31 January 2017

Gerrymandering Still A Problem

In 2012, Democratic candidates for the Wisconsin state legislature received more votes than Republicans in November but won just 39 of 99 districts.
From here.

College Even Increases Income From Crime

College graduates in organized criminal organizations, like the mafia, earn more within their criminal enterprises than people who don't graduate from college in those organizations.

30 January 2017

R-Line Will Finally Open Next Month

The Regional Transportation District’s long awaited, $687 million new light rail train service through Aurora, closing a 10.5 mile gap along Interstate 225 between Parker Road and I-70, will open on Friday, Feb. 24.
From here.

This is the last major installment of light rail in the Denver transit system (the remaining lines, except for a few finishing touches at the ends of existing routes, are commuter rail rather than light rail). It is a few months behind schedule.

Common Sense Still Dead

Asked on Monday whether Trump’s order — which critics have called a “Muslim ban” — should apply to 5-year-old children, White House press secretary Sean Spicer gave a clear answer: yes. 
“That’s why we slow [the process] down a little,” Spicer said at the daily press briefing. “To make sure that if they are a 5-year-old, that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat. But to assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”
From here.

Yup, according to the Trump Administration, assuming that a 5-year old doesn't pose a threat is misguided and wrong.

I wish this was out of The Onion, but no, this is real life and the Trump Administration really is that stupid.

Bad Man Liability

In January 2003, a young woman named Lavetta Elk got into a car with an Army recruiter whom she had known since she was sixteen. She believed that she had been accepted as an enlistee — her dream was to work eventually as an Army nurse — and that he was taking her for a medical evaluation. Instead, Staff Sergeant Joseph Kopf drove down a deserted road and, once they were miles away from the nearest building, sexually assaulted Elk. Kopf was never prosecuted for his crime in civilian court; his Army court-martial resulted in no prison time. However, because Elk was a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the assault occurred on a Sioux reservation, she had access to an unusual cause of action. 
Nine treaties concluded between the United States and various Indian tribes in 1867 and 1868 each contain what is known as a “bad men” provision. Within each of these provisions is a clause in which the United States promises to reimburse Indians for injuries sustained as a result of wrongs committed by “bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States.” 
Although these “bad men among the whites” clauses have rarely been used in the last century and a half, they remain the source of a viable cause of action for Indians belonging to those tribes that signed the nine treaties of 1867 and 1868. In 2009, Lavetta Elk won her action for damages under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, recovering a judgment in the Court of Federal Claims of almost $600,000 from the United States government.
Elk is the first and only plaintiff to take a “bad men among the whites” action through trial and win on the merits. She is unlikely to remain alone in her success.
From Note, "A Bad Man Is Hard To Find", 127 Harvard Law Review 2521 (2014).

A similar provision exists in a treaty with the Ute Indian tribe of Colorado and Utah, which recently resulted in a reported decision from the Federal Circuit in a plaintiff's favor. Article 6 of that treaty which was at issue reads as follows:
If bad men among the whites or among other people, subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington City, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.

State and Local Taxes In The U.S. Are Still Regressive

From the Tax Prof Blog.

Washington State is the worst.

An Inauspicious Beginning

President Trump has been denounced by multiple members of Congress, by the CEOs of leading American businesses like Apple, Google, and GE, by the Pope, by superstars, and by masses of people across the United States. Multiple judges have ruled that his Muslim travel ban is illegal. The rest have denounced it as a threat to American security, as inhumane, as unfair, and as counter to Christian values.

Home grown terrorists have burned down a mosque in Texas with his encouragement, and the malaise poured over the border to the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec. This happened, in no small part, because Trump encouraged the perpetrators.

Republicans lost seats in both the House and the Senate in 2016, despite Trump's electoral college win. Trump's approval ratings at the start of his first term are lower than any President in history and falling fast. Republican officer holders are starting to smell blood in the water and to realize that if they tow Trump's line that they will go down with him in two years. Trump lacks majority support for his travel ban in either the House or the Senate due to public GOP defections.

The Republican establishment has never liked Trump, but, because they failed to agree on an alternative early enough on, they were stuck with him and backed him in the election. But, they have no loyalty to this outsider who clearly doesn't trust them either and doesn't play by the political rules.

It isn't at all unprecedented for serious failures while in office to bring a party from a thin majority to virtually being wiped off the political map in a single election. It has happened in Canada. It has happened in the U.K. It has happened in Greece. And, it can happen just as dramatically in the United States is the Republicans don't get this dumpster fire under control and fast.

Many people who voted for Trump in 2016 already regret their decision. Almost nobody who voted for Clinton thinks that they made the wrong choice.

If Trump continues to try to implement abhorrent policies that hurt ordinary people, he will fan the flames of the resistance against him and take his entire political party and movement down with him. And, right now, that looks like exactly where we are headed.

27 January 2017

Why Has The Electoral College-Popular Vote Gap Grown?

The gap between the electoral college vote (which produced a majority for Donald Trump), and the popular vote (which favored Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes) was larger than at any time in U.S. history in 2016, although it has favored Republicans for some time now. This is the second time in five elections that Republicans have won the electoral college while losing the popular vote.

Why did this happen?

