ALPERN ON CHRISTMAS--Merry Christmas, everybody!  Not sure which Christmas you want to celebrate--the home-for-the-holidays Christmas, the let's-take-some-time-off Christmas, the let's-get-some-presents-and-more-stuff Christmas, or the ain't-Santa-cute Christmas, but Merry Christmas!  And that "Christ" fellow ... well, I'm not sure where he figures into Christmas in our enlightened and open-minded age, but perhaps He really should figure in somewhere ... because isn't that where the name "Christmas" comes from?

And I don't mean "Ho, Ho, Ho!" as in Santa, I mean "He, He, He" as in the Trinity.  Because THAT is what Christmas is celebrating:  we don't know when Jesus of Nazareth was born, and there are certainly pagan and other reasons why the winter solstice was chosen as the time to celebrate Christmas (the shortest day, the longest night, but yet that is when we cherish the fact that God is with us).  

Yet, the fact remains, that there WAS a Jesus of Nazareth, and born at a rather critical time in our world history.  Furthermore, with God having lived and died as a human being, we never had to wonder if we were alone, or if God had forgotten us and our often-miserable existence.

Yes, I am a Jew, and I've always loved the lights and spiritual warmth of Christmas, as my "lonsman" Ben Stein so eloquently and repeatedly likes to state every year.  I had my beliefs in Judaism, and my opinions of the Christian religion, cemented in college, when after years of my own studies I had some excellent Humanities courses that confirmed and supported my long-held religious views.

And I'll keep those private beliefs private, but I will without hesitation state that ours is a Christian nation--no matter what creepy individual wants to deny that.  Or at least it's a nation that believes in God (with democratic ideals placed in the Constitution as a moral imperative from God), but with Christian overtones.

Even President Lincoln, who wasn't into formal religion, promoted Thanksgiving as a statement of humanity towards God--and when he did good, he felt good, and when he did bad, he felt bad (which he believed came from God).  Feel free to look up this informally but undeniably religious figure in our nation's history.

And feel free to look up just how wonderful and "tolerant" and livable those nations are who have diminished and "gotten past" their Christian roots in the West, and how well-treated Christians, Jews and other religions are in either secular or other Eastern nations.

Yet now we recognize Jesus less than ever in our "modern, tolerant society" and are much more likely to decry and diminish those who still are "primitive" enough to worship Christ as the Son of God.  

Maybe we should even consider getting rid of the Christmas holiday if it means so little to so many.

But praising and singing about Santa?  Well, of course!  Perhaps it's Santa who we can cherish on our days off, instead of Jesus.

I mean, Santa Claus is coming to town--and isn't Santa the one that Christmas is all about?  

Certainly, business offices and public venues have so sanitized their songs of any mention of God, Christ or anything else that a stranger would conclude that the divine Trinity is Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty...and not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Good-bye "Silent Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy", and hello "It's Cold Outside" and "Santa, Baby".

Good-bye, Three Wise Men and hello Master Card, Visa, and American Express with respect to gift-giving that really matters.

And the "echo" of those proclaiming "what would Jesus do?"... while decrying "those Christians"?

And the "echo" of those proclaiming love and tolerance and an escape from religion...while themselves having grown up with religion (including "A Christmas Carol" that blended the supernatural with the moral imperative of being kind and charitable)?

And finally, the "echo" of believing in Saint Nick with believing in a higher Power who watches over us, and who ultimately rewards us (perhaps not with gifts that are tangible, or purchasable, but with gifts, nevertheless)?

One cannot help but wonder what will happen when those echoes subside, and what our society will look like when we've moved past God and Christ, and how Jews, Buddhists, and other tolerant religions will be treated once we have sufficiently diminished the Christian cultural background that once made us the kindest and most giving nation on the planet.

Until then, however, as a tolerant American and a tolerant Jew, let me stick in one more old-fashioned MERRY CHRISTMAS, and may God shine over us all during this Holiday Season.

 

(Kenneth Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist with offices and clinics serving patients from West Los Angeles to Temecula.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  Alpern@MarVista.org.   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

 


 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

THE UNITED STATES OF NOW--Which political party loves America? Not the United States that once existed, but the flesh-and-blood nation that we all live in now.

The debates we have witnessed - too few and far between for the Democrats, frequent enough for the Republicans to constitute a new reality TV show - have provided an incontestable answer to that question.

