Posted by David A. Lehrer
This week The New York Times announced its new correspondent in Jerusalem, Jodi Rudoren. A Times’ staffer who has had a long career as a domestic reporter for the paper and with no discernible experience or expertise in foreign affairs or the Middle East.
Inevitably, given the interest in the Middle East and press coverage of that region, there are numerous articles (including a blog on the Jewish Journal website by Shmuel Rosner) purporting to assess Rudoren’s competency for her new job.
Rosner writes that Rudoren is sunk before she has even set foot in Israel because of some tweets she recently sent out, “She can write from Jerusalem of course, as I expect she might still do. She can write fine stories from Jerusalem, she can have sources and can gain more knowledge and can even break some news. What she will not be able to do is to pretend to be unbiased.”
He’s not alone in reaching a conclusion as to Rudoren’s future work and her capacity to offer fair and unbiased reporting from Jerusalem. By Tuesday, Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin had already concluded that Rudoren had exhibited “not only questionable judgment but also an overt bias against Israel even before she landed in the country.” There must be others who are opining on Rudoren with practically no evidence to go on. A simple Google search of “Jodi Rudoren and Israel” turns up 18,200 results and the appointment was just announced on Monday.
I don’t know Rudoren, I don’t presume to be familiar with her journalistic skills (but then I suspect neither do Rosner nor Tobin). But what I do know is that the reflexive anticipation of bias and lack of professionalism from a career professional is an often wrongheaded approach.
I distinctly remember the hue and cry that came from some leaders of the Jewish community when George Shultz was selected as Secretary of State by Ronald Reagan after Alexander Haig’s resignation in 1982. You might have thought that Yassir Arafat would be running American foreign policy by the tone of the commentary.
In fact, there was more to arouse suspicion about Shultz than there is today. Shultz was coming to office after serving as president of the Bechtel Group, a company that was among the largest, if not the largest, contractors in the Arab world. He would serve alongside Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, who had been vice president and general counsel of Bechtel. There were ample grounds for suspicion as to where Shultz’s sympathies might lie. The smart voices in the Jewish world kept quiet and decided to give Shultz the benefit of the doubt. The yellers and demagogues who wanted to impress their constituents and donors with their cojones—let loose on Shultz.
The error of the critics’ attitudes became apparent in fairly short order.
Shultz was among the most sympathetic American leaders on matters related to Israel, Soviet Jews and a slew of other topics. His historic six and a half year tenure as Secretary of State was remarkable for its fairness and support for Israel in very difficult times (the Lebanon War, terror attacks, etc.). The folly of the pre-emptive critics stands as amodel of stupidity and constituent pandering
to this day.
Clearly, it is wiser to hold your fire and not assume what you can’t know—-someone’s future conduct. Most people want to do their job well and be fair. Let’s assume that’s the case with Rudoren, as it was with Shultz.
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February 16, 2012 | 6:29 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Rarely do two events juxtapose themselves so perfectly so that the contrast between the right path and error is transparently clear.
Last week, news media reported on studies that found a growing education gap between rich and poor. Dramatic data indicate thatthe gap in achievement between the children of the rich and poor has increased by some 40% since the 1960
s. Two studies reveal that parental income may be the single most significant determinant of educational success. The test score imbalance between rich and poor kids has grown as has the gap in college completion rates (which has increased by about 50% since the late 1980s). Former Harvard president Lawrence Sommers describes this divide as “the most serious domestic problem in the United States today.”
This gap in achievement far surpasses the much discussed black white achievement testing gap; in fact, it doubles that differential.
That was last week.
This week, in what seems like an all-too-frequent ritual, yet another case was litigated to declare California’s now nearly 16-year-old Proposition 209, barring the University of California from granting preferences on the basis of race, unconstitutional. Challenges to 209 have failed in federal court on other occasions and have twice been unsuccessful before the California Supreme Court.
The arguments now before the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals are similar to those that have been proffered to federal courts and before the California Supreme Court—-allegations that the failure to re-impose racial and ethnic preferences (the status quo ante Proposition 209) will continue a “state commanded apartheid system….a new Jim Crow” (actual remarks by one of the attorneys arguing in Monday’s Ninth Circuit session).
It might be useful to examine what this so-called “apartheid system” is really like and why the policies that the plaintiffs advocate threaten to undermine the most vigorous programs in the country aimed at promoting diversity, of the most needed kind, on campus.
Even a cursory review of the data on admissions to the University of California reveals that, despite the assertions of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the presence of minorities in the University of California has increased substantially from what it was in 1996—-the last year of racial/ethnic preferences. That means that minorities, without the benefit of preferential treatment, are a larger presence in the university system than they ever were.
