Reducing Recidivism: The Challenge of Successful Prisoner Re-Entry

Below is an article from the Huffington Post, posted on August 17th, 2011. The author Paul Heroux worked in a state prison and a county jail. He holds a Master's in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard. He can be reached at How often do we hear about some ex-con committing an atrocious crime after release from prison? Too often is the right answer. But 'too often' can be 'not as much as we used to'.

The question is: how can we get to 'not as much as we used to'?

The notion that state prison systems are most often called some variant of a department of 'correction' is an aspiration. It is an aspiration that is, however, undermined by housing complications upon release, drug and medical issues after release, the lack of employment after release, and criminal records. But 'correction' is an aspiration we can realize. Here's how.

When inmates are sentenced and serve time behind bars they have a lot of time on their hands. This time can be used to improve the inmate, or not. While in prison, if available, inmates can participate in various recidivism reducing treatment programs. This include but are not limited to anger management, drug treatment, education and vocation training, sex offender relapse prevention, to name a few. Programs are necessary but not entirely sufficient.

After release from prison, life often becomes more difficult for ex-offenders that it was while locked-up. The three most pressing re-entry challenges are: a place to live/housing; drug treatment/medical care; and employment. A deficiency in any one of these three is a serious risk factor to relapse.

For example, when I was working for a jail system, there was an inmate who was homeless and every winter season would intentionally get arrested for a petty crime, would get locked up and then wouldn't (or couldn't) post bail just so he could have 'three hots' and a cot' (three hot meals and a bed to sleep in). This is wrong. And inmate fees won't solve this problem; we can't get blood from a stone.

One of the obstacles to reentry support for ex-offenders is opposition from the public, which translate into political will, that thinks that inmates are getting something that the rest of us law abiding citizens aren't getting. I've spoken with many people who say, 1) why should they get housing support, or job placement, or health care? 2) No one helps me with those things. 3) My son who just graduated from college needs a job; why should he be bumped in favor of someone who did a crime?

These are all legitimate and important concerns. A visceral reaction is that "we should just keep them locked-up" or "they screwed-up; too bad for them." But keeping them locked up becomes impossibly expensive, and in not helping them be successful upon release we are not helping our communities.

My response to each of these includes: 1) because the chances of them reoffending is higher without support in these areas and it is cheaper to give them support than to deal with the consequences of a crime, which may or may not involve a victim. 2) True, no one helps you with those things so you know how difficult it is; now add to that a criminal record, no family and friends supporting you, and laws that prohibit you from working and living in certain places. And 3) your college graduate son is very unlikely to be competing with an ex-con for a job so it is unlikely that your educated son will lose an opportunity over one afforded to an ex-con. Even if your child didn't go to college, your child is likely in a very different vocational place than an ex-offender.

Probation and parole, both used post-release to monitor inmates, are very important to help reducing recidivism. The idea that we release ex-cons from prison with all the re-entry challenges that they face without supervision is absurd. Some form of post-release supervision is important. This need not always be done by the government. Non-profits and religious organizations are a good place to turn to for help with this endeavor. In addition to probation and parole, on this idea, Day Reporting Centers can also be effective.

This idea of someone being an ex-con is just that: if someone is an ex-con that means they are a former convicted offender; this does not necessarily mean that they are currently an offender. This brings me to my next point: Second Chance Legislation. Everyone makes mistakes. Some mistakes are not serious; clearly some are. There is very good evidence that after being crime free for seven years, the probability of reoffending is about the same as someone who never offended in the first place. Depending on the initial crime, this might be grounds for someone to have a criminal record sealed or expunged. Why do that? Because a criminal record often acts as a continued sentence and makes it more difficult for ex-offenders to get housing, jobs and educational opportunities. I am fully aware of the importance of a criminal record as a public safety tool. My point is that after a certain time has passed and someone has not reoffended, a criminal record might not always be a public safety tool or in the best interest of justice.

Returning where we began, one very important thing to remember about reducing recidivism is that we can only reduce recidivism, not eliminate recidivism. There is no magic pill or program that will end recidivism. The most effective programs have been found to reduce recidivism by about 10 to 15 percent; on rare occasion, up to 20 percent. Treatment programs work, but this doesn't mean that everyone who participates in a program will be crime free upon release.

