Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal-Justice Illiteracy


By Rafael A. Mangual
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The notion that America’s criminal-justice system regularly locks up otherwise harmless people for minor drug crimes — and does so largely because of thinly veiled racism — has become a central article of progressive faith. It was thus not surprising to hear Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren invoke the notion at the liberal We the People Summit earlier this week. What’s breathtaking, however, is the scope of Warren’s error. In response to a loaded question from the audience about how the system “criminalize[s] poverty and communities of color,” Warren replied:

[Criminal-justice reform] starts on the front end, with the activities we criminalize — for example, low-level drug offenses. More people [are] locked up for low-level offenses on marijuana than for all violent crimes in this country. That makes no sense at all. No sense at all. [Emphasis added.]

She’s right, it doesn’t make sense — because it’s not true. In fact, it’s so at odds with the publicly available data that one can only conclude that Warren is either totally unlettered on the subject or was willfully deceiving the audience.

The data on our prison population are unambiguous. As of December 31, 2016, the total incarcerated population in the U.S. was just over 2.1 million. This includes those held in state and federal prisons as well as local jails. About 46 percent (as of May 26, 2018) of federal prisoners are in for drug offenses. But these are not mere pot smokers. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, 99.5 percent of federal drug prisoners are traffickers, and marijuana is involved in only 12 percent of those cases.

Moreover, only 9 percent (a little over 188,000) of the country’s inmates are in federal facilities. In state and local facilities — which house 90 percent of America’s incarcerated persons — it’s a very different story.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only about 15 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a drug offense as of December 31, 2015 (the most recent data available). And the vast majority of drug offenders were in for trafficking. A mere 3 percent of them were being held for possession. And given that the vast majority of criminal cases end in plea bargains, the actual crime of a prisoner is often worse than what’s listed as the official charge. Violent offenders, on the other hand, constituted 54 percent of the nearly 1.3 million sentenced state prisoners. Serious property offenders (i.e., those convicted of crimes like larceny-theft, burglary, auto theft, etc.) made up 18 percent. And another 4 percent were imprisoned for a weapons offense. In other words, those three groups alone — who have committed crimes for which prison time is almost universally recognized as a just punishment — constitute more than three-quarters of state inmates.

The typical diagnosis from the criminal-justice-reform movement is that 1) America locks too many people up and 2) too many people are put away for harmless drug crimes. It is perfectly reasonable to hold one or both of those views.

What is not defensible, however, is imagining that addressing the latter issue will solve the former. Even Fordham Law School professor John Pfaff, a noted critic of “mass incarceration,” has conceded that achieving drastic reductions to prison populations “means changing how we punish violent crimes.” There is simply no way to achieve that goal on the basis of drug-possession convictions alone, given that a grand total of 4 percent of state and federal prisoners are serving time for such offenses.

Nor would changing the criminal treatment of drug use do much to change the racial makeup of the nation’s prison population. There are indeed racial disparities. Blacks make up approximately one-third of state prison populations, and almost all of them are men. Yet black men constitute only about 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. But drug enforcement doesn’t explain that. Data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that blacks constitute 35 percent of violent offenders, 45 percent of weapons offenders, 27 percent of property offenders, and 31 percent of drug offenders. In other words, releasing all drug offenders tomorrow would do almost nothing to change the black percentage of state prison populations.

It is understandable why criminal-justice-reform advocates rely on rhetoric about people being put behind bars for nothing more than smoking marijuana: Few think that’s an appropriate punishment, and most Americans now think that marijuana should be legalized outright. When advocates act as if this problem is coextensive with “mass incarceration,” however, they’re deceiving the public. Make no mistake about it: Deep reductions in prison populations cannot be accomplished without letting violent criminals back out on the street.

How many people should we have behind bars? Elizabeth Warren may think she can figure that number out in the abstract. For the rest of us, the answer is “however many it takes to keep innocent citizens safe.”

Media Dishonesty on Immigration Contributes to Gridlock


By Ben Shapiro
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The illegal-immigration issue has always been one fraught with politicking. We always hear the same refrain from both sides: that people are suffering and living in the shadows; that we must find a solution for them as well as a way to solidify our border security. And yet nothing ever gets done.

The impression of some in the press seems to be that nothing gets done because of a lack of public pressure. If only they could somehow jar American sensibilities into solving this problem once and for all!

Certainly, that’s the motivation that lies behind the sudden media enthusiasm for covering the phenomenon of Immigration and Customs Enforcement separating children from their illegal-immigrant parents at the border. For the last week, the attention has been nearly wall-to-wall — and the moral preening has hit an all-time apex. MSNBC is now analyzing Biblical verses while asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” (Does this mean Trump has finally won the War on Christmas?) Chuck Todd of NBC News is accusing Republicans of holding kids “hostage.” Media members are breaking land-speed records to rush down to the border in order to shout their outrage over the holding pens in which the authorities are holding small children.

Presumably, all of this is designed to effectuate change.

Instead, it achieves precisely the opposite.

That’s because the media coverage of the illegal-immigration issue has always been shot through with emotionally manipulative falsehoods. In this case, that manipulation has been particularly extreme.

