31 October 2007

Pants Lawsuit Judge Out Of Job

Roy L. Pearson Jr., the administrative law judge who lost his $54 million lawsuit against a Northeast Washington dry cleaner, lost his job yesterday and was ordered to vacate his office, sources said.

Pearson, 57, who had served as a judge for two years, was up for a 10-year term at the Office of Administrative Hearings, but a judicial committee last week voted against reappointing him.

From here.

The New Urban Halloween

Halloween isn't quite like it was when I was growing up.

My children have gone to trick of treat at Whole Foods and South High School, before making the neighborhood rounds. Bobbing for apples at South substituted for more traditional Halloween parties. When my children go out this evening, they will be some of a very few neighborhood kids trick or treating in our neighorhood -- most come from well beyond walking distance. I keep up the tradition anyway, for the little more than a hundred kids who come in a typical year, but one by one, other houses on the block are dropping out. Nobody eggs or TPs the houses of "non-participators" any more.

This morning was the school Halloween parade. I was struck by the incredible diversity of the costumes. A majority were home made creations. There were only a handful of true, bought it at the same store repeats in the entire crowd of hundreds of kids. Even commercial characters -- clearly drawing their inspiration from Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example, were often home made (and better than most of the commercial options). While there were healthy representations of witches, pirates, ghosts, princesses and devils, probably a third or more were non-traditional Halloween characters . . . a Twinkie and a Swiss peasant, for example. Probably only a quarter of the costumes represented anything that could inspire fear. For a nation at war, patriotic or military costumes were suprisingly rare.

Much of this is subtle local tradition imposed by example, by what the teachers wear, by was praised in prior years, by what younger kids advanced to higher grades have learned to expect. But, it reflects our values. We care about individuality and artistic value more than creating a sense of fear, and we are instinctively anti-commercial, to the extent we can manage it.

While people are cautious about candy, and rarely distribute it unpackaged any longer, there is far more concern about limiting calories than about foreign objects designed to hurt children these days.

Houses are still decorated, with far more over the top compared to what I grew up with, and with decorations our far earlier.

Halloween has become one of the real highlights of the year. One reason for this is that Halloween is so popular is that it is a "safe" holiday to celebrate because it has been so secularized that it isn't a touchy issue.

Christmas and Easter are far less so. While we don't entirely ignore them, my wife has not rejected these traditions a much as I have and Christmas is a time society makes available to gather with family, the compromise we have struck is that Christmas and Easter are understated. Our family does more random acts of kindness giving to the children, and less at Christmas in particular. Due to logistics (I have family in Seattle, Las Vegas, Boston and Southern Ohio), we hand out presents in dribbles. We usually put up a small artificial Christmas tree, but the decorations aren't garrish or public. We don't do Easter baskets, although a neighbor often makes a small Easter gift to the children, we receive a card or two, and my wife and the kids often go to a service at the local Unitarian Church.

Summer birthdays for the children make big parties with classmates more difficult to arrange.

So, out we will go tonight again, in that wonderful Denver weather that always seems to turn frigid cold, just in time for Halloween.

30 October 2007

Air Force Writes To Santa

The Air Force want 20 more F-22s than currently budgeted. "[The] Air Combat Command's requirement for 381 F-22s is unchanged despite plans for only 183 now. . . . requirements for 1,763 JSFs would be met only incrementally until 2025." It also wants "more Boeing C-17s, retirement of Lockheed C-5As and for the service . . . to take over the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program from the Army."

The Air Force's designs on the JCA are wrong -- the Army needs small fixed wing aircraft which do the same job as its existing large helicopters but better when air strips are available.

More C-17s would be good. They have about half the cargo capacity of the C-5 (basically one tank instead of two. But, a C-17 can land at field air strips, not just commercial class airports. Still, prematurely phasing out the C-5 which is the largest cargo plane in the fleet is something that should happen only if the Army is satisfied with that decision.

I am indifferent to trade offs between the F-22 and the F-35A on a dollar for dollar basis, but the overall figher share of the budget pies shouldn't get any bigger.

The overall request shows that the Air Force's leadership still doesn't understand their obligation to be team players.

Military Religious Preferences

Religious affiliations represented at the Air Force Academy, from a survey taken in early 2007, are:

Protestant - 2,652 (59%)
Catholic - 1,339 (30%)
No religious preference - 243
None - 114
Jewish - 37
Atheist - 30
Buddhist - 26
Muslim - 14
Hindu - 6
Orthodox - 5
Pagan - 2
Other - 26
Unknown - 35
Total - 4,529

Acknowledged Christians make up 88% of the Academy (numbers don't match due to ronding). About 9% chose one of three secular designations. About 2% have a non-Christian designation (assuming that "other" contains non-Christian religions - I suspect that some of those designations are basically secular or Christian), and about 1% have an unknown affiliation.

Academy students are less secular than the Air Force as a whole, where more than 18% are basically secular. Christianity Today notes:

A survey conducted by the Air Force in June [2006] reveals that 0.6% of the 275,457 current enlistees describe themselves as "atheist" and that 17.8% have "no religious preference."

The survey, or at least this summary of it, fudges one of the deepest divides in the Academy and in the military generally. The divide between the Evangelical Protestants and the "liturgical" Protestants, data from a lawsuit in the late 1990s revealed that:

Of the 17 most influential jobs in the chaplain corps, eight are held by members of high-church Protestant sects, whose members include 15 percent of Navy personnel, and five by Catholics, who account for 24 percent of the Navy. The remaining four are held by low-church Protestants, who account for 41 percent — by far the largest religious group of Navy personnel, Pentagon statistics show. Most of the remaining 20 percent listed no religious affiliation.

If the Air Force is typical of the Navy (and it isn't entirely, and the Academy even less so, but there is no good reason to believe that the ratio of Evangelical to liturgical Protestant Christians is grossly off, although the relatively high Catholic percentage may indicate that AFA cadets are slightly more liturgical than other military groups), about 16% of cadets are liturgical Protestant Christians, and about 43% of cadets are evangelical non-liturgical Protestant Christians. The former may be a few percentage points low, the latter may be a few percentage points high.

It is safe to say that Evangelicals are a plurality, but not a majority religion in the United States military. Also, if the Academy is typical of the officer corps, it is safe to guess that the enlisted ranks are roughly twice as secular as the officer corps. This is a little surprising because officers are better educated than enlisted personnel on average, and most military officers in military academies receive their degrees in a engineering field (backgrond in the physical sciences is strongly associated with secular beliefs). Of course, the military culture has long been strongly religious.

29 October 2007

Extraordinary Relief Statistics

Shorter version of How Appealing blogger Howard Bashman's column: Requests for rehearing after losing an appeal of right, including requests for rehearing en banc, or certiorari review from a higher court are mostly futile.

I believe that most appellate judges would agree that litigants and their lawyers who are on the losing end of intermediate appellate court rulings are filing far too many requests for further review in cases that do not satisfy the stringent criteria for such review.

He also notes, however, that there are few remedies to the problem that make sense. Requiring courts to slog through all requests and having them deny most of them is often the most practical option.


Some facts from dkospedia back up that assertion in the federal courts:

For example, in 2002, the U.S. Courts of Appeal decided 27,758 cases on the merits, while the U.S. Supreme Court decided only 150 cases on the merits, only a little more than two-thirds of which were from U.S. Courts of Appeal (thus more than 99.5% of U.S. Court of Appeals rulings were the final word on the issues decided) . . . . in a typical state in a typical year, only about one appeal from a state supreme court is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits. More than 99% of U.S. Court of Appeals and State Supreme Court cases are not reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits.

The number of state court civil cases which even present a federal issue for U.S. Supreme Court review is a fairly small share of the entire state supreme court docket.

En Banc Review

The number of en banc reviews granted in the U.S. Court of Appeals each year nationwide is roughly the same as the number of U.S. Supreme Court certiorari grants.

Habeas Corpus Review

Collateral habeas corpus relief is similarly very rare.

In 2004, there were about 19,000 non-capital federal habeas corpus petitions filed and there were about 210 capital federal habeas corpus petitions filed in U.S. District Court. There are about 60 habeas corpus cases filed in the U.S. Supreme Court's original jurisdiction each year. The U.S. Courts of Appeal do not have original jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions. . . . As of 2004, the percentage of federal habeas corpus petitions involving state death sentences was still about 1% of the total. . . . About 63% of issues raised in habeas corpus petitions by state court prisoners are dismissed on procedural grounds and about 35% of those issues are dismissed on the merits, while about 2% are either resolved favorable to the prisoner on the merits or remanded to a state court for further proceedings at the U.S. District Court level. . . . [A]study found that when habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases were traced from conviction to completition of the case that there was "a 40 percent success rate in all capital cases from 1978 to 1995." . . . [Another study] puts the success rate in habeas corpus cases involving death row inmates even higher, finding that between "1976 and 1991, approximately 47% of the habeas petitions filed by death row inmates were granted." . . . about 20% of successful habeas corpus petitions involve death penalty cases. . . . As of 1991, the average number of federal habeas corpus petitions filed in the United States was 14 per 1,000 people in state prison, but this ranged greatly from state to state from a low a 4 per 1,000 in Rhode Island to a high of 37 per 1,000 in Missouri.

