25 February 2022

Government Sanctioned Murder In Plain Sight

The U.S. criminal justice system continues to be deeply and tragically flawed.
At least 228 people executed in the modern era — or more than one in every seven — were right too soon. That is, they had claims in their case that today would render their execution unconstitutional, but were killed because of a legal regime that arrived too late. 
Roughly 30% of our total include the children and persons with intellectual disability who were executed prior to Roper v. Simmons and Atkins v. Virginia, respectively. 
But the great majority of the people identified in our study raised claims based on doctrine that had already been clearly established by the Supreme Court. If the lower courts had applied Supreme Court caselaw correctly, these people would have gotten relief. Yet the lower courts resisted the doctrine and for years the Supreme Court did nothing to correct them. 
This resistance was particularly egregious in Texas and Florida. In Texas, at least 108 people were executed after the Supreme Court had already established the relevant basis for relief, and in Florida, the total is at least 36. 
At least when it comes to the death penalty, the lower courts seem especially unwilling to follow Supreme Court doctrine that would save a person from execution. The result is a system that routinely kills people even when they are right.
Joseph Margulies, John Blume and Sheri Lynn Johnson, "Dead Right: A Cautionary Capital Punishment Tale" 53(1) Columbia Human Rights Law Review (2021).

Where To Use Airships

A few niches in which airships make sense:

(1) intercontinental shipping point to point without the ship to truck/train transition bottleneck, 

(2) shipping in areas with low quality and/or bandit infested road/train networks, 

(3) transportation of people and freight between islands in island chains like Hawaii, Aleutians, Oceania, Island SE Asia, and Pacific NW, 

(4) making point site development in roadless areas viable and making it viable to make areas where roads are hard to maintain roadless especially in Alaska, 

(5) tourism in roadless areas including rain forests and glaciers, 

(6) scientific observation platform in fragile environments, 

(7) temporary communications hub/surveillance in disaster areas (like low altitude satellites), 

(8) for small drone ones good for coverage of high school/college/pro sports events or for news reporting or traffic management, 

(9) sky billboards, and 

(10) resupply of ships (cruise ships, freighters, yachts, military, etc.) and sea bases (e.g., oil rigs).

24 February 2022

The U.S. Should Declare War On Russia

Russia has launched an unprovoked all out attack on the Ukraine in an attack reminiscent of the invasions launched by Nazi Germany in advance of World War II.

This attack is an affront not just to Ukraine, but to the entire peaceful world order. It doesn't matter that the Ukraine is not a part of NATO. The scope of the attack has taken it far beyond any claim that Russia is merely seeking to protect the right of self-determination of ethnic Russians in a few areas where they gained de faco control in 2014.

The United States should immediately declare war on Russia, should encourage its NATO allies and other non-NATO European allies to join it, and should engage in full fledged conventional warfare to repel this attack and put an end once and for all to Russia's previously gradual campaign of military expansionism.

President Obama erred in not responding more forcefully to Russian military action in the Ukraine in 2014. Trump actively coddled Russia as a Russian puppet and continues to adhere to a pro-Russian stance. President Biden has not responded nearly forcefully enough.

The world needs leadership now. The United States is the only nation in the world with the means to adequately respond to this Russian aggression. We should respond forcefully not only to repel the Russian invasion, but to hand Russia a clear military defeat that undermines future militarism by Russian President Vladimir Putin or his successors.

The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines have the capacity to deploy air power that could profoundly undermine Russian forces in this attack, destroy the Russian naval forces in the region, and turn the tide that will otherwise be a prompt fait accompli crushing of the Ukraine, which is now especially since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of two Eastern Ukrainian provinces, a solid member of the pro-Western faction in Europe. The U.S. should put troops on the ground to aid Ukraine and it should deliver the advanced weapons systems the Ukraine needs to repel Russia.

Non-military sanctions on Russia should be extreme. Freeze all Russian assets. Embargo all Russian trade - providing assistance to countries reliant upon that trade. Expel Russian diplomats from all of Europe. Detain all Russian government officials abroad.

Yes, Russia has nuclear weapons. And, the U.S. in a war with Russia should not go so far as to leave Russia no other option but to use them to preserve its existence. But this does not preclude vigorous use of conventional military force to push Russia out of the Ukraine, to push out of other breakaway regions of newly independent states like Moldova that it has embroiled itself in, and to cripple Russia's capacity to project power outside of its boundaries with its Navy and with foreign bases in places like Syria.

Yes, this is a risk. Yes, it will cost the U.S. in blood and treasure. But it will be harder to stop Russian aggression in the future than it is to do so now, and this moment absolutely justifies U.S. military action.


21 February 2022

The U.S. Electrical Grid Sucks.

I read before that the U.S. electrical grid is much less stable than most other developed countries. Worse yet, it is becoming increasingly unreliable:

The U.S. power system is faltering just as millions of Americans are becoming more dependent on it—not just to light their homes, but increasingly to work remotely, charge their phones and cars, and cook their food—as more modern conveniences become electrified.

… Much of the transmission system, which carries high-voltage electricity over long distances, was constructed just after World War II, with some lines built well before that. The distribution system, the network of smaller wires that takes electricity to homes and businesses, is also decades old, and accounts for the majority of outages.

Self-reliance with batteries and generators is very inefficient and highly polluting compared to a good nationwide electrical grid. 

Private Self-Ordering Isn't Maximally Efficient

The tradeoffs between efficiency and inequality are long standing. This case study illustrates the inefficiency of private ordering, contrary to the prevailing lassiez-faire instinct of economics.
We use a dataset of the entire population of English Parliamentary enclosure acts between 1750 and 1830 to provide the first causal evidence of their impact. Exploiting a feature of the Parliamentary process that produced such legislation as a source of exogenous variation, we show that Parliamentary enclosures were associated with significantly higher crop yields, but also higher land inequality. Our results are in line with a literature going back to Arthur Young and Karl Marx on the effects of Parliamentary enclosure on productivity and inequality. They do not support the argument that informal systems of governance or “private orderings”, even in small, cohesive, and stable communities, were able to efficiently allocate commonly used and governed resources.
Leander Heldring, James A. Robinson & Sebastian Vollmer, "The Economic Effects of the English Parliamentary Enclosures" NBER WORKING PAPER 29772 (February 2022) DOI 10.3386/w29772

State Lines Matter

State lines strongly impact domestic migration. 

