27 July 2018

Knife Control In China

"Know Your Place Prol! Authorities force Uyghur butchers to use chained-knives", by H. Clay Aalders, The Truth About Knives (7/24/18).

The case for knife control, as strictly practiced in ethnically non-Han parts of China and in England today, and historically practiced strictly in Japan. is rather less compelling than the case for gun control.

26 July 2018

Quote of the Day

You don't want to quit me, I'm your dream client: I'm the most fun, I'm rich, and I'm always in trouble.
- Larry Flynt in the movie "The People v. Larry Flynt" (1996).

23 July 2018

An Alabama Christian Interviewed By The Washington Post

The Washington Post wrote an article recently about Southern Baptists (the largest Protestant denomination in the United States) in Alabama trying to reconcile their faith and their love of Trump. It included this interview:
And there was Sheila Butler, who sat on the sixth pew on the right side, who said “we’re moving toward the annihilation of Christians.” 
She was 67, a Sunday school teacher who said this was the only way to understand how Christians like her supported Trump. 
“Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation,” she began one afternoon when she was getting her nails done with her friend Linda. She was referring to allegations that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, not a Christian — allegations that are false. “He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes. If you look at it, the number of Christians is decreasing, the number of Muslims has grown. We allowed them to come in.” 
“Obama woke a sleeping nation,” said Linda. 
“He woke a sleeping Christian nation,” Sheila corrected. 
Linda nodded. It wasn’t just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country. 
“Unpapered people,” Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. “And then the Americans are not served.” 
Love thy neighbor, she said, meant “love thy American neighbor.” 
Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the “legal immigrant stranger.” 
“The Bible says, ‘If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,’ ” Sheila said, quoting Jesus. “But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border.” 
To her, this was a moral threat far greater than any character flaw Trump might have, as was what she called “the racial divide,” which she believed was getting worse. The evidence was all the black people protesting about the police, and all the talk about the legacy of slavery, which Sheila never believed was as bad as people said it was. “Slaves were valued,” she said. “They got housing. They got fed. They got medical care.”
The rot remains in our nation and it runs very deep in many places.

18 July 2018

Quote of the Day

“Phaedrus found that rhetoric at the University level was taught as a branch of reason alone. He was also having trouble with students who had nothing to say. Especially one girl, who was a serious, disciplined, and hardworking student. She wanted to write an essay about the United States. Phaedrus told her to narrow it to Bozeman but she couldn’t think of anything to say. Phaedrus told her to narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman. Still nothing. He then said “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”The next day she returned with a 5,000 word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. 
We get blocked from our own creativity because we just repeat what we have already heard. Until we really look at things and see them freshly for ourselves, we will have nothing new to say. “For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see.”
- Robert M. Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

This actually really works.

Certain Kinds Of Adoptions Are Deeply Troubling

The young child of an immigrant woman who was separated from her child by the government  in an immigration raid was put up for adoption, and her challenge to this termination of her parental rights (basically, government theft of her child for reasons that are not her fault) was rejected, in a horrible decision. All the more so because the Missouri Supreme Court strongly indicated that the first ruling was improper and even the second ruling came at a hearing where no interpreter was available as required by law. This smacks of racism and xenophobia by the Missouri judge to me.
"Nobody could help me because I don't speak English," said Encarnacion Bail Romero in an interview with ABC News. 
The child, born as Carlos but renamed Jamison by the Mosers, has been with his adoptive parents in Carthage, Missouri since the age of 11 months. 
The judge said the biological mother had no rights to even see her child, according to the mother's lawyer. 
Asked if the Mosers would allow Bail Romero to see the child, the Mosers' attorney, Joseph Hensley, said the couple was "not willing to comment on that at this time." 
'We're extremely happy about the decision," said Hensley, who also noted that the decision "really puts the biological mom in a difficult decision in terms of staying in this country." 
The ruling today reaffirmed the original decision by another Missouri judge who terminated the parental rights of Bail Romero, stating that "illegally smuggling herself into the country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for the child." 
The Missouri Supreme Court called the initial decision a "travesty of justice" and ordered a review of the case by a second judge. 
Appearing outside the courtroom with tears in her eyes, the biological mother declined to comment. 
Her lawyer, Curtis Woods, said he would appeal the decision of the judge who he said ruled Encarnacion Bail Romero's parental rights had been terminated because she had abandoned him while she was incarcerated. 
"I am very disappointed in the decision," said Woods. 
The judge handed down the decision in a courtroom closed to all but the parties involved and their lawyers. There was no translator provided by the court today for the Guatemalan woman, who speaks only a little English. 
The ruling allows the formal adoption proceedings by the Mosers to proceed. 
The Mosers left the court without speaking to reporters, but they had previously argued in court that they could best provide for the boy and that they were the only parents that he knew. 
"I could not love him more, had he come out of me physically," Melinda Moser said in an earlier interview. 
The biological mother was arrested in 2007 on an immigration raid at a chicken processing plant in Missouri and has not seen her son since.
More generally, I think the tendency to prefer permanency and avoid trauma to young children (who will forget this in a few years) relative to the parental rights of natural parents who haven't relinquished their children voluntarily or been found to have engaged in serious child abuse or culpable child neglect is too strong. On the other hand, actual child abuse is probably tolerated somewhat too strongly tolerated.