The number of non-death penalty convictions reversed in federal habeas corpus proceedings is about 3 per 10,000.


Pardons of persons who have not completed their sentences and commutations (i.e. sentence reductions), are similarly very, very rare (you can count on your fingers the number issued by President George W. Bush since taking office). There are, however, a steady trickle of pardons of people who have long ago served their criminal sentences and since reformed that are issued merely to relieve individuals of the collateral effects of their convictions.

State pardon data is hard to come by, but state level pardons of persons who have not completed their sentences and commutations are very rare, particularly outside death penalty cases.

Discretionary Review in Colorado

Colorado does not have, to the best of my knowledge, a system of en banc review in the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Because it is a fairly small state, with two levels of appellate courts, it has a higher rate of state supreme court review of intermediate court of appeals rulings than many states. About 2-3% of all cases decided on the merits by the Court of Appeals are reviewed on the merits by the Colorado Supreme Court, and on the order of 20%-30% of published opinions of the Colorado Court of Appeals are reviewed on the merits by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Only a tiny percentage of decisions of county and municipal courts, about 645 a year out of more than 530,000 county court cases and an undetermined number of municipal court cases, are appealed (generally to district courts) and a very small percentage of those are ultimately reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Information about collateral attacks on convictions in state court is harder to find. The most common form of collateral attack is known as a Rule 35(b) motion.

Duh Review (Requests For Rehearing From The Decision Maker)

Getting the panel that decided your case against you to revise a ruling against you (or for that matter getting a trial court judge to do the same thing) normally requires an error in the opinion that would cause a reasonable appellate judge to say, "duh, I screwed that up, didn't I?" in a motion for reconsideration with a number of pages in the low single digits. Mistakes that are reasoned rather than inadvertant are almost never reversed on rehearing.

Examples of the kind of case suitable for that kind of motion include: opinions that cite as key support for the ruling a case that actually had a ruling opposite of the one it is cited for; reliance on key facts present in a case other than the one decided in the opinion; reliance on a key date, number or legal description for the ruling which is cited incorrectly from the record in the opinion; omitting the word "not" or misstating the opinion's ultimate ruling when the entire gist of the remainder of the opinion indicates that the opposite result was intended, getting the parties switched accidentally; or on very rare occasions, failing to mention at all a clearly controlling case (particularly if decided just before or just after briefing was completed) and instead citing one that the controlling case overruled.

Also, winning parties and repeat litigants are frequently able to have opinions that don't quite get a complicated set of facts quite right restated in a modified opinion that does not materially change the holding of the opinion.

28 October 2007

The Kaiser And The Pope

People who get health care from Kaiser Permanente in metro Denver are at risk of taking orders on health care from the Pope starting in 2008.

Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System prepares to take over Exempla Healthcare's St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette. Sisters of Charity is paying $311 million to buy out the 50 percent stake of its partner in the hospitals, the Community First Foundation.

At the time the agreement was announced in December, Exempla and the foundation said they would try to find a third party to provide reproductive services, such as abortions and birth control, which are banned by the Catholic church's ethical and religious directives. But this week both sides said they wouldn't reach an agreement to provide such services, prompting Exempla's board to oppose the deal. . . .

Kaiser, one of the state's largest insurers with about 480,000 subscribers, funnels most of its Denver members to Exempla's hospitals. St. Joseph, owned outright by the Sisters of Charity, is already run according to Catholic tenets, but Good Samaritan and Lutheran will stop offering reproductive services if the deal is completed.

Kaiser's regional president, Donna Lynne, said the insurer has been working with Exempla to develop a plan for Kaiser members to receive care for the services that would no longer be available, but "at this time we have not finalized a plan that we believe fully meets the needs of our members." . . . Sisters of Charity said it expects to complete [the ownership change] by year-end[.] . . .

The first part of the attorney general's review [required to approve the deal] centers on whether Sisters of Charity's complete ownership of Exempla will result in a "material change in purpose" for the charitable organization . . . . Sisters of Charity and the Foundation said an analysis shows there is "more than adequate" access to these procedures elsewhere in the community. Exempla's board, however, plans to write a letter stating the transfer would cause a reduction of services. . . .

Exempla agreed to the ownership change last year, in part because . . . Sisters of Charity agreed to invest at least $300 million in the Exempla hospital, in addition to the $311 million it is paying to the foundation.

Attorney General Suthers, a conservative Republican elected official, will make the call (subject to deferential court review) on whether this deal passes muster.

The fate of the deal also impacts the future development plans of all three hospitals and the former Children's Hospital site downtown.

What is the status quo?

At St. Joseph, only indirect abortions - defined as treating the clinical illness of the mother to preserve her life, knowing the fetus could be lost - are allowed. Women requesting emergency contraceptives are referred to nearby hospitals or medical centers.

Doctors at Lutheran and Good Samaritan, meanwhile, provide women with information and the option of emergency contraceptives if they have been raped.

Abortions are performed but only very rarely, at an average of five a year at both hospitals combined. Most abortions are to preserve the life and health of the mother . . . [Often] women opt to get tubal ligations after giving birth via Caesarean sections. At Catholic-run facilities, that sterilization treatment must be performed elsewhere at another time, meaning another major abdominal surgery and finding child care. . .

In September, the Vatican declared that vegetative patients have a moral right to feeding tubes, which some observers felt was a shift toward a more restrictive policy on feeding tube use for patients who have no hope of regaining consciousness.

This is a high price to pay for $200 a month less in premiums. To be clear, Kaiser Permanente isn't the instigator in this case. It had a status quo that provided health care choices to members, although only by leaving Denver to get them. Kaiser is in this position simply because it has a very small network of health care providers, which its business model seems to require to get competitive rates. But, it remains to be seen if Exempla and Kaiser are going to sell its customers down the river for $300 million from the Sisters of Charity. The likelihood that this issue was going to come up should have been obvious when the deal was signed and it is disappointing to see players like Exempla and Kaiser wake up to the consequences of their deal only now.

The Caliphate

Sometimes political and religious change is remarkably swift, as in the rapid rise of the Islamic Caliphate (darkest color as of 632 CE, the next portion a generation later, and the lightest part as of 750 CE).

Modern Kurdish populations (via Wikipedia, created by Arab Atlas)

It is also worth noting the similarities between the 750 CE boundaries of the Caliphate and the modern distribution of the Kurds.

Byzantine Empire ca. 867(via Wikipedia)

The boundaries of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor (i.e. modern day Turkey) were much the same in 1025 as they were in 867. The Byzantines eventually succumbed to the Ottoman Empire. Most of Asia Minor was lost by 1071, but the later conquered Byzantines apparently remained culturally distinct from the Kurds who came to Islam three centuries sooner.

Byzantine Empire ca. 1081 (via Wikipedia)

The remnant Byzantine Empire was wiped out in 1453 with a sack of Constantinople (following an earlier one by Western Christian Crusaders in 1204 that by 1261 had reduced the Byzantines to a tiny kingdom surrounded by the Ottoman Empire).

Denver Democratic Precinct Caucuses

If you want a say in who will be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008 and live in Denver you must go to your precinct caucus on February 5, 2007 at 7 p.m., and must be registered to vote as a Democrat well in advance of that date.

Precinct caucuses are also a key step in the process of nominating candidates for state house and state senate races, a number of which will be open seats this year, and are the forum in which precinct committee persons are named. Precinct committee people have ultimate control over all decision making in the Democratic Party of Denver, and generally have a say in filling vacancies created when Democrats holding offices in Colorado are replaced midterm.

Sweeps Are Bad

Go Rockies!

Overheard In Denver

Man trying to get a date from a woman with two children in a stroller:

Woman: Life is hard for me, I'm poor.
Man: That's O.K., I'm poor too.

-- RTD Bus, Route 3, near the Cherry Creek Mall.

Stealing From Yourself

The reality of the modern publicly held corporation is that CEOs can without much difficulty, arrange to have a corporate board of directors increase their pay or give them legitimate loans without much difficulty. So, why do they fall to such pathetic lows as using company money to buy party favors for children's parties? Sure, it isn't really their moeny, but if they had asked for it, in this case and similarly in the Tyco case, they very likely would have gotten it as legitimately compensation.

Also, how is it that the whole charade is unveiled by a military journalist, rather than the company's auditors?

26 October 2007

Insane Justice

A system that allows an obviously insane man to plead guilty to bank robbery is broken.

