30 April 2016

Ted Cruz Too Evil To Be A Satanist

[John] Boehner’s comment is illustrative of how well past time it is to adjust our mythologies to reflect our realities. [Ted] Cruz’s failures of reason, compassion, decency, and humanity are products of his Christian pandering, if not an actual Christian faith. It grows tedious when pedophile priests and loathsome politicians are conveniently dismissed as Satanic, even as they spew biblical verse and prostrate themselves before the cross, recruiting the Christian faithful. Satanists will have nothing to do with any of them.
Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves, when asked to comment on John Boehner’s recent statement that Ted Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” (Via Above The Law).

UPDATE: An interesting coincidence.  April 30, 2016 was the 50th anniversary of LeVey's Church of Satan (not to be confused with the Satanic Temple).  April 30 is also the day of burning witches in the Czech Republic (a.k.a. Walpurgis night a.k.a. Beltaine).

Soylent Green Is Inefficient

Contrary to popular perception, cannibalism is not an efficient use of scarce resources.  If we want to maximize planetary carrying capacity, vegetables are the way to go.

BYU Loves Rapists, Hates Rape Victims

Brigham Young University is a Mormon educational institution. This means that it applies religious values rathe than secular morality.

So, it isn't at all surprising that it routinely persecutes students who report being raped while taking no action to punish the rapists. According to Sarah Westerberg, BYU's Title IX coordinator, "almost all of the reported rapes and assaults at BYU are false reports made by women that feel . . . morally bad after they're having consensual activities." 

What a remarkable official policy.  But, why would anyone expect anything else from a religious institution? 

In the eyes of Mormons, like most Christians, this is what Jesus would do.  And, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are full of instances of women being treated like shit with God's blessing and endorsement.  So, maybe they're right.

29 April 2016

Republican Presidential Race Nomination Recap

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kaisch are all continuing to seek the Republican party nomination for President to face presumptive Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton this year.

Bottom line: I give Trump an 88% chance of winning the nomination (and a 13.2% chance of being elected President), and an 82% chance of a Clinton victory in the general election, mostly because Trump is weak vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton, but also because I think that Cruz is weaker vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton than polling so far would suggest because Cruz's flaws aren't as well known as they might be.

CNN's prediction market affiliate has a 78% chance of a Clinton Presidency and a 19% of a Trump Presidency, which is within reasonable margins of error of my own predictions, which suggests that my views are well within the mainstream of informed opinion on these issues.  And, it isn't impossible that my liberal bias is pulling me to overstate Clinton's chances somewhat.

The Results So Far

There are 2,472 delegates to the National Republican Convention in Cleveland this July.

Trump has 1,002 pledged delegates and he needs 42% of the remaining delegates (271 of 564 including remaining super delegates) to win the Republican Presidential nomination on a first vote at the convention.  After that first vote, the analysis becomes much more complex because pledged delegates cease to be pledged to their candidate at that point.  The magic number at the Republican convention in Cleveland is 1,273 delegates.

It is mathematically impossible for anyone else to win on the first round, even if they are supported by all uncommitted delegates who can vote their preference in the first round.  Ted Cruz has 571 pledged delegates and one super delegate who has endorsed him.  John Kaisch has 157 pledged delegates.  Marco Rubio has 167 pledged delegates. Ben Carson has 9 pledged delegates.  Jeb Bush has 1 pledged delegate.

Rubio and Bush have given Cruz a lukewarm endorsement, and Kaisch has implied that he will join them in that lukewarm endorsement.  Carson has given a lukewarm endorsement to Trump.  But, none of those endorsements releases the delegates for those candidates in the first round or binds those delegates in later rounds.

Key Facts

Unlike the Democratic primary and caucus process, almost all of the remaining GOP races are winner take all, or winner take all partially at the state level and partially at the Congressional district level.

Republican party rule 40(b), which would have to be amended by a supermajority at the convention to change, limits the convention to considering only candidates who have won eight or more states, i.e. to either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.  Rule 40(b) excludes John Kaisch, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, or some "white knight" candidate who didn't run, from receiving the nomination unless both Trump and Cruz drop out of the race.  (In theory, Kaisch could still win enough of the remaining states to qualify in addition to the one state, Ohio, that he has already won, but in reality this is simply impossible given his past performance and current polling among like Republican voters in the remaining primary states.)

Remaining Races With Predictions

The remaining Republican Presidential nomination races are as follows (with polling aggregated per Real Clear Politics when available):

May 3

Indiana - 57 delegates - Trump 37.5, Cruz 35.2, Kaisch 18.0 - No clear prediction

May 10

Nebraska - 36 delegates - Conventional wisdom favors Cruz (clean sweep) (Trump zero)

West Virginia - 34 delegates - Conventional wisdom favors Trump (almost clean sweep) (Trump 33)

May 17

Oregon - 28 delegates - No clear prediction

May 24

Washington -  44 delegates (proportional) - No clear prediction (At least 15 for Trump)

June 7

California - 172 delegates - Trump 45.7, Cruz 28.2, Kaisch 18.0 - No clear prediction

Montana - 27 delegates - Conventional wisdom favors Cruz (clean sweep) (Trump zero)

New Jersey - 51 delegates - Trump 52.0, Cruz 18.0, Kaisch 24.0 (Trump 51)

New Mexico - 24 delegates (proportional) - No clear prediction (At least 8 for Trump).

South Dakota - 29 delegates - Conventional wisdom favors Cruz (clean sweep) (Trump zero)

Analysis of The Rest Of Primary Season

It is much harder to robustly predict the outcome of the GOP race, because the winner take all nature of the contests (with incomplete Congressional district level data) creates a large swing in close races such as the Indiana race. The three way races also leave open the possibility of tactical moves in which Cruz or Kaisch drops out of contention in a state to give the other non-Trump candidate a shot at depriving Trump of those delegates.

And, the significant share of the remaining delegates that Trump needs leaves much less margin for error.

Analysis of the races give us 5 races to consider further and 84 Trump delegates from easier to predict races, so he would need 187 additional delegates from those 5 races and uncommitted delegates to win in the first round.  If we make a conservative assumption that he will win at least a third of the delegates in the two states with a proportional allocation, his Trump's quota for Indiana, California and Oregon is 164 delegates out of the 257 delegates at stake in those states.

Trump leads in polling in both Indiana and California, which certainly gives him a viable shot at a first round win of the nomination and makes him even more of a front runner than he would have been otherwise.  He not only leads in delegates, but has a path to victory paved with states where he leads in the polls.

But, it is close in Indiana where the close race could make for a wide swing of possibilities. Certainly, Trump gets some Congressional district delegates and Cruz gets other Congressional district delegates in a close race, but a switch of Kaisch voters to Cruz, as the those two candidates suggested briefly, could shift the balance decisively to Cruz in Indiana and deny Trump any delegates from Indiana.

Oregon sits between Trump territory and Cruz territory and I have seen no polling from this mixed winner take all state, so it is hard to predict.

Most California delegates are awarded at the Congressional district level, rather than at the state level where Trump should win if current polling holds up, so neither Trump nor Cruz will get all of California's delegates in all probability, but the polling seems to favor Trump decisively in California overall.

If Trump wins decisively in Indiana, he will probably win the GOP nomination on the first round, as there is little else to dent his momentum before the race goes to California.  But, if Trump loses decisively in Indiana, he has even odds at best of winning a first round vote in the Convention.

At this point, I give Trump a 60% chance of winning on the first round.

Analysis of a Possible Contested Convention

If Trump secures 1,237 pledged delegates backing him in the first round of the convention, or falls a few delegates short but manages to win the backing of the handful of GOP super delegates in the first round, it is all over and Trump is the GOP nominee.

But, if Trump fails, the question is whether the Convention would suspend Rule 40(b) to allow someone other than Trump or Cruz to be considered, and if not, whether Trump or Cruz would win in a second round vote at the Convention.

Trump will undisputedly have secured more delegates by far, more of the popular vote by far, and more states in the Republican primary than Cruz or anyone else.  A Convention vote for Cruz will look like a coup and weaken him, perhaps irremediably with Trump supporters.  In contrast, supporters of other candidates may be disillusioned by a Trump win, but aren't nearly as likely to bolt the party in the end and won't be in a position to claim that Trump's win was illegitimate.

