Analysis and advocacy

There are many things in the New York Times article on the transformation of Illinois under Rauner and the new Gilded Age finance barons that piss me off.  But one of them really stands out as it offends me as a wonk:

His goal, Mr. Arnold wrote, was “to counterbalance these entrenched forces, on the right and the left, by providing policy solutions rooted in objectivity and solid analysis.”

There is no such thing as an objective solution.

There can be objective analysis in which an analyst discloses their model for review, adjusts the model to account for previous failures, makes explicit all of the assumptions embedded within a model, performs rigorous sensitivity testing of the parameters of the model, and then disclose results no matter what.  That type of analysis can be as close to objective as possible.  It is also likely to be wrong in the details of the outcome but it can be objective or at least as close to objective as we faulty humans can be.

This type of modeling and analysis allows a meteorologist to say it is highly likely to rain tomorrow.

However once an objective or more accurately, a fair attempt to be an objective, analysis leads to recommendations the recommendations are not objective.  If the objective forecast is that it will rain tomorrow, the recommendation that everyone bring an umbrella to the bus stop has massive value assumptions built into it.

It values dryness, it values professional presentation, it values appearances, it values personal comfort over the comfort of others on the bus who now may seek to avoid a wet folded umbrella siting on the seat next to the guy who could have stayed just as dried if he waited three minutes to leave the house and run to the bus stop half a block away.

Any recommendation, even one supported by reams of objective research, is a moral question of what “ought” to be instead of what is or what is likely to be.  “Oughts” are fundamentally political questions.

Should the US government increase the tax on alcohol by 10%?  Objective policy analysis could fairly predict that a higher tax on alcohol will lead to fewer car crashes, fewer arrests for domestic violence and other bodily injury crimes, fewer teen drinkers, lower short term health expenditures and potentially higher long term health care costs and a thousand other benefits.  It will also find that jobs at major breweries will decline as sales will decline and jobs at bars and restaurants will also decline.  Now the policy recommendation to support a 10% increase tax on alcohol is a value argument that the benefits massively outweigh the costs while opposition could be grounded in either an argument that the concentrated costs of job loss are too real and too much for the dispersed benefits OR in a value of keeping taxes as low as possible OR in a value system that prioritizes a government incapable of interfering in private choices OR half a dozen other plausible value propositions.

Just keep that in mind whenever you see someone make a claim that their policy recommendation is an objective recommendation.  They are bullshitting you, and most likely bullshitting themselves.



Tuesday Evening Open Thread: Rahm-ing Home

Edward McClellan, at Slate, reports that “Rahm Emanuel Has Made Chicago a Worse Place to Live“:

… Emanuel’s mayoralty may look like a success. And that may be the case if you spend most of your time in City Hall, or even downtown. But most Chicagoans never visit City Hall, and they don’t live downtown. They spend their days in Auburn Gresham, Norwood Park, Hegewisch, or Avondale—the self-contained neighborhoods that make Chicago feel more like a confederation of 50 wards than a single city. And in most of those places, life has become more of a hassle. The libraries are open only half a day on Mondays. (And that’s a compromise after the mayor initially closed them all day.) Speed cameras spit out $35 tickets for going 36 miles an hour in a 30 zone. In the poor neighborhoods where Emanuel closed 50 schools, the children walk farther every morning and afternoon, often crossing gang boundary lines. Water rates have nearly doubled.

These may sound like petty aggravations, but they eventually add up to the question Do I really want to keep putting up with this? Between July 2013 and July 2014, Illinois lost 10,000 residents, in its first population drop since the 1980s—an indication that the state and presumably the city have become less livable…

… Chicago has become a city for wealthy people and a city for poor people—people who can afford traffic tickets and people who can’t afford cars, with fewer and fewer left in between.

As Richard C. Longworth points out in his book Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, Chicago has developed an hourglass social structure, divided between global citizens—“hardworking, well educated, well paid, well traveled”—and global servants, who park their cars, bus their tables, and walk their dogs…

Emanuel did not create this divided city, but his mayoralty is a product of it, and he has an interest in perpetuating it, because the global citizens vote for him and fund his campaigns. The most extraordinary finding of the 2010 census was that the fastest-growing neighborhood in Chicago was the Loop, which has a median household income of $93,745. In the first round of the election, on Feb. 24, Emanuel made his best showing there, winning 73.2 percent of the vote in the Loop-based 42nd Ward. Billionaire hedge fund manager and 42nd Ward resident Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, has donated $750,000 to Emanuel during the runoff. As a graduate of an elite suburban high school who made his career in Washington, D.C., then settled in the city to enjoy its cultural amenities, Emanuel embodies Global Chicago…

It’s the Golden Rule — them that has the gold, makes the rules!

Apart from watching the hourglass, what’s on the agenda for the evening?

