August 22, 2014

Meet the Tiger Elders, with lawyers on speed-dial

Age pyramid for China showing smaller age coho...
Image via Wikipedia

Meet the Tiger Elders, with lawyers on speed-dial.

Citing the New York Times, the blog Overlawyered notes that a law has been proposed in China that would require adult children to visit their elderly parents… or face a law suit.

China is facing an aging population that will increase pension and health care costs, Baby Boomers are having on the United States, and decrease the competitive advantage afforded the country due to large quantities of cheap labor as its population leaves the labor force. Due to the one child policy, the squeeze will be much greater in China.

Perhaps requiring adult children visit and pay attention to their parents is a way to provide for the mental well-being of the elderly? And help diminish the costs on state to care for them?

Michelangelo Ristorante: upbeat Italian in the suburbs

I must have driven past Michelangelo Ristorante hundreds of times during law school, and I still do regularly. I don’t know what took me so long to try it out.

Not the only restaurant on the stretch of Highland Drive just south of the intersection of Highland Dr. and 1300 E , Michelangelo Ristorante is a step (0r two) above the Del Taco across the street from it and the Crown Burger further south. It’s about ten minutes from downtown and just over the bridge from Sugarhouse.

The restaurant exudes a hip upbeat ambiance, complemented by high ceilings and nearly wall length windows, dark wood tables, black napkins, and capacious glasses. In addition to couple-sized booths in the front, the restaurant has room for larger groups in a second room (we had six, but they had seats for more at our table), as well as a back room with a door for lunch meetings of larger groups.

I ordered a cheese ravioli with a marinara sauce laced with chopped tomatoes and roasted garlic cloves. It was served after a green leafy salad  drizzled with a balsamic vinegar dressing and sprinkled with ground pepper. I’ve never had a salad like it, and though it was a bit different, I enjoyed it. The ravioli was light and flavorful, and the sauce tasted hearty and fresh. The meal was accompanied with bread that I could not eat enough of, as well as beaker of oil and vinegar for dipping.

Others in my group had paninis, which they recommended, as well as a gorgonzola gnocchi, which was delicious (I sampled a bite). In fact, when I return, it’s likely I’ll order the gnocchi instead of the ravioli.

My one gripe was the service. While we were quickly seated, our orders promptly and accurately taken, and our glasses filled, the waiter was slow to fill our glasses, and in fact, I don’t think returned to fill the water glasses. Additionally, he did not keep track of who ordered what, and several of the members of our party were given the wrong paninis when the food was served.

Fortunately, the food was delicious. That alone would make the restaurant worth returning to a second time. The food’s appeal is bolstered by its price–lunch was just over $10, with a drink (though that drink was never actually refilled).

Michelangelo Ristorante on Urbanspoon

“Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does” by George Will

I recently picked up an old book by one of the more articulate columnists and thinkers I enjoy reading, “Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does” by George Will.

In this circa 1983 book, Will writes in tight, literate sentences, unraveling the genealogy of conservatism, questioning what it is that conservatives really believe. He asks if government should be as passive and uninvolved in society as modern conservatives seem to preach. Individualism, it seems, is not as healthy for our culture as we would believe.

It is time to come up from individualism. We have had quite enough of the Leatherstocking Tales, thank you. We need a literature of cheerful sociability, novels of social “thickness” that make society seem a complex but friendly place where social relationships facilitate rather than frustrate individualism and “self-realization.” And we need a public philosophy that can rectify the current imbalance between the political order’s meticulous concern for material well-being and its fastidious withdrawal from concern for the inner lives and moral character of citizens. In fine, we must rethink today’s constricted notion of the legitimate uses of the law.

But should the law guide and shape society? Or should it be the embodiment of societies morals?

The answer to why Americans are OK with more spending

Yesterday, just before the State of the Union speech, I had an insightful conversation with a family member. This person is taking his first class in political science, something like a Polisci 101 class. He called me to ask some questions for an assignment he was working on.

“What does ‘non-security, discretionary spending’ mean,” he asked. “I guess the President is going to cut it, or freeze it, or something.” He paused. “It’s supposed to be in the speech tonight.” That would be the State of the Union, I mentally added.

“That phrase,” I said, “refers to items and projects in the federal budget that don’t relate to national security–like the military–and that can be adjusted from year to year, or that we have a choice about whether to spend money on them.”

“So what is non-discretionary,” he asked back.

“Things that must be in the budget, things that are fixed,” I said. “Things that Congress can’t really adjust because they are dependent on other factors, like how much Medicare or Social Security will cost that year.”

