28 November 2012

Quote of the Day

Want to start a fairy-tale romance with me? BTW, it might be doomed, k?
-- Cara Lynn Shultz, "Spellbound" (2011).

Usually the disclaimer is just assumed, but it is always applies anyway and we don't (and shouldn't) let it stop us.

20 November 2012

Legal Job Market Could Be Better

* Depending on which dataset is used, of the 1.4 million law graduates of the last 40-years, 200,000-600,000 are not working as attorneys. [This is 14%-43%.]
* Over the last 25 years this percentage has averaged 68%, meaning 1 out of every 3 graduates couldn't find [full-time, JD-required jobs excluding those who start their own practice] legal work. . . . [This percentage] it is not correlated with bar passage rates. . .
* 16% of graduates of schools accredited before 1975 found employment in firms of 100 attorneys, while under 4% of graduates of schools accredited after this time did.
* Income inequality for starting salaries has been widening dramatically. Over the last 16 years, the 75th percentile real starting salary has increased 73%, while the 25th percentile real starting salary has increased just 11% (almost all of it occurring before 2000).

From here via here.

It is not unfair to guess that a large share of the roughly one in three law school graduates who are not currently working as attorneys are mostly people who never passsed the bar exam, people who passed the bar exam but who did not find full time employment as a lawyer immediately after graduating from law school, women who have left the work force (possibly temporarily) to raise young children, and early retirees.  The percentage of lawyers who didn't find full time work as lawyers immediately after law school and the percentage of people with law degrees who do not currently practice law are similar.

This data set is yet another showing that bifurcation of the legal profession economically.

Law School Is Unpopular At The Moment

Undergraduates considering practicing law (particularly the most academically able undergraduates) are aware of these facts and have reacted accordingly, although at a roughly one year's delay relative to the job market for new associate attorneys triggered by changes in large law firm hiring and retention practices in response to the financial crisis.

The number of people taking the LSAT that is necessary to apply to law school has declined for every available examination date (compared to the corresponding date a year earlier) since October 2010. The number of LSAT takers last month "was down 37.8% from 2009's all-time peak. There have not been this few LSAT test-takers in October since 1999."  (I personally beat the rush and took the bar exam in the October of 1991.)

Law schools have also reacted to declining undergraduate interest in going to law school, although with an even greater delay from the underlying drivers of this trend.

A majority of U.S. law schools have cut the size of their entering classes this year (although the drop in the size of the applicant pools is much greater than the drop in the number of available 1L spots at U.S. law schools).

Advice For Prospective Law Students

If you are an academically strong undergraduate student, aim high in your choice of law schools to apply to, since you may be able to gain admission to top law schools you wouldn't have had a realistic shot at a few years ago.

Even in this tough job market for new law school graduates, earning a law degree from a top law school with a good class rank, and then passing the bar exam is one of the more reliable ways for a young person with strong academic abilities to enter the upper middle class compared to the alternatives.

And, if you are an academically marginal undergraduate student or recent college graduate, and underperformed relative to your abilities as a college student, and you really wants to become a lawyer, there has never been a better time to sign up for the LSATs and to apply for law school (with an emphasis on the least selective law schools, many of them newly accredited).  The selectivity of U.S. law schools is lower than it has been for a very long time.

Also, however bad the job market for new lawyers may be now, it will probably be better three years from now, when you graduate from law school, than it is right now.

Of course, if you can't pass the bar exam, it isn't worth your trouble, so if your poor undergraduate record is an accurate reflection of your academic abilities, law is not the right career choice for you. Historically, the typical student right on the margin between being able to someday pass the bar exam and never passing the bar exam has had roughly a 2.8 undergraduate GPA and 149 LSAT score (which is slightly below that undergraduate GPA and LSAT of the average LSAT test taker, a group of people whose average academic abilities are somewhat better than those of the average college graduate). Basically, the typical bar exam is set at a level that can be passed by most college graduates in the top half of college graduates academically, but not by college graduates who are significantly less academically able than the average college graduate.

If your academic abilities, setting aside some temporary factor that caused you to underperform on either measure of academic ability, are below this level, law school is a bad choice for you. If you graduate from law school without passing the bar exam, you will have little to show for it but some very large student loans that can't be discharged in bankruptcy, an income that won't support those student loan payments, and a worthless (in the job market) diploma to hang on the wall in your den.

Likewise, if you are an academically mediocre student who does manage to pass the bar exam, you have probably found yourself a ticket to a middle class life if you have good work habits and social skills (very few people with law degrees, even at the economic low end of the profession, have been unemployed even during the "Great Recession"), but not to the affluence, prestige and power of your most academically able peers. Aim for a career in criminal law or in a small law firm serving mostly the needs of working class and middle class people rather than affluent individuals, businesses or government agencies.

19 November 2012

Republicans Briefly Make Sense On IP

Republicans were briefly saying things that made sense about intellectual property law this weekend.  Then, they swiftly realized their error and recanted.
On Saturday the House Republican Study Committee released a radical but sensible position paper on copyright that called for limiting statutory damages (which are typically far higher than actual damages), expanding fair use exceptions, punishing false copyright claims and limiting terms.  . . . Mike Masnick and Cory Doctorow called the report “a watershed moment,” and there was lots of discussion on twitter and elsewhere about how this represented a Republican move towards recapturing youth and reasserting support for markets and innovation over business interests.

Alas, it was not to be. Within 24 hours the report was yanked. It doesn’t take much inside knowledge to guess what happened It does give me some pleasure, however, to say that you can still read the report courtesy of the Maryland Pirates.
From here.

16 November 2012

Denver Post Misleading On Child Abuse Sentencing

A Denver Post story today on the sentences and prosecution practices found in child abuse and neglect cases notes that, on average, the sentences for these offenses and treatment of offenders in these cases is more lenient than it is for other felonies of the same grade (class 2 and class 3 felonies respectively).

The story fails to see the forest for the trees in this area of Colorado's criminal justice system, and gets the bottom line on this important issue in Colorado almost completely backward.

The Denver Post Is Not Making Apples To Apples Comparisons.

What the story completely neglects to mention, is that the sentences in child abuse and neglect cases in Colorado are more severe than they would have been if the same offense had been committed against anyone other than a dependent child.

* The class 2 felony "Child abuse resulting in death", CRS 18-6-401(7)(I), is the same crime as the class 4 felony of manslaughter, CRS 18-3-104, had it been committed against anyone other than a child (and generally speaking the offense is only applied to children who are in the care of the offender).

For example, if your reckless conduct causes the death of a child in your care, you are guilty of a class 2 child abuse felony (for which the average sentence is 29.9 years in Coloraod according to the Denver Post). If your reckless conduct caused the death of anyone else, you would be guilty of a class 4 manslaughter felony with an enhahnced sentence punishable by four to twelve years in prison.

The sentence actually imposed is about four times longer (about 22 years longer) than it would be for a case not involving a child.

* The class 3 felony "Child abuse negligently causing death", CRS 18-6-401(7)(a)(II), is the same crime as the class 5 felony of negligent homicide, CRS 18-3-105, had it been committed against anyone other than a child (and generally speaking the offense is only applied to children who are in the care of the offender).

For example, if you drive a car in a criminally negligent manner causing the death of your child who is a passenger, and also an adult stranger in another car, you are guilty of a class 3 child abuse felony (for which the average sentence is 13.6 years in Colorado according to the Denver Post), and you are also guilty of a class 5 negligent homicide felony with an enhanced sentence, which is punishable by eighteen months to six years years in prison.

The sentence actually imposed is about four times longer (about ten years longer) than it would be for a case not involving a child.

Even if you accept the legislature's judgment that a death from child abuse should be punished more severely than the homicide of a stranger involving comparable levels of intent, it does not follow that the additional punishment should be four times as long.

