School Desegregation and Its Effect On Black Neighborhoods

In 2012, in her book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, Condoleezza Rice talked about what life was like for her growing up in Birmingham, Alabama before and during desegregation. In it, she paints a very different picture from what is usually presented when you look into the history books. Condoleezza paints the picture of her life before desegregation as a middle class dream — complete with ballet class, music lessons, and charm school. She talks about a tight-knit Black community that was determined to make sure their children were well educated and prepared for a world that would be hostile towards them.

What’s often glanced over in history books is that many Black people opposed desegregation of schools. While most people’s view of the pro-segregationist is that of the White people we see in pictures, holding signs that say “Keep N—–s Out Of [Insert School Here],” there were many Black neighborhoods that weren’t eager to send their children off to school somewhere else.

A major downside to school integration is that it meant many schools in Black neighborhoods would be shut down. It seemed as if the majority of children being forced to move from one school to another were the Black students. In Tulsa, Oklahoma more Black students were being sent to predominantly White schools than White students were being sent to predominantly Black schools. This led to Carver Middle School being shut down for a year. As recently as 1997, well-performing but predominantly Black schools like Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky were in danger of being shut down because they didn’t have enough White students — due to geographic location — for the school to be considered properly integrated.

The experience of segregation wasn’t exactly the same from state to state after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 and other laws desegregating public facilities, housing, private businesses, and more. In Los Angeles, California (as well as in many other Western and Northern states across the US) people of color — who were now free to live in any neighborhood they wanted — still preferred to live in neighborhoods largely populated by their own race, ethnicity or culture. Many Black people moved to the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, which, during the 60s and 70s, became the hub for African-Americans in the area.

This kind of segregation, known as de facto segregation, wasn’t illegal, but it meant that the schools in the Crenshaw district (and many others like it) had predominantly African-American students because the students living in those districts were predominantly African-American. It became the norm for school districts with this particular problem to employ busing as a means to desegregate these schools. Children in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles were bused out to the San Fernando Valley, at the time a majority-White area that was also a one hour bus trip each way for the children.

In 1981, the US Supreme Court halted the mandatory busing system stating that it was unconstitutional to enforce busing when the segregation in schools was unintentional — meaning it was based on where people chose to live, de facto segregation rather than de jure segregation.
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Oped | Victors’ Bonus: What Israel Could Learn From Athens

The following essay and original research first appeared in The Globalist.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen Israeli political parties are expected to win seats in the country’s snap parliamentary elections that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called after his coalition broke up last year.

These parties will vie for a total of 120 proportionally elected seats in the Knesset. Israel’s threshold to win seats has this year been raised to 3.25% of the vote (translating to 3-4 seats).

As a result of this fractious system, no single Israeli party or joint list has ever won a majority (61 seats) in an election.

No clear winners in Israeli elections

In the past five elections, the party or list that ended up forming the coalition won an average of just 30.2 seats out of 120 – i.e., only a quarter of the seats – with 11-14 other lists also winning seats.

To form a government thus requires coalition building among quite a few parties, usually with very different (if not diametrically opposed) policy views. No wonder that, under those circumstances, coalitions do not last very long.

The public has previously shown a desire for a stronger executive mandate. Israel briefly adopted direct elections for Prime Minister in the 1990s. To exclude unserious candidates, only major parties could nominate someone. In each of the three times Prime Ministers were directly elected, only two candidates competed.

This modification unfortunately did not fix the problem because the Prime Minister could win an outright majority of the vote but still lack a majority of legislators to support his cabinet or agenda.

Since then, other than tinkering with the electoral threshold very slightly, Israel has not tried to deal with the leadership and policy instability problem inherent in its system.

Where Athens does provide inspiration

One possible place to seek electoral reform inspiration for Israel might be Greece – the birthplace of democracy and a country with a similar population size – despite its own serious current political challenges.

Similarly to Israel, 250 members of Greece’s parliament are elected through a system that ensures fair geographic representation along with the proportional will of the national electorate, using a 3% threshold.

