14 October 2021

Denver Ballot Issues 2021 And Colorado State Ballot Issues In 2021

Ballots are just starting to arrive at people's homes in Denver, Colorado this week for the 2021 general election, for which ballots must be returned by November 2, 2021. 

Your ballot can be mailed back if you complete it soon enough and pay for postage, or it can be dropped at any of numerous, conveniently located Denver ballot drop boxes around the City for free at any time before the end of the day on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

The ballot in Denver will have three statewide ballot issues and thirteen City and County ballot issues.

The ballot in Denver will also have four Denver Public Schools school board elections which make up about half of the DPS school board: an "at large" director election with five candidates seeking one seat, and DPS School Board district director elections in three Districts (Districts 2, 3 and 4 with two, two and four candidates running in each respectively). I personally only vote in the "at large" race because my district had a vote for school board director for a four year term two years ago when the other half of the current DPS school board was elected. My analysis of the Denver Public Schools school board races will be saved for another possible future post.

Any given voter in Denver will thus have either seventeen or eighteen decisions to make on their ballot. Long ballots like these, even in off years, are a systemic problem with Colorado's political system that should be reformed. But that is a matter for another day in another post.

This is based largely on official voter information pamphlets for the measures and casual awareness of local news coverage of the issues. If you want a second opinion you have review a Denver Post voter's guide on the same issues.

Executive Summary

If you are in a rush, and you trust me, here are my recommendations on the sixteen ballot issues voters have to consider in the City and County of Denver, Colorado this year.

Vote No on all three state ballot issues (Amendment 78, Proposition 119 and Proposition 120).

Vote No on the following six local Denver ballot issues: 

2E, 2F, 300, 302, 303 and 304.

Vote Yes on the following seven local Denver ballot issues: 

2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2G, 2H, and 301.

State Ballot Issues

Amendment 78

Amendment 78 would require the approval of the state legislature, following a public hearing, to spend state money that comes from sources other than legislative appropriations, like lawsuit settlement proceeds and certain federal grants. It is a response to conservative dissatisfaction with the fact the Governor Polis, a Democrat, was able to decide how to spend emergency COVID grants from the federal government.

You should vote No on Amendment 78, a change to the state constitution. 

The reality is that these kinds of funds may not be available at all unless the executive branch can actively negotiate where they will be going (e.g. class action lawsuit settlements earmarked for particular purposes), or need to be spent quickly (e.g. disaster and pandemic relief funds) to have the desired effect. Colorado's legislature is in session for only four months each year, so in order to get quick action, the wait to spend emergency funds could easily be as much as nine to ten months, unless an expensive special session of the legislature is called for what is usually, relative to the size of the state budget, a fairly small amount of money.

The reason for voter input in TABOR ballot issues is to give the public a say on spending that they are paying for, this justification isn't present, however, for Amendment 78 funds.

Proposition 119

This initiative would increase retail marijuana sales taxes from 15% to 20% (phased in over three years) raising an estimated $137.6 million to fund grants for tutoring and other after school education programs in a way independently of existing school boards and higher educational programs. The priority for the programs would be for lower income families.

You should vote No on Proposition 119.

Like most complex ballot issues, it isn't very well drafted or thought out, relative to comparable initiative of the state legislature.

This is a major new regressive tax the strengthens the incentive to move marijuana to the black market. It creates a new bureaucracy independent of the State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education to run this program rather than working with existing educators. It doesn't have a clear focus or buy-in from educations whom it is supposed to support. While supporting kids learning is a worthy cause, this leaves open lots of room for dubious programs when other public needs are more worthy of taxpayer financed spending.

Proposition 120

The state legislature temporary reduced for 2022 and 2023, real property tax rates by 9% on all forms of real estate covered by Proposition 120 except multifamily apartment buildings and hotels.

Proposition 120 would make those reductions permanent and would also lower property taxes by 9% on multifamily apartment buildings and hotels.

Proposition 120 would significantly and permanently reduce funding for public schools and would also significantly reduce revenue for public schools, only some of which wouldn't be restored by state funding. It would also reduce the availability of homestead property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans. The reduction would be about $46 million statewide in 2022, about $50 million in 2023, and more in subsequent years.

The ballot language doesn't reflect the impact of significantly changed state laws since it was proposed.

Denver Ballot Issues

Issues 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D and 2E

Denver ballot issues 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D and 2E are requests from the City and County of Denver government seek voter permission to issue new municipal bonds, financed with existing taxes, to replace prior municipal bonds that have been paid off, for particular major capital expenditures broken into five subcategories (A-E). Some of these expenditures are for repairs and renovations of existing infrastructure. Some are for new projects.

In substance, the City is asking voters if they favor the major spending commitment that each of the five measures calls for on the merits as a good or a bad way to spend money. 

Issue 2A would devote $104 million to capital expenditures on various cultural facilities in the City.

Issue 2B would devote $39 million to capital expenditures on homeless shelters.

Issue 2C would devote $63 million to capital expenditures for pedestrian and bicycle transportation infrastructure and to improving a Morrison Corridor Art District in West Denver.

Issue 2D would devote $54 million to capital expenditures for park and recreation facilities.

Issue 2E would devote $190 million to a major expansion and overhaul of the National Western Stock Show Complex in North Denver (basically the "county fair grounds" for the City and County of Denver).

Vote Yes on Denver ballot issues 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D because the amount of spending on these capital improvements are things that the City needs. 

Vote No on Denver ballot issue 2E because the very large amount of money that the City proposed to devote to a major expansion and overhaul of the National Western Stock Show complex isn't consistent with the City's needs.

Issue 2F

Issue 2F is a proposal to repeal the Group Living Ordinance recently adopted Denver's City Council. 

