Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

New State Laws Passed in California

Election Tax Returns

In an effort to force our present president when running for re-election and future presidential candidates to release income tax returns, California passed SB249 Disclose Act. California became the first state to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state ballot.

Lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown AB249 Friday requiring candidates to publicly share five years of returns.

This comes after President Trump’s refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign. His actions sparked similar legislation in dozens of other states. The documents reveal income sources, tax exemptions, charitable donations and potential financial conflicts of interest.

Until Trump, every major presidential candidates has released their returns for decades.

Criminal Background Checks

In new legislation, California employers could not initially ask during the interview process if potential employees have a criminal history. AB1008 Employment Discrimination: Conviction History bill was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. The California Assembly on Friday gave final approval to a bill that supporters say would mean more ex-felons could get jobs and stay out of trouble.

Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento says AB1008 would allow employers to ask about criminal histories later in the process. It requires businesses with five or more employees to inquire into and consider convictions only after the applicant has received a conditional job offer.

California joins nine other states with similar restrictions on asking about criminal history. There was no spoken opposition as the Assembly agreed with Senate restrictions on a 41-25 vote.

Campaign Advertising

California voters would know more about who’s paying for campaign advertising under AB249 just sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. AB 249 California Disclose Act requires ballot measure and independent expenditure committees to display the names of the top three donors.

AB249 also requires a clear disclosure of donors behind campaign committees having misleading names. The California Clean Money Campaign sponsoring the legislation said: “no other state disclosure laws reveals to voters more information about donors who increasingly hide behind a series of bland sounding political committees and groups to remove any identity of their contributions supporting candidates or new laws.”

Supporters say the bill will help voters make better decisions based on greater information.

Republicans say the bill should require labor unions to disclose individual members who contribute. Only the union would be listed under the bill and not its members.

The Assembly gave final approval on a 55-12 vote.

State Sanctuary Bill

California approved SB54 California Values Act, a “sanctuary state” bill Saturday that would limit how local and state police can interact with federal immigration agents. The bill is intended to provide more immigrant protections in the state which are already among the toughest in the nation.

It will now be considered by Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support after the top state Senate leader agreed to water down the bill and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to cooperate with immigration officers in many cases.

It looks like some states are doing something to counter big money, Republican values, and Trump.

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Laugh at Sessions and Suddenly You Are in Federal Court?

Fairooz was detained after audibly laughing after Sen. Richard Shelby told senators at Sessions’ confirmation hearing that the then-Alabama senator had a record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.”

That is laughable as Sessions is flying under the radar having learned you can not be so overt about racism and prejudice.

Mind you, Desiree Fairooz did say something after Congressional Security start to remove her from the room. “Support civil rights, stop Sessions” and yelled “Why am I being taken out of here? This man is evil.”

Nonviolent civil disobedience is little more than a misdemeanor. For Sessions you go to Federal Court, then they ask her to plea bargain?

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Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

I met Cathy in Cambridge when she spoke at MIT a few years ago. This is  re-posted from Naked Capitalism.  Cathy’s whole TED Talk can be watched after the fold.

Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

Cathy O’Neil has a PhD in mathematics from Harvard and is the author of the best seller Weapons of Math Destruction. She is also involved in Occupy Wall Street.

In this TED talk, she describes how algorithms routinely institutionalize bias, bad practices, and personal opinion. Worse, the “gee whiz” factor of technology and the difficulty lay people have in forcing the algorithm creators to make their assumptions and processes transparent, and allow for audits of their algorithms, makes them an all-too-easy way to reinforce and legitimate skewed power dynamics.

One part of her talk, on how hiring practices reinforce existing “success” models, which often have embedded biases, is consistent with our 2007 Conference Board Review article, Fit v. Fitness.

Algorithms are everywhere. They sort and separate the winners from the losers. The winners get the job or a good credit card offer. The losers don’t even get an interview or they pay more for insurance. We’re being scored with secret formulas that we don’t understand that often don’t have systems of appeal. That begs the question: What if the algorithms are wrong?

To build an algorithm you need two things: you need data, what happened in the past, and a definition of success, the thing you’re looking for and often hoping for. You train an algorithm by looking, figuring out. The algorithm figures out what is associated with success. What situation leads to success?

Actually, everyone uses algorithms. They just don’t formalize them in written code. Let me give you an example. I use an algorithm every day to make a meal for my family. The data I use is the ingredients in my kitchen, the time I have, the ambition I have, and I curate that data. I don’t count those little packages of ramen noodles as food.

