30 April 2007

Jury Trials and Summary Judgment

I've noted many times at this site how rare jury trials are becoming in the United States. A New York Times piece today adds an important dimension to this by pointing out the role of motions for summary judgment in the change:

Federal courts conducted about 3,600 trials in civil cases last year, down from 5,800 in 1962. That is not an enormous drop — until you consider that the number of cases has quintupled in the meantime.

In percentage terms, only 1.3 percent of federal civil cases ended in trials last year, down from 11.5 percent in 1962.

The trends in criminal cases and in the state courts are broadly similar, though not always quite as striking. But it is beyond dispute that even as the number of lawyers has grown twice as fast as the population and even as the number of lawsuits has exploded, actual trials have become quite rare. . . .

“During the last years of the 20th century, summary judgment in the federal courts moved from a small fraction of dispositions by trial to a magnitude several times greater than the number of trials,” Marc Galanter, who teaches law at the University of Wisconsin and the London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote last year in The Journal of Dispute Resolution. . . . “Summary judgments are being asked for in about 17 percent of cases and granted in about 9 percent,” he said, citing recent data from the Federal Judicial Center. That is a big jump from 1960, when no more than 1.8 percent of federal civil cases ended in summary judgment, according to data from the administrative office of the federal courts analyzed in a 1961 law review article.

“We’ve moved in a way to a more European way of decision-making, by looking at the court file rather than through encounters with living witnesses whose testimony is tested by cross-examination,” Professor Galanter said.

In criminal cases, the vast majority of prosecutions end in plea bargains. In an article called “Vanishing Trials, Vanishing Juries, Vanishing Constitution” in the Suffolk University Law Review last year, a federal judge questioned the fairness of the choices confronting many criminal defendants.

Those who have the temerity to “request the jury trial guaranteed them under the U.S. Constitution,” wrote the judge, William G. Young of the Federal District Court in Boston, face “savage sentences” that can be five times as long as those meted out to defendants who plead guilty and cooperate with the government. . . .

Almost all civil jury trials in the world take place here, and 90 percent of the criminal ones.

While the article focuses on the impact at the federal level, there has been a similar change at the state level.

The summary judgment data also suggest that the trend towards settlement has been somewhat exaggerated.

In the early 1960s you have 12.1% of federal civil cases resolved by a judge on summary judgment or at trial. Now, you have 10.3% of cases resolved in that manner. Thus, cases are only slightly more likely to be resolved by settlement, but are a lot more likely to be resolved in motion practice.

Galanter's statement in the quote above about the declining role of cross-examination is also somewhat overstated.

What is happens in civil cases is that witnesses are deposed under oath in opposing lawyer's offices, the moral equivalent of cross-examination, rather than in front of a judge during trial. This testimony is then presented in a motion for summary judgment. Friendly witness testimony for a side seeking summary judgment is presented by affidavit, but the opposing party generally had an opportunity to depose that witness before the case went to summary judgment stage.

On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for the commentary in the article about judges encroaching on the right to trial by jury. A 10th Circuit affirmance today of a summary judgment grant in an employment discrimination case is a perfect example. Yes, the Plaintiff who was fired reversing bank charges was weak, but when every single bank branch prior to a recent reorganization was a woman (and one was an older woman) and afterwards, the Plaintiff was finally replaced, like all the others, by a young man, there is room to wonder if the severity of her dismissal was excessively harsh and really motivated by other factors. The fine lines of evidentiary sorting conducted by the 10th Circuit in that case is the stuff we'd normally leave to a jury to weigh.

In criminal cases, it isn't uncommon for the testimony of key witnesses to have been provided, instead, in a preliminary hearing.

Hamdan Denied

The last major detainee case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court was denied cert today, on the same 6-3 basis as the previous one. Liberal Justice Stevens voted not to grant cert, probably, again, because he didn't trust Justice Kennedy to vote the right way on the merits. I personally think that Justice Stevens made the wrong call both times at grave cost to the integrity of the Constitution.

Bottom line: The Military Commissions Act of 2006 has successfully shut down almost all legal avenues to challenge indefinite executive detention and mistreatment of those detainees, despite the fact that the 2-1 D.C. Circuit ruling upholding the law seemed to defy previous war on terror precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kangaroo court Combat Status Review hearings, and procedurally deficient Military Commissions for the 3% or so of detainees who may face war crime charges (under a statutorily greatly expanded definition of war crimes), are all that remain. The MCA provides for exceedingly limited review by the D.C. Circuit, whose past precedents seem to foreclose relief in any case.

The doors of the court house are definitively closed now. The international embarassment that is the Bush Administration enemy combatant policy is now a deep threat to the liberty of all of us, and the only way anything can be done about it is through Congressional action, something unlikely to prevail in the face of President Bush's power to veto legislation.

We have been deeply betrayed by Senator Ken Salazar, and Congressman John Salazar from Colorado whose critical swing votes helped make this possible. They gambled on the courts fixing the flaws they knew about in the MCA when they voted for it. But, the gamble was lost. Their votes to sold out our freedoms by voting for the MCA.

I hurts to know that even the Democrats in Congress from Colorado are torture enablers. When I worked hard campaigning for Ken Salazar in 2004, I'd had every reason to hope for a better performance.

SCOTUS Reins In Patent Law

The U.S. Supreme Court made two important rulings on patent law today.

In Microsoft Corp. v. AT&T (05-1056) it held 7-1 that U.S. patent law doesn't apply to software copied abroad and not repatriated.

Of broader importantance was the court's unanimous decision in KSR International v. Teleflex (04-1350), where it broadened the definition of "obviousness" for patent law purposes beyond the narrow test previously applied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over most patent law cases.

The SCOTUS analysis in KSR holds that patents must be reviewed to see if the proposed solution is obvious to solve any problem, not just the problem identified in the patent. It holds that "prior art" includes not just prior efforts at solving the problem identified in the patent, but also prior efforts to solve similar problems in other fields. And, finally, it ruled than when there are only so many ways to solve a problem which a skilled person in the field might have considered, that all of those possibilities are obvious, because that solution would have been "obvious to try" for a skilled person in the field, even though a skill person in the field would not have known just which solution would work best until a little experimentation was conducted.

It will be hard to tell precisely how this new standard for obviousness plays out in practice, but given that patent law is an area of law dominated by a small number of specialists who work together under the supervision, for the most part, of a single court and a single government agency, the effect could be swift and dramatic. We could see the number of patents denied on obviousness grounds surge -- greatly increasing the size of the public domain of ideas.

Of course, the news is not good for many participants in the system, so it may be met with resistance, something that drove the Federal Circuit to establish precedents narrower than the relevant U.S. Supreme Court precedents in the first place. For patent examiners, it means that while it is easier to dispose of a patent, that the relevant prior art which must be examined is much more expansive. For patent applicants (who represent the bulk of the people represented by members of the patent bar) it will mean more work on the part of their lawyers to establish in a much broader area of inquiry that there is no prior art which makes the invention obvious, and no lawyer for a patent applicant wants to have to tell a client that their invention is too obvious to be protected by a patent. For judges in patent cases, it means granting fewer motions for summary judgment, which means a larger trial docket.

But, continued efforts by lawyers for inventors fighting claims of patent infringement, a part of the patent world growing dramatically in clout in recent years, may have enough clout to really realize the implications of KSR. For them, this case is a huge litigation edge, and it flows from first principles that a man on the street should be able to understand. Why should a guy who comes up with an obvious idea (and more and more patents seem obvious these days, at least in hindsight), be able to prevent other people from using it?

SCOTUS Starts Podcasting

For the first time that I can remember, the United States Supreme Court, historically grossly averse to technologal change, has released a video clip along with its opinion in a case involving a high speed chase.

While a videoclip release of any kind is rare, and any kind of illustration in a civil rights case is rare, it actually isn't quite as ground breaking as it might seem. The video is of the chase being discussed, rather than of the court's action (even though the case also included an unusual orally announced dissent by Justice Stevens in the 8-1 decision). There is actually a long history of including illustrations in court opinions involving complex subjects (usually real estate or patent law cases).

29 April 2007

MRAP Buy Bad?

Christian at Defense Tech questions the virtue of purchasing a lot of new mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles for the military. His basic argument is that the military should have held out for the next generation Humvee.

I'm not impressed. The basic problem with this approach is that the United States is fighting counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq right now for which the current version of the Humvee doesn't cut it. While someday in the future there may be a better fix possible, the military needs to get with the program and find something that will deal with the immediate crisis. The MRAP, based on the Cougar vehicle initially designed for military bomb squads, is one of the better choices available right now. So, unlike Christian, I applaud the military for, under Congressional pressure, finally doing something right.

The Municipal Bond Exemption From Income Tax

Municipal bonds are exempt from the federal income tax, under Internal Revenue Code Section 103. It is the premier tax break available to high income taxpayers, although economists generally view this as to a great extent a subsidy for state and local government, rather than a subsidy for the rich. These bonds are purchased overwhelmingly by top marginal tax bracket taxpayers, and the interest rate paid reflects a discount from comparable corporate bonds that is close to the full value of the tax break received (the discount is more clear for short term bonds than for long term ones).

