Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Quick Note: 5-4 Decisions and Equally Divided Votes Since 1946

Empirical SCOTUS notes 5-4 Decisions and Equally Divided Votes Since 1946 "This Term was nothing if not unique.  The Justices had to sort through a majority of the decisions with one Justice missing.  With a Court of eight, the Justices could not possibly come to 5-4 decisions.  The Supreme Court was officially set at the size of nine members in 1869 and Congress has not changed this number since that time.  This Term in the Supreme Court there were zero 5-4 split decisions, including the cases where Justice Scalia voted.  Some have speculated that this could be a unique occurrence; specifically a Term with nine Justices and no 5-4 votes."

Turns out it also happened in 1969, which the article doesn't note also had a vacant seat. Abe Fortas resigned May 14, 1969 and his replacement Harry Blackmun didn't start until June 9, 1970.

Monday, June 27, 2016

When the Eight-Member Supreme Court Avoids Deadlocks, It Leans Left

The New York Times writes When the Eight-Member Supreme Court Avoids Deadlocks, It Leans Left "The court issued liberal decisions in 56 percent of cases so far this term, according to a widely accepted standard developed by political scientists that considers signed decisions in argued cases. The share is only slightly lower than in the 2014-15 term, which had the highest share of liberal decisions since the court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s."

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

George Will Finally Realizes He and Republicans Don't Agree

'This Is Not My Party': George Will Goes from GOP to Unaffiliated. "Conservative columnist George Will told PJM he has officially left the Republican Party and urged conservatives not to support presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump even if it leads to a Democratic victory in the 2016 presidential election."

Sadly, he's probably still not going to convince anyone to join him. They may figure it out on their own, but he's still not influencing anyone.

Brexit FAQs: What Happens Next?

The Atlantic: Brexit FAQs: What Happens Next?. Some nice details like no the vote isn't not binding, but it looks like it's going to happen.

Then you get stupid things like this, Cornwall votes for Brexit then pleads to keep EU funding. “We will be insisting that Cornwall receives investment equal to that provided by the EU programme which has averaged £60m per year over the last ten years.”

AmericaBlog explains, Brexit is what happens when millennials don't vote.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit

Lots of articles today, too many of interest to link to. I read how it will be bad for everyone, scientists, young, bankers, automakers, David Cameron, the UK itself, etc. Here are a couple of others:

John Van Reenen on Vox, An expert sums up the economic consensus about Brexit. It’s bad.

John Harris in the guardian makes the case, 'If you've got money, you vote in ... if you haven't got money, you vote out'.

Kottke does nice job relating The Industrial Revolution, climate change, and Brexit.

I also liked Perry Metzger's tweet, "Event chain so far: 9/11 → Iraq War → Syrian Civil War → European immigration crisis → Brexit"

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On guns, stop talking about terrorism. Start talking about domestic violence.

Vox makes a lot of sense with, On guns, stop talking about terrorism. Start talking about domestic violence.

Mass shootings are so scary because they seem so unpredictable. They can happen anywhere and to anyone, and they are often carried out by men who have no criminal history that could have prevented them from buying a gun in the first place. But in fact, the majority of what could be called 'mass shootings' are all too predictable — and many victims are the women and children who find themselves entangled in the lives of violently abusive men.

More than half of mass shootings (defined as a shooting in which at least four people are killed with a gun) involve a current or former intimate partner or a family member. Most of the victims of those shootings, 81 percent, are women or children. And 70 percent of all mass shootings happen inside the home, not out in public. These shootings make the local news, but they are both so private and so sadly routine that they almost never get the massive national attention that rarer public shootings do."

So if we care about protecting victims, there’s already a lot of incentive to get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And indeed, there are already some laws in place to do this. Federal law prohibits the sale or possession of guns for anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, or anyone who is subject to a domestic violence restraining order. Some states have laws that allow or require law enforcement agents to seize any guns found at the scene of a domestic violence incident.

But not all states have the same laws, and federal law has significant limitations. Non-married partners who don’t live together are not protected, nor are family members other than children. It helps that federal law covers misdemeanors and restraining orders, since it’s difficult to get a felony conviction for domestic violence. But federal law only covers a full restraining order — and victims face the highest risk for violent retaliation from their abusers after an initial temporary restraining order is granted, and that comes before a full order.

Solar panels have gotten thinner than a human hair. Soon they’ll be everywhere.

Vox reports Solar panels have gotten thinner than a human hair. Soon they’ll be everywhere.

South Korean scientists have created solar PV cells that are 1 micrometer thick, hundreds of times thinner than most PV and half again as thin as other kinds of thin-film PV. (The research is in a paper just published in Applied Physics Letters.)

With cells this thin, solar PV can be integrated in all sorts of "wearables" — clothes, glasses, hats, or backpacks with solar cells integrated, continuously feeding power to our portable electronics. More to the point, PV could be integrated into just about anything.

