On Restoring Obama to the Presidency, Constitutionally

Like the Blues Brothers, it’s time to put the band back together. There may be many people who could be President, but there is only one with the actual experience, who is young enough, who can get us out of the hole dug in the past year.

That person is, of course, Barack Obama.

But the 22nd Amendment you say? What it actually says:

Section 1

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President, when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Yes, he cannot be elected President by the electoral college. But that does not mean he cannot be chosen as Acting President by Congress. The Constitution is a document ripe with loopholes. Here is the plan

  1. Elect Obama to be Speaker of the House of Representatives
  2. Impeach (and Convict) the President
  3. Do not let the Vice President (now President) appoint a replacement
  4. Impeach (and Convict) the Vice President (or new President)
  5. Deploy the Presidential Succession Act, and the Speaker of the House becomes Acting President for the duration of the term.
  6. Rinse,
  7. Repeat.

This obviously requires several things to happen, each of which is admittedly unlikely, but this is a strange world.

First, elect Obama to be Speaker. This assumes the Democrats retake the House (and the subsequent steps require the Senate as well), so say this begins in 2019, after the 2018 midterms. Obama need not be a member of Congress to be elected Speaker, that is merely a custom.

Second (and Fourth), Impeach and Convict the President. Impeachment in the House requires a majority vote. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote (Article I Section 3). This is the hard part. The VP could be impeached before the President as well, so long as step three takes place. The grounds for Impeachment and Conviction are determined solely by Congress and are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” the last of which is pretty broad and essentially a political question.

Third, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment allows the President to nominate a replacement for Vice President, which is how Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller assumed the office. This requires a majority vote in both Houses. Clearly the Houses can pass or vote down the nominations. Congress declines to accept

Fifth, the Presidential Succession Act names the Speaker of the House as third in line, so if the Presidency and Vice Presidency fall vacant, the Speaker becomes Acting President.

In effect, if the Senate is controlled by a two-third majority, and the same party has a majority in the House, the US could become a Parliamentary government.

The reason this is so difficult is the electoral landscape. Even assuming the Democrats take back the House in 2018, the 2018 Senate election will see one-third of seats up (as per the Constitution), of which only 9 are currently Republican (23 Democrat and 2 independent). So if the Democrats hold all their seats and take all 9 Republicans, the Democrats will still have  only 55 seats (plus 2 independent). That is short 10 seats for a two-thirds majority. So the Democrats will need to persuade ten or more Republicans to either vote for Conviction or switch parties. Not unheard of, but improbable. One imagines getting them to vote for the Conviction of the President will be easier than for the Conviction of the Vice President.

On Non-Publications

By the time you reach a certain point in an academic career, you have accumulated both publications and non-publications. Publications are articles that are published in journals or edited volume or proceedings. Non-publications are articles sitting in a metaphorical desk drawer. They were probably presented at a conference, but not published in a formal proceedings, or sent to a journal and given the dreaded revise and resubmit (R&R), or worse, rejected after a long time. (A quick rejection is a godsend compared to a slow rejection). You and the student both moved on to other projects and, despite your nagging the now former student, the paper never gets revised. Or it gets revised and rejected and resubmitted and then asked for a new revise and resubmit, at which point the now former student effectively abandons it.

From a social point-of-view, this is a useful process IF the papers are truly bad, as it saves other people from wasting their time reading it. However, from a social point-of-view this is an extremely wasteful process IF the papers are not bad, because perfectly fine, if not necessarily brilliant or profound, empirical observations or modeling methods are not published, and thus not cited, not included in review articles or meta-analyses, and thus not in the canon of human knowledge and thus we are collectively impoverished.

