A Parable on Immortality

Some years ago (it might be as many as fifty) I read an article in a scientific journal (it might have been Science, The American Scientist, or Scientific American), which I believe was written by a Nobel laureate in physics from Asia (perhaps India) – as you can see, at my age details get obscured. It was the scientist’s acceptance speech.

The author wrote of a conversation between two dragonfly eggs, attached to a reed below the surface of a lake. They noticed that eggs on other reeds floated to the surface and then disappeared, and they told each other that, when they rise to the surface they would get back to the other and tell it what lies above them.

And then, of course, one of them floats to the surface, shedding its egg sac, its wings unfurl, and it flies off, never to return to make good on its promise. That is, it is basically a parable about one’s mortality and hope for immortality.

Is there anyone who has heard of this, or how I might go about finding it? Google failed me in this search.

Cannabis news round-up

Marijuana tourists mean more visits to California emergency rooms. California agency eyes tax on marijuana by potency.

What happens to the Illinois weed black market when recreational marijuana goes legal Jan. 1st? As recreational pot is about to become legal in Illinois, Pritzker administration warns it will crack down on “bad actors” who affect medical cannabis availability. Advocates warn immigrants against buying legal weed in Illinois. Illinois emergency rooms prepare for legal marijuana. How marijuana prohibition blocks people of color from getting into the Illinois legal cannabis industry. Black Caucus chair again threatens vote on plan to delay Illinois recreational pot sales until July 1st. Legal recreational marijuana sales to begin Jan. 1 in Chicago Illinois after City Council ordinance fails. Weed smoking would be okay in Chicago cigar shops, hookah lounges and elsewhere, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new plan. Rock Island County, Illinois States Attorney on recreational marijuana.

Hard times ahead for Michigan marijuana businesses.

Massachusetts marijuana stores allowed to resume sales of some vaping products. Dozens apply to open marijuana businesses in now-legal Maine. Rhode Island Senate leaders won’t support marijuana legalization in upcoming legislative session

Marijuana legalization petition approved in North Dakota
Don’t try to buy marijuana in Illinois and bring it back to Wisconsin. Wisconsin balks at legalizing marijuana. Oklahoma activists take first step to put marijuana legalization on state’s 2020 ballot.

Legalizing marijuana in Texas could adversely affect real estate. Kentucky lawmakers proposes bill to legalize marijuana, use money to fund public pensions.

Pennsylvania is using the vape crisis to try to legalize weed. New Jersey lawmakers vote to put marijuana legalization on state’s 2020 ballot. New Jersey marijuana legalization: Give voters a decriminalization ballot option. NYPD union chief claims that lax marijuana enforcement killed a college freshman. Cuomo hires Rhode Island official as marijuana czar.

Key Senate chairman lays out possible marijuana banking bill changes. GOP Congressman knocks his party for failing to pass marijuana reform.

Opioid prescriptions down in states with legal marijuana, study finds. Is marijuana linked to psychosis, schizophrenia? It’s contentious, but doctors, feds say yes. Generational divide proves to be a major factor in marijuana legalization debate.

From Canada legal high, a business letdown. Lesotho wants to send its legal marijuana all over the world. 

Can the House Block Trump’s Power to Pardon?

President Trump has now been impeached. Does he retain the power to pardon? Presumably, if he does, he could pardon his alleged co-conspirators–Giuliani, Fruman, Mulvaney, etc.–and thus allow them to lie with impunity without regard to the perjury laws.

A 2018 comment by D. W. Buffa on the Brookings site argues that the original intent of the Framers was to suspend the presidential power of pardon during any period in which the president was impeached. (The link to the Brookings original posting is here. Per the previous discussion on this blog concerning possible link-rot, I’ve pdf’d Buffa’s comments and posted them here.)

Buffa argues that the text of Article II, sec.2, wherein the president was given the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”  acts as a bar to the president’s exercise of the pardon power while he is impeached. (Emphasis by Buffa.)

He does not rely merely on the text, however, but goes further and discusses the colloquy between George Mason and James Madison at the Virginia Ratifying Convention. Mason was concerned that:

If [the president] has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection?