It isn't clear how much of this is due to occupational licensing and state specific regulatory knowledge (a huge factor for lawyers), how much is due to an incentive to remain part of the same public employee's retirement system, and how much of this is due to cultural factors (this article suggests that this is the main factor).
I document a new empirical pattern of internal mobility in the United States. Namely, county-to-county migration and commuting drop off discretely at state borders. People are three times as likely to move to a county 15 miles away, but in the same state, than to move to an equally distant county in a different state. 
These gaps remain even among neighboring counties or counties in the same commuting zone. This pattern is not explained by differences in county characteristics, is not driven by any particular demographic group, and is not explained by pecuniary costs such as differences in state occupational licensing, taxes, or transfer program generosity. 
However, county-to-county social connectedness (as measured by the number of Facebook linkages) follows a similar pattern. Although the patterns in social networks would be consistent with information frictions, nonpecuniary psychic costs, or behavioral biases such as a state identity or home bias, the data suggest that state identity and home bias play an outsized role. 
This empirical pattern has real economic impacts. Building on existing methods, I show that employment in border counties adjusts more slowly after local economic shocks relative to interior counties. These counties also exhibit less in-migration and in-commuting, suggesting the lack of mobility leads to slower labor market adjustment.

19 February 2022


Blockchain is wildly overhyped, and is almost never a good idea for business applications.

From here.

17 February 2022

Video Evidence Can Trump False Witness Testimony In Colorado

An new important decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals in the case of People v. Liebler, 2022COA21 (February 17, 2022), has established a key limitation to the general rule that an appellate court must defer to the conclusions of a trial court jury on issues of witness credibility. The official syllabus of the case explains:
In this direct criminal appeal, a division of the court of appeals considers whether witness testimony that is indisputably contradicted by video evidence can nonetheless be sufficient to support a conclusion by a reasonable jury that the prosecution proved an element of the charged offense — here, the use of force element of attempted aggravated robbery. As a matter of first impression, and under the circumstances presented, the division concludes that it cannot.

This is clearly the right decision, but one that contradicts the general rules that a jury verdict may be upheld if there is any competent evidence in the record (such as admissible testimony from a witness under oath) that supports its ruling, and that the credibility of witnesses is solely for the jury to determine.

16 February 2022

Will The Louisiana Supreme Court Uphold LWOP For Defendants Convicted With Non-Unanimous Verdicts?

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Ramos v. Louisiana (U.S. October 2019) that non-unanimous state court jury verdicts in felony cases, allowed under a procedurally quirky U.S. Supreme Court precedent from 1972 that only two U.S. states, Louisiana and Oregon, availed themselves of, were unconstitutional. This happened around the same time that Louisiana, one of the two states, amended its constitution to prohibit such verdicts based upon a ballot issue decided in the 2018 general election. 

But in a follow up case, Edwards v. Vannoy (U.S. 2020), the U.S. Supreme Court held, along the usual 6-3 conservative-liberal divide in the court, that this ruling was not retroactive to cases in which direct appeals had been exhausted already, because it was not a "watershed rule" of criminal procedure.

Now, the Louisiana Supreme Court has taken a case to decide, as a matter of state constitutional law independent of federal law and not subject to review by any other court, if the ban on non-unanimous verdicts will be applied retroactively. The defendant in the test case has currently served 29 years in prison of a life without possibility of parole sentence, based upon a 10-2 jury verdict that would have resulted in an immediate retrial in 48 other states and in the federal courts.

I have no idea how the Louisiana Supreme Court is likely to rule, and it makes sense that it would take up the case, even if it is planning to hold that the ruling is not retroactive, because this exactly clean and narrow legal issue is outcome determinative in so many cases.

About 1500 cases are affected by the ruling and would have to be retried if the law is applied retroactively to cases that are now cold. The defendants are mostly serving life possibility of parole sentences, because shorter sentences are either still eligible to benefit from the new law because they are still on direct appeal, or have been full served.

The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide if a ban on non-unanimous jury verdicts applies retroactively under the state constitution, as it considers the case of a man convicted of murder and sentenced to life for a 1993 slaying in Plaquemines Parish.

The case of Reginald Reddick, who was convicted by a 10-2 jury vote that is no longer allowed, sets up a decision by the state’s highest court that could affect as many as 1,500 Louisiana inmates, most of them serving life sentences without parole.

Convicted by split juries years ago, their appeals exhausted, those inmates missed a shot at new trials when the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to make its 2020 ban on divided juries retroactive. Still, advocates have argued that the high court's ruling doesn't prevent the Louisiana Supreme Court from deciding that those older split verdicts violate the state's constitution and should be tossed.

From here

As previous coverage from the same newspaper noted:
In Louisiana, four in five of the 1,500-plus inmates serving time under split jury decisions are Black; more than one in four has served at least 20 years already. The longest-serving inmate known to have been convicted by a split jury has been incarcerated since 1967. . . . 

The roster includes more than 900 inmates who are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole -- a terminal sentence in which Louisiana, which incarcerates more people per-capita than any other state, easily leads the nation.

The older the case is, the less troubling to public safety a vacated conviction that is impracticable to retry would be, because the reality is that inmates who serve long sentences tend to "age out" of the time period where they are prone to commit crime and have low recidivism rates. 

This is balanced against the fact that more recent convictions, where the risk of recidivism if a defendant was rightfully convicted in a split verdict that would not have to have been retried before the defendant was convicted, are typically easier to retry.

Non-Unanimous Verdicts Produce More Wrongful Convictions

The risk of non-unanimous verdicts leading to wrongful convictions in Louisiana was real. In Louisiana, 40% of exonerated criminal defendants were found guilty by non-unanimous juries.

Jury verdicts aren't terribly accurate in the first place. As I've noted before, judges and juries agree on the verdict in roughly 78% of criminal jury trials. But judges are much less likely to acquit defendants than juries do (3% v. 19%+), and 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).

A very large percentage of criminal cases (95% would be typical), however, are resolved by plea bargains, which also sometimes result in wrongful convictions, although for mostly different reasons.

So, while the percentage of wrongful convictions in cases that actually go to trial is troubling high, the percentage of all cases that are wrongful convictions as a result of inaccurate jury verdicts is a much smaller share of criminal convictions (about one in 500).

Given that 18% of known exonerees pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, which suggest that the rate at which people plead guilty to crimes that they didn't commit is at least about one in 2,375, although this is surely an underestimate since not all people who plead guilty to crimes that they didn't commit are exonerated, in part, because there are stronger procedural bars to doing so, and in part, because people are less likely to challenge the often shorter sentence received as a result of a plea bargained conviction. (About 65% of 418 exonerees who pleaded guilty were people of color, and 83% of DNA exoneration plea cases resulted in identification of the alternate perpetrator.)

The Current Megadrought In The American West

The last time the American West was so dry, they were starting to build Pueblos at Mesa Verde and Charlemagne was the Emperor of the Carolingian Empire.

