31 January 2018

9000 Posts

This is the 9000th post I have made at this Wash Park Prophet blog and its sister blog, Dispatches From Turtle Island, combined, since their inception of July 3, 2005 (12 years, 6 months and 28 days ago a.k.a. 4595 days ago). This is a blogging pace of 1.96 posts per day, although in the last year or so, the pace has been closer to 1.5 posts per day or slightly less than that.

Many of these posts are quite lengthy, with an average number of words in the low hundreds probably, so the combined output of these blogs is equivalent to several dozen hand written or printed out journals.

The recent decline in posting has a lot to do with the fact that insights that might otherwise have turned into a blog post here now end up as a Facebook post instead.

I have also cleared all but 15 draft posts that were substantive enough to save, but not complete enough to post that were not labeled TMI (nine draft posts) which I declined to post for obvious reasons after due consideration, even though some of those are basically complete.

Blogger reports 625,342 all times views at Dispatches at Turtle Island and 1,906,895 at Wash Park Prophet, but this is a gross underestimate since Blogger didn't start keeping track of blog views until about 2010 or 2011, long after the Wash Park Prophet blog was established. The combined 2,532,257 views since Blogger has been keeping track is not insubstantial, however, and probably amounts to more than 400 views per average post over the long run.

Private Mortgage Insurance v. Second Mortgages

One of the important developments that made the collapse of the housing price bubble relevant to banks and the national and international economy was the rise in low equity loans.

Many new homeowners had a down payment of 0% or 3% or 5%, rather than the traditional 20% of the purchase price. Home equity loans to finance other consumption were common, and were structured either as a refinancing of the entire mortgage with cash out, or as a second mortgage at a higher interest rate.

Banks attempted to cope with these risks in basically two ways. If there was a single loan with low equity, banks generally required private mortgage insurance. Alternately, two loans were made, one conventional with 20% equity, and the other a second mortgage (or even a third or fourth mortgage) secured by the remaining equity.

The tax code encouraged structuring the deal as a second mortgage rather than as private mortgage insurance, because, until recently, interest on a second mortgage was deductible, while private mortgage insurance was not.  (The mortgage insurance deduction has IIRC now expired.)

Second mortgages, which have higher interest rates than first mortgages, have the virtue for the lender having interest payments that automatically fall as the principal amount on the second mortgage declines, unlike private mortgage insurance, which is typically a constant premium until it is terminated, even though the risk declines over time. But, depending upon the amortization period of the second loan, one could be paying some debt at the higher second loan interest rate long after the amount outstanding on the two loans combined was less than 80% of the original purchase price. In contrast, laws enacted in the late 1990s to make it easier to cancel private mortgage insurance policies to be cancelled once a buyer has paid enough of the principal of a mortgage to have an outstanding loan balance of 80% or less of the purchase price.

Footnote: Bad Loans Go Bad Early

Loans that go bad are overwhelmingly new ones. A New York Times review of metro New York City foreclosures in 2007 found that:
[O]n Long Island, the average age of a loan in foreclosure last month was a little more than two years, according to Long Island Profiles. In January 2004, the average length of time it took borrowers struggling with loans was five years before losing their property through foreclosure.
Early foreclosures are particularly common in subprime loans, but quite early in most mortgages. A January 2005 study of subprime foreclosures, citing a 2001 study by HUD of the same subject found that:
[L]oans by subprime lenders in Baltimore were on average 1.8 years old at the start of foreclosure, compared to 3.2 years for prime and FHA loans.
Similarly, a December 2003 study of foreclosures in a set of 12,000 new mortgages by a federal government agency found that: "the average age of the loans at foreclosure in the data set was approximately 30 months or 2½ years."

The stereotypical mortgage has a thirty year term, very few have less than a fifteen year term, and increasingly before the subprime mortgage collapse, one was seeing even longer amortizations, with forty year terms or "interest only" payments for extended time periods.

Fifteen year loan terms tend not to be subprime.

An Obamacare Critic's Concerns Considered

A friend of mine reports this exchange on the Facebook page of her Congressman (emphasis mine):
So today, as I often do, I posted a pointed but respectful critical comment on my Rep. (Dave Brat)'s Facebook page, in response to him voting yes on the "healthcare" bill today. Below is one of the responses to my comment. 
"Fine with me. I am sick of paying premiums 5 times higher to cover deadbeats with issues from obesity, smoking, drugs, maternity, PMs, meds and sports injuries. Stick it to them ...they stuck it to us."
My friend was somewhat shocked by the response, basically because it was so heartless.

I think it is fair to assume that this particular response is a sincere, heartfelt statement about why this particular constituent doesn't like the current Obamacare system, and that lots of other people hold the same view.

Essentially, this constituent frames this as a moral issue and believes that a lot of her health insurance premiums (it could be a he or a she, I don't actually know), are due to bad choices deliberately made by others that she shouldn't have economic responsibility for subsidizing.

Also, ultimately, her grievance is that her health insurance premiums are too high, and she really just wants to solve the problem that these premiums impose on her household budget and doesn't really much care what the consequences of a solution to that problem might be.

The premiums she pays for the conditions she claims run up premiums five fold, actually account for closer to 45% of her premiums, with smoking and obesity being the primary sources of those costs which account for 32% of her premiums (v. 13% for the other complained of charges). But, this is still significant and the premium surcharges allowed by Obamacare for smokers, in practice, account for only about 2% of increased health care expenses associated with smoking. But, about 24% of American adults are obese, about 17% smoke, and about 6% are both obese and smoke, so the surcharges she proposes would affect about 41% of people with health insurance.