The Democrats embrace the United States of Now in all of its raucous diversity.

Democrats are not free of nostalgia. They long for the more economically equal America of decades ago and celebrate liberalism’s heydays during the New Deal and civil rights years.

But Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley all stand up for the rights of a younger America - today’s country - that is less white, more Latino and Asian (and, yes, more Muslim) than was the U.S. of the past. The cultural changes that have reshaped us are welcomed as part of our historical trajectory toward justice and inclusion.

The Republicans, particularly Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, don’t like our country right now. They yearn for the United States of Then. The current version is cast as a fallen nation.

True, the party shut out of the White House always assails the incumbent. But a deeper unease and even rage characterize the response of many in the GOP ranks to what the country has become. This can cross into a loathing that Trump exploits by promising to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and block Muslims from entering the country while dismissing dissent from his program of demographic reconstruction as nothing more than “political correctness.”

I am certain that in their hearts, every candidate in both parties still likes to see us as “a shining city on a hill” and “the last best hope of earth.” Within the GOP, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been especially careful not to abandon the virtue of hope and any confidence in the present. But this makes them stronger as general-election candidates than within their own party.

The stark cross-party contrast complicates any assessment of Saturday’s Democratic debate. As Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley all made clear, each believes their own disputes are minor in light of the chasm that has opened between themselves and the Republicans.

“On our worst day, I think we have a lot more to offer the American people than the right-wing extremists,” Sanders declared at the debate’s end. O’Malley concluded similarly: “When you listened to the Republican debate the other night, you heard a lot of anger and a lot of fear. Well, they can have their anger and they can have their fear, but anger and fear never built America.”

Democratic solidarity was Clinton’s friend. She emerged stronger simply because neither of her foes made a clear case for upending the campaign’s existing order. Her own solid performance will reinforce those who already support her.

But two big quarrels between Clinton and Sanders are important to the Democrats’ future. By pledging to avoid any hike in taxes on those earning less than $250,000 a year, Clinton strengthened herself for her likely fall encounter with the other side. But Sanders deserves credit for speaking a truth progressives will need to face up to (and that social democrats in other countries have already confronted): that the programs liberals support are, in the long run, likely to require more broadly based tax increases.

On foreign policy, Clinton continued to be the more openly interventionist candidate. Here again, Clinton likely positioned herself well for the long run. But Sanders may yet capitalize on his comparative dovishness with the generally peace-minded Democratic caucus electorate in Iowa.

Each also offered revealing one-liners as to whether “corporate America” would love them. Clinton nicely deflected the question by saying, “Everybody should.” But Sanders was unequivocal. “No, they won’t,” he replied with starchy conviction.

Above all, this debate should embarrass the Democratic National Committee for scheduling so few of them, and for shoving some into absurdly inconvenient time slots that confined their audiences to political hobbyists.

Debates are a form of propaganda in the neutral sense of the word: They are occasions for parties to make their respective arguments. Given that the divide between the parties this year is so fundamental, it’s shameful that Democrats did not try to make their case to as many Americans as possible.

If you have faith in your response to anger and fear, you should be ready to bear witness before the largest congregation you can assemble.

(E.J. Dionne’s is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. This article was posted most recently at truthdig.com … an online progressive news and opinion journal edited by Robert Scheer.)

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

 

 

 

CALIFORNIA WATCH--As Governor Jerry Brown touted California’s environmental initiatives and prodded world leaders in Paris to embrace tougher environmental policies during the United Nations summit on climate change, it was instructive to look back at how one of Brown’s top environmental priorities suffered a major defeat in the California Legislature this year.

That priority was to establish a 50 percent reduction in petroleum usage in cars and trucks by 2030. Brown’s failure to win its passage in an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature clearly illustrates not only the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, but also the continued rise of a new breed of Democrats who are exceedingly attentive to big business, while tone-deaf toward their party’s traditional progressive base.

Petroleum reduction was a key part of a proposed law, introduced as Senate Bill 350, which also called for steps to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings and require that 50 percent of California’s energy come from renewable sources, such as solar and wind. By any definition SB 350 was a landmark piece of legislation. It had the rock-solid support of environmentalists, numerous health and physicians groups, and two Nobel Prize winners.

In hindsight, however, it probably didn’t stand a chance, thanks to an intense, summer-long lobbying campaign and media blitz by Big Oil and others. State filings show that oil companies and their trade organizations opposed to the petroleum reduction measure spent $10.7 million in the third quarter of 2015 to lobby lawmakers and conduct a negative media assault.

