On Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban

Updated: Thursday, May 1, 2014
On Michigan
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - It's been nine days now since the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's right to ban affirmative action in admissions to our colleges and universities.

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says when laws are made by referendum--by popular vote--things can, indeed, get messy.

But he'll take messes created by voters over those created by lawmakers any day.

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It began with a petition. A right that is spelled out in the first amendment of our constitution. Not the second or the fifth. The first. Its right up there with freedom of speech and religion.

And in this case, a group of Michigan residents thought it was unfair for the University of Michigan to base admissions on affirmative action.

So they petitioned to have the matter placed on the ballot in the election of 2006. It was called Proposal 2.

Sometimes those kinds of off-year elections can wind up with important matters decided upon by only a small percentage of our electorate.

We know from experience that when the selection of a President is not a part of the whole, voters tend to stay home by the thousands. And it is clearly a discouraging trend.

But in 2006 we had a Governor’s race going on--Jennifer Granholm against Dick DeVos--and the turnout was pretty big: 58 percent.

And a majority of  them not only returned Granholm to Lansing, but said they also wanted a say in how our state’s flagship university chose which students to attend and why.

The measure passed, and amended our state constitution to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment in public education.

This time the offended party was white.

In a nutshell, no longer could U-of-M or Michigan State or any other state school use the color of one's skin or ethnicity to move a particular student ahead of a more qualified white student.

White students who'd challenged the admissions process said they were being discriminated against in the name of racial diversity. No longer.

Law by referendum. Is it a good idea?

There is little question our elite campuses will not be as diverse. Already there are fewer minority students on campus.

There is little question some minority students who don't come from certain homes and school systems and economic backgrounds will be denied opportunities to redress perceived racial disparities of the past.

If all laws were passed by philosophical deep thinkers, there might have been a way to save the best parts of both arguments. But that is not the case.

Of course there’s the point of view that all petitions are financed anyway by someone with deep pockets who can--with the sheer force of an economic hurricane--convince voters to do just about anything.

I don't know if that assessment is true, but it is certainly the prevailing popular view of our government.

Lobbyists are spending tons of money everyday in Washington and Lansing to press arguments for or against the issues of the day.

And it's no accident that Congress has an abysmal approval rating of between 8 and 14 percent, depending on which poll you choose.

In short, we don’t trust them. And we don’t really trust them to take on a matter so sensitive as affirmative action.

But the average voters is something else. However uninformed voters might sometimes seem to be, however emotional they can become, however selfish or magnanimous they might be, they usually do the right thing.

I feel a certain comfort when an important  matter lands in their hands.

But this ruling leaves our colleges and universities in a bind as we move forward. It's not going to be easy.

Affirmative action is now against the law. They’re going to have to call in armies of deep philosophical  thinkers to find ways to balance fair competition and merit with need.

Along the way, maybe one of them will also find a way to walk on water.

But the effort has to be made.

We’ve come too far in rectifying the steep disadvantages and imbalances created over hundreds of years to turn our backs on them now.

We are still all in this together.

We do need, in fact, each other.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on November 26, 2014 19:13 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits jumped last week, pushing total applications above 300,000 for the first time in nearly three months.

The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 313,000, the highest level since the first week of September. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 6,250 to 294,000.

The increase is unlikely to raise concerns about the broader health of the job market. At least some of the rise occurred because of seasonal layoffs in businesses affected by the cold weather, such as construction. The department seeks to control for such seasonal factors but doesn't always do so perfectly.

Applications had been under 300,000 for 10 straight weeks, an unusually low level that indicates companies are laying off few workers.

CONSUMER SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers picked up spending by a modest amount in October, a slight improvement after no gain at all in the previous month.

The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose 0.2 percent last month, while September was revised from a decline to a flat reading. Income grew 0.2 percent in October, matching the modest September gain.

Spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. Solid job gains this year are helping to lift spending, which is giving a bolstering the overall economy.

Economic growth came in at a solid 3.9 percent in the July-September quarter. Economists are looking for growth of around 2.5 percent in the current quarter, and they believe 2015 will see further spending gains and growth of around 3 percent.

DURABLE GOODS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose in October, but a key category that tracks business investment plans declined sharply for a second straight month.

The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods increased 0.4 percent last month following a 0.9 percent drop in September and an even bigger 18.3 percent plunge in August. The two months of declines reflected big swings in the volatile category of commercial aircraft.

The small October gain was unimpressive, with declines in a number of categories including machinery, computers and primary metals such as steel.