This would substantially reduce the number of unrelated people who can live in various kinds of housing (disallowing homes where roommates rent rooms in a larger home in many cases) and would also greatly restrict the geographic areas where nursing homes, group homes for foster children, women's shelters, and other kinds of temporary housing can be located.

Vote No on Denver ballot issue 2F which would make housing less affordable and increase homelessness in Denver. The fears stoked by its opponents that higher population density in neighborhoods destroys those neighborhoods are absurdly exaggerated. 

Issue 2G

The City has an Independent Monitor's Office to review misconduct allegations directed at Denver's law enforcement agencies, but it doesn't have enough authority to be effective. For example, it doesn't have the authority to hire lawyers to analyze claims of police misconduct. Issue 2G would give the Independent Monitor's Office the authority it needs, such as the authority to hire lawyers and experts, to more effectively carry out its mission of monitoring Denver's law enforcement agencies.

Vote Yes on Denver ballot issue 2G.

Issue 2H

Denver's City Charter contains timelines for municipal elections which violate state and federal laws related to military and overseas voting. Issue 2H would bring the Denver City Charter in compliance with state and federal law by moving its municipal election date a month earlier from May to April. If Issue 2H isn't passed, a court would probably order Denver to change its election date anyway.

This is basically an uncontroversial "housekeeping" amendment to the City Charter, although it also has the side effect of making it much easier to college students to vote in municipal elections.

Vote Yes on Denver ballot issue 2H.

Issue 300

Issue 300 would impose a 1.5% sales tax on retail marijuana sales, in addition to existing marijuana retail sales taxes which are 10.3% now in Denver. It would use the money raised (about $7 million per year) to fund non-medicinal COVID countermeasures research (e.g. research on the effectiveness of masks and social distancing) which is already being done by other public and private agencies with public health responsibilities.

This ballot issue is ill-conceived. It supports funding for programs that Denver is ill-suited to conduct and isn't supported by the proposed grant recipients. Others are already doing the same research this issue authorizes funding with better protocols associated with being in the public health research business, so the results will be obsolete if the research is conducted. It is also a regressive tax and proposes spending on purposes that aren't as great a priority for tax funding as other more urgent needs.

Issues 301 and 302

These issues are related to the future use of the former Park Hill Golf Course. The City of Denver was recently given a conservation easement when the golf course (owned by a private non-profit) was closed that was intended to preserve the use of the course for open space and parks. But the conservation easement had an unintended loophole that allows the City to authorize real estate development on the former Park Hill Golf Course instead (with a significant share of affordable housing) and the City is poised to allow that now.

Issue 301 would require a citywide ballot issue to approve discontinuing the Park Hill Golf Course conservation easement, and also requiring a vote of the people to discontinue any other conservation easements or develop municipal parks in the future.

Issue 302 would allow the former Park Hill Golf Course to be redeveloped, would allow other property with flawed conservation easements in favor of the City to be redeveloped in the future, and would require a vote of the people to discontinue well drafted conservation easements or develop municipal parks in the future. 

Issue 302 was proposed by the real estate developers seeking to redevelop Park Hill Golf Course as a "dirty trick" to confuse voters into thinking that they were protecting parks and open space when they are really authorizing real estate development on the Park Hill Golf Course despite the intent of the conservation easement that was granted to the City to disallow that use.

While I recognize the City's urgent need for new affordable housing developments, the City's conduct in brazenly abrogating what was intended to be a conservation easement that prohibited that which it recently was given in good faith, and the dirty tricks used by the developers in proposing Issue 302 make the right choice more clear.

Vote Yes on Issue 301. Vote No on Issue 302.

Issue  303.

Issue 303 directs the City to vigorously enforce the City's controversial anti-homeless person camping ban, deputizes private individuals to do so if the City doesn't act in just a couple of days or so, and prohibits the City from establishing more than four authorized camping locations in the City for homeless people which must meet fairly high standards for public facilities on site if it does so.

Basically, Issue 303 seeks to punish people harshly for being homeless and occupying public property as a result, even if the City wants to do so, or wants to establish interim solutions like designating City owner property that isn't fully developed as a long term RV park type facility.

It was proposed by the chair of the Denver County GOP.

Vote No on Issue 303.

Issue 304.

Issue 304 permanently reduces Denver's sales tax rate from 4.81% to 4.5% for ordinary retail sales. The ballot issue is ambiguously worded so it isn't clear if it would also reduce the City's short term car rental sales tax rate of 7.25%, the City's 10.31% sale tax on retail marijuana sales, or if it would increase the City's 4.0% sales tax rate on non-grocery store food and beverages.

It would reduce the City's tax revenues by an estimated $48 million to $55 million per year, without providing an alternative revenue source, which would force dramatic cuts in essential municipal services and functions.

Modestly reducing Denver sales tax rates and creating a legal nightmare to figure out what the poorly worded ballot issue really means, in order to cripple the function of the City and County of Denver's government is not good policy.

It was proposed by the chair of the Denver County GOP.

Vote No on Issue 304.

12 October 2021

Quote Of The Day

Speaking of six siblings. I had to have a serious conversation with Claire that the “Buckinghams” are a fictional family. Not a prophecy. Doctor said she’s 98% certain it’s a girl, due in April. That makes five daughter and Jackson can be ‘the weird one.’
From the author of Shotgun Shuffle, a long running comic (since October 9, 2009) about seven sisters. FWIW, they are a blended family with both having some children from previous relationships, which means the kids are also closer in age to each other than would otherwise have been possible.