By way of comparison, in Colorado, a similar sentencing enhancement (three time the maximum sentence for the offense of conviction) is applied to offenders with two separate prior felony convictions within the last ten years. CRS 18-1.3-801(1.5). A four fold maximum sentence requires four prior felony convictions (but without within the last ten years limitation). CRS 18-1.3-801(2).

Is it really appropriate to enhance the sentence of a first time child abuse causing death offender by the same amount by which we enhance the sentence of someone with three or four prior felony convictions who has been convicted of a new felony?

The fact that judges and prosecutors exercise some very modest leniency in these cases, as demonstrated by the Denver Post's analysis, is entirely appropriate and reflects the widespread understanding of those who are involved in Colorado's criminal justice system, that Colorado's statutes punish child abuse much more severely than other crimes of comparable culpability in the state.

It is also important to recognize that a significant subset of child abuse causing death cases in the state involve prosecutions of seriously troubled young women who give birth alone, for example, in public bathroooms at a prom, who caused the death of their just born infant (often premature) while in the throes of having just given birth after having struggled with even acknowledging that they were pregnant.  Our society in not better off when these women are locked away in prison for fourteen to thirty years.  Leniency in cases like these alone is enough to reduce the average punishments metted out for child abuse offenses.

Losing A Child (And Other Children) Is A Punishment For Most Child Abuse Offenders

When you recklessly or negligently kill a stranger, the stranger's death, per se, usually isn't something that personally causes the offender to suffer (other than facing criminal punmishments and some generalized guilt).

Most child abuse causing death offenders are parents or guardians of a child who due to reckless or negligent conduct cause the death of their own child.

While there are some offenders who intentionally cause the death of their own child and don't regret having done so (who could have been punished for first or second degree murder in any case), the vast majority of child abuse offenders did care about and love their child, even though they did something seriously wrong that caused that child's death.

Losing a beloved child, even if it is a result of your own personal failings and is your fault, is a devistating loss to most child abuse causing death offenders. So, considering that point, some leniency relevant to someone who committed the same offense towards a stranger is justified.

Also, a conviction for child abuse causing death almost always results in the parent or guardian losing not only the child killed, but also having the parent-child relationship with any other children they have terminated.  This is another severe punishment for most child abuse offenders in addition to any criminal sentence imposed.

Reserving the harshest punishments for people who knowingly cause the deaths of their children (rather than merely recklessly do so), whom we may presume really haven't suffered as much from the death of their child, just as we do in the case of people who kill strangers (this is second degree murder, a class two felony) would be more appropriate.

Children Are Fragile

Many inexperienced, overwhelmed, low income parents (and this group of parents makes up a disproportionate share of child abuse causing death defendants), have not yet learned that children are more fragile than adults, and learn the hard way from the incident that caused the death.

While a child abuse causing death offender's conduct may have been reckless or negligent, it was also conduct that would often not have been fatal to an adult and that they didn't fully comprehend would be more harmful to a child. Thus, while it is often culpable and deserving of criminal punishment, on average, child abuse causing death cases often involve conduct that is less extreme and less culpable than manslaughter or negligent homicide cases.

Equally important, a far larger share of cases of child abuse causing death are cases where the question, "did the offenders conduct cause the death of the child?" is more seriously in doubt than it is in ordinary homicide cases. Given the inevitable reality that juries will sometimes make mistakes on the issue of causation, a less extreme sentence than one used in situations where the cause of death is not in the least in doubt in the typical case, is appropriate.  It is not uncommon for new medical analysis years later to determine that the death of a child for which a parent was sentenced to a long sentence of incarceration was not in fact caused by abuse as a jury concluded based on often sincere by inaccurate in hindsight expert testimony at trial.

Most Child Abuse Offenders Are Not A Great Threat To The General Public

The empirical research on criminal sentencing laws also demonstrate that even very harsh sentences for convicted offenders have minimal marginal impact in discouraging people from committing offenses in the first place. Almost all of the crime reduction benefits associated with long criminal sentences comes from immobilizing people who are at high risk of committing future crimes. Swift and reliable punishments of modest severity are far more effective at discouraging people from committing future crimes than delayed and uncertain punishments of much greater severity.

The main purpose of long sentences of imprisonment is not so much to punish the offender as it is to protect the general public from keeping the individual from horrifically reoffending and thus causing further harm.

Someone who recklessly causes the death of their own child is very often not nearly so great a threat to members of the general public as someone who knowingly kills a stranger, yet in Colorado, both offenses are class 2 felonies.

Likewise, someone who negligently causes the death of their own child is very often not nearly so great a threat to members of the general public as someone who knowningly causes seriously bodily injury to another or carries out an aggravated rape, which are also class 3 felonies.

These offenders may pose an extraordinary risk to other children in their care, if they are released.  But, there are far less costly ways of addressing this, such as a lifetime parole requirement barring child abuse causing death offenders from having children in their care that is regularly audited by state officials.

The Cost Of Incarceration Is Better Spent Elsewhere

An extra ten years in prison for a negligent child abuse causing death offender relative to a negligent homicide offender, costs the State of Colorado something on the order of $300,000. It also deprives that person and their family (quite possibly siblings or a parent of the child who died) of ten years of financial support from that person's earnings and deprives the government of ten years of taxes that the offender would have paid.

In the case of a child abuse causing death case where the offender is reckless rather than merely criminally negligent, the additional cost to the state is twice as great.

As other stories in the Denver Post series have made clear, many of the overlooked cases of child abuse that are reported and ultimately cause death in Colorado arise from a lack of funding for child protective services resources. Diverting money from longer sentences for convicted child abuse causing death offenders to child protective services funding would make a difference.

The amount of money saved by having sentencing in child abuse cases comparable to the sentences that would apply in the absence of Colorado's child abuse statute, could easily prevent at least one and often more than one additional child abuse death if spent on prevention rather than punishment. The incredible waste arising from Colorado's harsh statute makes children less safe, not more safe.

Bottom Line: Colorado's Child Abuse Sentences Are A Case Of Legislative Hysteria

In short, Colorado's legislators, seeking to look like they were taking tough action on an important and emotional social issue, child abuse, enacted laws that impose grossly disproportionate sentences for child abuse offenses relative to comparably culpable crimes committed against strangers.

The Denver Post article, by screaming out a headline that makes it look like Colorado is punishing these offenders leniently, when in fact, it is punishing them extremely harshly, irresponsibly undermines efforts to make rational reforms of these laws that currently wreck lives and fail to take the kind of constuctive actions that could really help address this serious social problem.

Moderate Republicans Vanishing

Just ten years ago, in the 108th Senate, there were 10 Democrats with DW-Nominate scores between −.3 and -.2 (the more negative, the more liberal), and 8 Republicans with DW-Nominate scores between .2 and .3 (the more positive, the more conservative). And there were 6 Democrats between −.2 and 0 and 7 Republicans between 0 and .2, which is probably a better reflection of what we mean by truly moderate Senators (again, with all of this measuring the distance of Senators from their colleagues past and present based on their voting records).

In the upcoming Senate, we have to do some extrapolation because we don’t have DW-Nominate scores for those who are new to the Senate (and the DW-Nominate constant scores for the House cannot simply be applied to the Senate). But Boris Shor at the University of Chicago did some calculations, about the ideologies of the Senate candidates based on their votes (where applicable) or their stated positions via VoteSmart, and as it turns out it seems pretty clear that the new Republicans in the 113th Senate are at least as conservative as the median Senate Republican in the 112th. And for my purposes, all that matters is that these new Senate Republicans will not be among the most liberal members of the Republican Senate caucus. In light of the numbers and everything we know about them, I’m willing to make that assertion about Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, and Deb Fischer, three of the most conservative Republicans running for Senate seats this past election. The Democrats are trickier, in that there are four new Senators who will caucus with the Democrats (including Angus King) who might be among the most conservative Senate Democrats: Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Angus King, and Tim Kaine. In light of Donnelly’s very moderate voting record (almost perfectly the midpoint between Republicans and Democrats, according to Shor’s numbers), he in particular looks like he will be among the most conservative Democrats, but others in this group might also end up being quite moderate. To avoid making unwarranted assumptions, in the numbers below I put only one of these four, Donnelly, between −.2 and 0, and the remainder more than −.3 away from 0. If I am wrong in placing these four, that still doesn’t change the number very much. And, more importantly, it doesn’t change the really interesting and striking story — the dramatic drop in the number of moderate Republicans.