The 7th Circuit, in its opinion, holds that the judge in the case abused his discretion, not by allowing him to plea guilty at all, but by sentencing him to 50 months in prison (more than the government requested), without even considering his mitigating argument that his only prior convictions (unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of drugs) were less significant than they appeared because they arose in connnection with a suicide attempt of a man who was obviously insane then as well.

Genarlow Wilson freed

[W]e conclude that the habeas court properly ruled that Wilson’s sentence of ten years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a fifteen-year-old girl when he was only seventeen years old constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, but erred in convicting and sentencing Wilson for a misdemeanor crime that did not exist when the conduct in question occurred. Because the minimum punishment for the crime for which Wilson was convicted constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, this case must be remanded to the habeas court for it to enter an order reversing Wilson’s conviction and sentence and discharging him from custody.

Georgia Supreme Court opinion via How Appealing.

Wilson, now age 21, has spent three years in prison and was released today.

Wet Kisses For Denver

Denver is a fantastic place to live. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. An abundance of good, independent coffee shops with free Wi-Fi.
2. Great choices in movies: Mainstream blockbusters when they come out and even preview runs, several competing chains offering foreign and independent films, several film series (including one at Starz in early November), brew and view, dinner movies, and a wealth of second run dollar theaters.
3. Short commutes.
4. Two sweater seasons a year.
5. Lots of exciting blizzards, but few boring months of dreary gray tundra.
6. Cheap summer cooling via swamp coolers.
7. In Denver proper, at least, no earthquakes, wild fires, floods, volcanoes, tornadoes or Hurricanes.
8. Two Superbowl years since I've arrived.
9. A World Series year since I've arrived.
10. A Stanley cup year since I've arrived.
11. A professional soccer team with its own field.
12. A dedicated rugby stadium.
13. A downtown where people actually live.
14. A world class opera house.
15. A first rate regional theater complex buttressed by a vibrant "off 14th Street" independent and community theater scene.
16. Lots of museums.
17. Public buildings and public works that are beautiful and thoughtfully made -- from big projects like the Denver Art Museum, to little ones like the series of pedestrian bridges that connect LoDo to Northwest Denver along 16th Street.
18. A growing public transit system that the community is committed to expanding.
19. Infill development -- neighborhoods are being improved, lot by lot, not stagnating; departing uses are promptly replaced by new ones that are also good.
20. The city's economy isn't dominated by one industry like Detroit's auto industry, New York's financial industry, old Denver's oil industry, Las Vegas's gambling industry, or Hollywood. We are both a state capitol, and the Rocky Mountain region's commercial, cultural and federal government hub.
21. Denverites care about the environment and the metro area has been remarkably resistant to the impulse to sprawl.
22. We have three major stadiums, a convention center, a major amusement park, that state capitol, several museums, one and a half major daily newspapers and several TV stations, to name just a few things, all crammed into downtown, rather than strewn about the metropolitan area.
23. Taxes are low enough that political leaders can safely ask for more funds for worthwhile purposes. (Property tax rates are roughly ten percent of what they were when I lived in Buffalo, the income tax is a little lower than in New York State, and the sales taxes are comparable.)
24. Colorado has the cheapest, most efficient and among the most private probate systems in the United States. In Denver this is buttressed by a specialized probate court that understands this area of law.
25. Colorado's judicial appointment system does an excellent job of not hiring ideologues and grossly incompetent judges, and Colorado's judicial discipline system does a good job of removing judges who, usually due to old age, are laboring under disabilities that makes them unfit to work. The system isn't perfect, as even mediocre judges are routinely retained if basically capable of carrying out their duties absent blatant scandal. But, the number of states that do a better job of filling their judicial branches is very, very small.
26. Public corruption in state government is very modest by national standards, even at the legislative level. At least 95% of the Democrats in the state legislature are genuinely concerned about nothing more than the public good. Even on the historically lobbyist craven Republican side, I'd venture that a solid minority, at least 40%, are equally public spirited and put the public good as they see it above private interest. The civil service system has largely been effective in insulating government employees from political pressure and special interest biases.
27. At the local government level in Colorado, the Democrats aren't quite so pure (or so numerous), although still overwhelmingly public minded, and the Republicans are much better than they are a the state level, a solid super majority of elected Republicans in local government in Colorado do an honest job of trying to do their jobs. (There are, of course, bad apples out there, such as the incumbent Arapahoe County DA, some Jefferson County Commissioners, and a few nut cases in El Paso County like Doug Bruce, as will as occasionally notorious officials in smaller local governments) Also, the recall power in Colorado is reasonably effective at removing maleficent local government officials. While not everyone agrees with me on this point, in my view Denver, which has a quite powerful Mayor, has been fortunate to have a succession of far better than the national average Mayors (Pena, Webb and Hickenlooper).
28. The mountains make it hard to get really lost.

25 October 2007

Pap Smear 2.0

Researchers have developed a new and improved alternative to the Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer. Two studies with a combined 22,000 women involved examined a test based on detecting the HPV virus rather than looking for the cancer cells themselves under a microscope.

Participants in the study got both a Pap smear and an HPV test. Women with abnormal results in either test, along with a random sampling of those with normal results, had cervical biopsies . . . . the HPV tests detected almost 95 percent of the cancers, whereas the Pap smear caught only 55 percent.

Earlier detection can also permit less frequent testing (as infrequently as every three years if both tests were conducted and came out negative), but the HPV test is also more likely to diagnose cancer when it isn't there. The next step after the HPV test, is likely to be to do a pap smear to confirm the HPV test result, reserving a biopsy only for cases with conflicting results, since Pap smears have few false positive results.

Each year in the U.S. 11,250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,670 women die from it. This test could save 1,200 lives a year or more in the United States alone.

Screening That Works

Terrorist screening doesn't work. Germ screening apparently does, despite doubts that it would from health professionals.

[T]he staph germ called MRSA [pronounced Muhr-suh, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus]. . . . causes dangerous infections that sicken more than 90,000 Americans each year and kill nearly 19,000. . . . People in health care settings, like hospitals and nursing homes, are most at risk for MRSA infections. Doctors and nurses who treat staph-infected patients and then don't carefully wash up can spread the germ to other patients. Germ-contaminated medical devices used on people having dialysis or medical procedures also can spread staph. [It] has been around for decades and in recent years has spread to schools, prisons and crowded public housing projects. . . . Other worrisome bugs include C-difficile (an intestinal infection), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (linked with intestinal, skin and blood infections), and drug-resistant Acinetobacter (which can cause pneumonia, skin and blood infections); none of them accounts for more than 10 percent of hospital infections [the percentage caused by MRSA]. . . .

[I]n Pittsburgh. . . the Veterans Affairs hospital tested new patients for staph, using a nose swab. They isolated those who had the germ, and annual infection rates fell from about 60 to 18 cases . . . The staph bug used to cause "occasional" deaths, but no patient has died since 2005 when testing of all patients began[.] . . . In May, the VA began putting a $28 million testing system in place for all 155 hospitals. . . . Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands have reduced their MRSA rates and all test high-risk patients . . . . [S]ince 2005 at three Chicago area hospitals in the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare system [test all patients]. There, the MRSA infection rate has dropped 60 percent . . . at the VA hospital in Pittsburgh . . . . The rates for other hospital-acquired infections also fell after MRSA testing began. Why? The testing may have caused hospital workers to pay more attention to hand washing and other prevention efforts[.]

Experience has show that one of the most important cognitive biases of most doctors is to underestimate the benefits and importance of good systems. The VA is one of the few bastions that takes a strongly systems oriented approach instead and because of this approach achieves good results despite having some of the lowest paid doctors in the country.

24 October 2007

On The Brink Of The Social Security Hole

Social security was invented, in part, as a safety net for widows and orphans. Usually, no matter what else happens, a widow and her children will be entitled to survivor's benefits until the children are grown, and when the widow is over the age of sixty-five. But, some cases are close ones.

The Facts

Tim Longmore was an expectant father, married only four days when he was killed in a car accident last week. "It's horrible. I can't believe it," said his wife, Krista Longmore, 22, who is 5 1/2 months pregnant. . . . [he] was on his way back to work at Home Depot in Glendale, returning from his lunch break at home. Shortly before 1:30 p.m., he was driving north on Colorado when he apparently ran a red light, crashing his Cadillac into a southbound sedan making a left turn onto Mississippi. . . . Tim Longmore had been working in the paint department at Home Depot for two years, after spending a year painting houses on his own. . . . They had been together since seventh grade. . . . Krista Longmore said their son will be named Timothy Sean Longmore Jr., after his father.

Tim Longmore graduated from high school in the class of '04 and was 22 years old.

Holes In the Safety Net

Deaths that happen going from home to work while on your lunch break often don't qualify for worker's compensation benefits. In contrast, if he had died while on a job related errand would likely qualify his wife for a lifetime pension.