Never the less, there are problems with the way Section 103 subsidies state and local government. For example, structuring Section 103 as an exclusion from income, rather than as a deduction against income, warps the marginal tax rate structure of the income tax. It makes high income taxpayers with lots of municipal bonds look like lower income taxpayers without municipal bonds. It also isn't very discriminating in what it subsidizes. Stadiums used for the economic gain of privately owned sports teams get the much same benefit as bonds issues to build new schools or a water treatment plant.

Kevin Yamamoto has an interesting new paper at SSRN that explores the current economics of Section 103, reminds us that Section 103 in its current form is not constitutionally required (despite the fact that many people have this misapprehension because the matters was not fully settled law until 1988 when the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue in the case of South Carolina v. Baker), and suggests one possible reform. His reform proposal is nothing to write home about it, although it has some good features, but his criticisms of Section 103 as it exists today and his analysis of the state of the law and economics of the municipal bond exclusion from federal income tax is insightful.

Yamamoto is clearly a hardworking law prof on the make in the field, writing about a variety of interesting policy subjects.

Hat Tip: Tax Profs Blog.

Demographic Change and the CSAPs

Colorado's statewide proficiency tests, the CSAPs, may not do much to measure teaching quality, but they are a fine tuned measure of demographic change. The Denver Post makes that point clearly in a front page story today about the travails of the Aurora Public Schools (APS):

In 2006, Aurora didn't have a single traditional "excellent" school. In most grades tested, proficiency rates have sunk or remained flat in recent years in reading and math. The students scored 20 percentage points or more below the state average in almost all areas. . . .

[T]he district has undergone a demographic earthquake: The number of impoverished students has jumped by 35 percent in the past six years, and the percentage of English- language learners has more than doubled - from 16 percent to almost 40 percent - since 1999. . . .

Aurora attracted immigrants surging into the metro area in the late 1990s and early 2000s because single-family homes were relatively inexpensive.

"It was a seismic shift in the population, and it had a tremendous impact on the community," said Jeff Martinez, spokesman for the city of Aurora from 2001 until earlier this year.

Administrators say classes changed overnight. "Teachers didn't know what to do." . . .

"It was overwhelming. You got all these kids and you can't understand them because they all speak Spanish . . . There was no spunk; there was a sense of flatness."

Housing developers east of the E-470 tollway were even considering creating their own school district because they saw Aurora as noncooperative. . . .

Of about 2,000 teachers, only 150 are qualified to teach English-language acquisition. In Denver, more than 1,800 out of 4,250 teachers are qualified. . . .

English-language learners compose 80 percent of the school's population, and Spanish-speaking Fletcher [Elementary] mothers meet school and community leaders for coffee once a month.

Though Fletcher is implementing the district's new Mondo literacy program, only eight of 35 teachers are qualified to teach language learners.

Denver Compared

Notably, both the Rocky and Post noted this weekend that Denver is losing almost have of its emergency room capacity as Saint Antony's moves to the Federal Center, while Children's Hospital, University Hospital and the Veteran's Administration Hospital move to the Fitzsimmons Medical Campus (St. Luke's already consolidated with Presbyterian; Children's promises to retain an branch E.R. facility at St. Joseph's).

But, today's Post also highlights some of the booming high end development expected for the Denver in the city's land use agenda. The plan to remove the homeless from Civic Center park was among the eye catching pieces of that plan.

One suspects that Denver's own gains in the CSAPs lately have been as much a product of demographic change as changes in teaching quality as well. As the Post notes, the Denver Public Schools are much more varied than those in APS:

But even compared with Denver, which has some of the highest-performing schools in the state and some of the worst, Aurora is undistinguished.

Its highest-performing traditional school - Side Creek Elementary on the city's southeast side - has only 66 percent proficiency in third-grade reading.By comparison, one of Denver's highest-performing traditional schools, Bromwell Elementary, has a proficiency rate of 95 percent in third-grade reading. The state average is 70 percent.

Aurora is trying a wide variety of things to serve its students better under a new superintendent whose performance has received mixed reviews. Time will tell. The pace and nature of the transformation look vary similar to that experienced by Lincoln High School in Southwest Denver a decade earlier.

To a great extent, what is going on appears to be that Hispanic populations are replacing black populations in Old Town Aurora (and also Korean businesses which are migrating to South Havanna Street), not unlike what is going on in Five Points in Denver, a neighborhood on the Western side of historically black North Denver which abuts the West Denver neighborhoods that have been predominantly Hispanic for a much longer period of time.

Meanwhile, Aurora's bid to capture some of the more prosperous neighborhoods of unincorporated Arapahoe County was largely thwarted by the incorporation of the City of Centennial which came into being precisely to prevent Aurora from annexing these subdivisions.

The Nature of Social Change

As a teaching point, it is worth noting that what the Aurora Public Schools have seen in the past eight years is the norm, rather than the exception. Gradual neighborhood change is the exception; while long periods of stability, punctuated by brief periods of rapid change are the norm.

My parents vividly remembered attending lectures about this phenomena when my mom was attending graduate school at the University of Chicago four decades ago. Those observations remain valid today -- indeed, the same applies to a lot of forms of social change.

Any social science theory that has gradual change, rather than punctuated social upheaval, as a base assumption, deserves a skeptical appraisal. It isn't true of urban demographics. It isn't true of economic change in particular industries, it isn't true of technological change, and it isn't true of much of anything else unless you look at the pheneomena from such a high height that the law of averages mutes locally dramatic change.

Sarah For Council District 1

Soulful Sarah

While Rick Garcia remains the odds on favorite for City Council District 1, being an unopposed incumbent and all, thanks to Westword, the sentimental favorite is Soulful Sarah, i.e. George in Denver's beloved Alaskan Malamute, who is definitely the leading write-in candidate in the race. (I assume that since she is now a candidate for public office that displaying her picture falls under the category of fair use.)

We don't have a campaign platform yet, but I think it is a safe bet that Sarah is a strong backer of leash free dog parks, universal veterinary care, and domestic partnerships.

A Soccer Dad Saturday

Spring is here and soccer is in season. Saturday mornings start with the mad dash to find shin guards, long socks, jerseys, shoes, water bottles and snacks in time to make it to Sports Boulevard in Denver's Lowry neighborhood in time for the first of two daily games against other teams in the city's rec center league.

The parents of the three Washington Park Rec Center teams are, well, not quite a gung ho as those in some other neighborhoods in the city. We watch, we provide water and snacks, we even cheer, but we don't deliver legions of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to every game, and our cries to go for the ball or shoot don't have quite the edge that parents on some teams do. Our gossip to game commentary ratio is about 50-50. The hottest political issue is whether the city will decide to remodel the local rec center or put together the economics to build a new indoor swimming pool.

Two dueling coffee shops operate just three traffic circles away, so if circumstances don't conspire to get us there at the very last moment, there is even an opportunity to start the day properly.

This doesn't take away from the sport. The kids get a tremendous workout. By the time they are switched out for breaks in the game, they have been worked hard. My daughter's team is 3-0 which balances my son's team, which is 0-3.

The kids are barely even keeping score anyway. Yes, our kids get utterly trounced by the West side teams who live, eat and breathe the game. But, when they ask in the car on the way home "who won?", you can be comfortable that they enjoyed themselves anyway. For the younger kids, mid-quarter, on-field hugs are all in day's play, the operative strategy is to mob around the ball, and consistently kicking the ball towards the right side's goals is enough to put a kid in the half decent player category.

The older kids do play legitimate soccer, with positions, a goalie, throw ins, passing, ball control and a bigger field; I have yet to see anyone dinged for failing to comply with the tricky off sides rule yet, however. But, they are playing in the moment, not focusing on the overall outcome or their statistics.

Throw in a birthday remembered at the last moment, and you start to recognize the link between "soccer dad" and driving. Drive to the store to buy a last minute gift and forgotten snacks, drive to the field, drive to get a coffee and back, drive kid to birthday party, drive other kid to get lunch, drive other kid to soccer game, drive to pick up first kid from birthday party, drive back to soccer game to pick up second kid, drive home, drive to drop mom off at gym, drive to grocery store, drive to pick up mom at gym, drive to drop off groceries, have dinner, drive mom to second grocery store, drive home to put sleepy kid to bed, drive back to grocery store to pick up mom and groceries, drive back home and put away groceries.

The plus of all of this driving is that you get out and about town a bit. Soccer fields across the city are full of people doing exactly what you are doing. Orthodox Jewish families are walking home from sabbath services in their hats and black outfits, pushing strollers. A Muslim woman in a full burka strolls the produce aisle at Wild Oats. A pair of Mormon missionaries lead a few kids heading out of the local LDS church on an early afternoon outing. Odd dog-man-skateboard combinations cruise to local parks. The Glendale cops work overtime to bring in their quota of traffic tickets at the end of the month. A guy who looks like he took a wrong turn at the 1970s walks past the neighborhood sex shop, obviously with other things on his mind. Two young women who also apparently got sucked through the 1977-2007 time discontinuity stroll down a bike path. Cherry Creek gushes at its high water mark emptying dams overfull from the latest round of spring showers, before they burst the reservoir. A Mexican ice vendor pushes his cart up a plywood ramp into the back of the family SUV after a good day of plying his wares to soccer dads and soccer moms; he'd make three times as much money selling expresso instead, however.

