Category Archives: Race and race relations

Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?

UVa president’s house. Will UVa’s new president open up the data needed for a honest and open dialogue about race and racism at the university?

As I blogged last week, the University of Virginia is organizing a seminar with the goal of equipping faculty to teach their disciplines “in relation to the history and present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.” Sessions will “connect historical events and struggles with contemporary concerns such as health, educational, and economic disparities, as well as white supremacist discourse and actions and present efforts toward justice and equity.”

It was unfair of me in that post to suggest that the exercise might be dominated by a politically correct, social-justice-warrior perspective which, while illuminating the views of white supremacists, will give short shrift to mainstream conservative and libertarian views. UVa has assured me that the seminar will “encourage open dialogue among the seminar participants.”

I also have every confidence that the university will take an honest look at its own practices regarding race, not just in the past but in the present. In the spirit of open dialogue, I offer a few data points to consider.

A good place to start is the demographic breakdown of Virginia’s population (2010 census):

White — 68.6%
Black — 19.4%
Asian — 5.5%
Other — 3.7%
Multiracial — 2.9%

(Hispanics, a cultural group apportioned between the aforementioned racial groups, comprise 7.9% of the population.)

Now, here is a breakdown of UVa’s undergraduate student population, based on data from its Diversity Dashboard:

By percentage, that works out to:

White — 58.9%
Black — 6.5%
Asian — 14.0%
Hispanic — 6.5%
Multiracial — 4.3%
Other (foreign, unknown, other) — 10.6%

Even accounting for the differing ways of categorizing by race and culture, it’s clear that blacks are severely under-represented at UVa, Asians are over-represented, and whites are represented in rough proportion to their percentage of the overall population. Examine the charts on the UVa website for graduate students, staff, and faculty as well. While there are some differences (foreign students push up the “other” grouping among graduate students), comparable racial disparities exist across the board.

Here’s the first question. Do the disparities reflect institutional racism at the University of Virginia? Or do disparities reflect the dismal realities of the labor market (there are fewer African-Americans possessing the educational credentials to teach at UVa) and the dismal realities of the educational pipeline (fewer African-Americans meeting the UVa entry requirements)?

Here’s a second question. How does one account for the massive over-representation of Asian students — 14% of the student body but only 5.5% of the student population? Does UVa discriminate in favor of Asian students? Or does it have a meritocratic admissions policy that favors Asians based on objective criteria such as SAT scores, high school class rankings, and other factors?

Once we have touched upon those issues, we can move to a related matter. UVa has stepped up its diversity efforts over the past decade. Perhaps the university could document its dedication to the task by providing an accounting of the manpower and budget devoted to diversity. Yet the number of African-American students actually has declined from 1,199 in 2009 to 1,049 today. Has institutional racism at the university gotten worse, or might there be a different explanation? (Interestingly, the decline has been the most marked among African-American women. Has UVa become more sexist as well as more racist during this period?)

One way we can answer these questions is to provide admissions data that the university administration has heretofore held close to its chest. What is the average SAT score broken down by racial/ethnic group? If average SAT scores of African-Americans are higher than those of other racial/ethnic groups, we could reasonably conclude that they are being discriminated against. Conversely, lower scores would suggest that UVa admissions criteria are designed to increase representation of blacks. So, which is it? It is within UVa’s power to answer this fundamental question. Will it?

Another way to approach the issue of institutional racism is to examine graduation rates by race and ethnic origin. UVa publishes graduation rates for all students.  According to UVa’s data, almost 90% graduate within four years, and 94% within six years. The university even publishes graduation rates for athletes (75% within four years). But curiously, it does not publish a breakdown by race. The information is vital to an open and honest dialogue, however, so I feel confident that the UVa administration will make it available.

It’s also curious that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which maintains a voluminous database for all public colleges and universities, does not break down 4- or 6-year graduations by race. It does, however, break down graduation rates between “majority” students and “students of color.” The database does not define “students of color.” By common definition, however, the term refers to non-whites, thus it includes Asians as well as blacks, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.

According to SCHEV data, “majority” students graduate from UVa within four years at a rate of 86.3%. (I can’t explain the discrepancy between UVa data and SCHEV data.) “Students of color” graduate at rate of 83.5%. Given the proclivity of Asians to out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically, it is reasonable to assume that they graduate at a rate at least as high as the white rate of 86.3%. Remove them from the “students of color” category, and the average four-year graduation rate drops to 80% or so. That’s just a guess, of course, but if I’m off, UVa can provide authoritative data any time it wants.