He probably didn't, especially in the post-no fault era in Colorado, have a car insurance policy that provided benefits upon his death in an accident where he was at fault, which the newspaper article strongly suggests, and a wrongful death lawsuit is also an unlikely source of support for his survivors. If he had mandatory insurance coverage, however, he probably at least will have enough coverage to pay for any harm his car did to the other car in the accident.

At twenty-two, he had probably accumulated little wealth other than wedding presents.

He probably also hadn't yet bought significant life insurance, although he probably would have if he had lived even a little longer. Most employees don't sign up for life insurance through an employer when hired, if they are single and have no children at the time, as he was in this case. Most people buy private life insurance after they have kids, not when they have kids on the way, and usually, it doesn't matter.

He probably did have group life insurance through his employer for a couple times the amount of his salary. The $40,000 to $100,000 a group life policy would pay would probably have been enough to allow his grieving widow to get by for a while until she reached a point where she could return to single life and supporting herself. But, this amount of money doesn't last long when it is supporting a widow and a baby

A child who has lost both parents generally receives either financial support from the state government though the foster care system, or financial support from adoptive parents who are vetted prior to the adoption for their ability to financially support an adopted child.

Welfare, Medicaid and food stamps might help for a couple of years, once the life insurance money runs out, but welfare insists that she look for work immediately upon seeking benefits and stops after two years.

She can remarry, perhaps for love, but perhaps, just to survive. It is a pressure Kristina doesn't need right now.

In order to qualify for survivor's benefits under Social Security, you need a certain amount of time in the system, usually ten years. He probably didn't have that much time in the system.

Fortunately, for Kristina and the child she is likely to have, under a special rule, if you have worked for only one and one-half years in the three years just before your death, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for the children. Kristina's husband had worked at least two of the last three years at a job covered by Social Security. So, she is probably entitled to receive a modest pension from Social Security every month once the child is born, until her child is sixteen years old or she remarries, no questions asked (half of that is still payable until the child is eighteen whether or not she remarries). The amount of the benefit is on the order of $1,700 a month. It won't be enough to live on by itself, but it will be a huge help to her.

Social security and group life insurance benefits combined will probably be enough to allow her to stay home with her child for a few years before getting a job. And, even a pretty marginal job on top of Social Security benefits (which are adjusted for inflation) will probably be enough for a family of two to live on.

If this had happened two years earlier, however, when he had less than a year and a half in the system and didn't have benefits as a self-employed painter, the picture would be dire.


The survivorship requirement for Social Security survivor's benefits was probably invented to keep women who had been in the work force only briefly from qualifying for Social Security benefits. This limitation has outlived its usefulness.

The number of decedents who die with less than five years of work experience who leave a minor child and don't qualify is infinitessimal. About 98 of every 100 children could get benefits if a working parent dies from Social Security. Roughly one person in 1100 dies between the ages of 16 and 24, by which time the vast majority of adults with children have worked long enough at Social Security covered jobs to qualify. About 75% of children have mothers who are aged 25 or older at birth. The average married man is about two years older than the average married woman, and unmarried fathers tend to be older than unmarried mothers by a greater number of years. It is safe to guess that fewer than one in 4,000 children are in the Social Security hole that this post identifies, which this family narrowly dodged, and that in many of these cases that worker's compensation or a wrongful death suit will provide a realistic hope of support.

Considering that you have to come up with a death certificate and a child's birth certificate (easily confirmed with DNA testing) to qualify, the potential for fraud is very small.

But, those people who don't qualify, the rule hurdle for Social Security survivor's benefits will make life a lot harder, and most cases impacted by the work experience requirements look a lot like this family.

The Koran, the Torah and the Christian Bible both say that we have a duty to care for widows and orphans. The Social Security system and other parts of the social safety net in the United States usually does so. But, in a handful of cases very much like this one, it makes a heartless exception to the rule that makes no sense.

Terrorist Watch Lists Broken

The GAO via Unbossed, has the scoop:

As of May 2007, the consolidated watch list contained approximately 755,000 records.

From December 2003 through May 2007, screening and law enforcement agencies encountered individuals who were positively matched to watch list records approximately 53,000 times. Many individuals were matched multiple times. The outcomes of these encounters reflect an array of actions, such as arrests; denials of entry into the United States; and, most often, questioning and release. . . .

[S]ome subjects of watch list records have passed undetected through agency screening processes and were not identified, for example, until after they had boarded and flew on an aircraft or were processed at a port of entry and admitted into the United States. . . . the government lacks an up-to-date strategy and implementation plan for optimizing use of the terrorist watch list. Also lacking are clear lines of authority and responsibility.

Just 1% of nominations to put someone on the list are rejected (GAO report, pdf page 27). About 596,000 records have been added to the list since June 2004. Since the system's inception about 100,000 records have been removed from the list (pdf page 29).

The administration agrees that using the list may be useless or counterproductive (at pdf pages 41-42, emphasis added):

According to TSA, the administration has concluded that non-use of the full watch list does not constitute a security vulnerability; however, TSA did not explain the basis for this determination. Also, DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties emphasized that there is a strong argument against increasing the number of watch list records TSA uses to prescreen passengers. Specifically, the office noted that if more records were used, the number of misidentifications would expand to unjustifiable proportions, increasing administrative costs within DHS, without a measurable increase in security. The office also noted that an expansion of the No Fly and Selectee lists could even alert a greater number of individuals to their watch list status, compromising security rather than advancing it. Further, according to the office, as the number of U.S. citizens denied and delayed boarding on domestic flights increases, so does the interest in maintaining watch list records that are as accurate as possible. Also, the office noted that an increase in denied and delayed boarding of flights could generate volumes of complaints or queries that exceed the current capabilities of the watch list redress process.

The report notably doesn't identify what percentage of the 53,000 watch list related matches were false positives, but implies that the percentage is high, and expressly notes that many people are repeatedly dogged by false positive matches.

[T]he number of matches has increased each year—from 4,876 during the first 10-month period of TSC’s operations to 14,938 during fiscal year 2005, to 19,887 during fiscal year 2006. This increase can be attributed partly to the growth in the number of records in the consolidated terrorist watch list and partly to the increase in the number of agencies that use the list for screening purposes. Our analysis of TSC data also indicates that many individuals were encountered multiple times. For example, a truck driver who regularly crossed the U.S.-Canada border or an individual who frequently took international flights could each account for multiple encounters.

I'll also state the obvious. The United States government does not know the name of 775,000 terrorists in the United States and there aren't remotely that many terrorists who come anywhere near the United States. I very much doubt that there are even 7,750 terrorists in the United States. And, I very much doubt that the United States has any awareness of the threat posed by a majority of the terrorists in the United States. Also, few potential terrorists pose a theat to civil aviation after the passenger screening process is completed. There probably aren't even 775 people on that list who are actual threats to civil aviation or public safety.

Moreover, because the list is disproportionately of suspected "international terrorists" rather than of suspected "domestic terrorists", the percentage of foreign and immigrant persons who trigger false positives is astoundingly high. It doesn't help that in many parts of the word, certain names are very common. Everybody and their brother in the Islamic world has a name from the Koran. The vast majority of people in East Asia share fewer than forty last names. Latin America, similarly, is dominated by a small number of surnames (sociologists regularly use them as a proxy for Hispanic heritage) and has many common first names. One Jose Garcia or Fatima (no last name used) in the terrorist watch list puts a lot of people in a world of hurt.

A 99.9% inaccurate terrorist watch list is worse than nothing.

MRAP Taxonomy

The U.S. military is buying "roughly 7,800 vehicles" with each of the main military services and the Special Operations command buying a share in the "mine resistant ambush protected" category, mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The mismash of actual vehicles purchased (or at least seriously considered) brief introduction is summarized here:

Category I: approximately 7-15 tons; at least 4 passengers, plus 2 crew; urban transport.

Category II: approximately 15-25 tons; up to 8 passengers, plus 2 crew; road escort, ambulance and bomb-disposal missions.

Category III: approximately 25 tons; at least 4 passengers, plus 2 crew; bomb disposal.

Category I

Cougar H 4 X 4: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 16 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 785 + several for testing. Cost: $475,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; 330-hp. engine; dual air conditioners; rear door. . . .

RG-33 4 X 4: BAE Systems North America (Rockville, Md.). Weight: 14 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 201 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $300,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door. . . .

MaxxPro 4 X 4: International Military and Government LLC (Warrenville, Ill.). Weight: 16 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 1,955 + several for testing. Cost: $548,000. Features: Commercial truck chassis with a bolt-on V-shaped armored hull; 330-hp. engine; rear door. . . .

Caiman 4 X 4: Armor Holdings LLC (Jacksonville, Fla.). Weight: 14 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 1,154 + several for testing. Cost: $443,000. Features: Family of medium tactical vehicle (FMTV) chassis with a V-shaped armored hull; rear door. . . .

