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George Curry

Supreme Court Determined to Kill Affirmative Action

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(NNPA) A decade after carefully ruling in two University of Michigan cases – striking down the undergraduate admissions procedures and upholding those implemented by the law school – the U.S. Supreme Court seems on course to strike down even the mildest form of affirmative action admissions in higher education.

After oral arguments in a case brought by a White student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, the justices are expected to hand down a ruling in late June or early July. Rather than await the outcome of that case, last week the court accepted another challenge to affirmative action in Michigan, which will not be argued until the October term.

The fact that the court accepted the Texas and Michigan cases, after higher education officials thought the matter was settled law, is a clear indication that the conservative-leaning court plans to eviscerate race- and gender-conscious college admissions programs, no matter how conservative or narrowly drawn. If the court had other intentions, it would have left lower court rulings favorable to affirmative action in the two cases stand.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the case the court is expected to rule on in late June, was brought by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old White woman who was rejected for admission in the fall of 2008. Under the University of Texas admissions program, the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class was guaranteed admission to the state’s flagship university. When Fisher applied, 90 percent of the students were selected that way.

The other 10 percent of applicants were admitted based on a variety of factors, including extracurricular activities, awards and honors, work experience, socioeconomic status, standardized test scores and race. Of all of those factors, Fisher decided to challenge admissions because the university considered race as one of many factors.

“Race is only one modest factor among many others weighed; it is considered only in an individualized and contextual way… and admissions officers do not know an applicant’s race when they decide [who] to admit in UT’s process,” the university argued in its brief.

University of Texas officials said if the modest affirmative action program had not been in place, Fisher still would not have qualified for admission. The district and appeals courts agreed, ruling against Fisher. But the Supreme Court decided to accept the case anyway.

Even more surprising was the court’s decision to accept another Michigan case, Schulette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, while Fisher is still pending.

After the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in the University of Michigan law school case, 58 percent of voters adopted Proposal 2 in 2006, which prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment based on race, ethnicity or gender. It was modeled after a ballot measure passed by California voters in 1996.

Supporters of affirmative action in Michigan, lodged a legal challenge to Proposal 2, paving the path for the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to rule 8-7 that ballot initiative, which amended the state constitution, violated the federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the percentage of Black students enrolled at the University of Michigan had dropped from 6.7 percent in 2006 to 4.5 percent in 2010 as a result of Proposal 2.

The permissible use of affirmative action was thought to be decided for good in 2003. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment when it assigned 20 points to minority applicants.

But in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that when narrowly tailored, race can be lawfully used in combination with other factors as part of the University of Michigan Law School admissions process. In her written opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cited benefits of “obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

O’Connor, who has since retired from the court, said she did not envision affirmative action in place forever. In fact, she suggested 25 years, without giving a reason why it would not be needed beyond that point.

Now, just 10 years later – and despite this nation’s horrible history on race – the conservative majority on the court seem unwilling to leave affirmative action in place for another 15 years.

As Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a supporter of affirmative action, said last October: “Grutter said it would be good law for at least 25 years, and I know that time flies, but I think only nine of those years have passed.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Can March on Washington’s Unity be Duplicated?

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(NNPA) In five months, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 1963, the March was jointly called by the Civil Rights Movement’s “Big Six” – A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer and John Lewis.

At this point, it is unclear whether today’s leaders will come together and rally around the theme of jobs and justice as leaders did on August 28, 1963.

Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III are planning a march in Washington. Bernice King has announced a commemoration of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the King Center in Atlanta to observe the 50th anniversary. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King’s old organization, will be holding its annual convention in the nation’s capital the week of the anniversary and is considering holding an activity.

The foundation that raised more than $100 million to erect the MLK monument on the National Mall – and was forced by King’s children to drop the reference to Dr. King in its name – is still hoping it can participate in a joint celebration by all of the civil rights groups.

Interestingly, the Big Six managed to come together when the Black unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, compared to 3.2 percent for Whites. The unemployment rate for Blacks 20 and older in February was 12.7 percent – nearly double what it was at the time of the March on Washington.