What accounts for the 6% to 7% disparity in graduation rate? Is the graduation gap evidence that UVa creates an environment that is hostile to blacks? If the graduation rate is higher for black women and lower for black men (as I suspect it is), does that mean the university environment is more hostile to black men than to black women, and, if so, how does that comport with the pervasive academic theory that black women are victims of both pervasive racism and sexism? I hesitate to bring up yet another possibility, but the question must be asked: Is it possible that campus identity-based ideology based on grievance and victimhood contributes to blacks’ sense of alienation and affects their commitment to graduate?

Another area worth examining is disparities in what students of different ethnic/racial origins pay to attend UVa. The university, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the federal government dispense a significant amount of financial aid based upon the student’s family income. Whites on average come from more affluent families than blacks, so it goes without saying that they need, and receive, less financial aid. But any dialogue about “health, educational, and economic disparities” should take into account measures designed to reduce those disparities. Thus, it would be worthwhile to know how much whites pay for tuition on average versus how much blacks pay. If blacks benefit more than whites from financial aid, that discrepancy undercuts the idea of institutional racism. But we won’t know unless UVa publishes that data. Will it?

Any honest, open dialogue on race will encompass both perceptions and facts. The perceptions are real in the sense that people hold certain ideas about the world around them, but not all perceptions are equally grounded in the facts. It is important for UVa to provide the data so the discussion can proceed on the basis of both perceptions and facts.

The Crisis in African-American Student Indebtedness

The student loan default crisis is bad… and getting worse, finds Judith Scott-Clayton, a Brookings Institution scholar, based on her analysis of the latest student loan data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Debt and default has reached “crisis” levels among African-Americans, and even a bachelor’s degree is no guarantee of security. Black B.A. graduates default at five times the rate of white B.A. graduates (21 versus 4 percent). Black graduates are even more likely to default than white dropouts.

Trends are most alarming among for-profit colleges, says the report, “The looming student loan crisis is worse than we thought.” The results, Scott-Clayton argues, justify robust efforts to regulate the for-profit sector, improve degree attainment, and promote income-contingent loan repayment options.

Remarkably, the conclusion that I find most obvious eludes Scott-Clayton: Student loans are handed out so indiscriminately, in such disregard to a student’s academic potential or prospects of repayment, that a program designed to promote social mobility for the poor and minorities has exploded like a Loonie Toons cigar. Student loans have become a instrument of immiseration for the very people they were designed to assist.

While the author’s public policy musings are debatable, her presentation of the data is useful. Rather than looking at the entire body of student borrowers, she tracks the fate of different student “entry cohorts” — those who entered postsecondary school in 1996 and and 2004 — and tracked them 12 years and 20 years after entry.

In this chart, we can see what happened to people who entered college in 2004 twelve years later. Despite significant financial assistance for lower-income students available at every four-year college and university, African-Americans racked up more than $21,000 in undergraduate debt on average. Total amount borrowed, which includes graduate school debt, was nearly $56,000. In contrast to other racial/ethnic groups, which managed to pay down some of the debt twelve years after entering college, African-Americans saw average debt loads increase — to $64,000. More than one in five blacks were in default, compared to one in twenty-five whites.

It fascinates me how social scientists such as Scott-Clayton obsess over the black-white differential. As the data clearly shows, Asians have the lowest default rate of any racial/ethnic group. Why aren’t Asians the standard for comparison? Why isn’t the disparity described as an Asian-black disparity and an Asian-white disparity? Because, I suspect, emphasizing the gap between whites and blacks reinforces the “white privilege” narrative, while framing the gap as between Asians and other groups would undermine the narrative. “Asian privilege” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

One thing seems undeniable, though: There is a student loan crisis among African-Americans. Scott-Clayton does her best to explain this crisis as the fault of for-profit institutions, which, in a narrow sense it is. But her analysis ignores a couple of things. First, there is considerable variability between for-profit institutions. Some are fly-by-night, others do a pretty good job of graduating their students and placing them in jobs. Second, there is considerable variability among non-profit colleges. Historically black colleges and universities have student loan profiles comparable to that of many for-profits.

The real problem runs much deeper. There is a widespread belief in America that everyone has a right to attend college and that the federal government should help make that education accessible by means of student loans. Moreover, there is an assumption that student lending programs should not “discriminate” against students on the basis of academic preparation, family financial resources, or other factors predicting the applicant’s likelihood of graduating and repaying their loans the grounds that blacks and minorities would be negatively impacted.