EU referendum results map: live tracker

The Financial Times has a really nice page, EU referendum results map: live tracker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Occupy House

I love that Democrats are having sit-in on the House floor that's lasted almost 12 hours so far. Rep John Lewis (D-GA) I think started it, based on his old work from the civil rights movement in the 60s (read his comic books March books 1-3).

Paul Ryan had the CSPAN cameras turned off and Rep Scott Peters (D-CA) started streaming it it live over the Periscope app. An app that first came to some prominence so that people could live broadcast police abuse filmed by citizens (so that it wasn't just recorded to the phone which could be confiscated by the police). And C-SPAN quickly started broadcasting the periscope feed! I was annoyed that for most of the day the cable networks were ignoring it, instead talking about Trump the way they have every day for year.

Also I'm going to take some credit here. Peters was first broadcasting in portrait and about 10 mins after I tweeted him and commented on periscope to use landscape, he did. Also at one point another congressman sat down partially blocking the shot and stayed there for a few minutes. I commented to tell the guy to move and he did. I was watching all this on the C-SPAN periscope broadcast, and said it was fun telling the C-SPAN cameraman what to do having him do it!

To be clear, it's a stunt and a good one. The bills they're debating are just ok. Closing the gun show loophole is a good thing, they should also close the internet sale one. The #NoFlyNoBuy one is more problematic because the terrorist watch list is extra-judicial, meaning there's no transparency and no recourse if you're mistakingly put on it (and there are a few lists and as many as a million US citizens on it). It really shouldn't be used to keep people off planes but it could be useful if reformed. It's probably not suited to keep people from buying a gun, but if that law passed we would perhaps have a better shot at getting the list fixed. Maybe the NRA would lobby for this to protect the rights of their members who might find themselves on the list.

But still, even if a vote happens, these things are unlikely to pass, and the Dems know this. It's still a good stunt because they're putting the GOP on record as being against these simple provisions that most of the country is in favor of. These votes will be very useful during the upcoming election season. It's also nice to the see the Dems grow a pair and push for stuff they believe in. Representatives keep thanking Lewis for inspiring them, should have happened long ago. I'm hoping the Congressmen and women learn that it's better to be on the floor "debating" than sitting in cubicles making cold calls trying to raise money.

If you support this effort, call your representative, on the phone, an tell him or so.

House Democrats Stage a Sit-in on the House Floor on Gun Control

The Atlantic has some posts about House Democrats Stage a Sit-in on the House Floor on Gun Control. Rep John Lewis (D-GA) organized a sit-in on the House floor to get common sense gun control passes. Speaker Ryan had CSPAN turn off their cameras. Seems like a story right?

CNN, MSNBC and FNC aren't showing it. WTF?

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Why We Should Abolish the Electoral College

I came across this article from January Why We Should Abolish the Electoral College .

I knew their first two points, that voters in smaller states have more sway than those in larger states and that given safe states it turns the election into a contest among just 10 or so swing states. I also knew that someone could win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, as Bush did when he beat Gore in 2000. I didn't realize it was so skewed:

"A presidential candidate could be elected with as a little as 21.8% of the popular vote by getting just over 50% of the votes in DC and each of 39 small states. This is true even when everyone votes and there are only two candidates. In other words, a candidate could lose with 78.2% of the popular vote by getting just under 50% in small states and 100% in large states."

That's crazy. This is not how we should pick a president. Their last point I didn't know at all, that electors are not bound to vote based on their states vote.

While electors are generally extremely loyal to the party they align with, they don’t have to vote the way the people of their state instructed them to. In other words, just because a candidate won the popular vote in your state does not mean that your electors have to cast a vote for said candidate themselves. Electors that vote against the will of the people are called “faithless electors.”

As fairvote.org explains, “Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 157 faithless electors. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes. Three of the votes were not cast at all as three electors chose to abstain from casting their electoral vote for any candidate. The other 82 electoral votes were changed on the personal initiative of the elector.”

Twenty-nine states have legislation that penalizes faithless electors, though no faithless elector has ever been successfully prosecuted. 21 states do not mandate that an elector must vote for his or her party’s candidate.

While it doesn't come up often, it seems ridiculous that your vote isn't binding.

I found this while thinking about the Senate. I saw some article complain about not enough getting done when Obama had control of the both the House and the Senate and got annoyed because the person didn't realize or had forgotten that there was only a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for a couple of months and there was a lot of work to do already. And then I started to think of changing the filibuster rules because needing 60 votes to do anything is ridiculous. I thought that the better place for a conflict to be resolved was between Congress and the President rather than in one house. Perhaps we could tie changing the rules together. Make a filibuster rare (perhaps by returning to needing to actually stand and talk) and get rid of the electoral college and elect a president by popular vote. This way the Senate represents states, the House population by state and the president population nationwide. We still have to solve the gerrymandering problem in the House, but there are ways to do that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Odd SCOTUS Couples (and Trios)

Adam Feldman in Empirical SCOTUS wrote Odd Couples (and Trios). He tracks unusual combinations of justices in dissents this term. E.g.,

Now for one of the really intriguing combinations. In Bank Markazi v. Peterson, Justice Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion which Justice Sotomayor joined. This is a first for this combination that do not often align in their perspectives. In this case we do not see simultaneous dissents, but a single dissent where the two Justices agree in the rationale.

