Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category.

Trans-partisan Plan #1: Addressing Man-Made Global Warming With A Plan That Could Be Supported By Both Democrats and Republicans

While I am not deeply worried about man-made climate change, I am appalled at all the absolutely stupid, counter-productive things the government has implemented in the name of climate change, all of which have costly distorting effects on the economy while doing extremely little to affect man-made greenhouse gas production.  For example:

Even when government programs do likely have an impact of CO2, they are seldom managed intelligently.  For example, the government subsidizes solar panel installations, presumably to reduce their cost to consumers, but then imposes duties on imported panels to raise their price (indicating that the program has become more of a crony subsidy for US solar panel makers, which is typical of these types of government interventions).  Obama's coal power plan, also known as his war on coal, will certainly reduce some CO2 from electricity generation but at a very high cost to consumers and industries.  Steps like this are taken without any idea of whether this is the lowest cost approach to reducing CO2 production -- likely it is not given the arbitrary aspects of the program.

These policy mess is also an opportunity -- it affords us the ability to substantially reduce CO2 production at almost no cost.

The Plan

Point 1: Impose a Federal carbon tax on fuel.

I am open to a range of actual tax amounts, as long as point #2 below is also part of the plan.  Something that prices CO2 between $25 and $45 a ton seems to match the mainstream estimates of the social costs of CO2.  I think methane's greenhouse effects are exaggerated, but one could make an adjustment to the natural gas tax numbers to take into account methane leakage in the production chain.   I am even open to making the tax=0 on biofuels given these fuels are recycling carbon from the atmosphere.

So what is the best way to reduce CO2 -- by substituting gas for coal?   By more conservation?  By solar, or wind?  With biofuels?  With a carbon tax, we don't have to figure it out or have politicians picking winners.  This is why a Pigovian tax on carbon in fuels is going to be the most efficient possible way to reduce CO2 production.   Different approaches will be tested in the marketplace.  Cap and trade could theoretically do the same thing, but while this worked well in some niche markets (like SO2 emissions), it has not worked at all in European markets for CO2.   There has just been too many opportunities for cronyism, too much weird accounting for things like offsets that is hard to do well, and too much temptation to pick winners and losers.

When I first crafted early drafts of this plan several years ago, I had assumed that Progressives championed a carbon tax for the reasons I listed above, ie that it is the most efficient means to allow markets to reduce emissions.  However, the referendum a couple of years ago in Washington State demonstrated that many Progressives may not understand this at all.  You can read a lot more about this debate here.  I fail the ideological Turing test on this one, because I don't know if the Progressives who were strongly for CO2 reduction but opposed the Washington State carbon tax did so because they did not understand economics or because they cared less about global warming than funding other Progressive causes.

Point 2:  Offset 100% of carbon tax proceeds against the payroll tax

Yes, there are likely many politicians, given their incentives, that would love a big new pool of money they could use to send largess, from more health care spending to more aircraft carriers, to their favored constituent groups.  But we simply are not going to get Conservatives (and libertarians) on board for a net tax increase, particularly one to address an issue folks on the Right may not agree is an issue at all.  So our plan will use carbon tax revenues to reduce other Federal taxes.

I think the best choice would be to reduce the payroll tax.  Why?  Because, the carbon tax will necessarily be regressive (as are most consumption taxes) and the most regressive other major Federal tax we have are payroll taxes.  Offsetting income taxes would likely be a non-starter on the Left, as no matter how one structures the tax reduction the rich would get most of it since they pay most of the income taxes.

There is another benefit of reducing the payroll tax -- it would mean that we are replacing a consumption tax on labor with a consumption tax on fuel. It is always dangerous to make gut-feel assessments of complex systems like the economy, but my sense is that this swap might even have net benefits for the economy -- so much so that we might want to do it even if there was no such thing as greenhouse gas warming.  In theory, labor and fuel are economically equivalent in that they are both production raw materials. But in practice, they are treated entirely differently by the public.   Few people care about the full productive employment of our underground fuel reserves, but nearly everybody cares about the full productive employment of our labor force.   After all, for most people, the primary single metric of economic health is the unemployment rate.  So replacing a disincentive to hire with a disincentive to use fuel could well be popular.

Point 3:  Eliminate all the stupid stuff

Oddly enough, this might be the hardest part politically because every subsidy, no matter how idiotic, has a hard core of beneficiaries who will defend it to the death -- this the the concentrated benefits, dispersed cost phenomena that makes it hard to change many government programs.  But never-the-less I propose that we eliminate all the current Federal subsidies, mandates, and prohibitions that have been justified by climate change. Ethanol rules and mandates, solar subsidies, wind subsidies, EV subsidies, targeted technology investments, coal plant bans, pipeline bans, drilling bans -- it all should go.  The carbon tax does the work.

States can continue to do whatever they want -- we don't need the Feds to step on states any more than they do already, and I continue to like the 50 state laboratory concept.  If California wants to continue to subsidize wind generators, let them do it.  That is between the state and its taxpayers (and for those who think the California legislature is crazy or that the Texas legislature is in thrall to oil companies, that is what U-Haul is for).

Point 4:  Revamp our nuclear regulatory regime

As much as alternative energy enthusiasts would like to deny it, the world needs reliable, 24-hour baseload power -- and wind and solar are not going to do it (without a change in storage technology of at least 2 orders of magnitude in cost).  The only carbon-free baseload power technology that is currently viable is nuclear.

