CRF Blog

Charlie Rose Interviews Bill Bratton

by Bill Hayes

Watch Charlie Rose’s interview with Bill Bratton, the New York City police commissioner.

IBM’s CEO writes a new chapter on how to turn failure into wealth

by Bill Hayes

In IBM’s CEO writes a new chapter on how to turn failure into wealth, Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik looks at the issue of CEO compensation.

Government officials and regulators have wrestled for years with how to bring CEO compensation under control. They’ve imposed limits on the tax’-deductibility of CEO pay, and given shareholders the option to vote on compensation policies (though only in an advisory role). Nothing seems to work.

The latest initiative came from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which voted last year to require public companies to disclose the ratio between their CEOs’ pay and the median pay of their workers. The regulation, mandated by the Dodd’-Frank Act of 2010, provoked one of the largest outpourings of public comments the SEC had seen, some 287,000. [more]

Neither rigged nor fair

by David De La Torre

The Economist argues that executive pay is Neither rigged nor fair.

Critics claim that executive compensation is essentially a rigged game, in which boards packed with insiders parcel out rewards to their friends. Defenders argue that the market is setting pay, as firms strive to keep hold of talented executives in a competitive world. The truth lies somewhere in between. Compensation is not the work of a cartel, but it is light years from being an ideal market.

The notion that the market is efficient at setting executive pay rests on three arguments. The first is that competitive pressures are at work. Inside the firm, the “tournament theory” of pay holds that big awards high up a company are worthwhile because they motivate ambitious middle managers to take risks and put in the hours in order to climb the greasy pole to the top. And outside the firm, there are observable prices for the labour of senior executives, thanks largely to disclosures by listed firms. For example, the median pay level of an S&P 500 chief executive in 2015 was $10.4m, according to Equilar, a research firm, a rise of 1% over the 2014 figure. (In practice, executives do not benchmark themselves against pan-industry figures but against their peers.)

These sorts of pay packages seem outrageous to many, especially when compared with wages elsewhere in the economy. Peter Drucker, the doyen of management theorists, reckoned that exceeding a 20–1 multiple of pay within a firm between executives and the average worker was bad for morale. Mr Drucker was worrying about the gap back in the 1980s, when the economy-wide difference between CEOs of big American firms and average workers was in the 40–1 range. How quaint that seems: depending on how you count things, the multiple now is somewhere between 140–1 and 335–1.

Even those who defend the market view of pay often say that these multiples may be too high from a social or ethical perspective. But their argument is that, from an economic perspective, they make sense. Pay is not set in isolation. Just like other parts of the labour market, what others pay sets an external market price. “You can argue that CEOs of public firms are in some senses underpaid,” says Mr Kaplan, who points out that a senior partner at a blue-chip law firm or consultancy could earn several million dollars a year with none of the scrutiny, more job security and far fewer people to manage. Overpaid or underpaid, executives certainly know what the going rate is. [more]

Democracy Is So 2005

by Bill Hayes

In Democracy Is So 2005 for Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Kurlantzick reports on the decline of democracy throughout the world.

In many countries democracy is failing because the current generation of leaders has proven to be elected autocrats. Unlike in the 1920s or 1930s, when fascist governments such as Franco’s Spanish and Mussolini’s Italian regimes came to power by essentially overthrowing establishments through force or bullying to dominate a single election, today’s elected autocrats understand that holding regular votes is critical to one’s domestic and international legitimacy, even if those votes aren’t totally free. After the elections, leaders like Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Erdogan, Thaksin, or Malaysian Prime Minister Najib tun Razak show little respect for any institutions — an impartial judiciary, a free media, constitutional limits on power, a vibrant private sector — other than the ballot.

Under Erdogan, Turkey’s government has silenced most critical media, while in Malaysia the Najib government has destroyed the independence of the attorney general and tossed the opposition leader in jail on highly dubious sodomy charges. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Learn Different

by Bill Hayes

In Learn Different for the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead reports on a Silicon Valley venture into education.