We see the favor repaid in Ocasio v. United States where Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Sotomayor dissented. Justice Thomas wrote one dissent, while Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that Chief Justice Roberts joined. For two Justices that so infrequently agree in dissent, these two cases present a possibility for a burgeoning voting relationship.

I wish he went into the rationales in the cases. Is there a legal principle that these two agree on? I'm also bothered by the use of "quite unique" but that's just me.

How America built itself on guns, then couldn't let go

Vox has a nice graphical explainer on How America built itself on guns, then couldn't let go.

I'm just sorry the left out the part that in the south, "well regulated militias" meant "slave patrols" and were necessary to prevent slave insurrections. The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery.

Donald Trump Is Broke

Kevin Drum yesterday on Donald Trump's terrible horrible, no good, very bad day, Donald Trump Is Broke "Today's big news is the overall implosion of the Donald Trump campaign. He's repeatedly melted down on the stump over the past month. He's trailing Hillary Clinton by a mile in the latest polls. He fired his campaign manager this morning. His ego apparently doesn't allow him to beg other people for money, so he's barely done any fundraising at all. The fight to stop him at the Republican convention now has the support of nearly 400 delegates. With the election only 20 weeks away, he still has virtually no staff. He's being hammered by negative advertising on TV and isn't doing anything to fight back. (So far he's run exactly zero ads.) Except for the personal meltdown stuff, all of this is basically a money problem. Trump doesn't have any."

As of 5/31, Trump had $1.3 million, Hillary had $40 million more. Also note, a lot of Trump's campaign expenses have gone to Trump organizations, Where is Donald Trump’s campaign money going? To Donald Trump.. In May, the campaign paid Trump businesses about $1 million. And note that much of the campaign's money was a loan from Trump, so he'll probably raise funds to pay himself back. Running for president as a business venture (more like a scam).

Utah v Strieff and Sotomayor's Dissent

Yesterday the Supreme Court announced a decision in Utah v. Strieff. It's a case about whether to surpress evidence a cop found while illegally searching a suspect. Since 1961's Mapp v. Ohio, the Exclusionary rule applies to evidence obtained from illegal searches, it is excluded from trial because including it (a) isnt' fair to the defendant and (b) encourages police to perform future illegal searches. There are some exceptions (as we'll see a lot). Here are the facts of this case from the Syllabus:

Narcotics detective Douglas Fackrell conducted surveillance on a South Salt Lake City residence based on an anonymous tip about drug activity. The number of people he observed making brief visits to the house over the course of a week made him suspicious that the occupants were dealing drugs. After observing respondent Edward Strieff leave the residence, Officer Fackrell detained Strieff at a nearby parking lot, identifying himself and asking Strieff what he was doing at the house. He then requested Strieff’s identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher, who informed him that Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. Officer Fackrell arrested Strieff, searched him, and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that it was derived from an unlawful investigatory stop.

So everyone agrees that the detective could talk to Strieff on the street, but this was more than that, note the word "detained". The police can't "stop" or "detain" you without probable cause. Thomas' opinion says "Officer Fackrell should have asked Strieff whether he would speak with him, instead of demanding that Strieff do so." Thomas called this "a good-faith mistake". He went on to apply three factors in a decision process to see if the evidence needed to be excluded and concludes it doesn't.

It's not surprising that Alito, Roberts and Kennedy joined this opinion. Conservatives in general don't like the exclusionary rule. If there's evidence you commited a crime the law should use it to prosecute you. Apparently they don't agree with the idea of encouraging the police with incentives to not break the law. Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg dissented. I don't know why Breyer joined the majority in this, in the past he's supported the exclusionary rule.

So both Kagan and Sotomayor argued against the majority's logic. The opinion and two dissents are short, 31 pages in all (including the Syllabus). Read those or Orin Kerr's excellent SCOTUSBlog post. But what is getting the post press is Sotomayor's "blistering dissent". This is referring to the last section, which is powerfully written (perhaps moreso after making it through Thomas' boring prose). Scalia would approve (though he clearly would have voted with the majority). Here is the last section of Sotomayor's dissent with the references turned into the best links I could find. The referenced cases are mostly Wikipedia pages, so you can find a summary about them.

Writing only for myself, and drawing on my professional experiences, I would add that unlawful “stops” have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name. This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.

Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more. This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. Whren v. United States (1996). That justification must provide specific reasons why the officer suspected you were breaking the law, Terry, but it may factor in your ethnicity, United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, (1975), where you live, Adams v. Williams, (1972), what you were wearing, United States v. Sokolow, (1989), and how you behaved, Illinois v. Wardlow, (2000). The officer does not even need to know which law you might have broken so long as he can later point to any possible infraction—even one that is minor, unrelated, or ambiguous. Devenpeck v. Alford, (2004); Heien v. North Carolina, (2014).