Largely because Democrats are increasingly concentrated in higher density urban areas, while Republicans are increasingly concentrated in lower density rural areas.

As recently as 1988 (the first Presidential election in which I voted and a single generation ago), there was only a slight divide between relative levels of Democratic and Republican support in urban and rural areas. But, in every Presidential election since then, the urban-rural divide has intensified, and since at least the 2000 election, population density has been an excellent predictor of partisan leaning. 

Strong support in dense urban areas that affect only a minority of electoral votes is inefficient relative to support distributed across rural areas that have more electoral votes. As Sean Trende explains at Real Clear Politics:
Hispanics exceed their national share of the population in just nine states, only three of which are swing states (Colorado, Florida and Nevada). Likewise, African-Americans exceed their national share of the population (14 percent) in just 16 states, only a handful of which (Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia) are swing states. 
In other words, the Democrats’ coalition of the ascendant is very inefficiently distributed. We therefore opted to utilize a demographic (urbanicity) that is easily filtered through a geographic component (CBSAs) and that people intuitively think of in geographic terms. What we discovered is a different dimension to the Democrats’ demographic inefficiency problem: They are becoming far too clustered in urban centers to be effective, even when they win the popular vote. 
Winning mega-cities by 30 points is great, but her margin there was mostly (though not entirely) neutralized by her poor performance in large rural areas and small towns alone. Again, her vote in these mega-cities was also inefficiently distributed in already-blue states; the swing states with mega-cities tend to have large amounts of rural land, which is why she lost Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Finally, we note that while rural and small-town America are disappearing, that disappearance is happening much more gradually than people appreciate… 
But we get back to our initial point: In our system of government, popular vote metrics are only sensible when put through a geographic filter. This causes problems in the Electoral College, which we’ve recounted before. There are only nine “mega-cities” in America: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. These, in turn, affect 11 states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
But if it causes problems in the Electoral College, it wreaks havoc in the Senate, House, and state legislatures. While only 11 states have mega-cities, 18 states have neither mega-cities nor large cities. To put this in perspective, a party that sweeps the rural and town-dominated states starts out with 36 Senate seats. This won’t happen, of course – Vermont isn’t going Republican any time soon – but Republicans also have a solid foundation in states with large cities, like Oklahoma and Kansas. Because of the Democrats’ concentration in cities, and because of the concentration of the urban vote in relatively few states, the Senate is now a natural Republican gerrymander. In the House, it is largely the same story.

Changing The Rules

Ideally, the United States would change its electoral system so that the Presidency would be elected based upon the popular vote, rather than the electoral college vote, and so that legislative seats would be elected in some sort of proportional representative system within each state.

The lion's share of modern, Western-style democracies either have that kind of system, or have a proportional representation parliament with a merely symbolic Presidency comparable to a constitutional monarch.

There is widespread public support among members of the general public for electing the President based upon a popular vote basis (although Republican support for this dropped dramatically after the most recent election), rather than through the electoral college, and there is nothing unconstitutional about allowing states to elect members of Congress and their state legislatures on a proportional representation basis. 

The single member plurality election system in place at the federal level in all but a couple of U.S. states, is a product of a federal statute requiring members of Congress to be elected from single member districts, and state statutes implementing that requirement in most cases through a partisan primary or caucus in each party in each district followed by a plurality general election vote in each district.

But, for the short to medium term, the reality is that Democrats don't have the political power necessary to secure these kinds of changes in the election laws.

Shuffling The Coalition

The only alternative available to Democrats is to find a way to expand their coalition in a way that would deliver more swing states to it.

This isn't necessarily a big stretch. Political party coalitions are always in flux and if the Democrats can can make net additions to their coalition in swing states that pick up a few percentage points (even if it comes at the expense of the magnitude of their support in large urban areas), then Democrats can win majorities.

But, the trick is to identify which potential additions to the Democratic party that are electorally meaningful in swing states are viable for Democrats to try to increase their appeal to, without costing Democrats support from other coalition members in swing states, either by alienating existing coalition members to the point that they don't vote or vote for third party candidates, or by pushing existing coalition members into the Republican party.

During the period of realignment that has been gradually progressing every since Goldwater, socially conservative, often rural voters, especially in the South, have shifted their allegiance to the Republican party, while socially liberal, often urban affluent voters, especially in the Northeast, have shifted their allegiance to the Democratic party.

In terms of the raw proportion of U.S. voters leaning in favor of each major party, realignment has more or less been a wash, a fact reflected in the ability of Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote in 2016 by more than two percentage points. But, realignment has made the Republican coalition more efficient in the electoral college and legislative races, while making the Democratic coalition less efficient in translating popular vote support into electoral college and legislative majorities. The departing coalition members disproportionately live in states with lots of rural and small town voters. The new coalition members live states with high population density centers.

In addition to realignment, Democrats have suffered from the decline of the private sector union movement, some of which has been driven by the long term trend of declining manufacturing employment due to a combination of automation and offshoring in search of cheaper wages and less regulation abroad.

New Coalitions

Mr. Trende points to the possibility of expanding the Democratic coalition by essentially rolling back the clock:
Democrats were once able to win rural areas, and send large numbers of members of Congress from these places. That was in part because they focused their message on these areas, and tolerated culturally conservative Democrats like Harold Volkmer in Missouri and Sonny Montgomery in Mississippi.

