31 August 2016

45,000 ISIS Fighters Killed Since 2013?

U.S. intelligence believes that since September 2015 ISIL appears to have lost 25,000 fighters in combat (mainly in Syria, Iraq and Libya). . . . about 45,000 ISIL fighters have died since 2013. It’s believed that ISIL currently has only about 20,000 fighters available, mostly in Syria and Iraq. There are a few thousand more in northern Libya, eastern Afghanistan and Egypt. In all five countries ISIL is under heavy attack.
From Strategy Page.

Air strikes, about 75% delivered by U.S. forces, have been pivotal in destroying ISIS military equipment and bases.

Of course, ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL a.k.a. Daesh) have also inflicted horrific casualties on its targets.

For example, today's paper notes that the Associated Press with the help of local reports and satellite imagery has identified 72 mass graves of people killed by ISIS in which 5,000 to 15,000 people are buried, including almost all members of one tribe in the region, and large numbers of members of the Yazidi religion whom ISIS has attempted to genocidally exterminate.

ISIS has lots significant amounts of territory during the campaign from its peak, but the Syrian part of the conflict is profoundly complex with many players who have mixed loyalties.  Also many of the predominantly Sunni Arab people subject to ISIS rule are skeptical that the Shi'ite controlled and Iran allied Iraqi government is a desirable alternative.  People without good alternatives keep fighting for their side until a good alternative materializes, even if they are clearly outmatched and will suffer many casualties as a result.

The Economic Impact Of Driverless Cars

The self-driving car appears to be sort of almost here
A driverless future will obviously have enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. To mention a relatively trivial one from my own piece of the pie: A large percentage of the work done by many small law firms and solo practice lawyers involves things — traffic accidents, drunk driving, etc. — that will pretty much disappear in a world without drivers. 
A more consequential effect will involve the millions of people in the US alone who currently make their living by driving cars and trucks. 
In short, driverless cars could be a major technological shock in all sorts of ways, both good and bad.
From Lawyers, Guns and Money.

A household Roomba.

In a related note, I'm also interested in the potential impact of industrial grade Roombas (i.e. robot vacuum cleaners) when they start to be used to clean commercial buildings and mow lawns.  The Wall Street Journal profiled the latest in robotic lawn mower technology this past April.

30 August 2016

Office 365 Email Still Sucks

Office 365 is the crappiest, slowest, most annoying email system I have ever encountered, and that is really saying something. I could write reams for you about its stupidities and detrimental effects on my productivity. Its attempts at showing intelligence are perhaps its worst feature. 
From here.

The author's particular complaint is the program's inept efforts to get you to put times you discuss in your emails in your calendar.

This isn't the only thing wrong with it, of course. But, after a recent advanced Microsoft Word continuing legal education class that I took, I now realize that MS Office is far more evil than I had previously imagined.

The fact that such a crappy piece of software has managed to maintain the predominant share of the market for these kinds of programs, in which 99% of the users don't use the programs as intended, is one of the better proofs that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.

We Fail Children

We Fail Children.

The United States does a quite credible job of meeting the needs of senior citizens through programs like Social Security, Medicare, the Medicaid nursing home program, SSI, veteran's benefits, tax favored retirement saving programs, age discrimination in employment laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (whose beneficiaries are disproportionately the elderly).

But, the United States does a quite poor job of meeting the needs of children.

Poverty: Child poverty rates in the United States far exceed those of most developed nations, and our welfare system for them is relatively anemic.

Health Care: The Medicaid program for poor children is fraught with problems related to the fact that it expects providers to render services for far less than market rates provided by health insurance and Medicare.  Almost all other countries have paid maternity leave while the U.S. does not. Drug research for children and pregnant women is discouraged.  No health care system is more expensive.

Child Care: Child care and pre-school is expensive and the quality of these options is patchy.

Education: While the U.S. has many adequate public schools and a far number of excellent ones, a great many children (overwhelmingly poor and minority) are hellholes. No country in the world has a more costly system of higher education for students, with very protections for students from dishonest educational practices.  Access to higher education is regulated mostly through the costly and damaging system of admitting students who aren't ready for their planned course and then flunking them out in short order.

Juvenile Justice: The United States routinely invokes the criminal justice system for misbehavior by children that doesn't warrant it, until recently was a global outlier that allowed life without parole and deaths sentences for juveniles, and still often imposes excessively long sentences on juveniles and makes grossly excessive use of solitary confinement for juveniles.  Furthermore, the quality of due process for juveniles accused of committing crimes is deficient, and the secrecy in the court system surrounding the juvenile proceedings does more harm than good.

Abuse and Neglect: In most places, our system for identify and protecting children suffering from abuse and neglect seriously mishandles cases on a routine basis, and our foster care system is almost universally abysmal.  For example, in the Denver Public Schools, homeless children are faring better than children in foster care.

