28 April 2017

Denver To Reform Municipal Ordinance Sentencing

All municipal ordinance violations in Denver are currently punishable by up to a year in jail and a $999 fine. The City will reform those penalties, partially to reduce the collateral consequences of ordinance convictions for immigrants and partially to limit discretion to impose harsh sentences for minor offenses.
The city would create three tiers for criminal ordinance violations:
* Top level: Still subject to up to a year in jail and the maximum fine, the category includes sexually motivated offenses, repeat domestic abusers and crimes against at-risk people, such as the elderly. A proposed hate-crimes sentencing enhancement would boost lower-category offenses, such as graffiti or an assault that is motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, to the top level. 
* Middle level: Crimes including shoplifting, trespassing, the first or second instance of domestic violence, and simple assault would be newly eligible for a maximum 300 days in jail and $999 fine. 
* Bottom level: Petty offenses, such as public urination, curfew violations and unauthorized camping — sometimes used against the homeless — would merit less-severe maximum jail time, up to 60 days and a $100 fine in some cases.
Advocates had pushed to reduce the sentence for the top half dozen offenses from a year to 364 days to remove collateral immigration consequences for all ordinance violations.

Interestingly, the City is not looking at a 180 day cutoff for some offenses even though offenses punishable by less than 6 months of incarceration do not implicate the constitutional right to a jury trial. There is a constitutional right to counsel, in contrast, in the case of every offense that can result in incarceration.

In practice, long sentences are rarely given for ordinance violations in any case, so the changes have little budget impact and affect very few cases in practice. Crimes which are also state law crimes are usually only prosecuted as ordinance violations instead when the prosecutor is interested in being lenient. 

27 April 2017

Average European And U.S. Unemployment Rates In 2016 By Subnational Regions

From Eurostat via this post.

National boundaries which are presumably associated with economic and welfare state policies clearly affect unemployment rates. Germany's unemployment rate is very low as a result of very good economic policies, while Greece has massive unemployment due to catastrophic mismanagement of its economy. Indeed all of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) are in real economic trouble.

But, deep historical cultural divides, for example, between northern and southern Italy, or between Scotland and England, between former West Germany and former East Germany, and between various parts of Turkey (with Kurdish areas having a particularly hard time) also matter. 

One difficult to understand situation is the high unemployment rate in Northern France, which is bordered by lower employment rates in the rest of France on one side and in Germany on the other side.

This also sheds some light on the Brexit vote. Usually, secessionist sentiment is stronger in prosperous regions where citizens don't want to subsidize less prosperous regions. And, the England, where Brexit support was strongest, has one of the healthiest economies in Europe. Similarly, Northern Italy, which has been more prosperous than Southern Italy since the Renaissance, at least, was similarly home to secessionist movements in the 1970s, and Northern Ireland which resisted efforts to join the rest of Ireland during "the Troubles" likewise is more prosperous than Ireland as a whole. 

Generally speaking, secessionist inclined Basque Spain and Catalonia have been healthier economically than Spain as a whole, although this is not a trend visible in 2016 unemployment numbers.

Comparable data for the United States at the county level appears below, although it is hard to compare visually to the European data since the color scheme is different.

*Shades of tan on the U.S. map correspond to shades of blue on the European map.
*Shades of red on the U.S. map correspond to tan on the European map.
*Purple and gray on the U.S. map correspond to orange on the European map.
*No county in the U.S. has unemployment as severe as the red areas on the European map.

If I Write An Article Posing These Questions, Put A Fork In Me, I'm Done

What is the meaning of meaning? How is it constructed? How is one meaning adopted to the exclusion of all others? What is the role played by law in construction and adoption of meaning? What is the effect of grant of legal sanction to a particular meaning? Why does this meaning remain unchallenged? Does the role of law in creation of meaning change depending upon the right in question?
From this new law review article's abstract.

This article, by an Israeli Supreme Court judge, exemplifies everything awful that I associate with the term Legal Theory.

Quote Of The Day

It is hard to think of a more obvious recent public-policy failure than the tax cuts that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback championed in 2012. The state has been mired in a perpetual budget crisis ever since the package passed, forcing its residents to swallow painful spending cuts in essential areas like education. Kansas' credit rating has been downgraded, as well. The financial wreckage has been so severe that Brownback's fellow Republicans are now staging a rebellion; in February, the GOP–run legislature voted to undo the cuts, and came close to overruling the governor's veto.

Somehow, the sharpest minds in the Trump administration have gazed upon the smoldering ashes of this misbegotten experiment and decided that they should imitate it.
- From Jordan Weissmann at Slate.com

Who Benefits From The Federal Itemized Deduction For State And Local Taxes?

Deducting State And Local Taxes Predominantly Benefits High Income Households

A comment about the impact of a plan to end the deductibility of personal state and local taxes for federal income tax purposes provoked this basically accurate response:
90 percent of the tax increase will be borne by $100K+ households; 40 percent by $500K+ households. Median household income is ~$56K.
The incidence of the tax deductions for mortgage interest and for charitable gifts is quite similar. This makes this look like a tax break for the rich, and to some extent it is one.

Disposable Versus Absolute Income

On the other hand, the federal income tax is basically designed to so that a reasonably equitable share of disposable income is taxed, and it is hard to say that money spent involuntarily on state and local taxes constitutes disposable income.

