29 March 2007

Semi-Identical Twins

Some twins share more genes in common than ordinary siblings or fraternal twins, but fewer than the identity of genese found in identical twins. This can happen in a couple of ways. As a result, it is biologically possible for a child to have one genetic mother, but multiple genetic fathers.

Two Quotes On War

It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late.

Accordingly , I'm readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I'll, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials - after the fact.

-- Robert E. Lee in 1863

Hat Tip to DefenseTech.org.

In the 1983 movie "War Games", from which the quote below is drawn, Joshua is self-aware computer that has taken over the U.S. nuclear missile launch system. Stephen Falken is the scientist who programmed him. David Lightman is a hacker who set Joshua on a horrible path to destroying the world. Jennifer is his aerobics instructor girlfriend.

Stephen Falken: Except, that I never could get Joshua to learn the most important lesson.
David Lightman: What's that?
Stephen Falken: Futility. That there's a time when you should just give up.
Jennifer: What kind of a lesson is that?
Stephen Falken: Did you ever play tic-tac-toe?
Jennifer: Yeah, of course.
Stephen Falken: But you don't anymore.
Jennifer: No.
Stephen Falken: Why?
Jennifer: Because it's a boring game. It's always a tie.
Stephen Falken: Exactly. There's no way to win. The game itself is pointless! . . . . .
[later, after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

I conclude that we learned something in 120 years.

Wash Park Prophet Wins Westword Best Of Award

I'm honored to receive a Westword Best Of Denver Award.

Best Online Ramblings of a Renaissance Man: Wash Park Prophet


It's hard to pigeonhole Andrew Oh-Willeke, the erudite scribe behind the Wash Park Prophet blog. Is he a hard-nosed gadfly? A bookish legal theorist? A flighty postmodern philosopher? A romantic poet? In fact, he's all four -- and much more. One day he'll be crunching numbers on gang members in Colorado prisons, the next he'll be detailing the many judicial rulings that have relied on Wikipedia. After that, he'll write some verse based on a real-life Denver tourist who found the homeless more helpful than the cops. Then he'll expound on what society's obsession with zombie attacks suggests about the human condition. The result is sort of like a college semester squeezed into a web page -- minus the homework and the parties.

28 March 2007

Saving The Republic

More pressing the global warming, peak oil, the health care crisis, a lagging national education system, or a growing divide between the rich and the poor, is the fate of democracy in America.

President Bush has allowed and enabled two or three dozen senior officials, whom it is hard to describe as anything other than evil (although clearly they have their twisted reasons) to do immeasurable harm to our nation's national security, international stature, and constitutional intregrity.

Their acts have caused more deaths in Iraq than a genocide in Rwanda did.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that even if it happened at the direction and behest of Donald Rumsfield himself, that our courts offer no recourse to people who "were hung upside down from the ceiling with a chain until unconscious; locked for days in a phone-booth-sized wooden box while hooded and stripped naked; placed before a mock firing squad; put in a cage of live lions; electrically shocked; and sexually assaulted." The Bush Administration has many war criminals in its ranks.

The court of international public opinion will not be so forgiving. Courts of law in Germany and Italy are, as I write this, pursuing legal cases based on the illegal behavior of American officials conducting an inquisition-like war on terror in our name.

These few dozen senior officials have carried out their violent and cruel plans over the objections of hundreds of members of Congress, hundreds of decent people in his administration, and many millions of people in the general public who are actively trying to end this national nightmare. But, their efforts seem to fall on deaf ears.

President Bush remains determined to continue a futile war without end, despite the fact that majorities in both houses of Congress have voted to adopt binding legislation to put the nation on a path towards withdrawal from the four year old war in Iraq. Alberto Gonzales remain in office as Attorney General depsite having lost the confidence of Congress. Karl Rove continues to have the President's ear, despite the fact that he has been implicated as one person involved in leaking a covert CIA agent's identity. One of the architect's of the President's illegal agenda is now a federal judge, another has gone on to become a tenured law school professor.

Impunity remains the norm for everyone who have violated civil rights under color of law in the Bush Administration.

Particularly disturbing is the fact that this can continue in a democracy, long after public confidence in these policies has collapsed. The voters made clear that they didn't like what the administration had done at the elections of November of 2006, but forcing the President's hand to change course has proven to be painfully difficult.

Democracy really isn't that old as a form of government. While the United States is a young nation, only one or two other Democratic regimes on the planet have been around longer. Most have been interrupted repeatedly. France has has multiple dictatorial regimes since the French Revolution gave it a first shot at democractic government. Spain's democratic regime is only a generation old. The Democratic regimes in Germany, Italy and Israel, to name a few, are only a little older. Many of the world's democracies in the Third World have yet to experience two consecutive democratic changes of power. There is a notion called the "end of history" that says that we have figured out how to run human affairs in a way that will continue indefinitely. But, how can we be sure that a form of government that has only been around for less than 250 years can last?

One of the big picture lessons since about 1960 in world politics has been that democratic government does not come naturally.

Almost every country freed of colonial rule since then promptly collapsed into one party rule, dictatorship, or intermittent democracy in which coups have been as pivotal as elections. Iraq is typical of them. The failure of the Iraqi public to embrace its new, post-Iraq war democratic regime has defied Western conventional wisdom about what the people of the world want.

One of the most powerful rising forces in the world today is Islamic fundamentalism. My personal belief is that it is largely a counterrevolutionary response to the dramatic changes in people's way of life that globalism and technology have brought about. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that Islamic fundamentalism is not interested in democracy. Sunni Islamist insurgents in Iraq want a new Shah. Shiite Islamists in power in Iraq seem more united in their fealty to their religious patriarch than to anything else. Most of the remaining absolute monarchies in the world are Islamic. Hundred of millions of people in the world have looked at Iran and the Taliban on one hand, and at the United States and Europe on the other, and decided that they like Iran and the Taliban better.

After breaking from decades of one party Soviet rule in the USSR and Eastern Europe, most of us had bright expectations for democracy in its wake. Yet, Russian under President Putin, has been roling back democratic reforms, Belarus and Uzbekistan have degenerated to an even worse state than under Soviet rule, and many of the other successor states of the Warsaw pact aren't doing much better. There have been bright spots, especially near the old dividing line between Eastern and Western Europe, but it turns out the democracy takes more than a good constitution.

Some of the democracies that have managed to endure in the Third World, like the one in India, have struggled dearly and remain question marks when it comes to the long term future. Corruption and other flaws in India's democracy's ability to serve its people has spawned a largely grass roots Maoist insurgency there, and that isn't the only insurgency that nation faces. India's democratic regime likewise seem to teeter on the brink of survival at the top, in the face of ethnic hate and corruption. Israel and Italy both seem incapable of forming stable coalitions, and have been plagued with corruption. Would American democracy have survived the wave of corruption scandals that, in addition to the Iraq War, so influenced voters in 2006, if it weren't so well established?

I don't know if democracy as we know it is sustainable, or if we are doomed to fall into the authoritarian vision of government that President Bush and his inner circle seem to hold so dear? Do we just need a slight course correction, or are deeper historical forces at work? The glass seems half empty today.

Listening To The Wrong People On Gitmo

The Denver Post, citing the New York Times as its source, argues that Guantamo Bay remains open because President Bush has relied on two of the least well regarded members of his administration for advice.

President Bush should have listened to Robert Gates in January as the newly appointed defense secretary repeatedly urged that the American prison in Cuba be shut down as quickly as possible. The facility holds nearly 400 detainees, suspected in some way of being complicit with terrorists.

Gates argued the prison had such a tainted reputation abroad that any legal proceedings held there would be seen as compromised. It was a view supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials who discussed moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. military brigs. . . .

[I]n the end, objections by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Dick Cheney carried the day . . . and the prison remains open.

Why is it so hard for President Bush to realize that he should listen to his own Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, rather than to his disgraced Vice President and Attorney General, in matters of national security?

Alberto Gonzales has lost the support of almost every Democrat in Congress (he did't have support from many of them in the first place), and a number of Republicans in Congress, because documents disclosed by the Justice Department make clear that he lied to Congress about the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys. The Inspector General of the Justice Department has revealed that while Gonzales has been AG, the Justice Department routinely broke the law by spying on American citizens even though their powers to do so legally were greatly expanded by the PATRIOT Act. Even his staunchest supporter, Colorado's own Ken Salazar, has been forced to start to come to terms with the fact that his friend is a crook.

Dick Cheney is one of the least popular men in the United States today. According to a CBS News/New York Times Poll taken March 7-11, 2007 of 1,362 registered voters, just 18% have a favorable opinion of the Vice President, while 48% have an unfavorable opinion of him. His Chief of Staff, Scotter Libby, is a convicted felon. There is a strong implication that Libby leaked a covert agent's identity at the behest of his boss. Cheney has been the strong voice in the administration for torture and against the rule of law, from the beginning. He's offered to resign, but the President, unwisely, didn't take him up on the offer.