Custody Disputes: Our court system does a poor job of handling parenting time and parental responsibility issues, which are frequently navigated by parents without lawyers who are grossly unqualified to do so; child support awards while much less haphazard than they once were and easier to collect than they once were tend to be miserly small (of course there are exceptions to every general rule), and custody decisions are made by a single judge with minimal familiarity with the family who has virtually unfettered discretion under a largely unelaborated "best interests of the child" standard.

Military Families: The U.S. military is pretty much the only employer in America that provides more compensation to employees (i.e. active duty military personnel) who have larger families than it does to single soldiers and to soldiers without children.  in part because of this, a lot of young adults who have already started families join the military and a lot of young soldiers start families.

But, while it is relatively compassionate in this regard (although many low ranking soldiers with families are sufficiently low paid that they qualify for welfare benefits also), the military's record with military families is decidedly mixed.

Simply having policies that encourage and accommodate soldiers having families is somewhat problematic because the intrinsic nature of the job is that sailors on naval ships and soldiers deployed to foreign war zones must be away from families for prolonged periods which is a strain on families, which would suggest that policies that favor family deferral would make more sense.

Even when deployed on bases in the U.S. and in peaceful allied countries where families can accompany soldiers, the military's habit of constantly shuffling troops from base to base across the nation and world has seriously harmed generation after generation of military children.

Another issue recently identified is that military discipline directed at a soldier who commits adultery or mistreats his family frequently most hurts the soldier's family members whom the military conduct standards are designed to protect by economically harming soldiers upon whom they are economically reliant, discouraging families from reporting misconduct towards them and exposing them to abuse risk.

The military also provides inadequate care to veterans, particularly those with service related PTSD or other mental health issues, imposing a burden on their families.


One possible reason for this broad range of failures is that our democratic system, rather than failing to work as design, works too well. It rewards groups of people who regularly cast informed votes, and people who are able to devote time and treasure to the political process.  Senior citizens do all of these things.

In contrast, children are, by far, the largest group of people who have no right to vote. Only the oldest are mature enough to devote time to the political process, and almost none have significant economic ability to advance political causes.  And, less affluent parents of young children likewise tend to be short on time and treasure to devote to politics, are often ill informed about the process and candidates, and are not reliable voters.  Children are a large and diffuse population with little means to self-organize.  And, while their advocates in the form of school teachers, have an interest in promoting education funding, many other needs of children have few natural political advocates.

Utah is a notable case where the Mormon church institutionally and Mormon families who tend to have more children and to have children for more years of their lives, advocate more strongly for children than in most states, and that shows up in policy and budget decisions in a manner quite atypical of other states that are strongly politically conservative.

Institutions like mainline protestant churches that were once major advocates for children's well being, now have very few children as their congregations age and have declining institutional clout.

Admittedly, this is a weak theory, because while it is adequate to explain the American situation, it doesn't explain why the situation in different on many of these issues in other countries that also have a democratic process in which children do not vote.  But, maybe it is a beginning.

29 August 2016

Trump's Father Was A KKK Member

Really, verifiably, Donald Trump's father, from whom he derives his wealth (the Republican nominee would be wealthier today if he'd invested in an S&P 500 fund and done nothing, than he is as a result of his own investments) was arrested in 1927 for participating in a KKK rally while in KKK robes.

And, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, with some of the first glimpses the son had of publicity involve his overt discrimination against minority renters in  the 1970s.

If You Suffer Horribly Because A Parole Officer's Gross Negligence Too Bad

In this case a woman was held as a sex slave for eighteen years in a shed by a kidnapper who'd been on parole after committed a similar crime had no remedy despite 90 filed drug violations in the parole system over that time period, had no remedy.

26 August 2016

Legal scholarship regarding corruption

Deborah Hellman (University of Virginia - School of Law) has posted A Theory of Bribery (Cardozo Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In a unanimous opinion in McDonnell v. United States, the Supreme Court invalidated the conviction of the former Governor of Virginia on charges of bribery and called attention to the critical role that bribery laws play in democratic government. Bribery laws fulfill this function by determining what actions of governmental officials are, and are not, for sale. Bribery laws also undergird the Court’s campaign finance cases. Campaign finance doctrine rests on the assumption that a legitimate campaign contribution is distinguishable from a bribe, a least in theory. But is it? In order to answer this question, we need a theory of bribery. This is no easy task.

This article offers a new theory of bribery according to which agreements to exchange official acts for something else only constitute bribery when the value exchanged for the political act is something external to politics. According to this “external value” account, trading a legislative vote for money is bribery while trading it for another vote is not.

An “external value” theory of bribery explains why campaign contributions are controversial. Contributions can be seen as money or politics. However recent Supreme Court cases treat giving money to the campaigns of political candidates and elected officials as a central form of political participation. But if the campaign contribution is a purely political act, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish a campaign contribution from a bribe.
Highly recommended at the Legal Theory Blog.

The connection between legal standards for bribery and campaign finance, and the need for a better theoretical conceptualization of these offenses is timely and appropriate.

