I Voted (Again)

I live in a Denver City Council District that had a runoff election this year (District 7).  Ballots went out about a week ago by mail, and must be received back by June 2, 2015 at 7 p.m.

My wife and I got ours in last night.  The runoff election ballot is much easier to deal with as there is only one seat at issue with just two candidates, both of whom have bombarded us with fliers.

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Her Royal Highness Princess . . .

When the name on your birth certificate begins with the four words in the title of this post, you can be pretty sure that your life is going to be good.

Incidentally, she is also currently fourth in line for the throne, quite an accomplishment for someone who isn’t potty trained yet.  In the United States, that spot in the Presidential succession belongs to Secretary of State and former Presidential candidate John Kerry.

Third in line to the British throne is His Royal Highness Prince George, who is not yet preschool aged.  The comparable post in the U.S. Presidential succession is held by Senator Orrin Hatch, a grumpy seventy-one year old man from Utah.

Then again, the U.S. has never had to dip further the the first place spot in the line of succession (Vice President) its entire history since 1776, and there are two adults: Prince Charles and Prince William, in line before Prince William’s children.

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British Statutes Worth Replicating

The British “Unfair Contract Terms Act of 1977” makes contract terms, that purport to waive liability for one’s own negligence and the negligence of one’s own agents and employees that causes death or personal injury, void as a matter of law.  The full text of the statute, with separate British and Scottish provisions, is found here.

It also prohibits waivers of a variety of implied contractual warranties in sales by businesses to consumers.

It also limits terms designed to limit liability for misrepresentations to “reasonable” limitations.

These bounds are further expanded by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations of 1999, that, among other things, interprets all ambiguities in business agreements with consumers against the business.  This statute overlaps with the 1977 Act and implements certain similar EU directives.

By comparison, it is usually possible in U.S. law to waive liability for negligence (although not gross negligence, recklessness or intentional conduct), to waive implied contractual warranties, and to agree to remove the presumption that contracts are interpreted against the drafter.

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The Value of Good Manners

My wife sometimes works as a “brand ambassador” which is a title that covers a multitude of sins.  One of the big indicators of how much a particular job will pay is whether the job requires someone who can demonstrate good manners when dealing with upper middle class clientele.

The cutoff in Denver to make it reliably likely that an agency hiring brand ambassadors will get a sufficient number of applicants with the ability to show up on time and demonstrate good manners is about $20 to $25 per hour (for independent contractors).

Thus, simply a capacity to show up on time, well groomed, dressed as required for the event, and to demonstrate good manners in dealing with the public, is worth about two and a half to four times the minimum wage.

Apparently, basic social capital is in surprisingly short supply.

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Guns Make Deaths More, Not Less Likely

There is a widespread scientific consensus supported by solid empirical research that the self-defense benefits of gun possession are greatly outweighed by the elevated risk of suicide, of being a homicide victim, and of accidental death that come with gun possession in the context of ordinary American life.  Consider the following results of surveys of nearly complete sample of published, active academic researchers in this area:

[H]aving a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide (84% agree) a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).

Now, it is obviously not true that possession of a gun is riskier than not possessing a gun in all circumstances.  For example, nobody doubts that a soldier in a battle in a war zone is better off with a gun.  So, surely, it a police officer responding to a crime where armed criminals are present.  But, it is very easy to overestimate the benefits of a gun for self-defense, which must be quite extreme to overcome the risks associated with gun possession.

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Fast Track Authority For Trans Pacific Partnership Defeated

I’m feeling a bit sheepish.  For the first time in a couple of years that I write to my Senator, Democrat Michael Bennet (from Colorado), to oppose the Fast Track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a position I haven’t waivered from holding.

But, just after sending off my missive, I learn that the U.S. Senate already voted to reject Fast Track authority (or strictly speaking, voted to force debate in the face of a filibuster threat made by Senate Democrats) two hours earlier, by a vote of 52-45, in a case where 60 votes were required to debate the proposal.

The initial story from the Denver Post disappointingly doesn’t say how he voted.  He joined a bipartisan majority to advance the bill from the Senate Finance Committee to the full Senate for consideration last month.  I had to got to Daily Kos (which is reporting a 53-45 vote) to find out that “All but one Democrat—Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware—opposed the motion to proceed with debate on the bill.”

Thus, Bennet voted against cloture, despite his earlier vote in favor of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee.  Good for him.  Despite the fact that I know by definition that he didn’t listen to my vote for reasons that are entirely my fault, he did listen to other constituents in his base.

Of course, the oddest part of this picture is that a united front of Democrats have to unite against a Democratic President to achieve their objective.  President Obama has been particularly tone deaf on this issue.