But for much of the Obama administration, these members were forced to take a series of tough votes that rendered the Blue Dog Democrat a near-extinct species. Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 was almost entirely directed toward the coalition of the ascendant in mega-cities, which is a decent enough coalition for the popular vote, but is highly problematic for the Electoral College.

We very much doubt that liberal Democrats will like some of policy compromises that winning back these areas probably entails. We suspect, however, that they will find that preferable to the policies that will be enacted over the next four years.
I think he's wrong on that score. The Democrats do need to expand their coalition, but they aren't going to succeed in doing so by winning back socially conservative, evangelical Christian white Southerners.

One really shocking Democratic stumble in this election, with a group that has been tossed back and forth between the parties at least since Reagan, has been a failure to get much support from the people who remain in the economically devastated shrinking cities of the Rust Belt. These people live in what used to be Democratic union strongholds fueled by manufacturing jobs. The manufacturing jobs are gone, but the people are still there and feel deeply alienated.

26 January 2017

Recent Storms Have Almost Ended The California Drought

From here. Hat top to Razib Khan's twitter feed.

Truth Can Be As Strange As Fiction

There exists a weird kind of cancer called a teratoma, whose cells seem to think that they are in an embryo. These cancers differentiate; develop hair, teeth, skin, all manner of messy things. They exist in humans and animals. Some very odd guy wondered if teratoma cells, which seem to want to be an embryo, would actually become one if given a favorable environment. He implanted teratoma cells into an early-stage rat embryo; the teratoma cells there experienced the proper chemical cues and developed into part of a rat. He ended up with a piebald rat – some of the cells had a regular rat mom and dad, while other parts were descended from a cancer propagated in a tissue culture. The rat was fine.
Via G. Cochran at West Hunter.

Along the same vein, researchers have found biochemical similarities between the growth of an embryo in a pregnant woman and the biochemical mechanism associated with many cancers. They are trying to figure out how this biochemical process works in order to create a treatment that confounds that mechanism and interrupts cancer-cell specific growth.

25 January 2017

Non-Citizen Voting Reality Check

How Many Non-Citizens Voted In 2016?

Voting by non-citizens is not a significant problem in the United States. Based upon the data below, a good ballpark estimate for the number of non-citizens who voted in the November 2016 Presidential election in the entire United States is about 1,500 (roughly 1 per 100,000 votes cast). 

Something on the order of 1 in 300 to 1 in 500 illegally cast ballots are cast by non-citizens. Most voters that are cast illegally are cast by felons on parole, disqualified felons in states where a felony conviction disqualifies you from voting, or by eligible voters who cast both an absentee ballot and also vote in person). Most cases of illegal voting of all types, moreover, are examples of honest mistakes and not concerted efforts to rig an election in favor of a particular candidate.

Roughly 1 in 14,000 adult non-citizens in the United States votes in any given Presidential election year.

Moreover, non-citizens who do vote are predominantly legal permanent residents of the United States who have met all or almost all legal requirements except a swearing in ceremony for obtaining U.S. citizenship, who were mistaken about when their U.S. citizenship status would become final. In 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, 654,949 people (a significant number of which are children) became naturalized U.S. citizens. So, something on the order of 1 in 200 to 1 in 400 adults who are on the verge of becoming U.S. citizens accidentally jump the gun and vote before their naturalization ceremony is complete. This percentage is a significantly smaller percentage than the number of felons on parole in the voter registration database who actually vote in states where they are not allowed to do so (which is about 2%).

The number of illegal immigrants who voted in 2016 was probably in the range of dozens to a few hundred, because legal permanent residents of the United States are much more likely to illegally vote than temporary immigrants or undocumented immigrants.

There is no evidence that voting by non-citizens has ever changed the outcome of an election in the United States in the last century. 

Also, it is not always been necessary to be a U.S. citizen to vote anyway. Until 1921, for example, it was legal for non-citizens to vote in the State of Texas.

Trump's estimate of 3 to 5 million non-citizen voters in 2016 is too large by a factor of roughly two thousand to three thousand.


There were 251.1 million people in the United States aged eighteen or older in the last election. Nationally, eligible voter turnout was 58.4%. 

About 8.4% of people in the United States who are eighteen years of age of older are not citizens (21.1 million people). There are about 11.3 million undocumented non-citizens in the United States, some of whom are eighteen years of age or older, perhaps 80% of whom (9 million) are adults. 

* A 2006 study found that 4 non-citizens voted out of 370,000 votes cast in one then recent Wisconsin election (a rate of roughly 1 per 100,000 votes cast). In each of the four cases, the individual had almost been granted citizenship and believed that the paperwork was final but was mistaken. By comparisons 12 dead people voted (two of whom were "juniors" who mistakenly voted under the names of their dead, and a third was a woman who had been legally declared dead in a death certificate but was, in fact, alive and trying to sort out the resulting mess), and 361 were felons who had been released from prison but were still on parole and didn't know that they weren't allowed to vote. 

In the 2004 election in Colorado, a study found that 122 people illegally voted twice, 120 felons on parole cast illegal ballots (2% of the roughly 6,000 who were registered to vote in the state), and no cases of non-citizens voting were identified.

