Wednesday, August 8, 2012

When Poverty Doesn't Correlate With Crime, No One Notices

The Chicago Reader recently ran a piece attempting to link poverty and homicide rates. Like in many cases where a media outlet tries to make a badly generalized correlation involving crime, race and class, this article displayed a complete failure in even basic logic. The author of the piece missed a crucial finding in the U.S. Census data upon which he relied: of the five poorest neighborhoods in the city from 2005-2009, the poorest neighborhood (Riverdale) had the second lowest homicide rate. This one statistic completely undermines the author's premise that poverty is linked to homicide rates. Yet, somehow the author (and his editor) didn't even realize it in their rush to get another "inner city crime" story to print.

To make matters worse, the article attempts to correlate homicide rates with the percentage of African-Americans living in a neighborhood. This correlation also fails, as the neighborhood with the second highest percentage of African-American residents (also Riverdale, at 98%) has the second lowest homicide rate. Yet, the author fails to note this disconnect*. More importantly, the author can't explain how he derives his statistics regarding African-American residents, since the Census does not break down its racial statistics by nationality in a way that would allow researchers to separate African-American residents from, say, residents of Dominican or Nigerian descent (they would all be lumped under the much broader descriptor "black"). With that being the case, how does the author derive this statistic unless he lazily believes that African-American is synonymous with black, as if the latter does not encompass every person of African descent around the world?

The author refers to the five poorest neighborhoods as black and the five wealthiest neighborhoods as white and middle class, which I won't bother to argue about, since Chicago's residential segregation has been well-established in various studies, to the point where the situation is even occasionally referred to as "American apartheid". Yet, when the author has sentences in his closing paragraph like "We hate hearing about the murders, but it's not us", it's miraculous that he seemingly believes the ordinarily inclusive "we" and "us" can exclude the residents in the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. The problem is so deep, that even the writers who think they want to help are infected with a segregationist mentality.

* Even the neighborhood with the highest proportion of African-American residents (Englewood, at 99%) only has the second highest homicide rate, behind the neighborhood with the highest homicide rate by roughly 20%.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wrongly Equating Europe & The US with the World

One of my longtime pet peeves in Western media is the tendency to conflate sentiment amongst elites in Western Europe and the United States with world opinion. This sad tradition continues in a recent Economist article on Chinese-based telecom corporation Huawei, misleadingly titled "The Company That Spooked The World". The article could more accurately be called "The Company That Spooked A Few Elites In the U.S. and the U.K.".

Sources on the record as being "spooked" (although none of them chose that characterization) include Steven Bellovin of Columbia University (who only admits that telecom technology can be used for spying, not that Huawei is in fact doing so), two Microsoft executives (Scott Charney and Eric Werner, who call for more secure supply chains globally, again not singling out or accusing Huawei), and Ross Anderson of Cambridge University, who admits that banning telecom technology from China is non-feasible as a security strategy and (again!) does not accuse Huawei of espionage or, well, anything. Four named sources, none of whom are actually spooked about Huawei, and all four from two countries total, hardly comprise a "spooked world" as regards Huawei. The article also goes on to mention that "In Africa, Huawei is everywhere" (making the typical Western media faux pas of lumping that huge continent together* without specifying in which countries on that massive continent Huawei products are deployed). Unsurprisingly, the author of this piece does not bother to interview one African national about whether or not he (or she) feels "spooked" about Huawei. The world, according to The Economist, is only comprised of two countries. Imperialist outlooks die hard.

* In fairness, the article also lumps together Europe when discussing Huawei's 4G network efforts in that continent, although Europe's more compact nature and shared currency throughout the majority of the countries therein militates more in favor of a generic "Europe" designation when discussing matters such as telecom networks, which are frequently shared throughout that relatively tiny continent. By contrast, the vastness of continental Africa necessitates a much broader telecom environment, e.g. what happens from a network perspective in South Africa rarely relates to the connectivity in, say, Morocco.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When The Criminal Is Corporate, The Language Changes

