30 June 2014

Pulling Punches

The Denver Post's latest article on the scandal surrounding the withdrawal of the City of Denver's old law firm, in the middle of allegations of impropriety by the City Attorney's office in a civil rights case, and its replacement by two new outside law firms, doesn't mention by name either the departing or incoming law firms, except the name of the new lead counsel.

This is public knowledge, but the Denver Post apparently doesn't want to risk the wrath of any of the law firms involved by providing it to the Denver Post's readers.  I will dig around and disclose this information in due course once I have time to find it.

9News mentions one of the incoming firms, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Shreck, but not the outgoing firm.

The Denver Post has also failed to report on significant layoffs happening in its own organization.

Too Secret By Far

Colorado's state courts use an electronic filing system called ICCES. This is great for some purposes. But, its effort to preserve privacy in probate cases has gone overboard.

The system will not admit or deny that a probate case exists until your attorney enters an appearance in the case.

Admittedly, private financial information in probate filings should be protected from uninterested parties (Colorado law does not even require that such filings be made a matter of public record - they may simply be distributed to interested parties upon request). But, the notion that a process that is designed to provide a forum for third party creditors who are outsiders to lodge their claims operates in secrecy otherwise reserved only for terrorism cases is absurd.

Goods Are Cheap, Services Are Expensive

If savings for cross-sectional out-of-pocket nursing home expense risk were held in the form of vehicles, it is large enough to account for the entire stock of transportation equipment in the United States.
Via the Marginal Revolution Blog.

26 June 2014

Some people still believe in demon possession.

Republican primary voters on Tuesday earlier this week, elected Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt as the Republican nominee in Colorado State House District 15, a safe Republican district outside Colorado Springs. He will face Democratic party nominee Lois Fornander in the November 2014 general election. Republican voters in the district preferred him to a less insane Republican contender Dave Williams (a young anti-gay Republican activist) in the open seat (the incumbent Republican Mark Waller was term limited).

Koingenschmitt is a virulently homophobic former Navy Chaplin (an Evangelical Christian) who believes that homosexuality and a variety of the world's other ills (from President Obama's election to Madonna's popularity) are caused by demon possession and evil spirits. For example, he conducted an exorcism an in effort to end the homosexuality of a lesbian sailor while he was a Navy Chaplin.

25 June 2014

10th Circuit Strikes Down Utah's Same Sex Marriage Ban; Colorado Impact Disputed

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Utah's ban on same sex marriage in a 2-1 decision.  The decision has been stayed pending appeal.  It could be reversed either by the judges of the 10th Circuit sitting en banc, or by the U.S. Supreme Court if it chose to grant certiorari.

This follows a long and uninterrupted string of decisions by courts in other jurisdictions, most recently the Indiana Supreme Court, to the same effect.  But, this is the first federal appellate court ruling finding a same sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. (Incidentally, West Virginia also ceased to recognize the tort of criminal conversion this week, decades after rejecting the tort of alienation of affections.)

Colorado, which also bans same sex marriage, is also in the 10th Circuit.  Colorado does not necessarily present the same issues, because unlike Utah, it has civil unions that provide all rights except the name "marriage" to same sex couples under state law.  The status of a civil union in Colorado for federal law purposes is less clear, and many couples in civil unions in Colorado have legally married in another state to assure federal recognition of their marriage.

But, the tenor of the majority opinion in the case suggests that its reasoning is applicable broadly enough to extend to Colorado, particularly if one concludes that a Colorado civil union does not confer marriage treatment under federal law.

This ruling surely presages the likely result in an Oklahoma case pending in the same court before the same panel of judges on the same issue, since Oklahoma, unlike Colorado, does not have marriage-like rights for same sex couples in civil unions, unless this decision is overruled by an en banc 10th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court in the meantime.  Oral argument in the two cases was held on the same day before the same judges.

The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder has begun to issue same sex marriage licenses in response to the ruling, over the objections of the Colorado Attorney General, reasoning that the opinion is controlling 10th Circuit law and that the stay applies only to Utah.  I'm not terribly impressed with that reasoning (the stay is of the overall decision pending appeal and is not really limited to Utah in the sense argued), but the grassroots action by a local elected official is a typical posture for same sex marriage litigation in many states.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the federal portion of the Defense of Marriage Act ruling that determining who may be married is derivative of state law absent a good reason otherwise, but left the full faith and credit provisions that allow states to refuse to recognize same sex marriages from other states in tact.

So far, it has not accepted any cases resolving the constitutionality of same sex marriage bans at the state level.  It could quite plausibly refrain from doing so until a circuit split evolves (if one does).  It could have ruled in cases holding that same sex marriage bans are illegal from state supreme courts, but those rulings often incorporate state as well as federal constitutional rights.  In contrast, this ruling if the first decision finding same sex marriage bans unconstitutional that is decided solely under federal law in a federal court that is ready for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Ninth Anniversary of Blog Coming Soon

A week from tomorrow, this blog will be nine years old.  Through this post there are 6473 posts at this blog and 663 posts at companion blog Dispatches from Turtle Island, for a total of 7,136 posts in just under nine years at my personal blogs (excluding paid blogger in the Colorado Independent and comments on other blogs, as well as draft posts that never made it into print and non-blog output).

This is about 66 posts a month for nine years overall, a bit more than two per day or three per week day (I mostly although not entirely blog on week days), although recent posting hasn't been quite that prolific.

19 June 2014

Greenwood Village's Motel Ordinance Considered

Greenwood Village's Proposed Motel Ordinance

The City of Greenwood Village's city council is on the verge a passing an ordinance that prohibits motels, other than extended stay motels that have kitchenettes and the like, to allow guests to stay more than twenty-nine days.  Motels would be fined about $450 a day for each day that a guest was allowed to stay beyond twenty-nine days.

The only poor or working class people who live in Greenwood Village live in one of the four ordinary motels (the most affordable of which is a Motel 6).  A significant share of the guests in these four motels, particularly the Motel 6, are families staying for more than 29 days at a time who are on the brink of homelessness.

In justifying the need for the ordinance, Greenwood Village officials have noted that ordinary motel rooms are not held to design standards that provide adequate amenities for families staying in them on a long term basis.  For example, they have no cooking or kitchenette facilities, and families staying in them on a long term basis are strongly tempted to use hot plates and other cooking appliances that could pose safety hazards and generate hygiene risks that the lenient building code requirements for motels are not designed to address because it is contemplated that motel rooms are occupied only on a short term basis by travelers or short term visitors who eat elsewhere and don't spend much time in the room.  Motel rooms also have less privacy and less square footage per person than would be permitted by building codes for apartment uses.

These concerns, on their face, are just the kind of legitimate considerations that should go into building codes and zoning regulations.  But, the discussion tends to indicate that the need of police calls at these four motels is a bigger motivating factor for the Greenwood Village City Council.

Greenwood Village officials also note that there are many more police calls to the four ordinary motels that have long term guests than there are at the city's few apartment complexes, or at the city's extended stay motels (whose guests are more affluent and whose facilities are designed to accommodate long term stays).  They officially attribute this excess volume of calls to the inadequacies of the physical facilities at these motels, but the guests are not complaining about that and the nature of the calls appears to be much more strongly caused by the general factor that the individuals who live here are poor and circumstances that make police intervention necessary often crop up in communities with poor people in them.  Nothing about the calls disclosed in media reports suggests that they are a direct consequence of the inadequacy of the facilities for long term occupancy by families.

It is absolutely true that lower income people living in close inadequate quarters because they are on the brink of economic crisis are more likely to generate police calls and to be a source of "blue collar" criminal activity (e.g. domestic violence and petty larceny and disturbing the peace calls).  Part of this is due to economic stress and necessity creating more intense motives to ignore laws for their own economic gain, and part of this arises from the personal traits of the poor that cause them to be at the bottom of the economic heap like below average literacy and social skills.  But, for reasons discussed at greater length below, a municipal intent to exclude low income people, particular because income and race strongly intersect, can be far more legally problematic and seem to be at the crux of what is generating political heat for the Greenwood Village city council to act on this ordinance.

The bottom line in this case is that the only poor or working class people who live in Greenwood Village live in one of the four ordinary motels (the most affordable of which is a Motel 6).  A significant share of the guests in these four hotels are low income or working class guests are families who stay there more than 29 days at a time on a temporary basis.

Of course, the only reason that there is any place in Greenwood Village that low income people are allowed to live, despite their best efforts to exclude low income people from living in the city, is that long term stays in these four motels created a loophole in their carefully devised scheme of exclusionary zoning that they had not foreseen.

Like the long term residents of similar motels on Colfax Avenue which extends from the eastern border of Golden, Colorado running east to west all the way to Aurora, Colorado in four counties (Jefferson County, then Denver County, then Adams County on the north side of the street and Arapahoe County on the south side of the street), families staying in these low end motels on a long term basis are way stations for distressed families between true homelessness and a more permanent home in an inexpensive apartment, rental house, inexpensive modest house in a poor or working class neighborhood, mobile home, or RV.

The Denver Post ran an editorial today, urging Greenwood Village not to adopt the ordinance, basically on the grounds that it may force families who now have a safe clean space to live temporarily into full fledged homelessness.  But, that is likely to fall on deaf ears.

A Timely Federal Court Decision

A decision today from the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluding that a Los Angeles, California city ordinance designed to prohibit living in your car is unconstitutional, addresses a similar issue, but is unlikely to be applicable to the Greenwood Village case, because the 9th Circuit holding addresses the way that the law is drafted, rather than the substantive authority of Los Angeles to enact ordinances designed to exclude the homeless like their ordinance, even though the 9th Circuit holding is animated by substantive concerns.  Howard Bashman's How Appealing blog summarizes this ruling as follows:
Ninth Circuit declares unconstitutional Los Angeles Municipal Code section 85.02, which prohibits use of a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise": Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote today's ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel. The opinion's concluding paragraphs state:
Section 85.02 provides inadequate notice of the unlawful conduct it proscribes, and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor. Accordingly, Section 85.02 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an unconstitutionally vague statute. 
For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession -- the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.
The unlawful conduct prohibited by the proposed Greenwood Village ordinance is much more clear, although it may have a loophole that would permit families without permanent homes living on a long term basis in these motels to cycle from one of the four hotels in Greenwood Village that will take them to another every twenty-nine days in a never ending cycle.  If this loophole is available, Greenwood Village may have a constitutionally valid ordinance, but this may be a mere Pyrrhic victory that does not achieve its true objectives in enacting the law.

Footnote on Election Law and Landlord-Tenant Law Impact

One collateral effect of the ordinance, if it is adopted, was probably not intended, but is probably welcomed by Greenwood Village.  Generally, to establish a valid residence for voter registration purposes (and to some extent also for public school system eligibility), you need to have an intent to live at your current address for the indefinite future and a thirty day threshold for voter registration eligibility has frequently been upheld.

Even if the rotating series of motel occupancy loophole prevents this ordinance from having the City's desired effect of preventing people from living in these motels (collectively) on a long term basis, it probably is effective to prevent the low income long term residents of these motels from acquiring residency in Greenwood Village for election law purposes or for eligibility for public education benefits purposes.