Trump isn't loved by the GOP establishment, but most of the candidates who were eliminated from the race after winning delegates (except Carson) have reluctantly endorsed Cruz, but almost nobody in the GOP establishment likes Cruz.  For example, former Speaker of the House Hastert denounced Cruz as Lucifer incarnate yesterday.  And, Trump has a much greater position to wheel and deal with personal or political favors for delegates than Cruz who has fewer resources and more unbreakable political commitments (and is simply less of a negotiator).

Cruz has tried hard to plant disloyal individuals as Trump delegates, and maybe he's succeeded.  It is hard to know as an outsider to the process.

I give Trump at least a 55% chance of winning in a second round vote against Cruz.  Combined with my prediction that he has a 60% chance of winning on the first round, this gives Trump an 88% chance of winning the GOP nomination in my estimation, with Cruz having perhaps a 10% chance of winning the nomination, and some other white knight having perhaps a 2% chance.

The crystal ball will be much less cloudy on Tuesday night when we have the results from Indiana.

Onto the General Election

In a Trump v. Clinton race, I would give Clinton an 80%-90% chance of winning, call it 85% to split the difference.  Her current margin in national polls over Trump is almost thee standard deviations, but I expect that to fall to quite a bit more than one standard deviation, but less than two standard deviations (95% chance) by the time the general election rolls along as Trump positions himself closer to the center and moderates his publicly expressed views and maybe even apologizes for some of his previous incendiary statement.

In a Cruz v. Clinton race, I would give Clinton a 75% chance of winning which is probably an underestimate given the legitimacy issues that Cruz will face and the fact that lots of Americans haven't yet had time to get to know him and that doing so will reduce his esteem in the eyes of the average voter.  Clinton leads Cruz in national polls by about one standard deviation, but I expect that the gap will grow over time.

In a White Knight v. Clinton race, I would give Clinton a 50% chance of winning (given Kaisch's strong polling against Clinton, but the true legitimacy problem that any such candidate would face).

This gives us a 16.7% chance of a Republican President in the 2016 general election and a 82% chance of a President Clinton and a 1.3% or so chance of a President Sanders (considering less than 2% but more than 1% chance of him being the nominee and the strong likelihood that he would do as well or better than Clinton in a general election under those circumstances).

So the odds regarding the likelihood of various persons being our next President in my estimation are:

* President Hillary Clinton 82%
* President Donald Trump 13.2%
* President Cruz 2.5%
* President Sanders 1.3%
* President Kaisch 1.0%

* Democratic President 5/6th
* Republican President 1/6th

Democratic Presidential Nomination Race Recap

As I will explain below, there is something like a 98% chance that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States.  You can safely ignore all developments in the remainder of the Democratic Party primary season and not miss anything.

Pay attention to the GOP race between Trump and Cruz instead, where there is at least a ghost of a chance of something interesting happening, even though Trump is overwhelmingly favored there as well.

The Results So Far

Clinton needs 17.4% of the remaining delegates (207 more) to win the Democratic Presidential nomination.

She leads Sanders in pledged delegates 1666 to 1359 (55% of those awarded so far) with 1,016 pledged delegates left to be awarded. A majority of the pledged delegates is 2,021, a threshold which she needs 355 more pledged delegates to surpass (about 35% of the remaining pledged delegates). Sanders needs to win 65% of the remaining pledged delegates to win a majority of the pledged delegates which he needs to make a moral claim that the super delegates should shift their support to him (in the absence of some new scandal impairing Hillary Clinton's prospects that provide an alternative basis to make this claim).

Clinton needs 720 delegates to have an outright majority of all of the delegates in the convention before even considering a single super delegate.  This is only 84 delegates more than she would get in the worst case realistic scenario for Clinton that I outline below, in which she gets at least 636 more pledged delegates, something that could very conceivably happen or at least come very close to happening, if she wins 40%-45% in states where Sanders is favored (instead of the 20% that I've assumed) and 70%+ in states where she is a strong favorite (instead of the 50% that I've assumed) - which would win her about 67 more delegates than I have assumed in a realistic worst case scenario for her.

She leads Sanders in super delegates 510 to 41, with 174 super delegates still undecided at this point. She has endorsements from more than 92% of the already committed super delegates and from 70% of all of the outstanding super delegates.

Key Facts

All Democratic primaries and caucuses in the Presidential race allocate delegates proportionally.

The winner will be decided in the first round vote at the Democratic National Convention, because only two candidates are winning.

Clinton has gotten at least 20% of the vote in every state except Vermont, where she came close.

Remaining Races With Predictions

The remaining Democratic Presidential nomination races are as follows (with polling aggregated per Real Clear Politics when available):

May 3
Indiana - 83 delegates - Clinton 49.6%, Sanders 43% (Clinton expected delegates 41)

May 7
Guam - 7 delegates (Clinton expected delegates at least 2)

May 10
West Virginia - 29 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Clinton in West Virginia (Clinton expected delegates at least 15)

May 17

Kentucky - 55 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Clinton in Kentucky (Clinton expected delegates at least 28)

Oregon - 61 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Sanders in Oregon (Clinton expected delegates at least 12)

June 4

Virgin Islands - 7 delegates (Clinton expected delegates at least 2)

June 5

Puerto Rico - 60 delegates (Clinton expected delegates at least 12)

June 7

California - 475 delegates - Clinton 49.0%, Sanders 42.3% (Clinton expected delegates more than 238)

Montana - 21 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Sanders in Montana (Clinton expected delegates at least 4)

New Jersey - 126 delegates - Clinton 51%, Sanders 42% (Clinton expected delegates more than 63)

New Mexico - 34 delegates (Clinton expected delegates at least 7)

North Dakota - 18 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Sanders in North Dakota (Clinton expected delegates at least 4)

South Dakota - 20 delegates - conventional wisdom favors Sanders in South Dakota (Clinton expected delegates at least 4)

June 14

District of Columbia - 20 delegates (Clinton expected delegates at least 4).


Minimum expected additional Clinton delegates assuming 20% where polling is not available and she is not clearly favored by conventional wisdom, 50% where polling is available and she is favored by conventional wisdom, and per her polling assuming all undecided voters go to Sanders where polling is available: 636

This is basically a worst realistic case scenario.  In it, she is almost sure to win both a majority of the pledged delegates and a majority of all of the delegates by a wide margin.

This prediction is highly robust because the assumptions made are very conservative and because the proportional delegate allocation rules make huge shifts in the popular vote necessary to cause significant shifts in the delegate count, especially when so many of the delegates have already been pledged, buffering any shift in the late polling that could influence the number of delegates awarded.

In this scenario, she can be abandoned by 84% of her super delegates and still win the race.  And, there is no reason to expect that even half of her super delegates will abandon her in favor of Sanders if Sanders does not win even a majority of the pledged delegates, which he will not.

In reality, Hillary Clinton will almost surely win more than 636 pledged delegates in the remaining races, and could afford to lose even more of her super delegates and still win.  Since Clinton's super delegate advantage will be a non-issue, the legitimacy of the nomination process will be untarnished, and Sanders will almost certainly acknowledge defeat and urge his supporters to back Clinton in the general election.

The odds of Sanders winning the Democratic Presidential nomination is much less than 1% in the absence of a major new scandal implicating Hillary Clinton, or a major deterioration in Hillary Clinton's health (e.g. an assassination prior to the Democratic National Convention like the one that killed Robert Kennedy).  The odds of either of those things happening is at most 1-2% or so in my estimation.

The odds the Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Presidential nominee is on the order of 98%.

The Sanders campaign has basically conceded this mathematical reality, has laid off hundreds of staffers as a result, and is now focusing on putting together a large slate of delegates to influence the party's platform and spreading his message, rather than on winning the Presidential nomination itself.

Secular Parenting Usually Produces Good Kids

Secular Parenting

One of the things that makes me most proud is that my children, who have been raised non-religiously, have each been publicly recognized for their good character both in elementary school and again middle school.  My daughter, in her pitch to become the President of George Washington High School's National Honor Society (spoiler: she won) told her audience that "service is my thing."

