• Renewable Energy Is Kicking Ass in Colorado

    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:

    Now, the bad news is that renewable sources are still more expensive than fossil fuels. Gas turbine plants clock in at about $7 per MWh, while renewables range from $18-36. On the bright side, renewables are already a lot less expensive than building new coal plants, which is one reason coal is dead no matter how much Donald Trump allows coal companies to ignore environmental devastation from mining operations.

    Roberts also points out that the cost of storage is 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.

    Renewables still have a ways to go. They still cost significantly more than fossil plants, and the most efficient type of fossil generation—gas-fired combined cycle plants—is redacted in the Xcel report. Those bids probably came in even cheaper than the other fossil bids.

    But 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.

  • Black Incomes Have Fallen Further Behind Whites for the Entire 21st Century

    Over at the mothership, Eli Day points out that blacks still earn a lot less than whites and have way less wealth. That’s bad enough, but it’s actually worse than that. Here are working-class black earnings since 1979 as a percent of white earnings:

    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:

    And here’s family wealth:

    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 black and whites has gotten worse throughout the 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.

  • Uninsured Rate Holds Steady Through the Middle of 2017

    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.

  • Paul Romer Explains the “Doing Business” Ranking FUBAR

    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.

  • Why Trump Killed the Immigration Deal: Because Democrats Made Him Look Bad

    Erik Mcgregor/Pacific Press via ZUMA

    I’ve long supported the idea of making a deal that would give President Trump a piece of his wall in return for legislative authorization of DACA. But it turns out that Democrats were prepared to offer him even more: not just some money to start the wall, but also an end to chain migration and the visa lottery. Nancy LeTourneau comments:

    In years gone by, that would have been the kind of compromise one would expect from bipartisan negotiations. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. He said, “no,” and, in the process, made his “shithole” comments. But even beyond that, the entire meeting involved an ambush that many have credited to Stephen Miller.

    Apparently, when Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin showed up for last week’s meeting with Trump, they were blindsided by the presence of a bunch of Republican immigration hardliners. “That was obviously designed by Stephen Miller to try to kill the deal,” said a senior Democratic aide.

    That’s eminently plausible, but I have a different theory. All of this stuff happened last Thursday, two days after Trump’s televised session on Tuesday morning designed to prove that he’s not an idiot. Unfortunately, in that Tuesday meeting Sen. Dianne Feinstein tricked him into showing that he is, in fact, an idiot who has no idea what his own party’s position on immigration is. It’s not clear to me if Feinstein meant to do this, but it happened. Everyone in the world picked up on it and mocked Trump’s obvious dimwittedness.

    This is, needless to say, something that Trump can’t abide. My guess is that by Wednesday he had already decided to sabotage the negotiations and then blame it on Democrats, all as retribution against liberals for making fun of him. Stephen Miller may have played a role too, but I’ll bet Trump was the driving force.

    Everyone understands how you handle Trump: you offer him ridiculous, over-the-top praise and insist that he’s the smartest, toughest negotiator you’ve ever been up against. That softens him up for a deal. Plenty of Republicans have figured this out. Plenty of foreign leaders have figured this out. I’m sure plenty of Democrats have figured this out too, but they just don’t have the stomach to play the game. The result is that Trump inevitably becomes offended by the lack of praise and kills any possible deal. I suspect that’s what happened this time.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 89 today. It’s striking to think that if he hadn’t been killed 50 years ago, he might still be alive today. Would the civil rights movement have progressed differently if he had been part of it for the past half century? King was already losing influence when he was assassinated, and there’s no telling how he would have addressed that; how he would have evolved; or what influence he would have maintained. Would he have prevented the movement from turning to violence? Would that have lowered the temperature of the white backlash? Would we be further along the moral arc of the universe than we are?

    I have to imagine he would have made a difference. At the same time, racial hatred is so deeply embedded in the souls of so many whites that it’s unlikely anything—or anybody—could have turned it aside by more than a few hairs. This has always been obvious, but the past year has made it even more obvious than ever. We have so far yet to go.

    This picture may look like it’s from deep in the Amazon jungle, but it was actually taken at the Sand Canyon Wash, a smallish wildlife preserve near UC Irvine. The cross belongs to a Methodist church across the street.

  • The Population of Young Men Is Down, and So Is Crime

    In the Daily Beast, criminologist Barry Latzer writes that murder is down in New York and is likely to stay down. Why? Because young men are responsible for most murders (true) and the population of young men has declined since the baby boom years (also true). Now that the baby boom is over for good, the number of young men is also down for good, which in turn means that crime is down for good.

    It’s true that violent crime is related to the population of young men. The problem is that it’s not all that related. Here are the national numbers for all violent crime:

    There’s a relationship there, but not a strong one. The population of young men dropped sharply between 1980 and 1990, but crime kept going up. It was flat between 1990 and 2000, but crime dropped sharply.

    This isn’t dispositive. There’s probably some momentum built into the system, and men age 25-30 also contribute a fair amount to the crime rate. Most likely the rise and fall in the number of young men explains some of the change in the crime rate between 1960-2010, but not a lot of it.

    But this reminds me: I’ve been thinking of creating an updated lead-crime roundup. I haven’t done one since 2012, and there’s been a ton of new research since then. I need to put that on my list of things to do.

  • Here’s the Latest Stupid Conservative Conspiracy Theory

    Tong Wu/TNS via ZUMA

    It’s hard keeping up with conservative conspiracy theories. Did you know that for the past week the usual suspects (Hannity, Drudge, etc.) have been circulating the bombshell news that we now have PROOF the FBI was conspiring against Donald Trump during last year’s campaign? Naturally this involves Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the two FBI agents who were conducting an affair and have had their entire text message history laid bare to the world. And just as naturally, congressional Republicans are investigating it.