24 August 2016

Culture or Competence

Jessica Calarco, assistant professor of sociology . . . [is] the author of a study on the topic presented at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle. 
We know that certain behaviors are closely correlated with school outcomes, she said, and educators and policymakers are scrambling to encourage the kinds of behaviors that best promote learning. Economists and psychologists tend to view those "non-cognitive" behaviors as inherently beneficial. But some sociologists suggest instead that they are middle-class behaviors and that schools -- as middle-class institutions -- reward the behaviors of the middle class. . . . Her study, "Class Act: How Teachers Translate Students' Non-Cognitive Skills into Social Class Inequalities in School," investigates those possibilities using data from a longitudinal, ethnographic study of teachers, students and parents in one socioeconomically diverse, public elementary school
. . . 
"Overall, I found that teachers often inadvertently translated students' class-based behaviors into unequal opportunities in school," she said. "More specifically, I found that teachers privileged middle-class students by setting middle-class expectations, such as by expecting students to voice their needs and proactively seek help; by conveying those expectations in ambiguous or inconsistent ways; and by granting middle-class students' requests, even when they wanted to say no."
From here

It is a fact that children with different cultures and different socioeconomic classes behave differently in settings like a public elementary school.  And, as this study indicates, acting the way that "middle class" students act is "closely correlated" with good educational outcomes, while the way that working class and poor students act is not.


There is more than one plausible possibility.

1. Middle class students are middle class because their parents are middle class.  Their parents are middle class, and are economically better off than working class and poor students, in part because middle class parents have higher IQs.  Middle class kids have higher IQs as a result of their parents having higher IQs (mostly due to genetics, but also due to a lack of IQ suppressing environmental factors like lead paint and malnutrition and lack of breast feeding and lack of verbal interaction with adults).  Middle class kids do well in school because they have higher IQs.  

It so happens that in most places, middle class people are drawn predominantly or entirely from people who practice a similar culture (this is inherent in the notion that "social class" is a meaningful concept apart from raw income, years of educational attainment or IQ).

It could be that almost all of the superior academic performance of middle class kids is due to IQ and that it merely looks like culture behaviors are influencing academic performance because it is hard to disentangle the sources of academic achievement.  The cultural behaviors associated with academic success may be merely coincidental.

2. At another extreme, it could be that cultural practices shared by members of the middle class are strongly functional and confer academic advantages, both by involving early childhood parenting practices that enhance IQ and by teaching young children ways to behave in public that are intrinsically better at promoting academic achievement than the alternatives.

3. It could be that cultural practices shared by members of different socioeconomic classes and ethnicities have almost no intrinsic value, and instead add value merely because they are advantageous to people who want to function within the context of that culture. In this case, middle class behavior is advantageous only because the teachers are themselves members of the middle class and respond better to people who share their culture, and not because this behavior is intrinsically better.

The anecdote that comes to mind in this theory was Ataturk's imposition of Northern European attire on Turkish elites in his effort to modernize Turkish culture, even though most Northern Europeans themselves would agree that this kind of attire is suboptimal in places with Turkey's climate and is not an essential component of the societal achievements that members of these cultures have attained in their own countries.

Usually we think of Ataturk's pronouncements as crazy, but there was method to the madness. Cultures is often correlated with functional performance, perhaps because its practices are intrinsically better, and perhaps because the world is unfair and people who imitate the cultural practices of the most powerful will succeed better because elites determine who below them will succeed.  But, cultures involve clusters of behaviors and attitudes that have an "ecological" relationship to each other within the culture, and a culture's functionality, either intrinsically or due to social dynamics, may break down or become pathological if adopted a la carte, rather than as a complex whole.  Even people who live within a culture every day rarely have an accurate understanding of why this or that component of the culture contributes to the whole.

For example, walking around unveiled and arguably immodestly only works as an element of a culture if the culture also has norms that discourage others from harassing you if you behave that way.

Possibility 3 above creates a dilemma.  Should children be socialized to sacrifice their own cultures and instead adopt the cultural behaviors and norms of more successful cultures because in our unfair world that is the secret to socioeconomic success in a wide array of circumstances?  

Or, should parents insist that their children are socialized in a way that reinforces the parent's culture by teachers who share, or at least accommodate that culture by tailoring their instruction to the needs of children who share the parent's culture, because preserving one's own cultural identity is a matter of personal dignity that has inherent worth, even if that comes at the expense of optimal socioeconomic success in the broader world where elite cultural behaviors and norms are optimal.

This dilemma also in turn gives rise to another dilemma.  Who should decide whether children should be socialized into elite culture or socialized into a parent's non-elite culture? The parents, or professional educators?

Of course, both of these dilemmas assume that it is possible as a practical matter for educators to choose to socialize children in one culture or another.  It could be the culture can only be acquired by osmosis among authentic members of that culture, or at least that it is so much easier to acquire a culture by osmosis than it is to learn a second culture (much like a second language), that very few people succeed in doing so and almost none succeed in doing so with mere classroom instruction.

Indeed, historically, much of the debate about the role of culture in academic and socioeconomic performance has revolved around not classroom behavior, but around a student's language or dialect of English. If one speaks an elite dialect of English, one is often successful in an educational system designed to socialize children to speak that dialect, and this elite dialect is easier to acquire for people for whom it is their native tongue than it is for people who speak another language or a non-elite dialect of English.