* Few non-citizens voted in Utah according to a 2005 study:
In 2005, Utah’s legislative audit bureau attempted to undertake a systematic study of illegal immigrants who had obtained state identification cards – either driver’s license or state identification cards. Utah determined that some 383 possibly illegal immigrants were registered to vote. Utah asked ICE to review these registered voters to determine if, in fact, they were U.S. citizens. ICE examined a sample consisting of 135 of these individuals and determined that 5 were naturalized citizens, 20 were “deportable,” one was a permanent legal resident and the other 109 had no record and were likely in the United States illegally. Fourteen of these 383 individuals voted in a recent election in Utah, but ICE did not provide enough information to the state to allow it to determine whether these 14 individuals were in fact citizens.
In the 2004 election, 1,012,000 people voted in Utah, so the number of possible non-citizens who voted was again roughly 1 in 100,000. 

Studies in Harris County, Texas and Oahu, Hawaii, likewise found that the percentage of people registered to vote who were non-citizens was tiny and found no evidence that any significant number of non-citizens who were registered to vote actually did vote.

24 January 2017

ACT Math and English Much More Predictive Than Other Sections

The ACT predicts college grades much better when only the English and math subsections are used, and the remaining sections are omitted, than it does when all of the sections are used.

The reading and science subsections are so bad at predicting college grades that they simply add noise to the ACT composite figure, making it a less accurate measure of future college grades.

In relative terms, here is how predictive each subsection of the ACT is:

Math (significant at p=0.01 level) 26
English (significant at p=0.01 level) 16
Reading (significant at p=0.05 level) 3
Science (not statistically significant) -1

Yes, that's right, a higher science section score, controlling for a variety of other variables (college campus attended, high school GPA, race, gender, and college major) actually predicts worse, rather than better, college grades.

This means that simply by dropping two sections, the multiple choice sections of the ACT could be administered in half the time, while making the test as a whole a significantly more accurate predictor of future college grades.

The May 2013 study cited summarizes its methods and conclusions as follows:
We test for differences in predictive power among the four subscores using Ohio Board of Regents data on all students that matriculated to a four-year public college in Ohio in 1999. Along with demographic information about each student, the data contain important college performance measures such as grade point average (GPA) and indicators for dropping out. 
Not surprisingly and confirming a long line of literature, we find a strong correlation between higher ACT composite scores and positive college outcomes. However, this overall correlation masks an important pattern: Mathematics and English scores are much more tightly correlated with college success than are Reading and Science scores. In fact, after controlling for Mathematics and English scores, Reading and Science provide essentially no predictive power regarding college outcomes. 
The difference in the predictive ability for Mathematics and English versus Reading and Science scores is consistent across different specifications and data subsamples. The finding is robust when controlling for indicators of the college that students attend, high school performance, student demographics, and college major. The results are also consistent across a wide variety of college outcomes including GPA for the first and second years and dropout rates for the first and third years. The results are very similar across different universities of varied quality. 
We also find that Mathematics and English scores are far better predictors than Reading and Science scores of high school GPA. This provides further evidence that the Reading and Science tests have very little predictive merit. Finally, we replicate our results using a smaller independent data source from a private university in the western United States.

County Court Civil Procedure In Colorado

The county court in Colorado is court of limited civil and criminal jurisdiction found in every county in the state. County court magistrates and county court judges in high population counties must be lawyers, but in some rural countries, county court judges may be non-lawyers, and in four rural county courts, there are sitting part-time non-lawyer judges as part of the county court bench. Even the non-lawyer judges, however, tend to be college educated and knowledgable generally, because of the merit selection system for judges that is used in Colorado.

The county court's criminal jurisdiction extends to petty offenses, misdemeanors, pre-arrest process like issuing search and arrest warrants, and certain post-arrest preliminary matters in felony cases. In Denver, in addition to these roles, it also serves as the municipal court for the City and County of Denver with jurisdiction over ordinance violations. I can't speak to that part of its procedures because I don't practice criminal law.

In civil matters, county court has jurisdiction over claims for money up to a jurisdictional limit of $15,000 (plus post-commencement attorneys' fees), eviction actions where the title to the property in question is not in dispute, suits to penalize home owners for home owner's association covenant violations, temporary restraining orders, name change petitions, actions to recover tangible personal property worth not more than $15,000, a few other administrative type matters (registration of foreign U.S. judgments, for example), and claims brought with small claims procedure (which are limited to money claims up to $7,500).

Civil claims in county court are governed primarily by Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure 301-411, which also includes a single rule governing appeals from county court civil cases to district courts.

The county court rules are adapted from parallel Colorado rules of civil procedure applicable in the general jurisdiction district court (which are in turn adapted from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure), but the adaptation loses a lot in translation. They are clearly drafted by people with little or no experience practicing in county court and are frequently ambiguous in the county court context. The county court also has no counterpart of Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 121 which fills in the Colorado specific procedural details on essential matters which have no parallel federal rule of civil procedure.

Basically, despite the fact the county court has a much larger case load than district court, and needs rules clear enough for pro se parties who are common in county court to understand, county court is actually the poor stepchild of district court civil procedure and suffers accordingly.