There are several problems:

  1. Academics in many fields only cite peer-reviewed work. So simply finishing the paper/thesis/dissertation/report and placing it online in an archive is insufficient to get much visibility most of the time.
  2. Revise and resubmit is a potentially endless process without strong editors. No paper is perfect, there is always more that could be done, and so in the case of Perfect v. Good, Perfect is favored and the paper is rejected. There are enough papers that good journals can be picky. There are enough journals that this paper  can easily be resubmitted. Even if it is resubmitted once, it ties up more reviewers and wastes social and human capital. While it might slow down the writing process some, and reconsideration can add value to papers, R&R also slows down the accumulation of knowledge, and more importantly leads to abandoned papers.
  3. Students move on. Most university research is student-driven. A faculty member is a supervisor, may have come up with the basic idea and the funding, and directed the research and edited the paper, but the student did most of the work. If the student becomes an academic themselves, they are often (but not always) properly motivated to revise and resubmit until the paper is accepted. If the student goes into industry, the motivation is weak. Now we could hold the student’s degree hostage until publication (I hear this happens in developing countries), but that seems both mean and unreasonable and an attempt to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of determining whether the research is in fact degree-worthy. And it doesn’t work if the paper is not in the thesis.

So the solutions:

  1. Don’t revise, but resubmit elsewhere and hope for better results. We all know the peer review process is highly random. Nevertheless starting the process over again is not appealing, consumes time, and in any case will require some changes (almost nothing is accepted unmodified, sadly), which the former student has already indicated an unwillingness to do. The likelihood of effort decreases with time and distance from when the work was originally done. Hopefully these changes are not at the analytical level.
  2. Send it to a pay-to-play journal. But if the journal has a bad reputation, the paper will be greatly discounted and not emerge from the black hole of non-citation in which it presently lies.
  3. Edit a Journal Special Issue or Book, and throw the paper in. While this is one way of escaping peer review, it seems a lot of extra work just to get a publication.
  4. Do nothing, let the research whither on the shelf. Maybe someone else will edit a Special Issue or Book and invite you to submit something that turns out to be this very paper, with a light touch for required revisions.
  5. Try to somehow motivate the former students to take the lead. Unfortunately there is always something more urgent (classes, proposal deadlines, conference deadlines, more recent papers that need R&R, health, family, etc.) that sucks away time. There is nothing less urgent than peer reviewed articles in fields which take 2 years from submission to publication.
  6. Change people’s perception of the non-peer reviewed literature so that publication is not essential for people to read and cite. I firmly believe the journal system will collapse eventually. But we are not there yet.

I personally am stuck with about dozen of these non-publications which seem to me publishable more or less in current form (excluding papers that need lots of work or are half-finished) but are going nowhere due to the priorities of the lead former student authors, these are included on my working papers page with papers currently under review. They are not coherent enough as a group of papers to stick in a single book (maybe parts of two or three books), and that seems a lot of work, especially given book chapters are discounted relative to journal articles in everyone’s perception (and thus their effectiveness). Editing a special issue and loading it with 6 of your own papers (even if each is with a different lead co-author) seems to violate some norm or another, and again the coherence is weak. Editing six special issues and loading each with 2 of your own papers is more socially acceptable, but really a lot of work for the end to be achieved.

So while I don’t want to say the world misses out on our brilliance, it is clear human knowledge is poorer as a result of this process.

7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability

7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability

We are pleased to invite you to attend and participate in the 7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability, which will be held in Sydney on 17-19 January 2018. The objective of this symposium is to provide a forum for participants from universities, government and industry to exchange ideas on the latest developments in the field of transport network reliability. Transport networks support the full spectrum of human activities and their supporting supply chains, and when disaster strikes provide life lines for rescue services and survivors, so their reliability is a matter of global concern. There will be ample time for interaction among participants, a welcome reception, lunches, morning and afternoon teas, and a conference dinner.

University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh St, Sydney, NSW 2000.

Details at: http://instr2018.org

Recommendations to Minnesota Legislature on Transport

I presented to a committee of the Minnesota Legislature earlier today. These are the bullet points from the key policy recommendations:


  • The value (benefits – costs) of preserving existing links is generally far greater than the value of new links, especially new links serving future (speculative) development (development-oriented transportation).