It would take a $315 per month smoking surcharge to prevent smokers from being subsidized by non-smokers (the current average is $70), and given that Obamacare allows up to a 50% premium increase for smokers and that the average monthly premium for a family of four is $833, a significant share of that subsidy could be reduced by increasing the surcharge for smokers. Thus, a non-smoking family of four with pay about $661 per month for health insurance, while a family of four with one smoker would pay $976 per month for health insurance, and if there were two smokers they would pay $1,291 per month.

To prevent subsidies for obese people, there would have to be a $214 per month premium increase for them per year relative to the status quo, while non-obese people would see a $92 per month premium decrease. Thus, a family of four with no obese people would pay $741 a month for health insurance, while a family of four with one obese person would pay $955 a month, and a family of four with four obese people would pay $1,597 a month.

If both of these factors were combined a family of four with no smokers and no one who was obese would pay about $570 a month for health insurance, while a family of four with four obese people and two smokers would pay $2,055 a month for health insurance.

On one hand, smoking and obesity combined with mandatory health insurance does impose a substantial ($266 a month) take on families with no smokers who have no one who is obese.

On the other hand, these are very common conditions which are very difficult to change even in the face of large monetary incentives, and forcing individuals to bear their individualized share of a global expenditure defeats the purpose of health insurance to a great extent, and the practical effect of increased premiums for smokers and the obese which are sufficient to fully ameliorate the subsidy would prevent many smokers and obese people from obtaining any coverage.

But, speaking with an economist's "third hand", it is also possible to reduce the amount of the subsidy cause by the health insurance premium setting process, without eliminating it entirely, splitting the difference between the approaches. One can have some surcharges that don't fully capture the additional costs of including someone with certain

For example, one could reduce the monthly premium for health insurance from $833 per month to $758 per month, if the smoking surcharge was $158 per month per smoker, and the obesity surcharge was $107 per month per obese person. This would push the premium for a family of four with two smokers and four obese people to $1,502 per month. It would push the premium for a family of four with no smokers put four obese people to $1,186 per month, and for a family of four with no smokers and two obese people to $972 per month. So, premium surcharges for some high cost conditions that a significant economic incentive might reduce the incidence of might be justified in a health care policy.

On the other hand, there are other conditions like maternity coverage, sports injuries, prescription medicine coverage, and mental health care, where the premium reduction benefits of excluding coverage would be modest, but the impact in individuals with these needs would be high. And, in the case of prescription medicine coverage and mental health care, there is very little that a prudent person could do to avoid having these conditions.

A fair decision to consider certain risks in setting premiums involves a mix of the amount of subsidy involved, on average, with allowing people with those above average risks to have an unsurcharged premium, and the extent to which the condition is avoidable.

The analysis that leads to these conclusion are below.

2018 U.S. News And World Report College Rankings

Liberal Arts

Oberlin (the alma mater of my wife and I) and Macalaster (which my brother and his wife graduated from) are tied for #26 in U.S. News and World Report's 2018 Liberal Arts College rankings. Also tied for #26 are Kenyon College, Scripps College (in Claremont, CA), the U.S. Air Force Academy (which is absurd to treat as a liberal arts college), and Barnard College.

Colby College, which my daughter attends, is ranked #12, tied with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (which is not a liberal arts college in any legitimate sense of the word), Vassar, Smith (my wife's sister's alma mater), Harvey Mudd (in Claremont, CA) and Colgate.

Colorado College is #23 on the liberal arts college list tied with Bates College (which is a Colby rival). The U.S. Naval Academy is #21.

In the top 11 are:

#1 Williams
#2 Amherst
#3 (tie) Bowdoin (another Colby rival)
#3 (tie) Swarthmore
#3 (tie) Wellesley
#6 (tie) Middlebury (where my daughter was also accepted)
#6 (tie) Pomona in Claremont, CA (I was accepted there and wanted to attend by the mom vetoed it)
#8 (tie) Carleton
#8 (tie) Claremont McKenna in Claremont, CA
#10 (tie) Davidson College in NC
#10 (tie) Washington and Lee U. in VA

Pitzer in Claremont CA was #33.

National Universities

The usual Ivy League suspects here plus University of Chicago (tied for #3), M.I.T. (tied for #5), Stanford (tied for #5), Duke (#9), California Institute of Technology (#10), John Hopkins (tied for #11), Northwestern (tied for #11), Rice University (tied for #14), and Vanderbilt University (tied for #14).

In terms of selectivity, Williams and Amherst are comparable to the least selective Ivy League schools.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor(#28), Tufts (#29), and NYU (#30) on the National Universities list are pretty comparable to Kenyon (#26), Oberlin (#26), Colby (#12), Bates (#23), Macalaster (#26), Wesleyan, Carleton(#8) and Middlebury (#6) on the Liberal Arts College List.

The Colorado School of Mines is #75. The University of Denver is #87. CU-Boulder is #90.

Law Schools

My alma mater, University of Michigan Law is tied for #8 with the University of Virginia.

At the top are:

Yale #1
Stanford #2
Harvard #3
University of Chicago #4
Columbia #5
NYU #6 (where I was also admitted)
University of Pennsylvania #7

Felix Culpa

Originally a religious term referring to consequences of the Biblical Fall of Man and the sins of Adam and Eve, a felix culpa is literally a "happy fault"—an apparent mistake or disaster that actually ends up having surprisingly beneficial consequences.
From Mental Floss.

