The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget….The new estimate was presented Tuesday by Roy Hill, who leads the main consulting firm on the project, WSP (formerly Parson Brinckerhoff). Hill said the cost increases were mainly driven by problems including higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocated utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for mitigation of myriad issues.
“The worst case scenario has happened,” Hill said bluntly.
Uh huh. The “worst case” scenario. Except that pretty much everyone who’s ever looked at this project figured this would happen. My guess is that this is nothing close to worst case.
I also wouldn’t assume that this is the last cost increase we’ll see on the bullet train. Still, it’s a 36 percent hike, which is plenty. And keep in mind that the Central Valley segment is by far the easiest segment to build. The current cost estimate for all of Phase 1 is about $65 billion, and this will go up by $23 billion if we see a 36 percent increase across the board. We’ll be at $100 billion before you know it.
Prepare yourself to be shocked. You might want to be sitting down for the latest news about Donald Trump’s alleged affair with porn star Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels:
The allegation of a relationship was no secret to Fox News….One of the network’s reporters, Diana Falzone, had filed a story in October 2016 about an alleged sexual relationship between Clifford and Trump, people familiar with the matter said. Falzone had an on-the-record statement from Clifford’s manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, confirming that her client had engaged in a sexual relationship with Trump, three of these people said, and Falzone had even seen emails about a settlement.
But the story never saw the light of the day, to the frustration of Falzone, two of the people said. “She had the story and Fox killed it,” one of the people familiar with the matter told CNN.
In what’s becoming a familiar mantra, Fox responded that they tried and tried to nail down the details of the affair but “were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story.” I’ll bet. I wonder how many other outlets knew about this? So far only Slate and Fox News have fessed up. I wonder if there were more, and they were all just waiting for someone else to go first?
POSTSCRIPT: The affair itself is not that big a deal. However, the agreement to pay Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet is a very big deal. Trump’s lawyer has admitted the payment was made, but refuses to say anything more about it. How is this happening? How can the president of the United States get away with what looks like hush money paid to a mistress in the middle of an election? How is it that this isn’t front-page news until Trump tells us what it was all about and shows us the agreement?
“White racial resentment has been gaining political power for decades,” says the Washington Post. But I have some problems with this. For starters, the two authors¹ present a chart which, they say, “shows that racial resentment hasn’t fluctuated much over time.” I’ve redrawn it to make clear just how misleading this is:
In fact, using their particular metric of racial resentment, we saw a large and surprising fall in racial resentment in 2016—precisely the time when we all assumed that a rise in racial resentment was powering Donald Trump to the presidency. That’s interesting enough that it deserves some analysis. But one way or another, if you take this metric seriously you need to explain why racial resentment suddenly dropped so abruptly after years of staying flat.
Having ignored that, the authors go on to say that even if racial resentment has stayed about the same, it’s become more powerful as a political force:
As you can see, every political variable we measured has become more closely correlated with racial resentment over time. For instance, racially resentful whites had a variety of attitudes toward health insurance in 1988. But by 2016, highly racially resentful whites strongly opposed public health insurance while those with little racial resentment strongly supported it. And for every variable except voting for the Republican Party candidate, the correlations between racial resentment and all these political variables have tripled over time.
Here’s the chart:
This doesn’t show that everything has become more correlated with racial resentment. It shows that everything has become more correlated, period. We used to have liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and now we don’t. The parties have polarized, and members of the parties increasingly agree with each other about everything. You could redraw this chart to show increasing correlation with health care, government services, abortion, gun rights, party ID, or practically anything else.
You might think this is nitpicking. It’s not. Here’s what the authors conclude from this:
These results suggest that white voters use their attitudes toward race to guide political decisions three times as much today as they did just 30 years ago….One apparent reason has been that political elites — politicians, party leaders, the political media and so on — have increasingly indulged in what scholars call “racial priming.” Those are the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that encourage citizens to base their opinions at least in part on racial considerations.
Unless I’m missing something, this is just wrong. All voters—not just whites—have sorted themselves into their natural political parties over the past 30 years. This is what guides political decisions, not any single aspect of those parties. You could just as accurately say that attitudes toward abortion guide the political decisions of whites, and it would be just as wrong.
There’s also no evidence I’m aware of that party leaders have indulged in “racial priming” more over the past three decades. I’d guess less, in fact, though I’d want to see some evidence. In any case, the one politician who clearly did indulge in more racial priming is Donald Trump, and that coincided with a drop in white racial resentment and a drop in the Republican share of the white vote.
This strikes me as a real abuse of statistics. It’s possible that racial resentment has become more politically potent for whites over the past three decades, but nothing here demonstrates that. All it shows is that as liberals and conservatives have sorted themselves into Democrats and Republicans, everyone’s attitudes toward everything have become more highly correlated. At the same time, white racial resentment in general has declined. Analyzing what this means might produce an interesting result, but this isn’t it.
¹Adam Enders, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisville, and Jamil Scott, a PhD candidate in political science at Michigan State University.
Let’s talk immigration for a bit. It’s gone completely cuckoo. I realize that this is all due to politics of various stripes, but let’s stop for a minute and look just at the policy.
It all started when President Trump killed DACA, the mini-DREAM executive order that allows individuals who were brought to the country at a young age to apply for work permits and protection from deportation. Trump revoked it because it was an Obama policy and he’s dedicated to destroying all things Obama, but he took care to delay the end of DACA for six months so that Congress would have time to reinstate it via legislation, something he said he favored.
That sounds simple enough. Democrats are more eager to restore DACA than Republicans, which means they needed to offer something in return. How about funding for Trump’s wall? Even among Republicans, a recent poll shows that 53 percent support DACA and 62 percent support a deal that includes both DACA and the wall. Then Democrats went further: they offered the wall plus preventing chain migration among the DREAMers by making their parents ineligible for citizenship plus an end to the visa lottery. But apparently that’s still not enough.