Reduce & Reuse

  • Most roads are under-used most of the time. There is ample capacity outside the peak.
  • Most of the pavement is unused even at peak times; there are large gaps between vehicles both in terms of the headway between vehicles and the lateral spacing between vehicles. Americans drive 6 foot wide cars in 12 foot lanes, often on highways with wide shoulders.
  • Most seats in most cars are unoccupied most of the time.
  • Most cars contain far more weight than required to safely move the passenger. While bigger cars might be safer for the occupants, they are less safe for non-occupants. This is an inefficient arms race.
  • Many roads are so wide we use them for storage of vehicles most of the day.
  • There is excessive delay at traffic lights, especially during off-peak periods, wasting time and space.
  • Smoothing and spreading demand brings peak travel times closer to freeflow times, and thus raises accessibility.

POLICY IMPLICATION: Increased throughput per square meter of pavement due to Vehicle Automation (along with flattened demand) indicates fewer square meters of pavement are required.

Make investments that have high rate of return.

  • The more benefits per $ spent, the more things that can be built.
  • Explicitly consider Benefits and Costs when making investments. This is hard since this requires forecasts of the future, which is changing.
  • Focus on projects that most effectively expand accessibility for all, (efficiency), or for those with fewer opportunities (equity).

Make investments that are flexible and adaptable.

  • The next 50 years are going to see far more change than the past 50 years in transportation.
  • Locking into investments serving today’s (yesterday’s) needs will lead to future stranded investments and fewer resources to improve accessibility tomorrow.

Allow local governments more autonomy in funding transit with their own money

  • If a Minnesota City or County wants to tax itself to pay for something that is locally beneficial, this is nobody else’s problem.
  • Let a thousand flowers (or at least 87) bloom.

Accelerate the End of Congestion (and fund roads) via Pricing

Today’s Minnesota gas tax does not:

  • address congestion, which requires time of day differentiation.  Traffic congestion is a problem. It is not getting measurably worse over the past decade, but it is not getting obviously better. Even if traffic reduces in the aggregate, it won’t disappear to zero in the next decade.  Congestion reduces accessibility.
  • recover pavement damage from heavy vehicles.
  • raise revenue from vehicles that do not use gasoline for fuel.
  • pay for crashes, which are borne individually through worsened health and life outcomes, and socially through the health care system.
  • pay for the full cost of pollution (which is offloaded to the health sector).
  • pay for local roads (which are paid for by property taxes mostly).
  • account for rising fuel efficiency.
  • account for cost inflation in the road sector.


  • Fix the Gas Tax
    • Replace the local property tax share and other state and local general revenue (so-called dedicated revenue) like Motor Vehicle Sales Tax with a user fee.
    • This means a Higher Gas/Diesel Tax (User Fee) for Gasoline/Diesel powered cars and trucks and Lower Property Taxes.
    • Return the new revenue back to local governments.
    • Impose a Distance/Time-based Fee for Electric Vehicles
  • Phase in a Replacement.
    • EVs don’t pay gas tax, yet use roads.
    • Retaining the highway user fee principle requires charging EVs once a sufficient number make it relevant.
    • Vary vehicle mileage charge for EVs and opt-ins (and eventually all vehicles) by location and time-of-day.
    • As more and more users drive EVs, this becomes the standard over time, without riots in your districts.