Temporary incarceration pending immigration proceedings is not comparable to the long term criminal incarceration that might arguably justify termination of parental rights.

17 July 2018

Is Race A Political Construct?

Racial Categories Are Socially Constructed
It would be more accurate to say that racial categories are socially constructed, than to say that race is a political construct.
While social construction is a term that would include categories devised and recognized politically or for political ends, this term is not so limited and recognizes that racial categories can emerge even in the absence of governmental intervention or involvement. Governments more often adopt socially defined constructs than they impose them.
Another example of a social construct is the way that different people define colors. For example, some languages do not recognize a difference between blue and green in its categorization of primary colors.
Colors are physically real and measurable, just like the different appearances of people and their different blends of genetic ancestry are real. But, there are, in principle, an infinite number of colors (which boil down to a photon wavelength) and there are billions of variations in human beings. An association of a particular set of photon wavelengths with a particular label is arbitrary and could be done different ways, and so is a racial category. Different labels often treat edge cases and outliers differently and the labels that cluster lots of variety into a modest number of words are inexact descriptions. But, that doesn't mean that color names have no relationship to photon wavelengths, or that racial categories have no connect whatsoever to appearance or genetic ancestry or even to something entirely culturally constructed like ethnicity.
Racial Categories Are Not Completely Divorced From Genetic Ancestry Clusters, But How The Boundaries Of Racial Categories Are Drawn Is Arbitrary, Changes Over Time, And Is Historically Contingent
The fact that there is diversity of appearance as a result of differences in genetic ancestry is not itself socially constructed, nor are select medical differences associated with ancestry such as genetic vulnerability to various diseases.
What is socially constructed is the manner in which people cluster people with certain ancestry or traits, the way that they draw the line between clusters, and the social significance that is attached to the socially constructed small number of categories called "races" used in day to day life.
It is possible to do cluster analysis of populations by genetic ancestry in a culturally neutral fashion that looks at the whole genome which software packages used by academic scientists on a daily basis such as ADMIXTURE do. And, when you do so, certain ADMIXTURE results are inevitably reasonably closely correlated when every day categorizations of race at a broad brush level, although there are outliers.
And, these arbitrary divisions between categories change over time. The categories and definitions of categories used for race in the U.S. Census, for example, have changed at least a little almost every single decade that it has been taken with Congressional oversight.
These social constructions typically highly overweigh a tiny percentage of the total genome that is relevant to physical appearance and typically ignore the vast majority of the rest of the genome. For example, just a handful of high effect common genetic variants account for a large share of the pigmentation differences between people that heavily influence how social constructs of race categorize people, so socially constructed racial categories are only a crude approximation of a person's genetic ancestry.
Racial Categories, While Arbitrary Are Still "Real" Things That Affect People's Lives. They Are Constructed At A Societal, Not An Individual, Level
The fact that race is socially constructed does not mean that they are not "real" things, even though they are arbitrary, in that they influence how people live their lives and interact with each other.
Racial categories are also not really personal psychological constructs. In any given society, the racial category to which an individual is assigned is, for all practical purposes, something that can not be changed by the individual, it can only be changed by changing society as a whole. (Some legal sources use a "self-identification" definition of race, but since the number of people who defy their socially assigned racial category is very small, this definition has little material impact except in cases of category mismatch where the categories are a poor fit to the practical way people identify and are identified in day to day life, for example, there are multiple plausible ways for a Mexican-American mestizo to identify "racially" on U.S. Census forms - white, other race, Native American and more than one race would all be logical answers since the more specific and accurate choice "mestizo" in terms of both self-identification and social assignment of racial identity, is absent.) Most inconsistencies in racial identification in the literature involve cases where people whose racial categorizations arise in one culture (e.g. in Latin America or other non-U.S. countries) are applied in another (e.g. a U.S. racial category question). See, e.g., here and here. From the second link:
Of those who self-identified as White, 98.4% were usually classified by others as White; of those who self-identified as Black or African American (Black), 96.3% were usually classified by others as Black; and of those who self-identified as Asian, 77.0% were usually classified by others as Asian.
For example, suppose that you put 100 Brazilians in a room. The vast majority of the Brazilians, perhaps 90-95% at least, would classify at least 90%-95% of the people in the room into the same Brazilian cultural racial categories. But, an American would classify those same 100 Brazilians into very different racial categories and different Americans might not do so quite as consistently as the Brazilians would.
For example, the average person considered to be "black" in Brazil has a significantly lower percentage of African ancestry than the average person considered to be "black" in the United States.
These social constructs can also vary in specificity.
For example, one of the more silly racial categories in the United States today, is the notion of an "Asian-American" for which someone of Chinese ancestry is probably the "type example", but which also includes ethnically Japanese people, ethnically Ainu people from Japan, Filipinos, Mongolians, Koreans, Papuans, Southeast Asians, Indonesians, Burmese people, and South Asians (a group of people with extreme internal diversity in both genetics and appearance), whose shared ancestry is very remote and whose ethnic ties are even weaker.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the "Asian" race category is defined as follows:
Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
On the other hand, in Japan, Koreans are considered racially very different from Japanese natives, even after multiple generations living in Japan that give them very similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds, while drawing less nuanced distinctions between various kinds of non-East Asians.
New Admixtures Of Ancestry Give Rise To The Social Construction Of New Racial Categories
New blends of people with certain ancestries almost always leads to the social construction of new racial categories.