For example, assume the normal rate of recidivism is 50 percent. Now, we have 100 offenders participate in a prison treatment program that works. (Let's assume that it is evidence-based and it does reduce recidivism by a modest 10 percent.) Without the program, 50 people will reoffend. With the program, 45 people will re-offend; meaning 5 less people won't reoffend. If 5 people doesn't sound like a big deal, multiply that times the hundreds of thousands of offenders who might benefit from a treatment program. I think you get the picture.

Programs won't ever reduce recidivism to zero, but if we can reduce it and improve the lives of offenders and potential victims, we must. It is very important to remember that not everyone who participates in a program will be a success; there will be failures. When we hear of a failure story in the media, just remember that there are also successes. In this example, I am just talking about in-prison programs; add to this equation post-release support and we can further decrease recidivism.

On this point about assuming that programs work. We should not just assume that prison programs work, even when they are evidence-based. We must always be measuring our efforts to make sure that they are delivering the outcomes that we want. An outcome isn't people stepping up to the next phase of treatment, or serving increasing numbers of inmates, these are outputs. An outcomeis a change in behavior after release from prison. Measuring prison programs can be done, it must be done and it is something that can be done with relative ease and cost-efficiency.

The sooner society realizes that the better shape we release ex-offenders in and facilitate their successful re-entry into society, the safer all of us we will be.

Economics Journal: Don’t Scrap Reservation, Improve Education

Has access to higher education through affirmative action improved the lives of the poor and those from historically disadvantaged groups? And how has the reservation policy affected the achievements of those who don’t benefit from it? The controversy surrounding “Aarakshan,” meaning reservation, a new Bollywood film by Prakash Jha, has once again brought to the fore the unsettled and simmering issues around caste-based reservation in higher education. The matter is so politically charged that Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh banned the screening of the film, although the ban was later lifted in the latter two states.

The policy of reserving 22.5% of government jobs and university seats for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, known as Dalits and adivasis, respectively, goes back to the Indian Constitution. But far more controversial was the more recent mandating of an additional reservation of 27% of seats for people who fall into other disadvantaged groups, known as Other Backward Classes, bringing the total reservation up to almost 50%.  This additional reservation in higher education was finally mandated by the Supreme Court in 2008.

The principal rationale for caste-based reservation in India, akin to race-based affirmative action in the United States, is to create equality of opportunity for historically disadvantaged groups. A related argument is that the historical fact of long-standing social repression is in itself a morally compelling reason for the counter-balancing force of reservation.

As I’ve suggested recently, inequality of outcomes is crucially affected by inequality of access. So, in theory, the argument that reservation, by creating a level playing field, will in the longer run alleviate inequality and other social deprivations makes sense. However, this begs the question of whether the system does, in fact, deliver on these benefits for disadvantaged groups.

Critics of reservation, as cited in a recent paper, argue, amongst other things, that caste-based quotas stigmatize rather than uplift targeted groups, and they entrench rather than alleviate long-standing inequalities. As Mr. Jha himself notes, one often hears people ask, “Would you want to be treated by a doctor who got in to medical school through reservation?”

Caste-based reservation may also carry unintended negative side effects along other dimensions of historical disadvantage. A much cited study finds that caste-based reservationreduced the overall number of women gaining admission into engineering colleges, because women were under-represented amongst those applying in the reserved category.

Leaving these arguments aside, the crucial questions are the ones I started with: Does caste-based reservation lead to improved educational outcomes for students in both the reserved and open categories?

A recent study by economics professor Sheetal Sekhri of the University of Virginia uses data from Indian college admission tests and exit results to test statistically whether the introduction of reservation raises educational performance as compared to an alternative hypothetical scenario of a pure meritocracy, where students are admitted based only on their rankings in admission tests.

The results of the study are not encouraging.  A higher average “quality” of upper-caste students, defined by high performance on admission tests, has a negative impact on the academic performance of lower-caste students, the study says. Further, the performance of upper-caste students, as measured by exit tests, is also adversely affected by reservation, with the strongest effects on high-achieving upper-caste students.