However, there is one big innovation to clarify the executive mandate. As of the 2008 revisions to Greek election laws, the top-finishing party is given a victory bonus of 50 extra seats – bringing the total to 300 seats in parliament – to help the winner get closer to a governing majority.

This represents a bonus equal to 20% of the proportionally elected seats. (An earlier law gave the winner 40 seats.)

It’s not a perfect setup, of course. A party earning relatively low percentage of the vote share can gain an extra 20% of the seats even if it falls well short of capturing the confidence of a majority of voters and even if another party were to capture just 1% less of the electorate than the winner.

However, it substantially boosts the chances of quickly forming a government and allowing that government to push through its major agenda items, rather than floundering along with the status quo due to internal gridlock.

Meanwhile, it still allows for diverse, multi-party elections — but constructively counteracts the growth of fringe, single-issue, or personality-centric parties that take up seats or weaken serious parties without actually contributing to the government or the opposition in any substantive way.

Israel’s political system, even more so than Greece, would benefit from being cleared of such parties. Politicians would have more incentive to remain inside a major party, rather than splintering, as often happens.

Applying Athens in Jerusalem

If a comparable bonus were applied in Israel, it could mean 120 seats would be elected proportionally with 24 additional seats awarded to the winning list. (The Knesset would expand to 144 members in this scenario, and 73 seats would be a majority.)
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Op-Ed | Israel: There’s No Crystal Ball for Election Consequences

The following op-ed was originally published in The Globalist.

Pictured: Israel's Knesset (parliament) building in Jerusalem. (via Wikimedia)

Pictured: Israel’s Knesset (parliament) building in Jerusalem. (via Wikimedia)

U.S. media is abuzz with rumors over which Democrats will or will not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled March speech to the U.S. Congress at the invitation of the Republicans. Many expressed concern that attending could be viewed as endorsing him in the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry “spoke informally” in Munich with Mr. Netanyahu’s leading challenger, Isaac Herzog, fueling further controversy. This framing of the news speaks to the overly reductive nature of U.S. coverage of overseas elections, which tries to fit all stories to the U.S. horserace model.

Outside that lens, the Israeli electoral system is notoriously complex. This year, at least 16 parties will contest the snap parliamentary elections that current Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for March 17.

These parties vie for a total of semi-proportionally elected 120 seats. A number of the parties will run their candidates, as usual, on temporary fusion lists, in part to clear the new three to four seat threshold.

Due to the voting complexity, predicting even the approximate distribution of seats across these many parties is often a fool’s errand.

A complex electoral system

This electoral reality in Israel generally produces short-lived coalition governments featuring a kaleidoscope of parties and unstable partnerships of two or more parties.

Even so, at the present time, much is made in Washington about who will head the next Israeli coalition government – incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, or Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and list partner Tzipi Livni of centrist Hatnuah.

Independent of who “wins” – by taking the most seats or forming a coalition government — it is almost impossible to predict what the policy results of the election might be under either outcome.

Those policies – changed for the better or as static and uncooperative as at present – are not so much determined by whoever is prime minister, but by the governing coalition’s composition.

In other words, even a change in the prime minister’s chair might not actually significantly shift policy – domestically or on military/diplomatic affairs – unless there is a perfect storm of results for every party necessary to forge such changes.

In a more traditional and simplified election system, Mr. Netanyahu would provide a conservative government, while Mr. Herzog would provide a center-left government assisted by Ms. Livni. (Even then, the ideological alignment of the latter would be in some doubt because it really consists of a center-left and centrist party.)

No clear winner in sight

Based on recent polling, however, Herzog/Livni alone would win between 22 and 26 seats, far short of a 61-seat majority. Likud could win 20 to 27 seats, also falling short.

Therefore, in reality, getting to a majority (or stable minority government) depends on a range of parties outside the big two or three.

Even the four major left-leaning lists together and the four major right-leaning lists together are expected to win only about 43 and 61 seats each, respectively, under their current best-case projected outcomes. It seems likelier that they will take about 40 or 45 each. That makes this election even more complicated.