The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. See Epp, Pulled Over. The officer may next ask for your “consent” to inspect your bag or purse without telling you that you can decline. See Florida v. Bostick, (1991). Regardless of your answer, he may order you to stand “helpless, perhaps facing a wall with [your] hands raised.” Terry. If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “‘feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.’ ”.

The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.” Atwater v. Lago Vista, (2001). At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington; Maryland v. King, (2013). Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check. Chin, The New Civil Death, (2012); see J. Jacobs, The Eternal Criminal Record (2015); Young & Petersilia, Keeping Track, (2016). And, of course, if you fail to pay bail or appear for court, a judge will issue a warrant to render you “arrestable on sight” in the future. A. Goffman, On the Run (2014).

This case involves a suspicionless stop, one in which the officer initiated this chain of events without justification. As the Justice Department notes, supra, at 8, many innocent people are subjected to the humiliations of these unconstitutional searches. The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner. See M. Gottschalk, Caught 119–138 (2015). But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95–136 (2010). For generations, black and brown parents have given their children “the talk”— instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them. See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

I dissent.

Apropos to this, yesterday I saw this story, Boston Students Learn To Exercise Their Rights. 8th graders know the Miranda speech from TV but are being taught what it actually means.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hello, TensorFlow!

Aaron Schumacher walks through using Google's open sourced machine learning library in Hello, TensorFlow!. Python knowledge assumed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guns

I don't really know what the answer is. We have a lot of guns in this country of all different types. AR-15s get a lot of press but handguns are used in far more crimes and have more restrictions on them than long guns because they're concealable. But here are some articles I found interesting recently.

There are lots of statistics you'll hear. Be sure to notice the difference between gun deaths and gun homicides, because suicide by gun is very common in America and for some reason doesn't get people all worked up. I think we need right to die laws. There was an older visualization that said More Americans killed by guns since 1968 than in all U.S. wars. That includes suicides, but they recently updated it and now point out, More Americans have died from guns since 2001 than in Korean and Vietnam wars and break out homicide, suicides, accidents, etc.

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The New York Times points out, Compare These Gun Death Rates: The U.S. Is in a Different World.

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I liked this article by Jon Stokes, Why I Need an AR-15. He wrote a long Wired piece on the AR-15 after Newtown. He explains things for non-gun owners and points out that the AR-15 is used so frequently because it's the most popular gun in America, because it is easily customized to a lot of different purposes and is light and easy to use.

The AR-15 is less a model of rifle than it is an open-source, modular weapons platform that can be customized for a whole range of applications, from small pest control to taking out 500-pound feral hogs to urban combat. Everything about an individual AR-15 can be changed with aftermarket parts — the caliber of ammunition, recoil, range, weight, length, hold and grip, and on and on.

In a the pre-AR-15 era, if you wanted a gun for shooting little groundhogs, a gun for shooting giant feral hogs, and a gun for home defense, you’d buy three different guns in three different calibers and configurations. With the AR platform, a person with absolutely no gunsmithing expertise can buy one gun and a bunch of accessories, and optimize that gun for the application at hand.

Indeed, anyone who tells you that the AR-15 is bad for hunting and home defense has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, because by definition an AR is a gun that can be exquisitely adapted for those niches and many others.

If you’re serious about banning guns, you can talk about banning all semi-automatic guns, or about restricting guns to a list of approved models or actions. This is may not be politically realistic at the moment, but at least it’s consistent and rational. But talk of banning just the “AR-15” — as if that’s a specific model of gun that you can just up and ban — is technologically infeasible and ultimately counter-productive.

Nevertheless, oddly, the New York Times reports In Newtown Families’ Suit Against Maker of the AR-15 Rifle, Surprising Progress.

The 10 Newtown plaintiffs argue that the AR-15 is a weapon of war – its cousin, the M-16, was the rifle of choice in Vietnam — and therefore should never have been marketed to civilians. They say, in effect, that the availability of a high-velocity weapon capable of inflicting such rapid carnage constitutes such negligence.

“The novelty of the approach is that it doesn’t depend upon an argument that the manufacturer knows that a particular shooter is a high-risk buyer,” said Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, who has followed the Newtown litigation. “The novelty is that it substitutes the general public for a particular individual.”

Eighteen months after it was first filed, the lawsuit — naming the gun manufacturer, Remington; the wholesaler; and a local retailer — is still in the early stages. But the case has not yet been tossed out of court. Even some plaintiffs were startled when Judge Barbara N. Bellis of State Superior Court, who has yet to rule on a final effort to quash the case, set a trial date — two years from now — and ordered the defendants to disclose marketing materials and other internal documents.

I have my doubts that that suit will result in anything. Daniel Hayes has a more practical solution, I Am An AR-15 Owner And I’ve Had Enough.

See, this is the dirty secret that gun owners know. We know that, for the most part, non-gun owners don’t understand guns. We know that you don’t know how to deter these shootings. We know that non-gun owners will call for psych evals (the government can’t force people to go to the doctor to exercise a constitutional right), insurance (you can’t pass a law that alienates the poor from their constitutional rights), confiscation (who wants to be the first in line to confiscate 350 million weapons even if Congress did repeal the 2nd Amendment). We know that it is the things that cannot happen that will be the things gun control advocates will call for.

