Monday, June 5, 2023

Over the next year and (almost) and half, you're going to hear a lot of historical "rules" from 538, the Upshot, etc. Here's a counter example to keep in mind when they start to sound persuasive.

 The pattern was clearer than almost any of the rules that were dredged up by data journalists in the past couple of elections to support this or that prediction. This is a forty year run with plenty of examples of candidates with and without the trait and 100% accuracy.

Then it just stopped. The lesson here is that even with the most convincing historical precedent based argument, you shouldn't assume the future should look like the past.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Fun with Political Trivia

This picks up on a recent thread (telling which one might be too much of a clue). The ones and zeros represent a trait of Democratic candidates from 1964 to 2004. Take a look and think about it for a moment. Here's a hint, the trait is something associated with each man well before he ran for president.

Johnson           1
Humphrey       0
McGovern       0      
Carter              1           
Mondale          0           
Dukakis           0           
Clinton            1                 
Gore                1                      
Kerry               0

As you might have guessed, the relationship between this trait and the popular vote didn't hold in the previous or following elections. The trait is not at all obscure. It was well known at the time and figured prominently into their political personas, This is not a trick question.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Ten years ago at the blog -- I may owe Burger King an Apology

Not because BK has notably upped their game, but they don't seem to have had any big screw-ups lately and they certainly haven't done anything as mind-numbingly stupid as firing the firm largely responsible for turning around probably the most damaged brands in the industry.

 AdWeek from 2015:

Instead, the fast food chain stopped working with Secret Weapon last month. The client is now “working to…determine our formal relationship” with L.A.’s David&Goliath, which joined its creative roster early this year and created  its “Legendary” ad for the Super Bowl. The decision to switch agencies also follows Jack in the Box’s promotion of Keith Guilbault to the chief marketing officer role in late 2013.

 (I looked up "Legendary" on YouTube. I believe I'd seen it before, but I'd almost completely forgotten it.)


Friday, May 31, 2013

Burger King vs. Jack in the Box -- More thoughts on corporate competence


While on the subject of corporate competence, this recent story  seems like a good excuse to do a post on on one of the most consistently incompetent companies on the business landscape.

One of the most intriguing and for those inclined toward schadenfreude entertaining things about Burger King is the way that for about the past thirty years, with a variety of managers and owners, the company has been so bad at so many things.

Their PR is often clumsy (you generally want to avoid headlines about you copying your competitor's products).

Their relationship with their franchisees is terrible.

Relations became so antagonistic that last year the [franchisees'] association took the extraordinary step of filing two class-action lawsuits challenging management decisions. One suit, filed in U.S. district court in San Diego, came after the company sought to divert to national advertising millions of rebate dollars that franchisees get from Coca-Cola Co. and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc. for selling their beverages. That suit was dropped after the company agreed to augment its ad budget by other means.

The other association suit opposed a company mandate that franchisees sell a double cheeseburger for $1. That suit, still pending in federal district court in Miami, contends that management can only suggest prices franchisees charge. Franchisees had voted down the proposed sandwich, arguing they would lose money at $1, but Burger King introduced it anyway. In court papers, the company argued that an appeals-court ruling in another suit involving pricing gave it the right to make the move. Since the filing, Burger King has taken the double cheeseburger off its $1 Value Menu, and raised its suggested price, but announced plans to add more items to that menu.

Burger King also faces a suit brought by three franchisees—two are in the company's Hall of Fame for exceptional franchisees—challenging a mandate that they keep their restaurants open late at night. It "costs franchisees $100 an hour, but they gross only $25 to $30 an hour," says Robert Zarco, a Miami attorney representing the plaintiffs. The two sides are awaiting a hearing on the company's motion to dismiss that litigation, which was filed in Dade County Circuit Court in Florida in December 2008.
The dealings with the franchisees demonstrates another reason why BK schadenfreude is so satisfying. The incompetence often comes mixed with a curious nastiness.

