Random Notes: Re-segregation; IDA & NSA; and Disinvestment

Manchester, VT:  'You don't need to be a weatherman....'  7/10/14
Manchester, VT: ‘You don’t need to be a weatherman….’ 7/10/14

          On second reading, ‘Segregation Now…’ by Nikole Hannah-Jones which appeared in the May Atlantic hits like Katrina and leaves in its wake – stripped of self-congratulatory, MLK-day delusions – the reality of race in America.

           The social engineering that has gone into segregating and, now, re-segregating our public schools is most impressive.  We think of the vast superstructure of Jim Crow developed over the 90 years following the Civil War as disappearing in the generation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  But, it never vanished, and now it is resurging.  Says Hannah-Jones:

Few communities seem able to summon the political will to continue integration efforts. And the Obama administration, while saying integration is important, offers almost no incentives that would entice school districts to increase it. Instead, [Meredith Richards of the University of Pennsylvania Institute of Education Sciences] says, districts have typically gerrymandered “to segregate, particularly whites from blacks,” and that gerrymandering is “getting worse over time” as federal oversight diminishes. According to an analysis by ProPublica, the number of apartheid schools nationwide has mushroomed from 2,762 in 1988—the peak of school integration—to 6,727 in 2011.

           Leave aside that the Supreme Court based its holding in Brown v. Board of Education on studies proving separate could never be equal.  Nor has any study since then contradicted that.  Now re-segregation has added class to its witches’ brew:

High-poverty, segregated black and Latino schools account for the majority of the roughly 1,400 high schools nationwide labeled “dropout factories” – meaning fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate.  School officials often blame poor performance on the poverty these kids grow up in. But most studies conclude that it’s the concentration of poor students in the same school that hurts them the most.  Low-income students placed in middle-income schools show marked academic progress.

           We know what racial segregation does to rising generations of minority students.  We know what economic segregation does to impoverished students.  So, public education is bound to fail, as are the layers of governance and government dependent on these dishonest foundations.

           For ideological reasons (to be most kind), we have wilfully disengaged what we know works.  It’s just like the rejection of Keynesian pump-priming to remedy America’s chronic unemployment in favor of austerity.

           And the results are the same:  disinvestment in our people where logic and experience demand investment.

***

           I’ve long said that had I known what I know now, I’d have been a lot less ‘responsible’ during my student days – 1964-73.  William J. Broad’s story in the July 8 New York Times on multi-billionaire James Simons made me repeat this refrain.

           On the unusually tranquil Princeton campus, the Institute for Defense Analyses (caveat: faintly bizarre Wikipedia article) was located at the periphery of its expanses of suburban green now covered with buildings and awful art.  The woefully few radicals targeted IDA for reasons I don’t recall – a good gage of my tuning them out.  The only time the university administration, I believe, called on outside police between Fall 1964 and Summer 1970 was for a demonstration at IDA.

           Here’s the relevant excerpt from Broad’s generous profile of the entrepreneur and philanthropist James Simons:

Returning east, he taught math at M.I.T., then Harvard. In 1964, he was recruited into the shadowy world of government spying. At Princeton, while ostensibly part of the academic elite, he worked for the Institute for Defense Analyses, its Princeton arm a furtive contractor for the N.S.A.

 ***

 At Princeton, Dr. Simons’s cryptography strides helped the N.S.A. break codes and track potential military threats….

           Not for the last time, I’m sure, may I say to the radical few of the Princeton of my time, ‘You were right.  I was worse than wrong.’

***

           What has been the point of the brutal austerity the Republicans and the large corporations have put the country through since 2008?

           Esther Kaplan’s ‘Losing Sparta’ in the summer edition of VQR, looks at the human remains from offshoring and downsizing.  That the victims are deep in rabid red Tennessee might inspire schadenfreude (which I’ve written about) were their stories not so heartbreaking.

          That this fine journalist can’t identify a business reason for Phillips moving their fluorescent operation to Mexico says much about the gratuitous pain inflicted by profitable corporations on workers who once earned $15 per hour with benefits.

           ‘When will they ever learn?’  leads the refrain of that Pete Seeger song we all mouthed in the 60s.  As you watch the fumbling in Washington around the extension of the Highway Trust Fund and the potential loss of jobs equal to Boston’s population, keep this passage in mind from Robert O. Paxton’s provocative essay, ‘Vichy Lives – In a Way’ in the April 25, 2013 New York Review of Books:

The contraction of the French economy in the 1930s is sometimes attributed to the Third Republic’s weak executive, deadlocked parliament, and ideological divisions. The essential reason (one too often ignored by historians as well as by the public) was the economic policy of deflationary budget-cutting with which French leaders confronted the Great Depression until 1936. Even then, when the Popular Front government of Léon Blum proposed to take a different economic tack, it was prevented by divisions within its tenuous majority from embarking seriously upon needed public expenditures. The final decade of the Third Republic was therefore a period of extensive disinvestment.

           The examples of the Third Republic and of the Restoration of Charles II (which I wrote about last week) teach us that disinvestment has national costs –  unimaginable, inconceivable while the process guts the country.  The catastrophes represented in history as ‘the fall of France’ and ‘the raid on the Medway’ look all too predictable in hindsight.

           Like the unanimous Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, based on experience and predictive social science, it’s time to exercise foresight.

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