29 March 2022


The Republican party is the most mendacious and stupid political movement the United States has seen in many decades, if not its entire history. Yet, all indications are that the 2022 midterm elections will be neck and neck.

I am deeply disappointed that so many of the American people are so stupid and evil. This election, and indeed, any national election of the Trump era, shouldn't have even been remotely close. Democrats should have a supermajority against such obviously bad opponents. Yet, this is where we are now.

28 March 2022

Excess Deaths Tell A Different COVID-19 Story Than More Direct Measurements

A lot of COVID-19 death statistics are plagued with bad data. But excess death statistics are robust and tell are more true story, especially once you adjust for the age pyramids of the respective populations. 

By that metric, Eastern Europe has responded worst to the pandemic, while countries with better data reporting have not done as bad as it seems.

A year ago, it seemed easy enough to divide pandemic outcomes into three groups — with Europe and the Americas performing far worse than East Asia, which appeared to have outmaneuvered the virus through public-health measures, and much of the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which looked to have been spared mostly by its relatively young population. Today, a crude count of official deaths, not excess mortality, suggests the same grouping: North America and Europe have almost identical death counts with official per capita totals eight times as high as Asia, as a whole, and 12 times as high as Africa. South America’s death toll is higher still — ten times as high as Asia and 15 times as high as Africa.

The excess-mortality data tells a different story. There is still a clear continent-by-continent pattern, but the gaps between them are much smaller, making the experiences of different parts of the world much less distinct and telling a more universal story about the devastation wrought by this once-in-a-century contagion. According to The Economist, Europe, Latin America, and North America have all registered excess deaths ranging from 270 to 370 per 100,000 inhabitants; excess mortality in Asia is estimated between 130 to 330; in Africa, the range is 79 to 220. These numbers are not identical, but, all things considered, they are remarkably close together. The highest of the low-end estimates is barely three times the lowest; the highest of the high-end estimates is not even twice as high as the lowest.

If you adjust for age, as the Economist database does separately, the differences among continents grow more dramatic — suggesting a reversal of outcomes, rather than a convergence. 
Outside of Oceania, Europe and North America were among the best in the world at preventing deaths among the old, and they were several times better at protecting their elderly, of whom they had many more, than Africa and South Asia. 
East Asia performed better, but only slightly: Canada is in line with China, Germany just marginally worse than South Korea, Iceland in the range of Japan. 
By almost any metric, Oceania remains an outlier: The Economist estimates zero excess deaths among the elderly in New Zealand, for instance, and gives the whole region an excess-mortality range of negative 31 to positive 37 per 100,000 residents, meaning it’s possible fewer people died there than would’ve had we never even heard of SARS-CoV-2.

In the country-by-country data, the divergences grow even bigger. Perhaps most striking, given both self-flagellating American narratives about the pandemic and current events elsewhere on the globe, is that the worst-hit large country in the world was not the U.S., which registered the most official deaths of any country but ranks 47th in per capita excess mortality, or Britain, which ranks 85th, or even India, which ranks 36th. It is Russia, which has lost, The Economist estimates, between 1.2 million and 1.3 million citizens over the course of the pandemic, a mortality rate more than twice as high as the American one.

Russia is not an outlier. While we have heard again and again in the U.S. about the experience of the pandemic in western Europe — sometimes in admiration, sometimes to mock — it has been eastern Europe that, of any region in the world, has the ugliest excess-mortality data. This, then, is where the pandemic hit hardest — in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact and formerly of the Soviet bloc. In fact, of the ten worst-performing countries, only one is outside eastern Europe.

From the New York Intelligencer. 

U.S. Troops In Iraq And Afghanistan Over Time

 My sources aren't entirely consistent.

From here (a Congressional Research Service report).

Afghanistan (from chart above)

2001 (October)  2,500
. . . 
2005 (January) 19,500
2006 (January) 21,500
2007 (January) 25,240
2008 (January) 30,051
2009 (January) 60,065
2010 (January) 101,205
2011 (January) 102,077
2012 (January) 81,174
2013 (January) 63,673
2014 (January) 33,186
2015 (January) 12,802
2016 (January) 12,489
2017 (January) 16,500
2018 (January) 14,000
2019 (January) 14,000
2020 (January) 8,000
2021 (January) 2,500
2021 (August) 7,500
2021 (September) 0

From USAFacts.org.

Note that the total number of active duty personnel in the U.S. military has fallen from the peak of the Iraq War/Afghan War era, to close to the 1940 levels (not replicated in absolute levels since of a little under 600,000 active duty soldiers and sailors) on a personnel per capita basis when the U.S. had 40% of its current population.

Also, it is worth noting that the peak number of personnel deployed in these wars was facilitated with stop-loss orders for existing personnel (i.e. by prohibiting them from leaving the military at the end of the term that they signed up for), heavy deployment of reserve and national guard forces, and even limited reassignments from one service (e.g. the U.S. Navy) to work on missions primarily being handled by another service (e.g. the U.S. Army). 

Thus, peak deployments in these conflicts is a good rough estimate of the maximum number of ground troops that can be deployed to a foreign war at any one time, without abandoning other foreign bases or wholesale transfers of personnel from one service to the other. Indeed, the peak deployment capacity of the U.S. military now is probably less than it was then, due to the reduced number of active duty personnel serving today.

Roughly speaking, the U.S. can deploy about 1/7th of its total number of active duty personnel on the ground in a foreign war while tapping reserve and national guard forces to the greatest extent possible in a time period after air superiority is achieved.

About half of that amount is due to U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force troops not being available and/or useful in conflicts where air superiority is achieved and there are no naval battles to fight. 

Some of the rest comes from ongoing commitments to man foreign bases in places like South Korea and Japan and Germany. 

Some of the rest comes from having some personnel who aren't suitable for that particular conflict in a forward base due to the nature of their specialized training or the fact that they are still, for example, in basic training. 

The balance of the limitation is due to the need to rotate troops periodically, rather than keeping them indefinitely in the field in war zones.

The bottom line is that while the U.S. military has by far the most expensive military in the world, with the most high end military systems, and is reasonably well trained, it does not have particular great numbers of deployable ground troops.

25 March 2022

Getting Rich By Being Wrong: How Do We Prevent Stupid Patients From Unfairly Enriching Stupid Doctors?

This post sets forth the bare outlines of an economic paradox. I don't know if it is novel or has a name. I may research this and explore it further later.