Kesha v. Taylor Swift On Dealing With Mistreatment

Pop stars Kesha and Taylor Swift both have hit songs about being horribly wronged by men in their lives.

Kesha's hit song, "Praying", looks to divine justice to right the scales and tries to stay positive. It is the classic response that Christianity endorses.

Taylor Swift's hit song, “Look What You Made Me Do”, comes from a similar place but espouses revenge.

Both women have young adult musical roots in Nashville, although Kesha's single mother was a struggling singer-songwriter, while Swift came from money. Both women experienced high profile court cases against abusers they encountered in their professional life. Kesha's case was ultimately dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, while Swift won on her counterclaims against a groper claiming what amounted to defamation.

Personally, I think TS's approach is a better way to live, on average, although letting go of the past, as Kesha does, can certainly be more functional when revenge is impossible or costly.

Heath Insurance Companies Still Evil

The latest health insurance abuse involves Anthem (i.e. Blue Cross, Blue Shield) which is denying coverage for ER visits that after the fact produce a diagnosis that is not an emergency, even though the symptoms that led someone to go to the ER could have been consistent with a life threatening emergency condition in the eyes of a reasonable non-medical professional patient.

The Domestication Syndrome

NPR's "Skunk Bear" program does a fine job of explaining the connection between neural crest cells, which, among other things, fuel the fight or flight response in mammals which is not advantageous to developing a strong relationship with humans, and the "domestication syndrome" which emerges when this cells are fewer or less well functioning, which are variety of phenotypic side effects of having fewer or less well functioning neural crest cells.

30 January 2018

Immortal Rats

Naked mole rats are rather ugly, but they age well. More specifically, they are the only mammal that doesn't appear to die of old age: "these rodents live to around 35 years, as opposed to a "regular" rat's six years, and the naked mole rat doesn't seem to actually age before it dies." Specifically:
the chance of dying for the mole rats did not increase as they aged. All other mammals that have been studied have been found to conform to what is known as Gompertz's mortality law, which states that the risk of death for a typical mammal grows exponentially after they reach sexual maturity—for humans, that means the odds of dying double every eight years after reaching age 30.

Sure, they die. But, they don't undergo the physical decay with age that characterizes other mammals whose bodies start to fall apart at a certain point. Female naked mole rats remain fertile pretty much until they die.

Needless to say, naked mole rats will now be at the center of efforts to figure out the aging process so that humans can cheat it as much as possible.

Naked mole rates are also almost cold blooded, which may not be unrelated. Crocodiles and some sharks, both of which are also cold blooded, seem to continue to grow indefinitely, with a case in point being the Greenland shark which is believed to live to be as much as 512 years old, older than any other known vertebrate.

Crime May Not Be Genetic But It Is Significantly Hereditary

The lede here is the striking insight of the story. We don't know with any certainty how strongly genetic influences are on a person's propensity to commit crime, but we do know that criminal conduct that results in criminal justice consequences tends to run in families. This is a fact that needs to be prominent in the awareness of anyone trying to reform the criminal justice system.
Since that day in 2011, Cintron Jr., 38, has lived on the same cell block as his father, who is 58. Recently, the cell next door to his dad’s became available, so he moved in. Each evening, by 9 p.m., they lock themselves into cells 86 and 87 of A Block for the night. 
Their story is, in some ways, not an unusual one. All around them are inmates who come from the same neighborhoods, the same city blocks or even the same households. Father and son hail from one of the most heavily incarcerated communities in one of the most incarcerated cities in the country. And just as crime gravitates to certain neighborhoods, it also clusters in families: According to one criminologist’s analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 5 percent of families account for more than 50 percent of all arrests. 
Numerous studies have found that individuals whose parents have committed crimes are at least two times more likely to be perpetrators themselves. Sexual offending runs in families. So does violent crime. . . . 
Darryl Goodman, who was locked up with his own father at Graterford before dedicating his life to helping at-risk young people, has been piecing together a data set with help from inmates at the 25 prisons around the state. By his most recent reckoning, (and it’s hard to keep up, as inmates constantly are being moved) there were 243 fathers in state prisons with their sons. At Graterford alone, he counted 41 father-son pairs, including 17 sets of cellmates. He found seven families in which a father, son and grandson were all locked up together. 
Cintron Jr. finds those numbers plausible: “On the block right now, there are probably three or four sets of brothers. And there are fathers and sons on my block. Just on the block alone, there are families, cousins. There is nothing for it. It’s the cycle. It’s the generational curse.” 
From the Philadelphia Inquirer (emphasis mine).

29 January 2018

Immigration Due Process For Minors Still Broken

The federal government stubbornly clings to the notion that a child who can't speak English can be afforded due process in an immigration hearing (most recently prevailing on this argument in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) despite the obvious, common sense conclusion that kid who isn't even allowed to fly on a plane without supervision cannot provide adequate representation to himself in immigration hearings.

24 January 2018


From here. Referencing an erroneous ballistic missile warning early this month in Hawaii that lasted 38 minutes because the Governor couldn't find the password to his Twitter account which was necessary to call off the warning.

