Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Efficiencies of Charity

I have been planning a series of posts for about 2 weeks now explaining a concept called Distributionism. As I was casting about for a good topic to illustrate the core ideas underlying Distributionism, I came across an article by Naomi Klein. While the article as a whole is a joke (the U.S. is going broke? That girl needs to look up the term ‘ratio’), her mockery of the idea of the private sector being more efficient than government (indeed, she assumes her readers will laugh hysterically at the idea) got me to thinking.

Who in their right mind thinks the government is more efficient at anything?

Let’s take a look at a ‘darling program’, one of those programs that every single senators and congressmen feels they absolutely have to vote for. A program so beloved that not voting for it can haunt your political career for decades. The one I will pick is…. Head Start.

Head Start was begun in 1965 as part of LBJ’s Great Society plan, particularly the War on Poverty. The goal was to get kids ready for school before they began, especially poor kids. It provides early education and a meal to kids and has done so for over 40 years. It began as an eight week Summer program, but now ranges from pre-natal care to health screening and pre-school education that can last all year.

I am not going to go into the debate over the effectiveness of Head Start, or the necessity of Head Start, or any of the other controversies surrounding this program. No, I am going to focus on something a little different. Is it the best use of our money? Let’s assume that pre-school education works, and that kids that get at least one decent meal per day during the week have fewer health and education issues, and that being socialized into pre-school is not detrimental to behavior. Fine, let’s assume these are all true. Is there a better way to do these things?

The majority of Head Start participants are 3-5 years of age and only participate during the school year, usually in the mornings. There is also a program called Early Head Start that covers prom pregnant women to the time that the young children are eligible for Head Start. Nailing down the precise per-child price of head start is tough (for example, the Wikipedia entry I linked above states that the cost is about $7,200 per child when the count of participants and budget in the same entry actually indicates that it is closer to $7,600 per child), but it can be found. The Administration for Children and Families states that Early Head Start costs more than $10,500 per child while Head Start proper is $7, 543 per child (don’t trust their total – do the math for yourself). Of their budget of about $6.6 billion dollars they claim that about #233 million goes to research, development, and administration, meaning that about 3% of their budget goes to overhead.

That seems pretty efficient, doesn’t it? I mean, that rivals Feed the Children, one of the largest charity organizations on Earth. Like Head Start, Feed the Children focuses on feeding hungry kids (obviously) but also provides basic education, health screenings and basic services, and even pre-natal care. These two very similar organizations provides similar benefits and Feed the Children is rightly praised for having merely a 3% overhead. It seems that government can be as efficient as the private sector (well, charity sector) after all, right?

Don’t make me laugh. First of all, the Office of Management and Budget admits that the Head Start Budget is structured in such a way that ‘all administrative overheads cannot be determined’. In other words, the Department of Health and Human Services and Administration for Children and Families do all of the actual administration out of their own budgets to effectively hide the real cost of running and managing Head Start. This means that the 3% overhead seen as budget line items is in addition to the salaries paid to all the of the civil servants that run Head Start as part of their daily routine at HHS and ACF. The listed overhead also does not include the costs of developing training guidelines for the Head Start teachers (that is part of the budget of the Department of Education), printing up the guidelines, programs, handouts, training requirements, etc. associated with the program(also the Dept. of Ed.). Also stashed in there is more overhead – internal administrators. While the ACF lists 213,000 paid Head Start staff members, there are only about 50,000 paid Head Start teachers, meaning that the other 160,000+ staffers are administrators, clerks, etc. The complaints about the (relatively) low pay of the teachers also indicates that these staffers are probably better paid. Heck, if they are only paid an average of $25,000 a year, that means the admin salary overhead is about $4 billion a year, or about 58% of the total budget!

Don’t forget the 10,000 plus local, county, and state administrators of local Head Start programs (all of whom receive their salary from either the local government or local school district) as well as the fact that Head Start happens in local schoolrooms, often adding to local administration costs. Another key aspect of the local Head Start programs are the many volunteers involved in the process. Indeed, unpaid local volunteers outnumber paid dedicated Head Start staffers by more than a factor of 6. This means the relatively low costs of Head Start are subsidized by over 1.2 million unpaid volunteers.

Those local operations are very interesting. The ACF report lists the budget and enrollment levels, and in some cases the racial makeup of Head Start. The majority of poor in America are White, yet Head Start enrollment is less than 30% White. The majority of poor in America are rural, but the majority of Head Start participants are urban (see the above links). If Head Start were actually serving those in greatest need, it should look rural and White; instead, it is urban and Black.

Let’s look again at the core of Head Start; pre-school education and a decent meal. The effects (and duration of the effects) of Head Start education are hotly debated, let’s look at costs alone. The majority of Head Start participants are enrolled only during the school year, and only for part of the day. For the sake of being conservative, I will base all of the following numbers on a year round partial day schedule to cover the fact that some kids are in Head Start year round or all day, or both, but trying to keep it as middle-of-the-road as possible. The actual cost per child varies from over $10,000 to as little as a bit over $7,500, so we will use $7,500, as well. Since Head Start is overwhelmingly a weekday program, we will assume that kids attend about 250 days a year. This means that Head Start costs no less than $30 per day per child. While you may think this doesn’t sound too bad, let me remind you – this is to provide basic instruction in letters and numbers (similar to Sesame Street) and to provide a meal and a snack. Looked at that way, its pretty darn steep a price to pay. After all, 3% of the budget goes to overhead like research and program review, about58% goes to administration overhead, and the salaries of the actual teachers comes to an additional 7%, chewing up almost 70%, meaning that the books, construction paper, apples, and juice boxes are being purchased with less than $9.60 per child.