11 October 2021

Purging

In Denver these days they take away your regular garbage bin every week, your recycling bin every two weeks, and large items and extra garbage several times a year. All three come early in the morning (i.e. about 7 a.m.) tomorrow morning.

This time around, the pent up large item and extra garbage collection demand was high in our household. 

An old wooden plank cover that predated our move into our home more than twenty years ago for our gas meter was destroyed and had to be removed when a duplex neighbor whose main gas line comes from a meter in front of our half had a gas leak (we were otherwise spared).

A while ago we discovered that bugs had eaten away two decent sized area rugs. The bugs are gone, but the rugs had to go too.

Also we returned to empty nest status as kids moved out in June and in late August. The kids took some items from their rooms and the kitchen with them. And they left behind to be disposed of, some too destroyed to donate bed pads, an old file cabinet that was falling apart, and some boxes for items that had been too large to break down and put in our recycling, which all had to go.

Add to that a campaign led by my wife to round up items that could be donated to Goodwill (a mix of clothes, left over items from promotions that ended long ago, a few books from college she no longer wanted, a puzzles we'd grown bored of after using them as much as we would during the pandemic, and a few miscellaneous items), as well as a never assembled bookcase that we found a new home for with someone else.

Collectively, the result was a very substantial purge of stuff in a condensed three day period. This comes on top of a sustained effort for the past few weeks to use up excessive inventories of grocery store items that made sense in a household with four adults, but not so much in a household with two.

The end result has been that our small home has quite a bit less stuff in it. For what it is worth, we've also made modest progress in clearing out excess things in my storage unit over the last year or so in several rounds of purging.

Working in probate, I've seen plenty of homes where this never happened, and where home owners basically left their home exactly as it was when they bought it as young adults about to have children, except that they continually added more stuff. 

We've fixed things as they break, updated the place enough to keep it reasonably modern. This year, for example, our huge fussy 1925 coal fired steam heat boiler converted to natural gas on an ad hoc basis sometime later by a previous homeowner, finally had to be replaced with a new purpose built gas fired steam heat boiler that takes less manual attention, doesn't require spare parts with asbestos, and takes up about 1/6th of the space of the old one.

We gotten rid of many things we no longer need as well (although I mount an evergreen campaign to explain why books and files need to be kept, even when you don't use them every year, unlike most other things). 

We certainly aren't a paragon of excellence in these respects, but our home won't be the nightmare that so many homes are when we pass, or when we have to downsize for health or other reasons, either.

08 October 2021

Nuclear Fusion Research Performance Oversold

Technical Power Generation Is Overstated

Recent headlines have touted nuclear fusion research at ITER that will get ten times as much energy out as it puts into the process when completed. The problem is that this is the estimate for only the core of the process, not for energy generation of the power plant a whole.

ITER's new work is a great improvement. It is the highest efficiency nuclear fusion power generator ever built. The process as a whole, if it performs as expected when completed, would produce about 57% of the energy going into it (if we use the heat to generate electricity rather than raw heat), compared to 1-10% from the best previous contenders set back in 1997 or earlier. 

ITER would do just better than break even in generating raw heat, if it works as expected, but usually that isn't what you want a nuclear fusion power plant to do.

They need to get the 10:1 ratio they are talking about if it performs as promised, to about 18:1, to start generating net electrical power for the process as a whole.

Sabine Hossenfelder's blog, Backreaction, has more of the technical details.

It Also Has To Make Economic Sense

Also, in order for generating nuclear fusion power to make economic sense relative to alternatives like solar, wind, tidal power, and nuclear fusion, it needs to do much better than barely generating more power than breaking even. The net power produced has to be great enough to justify the immense cost of the facility and the research and development going into making it possible.

You need to get the cost of the power plant annualized by amortizing of the construction costs over its useful life, plus operating costs, including operating staff salaries and some minimal fuel expenditures, down low enough that the cost of generating electricity is less than about 12 cents per kilowatt hour, for nuclear fusion to make economic sense. This is $120 per megawatt hour.

People have penciled out the costs estimated for much a larger scale operation with a construction cost of about $3 billion. They estimate that operating costs would be  $25.20 per megawatt hours (about 21 percent of the going price of electricity). 

Assuming for sake of argument that this is correct, the depreciation and interest must be not more than $94.80 per megawatt hour, about $41.71 per megawatt hour on interest, and $53.09 per megawatt hour for construction costs.

Over 40 years, a power plant generates up to 350,400 megawatt hours per megawatt of power generation at any one time. So, the construction costs need to be less than $18.6 million per megawatt hour of electricity generation capacity. This would have to be $18.6 billion for a power plant that can generate 1000 megawatts of net electricity output.

We are getting close to getting to the point where this is technologically feasible, but what ITER is doing now won't get us there, even if it works.

05 October 2021

Height Gains In Korea

According to a 2014 survey, Korean men have grown about 15 cm (5.9 in) and Korean women have grown about 20 cm (7.8 in) over the past 100 years. . . . In fact, it is said that Koreans have grown the most in the world over the past 100 years.

From here

All other things being equal, height is primarily genetic. But all other things are not equal.

Quote Of The Day

I'm done trying hard and being good! 
I'm gonna be a demon!

- A six year old girl, to her single dad, in Sweetness and Lightning (Volume 5, Chapter 25).

I remember being that kid.

04 October 2021

German Election Results

Germany and Japan both have new prime ministers. The German election results by geography are below (see here and here).


Black is Christian Democratic Union. Red is Social Democrat. Blue is the far right AfD (Alternative for Germany), and Green is, of course, the Green party. I'm not sure what yellow stands for on this map, but it is probably for the Free Liberals, a pro-business libertarian leaning party.

The blue area corresponds, fairly well, with the historical Kingdom of Saxony and some of the neighboring former Thuringian States.