Professor Sekhri interprets these results as suggesting that upper and lower caste students are in “competition” over scarce academic resources, such as access to faculty, support services, social networking, etc. and thus they tend to provide peer support only to their own caste members. Her striking conclusion is that a more integrated college environment, mandated by reservation, doesn’t achieve its intended goals of raising the educational performance of disadvantaged groups. And this discouraging finding is in line with other scholarly studies, such as by Anjani Kochar of the Stanford Center for International Development.

Reserving seats for the underprivileged has also created a private sector response by the relatively well off, who come mostly from the upper castes. Just take a look at the booming industry of “coaching classes,” which prepare students to take admissions tests for the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management.

Of course, reservations didn’t create coaching classes, which have been around for a long time as a response to the poor quality of the education system. But reservations certainly accentuated the growth of this industry by inducing upper caste students to compete for a smaller share of a fixed number of university seats.

An estimate by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry suggests that the coaching industry is worth a whopping $2.2 billion a year, with the typical student paying over $2000 for eight months of coaching, comprising as much as a third of a middle-class family’s budget. The cost of coaching is beyond the reach of many poor and lower middle income families, who are disproportionately represented by lower castes.

But scrapping reservation would be the wrong answer. Not only is it a legal, political and practical impossibility, the fact remains that true equality of opportunity still eludes many disadvantaged people in India. The challenge, therefore, is to make caste-based reservation work better, and that is as much about raising the quality of public education in India.  Where the well-to-do have the option of sending their kids to coaching classes, and the rich can send them abroad, the hopes of the disadvantaged for social and economic uplifting rest largely on the quality of public education.


Rupa Subramanya Dehejia writes Economics Journal for India Real Time. You may follow her on Twitter @RupaSubramanya.

Negril 2011

The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) hosted its 6th annual Social Justice Writers Workshop in July of 2011 from the 13th to the 27th.  The goal of the Workshop is to bring together a community of like-minded scholars and advocates to provide critical feedback on both individual research and AAPF work projects designed to advance social justice.  This exchange of ideas plays a critical role in enhancing the publications of attendees as well as the productivity of AAPF’s various programs.  This year, the workshop allowed participants to present articles that emerged from last years’ Critical Race Studies Conference on Intersectionality that are scheduled for publication.  The retreat is among the most important and valuable activities that AAPF facilitates in order to bridge scholarly research and public discourse pertaining to social justice. As a conveyor of information between the academy and civil society, AAPF recognizes the importance of developing environments in which ideas can be hatched, nurtured, and readied for “prime time.”  

Although many of the participants work in academic institutions and social justice networks, AAPF realizes that existing institutional settings do not always provide the most fertile terrain for the development of ideas to advance scholar’s and activist’s projects. Consequently, AAPF seeks to create environments built around broadly shared values and visions of society in order to support and sustain this work.



Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban Overturned

(CN) - The 6th Circuit has overturned Michigan's ban on affirmative action at public colleges and universities and in government hiring, finding the voter-approved prohibition is unconstitutional because it places an impermissible burden on racial minorities. A result of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Affirmative Act remained largely unchanged until the late 1990s.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled "universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups" but may "consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a 'plus' factor in the context of individualized consideration."

In 2006, Michigan voters approved a statewide ballot proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution "to prohibit all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting."

Proposal 2 forced Michigan's public colleges and universities "to modify the policies they had in place for nearly a half-century to remove consideration of 'race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin' in admissions decisions. No other admissions criteria - for example, grades, athletic ability, or family alumni connections - suffered the same fate," according to the opinion written by Judge Ransey Guy Cole, Jr.

The day after the amendment passed, several interest groups and individuals filed a federal suit against then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, the Regents of the University of Michigan, the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University and the Board of Governors at Wayne State University.

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality said Proposal 2 violated the U.S. Constitution and federal statutory law. Michigan's then-Attorney General Michael Cox intervened as a defendant.

A group of University of Michigan faculty members, prospective and current students filed a similar suit in District Court against Governor Granholm. Their case was consolidated with that of a U of M Law School applicant and Toward a Fair Michigan, a non-profit corporation formed to ensure implementation of Proposal 2. Attorney General Cox again intervened, and replaced Governor Granholm as the representative of Michigan in the litigation.

The District Court rejected their argument "that Proposal 2 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." A motion for summary judgment was granted, and the appeals followed.