Here's Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, writing for the New York Times:
In 2005, Florida tomato pickers gained their first significant pay raise since the late 1970s when Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes, with the extra cent going directly to the farm workers. Last April, McDonald’s agreed to a similar arrangement, increasing the wages of its tomato pickers to about 77 cents per bucket. But Burger King, whose headquarters are in Florida, has adamantly refused to pay the extra penny — and its refusal has encouraged tomato growers to cancel the deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.
And then there are the ad campaigns. You would be hard pressed to find a comparable company with a worse run of advertising. You have to go back to the Seventies and early Eighties to find effective BK commercials. Since then a variety of agencies have produced a steady stream of mediocre ads ranging from forgettable to off-putting (try Googling "creepy Burger King").

Actually, there is at least one BK campaign that people in the advertising industry are still talking about, but not in a good way. In response to the proto-viral success of Joe Sedelmaier's "Where the Beef" ads, BK engaged J Walter Thompson (who were and are kind of a big deal) to set up a massive nation wide campaign of ads and cash prizes for people who spotted "Herb."

Here's Wikipedia's description of the aftermath:
The promotion met with some positive reviews. Time called it "clever", and a columnist for the Chicago Tribune stated that Herb was "one of the most famous men in America". Ultimately, however, the Herb promotion has been described as a flop. The advertising campaign lasted three months before it was discontinued. One Burger King franchise owner stated that the problem was that "there was absolutely no relevant message". Although some initial results were positive, the mystique was lost after Herb's appearance was revealed during the Super Bowl. Burger King's profits fell 40% in 1986. As a result of the poorly-received campaign, Burger King dropped J. Walter Thompson from their future advertising. The US$200 million account was given to N. W. Ayer.
Recently, an MSNBC article listed this as the second worst Superbowl ad of all time.

Burger King has little competition for worst managed large fast food company and absolutely for worst marketed. McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway, Hardee's/Carl's Jr, and the Yum brands have all had better campaigns, but my vote for best (at least for the past 18 years) is the smart and innovative regional chain Jack-in-the-Box.

The commercials come from the aptly named ad agency, Secret Weapon which has an interesting policy.
We will never take on more than three clients at a time. This means our clients get hands-on attention from the principals of the agency. You may have been promised this before by other agencies, but it’s tough to give 25% of your time to 18 different accounts.

Our three client rule means you get to work with the people you meet in the pitch. And since we rarely pitch we’re able to keep our attention on existing clients, not potential ones. As it should be.
The ads are sharp and funny (sometimes too sharp -- certain competitors were decidedly unamused by an ad for a sirloin burger that pointed at a diagram of beef cuts and asked "where's the angus?"). More importantly, they're good ads; they focus on the product.

Check out Jack's expressions on this one.

The following comment appeared on the site where I found the following mini sirloin burgers ad.  Could say something about the cultural impact of advertising but I'll just leave you with the image.

"Shit you not, guard controlled TV for the cell block, most of 128 inmates singing along to this. Almost magical except for the whole incarceration thing."

And in the did-they-just-say-that-? category.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Thursday Tweets

I only watched the first season so it is possible Succession got much better later on. It is not, however, possible that it got good enough to justify the coverage the finale has been getting. Thank God for Pitchbot.

A few choice moments with today's GOP

The best part is when she misses the bags completely.

And you thought being fired by email was bad.

I prefer to think of it as the politics of catharsis, but it's basically the same concept.

Republicans are providing the opposition with plenty of ammo. Now if the Democrats will only use it.


For example.

The line between satire and...

A Mount Everest of false equivalence. Remarkable even for the New York Times.

The trouble isn't that this is what Heritage has become; the trouble is that too many journalists still think they're dealing with the old Heritage

Back in the USSR

[I feel like there ought to be a smooth segue from Russia to failed policies and food shortages...]

Checking in with Elon.

You know those stories where bigotry is overcome by a parents love of an LGBT child? This is not one of those stories.

Conversations in AI


The essay on The National Library of Thailand thought experiment is highly recommended.


And one more from Pitchbot.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

When looking at the debate over Samuelson's USSR forecasts, at least we can all agree that somebody comes off looking bad.

I've been meaning to write this up for a few months now, but recent events have pushed it back to the forefront.

A number of times over the past few years, Andrew Gelman has revisited this Marginal Revolution post from Alex Tabarrok. (emphasis added.)