Of that, the Western States Petroleum Association, an influential industry trade group, spent $6.7 million, more than twice as much as it had spent in the previous two quarters. Individual oil companies, such as ExxonMobil and Valero, also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the third quarter, a significant increase over the amounts they spent on lobbying earlier this year.

In contrast, among the bill’s supporters, NextGen Climate, an environmental group founded and headed by philanthropist Tom Steyer, spent nearly $1.2 million on lobbying in the third quarter.

By late summer, the industry’s lobbying campaign and media blitz attacking SB 350 had had a big impact. Faced with defections by a group of nearly 20 so-called moderate Democrats, led by Fresno Assemblyman Henry Perea, SB 350 backers reluctantly removed the petroleum reduction measure. The move followed two critical meetings between supporters of the bill and the group of about 20 moderate Democrats concerned about the petroleum reduction measure. At the first meeting, on August 24, the moderate Democrats, led by Perea, met with then-Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). At the second meeting, on August 31, the same group met with officials at the governor’s office. (Perea announced this month that he is leaving the Legislature a year before his current term expires.)

Many of the corporate-friendly Democrats who attended those meetings with Atkins and Brown have received substantial campaign contributions from Big Oil over the years. Perea, for example, has received almost $100,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, while Merced Assemblyman Adam Gray has received about $80,000 and Rudy Salas, an Assemblyman from Bakersfield, has received about $65,000, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times citing the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

On September 9, with only two days left in the legislative session, Brown, Atkins and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), announced they were dropping the petroleum usage provision from the bill. The California Chamber of Commerce, another powerful opponent of the measure, then removed its influential “job killer” tag from the bill, sending a clear signal to corporate-friendly Democrats that it was now permissible to support SB 350.

A watered-down bill soon passed, with all of the formerly recalcitrant Democratic lawmakers except Gray voting for it. Brown signed it into law in a ceremony in October at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

“The main takeaway regarding the loss of the petroleum reduction piece of SB 350 is that it allowed us to shine a bright light on unprecedented oil industry spending [intended] to protect their bottom line – along with the lengths some lawmakers will go to ignore what voters truly want, which is less dependence on petroleum,” Susan Frank, director of the California Business Alliance for a Clean Economy, tells Capital & Main

The alliance, a network of 1,300 mostly small and mainstream companies in California that support a clean energy economy, was an important backer of the bill. Frank adds that it wasn’t a total loss, citing the stronger renewable energy and building efficiency standards that survived.

 Les Clark, executive vice president of the Independent Oil Producers Agency, an industry trade group based in Bakersfield, says he was adamantly opposed to the petroleum reduction provisions of SB 350 because they would have significantly hurt anyone who produces oil, particularly the mom-and-pop operators he represents.

“We were opposed to it,” Clark tells Capital & Main. “If you produce oil, you are producing it to make money. Of course we’d be concerned about that.”

Clark claims the measure could have driven some smalltime oil producers out of business. “It’s not good for my neighbors to have to pack up and go back East to find a job,” he says.

In speaking against the petroleum reduction measure, the bill’s opponents warned that it could result in gas rationing and prohibitions on sport utility vehicles. Opponents, including some Democratic lawmakers, also claimed that cutting petroleum use would be disproportionally harmful to residents of the Central Valley, whose long commutes and dearth of public transportation make dependence on automobiles – and fuel – a certainty.

“In the Valley – more than anywhere else in California – that means reducing jobs, businesses and opportunities,” Assemblyman Adam Gray wrote in an opinion piece published in the Merced Sun-Star. “The Valley’s No. 1 industry, agriculture, is dependent on transportation by both trucks (produce) and cars (labor). We have some of the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in the nation. Yet SB 350 puts these disadvantaged communities first in line to pay more and offers nothing in return.”

Sarah Rose, chief executive of the California League of Conservation Voters, disagreed, and in an interview confirms that the opposition of several key Democratic lawmakers to the petroleum reduction measure appears to have been motivated more than anything by a desire to please Big Oil.

“Clearly, there’s a problem when you have legislators not voting in the best interests of their constituents,” says Rose, whose organization supported SB 350.

“Oil has won a skirmish,” Brown conceded at the September 9 press conference, while de León added that the measure’s proponents were unable to compete with Big Oil’s “bottomless war chest.”