Harmonizing Cost Of Living

Also, the cost of living varies a great deal from place to place within the United States, and outside of Puerto Rico (whose residents generally don't by federal income taxes unless they are federal employees), the lion's share of that difference is attributable to housing costs.

The property tax component of the state and local tax deduction, together with the mortgage interest deduction, help mitigate the fact that $100,000 per year in San Francisco, for example, might be a pretty modest income when translated into purchasing power, because housing costs are so high, while $100,000 per year in Detroit might translate into far more purchasing power (although the availability of high end goods and services to spend it on might be quite restricted in Detroit):
A salary of $100,000 in San Francisco, California could decrease to $26,742 in Detroit, Michigan. Housing is the biggest factor in the cost of living difference. Housing is 96% cheaper in Detroit.
In a less extreme example, $100,000 a year in San Francisco is equivalent in purchasing power to $46,772 per year in Denver, Colorado, mostly due to housing costs which are 69% cheaper in Denver.

Indeed, the mortgage interest and property tax deductions are quite inadequate to capture the differences in cost of living between places with high housing costs and places with low housing costs. 

These deductions do nothing for people who rent their homes and don't capture higher costs for the principal payments on a home in a place with higher housing costs. But, the exclusive of gain on the sale of a principal residence under federal tax law does provide a tax break for the portion of principal in a home that is due to appreciation in the value of a home. 

Federal tax breaks also don't capture differences in housing costs due to differences in homeowner's insurance costs, which are related to the cost of a home, although not quite proportionately (since a fair amount of a homeowner's insurance policy goes towards general liability insurance for the homeowner).

On the other hand, the deduction of state and local income taxes does far less to harmonize the relative cost of living between two places and accounts for an outsized share of the tax benefit for $500K+ households.

Incentives To Use More Progressive State And Local Taxes

Another key issue in the fairness of the state and local tax deduction is the way that its benefits are affected by the structure of state and local taxes.

Taxpayers in states and localities that raise a larger share of their tax revenue from income taxes and from property taxes benefit disproportionately from this federal income tax deduction.

Taxpayers in states and localities that raise a larger share of their tax revenues from retail sales taxes, excise taxes (e.g. on alcohol, gasoline and tobacco), and from indirect taxation of businesses (such as "business income taxes" and severance taxes on oil and gas extraction), are disfavored by this federal income tax deduction.

Arguably, however, this is a legitimate incentive, because income taxes and real property taxes are much more progressive than retail sales taxes and excise taxes, and the incidence of indirect taxes is hard to determine.

26 April 2017

Absurd Self-Representation By Children In Immigration Court Continues

Yesterday, in immigration court, I saw three children take the stand without an attorney. Just a reminder that we live in a society where we expect an eight year old who fled violence in Central America to represent herself against a federal prosecutor.
- Freelance Denver journalist Erin Rosa in a Facebook post of April 26, 2017.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of the children forced to represent themselves in deportation proceedings was certified last JuneTwo-thirds of unaccompanied children in the process are unrepresented. For example, this was about 40,000 of 60,000 children in 2014.

But, this decision was reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in an interlocutory appeal of that decision in a September 20, 2016 opinion, on the theory that generally speaking the law requires cases in the immigration courts to be appealed through the immigration court appeals system from which an appeal may then be brought to a United States Court Court of Appeal (such as the 9th Circuit) on a case by case basis, thus depriving the U.S. District Court of jurisdiction.

The District Court and the 9th Circuit agreed that "because the right-to-counsel claims “arise from" removal proceedings, they must be raised through the administrative petition for review process pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §§ 1252(b)(9) and 1252(a)(5)." But, the 9th Circuit reversed the District Court's ruling that it had jurisdiction over the minors’ constitutional claims. As explained in the Official Summary of the ruling:
The panel held that the district court erred in finding that an exception to the Immigration and Nationality Act’s exclusive review process provided jurisdiction over the due process right-to-counsel claims. The panel held that the district court incorrectly found that the claims challenged a policy or practice collateral to the substance of removal proceedings, and that because an Immigration Judge was unlikely to conduct the requisite due process balancing the administrative record would not provide meaningful judicial review.
All three judges on the panel wrote concurring opinions. Judge McKeown, who wrote the Court's primary opinion, joined by Judge Smith, decried the state of affairs and urges the President and Congress to do something about it. Judge Kleinfeld observed, as paraphrased in the summary, "it is unlikely that children or even adults can protect all their rights in deportation proceedings without a lawyer.", but viewed the issue as basically a political question.

As the opinion explains, the counsel for the children in the class action case argued as follows:
Minors who obtain counsel in their immigration proceedings will be unable to raise right-to-counsel claims because they have no such claim. As a practical matter, children who lack counsel will be unable to reach federal court to raise a right-to-counsel claim because they are subject to the same exhaustion requirements and filing deadlines that apply to adults. Even if an unrepresented child were able to navigate the PFR process, the child would still be deprived of meaningful judicial review, because the record on appeal would be insufficient to sustain review. Because, according to the minors, their right-to-counsel claims will never see the light of day through the PFR process, the panel should construe § 1252(b)(9) as not covering these claims.
This theory tracked language in the U.S. Supreme Court case of McNary v. Haitian Refugee Center, 498 U.S. 479, 487 (1991). But, the 9th Circuit panel held that the statute interpreted in that case was less airtight in how it procedural channeled litigants than the statute applicable to removal proceedings. The panel suggests alternative ways that the issue might be raised in the ordinary immigration appeal process, although its suggestions seem fanciful, especially in cases involving young children some of whom in this case were as young as three years old.

