Affirmative Action in Modern Society

Recently in the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the United States Supreme Court, by a 6-2 vote, upheld a Michigan ban on Affirmative Action.  The ban stated that universities didn’t have to consider race as a requirement for enrollment.  Michigan isn’t alone with a ban either as states like California, Washington, Oklahoma, New Hampshire among others have done so, as well.

In June 2013, the New York Times ran an article which graphed how minorities have fared in states with affirmative action bans.  The graphs only look at a couple major universities within a few states, but they can manage to tell quite a bit.  Whether with or without a ban, the overall percentage of minorities as freshmen increase and decrease… sometimes, more wildly than others.  But it also shows that percentage of that state’s total minority population and how it differs from the percentage of minority freshman.

California

The charts specifically point out UC Berkeley and UCLA.  The graphs show that 49% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic though only 11% and 17% of freshman are Hispanic at those two schools respectfully.  That is a big gap.  The chart does show that both universities are lower in their percentages after the ban on affirmative action that before, but both were in decline before there was a ban. (as of 2011)

Florida

In Florida, 27% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic.  When it comes to Florida State and the University of Florida, both universities showed that 18% of their freshman were Hispanic.  Not as wide of a gap as California.  And in Florida, the percentage of freshman has increased right along with the state’s college-aged residents in this category.  Sadly, it is the African-American community that has seen a decline at Florida State and a mix of up-and-down years at the University of Florida. (as of 2011)

It’s mostly in Washington state where both Hispanics and African-Americans have seen an increase in the percentage of freshman, with a little variation over some of the years.  So the graphics have the ability to make the cases for or against affirmative action bans in the same manner.  There were increases and decreases before bans were in place as there were afterwards.  And though the charts do show the percentage of a state’s college-aged residents, it fails to identify how many have completed their secondary education in order to advance to college.

According to the Tuscon Sentinel, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University have all seen steady increases in the percentage of minority undergraduates since 2010 when voters approved of an affirmative action ban.  We cannot assume that the other universities/colleges show the same numbers, and it doesn’t break down the minority numbers and their relation to the total percentage of the population.

affirmative-action

All of the numbers that I have discussed this far have left off something very important… the students that leave those states to attend a university in another state and the students from other states that go to those particular universities.  How is that shown in the numbers that have been discussed?  And should they be used to help show if a university is measuring up in minority enrollment to the state’s total minority population?

Hypothetical

So to bring this concept into some form of scope, let me bring up a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say that a white man and an African-American man both apply to the same university with the exact same credentials (i.e. same GPA, same SAT scores, etc.), and only one can be admitted.  Should the African-American be chosen over the white guy simply based on his race and nothing else?  If that is the case, aren’t we using the same form of discrimination on the white man that we are attempting to exterminate on minorities with Affirmative Action?

Let’s make a slight change.  I will keep the African-American man but change the other to a Hispanic woman.  Does she now qualify over him because she is two minorities (woman and Hispanic)?  Does it come down to how many minority groups a person can be a part of?

In this country, not all secondary education is created equal.  There are good schools and bad ones.  So grades and GPA may not alone indicate which prospective student is more qualified  than another.  A student with a 3.4 GPA and comes from a good school may be more qualified than a student coming from a bad school with a 3.5.

When discussing Affirmative Action, especially when it comes to our universities, it goes beyond any simple talking points that politicians or even the media would have us believe.  It is a very complex issue that is intertwined with our nation’s past.  It was derived from necessity.  But as we move forward from those times, what type of role does it play if any at all?  One must look to the entire picture in order to get an idea of this and not just the rhetoric.

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The Cost of Education

Will It Be The Next Bubble To Burst?

