29 March 2020

Towards A More Resilient Economy

The recent COVID-19 driven disruption to the global economy refocuses attention on the issue of how our economy copes with economic shocks and downturns. 

The business cycle, recessions, economic downturns and "panics", bear markets, natural disasters, and events like pandemics that negatively shock the economy are inevitable no matter how hard policy makers try to minimize and prevent them. This is even more true in our modern global economy where a serious shock half way around the world can take you down with it.

This reality means that productivity and efficiency aren't the only virtues we want in an economy. It may be worth deliberately having less than optimal productivity and efficiency in the economy in order to make it more resilient, which is to say, an economy that functions better in times of declining productivity and other economic shocks.

There are some big picture concepts that can make an economy more resilient.

* Prefer equity to debt. The U.S. tax code currently strongly favors debt over equity in big businesses, and provides tax advantages to people who have lots of mortgage debt over those who have little. A failure to make debt payments can cause a business to collapse. But, a failure to make distributions to shareholders cannot. Islamic finance with its prohibition on interest (which can be circumvented in such a manner as to allow de facto interest but not compound interest) likely reflects economic thought arising from the experience of economic downturns.

* Prefer owning to renting. While debt payments can be equivalent to rent, debt payments typically can't increase to reflect increasing asset value and when property is owned debt free, the owner can weather limited cash flow by using an owned asset without risk of losing it in hard times.

* Maintain excessive inventories of essential items. Just in time delivery supply chains are more efficient and profitable when they work. But, the prospect of lockdowns prompted a mass transition to Mormon-style stockpiling of grocery store necessities like toilet paper, flour, dry beans, rice, and cleaning supplies. The Mormon religious mandate to have a year of supplies on hand at all time may be excessive, but living with just a few days supplies on hand may not be optimal either. We should also have, at an institutional level, have stockpiles of medical supplies that might be needed in times of pandemics and natural disasters, of food in the event of crop failures or interruptions in supply chains, wars, and so on.

* Put in place a strong social safety net. Universal access to health care, housing, food and other necessities buffers the long term ill effects of economic shocks, preventing a hurdle from becoming "game over" or a lifetime of impairment.

* Increase the economy's capacity to react to change. The economy needs to be able to quickly reallocate resources from choices that used to make sense to those that make sense in a new reality. Distilleries can be retooled to make hand sanitizer. Sports jersey makes can turn to making face masks. Teachers and professors can transition from providing services in person to teaching on line. People can move from places where there is no work to places where there is a shortage of labor.

Policy choices, in both the public and private domains, can make the economy more resilient, and hence endure economic shocks while experiencing lower levels of harm to individuals, families, and firms.

20 March 2020

Coronavirus Responses As Measures Of National Character

One way to interpret the different trajectories between countries is as an empirical measure of the capacity of each country to mobilize grassroots collective action.

The U.S. and China are marginally worse than most of Europe. Iran seems to be improving. South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are the stand outs here, as extraordinarily disciplined societies.

Hong Kong is a particularly interesting case as it is both very different from China as a whole despite being a very high in population density and ethnically similar to China as a whole, and has recently witnessed mass protest against the government that is organizing the coronavirus response.

A Chinese Great Depression

I am on record predicting (as of 2012) that there would be a Great Depression class recession in China prior to 2024. It increasingly looks like this will happen in 2020. Some economic analysts are now predicting a 40% contraction in China's GDP in 2020 (proximately caused by the coronavirus).

19 March 2020

Gabbard Out

Tulsi Gabbard, a member of Congress from Hawaii, has finally dropped her bid to be the Democratic Presidential bid, having won only about 2 delegates so far. It was mathematically impossible for her to win a majority of delegates.

Sanders needs about 58% of the delegates not yet awarded to win the nomination, which given his performance so far in states he needs to do well in to win, he can't. So, the Democratic Party nominee will be Joe Biden with a to be announced female Vice President.

18 March 2020

Biden Sweeps March 17 Primaries

Sanders won in the Northern Marinara islands this weekend. Washington State (like Texas) announced a narrow win for Biden.

Yesterday, March 17, 2020, Biden swept the three primaries that were held. Ohio postponed its primary until June due to coronavirus. The results so far are as follows:

In terms of delegates, Sanders doesn't have an insurmountable challenge. But, Sanders needed to do better in Michigan, Illinois, Washington State and Arizona to win the nomination. Sanders is reassessing his campaign.

So, this is going to be a Trump v. Biden contest in November, as much as I would like it to be otherwise.

The analysis has shifted, however. The core component of his re-election campaign was a strong economy. But, almost all of the stock market gains during his Presidency have been erased, his Treasury secretary is predicting unemployment rates up to 20% in the coming months, and a global recession is almost inevitable at this point. His handling of the crisis has been seriously criticized. And, these factors could undermine support for him in November unless he does a much better job going forward.

Meanwhile, former Governor Hickenlooper, who won almost 30% of delegates in the caucus process in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado, has made it onto the ballot by petition, and so he has dropped out of the caucus process. Andrew Romanoff will make it onto the U.S. Senate ballot that way and it is unlikely that any of the other U.S. Senate candidates will. It is possible that someone else will make it onto the U.S. Senate primary ballot by petition, but no one else trying to do so has a realistic shot of winning the primary which will come down to Hickenlooper v. Romanoff. The county assembly stage of the caucus process will be conducted virtually.

17 March 2020

Armed C-130 Considered For Anti-Small Craft Warfare

It is frequently the case that the best military response to surface ships is with aircraft rather than with other ships or submarines. In this case, the Air Force is testing a modified C-130 intratheater transport aircraft for anti-surface warfare against small craft also designed to support ground troops when there is air superiority.