Open Thread: There Will Be A Runoff in Chicago

I did not post about the Chicago mayoral primary earlier, not least because I didn’t think I understood the situation well enough. So I’ll just pass along this Bloomberg report…

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who breezed into City Hall four years ago, fell short of winning a majority against four opponents and will face Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in an April 7 runoff.

The failure of Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff and U.S. representative, to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan election Tuesday is a clear sign of discord in the third-largest city, where $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities threaten insolvency and citizens are plagued by persistent violence.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Emanuel had 45.4 percent and Garcia had 33.9 percent, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The six-week runoff campaign will likely focus on the candidates’ solutions for addressing the financial crisis and gun crime…

… along with a comment from a thread here earlier tonight:

… I decided to vote for Chuy Garcia against Rahmbo and I was surprised to see that Chuy made a run-off, which will be held in six weeks. He gave a good speech tonight and has a legitimate chance to pull off the upset if he can rally the anti-Rahm vote (Rahm 45; Chuy 34) from the other three candidates.

Chuy is kind of a legend in Chicago progressive politics. He was a major force in the pro-Harold Washington coalition in the 80’s, was the first Hispanic elected to the State Senate and is now on the Cook County Board; essentially the floor leader for Toni Preckwinkle. Ho only reluctantly entered the mayoral race, starting slow, but finishing strong. And definitely gathering momentum tonight. Rahm will probably bury him in ads, but I’m hopeful that Chuy could make this a legitimate race. Turn-out today was terrible and Chicago needs a healthy debate about the issues.

Your thoughts, commentariat?

Long Read: “How to Sell Off A City”

Looting the public treasury for private benefit — it’s bipartisan! At In These Times, Rick Perlstein (The Invisible Bridge, Nixonland, Before the Storm) introduces us to “Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the privatized metropolis of the future“:

… For over a decade now, Chicago has been the epicenter of the fashionable trend of “privatization”—the transfer of the ownership or operation of resources that belong to all of us, like schools, roads and government services, to companies that use them to turn a profit. Chicago’s privatization mania began during Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, which ran from 1989 to 2011. Under his successor, Rahm Emanuel, the trend has continued apace. For Rahm’s investment banker buddies, the trend has been a boon. For citizens? Not so much.

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them. In the American context, the idea also began on the Right (to be fair, entirely independent of the Nazis)—and promptly went nowhere for decades. In 1963, when Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater mused “I think we ought to sell the TVA”—referring to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the giant complex of New Deal dams that delivered electricity for the first time to vast swaths of the rural Southeast—it helped seal his campaign’s doom. Things only really took off after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s sale of U.K. state assets like British Petroleum and Rolls Royce in the 1980s made the idea fashionable among elites—including a rightward tending Democratic Party.

As president, Bill Clinton greatly expanded a privatization program begun under the first President Bush’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Hope VI” aimed to replace public-housing high-rises with mixed-income houses, duplexes and row houses built and managed by private firms.

Chicago led the way. In 1999, Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Democrat, announced his intention to tear down the public-housing high-rises his father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, had built in the 1950s and 1960s. For this “Plan for Transformation,” Chicago received the largest Hope VI grant of any city in the nation. There was a ration of idealism and intellectual energy behind it: Blighted neighborhoods would be renewed and their “culture of poverty” would be broken, all vouchsafed by the honorable desire of public-spirited entrepreneurs to make a profit. That is the promise of privatization in a nutshell: that the profit motive can serve not just those making the profits, but society as a whole, by bypassing inefficient government bureaucracies that thrive whether they deliver services effectively or not, and empower grubby, corrupt politicians and their pals to dip their hands in the pie of guaranteed government money… Read more

Have some sympathy, and some taste

I’m not big Rahm Emanuel fan, but I thought this interview with him was quite good. On the GOP:

IC: How do you think the GOP has changed since you left Washington in 2011?

RE: It has been going downhill. Washington is not broken. The GOP is broken.

On local politics versus national politics:

IC: You don’t have a Congress that prohibits you from passing the smallest thing.

RE: We have fifty aldermen but we do have a … hmmm.

IC: A working majority?

RE: [Bursts into laughter.] We have a can-do spirit. Washington doesn’t think they have a lot on the line. We have a lot on the line.

That’s a very good description of what’s so screwed up about the GOP in Washington right now: they don’t give a fuck, they don’t think they have a lot on the line beyond their jobs.

And on Israel, vey candid:

IC: But why is there the will (for a peace deal) now?

RE: Hamas is as weak as it’s going to be. Abbas is ready to work with Israel. Israel has a security concern involving geography. But geography does not have the same value it did in 1967. And I want to say that there is nothing I just said that major figures in the national security apparatus of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Israel haven’t said publicly. Nothing!