Suppose that there are two ways to respond to a health condition and health care consumers are free to choose between them. Let's call one the "conventional approach" and the other the "novel approach."

Without being rigorous, we'll illustrate a set of facts where this paradox is present with an example, not the exact conditions when this paradox is present.

Suppose that 99% of the relevant healthcare practitioners favor the conventional approach because their greater experience and knowledge causes them to favor this conclusion, while only 95% of patients, who are less certain and less well informed favor the conventional approach. 

Thus, 1% of the relevant healthcare practitioners favor the novel approach, while 5% of patients favor the novel approach.

Further suppose that healthcare practitioners are ethical and do not offer an approach to their patients which they believe is not in the best interests of their patients. And, suppose that for every 100 relevant health care professionals there are 100,000 patients.

Now, run the numbers. There are 99 health care professionals using the conventional approach serving 95,000 patients (960 patients per professional). There is 1 health care professional using the novel approach serving 5,000 patients (5,000 patients per professional).

A health care professional with more than five times as many patients each can probably charge more and thus will make more profits by favoring the novel approach than by favoring the conventional approach, even if, as the facts suggest, the conventional approach is much more likely to be in the best interests of the patients, objectively, than the novel approach.

Certainly, in some rare cases, the health care professional using the novel approach is a genius with unique insight who is the one acting in the best interests of the patient. Indeed, given how new ideas are adopted, it will usually be the case that the economics will be similar at first whether or not the new idea is a good one, although later on, as the evidence becomes more clear, more practitioners will adopt the novel approach causing the economics to change.

We don't have a problem with early adopters of a good novel approach making an extraordinary profit. This is similar to what we already do mechanically with patent rights.

But we don't want early adopters of a bad novel approach to receive undue profit, particularly because there is some irreducible level of stupidity and distrust of valid evidence in the general population of patients, and so, the economic upside to continuing to provide a bad novel approach is likely to be very sustained and extreme especially as some early adopters of the novel approach abandon it as unwise.

There are two very familiar ways to discourage this possibility.

A Pre-Approval Policy

One is to require the novel approach to be approved by an agency like the Food and Drug Administration in advance to be safe and effective relative to the status quo, in ethically conducted clinical trials in advance before the novel approach can be used. 

The pre-approval policy imposes costs of obtaining approval that counterbalance the excess profits associated with being an early adopter of the novel approach if it is approved, and is a total loss not compensated by subsequent early adopter profits, if the novel approach is not approved. 

The pre-approval policy assures that the risk of a bad novel approach being permitted and causing harm is pretty much as low as it is humanly possible to be. But while it properly discourages bad novel approaches, it may provide too weak of an incentive to adopt a good novel approach, since the costs of approval are still significant, and the early adopter reward after the novel approach is permitted may be very modest if the successful clinical trial wins over the practitioners using the conventional approach greatly reducing the excess profits for being an early adopter in the absence of a patent.

Also, the pre-approval process denies the benefit of the good novel approach both to patients waiting during the pre-approval process, and if excess profits are boosted with a patent but the early adopters don't have the capacity to provide the patented profit widely enough, to post-approval patients who would benefit from the approved good novel approach who aren't able to access the novel approach either due to high cost or due to limited capacity to provide it due to intellectual property rights.

A Tort Liability Policy

The other option would be to simply impose malpractice liability on practitioners who take a bad novel approach to their patients that causes harm to the patients when the threshold determination is made that doing so constitutes malpractice.

Tort liability also serves to create a powerful incentive for practitioners using the conventional approach to transition to a good novel approach so that they don't face malpractice liability when the threshold determination is made that the good novel approach is better in the amount harm suffered by the patients.

So far, so good, but how does one determine what the threshold is in that circumstance, and under what circumstances should a patient be free to waive that liability with informed consent about the risks that the approach chosen is the wrong one.

A hybrid approach might be to have the government do clinical trials at its own expense of novel approaches. Once a clinical trial is completed, it becomes malpractice to use a bad novel approach, and it also becomes malpractice to fail to use a good novel approach.

This doesn't fully resolve the original problem in the time period from when the novel approach is discovered to when the clinical trial is completed. But it does lower the malpractice stakes greatly for informed practitioners, powerfully shuts down bad novel approaches, and powerfully encourages the rapid adoption of good novel approaches.

Dual Track Waivers and Clinical Trials

A waiver with informed consent while a clinical trial is pending isn't the same as a regular clinical trial. 

In a clinical trial, patients enroll hoping that they will get a good novel treatment (which prescreening non-human clinical trials make more likely), but knowing that they might end up in a control group. They are taking the risk that the novel approach, if they get it is a bad one, balanced against the possible good fortune that the novel approach is a bad one but they are assigned to the control group and don't suffer as a result. But, they are also taking the risk that the novel approach is good but they don't get it because they are in the control group, balanced against the hope driving people to volunteer that the novel approach is good and they receive the novel approach. When novel approaches are more likely to be good than bad, the clinical trial participants are at a disadvantage.

But, in a waiver with informed consent, the patient knows for a certainty that they are getting the novel treatment. The patient is taking the risk that the novel approach is a bad one, but not the risk that they aren't actually getting the novel approach. When the novel approaches are more likely to be good than bad, the non-participants in the trial benefit and no one will sign up for the trial absent non-intrinsic incentives.

Then we have to consider the patient stupidity factor. In this dual regime of clinical trial participants and waiver patients, when there is evidence that the novel treatment is likely to be bad, smart people won't do waivers and will not sign up for clinical trials, while stupid people will do waivers and the clinical trials may not have enough enrollees to proceed.

But when the novel treatment is likely to be good, smart people will want to do a waiver, smart people will not want to do the clinical trial, and stupid people, disproportionately will not want to do either a clinical trial or a waiver because they are more likely to wrongly think that the novel treatment will be bad.

In conclusion, allowing patient waivers when it is clearly more likely that a novel treatment will be good, or is clearly more likely that a novel treatment will be bad, due to some sort of prescreening procedure, doesn't really work.

Clinical Trials With Free Choice While The Trials Are Pending Without Waivers

Another option would be to not allow waivers of malpractice liability and instead impose strict liability on the practitioners for harm caused to patients by using a bad novel treatment that has not yet been clinically approved. Thus, instead of having patients who aren't in a good position to evaluate the risk assume that risk, the better informed and knowledgable practitioner bears the risk that the novel treatment will be a bad one.