23 January 2017

Polygamy In Historical English Law

Polygamy has been an issue in Anglo-American jurisprudence for a long time. It first became a secular criminal offense in this legal tradition in 1604. 
Already in Anglo-Saxon times, England condemned polygamy as a serious moral offense. But until 1604, it was left to church courts to punish polygamists using spiritual punishments. In 1604, however, Parliament enacted the Polygamy Act that made polygamy a capital crime, punishable by secular courts. Both individual victims of desertion or double marriage as well as church or state officials could initiate indictment of parties for polygamy. Other interested parties also had standing to press polygamy claims. 
Thousands of polygamy cases came before the criminal tribunals of England, not least the famous Old Bailey, which heard more than 500 such polygamy cases under the 1604 Act. 
Convicted parties faced punishments ranging from fines and short imprisonment, to transportation to a penal colony or execution orders, though almost all those convicted for a capital felony successfully pled benefit of clergy. The vast majority of polygamy cases were brought against men, and they were punished far more severely than women if convicted. 
The 1604 Polygamy Act -- while eventually replaced by Acts of Parliament in 1828 and 1861 that made felony a non-capital crime -- was a model for the common law world.
John Witte Jr., Prosecuting Polygamy in Early Modern England (2016). Hat tip: Legal Theory Blog. 

About Bird Poop

Birds flying in a large synchronized flock called a murmuration also all poop in synch.

Quote of the Day

With his choice for Secretary of Air Force, Donald Trump had yet another opportunity to fill a cabinet position with someone who a) would be hopelessly overwhelmed by the job, and b) believed that the agency in question should be abolished. But instead of hiring me . . . .
-Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Skyscraper Economics

Elevators create a particular problem. On one hand, adding more floors to the building will produce more space from which the developer can collect more money. But at some point, a new shaft and set of elevators need to be added to handle the additional traffic. This then eats into the rentable space….Do the additional floors on top generate enough rents to cover the loss of new space from the elevators? 
…skyscrapers must devote about 30% of the total space to elevators, including their shafts, hallways and machine rooms.
Via Alex Taborrok.

A technological breakthrough that could overcome this issue, it seems to me, would be an elevator that could "switch lanes" passing other elevators that are letting passengers in and out, or going the other direction in the same shaft, along the way.

But, as telecommunications and the Internet make location increasingly irrelevant, I'm not sure that there is enough of an economic incentive to develop that kind of technology.

What Is Mostly Likely To Lead To A Use Of Nuclear Weapons Right Now?

Tyler Cohen posts on some plausible scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used in the near future with the caveat putting "aside dirty bombs from terrorists and the like."

After analyzing the situation, he plausibly discounts the likelihood of nuclear weapon being used in a Pakistan-India conflict, but does identify two scenarios which a nuclear exchange might take place:

1.  North Korea threatens to use nuclear weapons if its demands are not met, its bluff is called, and it nukes a second tier Japanese city. He reckons that North Korea would fear retaliation if it attacked China, and might not want to bomb fellow Koreans in South Korea. Fear of retaliation and fear of a technical dud that would reduce its credibility might also discourage a strike on the U.S.

2. I'll let Cohen set out his second scenario:
[T]he United States and China are fighting a naval battle in the South China Sea, or perhaps further north, as part of a limited exchange, not a full war. The United States is about to win the battle, and the Chinese leadership fears a military or other Party-based coup in response. So they use nuclear weapons, perhaps tactical nukes, to turn the tide in the battle and save their skins. They figure the U.S. won’t respond with a full-blown nuclear war. (America, if it lost a comparable naval battle, is more likely to just turn tail and run, at least in the short run.) . . .   
My core model, by the way, is that political leaders are rational in the loose sense. So if you are looking for instances of possible nuclear weapons use, consider cases where politicians might be facing relatively dramatic “career-ending” events if they lose a smaller-level struggle.
There are some scenarios that Cohen doesn't consider that I think are also plausible: 

1. Suppose that Iran has come to the verge of having usable nuclear weapons and has rhetoric suggesting that it would use them against Israel. Israel might strike preemptively with its own nuclear weapons.

2. Trump uses nuclear weapons in a less than rational decision to deal with ISIS or Islamic terrorism more generally. This could take the form of a nuclear weapon on Raqqa, its capitol, or could involve the threat frequently invoked in right wing rhetoric of bombing Mecca.

3. There is a non-negligible possibility that China could use its own nuclear weapons against North Korea. As I've noted previously at this blog, there is no one who would ally with North Korea in a military conflict with China, China has a variety of internal reasons to demonstrate its military clout for internal political reasons, and North Korea's leader has no sense that he has bounds on his own conduct that can't be crossed so he could easily go overboard in provoking China at some point. For example, if North Korea threatened credibly to use nuclear weapons against "someone" and then refused to clarify that China wasn't on the list of potential someone's even if it was far from the top of North Korea's target list, China might make a preemptive strike against North Korea.

I do think that a Trump Presidency reduces the likelihood of a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States over expansionary actions by Russia in the Pacific, or sparring between patrols in neutral territory between Russian and U.S. forces. Trump and Putin are on good enough terms that they would negotiate to resolve the situation and that Trump would back off from the defense of its allies if Russia tried to reclaim territory in Eastern Europe. This may be good news for the future of the survival of the planet, but this news is bleak if you are a newly independent Eastern European nation and want to stay independent. 