And that $9.50 a day or so is still no bargain! I don’t know about you, but I am a homeschooling Dad with 4 kids at home. Homeschooling my pre-schoolers costs us less than $400/year and Deeper Thought can feed the Airborne Philosophy Squad for less than $3.00 per kid per meal, snacks in between included. We do not have the government’s advantage of A) buying in huge bulk and B) not paying sales tax on our purchases. That means that our year-round daily cost for one meal tops out at about $4.00 per meal, less than half of the Head Start per meal cost. Another point to remember – the numbers above are a generous minimum! If I start using the highest numbers for Early Head Start, that meal, those snacks, and finger paints start edging up on $20 per day per child. This tells me that there is much more waste, overhead, and inefficiency lurking in Head Start, probably to the tune of an additional $5-$15 per child per day.

So while my family can certainly do better, can other institutions do better? Absolutely. Let’s talk about Feed the Children, a group I mentioned above. Feed the Children works to provide roughly the same services as Head Start, albeit all over the world. They openly publish independent audits of their organization that shows where and how the money they receive is spent. Their calculated over head comes to 11%, meaning that for every $30 they spend on a kid, that child receives about $26.70 in food, goods, or education. In fact, what Feed the Children states is that they will feed an American child for a grand total of about $0.25 a day, or roughly 1/40 the cost of Head Start. This level of efficiency allows Feed the Children to provide services world-wide, including disaster relief, and to serve many more kids with much less cash than Head Start.

And Feed the Children is considered to be fairly inefficient, as charities go. Their creation of their own distribution network means that other charities, like Save the Children, with a mission very similar to Feed the Children, but with a greater emphasis on education and health, has an overall efficiency of about 91%, roughly 3% less overhead than Feed the Children. Of course, all national and international charities pale in comparison with that bulwark of American charity – the local church. It is estimated that local churches and parishes, be they Baptist, Catholic, or Lutheran, have a nearly 98% efficiency. Indeed, many churches try to create an endowment that covers all salaries and taxes so that charity donations are 100% to charity. Additionally, such local charity functions as gathering donations of clothing or food are 100% efficient. As a matter of fact, Head Start can chalk up what little efficiency it does have to local action; after all, if they had to pay all those local volunteers even one-fourth what they pay their teachers, it would come to an additional $6 billion a year in their salaries alone.

As we can see, private organizations are more efficient than government organizations. More importantly, local organizations are more efficient than global or national organizations. In this case, if the $6+ billion of the Head Start program were instead used by a group like Feed the Children even if the efficiency of that organization was cut in half the number of children receiving education and food would grow by no less than 150%, all at no increase in costs. This is a key element in Catholic teachings on social justice and society; the concept that local is better.

Next time I will be discussing the ideas of Subsidiarity and Solidarity.

NOTE: Deeper Thought informed me that $3.00 per child per day is actually the ceiling of what she spends, including our forays into fast food.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Still Moving In

Again, sorry for the light posting, but Deeper Thought, the Airborne Philosophy Squad and I are still moving into the new Casa de Pensamientos Profundos. In the meantime, here are a few more interesting facts about Red vs. Blue/Southern vs. Northern states.

I received another hostile email recently, this time with a northern writer (well, so he claimed, at least) going on and on about Southerners, and not in a good way. Since he used the word 'inbred' four times I figured, what the heck - I'll check out the laws. Some states permit marriage between first cousins, some do not. Here are a few of the states that forbid marriage between first cousins:
Louisiana (unless one or both are adopted)
Mississippi (unless one or both are adopted)
West Virginia (again, unless one or both are adopted)

For a little balance, here are a few states that permit first cousins to marry, without restrictions:
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

Once again we have a situation where the facts on the ground don't seem to match the stereotype.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Worth Fighting For

"Every society rests on a barbarian base. The people who don't understand civilization, and wouldn't like it if they did. The hitchhikers. The people who create nothing, and who don't appreciate what others have created for them, and who think civilization is something that just exists and that all they have to do is enjoy what they can understand of it-- luxuries, a high standard of living and easy work for high pay... Responsibilities? Phooey! What do they have a government for?
"And now, the hitchhikers think they know more about the car than the people who designed it, so they're going to seize control.”

My interest in politics has an unusual beginning. Sure, many people become interested by reading, but the book that fired my interest was the one I quoted above, a book called Space Viking by H. Beam Piper. Piper was a science fiction author who, like most do, used scifi to explore not the future, but the world we live in now. In other works Piper explored the nature of racism (Little Fuzzy), colonialism (Uller Uprising), and political transformation (Lord Kalvan). The focus of Space Viking was both more broad and more critical – civilization itself.

The dictionary definition of civilization is a rather bland focus on things. Conveniences, art, records, etc. This is also misleading; these things, and the wealth and leisure to create them, are byproducts of civilization. Civilization is shared values that lead to individual and community action that further the weal of the community and continues the propagation of those same values. The particulars of those shared values and the actions they lead to create the tenor of the civilization. Values which do not further the weal of the community cause that community to collapse – thus, they are not civilized. As the community as a whole prospers, individuals and groups within it gain the wealth and leisure to generate records, art, science, conveniences; all the things the dictionary identifies as civilization.