I will observe that nuclear power suffers under some of the same problems as commercial space flight -- the government helped force the technology faster than it might have grown organically on its own, which paradoxically has slowed its long-term development.  Early nuclear power probably was not ready for prime time, and the hangover from problems and perceptions of this era have made it hard to proceed even when better technologies now exist.   We are at least 2 generations of technology past what is in most US nuclear plants.  Small air-cooled thorium reactors and other technologies exist that could provide reliable safe power for over 100 years.  I am not an expert on nuclear regulation, but it strikes me that a regime similar to aircraft safety, where a few designs are approved and used over and over makes sense.  France, which has the strongest nuclear base in the world, followed this strategy.  Using thorium could also have the advantage of making the technology more exportable, since its utility in weapons production would be limited.

Point 5: Help clean up Chinese, and Asian, coal production

One of the hard parts about fighting CO2 emissions, vs. all the other emissions we have tackled in the past (NOx, SOx, soot/particulates, unburned hydrocarbons, etc), is that we simply don't know how to combust fossil fuels without creating CO2 -- CO2 is inherent to the base chemical reaction of the combustion.  But we do know how to burn coal without tons of particulates and smog and acid rain -- and we know how to do it economically enough to support a growing, prosperous modern economy.

In my mind it is utterly pointless to ask China to limit their CO2 growth.  China has seen the miracle over the last 30 years of having almost a billion people exit poverty.  This is an event unprecedented in human history, and they have achieved it in part by burning every molecule of fossil fuels they can get their hands on, and they are unlikely to accept limitations on fossil fuel consumption that will derail this economic progress.  But I think it is reasonable to help China stop making their air unbreathable, a goal that is entirely compatible with continued economic growth.  In 20 years, when we have figured out and started to build some modern nuclear designs, I am sure the Chinese will be happy to copy these and start working on their CO2 output, but for now their Maslov hierarchy of needs should point more towards breathable air.

As a bonus, this would pay one immediate climate change benefit that likely would dwarf the near-term effect of CO2 reduction.  Right now, much of this soot from Asian coal plants lands on the ice in the Arctic and Greenland.  This black carbon changes the albedo of the ice, causing it to reflect less sunlight and absorb more heat.  The net effect is more melting ice and higher Arctic temperatures.  A lot of folks, including myself, think that the recent melting of Arctic sea ice and rising Arctic temperatures is more attributable to Asian black carbon pollution than to CO2 and greenhouse gas warming (particularly since similar warming and sea ice melting is not seen in the Antarctic, where there is not a problem with soot pollution).

Final Thoughts

At its core, this is a very low cost, even negative cost, climate insurance policy.  I am convinced this policy, taken as a whole, would still make sense even if CO2 turns out to be as harmless as nitrogen.  The carbon tax combined with a market economy does the work of identifying the most efficient ways to reduce CO2 production.   The economy benefits from the removal of a myriad of distortions and crony give-aways, while also potentially benefiting from the replacement of a consumption tax on labor with a consumption tax on fuel.  The near-term effect on CO2 is small (since the US is only a small part of the global emissions picture), but actually larger than the near-term effect of all the haphazard current programs, and almost certainly cheaper to obtain.  As an added benefit, if you can help China with its soot problem, we could see immediate improvements in probably the most visible front of man-made climate change:  in the Arctic.

Postscript

Perhaps the hardest thing to overcome in reaching a compromise here is the tribalism of modern politics.  I believe this is  a perfectly sensible plan that even those folks who believe man-made global warming is  a total myth ( a group to which I do not belong) could sign up for.  The barrier, though, is tribal.  I consider myself to be pretty free of team politics but my first reaction when thinking about this kind of plan was, "What? We can't let those guys win.  They are totally full of sh*t.  In the past they have even threatened to throw me in jail for my opinions."  Since I first published this plan I have had very prominent skeptics contact me to criticize me for "giving in to the warmists."

Paul Mirengoff's Dangrous and Misguided Article on Leniency and Recidivism

Over at Powerline Paul Mirengoff writes:

Last week, the Department of Justice released an updated study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing that 83 percent of prisoners released by states are re-arrested within nine years of their release. 44 percent of released state prisoners were arrested during the first year after release, 68 percent were arrested within three years, and 79 percent within six years.

The study encompassed 30 states and accounted for 77 percent of all persons released from state prisons nationwide during the period under study. Daniel Horowitz discusses the studyhere. Kent Scheidegger does so here.

The results of the study should deter the Senate from embracing the FIRST STEP legislationpassed by the House just before the BJS figures were published. Indeed, the BJS numbers undermine FIRST STEP in multiple ways....

As I argued here, the FIRST STEP bill is just that — a first step to the release of thousands of additional prisoners. It’s also a first step to shorter mandatory minimum sentences. Thus, FIRST STEP is the first step to a crime wave....

But even if there is no second step, the BJS numbers show that FIRST STEP means more crime sooner. That’s what any Senator who supports FIRST STEP is voting for.

Second, the BJS study tells us that the crimes that federal drug felons will commit aren’t confined to drug crimes. According to the study, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years, and more than a third (34 percent) were arrested for a violent crime.

So much for the argument we hear over and over again from Team Leniency that those incarcerated for drug crimes are “non-violent offenders.” As Daniel Horowitz puts it, “when you let out drug offenders early from prison in this era, they will not only go back to selling even deadlier drugs, killing thousands, they will also commit other crimes” including overtly violent ones.

I understand this is right in the Conservative "civilization vs. barbarism" wheelhouse, so the article is unsurprising.  But I think it includes, at a minimum, one dangerous principle and one deeply flawed assumption.