In the 1961 edition of his famous textbook of economic principles, Paul Samuelson wrote that GNP in the Soviet Union was about half that in the United States but the Soviet Union was growing faster.  As a result, one could comfortably forecast that Soviet GNP would exceed that of the United States by as early as 1984 or perhaps by as late as 1997 and in any event Soviet GNP would greatly catch-up to U.S. GNP.  A poor forecast–but it gets worse because in subsequent editions Samuelson presented the same analysis again and again except the overtaking time was always pushed further into the future so by 1980 the dates were 2002 to 2012.  In subsequent editions, Samuelson provided no acknowledgment of his past failure to predict and little commentary beyond remarks about “bad weather” in the Soviet Union (see Levy and Peart for more details).

I've always had the nagging feeling that this was not the whole story, a reaction I often have with Marginal Revolution posts, but it wasn't until recently that I came across this very good Paul Krugman piece discussing how the collapse of the Soviet economy helped put Vladimir Putin in power that I found out what Tabarrok had left out.

First, some background: Nowadays everyone views the old Soviet Union, with its centrally planned economy, as an abject failure. But it didn’t always look that way. Indeed, in the 1950s, and even into the 1960s, many people around the world saw Soviet economic development as a success story; a backward nation had transformed itself into a major world power. (Killing millions in the process, but who’s counting?) As late as 1970, the Soviet Union’s success in converging toward Western levels of wealth seemed second only to Japan’s.

Nor was this a statistical mirage. If nothing else, Soviet performance during World War II demonstrated that its industrial growth under Joseph Stalin had been very real.

After 1970, however, the Soviet growth story fell apart, and by some measures technological progress came to a standstill.

 If you follow the link to the Robert C. Allen paper, you'll find the following graph:

Assuming that the US was one of the boxes on the far right, when "Paul Samuelson wrote that GNP in the Soviet Union was about half that in the United States but the Soviet Union was growing faster," he was simply stating the facts.

To be clear, I didn't know any of these things about the economy of mid 20th century USSR. The only reason I started to look into it was because I happened to read the Krugman op-ed. Before that my knowledge was be limited to the memory of some disastrous famines and a few anecdotes about Soviet factories turning out concrete couches, and I would have had no idea that Samuelson's models were consistent with the actual GDP/GNP data.

Quick caveat. Neither GDP nor GNP is a measure of quality of life. The Soviet Union was a terrible place. As Krugman points out, Stalin's policies killed millions of his own people. We should also note that economies are complex things that can never truly be boiled down to a single scalar. The same country that could build the world's second most powerful military could also be comically inept at making consumer goods and tragically bad at producing food.

But this is a conversation about growth, and given those terms, there are three great unresolved questions about the Soviet economy. Why was growth so good for forty plus years? Why was it so stunningly bad after that? And what changed?

This opens up multiple really big warehouse-store cans of peas, but if we keep focused on the question of Samuelson's treatment of the Soviet economy, it certainly looks reasonable up to say the late 60s or early seventies. After that, the performance of the Soviet economy started to rapidly collapse. What exactly do we expect a modeler to do under those circumstances? The first option is to treat the new numbers as an outlier. The second is to treat them as a trend. The third is to attempt to incorporate the new data while still not ignoring the bulk of the numbers. It appears that Samuelson went with door number three which would seem to be the most reasonable choice.

There were certainly issues with Samuelson's approach. Ironically, by editing out the genuinely impressive and largely uncontroversial period of Soviet economic growth, Tabarrok missed the chance to point out a real and fairly obvious flaw in Samuelson's forecast. Small economies modernizing often rack up impressive growth rates but they by nature follow S curves. You can create a big bump in GDP by moving a peasant or surf from the fields to the factory, but you can only do it once.Linear extrapolation was clearly a mistake.

In general, though, if you start with the fact that the observed data included a 40 plus year run of extremely high GDP growth, then look at where the data was at the point in time when Samuelson made a particular statement or assertion (taking into account a one or two year time lag between the analyses being run and the copyright date on the textbook), most of it looks okay. Were there changes that should have come one edition before? Sure, but the impression of clownishness which the George Mason crowd is pushing here only works if the audience doesn't know the history of Soviet economic growth, but does know how the USSR ended up. Taking all of that into account, Samuelson comes off looking not all that bad. Alex Tabarrok, on the other hand...