22 January 2018

Bad Prosecutors

The Colorado Supreme Court has unanimously overturned a murder conviction after it was determined that prosecutors from the 18th District (which includes Arapahoe County) withheld evidence from defense attorneys in a case where the current DA and his predecessor had sought the death penalty. The opinion is here. A failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense in a criminal case is also an ethical violation on the part of the prosecution attorneys involved. Specifically, it violates Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(d). This provides that:
The prosecutor in a criminal case shall: . . . (d) make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and, in connection with sentencing, disclose to the defense and to the tribunal all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal[.]
Only the language in bold is applicable in this case which never reached the sentencing phase and did not involve a protective order.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court explains that prosecutors were aware of the evidence that would have supported the defendant's theory of the case, that another suspect committed the murder, at the outset, but failed to disclosed it to the defense for fifteen months (and only after a conviction was secured after a jury deliberated for four days and was nearly deadlocked) and that the prosecutors instead took steps to segregate the exculpatory information from the discovery provided to defense counsel.

This was flatly culpable and unethical conduct.

In short, Arapahoe County's prosecutors, who are, by far, the most harsh in state, were wiling to breach their ethical obligations in order to secure a death sentence. This is very serious misconduct and we can only hope that the prosecutors involved will face professional discipline resulting in suspension of their licenses or disbarment. 

Government Reopened

The federal government is reopened. The deal involves a three week continuing resolution in exchange for six years of CHIP (children's health care) funding. Next round, Democrats will try to wrangle out a DACA deal.

Politically, it was a little ding in Trump's credibility, and in the credit of the United States of America, although the headlines are playing this three day shutdown as a Democratic Party loss. I'm not convinced, however, as, bit by bit, Democrats are methodically accomplishing what they have set out to achieve and muted Republican accomplishments.

White Women Shift Dramatically From GOP To Democratic Party

In the Presidential election in 2016, white women (who made up 36% of all voters in 2016) preferred Trump over Clinton by 9 percentage points. Now, they favor Democrats over Republicans by 12 percentage points. Such a big shift in preferences in such a large demographic could have big consequences in the 2018 mid-term elections for Congress this year.

It isn't hard to imagine that Trump's misogyny and GOP backing for pedophile Roy Moore in the vacancy election held in 2017 in Alabama had a lot to do with this rapid shift in party affiliation.

19 January 2018

Our Nation's Eroding Credit

For decades, economists used the interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds as the operational definition of a risk free return for investors in the economy.

No more.

As the U.S. looms less than eleven hours away from a government shutdown as I write this post, Fitch, a government bond rating agency, is threatening to reduce the credit rating of the United States for a second time. The first time, in 2011, Standard & Poors reduced the U.S. credit rating over an unwillingness of Congress to raise the national debt ceiling, despite having appropriated spending in excess of the amount then in place.
Fitch adds that Congressional posturing alone could cause a downgrade – the same reason S&P downgraded the US during the debt ceiling fight in 2011. Fitch:
"Brinkmanship over the debt limit could ultimately have rating consequences, as failure to raise it would jeopardize the Treasury’s ability to meet debt service and other obligations. The next Congressional session begins on 5 September, with only 12 congressional working days before month-end. We believe there is strong political will to ensure that Treasury securities are honored in full and on time…."
So if push comes to shove, debt payments would be prioritized, and the US wouldn’t default on its bonds, Fitch “believes.” But defaulting on other obligations also has consequences:

"In Fitch’s view, the economic impact of stopping other spending to prioritize debt repayment, and potential damage to investor confidence in the full faith and credit of the US, which enables its ‘AAA’ rating to tolerate such high public debt, would be negative for US sovereign creditworthiness."
This has huge practical consequences. A lower credit rating means higher interest payments, and higher interest payments on the national debt shifted billions upon billions of dollars from the American public to bond holders as tax revenues are diverted to pay interest on the national debt.

Interest on the national debt already consumes $266 billion a year (about $2.7 trillion per ten year budget cycle), making it one of the biggest programs in the federal budget each year and consuming 6.5% of the  national budget.

It is also worth noting that indifference to the national debt has, in recent times, been largely a Republican phenomena, with the GOP willing to cut taxes and finance this with debt rather than spending cuts, while Democrats have worked hard to keep deficits lower and to pay for spending increases with tax increases.

A Crazy Idea

"Bleeding hearts" want to reduce the suffering that animals experience in feedlots and the like.

Other liberals think we should reduce meat consumption because it is bad for our health or has too large of a carbon footprint.

Men who are "brutes" want more opportunities to engage in violent activity that sports can only partially handle, and enjoy hunting large animals. But, trophy hunting is problematic as it hastens extinction of wild megafauna.

The solution?

Meet both concerns by providing a larger share of meat on a "free range" basis in which food animals roam free and wild in natural comfort, while people pay money to hunt those animals.

This is a far less economically efficient way to produce meat, if producing more meat is your sole objective. But, this inefficiency is reduced when the process not only improves animal welfare, but also provide a recreational outlet for lots of people. Yet, since this would still be a more expensive way to produce meat, the price of meat would rise, and this would cause people to eat less of it, improving public health and reducing our carbon footprint.

This would basically be a true "paleo" solution, rolling back the clock on herding to replace it with hunting to a significant extent (while still parting with tedious "gathering").

17 January 2018

The Federal Criminal Docket In The Fourth Quarter Of 2017


* Sentences for child pornography (mostly possession not creation of it) are far too high. The average child pornography sentence is 146 months (12 years, 2 months). 