Dangerous Principle:  By justifying longer prison terms based on potential future recidivism, we are in fact proposing to punish people for future crimes they not only haven't been convicted of, but which they have not even committed.   If I were to walk into a busy street today, shoot 20 people, then lay down my gun and get arrested, you know what I am at that moment under the law?  I am innocent until I am proven guilty.  If I am legally innocent in that situation, I am certainly innocent of some hypothetical crime 10 years in the future.  Assuming that I should be punished for this pre-crime violates every rule of due process -- which Mr. Mirengoff has called a "right" in other contexts.  Taken to its logical extreme, this idea of recidivism as a justification for longer sentences would imply that we incarcerate everyone for every crime for life -- then recidivism rates would drop to zero!

Deeply Flawed Assumption:  The underlying assumption here seems to be that there is some sort of criminal gene at work, that these folks are chosen by birth or circumstances to be criminals in an almost Calvinist dynamic.  As such, in this model, minor crimes are merely markers to a tendency to commit larger crimes later.  Look, I understand that there are people who are just bad -- heck, my dad was on the Unibomber's target list so you don't have to explain the existence of evil to me.  But it is really misguided to assume that prison itself has nothing to do with future criminal activity, particularly in the case of first-time non-violent drug offenders.

We take these people who were selling some grass or their leftover pain pill prescription and we throw them into a camp for several years that is populated only with felons.  You sleep with felons and you shower with felons and the only people you have to talk to all day are felons.  Is it really so remarkable that after being thrown into a criminal frat house for a few years, some people might have more criminal tendencies when they leave than when they enter?  And then after they leave, they are met at every turn with the brand of being an ex-felon, making it hard to get a job or do things we take for granted.  So we put someone away in a training camp for criminals for a few years, and then make it really, really hard for them to find good paying ways to support themselves afterward, and we are surprised they go back to crime?

I have a guy, who I won't name for privacy reasons, who works for me in Arizona.  Over 10 years ago, barely over 18, he was convicted of some non-violent drug crimes and locked away.  Had I done the same things in my youth, my rich dad likely would have kept me out of jail but as a poor Hispanic in the world of Sheriff Joe's Phoenix, he went to jail.  Over ten plus years later, he had a stable marriage and had his civil rights restored, but was still mostly doing minimum wage labor.   He has been a good, reliable maintenance person at one of our campgrounds, in a job where he could work with his wife.  One day a customer got in some sort of dispute with this man's wife, looked him up online, and found he had a prison record.   This customer then started sending me messages that I must fire this person immediately or else this customer would file suit against us for creating a dangerous environment for her.  When I refused, she then started posting yard signs around town that we hired felons and telling people on social media that they needed to shun our maintenance guy in any number of ways and accusing him of running a narcotics ring out of the campground.

This is the kind of crap that non-violent drug offenders face their entire lives.  And you wonder why some of them, after finding no work and being shunned by civil society, might turn to crime?  Were they really destined to be criminals, or did we make them that way?  And what about this gets any better if we leave them in federal crime school for a few more years?

It Pays To Have Good PR: Compared to Jeff Skilling, Elizabeth Holmes Gets Slap On the Wrist for Outright Fraud

Jeff Skilling was convicted of fraud and fined $50 million dollars and given 20+ years in jail.  Elizabeth Holmes -- for fraud that is way more obvious and for which she is clearly directly accountable -- will get no jail time, a fine of a half million dollars, loss of some voting shares in the company, and a ten year moratorium on being a director or officer of a public company.  From the SEC press release:

The complaints allege that Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani made numerous false and misleading statements in investor presentations, product demonstrations, and media articles by which they deceived investors into believing that its key product – a portable blood analyzer – could conduct comprehensive blood tests from finger drops of blood, revolutionizing the blood testing industry.  In truth, according to the SEC’s complaint, Theranos’ proprietary analyzer could complete only a small number of tests, and the company conducted the vast majority of patient tests on modified and industry-standard commercial analyzers manufactured by others.

The complaints further charge that Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani claimed that Theranos’ products were deployed by the U.S. Department of Defense on the battlefield in Afghanistan and on medevac helicopters and that the company would generate more than $100 million in revenue in 2014.  In truth, Theranos’ technology was never deployed by the U.S. Department of Defense and generated a little more than $100,000 in revenue from operations in 2014.

These are only the highlights of the many, many repeated knowingly grossly fraudulent statements made by Holmes over a span of several years, and this does not even include her harassment of whistle blowers who tried to go public with the fraud.  This isn't a case of creating an offshore JV that shifted some debt off the balance sheet -- its the case of lying blatantly about the company's technology and financials for years and years.

Update:  6/15/2018 Holmes criminally indicted for fraud.  I should have listened to Ken White at Popehat -- he always says that the wheels of justice in the US Attorney's office grind slowly, but they do eventually make progress.

Some Good News This Morning -- The Prosecution of David Bell

Today I received a victim notification from the DOJ that the Feds were prosecuting David William Bell for fraud.  I encountered his fraud attempts here, where I described how a fake bill from UST or US Telecom was actually a scam contract in disguise.  Apparently Ken White has been on this guys case for years and described the two different investigations against him here (one for the scam I was presented with, and a second one involving payroll companies).  I was actually a victim of neither, because I saw the trap before I fell into it, but I guess since I wrote a letter to the Feds informing them of the fraud they added me to the database (actually they informed me of the wrong fraud -- the payroll company fraud -- rather than the one I was tangentially involved with, but that's the government).  Ken White always says that the wheels of justice in such cases turn slowly but they do turn, and once the Feds get you in their sights, they can be relentless (for good and for bad).

Update:  Not sure why I am getting this now when Ken White reported that David Bell pled guilty in both cases in August.