But there’s one thing that would put a dent in the number of mass shootings today and that’s restricting magazine sizes for the AR-15 and other semiautomatic rifles to 10 rounds. No more. Ten.

That requirement would have meant that the Orlando shooter would have had to carry 20 magazines on him and reload twenty times during his rampage to fire the 200+ rounds he fired. Instead he had several thirty round magazines and was able to afford himself both the time and space to carry out his murders. He was able to push people away from him with long bursts of gunfire and barely give his victims a chance to take that split second, when he was reloading, to leap on him and tear him apart.

I own an AR-15 and I am not ashamed of that. I am a Christian and I’m not ashamed of that. I have worked for the U.S. government overseas in Iraq and I’m not ashamed of that. I hunt and edited an entire book on the gun control debate and I’m not ashamed of that. But what I am ashamed of is the unwillingness on the part of so many gun owners to make this tiny concession that they know would have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of mass killings. What I am ashamed of is the press’s unwillingness to report that this is the change we need to make. What I am ashamed of is that gun rights advocates know that this change would cost lawful owners little and would deter the insane or fanatical.

Of course there are already plenty of large magazines out there and people have been making them on 3D printers for a few years now. I've seen a few of articles on how easy it is to buy a gun, of course it's legal so you'd expect it to be, but here are a couple saying perhaps it's too easy...

It’s easier to buy an assault weapon than open a bank account. Really..

Buying an assault rifle is easy. You need not show formal identification, submit to a record check, experience any delay, provide a valid address or permit a record to be kept of your purchase. If you buy in the “shadow gun system” at a gun show, there are no requirements at all.

Opening even the most basic bank account is far more arduous. The process begins with a rigorous ID check. You must provide an address that will be checked out, as will the source of the funds deposited in your account. Depending on how risky you appear, there may be long delays, and the bank may insist on visiting your domicile. If you are not opening an account for an individual but for a small business, the process is far more involved. An elaborate regulatory system watches “the shadows” so you can’t store your money in a nonbank financial institution without being monitored.

Vox found this old Real Sports story from 2014, This 13-year-old tried to buy porn, lottery tickets, and a gun. Guess which one he got.

I get that at a gun show it's people selling from individual to another and perhaps it's harder for them to know all the rules compared to a licensed dealer, but this shouldn't be hard to fix. A friend pointed out to me a couple of years ago that the argument about how would they do a check is invalid because they all quickly adopted to taking payments via Square. Isn't technology wonderful? And really I think it should be a service the gun show itself offers. If you want to buy, go to a centralized place where you're checked and given a wrist band and then individual dealers can just look for the band, just like bartenders at some clubs. Now I've never been to a gun show, for all I know this is what they do, but it didn't appear so in the above video.

But even if we add background checks or ban "assault rifles" (however you define them) or semi-automatics or extended clips, we have the problem that too many of these weapons are already out there. You need some kind of Gun buyback program and those have shown mixed success, but perhaps if it were national it would work better. Pro-gun people love to cite that Chicago has strict gun laws and high gun homicides, but they never mention the reason is that most of the guns used in homicides were bought just over the border in Indiana. There are probably about 5 million AR-15 type weapons owned by Americans now, a buy back would be expensive but doable.

Regardless if we're going to evaluate any of these ideas we need better research. As we learned a few mass shootings ago, the government doesn't keep nation-wide records on gun deaths (homicides or suicides). The media has started doing so, but the FBI or someone should be doing this. After we have some numbers we could starting doing some research. But the CDC is essentially based from researching gun deaths.

The story about how the CDC ban on gun research came about is really chilling. Pro-gun people often say that there should be research but the Center for Disease Control shouldn't do it is just an excuse. As pro-gun people point out, there's a big difference between gun homicides and gun violence, that a lot of our gun problem is due to suicides. The original study that led to the ban looked into some of that (though it found a 3x increase in both homicides and suicides in houses with guns). That scared the NRA and here we are. The CDC is a good place to do research, they do research on the health affects of cars and toys and other things, why not guns?

I don't really get why another agency (ATF or DHS) doesn't fund the research (though it seems that the ATF does gather trace data, they are not allowed to share it with anyone). The article suggests the CDC example has put off any other agency from funding the research in such a politically charged area. But the way you know it's just an excuse, is the people who say the CDC shouldn't do it, never suggest (or fund) someone else to do it.

There have been some studies. A Harvard study found For every gun used in self-defense, six more are used to commit a crime.

Hemenway found that not only are self-defense gun uses rare -- people defended themselves with a gun in roughly 0.9 percent of crimes committed over this period -- but in many cases they don't lead to better outcomes for crime victims. "The likelihood of injury when there was a self-defense gun use (10.9%) was basically identical to the likelihood of injury when the victim took no action at all (11.0%)," Hemenway and co-author Sara J. Solnik found.

Looking at what happened after people took action to prevent a crime, Hemenway and Solnik found that people were far better off either running away, or calling the cops if possible, rather than attempting to stop a crime with a gun. "Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not," they write.

