30 April 2006

Padilla Prosecutors Apppear To Have No Shame

Apparently, the U.S. Attorney in Florida has not heard about the 6th Amendment.

Prosecutors plan to use evidence from secret FBI investigations, material provided to the United States by foreign governments and the results of interrogations of Padilla during his 3 1/2 years in military custody as an enemy combatant.

Padilla had been represented by an attorney prior to his military custody, and was not permitted one while in military custody, thus, any evidence from that source should be excluded, as should any evidence that is the fruit of those statements. Furthermore, evidence from foreign governments may likewise be impermissible, as might evidence from the FBI that were held to foreign intelligence gathering, rather than investigative, legal standards.

Daphne's Deli

Daphne's Deli, at 4th and Corona, across the street from the ACLU Building, isn't terribly new, but when I finally got a chance to check out this establishment on the boundary between the Alamo Placita neighborhood and the Country Club neighborhood in Denver I was pleasantly surprised.

I had suspected that it would be a folksie old fashioned deli. Instead, it is one of the more urban and sophisticated gathering places in the area. This Sunday morning this spacious venue had R&B music with an edge playing (without being obnoxious), the New Yorker and the full Sunday paper spread out on a table, and an urban oriented 20s and 30s something clientele (speaking multiple languages), juxtaposed with art from neighborhood elementary school students. There is ample parking out back, which can be accessed from a driveway on Corona Street. The patio is pleasant, although a bit close to the road, and the staff is affable. The expresso offerings are acceptable, although not exceptional, but, it has a nice collection of sandwich offerings (cold and toasted), and an abundance of fresh fruit on hand.

All in all, it is a good place to add to your list of regular haunts.

Health Through Moderation

Children conceived 18 months to five years after the sibling's birth are healthiest in terms of birthweight, probability of being premature, etc.

Interpregnancy intervals shorter than 18 months and longer than 59 months are significantly associated with increased risk of adverse perinatal outcomes. These data suggest that spacing pregnancies appropriately could help prevent such adverse perinatal outcomes.

The famed Mediterranean diet prevent Alzheimer's disease. This basicly means lots of fruits, veggies, fish and olive oil, but little milk or red meat, combined with moderate alcohol consumption.

Clean air helps too.
Pollutants spewing from vehicles and power plants may be harmful to fetal brains, new evidence suggests. . . . youngsters of highly exposed mothers "were more than twice as likely to be developmentally delayed."

I guess Governor Owen's, who just vetoed a bill to mandate cleaner air in Colorado, missed that study, or maybe he just doesn't care. Maybe, it is part of a plan to reduce higher education expenses in the state budget. More developmentally delayed kids means fewer college costs for the state twenty years from now.

29 April 2006

Denver Public Schools in Crisis

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet was recently brought on to the job of running Denver's schools as a reformer. One of a reformer's jobs is the convince the public that the existing system is broken. He has done so relentlessly. In this case, the truth is painful. Today's Rocky Mountain News has two pieces of the ongoing process of revealing what is wrong with the Denver Public Schools, and it is indeed, in a state of crisis.

One of Bennet's initiatives has been to completely shut down Manual High School. I previously discussed at this blog the case of Lincoln High School, noting that "No traditional public school in the Denver Public Schools is doing less well on the CSAPs." But, I wasn't counting Manual High School, currently divided into a complex of mini-schools on the same campus, as a traditional high school. A letter to critics of the Manual High School closing from Bennet and the school board President, makes clear just how troubled a school Manual is, in the context of a district that is full of struggling black and Hispanic students.

As you know, 57 percent of our district is Latino; 19 percent is African-American; and 20 percent is Anglo. Sixty-seven percent of our children qualify for free and reduced lunch. The data show us that we have a tremendous amount of work to do. We have enormous gaps in proficiency at every level of our district and in every subject. . . .

[Percent of Student at each level who are proficient of better on CSAPs]

Elementary 76%---42%---34%
Middle 73%---36%--25%
High 71%---34%---24%

Elementary 75%---35%---35%
Middle 53%---15%---15%
High 37%---5%---5%

The percentage differences are shocking, but, to our mind, the raw numbers are even more telling. For example, only 61 Latino students and only 33 African-American students scored proficient or better on the 10th grade Math CSAP in the entire district in 2005. These 94 children represent fewer than four classrooms of students. To be sure, the 10th-grade math test is only one barometer (and it is a tough test), but passing it is a pretty good indication of whether or not a child is going to be able to graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and in our work force. . . .

There are over 1,375 high school students in the Manual neighborhood. Our projections for next year were that only 580 students would attend the school. This means that over 737 neighborhood children, about 54 percent, were choosing a school other than Manual. The attrition within the school itself has been extraordinary. In 2002, Manual had 1,091 students; next year it would have had half that number. In September 2001, 475 ninth graders started at Manual; four years later only 95 graduated.

The achievement rates at Manual are of equal concern. Manual's 2004-2005 Combined School Accountability Report index was the lowest of Denver's high schools, even adjusted for free and reduced lunch.

For three consecutive years, not a single child in any category has scored advanced on the CSAP. For three consecutive years, fewer than 3 percent of the students have been proficient in math; fewer than 9 percent have been proficient in writing; and fewer than 20 percent have been proficient in reading. Last year, across all three schools at Manual, only two African-American children and only five Latino children were proficient on the 10th-grade math CSAP. . . .

[S]ome have said that the current Manual students will drop out because of the decision we have made. We are doing everything humanly possible to make sure this does not occur. Every Manual student received his or her first choice of a new school; all but nine students have filled out choice forms; we have spent countless hours at Manual working with Denver's mentoring organizations to assign mentors to each of our students (although we don't yet have a full complement of mentors, we met for three hours at the school on Saturday morning to provide training to over 100 citizens who have selflessly signed up to mentor); all students choosing to attend a higher performing school in the district will receive yellow bus transportation and others will receive a free RTD bus pass.

When only 20% of your entering freshman stick around to graduate from a high school, and only 8% of graduates have rated proficient on all the CSAPs, you have a high school in crisis. A high school the graduates only 2% of entering freshman ready to go do college in not working as designed. And, it also isn't a good sign that a majority of the high school aged students in the attendance area are choosing other options.

Another has initiative has been to focus on truancy in the Denver Public Schools:

• High school freshmen averaged the highest rate of full-day unexcused absences of all grades during the past three years, with 20.2 days. That means those students are missing at least 12 percent of classes in a school year that averages about 173 full days.

• High school students on average are absent 25 full days, including eight excused absences - typically meaning a parent or guardian has given permission - and 17 unexcused absences, meaning they simply don't show up for school.

• Only unexcused absences count toward chronic truancy, which is defined by state law as missing 10 or more full days per year. Last school year, 33 percent - or 7,341 - of Denver high school students met that definition. That's the stage at which a truancy petition can be filed in juvenile court.

• Yet last year, only 113 truancy petitions were filed against high school students - or just 1.5 percent of those considered chronically truant. In fact, just 8 percent of chronically truant high school students faced any consequences beyond a phone call or letter.

The link between truancy and other problems is marked:

Police data show 63 percent of crimes committed by 10- to 17-year-olds occurs during school hours, between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays. . . . The data also showed 60 percent of students who left DPS for juvenile incarceration were chronically truant. The same percentage of DPS students who were expelled were chronically truant. Half of DPS students who indicated they were dropping out were chronically truant.

"Girls were nearly as likely to be chronic truants as boys." But, like almost everything else wrong with Denver's schools, truancy shows a strong ethnic divide:

According to ethnicity, the average full-day unexcused absences in high school for 2004-05 were:

• American Indian 21.2

• Hispanic 19.9

• Black 15.2

• Asian 12.6

• White 11.3

Doug Linkhart, City Councilman at large in Denver, noted in his most recent newletter that at least 10,000 children who reside in Denver (maybe is many as four times as many) aren't attending the Denver Public Schools, instead electing other options.

I don't claim to know precisely what the best solution for the Denver Public Schools is right now. But, I have to support Michael Bennet in his effort to move for rapid change, while at the same time soliciting widespread input from the grassroots of the District. Clearly, the system is broken. Any solution put together in good faith is likely to be better.

Holtzman Campaign Makes Up Poll Numbers

It is a time honored Republican tradition to, when faced with inconvenient facts, simply make shit up. Marc Holtzman, GOP candidate for Governor, is about to see if this works on the campaign trail.

Holtzman's campaign manager, Dick Leggitt, admitted Friday that he lied to a Denver Post reporter in an e-mail by fabricating poll numbers that purportedly showed Holtzman's name recognition going from "10 percent to 70 percent and his favorables among GOP primary voters are now just slightly less than (U.S. Rep. Bob) Beauprez's (39 to 42)."

Leggitt also admitted he made up polling results indicating that support for ballot measures Referendums C and D was lagging.

"We didn't have any polling results," Leggitt said during the administrative court hearing.

Holtzman himself also contracted his own prior sworn deposition testimony at the hearing, which was delving into improper coordination between his campaign for governor and a Referrendum C and D campaign.

Holtzman was already the runner up in the GOP race for Governor. These relevations can't help. Put a fork in him. He's done. We can comfortably expect Congressman Bob Beauprez to be the Republican candidate who will face off against Bill Ritter in the fall now. There may not even be a GOP gubinatorial primary at this rate.

Hat Tip to Progress Now Action who found the Denver Post story via Colorado Pols.