Aircraft put a much smaller proportion of the force in harm's way (about 5% of the total ground and flight crew of each aircraft) than a naval ship does. An aircraft is like a race car on a track without the pit crew out of the fray. Going into battle in a blue sea naval ship is like going into a combat zone in an RV. 

Aircraft can also respond more quickly, limit their time in harm's way (typically, even the slowest aircraft are 7-15 times faster than the most swift naval ship or submarine) and are literally smaller targets. 

Naval ships are extremely vulnerable to mines, submarines, anti-ship missiles (sometimes hypersonic), and attacks from warplanes. Historic mainstays of naval armament like torpedoes and naval guns are impotent at the longest ranges from which aircraft and missile strikes can be launched. Armor on naval ships can be effective against small arms and irregular forces, but aren't effective against most anti-ship missiles which can be delivered by air, from ground bases, from armed drones, from submarines, or from even small missile boats as well as other full fledge warships. Even so called stealth surface warships are ineffective against pretty simply modern surveillance tools like satellites, drones, reconnaissance aircraft, radar and sonar arrays which are used in concert. 

Aircraft are more easily shifted from one theater of battle to another (this can be done in a few days, instead of a few weeks), which means that you are pretty much stuck with your in theater fleet in the early days of a conflict with ships but can rely on your global aircraft resources.
The US military is trialling the use of the Lockheed Martin AC-130W Stinger II gunship in the anti-surface warfare (ASuW) role in the Middle East. 
The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on 15 March that US Navy (USN) Cyclone-class patrol coastal ships (PC) and Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft (MMA) assigned to US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) had conducted "a first-of-its-kind" joint exercise with US Air Force (USAF) AC-130W gunships assigned to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) on 8 and 9 March. 
According to the DoD, the exercises were designed to enhance the capabilities of US forces to respond to surface threats and involved P-8 aircraft performing long-range reconnaissance ahead of PCs selecting simulated surface targets for the AC-130W to engage.  . . . 
The AC-130W Stinger II (formerly known as Dragon Spear) is a gunship-variant of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and is flown by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). It is armed with a GAU-23 Bushmaster 30 mm cannon, a 105 mm gun, and stand-off precision-guided munitions such as the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and Raytheon's AGM-176A Griffin missile. AFSOC has 12 such aircraft in its inventory, flying alongside C-130-gunship variants such as the AC-130J Ghostrider.
From here

The armament is on the heavy side for ground troops, but small for bombers and similar in magnitude to 330 ton patrol ships like the Cyclone. One primary target in mind for this aircraft is Iranian armed small craft in the Persian Gulf which can swarm larger ships that don't have the resources to hit many small targets simultaneously.

11 March 2020

Marriage Trends Still Driven By Economics

A March 9, 20202 article in the Wall Street Journal by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg, entitled "Marriage Is Becoming More Like A Luxury Good in U.S." confirms my long standing observations about marriage patterns in the U.S. and globally being closely associated by economic factors. (An opinion piece in the conservative Washington Examiner comments on this story. It's lede: "In 1960, nearly 70% of adults were married. Today, only half are. In 1978, 59% of 18 to 34-year-olds were married. Today, just 29% are.")

Non-college educated men have seen their incomes stagnate and their employment become uncertain, while non-college educated women have seen more progressive than college educated women in recent years. The stagnation for men is a product, of offshoring and automation in the manufacturing sector, at least in part. College educated couples get married and stay married and have kids in wedlock. Non-college educated coupled don't get married, are more prone to divorce if they do get married, and have kids out of wedlock. Fringe benefits at jobs, which fewer and fewer jobs have, encourage marriage. Income assistance linked to income and family size discourage marriage.

The higher your income, the more likely you are to be married. But, adults with incomes under $25,000 have the same likelihood of married at the same rate since 2005 (the lowest percentage, i.e. under 50%, seeing a drop only from 1980 to 2005). Adults with incomes in the $25,000 to $125,000 range have seen a big drop in likelihood of being married since 1980 (now 50%, was 66%). Adults with incomes in excess of $125,000 have seen a small drop in likelihood of being married (now 60%, was 64%). Likelihood of being married is down 19 percentage points among those with only a high school diploma and 8 percentage points for those with college degrees from 1980 to 2018. Overall the percentage of adults 18 to 44 who have ever married fell from 60% in 2002 to 50% in 2017, while the percentage who had ever cohabited rose from about 54% to 59% in that time period. 

Married couples have much more net worth (median $26,714) than single people (median $6,356) and people who live with partners (median $5,892), something that has remained fairly stable since 1989 with shifts driving by the business cycle rather than long term trends.

The divorce rate, which peaked in 1979, is at a 40 year low, but mostly because fewer people are married in the first place.

One interesting observation is that cohabiting causes couples to stay away from churches out of shame over living in sin. 

Another interesting observation was that non-college educated men are giving up on trying to get married and devoting less effort to income earning since they don't need to support a wife and kids as a result.

08 March 2020

Getting On The Ballot As A Candidate In Colorado

To get on the June 30, 2020 primary ballot in Colorado as a major party candidate, which is the only way to get on the ballot as a major party candidate in the general election, which is, as a practical matter, the only way to get elected to a partisan political office, you must fill out paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State and must also do one of two things:

1.  Get placed on the ballot at a major party assembly for the office through the caucus process.

This can be done two ways. Either you get 30% of the delegates' votes at the final political party assembly for your office, on either a first or second round assembly vote, or if not candidate gets 30% of the delegates' votes on either a first or second round assembly vote, the top two candidates in the assembly vote are placed on the ballot.

The candidate who receives the most votes at the assembly receives the top line on the primary ballot for that office in that political party.

But, if you attempt to get on the ballot via the caucus process, and get less than 10% of the delegates' votes at the assembly, you are barred from the primary ballot, even if you had enough signatures to petition onto the ballot.

