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Pop Quiz

Who is the famous African American being quoted here?:

[Although crime] is born of poverty, we must also realize that crime is generated by a lack of values that has largely gone unaddressed in our nation as a whole and in the black community in particular. Soaring unwed birthrates, absentee fathers, an aversion to work, an unwillingness to embrace societal standards and time-honored discipline — all these factors have contributed to the problems we must now confront.

Choose from:
A.  Ben Carson, surgeon and presidential candidate
B.  Thomas Sowell, scholar and columnist
C.  Bill Clinton, our first black president
D.  Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general

The answer is D, in 1994, when he was serving in the Clinton administration. 

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The New York Times had an article last week on a new school-discipline report being released that documents how, in 13 southern states, black students are suspended or expelled at higher rates than white students. But of course this is discrimination only if black students are not misbehaving more than white students, and there is no effort to answer that question in just-released report. It is unlikely that all racial and ethnic groups misbehave at the same rate, given various cultural differences; see this article in the Journal of Criminal Justice titled “Prior problem behavior accounts for racial gap in school suspensions.” 

The executive summary of last week’s report makes a big deal about these being southern states, presumably to make the suggestion of discrimination more plausible. One could quibble a bit about the 13 states selected (why West Virginia and not Maryland, Delaware, or Oklahoma?), but I was more amused by the emphasis that 55 percent of the nation’s suspension of black students and 50 percent of their expulsions took place in the South. That’s because, if you do the math, 51 percent of the nation’s black population is in those 13 states, so they are not out of line with the rest of the country.  

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Last May, the Manhattan Institute sponsored a symposium titled, “Prospects for Black America:  The Moynihan Report Turns 50.” The various panel discussions were videotaped and are available online. I’m working my way through them and just finished watching the third one, “Restoring the Family,” which is a terrific and lively discussion among Ron Haskins, Glenn Loury, and Bob Woodson, moderated by Kay Hymowitz and introduced by Jason Riley. It’s really, really good — and you won’t be tempted to stop watching it once you start, which is a good thing, because the last question from the audience at the end is a fitting finale.

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Here’s a short letter we recently sent to Scott Maddox of the Tallahassee city commission:

We enjoyed your recent op-ed here — especially the part questioning the "disparity study."  These studies are always a waste of money:  Their only purpose is to try to justify racial preferences in government contracting, and such discrimination is wrong whether it's legal or not, and in our view cannot be justified even as a legal matter by a disparity study.  The measures that can (and should) be undertaken to ensure that no one is discriminated against in government contracting should be race-neutral (duh) and do not necessitate a disparity study.  … Please keep up the good fight against government waste — and against racial discrimination by the government, whether of the politically correct or politically incorrect kind!

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The Washington Post last week had a breathless piece about how more people support “affirmative action” for women than for minorities, even though the same people think there is more discrimination against minorities than against women.  My response: 

A methodological point:  It's a problem that "affirmative action" is not defined, since it can mean different things to different people — everything from the original meaning (taking positive steps to ensure equal treatment) to quotas achieved via preferential treatment (the common current meaning).  A legal point:  The Supreme Court has long rejected societal discrimination as a justification for preferential treatment.  A cynical point:  Maybe the reason that more people favor affirmative action for women than for minorities is because there are more women in this country than there are minorities — and people favor preferential treatment for their group, deserved or not.

*             *             *

And speaking of quotas, I’ll end with two other short points: 

The use of quotas seems to have created problems in India, too, hasn’t it?  That made the front page of the New York Times this week. 

But the Obama administration is continuing to push companies to get their numbers right, with its most recent target being, well, Target.  The company had asked an outside vendor to come up with some pre-employment tests to use for screening candidates, but the administration didn’t like the fact that the tests had a “disparate impact” on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex.

All Lives Matter

The murder of two journalists near Roanoke, Va., this week is another horrifying chapter in what is becoming a story of rekindled racial animus in this nation. That it took place so close to the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28 is a reminder that we have retreated from that Promised Land where we would, in King's words, "be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

Vester Lee Flanagan II, the man who murdered Alison Parker, a 24-year-old reporter, and her 27-year-old cameraman on live TV and then killed himself, left no doubt about his motives. In a display of sadistic narcissism, Flanagan filmed the killing and then posted it on social media and left a record of racist diatribes. He claimed in a rambling rant faxed to ABC News two hours after the shooting, "What sent me over the top was the church shooting," in Charleston, S.C., in June, in which a white racist massacred nine African-Americans. Flanagan purchased a gun two days later and began planning his revenge, including, according to his tirade, carving the initials of the dead blacks into the bullets intended for his white victims. An eye for an eye.