The number of minority admissions to the University of California in 2010 — without the benefit of preferences — exceeds that of 1996, in absolute numbers and, more important, as a percentage of all “admits.”
Latino students have gone from 15.4% (5,744 students) of freshman undergraduate admissions in 1996 to 23% (14,081) in 2010 (a 145% increase). Asian students have gone from 29.8% (11,085) of the freshman admits to 37.47% (22,877). Native American admits have declined slightly, from 0.9% to 0.8%, but their absolute number increased, from 360 to 531. African American admits have gone from 4% (1,628) to 4.2% (2,624), a modest gain in percentage but a 61% increase in numbers of freshmen admitted.
The only major category that declined in percentage terms was whites, who went from 44% (16,465) of the freshmen admits to 34% (20,807). If this is “Jim Crow” at work there are some pretty dumb bigots implementing the plan.
The arguments against 209 are nothing new (although the latest wrinkle is to attack the admittedly smaller numbers of minorities at the UC’s flagship and most competitive schools—-Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego). They seem particularly stale at a time when the evidence, as widely reported last week, is clear that socio-economic status, not race or ethnicity, is the far greater impediment to the academic success of the disadvantaged.
Presently, the UCs consider the socio-economic status of their applicants, believing that the extent to which an applicant has overcome hurdles of economic disadvantage (e.g. Pell Grant eligible students come from families earning approximately $60,000 per year or less) will be a measure of their ability to achieve success as a college student.
As a result of those efforts, the two most “economically diverse” (measured by Pell Grant eligible students) top tier universities in the country, are UCLA at 37% and UC Berkeley at 36%. As a comparison, Harvard is at 17%, Duke at 13%, Princeton at 11% and a comparably large public university, Ohio State, was at 17.8% in 2008.
It is ironic then that the University of California, which has made a concerted and successful effort to seek out and admit students who, because of socio-economic disadvantage (independent of race, ethnicity or national origin), need a leg up, is the subject of inflammatory accusations of bigotry and racism.
There is some irony as well, that neither the University itself nor the governor are vigorously contesting this lawsuit; apparently, simply following numbers and preferences is easier than the challenges of a merit-based system that involves a serious examination of potential for success.
To be truly concerned about equality of opportunity in our society is to be supportive of aggressive policies to identify and recruit the disadvantaged—-no matter their race or ethnicity. This is precisely what the UC is doing better than anyone else in the country. To revert to a crude system where race and ethnicity are the determinants of access (pre-209)—-independent of socio-economic status—-would undo a decade and half of work by the UC and would re-inject historically divisive considerations where they don’t belong.
Hopefully, the Ninth Circuit, like every court before it, will acknowledge the good sense of the voters of California and the wisdom of some of the folks at the University of California.
February 8, 2012 | 3:00 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Rarely does an issue, an article or a book generate such differing responses from people on the same side of the political spectrum as Charles Murray’s just published Coming Apart.
David Brooks, the conservative-leaning op/ed columnist at The New York Times, has described the book with the following superlatives, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart.’ I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.”
Brooks describes the thrust of Murray’s work, “Murray’s argument is not new, that America is dividing into a two-caste society. What’s new is the incredible data he produces to illustrate that trend and deepen our understanding of it.”
I am a fan of David Brooks and his usually trenchant analysis of current ideas and events. I read his piece in the Times and ordered the Murray book from Amazon. I cited Brooks’ analysis in an email to my kids and nieces and nephews (who in typical millennial fashion dismissed my observations as dated)—-as evidence of the overly simplistic analysis that marks much of our political discourse.
According to Brooks,
Murray’s story contradicts the ideologies of both parties. Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.
Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.
It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.
The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.
Brooks’ description of Murray’s narrative seemed compelling and accurate.
Then I read another analyst’s view, David Frum. He’s the neo-con pundit and former Bush speechwriter who has evidenced a willingness to be less than doctrinaire in his opinions and analysis of current events. He too is a thoughtful and frequently incisive analyst. His take on the same Murray book is quite different.
He acknowledges that Coming Apart is “an important book that will have large influence. It is unfortunately not a good book—but its lack of merit in no way detracts from its importance.” He then proceeds to eviscerate Murray for his line of argument and methodology, “…this kind of polemical use of data is one—but only one—of the things that discredits Coming Apart as an explanation of the social trouble of our times.”