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Fallen of World War II

Neil Halloran is a film-maker who specializes in data visualization. Everything I've seen from him is good, but he's best known for this remarkable video on the human toll of the second world war.

Monday, May 29, 2023

"Humor in Uniform"

As previously mentioned, the names of two of the best known cartoon characters to come out of WWII (Snafu and Sad Sack) were euphemisms for a couple of decidedly colorful phrases.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Deferred Thursday Tweets -- "both metaphorically *and* literally a dumpster fire."

Deep in the heart of Texas


I actually live a few blocks from Warner's Studios.

I'm sure the striking writers won't use this as an excuse for mockery.

Rampell is one of the journalists you should be listening to

Ironically, calling this a hostage situation is the one point AOC and Matt Gaetz agree on.

Layers of wrong

An interesting alternate take.

Abortion notes: the six-weeks ban is becoming the new red state standard, and anecdotally but unsurprisingly, that appears to be widening the gender gap.

Also in gender gap news.

Actually, I'm surprised the Protocols haven't been coming up more often.

Check out the text at the fifteen second mark.

Remember this quote when you get to the penultimate tweet.

Nate Silver probably reveals more than what he intends here, and he's speaking for a large segment of the pundit class. Most of the non-backsliding NeverTrumpers objected less to the man's character and more to his attacks on democracy, rhetoric of hate, and nascent fascism. By that standard, the only candidate they shouldn't treat with disdain is Asa Hutchinson, and it would take at least two black swans for him to get the nomination.

Though indictment can certainly qualify as black swan

Indoctrination by globes.

A homeless man...

And in closing.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

What could possibly go wrong? ...[click] go wrong? ...[click] go wrong? ...[click] (another Thursday Tweet highjacked by last minute events)

One of the main strengths of Twitter is its ability to capture the reactions to an event in real time, before the dust has had a chance to settle. These impressions can be rough and inchoate, and they often age quite badly, but they are an important part of a story and can be a useful corrective against self-serving revisionism and tricks of memory.

Here are two accounts published shortly after the event in question.


The rest of these tweets are reactions posted while the event was taking place, mostly from the small group of people I follow.


Megan McArdle often fares badly when people go back and review the tape.

Of course, this sort of thing is basically slow pitch for NYT pitchbot.

Eventually, things did start running a bit smoother.

Of course, being able to get his message out was a bit of a mixed blessing for the candidate.

And the winning tweet goes to the White House, for this understated bit of shade casting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Ron DeSantis didn't have any more personality back in August than he does now...

He was just as devoid of political talent. His polling surge was never actually impressive and looked considerably worse when you dug into the numbers

Nonetheless, pretty much the entire political/journalistic establishment from the New York Times on down (with only a handful of exceptions) convinced themselves and tried to convince us that DeSantis had a virtual lock on the nomination. Political commentators, hard news reporters, data journalists, all found endless ways of telling us that everything was "good news for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis."

A few analysts came out of this with their dignities intact. Marshall kept his objectivity. Jamelle Bouie was one of the first to point out the lack of charisma. Michael Hiltzik did a good job debunking the "won the pandemic" meme. 

For the vast majority of journalists, it was a summer of unbroken wishful analytics and herd mentality. They'd like to forget their predictions about Ron (and about Dobbs not being that big a deal and the Red Wave and the coming recession and Russia's lean and lethal fighting force and everything else they got wrong in 2022). Don't let them.

 From TPM:

For the last two or three months we’ve had this on-going spectacle of major media continuing to portray Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the arch-rival and potential slayer of ex-President Trump, even after it’s become increasingly clear he has really no chance at all of winning the nomination. In fairness to DeSantis, it’s unlikely that anyone stands a chance, unless the judicial system or mortality remove Trump from the stage. But it’s only with DeSantis that you have the yawning gap between perception and reality. Everyone knows Pence and Scott aren’t happening.

Now we’re seeing the first signs of the Bigs catching on.

