21 July 2017

The West Is Losing Faith In Democracy

Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated. 
From the Journal of Democracy.

About 75% of Americans born in the 1930s think that it is essential to live in a country that was governed democratically (the comparable number is a bit over 50% in Europe). As people in the U.S. get younger this support wanes, with only 30% of people born in the 1980s agreeing. In Europe, support for democracy peaks in people born in the 1950s at about 57% (which is identical to the U.S. figure), and is about 45% for Europeans born in the 1980s.

Distrust of democracy is significantly higher as of 2011 than it was in the mid-1990s in both Europe and the United States. Now, almost a quarter of adults under 25 years old in the U.S., and about one in eight adults under 25 years old in Europe, actively believe that "Having a democratic political system" is a "bad" or "very bad" way to "run the country."

Support for authoritarianism increased among low and middle income respondents in the U.S. from 1995 to 2000, but then stayed fairly steady from 2000 to 2010 (it is currently about 32%). But, support for authoritarianism has steadily soared among upper income respondents in the U.S. from 1995 to 2010 from 20% to 35%.

STEM, Attrition and Readiness

Barbie wasn't wrong. Math is hard. Weak mathematics background is the greatest barrier to successful completion of a college education at all levels, and STEM classes are failed at a higher rate than any other kind of course in the college curriculum. This post lays out those facts without engaging in the question that naturally follows: "Should mathematics and STEM requirements be waived for students in non-STEM fields, at least at the community college level?"

It is a question about which I have a lot of ambivalence, particularly because it is possible to remediate poor mathematics instruction, which involves a very narrow set of information and skills, to a much greater extent that it is to remediate weak reading and writing skills, which involve a broader base of knowledge and abilities.
Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads. It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country. . . . At American community colleges, 60 percent of those enrolled are required to take at least one math course. Most — nearly 80 percent — never complete that requirement.
From here.
Only about 25% of community college students in Colorado receive a degree (typically a two year program) or certificate (often a less than two year program) in three years, despite the lower achievement threshold involved than a bachelor's degree, and at the Community College of Denver the graduation rate is half that. Most community college students need remedial work before advancing to college level work, and their ultimate prospects of getting a degree are particularly low.
From an October 7, 2016 post at this blog.

The predominant reason that high school graduates are unprepared for college level work is that they need remedial mathematics instruction.
Many who do go to college need remedial work when they get there (a long standing issues that has been discussed before at this blog). The numbers describing Colorado students who started college in the fall of 2008 tell the story. 
Of those starting two year college: 
52.7% needed remedial help in math, reading or writing.
40% needed remedial help in math.
17% needed remedial help in math, reading and writing. 
Of those starting four year college: 
19% needed help in math, reading, or writing.
16% needed help in math. 
Thus, math is the dominant subject in which high school graduates need remedial work. While 40% of those starting two year college need remedial work in math, just 12.7% of those starting two year college need remedial work in reading and/or writing but not math . . . . While 16% of those starting four year college need remedial work in math, just 3% of those starting four year college need remedial work in reading and/or writing, but not math.
From a February 9, 2010 post at this blog. See also a February 15, 2011 post at this blog covering in depth the following year's similar remediation report, and a December 31, 2008 post on the subject of remedial courses for college students.

Students who need remedial work in mathematics are much, much less likely to graduate than those who do not, in part, because of the remediation requirement which slows down the process of getting into real college work and is simply insurmountable for some students, and in part, because it is a litmus test for poor preparation for college and low academic ability in general.

But, it certainly isn't entirely about IQ. For example, in the early 2000s, among students identified as "gifted and talented" (i.e. in the 98th percentile of better on standardized tests) by the Denver Public Schools, some high schools sent almost all to college without needing remediation, while others had less than 19% of its gifting and talented students achieve this feat. Weak high school instructional opportunities did hold back even gifted and talented students.

The likelihood that a student will meet a community college math requirement is closely tied to how far along a student was before attending community college.

In four year colleges, calculus, physics and chemistry are probably the two most failed classes, with failure rates for students enrolled in those courses often at around 50%. Many students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers when they leave high school ultimately abandon that idea: about 40% of incoming students who plan on entering science and engineering majors at the outset, and about 60% of pre-med students change majors or don't graduate.

STEM is hard. There are right and wrong answers. There is no room for the benefit of the doubt. And, there is empirical evidence that below a certain threshold of ability (however acquired) at the outset of a college career that hard work doesn't help enough to allow you to succeed as a STEM major.

20 July 2017

Linking To Infringing Materials Is Not A Copyright Violation

The record is clear that Defendant neither stored nor posted the videos on its website. Instead, third party websites self-evidently did so: the first video is stored on YouTube and the other two on www.elocallink.tv website. Defendant merely linked to those videos on its website, and the links, when clicked, direct users to YouTube and www.elocallink.tv websites. Defendant does not copy, display, or encourage the users to share the videos on its website; although the third party websites appear to do so. More critically, and relatedly, Plaintiffs cannot establish on the facts adduced here that, by merely linking to those videos, without anything more, Defendant displayed the videos publicly.
Nakada + Associates, Inc. v. City of El Monte, 2017 WL 2469977 (C.D. Cal. June 2, 2017).

19 July 2017

Americans Are Having Sex Less Often

According to a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a large general social survey found that American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s than they did in the late 1990s, a decline that wasn't explained by longer work hours or increased use of pornography.
From CNN.