The practical effect of the caucus process in major parties is that incumbents are rarely challenged in the caucus process, almost always get first line status on a primary ballot when a challenger makes it onto the primary ballot, and are almost never defeated in the primary election. Thus, attention turns to "open" seats.

Very few candidates who elect to use the petition process and forego the caucus process actually make it onto the primary ballot and then into the general election and win in the general election, although a few candidates each year mandate to do so.

How do you get to the final assembly?

Note that some assemblies are held with the county assembly delegates selected at the precinct level, while other offices some county assembly delegates are elected to go onto the next level (basically proportionately) held at the time of the state convention and assembly. The U.S. Senate race, which is the main race determined at the state convention/assembly in 2020. 

Delegates from precinct caucuses to county assemblies (which provides the source for the delegates for all offices at all later steps in the process) must be chosen as delegates for one of the U.S. Senate candidates seeking a primary ballot spot through the caucus process to the county assembly. Only candidates that meet at 15% threshold in a precinct caucus get delegates from the precinct to the county assembly. I do not know if there is an additional 15% threshold to get from the county assembly to the state assembly (but I believe that this second threshold does apply).

2.  Petition onto the ballot.

If you petition onto the ballot, and either don't attempt to participate in the caucus process, or get at least 10% support at the final political party assembly for your office but not 30%, you will be placed on the ballot if you get a sufficient number of valid signatures from registered voters who are registered with that political party.

The required number of signatures is as follows:

This year's hot primary races.

This year, the most notable open primary race in the state across both parties, is the Democratic Party's race for U.S. Senate, which will probably come down to Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper, with Romanoff having the top line of the primary ballot, based upon yesterday's early precinct caucus results. This is the race that everyone will be watching in the wake of the June 30, 2020 primary. Romanoff is the progressive candidate representing the Sanders wing of the party who is most likely to win the primary, although hardly a sure thing. Hickenlooper is the moderate candidate representing the Biden wing of the party. The winner will face off against Cory Gardner in November. 

The leading primary candidates in this race are pretty much the top candidates in the Democratic party stable, drawn to the race, in part, because Cory Gardner is a weak GOP candidate, with negative favorability ratings of 14 percentage points (two percentage points worse than Donald Trump in Colorado), in a state that is increasingly a "blue state." It is almost impossible for Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate or at least increase the size of their minority, without winning Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, which is seen of one of the most likely Democratic Party pickups in 2020.

In addition to the U.S. Senate race, this year, in the City and County of Denver, the main partisan elected offices which will be on the primary ballot in June are state representatives, state senators (only half are up for election every two years), U.S. Congress for District 1 (currently held by Diana DeGette who is running for re-election), State School Board for District 1 (currently held by Val Flores, whom I presume is running for re-election after having finished only one term), and District Attorney for Judicial District 1 (currently held by Beth McCann, whom I presume is running fr re-election). 

Most, if not all, of the state house and state senate races have strong incumbents running.

The C.U.-Regents hold six year terms and neither of the C.U. Regents are large face the voters this year, and there is also not a C.U.-Regent District 1 election. Statewide elected officials (other than District Attorney which is held in Presidential election years) are elected in the even numbered elections between Presidential election years. 

The City and County of Denver doesn't have any partisan races at the county level other than District Attorney, which is strictly speaking, a state government office. Most other counties elect most of their elected officials in the even numbered general election between Presidential races.

Primary season in 2020 on the Republican side is very boring indeed. 

On the Republican side, the only primary race that is likely to be really interesting is the race for the 6th Congressional District nominee for the GOP who will challenge Democratic incumbent Jason Crow, which is held by a Democratic incumbent, but not a safe Democratic seat.

In the Presidential primaries on the Republican side, there was a 20% threshold to get a delegate to the national convention, and no Republican challenger to incumbent President Trump was close, so Trump got 100% of Colorado's delegates and will do so in every, or almost every, other state. 

The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by a Republican who doesn't have any meaningful primary challenger. None of the incumbent Republican members of the U.S. House face a meaningful challenge this year. 

A couple of the U.S. House seats held by Democrats which are "open" seats on the Republican side (i.e. Denver and Boulder) are so safe that no strong Republican candidates will try to challenge them, although some less viable optimists will carry the Republican flag in these race just in case something totally unexpected happens. 

No statewide offices in state government are at issue. Most of the C.U. Regent, State Board of Education, state senate, and state house races this year either have a Republican incumbent who is running for re-election or are safe Democratic party seats.

There may be a few contested state house or state senate primaries, but none of them have hit my radar yet. It currently seems unlikely that statewide, the Democratic party will lose control of the state house or the state senate in 2020, and it is expected that the state will favor the Democratic nominee over President Trump in the Presidential election in 2020.

On election day in November, the U.S. Senate race and the 6th Congressional District race in Colorado will be the races to watch in addition to the Presidential race.

A list of candidates who have filed paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State is found here. But, it doesn't include all candidates trying to make the ballot via the caucus process, so it isn't very meaningful. Many who have filed won't make the primary ballot and many who have not filed will.

The official list of races up for election this year is below the fold.

06 March 2020

A Culture Clash Over Prayer

Razib Khan, a conservative atheist geneticist and "public intellectual", looks at a controversial photo from both side of the cultural divide in the U.S. with some insightful comments.