Here are the numbers for the new Senate:
Democrats between −.3 and -.2: 12
Democrats between −.2 and 0: 5
Republicans between .3 and .2: 3
Republicans between .2 and 0: 1

From here

Thus, ten years ago there were 8 somewhat moderate Republicans and 7 very moderate Republicans in the Senate, and 10 somewhat moderate Democrats and 6 very moderate Democrats in the Senate.

Now there are roughly similar numbers of moderate Democrats, but only 3 somewhat moderate Republicans (down by 5) and only one very moderate Republican (down by 6).

Culture As An Organizing Principle

Deep Thoughts On A Shallow Study

This morning I read an executive summary of yet another fairly shallow, study on parenting in marketing research cluster analysis style from the Institute for Advanced Cultural Studies at the University of Virgina. In a nutshell, the study classified the parenting styles of about 90% of American parents into one of four "family cultures" drawing from a representative national survey of about 3,000 parents of school aged children, followed by ninety minute follow up interviews with 101 of them over three years.

The four categories were "Faithful", "Engaged Progressive", "Detached", and "American Dreamers". I've inserted additional comments on each based on the executive summary in italics next to the relevant quotations from the press release below. The added emphasis is mind and some headings have been omitted without indication.

The Faithful (20 percent of American parents) adhere to a divine and timeless morality, handed down through Christianity, Judaism or Islam, giving them a strong sense of right and wrong. Understanding human nature as “basically sinful” and seeing moral decline in the larger society, including in the public schools, the Faithful seek to defend and multiply the traditional social and moral order by creating it within their homes and instilling it in their children, with support from their church community. Raising “children whose lives reflect God’s purpose” is a more important parenting goal than their children’s eventual happiness or career success.

This group has a 4-1 ratio of Republicans to Democrats, is concentrated in the South (it is rare in the Pacific and Northeastern States), is heavily middle class white, and contains at least a plurality of Evangelical Christians. They don't trust their children, distrust the larger society, obsess about sex and aren't worried about spanking. But, they do spend a lot of time with their children and get lets of community support through the church. I'm skeptical that many Jews or Muslims actually fit in the designation despite the P.C. inclusively of the label. They have more children - a quarter have four or more.

For Engaged Progressives (21 percent of parents), morality centers around personal freedom and responsibility. Having sidelined God as morality’s author, Engaged Progressives see few moral absolutes beyond the Golden Rule. They value honesty, are skeptical about religion and are often guided morally by their own personal experience or what “feels right” to them. Politically liberal and the least religious of all family types, they are generally optimistic about today’s culture and their children’s prospects. Aiming to train their children to be “responsible choosers,” Engaged Progressives strategically allow their children freedom at younger ages than other parents. By age 14, their children have complete information about birth control, by 15 they are surfing the Web without adult supervision, and by age 16 they are watching R-rated movies.

This group which includes me and most of my parent peers has a 4-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans, they are rare in the South and common in the Pacific states and Northeast, this group is heavily middle to upper middle class white, is secular leaning, trusts their children and the larger world (except religion), disfavors spanking, and is by far the most educated. They have slightly higher divorce rates than the Faithful, but still at the national average level. They are much more likely than the Faithful to see having two children as ideal and live accordingly.

The parenting strategy of The Detached (19 percent of parents) can be summarized as: Let kids be kids and let the cards fall where they may. The Detached are primarily white parents with blue-collar jobs, no college degree and lower household income. Pessimistic about the future and their children’s opportunities, they report lower levels of marital happiness, and do not feel particularly close to their children. They feel they are in a “losing battle with all the other influences out there” and it shows in their practices. They spend less than two hours a day interacting with their children, they do not routinely monitor their children’s homework, and they report lower grades for their children. When they do have dinner together as a family it is often in front of the TV.

American Dreamers (27 percent of parents) are defined by their optimism about their children’s abilities and opportunities. These parents, with relatively low household income and education, pour themselves into raising their children and providing them every possible material and social advantage. They also invest much effort protecting them from negative social influences and shaping their children’s moral character. This is the most common family culture among blacks and Hispanics, with each group making up about a quarter of American Dreamers. American Dreamers describe their relationships with their children as “very close” and express a strong desire to be “best friends” with their children once they are grown.

One comment true for all four categories rang particularly true:

Unlike many parents in the 1960s who faced a “generation gap,” today's parents believe their children largely share their values. Most family arguments and strife center around mundane, day-to-day issues like doing chores.

The Centrality of Culture And Limits Of Cluster Analysis

Despite the fact that the study was fairly shallow, it has some resonance and validates the notion of using the organizational unit of "a culture" as an organizing principle in a wide variety of social science disciplines from archaeology, to linguistics, to the study of religion, to political science, to history, to educational theory, to law, to the economics and sociology of social class, to criminology, to applied psychology, to economic development.

Cluster analysis in survey methodology or demographic studies works primarily because there actually is an underlying reality of discrete cultures and subcultures that are internally fairly (although not entirely) homogeneous.

However, the study can be faulted for simply doing raw cluster analysis rather than fitting parenting cultures into the already well established literature of white and ethnic subcultures in the United States, sometimes reflecting different approaches to parenting by members of different social classes who form subcultures within the same culture, and at other times reflecting affiliations with fundamentally separate cultural units.

Raw cluster analysis methods conflate parallel but historically and culturally distinct groups based on superficial similarities in a way that can obscure as much as it reveals. For example, while "Faithful" parenting may accurately reflect to some extent the parenting style of an American Muslim convert who is culturally Southern with Evangelical Christian roots, it is likely something of a false friend that is more likely to be misleading than helpful when used to make generalizations about an American Orthodox Jew or a Muslim in an immigrant community.

Likewise, I suspect that the "Detached" parenting category may be a degenerate category made up of more than one class specific subculture within one of the other sets of parenting folkways that conceals differing sets of parental aspirations that aren't being realized by people who might have been Engaged Progressive or Faithful parents, for example, if they had the resources to do so.

The notion that the most fruitful way to understand political activity is on some platonic multidimensional scale looking at views, for example, on cultural and economic dimensions, is mostly wrong. Instead, political ideology is best understood as the product of a process of building coalitions of coherent, pre-existing, relatively stable discrete cultures and subcultures.

What Is A Culture, In The Sense Of An Analytical Object In The Social Sciences?

To use the analytical framework of Fischer's book "Albion's Seed," white Americans largely derive their own cultures from four English subcultures with roots going back to the colonial era which subsequent waves of immigrants have largely absorbed from local regional culture of the place to which they have migrated within the United States. These four main cultures were those of the New England Puritans, the Mid-Atlantic Quakers, the Royalist in exile lowland South, and the Borderlands Culture of Appalachia and the highlands South (the influences of the Dutch in the greater New York City area, of a small Celtic immigrant community in a small Southern coastal area, a West Indian colonial influenced area in South Carolina, the French influence in Louisiana, Hispanic influences in the American Southwest and Florida, and African American cultures were omitted from that analysis). The first two were particularly influential in the culture "North" which is predominant in Blue State America, while the latter two were particularly influential in the cultural "South which is predominant in Red State America.

