Daily MoJo


A Narrow Victory
Affirmative action got in just under the wire. What does the Supreme Court ruling really mean?

Ignoring Global Warming
The EPA tries to publish a comprehensive report about the enviroment. Bush edits out climate change.

Sweeping Westar Under the Rug
Attorney General Ashcroft took money from Westar Energy. Is it any surprise he’s not so enthusiastic about investigating?

A Narrow Victory
The US Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action is, despite some ambiguities, a hard-won victory — especially coming from a conservative court within an über-conservative administration. The court’s decisions on two University of Michigan cases came down on Monday: a 5-4 decision upholding Michigan’s right to use race as a factor in college admissions, and 6-3 against U of M’s policy of giving applicants of color automatic points toward enrollment. The decision, which basically supports affirmative action policies, was hailed as a victory by civil rights group BAMN, who called the decision an acknowledgement “that racist inequality and segregation cannot be ignored and that affirmative action may continue to be used by university administrations to achieve integration and diversity.”

Still, the Supreme Court’s ruling may contradict pieces of the Bush administration’s policy: The Black Commentator reports that buried deep in an energy bill, a little known four-page document called the Statement of Administration Policy undermines former administrations’ support of programs that benefit “under-represented groups.” The SAP essentially cuts funding to Tribal Colleges, Black and Hispanic institutions, and “disadvantaged” small businesses.

Meanwhile, while the Supreme Court ruling does not ban affirmative action, it is vague in its definitions of what constitutes “race-based action,” as Salon’s Joan Walsh points out. In the absence of quotas, policies are allowed to exist. Not required. But Walsh wonders at the meaning of the ruling:

“If quotas and point systems are forbidden, what sorts of measures are OK? By striking down Michigan’s point system, but upholding its much more opaque and subjective law school admissions process, which uses race as a ‘plus’ factor, but won’t spell out how much, the court sent a confusing and disturbing message: You can continue to use race in admissions, but only if you don’t tell the public exactly how you’re using it.”

Some opponents of affirmative action fear that if given certain benefits, people of color will always be seen as receiving handouts, as Salon interviewers Laura McClure and Mark Follman report. Author John McWhorter fears that the presence of affirmative action policies will reinforce “the status quo:”

“Good, smart white people deeply assuming that it’s not cool to submit any brown-skinned person, regardless of ability or achievement, to the [high] standards they would submit their own kids to.”

Walsh argues that the goal of racial diversity on college campuses can cause “deserving whites and Asians [to] lose places to less academically prepared blacks and Latinos.”

But the concerns of academic preparation are a shallow analysis of a larger problem, as Village Voice columnist Thulani Davis points out:

“[S]ociety is still faced with the question of how to extend educational opportunity to the millions of the disenfranchised, especially those who have suffered centuries-long oppression and exclusion, and the consequent disadvantages [they experience].”

Diversity in higher education is only one piece in the larger puzzle of how to tackle large scale social patterns and the effects of racism. College administrators may not even be aware of how their standards and assumptions select against diversity. For example, Colgate University president Rebecca Chopp’s comments in an Associated Press article about her college’s admissions process:

“‘We look at each student very uniquely and evaluate them qualitatively. So, certainly, race is important,’ Chopp said. ‘But what part of the country that they come from and whether they’re a cello player or a lacrosse player is important, too.'”

Chopp makes this statement as if cello and lacrosse are neutral criteria. But generally speaking, access to lacrosse equipment and classical musical instruments might be limited in the communities that would most benefit from affirmative action policies. Not to say that cello and lacrosse, aren’t valuable — they are. But admissions policies value a host of different criteria, from cello to “legacies” (children of alumni) to geographical location. Race was simply the only criteria targeted.

In this context, the Supreme Court’s ruling, however vague, is indeed a victory. For now, it states that any institution that implements a “narrowly tailored” affirmative action policy isn’t violating the constitution. But, as Davis observes, even if the US’s system of education allows for affirmative action policies in higher education, many communities are still starved for successful programs at education’s primary and secondary levels — not to mention the professional. And many of those communities are communities of color:

“Historical exclusion from education and decent employment continue to devastate people of color in this country. We still need to take a hard look at the alarming statistics on the education of African American, Native American, and Latino youth today before arguing for a system that is supposed to be ‘color-blind,’ for society has never yet been color-blind when it comes to broken school systems, stop-and-frisk laws, police brutality, jail warehousing, and inadequate housing.”