Of course, any discussion about the preservation of Dr. King’s legacy invariably involves his three remaining children – Martin III, Bernice and Dexter. While appreciating the King family’s desire to protect intellectual property left to them by their father, including his “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been critical of their decision to charge what had been known as the Martin Luther King National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. a licensing fee of nearly $3 million to use his name, likeness and quotes in conjunction with a monument erected to him on the National Mall. I also upbraided them for, after making the decision to charge a licensing fee, refusing to extend the agreement, forcing the foundation to change its name (it is now The Memorial Foundation) and limit the scope of the monument-connected activities it had planned to advance Dr. King’s legacy.

Roland Martin and Joe Williams have an interesting article on rolandmartinreports.com about the controversy.

We had a heated discussion Sunday on “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” about the King children’s interaction with Harry Johnson and the group that raised the money for King monument on the Mall, the first to honor an African American. In response to my earlier column on the subject, Armstrong Williams wrote a column claiming I had slandered the King family and “For Mr. Curry to spread the falsehood that the King family is charging schools for the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is not only wrong, but embarrassing to these good people.”

After schooling Armstrong Sunday on the difference between “slander,” defamation that is spoken, and “libel,” which is written, I told him I couldn’t have possibly made that charge because I never used the word “school” anywhere in my column. He waited four months to reply and still didn’t get it right. To his credit, Armstrong acknowledged his error on-air and apologized.

During the program Sunday, Roland said he had spoken with Tricia Harris, a King representative, who said the money paid to the Kings was for corporations that exploited Dr. King’s image and they had not received money from the foundation for using quotes and the likeness of Dr. King.

I said, “She’s lying.”

Harris sent me a note taking exception to my comment and said, “It’s a great American tragedy when influential African Americans attack the King family for protecting and benefiting from Dr. King’s work when he set it up that way.”

Actually, King, Inc. was created after Dr. King’s assassination. Therefore, he did not “set it up that way.” Second, the licensing agreement does in fact extract a fee from the mall foundation in exchange for using his likeness on materials and quotes at the memorial.

Let’s be clear: No one is objecting to the King siblings profiting from their father’s intellectual properties. The issue is, unlike the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, they are trying to personally profit from a national monument that honors their father and the struggle he led.

David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, told the Roland Martin and Joe Williams: “It’s not as if (King, Inc.) is using any of this income for charitable good deeds. We’ve seen none of that whatsoever. It appears to be simply self-enrichment for a small number of people.”

As great as he was, the March on Washington wasn’t about Dr. King. It was about jobs and freedom. Sadly, 50 years later, we need a similar march that unites our leaders around those same issues.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

A Southern Governor Breaks with the Past

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(NNPA) There are some painful things from my childhood in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala., that I will never forget. At the top of the list is Gov. George C. Wallace’s June 11, 1963 “Stand in the School House Door” at the University of Alabama. I had just completed my sophomore year at Druid High School when Wallace came to my hometown to prevent two African Americans – Vivian Malone and James Hood – from registering for classes at Foster Auditorium.

In his inaugural address as governor, Wallace had promised, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” In an attempt to maintain segregation, Wallace showboated at the university with a state’s rights speech in which he had the gall to mention that the federal government was formed on the premise that “individuals are endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and property…” Of course, he was referring to White individuals, not people who looked like me.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to step aside and allow Malone and Hood to register. After Wallace refused, Katzenbach left and placed a call to President John F. Kennedy. The president federalized the Alabama National Guard and Katzenbach returned later in the day with Gen. Henry Graham, who was now under federal command.

Graham told Wallace, “Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the president of the United States.” After a few more comments, Wallace stepped aside and Vivian Malone and James Hood registered as students.

That was a joyous day on the west side of town, where most Blacks lived.

A year earlier, riots erupted in the state immediately west of us when James Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Another segregationist governor, Ross Barnett, led the opposition to Meredith’s enrollment. U.S. Marshals and Army military police were called in to restore order. Two people were killed during the riots – a French journalist on assignment and a jukebox repairman. Meredith graduated with a political science degree on August 18, 1963, about two months after Wallace’s Stand in the School House Door in neighboring Alabama.