Goodfellas in Phoenix

It is not very often, at least any more, that I find reporting in our local paper captivating.  But this story about a New York mobster dropped into the witness protection program in Phoenix is fascinating.   I learned a couple of things.  First, the Feds seem to place a disproportionate number of their high-profile mafia turncoats into the Phoenix area.  And second, the portrayal of mobsters in Goodfellas or the Sopranos as people who simply cannot stop scamming seems spot on.  In this case, this particular mobster-in-hiding created an entire restaurant chain (Toby Keith's I Love this Bar and Grill) and used it as a vehicle for scamming tens of millions of dollars out of mall developers, who would pay him millions in up-front build-out money in exchange for signing long term leases he never meant to honor.

Business Ethics Discussion Topic -- Public Accommodation and the Sex Offender Registry

My company operates campgrounds on public lands under contract with various public agencies.  Over the past several years, there has been a lot of discussion about public accommodation (e.g. can a private photographer choose not to serve a gay wedding).  This has never really been a big issue for me in my business, both due to my personal tolerance of just about anyone and the fact that we operate on public lands, which gives us an extra responsibility for broad accommodation.

Yesterday a sheriff's deputy in Arizona comes by one of the campgrounds we operate and gave a flyer to our manager.  It says that so-and-so, we will call him Mr. Smith, is in the area and is registered as a level 3 high-risk sex offender ("level 3 is the highest level and considered the highest risk to reoffense").  The deputy lets my folks know that it would be better not to do business with this guy.

Now personally, I have a lot of skepticism for the sex offender registry.  These lists sweep up a lot of people whose crimes are trivial (e.g. teenagers who had sex together or texted pictures with their girlfriends).  They assume high risk of recidivism without evidence.  Their existence dates back to a variety of molestation panics that were grossly exaggerated, and play on what I think are irrational public fears.  They can act as a substantial extra punishment beyond what they might have been charged with in court.  And they can be harsh, making it nearly impossible for someone to try to live a normal life in any community.

So the dilemma arises because this gentleman was staying in our campground at the time we received the notice.  My female manager wanted him out, as did most of my employees.  My guess is that if I polled the guests, most of them would want this guy out.  Because many people in a campground are in tents without any door or lock, they can feel particularly vulnerable.  I had never really thought about this much until we added cabins with locking doors to a campground and the early customers were disproportionately single women and women on their own with their kids.  They liked the lock.

My most telling problem is one of liability.  The state of Arizona has officially notified me that in the state's opinion this person is high-risk (whatever I might suspect his true risk may be).  If some incident were to happen, this notification would be exhibit one in the trial suing me into bankruptcy, arguing that I callously and knowingly allowed this risk to remain when I had it in my power to remove it.  I suppose one could argue that I probably always have people on the sex offender list in one of our campgrounds almost every day since there is no reasonable way to check on such things.  But in this case I have been notified in writing by an agent of the state that this person is considered high risk -- this knowledge gives me added responsibility.

I made my decision already, because part of the joy of running a 24/7/365 service business with 2.5 million customers a year is that I have many decisions like this and I have to make a choice and move on.  But I am curious what your decision would be.  Discuss.

Update:  wow, the discussion here is just tremendously useful.   The commenter who observed that I could probably be sued either way successfully captured the flavor of my frustrations trying to run a business in the modern legal environment.

It struck me later that I might not even have a decision to make.   The Forest Service which owns the land may not even allow such folks to be excluded from public lands.  If this is the case, I can get that in writing and do what I prefer (ie not participate in the further punishment of this gentleman) but have some coverage against legal liability in the future.

My Friend Jon is Having a Bad Week

$10 million in diamonds get accidentally thrown away, then stolen out of the trash by the security guard.  

To me, this proves that crazy stuff can happy to anyone.  Jon is as bright and hard-working as anyone I know.  He is also entirely trustworthy and honorable in a business that often lacks these qualities.  The thief apparently sold one large stone, about 10 ct., to someone in the same building** who then cut it down to 9 ct. and resold it.  There would be no reason for a dealer to cut down an already cut stone, since it substantially reduced the value, unless he knew the stone to be stolen and was purposely trying to disguise the stone for resale.  Its like a thief robbing your house and selling your TV to your neighbor, who changes the label so you won't recognize it when you come over.

 

** all of the major diamond dealers in New York seem to work in just 2 buildings on Fifth Avenue.

By This Logic, We Wouldn't Allow Procreation

I find this meme to be silly and unconvincing.

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It is not unreasonable to expect that 0.1% of any population is potentially dangerous.  By this meme's implied logic (that if any of the refugees are bad we should not take any of them) we would never have allowed so much immigration of any sort in the past, immigration that has been undeniably beneficial to this country.  But going further, by this logic we would not even allow procreation -- the number is hard to get at but 0.1% is not an unreasonable guess as to the chance that any person born today might end up being a murderer.

Apparently, Cops Now Steal More from Citizens than do Actual Criminals

Via Tyler Cowen, comes this

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.

I will remind folks that civil asset forfeiture is by definition taken from innocent people, ie those not convicted of a crime.

Update:  It would be interesting to see the racial/ethnic mix of those whose stuff is seized.  Somehow, I don't imagine the victims of theft-by-cop are a bunch of rich white people.

Immigrants and Crime

Virtually every study done points to the fact the immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are less prone to crime than American citizens.  That is why immigration opponents must rely on repetition of lurid single examples to try to make their case, a bit like global warming advocates point to individual heat waves as a substitute for having any warming show up in the recent global temperature metrics.

From the Foundation for Economic Education

With few exceptions, immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on crime rates. As described below, the research is fairly one-sided.

There are two broad types of studies that investigate immigrant criminality. The first type uses Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data from the institutionalized population and broadly concludes that immigrants are less crime prone than the native-born population. It is important to note that immigrants convicted of crimes serve their sentences before being deported with few exceptions.