The world has seen a bewildering variety of civilizations; the Mayans, the Mongols, the Beaker People, the Egyptians. Some have been violent against outsiders, some have been inclusive, some have been both at once. Some have succeeded, most have faded or failed. Those that have succeeded can be said to be ‘better’ or ‘more successful’; after all, the goal of civilization is to improve the lot of the community and continue the core values that create the community in the first place.

The values of a civilization also allow one civilization to ‘judge’ another; if group action, communal living, a rejection of the individual, and selflessness toward the group work very well for one civilization, its members would rightly reject a different civilization that is highly individualistic and that touts the individual as so much more important than the group that the group should suffers as a whole before the individual. And, of course, vice-versa. The resulting ‘culture shock’ or ‘clash of civilizations’ can be resolved in a number of ways. Members of one side, the other, or both may drift between the civilizations; they may learn to co-exist; or, likely, they will attempt to absorb/eliminate each other, sometimes by force. Those civilizations that can coexist usually do so because they have a majority of similar core values and those values that differ do not result in direct conflict.

What are the core values of Western civilization?

The concept of natural law as defined by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas
Human life is seen as inherently valuable, leading to a rejection of murder, suicide, and euthanasia
A devotion to the nuclear family
A focus on personal responsibility, personal honor, and personal shame
That idea that the freedom of the individual is a right that is important for its own sake and benefits the community
The idea that personal property is a right that is important for its own sake and benefits the community
Belief in the rule of law

The basis of the conceptualization of Western natural law is Greek philosophy (especially Aristotle) while Western ideas of codified law and property right are Roman. The evolution of these ideas over time is largely the result of philosophers, theologians, and statesmen working within the Catholic paradigm, which directly and explicitly refers to Aristotlean and Jewish concepts of rights, laws, and society. The result is that Western civilization is called a Judeo-Christian civilization with strong Greco-Roman roots. These core beliefs are, thus, essentially Christian beliefs.

The idea that human life is valuable in and of itself combined with the idea that all rights are natural (meaning inalienable) leads to Western civilization having a tendency to grant more freedom and rights to the individuals within it. The rule of law means that no one is above or beyond the law, a belief that condemns corruption, nepotism, and tyranny, making governments more efficient, accountable, and prone to respect the rights of its people.

One of the strengths of Western civilization is its focus on personal responsibility, property rights, and individual freedom. Combined with the legal position that all are equal before the law and the theological position that all are equal before God, the result is a drive to succeed and the common belief that any person may achieve personal fulfillment. This is the core of the American Dream – to live free. This also means that personal wealth or power is not the only measure of success; indeed, the goal of many who first came to America was not great wealth, but simply the lack of financial obligation to a noble class. If an individual in Western civilization defines his own success by other criteria, they are free to do so.

In addition to driving individuals to excel, these values of freedom, personal responsibility, and property rights also mean that ‘outsiders’ are welcomed as long as they accept the rule of law. This allows Western civilization to tolerate non-Western enclaves within their own societies and to dynamically interact with other civilizations in their own areas with a minimum of conflict.

The dedication to the nuclear family has historically led to a division of labor amongst men and women, usually as a result of nothing more than societal norms. As has been noted by researchers, societies with a dedication to the nuclear family and a sex-based division of labor (generally referred to as ‘patriarchal societies’ by modern academics) have strong advantages in economic and political growth over time. The tendency of such societies to value large, stable families (and the resulting stable societies and economic growth) can cause this trend to be maximized over time, resulting in such civilizations having immense long-term advantages over civilizations that do not share these traits.

Indeed, history has shown these values to be so powerful individually that they were referred to not as ‘values’ (more of a squishy, modern term that implies ‘I like brand x’) but as ‘virtues’ (meaning ‘something inherently good’). History has also shown that, when combined, these virtues create civilizations that both improve the weal of the people within it and spread their virtues in an unequaled manner. The Greeks embraced many of these virtues and in addition to their city-states being economic, political, and military powerhouses of their day, their influence is still strong over 2,500 years later. Roman society adopted many Greek virtues and added their own laws and virtues, creating a more stable and more expansionist civilization. The Roman Empire was so successful that the majority of Western social details (parliaments, military structure, language, laws, titles, etc.) are still modeled on their structures right now.

Of course, Sparta and Athens fell into decline until they became merely places where great ideas once came from. The Roman Empire likewise declined and fell before waves of barbarians. Will Western Civilization also decline and fall? Probably, almost certainly.

But why?

The key is what happened to Rome. With its huge territories, vast wealth, and incredible influence, only one thing could bring down Rome. Barbarians. But I don’t mean the Visigoths and the Vandals. Those wandering tribes were just other, formerly weaker, civilizations that took advantage of Rome’s weakness. No, I use ‘barbarians’ as the late Greek philosophers meant it – ‘those who reject civilization’.

The Greeks were sophisticated enough, and world travelers enough, to know that people that didn’t speak Greek and didn’t have triremes were just as smart and cunning as they, themselves, were. Thus ‘barbarian’ came to mean those people who rejected weal, who wanted the benefits of civilization without participating in the virtues that produced them. “Values” that are not virtues are vices (from the Latin word that means ‘defect’) and those that hold them are vicious (which means ‘vice ridden’). The absence of good is not nothing, it is evil. Likewise, the absence of virtue is not neutrality, it is vice.