Now, three months later, after the governor promoted California’s accomplishments in a weeklong series of events at the Paris climate change conference, Brown can only look back and regret what was clearly a lost opportunity in Sacramento.

(An investigative reporter for more than three decades, Gary Cohn won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his series The Shipbreakers. This piece originated at Capital and Main

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Los Angeles Police Department has 10 jails, including one in the harbor area (photos) that was recently constructed at substantial expense. But of those 10 LAPD jails, 4 are not being used. That total of the wasted and unused includes the new one in the harbor area.  According to city representatives, there aren't enough available funds. The facilities are in place, but not the people to staff them. This has serious consequences for public safety. 

The city also built a brand new police station in the harbor. It cost $40 million. The station was opened to great celebration and got plenty of press coverage, including an L.A. Times story which describes the new station, its helipad, and the jail. 

So we have an expensively built jail project which would have served the southernmost part of the city, but doesn't. The loss is significant in terms of the efficiency by which police resources are used. For one thing, it's a 30 mile round trip every time the police make an arrest in this part of town. 

Think about that last point. In order to book a prisoner, the police have to use the closest available LAPD facility, which is at 7600 South Broadway. This alternative is called the 77th Street Regional Jail. When the police make an arrest in San Pedro or Wilmington, the prisoner has to be transported 15 miles up the 110 followed by additional driving over city streets. That means that it's a half hour (or more) round trip each and every time, and this subtracts from available coverage of the harbor area. 

We are not alone. In the L.A. basin, the Southwest Area Jail and the Wilshire Area Jail are closed. That leaves jails in the Pacific Area, Hollywood, and downtown to cover a large swath of the city. 

In the Valley, two jails out of the total of three are being used. The Devonshire Area Jail is closed. That leaves facilities in Pacoima and Van Nuys to cover a huge area. 

In one sense, this is an old story. It's easier to raise bond money to build things than to find the money to keep them running or to keep them in repair. We notice this when there is a recession. Local governments reduce expenses by cutting back on the long term maintenance that would extend the life of publicly owned facilities. When governments get squeezed even further, they start to cut even short term maintenance. 

And when they get really squeezed, they close things down or, in this case, hold off from opening them. 

In the case of those LAPD jails, the official terminology is that the four are "temporarily closed." We might see this as optimism on the part of our city officials -- they plan to open the other 4 jails when financial times improve. Of course the term "temporary" is a little vague. It might mean 3 or 4 years more, or it might mean a lot more. At meetings where members of the public can ask questions, the city officials don't offer us any specifics. 

At some public meetings I've seen, the LAPD representatives have been badgered by the public about the situation. It's entirely unfair of course, because it's not the uniformed officers in the district who make this decision. Actually, when you talk to the police officers who go out on patrol, they are the first to agree that they are understaffed and could use more help. 

And that's what leads to the next point. If it's not the local police, who does make the decision to keep all these jails closed? It's not going to be a deep revelation that this kind of decision comes out of the city's budget process. Could the city find the dollars to open the Harbor Area Jail if it were considered a weighty enough priority? Obviously it could. But that decision would come at the cost of other priorities. 

So the harbor is stuck with a police presence that is effectively reduced. The official count of police officers stays approximately unchanged, but they spend less time patrolling the streets and responding to calls because they are on the road transporting prisoners. 

I've dwelled on the situation in the harbor because it is close to home and has come up here repeatedly in public discussions. But you can make the same argument about the other parts of town. When the San Fernando Valley (at least that part that is located in the city of L.A.) has lost one-third of its jails, that has to have a significant effect. I would imagine that the valley's 34 neighborhood councils are concerned about the level of police services, including the potential services that are lost due to unnecessary drive times. 

It's always a matter of priorities, and city budgets are the true definition of what the real priorities are. Money, as they like to say, is our way of keeping score. In this case, the game involves whether we buy fire trucks or pay higher salaries to city workers or, in this case, pay for people to work the jails. It reminds me of the old joke about buying things: There's price, quality, and service -- pick any two. To put it in political terms, we can't have everything because we don't have unlimited tax dollars. I suspect that the grand opening of the Harbor Area Jail won't happen until this recession is well behind us. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR WALKABLE STREETS--At the center of UCLA’s campus, there’s a banner advertising some of the university’s newest groundbreaking research. It features the outline of a small vehicle and reads, “The 405 is a joyride … in a driverless car.”