This is more than sexual abuse. This is more than racketeering. This is more than being a felon with a firearm. Only murder at 224 months (18 years, 8 months) and kidnapping/hostage taking at 230 months (19 years, 2 months) have longer mean sentences. Yet, most of these cases involve mere possession of child pornography (although often large quantities of it) and often on a purely non-commercial basis.

A reasonable sentence for typical child pornography offenders who possess it, but don't create it, ought to be more like two to four years (24 to 48 months), or less in less aggravated cases. The child pornography laws in the U.S. are also over broad (including conduct like consensual sexting by teenagers with each other), but in practice, federal prosecutors almost never target that kind of conduct for criminal prosecution.

* The criminalization of drugs is still a bad and costly idea that ruins lives. Even the 30.9% of offenses that are drug crimes understates the total since many "miscellaneous offenses" are drug crimes too. About 5.74% of all federal sentences are for marijuana offenses, which is ridiculous.

* Far too many immigration offenses result in criminal prosecutions.

* There is still no good reason for bank robbery to be a federal crime, even though this makes up less than 1% of the federal criminal court caseload. Much of the rest of the "blue collar crime" offenses involve crimes committed in Indian Country and on federal land. 

* A disproportionate share of federal crimes are white collar crimes.

* Many crimes that should be listed as "Environmental/Wildlife" are listed as miscellaneous offenses.

* Corruption offenses like perjury, bribery and civil rights violations are rarely prosecuted.

* A few simple, sensible policy changes could greatly decrease inappropriate mass incarceration at the federal level. The solutions at the state level are far less straight forward, but most people who are incarcerated in the United States are incarcerated for state and local offenses, not federal ones.

The Facts

As measured by sentences imposed broken down by primary sentencing guideline offense:

Which Crimes and What Sentences?

PRIMARY OFFENSE TOTAL 66,412 100.0% (raw number, percentage of total, mean months)

Murder 72 0.1% 224
Manslaughter 59 0.1% 69
Kidnapping/Hostage Taking 62 0.1% 230
Sexual Abuse 602 0.9% 138
Assault 772 1.2% 29
Robbery 641 1.0% 74
Arson 40 0.1% 63

Drugs - Trafficking 18,981 28.6% 78
Drugs - Communication Facility 262 0.4% 28
Drugs - Simple Possession 1,267 1.9% 4
Drugs - Subtotal 30.9%

Child Pornography 1,773 2.7% 146

Firearms 8,024 12.1% 71

Burglary/B&E 32 0.0% 18
Auto Theft 64 0.1% 72
Larceny 796 1.2% 10

Fraud 5,978 9.0% 26
Embezzlement 394 0.6% 7
Forgery/Counterfeiting 370 0.6% 18
Bribery 154 0.2% 20
Tax 428 0.6% 13
Money Laundering 672 1.0% 33
Racketeering/Extortion 932 1.4% 98
Gambling/Lottery 46 0.1% 4
Environmental/Wildlife 104 0.2% 3
National Defense 89 0.1% 56
Antitrust 30 0.0% 13
Food & Drug 84 0.1% 6

Civil Rights 56 0.1% 36

Immigration 20,334 30.6%  12

Prison Offenses 521 0.8% 12
Administration of Justice Offenses 1,050 1.6% 19

Other Miscellaneous Offenses 1,723 2.6% 19

Which drugs?

Powder Cocaine 19.3%
Crack Cocaine 7.3%
Heroin 13.2%
Marijuana 18.6%
Methamphetamine 34.7%
Other 6.8%
Listed Chemicals 0.1%

The vast majority of federal drug prosecutions (more than 93%) involve just four classes of controlled substances.

Sixty percentage of drug offenses involve two kinds of stimulants (cocaine and methamphetamine) which have close substitutes that are prescription drugs (e.g. amphetamine salts). Indeed, cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca Cola and other over the counter drugs, albeit in much lower doses than are usually consumed illegally today.

More than 13% of federal drug crime cases involve opioid pain killers (I suspect that lots of the "other" cases which  make up 6.8% of the total above involve opioids other than heroin, which also have legitimate medical uses in some form, but are prone to causing addiction and abuse.)

There is simply no legitimate reason that 19% of federal drug prosecutions should involve basically harmless marijuana.

Less than 7% of federal drug prosecutions involve any of the myriad other controlled substances under the controlled substances act.

Sentencing Guideline Compliance

Above Guideline Range 2.9%
In Guideline Range 49.1%
Below Guideline Range 47.9%
-- Government Sponsored 27.8%
-- Non-Government Sponsored 20.1%

The fact that non-government sponsored deviations from the Sentencing Guidelines are about 7 times as likely to deviate downwards from the guidelines, rather than upwards from them, is an indication that the guidelines themselves are too harsh, rather than being in the "sweet spot" in the intuitive middle where judges are as likely to deviate upward from the guidelines as they are to deviate downward from the guidelines, in the absence of a prosecution approved adjustment.


While some categories are self-evidence, some call for further definition:

Prison Offenses includes contraband in prisons, riots in federal facilities, and escape.

Administration of Justice Offenses includes commission of offense while on release, failure to appear by offender, failure to appear by material witness, bribery of a witness, payment of witness,  contempt,  obstruction of justice, perjury or subornation of perjury, misprision of a felony, and accessory after the fact.

Environmental/Wildlife includes waste discharge, specially protected fish, wildlife, and plants (waste discharge is presented as a separate offense category in Tables 51 and 52).