Individuals that strive for and hold fast to virtues are said (well, were once said) to have a good character and such people were also once praised for their virtue. This is because there was a broad recognition that individuals of character were the driving force of civilization – they are the ones who improve the weal of all and spread the ideals that make that weal possible. These “pillars of society” are, indeed, the pillars of society. People who lacked the virtues were not considered to have no character, they were considered to have a bad character, to actively degrade the society they were in.

I hate to belabor this point, but it is critical. Our ancestors, the much-derided Victorians and Gilded Age members, those “repressed” people with their rather extensive families and quite direct letters recognized that the core virtues of Western civilization had made the West prosperous and secure. They also recognized that the rejection of those virtues would lead, inevitably, to the decline of their prosperity and security. In short, they knew what was good for them and their children and praised it while rejecting what the recognized as damaging to their future.

Over time, however, upholding the virtues that underpin civilization always seems to fall out of favor. It happened in Greece, Rome, the Persian Empire, Han China, Imperial Japan, and many others. It does so for two reasons. First, civilization becomes so ubiquitous that it seems to be the natural state. Prosperity and security have been had for so long that many people come to believe not only that they will not go away, but that they can not go away. The even more compelling reason is – virtue is difficult to cultivate. It takes self-discipline, self-denial, and strength. After a good character is developed individuals realize that virtue is, literally, its own reward; but until then, it’s a tough row to hoe. It seems far easier to ignore self-denial and self-control and just, well, indulge in just a little vice.

This can go on, sometimes for quite some time, because so many other people remain virtuous. The fact that some people are corrupt and are overcharging the government for work is not critical when it is one contractor out of a thousand honest ones. People who deceive charities and receive things that they do not need do not make a big difference when they are few in number and there are many donors to the charity.

Once those little vices are commonplace, however, more and more vices and more and more extreme vices become acceptable. Eventually, virtues are ignored or mocked and the foundation that civilization rests on begins to dissolve. Soon, the majority of the contractors are corrupt because the honest ones can’t compete with the widespread cheating and bribes. Charities have fewer donors and worry more and more that the truly needy are competing with the dishonest. The warning signs of such decline are easily observed; the Greeks decried the loss of virtue, as did the Romans – the prophets of doom were sometimes heeded, especially early, and virtue was returned to esteem. Over time, however, the erosion of character advanced further and further until it was too late..

Within any society there are people that reject character. These are the barbarians that H. Beam Piper wrote about in language more modern than St. Thomas. The barbarians that mock the virtues that built the society they live in and believe that their rejection makes them the ones most qualified to control the society. Where the virtues of temperance and prudence lead people of character to realize that no endeavor, even government or society, can ever be perfect, the vice-ridden love utopian visions of what might be, if they were just in charge. Where the just realize that any worthy endeavor is full of frequent struggle and occasional failure, the barbarian sees struggle as weakness and failure and condemnation. Where the courageous realize that a worthy cause makes a worthy struggle, barbarians want an easy path and condemn all suffering as evil. Where people of character realize that there are sometimes things worth killing for and certainly things worth dying for, the barbarian declares their rejection of civilization by saying nothing is worth dying for or their moral cowardice by declaring that nothing is worth killing or dying for.

What’s that you say? Why does the declaration that there is nothing worth dying for and nothing worth killing for prove that you are a moral coward, you ask? That’s actually pretty simple, I reply. Think of it this way – if someone were to attack you child with the intent to cart them off and torture them to death and the only way you could stop them was to kill them, would you? If you were the sonderkommando in Auschwitz, would you have risen up in rebellion in the face of certain death? As a prisoner of war in Bosnia, would you have participated in the torture of fellow prisoners, or refused and been killed? When the Nazis were attacking Europe, would you have enlisted, or not?

I am drawing a difference here between pacifists who choose death before violence and the barbarian. A rejection of violence in all circumstances, which is the implicit statement that nothing is worth the life of another, while accepting death means that you have decided to value some ideal, ideology, or the lives of others more than you value your own life. To accept the potential of killing without accepting the potential of your own self-sacrifice may mean that you value your life above the lives of others, or that you believe that there are ideals, or causes, that have a higher value than the lives of others, but not higher than the value of your own life. People who declare that neither is acceptable have no ideals worth sacrificing for and have no value on their life or the lives of others. They have literally nothing that they value highly; they have refused to make a moral choice. They are moral cowards. This refusal to decide is a de facto rejection of prudence, justice, and temperance as well as courage. A prudent man realizes a decision must be made; justice demands that some choices are right and that some are wrong; the temperate man realizes that the desires to avoid error and upsetting others are not as import and the need to take some action.

The refusal to make moral choices leads to a slippery, sneaky sort of attack on civilization. While building civilization requires moral choices, sometimes critical ones, the moral coward decries all decisions as immoral, or states that decisions cannot be made. No war is worth waging, no enemy worth fighting. Their refusal of justice means that when conflict does arise they decide whom they support not by actions, or moral grounds, or evidence, but by emotion. Their refusal of prudence means that they are easily manipulated through their emotions and allow their emotions to override their reason. And their refusal of temperance means that they become extreme in the reactions to conflict.