Thirty days is also arguably a cutoff between stays for which legal procedures related to residential evictions must be used to kick out guests who don't pay their bills, and stays for which guests can merely be locked out.  (A news article sets forth the rule to this effect, but I'm not convinced that Colorado law is actually so definitive on this point.  There is a fair argument that this simply alters the amount of advanced notice required for motel owners to utilize the legal eviction process.)

Assuming that long term guests actually use the rotating occupancy loophole (rather than just simply moving to a motel in some other jurisdiction, which is no doubt what Greenwood Village hopes will happen), this ordinance will, at a minimum, also have the practical effect of diminishing the legal rights of long term guests who allegedly have not paid what they owe and of inconveniencing them by requiring frequent moves to new motels.


Greenwood Village is a Denver suburb (entirely or nearly entirely in Arapahoe County, Colorado which is part of the Denver metropolitan area) that is one of the most affluent Colorado municipalities in Colorado (it is the 31st highest income city of 10,000 or more in the United States).  As of the 2000 census, the median household income in the city was $116,147 and the median income for a family was $145,802.  The city's population was 13,925 as of the 2010 census and was 11,035 according to the 2000 census.  Most of the increase in population has arisen from the construction of luxury apartments and condominiums in the city.  This probably brings down the median income, the median age of residents, and their average family size somewhat, although the median income may nonetheless have increased since 2000 since those at this high end of the income scale have increased their share of the economic pie in the last decade and a half.

The number of people who work in Greenwood Village on a typical work day is on the order of 100,000 or perhaps slightly less.

Of course, not everyone who lives in Greenwood Village works in Greenwood Village.  About 60% of Greenwood Village residences are adults aged 18 to 64, and a significant number of them are college students, homemakers, and early retirees (there are probably more early retirees than there are people who are working beyond the "normal" retirement age of sixty-five).  If 75% of the working age population is employed (an estimate greater than the national average that reflects the character of the residents), and if two-thirds of residents who live in Greenwood Village and are employed also work in Greenwood Village (probably also an overestimate, but of the right order of magnitude), then the number of Greenwood Village residents who work in Greenwood Village is on the order of 30% of the City's total population (i.e. about 4,000 or so people in 2010).   Thus, roughly 95% of the people who work in Greenwood Village live somewhere else in Colorado.

Most of the municipality consists of the lion's share of mid-rise building office parks collectively known as the Denver Tech Center, which rival downtown Denver in terms of square footage of office space and is home to the headquarters of many of Colorado's leading businesses.  These office parks are comparable, for example, to the complex of offices found in Oakland County, Michigan in the Detroit metropolitan area.  Interspersed with these offices parks are a variety of retail and service businesses, some catering to people who work in the Tech Center, and some with a wider draw (e.g. a Big Box golf and tennis supply outlet).

The vast majority of people who work at these Greenwood Village businesses (i.e. roughly 95%) don't live there.  Even then, the employees who live in Greenwood Village is probably skewed.  Only a tiny percentage of the administrative, clerical, food service and retail employees live there, a significant but still decidedly small minority of lower level managerial and professional employees live there, and a substantial but still almost surely minority share of senior level managerial and professional employees who work there live in Greenwood Village.  Apart from the households of the senior level managerial and professional employees, most people who both live and work in the Denver Tech Center are singles or newlyweds without children who are renters.

There is lots of middle class housing elsewhere Arapahoe County, which is a first ring suburb of Denver, and there is lots of upper middle class housing in Douglas County, a mix of affluent second ring suburban areas and even more affluent exurbs, which is immediately adjacent to Greenwood Village to the South.  Lower income housing and services for the poor and the homeless tend to be found further to the North, in Denver, which is now accessible to Greenwood Village via light rail.

On the residential side, it is home to some of the most affluent people in Colorado, mostly housing the families of senior executives and high end professionals who work in the Tech Center or Downtown Denver in large lot mansions and mini-mansions in gated communities and to a handful of luxury apartment complexes catering mostly to young professionals and executives who work in the Tech Center (aka DTC).  Greenwood Village also has four medium to high end extended stay hotels mostly serving young managers and professionals relocating to the Tech Center or working on temporary assignments there (often paid for with corporate expense accounts), and four decidedly less expensive ordinary motels that are decidedly less expensive, which are attracted to the location mostly because it is the first urbanized area that someone coming into Denver from the South on I-25 encounters.  There are also a few more expensive hotel/motels that are not pertinent to this post because they don't make rooms available to guests for periods of a month or more as a matter of pre-existing business policies.

Greenwood Village has no trailer parks, RV parks, working or even middle class neighborhoods, no lower rent apartment complex, and no significant service provides for the poor or the homeless.  Indeed, there is probably no place in the city that is zoned to permit this in any place where it is practically viable to do so (e.g. because there isn't already a building with another purpose that is not easily modified in the locations where zoning permits these uses).


This situation, called exclusionary zoning, is not an accident.  Unlike many Colorado municipalities, Greenwood Village was incorporated in 1950, after modern zoning practices had been widely adopted.

The strategy adopted by Greenwood Village, which is similar to that of the municipality of Glendale, which is also in Arapahoe County (entirely surrounded by the City and County of Denver), is to make the city attractive for businesses and high end housing by building up a large tax base highly regulated by an urban planning regime that the is joint effort of large tract real estate developers and city planners, while keeping the cost of municipal services (and hence tax rates), low.

Colorado's tax policy encourages this strategy.  Colorado taxes business real estate at a much higher rate for property of the same fair market value than homes, due to something called the Gallagher Amendment to Colorado's state constitution.  Businesses also generate sales tax income and other tax revenue streams that residential development does not.  But, in practice, office space uses demand very little in the way of municipal services, and other commercial uses and high end residential housing generates less of a demand for municipal services than middle class to low income housing.

Exclusionary zoning is a practice that courts, civil rights lawyers, constitutional scholars and academics distrust, but it is not illegal or unconstitutional per se.  Nothing under Colorado or federal law prohibits a municipality from being established primarily for purposes other than long term residential use.  A number of other Colorado municipalities are similarly heavy on non-residential use and have few residents (e.g. Lakeside, Colorado in the Jefferson County, Colorado, Commerce City in Adams County north of Denver, and many resort and casino towns in the mountains).  Cities, and in particular, home rule cities like Greenwood Village, have wide discretion in their authority to develop land use regulations, and not every city must permit every possible use somewhere.

The reason that exclusionary zoning is a matter of concern is that one of the uses that it very frequently seeks to exclude is lower income housing, something that few municipalities have been more successful at excluding than Greenwood Village.  In addition to all the other reasons stated above, and in particular the cost of providing municipal service for lower income people, cities like to exclude lower income housing because they believe that lower income people are inferior neighbors.  City planners, other municipal officials, elected and appointed, and the citizens involved in local government in cities like Greenwood Village to whom they are responsible, would prefer not to have to encounter poor and working class people any more than absolutely necessary, which is also while affluent Greenwood Village residents tend to live in either gated communities or access controlled apartment buildings.  They conclude, not irrationally, that the best way to escape the many urban woes associated with poverty and poor people is to have as few dealings with such people as possible.

But, this raised a perennial problem in urban planning.  There are some uses that the middle class and more affluent people who vote and participate in local government affairs almost universally dislike.  And, the balance that Colorado strikes between tax collection potential from certain uses and the reasonable cost of meeting the service demands of particular uses, also disfavors certain kinds of development (like housing for low and moderate income families) relative to other uses (like commercial and industrial property with brick and mortar retail sales generating properties being the biggest cash cows of all relative to service costs).  The uses that no one wants create "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) problems.  If no individual local government wants to permit a NIMBY use, and there is no overarching way to compel someone to allow it somewhere (which there generally is not in Colorado law), then NIMBY uses that everyone can reasonably agree need to exist somewhere are not permitted anywhere under local land use regulations.

Low income transitional housing for people on the verge of being homeless is one such NIMBY use.  Firms in a free market economy, like Motel 6 in Greenwood Village, are happy to provide it, so long as they can receive ordinary municipal services like criminal law enforcement in exchange for their tax dollars.  But, no local governments are interested in providing it.

Put another way, NIMBY uses are one of the powerful reasons that people who otherwise proclaim strong support for capitalism and lassiez faire economic regulation betray these general ideological commitments when it comes to state and local law making in real life.  These conflicts are inherent contradictions in socially conservative Republican ideologies that those who have to face them do everything that they can to sweep under the rug and ignore so long in public forums and policy discussions, as long as the NIMBY uses stay out of their backyards.

A closely parallel NIMBY v. capitalism narrative arises in the context of proposals to allow local fracking regulation, where again, the free market pushes firms to want to engage in the NIMBY use, but all rational local governments want to forbid it.  But, in those cases, the conflict is more intense, because fracking operations can't be relocated to another jurisdiction.  You have to extract oil and gas from the place where it is actually in the ground, whereever that may be.  Thus, in the fracking case, the common NIMBY solution of bribing a very small number of jurisdictions so that it is worth their while to accept NIMBY uses that others avoid, doesn't work.

So far, this sounds snobby and uncharitable.  Maybe it even sounds like bad public policy that allows individual municipalities to kick the can of public responsibilities elsewhere giving rise to NIMBY issues as discussed above.  But, the real live wire concern that animates concern about exclusionary zoning, particularly in high income cities whose residents are disproportionately socially conservative Republicans n places like Greenwood Village, is that there is, in practice, a strong overlap between race and income and social class.  Anecdotal evidence, moreover, suggests that covert racism is alive and well in private socially conservative Republican circles.

Policies designed to exclude low income people from a city may be elitist, but to the extent that these policies have a co-extensive purpose to exclude blacks and Hispanics from living in a city, those policies violate state and federal civil rights laws.  And, distinguishing between lawful non-race based policies that go into decisions about what are reasonable building codes or what occupancy periods are allowed in ordinary motels, and impermissible race based motives, is often very challenging.

18 June 2014

Real History Is Messy

A Washington Post blogger's map by Ivan Perkins of independent countries that didn't have a coup from 1961-2010 is made up of countries with a British legal tradition, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland), Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Costa Rica and Mexico.  Japan, Costa Rica and Mexico are the only countries on the list where a Germanic language isn't spoken by a substantial portion of the population.

A companion map for 1901 to 1960 includes only the United States, Britain, Sweden and Switzerland (although many countries were excluded because they not independent for that entire period - the modal year in which European colonies gained independence was 1960).

This WASPy characterization of the last 110 years of political history, however, involves some very questionable interpretations of the political history of many of the nations treated as having, or as not having coups.  Seven countries described as being independent for the entire period from 1961 to 2010 and as not having had coups from 1961 to 2010, and one or two of the countries described as not having had coups from 1901 to 1960 aren't a good fit to the broad definition of coup the author adopts and applies strictly to other countries.