As these beliefs and assumptions play out in the real world, millions of African-Americans are winding up in financial peonage. As blacks accumulate loans that cannot be discharged, they ruin their credit scores, impair their net worth, ramp up their debt-to-asset ratios, and, as we have seen in a recent post (“Racism, Racism, Everywhere You Look,”), find that their home mortgage loans are rejected at a higher rate than whites.

But some people are incapable of peering past the paradigm of omnipresent racism. So scholars like Scott-Clayton try to frame the issue as for-profit colleges, and investigative reporters compile data purporting to show discrimination in mortgage lending without accounting for credit scores and debt-to-asset ratios. Thus, apologists for the status quo perpetuate policies that entrap African-Americans in poverty.

Teaching Race at UVA

Incoming! … Duck, T.J.!!

Ever wonder where the University of Virginia’s research dollars are going? Here’s one new initiative: “Teaching Race at UVA.”

The following missive was distributed to UVa faculty by Provost Thomas C. Katsouleas and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Kerry Abrams:

Faculty from all schools and departments at UVA are invited to participate in the first cohort of a faculty development seminar called “Teaching Race at UVA.” The seminar, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, will provide UVA faculty with an in-depth understanding of the history of race at UVA, in Charlottesville, and in the context of Virginia and the United States more broadly. The goal of this initiative is to equip a cohort of faculty from across UVA to be able to teach in their disciplines effectively in relation to the history and present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.

All participants will receive $3,000 in research funds, with an additional $1,000 available to those who turn in revised syllabi that incorporate seminar content. These additional funds can be used to support site visits, guest speakers, research projects, or other aspects of the newly developed course. Please see the Call for Applications for more details about the program and for information about how to apply to participate.

The UVa website provides more details about the seminar itself:

All participants will be expected to incorporate at least part of the seminar content into an existing or new course.

The seminar will include the historical periods of early colonial Virginia, the founding of UVA, the history of enslaved laborers here and regionally, Emancipation, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and struggles for justice and equity by African Americans at UVA and in Charlottesville. We will connect historical events and struggles with contemporary concerns such as health, educational, and economic disparities, as well as white supremacist discourse and actions and present efforts toward justice and equity. Sessions will include a combination of site visits, presentations by subject matter experts, and discussions with colleagues.

Hmmm… Am I wrong to assume that the only non-politically correct points of view to be presented will be those of white supremacists? Will views of mainstream conservatives and libertarians be explored?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but this initiative looks like an effort to inject a social-justice-warrior perspective into a broad cross-section of courses that have nothing to do with race and race relations. I can think of nothing more damaging to the university than this. If the incoming administration wants to alienate a large swath of its alumni base and friends in the legislature, this is just the ticket.

I desperately hope my fears are unfounded. I will endeavor to find out more from UVa.

(Hat tip: Steve Haner)

Update: UVa spokesman Wesley Hester provided the following response to my questions regarding who would teach the courses, how much the initiative would cost, and whether journalists could attend the seminars:

The seminars are offered as part of UVA’s faculty development programming and will be taught by UVA faculty members and other subject matter experts, primarily scholars of history. The faculty members will offer historical perspectives on race and encourage open dialogue among the seminar participants. The Provost’s Office has not set a total budget yet as planning is ongoing. At this time, we are anticipating seven seminar sessions that range from three hours to half a day in length.

More details about the seminars will be announced as faculty proposals are reviewed and plans are finalized.

Racism, Racism Everywhere You Look

Pseudo-data alleging racial disparities in mortgage lending in Hampton Roads.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has published an in-depth analysis of lending data showing that African-Americans have been denied home loans at a significantly higher rate than whites in 48 out of the 61 metropolitan areas examined. The Virginian-Pilot picked up that research and published an article yesterday stating that African-American homebuyers in Hampton Roads were more than twice as likely than whites to have loans denied.

It just goes to show, if you look for racism hard enough, you’ll find it anywhere and everywhere.

Let’s take two theoretical findings. Let’s say six percent of whites have their loans denied, and 18% of blacks have their loans denied. That means blacks are three times more likely to be denied a mortgage! Now, let’s say that 94% of whites have their loans accepted, and 82% of blacks have their loans accepted. That means whites are only 14% more likely to qualify for a mortgage.

Which one sounds more racist to you? The first statement, right? Of course, the two statements are based on exactly the same data. It’s just that one is framed to make lending patterns look more racist and the other framed to appear the opposite. Which way did the Virginian-Pilot and Center for Investigative Reporting choose to present the data? The way that framed mortgage lending as racist.

Likewise, the investigative report emphasized that racial discrepancies were found in 48 metros, largely overlooking the fact that none were found in 13. Who would be interested in running a headline, “No Sign of Racism in Twenty Percent of American Cities”?