Democracy Without Elections

Can you have a genuinely democratic system of government when people don't get to choose between competing candidates in an election? Elected officials who took office without facing an election happen to be the norm in Colorado's special districts.

Two years ago 75 percent of the elections were canceled for lack of competition, according to the Department of Local Affairs.

There are 1,300 plus special districts in Colorado, and most that do have elections hold them on the first Tuesday in May in even numbered years. As far as I known, Denver, with its unified city and county system of government does not have any, but I could be wrong. Much of the suburban metropolitan area does go to the polls on Tuesday, however, in circumstances that Peter Blake at the Rocky suggests are dubious at best, some with significant tax issues at stake.

Special districts aren't alone in a lack of interest, although they are the most acute suffers of the problem. About one in five municipal elections is likewise cancelled in Colorado for lack of candidates.

Contested primaries in races with an incumbent are rare in Colorado. And, even at the state legislative level, a remarkable number of seats go without challengers, often for the very rational reason that a seat is a safe one for one party or another.

Even when elections are held, they are often foregone conclusions. The U.S. House of Representatives returns incumbents to office with jaw breaking frequency, and the average margin of victory in House races in 2004 was 40 percentage points (i.e. a 70-30 outcome in favor of the incumbent). You can count on your fingers the number of districts where a different party was in control before and after the election in a 2004. The number of seats where the margin of victory was seven percentage points of less (i.e. closer than 54-46), was small enough that they couldn't have changed control of Congress for better or for worse. Specifically:

[T]he 2004 U.S. House election recorded an unprecedented lack of competition. Fewer than 3% (12) of the 435 races were won by a margin of less than 7%; only 10 races were won by tight margins of 5% or less. There has never been such a small number of highly competitive races in American history. . . . The average victory margin was 40, meaning the average two-party race was won by 70% to 30% of the vote. Seven of every eight (83%) U.S. House races were won by landslide margins of at least 20% in 2004. Only 23 races (5%) were won by competitive margins of less than 10%. . . . Outside of Texas [where the districts were redrawn], 397 of 403 House seats stayed with the same party.

Is it any wonder that voters tend to be indifferent to politics short of Presidential elections, and perhaps Gubinatorial elections? All too often, the voter's input is all but meaningless, either because there is no competition for a position, or because the outcome will be predictably lopsided, often due to gerrymandering. The cost of gerrymandering is not so much that it distorts the preferences of the people. In truth, the relationship between the number of seats a party wins in Congress, and its popular support, bear, at least, a rough justice relationship. Instead, the real cost is that it so saps the drama out of elections, depriving individuals of much impact on their outcomes, that they threaten the legitimacy of the electoral process itself.

This phenomena, of a system that seems designed to induce apathy, is a greater threat to democracy than the more hailed concerns about the accuracy of modern vote countings systems.

28 April 2006

Downsizing Okinawa

The United States will move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam by 2012 . . . . The move is part of a broader Alliance Transformation Realignment agreement between the U.S. and Japan. . . . finalized April 23, when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Japanese Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga met at the Pentagon to work out cost-sharing particulars[.]

This isn't the only downsizing of a foreign military base the U.S. Department of Defense has undertaken, but it is being done for very different reasons than the major drawdown of troops in Western Europe, and in particular, in Germany. Those troops are being reallocated for strategic reasons. Nobody anticipates a scenario of hostile tanks streaming across the middle of what was once the West German-East German border any more, and the bases have been reduced to a combination of an exotic version of garrison posts in the places like Colorado Springs, and a major military hospital complex convenient to more active areas of conflict in the Middle East.

In contrast, Okinawa remains the most important front line base for the Navy, Marines and Air Force in the event of any conflict with China and North Korea, two nations whose potential threat is the single greatest driver of the current U.S. Navy's structure and is a major component of U.S. Air Force threat planning. No U.S. military base is closer to Taiwan.

The move of U.S. Marines to Guam reflects the fact that Japan is not really comfortable with having so many U.S. forces on its soil.

Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters at the Pentagon. "The idea is to resolve, in one fell swoop, all or almost all of the long-standing issues that have inhibited the alliance going forward.

"It's a very important part, but it's just one part of something that is much, much larger in the relationship between ourselves and the government of Japan," he continued. . . . The realignment limits the burden of the Japanese people but still allows the U.S. to maintain credibility and deterrence in the region. "That's the balance we've struck with this particular arrangement," he said.

Realistically, if troops must move to remove the discomfort that the Japanese feel about the base, the Marines were the right choice. Operationally, the reduced distance to the Taiwan straight is more important to aircraft and warships deploying to confront a Chinese flotilla, than it is for Marines, who, in the tense runup to a shooting war could be put on the ships that they would deploy on and kept afloat closer to the action in any case. And, while it is always hazardous to stereotype, the Marines are much younger on average than their Air Force and Navy counterparts, tend to be more patriotically gung ho, are more likely to bring dependents with them than Navy forces afloat, and in short have more of a potentially tense impact on their Okinawan neighbors. Many do the cultural interface side of their job admirably, but, there are incidents involving Marines and the locals from time to time, and one can imagine that the Japanese appreciate their departure.

Notably, parallel activity is taking place in South Korea, one of the largest foreign bases for the U.S. Army in the world, and the other major U.S. military presence in the region. A significant number of U.S. Army soldiers will be shifted from the border region with North Korea, to Southern South Korea. Strategically, the justification is that a successful North Korean invasion might quickly overrun the border area and someone has to be a backstop to prevent such a sweep from overtaking the country and organize a responsive strike. But, politically, the move will take U.S. troops away from South Korea's urban epicenter around Seoul, into South Korea's provincial hinterlands, in part in responsive to widespread public protests over a number of incidents where U.S. soldiers were perceived as having been given favorable treatment in a fatal traffic accident and other incidents over the years.

"Town-Gown interactions" aren't just minor matters at a foreign military base. They drive the big picture of the military side of American foreign policy, because that is what host country politicians care about when war isn't imminent.

27 April 2006

Soldiers Like Coffee Too

On one of its better days, the Department of Defense has invented a better way for soldiers to make coffee in the field using left over food warmers from MRE (i.e. combat ration) packages, and a special bag that doubles as both a coffee pot and a cup, so that they don't need a canteen and don't have to wash a cup afterwards. Field tests have apparently been a great success.

They still haven't quite gotten to the point of the field expresso machine, but maybe if we get Starbucks and the Italian military working together on the issue, that can be resolved as well. Maybe the reason that they rebid the next generation M-16 was to add this feature. ;)

Non-Existent Constitutional Rights

We live in a constitutionalized society. But, amazingly, there are rights that the constitution doesn't create. A federal appellate decision in the case of Grubbs v. Bailes notes several of those non-rights, which I pass along for your general educational enrichment.

Somewhat disconcertingly, the person who alleged that each of these rights existed was not simply an unrepresented rabel rouser. Instead, he actually had a lawyer, Mr. John M. Butler of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I do not know what he was thinking. Perhaps his appellate brief had a more plausible theory. He has been involved in some other rather odd cases, such as a case where a school district was accused of suspending a student for allegedly casting a hex on a teacher.

No Right To Point Guns At Trespassers

The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, today, noted in an appeal from an Oklahoma civil rights case against police who arrested him for pointing his gun at some people who said were trespassing on his property that (citation to record omitted):

Plaintiff also insists that he has a constitutional right "to point a pistol at someone in the protection of his property." He cites no authority for such a right and this court will not create such authority.

Indeed, the Court also notes that even in Oklahoma, it is a felony to point a gun at someone, even if they are trespassing, so long as they do not threaten to commit a felony in connection with that trespass.

No Right To Have Police Believe You

Also, the 10th Circuit opinion linked above notes that you do not have is the right to have the police believe your version of the story as it decides whether or not to arrest you, rather than the version of the story put forward by the people that the police determine to be victims in a case.

No Right To Make Police Enforce Laws To Your Satisfaction

Finally, the 10th Circuit holds, in the opinion linked above, that you do not have a right to have prosecuting attorneys and police enforce all violations of criminal law to your satisfaction, but instead, merely a right not to be singled out and treated differently from everyone else, for some improper reason, when someone violates a criminal law of which you claim to be a victim. Generally speaking, there is no general, enforceable right to have the police enforce criminal laws for your benefit.

Lesser Warlords

Who Are Warlords?

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield is the highest official in the United States government with primarily military duties. (The U.S. President, while being commander in chief, in theory, in practice devotes only a modest portion of his time to military affairs.) All sovereign nations, with the exception of a handful of very small ones, have an equivalent chief military official. There are about 180 sovereign nations in the world, and dozens of insurgencies, many of which are organized enough to have chief military official of their own. These two hundred to three hundred people are the warlords who, collective, direct and manage all of the world's organized military force.

Donald Rumsfield, however, is extremely atypical of this group of the world's warlords as a whole. None of the others have anything close to his budget to play with (military budgets are to a great extent of a function of national GDP), and only a very few have anything close to the number of personnel he has at his disposal (active duty force sizes are to a great extent a function of national population).

The Greater Warlords.

