Monthly Archives: October 2014

Have “Hate Crimes” Really Plummeted?

Murky Data

Murky Data

I sure hope that “hate crimes”  have actually plummeted in Los Angeles, to a 24 year low, as reported recently by the L.A. County Commission on Human Rights (LACCHR).  The data released by LACCHR was covered in a story buried in the L.A. Times, and hardly mentioned elsewhere.  I’m skeptical about the data, but wish they are true.

The California Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also reports a substantial decrease in hate crimes across the State.   Same goes for an FBI document,  which last year reported “a slight decrease” in those crimes nationally.    These reports from different governments and agencies, appear to rely on some common data sources, so they are not entirely corroborating one another.

Can the LA data really be true? I don’t have hard evidence to the contrary.  I am surely not a knee-jerk denier of government agency data.  I really want it to be true, that hate crimes are in free fall.  But you can’t blame one for being skeptical.

The Zimmerman, Sterling, Ferguson/Brown, Matthew Shepherd affairs, are still fresh in our minds.  So is the shocking video of the NFL football player knocking out his paramour in an elevator.  As is the deplorable banishment of Jewish scholars by some top American and British academic associations, because of differences over Israeli treatment of Palestinians.  And then there were the deeply unsettling images of enraged crowds, brandishing hateful signs in Murrieta and Escondido California, opposing measures and blocking buses trying to find temporary shelter for endangered Latino kids who crossed the U.S. border?

With all of this as background and context, the LA County report says anti-Jewish crimes fell 48%.  And that anti Hispanic crimes also plunged.  Could that be true?

Perhaps skepticism about the numbers is what kept the LA report from receiving more attention   Conservatives might say that “suppression of ‘good news’ by the mainstream media supports the liberals’ “perpetual victim hood agenda.”   But even conservative media, which has an interest in “proving” that vulnerable groups are being treated better and better every day in America, ignored the report,

If the LA County data actually reflect a diminution of hate,  or hate crimes, what would be the explanation?   Effective education?   Effective deterrence?  The haters have left LA for Murrieta?   More likely, it’s  a systematic change in the way hate crimes are defined and reported.  Or, simply yet another disconnect between what’s covered in the news — Zimmerman, Ferguson, Murrieta, and the like —  and what’s really happening to minorities, women, gays, and Jews.   The message: Cable news stories notwithstanding,  love and tolerance are actually breaking out all over.    (I don’t really believe that, but it is possible),

The LA Report itself begins with a thoughtful and candid discussion of the (generally) low quality of hate crime data, the problem of “under-reporting,” and the evolving (shifting?) definition of “hate crimes.”   So, why publish it at all when you think the data are unreliable?

Speaking of “hate,” I hate studies that lead with flashing red lights about the poor quality of the data; and then merrily go on to report them anyway, along with fancy, labor intensive graphics,  and elaborate explanations of what they mean.

I suppose LACCHR is legally required to collect and publish the data. Even if the numbers are in doubt or hard to explain, one of LACCHR’s missions is to keep issues of bigotry and hate crimes on the table,  and in the foreground.   That argument has some merit.   But LACCHR and agencies like them, must take to heart doubts such as those expressed here, work with legislatures and law enforcement officials to strengthen the collection protocols, and provide a solid response to the understandable questions in the minds of skeptics.

It would be really nice if the society was healing,  but we don’t want bad data to make us think the problems have gone away.

 

 

Goofy Economic Data and Politics Go Hand-In-Hand: A Case Study from Escondido, California

Wonder Where the Numbers Come From?

Wonder Where the Numbers Come From?

Real economic information has always been a casualty of electioneering.  Since campaign loony tunes have been  put on steroids by Tea Party style dialogue, it’s even worse,  if that’s imaginable.   I offer a little case study here from the City of Escondido, near San Diego, where I live. which illustrates the problem.   This case has some humorous features that should alleviate the inclination to cry or pound the table.  It has its counterparts in most of the U.S. Senate and Governor’s races we follow across the country.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” said the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, about American political campaigning.

The Mayor of Escondido has either never heard this wise and oft quoted remark, or doesn’t agree with it, especially as it applies to the local economy. The Mayor, or his publicists, have indeed brought new manufacturing to Escondido (as he claims) – the manufacture of numbers about the City’s economy during his tenure.