Thus, even with four big lists cooperating on each side after the election, either winner would still need to cobble together a coalition – beyond that core four – from the smaller lists expected to cross the minimum threshold to hold seats.

Within the nine other party lists (beyond Labor/Hatnuah and Likud) that are expected to win seats in the Knesset is a veritable pantheon of ideologies.

These run the gamut from communist to right-wing nationalist, from Islamist (the “United Arab List” Party currently represented with three seats in the Knesset) to hardline Orthodox Jewish (e.g., “United Torah Judaism” currently represented with seven seats), as well as everything in between.

What this means in practical terms is that the ultimate policy positions of a resulting coalition could be very contradictory.

Based on past coalitions, it is entirely possible, for example, that Mr. Herzog of Labor could become prime minister, but have extremely right-wing cabinet members outside his own party.

All of the combinations themselves depend on how each party fares in the election and how many seats it can bring to the majority. The electoral math for the smaller parties alone makes one’s head spin, even assuming relatively logical ideological groupings in a final coalition.

The hopeful scenario

One scenario that might actually change things on both economic issues and the question of the Palestinian territories would be a nine-party coalition led by Herzog. Read more

De-Baathification: An ISIS misstep the US already made?

ISIS appears to have made the same major error in Sunni Iraq as the United States did nearly 12 years ago, pursuing a de-Baathification policy and thereby alienating a key constituency that might otherwise have backed their occupation — Baathist military officers and pro-Baathist Sunni tribes.

These Baathists generally have the most military and administrative experience in the the Sunni regions of Iraq, due to their military and governmental service under Saddam Hussein. Additionally, most membership/follower estimates of both the new paramilitary wing (which aided the ISIS capture of Mosul) and the political party put them at significantly larger numerical strength than the ISIS brigades operating in Iraq, if not all across the so-called Islamic State.

All in all, this policy seems to be backfiring on ISIS much the same way it backfired on the United States, as demonstrated below in a comparison between recent articles and articles from various points in the U.S. war effort after March 2003.

Late Baathist-era flag of the Republic of Iraq, 1991-2004.

Late Baathist-era flag of the Republic of Iraq, 1991-2004.

The Atlantic, this week:

But once its initial gains were secured, ISIS quickly betrayed the very groups that had aided its advance. Most prominently, ISIS declared the reestablishment of the caliphate, with the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani claiming that “the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah’s authority.” The statement clearly signaled that ISIS believed it had usurped the authority of its allies; indeed, in early July it rounded up ex-Baathist leaders in Mosul (doing so proved particularly problematic for ISIS because the ex-Baathists were also managing the actual governance and administration of the northern Iraqi city, and their arrest hastened the rapid disintegration of basic services).
And ISIS’s bureaucratic mismanagement has alienated local populations, leaving them with a lack of job opportunities and essential services.

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Utah’s homicide by police epidemic

Utah seems like a pretty safe state in general. The murder rate in 2013 was 1.7 per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 4.7 per 100,000 — or 3.9 in Kansas and 5.4 in Arkansas, the states directly below and above Utah respectively in terms of population size.

However, of the relatively small number of murders that do happen in Utah, a heck of a lot of them occur at the hands of law enforcement officers, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

In the past five years, more Utahns have been killed by police than by gang members. Or drug dealers. Or from child abuse.

Through October [2014], 45 people had been killed by law enforcement officers in Utah since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all homicides during that period.

A Salt Lake Tribune review of nearly 300 homicides, using media reports, state crime statistics, medical-examiner records and court records, shows that use of force by police is the second-most common circumstance under which Utahns kill each other, surpassed only by intimate partner violence.
Nearly all of the fatal shootings by police have been deemed by county prosecutors to be justified. Only one — the 2012 shooting of Danielle Willard by West Valley City police — was deemed unjustified, and the subsequent criminal charge was thrown out last month by a judge.