President Bush is not innocent. The better angels of his administration have repeatedly and resolutely urged him to do the right thing. He received a bold warning that an attack on Americans by Osama bin Laden was coming and did nothing. The CIA and State Department told him that the aftermath of the Iraq invasion would turn out as it in fact has turned out. His generals told him that they didn't have enough troops at the beginning of the Iraq War to conduct it properly. High officials in the administration have told him that his regime of torture and extralegal detention to fight a "war on terrorism" was wrong and perhaps even made him a war criminal. He has remained determined in the face of advisors giving him the chance to do the right things, to instead harm our country.

26 March 2007

Rancid Milk

I've lived near the Albertsons grocery store near Broadway and Alameda in Denver for about seven years. These days though, I don't shop there much. Why? Because this Albertsons store routinely sells rancid milk.

For the first few years I shopped there, I bought a bad gallon of fat free milk from them maybe once a year. The rest of the time, it was fine. But, at some point, after having about three out of four of my most recent fat free milk purchases go sour within a day, despite "sell by" dates to the contrary, I gave up.

I still do go to Albertsons every once and a while when milk isn't on my list. And, since then, every six months to a year or so, I have had to stop by Albertsons for something, and I have convinced myself that surely my previous experience was a fluke. After all, this is a large, publicly held company with thousands of customers who could complain, which is regulated by the health department. And, if they keep putting milk up for sale, somebody must buy it, which shouldn't happen if it is usually bad. But, on all but one occassion since I stopped regularly shopping there and bought milk, I wound up with a gallon of rancid fat free milk again when I did so. My most recent experience with bad milk from Albertsons was this month, about six or eight months since I last bought milk there, when it was also rancid. Thus, in my experience, about 80% of their fat free milk purchases over my last ten or so purchases from this Albertsons have been rancid.

Even if my experience is atypical, it is extremely likely, given my experience, that an unacceptably large percentage of their milk is rancid when sold. Assuming that each purchase is independent of every other purchase made of that kind of milk at that time of day, and that the percentage of milk that is bad is the same (which implies a binomial distribution), given my experience, there is roughly a 99.8% chance that at least 30% of the fat free milk that they sell at the times I usually go the their store is bad, and a roughly 98% chance that at least 40% of the fat free milk they sell at the times I usually go to the store is bad. There is roughly a 94% chance that at least 50% of the fat free milk that they sell at the times I usually go to the store is bad. I would consider even a 10%-20% bad milk sale percentage to be grossly unacceptable, something that even my small sample size makes almost statistically certain to be an understatement of the problem.

I doubt that they are faking due dates, although that is a possibility. I don't shop at any other Albertsons locations, so I don't know if this is a problem across the company. I assume that there is probably something wrong in the storage facilities or milk handling process at that Albertsons location. Who knows? Maybe their store is the last stop on a long delivery run to other stores. Maybe the milk gets dropped off before the stocking shift arrives at work, and it routinely sits on an unrefrigerated shipping pallett for a couple of hours. It might even being confined to the part of the dairy section where they keep the fat free milk, all the way at one side of the cooler. I don't buy other kinds of milk very often, and have never had a problem with their soy milk in the middle of the same cooler, but then again, soy milk doesn't really have to be refrigerated at all to stay good.

Could I have brought this up with a manager and gotten a refund? I suppose I could have, particularly if I took the rotten milk back with me to the store. But, I would surely be interrogated about whether I had left it out of the refrigerator too long (I didn't, I'm neurotic about putting milk away, as my wife would confirm), I would have to produce my receipt, and more importantly, it would be a hassle. I also don't believe it would produce any systemic change going forward. If that was the case, others doing the same thing would have solved the problem long ago. Why should I bother to spend an unpleasant hour or so on a busy day getting a refund on a $3 and change purchase, that won't solve the problem in the long term, when I can solve the problem going forward by shopping at any of six other grocery stores within easy driving distance of my home? As an attorney, I make money by the hour, and it simply isn't worth my time to hassle like that over a problem that can be solved going forward some other way.

Albertsons probably loses many thousands of dollars of business it would otherwise have gotten from my family each year as a result of this problem, and I'm sure, I'm not the only one who does the same thing. This one little problem could easily be costing the store hundreds of thousands or even a few million dollars of business each year. While the neighborhoods to the West of the store are less prosperous (and have grown to make up a larger share of the store's customers in recent years), the neighborhoods to the East are full of finicky people who are likely to act as I have in this situation and shop elsewhere.

The rancid milk problem probably isn't a public health threat, at least to anyone with a functioning nose or set of taste buds. You know it is bad before you've ingested any significant amount of it. So, I don't feel a great civic obligation to pursue the issue beyond my own self-interest. But, the fact that this store could so persistantly operate in a way far below commercial standards for so long doesn't impress me. What else are they doing wrong that I don't know about? Is it any wonder that Albertsons, the larger company, went on the aunction block and was purchased and split up, if this is how they do business?

20 March 2007

Are Legal Booby Traps Legal?

Suzanne Shell, most recently in the news for receiving unauthorized practice of law sanctions from the Colorado Supreme Court in connection for her advocacy on behalf of parents facing termination of their parental rights, is back in the legal news again.

This time, it is in connection with a Colorado lawsuit against an internet archiving company and its board of directors, involving her website. Shell, of course, represents herself in the case. She claims a right to sue because the company archived her website without paying the price she insisted upon on the face of her website. About a month ago, a Colorado district court ruled that her suits for conversion, civil theft, and state and federal organized crime counts failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, even without considering any disputes of fact raised by the company.

Three individual parties in the case (the board of directors of the archiving firm), who faced only the organized crime counts, were not formally dismissed in the same order, but the ruling implies that they should be entitled to a dismissal on the merits, because the charges against them were held not to state a claim against another necessary party to the claim. A motion to dismiss the claims against them on the merits and for lack of personal jurisdiction is pending.

But, the Court left standing Shell's claim that there was a breach of contract against the company, at least until the facts about contract formation can be hashed out further. The Court also declined even to determine if the common law of contracts or the Uniform Commercial Code applied to the case.

Shell claims that the company entered into a contract by continuing to archive her site on an automated basis when the site contained a notice that doing so would create a contract. The company, obviously, disputes that claim.

In effect, she left a legal booby trap on her website, and this archiving company ending up triggering it. Now, the world gets to see if the booby trap works. If it does, it would destroy Google and every other internet search engine's stock price overnight.

The fact that the terms of the alleged contract involve confiscatory amounts of money and other legal impediments mitigates against finding that there is a contract, or in the alternative, that the contract is void because it is unconscionable or an improper penalty parading as a liquidated damages clause, as a matter of law.

It is highly unlikely that Shell will prevail on the merits, probably before the case goes to trial, although precisely why isn't completely clear.

Hat Tips: wendy at Colorado Confidential, slashdot, Information Week, and Eric Goldman's Technology & Marketing Law blog.

19 March 2007

Congratulations Meredith!

Colorado has a winner (7th place) in the prestigious Intel Science Talent search, which nets her a $20,000 scholarship:

Meredith Ann MacGregor, 18, of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., who studied the mechanisms behind the Brazil nut effect, in which granular particles separate according to size when they're shaken.

The Intel Science Talent Search rewards the kind of research that PhD scientists would be proud to have published. Colorado, Boulder, Fairview High School (a public high school in the Boulder Valley School District), and of course, Meredith Ann MacGregor and her friends and family, have something to be truly proud of here.

16 March 2007

Of Lemmings and Back Room Deals

Image from here.

I refuse to be a political lemming. For all that people complain about the cat herding nature of political leadership, I prefer it to the alternative of blind obediance. If our political leaders need to herd cats, it is because our elected officials are awake enough to think for themselves and have their own opinions. It beats the kind of "democracy" we saw in the former Soviet Union. The fact that I am a Democrat is more a matter of corrolation between my own ideas and those of the party, than it is a matter of fealty to an ideology.

This doesn't mean that there isn't a place for back room deals and public unanimity. I'm not a fan of the importance of the idea that all discussions leading up to political decisions be made in public, so long as the decision makers are ultimately on the record about who put language into proposals and who supported or opposed it in the end. The social dynamics of a public debate often make compromise impossible; there is strong pressure in that context to stick to your guns, despite all evidence that does not support your position. Public debate too often has the ethical grounds of college debate team competitions. But, frequently, when people on opposite sides of a disagreement can be presented with the facts and discuss matters confidentially in a forum where they won't lose face, especially if the agreement is brokered by someone they both respect, they can find common ground. Preserving that common ground with the social pressure that can come from public unanimity can be necessary to accomplish something.

