Thursday, September 28, 2017

Reverse Racism

Recently I was invited to speak on Renaissance art at the monthly meeting of a local MENSA chapter. The organization is made up of very smart people whose IQs place them in the top 2% when it comes to intelligence. The intelligence of the self-admitted “geeks” was certainly in evidence at the dinner that proceeded my talk. Discussion at the table was spirited and lively and ranged over a variety of subjects.

These were interesting people and it was a pleasure to just sit back and listen. Politics was generally avoided but one man at the table brought up a book on racial injustice that sparked a little argument.  Although only halfway through the book, he was apparently already convinced of its validity. The book was “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Its subtitle, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” is more indicative of its subject.

Published in 2012 the book soon made the NY Times bestseller list and was even required reading for the incoming class at Ivy League Brown University. Indeed, the San Francisco Chronicle called the book the “bible of a social movement.” Apparently the book claims that the incarceration of millions of black men in America is proof that racism is alive and well despite any claims to the contrary.

Fortunately, one of the other members at the table turned out to be well-read on the subject and brought up some very good objections based on his own reading. Later, he sent me a link to a very critical review article, entitled, “Revisiting ‘The New Jim Crow,’ written by John P. Walters and David W. Murray.  Here is a link to the review article that appeared on the Hudson Institute website. The reviewers quoted from the book’s dust jacket:

By targeting black men through the War on Drugs, and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to permanent second-class status.

Walters and Murray refute this thesis, and take issue with the statistics offered to support what amounts to a conspiracy theory. They dispute the author’s assertion that “arrests and convictions for drug offenses—not violent crime—have propelled mass incarceration” by first noting the data for state prisons.

In state prisons, holding the largest number of incarcerated inmates, only 16 percent are drug offenders—54 percent of those incarcerated are violent offenders.

They also explain that racism is not the reason why drug offenders make up almost 50 percent of the federal prison population. They note that the substantially smaller federal system “focuses on major domestic and international traffickers—34 percent of the federal prison population is Hispanic and 23 percent are not U.S. citizens.”

In short the authors of the review show that “The New Jim Crow” misuses statistics and even leaves out important evidence that does not support its thesis. Instead they argue that conduct and culture have more to do with rates of incarceration than racism. They point to the case of a black man from Mississippi who the book claims “cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon, and is currently on parole.”

It is true that Mississippi does deny voting to those who have been convicted of serious crimes from murder and rape to forgery and embezzlement. The man in question was indicted for the shooting of a 17-year-old boy; escaped from prison while awaiting trial; and was subsequently arrested and labeled a fugitive wanted for a capital crime. He was extradited and then convicted of murder. Somehow, he was later released on parole but cannot vote “not because he is black, but because he killed someone…”

The reviewers cite New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton who pointed out that blacks and Hispanics “represent half of our city’s population, but 96.9 percent of those who are shot, and 97.6 percent of those who commit the shootings.” I suspect that the same figures hold in other major cities including my own neighboring city of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Jason Reilly, a black writer who is one of the Journal’s regular columnists. He also argued that conduct and culture have more to do with the problems of black Americans today than racism. In particular, he dismissed those who persistently bemoan the effects of slavery 150 years after its abolition. He pointed to the tremendous strides that blacks made in America in the 100 years after the Civil War.

During those years statistics show, for example, that black incomes rose at the same rates as whites and that black family formation was comparable to white. Despite persistent racist attitudes especially in Hollywood, blacks made substantial progress. Interestingly, two of last year’s top movies, “Hidden Figures” and “Fences”, illustrate that black families had made it into the middle class. Only in the sixties did the cultural revolution cause the breakdown of black community life.

If racism is to blame for a disproportion number of black inmates in American prisons, does it also explain the racial imbalance in American sports today? Why is the preponderance of black athletes on professional basketball and football teams not racist? Isn’t it ironic that the black professional athletes who protest during the playing of the national anthem will all make millions during their playing careers? Despite their own success these athletes, like many of their white supporters, want to believe or need to believe in a very revealing myth of victimization.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

UCONN Budget Cuts

Politics in Connecticut reached a new high in futility last week.  The failure of the Democrat Governor and Legislature to agree on a budget finally led some Democrats to throw up their hands and join with the Republican minority in passing a budget. Governor Dannell Malloy, however, has said that he would certainly veto the Republican budget bill.

Despite the Governor’s assurances, the usual suspects at the University of Connecticut are up in arms at the proposed cuts to UCONN in the Republican bill. It is hard to sort out the actual details but Republicans claim that their budget will cut $200 Million over two years from the State’s grant to UCONN. Officials at the University claim that the cut is more like $300 Million over two years. 

The President of the University immediately predicted doom. If the budget went through, schools in the system would be closed, programs would be curtailed, class sizes would increase, and faculty would be let go. Today in the Connecticut Post, my hometown paper, graduates of the University took out a full page ad claiming that the cuts would “decimate” the University. I quote:
President Susan Herbst said they would include closing UCONN Health and some regional campuses; ending some Division I sports; closing some academic departments and potentially some schools and colleges; enacting major reductions to all financial aid; and ending international programs, among others.
In other words, if forced to make cuts, Dr. Herbst would strike at the most needy, the lowest of the low. For example, regional campuses that serve students who can’t make it into the prestigious campus at Storrs would be cut. Small sports that actually are played by UCONN students would be cut, but mega-semi-pro businesses like basketball and football would probably go untouched.