Virtually all modern racial categories result from the admixture of groups of people of very distinct ancestries, often leaving little or no trace of the source populations.
When there is admixture of people of different ancestries in similar patterns, society wide, new racial categories are typically constructed socially.
For example, the racial category of "Mestizo" which is predominant in Mexico, didn't exist at all prior to 1492.
The precise racial classification of new clusters of admixed people is historically contingent. The way that people with some European and some African ancestry were classified in French North America, prior to the Louisiana Purchase, was very different from the classifications use by Anglos in North America. The French treated various proportions of admixture (e.g. mulatto or quadroon) as different racial categories, while the Anglos applied a "one drop rule" in their classifications. See, e.g. here.
Similarly, there were no people in the world who had what is now the predominant Northern European phenotype (i.e. outward appearance) until a little more than 5000 years ago. The appearance of a typical Northern European today arises from admixture of people descended from early Anatolian farmers, with a little extra local European hunter gather ancestry, infused with a whole lot of Pontic-Caspian steppe ancestry.
Likewise, there are no longer any people in India who are purely made up of its Ancestral North Indian or its Ancestral South Indian progenitors. All South Asians have various degrees of admixture from these two components that vary in predictable ways by geography and caste (caste is probably best conceived of as an ethnicity, but most Indian jati have been extremely strictly endogamous for the last two thousand years so it has a genetic ancestry component as well). In contrast, there were probably some exclusively Ancestral South India populations as recently as 4500 years ago.
In the same vein, the appearance of people in Africa was much more regionally varied until the Bantu expansion in the last two thousand years. Most people who appeared physically very different from the Bantu people, like the pre-Bantu population of Mozambique, either went extinct almost entirely, or are now restricted to relict populations (like the Kalahari Bushmen a.k.a. the Khoisan, and the Pygmies of the Congo River jungle).
The extinction of people sharing particular blends of ancestry likewise leads to the cessation of the racial category they were once assigned to in the consciousness of people in their day to day lives.
There is no longer even a word to describe the particular phenotype shared by the pre-Bantu people of Mozambique. The most common word to describe the phenotype of the early pre-agricultural hunter-gathers of Europe, Cro-Magnon, is now only meaningful to a quite modest share of people knowledgable about anthropology, archaeology and human genetics. The word for the pre-agricultural people of North Africa, who likewise had a distinctive physical appearance that differs from modern North Africans, is now only known to specialists in these fields.
Ethnicity, While Strongly Correlated With Many Arbitrary Racial Categories, Is Not The Same As Race And Is More Important In Interpersonal Interactions.
As a social construct, the social significance of race is not separate from the social significance of ethnicity, two visually identical people in a social setting are often treated differently based upon the dialect, accent and visible religious behavior. The way that other people react to an Afro-Caribbean Catholic in a major U.S. city is likely to be quite different from their reaction to an Africa-American from Georgia, or an African Muslim from Sudan with a great deal of Bantu ancestry, or a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Nigeria.
Even subtle ethic differences, like those between European-Americans from the American Southwest and Appalachia on one hand, and those from the North of the United States, on the other, can take on immense political significance as they do in the modern United States, with a lot of those differences directly attributable to ancestral cultural differences between founding populations in the Colonial era. See, e.g., the book "Albion's Seed".
Ethnicity Is Not A Racial Category, But The Two Heavily Overlap
While ethnicity and common patterns of genetic ancestry do not necessarily overlap heavily (for example, in the socially constructed "Hispanic" ethnicity in the United States, they often do not), But, in most places, most of the time, they are heavily correlated with each other and reflect a communal shared history that few people have deviated from, for better or for worse. The fact that African-Americans are disproportionately Protestant Christians in the U.S., and that "Asian Americans" in California are disproportionately religiously affiliated non-Christians is not accidental.
Even white ethnics in the U.S. have discernible differences in typical and average genetic ancestry. If you took high coverage DNA samples from 100 white Minnesota Lutherans and 100 white Southern Baptists in Arkansas, a geneticist could assign the correct labels to each group without personally interacting with any of the subjects.
Limitations Of The AAASR
In my view, the American Anthropology Association Statement on Race (AAASR), while not really wrong, in a fervor to disavow racism, understates the extent to which racial categories are frequently strongly correlated with similar patterns of genetic ancestry, the extent to which social construction of racial categories is a natural and inevitable reality that meaningfully affects the daily lives of everyone in a society, the extent to which racial categories and ethnicity are strongly correlated in most places, and the extent to which racial categorization is determined at the societal level rather than the individual level.
Racial Categorization Is An Old Concept
The notion that race is a 17th century Anglo construct is ahistorical.
There is evidence of racial categorization being common place in ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Sumerian, South Asian, Chinese and Japanese texts from as far back as written history goes.
For example, the ethnonym "Gypsies" adopted in the late Middle Ages, arises from the adoption of a broad racial category box that put Egyptians and South Asians, both of whom have a skin color darker than Northern Europeans and lighter than sub-Saharan Africans, and shared other superficial visual similarities, into the same category even though the "Gypsies" had no ancestral connection to Egypt. Classical Roman geographers two thousand years ago, also were conflicted about the similarities between and differences between Egyptians and South Asians.
There is even inferential evidence for racial social constructs with great social relevance among Southwest Asian and West Asian hunter-gathers.
Ancient DNA reveals similar levels of genetic differences between Levatine hunter-gathers and hunter-gathers in the Caucasus and Zargos Mountains only a few hundred miles away, to the difference between people from China and people from England today. There is also genetic evidence of strong endogamy separating the two populations. This occurred in an era before the first human village or chiefdom or temple had come into existence and when the primary political unit was a band of a few dozen people at most, i.e. these distinctions pre-date any meaningful sense of "politics".