But the problems in the analysis run far deeper. The data is inherently flawed and useless.

The intrepid investigators describe how they adopted a “binary logistic regression” methodology that assesses the relationship between multiple independent variables against a single binary input (whether or not a mortgage was denied). Then it looked at nine different variables:

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Whether or not there was a co-applicant
  • Applicant’s income
  • Loan amount
  • Ratio between loan amount and applicant’s income
  • Ratio between median income of the census tract and median income of the metro area
  • Racial and ethnic breakdown by percentage for each census tract
  • Regulating agency of the lending institution

The authors do concede that they leave out two important variables — credit scores and debt-to-income ratios — because the data is unavailable. However, those are the two of the most important variables of all! If someone has a lousy credit score, regardless of their income or income-to-mortgage ratio, lenders are less likely to finance a mortgage. If someone is loaded up with credit-card debt, student loan debt, or auto loan debt, those other obligations will figure rightly  into a bank’s calculations.

The Center for Investigative Reporting notes in its article that, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the median net worth of African-American families is $9,000, while the median net worth for whites is $132,000. That’s a real disparity, and it’s based on complex historical reasons arising from the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Great Society. But racially blind lending algorithms look at credit scores, net worth, and debt obligations — not the historical reasons behind them.

In sum, running a binary logistic regression without including the most critical lending variables is a worthless exercise, and making broad indictments of the mortgage banking industry on the basis of such worthless findings is reckless. Race relations are frayed enough as it is, and the last thing the country needs is another “study” alleging discrimination where it does not exist, and engendering resentment that is unwarranted. It’s bad enough that Russian bots are spreading fake news to intensify racial animosity. We don’t need journalists feeding the fire.

Like the boy who cries wolf, such studies deeply damage the credibility of those who issue the alarms. One is tempted to assume that the methodology of every study showing institutional racism is just as shoddy and the ideological biases of the authors are just as blatant. There is a danger that many people will ignore instances in which claims of racism actually are justified.

If a properly conducted study adjusted for credit scores, net worth and indebtedness, who knows, it might show that residual racism still exists. But after enough studies like this, millions of Americans would slough it off as more noise from social justice warriors passing themselves off as journalists.

Monuments in the Time of National Reconciliation

by Cliff Page

With the Election of Rutherford B. Hayes by a one vote margin, the Compromise of 1877 ended the era of Reconstruction. As Southern states were re-admitted into the Union, federal troops stood down or returned to the North.

From about 1885 to 1924, before and after the 50th Anniversary of the War between the States, Americans felt a need for forgiveness, reunification and remembrance of the greatest war Americans ever fought and hopefully ever will. There was a great desire for conciliation and honor for aging veterans and those who had perished on the battlefields. The America Beautiful movement was in full swing with the goal of employing parks, public spaces, sculpture, urban landscaping and rebuilding to make life more livable, civil and cultured. The era was our American Renaissance – economically, politically, artistically and scientifically.

Contemplate for a moment two great works of American sculpture, one honoring Gen. homas “Stonewall” Jackson, CSA,(above) and the other Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (below). The American sculptors of these two great works of equestrian martial art, Charles Keck and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, were both members of the National Sculptor Society. Saint-Guadens along with the architect Stanford White formed the society and also the American Academy in Rome.                                                                                                                    

 Both statues employ angels. Saint-Gaudens also depicted, an angel, as a last addition, in his most famous work “Shaw and the 54th Colored Troops”. In the monument to Sherman his female angel is on the statue itself as a full figure. She holds a branch of laurel, a sign of victory, in front of her like a guiding force pulling Sherman forward  In “Shaw,” his angel is far more quizzical. (Shaw and his men were largely slaughtered in their attempt to take Fort Wagner outside of Charleston). The Sherman angel is hinged off a sloping ground plain which gives her a feeling of suspension and her wings and chitin are blown back by the wind going past her forward motion. Likewise, Sherman’s cape is billowing back, implying his forward motion, while his posture is erect and easy, and his horse is in a canter, all signs of surety and composure in victory.  
                                                                            Keck also has an angel in his statue of Jackson, but it is carved into the base, its wings thrown back in defensive protection of Southern ground. The male angel bears his breast and defiantly exposes himself to danger, thrusting out his manly bosom in bravery to the wind. He carries a shield with the cross of St. Andrew of the Confederacy to likewise defend the Southern land from aggression. Above, the sculpture of Jackson is mounted on a small war horse, which Jackson holds back at a trot. (Jackson did not like to ride and, in fact, preferred smaller horses. Sherman is mounted on a tall and impressive dress horse.)                                                                                                                                      Jackson’s figure shows agility and dynamic action and his gaze is one of decisiveness and determination. He holds the reins as his horse tilts his head implying that Jackson is about to make a daring move. Saint-Gauden’s Sherman is gilded and elevates Sherman to the plane of the Gods with his angel as his guide. By contrast, the angel of Keck’s Jackson is fixed firmly on the sacred ground Jackson defends, as a common man with divine aid. Both of these great American monuments, to mortal men and great martial events, portray a story of defense and valor, victory and defeat, but above all they are symbolic artistic representations of our nation’s rich historical past, bequeathed to us by our forefathers. They are important pieces of American art!