Seen from the outside, AltSchool Brooklyn, a private school that opened in Brooklyn Heights last fall, does not look like a traditional educational establishment. There is no playground attached, no crossing guard at the street corner, and no crowd of children blocking the sidewalk in the morning. The school is one floor up, in a commercial building overlooking Montague Street. On the building’s exterior is a logo: a light-blue square, with rounded corners, bearing the word “alt.” It looks like an iPhone app awaiting the tap of a colossal finger.

Inside, the space has been partitioned with dividers creating several classrooms. The décor evokes an IKEA showroom: low-slung couches, beanbags, clusters of tables, and wooden chairs in progressively smaller sizes, like those belonging to Goldilocks’s three bears. There is no principal’s office and no principal. Like the five other AltSchools that have opened in the past three years — the rest are in the Bay Area — the school is run by teachers, one of whom serves as the head of the school. There is no school secretary: many administrative matters are handled at AltSchool’s headquarters, in the SOMA district of San Francisco. There aren’t even many children. Every AltSchool is a “micro-school.” In Brooklyn Heights, there are thirty-five students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to third grade. Only a few dozen more children will be added as the school matures. AltSchool’s ambition, however, is huge. Five more schools are scheduled to open by the end of 2017, in San Francisco, Manhattan, and Chicago, and the goal is to expand into other parts of the country, offering a highly tailored education that uses technology to target each student’s “needs and passions.” Tuition is about thirty thousand dollars a year.

In December, I visited a classroom for half a dozen pre-kindergartners. Several children were playing “restaurant,” and one girl sat in a chair, her arms outstretched as if holding a steering wheel: she was delivering food orders. “I’m taking a shortcut,” she announced. A teacher sitting on the floor told her, “That’s a good word — you used it correctly.” Then she took out her phone and recorded a video of the moment.

Another teacher and a student were looking at a tablet computer that displayed an image of a pink jellyfish. The girl had been drawing her own jellyfish with a violet crayon. “Let’s see if we can learn a name of a new jellyfish,” the teacher said. “Which one do you want to learn more about?” She touched the screen, and another jellyfish appeared — a feathery white one. “This is a … hippopodius?” the teacher read, stumbling over the name. “I wonder if this one glows in the dark.” The girl said, “Do you have another pink one?”

Students at AltSchool are issued a tablet in pre-K and switch to a laptop in later years. (For now, AltSchool ends at the equivalent of eighth grade.) When I visited a mixed classroom for second and third graders, most of the children were sunk into their laptops. All were engaged in bespoke activities that had been assigned to them through a “playlist” — software that displays a series of digital “cards” containing instructions for a task to be completed. Sometimes it was an online task. Two children were doing keyboarding drills on a typing Web site. Their results would be uploaded for a teacher’s assessment and added to the student’s online Learning Progression — software developed by AltSchool which captures, in minute detail, a student’s progress.

The curriculum is roughly aligned with the Common Core, the government standards that establish topics which students should master by the end of each grade. But AltSchool’s ethos is fundamentally opposed to the paradigm of standardization that has dominated public education in recent decades, and reflects a growing shift in emphasis among theorists toward “personalized learning.” This approach acknowledges and adapts to the differences among students: their abilities, their interests, their cultural backgrounds. [more]

Statista: Chart of the Day: Which Countries Have Compulsory Voting?

Infographic: The Countries Where Voting Is Compulsory | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

The Long and Crumbling Road

by Bill Hayes

In The Long and Crumbling Road for the New Republic, Tom Vanderbilt reviews The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure by Henry Petroski.

“We tend to be oblivious to much of our infrastructure, even when it is in plain sight, until something goes wrong with it,” Petroski writes in The Road Taken. The engineering profession itself, he notes, has not been immune from this tendency. The American Society of Civil Engineers, the group that issues a report card for America’s infrastructure every four years, did not include “levees” as a category until 2009, four years after Hurricane Katrina, when they received an aggregate D-minus. (The United States, Petroski writes, is like a “poor student” who never learns his lessons.) Infrastructure in America seems to be the perennial barn door that’s closed after the horses have gone. We are hardly alone; substantive flood-control projects in the Netherlands and England only got going after disastrous floods in the middle part of the twentieth century. But there may be, Petroski hints, something in the American character, the impromptu pragmatism of a settler nation, that emphasizes the quick fix, what one historian called “the self-fulfilling perception that rapid innovation would quickly render current designs obsolete.” And given the wider societal lack of interest in infrastructure, small wonder there should be little political capital to be had in pushing for costly repairs or expanded maintenance. Today, politicians might be glad to show up and grab golden shovels for a bright new project, but pushing through tax increases for bridge inspections — or to guard against some vaguely predicted future event — does not make for good optics. [more]

Cagle: Recent Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See Cagle’s collection of recent political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Ripple Effects

by Bill Hayes

In Ripple Effects for the New York Times Book Review, Ian Fisher reviews The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East by Marc Lynch.