My family's experience isn't unique.
More children are “growing up godless” than at any other time in our nation's history. . . 
Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology. For nearly 40 years, Bengston has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generational cohorts in the United States. When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless. He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious' parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

[N]onreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy. . . .

[S]ecular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults. . . .

Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women's equality and gay rights. . . . Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. This echoes what the criminology field has documented for more than a century — the unaffiliated and the nonreligious engage in far fewer crimes.

Democratic countries with the lowest levels of religious faith and participation today — such as Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Belgium and New Zealand — have among the lowest violent crime rates in the world and enjoy remarkably high levels of societal well-being. If secular people couldn't raise well-functioning, moral children, then a preponderance of them in a given society would spell societal disaster. Yet quite the opposite is the case.
From the Los Angeles Times.

Note also, with respect to the prison population, that the average incarcerated person is younger than the average adult, because most crimes are committed by adolescents and young adults. A random sample of U.S. adults with the same age and ethnic makeup as the population of adults incarcerated in the United States is much more likely to be religiously unaffiliated than that general population of the United States which includes a much larger share older adults who are much more likely to be religious.

Secular Living And Social Class

If your intuition is that this is a case of high socio-economic class values, or ethnic values, transmission from parents to children, you are mostly, but not entirely, wrong.

Non-Hispanic whites and people who are more educated or more affluent, are more likely to be secular.  But, the differences in likelihood of being non-religious along class and ethnic lines are far more modest than most people would naively assume.

For example, people who are religiously "unaffiliated" make up about 20% of whites, 16% of Hispanics and 15% of African-Americans.

The breakdown (from the same source) by education is as follows:

The breakdown by income is similarly, only modestly tilted towards affluence relative to the general public:

An atheist or agnostic has the same likelihood of having "some college" or being in a lower middle income range as members of the U.S. general public, even though an atheist or agnostic is less likely to have no college education and is less likely to be in the lowest income category.

Secular population of the United States is much younger than the religiously affiliated population of the United States, however. "A plurality of atheists and agnostics (42%) are ages 18 to 29, and just 9% are 65 and older. By comparison, about one-fifth of the religiously affiliated (18%) are ages 18 to 29, and a similar portion are 65 and older (19%)."

This is not because secular people tend to convert to a religion when they become adults. It is uncommon for people raised non-religiously to adopt a religion as an adult. President Obama, who was raised non-religiously, but converted to Christianity as an adult, is an outlier in that respect.

Complicating parenting issues, however, there is also a significant gender gap in religious affiliation. Men are much more likely to not have a religious affiliation or to be actively atheist or agnostic, than women.

Secular people age 30+ are also about 10% less likely to be married than religious people in that age bracket (only some of which is attributable to a younger age distribution within that age bracket), and secular people under age 30 are almost half as likely to be married as religious people in that age bracket (again, with only some of that difference attributable to a younger age distribution within that age bracket).

Most secular people were raised in religious households.  Only 4% of households in the 1950s that produced the Baby Boomers were non-religious, and only 11% of the households that produced Generation X were non-religious.  Far larger shares of both of these age groups are non-religious today.  But, given that 30% of people aged 18-29 are religiously unaffiliated, the age people are most likely to be when they first have children, this may not be true for much longer.

What Do Secular People Believe?

About three in ten people who are not religiously affiliated specifically identify as atheist or agnostic.

About one in ten religiously unaffiliated people are looking for a religion that is right for them, but haven't found it yet.

About four in ten religiously unaffiliated people consider themselves to be "spiritual but not religious."

The likelihood that someone without a religious affiliation will have spiritual or supernatural beliefs not commonly viewed as religious in the United States (e.g. believing in astrology, ghosts, or the existence of magical spells) is roughly the same as the likelihood that religiously affiliated people hold such beliefs.

U.S. Teen Birth Rate At All Time Low

Teen birth rates are lower now than they have ever been in the history of the United States, although they remain high by the standard of other developed countries.

According to the Center for Disease Control the trend towards lower teen pregnancy rates has continued with only modest interruption since 1991 and was particularly pronounced in the eight years from 2006 to 2014 (the latest year for which data are available). "In 1991, the birth rate among females age 15 to 19 was 61.8 per 1,000. As of 2014, that number has declined to 24.2 per 1,000."
Birth rates are down a whopping 51 percent among Hispanics age 15 to 19 since 2006, and down 44 percent among black teens, according to a survey of census data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen pregnancy rates among whites also fell by a third.
From here

This has reduced racial and ethnic disparities in teen birth rates.  Hispanic teen birth rates (38.0 per 1,000) are now about 9% more than black teen birth rates (34.9 per 1,000), which are in turn about twice the white teen birth rate (17.3 per 1,000).

Greater use of contraception and especially long term contraception has been an important factor in the change: "use of long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and implants jumped from 1 percent of teens a decade ago to 7 percent in 2014." But, teens are also simply having sex less often.

Abortion rates per teen pregnancy have been more or less constant during this time period (resulting in dramatically fewer teen abortions as a result).

28 April 2016

Dealing With Writer's Block

A very constructive guest post at Charlie's blog discusses some of the most common causes of writer's block (and it very often does have mundane causes) and how to address them.  

The opening line, a long neglected glasses prescription that is causing non-specific symptoms that is wrecking havoc with your life, is something that actually happened to me two or three years after graduating from law school and then moving to Colorado.  I had been having awful headaches for months, a number of inexplicable close calls while driving, and just generally felt awful.  

I went home for Thanksgiving, stopped by my usual childhood optometrist, because I hadn't been for a while and wanted a new style of glasses for the new Western Colorado me, and voila, all was explained.  My prescription was much, much worse than five years earlier when I'd gotten my last pair of glasses towards the end of my college career.  And, in just a few days, all of the symptoms that I hadn't know that I'd been suffering from were gone.  

Sometimes problems with very complex effects have very simple causes.

Blaha and Frazier Fail To Make Colorado GOP Senate Primary

The primary in the race to be the Republican candidate to oppose incumbent Democrat Michael Bennett will have just two candidates:

* Daryll Glenn, an African-American former military office who was the sole candidate to make it on the ballot via the caucus process (and who will command the top line on the ballot as a result) who has raised almost nothing for his campaign so far, and

* Jack Graham, a retired insurance salesman and former CSU athletic director who has raised more money than any other candidate and is one of the most liberal GOP candidates in the state (and was a Democrat until not so long ago), who got onto the ballot by Petition.  By the end of March he'd raced about $300,000 and loaned himself another $1,000,000, although a big chunk of that was spent to get on the ballot via the petition process.

Neither of them have ever previously held any elected office.  CORRECTION: Glenn in an El Paso County Commissioner.  Graham is a first time candidate.  I apologize for the inadvertent error. Glenn's political experience may give him an edge over Graham in addition to his conservative bona fides.  Advantage Glenn. END CORRECTION.

These are the only two candidates who will appear on the ballot because the other three candidates who tried to petition onto the ballot Keyser, Blaha and Frazier all failed to submit enough signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State to get on the ballot.  Both will probably appeal this decision, but Blaha and Frazier each have bigger shortfalls than Keyser did and will be hard pressed to win an appeal.

An unnamed legal expert thinks Keyser will get back on the ballot when a judge rules in his challenge tomorrow.  I am far more skeptical.

Primary election ballots must be turned in by voters by June 28, 2016, and given Colorado's penchant for mail in ballots, many will be cast far sooner.  The remainder of the Republican U.S. Senate campaign in Colorado, now that we finally know who will be on the ballot (subject to appeals in the next few days) will be highly compressed.

The primary will tell whether conservative politics and political experience (which clearly favor Glenn) or money and name recognition (which favor Graham) matter more in the GOP primary.

Incumbent Senator Michael Bennet has lots of things going for him in this race.  He has a mountain of campaign funds.  He has more and more relevant political experience than either candidate.  He can legitimately say that anything that the unpopular Congress has done is not his fault.  He can benefit for Hillary Clinton's coattails and from the generally higher Presidential year voter turnout that usually favors Democrats.  He has a statewide campaign network in place and ready to go.  He doesn't have to fight off a primary contestant so had can campaign as a moderate Democrat just as he has governed.