    Long story short, last week John Solomon wrote a piece for The Hill about the Republican investigation. His article suggested that Page and Strzok had advance knowledge of a Wall Street Journal piece, which means they may have been the ones who leaked it. In the hands of the idiot conspiracy loons at Gateway Pundit, this became “Obama’s Deep State FBI and DOJ Caught Synchronizing Anti-Trump Classified Leaks to Liberal Media.” By now it’s probably entered the eternal lore of the right-wing grievance industry.

    Ryan Reilly and Nick Baumann have looked into the whole thing over at HuffPo and produced 2400 words of debunking. Here’s a quick summary:

    • Reporters usually call the FBI for comment on stories like this, and word spreads pretty quickly. This is most likely why Strzok and Page knew the Journal article was coming.
    • The article in question wasn’t anti-Trump. It was anti-Hillary.
    • Strzok and Page seemed pretty annoyed by the fallout from this leak.

    I can’t say that I really care about this story, which is obviously ridiculous, except as an example of how this stuff spreads in the right-wing universe. Strzok and Page have become the Susan Rice of Russiagate, all-purpose villains whose lives are casually ruined in service of smearing Democrats. Nobody else is paying any attention to this dumb story, but among the conservative ALL CAPS crowd, it’s probably holy writ already.

    POSTSCRIPT: I probably don’t need to add this, but everyone already knows the real story here: there was only one set of politically-motivated leakers in the FBI during the 2016 campaign, and that was the New York office, which was virulently anti-Hillary. They were the ones who apparently forced James Comey to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation 11 days before the election.

    It’s this obvious fact that seems to have been responsible for the furious pushback from conservatives. Donald Trump can’t bear the thought that people believe the FBI was responsible for his victory, so he’s busily smearing the entire organization and promoting stories about the FBI being anti-Trump. Naturally, his fans are all playing along.

  • Rising Opioid Deaths: Is the Cause Economic Despair Or Skyrocketing Supply?

    How much has the opioid epidemic been a response to poor economic conditions? Eric Levitz points us today to a new paper from Christopher Ruhm of the University of Virginia. He examined changes in economic conditions at the county level to see how much this explained the change in death rates from opioids. In order not to keep you in suspense, the answer is “not much”:

    Economic conditions explained only 8 percent of the change in overdose deaths from all drugs and 7 percent of the change in deaths from opioid painkillers—and even that small effect probably goes away if you control for additional unobservable factors. It explained none of the change in deaths from heroin, fentanyl, and other illegal opioids. Ruhm comments:

    These results suggest that the “deaths of despair” framing, while provocative, probably do not explain the main sources of the fatal drug epidemic and imply that efforts to improve economic conditions in distressed locations, while desirable for other reasons, are unlikely to yield significant reductions in drug mortality. Such results probably should not be surprising since drug fatalities increased substantially – including a rapid acceleration of illicit opioid deaths – after the end of the Great Recession (i.e. subsequent to 2009), when economic performance considerably improved.

    Ruhm concludes that the real reason for the rise in deaths from opioids is simple: it’s because they were there. We’ve long known that illicit drugs are faddish—heroin in the 70s, cocaine in the 80s, marijuana in the 90s—and the fads depend a lot on which drugs are in wide supply. In this case, when the supply of OxyContin skyrocketed, so did overdose deaths from OxyContin. Ditto for fentanyl, the current scourge. Wait a decade and it will be something else.

  • Lopez-Claros Replies to Charges of Gaming World Bank Rankings

    Yesterday I linked to a Wall Street Journal article which reported that the World Bank had gamed its “Doing Business” rankings to make Chile look worse during the years it was governed by a socialist president. Paul Romer, the chief economist of the Bank, promised to review the rankings and republish them without the methodological changes that had hurt Chile’s rankings.

    Today, the director of the group that published the rankings, Augusto Lopez-Claros, responded:

    As you may know, the Doing Business project was the subject of an external review by an international panel of experts which provided a number of recommendations in 2013. Partly on the basis of these recommendations…the Bank decided to enter into a multiyear process of methodological improvements, to broaden the coverage of the business environment factors captured by the indicators and to better adapt the definition of some of the indicators to ongoing changes in the global economy.

    ….You noted the deterioration in Chile’s rankings over the past several years. Yes, it is the case that some of this deterioration reflects some of the methodological changes introduced….But Chile’s rankings also deteriorated because other countries were doing more during the period you focused on. To take an example, if you look at the reports DB2014 through DB2017, you will see that Chile introduced a total of 2 reforms during this 4-year period, whereas Mexico introduced 8 and Colombia 6. Not surprisingly, Mexico overtook Chile as the country with the best business environment in Latin America, as captured by the Doing Business indicators.

    ….The claim that the above methodological changes somehow targeted Chile is wholly without merit. You may be aware that during the last several years the World Bank negotiated with the Bachelet administration the opening of a research hub in Santiago, the first such center in Latin America….That the Bank or its staff, during the middle of the negotiations that led to the establishment of this center would have targeted Chile to adversely affect its Doing Business rankings is bizarre beyond measure….Chile’s ranks in the last several years have dropped for the reasons outlined above. None other.

    Lopez-Claros’s full reply is here. It’s pretty obvious that there’s some significant internal politics going on here, and obviously I’m in no position to evaluate it. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this shortly.