The 405 is the main freeway serving the west side of Los Angeles County, and along with earthquakes, humidity and natural aging, it’s the stuff of Angelenos’ nightmares. The federal government has cited the highway, with its average daily traffic of 374,000 vehicles, as the nation’s single busiest roadway. LA sunk five years and more than $1 billion into a project to widen its right-of-way through a congested mountain pass. (Officials called the temporary closure of the roadway “Carmageddon.”) The city has spent several times that amount expanding its mass transit system, with the promise that light rail and bus-only lanes would alleviate some of the region’s famous traffic jams. If anything, the traffic has gotten worse.

As for driverless cars, they’re likely to be a fixture of our roads by the end of this decade. Aided by a scanning technology called “lidar,” Google started testing vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, Tesla’s Autopilot program is now in beta and conventional carmakers such as Nissan and Ford aren’t far behind. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimates that by 2040, up to 75 percent of cars on the road will be autonomous. Could this be the solution to LA’s notorious traffic?

Probably not. Since I moved here three months ago to study urban planning, I’ve been engaged in the ultimate class project: living in LA without a car. Public transit junkies often imagine that with the right combination of incentives and policies, any city can be made into Manhattan. All around the LA area, heroic efforts are being made to reduce auto dependence and improve people’s ability to get around by foot, bike and public transit. But the wide streets, ample parking and huge tracts of single-family houses don’t lie: LA’s urban form is almost entirely built to move automobile traffic as quickly as possible.

The urban planner Fred Kent famously says, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” Driverless cars are an exciting development, but they are still cars. They’re very much in their infancy, and much of the reporting on them has centered on technology and design. In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Dream Life of Driverless Cars,” two passengers gaze upon London from the computer’s-eye view of a Honda CR-V, watching as “workers setting out for a lunchtime stroll become spectral silhouettes” and “glass towers unravel into the sky like smoke.” These are suggestive images, full of intrigue and possibility. Still, driverless cars aren’t just a technological marvel; they raise serious urban planning questions.

In terms of safety and parking, they are likely to be a force for good. Perhaps we’ve become numb to the damage because it happens so often, but it’s worth remembering that cars are deadly weapons that we entrust to almost everybody, whatever their competence or emotional stability. Starting this Halloween in New York City, 13 pedestrians were killed by drivers in as many days — including young Bronx trick-or-treaters standing on the sidewalk. In 2013, drivers in Mexico City killed 491 pedestrians. Everyone has had a close brush with a driver who is texting, eating, applying mascara or falling asleep at the wheel. By contrast, autonomous vehicles are so cautious that they often have trouble crossing intersections, and recently one got pulled over by police for driving too slowly.

More than half a century ago, we gave for-profit car companies the opportunity to remake American cityscapes to their liking. It was a disaster.

As for parking: The average car is in active use for 5 percent of the day. The massive space required to store thousands of idle vehicles for the remaining 95 percent has been a disaster for urban land use. In the post-World War II period, U.S. cities including LA tore out the hearts of their downtowns — places that by their nature benefit from high density — and have given away immensely valuable urban land, effectively as a gift to suburban drivers, ever since. On top of that, drivers “cruising” for parking (circling city blocks looking for a cheap spot) can increase congestion by as much as 30 percent. Most American cities have parking minimums built into law, significantly increasing the cost of housing construction. Autonomous cars won’t simply vanish into thin air when we’re done using them, but unlike cars today, they will be able to relocate themselves away from the most valuable plots of urban land, freeing up space for new housing, businesses and parks.

All this portends a brighter future for LA and similar cities. But even today, the truth is that my car-free lifestyle is very doable — sometimes even convenient. LA has a robust bus system that I use to commute to UCLA, and so far I’ve found it to be reliable (LA’s bus and train networks combine for about 1.5 million weekday boardings, third in the nation after New York and Chicago). My home in the Palms neighborhood is a 15-minute walk from a light rail stop that takes me to Downtown LA, which has recently come into its own as a cultural and culinary hotspot. Almost everything I need is within biking distance of my apartment, and when I have to, I can rely on the generosity of friends with cars.