The Social Democrat-Christian Democrat divide largely reflects the Protestant-Catholic divide in Germany (as well as secular East Germany). Green Party supporters are found in the urban centers. 

The maps below break down Germany by religion as Catholic (red), Protestant (blue), and Atheist/Other (Green):


German elections have left the shape of the next ruling coalition government unclear. As a commentator at the Washington Post explains:
The Social Democrats (SPD) just edged ahead with 25.7 percent of the vote, marginally ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, which fell to 24 percent, a historic low for the party.... With Merkel’s departure, it will fall to one of the two main parties to provide a successor. This will either be Armin Laschet, who leads Merkel’s party, or the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, who has served as Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor as his party has run the country together with Merkel’s since 2013. Neither of the two candidates is a revolutionary on a ticket of rapid change, but both understand that absolute continuity from Merkel’s middle-of-the-road politics is no longer tenable. Germans want change, but they also want the change to be handled well and securely.... The Greens reached 14.8 percent and the Free Liberals (FDP) 11.5 percent, and both are likely to act as kingmakers and form the body of a coalition led by other big parties. Yet, they are fundamentally opposed on many baseline issues. The libertarian principles of the FDP are structurally at odds with the deep, state-driven changes the Greens want to make to decarbonize the German economy at a fast pace. There is no lowest common denominator and stagnation threatens unless one or the other makes significant concessions.
Parties that get less than 5% of the vote don't get representatives in the parliament. A New York Times report notes that:
The progressive, environmentalist Greens appeared to make significant gains since the 2017 election but seemed to fall short of having a viable shot at the chancellery. That positions the Greens, as well as the business-friendly Free Democrats, to join the next government. They will play a key role in deciding what the next German government could look like, depending on which of the larger parties they would like to govern with. 
On the outer edge of the political spectrum, support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, appeared roughly unchanged, while the Left party appeared to be hovering on the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament.

Quote Of The Day

上等人,本事大,脾气小。中等人,本事大,脾气大。下等人,本事小,脾气大

The upper-class people, the ability is big, the temper is small. The middle-class people, the ability is big, the temper is big. The inferior people, the ability is small, the temper is big.
-Du Yuesheng, a famous Shanghai mafia boss in 30s.

Covert Regime Change Operations Usually Fail And Often Backfire When They Succeed

Covert regime change operations work less than 40% of the time, and not infrequently backfire when they do work. 

But, they are popular with American Presidents, who ordered them an average of about six times per term prior to the end of the Cold War, because they are deniable for diplomatic purposes. They also cost a lot less money than a conventional military operation.
During the Cold War, the United States undertook an extraordinary number of attempts to overthrow foreign governments. These interventions were mostly conducted in secret, and the majority failed to achieve their aims. One recent tally identified sixty-four covert operations and six overt ones between 1947 and 1989, with less than 40 percent of the covert operations installing a new regime in power. 
Some of these failures are quite well known. The Bay of Pigs intervention in Cuba, for example, not only failed to remove Fidel Castro from power, but also brought Cuba closer to the Soviet Union and helped precipitate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even those operations that appeared successful at the time often had negative repercussions in the longer term. This was the case in Iran, where the United States helped oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from power in 1953—but in doing so, also fueled anti-American sentiment and contributed to the 1979 revolution.

Why would the United States continue to pursue a strategy with such a poor track record? The central contention of Michael Poznansky’s fascinating and well-researched new book, In the Shadow of International Law: Secrecy and Regime Change in the Postwar World, is that the explanation lies in international law. In 1945, the principle of nonintervention, which holds that states should not violate the sovereignty of others, came to enjoy the status of international law through incorporation into the charter of the United Nations and subsequent adoption in the charters of the Organization of American States and other regional organizations. Once it did so, overt efforts to oust foreign rulers from power became costlier. States that abrogate their formal commitments undermine their credibility and open themselves up to accusations of hypocrisy.
From here.

What Do You Do With A Decommissioned Coal Fired Power Plant?

The concept is that a decommissioned coal fire power plant has everything that a power plant or energy storage facility for a power grid needs except a source of power. So, if you can find a substitute for the coal fired power plant, the transition can be quite efficient.
The idea of using molten salt energy storage to fill part of the gap in employment and taxes left by the planned closure of the Routt County town’s coal-fired power plant is being planned by the unit’s operator, Xcel Energy, as it seeks to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology was developed for use at concentrating solar power plants, where hundreds of mirrors trained the sun’s rays on a tower to heat the salt, which would later be used to power an electric turbine.

“New players are looking at using the grid rather than the sun to heat the salt,” said Mark Mehos, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory researcher. “Then using the hot salt to make steam to turn a turbine.”

While it may sound exotic, company executives, local officials and labor leaders say the initiatives being taken at Hayden could be a template for helping transition other coal plant-reliant communities.

Coal-fired power plants are closing around Colorado and the United States – where coal-fired generation capacity has dropped by almost a third since 2008 to 223 gigawatts. In Colorado, by 2030 only one coal-fired facility, Xcel’s Comanche 3 unit in Pueblo, is slated to be in operation, as more than 30 units will have closed over 20 years.

The state has created an Office of Just Transition to help power plant and mining communities faced with the end of the age of coal, appropriated $15 million to the effort, and developed a Just Transition Action Plan.

From the Colorado Sun

COVID Data

New data on hospitalization rates and long haul COVID rates are now available.




01 October 2021

How Much Do I Drive?

I love my 2015 Juke. But as someone who has a short, intracity commute, even though there is only one driver in the household, I don't use it all that much.