With a serious world-wide pandemic coming toward us, I assume that many people of Thomas Chatterton Williams’ milieu were alarmed when they saw a photograph of Mike Pence leading the team tasked to respond to the pandemic praying. As the kids would say, “it’s not a good look.” The image was pregnant with many connotations. 
[Christian conservative blogger] Rod Dreher is not the only person who responded very negatively to the above tweet. I actually initially saw it via another conservative writer I follow. We can set aside the political opportunism of figures like Jeff Sessions. I think it is clear that many people were sincerely offended. 
Where the secular person might see a useless gesture at best, and a sinister one at worst, religious conservatives see normal, banal, and conventional behavior. For them, the act of prayer is a conventional part of daily life. It is not surprising they would be offended and angered that actions which they know to be in good will, and meritorious, were seen in a negative light.
He's right. This photograph sends two very different messages to members of secular, modernist America and to Christian religious conservatives in the U.S., respectively. A culture war is underway in the U.S., it has been for a long time. It has grown particularly intense under the Trump Administration as Trump has joined the fray on the Christian conservative side despite being 

I am firmly on the secular, modernist side of that war, and ultimately, I think that it is pretty clear that my side is going to win that struggle. The ranks of the religious "nones" are growing as is support for litmus test views like belief in evolution, climate change and gay rights, especially among the young, regardless of their cultural roots. The ranks of people who identify as "Christian" and reject science and gay rights are shrinking and growing more white haired with each passing year.

Few people would have even thought to have the reaction that is the instinctive response of Williams, which is also the reaction that I and many of our peers today do, sixty years ago, in 1960, when our current crop of Presidential candidates were teenagers. This is progress.

Of course, back in 1960, conservative Christians had not "weaponized" their faith as a political tool in service of ends that it is hard to imagine the Jesus depicted in the Gospels embracing. Most people were either mainline Protestant Christians or Roman Catholics who did not understand their religion to be so deeply at odds with science. Back then, atheists were seen as crazy radicals beyond the Overton window of normal discourse and respectable opinion, who were also seen as allied the Soviet and Maoist Communists who were our geopolitical enemy. Scientists were seen as a bit strange, but not as a cultural threat to the prevailing ceremonial deist consensus.

Law Without Lawyers

The Court system is designed to be used by people and entities represented by lawyers. But, the reality is that this often doesn't happen in civil (i.e. non-criminal) cases where there is not a constitutional right to counsel, especially in divorce, legal separation and custody cases, and for defendants in collection and eviction cases. According to the Colorado state court administrator, here are the facts, broken down by state judicial district.

Domestic Relations Cases

In domestic relations cases (i.e. divorce, legal separation, annulment, paternity, child support, and custody cases), 69% of cases have no attorney on either side, and 75% of people in domestic relations cases are not represented by an attorney.

General Jurisdiction Court Civil Cases

In District Court civil cases, which include personal injury cases, collection cases involving dollar amounts in excess of $25,000, business disputes, and real estate disputes, 9% of cases have no attorney on either side, and 37% of people in such cases are not represented by an attorney.

Pro se parties in these cases are mostly defendants in collection cases and defendants in personal injury cases who didn't have insurance.

Limited Jurisdiction Court Civil Cases

In County Court civil cases (excluding small claims court cases), which include most evictions, collection cases involving dollar amounts under $25,000, and most cases seeking a protection order, 14% of cases have no attorney on either side, and 60% of people in such cases are not represented by an attorney.

Pro se parties in these cases are mostly defendants in evictions, collection cases and parties to protective order cases.

05 March 2020

Ranked Choice Voting

Currently, most elections for a candidate race in which only one candidate may win, declare the winner of a plurality of the vote to be the winner (also called "First Past the Post" or "single member district plurality" systems). When that plurality is also a majority of the votes cast, this is unproblematic. But, this can be problematic when there are three or more candidates running and no one candidate receives a majority of the vote.

For example, in the status quo, if three candidates are running in a race where two candidates are left leaning, and one is right leaning, the left leaning candidates will tend to split the vote of the voters inclined to vote for a left leaning candidate, potentially causing the candidate least favored by a majority of the voters the win. 

We have a two dominant political party system with political primaries in the United States within political parties, precisely to reduce the likelihood of this happening. But, third-party and independent candidates in general elections create the same problem. In our system, an independent or third-party candidate hurts the major party candidate that they are most similar to, so voters who vote for someone that they most prefer undermine their own objectives when they vote for an independent or third-party candidate.

First past the post electoral systems have the natural effect of disfavoring having more than two political parties in any one geographic region (the UK and Canada managed to have more than one political party nationally because their political parties historically were mostly geographically distinct such as nationalist parties in Quebec, Northern Ireland and Scotland), and actively incentive voters and political activists to shun third-parties.

In Ranked Choice Voting (also called more evocatively "Instant Runoff Voting"), when applied in single member districts, each voter selects not just a first choice, but also second and sometimes third choices in a single member candidate race. If no candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, the candidate with the least first choice votes is eliminated and that candidate's votes are allocated to the next choice of the voters who voted for that candidate. This process is iterated until one candidate has a majority of the vote and is proclaimed the winner.

As a result, in ranked choice voting, in contrast, in theory, the scenario that played out above in a plurality voting system wouldn't happen. If a majority of voters are left leaning, and the left wing vote is split between two candidates, and a minority of voters are right leaning and represented by only a single candidate, in ranked choice voting, voters will, in theory, vote for their first choice, one of the left wing candidates will be eliminated, and the other left wing candidate will win with second choice votes, even though the right win candidate had more first choice votes.

I've used examples of three candidate races, but the analysis generalized to races with more than three candidates.

Ranking choice voting makes it much less important to vote strategically in situations where you have more than one preferred candidate, or there are third-party or independent candidates. This, in turn, makes third-party and independent candidates something that our system can embrace, instead of fighting because it undermines the ideologies that those candidates support.

Despite this fact, while ranked choice voting is a good idea in theory, and is superior to the default simple plurality voting system, it is not my preferred system.