(Laughter)

My definition of success is: a meal is successful if my kids eat vegetables. It’s very different from if my youngest son were in charge. He’d say success is if he gets to eat lots of Nutella. But I get to choose success. I am in charge. My opinion matters. That’s the first rule of algorithms.

Algorithms are opinions embedded in code. It’s really different from what you think most people think of algorithms. They think algorithms are objective and true and scientific. That’s a marketing trick. It’s also a marketing trick to intimidate you with algorithms, to make you trust and fear algorithms because you trust and fear mathematics. A lot can go wrong when we put blind faith in big data.

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Reducing the Gender Disparity in Incarceration: A Thought Experiment

According to the latest figures, 93.3% of federal prisoners are men. The male to female incarceration rate is also wildly lopsided in state and county facilities, and to my knowledge, pretty much everywhere else in the world. I also am unable to think of a single example where there is reason to believe that women outnumber men in jails and prisons. Furthermore, I don’t see any particular reason why incarcerated men will not continue to outnumber incarcerated women as long as there are prisons or people.

Before I go on with this thought experiment, allow me to provide full disclosure. I was born and raised and continue to be a male. My parents and my wife are willing to corroborate the details should anyone wish to delve more deeply. It is also relevant to note that the only incarceration facility whose inside I have seen in real life is the Alcatraz, but it was decommissioned as a prison well before I was born.

Now, despite my male identification and my desire to remain unincarcerated, I have no problems whatsoever with the lopsided ratio of men v. women in our prisons and jails. I think there’s a good reason for the ratio to be what it is. (If you want to argue that there are too many, or too few guests of the state, that’s a different issue outside the scope of this post.) I suspect most of us are better off with the male to female incarceration ratio being in the ballpark of what it is. See, it turns out that men commit more crime than women. A lot more crime. And a lot more violent crime. That not only is true today, it has been true for as long as there is has been a concept of crime.

Does it diminish me as a guy to state that fact – that men are far more likely to be criminals than women – baldly? Not as far as I can see. How am I being hurt by the fact that men are incarcerated more frequently than women? Well, provided I am not one of those men engaging in crime, not much, if at all.  I am more likely to get the  jaundiced eye from any random law enforcement officer, which in turn may mean less I am more likely to be searched, and possibly even falsely suspected of crimes than a randomly selected woman.  I note that I also benefit, to some extent, from the fact that men like me are watched more carefully than women like my wife.  After all, men are not just disproportionately the perpetrators of most crimes.  They are also disproportionately represented among the victims of many crimes, particularly most violent crimes such as murder.  But I suspect that the effect of men being subject to extra scrutiny (or worse) is not large enough to put a dent in the ratio of crimes committed by men v. the crimes committed by women.

The converse is also true –  I don’t see much gain to the women from the fact that men are more likely to be more incarcerated than women.   Nor does the gender difference in incarceration affect the likelihood of any single individual ending up in jail.

But the fact that men are more likely to commit crimes does have real world effects. Anecdotally (and autoethnographically?), every time I share an elevator with a woman I don’t know, I make an effort to stay glued to the wall, and I do my best to look non-threatening. Why? Well, common courtesy. Because women do have something to fear from being in an enclosed space with a guy they don’t know. And I would hope that if enough people behave with common courtesy, the women in my life will also get the benefit of such courtesy from men they don’t know when they find themselves on an elevator.

Note that threats can appear from everywhere.  Men also can be attacked by women, but crime statistics indicate that a man has less to fear from a woman he doesn’t know than vice versa. That said, while I have noticed the “unthreatening” look on many men’s faces and posture on an elevator, I don’t believe I have ever seen it on a woman. Perhaps if a woman were to do so it might come across, to the wrong man, as a show of weakness and invite violence.  There are, after all, a not insignificant number of dangerous men out there.

Beyond the elevator situation, there are also some other courtesies I extend to women that I don’t extend to men. As one example, if I am walking behind a woman who is wearing a skirt and she begins walking up stairs, I will hang back until she is well up the stairs before continuing up myself. Alternatively, I will move quickly, taking the stairs three at a tie to get around her. As far as I know, it isn’t illegal for a guy to walk up a flight or two of stairs with his eyes staring straight ahead buttocks-level. But it also isn’t hard to noodle out that doing so would make many women uncomfortable. So once again, a small change of behavior qualifies as common courtesy.