Since I bought it, I've driven almost exactly 18 miles per day (6,570 miles a year). A 10,000 mile per year pace is 27.4 miles per day. A 12,000 mile per year pace, also often used in for warranty limits, is 32.9 miles a day.

A my average gas milage of 26 miles per gallon, and at current gasoline prices, that translates into $885 of gas a year plus two oil changes a year.

What Expertise Matters When Making Good Predictions?

 Smart generalists rock!

This is just one chapter in a larger story. 
At many points in the war, the coalition had access to the insights of people who had graduated from the world’s best universities and brought highly specialized knowledge to issues (state building, counterterrorism) that the United States was facing in Afghanistan. The last president of the American-backed government, Ashraf Ghani, has a Ph.D. from Columbia and was even a co-author of a book titled “Fixing Failed States.” But for all their credentials, they were not able to stop a swift Taliban takeover of the country.

What Afghanistan shows is that we need a new definition of expertise, one that relies more on track records and healthy cognitive habits and less on credentials and the narrow forms of knowledge that are too often rewarded. In an era of populism and declining trust in institutions, such a project is necessary to put expertise on a stronger footing. 
It’s true that many experts also opposed the Afghanistan war and thought that the United States was seeking unrealistic goals. But individuals with the most subject-matter expertise often tended to get things the most wrong. This included generals with experience in counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many think tank analysts with the most focus and interest in those conflicts.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Philip Tetlock, a psychologist, has famously shown that subject-matter experts are no better at accurately forecasting geopolitical events relevant to their field than those with training in different areas. Similarly, in a different study, the intelligence community, with access to classified information, proved less accurate than an algorithm weighted toward the views of amateurs with no security clearances but a history of making accurate forecasts.

So “just trust the experts” is the wrong path to take. But simply deciding to ignore them can lead us down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and misinformation. The subject-matter experts in Mr. Tetlock’s research couldn’t beat informed amateurs, but they did defeat random guessing, or the epistemological equivalent of monkeys throwing darts.

This is in part because the divisions we create between fields are, in a sense, artificial. As radical as it sounds, just because someone has a Ph.D. in political science or speaks Pashto does not make that person more likely to be able to predict what is going to happen in Afghanistan than an equally intelligent person with knowledge that appears less directly relevant. Anthropology, economics and other fields may offer insight, and it is often difficult to know ahead of time which communities of experts have the most relevant training and tools to deal with a particular problem.

Academia is in some ways nearly ideally suited to produce the wrong kinds of expertise. Scholarly recognition is based on high degrees of specialization, obtaining the right pedigree and the approval of colleagues through peer review rather than through an external standard.

From the New York Times

"Nobody Really Knows How The Economy Works."

Mainstream economics is replete with ideas that “everyone knows” to be true, but that are actually arrant nonsense.

From Jeremy B. Rudd, "Why Do We Think That Inflation Expectations Matter for Inflation? (And Should We?)", Federal Reserve Board (September 23, 2021).

Macroeconomics is not a science, despite the fact that is uses a lot of math and data to look like one.

I explored going to graduate school in economics after law school. Life got in the way. But misgivings about the soundness of macroeconomics as a discipline (which would have been part of my studies even if I focused primarily on something else) also limited my enthusiasm.

This isn't to say that we don't need economists. Lots of very important economic decisions have to be made every day. It is better, on balance, to make those decisions with the best available information than based upon amateur whim. But any macroeconomic prediction needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign. Many experts are rethinking longstanding core ideas, including the importance of inflation expectations. . . .

It reflects a broader rethinking of core ideas about how the economy works and how policymakers, especially at central banks, try to manage things. This shift has also included debates about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, how deficit spending affects the economy, and much more. . . .

It is vivid evidence that macroeconomics, despite the thousands of highly intelligent people over centuries who have tried to figure it out, remains, to an uncomfortable degree, a black box. The ways that millions of people bounce off one another — buying and selling, lending and borrowing, intersecting with governments and central banks and businesses and everything else around us — amount to a system so complex that no human fully comprehends it.

"Macroeconomics behaves like we’re doing physics after the quantum revolution, that we really understand at a fundamental level the forces around us,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview. “We’re really at the level of Galileo and Copernicus,” just figuring out the basics of how the universe works." . . . 
Mr. Posen, a former Bank of England policymaker, says there remains a simple and hard-to-dispute idea about inflation expectations supported by lots of history: that if people distrust a country’s monetary system, inflation shocks can spiral upward. Economic policy credibility matters. But that isn’t the same as assuming that some survey or bond market measure of what will happen to inflation in the distant future is particularly meaningful for forecasting the near future.

“It has been a noble lie that has become a critical part of the catechism of global monetary policy, that long-term inflation expectations are not just interesting but are a decisive determinant of real-time inflation,” said Paul McCulley, a former Pimco chief economist, commenting on Mr. Rudd’s paper.

This isn’t the only way in which basic precepts underlying economic policy are shifting beneath economists’ feet.

Particularly prominently, for years central bankers believed there was a tight relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation, known as the Phillips Curve. Over the course of the 2000s, though, that relationship appeared to weaken and become a less reliable guideline for how to set policy.

From the New York Times

30 September 2021

Aircraft Carriers Still Vulnerable

The issue raised in the quote below is the elephant in the room when it comes to U.S. Navy planning for engagements with "near peer" forces. It is preceded by a narrative criticizing pre-World War I planners for failing to recognize the threat of aerial attack on battleships in 1921, between the world wars. 