It’s basic economics.  The economy is like a rollercoaster.  There are periods when the market goes up and periods when the market goes down.  This is something that anyone that understands only the very simplest part of economics knows.  We’ve watched this several times happen in the past couple of decades even.  The economy was growing by leaps and bounds during the 1990s as a result of start-up internet companies.  But the “dot-com” bubble got too big and burst around 2000-2002 leaving only the strongest (and those with a good business model) to survive.  From 2002-2008, the economy began a slow rebounding process.  During the “dot-com” recession, the housing market had stayed in good shape and it helped fuel part of the recovery.  But in 2008, the housing market, which had seen prices rise at a faster rate than inflation, finally burst.  And with it, the banks went as well.  This started what we know as The Great Recession.  Though economists will tell you that The Great Recession is now behind us as the economy is improving and the stock market is getting higher, unemployment still remains at an all time high.  And though the economy might be improving, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that is already in the works to derail it once again.  As things grow too big, there has to be an adjustment.  Airlines will probably face this at some point as airfare continues to increase, and they will soon overprice themselves.  However, the bigger threat to the economy will be the education bubble.

College tuition is rising at a faster rate than inflation much the same way the housing market did before its crash.  Cash-strapped states cannot afford to pay public universities the money they are owed.  The federal government isn’t in any better situation.  It has a huge debt and most Republicans on Capitol Hill are against any budget increases without their being an offset somewhere else.  Combine that with the sequestration cuts, which affected every department of government, and there is again no money for public universities.  So what is a university to do?  They turn to those who want to attend their institutions and increase their tuition.  Some might only raise out-of-state tuition.  Some might only raise in-state tuition.  And some might raise both.  It all depends on who that particular university is attempting to attract and where there current tuition rates stand.

Source: Bloomberg, Federal Reserve Bank of New York Through Q1 2012

Source: Bloomberg, Federal Reserve Bank of New York – Through Q1 2012

But that basic problem still persists.  In order to attend a college or university, students are having to take out more and more loans, and when they finally graduate they are in debt thousands of dollars (if not tens-of-thousands of dollars).  The economy has been slow in adding good-paying jobs, so they either have to settle for less-paying jobs at which they can’t afford to live and pay back their loans, or continue to go to school and collecting more college debt in the hope that by the time they get that degree that things will be better.  Regardless, this is a major problem for our economy.  Since we base our economy on how much the consumer spends, one must assume that someone with a mountain of college debt won’t be spending a lot of money on things since they have to repay their massive loans instead.  And that’s even if they can afford to pay back those loans to begin with.  It gets harder for an economy, based as ours is, to grow when so many people are kept out from the very beginning because of the debt over their heads.  Currently, the overall student debt stands at $1.2-trillion and is increasing.

Some could argue that students should just get jobs to help pay for their college tuition, and many do just that.  However, there is a fine line between working and over-working to help make ends meet.  It’s one thing to have a job when in college to help pay for things… school supplies, etc.  It’s another though to be working so many hours between several jobs to the point that one wouldn’t have time to study and grades slip as a result.  What is the point of being in college at that point?  We value education.  Education is important for any country to succeed.  And yet, we have watched the US be passed up by any other industrialized nations over the past several decades.  And instead of making the big decisions and making the big changes to bring us up to par, we seem to half-ass the entire thing and move our education system continually in the opposite direction.

100-dollars7427Recently, we watched Congress come up with a bipartisan solution to college loan interest loan rates (H.R. 1911).  This was after they let the low interest rates expire at the beginning of July.  It sounds like a fairly good thing that they were actually able to work together to lower the interest rates again.  But it’s nothing more than a scam that kicks the can farther down the road.  It looks good on paper, but in the real world where the rest of us live, it can actually do more harm.  The legislation tied the interest rates on federal student loans to the yields of the 10-year Treasuries.  So while that will work in favor of the students taking out loans now, as the economy improves and the market goes up, the interest rates will also increase.  Thus putting us back in our original problem in just a couple of years (minus a complete economic meltdown again).  And with the increase, the federal government stands to make a profit.  You read that correctly.  The federal government will cause students to go into more debt  just so they can make a profit… a profit of approximately $184.7-billion according to the Department of Education, Congressional Budget Office, White House Office of Management and Budget, etc.