For comparison on the other side of the equation — risk to officers — I looked through the FBI statistics that are available so far for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In that period, just 3 Utah law enforcement officers were killed feloniously in the line of duty (i.e. not in an accident). Again, the overall situation in Utah is much safer than many places. Nationally, in the same span, 203 officers (including the 3 from Utah) were killed feloniously in the line of duty.

Now it may be that in some or even many of the Utah deaths by police, it was in fact a dangerous situation and the use of deadly force was the right call. Maybe there were a lot of near-misses that could have killed the officers and did not. But 15% of all homicides in the state in a five year span being caused by police seems pretty darn high.

Additionally, recent cases indicate there are at least some pretty serious questions that need to be asked. For example:

Prosecutors in Utah have determined that two police officers were justified in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt.

The Saratoga Springs police officers — Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson – shot Hunt six times Sept. 10 after responding to two 911 calls about a man walking with a samurai-style sword along a commercial boulevard.

An autopsy revealed that Hunt, who was carrying a katana sword his family said was used for cosplay, had his back turned to the officers when all six shots were fired.

An attorney for Hunt’s family said they still don’t know how many shots were fired and in which direction, reported The Salt Lake Tribune, but he noted that Schauerhamer paused to reload his weapon during the shooting.

Darrien Hunt was 22, Black, and carrying a pretend katana for cosplay. That’s probably not a common sight in 93% white Saratoga Springs, Utah, but it certainly doesn’t seem to suggest justifiable homicide. (Side bar: I would also point people toward the town’s nearly eighteen-fold growth the decade following the year 2000, which was accompanied by a 2% drop in the White share of the population, as a possible additional troubling factor for why the officers might have reacted so aggressively in that case.)

Despite such incidents — along with the state’s oddly higher than proportional figures compared to the national occurrences — calling into question the high number of officer-involved shooting deaths, Utah police don’t seem to see the issue. In response to the statewide Salt Lake Tribune investigation, this was the official explanation given to the paper:

“Police are trained and expected to react to deadly threats. As many deadly threats emerge is the exact amount of times police will respond,” wrote Ian Adams, a West Jordan police officer and spokesman for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police. “The onus is on the person being arrested to stop trying to assault and kill police officers and the innocent public. … Why do some in society continue to insist the problem lies with police officers?”

Let’s temporarily side-step the absurd premise that every single case involved a deadly threat with not one single mistaken threat assessment. Let’s just focus on everything else he said, for now.
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The American South: Take the Money and Run | The Globalist

This piece is a research essay, co-authored by Carl Bindenagel and Bill. for The Globalist. It is Part III of The Globalist’s American Mezzogiorno series. Part I, by Stephan Richter and Carl Bindenagel, is The American Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection. Part II by Carl and Bill is How the South Really Operates.

For all the Republicans’ anti-government rhetoric that carries so well in the American South, their dirty little secret is that most southern and rural states receive more funding in federal tax dollars than they pay.

In contrast, most urban and northern U.S. states pay more money in federal taxes than they receive from the U.S. federal government.

American Mezzogiorno

Part I: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Part II: How The South Really Operates

Part III: Take the Money and Run

But one may wonder justly where the money goes, since it clearly does not go into investments or programs that benefit the people.

Southern states have cut funding for education, rather than pay for public benefits, invest in the future — or build out their state’s infrastructure.

Marginal returns?

Researchers at the consumer finance web site Wallethub compiled data on all 50 U.S. states and analyzed the return on investment from federal taxes to each state, as well as the relative contribution of federal funding to the state’s economy and the number of federal employees per capita in each state.

The findings show, for example, that for every $1.00 a taxpayer in Mississippi pays to the United States, s/he receives $3.07 in benefits. Moreover, more than 45% of the economy of Mississippi comes from federal funding.

In Georgia, taxpayers receive a modest $1.05 for every dollar paid to the U.S. government. Still 38% of the state’s funding comes from federal money.

Despite these wealth-transfers, what do those mostly southern or rural states have to show for it? Forbes lists only one university in the South (Duke in North Carolina) as being among the top 20 in the United States.