The extreme heat and dry conditions of the past few years pushed what was already an epic, decades-long drought in the American West into a historic disaster that bears the unmistakable fingerprints of climate change. The long-running drought, which has persisted since 2000, can now be considered the driest 22-year period of the past 1,200 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Previous work by some of the same authors of the new study had identified the period of 2000 through 2018 as the second-worst megadrought since the year 800 — exceeded only by an especially severe and prolonged drought in the 1500s. But with the past three scorching years added to the picture, the Southwest’s megadrought stands out in the record as the “worst” or driest in more than a millennium. . . .
The authors attribute 19 percent of the severe 2021 drought, and 42 percent of the extended drought since the 21st century began, to human-caused climate change.

From the Washington Post (February 14, 2022).

2010 paper in PNAS explores much of the same data.

About The Crisis In the Ukraine

In 2014, Russia seized and annexed the Crimea from the Ukraine in a move that was a fait accompli before Ukraine or the West could really react, and has backed pro-Russian insurgents in Eastern Ukraine who control an area about the size of Switzerland on Ukraine's Russian border. This has not been internationally recognized by many, if any, countries, but is the de facto reality on the ground.

The areas of Ukraine under the control of Russia or pro-Russian insurgents are majority Russian linguistically, have the largest percentages that ethnically identify as Russian, and were annexed to the Ukraine only in the Soviet era, in the case of part of Crimea, only in the later half of the 20th century. Ukrainian politics follow basically a West to East cline with the West being more Western European leaning politically and in policies, economics and culture, and the East and Crimea being more Russian leaning and less open to little "l" liberal political economy reforms.

Honestly, had it been negotiated diplomatically and approved democratically, without pervasive military power overshadowing opportunities for free and fair elections, rather than secured by force, the existing de facto division of Ukraine might have been pretty sensible places to create autonomous regions within the Ukraine, to form one or two new independent countries, or to transfer territory from Russia to the Ukraine by agreement in an orderly fashion. 

All of that, however, would have been very difficult to accomplish, because the existing system of sovereign states is very resistant to redrawing boundaries.

For example, regional independence movements just as justified or more so by a doctrine of self-determination for ethnically defined "nations" have gone nowhere in Chechnya, elsewhere in the Caucasuses of the former Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (within which they were autonomous regions), in Scotland, in Catalonia within Spain, in the Basque country of Spain and France, in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, in Northern Italy, in Quebec, in Puerto Rico, in Southeastern Mexico (e.g. Chiapas and Oaxaca), in Tibet, in other ethnically distinct regions in the interior of China, and in Northern Nigeria. Yet federalism, especially in the absence of special degrees of political autonomy, can be a poor substitute for political independence.

Still, history chose a course. Russia wasn't patient, it had the military power to take what it wanted, and it did. Russia faced only minimal international consequences and a surprisingly low cost in blood and treasure, because its action was so swift and decisive and complete.

Now, eight years later, Russia has not achieved the diplomatic goals that its actions in 2014 were designed to accomplish, and would like to turn its citizens attentions outward from its semi-democratic politics and mediocre economy (outside its significantly recovered post-Soviet military sector despite its loss of key manufacturing centers and an economy half the size of the Soviet one), and we are on the brink of war again. 

Almost every country in Europe that was previously part of the Soviet Union or its Eastern European Warsaw Pact allies except Belarus, has drifted away from Russia in the direction of Western Europe, although there has recently been some partial backsliding in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. NATO has expanded. It has managed to secure some influence in Serbia (apart from Montenegro and Kosovo), in the Republika Srpska of Bosnia, in Moldova and in the Caucasus. It remains the primary major power ally of the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia.

A Russian invasion of the Ukraine could be imminent. It could literally happen today. 

Russia has built up forces to do so on its own border with the Ukraine, in parts of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that it controls, on the Belorussian border with the Ukraine, in the Black Sea, and heading in that direction in the Mediterranean (partially with Syrian basing), and in the Atlantic involving more than 130,000 Russian soldiers and sailors.

There are also constraints that limit how far nations in "the West" will be willing to help the Ukraine repeal these forces.

Germany has an anti-war constitution put in place after World War II. 

Russia has a seat on the U.N. security council that could prevent any meaningful action against it coordinated by the U.N.

Western Europe, but Germany in particular, is dependent upon Russia for natural gas supplies, although peak demand is in the winter, so to the extent that this is a mild winter, and that spring is coming soon, the leverage it gains from this factor diminishes. Western Europe could come up with makeshift alternatives given nine months or so until next winter to deal with this problem. Russia also pays for a lot of its imports with natural gas revenues that would be gone if it cut off natural gas supplies which can't easily be sold to anyone else except domestic consumers.

A war would grossly disrupt international trade in and with Eastern Europe, but the volume of trade between Russia and the West is still not critical apart from natural gas sales.

Most importantly, of course, Russia has one of the two largest nuclear weapons stockpiles in the world, rivaled only by the U.S. If it feels it is being crushed too badly in a conventional war, it could play chicken and make a nuclear first strike on Western or Ukrainian targets at the risk of "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD). It could also make use of tactical nuclear weapons which are mostly absent from the arsenals of all other countries that would be less likely to trigger a MAD response.

Still, the U.S. and its Western allies have ample conventional military resources that could be brought to bear without being too likely to trigger a nuclear war.

The West, led by the U.S., could easily sink every Russian ship in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It could bomb into oblivion every Russian and Crimean Black Sea port. It could prevent the Russian Atlantic fleet from crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. It could bomb all air fields and military installations and armored vehicles like tanks and mobile artillery systems in Crimea and Russian occupied Eastern Europe. It could destroy Russian missile batteries in Russia and Belarus within range of the Ukraine. It could bomb all airfields in Russia and Belarus that are used to support the anti-Ukraine effort.

Of course, it could also provide more supplies to the Ukraine. It could make satellite, spy plane and signals intelligence to the Ukrainian military. It could spend in specialized group troops to support Ukrainian forces. 

The West could impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia. But, historically, economic and diplomatic sanctions have taken a very long time to work when they work at all (decades of sanctions directed at the apartheid regime of South Africa are a rare successful example), and sometimes end up being counterproductive or producing mixed results (e.g. trade sanctions barring military imports often lead to the development of a thriving domestic military equipment industry). It also isn't clear precisely what measures would make sense to take. 

Would a total trade embargo be imposed? Would immigration to and from Russia be halted? Would Internet connections to Russia be limited? Would Russian assets or assets of key Russian figures that are abroad be frozen or confiscated? Would contracts with Russian firms be canceled? Would Russian athletes be barred from international competitions? Would Russian flagged ships face sanctions? Would any of that matter?

None these measures individually, or even collectively, would be likely to trigger a nuclear attack launched by Putin.

A solid, limited, controlled defeat of Russian forces could leave Russia with a bad taste in its mouth for these kinds of tactics for another couple of generations. It would also prime the West for favorable arms control treaties with Russia (for both conventional and nuclear arms) and for a favorable resolution of the territorial disputes of the Ukraine with Russia.

