30 November 2010

Class Action Lawsuit Statistics For Colorado

How many Class Action lawsuits are filed each year in Colorado, and where are they filed?

I asked Paul Karlsgodt, a Colorado lawyer prominent in the Colorado Bar Association's Class Action circles who runs the blog ClassActionBlawg.com. He responded with an October 15, 2010 post detailing the best available data to date (this post has more detailed statistics).

How Many Class Action Lawsuits Are Filed In Colorado?

In the 46.5 month long period that he reviewed from January 1, 2007 to October 15, 2010:

The total number of lawsuits filed which were described as "class actions": 168

* Class Action Lawsuits In Federal District Court: 123

* Class Action Lawsuits in State District Court: 41

Class actions were filed at an annualized rate of 43 class actions in Colorado per year: an annualized rate of 32 class actions in federal court in Colorado per year, and an annualized rate of 11 class actions in state court in Colorado per year. Roughly speaking then, each month in Colorado, two or three federal class action lawsuits and one state class action lawsuit is filed. Combined, one class action lawsuit is filed in Colorado, most weeks, but not every week.

These Numbers Are Overstatements Of The Amount Of Judicial Burden They Impose

If Colorado resembles at all the experience of states known for large numbers of class action lawsuit filings, like California, and the experience of class action securities fraud lawsuits, the number of incidents giving rise to these lawsuits is probably quite a bit smaller than the number of lawsuits themselves. Generally speaking, when some big event or act that could give rise to a class action lawsuit arises it gives rise to multiple class action lawsuits, some virtually identical due to a race to the courthouse, and some with slightly different legal theories and purposed Plaintiff classes described in the complaints. As a result, an appreciable share of the litigation process in many class action litigations is devoted to the process of consolidating multiple lawsuits with the same subject matter.

Consolidation of cases, removal to federal court, bankruptcies by class action lawsuit defendants (effectively another form of removal to federal court for defendants who wouldn't otherwise qualify in many cases), swift dismissal of cases on motions to dismiss, early motions for summary judgment, and pre-arranged settlements of cases filed only after a settlement agreement has already been reached, mean that a significant share of the eleven or so class action lawsuits filed in state court in Colorado each year on average are probably swiftly removed from the court system with only modest judicial effort -- little more than an ordinary civil action.

Obviously, of course, class actions lawsuits that do make it beyond the preliminary stage of the civil litigation process in both federal and state courts do take considerable resources that are much greater than those in a run of the mill civil action.

Civil cases very rarely go to jury trials in the United States, with most being resolved by default judgment, in motion practice, in bench trials, or by settlement prior to trial. Class action lawsuits are typical in this regard. It is a fair guess that you can count on the fingers the number of class action lawsuits that have actually gone to a jury trial in the state of Colorado in the last four years.

Jury trials in class action lawsuits are as rare as penalty trials in death penalty cases outside the South. Each one is newsworthy and often receives attention as national or international news.

Class Actions As A Share of Colorado Court Dockets

For comparison's sake, there were 65,595 district court civil cases that were not appellate in nature (district courts hear appeals from inferior courts and quasi-judicial legislative bodies as well as state habeas corpus petitions) filed in Colorado's state district courts in 2009.

Many of these were summary proceedings (e.g. 34,832 foreclosure hearings, 3,514 petitions to seal criminal records, 1,825 state tax liens, 849 repossessions of personal property, 829 evictions, 564 foreign judgment registrations, 269 motions to enforce out of state subpoenas, 218 proceedings to confirm arbitration awards, 194 name change petitions, 176 motions to approve structured settlements and 58 petitions to form special districts).

But, 11,683 district court civil lawsuits filed in 2009 were lawsuits asserting tort or contract type claims of precisely the kind that often are the subject of class action lawsuits. So, class action lawsuits in state courts make up roughly 0.1% of the total docket of large dollar value tort and contract type claims in Colorado's state courts. The actual percentage is smaller, because some cases are successfully removed to federal court.

About 1.6% of traditional federal civil lawsuits in Colorado are class action lawsuits, a sixteen times larger share of the total than in state court. There were 2,877 federal civil cases filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Almost a third of these cases are Social Security disability claims, SSI eligibility claims, student loan collection cases, and pro se prisoner's petitions (not that prisoner's petitions can never be class actions, indeed those class actions are highly relevant to the procedural tool), but the federal docket has a far largely share of individual civil lawsuits comparable in nature to class actions.

The Geography of Colorado Class Actions

In all about 73% of class actions were filed in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (i.e. federal court). Thus, 27% of class actions filed in Colorado were filed in state court.

Karlsgodt has kindly broken the state district court class action data down by county. Over the 46.5 month time period the number of class action lawsuits filed in district courts in each county were: Denver 31, Boulder 6, Arapahoe 5, Douglas 1, Weld 1.

Of the total 18% were filed in Denver District Court (76% of class actions filed anywhere in the state courts courts), 4% were filed in Boulder District Court (15% of class actions filed in the state courts), 3% were filed in Arapahoe County District Court (12% of class actions filed in the state courts), and the remaining 1% were filed in other metro Denver counties (about 5% of class actions filed in the state courts).

Since Colorado's federal distinct court and the Denver District Court are both in zip code 80202 (downtown Denver), that zip code accounts for 91% of class action lawsuits in Colorado, as well as all appeals in those actions (the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court are all in zip code 80202) other than discretionary appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The other 9% of class actions in the database filed in Colorado were all filed in the greater Denver-Boulder metropolitan area, an easy morning drive for a Denver or Boulder attorney involved in litigating one of these cases.


Class actions cases receive intense scrutiny in public policy circles, particularly as part of the tort reform debate. Their outcomes can often be on a greater scale than any individual lawsuit. These suits can make or break companies.

Of course, more often, the subject of class action lawsuits is banal. They are often brought because the harm to any one plaintiff is too small on its own to justify bringing a civil suit at all given the litigation costs involved, even if the likelihood of success on the merits is small. Most class members are almost completely unaware of the lawsuit until it settles, the attorneys for the class typically receive respectable fees, and the rewards to class members are often modest or produce no compensation at all, with a settlement paid to some putatively related good cause in an effort to prevent the defendant from being unjustly enriched, because the logistics of tracking down individual members of the class and providing them with a tiny money judgment aware are to unwieldy to be workable. Minor bureaucratic screw ups or deceptive advertising materials provided to large numbers of people are some of the typical scenarios.

The Scale of Regulatory Actions Relative To Class Actions

While people commonly perceive class actions as the American remedy of choice for wrongs done to large numbers of people, and suits by a state or federal regulatory agency or state attorney general as relatively less common, that isn't actually true, at least in Colorado.

The state attorney general litigates about many tens of times as many cases as their are class actions suits in state courts each year, involving harm to members of the general public, sometimes as civil actions and sometimes as white collar criminal cases, a large portion of which would have been class action lawsuits if filed by private individuals.

The Department of Regulatory Agencies in Colorado reaches settlement in hundreds of cases and handles thousands of cases, again, often in cases where the only practical private litigation alternative would have been a class action lawsuit or the threat of one.

All of this, of course, is in addition to action by federal regulatory agencies and the federal U.S. Attorney, who handles a significant share of all serious white collar crime cases. Collectively, the dollar amounts involved in these cases is very substantial, running to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

For example, year in and year out, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies engages in never ending class action litigation-like enforcement actions against the state's insurance companies and public utilities, producing hundreds of millions of dollars of pro-consumer settlements and revisions each year.

All of this also ignores the modest, but real role played by local district attorneys and local government regulators in a consumer protection function, in addition to their primary role as prosecutors of "blue collar" crime.

Class Action Judges

State courts of inferior jurisdiction generally have no jurisdiction over class action cases at all.

Most of the 164 state court judges in courts of general jurisdiction in Colorado, particularly those who serve outside Denver, Boulder and Arapahoe County, will never handle a single class action lawsuit in their entire careers. Many of the state court judges who do handle a class action lawsuit will do so only once or twice in their careers. Even in Denver and Boulder, where the number of class action lawsuits filed per judge is highest and dockets are specialized so that only a subset of the total group of judges in the judicial district are handling civil cases at any one time, judges assigned to the civil docket for the year will typically handle only one class action lawsuit per year, a substantial subset of which can be disposed of quickly. In a few years, the judges handling civil cases will rotate, and those judges will not see any new civil cases, let alone class action cases, again for years. A Denver or Boulder District Court judge may handle a dozen class action lawsuits in a typical career (which tends to be shorter than the careers of federal judges due to the mandatory retirement age for state court judges and the reduced relevance of political balance in the judiciary under Colorado's merit system for appointing judges). In Arapahoe County, a typical District Court judge may handle half a dozen class action lawsuits in a typical career. In other large urban counties perhaps one in twenty state court general jurisdiction court trial judges will handle a class action lawsuit ever in an entire judicial career. In rural counties, it would be very exceptional for a state court general jurisdiction trial court judge to handle even one class action lawsuit in an entire career.