They weren't willing to cut the Gordian knot that deprives children of an ability to obtain the legal assistance they need to obtain legal assistance. As it stands, the procedural provisions of that law deprive unaccompanied minor children of any meaningful way to vindicate their procedural right to counsel, which constitutional due process requirements surely require.

An amicus brief in the case has urged the 9th Circuit to reconsider this decision en banc.

The situation as it stands is absurd. Four month old children are told by immigration judges to show up to rescheduled hearings three years in the future.

An immigration judge called as an expert witness in a deposition in the class action case before it was tossed on jurisdictional grounds, claimed that three and four year olds were competent to represent themselves in immigration court, even though college educated adults are not permitted to do so on behalf of others without having earned a law degree and passed the bar exam.

Needless to say, despite judicial pleas that the President and Congress address the issue, this is unlikely.

President Trump's first 100 days in office have been marked by two unconstitutional executive orders designed to shut down immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and a surge in deportations in violation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement "sensitive places" rule. Both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans who have been historically hostile to both immigrants (especially refugees), and to due process generally. 

25 April 2017

Automation and the Economics of Depreciation

Significant tax preferences for depreciation of capital assets, and for income from property more generally, encourage investments in automation in excess of those which would be made in the absence of these tax preferences. This over investment in automation comes at the expense of jobs and investments in human capital.

I will fill in a fuller analysis as time permits.

The Genetics of PTSD

The Study and Its Raw Results

A new genetic study is casting light on post-traumatic stress disorder, which shows much different hereditary patterns in men than in women. (Hat tip to Razib Khan's twitter feed.)

Half of the 20,000+ study subjects were European-American and half were African-American, which is atypical for a large scale GWAS study like this one.  Typically, for GWAS studies, almost all of the risk factor genes were individually rare and small in effect. The genetics of PTSD risk in women appears to be massively polygenetic in a manner that could not entirely inaccurately be summarized as a risk based upon cumulative genetic load.

About 29% of PTSD risk in women is heritable (at the low end of what is typical for many personality traits and much lower, for example, than IQ or schizophrenia or alcoholism). In men, the heritable component of PTSD risk is not significantly different from zero.

The genetic component of the PTSD risk in women overlaps significantly with schizophrenia risk, and more modestly with bipolar disorder and unipolar depression (unsurprisingly since these conditions have similar genetic overlap with schizophrenia in general).


The abstract doesn't provide raw PTSD rates, but my intuition is that most PTSD in men is almost exclusively environmental in cause, while women experience environmental events that trigger PTSD in people who aren't especially susceptible to PTSD at much lower rates. Therefore, PTSD associated with high vulnerability to events that might not cause PTSD in the average person is statistically discernible in women, but vanishes into the statistical noise in men, even though excessive vulnerability to marginally PTSD inducing events in men may actually be present at similar rates in men as in women.

This suggests that the genes associated with PTSD risk in women are probably, in some broad sense, basically genes associated with resilience or lack thereof in the face of stressors such as those posed by a less extreme PTSD triggering event. 

On the other hand, the particular association with schizophrenia, which makes some sense given that PTSD is typically defined as experiencing trauma-like reactions in circumstances where the trauma causing event is no longer present, may alternatively suggest that these genes reflect how "grounded in sensory experience" as opposed to being vulnerable to having internal neurological processes overwhelm one's senses a person's nervous system is.

Automation And Trade

Offshoring Happened - Manufacturing Malaise Isn't Only The Fault Of Robots

One of the biggest developments of the last fifty years of the U.S. economy has been the offshoring of manufacturing. Entire manufacturing industries such as televisions, clothing and steel moved almost entirely abroad. Other manufacturing industries such as automobile manufacturing, have remained partially in the U.S., but a significant share of the goods in the market are produced offshore by both domestic and foreign companies, both of whom manufacture cars partially in the U.S. and partially abroad. The oil and gas industry because there are natural limits on the extent to which it can be offshored, and a handful of idiosyncratic holdouts like aircraft manufacturing, have remained mostly domestic. But, the overall trends have been clear.

While it is true that the U.S. manufacturing industry hasn't lost much productivity and has even increased a bit, and that automation has played as great a role in lost manufacturing jobs as offshoring, it is also true that a much larger share of goods consumed in the U.S. are manufactured abroad than was the case half a century ago, and that market share of manufacturing had declined steadily over a long time period (although it may now be leveling off).

This has resulted in immense economic dislocation in the U.S. and huge social costs. Offshoring and automation have both contributed significantly to the appearance of the Rust Belt. It has absolutely devastated cities like Milwaukee, Flint, Detroit, Toledo, Lima, Cleveland, Youngstown, Buffalo, Pittsburg, Allentown, Burlington, and Saint Louis. It created the despondent working class that is now abusing opium on record scales, and was a pivotal factor in creating the black underclass. As a group, less educated men have born the brunt of offshoring while receiving only lower bills for purchases of imported goods at Wal-Mart in exchange for the economic prosperity that they lost when manufacturing jobs left.

So, but for offshoring, the U.S. manufacturing industry would be much larger than it is now and would employ far more people, notwithstanding automation. The failure of the U.S. manufacturing industry to expand because offshoring has eaten much of its growth is one reason that the U.S. education system hasn't seen strong private sector pressure to improve vocational education for middle skilled manufacturing jobs, many of which are relevant in a world of highly automated manufacturing. Why push to train people for jobs that the economy isn't creating because it is cheaper to create them abroad?

