31 May 2016

Trump Gaslights California

FRESNO, Calif. — Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told California voters Friday that he can solve their water crisis, declaring, “There is no drought.”

California is, in fact, in midst of a drought. Last year capped the state’s driest four-year period in its history, with record low rainfall and snow.
From here.

Any old anti-science conservative can deny climate change, or at least deny that people caused climate change.  It takes somebody like Trump to up the ante and deny the existence of an obvious, currently in progress drought.

Trump blamed all of California's water crisis on an endangered species protection measure that uses some of California's water.  But, the fact that California does have some bad water practices doesn't change the fundamental fact that the state is in a drought due to record low precipitation that makes bad water practices more of a problem.

Former Colorado Springs Sheriff Finally Indicted Last Week

The former Sheriff of El Paso County, in which Colorado Springs is located, was indicted last week. The only real mystery is why prosecutors waited until he had been out of office for months when his misconduct was widely known.  This particular incident involves a women who was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a cop.  As Colorado Pols explains:
Terry Maketa, former El Paso County Sheriff, was indicted Wednesday, May 25, 2016, by a Grand Jury on six felony counts, including extortion, tampering with a witness, and second-degree kidnapping. The latter two charges stem from Maketa and codefendants Paula Presley and Juan San Agustin intimidating a witness to keep her from testifying against her abuser, a deputy under Maketa’s supervision. From Benzel and Sun’s Gazette reporting: 
After a sheriff’s deputy was arrested in August 2013 for assaulting his girlfriend, Maketa directed the woman to recant her story and tell investigators she “instigated the incident in order to allow (the deputy) to get his job back,” the indictment alleges. When the woman, a civilian jail employee, followed his instructions and provided a false confession about being “the aggressor,” she was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, assault and driving under the influence.  
“Detective Lisa Kaiser, the interviewing and arresting officer, did not believe she had probable cause to arrest (the woman) for either crime, but arrested (her) because the order came from her superiors,” the indictment says. 
Maketa was booked and bonded out of jail on Thursday, May 26 . Maketa had resigned in disgrace in 2014, ahead of a recall effort, amidst charges of sexual misconduct, corruption, and incompetence in his office.
Previous coverage here.  He threatened to deport detainees when the federal government failed to do so.  He was also a constitutional sheriff, which basically means that he was willing to engage in treason by declaring war on federal officials, a problem that hasn't gone away as NPR reports today.

Noodle Cup Fail

When making packaged noodles, good design practice does not support putting the most critical language of the instructions (how long it needs to be in the microwave) in small print in almost the same color as the background packaging.

27 May 2016

Republicans Still Dishonest

Descpicable, as usual.
"GOP Senator Says He Was Unmoved By Meeting With Merrick Garland Before Meeting Actually Happens; A Utah newspaper published an op-ed by Sen. Orrin Hatch saying the meeting hadn't changed his mind about Garland; There was just one problem": Cristian Farias and Sam Stein of The Huffington Post have this report today

And Lawrence Hurley of Reuters has a report headlined "Oops! Senator's article tells of phantom meeting with Obama nominee.
From here.

26 May 2016

Don't Be "That Girl", Buy Renter's Insurance


From here.

Alleged Bagel Terrorist Charged

Denver Police have named and arrested a suspect in the murder and arson at Rosenberg's Bagels. Previous coverage of the case can be found here.

In news of another case that was much colder, an individual has been charged and arrested and other suspects have been identified in the death, allegedly by murder for hire, of an FSU Law Professor Dan Markel, who was a law blogger, in Miami Beach in 2014.

DOD's IT Hardware Is Just Barely Post-Slide Rule

It is not reassuring that the U.S. military's nuclear weapons arsenal is controlled by computers with 1970s vintage eight inch floppy disks.
[T]he Pentagon is planning to replace its floppy systems -- which currently coordinate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft -- by the end of 2017.

My children, who are just a few years younger than the soldiers using these antiquated computers have never even seen a computer using one.

Isn't the strategic nuclear force supposed to be one of the high technology parts of the U.S. military?

I thought it was bad when tanks and Stryker armored personnel carriers in the Iraq War had to rely on Microsoft Outlook and civilian cell phones to communicate with each other.  But, it turns out that this was actually rather sophisticated by Defense Department standards.

25 May 2016

Colorado, the "Try Everything State"


Perhaps, Colorado should adopt the motto (and state song?): "Try everything."

Seriously, four kinds of heavy substance use isn't good news, but you have to take that with a grain of salt and recognize that Colorado is also, by most measures, the healthiest state in the nation overall.

Waco Would Have Lynched Copernicus

Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun. As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.

But don't tell that to the good people of Waco, who were "visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence," according to the Waco Tribune.

Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.

But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars."

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled "We believe in God!" and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they'd always suspected.
From here (note, the events in question apparently happened in 2006).

Ryan Bundy Goes Big

Lots of prisons sue their jailers for violating their rights.  Some of them even deserve to win.

But, one can rest assured that even if it is a matter of first impression, that Ryan Bundy, who was jailed after occupying federal property under force of arms, does not have a Second Amendment right to bear arms while in jail awaiting trial, as he claims in his lawsuit.

Even the NRA would probably agree with that limitation on the Second Amendment.

"Lower" Africa Is War Free And Not Overwhelmed With Murders Either

The more southern part of Africa (e.g. the Congo and points south), except the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo with some conflict lingers on, is pretty much war free at the moment. Homicide rates in Africa are also about half what they are in the Americas, although higher than most of the rest of the world that is not at war.

Are Ill Adapted "Brutes" Driving Current Events?

Tyler Cohen has an interestingly posed hypothesis (emphasis in the original):
Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria. I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up? What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis. I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.
His post continues to explore the idea at greater length.

The short response is that I think he is onto something.  In particular, the decline of marriage among working class whites is primarily driven by the stagnant state of blue collar men relative to the rising prospects of women of the same social class. And, it is likewise true that lots of legal changes to penalize what was once acceptable behavior for these men have taken effect in the last generation or two.

They may not be right that immigration and international is taking away their jobs, but the connection is not an irrational one to make.  Both Sanders on the left and Trump on the right are decidedly anti-trade for that reason.

Of course, neither Tyler Cohen nor I can point to easy solutions as there have been good reasons for many of these changes.

Out of Wedlock Birthrates Driven By Particular Governmental Policies

Out of wedlock birthrates in Europe cannot be explained by religion, history of communist government, or pretty much any other broad regional factor you'd like to point to. Instead, you have to look to nation (or in federal systems, state) specific policies like Scandinavian social welfare benefit system policies and the French enthusiasm for non-marital civil unions.

Chicago Ignores The Right To Counsel

Colorado used to make misdemeanor defendants plea bargain before having counsel appointed, which federal courts subsequently held was unconstitutional.  So, Colorado district attorneys have had to reform their practices.

Chicago is worse.  Only 1% of people incarcerated in its jails have seen a lawyer, in a clear violation of the constitutional right of indigent criminal defendants to be represented by counsel at public expense.  Of course, this isn't the only thing rotten in Chicago, which is also violating numerous other constitutional rights of its citizens in its criminal justice process.

OFF TOPIC BUT RELATED:

The criminal justice system is notorious for defending police officers who behave badly no matter how obvious it is that they have screwed up.

A recent case out of San Diego (in which the police lost an appeal to the 9th Circuit) in which police mounted a massive armed raid on a 7 year old girl's birthday party despite quickly learning that the tip that they received had no connection to reality is typical.  Police authority evaporates almost instantly in the absence of probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, but police aren't at all good at backing down when they learn that a situation is far different from what their tip led them to believe.  Yet, the government has strenuously defended the bad police conduct at trial and on appeal, to no avail, rather than conceding that obvious misconduct was wrong.