But let’s get back to incarceration rates. Let us say it became perceived as unfair that more men are incarcerated than women. Perhaps a situation arises where people would insist there is no real difference between female and male behavior, and if there is a difference in incarceration outcomes, it must be due to society imposing an extra burden on males. That might lead to society seeking to arrive at a 50-50 incarceration ratio between men and women.

Of course, that would be a commendable social goal if the commission of the types of crimes that lead to incarceration were equal among men and women. But what if the crime ratio was still lopsided as the one we observe today? In that case, to achieve incarceration parity, we would have two options. One would be to release 86 male prisoners for every 93 men that are currently incarcerated. Another would be to incarcerate an extra 86 female prisoners for every 7 women who are currently incarcerated. (Technically, we could do something between the two scenarios, but I will ignore that option for that essay.)

Neither of those ways of achieving a 50-50 balance is healthy. The first will lead to letting out a lot of people who probably belong in jail, which will result in more crime against innocent victims. The second option leads to incarcerating a lot of people who shouldn’t be in jail. Leaving aside how we collectively decide which innocent women should be incarcerated in order to achieve the desired balance, there will be a huge personal cost on many women (and their families). It will also hurt the economy in the process.

If there is no observed change in the Male to Female ratio of criminality, a substantial change in the incarceration ratio is more likely to cause quite a bit harm than good. To change the male incarceration rate without causing harm, the male criminality rate must also be reduced.

But there is also one other fact to consider.  A world in which a) serious crimes are committed by males in wildly disproportionate rates, and b) society was seeking to achieve a 50-50 incarceration rate  will have little or no serious discussion about point a.  After all, admitting that criminals are disproportionately male (which is a very different thing than stating that all or even most males are criminals) is also an admission that the desired incarceration rate is hard to achieve.  Worse, looking into why the crime rate is so much higher among men and women could lead to the unfortunate conclusion that the only way to achieve social goals is for the justice system to come down on women much harder than it comes down on men.  This is a hard conclusion to stomach, and it leads to cognitive dissonance since the whole point of 50-50 incarceration is, presumably, to make society more fair.  And really, there is only one way to deal with cognitive dissonance:  a mountain of self-righteous outrage would be heaped on anyone who pointed out the mutual contradictions or why they exist.  It is hard to imagine a world where points a and b are simultaneously true, but with a bit of effort most of us could probably come up with its broad outlines.

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Missouri Travel Advisory

At a conference on Wednesday, National delegates voted to adopt the advisory for Missouri It is the first time the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a state. The “extreme caution” notification is not exclusive to high crime areas such as may be found in cities. The notification is meant to make minorities more aware of surroundings while traveling in Missouri and to be cautious with encounters with police. What is sad about this is it is telling minorities do not give the white man any reason to take issue with you such as what you wear, being in a heavily white populated areas, a broken tail light, not signaling, rolling stops or going through lights on the yellow, etc. Jim Crow has emerged again and heavy force will be applied to put you into the role expected of you.

The advisory is as follows:

(Jefferson City, MO – Missouri NAACP State Conference Office – edited) Unlike seasonal weather advisories where unnecessary travel on city streets or parking might be directed; the NAACP wants to make Missourians and visitors alike aware of a looming danger which could include the following examples of what has happened to some residents and visitors in the past.

– Tory Sanford was never arrested and yet died in a jail cell. He ran out of gas when he traveled into the state accidentally.
– On campus racist attacks on University of Missouri students after the university system spoke in favor of Romine’s Jim Crow Bill.
– Black high school students in St. Louis have been attacked with hot glue and racially denigrated.
– Two foreign born men were gunned down in Kansas City after their killer thought them to be Muslim.
– African Americans are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched than Caucasians according to the Missouri Attorney General.
– Public threats of shooting ‘Blacks’ by an alleged racist and others have terrorized University of Missouri students and members of the public.

Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION. Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri. The home of Lloyd Gaines, Dredd Scott, and the Missouri Compromise gives Missouri the distinction of being one of the last states to lose its slaveholding past.

The Missouri State Conference of the NAACP will follow Governor Greitien’s review of this Jim Crow Bill – SB 43 and will update the NAACP advisory for the State of Missouri if this measure is vetoed. SB 43 legalizes individual discrimination and harassment in Missouri and would prevent individuals from protecting themselves from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in Missouri.

Moreover, overzealous enforcement of routine traffic violations in Missouri against African-Americans has resulted in an increasing trend and has resulted in increased traffic fines, senseless searches of vehicle and persons, and on occasion unnecessary violence.

The advisory is in effect until August 28.