I've been carefully watching the unfolding coverage of Barclays' manipulation of the LIBOR (the London interbank offered rate) which is the benchmark for interest rates globally. Two things stood out to me in the coverage. First, I noticed how stories about massive fraud committed by other banks began to taper off, as coverage increasingly focused only on Barclays' massive corporate conspiracy to commit fraud, with little coverage of the six other banking corporations being investigated for manipulating LIBOR, including Citigroup and Royal Bank of Scotland. The Barclays story has also overshadowed other banking scandals - such as, for example, the multi-bank conspiracy to manipulate the public bid process in towns across America). Second, I noticed how the language changes when the media covers criminal allegations facing corporations who committed fraud against the people as a whole, as contrasted with media coverage of individual criminal acts. When a person robs a bank, the headline calls it a crime. When a bank robs the people, the headline calls it a "mess". This second point - the alteration of language based on the identity of the criminal committing the fraud - has a more insidious effect than one might assume on first glance. Erasing the language of complicity and fault implicitly - and nefariously - strips away responsibility from the corporate actor whose principals (employees) engaged the crime being alleged. Crimes are committed purposefully, messes just happen. In the case of Barclays (and many other instances of coverage on the greater Wall Street CDO scandal), this linguistic distinction is not only absurd, it prevents the public from fully understanding the gravity of the allegations at issue. One article on the CNN Money website actually had the audacity to posit that some consumers gained from Barclays' fraud, but when would any "responsible" media outlet write a story on consumers who may have "gained" from the criminal act of an individual, say from the work of hacktivists (hackers who break into computers for socially progressive causes)? In my experience, never.

People presume the market sets interest rates. Financial reporters (and finance professors) might generally say it costs what it costs to borrow money for an objective reason (or for a set of objective reasons/factors). However, if one entity manipulates LIBOR for their own gain, the whole world is literally robbed as interest rates rise globally as a result. While the aforementioned CNN Money article positing the "consumer benefits" potential derived from this fraud outlined an argument that Barclays LIBOR manipulation artificially (and fraudulently) lowered interest rates borrowers may have been seeking during a certain period, it also lowered the amount of money that institutional investors such as pension groups may have been able to earn on certain investment vehicles during the same period. In other words, you might get a favorable interest rate on a car loan and lose out on potential retirement income: win now, lose later. Hopefully, prosecutors will be able to prove in court that what Barclays did is a horrible crime and they are responsible for creating a terrible mess. Whether the media covers any convictions in this light remains to be seen.

(cross-posted with my other blog,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rick Santorum proposes a One State Solution

Foreign Policy's online blog has published an entry responding to video of Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum arguing that the turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians can be settled with a one state solution.

As the blogger for Foreign Policy notes, this is an issue that the Israeli government has been actively avoiding (political participation of Palestineans in the governance of Israel), but does not pursue the pro's and con's of this concept. The comment section does not discuss the issue much, either, which is regrettable because I rarely see this position debated in "serious policy circles". While the Palestinians naturally have a right to pursue their own state, isn't it reasonable as well to argue (without denying Palestinian identity, as Santorum does in the video linked above) that Palestinians should have some voice in Israeli policy until they get their own state? Why should Palestinian influence only extend to the Occupied Territories when the Israeli government regularly makes decisions that effect Palestinian lives, from curfews to embargoes, to travel restrictions and more? It is a basic axiom of modern democracy that parties who are subject to the impact of decisions should play a role in decisionmaking.

As a corollary, where the Taliban was accused of subjugating women in Afghanistan, the United States advocates for (and attained) an inclusion in the new Afghan constitution that required women to hold a certain percentage of the seats in the Afghan legislature. Yet who would argue that a certain number of seats in the Knesset should be reserved for Palestinians, who do not share the same rights as Israeli citizens within territory Israel controls? Short of this, shouldn't Palestinians be able to vote for who should serve in the Knesset when laws passed therein inevitably affect many areas of Palestinian life and they are currently without a state of their own (with all due respect to the Palestinian Authority, which has been recognized in some international circles, although not fully recognized as a state)?

This is probably all an academic exercise, of course, since this course of action does not seem to be particularly popular among Palestinians or Israelis (although I would welcome information that indicates the opposite, just for my own enlightenment).

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Third Party Spoiler Argument

Every four years, progressives are urged to line up behind a Democratic candidate that may share some (but not all) of their ideals, because the Republican alternative is far worse. Naturally, these progressives are also urged not to vote for a progressive third party candidate that may align with most of their policy priorities, based on the "boogieman argument" that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore (who wound up beating Bush by half a million votes, but lost the electoral count). I bothered to look at the state vote totals for the 2000 election again recently. Out of every state where Bush won the popular vote, there are only three where Gore would have won if he got some (and, in two cases, most) of Nader's votes: Iowa (2 electoral votes), New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) and most importantly Florida (25 electoral votes), where a few hundred Nader votes would have theoretically pushed Gore over the top for a nationwide electoral vote lead.