I'm a second generation soccer dad. I played soccer as a kid, but my parents rural communities didn't even have school or community teams, let alone a pro-soccer franchise with a stadium of its own. For them, football and baseball ruled. My exposure to playing either beyond gym class was a single season of T-ball and a season on a law firm softball team. I went to watch as many soccer games in high school as I did football games, and I've never seen a pro-football game in real life, while I've been to several pro-soccer games, although I've not yet made it to Dick's Field in Commerce City, which even has heating elements under the field to melt off spring snow and frost.

Soccer is a great sport. And, unlike ice hockey or football, it doesn't require so much gear that you need a pickup truck just to carry it. At this level, at least, it is still fun, as much a fine day in the park as a source of anxiety.

27 April 2007

Charges Avoided, Law Still Wrong

I have said before, and continue to believe, that neo-natal death caused by the action or inaction of a mother in the throes of child birth should not constitute first degree murder. This charge is authorized by Section 18-3-102(1)(f) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, added by the legislature in 1995.

An eighteen year old Western State College woman had those charges against her dropped for lack of evidence today, because it could not be determined if certainty if a child was born alive, or was stillborn, leaving the woman facing only the first degree misdemeanor charge of concealing a death. But, these cases simply do not carry the same degree of culpability of other first degree murder offenses.

Neither the death penalty, nor life in prison without parole, the two permissible sentences in a first degree murder case, are appropriate for these mothers. In contrast, other offenses which qualify as first degree murder are: premeditated murder; murder as part of arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping and aggravated rape; causing an execution through perjury; murder involved depraved indifference to human life; and deaths caused an overdose on illegal drugs sold to a minor.

Neo-natal homicide by a mother who has just been through child birth (almost always alone and outside a hospital) doesn't compare in culpability. Distressed isolated mothers are not in the same league as people who either set out with a plan to kill, or set out with a plan to engage in another course of action which is already a serious felony.

Manslaughter, a class 4 felony that applies to homicides caused recklessly, or criminally negligent homicide, a class 5 felony that applies to homicides caused with criminal negligence (usually considered a higher standard of negligence than that applied in civil cases), would be more appropriate, given the highly aggitated state that a woman is in at this point. This should also not be classified as a crime of violence, a classification ordinarily used for offenses that represent a great risk of violent harm to members of the general public.

The normal punishment for a class four felony that is not a crime of violence is two to six years in prison, with three years mandatory parole. The normal punishment for a class five felony that is not a crime of violence is one to three years in prison with two years of mandatory parole. Neither is a slap on the risk and each leaves the individual convicted with a felony conviction.

Anyone who has not just gone through child birth ought to face a homicide offense of second degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, that reflects their personal degree of culpability (knowing, reckless or negligent), but should also not face first degree murder charges, which should be reserves for hardened criminals and extremely culpable crimes, not for parents or guardians who lose control when dealing with their children or wards. Parents who go too far are not so unredeemably horrible that society needs them to never walk free again.

I am also not suggesting that infanticide should be legal. Indeed, I am suggesting that it be a serious homicide felony. But, I do not believe that a mother who has just been through child birth is capable of forming the degree of criminal intent that we normally ascribe to second degree murder defendants.

The Liberal Project Of Ending Evil By Understanding It

Conservatives On Evil

Evil is a concept largely reserved for the religious and for conservatives, who as a result don't need to ask "Why does somone do something bad?"

The answer is obvious, indeed, almost tautological: "People do bad things because they are evil."

Implicitly, however, this view also sees evil people as rational actors who responds only to externally imposed brute force. A more nuanced recognize that some people are more evil than others, but retains the concept.

This worldview also justifies punishment and retribution. If someone is evil, and it is by definition good and right to punish them for their evil acts. And, if someone is completely evil, it is good and right to end their existence, even when one is acting in cold blood in the court system, rather than in the hot blood of a situation where one must use violence to stop violence.

The trouble is that approaches to crime control which are rooted in this world view don't work.

Liberal On Evil

Liberals are more skeptical of the concept of evil and so they are more prone to asking "why do people do bad things?", with an intent to get some sort of meaningful answer not implicit in the question itself.

Social Context

Progress Now today highlights a recent book, "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" by Philip Zimbardo, that focuses on one class of bad actors, sociopaths and their less extreme cousins, normal people who behave badly as a consequence of their socially assigned roles.

A sociopath isn't mentally ill. Instead, a sociopath is someone who as a result of their social situation (the classic example is gang members) develops a value system that tolerates and even glorifies anti-social actions.

Philip Zimbardo, along with Stanley Milgram, are famous for their experiments that show that it is actually exceedingly easy to turn ordinary nice people into people who violently abuse their power, even in a quite artificial settings on a college campus. This isn't a phenomena limits to those who spend a lifetime in a horrible situation. Zimbardo's book talks about how how context can turn people into monsters.

The book is hauntingly current in the wake of the Abu Grahib scandal in which American prison guards abused Iraqi detainees in weird sexual and sadistic ways.

In the same vein, we increasingly are learning that many suicide bombers are more well educated, middle class, patriotic people who are willing to sacrifice for a believed benefit to their peers, rather than what most people historically have believed, which is that most sucide bombers are deranged or stupid, a lot of terrorism starts looking like it falls into the realm of acts of war driven by one's social and political perspectives (similar to lawful use of violence by soldiers and law enforcement, but influenced by different, but mainstream values about the propriety of targetting civilians) rather than like crime.

Recent statistics showing large numbers of Colorado prison inmates are gang members, and events like yesterday's major bust of a crips affliated gang in metro Denver, suggest that this is one important part of criminal activity.

Mental Health

Another cause of bad behavior is psychopathy. While not an official psychiatric diagnosis at this time, researchers in the field have identified a mental illness which is firmly entrenched at a young age which comes close to the folk definition of evil. Psychopathy doesn't necessarily lead to evil behavior, but is found in a large share of serial killers and con men. Psychopathy doesn't inherently imply that someone will be violent, does usually does imply that their conscience will not restain them from acting on their impulses, that they will go to great lengths to fight boredom, and that punishment is often ineffective in causing someone suffering from it to change their behavior.

Less frightening cousins of psychopathy, so far as I can tell, as they also involve impulse control issues and difficulty dealing with boredom are a genetically linked personality trait known as novelty-seeking (a trait associated with luring sufferers into criminal activity), and attention deficit disorder, which is also believed to have a biological basis, and is like the other two associated with insufficient response to dopamine and impulse control, but generally far less powerfully, although it is also believed to be corollated in a causal fashion with delinquency.

I suspect (but lack the expertise to state definitively) that at some point psychopathy, a novelty-seeking personality and ADD will be grouped together as related conditions, much as various autism spectrum disorders are today.

One of the big picture parts of both the mental health and physical health research agendas is to reach a point where more diseases can be categorized by cause, e.g. autoimmune disorders or dopamine processing disorders, which suggest treatments, rather than in the traditional symptomatic method. My guess may be wrong, but the larger project is real and valuable and regularly making surprising connections. Who knew, for example, that many forms of diabetes have a central nervous system auto-immune component, just as M.S. does?

Mental health conditions associated with impulse control and boredom, of course, are not the only mental conditions associated with crime and bad acts. Historically, many cases involving the insanity defense in criminal law (and many of the inquiries into testamentary and contractual capacity) have focused on mental health conditions that give rise to delusions that make it impossible for the actor to know what he is doing or to understand the rightness or wrongness of what he is doing. A recent appeal of a Colorado criminal case drew the line, however, at allowing bona fide hallucinations induced by voluntary drug use to provide mitigation or justification for an individual's acts, an LSD trip and a schitzophrenic delusion weren't morally equivalent in the eyes of the court.

The kind of mental health condition that gives rise to incidents like the Virginia Tech massacre, and these incidents do seem to follow a certain profile, is different again. The perpetrators don't seem to fit the profile of the cold, consciousless individuals who go onto become serial killers. They do seem to be loners, with life long struggles with mental illness of some kind. But, I'm not enough of a psychiatrist to tell you precisely what to call the one or several types of mental health issues are associated with this kind of incident.

While some psychiatrists believe that aggressiveness is another trait which is both linked to crime and may have some biological as well as social components, aggressiveness itself, while linked to bad acts, is not very closely linked to the kind of bad acts we customarily think of as evil. Spur of the moment bar fights, for example, can kill, but are rarely considered as culpable as a pre-meditated murder.

There are probably others I've missed -- the apparently obessive-compulsive personality disorder, for example, that gives rise to the cleptomaniac. Another major root cause, that lies somewhere between being a biologically based mental health issue and a psychological problem that is not immutably part of a person, is substance abuse and addiction.