Madison saw the problem, but believed that the text of the Constitution provided an escape hatch. In responding to Mason, he said:

There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty; they can suspend him when suspected, and the power will devolve on the Vice-President. Should he be suspected, also, he may likewise be suspended till he be impeached and removed, and the legislature may make a temporary appointment. This is a great security.

I have pdf’d a copy of the colloquy between Mason and Madison, highlighted the pertinent portions, and posted it here.

Contrary to the conclusion drawn in the Brookings posting is the conclusion set forth in Snopes from  Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, that “no basis for it whatsoever” exists for the proposition. [pdf of the Snopes posting.]

Buffa’s argument may not carry the day, but McConnell is clearly wrong in asserting that there is “no basis” for the proposition. That said, however, even under the Buffa formulation the House would have to affirmatively vote to suspend Trump’s pardon power and, as yet, has not done so.

Does anyone know of any additional scholarship on this issue?

Cannabis news round up

California marijuana tax hike puts future of legal market in spotlight amid worries over state industry’s viability. California cannabis industry sending SOS to state leaders. California officials side with marijuana company in new fight over home deliveriesCalifornia threatens landlords of unlicensed pot shops with prosecution. 

A serial tech entrepreneur is trying to create an Amazon-like platform for legal marijuana. 

Massachusetts made wrong decision in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Recreational marijuana goes on sale Jan. 1—legal weed is three weeks away. As businesses apply for right to sell legal weed in Illinois, social equity a top concern. You can apply to run an Illinois recreational pot shop starting Tuesday. Here’s how, where and what you’ll be able to buy in Illinois. Questions remain weeks until marijuana legalization in Illinois. Weeks before recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, 5 things Northbrook residents should know about it locally. Chicago Police Department releases marijuana facts video on where you can, can’t smoke. Your pocket guide to Illinois legal weed. 

Recreational marijuana sales in Michigan exceed $1.6 million in first 8 days. Indiana prepares for possible influx of pot from Illinois and Michigan, considers decriminalizing small amounts.

Legalizing marijuana has majority support in Kansas, poll finds. Rep. Ryan Winkler discusses the push to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. Iowa Senate leader: Raise tobacco age to 21; no to legalized marijuana. Wisconsin lawmakers seek to legalize marijuana amid concerns. 

Over 65% of Florida voters want recreational marijuana legalized.

Denver turned marijuana into money for after-school programs. Other cities are taking note. Colorado will get help improving marijuana energy efficiency from National Governors Association. Conservatives host forum opposing legal marijuana in Estes Park, Colorado

Brexit post-mortem 1 : the Comedy of Errors

A lot of things had to go wrong.

“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation” (Adam Smith). The (pro tem) United Kingdom is bent on finding out how much, with Boris Johnson sweeping to a large election victory on a mendacious promise to “get Brexit done”.

In fact, all that’s certain is that the withdrawal agreement (text here) he negotiated will be signed and on January 31 the UK cease to be a EU member, and I an EU citizen .

But under this agreement (Articles 126 – 132) there will be a transition period in which all EU laws and rules still apply. For all practical purposes except decision-making the UK is still in, for a while. The period is set to end on 31 December 2020 (§126), but may be extended for up to two years by common agreement (§132) – but only before 1 July 2020. Johnson has promised not to ask for such an extension – but since neither the EU Commission nor independent experts believe a trade agreement can be finalised in 11 months, there are plenty of Perils-of-Pauline cliffhanger deadlines coming up. The risk of a No Deal crashout is still very much present.

Who’s to blame? There is a lot of it to share, in a corollary to Smith’s aphorism. Here is Inspector Wimberley’s short list of suspects, in rough chronological order.

1. Press barons: Murdoch, Dacre, etc. For decades, they have fed the British public a consistently biased diet of news on Europe, painting the Brussels institutions as a hostile foreign Them not the framework for a competitive common project like the World Cup. They have kept this up to the present day.

2. The BBC, failing out of cowardice and bothsideserism to act as a corrective to the biased press.

3. Farage and UKIP, who supercharged euroscepticism with nativist propaganda against refugees and immigrants.

4. David Cameron, who called a second referendum on EU membership in a bid to silence the UKIP threat to Tory heartland seats; worded it sloppily, as a vague unicorn aspiration not a concrete policy choice; and made no effort to extend the franchise to a million Britons abroad, excluding me and two of my children.