So, when does it make sense to be a gadfly, and when does it make sense to silently accede to a back room deal? The question answers itself to some extent.

The most legitimate reason for holding your tongue in politics is to preserve a compromise that has already been reached between the interested parties. But, when no deal has been reached and it is a matter of setting forth the terms of the debate, it is legitimate to independently point who is right and wrong on the merits, without regard to general political commitments. Indeed, honest observers, whether or not they are participating in the decision making itself, have an obligation to look at issues based on the facts at this stage, and not just based upon who does or does not support a measure. Majorities don't have a monopoly on the truth, and the masses often taken cues from political leaders whom they rely upon to look into the issues more carefully than they can.

An Independent Liberal's Manifesto

With the discussion above as prolog, it isn't surprising that, notwithstanding conservative Senator Lieberman's disservice to the notion, I am an independent liberal. While few people would confuse me, or my blog, for being conservative, I do often end up on the "conservative" side of debates in liberal forums like Daily Kos or political discussions at my very liberal alma mater. This is because I do have independent positions on most issues.

Politics and Government

I think that the model of how politics works that underlies most progressive efforts at campaign finance reform is deeply flawed. Much of the same thinking goes into my distrust of many of the most common mechanisms of direct democracy. I'm concerned about the "criminalization of politics." While there is a place for public protest in politics, I think that most progressives overrate its importance.

I think we need to look at where legislative oversight of the executive has teeth, and where it doesn't, and adjust the non-constitutional aspects of the separation of powers to reflect those facts, for example, with more probing oversight of federal judicial appointments, and less oversight of lower level executive branch appointments.

I think that historical progressive distrust of state courts in favor of federal legal remedies needs to be rethought for the time being, as do the basic contours of the mechanism for securing government accountability.

While I'm no ideological fan of privatization and tend to think highly of governmental employees, I also recognize that overkill in civil service protections and public procurement rules can so flummox how things get done in the public sector, that they create an incentive to privatize. Opposition to privatization needs to go hand in hand with civil service and government procurement reform.


While I am no Chicago School economist, and I think that progressive mostly have the right economic goals, I think that many progressives throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting even well established principles of economics. I don't think that corporations or business is evil or that they have a particularly strong upper hand in the legal system, even though they are often indifferent to anyone else and can't be trusted to be honest when their own self-interests are at stake.

One not particularly partisan area of economic regulation where I differ with a lot of people who consider themselves left leaning, is land use regulation. I think that the status quo of zoning regulation is profoundly flawed and is a case where government regulation has contributed to a great many of our urban woes.

While anti-discrimination laws have virtue as a powerful moral statement that is valuable because it does influence private behavior, they also do a poor job of punishing the worst offenders, while attaching great liability to offenders who are inarticulate but oftne less culpable.

Looking at the energy issue has convinced me that nuclear power has powerful virtues, and that there are short and medium term limitations to renewables as an energy source. I'm even willing to give the concept of "clean coal" a fair, but skeptical hearing. When it comes to energy conservation, I'm a big fan of old fashioned solutions like freight rail and buses, rather than merely jumping on the new technology can save us band wagon.

Health Care

I care more about getting universal health care than I do about achieving it through a particular method like a single payer system, which faces political obstacles unique to that approach. I am in the camp of those who think that insurance companies aren't the number one obstacle to universal health care. Universal health care is a moral issue. The means by which we provide it is not.


While I think that strong public educational institutions are important, I recognize that there are real limits on the ability of schools to level socioeconomic inequalities, and believe that the American educational system frequently grants credentials not commensurate with the value that was added in the course of obtaining those credentials. We have far more graduates per capita than many other industrialized countries that are actually better educated. Teacher's education is a particularly weak link. Another problem is the belief that we must postpone life determining educational decisions until the latest possible moment to preserve children's opportunities in life, which is often counterproductive.

Criminal Justice

I am not opposed to gun control, but also recognize that there is strong statistical evidence to show that gun control short of gun control at a widespread national level, has only a limited ability to impact crime rates. My opposition to the death penalty in many situations where it is applied now is more practical than moral. I see the importance of having an effective means to revisit possible wrongful criminal convictions while recognizing that the current habeas corpus system does so poorly.

I do think we have a moral obligation to impose more serious sentences for serious offenses than we do for less serious offenses. While I don't like draconian sentencing systems, many of which are simply irrational, I also recognize that recidivism is a serious issue that can't practically be addressed with education and treatment alone. We do underutilize proven methods of rehabilitating convicted offenders. But, some repeat offenders do need to be locked up for a long time for the public good.

War and Peace

Rather than being a pacifist, I think we need to re-evaluate when military force is appropriate, sometimes using when we don't now, and other times not using it when we have in the past. Rather than fixating on the overall size of the defense and intelligence budget, as many progressive do, I care more about making these institutions work better and developing a mix of resources and principals for using them, that is better suited to our needs.

Bottom Line

Why ruffle feathers with the home team? Because political parties are just a tool for getting government to do the right thing. Right now, most of the time, the Democrats have it right, and the Republicans are screwed up, so that is the best tool. But there is nothing sacred about either party's virtues.

15 March 2007

Booze in Prison, Who Knew?

Sometimes the Denver Post's lack of curiosity about their own stories baffles me. Consider this little understatement today (emphasis added):

Sablan and his cousin, Rudy Sablan, 47, are the first federal defendants in Colorado to face the death penalty since Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. They were charged with killing Estrella Oct. 10, 1999, after a night of drinking and fighting in the cell they shared at the federal penitentiary in Florence in central Colorado.

Since when can prisoners drink and fight with impunity in a federal prison cell? I mean, I know this is the "Wild West" and all, but since when do they have booze on tap in prison cells? Even I have to walk down the hall from my bedroom if I want to get drunk at night. But, honestly, what the hell is going on in Florence?

Alberto Gonzales stopped by the neighborhood three weeks ago and said everything was up to par, but my understanding is that even one of his earliest and most loyal supporters, Ken Salazar, is now calling for his resignation (I may be misinformed, my source had this second hand). Gonzales and creditability don't belong in the same sentence. The guard-union rep was less confident than Gonzales was:

warning that thin staffing has put prisons on the brink of disastrous riots as the nation's federal inmate population approaches 200,000.

Supermax union president Barbara Batulis, who accompanied Gonzales, said terrorists housed there still are able to communicate with followers in Spain and Iraq. . . .

New surveillance technology at Supermax and other prisons ignores the core issue of inadequate staffing, Gage said. "Those cameras will not replace correctional officers. And electric fences? We're not talking about escapes here. We're talking about safety within the walls," he said. . . .

In recent days here, outbreaks of violence prompted tower guards at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary adjacent to Supermax to fire lethal and nonlethal rounds to stop inmates from killing one another, said Ken Shatto, union president at the penitentiary.

"Today I'm trying to head off full-blown riots," he said. "That's where I think we are headed. This is no good for the safety and security of staffers and inmates alike." . . .

Threats to kill staff members have increased to about 110 last year, double the number in 2005, said chief union steward Bob Snelson, who represented guards last fall before an arbitrator who found dangerous understaffing.

Guards lament that, after a Justice Department inspector general's report and lawmakers focused attention on problems at Supermax last fall, federal prison chiefs began moving staff from the neighboring penitentiary and medium-security prison to Supermax.

"It's a shell game with bodies," Batulis said. These moves increased pressures at the other facilities, where riots in January left several guards injured.

Isn't there some middle ground between putting everybody naked in solitary confinement and having enough guards to notice a couple of guys drinking and fighting all night in their cell before the guards arive to be taunted with the loser's entrails?

13 March 2007

Crazy People Gather At My Blog

Sad, but true. All sorts of crazy people have gathered in the comments to a blog post I made last year about Kent Hovind, who is a criminal who pretends to be a creationist. Incidentally, he was convicted.

Defense Spending Shifts To Ground

The last Department of Defense budget proposed by Rumsfield was a singularly uninspired status quo budget. Now, with Secretary Gates in place, the military is bowing to the reality that non-war related expenditures must be cut to pay for war related expenditures in a supplemental appropriations request:

To free up $3.1 billion to fund the “surge” boost – about 4,700 for Iraq and 3,500 for Afghanistan – the White House sent Congress amendments to the fiscal 2007 Wartime Supplemental request March 9.

The amendments cut:

5 F/A-18G Growler electronic warfare planes (-$375 million)
5 C-130Js (-$388 million)
2 F-35 Lightening II JSFs (-$389 million)
1 CV-22 Osprey (-$146 million)

The list also includes a decrease of over $800 million in Navy operations and maintenance funds that would have gone to pay for “naval forces supporting combat forces in Iraq" . . . .

