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).