In 1966, Meredith returned to Mississippi to embark on what he called the “March Against Fear,” an effort to encourage Blacks in Mississippi to vote. Thirty miles into his 220-mile march from Memphis to Jackson, he was shot several times by a White sniper. Meredith survived the bullet wounds.

On the east side of Alabama, Lester Maddox was elected governor of Georgia in 1966, largely on his reputation as a staunch segregationist. When Blacks tried to integrate his restaurant in 1964, Maddox confronted them with an ax handle. He sold his restaurant rather than comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue broke with that racist past when she made the bold decision to pardon the Wilmington Ten just before completing her term. Upon issuing the pardons – the only ones she signed in office – Perdue said, “I believe the Wilmington Ten were victims of the times, and victims of a deep-seeded prejudice and racism that circumvented any kind of likelihood that their trial was fair.”

A federal appeals court reached the same conclusion in 1980 when it overturned their conviction on arson and conspiracy charges in connection with the firebombing of a White-owned grocery store. Although an earlier governor had commuted the sentences of the Wilmington Ten, only Perdue would issue pardons of innocence, which had the same effect of their never having been convicted of a crime.

At a luncheon last week sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, Perdue has honored for her courage.

For all the talk of a New South, nothing symbolized a changed region more than Perdue sharing a stage with Ben Chavis, the leader of the Wilmington Ten, and Mary Alice Thatch, whose activist father preceded her as publisher of the Wilmington Journal.

Mary Alice Thatch said, “I don’t know if you remember Michelle Obama saying, ‘For once in my life, I’m proud of my country.’ I want to say to Gov. Perdue, for once in my life, I am proud of North Carolina. Thank you so much.”

Perdue said she was only doing what was right.

As we have seen, doing the right thing has not always been the hallmark of White governors in the South.

The sight of the former governor standing beside Chavis and Thatch was another memory I will always cherish. I’ll never forget George Wallace, Ross Barnett or Lester Maddox. Nor will I ever forget Beverly Perdue, a Southern governor who had the strength and courage to make sure justice was finally served.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

The Rich are Treated Differently

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(NNPA) F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right when he said the rich are different.

We are witnessing that in the sequester fiasco and we heard it in another form last week when Attorney General Eric H. Holder offered an asinine reason for not prosecuting bankers/gangsters known as banksters.

Testifying before Congress, Holder said, “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

Holder is not the Secretary of Treasury. While he, like all of us, might be concerned about the economy, that’s not his area of responsibility. His job as the nation’s chief law enforcer is to enforce the law. And that should apply to banksters like it applies to gangsters. But, as we know, the rich and institutions they control are treated differently.

This variation of banks being “too big to fail” is essentially telling us their CEOs are “too big to jail.” If banks are too big to fail, we should remind ourselves who allowed them to grow that large. Each time big banks gobbled up smaller ones like ATMs suck in your check deposit, they had to first win approval from the federal government. That is the same federal government that bails them out when they get in trouble and the same federal government that now whines that their CEOs are two big to jail. Try explaining that to a first-time, non-violent drug user who is rotting away behind bars.

Even in clear-cut cases of gangster behavior, there is a double-standard. Take the case of HSBC, which signed a $1.9 billion settlement with the U.S. after CEO Stuart Gulliver acknowledged the bank’s failure to catch at least $881 million in drug trafficking money that was laundered through the institution’s accounts. Officials admitted their bank had facilitated illicit financial transfers on behalf of rogue nations, including Iran and Libya, as well as Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.

Their punishment? A fine that equaled 11 percent of last year’s profits and a promise to do a better job of monitoring their accounts. And they avoided criminal prosecution.

Like other banks, HSBC will continue to benefit from American taxpayers underwriting its deposit insurance.

Senator Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.] observed, “It has been almost five years since the financial crisis, but the big banks are still too big to fail. That means they are subsidized by about $83 billion a year by American taxpayers and are still not being held fully accountable for breaking the law.”

The $83 billion a year Warren referred to represents the amount taxpayers pay in insurance to make sure U.S. bank deposits are guaranteed.

Think about that. Banks are profit making entities yet the public pays their insurance. Does anyone else pay for your homeowner’s insurance? Health insurance? Car insurance? So why should the public share in banks’ expenses, but not their profits? It is yet another example of the rich and their powerful institutions being different?