However, there are definitely some judgment calls that go into how to code those political transitions, and the term "coup" was not used here in the conventional manner.  Also, a very expansive definition of coup is used in this case:
I define “coup” broadly, to mean any forceful seizure of central government power. A coup is a disorderly, unpredictable transfer of power, accomplished through physical force or intimidation. The term encompasses military coups, violent palace intrigue and street revolutions. The effort to seize power need not succeed; serious but failed attempts still count. Finally, the term “coup” embraces an “executive coup,” whereby a constitutional leader radically and forcefully extends his scope of power or term of service, as in Chancellor Hitler’s 1933 hijacking of Germany with Nazi thugs.
This definition, for example, very questionably includes failed by serious efforts to unlawfully seize power, and many assassinations where succession still proceeded in an orderly fashion.

False Negatives (16)

I don't see what the relevant blogger is interpreting as a coup in a number of countries from 1960 to 2010 that he lists as having had coups:

* Bulgaria made a peaceful transition from Communism to a Western style constitution through the normal legal process in 1990 and 1991.  It was independent prior to 1961.
* Cuba faced a laughable U.S. sponsored (and hence international) Bay of Pigs invasion in 1962, but the regime's stability was never seriously threatened.
* In France, he is presumably referring to De Gaulle's resignation from office in 1969 in the wake of street protests and nationwide strikes after he lost a nationwide referendum on constitutional reform a year earlier, which again, hardly seems like a coup to me.
* In Hungary, the reference is presumably to the post-Cold War dissolution of the Communist Party in 1989, despite the fact that this took place through normal parliamentary procedures and did not involve violence.  The events in Hungary of 1956 may have qualified for this definition of a coup, but the events of 1989 don't obvious fit.
* In India, he is presumably referring to the State of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975 (despite the fact that an election was held and Gandhi's party peacefully turned over power to the winners in 1977) as an "executive coup", and to her assassination by her bodyguards in 1984 as "violent palace intrigue".  These do fit his broad definition of a coup, but not a more conventional definition that requires a successful regime change or executive branch action that prevents the electoral process from making a regime change possible.
* Israel was engaged in international wars in 1967 and 1973, but the electoral process continued there in a series of uninterrupted lawful successions since 1948.  Is the issue that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot in 1995, or the PLO terrorist attacks from 1961 to 2010?
* Italy had political violence in the 1970s and 1980s, but it never led to a regime change or even to serious political reforms.  Former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was killed later being held hostage for a week in 1978, but no acting head of state was killed and the hostage takers were not successful.  Prime Minister Berlusconi resigned as a result of a scandal in 2011, but that is outside the relevant time period and was not a coup either.  Similarly, the 1970 coup attempt in Italy was laughable.  The wag summary is that it was called off before it even started (because of rain) and the plotters then went out for spaghetti.  Very few civilians realized that anything was amiss and the plotters weren't arrested until four months later because newspaper reports embarrassed the government.  American Open Carry and Tea Party events are more menacing.
* The Kingdom of Jordan gained independence in 1948 and has never had a coup.  It did lose territory to Israel in the international 1967 war, but this did not at all disturb the orderly succession of government.  And, how can an absolute monarchy be responsible for an "executive coup"?
* Liechtenstein was independent and did not have a coup at any time from 1961 to 2010.
* The Principality of Monaco was independent and did not have a coup at any time from 1961 to 2010.
* In Mongolia, as in Hungary, the transition from a Communist regime to a more Western style constitution in 1992, was not a "street revolution", did not involve violence or the threat of violence, and occurred through existing legislative channels.
* The Kingdom of Morocco did not have any coups from 1961 to 2010, a time period during which it was always independent and has been a constitutional monarchy with a an elected legislature (but not executive branch) since 1997.  There were terrorist attacks in one city in 2004 and in 2007, but neither seriously shook the regime.
* North Korea has had uninterrupted legitimate succession since 1950 and has been independent in that time frame  No "place violence" has impacted the succession to the leadership, and the power of the supreme leader has not been materially expanded since 1961.
* The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not have any coups or serious terrorist attempts at regime change from 1961 to 2010 and was independent in that time period.
* San Marino did not have any coups or serious terrorist attempts at regime change from 1961 to 2010 and was independent in that time period.

False Positives (8)

By his expansive measure, however, it is arguable that at least eight of the nations which are listed a coup-free, actually experienced coups between 1961 and 2010 by this broad definition (even excluding attempted assassinations by mentally ill individuals, such as the attempt on President Ford in 1975 and President Reagan in 1981, for reasons that were definitely not political):

* President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in Buffalo, New York in 1901.
* There was an attempt by an anarchist to assassinate President elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
* A Puerto Rican nationalist attempted to assassinate President Truman in 1950.
* President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 for motives that are still disputed.
* Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd of South Africa was stabbed to death in parliament in 1966.
* While Japan's sovereignty over its main islands was restored after U.S. occupation in 1952, it did not have its sovereignty over all of its territory restored until 1972 when the U.S. occupation of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands among others was replaced with an agreement to allow a U.S. military base to be maintained in Okinawa.
* Canada did not fully sever its legislative ties with the United Kingdom until 1982.
* The Irish Republican Army unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with a bomb that killed a member of parliament in Brighton, England in 1984.  Britain also took actions seemingly within the scope of an "executive coup" in Northern Ireland in much of the relevant time period which was part of the United Kingdom.
* Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in 1986.
* Street revolution force the resignation of President Erich Honecker of East Germany in 1989 followed by a regime change for both parts of Germany when West Germany and East Germany merged in 1990.  The Germany that existed in 2010 did not exist in 1961.
* A Mexican incumbent PRI party Presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta was assassinated by Zapatista rebels in 1994.
* Popular Revolutionary Army rebels in Mexico launched coordinated attacks on government targets in an arguably coup attempt in 1996.
* The Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 Presidential election in the U.S. arguably amounted to a judicial coup.
* The United States was the target of terrorist attacks in 2001 including attacks directed at Congress (which failed) and at the Pentagon (which succeeded).
* A Mexican civil war with drug cartels has killed more than 47,500 people in Mexico from December 2006 to September 2012, even though regime change doesn't seem to have been a core motive of the conflict.
* The 2009 installation of a center-left government in Iceland after political unrest in the wake of failed sovereign debt bailout austerity measures was arguably a "street revolution."
* There was an attempt to assassinate Dutch Queen Beatrix in 2009.

Also, a number of British colonies declared independence unilaterally in the time period from 1901-2010, an event that surely would have been counted as a coup in other countries listed.

Even Published Academic Research Has Dubious Value

Echoing a recent disturbing conclusion in the medical literature, we argue that most claimed research findings in financial economics are likely false.
From here citing this paper.

On the other hand, claims in sources other than published academic literature, such as mass media stories, are frequently even less reliable.

17 June 2014

Iraq Divided?

Nationalism, theocracy and ethnic cleansing seem to be on the rise, while cosmopolitan, secular, Western style democracy after a great hurrah in the Arab Spring, is once again in retreat.

During the Iraq War, there had been speculation that Iraq would split into three pieces, with a Shiite controlled Southeast call Sumer, and a Kurdish state in the Northeast seceding and leaving a rump Sunni state.

Now, it looks as if the three way split may manifest after all, but with the Sunni state breaking away from central government control, and the Kurdish state breaking away in the absence of a rump Iraqi state there is any benefit in joining.  Of course, rump Shiite dominated Iraq, would likely become either part of an Iranian sphere of influence or would be formally annexed to Iran itself.

The ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, with the Levant portion being a reference to Syria) military offensive, which Iran and the Iraqi government are joining to hold off as the fighting comes within 40 miles of Baghdad, may very well stall as it makes its way to Shiite dominated regions to the south of Baghdad, as Iran and Shiite militias mobilize to hold these regions who are whom to two of the most sacred Shiite religion shrines. The ISIL military offensive has also not managed to gain ground in Kurdish controlled territory.

This is stunning for what is pretty much an upstart revolutionary organization run by a guy in his 40s, who seemingly came out of nowhere, with a PhD in Islamic studies.

But, in Sunni majority regions of Iraq and Sunni controlled regions of Eastern Syria, it has swept like wildfire,  controlling almost all of the non-Kurdish areas in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley.  ISIL wants to make this a new Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and they seem to be making inroads towards realizing their goals.

Why has ISIL advanced so quickly in Sunni majority Northern Iraq, but not in Kurdish areas or the Shiite majority South?

Perhaps the locals in Northern Iraq are not willing to mobilize and put their own lives at risk for a central Iraqi government perceived as Shiite influenced in Iraq, or an Alawite controlled Syrian government.

The ordinary people of these regions may not welcome the strict Islamic law that ISIL will impose, and no doubt do not condone at all the ruthless military tactics that ISIL has employed - gutting cities, slaughtering prisoners of war (literally, taking no prisoners), and terrorizing ordinary people to cow them into submission.  But, those ordinary people may reason that the sooner that ISIL achieves a decisive military victory, the more quickly the orgy of violence will end, and that strict Islamic law, while unpleasant, may at least be less corrupt than the old regime and would be controlled by members of their own religion instead of Shiites influenced strongly by Iran.

It is very notable that Iraqi troops, despite extensive training and billions of dollars of U.S. funded military supplies, are ditching their uniforms and abandoning their posts in the face of the ISIL advance in Northern Iraq.  They don't think that they can win militarily against ISIL and don't want to become executed prisoners.  Certainly, even the Iraqi soldiers in the region are not willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause they don't believe in, of a unified Iraqi government under a regime put in place by the U.S. and its allies which has since then been greatly influenced by Iran.

Why does ISIL have a good chance of holding its ground?

Wars are mostly won by the side with the most capable and committed allies.  Iraq's current government does not have solid support in the regions of Iraq that ISIL has taken.  Prime Minister Maliki's overtly sectarian appeal through top Shiite clerics for support from ad hoc Shiite militias may help him hold his remaining territory and has rallied Shiite factions previously opposed to him as supporters, but simultaneously undermines his shot at holding onto the territory that he has lost. Neither does Syria's government in the regions that ISIL has taken there.  It barely has the support of its own troops.  The U.S. and the Western European powers are not willing to intervene again after having extricated themselves from an Iraq War once.  Syria is not capable of intervening on their behalf seriously, although it did launch airstrikes on ISIL in Iraqi territory on Monday.  Turkey will offer no aid to Iraq, its sometimes enemy.  The Kurds in Iraq and neighboring territories want to protect themselves, but have no allegiance to an Iraq that oppressed them.

One suspects that covert support for wealthy families not officially acting on behalf of the government in Sunni oil monarchies like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., and by Islamist minded groups in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, are funding and supporting ISIL.

Iraq's only ally is Iran, and while its guidance and military aid may be enough to stop the advance of ISIL as it enters Shiite territory, it is probably not enough to roll back ISIS advance in Sunni Iraqi territory very far.  And, since the Iraqi war led to the ethnic partition of Iraq, those lines are now very clearly drawn.