13 July 2018

Criminal Appeals Common, Reversed Convictions Are Not

At the Trial Court Level

About 90% of felony criminal defendants who are convicted or go to trial and are acquitted resolve their cases by entering a plea bargain before trial (this may be as high as 95%). Of those felony criminal defendants who go to trial, the guilt or innocence of about 90% is determined in a jury trial, while it is determined in a bench trial for about 10%.

About 20% of felony criminal defendants whose cases are tried before juries are acquitted at trial. A far smaller percentage of felony criminal defendants tried in bench trials are acquitted at trial.

Overall about 98% of felony criminal defendants whose cases are not dismissed by a prosecutor prior to trial are convicted of something, and 2% of felony criminal defendants whose cases are not dismissed by a prosecutor prior to trial are acquitted.

At The Appellate Court Level

About 40% of felony criminal convictions following a trial are appealed (the appeal rate is very nearly 100% in death penalty cases). This is much higher than the rate of appeals of civil jury verdicts, in part, because convicted criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer are entitled to a direct appeal at state expense (although it can be pointless to do so if you already have a felony criminal record, you are likely to be released before the appeal is ruled upon after considering your sentence and time served, and your prospects of success on appeal are poor, which is the case in many minor felonies). 

About 8% of cases appealed in felony criminal cases result in a reversal of at least part of a trial court decision (although the figure is about 19% in death penalty cases). 

On Remand

About 7% of convicted felons whose convictions are reversed on appeal and who are then retried before a new jury are acquitted (I don't have data breaking out the retrial results for capital convictions that are reversed on appeal and retried easily at hand right now). This number, by itself, provides an order of magnitude estimate of the reliability of jury trials (although, of course, cases reversed on appeal are by definition cases whose verdicts are not reliable for some specified reason, relative to cases in which convictions are not appealed or are affirmed on appeal). 


So, the odds of a criminal conviction following a trial being appealed, reversed on appeal, and then retried resulting in a conviction is roughly 0.2% (one in five hundred). Thus, any given criminal defendant is 100 times more likely to be acquitted at trial than to be acquitted in a second trial following a reversal of a conviction on appeal.

On the other hand, 0.2% of criminal defendants is a pretty small share of all criminal defendants who are wrongfully convicted at trial, which realistically is somewhere in the range of  2% to 20%, implying about 0.2% to 2% of all felony criminal defendants whose cases are not dismissed by prosecutors prior to trial.

There are not very good estimates of the percentage of innocent criminal defendants who enter into plea bargains, but even if the rate is just ten percent of the percentage of criminal defendants wrongfully convicted at trial, the total number of innocent people who plead guilty is comparable in number to the total number of innocent people who are convicted at trial. Estimates range from about 0.5% at the low end to 8% at the high end.

How Accurate Are Judges And Juries?

I review and analyze a substantial range of the literature on the relative and absolute accuracy of juries and judges in their trial verdicts in a post at the Law Stack Exchange forum.

It is clear that judges and juries agree on the verdict in roughly 78% of criminal jury trials, that judges are much less likely to acquit defendants than juries do, (3% v. 19%+), and that there are a small but significant number of wrongful convictions by juries. (3.3% to 5% in death qualified capital murder-rape cases, and probably somewhat less in ordinary felony cases). 