Total military spending by all sovereign nations in the world combined in 2001 was 835 billion U.S. dollars. (The source for budget and personnel numbers is the 2006 New York Times Alamanac, hard copy, which cites as its source the Institute for Strategic Studies). The twenty largest military budgets (all budget numbers are rounded to the nearest billion) were as follows:

1. United States $322 billion
2. Russia $64 billion
3. China $46 billion
4. Japan $40 billion (240,000 active duty military personnel)
5. United Kingdom $35 billion (211,000 active duty military personnel)
6. France $33 billion (274,000 active duty military personnel)
7. Germany $27 billion
8. Saudi Arabia $24 billion (201,000 active duty military personnel)
9. Italy $21 billion (230,000 active duty military personnel)
10. India $14 billion
11. South Korea $11 billion
12. Brazil $11 billion
13. Taiwan $10 billion
14. Israel $10 billion (164,000 active duty military personnel)
15. Canada $8 billion (57,000 active duty military personnel)
16. Turkey $7 billion
17. Spain $7 billion (144,000 active duty military personnel)
18. Australia $7 billion (51,000 active duty military personnel)
19. Netherlands $6 billion (50,000 active duty military personnel)
20. Mexico $6 billion (193,000 active duty military personnel).

Thus, there are only seventeen other countries in the world that have even 2% or more of the U.S. military budget, and a majority of them are close U.S. military allies.

The top twenty list when it comes to active duty military personnel is similar, although not identical (the numbers shown are rounded to the nearest thousand):

1. China 2,310,000
2. United States 1,368,000
3. India 1,263,000
4. North Korea 1,082,000 (military budget $2 billion)
5. Russia 977,000
6. South Korea 683,000
7. Pakistan 620,000 (military budget $2 billion)
8. Turkey 515,000
9. Iran 513,000 (military budget $5 billion)
10. Vietnam 484,000 (military budget $2 billion)
11. Egypt 443,000 (military budget $4 billion)
12. Iraq (pre-war) 424,000 (military budget $1 billion)
13. Taiwan 370,000
14. Myanmar (aka Burma) 344,000 (military budget $1 billion)
15. Syria 321,000 (military budget $2 billion)
16. Germany 308,000
17. Thailand 306,000 (military budget $2 billion)
18. Ukraine 303,000 (military budget $5 billion)
19. Indonesia 297,000 (military budget $1 billion)
20. Brazil 288,000

The 31 countries listed above comprise the most powerful military forces in the world (perhaps omitting a handful which just barely miss the cut above, but are strong in a particular area, like Greece's significant naval forces). Yet, even among them many at the bottom of the two lists above are comparative bit players compared to military powerhouses like the United States, Russia and China.

Characteristics of the World's Lesser Warlords

There are, at least, 140 sovereign countries not listed above, and likewise, no insurgent force in the world is listed above. This post is really above them, and merely mentions the greater military powers becuase a process of elimination is easier to do, given the number of countries involved in each group.

Every military force not listed above on either list has a military budget of $5.6 billion or less, and an active duty force of under 255,000 military personnel. Most countries not listed have far less money to spend, and far few troops than that. No country not listed above has nuclear weapons.

Looking at foreign naviess leads to a similar analysis. The only country not listed above with a surface combatant (i.e. warship) of destroyer size or larger is Greece, the rest of the countries in the world have no warships largest than frigates, the smallest class of warship in the U.S. Navy (often around 3,000 tons). In addition to Greece, Columbia (which has four submarines) and Argentina (which has four frigates and three submarines) are the only countries in the world not listed above which could conceivably somehow end up hostile to the United States in the conceivable future whose navies have more than a couple of submarines.

Finally, almost no country not listed above, other than South Africa which developed a significant domestic arms industry when it was isolated internationally during the apartheid regime, has its own significant defense industry. None of the countries (or insurgencies) not listed above has the capacity to build military aircraft, or naval ships or submarines, or intercontinental ballistic missiles, or military satellites of its own. Most countries not listed would be hard pressed to build their own tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, rifles, ammunition and anti-tank missiles. In practice, almost every country not listed above buys its military equipment from somebody else in the international arms market (most often, the U.S., Russia, China, or a NATO member), often second hand when a wealthier country's military no longer needs or wants it, and occassional, from transnational companies to which their own industries contribute minor components.

Insurgent military forces are typically even more strapped. The only insurgency in the entire world I am aware of which has used a submarine (and it only has one or two) is in Columbia, and it didn't make it from scratch. I am aware of no insurgency in the world that has a ship as capable as a frigate at its disposal. Likewise, I am not aware of any insurgency in the world that has even a single jet fighter, or a single plane designed to be a military bomber or a helicopter gunship at its disposal. While a number of military insurgencies use light towed artillery pieces, mortars or mobile rocket launchers, I known of none that have a large self-propelled artillery piece (like the U.S. Paladin or the Bradley fighting vehicle based MLRS system used by the U.S. military) or cruise missiles larger than man portable anti-aircraft missiles like the "Stinger" at their disposal. Few insurgencies have even a single tank.

The lesser military powers can be broken up into rich, but small countries and poor countries that aren't third world superpowers. The ranks of the wealthy but small countries include countries like Austria, Denmark, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore and Switzerland, as well as mineral rich countries like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Brunei and South Africa. Countries representative of the less affluent nations include Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Congo (both), Eritrea, Ethiopa, Malaysia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Yemen.

Of course, some countries are intermediate. Where does not fit Serbia, Morocco, or Chile?

Why should we care about these lesser warlords? Because they are the ones doing much of the world's actual war fighting, and many could conceivably end up crosswise with a United States force at some point in time. Better understanding the world's lesser warlords is key to knowing what kinds of tactics we need to train for, what kinds of threats our own military spending needs to be able to counter, and where our vulnerabilities may be. Moreover, because so many of the world's wars are being fought by these types of military powers, there is a wealth of information from which U.S. military planners can derive lessons learned about what does and does not work in conflicts with such military forces, without doing so the hard way, as they are currently doing in Iraq, at a price of American blood and treasure.

Equally important, necessity is the mother of invention. One of the great temptations facing a military planner in the Pentagon is to favor expensive solutions to problems that are only marginally more effective (or even less effective than) less expensive solutions to the same problem. For example, many countries use commercial off the shelf manned general aviation fixed wing aircraft (think cousins of the Cessna and low end Lear Jets) for reconnaisance in low intensity conflict situations, because they can't afford more. Is there a place for that kind of system instead of more expensive drones or helicopters or purpose built reconnaisance systems in the U.S. military?

Reaching those conclusions is a task for another day, but today, I simply note that the lesser warlords are out there in large numbers and deserve more attention.

More Evidence of Sea Change

I have been talking for some time about an apparrant sea change in American attitudes about politics that has seen the tides of public opinion rapidly swinging away from the Republicans. Today's edition of Mile High Delphi provides the latest example of that trend. They have been following the artificial market in political predictions at Tradesports, which has a record as a fairly reliable proxy for informed opinion about the strength of political candidates using methods similar to the way a stock market communicates the strength of the companies traded.

The market at Tradesports only gives the GOP a 53% chance of retaining the US House. That is a dramatic change from the 72% probability they had in November.

Congressional Quarterly appears to concur with this trend, noting that of the nine races in which there is no clear favorite, that eight are currently seats held by Republicans.

The odds of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate, which has only a third of its seats up for election every two years, many of which are not competitive, is far smaller. Tradesports puts the chance of the GOP retaining control of the Senate at 79.7%.

The participants at Tradesports also give Democrats a 60% chance of prevailing in the closely watched 7th CD race, and give Bill Ritter a 48% chance of success compared to 51% for a Republican opponent.

Montana, which Tradesports participants give each party even odds in, is the closest Senate race in the country. Republican incumbent Conrad Burns appears to be in trouble, in part due to his close ties to Jack Abramoff. At least four Democrats are considering challenging Burns in the race. Once promising Democratic candidate and state auditor John Morrison, no longer looks so appealing in this race, but other candidates like Jon Tester do look promising. This is truly audacious, given that Montana has historically been one of the most Republican states in the nation. In 2004, George W. Bush got 59% of the vote in Montana. Burns was first elected to the Senate in 1988, and so is seeking reelection for the third time in 2006.

26 April 2006

Calculus v. Nature

"Nature laughs at the difficulties of integration."
-- Pierre-Simon de Laplace

Hat Tip To Diary of a Black Mathematican.

Top Ten Annoyances Of Modern Life

Progress is a mixed blessing, with steps backward often accompanying the improvements that it brings. For what it's worth, I do believe that progress, in the sense of French political theorist Condorcet of the improving welfare of the average person, materially and in intellectual opportunity, is real. Here is my current top ten list of the annoyances of modern living.

1. Beeps and Buzzes.

Is it the cell phone and if so, which one? Is it the burglar alarm indicating that a door has been opened? Is it the computer and, if so, what does that particular noise mean? Is it a Windows noise? A virus protection noise? A word processor noise? A power supply noise? Or, is it some noise triggered by the web browser? Is it the land line phone? Is it the intraoffice paging system? Is it the fax announcing that a fax has arrived, or been completed? Or, is the microwave telling me that its job is done? In my car is the sound telling me that I have failed to remove the face plate on my twice previously stolen stereo, that I have left the lights on, that I have failed to buckle my seat belt, or that the keys are still in the ignitions when the door is open? Gah! I just can't keep them all straight.

2. Free Services That Don't Work.

The Internet is a freeloaders dream. There are multiple free e-mail services, multiple free blogging platforms, and free Wi-Fi services dotted around every city. You'd be a chump to pay for any of this, except that, when Blogger goes down for 24 hours, or your e-mail account is acting up, or your free Wi-Fi connection stalls out, you can't really complain, as you didn't pay anything for it, even though it disrupts your life greatly.