This is because the average voter is bad at making informed choices hypothetically and it is much more burdensome for someone to sift though enough information to make not just an informed first choice but also an informed second and third choice. 

People inform themselves about their second and third choices less when they engaged in ranked choice voting than they do when their first choice has actually been eliminated and they have to consider the candidates who remain. 

Therefore, I prefer actual runoff voting in the event that no one candidate receives a majority, between the top two finishers, held a few weeks later, as Denver, France and Louisiana all do.

An actual runoff system leads to a better informed choice than a ranked choice voting determination would. Also, the complications involved in counting the vote ranked choice voting delays election night results, reduces transparency, and increases the odds of somebody screwing it up.

Therefore, while ranked choice voting is superior to plurality voting, the simpler system of holding an actual runoff between the top two finishers if no one candidate receives a majority, would be a better solution. This produces the same results as ranked choice voting in the hypothetical world where all voters are perfectly informed apart from some very esoteric scenarios where it still comes closer to the ideal result than the default plurality system. It still prevents third-party and independent candidates in general elections from having perverse effects. But, it is easier to administer, more transparent, harder to screw up, and is easier on voters with scarce time to inform themselves, particularly if they have a hard time thinking hypothetically, which most voters do.

Both Ranked Choice Voting and two round elections, make it possible to have more than two viable political parties (without having to have regional "nationalist" type parties to achieve that end). And, a system with multiple political parties is also more likely to eventually implement proportional representation.

Both Ranked Choice Voting and two round elections, also slightly favor more moderate candidates relative to a strict two party system single member district plurality system with political primaries, which is our status quo, because the "elimination round" isn't segregated by political party in the same way that primaries enforce. In a Ranked Choice voting or two round election system for a general election, a non-partisan centrist has a much greater chance of success than in the two party system with political primaries that tends to favor clear partisans over centrists.

Another approach is to have multi-member districts, or no districts at all. 

In a multi-member district plurality system where each voter gets to vote for as many candidates are there are seats up for election, this system suppresses candidates who represent localized majorities that are a minority in the district or jurisdiction as a whole. 

For example, if a district with five elected officials is 40% black Democratic and 60% white Republican and voters are residentially segregated, a multi-member district plurality system where each voter gets to vote for as many candidates as there are seats up for election is likely to elect a full slate of Republicans. But, in a single member district system, it is likely that there will be three Republicans and two Democrats elected, giving Democrats a voice and a chance to sway a swing Republican on some issues, even if the Democrats will still usually lose.

But, unlike single member district systems, multi-member districts are less vulnerable to gerrymandering, which is a very difficult problem to solve with election laws that has great potential for abuse that has been demonstrated frequently in U.S. political history.

Also, in multi-member districts, various forms of proportional representation are possible, that avoid both tyrannies of the majority, and gerrymandering risks. Most countries use some form of proportional representation to elect multimember legislative bodies.

Pluralities and Majorities

The parameters of the rest of the Democratic Primary season are a lot more clear now.

About two-thirds of the delegates remain to be allocated.

It takes 1,991 pledged delegates to have a clean majority win on the first ballot at the national convention. If Sanders got 1,991 delegates at any point in the primary season, Biden would concede and drop out of the race without forcing the issue to a vote. For this to happen, Sanders would need to win something like 55% to 57% of the post-Super Tuesday vote, depending on the final delegate counts.

There are three groups of delegates: delegates pledged to either Biden or Sanders, delegates pledged to someone who has dropped out of the race (or Gabbard), and superdelegates (who don't get to vote in the first round).

The final Super Tuesday delegate counts are not yet complete. Right now, Biden has a roughly 65 delegate lead over Sanders, but that gap should narrow as more delegates from California, Colorado and Utah, where most of the unallocated Super Tuesday delegates are and where Sanders had a strong lead over Biden.

A best estimate of the number of delegates pledged to someone who dropped out of the race, which won't increase for the reset of the campaign, is probably in the 300-400 range. A plurality will be a majority of the remaining delegates. So, a plurality will be a minimum of about 1791 to 1841 delegates, which is about 45%-46% of the delegates. Either Biden or Sanders is guaranteed to receive a plurality. 

A plurality is going to be very close to a majority of the remaining two-thirds of delegates to be allocated, because the gap between Biden and Sanders after Super Tuesday is small, and because both Biden and Sanders are almost certain to meet the 15% threshold in almost every state and in almost every Congressional district in a two man race, and the delegates from each state will be allocated very nearly in proportion to the popular vote in each state going to Biden and Sanders respectively.

Sanders has announced that he will concede the race is Biden has a plurality going into the convention. This is wise. Assuming that Warren delegates support Sanders, that Buttigieg delegates are split, and that other delegates for candidates who have dropped out support Biden, which seems to be a fair prediction, the delegates for candidates who have dropped out will be very nearly evenly split between Sanders and Biden, but will slightly favor Biden. Conventional wisdom is that a majority of the superdelegates favor Biden. Certainly, a majority of superdelegates would back Biden is Biden won even a plurality of the pledged delegates. So, Sanders has really lost nothing by stating that he will concede the race if Biden has a plurality of the delegates going into the convention.

So, the first, and possibly subsequent rounds of voting at the national convention will be held only if Sanders has roughly 45%-49% of the delegates, and Biden has about 41%-44% of the delegates, falling behind by less than one percentage point to as much as eight percentage points.

It isn't perfectly clear that the superdelegates would overturn a plurality of pledged delegates win for Sanders, even if they could and would have been inclined to favor Biden by a sufficient margin. And, the larger the Sanders plurality, the more risky it is for the party for the superdelegates to hand the nomination to Biden.