Crime Committed By Rational Actors

But, it is also worth noting that bad, or at least, illegal behavior, doesn't need to imply either a mental health issue, or a deeply warped set of values. Sometimes, people do bad things, or commit crimes, simply because they are "rational actors" or people who more or less accidentally slip over a line from accepted to impermissible behavior. The line between a lot of business fraud, and the ordinary and accepted commercial practice of puffing in business negotiations, for example, can be a thin one. The classic example of the rational actor criminal is the man who steals bread because he is hungry. Someone might intentionally omit income from their tax return because they don't think that they will get caught, feel that no one will be hurt if they do, and feel that they need the money to provide for their family. Less dramatically, almost everybody intentionally drives over the speed limit.


Not all bad acts are evil acts, utterly devoid of justification or excuse. And, the fact that we know what motivates a bad act doesn't necessarily, or even often, mean that we should refrain from punishing it. Similarly, mental illness does not itself make commission of a crime inevitable (or even likely, even if crime is more likely for one person than for the average person), it simply makes it more challenging for some people than for others to resist committing one. There is considerable academic literature on how and to what extent mental health can predict violent recidivism.

But, to effectively prevent crime, you have to understand its root causes, and you must further understand the relative importance of those root causes. It is plausible to believe that a lot of people who commit economically motivated crimes driven by poverty and an inability to earn money by legitimate means. Prostitutes, thieves, smugglers and drug dealers, for example, may be basically rational actors who would are in hard straights. A lot of civil rights and human rights violations, fraternity hazing incidents, and gang related violence, may be more easily chalked up to sociopathic causes. Many of the most gruesome, headline making offenses, and similarly, many of the most odd, almost benign, motiveless crimes, may be attributable to mental illness.

Measures designed to stop the next Virginia Tech may be worthless, or even counterproductive, at controlling drug dealing. But, until a better model of why crimes and bad (even evil) acts are committed becomes more widespread, the prospects for progress in reducing the incidence of these acts seems dim.

Living Death For Juveniles

The U.S. is one of the very few countries in the world that allows children under eighteen to be prosecuted as adults and sentenced to life without parole. In Colorado, between 1992 and 2005, 45 juveniles between fifteen and eighteen were sentenced to prison without the hope of ever being released. Last spring, the state's legislature eased its tough laws targeting juvenile offenders. The state passed a bill that made parole possible after 40 years in prison, but the measure did not apply retroactively to the 45 former juveniles now in Colorado's prison system. Producer Ofra Bikel visits five young men in Colorado sentenced to life without parole to examine their crimes and punishment, the laws that sanctioned their convictions, and the prospect of never being free again.

PBS is reminding us of our shortcomings.

Life in prison without parole is still much better than the death penalty, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional for juveniles. It leaves open the possibilities of a collateral attack on a conviction in the courts, commutation of a sentence by the Governor, or legislative amnesty.

26 April 2007

Juveniles Tried As Adults Become Criminals

Two kids commit the same crime. One gets a break and is tried and sentenced in the juvenile justice system. The other is tried and sentenced as an adult. What happens?

The kid who was tried as an adult is 34% more likely to commit a crime when released (American Journal of Preventive Medicine citation here).

But, doesn't keeping the kid who was tried as an adult make the juvenile justice system safer? No.

Yes, I'm fully aware of the argument that the really bad people, based on factors harder to observe from a distance than the offense charged, are the ones charged as adults, thus explaining the difference in recidivism rate. If you believe that is true, I urge you to do a study supporting that claim. I'm not aware of any such studies. My anecdotal experience is that the decision to charge kids as adults has more to do with the politics of the people making the decision than the detailed circumstances of the offender. Indeed, detailed offender information is often not known very well in the early stage of the process where this decision is made in states like Colorado where prosecutors, rather than judges, usually make the call.

Trying juveniles as adults doesn't make us safer. It just makes us feel better when we read the paper.

Two Mantras About Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune at 19.

fear is only in our minds
taking over all the time
fear is only in our minds but its taking over all the time

Evanescence, "Sweet Sacrifice" (chorus).

25 April 2007

Internet Archives Suit Settled

Internet Achives has settled its lawsuit with Suzanne Shell, previously discussed on this blog in this post.

As is usually the case in settlements, the terms were not disclosed and the parties press release contained respectful statements about each other that don't reveal anyone's real feelings.

The interesting legal issues raised by the case will have to wait for another day.

Very Cherry Creek

I had business in Cherry Creek yesterday and went to a coffee shop there. The sign at Peets on 2nd Avenue was very Cherry Creek. It informed customers that dogs weren't allowed in the store due to health code, even if you are carrying your dog with the exception of guide dogs and other helping dogs.

The policy is good, but in only a few places is it customary to carry your dog, and few places are enlightened enough to know that dogs serve medical purposes such as alerting owners to epilepsy fits and maintaining mental health, as well as serving as guides for the blind.

Mexico City Legalizes Abortion

So says the Denver Post.

23 April 2007

Conservative Approaches To Crime Control

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, conservatives predictably suggested that this tragedy could have been mitigated if more people on campus had guns. In response, it is worth taking a look at the big picture of the conservative criminal justice agenda.

Widespread gun ownership, long prison terms, and the death penalty are at the core of conservative criminal justice policy. Conservatives also tend to favor limited due process for criminal defendants. Conservatives tend to be fans of the importance of religious faith in controlling crime.

Gun Ownership

As noted in the previous post, Americans own more guns per capita than any other country in the world, about a third of the world total, and 90 per 100 households. A little more than 64% of American households don't own guns (an a record high for non-ownership of guns falling from a low of about 45%). About 10% of households own 4 or more guns, making up 77% of the total.

High American gun ownership rates are in part due to a skew from multiple gun owners, that may prevent countries in which large numbers of households own guns, but fewer households can afford to, or wish to collector guns like Israel and Switzerland. Still, outliers aside, nobody seriously questions that the United States has a high level of gun ownership by international standards. Also, while data is sketchy, few people doubt that gun ownership rates are higher than the national average in the American South.


The United States also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Compared with other countries, the United States has among the highest incarceration rates in the world. More people are behind bars in the United States than any other country. As of 2006, a record 7 million people were behind bars, on probation or on parole. Of the total 2.2 million were incarcerated. China ranks second with 1.5 million followed by Russia with 870,000. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population.

As of 2006, the incarceration rate in prison and jail, in the United States was 737 inmates per 100,000 or 1 of every 136 adults. For the most part, the U.S. rate is three to eight times that of the Western European nations and Canada. The rate in England and Wales, for example, is 139 persons imprisoned per 100,000 residents while in Norway it is 59 per 100,000. In many countries, it is common for prisoners to be paroled after serving as little as one third of their sentences. In the US, most states strictly limit parole, requiring at serving of at least half of the sentence. For certain heinous crimes, there is no parole and the full sentence must be served.

The prison population in China was 111 per 100,000 in 2001 (sentenced prisoners only), although this figure is highly disputed. Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in forced-labor camps for criticizing the government, estimates that 16 to 20 million of his countrymen are incarcerated, including common criminals, political prisoners, and people in involuntary job placements. Even ten million prisoners would mean a rate of 793 per 100,000.

Death Penalty

The U.S. doesn't have the highest execution rate in the world, but only a handful of countries execute people more often. China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United States and Iraq account for 95% or more of the executions in the world, and only few dozen nations execute people with some regularity, most less often than the United States.

Due Process

The U.S. as a whole as stricter due process for criminal defendants than many countries. But, the vast majority of criminal prosecutions take place at the state level, and due process standards, in practice, vary greatly from state to state.

Many criminal justice systems in the American South, such as those of Virginia and Texas, are famous for the low level of financial resources made available to public defenders, and the prosecution bias of the appellate courts that handle criminal cases. These states also tend to be stingy in making executive clemency available; it is often limited by the state constitution in the American South. Many states in the American South have also adopted doctrines such as limitations on the insanity defense, that make it easier to secure convictions. In murder cases, the requirement that jurors be "death qualified" also insures jury pools that are even more conservative than an already conservative general public in death penalty states.

The tendency nationwide, as part of the "war on drugs" and in juvenile criminal cases to vest increasing discretion on prosecutors rather than the judiciary, has already increased the pressure to waive due process rights in favor of plea bargains.


The United States is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, as measured by surveys of what Americans believe and as indicated by measures like church attendance. Almost every America prison has an active religious community supervised by chaplains made available by prison wardens.

The South As A Conservative Criminal Justice Ideal

The American South, has among the highest gun ownership levels, the greatest tendency to use the death penalty, the highest incarceration rates, the weakest due process protections in state courts, and the most religious populations in the United States. This is hardly surprising, the American South is conservative when it comes to criminal justice and elections have consequences.

International Comparisons

Led by the American South, the United States is also one of the closest fits to the conservative model of criminal justice in the world. It isn't quite the conservative ideal. But, it is hard to find a candidate for an overall system that is a better fit. China also uses frequently incarceration and the death penalty applied with limited due process, but isn't known for its liberal gun control laws and pervasively religious population. Gun control laws aren't terribly liberal in Saudi Arabia and Iran, despite their fits to other parts of the conservative ideal of criminal justice.

In much of the undeveloped and developing world, places like Mexico and Yemen, for example, strong law enforcement not corrupted by criminals, another part of the conservative criminal justice model, is often absent.

Switzerland, while hailed by conservatives for its widespread gun ownership, also has one of the most non-punitive approaches to drug offenses in Europe, which is already far more liberal than the United States generally. In some cases the Swiss government provides drugs to people in prison (not just imitation drugs like methadone).