On the other hand, the high standard of living in the U.S. today is due in significant part to the extremely low costs of goods relative to services that offshoring has made possible. But for this offshoring, goods would be more expensive in the U.S. and Americans could afford less of them. 

Also, offshoring, which has almost certainly been concentrated in the areas where U.S. environmental laws have the biggest impact on the bottom line of manufacturing companies, has played an important and unrecognized role in improving the quality of the environment in the United States, which its citizens have enjoyed with better health and greater happiness.

The U.S. would manufacture a larger share of the goods consumed in the U.S. and would manufacture more far goods overall than it does now, in the absence of so much offshoring, but the total amount of manufactured goods we consumed would be smaller, and the economies of the developing world would be far, far less well off, particularly in Northern Mexico and China.

The economic evidence is overwhelming that free trade which facilitates offshoring has increased U.S. GDP per capita. But, given the extent to which GDP gains in recent years have been concentrated in a small economic elite rather than being widely shared, and given that the social costs arising from lost manufacturing jobs aren't deducted from those GDP gains, the economic benefits of offshoring for the the free trade which has facilitated offshoring for everyone outside the upper middle class in America are significantly overstated.

Why Is Manufacturing Offshored?

The conventional wisdom is that manufacturing jobs left the U.S. because the cost of labor in the developing world was lower and environmental laws were weaker.

Suppose the conventional wisdom is true.

Labor Costs, Environmental Laws And The Situ Of Manufacturers

As manufacturing becomes more automated, the share of labor as a factor of production in manufacturing shrinks and the labor that is requires is more skilled.

Comparative advantage between the U.S. and developing countries is greater for developing countries at the low end of the labor market than in the highly skilled labor market.

Highly automated manufacturing operations also tend to be less polluting because pollution and waste have always been inefficient. It is just that historically, the costs of pollution were outweighed by the cost savings involved in using these sloppy methods.

Also, many of the historical offshore manufacturing centers have seen their wages rise as they have developed economically and have been forced to pay more attention to environmental regulation as unregulated pollution has made life unlivable and higher standards of living have allowed people to place of greater priority on the environment.

As less skilled labor costs and environmental laws become a smaller consideration in locating manufacturing, other aspects of developing economies and offshore manufacturing operations also loom larger.

Quality control is harder to maintain from afar. Developing economies tend to have more corrupt and inefficient government bureaucracies and less reliable legal systems. Their infrastructure is less reliable. A general environment of corruption can seep into business operations leading to reduced quality and higher costs.

Automation, in some cases, via tools like programmable manufacturing equipment and 3D printing, can also make economies of scale in manufacturing less important. This makes it possible to have more manufacturing locations closer to the places where the produces will be sold, to change up and "retool" product lines more rapidly, and to make more customized products.

In summary, automation, on balance, disfavors the offshoring of manufacturing relative to the status quo.

Transportation Costs And The Situ Of Manufacturers

All other things held equal, manufacturing goods closer to where they are used is more economically efficient than manufacturing things far away. But, the cheaper and faster freight technology is the less distance matters. 

Increased automation will tend to reduce the costs of shipping freight. But, cargo ships and trains are already so highly automated that there is little room to reduce costs with automation that reduces labor costs in that part of the freight market.

The only place where automation could still dramatically reduce freight costs is in trucking, if self-driving trucks, which already exist in proto-type form. But, this reduction in freight cost is pretty indifferent between the benefit it provides to manufacturers somewhere in the U.S. and manufacturers abroad once they deposit their freight at a port or their goods are removed from a rail yard.

So, automation is unlikely make offshore manufacturing significantly more competitive vis-a-vis domestic manufacturing.

Also, one of the likely growth areas for manufacturing is likely to be in the construction industry, where there is a huge untapped potential that has been utilized with great success on a limited basis, to build buildings in bigger chunks that are built in more efficient, less waste generating factories off site. These factories build building components on a more automated basis with more skilled labor than on site stick building techniques. But, the components are very big, some transportation costs are a material consideration.

Transportation issues disfavor offshoring for building module manufacturing more than they do for other kinds of manufacturing.

Bottom Line

Gradual shifts towards more highly automated manufacturing will shift incentives away from offshoring manufacturing and towards manufacturing domestically. Comparative advantage principles mean that offshoring won't go away any time soon. But, in general, automation means that the future of the domestic manufacturing industry in the United States is fairly bright going forward. 

This is especially true in new industries where sunk costs don't multiply the impact of decisions made when economic incentives more strongly favored offshoring.

Of course, since domestic manufacturing is most attractive in the most automated operations, a major resurgence of domestic manufacturing may not produce all that many more U.S. jobs and the jobs that it does create will largely be for higher skilled workers, not for the blue collar workers who lost their jobs in the deindustrialization process that started to take hold in the U.S. in the 1970s.

The exception to that general rule, however, may be manufacturing in support of building construction, where transportation issues can favor domestic manufacturing even when the work is relatively unskilled. But, even in this case, the growth in construction manufacturing jobs will come at the cost of even more lost jobs in on site construction. And, this shift will hurt the least skilled workers the most.

Automation is bad news for the employment of less skilled workers both in the U.S. and abroad. And, the impact of automation on these workers is largely irreversible, unlike offshoring.