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Rampant judicial activism

Via Slate by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

The Clarence Thomas takeover

But Thomas is more than just the Trump administration’s philosophical hero. His once-fringy ideas are suddenly flourishing—not only on the high court, through his alliance with Gorsuch, but also in the executive branch.

Everywhere you turn in Trumpland, you’ll find a slew of Thomas’ former clerks in high places. They are serving in the White House counsel’s office(Greg Katsas, John Eisenberg, David Morrell); awaiting appointment to the federal judiciary (Allison H. Eid, David Stras); leading the departments of the Treasury (Heath P. Tarbert, Sigal Mandelker) and Transportation (Steven G. Bradbury); defending the travel ban in court (Jeffrey Wall); and heading the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (Neomi Rao). Thomas clerks are also working with dark money groups to execute Trump’s agenda (Carrie Severino) and boosting him in the far-right media (Laura Ingraham).

At the precise moment in which the more than 120 vacancieson the federal courts may be the only reason for conservatives to hold their noses and stand by Trump, it’s Clarence Thomas who stands as a living embodiment of wars already won and triumphs yet to come.

Via Buzzflash by Mark Karlin:


Under the Radar, Trump Is Packing the Federal Judiciary With Right-Wingers

Over the past few decades, Republicans have demonstrated that they understand the long-term implications of creating an activist federal judiciary and using every trick in the book and sheer power plays to confirm right-wing nominees. Meanwhile, the Democrats appear to generally be content to play by the Senate rules and not put a full-court press on getting Democratic presidential nominees placed on the various levels of the federal bench. In this sense, Gorsuch is just the tip of the pyramid. Progressives are mostly ignoring all the federal judges confirmed by the GOP at other levels — to great peril.

Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for The New Yorker, wrote yesterday of the GOP’s high-intensity push to get its federal appointees seated — as compared to the Democratic senators when they are responsible for federal court nominees:

Trump has also benefited from the greater interest that conservatives, as compared with liberals, have shown in federal judicial appointments at all levels. Republicans simply care more than Democrats do about getting their people on to the bench. Illustrating the varying priorities of the two parties, Allan Smith, of Business Insider, compared the first six months of judicial appointments under Obama and Trump. Smith found that, in this period, Trump nominated eighteen people for district-judgeship vacancies, and fourteen for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims. During that same period in Obama’s first term, he nominated just four district judges and five appeals-court judges. In total, when U.S. Attorneys are included, Trump nominated fifty-five people, and Obama just twenty-two. Obama’s attention was, undoubtedly, distracted by a global economic implosion in 2009, but his party had a greater majority in the Senate than Trump’s does now, and still Obama failed to push through more than a handful of judges in that period.

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“We Need You to Cooperate . . .”

Go to 1:30 minutes into this clip and please watch the whole event.

Jail and/or prison is not a fun experience and it was never meant to be. People are taken there for court determined reasons. I have heard my share of stories from reliable sources of what goes on there and how some who are charged with guarding the population take it to the next level. There is much talk about prison reform and I applaud the thought of it. However, the action must come before people even get into jail or prison.

85% of all cases are plea bargained. In some instances a person signs away their right to appeal a conviction because of a plea bargain. The AEDPA also makes it difficult for a federal court to rule on, reverse a state court’s decision, or remand back to state courts for a different ruling.

The man in the later part of this is suing Cheatham County Correction Deputies of deprivation of civil rights, citing the use of excessive force and failure to protect after he was repeatedly Tasered in the jail. I guess this goes along with Trump telling the police not to be so gentle with suspects.

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Money makes the world…

Even though Angry Bear has as an audience of people who are more than beginners in economic thought,  I think it worthwhile to pursue basic stories about what we demand and value from our way of life, which includes the “economy”.

I had a recent experience where an acquaintance came up to me and asked about Angry Bear and then proceeded to explain what formed the basics of his economic narrative. In rough form and I think my summation accurate enough for casual conversation: Capital is like stocks, debt is like bonds, and rents are had by all…government (I think he meant taxes and ?), companies arbitage?, monopolies (profits and ?). He also asked who I read to get my information (I assume he was asking for a reference or two for Econ 202 information).

I actually wasn’t sure how to respond given his perceptions and also I wasn’t sure how great an interest he had in sorting out his stories or math on economics…I had mine, but there needs to be common ground somewhere. At least we had not begun with the tweet kind of economics spouted by political figures and slogans for PR campaigns.  And he actually might be interested and willing to re-think basics. What might the format be to encourage him to be more thoughtful?