In the 2-1 opinion, Judge Cole wrote that the ban "unconstitutionally alters Michigan's political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities." Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey agreed.

The decision further states that "the stark contrast between the avenues for political change available to different admissions proponents following Proposal 2 illustrates why the amendment cannot be construed as a mere repeal of an existing race-related policy. Had those favoring abolition of race-conscious admissions successfully lobbied the universities' admissions units, just as underrepresented minorities did to have these policies adopted in the first place, there would be no equal protection problem."

Judge Julia Smith Gibbons dissented the opinion, stating, "Proposal 2 is not unconstitutional under traditional equal protection analysis."

"Michigan has chosen to structure its university system such that politics plays no part in university admissions at all levels within its constitutionally created universities," she continued. "The Michigan voters have therefore not restructured the political process in their state by amending their state constitution; they have merely employed it."

Michigan's current Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is planning to appeal the court's ruling.

Read more.

South Africa election: Why some poor black voters may ditch the ANC this time

May 17, 2011 By Scott Baldauf,

Since South Africa's black majority finally won their freedom from the white apartheid regime 17 years ago, most blacks have voted reliably for the African National Congress (ANC). But ahead of Wednesday's municipal elections, voters in a number of poor black townships say they may ditch the once-vaunted party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela – even if that means voting for the white-run Democratic Alliance (DA).

"I would have wanted to vote for the black-administered government, but I don't eat patriotism," says Miyetani Kuzumuka, a voter in the Alexandra township in northern Johannesburg. "The ruling party has taken us for granted too long, yet no service delivery is worthy of talking about in our poverty-stricken townships."

This year, Mr. Kuzumuka says his entire family will try a new political party.

"I do think there is growing disenchantment, directed at the national leadership and the political class of the ANC in general," says Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. "But the thing is not about whether the garbage crisis or the billing crisis is resolved. It's about 'These [ANC leaders] don't care about us.' "

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu says voters should keep things in perspective.

"Yes, there are problems of unemployment, health care, and poor education, but we have a huge responsibility at hand in providing service delivery to more than 50 million South Africans as opposed to the former apartheid regime that only catered [to] a few white people," he says, adding that the ANC has only been in power for 17 years, while the former apartheid regime had ruled since the 17th century.

Sheluzani Baloyi of the Diepsloot township, however, is not buying it. The mother of three said she has been patient enough with the ANC since 1994, but now "it's time to think out of the box."

The ANC talks about uplifting the black community through affirmative-action programs, she says, but the "Black Economic Empowerment [program] is only benefiting those that surround the president, including their families, while the ... nation is languishing in ... poverty."

Bekezela Tshabalala of Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg, says he is hearing good things about the DA, which has won praise for its governance of Cape Town and the Western Cape Province.

"If what is happening in Cape Town is anything to go by, then the DA are likely to get my vote," says Mr. Tshabalala. But he still has doubts about the DA, because many of its senior members supported apartheid.

DA spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko says her party is giving the ANC a run for its money.

"Our record is there for everyone to see" in Cape Town, says Ms. Mazibuko. "This time, the DA, under Helen Zille will steal a few municipalities from ANC."

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India's politician of love

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 14, 2011

By Ammu Kannampilly

CHENNAI, India — Kumar Sri Sri wants to bring a bit of love to India's parliament.

Even in a democracy known for its political diversity, the 35-year-old part-time make-up artist stands out as founder and leader of one of the country's unlikeliest political groups, the All India Lovers Party (ILP).

Motivated by the prejudices he had to overcome to marry his own wife, Kumar created the ILP in 2008 to support couples who wish to marry despite parental disapproval over differences in caste, religion, and social rank.

Those who stray outside the norm can end up estranged from their parents or, in the worst cases, as victims of "honour killings" carried out by outraged relatives to protect what they see as the family's reputation and pride.

The ILP's political platform demands affirmative action in the workplace, as well as free housing and childcare for couples living without family support.

Sitting in the party HQ, a small room papered with political posters in Chennai, the state capital of Tamil Nadu, he boasted how he had helped 25 couples get married in the last three years.

"My goal is that we must get at least 10 people from the party in the national parliament by 2014," said Kumar, who has an unashamed desire for lasting fame.