A swift decimation of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea and Mediterranean, which is well within the scope of U.S. and allied military capabilities, might decisively end the era of military investments in naval surface combatants worldwide in all global navies, the way that World War II marked the demise of battleships, or the Hindenburg wiped out the airship industry in the 85 years that have followed.

But, I very much doubt that Biden will choose that option. I have doubts about whether Congress would support Biden, although Congress and the American people have historically been quick to rally around the flag when given strong Presidential leadership. And, I very much doubt that Western European nations will provide such a bold response without U.S. playing the leading role of the coalition involved.

Because of this, Putin is likely to call the West's bluff unless it can extract major concessions. Putin is more likely than any foreign leader in decades to call the West's bluff and use military force to achieve more territorial and political gains, and I don't think that the West (and certainly not the U.S.; the U.K. had turned out to be the Ukraine's most stalwart ally) has the political will to respond forcefully if he does. 

Also, even if he backs down for a while on this front leaving an unstable and unsatisfactory status quo achieved with Russian and Russian backed military force in place, he can just redirect his focus to elsewhere in the Balkans, to Belarus and its neighbors, to the Caucasus, to Central Asia, and so on for a while, as he tries to rebuild the Soviet Empire (which even then was called Russian, despite its multiethnic basis).

On the other hand, it is hard to know what Russia's real military and political objectives are in this crisis, because its formally announced goals don't ring true. As Colorado pollster and political pundit Floyd Ciruli explains at his blog (emphasis added):
Where Does Putin Go Next?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a number of options to achieve his stated goals of reducing NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe and eliminating Ukraine’s independent, pro-Western drift. Unfortunately for him, his military strategy to achieve the goals has initially produced the opposite effect. This is a “military exercise” and “I don’t want to attack Ukraine” are not credible on their face and highlight the dangerous, cynical expression of political power that threatens civilians, holds a country hostage, and disrupts the economies and peace of the democratic West.

The Putin build-up has produced:

• A renewed commitment to NATO with a step up in interest in joining, an increase in funding and transfer of equipment to frontline nations threatened by Russia.

• A shift in public opinion against Russia’s intentions and actions, including publics in the Ukraine and other frontline countries. New polling shows little support among Russians.

• American opinion now strongly dislikes Putin and identifies Russia as a threat. The military overreach has helped create a bipartisan commitment to sanctions. In addition, the administration is drawn back to the Atlantic Alliance and European affairs after a desire to focus on the Pacific China.

But, if the military show of force has not accomplished its purpose in the short run, the West should be prepared to see the long-term strategy, which will continue the effort to weaken NATO and the EU and undermine Ukraine’s economic and political institutions. An invasion was always a risky strategy, but Russia is a master of hybrid war, including cyber attacks, and Ukraine and other neighbors should be prepared.
I think that Mr. Ciruli overstates the extent to which Russia's military buildup and threatened invasion have backfired and produced a stronger Western response. 

But it is also true that Russia can't very well expect the same kind of instant military success and backing in parts of the Ukraine that do not have the Russian ethnic and linguistic majorities that it did in the parts of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that it sill holds. 

The Ukraine may be a smaller country than Russia, but it is still a big country in both territory and population, is closer to be in the first world than the second economically in the area it still controls, is more politically united behind a pro-Western political position without its Russian controlled portions, has modern military resources rather than second hand dated equipment and training, has a few thousand Western troops backing it, and has lots of foreign military supplies and diplomatic backing. 

Russia also doesn't have the element of surprise this time around. Its previous actions have caused Western nations to take its bluster seriously this time.

Any territorial gains Russia made this time would be marginal and hard fought. It could do a lot of damage to the remaining rump Ukraine, but couldn't gain much control by doing so.

I suspect that Russia's main desired diplomatic outcome would be to gain international recognition including through a treaty with the Ukraine of what it had largely already accomplished in its 2014 military actions, without actually having to fight a significant military campaign.

If such a deal could be struck in a way that includes enough Russian concessions that it does not look like simple appeasement or a pure Russian victory that would encourage it to repeat that tactic, such as an agreement to demilitarize the Black Sea and the Ukrainian border region, it might be worth doing.

But, until there is a final diplomatic resolution, we are left globally with a volatile crisis that has the potential to lead to World War III if the main participants in the discussion (especially President Biden of the U.S., Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the U.K., Vladimir Putin whose current title is President of Russia, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine) make catastrophic missteps in the next few days and weeks.


A short article with some clickbait explains the history (railguns prototypes were first developed in World War I era France, but nothing beyond a prototype has ever been fielded for use in actual combat), and the technology of railguns (due to high energy demands and other engineering limitations they need to be quite large, suitable for artillery roles rather than small arms roles).

A railgun was planned for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, but this was never built due to technological challenges. 

A successor substitute for the railgun in the Zumwalt, a long range 155mm shell slug thrower with a 109km range with considerably less accuracy than existing guided missiles, called the Advanced Gun System (AGS) was also never built. The 102 kg AGS rounds would have cost $800,000 each (up from an original estimate of $35,000). So the finished destroyer, despite being the largest surface combatant in the U.S. Navy other than an aircraft or helicopter carrier, lacked the centerpiece armament it was designed around.

Other modern railgun prototypes have gone into serious testing since then, particularly with an eye towards use as an active defense to hypersonic missiles. But the last major research effort by the U.S. Department of Defense was shut down by the Navy in July of 2021:
The Navy has announced that it is pulling funds from the much-hyped electromagnetic railgun in order to shift those monetary resources to hypersonic missiles and other high-tech weapons.

The program, which began in 2005, was supposed to use magnetic fields instead of gunpowder to fire rounds at speeds of up to Mach 7 and ranges of up to 100 nautical miles. However, despite the more than 15 years that program has spent in development, it never was fielded. Navy officials continued to insist that it saw a future for the $500 million experiment as late as 2018.

“Given fiscal constraints, combat system integration challenges and the prospective technology maturation of other weapon concepts, the Navy decided to pause research and development of the Electromagnetic Railgun [EMRG] at the end of 2021,” the statement from the Navy said. The end of the railgun program was foreshadowed last month when a White House fiscal budget for 2022 revealed the Navy pulled funding for the Gun-Launched Guided Projectile -- a meter-long projectile first developed exclusively as a round for the experimental railgun. . . .

In 2018, then-chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Congress that the weapon had yet to reach its promised range.

"That involves a number of technologies," he said. "The barrel itself is probably the limiting case, the engineering on that, the materials required to sustain that power pulse, and the heat and pressure that's involved in launching those projectiles."

Another unresolved issue was a power source for the gun. Only the Navy’s three-ship Zumwalt class destroyers reportedly were capable of supplying the electricity needed to operate the gun.

