29 March 2017

Federal Criminal Prosecutions Down

The decline in federal criminal prosecutions is good news but not likely to carry over into the Trump administration as much of it results from a change in Justice Department priorities during the Obama Administration.
Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 77,152 defendants in fiscal year 2016, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That’s a decline of 25% since fiscal 2011, when 102,617 defendants were charged, and marks the lowest yearly total since 1997. The data count all defendants charged in U.S. district courts with felonies and serious misdemeanors, as well as some defendants charged with petty offenses. They exclude defendants whose cases were handled by magistrate judges. 
Prosecutions for drug, immigration and property offenses – the three most common categories of crime charged by the federal government – all have declined over the past five years. The Justice Department filed drug charges against 24,638 defendants in 2016, down 23% from 2011. It filed immigration charges against 20,762 defendants, down 26%. And it charged 10,712 people with property offenses such as fraud and embezzlement, a 39% decline. 
However, prosecutions for other, less frequently charged crime types have increased slightly. For example, prosecutors charged 8,576 defendants with gun crimes in 2016, a 3% increase over 2011 (and a 9% single-year increase over 2015). And they charged 2,897 people with violent crimes such as murder, robbery and assault, a 4% increase from five years earlier. . . . Federal marijuana prosecutions fell to 5,158 in 2016, down 39% from five years earlier.
From Pew.

For comparison purposes, state and local prosecutors filed more than 19,823,723 criminal charges in the year 2010. Federal prosecutions make up roughly 0.5% of all criminal prosecutions filed in the United States, although the share of felony prosecutions filed in federal court is considerably higher.

There were more than 2,555,530 state and local prosecutions for felonies in general jurisdiction courts in 2010. Federal cases probably account for 2%-4% of the total number of felony prosecutions in the United States each year.

Unimpressive Technologies

Sometimes, technology is amazing. Other times it is, well, less impressive.

What are the least transformative and quality of life improving technological advances we enjoy today:

* We abolished the phone book without replacing it with a reliable way to look up people's phone numbers.

* Some of the most profitable technology companies in the nation are non-union taxi services.

* We replaced wristwatches with a battery life of several years with pocket watches that have to be recharged daily.

* Duct tape now comes in designer colors.

* The mall now has poles controlling whether you can get in or out of the parking lot that change colors when they are going to let you out, unlike the mono-color version that's been around since my grandparents were driving.

* Instead of having time cards stamped at a shared time card machine, working class Americans now have their own personal time card stamping machines (phones).

* We've figured out how to make it take longer to process a credit card transaction than it used to take.

* Select movie theaters now feature high technology features like recliner chairs, assigned seating, and alcohol services, none of which would have been possible for public performances before the Bronze Age.

* We have invented backyard play house for grown ups with little money.

* We have managed to dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to get from the ticket counter to the plane in a typical airport.

* We have managed to replace free meals on airplanes with pay a la carte meals on airplanes, which we now eat in smaller seats, on flights where we have to pay extra for both carry-on baggage and checked baggage.

* We have replaced supersonic jet service across the Atlantic Ocean with subsonic jet service across the ocean.

* We abandoned the programs that allowed us to travel to the Moon and operate a reusable space shuttle.

* We have dramatically increased the inflation adjusted price of a morning coffee.

* We have reduced the amount of service you receive from employees at gas stations, in the express line at the grocery store, and at the bank.

* We have replaced dishwashers that wash your dishes in half an hour with dishwashers that wash your dishes in three hours.

* We can again use 1940s passenger rail technology to make the 66 mile (by highway) trip from Denver's Union Station to the Winter Park Ski resort (which uses about $4 of gas), over 62 miles of rail at an average speed of 31 miles per hour (in about 120 minutes by train v. 82 minutes per hour by car) at a cost of $37.50 each way.

* We have replaced five to seven times a day mail delivery service with six times a week mail delivery service.

* We have made car maintenance which were possible to do and which many people did do in their garages at home impossible to accomplish without expensive equipment.

* We may not have solved all of the world's problems, but we now have free, universal hard-core pornography for anyone who has Internet access that can be viewed in a private place.