24 May 2016

Asian-Americans In College Admissions

I have two kids, both half-Asian American, who will be going to college in the next few years.  So, the following data is not encouraging (and tracks a previous similar phenomena in college admissions affecting Jews):
[O]ne feature of modern college admissions practices in the United States that can often be overlooked in this discussion is that white applicants receive a significant boost relative to Asian-Americans. This is among the findings of a major study by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Epenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, who also observe that Hispanic and African-American applicants receive a boost relative to whites. 
According to the authors’ models, an Asian-American applicant must score 140 points more on the SAT out of 1600 than her white counterpart, all other things equal, to stand a comparable chance of admission at an elite institution. 
The finding here is not just that the average admitted Asian student has a higher SAT score than her white counterpart. If that were all the data showed, then it wouldn’t support the inference that whites receive a boost relative to Asians, for the data would then be consistent with the hypothesis that despite having lower SAT scores, the average white applicant has better credentials in other areas. 
On the contrary, what the data shows is this. Consider two applicants, Claudia and Alice, who have very similar applications for the most part. They both come from equally good high schools, have the same GPA, neither of them is a legacy or an athlete, and so on. However, Claudia is white and Alice is Asian-American. In light of this, Alice will have to score 140 points more than Claudia if she is to stand an equal chance of getting into an institution like Harvard or Yale Universities. And if their SAT scores are equal, then Alice’s application better be much more impressive than Claudia’s in some other respect(s). 
Many see these statistics as a consequence of elite institutions using implicit quotas to limit the number of Asian students on campus. . . . 
Moreover, Epenshade and Radford find that if admissions policies were designed to give a boost to applicants coming from backgrounds of low socioeconomic status, without consideration of race, the number of admitted Asian students would rise substantially.
The essay goes on at length to consider why this might be the case and whether it is justified, but this post merely addresses the empirical reality.

The Firebrand Generation

A recent color piece on Oberlin College in the New Yorker Magazine tags the tempestuous cauldron that is my alma mater as the exemplar of the "Firebrand Generation" of younger millennials.

The stories have a familiar ring. Student government institutions that I put in place when I was on campus are alive and well (e.g. a student senate headed by "co-liaisons" rather than a study body president).  The general tenor of the P.C. and identity politics have continued on the trend line it was on when I was there.

Oberlin isn't a utopian model. But, it is a canary in the mineshaft at the bleeding edge of identifying cultural trends and activist issues. Sometimes I think the issues it fights over are misguided, but I take a great joy in knowing that Oberlin is still a place where almost everyone seems to give a damn.

23 May 2016

Heroin Deaths Surging In Colorado (Like Everywhere Else)

[Dr. Larry] Wolk is the executive director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The agency says heroin overdose deaths have increased by more than 700 percent since 2003. New numbers show 157 people died from heroin in 2015, up from just 21 in 2003.
From here.

For context, I can say nothing that isn't captured in a beautiful blog piece entitled the Unnecessariat.
In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

If there’s no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there’s certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them. No-one has the option to just make their own way and be left alone at it. It used to be that people were uninsured and if they got seriously sick they’d declare bankruptcy and lose the farm, but now they have a (mandatory) $1k/month plan with a $5k deductible: they’ll still declare bankruptcy and lose the farm if they get sick, but in the meantime they pay a shit-ton to the shareholders of United Healthcare, or Aetna, or whoever. This, like shifting the chronically jobless from “unemployed” to “disabled” is seen as a major improvement in status, at least on television.

Every four years some political ingenue decides that the solution to “poverty” is “retraining”: for the information economy, except that tech companies only hire Stanford grads, or for health care, except that an abundance of sick people doesn’t translate into good jobs for nurses’ aides, or nowadays for “the trades” as if the world suffered a shortage of plumbers. The retraining programs come and go, often mandated for recipients of EBT, but the accumulated tuition debt remains behind, payable to the banks that wouldn’t even look twice at a graduate’s resume. There is now a booming market in debtor’s prisons for unpaid bills, and as we saw in Ferguson the threat of jail is a great way to extract cash from the otherwise broke (thought it can backfire too). Eventually all those homes in Oklahoma, in Ohio, in Wyoming, will be lost in bankruptcy and made available for vacation homes, doomsteads, or hobby farms for the “real” Americans, the ones for whom the ads and special sections in the New York Times are relevant, and their current occupants know this. They are denizens, to use Standing’s term, in their own hometowns.
There is much, much more in the linked blog post.  Finally, an image from a related post on the futility of entrepreneurship as an alternative is too amazing not to post:


Esperanto Has Second And Third Generation Native Speakers

The constructed language Klingon has one native speaker.

But, the older constructed language, Esperanto (invented in 1887), actually has at least one second generation native speaker (who is the child of parents who were native speakers of Esperanto). As the report from a British Esperanto conference explains:
[A] genial 35-year-old man by the (actual) name of Rolf Fantom. . . . was famous for being that rarest of human incarnations: a second-generation native Esperanto speaker; that is to say, his mother’s parents met through Esperanto and this was their common language; they thus bequeathed Esperanto to their daughter who, in turn, brought up young Rolf to speak it as his denaska lingvo.
It turns out that there are even third generation native speakers of Esperanto: "Nils Martin Kl√ľnder’s great-grandfather learned Esperanto, taught it natively to his kids, who taught it natively to his kids, who taught it natively to Nils."

There are an estimated two thousand native speakers of Esperanto, all of whom are multi-lingual, among them businessman and political activist George Soros.

Sikhs Are Not Muslims


Denver's first Sikh Nagar Kirtan parade in front of East High School, in honor of their eternal guru. There are about 500 Sikh families in greater Denver and there are several Sikh places of worship with Sikh communities in Colorado (for example, in Colorado Springs and Boulder).

In the United States, if you see a someone with a beard and long hair wearing a turban, and possibly openly carrying a sheathed knife, there is a 98%+ chance that this person is a Sikh (a member of a monotheistic religion originating in territory of disputed sovereignty in Northwest India/Northeast Pakistan).  They are not Muslims.

Similarly, almost every man with "Singh" in his name, and almost every woman with "Kaur" in her name is a Sikh.

Espanola, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California have a large share of U.S. Sikhs who are non-South Asian converts.

The first Asian American member of the U.S. Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, was a Sikh, and the current governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, was raised as a Sikh but converted to Christianity after she married.

Like the Hindu majority in India, Sikhs tend to be vegetarians.  But, "Sikhs are about equality, regardless of race, religion, caste or sex", in addition to prayer, serving the community, and hard work.

Sikhs are victims of lots of hate crimes and discrimination. There are a variety of prejudices one could hold against Sikhs. But, Sikhs do not tend to be victimized because the people committing the hate crimes and engaging in discriminatory behavior actually have prejudices about Sikhs.

Instead, the people engaging in the discriminatory behavior and committing the hate crimes have prejudices against Muslims, mostly based upon the conduct of various radical Islamist Muslims. But, because religiously observant Sikhs in traditional Sikh garb are easily distinguishable, and a tiny minority of Muslims (almost all outside the United States) dress in a somewhat similar way, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims.

This sucks for Sikhs because lots of Americans have strong anti-Islamic views and very few Americans have anti-Sikh views.

U.S. Paratroopers Discover That Driving Is Faster Than Walking

Apparently, the year 2016 was the year when U.S. airborne units made the revolutionary discovery that driving is faster than walking:
“These vehicles significantly enhance what would otherwise be foot mobility,” Brig. Gen. Brian Winski, deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne, told Bloomberg News. “They change the dynamic and turn what would have been a three-mile per hour operation into a 50-mile per hour operation.”
There are challenges to this approach, however.  Unfortunately, the whole airdropping a vehicle concept does not have a 100% success rate. As a result, the whole, driving concept for paratroopers is only a "pilot project" at this point.