Tara Palmeri, consummate insider D.C. journalist now writing for Puck News, spent some time trying to cover DeSantis in New Hampshire during his recent visit and found him awkward, incapable of the basic blocking and tackling of retail politics, unable to sustain eye contact and generally weird. You may have seen some of the cringeworthy videos from his Florida jaunt. Palmeri sums it up like this: “It was my first personal observation of what DeSantis’s critics mean when they call him a paper tiger — a superficially perfect test-tube Republican candidate who, on closer inspection, is probably not ready for prime-time.”

This is notable for two reasons. To date, most prestige reporters questioning DeSantis’s candidacy have focused on the growing polling gap between DeSantis and Trump, his unwillingness to attack Trump and his inability to find his footing against Trump’s growing media presence and mounting attacks. That’s looking at the campaign chess board and seeing that the pieces aren’t arranged for a DeSantis win. Palmeri’s comments are about seeing the guy in person and realizing he’s out of his league.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

I shouldn't have to say this but a 49-25 poll is not good news for the 25 (and it gets worse)

First off, the decision of the New York Times to even conduct a presidential poll more than two years before the election is irresponsible and bad for for democracy. It distracts from important conversations and, since the data are largely worthless, its main function is to introduce noise into the conventional wisdom. 

But while the data are not worth wasting any time analyzing, the analysis in the NYT piece by Michael C. Bender is worth talking about, and I don't mean that in a good way. This represents a disturbing throwback to the wishful analytics of the second half of 2015, showing that many data journalists and the publications that employ them have learned nothing in the past seven years.

Back in the early (and not so early) days of the last Republican primary, 538, the Upshot, and pretty much everyone else in the business were competing to see who could come up with the best argument for why being consistently ahead in the polls was actually bad news for Trump. These arguments, as we pointed out at the time, were laughably bad.

Just as being ahead in the polls was not bad for Trump in 2015, the results of this poll (to the extent that they have any meaning) are not bad for Trump in 2022. When elections approach, parties tend to converge on whoever has the clear plurality, and 49% is a big plurality, particularly when a large part of it consists of people who are personally loyal to Trump rather than to the GOP. On top of that, 53% of self-identified Republicans had a "very favorable" opinion of the former president and 27% were "somewhat favorable."

80% favorable is a good number.

Politically, this is a time of tumult, and all predictions at this point are little more than educated guesses, but given the losses and scandals Trump had seen by the time this poll was taken, his support was remarkably solid, which is the opposite of how Bender spun it.

And it gets worse

Here's the headline and the beginning of Bender's piece. [emphasis added.]

Half of G.O.P. Voters Ready to Leave Trump Behind, Poll Finds

Far from consolidating his support, the former president appears weakened in his party, especially with younger and college-educated Republicans. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the most popular alternative.

By focusing on political payback inside his party instead of tending to wounds opened by his alarming attempts to cling to power after his 2020 defeat, Mr. Trump appears to have only deepened fault lines among Republicans during his yearlong revenge tour. A clear majority of primary voters under 35 years old, 64 percent, as well as 65 percent of those with at least a college degree — a leading indicator of political preferences inside the donor class — told pollsters they would vote against Mr. Trump in a presidential primary.

Notice the phrase "GOP voters." That 49% refers to the respondents who said they thought they would vote in the Republican primary. Among that group, those who identified as Republicans went for Trump over DeSantis 56% to 21%.

If we're talking about who is likely to be nominated (which is, as mentioned before, an incredibly stupid and irresponsible question to be asking more than a year before the election), people who say they are going to vote in the primary are a reasonable group to focus on, but they cannot be used interchangeably with Republicans, which is exactly what Bender does.

While we're on the subject, this was a survey of 849 registered voters, so when we limit ourselves to those who said they were going to vote in the Republican primary then start slicing and dicing that, we are building big conclusions on a foundation of very small numbers.

And it gets worse. [Emphasis added]

While about one-fourth of Republicans said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion about Mr. DeSantis, he was well-liked by those who did. Among those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020, 44 percent said they had a very favorable opinion of Mr. DeSantis — similar to the 46 percent who said the same about Mr. Trump.

Should Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump face off in a primary, the poll suggested that support from Fox News could prove crucial: Mr. Trump held a 62 percent to 26 percent advantage over Mr. DeSantis among Fox News viewers, while the gap between the two Floridians was 16 points closer among Republicans who mainly receive their news from another source.