Each culture is an organizing unit of analysis shares a rich and multifaceted set of "folkways" that include everything from marriage and parenting practices, to political ideologies, to attitudes towards legal institutions, to moral values, to attitudes towards the supernatural, to predominant means of economic organization, to styles of social interactions, to religious inclinations, to fashions in clothing, household goods, architecture, aesthetic sensibilities and food, to rhythm of the year. A "culture" in this sense, generally corresponds to a particular linguistic dialect, which is one of the folkways that goes into making the culture.

There are gray cases of ambiguous or hybrid individuals, but the overwhelming general rule is that the vast majority of people are easily associated with a particular culture (often specific to their ethnicity, with religion and region being a particular useful proxy for white subcultures that are not formally recognized in a rigorous way statistically).

The processes involved in religious conversions are often part and parcel of the larger process of cultural conversion as religion is an important component of and marker of cultural identity. Mass migrations, and sometimes mass populations replacements or mass "culture shifts" (by analogy to mass language shifts), are also critical mechanisms here. Subcultures with distinct and distant historical sources can experience convergent evolution in given conditions and can also borrow from each other creating areal effects similar to those seen in linguistic families.

The overall structure of variation in culture closely resembles the structure of variation in languages where some features (isoglosses) are particularly diagnostic of the overall nature of the dialect variation that exists as a whole. The concept of a "culture" in this sense is also closely linked to the notion of a "population" in population genetics. Difficulties in definition have more to do with fuzzy thinking about the concept within disciplines than it does with a deficiency of the concept itself as a rigorous and useful one.

The folkways of a culture are deeply intertwined with each other, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. While there is room for innovation and variation within a culture, diversification and assimilation of foreign influences, and the emergence of subcultures, individual pieces of a culture cannot be adjusted a la carte. Instead, a culture as a whole evolves from its historical roots with many interrelated parts changing at the same time in response to particular developments and influences.

Founding cultures are profoundly persistent. They still have clearly visible influences on day to day life two hundred and fifty years after their arrival, despite the fact that to survive every piece of these cultures must be retransmitted at each new generation. Founding cultures are more stable, for example, than the ideology of the political parties whose regional strengths reflect the coalitions built from them.

Cultural Darwinism

More than one culture can co-exist in a single region, and when this happens, it often corresponds, in part, to socio-economic or social class or caste or ethnic divides. Operationally, race is mostly relevant because it is reflective of a cultural package. But, the co-existence of multiple cultures in a single community or society is not necessarily stable.

Most of the interesting political struggles are fundamentally competitions between representatives of particular cultures. This is also the source of a great deal of societal tension and conflict in day to day life.  Understanding history in the context of struggles between competing cultures and of the evolutionary history of today's competing cultures can give history much more meaning and relevance than a more traditional presentation of the subject.

While academic and elite etiquette in multicultural society like that of the U.S. nominally assumes that all cultures in the land are equal in dignity, this is a bit like the equality one sees in U.S. Constitutional law. This equality in dignity does not deny the fact that cultures are real functional aspects of how we live our lives and that some cultures may have more of a "selective advantage" in society than another in a particular time and place. In one era, under one set of conditions, for example, in early 18th century Appalachia, a Borderland culture may be the optimal set of folkways from the available choices. In another place and era, for example, in the Mid-Atlantic states as industrialization is becoming a critical economic trend in the mid-19th century, the cultural concepts of the early American Quakers may be more optimal.

Memetic evolution operates to a great extent at the level of diversity within the cultures and subcultures of a region, in a manner parallel to genetic evolution. Variations that are more functional thrive and are transmitted to the next generation both parent to child, and by securing converts who consciously adopt cultural practices different from the ones that they were born to know. Dysfunctional variations wither as adherents of it have fewer descendants biologically and have fewer people who convert into the culture than convert out of it. Cultural co-existence is often unstable, at least until workable institutions of federalism or stable metacultural rules involving relationships between castes or distinct cultures within a society are worked out to form a seamless whole.

Put more brutally, often, when there is more than one culture in a society, one will win and the rest will lose.

Long before that happens, a society will start to have a superstrate or dominant culture, and one or more substrate or subordinate cultures. Ultimately, the subordinate cultures will tend to go extinct entirely.

The stakes in culture wars are high, the process of determining who wins isn't played by the rules of cricket, and as societies increasingly grow in scale as technology makes the world a smaller place, the number of competitors in each ring fighting to the death in these collective culture wars become greater.

The mass gladitorial competition of cultures as the increased scale of society has reduced the number of available cultural niches is going on as vigorously now as it ever has in history.  Half of the world's languages, and thus, half of its cultures (defined at the fairly high level of analysis of all of the cultures and subcultures associated with particular mutually unintelligible dialects) will die in a matter of decades.

Well mannered academics and elite culture members may have the luxury of treating the competitors in these culture wars as contestants equal in dignity.   But, in general, the competitors are usually going to be distinctly unequal in reality in their fitness within the context of a particular time or place. Some will thrive while others will wither, unless they can evolve to be more competitive or parley themselves into some "ecological niche" within the society's cultural landscape that allows them to persist under conditions that allow the culture to survive - for example, as the Amish and Mormons and ultra-Orthodox Jews have managed to in American society, but the Shakers did not.

11 November 2012

Hope For Immigration Reform?

Many commentators have interpreted a failure of Republicans to win over Hispanic voters as a key factor in Mitt Romney's defeat in last week's the Presidential election and called for openness to more liberal immigration policies as a targeted way of addressing this problem without wider reforms in the party's message. In particular, Republican leaders in Congress appear to have agreed and are preparing to embrace immigration liberalization.

Immigration is an issue that has split both political parties.

Democrats are split between those who feel that liberal immigration policies embrace its broad non-white demographic makeup and is a last front in the effort to end racism, and those who are worried about immigrants making the job market tighter for working class Americans in the Democratic party's self-proclaimed role as advocate for those who are less well off. (Democratic politicians, for example, tend to be strongly against economic policies that facilitate the offshoring of jobs.)

Republicans are split between those who see cheap labor and free immigration as natural extrapolations of a generalized Republican committment to free market economics, and Republicans who are xenophobic, racist, and who feel that the erosion of the economic well being of white blue collar men over the last several decades is mostly due to Hispanic immigration.

President Obama has tread carefully, advancing the relatively timid reform of the DREAM Act, first legislatively, and when that bill stalled in Congress, via an executive order related to immigration law enforcement that Romney had pledged to continue into his administration.

The DREAM Act would have offered a path to a green card and eventual citizenship to undocumentated immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children (and hence made no personal decision to break immigration laws), without criminal records, who are pursuing higher education or military service. This is the low hanging fruit of immigration reform, targeting a population fully assimiliated to U.S. culture who appear to be on track to be "makers" rather than "takers" in their contributions to society, whose presence is a fait accompli and calls upon the etiquette of "present company excluded" to avoid more generalized condemnation lodged by xenophobes against immigrants.

But, President Obama has not managed to rally a political consensus around a broader reform of U.S. immigration laws, despite its attractiveness as a potential engine for sustainable and fundamental economic growth.

I am a strong supporter of a more liberalized immigration policy, and hope that regardless of whether Republican Congressional leaders are actually reading the tea leaves correctly, that this election may move this one issue forward a little.

Religious Diversity On Rise On Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives has two new members who don't identify as Christians (and lost one) as a the result of last week's election, the U.S. Senate also has two new members who don't identify as Christians. Defining what these members do believe is rather more complicated. Mormon's meanwhile, have been common on Capital Hill for a while.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, is a Mormon; there have been Mormon members of the cabinet; and there are 15 Mormons in Congress. . . .

For the real underdog story in the elections this year, you have to look further out on the margins of popular respectability. Consider the half-Hindu yoga practitioner just elected to Congress from Hawaii. Or the new Buddhist senator. Or the two religiously unaffiliated women headed for the House and the Senate. . . .