These numbers are either lies, sloppily concocted because its too much effort to get them right,  or just picked out of thin air because they have a nice ring to them. It’s more likely one of the latter two, than outright lying, because some of the “facts” (amusingly) subvert the Mayor’s case.  The examples are from the Mayor’s stump speeches and campaign mailers blanketing the City.

In a recent campaign mailer, the Mayor says he “created over one thousand new jobs” and “attracted $200 million in investments to Escondido.”  There is a footnote cited for this information that leads to a blog by a local chiropractor. I guess this was considered a better source of information than the U.S. Census or the Bureau or of Labor Statistics. That’s what happens when Tea Party style rhetoric and paranoia relentlessly defame trustworthy organizations.  We ignore them and turn to chiropractors to tell us about the economy.

Let’s start with the number about job gains. The most ludicrous and supremely ironic aspect of the “1000 new jobs” claim is that if it was accurate, it would be evidence the Mayor presided over a new recession in Escondido, on top of the U.S. led downturn that officially began in 2008, and ended about two years later, around the time the Mayor took office.

Based on good data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the City of Escondido has averaged about 50,000 jobs (private and public combined) since the Mayor took office.  That’s a rough and conservative estimate, because, it is exceptionally difficult to come up with accurate and recent employment numbers for a relatively small-sized city like Escondido.   (Hence the proclivity to make things up).  But 50,000 is a good order of magnitude figure for evaluating the Mayor’s claim.

If the Mayor really did “create” 1000 new jobs over the last four years, as the mailer says, that would mean job growth in the City was less than half a percentage point per year, which wouldn’t have even kept up with population growth.  That translates into a double-dip recession, the second one right here in Escondido.

Then you have the claim about attracting $200 million investment in Escondido. That, on its face, is not an implausible number. But, again, there’s the problem that accurate and recent business investment numbers are exceptionally difficult to come by, even for a state or major metropolitan area, let alone a city the size of Escondido.

So, did the Mayor use money from his campaign war chest to hire a consultant to do massive data mining and econometric acrobatics?  Like Nate Silver?  Did he prevail on a City staffer to use (real and more timely) tax information to infer the investment number?  If so, that might have been an inappropriate use of city resources). More likely, it was pulled out of thin air or computed on the back of an envelope or borrowed by a publicist from another blog that had nothing to do with business investment, who, in turn,  got it from another blog, neither one vetted by anybody.    (But it was in print).

The most perplexing aspect of the $200 million investment number is that, if true, it would, just like the jobs figure,  be no better — and in fact, actually proportionately smaller — than new business investment in the U.S. over the same period of time (for which we have good numbers).

So, again,  the Mayor’s flyer, with much irony, proclaims he presided over business investments that were proportionately smaller than in the U.S. economy, which the Mayor has said is drastically mismanaged by President Obama.  BTW, in that same speech he said Escondido had created more jobs in a couple of years than the President did in two terms.   More goofy economics.

In case anyone thinks I’m pulling numbers out of thin air, here, quickly, is how I conclude the Mayor’s $200 million business investment claim is saying Escondido performed more poorly under his leadership than the U.S. did under Obama.  (You can skip the nerdy details in  the next paragraph).

We have good numbers on U.S. business investment during the Mayor’s tenure (about $700 billion) and we know that Escondido is about .033% of the U.S. economy.   So, if Escondido performed as well as the U.S. (which the Mayor says performed abysmally), it would have attracted at least $230 million in business investment.   Even the “misguided economic policies” of the President, as the Mayor sees them,  outdid the Mayor’s policies, as his own mailer (effectively) reports.  If you want to do the math yourself,  two places to  look are here and here, or contact the blogger,

The most absurd aspect of the Mayor’s economic numbers, is when you combine the 1000 new jobs claim with the $200 million new investment boast, it turns out City business people are investing $200,000 per job. Wow!  You can get a PhD from M.I.T for less than that. The Obama 2009-10 U.S. “stimulus package” was, ironically, lampooned by opponents for costing about $200,000 per job (which wasn’t even true).

Does the Mayor think all those smart business people at the local Chamber of Commerce, some of them on the City Council, are investing that kind of money per job?
For the U.S., good studies have shown that, in general, a million dollars of investment translates into about 20 jobs, which pencils out to $50,000 per job. So, unless the 1000 new jobs the Mayor’s mailer says he created included a bunch of workers doing high tech, hydraulic fracking along the Escondido Creek, a $200,000 investment per job, would not be very smart business,

Business people in Escondido are thankfully a lot smarter than that. They also have a lot more on the ball than the consultants or publicists that gave the Mayor those numbers.  Or maybe the Mayor does the math himself?