On the other hand, neither Glenn nor Graham are your run of the mill Republican candidates. The political winds seem to be favoring outsiders this year.  And, no race other than the Presidential race will get more free media this year in Colorado, so a lack of funds is somewhat less of a handicap.

Still, both of these candidates are clearly from the Republican B team and both face long odds to win in November this year.

Can You Copyright A Language?

A truly brilliant bilingual Klingon-English amicus brief argues that no one can claim a copyright in the constructed Klingon language. Some context is available here.

Among other things, it notes that legally binding weddings and contracts have been carried out in Klingon, government officials have made public announcements in Klingon, that it has one native speaker (I know the child's father personally), and that words spoken in Klingon have provided a basis for a criminal conviction.

Case law is cited by analogy, but the case is largely one of first impression.

Technological Advances Continue Unabated

A lengthy blog post mentioned at Marginal Revolution recounts the really stunning capacity of scientists and engineers to relentlessly continue to make technological advances even in mature industries, with a compendium of charts and figures across a wide variety of industries.

The progress made in information technology, battery technology, energy efficiency, and solar panel prices are particularly impressive.

8000 Posts

Between this blog and its sister blog, Dispatches at Turtle Island, including this post, I have now made 8,000 blog posts since July 3, 2005 when it all began, a little less than 11 years ago.

There have also been 6,484 comments published and not deleted in that time period (countless spam comments are deleted on a regular basis as are many accidental double posts by legitimate commenters).

Between the two blogs there have been more than 1.5 million page views since Wash Park Prophet began. Recently, there have been about 785 page views of the combined two blogs on an average day, although it varies a great deal, with posts that attract a great deal of interest (e.g. posts on state and local races during election season) often garnering far more interest, while other days are slow, particularly when I go a while without making any new posts.

Life Imitates Art Again

It isn't unusual for the engineers who design military equipment to reference science fiction.  For example, a whole line of sniper detection devices used by the U.S. military have names that reference the science fiction/western hybrid series Firefly.  But, some defense industry engineers from China have taking the imitation of science fiction meme to a whole new level. 

They've decided that the world needs real life Daleks.

Daleks from the British Science Fiction comedy "Dr. Who".

China's new armed guard robot called the Anbot:
Edward Snowden, the U.S.’s most famous whistleblower, tweeted of the Anbot from Russia: “Surely this will end well.”
The Anbot will have either a Taser or electric cattle prod and will be used for guard duty, routine policing and riot control.

27 April 2016

Precedents Trump Texts

The following was recently posted at the Legal Theory Blog:
David A. Strauss (University of Chicago Law School) has posted The Supreme Court, 2014 Term—Foreword: Does the Constitution Mean What it Says? (129 Harvard Law Review 1 (2015)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract: 
The conventional view is that constitutional law begins with the text of the Constitution and proceeds from there. But that misdescribes U.S. constitutional law. Controversies in constitutional law are, almost always, about the meaning and effect of precedents, not about the text. Many important principles of constitutional law are inconsistent with the most natural reading of the text. The precedents govern the text, rather than the other way around; the text becomes important only when there are few precedents. 
Constitutional law, in a word, is not a text-based system, but a mixed system in which provisions of the text are treated roughly like precedents: they are expanded, limited, qualified, reconceived, or all-but-ignored, depending on how the law develops, and on judgments about how the law should develop. 
Highly recommended!  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  I think most readers of LTB have already read Strauss's wonderful and brave piece, but if not, download it while it's hot!| 

Unlike Lawrence Solum, I tend to think that David A. Strauss is not just right, but is rather obviously right in a descriptive sense of how constitutional law actually works in practice.

In the European civil law system, any judge can use the text of a statute to trump a statutory interpretation of that text.  In the English common law system of jurisprudence, in contrast, precedents interpreting statutes are especially strong and are honored even when they call for an unnatural reading of the text, in order to promote certainty.  The "super precedent" status of cases interpreting statutes, which can in principle easily be amended by the legislature doesn't apply with quite the same force in constitutional cases.  But, the same general method of construing statutes in light of precedents still applies.

Examples of non-obvious interpretations of the United States Constitution that have the force of law as a result of precedents (not exclusively, but often, from the U.S. Supreme Court) are legion.

For example, there is no way that you could determine from the face of the 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution that it codifies state sovereign immunity from suit.

Another Week Of Primaries; More Certainty

* Clinton need just 18% of the remaining uncommitted delegates (pledged and super) to win the Democratic nomination.  Almost all of the Democratic contests remaining are proportional.

It is virtually impossible for Sanders to become the Democratic party nominee at this point. It will take her until June 7, for her to seal the deal.  But, by then, she will need only about 11% of the delegates remaining (or less) to cinch the nomination.  In polling, Clinton and Sanders are currently neck and neck, and I can't think of any primary that Sanders has won by an 82-18 margin.  Clinton can direly screw up once or twice in the next month and a half and still win out of sheer force of inertia.

Her odds of winning the Democratic nomination at this point are well in excess of 95%.  Maybe 97-98% would be more realistic.  In all likelihood, she will win the race for pledged delegates handily, in addition to dominating the ranks of the super-delegates and winning the "popular vote."

* Trump has 988 delegates after today and he needs 1237 (249 more).  So, he needs about 43% of the remaining delegates, which would be a problem except that he is a decisive front runner in West Virginia, New Jersey and California, has a narrow lead in Indiana, and is likely to pick up a few extra delegates here and there, at least in the few states that award GOP delegates proportionately.

Trump may not have the cakewalk that Clinton has ahead of her for the remainder of the primary season.  But, he can manage to be a fairly mediocre front runner and still cinch the nomination on a first round vote with pledged delegates alone.

And, it stands to reason that a front runner in the primary and caucus process nationwide is going to be so hated in Cleveland that he can't wrangle at least some uncommitted delegates.  So, he can actually still win in the first round with some undetermined number of delegates less than 43% of those remaining.  Certainly, Trumps path to the Republican Presidential nomination is much more straightforward than it is for anyone else.

Cruz needs a miracle.  It is mathematically impossible for Cruz to win in the first round with the support of his pledged delegates even if Cruz wins every single remaining delegate in every single GOP primary remaining.  The only shot Cruz has is to receive massive defections of pledged candidates in his favor in a second round of convention voting, and it isn't at all obvious that this would go his way in a two way race between Trump and Cruz who are the only two candidates even eligible to run under current GOP rules that are unlikely to be changed this year.

Trump needs a few weeks that don't absolutely suck.

Trumps odds of winning the Republican nomination are about 75%, with Cruz at about 20% and everyone else combined at less than 5%.  Indeed, those numbers are probably unduly hard on Trump and too favorable to Cruz and unnamed white knights.  Maybe the real numbers are more like 85%-13%-2%.

Also, any Cruz win must entail what amounts to a GOP establishment coup.  Trump is pretty much guaranteed to have a plurality of the delegates and votes going into the convention.

26 April 2016

Econ 102 Didn't Tell Me This Could Happen

When I took macroeconomics in college, we assumed that interest rates would always be positive. Who would buy a government bond with a negative interest rate, we thought?  Obviously that couldn't happen.

Except, it has, in both Japan and Germany, both of which are respectable industrialized countries who financial policies are not run by lunatics.

25 April 2016

And Then There Were Four

Just one candidate for the GOP nomination to the U.S. Senate race in Colorado against incumbent Democrat Michael Bennett made the June 28, 2016 primary ballot via the caucus process: Darryl Glenn, who made his career as a military officer before retiring.

Four more candidates have tried to Petition onto the ballot. So far, one has made it, Jack Graham (the retired CSU athletic director and insurance salesman, not the famous Texas pastor), a moderate Republican who used to be a Democrat (who made it onto the ballot even though 43.4% of his signatures were invalidated), and one has failed, John Keyser.

At valid petition must signatures from 1,500 signatures in each of the state's seven Congressional districts from registered to vote Republicans who have not signed any petitions previously reviewed by the Colorado Secretary of State Williams (who happens to be a Republican) in the race.