A key category viewed as a proxy for business investment spending fell 1.3 percent in October after a similar 1.3 percent September drop. It was the biggest setback since a 1.4 percent May decline.

NEW HOME SALES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sales of new U.S. homes edged up modestly in October, led by a big jump in activity in the Midwest.

The Commerce Department says new home sales advanced 0.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000. That followed a smaller 0.4 percent gain in September and put sales at the highest point since May.

The strength last month came from a big 15.8 percent increase in sales in the Midwest and a smaller 7.1 percent rise in the Northeast. Those increases offset a 1.9 percent fall in sales in the South, which accounts for half of the new-home market, and a 2.7 percent drop in the West.

Housing has struggled to recover since the recession ended in June 2009.

PENDING-HOME SALES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes fell slightly in October as tight credit and lagging wages remained financial hurdles for would-be homebuyers.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index fell 1.1 percent the past month to 104.1. The index remains below its 2013 average but is 2.2 percent higher than last October.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates ticked down for the third straight week, a positive trend for potential homebuyers.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage declined to 3.97 percent this week from 3.99 percent last week. Rates are now about a half-point lower than at the beginning of the year.

Long-term mortgage rates fell as low as 3.31 percent toward the end of 2012, partly because of the Federal Reserve's bond-purchase program, which was intended to keep rates low. That program has since ended.

Rates have fallen in recent weeks amid economic slowdowns in Europe and China and the start of a recession in Japan.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, was unchanged at 3.17 percent.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Greater optimism about income growth and future spending pushed U.S. consumer sentiment to a fresh 7-year high in November.

The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment rose to 88.8 in November from 86.9 in October. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began.

The report adds to a mixed picture of U.S. consumers heading into the holiday shopping season. A separate measure of consumer confidence, released Tuesday, fell sharply after reaching its own 7-year high last month. And Americans are spending at a sluggish pace despite a pickup in job creation this year.

Still, the Michigan survey found consumers said they were more likely to spend on big-ticket items such as appliances and autos than at any time since the recession began.

AIR BAG RECALL DEMAND

DETROIT (AP) -- U.S. safety regulators are threatening fines and legal action against Takata Corp. for failing to admit that its driver's-side air bag inflators are defective and should be recalled nationwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a letter to the company Wednesday detailing the threats, which include a public hearing and possible court action.

Takata of Japan has refused demands for the national recall, saying that a recall limited to high-humidity states is sufficient. But the agency says two inflators have ruptured in cars outside the high-humidity zone, injuring drivers by spewing metal fragments.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says Takata must act quickly or the agency will use all of its authority and resources to get the national recall done.

OBAMA-SMOG

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is announcing steps to cut levels of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency is calling for a new, lower threshold for ozone pollution of 65 to 70 parts per billion. That's down from the current standard of 75 parts per billion, put in place by President George W. Bush in 2008.

But the EPA is leaving open the possibility it could enact an even lower standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups.

The EPA estimates that meeting the stricter rules will cost industry about $3.9 billion in 2025 if the government goes with a standard of 70 parts per billion. At a level of 65 parts per billion, the EPA said, the cost grows to $15 billion.

Industry groups say the cost would actually be far higher and that it would be nearly impossible for refineries and other businesses to comply. But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says lower ozone standards would actually spur more businesses, investment and jobs by making communities healthier.

The EPA was under a court-ordered Dec. 1 deadline to issue a new smog standard.

CONGRESS-TAXES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A White House veto threat appears to have put on ice a congressional effort to permanently renew a handful of generous tax breaks for businesses and individuals. Officials say that the plan, brewing behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, favored corporations over the working class.

The unusual veto threat came before the parameters of a potential agreement were even revealed.

Speculation on Capitol Hill on Tuesday focused on a potential agreement to permanently enact tax breaks on business investments in new equipment and research and development, part of a plan that would renew dozens of expired tax breaks for businesses and individuals.

The White House immediately threatened a veto, saying Congress should also make permanent more generous tax credits for the working poor and people with children.

IMMIGRATION-BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Many immigrants in the United States illegally who apply for work permits under President Barack Obama's new executive actions would be eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits upon reaching retirement age, according to the White House.

Under Obama's actions, immigrants who are spared deportation would be eligible to obtain work permits and a Social Security number. As a result, they would pay into the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

Not all such immigrants would be entitled to the benefits, however, because like all Social Security and Medicare recipients they would have to work 10 years to become eligible for retirement payments and health care.

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