However, there are some potential problems with Census-based studies that could lead to inaccurate results. That’s where the second type of study comes in. The second type is a macro level analysis to judge the impact of immigration on crime rates, generally finding that increased immigration does not increase crime and sometimes even causes crime rates to fall.

Butcher and Piehl examine the incarceration rates for men aged 18-40 in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses. In each year, immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives with the gap widening each decade. By 2000, immigrants have incarceration rates that are one-fifth those of the native-born

There is a lot more at the link.

Breaking News: Local Resident Victimized by Legal American Citizen

One of my critiques of global warming alarmists is that they are trying to use a type of observation bias to leave folks with the impression that weather is becoming more severe.  By hyping on every tail-of-the-distribution weather event in the media, they leave the impression that such events are becoming more frequent, when in fact they are just being reported more loudly and more frequently.  I dealt with this phenomenon in depth in an older Fortune article, where I made an analogy to the famous "summer of the shark"

...let’s take a step back to 2001 and the “Summer of the Shark.”  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

Yesterday I was stuck on a stationary bike in my health club with some Fox News show on the TV.  Not sure I know whose show it was (O'Reilly?  Hannity?) but the gist of the segment seemed to be that a recent murder by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco should be taken as proof positive of the Trump contention that such immigrants are all murderers and rapists.  The show then proceeded to show a couple of other nominally parallel cases.

Yawn.   It would be intriguing to flood an hour-long episode with stories of legal American citizens committing heinous crimes.  One wonders if folks would walk away wondering if there was something wrong with those Americans.

One could pick any group of human beings and do a thirty-minute segment showing all the bad things members of that group had done.  What this does not prove in the least is whether that group has any particular predilection towards doing bad things, or specifically in the case of Mexican immigrants, whether they commit crimes at a higher rate than any other group in this country.  In fact, everything I read says that they do not, which likely explains why immigration opponents use this technique, just as climate alarmists try to flood the airwaves with bad weather stories because the actual trend data for temperatures does not tell the story they want to tell.

Why I Am Against the Death Penalty

Governments can't be trusted to administer life and death.  Simple as that.  Check out these guys.  They had much of their life taken from them -- but not all.

Private Justice and the New Vigilantism of the Left

In the 1970's, Hollywood produced a number of movies that drew from a frustration that the criminal justice system was broken.   Specifically, a surprisingly large number of people felt that due process protections of accused criminals had gone too far, and were causing police and prosecutors to lose the war on crime.  In the Dirty Harry movies, Clint Eastwood is constantly fighting against what are portrayed as soft-hearted Liberal protections of criminals.  In the Death Wish movies, Charles Bronson's character goes further, acting as a private vigilante meeting out well-deserved justice on criminals the system can't seem to catch.

There are always folks who do not understand and accept the design of our criminal justice system.  Every system that makes judgments has type I and type II errors.  In the justice system, type I errors are those that decide an innocent person is guilty and type II errors are those that decide a guilty person is not guilty.  While there are reforms that reduce both types of errors, at the margin improvements that reduce type I errors tend to increase type II errors and vice versa.

Given this tradeoff, a system designer has to choose which type of error he or she is willing to live with.  And in criminal justice the rule has always been to reduce type I errors (conviction of the innocent) even if this increases type II errors (letting the guilty go free).

And this leads to the historic friction -- people see the type II errors, the guilty going free, and want to do something about it.  But they forget, or perhaps don't care, that for each change that puts more of the guilty in jail, more innocent people will go to jail too.  Movies cheat on this, by showing you the criminal committing the crimes, so you know without a doubt they are guilty.  But in the real world, no one has this certainty.  Even with supposed witnesses.  A lot of men, most of them black, in the south have been put to death with witness testimony and then later exonerated when it was too late.

This 1970's style desire for private justice to substitute for a justice system that was seen as too soft on crime was mainly a feature of the Right.  Today, however, calls for private justice seem to most often come from the Left.

It is amazing how much women's groups and the Left today remind me of the Dirty Harry Right of the 1970's.  They fear an epidemic of crime against women, egged on by a few prominent folks who exaggerate crime statistics to instill fear for political purposes.  In this environment of fear, they see the criminal justice system as failing women, doing little to bring rapist men to justice or change their behavior  (though today the supposed reason for this injustice is Right-wing patriarchy rather than Left-wing bleeding heartism).

Observe the controversies around prosecution of campus sexual assaults and the bruhaha around the video of Ray Rice hitting a woman in an elevator.  In both cases, these crimes are typically the purview of the criminal justice system.  However, it is clear that the Left has given up on the criminal justice system with all its "protections" of the accused.  Look at the Ray Rice case -- when outrage flared for not having a strong enough punishment, it was all aimed at the NFL.  There was a New Jersey state prosecutor that had allowed Rice into a pre-trial diversion program based on his lack of a criminal record, but no one on the Left even bothered with him.  They knew the prosecutor had to follow the law.   When it comes to campus sexual assault, no one on the Left seems to be calling for more police action.  They are demanding that college administrators with no background in criminal investigation or law create shadow judiciary systems instead.