"Even after I die, my name should be known, for creating the All India Lovers Party," he told AFP.

Kumar first tried to make a splash as a movie star.

After dropping out of school in 1989, he headed to Chennai, home to India's massive Tamil film industry, where he struggled to break into a business where connections count for everything.

"When I left my village I had told everyone I will either come back as a big star, or I won't return," he said.

He worked as a waiter in a diner and a video store clerk before finally landing a job in the film studios, as a junior make-up artist.

It was at this time that he met his future wife, Mangadevi, a make-up assistant whose father was a tailor on the film sets.

Laughing, Mangadevi recalls how Kumar "would come by, talk to my father, and leave. Then one day he told me, 'I love you'."

The couple dated for nearly a decade while they worked and tried to win over Kumar's parents, who wanted their son to marry someone wealthy.

"My parents wanted a girl who would come with a hefty dowry, maybe 200,000 ($4,500) or 500,000 rupees ," he explained.

Unable to secure his parents' support, the couple eventually went ahead and got married without telling Kumar's family.

"It made me realise all the problems lovers face, because their families want them to marry according to caste and money," Kumar said.

"People laughed when I told them I wanted to create a party for lovers, but I know there are millions of lovers in this country who will vote for me."

The ILP has around 20 volunteers who help paste posters and hand out leaflets, and Kumar claims a 100,000-strong following, although his survey techniques are questionable.

"I know because they call and talk to me. I get at least 15-20 calls a day from people who want to support the party," he said.

His salary from his two jobs, as a make-up artist and a neighbourhood milkman, pays for the ILP's running costs.

The party logo is a heart pierced by Cupid's arrow and, just in case the meaning still isn't clear, the heart is filled with an image of the world's most famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal.

A few months after he launched the party, Kumar met Lakshmi, 23, and Srinivasan, 36 -- his first success story.

The Chennai-based couple fell in love while working in the same clothing shop, but Srinivasan's parents objected, citing the vast difference in their social backgrounds.

His father held a coveted government job, working for the railways, while her father was a poor labourer.

Seeing Kumar's posters around town, Lakshmi's father got in contact and asked him for help, after which Kumar arranged a meeting with both sets of parents.

"I told them, don't worry about money, they are both young and they can work hard and make money," he said.

The couple married in August 2008, with grudging consent from Srinivasan's parents.

"If we hadn't met Kumar Sri Sri and we weren't married now, I can't imagine how unhappy I would have been," Lakshmi said.

But not everyone is enamoured of Kumar's politics.

The conservative Hindu Makkal Katchi (HMK) party has campaigned against the ILP, objecting in particular to Kumar's support for Valentine's Day.

"It's against our tradition, it's against our culture, it's trying to spoil the family system of our nation," said HMK organising secretary Thomas Kannan.

"We want to nip it in the bud, these type of people," he said.

It is clearly going to be some time before Kumar's ambition flowers into political success.

When the ballots were counted Friday in Tamil Nadu's state election, Kumar had only managed a couple of hundred votes and lost his deposit in the Chennai constituency he contested.

But his enthusiasm was undimmed.

"No problem! It's my first election, there are many ahead of me.

"One thing I know for sure though is that without love there can be no success. Without love you can't do anything," he said.

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Civil rights movement the 'most heroic' in United States history

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 14, 2011

By Lara Marlowe

THERE WERE 13 passengers, seven blacks and six whites, on the first two Freedom Rider buses that left Washington DC in May 1961. John Lewis, the black rider today known as “the conscience of the US Congress”, was attacked in South Carolina.

Otherwise, the group travelled peacefully as far as Alabama.

The Freedom Riders were demanding enforcement of a Supreme Court decision, handed down the previous year, banning racial segregation on inter-state buses, in restaurants, toilets and waiting rooms in bus terminals.

The Ku Klux Klan, in collusion with local police, was determined to stop the protest. In Anniston, Alabama, 50 years ago today, an angry white mob smashed the windows of the first bus and slashed its tyres. A Klansman pulled his car in front of the bus. Someone in the crowd threw a molotov cocktail through a window. The passengers barely escaped with their lives.