Anthropologists and sociologists generally come to the question with the starting point assumption of cultural relativism, that all cultures are equal in dignity and value, just as all men and women are equal before the law.  But, empirically, we know perfectly well that behaviors and norms associated with some cultures, ethnicities and social classes are correlated with better academic and socioeconomic outcomes than others. Jews and Episcopalians perform better academically than Baptists and Pentecostals, on average. Asian Americans perform better academically than Hispanic Americans, on average. Upper middle class people out perform working class people academically.

Finally, keep in mind that cultures are not static.  They are constantly reinvented with each new generation and constantly change, sometimes incrementally, and sometimes in punctuated bursts, as they adapt to new circumstances. To the extent that particular behaviors and norms improve academic and economic achievement for intrinsic reasons, it behooves members of cultures that don't include those behaviors and norms to adopt those behaviors as their own, at least to the extent that it can be done in a manner that doesn't compromise the integrity of their own cultures.

For example, while Saudi Arabia has a lot of norms and behaviors regarding the role of women in society that are considered backward and dysfunctional by the rest of the world, it has dramatically changed its stance towards the desirability formally educating women in the last several decades. Where once this culture felt that formal education was wasted on women (something that remains the case in Muslim countries like Afghanistan), in Saudi Arabia, the culture has evolved to make universal formal education for girls even up into higher education a strong cultural norm, and it has managed to do that, at least in the short term, without compromising what it sees as the integrity of its culture.

Similarly, Japanese society has very systemically studied Western developed nations' cultures and identified particular aspects of those cultures which it wishes to incorporate into its own national life. But, it often does so in a manner somewhat different from the ways that those aspects of Western cultures were practiced in the West, and rejects other aspects of Western cultures. For example, Japan consciously adopted a Western style system of land tenure for peasant farmers, but has not adopted the Christian religious beliefs predominant in the West on a widespread basis.

In reality, the truth is probably a mix of the three possibilities. Social classes do have different IQs, on average, and IQ has a significant hereditary component and IQ, at a minimum, is a very good predictor of academic success. But, high social classes and socioeconomically successful ethnic groups, probably do have many cultural norms and behaviors that contribute to academic and socioeconomic success due to their intrinsic value.  Still, it is also probably true that there are many cultural behaviors and norms (e.g. preferences in attire and dialects) that have no intrinsic value that confer socioeconomic and academic success because they are associated with elites and open the door to elite social circles where progress is easier to achieve, and these aspects of elite culture are difficult for those not born to them to master.  The real question is not whether one or the other of these factors is relevant, but what their relative contributions are.  Psychologists have done quite a bit of research to quantify the impact of IQ, and it is possible to infer statistically the impact of culture beyond IQ.  But, it is hard indeed to distinguish between cultural practices with intrinsic value v. those with intra-cultural value without an investigation that is both global and expansive, yet intense and attentive to fine details often lost in oversimplifications.

It is reasonable, however, to conclude that to the extent that one wants to bring about better academic performance and socioeconomic success by socializing children into particular cultural behaviors and norms, that it is necessary to secure enthusiastic, or at least dutiful buy in from the parents of those children and their larger community.  Without that buy in, education becomes a never ending struggle of insurgent students resisting culturally colonial teachers.

23 August 2016

The 538 Election Forecast Is Too Conservative

For the most part, the 538 Election Forecast is a great tool.  But, it is far too generous to the underdog in my opinion, particularly in its "Now Cast", mostly because it uses a fat tailed t-distribution with an inappropriately small number of degrees of freedom.

The Standard Normal Distribution is a t-distribution with infinite degrees of freedom that is appropriate for large sample sizes.  The t-distribution is used for small sample sizes.  But, 538 inappropriately assumes that its sample size was the number of elections used to build the model, rather than the number of individuals surveyed by the surveys that go into its analysis (although due to weighting, the number has to be adjusted down somewhat).  This is appropriate when establishing the margin of error for the non-survey components of the model, but is not appropriate when establishing the margin of error for the survey components of the model which is largely a function of the number of individuals surveyed in each state discounted by the fact that some surveys are old. The model removes almost all systemic error and bias from the surveys leaving pure statistical error.

In practice, so many surveys are considered, each with reasonably large sample sizes, that the degrees of freedom in their forecast are almost indistinguishable from a standard normal distribution.

If a normal distribution or a t-distribution with a much larger number of degrees of freedom were used, instead of a t-distribution, Trump's chance of winning would be significantly smaller, particularly in the "now cast" which has almost no non-survey input.

In gamblers payout form, 538 has the odds of Trump winning if an election were held today at about 5-1.  The fair odds given the data going into the model should be much larger, something on the order of 20-1 or more if an election were held today (given the amount of Clinton's lead in the marginal state necessary to secure 270 electoral votes and the margin of error of the combined survey data for that state adjusted by possibilities that non-marginal states could make a difference even when the marginal state does not have the expected result).