Among other additions, the White House asked for:

$1.2 billion for Army urgent needs gear, including up-armor kits and MRAP vehicles
$250 million for Marine Corps MRAP purchases
$27 million for small arms and other equipment for Afghan army training teams

What is an MRAP by the way? It is a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle. In other words, it is a next generation replacement for the armored humvee's patrol duties that is purpose built for the job. There are actually three kinds:

The trucks come in three categories, from the small - a 7-ton truck that holds six passengers - to the colossal - a 22 1/2-ton mammoth that carries 12 passengers. By comparison, General Motors' Hummer H3 weighs about 3 tons and a military tank around 71 tons.

The model made by one contractor costs about $1 million each.

Patent Law Broken

Everybody but pharma thinks patent law protection for intellectual property is too strong and discouraged innovation.

Hate At The Top

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States military, General Peter Pace, is a powerful and bigotted man who acts on his bigotry.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he supports the Pentagon's 'don't ask, don't tell' ban on gays serving in the military because homosexual acts 'are immoral,' akin to a member of the armed forces conducting an adulterous affair with the spouse of another service member. Responding to a question about a Clinton-era policy that is coming under renewed scrutiny amid fears of future U.S. troop shortages, Pace said the Pentagon should not 'condone' immoral behavior by allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. He said his views were based on his personal 'upbringing,' in which he was taught that certain types of conduct are immoral.

Despite the wave of resignations and/or removals from office we've seen in the U.S. military lately, from the Secretary of Defense, to the Secretary of the Army, the the Army's Surgeon General, to the military's point man on treatment of detainees, to the commander of the Walter Reed Medical Center, we still haven't seen enough. Pace needs to quit, now, or be removed from office.

Bad Immigration Judges Yanked From Bench

It is an open secret that our immigration courts are broken. A first partial solution, the removal from judicial duties of some of the bad actors, is now underway.

An immigration judge in New York who has been repeatedly rebuked by federal appeals judges for his hostile questioning of asylum-seekers was relieved of courtroom duties yesterday and reassigned to a desk job . . .

The circuit courts have been overwhelmed with asylum appeals since the Bush administration curtailed an internal immigration appeals process, and have complained of a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions and bullying conduct by immigration judges, who are not part of the independent federal judiciary. . . . 11 of the nation’s roughly 215 immigration judges had been temporarily suspended from courtroom duties since June, “based on concerns about how they were conducting immigration proceedings.” Some have since returned to the bench, he said.

Last month, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, took the unusual step of recommending that the Board of Immigration Appeals, a Justice Department internal review panel, scrutinize all Judge [Jeffrey S.] Chase’s decisions pending on appeal. . . .

Judge Chase is not allowed to speak to the news media. But an immigration lawyer close to him, Peter Lobel, said the judge seemed almost relieved to be off the bench yesterday.

“He said, ‘Maybe when I look back at this in five years it may have been for the best,’ ” Mr. Lobel recalled. . . .

But before long, incredulous tirades became his trademark in many Chinese asylum cases, according to court records and interviews with a dozen lawyers. Openly frustrated with a pattern of boilerplate claims that he suspected had been concocted by smugglers, he adopted “an inquisitorial mode,” said Thomas V. Masucci, a lawyer who represented many Chinese asylum-seekers in his court.

The tables turned after appeals reached federal court last year. In scathing decisions, the court rebuked Judge Chase for “pervasive bias and hostility,” “combative and insulting language,” and remarks “implying that any asylum claim based on China’s coercive family planning policies would be presumed incredible.”

Mr. Lobel described the judge as devastated after a stinging Second Circuit decision was published last year in The New York Law Journal. “He said, ‘I learned my lesson, but some of these cases are still in the pipeline,’ ” Mr. Lobel said then.

The recommendation that all such cases be reviewed came in a Feb. 21 ruling in which the Second Circuit overturned Judge Chase’s decision to deny asylum to Aboubacar Ba, a Mauritania native, in 2004, and to find his application for asylum “frivolous.”

Not only did Judge Chase’s decision show “a plethora of errors and omissions,” the court said, but his tone during the hearing was unacceptable.

The panel pointed to a ”disturbing” incident in which the judge appeared to tread on lawyer-client privilege when he asked Mr. Ba if he had lied to his lawyer: “Yes or no?”

“’It is inconceivable,” the panel wrote, that Judge Chase, “as a judge and lawyer, would not know the impropriety of that question.”

12 March 2007

New World Foods

What foods did Europe, Asia and Africa lack prior to 1492? A few of them were:

Maize, potatoes, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, tomatoes, pineapples, lima beans, sweet and chili peppers, tapioca and the turkey.

While I don't entirely trust this source, I trust most of the sources it cites, which state that some other New World originals (not all food and supplemented by this source) include: llama, alpaca, guinea-pig, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, manioc (aka cassava aka tapioca), squash, pumpkin, arrowroot, cacao, cactus, avocados, quinine, cocaine, tobacco, rubber, Jerusalem artichoke, custard apple, star apple, chickle, and cascara, cashews, blueberries (some species also found in East Asia), and wild rice.

Also, notably, while horses originally evolved in North America, they went extict in the megafauna extinction wave that the continent experienced 10,000 years ago or so, and weren't restored to North America until the 1500s. Other notable introductions to the Americas include: cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, honey bees, wheat, Asian rice, Okra peaches, pears, watermelon, bananas, olives, and chickpeas.

Closing The International Tax Gap

Every politician wants easy ways to raise revenues. Few are more beautiful than getting money from people who are already cheating on their taxes, or are abusing tax laws to artificially reduce their taxes in unintended ways.

This international tax gap isn't part of the official tax gap measures by the I.R.S. because it is hard to measure. But, changes in international taxation could raise $50 billion or more a year, with almost no pain to legitimate taxpayers. A detailed analysis of what can be done to address the problem is set forth here.

Posting Pace and Software Matters

I'll take a moment note that I have, since December, cut my overall blog posting pace from about six posts a day at my prolonged peak (at all the places I write) to more than one but less than one and a half posts a day, a reduction of 75% plus in my posting frequency.

It is frustrating to see good posting topics slide by without comment -- particularly those that concern issues I've been following for some time like new disease cures, military procurement developments, tax law changes, or state politics. But, from a quality of life perspective, it has returned blogging for me to being a soothing near daily discipline, as opposed to a frantic rush to find all the news that's fit to print. Some people do 6 a.m. communion services most mornings; I start my day with a blog post and a medium mocha when I can.

Also, please note that I don't always publish final drafts. While I don't generally pull an entire post after I've put it up, I will frequently edit posts for form and substance for as much as an hour or two after I put them up, and will frequently edit for form and accuracy even later if an old post attracts notice elsewhere, without noting that I've done so. Major new content added more than a few hours after the original posting, I will generally note with "Update" language or something to that effect.


While I'm in a meta mood, I'll also note that my Xtreme tracking blog use monitor, which somehow got erased and disrupted when I transitioned to New Blogger (which incidentally solves almost all of the gripes I previously had about the platform and did so relatively painlessly), has now been replaced by industry standard "Site Meter," which honestly, I don't love as I was attached to some of the reports Xtreme tracking provided (and yes, I know, I could have both, which would be way too much information). But, Site Metere has the virtue of being consistent with what other people (like Colorado Confidential) use, if I ever need to report site traffic to anyone else.

I've also made some tweaks to the blogroll and learned how to do it on New Blogger. One of my missions for the next month or so, if I choose to accept it, is to check the blogroll for bad links, delete those that are no longer favorites, and to add a few new ones. Another even more ambitious pie in the sky goal, is to go back and tag a lot of Old Blogger posts, so tag searches would be more useful.

Business is booming here at the law office, so my more ambitious projects, like adventures in Linux, are still some way off. I've heard good things about MS Office 2007 and bad things about Windows Vista, but those are also issues too grand to take on right now. I also have this big, supposedly wonderful program in the law office called Time Matters, that the firm bought months ago, and no one has slowed down enough to actually figure out, which is higher up on the priority list, as is setting up a few more rules to automatically transfer incoming e-mails to their proper folders in Outlook.

Hotmail has been behaving badly latestly, for reasons I'm not at all sure of (posts moved from the inbox don't seem to stay moved and have seemingly random impacts once moved on what remains on the screen). This has sucked up far too much of my time with no long term results.

East Colfax Improving

East Colfax Avenue has a reputation for being one of the most decrepit thoroughfares in Denver.

This doesn't come from nowhere. Miles of it are an endless stream of pawnshops, check cashing stores, seedy motels that will rent you a room by the hour, strip clubs, sex shops, bottom of the line used car lots, prowling prostitutes, and the odd tattoo shop, thrift store and marginal mom and pop ethnic restaurant. It is a haven for those who are down on their luck and looking for cheap thrills.