The linked article continues with an extended discussion about paths that the U.S. Navy could take going forward in a hypothetical conflict with China (which is also seeks to justify). I don't think that this later analysis fully grasps, however, the extent to which the concerns about aircraft carriers also applies equally to other naval surface combatants like Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers. They are, if anything, more vulnerable than aircraft carriers to being sunk by a near peer opponent. Their defensive range is limited to the range of their non-hypersonic missiles which is far smaller than that of an aircraft carrier's missiles on its deployed aircraft, and they are still expensive enough that they can't be that much more numerous than aircraft carriers. Since they are non-nuclear, other U.S. surface combatants also need far more logistic support on expeditionary missions from ships or bases that are themselves far more vulnerable, than a nuclear powered aircraft carrier or nuclear powered submarine.
Evidence that aircraft carriers are unacceptably vulnerable to attack from peer and near-peer adversaries is abundant. In perhaps the greatest coup d’etat for naval warfare in recent history, China’s DF-21D antiship ballistic missile is approximated to have a range of more than 900 miles, encompassing all of Japan and Korea as well as most of the Philippines and South China Sea. These missiles, which can be easily moved and launched from the Chinese mainland, reach further than even the longest-range combat aircraft in the carrier air wing, the roughly 700-mile combat radius of a fully fueled F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

While aerial tankers often are used to extend the range of such jets, refueling midflight is not viable in a peer conflict, as slow flying aircraft loading fuel would be vulnerable to an array of Chinese antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) assets, such as rival aircraft, surface vessels, and submarines. In addition to the Chinese DF-21D, both China and Russia have fielded and continue to develop hypersonic antiship missiles that cannot be defeated with any current U.S. countermeasure technology. Aircraft carriers are simply not suited to fight the battles of the future in which a shore-launched missile from hundreds or even thousands of miles away holds a strike group at risk.

From the U.S. Naval Institute Blog

For what it is worth, this isn't really a correct usage of the term coup d’etat. 

Also, this overlooks the fact that near peer nations already had other threats to aircraft carriers and other naval surface combatants, that are just as serious such as submarines, swarms of missile boats, swarms of missile armed aircraft, camouflaged armed ships, ballistic missiles, sea mines, and other non-hypersonic missiles. 

But neither of these concerns detract from the core point that aircraft carriers (and other naval surface combatants) are highly vulnerable. 

As I have explained before, naval surface combatants, are slow moving and not very maneuverable, have no stealth and nothing to hide behind, and are the equivalent of going into a battlefield in a fully occupied RV that carries lodging for all of its crew including its support crew that is not needed for the battle itself.

There are very few combat functions that naval surface combatants perform that military aircraft cannot. But military aircraft travel at 25 to 50 times the speed of a naval surface combatant, are smaller because they contain only what they need to fight and support their small crew for a matter of hours while leaving 95% of their support crews behind at air bases or on aircraft carriers, can employ stealth technology, and can deliver essentially any kind of missile or torpedo that a naval surface combatant can. 

Aircraft can also move from one theater of conflict to another in a matter of days, rather than a matter of weeks, allowing a smaller number of military resources to be deployed with the same effect globally.

Submarines provide a middle ground. They have many of the same drawbacks, but aren't nearly as vulnerable to attack.

The main role that naval surface combatants serve that can't be served by aircraft, submarines, and drones is that they "show the flag". This is a function many political leaders highly value, but the notion that showing the flag translates into survivable capabilities in a real fighting war with near peer countries is mistaken.

26 September 2021

Lessons From Fiction and Reality

1.    Ultimately, scientists save civilization.

2.  Scientists can only save civilization if people in power listen to them, and the public goes along with them.

3.    Until scientists come up with solutions, we need to behave well with the best information that we have available.

4.  Lies can sometimes help in the short run, but ultimately, they usually cause more harm than good.

5.  The consequences of ignoring this advice are immense.

Quote Of The Day

Both bad men and sweet sweets are alluring.

- Traditional Japanese proverb

21 September 2021

Utah Is Different

Utah’s population grew faster than that of any other state between 2010 and 2020. Salt Lake City has the lowest jobless rate among all big cities, at 2.8%, compared with a national rate of 5.2%. That the state has rebounded so well from the downturn caused by the covid-19 pandemic is thanks to the Wasatch Front, an urban corridor that includes Salt Lake and Provo, home to Brigham Young University. The four counties that make up the Wasatch Front account for at least 80% of Utah’s economic activity, reckons Juliette Tennert, an economist at the University of Utah.

Utah also ranks at or near the very bottom for metrics of gender equality.

More red states has weak economies. Most blue states have strong economies and have been less sexist on a longstanding historical basis. Many people attribute the economic success of blue states to substantial female labor participation.

Population growth nationally is concentrated in bluer urban areas while rural areas have stagnant or declining populations, yet many blue states overall have falling populations, while many red states overall have rising populations. But high female participation in the workforce and higher education tends to reduce birth rates.

For readers not familiar with U.S. cultural geography and history, Utah is predominantly Mormon in religion, a conservative and fairly divergent form of Christianity in the U.S. that often makes common cause with white Evangelical Christians, despite mutual antipathy between members of  the two faiths and very different cultural norms. Evangelical Christianity emerged in the slave states of the American Southeast, starting in earnest in the Second Great Awakening despite some more remote historical antecedents. The Church of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormonism) started in New England and was repeatedly exiled to the West after bouts of local opposition with stops in Ohio and Missouri before establishing a permanent home in Utah which is in the Mountain West.

It makes sense that a state with fewer women in the workforce, like Utah, will have a lower unemployment rate for people who are still in the workforce. 

It is also not surprising that a state where people have many children and start doing so early out of religious motivations have high rates of population growth, especially in a period when immigration from abroad has been very modest.

It is, however, rather surprising that Utah can have such an urban population, which is reasonably well educated, affluent, and connected to the global community, yet remain a red state.

