Daily Archives: January 23, 2012

No Way! Dissent In The Jobs Council? Way!

At Disney World last week, President Obama announced new executive orders to speed up visas for foreign tourists to the United States. The measure, a priority for the travel industry, was one of several sensible recommendations made in the last year by Mr. Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a 27-member panel of corporate executives, academics, investors and labor leaders. The White House has carried out 17 others so far.

Increasingly, however, the council’s recommendations have resembled not so much expert advice as a corporate wish list. In a report last October, the council’s sound proposals for job-creating public works projects wereovershadowed by its unfounded claim that antifraud provisions put in place in 2002 in response to Enron are an impediment to growth and hiring, and should be ended.

Its latest report, issued last week, went so far in the direction of the Republican political agenda that it was endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner for its emphasis on lower tax rates and less regulation. The report drew the ire of the panel’s two union members, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joseph Hansen, chairman of the Change to Win coalition. After the false premises and false fixes that have dominated the job creation debate, the dispute is healthy.

Mr. Trumka wrote a dissent in which he agreed that the United States has fallen behind other countries in investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, education, job skills and alternative energy. What he rightly objected to was the idea that less regulation, lower corporate tax rates and other demands on the business agenda are the key to restoring competitiveness and creating jobs. “Without timely action by government on a large scale,” he wrote, “solutions will continue to elude us as a nation.”

For example, the report’s recommendations for improving education focused in large part on ensuring that schools meet the needs of corporations. It is important to ensure that Americans have the right skills — and opportunities to acquire new skills. The urgent and fundamental need, however, is to support, improve and sustain a strong public education system. That means more, not less, federal aid for states and localities to hire and retain teachers and for students to attend college, and for additional services to help poor and disadvantaged children to succeed academically, including meals and health care.

It is also crucially important to recognize that unemployment today is not primarily driven by a skills gap — as the council’s report would lead you to believe — but by lack of jobs. If all of the job openings in America were filled tomorrow, nearly 10 million of the nation’s 13.1 million unemployed workers would still be out of work. That shortage requires more federal aid to bolster demand, not a focus on a less pressing skills gap.

All of this would require more tax revenue, but the report discusses corporate tax reform that would not raise more money and would make it easier for American multinational corporations to avoid United States tax on foreign profits. The report claims the changes are needed to improve competitiveness and create jobs. Mr. Trumka pointed out that such changes could do the opposite, leaving the nation financially unable to meet its challenges, while disadvantaging companies without a foreign presence.

At a time when austerity is in vogue, it is also morally indefensible to not ask for more from corporations. This is just the kind of substantive debate that is needed to help ensure that corporate and partisan interests do not define the problems and dictate the solutions.  Source: NYT Opinion Pages.

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The Affirmative Action War Continues.

Last month, the Obama administration issued important guidance to colleges and universities on how to increase racial diversity on campuses, explaining ways to navigate the narrow legal channel charted by the Supreme Court. The benefits of diversity, the Department of Education said, contribute to “the educational, economic and civic life of this nation.” The administration’s support for such efforts stands in stark contrast to the policy of the George W. Bush administration to discourage them. That difference has played out between the political parties for decades, as it will in this presidential election.

Race-conscious programs in education — affirmative action in college admissions and voluntary integration of public schools — have been embattled for more than 40 years. Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has restricted the approaches available to remedy racial disparities, but has left room for institutions to consider race in achieving certain broader aims.

The war has not ended, however, and three notable lawsuits around the country show the continuing controversy. In March, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will reconsider Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in public university admissions, which a three-judge panel of the court struck down last summer. By prohibiting race-conscious admissions under the Michigan Constitution, the court said, the ban “reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests.”

In the Fifth Circuit, a three-judge panel a year ago upheld the use of race as a factor in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. Four-fifths of students there are admitted as graduates in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. But one-fifth are admitted based on individual assessments, including race as a factor, and this program is being challenged. The university is waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court will review that decision.

In the Ninth Circuit next month, a three-judge panel will hear an appeal from a district court decision to dismiss a challenge to California’s Proposition 209, which outlawed race-conscious admissions in 1996.

Any or all of these cases could end up before the Supreme Court, on which four conservatives have made clear that they would make illegal even narrowly tailored diversity programs. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. spoke for himself and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. in 2007 when he wrote in an opinion, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, while no fan of affirmative action, has in past decisions supported some use of race in certain situations. The question is whether he will move further to the right and reject those uses as well.

Leaders of universities, corporations and other institutions fear that the conservative majority will overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 case that upheld the right of a public law school to consider race in admissions to achieve the benefits of a diverse student body. In endorsing that educational need, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the court’s majority, noted that perhaps in 25 years race-conscious policies would no longer be needed.

This country is still very far from that goal. The push by Republican politicians and conservative justices to eliminate efforts to ensure diversity on campuses are squarely at odds with America’s racial history. With the court’s makeup likely to change in the next four years, the presidential election could determine how long such crucial efforts will last.  Source:  New Your Times.  Editorial.

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