The venerable Grand Old Army and the Confederate Veterans of America held conventions where tales were swapped of valor, loss, glory and honor. Wizened, white-bearded veterans held reunions at battlefields, where they staged mock engagements, relived the past, broke bread with comrades and former enemies, and extended hands of forgiveness, reconciliation and respect.  During this time both North and South erected their monuments and memorials to war heroes, leaders, comrades, and the many who had fallen in the field of battle.

Sculptures acted as eternal symbols to the Northern and Southern causes. The people who erected statues intended for soldiers and generals to live on in the minds of posterity, for the nation’s struggle not to be forgotten, and for their lives not to be counted as squandered in vain. The hope was that the honored men and events would be recalled far into the future, argued about, reflected upon, as actors in a grand play of immortal history. The purpose of the statues was to give meaning to heroism, bravery, honor, commitment, patriotism and duty.

The Civil War was a grand epic tragedy that should remind us of the faults and failures, and also the nobility, found in mankind. Northern and Southern monuments serve as guiding lights to direct future generations of Americans.  Furthermore, the monuments are among the greatest sculptural assets of our nation, created at the zenith of our cultural history.

No one monument can define this era in time, any more than a single actor or a single scene can define a play — no more than the First Battle of Manassas could define four years of endless carnage, blood, sorrow, glory and defeat. America’s historic monuments are our heritage, the complete play, warts and all… the story of America’s great defining epoch. But, it is not just our story. It is a story for the world!

Political correctness in America has metastasized into something resembling the Maoist Cultural Revolution. As the world leader, America’s actions, attitudes and fashions are mimicked everywhere on the globe, whether they are innovative, wholesome, or obscene.

We all perceive the recent iconoclasm of extremists and terrorists in the Middle East as repugnant and a crime against humanity, art, and world history. Not long ago, the West spurned the Cultural Revolution as shameful. Somehow this madness has infected our nation nearly fifty years later, like an Asian flu. Once it hits American shores, this pathogen could become a global contagion that consumes the world’s historic culture and its symbols of heritage and civility.

Rather than accept this disease, Americans should act more civilly and maturely. America’s historic monuments are the visual representations of our American History. We have a responsibility to promote the values of our inalienable rights of speech, writing, assembly and expression. When America constrains these rights, by censorship in whatever form, she does so at her own peril.

Cliff Page, a sculptor, lives and maintains his studio in Portsmouth. 

Virginia’s Top 10 Stories (Told and Untold) of the Year

Phew! I finally made it through the all-consuming Christmas season, and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Christmas is a wonderful but grueling time of year for the Bacon family, marked by numerous feasts, expanding waistlines, excessive gift giving, shrinking bank accounts, and considerable out-of-town travel to distant relatives. But I’m back in the saddle at the Bacon’s Rebellion global command headquarters and eager to get the blog cranked back up.

Many publications publish a retrospective look at the “Top 10 Stories of the Year.” I have never done this at Bacon’s Rebellion, but perhaps it is time. A few obvious candidates for the Top 10 stories in Virginia’s political-public policy realm come to mind. Please feel free to add, subtract, modify or opine upon this list in the comments.

