead of cash lost. An audit has found that the UW System has squirreled away $648 million in a reserve fund. This caused state lawmakers to call UW System President Kevin Reilly and UW-Madison interim Chancellor David Ward to the Capitol to answer questions about the excess cash.
There are few issues to talk about here. First is the issue of whether or not UW was trying to keep their cash reserves hidden from lawmakers. If it’s true that some budget tomfoolery was used to keep lawmakers in the dark about the cash reserves then I think lawmakers are right to be upset. It’s not clear to me that this is the case though. In a 5.5 billion dollar budget, it seems pretty likely that this information was simply hidden in plain sight.
The next issue is that of tuition. Every year for the past six years, the UW System has raised tuition by 5.5%, the maximum allowed by law. One of those goals of the UW system should be affordability and a 5.5% increase in tuition hurts this goal. It’s important to determine how long the UW system has been building up this reserve fund. If it’s something they’ve built up over the past couple of years, the UW should have to explain why it felt the need to raise tuition while it was bringing in so much extra cash. If the reserve has been built up over a longer period of time, say a decade or so, then the reserve seems more appropriate.
At the hearing Peter Barca stated, “While surpluses are good, it’s not good if it comes at the expense of our students.” I agree with the sentiment but it’s not clear to me how you would define whether or not a surplus came at the expense of the student. Money comes in to the system from a lot of different sources. Money then goes out to lots of other sources. At the end of the day, some money is left over. That money could have been lower tuition, lower state taxes, higher wages for university employees, more scholarships, lower parking permit fees, lower fees at UW hospital, lower prices at football games, the list goes on. Budgeting a system as complicated as the UW is an incredibly difficult task that involves balancing the needs of a lot of different groups of people. It takes a lot more nuance than comparing one big number to another big number and saying that one of the numbers doesn’t need to be so big.
It’s that time of year again. The snow is gone, perennials are starting to poke through the ground, and the city is at odds with the students over the Mifflin Street Block Party. I’ve gone back and forth a lot in how I feel about it and certainly my opinion of it has changed since when I was a student. I may elaborate on my feelings about it in the coming days, but I thought it would be enlightening to take a look back through the history of the Mifflin Street Block Party via newspaper headlines. So, armed with my Madison Public Library card and the access to LexisNexis that comes with it, I set out to collect ten years worth of headlines that show how the event has changed (and not changed) through the past decade.
April 25, 2003: >CITY NERVOUS ABOUT BLOCK PARTY; MIFFLIN STREET BLOCK PARTY HAS BEEN A SOURCE OF TROUBLE IN PAST YEARS
May 5, 2003: >MIFFLIN SPIFFED UP AFTER 30,000 FROLIC AT PEACEFUL PARTY.
MELLOW MIFFLIN STREET PARTY PLEASES POLICE; CROWD ESTIMATED AT 30,000, AND THERE WERE 7 ARRESTS PLUS 26 CITATIONS FOR ALCOHOL-RELATED VIOLATIONS.
April 28, 2004: >4 KEG LIMIT?
April 29, 2004: >MIFFLIN NEIGHBORS WARNED OF LIMITS; NO GLASS, FOUR KEGS, NO LOUD MUSIC AFTER 8
May 1, 2004: >CO-OP REMINDING BLOCK PARTY OF ITS ROOTS; MIFFLIN CO-OP’S VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR WANTS THE BLOCK PARTY TO BE ABOUT MORE THAN DRINKING.
May 3, 2004: >POLICE CITE 190 AT MIFFLIN ST. PARTY
In 2005, there was much debate about what date to have the party on. The date that the city preferred would have been during finals week which the students did not like. The city eventually capitulated and the party was moved a week earlier to the student’s preferred date. There was then some debate over whether the city would charge ASM (who lobbied for the date change) for the extra costs incurred by moving the date, but it never amounted to anything. This year is also notable because UW Football player Booker Stanley was involved in a physical altercation.
April 12, 2005: >MIFFLIN DEBATE NOT A PARTY FOR ANYBODY
April 30, 2005: >COUNCIL MEMBERS HAVE NO EXCUSE TO GRIPE ABOUT MIFFLIN COSTS
IDEA FOR ASM TO PAY FOR MIFFLIN PARTY DATE CHANGE IS ABSURD
May 2, 2005: >MIFFLIN STREET REVELRY MOSTLY COOL
BADGERS’ STANLEY ARRESTED
_ April 26, 2006_: >FIRST CASE OF MUMPS HITS U. WISCONSIN
April 28, 2006: >PINCKNEY ST. ALTERNATIVE TO THE BIG PARTY
April 29, 2006: >CANCEL MIFFLIN FOR MUMPS
May 1, 2006: >SOGGY MIFFLIN PARTY DRAWS 15,000, WINDS DOWN EARLY
May 3, 2006: >COPS’ CRACKDOWN ON MIFFLIN ABSURD
December 9, 2006: >CO-OP’S END STIRS STUDENT MEMORIES
There were not many articles written this year. Officers on horseback were present for the first time. The Capital Times reported (in a weekly news wrap-up whose headline was unrelated to the Mifflin Block Party) that Police arrested 366 people, up from the previous year’s 267 and attendance was 10,000, down from 15,000.