So far, viable prototype designs need too much electrical energy, and are too large, to be suitable for use as armaments for warplanes. Railgun rounds, being basically inert metal, are themselves cheap, although the delivery system and the power plants needed to run them are not. They are better suited to artillery batteries and warships where weight is not at such a premium.

Still, despite past fails, eventually, railguns will probably become part of the standard modern military's conventional weapon arsenal.

This is because active countermeasures that work against missiles, artillery and tank shells, and drones aren't nearly so effective against railgun rounds, because railgun rounds have no guidance systems or internal explosives to target. But railgun rounds pack enough energy to overcome most armor as well. And, as noted above, railguns also have potential to serve as active countermeasures themselves. 

A Million Excess Deaths In Less Than Two Years In The U.S.

COVID is currently killing about 2300 people per day in the U.S. and has resulted in more than a million excess U.S. deaths compared to historical norms so far, including 91% where the primary cause of death is designated as COVID, and 9% where another primary cause is listed. Surges in cardiovascular disease deaths, Alzheimer’s disease deaths, and drug overdose deaths account for much of the remaining 9%.

The excess deaths are predominantly among those age 65 and older, and concentrated in the most frail populations within that group. Death rates for middle aged people are very disparate by race and ethnicity.

This article doesn't mention it, but in the post-vaccine period, Republicans have died at a rate of about eight times the rest of the population due mostly to low vaccination rates and secondarily to disregard of measures like masking and social distancing and to failure to obtain medically recognized treatments when they do get sick.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the CDC recorded 2.8 million deaths. But in 2020 and 2021, as the virus spread through the population, the country recorded roughly a half-million deaths each year in excess of the norm.

The virus emerged in China in late 2019 and began killing people there in January 2020. It did not spread significantly in the United States until that February, and it wasn’t until the final week of March 2020 that it began to send the excess-deaths metric soaring. The CDC’s excess deaths tracker shows in detail the speed and intensity of that initial wave: Deaths soared more than 40 percent above normal in the United States in the second week of April 2020. The lethality in early April was concentrated in a few hot spots; for example, deaths in New York City were seven times the norm, but some regions had minimal change in mortality for many months.

The CDC mortality branch’s official count of deaths from covid-19 stood at 911,145 as of Tuesday. (The mortality researchers rely on death certificates, and that tally can be slightly lower than other CDC or academic trackers that rely on data from other sources.) Anderson said 91 percent of the deaths from covid-19 tracked by his unit were attributed directly to the disease. In the other 9 percent of deaths, covid-19 was listed as a contributing factor but not the primary cause.

The CDC documented 13 other types of non-covid causes of death that were inflated during the pandemic compared with historical trends starting in 2013. For example, since the start of the pandemic, the category of ischemic heart disease has recorded an additional 30,000 deaths beyond what would be expected. Deaths from hypertensive disease were nearly 62,000 higher than expected. . . . 

The million-deaths figure highlights the broad reach of the pandemic beyond the direct lethality of the virus itself.

“The bulk of the excess deaths were a direct result of covid-19 infections, but pandemics have major cascading impacts on all aspects of society,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

He cited many health impacts beyond the coronavirus, including a sharp rise in drug overdoses as people with opioid use disorder struggled to get treatment or used drugs in isolation, and a drop in cancer screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. The CDC previously reported that more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, a record number that far surpassed deaths from homicide and traffic accidents combined.

The CDC has found that 74 percent of covid-19 deaths occurred among people age 65 and older. . . . Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease exceeded the expected total by 66,000 during the course of two years
. . .

A Washington Post analysis last year found that at the time, in the 40-to-64 age bracket, 1 in 480 Black people, 1 in 390 Hispanic people and 1 in 240 Native Americans had died during the pandemic, compared with 1 in 1,300 White people and Asian people. . . . The United States on the whole has an unusually high rate of chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and has a long-recognized “health disadvantage” compared with other wealthy nations. That disadvantage was exacerbated by a weak and scattershot response to the pandemic, Woolf said. Other countries that reacted more quickly or took more aggressive postures to control viral spread early on were able to limit their death toll as well as long-term economic impacts, he said.

From the Washington Post

15 February 2022

Word of the Day

Necessity is the mother of invention. 

here's a word that may be new to some of you: situationship, defined by Wiktionary as
(neologism, informal) A romantic or sexual relationship in which the parties involved do not clearly define their relationship as such, but for example consider it "complicated" or a friends with benefits-type situation.
Wiktionary gives quotations back to 2014:

2014, Marcia Newman, Five Gifts of Pro-Aging:
Codependents don't have relationships, they have situationships.
Google Books turns up an example from a novel originally published in 2011 — Scott Gummer, Parents Behaving Badly

From Language Log. 

11 February 2022

Demography Is Political Destiny

None of this is particularly surprising, but it doesn't hurt to note confirming opinions from third-party sources once and a while. The rankings are based upon three demographic considerations:

1) What percentage of the state's residents 25 or older have bachelor's degrees or higher?

2) What percentage of the state's residents are White?

3) How urban or rural is the state? . . . 
[T]he most demographically friendly state for Republicans is ... WEST VIRGINIA!

Yes, the same West Virginia that Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents. That should convince any lingering Democratic doubters that the alternative to Manchin in the US Senate is almost certainly a Republican.

Here are the rest of the most GOP-friendly states in the top 10:

2. Wyoming
3. Kentucky
4. (tie) South Dakota, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa
8. Montana
9. Maine
10. Arkansas

And here are the 10 most Democratic-friendly states:

1. Maryland
2. New Jersey
3. New York
4. California
5. Massachusetts
6. Hawaii
7. (tie) Connecticut, Illinois
9. Virginia
10. Colorado

Notably, the state at the top of the list here, Maryland, is represented by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

These rankings generally line up with recent presidential election results. Only two states in the top 10 for Republicans (Iowa and Maine) have voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in the last decade. And none of the 10 most Democratic-friendly states have gone for a Republican in the last decade.

Which state is in the demographic middle? 
Michigan, which ranks 25th. The state has played host to two very close presidential contests, in 2016 (won by Donald Trump) and 2020 (won by Joe Biden).

From CNN, citing the blog of Larry Sabato, a pundit and professor of political science at the University of Virginia. 

The District of Columbia, of course, is the safest Democratic party stronghold of all, although it only has a say in Presidential elections and doesn't have voting representation in Congress.

Reasons for Maine to be an outlier (e.g., it is in very secular leaning New England, where white rural voters are much more likely to favor Democrats than elsewhere) and indeed for most of nine other outliers when considering only the three main demographic factors above (which are all explained to a great extent by strength of religious belief) are easier to articulate than the reason that Iowa is a battleground state in national elections.