Still sound like it was a good deal?  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) didn’t think so.  She actually voted against the legislation (Senate Roll Call) because she saw it for the scam that it really is and how it would not help the growing student loan debt (Sen. Warren’s Official Statement).  Senator Warren often spoke about the student loan debt both leading up to the July 1st deadline and after.  Businesses currently get super low interest rates on loans from the government (Federal Reserve).  Students actually pay a higher interest rate on their loans than businesses.  With the new legislation, interest rates on student loans will drop to 3.9% (Federal Student Aid).  Senator Warren proposed that the interest rates on student loans be as low as the interest rates that businesses receive from the federal government.

Some would even argue that since education is the foundation of all that student loans should have a 0% interest rate, but even banks wouldn’t give out loans at 0%.  Like anything else, it’s a business and there needs to be some profit involved… even if it’s smaller.  I haven’t written this column to come up with some big solution.  It’s mostly been to bring the attention to the larger situation that is taking place.  By kicking the can down the road yet again, we will only continue to face this problem in the next several years.  And if we continue to ignore it altogether, it does have the possibility to collapsing our economy and sending us into another recession when the bubble finally bursts.  In a letter to George Wythe on August 13, 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness…Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

SIDENOTE:
At the time of this writing, the Federal Student Aid website still had the interest rate for Direct Subsidized Loans at 6.8%.  This is because the President has not yet signed H.R. 1911 though he has indicated he will be signing it.

A New Status-Quo

Last week the question was asked, “What does it mean to be an American today?”  So I’ve spent some time contemplating this simple yet complex question.  Some could answer that it means that we are the police of the world… attempting to set things “right” where we view things as going wrong.  It could be that we are the embodiment of freedom and democracy and try to spread that message around the world.  And that we are a nation of God and Christianity above all others.  In a casual way, we could be describing a new form of imperialism.  This isn’t like the imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries where we lay claim to other parts of the world… but more like imperialism of ideas and beliefs… based more upon spreading our own principles and beliefs as being the only way to do things.

We, as Americans, sometimes seem to be a bit arrogant when it comes to the rest of the world.  We think we are better than everyone else because of what we stand for even though we have been proven time and time again that we are no better than any other one nation.  In some cases, we are even below par.  Our education system is an overall joke, yet most would think that our children are doing just fine and are keeping up with the rest of the world… despite the numbers showing to the contrary.  And we are getting further behind because we just keeping dumbing everything down so those at the bottom don’t feel as though they are dumb instead of making them start picking it up.  The more we dumb things down, the worse it’s going to be.  The tendency to see ourselves better than we really are is something that has become a trait of American society more and more as time has moved on… and it is beginning to give us a super-huge ego in its wake.

We are a nation of contrary beliefs, and they don’t always coexist nicely either.  Even in the political sphere, we have the inability to see commonalities and middle ground.  As we move through today’s times, compromise has become a dirty word and partisanship runs rampant.  Our policies by either major political party even reflect a major change.  In the mid and latter half of the 20th century, we worked to set the standard.  If we started talking about cleaning up the environment, then we would start making headway to do it.  We would start trying to fill the void in manufacturing the parts and new companies would start to spring up.  Today, rather than take the lead, we sit back and say we will if China and India start taking an active role in cleaning up their environments since they are the biggest polluters.  When exactly did we start playing the “we will only if they will” game?  And why doesn’t that apply for when going to war?  Then, it’s all hands on deck.  You are either with “us” or against “us.”

We now seem to have the “us” vs “them” mentality more these days.  We could say that this stems from the September 11 terrorist attacks, but if you look back through our own history, it goes back even farther.  We’ve always made someone within our own borders feel as though they weren’t good enough to be a part of the pack.  We’ve done it to the Native Americans, to the African Americans, to the Irish, to other immigrants, to Catholics, and several others.  And today is no different.  The mentality now spreads over the LGBT community and to the Muslim community.  All of these different communities have been on the outside looking in at some point.  And yet once inside, we aren’t afraid to turn our backs on someone else.  But don’t go thinking that our ethics are completely in the toilet.  Just because we set people apart and place them as second-class citizens doesn’t mean we are the worst offenders.  We aren’t stoning women to death for adultry.  And we aren’t systematically wiping out a portion of the population that disagrees with us politically or religiously.  We have managed to rise above the bottom of the heap (where an even greater number of nations are… most of which are third-world nations), but we still have some distance before we reach the summit of the mountain in which all our citizens of any and every group are able to be overwhelmed with pride in being an American.