28 March 2017

The Empty Right To Remain Silent

An empirical study of 400 mock jury trials show that the practical harm to a defendant involved in choosing to remain silent in criminal trial is comparable in magnitude to the harm associated with disclosing a defendant's criminal record at trial, even though jurors are always expressly instructed not to make any negative inference from a defendant's failure to take the stand in a criminal jury trial.
Jeffrey Bellin (William & Mary Law School) has posted The Silence Penalty (Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract: 
In every criminal trial, the defendant possesses the right to testify. Deciding whether to exercise that right, however, is rarely easy. Declining to testify shields defendants from questioning by the prosecutor and normally precludes the introduction of a defendant’s prior crimes. But silence comes at a price. Jurors penalize defendants who fail to testify by inferring guilt from silence. 
This Article explores this complex dynamic, focusing on empirical evidence from mock juror experiments – including the results of a new 400-person mock juror simulation conducted for this Article – and data from real trials. It concludes that the penalty defendants suffer when they refuse to testify is substantial, rivaling the more widely-recognized damage done to a defendant’s trial prospects by the introduction of a criminal record. Moreover, these two penalties work in tandem, creating a “parallel penalty” effect that systemically diminishes the prospects of acquittal and incentivizes guilty pleas. 
The empirical evidence surveyed, including the new juror simulation, will be of obvious interest to participants in the criminal justice system. But, as the Article explains, the data also present a powerful indictment of the system itself.

More Bank Capital Makes The Economy More Robust

I have long argued that there is basically nothing that can be done from a policy perspective to prevent the business cycle of booms and busts from occurring. But, policy measures can make the economy more robust so that the consequences of a bust are less severe.

A comprehensive study of bank capital levels and business cycles since 1870 supports this conclusion:
Higher capital ratios are unlikely to prevent a financial crisis. This is empirically true both for the entire history of advanced economies between 1870 and 2013 and for the post-WW2 period, and holds both within and between countries. We reach this startling conclusion using newly collected data on the liability side of banks’ balance sheets in 17 countries. A solvency indicator, the capital ratio has no value as a crisis predictor; but we find that liquidity indicators such as the loan-to-deposit ratio and the share of non-deposit funding do signal financial fragility, although they add little predictive power relative to that of credit growth on the asset side of the balance sheet. 
However, higher capital buffers have social benefits in terms of macro-stability: recoveries from financial crisis recessions are much quicker with higher bank capital.

26 March 2017

A Cheap Effective Cure For Sepsis? Probably yes.

Last year a Virginia doctor discovered a new therapy for sepsis that appears to be highly effective in short order with no side effects, despite using only common place inexpensive components in an IV administration. Specifically, it consists of an IV administration of Vitamin C, thiamine (which helps the body absorb vitamin C) and steroids (which work in a manner similar to Vitamin C in some respects).

This remarkable simple treatment appears to be the real deal and could save 30,000+ lives per year in the United States alone. It is already supported by a published academic journal article show extreme levels of effectiveness in a small sample.

If you know someone currently suffering from sepsis who is not receiving this treatment, you should pass this information along immediately.
Sepsis is a condition that leads to multiple organ failure. It is estimated that nearly 8 million people die each year from the disease. 
The breakthrough moment for Dr. Paul Marik, the Chief of Critical Care at EVMS [Eastern Virginia Medical School], came in 2016. Dr. Marik was running the general intensive care unit at Sentara Norfolk General when a 48-year-old woman was admitted with a severe case of sepsis. "Her kidneys had failed, her lungs had failed, I just knew she was going to die," said Dr. Marik. The available treatment options were running out. 
It just so happened that a few weeks earlier, Dr. Marik read about Vitamin C as a possible treatment for sepsis. Septic patients are said to have little or undetectable levels of Vitamin C in their cells. Keeping in mind that Vitamin C and steroids work similarly, Dr. Marik asked his staff to combine the two and inject them into the patient intravenously. 
The results were unexpected. Within hours, the patient was reportedly recovering. Within two days, Dr. Marik gave her an 'ok' to leave the ICU. In the following days, two more patients, who were seemingly destined to die of sepsis, received this treatment. Twice more the patients recovered. 
The treatment became standard for Dr. Marik and his team began. Later, thiamine was added into the mix, as sick patients often are deficient in thiamine (thiamine helps cells absorb vitamin C). 
To validate the findings that many called 'too good to be true', Dr. Marik and his staff teamed up with scientists at Old Dominion University. The results: confirmed, according to Dr. John Catravas, the Interim Executive Director and Sentara Endowed Chair of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics at ODU.

