Friday, June 27, 2003

A Zero Sum Game

Affirmative Action is not fair, there is just no way around it. It was and still is a flawed effort to right a wrong brought about by years of racial discrimination. There are two key problem with affirmative action as it relates to university admissions polices. The first is that it places the burden of righting a historical wrong directly onto the backs of students who had nothing to do with it. For every minority student who recieves beneficial treatment to get to the front of the admissions line, there is another student who is pushed back through no fault of their own.

As Michael Kinsley eloquently states in his latest column:

“Admission to a prestige institution like the University of Michigan or its law school is what computer types call a "binary" decision. It's yes or no. You're in, or you're out. There is no partial or halfway admission. The effect of any factor in that decision is also binary. It either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all. Those are the only possibilities.”

The second problem as pointed out by Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent is that the program leaves all minority students with the stigma that they could not have made it on their own. Did Clarence Thomas need affirmative action in order to be accepted to Yale Law School? I don’t honestly know, but everyone just assumes that he did and I think that is his point. Regardless of whether he benefitted from affirmative action or not, the assumption will always be made that he did.

Express-News columnist Jan Jarboe Russell wrote a column in Thursday’s paper that took Thomas to task for his dissent in the affirmative action case largely because she believes he should be indebted to a “system that allowed him, the grandson of a Georgia sharecropper, to graduate from Yale University Law School and ascend to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

So Russell just automatically assumes that Thomas has had his entire life handed to him on a silver platter by a benevolent government that felt sorry for him and he did not have to do any work on his own to get to where he is. I wonder why this would make him resentful. Personally, I am no fan of Clarence Thomas and I did not support his nomination to the Supreme Court. I believe his rapid rise to the top of the judicial world was due not so much to his race as it was to the combination of his race and his right-wing politics. But this is all beside the point. Attacking Thomas personally is a logical fallacy because it is not addressing his argument, which in this case has some validity.

Russell goes on to make this point about the reverse discrimination that Thomas alludes to in his dissent:

“The discrimination that Thomas is so worried about is against white people, who for generations wrote admission policies that systematically kept minorities out of colleges and law schools. This is a case of Thomas, a victim of racial discrimination, standing by the side of history’s bigots to deny other minorities the same opportunity he has enjoyed.”

History’s bigots? I wasn’t even born when most of this stuff was going on and my children certainly were not. What this reminds me of is those Old Testament stories of condemnations being handed down to people for multiple generations. “You and your children and your children’s children will be cursed and will be forced to wander the world begging for food, etc.” Or in this case my children and grandchildren may be denied admission to a school they would otherwise qualify for because of this generational curse.

I have always been a strong supporter of education and I would gladly pay higher taxes to make colleges more affordable for everyone who wants to go. I would like to see more of our tax dollars spent on improving educational quality in underperforming school districts. I think financial needs should never be a barrier to anyone who wants to continue their education. But race should not be a barrier either and unfortunately it will continue to be one on several fronts.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