Federal district court judges, in contrast, handle class action lawsuits routinely. Colorado has five currently sitting U.S. District Court judges in active service, five senior judges, and eight magistrate judges, in addition to a number of bankruptcy judges. But, for the most part, the key decision points in a class action litigation need to be handled by a judge and not a magistrate, and senior judges carry lighter case loads than their active service peers on the bench. There are six class action lawsuits filed in federal court each year in Colorado, on average, per active U.S. District Court judge. If senior judges are assumed to have an average half time docket, that is still more than four class actions per year per active federal judge and two class actions per year per senior judge. The federal trial court bench does not specialize to the extent that Colorado's state court trial judges do, so that means active federal judges handle four class action lawsuits every year, year in and year out (on average) for their entire careers. A federal judge who has twenty years of active service and another ten as a senior judge (which would be fairly typical for a federal judicial career), will handle about a hundred class action lawsuits, even here in relatively provincial Colorado. Over the course of a career, there is a good chance that any given federal district court judge will actually preside over more than one jury trial in a class action lawsuit.

The diffuse nature of class action lawsuits in the state courts, and lack of judicial specialization in handling them (although there is some subject-matter specialization on a short term rotating basis in both the Denver and Boulder District Courts that handle most state court class action cases), and the undue influence that these suits give to the pools of juries in these counties who are unrepresentative of the state as a whole, also naturally gives rise to the question of whether some matters of particularly wide interest, should be handled by a single statewide court charged with handling the most potentially demanding and procedurally esoteric matters, or whether other justice system values make this inadvisable. A jack of all trades judiciary can protect that institution from the kind of regulatory capture that is the stock in trade of bureaucratic infighting and inside the beltway politics. But, this can come at the price of weak processes and insufficient procedural expertise.

Class Action Lawyers

I haven't reviewed the detailed data, but I suspect that it is safe to assume that the 168 class action lawsuits brought in the past four years in Colorado were brought by considerably fewer than 168 law firms, and probably fewer than 168 lawyers, in a state that has something on the order of 30,000 lawyers. The class action defense bar is probably a little bit more diffuse, but a few dozen specialists at large firms who represent mostly large and medium sized enterprises probably make up a large share of the total.

It is also a safe bet that the class action plaintiff's bar is not homogeneous. Employment discrimination and overtime class actions are often brought by an entirely different group of lawyers than those who bring class action lawsuits in cases involving large numbers of personal injuries from the same cause (e.g. train wrecks, airline crashes and defective products), who in turn probably have very little overlap with the group of attorneys who bring securities fraud cases.

Give the quite small number of lawyers who file class actions at all, the number of lawyers actively filing class action lawsuits of any given type of lawsuit in Colorado is small indeed. You can probably can't on your fingers the number of lawyers who have filed class action civil rights cases in the last four years, for example.

The class action defense bar is probably a little more homogeneous. They have a class of clients who collectively tend to get sued a lot, and get their cases from the ranks of the clients that they already have; clients who are served in other matters by other lawyers in the same firm. If a case puts the life of a firm at stake, the general counsel may go out and shop for a specialist in the field, but most of the time the firm that represents those large business clients tries to be a full service firm as much as possible.

In contrast, class action plaintiffs' lawyers look for incidents or clear wrongdoing, or clear harm through a wide variety of means, through a wide variety of means, including media accounts and complaints from individual prospective clients who suffer harm too modest to economically litigate on an individual basis, and then actively recruit or including by definition in a class clients on the receiving end of the wrongdoing or harm.

Caveats Regarding The Data

Karlsgodt's data come from the fee based Courthouse News Service database which includes a comprehensive list of federal class action lawsuits, as well as data from state trial courts of general jurisdiction (i.e. District Courts) from urban counties that include "a majority of the state population" in the time period from 2007 to 2010 (through October 15, a partial year).

The bias within large urban counties in favor of Denver and Boulder, which are the most liberal large urban counties in Colorado and had 91% of the state court class actions (despite making up only about about 11% of the Colorado's population), suggests that the exclusion of more rural Colorado probably didn't omit many cases. They omitted counties are not only low in population (making them less convenient for urban trial lawyers to utilize), they are also mostly much more conservative than Denver or Boulder, and hence not plaintiff friendly venues. Yet, class action plaintiffs often have a fair amount of flexibility in choosing a state court venue when a state court venue is available. My educated guess is that than no more than half a dozen class action lawsuits over the 46.5 month period (i.e. probably not more than one or two per year) that were outside the geographical scope of the database were omitted, and if those suits were repeatedly filed in a rural county known to be Plaintiff friendly, I am sure that class action attorney Paul Karlsgodt and other policy makers would have discussed this fact.

In addition to excluding class actions filed in more rural counties (which are probably disproportionately small in number relatively to the minority of the state's population that they include), the data come with a few other caveats.

They do not reflect removals of cases filed originally in state court. That analysis could be done using the CNS data because CNS tracks removals, but it would be fairly time consuming.

Moreover, the data also doesn’t provide any qualitative information about the cases included in the statistics. A pro se filing that uses the words “class action” in the civil cover sheet description would be treated the same as a real class action filed by a reputable firm.

Finally, many of the federal class action filings are employment cases, where federal question jurisdiction provides a jurisdictional basis independent of CAFA.

He also cautions that many class actions filed before the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which limited state jursidiction over class actions, are still pending in state courts.

Still, this is better direct data than is available from any other source and probably understates class action filings in Colorado only slightly.

29 November 2010


I have resisted putting advertising on this blog, partially because it undermines the purpose of the blog, and partially, because it doesn't pay very much anyway. But, as a matter of full disclosure, I am informing you, my readers, that I have syndicated this blog with Newstex which has the rights to redistribute blog content in exchange for a share of any royalties it collects from doing so.

Unlike putting ads on this site, this advances the cause of more widely distributing this blog, without reducing the quality of the read that my existing readers enjoy. I suspect that it won't generate much revenue in any case, but as the downside is smaller, I've taken this small step.

Worst Killer In Americas Puportedly Captured

There have been something on the order of 4,000 murders in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in the last fifteen months. Now, Mexican law enforcement officials have arrested a purported drug gang leader, Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, 32, leader of Los Aztecas, who they claim has confessed to having ordered 80% of those killings personally, including a massacre of fifteen teenagers at a January 31 birthday party, a U.S. Consulate employee and an El Paso County, Texas jail guard. The confessions, if true, put him in the same league of Osama bin Laden for the sheer carnage he has caused.

Mexican officials have something of a track record of reporting confessions while not obtaining convictions, however, and it isn't clear why someone would make such a broad confession if it were true, so the report has to be viewed with some skepticism. It is one of several high profile cartel leader arrested or killed in the past year in Mexico.

In July, Mexican authorities announced that they had arrested another gang leader, Jesús Ernesto Chávez Castillo, known as the Camel. . . . Over the past year, the Mexican government has had several notable successes against the drug cartels, arresting or killing top leaders of the Beltrán Leyva drug trafficking organization, and a high-ranking leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Most recently, marines surrounded and killed Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, a top leader of the Gulf cartel in Matamoros on Nov. 5.

The violence is mostly attributed to a turf war between rival gangs in the wake of a militarized assault on drug gangs led by Mexican President President Felipe Calderón that has sprung up in different regions across the country killing tens of thousands of people.

Police in Brazil meanwhile have made a major effort to retake the slums of Rio from criminals in a massive armed effort that left 36 suspects dead.

FLEX joins FREX on I-25

Colorado's Front Range has had a successful commuter bus between Colorado Springs and Denver called FREX for some time. Now, it has been joined by FLEX which serves the North I-25 corridor communities Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud and Longmont. The six month old FLEX service is at about 85% of the utilization that it needs to be sustainable.

Together, FLEX, FREX and RTD service in Metro Denver-Boulder serve the same general area that would be served by high speed rail on the Front Range if it were established.

Linguistic Engineering

Sometimes languages change not through "natural" evolution or linguistic borrowing, but through intentional change.

For example, yesterday, the Royal Spanish Academy decided, in collaboration with twenty-one other comparable bodies in other countries (including one in the United States) and following earlier reforms adopted less broadly in 1994 and 1999, to reform Spanish spelling most notably this has been described as removing two of the twenty-nine letters of the alphabet ("ch" and "ll") (a change that most affects how Spanish language documents are placed in alphabetical order, not the letters actually in the word), although this is probably due to inaccurate reporting of an event that took place in 1994, and by simplifying accent marks (more detail is available here with commentary in this blog).

The impulse to consciously reform languages is not new. One episode of this in the 19th century in Europe that I came across recently in an academic journal article was unfamiliar to me.

Both Slovene and Romanian, being heavily influenced by neighbouring languages, underwent a process of linguistic revival starting from the early 19th century, in which the original traits that had been lost during long periods of contact were artificially reintroduced into the languages by the speakers in order to bring them back to a stage of earlier ‘purity'. Before the 19th century, Slovene comprised several dialects spoken in the Alpine provinces of the Austrian Empire, which were dominated by German and Italian. Romanian, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by neighbouring Slavic and Greek varieties, with which it formed the so-called Balkan Sprachbund. Along with the nationalist movements in Europe starting from the end of the 18th century, both languages were successively ‘purified’ by replacing the loanwords of non-Slavic or non-Romance origin with ‘native’ words from Slavic or Romance languages, respectively.

Economics Quick Hits

* Federal budget deficts can be a bad thing, but cost shifting doesn't solve the underlying problems: "Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but may worsen the condition of many Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off."

* If technology can continually wrest more oil out of the earth, why did Pennsylvania hit "Peak Oil" in 1891? Pennsylvania's peak has not been captured despite immense improvements in technology since then. There was a secondary peak around 1936, when methods of secondary recovery of oil from oil fields after primary production was developed, but those techniques have been known for 84 years now, after the secondary peak oil production in Pennsylvania fell rapidly for 40 years and has been a more or less steady trickle since then.