Next step: further research across a much larger patient population.

Dr. Marik says his 'cure' provides no side effects. He hopes other physicians and doctors begin using his method before the results of the trials conclude. "This is an intervention that is readily available, cheap and has the potential to save millions of lives," said Dr. Marik.
The doctor's website related to this treatment is here. The journal article abstract and citation are as follows:
The global burden of sepsis is estimated as 15 to 19 million cases annually with a mortality rate approaching 60% in low income countries. 
In this retrospective before-after clinical study, we compared the outcome and clinical course of consecutive septic patients treated with intravenous vitamin C, hydrocortisone and thiamine during a 7-month period (treatment group) compared to a control group treated in our ICU during the preceding 7 months. The primary outcome was hospital survival. A propensity score was generated to adjust the primary outcome. 
There were 47 patients in both treatment and control groups with no significant differences in baseline characteristics between the two groups. The hospital mortality was 8.5% (4 of 47) in the treatment group compared to 40.4% (19 of 47) in the control group (p < 0.001). The propensity adjusted odds of mortality in the patients treated with the vitamin C protocol was 0.13 (95% CI 0.04-0.48, p=002). The SOFA score decreased in all patients in the treatment group with none developing progressive organ failure. Vasopressors were weaned off all patients in the treatment group, a mean of 18.3 ± 9.8 hours after starting treatment with vitamin C protocol. The mean duration of vasopressor use was 54.9 ± 28.4 hours in the control group (p<0.001). 
Our results suggest that the early use of intravenous vitamin C, together with corticosteroids and thiamine may prove to be effective in preventing progressive organ dysfunction including acute kidney injury and reducing the mortality of patients with severe sepsis and septic shock. Additional studies are required to confirm these preliminary findings.

I am taking the unusual step of reprinting the Marik sepsis protocol below the fold because of its potential life saving benefits that should be spread far and wide as quickly as possible.

Why care?

Sepsis is one of the most common causes of death in the developed world associated with an infection. It was the tenth leading cause of death in women and in Africa-Americans the United States in 2014.

23 March 2017

Cantonese Final Particles

     Cantonese (a subset of Yue topolects shown in purple above) is a tonal language (i.e. the tone with which you express a phoneme determines in part which word you are speaking - the number of tones that exist in Cantonese is controversial), so you can't use tone of voice to express mood - that channel already has a signal in it. Instead, you conclude your sentence with a short word known as a "final particle" (or more than one if the mood or character of the preceding sentence involves finely shaded emotional meaning). It is spoken in and around the former colonial enclaves of Hong Kong and Macau.

Spoken Mandarin Chinese (the official language of modern China), which uses mostly the same Chinese characters as Cantonese in writing, also has final particles, but far fewer of them.

This difference may be due to an Austroasiatic (or Tai) substrate influence on a Sinatic topolect ancestral to Cantonese which may originally have been more similar to Mandarin before migrants speaking this language were exposed to the substrate language.

Race, Class, Mortality and Post-Soviet Russia

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
- "Walden" (1854) by Henry David Thoreau
In “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” Princeton Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton follow up on their groundbreaking 2015 paper that revealed a shocking increase in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans, exploring patterns and contributing factors to the troubling trend. 
Case and Deaton find that while midlife mortality rates continue to fall among all education classes in most of the rich world, middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s. This is due to both rises in the number of “deaths of despair”—death by drugs, alcohol and suicide—and to a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two largest killers in middle age. 
The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015.
From the Bookings Institute (Hat tip to this tweet).

Some of this shift is also due to the shrinking share of white men without a college education. The effects are much weaker when, for example, the least educated 25% of men are considered.

These working class Anglo men look a lot like post-Soviet Russian men in their mortality trends. The end of the Cold War, the globalization of the economy, and a transition to a more modern post-industrial economy has not been kind to either nation's working class men.