Indeed, in a nutshell, the circumstances where a nuclear exchange might occur involve situations where the logic of mutual assured destruction (MAD) that prevented a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War have broken down. The party using a nuclear weapon might plausibly imagine that they will not be nuked off the planet if they do so, and might even imagine that using a nuclear weapon was the only way to defend itself from an imminent nuclear attack from the target.

22 January 2017

Catastrophic Floods And Storms

I'm beginning to think that these are not perfect storms. I'm beginning to think these are regular storms and we have a shitty boat.
Jon Stewart.

The lion's share loss of life from catastrophic storms, and a significant share of the disastrous floods causing great loss of life in relatively recent history, have happened in two general areas.

* South Asia (especially Bangladesh) and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma)
* The Philippines

Certainly, these areas are subject to regular, extreme weather events and have large populations. But, other places that experience similar extreme weather events seem to suffer far fewer casualties as a result, suggesting that poor preparation and disaster response also plays an important role in the disaster related carnage in these regions.

Some examples of these disasters with the number of resulting deaths, according to the 2017 World Almanac and Wikipedia, are as follows:

South Asia and Myanmar
* 61,000 Typhoon, October 1942, Bangladesh 
* 40,000 Hurricane, October 15-16, 1942, Bengal, India
* 6,000 Tidal wave/flood, October 10, 1960, Bangladesh
* 4,000 Tidal wave/flood, October 31, 1960, Bangladesh 
* 22,000 Wind storm, May 28-29, 1963, Bangladesh 
* 17,000 Wind storm, May 11-12, 1965, Bangladesh 
* 30,000 Wind storm, June 1-2, 1965, Bangladesh 
* 10,000 Wind storm, December 15, 1965, Bangladesh 
* 4,892 Flood, June, 1968  Rajastan and Gujarat states, India
* 780 Tidal wave/flood, October 7, 1968, Northeast India
* 300,000 Cyclone, November 13, 1970, Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh 
* 1,217 Monsoon rains, June-August 1973, India 
* 28,700 Flood, July, 1974, Bangladesh 
* 2,500 Tidal wave/flood, August 12, 1974, Bangladesh 
* 3,800 Food, July, 1978, N ad NE India
* 15,000 Tidal wave/flood, August 11, 1979, Morvi, India
* 900 Monsoon rains, June 1983 India 
* 15,000 Cyclone, May 25, 1985, Bangladesh 
* 2,055 Tidal wave/flood, July 22, 1987, Bangladesh
* 1,000+ Flood, August-September, 1987, Bangladesh
* 2,379 Flood, June-September, 1988, Bangladesh
* 1,000+ Flood, September, 1988, Northern India
* 450 Multiple cyclones, May 6-11, 1990, Southeast India 
* 139,000 Cyclone, April 30, 1991, Bangladesh 
* 2,000 Monsoon, June, 1993, Bangladesh 
* 1,000+ Cyclone, November 6, 1996, Andhra Pradesh, India 
* 108 Cyclone, May 19, 1997, Bangladesh 
* 1,320 Cyclone, June 9, 1998, Gujarat, India 
* 1,441 Food, July-September, 1998, Bangladesh
* 326 Monsoon, August, 1998, Bangladesh 
* 9,392 Cyclone, October, 1999, East India 
* 1,000+ Flood, September 19-30, 2000, India and Bangladesh
* 1,100+ Flood, July-August, 2002, India, Nepal and Bangladesh
* 220 Cyclone, May 19, 2004, Myanmar
* 2000+ Flood, June-September, 2004, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar
* 53,769-53,969 Tidal wave, December 26, 2004, Sri Lanka (35,322), India (18,045), Bangladesh (2), and Myanmar (400-600) and many more outside South Asia (176,502) in Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere
* 1,110 Flood, July 21-August 3, 2007, Bangladesh
* 1,103 Flood, July-September, 2007 India
* 3,363 Cyclone, November 15, 2007, Bangladesh
* 138,366 Cyclone, May 2-3, 2008, Myanmar
* 1,063 Flood, June-July 2008, India
* 260 Cyclone, May 23-26, 2009, India and Bangladesh
* 992 Flood, July-September 2009, India

Total since 1942 910,708+ (12,307 on average per year 1942-2015)

The Philippines
* 440 Typhoon, October 22, 1952
* 107 Typhoon, June 30, 1964
* 300 Typhoon, September 15, 1970
* 583 Typhoon, October 14, 1970
* 526 Typhoon, October 15, 1970
* 454, Tidal wave/flood, August 7, 1972
* 169 Typhoon, December 3, 1972
* 215 Typhoon, May 20, 1976
* 400 Typhoon, October 27, 1976
* 176 Typhoon, November 25, 1981
* 1,363 Typhoon, September 2, 1984
* 650 Typhoon, November 25, 1987
* 7,000+ Tropical storm, November 5, 1991
* 600+ Typhoon, November 2-3, 1995
* 220+ Typhoon, November 6-12, 2001, also Vietnam
*1,060+ Flood, November-December 2004
* 145 Typhoon, September 21-28, 2005, also SE Asia and S. China
* 1,000 Tidal wave/flood, February 17, 2006
* 450-1000+ Typhoon, November 30, 2006
* 233 Typhoon, June 20-25, 2008, also China
* 498+ Typhoon, September 23-30, 2009, also SE Asia
* 375 Typhoon, October 3-10, 2009
* 159+ Typhoon, October 30-November 3, 2009, also Vietnam
* 105+ Typhoon, July 13-17, 2010
* 1,257 Typhoon, December 16, 2010
* 2,000+ Flood, July-December, 2011, also Cambodia and Myanmar
* 1,146 Typhoon, December 4, 2012
* 7,986 Typhoon, November 8, 2013
* 173 Typhoon, July 15, 2014, also Vietnam and China