24 April 2017

Americans Doubt Evolution Far More Than Comparably Wealthy Nations

From here.

The United States is the clear outlier. But why?

Rather than simply being ill informed, lots of Americans are actively anti-evolution because that is part of the doctrine of Biblical literalist Christianity to which they adhere. 

This branch of Christianity is largely absent from the other countries listed, many of which have or did have in recent history, established Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist or Shinto state religious denominations, none of which emphasized this particular aspect of Biblical literalism.

The only Islamic country on the chart, Turkey, is even less evolution believing than the United States, and while that could be a product of national income, if it had been excluded from the fit as an outlier as the United States was in the fit, because it is religiously confounded (many branches of Islam also have issues with evolution theory), the relationship between evolution belief and GDP per capita would be far more linear and far less extreme.

Similarly, including poorer East Asian countries than Japan, where there is not a strong anti-evolution sentiment, would also probably blow the curve.

Progress Made In Identifying BMI Genes

Several dozen new genes, including those found more often in non-European populations, that influence body mass index (BMI) have been identified. Common genes that impact BMI, however, turn out to be found across a wide variety of ethnicities.
Most body mass index (BMI) genetic loci have been identified in studies of primarily European ancestries. The effect of these loci in other racial/ethnic groups is less clear. Thus, we aimed to characterize the generalizability of 170 established BMI variants, or their proxies, to diverse US populations and trans-ethnically fine-map 36 BMI loci using a sample of >102,000 adults of African, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, European and American Indian/Alaskan Native descent from the Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology Study. 
We performed linear regression of the natural log of BMI (18.5-70 kg/m2) on the additive single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at BMI loci on the MetaboChip (Illumina, Inc.), adjusting for age, sex, population stratification, study site, or relatedness. We then performed fixed-effect meta-analyses and a Bayesian trans-ethnic meta-analysis to empirically cluster by allele frequency differences. Finally, we approximated conditional and joint associations to test for the presence of secondary signals. 
We noted directional consistency with the previously reported risk alleles beyond what would have been expected by chance (binomial p < 0.05). Nearly, a quarter of the previously described BMI index SNPs and 29 of 36 densely-genotyped BMI loci on the MetaboChip replicated/generalized in trans-ethnic analyses. We observed multiple signals at nine loci, including the description of seven loci with novel multiple signals. This study supports the generalization of most common genetic loci to diverse ancestral populations and emphasizes the importance of dense multiethnic genomic data in refining the functional variation at genetic loci of interest and describing several loci with multiple underlying genetic variants.
Fernández-Rhodes L, et al., "Trans-ethnic fine-mapping of genetic loci for body mass index in the diverse ancestral populations of the Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) Study reveals evidence for multiple signals at established loci."
Human Genetics (April 9, 2017).

21 April 2017

Supposed April 11 ISIS Attack In Germany May Have Actually Been Securities Fraud

German police arrested a man on Friday suspected of detonating three bombs that targeted the Borussia Dortmund soccer team bus in the hope of sending the club’s shares plummeting and making a profit on an investment, prosecutors said. 
In a statement, the federal chief prosecutor said the 28-year old man, a dual German and Russian national identified as Sergei V., had bought options on Borussia Dortmund’s stock before the attack. 
The team bus was heading to the club’s stadium for a Champions League match against AS Monaco on April 11 when the explosions went off, wounding Spanish defender Marc Bartra and delaying the match by a day. 
Prosecutors last week expressed doubts about the authenticity of three letters left at the site of the attack that suggested that Islamist militants had carried it out.
The prosecutor’s office said the suspect had bought 15,000 put options, or contracts giving him the right to sell Borussia Dortmund’s shares at a pre-determined price, on the day of the attack, using a consumer loan he had signed a week earlier.
From here.

The Long Arm of Chinese Censors

Hollywood executives can rattle off the rules for getting a movie approved by Chinese censors: no sex (too unseemly); no ghosts (too spiritual). Among 10 prohibited plot elements are “disrupts the social order” and “jeopardizes social morality.” Time travel is frowned upon because of its premise that individuals can change history. 
U.S. filmmakers sometimes anticipate Chinese censors and alter movies before their release. The Oscar-winning alien-invasion drama “Arrival” was edited to make a Chinese general appear less antagonistic before the film’s debut in China this year. 
The superhero hit “Logan” was 14 minutes shorter in China after Chinese censors cut scenes of beheading and impalement. 
For “Passengers,” the space adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, a scene showing Mr. Pratt’s bare backside was removed, and a scene of Mr. Pratt chatting in Mandarin with a robot bartender was added.
From the Wall Street Journal via Tyler Cowen.

The TSA Hates Most States Starting With The Letter M

If you’re a resident of Maine, Minnesota, Missouri or Montana your driver’s license will no longer be valid to pass TSA-checkpoints starting in January 2018, and you will instead have to use an alternate form of ID. This means you’ll have to bring a passport, military ID or permanent resident card next time you go to the airport, even if you’re just traveling within the United States. This new rule won’t go into effect until January 22, 2018[.]
From here.

I have serious doubts about the constitutionality of this legislation.