21 May 2016

Apache Helicopter Gunships To Be Removed From National Guard Service

In a move that appropriately reflects the differing missions of the regular Army and the National Guard, the U.S. military is going to transfer all of the AH-64 Apache Helicopter gunships in National Guard service to regular Army.
Under the plan, the Army would retire the OH-58 Kiowas and use Apaches for the armed scout and reconnaissance mission instead. Because the service lacks money to buy enough of the attack helicopters to do both missions, it would transfer the Guard’s entire fleet of 192 Apaches to the active component. In return, the Guard would receive 111 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters from the active component.
As part of this plan, the Army recently inked a contract to buy eight UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the National Guard from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., for delivery June 30, 2017, at a price of $11 million each.

The Apache has two crew and no passengers or cargo capacity and is heavily armed with weapons including up to 16 of 100 pound anti-tank Hellfire missiles (or far more lighter, unguided "Hydra 70" missiles) and ore crew protecting armor than typical military helicopters.

The Black Hawk is more lightly armed and can carry up to 11 passengers and/or up to 9,000 pounds of cargo (externally). A Black Hawk can utilize most of the same kinds of armaments as the Apache, but fewer of them and without the same level of crew protecting armor. The Black Hawk's flight performance and size are fairly comparable to the Apache.

The OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter that is being phased out, is cheaper, but also much such smaller and less heavily armed than either the Apache or the Blackhawk.

19 May 2016

A Hundred Years Of Unwinding The Ottoman Empire Badly

Diplomacy matters.  And, today is a day that drives this lesson home by demonstrating the immeasurable costs of screwing it up badly.
May 19 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed by diplomats Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot to help Britain and France divide the lands of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. Sykes-Picot began to set the boundaries of what became countries like Iraq and Syria—and that’s been tragic for their citizens.
From Time Magazine.

The modern history of the Middle East begins with the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

For a brief moment in the 1970s, this looked like a success.  Liberal constitutional monarchies and republics prevailed from Afghanistan to Persia to Lebanon. But, in short order, that facade fell apart revealing the fundamentally unstable dynamics that Sykes-Picot set in motion.

When the 1970s moment passed, Afghanistan erupted into war that continued pretty continuously for the next several decades that left its people the most miserable in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa, if not worse. The Iranian revolution replaced the pro-Western Shah with a Shi'ite Islamic theocracy that hated the West with a vengeance.
In the past half century, Iraq has passed from decades of Sunni dominance under Saddam Hussein through a war with Iran, a war with the U.S., years of sanctions, another war with the U.S. . . .

Before its civil war began, Syria was home to 22 million people. More than half of those people have been forced from their homes. Some 470,000 have been killed, 4.8 million have fled the country, and another 6.5 million are internally displaced. The country’s economy is less than half its prewar size.

Kurds remain the world’s largest stateless minority. About 30 million live within Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, though there are significant cultural and linguistic differences. Iraq’s Kurds inch their way toward independence, while the Kurds of Syria are fighting both President Bashar Assad and ISIS. In Turkey, Kurds are divided between those who want an active role in Turkish politics and others who want independence. The only force engaged in a bid to create new borders in the region is ISIS, which is losing ground in its bid to establish its caliphate.
War in Lebanon in the early 1980s turned glittering and enlightened Beirut into the type specimen of post-apocalyptic urban wasteland, and in the end, Lebanon's already complex politically brokered truce between its disparate ethnicities was further subjected to a status as a vassal state of Syria.

Syria and Iraq were held together by totalitarian, socialist leaning Baathist one party states.  Egypt wound up with something similar.  Arabia and its oil wealth with left to a slew of absolute monarchs who have fanned the first of Islamic extremism, while leaving an ethnically divided and dirt poor population in Yemen to wallow in poverty while trying to operate a civilian democratic government that no one has been able to make function properly.

Israel's formation a few decades after the treaty turned millions of Palestinians into people without a country pushed onto something like semi-sovereign Indian Reservations on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, while Arabs sought to unite in war against it, only to be repeatedly defeated.  A period of suicide bombing and terror by Palestinians directed at Israelis followed, until it found ways to secure domestic peace and its U.S. ally bribed Saudi Arabia and Egypt to back off starting in the 1970s. Each still received billions of dollars a year of tribute from the U.S. to continue to refrain from attacking Israel.

Jordan is perhaps the only country in the region which has avoided complete havoc and isn't horribly screwed up itself under a relatively wise king unspoiled by the unchecked power that comes with excess oil wealth.  But, it has been hampered with dealing with the fallout of first Palestinian and then Iraqi and then Syrian refugees, and is only marginally democratic or free itself.

In short, the Middle East and North Africa are a dreadful, violent, inhumane mess with no easy solutions on the horizon.  And, while it couldn't have prevented all of these problems, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by disrespecting the nationalist principal of ethnically and religiously based states, and embracing unstable systems that put minority factions in charge of ruling post-World War I states, simply made a bad situation worse in the long run.

Colorado's Republicans are not the worst

While the Republican caucus in Congress knows few words other than "no", Republicans controlling the Colorado Senate worked together with the Democratic Governor and Democratic party led Colorado House to pass a budget and enact common sense legislation like laws legalizing household rain barrels, tweaking our legalized marijuana regime, phasing in full strength beer and wine in grocery stores, reforming campaign finance and juvenile life without parole statutes that have been held unconstitutional, auditing state tax expenditures, and asking voters to eliminate a loophole in the constitutional prohibition of slavery in Colorado.

While a Donald Trump led Republican party nationally is increasingly becoming overtly racist with not so subtle neo-Nazi overtones , Colorado Republicans have put two African-American Republicans on the U.S. Senate Primary ballot, preferred African American neurosurgeon Ben Carson to all other Presidential candidates in the race in a late 2015 straw poll before he dropped out of the race, and nominated and elected an African-American as Colorado Secretary of State.  Suffice it to say that this would never happen in the North Carolina Republican party.

And, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid, one of the two solidly conservative justices out of the seven justice of the Colorado Supreme Court (and wife of a top GOP operative in Colorado), is apparently on Donald Trump's short list of SCOTUS nominees. Honestly, of all the judges whom a Republican President could nominate and certainly of all of potential nominees on Trump's list, Eid would probably be one of the better choices. She is a conservative jurist in the model of Rehnquist and Roberts, not Scalia, Alito and Thomas, despite the fact that she clerked for Justice Thomas. She is also the smarter and more thoughtful of the two reliably conservative justices on the Colorado Supreme Court.
Mr. Trump’s selections consisted of six federal appeals court judges appointed by President George W. Bush and five state supreme court justices appointed by Republican governors. All are white . . . . 
They include several judges who are favorites of conservative legal scholars, like Dianne S. Sykes, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit who was appointed by President Bush. . . . The federal appeals court judges on the list included Steven M. Colloton of the Eighth Circuit, a former clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Raymond M. Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit, who clerked for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. 
The state supreme court justices included Joan Larsen of Michigan, a former clerk to Justice Scalia, and also Allison H. Eid of Colorado, David Stras of Minnesota and Thomas Rex Lee of Utah, all three of whom clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. In addition, Judge Lee’s father, Rex, served as solicitor general in the Reagan administration, and his brother, Mike Lee, is a Republican senator from Utah.
Another state supreme court justice on the list, Don Willett of Texas, previously worked for the Bush White House’s office of faith-based initiatives and later in Texas government, where he pushed to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property and the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, issues he has promoted on his Facebook page.
We certainly have our share of Republican crazies in Colorado, most notably state representative Gordon Klingenschmitt.