The goal is to get out of the legally constrained criminal justice system and into a more lawless private environment. This allows:

  • A complete rewrite in the rules of evidence and of guilt and innocence.  At the behest of Women's groups, the Department of Justice and the state of California have re-written criminal procedure and required preponderance of the evidence (rather than beyond a reasonable doubt) conviction standards for sexual assault on campus.   Defendants in sexual assault cases on campus are stripped of their traditional legal rights to a lawyer, to see all evidence in advance, to face their accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, etc. etc.  It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded.  Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result.  Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff?  Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".
  • Much harsher punishments.   As a first offender, even without pre-trial diversion, Ray Rice was unlikely to get much more than some probation and perhaps a few months of jail time.  But the NFL, as his employer (and a monopoly to boot) has a far higher ability to punish him.  By banning Ray Rice from the league, effectively for life, they have put a harsh life sentence on the man (and ironically on the victim, his wife).  They have imposed a fine on him of tens of millions of dollars.

Postscript:  For those who are younger and may not have experienced these movies, here is the IMDB summary of Death Wish

Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers...

I guess I was premature in portraying these movies as mainly a product of the 1970s, since this movie just came out.

Inevitably necessary note on private property rights:  The NFL and private colleges have every right to hire and fire and eject students for any reasons they want as long as those rules and conditions were clear when players and students joined those organizations.  Of course, they are subject to mockery if we think the rules or their execution deserve it.  Public colleges are a different matter, and mandates by Federal and State governments even more so.  Government institutions are supposed to follow the Constitution and the law, offering equal protection and due process.

I Guess This Needs to be Said

I had thought that post-9/11 and with the very visible object lesson of TSA security theater that this would have already been understood, but I will repeat it:  There are no security steps that we are willing to tolerate as a free society that would make it impossible, or even substantially more difficult, for a motivated deranged person to shoot up an elementary school.

Promises by politicians up to and including the President to take "steps" to improve safety are illusory.  What we will get, if anything, will be incremental steps that will hassle law-abiding citizens (think: taking your shoes off at the airport and not using your iPad during takeoffs) without doing anything to deter actual criminals.  In particular, any honest and knowledgeable security person will tell you that there is no realistic way, short perhaps of turning ourselves into North Korea, of stopping a killer who is determined to die as part of his crime.

Using the the Criminal Activity that Results from Prohibition to Justify Prohibition

Apparently, Los Angeles has tough anti-ticket scalping laws.  This means that one is able to resell virtually any item one owns but no longer has a use for except tickets.  In this case, government officials yet again don't like someone who places little value on an item selling it to someone who places more value on that item (a concept that is otherwise the basis for our entire economy).  We can see the effect of such laws in London, where stadiums full of empty seats are juxtaposed against thousands who want to attend but can't get tickets, all because for some reason we have decided we don't like the secondary market for tickets.

A great example is embedded in this line in today's LA Times about crackdowns on scalping:

Jose Eskenazi, an associate athletic director at USC, said the university distributed football and basketball tickets free to several children's community groups but that scalpers obtained those tickets and sold them "at enormous profits."

I like the coy use of "obtained" in this sentence.  Absent a more direct accusation, I have to assume that this means that scalpers bought the tickets from the community groups.  Which likely means that strapped for cash to maintain their operations, these groups valued cash from the tickets more that the ability to send kids to a USC football game  (in fact, taking them to a USC football game would involve extra costs to the community group of transportation, security, and feeding the kids at inflated stadium prices).  It was probably entirely rational for the community groups to sell the tickets -- this is in fact a positive story.  Selling the tickets likely got them out of an expensive obligation they could not afford and generated resources for the agency.  Sure, USC was deprived of the PR boost, but if they really want the kids to come to the game, they can do it a different way (e.g. by organizing the entire trip).  This is not a reason for curtailing my right to sell my tickets for a profit.

Anyway, I have ranted about this before.  Sports team owners and music promoters have out-sized political influence (particularly in LA) and have enlisted governments to clamp down on the secondary markets for their products.

What I thought was new and interesting in this LA Times story was the evolving justification for banning ticket scalpers.  Those who have followed the war on drugs or prostitution will recognize the argument immediately:

Lee Zeidman, general manager of Staples Center/Nokia Theatre and L.A. Live, said in a separate declaration that scalpers "frequently adopt aggressive and oftentimes intimidating tactics.... To the extent that ticket scalpers are allowed to create an environment that makes guests of ours feel uncomfortable, harassed or threatened, that jeopardizes our ability to attract those guests to our property."

In court papers, prosecutors accuse scalpers of endangering citizens, creating traffic hazards and diverting scarce police resources.

"Defendants personally act as magnets for theft, robbery, and crimes of violence," the filing states. "Areas with high levels of illegal ticket sales have disproportionately high levels of theft, robbery, crimes of violence and narcotics sales and use."

Wow, you mean that if we criminalize a routine type of transaction, then criminals will tend to dominate those who engage in this transaction?  Who would have thought?  If this were true, we might expect activities that normally are run by normal, honest participants -- say, for example, alcohol distribution -- to be replaced with gangs and violent criminals if the activity is prohibited.

It's amazing to me that people can still use the the criminal activity that results from prohibition to justify prohibition.

Update:  John Stossel has an article on the London ticket scalping ban

Crazy Awful Idea - Incarcerating People For Their Own Good

Via Carpe Diem

This does not include the millions in state and county jails.  All those drug offenders in jail for a victemless crime, essentially "for their own good."

"I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them. "

Summer of the Shark, Global Warming Edition

My new column is up, comparing coverage of this summer's heat wave to "Summer of the Shark"

Before I discuss the 2012 global warming version of this process, let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark."  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

This summer we have been absolutely bombarded with stories about the summer heat wave in the United States.  The constant drumbeat of this coverage is being jumped on by many as evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming....

What the Summer of the Shark needed, and what this summer’s US heatwave needs, is a little context.  Specifically, if we are going to talk about supposed “trends”, then we should look at the data series in question over time.  So let’s do so.