We can talk up a good talk about spreading freedom and democracy, but overall, I think that we need to learn what those things mean to us first.  We hold other nations up to a higher standard of things and try telling them what they can and can’t do within their own borders, but yet we get an attitude when any of those nations try to criticize us.  All one has to do is look up to the start of the second Iraq war.  We kept trying to sell the lie about weapons of mass destruction and the French and German governments didnt’ quite fall for it and called us out.  And we all got so far bent out of shape about it that we started renaming food to take the term “French” out of it.  Boy was our face red when they were proven right.  Oops… our bad on that one.  We quickly will point out when someone makes a mistake but won’t own up when we make our own.   The standards we attempt to hold other nations to, we seem to fail at here at home.

But we are a nation full of diverse people that have somehow found a way to live in a mostly peaceful society.  Sure there is random violence here and there (and by latest statistics, more than in most civilized nations), but you don’t hear of mass genocide taking place.  We’ve got leaders that we technically can vote out of office if we actually grew a pair of balls to do so… and if we had some good choices to replace them with.  I think as we go farther into this 21st century, we need to really give it some thought as to what it means to be an American and how that spreads around the planet.  Is it ok to stand for freedom and democracy?  Is it ok to make sure that all people have a voice and that minority groups aren’t being wiped out?  Yes it is.  But we must always live up to the standards that we expect other nations to live by.

In an earlier blog entry (click here), I used the term cross-culturalism.  And yes, there is more of that now than at any time before in history.  But we must find a way to bring out the good and not all the negative stereotypes.  When it comes to our own nation, we need to live up to the motto of freedom… and that all people (even all the minorities) have all the same rights as everyone else… no exceptions.  We must start taking the reigns of how we are viewed.  The “go it alone” tactics or the “us vs. them” mentality won’t work anymore as it once did.  Today, a new form of humanity and society is emerging… one more connected than ever before.  And we must be willing to change along with it.  No more are oceans separating us from each other.  The past must start being left there as we march our way forward.

Whenever a natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, it’s the people of the US who jump up and rush to help.  We are the first to open our wallets without even having to be asked.  This is the image and message that we need to send out into the world.  It is one of humanity and shows that we do acknowledge our common bond with each other.  We must take pride not just in our own nation and who we are, but in who all people are all over the world.  It’s not a one-size fits all scenario.  Even with our religious beliefs, there is variety and room to grow.  Yes, we might be mostly a Christian nation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t coexist with those that don’t celebrate our views.  There is much we can all learn from each other, if we were just willing to bypass all mental blockage that we put in place and actually conversed with each other and learned.  Being of an open mind should be something that we can claim as an American.  New ideas, new thoughts, new ways of doing things should never be the exception to the rule of normalcy.  They should be the norm.  We, as Americans, must reform ourselves to the higher standard.  We can achieve so much more… and we can do so much more.  We want to bring about a good meaning when the question is asked about what it means to be an American, then it’s time that we start improving our overall society and our mentality.  And then cross-culturalism can take that around the world.  Imperialism today might be different than it was a century ago.  We no longer need to conform to one way of thought.  It has come time to open our minds to the world around us and take off the blindfold.  It’s not just the American way anymore.  It now has to be our way.

Showdown or Shutdown

I actually wanted to write about this over the weekend, but since the details of the budget that will fund the federal government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year weren’t being released, it would have been hard for me to say anything without it being on pure speculation.  So I decided to wait, and early today, the details did make it out to the public.  And I’m sure that all the talking heads on the TV and the radio are either playing it up or blasting it to shreds.  For them there is usually no middle ground… and some of the finer details usually get left out.  So because I had a few extra days to prepare for parts of this, I’ve got some information that they probably won’t be releasing.