Each day that passes without an effective counterattack reduces the chances that Iraq (or Syria) will ever regain control of ISIL territory.  Even if it does, the taste of victory ISIL forces received will fuel violent insurgencies for a very long time, like similar quasi-state/revolutionary forces in Columbia, in Kurdish Iraq, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan (where the Taliban that once rule are embolded to keep fighting in hopes of doing so again), in almost anarchistic situations in Yemen and Somolia, and in Sri Lanka, to name a few examples.

Footnote on Nomenclature
In English-language news reports, there are at least two ways in which the group is referred to: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

In Arabic, of course, neither words – “Syria” or “Levant” -- are used; instead, the word “Sham” is used. The closest translation of that into English is “Greater Syria.”

Many in the West are fooled by the use of the word “Syria,” and may fail to see the real dimensions of the threat because they think of Syria in the modern geographic sense. But that word, in Arabic, is “Souriya.”

Most Middle Easterners, when they hear, “Sham,” or “As-Sham,” know it refers to Greater Syria.

What’s the difference?

Modern Syria is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan and Israel to the south and Lebanon to the west.

“Greater Syria” incorporates most of the territories of each.

“This is what "Syria" means in the mind of Middle Easterners, says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and author of the respected blog SyriaComment.com.

“If we can teach people that so many Arabs still think of Syria as Greater Syria, they will begin to understand the extent to which Sykes-Picot remains challenged in the region,” said Landis.

Sykes-Picot, of course refers to the secret agreement drawn up by two British and French diplomats -- Sir Mark Sykes and Francois George-Picot -- at the end of Word War I dividing the spoils of the Ottoman Empires between Britain and France by drawing straight lines in the sand.

To this day, many Arabs refuse to accept that division and think of “Syria” as “Greater Syria.” Some go so far as to include the Arab countries of North Africa – which from the Nile to the Euphrates forms ‘the Fertile Crescent,” the symbol of many Muslim countries from Tunisia to Turkey. And some even go as far as including the island of Cyprus, saying it represents the star next to the crescent.
From here.

The source Oilsource.com blog post sees this language as portending greater aspirations for ISIL.  In principle, the analysis is sound.  But, in practice, while this may mean that Lebanon and Syria, as well as Iraq are likely to be targets of the ISIL campaign in the short to medium term, I doubt it has any practical ability to further expand its reach.

Turkey and Israel have competent military forces well equipped to repel ISIL advances and do not have local populations that provide much fertile ground for insurgent activities.  The Muslim insurgents in Turkey are Kurds who have no common cause with ISIL.  Israel has a tight cap on Muslim insurgent and terrorist activity of all kinds.  Until ISIL gets a navy it lacks the means to get to Cyrus and again, there is no indication that this has any significant number of sympathizers that would make it fertile ground for ISIL military action.

The Egyptian political and potential insurgency scene is already so full of players, it isn't at all clear that adding ISIL's overreaching efforts to get involved there would have much of an impact on the overall situation there, even if they tried.  The new coup imposed regime them seems likely to be more totalitarian and military oriented than the Arab Spring civilian regimes, leaving little room for ISIL to make its way into this scene.

Jordan is a closer case.  I would think that this monarchy is secure enough to fend off an ISIL advance, but I am less certain of this fact than I am that Turkey, Israel and Cyprus are not at risk.

I suppose that ISIL could ally itself with the Palestinian liberation cause, but a move like that would risk Israel and U.S. blow back that it can ill afford.

In sum, my take is that large swaths of Syria and Iraq are already under de facto ISIL control, and that Lebanon is at serious risk of being next (Lebanon has been a client state of Syria's for decades anyway).  But, I think it is unlikely that ISIL will be much of a player elsewhere despite a name that reflects greater aspirations than this territory.  If ISIL does manage to achieve de facto statehood in the medium term, then a whole lot of other considerations for the entire region will need to be evaluated then (particularly if it secured long term missile or drone technology or weapons of mass destruction), but that is premature now.

Footnote on Islamic Sects and Schools of Law

There are three main divisions of Islam at the highest level: Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and Ibadi Muslims.

Sunni Muslims mostly follow one of four main "schools of law", each of which is predominant in a different region, that have doctrinal differences with each other akin to the doctrinal differences between different Protestant Christian denominations while sharing substantial core religious beliefs.

Most Shiites (e.g. in Iran and Iraq) are "Twelvers".  But, a cluster of sects (the Alevi, Alawites and Bektashi order) are important minorities in the Balkans, among the Kurds and in the Levant.  There is a separate Shiite sects particular to Yemen and the vicinity (the "Fivers").  There is another Shiite sect (the "Seveners") centered in the far Northeast of Afghanistan and far Northeast of Pakistan (which have remote common origins with the Druze of the Levant).

The Ibadi sect of Islamic sect that is neither Sunni nor Shiite, is found predominantly in Oman.

There is also a cross-sectarian religious movement call "Sufism" which celebrates and focused upon the mystical aspects of Islam, rather than its legalistic aspects.  This approach presents to Westerners as more "moderate" and less harsh than other approaches to Islamic practice.

In practice, there is also a distinct cross-sectarian variation on a "moderate" (e.g. Turkish Sunni Muslims who are not Kurds and some Southeast Asian Muslims and Alevi Muslims) to "fundamentalist" dimension (e.g. the Taliban, Saudi Arabia's official sect, and the Boko Haram terrorist group in Northern Nigeria), although even quite "moderate" Muslims on this dimensional measure are very socially conservative by Western standards. The vast majority of the true moderates on social issues within Islamic societies by Western standards are "secularists" who are often forced to live "in the closet" at risk of violent reprisals by authorities or Islamist activists when not protected by the policies of strict authoritarian regimes (often with Communist inspired secularist leanings).

It also also worth recalling that Muslims, even those of the same sect and schools of law (e.g. Sunni Kurds, Tanzanian Muslims and Malaysian Muslims), span myriad ethnic groups.  Particularly outside the Middle East, many of these ethic groups are made up of peoples who do not speak Arabic, the "official" religious language of Islam, as a first language and do not have any other common language.  Also, while Arabic is usually presented as a single mutually intelligible language, there are strong regional dialects within this macro-linguistic group that verge on being as distinct as the different Romance languages with a common origin in classical Latin.

Shia Muslims

The Sunni-Shiite split in Islam, more generally, is a schism over leadership of the Islamic people that arose in 657 CE, twenty-five years after Prophet Muhammad's death, over who was entitled to be the fourth caliph. The Shiites, who are and pretty much always have been a minority among Muslims, took the side of a dynasty that began Ali (who was Muhammad's first cousin and closest living male relative as well as his son-in-law and was believed by Shiites to have been named by Muhammad as his successor).

Shiites accept some pronouncements of a supreme religious leader with this dynastic relationship to Ali's faction called an Imam as authoritative to a less degree than Muhammad in a manner superficially similar to that of the Pope in the Roman Catholic church. But, different Shiite factions differ with each other over how many Imams, and to some extent, which ones, are legitimate as illustrated in the chart below from Wikipedia (twelve, seven and five are the number of Imams accepted by some of the most notable Shiite sects giving rise to the shorthand of "twelvers," "seveners," and "fivers" for those Shiite sects). According to twelvers, the last of the twelve imams took that position in 862 CE and continues to reign in a manner crudely analogous to the ascended Jesus Christ in Christianity.

Shia Islam is a majority religion in Iran, Azerbaijan and Iraq (especially Southeastern Iraq) and Bahrain, and claims about 35%-45% of the population of Yemen, and similar percentage minorities in Kuwait and Lebanon.  Indian, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, and Oman (as well as expatriate communities in places like Germany, Britain and the United States) are also home to significant Shia Muslim populations, but Shia Muslims make up much smaller percentage of the Muslim population in these countries.

The dominant Shia sect in a more or less geographically contiguous area that includes Iran, Iraq, Kuwait Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India is the Ja'fari sect ("Twelvers").  The rest of the Islamic world (except Oman, as discussed below where a plurality of Muslims belong to the Ibadi sect that is neither Sunni nor Shia) is predominantly Sunni Muslim, although sometimes with minority Muslim sects also present.

The Zaidi sect of Shia Islam also known as the "Fivers," is the second largest Shia sect.  The Zaidi sect is predominantly found in Yemen and adjacent areas of Southwestern Saudi Arabia.

Alawite's, who are notable for being predominant among the ruling class of Syria (a place that departing colonial powers left them in) are on the Shiite side of the Sunni-Shiite divide in Islam, but is not one of the larger Shiite religious "denomination" and they are not always accepted as legitimately Shiite Muslims by outsiders - their position is somewhat analogous to the classification of Mormons in Christianity - clearly they aren't in the Orthodox Christian or Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, but many Christians on the Protestant side of the Catholic-Protestant divide don't accept them as being true Protestant Christians.  From the perspective of "ordinary" Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Muslims, however, both Iraqi Shiites and Syrian Alawites are non-Sunnis who aren't followers of the "true" version of Islam.

The Ismaili sect of Shia Islam (the "Seveners") is predominantly found in far Northeastern Afghanistan and Pakistan and in parts of Saudi Arabia.  By the conventional account, this sect is also ancestral to the no longer truly Muslim Druze religious sect that is now found in the Levant (i.e. Syria, Lebanon and Israel).

Other Shia sects are mostly (1) minority (within the Kurdish community) Kurds who identify with the Alevi sect, mostly in Turkey, Iran and Syria, (2) in the Alawite sect somewhat kindred to that of the Alevi Kurds in the Levant, or (3) part of the substantial minority of Muslims who are affiliated with the Bektashi order, for example, in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo whose classification is somewhat controversial.  The Bektashi clearly arises from the Sufi Islam movement (whose modern heartland is arguably centered in Southern Pakistan) but the Bektashi order's place on the Sunni-Shia divide is somewhat ambiguous.  For political reasons it was classified as a Sunni subdivision in Albania, but substantively it tends to be more closely associated with the Shia Muslim Alevi sect shared by a minority of Kurds.  All three of these Islamic sects are sometimes viewed as being part of the same movement and as having significant residual influences from the pagan Turk barbarians.  These "barbarians" migrated from the Altai region of Northeast Asia across the Asian steppe all of the way to Anatolia, which adopted their Turkish language in the late first millennium CE. When they arrived they converted to Islam, the religion of the people they conquered, which was becoming the dominant religion of the region at around the time that they arrived.

Sunni Muslims

Sunni Muslims make up about 80%-90% of Muslims worldwide and somewhat more than half of Muslims in the Middle East.  Like Christian Protestants, Sunni Muslims have never recognized a supreme inspired religious leader akin to a Shiite Imam or a Roman Catholic Pope, although Sunni Muslims have shared political leadership in a tradition that does not strongly divide church and state, and there are several major divisions within Sunni Islam and movements within Sunni Islam (like Sufism which is somewhat analogous to the trans-denominational "charismatic" movement in Western Christianity) that have some level of large scale organization.

The four dominant divisions within Sunni Islam called "schools of law" (in Arabic, "madhhabs"), rather than "sects", have strongly regional distributions.  Roughly speaking, from West to East:

The Maliki school of law is predominant in North Africa except Lower Egypt (i.e. Northern Egypt) (crudely speaking areas that were historically Berber, plus Upper Egypt (i.e. Southern Egypt) and Sudan).