* Ireland's government is imposing an austere recovery plan in order to bail out the Bank of Ireland, whose inability to pay the debts that it owes other banks has caused a major European financial crisis orders of magnitude worse than what the U.S. experienced. Who made the loans to Irish banks that are going bad now?

Of the tens of billions of Euros of loans now at risk of default, the top lenders were government owned enterprises: about 10 billion came from company owned by the German government, about 5 billion came from companies owned by the Irish government, and about 4 billion came from a copmany owned by the government of the United Kingdom.

The Irish people are suffering reduced government services in substantial part in order to prevent the German and British governments, as well as many big European banks, from suffering from the bad loan decisions that they made in lending many billions of dollars to Irish banks.

* Increased investments in capital assets can't save the economy by itself. Even a doubling of investments in capital assets couldn't replace the hole created by the real estate bust driven contraction of the construction industry.

In 2007, before the recession, investment in equipment and software were slightly less than 8 percent of GDP.

Private sector demand has fallen by close to 9 percent of GDP as a result of the collapse of the bubbles in residential and non-residential real estate. Roughly half of this decline is due to the end of the bubble driven construction booms and the other half is due to the loss of consumption that followed the destruction of close to $8 trillion of housing bubble wealth.

* Construction is at a record low for October in places like Orange County, California, despite record low mortgage interest rates. Orange County had roughly 1% of the building permits this October that it did at the peaks of the early 2000s and the late 1980s.

* A key problem with contemporary macroeconomic theory becomes visible when one tries to derive it from microeconomic foundations. Individual economic actors "make mutually inconsistent plans based on heterogeneous beliefs about the future." Yet, most efforts to reconcile microeconomic and macroeconomic theory countefactually assume that the future plans of economic actors are as consistent as market clearing tendencies in the current economy force them to be, and that economic actors act with perfect foresight. Most economic models don't describe their assumptions that way, but make equivalent or nearly equivalent assumptions.

28 November 2010

For Profit Colleges Mostly A Bad Deal

The Education Trust's report Subprime Opportunity confirms that for profit institutions of higher education are mostly a very poor value, with lower graduation rates yet higher tuitions in most cases.

Between 1998-99 and 2008-09, enrollment at for-profit schools increased by 236 percent, while growth at other colleges and universities totaled about 20 percent. In fact, expansion of the sector has been so extraordinary that the largest for-profit—the University of Phoenix—today enrolls more students than the entire for-profit sector enrolled in 1991.

Much of the growth has been federally funded, with Pell Grants to for profit university students increasing by $3.4 billion to $4.31 billion, an increase from 13% to 24% of Pell Grant dollars. For profit college students also overwhelmingly received federally guaranteed student loans (which also aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy). In four year programs 94% of students receive them (compared to 54% of private nonprofit college students and 42% of public college students). In two year programs, 95% of students receive them (compared to 47% of private nonprofit college students and 11% of public nonprofit college students). In certificate programs of less than two years, 675 of for profit college students receive them (compared to 31% of private nonprofits and 15% of public college students). Private, for profit colleges exist almost entirely as a result of federal grant and student loan support.

More than 40% of four year and two year students, and more than a third of certificate students at for profit colleges also need private students loans, rates more than double those of private nonprofit and public colleges.

But, enrollment has not equated to achievement.

[C]ompletion rates, among first-time, fulltime, bachelor’s degree-seeking students who enroll at for-profit institutions, only 22 percent earn degrees from those institutions within six years. By contrast, students at public and private nonprofit colleges and universities graduate at rates two to three times higher— 55 and 65 percent, respectively. . . .

The graduation rates at two-year and less than two-year for-profit colleges are better. At two-year for-profits, 60 percent of students earn an associate’s degree or certificate within three years. At less than two-year for-profits, 66 percent earn a credential within three years. These completion rates are considerably higher than the 22-percent rate at public community colleges.

Graduation rates at for profits are lower than private non-profits and public colleges at all levels of selectivity, and at institutions where fewer than two-thirds of students receive Pell Grants. At institutions where more than two-thirds of students receive Pell Grants, their graduations rates are lower than public colleges but a little higher than private non-profit colleges.

For first time, full time, four year degree students, six year graduation rates are as follows:

University of Phoenix 9%
Sullivan University 15%
International Academy of Design and Technology 16%
Westwood College 27%
DeVry University 31%
Berkeley College 35%
The Art Institute 41%
The Illinois Institute of Art 44%
ITT Technical Institute 66%
School of Visual Arts 67%

The University of Phoenix accounts for 16,044 of the 26,873 students in the cohort.

For profits also leave their students with more debt. Full time online students at the University of Phoenix have just a 5% six year graduation rate and some campuses have six year graduation rates as low as 4%. No campus had a six year graduation rate of more than 33%.

The University of Phoenix claims that 36% of its bachelor's degree students graduate in six years, when students not included in federal data are included, despite the fact that the students included in federal statistics generally have the highest graduation rates. Presumably, the high claimed graduation rate at the University of Phoenix comes from students who finished most of their education at traditional institutions and dropped out, and then finish their degrees with a few extra classes over six years at the University of Phoenix. In any case, even its claimed graduate rate is dismal compared to public and private non-profit colleges.

For four year degrees, for profits leave their students in the bottom half of the income distribution with $24,957 per year of debt, private non-profits $16,574, and public colleges $8,588.

For two year degrees, for profits leave their students in the bottom half of the income distribution with $21,072 of debt per year; public colleges $5,478.

For certificate programs of less than two years, for profits leave their students in the bottom half of the income distribution with $15,154 of debt per year; public colleges $10,978.

Among students who earn bachelor’s degrees, the median debt at graduation for students at for-profits is $31,190, compared with $7,960 at public and $17,040 at private nonprofit institutions. Indeed, 19 percent of associate’s degree students and 3 percent of certificate completers at for profits have debt loads greater than $30,000, compared with only 2 percent and 1 percent of students in these programs, respectively, at public institutions. On the other end of the scale, only 4 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients at forprofits graduate debt-free, compared with 38 percent and 28 percent at public and private nonprofit institutions. . . .

About ten percent of for-profit students default on their federal loans within two years of entering repayment, and significantly more default in the following year, bringing the three-year default rate to 19 percent. These default rates are about twice as high as the rates of students at public and private nonprofit colleges. In fact, for-profits represent 43 percent of all federal student loan defaults, even though they make up only 12 percent of enrollments and 24 percent of federal loan dollars. . . . [E]ven when controlling for student demographics and completion rates, default rates are still much higher at for-profit institutions than at other colleges.

A Pew Research Center report released the same day confirmed the high debt levels.

The bottom line is that for profit colleges and particularly the University of Phoenix, are very inefficient ways to turn federal dollars into four year college degrees, and also place an extreme hardship on their students in the form of heavy debt loads with high default rates.

At the very least, for profit colleges ought to be required to reimburse the federal government for funds received from federal grants and federallly guaranteed student loans to the extent that those defaults exceed those at private non-profit and public colleges.

Another approach may be to make grants and loans available only to the extent that tuitions net of grant aid at for profit institutions are no more than at private non-profit institutions.

A more draconian approach, that simply denies federal support to institutions that fail to achieve adequate graduation rates and have significantly above average default rates on student loans, however, may be the easier course. Perhaps the federal government should simply cease to support the University of Phoenix, Sullivan University, International Academy of Design and Technology, and Westwood College, at all, for example, until they shape up.

UPDATE: For profits do not have an edge in certificate programs of less than two years. The graduation rates at both public colleges and private non-profits in those programs is 74%, while at for profits it is 66%.

In two year programs, for profits graduation rates are modestly better than at private non-profits -- 60% at for profit two year institutions v. 51% at private non-profit two year institutions (v. 22% at public two year institutions). In two year programs at four year institutions that graduation rate is 46% at for profits, 42% at private non-profits and 26% at two year programs at public four year institutions.

Another interesting statistic is the part-time student percentage:

In 4 year programs 22% of public students are part-time, 17% of private non-profit students are part-time, and 27% of for profit students are part-time.

In 2 year programs 61% of public students are part-time, 30% of private non-profit students are part-time, and 11% of for profit students are part-time.

In less than two year certificate programs 41% of public students are part-time, 11% of private non-profit students are part-time and 14% of for profit students are part-time.

Two and three year default rates on student loans are:

For profit: 9.5% two year, 19.1% four year.
Private non-profit: 2.9% two year, 5.0% four year.
Public: 5.0% two year, 8.1% four year.

Private non-profits spend 3.5 times as much per student on instruction despite costing less to the student.


It looks as if there are some worthwhile certificate programs and two year degree programs at for profit colleges, particularly at those that aren't aspiring to be four year colleges, and the tuition differential may even be worth it in some of these programs. The relatively low graduation rate in two year programs at four year for profit institutions (that make up about 60% of the for profit sector and includes the notorious Univerity of Phoenix) also suggests that these for profit colleges, who have grown most in recent times, are less focused on student success than less ambitious for profit institutions, many of which pre-date widespread federal support for them.

A fair read of the very low graduation rate for full time students at public two year programs, particularly at community colleges, is that lots of these students are academically marginal students who couldn't get into four year programs who aren't very committed to their studies but are willing to give it a shot for lack of anything else to do given the very low tuition after available grant aid at many community colleges. I've also blogged previously that a large share of all community college dropouts last just a single semester.