The theories about why this is happening in the linked article are basically rubbish.

A more plausible theory is that (1) there is lots of empirical evidence to show that married people have sex much more frequently than people who are not married, and (2) marriage rates have been falling significantly in the relevant time period (divorce rates have fallen too in that time period, but less quickly). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the magnitude of the reduction in the rate at which people are having sex is consistent with what one would expect from this hypothesis.

Why do married people have more sex? 

Mostly, because a lot less effort goes into making it happen. You have a partner and a place to have sex lined up all the time when you are married. But, when you aren't, considerable effort has to be expended to do so. Cohabiting couples may be similarly situated, but cohabitation is less stable than marriage, on average. So, people who aren't married spend a smaller percentage of the time, on average, not cohabiting with a sexual partner than married people do.

Presidential Obstruction Of Justice

What does it mean for a President to obstruct justice?
Federal obstruction of justice statutes bar anyone from interfering with law enforcement, including official investigations, based on a “corrupt” motive. But what about the president of the United States? 
The president is vested with “executive power,” which includes the power to control federal law enforcement. A possible view is that the statutes do not apply to the president because if they did they would violate the president’s constitutional power. However, we argue that the obstruction of justice statutes are best interpreted to apply to the president, and that the president obstructs justice when his motive for intervening in an investigation is to further personal or narrowly partisan interests, rather than to advance the public good.
Daniel Jacob Hemel and Eric A. Posner, "Presidential Obstruction of Justice" SSRN (July 18, 2017) (emphasis and paragraph break added).

Another concept that really ought to enter constitutional law is that the executive branch is not unitary (something also well established in French political theory that conceptualizes the civil service as one of the major branches of government).

There are independent agencies designed by Congress with the consent of the Presidency that are insulated, by design, from the direct control of the President. There is also a division between the political leadership made up of Plum Book officials and the civil service that is made up of employees and contractors selected on a merit system who can only be removed from office for cause or via impeachment. And, there are ethical obligations owed by all public officials, to the entity, the United States government and the United States Constitution, and not to the individual, the currently incumbent President of the United States.

Once the executive branch of the United States government is disaggregated in this fashion, the notion that a President can obstruct justice by taking efforts to interfere with the criminal justice functions of the civil service, not as a matter of policy, but for personal or partisan gain, becomes much more clear and free of paradoxes.

18 July 2017

Trump And Mainline Christians

The evidence is reasonably clear that places with more mainline Christians supported Trump more than they supported Romney, while places with more Roman Catholics supported Romney more than they supported Trump.

The trends were not monolithic, however.

Denominations whose members favored Trump more than Romney:

1. ELCA Lutherans (1.85)
2. Missouri Synod Lutherans (1.26)
3. Disciples of Christ (1.14)
4. Nazarene (0.81)
5. American Baptists (i.e. Northern Baptists) (0.76)
6. United Methodist Church (0.64)
7. Southern Baptists (0.28)

Denominations whose members favored Romney more than Trump:

1. Mormons (-10.61)
2. Presbyterian Church in American (Southern Presbyterians) (-2.01)
3. Non-Denominational Christians (-1.49)
4. Roman Catholics (-0.98)
5. Assemblies of God (-0.56)
6. Presbyterian Church USA (Northern Presbyterians) (-0.50).

The Mormon case is fairly clear. Romney was a Mormon and Mormon leaders mobilized around Trump's immorality, in part, by offering a third-party candidate who was a Mormon establishment Republican.

Roman Catholics had the comfort of knowing that Romney had been a Governor of a state with a large Roman Catholic population who was a moderate who created the model for Obamacare, while the Pope himself offered cues that Trump was a man to avoid.

What is going on with Lutherans? More plausibly, Lutherans are heavily concentrated in the Rust Belt and in rural areas, as are Disciples of Christ, Nazarenes, Baptists (of all types) and Methodists (although less intensely).

The Romney v. Trump leanings of Non-Denominational Christians and Assemblies of God and to a lesser extent Presbyterians may reflect church groupings that are less likely to be in the Rust Belt and more likely to be urban or at least suburban.

Non-Denominational Churches are something of a cypher, tending to organize in suburban megachurches, tending to de-emphasize any denominational-like creed, favoring contemporary music, and not very prominent in politics. Perhaps equally important, non-denominational churches may be less distant from day to day life and have members less prone to see themselves as culturally marginalized by elites. They didn't share the tribal cultural resentment that motivated other Trump voters (such as the rural Ohio voters near where my father grew up which was thick with Trump signs at every little family farmhouse). Non-denominational churches may lean Evangelical in their theology (and disproportionately made up of former Evangelical denomination members), but they tend to emphasize the prosperity Gospel more than derision of gays and anti-abortion causes, for example.

Still, I would have been hard pressed to predict the actually observed patterns which aren't a good match to the traditional division of white Christians into mainline, Roman Catholic and Evangelical factions. Likewise, there is no coherent "high church, low church" pattern. Many denominations historically split into mainline and Evangelical denominations (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and arguably Nazarene/Disciples of Christ) spoke with one voice in the 2016 election, rather than following the liberal or conservative lead of their denomination.

Overall, in the 2016 election, religious affiliation looks like an ancestrally informative marker illuminating other factors that were really driving electoral choices, rather than a cause for how people voted, with the clear exception of Mormons. And, indeed, sliced and diced this way, it is even hard to see the trend so obvious in other examinations of voting statistics that show racist attitudes as a critical factor in Trump support.