First off, I’m glad that the President and the Republicans and Democrats of Congress could reach an agreement (a compromise) on a budget for the rest of the fiscal year rather than shut down the government.  I know there were plenty out there that wanted the government to shut down if the demands of the Tea Party caucus of the Republican Party weren’t met.  But that would have made things probably a lot worse than they already are.  Soldiers wouldn’t have been paid.  Tax refunds, in which some people are depending on, wouldn’t have been sent out.  Mortgage applications would have stopped.  And it is possible that our fragile economy could have ground to a halt.  Unlike in 1994, the economy we have today is very different and is very shaky at the time when we are starting to make progress in coming out of the recession.  But if the government had shut down, there would have been a group of people that would have been unaffected by it… Congress.  They still would have received their paychecks (though countless other federal employees wouldn’t have) and the President would have, too.  So in the overall grand scheme of things, I’m glad that a compromise was reached and things continue to move.

So I’ll start off with something good.  Public broadcasting will not be eliminated.  It will have a cut of $80-million compared to the 2010 fiscal year.  And I did say in a previous entry that this particular topic was rather personal to me.  But for those of us in public broadcasting, we are quite happy that our funding wasn’t eliminated completely, and I would imagine that we are happy to just take a bit of a cut.  Before the final compromise was reached, Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO) pretty much said that public broadcasting needs to do its part in helping the bigger budget picture… though defense needed more support.  I would like to address what the Congressman said.  We in public broadcasting don’t mind doing our fair share to help with the budget and whatnot… but the idea of complete elimination goes far beyond doing our part.  And I’m glad that the majority of Americans differ from the way Mr. Akin thinks.  170-million of us support and value public broadcasting, and we made sure that our voice was heard on this matter.

So let’s now get down to some nuts and bolts.  The grand total of the cuts was equal to about $38.5-billion.  There was an overall 0.2% cut across all federal programs outside of defense.  And then there were extra cuts to certain programs as well.  (A list of all the cuts can be found here.)  So what were some of the big things about this budget that was holding it up?

Planned Parenthood was a part of this.  Republicans wanted no federal tax dollars going to fund abortions despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment already outlawed that years ago.  This almost comes down to perception and appearing to do something that your core constuents hold value to.  Planned Parenthood is usually associated with abortions.  But how many out there really know much of anything about the organization?  With so much attention on it and words being flung by both sides about it, I decided to look up some stats.  According to 2009 figures, the testing and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections made up 35% of the organization’s activities… along with contraception.  Cancer screening and prevention made up 16%, while other women’s health services made up 10%.  So where did abortion fit in since it was such a huge deal… just 3% of the organization’s activities.  Now funding for Planned Parenthood was not eliminated as Republicans had wanted (and the Hyde Amendment is still in place).  Now I don’t want this part of entry to be about abortion or my views on it.  That’s another topic for another time.  However, despite also provided services for abortions, Planned Parenthood also provides many other health services to the women of the community… most of whom are poor or lower middle class.  So completely cutting it off would have been a bad idea… though I do agree that abortions should not be federally funded.  But there is more to this issue.  Because Congress has overall control over the District of Columbia, it made it illegal for the city to spend its own dollars on abortions and eliminated funding for its needle exchange program.  Because DC has no voting member in Congress (again… another issue for another entry), they will get no say on this particular part of the bill.  And residents within DC are quite upset about it.  So upset that the mayor of DC, 6 council members, and 41 other people were arrested on Tuesday when they saw themselves being used as pawns by the Congress.