Most of the people you see walking its sidewalks seem to have lost their shavers last week and have ripped clothes, and the prevailing image for the women who aren't prostitutes seems to be the 1950s tart look. Most of the storefronts in these areas also have a 1950s feel, harkening back to the pre-interstate highway era when U.S. Highway 40 was a genuine route for interstate commerce, updated with iron security fencing.

But, while the stretch of East Colfax from Quebec going East almost to Peoria (where the new Fitzsimmons Medical Complex begins) retains its unsavory character for the most part, the stretch of East Colfax from Quebec to Broadway is slowly turning itself around.

The City and the local business improvement district, have been making an effort for a long time, with the Orwellian claim that Colfax is Denver's Main Street. This is manifestly untrue -- both the 16th Street Mall and 1st Avenue between the Cherry Creek Mall and Cherry Creek North fit the description better.

But, redevelopment efforts are frequently accompanied by new names. The "North Capitol Hill" neighborhood, which abuts Colfax to the North for a couple of miles, for example, has been rechristened "Uptown" and a gentrifying part of the notorious (but historic) "Five Points" neighborhood has been renamed the "Coor's Field neighborhood" to break old stereotypes.

More than governmental action or sham name charges are at work, however. The improving part of Colfax is bordered on the South by Cheeseman Park, Congress Park and Mayfair, all solid urban residential neighborhoods. To the North, Uptown is gentrifying, and Park Hill (the Northern part of which is the most affluent predominantly black neighborhood for probably 1,000 miles) is continuing to hold its own. Quebec is now carrying traffic onto Colfax from the massive new middle class Stapleton development to the North, and the massive new upper middle class Lowry development to the South, onto East Colfax, enroute to downtown.

The small city of people who have moved into lofts in downtown proper, LoDo, and the South Platte neighborhood (upwards of 6,000 in less than a decade), and the slow gentrification of the Highland neighborhood just to the West of downtown, has also made East Colfax a convenient route for folks heading East, many headed to the new Fitzsimmons medical complex between I-225 and Peoria on East Colfax.

For much of its length, particularly in the areas where it is improving, East Colfax is a last holdout of ghetto conditions wedged between rather affluent residential neighborhoods. This is particularly striking from Colorado Boulevard to Quebec, where million and multi-million dollar mansions fill both sides of the tree lined boulevard that is 17th Avenue, just two blocks from East Colfax (which is located where 15th Avenue should be) where beggars roam, drugs are sold in the open air, and whores own the night. The "East Colfax effect" likewise vanishes within three blocks to the South.

East High School, on East Colfax near York, is one of the last remnants of Denver's desegregation era schoolscapes, and anchors the improving section of East Colfax on the East, bolstered by the newly relocated Tattered Cover Bookstore (from Cherry Creek), record store (relocated from my West Washington Park neighborhood) and restaurants.

East's High School's attendance area draws from both affluent neighborhoods to the South, and working class and middle-middle class minority neighborhoods in North Denver (including some of the economically healthiest predominantly minority neighborhoods in the state), giving it an integrated and, alas, somewhat internally self-segregating, student body, something that has disappeared from most other Denver public schools with an end of busing for desegregation purposes accompanied by the resegregating effects of school choice.

Because of its substantial draw from more affluent neighborhoods, East High School has managed to hold onto a "critical mass" of middle class kids. This has caused it to become one of the better academically performing public high schools in the city. This in turn has discouraged middle class families from using school choice to flee the school in overwhelming numbers.

Reports on programs specifically trying to integrate East at the high school level, and reports from places like the Bell Policy Center, suggest that what is going on at East is good for all involved -- affluent kids, and less well off kids alike.

Anchoring the improving area on the Quebec side are Johnston and Wales University (a culinary school the prevented the old University of Denver law and fine arts campus from deteriorating), the prestigious Denver School of the Arts (relocated from the Byers neighborhood within walking distance of my home), and Stapleton's new Denver School of Science and Technology.

In between, a revitalized National Jewish Hospital complex provides a little band-aid for the vitality lost as University Hospital and Children's Hospital have moved to Fitzsimmons.

Honestly, it is hard to imagine an East Colfax Avenue that has recovered, although the trends seem to indicate it is headed that way. It crosses many city council districts and its health has gotten intense, thoughtful attention from the city council as a result. We have yet to see the impact of newly adopted "form based zoning" along the street. The Ethiopian community in Denver has helped keep the area from absolutely hitting bottom by starting new businesses there, picking up some of the slack left by Greek town on East Colfax, which has remnant businesses but little remaining cultural character in the larger neighborhood.

Trends, even slow ones, can gain an inertia of their own. The surrounding area has proved resilient in the face of the loss of Gove School and a lot of hospital activity (the St. Luke's Hospital had already consolidated with the Presbyterian Hospital in the area, creating a very successful Post Properties redevelopment where it once was, and some of the University Hospital area on Colorado Boulevard is also well on its way to redeveloping).

While the 1970s era of community redevelopment has been roundly criticized in retrospect for its top down, command and control remaking of reluctant neighborhoods, those who live through it rarely feel great hostility to the more organic form of gentrification we've seen in Denver. Departing property owners are paid off handsomely with improving property values. Low rent leases are not renewed piecemeal, rather than en masse. Blocks transform one house at a time. New businesses seem good when they arrive. Old businesses that leave frequently amount to blight themselves.

But, ultimately, the same question is presented by any gentrification, tactfully done or otherwise. What kind of future does this portend for those who used to live there, who stay poor, and who have to move on? Where to do they go? Is poverty a zero sum game, or can people forced out of one bad situation be pushing into a better situation, with more coping options for those who leave?

The issues come up gradually in a place like East Colfax, but they are no less real.

09 March 2007

Denver's 2007 Municipal Election Predictions

Coyote Gulch brings us (courtesy the Denver Post), the candidates for the 2007 municipal elections in Denver this Spring. I'll handicap the races as much as I can now. My predictions are based on name recognition, political clout, and the degree to which the campaigns involved have their acts together. These are predictions only, not necessarily endorsements. The truth of the matter is that I know only a little about many of the candidates. Voting will be by mail only. If no candidate wins a majority in the first round, a second round between the top two vote getters is held. Karen Morrisey has some thumbnail biographical details on many of the candidates at her website. The candidate descriptions below are based largely on Google research and what I've heard around town.

Too Close To Call

There is one race where I'm not prepared to make a prediction, Council District 3, which has seven candidates running, all of whom have active in their community, but none of whom are clear front runners in the race.

District 3 (departing incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez): Antoinette Alire, Niccolo Casewit, Paul Lopez, JoAnn Phillips, Mark Roggeman, Ben Romero and Kathy Sandoval

I know nothing about Antoinette Alire.

Niccolo Casewit is a politically active community member and architect with an agenda that could be summed up briefly as inclusive gentrification.

Paul Lopez is a SEIU organizer who defines the phrase ''community organizer.''

JoAnn Phillips appears to be a community member active in her Presybeterian church and local public meetings as a citizen, who is also a patron of the arts, but the name is fairly common, so this may not be accurate.

Mark Roggeman is a long time Denver police office and evangelical Christian who is active in Haven Ministries and has devoted himself to ministering to those entangled in cults.

Ben Romero is the Vice President of the Board of Adjustment in Denver, which handles zoning appeals. He is a Spanish speaking community leader.

Kathy Sandoval is a neighborhood activist who is a leader in the group "Safe Streets Now!" which trains citizens to define their neighborhood standards of conduct and provide them with tools to enforce these standands using the civil justice system. They accomplish this by working with neighbors to organize blocks, form teams with police and city officials, training residents to use small claims court, mediate and negotiate solutions.

Predictions In Open Races

In the following races, I have placed in bold the most likely candidates to win at this time, although both District 7 and District 8 are likely to produce run off elections, rather than being deciced in the first round of voting:

Clerk and recorder: Stephanie O'Malley and Jacob Werther

Stephanie O'Malley, while not strictly an incumbent in this newly created elected office, is the appointed clerk and recorder for Denver right now. She is an attorney who was previously director of the Department of Excise and Licsense, and serves on a number of organizational boards. She is also the daughter of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Jacob Werther is the deputy public trustee in Denver.

District 7 (term limited incumbent Kathleen MacKenzie): Julie Connor, Chris Nevitt, Dennis Smith and Rochelle 'Shelly' Watters.

Chris Nevitt is a community activist has been planning this campaign for about a year, has the backing of much of the state level political establishment in the area, and works at a labor sponsored think tank. Conner and Watters, both of whom have experience as city council aides, are both strong candidates likely to make it into the second round, at least. Dennis Smith is a teacher at South High School who lost a city council race against MacKenzie.

