Friday, November 25, 2016

A funny joke

There's a funny joke you can play with the fortunes you get out of fortune cookies.  Just add, "... in bed" to the end.  "You will have good luck tonight" becomes, "You will have good luck tonight in bed" and so on.  The suffix changes the nature of the statement, typically to something amusing and occasionally to something outrageous.

You can play a similar game with passages talking about the America's constitution, democracy, and political economy.  Just add, "... with President Trump" to the end.

Here's an example from Acemoglu and Robinson's "Why Nations Fail:"
Secure property rights, the law, public services, and the freedom to contract and exchange all rely on the state, the institution with the coercive capacity to impose order, prevent theft and fraud, and enforce contracts between private parties.  To function well, society also needs other public services: roads and a transport network so that goods can be transported, a public infrastructure so that economic activity can flourish, and some type of basic regulation to prevent fraud and malfeasance.  Though many of these public services can be provided by markets and private citizens, the degree of coordination necessary to do so on a large scale often eludes all but a central authority.  The state is thus inexorably intertwined with economic institutions.
 It's a deep and complex thought on what society needs, and how government and private interests can provide it.  Now read it again but add "... with President Trump" to the end.  The statement becomes a sick parody of itself, a mockery of economics and politics.

I wonder how academics will keep a straight face while they work under Trump.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Opponents of Measure 97 Accomplished

Public services in general and schools in particular were looking down the barrel of a gun because of PERS costs.  Measure 97 was a way to shield them.  It would have given time for the legislature to find a legally enforceable reform package, at the expense of someone other than our children.

But Measure 97 failed.  That didn't solve PERS either, the vote against M97 changed nothing about pension obligations or the politics around it.  We're no more likely to reform PERS than we were before the election, or if M97 had passed.

All opponents of Measure 97 did was put our kids are on the firing line

Nice going, dicks.

Why I no longer read editorials in the Oregonian

The 2016 election wasn't just a political choice, it was a moral one. 

Trump is a racist and a bigot.  His politics is to scapegoat: not to solve problems but to use them to incite hate against anyone he can mark as "Other."  Trump's political lineage flows through no American, foreign despots like Putin and Saddam Hussein are his heroes.  Trump is an affront to America's democracy and a threat to its citizens.

On that choice, the OEB had no opinion.  No opinion about a man who threatens fundamental freedoms like speech and press.  No opinion about whether women in the military should have to salute Donald Trump as their commander in chief.  No opinion on whether Trump's bigotry sbould be embraced or condemned.  No opinion on his religious tests or his threat to deport millions.  On the moral choice which is now the struggle of our times, the OEB was silent.

They are boot lickers.

I don't need to read their words to know what passes from their lips.

Monday, June 27, 2016


This decision won't get as much attention as other rulings that came out today, but it's worth noting.  Especially for those following the story of former Oregon Governor Kitzhaber.
The supreme court without dissent vacated the conviction of the former governor of Virginia on corruption charges, because the construction of bribery used in the case was overly broad.
I think the heart of the ruling is here:
Section 201 prohibits quid pro quo corruption—the exchange of a thing of value for an 'official act.'  In the Government’s view, nearly anything a public official accepts—from a campaign contribution to lunch—counts as a quid; and nearly anything a public official does—from arranging a meeting to inviting a guest to an event—counts as a quo...

But conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns
That is, the conduct potentially subject to criminal sanction is the root of democracy. You like candidate X, you work for their re-election. There is a quid. They in turn pursue policies you like. There is a quo. Is that corruption?

Separate but related is the arbitrariness of a broad definition, and how that's incompatible with due process, emphasis mine:

...under  the  Government’s  interpretation,  the  term  “official  act”  is  not  defined  “with sufficient  definiteness  that  ordinary  people  can  understand  what  conduct  is  prohibited,”  or  “in  a  manner  that does  not  encourage  arbitrary  and  discriminatory  enforcement.” Skilling, 561 U. S., at 402–403 (internal quotation marks  omitted).   Under  the  “‘standardless  sweep’”  of  the  Government’s reading, Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 358 (1983), public officials could be subject to prosecution, without  fair  notice,  for  the  most  prosaic  interactions.  “Invoking so shapeless a provision to condemn someone to prison”  for  up  to  15  years  raises  the  serious  concern  that the  provision  “does  not  comport  with  the Constitution’s guarantee  of  due  process."
I think what these concerns have in common is a fear of separating politics from the people.  If we want self government, we need to allow for political leaders like us.  It's unreasonable to expect politicians to sequester themselves like monks, interacting with the public only through formal public hearings or sessions.  And we probably wouldn't like it if they did.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Does having a school with high foundation contributions encourage residents to vote against tax increases?