This would discourage lots of practitioners from using unapproved novel approaches and would probably make the patient charges to administer unapproved novel approaches high, but will leave the patients who could afford to take that risk the ability to do so, knowing that if it doesn't work out that they will be compensated by the practitioner making them pay the high treatment fees. This could work out to be a back door waiver, in effect, but it would prevent clinical trials from going empty, and it would allow a bold genius practitioner and their patient to benefit from a good novel approach sooner. 

A Multi-Stage Rule Regarding Waivers With Special Clinical Trial Group Treatment

An even more intermediate position would prohibit waivers when there isn't enough preliminary clinical trial data available for a patient to make a decision with informed consent and instead impose strict liability on the practitioner at that stage. But, perhaps waivers could be allowed once the late stage clinical trial was fully enrolled, perhaps with a premium price, strict liability as to the clinical trial participants (who are also taking the control group risk) and no cost of participation for clinical trial participants, and a shift of the risk from practitioner to patient for people who waive with informed consent at that stage outside a clinical trial group. This sounds close to the correct rule.

Things I Don't Know

I have quite in depth knowledge about a variety of subjects. But I definitely have blind spots as well. 

This post lists some of the things that I know that I don't have any particular expertise regarding, which is not to say that I know absolutely nothing about these subjects. I'm open to learning many (although not quite all) of these things at some point, but I'm not there yet.

* Human anatomy and physiology (especially outside gross anatomy).

* Exercise

* Physical therapy.

* Participating in any of the following sports: Skiing, snow boarding, water skiing, surfing, skateboarding, football, rugby, cricket, pole vaulting, long distance running, basketball, squash, tennis, badminton, jai alai, hockey, lacrosse, polo, water polo, and golf (other than miniature golf).

* Dancing.

* The current or historical state of major sports teams and athletes.

* Hunting and fishing (although I know how to safely operate a hunting rifle, have moderate familiarity with features, operations and functions of a variety of non-hunting firearms, and can do some very basic fishing pole fishing).

* Plant identification.

* Interacting with dogs and dog care.

* Accurately naming animal breeds (dogs, cats, horses, etc.)

* Accurately naming living fish in a tank or other body of water.

* Intuitively knowing the meaning of metric units of human range temperatures, human weight, human height, and area.

* Remembering peoples names.

* Listening to or discussing the vivid details of physical injuries or the effects of drugs in a real time setting (I passed out every single year in health class in school, and I get woozy now and then at doctor's visits and in discussions related to personal injury cases. I look away when I'm poked with a needle to give blood or get a shot  or have an IV inserted). If I really read to know, I can read about it at my leisure, taking breaks when it gets too intense.

* Sight reading music (although I am good at recalling music if I hear it even once).

* Playing musical instruments (I was a vocalist, and dabbled in piano, bass violin, and the trombone, but didn't reach a particularly high level).

* Whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, gin and cocktails made with them.

* Cooking pastries, doughnuts, and pastry pie crusts.

* How to use an Instant pot, air fryer, deep fryer, or smoker.

* Arts and crafts, sculpting, ceramics, free hand drawing, and artistic painting (as opposed to, for example, painting walls a single solid color).

* Woodworking and carpentry.

* Poetry.

* Advanced grammar and phonetic terminology (even though I can correctly determine what is and isn't correct grammatically intuitively quite well) and understanding the international phonetic alphabet.

* Classic English literature, especially more "highbrow" works like James Joyce, Virginia Wolff, and many contemporary "serious novels" that receive high praise from critics.

* Country western music. 

* Ethiopian food (I enjoy eating it, but I don't know how to make it or even how to order it at a restaurant and know what I'm getting).

* Operating heavy machinery.

* Operating commercial or military vehicles.

* Operating motorcycles.

* Operating aircraft.

* Riding a unicycle.

* Juggling.

* The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.

* The finer details of Islamic law.

* The main narrative outline of the Quran and the theological significance of most of its key passages.

* The main narrative outline of the Book of Mormon and the theological significance of its key passages.

* The main narrative outline of the Rig Vedas and the theological significance of its key passages.

* Computer programming with programming languages that are currently in wide use (e.g. C, C+, and Python)

* Advanced typesetting.

* Operating local area networks.

* Advanced business telephone features.

* Fashion and clothing design.

* Selecting and applying cosmetics.

* Popular culture and entertainers outside a few select genres. I have a strong aversion to sitcoms and to pro-wrestling.

* Memorizing lyrics and scripted dialog.

* Gardening.

* Advanced organic chemistry.

* Condensed matter physics.

* An ability to do original calculations with General Relativity, as opposed to having a conceptual understanding of it.

* An ability to do original calculations using quantum mechanical path integrals.

* Academic philosophy.

* The details of the workings of macroeconomic general equilibrium models.

* I am not fluent in any language other than  English, although I have formally studied French and Latin, and I have some familiarity with a smattering of words and grammatical structures in languages  including Maori, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, and Spanish through daily life and media consumption. The only writing scripts I can read other than Roman letters and numbers, and Arabic numbers, are Greek  letters. 

* Mimicking accents and dialects in English (although I am fairly good at understanding them).

* Estimating how long it will take me to do something.

* Proofreading my own written work product.

* Shifting fluidly from one activity to another on demand, as opposed to spontaneously.

*  My sense of smell isn't very discerning.

* I have trouble hearing high pitched noises, especially in the presence of background noise. If it got worse I would need hearing aids.

* Distinguishing or naming subtle differences in colors.

* Writing neatly and readably by hand, in either print or cursive.

Learning To "Don't Bargain Against Yourself" And Some Long Run Reflections

Well Prepared For Academia, Less Well For Law

Until I graduated from law school (a year and a half early, because I finished college in three years and law school in two and a half years), I lived my entire life ensconced in academia, and continued to have close ties to it for another five years or so after finish law school.

This was great preparation for being a professor, and I was an associate professor in the graduate degree program at the "for profit" College for Financial Planning (a sister college of the University of Phoenix), for fifteen months and would have happily continued doing so indefinitely, before I was laid off on a last hired, first fired basis, because the College wasn't meeting its profit targets (I did have a low volume moonlighting solo practice of law in that time period as well). 

I've published three subject matter articles in state bar magazines and presented two papers at academic conferences for law professors.