I go on to present a number of data series on temperatures, temperature maximums, droughts, and fires.   Enjoy.

Boy-Rape Epidemic, or Systematic Problem in Self-Reporting of Sexual Assault?

Interesting if slightly odd story today:

About 5 to 10 percent of U.S. high-school boys say they've been "physically forced" to have sexual intercourse against their will, according to survey results reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those surprising numbers come from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report published by the CDC on June 8, and are based on student-reported answers to 2011 national and state surveys.

Click here to see the report. The results concerning high-school students and forced sex can be seen on pages 66-68....

The survey results show girls reporting an even higher percentages of rapes -- 11.8 percent nationally.

So, what is your guess?  Is their an epidemic of boy rape (homosexual I assume but apparently the survey is not taken in a way that one can tell) or are the CDC numbers that women's groups so often like to trumpet basically garbage?

Scandal for Engaging in Legal Activity

The Secret Service prostitution scandal in Columbia is interesting.  My understanding is that prostitution is legal in the particular area where this occurred.  So in effect we have a scandal here about engaging in a legal activity.  Things that would convert this to an actual scandal in my mind:

  • The officers were on duty, or were on call in some way that there are rules about what they can be doing which they violated (in which case I would be more worried about the drinking)
  • The call girls were hired with taxpayer money  (it is only legal to give taxpayer money to corporate whores like Solyndra, not Columbian whores).  Bobby Patrino might have survived the adultery scandal if he hadn't paid her with his employer's money.

The most likely issue is one  of representation.  "You can do whatever you want on your own time, but not when you are representing us."    As in most scandals, the biggest crime will turn out to be bringing negative attention to one's employer.  With which I can sympathize.  If these bozos brought negative attention to me when they were travelling on business representing me, I'd fire them in a second.

Which gets me thinking that I could easily get sued for doing so.  I am pretty sure I don't have a rule in the employee manual that says you can be fired after getting in the papers for haggling with prostitutes.    Even though common sense says that by embarrassing the company they are putting their jobs at risk, common sense does not rule the legal world of employer law.   In my experience, the whole legal process is tilted against the employer, with the presumption being that the employer is a rapacious asshole firing people for no reason unless proven otherwise  (you are saying your employees are "at will?"  I laugh at your naivete).   The employee would just say that there was no rule against getting negative publicity for hiring prostitutes on a business trip and that their activity was entirely legal where it occurred.

Since it is entirely unlikely I will add a morality clause to our employee manual, I think I will add something about actions that bring harm or disrepute to the company.

Interesting Analysis of Trayvon Martin Probably Cause Affidavit

I have not really posted on Trayvon Martin (except to comment on NBC's corrupt editing of the 911 tape) because a) high-profile criminal cases don't really have the hold on me they seem to have for many other Americans**; b) I have nothing to add; c) I have a bias that would make my commentary suspect.

But since I am about to post on the case, and may in the future, I should explain the bias.  We have a problem from time to time with campground workers we call the "badge-heavy" syndrome.  They get obsessive about rooting our rules violations.  They stalk campers.  They follow people around.  The spy on campers, looking for violations or crimes to report.  The folks they pick out for such treatment are often chosen because they are somehow different from the employee.

This is just awful for customer service.   It drives me crazy.  It is the absolute first thing we discuss at every training session.  Employees who demonstrate that they have this mentality are generally shown the door as fast as possible.  Government-run recreation facilities actually have this problem much worse, because 1) they give all their park staff a law enforcement title, a badge, and a gun, which tends to just encourage this kind of over-zealous harassment and 2) it is almost impossible for them to fire someone for this type of thing (because in the government employee heirarchy of values, enforcement of and consistency with rules is far more important than customer service or visitor satisfaction).

So this is a hot button issue for me.  And my first thought in this case was that Zimmerman's actions seemed just like those of my badge-heavy employees that I frequently have to fire.  So I am not very predisposed to by sympathetic to him, so thus my bias.

Anyway, keeping with my habit in this case of commenting more on issues at the periphery rather than of the case itself, this post from Ken at Popehat (I believe a former US attorney and current defense lawyer) is quite interesting.  Here is the bottom line:

I'm in a rush, but I can't avoid commenting on the affidavit of probable cause submitted in the matter of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin.

It's a piece of crap....

This is not the worst affidavit I've ever seen — but it's damn close, and the decision to proceed based on it in such a high-profile case is stunning. Cynics may say that I've been spoiled by federal practice, where affidavits are on average considerably more careful and well-drafted, particularly in some districts. But if it takes a high-profile case to highlight shoddy practices in everyday cases, so be it. An affidavit like this makes a mockery of the probable cause process. There's no way that a judge reading this affidavit can make an intelligent or informed decision about the sufficiency of the evidence — even for the low hurdle of probable cause.

** footnote:  I lived in Boulder through the whole Jon Benet Ramsey case.  I believe this was like aversion therapy, the equivalent of your dad forcing you to sit in a closet and smoke three cigars to put you off smoking, which has turned me off high profile criminal cases forever.

Attorney Fail

I'm not really going to comment on the Jerry Sandusky pedophile cases.  The evidence looks pretty damning at this point but I'll let it play out in the courts.

But guilty or innocent, how could his attorney possibly have let him do a TV interview with Bob Costas the other day?  The interview has spurred new victims to come forward.

But beyond that, given that he insisted on going on TV (I suppose clients can ignore good advice), how could his attorney have allowed him to be so unprepared?  I did not watch the interview (I am not big on these select legal cases we like to try in the press), but I heard excerpts on ESPN.  The guy was not prepared to answer the simple and obvious question "are you a pedophile."  He hemmed and hawed and babbled and kindof said yes and no.  It was the worst, dumbest interview by an alleged criminal I have ever seen, and if you ever wonder why folks facing criminal or civil charges never jump into the media fray to defend themselves, go watch this interview.