IC: Sometimes American politicians can’t say things that have already been said in Israel—

RE: You are not allowed to here! Because the American—well, for whatever reason, that is a whole different debate. I don’t want to talk about this. It is not my business. I don’t really care. But Israel’s national security apparatus has concluded what I have observed. [Laughs.]

I still think the guy’s an asshole, but it was an interesting interview.

Minnesota Governor Earns Proficient Score in Reform Industry Studies, is making Adequate Yearly Progress

We have a crisis in US education. Many of our most prominent school reform industry leaders and politicians are not proficient in basic critical thinking skills. I’m concerned, troubled, even, that they may not be prepared for the education landscape of the 21st century when public schools are completely deregulated, privatized and fragmented and there are thousands of non-profit and for-profit schools, groups, schemes, products, plans, grifts and lobbyists all gorging themselves at the (formerly) public education trough. Every once in a while though, a politician breaks from the reform industry mediocrity herd and applies actual independent thought to formulate additional questions that were not on the standardized test. Here’s Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota, striving for excellence:

The following items of appropriation are vetoed for the reasons below: • Page 5. line 5.29: A $750,000 item of appropriation in FY 14 and a $750,000 item of appropriation in FY15 for Teach for America.

Teach for America (TFA) is a well-established, national program with revenues totaling $270 million for fiscal year 2011 (its most recent annual report). With total expenses of $219 million, TFA’s net assets increased by over $50 million and now total over $350 million. With those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State of Minnesota is required to continue or expand the organization’s work here.

My principal concern, however, is the way in which TFA was selected as the recipient of this grant. To my knowledge, no competitive grant program was established; no other applications were solicited; and no objective review was made by an independent panel of experts. Instead, the funds were inserted into the Senate’s Higher Education bill, directed to this organization, and retained in the
Conference Committee’s report.

Teach For America receives federal and state funding to continually expand their reach. In addition they are paid for each temp they place in a public school system.

The organization that was launched to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn’t attract qualified teachers now sends fully a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools, many with stellar academic reputations, flush budgets and wealthy donors. TFA also sends its rookies, who typically have just 15 to 20 hours of teaching experience, to districts that have recently laid off scores of more seasoned teachers.
Meanwhile, TFA has backed away from a claim that nearly half its teachers achieve outstanding academic gains with students, leaving the pivotal question of its effectiveness unresolved.
Camika Royal, who taught for TFA and has worked for them in various capacities for 13 years, says she once believed the organization’s goal was to strengthen troubled schools. Now she fears it is feeding a perception that public education is in ruins, and only an elite cavalry can rescue America’s children. “I can’t stand the self-importance,” Royal said.

Training an employee is an investment because experienced people have to do the actual work of training in addition to their own work. We all know this, because we’ve all either been trainees or trained someone in every job we’ve ever had. I didn’t consider myself competent as a lawyer until I had been at it 4 years. I remember the day I realized, “I actually know how to do this!” I got a week of on-the-job paid training for a waitress job at the International House of Pancakes 25 years ago, plus a pouffy uniform. TFA pays for five weeks training. What’s the return on my investment in a Teach For America 2 year temp over investing in hiring and training local people who commit to a career in public schools and intend to stay rather than using us as a fall-back if they don’t get into a top-tier law school?

Unfortunately, Arne Duncan is not making Adequate Yearly Progress in reform industry studies and is still diligently filling in bubbles on the reform industry federal funding demand list. I don’t know if it’s social promotion or the soft bigotry of low expectations with him, but I may have to follow the public school playbook of the reform industry insiders Duncan admires and follows and close the DOE and then privatize it.

I’m a reasonable centrist, so I’ll also consider “co-locating” Duncan’s DOE within the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture will be the Welcoming Agency for the Department of Education when I (reluctantly, with great sadness, or at least a look of anguished concern while on television) close his Agency and then locate it …elsewhere. Sure it will be crowded and chaotic and painful, there will be real sadness and mourning, but I’ll promise a “free!” tablet for each displaced employee plus, air conditioning and maybe a garden if I can tap my donor base for some charity cash to placate the employees who refuse to relinquish the building in a timely manner. You say they already have air conditioning at the DOE? I say “air conditioning” a little louder. Hear that? I addressed your concern, because I’m a listener. Consider yourself heard.

Sports Open Thread

So Syracuse staged an amazing comeback to beat Denver in the Lax semi-finals, which means the championship stays on the east coast where it belongs. I know I am supposed to be off the grid, but what is better than lax and hockey all day? Just hoping the Red Wings can finish off the Blackhawks.

Plus, I miss you all.

Fer fuck’s sake- they are playing the Nuge, Stranglehold, in the arena in Chi-town. Where is Rahmbo to shut this shit down when you need him?