There are a few problems with this theory: (1) The Republicans are accused of widespread voter fraud in Florida in 2000, so it presumes the votes would ever be fairly counted in Gore's favor (2) It assumes that people who voted for Nader would ever vote for Gore, rather than stay home (or write in Nader or some third party's name). Considering all the accusations that flew around about voter irregularities, point number one is quite serious (plenty of Dems still argue that not only did the Supreme Court rob Gore, but there were loads of sheisty ballot fraud going on throughout Florida). Point two is just as significant: Gore got 49% of the vote in Florida and it's entirely possible that the votes he got are all that he could get (he was never considered the most charismatic candidate). Out of a population of 15 million total, roughly six million people voted in 2000. Assuming that some votes were lost to fraud, faulty machines, prior felony records leading to disenfranchisement, or lack of interest in politics generally, it's just as likely that the Nader voters might either stay at home or register a write-in protest vote as vote for Gore.

Did anyone ever bother to actually dig up an exit poll of 2000 election Nader voters in Florida to ask? Probably not. The New York Times ran a story that for some peculiar reason cited an exit poll of California Nader voters that said roughly half of them would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot (Gore won California handily). The writer in that same article acknowledges the veracity of a New Hampshire exit poll of Nader voters (cited therein by Nader) that indicated roughly half of them would have thrown their support behind Bush had Nader not been on the ballot. Surely someone did an exit poll on the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida, but The Times seemingly didn't bother to unearth it. Perhaps it's easier to just keep the Nader spoiler meme going than try to actually drum up empirical data.

side note 1: No one that I have been able to uncover has asked how many votes Buchanan siphoned from Bush on the right (and how he still beat Gore in the states where he did, despite the presence on Buchanan campaigning to the right of him).

side note 2: A blog entry that does not cite traditional sources claims that half of the registered Democratic voters in Florida did not vote at all, which would seem to indicate that Gore's real problem was his GOTV effort.

side note 3: Not enough Democratic pundits have criticized the Gore campaign decision to only seek recounts in certain counties instead of statewide. The crux of the US Supreme Court victory for Bush was that this selective re-counting violated his 14th Amendment rights, whereas seeking a statewide recount would not have been vulnerable to such an argument.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A False Pro-1% Argument

So, I ran into someone on Twitter who posted this video of CEO Peter Schiff confronting pro-99% demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street. The only problem is, Schiff is holding (and hogging) the mic the whole time, often taking it away from people as they are in the middle of salient points, not addressing valid points yelled off-camera, and failing to account for any nuance in tax policy or the criticism of government complicity with corporate interests articulated by the pro-99% demonstrators.

Schiff fails to include several key points in his analysis:

(1) Earned income is not the sole basis for determining the final tax any individual ends up paying when his or her return is completed (any debate about the fairness of the tax code has to center around "effective tax rate", the percentage of income one winds up paying when income comes from various streams (sales of stock, dividend income, rental income, etc) and after various deductions have been taken (too many to list here). This is the crux of billionaire Warren Buffett's argument that he should pay a higher *effective* tax rate than his secretary, which he currently does not. Seeing Schiff blow off Buffett, who is clearly a more successful investor than Schiff, as if Buffett's opinion on this key economic matter is invalid, is both comical and sad.

(2) Any argument that a change in tax policy will affect job creation immediately fails when one looks at the job creation rate and the rate of entrepreneurial growth during times of higher tax rates for millionaires. If the tax rate was the sole determiner of economic incentive, every post-1913 American industrialist in the 20th Century would have sought their fortunes in some other country after the income tax was first established. Instead, the five decades after the income tax was established saw more expansion of American corporate wealth than the prior 137 years combined (even with the Great Depression in the middle of it!). The economic environment in this country: infrastructure (roads, fire, police), transparency (banking regulation, securities regulation), rule of law and availability of capital are unparalleled virtually anywhere else in the world. Changing the tax code alone will never cause any of this growth to grind to a halt and arguably won't affect any future entrepreneurial growth at all, in light of the entrepreneurial growth we experienced during the five decades following the ratification of the 16th Amendment (the foundation of the income tax as we understand it). The marginal tax rate for a single person earning over $550,000 in 1971 was 70%! If this didn't discourage future entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (who were old enough to remember that rate) from dreaming of being successful businessmen, what rate could?