“Healthcare?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. The other side was quiet for a moment. Then he said thanks, and hung up. Two minutes later, my phone rang again, and he had another question.

“So,” he started. “How will cutting ‘non-security discretionary’ spending affect me?” I thought about his question. “Will it, like, lower my taxes?”

“Not much,” I said. “Most of the federal budget is spent on the non-discretionary things, so the discretionary non security items don’t account for much. And we spend more than we make.”

” More than we make? We pay for the budget with taxes, right?”

“Yeah, but the federal government has to borrow to pay for it, because it doesn’t collect enough taxes for everything.  So taxes pay for some of it, but not all of it,” I said, unsure where this was going.

“How much?” I wasn’t sure how much, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t all. In fact, I was positive.

“We don’t pay for most of it. We raise a lot of money in taxes, but we don’t pay off how much we borrow, ever. With only one exception (I think), we’ve run a debt since the early 1980s.”

“So we’re spending more than the taxes pay for?” He was incredulous, shocked.

“Yeah. A lot more.” I was surprised. Doesn’t everyone know this?

“No way,” he said. “That’s crazy.”

Yeah. It is crazy. But what struck me, and perhaps what is more crazy, is that it’s probably something that few people realize. The federal government spends more than it taxes. Further, it has done that for several decades, and it is projected to continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

And I doubt there are few Americans that realize it. The government is, largely, providing something for nothing and no one is paying for it. The next time you complain that the government owes you something, remember: it’s not paid for–it’s bought with a credit card. The federal credit card. And no one is paying that credit card off.

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When Jury met Google…

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

GOOGLE + JURIES = PROBLEMS?

Under the constitution, an “impartial jury” is guaranteed in criminal trials. However, with the advent of the internet, Google, and online social media, impartiality is becoming more questionable, and jurors are taking over their role as fact finders out of the court room and directly to online searches.

And it has observers wondering if an “impartial jury” is even possible, anymore. With technology continually evolving, the justice system will need to find ways to compensate, argues Caren Myers  Morrison, an assistant professor at Georgia State University College of Law in an article titled Can the Jury Trial Survive Google? published the ABA’s Criminal Justice Winter 2011 issue.

Today, most jurors have access to news stories, television segments, blogs “opinions,” criminal records databases, social network pages, and general research tools such as Wikipedia and Google at their fingertips. And the have not been shy about availing themselves of these resources.

In addition to steps to compensate for heightened juror access to information outside of the trial, Morrison suggests that “we may need to reevaluate the jury’s role in a wider sense.”

I’ve heard it joked that people on jury duty are not the brightest individuals, as evidenced that if they were they would have gotten out of jury duty in the first place. John Cusack starred with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman in the movie version of John Grisham‘s novel Runaway Jury, in which Cusack played man who got himself placed on jury duty, where he then manipulated the other members of the jury to get revenge on an unscrupulous gun manufacturer. It featured black and white caricatures, but the lesson was real–juries can be manipulated by sophisticated individuals using expert knowledge of the facts and of the law.

In Grisham’s world, the good guys won, but in the real world, it isn’t nearly so black and white. The rules of evidence are designed to keep a tight lid on attorneys in court, to assure a level playing field, as best as possible, with the power of the state and prosecutor on one side and the rights of the defendant, presumed innocent until proven guilty, on the other. As jurors are able to begin accessing information outside of those guarded limits, “impartiality” becomes an open question.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that jurors will always feel like they are getting enough information to do their job competently. As quoted by Morrison:

“The legal system is not designed to discover truth, but rather to reward whichever party presents the most convincing argument,” observed one former juror. “As someone who has sat on several juries, in each case myself and the other jurors felt frustrated by the lack of key information that would help us feel comfortable that we had made the right decision. We also felt deeply frustrated at our inability to fill those gaps in our knowledge.”

So, with that frustration in hand, jurors head home at night, open their laptops, and start Googling. That is, when they haven’t already started searching from their mobile phones while still in court.

WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?

Morrison lists several problems for the impartial jury due to easy access to the internet.