Iowa is the 15th least educated, the 6th most white, the 11th most rural, and the 19th most religious state and is tied for 4th most demographically Republican leaning on a composite index of the three demographic factors identified above.

Republicans Represent A Minority Of Americans Out Of Step With Modern America

We live in a divided nation. And, Republicans belong to a dying American culture deeply out of step with the rest of the nation, that wields outsized political power anyway. This is something that the 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has brought to a head. 

Similarly, but for gerrymanding inherent in the design of the U.S. Senate, Democrats would have a safe majority there, and wouldn't find their legislative initiatives blocks as they are in today's 50-50 Senate, despite the fact that they control the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the Presidency.

If our broken political institutions didn't magnify this loud minority's political power, we would be living in a country with a profoundly different set of laws.
White Christians, who constituted a majority of Americans for most of the nation’s history, have fallen to about 44 percent of the total as the nation has grown more demographically and religiously diverse, according to the latest PRRI national data. But in PRRI surveys, about two-thirds of Republicans still identify as white Christians (a level last reached for the country overall in the mid-1990s). In 25 states, white Christians now constitute 49 percent of the population or more, per the PRRI’s findings. In 2020, Donald Trump won 18 of them. Those same states elected 37 of the 50 Republican senators. . . . 

Trump in 2020 won only two of the 20 states with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents, according to census figures, and Republicans hold only four of their 40 Senate seats. The GOP tilts toward the places least affected by immigration: Trump won 17 of the 20 states with the lowest share of foreign-born residents, and those same states elected 33 of the 50 GOP senators. Combined, those 20 low-immigration states account for only a little more than one-fifth of the nation’s total population. . . . 
Republicans dominate the states with the fewest college graduates but struggle in those with the most, as well as in the states where the highest share of the workforce is employed in science, engineering, and computer occupations, all defining industries of the new knowledge economy. The 22 states with the biggest share of such workers have elected just six Republican senators, while fully 31 of the GOP’s Senate caucus represent the 20 states with the smallest share of such employment, according to census figures. Republicans are much stronger in states that rely on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, energy extraction, and manufacturing. . .  .
although two-thirds of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances, 70 percent of all other Americans say it should remain legal in all or most cases. 
While a 55 percent majority of Republicans say small-business owners should be permitted to deny service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, almost three-fourths of everyone else disagrees. 
And while about three-fourths of Republicans say discrimination against white people is now as big a problem as bias against Black people, more than two-thirds of everyone else rejects that idea.

09 February 2022

Few Inmates Released To Home Confinement Due To COVID Committed New Crimes

A natural experiment arising due to COVID legislation reveals that home confinement for low level federal offenders (which is vastly less expensive, probably reduces recidivism and prison violence due to interactions with other inmates, and greatly reduces the spread of infectious disease), who made up about 20% of pre-COVID federal prison inmates, is vastly underutilized.

In all, 99.24% of prisoners released to home confinement due to COVID did not even commit a "technical violation" of their parole rules. Only 0.02% committed new crimes. None of those crimes was violent or harmed an unwilling third-party victim. 

Recidivism rates for inmates who serve their entire terms in prison are typically 25-65 times higher, with an even greater relative recidivism rate restricted to released inmates who commit new crimes, as opposed to technical violations of parole conditions.
More than 300 federal inmates who were transferred to home confinement as a pandemic mitigation strategy reoffended and were sent back to prison, a top federal official said Thursday. Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security that substance abuse was the “most common” offense that landed inmates back behind bars.

About 160 of those 320 were for abuse of alcohol or drugs,” Mr. Carvajal said. “Some of them were escapes – they weren’t where they were supposed to be – most of them were violations of that nature. Some was misconduct, eight of those were new crimes committed, the rest of those were technical violations.

A bureau spokesperson told The Washington Times that six of the eight new crimes were drug-related, one was for escape with prosecution and one was for smuggling non-citizens....

During Thursday’s hearing, he said the 320 reoffending inmates are among more than 37,000 who were transferred to home confinement since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) in March 2020 to address threats posed by the pandemic.

The CARES Act allows the bureau to transfer certain low-level inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to home confinement if they meet the COVID-19 risk factors identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While some transfers have been put back in prison, others have completed their sentences and 5,485 inmates are still in home confinement.

For comparison purposes, in 2019, prior to COVID, there were 175,116 federal inmates (the group affected by the CARES Act). The CARES Act transferred about 20% of federal inmates to home confinement.

The CARES Act significantly reduced COVID deaths, hospitalization and infection rates for people who had been incarcerated in federal prison when the pandemic started in 2020 or were convicted of federal crimes after the pandemic started.

Federal and State Inmates Compared

The potential to reduce prison populations from a state equivalent to the CARES Act isn't as great as in the federal system, however.

This is because the one out of nine prison inmates who are incarcerated in the federal system includes a larger share of white collar crime offenders, non-violent drug crime offenders, and immigration law offenders (with the last two categories being classic "victimless crimes") than state prisons. 

But, federal prisons confine a far smaller share of violent criminals, and far fewer people who commit "blue collar" property crime offenders like people who commit larceny and burglary (even though some of the "worst of the worst" terrorists, hijackers, and kidnappers are often incarcerated in federal prisons).

Out of all people incarcerated in state prisons in the U.S., about 56% were convicted of violent crimes (mostly homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault), and 14% were convicted of burglary, car theft, or larceny and other non-violent "blue collar" property crimes, a combined 70%. About 5% of state prisoners are incarcerated for weapons possession violations.

About 14% of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes, about 2% are incarcerated for fraud, and about 8% are incarcerated for other crimes, mostly regulatory offenses and felony DUI cases (the total number of state inmates adds to 99% due to rounding errors).

So, proportionately, far fewer state inmates would be eligible for a CARES Act styled release to home confinement. But, because there are 8 times as many state prisoners as there are federal prisoners, the absolute number of state inmates affected would still be significant.

In contrast, in federal prison, 8% of inmates are violent criminals and 1% committed non-violent "blue collar" property crimes (a combined 9%), and about 18% were convicted of non-violent weapons offenses, predominantly possession of a firearm by a former felon.

In federal prisons, drug offenses are the most serious offense conviction for 46% of inmates, immigration offenses make up 5%, private sector fraud offenses account for about 4%, and federal regulatory offenses like contempt of court (usually a serious violation of a court order), federal traffic felonies, tax fraud, bribery, perjury, prostitution, child pornography, gambling law, liquor law, national defense secrecy law,  hunting law, and environmental law felonies make up most of another 16% (although a small number within that percentage involve racketeering which is sometimes a white collar offense and sometimes a violent one, witness intimidation, extortion, and escapes that are more than technical), for a total of 74% of federal inmates (the total number of federal inmates adds to 101% due to rounding errors).