3. Doctors That Charge More Than Your Insurance Policy Says They Should.

Your typical health insurance policy is drafted to tell you that they have agreements with doctors to accept their payment plus the co-pay stated in the plan. But, sometimes they don't. The amounts typically aren't huge. I was recently charged $49 for a service that my plan said was subject to a $25 co-pay, under a policy with my former insurance policy. But, often the insurance company says that this is between you and the provider, and the provider says it is between you and the insurance company. Doctors also routinely have you sign forms that make you personally responsible for everything that the insurance company is supposed to pay and send you multiple annoying collection letters when the insurance company is slow in paying them, as is often the case. But, if, like me, you work in a business where you are paid by clients who pay by the hour, it is hard to justify the hours a hassling with insurance companys and doctor's billing services over $24 overcharges, and keeping your credit good, and your relationship with someone who may need to take care of you in the future are considerations as well.

4. Phone Companies That Point Fingers At Each Other.

If you ever have a dispute over your phone bill, or your phone service, or a telecommications service provider switch gone wrong, inevitably, you are placed in the middle of several large publicly held companies who all say that the screw up was someone else's fault, even when it clearly wasn't your fault and someone screwed up. Once again, the stakes are so low, that it is hard to justify the effort that goes into fighting it for any length of time, even when you have been clearly screwed.

5. Pennies.

As a result of centuries of inflation, pennies are not worth enough to buy anything, aren't accepted in vending machines or parking meters, cost more to mint than they are worth, and weigh down your wallet. Until the U.S. went off the gold standard, a penny was worth about what a quarter is worth today, and a nickle bought more than a dollar does today. Now, it is hard to find vending machines and parking meters that accept even nickles or dimes.

6. Predatory Gas Stations.

There are two gas stations on my way to work along Speer Boulevard. One is on the triangle of land formed by Speer, Grant and 6th Avenue. The other is about three blocks to the East on Speer, and is the one you pass first on your way to downtown. The first one, just out of sight of the second one, is almost always ten cents a gallon more expensive than the second one.

A similar pair of gas stations, with a similar price differential is found on Southbound Colorado Boulevard between Exposition and Florida. The first is much more expensive than the second.

In short, the first gas station, in each case, is pretty much exclusively designed to exploit people who haven't figured out this scheme. Grrr!!!!!

7. The REAL ID Act.

The next time I go to get my driver's license renewed, thanks to the Congressional mandate of the REAL ID Act, I will have to bring with me a boat load of paperwork establishing facts that I have never had to prove before, and so will the dozens of people in line with me, except that, at least one in five of them won't realize that they need all this extra paperwork and will therefore bicker with clerks for eons only to storm away angry while they try to gather up paperwork that they may not have in their possession at all, like birth certificates, before coming back. Moreover, even the people who do have all of their paperwork in order will take longer to process, and neither Federal grants nor state funds will increase the staffing of driver's license bureaus sufficiently to deal with this massive increase in workload for this departments that have recently seen significant TABOR based budget cuts, so the clerks will be cranky and the waits will be interminable.

8. Spam.

Does anyone actually buy the Viagra I get ads for twelve times a day? Or the watches? Or send money to Nigera? Or take the lame brained investment advice that comes into my in box (and every other in box in the office) every morning? My office probably spends three-quarters of an hour a day deleting the crap, but, since we have to be able to receive messages from strangers, like constituents, political alerts, opposing attorneys and the like, we can't have a very rigid spam filter either.

Sometimes the costs in indirect as well. Word verification has addressed much of the blog spam that was common before I implemented it (and so did many other bloggers), but the result is extra hassle every time I want to post a common or blog post.

9. School Fund Raisers.

My parents hated school fund raising sales when my brother and I were growing up, and so did I back then. Now, my kids are in school and the cycle of life repeats itself. Only, now it happens more often, several times a year. Why must a desire to do cold call selling of stuff no one needs to friends and neighbors be linked with caring about your children's education?

10. Accidentally Deleted Files and Bad Spell Check Programs.

Few things in life are more annoying than spending half an hour or more writing a blog post or a legal brief or a letter or a lengthy e-mail, only to have a technical glitch or time out or save as issue or misplaced mouse delete all of your efforts. A related user interface issue is the spell checking feature of many progerams. Often they give you ridiculous suggestions for correct spellings, or worse, convice you that a correctly spelled word that is not in its vocabulary is misspelled, tempting you you change it.

Well, have a nice day and enjoy the aspects of progress that aren't annoying.

Republican and Religious Right Pedophiles

The barrage of Republican public figures having sex with minors is hard to keep track of without a program. Fortunately, The Sappho Manifesto has provided us with a program to keep track of them all:

Edison Misla Aldarondo: Republican legislator. Sentenced to 13 years in prison for molestation of his daughter & her friend for 8 year period starting when they were 9 years old.

Randal David Ankeney: Republican activist. Arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a child with force. Faces 6 charges related to getting a 13 year old girl stoned, then having sex with her.

Merrill Robert Barter: Republican County Commissioner. Pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual contact & assault on a teenage boy.

Robert Bauman: Republican congressman & anti-gay activist. Charged with having sex with a 16 year old boy he picked up at a gay bar.

Louis Beres: Chairman of the Christian Coalition of Oregon. 3 of his family members accuse him of molesting them when they were pre-teens.

Howard L. Brooks: Republican legislative aide & advisor to a California assemblyman. Charged with molesting a 12 year old boy & possession of child porn.

Andrew Buhr: Republican politician, former committeeman for Hadley Township Missouri, former Tom Delay aide. Charged with 2 counts of first degree sodomy with a 13 year old boy.

John Allen Burt: Republican anti-abortion activist. Convicted of sexually molesting a 15 year old girl at the home for troubled girls that he ran.

Keola Childs: Republican county councilman. Pleaded guilty to sexual assault in the first degree for molesting a male child.

Kevin Coan: Republican St.Louis Election Board official. Arrested & charged with trying to buy sex from a 14 year old girl whom he met on internet.

Dan Crane: Republican congressman. Married, father of 6, recieved a "100% Morality Rating" from Christian Voice. Had sex with a minor working as a congressional page. On July 20th, the House voted for censure of Crane, the 1st time that censure had been imposed for sexual misconduct.

Richard A. Dasen Sr. : Republican benefactor of conservative Christian groups. Convicted of sexual abuse of children, promotion of prostitution & several counts of soliciatation. Sentenced to 126 years in prison. Investigators estimate he spent up to $ 5 million on prostitutes.

Peter Dibble: Republican legislator. Pleaded no contest to having an inappropriate relationship with a 13 year old girl.

Richard A. Delgaudio: Republican fundraiser & Bush pioneer. Found guilty of child porn charges.

Nicholas Elizondo: Director of the Young Republican Federation. Molested his 6 year old daughter & sentenced to 6 years in prison.

Larry Dale Floyd: Republican Constable in Denton County, Texas, Precinct 2. Arrested for allegedly crossing state lines to have sex with an 8 year old child & charged with 7 related offences.

Jack W. Gardner: Republican councilman. Convicted of molesting a 13 year old girl, when the Republican party, knowing of these crimes, put him on the ballot.

Richard Gardner: Nevade state Representative. Admitted to molesting his 2 daughters.

Matthew Glavin: President & CEO of Southeastern Legal Foundation, big player in Clinton impeachment. Arrested multiple times for public indecency, one time fondling the crotch of the officer who was arresting him.

Mark A. Grethen: Republican activist. Convicted of 6 counts of sex crimes involving children.

Mark Harris: Republican city councilman who is described as a "chirch goer". Convicted of repeatedly having sex with an 11 year old girl & sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Howard Scott Heldreth: Anti-abortion activist who gained famed during the Shiavo media-circus. Convicted of 2 charges of raping a child in 2002.

Mike Hintz: First Assembly of God youth pastor, introduced by Bush on the campaign trail & promoted his policies. 2 months later, this married father of 4 turned himself into police, charged with sexual exploitation of a child.

Paul Ingram: Republican party leader of Turston County, Washington. Pleaded guilty to 6 counts of raping his daughters & served 14 years in federal prison.

Jon Matthews: Republican talk show host in Houston. Indicted for indecency with a child, including exposing his genitals to a girl under age 17.

Nicholas Morency: Republican anti-abortion activist. Pleaded guilty to possessing child porn on his computer & offering a bounty to anyone who murders am abortion doctor.

Jeffery Patti: Republican Committee Chairman. Arrested for distributing what experts call " some of the most offensive material in the child porn world."-a video clip of a 5 year old girl being raped.

Mark Pazuhanich: Republican judge. Pleaded no contest to fondling a 10 year old girl & sentenced to 10 years probation.

Beverly Russell: County Chairman of Christian Coalition. Sexually molested his step-daughter, Susan Smith, who later drowned her 2 children.

Larry Jack Schwarz: Republican parole board officer & former Colorado state representative. Fired after child porn was found in his possession.

Tom Shortridge: Republican campaign consultant. Sentenced to 3 years probation for taking nude pictures of a 15 year old girl.

David Swartz: Republican County Commissioner. Pleaded guilty to molesting 2 girls under the age of 11, sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Robin Vanerwall: Republican strategist & Citadel Military College grad, Director of Faith and Family Alliance, member of Ralph Reed's inner circlle who funneled money to/from Jack Abromoff to Reed. Convicted in Virginia on 5 counts of solicting sex from boys & girls over the internet.