At a minimum, however, the linked article's conclusion that the left might benefit from more mainline church attendance seems to spit in the face of the data collected, which would seem to show that the many mainline Christians far preferred Trump to Romney. At best, one could argue that the widespread abandonment of mainline denominations in favor of a non-religious worldview, has left those who remain in mainline denominations more conservative on average (something offset by the consistently very liberal political leanings of the non-religious people who leave mainline Christianity).

17 July 2017

CFPB Bars Bans On Class Actions In Consumer Financial Products Arbitration Agreements

Administration efforts to stop new regulations promulgated under the Obama Administration failed to stop a major new Consumer Financial Protection Board regulations limiting arbitration clauses. It also requires disclosures about consumer financial products arbitrations to be shared with the CFPB.
Today the Consumer Financial Protection Board issued its final rule on arbitration agreements. Here’s the full 775-page document (the text of the regulation itself begins at p.747). 
From the summary: 
First, the final rule prohibits covered providers of certain consumer financial products and services from using an agreement with a consumer that provides for arbitration of any future dispute between the parties to bar the consumer from filing or participating in a class action concerning the covered consumer financial product or service. Second, the final rule requires covered providers that are involved in an arbitration pursuant to a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to submit specified arbitral records to the Bureau and also to submit specified court records. The Bureau is also adopting official interpretations to the regulation.
From the Civil Procedure and Federal Courts blog on Monday, July 10, 2017.

Colorado and U.S. Supreme Courts On Vacation

The Colorado Supreme Court will not be releasing any case announcements until Monday, July 31, 2017, no later than 10 a.m. However, no new opinions will be announced on that date.
From here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also finished its most recent time and won't be issuing any opinions for a while, except for emergency stay motions.

Cancer Takes Leading Mathematician At Age 40

Maryam Mirzakhani, the world's first female Fields Medal winner and Persia's first winner of that award, died of breast cancer at an American hospital [on July 15, 2017].     . . .  
Her medal was mostly for her work on the moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces, especially for her 2007 proof of a formula for volumes of the moduli spaces (previously conjectured by Witten, Kontsevich, guys of this caliber are normal in that field). However, she has done lots of related mathematical work that was usually focusing on the modular group, moduli spaces, and geodesics – which were sometimes shown to be ergodic, sometimes very regular and not chaotic, and similar issues were relevant.
- An obituary post from an acquaintance of her and her Czech husband who survives her is here.

Belated Birthday

This blog turned 13 years old earlier this month.

The Religions Of Game Of Thrones

Game of Thrones is the ultimate world building fantasy series, and religion is no exception. In honor of it opening of a 7th and penultimate season, here is a link to an explanation of the religions of this world. The article identifies eleven of them.

15 July 2017

An Alternative Reconstruction

The Reconstruction period after the Civil War was mostly a failure. It failed to reform the American South into a society that renounced its past. Could it have been done better?

What if everyone who had owned a slave forfeited all of his real estate and livestock for reparations and was disenfranchised for life? What if every freed slave family had been given 40 acres and a mule paid for with those reparations?

What if every Confederate military officer, elected official, political appointee, and judge was executed and forfeited all of his property? What if most of their widows had ended up married to carpet baggers who put down roots for good in the South?

What if every Confederate soldier who was not executed, forfeited all of his real estate, was disenfranchised, barred from owning firearms for life and barred from receiving any form of government benefit for life from any level of government, no matter how severely disabled her was?

What if every church that had preached in support of slavery was burned to the ground and every minister that had preached that hate was exiled to the Utah desert on foot in an undernourished long march?

What if Plessy v. Ferguson, had held that separate was inherently unequal and the Slaughter House Cases had not gutted the privileges and immunities clause?

Would that have been enough to end the poisonous culture that continues to be a blight on the United States and the world? Surely, our nations future would have been more auspicious, if we had taken a harder line.

14 July 2017

Nutjob Runs For Colorado Governor On Unity Party Ticket

Colorado's latest third party, the Unity Party, is apparently intent on winning the vote of people who are higher than kites given their nominee in the Governor's race this year.
He wants to abolish Colorado's income tax, bring back firing squads, and conquer part of Mexico, and Bill Hammons could be the third name on your ballot for Governor in November. 
Hammons is the head of Colorado's newest political party: The Unity Party. Secretary of State Wayne Williams made it official last month, once it passed the 1,000-voter mark and gave them party status. 
Part of his plan includes having Colorado secede from the Union, join New Mexico and California to form a new nation, and then take over parts of Mexico. That is not a party priority, but it is Hammons' position.
On the upside, he's so obviously far out in ways that neither Republicans nor Democrats are at peace with, that he'll probably insure that the third party vote doesn't impact the outcome of the Governor's race in 2018.

Second Quote Of The Day

Sometimes the best thing an academic can do is admit that a project is never going to amount to anything and pull the plug. When that happens, I recommend permanent file deletion of all relevant materials so as to eliminate the temptation to try to resuscitate it. Shred any paper documents. 
Kill it. Burn the carcass.

And move on.
- Professor Bainbridge.

Quote Of The Day

The wheezes used to avoid paying the tax are, of course, manifold.
From this article by Andrew Gilligan writing for The Telegraph newspaper on October 24, 2014.