You Probably Missed New Legislation To Protect People Making Online Complaints

Last year, Congress and the President made a small blow for freedom in the never ending struggle to protect open communications on the Internet from corporate censorship. I hadn't heard about it at the time, but it is a potentially valuable tool on cases involving online customer reviews and for people drafting business-customer contracts.
Consumer reviews are vitally important to our modern economy. Markets become stronger and more efficient when consumers share their marketplace experiences and guide other consumers toward the best vendors and away from poor ones.

Businesses recognize the importance of consumer reviews, and many businesses take numerous steps to manage how consumer reviews affect their public image. Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to control consumer reviews, some businesses have deployed contract provisions that ban or inhibit their consumers from reviewing them. I call those provisions “anti-review clauses.”

Anti-review clauses distort the marketplace benefits society gets from consumer reviews by suppressing peer feedback from prospective consumers, which in turn helps poor vendors stay in business and diminishes the returns that good vendors get from investments in quality (thus degrading their willingness to make those investments).

Recognizing the threats posed by anti-review clauses, Congress banned them in the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 (the CRFA). As the House Report explains, the law seeks “to preserve the credibility and value of online consumer reviews by prohibiting non-disparagement clauses restricting negative, yet truthful, reviews of products and services by consumers.” By doing so, the CRFA helps advance the effective functioning of marketplaces. 
This essay helps readers understand the CRFA. Part I provides some background about anti-review clauses. Part II describes the new law and how it relates to existing law. Part III considers if the law goes far enough to protect consumer reviews. The article then has a short conclusion.

The bill is Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, H.R. 5111, 114th Congress (2015-2016), which has just two sections. Section 1 is the short title, and the balance of the act is in Section 2. It has apparently not yet been assigned a codified United States Code section number.

It was enacted on December 14, 2016 as Public Law 114-258.

Pot Legalization And Decriminalization More Popular Than Ever

61% of Americans think is should be legal for recreational purposes, according to a CBS poll released today. Eighty-eight percent think it should be legal for medical use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

More generally on the topic of drug abuse, 69 percent think that should be treated as an addiction and mental health problem rather than a criminal offense.
Via Boing Boing.

20 April 2017

U.S. AG Sessions Must Have Been Asleep That Day In Law School

Our nation's attorney-general is apparently a bit fuzzy on the concept that federal district court judges in Hawaii have the same authority as judges from every other federal district court.
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions told radio host Mark Levin on Wednesday, as reported by CNN.
Via Lawyers, Guns and Money.

17 April 2017

Taxation Without Representation

Last year, the District of Columbia paid Uncle Sam $37,000 per person in federal income, payroll and estate taxes. The next closest was Delaware, at $16,000 per person. 
“It’s where the money is,” said Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Tax Policy Center. “The reason the District pays so much in taxes is that there are a lot of high-income people there.” 
Washington is an outlier because, despite years of lobbying, it is not a state. It doesn’t even have a vote in Congress. It is, however, a city with a relatively high cost of living. 
West Virginia, Mississippi and New Mexico have low median household incomes, which helps explain why they their residents pay far less in federal taxes. West Virginia paid $3,600 per person last year, while Mississippi paid $3,900 per person and New Mexico residents paid a little more than $4,000.
From the Associated Press via the Denver Post.

Colorado is slightly above the average for the United States.

16 April 2017

Quote Of The Day

Important differences might not show up in brain scans. For example, we can’t see schizophrenia in a brain scan, yet schizophrenia is important. Hearing voices that aren’t there, even when they give useful tips [“They’re all against you! They all must die!”] has social significance.
From G. Cochran

15 April 2017


Like the character in the comics below, I'm a bit unfamiliar with the light in the sky that is said to appear on most mornings.

14 April 2017


The financial state of Uber, the tech oriented car sharing taxi substitute business, is pretty dismal:
Uber's gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. Its net revenue, after drivers took their cut, totaled $6.5 billion for the year.

But that rapid growth came at a cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016, excluding the China business it sold midway through the year. Uber's CEO had previously said it was losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing in August.
A loss of 43% relative to your gross after costs of services sold, is just horrendous. Uber is losing 14 cents for every $1 paid by Uber customers. High gross sales are great, but somebody in the Uber business seems to have forgotten that the basic idea is to make a profit, or at least, to break even. If you can't do that, and you can't even get close to doing that, then your business model is not sustainable. You need more sales to increase your profits, not increase your losses.

12 April 2017

GOP Favors Let God Sort Em Out Approach To Wrongful Convictions

One of the strangest conceits of US law enforcement is the idea that punishing the innocent is a close substitute for punishing the guilty.
- Matthew Yglesias via Fully Myelinated.

This comes in response to an effort of the current administration to roll back Obama Administration efforts to exonerate wrongly convicted individuals.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.
In a statement Monday, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013.

09 April 2017

Quote of the Day

English beats up other languages in dark alleys, then rifles through their pockets for loose grammar and spare vocabulary.
Via here.

07 April 2017

Recent SCOTUS Confirmation Votes

From here.

The last two justices to be confirmed and receive less than 60 confirmation votes in the U.S. Senate didn't turn out well. We can only hope that this time will be better.

06 April 2017


When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia died, President Obama appointed a moderately liberal successor, Judge Garland. The Republican controlled U.S. Senate refused to consider the nomination which lapsed when that term of Congress ended and President Obama's term ended in January of 2017.

President Trump then nominated Judge Gorsuch, of the 10th Circuit, to fill the vacancy. Democrats successfully filibustered a vote on the nominee with a 45 votes cast against a cloture vote (including Colorado Senator Bennet who was an earlier supporter of Gorsuch in the confirmation process and introduced him) when 41 or more votes cast against cloture would be sufficient sustain the filibuster.