National Defense includes evasion of export controls and exportation of arms, etc., without license.

Antitrust includes bid-rigging, price-fixing, and market allocation agreement.

Food & Drug includes false information or tampering with products, tampering to injure business, tampering with risk of death or injury, and violation of regulations involving food, drugs, etc.

Other Miscellaneous Offenses includes:

illegal use of regulatory number – drugs;
illegal transfer of drugs;
illegal regulatory number to get drugs;
drug paraphernalia;
forgery/fraud for drugs;
dangerous devices to protect drugs;
manufacture drugs against quota;
endangering life while manufacturing drugs;
operate carrier under drugs;
unlawful conduct relating to control/cigarettes;

endangerment from hazardous/toxic substances;
mishandling substances, records, etc.;
threat of tampering with public water system;
mishandling other pollutants, records, etc.;
transport of hazardous material in commerce;

hazardous devices on federal lands;
improper storage of explosives;
recordkeeping violation – explosives;
possession of other weapon – on aircraft, in federal facility;
failure to report theft of explosives;
feloniously mailing injurious articles;

interference with flight crew,
other offense – aboard aircraft;

criminal infringement of copyright/trademark;
criminal infringement of trademark;

conflict of interest;
unauthorized payment;

non-drug forfeiture;
false statement to Employee Act;
reporting offenses – labor related;

destruction of property;
destruction of mail;

aircraft piracy;
conspiracy to murder (no death, assault, or attempt);
conspiracy to commit murder;

and all other miscellaneous offenses not previously listed in any of the other categories.

Miscellaneous Facts

In the entire year in 2016 there were the following number of sentences in the entire U.S.A.:

8 slavery cases
82 criminal copyright/trademark cases
286 bribery/illegal gratuity/unauthorized compensation/unauthorized payment cases
128 obstruction of justice cases
40 perjury cases
40 failure to appear by defendant
1 failure to appear by a material witness
1 possession of a dangerous weapon while boarding an aircraft
273 child porn cases involved sexual acts involving a minor by the offender
About 80% of child porn trafficking cases did not involve an exchange of money or a thing of value.

16 January 2018

The Biggest Problem With Capitalism Is That It Usually Works As Designed

A free market economy is designed to reward people for two things. Their productivity and the economic value of their wealth. While the realization of a free market economy that exists in the United States isn't a perfect replication of the platonic ideal of a free market economy, by and large, it does just what it is designed to do, and this is the problem.

In a human society, we care about more than a person's productivity and the economic value of their wealth. A person who has no significant wealth and is not economically productive enough to earn enough to meet their needs on that basis, still needs to be provided for, as a consequence of their human dignity and as a consequence of non-economic contributions that this person makes to our society.

It would be unreasonable to expect that children, mother's staying at home while caring for young children, people staying home to care for disabled and elderly family members, the disabled, the elderly, or people who aren't disabled but are simply at the bottom of the pile of ordinary adults when it comes to their economic productivity for whatever reason, should be able to support themselves through their own participation in the market economy.

Only about 49% of the population of the United States is in the workforce (either employed or unemployed and looking for work). On average, everyone who works needs to be productive enough to support economic needs of two people for the economy to work properly.

Sometimes, people who aren't in the work force are supported by family. But, this isn't always possible, because there are plenty of working age adults who struggle to earn enough in a capitalist economy to support themselves and those of their family members who would traditionally be economically dependent upon them.

Nothing we can do to make the free market economy more meritocratic and free of discrimination will every solve this problem. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by families, by civil society, and by government. Moreover, we already know from experience, as a society, what happens when addressing this problem is left to families and civil society alone in a modern economy, and it isn't good. Experience has shown that government intervention is necessary to meet the economic needs of a significant share of the people who are simply incapable of meeting their own economic needs in a free market economy.

Thinking of the adults who lack the education, skills, health and temperament to be self-sufficient economically by virtue of their own economically productive activity in a free market economy as "lazy freeloaders" misapprehends the nature of the problem. 

No modern economy in the world has stronger incentives to be economically productive enough to be self-sufficient than the United States. Other countries don't leave people who can't do this homeless, food insecure, malnourished, and without access to adequate health care to meet their reasonable health care needs to nearly the extent of the United States. The penalties for failing to earn your own keep in the United States are incredibly severe. And, yet, people persist in failing to earn enough to meet their needs and fall into poverty.


It isn't because the United States has insufficient incentives for them, it is because they simply lack the ability to earn that much. Nobody expects a four year old, or a person in a coma to work, because they can't. But, there are lots of seemingly non-disabled adults who nonetheless are incapable of earning enough to support themselves, or to justify paying them a minimum wage in terms of the productivity they contribute to their employers, even if they are arguably "able bodied" and are able and willing to do some economically valuable work.

There really are people whose are only capable of doing work with an economic value of $3 per hour in their highest and best form of employment, when maximally motivated by the strongest possible incentives. Fundamentally, this is no more surprising than that there are people who are only capable of doing work with an economic value of $30 per hour, or $300 per hour in their highest and best form of employment. Pretty much everyone has a peak earning capacity that a meritocratic society will support. Some people get paid more than the economic value they add to an enterprise for a variety of reasons and are "negative productivity workers" net of their compensation. But, those people are out there. They aren't rare. And, they aren't going away.

Until we come to terms with this fundamental truth, we can never come to an adequate solution.