A post I put up a few weeks ago on the salaries of top administrators at Syracuse University, a prominent private university in neighboring New York State, prompted me to check out the top salaries at state supported UCONN. Fortunately, the State provides a website that lists all the salaries and compensation of UCONN staff. There does not seem to be too much difference between Syracuse and UCONN.

The top 45 employees at UCONN all make in excess of $400000 a year, and the top 100 all make over $325000 per year. At the top, of course, is famed Woman’s Basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, who makes in excess of $2 Million a year. Most of the top earners would seem to be doctors and faculty at the UCONN medical center. Even retired basketball coach Jim Calhoun still has faculty status and made over $300000 in 2016

A few years ago I read about a business owner who found his business threatened during an economic downturn. To save his business as well as the jobs of his employees he came up with a plan that was a marvel of simplicity and fairness. He called it the 5-10-15 plan.

Here’s how it worked. The top third of wage earners in the company, including himself, took a 15% cut in pay. The middle third took a 10% cut, and the bottom third took a 5% cut in pay. In this plan, the CEO took the greatest hit. No one, not even the lowest paid clerk or janitor lost their job. Everyone shared in the pain but it was worth it because the business survived. Even the newest hires, traditionally the first to be cut, were spared.

I know it is rare to see such a plan enacted anywhere, whether in business, education, or government. When have you ever heard of a boss giving the axe to himself in any way? Even when the jobs of higher paid managers are cut, they usually bump some underling out of a job. When Susan Herbst, the President of UCONN, talked about the cuts that would decimate the University, she certainly was not talking about decimating the top 100 at the University.  

A 5-10-15 plan would work very well at the University. The Governor has asked all citizens to share the pain. During the Governor’s administration taxpayer’s have already been subjected to two large tax increases as well as increases in various fees. Students and their families at UCONN have already been asked to share the pain with increased tuition and larger class sizes.

President Herbst would do well to consider at 5-10-15 plan for her University. It would hit those at the top hardest, and those at the bottom the least. No schools need be closed or programs cancelled. The plan could even be phased in over two years to alleviate the pain.  


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Democrat Bigotry

Senator Feinstein
Recently, Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein of California grilled Amy Coney Barrett during confirmation hearings for her nomination by President Trump to the United States Court of Appeals. Barrett is a Professor of Law at Notre Dame University as well as the mother of seven children. She is obviously an intelligent, successful woman but Feinstein found a fatal flaw.

Poring over an article that Barrett had co-authored 20 years ago, Feinstein objected to the fact that Barrett was a Catholic, in particular a Catholic with a deep respect for Catholic dogma. She questioned whether Barrett’s respect for Catholic dogma would interfere with her fairness in upholding the laws of this country.

Amy Coney Barrett

Can anyone begin to imagine the furor if someone had dared to ask Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a current Supreme Court Justice, whether she thought her Jewish heritage and beliefs would prevent her from upholding the Constitution? Even today, just imagine if someone were to question a Moslem candidate for office about his or her devotion to Islamic teaching or law.

It is obvious that for Feinstein “dogma” is just a code word for the Catholic teaching on abortion. She certainly wasn’t talking about Church teachings about the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary. She admitted that she and other defenders of women had fought long and hard on behalf of women’s reproductive rights. Ironically, she chose to say this to an intelligent, career woman who had also chosen to have seven children.

She didn’t come out and say it but Feinstein and her Democrat colleagues on the Committee came close to arguing for a religious test for Federal judges. Senator Dick Durbin even went so far as to ask Barrett what kind of Catholic she was. He asked her to define an “orthodox” Catholic and asked if she was one.  In other words, if she is a Catholic who follows the teachings of her Church about the sanctity of life, she would not be qualified to hold office.

There is an article in the Constitution that prohibits a religious test for those who would hold office in this country. It is in Article 6, Section 3, and comes almost at the end of the document. Here is the text.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
The framers of the Constitution were very familiar with the term “religious test.” Ever since the Protestant Reformation Roman Catholics had been brutally persecuted in Great Britain. Nevertheless, Catholicism persisted in the British Isles but even when outright persecution tapered off, Catholics were still forbidden to practice their faith in public, a practice that extended to most of the colonies in America. Of course, they were forbidden to hold office.

At the end of the 17th century Parliament even passed a number of “Test Acts” that required all public officials to be members of the Church of England. The Test Acts not only excluded Catholics but also Protestants who did not adhere to the Anglican church. Jews were also excluded.

Although most of the framers of the Constitution were members of the Church of England, there was enough religious diversity in the new country to lead them to eliminate a religious test to hold office. As if that was not enough, the famous First Amendment made it clear that the new government would not have the power to establish a State religion.

In objecting to an otherwise qualified candidate just because she is Catholic, or because she has Catholic beliefs, Feinstein and others are coming close to setting up a religious test and violating the Constitution they have sworn to uphold. Anti-Catholic religious bigotry lurks behind their code words and innuendoes.

The greatest and most respected judge of the recent past was the late Antonin Scalia, a Catholic. In this brief video he gave Senator Feinstein, an extremely dogmatic and orthodox liberal, a lesson on the Constitution.