Inmate Citizenship

As an aside, due to the focus of the federal criminal justice system on immigration offenses and other crimes with international dimensions, 18.0% of federal inmates are not U.S. citizens, while only 5.7% of state inmates are not U.S. citizens (significantly less than in the general population, especially when comparing populations of similar age and gender to federal and state prison inmates respectively).

The lion's share of non-citizen prison inmates at both the state and federal level will be deported when they finish serving their sentences, greatly reducing the likelihood that those inmates will reoffend within the United States.

The Law Permits Gross Medical Mistreatment Of Prisoners In Most Cases

Allowing deadly and grossly negligent medical malpractice to go without a remedy because patients are incarcerated is fundamentally unjust.
The defense of qualified immunity for claims seeking monetary damages for constitutionally inadequate medical care for people who are incarcerated is misguided. 
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, medical illness is the leading cause of death of people incarcerated in prisons and jails across the United States. Qualified immunity in these cases limits accountability for carceral actors, thereby limiting incentives for improvements in the delivery of constitutionally adequate medical care. 
The qualified immunity defense also compounds other existing barriers, such as higher subjective intent standards and the Prison Litigation Reform Act, to asserting legal accountability of prison and jail administrators. 
In addition, the defense is not appropriate because medical care decisions by carceral actors are fundamentally different than traditional qualified immunity cases. Traditional qualified immunity cases usually involve discretionary decisions that are one-off, emergency, binary choices made by a single actor or unit of actors. In contrast, medical decisions in carceral settings are often serial, ongoing, and usually involve multiple decision makers, sometimes acting beyond their area of expertise. 
These significant differences between medical decisions in carceral settings and traditional qualified immunity decisions illustrate the practical difficulties for incarcerated plaintiffs and their families in holding prisons accountable for violating the U.S. Constitution. 
Recent developments refining the doctrine may lessen the negative impact of the defense on these civil rights claims, but they also do not address the core disconnect between the rationales justifying qualified immunity and its application in cases of severe injury or death from inadequate carceral healthcare.

08 February 2022

Improving Taxation In The United States

The federal income tax, payroll taxes, and gift and estate taxes in the United States don't collect enough from affluent individuals and businesses and is too complex for most taxpayers, while its most recent iterations of eliminated some tax breaks that are important for fairness. This post lists some of the changes that would be beneficial. It also lists a handful of suggestions for state and local taxation and the Medicaid program that are related to these reforms. 

Limited Liability Entity Taxation

* Tax all limited liability entities, all complex trusts, and all publicly traded partnerships, except tax exempt entities and RICs and REITs, as corporations. 

* Repeal the check the box regulations and establish transition rules for legacy S-corporations and LLCs.

* Tax limited partnerships which have some limited partners with limited liability and some general partners with unlimited liability as a general partnership of the general partners and a limited liability company made up of the limited partners collectively.

* Tax corporations at a flat rate equal to the highest individual income tax rate.

* Give corporations a deduction for dividends paid to shareholders (with the concept of "earnings and profits" to distinguish dividends from returns of capital retained), paid to U.S. taxpayers who are not tax exempt, for purposes of federal income taxes. For purposes of state income taxes, limit the dividends paid deduction to dividends paid to taxpayers subject to that state's income taxes.

* Tax dividends paid to U.S. taxpayers who are not tax exempt as ordinary income, eliminating the "qualified dividends" treatment of certain dividends, for purposes of federal income taxes. For purposes of state income taxes, tax dividends paid as ordinary income for taxpayers subject to that state's income taxes.

* Withhold taxes on taxable dividends paid to U.S. taxpayers (for federal income taxation purposes, and to taxpayers subject to that state's income taxes for state income tax purposes) at the highest individual income tax rate.

* Eliminate special taxes for domestic personal holding companies and the accumulated earnings tax.

* Eliminate the special deductions for income from pass through entities and for domestic manufacturing activities.

Capital Gain Taxation

* Tax capital gains as ordinary income.

* Do not allow capital losses to be applied to income other than capital gains.

Taxation Of Capital Gains At Death

* Treat assets owned by a decedent at death as if they were sold for fair market value on the date of death, subject to (1) a marital deduction, (2) the exclusion of gain on the sale of a personal residence that would have applied immediately prior to death (or half of that amount for a married decedent), (3) a limited step up in basis to fair market value at death, and (4) an ability to elect a carry over basis at death for select assets.

* Limit the step up in basis for capital gains at death to assets with a fair market value of $2,000,000 at death (without regard to the basis of those assets), applied as elected by the estate of the decedent in estate with assets that in the aggregate have a fair market value of more than $2,000,000 at death. 

* Eliminate the special step up in basis for capital gains tax purposes for community property.

* Allow a carry over basis at death election for assets to which the marital deduction does not apply for residences in which the recipient resides at the time of death, for vacant land, for farm real estate, for collectible tangible personal property like jewelry and art, for closely held business interests, and for property which cannot be liquidated at fair market value due to restraints upon alienation. The carry over basis must be disclosed on an asset by asset basis to the IRS and the recipient for each such asset for which an election is made.

Like-Kind Exchanges

* Eliminate Internal Revenue Code § 1031 like kind exchanges for real property. 

Tax Incentive Exclusions

* Eliminate (prospectively) exclusions and reductions in capital gains for qualified small business stock (IRC § 1202 stock), qualified opportunity zones, and similar provisions of the tax code.

Stock Compensation and Stock Option Compensation

* Give stock (i.e. equity interests) given in exchange for services as having a basis of zero.

* Do not make the grant or exercise of a stock option a taxable event (except to the extent that stock is sold in the transaction to pay for the stock option exercise price).

* Include all capital gains from the sale of stock received in exchange for services or through an employment compensation stock option as self-employment tax income.

* Include all dividends from stock received in exchange for services or through an employment compensation stock option as self-employment tax income.

* Include all capital gains and dividends from stock in a company in which the owner is an active participant as self-employment tax income.

* Eliminate the $1,000,000 cap on cash compensation for employees that encourages stock option compensation.

Allocation of Basis

* Require taxpayers to use average basis for fungible securities held with a firm or group of affiliated firms.

* Continue the carry over basis for gifts of appreciated assets including gifts to tax exempt entities.

Whole Life Insurance

* Tax the increase in the cash value of a life insurance policy with cash value prior to death, which is in excess of premiums paid that are in excess of term insurance premium established by regulation, as taxable income, with an exception for viatical settlements.

Gift and Estate and Generation Skipping Transfer Taxes

* Reduce the exclusion from gift and estate taxation to $2,000,000 per per, person lifetime, indexed, inheritable by a surviving spouse. Make all transfers exempt from gift and estate taxation on this basis also exempt from generation skipping transfer taxation.