I'd be curious to see the graduation rate of full time community college students who complete a full year in good standing. I suspect that it is quite respectable. Also, students who complete two years at community college and transfer to four year colleges graduate at rates indistinguishable from students who started at four year colleges and were still there two years later.

Essentially, two year and certificate programs at private non-profits and for profits are weeding out marginal students with high tuitions as opposed to selectivity criteria, while public community colleges weed out marginal students by having them drop out at extremely high rates after a semester or two.

To some extent the high drop out rates of public community colleges subsidize the serious students. They raise enrollment, which increases state subsidies and tuition revenues, but probably don't put as much of a burden on the institutions as other students. They aren't filling upper division (and to a great extent even second semester) classrooms, and some who don't finish probably have faded from classrooms before the end of the semster, and often aren't turning in all of their homework for their professors to grade. I also suspect that few students who drop out of community college are lining up in droves at professorial office hours.

On the other hand, if there were fewer students in the community college system, the available high education funding per student would be higher. And, even very modest selectivity in admissions could very effectively exclude a very large number of students who have an extremely high change of dropping out. At least a third to a half of students starting community college simply are not ready to take college classes and need "cram school" or less charitably "remedial education" before they are ready to take true college classes at any institution. I've suggested before that even if they are taught at community colleges, these kind of programs should be funded from the P-12 education budget at minimal tuition, rather than the higher education budget, because these students have clearly not gotten their money's worth from the P-12 education system.

More selective admissions, even modestly, for community colleges would also probably increase the prestige of these degrees, because the classes could be conducted at a higher level without classes that are filled at least part of the year with student bodies where more three out of four students in first semester classes are on a track to drop out, something that via the people who teach them, taints the reputation of students at those institutions generally, by creating suspicions that grading on a curve in this group lowers overall standards.

The growth of for profit educational institutions, particularly those serving low income under-represented minorities (many of whom would be welcome at public institutions that are far cheaper) also suggests that public institutions and private non-profit institutions underspend on marketing and outreach to these students. While for profit educational institutions are clearly overenrolling by bringing in students who have no realistic chance of success in programs (particularly four year programs) at levels of debt that far exceed what is realistic, they are also clearly enrolling many serious students, particularly in two year and certificate programs, who do have a realistic chance of success and who would be even better off it they weren't overpaying for their educations. Shifting federal money going to for profit education to outreach program to these students could have a strong positive effect.

Just Say No To Tax Cuts For The Rich

Now, more than ever, Democrats need to have the courage of their convictions. After being repeatedly stymied on goals like extending unemployment benefits in the name of fiscal discipline there is no place this makes more sense than on the question of extending the Bush tax cuts.

Democrats are very well positioned on this issue. They have offered to permanently extend the tax cuts for those making under $250,000 a year. Republicans can take it, or they can extend none of the tax cuts at all. They don't have the power to extend any tax cuts without Democratic cooperation. At the very least, if Republicans want to extend an additional $700 billion in tax cuts, they ought to be required to explain how they plan to pay for it, or make other significant compromises that they wouldn't otherwise support in exchange.

If Republicans want to disappoint everyone making less than $250,000 a year because they can't get tax breaks for the rich as well, so be it. It puts $3,300 billion more in the federal coffers, shows that they are beholden to the rich, and takes the pressure off balancing the federal budget on the backs of federal employees and the beneficiaries of social programs.

Extending all of the tax cuts until a time when the Republicans are in stronger position politically and conceding their starve the beast policy approach is utter stupidity in negotiation stances by the surrender money Democrats in Congress, most notably for Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet, who has proposed just such as stupid approach.

I'm not hopeful that Democrats have wised up. We'll see when the lame duck session begins tomorrow.

Ancient Lakes and Siberian Mammoths

An Ancient Lake in the Sahara

[A] lake [now called Lake Tushka] broader than Lake Erie once sprawled a few hundred kilometers west of the Nile, researchers report in the December issue of Geology. Since the lake first appeared around 250,000 years ago, it would have ballooned and shrunk until finally petering out around 80,000 years ago. Knowing where and when such oases existed could help archaeologists understand the environment Homo sapiens traveled while migrating out of Africa for the first time[.]

From here.

Lake Tushka would have filled an area parallel to the Nile in Egypt to the Sudanese border and would have been filed by Nile flooding. Adjacent areas at the time would have been grassland.

There is a tendency to rule out North Africa as a place where the earliest modern humans could have lived around the time of the Out of Africa migration, but it would have been far more liveable at that time.

A Late Demise For Siberian Megafauna

Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita argue that overkill by humans for "food, fuel or fun" rather than climate shift per se, drove "shaggy mammoths, woolly rhinos and bison" in Northern Siberia to extinction "about 10,000 years ago — in the span of a geological heartbeat, or a few hundred years." While scientists dispute whether their demise was due to overkill, climate shift, or both, however, the timing of the megafauna extinction in Northern Siberia is not seriously disputed except to a small degree at the margins.

What makes this remarkable?

Hominins have been in Asia for hundreds of thousands of years, in Homo Erectus form, and modern humans were present in Northern Siberia and Tibet for tens of thousands of years before the Last Glacial Maximum of 20,000 years ago, retreated to the Southern margin of that territory as the ice age reached its peak, and then returned as the glaciers receded. Yet, the extinction of megafauna in Northern Siberia is roughly contemporaneous with the comparable megafauna extinction in the Clovis period in North America where modern humans had just arrived on the scene.

In contrast, there were major megafauna extinctions in Europe and Australia much earlier after the arrival of modern humans. The mystery then, is not why humans were probably an important factor in killing off the megafauna of Northern Siberia, but why it didn't happen much sooner.

Ten thousand years ago agriculture was just starting to arise in the Near East, but had not yet reached Pakistan or Egypt, where it spread next, let alone Europe, and had also not arisen yet in either North China or South China, the closest points where agriculture arose.

The only domesticated animal at the time of the Northern Siberian megafauna extinctions was the dog. The mammoth hunters of Northern Siberia lacked horses, donkeys, and camels, for example.

If climate mattered, it may have done so by allowing more hunters onto the Steppe, rather than by impairing the ability of its ice age large animals to survive.

Hawaii An Obvious Place For Electric Cars

Plug in electric cars work better in some niches than others. Battery performance is temporarily degraded when the car spends long periods of time in cold weather. The more it is necessary to heat or air condition the vehicle, the more its range declines. Electric cars are a close rival to conventional vehicles on trips of less than their daily range of 70 miles plus per day, but are not competitive for long haul trips because of their relatively short range and long recharging time. They also have longer ranges on relatively flat terrain, rather than long runs up steep highways, but have the longest ranges at lower speeds. And, at least at first, they are most attractive in places with high population density, so that a modest investment in infrastructure can serve as many vehicles as possible.

Where is the perfect fit for the Nissan Leaf and its cousins on the drawing board? Hawaii, or more specifically, the island of O'ahu, whose 596.7 square miles (roughly 44 miles by 30 miles) are home to 876,151 people (and many more tourists) which iis about two-thirds of the total state population and gives it a population density greater than that of any entire U.S. state. The average monthly low temperature there never falls below 65 degrees (February) and the average monthly high temperature never exceeds 88 degrees (August), with local standards of dress making higher temperatures tolerable with modest or no air conditioning. Conveniently, the island of O'ahu is governed by a single consolidated city and county government for Honolulu County.

Most road travel is on the Southern half of the island, and the three mountain pass on the island, on Interstate Highway 3 and state highways 61 and 63, are not particularly high as mountain passes go. The rest of the highways rarely vary by more than 500 feet in elevation and tend to do so gradually. Much of the urban traffic is the stop and go crush in which electric vehicles excel. Top highway speed limits don't exceed 60 mph and even on the biggest highways, many segments are slower.

Another factor favoring plug in electric cars in O'ahu is high gasoline prices, because they are more fuel efficient than conventional gasoline fueled vehicles, and Honolulu has some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation (although its electricity is also expensive). Reducing tail pipe emissions and noise in the densely populated tourist areas of O'ahu is also a plus.

O'ahu's electricity is expensive mostly because it is generates almost entirely with oil. Hawaii is the only state other than Alaska where this is the case. A single modest sized nuclear power plant combined with renewable sources like windmills and tidal power plants would solve the cost and pollution problems, and is hard for a state that regularly hosts nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to object to on principle, but that further adjustment would require a state constitutional amendment, since Hawaii's current constitution prohibits nuclear power.

Heating Oil's Days Numbered?

Natural gas is almost 50% more expensive per therm in the Northeastern United States than it is in the rest of the country, and fuel costs matter in these states, which have cold winters, so it isn't surprising that 82% of the heating oil consumed in the United States is used there.

But, if you compare natural gas heating and heating oil, strictly based on fuel costs, it has been cheaper to heat with natural gas than with heating oil in the Northeast every year from 2005 to 2010 in the Northeast.

If the trend persists, homeowners will convert from heating oil to natural gas, and one of the main non-transportation sector sources of oil demand will greatly decline. One notable consequence of this shift would be to decouple heating costs for average Northeasterners from the global oil markets, which they currently track closely, in turn, linking the entire national economy more strongly to world oil markets. It should also reduce air pollution, and dent the trade deficit, about half of which is attributable to oil imports, with relatively little economic pain.