If Sanders had 49% of the delegates and Biden had 41% of the delegates, and 60% of the delegates for candidates who dropped out favored Biden, leaving the total pledged delegate vote at 55% to 45%, the super delegates might be able to hand the nomination to Biden, but would risk a complete meltdown of the Democratic Party and active sabotage of Biden's general election candidacy, if they did. For this to happen, Sanders would need to win roughly 54% to 56% of the post-Super Tuesday vote.

On the other hand, if Sanders had 46% of the delegates, Biden had 44% of the delegates, and the 60% of he delegates for candidates who dropped out favored Biden, equally splitting the convention, and the superdelegates tipped the balance in favor of Biden then, the Democratic party and the Biden candidacy would still be hurt, but, perhaps, not badly enough to be so obviously catastrophic that the superdelegates would refrain from doing so. For this to happen, Sanders would need to win about 51%-52% of the post-Super Tuesday vote, depending upon the exact Super Tuesday delegate count.

Results in the uncertain range between a Biden plurality and a Sanders majority are quite likely. This is because the states where Biden is likely to be strongest, based upon past experience, have disproportionately already voted in either the South Carolina primary or on Super Tuesday. The remaining primary calendar tends to favor Sanders, so Sanders is likely to get a majority of the remaining delegates and hence, to win at least a plurality of the delegates.

But, given the consolidation of both the left leaning Sanders track, and the right leaning Biden track, in the race, now that everyone else has dropped out of the race, it will be quite challenging for Sanders to consistently get 57% of the remaining delegates, barring a really serious misstep by Biden that changes perceptions of the race - something that could happen in the next debate or elsewhere on the campaign trail.

Interesting times.

Warren Out

Elizabeth Warren is dropping out of the race in the wake of her poor Super Tuesday showing.

So, while Gabbard is still officially in the race for reasons that have nothing to do with having a viable candidacy, basically this is now a two man race between Biden and Sanders.

Our next President, be he Biden, Sanders, or Trump, will definitely be a white man who is at least 74 years old from the Northeast. Two of the three were born in New York City, the other in Pennsylvania. 

04 March 2020

GM Claims It Has Developed Better Batteries

The main reason that all cars aren't electric can be summed up by the fact that the batteries (or other energy storage devices) needed to make it a clear economically preferred option to do so are too expensive, have to short a range, take too long to recharge, and perform too poorly in cold weather.

So, anytime an advance is made in battery technology that is a big deal bringing us closer to the tipping point when we transition from internal combustion engine and fossil fuel based motor vehicles to all electric vehicles. This transition would also have profound implications for the environment, future demand for fossil fuels, and more.

Therefore, the claim of General Motors that it has better batteries for its new line of electric cars than electric vehicle industry leader Tesla Motors, in term of price and range, is a big deal.

General Motors isn't the only one making progress on the battery technology front.

In another recent study:
Researchers demonstrate how they can overcome a persistent challenge known as dendrites to create a metal battery that performs nearly as well as a lithium-ion battery, but relies on potassium -- a much more abundant and less expensive element.
The paper is:
Prateek Hundekar, et al., "In situ healing of dendrites in a potassium metal battery." PNAS, 2020 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1915470117

Democratic Presidential Race Results Through Super Tuesday

Popular vote totals through Super Tuesday:

1. Biden 4,820,409
2. Sanders 3,906,337
3. Warren 1,743,524
4. Bloomberg 1,689,001
5. Buttigieg 594,772
6. Klobuchar 378,545
7. Steyer 208,734
8. Gabbard 100,604
9. Yang 75,783

From Real Clear Politics.

Excludes smaller popular vote totals for a handful of candidates like Patrick and Bennet who dropped out of the race early on.

The delegate count post-Super Tuesday below has not been complied fully yet and excludes not yet allocated delegates in large numbers in states shown below:

1. Biden 553
2. Sanders 488
3. Warren 61
4. Bloomberg 50
5. Buttigieg 26 (final)
6. Klobuchar 7 (final)
7. Steyer 0 (final)
8. Gabbard 1 (final)
9. Yang 0 (final)

Total allocated: 1186 pledged delegates

Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Gabbard delegates probably lean towards Biden since all of them by Gabbard have endorsed Biden, and Gabbard is definitely not a progressive. Collectively they have 84 delegates so far.

Warren delegates probably lean towards Sanders and she has 61 delegates so far.

Not yet allocated pledged delegates from Super Tuesday (a handful may have gone to candidates who dropped out the race not listed above) with the percentage point lead of Sanders v. Biden in each state:

California 144 (Sanders +8.7) 
Texas 93 (Biden + 4.3)
Colorado 28 (Sanders + 13.0)
Utah 19 (Sanders +17.5)
Tennessee 13 (Biden + 16.8)
North Carolina 7 (Biden + 18.9)
Arkansas 3 (Biden +18.2)
Massachusetts 3 (Biden + 7.1)
Minnesota 1 (Biden + 8.7)

Total unallocated: 311 pledged delegates

Since most of the not yet allocated pledged delegates come from states that Sanders won, or where Biden had only a slight lead over Sanders, the final delegate count post-Super Tuesday will considerably narrow the 65 delegate lead that Biden has over Sanders and could even put Sanders in the lead.

This is encouraging news for Sanders, because the post-Super Tuesday calendar favors Sanders somewhat. A large share of the states most favorable to Biden have already held their contests. So, if Sanders and Biden are in basically a dead tie at the end of Super Tuesday, that tends to favor Sanders.

Bloomberg dropping out does help Biden in contests going forward, but if Warren drops out, Sanders will receive a big boost going forward that was handicapping him on Super Tuesday, when the progressive vote was divided, but the moderate vote was much more consolidated.

The Democratic Presidential primary could easily go right down to the wire on the eve of the convention.