I taught thirty-three continuing education course for lawyers and paralegals in the last twenty years on a variety of subjects. Some of those classes have been as short as an hour, but many have been all day affairs including one recent class where I prepared materials to support five hours straight of lectures which I delivered, in part, because one of my two co-presenters had to drop out of teaching the all day class. 

I read perhaps a dozen or two academic journal articles a week (although, to be honest, I only carefully read one to three of them cover to cover in detail and really analyze them) 

I discuss what I read and answer questions from people at my two blogs, and sometimes more summarily, in a Facebook post, or in online discussion forums like Stack Exchange, Physics Forums, or other people's blogs. 

I have the third highest reputation out of more than thirty-three thousand contributors at Law Stack Exchange (which is probably the leading and most authoritative English language legal discussion forum open to the general public in the world) and the ninth highest reputation out of more than thirty-four thousand contributors at Politics Stack Exchange. I am in the top 6% by reputation at Physics Stack Exchange (something usually reserved for physics graduate students, high school physics teachers, and physics professors), and I am a well regarded "Gold" contributor to the Physics Forums. 

I have also shared my studies by making about fifteen hundred edits to dozens of Wikipedia articles, mostly about law, physics, and historical linguistics, but also about a variety of other subjects. I am a principal or original author of several Wikipedia articles, including, for example, an article in the area of angelology, some popular culture entries, some biographical entries, a few legal terms and concepts, and a few physics concepts. I have also written many articles at the left leaning dKosopedia including most of their coverage of military, water, and agricultural issues. 

My academic training and hands on college experiences were also good preparation for the work that I did for a year and a half as a part-time professional journalist covering a law and politics beat, writing a couple of articles or so every week for an online magazine. I had been a radio news reporter in college, and after moving to Denver, I had been a regular guest contributor to a call-in talk radio show about business and finance for a couple of years.

My writings have been cited in a variety of published academic journal articles on subject including taxation, law, politics, and linguistics, and are included in the Lexus-Nexus database. One of my articles on military affairs was made part of the course materials at a class at the British military's war college. I've even won a Westword "Best of Denver" award for my blog writing, where I have made more than ten thousand posts since 2005.

But this background and these experiences provided me with none of social capital or context I would have to develop for the work I've in a mixed transactional and civil litigation law practice, working mostly with closely held businesses and affluent individuals clients, that I've had for what will be, as of this summer, the past twenty-seven years. This, I had to learn as I went, and most of my peers were ahead of me in this regard when I was in law school.

How I Got Here

My father was a professor. I grew up in a small college town (Oxford, Ohio). My mother, when she returned to the workforce after my brother and I were old enough, was a university administrator and earned a PhD while working in that capacity (she earned a master's degree before I was born). While I was in junior high school, I read many of my mother's graduate school textbooks in educational leadership. I read articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education from the time I was in junior high school until I left for college and also when I was home from college on breaks. I took half my classes in my senior year at the local university rather than my high school. A large share of my peers growing up were likewise the children of university employees.

After I left the college town where I grew up, I spent my undergraduate years in another small college town (Oberlin, Ohio), and then went to law school (I started classes less than twenty-four hours after I graduated from Oberlin) in a big college town (Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Growing up, my family had a small law firm lawyer who lived just down the street, who assisted my parents in estate planning, probate, and real estate matters, and represented my brother in a personal injury case after he was hit by a car while crossing the street about a hundred feet away from our lawyer's home. But I had never interacted with him professionally, and really had no idea what the daily life of a real lawyer was like.

At my first summer job in law school, I was a research assistant for a government commission that one of my law professors served upon. At my next summer job, I was a summer law clerk in a medium sized law firm, but that peon level attorney job mostly involved writing legal research memorandums. 

After graduating from my top ten law school (cum laude in the top quarter of my class with several awards and experience as a senior editor on one of the secondary law reviews at our law school), I did document review as a law clerk while I was studying for the bar exam for an attorney in downtown Buffalo, New York, mostly on the Love Canal superfund site insurance coverage litigation. Litigation related to Love Canal started in earnest in 1978 and was still going strong seventeen years later in 1995 when I was working on it, trying to get useful information from discovery materials kept in 1980s era litigation support databases. 

After passing the bar exam (using only about half the allocated time to complete it and then leaving early after each testing session, with a multi-state bar exam score in the top 1% of law school graduates and a perfect professional ethics exam score), I worked two more weeks for that attorney as an actual lawyer doing essentially the same week and got myself admitted to the federal court bar as well as the New York State bar to which I'd already been admitted, but then was laid off when he lost what had been his dominant client for the past decade (85% of his billings) in a corporate merger of his client with another whose existing legal team won the work.

At that point, I spent about nine months in solo practice in Buffalo, New York, It wasn't terribly profitable because I didn't have a big volume of work, but the work that I did do was quite sophisticated. I handled the sale of a small business and its related real estate. I did the transactional legal work for a multi-million dollar floor plan financing for a car dealership for a private investor. I handled a couple of copyright matters. I dealt with an international custody dispute. I wrote some wills and trusts. I absolutely learned many things about both substantive law and the practice of law in the process, but I didn't have any mentors or attorney peers, and I had no context for the world of law and business from my life experience. Instead, I relied more or less entirely on my law school and bar exam studies and self-study. I also looked for jobs as a lawyer working for others. 

But even then, I was still closely connected to academia, because my wife was in graduate school at SUNY-Buffalo studying for her master's degree. We discussed the classes she was taking and her experiences teaching sections of women's studies classes. I provided administrative support (like transcribing interviews, since I was a good typist, and proofreading) in connection with her master's thesis (which incidentally has now been cited by published academic journal articles numerous times).

Eventually, now twenty-five years old and married, I ended up in a medium sized law firm (eleven or twelve lawyers) in Grand Junction, Colorado that was more than a hundred years old and was one of the two largest law firms in Western Colorado. 

Even then, I was close to academia. My wife moved to join me as soon as she finished her master's degree, spent a year as an English composition instructor at Mesa State College (it has subsequently changed its name), and the balance of our time there as a college administrator in their admissions office, also handling issues for foreign exchange students studying there from abroad.

I would end up working at this Grand Junction law for three years, before moving to new job where I was hired laterally by a small law firm in Denver. We moved because we were about to have children (our actual move took place about two months before our first child was born), and some racist incidents at the time there made it clear that Grand Junction, Colorado was not a safe or nurturing place to raise a multi-racial family. 