Keyser was 86 signatures short in the Third Congressional District and 29.8% of his signatures were found to be invalid. Keyser has five days to appeal the decision and plans to do so, but he has less than even odds of prevailing in that attempt.  He would need to validate 6% more petition signatures to get on the ballot.  What went wrong?
"A prolific signature gatherer wasn't registered in the district he/she was supposed to be registered in," said one source close to Keyser's campaign. "So the sigs were 'valid' but collected by the wrong person.” . . .  One-third of Keyser's rejected signatures were thrown out because of problems with the petition circulators, not the petition signers themselves, according to documentation from [Colorado Secretary of State] Williams' office.
Two more candidates: Robert Blaha (a Colorado Springs businessman who has never held political office) and Ryan Frazier (a former city councilman from Aurora) are still waiting to have their timely submitted petitions reviewed by the Colorado Secretary of State.  Announcements for each of those campaigns are expected later this week.

This is good news for Darryl Glenn, leaving him one less competitor. This is bad news for Jack Graham, who needs to split the vote of Republican conservatives to have a shot at the nomination.

And, it may give Blaha and Frazier chills because high invalidation rates and the fact that someone who signed more than one Petition will be invalidated in their count even if it was valid in a previous count, means that it will be a close thing for either to be found to have a valid petition.

Blaha and Frazier each turned in only a thousand more signatures than Keyser did (about 17,000). Graham turned in about 22,786 signatures. Keyser turned in only 16,067 signatures. A slightly higher invalidation rate for either Blaha or Frazier than Keyser could keep that candidate off the ballot (again, hurting Graham, but helping Glenn and any other candidate who makes the ballot).

In terms of campaign finance, Blaha, who has raised more money than the other conservative candidates and can self-fund, has the edge.  Frazier has raised very little and Darryl has raised even less. Graham leads the fundraising race so far and can also self-fund, but his political moderation hurts him in the primary.

In a two way race, Darryl probably wins, despite his extreme shortfall in cash relative to Graham. In a three or four way race, any of the candidates on the ballot could win on any given day, with Graham faring better in a four way race than a three way race. Frazier is probably the front runner if he makes the ballot, simply due to higher name recognition than his competitors from previous attempts to win higher office, again, despite his lack of funding.

Keyser had led the fundraising raise among conservative candidates in the GOP race until he was eliminated today.

None of the candidates have much of a real shot against well funded, moderate incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennett in a year where he will also probably benefit from Presidential coattails and strong general election turnout. Indeed, they are only in this race at all because more prominent Colorado Republicans with a better shot at winning decided not to even try to beat Bennett.

Interestingly, this GOP race for statewide office has two African-American candidates (Darryl and Frazier), and Graham, a rare moderate Republican candidate, any of whom would be greater threats to Bennett than Blaha who is a conservative GOP nominee out of central casting and unlikely to attract much interest from swing voters in the general election.

Colorado was also one of the states most supportive of Ben Carson's candidacy, and has previously elected an African-American Republican to be Colorado Secretary of State.  The Colorado Republican party is just a little bit different than the Republican party organizations of the American South.

Long Term Oil Price Forecast

Oil Price Forecast 2020 and 2040

By 2020, the average price of a barrel of Brent crude oil will rise to $79/bbl (in 2013 dollars, which removes the effect of inflation). That's a result of a significant increase in shale oil production, which will slow after 2021, contributing to a decline in total U.S. oil production through 2040.

After 2020, world demand will start driving oil prices to the equivalent of $141.28/barrel in 2040 (again, in 2013 dollars). By then, the cheap sources of oil will have been exhausted, making it more expensive to extract oil. (Source: Annual Energy Outlook, EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration), July 7, 2015)

The forecasts all depend on 1) what happens with U.S. shale oil production, 2) how OPEC responds, and 3) how fast the global economy grows. These are all so uncertain that the EIA is unwilling (or perhaps unable) to set a hard and fast forecast. Furthermore, this forecast will probably change dramatically when the new report comes out in 2016. 
The drop in oil prices in 2014 and 2015 caught EIA off-guard. 
Oil prices reached the record high of $145 a barrel in 2008, and were $100 a barrel in 2014. That's when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecast that the price of Brent oil could go as high as $270 per barrel by 2020. It attributed that to skyrocketing demand from China and other emerging markets.

The idea of oil at $200/barrel seems catastrophic to the American way of life. But people in the European Union were paying the equivalent of about $250 per barrel for years due to high taxes. That didn't stop the EU from being the world's third-largest oil consumer. As long as people have time to adjust, they will find ways to live with higher oil prices.

Furthermore, 2020 is only four years away. Look how volatile prices have been in the last ten years. In March 2006, a barrel of Brent Crude sold for around $60 a barrel. It skyrocketed to $145 a barrel in 2008, leveled out to around $100 a barrel in 2014, plummeted to a 13-year low in January, then rebounded 40% to current levels. If many shale oil producers go out of business, and Iran doesn't produce what it says it could, prices could easily return to historical price levels.

The OECD admits that super-high prices would slow economic growth and demand for oil itself. That's because high oil prices can result in "demand destruction." As prices skyrocket, people change their buying habits. Demand destruction occurred after the 1979 oil shock. Oil prices steadily deteriorated for about six years and then finally collapsed when demand declined and supply caught up. (Source: Jenny Gross, OECD Says Oil Prices Could Reach $150-$270 BBL by 2020, WSJ, March 6, 2013)

However, oil speculators could spike the price higher if they panic about future supply shortages. That's what happened in 2008. Traders were afraid that China's demand for oil would overtake supply. Investors drove oil prices to a record $145/barrel. These fears were grossly unfounded, as the world soon plunged into recession, and demand for oil dropped.
From here.


As a result of thumb, gasoline prices per gallon are roughly 1/25th of oil prices per barrel.  So, $200 a a barrel oil implies roughly $8 per gallon gasoline.

To recap and to add some of the other big factors in long range oil price forecasting, the more important factors in long term oil prices include:

1.  What will happen with U.S. shale oil production and fracking?

The EIA estimate that this will cease to be a major factor as soon as 5 years from now seems pessimistic.

2.   How will OPEC respond?

Day to day, OPEC matters a lot, but in the long run we would expect its decision making to be driven by the fundamentals.

3.   How fast will the global economy grow?

A small number of large developing countries like China, Brazil, Mexico and India may guide this factor.  This factor may be underestimated in EIA estimates.

4.  Will non-petroleum fueled vehicles reduce demand for petroleum?  To a great extent this is a function of battery technology.

Electric cars with current technologies become more attractive than gasoline/diesel vehicles somewhere in the vicinity of $8-$16 per gallon gasoline.  But, cheaper batteries and mass production price reductions can move that "phase change" point lower.

Note also that developments in hydropower, tidal power, solar power and nuclear power technologies are all almost irrelevant to petroleum prices.  Electric cars cost much less to fuel than petroleum powered cars already and new technologies will only modestly impact that differential.

Honestly, the shift to organic agriculture will probably have more impact on oil prices than the shift to renewable energy sources.

5.  Will there be widespread shifts to more fuel efficient vehicles (e.g. hybrids), or higher occupancy per vehicle-mile traveled (e.g. car pooling and buses), or shorter trips (e.g. to park and ride stations)?

This should start to happen at oil prices lower than the prices necessary to make electric cars more attractive than gasoline and diesel cars (ca. $4 per gallon and up on a sustained basis).

6.  Will petroleum substitutes such as liquid fuels converted from natural gas, coal, ethanol, or biodiesel (e.g. from grease) provide meaningful additional supply?

Some of these possibilities have trigger prices where they start to make sense at oil prices between $50 and $100 per barrel on a sustained basis.  Previous experience and analysis has suggested that the potential for biofuels is much weaker than has been often assumed in the past.

Note that all of the changes in (4)-(6) will significantly slow oil price increases at the threshold level, but probably won't actually reduce oil prices much or remove oil entirely from the economy.