Some Civil Procedure Reforms That Make Sense

Some Civil Procedure Reforms That Make Sense Regarding Formalities

* The efiling system should never reject a filing. Instead, it should accept all filings and alter the clerks to potentially problematic filings that may require correction. Filings should not be deemed untimely because they are rejected by a clerk after being timely filed.

* The attachment of an exhibit to a pleading should constitute an implied declaration under penalty of perjury that the document is authentic in all circumstances where historically an affidavit of someone was required to be attached to a pleading to establish its authenticity. The requirement that an affidavit be attached is an inappropriate trap for the unwary.

* The concept of a non-appearance hearing used in the Colorado Rules of Probate Procedure and in Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 120 hearings (foreclosures), in a highly non-intuitive concept that is unnecessary and should be abolished. Just set a deadline for filing an answer or response and have the court set a hearing when there is a timely response..

* There should be a different rule for default judgments than there is for other claims for relief for judgment pursuant to C.R.C.P. 60.

* Judgments entered by default (including defaults on motions) should be set aside as a matter of course within three days from entry in county court, and within fourteen days from entry in district court, without any showing of cause to do so.

* The deadline for setting aside default money judgments should be six months from an action to enforce the judgment by garnishment or writ of execution or debtor's interrogatories, rather than six months from entry of judgment.

* The non-claim statute should be one year from the appointment of a personal representative, rather than one year from date of death, in cases where notice is not given.

* Affidavits should be replaced for all purposes under the rules of Civil procedure by declarations under penalty of perjury (something that is already true in the federal courts and in states including Utah). This dispenses for the need for a notary public in connection with court filings.

* The requirement of a certificate of service on a pleading should be dispensed with in all cases in which service is conducted entirely via the e-filing system.

* The obligation to confer regarding motions should be dispensed with entirely in the case of motions that do not concern discovery. Conferral and designation of motions as unopposed should be encouraged but not required.

* Pro se parties in District Court, Denver Probate Court, Denver Juvenile Court, Water Court, the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court should be issued efiling accounts as a matter of course that automatically serve parties entitled to notice of filings.

* A portal should exist to allow pro se parties to file county court efilings with an automatically generated caption.

* The deadline for filing a motion to except a debt from discharge in bankruptcy should be relaxed.

Some Civil Procedure Reforms That Make Sense Regarding Attorney Fee Awards

* There should be a presumptive fee award schedule set by judicial department regulation for cases of various types resolved by default judgment where there is a fee shifting provision by statute or in a contract. So, for example, there might be a presumptive fee award of $500 for a default judgment on a promissory note or account receivable with a fee shifting provision, $750 for a default possession judgment in an FED in county court, and $1000 for a default possession judgment in an FED in district court or an uncontested foreclosure.

* There should be a presumptive proportionality limit on attorney fee awards in cases seeking money damages in which no counterclaims are asserted, perhaps 50% of the amount awarded or the amount that would be awarded in the event of a default judgment, whichever is greater.

* The reasonable hourly rate of an attorney or paralegal with regard to attorneys' fee awards should be set by a judicial department regulation on an annual or biannual basis based upon a survey of actual rates. So, in lodestar cases, the only dispute would be over the reasonableness of the number of hours billed.

* The reasonableness of attorneys' fees should be a matter upon which expert testimony is prohibited because every attorney is considered an expert with respect to attorneys' fees including the judge and counsel for the parties.

* In any case in which attorneys' fees are sought, every party to the action who is not seeking an award of fees should be required to disclose their fees (at the rates set by judicial department regulation) for the matter for which a fee award is sought.

15 January 2018

Good Thing My Drives Are Solid State

A new acoustic hack renders hard drives, CDs, and DVDs inoperable when an acoustic wave of the right frequency (roughly 2-20 Hz) is played that interferes with the transfer of data from the physical medium by making it wobble in just the wrong way.

The B1-B Bomber Is A Poor Close Air Support Aircraft

The Air Force, which continues to hate the A-10 fighter, officially wants to replace it with the F-35A, which is too expensive and also ill suited to the task, and now wants to divert some of its work to the B-1B bomber

The last time that this was attempted, it was one of the biggest fails of the Afghan war when it led to a friendly fire incident, for the very reason that the A-10 was preferred (the A-10 has better target identification at close range than the B-1B can secure at long range) and the A-10 was put back on the job.

In addition to operational performance issues, the B-1B is also too expensive to make it a cost effective way to support ground troops. It is an attempt to swat flies with a steel press originally designed to make car parts.

The B-1B has its place (it is a good system for attacking enemy surface warships, for example), but close air support for ground troops in the midst of battles is not that place.

The U.S. Air Force still needs a purpose built, inexpensive, close air support aircraft that is designed for circumstances when U.S. forces don't face air-to-air combat threats or sophisticated ground to air missile capabilities, to serve as a successor to the A-10.

Quote of the Day

The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.
— Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Three Evils of Society,” 1967.

12 January 2018

Proverbs, Maxims and Aphorisms

A grab bag of some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom:

* Religions that protect threatened cultures thrive.

* Unemployment is not a shortage of jobs, it is a failure of entrepreneurship.

* Make up your mind, the world is full of flat squirrels.

* Policy always trumps process in politics.

* Nobody cares about federalism and every significant societal issue seeks solutions at every level of government.

* Information is cheaper than education; tools are cheaper than ability; incentive are more easily found than motivation.

* Culture matters more than institutions.

* Artificial solutions are appropriate answers to artificial problems.