But, on the whole, Colorado Republicans are relatively decent compared to their peers in many other states.

17 May 2016

Today's Combat Helmets Are Better Than They Used To Be


The LW-ACH (lightweight advanced combat helmet).

U.S. troops started using the ACH, a helmet with basically the design above, in 2005, and this year will start receiving an upgrade, the LW-ACH, which is 10% lighter (3 lbs instead of 3.3 lbs), has a slightly more stable fit, and is a bit more protective. The light and strong wonder-material Kelvar provides the protection.

When it works, it is the difference between death or severe brain damage, and life with a possible mild concussion.  And, since it is lighter and more comfortable than pre-2005 designs, soldiers are more likely to be wearing it when it matters. This means fewer soldiers die when the U.S. goes to war.

Combat helmets date to ancient times and those designed to stop shrapnel and bullets date to around the time of World War I.  But, the technology has improved by fits and starts with several major innovations and more minor ones, over time.

Trends In Offense v. Defense In Military Technology

Generally speaking, new military technologies have favored offense over defense.

Heavy "slug throwers" using ordinance bigger than a 40mm grenade cannon are steadily being replaced by what amount to guided missiles. It is only a matter of time before conventional howitzer and tank rounds (historically 76mm (about 3") to 203mm (about 8")), and naval guns (historically 76mm (3") on frigates to 406mm (16") on battleships) are gone.

The inferior accuracy and range of these weapon systems (about 13 miles at most for a conventional 5" naval gun or 155mm howitzer round, both of which are not that accurate at the edge of their range) relative to comparable sized missiles (which tend to have somewhat larger and much more expensive rounds, but smaller systems to launch them) have made these heavy slug throwers largely obsolete.  

Already, the largest slug thrower rounds in U.S. naval service are 127mm (5") naval guns down from 16" on some U.S. battleships.  Similarly, the M2 Bradley which is armed with a small compliment of small anti-tank missiles, destroyed as many Iraqi tanks in the first Gulf War as the M1 Abrams main battle tank which has a 120mm (almost 5") main gun (the largest direct fire round in U.S. military service).  The M1 is still used by the U.S. Army, but in much lower quantities relative to the total force than it used to be as this tool has proved less useful relative to the alternatives.

The U.S. is upgrading its self-propelled 155mm howitzer system for the first time in twenty years starting this year. The new system is the M109A7 PIM (Paladin Integrated Management)), with a planned buy of 580 of the systems, prior to any mid-purchase budget cuts and down from the 929 M109A6s currently in U.S. service.  The new PIMs are expected to remain in service until 2050, but this may be the last conventional howitzer ever fielded by the U.S. Army. The original Paladin M109 entered service in the Vietnam War. Two previous more significantly redesigned howitzer systems, the Crusader, and the Non-Line of Sight Cannon of the Future Combat System program, were cancelled in the meantime. And, the M982 Excalibur precision munitions with a 40km range that are included in the choice of ordinance for the new howitzer are guided weapons that are more missile than slug, and many other howitzer and mortar rounds are now "rocket assisted."
The PIM project is being praised not for combat qualities, but primarily for its cost-efficiency. According to Military-Today website, the new self-propelled gun “shares engine, transmission, tracks and some other components with the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. Such commonality allows to reduce production, operating and maintenance costs.”
Laser weapons and other kinds of anti-missile ordinance (such as that used by the Phalanx Close in Weapons System) designed to shoot down incoming heavy ordinance en route, and "reactive armor" is replacing conventional armor. State of the art missiles can almost always routinely defeat the heaviest armor of their intended targets (including the heaviest tanks, submarines, warships and bunkers) while retaining a manageable weight. Even infantry defending against ambushes have focused on technologies designed to identify to location and type of incoming fire instantly and return fire.

But, slug throwers remain the kings of small arms, and modern combat helmets, flak jackets and modern military vehicle armor are mostly sufficient to provide meaningful protection against small arms rounds (usually 5.6 mm to 12.7mm), and to provide meaningful protection from shrapnel from exploding grenades and artillery rounds that don't hit the armor protected soldier directly.  And, in asymmetric conflicts against terrorists and insurgents, as opposed to conventional wars with "near peer" sovereign military forces, small arms (and improvised explosive devises a.k.a. IEDs) predominate.

Quick Hits

1. Urban Farming
Urban farming likely won't ever provide cities with all that many calories. And the environmental advantages are … debatable. But urban farms can provide a bunch of other neat benefits, from bolstering local communities to (sometimes) encouraging healthier diets. They can also give city-dwellers a better appreciation of how our food system works, which is less nebulous than it sounds.
I've long been an urban farming skeptic, because I know that urban farming doesn't make sense from an efficiency or environmental perspective.  But, my brother's family has tended a plot in an urban garden and I do see the community building and educational upside of this activity.

2. Transgender Basics
Myth #1: Transgender people are confused or tricking others
Myth #2: Sexual orientation is linked to gender identity
Myth #3: Letting trans people use the bathroom matching their gender identity is dangerous
Myth #4: Transitioning is as simple as one surgery
Myth #5: All trans people medically transition
Myth #6: Transgender-inclusive health care is expensive
Myth #7: Children aren't old enough to know their gender identity
Myth #8: Transgender people are mentally ill
Myth #9: Transgender people make up a third gender
Myth #10: Drag queens and kings are transgender
I have made a number of posts on the transgender phenomena which I may link to this post as some point.

Many people who have encountered a gay or lesbian person, or at least have a somewhat realist idea from popular culture what that involves, really have no idea what a transgender identity means, even in Colorado which is home to Trinidad, a national center for gender reassignment treatments. I first met "out" gay and lesbian individuals in college and my children know people who are "out" gays and lesbians in high school.  But, I was in my 30s or 40s before I personally met any transgender people.  I did so through Denver politics and through my law practice as several of my clients are transgender.

Honestly, once you get it, a transgender identity is really much more straightforward to understand than a gay or lesbian sexual orientation.  You have a body that fits one gender, but, usually from a very young age, you are mentally a member of the other gender fall all intents and purposes.

The webcomic Misfile, in which a lazy angel accidentally puts a boy's file in the wrong gender filing cabinet in heaven, while obviously not the true cause of the phenomena (whose exact cause isn't well understood even though it is clearly real), captures the idea perfectly.

The good news about the lack of wide public knowledge about transgender identities, is that there is considerable room for basic, factual education to change opinions, which is impossible in the case of many other high profile controversial issues where the culture wars rage on despite people knowing the facts.

Also, it turns out that today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

3. Does Nationalism come more naturally than Social Class identity?
Just as extreme Shi’ite Muslims hold that Archangel Gabriel made a mistake, delivering the Message to Mohamed when it was intended for Ali, so Marxists basically like to think that the spirit of history of human consciousness made terrible boob. The awakening message was intended for classes, but by some terrible postal error was delivered to nations. It is now necessary for revolutionary activists to persuade the wrongful recipient to hand over the message, and the zeal it engenders, to the rightful and intended recipient. The unwillingness of both the rightful and the usurping recipient to fall in with this requirement causes the activist great irritation… 
4. The rich haven't just captured the growth in personal income attributable to innovation.  They have also captured more than their share of the consumption benefits of it. In economist speak: "Annualized quality-adjusted inflation was 0.65 percentage points lower for high-income households, relative to low-income households."

5. New Zealand takes civility in legislative debates much more seriously than we do. For example, the Prime Minister there was recently temporarily ejected from the parliament room for repeatedly speaking when it wasn't his turn.

6. There may not be right answers in economics, but Venezuela demonstrates that there are clearly wrong ones.

7. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both perceived in a very negative light.