Alpha 4 X 4: Oshkosh Truck (Oshkosh, Wis.). Weight: 13 tons. Passengers: 6 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 100 + several for testing. Cost: $306,000. Features: Monocoque layout with V-shaped armored hull; rear door. . . .

RG-31 Mk 5 4 X 4: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (London, Ont.). Weight: 9 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 10 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $300,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door. . . .

M1117 4 X 4: Textron (Providence, R.I.). Weight: 12 tons. Passengers: 8 + 3 crew. MRAP I orders: 4 for testing. Features: Flattened V-shaped hull; side door; 260-hp. engine. Cost: $690,000. . . .

Category II

Cougar HE 6 X 6: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 24 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 920 + several for testing. Cost: $644,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; dual air conditioners; rear door. . . .

RG-33L 6 X 6: BAE Systems North America (Rockville, Md.). Weight: 22 tons. Passengers: 12 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 330 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $630,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door, exportable power; robotic claw arm. . . .

RG-31E 6 X 6: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (London, Ont.). Weight: approximately 20 tons. Passengers: at least 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 610 + several for testing. Cost: $559,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull that stops short of engine compartment; rear door. . . .

MaxxPro XL 4 X 4: International Military and Government LLC (Warrenville, Ill.). Weight: 18 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 16 + several for testing. Cost: $540,000. Features: Commercial truck chassis with a bolt-on V-shaped armored hull; rear door. . . .

Golan 4 X 4: Protected Vehicles Inc. (North Charleston, S.C.). Weight: 15 tons. Passengers: 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 60 + several for testing. Cost: $623,000. Features: Monocoque, V-shaped armored hull; rear door. . . .

Caiman 6 X 6: Armor Holdings LLC (Jacksonville, Fla.). Weight: 24 tons. Passengers: approximately 10 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 16 + several for testing. Cost: approximately $600,000. Features: FMTV chassis with a V-shaped armored hull; rear door.

Category III

Buffalo 6 X 6: Force Protection Industries Inc. (Ladson, S.C.). Weight: 25 tons. Passengers: 4 + 2 crew. MRAP I orders: 58 + several for testing. Cost: $856,000. Features: Monocoque, flattened V-shaped hull extended to engine compartment; 400-hp. engine; rear door; robotic claw arm.

The Other Affirmative Action

Talk to me about affirmative action when we've achieved meritocracy on other fronts.

Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America's highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions' minimum admissions standards. . . . White students who failed to make the grade on all counts were nearly twice as prevalent on such campuses as black and Hispanic students who received an admissions break based on their ethnicity or race.

Who are these mediocre white students getting into institutions such as Harvard, Wellesley, Notre Dame, Duke, and the University of Virginia? A sizable number are recruited athletes who, research has shown, will perform worse on average than other students with similar academic profiles, mainly as a result of the demands their coaches will place on them.

A larger share, however, are students who gained admission through their ties to people the institution wanted to keep happy, with alumni, donors, faculty members, administrators, and politicians topping the list.

Applicants who stood no chance of gaining admission without connections are only the most blatant beneficiaries of such admissions preferences. Except perhaps at the very summit of the applicant pile - that lofty place occupied by young people too brilliant for anyone in their right mind to turn down - colleges routinely favor those who have connections over those who don't.

Meanwhile, only "40 percent of the financial aid money being distributed by public colleges is going to students with documented financial need."

From here via Creative Destruction.

The Divide Between the Marine Corps and the Navy

Defense Tech notes that the Navy has just adopted a new "Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower" that calls for putting Marines on more Navy ships and Coast Guard cutters for "maritime security missions" (read interdiction and anti-piracy). Defense Tech also notes that the strategy doesn't explain where members of that over tapped force will come from for this new job. But, for the average lay person, the real news is that very limited extent to which this happens now.

Marines Are Rarely On Navy Ships

Marines are not normally embarked in U.S. Navy warships or Coast Guard cutters. Of course, amphibious ships, some of which have small Marine detachments as part of their ship’s company, normally embark Marines for assault operations. . . .

Since the colonial era Marines have been embarked in U.S. warships, primarily to form landing parties. In the era of steel ships Marines were assigned to cruisers, battleships, and aircraft carriers. On those ships they often were also employed to man secondary or anti-aircraft gun batteries as well as being used for landing operations. With the deployment of nuclear weapons aboard U.S. aircraft carriers in the early 1950s, Marines were given the principal duty of security for those weapons.

During the 1990s the last Marine detachments were withdrawn from warships. The last nuclear weapons were removed from U.S. surface ships in the early 1990s, and the last Marine detachment -- embarked in the nuclear-propelled carrier George Washington (CVN 73) -- went ashore on 3 April 1998. That detachment consisted of one officer and 25 enlisted Marines; previously Marine carrier detachments numbered two officers and 64 enlisted men.

In 1992 the Navy experimented with placing large Marine detachments aboard aircraft carriers. In January 1992 the carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) embarked 538 Marines for a month of at-sea training and workup. This force consisted of a rifle company, command staff, and various detachments including a composite helicopter squadron. Subsequently, in March 1993 the Roosevelt battle group steamed for the Mediterranean for a six-month deployment with some 600 Marines and their helicopters. . . . However, the . . . concept was not continued.

So, Marines (other than the occasional Marine airplane pilot) have been absent from Navy warships for almost a decade. With the exception of the Theodore Roosevelt experiment fifteen years ago, never tested in wartime, it appears that Marines haven't been on Navy warhships other than aircraft carriers, and then, only to guard nuclear weapons, since the Korean War ended.

The Marine Corp's Dedicated Fleet

The Navy has about 39 ships devoted primarily to the Navy.

Twelve are small aircraft carriers that carry helicopters, Harrier short takeoff/vertical landing fighters, and Osprey plane-helicopter hybrid transports (5 of the 1976 vintage LHA-1 Tarawa design and 7 of the 1989 vintage LHD-1 Wasp design, with a replacement class in the works). They hold up to about 1,900 Marines and 22 helicopters.

The Marines have another 23 smaller troop transports (11 of the 1965 vintage LPD-4 Austin class (900 Marines, 6 helicopters and many landing craft, a mini-hospital and long range stores), 8 of the 1985 vintage LSD-51 Whidbey class (500 Marines, a helicopter deck with no carried helicopters and many landing craft), 4 of the 1994 vintage LSD-49 Harper's Ferry class (similar to the Whidbey), and 1 of the LPD-17 San Antiono class (800 Marines, 4 helicopters and many landing craft) with more in the works).

Finally, it has four "command ships" (commissioned 1964 to 1971, two of which were retrofitted from ships designed for other purposes). There are no current plans to replace them when they are retired with stand alone command ships.

The Navy also has two hospital ships often tasked to Navy missions, sealift ships, and anti-mine warfare ships relevant to Marine missions, as well as other ships that can escort Marine oriented Navy ships.

The two services have few major procurement projects in common. The Navy isn't playing to buy the V-22 Osprey. The two services within the Navy Department are even ordering different versions of the F-35. The Marines want the F-35B, a Harrier AV-8B replacement (also intended to replace their current supply of F-18s). The Navy wants the F-35C (which would replace the F-18). Obviously, the Navy has no interest in the various land based systems that the Marines want to buy (like the beleaguered Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program).

The Sparce History of Ambiphious Assaults

Also, as I've noted before, the post-World War II amphibious assault history of the United States Marines can be summed up as follows.

Before World War II, the last major amphibious assaults conducted by U.S. troops took place in the American Civil War.

While the Marines had major involvement in amphibious assaults in the Pacific Theater in World War II, contrary to popular belief, the regular Army to the near exclusion of the Marines conducted the World War II amphibious assaults in the European and North African theaters, and played a major role in many Pacific Theater amphibious assaults as well.

The Army, rather than the Marine Corps, was responsible in World War II for all U.S. involvement in the D-Day invasion, Operation Torch in North Africa, invasion of Sicily, invasion of Salerno, Italy, the invasion of Anzio, Italy, and the allied amphibious invasion of Southern France.

The Army was part of the Battle of Tarawa, part of the force in the Battle of Saipan (the Marine general relieved the Army commander of duty mid-battle as the services clashed with each other), and a majority of the force in the Battle of Okinawa.

There have been only two major amphibious assaults by U.S. forces since World War II, one which was relevant, in the Korean War, and one which proved irrelevant in the Persian Gulf War.

During the Korean War the U.S. Marine Corps landed at Inchon [in 1950] . . . this battle eventually resulted in intervention by Chinese forces on behalf of North Korea. . . .

During the Persian Gulf War, a large amphibious assault force, composed of US Marines and naval support, was positioned off the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This force was composed of 40 amphibious assault ships, the largest such force to be assembled since the Battle of Inchon. The object was to fix the six Iraqi divisions deployed along the Kuwaiti coast. Due to early misadventure, the mission for this amphibious force turned into a feint[.]