November Military Updates

* The British Navy has decided to purchase the F-35C, designed for use on American aircraft carriers, rather than the F-35B, intended for use by the Marines on their smaller flat tops. The F-35B which is designed for short takeoff and vertical landings is the most technically ambitious of the joint strike fighter variants and has a result had the most technical problems. Prior to this decision, the F-35C, which has only a reluctant U.S. Navy as a customer and was planned to enter service last seemed like the most likely of the three F-35 variants to be cut.

The trouble with the F-35B is that "It seems unrealistic to expect $120-million, fifth-generation STOVL fighters like the F-35B to operate out of forward bases or austere locations. They may retain the capability to do so, but at the expense of range, useful load and a higher purchase price." Yet, at bases with established airfields, its vertical landing capability doesn't matter as much.

The most plain vanilla of the F-35 variants, the Air Force's F-35A intended mostly to replace the F-16, is meanwhile behind schedule due to software problems and may not enter service by April 2016 as planned.

* North Korea and South Korea were lobbing artillery shells at each other last week, (North Korea fired first) compounding the tensions created when a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean destroyer earlier this year.

* Iraq's Prime Minister says he plans to stick to a treaty with the U.S. that calls for it to withdraw its last 50,000 non-combat troops from the country by the end of 2011.

* President Obama has discussed a 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan, while remaining open to extending the date further.

* The U.S. are about to deploy tanks in Afghanistan for the first time in the nine year plus long war. "Two senior defense officials say 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 115 additional Marines will be deployed next month. While Abrams were used extensively in Iraq, the Afghan fight has often seen troops using lighter, nimbler vehicles capable of scrambling along the mountainous country’s notoriously primitive roads — more like paths — or using helicopters to travel quickly and bypass the danger from IEDs. . . . The officials said Friday this is a first for the U.S. in the 9-year-old war, though Canadians and Danish troops have already used the huge, heavily armored combat vehicles in Afghanistan."

The U.S. is on the verge of having been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were there, and it has or is on the verge of becoming, the longest foreign war in U.S. history surpassing Vietnam.

The limited usefulness of tanks in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as their decidedly secondary role in Iraq, and the vast stockpiles of unused tanks the U.S. has sitting in its boneyards casts doubts on their relevance in modern warfare.

* An F-22 crashed in Alaska. The design has had six to seven Class A mishaps ($1 million+ of damage) every 100,000 flight hours. The latest crash totalled the $143 million plane and may have cost the life of the pilot who has still not been found alive.

* The military is looking at putting a "chimney" in Humvees to reduce the harm of IED blasts below them by diverting explosive force upward, and at creating "capsules" to protect the crew even if the vehicle is lost.

* The New York Times today (print edition) notes the growing importance of remote controlled military robots to Army planning. Many gather intelligence by flying or rolling small vehicles into sensitive areas. Others the size of riding lawn mowers carry machine guns and grenade launchers, while not putting troops in harm's way.

23 November 2010

5000 Posts

It took just under five and a half years to make 5000 posts, which my readers are well aware, aren't always short. I've thought about splitting it into subject-order blogs, but haven't yet found a format that is comfortable to do that kind of split. But, the main purpose of this blog, which is to rid my life of endless banker's boxes full of newspaper clippings and scraps of paper with ideas written on them that accumulated before I had this blog, has been accomplished very successfully.

Electric Cars and Electric Copyrights

* Netflix has made headlines with its new pricing plan. Essentially unlimited access to its online movie library, without DVD mailing, is $8 a month. The old DVD mailing and online movie library is $10 a month.

This puts in bold relief the excesses of draconian penalties for "pirates" who download movies for personal use. The fair market value of the downloaded movies is $8 a month. Theft it is perhaps, but it is merely petty theft of the most trivial kind. Statutory damage awards for copyright violations might not always have been excessive, but given the immense ratio of compensatory to statutory damages for downloading movies illegally, due to the falling value of downloaded movies, they are becoming constitutionally excessive.

* The Nissan Leaf goes on the market in December. It will be the first pure electric mid-sized sedan sold in the mass market, with a price of $33,000, an estimated annual fuel cost of $561, and a fuel efficiency equivalent of 99 miles per gallon based on a 1 gallon equals 33.7 kilowatt-hour equivalence. The fuel savings over ten years compared to the comparably sized Chevrolet Malibu (which retails for about $24,000) is about $11,000. So, even without tax subsidies, the Nissan Leaf is comparable in combined purchase and fuel costs to a comparable conventional vehicle. The price edge only grows if gasoline prices increase more quickly than electricity prices, which is very likely in the medium to long term.

The Leaf has a range of only 71 miles and takes all night to recharge at a 240 volt garage recharger, but the range is quite adequate for intracity driving. The average person drives less than 35 miles a day. Also, a significant share of intercity travel takes place on interstate highways or by fleet vehicles, where high speed (30 minute) recharging stations can quickly be added to the infrastructure, or can be replaced with freight rail.

This is really good news for the future of the species. One of the big questions facing us in the long run is whether we can continue to live life as we know it without oil. The vast majority of that oil goes to fueling cars and trucks. The Nissan Leaf is proof that this is possible for a large share of all cars and trucks. And, since electric drive vehicles use a technology that scales to larger and smaller vehicles easily, the implication is that current technology is sufficient to manage without most of the oil we consume, at an only modest price penalty (if any), with current technology. It might take a decade or two to actually design a full suite of electric vehicles, put in place a charging infrastructure, and replace the current supply of vehicles once oil prices made the advantage of electric vehicles over gasoline powered vehicles, but it wouldn't be a radical redesign of our way of life to do this even with no technological advances at all.

The Nissan Leaf and its plug in electric competitors will also make it easier to plan what increases in power generation supply are needed to meet the demand. Fortunately, since car recharging is something that will probably take place mostly at night when the demand on the power grid is lowest, an increase in electricity consumption from an increased number of electric cars on the road won't increase the amount of power generation capacity that we need by an equal amount. At first, no increase in power generation capacity will be needed, and even as electric cars make up a fairly decent share of the total mix of vehicles on the road, the increased generating capacity needed may be pretty modest. Also, hybrid gasoline and electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt can meet longer range demands, while doing most intracity travel in a more efficient purely electrical mode, at the cost of a considerably more expensive to build and more complex and hence maintenance prone machine.

One question mark is the lifetime maintenance costs for an electric car. Since it has far fewer moving parts, one might expect that it would have less maintenance needs, and the Toyota Prius which is a hybrid, has had above average reliability and low maintenance needs, but it isn't clear how long batteries will last and what it will cost to replace them if they have a useless life of less than the rest of the vehicle.

Replacing heating oil for space heating in the few places, mostly in the Northeast, with alternative fuels, is also technologically viable and often economic even at current prices.

There are some applications, like oceanic travel, long rural trips, air travel, lubrication oils, plastics, fertilizers and other industrial uses of oil, where electric vehicles can't replace oil. But, meeting these needs with renewable biofuels and organic fertilizers is a far more viable proposition than trying to meet the full demand for petroleum in our economy with renewable alternatives something that would strain our agricultural capacity to make food if most of the need couldn't be met with electric vehicles.

19 November 2010

IQ Tests Inaccurate For Autistic Kids

Up to 70 percent of autistic children are considered high-functioning, though they have significant social communication challenges. . . . [A study included] 30 high-functioning 9 year olds with autism spectrum disorders. . . . 27 out of the 30 children -- that's 90 percent -- had discrepancies between their IQ score and scores on at least one of the [three] academic achievement tests" [ for word reading, spelling and basic number skills] . . . "Some scored higher and some scored lower than what their IQ score would predict." . . . . 18 of the 30 children tested higher than predicted on at least one of the academic tests. This was especially true for spelling and word reading. Across the three academic tests, 18 of the 30 children scored lower than what their IQs would predict, suggesting a learning disability.

From here.

Drug Resistant Epilepsy Responds To High Fat Diet

A diet very low in carbs and very high in fat as a proportion of daily calories, called "keto" because it "tricks his body into a starvation state in which it burns fat, and not carbs, for fuel. . . . called ketosis" reduces seizures by 90% for seven out of ten children with drug resistant epilepsy and significantly in many of the remaining thirty percent of them. The results are less striking but significant for epilepsy cases as a whole, including but not limited to drug resistant cases: "38 percent of patients on the diet had their seizure frequency reduced more than 50 percent and that 7 percent had their seizure frequency reduced more than 90 percent." And, if the drug resistant cases were seperated out, the results would be considerably less impressive.

This is a big deal: "About a third of the nearly 3 million epileptics in the United States have drug-resistant seizures, and doctors estimate that at least 250,000 of those drug-resistant patients are children."

Studies of the effects of the diet in adults with drug-resistant epilepsy, and on other progressive brain disorders, are underway.

It is not a cure, it is a disease management approach. It is effective and doesn't require lots of expensive drugs that pose other problems, but since these individuals often have a lot of seizures before, a 90% reduction still means very regular seizures even with this diet.

WARNING: Keto has important side effects that must be dealt with by other means. "It is constipating, so . . . [one must] take daily stool softeners. And it lacks so many essential nutrients . . . [so one must] take a multivitamin and a calcium-magnesium supplement every day[.]" Serious side effects can result from going high fat without addressing these problems. Overdoing it can also lead to potentially deadly ketoacidosis.