It also bears noting that while it is 11 weeks until election day, that a significant share of the vote will be cast via mail in ballots, early voting, absentee ballots and other means as much as 4 weeks before election day.  The time that will elapse between today and when the average voter will cast a ballot is probably something like 9-10 weeks out, which means that weighting of surveys relative to other data is systemically undercounted, although not by nearly as significant a margin, because the difference is modest and non-polling factors are almost a wash this year.

Foreign Born Populations In European Countries

European nations rarely define themselves as a "nation of immigrants" the way that the United States does, but the leading sources of foreign born persons in each nation does shed important light on daily life in each of these respective countries.

22 August 2016

A Baker's Half A Dozen Problems That Can Be Solved With A Little Money

Some of the perennial problems with government can be solved by increasing spending on programs that, even collectively, make up only a tiny percentage of the total budget of the government that provides them. But, for some reason, they are usually systemically underfunded.

1. Judges and judicial support staff.

There are many causes of delay in the courts and some are intractable and inherent in the way we have set up the system.

But, one easily solved part of the problem, which is particularly acute in the general jurisdiction state courts and the federal courts in Colorado, is the time it takes for judges to rule on pending motions, to issue rulings in bench trials, and to decide appeals.  The lion's share of this particular cause of delay has a simple, prosaic cause.  Each judge has too many cases on his or her docket.  Judges can't control how many cases are filed and have to do their best to do justice in each of them. While the rules of civil procedure, and to a lesser extent, the rules of criminal procedure, are optimized to minimize judicial involvement, when it comes to making substantive decisions, there are unavoidable minimum amounts of time that are necessary to have some semblance of reasoned decision making. 

Yet, the judicial function makes up a tiny share of the total budget, some of which is offset with court filing fees.

The economic benefits of swifter rulings in the courts is greatly underestimated.

2. The civil division of the sheriff and marshal's budgets.

Once someone wins a judgment in a court, some of the remedies: evictions, foreclosures and seizures of tangible personal property (as well as some pre-judgment functions like service of process and service of arrest warrants for people held in contempt of court), are carried out by an obscure little department in most sheriff's offices and by U.S. Marshals in federal court.

Often the delay between the entry of a final enforceable judgment from a court and action to enforce these judgments can be several weeks to several months, due to understaffing of the civil division of the sheriff's department or its federal counterpart.

Swift and certain enforcement of court judgments enhances the authority of the rest of the court system and in turn promotes greater standards of obedience to the law that the courts enforce. But, this function is routinely underfunded and also operates in a manner that most formal legal scholars don't even notice or acknowledge.  Yet, in courts of limited jurisdiction, where most of the judgments are in collection cases and evictions, most of the real action is post-judgment and not in the entry of the judgment itself.

3. The DMV. 

The most common encounter that average citizens have with government is with the department of motor vehicles, either related to vehicle registration or driver's licenses.  Long delays are the norm. Yet, a modest increase in funding for this function would dramatically shorten lines and waits for official action, increasing the impression of government that most people receive.

4. The Passport Office.

The story of the DMV is repeated again with the passport process, where it is possible to do the work in a matter of a few decays, but it often takes many weeks or months to get action.  Again, the amount of money spent to process passport applications is tiny relative to the total budget, but it makes up a disproportionate share of the contact that voters have with government.

5. The Social Security Office.

The Social Security system spends less money on bureaucrats per dollar distributed than any other program.  But, a little more money spend processing issues that effect everyone could turn two or three hour waits at a drab government office into ten or twenty minute affairs, greatly improving the experience of average voters who deal with government.

6. Building Permits.

After a recent hailstorm in Denver, we had our roof replaced.  The work was done reasonably quickly.  The building permit process took about half of year to issue and several more months to finish inspections, in a process that was relatively uneventful.  

Each month long delay in a building permit can cost private sector families and businesses thousands of dollars.  

Again, the building permit process costs only a tiny part of the overall municipal budget, but has a huge impact on the private sector, is a frequently point of contact with government for law abiding voters, and could be dramatically improved with a little more spending.

7. Voter Registration.

The amount of money it would cost to maintain an all year round voter registration drive that would increase a locality's political clout is very small, but the benefits to the democratic process are very great.

Yes, There Are Criminal Justice Systems Worse Than The U.S.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  But, as bad as the American criminal justice system may be, there are places that are worse.

* The Philippines has shockingly crowded and understaffed jails, de facto run by prison gangs, and stunning long delays in the judicial process.  The CNN story linked highlights a jail with 20 guards that houses 4000 inmates, some of whom have been awaiting verdicts on the charges against them for as long as 16 years, where about three-quarters of inmates for affiliated with four major gangs.  Some of the crowding is caused by new war on drug policies there.  About 60% of inmates in the featured jail were drug offenders.

* Indonesia regularly executes people for drug offenses.

* Saudi Arabia and Iran both have versions of Islamic criminal justice in which executions are very common and the process is systemically unfair, especially to women.