While Marines certainly were involved in many amphibious assaults in World War II in the Pacific Theater, the point of this brief historical review is, first, that the Marines have never been the exclusive force in the U.S. military carrying out large amphibious operations, and second, that the Service's current heavy focus on this kind of operation is a bit odd considering the irrelevance of this mission in the past 57 years.

This is not to say that the Marines themselves are irrelevant. Their integrated land-sea-air approach and rapidly deployable elite force have alternated with the Army's paratroopers as forces of first resort for the United States military, and the Marines have played an active role in counterinsurgency and citizen rescue missions across the globe. But, the Navy and the Marines ties to each other have never been more arms length.

Before we work to re-integrate these two virtually completely segregated services, we should pause and see if it wouldn't make more sense to integrate the Marines and the Army's paratroopers into a single rapid deployment force outside the Navy Department, with an orientation less overbalanced towards amphibious assaults. Amphibious assaults, per se, are a low demand mission for the United States military, which history shows can be carried out by Army forces with success. But, the need for elite substantial forces capable of rapidly deploying to hot spots is an important and ongoing one, whose procurement and tactics could be developed more sensibly unburdened by historical baggage.

The Marines aren't the landing party oriented force that they were prior to World War II. We may need that capability now. But, it isn't obvious to me that the best way to meet that need is to put today's Marines back on ordinary Naval warships. The Navy might be better off in essence re-inventing a marine force for their original purpose of having small units of warship based sailors with staffing landing parties, ship board security and guarding warships at port as their main duties. This would avoid the issue of having military personnel on the same ship whose careers are ultimately accountable to different service masters in the Pentagon.

Kaiser v Everyone Else

Health insurance isn't cheap, even for those employers in the hallowed land of large group rates.

Basic, but fairly complete, HMO health insurance, at group rates, from Kaiser Permanente, which manages bottom of the market pricing by hiring its own doctors and, as a result, limiting patients to the smallest network in the state (and by streamlining administrative costs with vertifical integration), still costs $1,000 a month for a family. And, the network is small. It has only sixteen ordinary provider officers, about three hospitals, about three more ERs (although members can go to any ER in an emergency) and about three behavioral health centers in the entire metropolitan area. In Denver proper, it provides health care at only two locations, one in the St. Joseph's Hospital complex in Uptown Denver, and the other near the Aurora border at Alameda.

A couple of hundred more dollars a month will buy you roughly comparable HMO coverage for a family from another major health insurer, at large group rates, with a much larger network that covers almost all doctors in the area except Kaiser doctors, Veteran's Administration providers, and a thin elite of doctors who charge above market rates and limit their practices to the lucky few who have non-HMO type health insurance and can afford to pay large deductibles.

Generally speaking, Kaiser's business model saves 16%-18% over comparable coverage from more conventional insurers. I don't know how much of that gain comes from administrative savings and an insistence on preventative and "by the book" care (partially savings due to lack of "unnecessary" care, partially savings from more healthy members), which could be easily scaled to larger operations, and how much of that gain comes from salary control and careful selections of productive provider staff, that might not scale nearly so well to a much larger share of the market.

The Kaiser business model also does wonders for cash flow. Conventional health insurance usually have losses some years and profits in others, as the market is more competitive than you might think and because investment returns are important to their bottom line. Many have left the market entirely because the returns on investment aren't good enough. In contrast, Kaiser's finances are much more stable, because it adds a consistent margin at the provider level on top of the fickle returns on middle man operations to the extent it operates as an insurer.

Kaiser's business model also means that it has the least to lose should there be any move towards a single payer system. Its insurance operations side administrators would be snapped up by any single payer system, because they have the most experience working in something that resembles that business model. And, Kaiser could easily simply morph into being a pure provider group and continue to do business. In contrast, single payer puts the health insurance divisions of other companies either entirely out of business, or into fringe and niche businesses providing supplemental insurance or insurance to people who through quirks of a new system don't qualify for coverage (e.g. perhaps employees of foreign embassies and counsulates).

Thus, while the Kaiser business model does save money, there are limits to how much can be saved on that front. Even a health care system that delivered large group, Kaiser rates to everyone would only result in a one time savings of 16%-18%, after which high rates of medical inflation, that have spared no provider, would continue to ratched up.

23 October 2007

Beyond Stranger Danger

[J]uvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator a staggering 93 percent of the time. Often, it's a family member. Frequently, it's another child. Rarely is it a stranger.

More here.

Also notable: "In studies... it has been established that about six percent of the boys of a given age will commit half or more of all the serious crime produced by all boys of that age[.]" Crime, James Q. Wilson (1995).

Oklahoma Justice

A lawsuit accuses Custer County, Okla. Sheriff Mike Burgess of operating a sex-slave ring and threatening to send female jail inmates to prison unless they complied with his sexual demands.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Burgess on behalf of 12 women who either were jail prisoners or are participants in the county's drug court program.

Burgess had sex with one such woman more than 30 times after telling her that "he got her into the Drug Court program and if she did not provide the required sexual favors, he would get her out," the lawsuit alleges.

As sheriff and as a member of the drug court, Burgess had the power to carry out that alleged threat, the lawsuit claims. . . .

This is the second time such allegations have been made against an Oklahoma sheriff in the last three years.

In November 2003, a federal grand jury indicted then-Latimer County Sheriff Melvin Holly on similar allegations. He eventually was sentenced to 25 years in prison. A slew of lawsuits ensued, resulting in judgments against the county.

From here via Thinking Outside The Cage.

Another abuse of power in another backward state's criminal justice system. Also, how did a Sheriff get to be a member of a court?

Just Say No To Michael B. Mukasey For AG

Michael B. Mukasey is not fit to be our Attorney General and the U.S. Senate, which Democrats control, should not confirm him. Any candidate for the job who states that the President is entitled to ignore a constitutional statute for any reason doesn't deserve the job.

The President has a duty to faithfully execute the law. If our chief law enforcement officer doesn't understand that, then the game is up, and we can forget about living in a democracy.

FBI Coverup Thwarted

The FBI complained that an opinion from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals explaining how the FBI coerced a false confession out of a terrorism suspect should be classified. The opinion was withdrawn and replaced with a redacted opinion. But, they were too late, because they were thwarted by the blogosphere.

A review of the opinion makes clear that the redaction simply tried to cover up FBI misdeeds, rather than protecting any legitimate national security interest of the United States. This happens a lot, but is rarely thwarted as it was in this case.

The Second Circuit should restore its original opinion. In a democracy, we need to know what kind of misconduct our security services engage in, because they are acting in our name.

Kudos to How Appealing for keeping the opinion available to the public, where it belongs. Our politicians, even the Democrats, in Washington may be weak kneed, but our bloggers have far more guts.

We're All In This Together

When we put someone in prison, the vast majority of the time they will return to society, at least until we put them in prison or jail again. When someone drops out of high school, they don't drop out of our society. When someone has more children than they can afford to raise (or than they have the personal ability to raise), neither the parents nor the children go away. Far more drug addicts continue to struggle along, rather than dying of an overdose or in a gang fight. There are tens of thousands of ex-gang members. For every bipolar child who goes out in a suicidal slump or rage, far more endure a roller coaster ride of life with drugs that half work and difficulty keeping together a job and family.

Our society does throw people away. It locks people up for life or executes them. It lets homeless vagrants die at the hands of gangs or from exposure. It let's people die of cancer or diabetes or AIDS without proper medical care. We render them to foreign governments that torture them. We deport them. But, we throw very few people away. For the most part, a base principle of our society is that we're all in this together, and that no one is truly a stranger to our society. Government and civil society have assumed residual responsibility for almost everyone who can't either provide for him or herself, or find someone to provide for them.

The trouble is that our actions rarely acknowledge this social principle, which, as I understand it, is the core idea behind the political philosophy known as communitarianism.

Too often, our policy makers miss the big picture.

While we try to have school districts develop policies to prevent people from dropping out of school, we give little or no systematic attention to what happens to those who do drop out.

Our schools are hell bent on not undermining anyone's highest ambitions, no matter how unrealistic, by offering everyone a college preparatory curriculum (although rarely actually preparing even most of their students for college). But, they spend precious little time helping adolescents figure out what they are actually going to do with their lives and giving them what they need to get there. As a result, more than a million young men and women each year are tossed out into the world with no skills, few plans and little support -- most flounder to the point where sociologists are starting to call this decade of floundering a new stage in the life cycle, "Odyssey."

Many liberal arts graduates from colleges and universities end up in similar straights, although usually somewhat less dire, as they are, at least, vaguely literate, numerate and capable of behaving reasonably compliantly for many years in a row.

We allow people to be without access to paid health care, without trying to figure out how this will come back to bite us. We have not yet learned that there is no free lunch.