However, my commute is easy only because the daily itinerary of a childless graduate student is fairly simple, and because I can afford to live in a neighborhood that’s on a direct bus line to campus. I can use my phone to track bus arrivals in real time, or call a Lyft if I’m in a rush — but these apps that have surely saved me hours of wasted time are unavailable to those who can’t afford a smartphone. Socially, I’m surrounded by fellow planning students who love walking, biking and transit — but when I leave school, I’m reminded very quickly that the stigma against public transit and its users remains strong in L.A.

Driverless cars, promising as they are, cannot change a simple spatial reality: Single-occupancy private vehicles are not an efficient way to move people around an urban area that, despite its reputation, is by some measures the country’s densest. Nor should any of us be rushing to cede control of urban transportation systems to billion-dollar profit-driven companies. Take Uber: The “car-sharing” company provides a popular and often valuable service, but its poor labor record and transparent desire to replace public transit should give pause to anyone who values the “public” part of that phrase.  

More than half a century ago, we gave for-profit car companies the opportunity to remake American cityscapes to their liking. It was a disaster. When the time comes, I’ll be excited to explore Los Angeles in an autonomous vehicle. But I’m more excited for the day I can traverse the whole of the city by bus, train or bike without having to set foot in a car at all.

(Jordan Fraade is pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. His writing on urban policy issues has been featured by Next City, Gothamist, The Baffler and CityLab. This piece was posted first at Aljazeera .

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION REBOOT-Su­preme Court Justice Ant­on­in Scalia’s (photo) seem­ing sug­ges­tion this week that stu­dents of col­or would be bet­ter off at “a slower-track school where they do well” is not only of­fens­ive, it’s wrong. 

Black and Latino stu­dents who at­tend se­lect­ive schools are more likely to gradu­ate than those who at­tend open-en­roll­ment schools, re­gard­less of how aca­dem­ic­ally pre­pared they are when they enter.  

Ac­cord­ing to the Geor­getown Uni­versity Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force, gradu­ation rates for black and Latino stu­dents double when they move to se­lect­ive schools from open-ac­cess col­leges. 

“Justice Scalia is mak­ing the tired ar­gu­ment that ad­mit­ting Afric­an-Amer­ic­an stu­dents in­to white schools is akin to put­ting ponies in a horse race,” said Nicole Smith, the Geor­getown Cen­ter’s chief eco­nom­ist, in a state­ment. “Like so many, Justice Scalia mis­takes Afric­an Amer­ic­an as a proxy for low read­i­ness, when in fact minor­ity stu­dents in more se­lect­ive col­leges and uni­versit­ies not only gradu­ate at re­l­at­ively high­er rates, but also se­cure high-pay­ing jobs there­after.” 

Scalia’s com­ments came as the Su­preme Court heard ar­gu­ments in an af­firm­at­ive-ac­tion case that could have wide-ran­ging im­plic­a­tions. The Uni­versity of Texas, the de­fend­ant in the case, says its use of race has helped en­sure di­versity. The school also uses a “10 per­cent plan,” in which any stu­dent who gradu­ates in the top 10 per­cent of a pub­lic high school in Texas is gran­ted ad­mis­sion to the Uni­versity of Texas. Since many of the state’s high schools are largely se­greg­ated, the policy in­creased the num­ber of stu­dents of col­or at the uni­versity. 

Ac­cord­ing to the Geor­getown Cen­ter, even though the plan meant some de­gree of lower pre­pared­ness among Uni­versity of Texas stu­dents, gradu­ation rates in­creased.  

“If Scalia’s the­ory were true, equally pre­pared stu­dents of all races would do worse at more se­lect­ive col­leges,” said An­thony Carne­vale, the Geor­getown Cen­ter’s dir­ect­or, in a state­ment. “In fact, we find the op­pos­ite is true.” 

Af­firm­at­ive ac­tion, the data sug­gests, not only be­ne­fits schools by help­ing them in­crease the num­ber of stu­dents of col­or, it of­fers those stu­dents a bet­ter chance at a col­lege de­gree. 

 

(Emily DeRuy writes for Next America, an editorial venture by National Journal.   She previously reported on politics and education for “Fusion,” the ABC News-Univision joint venture. This piece originally appeared in the National Journal.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--Is it right to talk about friendship in a time of hatred? More specifically, is it right to consider Muslim affection for the West when, from London to Boston to Paris and now perhaps San Bernardino, Muslims appear to be saying we hate you?