Thus you have; peace activists who support suicide bombers; pacifists that declare indiscriminate bombing an acceptable tactic by one force (their emotional favorites) while controlled counter attacks are decried as evil (by their emotional opponents); Students for Peace and Justice that wave toy assault rifles as they accuse the elected leaders of a democratic nation of being butchers for attacking the unelected heads of a terror organization that purposefully kills children.

These barbarians see no dichotomy between their words, or their actions. They have made no moral choice, only an emotional one, leaving them free to say and do pretty much as they please as long as they ‘stay true to themselves’ (i.e., feel good about what they are doing). These barbarians go further, however, by rejecting people who do make moral decisions that affect their emotions in a negative way. Since they are emotional, not moral, anything that impinges on their fun is ‘bad’. Since civilization is largely about controlling impulses that can harm society and rewarding impulses that are beneficial to society, they spend a lot of time upset with civilization. And with those who make moral choices.

They demand that others not judge them (i.e., reach moral conclusions about them), nor take away their freedom (i.e., impose limits on their behavior, regardless of its moral dimensions). At the same time, they try to impose their emotional rules on moral players. Any failure by someone who upholds morals is seen as horrific, even though they do not share in the morals. While prudence and justice requires that we understand that no one is perfect, and that anyone can fail, the barbarians point to any stumble as “proof” that virtues are worthless, or that the people who value them are hypocrites, or both.

As a result, the barbarians are held to the lowest standards (‘staying true to themselves’) while civilization and its defenders are held to an impossibly high one. They uphold the cruel and unjust while opposing those who seek justice. They elevate their petty desires over the needs of society. And all the while they deny that they or their actions can be judged as anything but good, regardless of the consequences, all while claiming to seek ‘justice’.

This attitude is so dangerous because it plays upon the emotions so well. Why? Because it is so similar to the attitudes of a child. A young child has not yet formed a good character; they lack prudence as they lack experience. Children lack temperance because they are just learning their desires. Children lack justice for they have yet to be taught empathy. And children lack courage because they have not yet been taught to face their fear. This is natural and part of life; it is the duty of parents and society to instill virtues into children so that they may mature into adults. It is also natural for mature adults to indulge children as they learn, to be gentle as they learn the parameters of civilization.

But these barbarians refuse to change, they have rejected maturity. The natural inclination of adults to indulge children is abused and twisted by the demands of adults that they not only be allowed to keep the attitude of children, but that others find them praiseworthy for doing so. As a society, we seem to have forgotten that adults cannot be allowed to act like children without consequences.

This trend is going on throughout the West; in France the young riot because they do not want the guaranteed employment laws to change – even if those laws mean many of them will remain unemployed and on the government dole. The French government responded by doing as the rioting children asked. The German government announces so many people are retiring early while others simply don’t work, forcing them to cut unemployment benefits and the German people stage riots demanding the right not to work – even if it means bankrupting the nation. The most recent May Day marches in Europe were focused on amazing demands; free housing, free transportation, free internet access, free downloads of pirated movies and music, and a 4 day work week - all while being guaranteed that they never need to work (generous, life-long unemployment benefits with no requirement to work) and (if they have a job) cannot be fired. Rather than being met with derisive laughter, these ideas are upheld by some as the ultimate goal of government and society.

At the same time, I fear that derisive laughter is the only negative response. While the goal of the barbarians is to enjoy civilization without the burden of maintaining it (well, except for the anarchists; or the primitivists) the result is the same; the degradation of civilization. Just as the welfare states of Europe are collapsing under the weight of non-productive people, so can civilization itself collapse under the weight of those who won’t contribute – regardless of their desires. The Roman elites who refused to serve in the legions did not make their decision in hopes of destroying Rome, they made their decision so they could remain in Rome and live well without worrying about hard work, self-sacrifice, the demands of military duty, or their civic responsibilities. The end result was still the destruction of Rome. When the Roman government demanded military service regardless of the desires of their people, Rome grew. When the government no longer demanded it, but society still pressured the elite to serve, Rome was maintained. When it was no longer ‘fashionable’ for men to do so, Rome declined, rapidly.

So we must stand up to the barbarians. We must judge their words and their actions, and they must pay consequences for their words and actions if they are deserved. We must reject moral equivalency and moral cowardice. We must continue to believe, say, and act upon the fact that some things are good, and others are evil. We must continue to uphold the family, personal responsibility, honor, shame, freedom, personal property, and the rule of law. We cannot do so quietly, nor secretly.

If we do not, we are letting the hitchhiker take the wheel.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More on Hate Crimes in the US

My post titled Rednecks, White Power, and Blue States has generated quite a bit of a stir (well, not as much as if I’d put a puppy in a blender, but pretty good for me) and a bit of a backlash. There are two main pushbacks that I have detected. The first is “Well, see, Southern racist cops don’t *report* hate crimes, ‘cuz they’re, you know, Southern racist cops. Like in Gator. Or White Lightning.” The other one is, in short “go to Hell, you mouth-breather!”

Thankfully, the first is much more common than the second.

Let’s take a look at that first claim, then, and see if it might be true. Personally, I suspect that the FBI pays a bit more attention to racism and hate crimes in the South (after all, they also went to public schools where they learned that the words to “Southern Man” were as true as the gospel), but they might be getting fooled by all those cracker sheriffs, might’nt they?