Israel and Iraq are hard to compare to the U.S. because each is in the midst of a civil war. For example, while in the U.S. there is a clear demarcation between firearm use by civilians and by law enforcement, it is hard to know how to classify a shooting by a member of an armed militia or paramilitary group, a category that makes up a large share of firearms use in each country. Likewise, it is hard to know how to classify incarceration in the nature of prisoner of war detention as opposed to conventional criminal convictions. And, violent strife between religious sects that define Israel and Iraq is virtually absent from the United States.

Where's The Beef?

The problem for the conservative model of criminal justice policy is that, given that the United States is among the closest to its ideal, it ought to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and the places where its policies are most fully implemented, the American South, ought to have the lowest crimes rates in the United States.

This simply isn't the case.

Murder is more prevalant in the American South than any other region in the United States. The United States has higher crime than almost all, if not all, of its economic peers.

Is It Demographics?

The conservative answer to this has been to point to demographics. Places like low crime Japan, and low crime Western Europe, have historically been homogenous societies compared to the United States. Within the United States, the thing that low states with low murder rates have in common is a great deal of ethnic homogenity, while high murder rate states have large minority populations. This analysis then invites analysts to look a "demographically adjusted" crime rates for different states and show that on that basis that conservative criminal justice policies work.

Western Europe, however, isn't nearly as ethnically homogeneous as it used to be a few decades ago. The European Union has invited intra-European migration into communities that had often been the ancesteral homes of those who lived there for centuries. International migration, often from Africa and the Islamic world, has also changed the ethnic makeup of countries like France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. Yet, American levels of serious violent crime are still absent.

These nations tend to have more gun control (particularly the U.K.), these nations are more lenient in imposing incarceration, these nations are much more lenient about controlled substances, make extremely limited or non-existent use of the death penalty, and these nations are more secular than the United States. Also, notably, they have, almost to a one, a stronger social safety net. But, if any of the elements of the conservative criminal justice were important to crime rate outcomes, one would expect these nations to be overrun by crime compared to the United States.

Mass Killings

Also, while many serious crimes are strongly associated with poverty and social disadvantage, for example, armed robbery, armed burglary, car jacking, gang related killing, and crack dealing, particularly horrifying crimes like mass shooting sprees of the type we recently saw at Virginia Tech are not. Mass shootings seem to be more the province of middle class men seing their lives fall apart than of the under educated, economically deprived poor. This makes the conservative demographic argument particular weak in this class of crimes.

In the United Kingdom, which has strict gun control laws, crime rates for many violent crimes have risen to nearly American levels, and sometimes a little more, but, not murder or other gun crimes. The United Kingdom has been spared the levels of mass shooting sprees, gun murders and armed robberies seen in the United States, even as other crime has grown.

Increasingly diverse Australia, which imposed strict gun controls after a 1996 shooting spree in Tasmania, not unlike the Virginia Tech massacre.

The United States has about twenty mass murders a year (murders of four or more people at once). If the United Kingdom had mass murders at the same rate (adjusting for population only), it would have had forty mass murders a year in the last decade. It has had a couple in that time period. If Australia had mass murders at the same rate, it would have had about fourteen mass murders in the last decade. It has had none.

The differences are statistically significant, despite the fact that the number of highly infrequent events that occur, like mass murders, are far more variable than more common events, because the more common an event is, the more the law of averages tends to smooth out the number of events from year to year.

This doesn't, by itself, prove that gun control prevents mass murders, but it is suggestive. Clearly, the U.K. and Australia are doing something right that the United States isn't doing, and there aren't any obvious alternative explanations other than gun control that make more sense.

Bottom Line

While the conservative approach to criminal justice has great visceral macho appeal, in short, it can make us feel good, it simply doesn't work. It is also a very expensive approach in terms of public spending and the tax burden that flows from that spending. We as a country need to change course.

What Your Truck Says About You.

Driving around town this weekend (near Colorado Boulevard and Virginia in Denver) ended up behind a nice new white pickup truck with an extended cab (I'm not enough of a pro to give you the make and model). In the back window was a two foot tall white decal displaying a hand grenade (pin in place; similar to, but not identical to this one). Nothing else adorned the car.

Just what message did the owner intend to send?

I received a message something along the lines of: "I am a violent psychopath ready to engage is mass murder at any moment, don't mess with me."

It wasn't clear or directed enough to be a threat (i.e. I'm not trying to say that this was illegal, just odd and in bad taste), but it did catch my attention, and not in the humorous way that the runner up for most notable car adornment this weekend, a bumper sticker proclaiming "I heart jet noise," did.

Surely, if you wanted to portray military associations, you'd do a bumper sticker in the "Semper Fi" or "Proud To Be A Marine" or "10th Mountain Division" genre. And, there is also a whole genre of 2nd Amendment bumper stickers of the "I heart the NRA" or "Take my wife, take my dog, but you'll have to pull my gun from my cold dead hands" variety. But, a hand grenade without comment delivers neither message very clearly, is pretty apolitical and is quite chilling.

Perhaps others can offer other insight on the intended meaning of the image in this context.

As an aside, the Denver Post noted today that the percentage of households where someone owns a gun in the U.S. has droped to a record low 35%, and that about 77% of all guns in the U.S. (250 million) are owned by the 10% of the population that have four or more guns.

20 April 2007

Bedlam in the Neighborhood

The Anthem Building, between 7th and 8th and Broadway and Lincoln in Denver has been evacuated. Hazmat teams from the fire department are investigating what authorities were initially worried might have been an ethyl gas leak. It appears that this is not the problem, but while authorities are figuing out what is going on, hundreds of people evacuated from the building are hanging out and waiting from across the street in all directions.

The building's principal tenant is Colorado's Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance affilliate.

18 April 2007

Gun Law Enforcement

I've noted previously at this blog that it is illegal to sell a gun to someone who has been an inpatient for a mental health problem, something true in the case of Mr. Cho. This happened because, while records of these admissions are supposed to get into the gun law database, they don't (citing this source):

Mental Health: 33 states keep no mental health disqualifying records and no state supplies mental health disqualifying records to NICS. The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that 2.7 million mental illness records should be in the NICS databases, but less than 100,000 records are available (nearly all from VA mental hospitals). States have supplied only 41 mental health records to NICS. Combined with the federal records, the GAO estimates that only 8.6% of the records of those disqualified from buying a firearm for mental health reasons are accessible on the NICS database.

Legislation pending to deal with this problem includes the NICS Improvement Act of 2007, which has languished in Congress, despite minimal opposition (even the NRA has endorsed many versions of this act and perhaps even the current one), for about six years.

Long Dead Guy's New Book Coming Out

J.R.R. Tolkien is releasing a new book. He has been dead for 34 years.

35 Years In Solitary Confinement

Details here and in the link found there. The conviction itself is doubtful, the justification for putting anyone in solitary confinement for 35 years (three men were subjected to it, one was exonerated after 30 years) more so. Louisiana is not known for its quality of justice.

Junk Mail Gets Aggressive.

I received this in my e-mail account this morning. I suspect that it is a violent variation on the Nigerian money transfer e-mail scam, but it a little harder to blow off, despite the fact that the addressee in the header and the name in the body of the message is wrong. It says:


Sent : Wednesday, April 18, 2007 9:07 AM
To : rjhusson@usa.co


Dear Half,

I hereby notify you that you will cease to exist by exactly 72 hours after the date on this notice.There is a deal brought to us to snuff life out of you, within one week.
Do not ever bother to ask WHO? because i cannot tell you now,Also do not try to alert the security agencies,because you are living at our mercy.A total surveillance has been mounted on you right now,and any fast move will land you into the land of the dead.

Now listen attentively,I have been in this profession for long,not because it is my phobia;I only find a living in it.I just want to spare your life and at the same time flee away from our syndicate of assassin.To achieve this,I need a maximum corparation from you.
reply urgently

and clues about those who are after you will follow after my escape.

do this To be alive ;otherwise you will be a ghost soon,Delay is dangerous!!!

In the original, "assassin.To" is a hyperlink to a non-existent webpage.

17 April 2007

The Price of Secrecy

Members of the European Parliament told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that CIA tactics for spiriting away terrorism suspects are illegal.

The parliamentarians' briefing for House members concerned CIA renditions, the practice of grabbing terror suspects in one country and delivering them to another country for questioning.

The briefing came the same day it was disclosed that CIA Director Michael Hayden had privately complained to European diplomats last month that a European Parliament report written by a member of the delegation had exaggerated the extent of the renditions.

It takes real chutzpah to complain that the E.U. has "the extent of the renditions" wrong, when the C.I.A. conducts them in absolute secrecy, won't provide any information of its own to third parties, and won't even cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies of our most loyal allies in this matter.

This kind of secrecy in the "war on terrorism" destroys our international diplomatic clout. It is a form of self-administered poison weaking our national security.

Don't Forget To File Your Income, Gift and Fiduciary Return Extensions

Let's face it. It's April 17, 2007, your federal and Colorado income taxes (and income taxes in most other states) are due today (the April 16, 2007 deadline for Colorado taxes in the instruction booklet that went out is wrong). You aren't going to get it done. What do you do?