5. Putin’s FSB and its useful idiots who manipulated the referendum by exploiting social media for propaganda.

6. The British electorate, by falling for the con, three times.

7. Theresa May, for invoking Article 50 and triggering a withdrawal countdown without a negotiating strategy.

8. The DUP (hardline Ulster Protestant Unionists) for supporting May’s Article 50 invocation. You can’t blame them for not foreseeing the exact course the complex Irish border issue would take, but you can blame them for not realising that withdrawal inevitably sets up a clash with the Good Friday Agreement and creates grave risks to the Union – the main reason they are in Westminster.

9. Sinn Fein, for not taking up the seats in Westminster they regularly win, because they won’t take the oath of loyalty required of all new MPs; so the DUP’s folly went unchallenged.

10. Remainer backbenchers in the Commons, both Tories and Labour, and their ultimately ineffective leaders (Grieve, Soubry, Kyle, Umunna, etc). They had a clear majority, and managed to score one tactical victory in the Benn anti-No-Deal bill, but never got their act well enough together to secure a second referendum. Both Tory and Labour rebels were wiped out in Thursday’s election. Consolation prizes for principle and effort, but in politics, as Yoda said, “there is no try”.

11. Jeremy Corbyn, whose personal hostility to the EU prevented Labour from ever taking the clear Remain stance that large majorities of its members, MPs and voters wanted, and for pursuing the impossible dream of an electoral mandate for a hard left agenda at the expense of an entirely winnable second referendum. Also for being a sanctimonious North London 1970s lefty pacifist vegetarian stereotype and sucker for anti-semitic conspiracy theories.

12. Jo Swinson, leader of the LibDems, for not making an electoral pact with Labour at the start of the campaign out of a reasonable distrust of Corbyn and an unreasonable hope in an election triumph. She lost her Scottish seat to the SNP, and her party half its previous seats (though it increased its vote).

13. Boris Johnson, liar, womaniser, fat cat, and completely unprincipled demagogue. And his mad Svengali Dominic Cummings.

It strikes me that most of these are but-for causes. Leave out 2 (BBC), 9 (Sinn Fein) and 12 (LibDems), which are unlikely to have made a critical difference. The election wasn’t a close result. The Remainer backbenchers (10) at least tried and morally can’t be blamed. That leaves eight causes, for each of which you can make a strong but-for claim. If any one had gone very differently the UK would not be in this mess.

Any more?

That’s a philosophically disturbing conclusion. Summing over the many possible timelines since 2000, most end up with the UK still a member of the EU. The train wreck was just bad luck.

There is another reading, though.

(Stand by for next episode)

UK Election Numbers

I have swiped some facts to digest from UK Twitter people I follow. I give RBCers four data points and invite any chewing over of them and the election more generally in the comments.

Fact one: Below the headlines, The Greens and Lib Dems increased the breadth of their appeal.

• Green vote rose in 389 seats and fell in 20

• Lib Dem vote rose in 568 seats and fell in 41

Image result for british voting

Fact two: the magnitude of the Tory win over Labour is understated by the seat count. Here are the constituencies in which the Tory vote went up by at least 5000:

Mansfield +8092; North Norfolk +8044; Thurrock +7915; Leicester East +6383; North Devon +5962; Bassetlaw +5463; Cannock Chase +5318; Dudley North +5066. In contrast there isn’t a constituency in the entire country where the Labour vote increased by at least 5000.

Here are the seats where Labour lost 9500 votes or more: Finchley & Golders Green –9595; Jarrow –9657; Falkirk –9786; South Cambridgeshire –9876; Barnsley E –9951; Doncaster N –9971; Leicester E –10026; Barnsley Central –10178; Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford –10971; Wentworth & Dearne –11805; Bassetlaw –13402. Again, this contrasts sharply with the Conservatives who had no seats with such a massive vote loss (Their worst was -5098 in Maidenhead).

Fact three: In 1997, the UK conservatives had a dreadful election, garnering only 30.7% of the vote. But they have increased their vote share every election for 6 elections in a row. Here is a trivia question for politics nerds: has any other party in the developed world had this kind of run in the past quarter century? I can’t think of one, but the hive mind may know what I don’t.

Fact four: 220 of the just elected MPs are women. This 34% female representation is the largest in British history.