The use of guns were, however, were linked to better outcomes in certain circumstances. In cases of robbery and burglary, victims who didn't try to stop the crime lost property nearly 85 percent of the time. Victims who attacked the intruders or threatened them with a gun had a better outcome, losing property 39 percent of the time. But those are slightly worse odds than for victims who fought back with other weapons -- this latter group lost property 35 percent of the time.

Vox describes The biggest questions about gun violence that researchers would still like to see answered.

There are a few big things we know about gun violence in America: The US has way more guns per capita than any other country. It has far more gun homicides per capita than other wealthy countries. States with more guns have more gun deaths. And people with guns in their homes are more likely to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.

But just as importantly, there’s a lot that researchers still don't know. There’s frustratingly little evidence on what policies work best to reduce gun violence. (Australia saw a drop in homicides and suicides after confiscating everyone’s guns in the 1990s, but that would likely never happen here.) Experts still don’t have a great sense of what impact stricter background checks have, or how the "informal" gun trade operates, or even how people use guns in crimes.

So after a 15-hour Senate filibuster forced Republicans to agree to a gun control vote (during which 48 people were shot) I'm not expecting much. I'm actually expecting worse, since After mass shootings, Republicans make it easier for people to get guns. Since that's been happening maybe someone will correlate it with the fact that FBI: Active shooter incidents have soared since 2000.

Vox explains This is the gun bill Senate Democrats spent 15 hours filibustering to bring to a vote. The Dems was a federal veto over purchases by anyone on the terrorist watch list (now or in the past 5 years). That seems a bit broad, I'd only like that if the watch list itself was more transparent (which it should be anyway). Republicans came up with a completely unworkable proposal, "To stop someone from buying a gun, the government has to prove in court that there’s "probable cause" the gun buyer will commit an act of terrorism, according to Sarah Trumble of Third Way. Under Cornyn’s proposal, the government would also only have 72 hours to file the paperwork to do so." As if that could ever happen. Sen Toomey (R-PA) has a third proposal, the FISA court has to approve a list of names from the government to block gun sales too. That does add judicial oversight, but is the FISA court going to investigate a list of hundreds of thousands of names to check each one?

I've seen a few friends post on Facebook about this and then the comments begin. Pro-gun people point out all the flaws in the arguments and never suggest any better solutions. Or they say a particular proposal won't solve the problem and a holistic approach is needed but don't offer ideas or even find fault with the party that blocks any research to gather data or evaluate possible ideas. So here's mine. We should roll out some sensible restrictions, nation wide and see where it gets us.

  • Allow the CDC or some government agency to gather statistics on gun sales, use, and crime and to fund research about that data.
  • Ban magazines larger than 10 rounds in long guns and hand guns, it's something
  • Close the gun show loophole; require background checks for all non-family purchases
  • Fund better investigations into so called Bad Apple Gun Dealers. Based on 1998 data about 90% of guns used in crimes can be traced to about 5% of dealers. Because the ATF can't share gun trace info it's impossible to get more recent data.
  • Repeal the Tiahrt Amendment to allow ATF gun trace data to be shared for research
  • Crack down on dealers that allow obvious straw purchases
  • Make the various terrorist watch lists more consistent and add some due process so non-terrorists can get themselves off it.
  • Figure out something to do to people on terrorist watch lists who try to buy a gun. That might be delay them, watch them, ban them, I'm not sure but something should happen in this circumstance and law enforcement should be able to figure out what.
  • Require proof of gun safety training before buying a gun. This varies by state today, enforce some federal standards and probably licensing. I haven't looked into details but some states require license to purchase and others to own and others to carry with various renewals required. I'm not sure of the details but I think it should regulated like drivers licenses are.
  • Research ways to prevent toddlers using guns since in 2015 more Americans were shot and killed by toddlers than were killed by terrorists

FYI, current gun laws are a bit confusing but wikipedia describes Gun law in the United States and Title II weapons. As near as I can tell fully-automatic weapons and parts to make a weapon be fully automatic (as well as other things like silencers, short-barreled shotguns and explosives) must be registered with the government, are taxed and can't be sold across state lines except by licensed dealers. Some states (NY and CA) have banned ownership of Title II weapons outright. Apparently the ATF has been known to abuse their power and harass otherwise law abiding gun owners on technicalities. The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) addressed the abuses and also banned the sale of machine guns made after 1986 to civilians. Seems to me angle to explore is adding some definition of "assault rifle" whether that's semi-automatic rifles, or AR-15 style weapons or some other definition to Title II coverage with a similar style of grandfathering.

Update: Legality of the AR-15 in other nations based on Wikipedia and here which has a nice table at the end. In general in the EU you must be over 18, pass a background check, have a valid reason and register all guns with state.