Mailing Tax Returns

I mail my returns because it is cheaper than e-filing and I trust that I can prove that I did it.

Always make a photocopy of tax returns before you send them unless you are faced with a choice of getting a copy made and missing the deadline, or not getting a coyp made and making the deadline. Meeting the deadline is more important, but you should have a copy of what you send if at all possible (copy the envelope you use too).

There is never a reason to use expensive overnight delivery to get your tax return or extension in on time. A postmark is sufficient to show timely delivery, and the time of receipt doesn't matter if you have a postmark. The United States Postal Service is cheaper that almost all alternatives.

Always get proof of delivery unless you don't have time to due it befor the tax return deadline. Your counter receipt is generally not legally sufficient proof of mailing although the IRS might, in its discretion, choose to have mercy on you if you can produce it and nothing else.

While a certificate of mailing is slightly cheaper (.95 cents on top of postage), and legally sufficient to prove delivery (although you can't track your item online), postal tellers don't understand it as well, so finding the proper form may be harder and the people beyond you in line will be annoyed by you. Use certified mail and do not request a return receipt. Don't drop it in the box, go to a teller and get a postmark stamp on your certified mail receipt, otherwise you can't prove that you mailed it if it gets lost before it gets into the postal system computer system.

First class mail is 39 cents for the first ounce and 24 cents for each additional ounce. Certified mail is an addition $2.40 without the return receipt.

Usually .63 cents of postage is enough for a typical tax return. When in doubt, put three regular first class stamps on the envelope and hope you get lucky, as this will cover up to four ounces, which is at the high end of what a tax return usually weighs.

According to 9News (I couldn't easily find the information at the U.S. Postal Service website) the late post offices open today where you can buy postage (which you need to do so you can get proof of delivery) are:

Denver Downtown Station, 951 20th St. (20th & Curtis) Until 7:00 PM

Denver General Mail Facility Open 24 hours 7500 E. 53rd Place (1 mile n. of I-70 & Quebec)

C. Springs Star Ranch Postal Unit, 3637 Star Ranch Rd. Until 9:30 p.m.

Greeley Main Post Office Station Open until 10:00 p.m. 930 39th Avenue

Lone Tree Postal Unit, 8878 Maximus Drive Until 10:00 p.m.

Longmont Main Post Office Open until 8:00 p.m. 201 Coffman St.

Parker Stonegate Village Contract Postal Unit, Open until 10:00 p.m. 16522 Keystone Blvd., Unit A-3

Pueblo Main Post Office Open until 8:00 p.m. 1022 Fortino Blvd.

For dropoff only (which means you've blown your change to get proof of delivery in hand or buy postage, you can go to the following places, and use Click and Ship if you must):

You can drop off your tax return and still have it post marked April 17 at these locations, but you can't purchase postage or any other USPS service.

Denver General Mail Facility, 7500 E. 53rd Pl. (N. Quebec & I-70) Until midnight

Denver Downtown Station, 951 20th St. Until midnight

Bear Valley Station, 7555 W. Amherst Until 10:00 p.m.

Capitol Hill Station, 1571 Marion St. Until 10:00 p.m.

Cherry Creek Station, 245 Columbine St. Until 10:00 p.m.

Lakewood Station, 10799 W. Alameda Ave. Until 10:00 p.m.

Mile High Station, 1421 Elati St. Until 10:00 p.m.

Montclair Station, 8725 E. 11th Ave Until 10:00 p.m.

Northglenn Station, 11887 Washington St. Until 10:00 p.m.

North Pecos Station, 1411 Cortez St. Until 10:00 p.m.

South Denver Station, 225 S. Broadway Until 10:00 p.m.

Sullivan Station, 8700 E. Jefferson Way Until 10:00 p.m.

University Park Station, 3800 Buchtel Blvd. Until 10:00 p.m.

Boulder Valmont Station, 2995 55th St. Until midnight

Colorado Springs General Mail Facility, 3655 E. Fountain Blvd. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Antares, 2641 E Uintah St. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Main Office, 201 E. Pikes Peak Ave. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Briargate Station, 8585 Criterion Dr. Until 10:30 p.m.

C. Springs Fort Carson Station, Bldg 1519 (Base personnel only) Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Templeton Station, 4356 Montebello Dr. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Security, 5755 Kittery Dr. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Cimarron, 5925 E Gallery Rd. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs North End, 2940 N Prospect St. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Rockrimmon, 5001 Centennial Blvd. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Cheyenne Mountain, 1540 S. 8th St. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs West End Station, 204 S. 25th St. Until 10:30 p.m.

Colorado Springs Star Ranch Postal Unit, 3637 Star Ranch Rd. Until 9:30 p.m.

Grand Junction Foresight Mailhandling Annex, 602 Burkey St. Until midnight

Greeley Main Office, 930 39th Avenue Until midnight

Littleton Highlands Ranch Post Office, 9609 S. Univ. Blvd. Until midnight

Lone Tree Postal Unit, 8878 Maximus Drive, Lone Tree Until 10:00 p.m.

Longmont Main Post Office, 201 Coffman St. Until midnight

Longmont Twin Peaks Mail Processing Center, 1845 Skyway Dr. Until midnight

Loveland Main Office, 446 E. 29th St. Until midnight

Parker Stonegate Village Contract Postal Unit, Until 10:00 p.m.
16522 Keystone Blvd., Unit A-3

Pueblo Main PO, 1022 Fortino Blvd. Until midnight

Salida Post Office, 310 D Street Until 11:00 p.m.

Warning, 9News has been wrong about this in the past (not necessarily their fault, the USPS has gotten notable less good at handling predictable rush times in the last couple of years).

Federal Individual Income Taxes

Fill in (on line) and then print this form. It doesn't need to be signed. If you think you are getting a refund and live in Colorado mail it to "Internal Revenue Service, Fresno CA 93888-0002", if you think you owe money and live in Colorado, insert a check for your best guess of how much you owe and mail it to "Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 802503 Cincinnati OH 45280-2503."

It pays to file an extension, even if you can no clue what you owe and/or don't have the money to pay what you owe.

The federal penalty for failure to file a tax return by the extended tax deadline is 5% per month that you don't paid. The penalty for failure to pay by April 17, 2007 is 0.5% per month (plus interest, more if estimated taxes should have been paid) (failure to pay penalties reduce failure to file penalties dollar for dollar, so they don't overlap).

Also, if your return is more than 60 days late, the penalty will not be less than $100 or 100% of the tax balance, whichever is less. You will not have to pay the penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing (or paying) on time.

If you file six months later, and don't get an extension, you could be facing a maximum 25% penalty, while it you get an extension a 3% failure to pay penalty (and interest) is the only additional damage.

(Even bigger penalties apply for filing frivilous or for filing tax returns grossly screwed up in your favor).

Colorado Individual Income Taxes

In Colorado, your don't have to file an extension if you are getting a refund and there is no failure file penalty before October 15.

if you owe state income tax, 90 percent of your tax liability must have been paid on or before April 17, 2007 to avoid penalties. Any remaining balance due would be subject to interest only.

Individual taxpayers who owe state income tax should send in their payment with the "2006 Payment Voucher for Automatic Colorado Extension for Individuals" (DR 158-I). The voucher is on page 11 of the 2006 104 Colorado Form 104 income tax booklet. Visit our Colorado Income Tax Forms page to obtain forms.

Mail the voucher to:
Colorado Department of Revenue
1375 Sherman St.
Denver, CO 80261-0008

If you're right on the cusp of owing Colorado taxes, I'd suggest that you send in form DR 158-I with twenty or hundred bucks or whatever you can spare, just in case, to reduce your risk of owing penalties. While Colorado has no failure to file penalty until October, there are failure to pay penalties:

Penalty and interest charges on tax owed:

When at least 90 percent of the tax owed is paid by the April 17 deadline, taxpayers are charged interest only and avoid penalty charges as long as the income tax filing (electronic or paper) and balance owed are sent by the Oct. 15 extension deadline.
Those who pay less than the required 90 percent of the amount due on or before April 17 will be charged interest and penalty on the unpaid balance. . . .

Penalty and interest rates:

Interest rate during 2006 is 11 percent on tax owed. A discounted rate of 8 percent is available if the balance due is paid when the return is filed or within 30 days.
Penalty is 5 percent of the balance due for the first month past the April 17 deadline plus 0.5 percent for each additional month up to a maximum of 12 percent.

The time saved by not having to calculate petty penalties by overpaying slightly by today, is worth the money right there.

Gift Taxes

The federal income tax deadline (April 17, 2007) is also the deadline for gift tax returns for gifts made in 2006. If you made a gift of more than $12,000 to a single individual this year (even if you or the donor are married) you probably need to file a gift tax return on Form 709.

Gift tax returns extensions used to be always made on the income tax return extension form 4868. This has changed, now it is sometimes filed on Form 8892 and the front page of Form 8892 tells you which form to file (the Form 8892 is taxes are due at this time, or if you aren't filing a form 4868 for your income taxes).

Colorado does not have a gift tax.