Obviously, religion and culture explain that to a great extent. But Mormon Republicans are a very distinct subset and faction within the Republican party, and they don't fit many GOP stereotypes.

Quote Of The Day

“Barbarism” is perhaps best understood as a recurring syndrome among peripheral societies in response to the threats and opportunities presented by more developed neighbors. 
This article develops a mathematical model of barbarigenesis—the formation of “barbarian” societies adjacent to more complex societies—and its consequences, and applies the model to the case of Europe in the first millennium CE. A starting point is a game (developed by Hirshleifer) in which two players allocate their resources either to producing wealth or to fighting over wealth. 
The paradoxical result is that a richer and potentially more powerful player may lose out to a poorer player, because the opportunity cost of fighting is greater for the former. In a more elaborate spatial model with many players, the outcome is a wealth-power mismatch: central regions have comparatively more wealth than power, peripheral regions have comparatively more power than wealth. 
In a model of historical dynamics, a wealth-power mismatch generates a long-lasting decline in social complexity, sweeping from more to less developed regions, until wealth and power come to be more closely aligned.

Like Tyler Cohen at Marginal Revolution, I am not convinced that this historical pattern no longer holds true. The implications are grim.

19 September 2021

Ohio's Latest Gerrymander

Ohio has once again adopted gerrymandered boundaries for its state legislative districts that favor Republicans. 

In the 2020 state house races, Republicans got about 55% of the popular vote, but about 64% of the state house. Republicans will likely win veto-proof majorities in the 2022 state legislative races again with the new map. Ohio's Congressional election results were similarly skewed by gerrymandering.


            Graphic provided by Dana Miller.
The new state legislative district maps which will be in place for the 2022 and 2024 elections are shown below:

Shortly after midnight Sept. 16, the Ohio Redistricting Commission passed revised district maps for the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives, on a 5-2 party-line vote.

The commission consists of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Speaker of the House Robert R. Cupp, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Senate President Matt Huffman and Senator Vernon Sykes.

Emilia Sykes is the daughter of Vernon Sykes. The two are the only Democrats on the commission, and the only two who voted against the revised maps. They said the maps have been drawn to favor Republican candidates and do not accurately represent the voters of Ohio. . . .

Every 10 years, the district lines must be redrawn for the Ohio Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. Because the commission voted in favor of the maps but did not have the support of the minority party, they will only last for four years instead of 10. . . . the maps that were passed would likely give Republicans an advantage of 62-37 in the House and 23-10 in the Senate. These are both veto-proof majorities. There are about 23 competitive districts. Eleven of those districts currently have a Republican in office and 12 are currently occupied by a Democrat.

 From the Oxford Observer. 

The 54 Fatal Traffic Accidents In Denver In 2021 Through September 8, 2021

This map shows the 54 fatal traffic accidents that have occurred in the City and County of Denver from January 1, 2021 to September 8, 2021.


From Westword (which has additional details).

The types of accidents break out as follows:

* Auto/Auto 15

* Auto/Rollover or Auto/Fixed Object 14

* Motorcycle 10

* Pedestrian (And No Motorcycle) 10

* Scooter or Bicycle (And No Motorcycle) 5

13 cases have resulting in criminal charges being filed. 

Five of the pedestrian cases and one scooter case were hit and run incidents, with a suspect identified in only one of those six cases.

17 September 2021

Sentencing Ideas And News

*  Juries should know the sentences that their guilty verdicts authorize.

* A law review article considers putting someone into a coma involuntarily as an alternative to the death penalty or incarceration.

* The trial penalty in criminal cases is too high:

Akin to a peace deal in the American justice system, plea agreements enable defendants to avoid the worst possible scenario in exchange for waiving their right to a battle at trial. However, the current approach to these deals means a defendant who does not concede defeat upfront can obtain no assurance regarding their sentence if convicted.

This dynamic has led to a disparity or “trial penalty” that is so pronounced that, in addition to expending the processing of the guilty, it effectively coerces many innocent defendants to plead guilty.

A National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers report, for example, found that the average sentence for fraud defendants who went to trial in 2015 was three times higher than the sentence for those who pleaded guilty; for defendants charged with burglary and embezzlement, the sentence at trial was almost eight times higher.

Indeed, one simulation suggests that more than half of participants in an experiment would be willing to confess to a crime they didn’t commit in exchange for a significantly lower sentence. Some 15 percent of DNA exonerations, which generally involve charges for the most serious crimes, involve those who pleaded guilty....

The trial penalty that coaxes both the guilty and innocent to enter pleas is exacerbated by mandatory minimum statutes, which trigger automatic penalties if invoked by the prosecutor, as well as sentencing enhancements within the discretion of the prosecutor, such as whether to file notice with the court of a prior offense.

One potential solution for reining in the trial penalty is to require that any plea deal offered by prosecutors include a contingency guaranteeing that the sentence would be similar upon conviction at trial. Under this scenario, defendants who exercise their right to go to trial might be entitled to a sentence that is the same or no more than 15 percent longer than the best offered deal.

* Many essays about excessive punishment and whose fault it is that this happens.

* The pandemic has resulted in a huge drop in federal criminal sentencing hearings.

Haiti Has Lagged Economically For A Long Time

It is widely known that Haiti is a poor country. It is less widely known that it has been poorer than its neighbors since sometime before the year 1900 CE.

14 September 2021

You Can Lose Your Right To Bring Claims In Civil Lawsuits

You have to engage in extreme conduct to do so, but the Colorado Supreme Court has recognized its authority to bar abusive litigants from every bringing claims of their own in lawsuits without being represented by a lawyer. The right to defend a claim in a lawsuit without a lawyer is preserved for natural persons. 