13 July 2017

Scent Of Marijuana Does Not Constitute Probable Cause In Colorado

There are three judges on a panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals, in a somewhat complicated ruling, hold that bringing a trained drug dog to sniff a car requires reasonable suspicion (the same level of belief that a crime is committed necessary for a traffic stop) and that if the dog is trained to detect marijuana, which is legal in Colorado, that a dog alert is not sufficient to constitute probable cause.
¶ 1 Since 2012, it has not been a violation of Colorado law for people who are at least twenty-one years old to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 16(3)(a) (Amendment 64). To be clear, such possession is neither a criminal violation nor a civil violation.

¶ 2 This case presents two questions arising from our state’s marijuana laws and law enforcement’s use of dogs trained to detect marijuana and other controlled substances. First, does deploying a dog trained to detect marijuana to sniff a legitimately stopped vehicle constitute a “search” for purposes of the constitutional prohibitions of unreasonable searches? If so, law enforcement may not deploy such a dog without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Second, did the dog’s alert in this case give police probable cause to search Kevin Keith McKnight’s truck given that the dog was trained to alert if he detected either legal or illegal substances?

¶ 3 Two of us (Dailey and Berger, JJ.) agree with McKnight in answer to the first question, that is, that under our state constitution, the deployment of the dog here was a “search” requiring reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. And because the totality of the relevant circumstances did not give police 2 reasonable suspicion to conduct a dog sniff of his truck, we conclude that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in the truck.

¶ 4 But two of us (J. Jones and Berger, JJ.) would also agree with McKnight in answer to the second question, that is, that the dog’s alert, in combination with the other relevant circumstances, did not give the police probable cause to search his truck, and, for that reason, the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in the truck. 
¶ 5 Because all of us agree that the court’s error in denying McKnight’s motion to suppress was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse the district court’s judgment of conviction and remand the case for further proceedings.
From here.

Judges Bailey and Berger are closer to agreement in substance than it appears, because the default rule under both state and federal law is that a dog sniff that detects only illegal contraband is not a search. Judges Bailey and Berger find that the dog sniff is a search because it can detect both legal and illegal substances now that marijuana is legal.

Judge Jones looks at the matter with a different analytical lens which causes her to reach a similar conclusion for similar reasons at the probable cause stage of the analysis, rather than at the stage of whether a dog sniff constitutes a search.

None of the Judges found that other circumstances present added to the totality of the circumstances sufficiently to provide probable cause or even reasonable suspicion to support a search (at paragraph 23 from the link to the Court's opinion above):
Here, the pertinent circumstances known to the police before the dog was called upon to sniff McKnight’s truck were that (1) McKnight had sat parked for fifteen minutes outside a house in which illegal drugs had been found seven weeks before and (2) McKnight had a passenger in the truck who had used methamphetamine “at some point in the past.” Those circumstances did not raise a reasonable suspicion that evidence of illegal activity would be found in McKnight’s truck. The officer observed no one approach the truck from the house or approach the house from the truck. The officer had no objective basis, then, for suspecting that the truck’s occupants had taken drugs into the truck from the house or from anywhere else for that matter.
For what it is worth, I'm inclined to agree with Judge Jones that the lack of probable cause for a search, even after the dog sniff, is a stronger argument that the lack of reasonable suspicion to conduct a dog sniff, if a dog sniff of the exterior of the vehicle even constituted a search.

Given the significant consequences of this ruling and the fractured support for the ruling, I wouldn't be surprised if the Colorado Supreme Court grants certiorari to more clearly set forth the law regarding these common place search and seizure issues that are likely to recur repeatedly in Colorado.

Since the rights litigated arise under Colorado's state constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court is very unlikely to provide any further review.

At a practical level, this ruling seriously discourages police from making random stops to look for drugs in people's cars using drug dogs or based upon the "smell of marijuana" in a car that is stopped.

Quote of the Day

Movements like WTF embrace the pernicious myth of populism that beneath elite squabbles there exists widespread unity of principles. 
- Julia Azari at Mischiefs of Faction (July 12, 2017).

The key word there is pernicious. I share Julia Azari's view that this piece of the Populist (and Progressive) movements' worldview is fundamentally wrong and that this inaccurate belief leads to misguided policy choices.

DARE Is A Bad Program

D.A.R.E. is the abstinence education program of the war on drugs. It is well meaning and is what lots of people (especially conservatives) think should work, but it simply doesn't deliver the goods.
D.A.R.E. [the federal Drug Abuse Resistance Education program] is listed under “What doesn’t work?” on our Review of the Research Evidence.

Rosenbaum summarized the research evidence on D.A.R.E. by titling his 2007 Criminology and Public Policy article “Just say no to D.A.R.E.” As Rosenbaum describes, the program receives over $200 million in annual funding, despite little or no research evidence that D.A.R.E. has been successful in reducing adolescent drug or alcohol use. As Rosenbaum (2007: 815) concludes “In light of consistent evidence of ineffectiveness from multiple studies with high validity, public funding of the core D.A.R.E. program should be eliminated or greatly reduced. These monies should be used to fund drug prevention programs that, based on rigorous evaluations, are shown to be effective in preventing drug use.” 
A systematic review by West and O’Neal (2004) examined 11 published studies of D.A.R.E. and reached similar conclusions. D.A.R.E. has little or no impact on drug use, alcohol use, or tobacco use. They concluded that ““Given the tremendous expenditures in time and money involved with D.A.R.E., it would appear that continued efforts should focus on other techniques and programs that might produce more substantial effects” (West & O’Neal, 2004: 1028). 
Recent reformulations of the D.A.R.E. program have not shown successful results either. For example, the Take Charge of your Life program, delivered by D.A.R.E. officers was associated with significant increases in alcohol and cigarette use by program participants compared to a control group (Sloboda et al., 2009).
From Marginal Revolution (emphasis added).