District 8 (term limited incumbent Elbra Wedgeworth): Sharon Bailey, Carla Madison, Greg Rasheed and Darrell Watson

Darrell Watson is a former neighborhood association president, and a businessman who has been active in the community. Carla Madison, who is president of a neighborhood association, and Greg Rasheed, who is an executive director of a neighborhod association are strong candidates as well and are likely to make it into a runoff election. Sharon Bailey is director of policy and research in the Denver auditor's office.

Incumbents Will Prevail

I will boldly predict that all of the incumbents (marked with an (I) below) running this year will win their respective races, and will do so in the first round of voting.

Mayor: John Hickenlooper (I)* and Danny Lopez
Auditor: Dennis Gallagher (I) and Bill Wells
District 1: Rick Garcia (I)
District 2: Jeanne Faatz (I)
District 4: Ike Kelley, Peggy Lehmann (I) and William Rutherford III
District 5: Marcia Johnson (I), Mitchell Poindexter and Ronald "RJ" Ours
District 6: Charlie Brown (I)
District 9: Waldo Benavides and Judy Montero (I)
District 10: Jeanne Robb (I)
District 11: Michael Hancock (I)
At large: Carol Boigon (I), Carol Campbell and Doug Linkhart (I)

I give my best wishes to everyone committing themselves to these important campaigns.

07 March 2007

Denver Politics Blog Debutes

Here's the link to the new Denver Politics blog.

SML Coffee Defunct

SML Coffee, at Washington and Speer, previously received in this space, is out of business, as I discovered walking to work past it this morning.

06 March 2007

Colorado History

One of my hobbies is thinking about how history could have been different. You look for pivotal events that have defined the way the world is now. NewMexiKen has a great one that I was previously unaware of from February 28:

It was on this date in 1861 that Congress organized the Territory of Colorado and stole the Rio Grande headwaters, the San Luis Valley and a big chunk of plains from New Mexico.

I've often wondered why that territory wasn't part of New Mexico, and now I know.

Speed Limits Don't Make You Safer

Speed limits tend to be artificially low and when they are out of whack they are ignored.

This doesn't make people safer. Left Off Colfax quotes the Colorado Department of Transportation on the issue:

“Before and After” speed studies show that there are no significant changes in vehicle speeds after speed limits are changed. “Before and After” accident studies usually do not show any significant change in accident rates after speed limits are increased or decreased. National studies go further and say that “it is generally at the upper boundary of a speed range where crash involvement rates are lowest.”...

Traffic investigations have shown that most people will drive the roadway as they perceive the conditions and will ignore a speed limit that is unrealistically too low or too high. A realistic speed limit is voluntarily obeyed by the reasonable majority and more enforcement effort can be applied to the unreasonable few who drive too fast or too slow. . . .

An appropriate, “just right” speed limit will result in the maximum number of vehicles traveling at about the same speed, thus reducing conflicts caused by speed differentials.

The 85th percentile speed, that speed at or below which 85% of the traffic is moving, is widely accepted as being closest to that “just right” speed limit - a case of Majority Rule. . . .

Several studies have demonstrated that 85th percentile operating speeds typically exceed posted speeds. These studies also show that the 50th percentile operating speed either is near or exceeds the posted speed limit.

He also cited the National Cooperative Highway Research Program which notes:

[A] review of available speed studies demonstrates that the 85th percentile speed is only used as a “starting point,” with the posted speed limit being almost always set below the 85th percentile value by as much as 8 to 12 mph.

Speed limits are a classic case where empirical fact should drive the law and doesn't.

Born To Be Addicted?

Rat studies show that there may be a physical predisposition to cocaine addiction, characterized by a shortage of dopamine receptors. The abstract:

Stimulant addiction is often linked to excessive risk taking, sensation seeking, and impulsivity, but in ways that are poorly understood. We report here that a form of impulsivity in rats predicts high rates of intravenous cocaine self-administration and is associated with changes in dopamine (DA) function before drug exposure. Using positron emission tomography, we demonstrated that D2/3 receptor availability is significantly reduced in the nucleus accumbens of impulsive rats that were never exposed to cocaine and that such effects are independent of DA release. These data demonstrate that trait impulsivity predicts cocaine reinforcement and that D2 receptor dysfunction in abstinent cocaine addicts may, in part, be determined by premorbid influences.

In other words, rats, and quite possibly people, becomce thrill seekers and addicts because it takes more to thrill them.

Hepatitis E Vaccine

An experimental vaccine for hepatitis E has proved nearly 96 percent protective in a test among soldiers in Nepal. . . . Other hepatitis vaccines don't work against hepatitis E, and there's no effective treatment for the disease that it causes. By some estimates, one-third of the world's population, mainly in Africa and Asia, has been infected at some time. A hepatitis E infection causes fatal liver failure in 1 to 3 percent of patients showing symptoms.

From Science News (subscription only) (with their source).

Scooter Libby Guilty (Updated)

A Washington D.C. jury of eleven has found I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, 56, guilty on four of five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice charges, after ten days of deliberations, following a five week trial. Libby resigned from his post as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney when he was indicted in 2005. Libby leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, and then lied about it to FBI investigators. He faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million if he had been convicted on all counts. As it is, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. A maximum sentence is unlikely in this case.

UPDATED: The sentencing guidelines appear to call for an 18-37 months sentence. But, a sentence of as much as ten years would be plausible is the uncharged crime of covering up the crime of disclosing Plame/Wilson's identity was included in setting the sentence.

The only count upon which is was found not guilty was the third count, making false statements. Libby was found guilty on the obstruction of justice charge, a making a false statement charge, and two perjury charges. For the record, Daily Kos had the news before CNN did.

While an appeal is almost inevitable, and Libby will remain free on bond pending appeal, once sentencing is complete (sentencing is set for June 5), this conviction manifestly displays the corruption that exists in this administration all the way into the White House itself. It is also yet another feather in prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's cap. And, on appeal, every defense win in the trial process is a loss for the defense in the appeal process (since that issue can't be appealed), and every loss for the defense at trial is a potential win on appeal.

The counts (per CNN):

Count one: Obstruction of justice [Guilty]
Alleges that Libby intentionally deceived the grand jury about how he learned, and "disclosed to the media," information about Valerie Plame Wilson's employment by the CIA. . . .

Count two: Making a false statement [Guilty]
Alleges that Libby intentionally gave FBI agents false information about a conversation he had with NBC's Tim Russert regarding Valerie Plame Wilson, who is married to Joseph Wilson. . . .

Count three: Making a false statement [Not Guilty]
Alleges that Libby knowingly gave the FBI false information about what he had told reporter Matt Cooper of Time magazine regarding Valerie Plame Wilson. . . .

Count four: Perjury [Guilty]
Alleges that Libby knowingly provided false testimony in court about a conversation he had with Russert. . . .

Count five: Perjury [Guilty]
Alleges that Libby knowingly provided false testimony in court about his conversation with reporters regarding Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA employment.

05 March 2007

Elven Super Carriers

The U.S. Navy has as its goal 12 aircraft carriers (CV or CVN type). In March there will be eleven. Departing John F. Kennedy was notable for being one of the few non-nuclear powered supercarriers left in the U.S. Navy. In addition, the Navy has a dozen amphibious assault ships in two different classes, used mostly by the Marines which can carry both helicopters and Harrier fighter jets that would be classified as aircraft carriers in any other world navy.

[O]n March 23 the aircraft carrier [USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67)], launched in 1967 and commissioned a year later, will be stricken from the rolls of active navy ships. . . . with Kennedy having launch and recovery equipment problems over the past few years and not having her flight deck certified to operate fixed-wing aircraft, we really have been operating with that reduce number of carriers for a while now.

The author of the quoted story screwed it up, prematurely counting the USS Kitty Hawk, which will retire around 2008 when the USS George H.W. Bush enters service, as decomissioned. When the USS George H.W. Bush enters service, and the USS Kitty Hawk leaves service, the only non-Nimitz class aircraft carrier will be the USS Enterprise. The next class of aircraft carriers has been dubbed the Ford class, and construction on the first ship in the class began in 2005. No other Navy in the world has more than three aircraft carriers, and the U.K., which has them, is on our side. The U.S. has 23.

Unless we plan on attacking Iran, this decommissioning will not seriously harm U.S. military power, and as the quoted author notes, it really only reflects the status quo.

From Defense Tech.

Urban Ways and Means

The fiscal challenges faced by Denver are typical of urban central cities almost everywhere. Indeed, Denver does better than most. But, it is worth identifying some of the key issues, which I do below, before even considering improvements to the status quo, which is a matter for another post.