Perhaps the only genuine crisis aspect of current Russian demographic trends appears in increased rates of mortality, which have been especially dramatic among working-age men. In 1992, there was a sharp increase in deaths from nonnatural causes. By 1994, mortality rates for males between ages 15 and 64 were about twice as high as they had been in 1986 (Figure 4). Rising alcoholism and related conditions have figured prominently in this trend. In the mid-1980s, an anti-alcohol campaign championed by Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for a brief reversal in the mortality trend, but the increase resumed after the campaign was abandoned in the late 1980s.
The tendency of President Trump's core supporters to look more favorably upon Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, than they used to, seems to have something more to it than their leader's personality or mere coincidence. 

21 March 2017

SCOTUS On Patent Law

SCOTUS to Federal Circuit: We Meant What We Told You The First Time

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Federal Circuit again and held that the equitable doctrine of laches cannot be used to bar the recovery of patent infringement damages incurred within the six year statute of limitations. This follows another recent ruling that laches does not bar the recovery of damages for patent infringement incurred within the three year statute of limitations. The decision in SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC was 7-1.

More analysis is available at SCOTUS blog.

This is a rare ruling that is pro-patent holder, even though it reverses the Federal Circuit. Patent holders are now about 4 pro to 17 against to 4 neutral in U.S. Supreme Court litigation implicating patent law since 2005, a period which also included the America Invents Act in 2011 which was a major reform of U.S. patent law.

A Long Awaited Patent Venue Case

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a bigger patent law case where it granted certiorari. In the case of TC Heartland v. Kraft, the petitioner asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm its 1957 decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957), which held that venue was proper in patent infringement suits only in state where the defendant is located pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) (which has not been subsequently amended), and not also under the general venue statute for civil cases, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c) (which has been amended since 1957), that would permit patent infringement suits to be brought anywhere that the defendant regularly conducts business.

This holding has led to widespread forum shopping in patent infringement cases (especially to the Eastern District of Texas which is known for its pro-plaintiff judges and juries in patent infringement lawsuits). 

A proposed bill in Congress to reverse this holding with bipartisan support that has been put on hold while it awaits a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision for the petitioner in this case would be a major blow to patent holders because it would force them to seek much less favorable forums in which to bring suit, and yet another rebuke to the Federal Circuit for botching a seemingly straight forward case of statutory and case precedent analysis.

The Federal Circuit determined that the amendment of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c) authorized it to revisit the U.S. Supreme Court's Fourco decision. In all likelihood, Monday's oral argument will reveal that the eight sitting Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will almost unanimously disagree with the propriety of this decision and will signal a reversal of the often reversed Federal Circuit on this issue as well.

The outcome is telegraphed in part by the clarity of the issue, and in part because the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over federal patent cases, so these cases are never taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve a circuit split where it may easily take either side of the split or some other approach entirely. Usually, Federal Circuit appeals of patent cases signal a likely reversal.

These two cases follow a long string of reversals of the Federal Circuit on patent law issues by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years.

Exhaustion (update added March 22, 2017):

Another big case, Impression Products, Inc. v Lexmark Int’l, Inc.on the patent law doctrine of exhaustion (which is similar to the "first sale" doctrine in copyright law) was also argued on the day of the most recent patent law decision. The Justices are considering a case to limit that doctrine and thereby expand the rights of patent holders (e.g. to protect makers of proprietary ink cartridges for prints and proprietary coffee pods for coffee makers from products that refill them that are not made under license). Unlike copyright law in which the "first sale" doctrine is codified, the exhaustion doctrine was devised by Federal Circuit judges 25 years ago.
The case involves the doctrine of “exhaustion,” under which a patentholder’s rights to enforce its patent ordinarily are “exhausted” with regard to any particular object at the moment the patentholder sells the object. As applied to this case, for example, Lexmark’s rights to control the use of its patented refillable print cartridges would be “exhausted” when it sells those cartridges to retail buyers, even if Lexmark conditions the sale on the promise that the buyer will not refill the cartridge. That, at any rate, is the argument of Impression Products, which makes a business out of refilling Lexmark cartridges in violation of those agreements. Lexmark’s argument, by contrast, is that modern commerce requires that innovators have the flexibility to devise contracting structures that segment the market into separate sectors, each of which gets a different price commensurate with the uses to which products will be put in that sector.
The argument was to a "cold bench" leaving few hints regarding how the case will be resolved.