19 August 2016

Rich Still Getting Richer

The latest data from the Congressional Budget Officer for the year 2013 is in.  Unsurprisingly it shows that the rich are still getting richer, but the rest of the nation's wealth is stagnant or declining.
The top 10% of families -- those who had at least $942,000 -- held 76% of total wealth. The average amount of wealth in this group was $4 million. Everyone else in the top 50% of the country accounted for 23% of total wealth, with an average of $316,000 per family. That leaves just 1% of the total pie for the entire bottom half of the population. The average held was $36,000 for families that fell in the 26th to 50th percentiles. But if they fell in the bottom quarter, they had zero wealth and in fact, were $13,000 in debt on average, CBO found. . . . 
Families at the 90th percentile saw their wealth grow by 54% between 1989 and 2013. Those at the 50th percentile only experienced a 4% rise during the same period. And those at the 25th percentile actually saw their wealth drop by 6%.
In fact, within the top 10% of families by wealth, there is probably still great inequality between the one percenters and the rest of the top 10%, both in absolute amount and in wealth growth.

Trump v Johnson In Colorado

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson faces long odds against winning even a single state's electoral college votes, but he does have a quite plausible chance of winning more votes than Republican Donald Trump in this year's Presidential election.

As the Denver Post's editorial board explains:
Those who still harbor the notion that Colorado is a purple swing state — at least for this election — should take a look at the latest Quinnipiac poll, released Wednesday. The most interesting news is not that Hillary Clinton trounces Trump 49 to 39 in a head-to-head contest but that Libertarian and Green candidates attract nearly a quarter of the vote when added to the mix. 
Indeed, Trump’s position is so weak that he is in a near tie with Libertarian Gary Johnson among independent voters, while Johnson actually crushes Trump among voters 18 to 34 — a stunning signal of youthful discontent with a major-party nominee.
It also bears recalling that in the 18 to 34 age group whose preferences show the future of American politics, that 50% identify as at least leaning towards the Democratic party, while only 20% at least lean towards the Republican party.  And, within the Democratic party, these Millennials were more attracted to the unapologetically liberal Bernie Sanders than they were to centrist Hillary Clinton.

CNN Thinks 273 Electoral Votes Lean Democratic

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency.

    According to CNN, states worth a combined 273 electoral votes are either "solid Democrat" or "lean Democrat".  This means that Hillary Clinton can win the election without winning a single "battleground" state or a single "lean Republican" or "solid Republican" state, just 81 days before the election.

    Clinton does not need any of the "battleground" states of Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, or North Carolina to win, although she is ahead in the polls, at least narrowly, in all of those states.

    Clinton does not need any of the "lean Republican" states of Georgia, Arizona and Utah to win. The remarkably point is that any of these historically solidly Republican states are even conceivably in play.  She has narrowly led over Trump in some recent polls in Georgia and Arizona, while Trump has led by narrow margins in other polls in those two states.

    If she chooses to, Clinton can focus on simply defending her position in the "lean Democrat" states of Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and win.

    Real Clear Politics concurs, finding that 272 electoral votes lean Democratic, while 154 lean Republican, with the remaining states with 122 electoral votes classified as "toss up" states that she doesn't need to win.

    RCP puts Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and the second Congressional District of Maine (with 1 electoral vote) as "toss up" jurisdictions.

    The "no tossup" version of the RCP electoral map awards 362 electoral votes to Clinton and 176 electoral voters to Trump.

    * Meanwhile at 538, their 2016 election forecast gives Clinton an 86% chance of winning (based on a polls only forecast).

    * In sum, Hillary Clinton is in a very strong position going into the general election.

    U.S. Senate Races

    Real Clear Politics also makes predictions in U.S. Senate races.  The current U.S. Senate has 54 Republicans and 46 Senators who caucus with the Democrats.  RCP predicts that the Democrats will gain five seats (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire) and lose one (Nevada) in this year's election, leaving a 50-50 tie, which will leave the Vice President of whichever party wins the Presidential election as the deciding swing vote.

    When not forced to call a winner in Senate races, RCP believes that nine of the races are toss ups: Arizona (McCain-R), Florida (Rubio-R), Indiana (Open, currently held by a Republican), Missouri (Blunt-R), Nevada (Open, currently held by a Democrat), New Hampshire (Ayotte-R), North Carolina (Burr-R), Ohio (Portman-R), and Pennsylvania (Toomey-R).

    Senator Bennett-D from Colorado is the safest Democratic party held U.S. Senate seat in this year's election in RCP's evaluation.

    16 August 2016

    Half Of The People In The United States Live In The Highlighted Counties

    From here.

    The United States has pockets of high population density that are home to a majority of its people, and lots and lots of much less densely populated areas.

    It also demonstrates rather well that limited land area is not a meaningful limitation on population, either in the United States, or in most parts of the world, at least directly.  There are limits on the amount of food that can be produced on arable land, but the food production footprint of the average person is much larger than the amount of land that the average person needs to live and work in personally.