18 November 2010

2011-2012 Elections Preview

City and County of Denver Election

The big political event of 2011 will be the race to replace Governor-Elect John Hickenlooper as Mayor of Denver at the Denver Municipal Electon May 3, 2011. Deupty Mayor Bill Vidal will be acting Mayor from the time that Governor-Elect Hickenlooper ceases to serve as Mayor until a successor is appointed, and is not running for the post. Some of the candidates or very likely candidates include:

* Denver city council member Michael Hancock. Announced candidate.
* State Senator Chris Romer. Announced candidate.
* Doug Linkhart - City Councilman At Large. Announced candidate.
* Carol Boigan - City Councilwoman At Large. Not Announced yet, but has said she plans to run.
* James Mejia - Former Dir. Parks & Rec. Filed paperwork
* Danny Lopez - 2007 candidate. Filed paperwork
* Dwight Henson - Filed paperwork.
* Michael Forrester - Filed paperwork.
* Gerald Styron - 2007 candidate for CC1. File paperwork
* Ken Simpson - Filed paperwork

Other candidates are expected to announce before the ballot is printed, with incumbents in other elected city offices, current and former partisan office holders, senior city appointed officials, and leaading Republicans in the county among those most discussed.

Both City Council at large and all eleven city council districts are at issue. My understanding is that the districts will not be redistricted in time for the 2011 election, but I may be mistaken.

City Council at-Large - Both positions may be open if, as anticipated, both incumbents run for Mayor.
Council District 1 Paula Sandoval - Incumbent
Council District 2 Jeanne Faatz - Incumbent.
Council District 3 Paul Lopez - Incumbent
Council District 4 Peggy Lehmann - Incumbent
Council District 5 - Incumbent Marcia Johnson (D) has announced she will not seek re-election. Mary Beth Sussman is an announced candidate and other contestants are expected for this seat.
Council District 6 Charlie Brown - Incumbent. He is one of the most conservative members of the city council and likely to face a challenger.
Council District 7 Chris Nevitt - Incumbent.
Council District 8 Carla Madison - Incumbent
Council District 9 Judy Montero - Incumbent
Council District 10 Jeanne Robb - Incumbent. Potential candidate for mayor
Council District 11 - Incumbent Michael Hancock (D) is running for mayor. Chris Martinez - RTD Board Chair is considered a likely candidate to replace him and others will probably also enter this race.

Retirements and runs for the Mayor's office may open up other seats.

Elections for the Auditor and Clerk and Recorder of the City and County will be before voters in May as well. All of the posts are non-partisan. Stephanie O'Malley is the incumbent Clerk and Recorder, as well as being the first person to hold that newly created office. Dennis Gallagher is the incumbent City Auditor.

Mayor, Auditor, Clerk and Recorder and single member city council districts, all candidates run in the general election in May, and if no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast for that office, there is a runoff of the top two candidates roughly a month later. My understanding is that the the top two vote getters in the City Council At Large race (in which voters cast votes for up to two candidates each) are elected without a runoff election.

2011 Denver School Board Election

In November 2011, there will be a non-partisan election for three of the seats on the seven Denver School Board, which consists of two at large board members and five school board members elected from five individual school board districts. The person receiving the largest number of voters wins. I do not known if the five school board districts in Denver will be redistricted prior to the November 2011 election.

The at large seat before voters is the seat currently held by two term board member Theresa Peña. District 1, currently served by two time board member Bruce Hoyt is up for re-election. One term board member Arturo Jimenez in District 5 will also face voters in 2011.

2012 Colorado Federal Elections

In the 2012 general election, the main event with be the Presidential race, with President Obama as the presumptive Democratic candidate, and with the Republican caucus and primary process to choose a nominee starting in earnest in January of 2012, and the field of candidates starting to become clear over the course of 2011. Colorado will probably be a key battleground state in the general election, and may play a meaningful rule in the Republican primary as well.

Colorado will not have a U.S. Senate race in 2012. All seven of its U.S. House of Representatives seats will be before the voters in seats redrawn to reflect the 2010 census by the members of the Colorado General Assembly elected earlier this month.

Incumbents, of course, are likely to be unopposed or face only token primary oppositioon. Major party opponents in safe districts, such as current CO-1, CO-2, CO-5 and CO-6 are generally sacrificial lambs who mount hopeless campaigns with little money. Primary contests by the Democrats in CO-3 and CO-4, and by Republicans in CO-7 are likely to be heated.

2012 Colorado State and Local Elections

Colorado will not have a race for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney-General, State Treasurer, or Secretary of State in 2012. Voters in 2012 will be elect some members of sevem members of the Colorado's State Board of Education (at least the 4th District Seat), some of the members of the CU-Regents (including one CU-Regent at large), in each case from newly drawn Congressional Districts.

Voters will also choose district attorneys and will vote in the usual batch of judicial retention elections. Denver's District Attorney, Mitch Morrissey, a Democrat, will face voters in 2012 if he chooses to run for re-election. If he chooses to run for re-election, he will probably be unopposed in the primary and face only token opposition from a Republican and minor party opponents in the general election, because the Democratic party is dominant in Denver. If he chooses not to run for re-election, the August 2012 Democratic party primary will effectively determine who holds that office.

Some (but not all) of the county commissioners in every county except Denver and Broomfield, but no other county officers will face voters in 2012.

Some seats on the non-partisan Regional Transportation District Board of Directors will be up for election in 2012.

All 65 of Colorado's state house of representatives districts will be up for re-election in newly redrawn house districts. There will be a number of open seats as a result of term limits and a few members will probably retire rather than run for re-election in a redrawn district, particular in the inevitable handful of cases where two sitting legislators end up in the same redrawn district. Half of Colorado's state senators will face voters in newly redrawn state senate districts.

Ballot Issues

State and local ballot issues in 2011 are largely restricted to TABOR votes and certain referred measures (Colorado Revised Statutes, Section 1-41-101 et seq.) presented to voters at the November 2011 election.

It is too early in the process to know what state ballot issues will be before voters in 2012 but they are likely to be numerous and run the gamut of issues, probably including some abortion related issues, some issue concerning the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, some anti-tax issues, and some legislatively referred housekeeping measures amending the state constitution.

One of the big question marks on the ballot issue front is whether a serious proposal to fix the state's overconstrained state budget will be proposed, either by the state legislature or as an initiative. Mayor Hickenlooper has successful won approval of similar measures in Denver, but everyone is aware that voters statewide may be a harder sell, so any such measure will have to be moderate and carefully crafted if it is to succeed. Referendums C and D, the last such effort in Colorado, won passage of only one of the two measures, despite bipartisan support, and has been an albatross for Republican supporters in conservative circles ever since then.

This kind of measure could happen in either 2011 or 2012. A 2011 bid would have a small electorate (which is probably more conservative even than a mid-term election electorate), but would provide solutions sooner and not face distractions from other races. A 2012 would have a larger and more liberal electorate (although probably not as large or exuberant as in 2008) and will probably feature a better economic climate than the one voters will be facing in November 2011, but it would have to compete for attention on a longer ballot and would delay fiscal relief for the state.

It may make sense to put forward state fiscal reform measures in two parts, with the less controversial part proposed in 2011, and the piece with a greater revenue effect that may face more opposition in 2012.

RTD is likely to put forward some proposal to deal with the shortfall of funds for its FasTracks program in either 2011 or 2012.

Wild Cards

A variety of wild cards could change the situation, although are all unlikely. These include a decision of President Obama not to run for re-election, scandals that force a high profile recall vote of some official, or a financial meltdown in the state budget that forces a government shutdown or cuts to state services so dramatic that emergency action is necessary.


The Denver municipal election and school board elections in 2011 are likely to be hard fought.

The last seriously contested Mayoral race in Denver divided the city on ethnic lines, with predominantly Latino parts of the city favoring for a Latino candidate, predominantly African-American parts of the city favoring an African American candidate, and the rest of the city favoring Mayor Hickenlooper.

The school board is currently bitterly divided between a faction that is skeptical of charter schools and supported by the teacher's union, and one that is more enthusiastiic about charter schools and reform and has been supported by local business interests. This conflict is likely to recur in 2011.

Primary season in 2012 will be boring for Democrats in Denver, as most races will have incumbents who will run unopposed, although the person selected by a vacancy committee to fill the vacancy in Chris Romer's State Senate seat is more likely than other incumbents to face a primary challenge, and redistricting may also lead to some primary contests.

But, with no likely top of the ticket partisan races where Democrats are likely to have a primary on tap for 2012, Denver Democrats are likely to have a quiet primary season in 2012. Since all Denver state legislative and Congressional seats and the District Attorney's office are likely to be safe seats for Democrats in 2012 and almost all will have uncontested incumbents, the challenge for Democrats in Denver over the next two years will be to maximize Denver's performance for President Obama in 2012.

Denver Democratic political activists, as a result, are likely to be focused in 2012 on helping Democratic candidates in battleground state legislative races, and in statewide get out the vote efforts, rather than focusing on political races at home.

17 November 2010

Colorado Redistricting Mildly Favors GOP

Graphic via Wikipedia

The big event of the 2011 legislative session in Colorado will be the redistricting of its seats in Congress, the state senate, and the state house (CU Regent and State Board of Education seats are derivative of those for Congress).