19 March 2017

Heritability of Selected Traits

From an article in Nature.

IQ is slightly less heritable than height. Years of schooling is less heritable than IQ. Socio-emotional skills have a significant heritable component but consistently less than height, IQ, and years of schooling. BMI also has significant but lower heritability (although twins are anomalously similar in this trait).

There are environmental effects (note the differences between full and half-siblings respectively who are reared together and apart).

In terms of educational policy, there are two main takeaways. 

First, studies of the educational effectiveness of various approaches that don't control for heredity are inevitably swamped by noise, because heredity is a first order effect in educational outcomes.

Second, while we are powerless to do anything to respond to some hereditary effects on educational outcomes, others beyond predictors of IQ, such as predictors of personality, dyslexia or attention problems can be used to tailor suitable instruction approaches and coping strategies for particular students.

The United States Is Big, Empty And Naturally Dangerous Compared To England

An interesting post at Travel Stack Exchange explains the unexpected dangers, mostly natural, that a long distance bicyclist from England is likely to face in the United States on a cross-country trip.

Some of the points made really stood out (italics and comments in brackets mine; bold emphasis and links in the original), although I have omitted a lot of the detailed discussions of traffic risks particular to bicyclists on different classes of roads including special warnings about the fact that railroad crossings in the U.S. are far less safe than in the U.K.
I think you have no sense of how big and how empty the US is. If the US were as densely populated as England, it would have 2.5 billion people. [The true population of the U.S. is about 319 million people and is highly concentrated in about 100 urban areas.] Unless you are in an urban center, you won't find many people of any sort, let alone criminals. 
The quickest coast-to-coast route is Jacksonville to San Diego, almost 4000 km, three times the distance from Land's End to John O' Groats, 200 hours of riding for a strong cyclist, six weeks on the road. Here is what it looks like about half-way. See any potential muggers? At about three-quarters. [Do click on the links, the immense granular scope of Google Street View, even in the middle of nowhere, is truly remarkable.] (This is the shortest route, not the scenic route.) . . .  
Your big concern will be water. Out west, 100km gaps between sources of fresh water are not at all uncommon, and it would only take a little bit of bad luck (a leaky camelbak shorting out your cell-phone for example) to make dying a very real possibility. 
You'll also have to cross two, and possibly three, major mountain ranges. I don't know if there is any route you could take that would not require you to climb to a pass half again as high as the highest peak in England. [This is probably an underestimate for most routes- the highest peak in England is 3,209 feet; I don't think there is any way to cross the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on a road at less than 8,619 feet or in Wyoming at less than 8,323 feet, although you can get a bit lower crossing Montana or New Mexico. Most of the more heavily used passes are higher. I usually cross the mountains at Eisenhower Tunnel which is 11,158 feet.]
Another response:
Depending on exactly where you are, weather, traffic, vast distances between even tiny towns (often 100+ miles, sometimes much more,) harsh terrain, and/or wildlife will be much larger concerns. Most of those concerns (except traffic) apply more to the Western states. Once you're East of the Mississippi River, things aren't quite as desolate and there will at least be small towns somewhat frequently (though still not nearly as close as they are in Western Europe.) 
Make sure to read up on the normal climate of the areas you'll be traversing in the season you'll be traversing them and also make sure you have some way to keep up with the weather forecasts for where you'll be. Weather in many parts of the U.S. (especially the parts away from the coasts) can change very quickly. Depending on season and where you are, the temperature may be anything from +50 C to -40 C. When I was in North Dakota a couple of years ago, it was +40 C while I was there and they had a snow storm about a week later. Even where I live in the Southeast, temperature swings of 20-30 C over the course of a day or two are not at all uncommon, especially during the non-summer seasons. . . .
Also, in case you haven't spent much time in the U.S., it's worth a reminder that the U.S. is very, very large. The distance from New York City to Los Angeles is a little more than the distance from Lisbon to Moscow. You'll be crossing everything from large mountains to desert to plains to hilly countryside. It typically takes about 3-4 days to cross the U.S. by car at 70+ mph / 110+ km/h. Even by airplane, it's similar to crossing the Atlantic. Crossing it by bicycle is not a small undertaking.