Total since 1952 29,790+ (465 on average per year 1952-2015)

UPDATE February 6, 2017: Maybe Bangladesh really is simply a victim of circumstances. Charlie's Diary makes some pertinent observations:
Consider Bangladesh, and the Bay of Bengal fisheries collapse, not to mention the giant anoxic dead zone spreading in the By of Bengal (which means those fisheries won't be coming back for a very long time). There are nearly 170 million people there, mostly living on alluvial flood plains feeding into the gradually rising ocean. If the sea level rises by just one meter, 10% of the land area will be flooded; most of the country is less than 12M above sea level. It's a primarily agricultural economy (it's one of the main rice and wheat producing nations), heavily dependent on fisheries for protein to supplement the diet of its citizens. 
Bangladesh can't survive the 21st century on this basis. It's vulnerable to devastating tropical cyclones bringing storm surges, and as the atmosphere heats, these are going to become more energetic. The loss of fisheries may cripple its ability to feed its population, even if temperature rises don't kill off the wheat and rice crops. Flood, famine, and storm look as if they will inevitably render a large part of the country uninhabitable within 50 years. 
I see three possible responses:

* A rational and humane response to this would involve attempts to: promote GM crops with increased heat resistance and increased bioavailable protein and micronutrient contents to repace the dying fisheries: promote female literacy, education, and access to healthcare (demographic transition correlates strongly with female education and emancipation): redeploy human capital to urban center construction in the northern highlands: invest in survival infrastructure (flood/weather shelters), and so on.

* An unplanned, current-day response to this would be to provide ad-hoc famine relief and aid on demand, to wring hands when millions die in heat emergencies or super-cyclone storm surges, to prevent mass emigration by criminalization rather than by trying to make Bangladesh a more attractive place to stay, and so on. You know this scenario because we're living it today.

* A white supremacist response to this would be to build a wall around Bangladesh--probably a "virtual" one patrolled by killer robots--and starve the inmates to death so they don't pump any more carbon into the atmosphere. After all, the residual carbon content of a dead foreigner is measured in single-digit litres.
Also in favor of Bangladesh is the fact that a major public health campaign has dramatically reduced the extent to which people in Bangladesh relieve themselves away from proper toilets, in a very modest number of years, with huge positive health returns, in part out of a Muslim pride pitch. But, rising religious sentiments have also led to numerous assassinations of atheist bloggers, gays and other people seen as threats to the reigning cultural order. 

Coal Soon Won't Be Top Source Of U.S. Electricity

Since the 1880s, burning coal has generated more electricity in the U.S. than any other source. But, cleaner technologies are increasingly gaining market share. 
“Ten years ago, coal was producing around 50 percent of U.S. electricity and today that’s down to around a third.” [said] Doug Vine, with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. He says natural gas is largely responsible for the shift. It now generates about as much electricity as coal.
Extracting and burning natural gas is controversial, but its combustion emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal. And Vine says it can also support more clean power, like wind. “Natural gas is a technology that can be brought on very quickly so it can be back-up or support for renewable electricity sources.”
Wind currently generates about five percent of all electricity in the U.S. but in some states, it’s much higher. Kansas and South Dakota each get more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind. In Iowa, it’s more than 35 percent.
From Yale Climate Connections.

Some of this is due to fracking, which raises its own environmental concerns which are different from (and on the whole not quite a bad as) those associated with coal. Some of this is due to dramatically declining prices of renewable energy sources. Some of this is due to a drop in global demand due economic slumps in Europe and slowed growth in China.

Coal consumption long ago almost vanished in uses other than electricity generation, although a very small percentage of total output is used for industrial purposes. Coal use for space heating, water heating and transportation has basically completely ceased.

21 January 2017

High Speed Rail To Open In Morocco In 2018

The first high-speed trains in Africa are flashing along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. 
The French-made double-decker TGVs are being tested ahead of the launch of a flagship new line connecting Tangier with Morocco's economic capital Casablanca in 2018. The new trains can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour. They will cut the journey time between the two cities by more than half -- to just over two hours. The $2 billion project has been in development for a decade, funded by the governments of Morocco, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. . . . 
High-speed trains fit within a wider program of infrastructure spending in Morocco, including the world's largest solar power plant . . . . 
"We aim at six million passengers a year after three years of commercial operation, instead of three million currently," said Mohamed Rabie Khlie, director general of national rail operator ONCF, in a recent interview with Le Monde. "This should enable us to achieve an operating margin that far exceeds that of conventional trains and will justify the development." The director general went on to add that growing passenger numbers had caused "saturation of the network," making the new line a necessity. He denied that an upgraded service would lead to high costs for passengers." We will run trains intended for Moroccans and thus adapted to the purchasing power of Moroccans," said Khlie. "We do not want a train reserved for high-end customers."
From CNN.