This is really pretty stunning. Trump is the least favorably viewed major party nominee in the last 40 years and Clinton is the second least favorably viewed major party nominee in that 40 year time period.

8. Widespread contraception is by far the most effective way to reduce abortion rates, while anti-abortion laws themselves are surprisingly ineffective.

Weather Warnings No Longer In ALL CAPS.

When I worked in a radio newsroom in college, the news come out of the teletype in all caps, and we rewrote stories by hand based upon that for our announcers to read in all caps as well.  It was a practice we shared with the National Weather Service at the time. WOBC almost surely no longer has a teletype news feed and probably doesn't have writers prepare stories for their announcers in block print either. A week ago, the National Weather Service discontinued that practice:
After decades of silently shouting at the top of its lungs,the National Weather Service recently announced that it’s going to stop publishing its forecasts and weather warnings in ALL CAPS. Beginning May 11, for the first time ever, we’ll start seeing mixed-case letters.

The weather service’s caps-lock habit didn’t happen entirely by choice. Old equipment left over from early weather service days of the late 1800s could only handle capital letters. Unfortunately, people have since learned to recognize those capital letters AS YELLING.

It’s taken a long time for the weather service (and its customers) to update all their hardware and software, but now they’re finally ready to enter the 20th Century. . . . In the case of the weather service’s all-caps type, it’s the font version of the boy who cried wolf. Using ALL CAPS for everything — from severe hurricanes to a slight chance of showers — means that EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME AND EVERYTHING LOOKS IMPORTANT. Once people realize that most of the time it’s not, they may become desensitized to warnings. When nothing stands out, people are likely to miss real emergencies.

Now that the weather service can use ALL CAPS sparingly — as a tool to highlight real danger — the public is more likely to pay attention.

“We realized we could still use ALL CAPS within products to add emphasis, such as ‘TORNADO WARNING. TAKE COVER NOW!’" said Art Thomas, the weather service meteorologist in charge of the project. “We hope that using all caps for emphasis will get people’s attention when it matters and encourage people to take action to protect their safety.”


Samples of both ALL CAPS and mixed case area forecasts from the weather service. Source: NOAA.
From here.

I've read elsewhere that the convention that ALL CAPS reads as yelling dates to the 17th century.

12 May 2016

The Rise Of The Nones?

Secularism is swiftly becoming the norm in Western Europe and Japan, and is becoming significantly more common in many places in world.  But, signals are mixed in much of the world as well.

The story does not discuss, however, the surge in Christianity generally in Africa, or the rise of Evangelical Christianity in lieu of Roman Catholicism in Latin America, or the massive return to religion from Soviet era levels in the former Soviet Union and to a lesser extent in China.  South Korea's mild step towards secularization, likewise follows a surge in Christian adherence in the 20th century that made it the Asian country with the highest percentage of Christians by far.

It isn't clear if there have been any shifts in religious adherence in predominantly Muslim and Hindu areas where religion has also become far more entangled in politics and nationalistic struggles.

Europe
* For the first time in Norwegian history, there are more atheists and agnostics than believers in God. 
* For the first time in British history, there are now more atheists and agnostics than believers in God. And church attendance rates in the UK are at an all-time low, with less than 2% of British men and women attending church on any given Sunday. 
* A recent survey found that 0% of Icelanders believe that God created the Earth. That’s correct: 0%. And whereas 20 years ago, 90% of Icelanders claimed to be religious, today less than 50% claim to be. 
* Nearly 70% of the Dutch are not affiliated with any religion, and approximately 700 Protestant churches and over 1,000 Catholic churches are expected to close within the next few years throughout the Netherlands, due to low attendance. 
* According to a recent Eurobarometer Poll, 19% of Spaniards, 24% of Danes, 26% of Slovenians, 27% of Germans and Belgians, 34% of Swedes, and 40% of the French, claim to not believe in “any sort of spirit, God, or life-force.”
North America
* In the United States, somewhere between 23% and 28% of American adults have no religious affiliation, and these so-called “nones” are not only growing in number, but they are becoming increasingly secular in their behaviors and beliefs. 
* Among Millennials - Americans in their 20s - over 35% are non-religious, constituting the largest cohort of secular men and women in the nation’s history. 
* In Canada, back in 1991, 12% of adults stated “none,” when asked their religion - today that is up to 24%.
Latin America and the Caribbean
* In South America, 7% of men and women in Mexico, 8% in Brazil, 11% in Argentina, 12% in El Salvador, 16% in Chile, 18% in the Dominican Republic, and 37% in Uruguay are non-religious — the highest such rates of Latin American secularity ever recorded. 
* Over 20% of Jamaicans are now non-religious.
Australia and New Zealand
* In Australia, 15% of the population said they had no religion in 2001, and it is up to at least 22% today. 
* In New Zealand, 30% of the population claimed no religion in 2001, but it had risen to 42% in 2013.  
East Asia
* In Japan, about 70% of adults claimed to hold personal religious beliefs sixty years ago, but today, that figure is down to only about 20%; In 1970 there were 96,000 Buddhist temples throughout Japan, but in 2007, there were 75,866 - and around 20,000 of those were un-staffed, with no resident priest. In the 1950s, over 75% of Japanese households had a kamidana (Shinto altar), but by 2006 this was down to 44% nationwide, and only 26% in major cities. 
* While 11% of South Koreans were atheists in 2005, that has increased to at least 15% as of late, and the percentage of South Koreans who described themselves as religious has dropped from 58% to 52% over the past decade. 
* Over 50% of Chinese adults are secular (although in Communist dictatorships where religion is officially oppressed, valid information on people’s religiosity is always hard to come by).
Africa
* In Africa, while religiosity remains high, there are none the less growing pockets of irreligion: over 5% of the those in Ghana claim to have no religion, and 9% of people in Madagascar and Tanzania, and 11% of people in Gabon and Swaziland are now non-religious. 
* Approximately 20% of Botswanans now claim to have no religion. 
Per the Huffington Post.

Slavery On Colorado's November 2016 Ballot

Slavery was banned by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution right?

Well, only sort of.  Both the 13th Amendment and Colorado's state constitutional counterpart have exceptions to the prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude for punishments for crimes.  Both the federal and Colorado constitutions allow someone to be declared a slave, or more realistically, subjected to a term of forced labor, as punishment for a crime.

But, in this November's election, the state legislature has decided to ask voters to remove the punishment for a crime exception to the slavery and involuntary servitude clause of the state constitution. Inmates could still volunteer to do prison labor or work on a chain gang because there was some benefit to them in doing it, but they couldn't be forced to do so as part of their crime.

For prison inmates, this makes a lot of sense, but it might be worth some thought to determine how, if at all, this would impact sentences of community service for minor misdemeanor or ordinance violations that don't involve incarceration.  My sense is that these sentences are predominantly awarded in plea bargains or at least with defendant consent, and that defendants would consent to this option.  But, I'm not certain.

Against Blockchains

Blockchains, which are the technological underpinning of cypto-currencies like Bitcoin, have been hailed as the next big thing in business innovation.

But, a read of Paolo Bacigalupi's newish near future novel set in the American Southwest, "The Water Knife", illustrates dramatically who catastrophically a blockchain based systems can collapse with only a slight amount of data degradation in just the right place (I can't explain more without spoiling a critical plot point of the novel).

The Case For Panic

Would A Trump Presidency Be Apocalyptic?

Paul Campos, at the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog, makes the case that a Trump Presidency would be such an Apocalyptic event that we should worry about it, even if it isn't very likely.

I'm not willing to go so far as the A-word when predicting the likely consequences of a Trump Presidency.