CountryStatus
Australiabasically illegal
Austrialicense with reason, psych test, gun safety class
Belgiumlegal with license
Canadalegal, classified as restricted, but only in home and during travel to/from range, background check, magazine limits, I think still registrations but might have been eliminated in 2012
Czech Republiclegal w/ clean criminal record, no history of mental illness, no DUI in past three years, passing exam
Finlandlegal with license for hunting or sports
Finlandlegal with reason, magazine limited to 2
Francelegal with hunting or sports shooting license
Germanylegal but tough since 2009, need reason, clean criminal background, psych exam, gun basics course, some magazine limitations, year waiting period, registration, police inspections
Hungarylegal with police permission, psych test, and club membership
Irelandlegal with license which police can deny
Italylegal with license
Japanbasically illegal
Netherlandslegal with license for hunting or sport except felons, addicts, mentally ill, limit of 5, police inspect annually
New ZealandLegal, magazine limit to 7 w/o military license
NorwayLegal, with license, course, exam, police can inspect storage, only one gun per calibur allowed
Polandlegal with license, criminal/medical/psych checks, exam
Russialegal with license, magazine limit to 10, other limitations
South Africalegal with license
South Koreaillegal, hunting and sport licenses but firearms stored at police station
Spainlegal, magazine limit to 4, calibur limits might mean AR15 is illegal?
Swedenlegal for competitive use, registration, transport limits, no carry
Switzerlandlegal since everyone is in militia, ammunition limited, registration, transportation and carry restrictions
United Kingdombasically illegal
United Stateslegal with background check, regulated in 6 states

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Designing Dialogue

Nice video essay explaining what good dialog does. (Spoilers for Reservoir Dogs)

Greenland Was Hotter Than New York City Last Week

Grist reports Greenland was hotter than New York City last week

The island experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded on June 9, when air temperature in Nuuk, the capital city, soared to 75 degrees. While that may seem like no sweat, the average high for this time of year between 1961 and 1990 was just 44 degrees, and even Greenland’s hottest month rarely broke 50.

All this hot air caused Greenland’s sea ice, which is the size of Texas, to begin thawing nearly six weeks before normal this year. The rapid melting of over 12 percent of the ice sheet was so unusual in April that Danish Meteorological Institute scientist Peter Langen said they “had to check that our models were still working properly.”

A melted Greenland means the oceans rise 20 feet.

On Hillary and Her Families Money

I had a conversation with an old friend, who differs with me politically but it's makes for an interesting conversation. He's equally bothered by both leading candidates. "Ones a clown and the other is an unethical crook". So we agree on the clown part and I asked about his rationale for the other. There were a few other points but one was about huge speaking fees and donations from foreign officials while she was in office. I knew a little about these accusations but not a lot, so I spent a fair amount of time today reading about the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's income. I'm not too bothered by it.

There are a few stories about the Foundation being a "slush fund" for them Charity watchdog: Clinton Foundation a ‘slush fund’, but that's easily disproved, Where Does Clinton Foundation Money Go?

They've definitely raise a lot of money over their careers both for their elections and the foundation. This WP article from last November sums that up nicely: 41 years. $3 billion. Inside the Clinton donor network.

This one from a few months prior talks about how the Foundation came about: The inside story of how the Clintons built a $2 billion global empire

This Fortune article put things in some perspective for me, For Hillary Rodham Clinton, Politics Is a Money-Making 'Family Business' - Fortune.

So until recently they didn't make much. He was in public service, $35K for AK governor in 1991 and she was a lawyer on a board or two making under $200K. Nice, but not the super rich. And they didn't make much while he was in the White House (and they racked up legal bills). But then she went into the Senate (an avg professional salary) and he wrote a book. Then he started the foundation and I've heard him talk about the impetus, that he could use his fame to connect the capable (wealthy but also with special skills) with the needy. By most accounts, that's a fairly new idea and it's been impactful. And in spite of the accusations, they seem to spending the money effectively, not on themselves. She's released all her tax returns and information for decades, that's pretty open.

And the thing that this article pointed out for me, sure, they got money from speaking fees and books, and while it seems exorbitant, they are extraordinary people, but they also didn't invest the money in specific companies or even industries. Their wealth is mostly in index funds and insurance policies. Hillary Clinton Net Worth 2016. They seem to have just two homes, one in Chapaqua worth under $2m and one in DC worth about $7m. While that's certainly very nice, it's what I'd expect of ex-presidents and far less than what I'd expect of someone using their reputation to live the high life (compare it to say Trump or even Romney).

To be sure, there are a few cases of donations to the Foundation that suspiciously match up to some policy stuff while she was Sec of State. Great, investigate them fully and see what comes up. But so far, it doesn't feel to me like a pattern of people using their public service roles to enrich their personal lives.