It is also clear that certain fact patterns and circumstances (many of which involve misconduct or error by law enforcement or prosecutors or defense counsel rather than judges or juries) are more likely to give rise to wrongful convictions than others.

It is not nearly so clear whether juries or judges are more accurate, although there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggests that judges wrongfully convict defendants more often than juries do, and that juries acquit people who are factually guilty more often than judges do (something that is sometimes legitimate if one believes that "jury nullification" is a legitimate practice).

I also briefly discuss arguments for and against juries that are unrelated to their accuracy.

11 July 2018

Abortion Since Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 959 (January 22, 1973) was on the books for 40 years in 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available in the World Almanac. 

This is especially relevant now since the U.S. Supreme Court will have a solidly conservative majority for the first time in decades and for decades to come if Trump's current U.S. Supreme Court nominee is approved. Due to the 51-49 partisan split in the U.S. Senate and the ill health of moderate Republican John McCain from Arizona who has brain cancer, means that Democrats can defeat a nomination if they hold all members of their coalition together and pick up just one Republican vote against the nominee defeating a nomination by 49-50. This could change after the 2018 midterm elections in either direction.

In 2013, there were 664,435 abortions, a ratio of 200 per 1000 live births and a rate of 13 per 1000 women (age 15-44).

In 1980, which was at or near the peak, there were 1,297,606 abortions, a ratio of 359 per 1000 live births and a rate of 29 per 1000 women.

The 2013 raw number of abortions and ratio per 1000 live births was the lowest since 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade was decided. The rate per 1000 women was the lowest since 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided, following a long, mostly gradual downward trend by all measures since 1980.

Given the steady trend lines for abortion and tend lines for births which tend to track trend lines for abortions, in 2017 and in the first half of 2018, the total number of abortions in the U.S., the ratio of abortions to live births, and the rate of abortions per 1000 women are all almost surely lower than they were in 1973 and probably 1972 as well.

Attitudes about abortion as measured by opinion polls have changed very little in recent years and even the last decade or two. But, wider use of more effective birth control methods have not just reduced the total number of pregnancies, but have disproportionately reduced unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. 

Increased awareness of Plan B (high dose birth control pills within a few days of unprotected sex before you know if you are pregnant or not, which is to be distinguished from a medication abortion, discussed below, may also play a role in the declining abortion rate). Plan B has been legally available over the counter or with a "pharmacist prescription" rather than a doctor's prescription (for all women, not just adults) since 2013, although not all pharmacies carry it. The last five years of over the counter availability of Plan B could materially reduce the number of abortions now, relative to the latest available statistics, which are for 2013 (for which the approval took place half way through the year) and 2014, early on in the implementation of over the counter availability for this drug.

Another source reports roughly 50% more abortions in raw numbers, but the long term trends are identical, with its latest year (2014) at a record low since prior to 1973 in rate per 1000 women, a peak in 1981 (v. 1980), and a steady decline of about 50% in the aggregate of the rate per 1000 women from the peak in 1981 to the 2014 figure. It estimates that about 24% of U.S. women have at least one abortion prior to menopause, a minority (just one in eight members of the overall population), but a big one.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned many "red" states would ban abortion in at least some circumstances, but few "blue" and "purple" states would do so. But, it isn't clear how that would affect medication abortions. Many restrictions are targeted at late term abortions which make up a pretty modest share of the total.

Many "red" states have only a few facilities that provide abortion services:

The number of U.S. abortion-providing facilities declined 3% between 2011 and 2014 (from 1,720 to 1,671). The number of clinics providing abortion services declined 6% over this period (from 839 to 788). Ninety percent of all U.S. counties lacked a clinic in 2014, and 39% of women of reproductive age lived in those counties. 
In 2014, some 46% of abortion clinics offered very early abortions (at four weeks’ gestation or earlier, before the first missed period), and 99% offered the procedure up to eight weeks from the last menstrual period. Seventy-two percent of clinics offered abortions up to 12 weeks, 25% up to 20 weeks and 10% up to 24 weeks. 
In 2014, the average amount paid for an abortion in a nonhospital setting at 10 weeks’ gestation and with local anesthesia was $508. The average paid for an early medication abortion (up to 9 weeks’ gestation) was $535. . . . 
In September 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone to be marketed in the United States for nonsurgical abortion. 
According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, medication abortion is approved for abortions up to 10 weeks’ gestation. The protocol involves two drugs—mifepristone and misoprostol—one of which can be taken at home following a provider visit. 
Medication abortions accounted for 31% of all nonhospital abortions in 2014, and for 45% of abortions before nine weeks’ gestation.
In 2014, some 87% of all nonhospital abortion providers—900 facilities—provided one or more medication abortions, and 26% of clinics provided only early medication abortion. 
Medication abortions increased from 6% of all nonhospital abortions in 2001 to 31% in 2014, even while the overall number of abortions continued to decline. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the average time of abortion has shifted earlier within the first trimester; this is likely due, in part, to the availability of medication abortion services.