The killings in Charleston shocked the nation. How could it be, we asked ourselves, that racism can still wreak such carnage when we have come so far in achieving an end to the pervasive discrimination and racial hatred that once infected so much of the nation? The deaths of these innocent black men and women in a church meeting hall in 2015 consumed the media, pushed the South Carolina legislature to vote overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds, and sparked much soul-searching among the American people.

It is doubtful that the racial motivation in Flanagan's evil deeds will provoke a similar response. There is no national black leader today of the same stature and moral fortitude to warn as King did in 1963: "In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

When Dylann Roof gunned down parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, he did so, he later told police, in the hopes of igniting a race war. That grandiose and disgusting fantasy will not likely play out, but all murders and other attacks fueled by racial hatred should nonetheless worry us, whether white-on-black or black-on-white or any other combination of inter-ethnic violence thus motivated.

We are used to hearing of the dangers of white racism, and unfortunately, we receive reminders all too frequently that it still exists, even if less widespread and less common than in the past. I am not one who believes we should diminish our focus just because things are better now than they once were. That we have anyone who seeks to harm others because of the color of their skin is a matter of shame and concern. These acts deserve attention, and we should not shrug them off. But neither should we ignore the implications when members of racial or ethnic groups commit similar racist acts.

Racism -- no matter the color of the perpetrator -- is vile. We have come a very long way in ending formal racial, ethnic and sex discrimination, but it seems we have a way to go in achieving King's dream: "that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

King spoke those words to all Americans. They were intended not just for civil rights activists, but also for the followers of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, his black contemporaries who eschewed nonviolence in favor of fomenting racial hatred, as well as supporters of white racists like Bull Connor and George Wallace. Where is the voice in today's African-American community who will proclaim the message that All Lives Matter and none should be cut short as a matter of racial animus or revenge?

You're Fired

By all accounts, Donald Trump knows business. He inherited a small fortune from his real-estate developer father and turned it into a huge one. "I'm very, very rich" seems to be his favorite phrase. He claims he can take that tough business acumen and turn it into a major asset for the country. He'll "Make America Great Again," as his baseball caps ($20), T-shirts ($15) and bumper stickers (free) proclaim.

As a successful CEO, Trump is now auditioning for the top chief executive job in the nation. Apparently, a sizable faction among those who will ultimately make the decision thinks he's the best candidate. Some of us, on the other hand, have our doubts. The Trump backers claim we skeptics are establishment types beholden to special interests. But I wonder how Trump himself would respond if he were in his famous "Apprentice" chair determining the acumen of a prospective hire and faced with a version of himself.

Admittedly, I haven't watched the Trump reality show. But I have interviewed -- and ultimately helped pick -- CEOs for two major public corporations (both with annual revenues of more than $5 billion) on whose boards I sat. So let's just say, these decisions were in a world a businessman like Trump could understand.

I was thinking about all of this when I dozed off at my desk. The next thing I knew I was in the boardroom, and The Donald walked in, full of bonhomie and humor, wearing a bright yellow tie that weirdly matched the color of his pompadour. He was there for his interview for the job of CEO of America Inc.

I gathered my composure, having been awakened from my nap, and asked him about what he'd do differently from our previous CEO.

"I'd make America great again," he says.

I push a little further. "Exactly how would you turn America around?"

"I think you're gonna see lots of plans, and you're gonna see -- also, and you have to understand, when you're coming up with a plan in business you have to be flexible. There's got to be flexibility."

Hmm, I think to myself. "So what do you think about our competitors," I ask.

"Much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning," he tells me.

"Wow, that's a surprise. I mean America Inc. is the biggest and the best -- or so I thought. So what do you mean?" I inquire.

"Everybody is beating us. We have incompetent people negotiating. ... We are losing money at every single step. We don't make good deals anymore," he says.

"All right, I get it. But you want to be CEO of America Inc., so tell me specifically how you're going to change the company," I say with growing impatience.

"I recently bought something -- not so recently -- but Doral in Miami," he tells me. "Everybody wanted it. If I would have sat down and said here's a 12-point plan in order to get Doral -- I didn't do that. I went in and punched and punched and beat the hell out of people, and I ended up getting it. Everybody wanted it," he says, his face growing redder, his lower lip pouting. "I got it. And I got it because I know how to get things. I know how to get things done. You can't sit down and say, well, I'm going to come up with a 19-point plan," he says before I interrupt.