A third response:
Apart from a handful of urban areas, USA is far less densely populated than England (and even many urban areas are so sprawling that the urban area of Atlanta has a lower population density than all of England). In remote areas, you'll find roads where traffic is almost nonexistent.
A fourth response:
Wildlife, including dog packs, is more of an issue in the US than in England. This is very situational, in most areas the threat is about zero but if you're off the main roads and in the areas in the west with evergreen forests the bear threat is small but real. Generally they'll leave you alone but getting between mama and her cubs is a very bad idea. 
Also, in the southwest the distances can be long and the weather can be hot. I would recommend reading up on desert survival before biking between cities in the summer in the southwest deserts. Unless you're on the interstate you're unlikely to have cell coverage, an accident on a side road could be a very serious situation. Now and then we have cases of tourists who head out into the desert unprepared, have some sort of breakdown and die out there. 
On the flip side, winter storms can be a lot worse than you're used to, also. England is surrounded by ocean and the Gulf Stream warms it to some degree. Much of the US is a lot farther from the moderating effects of the ocean and only a small part of it is warmed by ocean currents. 
Finally, our extreme weather events are also worse than anything you're used to. If you're near the ocean in the southeast beware of hurricanes. You're looking at winds of at least 120 kph and the worst of them will be twice this. Rain will be extreme, flooding common. The areas near the ocean are usually subject to a mandatory evacuation in such cases and the areas a bit inland aren't but you'll have problems finding supplies and shelter. In the Midwest you'll also have the threat of tornadoes. They are too unpredictable for evacuation, alerts go out when there is threatening weather, warnings when radar sees a tornado and some communities also have sirens. People take shelter where they can, the well prepared have underground rooms. Winds again start at 120 kph and the record holder was 476 kph. All ordinary houses will be flattened by the strongest of these.
Do keep tabs on the weather forecasts, as others have said. It's not just the temperature swings to beware of, there can be downright dangerous weather. Thunderstorms with strong gusty winds, large hail, lightning strikes, and tornadoes are a common thing in the summer months in the middle and eastern parts of the country.
And finally:
Your two problems are going to be the vastness of the US, an the way our road system works. 
The size of it. I had a family friend come from England and stay with us in Florida. They decided they wanted to see the country so they decided to drive to California. They were totally unprepared for the shear distance and what it would mean. Our country is large enough that you have different eco systems as you travel, specially east to west. Your will have Swamp, plantations, flatland, prairie lands, deserts, mountain ranges, arid zones and coastal areas (just to name a few). There are areas that get 170cm of rain a year and others that get 60ml. 
This is also true for people. In some areas strangers are welcome and invited guests. In others they are an annoyance to be avoided. It all depends on area. . . . 
Even animal concerns are going to be different. Most parts of the US, (even in cities at times) have loads of wildlife. Cougars, snakes, (brown or black) bears, alligator, panthers, crocodiles, bob cats, and so on, are very common in rural areas, some even in cities. Smaller animalas are "worse" if your going to be camping out. Raccoons, Possums, Armadillos, squirels, etc. all will have no problem getting into your food stores. 
Cell coverage doesn't reach everywhere are there are large stretches of road with nothing on them. Your could easily find your self sleeping rough.
The English bicycler responding to these and other responses who had originally been concerned primarily about crime states:
I have been comprehensively reassured. You have not only demonstrated that violent criminals aren't a problem, you've demonstrated why as well. What with all the articulateds, trains, hailstones, tornadoes, hurricaines, thunderstorms, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, dogs, alligators and whatnot, criminals don't hang around because they think it's too damned dangerous.

On the whole the comments made are accurate and sensible. The United States is vast. Huge expanses of the United States are empty farmland, empty mountain forests and deserts. There is far more wildlife, even in cities, than in England and some of it is dangerous. Indeed, even domesticated animals like cows, and herbivores like moose, can pose serious threats. And, we take the ecological diversity for granted.