Were Washington Workers and the State Screwed by Boeing?

The State Coffers

The State Coffers

Less than a year ago, the Boeing Company was gifted $8.7 billion in tax breaks from Washington State to ensure that (at least) the triple seven (777) family of commercial aircraft continue to be manufactured in Seattle, along with the retention of machinist jobs.  Boeing has now announced it would be moving 2,000  engineering and defense contracting, jobs to Missouri and Oklahoma.

Boeing said the latest egress of jobs from Washington State was necessary for it to be competitive in the defense side of the business. Translated: “The tax credit largess and wage concessions we got last year were for ‘keeping us competitive’  flying passenger jets. We never said anything about war planes.”

So, were the workers and state double-crossed?  Boeing doesn’t think so.   The Washington politicians who sloppily cut the deal without dotting “Is” and crossing  “Ts,” think otherwise,  and act surprised. They shouldn’t be.  The deal was leaky from the start.  Many of the Boeing workers, who had deep suspicions about the deal and Boeing’s intentions, are not as shocked, but definitely mad.

The proximity between the agreement and the new announcement by the company, make it sting even more. Couldn’t they have waited a year or two?  The politicians in Missouri and Oklahoma are of course gleeful. They no doubt wanted the job shifts announced just in time to include the happy news in their junk mail to voters, before the November elections.

“Governor Faliin Created 1000 High Paying, High Tech Jobs for Oklahomans”  [Actually, many of the workers are moving here from Seattle and we’ll be paying them less than they got in Washington].   Governor Fallin won’t be using the italicized part.

And, how much more could the company be rubbing-it-in by “creating” jobs in Oklahoma City (OKC), where the new workers can also watch Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder basketball games, if they can afford tickets.  You of course recall how the NBA and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz screwed and embarrassed Seattle a few years ago by arranging for the Supersonic basketball team’s departure to Oklahoma City. (Seattle and Olympia refused at the time to be blackmailed by the NBA into building a new arena, and also couldn’t stomach the insufferable David Stern, so they lost the Sonics).

Some of the Boeing brass in Chicago headquarters who make these decisions are doing their jobs, minimizing costs, maximizing profits, and increasing their leverage over the other Washington by securing Boeing’s presence and profile in as many states as possible.

But other Boeing Windy City executives, who resent Seattle and Washington for its “liberalism,” “elitism,” and  (generally) strong support for labor unions, are happy about all this.  As I said in an earlier post,  the impetus for the company to bully and carry out threats to shift operations to “right to work” states, has its roots in international competition and “free trade.”   And if the company can lower labor costs and receive special tax gifts,  beyond what’s needed to remain competitive, well, hey, that’s what top management is supposed to deliver to shareholders.  Right?

Ralph Nader is making the rounds with a new book, called “Unstoppable,” heralding the coming alliance (as he sees it) between “anti-corporatist” elements of the two major parties.  Both groups are repulsed by corporate welfare and distressed by the increasing power of multi-national corporations over the lives of individuals and sovereign nations.  (The Tea Party professor from the small conservative college  who defeated Eric Cantor and the former Harvard professor, Senator Elizabeth Warren, sound eerily the same on a range of issues).

What will this left-right coalition do?  Negotiate international agreements to secure uniform corporate tax policies around the world, and while they’re at it,  Picketty’s tax on wealth)?  Impose tax and labor law uniformity across the fifty states?  Restrict the mobility of capital in the U.S. and internationally?   None of these is of course remotely feasible today or soon, even if you may think these policies would be beneficial.     Maybe Nader thinks of this as a 100 year struggle.

I am perhaps not doing justice to Nader’s  thinking.  He’s surely not dumb or delusional. And he was well received in a session held by the conservative,  D.C. based think tank, the Cato Institute. So, perhaps I ought to actually read “Unstoppable,” while the Boeing engineers and families pull up stakes to meet up with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.

Silver and Wang Electoral Predictions: Genius or Glorified Grunt Work?

percy_xmas copy (1)

Percy the Cat, Elite Forecaster

Nate Silver and Sam Wang (S&W) have gained much acclaim for predicting election outcomes. Am happy for them. They are talented academics and scientists. But there is considerably less to their electoral prediction feats than meets the eye.