We have a parole system that marginally supervises felons released from prison, but this system is largely limited to a set of hurdles that ex-cons must clear to stay out of prison for the protection of the public; the notion that society has a vested interest in seeing ex-cons succeed per se is avoided lest society be seen to reward misconduct.

Both our current welfare system and unemployment benefits have time limits. Our policy makers have deliberately and consciously avoided dealing with the question of what to do about people who, while not precisely disabled, are essentially unemployable.

We have reached a sufficient state of justice in our society that just about anyone who can find and keep a full time job can secure for themselves a small not very nice place to live, food to eat, clothing, and, in many cases, even health insurance for themselves, given enough bureaucratic savy. But, few working class jobs are sufficient to support children and/or a stay at home spouse or dependent parent as well.

Both our divorce courts and our welfare systems place what seems to me an unreasonably high premium on putting single mothers of pre-schoolers to work, even when the mothers themselves earn only pitiful wages themselves, ironically, often enough, simply caring for someone else's children while someone else cares for theirs.

Our courts evict people, looking only at the equities of the unpaid landlord and the free riding tenant, without giving any serious thought to the fact that they have just added to the homelessness problem.

Our society is quick to identify failures and to try to cut our losses, and slow to see that the legions of people whose potential contributions to our society, with the proper attention, are underutilized opportunities. We assume that people who are cut off from some benefit will rise to the challenge of managing without it, but we don't even casually make any effort to see that this is the case. In practice, we often expect too much from people who can manage the ordinary, but not the extraordinary demands of life. While some people perform well under pressure, pressure simply crushes others.

Our primary approach to immigration is based upon the false premise that jobs are a fixed resource, like oil or land, instead of recognizing that a market based economy is really about finding the most economically worthwhile use for whatever resources, human and physical that we have. We fail to see unemployment as a failure of entraprenuership, as opposed to a shortage of jobs. If you bring a million carpenters to American, you have not put anyone who has a non-carpentry job, nor anyone who is not capable of being a carpenter out of work. And, because the carpenters need many things, they create jobs, as well as filling them.

Karl Marx was wrong. The wealth of capitalists is not, to any great extent, built upon the backs of the poor. The wealth of capitalists in our society is built upon the backs of the more successful members of the working class, the middle class, and especially, the upper middle class. The exploited in a capitalist system are far better off than those who aren't part of the system at all. Capitalism is a system that fundamentally involves mutual back scratching. Those most exploited are also the most comfortable. Amoral companies we love to hate, like Blackwater, sometimes pay their employees quite well.

The poor have such a tiny share of the national income (mostly spent on such low profit margin purchases as food and gasoline and used cars and low end apartment rents) that their spending barely makes a dent in the riches of the wealthy. The poor, if they work at all in the economy, work in the most marginally profitable endeavors and often receive benefits from government (and impose costs like prison costs and emergency room costs) paid for with taxes upon the rich. Usually this leaves the rich, on a net basis, a bit poorer. In America, the poor are not so much exploited as neglected, and the neglect is not benign.

Our economy, despite being an affluent one, manages with immense waste of human potential and corporate inefficiency. If we want to make this nation a better place, government and the private sector must work together to harness this potential by looking at the total impact of our policies, rather than only the immediate consequences of them.

22 October 2007

The Day Lyndhurst, New Jersey Went Blue

This is so extraordinary I'm not sure I can believe it either, but I see no obvious signs of snark.

In a rare shift in party affiliation, the entire membership of the all-Republican governing body in Lyndhurst will switch from Republican to Democrat tomorrow. Nearly 60% of Lyndhurst’s Republican County Committee will become Democrats too.

Via Kos at Daily Kos.

WTF! Bush Opposes Seat Belts.

On October 16, 2007, President Bush appointed Bobby Orr as the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Transportation Safety. Who is Bobby Orr? One of the leading opponents of seatbelts in the country.

[S]he has campaigned for years against mandatory seat-belt laws, which she claims are “about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death”. . . . For example, in March 2001 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Orr urged President Bush to move quickly to decertify automobiles that come equipped with standard seat belts. And the next month, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Orr cheered a proposal by Bush to eliminate a clause in federal employees’ insurance policies that required them to use safety belts while driving on work-related business. Said Orr, at that time the Director of the Family Research Council: “We're quite pleased because driving a car is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it.” . . .

Last year, Bush appointed . . . Jackie Keroack, to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Formerly the head of a Christian driving academy in Colorado Springs that also counseled against using seat belts. . . .

Reached by email, Orr referred questions [about her 2001 Op-Ed] to the Office of Public Affairs, which said she was simply supporting President Bush’s policy.

Wonderful! Bush in a nutshell: Health insurance for kids bad. Seat belts bad. Medical research with stem cells bad. Kangaroo courts good. Torture good. Illegal spying good. Invading countries based on dubious intelligence good. Lying to a grand jury not very bad.

UPDATE: Egg on my face. Damn though, it sounded so plausible. Unbossed is the most serious site I visit on a regular basis, almost, and it wasn't even April, so I didn't even bother to look.

Dark Matter Particle Evidence Refuted

Last year, physicists reported seeing tantalizing experimental traces of the axion, a hypothetical subatomic particle that's been mentioned as a possible constituent of cosmic dark matter. But the axion was showing up where theory said it shouldn't be. It now looks as if it wasn't there after all.

From Science News.

Explaining the effects described by lambda cold dark matter theory in cosmology requires one of two extraordinary conclusions: either General Relativity is wrong in weak fields, or there is a non-baryonic particle (i.e. one without protons or neutrons) out there that doesn't behave like any known subatomic particle.

Several variants of the former are lumped under the notion of "MOND" and were dealt a serious blow from the "Bullet Cluster" data. The Axion was a leading candidate for the latter. But, experimental results contradicting the first possible glimpse of the axion strongly suggest that the latter has problems.

The empircal evidence of dark matter pheneomena is overwhelming, but the lack of a mechanism for it that can be explained without new physics is troubling (or exciting, depending upon your personality).

More Uncharged Conduct Sentencing

A federal judge in a Nevada case sentenced a man to 22 years in prison for bank fraud, where the Sentencing Guidelines call for a four year sentence, because the judge claims he also murdered his wife. A previous firearms charge resulted in an above guidelines sentence of eight yeras for the same reason.

Prosecutors have never actually charged anyone with murder, but if they decided to do so, they could charge the man with murder too, and in theory produce another sentence.

One of the biggest flaws in the current sentencing guidelines system is the ability of judges to consider uncharged and acquitted conduct.

Denver Neighborhood Trends

According to The Denver Post, Skyland and Whittier are gentrifying, new construction in Five Points (i.e. the Ball Park neighborhood) is yuppifying, and Montbello's fortunes are falling in a move driven by foreclosures of starter homes that were previously rentals. Skyland and Whittier appear to be seeing spillover interest from Park Hill and Stapleton.

Whitter's City Councilwoman Carla Madison says "she worries about the impact gangs, crime, subsidized-housing policies and apathy can have on efforts to improve the neighborhood, which is slowly becoming gentrified." In the 2007 city council race, Madison was identified more than the other candidates in the district with the new urban residents of downtown and the gentrifiers of of the Uptown and South City Park neighborhoods.

Skyland, Whittier and Five Points are historically black neighborhoods. But, increasingly, the more successful members of North Denver black population are moving East to Denver neighborhoods like Green Valley Ranch and to Aurora. Five Points is seeing the historically Hispanic West Denver community creep East, and Skyland, Whittier and Five Points are all seeing gentrifying white families creep North.

The Second Amendment Colorado Style

People in other states talk about the Second Amendment. They carry little pistols in their jackets (with "must issue" concealed weapon permits), or put a shotgun on a rack in their pickup trucks. But, you really haven't seen hard core gun enthusiasts until you come to Colorado. Last weekend, on I-70, I was driving behind a civilian van toting a small howitzer behind it on a trailer, similar to, but not identical to, the M8 75mm Pack Howitzer shown above, but with a slightly shorter copper barrel and a slightly smaller tow appartus.

Do you need a permit for that?

(I suspect that it was used for sound effects at the Rapids game.)

The Brother's Series

My brother lives in Boston, and is considerably more of a sports fan than I am. IIRC, he even got Red Sox shirts for my kids. I am, of course, a Denverite, and hence, ex officio, a Rockies fan. So, this World Series will also be a family rivalry. It will be a Brother's Series for us.

In less delightful sports news, the Colorado Rapids, our local major league soccer affiliate lost this Saturday at a season closer game my son and I attended, leaving us out of the playoffs. The truth is, given how two other games in the league went over the weekend, we wouldn't have made it to the playoffs anyway. But, it still isn't delightful to lose to the second worst team in the MLS, particuarly given that we made many more shots than they did and mostly kept the ball on their side during the game. I usually watch kid's games and it is phenomenal to watch just how fast they move (it puts baseball and football players to shame), the multiple header plays, and the swift switches from one side of the field to the other with incredible long distance kicks and teamwork.