You forget how inured you become to the ways to safely deal with unmonitored train crossings, extreme temperature changes, hail, torrential thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, sunstroke, and wild animals from mosquitos and ticks to alligators and bears - let alone traffic related risks.

There are crime risks in rural America. Several commentators noted that people can be much more insistent on property rights in the United States and can use guns to make their point. No one pointed out the fairly serious risks associated with hitchhiking these days. One person did point out risks that can be present in the impoverished rural South to someone who looks out of place, and another pointed out the need to be careful in one's political discussions on certain topics in "Red States", and a third pointed out issues particular to Appalachia. Everyone agreed that parts of many U.S. cities can be problematic. 

But, since rural America has so few people, and since for a cross-country bicyclist crimes per square mile matter more than crimes per capita, de-emphasis on the importance of violent crime risks in these situations in rural America is appropriate. Predators don't gather where there is very little prey.

The sheer emptiness of much of the United States is one of the important reason why fixed rail transit is more of an economic challenge here than in Western Europe, Israel, India and East Asia.

I recently travelled from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado and back on business (240 miles roundtrip including some minimal driving around downtown Pueblo for a few days). Apart from cities like Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Monument, Castle Rock and exurban to central Denver, most of the trip you pass through absolutely empty desert, even along a major interstate highway like I-25. And, even some of the cities along the way, like Pueblo and Monument and Castle Rock aren't all that big.

It would cost $750 million to build high speed rail from Denver to Pueblo, but it would have to be very fast indeed to make that price worth the increase in speed you could get relative to I-25 where speed limits are mostly 75 miles per hour on flat, straight roads, and a significant share of the traffic is going at 80 to 90 miles per hour. Apart from construction zones and urban rush hour traffic, moreover, the interstate isn't all that crowded on that route. If high speed rail wasn't at least 175 miles per hour, it would be hard to justify, and the cities along the way are quite sprawling, so often you'd need to rely on a rental car, a car share, or dubious and hard to understand local bus service to reach your final destination which limits the benefits conferred by the high speed rail part of the trip.

17 March 2017

Economic Development Is Valuable Even In The Absence Of Full Liberty

Between 1995 and 2014 GDP per capita increased almost 400% in China and child mortality fell by 76%
From this Tweet by Max Roser.

China's current per capita GDP is just under $6,500 U.S. dollars.

For sake of comparison GDP per capita in the U.S. in 1995 was $38,678 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars, while it was $50,727 in 2014 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars. If it had increased 400% it would be about $154,712, which is more than three times as high as it is today.

Working in the other direction, GDP per capita would have to be $12,681 in constant 2015 U.S. dollars in 1995 for the U.S. to have experienced the same rate of economic growth as China and have its current GDP per capita. In 1947, on a constant 2015 U.S. dollar basis, U.S. GDP per capita was $13,437.

Basically, China has had as much economic growth on a percentage basis since 1995 as the U.S. has had since 1945. It had 70 years of U.S. percentage rate economic growth in 20 years.

The growth rates China has experienced in the last 20 years are roughly the same as the one's a hypothetical backward economy in an alternative universe in Charlie Stross's Empire Games book attempts to achieve by borrowing modern technology from our universe.

Of course, in both cases, the incredible economic growth is made possible only by borrowing technology wholesale and leapfrogging over intermediate technological phases, rather than innovating technological from scratch to improve productivity.

13 March 2017

Commercial Speech Cases Aren't Very Ideological

Commercial speech cases are the focus of this Article. We find no evidence of ideological influence within the full set of those cases, in the sense of judge votes tracking ordinary policy disagreements. The results make commercial speech cases look like gun rights cases - and unlike abortion rights, establishment clause, and affirmative action cases, which are consistently ideologically charged in our models.
Via the Legal Theory Blog.

Destroying Evidence Is Expensive

I'm pretty sure that the attorney malpractice policy of the law firm for Boeing won't even begin to cover a the $1,200,000,000 sanction award it received for destroying documents in a dispute over the award of a major government contract.  Presumably, the sanction is payable to the company that lost the competition for the Air Force contract.