Executive Order

I have posted the Executive Order signed by President Trump yesterday.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. It does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. The Executive Order directs that agencies charged with the enforcement of Title VI consider the non-binding definition of anti-Semitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which provides that:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

The Executive Order goes on to provide that “the ‘Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism’ identified by the IHRA, to the extent that any examples might be useful as evidence of discriminatory intent.” I don’t know whether the Executive Order only means to include the examples currently identified or whether, if the list expands, subsequently added examples will be automatically incorporated into the Executive Order.

I hope to be able to add some additional comments this evening.

(Note: The link to the IHRA definition is to that organization’s website. Later today, I will put the definition on the server that I use for linking to documents and, one that has been accomplished, will edit this post.)

Annals of nudge: British company cars

A small change in UK tax may tip large effects.

This post would be wonky if I could be bothered to do a deep dive into the rococo tax rules for company cars in the UK. Try this. But for once the tl;dr is enough.

For reasons I do not, like Cervantes (footnote), care to go into, the British tax code makes it attractive for employers to offer company cars to middle-rank employees as a perk. The company owns or leases the car and lets the employee use it for private travel and work alike. The employee pays tax (Benefit-in-Kind, or BiK) on the imputed value of the benefit for personal use, on a scale.

The typical split looks like this:

  • Company – ownership; book and residual value of the car; depreciation; insurance; breakdowns; maintenance; road tax; choice of the list of available cars, sorted by status.
  • Employee – fuel; BiK tax; choice of car from the restricted list, according to status.
  • Some employers offer fuel too, which is taxed as a separate BiK.

The result is that 35% of new cars are company ones, about 830,000 of them a year. Add to this the true fleets (rental companies, police, etc), and a remarkable 57% of new cars (pdf) are bought by companies, not individuals.

The story is that the shell-shocked British government has found the time to introduce a reform, from April 2020. This will make the BiK use tax more strongly dependent on emissions. It’s a steep progression now, from 9% to 37%. The rate will now fall to nil for BEVs.

Bank of America /Merrill Lynch have done the math and issued a shiny report with lots of pretty graphs (not public, but they sent it to CleanTechnica). The method is confusing, and the analysts do not provide a summary of costs to the company as opposed to the employee. As far as I can see, the takeaways are:

  • For employees, the BiK changes and cheap electric fuel make for very large savings in choosing a BEV or PHEV – up to 22 times less outlays for a Tesla 3 (£659) against a BMW 3 series petrol (£15,137) over three years, a common life of a company car.
  • For employers, the low maintenance costs of EVs are still outweighed by the higher purchase price, so that the total three-year cost of ownership (TCO) of the BEV or PHEV is still somewhat higher than that of a comparable ICEV for 10K miles a year. The significant savings to the employee mean that the total joint TCO is similar. The TCO becomes significantly lower (12% – 32%) for a high-mileage fleet use of 20K miles, including fuel costs.
  • The employer can now in many cases offer a higher-value package to the employee for less outlay with EVs, appropriating (unless they are dumb or unusually altruistic) a large share of the tax break. (My inference, not BoA’s.)

Here’s the cognitive beauty of this setup, which makes it a great nudge: nobody is acting under sticker price illusion. The employee doesn’t pay any part of the purchase price, and has no reason to consider it. For their employer, the analysis is done by professional HR and finance people who are automatically looking at TCO. (By this I understand purchase price plus all running costs and depreciation; Bank of America confusingly exclude the first.) Their decisions have to be justified by the data. Company secretaries and lawyers will start muttering about “fiduciary responsibility” if the Board does not pursue the cost saving. The effect is supercharged if the employer leases rather than buys the vehicles. Car TCO is just a significant side-issue for most employers. For leasing companies, TCO is the heart of the business. They will very soon be offering EV contracts cheaper.

It’s a pretty safe prediction that the company car market in the UK will shift strongly to electric vehicles from next April. That’s before taking account of competitive new models like the VW ID.3, improvements in the charging network, further moves towards ULEZ zones in city centres, and censorious pressure from teenage children inspired by Greta. The new sales will probably stimulate emulation sales to envious neighbours, some with their own Greta fans.

Does this extend to true fleets? Police have their own use requirements and are culturally conservative. Rental car companies are less so. However, they are in a rather similar position to standard company-car employers, in that it’s the renter, not the owner, who gets the benefit of the low fuel costs. The number of renters who ask for an EV is still, I would guess, quite low from lack of familiarity. But this too will change, more slowly.