A little history lesson from the South Plains

Recently the folks up in Lubbock helped to elect Randy Nuegebauer to the 19th District Congressional seat vacated by Larry Combest. This was not welcome news to the folks at Burnt Orange Report and understandably so. However, I thought that a little background on the situation with which I am familiar might demonstrate how things might have been much worse.
To win the seat, Nuegebauer, a real estate developer and former Lubbock city councilman, had to get past a number of other ambitious politicians including a former mayor and a current state representative.
Neugebauer’s victory was essentially a win for the Lubbock business community and the establishment wing of the local Republican Party. One hurdle to his victory was Lubbock State Rep. Carl Isett, a staunch member of the Lubbock Republican Party’s religious conservative or social conservative wing.
Carl Isett’s path to the state legislature seven years ago followed an unusual path that holds a powerful lesson for political enthusiasts today.
It all began when then-State Sen. John Montford, the powerful Democratic lawmaker from Lubbock who chaired the Senate Finance Committee, announced that he would be stepping down in the middle of his term to take the newly created post of chancellor of Texas Tech University. This resulted in what some political observers refer to as a spilled fruit basket with people announcing plans to run for the vacant position and creating new vacancies as a result.
Among the half dozen folks who made a bid for Montford’s seat was the sitting mayor and the sitting state representative. State Rep. Robert Duncan, a fairly moderate Republican, eventually won the seat but his departure from his own seat - District 84 - came too late for the state to set up a primary election before the general election. Therefore, it fell to the executive committees of the two local parties to pick candidates to place on the ballot for the general election.
The executive committees were made up of the precinct chairmen from each party in District 84. Precinct chairmen, who normally have little if any power, are selected in caucus meetings held at each polling location after they close.
For years, those caucus meetings had been poorly attended and paid little heed by the party establishment. But one group had been paying attention to the caucus meetings - the religious conservatives - and when it came time to pick a nominee for state representative in the fall of 1996 they held a 2-1 advantage on the executive committee. As a result, the committee passed over the establishment choice of a candidate - Lubbock school trustee Nancy Neal - and instead selected a little known certified public accountant (Isett) who was best known for his opposition to abortion and his advocacy for home schooling.
Once Isett’s name was on the ballot his victory was pretty much assured. Despite the Lubbock Democratic Party’s selection of a conservative attorney who won the endorsement and financial backing of a large contingent of the business community, Isett won in a walk on the strength of solid straight-ticket voting amongst the electorate.
I guess the moral of the story is that you should never take anything for granted in politics. Even those seemingly insignificant precint chairman positions can pay big dividends down the road.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A sad ending to a strange story in today's local paper.
A man who briefly became a local celebrity here in San Antonio for his odd beharior of riding a bicycle around town wearing nothing but a pair of thong underwear was found dead at the bottom of a canyon at Big Bend National Park over the weekend. It appears to have been a suicide, but authorities are still investigating.
Now with perfect 20/20 hindsight, it is apparent that "Thong Man," as he became known, was in need of some help. But at the time it was just an annoyance to keep seeing this 52-year-old man's naked butt in the paper and on the local news every evening.
I can't blame the local paper for doing the initial story on May 5th. It was an obvious story complete with angry neighbors complaining to authorities and legal experts determining that the man was adequately covered by law. But then the story just wouldn't go away as people yakked on and on about it in the letters section and on the local talk radio stations. Pretty soon a local radio station made "Thong Man" the grand marshall in a thong parade as part of a publicity stunt and that led to another round of stories and more TV news updates.
Then last week things seemed to take a turn for the worse when the man started riding his bike without even a thong and ended up in jail for disturbing the peace. Was this a final cry of desperation or just another effort to extend his 15-minutes of fame. Whatever it was that he wanted - attention or psychological help - he obviously was not getting enough of it.
He is back on the front page of the paper again today, possibly for the final time unless the authorites determine that foul play was involved in his death. That appears unlikely at this time.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Those Dixie Chicks just won't back off....

This is from a NYTimes review of the band's recent performance at Madison Square Garden:
"Before the group performed on Friday night, chosen songs were played, among them "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Band on the Run," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and "Born in the U.S.A." During the set Ms. Maines mentioned "the incident" as she introduced "Truth No. 2," which begins, "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth." She dedicated it to Michael Moore, who made an antiwar speech at the Academy Awards.

"As the Dixie Chicks played "Truth No. 2," video screens showed protest marches for civil rights and abortion rights, followed by book and record burnings and the destruction of Dixie Chicks CD's. Its final image showed the words "Seek the Truth." There were cheers when Ms. Maines sang, "I don't think I'm afraid anymore."

I wonder which is giving right-wingers the worse case of heartburn these days - the Dixie Chicks sold out concert tour or Sen. Hillary Clinton's best-selling book? They just can't stand these women who don't know their place.