In Lynch’s telling, the Middle East is a region where local forces dominate, interbreed and fester. Egypt’s struggle with democracy, Islam and military rule plays out in one corner, while the main event has become the increasingly open antagonism between Saudi Arabia and Iran, each backing allies around the region to deeper division. And Lynch recounts the important new front of social media, in all its complicated power to democratize and polarize, to render human beings numb at the repeated sight of the worst atrocities possible.

Lynch is not an optimist. [more]

11 facts about gun violence in the United States

by Bill Hayes

In 11 short cards, Vox looks at 11 facts about gun violence in the United States. Here is the first card:

It’s pretty hard to count up all the guns in the United States, especially given how varied different states’ licensing and registration policies are. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report estimated that there were 310 million civilian guns in 2009: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. The Small Arms Survey, which measures gun prevalence internationally, estimated that there were 270 million in 2007. The latter estimate suggests there were 88.8 guns for every 100 people in the US in 2007; there were about 307 million people in the US in 2009, which would mean the CRS estimated there were more guns than people in America.

What share of households own guns is a different question, and surveys differ a bit on whether gun ownership is declining. The Pew Research Center’s polling and the General Social Survey suggest it is, while Gallup’s data is more equivocal ….

But whether 43 percent or 34 percent of the population owns guns, it still suggests that gun-owning households have, on average, more than one gun. Indeed, a study looking at 2004 survey data found that households with guns have a median of 3 guns, and an average of 6.6. The latter figure is skewed upward by the sheer number of guns the gun owners with the largest stockpiles have; 65 percent of America’s guns are in the hands of 20 percent of gun owners. [more]

Dallas Memorial Service

by Bill Hayes

Below are three speeches from Tuesday’s Dallas Memorial Service Honoring Police Officers.

Former President George W. Bush:

Dallas Police Chief David Brown:

President Barack Obama:

Should an Unpopular Sentence in the Stanford Rape Case Cost a Judge His Job?

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: Should an Unpopular Sentence in the Stanford Rape Case Cost a Judge His Job?

A California judge sentenced Brock Allen Turner to only six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman after a Stanford University fraternity party, despite her angry, eloquent, courtroom denunciation of the way she and other rape survivors are treated. In response, a petition was started to hold a recall election to throw him off the bench.

But should judges be subject to recall because of an unpopular sentence or would that impede their independence? [more]

See also Independence of the Judiciary, which has these three free lessons: An Issue of Consent (examining the process of advice and consent for appointments to the federal judiciary), Judges and Voters (exploring the role voters should play in state judicial elections), and An Independent Judiciary (tracing the sometimes turbulent history of our independent federal judiciary). All of them are part of CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Nothing But the Truth

by Bill Hayes

In Nothing But the Truth, the Marshall Project reports on a “radical new interrogation technique.”

The trouble with modern interrogation technique … is that, despite its scientific pose, it has almost no science to back it up. Reid and Inbau claimed, for instance, that a well-trained investigator could catch suspects lying with 85 percent accuracy; their manual instructs detectives to conduct an initial, nonaccusatory “behavioral analysis interview,” in which they should look for physical tells like fidgeting and broken eye contact. But when German forensic psychologist Günter Köhnken actually studied the matter in 1987, he found that trained police officers were no better than the average person at detecting lies. Several subsequent studies have cast doubt on the notion that there are any clear-cut behavioral tells. (Truth tellers often fidget more than liars.) In fact, the more confident police officers are about their judgments, the more likely they are to be wrong.