Here's a fun bit of context. Fox has been maxing out its support of DeSantis for years now.

Steve Contorno writing for the Tampa Bay Times

(from August of 2021):

The details of this staged news event were captured in four months of emails between Fox and DeSantis’ office, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a records request. The correspondences, which totaled 1,250 pages, lay bare how DeSantis has wielded the country’s largest conservative megaphone and show a striking effort by Fox to inflate the Republican’s profile.

From the week of the 2020 election through February [2021], the network asked DeSantis to appear on its airwaves 113 times, or nearly once a day. Sometimes, the requests came in bunches — four, five, even six emails in a matter of hours from producers who punctuated their overtures with flattery. (“The governor spoke wonderfully at CPAC,” one producer wrote in March.)

There are few surprises when DeSantis goes live with Fox. “Exclusive” events like Jan. 22 are carefully crafted with guidance from DeSantis’ team. Topics, talking points and even graphics are shared in advance.

Once, a Fox producer offered to let DeSantis pick the subject matter if he agreed to come on.

If I were DeSantis's campaign manager, this poll would scare the shit out of me. Fox has pushed him to a degree unprecedented for a politician at that stage of his career. He has also gotten tremendous (and appallingly credulous) coverage from the mainstream press, but he just doesn't register. I know political scientists and data journalists don't like to talk about things like personality, let alone charisma, but for whatever reason, DeSantis has not made much of an impression.

It's possible cataclysmic events (of which we're seeing a definite uptick) will hand the Florida governor the nomination or maybe even the presidency, but if this poll had any meaning, it would be bad new for him and good news for Trump.

And it gets worse.

This wasn't just an article based on worthless data sliced ridiculously thin wishfully analyzed to get conclusions completely at odds with the actual numbers; this was an influential and widely cited article based on worthless data sliced ridiculously thin wishfully analyzed to get conclusions completely at odds with the actual numbers. It instantly became a fan favorite among political journalists.

The article was published on July 12th and immediately became part of the conventional wisdom. A little less than a month later, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, and the "Republicans are moving on from Trump" voices suddenly grew quieter, as even the highest ranking party members responded with unhinged accusations and threats of retribution. Though the pundits desperately wanted to believe otherwise, they  had to acknowledge that the GOP still belongs to Donald Trump.


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

I was shocked -- pleasantly but genuinely shocked to see this housing story in Slate

If you haven't read yesterday's post about Olga Rosario, you ought to give it and the article I cite a look. Her story puts a human face on a major development project, reminds us of the happy endings these homes can provide. 

A couple of hours after we ran our piece, this popped up on Slate.

 I clicked the link ready to be disappointed, but it was not at all what I was expecting.

Consider the dimensions of the current discourse around housing. As homeowners fight off new housing construction in the name of protecting the aesthetics of their neighborhoods and their property values—which, it so happens, upholds long-standing race and class exclusion—the path forward for renters has become the subject of bitter dispute. The YIMBY camp, for “Yes In My Back Yard,” generally argues that upzoning will unleash constrained supply to meet backlogged demand, lowering prices. Other anti-YIMBY groupings contend that upzoning is a stalking horse for gentrification, and that unleashing market forces will only result in more housing for the wealthy and displacement for the poor. This is a simplification of the debate, as there are at least a dozen, if not more, sides to it.

Research generally shows that upzonings, particularly large ones, eventually result in additional housing and reduced rent growth. But the typical effects of upzoning are rather modest, especially in the short term. Because upzonings mostly rely on the private sector to get housing built, even in the most development-friendly locales, like Houston, developers don’t always build enough. In particular, developers overlook homes that are affordable for the low-income people who need it the most; these are less likely to be profitable. And in the absence of rent control, many renters won’t be able to afford private-market units—no matter how many of them are built.

In other words, the case for upzoning is relatively solid but deeply underwhelming as a standalone position. The upshot is that everyone is at least partly right: Upzoning can address the shortfall in supply. But it won’t come close to solving the housing crisis alone. Re-enter: public housing.

I don't necessarily agree with Denvir and Freemark's recommendations. I don't necessarily disagree. These are well argued approaches to complex problems and I'd need time to think about what they're laid out, though I suspect I'll find something to like.