    11 August 2016

    DEA Ignores Evidence And Keeps Marijuana As Schedule I Drug

    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration filed documents with the Federal Register on Thursday outlining its denial of petitions to reschedule marijuana. 
    The filings, which are expected to be published Friday, included the rescheduling decision, a rejection of the medical use of marijuana, statements of principles on industrial hemp, and a move to allow more entities to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. The DEA’s denial of the petitions — which was anticipated — was rooted in the recommendations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, which both conducted scientific and medical evaluations and eventually determined that marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, DEA officials said.
    Via the Denver Post.

    Suffice it to say that the DEA's conclusion is, in fact, notwithstanding its claims, not based in science and is absurdly at odds with what almost everyone familiar with the medical and non-medical use of marijuana knows to be true.

    This is an ideological decision made by an agency that is in no way impartial. It contradicts the considered opinions of half of the legislatures in the United States.  It contradicts a wealth of convincing evidence, albeit much of it not in published peer review journal articles due to a Catch-22 that prohibited researchers from operating in that fashion.

    It is a decision that materially harms legitimate businesses and perpetuates a counter-factual criminal justice nightmare.

    This head in the sand decision is a case of willful blindness that should be legislatively modified at once.

    Regulatory Powers and Commonwealth Powers: An Opening Analysis

    This post sets out an analytical framework for thinking about regulatory powers and commonwealth powers of government for use in a less general context later.

    A large share of political theory and legal theory focuses on the regulatory powers of the state. The state can make certain kinds of conduct illegal and can establish bureaucracies and courts to enforce those laws that prohibit this conduct.

    Governments, at all levels (and even beyond to quasi-governmental entities like homeowner's associations), do have regulatory powers which they use. They choose to ban or allow marijuana consumption, apartment building construction in particular neighborhoods, insider trading, and watching videos without the copyright owner's consent. They enforce rights through civil lawsuits between private individuals, through administrative agency action in and out of court, and through law enforcement officers acting through the criminal justice system.

    But, in addition to the regulatory powers of government, the government also acts as a "commonwealth". It collects revenues through taxes, users fees, fines and returns on assets it owns directly, and it uses those funds to participate in the economic marketplace on a consensual basis to achieve all manner of public and private ends.  Indeed, a surprising number of governmental bodies have powers that are almost exclusively commonwealth powers, as any regulatory authority that they may have is almost entirely incident to the manner in which they regulate the process by which they spend their money, by which the set rules for the use of property which they own, and by which they induce people to voluntarily enter into contracts with them that govern their behavior.  

    Most school districts, public institutions of higher education, and special districts, and a great many federal, state and local agencies operate primarily or entirely via their commonwealth powers, rather than through the police powers of a regulatory state.

    Of course, there is certainly an academic literature around public finance, taxation and government budget making. But, the interplay of the commonwealth powers and regulatory powers is still explored less completely than could be desired.

    A governmental exercise of commonwealth powers implicates far fewer concerns about government abuse of power than its exercise of regulatory powers.  So, solutions to public policy problems that can be solved with money are often preferable to those that can be solved with regulatory power.

    Also, in many cases, we fail to appreciate how the exercise of commonwealth powers, for example, to pay to incarcerate convicted criminals or arrested people awaiting trial, are huge driving considerations in how regulatory powers are exercised.

    And, also, we often fail to recognize how reordering responsibilities between private parties, which is a regulatory status quo before the government affirmatively acts to enforce private law at the insistence of private parties, can substitute for a direct exercise of commonwealth powers in many circumstances.

    10 August 2016

    The Real Sources Of Economic Growth

    [T]he key drivers of growth are science, education and innovation, not low taxes, lax regulations or greater exploitation of natural resources. And we should be worried, whatever our partisan tilt, that leading conservatives promote an economic model so disconnected from the true sources of prosperity.
    From Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, "The Path to Prosperity is Blue", New York Times (July 30, 2016).

    Policy matters, and a misguided conservative understanding of what drives economic growth is a key reason that blue states prosper and while red states lag economically.

    09 August 2016

    The Stupid Party

    It’s hard to know exactly when the Republican Party assumed the mantle of the “stupid party.” . . .

    George W. Bush joked at a Yale commencement: “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students I say, you, too, can be president of the United States.”
    From the New York Times.

    And then, there's the Donald.

    04 August 2016

    Affordable Housing Is All About Land Use Regulation

    A comparison of Tokyo, which has very limited land use regulation, with London and San Francisco, which have very strict land use regulation, demonstrates pretty dramatically that land use regulation is the dominant factor driving rising home prices in major urban areas.

    03 August 2016

    Carrier Based Fighter Drones To Enter Service In About Eight Years

    The U.S. Navy is now taking bids for the MQ-25A, a carrier based artificially intelligent unmanned fighter aircraft for which the X-47 was a proof of concept that developed all of the necessary core technologies.  The current target date for the production version of the drone (which will be similar but different in size than the prototype X-47) is roughly 2024, about eight years from now. Essentially all of the necessary technology was developed with the X-47 including most importantly, a software package that has been tested in real life and can relatively easily be adapted to a new airframe.