Keith Westmoreland: Tennessee State Representative. Arrested on 7 felony counts of lewd & lascivious exhibition to minors under 16 years old.

Stephen White: Republican preacher. Arrested after allegedly offering $ 20 to a 14 year old boy for permission to perform oral sex on him.

Notably, this list doesn't even include the most recent cases (admittedly not yet resulting in convictions) involving senior officials in President Bush's Department of Homeland Security.

I join Sappho in offering "a challenge to anyone who can provide a Democratic/other party list like the one above. Not saying pigs don't exist in all party's....but try me."

25 April 2006

The Odd Origins Of Western State Names.

When it rains, it pours. Boing Boing illuminates for us today, with the weird origins of the names of the states California, Idaho and Colorado.

Weird IRS News

When you are dealing with the tax code, you can't assume anything. Well, almost nothing. Sometimes, you get lucky. While Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s observation in The Common Law in 1881, that "The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience," is often correct, every once in a while the Internal Revenue Service confirms the obvious logical truth, although its need to do so is sometimes disturbing in and of itself, as well as being good evidence of how infrequently tax regulations are updated.

The IRS recently released Information Letter 2006-0025:

This letter responds to your letter dated November 4, 2005. In your letter, you requested information on whether Alaska and Hawaii, after their admission as States, are included within the definitions of “State” and “United States” contained under Employment Tax Regulation § 31.3121(e)-1. The simple answer is that Alaska and Hawaii are included within these definitions of “State” and “United States.”

Alaska and Hawaii are states. Who'd have thunk it?

Hat Tip to the Tax Profs Blog.

Less Than Ideal Litigation Strategy

So, here you are, in Guantanamo Bay, accused of being a terrorist and put in front of a kangaroo court composed of U.S. military personnel. Obviously, then, you should have an opening argument like this one:

I don't want an attorney. I don't want a court. . . . A nation that is an enemy of God is not a leader and cannot be a leader . . . . You judge me and you sentence me the way you want, if this is God's will. . . .God would provide me with rescue, and then you will regret everything.

The "father of two in his late 20s, with bushy dark hair and a shaggy beard," also advised the court through his defense attorney that "he would prefer to be killed than cooperate."

While apparently this approach gets rave reviews in the terrorist's litigation strategy handbook, as it seems to be fairly popular, the more ironic "What is the evidence against me? Tell me and I can tell you if it is wrong or not, but if I do not know what I am accused of, I can't defend myself" strategy, while not much more effective at the trial level, tends to be more effective on appeal.

Weird Ballot Initiative

Colorado is a weird place. We get ballot initiatives like this: "Should an official sick day on the third Friday of each October be declared for the workers of Colorado and designated as St. Hooky's Day?"

Hat Tip to Renegade Crafters.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It reminds us that when politics don't work, the costs can be unthinkably high. The Holocaust killed more people than live in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana combined. There is no safety net. For better or for worse, our democratic system of government vests politicians and lawyers with responsibility for preventing the horrors that men and women can inflict upon each other.

The system that made it happen was designed to encourage people to feel little responsibility for their actions and to look the other way, so that their knowledge they feared they might receive would not morally obligate them to act to stop what might be happening. Only a small minority of decision makers (men like Colorado Senator Wayne Allard) are openly willing to vote to condone and permit torture and other heinous tyrannies. But, far more people (almost all Republicans, for example) are willing to set up systems where preventing those insults to our nation's humanity are someone else's responsibility and to shield themselves and the legal system from the obligation to stop inhumanity from continuing, especially when those hurt are people unlike themselves or anyone they know. Yet, this can be just as insidious in its results. The German parliament didn't vote to kill all of the Jews, it simply gave Hitler, a man capable of ordering that, the power to do so and then looked the other way, because he brought them results that his predecessors had not. He made them feel that they were somebody, that they were moving forward, that their nation worked again, after a long period of chaos and the failure of politicians to solve their problems.

The responsibility to make the political system work is a personal one of everyone who is or could be involved in it. While our system is designed to keep most people, most of the time, from getting close to the dangerous edge, Weimar Germany didn't become Nazi Germany because its constitution was written by a bunch of dolts. Indeed, it was believed to be a model of Western Democracy at the time. It happened because people, outside Germany, who imposed the terms of the Treaty of Versaille, and inside Germany, who set national policy to respond to the pressures Germany was facing, failed to make society work. The people in positions of power made mistakes, and so did the voters who put them in positions of power. Hitler rose to power in a country that was in dire straights. Hitler was placed in power in Germany not from the head of an Army, but by a panicked parliament. Only then did he acquire the Army with which he conquered so much of the rest of the European continent. If the players in the political and legal systems lack the will to stop tyranny then, at some urgent moment, we may fall prey to it. No constitution can prevent a large enough group of people in power from circumventing its goals. Governments can't act unless a large number of bright and powerful people agree to let it happen, and the masses put those people in power. But, a nation of frightened sheep will end up being led by wolves. Apathy and fear are a dangerous pair.

The holocaust is also is reminder that there can be just wars. If the United States had joined the Allies in the war effort a couple of years later, there would have been no such thing as a holocaust survivor. If the United States had joined the Allies a little sooner, many of those killed might have escaped their fates. Some governments are truly so horrible that violence is justified to prevent the greater evil that they can perpetrate if allowed to remain in power. We have ignored Third World genocides too many times when we had the power to prevent them, but not the will to do so.

But, in the same vein, it is worth recalling that often wars are won or lost based on who joins the fight on whose side, as much as they are by how well battles are fought. Alienating potential allies is a threat to national security. Building strong alliances can win wars, or even prevent them. Britain wasn't able to survive and defeat the Nazis on its own. Only with Russian and U.S. help was the Third Reich defeated.

Today is not a day to celebrate. It is a day to remember and ask ourselves what we can do to prevent our world's next great tragedies from taking place. It is our responsibility.

24 April 2006

Conventional Submarines

The latest German conventional fuel submarine is described here. It is typical of modern non-nuclear attack submarines, particularly in that it can stay underwater for weeks, rather than a couple of days as older models did, and is quieter. It is about a fifth the size of the smallest of the American attack submarines and is much cheaper than American nuclear powered submarines. It poses both a more difficult job for American anti-submarine warfare forces when facing them in the hands of opponents, and a policy choice for U.S. military planners who could diversify the U.S. fleet by obtaining some for niches where they might be particularly useful.

Reverse Censorship: Snakes On A Plane

The dog bites man story of the movie industry is a film that cuts out sex and/or violence and/or profanity in order to avoid an R or X rating (yes, I know that they X rating is called X anymore). But, it happens in reverse too. Take the case of the already cult B-Movie in progress called "Snakes on A Plane":

New Line recently requested that the movie's PG-13 rating be switched to R and ordered the shooting of additional scenes, including one with Jackson spouting an expletive like in [Chris] Rohan's [spoof] trailer.

"More power to that," Rohan said. "I love just hearing Samuel L. Jackson blurt out the F-word every five seconds."

Go figure!

Springtime In Colorado

Spring arrived a weak ago, but this weekend it finally really felt like it.

Crocs have replaced Mary Janes. I put in the first round of fertilizer of the year. The hail came down. The allergies are acting up. Every tree is green. Bulbs and wild flowers are blooming everywhere. The brown grass of winter is retreating, at least from our lawn. The annual 4-20 rally downtown went off without a hitch in its haze of smoke downtown, sandwiched between protests over the closing of Manual High School and the desires of the Tancredo crowd to deport eleve million people immediately. The newspapers are reving up their campaign against alcohol in anticipation of prom season. (Not without justification, although the latest after prom traffic death does not appear to be drug or alcohol related.)

Wedding season has also arrived. The Shane Company is busy warning us about the banality of buying an engagement ring in the presence of sock and sticky bun stores, rather than the dignity of a stand alone outfit, which honestly smells about the same, as they have goodies that they cook up themselves. And the fertility associated with spring isn't entirely restricted to animals. We have just welcomed cousin T.J. into the world, who comes quick on the heels of cousin Henry, and the new born children of several friends of the family.

David Harsanyi illustrates the powerful force of cultural change by quoting P.J. O'Rourke who noted that if gays:

want to get married, have children, and go to church, next they'll be advocating school vouchers, boycotting HBO and voting Republican.

While meant as absurd, as Harsanyi spins out, O'Rourke's tounge in cheek strategy is seen by a growing minority of Republicans as the only sensible approach. He notes that after talking to a lesbian couple who have shared their lives for decades that:

In fact, after talking to these 70-something women, I never once sensed that they were out to destroy my marriage, Western civilization or Christianity.

Indeed, while the history is patchy and full of bright spots, Western civilian is also home to some of the brightest spots in gay history (Classics scholars aren't alone in exaulting classical Greek values). At least three of the churches in my part of town, the Metropolitan community church, the United Christian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist church make a point of being welcoming to gay and lesbian Christian families, and even more moderate Christian churches (such as Denver's Central Presbyterian Church, which is on the right side of a fight within its denomination on gay rights issues) tend to be welcoming in this part of the woods. And, as a parent of young children, I can assure you that sharing burden of volunteer parental involvement with two lesbian parents of one of my children's schoolmates, instead of a single harried one, is a decided help to our marriage, as that one extra parent helping out allows me and my wife to put in merely 107% to do what we need to do at work, home and school, instead of 111%.