Update: The audio of the Presentation and the slides are now available:


Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Met at: 1:00 PM
Presentation by Professor David Levinson
University of Minnesota
The Future of Transport and Directions for Minnesota Policy

Presentation by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, CATO Institute
LRT and Long-Term Planning Concerns in the Twin Cities Region

Transportation and Regional Governance Policy

I will be in the Basement of the Minnesota Legislature tomorrow (Wednesday) to talk about ‘Transportation and Regional Governance.’ I might mention something about about accessibility and automated vehicles as well. I will take the Green Line to get there. I am paying out-of-pocket for my travel expenses.
Someone else will also be on the agenda.
Chair: Rep. Linda Runbeck
Location: Basement Hearing Room
Presentation by Professor David Levinson
University of Minnesota
The Future of Transport and Directions for Minnesota Policy

Presentation by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, CATO Institute
LRT and Long-Term Planning Concerns in the Twin Cities Region

Someone is already concerned, he wrote:
I see for the February 8th meeting you have two presentations. I’d like if the presenters could email me the presentations. Specifically I’m interested in the data and sources for the presentation that’ll be presented by Professor David Levinson. I am concerned about the accuracy of the presentation regarding the claims he may have that multi-Billion dollar transit corridors have any effect on lowering freeway congestion, cut polution, or provide return on investment to the non-riding tax payers who pay for them. Having this data a head of the meeting will greatly help.
Strange being accused by a complete stranger of inaccuracy in advance for things you might say based on never having heard me speak before and never having read anything I have ever written.
I was told by the chair that Mr. O’Toole, who pretends to not know who I am,  was put on the docket for “balance”. While at first I was appalled at the concept, I have come around.
More generally, facts should always be “balanced” by anti-facts, otherwise we might make informed decisions, and that might be at odds with how we wished the world worked, and thus lead to unhappiness.  I am told in physics when facts meet anti-facts they both annihilate each other. Economists on the other hand believe bad facts drive out good.

Is Bikesharing Contagious? Modeling its effects on System Membership and General Population Cycling

Recently published:

Bikeshare systems are relatively new, highly visible additions to urban transportation systems that provide opportunities to cycle or combine cycling with other modes of transportation. The research reported here presents new evidence about the role of bikeshare systems in travel behavior on the basis of diffusion of innovation theory. The study hypothesized that bikeshare systems have spatial contagion or spillover effects on (a) the propensity of individuals to adopt bikeshare and (b) the propensity to bicycle within the general population. The first hypothesis (H1) was tested by modeling membership growth as a function of system expansion and the existing, proximate membership base. The second hypothesis (H2) was tested by using bikeshare activity levels near home in a model of household-level bicycle participation and trip frequency. The study yielded mixed results. Bikeshare membership growth appeared to be driven in small part by a contagion effect of existing bikeshare members nearby, even after controlling for system growth. However, within the general population, a significant relationship was not identified between proximity to bikeshare stations and cycling participation or frequency. These findings complement those of other recent studies of bikeshare systems, which indicated that systems are still evolving. The present findings also have implications for marketing, infrastructure investments, and future research about bikeshare operations and innovation.

Congratulations America, Achievement Unlocked.

My colleagues at McGill University in Canada sent the following note to the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Conference (I was a coauthor on one of the papers). America is now officially less welcoming than after 9/11. Congratulations America, Achievement Unlocked. You have reduced the amount knowledge in the world, punished people from foreign countries because of their ancestry, as well as helped harm the US economy by reducing income at hotels, restaurants, and airlines.

Dear AAG Annual Meeting Organizers,

I regret to inform you that our team, Transportation Research at McGill (TRAM) will not be present at the coming AAG annual meeting in Boston and we will would like to withdraw all of our papers from the program. This is a decision we have not made lightly but upon thoughtful reflection, we have made this decision based on the following reasons: We at TRAM have an obligation to safeguard our students and it is part of our duty of care to ensure that all of our students and staff are protected as far as possible from the kinds of distress and potential harm that we have seen impacting students of given nationalities as they have attempted to enter or re-enter the US in the past week. We recognize that this situation was implemented at short notice and outwith the control of AAG and appreciate the efforts that you at AAG have made to keep conference participants informed of upcoming developments and mitigate any negative circumstances as far as possible. However, at this stage in conference preparations, we need to reach a decision based on the information we have available and we are not satisfied that the circumstances surrounding this travel ban will be resolved in the short term. We at TRAM feel that conference attendance is a vital component of graduate life and feel strongly that this opportunity should be available to all of our students, regardless of their nationality or religious background. We have thus sent students to AAG in the past based on this principle. Until we feel that our students may again participate at conferences in the US without discrimination, risk of harm and distress, we can not proceed to send them.