Fiduciary Income Tax Returns

Decedent's estates and trusts also have to file income tax returns on Form 1041 and today is the deadline for them too.

Fiduciary Tax Return Filing Requirements:

– Estates: Gross income of $600 or more or a nonresident alien beneficiary.
– Trusts: Any taxable income, gross income of $600 or more, or a nonresident alien beneficiary. A return is also due if there is any taxable income.
– Grantor-Type Trusts: A trust treated as owned entirely by grantors may not be required to file Form 1041. The most common type of grantor trust that doesn't have to file an income tax return is a revocable trust (sometimes called a living trust).

Most life insurance trusts with only a life insurance policy as an asset also don't have to file because they usually have less than $600 of gross income.

Trusts almost always have a calendar year for tax purposes. In decedent's estates, date of death is the beginning of the first tax year. The first year can cover any period of 12 months or less that ends on the last day of a month. A tax year is chosen when the first fiduciary return is filed.

Extensions of time to file these returns are filed on Form 7004, a change from the forms and requirements found in many prior years. Signatures are no longer required and the extension is automatic.

Business Entities

If you have a business entity, other than a single owner LLC, and haven't filed a tax return for 2006, you've blown it already in all likelihood. Get thee to an accountant or tax lawyer (after they're back from their late April vacations).

Parting Words

Best of luck!

15 April 2007

Insurance Companies

Not all insurance companies suck.

I got my first renter's insurance and car insurance policies from Allstate, a boring, mildly annoying, major property and casualty insurance firm that charges market rates and has a huge market share. I stuck with them for about 16 years, across four different states, through a number of minor claims. While nothing to write home about, the company did do its job well enough for me not to leave them in disgust, or even think about it very often.

It isn't that I didn't shop around. For example, I called up Geico to see if their claims were too good to be true. They were. While the "standard rate" at Allstate was more than the "standard rate" at Geico, nobody pays Allstate's standard rate. Almost everybody gets multiple policy discounts, good driver's discounts, safety features discounts and the like (even though my car has only standard safety features for its make and model, and my home's most sophisticated safety feature is a battery powered smoke alarm). So, when the dust settled, I couldn't find a better deal.

I could have looked at Allstate's close competitor State Farm, but having done Plaintiff's personal injury cases for a while, it was hard to overcome my distaste for the fact that they have engaged in more systemic bad faith claims handling (some of it technically legal, some not -- maybe their better now after having been sued often enough, but I don't believe it). I didn't want to get sucked into State Farm's strategic litigation strategies the next time I got sued and needed my insurance company to back me up.

One day, I get junk mail piece from Amica and decide to check them out. It turns out that Amica is a truly great insurance company and one of the great undiscovered secrets of the property and casualty insurance market. For one thing, it is a mutual company. That means that it is owned by its policy holders, a bit like a credit union or a cooperative, not by third party shareholders motivated solely by the bottom line. It is fiscally sound, something that is a worry with any insurance company that isn't a household name, because unlike banks, insurance companies aren't federally insured. And, get this, once I sign up for a policy, a month later they actually call up and tell me that due to an underwriting mistake that I should actually get a less expensive product.

All told, switching to Amica is saving me about $800 a year compared to the combined homeowner's and auto premiums I paid at Allstate, and is providing me with better coverages. This is huge considering that my rates weren't stunningly high to start with because I am a low risk driver and have a reasonably modest home. And, no, I have no relationship with Amica to advertise with them, I'm simply a plain old customer writing of my own accord.

One area were Amica has not proved to be a good deal is life insurance. My wife's life insurance is through TIAA-CREF, from the days when she worked at the admission's office of Mesa State College. Mine is through Northwestern Mutual. Again, neither are traditional for profit companies. Both afford us far better rates than we could get from Amica, although this may have something to do with the fact that we got them when we were younger, rather than the company itself.

Product Features

Blogger informs me that I can blog in Hindi.

Alas, I don't have some rather more pedestrian features that I could actually use -- for example, an ability to start using my laptop or desktop computer in less than the two or three minutes it seems to take for it to get warmed up once its been turned on.

Another big annoyance in cyber-land is the requirement so common around the Internet that passwords that must be reset in impossible to remember configurations every two months. This is the single worst Sarbanes-Oxley inspired development in existence, all the more so because it is counterproductive.

I also long for the day when it is possible to buy a computer loaded with everything you need and nothing that you don't. New computers inevitably come larded with all manner in "introductory trial offers" for software or services that are hard to remove from the system if you don't have a degree in computer science. Even necessary programs, like a word processor, tend to come bundled with products you don't need.

And, then there are the programs themselves. Why must I wade through 150 font choices, when I only use two or three? Ditto symbols -- I use a section mark and a paragraph mark and one or two other symbols, but must find them in a hay stack of endless ink splats I can't even name. Some features are so fiendishly annoying and counterproductive, like autoformatting, that you have no choice but to devote an hour or so at a new computer to deactivating them so that you don't throw potted plants at the perfectly innnocent monitor.

It isn't that some of the features aren't nice. But, many of them, like "auto summarize" need to be banished from the ordinary user interface and reserved for niche customers who actually use them, instead of being part of the default, so that less savy people like myself have to pull out manuals (which no longer are included in hard copy) and the obscure guts of the system to remove. Also, even if you do remove them, they aren't actually gone. They are still there taking up memory and boot time. Couldn't they, at least, have a wizard that allows you to prune applications when you first boot them up, a process that could be revisited with a click and an inserted master CD?

Apple has been the genius at recognizing that less is more. They brought the world the one button mouse, the iPod, and other inventions that have been wildly popular as a result of their simplicity. But, why hasn't anyone else come to that realization?

There are limits. I test drove a Toyota RAV 4 the other day. The eager salesman informed me that this four seat vehicle with two jumper seats had 14 cup holders. Clearly, too much. But, one can go the other direction too. The European Smart Car comes with no cup holders, but a huge ashtray, for its two passengers. Europeans and Americans clearly have different vices.

12 April 2007

An Open Letter To Mayor Hickenlooper

Denver's best efforts to deal with abusive law enforcement personnel are disappointing, as illustrated by the recent case of Denver Officer Randall Krouse.

Offense: Applies a Taser to the neck of Kenneth Rodriguez of Tucson, Arizona after making a racially charged remark. "Understando Taser?" Krouse is heard saying to Rodriguez, who was uncooperative but not assaulting the officers in anyway.

Result: Suspended for 60 days.

When a primarily culpable, racist, violent bad cop who also lies in a criminal case producing a false conviction gets only a 60 day suspension, the police discipline system is deeply broken. This isn’t even plausibly a case of mere negligence.

With rogue officers like Randall Krouse on the force, and soon to be back on the streets, I don't feel safe.

It is bad enough to sometimes have to fear criminals. At least the system is out to get them. No kid with spray paint is ever going to shock me with a Taser and know that he can get away with it. But, it is far worse to have the system protect criminals in uniform.

Randall Krouse belongs in prison, not back on the streets of Denver as a cop in a couple of months. Have any criminal charges been brought against him? He is a menace to our city and he undermines the faith the ordinary citizens like me can have in the police force generally. How can I trust a police force that allows men like Randall Krouse to remain a part of it? How can I as a juror trust police officers who testify at trial if officers whose lies produce false convictions are kept on the force? You can’t have liars in a job that routinely requires court testimony. This punishment is the equivalent of giving an embezzler 60 days off work and then returning him or her to handling the petty cash fund.

It is also a matter of city finances. Civil rights laws allow municipalities to protect themselves from liability by throwing guys like Randall Krouse under a bus and making it absolutely clear that this kind of behavior isn’t tolerated. But, allowing a guy like him to get off with a slap on the wrist in the face of clear evidence virtually amounts to a policy of condoning his behavior as not great, but tolerable in small amounts.

Mayor Hickenlooper, what do you have to say about this travesty? Are you doing anything to crack down harder on bad cops in the Denver Police force? This kind of kid gloves treatment of bad cops caught red handed on videotape, who then lie about it, is not acceptable. If your hands are tied by comparable discipline rules and union agreements, you need to roll up your sleeves as you have with other problems in this city, and overcome those barriers.

Making Up Our Minds About Juries

The Nacchio case illustrates, more through careful examination than anything exceptional about the case itself or the rulings made in it, how tight a leash we keep jurors on in the modern court system.

Jurors are intentionally kept ignorant of the larger context that surrounds the charges they are evaluating, are generally kept intentionally ignorant about the sentences that are likely to flow from their decisions, in federal court generally cannot ask questions or take notes, and are sometimes (like today) even prohibited from examining up close after the fact exhibits that it was O.K. for attorneys to present to them during the trial process.

They are chosen for their lack of knowledge about the case. Curious minds who read papers and follow up stories on the internet need not apply. Beyond that, juror selection is vodoo psychology.

The Nacchio case was a criminal case, but in civil cases, where they are often called upon to assess damage amounts for punitive damages or emotional distress, they are given no meaningful guidance in the process of choosing a number, and generally aren't told about the statutory constraints that will be applied to their determination after the fact.