"You're fired," I say, sticking my finger in his face, before I realize I can't fire the guy because he hasn't gotten the job yet. He pushes the chair back, straightens his tie and walks out.

The next thing I know, one of the other board members walks in and asks me what I did to the guy. "He says you had blood coming out of your eyes, your ... whatever."

"You mean he said I was seeing red -- that's the expression, right?"

"Nope, not what he said," my colleague answers.

"Didn't this fellow used to have a television show?" I ask. "What was it called again?"

Before he can answer, it hits me. "'The Biggest Loser,' that must be it."

OK, so I got the name wrong. It was a dream, after all. But surely a very, very rich, successful businessman like Donald Trump would feel the same if confronted with a job applicant who gave similar answers in a real job interview.

At Length and Ad Nauseam

My email this week features two long quotes, and I’m warning you beforehand that neither should be read on an empty stomach.  But you’ll see that at least I’m not being partisan.

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Here’s the set-up for the first item:  I’ve noted before that those bemoaning the “institutional racism” of Amerikkka seem to have very little idea of what it is they would propose as a corrective in 2015.  They can’t ask for laws abolishing slavery or Jim Crow or prohibiting racial discrimination; they can’t demand an African American president or attorney general either.

There was more evidence of this over the weekend, in a long interview for the New York Times of prominent African American intellectual Cornel West.  He was asked, “When it comes to race in America in 2015, what is to be done?”  And here’s his answer, his complete answer:

Well, the first thing, of course, is you’ve got to shatter denial, avoidance and evasion. That’s part of my criticism of the president. For seven years, he just hasn’t or refused to hit it head-on. It looks like he’s now beginning to find his voice. But in finding his voice, it’s either too late or he’s lost his moral authority. He can’t drop drones on hundreds of innocent children and then talk about how upset he is when innocent people are killed. You can’t reshape the world in the image of corporate interest and image with Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and then say that you’re in deep solidarity with working people and poor people. You can’t engage in massive surveillance, keeping track of phone calls across the board, targeting Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and others, and then turn right back around and say you’re against secrecy, you’re against clandestine policy.

So that, unfortunately, if he had come right in and asserted his moral authority over against Fox News, over against right-wing, conservative folk who were coming at him — even if he lost — he would have let the world know what his deep moral convictions are. But he came in as a Machiavellian. He came in with political calculation. That’s why he brought in Machiavellians like Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers, and others. So, it was clear it was going to be political calculation, not moral conviction.

How can anyone take your word seriously after seven years about how we need to put a spotlight on racism when, for seven years, you’ve been engaged in political calculation about racism? But then you send out your lieutenants.

You send out all your Obama cheerleaders and bootlickers and they say to his critics that he is president of all of America, not black America. And we say white supremacy is a matter of truth. Are you interested in truth?

It’s a matter of justice. Are you interested in justice? It’s a matter of national security. Are you interested in national security? Well, we talk about black America. We’re not talking about some ghettoized group that’s just an interest group that you have to engage in political calculation about. When you talk about black people, you’re talking about wrestling with lies and injustice coming at them and their quest for truth and justice. If you’re not interested in truth and justice, no politician ought to be in office, and not just the president. So, we’ve actually had a major setback in seven years; a lost opportunity.

So, in other words, what Professor Cornel West thinks American race relations needs in 2015 is,  … well, I guess all he can think of is a president who talks more about race relations.

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Here’s the set-up for the second item.  Last week, there were a number of news stories in which Ohio governor (and presidential hopeful) John Kasich was quoted as crowing about how the state’s minority contracting goal (read “quota”) had at long last been achieved.   Here is the statement that was released.  Nothing to brag about, in my view, if you are committed to nondiscriminatory government contracting:

For the first time in history, the State of Ohio has reached the goals of its Minority Business Enterprise program by purchasing a record 19 percent of eligible goods and services through minority-owned businesses while spending a record $228.5 million. Ohio’s MBE program, established in 1980, mandates that state agencies set aside 15 percent of their annual purchases for goods and services for certified minority-owned businesses.

“More than 30 years ago, as a member of the Ohio Senate, I joined in voting for a more inclusive approach for those seeking to do business with state government,” said Ohio Governor John Kasich. “Casting that vote, I never envisioned it would take three decades to achieve it. For far too long, Ohio has failed to live up to expectations that were set into law. By making this a priority, we are now able to help more small businesses from all backgrounds take part in our state’s economic success. That is reason to celebrate.”