Simply put, too many barriers stand in the way of major Trump driven screw ups in our political economy that buffer us from disaster at the hands of a bad President, particularly when he doesn't have widespread support in the rest of the political system.  These include:

(1) A tradition of rule of law enforced by strong and independent judicial system,

(2) separation of powers between the President and Congress,

(3) an independent central bank,

(4) a moderately independent FBI,

(5) a civil service that is functionally insulated from the Presidency in many key respects,

(6) federalism that leaves lots of important governmental functions to state and local governments,

(7) an economy that has a relatively small federal public sector (many government owned enterprises are a the state and local level and the federal ones are quite independent of the President),

(8) the Posse Comitatus Act,

(9) a history of military non-involvement in civilian politics,

(10) a federal legislative process in Congress that makes it hard to change the status quo and doesn't give the President much formal power to positively enact new law, and a regulatory process under the Administrative Procedures Act in the federal government that mutes and delays Presidential influence on the federal rule making process,

(11) Trump's lack of support from leaders of most of the traditional international allies of the U.S., and

(12) Trump's lack of support among the elites of either of the major political parties, so he can't count on them cooperating with or conspiring with him to break traditional rules limiting Presidential power.

Trump's immense personal wealth, while it is a huge asset on the campaign trail, is also something that would provide only marginal benefit to Trump as a sitting President.

Also, don't forget that if Trump really screws up, referendum type swing voters, who make up a significant share of independent voters, are likely to join with Democrats to vote him out of office after just four years.

And, if Republicans in Congress appear complicit in working with Trump to ruin the country and enough voters interpret the situation that way, voters could replace Republicans with Democrats in mid-term elections two years after Trump takes office (to some extent this is precisely what happened when Republicans won the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections in the wake of dissatisfaction with Obamacare in many swing Congressional districts).

While somewhat outdated, consider this analysis from an October 25, 2005 post at this blog:
As of 2002, the last year for which I have good figures easily at hand, there were about 22.8 million governmental employees, military and civilian combined, in the United States. 
Only a small fraction of them report to the President. 
About 18.6 million of those employees worked for state and local government, (about 82% of the total). 
More than 37% of the civilians employed by the United States government also do not report to the President, because they work for Congress, for the Judiciary, for the Postal Service, or as one of the roughly 182 thousand other employees of independent agencies (this is really somewhat more complex, because some independent agencies like the EPA and NASA report pretty directly to the President, while other agencies within the Executive Branch, most notably the FBI have considerable independence from the President who cannot, for example, fire the FBI director without good cause). 
Thus, only about 11% of governmental employees in the United States report directly to the President and about 46% of those are military personnel. 
Only 9,051 people who work for the United States government in the executive branch are political appointees. A significant share of these appointees, moreover, are to insignificant posts like the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, or the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. There are, for example, only eight political appointees in the Central Intelligence Agency, widely believed to have about 30,000 employees. 
Everybody else in the government is either a merit system employee or hired by someone who is a merit system employee. No bid contracts are the exception, rather than the norm.
A President facing an uncooperative U.S. Senate can also have difficulty getting his political appointees approved and on the job.

Trump's Odds Of Winning May Be Underestimated

Campos further argues than the conventional estimates of the likelihood of Trump winning in the general election (for example based upon state by state general election contest polling) may very well be underestimates, particularly in light of the fact that Trump seems to do better in polls that are anonymous and computerized as opposed to those were a human interviewer is involved.

Campos starts with a 10% seat of his pants expectation of the odds of Trump winning and then goings onto identify factors that would elevate that probability without quantifying them.

Political science professors Steve Greene, the CNN affiliated prediction market, and I have all put Trump's odds of winning in the 20something percentage range, and the Campos post, while not putting a number on the odds seems to end up there as well.

Certainly, almost nobody thinks that Trump is more likely than Clinton to win the general election at this point, but the odds of that happening aren't that remote.  You wouldn't cross the street if your odds of being hit while doing so were anywhere near as great as the odds of Trump becoming our next President.

Conclusion

When the odds of a horrible President are somewhere between one in five and one in three, there is indeed cause for concern, but perhaps not as much of a cause for panic as Campos would imply.

Top Lawyers Earn $2,000 An Hour

The highest hourly billing rates rose about 20% over the last year to an all time high of $2,000 per hour for the highest paid lawyers billing by the hour.  Last year, the highest billing attorneys who billed by the hour billed $1,600 per hour.  The average amount paid per hour by large corporations for lead counsel at their outside firm is about a third of this amount.

11 May 2016

The Problem With Our Democracy In A Nutshell

The Simple Facts

Democratic President Obama's Job Approval
Approve 48.9%
Disapprove 46.5%

Congressional Job Approval
Approve 13.8%
Disapprove 77.0%

U.S. House of Representatives
Republicans 246
Democrats 188
Vacant 1

U.S. Senate
Republicans 54
Democrats 44
Independents Who Caucus With Democrats 2

2016 Generic Congressional Vote
Republicans 43.0%
Democrats 45.3%

It is perfectly rational for a Democrat who doesn't approve of the job performance of Congress to want to vote for a Democrat in order to change control of Congress.  It is perfectly rational for a Republican who approves of the job performance of Congress to want to vote for a Republican to retain control of Congress.

But, what do the at least one-third of likely voters who disapprove of the job that Congress is doing, yet favor Republican in a generic Congressional vote (20% of voters) or have no preference in a generic Congressional vote (12.7% of voters), not understand?

Analysis

You could understand someone thinking that their particular Congressperson is unlike other members of that Congressperson's political party.  But, that possibility goes out the window in a generic Congressional vote.

Seriously.  This is a problem that can't be solved by defending the right to vote.  This is a problem that can't be solved with easier to understand ballots, or more accurate vote tallying equipment.  It can't be solved by reforming the caucus or primary process to elect political party nominees.  It can't be solved by ending gerrymandering.  It can't be solved multi-round or instant runoff voting.

This is a problem that wasn't foreseen by the Founders when they wrote the U.S. Constitution. Nobody worried about this happening when they wrote the Federalist papers to market the new constitution to the people who would have to approve it.  The authors of the Federalist papers even naively thought that the simple expedient of majority voting on legislation by the legislature as a whole would prevent minority factions in Congress from securing legislation that favored minorities to the detriment of majorities.

Even more epically, the Founders did not foresee that electoral politics in the system that they created would primarily become contests between competing political parties that usually solidified two opposing coalitions of factions before elections were held that were stable for many decades at a time.

Is the problem that American voters today, with easy assess to every kind of media and Google, don't know that in Congress, which they are aware is doing such a miserable job, that the House and the Senate are both controlled by Republicans?

I'm sure that there are people who think that Congress is doing a miserable job who don't know that the House and the Senate are both controlled by Republicans.*  After all, this has only been true for less than two years.  For the four years before that, Democrats controlled the Senate while Republicans controlled the House, and for the two years before that, Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House.

But, it is also reasonable to believe that people who don't know that the Republicans currently control Congress make up a pretty small minority of people who actually vote in Congressional elections, because a political party that felt it needed to get this fact across could do so easily and cheaply with a straightforward advertising campaign.  The fact that this source for the problem would imply an easy solution, together with the fact that this paradox is long standing and intractable, suggests that the answer is not so simple.

I honestly don't actually know what does lead to this paradox, although I have no doubt that it has been studied ad nauseam by political scientists.

One possibility is that it is the product of a number of rationalizations.  Voters may believe that other members of the ruling party and not your own representative, is the reason for that failure of Congress to do its job well.  But, again, that doesn't explain why the paradox is present even in the case of a generic partisan ballot.