The thin Republican majority then voted to abolish the filibuster for U.S. Supreme Court judges just as Democrats had earlier for other judicial positions. Today or tomorrow, Judge Gorsuch with be confirmed as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The filibuster still remains on the books for most ordinary legislation in the U.S. Senate, but the taboo against repealing the filibuster with the "nuclear option" already used to end the filibuster for essentially all Presidential appointments requiring Senate approval is gone, greatly weakening the filibuster as a tool of the minority in the Senate.

The fact that we will have a 5-4 conservative majority on the U.S. Senate (just as we did before the death of Justice Scalia) rather than the 5-4 liberal majority on the U.S. Senate that we would have had if President Obama's nominee, Judge Garland, had been approved, is deeply unfair. But, it will soon be the reality.

The fact that the filibuster is effectively dead, from a good government perspective, is probably a good thing, although arguably it made the most sense to keep it for U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominations which have such profound long term policy implications and arguably ought to be reserved for someone who can command bipartisan support. Still, the filibuster made it virtually impossible for even a party in control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, as the Republicans do right now, to accomplish anything and it diffused responsibility for governmental action leaving voters with less of a clear choice come election time.

The end result of this particular chapter in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress is that Justice Kennedy will hold the critical swing vote needed to secure a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, just as he did before Justice Scalia passed and just as he did when there was an eight member U.S. Supreme Court in the interim period.

Justice Gorsuch values civility far more than Scalia did, and is far less of an asshole as a person than Scalia was during his life. On one hand, this probably means that Justice Gorsuch will probably be less prone to mean spirited rants, unnecessary attacks in opinions, and strident statements than Scalia was, despite the fact that Gorsuch will be firmly within the conservative wing of the Court, so at least in demeanor and rhetoric Justice Gorsuch will be more like Chief Justice Roberts and less like Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito. On the other hand, because of his better manners and superior people skills, Justice Gorsuch may have more influence in swaying other members of the U.S. Supreme Court (and with swing vote Justice Kennedy, in particular) than his often alienating predecessor to take more conservative stances on the merits of key issues before the Court.

Time will tell how his role on the Court evolves. Certainly, he is not someone bent on destroying the institution to which he has been appointed, unlike so many other of Trump's appointments. But, the real course correction at the U.S. Supreme Court will happen when another Justice passes or steps down and is replaced with someone with opposite political inclinations. We don't know which Justice this will be, or when it will happen, but given the ages of the eight sitting Justices, it will surely happen before too many more years go by.

04 April 2017

What Is Grit And How Important Is It?

Grit, the Big Five personality trait known as conscientiousness, impulsivity, risk-taking, the marshmallow test, procrastination, and ADHD (also here and here and here and here) all seem to track different nuances of the same basic phenotype. which has a common genetic source. The genetic component of these traits (notwithstanding the difficulty involved in finding particular genes leading to the observed hereditary effects, but see DRD2), in particular, seems to overlap. But, this cluster of traits seems to have only a second order effect on academic outcomes with IQ, which is more strongly genetic, playing a much larger first order role in educational outcomes.
Grit—perseverance and passion for long-term goals—has been shown to be a significant predictor of academic success, even after controlling for other personality factors. 
Here, for the first time, we use a U.K.-representative sample and a genetically sensitive design to unpack the etiology of Grit and its prediction of academic achievement in comparison to well-established personality traits. For 4,642 16-year-olds (2,321 twin pairs), we used the Grit-S scale (perseverance of effort and consistency of interest), along with the Big Five personality traits, to predict grades on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, which are administered U.K.-wide at the end of compulsory education. 
Twin analyses of Grit perseverance yielded a heritability estimate of 37% (20% for consistency of interest) and no evidence for shared environmental influence. Personality, primarily conscientiousness, predicts about 6% of the variance in GCSE grades, but Grit adds little to this prediction. Moreover, multivariate twin analyses showed that roughly two-thirds of the GCSE prediction is mediated genetically. 
Grit perseverance of effort and Big Five conscientiousness are to a large extent the same trait both phenotypically (r = 0.53) and genetically (genetic correlation = 0.86). We conclude that the etiology of Grit is highly similar to other personality traits, not only in showing substantial genetic influence but also in showing no influence of shared environmental factors. 
Personality significantly predicts academic achievement, but Grit adds little phenotypically or genetically to the prediction of academic achievement beyond traditional personality factors, especially conscientiousness.
Rimfeld, Kaili, et al.,"True grit and genetics: Predicting academic achievement from personality." 111(5) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 780-789 (November 2016).

This study doesn't find much of an impact of the Big Five trait extraversion on academic outcomes, but it is another second order factor, with an importance comparable to conscientiousness in both impact and the extent to which it is genetic, in predicting lifetime socio-economic success in other studies.

03 April 2017

The Troubled Court System Of India

India, like the United States, has a federal system based upon the English common law legal system. Both operated common law legal systems with mostly local lawyers for more than a century before gaining independence from the United Kingdom. The United States has had independent legal systems from the U.K. for 241 years; India's legal system has been independent for 72 years. 

Both countries endured a division of the country in between, although in the United States the feuding factions got back together after the Civil War, while in India, Pakistan remained separate and then had its own split between West Pakistan and East Pakistan.