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat and an Iraq war veteran who won a seat in the House from Hawaii, is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Roman Catholic father. She calls herself Hindu, a first for a member of Congress. But it is not quite that simple. “I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.” “In that sense,” she added, “I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.” Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multicultural, multirace, multifaith family” that allowed her “to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.” Today, her spiritual practice is neither Catholic nor traditionally Hindu. “My attempts to work for the welfare of others and the planet is the core of my spiritual practice,” Ms. Gabbard wrote. “Also, every morning I take time to remember my relationship with God through the practice of yoga meditation and reading verses from the Bhagavad-Gita. From the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, the spiritual path as I have described here is known as karma yoga and bhakti yoga.”

Ms. Gabbard won the Congressional seat of Mazie Hirono, who just became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate. Ms. Hirono is a “nonpracticing Buddhist” who “considers religion a personal matter,” a spokeswoman said. She is thus the first Buddhist (sort of) in the United States Senate.

Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, just elected to the Senate, also does not discuss her religiosity. John Kraus, a spokesman for Ms. Baldwin, said that while she was baptized Episcopalian, that term no longer describes her religiosity. She prefers “unaffiliated,” he said.

The atheist and secularist movements are excited by the possible election of Kyrsten Sinema as a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona. (Votes are still being counted, but she is ahead.) Although raised a Mormon, Ms. Sinema is often described as a nontheist — and that suits the activists just fine. A blogger for the Secular Coalition for America wrote Thursday that while he was still dispirited by the loss of Representative Pete Stark of California, an open nonbeliever, he was “emboldened” by the apparent victory of Ms. Sinema, “an open nontheist.” Her nonbelief, the blogger, Chris Lombardi, wrote, “was not used to slander her as un-American or suggest that she was unfit for office.” But a campaign spokesman rejected any simple category for Ms. Sinema. “Kyrsten believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character,” the spokesman, Justin Unga, said Thursday in an e-mail. “Though Sinema was raised in a religious household, she draws her policy-making decisions from her experience as a social worker who worked with diverse communities and as a lawmaker who represented hundreds of thousands.”

From the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer, "Politicians Who Reject Labels Based on Religion" (November 9, 2012) via Gene Expression.

Notably, all but one of the five non-Christians discussed in the New York Times story hail from the Western U.S. (as do a many of the Mormons in Congress).

Also, notably, prejudice against a candidate's religious beliefs was not a particularly important factor in any of these candidate's races, nor was it a particular important factor in the Presidenital race (some accused President Obama who was secular in his youth and converted to Protestant Christianity as an adult, of being a Muslim, and some villified Romney for being a Mormon, but neither attack had much influence on voters).

08 November 2012

More Genetic Causes For Mental Retardation ID'd

Traditional methods can identify a specific genetic cause for about 18% of cases of "intellectual disability" (basically, mental retardation). State of the art genomics technologies have pushed that percentage to about 54% of case.

Some cases of intellectual disability of well known environmental causes (e.g. lack of folic acid and lead exposure), and there is some missing hereditary component of these conditions that do not have identified specific genetic causes. But, the proportion of the hereditary component that is "missing" because it lacks an identified specific genetic component is much smaller than for many other phenotypes known to have a hereditary source based on twin studies and similar considerations.

07 November 2012

Puerto Rico May Seek Statehood

A majority of voters in the predominantly Spanish speaking Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, who are U.S. citizens subject to federal law, who have considerable autonomy and don't pay most U.S. taxes on Puerto Rican source income, but have no representative in Congress and no say in the Presidential election, have voted to seek to become a U.S. State in a non-binding referendum. Puerto Rico does send a "resident commissioner" to the U.S. House of Representatives, but the commissioner does not have a floor vote.

The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States. Nearly 54 percent, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46 percent, or 786,749 people, favored the status quo. Ninety-six percent of 1,643 precincts were reporting as of early Wednesday.

The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favorite, garnering 61 percent. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33 percent, while independence got 5 percent.

President Barack Obama earlier expressed support for the referendum and pledged to respect the will of the people in the event of a clear majority.

It is unclear whether U.S. Congress will debate the referendum results or if Obama will consider the results to be a clear enough majority.

Congress must approve the addition of any new state to the United States and is not required to seek or follow the input of residents of territory outside any U.S. State.  Congress could foist independence on an unwilling Puerto Rico, make it a U.S. state despite local opposition, or change the relationship between Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. without consulting Puerto Rican officials.

The results are somewhat ambiguous due to the structure of the referendums. About 46% of people favor the status quo of Commonwealth status, which is greater than the percentage who favored sovereign free association if there was a change in status. Independence does not enjoy much support at all. It appears that many of the people who voted for statehood would actually prefer the status quo. In a straight up or down vote on the question of whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state or retain the status quo, it appears that the outcome would be close to 50-50 because some of the people who don't want to status quo to continue favor independence or greater autonomy for Puerto Rico, rather than closer ties to the United States.

Given this lack of clarity, it seems likely that Congress will not act to make Puerto Rico a U.S. state and will instead retain or slightly tweak the status quo.

Implications of Statehood

The addition of Puerto Rico as a state would give it two Senators and roughly six representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as about eight electoral votes, who would very likely be reliably democratic in their partisan leanings.

Puerto Rico's residents have much lower incomes than residents of other U.S. states, potentially wrecking havoc on tax code formulas and means testing regimes designed to fit the range of personal income in U.S. states (under the current U.S. tax code without special rules for Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth might be entitled to more refunds than its residents pay in taxes).

Puerto Rico would also be the only U.S. state in which the dominant language was not English, something that goes to the identity of the United States as a whole.

Democratic and Colonial Theory Context

Almost all of the other substantial U.S. possessions, and the most populous possessions of its developed world peers left over from the colonial era either have the equivalent of statehood status or are independent nations. Many U.S. possessions, such as the Philippines, were granted independence in the last half of the 20th century. But, Puerto Rico doesn't want independence.  Presumably, the fact that it doesn't is a sign that even without democratic participation, being part of the United States has real value.

Both Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, however, pose fundamental problems of democratic fairness by denying vast numbers of mostly low income U.S. citizens, in each case more than the populations of some U.S. states, who just happen to be overwhelmingly non-white, any representatives in the federal legislative process to which they are subject, and leaving their home rule regimes subject to modifications at the whim of a distant Congress in which they have no say. D.C., which is monothically Democratic, does have a say in Presidential elections, but Puerto Rico lacks even that. Other U.S. territories have populations far less than any U.S. state and collectively have fewer people than a single Congressional district.

Given the clear partisan impact of giving either Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia real political power, it seems unlikely that either approach would be approved by a U.S. House of Representatives controlled by Republicans absent some sort of national drama.

All significantly populated U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have democratic home rule powers substantially similar to those of a U.S. state and non-voting representation in Congress, although without constitutional protections for those arrangements.

Some of the main proposals to improve the situation in the District of Columbia include:
* giving it status as a tax free zone as a consequence of its lack of representation like Puerto Rico - District of Columbia license plates already sport the motto "taxation without representation";
* forming a U.S. state out of all of the District of Columbia except the core area where the White House, capital and most federal office buildings are located (presumably the constitution would then be amended to deprive this tiny federal area of its electoral votes after the rest of the District receives statehood treatment);
* restoring the portion of the District of Columbia that could have received statehood to Maryland from which it was ceded (i.e. retrocession) - something already done wit all or most of the territory ceded by Virginia;
* amend the U.S. Constitution to give the District of Columbia representation in the House and Senate as if it were a state without giving it actual statehood status (this option could also be applied to Puerto Rico).

A Thousand People Informed

In the month prior to the election, approximately one thousand people in Colorado turned to this web site for information about the state ballot issues and judicial retention elections on the 2012 ballot in the state. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 2.7 million votes cast this year, but many of these individuals may have influenced others who sought their input. This is considerably less than the number of people who turned to this blog for similar advice in 2010 and 2011, no doubt as a product of my less active posting this year.