* The poor have proportionately more economic power than political power.

* Price discrimination drives a large share of seemingly irrational economic activity.

* Governance quality and democratic responsiveness both have a strong positive correlation to the number of people represented per elected official.

* Economic dependency is the best first order predictor of marital stability.

* Rich women make bigger earning capacity sacrifices to raise children than poor women.

* Standard of living and wealth are predominantly a function of earning capacity rather than consumption and investment choices.

* Student body socio-economic background is the predominant driver of academic achievement at the school level.

* The main reason that capitalism is stronger than communism is that capitalism is better at shuttering failing enterprises.

* The military is a socialist institution.

* The less people are paid for demanding work, the more children will follow their parents in leadership positions in these careers.

* People who make their own fortunes have children who are professionals who have children who are artists.

* People who grow up with material scarcity care more about making money; people who grow up affluent care more about leisure and autonomy.

* Problems that can be solved with money are more tractable than those that require regulatory law.

* Relaxed land use regulation is more effective at producing affordable housing than subsidies.

* Legislatures are not very responsive to bad case law and judicial outcomes.

* Language change is driven much more by language formation and contact issues than by random drift.

* Languages naturally grow more complex over time until there is an influx of language learners when they become more simple.

* Courts are rights enforcing institutions, not dispute resolution institutions.

* Monetary policy mainly influences non-real inflation and doesn't matter much for the economy except to the extent that it produces unexpected inflation or deflation.

* Decentralizing manufacturing and food production is usually a bad idea.

* Sacred religious texts tell you almost nothing about how the religion that uses them except who toponyms and babies will be named after.

* A larger percentage of the population manage to have sex and have kids than almost any other significant life activity.

* Serial marriage is quite similar to polygamy.

* Stability and affluence create secular liberals, instability and scarcity creates religious conservatives.

* It is important to consider not just how democratic political institutions are, but also how robust and stable they are when threatened.

* Conventional wisdom about the factors that make an institution or cultural practice work is often wrong.

* Particular policies are only liberal or conservative relative to others in contention at the same time; the long term trend is towards liberalism.

11 January 2018

Another Quote Of The Day

Don’t talk. 
—  Peter Hardy, a former federal prosecutor and white-collar defense partner at Ballard Spahr, offering advice for President Trump if he were to arrange an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team. 
Hardy went on to offer a recommendation for Trump’s lawyers: “Even under the most controlled conditions, I would think twice, three times, four times, before allowing my client under those circumstances to talk to the government. You always have to think very, very hard about it. Particularly, if someone is hard to control.” 
Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor and partner in Arent Fox’s white-collar and investigations practice, also had some advice for Trump’s legal team: “If I were his lawyer, I would tell him don’t do it. There’s no way he can avoid perjuring himself.”
Via Above the Law.

Quote of the Day

[T]he current wave of Islamic assertiveness and violence is the paroxysm of a civilization confronting its irrelevance.
- Razib Khan.

09 January 2018

Quote of the Day

Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform.
- American Episcopal Priest Barbara Brown Taylor

I am, of course, not a Christian myself, but the point is still a good one and this parable demonstrates it well.

05 January 2018

Now Is The Time To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

In the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' action yesterday to rescind a national policy of federal toleration of marijuana when it is legal under state law, it is the time to utilize bipartisan outrage at this action to change the law, fulfilling a promise Trump made on the campaign trail to allow states to craft their own marijuana policies.

This could be done very simply:

1. Remove marijuana and marijuana derived products from the Controlled Substances Act.

2. Repeal Internal Revenue Code Section 280E (which imposes a punitive tax on people who make profits from Controlled Substances including marijuana).

3. Pass a two sentence statute criminalizing importation of marijuana or marijuana products into a state for purposes of use, sale, distribution, or storage in that state in violation of that state's law. The statute could exempt transportation of marijuana across a state in interstate commerce in locked container with a destination where it is legal to import the marijuana or marijuana products being transported.

This would cause the legality of marijuana at the federal level to be essentially identical to the legality of prostitution at the federal level.

Draft language exists in bills currently introduced in Congress that could be taken up in committee and reported to the floors of the respective houses in a matter of days.

No state could be required to legalize recreational marijuana (as eight states and the District of Columbia do) or to legalize medical marijuana products containing THC (as all recreational marijuana state and 22 other states do). 

This is a policy supported by 75% of Americans and a majority of Republicans. 

About 94% of Americans (and more than 90% of Republicans) support legalizing medical marijuana, something that the ridiculous Schedule I status of marijuana makes impossible under current federal law, even though 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have already done so to some extent.

META UPDATE: This is the 7600th post at the Wash Park Prophet blog.

04 January 2018

Anti-Surface Warship Warfare Is A Job For Aircraft

It makes all of the sense in the world to see the primary military means of attacking enemy warships to be with missiles deployed from aircraft, such as the B-1 bomber, rather than with missiles dispatched from our own warships, as war planners have often assumed by default, because warships are slower, more vulnerable to attack, have more live at risk in the combat theater, and are less easily shifted from one theater of conflict to another.

A shift in how we plan to deal with enemy warships could radically shift the needs of the U.S. military for warships v. submarines v. long range bombers (manned or otherwise).

02 January 2018

Wisdom of the Day

If you have to eat a turd, eat it all in one bite rather than nibbling at it, because you don't want to taste it more than you have to.
- a former NFL quarterback.

Obviously, intended for more than its literal meaning.