Contrast that different treatment with what’s happening in our nation’s capital.

In the never-ending game of chicken, Republicans are threating yet another budget showdown. They are adamant that whatever comes out of the ongoing sequester and deficit debates, all cuts must come from the spending side, including Medicare and Social Security.

Although President Obama has used strong, protective language in his State of the Union and inauguration speeches, he has a tendency to cave in when negotiating with Republicans – and that has many Democrats worried.

Obama and his advisers have already stated that they are amenable to a “grand bargain” whereby the White House and Republicans will reach an agreement on budget cuts.

So far, 107 of the 200 House Democrats have signed a letter to the president threatening to vote “against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits – including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

In the alternative, they want the grand bargain to “rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.” Those policies should include putting an end to subsidies for big businesses and raising the taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Speaking on CNBC last week, House Speaker John Boehner said, “Listen, we’ve got a structural spending problem that has to be addressed. The president’s sequester is in effect, and it will be in effect until there’s an agreement on cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years.”

But none of those cuts and reforms on the patch to a balanced budget involve touching the banksters or the rich. After all, as well all know, they are different.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Republicans Advance Discredited 'Entitlement' Lies

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(NNPA) Even after the White House and Congress stagger to reach a last-minute deal to avert yet another budget crisis, there is a fundamental difference in approach between the Obama administration and House Republicans. And those two stark approaches to governing goes to the type of society we want to be: one that protects the needy or one that protects the greedy.

Surprisingly, the Republicans’ position is crystal clear: they favor extending special favors to the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society.

“Republicans say that from here on, we should do only spending cuts, focusing on entitlement programs. But their approach to entitlements is highly selective — they seek to cut the entitlement programs on the spending side of the budget, whose benefits go overwhelmingly to middle-class and poor families. But they want no deficit reduction to come from the most wasteful and inefficient of entitlements — those embedded in the tax code,” observed Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Republican leaders say they will not budge on cutting tax expenditures, a term for tax deductions, exclusions, credits, and other tax preferences that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed in an op-ed … ‘I have news for [President Obama]: the moment that he and virtually every other elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over,’” Greenstein wrote. “Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner’s staff declared, ‘As far as we’re concerned, the tax issue is off the table.’ This, despite the fact that Boehner proposed several hundred billion dollars of additional revenues during his negotiations with President Obama only a few weeks ago.”

What is it that Republicans are so adamant about protecting?

As Greenstein notes, “Tax expenditures cost about $1.1 trillion a year, far more than Social Security or than Medicare and Medicaid combined and nearly two-thirds more than the total cost of all non-defense discretionary programs.”

It is such a logical – and fair – place to cut that Martin Feldstein, former chair of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that “cutting tax expenditures is really the best way to reduce government spending.”

The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimates that for tax year 2011, the top fifth of the population will receive 66 percent of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax-expenditure benefits (the top 1 percent alone will receive 23.9 percent of the benefits), the middle 60 percent of the population will receive slightly more than 31 percent of the benefits, and the bottom 20 percent of the population will receive only 2.8 percent.

The headline of another CBPP report says it all: “Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households.”

According to the study issued last year: “…”More than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households – not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.”

Mitt Romney was arguing the opposite position in a surreptitiously recorded video that contributed to his defeat against President Obama.

“In Obama’s ‘entitlement society,’ everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk,” Romney charged. “Once we thought ‘entitlement’ meant that Americans were entitled to the privilege of trying to succeed in the greatest country in the world. Americans fought and died to earn and protect that entitlement. But today the new entitlement battle is over the size of the check you get from Washington.”

That was a callous lie. In fact, the CBPP study notes, “Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled – and do not live in a working household – received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

Moreover, the study found, “the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.”

Contrary to public perception, it is Whites who benefits disproportionately from entitlements.

“Also, contrary to what a substantial share of Americans may assume, non-Hispanic whites receive slightly more than their proportionate share of entitlement benefits,” the CBPP study found. “Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 64 percent of the population in 2010 and received 69 percent of the entitlement benefits.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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