The Hanbali school of law is predominant among Sunnis is Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Shafi'i school of law is predominant along the Indian Ocean coast from East Africa to Indonesia, near the Red Sea coast in Lower Egypt, in Southwest Iraq, in parts of the Persian Gulf region, and among most Kurds, particularly in far Eastern Turkey.

The Hanafi school of law is predominant everywhere North and West of Iran (except the Indian Ocean coast), in Turkey among non-Kurds, in the remainder of the Middle East, and in Lower Egypt away from the Red Sea.

The doctrinal differences between Sunni Islami schools of law are roughly of the same level of specificity and magnitude as the doctrinal differences between Protestant religious denominations (e.g. Southern Baptists v. Anglicans).  For example, one school of law concludes that the Islamic command that women be modest does not require women to cover their feet, while other schools conclude that this command does require that women cover their feet.

Ibadi Muslims

A third top level divide in Islam is the Ibadi sect that is the plurality religion in Oman (and has minority populations in North Africa and East Africa).  It purports to have origins that predate the Sunni-Shiite split by about five years.  Ibadis have been described a puritanical, moderate and relatively tolerant of other "people of the Book."  They reject much of the Islamic tradition beyond the Koran that is expressed in hadiths, which is accepted by most other Muslims.

UPDATED June 18, 2014 to correct ISIS to ISIL acronym and major additions including the footnote on Islamic sects.

16 June 2014

Glass Half-Empty Monday

* Iraq.  There has been a sea change in the ongoing civil war in Iraq that we walked away from when it was in a relative lull (probably a wise choice).  Al-Qaeda insurgents have take the second largest city (Mosul), and much of the northern Tigris-Eurphrates basin, as well as the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Large numbers of soldiers loyal to the Iraqi government taken as POWs by the insurgents were taken into a field and slaughtered en masse.  The U.S. is relocating many of its Baghdad embassy staff to its consulate in Basra in Southern Iraq, putting U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf on alert, and are deploying another company of Marine guards to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, but are not reinserting U.S. troops into the renewed civil war there.

There are no good outcomes here.  If the current government wins, then this is preceded by a bloody civil war in which lots of Iraqis kill lots of other Iraqis, global oil prices shoot up, the Iraqi economy crashes strengthening extremists, and in the process the war criminal current regime of Syria becomes allied with the Iraqi government to put them down legitimating a highly non-democratic government.  If the current government loses, that all U.S. led coalition efforts to put an Islamic democracy with sound institutions in place following the Iraq War are obliterated, we have a freshly minted authoritarian Islamist theocracy larger than any that have preceded it that validates Islamist insurgents everywhere else in the world to renew their efforts, regional wars with neighbors become likely and will continue to drive up world oil prices, and the U.S. diplomatic presence is probably swiftly expelled from the country.  If there is a stalemate, we get a never ending hostilities, a divided country, and an Iraqi democratically elected regime that is probably to torn with internal divisions and incompetent to rise to the task.

* Ukraine.  In the Ukraine, now that the dust has settled a bit, it appears that a slow NATO and Ukrainian government response to Russia's annexation of Crimea earlier this year starting on February 26, 2014.  This has made this an irreversible a fait accompli. has demonstrated that NATO mutual self-defense promises to its members aren't worth much, undermining the credibility of the alliance as a whole, although to respond promptly and militarily to this annexation which a majority of Crimeans weren't deeply opposed to, would have very likely led to a World War III with nuclear armed powers on both sides of the conflict. This annexation has also given heart to separatists in Eastern Provinces of Ukraine, probably with covert assistance from Russia, who would themselves like to leave Ukraine for Russia.

Predictably, like most secessionist movements, it is the more economically well off portion of the country (in some other cases, it is the part of the country with the most national resources wealth) that has sought to secede as Ukraine has lagged behind the rest of Russia in the post-Cold War era.

Honestly, in my humble opinion, a result in which Crimea and many of the Eastern Provinces of Ukraine seceded from Ukraine in a peaceful, lawful process, either to become a new independent country of East Ukraine, or as a new East Ukrainian province of Russia, which would have had the support of majorities in those regions and in Russia, would have been for the best, leaving a smaller, more united, Western leaning Western Ukraine, without destabilizing fundamental geopolitical assumptions like respect for international boundaries and legal processes.

The process as it happened, in contrast, dredges up the specter of unlawful Nazi annexations of majority ethnically German neighbors in advance of World War II to which the rest of Europe acquiesced with dire consequences as Nazi Germany was emboldened by its painless success.  Russia is betting now, not inaccurately, that Europe's dependency on Russian natural gas supplies routed through the Ukraine may stay Europe's hand once again.

Pre-February 2014, the political divide in Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions was razor thin.  Crimea, which was administratively annexed to Ukraine only in 1954 during the Soviet era, long after Ukraine's other provinces, was probably the most decisively pro-Russian of Ukraine's provinces.  Its departure tips the balance of political power significantly towards pro-Western forces in rump Ukraine.  And, the Ukraine's new leaders following the messy departure in the face of mass street protests of its previous President, Viktor Yanukovych who fled the capital of Kiev on February 21, 2014, are opposed even to converting the Ukraine from a unitary government bureaucracy into a federal state or to giving Eastern Ukraine increased autonomy.  Thus, Eastern Ukrainians may now see political recourse to their aspirations of autonomy as hopeless.  Now, a low grade violent insurgency with dozens of deaths on both sides and military weapons in use by both sides is in full play.

It isn't easy to see a way for this to end well.

The new status quo may require a post-Cold War remilitarization of Eastern Europe, destroying the Cold War peace dividend as a new cold war ensues and draining American and European economies as money is spent on guns instead of butter.  And, natural gas supplies for non-Russian sphere Europe become perpetually insecure, a harbinger of future blackmail ploys by Russia in the depths of cold European winters.

Russia's new found embrace of nationalism over sovereignty, also asserted in Moldova and some of the former Soviet provinces of the Caucuses is also strikingly hypocritical.   Russia has, after all, violently suppressed independence aspirations in Chechnya.  Yet Chechnya, viewed purely through the lens of nationalistic self-determination, has a better claim to independence than probably any other political and military nationalist movement in the world today. Chechnya's people have a strong and well defined ethnic identity that is linguistically and religiously and in their views of a "good society", profoundly different from that of the remainder of the Russian state, which is far less diverse ethnically than the Soviet Union that came before it.  And, they are eager to fight for that vision.  Yet, rather than respecting rights of national self-determination for a semi-autonomous political subdivision of a Soviet Union that no longer exists, Russia has ruthlessly and violently put down this ongoing insurgency.

* CIGNA  It was a long and ugly process for my family to get health insurance (a "Silver" plan through CIGNA) through the Connect for Health Colorado that cost me thousands of dollars relative to what it would have been had the process proceeded as promised, and left us at the very brink of being uninsured entirely.  Dealing with CIGNA now that I have that coverage in place hasn't been a pleasure either.

CIGNA has been very aggressive in refusing to honor prescriptions from physicians for anything but cheap generic drugs (without very clear explanation), unless you are willing to engage in their administrative appeals process - even when the brand name drug in their formulary that your doctor has prescribed and that you have been taking for many months has no exact generic equivalent, but an entirely different brand name drug sometimes used for the same purpose (that is a bit cheaper but not all that much) exists, or for example, when a not very expensive topical antibiotic that your doctor prescribed has an only slightly less expensive oral antibiotic alternative.  A three day appeal process when the drug you need is for a currently active bacterial infection, amounts to an appeal a denial of the physician's first choice of a prescribed drug by a health insurance bureaucrat who isn't a physician.

It is also quite inconvenient, that while other insurance companies have mended fenced with the Walgreen's pharmacy chain after a tiff over contract terms, that CIGNA has not done so, making the most convenient pharmacy locations for us unavailable.

My research shows that CIGNA is apparently notorious for aggressive and arguably bad faith handling of health insurance claims.  I'd know when I chose it that CIGNA was not number one in customer service, but hadn't realized just how bad it was in substance until we were committed.  Unlike Connect for Health, their telephone response time is not horrible, but I am likely to switch insurance companies next year, even if it costs a couple of hundred dollar a month, to get an insurer who I can be confident will provide what I am entitled to without making me fight for it.

It doesn't help that CIGNA is apparently a for profit company run by a CEO making something like $9 million to $16 million a year on the backs of short changed insureds.  Unlike many cases wrongly described in this way, this is exploitation, the insurance company receiving profit at the expenses and harm of the people who get less than they reasonably expected to receive as a result.

* Declining White Pages Data Access.  Why is it that I used to be able to have free, easy access to white pages information (both phone numbers ad addresses) for almost everyone that was a tool I used daily without a problem, and the list included everyone but truly privacy obsessed famous people, but now, the phone company no longer distributes residential white pages listings and the white pages phone listings are not easily available on the Internet where everything else is cheap and easy to find, despite dramatically reduced privacy in every other respect?  Now, I have to resort to specialized directories and dig my way through shady pay per view services.

* DPS Reforms.  The Denver Public Schools, while well meaning, are engaged in a dramatic program of reforming the high school options for students most attractive to my family in a way that is ham handed, secretive, and ill conceived.  Next fall, my eighth grader is going to have a much more challenging task when it comes to choosing a high school than my daughter who made her choice before these reforms did.

One of the core principles of managing any organization is that when you innovate, you should innovate democratically.  This doesn't mean that you have to make decisions by majority rule, but it does mean that you need to meaningfully solicit input from all affected parties and genuinely listen to what they have to say before you have made a decision.  DPS, instead, made its decisions behind closed doors with minimal consultation and then rolled out its predetermined decision in the guise of seeking input.  Not surprisingly, its proposals reflect this lack of consideration and the process has alienated parents who support DPS ultimately needs to thrive.

Pre-reform, DPS had a number of decent options for academically talented kids that were winning back middle class parents from suburban school, parochial school and secular private school options.  It also had a number of decent options for seriously troubled kids who were pregnant, had young children, were homeless or had hit bottom with extreme disciplinary or academic failure.

But, the district is absolutely correct in recognizing that the Denver Public Schools does a poor job of providing good high school level offerings for academically average or mediocre but not absolute academically failing kids with no discipline issues or only relatively less serious discipline issue with a couple of exceptions (its vocational education options and the Denver School of Science and Technology).

The district is also not wrong in recognizing the strong social divisions created when the same school building effectively houses two difference schools: one made up mostly of low income, academically underperforming, disproportionately minority students in programs with no real mission or vision; the other with in a program that have a strong mission and vision that serves middle to high income, academically high achieving students who are less often minority students than the district as a whole.

The district has failed utterly, however, in grasping the kind of solutions to the problems with its current offerings that will work at a practical, day to day level when implemented.

For example, the district wants to dismantle the selective admission pre-International Bachelorate (PIB) program at George Washington High School (which my daughter attends) with an open enrollment approach in which students in its non-PIB students are free to take one or more very rigorous PIB classes.  (PIB classes are generally more academically demanding than George Washington High School's Advanced Placement classes for which students who score well on a national exam can earn college credit.)