The incentives here are specific to the UK and the same effect won’t be seen in the USA. But there are still many US fleet operators who are likely to be more receptive to TCO pitches than Joe Average in the dealer’s lot. That’s how electric buses are taking over, in site of the sticker premium.

Oh, yes, RANGE hiss hiss. The distance from London to Edinburgh is 402 miles: Brits see this as a major two-day expedition calling for a week’s planning with furrowed brows, as historian John Keegan puts it. A 250-mile Tesla 3 Standard meets all reasonable range needs in Britain. Distances in the US West are of course greater – but the population of Wyoming is 577,000, barely more than Sheffield (553,000). It’s absurd to let the needs of a handful of rural Real Western Men determine the framing of transport policy in a country where 80% of the population lives in cities, towns and suburbs and the average commute is 16 miles.

The EV revolution is happening, much faster than most people think. This chart leaves out e-buses, which have 90% of urban sales in China , and e-tuks, which putter below the statistical radar, but are >1.5m in India alone. For cars, the growth in sales in 2018 was a not exceptional 65%. It will be lower in 2019 because of a large hiccup in China, but the trend is unstoppable.

Footnote

The immortal opening sentence of Don Quixote:

En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo, de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.

My Pet Peeve

As those who read my posts know, one of the reasons that I post source documents is that I don’t think that people should have to rely solely upon a report summarizing a court opinion or a statute even if I am the author of the summary. Thus, I believe that the practice of linking to source documents should be the rule rather than the exception for all news media.

I am not alone here. Today, the Lawfare Blog announced that, going forward:

Lawfare’s readers [will have] direct access to the primary law underlying the issues discussed on Lawfare. Lawfare readers can now click on references to legal authorities cited in Lawfare’s articles to go to the full text of the opinion or statute, published on Casetext.

The full text of the announcement is here. (I have pdf’d the page and uploaded the pdf here. A perma.cc link to the page is here.)

While the larger newspapers, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, have increasingly been linking to source material, their practices are not consistent. Smaller news outlets virtually never provide links. Yet, the marginal cost of downloading source material, storing it on a news outlet’s server, and adding a link to a story carried online is trivial. I rather suspect that the rationale is something like: “We’ve been doing it without links for [fill in the blank] number of years and we see no reason to change now.”

Let me both make a suggestion and ask a favor of RBC members. Whenever you see a story on a court case, a proposed bill, or a statute and there is no link to the source, send an email to the reporter. Ask the reporter to send you a link and suggest that a link to source material should be provided in all similar stories. Perhaps sooner or later they’ll get the idea.

Denial of Stay in McGahn Case

Judge Jackson has denied the request for a stay in enforcing the House subpoena directed to Donald McGahn. I have posted a copy of the memorandum opinion.

One part of the opinion seems to me to clearly be directed at thwarting the use of appeals to simply delay the process. The Court distinguishes the McGahan case and, by extension, all of the other cases attempting to defeat subpoenas directed to the Trump Administration, from the opinion in Comm. on Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives v. Miers (Miers
Stay Opinion)
, 575 F. Supp. 2d 201, 204 (D.D.C. 2008). At page 6 of the slip opinion, the Court notes:

Miers was a case of first impression, whereas, now, two federal district court judges have addressed the same legal issues concerning both the authority of the federal courts to entertain a disputed subpoena-enforcement claim brought by the House Judiciary Committee after a former White House Counsel refused to testify before Congress in response to a valid subpoena; and also the President’s assertion that senior-level presidential aides have absolute testimonial immunity. And both judges rejected the Executive branch’s contentions—a track record that had not developed at the time that the D.C. Circuit considered the stay motion in Miers.

And, on page 16 of the slip opinion, the Court states:

[T]he fact that the issuance of a stay of McGahn’s testimony would
impede an investigation that a committee of Congress is undertaking as part of an impeachment inquiry is yet another distinction between the instant circumstances and those that existed when the D.C. Circuit stayed the district court order in Miers.

Emphasis by the Court.

If the Courts continue to enforce the Congressional subpoenas and refuse to delay their enforcement, Senate acquittal will no longer be certain.