Out of the eligible expenditures for goods and services purchased during Fiscal Year 2015, a total of 17.21 percent were set aside for MBE-certified businesses. Another 2.20 percent of eligible goods and services were purchased from MBE-certified businesses through open-market contracts, for a total of 19.41 percent of eligible goods and services purchased through MBE-certified businesses.

Under Governor Kasich’s  leadership, the state has made steady progress in expanding its base of suppliers by identifying more qualified minority businesses and encouraging them to work with the state to supply the goods and services it needs to operate. As a result of this effort, the state set an initial record in Fiscal Year 2014 with $165 million in minority business expenditures followed by this new record of $228.5 million in Fiscal Year 2015.

On Dec. 17, 1980, House Bill 584 was signed into law, establishing the MBE program, which mandated that state agencies set aside 15 percent of their annual purchases for goods and services for certified minority-owned businesses.

As a member of the General Assembly in 1980, Governor Kasich voted to support House Bill 584 and after becoming Ohio’s governor made its achievement a priority of his administration.

Since 2011, the state has made steady progress in identifying set-aside opportunities, certifying minority-owned businesses and matching them with state contract opportunities. State agencies, boards and commissions now produce annual spending plans that project set-aside contract and procurement opportunities for qualified MBE-certified businesses the aggregate value for which is at least 15 percent. …

As I said, there’s not much in this program that Governor Kasich ought to be bragging about, at least if he thinks that the government should be trying to ensure that it awards its contracts to the lowest qualified bidders, regardless of skin color or what country their ancestors came from.

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One last item, which I hope will be easier on your stomach.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be appearing at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting on a panel discussing voting-rights issues.   A video with snippets from that discussion has been posted now here, and you can see some of my remarks at the 7:15–9:30 mark.

“Black and Unarmed”

The Washington Post had a great big front-page story on Sunday, headlined “Black and Unarmed,” that analyzes fatal police shootings over the past year (that is, since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri), focusing especially on ones where the person shot was, you guessed it, black and unarmed.  A few observations:

First, it was a little hard to get past the first paragraph, which calls burglary “a relatively minor incident.” Try telling that to anyone who has been home when someone’s broken into it, or even someone who’s gone through having a home broken into when they weren’t home — especially if they’ve had to explain to their children that they have nothing to be afraid of.

Second, the Post acknowledges that, of the 585 total police shootings, only 24 involved unarmed black men – “a surprisingly [to whom?] small fraction” of all police shootings, and a minority (40 percent) even of those involving unarmed individuals, most of whom were white or Hispanic.  The Post stresses that black males are nonetheless overrepresented since “they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population”; true, but of course males of all colors are always overrepresented in crime statistics, and one wonders (and wonders why the Post didn’t include) what the percentage of black males is among those arrested in the first place, which would be the better baseline for comparison.

Third, the Post also acknowledges that, among the unarmed, some “may nonetheless pose a threat.” That’s an understatement (and of course Michael Brown himself is Exhibit A).  If you go through the summaries of the 24 cases, time after time there it says there was a struggle for the officer’s gun, or the officer was being charged, or was being attacked with something else that the Post does not consider a suitably serious weapon.  The Post says that in “many” of the cases the “threat was not readily apparent”; well, I guess it depends on your definition of “many,” but I think it’s fair to say that in “most” cases the alleged threat was both obvious and serious.

Two other things: (1) The Post does not tell us how many of the police officers were themselves black, which would have been interesting to know; and (2) based on the photographs provided for some of those shot, it’s not obvious in all cases that the police would have known that the person was black.

It’s good that the Post was willing to make the concessions that it did and was willing to include some information that might make the Left uncomfortable. Still, the breathless and accusatory tone of the story is unfortunate.

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Speaking of this particular newspaper, here are the last two paragraphs in a Washington Post item, involving admissions discrimination against women:

“So if you’re a recruiter for a Fortune 500 company and two Vassar résumés come across your desk — one from a woman, the other from a man — keep this in mind: It was almost twice as hard for the woman to get into Vassar as it was for the man.

“Maybe they’re equal candidates. But if you’re playing the odds, I’d say hire the woman.”

This, of course, is the hated “stigmatization” argument that our side of the aisle uses against racial admissions preferences; I wonder if this occurred to the author here.