I spoke with the Public Affairs Office of the FBI in Atlanta concerning the compilation of hate crime statistics for their own annual reports (which are my main source of information). They were very open in explaining how their statistics are gathered – in the same way that rape, murder, and other crime statistics are gathered, through the Criminal Justice Information System. They were very clear that they have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the statistics and that years of use have found no holes or discrepancies. Remember, the police anywhere hiding racially-motivated crimes would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act and would result in an FBI investigation for denial of civil rights.

But, again, what if they are being lied to? Or, horrors! What if they are in on “it”? How would we know? Well, in 2000 the reporting of hate crimes became very visible/politicized with a series of reports and outside scrutiny. The result has been a strengthening of federal hate crime laws and an increased scrutiny on the reporting of hate crimes at all levels.

How do others view the reports? Beginning in 2001 CAIR focused upon anti-Arab hate crimes and has been pretty relentless ever since. They have had few complaints, especially since 2002. And the Southern Poverty Law Center has been attacking the FBI for years, saying that hate crimes are terribly under-reported. But when I spoke with the PAO for the SPLC he admitted that the SPLC does no investigations of its own, has no researchers looking into hate crimes in any direct way, and bases its assumptions on what they ‘feel to be true’ (not a direct quote).

The ADL and ACLU declined to comment on the FBI’s hate crime statistics (in both cases the Georgia chapters declined and the national offices did not call back). I could find no references to either group complaining about the recent reporting, however, so we will put them in the ‘neutral’ column.

We will now cast out eyes further afield, all the way to Israel and the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism. While not nearly as detailed in its analysis of American anti-Semitism as the FBI report, the Stephen Roth Institute report for America in 2004 seems to be a very close match to what other groups are reporting. While the Stephen Roth Institute does its own, independent, research, I was unable to confirm that they don’t just get their hate crime data from the FBI, so this is (at least right now) only evidence that independent organizations investigating hate crimes trust the FBI data. Considering the fact, though, that they are specifically looking for hate crimes and have experience in discovering these crimes for themselves in nations that don’t have central reporting, this is certainly a tick mark in favor of the statistics.

In short, high-profile groups that oppose hate crimes either have no problem with the numbers, no way to refute the numbers in a credible manner, or actively use them. These groups, plus the NAACP, the Southern Leadership Council, and many others all look for hate crimes in the South and have literally billions of dollars for locating, identifying, and exposing ‘hidden’ hate crimes. Combined with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that have everything to lose by covering up hate crimes, and I think the numbers are pretty trustworthy.

What about all those racist cracker cops in the South, anyway? I mean, they just might be able to pull off hiding all sorts of things, just like in Mississippi Burning, right?

Let us look now on Atlanta, the city closest to my own home. With a population that is over 60% Black, Atlanta is the only large city in America with an uninterrupted string of Black mayors for over 30 years. Atlanta is over 61% Black, about 33% White, about 4.5% Hispanic, and the rest divided amongst Asians, Native Americans, and other races. The Atlanta Metro also has a rather large Gay community, especially in the suburban enclaves in De Kalb and Fulton counties. The Atlanta Police Department is headed by a a Black man; indeed, 4 of the last five police chiefs have been Black, including a Black woman chief. The force is about 60% Black, a close reflection of the population. Do you expect me to believe that a Black cop in a majority Black town with a Black lieutenant that reports to a Black police chief that works for a Black mayor… is going to hush up a hate crime against a Black citizen? If you do, you will be disappointed.

The city of St. Paul, capitol of Minnesota, is (according to the census) about 11.7% Black. In contrast, the St. Paul Police Department is only about 5.7% Black (according to the St. Paul PD Public Affairs Office, a polite group of people). The St. Paul PD is further 3% Asian (the city is 12.3% Asian), 4.3% Hispanic (the city is 7.9% Hispanic), and 0.9% American Indian (the city is 1.1% American Indian). The rest of the sworn officers are White, making the police force for a city that is about 67% White a full about 86% White. The PAO that I spoke to, however, assured me that although he had never run the numbers (he gave me raw numbers, not percentages) he was sure that the PD was a close reflection of the city's ethnic distribution. When I asked him what percentage of St. Paul was White, he said "about 85%, I suppose", a guess reflecting the police force, not the city. As can be seen, Hispanics are under-represented by about 40%, Blacks are under-represented by about 50% and Asians are under-represented by about 75% on the SPPD.

Which town do you think is more likely to hide a hate crime?

Note: on 8/10/06 this post was edited for grammar, clarity, and to add an approved quote. No numbers or links were changed.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Really Old

Well, for the internet, this is old. But every time I think of it, I have to laugh. After a full month of me sniggering about this last night my wife demanded that I blog about it. I suspect she wants me to get it out of my system.

A few months ago one of the silliest exchanges between Right/Left bloggers occurred. Amanda at Pandagon touted her cat as a model of gender equality while curved laundry baskets (which make it easier to brace the basket against the body with one hand) are Tools of the Patriarchy. OK, that’s a little hokey, especially when she segues into ‘ergonomic laundry basket as symbol of pro-life oppression of women’. In typical fashion, Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom weighed in with a satirical ‘poem’ so chock-full of lefty/feminist buzzwords that it clunks along like Amanda’s original argument. Not a comedy goldmine, sure, but a nice mockery of Amanda’s usual attempts at symbolic allegory.