In discussions about Portland Public School foundations I sometimes see this assertion.  Often it's part of a broader critique of foundations and their impact on equity.  The claim is that foundations don't just increase inequity, but actively harm students in other neighborhoods because parents in "semi-privatized" communities don't support public taxes.

For kicks, I got shape files and a vote abstract from Multnomah County and charted it.  Below is a heat chart for 2011's measure 26-122.  This is a property tax levy specific to Portland Public Schools, it passed with 58% of the vote.  The red indicates low support and green indicates high.  The labeling is based on decimals, 0.5 = 50% to 60%, 0.4 = 40% to 50%, etc.

I've marked with red dots the rough location of the top 4 elementary schools and K-8's based on fundraising.  What do I see?

I see 3 of the 4 schools are located in precincts where the levy passed, and are surrounded by precincts with similar support.  I also see a vivid geographic pattern: the inner city neighborhoods supported the levy more than outer neighborhoods.  This pattern dominates the story of which precincts supported the levy and which did not, I don't see any correlation with the location of a high-foundation school.

Below is the same chart for 2010's measure 66, a statewide tax increase.  Same thing:
I don't think the presence or absence of a high-foundation school has any effect on voter support of taxes.  Saving this for the next time I see that claim pop up.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Presidential Leadership and how I assess it

A response to Brett about how I evaluate presidential candidates, which turned into something too long for facebook.

Before assessing candidates I filter for likely supreme court picks and electability.  These are pass/fail tests, and only Clinton and Sanders pass them.  They're the ones I'll evaluate as leaders.

I think of leadership geographically.  A good leader's task depends on understanding:
  • Where we are (the real)
  • An intended destination, a place they want to lead us to (the ideal)
  • A route, a plan of action to go from where we are to where we should be.  That route is grounded in the real,  but looks forward to the ideal.
    • Implicit in the route is an understanding of time, and some reasonable expectation of whether the route they're following takes one year, 4 years, or 20 years.
    • Also implicit is an understanding that they're *leading* us down the path, not directing us.  That requires consent and confidence, and an ability to rally support even when (especially when) it feels like everyone is turning on you.
 I'll start with the ideal.  I think both Sanders and Clinton want to move us to a better place.  I think Sanders' ideal is in many ways preferable, we'd be better off with stronger social insurance and investments in education.  But I think Clinton's ideal isn't bad either, particularly on foreign policy.  I think Sanders ideal their is a United States that stays home, while Clinton's ideal is a strong global leader capable of effectively confronting global challenges.  Those challenges include climate change and trade relations as much as they do military conflicts.

Next let's look at their grasp of the real.  Here Clinton is overwhelmingly better.  I think Sanders reduces everything to a Manichean dichotomy of good guys and bad guys.  Why is the health care system the way it is?  Bad guys did it!  Why is there massive economic inequality?  Bad guys did it!  Why have Republicans dominated Congress for most of the last 20 years, and control most state governments?  Bad guys did it!  I think what Sanders dismisses as mere moderation is a view of the world which recognizes that truth may be complicated.  

I think Clinton has a much better grasp of why things are the way they are because she's more conscious of history, and how things change with time.  Women's rights are an obvious example, women today have far greater opportunities than they did when she was young.  In addition, she played a direct role in shaping history in some pretty important ways.  Health care reform isn't an abstraction to her, she knows what it's like to try developing and passing a national program and she knows how hard it is to push the status quo.