So where were the main areas that got budget cuts?  There were cuts to enforcing environmental regulations, scientific research, education, and health care were a few of the big things.  Head Start and Pell Grants, though having their budgets reduced, were not eliminated as Republicans wanted.  This is good as education should start early and be open to everyone whether poor or rich.  Education is the foundation and is the one true thing that can move the nation forward with the times.  But what about scientific research?  This would include funding for funding for new forms of energy amongst many other things.  And yet, oil and gas still get subsidies.  IRS funding will remain the same despite a call from the Republicans for a 5% cut.  I think that I could agree on a 5% cut for the IRS.  Homeland Security will have a cut, though most of it comes from first responder grants at the state and local levels.

So how did they come up with cutting so much money?  Most of it was through budget trickery… cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and almost $2.5-billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs.  Four federal positions were also eliminated… the car czar, the climate czar, the healthcare czar, and the housing czar.

But there is an area that got an increase in funding instead of a cut.  Can any of you guess what it is?  The Department of Defense saw an increase in its budget despite the fact that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeatedly said to cut the department’s bloated budget… that it needs to be cut.  But neither party wants to be labeled as the party that cut the defense budget.  It would look bad.  So this is basically a political maneuver.  However, someone needs to step up and start looking at getting the Defense Department to make its sacrifices too.  They make up a huge portion of our budget and they should be taking it like everything else.  Yes, I know they are in control of defending our country and we do have troops serving overseas.  But the department can cut its budget effectively without it interfering with either of those two things.  Late last year, there was a fight in a congressional spending bill.  In the bill was several million dollars for a jet engine that the Defense Department was saying that it didn’t need and yet Congress remained insistent that the money stay in the bill.  Luckily, that bill failed and the money for that jet engine that no one wanted, went nowhere.

So how much does this $38-billion in cuts add up to when talking about the entire budget?  Let’s assume that the budget is a pie or a pizza.  Then the cuts are roughly the size of a crumb.  Yep.  That’s it.  If you really want to start tackling the bigger budget issues to get our spending under control… then it’s the bigger issues and not these little things that will do it.  These are the things like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense.  Yes, these are the big fights and there needs to be major reform in all of those things.  It’s time to make each one for cost effective without cutting services to those who already rely upon them.  Let’s also have Congress step up to show how serious it is about cutting costs.  I think all the elected people serving in Congress (House and Senate) should take at least a 10-20% pay cut.  Also, have them invest in Social Security and Medicare.  Have them pay into their own 401k plan instead of having the American taxpayer pay for their pensions.  I can barely afford to put money into my own retirement plan.  And make them all pay into private health insurance out of their own pockets just like we all do.  Why should I have to pay for my own health insurance and pay for theirs, too.  Maybe it’s time they put their money where their mouth is.

And there is something else to add to this that came to light today.  It would appear that the wealthiest Americans (and I’m talking about the top 1% of the population) aren’t very happy with their taxes.  But this is a bit different than you might think.  They’re unhappy that they aren’t paying more in them.  That’s right, the wealthiest of wealthy want their taxes to go up… but the President and Congress won’t do it.  You want to close budget loopholes and bring in more money to help shore up the government, then I agree with those rich people.  Tax them and close all of their loopholes that they get that an average American doesn’t.  They want it so give it to them.  And hat’s off to them for having enough balls to stand up and say it.

Despite what many Tea Partiers might want to think, compromise is not a dirty word, and for now, it’s alive within our federal government.  Despite having their heals dug in, the two sides reached an agreement where neither got what they completely wanted.  That’s what its going to take because there are two even larger battles ahead… the debate over how much the federal government can borrow (which the limit will be reached in July as of right now), and then the 2012 fiscal debate.  For the things that were saved this round, they may come back up again later.  And this time, as a member of the voting community, I demand that our leaders start tackling the larger issues that take up our federal budget instead of all this little this which doesn’t even make a dent.  When both sides kept claiming that the other side was “all smoke and mirrors”, they didn’t know how true that statement was because both sides just threw up a major smoke screen that the average American won’t see through.

LINK: Here is the link to a chart that details the budget cuts by department… click HERE.

NEWS ARTICLE: For more information on the budget tricks that were used… click HERE.

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