  1. Republican wipe-out in the November 2017 election. In a wave election driven largely by anti-Trumpism, voters obliterated the seemingly insurmountable Republican majority in the House of Delegates and elected Democrats to all three statewide offices. The Northam administration will look and act a lot like the McAuliffe administration, but it will have more friends in the legislature.
  2. Civil War statues and the Charlottesville riot. Virginia became the cockpit of U.S. culture wars and the debate on race as national and local media alike fixated on statues that memorialize Civil War generals. The controversy exploded as outsiders flocked to participate in, and oppose, the United the Right rally in Charlottesville.
  3. Virginia’s lagging economy. The U.S. economy gained momentum during the first year of the Trump administration, but Virginia’s economy, once a national growth leader, continues to under-perform. Caps on military spending have hobbled growth in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, while Virginia’s rural, mill-town economy continues to struggle. Governor Terry McAuliffe has shined as the superlative state salesman, but his policies have not budged economic fundamentals.
  4. Dominion on the defensive. Dominion Energy, a dominating political presence in Virginia, was a big loser from the election, as an unprecedented wave of anti-Dominion politicians was elected to the General Assembly. Despite making great progress toward solar energy, the electric utility found itself under attack for its rate freeze, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and coal ash disposal. In a dramatic, end-of-year gambit, Dominion proposed upgrading its transmission and distribution systems to a more resilient, renewable-friendly smart grid.
  5. Higher-ed mobilizes to defend status quo. The year began with sharp criticism of Virginia’s public colleges and universities for runaway costs, tuition and fees. The year closed with an industry P.R. blitz highlighting the link between higher ed and economic development. Virginia is nowhere near a consensus on how to balance the competing imperatives of affordability, access, workforce development, and R&D-driven innovation.
  6. Death spiral for Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges in Virginia entered the year in a slow-motion death spiral due to internal flaws and contradictions. Policies enacted by Congress and the Trump administration accelerated their swirl into oblivion, while offering nothing obvious to replace them. The election of Democrat Ralph Northam will renew the debate over expansion of Medicaid, all but guaranteeing that the focus in Virginia will be on the zero-sum question of who pays for health care rather than how can we improve productivity and outcomes in order to lower costs for the benefit of all.
  7. Interstate 66 and HOT lanes. The McAuliffe administration advanced its signature contribution to Virginia’s transportation infrastructure by developing major upgrades to Northern Virginia’s I-66 transportation corridor. The opening of HOT lanes inside the Beltway erupted in controversy over the fairness and effectiveness of using dynamically priced tolls to ration scarce highway capacity.
  8. Accountability in K-12 education. By some measures, Virginia’s system of public schools made progress in 2017 but by other measures it continued to struggle. One of the most important trends, neglected by the media, is the continued effort by state bureaucrats to use Standards of Learning tests to hold local schools accountable and the continued gaming of the rules by local officials to avoid accountability. Meanwhile, revisions to disciplinary policies to advance social justice concerns has undermined school discipline and made a difficult job — teaching disadvantaged kids — even more difficult. The breakdown in discipline makes it ever harder to recruit teachers to the most challenging schools.
  9. Salvaging the Metro. The Washington Metro heavy rail system needs billions of dollars to compensate for past failures to invest in maintenance, even as it struggles with union featherbedding, declining ridership, and an unwieldy governance structure. Representatives from Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the federal government can’t seem to agree on much. Metro is critical for the functioning of the Northern Virginia economy, but Virginia wants to see labor and governance reforms before coughing up billions of dollars to prop up a failing system that, lacking those reforms, inevitably will come back and ask for more in the future.
  10. Turn-around at Virginia’s ports. This end-of-the-year list is gloomy, with an emphasis on crumbling and failing institutions. But there is at least one good news story (which I have neglected to cover on this blog): the revival of the Ports of Virginia. Traffic is booming and profitability has revived.

And That’s How You End Up with Donald Trump: Turnstile Jumping Edition

Turnstile jumper. (Image credit: Boston globe.)

The Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (MWATA) has a big revenue problem. Not only is ridership declining, but it appears that an increasing number of riders aren’t paying their fares. To recapture riders, Metro is asking billions of dollars from member states and localities to patch up everything from rail lines to escalators. And to plug its revenue losses from fare jumpers, the authority is cracking down on fare evasion.

Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. estimated that the agency loses up to $25 million a year in unpaid fares, reports the Washington Post. From January to June of this year, the number of fare-evasion citations issued more than doubled from the year before to about 6,000 tickets. About 65 percent of those tickets were issued to rail users; 8 percent of the tickets resulted in an arrest. Metro doesn’t collect any money from the fines, but it will benefit if tougher enforcement reduces turnstile jumping.

Many people applaud the crackdown on cheaters. WMATA desperately needs the money to maintain the rail service, which has been plagued with safety issues and delays. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedenfield has said that people feel a sense of injustice that some riders flout the rules and ride for free while others dig deep to pay their fares. “I think it’s right that everybody pay their fare.”

But not everyone agrees.

Washington City Council is considering legislation that would decriminalize fare evasion, eliminate jail time, and lower the maximum possible fine from $300 to $100. The move, says the Washington Post, “mirrors a trend in cities across the country based on a growing awareness among lawmakers of how issues such as legacy policing practices, unconscious bias and systemic racism, can unfairly target communities based on race or age — even in the seemingly mundane case of fare jumping.”