First of all, S&W are not really doing high level, sophisticated social science forecasting, as the media thinks.  Their work is measurement more than forecasting; description more than explanation; and involves polling expertise far more than political insight.

After digging into the minutiae of S&W’s methods, the familiar Edison quote about “genius” came to mind: “Genius,” Thomas Edison said, “is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  S&W are well trained statisticians, but their methods are not anything you wouldn’t find in a decent  graduate level stat textbook; and it would be mostly in the less daunting, descriptive stat chapters.

What separates S&W from the crowd is the sweat labor they employed gathering polling data from every village and corner of the country.  They amass these polls, well over 4000 separate ones, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and “aggregate” them in ways to get a better picture of the electorate a few weeks or days ahead of the election.

Yes, some of their “weighting” techniques for combining polls is creative, but little that CNN’s John King or your average R or D, cable news station “political strategist” wouldn’t immediately understand.  What’s different about S&W, is that other pundits didn’t have the fortitude (or wherewithal) to locate thousands of polls, capture their results, wring proprietary information about them from a few pollsters, and record all of this information in a (relatively) simple stat program or spreadsheet.

Bravo!  S&W deserve much credit for that.  We’d be shorting S&W by saying they (and now their worker bees) are doing no more than glorified grunt work;  but neither are their predictions divinely inspired or the work of genius.

To begin with, the feat of calling all (or nearly all) state presidential or senatorial elections correctly, is not as difficult as it sounds. That is especially true in today’s highly polarized electoral map. As I sarcastically said to a friend the other day, “my cat Percy could predict which party will win/hold about 80 of the 100 Senate seats in November..…simply because that’s how many seats are either SAFE or NOT UP FOR ELECTION. (Only one third of the Senate is up for election every two years).   Any barely competent, non partisan electoral handicapper would agree with that.

There are about 20 states among those with Senate elections in November where the election of a D or R would not be considered a black swan event; they are  theoretically in play,    But of those 20, about 10 are considered to LEAN STRONGLY in one direction or another. See for example Real Clear Politics, Politico or the Cook Report.

Thus, remaining in sarcastic mode, a Sea World Dolphin, being smarter than my Percy the Cat (though not treated as humanely), might do well (if not perfectly) predicting which party will own about 90 of the 100 Senate seats after the November 4th election.  The mainstream, non partisan electoral map handicappers widely agree the D/R split on those 90 seats will be between 44/46 and 46/44 on election night.

Now we’re in the home stretch, down to about 10 toss up states. There isn’t perfect agreement on the specific composition of the battle ground seats, but all the mainstream handicappers say there are 9 or 10 states where the election could go either way.  I’m going with 10 in this little exercise. (It’s a nice round number),

It’s of course a lot harder from here on. But, we’re dealing now with about 10 difficult calls; not struggling with 100 races to predict, as the fawning media makes it sound when they say Silver or Wang miraculously called the D/R split in the Senate,  or the 50 state electoral college outcomes perfectly.

Based on a scan of Real Clear Politics, Politico, Cook Report, and Rasmussen, it is a sure bet the D/R split of the remaining 10 toss up states will be somewhere in the
7-3 to 3-7 range.  Las Vegas odds makers would be exceedingly comfortable with that; probably also with 6-4 to 4-6, but I won’t push it.

Thus, without barely lifting a finger, we can confidently say the range of plausible outcomes is between 53/47 and 47/53.  Not between 0/100 and 100/0, as you might infer from the gushing and awestruck Rachel Maddow (who knows better) or Wolf Blitzer (who may not).  Most people reading this blog, probably already know this.  But more regular folks don’t, which is not a failing.

S&W’s celebrity status could wane soon, because their approach is prone to being upended by what social scientists call the Hawthorne Effect: Just the awareness of being closely watched (by a researcher) changes the subjects” behavior.  So, don’t you think all those obscure pollsters – the 3,980 other than prominent ones – are changing how they poll, now that they’ve been subject to S&W ‘s proctology exam?

S&W are aware of all that, and trying to stay one step ahead. That’s probably why Silver moved to ESPN (from the NY Times), where he can hedge bets on his career, regressing to measuring baseball performance, or embracing college basketball bracketology.   He won’t do nearly as well there because you have to really know something about forecasting and  basketball to predict the final four.