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I have noted before the amusing disconnect on the Left between the racism it sees (huge) and what it can suggest to address it (tiny).  Here’s the latest example.  Michael Eric Dyson was given a lot of space (1200 words) by the New York Times to expound on what he sees as a good agenda for improved race relations, and here’s what he came up with (either on his own or with the help of President Obama):

  1. Federal “funding for police body cameras”
  2. “Greater federal pressure on police departments”
  3. “Comprehensive judicial reform that removes from local prosecutors the decision to charge a cop in the killing of an unarmed civilian”
  4. “Prison reform”:  “instead of devoting $80 billion to incarceration, we could invest in pre-K and jobs for teenagers”
  5. “Enforce legal bans on residential discrimination — making cities accountable for the use of federal housing funds to reduce racial disparities”
  6. “Pardons to prisoners who were often unjustly saddled with life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses”
  7. “A new Kerner Commission report that is updated for our day, paying special attention to how black people are viciously targeted by unethical police practices”

Now, some of these may be okay and some are definitely not, but note that all but one (#5) are tied in with the criminal justice system:  Are we to believe that improving the way criminals and suspected criminals are treated will end all the racism and racial disparities that the Left complains about?

As I said before: There are still and will always be racists (of all colors), but the amount of actual racism that can be addressed by any serious government program is small — and that’s actually a good thing.  Meanwhile, conservatives believe that free markets, intact families, following the law, and high moral, social, and educational standards are the best ways to pursue happiness and prosperity for all.

Your choice, America.

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Finally, and speaking of the criminal justice system:  There’s lots of talk these days about criminal-justice reform, from both sides of the aisle: “Mass incarceration” is the Left’s term of opprobrium, and “overcriminalization” is the Right’s. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement in anything run by government bureaucrats, but I do have one caveat: The reforms should not be designed to have a particular racial result, one way or the other.

If the system is broken — that is, if people are being prosecuted or sentenced or imprisoned in a way that makes no sense as a matter of policy — then by all means fix it, but if it isn’t, don’t.  And the definition of “is broken” and “make no sense” should not hinge on racial bean-counting.  I’m very skeptical that the racial disparities in imprisonment are caused in any significant degree by racism; the fact is that at any point in time there will not be uniformity in crime rates across all demographic groups. The War on Drugs is commonly decried as racist; not only is that dubious, but nonviolent drug offenders are a relatively small part of the prison population, and there is no serious dispute that there are also, for example, racial disparities among violent criminals

Bottom line: If there is racism then by all means address it, but don’t assume that racial disparities equal racism or that any racial disparity is a problem that has to be fixed.

Revoking Birthright Citizenship Is Un-American

After weeks of hurling nothing but insults at others while proclaiming he's America's savior, Donald Trump has finally issued his first policy paper: Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again.

It's short on substance, but the few concrete proposals he makes would wreak havoc on the economy, wreck lives and make government costlier and more intrusive.

But worst of all, Trump's proposal to eliminate birthright citizenship is downright un-American. I will have more to say on other parts of Trump's plan in future columns, but for now, let's look at his proposal to reverse birthright citizenship.

Trump says birthright citizenship "remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration," without, as is his wont, adding any evidence to support it.

There's a reason Trump offers no evidence: because it contradicts his claim. The hysteria and misinformation prevalent on the right imagine hordes of pregnant Mexican women camped out on the border just waiting to cross and give birth to newly minted American citizens at U.S. taxpayer expense. But the facts show otherwise.

An analysis of census data reveals that among births to illegal immigrant mothers in 2009-2010, 91 percent had been in the country for at least two years, and two-thirds had arrived at least five years before giving birth.

Illegal immigrants come here to work, not to "drop anchor babies," an ugly term used to refer to innocent children.

The question of whether these children are citizens by birth is a settled matter of law.

Most who object to the status claim that the 14th Amendment, which states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and State wherein they reside," applied only to former slaves. While the impetus to pass the amendment was certainly the desire to guarantee citizenship to African-Americans, this was because they were one of only two broad groups who had been denied birthright citizenship prior to the amendment.

The infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 declared that all African-Americans, whether enslaved or free, were ineligible to be citizens.

Native Americans were the other group denied birthright citizenship, because they were regarded by treaty as members of sovereign nations, a status that did not change until 1924.

Everyone else who was born on American soil from colonial times forward had been considered citizens from birth: British citizens before independence and U.S. citizens afterward.

The tradition, known as jus soli, is nearly universal in the Western hemisphere and dates back a thousand years in English common law.

At the time the 14th Amendment passed, there was considerable debate regarding groups that would be equivalent to today's illegal immigrants, though the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" immigrants did not apply because no laws restricted immigration then.

Sen. Edgar Cowan, D-Pa., railed against those whose citizenship might be affirmed under the new amendment, calling for "expelling a certain number of people who invade her borders; who owe to her no allegiance; ... who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen, and perform none of the duties which devolve upon him."