Some legislators are questioning whether fare evasion should be a crime at all, arguing that targeted enforcement campaigns are bound to ensnare poor and low-income people who don’t have the money to pay their fares — let alone fines.

“Absolutely there’s been a raised consciousness on this that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago,” said Nassim Moshiree, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia. “Activism like the Movement for Black Lives has had a positive impact on raising awareness that policing — and the explicit and implicit bias in policing — means that certain communities are impacted in unfair ways. Even when it comes to something like fare evasion.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The MWATA board already keeps fares artificially low out of concern for the impact on low-income riders, with the difference to be made up by state and local governments. These low fares, incidentally, are a big reason why the system is desperate financial straits today. But apparently, that’s not enough. Now, invoking vague charges of systemic racism — no one has made the case that Metro is systemically racist, just that systemic racism exists — they want to end the crackdown on fare jumping.

It is thinking like this that puts the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and allied movements in such ill repute. The mere fact that “systemic racism” exists somewhere in the country becomes grounds for engaging in what might be called “systemic reverse racism” in which one group, Metro fare jumpers who are predominantly African-American, get off easy while shifting the cost to taxpayers, a group dominated by whites. (Actually, MWATA does not track the racial identity of fare jumpers. I am simply following the lead of the ACLU’s Mr. Moshiree, whose statements would make no sense if he did not believe that fare jumpers were mainly African-American.)

This is identity politics run amok, and it is becoming all-pervasive in our society. And the most evil, insidious part of it is this: The more that blacks embrace identity politics, the more many whites will as well — particularly lower-income whites whose lives belie the notion that they benefit from “white privilege.” And that’s how you end up with Donald Trump.

Martin Luther King had a dream that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of that skin. Tragically, that dream seems to be dying.

In Defense of Kelly’s Defense of Robert E. Lee

by Bill O’Keefe

When General John F. Kelly recently said that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and that the Civil War resulted from a failure to compromise, critics denounced him as a “Lost Cause” apologist who was ignorant of history and insensitive to racism and bigotry. His background, education, and accomplishments in the Marine Corps suggest, however, that such character assassination is a classic case of identity politics.

Anyone who has studied the Civil War objectively sees it as one of our greatest tragedies. In 1861 the United States was a fragile union only weakly held together by a Constitution that had only been ratified 73 years earlier. Today we hold that slavery was evil. But, outside of abolitionists here and in Europe, that was not the prevailing view then. It should not be surprising that a system that had existed since 1800 B.C., and still does in some places in the world, would be slow to change, and that the process of change would create deep and difficult tensions.

Critics who point to compromises affecting black slaves — starting with the Constitution — make a legitimate point that patience and slow progress benefited slave owners at the expense of blacks. We cannot know for sure what would have happened if South Carolina, Mississippi and other intransigent slave states had found common ground with the Union through further compromise. We do know that 620,000 deaths would have been avoided. And, we can be fairly confident that evolving economics and culture would have made slavery less viable. Whether those changes would have shortened the bigotry and racism that continued during the post-war period — and which exists to a lesser degree today — is unknowable.

In the attacks on General Kelly, the word “compromise” has been used pejoratively. Writers ignore the fact that our system of government is built on compromise to avoid the tyranny of the minority by the majority. Henry Clay once observed that politics is about governing and that if you can’t compromise, you can’t govern. That fact is very much in evidence today.

 In an attempt to show General Kelly as a “Lost Cause” apologist, critics have created a false narrative about Robert E. Lee. One writer in The New Yorker went so far as to say that Lee attempted to overthrow the United States government. Others have claimed that he was defending slavery.

As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Historical facts more than demonstrate that Robert E. Lee was more than honorable; he was a man of conviction, integrity, deep spirituality, and humility. He did not support secession and believed that slavery was evil.  He was also spiritually naïve in believing that God would emancipate blacks on His schedule. He was respected by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant.

And Dwight Eisenhower (who had his portrait in the Oval Office) said that Lee was, “in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this:  a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities.” Americans, he said, could continue to learn something from the Confederate general because a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be “unconquerable in spirit and soul.”

General Lee’s reputation will withstand the current attempts at revisionist history because, in the end, facts do matter.  And, General Kelly is learning that as Winston Churchill said, “Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”

Bill O’Keefe, a resident of New Kent County, is president of Solutions Consulting.

Teenagers and the New Taboos of Race


When a handful of white Short Pump Middle School football players in Henrico County engaged in a racial bullying — simulating anal rape upon black peers in the locker room and posting video on social media — the community understandably erupted in outrage. The behavior was reprehensible. It had to be chastised.