The Process

A deal on Congressional redistricting will require the agreement of the probably Republican controlled state house (the split is 33-32 and one GOP seat of the 33 is still technically in play), and a Democratic party controlled state senate. This leaves the Democrats and Republicans on equal footing.

The state legislative seats are redrawn by an eleven member reappoprtionment commission (Article V, Section 48, Colorado Constitution) subject to some rather specific guidelines (Article V, Sections 45, 46, and 47). Democratics and Republicans get one seat each from the state house and state senate (major party status in the last election isn't relevant to this determination), Governor Hickenlooper gets three appointments, and Chief Justice of the Colorado Surpeme Court Michael Bender gets four appointments. No more than six members can be member of the same political prty, and there are also geographical diversity requirements and a limit of four members who are state legislators. The Colorado Supreme Court then pre-approves the constitutionality of the map. Realistically, Democrats will have six rather than five seats, and the judicial appointees will not be political extremists, so this favors Democrats over Republicans, but only mildly.

The Change In Population

Basically, neither party has a truly decisive advantage in the process this time around. And, this gives particular importance to the changes in population that have taken place in the last decade. Simply put, there has been more population growth in counties that leaned Republican in 2010 than there has been counties that leaned Democratic in 2010. The population numbers below are from 2000 to 2009, but will be very close to the 2010 census figures.

Intensity of partisan support, I measure using the relative Bennet-Buck vote, since this race was very nearly a tie, and hence roughly captures the current political divide betwen the two political parties and is appropriate to use as an index of partisan strength in each county.

While counties that favored Democrats grew more than counties that favored Republicans, population growth was weak in counties that intensely favor Democrats, while population growth was strong in counties that intensely favor Republicans.

Counties that supported Republican Ken Buck in 2010 gained 339,644 people, and adjusted for partisan intensity that is an expected gain of 85,282 votes relative to 2000. Counties that supported Democratic Michael Bennet in 2010 gains 344,660 people, and adjusted for partisan intensity that is an expected gain of 44,987 votes relative to 2000.

Thus, counties that supported Bennet accounted for 50.4% of population growth in Colorado, but counties that supported Buck supported him almost twice as intensely as counties that supported Bennet. So, new state legislative seats in Republican areas are more likely to go to Republicans since Republican advantages are decisive in those areas, than state legislative seats in Democratic areas which will probably be split more evenly betwen the parties because they are more competitive districts.

The redistricting effect in favor of Republicans will be equivalent to something on order of a two percentage point shift in the popular vote effect for the GOP in existing state legislative districts, which would have given both houses of the Colorado General Assembly to Republicans in this year's election.

Politically, first Denver ring suburbs that used to be considered Republican territory, like Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield and Jefferson counties have swung towards Democrats and become narrowly Democratic leaning, which has muted the impact of significant population growth in these counties on the political balance in the state. Slight swings in partisan support in these suburbs make or break any candidate for statewide office, and these suburbs are likely to be home to most of the swing districts when redistricting is complete in 2012.

Congressional Redistricting Strategy

In Congressional redistricting, it is almost impossible to draw seven districts in Colorado without creating at least two safe Democratic districts (basically Denver-Boulder, which currently are in CO-1 and CO-2) and at least two safe Republican Districts (basically Highlands Ranch to Colorado Springs, which currently are in CO-5 and CO-6).

Colorado currently has three districts that could be competitive: CO-3 (Pueblo, the San Luis Valley and the Western Slope) and CO-4 (the rural front range and Fort Collins) were seats that had been held by Blue Dog Democrats prior to this year's election and are now held by Republicans. CO-7 is a district of first ring suburbs to the North of Denver that was originally held by Republican Bob Beauprez and now is held by Democrat Ed Perlmutter.

The most favorable arrangement for the Democrats that I've been able to envision that doesn't require a truly extraordinary Blue Dog Democrat like Ken Salazar to hold, would have four leans Democratic Districts: one district with West Denver and most of Jefferson County, one district with East Denver and Aurora, one district with Boulder, Broomfield, Western Adams County and part of Fort Collins, and one district with Pueblo, the San Luis Valley, some of Jefferson County and most of the mountain resort counties. This would leave Republicans with one district centered in Colorado Springs, one centered in Douglas County and Eastern Adams and Arapahoe Counties, and one with the rest of Fort Collins, Greeley and the rest of rural Colorado.

Realistically, with Republicans at the bargaining table and both parties interested in incumbent protection, a Congressional redistricting plan the protects the three incumbent Democrats (CO-1, CO-2 and CO-7) and protects the incumbent Republicans in CO-5 and CO-6, seems very likely, so the tricky part will be how to draw districts in the rural part of the state covered by CO-3 and CO-4 and held by freshman Republicans right now.

Republicans will probably try to make both districts roughly equally safe for the freshmen Republicans in those seats.

Democrats would probably be best advised to try to sacrifice one of those seats (probably CO-4) making it more safe for Republicans by removing some of Fort Collins from the district, while trying to make the other (probably CO-3) more competitive with a candidate like John Salazar or Ken Salazar in mind to contest it. Democrats would probably do that by trying to increase the share of resort counties in CO-3 and decreasing the share of Larimer County in CO-4, while increasing CO-4's share of rural Colorado.

Intraparty and Bipartisan Impact

For the Democratic Party, about 85% of its gains from population growth are from metro Denver, with much of the rest in resort communities and Pueblo. Democratic counties in the San Luis Valley are growing less politically important to Democrats. The Democratic party is increasingly a party of higher population density urban areas.

For the Republican party, about 84% of its gains from population growth are from greater Colorado Springs to Highlands Ranch, and from North of Denver in the vicinity of Greeley. Most of the rest of its growth was in the North-South corridor on the Western Slope from Delta to Grand Junction. Agricultural counties on the Front Range are becoming less politically important to Republicans. The Republican party is increasingly a party of exurbs and small to medium sized cities.

The 2010 census in Colorado has produced a bipartisan shift of power away from rural areas and towards cities and suburbs.

The Data

The raw data is below:

The counties that favored Republicans (in percentages and raw numbers of population growth, Bennet lead in percentage points, intensity adjusted impact):

1. Douglas +64% (+112,459) -25 (-30,615)
2. Weld +41% (+73,823) -21 (-15,503)
3. Mesa +26% (+29,838) -28 (-8,227)
4. Montrose +24% (+7,980) -43 (-3,431)
5. Elbert +17% (+3,415) -52 (-1,776)
6. El Paso +17% (+87,613) -27 (-23,656)
7. Park +15% (+2,239) -11 (-236)
8. Custer +14% (+497) -44 (-219)
9. Delta +13% (+3,488) -32 (-1116)
10. Rio Blanco +9% (+548) -10 (-55)
11. Montezuma +7% (+1,538) -29 (-446)
12. Moffat +6% (+796)
12. Chaffee +6% (+914) -2 (-18)
13. Teller +6% (+1,130) -33 (-373)
14. Dolores +5% (+96) -26 (-25)
15. Kit Carson +5% (+391) -43 (-168)
16. Fremont +4% (+1,670) -26 (-334)
17. Morgan +3% (+679) -24 (-163)
18. Logan + 1% (+268) -28 (-75)
19. Phillips 0% (-8) -37 (+3)
20. Yuma -1% (-107) -42 (+45)
21. Washington -10% (-506) -52 (+263)
22. Prowers -10% (-1,501) -30 (+450)
23. Lincoln -15% (-918) -43 (+395)
24. Baca -18% (-794) -44 (+349)
25. Cheyenne -22% (-485) -55 (+267)
26. Kiowa -24% (-384) -46 (+177)

Total Gain in GOP counties: 324,679
Total Gain in GOP counties adjusted for intensity of GOP support: 84,465

Counties that supported Hickenlooper but not Bennet:

1. Garfield +29% (+12,507) -3 (-375)
2. Archuleta +26% (+2,532) -20 (-506)
3. Crowley +16% (+885) -16 (-142)
4. Grand +12% (+1,469) -8 (-118)
5. Mineral +10% (+81) -4 (-3)
6. Bent +9% (+562) -10 (-56)
7. Hinsdale +4% (+31)
8. Rio Grande -7% (-832) -10 (+83)
9. Otero -8% (-1,641) -10 (+164)
10. Jackson -13% (-208) -29 (+60)
11. Sedgewick -15% (-421) -18 (+75)

Total Gain in Mixed Counties: 14,965
Total Gain in mixed counties adjusted for intensity of GOP support: 818

Total Gain in Buck counties: 339,644
Total Gain in Buck counties adjusted for intensity of GOP support: 85,282

The counties that favored Democrats:

1. Broomfield +43% (+16,797) +2 (+336)
2. Eagle +29% (+11,994) +10 (+1199)
3. Ouray +23% (+860) +5 (+43)
4. Adams +21% (+77,137) +7 (+5400)
5. Saguache +20% (+1,180) +21 (+248)
6. Routt +19% (+3,779) +18 (+680)
7. Larimer +19% (+46,888) +1 (+469)
8. Gilpen +18% (+857) +6 (+51)
9. La Plata +17% (+7,523) +4 (+301)
10. Arapahoe +16% (+77,393) +3 (+2,322)
11. Summit +16% (+3,691) +23 (+849)
12. San Miguel +15% (+964) +43 (+415)
13. Pueblo +11% (+15,752) +12 (+1,890)
14. Denver +10% (+55,709) +46 (+25,626)
15. Gunnison +10% (+1,394) +13 (+181)
16. Pitkin +8% (+1,171) +42 (+492)
17. Las Animas +5% (+813) +10 (+81)
18. Boulder +4% (+12,194) +37 (+4,512)
19. Alamosa +3% (+458) +14 (+64)
20. Lake +3% (+234) +19 (+44)
21. Jefferson +2% (+9,866) +2 (+197)
22. San Juan -1% (-3) +12 (0)
23. Huerfano -4% (-304) +12 (-36)
24. Clear Creek -7% (-616) +11 (-68)
25. Conejos -7% (-556) +14 (-78)
26. Costilla -14% (-515) +45 (-231)