It also pays to heed the lessons that oil prices will not evolve in a steady fashion.  They will rise and fall with business cycles, with international conflicts and OPEC policy changes, with new technologies, and with relatively random short term speculative booms and busts.

Also, note that while "Peak Oil" is very relevant to long term oil prices, it is not a stand alone factor. Peak oil may kink the average rate of increase in oil prices up a bit, but doesn't mean that there will no longer be any oil in the economy.

The Price of Prohibition

Would eight members of a Southern Ohio family have been executed in the dark of night if their marijuana grow operations had been legal?

Probably not.

Instead, both sides of some dispute would have probably have hired someone like me to resolve the dispute in the courts.

22 April 2016

Earth Day in Denver Is A Big Day For RTD This Year

Today is Earth Day, a celebration near and dear to my heart because my father was involved in the original Earth Day, not so long before I was born.

One of the notable experiences of my own adult life has been to bear witness to Denver's transit system come into being from almost nothing when I arrived in Denver.

RTD's Big Year

In honor of the day, Denver's Regional Transportation District is opening its 22.8 mile commuter rail A line from Union Station to the Denver International Airport today. (This also connects Denver's Gateway and Stapleton neighborhoods by rail to downtown.)  Tomorrow, all rail lines in the RTD system will be free and there will be parties at each of the new A line stops.

This is the one of several major transit expansions for the year for RTD, which has also brought a revamped fare structure. Overall, RTD is adding 50.7 miles to its electric rail lines this year, in addition to 18 miles of bus rapid transit infrastructure along U.S. 36.

This dramatic expansion of transit in Denver will make the city one of the best served by transit in the country, and regional municipalities are working hard to leverage that by authorizing high density transit friendly zoning near rail stops - evidence of which is visible across the metropolitan area.

A Brief Historical Detour.

From 1886-1950, Denver had intracity rail service provided by the Denver Tramway Company, but this was discontinued in 1950.
The tramway made use of a variety of types of streetcars, including conduit cars (until 1888), cable cars (until 1900), and trolley cars (until 1950). At the height of its trolley operations, the tramway owned more than 160 miles (260 km) of track and operated over 250 streetcars. By the end of trolley service, only 64 streetcars were still in use.
The Denver Tramway Company continued to exist an provide bus service in greater Denver until 1971 when its assets were sold to the City of Denver.  Denver in turn, transferred the assets to the Regional Transportation District (RTD) which it created in cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions and the state legislature in 1974.

Denver's current light rail system opened with only the 10.5 mile "Central Corridor" light rail line in October of 1994, after 44 years without rail.  The 8.7 mile Southwest Corridor light rail line opened in 2000 (shortly after I moved to Denver).  The 1.8 mile Central Platte Valley spur of RTD's light rail service opened in 2002.

On the map above, the portions in dark blue/purple represent the 40 miles of transit were in place or under construction before FasTracks was approved.  Of this, 19 miles of which, basically the entire Southwest leg of the project, was part of the T-REX project which started land acquisition in 2002 and was completed in 2006.

The 12.1 mile W line from Union Station to Golden added in 2013 (shown in aqua on the map above) was added as part of FasTracks (which was approved by voters in 2004 ballot initiative). Denver's Union Station itself was overhauled in 2014.

Thus, in the year 1999, when I moved to Denver, there were only a 10.5 miles of the Central Corridor light rail line that was just five years old (and was less than two years old when I move to Colorado) and there was no bus rapid transit. At the end of 2019, there will be 96.6 miles of rail and 18 additional miles of bus rapid transit in the region. Denver also has many bus lines that offer frequent bus service along many of the metro area's major arterial streets, that provide service that rivals intracity rail in convenience without the infrastructure costs associated with rail lines.

The FasTracks project has more than doubled the size of metro Denver's transit system, even excluding portions shown in green, which may never be completed, unless new funding is found. If FasTracks is ever completed as planned it will rival the peak size of the Denver Tramway Company's transit network of 1886-1950.

This Year's Other RTD Expansions

This summer, a 6.2 mile stub of a commuter rail B line from Union Station to Westminster (a first installment of the planned 41 mile commuter rail to Boulder and Longmont) will open.

This fall, an 11.2 mile commuter rail G line from Union Station to Arvada and Wheat Ridge will open.

And, this winter before the end of the year, the R line extending the existing light rail service to 9 Mile station in Aurora by 10.5 miles, all of the way along the I-225 corridor to the A line will be completed.  All of the track has been laid for the R line now, but it still takes months to get it ready to enter service.

Many new rail stations are opening in connection with the new lines and the downtown Denver's Civic Center bus station will also be rebuilt into a larger RTD bus depot now that the Market Street station hub in LoDo has been replaced by services offered at Union Station which a developer has purchased for a mixed use office, commercial and micro-apartment project.

The expanded bus rapid transit, shuttle, and rail services will also entail a major overhaul RTD's bus services, particularly its longer trip regional and express bus services.

Coming Attractions

There are still some loose ends to the FasTracks project, approved by metropolitan Denver voters in 2004, to complete after 2016.

The portions to be completed through 2019 are shown in orange on the map above.

Public-private partnerships put two of the remaining portions ahead of the schedule dictated by available funding. A commuter rail line will go north from Union Station along I-25 (only 13 miles of the planned 18.5 miles of the line is set for expedited completion in 2018 with the last 5.5 miles coming later, perhaps much, much later) and a 2.3 mile extension of the light rail line along I-25 to the Denver Tech Center to the Skyridge Hospital (set to open in 2019).

The remaining parts of the project are shown in green on the map above.

Lagging at the very end of the FasTracks project will be a 0.8 mile continuation of the 30th and Downing light rail line will be continued to the A line (the Central Rail Extension L line), a 2.5 mile extension of the Southwest rail line to Highlands Ranch. The scheduled dates for these projects hasn't been set, but appears to be after 2035, unless new sources of funding can be identified.

The Highland's Ranch extension probably will receive corporate sponsorship and assistance.

It would be a great shame to make the final 0.8 mile extension needed to complete the central part of the plan wait another two decades, but no private or public co-sponsors of that relatively tiny part of the overall plan have come forward and RTD is basically out of money for the near future. The W light rail line is the most recent light rail comparable in Denver, and it cost $707 million to build, greatly over budget due to various management mistakes, with completion in 2013 and was 12.1 miles long for an average of $58.4 million per mile.  At that rate, it ought to cost about $47 million to build the Central Rail Extension L line, some of which has already been expended for environmental impact statements and planning.  This would serve not just people in Northeast Denver neighborhoods, but also people en route to DIA from all points to the South who would like to bypass Union Station. (Also, with a slight additional modification requiring no new stations and less than a mile of additional rail, the Central Rail Extension L line could be extended to connect with the N line to the North as well as the A line to the East, allowing commuters from northern suburbans to bypass Union Station en route to the Denver Tech Center.)

Finally, an extension of the commuter rail B line the rest of the way to Boulder and Longmont from Westminster (the existence of a BRT substitute already in place to Boulder makes this a lower priority).  The FasTracks proposal called for a commuter rail line from Denver to Boulder to Longmont.  But, the last leg from Boulder to Longmont would provide almost no benefit relative to bus rapid transit according to recent studies, so it will probably never be built.  As the Denver Post editorial board explains:
Total daily ridership on bus and rail would increase by only 300 riders by 2035 if the $1.15 billion line were built to Longmont, according to a recent analysis by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project of RTD's Northwest Area Mobility Study. Not only that, travel time actually would be longer on the train than in rapid transit bus — 71 minutes on the rail from Longmont station to Union Station compared to 53 minutes by rapid bus.
Work on these last two parts of the B line for a total of 35 miles of rail line is not scheduled to begin for another 24 years, i.e. not until 2040.

Colorado's Intercity Transit Service

The transit picture for greater Denver also includes "Bustang", an affordable intercity luxury commuter bus service, provided by the state, on I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins and to Colorado Springs, and along I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs.

This service, as much as anything, demonstrates by example that the limited market for this service doesn't require high speed rail (at least in the I-25 corridor where high speed rail would be least expensive with $9.8 billion in construction costs for 135 miles or so of track from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, where population densities are greatest), because most of I-25 on this route is fast (75 miles per hour, only slightly reduced for select stops by bus), because luxury buses can provided the amenities that high speed rail users would seek, and because the amount of demand for the service is fairly weak even at very modest prices.

