Saturday, March 26, 2016

Florida Alimony Reform Politics

I ran across a great article on pending alimony reform legislation  in Florida on the CBS 19 television station site, which oddly is located in Texas.

The current alimony situation is so bad in Florida that the author asks, "Why would anyone get married in Florida?"

Minnesota is every bit as bad as Florida so I'll ask, "Why would anyone get married in Minnesota?"

As I write this I am listening to a segment on the radio about a college professor in her 40s who has not yet achieved tenure and is depressed about it due to the financial uncertainty that brings.  She is working with a a career coach.

I can't help but think - try losing everything and having to pay over $30,000+ a year in alimony until the day you die. Try having no hope of ever retiring. Try not being able to remarry because that would oblige your new spouse to pay alimony to your ex-spouse should you become disabled. Try being in that situation not because you did anything wrong but because of clear criminal actions by your ex-spouse, her lawyer and others in the divorce industry. You know nothing about financial uncertainty.

One thing I hate about my situation is that I've lost a lot of emotional empathy.

Monday, March 21, 2016

They Know Not What They Do?

In the gospel at Palm Sunday mass, Jesus is quoted as saying from the cross, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Many times I have wondered how people who commit crimes and other unethical acts can possibly not know what they are doing. I often think that of course Spring knows she committed perjury, Nelly Wince knows she committed fraud and lied in court, Judge Mearly knows he ruled unethically, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and County Attorney Bernie Sonsang know they corruptly conspired to cover up criminal activity. How can they not? There actions were blatant after all.

But the reality is they probably do not think they did anything wrong. The key is that they rationalize the actions away. Spring probably believes that lying in court is just how the system works. (she actually told me this at one point) Nelly Wince likely thinks the same. They all have their reasons and those reasons are enough to assuage their consciences.

But still, their actions are wrong. And illegal. We have, in general, pretty good laws. Where we fail is on the equal and just enforcement of this laws. Leaving alimony awards up to the discretion of a judge without any guidelines, provides a wide open door to abuse. For examples take a look at the stories on the Minnesota Alimony Reform site. We have good laws agaisnt fraud but apparently they don't apply so much when it comes to certain people.  Minnesota Lawyers have laudable rules of ethical conduct. But they are pretty much ignored and the Lawyers Office of Professional Responsibility rarely, if ever, takes action against a lawyer unless the person has already been convicted of a major crime.

Because the laws and rules are not enforced consistently and equitably, they come to be seen as optional by the unethical.

Although there are variations, in general there is remarkable consistency in laws and ethics across religions, non-religious value systems and countries.  Collectively, we know what is right - sadly, on an individual basis our species is not so good. Murder, bribery, and fraud are universally condemned by law. Yet, in many countries they are quite common. Why? Because the laws are not well enforced in those countries. Well enforced laws are what keeps the the individuals who are able to rationalize away their unethical and criminal actions in check.

Despite all the evidence I have of crime, in some cases indubitable evidence, the criminals go unpunished and unchecked.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Computer Bias or Human Bias?

NPR has a fascinating story on, Can Computer Programs Be Racist And Sexist?  The concern is that even though learning algorithms, such as used by recommendation engines (like Amazon's) or search engines (like Google's) start off as completely unbiased they may evolve to reflect the bias of the people using them.

A Harvard study cited found, "found that when someone searched in Google for a name normally associated with a person of African-American descent, an ad for a company that finds criminal records was more likely to turn up." Why? "Because people tended to click on the ad topic that suggested that that person had been arrested when the name was African-American, the algorithm learned the racism of the search users and then reinforced it by showing that more often."

Regarding gender bias the article states that studies have show that women are shown more lower-paying job ads then men. This is due to the fact that women click on the lower-paying jobs less than the higher paying ones. Why would woman do this? You might say that our sexist society teaches woman that only lower paying jobs are open to them. Or you could say that out sexist society teaches women that men will work at the more dangerous and stressful jobs in order to protect and make money for women. No doubt both are partly true.

I have some background in technology and know that it would be nearly impossible to eliminate such bias in learning algorithms because you would have to purposefully introduce a counter-bias to correct for it. And, of course, everyone would have a different opinion on exactly what that counter-bias should be.

So if we cannot programmatically correct for bias what can we do? We can think. We can use knowledge to understand. If you know these systems may be biased you can take that into account. If you are looking for a job in a profession dominated by members of a different gender, know that you might have to look a bit harder.

Bias is endemic. Learn to recognize it. For example, this week I finished a novel that was recently written and authored by a woman. In it, a couple has a hole in the wall of their house. The wife complains that the husband hasn't fixed it. The implicit bias is that somehow the wife is unable to fix it herself. That is sexism. Recognizing and being aware of bias is all its forms is the key to overcoming it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Consequences Of Corruption - Update

Following up on my last post, The Consequences Of Corruption,Federal authorities have now dismissed charges against the remaining defendants in sex-trafficking case due to fabrications by investigators.
“Everybody in the world prejudged these guys as the devil incarnate, and there was nothing to it,” Wolf said. “It’s like the Salem witch trials. It’s the same crap. People make allegations, it rolls down the hill. They weren’t witches. These guys weren’t devils. All built on lies.”
The County Attorney loves to talk about his crusade agaisnt sex traffickers. He views it as politically beneficial to prosecute the dregs of societies, especially of they are poor immigrates who cannot hope to defend themselves. Whether they are guilty or not is of minor importance. 

However, when it comes to his friends and colleges committing the most blatant crimes, he doesn't just turn a blind eye to it, he actively, and quite corruptly, works to cover it up. 

I can only hope that the Feds come down as hard on him as he has on others. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Consequences Of Corruption

Yassin Yusuf spent 53 months in jail for sex trafficking before he was let out because he didn't do it. According to an appeals court document, the court admonished St. Paul Officer Heather Weyker, citing the lower court's belief that Weyker "likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of this story ... the District Court caught Weyker lying to the grand jury, and later, lying during a detention hearing."

But I wonder what the full story is. The County Attorney has been on a very public mission to combat sex-trafficking. I don't think anyone would say that is bad. But it seems that guilt isn't one of his criteria for sending people to jail. Either he is so incompetent that he missed the fact that Officer Weyker lied or he was involved in the deception.

Meanwhile he continues to criminally cover up crimes by his friends and colleges. Maybe the County Attorney should be the one spending some time in jail.