There are a multiple big flaws in this plan.

First, one of the things that makes it possible for PIB classes to be so rigorous, is that the program is restricted to kids who are academically high performing, so teachers don't have to slow down the rest of the class to accommodate students who aren't ready for this rigorous material.

Second, a shortage of more rigorous than AP classes is not what non-PIB students at George Washington High School are missing out on.  In the non-PIB student body, 50% are performing below the "proficient level" for their grade level in reading, 60% are performing below the "proficient level" in writing, and 70% are performing below the "proficient level" for their grade level in math, according to Colorado's standardized testing system.  The failure rates of non-PIB students in AP classes on the AP exams is twice the national average rate, before you even consider the fact that many non-PIB students in AP classes aren't taking the AP exam at all.  There are some non-PIB students who are ready for more rigorous academic offerings than they are receiving in a program built around a student body that mostly needs remedial level academic course work.  But, access to ultra rigorous PIB classes isn't what the vast majority of non-PIB students at George Washington who aren't ready for those kind of academic challenges need to improve their educational opportunites.  Enrolling someone in a class that they are more likely than not going to fail does them no favors.

Third, as recent educational research at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs demonstrated, integrating weakly performing students and strongly performing students in the same classroom leaves both groups worse off, unless the gap between those two groups of students is bridged by students who are performing at an intermediate "average" level.  Without students of "average" academic ability to bridge the gap between students who are above average, and below average, the potential synergies that a mixed ability classroom setting can provide don't materialize.  The problem at a school like George Washington that makes it so hard for its two different academic programs to mesh well is that there few students in the middle ground between the PIB students who are mostly performing at above their grade level and the non-PIB students who are mostly performing at below their grade level, to provide middle ground that can integrate the school as a whole.  Without this group of students to bridge the gap, the two groups of students are naturally going to separate like oil and water, no matter what kind of window dressing you try to put on the effort.

Fourth, any change, even a good sensible plan for change (which this is not), is not going to succeed unless the people affected by it were sincerely involved in the process of formulating it before the decision to implement the changes was made.

It is sad to see the district unilaterally undermine one of its most successful programs in such a bumbling way.  And, the district is equally eager to undermine a reasonably successful and attractive set of academic programs at East High School, but proposing to divert all East High School freshmen to Manual High School whose academic program has been such a failure that students have overwhelmingly voted with their feet to attend high school elsewhere, leaving its classrooms mostly empty.

DPS can offer better programs to all of its students.  But, the solution to improving the lot of its many low income, disproportionately minority students who are not performing at grade level academically as entering high school freshmen, or at just barely performing at grade level, is not to throw them into classes taught at an above grade level standard.  This approach, like the existing DPS policy of enrolling kids who aren't ready for Advanced Placement level course work in Advanced Placement courses simply sets those kids up for failure.

The unpleasant reality is that when there are immense disparities in academic ability of students entering high school, no program DPS can offer is going to close all or even most of that achievement gap over the next four years.  Any DPS initiative that sets out to do that is going to fail.  Instead, DPS needs to take its incoming high school students as they find them and offer them curricular options that engage them at the level of academic achievement they are at now, and makes those options relevant by preparing those students for realistic post-high school goals, instead of indulging the polite myth that every child can be (or should try to be) President, a doctor or lawyer, or even a traditional college student.  Offering students who aren't at grade level as freshmen, watered down versions of curricula designed to prepare them for liberal arts educations at selective colleges that will never admit them does nobody any favors.

14 June 2014

Quote of the Day

Obama is not a foreign-born socialist giving away free healthcare.  That would be Jesus.
- Seen on a bumper sticker in Denver today.

10 June 2014

Murders By Crazy People Bring Out Comments By Crazy Supporters

Language Log recounts the shovel load of crazy comments spawned by news reports about a white supremacist couple who killed a cop.  The sheer volume of deluded conspiracy theorists and racist nutcases in this country is astounding.

How can society appropriately impress upon them and readers how crazy they are?

UPDATE:  Quote of the Day (June 12, 2014):
People can be taught how to hate and people can be taught how to spell.  But apparently, its one or the other.
- George Takai

Denver Police And Sheriff Slammed For Witness Intimidation In Civil Rights Lawsuit

Federal Judge John Kane of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado slammed the City and County of Denver for having a pattern and practice of witness intimidation in a civil rights suit alleging that a 2011 jailhouse beating of an inmate in Denver's jails by other inmates was orchestrated by prison guard Gaynel Rumer, who was suspended for 40 days by the City but is now back on the job.

The judge also urged federal law enforcement officials to investigate official misconduct by Denver law enforcement officers in the case.  According to the Denver Post:
U.S. District Judge John Kane has asked federal authorities to investigate the "patterns and practices" of the Denver police and sheriff's offices and suggested they were intimidating a key witness.

In an emergency hearing, Kane ordered Denver police internal affairs detectives to stop an investigation against witness Amos Page, who is testifying in the case of a former jail inmate. . . .

Kane on Friday ordered Denver police to produce all documents in its investigation of Page, including recordings of interviews, e-mails, notes and correspondence by June 16.

"The Denver Police Department is immediately and permanently enjoined from any and all action, investigation, consultation or and kind of participation, including any action by its Internal Affairs Bureau, until judgment is entered in this case," Kane ordered. . . .

Kane also ordered that a transcript of Friday's hearing be provided to the U.S. Attorney's office for a possible criminal investigation. The judge added that if the case goes to trial, the jury will be instructed regarding the treatment of the witnesses, "including intimidation by agents of the defendant."

Kane ordered that all statements from Page recorded by the city and its law enforcement officers are stricken from the record of the federal case. The judge also canceled all scheduled depositions of other witnesses.

He gave Hunter the authority to depose the internal affairs officers at the expense of the city, including attorney's fees.

A motion by Hunter's attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, says Sgts. Brian Cotter and Brad Lenderink of Denver's internal affairs office went to the Crowley County Correctional Facility and interviewed Page, apparently to intimidate him from testifying in Hunter's civil suit.
It is exceedingly rare for a federal judge to call out and severely sanction city law enforcement officials for acting in a criminal way to prejudice a federal civil lawsuit.  This should be a wake up call for Mayor Hancock to take radical action to address corruption in the city's law enforcement agencies, something he has already shown that he is inclined to do.

But, it's is hard not to be skeptical that any real reform will arise from this incident when the city's officials were caught red handed in an illegal cover up of its own misconduct by the department that is supposed to be punishing bad cops, given the dismal record of efforts so far under multiple successive well meaning Mayoral administrations.

Florida Has Bad Judges Too

Apparently discouraged that Texas was pulling ahead in the race to have the most egregious cases of judicial misconduct, Florida has stepped it up a notch.

Are There Limits To Climate Change?

If we don't limit CO2 emissions by the end of the century, we will be in big global warming trouble.

But, it isn't clear to me that not limiting CO2 emissions is an option.  Sure, we could fail to adopt environmental regulations, but most CO2 emissions are due to hydrocarbon fuel combustion and we are also approaching Peak Oil.

Peak Oil doesn't mean that we will suddenly run out of oil.  It means that supply will start shrinking, as an indirect consequence of the finite supply of oil and gas, while demand will continue to rise.  This will drive up oil and gas prices, which will reduce consumption, not to zero, but as we get further and further past Peak Oil, to a greater and greater extent.

There is good reason to believe that we are already at Peak Oil, or will be there soon (in a matter of a few years).
There is a general consensus between industry leaders and analysts that world oil production will peak between 2010 and 2030, with a significant chance that the peak will occur before 2020. Dates after 2030 are considered implausible. Determining a more specific range is difficult due to the lack of certainty over the actual size of world oil reserves. Unconventional oil is not currently predicted to meet the expected shortfall even in a best-case scenario. 
For unconventional oil to fill the gap without "potentially serious impacts on the global economy", oil production would have to remain stable after its peak, until 2035 at the earliest. 
Given the large range offered by meta-studies, papers published since 2010 have been relatively pessimistic. A 2010 Kuwait University study predicted production will peak in 2014. A 2010 Oxford University study predicted that production will peak before 2015. A 2014 validation of a significant 2004 study in the journal Energy proposed that it is likely that conventional oil production peaked, according to various definitions, between 2005 and 2011. Models which show a continued increase in oil production may be including both conventional and non-conventional oil. Major oil companies hit peak production in 2005. . . . 
As of 2012, both world crude oil production and remaining proven reserves were at record highs.
Thus, there is very good reason to believe that with or without environmental CO2 regulations, that world CO2 emissions will fall significantly before the end of the century.

The big question is whether or not coal will be substituted for oil and gas as they come into short supply and make up for the shortfall in CO2 emissions caused by reduced oil and gas consumption.  The global supply of coal is also finite, but Peak Coal is not likely until far more than 86 years from now.  If we substitute solar and wind and hydro power and energy conservation for declining oil and gas supplies, global warming worst case scenarios won't come to pass.  If we substitute coal, they might.

Prison Still Hell

In Indiana, a prisoner had 30 days of good time revoked because he followed the directions of prison staff regarding accessing the Internet while acting as a prison librarian.  Had he disobeyed orders, he could also have been disciplined for that.

The 7th Circuit disagreed and was troubled by the stance that the prison took in litigation in the case.  The Court also pointed out the prison's failure to disclose the charges to the prisoner, creating Kafkaesque circumstances for the prisoner as he tried to set forth his claim.

The Case Against Cost Benefit Analysis

This Article draws lessons about the theory of law and economics from the recent financial crisis. It argues that the financial crisis teaches us that allocative efficiency, the main goal of law and microeconomics, proves an unattainable and relatively unimportant goal for laws addressing complex systems. It shows that complexity and the institutional role of law make calculation of optimal rules impossible for complex systems like those addressed through financial regulation, intellectual property, antitrust law, environmental law, and national security law.

Drawing primarily on the financial crisis, this Article identifies the features of complex systems that make mathematical calculation of costs and benefits impossible. Apparently recognizing that complexity defeats identification of optimal rules through cost-benefit analysis, law and economics scholars have used assumptions of rationality and perfect information as a substitute for quantitative analysis. The financial crisis teaches us that this CBA-substitute dangerously supports deregulatory ideology. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of complex systems renders any equilibrium between costs and benefits short-lived and therefore of relatively little value.

This Article also shows law’s institutional function as providing a framework that can accommodate a variety of transactions makes prediction of efficient outcomes extremely unlikely. For this institutional role implies that law does not usually determine resource allocation.

This Article addresses the question about what to do about law and microeconomics’ failure by proposing a more macroeconomic approach to law. This economic dynamic approach would treat law as an effort to countervail negative trends over time with a goal of avoiding systemic risks while keeping a reasonably robust set of economic opportunities open. It sketches a methodological approach to accomplishing these goals rooted in institutional economics and the best practices of law and economics scholars.
From the Abstract to David M. Driesen (Syracuse University - College of Law) has posted Legal Theory Lessons from the Financial Crisis (40 Journal of Corporate Law, 2014, Forthcoming) via the Legal Theory Blog.