Ignoring Global Warming
Just as environmentalists are waving a not-so-fond goodbye to EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman, the department has released what could have been a watershed report on the nation’s overall environmental health. Could have been, that is, if the Bush administration hadn’t gotten ahold of it first.

Monday’s report would have been the first in the EPA’s thirty-year history to provide a comprehensive look at the health of the nation’s air, water, land and its effect on the public. But then Bush administration got their hands on it. This spring White House officials returned an edited draft of the report to the EPA after removing a few key points, including:

1. Statements and information showing how climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.

2. A reference and graphic drawn from a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the past decade. The Bush admin then replaced this information with a study contradicting the 1999 findings — the replacement report was partially sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

3. Research from the National Research Council was also removed, namely, information from a 2001 report which suggested that climate warming was “unusual and likely due to human activities.”

Whitman, who is leaving her EPA post on Friday, told reporters that she agreed to delete the information regarding global warming because the only language that all parties could agree upon was “pablum.” The report was Whitman’s pet, and she wanted to get it out before she stepped down. As it now stands, it makes excuses for its own omissions by claiming that it “does not attempt to address the complexities of this issue [global warming].”

Environmental groups are seeing straight through the Bush administration’s black ink. Daniel Becker, director of global warming and energy programs for the Sierra Club, is using the report’s omissions to call attention to the administration’s attempts to invent oil-friendly science.

“This report is important, not for what it says, but for what it doesn’t say. [It] is tainted by the administration’s efforts to subvert the science and substitute the views of the oil industry.”

This isn’t the first time that the Bushies have prevented scientific findings from being published. In September the EPA was due to publish its annual report on air pollution. For the last six years the report has included a section on climate, but this year the administration’s appointees decided to withhold the section.

In the midst of all this, perhaps it’s no surprise that the League of Conservation Voters gave the administration an “F” on their environmental report card.

Environmental, no, but maybe Bush will get an “A” in editing.

Sweeping Westar Under the Rug
The Westar Energy Inc. scandal — involving campaign contributions from Westar to top GOP officials in exchange for a provision in an energy bill excluding Kansas City-based Westar from certain government regulations — is still unfolding. The mess could put attorney general John Ashcroft in the hot-seat, that is, if his office ever actually investigates the illegal contributions in the first place.

As of late, an inhouse Westar report released in April laid out the scandal and named top Westar official Carl Koupal as a key player:

    “In the course of our investigation, we learned facts showing that certain of the Company’s executives, including Messrs. Wittig, Koupal and Lawrence, engaged in organized efforts to provide political contributions to candidates for state and federal office who were perceived to support issues of interest to the Company.

    On the basis of this list, a member of management would request via company e-mail, memoranda, or verbally, the contribution amounts specified for each of the officers. Until his departure in October 2001, Mr. Koupal had primary responsibility for soliciting contributions in this manner. 150 After Mr. Koupal left, the responsibility for soliciting contributions was assumed by Mr. Lawrence.”

Now, however, the plot is thickening.

According to Reuters, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence McAuliffe is accusing the attorney general of having accepted political contributions from Koupal and another top Westar official, Richard Bornemann, during Ashcroft’s failed US Senate bid:

“But in his letter on Tuesday, McAuliffe said that because Ashcroft received a $2,000 donation from Westar lobbyist Richard Bornemann and $500 from then-Westar executive Carl Koupal for Ashcroft’s 2000 Senate campaign, the attorney general should let someone else probe the company’s donations.

No such probe into the Westar donations has been announced by the Justice Department, which said simply on Tuesday that it was ‘reviewing’ McAuliffe’s latest letter.”

So Ashcroft took money from Westar, and coincidentally, isn’t doing much “reviewing” of the Westar case. Coincidence? Maybe. But, as quoted in the The Kansas City Star, Democratic Party spokesman Michael Kelley doesn’t seem to think so:

“‘The reason John Ashcroft refuses to do anything is because (Koupal) is an old crony of his and he doesn’t want to put his buddy in harm’s way,’ Kelley said. ‘He wants to protect his friend.'”

DOJ spokesperson, Barbara Comstock says that as attorney general Ashcroft has never been involved in any decision regarding the Westar affair. Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that his office doesn’t seem to have been proactive, exactly, about pursuing an investigation — in fact, he has refused to comment on the sordid ordeal.

But the Dems aren’t going to sit on their hands for this one. According to the Washington Post, John Conyers, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called for a “special counsel” to investigate the affair in order to “offer the public the assurances that the investigation is being done fairly and impartially.”