It’s not clear from media reports what punishment, if any, the perpetrators of the acts themselves have suffered. As minors, the boys are entitled to privacy protections. But let’s make one thing clear: The bullies were responsible for the actions, and they are the ones who should be punished for their behavior, not their teammates.

But the Henrico County Public School system was not content to merely punish the offenders. School authorities canceled the rest of the team’s season, thus affecting kids who did not participate in the bullying. Instead of attending practice the team assembled for mandatory discussions on racial tolerance and ethics. Also, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, one football coach is said to no longer work for the county. The reason for his departure is unclear, although we are probably safe in assuming that it was related to the bullying incident.

It’s one thing to punish individuals who deserve it. It’s another thing to punish the collective (the football team), sweeping innocents into the net. Now Henrico schools are using the episode as an excuse to bureaucratize the enforcement of the dogma of the day on matters of race.

The T-D reports today that Henrico schools are creating a new office of equity and diversity, and in January will hire a director to oversee it. The goal of the office will be to implement short- and long-term cultural diversity plans. Also, the schools are planning an equity and diversity task force made up of students, parents, community members, and district staff members.

Super. Now the higher-ed practice of creating diversity bureaucracies is spreading to K-12 school systems. That’s worked out so well for colleges — they’re such beacons of ethnic tranquility these days — that I’m sure it will turn out just dandy for Henrico, too. Not.

This is just a suspicion, and I hope I’m proven wrong as Henrico rolls out its new programs. But talk of racial tolerance (a good thing) is all too often accompanied by talk of “white privilege” and guilt-tripping of white students (a bad thing). In the current environment, no one can veer from the party line without being judged a racist, so people shut up. And keep their opinions to themselves. And vote for Donald Trump.

One last thought: The United States is undergoing a redefinition of taboos. For many generations, the use of profanity was banned from the public domain. Beginning in the 1960s, it became hip to transgress against bourgeois norms of propriety. A half century later, the norms against profanity have been obliterated. Vulgar language is ubiquitous in our society today. But the old taboos have been replaced by new taboos, largely based on ethnic, gender and sexual identity. Most famously, the “N word” has replaced the “F word” as something that simply cannot be uttered publicly. (To prevent any misunderstanding, I’m OK with the taboo against the “N word.”)

When I was a teenager, it was cool and edgy to use profanity. Kids used the transgressive language of the day as a form of self-assertion, a way to cultivate an air of rebelliousness. Now, it seems, nobody outside of Sunday school cares much about profanity. So how does a teenage kid, especially a white teenage kid, stay edgy and rebellious? By transgressing the new taboos…. which these days involve racial and sexual identity.

I don’t know what drove those white middle-school football players to bully their black teammates the way they did. But I would caution against jumping to the conclusion that their parents didn’t raise them right. The kids may be acutely aware what mainstream American society considers right and wrong in matters of race — and they may be transgressing the new taboos precisely because they are taboo.

I am not making an academic distinction here. If you want to prevent a behavior (in this case racial bullying), then you need to understand the origins of that behavior. And, until I see evidence that settles the matter, I will continue to ask if Henrico school administrators are enacting initiatives based on a profound misunderstanding.

Ed Gillespie’s Trumpian Appeal to the Alt-Right

by Les Schreiber

The recent events in Charlottesville to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue morphed into a shocking display of anti-Semitism.  The pictures of torch-bearing protesters chanting “Jews will not replace us” resembled 1930s marches in Nuremberg, Germany.  The current leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, could not bring himself to decisively separate himself from this outrage.  His comment  that both sides had good and bad people implied support of those who created the greatest horror of the 20th century.

This type of bigotry is on the rise. The so-called Alt-Right now seems to form a significant portion of the base of the Republican Party. One consequence is the resurgence of The Forward, which was originally published in Yiddish in the early 20th Century. The paper was on the verge of disbanding itself in the 1990’s but in recent years resurrected itself in English as a magazine covering the rise in anti-Semitic incidents and tracking bigoted web sites.

In a recent opinion piece Princeton Economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman examined the campaign of Trumpian nominee Ed Gillespie. By standing tall against the removal Confederate statues, this Trump surrogate has politicized an issue that will attract the Alt-Right base of his party. Ed has also run ads implying that the Democratic nominee supports immigrant gangs and sanctuary cities for them to hide in. Neither charge appears to be true. But it plays well with the Alt-Right fear of immigrants.

Next Tuesday’s results will reverberate beyond Capitol Square.