We watched from front row seats, just in front of the goal, at Dick's Sporting Goods Field in Commerce City, which brought the action up close and personal. The stadium is an immense improvement over both old Mile High and new Mile High where we've also seen Rapids games, which were both overwhelmingly large for the event. It has great sight lines, not only from every seat, but also from the concession stands and almost all points in each direction. This is key, because soccer stops only once a game for a 15 minute half-time and intermittently for injuries. Also, the bathrooms are not overcrowded and parking is free and close to the stadium. And, the field makes a valuable public contribution with twenty other soccer fields for the community to use. Still, it was disappointing to see the stadium only 2/3rds to 3/4th full. Three mascots, a full cheering squad and a decent video screen and sound system are great, but they still can't substitute for a crowd full of hyped fans, and even among those in attendance, it was clear that the art of cheering at a soccer game, with its far greater fluidity than other American sports, is still one we haven't mastered.

19 October 2007

Meet Sharon Keller

Sharon Keller is an openly prosecution biased judge from Texas in charge of the highest court for criminal appeals in the state, who has actively worked to subvert the fair workings of the legal system in Texas. She is probably the most powerful proponent of court proceedings likely to lead to wrongful executions in the world, outside of China and Saudi Arabia and Singpore, anyway.

Warning Blows

When your customer service gets so poor that your customers come to blows, it is a sign that you need to improve your customer service. Hopefully, Comcast learns from its experience.

NIMBY Control Idea

The Not In My Backyard concept is problematic, because there are many land uses and activities are undesirable in a great many areas. In my view, almost all anti-vice legislation, politically, is a form of NIMBY legislation. Vice is often poisonous to neighborhood character, few places volunteer to have it, and so it is banned.

But, banning unpopular uses: sex offenders who have served their time, group homes, cheap bars, prostitution, gambling, nuclear waste dumps, and more, can create real problems too. Banning vice entirely leads to a criminal black market which creates additional harms. The mentally ill and ex-cons have to live somewhere. So long as we are going to have a nuclear power industry, we need a place to put nuclear waste.

In my view, perhaps the best general approach is to require that any law that limits a land use also designate a place where that land use is legal. Obviously, this can not be applied directly to activities that are currently illegal everywhere, but it would force legislators at every level who are passing NIMBY legislation that simply restricts where certain land uses can take place to directly confront the hidden choices that they are actually making. If forced to make this kind of analysis, I think that many NIMBY statutes would be more rationally drafted.

Malaria Vaccine Two-Thirds Effective

An effective vaccine against malaria has been developed and could be licensed by 2010. . . . The vaccine was used to protect 2,022 children in Mozambique and cut the risk of developing severe malaria by 58%. . . . Lead researcher Professor Pedro Alonso said: "These are clearly the best results we have ever seen with a candidate malaria vaccine. . . . We are quite certain not only that the vaccine is safe...but that we have seen a clear efficacy."

The team tested the trial vaccine, called RTS,S/AS02A, on children aged between one and four years old in Mozambique, where malaria is widespread.

Globally, over one million people, many of them children under the age of five, die from malaria each year. . . . Ninety percent of all malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. . . .

At six months, the malaria vaccine had reduced a child's risk of developing one episode of malaria by 30%. . . . The risk of developing severe malaria was reduced by 58%. . . . the vaccine extended the time to first infection by 45%. . . . Among the under two year olds in the study, the vaccine was 77% effective against severe malaria. . . .

The research was funded by GSK Biologicals and a global project, created through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to overcome barriers to malaria vaccine development - the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. . . .

"Malaria is the number one killer of African children."

From here.

Bill Gates may run a company that makes buggy software, but his philanthropy has been in the best tradition of American plutarches. This vaccine could save 600,000 lives a year.

Meet The Thunder Chickens

The "Thunder Chickens" is the informal name for the first unit of V-22 Ospreys deployed by the United States Marines. The photo shows them ready for take off from the U.S.S. Wasp near Oman. This post really has no point, but the blog needed some art today.

Tony Curcio For Denver Public Schools District 5

Jose Silva has dropped out of the Denver Public Schools District 5 race, according to the Rocky (something that not everyone in the Rocky Mountain News knows, as an October 16 story reported that he would be appearing at a candidate debate).

As I noted yesterday, there are very serious concerns about Ray Gutierrez, a 21-year old who didn’t complete high school. Similarly, there are real reasons to be concerned about Arturo Jimenez, who falsely claimed to be endorsed by two principals who didn't in fact endorse him. I don't care how smart he is, or how sensible his educational program may be, or who is endorsing him (both the Denver Post and Jose Silva; Jimenez is the "establishment" candidate in the race). You don't vote for someone who has committed a serious breach of trust before he's even been elected.

This leaves, by process of elimination, Tony Curcio. But, Curcio deserves strong consideration in his own right.

I have criticized some candidates for school board for griping without having a plan of their own (one of whom, Dr. Frank E. Deserino sent me a lengthy e-mail rebutting my claim). At any rate, this is not true of Tony Curcio. He has a well articulated plan of action. Unlike many other candidates, he acknowledges the wide public input that went into the Denver Plan (the DPS strategic plan), and the fact that the district needs money to make it work. He states:

DPS must do four things.

First, DPS must restart the public involvement process now. If history has any lessons for us, it’s that school closure is a painful and divisive process. If we give this process anything less than our full attention, we will not be ready for Fall 2008, and kids will suffer. DPS cannot wait until November to reengage the community, we must start now.

Second, reprogramming may be a viable option for some schools. It is imperative that DPS not continue to reinvent the wheel and dilute our professional development budgets. We need to look to a few proven school models that are shown to benefit all kids and serve a range of demographic needs: Core Knowledge, International Baccalaureate, and Montessori, to name a few.

Third, DPS must invest in ECE and full-day kindergarten. ECE and full-day kindergarten are critical to the success of our kids. Denver (and Colorado) trails the national average for ECE and kindergarten enrollment. ECE and kindergarten attendance is critical to the long-term success of students.

Fourth, and maybe most importantly, DPS must launch a comprehensive evaluation to determine why kids are leaving and how we are going to get them back to DPS schools. A+ Denver did a great job of providing a budgetary baseline for DPS schools, but if we can’t determine how to stop the exodus of students from DPS schools, we’ll be talking about the next round of school closures in five or ten years.

If DPS can provide the community a clear vision of life-after-school-closure, we have a chance of rebuilding our troubled school system, but we must demonstrate how we are making investments into our schools to successfully educate our kids.

Tony Curcio is the best candidate in Denver Public Schools District 5 and if you haven't voted yet, you should vote for him if you are in District 5.


In fairness, here is an excerpt of what Mr. Deserino wrote in response to my post, which I offer without comment (it is an excerpt only because he is a paragraph man, not a sound bite guy, and even blogs have de facto space limitations):

In my view I like the board, I like Mr. Bennet, and I like the Denver Plan, but I believe that it needs help. This school district needs the voice of teachers, which are one of the responsible parties for educating Denver’s kids, and a start would be to allow them to do what they are trained to do, teach. Currently our Chief Academic Officer for Denver Public Schools and his team, all of whom have either never taught or it has been some time since they have, dictate academic policy to the professionals and in doing so deter our kids from academic choice, and t eachers from teaching the whole child.

In making education academically fun again, I want to bring back choice. Surely you can remember when you were a student that course offerings were more than just the three R’s. Yes, the rudiments of education are important, but if all you want in society are graduates who have no sense of self, or lack of history and art education for example, than the result is sheep. . . . In the time that I have been working in this district I have watched, for example, the dismantling of social studies as a core curriculum, and in most cases it has been done without the Board of Education’s knowledge. Wishing for a dramatic rise in CSAP scores is nothing but a pipe dream. Choice is but one strategic way that will bring parents and kids back to this district, and in turn help to relieve our money issues. It is delusional to believe that the only reason parents have left and will return to this district is simply because of a test score. . . . the advice that seven Board members have been receiving from the curriculum department has been misleading. . . . A board of education should have as a responsibility / objective to make education academically challenging, by offering students and parents choice, and teachers the autonomy to deliver an understandable instruction. Whether or not this district is “ill suited” is not, I believe at issue as it is the Boards obligation to support a learning environment inclusive of all involved parties rather than cater to only one point of view.

18 October 2007

F-35A Cost

The first Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to be ordered by the Netherlands, an F-35A to be used in the Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) program for the type, will cost approximately $142 million[.]

From here.

Sounds to me like the Dutch had the good sense to have their contract denominated in Euros. The original projected cost for the F-35A was something on the order of $30 million per unit, and would have been under $40 million even with inflation and modest cost overruns.