Where I am in full agreement is with the framing. I have slogged my way through endless housing think pieces in Slate, Vox, the New York Times and all the usual suspects and other than this, I can't think of a goddamned one that acknowledged the complexity of the debate or conceded that people on all sides are making valid points.

It is difficult to describe how bad and unprofessional the discourse has been up to this point. What Denvir and Freemark have done should become the new template for these stories. I don't expect that it will, but then, I didn't expect Slate to run something like this.

Monday, May 22, 2023

I'm going to split this post in two so we can all walk away feeling good for a change

Because this is a feel good story.

This is a feel-good story on an individual level. If your heart does not go out to Olga, if you don't feel sad for what the woman went through and if you can't share in her happiness at finally getting some measure of security, comfort, and dignity, then there is something wrong with you.

From KCRW's Anna Scott:


The bathroom in Olga Rosario’s new studio apartment in Sylmar has an entire shelf dedicated to her seashell collection. “I love the beach,” Rosario, 62, says while showing off the place. In the kitchen area, she gestures across the room. “The sink by the window,” she says, “that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

Rosario used to walk by the building where she now lives when it was still under construction.

“Before it was finished, I would always come down San Fernando Road, and I would say, ‘Oh God, just put me over here,’” she says. “And look, I got placed where I was actually wanting to be placed.”

Rosario lives in a brand new, 56-unit apartment building called Silva Crossing, which offers formerly homeless, disabled tenants deeply subsidized rents and supportive services such as on-site counseling. It’s one of 56 buildings funded by Proposition HHH that opened or scheduled to open between the last quarter of 2022 and the end of 2023.


 The view out of Olga's window might look something like this.



It is also a feel-good story on a social/policy level. The County of LA addressed a humanitarian crisis by passing a large tax increase. This initiative is working as planned and is on track to exceed its target of providing ten thousand units for the around fifteen thousand of the LA homeless with mental or physical disabilities, using this money to prime the pump and open up other sources of funding.

The units are specifically for chronically homeless people with mental or physical disabilities – which is a lot of people. Of the nearly 42,000 people experiencing homelessness inside LA city limits by last count, more than a third fit those criteria.

 Despite the urgent need for this housing, Prop HHH was always going to take a long time to come to fruition. The goal from the outset was to help the city create 10,000 new units over 10 years. 


By 2026, housing officials say, the city is on track to open 10,519 new permanent supportive housing units with the help of Prop HHH, a number that also includes 1,635 apartments that didn’t use HHH money.

“It’s hard to defend yourself by saying, ‘It's coming soon, it's coming soon,’ says Sewill of the Housing Department, talking about the criticism of Prop HHH. “I think now we're in a position where we can say, ‘Not only is it happening, it’s more than what we said was going to happen.’”

The reality of HHH is almost entirely good news; the perception... not so much.

From earlier in the article:

More than six years after LA voters passed that $1.2 billion homeless housing bond, LA is finally seeing the fruits of Prop HHH, with more than a dozen buildings scheduled to open every remaining quarter of this year. They also say the measure is on track to not only meet but exceed its goals. 

So why do many people think of Prop HHH as a failure?

We'll get into the details of how self-interested politicians and hack journalists screwed this story up (longtime readers may guess who the worst example is going to be), but that's going to be an angry post and for now I just want to be happy for Olga and her sea shell collection and her window by the sink.


 Update: a couple of hours after we posted this, Slate ran this highly relevant (and very good) article. We'll be coming back to this.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Deferred Thursday Tweets -- prominent journalists bravely steps forward to say their boss is right

Some of Cooper's colleagues aren't following the company line.

And getting back to the NYT.

Checking in with the GOP.

 As Josh Marshall pointed out, the grand old party just had another bad Tuesday.


When you hear predictions that Trump is about to be forced out, remember that a substantial segment of the Republican base feel like this.

An alternate reading of the Gospel of Luke.

In a sense, it's useful to have all of the so far left they're far right crowd on one platform.

The sad part is I think Allen does understand, but his need to show he can criticize both sides drives him to misinform his readers.

So God will know exactly where to drop the meteor.

"Ask" is a bit anthropomorphic, but still a cool clip.

God bless the good ol' boys...

"Those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me..."