Colorado Put Obama Over The Top

If you arrange the states that gave their electoral votes to President Obama in order of how close the race was in each state, and strip away states that he didn't need to win a majority (as opposed to in order of the time of day when a race was called, in which case the prize goes to Ohio), it appears to me that Colorado where Obama won 51.2% to 46.5% (a margin of 4.7 percentage points, quite a bit more than state pollsters had predicted before the election) was the state that pushed President Obama over the 270 electoral vote threshold.

Florida (0.6 percentage points and 29 electoral votes), Ohio (1.9 and 18 electoral votes) and Virginia (3.0 and 13 electoral votes) all had closer races, but in hindsight, President Obama would have still won 272 electoral votes without them. President Obama won the other swing states, New Hampshire (5.7 percentage points), Wisconsin (6.7), Iowa (5.6) and Nevada (6.6), by wider margins than he did in Colorado.

The wide margin for President Obama in the marginal state makes a repeat of the 2000 election which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Bush v. Gore, impossible.

Cross posted at Colorado Pols.

06 November 2012

The Results

Colorado voters have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use (although the federal law banning it remains in place for now), to urge their legislators to enact a campaign finance reform constitutional amendment, and to reform the state's civil service system. Most local measures to raise tax reveneus or issue new bonds have passed. Washington State voters have also voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, while voters in Oregon have defeated a similar measure. Measures legalizing gay marriage have passed in Maine and Maryland and another is likely to pass in Washington State. A measure to ban gay marriage is likely to fail in Minnesota. California voters are on track to repeal its harsh "three strikes" law, but will retain its death penalty.

The Democrats have regained control of Colorado's state house, while retaining control of the Colorado's state senate. Colorado's governor is also a Democrat. The Republican Secretary of State is facing simultaneous criminal and ethics commission investigations.

President Obama has won a landslide victory in the electoral college (it looks like he will win 332 electoral votes out of 538 - Nate Silver at the 538 blog was on the money), despite a fairly close popular vote that will narrowly favor the President when the dust settles. He has won Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa. It appears that he will win even Virginia and Florida. The results mostly follow long standing regional trends.

Democrats have improved their position in the U.S. Senate but Republicans continue to control the United States House of Representatives. All of Colorado's incumbent members of Congress have been re-elected. Redistricting in light of the 2010 census, in the end, didn't matter much.

Overall, Democrats and liberals have overperformed expectations this election. The television stations are attributing it to demographic change. President Obama was very strong with African-American voters, with Hispanic voters, with young voters, with non-Christian voters, with women. Republicans have alienated almost everyonoe except older Christian white men. Social conservative Republican candidates, particularly those who made out of touch statements about rape, performed particularly dismally. Republicans cannot improve their performance without a bigger tent.

The next four years will almost surely shift the federal judiciary to the left. Colorado's Democrats now hold all the levers of power in the state. President Obama has the status quo on taxes, spending cuts, and health care all well positioned to give him leverage in the big legislative battles that he will face over the next four years.

The grown ups are in charge. The future looks bright, but hardly blinding.

UPDATE on November 7, 2012: Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana. The medical marijuana movement has reached critical mass, particularly in blue states, and it is going to be hard for President Obama who was at first tolerant of this after his 2008 election to continue the backsliding that we've seen in the last year or two.

Will Governor Hickenlooper consider pardoning some of the small number of people in Colorado prisons serving terms of marijuana offenses that would not have been crimes in the wake of Amendment 64's passage? Will President Obama, who has granted fewer pardons than any other modern President, be more liberal in pardoning people now that he doesn't have to worry about ever running for public office again?

Democrats have gone from lagging in the Colorado State House by 32-33 to having a 36 to 38 seat majority there. They have added on Colorado Senate seat going from a 20-15 majority to a 21-14 majority. Mark Ferrandino of the second House District, an openly gay man, will be the next Speaker of the Colorado State House. A civil unions bill is almost certain to be the law in Colorado no later than August of 2013.

The incumbent margins of victory in the 3rd and 7th Congressional Districts in Colorado was large enough to strongly discourage future challengers. Both of these races had been expected to be much closer, given their partisan makeup after redistricting.

Republican incumbent Mike Coffman's lead over Democrat Joe Miklosi in the 6th Congressional District with 79% of the vote counted, was 3.8% (and may get a bit closer when the dust settles, although a Miklosi victory would be exceedingly unlikely) which reflects a much more even partisan balance in the district after redistricting. Mike Coffman is, together, with John Suthers (Colorado's Republican Attorney General), one of the strongest Republican candidates in the state, while Miklosi is comparatively green. Coffman had chosen a much more moderate course in Congress that he could have in his extremely safe pre-redistricting seat that was previously held by anti-immigration gadfly Tom Tancredo. And, Coffman has had the benefits of incumbency. Coffman will likely attract an able Democratic challenger in 2014 and should the 6th Congressional District become open because Coffman is tapped by the GOP to run for Governor or U.S. Senate, this seat would be very vulnerable to flipping to the Democrats. This remains one of the most competitive seats in the nation. On the other hand, Miklosi's strong showing is in part a product of the fact that 6.2% of voters in the 6th Congressional District voted for one of two conservative leaning third party candidates.

The 56 seats that the Democratic caucus will hold in the U.S. Senate in 2013 will minimize the amount of bipartisan compromise that Democrats need to get President Obama's judicial nominations to up or down votes despite potential filibusters. (Votes on the merits on President Obama's nominations of all kinds are almost certain to confirm his nominations with that kind of secure majority in the U.S. Senate.)

The House v. Presidential v. Governor's Race Gap

The biggest indication that Democrats in Washington should not be overconfident is that Republicans have still retained firm control of the U.S. House, despite ever seat being contested this year after redistricting. While Obama is on track to win 329 of 538 available electoral votes if Florida, in which he is leading, ultimately supports him. But, Democrats hold a much smaller percentage of the 535 seats in Congress. Democrats held 53 of 100 U.S. Senate Seats (including independents who caucus with them) and Republican led in the House by 242-193 going into the election (2 seats were held by independents). The current tally is 56-44 in the U.S. Senate (a gain of three seats of the Democrats), and 233-193 with 9 seats too close to call in the House (a likely pick up of about four seats, well short of the 25 needed to attain a majority).

By the metric of combined House and Senate seats in Congress, Republicans lead roughly 282-253. Add three to the Democratic column for DC to conver the Congressional tally to an electoral vote metric, and Republican legislative race performance in 2012 was equivalent to 76 electoral votes better than Romney's performance. The popular vote in the Presidential race was also quite close (about 50.3% for Obama v. 48.1% for Rombey), although even if there was a national population vote rather than an electoral college, it wouldn't have been close enough for a recount and the outcome would have been the same. Still all sorts of factors can shift the vote by just 2.2 percentage points. A better, more moderate, GOP Presidential candidate facing a less competent campaign effort that President Obama's could have won this race, particularly given the weak economy.

One way to explain the disparity is that the Republicans have a lot of members of Congress in their core territory who are very conservative and who have majority support in many of their own districts, but who are not electable nationwide. This hyperconservativism can be solved in more moderate districts by running more moderate candidates. But, anyone who has to make it through the GOP primary process is pulled so far in that direction that the few Republicans who are electable nationwide are hard pressed to win the nomination without impairing their moderate image.

Also, Democrats are highly concentrated in a small number of urban areas, while many Republican members of Congress are elected from suburbs where they are a majority, but not a dominant majority. Democratic overall numbers can win statewide races, but Democrats aren't spread evenly enough to win their fair share of Congressional races.

When the overall partisan balance in the nation is quite even, differences in demographic distribution and the issue of a national v. local political image can result in split control of the government.