I-25 tends to be gridlocked every rush hour in the Denver metropolitan area (and savvy Bustang users can transition to RTD transit to avoid that rather than going all of the way to the downtown stop), but absent snowstorms and major construction projects, I-25 is rarely congested enough to significantly slow traffic in the rest of the Front Range.

Put another way, high speed rail on the Front Range is only attractive enough to secure economically viable demand if it is materially faster than driving or flying, at a not much greater price.  "High speed" rail service along the I-25 corridor that goes 95 mph, for example, would provide almost no benefit relative to driving your own car on that route.  But, perhaps at 180 mph, high speed rail along the I-25 corridor might begin to make sense if it wasn't too expensive and Front Range urban areas other than greater Denver started to experience a great deal of population growth.

Intense traffic congestion on I-70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs during ski season (and the vulnerability of those roads to closure due to accidents, snow and landslides) make the potential benefits per trip for high speed rail in that corridor relative to bus service much greater.  But, the population density served is much lower in the I-70 corridor than in the I-25 corridor, traffic is low outside of ski season (overall an estimated two-thirds less traffic per year), and the cost of building high speed rail in the mountains is much greater per mile ($16.5 billion from Golden to Eagle, about 120 miles) than on the flat open plains (much of which is open land and farm country) of the I-25 corridor.  On the other hand, since I-70 is near capacity in ski season already, adding rail service could produce substantial interstate highway road construction savings, reaching into the billions of dollars.

(In addition, Colorado has an Amtrak line that runs through Denver, an Amtrak line that grazes the far Southeast corner of the state, irregular season Ski Train service to Winter Park when funding is available, Greyhound bus service, and some smaller intercity bus or van shuttle operators.)

Why Transit?

What does Denver get out of its immense investment in transit that has provided it with a comprehensive system of electric rail service that puts most of the metro area within a modest distance from their nearest rail station?

First, this is a hedge against rising oil prices.  Prior to FasTracks, Denver would basically collapse if oil prices rose too much to make a city connected entirely by gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles economically viable.  Now, if oil prices rise, most metro area residents can replace most of their commutes with a transit system that isn't sensitive to oil prices.

In particular, the new comprehensive transit system makes it viable for someone wanting to go to most of the metro area's commercial center to park and ride with a short range electric vehicle (or bicycle) to a rail station, and then to make the rest of the trip by train.  So, even if we completely ran out of oil, the city could live on, while other cities that were not so far sighted would have to play catch up spending a decade or more when they had no alternatives and construction was much more expensive trying to put a transit system in place.

This said, Denver's transit system is not really a potentially complete replacement of motor vehicles. It is essentially a system for getting commuters and out of town travelers to downtown, the Denver Tech Center and the Denver International Airport that closely mirrors the interstate highway system in the metropolitan area.  It isn't designed to provide neighborhood to neighborhood transportation (which RTD does via buses).

Second, it is a hedge against future interstate highway system congestion.  The A line opening today will already often be faster than trying to get from downtown to the airport on the highway. Denver is creeping into permanent gridlock during rush hours, and rail provides a faster alternative at those times that can be expanded much less expensively than expanding interstate highways with more lanes in the metro area.  The more rush hour congestion grows, the more ridership the transit system will see.

(Incidentally, rail systems are also much less likely to be obstructed in bad weather or due to accidents, making the overall transportation system more robust in bad weather.)

Metropolitan Denver, and the City and County of Denver proper in particular, has been growing like wildfire, pretty much continuously since the early 1980s oil bust, and especially in the last decade and a half.  Denver has gone from being a medium sized middle of the United States city to a world class city of the first or second rank.

Despite seemingly having no natural boundaries (in fact, limited water supplies impose nearly invisible boundaries as Douglas County's ever falling ground water table reminds us), recent construction in the Denver metropolitan area has been at urban densities comparable to major cities with much more restricted natural limits on their available land.  Denver has made excellent use of infill opportunities and land use regulation changes to squeeze more people onto the same land.  And, higher population density is the key to making transit more attractive economically.

Third, it allows for higher density construction in commercial centers without the need to provide parking for new commercial development, while simultaneously increasing the value of housing across the metro area by bringing such much of it closer in terms of travel time to commercial centers than the pre-transit systems.  In a nutshell, transit allows downtown to outsource parking to distant park and ride stations which helps both commuters and people attending sporting, entertainment and civic events in the urban core.

It turns out that it is almost a global, universal empirical economic fact that higher population density is strongly correlated with greater economic productivity per worker.  So, facilitating higher density strengthens our economy.

Without good transit, metropolitan Denver would have to develop more dispersed and lower density suburban office parks that would be less economically productive, and the capacity of central Denver to be a first class sports and entertainment hub for the entire region would be impaired.  Yet, it has consistently been shown that healthier central cities yield economic benefits for entire metropolitian areas.

Fourth, it helps the environment in a city where ozone levels have impaired air quality.

Electric trains are not inherently more environmentally friendly than gasoline and diesel driven motor vehicles.  The coal that fuels much of the power grid in Colorado is very dirty energy.  And, emissions from new vehicles are much lower than their predecessors.

But, the large number of passengers on average per rail car-mile, and the efficiency of electric motors relative to internal combustion engines, tilts the balance back in favor of transit.  Equally important, as Colorado's electric grid (which is already about 25% sourced from renewable energy) becomes greener, everything that relies on electricity automatically and effortlessly becomes greener without any change in consumer behavior.  And, utility companies are in a much better position to be at the cutting edge of green energy innovation than every day consumers.

Fifth, the more extensive transit system also makes it easier for the disabled and other non-drivers (older children, people with suspended driver's licenses, people who can't afford vehicles) to access destinations across the metro area.  From a practical perspective, this is more of a side effect and serves a population that was already willing, because it had no other choice, to use existing RTD bus service to the same destinations which has been in place for decades.  But, it is still a benefit of transit.

Ranking Denver's Transit System

By the end of 2016, only six North American cities have more combined miles of commuter rail and light rail than Denver:

1. New York City 260.8
2. Mexico City 148.75
3. San Francisco 144.2
4. Philadelphia 118.4
5. Washington D.C. 117.0
6. Chicago 102.8
7. Los Angeles 98.5
8. Toronto 93.4
9. Dallas 91.6
10. Denver 90.7 
11. Portland 67.35
12. Boston 64.0
13. San Diego 53.5
14. Atlanta 50.3
15. Baltimore 48.5
16. Salt Lake City 46.8
17. Saint Louis 46.0
18. Montreal 43.0
19. Sacramento 42.9
20. Vancouver 42.6
21. San Jose 42.2
22. Calgary 37.2
23. Trenton-Camden 34.0
24. Cleveland 32.3
25. Pittsburg 26.2
26. Phoenix 26.0
27. Miami 24.2
28. Seattle 24.2
29. Houston 22.7
30. New Orleans 22.3
31. Oceanside 22.0
32. Monterrey (Mexico) 20.0
33. Minneapolis 21.8
34. Jersey City 17.0
35. Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) 17.0
36. Edmonton 15.1
37. Guadalajara 14.9
38. San Juan 10.7
39. Charlotte 9.6
40. Panama City 8.5
41. Norfolk 7.4
42. Buffalo 6.4
43. Memphis 6.3
44. Newark 6.2
45. Ottowa 5.0
46. Tuscon 3.9
47. Tampa 2.7

No city in Latin America other than Mexico City has any urban rail or light rail service with as many miles as Denver's city (the runner up in Latin America, Santiago (Chile) has 64.0 miles of rail, third is Sao Paulo (Brazil) with 46.1 miles).  There are 24 cities with urban rail or light rail service in Latin America other than Mexico City, Santiago and Sao Paulo.

By the end of 2019, Denver will have 108 miles, surpassing Dallas, Toronto, Los Angeles and Chicago, and making Denver first for a non-coastal U.S. city, fifth in the United States, and sixth in the Americas. If the entire FasTracks project is completed, Denver will have 151.6 miles of rail lines and be second only to New York City in combined miles of commuter rail and light rail in all of North and South America.