Kaiser Permanente's Impact On The Health Care Debate

There are basically two models for private sector health insurance in the United States.

Traditional Health Insurance

In one of them, a health insurance company locates a number of independently owned and operated private health care providers and enters into a contract with them to provide various services to its insureds at a negotiated contract rate rather than the higher or different rate applicable to uninsured or government insured patients.

Sometimes, the providers that negotiate a contract with the insurance company to be in its network are a small as a single doctor's office. Sometimes, the providers are as large as a major pharmacy chain or a large consolidated group of hospitals, clinics, laboratories, pharmacies and doctor's office that are operated as a single entity for insurance network purposes. In reality, even though they are treated as a single entity for insurance coverage purposes, the providers in a large consolidated group may be independently owned and operated themselves and form the provider's group solely for the purposes of negotiating with insurance companies on contract rates and sharing medical records within the group.

The health insurance company then enters into contracts with its insureds. In these contracts, the insured pays a fixed monthly insurance premium to cover the primary insured, the primary insured's spouse or domestic partner, and one or more children of either of them aged 26 or younger.

In exchange, the health insurance company pays part of the amounts owed by the insureds for medical goods and services, and the insureds pay some combination of co-pays (a modest, fixed in advance dollar amount for a particular type of service in lieu of a deductible, and $0 for a few preventative care services), or the entire uninsured part of the bill for that medical goods and services which  is called a deductible.

When there is a co-pay, the insurance company typically pays all of the charges not covered by the co-payment amount. Deductibles come in three main categories: (1) a dollar amount that must be paid per insured or per insured family (whichever is exhausted first) before the insurance company will pay for any non-copay medical goods or services, (2) a percentage of the provider's bill for medical goods and services in excess of the initial dollar amount, or (3) the entire provider's bill for medical goods and services that are not covered by the insurance plan. In addition, there is typically an annual limit on how much the insured must pay out of pocket for covered medical goods and services, after which the insurance company pays all further provider charges.

The obligation of the insurance company to pay depends upon whether or not the provider is in the insurance company's network or not. There are also some kinds of medical goods or services that are only covered if obtained from a provider in the insurance company's network.

If the provider is in the insurance company's network a more generous to the insureds set of co-pays, initial out of pocket dollar amounts, and percentage of remaining bills that the insurance company pays applies.

If the provider is outside the insurance company's network, a less generous to the insureds set of co-pays (typically only for emergency or urgent care services and prescription drugs, if there are any co-pays at all), initial out of pocket dollar amounts, and percentage of remaining bills that the insurance company pays applies.

Typically, an insurance program will offer a variety of plans with higher premium plans offering progressively lower initial dollar amounts that must be paid, higher insurance company percentages of bills, and lower co-pays which are available in lieu of a percentage of the bill coverage.

At one extreme, called a catastrophic plan, the insurance policy has a high initial dollar amount that must be paid by the insured and only kicks in when the insured has a major illness or injury.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is the dominant and almost singular exception the traditional health insurance model. It is vertically integrated and is organized on a non-profit basis.

With a narrow exception of emergency out of network care, Kaiser requires all of its insureds to receive their care from within their network, in which all providers except a few hospitals, alternative medicine providers and scarce specialists are owned and operated by Kaiser itself in which everyone who works in the network is an employee of Kaiser, typically at compensation significantly less than what the owners of an independently owned and operated provider would charge.

In addition to paying people who would otherwise own independent health care providers less in exchange for freeing them from the risks and hassles of being a business owner as well as a health care provider, this model affords Kaiser a variety of other advantages.

* Kaiser can unilaterally set the amount that it charges for medical goods and services, subject to its need to cover its wholesale costs for providing those medical goods and services, so it has much less uncertainty regarding how much it will receive from insureds for particular medical services and how much it will pay for those goods and services (which are mostly part of a monthly payroll and overhead expense that isn't directly tied to how much care its insureds need). This also makes it easier for Kaiser to provide more services on a co-pay basis than other providers without facing the risk that provider costs will grow uncontrollably.

* Kaiser insureds receive medical goods and services at a much smaller number of locations than providers in a traditional health insurance plan, allowing it to secure economies of scale and to have much more direct, hands on management of their providers by senior health care administrators.

* Kaiser providers share a single medical records database that facilitates better coordination of providers and allows it to automate tools to monitor the heath care that patients are receiving.

* Kaiser eliminates a lot of the paperwork associated with traditional health insurance and associated billing difficulties by eliminating the need for providers to request insurance payments for the services that they have provided.

Kaiser's radically different business model allows it to provide comparable health care at a lower price than many its competitors which has won it a disproportionate share of the Obamacare insurance exchange markets for people who don't have employer provided group health insurance plans, despite the reduced choice of doctors that it affords its insureds.

But, Kaiser has a quite limited geographic scope. It does business in only eight states and the District of Columbia: four Pacific states (California, Oregon, Washington State and Hawaii), Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. In Virginia, moreover, it only operates in the Northern Virginia area which is a suburb of D.C., while in Maryland it only serves the D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Similarly, in Georgia, it provides services only in the greater Atlanta and Athens areas.