But I learned valuable lessons there. It was the most well established and most well run law firm I have ever worked for as a lawyer, before or after that job. It had good systems in place, appropriate staffing levels filled with employees who were more competent than average and had been working as a team for a long time, and a savvy and seasoned group of attorneys who worked well together.

The mentoring that I received there from the partners in the law firm is where I first really learned about the aspects of law that aren't taught in law school and aren't easily learned from books, like conducting negotiations, taking depositions, preparing for trials, conducting client meetings, coordinating with other lawyers and staff, and preparing adequate time entries. I also learned about the way business and financial and estate planning deals are customarily done, and the larger business and financial and social context involved in being a lawyer.

About Negotiations

One of the first, nearly iron-clad laws of negotiations that all other lawyers seemed to already know and understand, was "don't negotiate against yourself."

In other words, in a negotiation, once you have made an offer, you don't make another less favorable offer while you are waiting for the other party or parties in the negotiation to accept your offer or make a counteroffer. If they reject your offer without making a counteroffer, then a deal doesn't happen at all, in a transactional matter, and you try to win the case with motion practice or by going to trial, in litigation.

The most recent comic from xkcd, entitled "Salary Negotiation" illustrates nicely, although to the point of absurdity, why this is a good idea:

Mouseover text: "We can do 0.33 or 0.34 but our payroll software doesn't allow us to--" "NO DEAL."

Salary negotiation itself, is quite a salient issue right now in our family. 

My son recently negotiated his summer job employment terms, my daughter just negotiated the terms of her second full time, permanent "real job" (with a 40% pay increase from her current position), her significant other just secured a raise at his first post-college "real job" and support for a professional development program that will put him on track for further advancement in his career, and I negotiated an 80% increase in the rate I am paid when working in an "Of Counsel" capacity two or three years ago after it had been stagnant for seven or eight years. 

My wife left the work force when the pandemic hit because her industry of doing promotional modeling and serving as a brand ambassador basically ceased to exist overnight, and our household suddenly doubled in size, with the extra stresses of having everyone working and studying from home and basic grocery supplies becoming challenging to get for a while. But prior to that, working as an independent contractor, she would engage in a dozen or so new job negotiations every year.

24 March 2022

Random Observations About Alaska

The U.S. bought that land that is now Alaska from Russia on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 million. This is equivalent to $138 million in 2022 dollars. 

Almost ninety-two years later, Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, just 63 years ago. It is represented by two U.S. Senators and one member of the U.S. House of Representatives (it has never had more than one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives). 

Alaska is, unhappily to hear its politicians tell the tale, part of the territory of the liberal leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.


Alaska is only about 2.5 miles over water in the Bering Strait (between an Alaskan island and a Russian island) from Russia at its closest point. There are regular diplomatic conflicts between the U.S. and Russia arising from Russian military aircraft intruding into U.S. airspace in Alaska.

Alaska is not contiguous with any of the other 49 U.S. states, or any other U.S. territory outside of a U.S. state. Alaska's only land border is with Canada. 

All of Alaska is further north than any other U.S. state and a substantial part of it is within the Arctic circle, but the vast majority of the Alaskan population, even in rural areas, lives close to a coast. It has always been thinly populated because of the long frigid winters most of the state experiences as a result of its high latitude. This said, global warming is causing temperatures to rise in much of Alaska. Temperatures in Alaska are less harsh on the coasts where ocean currents moderate its natural tendency to be cold due to its high latitude.

Alaska provides the U.S. with an Arctic Ocean coast, in addition to its Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes coasts. Alaska has more coastline than any other U.S. state or territory.


Denali (f.k.a. Mount McKinley) at 20,310 feet, is the highest altitude point in North America and the only mountain more than 20,000 feet high in North America. All eleven mountains in the United States more than 15,000 feet are in Alaska, as are all fifteen of the tallest mountains in the United States.

The tallest mountain in the United States outside of Alaska is Mount Whitney in California, which is 14,505 feet. The runner up is Mount Elbert in Colorado at 14,400 feet. There are 53 mountains that are more than 14,000 feet, but less than 15,000 feet in the United States. Thirty-six are in Colorado, seven are in Alaska, seven are in California, and three are in Washington State.

Canada has nine mountains taller than 14,000 feet that do not straddle the Alaska-Canada border, all of which are in Canada's Yukon territory. 

Mexico has five mountains taller than 14,000 feet.


Alaska is geographically the largest U.S. state or territory, and has immense land area (about one-fifth of the land area of the lower 48 states) as the "to scale" comparison maps below show:

There are about 375 million acres of land (excluding area covered by water) in Alaska.

About 59% of the land in Alaska (222 million acres) in owned by the U.S. federal government. This includes national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, military reservations and the North Slope National Petroleum Reserve managed by more than a dozen federal agencies.

This includes 48.3 million acres of National Park Service land, 71 million acres of Fish and Wildlife Service land, 19.8 million acres of Forest Service land, 77.9 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land, 23.6 million acres of National Petroleum Reserve land, military base land, U.S. Postal Service land, and smaller amounts of land managed by about half a dozen other federal agencies.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve via Wikipedia.

The state government originally received about 28% of the land in Alaska (105 million acres), a small portion of which has been transferred to local governments. 

About 8% of the state's land (44 million acres), together with $963 million dollars (equivalent to about $6,442 million dollars adjusted to 2021 for inflation at a time when there were 50,605 Native Alaskans as of the 1970 census), was transferred to native Alaskans in 1971. The cash portion of the settlement was equivalent to about $509,200 per family of four at the time in inflation adjusted 2021 dollars.

Rather than being organized into Indian tribes, Alaska Natives are organized politically into thirteen Alaska Native corporations, twelve of which are regional and own 16 million acres of land, and one of which (based in Seattle, Washington) manages the cash settlement received. Another 26 million acres of native land in Alaska is owned by 224 village corporations with 25 or more residents (an average of 181 square miles each). The remaining 2 million acres of native land consists of historical sites, land already titled in native Alaskans in 1971, and villages with 24 or fewer residents. Alaska Native owned land has a population density of about 1.1 people per square mile.

Less than 1% of the land in Alaska (less than 3.75 million acres) is in private, non-native ownership, which is where about 90% of Alaskan residents reside.

Until October 21, 1986, you could homestead land in Alaska (i.e. reside on federal land and claim it as your own after fairly short period of occupancy).