We’ve heard that the Trump administration has heartlessly sought to rip toddlers from the arms of their weeping mothers in order to punish illegal-immigrant parents who are merely seeking asylum. But the truth is more complex: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that even accompanied immigrant minors must be released from custody within 20 days. That means that if their parents do not arrive at a point of entry to claim asylum, and instead violate the law by crossing the border illegally, they will be arrested — and their children must then be separated from them by the working of the law. The only possible solution, without a change to the law itself, would involve releasing illegal-immigrant parents along with their children into the general population.

We’ve also heard about the terrible living conditions in the holding centers for these children. Likely, some of that is true — although the stories from various sources conflict. But those facilities were overburdened for years before Trump took office; in fact, the media covered these same facilities and pointed out the problems therein during the Obama administration. In other words, this isn’t a Trumpian attempt to dump kids in hellholes. It’s a longtime problem that has yet to be solved.

In reality, all of this could be solved with simple legislation. The House of Representatives is actually set to take up the issue of family separation in both versions of the immigration bill being presented in the House. But Democrats probably won’t sign on to either bill — and it’s unlikely they’d even sign onto an independent piece of legislation designed to allow children to stay with their illegal-immigrant parents until their cases can be adjudicated. That’s because thanks to biased media coverage — and, in some cases, outright falsehoods — Democrats are winning the public-relations war. The longer the Democrats prevent a solution from arising, the more they gain in the public-opinion polls. So they have little incentive to come to the table around an immigration solution — their better political option remains to wait Trump out and let the press inflict damage on him. There’s a reason every Republican attempt at immigration reform has stalled out over the past two decades — and there’s a reason Democrats have celebrated every time they have. There’s also a reason that Democrats with unified control of the presidency and Congress attempted no serious immigration reform. Better to let the problem fester for political gain than to attempt to solve it.

If the media truly wished to contribute to a solution, all they’d have to do is cover the issue honestly. Yes, Trump is enforcing the laws against crossing the border illegally more harshly than the Obama administration did. But he didn’t create the separation policy. Yes, Trump has spoken with great passion in favor of stronger border controls. But he’s also offered a bigger amnesty for so-called DREAMers than even Barack Obama did.

Instead of using truth as a guide, however, the press continue to suggest that base animus animates conservative feelings on immigration. This leads to a political prisoner’s dilemma in which everyone’s best option is stasis: Republicans are best off doing nothing, since they’ll earn nothing but scorn for any action they take from the press anyway, as well as the undying enmity of many in their base; Democrats are best off doing nothing, since they can count on the press to clock Republicans for any immigration failures. The only ones who lose out are the American people.

Discrimination and Deceit at Harvard


National Review Online
Monday, June 18, 2018

For decades, the population of Asian-American students at Harvard University has remained suspiciously stagnant, even as the general population of Asian Americans has exploded. Asian Americans tend to have higher rates of academic achievement — standardized-test scores, GPAs — than other racial groups. While the Asian-American undergraduate population at elite universities that do not take race into account in admissions has soared since the 1990s, it has hovered around 20 percent at Ivy League schools, which do consider race. Against the notion that Asian Americans are a monolith of high achievers, it should be noted that the term denotes a heterogeneous collection of people from all sorts of backgrounds. But the substance of this issue is not complicated: If not for discrimination on the basis of race, there would be far more Asian undergraduates at elite universities than there currently are.

Now a group called Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard, alleging that it engages in unconstitutional racial discrimination against Asians in its admissions process. Last week, the plaintiffs released devastating evidence to support their claim, including an analysis of the data of 160,000 applicants conducted by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono as well as a university review of the admissions process from 2013 that had been buried by the Harvard administration. The plaintiffs deserve to prevail in court; the grim state of affairs at Harvard is a direct consequence of the affirmative-action regime that reigns in this country.

Evidence shows the discrimination happens along two lines. First, Harvard evaluates applicants according to a “holistic” process that considers, in addition to their academic, extracurricular, and athletic achievements, “personal” qualities: whether they have demonstrated “humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership,” etc. Asian Americans consistently rank below others on the personality metric, despite the fact that admissions officials never meet most applicants. The internal review showed that Asian Americans were the only demographic group to suffer negative effects from the subjective portion of the evaluation. Second, even after the subjective criteria are taken into account, the university tips the scales further by adjusting for “demographics.” The specifics of this adjustment have been redacted by the university, but the review found that the share of admitted Asian students fell from 26 percent to 18 percent after it was made.

The evidence of discrimination is close to dispositive. Nonetheless, Harvard is insisting it does not discriminate. University president Drew Faust attacked the plaintiffs for “compromis[ing] Harvard’s ability to compose a diverse student body.” Their intention, she said, is “to advance a divisive agenda.” This refers to the fact that Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, is a white conservative who has a history of litigating against racial discrimination in university admissions — which we think is commendable, and in any case is obviously irrelevant to the merits of the case.

These propagandistic denials beggar belief. Harvard wants its student body to have a certain racial balance, and giving Asians a fair shake would compromise that balance. It is piling sanctimony atop deception because no university that is publicly committed to diversity can admit that it engages in systematic discrimination against a racial minority. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly forbids institutions of higher education that receive federal funds from engaging in racial discrimination. Unfortunately, the murky Supreme Court precedent on affirmative-action cases implicitly licenses such discrimination so long as it is well camouflaged. That precedent deserves to be overturned. In the meantime, Harvard should stop lying. It should stop discriminating, too.