There is only one Red State (Georgia) and one Purple State (Virginia) in Kaiser's entire portfolio (at this point I count Colorado is "Blue" and not "Purple") and in both cases Kaiser's operations are limited to some of the bluest parts of those states.

Kaiser has no operations in the other 42 U.S. states, both limiting its political clout and denying residents of these states an alternative business model for health care. This also makes Kaiser not a viable option for employers or insureds who routinely find themselves away from home. And, even in the areas that it does serve, it has few providers in rural areas away from major metropolitan areas.

The lack of alternatives to traditional health insurance in most of the United States and essentially all of rural America is one of the reasons that people in different states perceive health care issues differently.

12 July 2017

Is Crazy A Discrete Or A Continuous Quantity In Politicians?

Some politicians are crazier than other politicians, with the term "crazy" in this sense, referring to someone whose views and worldview are very far outside the mainstream.

When I was in college, we had Representative James Traficant (who was initially a Democrat and became an independent later on), from Youngstown, Ohio a town that was hard hit by the decline of manufacturing in the rust belt, who ended his off the wall floor speeches in Congress with his trademark line from Star Trek, "Beam Me Up Scotty." 

At the moment, we have lots of other crazy politicians.

We have President Donald Trump who has no difficulty calling white black on a daily basis.

We have Vice President Pence, who worries about being corrupted by having lunch alone with a woman on professional matters and advances a Dominionist ideology.

Ted Cruz, in his campaign for the 2016 Presidential nomination somehow thought that banning birth control was one of the nation's most urgent priorities.

Further down the pecking order, is Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones, who among his many extreme and misguided positions, refuses to equip his deputies with Narcan, a drug which can almost miraculously prevent someone from dying from heroin overdoses, because he thinks that people who overdose on drugs deserve to die.

Somehow (and political theory can explain in part why this is particularly prone to happen in a two party system with closed primaries for each political party), extremists are vastly overrepresented in public office (as well as people who commit crimes).

Of course, there are plenty of politicians who aren't nearly so crazy. To pick one example from the other side of the aisle here in Colorado, former Attorney General and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is not nearly as extreme as many of his Republican peers. I still disagree with him on most issues, but he comes from the establishment wing of the Republican Party, not the Conspiracy Theorist wing of the party.

The question I'm wondering about today, which spurred this post as a reminder to keep investigating it (I won't answer it in this post), is whether "crazy", as I've loosely defined it, among politicians holding elected office, is basically a smooth continuum, or if it instead is more of a discrete quantity with clearly clustered levels of crazy?

If crazy is a discrete quantity, then the ways to address it in our political system and ideally, to minimize its importance in the process, leads to one kind of approach (e.g. well informed screening processes for candidates to remove bad apples and effective processes to remove existing officials who "cross the line" too far, too many times).

If crazy is a continuous quantity in elected politicians, in contrast, then the ways to address it in our political system are probably different (e.g. movement politics and shifts in the behavior or character of the median voter in each district). This is because if crazy is a continuous quantity, then developing institutions that deprive the very most extreme politicians from power doesn't do much good as it only incrementally changes to political balance.

Mangakas Without Medicine II

On September 18, 2008, a couple of months before Barack Obama, whose signature accomplishment was the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), was elected, I wrote a post entitled "Mangakas Without Medicine" discussing the pre-ACA travails of webcomic authors having a child in a birth that had some complications. Some of what I noted in my previous post is still true:
In Japan, they call a comic book author a Mangaka, and many of the highest income earners in the country write comic books. In the U.S., however, life as a mangaka is tougher. Most are young, often about to get married or just starting families, and cobbling together sufficient health care is a struggle.
The author of the webcomic "Rise from Ashes", who goes by Nim (a.k.a. Madeleine Rosca), recently had a very similar experience, which she explained cartoon style. 

There were financial issues even post-ACA, for her, but the bitterness and hopelessness felt by the Mankagas in 2008 just wasn't there with the same intensity. It is better now than it was before the ACA, especially for self-employed people like my family and that of most Mankaga (many of whom are also working poor or lower middle class economically, which is another group that has been helped tremendously by the ACA).

A return to the bad old days pre-ACA would be a horrible thing.

11 July 2017

Internet Trolls Score High On Psychopathy Continuum

Internet trolls tend to score high on psychological measures of psychopath and can determine the feelings of others without sharing or experiencing those feelings. The underlying study is here.

End Near In War On ISIS?

After nine months, the Battle of Mosul has finally resulted in victory of Iraqi allied forces, and the titular capital of ISIS territory, Raqqa may fall soon as well. ISIS has suffered massive losses of soldiers, military equipment and facilities. Its cash flow from oil and other ventures is dwindling.
ISIS has lost 60% of its land since January 2015, with its holdings now reduced to a territory the size of Belgium. 
"Losing control of the heavily populated Iraqi city of Mosul, and oil rich areas in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Homs, has had a particularly significant impact on the group's ability to generate revenue[.]"
In Syria, ISIS has lost most of the territory to the north and western edge of its range that it controlled a year and a half ago. So far, most of the victories in Syria have not gone to Syria, which continues to lack control over much of its territory in an ongoing civil war with multiple factions that has produced a massive refugee crisis, but to rebel factions in its civil war.

Iraq seems to be doing a better job of reclaiming control of its territory, and it is mostly the Iraqi government together with Iraqi Kurds that are doing so. In Iraq, ISIS controls only two isolated blobs of territory along the Euphrates Valley, one near Mosul and one near Kirkuk (these two areas appear to be the current military priority for Iraqi lead forces at this point) and one small stretch of territory along the Tigris River near the Syrian border. 