May 3, 2007: >COPS ON HORSEBACK WILL PATROL MIFFLIN PARTY FOR FIRST TIME
May 4, 2007: >MIFFLIN ST. PARTY, BUT WITHOUT THE CO-OP
May 8, 2007: >U. WISCONSIN BLOCK PARTY ARRESTS CLIMB IN 2007
April 29, 2008 (Sound familiar?): >BE CAREFUL AT MIFFLIN PARTY, UW DEAN SAYS
April 30, 2008: >MIFFLIN PARTY RULES CRITICIZED; A PARTY SUPPORTER SAYS THE NOISE LIMIT SET BY POLICE IS UNREALISTIC
May 3, 2008: >MIFFLIN STREET PARTY-GOERS UPSET WITH POLICE
May 4, 2008: >AN UNDERCURRENT OF ANGER
May 5, 2008: >VERVEER SEEKS CHANGES
May 6, 2008: >CITY OPEN TO SPONSOR FOR MIFFLIN PARTY; ANY SPONSOR MUST HAVE SOLID PLANS FOR ALCOHOL SALES, SECURITY AND LIABILITY, POLICE SAY
August 5, 2008: >MAJESTIC MAY BACK MIFFLIN PARTY; THE THEATER OWNERS ARE CONSIDERING OFFERING LIVE MUSIC BUT THEY NEED STUDENT APPROVAL
Though initially it looked like Majestic would be the party’s sponsor, it would actually end up being WSUM-FM.
April 29, 2009: >TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE DURING MIFFLIN STREET PARTY
April 30, 2009: >MIFFLIN STREET PARTY GETS A SPONSOR
May 5, 2009: >SPONSORS KEY TO A BETTER BLOCK BASH
April 30, 2010: >NEIGHBORHOOD CLEANUP PLANNED AS BLOCK PARTY
May 1, 2010: >TODAY’S THE DAY FOR MIFFLIN MANIA; CITY-APPROVED BEER GARDEN WILL BE OPEN FROM NOON TO 6 P.M
May 2, 2010: >’SENIOR CENTER BEER GARDEN’ NOT A HIT; MIFFLIN STREET BLOCK PARTY GOES OFF WITHOUT A HITCH AND, FOR THE MOST PART, REVELERS STEER CLEAR OF CITY-SPONSORED BEER GARDEN.
April 27, 2011: >WILL BEER IN STREET BE NICE AND NEAT?; POLICE HOPE SUSPENDING THE OPEN CONTAINER LAW FOR MIFFLIN’S BLOCK PARTY WILL HELP TAME THE EVENT.
May 1, 2011: >CROWD IS DRUNKEST IN YEARS; POLICE ALSO REPORT TWO STABBINGS AND MORE THAN 20 TAKEN TO DETOX. MIFFLIN STREET
May 3, 2011: >MIFFLIN CHANGE A ‘MISTAKE’; CITY OFFICIALS REGRET ALLOWING DRINKING IN STREET
May 4, 2011: >IS THERE A WAY TO RECTIFY THE MIFF-STAKE?
August 26, 2011: >POLICE: END THE MIFFLIN PARTY; CITY OFFICIALS AGREE BUT CAUTION IT MIGHT TAKE A FEW YEARS TO SHUT IT DOWN
March 4, 2012: >SOGLIN TURNS TO STUDENTS ON MIFFLIN PARTY; HE ASKED THEM TO WORK WITH THE CITY ON WAYS TO BRING THE ANNUAL PARTY UNDER CONTROL
March 27, 2012: >NO BEER VENDORS AT BLOCK PARTY; MIFFLIN STREET GATHERING WILL BE HEAVILY POLICED
May 2, 2012: >BERQUAM DEFENDS ‘DON’T GO’ MESSAGE TO POTENTIAL MIFFLIN PARTYERS
May 8, 2012: >MIFFLIN STREET PARTY ARRESTS COULD TOP 500; MOST CITATIONS INVOLVED OPEN INTOXICANTS
July 18, 2012: >ELIMINATE OR CHANGE MIFFLIN STREET BLOCK PARTY
So there you have it. There are some recurring themes, and some strange developments. In general, I don’t think anything about what’s going to happen this year is that new. There have been “alternative” parties before. There has been strict enforcement before. For better or worse the party seems to endure. Hopefully this information helps put the current discussion into context.