Of course, it goes without saying that Boeing will attempt to appeal the judge's decision.
An Alabama federal judge on Thursday granted a sanctions bid against Boeing, invoking the Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi" in an order finding the company intentionally destroyed documents related to its long-running dispute with defunct Alabama Aircraft Industries over a $1.2 billion U.S. Air Force contract.
Via a Law360 newslettter.

08 March 2017

U.S. Deploying Ground Troops In Combat Roles In Syria

The United States has crossed a line in its military involvement in the Syrian civil war, as part of its war on ISIS and other military factions in that conflict that the Obama administration adamantly refused to cross.

I am honestly stunned that this major escalation of U.S. involvement from providing air support to allied troops and providing training and intelligence support to allied troops, to being ground combatants in one of the most complex civil wars in decades, has not even been mentioned by major news outlets, only to be picked up by specialty magazine Military.com.

Ground troops are far more in harms way than air support, so casualties are likely to rise. And, putting troops on the ground in Syria greatly increases the likelihood of unintended encounters with combatant factions in the conflict where the U.S. has not made a clear policy decision that the faction is a friend or a foe. These could include encounters with Russian forces and forces of the Syrian regime that we have condemned for war crimes.

Despite President Trump's decidedly warmer stances towards Russia than President Obama's administration, there is still no indications whatsoever, that U.S. and Russian forces are able to "play nice" with each other in this complex conventional military encounter. They have not coordinated well with each other in this conflict in the past.

06 March 2017

Jury Privacy Overcome By Clear Racial Basis In Colorado Case

A landmark new U.S. Supreme Court ruling today holds that the usual rule that jury deliberations cannot be considered for any purpose is overcome by the rule that racial bias in the judicial system is prohibited. It was a 5-3 decision (with Justices Thomas, Alito and Roberts dissenting). As the official syllabus to the case explains (emphasis added):
A Colorado jury convicted petitioner Peña-Rodriguez of harassment and unlawful sexual contact. Following the discharge of the jury, two jurors told defense counsel that, during deliberations, Juror H. C. had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner’s alibi witness. Counsel, with the trial court’s supervision, obtained affidavits from the two jurors describing a number of biased statements by H. C. 
The court acknowledged H. C.’s apparent bias but denied petitioner’s motion for a new trial on the ground that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to statements made during deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing that H. C.’s alleged statements did not fall within an exception to Rule 606(b). The Colorado Supreme Court also affirmed, relying on Tanner v. United States, 483 U. S. 107, and Warger v. Shauers, 574 U. S. ___, both of which rejected constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment rule as applied to evidence of juror misconduct or bias. 
Held: Where a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.
Pena-Rodrigues v. Colorado, Case No. 15-606 (U.S. March 6, 2017).

There was a split in authority on the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. As the official syllabus explains:
Some version of the no-impeachment rule is followed in every State and the District of Columbia, most of which follow the Federal Rule. At least 16 jurisdictions have recognized an exception for juror testimony about racial bias in deliberations. Three Federal Courts of Appeals have also held or suggested there is a constitutional exception for evidence of racial bias.
Justice Kennedy, in classic Kennedy style, resists the temptation to let consistency be the hobgoblin of small minds and instead concludes that (as summarized in the official syllabus):
This case lies at the intersection of the Court’s decisions endorsing the no-impeachment rule and those seeking to eliminate racial bias in the jury system. Those lines of precedent need not conflict. Racial bias, unlike the behavior in McDonald, Tanner, or Warger, implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns and, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice. It is also distinct in a pragmatic sense, for the Tanner safeguards may be less effective in rooting out racial bias. But while all forms of improper bias pose challenges to the trial process, there is a sound basis to treat racial bias with added precaution. A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed—including, in some instances, after a verdict has been entered—is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right.
The case also sets forth a clear statement regarding what threshold must be met to trigger the application of this new rule. 

01 March 2017

Battle of Mosul Still In Progress

Iraqi forces outnumber ISIS troops 10-1 and have far superior military equipment at their disposal. But, four months and two weeks after the fight began, the fight for Mosul, which was secured by ISIS in 2014, is still far from over.

Today was the first day the Iraqi forces finally managed to isolate ISIS forces in Western Mosul, which it still controls, from other ISIS territory. But, at the pace at which this battle has been proceeding, it could easily be two or three months before the city can be fully retaken.