As of 1880, the first census taken in the territory determined that the population of Alaska was 33,426 and this fell to 31,795 in the 1890 census. 

In the 1960 census, shortly after becoming a state, Alaska's population was 226,167. 

The population of Alaska, as of 2022, is estimated to be 720,763 (slightly less than the population of the City and County of Denver proper, which is 732,909 in 2022). About 84% of Alaska's population in urban.

Alaska has a population density of about 1.2 people per square mile, although this is far lower (about 0.2 people per square mile) outside a few cities. Only seven cities or census designated urbanized areas in Alaska have more than 10,000 people; only three (Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks) have more than 20,000 people.

Alaska perceives people living in remote areas as so central to its identity that Alaska has a state constitutional right to participate in most kinds of public meetings remotely.

The population of Alaska grew by 3.3% from 2010 to 2020, compared to population growth for the U.S. as a whole of 17.8%, and its two largest cities in 2010 (Anchorage, and Fairbanks which dropped to third in population in 2020) fell slightly in population from 2010 to 2020. Despite this fact, overall, Alaska's rural population has been growing much more slowly than its urban population.

About 83% of Alaskans live in coastal areas. Many Alaskans live on islands.

Alaska Native People

As of 2020, 22% of Alaskan's are Alaska Natives (with 15% who are Alaska Native only even if from more than one Alaska Native ethnicity, and roughly 7% who are Alaska Native and some other race). Almost of the Native American or Alaska Native people in Alaska are Alaska Natives.

About 44% of Alaska Natives live in urban areas and 56% live in rural areas. More than half of Alaska's rural population, and about 10% of Alaska's urban population is Alaska Native.

Alaska has never been heavily populated, and its pre-European contact population collapse came much later than it did further south in North America (from about 1750 CE in the Aleutian islands to about 1850 CE in the Arctic far north):
University of Alaska at Anchorage anthropology professor Steve Langdon estimates that approximately 80,000 people lived in Alaska by the time of contact with Europeans, which began in the mid-1700s. This population on number was not reached again until World War II. 

The total population loss of Alaska Natives from all causes during the Russian America period is unknown. Estimates are 80 percent of the Aleut and Koniag (Kodiak) populations and 50 percent of the Chugach (Prince William Sound), Tlingit, Haida, and Dena’ina populations.  
Alaska Native Languages And Related Languages

About 2.2% of Alaskans (15,994 speakers, almost all of whom are bilingual and also speak English fluently), i.e., about 10% of Alaskan Natives,  speak an Alaska Native language.

There are currently 22 officially recognized Alaska Native languages in use in Alaska: 7 in the Eskimo-Aleutian language family (15,050 speakers in Alaska, 41,165 speakers in Canada, and 54,000 speakers in Greenland), 13 in the Na-Dene language family (this family has three subfamilies spoken in Alaska with a combined 850 fluent U.S. speakers of these languages: 60 fluent speakers of Tlingit languages in Alaska and 120 in Canada, 789 fluent speakers of Alaskan Athabaskan languages, and 1 non-native but fluent speaker of the Eyak languages in Alaska), the Haida language (with 24 native speakers, all in Alaska), and the Coast Tsimshian language (with 50 native speakers in Alaska and 2,170 in Canada divided between four languages in this language family).

The Na-Dene language family and the Eskimo-Aleutian language family are associated with successive migrations to North America from Northeast Asia at least eight or nine thousand years after the main wave of the original founding population of the Americas arrived via the Bering Straight in the case of the Na-Dene language family, and more recently than that in the chase of the Eskimo-Aleutian family with the archaeological culture known as the Thule. 

The Haida and Tsimshian languages are the only Alaska Native languages associated with the founding population of the Americas, and these two languages combined have only 74 speakers left. While the later population waves both admixed significantly with early Native American populations in Alaska, culturally, they had largely replaced their predecessors already in the period prior to European contact.

In all these 22 languages in these three language families are spoken by 15,974 people in Alaska. Two more Athabaskan languages with 20 speakers are also spoken in Alaska. 

Another 19 Athabaskan languages in the Northern Athabaskan languages, are spoken by a combined 25,137 people in Canada. 

There are also about 179,641 U.S. speakers of seven non-extinct, non-Alaskan languages in the Athabaskan subfamily of the Na-Dene languages in the Southwestern United States (Navajo with 170,000 or more speakers, and four distinct Apache languages with a combined 9,510 speakers) and on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. (one spoken in Oregon with at least one but probably less than 100 revival effort speakers, and one, Hupa with 31 speakers, in California). These languages all have their origins in the Alaskan Na-Dene languages. The Navajo and the Apache languages migrated to what is now the American Southwest from what is now Canada around 1000 CE.

Alaska Native Religion

The pre-European contact Alaskan Native religions have fallen into desuetude with almost no one primarily identifying as an adherent of these traditional belief systems. About one in eight Alaskans are adherents of the Orthodox Church in America (a geographically neutral merger of U.S. denominations in the Orthodox Christian tradition), which in Alaska is a heavily Alaskan Native religious affiliation that has its origins in conversions to the Russian Orthodox Church during the period of Russian claims to Alaska.

European Impacts On Alaska Natives And Reparations

Thus, while some Alaska Native peoples were hard hit by European contact, those in the Alaskan interior were far less impacted, and the extent of European colonial impacts on them were less severe than in much of the Americas. Most Alaska Native tribes were never exiled from their pre-contact homelands and retained very significant good quality landholding as a result of the 1971 settlement reached with them by the U.S. government. Also, the significant monetary reparations settlements paid to them in 1971, are among the most significant of those received by any indigenous populations of the United States.

European Ancestry People In Alaska

Russia made the first attested European contact with Alaska in 1741 and claimed the territory as its own in 1799. But, this claim didn't really correspond to the facts on the ground:
On maps of that time period, Russia was in control of the entire landmass that became Alaska, but in truth their direct control varied from heavy-handed to nonexistent. In the Aleutians, the Unangans were subjugated by force and made to hunt sea otters for the Russian fur trade. Other areas, including the Arctic region and inland rivers areas, saw little if any Russian presence. . . . 
During the entire period of Russian colonization . . . the Russian footprint remained minimal to nonexistent in several areas of Alaska, including much of the arctic and upriver areas of the Yukon Basin.