10 July 2018

Second Rate

It is no longer possible to miss the many areas in which the United States has fallen behind or declined to become second rate. In many cases progress is being made only in select regions, while the rest of the nation declines or is stagnant as other countries improve.

* Health Care and Substance Abuse.

We pay far too much for weak results that don't cover everyone. Our health care system for the poor is worse than that of many third world countries. Our mental health care is poor. We have high rates of infant and maternal mortality compared to our peers. We have an anti-vax subculture that threatens our nation's safety. We have very high rates of STDs in African-American communities and to a lesser extent other minority communities. We are dismantling our ability to respond to epidemic disease outbreaks. Much of the rural U.S. is seeing declining life expectancies. Access to abortion is declining.

The U.S. is doing a particularly poor job  at adapting culturally and in terms of nutrition and health care and lifestyle to more sedentary work and rapidly changing diets, resulting in an obesity epidemic.

We do a miserable job of managing opioid addiction and abuse. We do a miserable job of addressing psychoactive drugs for the most part. Our alcohol regulation for young adults is hypocritical and ineffectual.

Exceptions: Obamacare made significant strides in reducing the number of uninsured Americans in states that fully adopted it, but is being actively degraded and resisted.

The U.S. does better in inventing new treatments, although often not approving them very quickly. 

We are making progress in reducing teen pregnancy with targeted programs making long term contraception available but it is painfully slow and uneven. 

The U.S. has made great progress in reducing tobacco use. The U.S. is making good progress in marijuana regulation in many states.

* Education and Higher Education

We provide poor curriculums for the non-college bound, and too many career opportunities now require excessive educational credentials. The economic prospects for primary and secondary teachers has declined causing this sector to attract less top talent.

We spend lots of time and effort and money on foreign language instruction that produces very few fluent foreign language speakers due to poor instruction methods and poor foreign language instruction timing. Foreign language instruction that works needs to start younger and include significant periods (multiple weeks at a time or more) of language immersion instruction.

We have a significant number of very bad schools, especially in predominantly minority inner city schools. We have a significant minority of students in religious schools and home schooling who are taught grossly inaccurate material in science and social studies by parents and teachers who are themselves unqualified and ignorant.

Too many academically talented Americans aren't going to college because they can't afford to do so. This is mostly a function of financing higher education poorly. Student loan debt has been a major new problem for the current generation of higher education system graduates. Too many students are admitted to programs that they are likely to fail in and then burdened with heavy student loan debt nonetheless. The cost of higher education has soared with much of the increase attributable to rising administrative costs.

We have done almost nothing to increase the supply of new medical degree recipients despite surging demand for them. In law, we have done the opposite and opened many new law schools with very low bar passage rates despite a significant increase in the number of lawyers being produced each year.

Exceptions: The quality of elite U.S. higher educational institutions is still first rate and attracted the best and brightest from around the world until recent immigration policies have discouraged foreign students from coming to the U.S. 

Many countries with superior primary and secondary educational systems in developed countries continue to have less rigorous and less effective higher educational instruction and research in many areas relative to selective U.S. colleges and universities.

* Public Safety, Criminal Justice and Human Rights

Our murder rate is too high. Our violent crime rates are too high. Our gun related accidental death rate is too high. Our gun related suicide rate is too high. Much of this is related to non-existent or ineffectual gun control measures.

Our incarceration rate is far too high. We still overuse the death penalty in an unfair manner. We impose far too many life without possibility of parole sentences and equivalent to life in prison sentences. Our sex offender registration programs are destructive overkill. We try to many juveniles as adults. We impose to many sentences, especially in recidivist cases, that are grossly disproportionate to the offense. Race unduly affects criminal justice outcomes. We greatly overuse solitary confinement. We greatly overuse pre-trial incarceration. We incarcerate too many people for what amounts to an inability to pay debts. We use the criminal justice system to deal with what are fundamentally mental health problems. Our jails and prisons are controlled by gangs rather than prison officials.

Civil remedies for human rights violations like improper use of force by law enforcement are gradually growing harder to secure. Our immigration policy is a nightmare of human rights violations. Our President encourages human rights violations and mandates them in some cases.

Exceptions: Crime rates in the U.S. have declined dramatically since the mid-1990s even though they are still high by international standards.