Voters may blame the President for thwarting the ability of Congress to do its job well. Voters may feel that Congress is doing a bad job because it compromises with a President of another political party too often, and not that it is too partisan.  After all, one of the best predictors of public mistrust of an occupation or institution is the extent to which it participates in negotiations, and mistrust and job disapproval go hand in hand.  This would imply a need for change in party leadership, or primary challenges to put in place more partisan members of the same party, rather than a need to throw the bums out in favor of the other political party.

One fact that supports this hypothesis is that this is a problem that by and large does not afflict countries like the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, and Israel that have parliamentary systems that vest almost all executive and legislative political power in a single popularly elected legislative body whose elected leader runs the government as a prime minister.  Somehow, in those simpler systems of undivided government, where all important compromises take place behind closed doors in ruling coalition cabinet meetings, the notion of "responsible government" somehow penetrates the heads of the average voter.  If voters don't approve of how the ruling party or coalition is governing, the voters consistently vote that party out of power.

If necessary, in those countries, politicians form new alternative parties if both the existing loyal opposition and the ruling party are both equally unpalatable options in the eyes of the voting public, and often they succeed in that effort marshaling dissenting experienced politicians from existing parties as the core of the new party.

Any time there is divided government, between the two houses of Congress, or between the President and either house of Congress, responsibility for the state of the political process becomes diffuse and voters are much less inclined to punish incumbents when the political system enters a failure mode. Cognitive dissonance leads voters to strongly favor blaming the other guy's political party if there is any plausible rational arising from divided government for doing so, even in cases like this year's when Congress is completely controlled by Republicans, the public strongly disapproves of how Congress is doing its job, and the President of another political party has positive approval ratings.

At least, that's the theory.  I'll have to try to find some literature to confirm and reject it.

* A Footnote On The Death Of The U.S. Senate Filibuster As A Binding Senate Rule

Strictly speaking, there have only been one time since 1979 (almost four decades ago) that either political party with filibuster proof control of the U.S. Senate (during which the same party also controlled the U.S. House and the Presidency), in the 111th Congress (2009-2011).  This is what made it possible to pass Obamacare over strong Republican opposition.

In theory, in the absence of a filibuster-proof sixty vote majority, a U.S. Senate minority (usually made up mostly of members of the minority political party in the U.S. Senate) can prevent the U.S. Senate from taking final action on a matter indefinitely.

But, in substance, it is been possible to take action in the U.S. Senate by mere majority vote in the U.S. Senate since the lame duck portion of the 113th Congress in November of 2013.  This is when the Senate Democrats exercised the "nuclear option." In other words, Senate Democrats with a Democratic Vice President presiding as President of the Senate, by a mere majority vote, dispensed with the sixty vote filibuster threshold for appointments of nominees other than U.S. Supreme Court justices (and several other anti-democratic U.S. Senate rules), without passing an amendment to the U.S. Senate rules by a two-thirds majority provided for by Senate rules which are never rewritten from scratch as they are in the U.S. House when it reorganizes with each new Congress, because the U.S. Senate is in continuous session and never replaces more than a third of its members at any one time.

President Obama (who was a U.S. Senator from Illinois before he was elected to be the President of the United States) accepted this as a legitimate tactic of U.S. Senate Democrats that was justified and made necessary by anti-Democratic Republican obstinance in violation of historic but informal Senate norms regarding the use of the filibuster.

No Article III court has ever held that any action taken by the U.S. Senate after it exercised the nuclear potion under the new filibuster rules was invalid, because the U.S. Senate has exclusive jurisdiction over its own internal parliamentary rules and disputes over the interpretations of rules are resolved by majority vote.

And, U.S. Senate Republicans effectively ratified the legitimacy of the nuclear option by leaving in place the changes to the filibuster adopted by Senate Democrats in that manner, when they took control of the chamber in January of 2015 following the 2014 mid-term election.

This political precedent effectively means that the remaining filibuster rules of the U.S. Senate and other U.S. Senate procedures protecting minority rights in the U.S. Senate are now really no more than a formalized courtesy afforded to the U.S. Senate minority by the political party in control of the U.S. Senate.  This is because the legitimacy of the nuclear option to change the filibuster rules of the U.S. Senate have now been ratified by all players in the political process.  So, filibuster rules and other procedural rights afforded to minorities in the U.S. Senate can now be changed at any time if the majority's desire to pass legislation or approve a U.S. Supreme Court nominee is sufficiently intense.

10 May 2016

Raw Data In The 2016 U.S. Presidential General Election Race

tl;dr Clinton is far ahead of Trump in the general election race at this point.

Summary

Presidential elections are decided on a state by state basis, so the best tools to predict their outcome are conventional wisdom based upon past voting behavior in a state, and state by state general election polling. The conventional wisdom (per CNN) and Clinton v. Trump State Level General Election Polls (per Real Clear Politics and Wikipedia) are presented below.

The threshold to win is 270 electoral votes out of 538 available electoral votes, all of which are in principle bound by the November 8, 2016 election results (although many states allow early voting, and Washington at least used to allow votes to be mailed on election day itself).  All states except Maine and Nebraska award all of their electoral votes to the plurality winner in the state.  Maine and Nebraska allocate some electoral votes based on Congressional District, but in practice this usually mean one extra GOP electoral vote in Maine and one extra Democratic electoral vote in Nebraska, resulting in the same result as if all states were winner take all.

All lean Republican and lean Democratic states and all but two battleground states have polling. Solid Republican and Solid Democratic states are assumed to vote as conventional wisdom expects unless a poll contradicts that expectation.  Clinton is expected to win the two battleground states that do not have polling (CO and NV) based upon strong Obama wins in those states in 2008 and 2012, although both of these states did back George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Clinton: 374 electoral votes
Tied: 6 electoral votes (Utah)
Trump: 168 electoral votes.

The only states defying CNN's conventional wisdom in polling are Arizona and Georgia which lean Republican but support Clinton, and Utah which is safe Republican but tied.

Polling in seven battle ground states support Clinton (FL, IA, NH, NC, OH, WI, VA).  Clinton has the advantage based upon past Presidential election results in the two battleground states where polling is not available (CO, NV).

The states with polling that have less than a 4 point margin for one candidate or another are: Ohio (Clinton + 3.5), Arizona (Clinton +3.5) Utah (tie), Missouri (Trump +1.5), and Mississippi (Trump +3). The margins of error in the polls are large enough that Trump could lose one of those states simply because polling was inaccurate due to random sampling error.

A slide in Trump support could turn a Clinton lead into an even greater landslide. Clinton support would have to drop 7 percentage points on average for Trump to win (possibly more depending on the polling in CO and NV).  The marginal states at this point are Florida and Arizona.

In national polling, which is less relevant, Clinton leads Trump, on average 47.3 to 40.9, based on an average of seven recent national polls from April 11 to May 9.  The number of percentage points Clinton needs to slide for Trump to lead in national polls (6.4) is almost the same as the number of percentage points Clinton needs to slide for Trump to lead in state polls sufficient to win 270 electoral votes (7), especially considering that the later number includes some rounding error.

We also have no polling from Arkansas, which would ordinarily be a safe Republican state, but may not be with Hillary Clinton, its former first lady, running for President.  Clinton leads in three battleground Southern states (VA, NC and FL) already and Trump's support is soft in two more ordinarily safe Republican states (GA and MS), and Trump trails Clinton badly in Arizona which while not in the South has a lot of Southern transplants. Clinton dominated primary voting in the South despite strong Sanders support elsewhere, demonstrating her enthusiastic support from the base there and familiarity with how to deliver a political message that resonates in the South.  So, Arkansas's six electoral votes could be in play this year as well.  A win in Arkansas would tip the Clinton-Trump electoral college balance even further in her favor.