Now we get to route, and Sanders' biggest deficit against Clinton.  As far as I can tell, his plan for every issue consists of:
  • Everyone will share my values, and therefore
  • Everyone will do exactly what I want, and
  • Anyone who does otherwise is a bad guy and will be politically neutralized by my blindingly obvious rightness and goodness.  (not only does Sanders reduce the world to good guys and bad guys, he doesn't put much thought into why the bad guys win so often)
For Clinton, I'd guess her domestic policy would be focused on stopping the Republican Congress from doing harm and helping Democrats win votes next time around, with her most important action being good picks for the courts (and getting them approved).  I think we'd see a stronger foreign policy, particularly on climate change, because that's where there's more leeway.  Those are modest steps, but they're oriented towards a better place than where we are now, they're achievable, and they're progress.   

I have no idea what a President Sanders would do, because I don't think any of his ideas work.  What do you expect of someone who promises to build a ladder to the moon?  Pretty much anything but a ladder to the moon.  That said, go back to what I said at the beginning about filtering and electability.  There's a lot I dislike about Sanders, but I'd vote for him (happily) if he were the Democratic nominee.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Wrap Up (Books)

Facebook suggests revisiting the past year through pictures, I prefer books.

2015 began with something I'd bought myself for Christmas, Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.  I was following up a reference to it as a source on homeowners associations and how they were a tool for enforcing racial segregation.  MCL didn't have a copy and it was the holidays, so I figured what the hell and shelled out the bucks.

This turned out to be a great read and it changed how I think about segregation.  Sugrue hammers the point that the ghetto wasn't just a function of racism.  It was also a function of economic restructuring, both geographically (jobs moving from cities to suburbs) and vertically (money moving away from low skilled/low education to high skilled/high education).  Per Sugrue,
Detroit's postwar urban crisis emerged as the consequence of two of the most important, interrelated, and unresolved problems in American History:  that capitalism generates economic inequality and that African Americans have disproportionately borne the burden of that inequality.
What homeowners associations did at the neighborhood level, suburbs did at the municipal level.  That lead me to Kenneth Jackson's, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of America, and Clay McShane's Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City.  McShane describes how the automobile made suburbs accessible to both manufacturing and the middle class, while Jackson describes how that access was limited to whites.  I like McShane's focus on how social goals drive the bus.  He's talking about cars, but I think it applies just as much to segregation:
Besides these narrowly economic functions, the automobile seemed to promise a way for turn-of-the-century Americans to get some of their most cherished social goals.  In a sense, there was a "social demand" for the automobile, along with the economic one.  The new middle class wanted other status objects in addition to suburban homes.  The automobile, like the street railway before it, promised to ease suburban flight.  Suburban historian Robert Fishman has pointed out the continuity: "The automobile has been essentially a tool in the attainment of a deeper goal which pre-dates the automobile era: the suburban ideal."
The flipside to that was the ghetto.  Going back to Sugrue,
The "ghetto" was not simply a physical construct; it was also an ideological construct.  Urban space became a metaphor for perceived racial difference.  Whites created a cognitive map of the city based on racial classifications and made their decisions about residence and their community action in accordance with their vision of the racial geography of the city.  They established "invisible stone walls of prejudice," and through defensive activity ensured that despite their invisibility those walls were well known to black and white Detroiters.  In the very act of defining the boundaries of the "ghetto," whites also continually defined and reinforced the boundaries of race.
The last thing I'll mention is Beryl Satter's Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America.  She provides an excellent breakdown of how the ghetto wasn't just a function of exclusion, it was about how the real estate industry (and courts which refused to enforce basic consumer protections) handled African Americans.  When blacks could find housing open to them, they had to pay extortionate prices several times the "white" price.  Through land contracts, unscrupulous sellers retained title to properties but left black "owners" on the hook for building repairs and code violations.  For old, dilapidated housing, especially in a city with a corrupt inspection system <cough>Chicago</cough>, those costs could be extreme.

And now for why.

Portland has a housing shortage, and more generally we're struggling with managing growth.  20th century suburbanization provides a clear path to resolving those problems:  Cater to status, even if that means tacit racial segregation.  Cater to class, even if that means making lower income people disappear.  And let everyone who doesn't fit a neighborhood's mold go to hell.

I want to understand how this happened in the past to better try avoiding it now.