* Democracy and Corruption

Our electoral system has stunningly low voter turnout. Voter suppression tools like restrictive voter registration laws, voter-ID laws and felon disenfranchisement laws unfairly prevent people from voting. Our single member district plurality election system inappropriately stifles third-party voices, suppressed voter turnout and suffers from pervasive gerrymandering (including the constitutionally enshrined electoral college and U.S. Senate) that has resulted in a huge disconnect between voter preferences and electoral outcomes. Incumbency provides disproportionately and unreasonably strong electoral advantages. Our political parties and voters both seem incapable of screening out grossly unqualified and extremist candidates. Our vote tallying mechanisms are vulnerable to hacking. Our long ballots and declining availability and quality of coverage of politics in the news media cause many electoral decisions to be made by ill informed voters. A huge proportion of our population (ca. 30%) ignores reliable sources of information and science in favor of demonstrably false propaganda and religious doctrine. Our campaign finance laws to not achieve their intended objectives. Money rich special interests routinely overpower majority preferences. Judicial elections do a poor job of filling the bench with the best possible judges and encourages corruption.

The dramatic decline in unions and civil society groups involving in person participation (like service clubs and churches) has undermined the civic capacity of the United States.

Corruption is on the rise, in the form of nepotism, executive branch officials who actively undermine their agencies' missions, political appointees who are grossly unqualified, personal financial interests and campaign contributions that unduly impact political decisions, and political disregard for the constitution, the rule of law, political norms and human rights. Court decisions have made it harder to prosecute corrupt officials. Corrupt officials are being pardoned. Civl forfeiture programs with bad incentives have encouraged corruption.

Exceptions: Some states have adopted same day voter registration, have reduced felon disenfranchisement, and have made wider use of mail in ballots to increase turnout. 

Maine has adopted rank choice voting.

Some states are less corrupt than others.

* Transportation, Energy, Environment, Urban Planning and Housing.

The U.S. underfunds roads and bridges leading to decaying infrastructure due in significant part to declining inflation adjusted gas tax revenues.

The U.S. has too strong incentive (including tax incentives) to buy fuel inefficient vehicles and too weak incentives to build less polluting and more fuel efficient (or electric vehicles).

The U.S. has an inferior passenger rail system that is slow and economically a failure. Passenger rail accidents in the U.S. seem to be more common. The U.S. has an anemic passenger bus system that is largely restricted to the disabled and very poor. The U.S. lags considerably in having walkable and bicycle friendly cities. 

The U.S. has unnecessary widespread homelessness and deep poverty. The U.S. has too much urban sprawl and unaffordable housing, in significant part due to excessive restrictions on housing density and prohibitions of small or inexpensive housing methods. The U.S. is lagging in rapid and efficient pre-manufactured component housing in its construction industry, which is lagging in innovations.

The productive individuals and firms in the U.S. economy leave economically declining areas (mostly rural and Rust Belt communities) rapidly, leaving less mobile individuals behind in deteriorating circumstances in these areas.

The U.S. was once a global leader in nuclear power production. Our industry has stagnated relative to the nuclear power industry in other parts of the world, and we have failed to adopt new technologies or build more plants. 

The U.S. is rapidly scaling back environmental regulations and is the only country in the world not fighting climate change through the Paris Accords, and waging war on solar power. Fracking has caused many environmental harms which are not sufficiently regulated and safety regulation for oil and gas workers has seriously slipped.

The U.S. lags in energy technologies including tidal energy, energy conservation, and co-generation. The U.S. uses heating oil excessively when it is a less than optimal heating fuel.

The arid western United States allocates a very large share of its water supply to very inefficient and marginally economically productive agricultural water users. Not infrequently, scarce water supplies are used to grow water hungry crops in inappropriate places for such crops relative to other climate areas.

Security theater has dramatically undermined the effective speed and convenience of commercial passenger air travel, while only modestly increasing safety.

Exceptions: The U.S. has greatly reduced the use of coal to generate electricity in recent years, mostly in favor of cleaner natural gas, wind power and solar power. 

The U.S. is making progress in developing mass produced electric cars and trucks, and in advancing critical battery and energy storage technologies. 

The U.S. is making progress in developing self-driving vehicles. There has been modest progress in developing intracity passenger rail systems. 

The U.S. interstate highway system is still largely unmatched globally and make automotive travel between cities fast (especially with 75 mile per hour speed limits in many cases) and quite safe. 

Drunk driving deaths are down considerably.

* Manufacturing, Taxation, Trade, Unions and Intellectual Property

While automation has increased the productivity per person of manufacturing workers (as well as the skill levels of these jobs), offshoring of manufacturing (particularly to China and to a lesser extent Mexico) in pursuit of lower wages and less labor and environmental regulation, leaving the U.S. with a hollow manufacturing sector that is also less innovative because it doesn't deal up close on a daily basis, en mass with the problems associated with manufacturing goods.

Via Wikipedia. In the period of rapid Union membership growth from 1930 to 1955 almost all union members were in the private sector: "At the apex of union density in the 1940s, only about 9.8% of public employees were represented by unions, while 33.9% of private, non-agricultural workers had such representation." The public sector also made up a smaller share of the work force in the 1940s than it does today.

The decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector which used to be one of the bastions of the union movement and its vulnerability to further offshoring, has decimated the U.S. private sector union movement. The percentage of U.S. private sector employees who are in labor unions (6.5% as of 2017) is now as low as it was in the 1930s (and even a century ago in 1918), before most U.S. labor laws protecting the right to unionize were enacted (after almost continuous decline since 1954), and unionization rates are generally significantly lower in "red states" largely as a result of anti-union state policies. Only one state out of the 25 states with the lowest unionization rate (New Mexico) is not a "right to work" state. Only four of the top 25 states plus D.C. in unionization rates are "right to work states" (Kentucky, West Virginia, Nevada and Michigan). Private sector unionization rates declined 61% from 1983 to 2017 and has declined by 81% from the peak in the 1940s to 2017. Public sector unions are much more healthy with 34.4% of wage and salary workers in the public sector in a union, a number that has been increasing, by 350% since the 1940s and have grown significantly even since 1983. And, there was a roughly 8 fold growth in union membership percentages from 1897 to 1918.

Obvious places to expand U.S. manufacturing, like intact component modules to be shipped to construction sites, have not taken off.

The decline of manufacturing has not affected all developed countries. Many high wage developed countries with strong environmental laws and strong labor laws still have vibrant manufacturing economies.

But, tariffs, quotas, trade wars and harsh immigration policies that the current administration has utilized to counteract offshoring have largely made the situation worse and not better, for example, encouraging notable parts of the already scarce U.S. manufacturing base to move abroad.

Unduly strong intellectual property laws have crossed a threshold where they have become a barrier to a more productive economy instead of encouraging it. International tax rules, meanwhile, have made it far too easy to legally reduce or indefinitely defer taxable income in industries with significant intellectual property contributions.

Bad sales tax rules have accelerated the retail apocalypse in which brick and mortar stores are in decline due to competition from online retailers.

Tax breaks on physical capital unaccompanied by tax breaks for human capital have encouraged job killing automation at the margin where technology based solutions wouldn't have been adopted but for tax incentives in that U.S. tax code.

Exception: The U.S. still leads in producing entertainment content and patents, although this productivity is confined to a few highly productive regions like California and New York.

The U.S. still has lots of export driving production in the agricultural and mining industries, and is less oil import dependent than it was in the past.

Many "foreign" automobile companies have built factories in the United States.

The U.S. has a few sectors like aircraft, where it is still a manufacturing leader, again, in geographically concentrated regions, mostly in blue states.

Overall, in the U.S. consumer goods are cheap in inflation adjusted and growth adjusted terms, although certain kinds of services are now much more expensive.

* The Military

The U.S. has record low numbers of front line ground troops, limiting its capacity for war fighting despite immense military spending. This is particularly a concern when high technology military systems that are expensive, take time to produce in large numbers and take a great amount of training to use, reduce the usefulness of rapid expansion of its ranks through a military draft.

The U.S. spends far too much on the military relative to its needs, or what it gets for its money, particularly with regard to spending on major weapons systems like surface combatants, manned warplanes, guided munitions, tanks and slug throwing artillery. The U.S. military's high cost structure greatly impairs its ability to respect effectively and efficiently to asymmetric threats like the 17 year old war in Afghanistan. Military procurement is pervasively corrupt.

The U.S. military has been slow to adjust its force mix to reflect the dramatically increased accuracy of precision munitions, drone and satellite based reconnaissance systems, and automation that are now available.

The U.S. invests heavily in a blue sea surface combatant and nuclear attack submarine force that is not justified by any current threat and in the case of the surface warship fleet is vulnerable to a variety of emerging threats, when other resources would better address the threats these forces are designed to address. 

The U.S. Navy has also unreasonably resisted exchanging many fighter aircraft on aircraft carriers with equally capable or more capable armed drone aircraft fulfilling many of the same roles; the U.S. Air Force has likewise unreasonably resisted replacing fighter aircraft with equally capable or more capable armed drone aircraft, despite the successful development of prototypes for both roles.

The U.S. invests heavily in expensive supersonic stealth fighters while failing to procure less expensive but adequate air power in volume for lower threat missions.

The U.S. has failed to take diplomatic action to reduce conventional weapons threats driving so much of its expenditures in a handful of hot spots like East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. has underinvested its ample resources in asymmetric warfare resources, in nation building, in human capital investments like language training, in littoral combat capabilities, in close air support for ground troops, in fixed wing troop transportation options, and in fire support for amphibious and coastal troops. The U.S. military has been slow to adopt clearly superior innovations in high volume, low cost systems like its small arms.

The U.S. strategic arsenal of nuclear weapons is run by units with a record of horrible internal discipline and grossly outdated technologies that have never been upgraded.

The increasing cultural divide between professional volunteer soldiers in the U.S. military and the general public is concerning.

Exceptions: While the U.S. pays an immense amount for the military it has, its most advanced systems in many areas are world class or competitive with world class system. For example, the military has made great strides in development active defense technologies against all manner of incoming ordinance and missiles.

Its troops are generally very well trained and are reliably subject to civilian authority.