Almost all of ISIS territory in both Syria and Iraq combined is largely cut off from access to the outside world. It has no ports, no aircraft or airports it can use, no border with Turkey, and no access to the main highways across the desert. 

The opponents of ISIS (does it have any sovereign friends?), who are mostly part of a U.S. led international coalition of forces, with particularly large Iraqi and Kurdish components, meanwhile, are continuing to attack its limited military and economic resources can to painstakingly slowly regain the territory that ISIS seized in the blink of an eye. Its opponents have complete control of the air space, advanced weapons, seemingly unlimited budgets for their troops, and greater numbers of troops. 

It may be largely a slow war of logistics and attrition at this point, but ISIS certainly seems to be losing it.

Building Trust and Consensus

A new Pew study shows that the percentage of Republicans who believe that higher education is a negative force in society has surged by 45% and become a majority of Republicans (58%). Just seven or eight years ago, Republicans and Democrats had almost identical views on the value of higher education and overwhelmingly thought that it was a positive force. 

The percentage of Republicans who see higher education as positive (36%) is only slightly higher than the percentage who see unions (33%) as positive, and on a positive minus negative basis, Republicans are more favorably inclined towards unions  (net -13 percentage points) than they are towards higher education (net -22 percentage points).

In contrast, 72% of Democrats see higher education as positive (net +53 percentage points), and 59% see unions as positive (net +37 percentage points).

Longer standing Republican distaste for the media continues, with just 10% of Republicans viewing the media as a positive force in society, while 85% see it as negative (net -75 percentage points). This compares to 44% of Democrats who see the media as a positive force (net -2 percentage points).

The GOP alienation from the media, higher education, and government generally, taken together is profound and troubling, even tough it is somewhat understandable as all three institutions are carried out by people who are, on average, more liberal than average these days.

How can you have a meaningful democracy when 30%-40% of the voters think that the institution that they are electing people to run (and indeed, that their party controlled at the time of the survey) is basically a negative force in the world and when they also feel that the primary sources of reliable information about the decisions that government is making are conspiring to make the world a worse place?

How can anyone reach common ground in policy discussions when there isn't even any source for the facts that has wide trust and support for those involved in those discussions?

How do you get tens of millions of people to step away from the brink of an insane fantasy world and return to the realm of a more rational, more normal world that is connected with reality?

07 July 2017

Who Are Flat Earthers?

The Flat Earth movement is a sociological eye opener about how people come to believe things. Rational, scientific arguments alone simply don't cut it for a great many people on a great many issues. This first hand, interview based account from the Denver Post is important because the character of the members doesn't fit a lot of naive stereotypes (I've highlighted some in  the excerpt below) - although conspiracy thinking is one critical part of the mix.