The first large scale enumeration ordered in 1819 counted 14,019 people in Russian America, 391 of whom were Russian. This count did not include anyone in interior, arctic, or western Alaska north of the Alaska Peninsula. . . . 

Father Ioann Veniaminov, a Russian Orthodox missionary and scholar who later became Bishop Innocent, produced an estimate of 39,813 people for Russian America in 1839. Noticeably higher than other Russian counts and estimates, Veniaminov surmised that beyond those areas known, 17,000 people had not been contacted yet. He estimated 7,000 people lived along the Kuskokwim River and 5,000 Tlingit lived in Southeast, the most populated areas in Alaska. He put the total number of Russians at 706, with 1,295 “Creoles,” or those born of Russian and Native parents. Before the sale of Alaska, Russian-American Company population numbers compiled from 1830 to 1863 show Alaska’s population ranged between 11,022 and 7,224. Though the estimates of Alaska Natives were low, the report also listed the peak Russian population in the territory at 823 in 1839. 
In the 1880 census, only 1.3% of people residing in Alaska (430) were white, of whom 68% (293) lived in Southeast Alaska, mostly in the capital of Sitka (157) and the old fortress town of Wrangell (105). 

In the 1890 census, 13.5% of people residing in Alaska were white, 53% of whom were only living in Alaska temporarily, mostly as canning workers in Southeast Alaska.

There wasn't a really significant population with European ancestry in what is now Alaska until well into the 1890s. This first large scale surge in Alaska's European ancestry population was a direct result of the 1896 gold strike in the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory.

From the 1900 census to the 1940 census, the percentage of the Alaska population that was white hovered just above and just below 50% (breaking 50% for the first time in 1910, dipping below 50% in 1930, and exceeding 50% in all subsequent years).

Alaska is currently about 60% non-Hispanic white, but only about 50% of children born in Alaska are non-Hispanic white. 

Non-Hispanic whites in Alaska are a plurality in the Southeastern part of the state from a little west of Anchorage to the east and a bit to the north up to the Canadian border and along the Pacific coast to the South (i.e. basically in places with higher population densities).

Other Races and Ethnicities In Alaska

About 18% of Alaskans are currently neither non-Hispanic white nor Alaska Native (solely or in connection with other ancestry). 

About 7% are Hispanic (5% of Alaskans are Hispanics who whom identify racially as white, and less than 2% of whom identify as something else racially including Asian or black), about 8% are Asian or Pacific Islander,  about 4% are black, and less than 0.5% have two or more races that are not Alaska Native. 

The subtotals add up to more than 18% due to rounding issues, due to the fact that some Alaska Natives are people with two more more races who are black, Asian, or Pacific Islanders (mostly Filipinos), and because some black, Asian, and Pacific Islander Alaskans are also Hispanic.

In 2010, two-thirds of Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in Alaska were Filipino, and as of 2020 at least half are Filipino. 30%-50% of the population (varying by region) of the Aleutian Island region of Alaska. are Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

Fossil Fuel Economics

Alaska has the third highest revenues from fossil fuel production per capita in the United States at about twenty-thousand dollars per capita, behind only number one Wyoming and number two North Dakota. Alaska is heavily dependent upon the oil and gas industry for tax revenues.

Alaska pays every man, woman, and child who resides there full-time $1,114 per year, no strings attached, from the "Alaska Permanent Fund" of banked proceeds from its oil and gas revenues. It also has no personal income tax.

Alaska and Hawaii are the only U.S. states that generate a significant share of their electricity with petroleum.

More of Alaska is roadless than any other U.S. state.

23 March 2022


Some of the worst fighting in Ukraine has taken place in Mariupol, a port city on the Aral Sea costs between Crimea and the parts of Eastern Ukraine that Russian allied insurgents have held since 2014. 

Here's the latest news on that part of the conflict:

In the last update from Mariupol officials, they said March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege. Accounts from the city suggest the true toll is much higher, with bodies lying uncollected. Airstrikes over the past week destroyed a theater and an art school where many civilians were taking shelter.

Zelenskyy, in his address, said more than 7,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday. But about 100,000 remain in the city “in inhuman conditions, under a full blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant bombardment,” he said.

Before the war, 430,000 people lived in Mariupol.

Like Zelenskyy, the Red Cross said a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city with desperately needed supplies had not been able to enter.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is a crucial port for Ukraine and lies along a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. The siege has cut the city off from the sea and allowed Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea.

But it’s not clear how much of the city Russia holds, with fleeing residents saying fighting continues street by street.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov have now joined in the shelling of Mariupol. The official said there were about seven Russian ships in that area, including a minesweeper and a couple of landing vessels.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said that troops defending the city had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and electronic warfare complex.

Those who have made it out of Mariupol told of a devastated city.

“They bombed us for the past 20 days,” said 39-year-old Viktoria Totsen, who fled into Poland. “During the last five days the planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropped bombs everywhere — on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”

22 March 2022

Geopolitical Musings

The U.S. urgently needs to restore some of its soft power. It has fallen off the wagon of being a country the rest of the world looks up to, and has instead become a cautionary tale.

One doesn't have to be terribly altruistic or idealistic to think so. The single biggest determinant of who wins wars is the allies that each side has in the fight.

Although, the way that you fight when you are the powerful party and the way you fight in an asymmetric battle as the weaker party is very different.

One of the major lessons of the Ukraine war is that the Russian military's conventional warfare capabilities are far inferior to what had been widely believed. While Russia has some advanced weapons, it has proportionately far fewer, its troops are much less well trained, and its leaders are less competent.

The good news that flows from this fact is that everyone can be much more comfortable that the Western European powers, a coalition that has grown larger in the post-Soviet era, together with the U.S. and Canada, would soundly defeat Russia and its handful of allies in a conventional war.

The bad news that flows from this fact is that Russia will be inclined in future conflicts as it has in this one, to maximize the leverage that it has available to it from its possession of nuclear weapons by threatening to use them and possibly by actually using them.

The temptation for Russia to use them will grow even greater because its global economic and diplomatic clout have been greatly undermined by sanctions and boycotts in response to its invasion of Ukraine, and because the rest of the world has been forcefully encouraged to become energy independent of Russia, since energy is the main thing that the rest of the world relies upon it for.