Bloomberg Out

Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the race to be the Democratic Presidential nominee today and endorsed Joe Biden, after his first day on the ballot on Super Tuesday. His performance on Super Tuesday was disappointing, winning only American Samoa, not reaching the 15% threshold in many states, and coming in third place or worse in most states. He didn't win many delegates either.

Most Democratic voters rejected him once his flaws were pointed out, most forcefully by Elizabeth Warren, in the two debates that he participated in before dropping out.

This leaves the following candidates still in the running (in order of delegates won to date):

1. Biden
2. Sanders
3. Warren
4. Gabbard

As previously noted, Gabbard's candidacy is already dead in all but name, so there are really only three candidates running, whether or not she officially drops out of the race. She hasn't qualified for a debate since November. She has won only one delegate so far, for her second place finish in her birthplace of American Samoa, the only place where she has received more than 3.5% of the popular vote (she has received less than 1% of the popular vote so far). No one is suggesting her seriously as even a Vice Presidential candidate. The fact that she is still in the race has become a bad joke and she should drop out at this point. I had wondered if she had been staying in the race to allow her family and friends in American Samoa to vote for her, even though her campaign was futile. If so, she could drop out at any time now.

Warren's performance on Super Tuesday was extremely disappointing. She hasn't finished better than third place in a single primary or caucus so far (18 states and American Samoa have now all had their contests and about a third of the delegates have been awarded). Even in her home state of Massachusetts, she came in third place after first place Biden and second place Sanders in her home state of Massachusetts. She has come further back in the back, and failed to meet the 15% threshold in many states, and as has won only a small fraction of the delegates won by Biden and Sanders.

It was also apparent in Super Tuesday results that Warren remaining in the race is splitting the progressive vote and holding back Sanders, even tough Warren is not becoming a more viable candidate as a result.

Even though I think that Warren if the most qualified of the candidates to actually serve as President, I am now hoping that she drops out, so that she ceases to act as a spoiler of Sanders' candidacy. Even if she does stay in the race, people who might otherwise support her may end up voting for someone else (as I did) because she doesn't appear to have a viable path to win the nomination. On the other hand, meeting the 15% threshold might be easier now that the race is effectively a three way contest.

There are rumors from her aides that Warren is seriously considering dropping out of the race.

02 March 2020

Klobuchar Out

Senator Amy Klobuchar has suspended her campaign in advance of Super Tuesday and endorsed Joe Biden. She had dim prospects for crossing the 15% threshold anywhere outside of her home state of Minnesota, and her departure allows the anybody but Sanders wing of the Democratic Party to rally around a single candidate, Joe Biden. 

Her departure from the race will also probably help Elizabeth Warren, the sole remaining viable female candidate in the race. Her decision comes close on the heels of the decisions of Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg to suspend their campaigns after the South Carolina primary results were announced. The decisions are being forced now because Super Tuesday voters will make an indelible mark on who goes to the national convention with how many delegates.

This leaves the following candidates still in the running (in order of candidacy strength to date):

1. Sanders
2. Biden
3. Warren
4. Bloomberg
5. Gabbard

As previously noted, Gabbard's candidacy is already dead in all but name, so there are really only four candidates running, and Bloomberg has not yet even appeared on the ballot. The fact that she is still in the race has become a bad joke.

These departures improve the possibility that Biden could capture a plurality or majority of delegates going into the national convention. Warren's only real shot at the nomination is as a compromise candidate between the Sanders and Biden camps in a brokered convention, but that possibility now looks much better as competitors have suspended their candidacies.

Bloomberg looks unlikely to secure enough support from the Democratic based to win the nomination despite immense campaign spending. He has a late start and he is too far to the right and too recently affiliated with the Republican party to be very attractive to Democratic voters and shares many, although not all, of the flaws that the Democratic party base sees in their opponent, President Trump. Bloomberg's candidacy was fueled by the belief that neither Biden nor Sanders could win the nomination or beat Trump. To the extent that Biden looks viable again, Bloomberg's support suffers.

Notably, all of the remaining viable candidates in both political parties are 70+ year old white people who represent the Northeastern United States, and three of the five were born in New York City. Two of the four viable Democratic candidates are Jewish (Gabbard is a Hindu, FWIW).

Below the fold are reprinted biographies from my prior post of the remaining candidates in both parties for President.

Lots Of People Are Spiritual But Not Religious

It is easy to be lulled into thinking that the rise of the "nones", who don't identify with any particular religion, are basically secular. Politically, this seems to be consistent with their decision making. But, few "nones" are outright atheists or agnostics. A recent Facebook post by a friend, who like me has a quite liberal and not particular Christian identified group of friends illustrates this fact. She asks in her post:
Today's question of the day comes from an elderly friend: Do you believe that there are spiritual beings that interact in some ways in human lives?
My answer was as follows:
No. But, I like the way the your friend asked the question. The definition of what most people think of as "god" or the "divine" is something beyond mankind and smart ordinary Earth animals that intervenes with moral purpose in the universe.
I was struck, however, by the other responses. As of this post, there were 20 people who said "yes" (many enthusiastically), 3 who said "no" (in addition to me), and 2 who hedged.

Where Is Religion Headed In The Modern Western/Globalist World?

I think that most humans are pre-disposed to believe in the supernatural and the divine. Probably only a minority of people in the ranges of human neurodiversity, like me, are more Spock-like. A new age of enlightenment, while tempting to imagine, isn't where I think we are headed as a society.

Lots of liberals and people who embrace modernity are hungry of supernatural beliefs that don't support the anti-technology, anti-feminist, and intolerant/hateful stances of conservative Christians, mainstream and fundamentalist Muslims, Hindu nationalists, and white nationalist neo-pagans.