The following is the list of papers we are withdrawing. As it was the students that registered and given that this has fallen entirely outwith their control, I am additionally requesting a refund of their registration fees.


Title: Capturing the value of time: Assessing the impacts of access to public transport on home values

Title: Riding safely to school: An analysis of the supply of bicycle lanes and cycle tracks around schools in Quebec City 

Title: Access to desired destinations: An evaluation of the land use and transportation systems performance for different income groups using a combined measure of accessibility

Reprinted with permission.

A Time for Choosing

In 1964 Ronald Reagan gave a speech: A Time for Choosing, endorsing Barry Goldwater. Parts of it are newly salient. I imagine what he might say today.

Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state TrumpWorks One Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Plan have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy “accommodation.” And they say if we’ll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he’ll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer — not an easy answer — but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.

We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved within Russia, eastern Ukraine, and Refugees from Wars funded by Moscow behind the Iron Curtain, “Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.” Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace — and you can have it in the next second — surrender.

Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal ‘Republican friends refuse to face — that their policy of accommodation [with incipient Fascists] is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand — the ultimatum. And what then — when Nikita Khrushchev Vladimir Putin has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices say pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.” “I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin, I just think so,” And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us.

You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin — just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all.

You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this — this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits — not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. 

We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

On a new Infrastructure Bill

The Democrats under Chuck Schumer are proposing a big federal infrastructure bill. The Pretender in Chief is also proposing a big infrastructure program funded by tax credits. Both are quite different, aside from the word “infrastructure”, but they are similar in that they are both big programs and both bad policy and both will raise the national debt.

  1. Democrats are making a strategic error in trying to work with the administration. As the Republicans showed in the previous administration, the path to victory in divided America is through resistance to the administration, not cooperation. It is becoming more Parliamentary in that respect.
  2. If a Bill is somehow made law, and it is popular, the Pretender in Chief will get all the credit. Sure Schumer will get to attend the signing ceremony, and have one more photo with him and the least liked politician in America, but aside from his constituents, everyone else will say who is that old white man in the background. They will get no credit from the public.
  3. Massive investment in Infrastructure at this point in history is not only bad politics for the Democrats as a whole, it is bad policy.
    1. We are moving to an era where maintenance outweighs new construction, politicians are all about new builds, not maintenance. Politically driven construction lists will not be those projects with the highest benefit/cost ratios, but simply new projects that grab ribbon-cutting headlines while old infrastructure continues it’s long path of deterioration.
    2. We are moving to an era where we can use infrastructure more efficiently with autonomous vehicles.
    3. The benefits are all local, the funding should be local as well to align interests.
    4. It provides the federal government one more lever to use against New York if it doesn’t like some local policy (Sanctuary Cities anyone?). New York City should understand why it wants as much financial and political autonomy as it can get.
    5. Infrastructure costs will only rise going forward with so much concrete going into the Mexican Wall.
    6. The economy is near full employment in the construction sector. This will drive up wages but not output as labor is the scarce commodity. Bring this back maybe when there is significant unemployment.
  4. New York will get an outsized share of federal dollars from any bill, and New York needs new infrastructure more than anywhere else in the US, but New York has shown an inability to manage its own money and infrastructure properly, and until it can deliver infrastructure at a reasonable cost, there is no reason for the rest of the US to subsidize it. Notably both Schumer and Trump are from New York and probably don’t care that other people are paying for New York’s managerial ineptitude. New York will vote Democrat in any case, so this doesn’t help the party elsewhere in the country.

I am optimistic no such bill will actually pass. Schumer may be leader of the Opposition, but he is no friend of the Resistance.