Imagine that Colorado had the same number of lawyer and judges, proportionate to its population as India

India's population is roughly 1,200 million. The United States has a population of roughly 300 million. Both have about 1.2 million lawyers. The United States has roughly 32,000 judges at the state and federal levels combined. "The latest figures (as on 11 July 2016), as seen from the National Judicial Data Grid and Department of Justice data [in India], tell us that there are 16,438 judges at the subordinate judiciary level, 621 in high courts and 29 in the Supreme Court."

Both countries have more or less capitalist, mixed economies with enormous cities that participate in the global economy and have significant high technology, highly productive geographic centers that drive their economies. Both have states at quite different levels of development from each other with quite different regional cultures and demographics.

Colorado As India Statewide

The state would have about 9,000 lawyers instead of its current total closer to 36,000.

The Colorado Supreme Court (currently 7 judges) and Colorado Court of Appeals (currently with 22 judges) combined, would be replaced by three Colorado Supreme Court justices. 

There would be two U.S. District Court judges for the District of Colorado (currently with 6 judges, 9 magistrates and 6 senior judges) and one Bankruptcy Court judge for the District of Colorado (currently with 6 judges). There would be no 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (currently with 12 judges and 7 senior judges) and the federal trial courts would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado As India In Denver's State Trial Courts

There would be four judges in the Second Judicial District (i.e. Denver County) in the Denver District Court (currently with 23 judges and 5 magistrates), the Denver Juvenile Court (currently 3 judges and 4 magistrates) and the Denver Probate Court (currently 1 judge and 1 magistrate) combined. Three judge would serve in Denver District Court, one judge would assume all of the combined duties of the Denver Juvenile Court and Denver Probate Court.

There would be four judges in Denver County Court (currently with 17 judges and 15 magistrates).

Colorado As India In State Trial Courts Outside Denver

State trial courts outside Denver would be reduced in staffing proportionately. There would be a total of roughly 55 trial court judges split between district, county and municipal courts statewide with most judges serving multiple counties. There would be perhaps 30 District Court judges, 20 County Court judges, and 5 municipal court judges serving outside of Denver (with county court and municipal judges serving in multiple courts on a part-time basis). A median judicial district would have one district court judge and one county/municipal court judge.


How would this function?

Not well.

The case loads would be overwhelming.

To try even a decent fraction of the cases currently going to trial and contested hearings, trials and hearings would have to be much shorter. Court clerks would have to be more bold in handling default judgments, post-judgment process, and uncontested motions. The pressure to settle cases would be greater than the length of time needed to conclude cases would be longer.

Statutory deadlines in matters entitled to prompt hearings like evictions, claims to repossess personal property, and temporary restraining order hearings would be impossible to meet. Many criminal cases would have to be dismissed or plea bargained intensely to meet speedy trial deadlines.

India's court system absolutely shows this strain.

Courts swamped with far more pro se parties in divorces, foreclosures, and county court litigation would bog down the courts in categories of cases already struggling to manage with large volumes of pro se parties.

Ideally, the entire system would have to be redesigned to maximize the extent to which scarce judicial resources were devoted to the cases that needed those resources, while developing a system not involving legally trained judges or lawyers in cases where legal training wasn't as critical, along the lines of the historical justice of the peace system in much of the U.S., or perhaps involving law enforcement officials and pro se parties presenting cases informally to legally trained magistrates.

The truth is that even Colorado, while it enjoys far more lawyers and judges per capita than India, is itself has a somewhat understaffed judiciary.

India's official plan is to quadruple its number of judges to 60,000 or even to 70,000. It has more than enough qualified lawyers to fill those posts. The administrative costs would be a manageable share of state and federal budgets. And, if it did so, the result would be a dramatically better functioning legal system. Corruption would probably fall significantly. But, politicians in India, like those in Colorado, are reluctant to make such a bold change. Also India's political situation is even less healthy that ours.

01 April 2017

Arkansas Injustice

In Arkansas, the death penalty is applied in a highly dubious way.
Since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976, Arkansas has executed just 27 people. It has not sent an inmate to the death chamber since 2005. But beginning on April 17, Arkansas intends to execute an unprecedented eight men in just ten days. 
This report examines the cases of those condemned men, and what we found is devastating. At least five of the eight cases involve a person who appears to suffer from a serious mental illness or intellectual impairment. One of these men was twenty at the time of the crime, suffered a serious head injury, and has a 70 IQ score. Another man suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and believes that he is on a mission from God. He sees both his deceased father and reincarnated dogs around the prison. A sixth condemned inmate endured shocking sexual and physical abuse–he was burned, beaten, stabbed, and raped, and his mother pimped him out to various adults throughout his preteen and teen years. In the two remaining cases, there is no evidence to suggest that the attorneys ever conducted even a minimally adequate mitigation investigation to determine if their clients had any illnesses or disabilities. 
Across the eight cases, the quality of lawyering that we detected falls short of any reasonable standard of effectiveness–one lawyer was drunk in court, while another struggled with mental illness. Several of the lawyers missed deadlines, failed to visit their clients, and continued on a case despite the appearance of a conflict of interest. Taken together, these cases present a foundational challenge to the legitimacy and integrity of the death penalty in Arkansas. The Governor should declare a moratorium on executions so these legal deficiencies can be given a closer look, or else the Courts must intervene to stop these executions in order to preserve public confidence in the rule of law.
From here.