Anatomy of a Scam

Ken at Popehat has a great series on spotting and reporting scams.  I have tried to make a habit of reporting on this blog about scams I have encountered, and some of my most Googled posts are where I posted scans of scam letters I have received.  I hope other bloggers will do the same.  I have benefited any number of times from Googling a suspicious letter or company and finding bloggers who have already posted warnings or information.

Playing the Cowbell in Prison

Will Blue Oyster Cult (gratuitous umlauts omitted) have to go on the lam now that the First Amendment does not extend to telling someone to commit suicide?

Update:  Don't be afraid, BOC.  I read it closer, and they are probably OK.  Only convincing a specific person to commit suicide is unprotected.  General advocacy appears OK.

More Victims of the 80's Child Abuse Panic

Younger readers will be forgiven for not fully understanding just how credulous the American public became during the late 80's and early 90's as the media, prosecutors, and various advocacy groups worked hard to convince us every school was a sort of Road-Warrior-like playground for child predators.  Adult after adult were convicted based on bizarre stories about ritual murder, sexually depraved clowns, and all kinds of other dark erotic nightmares.  In most cases there was little or no physical evidence -- only stories from children, usually coerced after numerous denials by "specialists."  These specialists claimed to be able to bring back repressed memories, but critics soon suspected they were implanting fantasies.

Scores of innocent people went to jail -- many still languish there, including targets of Janet Reno, who rode her fame from these high-profile false prosecutions all the way to the White House, and Martha Coakley, just missed parleying her bizarre prosecutions into a Senate seat  (Unbelievably, the Innocence Project, which does so much good work and should be working on some of Reno's victims, actually invited her on to their board).

Radley Balko has yet another example I was not familiar with.   The only thing worse than these prosecutions is just how viciously current occupants of the DA office fight to prevent them from being questioned or overturned.

I am particularly sensitive to this subject because I sat on just such a jury in Dallas around 1992.    In this case the defendant was the alleged victim's dad.  The initial accuser was the baby sitter, and red lights started going off for me when she sat in the witness box saying that she turned the dad into police after seeing another babysitter made a hero on the Oprah show.  The babysitter in my case clearly had fantasies of being on Oprah.  Fortunately, defense attorneys by 1992 had figured out the prosecution game and presented a lot of evidence against, and had a lot of sharp cross-examination of, the "expert" who had supposedly teased out the alleged victim's suppressed memories.

We voted to acquit in about an hour, and it only took that long because there were two morons who misunderstood pretty much the whole foundation of our criminal justice system -- they kept saying the guy was probably innocent but they just didn't want to take the risk of letting a child molester go.  Made me pretty freaking scared to every put my fate in the hands of a jury  (ironically the jury in the famous McMartin pre-school case was hung 10-2 in favor of acquittal, with two holdouts).

Anyway, one oddity we did not understand as a jury was that we never heard from the victim.  I supposed it was some kind of age thing, that she was too young to testify.  As it turns out, we learned afterwards that she did not testify for the prosecution because she spent most of her time telling anyone who would listen that her dad was innocent and the whole thing was made up by the sitter.   Obviously the prosecution wasn't going to call her, and her dad would not allow his attorneys to call her as a witness, despite her supportive testimony, because he did not want to subject his daughter to hostile cross-examination.  This is the guy the state wanted to prosecute -- he risked jail to spare his daughter stress, when in turn the state was more than happy to put that little girl through whatever it took to grind out a false prosecution.

update: This is a tragic and amazing recantation by a child forced to lie by prosecutors in one of these cases.  Very brief excerpt of a long article:

I remember feeling like they didn't pick just anybody--they picked me because I had a good memory of what they wanted, and they could rely on me to do a good job. I don't think they thought I was telling the truth, just that I was telling the same stories consistently, doing what needed to be done to get these teachers judged guilty. I felt special. Important....

I remember going in our van with all my brothers and sisters and driving to airports and houses and being asked if we had been [abused in] these places. I remember telling people [that the McMartin teachers] took us to Harry's Meat Market, and describing what I thought the market was like. I had never been in there before, and I was fairly certain I was going to get in trouble for what I was saying because it probably was not accurate. I imagined someone would say, "They don't have that kind of freezer there." And they did say that. But then someone said, "Well, they could have changed it." It was like anything and everything I said would be believed.

The lawyers had all my stories written down and knew exactly what I had said before. So I knew I would have to say those exact things again and not have anything be different, otherwise they would know I was lying. I put a lot of pressure on myself. At night in bed, I would think hard about things I had said in the past and try to repeat only the things I knew I'd said before.

Fact vs. Myth

I have this same problem all the time now in Arizona:

To understand how badly we're doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television"”positioned to be impossible to avoid watching"”began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.

But it isn't. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn't running wild and chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980.

The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990's at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.

Its almost impossible to convince folks that AZ is not in the middle of some sort of Road Warrior-style immigrant-led wave of violence.  In fact, our crime levels in AZ have steadily dropped for over a decade, in part because illegal immigrants trying to hang on to a job are the last ones to try to stir up trouble with the law (charts here, with update here)

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, "Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we're significantly down." Mr. Crump said Phoenix's most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona's major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn't have exact figures. [see charts above, these are continuation of decade-long trends]

But over Thanksgiving my niece visited from the Boston area for a national field hockey tournament and her teachers and coaches had carefully counselled them that they were  walking into a virtual anarchy, and kidnapping or murder would await any teen who wandered away from the group.