A major development this week has been an act of sabotage by Belorussian railway workers, shutting down rail based logistics support from Belorussia to Russian forces in Ukraine. As sanctions have impaired the quality of life in Russia, and the intelligentsia, as well as many of the powerful and the rich in Russian who aren't in Putin's inner circle, have found themselves out of the loop, dragged into a war that isn't in their own interests, and at grave peril of persecution both from within Russian for dissent, and outside Russia for loyalty, the stream of Russia's best and brightest out of their country is giving rise to brain drain.

The voluntary exile of dissenters and opponents from Russia, together with crackdowns on those who dissent without leaving, will no doubt help Putin to consolidate power at home, as will the fact that the world seems united against Russia providing a bond to those facing this outside action. But it also means the Russia's economy and society will be much weaker for it, and that untold Russian secrets are escaping to the outside world.

Ten million Ukrainians, roughly a quarter of its population, are now refugees too. It appears that those refugees are disproportionately women and children, with far more than a quarter of them departed. According to a news report from today:

Russian forces appeared unprepared and have often performed badly against Ukrainian resistance. The U.S. estimates Russia has lost a bit more than 10 percent of the overall combat capability it had at the start of the fight, including troops and tanks and other materiel. Western officials say Russian forces are facing serious shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, leaving some soldiers suffering from frostbite. . . .

Thousands of civilians are believed to have died. Estimates of Russian military casualties vary widely, but even conservative figures by Western officials are in the low thousands.
On Monday, Russia’s pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, citing the Defense Ministry, reported that almost 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. The report was quickly removed, and the newspaper blamed hackers. The Kremlin refused to comment. The Western official said the figure is “a reasonable estimate.”

Russian forces aren't gaining much ground, basically having been stalled out for weeks, but also aren't ceding much ground to Ukraine's offensives. The air space over Ukraine remains contested with daily dog fights between fighter aircraft on both sides and Ukrainian forces harrying Russian aircraft with anti-aircraft missiles.

Russia's poor military performance in Ukraine doesn't just undermine its credibility in future conflicts either. It also depletes Russia's finite resources of military equipment like tanks, warplanes, military helicopters, missiles, and soldiers, especially in the European theater, leaving it less ready for any sequel European conflict to the war in Ukraine. With a weak economy and isolation from international trade, Russia won't be able to easily replace that lost equipment, and it appears to be short of qualified troops to fill the gap as well.

A Russia isolated from the outside world by sanctions and boycotts will still never be as insular as North Korea or Soviet era Albania. But economic isolation and brain drain will dampen its economy and impair its technological capacity. 

True to type, Russia will probably try to shift a larger share of its economy to military spending while dealing with a shrinking economy with reduced consumer spending, as unpleasant as that will be for ordinary Russians. But even so, its resources for military spending will be limited and the military goods it can produce will be degraded.

All of this will leave Russia with few options to exercise power other than its nuclear arsenal, much like North Korea, but far more potent, and apparently with a leader who seems to be going mad and disconnecting  his entire country from reality, as his grand vision for Russia has turned to ash.

It looks as if even Russian-Chinese relations are falling apart. China's society is healthier and the rest of the world's trade means much more to it than Russia's does. Talk of a Chinese pivot towards the West and away from Russia is growing. China is increasingly surpassing Russia as the number one non-Western power in the world.

China's society may be awash in reality challenged propaganda from top to bottom as well. But its leaders, unlike Putin, do not appear to be crazy.

it seems that there is no foreseeable hope of revolution from within to bring about regime change in North Korea. It is less clear if this is a possibility in Russia, despite the current dominance of the United Russia party and Putin. In particular, in areas where Russia thought it had put down insurgencies for good in the past may, in the face of a perception that Russia's military is overtaxed and the regime is weak, some of those insurgencies could reignite, leading Putin to be more embattled and more prone to take ruthless action.

Also, despite the fact that the leadership in Belorussia has kowtowed to Russia to the point of practically rejoining it in a union again, and despite the fact that the Belorussian leadership has been drifting in a totalitarian direction, it seems from some things I've read that its leadership is much less secure, even if it can swiftly be replaced with the normal democratic process. And, Belorussia is facing many of the same economic sanctions and boycotts that Russia is from its collaboration with Russian in its invasion of Ukraine.

Of course, whatever upside Russia had hoped to gain from its invasion of Ukraine seems to have largely evaporated. International recognition of a bit more Ukrainian territory in areas that are heavily ethnically Russian, a withdrawal of its forces from the remainder of Ukraine, and a partial relaxation of sanctions and boycotts, is probably the best outcome it could hope for at this point, and that is far from a sure thing. Russia has already irrevocably lost more than it can reasonably hope to gain.

In an ideal world, all countries of the world would learn from Russia's debacle in Ukraine that unprovoked invasions of other countries don't pay.

And, let's be honest. While not quite as brazen, U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan weren't terribly honorable or well justified either (and who knows what the U.S. was thinking in the Gulf War when it sought to protect a slave holding monarchy in Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion). But, it isn't as if the U.S. benefitted all that much from those wars either.

When the U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan last year, the Taliban regime that had been on the verge of ruling the country promptly replaced the regime the U.S. and its allies had put in place in a matter of days and now rules the entire country. I'm hard pressed to explain how the U.S. benefited from the Iraq War, or the Gulf War, either.

Both wars provided a sandbox for the U.S. and its allies to sharpen their military acumen. But these wars were extremely expensive. The Iraq War gave rise to the Islamic State as a major global adversary. Afghanistan and the Iraq War combined have defanged for Iraq, its most threatening neighbors in both directions.

The U.S. has also gains little or nothing from providing military aid to Saudi Arabia, which is not its friend and is using those military resources to fight a proxy war with Iran in Yemen with horrific humanitarian consequences.

The cost of these foreign wars to the U.S. in lives lost has been relatively modest for two decades of war, although it hasn't been nothing. But the money the U.S. has spent to fight these wars and prepare to fight more wars has been immense. One doesn't have to be a pacifist to recognize that we could spend less and yet use U.S. military might in a way that provides us with greater security benefits.

So, returning to the core questions:

1. How can the U.S. restore its soft power and become a global model again?

2. What is the best way to deal with a nuclear armed and unpredictable and aggressive Russia that is starting to collapse and become dangerous out of desperation?

3. How can the U.S. reduce the immense expense it continues to incur for the military and stop fighting wars it does not benefit from, while remaining capable of military operations that make sense for it?

4. Can the U.S. lure China more into the fold of the developed world? How?