But the scientific case against police interrogations really began to mount in the early 1990s, when the first DNA-based exonerations started rolling in. According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, about a third of the 337 people who’ve had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence confessed or incriminated themselves falsely. These and other exonerations furnished scientists with dozens of known false-confession cases to study, giving rise to a veritable subfield of social psychology and the behavioral sciences. (At least one confession elicited by John Reid himself  —  in a 1955 murder case  —  turned out to be inaccurate; the real killer confessed 23 years later.)

Researchers have even broken down these false confession cases into categories. There are “voluntary” false confessions, like the many presumably unstable people who claimed credit for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in order to get attention. Then there are “compliant,” or “coerced,” false confessions, in which people are so ground down by an intense interrogation that, out of desperation and naïveté, they think that confessing will be better for them in the long run. The third category, “persuaded,” or “internalized,” false confessions, may be the most poignant. Here, the interrogator’s Reid-style theming is so relentless, the deployment of lies so persuasive, that suspects  —  often young and impressionable or mentally impaired  —  end up believing they did it, however fleetingly.

And yet, even in the face of these documented cases, police and prosecutors have resisted admitting that false confessions are even possible. In court, they routinely move to reject expert testimony on the phenomenon by saying it goes against common sense that an innocent person would ever confess to a criminal act. But a wealth of research since the 1990s has shown that false memories are remarkably easy to implant. And in 2015, Julia Shaw, then a psychology PhD candidate in British Columbia, conducted a study that took direct aim at the idea that ordinary, innocent people would never confess to a crime they didn’t commit. In fact, she found that people can be made to do it quite reliably.

In just three one-hour sessions, Shaw was able to convince 21 of her 30 college-age subjects that they’d committed a crime when they were around 12 years old  —  assaulted another child with a weapon, for instance  —  and had a run-in with the police as a result. She supplied details that were recognizable to the subjects  —  the location where the assault supposedly happened, who the other child was  —  drawn from information their parents provided in a questionnaire. Shaw tells me she designed her study to mimic the techniques used in some false-confession cases. “I’m essentially marrying poor interrogation tactics with poor therapeutic tactics,” she says. The results were so strong, in fact, that she stopped administering the experiment before she had run through her full sample. [more]

Special Report: Turkey

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report on Turkey features the following articles:

Erdogan’s new sultanate looks at how Turkey’s president has increased his power.

Getting off the train reports on Turkey’s move away from democracy.

Erdoganomics explores the state of Turkey’s economy.

Proud to be a Turk examines Turkish nationalism.

The lure of the city looks at the country’s urban centers.

Alone in the world reports on Turkey’s foreign policy.

‘The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen’

by Bill Hayes

In ‘The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen’ for the New York Review of Books, R.J.W. Evans reviews these books on the origins of the First World War: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan, 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson, The Russian Origins of the First World War by Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark, and Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings.

June 28, 1914, Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the multinational Habsburg realms, resplendent in the dress uniform of an Austrian cavalry general, but also absurd in his plumed headdress, was shot at close range by Gavrilo Princip, a local student dropout obsessed with the Serbian national cause. Sarajevo was one of history’s most purple passages: there was the drama of bungled security and hamfisted conspiracy; spectacle and gore; the play of intention and chance; the clash of generations and civilizations, of the old monarchical Europe and the modern terrorist cell.

But of course the Sarajevo assassination captivates posterity for its consequences. Piqued in its prestige and fearful of the threat to its status as a great power by subversion fanned from Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian government delivered an ultimatum to its obstreperous little Balkan neighbor, demanding a say in the management of its internal affairs.

Russia stepped in to protect its Serbian clients; the Germans supported their Austrian allies; the French marched to fulfill their treaty obligations to Russia; Great Britain honored its commitment to come to the aid of France. Within five weeks a great war had broken out. At the very least, this is a gripping tale. Sean McMeekin’s chronicle of these weeks in July 1914: Countdown to War is almost impossible to put down.

Thus was unleashed the calamitous conflict that, more than any other series of events, has shaped the world ever since; without it we can doubt that communism would have taken hold in Russia, fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, or that global empires would have disintegrated so rapidly and so chaotically. A century on we still search for its causes, and very often, if possible, for people to blame. [more]

For a free classroom lesson with numerous activities on the beginning of World War I, see A Fire Waiting to Be Lit: The Origins of World War I from our Common Core Archive.