I would have liked to link to these articles directly, but I couldn’t find them on the public internet. If you want to go read the text of these articles, and have access to LexisNexis, I posted a google doc with all the links here. Most of the headlines are from either the Capital Times our the Wisconsin State Journal. A couple are from the student papers.
Last night, suspected Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was apprehended by authorities. After his arrest, there was a lot of speculation as to whether or not he would be read his Miranda rights. It appears that the FBI is invoking a “public safety” exemption for now, and has not read him his rights. I am strongly against this decision. There are a lot of legal/procedural arguments about why the FBI might or might not want to read Tsarnaev his rights, but the main reason that I think it is important is because of what it says about our faith in our criminal justice system.
With a huge caveat that I am not a lawyer, I think the decision is unlikely to matter in any practical sense. Proponents of not reading miranda argue that if authorities read him his rights, he will choose to be silent when he otherwise would not have. If he is left ignorant of his rights, the argument goes, he may provide information that saves lives that may presently be in danger. I find this to be an extremely unlikely scenario. It requires an incredible chain of assumptions to be true for it to matter. There has to be additional danger that he is aware about. That information has to be actionable such that it could save lives in the hands of authorities. He has to be healthy enough to speak. He has to be willing to speak as long as he’s not read his Miranda rights. He also has to be unwilling to speak after having been read his rights. All of these conditions might be true if this were an episode of “24”, but in the real world it seems highly unlikely.
On the other hand, one pro-miranda argument is that if he isn’t read his rights immediately, he might avoid conviction on the technicality. The whole point of miranda is that courts have held that if a suspect incriminates himself before being made aware of his rights, that incrimination is not admissible as evidence during the trial. Thus, we should read him his rights as soon as possible in the event that he might decide to incriminate himself. I also think this situation is highly unlikely to be a factor in this case for a lot of the same reasons. He has to be healthy enough to speak. He has to say something that incriminates him. That evidence has to turn out to be necessary for his conviction. This may be fitting for a John Grisham novel, but again, it seems highly unlikely in the real world
So if reading Tsarnaev his Miranda rights is unlikely to matter in a practical sense, why is it important? In fact, it’s important precisely because it seems so unlikely to matter. The reason we have a criminal justice system is because history has shown us that it is human nature to react emotionally and arbitrarily to different circumstances. Thus, we created a system of rules to guide us against these base instincts. We use this system so that at the end of the day we can say that we didn’t give in to the dark side. Miranda, even if it is unlikely to matter, is part of this system. That we would question using it shows that we are willing to call this system into question for arbitrary and emotional reasons. It shows that we can be intimidated. A country that is not afraid would calmly follow procedure and read him his rights.
When Washington can’t tell a story about something, it ignores it. Data alone doesn’t make good politics.
This is definitely a true statement. Many good policies simply don’t make good stories and as result we have a tendency to ignore important issues that we can’t tell or good story about, or worst case, implement bad policies that we can tell a good story about. Soltas goes on to give some good examples of common fallacies that are perpetuated by good anecdotes.
How, for example, would you give an anecdote about how the mortgage-interest deduction creates inefficient distortions in shelter spending or fixed investment? A politician can’t hold up the life story of Joe Urban and talk about all the ways he would have been better off in a counterfactual.
In his book, Nate Silver talks about how we have a tendency to ignore things that we cannot precisely quantify. You can see this sort of bias in politics. Our national politics is obsessed with the debt, budgets, taxes, income inequality, all things that can be easily quantified. It seems to me that Joe Urban’s biggest problem is that the benefits he’d gain from the elimination of the mortgage-interest deduction cannot be can’t be measured, or to the extent that they can be measured, the measurements can’t be easily explained.
Having good data is important, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We’re taught in school that things that we can quantify are good because we can talk about them objectively. You need only to look at the issues listed above to realize that being able to measure something is no guarantee of an objective discussion. Just as the equations we use to calculate ballistic trajectory in high school physics only work if you assume away friction, data are only objective if you assume that everyone agrees with what the data are supposed to represent. Research journals and the scientific method exist for the purpose of aiding this process, but many researchers spend their entire careers disputing different interpretations of the same experimental data. For most unsolved problems, data just aren’t that much more objective than stories.
That isn’t to say that data are useless, just that having data doesn’t negate the need to have a story to go with it. The whole point of politics is to get people to see your side of the issue. Some people will be convinced by data, some by stories, most by a combination of both. Soltas and the other denizens of the economics blogosphere do excellent work bringing much needed data to the discussion and no doubt have convinced many people to see things their way by doing so. But not everyone is convinced by data, and frankly, not everyone has the level of education required to understand a lot of the most important data. For most political issues, stories are an important tool to help give life to data.