The second bus was attacked in Anniston bus station, where Klansmen beat passengers unconscious and stacked them “like pancakes” in the back of the bus, eyewitnesses said.

Most of the Washington Freedom Riders gave up, but a student group from Nashville, Tennessee, resumed the struggle. After still more Riders were beaten with baseball bats, tyre irons and bicycle chains, a bus eventually reached Jackson, Mississippi, on May 24th. Its passengers were arrested and sent to the notorious Parchman prison.

Over the ensuing four months, buses from all over the US converged on Jackson, carrying 436 Freedom Riders in all. Most were arrested and sent to Parchman. “It energised feelings in the north,” recalls Calvin Trillin, who covered the story as a young Time magazine reporter. “Until then, Americans thought of racism as a southern, regional problem. They just thought that was the way southerners were. It was treated more as an embarrassment than as an outrage that had to be stopped.”

That same year, a young African-American named James Meredith demanded to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, known as Ole Miss. Seven years had passed since the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools were illegal, in Brown vs Board of Education. But Mississippi’s governor swore no schools would be integrated as long as he was in office.

On September 30th, 1961, President John F Kennedy sent federal marshals to escort Meredith into Ole Miss. A white mob attacked them. Two people were killed and hundreds were injured in a night of rioting.

Calvin Trillin says the real turning point in American public opinion came in May 1963, with images of police dogs snarling at black children and of protesters swept away by high-power water hoses in Birmingham, Alabama. The violence continued to escalate: the black activist Medgar Evers was shot dead outside his home in Mississippi. The Ku Klux Klan dynamited a Baptist church in Birmingham, killing four little girls. In mid-1964, three civil rights workers – two of whom were white – were murdered by the Klan in Mississippi.

Without the civil rights movement and the affirmative action programmes that grew from it, Barack Obama would never have become President of the United States, says David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine and author of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

“The civil rights movement, specifically the years between 1954 and 1968, with Brown vs Board of Education and the assassination of Martin Luther King jnr, is the most successful, most heroic public and political movement in the history of the United States,” says Remnick. “Race is the most painful and prolonged epic story of the United States. It defines the country. And so, to have an African-American in the White House is not the end of the story. But it is a very important marker.”

Soul-searching about the reality of progress and the apparent indifference of today’s youths have dominated commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders. Due to the flight of whites and a parallel system of private schools in Mississippi, education in the nation’s poorest state is still segregated. Activists like Alan Bean, the Texas-based founder of Friends of Justice, say the mass incarceration of young black men is a forgotten but fundamental civil rights issue.

Leonard Pitts jnr, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald newspaper, questions whether anyone today still has the courage of the Freedom Riders. It’s easy to claim one would have got on that bus, Pitts writes. “Then you remember the savagery, the violent attacks from people mortally outraged that these young men and women travelled in integrated groups and ignored segregation signs.”

Belief in non-violent protest has also withered, Pitts says. “It was not just a high Christian ideal, but also sound and effective strategy, the idea being that through the willingness to sacrifice your body, you made it clear as air to a watching world which side had the moral high ground, and which did not.”

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Diversity is a perversity to be shed

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 12, 2011

By Walter Williams

The terms “affirmative action,” “equal representation,” “preferential treatment” and “quotas” just don’t sell well. The intellectual elite and their media, government and corporate enthusiasts have come up with diversity, a seemingly benign term that’s a cover for racially discriminatory policy. They call for college campuses, corporate offices and government agencies to “look like America.”

Part of looking like America means if blacks are 13 percent of the population, they should be 13 percent of college students and professors, corporate managers and government employees. Behind this vision of justice is the silly notion that but for the fact of discrimination, we’d be distributed equally by race across incomes, education, occupations and other outcomes.

There is absolutely no evidence that statistical proportionality is the norm anywhere on Earth; however, much of our thinking, laws and public policy is based upon proportionality being the norm. Let’s look at some racial differences while thinking about their causes and possible remedies.

While 13 percent of our population, blacks are 80 percent of professional basketball players and 65 percent of professional football players and are the highest-paid players in both sports. By contrast, blacks are only 2 percent of the NHL’s professional ice hockey players. There is no racial diversity in basketball, football and ice hockey. They come nowhere close to “looking like America.”