The national v. local balancing effect that allows Republicans to better match candidates to particular races also explains how Republicans gained ground in Governor's races this year, despite losing the Presidency, losing ground in the House and losing ground in the Senate.

UPDATE TWO (November 7, 2012 p.m.): The U.S. Senate tally after the election is currently Democrats and independents 55-Republicans 45 (one race previously called for a Democrat has moved to the GOP column as more returns have been reported). Democrats need to convince 5 out of 45 Republicans to break ranks in order to overcome a filibuster threat.

The U.S. House of Representatives tally after the election is currently 234 Republicans, 194 Democrats, and 7 too close to call. As far as I can discern, the unofficial tallies in six of the seven races show a Democrat winning (AZ-9, CA-7 CA-36, CA-52, FL-18, NC-7) and in one of the races a Republican winning (AZ-2). There is also one race in Louisiana (LA-3), presumably counted as part of the 234 Republicans where no candidate won a majority and there will be a later runoff election between the top two candidates, both of whom were Republicans. Thus, the likely final split in the U.S. House of Representatives will be 235 R-200 D, with Democrats picking up 7 seats. For Democrats to win in the House, they must convince the Republican leadership to bring an issue to the floor and then must convince 18 out of 235 Republican members of Congress to break ranks.

This implies that Republicans preformance in federal legislative races is the equivalent to 280 electoral votes (adding 3 to the Democrats for DC), which is about what Romney would have had if he had managed to win Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and New Hampshire, which could have happened if about six percent of the people who voted for Obama had switched their votes to Romney instead. This is roughly the amount by which Romney underperformed (or alternately that Obama overperformed) relative to the baseline of legislative elections.

Regional Trends

The six New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island), combined, have not a single Republican in the twenty-one U.S. House of Representatives seats allocated to these states, and only two out of twelve Republican Senators: Susan Collins of Maine, who is arguably the most moderate Republican in either house of Congress (although still to the right of almost all Democrats in the House or Senate), and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is more typical ideologically of Republicans but has a thin voting record having served in the Senate for only two years so far. New England also also elected two independents to the U.S. Senate (one is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-styles Democratic Socialist, and the other is Angus King of Maine, a self-styled independent whose stated policy positions on specific issues is closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans). None of New England's electoral votes went to Mitt Romney in this election.

Neither the Mid-Atlantic States (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware) nor the District of Columbia cast a single electoral vote for Mitt Romney either. One of the ten U.S. Senate seats in the Mid-Atlantic states is held by a Republican (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania). There are a number of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives from Mid-Atlantic states, however (26 out of 66). Delaware's one representative is a Democrat. One of Maryland's eight representatives is a Republicans. Six out of twenty-seven of New York's representatives are Republicans (four of these are "upstate"). Six out of twelve of New Jersey's representatives are Republicans. And, thirteen out of eighteen of Pennsylvania's representatives are Republicans. A number of Mid-Atlantic Republicans tend towards the moderate wing of their party.

The percentage of voters who are white is very steady (about 1.5 percentage points less per year), which posed deep long term issues for a Republican coalition built almost entirely on white voters.

Denver Post Getting Eager On Amendment 64

Have the Denver Post's political reporters been smoking weed in anticipation of marijuana legalization now that polls favor the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado?

Otherwise, it is hard to explain the following statement on the front page of the paper's "Nation & World" section (Page 17A) today in a story attributed to David Lightman of the McClatchy Newspapers:

Conventional wisdom says Democrats tend to dominate early voting, while Republicans do better on Election Day, so a big turnout could mean a big day for Romney.

Hello! On what bizzaro world was this written? First of all, as Colorado returns have shown this year and every year, Republicans lead in early voting.

More importantly, a big turnout almost always favors Democrats whose voters are less reliable. This is why Republican operatives consistently work hard to suppress voter turnout, while Democrats consistently cry foul over these practices. The higher the voter turnout is today (which is election day), the more likely it is that Romney will do poorly.

How can anyone who regularly follows and reports on politics be so wrong?  And people say blogs are unreliable.

05 November 2012

New England's Forests Mostly Restored

The notion of a post-apocolyptic world, one with a radically different historical course (Greg Bear explores this in his Neanderthal series), or one in which a radical political movement (Ecotopia) restores the environment to a more pristine state is common in speculative fiction. Far less often appreciated is the fact that this is being done quietly, in the present, in the United States without any radical upheavals.

Reforestation began in 19th-century New England, when farmers started abandoning marginal pastures and buying cheap feed grain from the rich, relatively flat lands on the other end of the newly opened Erie Canal. Later, petroleum-based fertilizers and gasoline-powered machinery made Midwestern farming more productive and draft animals obsolete, freeing up 70 million acres that were being used to feed them. Many farmers, meanwhile, opted for jobs in town. Trees took back much of their land and, after World War II, nonfarmers began moving onto it.

Today, the eastern third of the country has the largest forest in the contiguous U.S., as well as two-thirds of its people. Since the 19th century, forests have grown back to cover 60% of the land within this area. In New England, an astonishing 86.7% of the land that was forested in 1630 had been reforested by 2007, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Not since the collapse of Mayan civilization 1,200 years ago has reforestation on this scale happened in the Americas, says David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest, an ecology research unit of Harvard University. In 2007, forests covered 63.2% of Massachusetts and 58% of Connecticut, the third and fourth most densely populated states in the country, not counting forested suburban and exurban sprawl (though a lot of sprawl has enough trees to be called a real forest if people and their infrastructure weren’t there). . . .

White-tailed deer
Pre-Columbian period: 30 million
1900: 350,000
Today: 25 million to 40 million
Source: 'Nature Wars'

From the Wall Street Journal (reviewing "Nature Wars" (2012) by Jim Sterba) via Gene Expression.

The relocation of agriculture to other places in the United States more suited to it, and the emphasis on high urban densities in the Northeastern United States, where people actually do live, have been key elements of the reforesting on the region. More generally, environmentalism has gone mainstream in American politics and become a consensus value, so long as a non-absolutist approach is taken.

Long after the historical moment when the U.S. was considered to have closed its frontier according to the Census Bureau in 1890, much of its territory now fits that definition (although the larger than you would expect size of Alaska, which was not a U.S. State when the frontier was declared closed, has a lot to do with this stiuation):

How much of the U.S. is frontier?

Answer: Frontier is more of a concept than a specific definition, so the number of people living in the frontier and the amount of land that is frontier will vary depending on the definition you select. The North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center's map, Frontier Counties, United States, 2004, identifies 440 counties that meet the frontier definition of fewer than seven people per square mile, with a total population for those counties of nearly 2.9 million people. Based on the USDA Economic Research Service's Measuring Rurality: Urban Influence Codes, over three million people live in rural counties that are not adjacent to a metropolitan or micropolitan county (having an Urban Influence Code of 11 or 12), and these counties cover an area of over 770,000 square miles. Using the counties and areas provided to the National Center for Frontier Communities by the State Offices of Rural Health, 56% of the land area of the United States is frontier and more than 9 million people, or less than 4% of the population of the country live in these isolated regions.


Late tomorrow night, the election returns are likely to leave us with a political landscape very much like the one we already have right now. A marathon election campaign, longer than almost any other in the world, and decennial redistricting, will do little to change to allocation of political power.

President Obama will probably be re-elected. Democrats will probably retain a thin majority in the U.S. Senate, but not a filibuster-proof lead. Republicans will probably retain a thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, although their majority will probably be very thin. The U.S. Supreme Court (whose members are appointed for life) will continue to have a 5-4 conservative majority.

Although Romney probably won't win, the balance of power in Washington D.C. that must be surpassed to accomplish anything new will remain in territory where he is comfortable, with the handful of remaining moderate Republicans in Congress and moderately conservative judges like Justice Kennedy.

By 2014, the economy should have pretty much rebounded, so a mid-term election boost to the Republicans is likely to be modest, if there is one.