Sound familiar?

But he wasn't talking about Mexicans. "I mean the Gypsies," he said.

Another Cowan diatribe sounds eerily prescient of Trump's warnings: "There is a race in contact with this country which, in all characteristics except that of simply making fierce war, is not only our equal, but perhaps our superior." Like Trump a century and a half later, Cowan was worried about the Chinese, or, as he put it, "I mean the yellow race, the Mongol race." They, too, he believed, should be denied citizenship even if born here.

But the amendment passed, without any provision limiting those to whom it applied apart from diplomats and children born to an occupying enemy -- those not "subject to the jurisdiction thereof."

This particular phrase was later litigated in a case involving a man born in San Francisco to Chinese parents who were aliens ineligible to become U.S. citizens under the laws of the times. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark that "the amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born within the territory of the United States of all other persons (except children born to enemy aliens and diplomats), of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States."

Trump is dead wrong on birthright citizenship, and Republicans should not follow him down the rabbit hole.

Lawyers and Other Felons

I’ll be traveling to Chicago this week for the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, where I’ve been invited to talk about voting law issues and the upcoming elections in 2016.  I plan to make three points.

First, lawmakers should resist demands that felons be automatically re-enfranchised on the day they walk out of prison (currently, only two states — Maine and Vermont — allow prison inmates to vote).  If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote.  Or, to look at it another way, we don’t let everyone vote:  not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not felons.  We have certain minimum, objective standards of trustworthiness and commitment to our laws, and some people can’t be presumed to meet those standards—like those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens.

The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison.  After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.  Read more about this issue in my congressional testimony here.

Second, when it comes to ballot security issues — like voter ID requirements — it is inevitable that a balance will have to be struck between making sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can do so, and making sure that those who are not eligible to vote don’t do so.  That balance can be struck in various ways; but the race of those involved should not matter, one way or the other, in how that balance is struck.  Lawmakers and courts should not care if this or that group is more likely to be affected by a legitimate effort to stop voter fraud; conversely, of course, if efforts are being made to disenfranchise particular racial groups, that is and should be illegal. 

And, finally and similarly, race should not be a factor in redistricting either.  There are all kinds of reasons — political, geographic, historical, you name it — for zigging and zagging when these boundaries are drawn, but no zig or zag should come about because of racial considerations.  And it doesn’t matter if those racial considerations are “progressive” or “reactionary.”

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The felon voting issue often gets mixed in with opposition to the “War on Drugs” and to “mass incarceration”:  The suggestion is that most people who are in prison are in their for drug offenses.  But on this point there was an interesting op-ed this week in the Washington Post by a professor at Fordham Law School.  I don’t agree with all of it, but the facts that he marshals are important.  He sets straight President Obama’s statement recently in his NAACP speech: “But here’s the thing: Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.”

This claim, which is widely accepted by policymakers and the public, is simply wrong. It’s true that nearly half of all federal inmates have been sentenced for drug offenses, but the federal system holds only about 14 percent of all inmates. In the state prisons, which hold the remaining 86 percent, over half of prisoners are serving time for violent crimes, and since 1990, 60 percent of the growth in state prison populations has come from locking up violent offenders. Less than a fifth of state prisoners — 17 percent — are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses.

And contrary to Obama’s claim, drug inmates tend to serve relatively short sentences. It is the inmates who are convicted of violent crimes who serve the longer terms.

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For my sins, I watched the much-hyped MTV show “White People” last week.  It was not quite as awful as I feared, and the concluding section on the assimilation of immigrants was actually all right. 

The worst part was a segment on scholarships.  It featured a white girl who said she was discriminated against in the award of financial aid because of her race, and that minority students were treated preferentially.  The narrator of the show purported to disprove this by producing statistics showing that the percentage of white students getting such assistance is higher than the percentage of all students who are white.  But that proves nothing.  After all, if white students are generally better qualified to receive scholarships than others, that would explain their “overrepresentation” among recipients; and of course this particular girl might have been discriminated against because of her race in any event. 

*          *          *

Some final thoughts on the notion of “white privilege,” which was also discussed on that MTV show.

I’ve noted before that it is, for starters, a divisive phrase, much more likely to hurt race relations than help them, as it lumps together all white people — many of whom cannot be considered “privileged” by any reasonable standard — and points an accusatory finger at them, asserting, “You don’t deserve what you have.”  It’s overtly antiwhite.