Even in terms of sports achievement, racial diversity is absent. Four of the five highest career home-run hitters were black. Since blacks entered the major leagues, of the eight times more than 100 bases were stolen in a season, all were by blacks.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently ordered Dayton, Ohio’s police department to lower its written exam passing scores so as to have more blacks on its police force. What should Attorney General Eric Holder do about the lack of diversity in sports? Why don’t the intellectual elite protest? Could it be that the owners of these multibillion-dollar professional basketball, football and baseball teams are pro-black while those of the NHL and major industries are racists unwilling to put blacks in highly paid positions?

There’s one ethnic diversity issue completely swept under the rug. Jewish Americans are less than 3 percent of our population and only two-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet between 1901 and 2010, Jews were 35 percent of America’s Nobel laureates and 22 percent of the world’s.

If the diversity gang sees underrepresentation as “probative” of racial discrimination, what do they propose we do about overrepresentation? Because if one race is overrepresented, it might mean they’re taking away what rightfully belongs to another race.

There are other representation issues to which we might give some attention with an eye to corrective public policy. Asians routinely get the highest scores on the math portion of the SAT, and blacks get the lowest. Men are 50 percent of the population, and so are women; yet men are struck by lightning six times as often as women. The population statistics for South Dakota, Iowa, Maine, Montana and Vermont show that not even 1 percent of their populations is black. On the other hand, in states such as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, blacks are overrepresented in terms of their percentages in the general population.

There are many international examples of disproportionality. For example, during the 1960s, the Chinese minority in Malaysia received more university degrees than the Malay majority — including 400 engineering degrees compared with four for the Malays, even though Malays dominate the country politically. In Brazil’s state of Sao Paulo, more than two-thirds of the potatoes and 90 percent of the tomatoes produced were produced by people of Japanese ancestry.

The bottom line is there no evidence anywhere that but for discrimination, people would be divided according to their percentages in the population in any activity.

“Diversity” is an elitist term used to give respectability to acts and policy that would otherwise be deemed as racism.

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Justice Clarence Thomas and the Wounds That Don't Heal

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 12, 2011

One day many decades from now, long after we're all gone, some bright legal historian will write the definitive biography of United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It will undoubtedly include at least a chapter or two on the justice's eternally roiling relationship with his fellow black professionals, especially black judges and lawyers. And it will probably cite an ongoing kerfuffle in Georgia as an example of what the justice faced, and why, even 20 years after contentiously ascending to the High Court.

As well told by veteran Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro, officials in Augusta, Georgia, are under fire from some local judges and lawyers for inviting Justice Thomas to speak at the dedication of a new courthouse to be named in honor of the memory of John Ruffin Jr. Ruffin was a civil rights attorney who later -- in 1994! -- became the first black member of the Georgia Court of Appeals. He died last year. The new courthouse is scheduled to open May 18th. And Justice Thomas is on his way. (As Mauro pointed out, here's good local coverage from the Augusta Chronicle).

Of the criticism the justice's visit has engendered locally, Mauro wrote:

"It's not [Thomas'] fault, but his judicial philosophy is the antonym of what Judge Ruffin's was and what it is in the vast majority of the minority community," Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins was quoted as saying in The Augusta Chronicle. The paper also quoted a close friend of Ruffin as saying, "I know of no way we could dishonor John Ruffin more than to have Clarence Thomas speak for this occasion."

Some of those folks evidently also are angry because they were not consulted before Thomas was given the invitation. But the officials who made that decision, last fall, say they figured it was a no-brainer. Justice Thomas is from Georgia and also the circuit justice for the 11th Circuit, which covers Georgia. And because courthouse ceremonies often involve herds of dutiful lawyers and solemn judges, local officials probably figured, too, that the justice would get a more polite reception than he did twice before when he appeared at the University of Georgia.

But it turns out that even the specter of Thomas raises the same hackles with some judges and lawyers as he does with some students and professors. It would be easy to attribute such disdain to the old arguments -- he benefited from affirmative action and then turned his back on it, etc.-- but I think that would be a mistake. Or at least a working theory that needs some serious updating. There are many other, more contemporary reasons-- some of law, some of politics -- why black jurists (and many white ones) would reasonably and justifiably list Justice Thomas far down their list of most admirable justices.