I'm less bothered by her speaking fees than I am by her big-money funded campaign, but given our current election system, that doesn't rise to the level of "unethical crook". Bernie might think so, and i think his stance is clearly more ethical on the matter (and Lessig's too). I am a little bothered by the idea of her taking in large speaking fees after being Sec of State knowing then that she was going to run for president (or at least consider doing so). But I don't think it changed her positions on things, everyone in 2008 already thought she was the candidate of big money.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

After massacre, Trump speech takes 2016 race in a scary direction

Steve Benen on Trump's speech, After massacre, Trump speech takes 2016 race in a scary direction:

The falsehoods in his remarks came so often and so quickly, it was enough to push professional fact-checkers into retirement. Trump said the Orlando shooter was ‘born in Afghan,’ for example, which is both untrue – the gunman was born in New York, not far from where Trump was born – and bizarre given that ‘Afghan’ is not a place.   Then again, for a presidential candidate who believes people born in Indiana are ‘Mexican,’ perhaps this wasn’t too surprising.   But this was just the tip of a mendacious iceberg. Trump lied about the number of refugees coming to the United States. He lied about the vetting process for refugees. He lied about NATO’s counter-terrorism efforts. He lied about Clinton’s approach to gun reforms. He lied about the Obama administration’s policy on intelligence gathering."

and as he says, that's not the scary part...

Apple News

Apple's developer conference is this week and yesterday was their much anticipated Keynote. Unfortunately they announced no new hardware, so that was frustrating (I'm waiting for a next generation watch and laptop). They did announce lots of updates to all their software platforms. There are plenty of articles online so I don't need to repeat them, but I'll say a few things.

watchOS 3 seems to be a significant change to address many of the issues of a confusing UI and slowness. It's not clear what the battery life implications will be but I suspect the next watch hardware update will improve the battery life. Like with other hardware, they'll probably just make sure the longevity stays the same, power for all day usage and needing to recharge each night.

tvOS got a few updates but the big thing seems to be single signon, because activating each app via an onscreen keyboard seems to be such a pain.

OS X got renamed macOS and the update is about connecting to other apple devices better. You can automatically unlock your mac with your apple watch. There's a universal clipboard so you can cut and paste between devices. Apple Pay is enabled on the web and if you buy something on your mac in safari, you verify it by using TouchID on your iPhone. That's all stuff that's nice to have and will be slick if it all works smoothly. Siri also comes to the mac and got a lot of updates in things it knows about (files). As much as I love Quicksilver, I'm looking forward to trying Siri for many things like controling iTunes or looking things up. There also making some changes to files leveraging iCloud. Your desktop is shared among macs and iOS, that could be nice (and incentive to keep your desktop clean). More concerning is they'll have a way to automatically move unused files to iCloud to save space (and I guess do some cleanup). I assume this can be turned off.

One thing that surprised me was the applause for picture-in-picture video support not the mac, as if it hasn't had windows since the beginning. But the demo was cool, dragging a video out of a browser to it's own undecorated window.

iOS got more changes than the others. The lock screen and control center got updates to make them more useful, from what I understand this is to catchup to Android. Music, News and Maps got a redesign. Messages got a lot of new features, some of which look interesting (rich links) and others will make your conversations look more silly (more emojis, stickers, bubble effects). Siri is getting smarter and is being opened to third party apps (Messaging, VoIP, payments, ride booking, photo search, workouts). Photos is getting some AI smarts to recognize and group photos and apparently it's on the device to avoid privacy concerns.

In news after the keynote it seems macOS is finally getting a new modern file system APFS to replace HFS+.

Apple File System is a new, modern file system for iOS, OS X, tvOS and watchOS. It is optimized for Flash/SSD storage and features strong encryption, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning for files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, atomic safe-save primitives, and improved file system fundamentals.

It will just be a preview in Sierra and probably released in the next version of things. Apparently it will just switch your system over to the new system, magically.

Trump lies about Syrian refugees, Hillary, Obama, and more in anti-terror speech.

Fred Kaplan in Slate breaks down Trump lies about Syrian refugees, Hillary, Obama, and more in anti-terror speech..

Friday, June 10, 2016

Movie Written by Algorithm Turns Out to be Hilarious and Intense (or something)

Someone took the screenplays of many sci-fi films and fed them to a neural network and generated a screenplay for a short film. Then they filmed it. Ars Technica writes Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense. I found it incoherent and unengaging. If this is state of the art, I'm not concerned about AIs taking over the world any time soon.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Thanks to Obama, the rich paid more in taxes in 2013 than they did in 1980

Dylan Matthews points out Thanks to Obama, the rich paid more in taxes in 2013 than they did in 1980 "President Obama has raised taxes on the richest 1 percent of Americans so much that they actually paid more in 2013 than they did in 1980, before the Reagan and Bush tax cuts and the huge recent increase in inequality."

Averagetaxrates

So what happened? Two things, mainly. First, Obama used the expiring Bush tax cuts as leverage to force Congress to accept higher tax rates for the rich. Couples with more than $450,000 in taxable income faced a top rate of 39.6 percent, not 35 percent, and the top capital gains rate went up from 15 percent to 20 percent; income taxes were back to where they were for the rich under Clinton.

Second, 2013 was the first year that many of the taxes in the Affordable Care Act took effect, including a 3.8 percent surtax on investment income (including capital gains) and a 0.9 percent increase in the Medicare payroll tax, only applying to income above $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples. The expiration of the Social Security payroll tax holiday, in effect since 2011, also played a role, but a comparatively small one.