President Obama will be in a good position to protect his signature policy accomplishment, "Obamacare", which mostly uses tax incentives to buy health insurance and expanded Medicaid eligibility to bring about near universal health care, an area where the United States has lagged for decades behind the rest of the developed world. He can veto any outright effort to repeal the law, although the budget process could be used to underfund it.

A status quo in which many tax breaks that President Obama has promised not to renew for the affluent expire at the end of this year gives him considerable leverage in negotiations over tax policy as well. Congressional Republicans will have to choose between tax policies that are second best in their opinion that Democrats will agree to implement, and a status quo that is from their perspective even worse but would arise without their involvement.

For policy wonks, this means a return to the grindstone of uncontroversial technocratic proposals that can win bipartisan support, incremental change, regulatory and enforcement oriented initiatives, court battles, moderate budgetary tweaks, and state and local government level initiatives. Major new federal spending programs, bold new substantive federal legislative reforms, and sweeping federal tax code changes unless some crisis opens the door for action in some particular policy domain.

There is also considerable room for movement politics. Efforts with a long term goal of changing public opinion may look like an attractive place to devote political resources at a time when the formal instruments of governmental action are immobilized. In recent years, efforts to change public opinion about gay rights, marijuana legalization, intellectual property laws, and mass incarceration have all made considerable progress.

When President Obama's next term ends in 2016, Obamacare will have mostly taken full effect, greatly reducing the ranks of the uninsured, controlling health care costs, and removing the "fear of the unknown" factor that has dogged it politically so far. U.S. troops will have been withdrawn from Afghanistan by then. The financial crisis will be forgotten and a new recession will likely not yet have taken hold. Progress on defense spending, health care spending, and collecting taxes from the affluent will have taken some of the edge off the budget deficit. Gay rights struggles that were once controversial will have become a fait accompli. The gun control measures that mobilized Tea Party conservative in 2008 will not have materialized. There is a decent chance that President Obama will have managed to replace one of the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, shifting the balance of power back to the liberal wing of the court for the first time in a very long while. An inability to enact major partisan legislation will leave few polarizing issues for Republicans to attack Democrats with effectively.

Republicans first instinct, after seeing a moderate Republican from New England defeated, will be to argue that it was not conservative enough in 2012. But, by 2016, the Republicans may be hungry enough for some kind of power to moderate that feeling and to recognize that they need a transformative figure who can create a bigger tent for the grand old party. If it doesn't, they will become politically irrelevant.

02 November 2012

Libertarians Dislike Romney On Foreign Policy

Many libertarian leaning conservatives at the American Conservative are so concerned about Mitt Romney's hawkish attitudes towards foreign policy that they prefer Obama in the Presidential race.

01 November 2012

Only In West Virginia

I swear that this would never happen in Colorado.

Mr. [Joshua M.] Robinson beat a client, David L. Gump, with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch and then chased his defenseless client with this weapon down a residential street until he fell to the ground. When Mr. Gump fell down, Mr. Robinson began beating him again with the baseball bat in the head, chest, and back. Mr. Gump sustained significant injuries . . . causing such injuries to his client constituted a violation of Mr. Robinson's duty to his client.

Colorado attorneys sometimes fail to return their client's calls, wrongfully fail to return their client's papers, or even commit abuses of trust by having sex with their clients.

But, there is a universally acknowledged and adhered to ethical understanding in Colorado that Colorado lawyers do not beat up their defenseless clients with baseball bats. Clients of Colorado lawyers now and then do this to their lawyers, but the reverse just does not happen here.

In West Virginia's defense, they did disbar Mr. Robinson for his conduct and proceedings to disbar him from practicing law in Kentucky, where he was also admitted to practice and where he has committed other violent crimes, are pending.

Literacy Is A Contraceptive

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing linked seventh-grade reading among 12,339 girls (average age 11.9 years) enrolled in Philadelphia Public Schools to subsequent live birth records between 1996-2002. . . . girls with a less-than-average reading skill were 2.5 times more likely to have a child in their teen years compared with those with average reading skill. Twenty-one percent and three percent of girls with below-average reading skill had either one or two (or more) live births respectively during the six-year assessment period. Meanwhile, 12 percent and 1 percent of girls with average reading skill and 5 percent and 0.4 percent with above average reading skill had such births.

The study also assessed racial disparities in literacy as a contributor to teen child bearing. Hispanic and African American girls were overrepresented in the below-average reading skill group. In addition, the effect of low literacy on risk of teenage parenting was stronger in Hispanic and African American girls than those who self identified as White. The researchers point out that poor reading skills in early grades are difficult to overcome and predictive of subsequent decisions to drop out of formal education.

From here, citing American Public Health Association (APHA) (2012, October 31). "Pre-teen literacy a strong predictor of pregnancy in U.S. teens."

It is worth noting, however, that U.S. teen pregnancies are currently near all time lows and have declined materially scine the 1996-2002 time period that was studied. It is also worth noting that while literacy is an important factor in the determining the likelihood that a Philadelphia Public Schools teenager will get pregnant, that one in twenty teenage girls with above average reading skills in the Philadelphia Public Schools got pregnant and had a child.

The article cited doesn't discuss the plausible possibility that lower frequencies of live births might be due to higher abortion rates among more literate teenage girls. But, there is evidence from sources other than those discussed in the study that suggest that this isn't actually happening, or at least that it is not happening to a great enough extent to alter the conclusion that literacy drives teenage birth rates mostly by having an effect via the number of unplanned pregnancies, rather than mostly due to the percentage of pregnant teenagers who choose to get abortions.

538 Sees Obama Closing The Deal

Nate Silver's 538 blog, hosted by the New York Times, is my go to site for compilations of poll data together with statistically sound analysis of what it means in the 2012 election. Silver's summary of all of that information about the Presidential race in all fifty states and the district of Columbia, as of midnight last night, six days before the election is concluded, is shown above.

In that summary, based on six separate analysts who comprehensively analyze state polling, Colorado, Virginia and Florida stand out as the closest three races in the country. Colorado and Virigina both favor Obama by 1.0 percentage points and 0.9 percentage points respectively, while Florida favors Romney by 0.6 percentage points. The next two closest states also lean towars President Obama: Iowa by 1.7 percentage points and New Hampshire by 2.1 percentage points. In every other state, one candidate or the other has at least a 2.4 percentage point lead and all six analysts as well as Silver agree regarding who is favored to win in those states.

The only other state leaning toward Romney that is even remotely in play in North Carolina, where Romney has a 2.4 percentage point edge. Romney leads by 7.0 percentage points in the next closest state, Arizona.

These are not the marginal states that President Obama needs to win the election, however. As Silver explains:

You can see that the various projections strongly agree with another, for the most part, in making “calls” about individual states. The only state where different sites show different candidates ahead right now is Florida, where Talking Points Memo gives Mr. Obama a nominal 0.2-percentage point lead while the others (including FiveThirtyEight) have Mr. Romney slightly up instead. There are also four states — New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Virginia — in which some methods show an exactly tied race while others give Mr. Obama the lead. . . .

Mr. Obama’s lead in the Electoral College is modest, but also quite consistent across the different methods. The states in which every site has Mr. Obama leading make up 271 electoral votes — one more than the president needs to clinch victory. The states in which everyone has Mr. Romney ahead represent 206 electoral votes. That leaves five states, and 61 electoral votes, unaccounted for — but Mr. Obama would not need them if he prevails in the states where he is leading in the polls.

The marginal state is actually Ohio, which the seven analysts, including Silver, see Obama leading in by a margin ranging from 2.0 to 3.0 percentage points.

After Ohio, the next closest states in which Obama leads are Nevada (3.2), Wisconsin (3.5), Pennsylvania (4.9) and Minnesota (6.0).

The most recent polls in a race less than a week from election day are a particularly accurate measure of what the voters will ultimately decide.