Some other safe Republican states were very emphatic in their rejection of Trump during the primary season: Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Kansas all wanted nothing to do with him. This doesn't mean that Clinton will be viewed as the lesser of two evils in these solidly red states, but his supporters certainly won't be very enthusiastic in those states and he is tied in Utah polling.  Kansas voters still prefer Trump, but we have no general election polling out of Idaho or Wyoming.

The race is almost sure to tighten between now and election day in six months.  But, it isn't obvious that it will tighten enough to allow Trump to prevail in the general election. CNN's prediction market currently gives Clinton a 71% chance of winning and Trump a 29% chance of winning, which in my opinion isn't far from the mark.

State by state polling data, and CNN's conventional wisdom, appears below the break. Where multiple polls are present for a state, the results for the state are the average (without weighting) of the polls that are not stale.  Stale polls, shown in italics, are ignored.

Are Autism And Schizophrenia Inverses Of Each Other?

People's brains change in a person's late teens and early twenties when they experience "synaptic pruning" that strengthens frequently used connections in the brain while trimming away superfluous ones.

In schizophrenia, this process goes overboard and the brain compensates by treating random noise as signals, which leads to hallucinations. People with autism apparently don't trim enough which impairs learning. Thus, it could be that both conditions involve defects in the same process in opposite directions.
These findings may suggest new treatments targeting GABA receptors for "normalizing" synaptic pruning in diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, where synaptic pruning is abnormal. Research has suggested that children with autism may have an over-abundance of synapses in some parts of the brain. Other research suggests that prefrontal brain areas in persons with schizophrenia have fewer neural connections than the brains of those who do not have the condition.
From here.

On the other hand, it seems odd that autism would have a very early childhood onset if it is really related to synaptic pruning.  But, there are also other developmental periods besides late puberty when synaptic pruning occurs, and perhaps an earlier time period is implicated in autism.

Colorado's Legislative Session Ends Tomorrow

Colorado's General Assembly ends its 2016 session tomorrow (by state constitutional mandate) and since every bill must be heard in its final chamber on two different days, today is the last day to get bills that have passed one house out of committee in the second house for a floor vote.

Among the bills that are down to the wire are a bill to gradually phase in grocery store sales of wine and full strength beer, and a bill to replace Presidential election year caucuses with an open primary system in 2020.  There are better than even odds that both bills will pass.

A repeat bill to ban most red light cameras has also passed both houses but faces a likely veto from the Governor.  Critical bills like the annual state budget have already passed and been signed into law despite the fact that there is divided control of the Colorado legislature with Republicans narrowly controlling the state senate and Democrats less narrowly controlling the state house and Governor's mansion (complete with line item veto power).  But, TABOR give anti-spending Republicans considerable leverage nonetheless.

06 May 2016

Most Bombing In Afghanistan Is Via Drone

In 2015 the American military, for the first time, used more UAVs to deliver air strikes than manned aircraft in one combat zone. In this case it was Afghanistan, where 56 percent of the air-to-ground weapons used were delivered by UAVs. This is a dramatic shift in Afghanistan because UAVs delivered only five percent of weapons in 2011. In 2015 UAVs used 530 missiles (mostly Hellfires) and bombs (mainly 127 or 227 kg GPS or laser guided ones). . . . This type of aerial attack has, since the 1990s, reduced collateral (unintended) casualties (both military and civilian) to decline over 80 percent compared to previous methods.
From here.

05 May 2016

Congress Passed A Major Intellectual Property Law On Tuesday

Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act on Tuesday which President Obama is expected to sign. It largely duplicated state trademark protections, but creates a federal statutory claim that is slightly different and also includes the unprecedented remedy of ex parte seizes of trade secrets containing materials. This is the biggest change to federal intellectual property laws since the American Invents Act in 2011 which reformed patent law. Among other things, it will make a federal forum available for all trade secret lawsuits.

The Pirate Party Is Poised To Win Iceland's Next National Election

No joke! Apparently, there is an international pirate party movement.

04 May 2016

Judge Rules On Ballot Access In GOP U.S. Senate Primary In Colorado - Nobody Sure What It Means

I've posted the trial court's ruling on ballot access appeals filed by Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidates Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier after the Colorado Secretary of State ruled that their respective Petitioners didn't have enough valid signatures to make the ballot in the comments at Colorado Pols.

The rulings don't calculate what the rulings do to the candidates' vote totals so it is hard to tell who is and is not on the ballot without doing a detailed reconciliation of the order with the Colorado Secretary of State's statement of insufficiency for each petition.

Apart from a tweet from the Colorado Secretary of State's press secretary, there is no official word yet from that office which must certify a ballot based upon the court's rulings.

Frazier apparently thinks that he is off the ballot and is appealing the ruling.  It isn't entirely clear if Blaha is or is not on ballot based upon the ruling.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Denver Post thinks that the court ruling brought each candidate closer to qualifying for the ballot, but not close enough.

Bainbridge on Choice of Evils

Trump versus Clinton 
With the election no more or less settled (pace Bernie), many of you may be asking yourselves: How do I choose between two evils? So I've made a short list of your options: 
1. Pick the lesser of the two evils. A.k.a. the Bainbridge option. 
2. Pick the greater of the two. A.k.a. the Cthulhu option. 
3. Pick the one you haven't tried before. A.k.a. the Mae West option. 
4. Reprogram the simulation so it is possible to rescue the ship. A.k.a. the Kirk option.
From Professor Bainbridge.

Alas, we have no programmers capable of option 4, so we'll have to make due with options 1, 2 or 3.

Almost All Economic Gain In The U.S. Since 1979 Has Accrued To The Top 1%

Almost all of the inflation adjusted post-tax, post-transfer payment income growth in the United States in the time period from 1979-2011 has accrued to the top 1% of the income distribution.  Their income has increased at a rate of 3.4% to 3.9% per annum (depending on the inflation index used) in that 32 year time period from $281,000 (in 2011 dollars) in 1979 to $918,000 (in 2011 dollars) in 2011. The top 1% has seen its income relative to the bottom 20% increase by 243% in that time period. Those in the next lower 3% of the income distribution have seen 40% income growth relative to the bottom 20% in that time period.

Everyone else has had seen declining income or had income growth indistinguishable from zero in that time period.  Avoiding a decline in relative income for those in the 20th to 60th percentiles of income has been made possible only with substantial transfer payments to the middle class.

Questions.

Why has this taken place?  The decline of unions?  Tax and welfare policies?  A genuine change in the way that goods and services are produced that makes the 1% much, much more productive than anyone else?

Is it possible to change this without undue harm to overall productivity?  This depends to a great extent on the answer to why this has happened.  Is it "real" or "artificial" in any meaningful sense?

A 2006 study suggest that this is largely due to incredible income gains in geographically concentrated growth in the IT and financial industry (largely confined to ten of the roughly 3000 U.S. counties).

There is a coincidence between the fall of private sector unions and increased inequality to third-world levels both in Colorado and in the U.S. We are at historic record levels of income inequality and wealth inequality.  A conceptual analysis of the limits of an incentive outlook is here.

U.S. corporate law governing how executive compensation is set may also be a factor.  Inequality may actually be a drag on the economy.  Lack of class mobility is also a concern in the U.S. relative to its peers.

Tax breaks for the affluent are an important factor in rising inequality.  Higher ed tax credits have had very little impact in improving access to higher education.

The mix of occupations in the economy has changed.

Background

This is not some revolutionary new discovery.

I posted an analysis reaching an almost identical conclusion 27 months ago and also 42 months ago (considering causes related to the tax code and bankruptcy code) A 2009 analysis revealed that contrary to the expectation of mainstream economists, this gap survived the Great Recession (and noting considerable geographic variation in the recovery rates).