There are basically two kinds of knocks against the TPP.

One is process oriented.  The negotiations have been conducted in secret, except for panels of consultants, about five hundred in all, chosen by the administration and mostly made up of executives of big businesses and corporate lobbyists and sworn to secrecy themselves.  Senators have access to the drafts but are also sworn to secrecy. Fast Track authority on the TPP would allow corporate interests to achieve legislative policy gains that they could not have achieved through the ordinary legislative process in a dozen member countries including our own.

The other is substance oriented.  Rather than merely reducing tariffs and quotas, the TPP imposes substantive economic regulatory stances in a wide range of areas from monetary policy, to labor and environmental regulations, to intellectual property, and more, and appears to vest the ability to order national governments to change their current regulations to super-national arbitration bodies chosen in ways that are not disclosed.  This is a huge amount of substantive economic policy to put in stone, at home and abroad, without full disclosure and democratic participation in the process of making it, and the groups involved in the drafting process don’t leave the general public with good cause to believe that those substantive choices are ones that they would agree with, on average.

For example, the TPP appears to favor very strong intellectual property regimes, when the emerging consensus is that the economy would be better off in many circumstances if we moved in the other direction and weakened excessively harsh intellectual property laws.  Intellectual property laws are also often used in Asia as tools to prevent free access to ideas and to suppress political dissent.

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Puerto Rico As A Natural Experiment

Puerto Rico provides a natural experiment for a variety of economic and immigration theories, because it has had a profoundly different legal history than the rest of Latin America in terms of its relationship with the United States for more than a century.

Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has floated the idea of Puerto Rican statehood early in his campaign.


Puerto Rico is organized as a “Commonwealth” within the United States.  This means that, like other U.S. territories, it has democratic self-government, but it has no say in national elections, yet is subject to national laws except where Congress chooses to make an exception.

The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898, and has retained a relationship with it similar to the status quo for this Commonwealth that now has 3.62 million people in the Caribbean since about 1900, when it was granted democratic self-government.  Puerto Rico retains a Spanish language as the dominant language and an associated Latin American culture.

Puerto Rico is in an immigration union with the United States and about 4.6 million people who identified as Puerto Ricans lived in the United States as of the 2010 census.  But, a little less than a third of that population was born in Puerto Rico.  Put another way, about two-thirds of the people born in Puerto Rico live there today, while a third have migrated to somewhere in the United States.  Growth in the existing Puerto Rican population of the United States (outside Puerto Rico), rather than migration from Puerto Rico, has accounted for most of the growth in the Puerto Rican population in the U.S. since at least 1980.

About a third of the people in the United States who identify as Puerto Rican live in the New York City metropolitan area.  About 1.5% of the U.S. outside Puerto Rico identifies as Puerto Rican, predominantly in the Northeast, Florida (4.5%), Hawaii (3.2%) and the Chicago and Cleveland metropolitan areas.  Puerto Ricans make up no more than 0.9% of the population of any state outside the Northeast, Florida, Hawaii and Illinois (1.4%) (which is highly concentrated in the Chicago, whose city proper is home to more than half of the Puerto Ricans in Illinois and where Puerto Ricans make up 3.8% of the total population).  Cleveland proper is 7.4% Puerto Rican and is home to more than 30% of the Puerto Ricans in Ohio (0.8%).

The non-U.S. born population of Puerto Rico in 2010 was 2.9%, less than all U.S. states except North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and New Orleans (South Carolina and Maine are tied).  This is despite the fact that Puerto Rico would naively, seem to be a natural destination for Latin American immigrants, since moving there involves far less cultural change.  States with large Puerto Rican populations almost all also have large percentages of foreign born persons.

Mexico is the dominant source of foreign born persons in many U.S. states (especially in the West, Midwest and South) but accounts for only 2.5% of the foreign born population of Puerto Rico.  In the year 2000, there were about 9 times as many foreign born Mexicans in the United States as there were Puerto Rican born Puerto Ricans in the United States.  Mexico has a population of about 120.29 million people (33 times as great as Puerto Rico).

Puerto Rico is largely free of U.S. federal income taxation, although they are part of the federal Social Security and Medicare system.  They do not receive many of the federally funded welfare benefits, however.  In the big picture, two of the main federal programs that Puerto Rico does not fund, but arguably benefits from, are national defense and interest of the national debt.

Essentially, Puerto Rico satisfies the converse of the “no taxation without representation” motto, not paying tax, but not receiving much representation either.  If federal income taxes were applied to Puerto Rico, however, it would generate little income and perhaps even a net bonus to Puerto Rico, because it is much less affluent than any U.S. state.  According to the 2015 World Almanac, Mississippi’s per capita personal income is $34,478; Puerto Rico’s is $14,905.