1. Central cities have disproportionate service burdens.

People commute to the city during the day to work, and people travel to the city in the evenings and weekends to partake of its entertainment, cultural and shopping opportunities. Relatively few people from the central city, in contrast, go to the suburbs to work, play or shop (with the exception of purchasing automobiles where sales taxes and zoning preferences have driven dealers to the urban fringe).

Also, central cities tend to have more than their share of the metropolitan area's poverty and crime. The crime is in part a product of higher actual populations during most waking hours than the city's residential population, and is in part of product of higher proverty. The poverty is in part a function of the transportation needs of the poor, and is in part a consequence of the fact that most suburbs were designed with an intent to make them unliveable for the poor -- by offering little affordable housing, by having few service providers for the poor, by having relatively little common space, and by being inaccessible to those without cars. Some suburbs, like Cherry Hills, which largely comprised of gated residential communities with expensive homes and private streets, have made this a fine art.

Thus, one of the key objectives of urban ways and means, is to find ways to directly or indirectly, tax non-residents who use urban services.

One strategy is to regionalize. Many of the Denver metropolitan area's services frequented by non-residents, like the football stadium, public transportation, and the scientific and cultural facilities in the city, are funded by regional special districts. The city's water system is also regionalized, although much of this happens by having suburban water system buy water wholesale from Denver Water and then resell it to their own citizens at retail. Similarly, most welfare programs, while administered at the county level, are financed largely at the state level. But, financing for services like jails and policing, which are driven by poverty and waking hours population, are financed locally.

This also explains the popularity of occupational taxes (which tax workers employed in the city), lodging taxes (on hotel rooms), sales taxes (paid by non-resident and resident shoppers alike), and of the Gallagher Amendment (which disproportionately taxes business that can pass on their tax burdens to those who do business with them) in places like Denver. Taxes that can only capture the residential tax base, like income taxes and property taxes, are hurt by this aspect of central city life.

Often to get decent city services, central city residents hve no choice but to pay more than their fair share for those services, subsidizing often more affluent non-residents who use those services.

Interestingly, in Denver, at least, school choice has had the reverse service burden effect. About 30% of the school aged children in Denver don't attend the city's public schools. While this has left Denver trying to carry underfilled school real estate and deprived the Denver Public Schools of state funds based on enrollment, it has also reduced the number of children whose educations must be financed in part out of the city's property tax base. Some of those school aged children attend private schools, but many attend neighboring school districts and stretch those districts' property tax funds.

2. Central cities tend to have less affluent residents.

A disproportionate share of wealthy people in most metropolitan areas live in suburbs. This strains the ability of residents to pay sales and property taxes, for example. Ability to pay taxes is closely linked to disposable income, and central cities often have a metropolitan area's lowest disposable income per capita.

3. Local taxation is characterized by a race to the bottom.

The link between tax levels and revenue is quite different at the local level, than at the federal level where the Laffer Curve is largely a myth.

Most local taxes can be avoided by doing business elsewhere or living elsewhere. If sales taxes in one locality are high, a business can locate outside the that locality and shoppers can try to shop elsewhere. If property taxes in one locality are high, there is an incentive to locate where they are cheaper. An occupational tax encourages businesses to create jobs elsewhere. Every locality needs to fund some services, so few localities can afford to offer minimal taxes. But, the race to the bottom is still there.

Some states, particularly in the Northest, face similar tax pressures, but the competitive pressure to lower taxes to avoid tax evasion isn't particularly strong in Colorado, because most urbanized areas in Colorado are inconveniently far from the state line, and because the nearest major urban centers (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Omaha, Wichita, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Sante Fe and Albuquerque) are too far away to offer tax base competition. Colorado's taxes are low, largely as a function of state politics, but many taxes wouldn't shift much economic activity out of state if they were higher.

4. Growing out of tax constraints in not an option.

Most central cities are landlocked, or close to it, surrounded by suburbs that have laid claim to neighboring territory. While infill is possible, and few central cities have been as aggressively adding new development as Denver, it is simply much harder for a central city to grow dramatically, than it is for a small town surrounded by open fields. There are real limits on how much property tax base can be increased in a central city, even with dramatically pro-growth policies.

Thus, impact fees are rarely an important potential source of revenue for a central city, and don't make sense in any case, as central cities tend to have underutilized infrastructure as a result of surbanization, rather than overtaxed infrastructure. Even when a central city needs new infrastructure, it is usually relatively cheap to add on to the existing system, as opposed to the need to start from scratch in many surban and exurban areas. For example, expanding a water system to a new urban subdivision may require only a few hundred years of pipe to link into the nearest water main. In an exurb, it may take many miles of pipe to do the same thing.

5. Many local government costs are mandated.

Many local government services are legally mandated, and like jail costs, largely outside local government control.

A single tough on crime district attorney or judge, neither of whom can be removed by the people who have to pay for jails can easily drive up jail costs, and state law sets most sentencing policy.

Local school districts have to educate every child who shows up at their door.

Local governments have to hold elections, maintain the streets, put out fires and provide public order, no matter water.

There are costs at the fringe, like parks, that can be partially restrained, and one can provide more or less police service, for example, but there are real hard and soft limits on minimum government spending.

6. Local government costs tend to rise.

Local governments are in a poor position to control costs. The long term economic trend in the United States has been for goods to drop in real prices while services grow or hold steady in real prices. Many local government services are labor dependent, in a way that makes it hard to use technology to increase productivity. Teachers, cops, fire fighters and public hospital workers aren't easily replaced with machines. Local governments, for both political reasons, and because they can't credibily threaten to relocate or close down shop if costs get too high, are frequently unionized and frequently provide pretty decent wages and benefits to their workers.

03 March 2007

It's The War, Stupid.

Speaker of the United States House Nancy Pelosi spoke at the Colorado Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner this evening. There were a record 1900 or so Democrats in attendance, at one of the most smoothly run events of its kind in party history.

Her speech opened with extensive local color (today, it so happens is the anniversary of passage of the law that made Colorado a state), and recognition for the Colorado delegation of Democrats in Congress in connection with the accomplishments of the first 100 hours of the session.

But, the core of her speech was about Congressional opposition to the Iraq War. She hammered on this issue at length. She noted that bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress support the troops, but oppose escalation in Iraq. She noted that the Bush administration is deploying troops without the training they need to succeed in Iraq and is treating veterans poorly when they come home. She noted that the President has ignored the advice of his own generals regarding the need for stronger regional diplomacy to address the underlying causes of the conflict in Iraq. She noted that the President is not paying attention to the war in Afghanistan and that the generals there say that there is a real risk that al-Quedda and the Taliban will regain power there. She set forth an alternative plan for Iraq involving a shift first towards missions like training Iraqi soldiers and force protection, with an ultimate goal of prompt withdrawal. She made the case that our current involvement in the Iraq war is not making us safer, is not advancing our values, and is not improving the situation. In her view, Iraq is an obstacle preventing the nation from addressing the real threat it faces, which is terrorism.

My summary is not a quotation, or even made from written notes. But, the point is that Nancy Pelosi's speech focused, outside local niceties, almost entirely on the issue of the twin wars the nation is engaged in right now. She made absolutely clear that this was an issue that she understood well and at a sophisticated level, that the President was royally screwing up (and by implication doesn't appear to understand the wars very well), and that Democrats in Congress were working hard to change the situation.

These are strong words from someone who holds the power of the purse in her first political speech since being elevated to her positition as Speaker. But, she can afford to use strong words. Her position has majority support in both houses of Congress. There is near consensus within the Democratic party that the war in Iraq was and continues to be a horrible mistake. This is likewise a view that has 2-1 support in the general population in polls. Opposition to the Iraq War, along with disgust at Republican corruption, put Democrats in power in 2006. Pelosi knows this better than anyone and has kept her eyes on the prize.

Institutionally, it is hard for Congress to end a war without some sort of capitulation on the part of the President to its demands. Cutting Defense Department funding is a blunt instrument for those who really do care about the troops, but want a war to end. Congress is ill suited to dictate strategy without executive branch cooperation. But, Pelosi is hammering away at this issue, almost exclusively, for the very simple reason that it is one of the very most important issues facing the country, and the President couldn't be more wrong about it.

The barbarians are at the White House gates. It is only a matter of time before it becomes manifestly clear to the President that the situation in Washington D.C. has changed. The administration is still in denial. And, Congress, the 100 hours stunt notwithstanding, is not a particularly expeditious institution. But, it is starting to collapse. In the four months since the 2006 elections, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army have been removed, and a new team of generals has been put in charge of Iraq. But, Bush missed his chance to redeem himself when he decided to ignore the recommendations of his own hand picked Iraq Study Group.