The request to bar this disbarred lawyer from authority to litigate in his own name was made by the first law firm I worked for in Colorado, which is based in Grand Junction, Colorado and changed its name mid-litigation. He had brought 27 lawsuits related to the same matter over a decade, of which 26 were determined to be frivolous and duplicative.

This is from a September 13, 2021 official syllabus of a Colorado Supreme Court decision:
2021 CO 66 
No. 21SA147, In re Francis v. Wegener—Right of Access—Supervisory Power of the Court—Injunction Against Self-Representation. 
The supreme court makes the rule to show cause absolute and enjoins Robert A. Francis, whether acting individually or on behalf of a trust or some other entity, from ever again proceeding pro se as a proponent of a claim (i.e., as a plaintiff, third-party claimant, cross-claimant, or counter-claimant) in any present or future litigation in the state courts of Colorado. While the Colorado Constitution confers upon every person an undisputed right of access to our state courts, that right isn’t absolute. A party’s constitutional right of access to the courts must sometimes yield to the constitutional right of other litigants and the public to have justice administered without denial or delay. Such is the case when courts are called upon to curb the deleterious impact that duplicative and baseless pro se litigation has on finite judicial resources.  
Francis has been abusing the judicial process for the purpose of harassing his adversaries for the better part of a decade. State courts have warned, reprimanded, and sanctioned Francis—all to no avail. Even the suspension of his law license has failed to deter his appalling conduct. Under the circumstances, the extraordinary injunction requested is amply justified. Of course, Francis may still obtain access to judicial relief—he just may not do so without legal representation.

Game Of Thrones Tactics In Haiti

A prosecutor in Haiti is seeking to charge the Prime Minister of Haiti with the murder of its President. CNN has the story:
Haiti's top prosecutor is seeking charges against Prime Minister Ariel Henry in connection with the assassination of the late President Jovenel Moise. He has also barred the Prime Minister from leaving the country. 
Port-au-Prince's chief prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, previously invited Henry to testify about the case, citing evidence that a key suspect in the assassination called him in the hours after the murder. Henry was due to testify on Tuesday morning. That suspect, former Haitian Justice Ministry official Joseph Felix Badio, is believed to be on the run. CNN has not been able to reach him for comment.
Claude told CNN that he is discussing possible charges against Henry with the judge.

The late President Moise was brutally killed during an attack on his private residence on July 7. The investigation into his killing is ongoing and has turned up dozens of suspects, including US and Colombian citizens.

Moise's death prompted a weeks-long standoff over succession in the country's leadership between the recently nominated Henry -- a neurologist by training -- and then-acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, before Henry ultimately took power. . . .
The early months of Henry's tenure have been troubled by continuing intrigue over the assassination, deadly gang violence in capital city Port-au-Prince, and a catastrophic August earthquake in the country's south that left more than 2,100 dead and injured more than 12,200.

A prosecution does seem appropriate in this case. The situation in the meantime is a mess for an already troubled and struggling country.

13 September 2021

SAT Test Preparation Isn't Very Effective

The main problem with moving away from standardized tests is that almost all of the alternatives are less meritocratic. Contrary to popular belief, test preparation classes to which the wealthy has disproportionate access don't make much of a difference for the vast majority of students taking them.

One pillar of the case against standardized testing is the widespread belief that wealthy students carry an advantage because they can afford expensive test prep courses and tutors. That’s what critics mostly mean when they say the SAT is a test of family wealth, not of academic ability.

Is this true?

Let’s start with some findings that pretty much everyone who studies this stuff seems to agree on. 
First: It’s true that test prep, which I’ll define as outside help that costs money and requires an investment of time, is generally used by wealthier and better-connected students. 
But second: The effects of test prep have been studied pretty extensively, and while there’s far from any consensus on why some students do better than others, the published studies agree that the range of improvement, once controlled for a variety of factors like the fact that students who enroll in and complete test prep courses will likely be a self-selected group, is about 10 to 35 points.

Does test prep really help everyone who has the money to sign up for a course, even if it raises their scores just a little? Not quite. 
Two studies found that when you disaggregate for ethnicity, Americans of East Asian descent benefit far more from test prep than any other group, including white and other Asian American students. (There’s an interesting if somewhat unrelated distinction to make here: One-on-one tutoring seems to help nobody. Commercial test prep, which ranges from cram schools in East Asian enclaves to the Princeton Review, has some effects.) This might explain why Asian Americans’ SAT scores have steadily been rising over the past decade.

According to a study conducted by Julie Park and Ann Becks in The Review of Higher Education, “East Asian Americans were the only group where a form of test prep predicted a higher SAT score (about 50 points).” For everyone else, SAT prep has no significant effect or even, in some cases, a negative one. A previous study found that the majority of this improvement took place in East Asian immigrant enclaves like Flushing, in Queens, which has dozens of cram schools that serve ethnic communities.

From the New York Times. 

08 September 2021

Should Cyber And Propaganda Be A Military Mission?

The Marines and other armed services are pushing to emphasize the importance on information, communication with the general public, and "cyber-warfare" in future conflicts. 

In general, I don't disagree that these are important issues for the government when it is in conflicts to deal with.

But, I question whether active duty military personnel are the people best suited to deal with this issues, and whether characterizing these issues as military is fruitful.

Why, for example, shouldn't cyber-warfare be primarily the responsibility of civilian agencies dealing with commercial internet traffic? 

Why are soldiers better suited to do this work than civilians? 

Why should communications with the general public in foreign lands not be primarily the responsibility of diplomats and politicians?

I haven't seen good answer to these foundational questions.