Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Archive for August, 2010

Real estate

The New York Magazine has a pretty good article on Park 51.


I’ll try to be polite

I was doing my daily read when I came across this article by Mitch Albom, the fellow who wrote Tuesdays With Morrie, which has left me feeling quite annoyed.

My beef is that he inexplicably segues from a “growing problem” in the African American circles of the sports world, to African Americans generally (then back again), and seems to be making the argument that out of wedlock birth is cultural for African Americans:

No, African Americans aren’t the only ones having kids out of wedlock. But, yes, the news is worst in that community, where, in recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 72% of new babies were born out of wedlock, versus 28% among whites and 17% among Asians. This is not in the skin. It is not about color. It’s about culture. And if the culture doesn’t change, neither will the pattern.

I’m inferring Albom’s  premise is that the 72% (which you can find on page 6 of this report) is due to some deficiency in African American culture. However the data doesn’t support that. If you look at page 56 of this report from the National Center for Health Statistics you will see that while it shows an uptick in the birth rate for 2006, the general trend has been a decline in the birthrate of unwed black mothers since 1980.

What that suggests is that unmarried black women on the whole are having less children out of wedlock than they did say ten to twenty years ago. Now, irresponsible men and women certainly exist, but it is a mistake to point to them and their “culture” as the cause of the 72% rate of out of wedlock birth amongst African Americans. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has already pointed out, you get a better grasp of the situation when you look at the behaviour of married black women:

The rates for married black women haven’t just declined, they’re actually lower than for married white women:

It is important to realize that the “percent of births” is not a birth rate. The birth rate is the number of births for every 1,000 women in a specific category. The last marital birth rates calculated by the National Center for Health Statistics were for 2002. In 2002, the black marital birth rate was 64.9 births for every 1,000 married black women. The white marital birth rate was 88.2 for every 1,000 married white women. The black marital birth rate was 23.3 births less than the white rate. In the past, the black marital birth rate was higher than the white rate. Because there is such a low number of births among married black women, the percent of births to unmarried black women is especially high.

Brave defenders

The NY Times has an article about Zaitokukai, a Japanese far right group that gain notoriety when they tried to get a 14 year old girl deported to the Philippines, and terrorised a bunch of  Korean-Japanese school children. Real charmers.

Mr. Sakurai says the group is not racist, and rejected the comparison with neo-Nazis. Instead, he said he had modeled his group after another overseas political movement, the Tea Party in the United States. He said he had studied videos of Tea Party protests, and shared with the Tea Party an angry sense that his nation had gone in the wrong direction because it had fallen into the hands of leftist politicians, liberal media as well as foreigners.

That the Tea Party is Sakurai’s inspiration is news to me, but not really surprising.


The equality “landmine”

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this reaction by Fraser Nelson at The Spectator to the grilling of Treasury minister Mark Hoban over the “fairness” of the austerity budget.

As you may already know, Theresa May wrote to the Chancellor before the announcement of the emergency budget to urge him to take steps  to comply with a legal requirement to show that impacts on vulnerable groups like women and ethnic minorities have been considered.

Hoban dodging the question is evidence that her advice was ignored, which I find a little puzzling considering the broad support for the bill that became law.

Anyway, back to my beef: even if the requirement is a cynical trap for reforming governments I picked up the vibe that we shouldn’t be concerned about the impact of measures on vulnerable groups. Or that the effect of policy on peoples’ lives is less important than sticking it to Nu-Labour.


The Insitute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a well-respected British thinktank, reports that despite Chancellor George Osborne’s claim in June that his budget would be progressive the austerity budget will hit the poor the hardest.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the IFS’ findings. I don’t see how you reduce public expenditure without hurting the poor.

I was a skeptic from the moment Osborne made mention of people getting 100,000 GBP a year on benefits, followed by The prime minister framing fairness in terms of people who wake up at 5am to earn minimum wage versus people on benefits who keep their curtains closed all day. I interpreted it as nothing more than priming the people for pain by appealing to our lesser natures: “I don’t mind taking a hit as long as we really stick it to those scroungers”.

The government has been quick to reject the report. My reaction was similar to that of the Channel 4 News economics editor, Faisal Islam, who wrote:

Perhaps the most striking thing about the government response to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report is that they are so keen to bat down suggestions that the poor will face the biggest initial hit from austerity. It is a mathematical consequence of cuts to benefits, a landmark coalition policy. They could, and perhaps should, openly admit that the budget was regressive on almost every fair measure, and then defend it politically as the consequence of dealing with a bloated benefits bill.

I doubt they’ll attempt to defend it politically considering the fact that, as Mr. Islam pointed out, that the Lib Dem leadership would lose face, if they did so. As far as I remember a fair and “progressive” budget was something Nick Clegg claimed he would deliver.

I’m reminded of this article in the Atlantic Magazine as I observe events  in both the US -and to a lesser extent- in the UK.

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or—here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique—the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk—at least until the riots grow too large.

Let the man speak

This article by Eugene Robinson at the NY Times was an enjoyable read.

The faction that likes to portray itself as a bunch of John Waynes and “mama grizzlies,” it turns out, spends an awful lot of time cowering in the corner and complaining about how beastly everyone else is being.

Pretty much. The chat session he did afterwards was also good H/T John Cole.

People versus profits

I caught a story about the extractive company Verdanta‘s antics in Orissa, Eastern India.

Going by these stories and pictures it looks as though Verdanta’s experience fits in nicely with many others in the extractive industry and the communities they affect.  For example:

Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal and chief executive MS Mehta rejected charges of displacing local people following the construction of the refinery and claimed that their operations would “spread wealth” to one of the poorest regions of India.

Mehta said: “Rates of malnutrition among young children are running at 50% and many people are forced to go to cities where they struggle to find work. Our mining operations are a source of employment and prosperity.”

The thing is local communities might not see success in terms of a reduction in regional rates of malnutrition. There are also a significant group of stakeholders who would prefer not to lose the mountain and its ecosystem, which is central to their way of life, and who have not been consulted adequately.

Even if Verdanta are eventually allowed to resume operations, they are courting disaster the way they’re going.


Related: One of the best reads on India’s Maoist insurgency.