It is hard to reconcile this primative institution of popular democracy with such tight constraints. At some point, over constraining the system so that it is very difficult to do it right, becomes more unpredictable than less constrained, but attainable standards. Why should jurors have to make calls in a context that no lawyer would tolerate? Has what is legally relevant grown so divorced from what matters to the average juror?

I can't help but wonder if the increasingly constrained world of the juror is helping to drive the powerful long term trend towards fewer jury trials. Increasingly, people prefer to have their case heard by a judge who knows much better what is really going on, than to have their case heard by a jury that must make decisions in an odd vacuum.

A Great Day For Ugandan Women

On April 4, 2007, the Constitutional Court in Uganda reformed a host of laws in areas from adultery, to inheritances, to divorce and guardianship, where women were treated unfairly. It is probably the greatest single advance for women's legal rights in a single country in a single day in the history of the world.

AEI Survey: Dems Better Than GOP On Taxes

The American Enterprise Institute is one of the leading economically conservative think tanks in the nation. But, like all think tanks, they are compelled to be at least somewhat reality based. Their latest report on public attitudes about taxes is notable:

Today, Democrats lead Republicans as the party better able to handle taxes, a significant change from the past.

This is huge. While some Republicans are in the party for social conservatism, the dominant Republican party economic issue for eons has been taxes. The GOP's big money and small business constituencies are driven primarily by those issues, despite some distaste for GOP positions on other matters. If this trend endures, the GOP is headed for permanent minority status.

Don't Get Accidentally Boffed By The Army

The Army does pay compensation for accidental killings of innocent people. But, not much. The going rate is $500 for dead boys, a usual cap of $2,500 for a wrongful killing, and $7,500 in truly egregious cases.

Is it any wonder that the Army creates new insurgents every day?

Morning Impressions

As I mailed my income tax extension form this morning at the post office, a woman in line in front of me, obviously not of African origins, mailed a letter to Rwanda. I'm sure that the letter carried quite a story, but I'm content that it be a private one (despite the fact that the Bush Administration claims a right to open all private mail sent abroad).

Hearing of the bombing in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria brought to mind Guy Fawkes. He failed to bomb the British parliament, a failure celebrated each year there. What if, as in Iraq, Guy Fawkes had succeeded? It is an ill omen for Iraqi democracy.

The blog-advertiser axis has bitten Ann Coulter, and it has bitten Don Imus. The prudish right was one of the first to use the strategy of complaining to advertisers to cause the traditional media to be squeamish about sex. The anti-defamation league followed suit to go after anti-Semitic media. Now, the left has set its eyes on hateful bigots, and has the power to act with the newly unifying and organizing force of the blogs (the conservative blogosphere isn't to be ignored either -- John McCain is offering them the exclusive access that used to be reserved for evangelical Christian religious leaders in the GOP).

The traditional media is in a squeeze. The path to ratings is paved with niche audiences, while the path to sales demands that businesses offend almost no one. The Nielson audience size equals value model no longer works in an era where one audience feels free to be offended by offerings aimed at another audience. Niche marketing that offends others doesn't work for products that must appeal to non-niche audiences. I suspect that the result will be even more bland mass media, accompanied by increasingly selective subscriber driven media. Satellite radio, with a commercial free format, doesn't have to worry about advertiser pressure on content, so it can afford to push the envelope. Broadcast media, HD or not, can't.

I'll alert you to the comment from a Campbell support in my post on her. It doesn't change my mind, but it deserves a read.

Before filing the income tax extension, I had to do some back of napkin calculations to figure out what I owed. It isn't wise or good form to discuss the exact numbers, but suffice it to say that the federal income tax is not a great concern for the vast majority of Americans. My federal income tax bill is a drop in the bucket compared to my FICA taxes, or my combined state and local tax burden. At risk of undermining my own self-interests, the tax code is very kind, too kind, to married couples with a two incomes, one spouse who makes a lot more than the other, and a couple of kids.

And, finally, WTF is Bush thinking in trying to prevent Congress from securing testimony by subpeona from federal prison inmates, something it has been doing for decades? Isn't it bad enough for him to insist on a right to have government officials lie of the record to members of Congress and to tap their phones? When did the lobby in favor of Congressional ignorance get so strong? Bush can win an occassional battle with Congress, but going head to head with it on institutional perogatives is a good way to get himself bipartisan opposition. In the most recent case it wasn't even a scandal investigation (so far as we knew before the administration squaked). It was simply a routine attempt to figure out how tax cheats do their business so that Congress can prevent it. Was this a pre-emptive strike to prevent testimony from the next wave of Republican convicted felons like Scooter Libby?

11 April 2007

Don't Vote For Carol Campbell

I have refrained from making any public endorsements in the Denver election so far. But, I will make one. Don't vote for Carol Campbell for the at large city council seat. A post at Renegade Crafters describes some concerns, and my review of what was said by and about her in Life on Capitol Hill neighborhood newspaper reaffirmed my concerns about her.

Her excessive concern about density, her determination that stopping "cruising" is a priority, her desire to set up a modern day leper colony for sex offenders in Denver, and her obsession generally with petty disorder are deeply at odds with my own views about Denver's future where the city is basically heading in the right direction, is diverse, and is tolerant.

The gut feeling I get when I read her stuff is to be afraid of where she might take the city. She is a fan of "zero tolerance" when it comes to graffiti (a mindset that almost always produces absurd results at some point). She thinks that we need to ship undocumented immigrants in her immigrant filled West side neighborhood back home. While she says it kindly, her bottom line is that "I would like to see the millions of illegal immigrants in our country . . . go home." She believes that "government and education, outside of foreign language classes, should be conducted in English." She bemoans the fact that the "new neighbors don’t look like the typical nuclear family unit- mom, dad, and a of couple kids."

While her take on the world is thickly veiled, I can't help but to think that she had a lot of underlying agreement with Tom Tancredo, less his acute affliction with foot in mouth disease.

This isn't to say that she doesn't have some individually worthwhile ideas. She is respectable, scrupulously careful not to expressly play the race card, and does look for constructive approaches rather than simply running off at the mouth, like most candidates concerned about immigration. But, you don't have to be on city council to present good ideas. What matters is her worldview and priorities. She is on a mission to tame and neuter the city, and Denver's problem is not that it is too wild. Both of the two incumbents in the two city council at large posts voters will consider in this election have done a decent job as part of the overall team in city hall and deserve to be returned to their posts.

Revised Denver Election Predictions

Denver Politics has been doing an exemplary job of covering the 2007 Denver municipal election races for Mayor, Auditor, City Council and in the D.A. term limits issue race. Based on information from the site, I'm slightly revising my prior predictions in the races.

I stand by my "all incumbents will win" prediction.

In Council District 7, I stand by my Chris Nevitt will win prediction and by my prediction that there is a good chance of a runoff election. However, I will now add that I think that the most likely other candidate to make it into a runoff is Shelley Watters.

Denver Politics says this is shaping up to be a union (Nevitt) v. business (Watters) fight. I'm skeptical of that analysis, however. While Nevitt truly is a labor backed candidate, just about all big donors in any case who aren't unions are going to be businesses or wealthy individuals, and I don't think that business v. labor divisions are that important to the voting public in city politics today. While Watters certainly isn't the "union candidate" in the race (and third place underdog Julie Conner also has more union support than she does), that doesn't mean that she is anti-union. On the issues, she and Nevitt are both taking the rather similar boring positions you'd expect from any candidate in the district.

Nevitt's biggest worry in a runoff is likely that a lot of liberal leaning, not terribly informed voters will favor a woman if they know nothing else about a candidate. In the general election, Watters and Conner split the knee jerk vote for a woman vote. In a runoff, they won't.

In Council District 8, I stand by my Darrell Watson will win prediction and by my prediction that there is a good chance of a runoff election. However, I will now add that I think that the most likely other candidate to make it into a runoff is Carla Madison. The other candidates in that race have been dismal in their fundraising.

The fact that both Watson and Madison have been the subject of (relatively mild) smears in this campaign shows that they are seen as viable. Smears aren't fun to be on the receiving end of, but nobody smears someone sure to lose. Also, smears hurt if only one leading candidate is smeared, but balance out if there are smears directed at every leading candidate.

In a runoff, Watson probably has an edge. Watson's virtue is his appeal to the entire district, both North Denver (as an African American man with strong community ties) and to downtown (as a financial professional with ties to big foundations, and as a gay man), both of which are part of diverse Council District 8. Other candidates in the first round pick off bits and pieces of his natural constituencies. In a runoff, however, he stops bleeding that support. Madison's political backing, in contrast, comes largely from the boundaries of her neighborhood where she has been active in the neighborhood association.

In Council District 3, I previously made no prediction. I now call Paul Lopez as the front runner, and Ben Romero as the runner up, with a runoff election likely. This is based largely on fund raising, which is a proxy for organization and grass roots support. These two men have raised the vast majority of all money raised in the race. The odds of a runoff are good as there are so many candidates and none has such overwhelming support that it will be easy to get over the 50% mark for any of them.

I previously made no prediction on the DA term limits issue. I now predict that it will pass based on unscientific internet polls, newspaper endorsements, a strong track record of measures referred by city council, a lack of any meaningful opposition, and the popularity of the current incumbent in the office.