Speaking of school, did you know that even 1st graders have final exams! Yipes! The one hundred final exam spelling words are now piled up in a stack in our living room offering us delightful breakfast parent-child bonding study time for weeks to come. Although, it is certainly a delight to see your eldest child pick up your youngest child's latest story book and kindly read it cover to cover, stumbling over only three or four words, when our soon to be first grade graduate wouldn't have been able to make out even the title a year ago, although this also means that the adult to adult secret spelling code has now been limited to multisyllable allocutions.

It is also petition time in Colorado. Spring is the time ordained by our state statutes for young people making a little over the minimum wage and a desire to bring about social change to stand in front of grocery stores and in other outdoor gathering places trying to collect signatures for every candidate and issue under the sun, which there happen to be a great many of this year. By summer's end, they will be gone, bound for college or internships with public interest groups, or Alaskan canning factories, or jobs teaching English in Mongolia. In the meantime, I wish them the very worst of luck, so that our ballot won't weigh as much an an infantryman's rucksack by the time we get to election day.

So, whether you have rain, or snow, or fog, or slush, have a fine April shower morning in Colorado.

22 April 2006

Colorado's Economic Squeeze

Times are tough in Colorado.

Gasoline prices are approaching $3 a gallon, a circumstance driven almost entirely by $75 a barrel oil prices in the international petroleum markets. For a typical Colorado family, this means $50 a month or so of unbudgeted expenses. National Public Radio captured the issue well yesterday in an interview with a payday loan company employee who noted that rather than looking for money for the weekend, customers are now looking for money for gas, and as the commentator noted, willing to pay the 300% plus per annum interest rate required to do that with a payday loan.

High prices for natural gas, meanwhile, are driving the fact that one in four families in Colorado are behind in paying their bills from Xcel energy. Rising natural gas prices have cost many households several hundred dollars through the winter heating season than last year.

And, Colorado has more foreclosures per household than any other state in the Union, a marked increase even from a year ago, and foreclosure rates within Colorado are far higher in the Denver metropolitan area than in the rest of the state, with Adams, Arapahoe and Denver counties all having foreclosure rates two to three times that of the next runner up, Weld County. Particularly hard hit have been families with variable rate mortgages because interest rates have increased significantly in the last year to four year highs. Another factor has been lax mortgage lending underwriting, because in an environment of rising real estate prices, even if a family does default on a mortgage, and there is little money down, the lenders is unlikely to take a big loss. The stress that rising energy prices have placed on family budgets is probably another important factor.

It also isn't encouraging that in the last five years:

[M]any of the state's bigger public companies moved right out of state, either picking a new headquarters city or selling to the highest bidder.

A Rocky Mountain News examination found 31 companies that have been acquired or moved since the beginning of 2001. Just 22 larger companies went public or moved to Colorado to replace them.

Colorado families are also feeling the squeeze of perpetually rising health care costs which have far outpaced inflation, which are forcing business owners to choose between cutting pay, dropping the benefit or cutting their own profits. The increased costs are driven primarily by increased billings from health care providers. Health insurance companies haven't been making consistently great profits in Colorado during this period of rising health insurance prices. Indeed, many companies have left the market entirely in the past several years, finding it to be unprofitable, and the only health insurance company that has really done well consistently during the health insurance rate surge has been Kaiser Permanente, which is both an insurer and a health care provider, unlike all of the other insurers in the Colorado market.

The cause to this quintessentially microeconomic issue of rising provider costs isn't entirely clear, but being a microeconomic issue, almost surely is a matter of the laws of supply and demand at work. The supply of providers apparently isn't increasing quickly enough, while demand for their services is apparently surging, I suspect, although I can't prove, because of an aging baby boomer population, and because of new developments in health care that make many more remedies for previously untreatable conditions available, for a price. Much of this, moreover, is paid for by government programs like Medicare, which is essentially a national single payer health care system for all people over the age of sixty-five in the United States. So, the supply of funds to pay for the needs of an older population with more cures available to it, is close to unlimited.

These pressures also need to be superimposed on a key long term trend that has been in place since the manufacturing industry started to fall apart in the 1970s, a trend that has accellerated dramatically during the Bush Administration. While the economy has grown dramatically in the last generation or so, almost all of the benefits of that growth have accrued to a college educated, managerial-professional-technical elite. In inflation adjusted terms, the pay of people who only have high school educations (about half of the population) is about the same now as it was in 1970. As one source puts it:

Most of the growth in real income since 1970 has gone to families in the top 60 percent of household incomes, while income (exclusive of welfare benefits) for those in the bottom 40 percent has barely budged.

This trend has been even more dramatic for African-Americans. While the income gap for comparably educated whites and blacks with less than a four year degree continues to loom as large as it did decades ago, the income gap for college educated blacks has come close to vanishing with college educated African-Americans earning 95% of what college educated whites do.

It isn't coincidental that this stagnant wage growth has coincided with record immigration which has had a particularly notable impact on the market for less skilled labor. For what its worth, the economic argument that immigration has helped suppress wage growth for less skilled workers, while not flawless, is considerably more solid than the more prominent economic argument that immigrants cost the economy more than they contribute to it, which is almost certainly false. But, immigration is not the only cause of this trend, or even the most important. For example, the collapse of the American manufacturing industry as increased technology has reduced the number of workers necessary to conduct the manufacturing operations that remain, and outsourcing has eliminated a large share of the manufacturing of the commodities that we consume from our economy entirely, has played at least as great a role.

The minimum wage, in inflation adjusted terms or other measures independent of nominal dollars (like ratios to mean hourly pay or the poverty line) is at a near record low.

The class that has seen a major growth in their real wealth in the last generation can afford to pay more for health insurance, gasoline and natural gas, and was also often prudent enough, and had enough ability to make some sacrifices now for long term benefits, to secure fixed rate mortgages when rates were low. But, further down the pay scale, the only way families can meet the same standard of living that a similar family could have on the first Earth day, a generation ago, is by working two or three jobs, instead of just one, and many families aren't able to find that additional work. Rising job insecurity, even at the top of the heap, caused by things like the endless tide of mergers, layoffs and reorganizations in big business, have also caused many families who could get by with a single income, or working more reasonable hours, to try to build up reserves while times are good and to have multiple jobs in a family as makeshift form of unemployment insurance.

The push to work the two or three jobs necessary to maintain a certain standard of living has also created economic insecurity. If a family needs 80 hours a week of compensation to make the mortgage payment, and many do, then they can't add a new part-time or full time job to their plate to respond to economic shocks like rising gasoline prices, increased heating bills, or a bigger employee contribution to health insurance costs. Two jobs is a form of unemployment insurance, if you live mostly on one income and devote the other income mostly to savings. But, two jobs is no help if you spend currently everything you have coming in, which a record low negative savings rate in the United States suggests that many people do. Admittedly, some of the savings rates issue is a product of how it is measured. The savings rate ignores the fact that many people save by reinvesting capital appreciation in real estate and retirement accounts which isn't counted. But, at the very least, Americans have fewer savings that can be accessed without taking dramatic steps like borrowing against a retirement fund or house, than they once did.

A newly severe bankruptcy law which took effect last October, while not actually doing banning lower income debtors from receiving a full discharge of their debts, has increased the costs of obtaining a bankruptcy, as the need to get a debtor education course and increased paperwork have increased the transaction costs involved, have made it harder to react at the last minute to a foreclosure or eviction, have made it harder to hold onto a car worth less than the loan, and have made a full discarge of debts virtually unavailable for employed members of the middle class. A national movement of credit card companies, under government pressure, to dramatically increase minimum payments on credit cards at about the same time, has also provided an economic shock for already strapped families. And, an increasing share of families without health insurance has made a medical emergency more likely to become a financial catastrophe than in the past.

Of course, every trend has an upside. Business is booming for health care providers, whose rising charges are the main factor driving the increased cost of health insurance. The job market for skilled nurses is very good right now. Colorado's oil and gas industry is also thriving. And, the foreclosure trend is helping to tame ridiculous Denver real estate bubble prices, particularly at the low end of the market. But, those facing increasing pressure from recent economic trends far outnumber those who have benefitted from them.

There aren't easy solutions to these problems, at least in the short term at the state level. While conservatives often argue that the cure for every manner of economic malaise is a tax cut, the reality is that Colorado's state level taxes are among the lowest in the nation, the federal income tax has withered away to the point that it has become a minor consideration for low and middle income families, and major cuts in payroll taxes would imperil already fragile Social Security and Medicare programs. Contrary to the Bush Administration's claims, Social Security is not about to go bankrupt. But, it isn't as flush as it once was (with the Social Security surplus once financing most of the federal budget deficit). Colorado is also known for its low property taxes. I pay about the same amount in property taxes on my home in Colorado, as I did on a small condo my wife and I lived in before we came here in Buffalo, New York, which had about a tenth of the fair market value of our Colorado residence.

Colorado, and the nation as a whole, is up against economic fundamentals. Oil and natural gas are scarce non-renewable commodities that have an almost inevitable tendency to go up in the long term. The baby boomers are going to get older and new treatments will almost certainly be more expensive before they even further advances in health care make them cheaper. While some people over twenty-five years of age will choose to go back to college and get additional educational qualifications, the vast majority will not.

There are steps that can be taken. One factor in rising oil prices is U.S. saber rattling directed at Iran. More fuel efficient vehicles and greater willingness to put more than one commuter in a single vehicle spurred by higher gasoline prices can reduce the associated economic pressure. The downside of relying too heavily on natural gas to generate electricity (which can be done in many other ways), are becoming apparant. Tighter underwriting standards can better reflect the risks of default associated with variable interest rate mortgage lending, and lending to economically insecure families. Bankruptcy laws can be tweaked. The increases in minimum payments on credit cards that have been such a shock in the short term to people who borrowed in reliance on lower payments, will also help prevent people from becoming overextended in the first place, going forward.