I agree that economics has failed at the goal of making complex systems sufficiently predictable to legislate based upon those predictions, although I would fault macroeconomics more than microeconomics.  In particular, even state of the art sophisticated macroeconomic policy is insufficient to prevent the boom-bust business cycle from progressing, or to identify and prevent economic harm from bubbles in particular microeconomic markets.

I further agree that given the impossibility of preventing serious recessions, the better course is to adopt policies that make the economy more robust and mitigates systemic risks where possible.

I also agree that Cost Benefit Analysis is more art than science and can be grossly inaccurate, although it bears recognizing that in some policy areas, such as environmental regulation, Cost Benefit Analysis tends to underestimate the benefits of policy action relative to the costs, rather than to overestimate it.  And I agree that the assumption the lassiez faire deregulation with lead to maximal economic and allocative efficiency is naive.

On the other hand, the fact that the available policy tools provided by economics are imperfect does not mean that they aren't valuable.  Every policy decision ultimately has a theoretical underpinning.  It is better to have a well validated theoretical underpinning than one that is ad hoc and may actually be strongly contradicted by empirical evidence.

Many of the policy antecedents of the Financial Crisis can be well understood from a microeconomic perspective, even though the fact that the consequences of failing to heed microeconomic directives would be immense at a macroeconomic level was not at all obvious.

For example, one of the core proximate causes of the Financial Crisis was a housing bubble.  It turns out, in fact, that this housing bubble was not a national issue, but was overwhelmingly driven by a housing bubble in states where state law provided that residential mortgages were "non-recourse" which is to say that losses from a collapse in housing prices in excess of the down payment were solely experienced by the lender and were not the responsibility of the borrower.  This created a moral hazard encouraging borrowers to buy new homes on a leveraged basis even if they could not afford them because the down side risk was small.  Thus, flawed state mortgage foreclosure laws in a handful of economically important states like California and Florida, led to the collapse of the financial institutions that capitalized this lending which led to a severe national recession.  Better microeconomic policy analysis might have discouraged states from adopting non-recourse mortgage policies and prevented the financial crisis.

In sum, the part of economics that failed in the financial crisis was largely macroeconomic.  Refocusing macroeconomic policy on making a complex economy more robust, rather than maximizing economic growth, the traditional focus of macroeconomic policy, would be a worthwhile step to take.

06 June 2014

Remembering Granby

Ten years ago today, the citizens of Colorado were forcibly reminded why the private ownership of tanks is a bad idea when a man used his to single handedly destroy much of downtown Granby.

Financial Crisis Employment Slump Ends

This week, employment levels in the United States have finally returned to their pre-financial crisis peak reached in 2007, about six years ago.  Of course, in the meantime, the population of the United States has grown and we are still not back to the number of jobs per capita that the U.S. had before the financial crisis.

Also notably, in Colorado, new foreclosures and foreclosure sales have finally almost returned to their pre-financial crisis levels.

05 June 2014

Seriously, Biblical Justice Revisited, Beyond Strawmen

Beyond Straw Man Arguments

In my post earlier today on Biblical Justice, there is an implication that these expressions of Biblical Law and of Biblical justice are direct guidance to modern Jews and Christians. But, as a challenge to the extent to which these faiths are in touch with modern reality, this is a straw man argument.

These Biblical passages may cast doubt on whether Iron Age Jewish law in the form recounted in the Hebrew Bible even made sense, even then as a good and moral religious option for these people.  History is written by the winners, but maybe their win was just good luck and we are saddled with the legacy of the fact that this tribe rather than another won, despite its immoral sense of justice, as a result.

But, neither Jews, nor Christians, nor even Christian denominations that claim to be bound by Jewish law such as Messianic Christians and Seventh Day Adventists, apply these laws in daily life today. Modern Rabbinic Jews and Christians have "tamed" Biblical law with theological principles by which these laws are applied to modern conditions.

In contrast, one of the notable phenomena of modern Islamic fundamentalism is that Islamic law, which has a very similar "feel" to Biblical law of the Hebrew Bible, is comparatively "untamed" for substantial share of all Muslims alive today. Indeed, the fairly recent modern reality of widespread literacy in the Islamic world, which has allowed Muslims to read the Koran and other Islamic theological works, unmediated by the interpretive gloss of Islamic religious scholars, is one important cause of modern Islamic fundamentalism's rise now, despite progressive moral trends overall across the globe.

Beyond Abrahamic Faiths

Of course, issued of "taming" the "difficult" aspects of religious traditions is not particular to Abrahamic faith adherents.

While most citizens of India are nominally Hindu, differences between secular minded intellectual elites, well organized fundamentalist Hindu political forces, and "culturally Hindu" Indian citizens to whom their faith doesn't have much of an impact on their politics play a powerful role in the politics of India, although it is relevant in very few other places since Hinduism did not expand to many places outside India (whose boundaries itself were drawn based upon citizen's religious affiliation).

Eastern religions (e.g. Tibetan Buddhist and Falun Gong adherents in China), Confucian ideas whether or not religious, animist religious views in Africa and among indigenous peoples elsewhere, and other faiths face similar dilemmas.  But, those stories are for another day.

The Theological Common Ground Of The Abrahamic Faiths

This disparity between almost all Judeo-Christan adherents of Abrahamic faiths and many Muslim adherents, occurs despite the fact that all three of faiths claim to involve worship of the same God whose exploits are recounted first in the Hebrew Bible, then, according to Christians in the New Testament written centuries after that, and finally in the utterances of Muhammad purportedly dictated in the Koran several centuries later.

Jews obviously don't view the New Testament as a sacred and authoritative text. Neither Jews nor Christians view the Koran as a sacred and authoritative scripture. And, Muslims have their own theologically definitive account of the events of the Old Testament and New Testament that is not in perfect accord with the Jewish or Christian accounts. But, all three main branches of Abrahamic faiths acknowledge that their faiths are not independent of each other and that they worship the same God and draw on the same overarching tradition that began with the covenant between God and Abraham which the theologies of all three faiths describe as a pivotal event in the history of man's relationship with God.

Taming Biblical Justice

Given the centrality of the theological taming of Biblical law by Jews and Christians to the adherents of those religions, it is worth examining the legal and theological theory that has provided intellectual justification for the taming of this morally and practically difficult to apply scriptural primary materials that Jews and Christians share in the Hebrew Bible. Christians and Jews have different, but similar means of doing so.

How Do Christians "Tame" The Old Testament?

J. Daniel Hayes, writing in an article in the January-March 2001 edition of Bibliotheca Sacra (at volume 158, pages 21-35) an academic journal of the Dallas Theological Seminary, succinctly summarizes (on page 30) the status of Old Testament Biblical Law in mainstream modern Christian Theology:
The Law is tied to the Mosaic Covenant, which is integrally connected to Israel's life in the land and the conditional promises of blessing related to their living obediently in the land. Christians are not related to that land, nor are they related to the conditions for being blessed in the land. Also the Mosaic Covenant is obsolete, having been replaced by the New Covenant. Therefore the Mosaic Law, a critical component of the Old Covenant, is not valid as law over believers in the church age.
The first part of the analysis rests heavily on the observation that Old Testament Law is embedded in what is presented as a historical narrative of the Jewish people, with much of that narrative pertaining to a context that can never be repeated:
A critical part of this covenant was God's promise to dwell in Israel's midst. This is stressed several times in the latter half of Exodus (25:8; 29:45; 33:14-17; 40:34-38). Associated with God's presence are the instructions for constructing the ark and the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell (Exod. 25-31, 35-40). Leviticus is thus the natural sequence to the latter half of Exodus, for it addresses how Israel was to live with God in their midst. How should they approach Him? How should they deal with personal and national sin before a holy God who dwelt among them? How should they worship and fellowship with this holy, awesome God in their midst? Leviticus provides the answers to these questions, giving practical guidelines for living with God under the terms of the Mosaic Covenant.
He does not, however, dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant to Christians. Instead, he proposes a five step approach for gleaning guidance from it, which he calls "principalism":

1. Identify what the particular law mean to the initial audience.
2. Determine the differences between the initial audience and believers today.
3. Develop universal principles from the text.
4. Correlate the principle with New Testament teaching.
5. Apply the modified universal principle to life today.

How Do Jews "Tame" the Hebrew Bible?

Jew's, obviously, can't resort to the replacement of the New Covenant by the Old Covenant in their own taming of Biblical law from the Hebrew Bible and in particular from the Torah (i.e. the first five books of the Hebrew Bible whose authorship is attributed to Moses by tradition), where much of the "difficult material" is found. But, the process of Rabbinical exegesis of the Hebrew Bible along lines very similar to that set forth by Hayes in his exposition of "principalism" is very similar to the process that Rabbinic Jews resorted to over many centuries that is recounted in the Talmud, a collection of commentaries and legal analysis of the Hebrew Bible for a Jewish people scattered in the diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple ca. 70 CE.

For Jewish theologians, the destruction of the Second Temple, and elaborate institutions of the Jewish priesthood and sacrificial offers that accompanied that institution, serves a purpose similar to that of the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ, in Christian theology.

The Talmudic process of deriving modified universal principles to apply to life today from Hebrew Bible materials embedded in a purportedly historical narrative that took place in a profoundly different Iron Age context, has played an important role in producing a modern Rabbinic Jewish culture that functions in the modern world in a manner not entirely foreign to Christians with whom they share the modern world in most places where Jews have been found in the last twenty centuries.

How Do Muslims "Tame" Islamic Law?

Even Islamic law has been greatly "tamed" as the example of the Koran has been implemented in Islamic societies and communities, almost from the outset as an Islamic empire rapidly flourished after the death of Muhammad in the early 7th century.

For example, while Islamic law permits a man to take up to four wives at one time, the commentary and traditional of Islamic societies discourages polygamy, even though it does not prohibit it, for most men.  The Koran demands that a polygamous husband treat his wives equally, and the religious tradition that has emerged in Islam since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, has emphasized how difficult it is to practice equal treatment of multiple wives in daily life.

Various Islamic sects classified as "Shi'ite" can resort to clarifying pronouncements of Imans after the death of the Prophet, who those sects recognize as authoritative.  The mystical Sufi movement within Islam has provided an more humanist interpretive philosophical gloss that mutes the hard edges of Islamic law read strictly.  Islamic legal scholarship has found doctrinal "hooks" and implementation practices (such as options to pay blood money in lieu of death sentences, and extraordinarily high evidence standards) by which harsh Islamic law punishments are rarely meted out with the frequency that a naive reading of the Koran would suggest that we should expect in the majority of Islamic communities that are relatively less "fundamentalist." Some concepts, like the Islamic law requirement that women be "modest" in public, are extremely vague and are informed almost entirely by non-Koran tradition that has far more limited and less widespread and definitive authority.  In these cases, the presence of "standards" rather than "rules" provides flexibility that produces different practical outcomes in some communities than in others.

Big Issues

Why does all of this matter?