Which is crazy. This was never meant to be a deal for comprehensive immigration reform. It’s a narrow agreement to keep DACA in place, something that both Trump and many Republicans say they want to do anyway. The deal Democrats offered would be hugely popular among Republicans; it would give Trump a start on his wall; and it would prevent a government shutdown, which would probably be blamed on Republicans no matter how many manic tweets Trump sends out.
In other words, everyone has a strong incentive to ignore the hardliners and do this. Republicans like it. Democrats like it. It avoids a shutdown. Are the immigration hardliners really so powerful that they can kill off a deal that has practically everything going for it? Is Trump really so unnerved by a bit of mockery that the dealmaker-in-chief is going to let this deal sink? The whole thing is crazy.
Different weather provides different opportunities for picture taking. I’ve been wanting to try some fog pictures for a while, but I’ve had no luck. First I went to Ireland. Gotta be fog there. No fog. So I went to London. No fog. In London! I came home as winter was settling in, but there was no fog. Just the light marine layer that we always have in the morning.
Then, last week, I woke up and looked out the window. Fog! Nice, thick fog. So I grabbed my camera and went out to the lake. The result is the pair of coots below.
I love coots. They’re like little bowling balls on stilts, and they look like they can barely stay upright when they waddle around looking for food. I just want to pick them up by their round little bellies and squeeze them. But I never have and probably never will.
Let’s just finish up with all the charts I have today, OK? Then I’ll go to lunch, and maybe I’ll come back with some ideas for less analytical posts.
The stock market has gone crackers this month. Here’s the growth rate of the S&P 500 for the past year, with the first two weeks of January extrapolated to a monthly rate:
Hmmm. And here’s the Shiller PE ratio, which uses 10-year inflation-adjusted earnings:
It’s currently at about 34, which is lower than it was at the height of the dotcom bubble, but higher than Black Tuesday of 1929, the height of the 1960s bull market, Black Monday of 1989, and the height of the housing bubble. Is it too high? I guess that’s for each one of us to decide.
I’ve got nothing but charts for you today. Sorry about that. But I might as well get them out of my system. Here’s one that Dave Roberts is excited about. It shows the average bid response to a request for new power plants from Colorado’s biggest electricity supplier:
NOTE: I’ve deleted a couple of paragraphs here. See below for explanation.
Roberts points out that the cost of storage is now surprisingly low. For wind plants it adds about $3/MWh to the cost, and for solar it adds about $6. Since storage is necessary for renewables to become reliable baseload generators that can supply electricity 24/7, this is important.
Roberts also points to the sheer scale here. Xcel received 430 bids compared to 55 for a similar request a few years ago. Of those, 350 were for renewable energy, representing over 100 GW of capacity. There are lots of companies working feverishly in the renewable energy sector.
Read the whole thing. One of the things that Roberts is excited about is that these are actual, concrete bids, and they’re considerably less than anyone was projecting a year ago. In the real world, the price of renewable energy is dropping faster than even the most optimistic projections.
UPDATE: Are you ready for a correction? Here we go.
In the Xcel report, the cost of renewables is given in MWh, while the cost of fossil plants is given in kW-mo. In order to compare apples to apples, I converted kilowatts to megawatts (divide by 1000) and months to hours (multiply by 720). That’s technically correct as a matter of units, but after some conversation on this topic I’ve finally figured out why that doesn’t work.
It has nothing to do with the arithmetic. The difference is that the cost figure for renewable plants tells you how much the bidder will charge to deliver a certain amount of electricity. For fossil plants, it’s the amount the bidder will charge to build a certain amount of capacity. The cost to actually deliver one MWh of power isn’t provided. For that reason, the cost of renewable and fossil plants really can’t be compared until Xcel provides more information.
I’ve removed a couple of paragraphs that said renewables were still more expensive than fossil plants (that’s not clear yet) and I also modified the chart to remove the cost estimates for fossil plants.
Black men have made essentially no progress in the past four decades, while black women have fallen considerably further behind. Since 2000, both both men and women have fallen further behind their white counterparts. Here’s median household income:
Black households made income and wealth gains up through about 2000, but since then have gone backwards. Any way you look at this, the gap between blacks and whites has gotten worse throughout the entire 21st century. Anyone who doesn’t understand why the African-American community has seemingly become more despairing of racial progress lately should take a look at this. Sure, much of it is because of Ferguson, and much of it is because of Trump. But it’s more than just that, and it didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere in 2014.
I missed this during the holiday season, but the CDC released updated numbers for the number of uninsured in the US. These estimates go through June of 2017 and show that nothing much has changed:
Since the beginning of 2015, the number of uninsured ages 0-65 has been flat at 10-11 percent. This varies from Gallup’s survey, which shows a small, steady increase in the number of all uninsured adults (ages 18-∞) starting in early 2017. The CDC will release its latest survey estimates at the end of February, so we’ll have to wait until then to see if they also begin to show an increase in the Trump era.
I don’t want to spend forever on the controversy over the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, but Paul Romer put up a post today that shows what kind of effect the new ranking methodology had on Chile. Here it is:
The new rankings (light orange) started in 2013 and showed Chile improving under its conservative president. Then Chile’s ranking fell substantially starting in 2014, when socialist Michelle Bachelet took office.
If the old ranking methodology (dark orange) had been used throughout this period, Chile’s rank would have fallen substantially under the conservative president and then stayed pretty much flat under Bachelet.
I have no idea how much difference this made to anything. As for how it happened, Romer says, “the fundamental failure can be traced back to a lack of clarity in our communication.” Stay tuned.