More fundamentally, our policy makers need to roll up their sleeves and think outside the box to find more productive (and hence higher paying in the long run) ways to use the labors of those in the bottom 40% of the workforce than our current economy that puts many people in this class to work mostly as glorified outsourced personal servants, cooking, cleaning and babysitting. We also, as a society, need to rethink the balance between monetary rewards and leisure. Adults in no country in the world have less leisure than those in the United States, and this is not a desirable distinction.

Until we fundamentally remake our economy, the pressures won't go away. We can do that, but it won't happen until it becomes painfully clear that this is necessary. It may not be clear yet, but it has certainly started to become painful, and pain can have a startling ability to focus people's recognition that change is necessary.

21 April 2006

Colorado's Non-Profit Ecology

The Rocky has a list the 100 largest public charities (i.e. 501(c)(3) organizations which are not private foundations) in Colorado by revenue.

The list was compiled for the News by GuideStar, which pulled figures from the most recently available IRS Form 990s in its database. Charities with revenues of more than $25,000 a year must file the form annually.

About 6,200 nonprofits in Colorado now meet that $25,000 threshold. That means almost two-thirds of the state’s 17,700 or so nonprofits are relatively tiny outfits with possibly only one staff member.

In the top 100, forty-eight are hospitals or health care organizations, including all five of the largest, and eight of the top ten. There are nine closely linked to higher educational institutions. There are five major cultural institutions like museums and the zoo. The rest are set forth below:

United States Olympic Committee
Compassion International Incorporated
Young Life
Focus On The Family
Denver Foundation
Community Development Institute Head Start
Fundacion Para La Educacion Superior
Metropolitan Association For Retarded Citizens Inc
Ncmc Inc
Greenlands Reserve
American Water Works Association
Berger Collection Education Tr
Plan De Salud Del Valle Inc
Colorado Open Lands
Food Bank Of The Rockies
Resource Exchange Inc
International Bible Society
Ymca Of The Rockies
Promise Keepers
North Metro Com Svc
Awwa Research Foundation
Mile High United Way Inc
Usa Hockey Inc
Christian Community Foundation Inc
Planned Parenthood Of The Rocky Mountains Inc
United States Swimming Inc
Catholic Charities & Community Services
Goodwill Industries Of Colorado Springs
Music Associates Of Aspen Inc
Foothills Gateway
Rocky Mountain Ser Jobs For Progress Inc
Colorado Coalition For The Homeless
Goodwill Industries Of Denver
Colorado Academy
Colorado Bluesky Enterprises Inc
Arapahoe House Inc
Denver Rescue Mission

Lawyers Gone Wild In Montana

Colorado is a part of what used to be known as the Wild West. But, over time, we have citified ourselves. The same cannot be our legal brethen in Montana. They do things like bring motions demanding that the Court order fist fights (True).

Colorado Judicial Nominees

The Governor has until May 4, 2006 to choose three nominees from the following list of nine people to serve on the three newly created Court of Appeals judgeships the legislature recently created. In the unlikely event that he fails to make a choice, the judiciary itself will make the decision. The nominees are:

* Honorable Angela Arkin, 4000 Justice Way, Division 4, Castle Rock, Colo. 80109
* Steven Bernard, 915 10th St., Greeley, Colo. 80631
* Laurie Booras, 1525 Sherman St., 5th Floor, Denver, Colo. 80203
* Stephanie Dunn, 1899 Wynkoop St., Suite 700, Denver, Colo. 80202
* Jerry Jones, 1225 17th St., 7th Floor, Denver, Colo. 80202
* Honorable Christopher Munch, 100 Jefferson County Parkway, Golden, Colo. 80401
* Blain Myhre, 633 17th St., Suite 2200, Denver, Colo. 80202
* Anthony Navarro, 555 17th St., Suite 3200, Denver, Colo. 80202
* Diana Terry, 950 17th St., Suite 2100, Denver, Colo. 80202

I am only familiar with one of those individuals myself, Jefferson County District Court Judge Munch, so I can't say who the best three candidates would be, and I also have little insight into the individuals who are likely to be appointed given Governor Owen's preferences. Comments would be welcome.

Hat Tip to Colorado Appeals Blog.

Heading Left On The Dirty Air Lobby.

Heading Left first quotes the "Dirty Air lobby" argument to the EPA in favor of not restricting pollution that consists of particulate matter (i.e. fine PM):

While the EPA is correct that there is important new information in recent studies about the association between ambient fine PM and adverse health effects, the Agency has largely ignored the implications of this information. The results of epidemiological studies indicate clearly that the association between air pollution and adverse health effects is complex and that the health effects cannot be attributed to any single component of the generalized air pollution mixture.

We then get the translation of that argument into plainer English:

Yes, yes, and while it is clear that the firing squad killed the prisoner, it is shown that the wound pattern was complex and it is difficult to say that any single bullet was fully responsible for doing him in, therefore the barrage was essentially harmless.

The EPA needs to listen to the scientists regarding the need for tougher air quality standards and to ignore nonsensical arguments like the one above, against this regulation. Of course, being the Bush Administration, this isn't likely to happen when the EPA makes its decision this late summer or fall.

Failure To Keep A Proper Lookout v. Shit Happens

Car Accidents Generally Happen As A Result Of Neligence.

One of the things I've done in my legal career is represent people who have been injured, or the families of people who have been killed, in car accidents. The theory of a lawsuit like this one is almost always "negligence" and one of the common types of negligence attributed to the at fault driver in a lawsuit like this one is "failure to keep a proper lookout."

This is appropriate anecdotally. One of the important factors in one wrongful death auto accident case I handled was a cell phone ringing in a footwell. In another accident the at fault driver admitted to being distracted when traffic stopped suddenly at an exit ramp. There is only one automobile accident case that I can ever recall handling, a fatal one, without that allegation in it with regard to every driver potentially at fault. It was a quite complex multiple vehicle, chain reaction accident where one car spun out of control on a highway causing other vehicles to react to this event.

Now, a new study of crashes and near crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, using videotape to examine driver conduct, shows that failure to keep a proper lookout is far more serious of a problem than previously believed, because it is hard to prove.

Distracted drivers were involved in nearly eight out of 10 collisions or near-crashes . . . . Data from police reports had estimated that driver inattention was a factor in about 25 percent of crashes.

The study also found that:

Drowsy driving increased the driver's risk of a crash or near-crash by four times to six times, the study said. But the study's authors said drowsy driving is frequently underreported in police investigations.

Traffic accidents killed 43,200 people in the United States 2005, and cause hundreds of thousands of serious injuries.

What Is An Appropriate Legal Response?

The article reporting the study also has this reaction:

"I urge legislators not to interpret these results as a need for new legislative initiatives. It is simply not good public policy to pass laws addressing every type of driver behavior," said Lt. Col. Jim Champagne, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

At one level, I think this is right. We probably shouldn't have a raft of new laws outlawing every specific kind of driver behavior one can imagine. Part of the problem is that it is hard to determine what the social benefits of those kinds of behavior are, which makes it hard to weigh the costs of those behaviors against them to determine if they should be banned, even if we do know those costs. In a similar vein, we could eliminate traffic accidents entirely by eliminating driving, but that would have immense social costs of its own.

It isn't that the behaviors involved like eating, drinking, listening to music, or talking to someone on a cell phone are bad. The problem is that the distractions they cause are a problem when they reach the level that causes accidents. But, this doesn't mean that an increased penalty for existing offenses, like failure to keep a proper lookout isn't appropriate, as we now know that it is a more serious problem than previously believed. And, I think that this study also presents strong evidence that some of the details of our fault based automobile accident liability regime should change.

One of the most important things that this new study shows is that driver negligence is a substantial factor in the vast majority of accidents. This study shows driver negligence to be far more of a problem than had previously been established by less searching methods of empirical research, like review of police reports as opposed to the videotapes of accidents and near accidents used in the most recent study. This is important because, as I have noted previously on this blog, one of the most common defenses in a negligence action is the "shit happens" defense. The "shit happens" defense involves cases when an accident happened, but the injured party, often due to lack of access to evidence, can't identify a particular negligent action on the part of the at fault driver that led to the accident.

Inattention either due to a drowsy driver or some distaction like a cell phone or grabbing a coffee is the kind of negligence which is particularly hard to prove unless the at fault driver admits it. A crash both jolts a drowsy driver awake and can cause shock difficult to distinguish from drowsiness. Without videotape, it is hard to establish from physical evidence what the driver was doing at the exact moment of the crash, since the impact disturbs everything in the car and often jumbles an at fault driver's memory as well. Indeed, distractions are often virtually unconscious activities that the driver isn't actively thinking about when they occur, and may honestly not recall after the fact.

But, changes in the tort law rules that govern civil lawsuit for damages in automobile accident cases may be appropriate in response to this new empirical evidence.

Addressing The Problem With Modified Tort Rules.

If studies like this recent one are correct, justice would be better served by presuming that any accident is due to someone's negligence unless proven otherwise. Generally speaking, legal presumptions, which apply in the absence of evidence, produce the most accurate verdicts if they match the empirically most likely state of affairs. This wouldn't be a pure strict liability regime. Injured drivers often end up in accidents due to their own negligence, which is governed by doctrines such as comparative fault and contributory negligence. And, sometimes people who aren't parties to the lawsuit are at fault. But, it is rare for accident to just happen.