  • First, juror blog postings, status updates, and tweets “might chill robust discussion inside the jury room.” Why speak up if your fellow jurors are going to lam-blast you online?
  • Second, jurors use the internet to ask for opinions. It’s a violation of the jurors oath, even if it does occur only rarely.
  • Third, messages from inside the juror “black box” dispels and “subvert[s] the gravity of the process.”
Another major problem, one well demonstrated by “Runaway Jury,” is improper contacts with jurors. Facebook, MySpace, eHarmony, and Twitter all present ways that jurors can be contacted, and can contact, defendants, witnesses, and attorneys associated with the case, to say nothing of the media.
The more people are linked through a complex of contacts, listservs, dating databases, and friend pages, the more these chance encounters become likely, causing not only the embarrassment of seeing trial participants in unexpected contexts, but also possible prejudice to the parties. Who could take an expert seriously after learning that he is looking for “that special someone”?
RECOMMENDATIONS
There are several suggestions that Morrison presents to these problems, though she states that their efficacy is still open:
  1. Jury Instructions: specifically advise jurors that they are, as the Federal Judicial Conference has modeled, not to access the Internet using their telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer, nor to chat about the case in chat rooms, blogs, or websites such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter…etc., etc., etc.
  2. Explain why. If jurors understand, they are more likely to listen and heed the instructions.
  3. For extremely short trials, confiscate electronic devices as jurors enter the courthouse. However, this won’t help in any case that last more than one day.
  4. Allow jurors to take notes, ask questions of the witnesses, and request clarification. Questions can be written and submitted to the judge to ask, and they can help jurors feel more able to get access to the information they need to make a judgment.
  5. Zero tolerance for juror contacts. The threat of fine or contempt of court should be a fair and sufficient method for keeping jurors from making inappropriate contacts during trial.
Morrison’s article “Can the Jury Trial Survive Google?” is a fascinating look at the problems juries face in the age of Google. It shares a wealth of anecdotes and insights. It’s not available online yet, but should be in the next couple months. Morrison also has an excellent paper on the topic here.

Does government spending have a multiplier effect on the economy?

If I didn’t lose you with that wonk-ish sounding title, there’s a good possibility I’ll lose you a little later, so let me summarize: new research suggests that government spending doesn’t actually help the economy all that much.

Bear with me as I explain.  Some economists of the Keynesian persuasion believe that in a recession the economy is really facing a demand and supply problem, and that the way to get a depressed economy going again is to increase the demand for products and services. Accordingly, governments should enact policies that increase demand, which would in turn provide increased employment to meet that demand. To do that, governments should spend money, on roads, on dams, even, according to theory, on digging holes. That worker will then go out and spend that money, providing further cash to businesses that will hire more workers, spend the money on wages, and so on.

Spending to recovery, is how it has been called. The money that the government inputs to the economy is said to have a “multiplier” effect, because as it is circulated its effect is multiplied. Conventional wisdom, then, is that the more money the government gets spent, the more it does to boost the economy…which is why we’ve seen so much “stimulus” talk in recent years. The money is supposed to stimulate the economy.

But what if the conventional wisdom was wrong? What if there is little, or no, multiplier effect? (and here is where I think I might lose you, again):

Research published in November of 2010 is indicating that there is very little multiplier effect. From the abstract of “In Search of the Multiplier for Federal Spending in the States During the New Deal,” by authors Price V. Fishback and Valentina Kachanovskaya:

If there was any time to expect a large peace-time multiplier effect from federal spending in the states, it would have been during the period from 1930 through 1940 when unemployment rates never fell below 10 percent and there was ample idle capacity. We develop an annual panel data set for the 48 continental states from 1930 through 1940 with evidence on federal government grants, loans, and tax collections and a variety of measures of economic activity. Using panel data methods we estimate a multiplier, defined as the change in per capita economic activity in response to an additional dollar per capita of federal funds. For personal income, which includes transfer payments as income, the estimate ranges from 0.91 for the combination of government grants and loans to 1.39 when only grants are considered. It is important to distinguish between the effects of farm subsidies and the combination of public works and relief grants. The personal income multiplier for public works and relief was around 1.67, while the effect of farm payments to take land out of production reduced personal income by 0.57. Multipliers for a more production-based measure of state income per capita after removing nonwork relief transfers and adding back payroll taxes are about 10 to 15 percent smaller. The multiplier for wages and salaries was substantially less than one, as was the multiplier for retail sales. The impact of the federal spending on employment was negligible and may have been negative. The results may help explain why measures of income have recovered more rapidly than measures of employment in both the 1930s and in the current era.

Get it? When the multiplier is “substantially less than one,” then the federal spending is not having much effect on the economy. Literally, there is not much “bang for the buck.”

Poll: Did you watch the State of the Union?

What did you think? Please take a moment and vote below.

VP Biden snoozing? Or checking his iPhone? And is that a tear in Rep. Boehner's eye?

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