* Set the estate tax rate at the maximum individual income tax rate.

* Set the gift tax rate and the generation skipping transfer tax rate at the equivalent on a tax exclusive basis to the maximum individual income tax rate on a tax inclusive basis.

* Treat split-interest trusts (charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts, grantor retained interest trusts, qualified personal residence trusts, etc.) as incomplete transactions until the death of the grantor or the completion of the trust term, whichever comes first, with the gift deemed to be made and valued at that time.

* Disallow minority interest discounts (including lack of marketability discounts for a sale of less than a 100% interest in closely held entity) and ignore control premiums in gifts of entity interests.

* Disallow the annual exclusion for gifts of interests in entities, including purchases of entity interests up to the amount of an annual exclusion gift made that are made within one year of receipt of the annual exclusion gift.

* Disallow the annual exclusion for gifts to trusts with Crummy powers.

* Treat taxes paid for the benefit of an irrevocable trust (for gift and estate tax purposes) that is taxed as a grantor trust as a gift taxable gift to the trust.

Medicaid (The Poor Man's Estate Tax)

* Eliminate the Medicaid estate recovery system.

* Replace the Medicaid nursing home program income cutoff with a premium for the Medicaid nursing home program equal to income in excess of the cutoff, and double the amount of income that beneficiaries may keep.

* Increase the Medicaid asset cutoff for countable assets from $2,000 to $200,000.

* Allow gifts of up to $15,000 per beneficiary per year for Medicaid nursing home program participants without affecting eligibility.

Tax-Exempt Charities And Churches

* Tax the income of tax-exempt entities (e.g. charities and churches) from interest, dividends, capital gains, rent, royalties, and other sources of income from ownership of property at a flat rate equal to the highest individual income tax rate. In the case of payments of interest, dividends, and royalties paid by U.S. taxable limited liability entities or U.S. for profit businesses, withhold this at the source.

* End the charitable deduction for income tax purposes. Allow a deduction for advertising expenses paid to charitable entities by businesses for advertising.

* Eliminate the lobbying/political activity prohibition.

* Retain the charitable exemption for gift and estate and generation skipping transfer taxes.

* End the exemption for charities from property taxes and sales taxes.

Tax-Exempt Interest

* Eliminate the income tax exemption for all forms of municipal bonds that are currently tax exempt prospectively.

Social Security and Retirement Savings

* Make Social Security benefits tax free.

* Set the maximum income that can be considered in a defined benefit plan's benefit formula equal to the Social Security/self-employment income tax cap, which would be increased to the current defined benefit plan cap. Increase Social Security benefits to reflect this increased revenue if it can be done on an actuarially sound basis.

* Set a global cap on contributions from defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans (other than contributions in lieu of FICA taxes by governmental defined benefit plans) that can be made per year per person from all sources combined on a tax preferred basis of $10,000 per year, indexed, with defined benefit plans reporting an amount on an information return each year.

* Set a maximum dollar amount of combined defined contribution plan assets, which is reduced by a formula to take into account defined benefit plan benefits (but not below zero). If someone has defined contribution plan assets in excess that amount, the excess is a required minimum distribution in the following year. The limit would be $2,000,000 (reduced to zero at $100,000 of anticipated annual defined benefit plan benefits), indexed.

International Payments On Account Of Property

* Do not allow a deduction for payments made by U.S. taxpayers for property owned by foreign taxpayers, regardless of location, including rent, dividends, interest, and royalties on account of intellectual property.

Cash Flow Accounting For Investments and Businesses

* Eliminate deductions for depreciation, amortization and depletion (with deductions from existing transactions grandfathered).

* Allow expense deductions for capital expenditures that could previously not be expensed, but were instead deducted over time through depreciation, amortization or depletion deductions. 

* Treat the proceeds of loans incurred by for profit entities, or by individuals for business or investment purposes as taxable gross income. Allow income from loan proceeds to be carried forward one year rather than taxed in the current year at the election of the taxpayer.

* Treat principal payments on loans whose proceeds were taxable gross income as deductible.

Housing Cost Deductions

* Allow an itemized housing cost deduction up to a $36,000 per year indexed dollar cap on one or more properties owned or rented and used as a primary residence during at least three months a year by the taxpayer or a dependent of the taxpayer (this is derived from the value of the housing cost deduction for someone with a $750,000 mortgage, the largest allowed under current law, at current mortgage interest rates). Taxpayers with legacy mortgage interest that is deductible could elect to take that deduction rather than the housing cost deduction.

* The itemized deduction is available for rent, imputed income from tax free use of employer provided housing, qualified mortgage interest, mortgage insurance, HOA charges, property taxes, homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, earthquake insurance, and flood insurance.

* Qualified mortgage interest would be limited to purchase money mortgages, mortgages used to pay for construction, renovation, or repairs, or refinancing of that debt. There would be no deduction for cash out home equity loans not reinvested in the collateral.

* Eliminate the minister's housing allowance exclusion.

Health Care Deductions

* Continue the exclusion from income for employees, and the deductibility to employers, of health insurance premiums and healthcare savings account contributions.

* Allow a deduction, above the line, without regard to income (but not reducing income below zero or subject to carry forward or carry back) for purposes of both income taxes and also for purposes of self-employment taxes, of health insurance premiums actually paid plus excess Obamacare premium credits paid to IRS on one's return, less Obamacare premium credits received on one's return.

* Allow an itemized deduction for uninsured medical expenses in excess of 2% of AGI per year.

Business Expenses

* Do not allow a business expense deduction for meals, lodging, or entertainment, unless the beneficiaries are employees or contractors who have this in kind form of compensation reported on their W-2 or 1099.

* Limit net operating loss carry forwards to three years, do not allow net operating losses to reduce income other than income from that business, and do not allow NOL carry forwards to reduce more than 50% of current taxable income from operating profits from the same business in any given year.

Special Standard Deduction

* Eliminate the special standard deduction for the elderly and the blind in order to simplify tax laws.

Simplified Earned Income Tax Credit

* Repeal the earned income tax credit.

* Add an income tax credit for everyone, never phased out, equal to 7.65% of the federal poverty line for the taxpayer (based upon filing status and number of dependents), and reflected in withholding taxes, up to a maximum of the sum of FICA taxes paid plus one-half of self-employment taxes paid. 

Reinstated Deductions

* Reinstate the casualty loss itemized deduction, without dollar/percentage limitation.

* Reinstate the cost of earning income itemized deduction, without dollar/percentage limitation, including a deduction for mandatory occupational licensing fees.

* Reinstate the state and local taxes itemized deduction for state income taxes, without dollar/percentage limitations, but disallow it for state and local property taxes (except as part of the new housing cost deduction), and disallow it for state and local sales and use taxes, and other state and local taxes.