The southern states perform poorly on most public health and education statistics, usually landing at the bottom. Poverty and low incomes remain a fact of life.

Sadly, the list goes on and on. The South also gives the rest of the country headaches over issues that were thought long past, including the fight against (!) women’s equality.

The saddest part, of course, is that these states — while grandiosely touting the rule of law – are instead ever more governed by the rule of the gun.

One step farther

Most recently, in mid-March of 2014, the Georgia state legislature fought hard to establish its leadership position in what can only be deemed the national legislative insanity index. It voted to allow guns in airports (what could go wrong there?), bars, churches, school zones — and pretty much everywhere.

Don’t blame this act of madness on the Southern states’ populations, though. In Georgia’s case, 70% of the public is opposed — as are the state’s Sheriff’s Departments, the restaurant association, the transportation association and the Evangelical and Catholic churches.

Curiously, the list of the forces opposed includes pretty much everybody whose interests the Georgia legislature says they are protecting. And they call that democracy? Hijacking of the popular will would be much closer to the truth.

Just what constituency are the legislators actually representing? While they don’t like to say so out loud, they evidently represent the National Rifle Association – and apparently also ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The latter is a corporate-sponsored and dogmatically ideological organization that writes “model legislation” that state legislatures adopt verbatim.
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How the South Really Operates | The Globalist

This piece is a research essay, co-authored by Carl Bindenagel and Bill. for The Globalist. It is Part II of The Globalist’s American Mezzogiorno series. Part I, by Stephan Richter and Carl Bindenagel, is The American Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection. Part III (“Take the Money and Run”) can be found here.

The American South’s political power manifests itself in the following four dimensions:

1. Congressional Power
2. Agricultural handouts
3. Defense spending as a welcome stimulus
4. Antiquated thinking

Exhibit 1: Congressional Power

Prior to the 2014 mid-term elections, representatives from the American South chaired or represented a majority of members on important permanent committees and subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the state level, Republican governors led unified government in 26 states.

American Mezzogiorno

Part I: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Part II: How The South Really Operates

Part III: Take the Money and Run (Friday)

How have these lawmakers used influential policy-positions to affect the welfare and livelihoods of their constituents? Mainly they enriched themselves, protected the powerful, and deliberately harmed the vulnerable in their jurisdictions and states.

They directed federal funding to themselves and to contractors with powerful lobbies and fought against programs to assist the poor, the abused and common citizens. Often, this included children, who are among the impoverished in America and who lack resources, including access to education.

Lawmakers’ self-serving behavior at the expense of their constituents can most clearly be seen on the defense-spending related committees in the U.S. Congress.

Southerners account for 53% of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and 55% of the House Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security (compared to nationwide population share of 38%).

Most tellingly, the membership of the House Subcommittee on Military Construction/Veterans Affairs is now 63% southern. The Chair of the full House Appropriations Committee is a southern Republican as well.

All of this matters greatly: Under the U.S. Constitution, all spending bills must originate in the House and ultimately from its Appropriations Committee. The Republican-dominated House (and the Southern-dominated House Majority) therefore has great control over how and where federal money will be spent.

Exhibit 2: Agricultural handouts

In addition to the defense sector, in rural communities, farmers are frequently subsidized – even in the event of crop-failure or natural disasters (such as floods or droughts).

Historically, this was crucial to prevent small-family farms from collapsing. But today, with the rise of consolidated agribusiness, the picture looks very different.

Many Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House support this type of subsidy, not only for their constituents, but also to enrich themselves.

In September 2013, several of the same House members who voted to cut almost $40 billion out of food stamps over the next decade personally received hundreds of thousands or even millions of federal dollars in farm subsidies.

Take the case of Rep. Stephen Fincher. He cited a passage from the Bible as justification for his vote against providing food stamps, presuming that a needy person was just lazy.

“He who does not work will not eat,” said Fincher. But from 1999 to 2012, the gentleman himself (not his state) received more than $3.4 million in federal farm subsidies.

Fincher’s is not the only case of faulting needy working people while claiming personal privilege from the government:
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