It is also, at bottom, just another way of complaining about stereotyping, even though all racial groups — indeed, all groups, period — face stereotyping, some negative and some positive, and there’s nothing new or remarkable about it. It overstates the extent to which stereotyping occurs and the consequences it has.

It also seems to me odd to complain about positive stereotyping rather than, as used to be the case, focusing on negative stereotyping.  That is, let’s suppose that African Americans tend to be profiled as likely shoplifters and whites aren’t.  Doesn’t it make more sense to criticize antiblack profiling than the blame white people for not being profiled?

I have to say that it also seems to me unfortunate to make “privilege” into a negative thing.  Privilege is nice, and there should be more of it, for everyone.  Rather than have less privilege for some, we should have more privilege for others.

And, finally, playing this particular race card suggests that racial disparities — and, indeed, racial stereotyping — are due solely to racism simpliciter, and have nothing to do with culture and, in particular, cultural dysfunctions. It is, in other words, the “conversation on race” that we have come to expect from the left: All whites must accept blame for all disparities of any kind, and any suggestion that some nonwhites have failed to act responsibly is blaming the victim.

Crony Quota-ism

The Obama administration has figured out yet another way to push preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex: Convene a big White House conference and extract “diversity”commitments from corporations. The administration has done it twice this month already. Big business is terrible on this issue anyway, and is certainly not going to resist any pressure from the federal government. So everyone wins — except, of course, the principle of nondiscrimination, the law, and those who end up getting discriminated against in the name of “diversity.”

*          *          *

Allow me to elaborate, starting with the point that business is all-too-often happy to go along with this nonsense.  Xerox announced this month that it will require at least one minority and one woman to be in the final applicant pool for any leadership hire in the United States.  This is a variant of the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” which violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Another example in the news: Microsoft awards its outside law firms cash bonuses for hitting predetermined “diversity” targets.  Likewise, its in-house counsel receive bonuses based on diversity.

At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell had a recent column titled (in the hard copy), “Yes, Corporate America:  Diversity Pays.” It explains how it can be very useful to have employees who bring different life experiences to the table. That’s certainly true, but the problem is why we should use skin color or what country someone’s ancestors came from as a proxy for having had a particular life experience. That’s usually called stereotyping.  Not that anything Ms. Rampell writes might suggest an unflattering stereotype, of course.  For example, in her column, one of the “life experience[s]” she talks about is being a prison inmate.  Oh, wait – oops!

Meanwhile, USA Today had an article about how Pinterest “is setting ambitious goals to hire more women and minorities — and it’s making those goals public to hold itself accountable.”  But on closer inspection it turns out the problem is not that it isn’t hiring enough minorities — the company is only half white — but that it’s the wrong kind of minorities:  too many of those darn Asians.  As for women, the article concedes the company “has more women overall than most tech firms:  42%.” 

But, comrades, we must work harder, diversity-wise. And Jesse Jackson has “commended Pinterest.” Says Reverend Jackson, “Pinterest is putting a huge stake in the ground by setting specific, measurable goals, targets and a 2016 timetable to achieve its diversity and inclusion goals.”  He adds, “We have said it:  ‘If you don’t measure it, you don’t mean it.” 

Can you say, “Quotas”? 

By the way, no justification — none —  is given in the Pinterest article for this (illegal and immoral) focus on race, ethnicity, and sex. 

*          *          *

And, as noted, the Obama administration is all for this sort of thing.  In fact, Xerox’s announcement was made in conjunction with the White House’s first “Demo Day” this month, aimed at bringing greater “diversity” into the tech world.  And the White House also convened a meeting this month of business school deans and the business leaders on “expanding opportunities for women in business.”   Here are some excerpts from the White House “fact sheet” on Demo Day, and you can also read more about it in Terry Eastland’s excellent editorial against it in the current Weekly Standard here.

There’s more from the Obama administration:  The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has a new poster for your workplace!  And the neat thing is that it’s really two posters in one since, as is typical in this area, it points in two different directions: It warns against discrimination, but it also promotes “diversity,” which is typically achieved through discrimination. The fine print at the bottom also endorses “affirmative action,” which likewise has an ambiguous history: Originally it meant nondiscrimination, but that’s no longer the way it’s understood. OFCCP’s regulations on the subject are themselves illegal, and also point in different directions, so the problem is not new with the poster but is reflected by it. A great conversation piece to have next to the water cooler!

*          *          *

Let me give one last example of a businessman who’s okay with politically correct discrimination:  Donald Trump, whom you may have heard of. 

Here’s what he said in an interview on Sunday: “”I’m fine with affirmative action. We’ve lived with it for a long time. And I lived with it for a long time. And I’ve had great relationships with lots of people.”