Total Gain in Democratic Counties: 344,660
Total Gain in Democratic counties adjusted for intensity of Democratic support: 44,987

Counties Ranked By Raw Population Growth adjusted For Intensity of Dem Support

1. Douglas -30,615
2. El Paso -23,656
3. Weld -15,503
4. Mesa -8,227
5. Montrose -3,431
6. Elbert -1,776
7. Delta -1,116
8. Archuleta -506
9. Montezuma -446
10. Garfield -375
11. Teller -373
12. Fremont -334
13. Park -236
14. Costilla -231
14. Custer -219
15. Kit Carson -168
16. Morgan -163
17. Crowley -142
18. Grand -118
19. Conejos -78
20. Logan -75
21. Clear Creek -68
22. Bent -56
23. Rio Blanco -55
24. Huerfano -36
25. Dolores -25
26. Chaffee -18
27. Mineral -3
28. San Juan 0
29. Moffat (omitted, no material effect on overall result)
30. Hinsdale (omitted, no material effect on overall result)
31. Phillips +3
32. Ouray +43
33. Lake +44
34. Yuma +45
35. Gilpen +51
36. Jackson +60
37. Alamosa +64
38. Sedgewick +75
39. Las Animas +81
40. Rio Grande +83
41. Otero +164
42. Kiowa +177
43. Gunnison +181
44. Jefferson +197
45. Saguache +248
46. Washington +263
47. Cheyenne +267
48. La Plata +301
49. Broomfield +336
50. Baca +349
51. Lincoln +395
52. San Miguel +415
53. Prowers +450
54. Larimer +469
55. Pitkin +492
56. Routt +680
57. Summit +849
58. Eagle +1,199
59. Pueblo +1,890
60. Arapahoe +2,322
61. Boulder +4,512
62. Adams +5,400
63. Denver +25,626

Politically Competitive Colorado Counties (Less Then Ten Point Gap) By Bennet Win Margin In Percentage Points, ranked by 2009 population (in parenthesis).

1. Arapahoe +3 (571,598)
2. Jefferson +2 (545,848)
3. Adams +7 (442,971)
4. Larimer +1 (299,284)
5. Broomfield +2 (55,861)
6. Garfield -3 (57,646)
7. La Plata +4 (51,664)
8. Chaffee -2 (17,322)
9. Grand -8 (14,622)
10. Gilpen +6 (5,604)
11. Ouray +5 (4,711)

Disclaimer - 2010 election results not offical, some data is from early returns.

What Makes A Legal Order Work?

Do legal orders work mostly because they threaten penalties or mostly because they create a consensus about what is right and wrong?

When can we say that a society is organized as a legal order as opposed to some other type of order such as order based on religious authority, moral principles, emergent social norms, or tyranny? This question is of both theoretical interest and political and economic interest, as countries seek to transition from the rule of power or privilege to the rule of law to build market democracies and generate economic growth. We present a model that seeks to explain the distinctive characteristics of law – such as its generality, abstract reasoning, uniqueness and reliance on open and public processes – on the basis of law’s function to coordinate an equilibrium based on decentralized enforcement of rules.

We thus depart from the conventional assumption in both law and economics and positive political theory, namely that law is to be defined as a system of coercive enforcement of penalties by the state. We find that the capacity of law – meaning third-party classification of behaviors as wrongful or not – to coordinate enforcement depends on the ability of law to provide unambiguous classifications. Many of the features identified by legal philosophers as characteristic of legal orders, and some that legal theory ignores or deemphasizes, are predicted by the model.

The authors thus argue that law is most effective when it makes clear what is right and wrong, and that the ability of the state to punish those who violate it is of secondary importance.

From the paper:

The people of Buddhist Tibet prior to 1949 lived under what was clearly a legal system with rules, judges and o¢ cial processes to resolve disputes, but both the jurisdiction and the judgments of a court had to be consented to by both parties (French 2002, 138). From the tenth to the thirteenth century, Iceland had a developed system consisting of a legislature that enacted rules, a "Law Speaker" who committed customs and rules to memory, recited them publicly, and served as the …nal word on resolving disputes about the content of customs and rules, and a hierarchical system of courts to resolve disputes under the customs and rules as articulated by the Law Speaker; but it had no centralized system of enforcement (Bryce 1901, Friedman 1979). Similarly, in medieval Europe, there was a wide range of institutions that articulated rules governing trade, many of which relied extensively on non-state enforcement (Mitchell 1904, Milgrom, North &Weingast 1990, Grief 2006) and it is to these beginnings that we trace the development of modern commercial law. International law is characterized by distinctive and recognizable forms of legal reasoning and the use of legal procedures and tribunals, even though there is often no authority capable of enforcing these legal judgments. In many if not most of our daily interactions as citizens and economic agents there is little likelihood of coercive penalties and yet we look to laws and written contracts and legal advice in order to guide our actions: businesses spend significant resources on legal services to draft and interpret contracts even when they recognize that they are extremely unlikely to end up in litigation (Hadeld & Bozovic, in process). Analytically, by starting with the assumption that law consists of rules coercively enforced by a government, we limit our ability to explain how legal order emerges historically and in settings in which there is no established and legitimate state monopoly on force. . . .

We argue that law has its distinctive structure in order to serve as an ambiguity-reducing institution that coordinates beliefs among diverse individuals and thus to improve the capacity of the extra-legal rule enforcement mechanisms that cause behavior to align with rules. We contend that a designated third-party system of specialized public reasoning–which we call a logic–helps coordinate beliefs. To perform this function, this third-party logic must possess particular structural traits. Some of these traits derive from the need to provide a common knowledge focal point; the logic must for these reasons be a system of authoritative and unique classifcations. Other traits derive from the need for the system to be incentive-compatible. In our model, it is key that the system be one in which all of the required participants are willing to participate. This participation requires a degree of convergence between the classications o¤ered by the public system and those reached on the basis of private idiosyncratic reasoning. . . .

Positive political theory and the law has long recognized the importance of coordination in one aspect of the law, namely, constitutional law with a focus on constitutional stability. Most new constitutions fail (Elkins, Ginsburgh and Melton 2008), so why do those few survive? The literature provides some insight into this question, and it concerns the central issue of this paper, coordination. Hardin (1989, 2006), following Hume (1739-40), argues that the central feature of constitutions is to provide coordination for citizens around various rules (see also Ordeshook 1992). Constitutions, in this view, create focal solutions that allow citizens to create order. In a model closely paralleling that in this paper, Weingast (1997) argues that constitutional stability requires that citizens have the ability to coordinate against governments that seek to transgress constitutional provisions. To do this, citizens must create focal solutions to the problem of what features of the constitution are worth defending. Constitutions that become focal points (typically in moments of crisis) have greater ability to survive then ones that do not. Similarly, Fearon (2006) argues for the coordination effect of elections in democratic (and hence democratic constitutional)stability. . . .

[W]e look to how the deliberate effort to coordinate punishment of defectors can lead to the designation of a third-party institution–perhaps from many on offer–as an equilibrium coordination device. . . . The institution must supply a logic for classifying conduct that is both general and stable in order to meet the incentive-compatibility constraint. This provides a novel explanation of the generality and stability requirements that many legal philosophers believe is a sine qua non of a legal, as opposed to tyrannical or merely mangerial, order. In order to meet the common knowledge constraint, the institution must supply a logic that possess many of the features legal philosphers emphasize on other practical or moral grounds: it must be publicly accessible, open to the presentation of facts and arguments, and impersonal. . . .

This sheds light on a debate in legal theory between Dworkin (1986), who maintains that at least the ideal of a "right answer" is essential to law, and other legal positivists who emphasize the practical existence of deep disagreements among legal experts in difficult and contested cases. Our analysis suggests that even in the presence of ambiguity–indeed especially because of ambiguity due to heterogeneity among individuals and circumstances–in order to coordinate enforcement behavior, a logic-providing institution must assume ultimate stewardship of an ultimately final classification of behavior as right or wrong.

This also is a strong argument against widespread use of private arbitration, because of the importance of a public process in educating those not involved in the conflict about what constitutes right and wrong to the working of the system as a whole.

It also illuminates some intriguing facts, like the fact that in France, the Civil Code, which was devised for widespread public use, is viewed as more sacred to the legal order than the oft replaced constitution, despite being a mere statute, and the fact that the U.S. Constitution, in part as a function of its brevity, gets much more respect than its wordier state level cousins whose drafting was informed by much greater experience.

While the introductory and conclusory portions of the article are real advances and insights, by the way, the core of the article is a long and ultimately not very persuasive illustration of the ideas it presents using game theory that adds little that isn't obvious, or nearly obvious from the assupmtions that go into their models, or could be established from those assupmtions more generally and effectively without a mathematical gloss.