Bush does not have the political power to carry out a unilateral plan on dealing with Iraq. He has already received a stern warning from Congress in the form of its non-binding resolution on the Iraq escalation, which he ignored. Bush is now about to face a stern "no," now that the adults are in charge in Congress, in the form of the budget resolution which has been adopted by Congress.

John McCain, meanwhile, a front runner in the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination race, a race left open by the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney is the singularly least popular politician in the United States and too old to boot, has committed political suicide by hitching his political star very publicly to the unpopular Bush escalation plan, and an Iraq War that cannot be won.

01 March 2007

Maule On Law School

James Maule, at his blog, does a great job of summing up the debate over law school reform, with considerable original insight of his own.

But, the denunciations of the flaws in American legal education, from all sides, do need a little tempering. As bad as American legal education may be, by comparison with how those in civil law countries teach law, American law schools are off the charts outstanding in the quality of education they are providing.

As a general rule, American law school classes require students to think on the spot, consider the hard cases, and address practical issues that can come up in litigation by thinking about cases from the perspective of the litigants.

In contrast, European and other civil law country law school classes tend to focus on abstract legal theory (often apart from actual cases all together), focus on the "heartland" cases rather than the close cases, are normally delivered via exceeding dry lectures delivered to very large classes without interaction, and have far less accessible professors. This is somewhat ironic, as European law professors tend to have, through their scholarship, more of an impact on how the law is actually applied than American law professors, and because junior European law professors are more likely to have an active, part-time practice of law than American law professors.

You Can't Judge A Liar By His Face

A fundamental proposition of American law, that observing a witness is key to determining if the witness is telling the truth, is empirically wrong:

It is largely a myth, however, that judges, or anyone else, can reliably differentiate between honesty and mendacity simply by picking up visual cues. Studies have consistently shown an extremely high error rate in recognizing deception, even among professionals who pride themselves on the ability to weed out deceit. One set of tests, for example, was given to judges, police officers, trial lawyers, psychotherapists, CIA agents, and customs examiners, and no group was able to identify liars at a rate better than 50 percent. . . .

There is, however, one exception to the rule . . . Successful professional poker players can, and do, accurately read their opponents' intentions, figuring out when they are bluffing, when they are holding winning cards, and exactly what it will take to sucker them into losing bets.

Some of the great poker mavens have revealed their secret techniques for identifying "tells," . . . [but] it is nearly impossible to pick up a reliable tell on the basis of a first impression. . . . it is crucial "in discovering tells . . . for a player to develop a sense of the baseline behavioral repertoire of one's opponents." That simply can't happen in the compressed time frame of a small claims trial.

Moreover, poker games-unlike trials-provide repeated opportunities to validate one's interpretation of tells. If you suspect that an opponent is inadvertently signaling a bluff, well, all you have to do is call the bet to find out. Over a series of hands, therefore, you can pretty much determine whether your intuition is accurate. In contrast, a judge's credibility conclusion is self-fulfilling, a onetime decision with neither a baseline nor a reliable means of external verification. There is no equivalent to showing the actual cards, so suspected liars just lose their cases, and that's that.

Why is this important? Because appellate deferrence given to juries and judges who make determinations of fact at trial, in an age where we have accurate verbatim records of the proceedings, is largely based upon the fig leaf that they are better able to judge the credibility of the witnesses. If this isn't true, the implication is that the law should give appellate judges greater freedom to overrule trial results on the basis that the trial court got the facts wrong.

Probate Silliness

Lawyers are trained to put up with whatever B.S. paperwork is put before us in order to achieve the desired objective. If this can be done relatively inexpensively and by rote, ideally through less expensive than lawyers paralegals, there is little legislative incentive for change. As a result, mindless redundancy accumulates. This is true even in legal systems that are, overall, state of the art.

Colorado has the cheapest, easiest, most private probate system in the entire United States. The vast majority of probate cases are handled by a court clerk without involvement of a judge, in a form based system capable of comprehension by an educated layman. But, that doesn't mean it is perfect.

There are four forms that you need to prepare to have a Will informally probated and to have a personal representative (aka executor) appointed in Colorado (presented here in logical order):

1. Application For Informal Probate Of Will and Informal Appointment of Personal Representative(CPC 11)
2. Informal Probate of Will and Informal Appointment of Personal Representative (CPC 12-T)
3. Acceptance of Appointment (CPC 18)
4. Letters (CPC 17)

Slight variants of the first two forms exist in cases where there is no Will.

Now, any sensible person should realize that the second and third forms above are absolutely useless to anyone who isn't enthralled with legal formalism. Form CPC 12-T recites, item by item, that what was stated in Form CPC 11 is true. And, an acceptance of an appointment, required in Form CPC 18, can fairly be inferred on the part of anyone who delivers to the probate registrar a request to be appointed. It is asking for consent that has already been granted.

Third parties always want Letters (CPC 17) and nothing else.

It would be simple enough to add a sentence containing an acceptance of appointment in advance into the boilerplate of the application (and also a consent to service of process in Colorado, which now requires another form for out of state executors), and to add to the top of the Letters (CPC 17), a sentence that simply states: "Petitioner's application is accepted and the Registrar finds the facts stated in the application to be true."

This slight change would greatly reduce mistakes and administrative burdens for non-lawyers seeking to probate estates, by cutting in half the number of forms they have to fill out and the number of blanks that must be completed, but would not change the amount of information available to the court system at all. It makes perfect sense to everyone but gray haired probate professors who are intellectually attached to the formalistic rules of civil procedure that existed before the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted in the 1930s.

Colorado has a good system, largely because it adopted the administrative provisions of the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The substantive provisions of the UPC have been widely adopted, but the administrative provisions which reduce the need for involvement from probate lawyers and probate courts, in routine decedent's estates, have not been widely adopted, due in large part to opposition from the probate bar. One suspects that a fairly archaic set of forms was adopted to mute opposition to what was already a radical change in probate procedure. Keeping the old forms made the documentation look similar to the pre-UPC status quo, even though it was radically different in substance.

Alas, given the politics of the situation, I doubt that this little bit of excessive red tape will ever be trimmed back. Historically, paperwork tends to get more involved over time, not more streamlined. But, one can always dream.

Best Blog Headline Of The Day, So Far

Plantation Revisited -- Prisoners on Farms at Thinking Outside The Cage, one of my newest blogroll additions.

Israel's Economic Divide

The American economy isn't the only one where gross inequality and record prosperity are bedfellows. Israel's divide is arguably worse. Thomas L. Friedman, writing for the New York Times, after noting that many senior Israeli politicians are awash in crime and corruption charges that are a cause for discuss across traditional political divisions in the country, discusses the Israeli economy. Quoting Isareli economist Sever Plocker, he notes:

The economy is blooming, growing in the last quarter of 2006 by almost 8 percent. . . Foreign direct investment is flowing in at an unprecedented rate -- $13.4 billion in 2006. The high-tech sector exports are approaching $18 billion, and the stock exchange is at an all-time high. The shekel is stronger than ever, the inflation, nonexistent. Interest rates are lower than in U.S. or Britain, the budget defict less than 1 percent of GDP, and the balance of payments is positive[.]

But, Friedman also paraphrases Plocker's basis for finding that "Almost half of the population does not enjoy the boom.":

The unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. Israel's poverty rate is still the highest in the West, by far: 24.4 percent of the entire pouplation and 35.2 percent of all children are described as poor, living under the official "poverty line." In the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors, child poverty is especially high:" more than 50 percent. The real income of the poorest quarter of Israelis is lower than six years ago.

The facts pose more questions than I can pretend to answer.

Who Gets Paid In Chapter 11?

A new empirical study by Douglas Baird, a bankruptcy-law professor at the University of Chicago, Arturo Bris of the Yale International Center for Finance and Ning Zhu of the University of California, provides some interesting insights into the reality of who actually ends up getting paid in Chapter 11 bankruptcies. This is useful, because often, in economics, there a lots of factors that could theoretically be important, but a handful usually predominant in any given situation.

In Chapter 11 cases involving companies with assets of less than $200,000, "little or nothing" is left after the Internal Revenue Service has done its work . . . . Nonpriority general creditors get less than 10 percent of claims. . . When a company has assets worth more than $5 million, secured creditors, those whose claims are backed by collateral, receive 94 percent of what they are owed, and unsecured creditors typically recover half.

Tax claims get priority in bankrupcy cases, but it isn't at all obvious that this is good policy. Does the IRS really deserve to be higher in the pecking order than say, trade creditors, who sold goods or offered services on credit shortly before the company went under, who were often unaware that they were facing a serious credit risk? In construction cases, trade creditors can often trump all unsecured creditors, including the IRS, with mechanic's liens. Why should trade creditors in other circumstances receive less favorable treatment?