I could spend the better part of a decade deconstructing Schiff's points, but I think I have gone far enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sacrilege? Why Black Voters Should Support A Primary Challenge to Obama

I left the following comment in response to an entry published on the Angry Black Lady blog disparaging the proposed third party challenge that Cornel West and Ralph Nader are organizing against Barack Obama in 2012.

You have to factor in history when you have these discussions. Hillary Clinton was polling around 70% with black people at this point in the 2008 election (i.e. roughly 14 months from election day). Obama trounced her in the primaries (taking greater and greater shares of the black vote as the primaries rolled on). No one is unbeatable and no one politician has a lock on the black vote nationally. Obama's poll numbers with black people are already dropping. I have seen polls with that number in the 70s as recently as roughly a week ago.

The real problem for Nader and West is, they should have been planning this primary challenge, with a candidate in place, since 2010. Whoever was going to run should have been on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire since at least spring of this year.

In terms of the tone of this piece, I urge you (and others who agree with you) *not* to assume that (1) black people will vote as a bloc for Obama (2) Nader and West don't have legitimate policy differences with the President (3) progressives (and the black people (progressive and not) who *aren't* supporting Obama in polls) don't have legitimate policy differences with the President and (4) policy differences with the President aren't worthy of being respected, just like every view in a democracy that doesn't overtly advocate for the oppression of one (or more) group(s) of people deserves some measure of respect, even as we disagree. I don't see how calling someone an "asshat" is useful to the political discourse at all. Regarding Nader's usage of the loaded Uncle Tom term, I don't expect him to apologize to Fox but I would expect him to apologize to *us* (while, at the same time, this lays out clearly the problem of racializing internal arguments that black folk have had internally for years, i.e. the attempt to measure the blackness of one person or another by their policy positions...we built the slippery road that Nader slid down (even though I would argue we have a group prerogative to determine which members of our group are adhering to an internal code (no Reconstruction Black Codes pun) that Nader, as a racial outsider to our group, lacks) (leaving aside debates about whether phenotypical traits are even valid principles to organize around, period)).

The more important question for black voters should be what course of action serves our short term and long term interests? The historical precedent of electing a Black President has been set. Do we need to vote as a bloc for a Black President who waited until his term was 75% over to propose a jobs bill when black unemployment was rising through his whole term and never seriously addressing the foreclosure crisis when it let to a roughly 50% decline in black net worth, according to some claims? I would say no. Everyone should vote their conscience. The biggest wake up call to the Democratic Party would be if they lose any sizable portion (5% or better) of the ever-faithful black vote in a re-election campaign led by a black candidate.

Since the "Bullet Or The Ballot" speech, if not earlier, black critical thinkers have assailed the tendency of black people to vote overwhelmingly for one party (it used to be the Republicans but switched to the Democrats, particularly from the 60s forward, as they offered more policy proposals that directly addressed our community concerns). When our support was in flux like it was in the 60s, we had Republican presidents like Nixon creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, because it still seemed like such overtures might earn (or retain) a vote or two. We lost our seat at that GOP table, from a policy perspective. I don't think losing a seat at a prospective third party table is smart politics. If Obama wins with 51% of the vote, a progressive-libertarian third party coalition takes between 3-5% (ideally 5%) and a Republican candidate loses with 44-47% of the vote (likely given Obama's organization and fundraising), this is a win-win (particularly if the third party coalition West and Nader proposes pulls in the magic 5% that gets them access to matching federal funds in the next election cycle).

If anything, considering rumblings from the right to form a third party that will dilute the Republican vote, black voters who aren't Republican or conservative *should* be seeking to dilute the Libertarian vote with a progressive-Libertarian alliance, so that the conservatives don't have complete control over the Libertarian movement and seize the crucial 5% of the vote for whatever third party *they* assemble.

This is chess, not checkers.

(cross-posted to my blog Tell A Lie Vision, because I didn't do all this writing for nothing...LOL)