Given the fact that truly fault free accidents rare, the current state of the law, which presumes that no one is at fault until an injured party proves otherwise by a preponderance of the evidence, which makes the "shit happens" case the default rule, is not the best one for allocating liability in car accidents. Once the threshold of showing that an accident took place has been met, the likelihood that it was not someone's fault is very low.

A better rule would (1) presume that someone is at fault in every accident, (2) take an even handed stance between the injured party and the defendant by presuming that all drivers in the accident were equally at fault until proven otherwise, which in a comparative fault regime means that the defendant would have to pay half of the damages suffered by the injured party, (3) retain existing Colorado law that place a burden on the defendant to identify any other party who may be at fault if the defendant believes that he or she was not, and a burden on the injured party to join anyone so identified as a party in the lawsuit, and (4) place the burden of proof on a defendant to show no one at all was at fault, as an affirmative defense, if that is the defendant's theory of the case.

This approach also makes the elimination of the strict Colorado rule barring any liability if the injured party was more than 50% at fault desirable, although a more lenient rule, barring liability, for example, for parties less than 5%, at fault, if all other parties combined were collectively more than 50% at fault, to discourage low stakes lawsuits against people only minimally at fault in an accident, might still be appropriate. Ending the 50%+ contributory negligence bar to lawsuits already makes sense, even under existing Colorado tort law. Unlike most states, which hold anyone even slightly at fault responsible for the entire harm caused by an accident if their co-defendants are insolvent, Colorado does not have joint and several liability for tortfeasors in car accidents. Thus, if two defendants are each 30% at fault, but one is insured, while the other in uninsured and insolvent, the insured driver is not responsible for paying the damages owed by the uninsured driver. Why should it matter to a person 45% at fault in causing a serious accident, if the other 55% responsiblity lies with the injured person, or a combination of the injured person and a third party driver?

This would lead to more just results in the relatively common situation where somone is injured in a car accident, but the injured person is unable to prove a specific act of the other driver that caused the accident, often because the only source of proof was the other driver's own testimony regarding inattention at the moment of the accident. Instead, if the injured person could prove that he or she was without fault, the other driver would be presumed to be at fault, unless he could prove the responsiblity of a third party, or facts that show that this was actually a "shit happens" case, such as the not infrequent circumstance in Colorado of a boulder rolling down a mountain onto a highway that forces everyone to react to the sudden emergency. And, if neither the injured party, nor the defendant could show that the other was at fault, the injuried from the accident would be paid for equally by all those involved in the accident, because while it isn't uncommon for multiple parties to be equally at fault, accidents that lead to lawsuits almost involve disproportionate serious injuries by one party to the accident, so tort principals require that damages be shared.

The end result of this new rule would likely be to hold a much larger share of inattentive drivers responsible for their negligence, despite the fact that this kind of fault is hard to prove.

Tort Reformers Are Wrong.

The tort reform movement is a movement whose overall goal is to limit tort liability and to limit damages for injured persons who are successful in their lawsuits. It is funded by institutions like big businesses who often are sued for the harms they cause to others, insurance companies that pay for those mistakes directly, and the defense lawyers who represent them. They frequently talk about the sum total of damages awarded, settlements paid, and money spend litigating claims as a "tort tax", and describe their efforts to limited liability as an economically efficient tax cut.

Tort reformers would probably predictably oppose the changes I suggest above because the make it easier to recover damages in tort, sometimes even in the absence of affirmative proof of fault.

But, contrary to the claims of tort reformers, a system that accurately imposes liability upon responsible parties as a transfer cost is more economically efficient than the no liability regime which tort reformers implicitly are trying to impose. Compensatory damages are not a dead weight loss to society. Instead, they force people to accurately weigh the cost of preventing accidents against the harm caused by the accidents themselves. By creating a more accurate measured economic incentive to avoid distractions which may be hard to prove in court, likely imposed by proxy through insurance companies in many cases, this modified tort regime would improve both fairness and economic efficiency.

This kind of efficiency and accuracy in cases where default rules apply is particularly important now that Colorado handles even small accidents, where the costs of gathering evidence are high relative to the stakes in the case, through a tort regime, rather than the "no fault" regime that previously applied to small accident cases.

20 April 2006

Vote Centers In Denver In August

Denver's election system will transition from the precinct system to the vote center system, where any voter in the City and County of Denver may vote at any of 47 vote centers rather than only at their local precinct, for the August primary in 2006. It hadn't been clear, until today, whether or not this would be implimented in the primary, or only in the general election. The move is a good one, as it allows the kinks to be worked out of the system when the stakes are lower and there are fewer voters involved.

One by one, we are removing problems from the electoral system. Electronic voting eliminated the "overvoting" problem (when someone accidentally votes for more than one candidate in the same race), the problem of ambigious markings on a ballot, and mathematical mistakes in tallying up the results.

Vote centers eliminate the wrong precinct, right county problem, which is one of the most common impediments to voting in the precinct system; almost every precinct has someone who makes that mistake. Ultimately, perhaps we can move from a system of countywide vote centers, to statewide vote centers, so that a voter from Denver can cast his or her vote in Aspen, for example.

We aren't at the end of the road yet. It is still too easy to undervote in the current system (i.e. accidentally not cast a vote in a race), which is a problem that could be easily be 97% cured if voting machines would flash a "do you really mean it" warning if you hit the "cast vote" button without voting on every issue.

Another big impediment to voting is the voter registration process, which should permit people who register to vote on the day of the election to vote, but does not. I'd also like to see the bar on voting for people on parole who are not in custody lifted. A good statewide voter registration database could facilitate this change.

This most intense debate right now is a fear that electronic voting machines can be a device for untraceable fraud or a wrong result due to an undiscoverable software mistake. This fear isn't baseless. But, I don't share the intense democracy is at stake fervor that many people who care about this issue do.

Tampering with an electronic voting machine is a sophisticated fraud, particularly when, as in the Denver system, the machines are not connected to a network during the course of the election. At the end of the day, each machine prints out its results and those paper printouts of machine by machine summarys are tabulated and reported to the election commission.

The current system provides quite a good check against fraud that impacts some, but not all machines at a single polling place (and in a vote center system, there will always be multiple machines at every polling place). Since voters are assigned at random to each machine, and the number of votes cast in each machine and at each polling place (especially with vote centers) is quite large, one can discern using a college freshman statistics class level Chi-square test how likely it is that a disparity in results between one machine and another at a single polling place would arise from random chance. When results are particularly disparate, election officials (including partisan election judges) are given the notice that they need to promptly investigate more carefully for any possible source of error, either in the source code, or otherwise (e.g. a sticky button or a burnt out vote indicator light).

The main checks against a systemic fraud impacting all of the machines at a particular polling place, which is something those on the ground would be powerless to detect in the abstract, are the security under which the voting machines are kept between being programmed and the election (for example, most can not be turned on without a key), and the integrity of the people who have been charged with running the election.

Most people who are concerned about the issue are not primarily concerned about either of these things (after all, if these issues are not in order, a paper ballot system can be corrupted as well, they are instead primarily concerned with the integrity of the people who program the voting machines in the first place, because they are private companies that often have political ties and interests themselves, and the better intentioned people who run the elections rarely have the technical competence to detect this irregularities directly.

Also, there is very little incentive for the system to have systemic fraud in the part of the source code for the machines not particular to a given election. Until the individual candidate details are entered into the system via some sort of data entry interface, the distant corporate officials who wrote the basic software would need to take some very blatant measures to bias the code to favor the candidates that they want to win (such as searching for party affiliation code words and having code that changes votes slightly in favor of certain party affiliations), because their involvement is typically not necessary to take the pre-election step of specifying who will be on the ballot in what order. The easiest way to solve this is to use open source software. But, we haven't gotten to that point yet. In the meantime, we have to keep in mind that this kind of blatant vote theft in the basic software is easily to discern by someone with access to it, could be leaked by anyone with that information with anonymity, and once discovered makes it easy to prove criminal wrongdoing.

Also, the difficulty of directly directing fraud in non-public source code doesn't mean that systemic fraud can't be strongly indicated by results. If results in one election are in line with historical trends for a neighborhood, the likelihood of systemic fraud is very low. If results are grossly out of line with a neighborhood, the likelihood of systemic fraud is quite high. A real vendor level fraud has to be big enough to make a difference, yet small enough to remain plausible. And, in any such fraud, the stakes in terms of lost business and criminal penalties, if it is discovered (and many people with only incidental suspicions may feel a civic duty to report this kind of fraud in a way they might not if mere grey areas concerning money were involved) are high.

Yes, it is possible to use electronic voting machines to cheat. But, a wholistic view of the process as a whole and the means for detecting and correcting deviance in that process, when compared to the often relatively good faith problems with other systems that can have systemic bias effects, gives me more comfort than many who make this a top priority issue.

Also, the reality is that while paper ballots may work fine in Britain or Canada, where only a single candidate race for a single public office is one the ballot at any one time, in the important national MP elections, they are far less workable in Colorado (and most jurisdictions), which customarily has dozens of matters upon which a voter must make a decision at the same time. The experience from those small counties in Colorado that do use paper ballots is that it is a very slow and cumbersome process to count them and that like any human process, hand counting itself has real accuracy issues.