01 April 2011

Good News on Friday

Social Issues:

* Despite the failure of a civil unions bill in the Republican controlled Colorado House of Representatives (the bill probably would have passed a vote in the chamber as a whole), gay marriage is now supported by majorities of men, women, Democrats and independents in opinion polls and support has increased dramatically in every demographic in the last six years.

* Civil unions or gay marriage are available in many states.

* Restoration of gay marriage in California seems imminent.

* The federal government has decided to stop defending the constitutionality of part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.

* Sodomy prosecutions remain unconstitutional.

* Teen pregnancy rates and teen birth rates are at near record lows.

* Abortion rates are at near record lows, but constitutional protections for a pro-choice position on abortion remain secure precedents.
* Interracial marriage has become much more common as the stigmas against it have fallen.

* Divorce rates have fallen for a number of years. The current generation is less likely to get divorced than there parent's generation.

* New York recently became the last state to permit "no fault" divorce in favor of its previous, deeply flawed, fault based divorce regime.

* The percentage of the population that identifies as having "no religion" is the fastest growing religious identification in the United States and the stigma associated with that religious identification is waning.

Public Health and Safety:

* Traffic accident deaths are at the lowest level since 1949, down 3% from 2009 to 2010 despite an increased number of passenger-miles traveled, and down 25% since 2005.  It has never been safer to drive a car per passenger-mile in the history of the world.

* Almost every kind of accidental death rate, other than deaths from overdoses of a select group of prescription drugs (mostly painkillers), are at near record lows.

* Public education campaigns have greatly reduced sudden infant death syndrome and traffic deaths of young children.  Those campaigns are also making a dent in shaken baby syndrome injuries.

* Smoking is down greatly and this is one public health area where the U.S. leads comparabhle nations in the Europe and Asia.  This has finally produced, this year, declining lung cancer death rates in women as well as men.

* Anti-scientific criticisms of vaccination of children have been definitively discredited.

* People with HIV/AIDS can now live much longer with effective treatments than they did a couple of decades ago and the infection rate for the epidemic has stablized or declined in a great many demographics. 

* A vaccine against HPV, one of the only sexually transmitted diseases not easily treatable with drugs and not effectively prevented with barrier contraception methods, has entered wide public use.

* Life expectencies are rising and infant mortality rates continue to fall.  Great gains have been made in treating cardiovascular diseases and cancer.


* Colorado has significantly increased its high school graduation rate with a new mandatory attendance law.

* The United States has one of the highest rates of college graduation and high school graduation in the world.

* The scores of armed forces recruits on entrance exams has improved.

Crime and Punishment:

* Crime rates, including murder, are at near record lows.

* Incarceration rates are no longer surging up as state budgets have tightened and forced a more balance look at the necessity of mass incarceration.

* Medical marijuana has wide support and is legal in at least seventeen states, and the federal government has agreed to tolerate it despite the lack of a formal federal legislative exception permitting it. Support for legalization of marijuana is high, and support for the punitive war on drugs approach is weak.
* Excessive and racially discriminatory in practice federal punishments for possession of small amounts of crack cocaine based on bad scientific assumptions have been greatly reduced.

* Many states, including Colorado, have shifted sentencing laws for drug crimes to favor a treatment approach over incarceration for drug users (as opposed to drug dealers).

* Serious white collar crimes receive serious criminal sentences rather than "slap on the wrist" sentences that fail to reflect their seriousness, and prosecuters have been willing to prosecute serious white collar crime defendants.

* DNA evidence has produced exonerations of many wrongfully convicted or wrongfully charged criminal defendants (mostly in rape cases), and has produced convictions of many rapists who would never have been charged otherwise.

* Wider use of videotape technology has resulted in many more cases of successful sanctioning of improper police conduct and has reduced the amount of lying about alleged confessions by criminal defendants.
* Illinois ended the death penalty and commuted the sentences of everyone on death row to long or life prison sentences.

* The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by the mentally retarded and for crimes committed by offenders under the age of eighteen.

* The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the use of the death penalty for almost all crimes other than murder (a few crimes such as treason and espionage where murder is an inferred likely possibility but not certain to have occurred are also constitutionally subject to the death penalty).

* The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the imposition of life without possibility of parole for crimes other than murder committed by people while under the age of eighteen.

* Many states have ended the use of life without possibility of parole sentences for juveniles entirely.


* Housing market fundamentals such as long term inflation adjusted prices and price/rent ratios suggest that the housing price bubble has come close to working its way out of the economy.  Since mortgage rates remain fairly low, housing is at its most affordable for more than a decade in many markets.

* Inflation is low, but we are not in deflation.

* We are experiencing some positive GDP growth on a consistent basis.

* Unlike Iceland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, we are not in or near a sovereign debt crisis.  The Irish have incurred government bailouts of its banks of $25,000 per person, which would be equivalent to $7.5 trillion if it has a population comparable to the United States.  The combined bailout cost in the United States is on track to be about 2% of that amount per capita and did not require foreign assistance or major austerity plans.

* The unemployment rate in the United States, at 8.8% for March, while not low, is the lowest it has been for two years.

* Subprime mortgage lending, which was exploitive to borrowers and unsound as a business model, has virtually vanished.

* Payday lending has been curtailed in many states including Colorado.

* Consumer debt levels have fallen, and increased credit card minimum payments systemically reduce the extent to which families can become overextended for the foreseeable future.

Military, Security and Foreign Affairs

* We are down to 50,000 troops in Iraq, none in front line combat positions, and there is some reasonable prospect that many of them will come home.

* Tunisia and Egypt have cast off dictatorships and on are a clear path towards democratic government.

* Significant democratic reforms or replacements of dictators are likely in Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Libya.

* A dictator in Pakistan was not so long ago forced out in favor of a democratically elected leader.

* An uprising in the Ivory Coast appears on track to depose a pretender to that country's Presidency whose election depended on election fraud in favor of the actual election winner.

* World powers organized to use economic sanctions and military force to prevent mass civilian killings and a restoration of totalitarrian rule in Libya.

* The Cold War is still over, more than a decade later, and Soviet style Communism lost.  Some former Soviet countries have joined the E.U., the Eurozone and NATO.

* Kosovo remains securely independent from Serbia and is widely recognized as a sovereign state.

* Nine and a half years later, 9/11 has not been repeated.  Foreign terrorism has not become a regular event in the U.S.  A new skyscraper and memorial are going up where the Twin Towers once stood.

* The U.S. military budget is being cut.

* China has started to move towards allowing the Yuan's value in foreign currency markets to float to market levels, reducing the importance a factor that has disfavored U.S. exports to China and favored China imports to the U.S.

* While China still accounts for about half of the world's executions, it has significantly curtailed its use of the death penalty and instituted new due process protections in that process.

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