What a silly answer. So Mr. Trump is “fine” with treating people differently — some better, some worse — on the basis of skin color, national origin, and sex. How come? Because “I’ve lived with it for a long time.” How does that make such discrimination more acceptable? Indeed, in this instance, the longer it has been around the less defensible it is, if the rationale is somehow to make up for past wrongs. And, of course, you can have “great relationships with lots of people” without discriminating against them. In fact, it might actually improve your relationships with lots of people. Sheesh.

*          *          *

On to something different.  Whatever else may be said about the recent court of appeals decision against Texas’s voter-ID law, it should end claims of an urgent need for Congress to resurrect the “preclearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, the court’s unanimous opinion (by a liberal panel) was the worst possible outcome for those advocates: It reversed the trial court’s finding that the Texas legislature acted with discriminatory intent in passing the law, yet still struck it down because of the Voting Rights Act’s “disparate impact” ban. So the claim that racist voting practices are suddenly again rampant has been undermined, and at the same time it is reaffirmed that civil-rights plaintiffs and the Department of Justice have no shortage of effective weapons in their arsenals. 

I made these points, by the way, in a reply to a Washington Post editorial that was published last week.

How To Be a Parent

The cover of Harper's Magazine's August edition was intriguing: a lovely portrait of a mother and sleeping infant with the caption "How To Be a Parent." I remain fascinated with the topic, though my children are grown and even my older grandchildren are becoming young adults. So, I eagerly read each of the 10 entries by various poets, novelists and journalists, wondering what wisdom the current generation of mothers and fathers had to offer. Sadly, some of the entries left me worried that our culture has become so self-centered that we seem on the verge of losing that essential element of what it means to be a mother or father: selflessness.

Becoming a parent was once just a natural part of most adults' lives, something that happened without a great deal of thought or planning. Now parenthood has become a choice -- and increasingly one that has more to do with parents' desires, hopes and fulfillment than it does with the children who are born of that choice. That is not to say there isn't a great deal of love bestowed, perhaps more than in the past. But the love seems increasingly self-referential, even self-indulgent.

Two of the Harper's entries were written by lesbian mothers, a category that is tiny but growing in the population. Michelle Tea is the author of "How To Grow Up," a memoir whose Amazon blurb describes Tea as an aspiring young writer in San Francisco "who lived in a scuzzy communal house; she drank, smoked, snorted anything she got her hands on; she toiled for the minimum wage; and she dated men and women, and sometimes both at once. But between hangovers and dead-end jobs, she scrawled in notebooks and organized dive bar poetry readings, working to make her literary dreams real."

Perhaps she has indeed grown up and her choice to become a mother, thanks to the implantation in her womb of an embryo created from her wife's egg and a donor's sperm, will turn out well for the child. But Tea's essay, "Part Neither, Part Both," though touching, is really all about her.

The same can be said of several other entries, by fathers as well as mothers. One father, A. Balkan, writes compellingly in "Self-Portrait with Daughters" of the amputation of his leg after a reckless speedboat driver capsized the small boat he was in, throwing Balkan into the path of the engine that nearly severed his leg. His twin daughters were 8 months old and safely ashore with their mother at the time, and they are minor characters in the story. Another, "The Grand Shattering" by Sarah Manguso, is all about the author's fears that motherhood would ruin her writing career -- a fear she turns into a strength once her child is born. "Those who have not passed through the gauntlet of motherhood cannot be equal in experience to those who have," she says. Motherhood, it seems, is the way to make her a better writer.

Only Harper's editor Ellen Rosenbush contributed an essay, "On Being a Stepparent," that actually focuses exclusively on being a parent. The shortest in the collection, Rosenbush nonetheless describes her role helping her two stepsons as confidant and friend as "a privileged one." She shares short anecdotes about one son wanting to drop out of school and the other son wanting to hide from his father that he'd received a driving ticket. In both cases, she guided them to make the right choices.

Parenthood entails sacrifice. It isn't about realizing your own ambitions through your progeny. It isn't about seeing your own reflection in your child's face or creating someone to love, who will in turn love you. Being a parent requires enormous responsibility not just to love the child, but also to teach him or her how to become a good, contributing member of society. Becoming a parent is a commitment we make not to ourselves or even just to our children, but one that binds us to all humanity.

Too bad Harper's didn't choose more writers and thinkers who might have shed some meaningful light on those responsibilities and commitments. One thing I've learned after almost 47 years is that the job of parent isn't one from which you ever retire.