    The MQ-25A would have far more impressive capabilities comparable to advanced fighter aircraft, than existing armed drones like the MQ-9.  Existing drones are by comparison slow, have a shorter range, aren't designed from the ground up to be launched from aircraft carriers like fighter aircraft, and carry less and less potent ordinance.

    The naval aviation "fighter mafia" of senior naval officers with a background as fighter pilots has resisted the development, but a couple of factors have brought push to shove:

    * The manned F-18 carrier based jet fighter and its successor in an advanced stage of development, the F-35C, have an operational range of about 480 miles.  The MQ-25A drone fighter would have a range of about 1,500 miles and not put any pilots in harms way, allowing aircraft carriers to destroy enemy warships and land based missile batteries that could threaten it from beyond the range of advanced anti-ship missiles.  The MQ-25A could also take on more risky missions because no pilot's life would be at risk.

    To vastly oversimplify, removing the cockpit from a fighter aircraft buys 1,000 miles more worth of fuel.

    * Alternatively, an ability to stay in the air longer could be used to provide airpower support for ground troops by having one or two of them in the air at all times as a resource for forward observers who call down missile strikes on ground targets.

    * The drone would also provide more opportunity than cruise missiles do to have either the drone's artificial intelligence, or if radio signals are not jammed, a remote operator at the carrier or in headquarters, a better opportunity to evaluate a target to confirm that it is appropriate, based upon the drone's local sensors before actually destroying it.

    * While advocates for the program have downplayed the capability, a fighter drone can out maneuver manned jet fighters, because they aren't limited by the G-forces that a human pilot can withstand, and it can also, when operating with artificial intelligence rather than on remote control, outperform human operators in the time it needs to evaluate the situation in a dogfight and choose an optimum short term tactical plan based upon that data than a human pilot because it has a higher reaction time. This has recently been demonstrated in flight simulator based tests akin to the computer-chess master contests of earlier years.

    * One would assume at first blush that the aircraft carrier crew requirement of about 20 ground/carrier based crew per fighter aircraft would be largely unchanged for a drone, since only the pilot's job would be transferred from a on board crew members to a remote operator at a base or to onboard computers.

    But, there may be room for more economies than that with drones.  This is because manned fighter aircraft needs to maintain a fairly high level of peacetime training operations to keep fighter pilots in top form, while drone operators could largely do so via virtual simulations. This would greatly reduce wear and tear on the moving parts in the MQ-25A over time relative to an F-18 or F-35.

    * The price of new F-35Cs is significantly more than $100 million each.  It is anticipated that a new MQ-25A would be less expensive.  An MQ-25A would probably cost no more than a new F-18, and maybe significantly less. So, by reducing the number of F-35Cs to be procured and replacing much of this planned buy with MQ-25As,  a great deal of money could be saved.

    * The final factor urging the fighter mafia forward on implementing this current technology revolution in naval aviation is that other countries like China and Iran and Russia are all hot on the trail of building comparable fighter drones, and the U.S. fears that it could face a real vulnerability if it doesn't implement this technology first.

    Implications Beyond Naval Aircraft

    Finally, the MQ-25A, with minimal and optional modifications to make it lighter and simpler by removing features needed only on aircraft carriers, is easily replicated as a successor to many of the missions of the Air Force's ground airstrip based F-35A.  This could likewise dramatically reduce the number of very expensive F-35 aircraft that the U.S. needs to buy while maintaining or improving the military value of the airframes that are purchased.

    In short, a military future in which a substantial share of the work done today by fighter aircraft is done by X-47 like drones could be less than twenty years away.

    Russian plans for a next generation fighter aircraft beyond the current one already contemplate a primary role for manned fighter aircraft as a shepherd for armed fighter drones as much as as a combatant in its own right.  The next generation of manned fighter aircraft after the F-22 and F-35 in the U.S. will surely use the same approach.

    01 August 2016

    Hope Deflated On Demand

    "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."
    —James Nicoll

    (Peter Watts is a dystopian hard science fiction writer who writes among other things about vampires in space.)

    Panic Less

    The Upshot has Clinton at 72%, 538 at 66% in the polls-only, Wang is still at 65%-80%. And I’ll also add that given his abnormally poor campaign organization he’s much more likely to under-perform the models than to over-perform them. 
    I’m not saying don’t panic, exactly, but odds-wise the risk we’re dealing with is more “Russian Roulette” than “coin flip in No Country For Old Men.”
    From Lawyers, Guns and Money (emphasis added).

    If you want an excuse to panic, however, Michael Moore with "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win" can offer you an alternative view.

    Happy Birthday Colorado!

    Colorado is 140 years old today (which is really stunningly young in the greater scheme of things).

    Also, since Colorado's population was much smaller than it is today for much of its history, and the accumulation of case law is roughly proportional to the number of people-years in a state's history, Colorado has quite thin case law on most general legal questions (although it has a particularly rich water law, as this has been an issue of outsized importance in the state's history).