There were positive and negative replies, of course. A lot of Jeff’s comments are positive, PZ Myers weighed in against it with all the literary skills of a biologist, and Chris Clarke wrote a poem mocking Jeff. There was the usual ‘righties like Jeff’s poem, lefties like Chris’ poem’ blather, and then….

Then happened that thing that still makes me chuckle every time of think of it. Every. Damn. Time.

Amanda wrote about the exchange and declared Chris the superior poet (no surprise) and then typed this gem;

“…there is a bit of tension evident in [Jeff’s follow up], no doubt caused by the confusion that arises when one feels emasculated because you have been out-poetryed by a sensitive left wing feminist man.” (emphasis added. lousy grammar, although it looks like my work, in the original)

No, she really wrote that. I posted a reply to this at Pandagon, but it didn’t make it past moderation. This concept, that a conservative man (heck, any man) would feel emasculated by a poem is just so far removed from reality that I marvel at the fantasy world the writer must live in. As a guy who gets up for work each morning, labors to feed, clothe, and shelter a family, and tries hard to squeeze in some reading and writing for pleasure each week; when I looked at Clarke’s poem my reaction was not “oooooh, Jeff is going to feel that in the morning!”, it was “Looks like Clarke is between jobs”. I suspect that the VAST majority of men anywhere in the world would feel the same way.

So my laughter is not from some deep insight, nor some profound reflection. It comes from the simple wondering thought,

“I wonder what color the sky is in her world?”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rednecks, White Power, and Blue States

I'd like to welcome readers of the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler and Hugh Hewitt.

I’ve run into it again. A “progressive” site (which I will not name, let alone link) has gone off on an extended rant about Southern racism, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness – while, of course, using terms like ‘toothless”, “inbred”, “ignorant”, “stupid”, and “redneck” to describe these benighted people. Woe, woe is the South, perpetual home of hate, racism, and crimes against the marginalized.

If you have read anything here, you can probably guess where I am going with this. Let me add a little personal background to give you some perspective.

I am from a “middle state”, a Mid-West bastion of farming where I was raised amidst the tall corn. Being in a sort of border area along the Mason-Dixon line, I heard the stereotypes of Southern yokels, but never really understood it. After joining the Army, which has many a Southern man in its ranks, I was even more nonplussed by the stereotypes I routinely saw. I lived for many years in North Carolina and loved the land, the weather, and the people.

Then I moved to Michigan for college. The reaction of born-and-bred Northerners to the fact that I had lived in the South was jaw-dropping to me. I was asked if I (as a non-Southerner by birth) was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan; if I could understand “those people” and their accents; if I had any trouble with how dirty it was in the South; and a million more. Even better were the assumptions made by people who mistakenly thought I was born in the South, including a PoliSci TA from Oregon who assumed I learned to drive on a tractor and the Brooklynite who asked me, in all seriousness, how long it took me to get used to wearing shoes when I joined the Army.

I later moved to Minnesota where the misconceptions were, if possible, even worse. After a decade of living in the frozen tundra, I escaped back to the South, this time to Atlanta. Deeper Thought, my wife, is a Michigan native and her parents want to move nearer to the Airborne Philosophy Squad (Aristotlean). Even they, though, are plagued with the doubts and fears of someone who only ventures to the sunny side of the Mason-Dixon for rare visits to Disney World. They worry about the Klan, they worry about ignorant people, they worry about no jobs. In short, they reflect the constant Northern worry about the South.

As I mentioned above, these attitudes are very visible in many “progressives” from the coasts, the Mid-West, and the Northern plains. Indeed, the entire idea that Republicans are inherently racist seems to stem from the fact that Southerners routinely vote Republican (well, now). This has taken on a life of its own in the last few years, so that a simple perusal of liberal bloggers will quickly reveal the following prejudices; Southerners are ignorant/stupid, inbred, weak-willed, violent, and racist; Republicans are the same, and hate the poor, too! This myth (for it is, indeed, a myth) is so commonly accepted by the Left and the media that when Howard Dean openly accuses Republicans of being racist the press does not ask him to prove it, but simply wonders how Conservatives will try to 'deflect' this issue.

Let’s look at some history. The fact that the South was overwhelmingly a bastion of the Democratic Party after the Civil War is so well documented as to be common knowledge. Even today, over 140 year after the end of the Civil War there are many political positions that have never been held by anyone but Democrats since the end of Reconstruction. If having Southern votes is indicative of being a ‘racist’ party, does this indict the Democrats?

Certainly not, we are told. The myth is that the Republican Party pulled Southerners into the conservative fold by using the 1964 Civil Rights Act and “code words” to become the party of White Segregation, yanking the deeply-racist South into their orbit. Of course, this ignores the fact that the Democratic Party was very supportive of Jim Crow laws until the mid-1960’s, showing themselves as openly racist. It also ignores the fact that a much higher percentage of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than did Democrats. In other words, the Republican Party had stronger support for the Civil Rights Act and, until about 1970 the Democratic Party was the one supporting Jim Crow laws in the South. This makes the myth that racism was the motivation for Southerners to start voting Republican very hard to support.