1.  The Future Of Islam.  A pivotal question in a wide variety of geopolitical contexts is whether it is possible to have Islamic societies that are less incompatible with global, modern norms of political economy that the Islamic monarchies, autocracies, and theocracies that are common place in much of the Islamic world today (or, for example, in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, in recent history).  This is really only possible if theological movements and cultural shifts within modern Islamic communities can "tame" fundamentalist visions of Islamic law to produce societies that function in ways that show sufficient decency and functionality as political and cultural systems to be livable and worth living in within the modern world.

If this is not possible (and a few notable examples like Turkey and Muslim communities in the United States and Europe suggest that it is) to "tame" Islamic law in the fashion discussed above, or if while possible it simply is not going to happen, then the logical choice for non-Islamic policy makers in the world is to suppress Islams and convert Muslims either to other faiths or to a secular ideology.

2. Reversibility.  Most Americans, most Latin Americans, and a great many Europeans are full participants in our modern global humanist democratic political culture who are nominally Christian in some form or another, but are lax in their observance which isn't very important to their identity.  But, even a very shallow religious identity provides a hook that can be activated to shift hearts and minds in the face of sudden controversies that come up.  Deep down, important parts of the Christian worldview are in the end analysis incompatible with modernity if you look more closely at it and are forced to explore the tension points.

Right now, nothing is forcing those people to chose and modern cultural ideas can infiltrate into people's consciousness and views of the world by osmosis without resistance, as a result.  But, even a very thin nominal affiliation to a religion can be powerful in an unexpected crisis where people have no strong preconceptions and the religion card is played.  The Christian worldview (or Jewish or Muslim or whatever) provides a reservoir a preferred ideas that can be drawn upon to influence people's decisions and perceptions in the future.

This lays a foundation for a possible reversal of progressive gains in policy and culture is some future crisis or shock leads people to question their more modern attitudes.  For example, nominal Christian worldviews, especially nominal Evangelical Christian worldviews, even if not lived very actively, could fuel a political movement to reverse gains for gay rights when some high profile media drama calls the correctness of that progress into question for a moment.

The Islamic fundamentalist political movement that is really less than half a century old, was made possible only because there was a wide but thin societal consensus in favor of Islam that was absent on almost any other ground in much of the world.  In the early 1970s, when the movement started to gain steam, this consensus was almost as thin as it was wide and people's daily lives and identity weren't nearly as conscious of an Islamic religious identity as it is now.  Whether practices of people's lived lives were Islamic or just cultural wasn't something people even really considered.  But, when Cold War conflicts, economic disruption and dissatisfaction with post-Colonial arrangements came to a head, even these thin and far from fundamentalist religious identities provides a reservoir of ideological commitments and sources of authority regarding ideal political economies that anti-Western leaders quickly learned to activate and mobilize to reverse gains in those societies in a Western and modern direction.  This reservoir of religious commitments, while thin, made it possible for modern, Western leaning progress in places like Afghanistan, Iran, and Lebanon to suddenly and dramatically reverse themselves when the forces backing that progress became unpopular.

We could easily see residual Christian religious affiliations of Christmas and Easter, Wedding and Funeral Christians in the U.S., mobilized at some point to roll back liberal gains on social issues over the past couple of decades such as gay rights, tolerance of atheists, relaxed attitudes toward legalized drugs, and more, given a sufficient flash point and skilled anti-progressive activists leading that charge.

3. Understanding Why People Change Religious Identity.  Some of what makes secular cultural identities seem attractive relative to Christian and Muslim and Jewish cultural identities to 21st century citizens of Earth, which has driven massive grass roots trends towards secularism in Europe and North America, is the absurdity of naive readings of religious laws in these faiths.  But, this straw man argument incorrectly frames the choice between "progressive" and tamed version of these faiths, and more fundamentalist version of them.

Also, manipulating perceptions of how people live their faiths in different traditions can drive conversions to and from religious faiths, and those conversions of whole worldviews are often more effective to reshape the views of society as a whole than trying to make changes within a rigidly settled cultural tradition.  If large numbers of people have already changed their cultural worldviews to something inconsistent with their formal religious identifications, the task of securing mass conversions becomes much easier once you can get the ball rolling.

For most people, questions about whether you should adhere to a religion are cultural choices, not logical or metaphysical or theological ones (although some more intellectually and theoretically oriented people like myself, who are unusual as individuals, do care a great deal about issues for which answers do lie in scripture)  What matters to someone considering adopting the Christian faith is not so much what is buried in a Bible that few people ever read cover to cover anyway, but how Christians in the particular denomination a person is considering adhering to, live their religious identity.  A tolerant and merciful gloss on a religion can tame a bigoted and wrathful collection of scriptures.

Many people on the left are alienated from Christianity in reaction to fundamentalist Christian expressions of that faith that are rare outside of certain regions in the United States and parts of Africa.  But, the may fail to appreciate or forget how other branches of Christianity, which are predominant in much of the world, may be a positive force for change in accord with their values elsewhere in the world, and how secular people elsewhere in the world may have non-religious ideologies and cultural views that are equally problematic to their progressive visions for the future.

In much of the developing world and Third World, secularism is a close handmaiden of authoritarian, militaristic, and old school conceptions of Soviet style communist or socialist worldviews and institutions, rather than the humanist democratic capitalist leftists who tend towards secular views in the United States and much of Europe.  Ideologies that they attribute to secularism may actually have little to do with religious identity in practice, but for the historical accidents of the world of their own daily lives.

4. Choosing Political Tactics.  An understanding of mainstream theological justifications for how people of faith actually live their lives in light of their faith's mandates is important to know what kind of rhetorical and political tactics are likely to be fruitful in debating political issues within the American political system.

Also, while the core of the reasoning expressed above is quite widely held, the authority of theological intermediaries in more fundamentalist expressions of Abrahamic faiths has been undermined among Christians, Jews and Muslims alike as the public has become more literate and educated.

Even if professors at Evangelical Christian seminaries recognize the absurdity of indiscriminately treating Old Testament law as authoritative in the modern world, many adults who practice those faiths and even ministers and religious organization leaders of those faiths haven't necessarily reached a point in their ongoing journey of understanding their own faith, where they have made the same realization.

On one hand, that means that as a matter of rhetorical tactics, they can be challenged credibly regarding whether their resort to these sources is really accurate in expressing the views of their own religious denomination (although this is hard to do as an outsider, particularly in the American context where freedom of religious conscious is personal and denominational authorities have no meaningful capacity to impose their beliefs unwillingly on others).

On the other hand, "no true Scotsman" arguments that "Islam is a peaceful religion", or that "Christians don't follow the Old Testament law" or that "Mormons have disavowed doctrines of polygamy and racial inferiority of blacks" need to be tempered with the fact that the lived faith of many adherents to these religions does fit the stereotypes and extremes, even if sophisticated mainline practitioners of these faiths do not share these views.

5.  Understanding The Economic Sources Of Religious and Cultural Values.  Students of history observe that cultural norms are often intimately associated with the predominant economic system of the society in which they emerged.  People in China which were traditionally fed with wheat and millet farming have different cultural norms than people who were in places traditionally fed by rice farming.  Places with a history of plough farming tend to have different laws and cultural features than those that traditionally had hoe farming.  Pastoralist societies, fishing based societies, terrestial hunter and gather societies, and "raiding" societies (usually temporary ones) tend to produce yet other sets of laws and values and cultures.

The evidence for an economic determinist model in which economic realities shape choices made in ethnogenesis processes as new cultures emerge which is then transmitted on for many generations long after the formative selective factors are no longer relevant, is quite strong, albeit a bit fuzzy.  It also allows us to see the lived cultures of various religions as something the evolves and is selected for in a non-random fitness conscious way, rather than randomly.

As one conducts that analysis, one can conclude that Islam in practice in much of the world still carries defining "culture of honor" features associated with herders societies, as did the Temple Judaism of the Hebrew Bible.  But, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are religious cultures that are among the first to emerge in more urban, settled, politically unified large empires.  It is worth the effort to come to a more accurate understanding of what economic roots the ideologies and values expressed in different faiths have, because misapprehending this reality can lead to major miscalculations about how societies and faiths will change in the future, and about how values that are part of an overall worldview are non-obviously related to each other.

This perspective allows us to understand why lived religious norms are similar or different between particular faiths, to take that into account when evaluating the relevance of those religious cultures for people today, and for predicting what kinds of religious or cultural frameworks are likely to emerge as a rapidly evolving culture is entering a new phase of ethnogenesis and understanding how those choices manifest, why, and how they persist.  Understanding the why behind a lived religious culture's elements also makes it possible to know how it may be changed and what causes the status quo to persist in the face of outside questioning.

Recent social science research shows that the process of changing people's opinions on matters integral to their larger worldview is entirely different from the way that people change their opinions in response to evidence on matters that are not central to their overall worldview.  Hence, in Europe, where the main Christian denominations accept evolution, factual presentations of evolution in schools reach little resistance and beliefs consistent with scientific evidence are widespread.  But, in the American South, where the main Christian denominations reject evolution in favor of a literal reading of the Book of Genesis, merely presenting evidence on the question doesn't make much of a dent in the widespread rejection of truth of this scientific fact, and change in views about this subject will only occur as people's whole worldviews are transformed.

If you can cause people to adopt new ideas on the "easy route" that applies to new ideas that aren't perceived as challenging someone's worldview in enough ways, before they realize that there is a conflict, these ideas that actually are in conflict with those worldviews when considered more thoughtfully, can provide leverage to flip someone over into a new worldview.  Getting the new ideas "under the radar" before the ideological immune systems of a person's worldview kick in, is a key political tactic in the "culture wars."

If new ideas can be presented in ways that don't challenge people's whole worldviews, they have a much greater chance of acceptance, than they would if the new ideas are at odds with the worldviews of the people to whom someone seeks to present the new ideas.

In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, economic determinism can help explain why it has not been "tamed" in most places to the same extent as Christianity and Judaism.  Some places, like Afghanistan where the Taliban emerged, Yemen, and the African Sahel where Boko Harem has emerged for example, are societies where the grass roots of society really are still full of pastoralists.  In many other places, oil wealth has removed the economic pressures that would otherwise powerfully encourage societies to modernize.  Oil money has subsidized pastoralist cultural practices that would otherwise have crumbled under the economic pressures of a modern middle class private sector enterprise based economy.  In places with less oil wealth where development has occurred via widespread business activity by middle class people, like Iraq and Egypt and Syria and Jordan and Turkey, fundamentalism was less extreme.  But, in places like Saudi Arabia, oil wealth has not only permitted dysfunctional pastoralist cultural features and values to persist.  It has also allowed these oil rich countries to finance the expansion of their own dysfunctional cultures (viewed in the context of the modern, non-oil economy) elsewhere (e.g. in the funding of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic fundamentalist political movements and terrorist organizations around the poor, strife torn parts of the Islamic world like Yemen and Somolia and Mali).

Until Peak Oil hits and this economic means of subsidizing cultural stasis that no longer functions in the modern world is gone, there is little reason to expect Islamic cultures in these places to "tame" themselves.