Melbourne, Australia has 155.3 miles of light rail, Adelaide has 9.3 miles, Sydney will open a new system in 2019 with 45 miles of rail.  Gold Coast, Australia will open a new system in 2018 with 4.5 miles of rail.

Antarctica, unsurprisingly, has no urban rail.

In Africa: there are four suburban rail systems in South Africa (some with hundreds of miles of track), there is a tram system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (with 19.6 miles of track), there is a tram and a metro system in Cairo, Egypt (48.4 miles of heavy rail and something less than 36 miles of tram line), there is a tram system in Alexandra, Egypt (20 miles), and there are also urban rail systems in Morocco (one 19 mile line and one 11.8 mile line), Algeria (one 19.2 miles in two systems in Algiers, one 5.6 mile line in Constantine, and one 11.6 mile line in Oran) and Tunisia (one 19.9 mile line). There are also two transit systems under construction in Nigeria (the larger of which will have 22 miles of track).

There are many transit systems in Asia (including Japan) and Europe, many of which are more extensive than most of those in the Americas. See lists of global metro systems, tram systems, and suburban rail systems.

Needless to say, all of these other cities have much larger metropolitan area populations than Denver, and measured by ridership, Denver has a much more challenging task to compete with other major U.S. urban rail systems.

20 April 2016

Front Runners On Track To Win Nominations

The Republican Presidential Primary

Donald Trump's solid performance in the New York State Republican primary (well above polling in advance of the race) and strong polling in the states that vote next Tuesday in the Northeast, make the prospects that he will win a majority of the delegates in the first round of voting in Cleveland in July very high.

Running the numbers on a convenient delegate calculator at FiveThirtyEight, it appears that Trump can get away from some pretty lackluster results for the rest of the campaign relative to his current polling, if he does as well in other Northeastern states as he did in New York yesterday.

The only way that Cruz has a shot is to get to a contested convention with strong showings in Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, California, and a nearly complete sweep of the currently uncommitted delegates.  Particularly in California that means that Cruz needs a major surge in the polls there between now and the final day of the primary season on June 7.  If Trump can make a strong showing in California, Trump will be the nominee.

Even if Trump falls a little short of the magic number of pledged delegates going into the convention, it is unrealistic to expect that Cruz will be able to capture all, 95% or even 80% of the delegates who are not pledged on a first round vote, even if Cruz has a decisive lead among them.  Thus, Trump can probably afford to be as many as 25 or more pledged delegates short of the margin number when the dust settles on June 7, and can still win the nomination on a first round ballot. (The notion that someone who hasn't even run for President, someone who has dropped out of the race, or Kaisch, if he doesn't drop out of the race before then, could be nominated is sheer fantasy.)

Realistically, there is more than a two-thirds chance that Trump will capture the GOP nomination (particularly in light of the fact that he is the weakest of the three GOP candidates in a general election even relative to Ted Cruz which means that Trump's odds of being President understate the likelihood that he will be his party's nominee this year).

The Democratic Presidential Primary

Similarly, while a lot of attention has been devoted to the question of whether superdelegates unfairly sway the outcome of the Democratic primary process, where Clinton has won 21 contests and Sanders has won 17, given Clinton's strong polling in both the Northeastern states that vote on Tuesday and in California, and totals to date, it looks very likely that Clinton will go into the Democratic National Convention with a majority of the pledged delegates, in addition to almost all of the superdelegates.

Clinton over performed relative to the pace she needs to meet to win the nomination in New York and is likely to do so again next Tuesday, given her solid lead in polls of each of those states and the momentum she has coming off her stronger than expected win the New York.

Thus, a Clinton-Trump showdown in November continues to be, by far, the most likely outcome.

CNN's opinion markets reflect that, giving Clinton a 75% chance of being the next President, and Trump a 15% chance of being the next President (he has trailed Clinton by about 9 percentage points in general election runoffs for months).  The remaining 10% is presumably split somehow between Cruz, Sanders, Kaisch and Republican white knights who aren't in the running.  Realistically, of the three, the odds might be something on the order of Cruz 5%, Sanders 3%, Kaisch 1%, and none of the above 1%.

The odds that the Democrats will win the election in November are about 78%, which makes Republican stalling on a cenerist Democratic nominee of President Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court look like a counterproductive call for conservatives who will be in a weaker position after the election (and who might very well approve Obama's nominee in a lame duck session).

Indeed, the political parties both look likely to nominate the candidate still running who is weakest in a general election, rather than the one who would be strongest in a general election (Sanders and Kaisch, respectively).  Neither of those candidates have much chance at all of winning their respective party's nomination.

The Arizona Senate Race

Incumbent Republican Senator John McCain in tied with his Democratic opponent, Ann Kirkpatrick, in U.S. Senate race polling in Arizona.  Even the slightest of coat tails for Clinton in the general election could flip this seat to the Democrats.

18 April 2016

The Drone That Changed The Balance Of Naval Power

The most important military technology development, arguably in the last several years, is a $20 million drone ship that can find coastal submarines at an affordable price, which just entered service (see also DARPA and Wikipedia web pages on this drone ship). According to Wikipedia, it can operate autonomously for 60 to 90 days at a time, and the "vessel is 132 ft (40 m) long, weighs 140 tons, and is expected to cost $15,000–20,000 to operate per day, compared to $700,000 per day for a destroyer." It would be used in coordination with air based reconnaissance drones such as the MQ-4C Triton (which cost about $183 million each).

A mine hunting version is also in development, which matters because a Littoral Combat Ship based mine hunting drone project was a bust and the U.S. sold many of its mine hunting ships to other countries before it had a replacement in place.

Since the Falklands War in 1982, at least, it has been clear that in a fight between a submarine of any reasonably modern kind and a surface combatant (even a state of the art one), the submarine wins the lion’s share of the time. Yet coastal submarines (the Scorpene, which costs about $450 million, is typical of the low end of this class of submarine, as is the Russian Kilo-class which China paid about $250 million each to buy) can be quite inexpensive. This makes it possible for countries with large submarine fleets like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to wipe out most local ships in the U.S. surface fleet.

(Of course, submarines aren't the only threats to surface combatants. They must contend with inexpensive but lethal missile boats possibly in "swarms", new hypersonic anti-ship missiles, and attacks with anti-ship missiles launched from enemy aircraft, as well, are easily to target since they are large and slow, and can't outrun any of these threats. Indeed, the last time a U.S. naval ship destroyed another ship was in a duel with an Iranian missile boat 38 years ago on April 18, 1988.)

Existing ships and submarines for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) are very expensive: $1,843 million each for 1991 design Arleigh Burke class destroyer, about $2,688 million per Virginia class attack submarine, $4,000 million for a Zumwalt class destroyer, $12,900 million for an aircraft carrier (aircraft not included), $500 million for a Littoral Combat ship (once mission module costs are included) (which has had a variety of growing pains as this new class of ship has entered service) and $575 million for its "Small Surface Combatant" successor.

(The Navy has retired the last of its 1979 design Oliver Hazard Perry frigates in 2015, and it has been phasing out its 1978 design Ticonderoga class guided missile cruisers 22 of which remain in service at this time.  The last 1975 design Spruance class destroyer was retired from service in 2005.)

You can buy one submarine tracking drone ship for every coastal submarine in bad guy hands on the planet for less than the cost of one Zumwalt class destroyer.

These submarine tracking drone ships make the difference between coastal submarines being an existential threat to the world’s surface warships, and coastal submarines being a very manageable problem. Once you know exactly where a submarine is, it is comparatively trivial to destroy that submarine with current anti-submarine missiles which can be launched from a P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft (a modified 737) (at a cost of $257 million each plus ordinance costs, an option favored by the British military and the Australian military. while Japan has a comparable aircraft of its own), or a destroyer, or a helicopter, or a fighter aircraft, or even an armed drone in the not so distant future.

The drones don’t eliminate the threat from long range deep water submarines that make up a lot of Russia’s fleet and a little of China’s fleet, but other drones make even these submarines significantly easier to catch.