His book wants to lead readers to the conclusion that the white working class has suffered a moral collapse attributable to vaguely hinted at cultural forces. Yet he never specifies what those cultural forces might be, and he presents no evidence at all for a link between those forces and the moral collapse he sees…..
If you’re going to claim the mantle of social science for your claim that reducing government will ameliorate class disparities, then at some previous point in your work, you should make at least some minimal effort to demonstrate that government activity has caused those class disparities. Yet that effort is absent from Murray’s book. Indeed, at the outset of his book, Murray emphatically disclaims any interest in the causes of widening inequality…..
Yet at the end of the book, without ever suggesting any reason to believe that government is the problem, he insists that the reduction of government is the solution….
It’s puzzling, truly. The prescription comes without an etiology, the recommendation without any discussion of causation, verdict without proof or trial. Social science’s claims to be science are troubled enough without this wholesale jettisoning of—not only scientific method—but even the scientific outlook.
Frum’s critique is so impassioned that it has taken up four lengthy posts on The Daily Beast.
What these two thoughtful, yet divergent, commentators make clear is that this critically important issue—-the increasing gulf between the educated and successful and the unschooled and frustrated—- is a problem that may have myriad explanations and causes but is one that demands attention and a response from our leaders and citizenry.
Take a look at the links in this blog for some entertaining reading.
One thing is for sure, I’m going to read this provocative book.
February 1, 2012 | 5:41 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Over the past few days, the press reported a welcomed reminder of how America has been transforming itself over recent decades. Not in the depressing trajectory that is often the subject of the blather of 24/7 news outlets and their self-proclaimed “pundits.” Rather, by virtue of some startling data that has been reported, it appears that one of the goals of the civil rights community for half century is near attainment—-the desegregation of housing in America’s major cities.
It wasn’t all that long ago that “Fair Housing Councils” proliferated across the country to give voice to the goal of eliminating, or at least reducing, the isolation of minorities in cities and towns. Today, the Councils and others can take pride in the fact that the residential racial isolation that marked so much of the twentieth century in the United States is at the lowest level in nearly a century.
Two researchers at the Manhattan Institute, Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, analyzed the data from the last thirteen censuses (going back over 100 years) and discovered some astounding trends. Namely:
In a short but fascinating study, Glaeser and Vigdor point out what a complex process the desegregation of American cities has been. It isn’t attributable just to the suburbanization of blacks or the immigration of Latinos or the gentrification of inner city neighborhoods or the ending of malevolent government policies (e.g. the denial of mortgage credit to residents in mixed race neighborhoods or the enforcement of restrictive covenants) or the removal of enormous public housing projects that concentrated poor and minority residents (e.g. Pruitt-Igoe). It is all these and more and the change is enormous.
According to one of the indices used in the study,Los Angeles has become the least racially isolated large city in America
with an “isolation index” of 22—compared to New York’s 42.4 and Chicago’s 57.5. This index measures the tendency for residents of one group to live in neighborhoods where their share of the population is above the citywide average (the lower the number the less isolated the residents).
The authors remind their readers that in the 1960’s there were those who argued that curing housing segregation would be the key to transforming America; “once the races mixed more readily, all would be well.” It turns out, of course, that there are no silver bullets. Housing segregation is only one part of a very complex and inter-connected series of problems.
There are those who will attempt to find fault with the study to avoid even the hint of good news on the inter-group front. There will also be those who will suggest that few problems remain if we are living side by side. In fact, leave it to John McWhorter in an essay in The Root for a sober analysis of the report’s implications:
This report is not designed to shut people up about injustice. Its final words are “While the decline in segregation remains good news, far too many Americans lack the opportunity to achieve meaningful success.”
However, there is a crucial implication of this and the report. As the authors put it, “The persistence of inequality, even as segregation has receded, suggests that inequality is a far more complex phenomenon.” That is, while black America does suffer from overall socioeconomic inequality with the mainstream, addressing that will not be a matter of worrying about whether black people live in neighborhoods with too many other black people in them.
We should welcome this news. It means that we no longer have to put up with smart people telling us that when too many black people live in one place, you have to expect all hell to break loose. It is rather striking how this insult to black dignity is so warmly received as kindly wisdom.
In any case, the upshot is simple. Black residential segregation is at its lowest in more than 90 years. It’s good someone decided to find that out. We should keep it in mind the next time someone tells us that blackness is a pathology—be it Newt Gingrich or a social science professor who says he or she is doing the right thing by warning black people about the pitfalls of poor black people hanging out only with other poor black people.
The Glaeser/Vigdor study is indeed welcome news—-while one problem has dramatically receded, it is clear that other profound challenges remain.