Sooner or later, I suppose, a faith more in tune with post-industrial reality will emerge meeting needs and supporting values more suited to the current reality*, although it is hard to know what it will look like. The really tiny number of people who have embraced Unitarian Universalist churches and similar religious movements suggest that whatever emerges won't look much like that.

Many liberals with these longings have embraced Eastern religious ideas like Buddhism and yoga (which has Hindu ideas in it, but highly filtered and diluted). The faux Jedi religion of Star Wars has attracted sincere followings in the U.K. and is probably closer to what our religious future looks like than the religiously secular enlightened future imagined in Star Trek.

Another angle that seems plausible for the future is for the West to drift in the direction of Japanese, Chinese and Korean folk religion, with beliefs in ghosts, reincarnation, animistic spirits, and veneration of ancestors in a combination of home shines and temples which are destinations rather than centers of reasonably well defined communities of members of a particular church or parish.

Another direction the West could head towards is the grass roots "attractor" (in the fractal and chaos mathematics sense) of what has been somewhat derisively described as "moralistic therapeutic deism", a term that was first introduced in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005) by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. The term is used to describe what they consider to be the common beliefs among American youth. As Wikipedia explains in the link above:
The author's study found that many young people believe in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is not a new religion or theology as such, but identified as a set of commonly held spiritual beliefs. It is this combination of beliefs that they label moralistic therapeutic deism: 
1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. 
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
On the other hand, to really catch fire, it seems that a religion has to demand significant deviation for prevailing norms from its followers, to embrace something that takes a leap of faith to believe in something impossible or absurd, and to contain "mysteries" that only those who study the faith deeply can understand, providing a basis for the development of a corps of "expert" religious leaders, whether or not formally recognized as a class of priests. Path of least resistance belief systems don't achieve these ends. 

The Satanic Temple might be a model for a new religious organization beyond the pure jokes of the philosophical tropes of the Invisible Pink Unicorn and Flying Spaghetti Monster, with a genuine cultural aesthetic and in your face identity, even if it isn't really metaphysical at this point. Infuse a little pantheism and superstition with some pagan and Kaballah and Sufi flavoring rooted, in part, in ancient mysteries suppressed by more orthodox versions of Christianity and Islam, and maybe you get something that does become a religion.

Images of the metaphysical world likewise tend to reflect the leadership structures of their day, and so, perhaps, the next major religions of the post-industrial era will be a less centralized oligarchy with something like a pluralistic by "crony capitalist" sort of organization.

* I think that one can see the deep roots of Islam and pre-Rabbinic Judaism as meeting the needs of a hunter-gatherer society, and of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity as meeting the needs of an agricultural and more urban society in which a culture of honor has become dysfunctional, and it is critical to help people to forgive each other as they live cheek by jowl and constantly slight each other.

01 March 2020

Pete Buttigieg Out

Pete Buttigieg has withdrawn from the race to be the Democratic Party's Presidential nominee two days in advance of Super Tuesday.

This leaves the following candidates still in the running:

1. Sanders
2. Biden
3. Warren
4. Klobuchar
5. Bloomberg
6. Gabbard

Steyer's departure probably gave a slight nudge up to Biden.

Buttigieg's departure probably boosts Biden, Klobuchar, and to a lesser extent, Bloomberg. 

Gabbard's campaign is weaker by every measure than that of Tom Steyer and of Pete Buttigieg who have already dropped out, has not earned a single delegate, and is not eligible to participate in debates either. She is polling at 0% to 2% in various state primary polls.

So, there is really a five candidate field left in the running. This is the same size at the Republican Party field on the eve of Super Tuesday in 2016.

But, both Sanders and Biden, as the clear top two candidates at this point, aren't going anywhere until one of them has a majority of the pledged delegates or the writing is on the wall that the candidate will achieve that or very nearly so.

Klobuchar is now the only viable candidate under the age of seventy in the race. But, even with these departures, however, Klobuchar will be hard pressed to exceed the 15% threshold outside of Minnesota even with a nudge from Buttigieg's departure. If she fails to get any delegates outside Minnesota on Super Tuesday, it seems likely that should would drop out and cede the role of sole potentially viable female candidate to Warren, and her role as a moderate candidate to Biden. She probably does want to stay in the race until Tuesday, however, to allow her supporters to vote for her and win some delegates that can provide her with partial king maker status in the event of a brokered convention.

Warren, in contrast, is likely to pick up Super Tuesday delegates not just in her home state of Massachusetts, but also in California and Colorado. And, she has a solid fighting chance at winning some delegates in her former state of residence in Texas, and in Utah. So, she will likely stay in the race to fight another day.

Warren also continues to seem to be the most plausible compromise candidate in a brokered convention for the Biden and Sanders camps, if neither of them secure a first round majority and their backers aren't willing to fall behind one or the other of them. And, she could also be attractive to stranded Klobuchar delegates who want a strong woman to run for President in 2020, and for stranded Buttigieg delegates who supported him, in part, out of skepticism of both the front runners: Sanders and Biden.

Bloomberg has the money and audacity not to drop out after the first round of voting in which he is on the ballot, but may also feel the hard bite of the 15% threshold and have a quite disappointing Super Tuesday himself. I have a very hard time seeing delegates for Biden, Sanders, Warren, or Buttigieg given Bloomberg anything but a cold shoulder in a brokered convention scenario, and even relatively conservative Klobuchar delegates are likely to take their cues from the hits that she made on Bloomberg in the debates. Even a slight stumble in support for Bloomberg, driven, perhaps by increased confidence in the viability of a Biden candidacy, could make a big dent in his delegate count on Tuesday.

Vox has basically said what I just said above (before reading the Vox article).

A field of four candidates by the March 10 primaries is not unthinkable, and if that happened, Biden, Warren and Bloomberg would each have a much easier time meeting the 15% threshold then, and going forward.