Some have been educated in the sciences. They use computers and aren't Luddites. Their metaphors are as more pop culture than religious and most arrive at their views late in life rather than out of commitment to childhood religious teachings. They are anti-authoritarians, not strict adherents to transmitted authority and religious ideologies that predate the Copernican revolution (ca. 1514 CE).
Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., three dozen Coloradans from every corner of the state assemble in the windowless back room of a small Fort Collins coffee shop. They have met 16 times since March, most nights talking through the ins and outs of their shared faith until the owners kick them out at closing. . . . 
They’re thousands strong — perhaps one in every 500 — and have proponents at the highest levels of science, sports, journalism and arts.  They call themselves Flat Earthers. Because they believe Earth — the blue, majestic, spinning orb of life — is as flat as a table. . . . 
The Fort Collins group — mostly white and mostly male, college-age to septuagenarian — touts itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the United States. Sister groups have since spawned in Boston, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Chicago. In Colorado, Ptolemaic-science revivalists have lofty ambitions: raising $6,000 to put up a billboard along Interstate 25 broadcasting their worldview. . . . 
(All scientists and educators consulted for this story rejected the idea of a flat earth.) . . .
“There’s so much evidence once you set aside your preprogrammed learning and begin to look at things objectively with a critical eye,” says Bob Knodel, a Denver resident and featured guest at a recent Tuesday meeting. “You learn soon that what we’re taught is mainly propaganda.” 
Knodel worked for 35 years as an engineer and now runs the popular YouTube channel Globebusters, which has nearly 2 million views across more than 135 videos. “I’ve researched conspiracies for a long time,” he says. “I’ve looked very critically at NASA. Why is it that the astronauts have conflicting stories about the sky? Is it bright with stars, or a deep velvet black?” 
His wife, Cami, shares his views. “Our YouTube channel gets people to critically think,” she said to the Fort Collins group. “The heliocentric model says that we’re spinning at 1,038 mph. They say you won’t notice it because it’s a continual motion. But you should be able to feel it. You shouldn’t be able to function allegedly spinning that fast.” 
The weekly meet-ups also give forum to friendly lines of questioning. Some are straightforward (“What do you say back to people who call you stupid?”) and summon a ready-made answer (“You’re not stupid, period. They have to understand that there are deceptions going on at enormous levels”). Others stump even the experts. “How are we Flat Earthers supposed to explain to our friends the solar eclipse in August?” asked one attendee. The room fell silent. “We’ll have to do more research and get back to you on that.” . . . 
Like nearly every member of the movement, Sargent converted to Flat Earthism late in life. For most of his first five decades, he believed Earth to be a spinning globe. But something changed around the summer of 2014, when he stumbled upon a YouTube video contending that Earth is flat. 
“It was interesting, but I didn’t think it was real,” he says. “I started the same way as everyone else, saying, ‘Oh, I’ll just prove the earth is round.’ Nine months later, I was staring at my computer thinking, ‘I can’t prove the globe anymore.’ ” 
He remembers the date — Feb. 10, 2015 — when he took the plunge and started creating Flat Earth content of his own. To his surprise, the daily videos he had begun churning out ignited a firestorm online. The 49-year-old now devotes himself to Flat Earth propagation full time. He has made 600 YouTube videos and been interviewed more than 120 times. 
His conversion to the cult of globe-busting follows a common pattern among proselytes: latent anti-authoritarianism, which first found outlet in popular conspiracy theories of the mid-aughts, that by the mid-2010s transformed into full-blown contempt for the global model. In most cases, the catalyst was YouTube, with its highly popular flat-earth videos that began proliferating in late 2014. . . . “Before I did the first few videos back in 2015, if you typed ‘flat earth’ into YouTube you’d get 50,000 results,” he says. “Now, you’ll come in with 17.4 million. That’s more than a 30,000 percent increase. And we’re growing.” . . . 
The Centennial State has been the cradle of the American flat earth renaissance since birth. The first Flat Earth International Conference, which will be in Raleigh, N.C., in November, features a number of Colorado-based Flat Earthers, including Sargent, Knodel and Matthew Procella, or ODD Reality, a Denver-based rapper and YouTuber with 75,000 subscribers and nearly 7 million video views. 
The movement, though, is not a monolith. Differences of opinion divide the community on matters of scientific interpretation, cosmology, strategy and even the most fundamental questions of geology, such as: what shape is our planet? 
Many subscribe to the “ice wall theory,” or the belief that the world is circumscribed by giant ice barriers, like the walls of a bowl, that then extend infinitely along a flat plane. Sargent envisions Earth as “a giant circular disc covered by a dome.” He likens the planet to a snow globe, similar to the one depicted in “The Truman Show,” a fictitious 1998 existential drama about an insurance salesman unknowingly living in an artificially constructed dome. . . . 
He and other Flat Earthers can only speculate why the global conspiracy has had such staying power for more than 500 years, or why “the top” — the uber-elite heads of governments, universities and major corporations that allegedly know “the truth” — would continue to uphold a scheme that offers little in the way of riches or strategic power. 
“It’s not about money. They want complete mind control,” Knodel says after the meeting in the lobby of the Fort Collins coffee shop. “They want to create two classes: the ultra rich and servants. At that point they would’ve taken over the world, and enslaved the population, and controlled everything.”
From the Denver Post.

Others have faulted the story for its moral equivalency standpoint that threats this viewpoint as valid, although the one line parenthetical statement midway through the story that "(All scientists and educators consulted for this story rejected the idea of a flat earth.)" is probably sufficient when the majority view is so universally and bipartisanly held. 

Only one in 500 people is a flat Earther, while 64% of Americans (including 44% of Americans with graduate degrees and 45% of people who know people from Korea) can't find North Korea on a map.

06 July 2017

Quote of the Day

As Rebecca Solnit documented in her must-read history book A Paradise Built in Hell, disaster is not typically attended by a breakdown in the social order that lays bare the true bestial nature of your fellow human. Instead, these are moments in which people rise brilliantly to the occasion, digging their neighbors out of the rubble, rushing to give blood, opening their homes to strangers.
- Cory Doctorow (of Boing Boing fame) in an essay at Locus Online Perspective on July 5, 2017.

UPDATE July 11, 2017: Examples of people rising to the occasion can be found here.

03 July 2017

Chemical Target For Extending Child-Like Language Acquisition Identified

By disrupting adenosine signaling in the auditory thalamus, we have extended the window for auditory learning for the longest period yet reported, well into adulthood and far beyond the usual critical period in mice," said corresponding author Stanislav Zakharenko, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology. "These results offer a promising strategy to extend the same window in humans to acquire language or musical ability by restoring plasticity in critical regions of the brain, possibly by developing drugs that selectively block adenosine activity."
The paper is:

Jay A. Blundon, et al., "Restoring auditory cortex plasticity in adult mice by restricting thalamic adenosine signaling." Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4612

01 July 2017

Teen Birth Rate At Record Low Yet Again

Another year, another record low teen birth rate in the USA. I've written this post so many years since this blog started in 2005, that it is hard to recognize just how remarkable it is. The details are as follows:
In the United States, teen-aged moms are increasingly rare. In 2016, the teen birth rate dropped 9% compared to the previous year, a new government report published Friday found. This record low for teens having babies continues a long-term trend. 
The birth rate among teen girls has dropped 67% since 1991, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which presented preliminary data for 2016 based on a majority (99.9%) of births. 
In 2016, the number of US births totaled 3,941,109, a decline of 1% compared to 2015. The fertility rate of 62 births per 1,000 women is a record low for the nation.
The number of births fell despite a growing U.S. population between 2015 and 2016.

Essentially all of the decrease in the teen birth rate, which has also been accompanied by a proportionate decreases in abortions, is due to to increased teen contraception use. Teens continue to have sex at more or less the same rates that they always have.

The decline in the teen birth rate, which is taking place much more rapidly among black and Hispanic teens is also the main factor equalizing total fertility rates between white and non-white women in the U.S.