It is hard to know how much the fact that Morocco is a monarchy in which the King has real power, rather than a full fledged democracy, influenced the decision.

The route is across one of the higher population density areas in North Africa and could be naturally expanded to Algeria and Tunisia and even to Tripoli in Libya, in the future, if politics and economics permitted it.

20 January 2017

The Qualified Immunity Defense Rarely Prevails Prior To Trial

At my first real job, in Grand Junction, Colorado, one of our firm's big clients represented county officials who were sued for various kinds of alleged misconduct, and we asserted qualified immunity defenses on a regular basis. I am honestly stunned at how rarely this defense now prevails prior to trial. 

I presume that over the last twenty years, the civil rights bar has gotten smarter and learned to distinguish cases that will be dismissed under the doctrine from those that will not, and how to build cases that overcome the qualified immunity defense.
Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from constitutional claims for money damages, even if those officials have violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, so long as those constitutional rights are not clearly established. Courts and commentators share the assumption that the doctrine affords a powerful protection to government officials. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that qualified immunity must be as powerful as it is to protect government officials from burdens associated with participating in discovery and trial. Yet the Supreme Court has relied on no empirical evidence to support its assertions that litigation imposes these burdens on government officials, or that qualified immunity doctrine protects against them. 
This Article reports the results of the largest and most comprehensive study to date of the role qualified immunity plays in constitutional litigation, with particular attention paid to the frequency with which qualified immunity disposes of cases before discovery and trial. Based on my review of 1183 cases filed against law enforcement defendants in five federal court districts, I find that qualified immunity infrequently functions as expected. Fewer than 1% of Section 1983 cases in my dataset were dismissed at the motion to dismiss stage and just 2% were dismissed at summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. After describing my findings, this Article considers the implications of these findings for descriptive accounts of qualified immunity’s role in constitutional litigation, the extent to which qualified immunity doctrine meets its policy goals, and possible adjustments to the balance struck between individual and government interests in qualified immunity doctrine.
Joanna Schwartz, How Qualified Immunity Fails (2017).

19 January 2017

Rich Kids Like The University of Colorado and Colorado College

The University of Colorado has a largest share of students with parents in the top 1% of income than any other public college in the nation (the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan are close runners up), and is neck and neck with the private colleges with the largest share of those students. The only private colleges with comparable shares of these very affluent students are N.Y.U. (the most popular private college for children of the top 1%), University of Southern California, and the University of Pennsylvania.  Even among the children of the top 1% less than half attend a college that is "Ivy Plus", "Elite" or "Highly Selective" (among the children of the top 0.1% it is under 60%).

Colorado College, meanwhile, has the second highest ratio of students in the top 1% of household income to students in the bottom 60% (second only to Washington University in Saint Louis). The parents of students at Colorado College have the highest median income ($277,500) of any college or university in the United States, bar none, and the second highest percentage of students in the top 1% of income (i.e. $630,000+) (24%) second only to Trinity College in Connecticut (with 26%). It is fourth in the percentage in the top 20% (i.e. $110,000+) at 78%. It is 2357th out of 2395 colleges in the percentage in the bottom 20% (i.e. less than $20,000 per year) at 2%.

For profit schools are disproportionately chosen by the poor despite their high tuitions and lousy results, and make up only a tiny percentage of the college choices of the affluent.

Low and middle income students who attend highly selective colleges earn only slightly less than their more affluent peers. The gap between a hypothetical student in the bottom 1% and the top 1% of family income who attend the same class of colleges is only about 5 percentile points at private college and about 10 percentile points at public colleges and is roughly linear. So, a student in the 60th percentile of family income is likely to have earnings about 2 percentile points lower than a student in the top 1% at a selective private college and about 4 percentile points lower than a student in the top 1% at a selective public college.

Overall the gap is about 25 percentile points, so 60%-80% of income differential between children of the affluent and children of the less affluent is eliminated after controlling for where those children go to college.

This suggests that meritocratic scholarship support can make big differences in income inequality, because students from less affluent families with comparable academic ability to students from more affluent families are much less likely to attend a selective college, or to attend college at all.

The data also suggests that college selectivity is a powerful predictor of lifetime income.

The data also reveal a strong regression to the mean. On average, students who grow up in families with above median incomes see a decline in the percentile of their own incomes relative to their parents. Meanwhile, students who grow up in families below median income see increases in the percentile of their own incomes relative to their parents. Students from families with close to the median income are most likely to have income percentiles close to that of their parents.

Poor students who attend top colleges do about as well as their rich classmates

Poor children at elite colleges ended up at about the 75th percentile.
Their rich classmates fared only a little better.
1102030405060708090100303540455055606570758085Ivy plusOther eliteSelective publicCOLLEGE TYPEAll childrenCHILD INCOME RANKPARENT INCOME RANK
Data here comes from the 1980-82 cohort, roughly the college classes of 2002-4. By this stage in life, income ranks are relatively stable.