In a non-binding referendum in 2012, 46% of Puerto Ricans favored the status quo, and when asked what change they would like if the status quo was changed, statehood was twelve times more popular than independence (61% to 5%) while the balance favored greater autonomy within a Commonwealth-like structure.

Lessons Learned

1.  Echoing the experience of the immigration union in the European Union, substantial disparities in personal income (more than 2-1 compared to least affluent U.S. states) has not produced a tidal wave of migration to the U.S., although it has produced migration levels greater than in any country with limited immigration.  The rate of migration of Puerto Rican born persons to the U.S. is about 3.7 times the rate of migration of Mexican born persons to the U.S.  If the Puerto Rican model held true, free immigration between the U.S. and Mexico would result in about 24 million more Mexicans migrating to the U.S. than the current number.

2. Free immigration, massive tax subsidies, the stable U.S. currency, and the protection from political risk that comes from being subject to U.S. federal law and within the U.S. military’s sphere of protection, have not completely equalized the per capital personal incomes of Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States over 117 years as a U.S. colony.  Local culture is at least as important as economic and legal policy in determining national wealth.

But, Puerto Rico does compare favorably to the rest of Latin America.  Puerto Rico has a per capita GDP (nominal) of about $28,000 compared to about $16,000 in Uruguay, the highest ranking Latin American country.  It is just $1,400 or so behind Spain, and is ahead of South Korea by $1,800, according to the World Bank (2013).  The CIA World Fact Book (2013) reports a low figure for Puerto Rico ($23,500), but still high enough to be the most prosperous Spanish speaking economy in the world other than Spain, and not too far behind Spain.  Mississippi, the U.S. state with the lowest per capita GPD (2012) is at about $29,000, a much smaller gap than the gap in personal income per capita.  And, since it joined the E.U. Spain hasn’t been subject to higher federal economic decision making on monetary policy, trade, immigration and more, just as Puerto Rico has been.

3. Colonial lack of democratic representation at the national level may be unfair from a political theory perspective, but isn’t that unpopular, so long as it doesn’t come with a tax burden and there is considerable democratic autonomy.  Puerto Rico has been spared a great deal of political turmoil and non-democratic government found in almost all of its independent nation peers.  Economically and in terms of stability, Commonwealth status has been a good deal for Puerto Rico, compared to the likely alternatives if it were independent.

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Humanists! Welcome to the Mile High City.

The American Humanist Association, of which I am a member, is having its national conference in Denver this year from May 7 to May 10.  Alas, work and family obligations prevent me from attending.  But, welcome to the hood.

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Practicing Law In A Field Of Misery

I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down
Pour your misery down on me

– Garbage, “I’m Only Happen When It Rains”.

Unlike the protagonist of the song, I don’t take joy in misery.  But, it wouldn’t be an obvious conclusion from my choice of career and specialties as an attorney.

I do a considerable amount of probate law, which is a handmaiden of death, I handle guardianship and conservatorship cases which become necessary when one’s mind goes to pot with old age to a point that has been known to drive people to suicide.  And, I handle divorce cases, surely one of the most miserable experiences one can have in life.  I have had a mini-tidal wave of such work recently. By comparison, the business to business warfare of commercial litigation, which I also practice, is positively cheery.

Now, these “misery specialties” are more tolerable second hand than they are to live though.  Rather than engaging directly with the emotionally intense elements of these situations, the lawyers tend to mostly deal with the commercial and property aspects of these difficult times.  But, inevitably, the raw emotional stories of these cases can’t be completely avoided and impact your own emotional state if you have even a twinge of empathy in your psyche.  It can be like constantly living on the fringe of a horror movie.

Perhaps it is little wonder then, that lawyers suffer from mental health conditions at an above average rate relative to the general population.  It is harder to stay sane and mentally thriving when constantly exposed to stress and toxic emotions, than it is when a person’s finite resilience is rarely tested.

There are different ways of coping.  One can focus on the positives are providing practical help to people in a time of need, and finding positive solutions.  One can reassure oneself that at least this isn’t your problem personally, and distance yourself from it.  One can, as alluded to above, focus on the less emotional components of the job.  One can chase positive compensation for negative on the job experiences in one’s personal life.

Many funeral home and mortuary operators I’ve met in my practice cope by developing their own special grim brand of gallows humor.

Death and incapacity are basically inevitable.  While judicially granted divorces are less than two centuries old (and no fault divorces are less than two generations old), in Western cultures, people who need to figure out how to deal with troubled marriages have been with us for almost as long as the institution of marriage has existed.  Somebody has to do the dirty work, and lawyers, collectively, have signed up to be the untouchables to do it.

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