I think this worth pursuing beyond the tired story line of avoiding Uncle so and so at Thanksgiving dinner or the neighbor who has clearly and unequivocally bought into simple political memes.   Barkley Rosser’s Could the US default due to a Complexity Catastrophe? offers another example.

Where does one begin with experience and smart people in one’s circles of activities?

How to think like and economist of that is what you wish by Brad DeLong

I have long had a “thinking like an economist” lecture in the can. But I very rarely give it. It seems to me that it is important stuff—that people really should know it before they begin studying economics, because it would make studying economics much easier. But it also seems to me—usually—that it is pointless to give it at the start of a course to newBs: they just won’t understand it. And it also seems to me—usually—that it is also pointless to give it to students at the end of their college years: they either understand it already, or it is too late.

By continuity that would seem to imply that there is an optimal point in the college curriculum to teach this stuff. But is that true?

What do you think?

(Dan here….also lifted from comments)

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Shootings by Police Officers: Self-Control and More

I stumbled on a recent paper in the Police Quarterly entitled “Quick on the Draw: Assessing the Relationship Between Low Self-Control and Officer-Involved Police Shootings.”

The authors are Christopher M. Donner, Jon Maskaly, Alex R. Piquero, and Wesley G. Jennings from Loyola, U of Texas at Dallas, U of Texas at Dallas and U of South Florida, respectively.

Quoting from the paper:

While the extant literature on police use of deadly force is voluminous, it is fairly limited with regard to the influence of officer characteristics. Moreover, this is the first known study to explore an individual-level criminological theory(i.e., self-control) in the context of police officer-involved shootings. In building on previous studies linking low self-control to negative police behavior more generally (Donner et al., 2016; Donner & Jennings, 2014), this study uses data from a sample of 1,935 Philadelphia police officers to investigate the extent to which Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory can predict officer-involved shootings specifically.

Based on theory and related research, it is hypothesized that officers with lower levels of self-control will be more likely to have used deadly force because police shooting incidents would provide low self-control officers (those who are more impulsive, self-centered, short-sighted, thrill-seeking, and easily provoked) with an opportunity to engage in a behavior that it is often spontaneous, can provide immediate gratification, is adrenaline-inducing, and can provide an outlet for frustration.

Methods
Data and Sample
In this study, we use data collected by Greene et al. (2004) for an National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-sponsored study on police integrity in the PPD. The initial collaboration between Temple University and the PPD began in an effort to help create an information system that would assist the PPD with integrity oversight. To aid this process, baseline information concerning possible predictors of negative police behavior was needed. The data set includes background files, academy training records, and personnel information for 2,094 police officers across 17 academy classes from 1991 to 1998. Due to missing files and incomplete academy training among some officers, the final sample of cases included 1,935 officers. Additional methodological details may be found in Greene et al. (2004).

On average, the sample was almost 27 years of age (range: 18–55), and approximately two thirds of the sample was male. There was virtually equal representation among White (44.5%) and Black (46.0%) officers, and the sample included a smaller number of Hispanic (7.4%) and other race or ethnicity (2.1%) officers. The average education level and length of service was 13 and 3 years, respectively. About one fifth (21%) of the sample was married and one tenth (10.9%) had a parent who served in law enforcement. Additional descriptive statistics may be found in Table 1.

The paper goes on:

Dependent Variable
Greene et al. (2004) were granted access to various databases maintained by the PPD Internal Affairs Division and Police Board of Inquiry. Specifically, these databases contained information relating to, among other things, citizen complaints, officer-involved shootings, other internal investigations, and depart-mental disciplinary actions. These data were collected in the Year 2000; thus,officers in the sample had been out of the police academy for roughly 2 to 9 years. The outcome variable of interest in this study, police shootings, is measured dichotomously (0 = No; 1 = Yes) and reflects whether an officer had ever been involved in a police shooting in which they discharged their firearm.

The primary independent variable, low self-control, was constructed from selected behavioral indicators contained within an officer’s Personal Data Questionnaire (PDQ).2 Individuals, who apply to be a Philadelphia Police Officer and pass the entrance examination, are referred to the Background Unit of the police department. Here, qualified applicants are given a PDQ.The PDQ collects self-reported background information, including among other things the applicant’s identifying information, family background, residence history, educational history, employment history, credit history, military record, motor vehicle history, adult and juvenile criminal history, and drug-use history. This information is validated through an interview with a background investigator, a full background investigation, and subsequently a polygraph examination.

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