In trying to make sense of these attacks, security analysts have looked at the social profiles of the terrorists in London, Madrid, Paris, and Boston. But there is no clear pattern to be discerned. There is no pattern of poverty, no pattern of being oppressed, no pattern of poor education, no pattern of training in terror camps.

But it’s clear to me, as a historian, that what the murderers have in common is a narrative. It is a story they share in which the West has always oppressed Muslims, in which the West is inherently and uniformly against Muslims, in which the West is the very opposite of Islam. I’ve traveled to the Muslim world every year for the last 25 years. In my travels and conversations with Muslims, I have heard that narrative a thousand times.

Fortunately, not every Muslim who recounts the legend that “the West is against us” or “the West is the opposite of us” regards violence as the answer. Many opt to simply ignore and exclude Western culture from their lives, even if they have to live in Las Vegas. But there are others who see the answer in a call to arms. Like most acts of political violence—from Nazism in the 1930s to Serbian nationalism in the 1990s—Islamist violence claims justification through stories of oppression. The violent paint themselves as the truly oppressed: They are not so much fighting as fighting back.

But it wasn’t always that way. In my research on the earliest Muslim encounters with the West, I discovered a journal written in Persian by a young student who, with five fellow Iranians, came to London in the early 1800s. The diary reveals that Muslims certainly have lived peaceably in the West in the past—they admired the London of Jane Austen, and moreover, were admired there in return. It wasn’t necessarily an easy moment to arrive in England—evangelical Christianity was on the rise at that time. But even as they faced challenges, their story offers a counter-narrative to the founding myth of Muslim (and non-Muslim) neo-cons that Islam and the West are irreconcilable. Finding Mirza Salih’s diary felt like unearthing a lost testament to coexistence.

Salih came to England with the others to learn the advanced sciences—engineering, medicine, and chemistry—that the country was known worldwide for developing. He wanted to bring the knowledge back to his home country. At the time, Iran was trying to defend itself from the Russians, who had invaded. Reaching London in the fall of 1815, Salih and his fellow students first struggled to make sense of the culture they saw around them. Women went unveiled and mixed freely with men; moreover, they received education and wrote books that men both read and admired.

But through their own curiosity and the good will of their hosts, the young Muslims came to understand, and then admire, this strange land where people did things differently. They overcame their alarm at this strangeness through a commitment to understanding. Rather than regarding the Christians as their enemies, the students saw them as people from whom they might learn, morally and politically, as well as scientifically. It was much harder to be a Muslim in England in 1815 than today: Compared to the hundreds of mosques in 2015, back then there was not a single mosque in the whole country. But the students still found a way to get along by focusing on what they had in common with the people they met. 

One of the most moving scenes in the diary occurred when the students made a kind of feminist pilgrimage to pay respect to the novelist and social reformer Hannah More (photo), the high-minded rival of Jane Austen. As the author of numerous books—some of them huge bestsellers—she appeared to them the epitome of the England that Salih called the vilayat-i azadi, or “land of freedom.” The students praised her learning and library; she gave them signed copies of her books, which they promised to print when they returned home.

On another occasion, they passionately discussed the parallels between Christianity and Islam with the Unitarian minister Lant Carpenter, whom they begged to found a Sunday School for the poor children of his parish. Far from being from narrow-minded promoters of their own faith alone, they saw the value of a Christian education and of Christian values more generally. England’s charity schools were one of the things that most impressed Salih. Through many such encounters, the young Muslims built a different narrative from the Crusades and colonial wars that are only a part of the encounter of Islam and the West.

The fact is that futures are built out of the past. Political and religious violence is based on stories about the past, stories that prompt “fighting back” as the proper response. The same process is true for political and religious compromise. And yet, for Muslims and the West, there are few narratives from which to build such a peaceable future.

This year we’ve been bombarded by stories about people who have been killed in the name of Islam. Even I have personal stories to share about the violence I have seen firsthand all across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Yemen and Afghanistan. But there are enough books about that. There also need to be books about the friendships that are the other half of the historical record. Salih and his friends are important because their story can reassure Westerners that Muslims are not inherently opposed to their way of life; and no less importantly, it can show Muslims how their learned forebears admired and respected Western norms. As a historian, all I can hope to do is show how such coexistence was, and still is, possible.

(Nile Green is professor of history at UCLA and founding director of the UCLA Program on Central Asia. He is the author of The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen’s London and has written numerous books on the history of Islam. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square … connecting people and ideas.)

-cw

 



CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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