The concept that Southern voters became Republicans because of race is, indeed, a myth. In actuality, the Democratic Party drifted further and further to the Left, forcing many of the people who supported the New Deal (and the children of these supporters) to vote Republican. When the 1972 Democratic Party was called the party of “Acid, Abortion, and Amnesty” it was a fairly accurate portrayal of the direction they had taken. The Democratic Party had embraced the radicals that came with the anti-war demonstrators, often tacitly including the domestic terrorists that were on the fringes of such groups, and were advocating socialist policies that the average American found distasteful. The surge in violent crime around the nation was perceived (correctly) as being caused by the drug culture, driving more voters to the ‘law and order’ focused Republicans and away from the Democrats, who were visibly supported by the members of the drug culture.

In the 1970’s the serious disruptions of the economy were seen as an outgrowth of the New Deal and the Great Society, both very intrusive redistribution schemes with an emphasis on central control by the government. The Democratic approach of raising taxes and enlarging such programs (seen as a cause of the problems to begin with) contrasted poorly with the Republican position that tax cuts and smaller government would lead to prosperity. Another heavy blow was the Carter presidency. Although Carter created a Department of Energy and formulated a national energy policy, the oil shocks and steep price increases in fuel were seen as concrete failures of Democratic policies. Combined with Carter’s ineffectual response to this energy crisis, economic factors drove more voters to the Republican Party.

So the migration of voters from the Democratic party (with its support for Jim Crow laws) to the Republican Party (and its support of the Civil Rights Act) has very little, if anything at all, to do with race and is more about crime, taxes, and (oddly) politics. This trend was believed to be so obvious by Conservatives that they expressed it openly, including in the Seminal 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority, where the argument was that if Republicans simply didn’t change Southerners would be forced to vote for them in reaction to the radicalization of the Democrats. But the question remains….

Are Southerners racist, or not?

Let’s start with the South. For some time now the FBI has been tracking hate crimes. These are broken down by state and type of offense. If we look at racially-motivated hate crimes, we see something, well, that goes against the conventional wisdom. According to the 2004 statistics, the top four states for race-based hate crimes are;

New Jersey

That is a bit of a surprise, isn’t it? Let’s look at the bottom four states for race-based hate crimes. They are;


I must admit, I expected the results to be counter to the commonly held ideas, but this was a shock to me. Especially when I looked at the breakdown of numbers and realized that when you compare state to state, per capita, hate crimes are FIFTY TIMES more likely in Minnesota than in Alabama! Texas has 1/6th the race-based hate crime rate of Michigan, racial hate crimes are more than twice as likely in Massachusetts as opposed to West Virginia, and North Carolina has 1/3rd the incidence of racially-motivated hate crime of California.

When you look beyond race-based hate crimes and look at general hate crime statistics (which include sexual orientation and religion as categories of crime) these surprising trends remain; Minnesota has nine times the per capita incidence of hate crimes of the state of Alabama, Massachusetts has three times the race-baiting, gay-basing, and anti-Semitism of Georgia, and California has twice the hate crimes (again, per capita) of Kentucky. In short, the “Red States” are, in general, home to fewer race-baiters, Jew-haters, and gay-bashers than the “Blue States”; in particular, crime statistics show that there is much less race-based crime in the South than in other regions of the country, especially the Northeast and the upper Mid-West.

What about Republicans as a whole? Are they racist? Or, at least, aren’t they ‘more racist’ than Democrats?

I learned about this study recently whilst listening to that bulwark of Conservative punditry, NPR. In a political contest where the Republican candidate is Black, 25% of Republican voters will ‘switch loyalties’ and vote for a White Democrat. This seems pretty damning, perhaps a clear indicator that Republicans are racist. The study goes on, however, to show that when the Democratic candidate is Black 38% of Democrat voters will vote, instead, for a White Republican. In other words, 50% more Democrat voters will change party if their ‘own’ candidate is Black than will Republicans in the same instance. This seems to show that if Republicans are racist, Democrats are more racist.

Another study showed that Republicans would give less money to victims of the Katrina disaster than would Democrats. No surprise there. Also, the study showed that while Republicans were most likely to make aid even, regardless of circumstances. The Democrats, on the other hand, varied the amount of aid they would award based on race, but not the way you think; in general, Democrats would give Whites more money, up to twice the average relief, while giving Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics less. In other words, while Republicans were ‘color-blind’, Democrats tended to give more, maybe much more, to Whites. This echoes another study done by the same group that showed that Republicans have stricter prison sentences across the board while Democrats gave much longer prison terms and steeper fines to Blacks while reducing the penalties paid by Whites.

What does the evidence show? Northern states have a higher instance of race-based hate crimes than Southern states (indeed, “Blue states” have a higher instance of hate crimes overall than do “Red states”). Democrats are more likely to change their votes to ‘avoid’ a Black candidate than Republicans. And Democrats tend to give greater rewards to White disaster victims and greater punishments to Black criminals, while Republicans are ‘color-blind’ in both cases.

So much for the “reality based community”.

UPDATE: Look what a prominent Lefty blogger was kind enough to put up today.

UPDATE to the update: The HuffPo entry has been edited, but a screenshot of the original is at Michelle's.

ANOTHER Update: I have some followup information on this topic here.

A LATE ADDITION of another article on a related subject is here.
Sorry for the Light Posting

But the Thought family is in the midst of buying a new home/moving into a new home/having a nervous breakdown. Things are moving well (finally) and the biggest hurdle is behind us (we hope).

I will return soon with more Writing to Make your Eyes Glaze Over.