Let's start with the most recent trouble spot -- the justice's wife, Virginia Thomas, and her ongoing Tea Party advocacy. Never mind the issue of the justice's perceived conflict of interest to hear the looming court battle over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Within the past month, the Tea Party has been linked to an email which depicted President Obama and his family as primates. But if Virginia Thomas has used her bully pulpit to publicly decry such conduct I was unable to find it via Google. Do you think that such an episode might impact the way some people view Justice Thomas today?

Let's now look at a recent legal reason. Just six weeks ago, in Connick v. Thompson, Justice Thomas turned his back upon a man, John Thompson, who had spent 14 year on death row after being wrongfully convicted -- railroaded when officials failed and refused to disclose material evidence that ultimately exonerated him. When Thompson was finally released from prison, he sued the district attorney and won his case. Justice Thomas, writing his first majority opinion of the year for a 5-4 court, overturned that jury verdict. It was a bitterly-divided case -- the dissent was scathing -- and it produced a terribly unjust result.

The fact that Thompson is black and was railroaded is meaningful to different people in different ways, of course. To me, it's a blunt reminder of America's continuing willingness to toleratepervasive racial disparity in its criminal justice system. It is a disgrace. For example, since the current death-penalty regime was reinstituted by the Supreme Court in 1976, the percentage of blacks executed under it is 34.78 of the total amount, reports the Death Penalty Information Center. The current population of American blacks, reports the 2010 Census, is nearly one-third of that -- 12.6 percent.

There are many ways to explain those figures, some more legitimate than others. So let's go directly to the source: the Supreme Court itself. Go back and read McCleskey v. Kemp, a 1987 Supreme Court capital case out of Justice Thomas's home state. He wasn't on the court back then, but the court ruled against a black defendant whose lawyers argued that the state's capital punishment scheme was inherently unfair because prosecutors sought the death penalty far more often when black people were accused of killing white people as opposed to the other way around. For the majority, Justice Lewis Powell wrote: "At most, the [study showing such statistics] indicates a discrepancy that appears to correlate with race. Apparent disparities in sentencing are an inevitable part of our criminal justice system."

Four years later, Justice Thomas joined this group. And where has he been since in the eternal fight to at least try to provide equal justice for all? No one can complain about him being neutral. He's been on the ramparts, all right. But fighting for the other side. As evidenced tellingly by hisThompson ruling, in which he made up a new rule to protect prosecutor at the expense of a victim, he has been outright hostile, and persistently so, toward criminal defendants, including black ones, during his tenure on the bench. That started early on in his court tenure in 1992 in hisconcurring opinion in Georgia v. McCollum -- a case about racial disparity in jury selection -- and it continues to this day.

So it's no surprise at all that Justice Thomas strikes a particular nerve with people who pay attention to these areas of law and justice. It's no surprise they resent him despite his high office. The wounds he opened up with them 20 years ago when he got the job have never healed. His personality and his jurisprudence do not allow for it. Worse, each new court term seems to generate from him opinions and choices that open new wounds. Justice Thomas isn't just against affirmative action in the workplace where a person's job is on the line. He is also clearly against empowering the rule of law to equalize the disparities in the criminal justice system -- where a minority defendant's life and liberty are typically on the line.

And that, I suspect, is why Judge Ruffin's friends and colleagues believe he will be spinning in his grave next week when Justice Thomas comes to crown the courthouse.

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Racial quotas at UCT

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 12, 2011

By James Myburgh

Over the past few months the American media has taken something of an interest in the race-based admissions policy of the University of Cape Town. In late November the New York Times ran an article on the topic, and in the past week National Public Radio has run a similar report.

UCT requires that applicants classify themselves according to the old apartheid designations of white, coloured, Indian and black. Differing admissions criteria are then applied depending on which of these racial categories the applicant belongs to.

For instance, for entry into the MBChB programme a "Black" applicant needs to score 36 points on their matric results and 15 (out of 30) points on the National Benchmarking Test; a "Coloured" applicant 40 and 16 points; an "Indian" or "Chinese" applicant 46 and 24 points; and a "White" applicant 47 and 24 points.

The ultimate goal of the policy is to ensure that composition of the university ultimately comes to reflect the racial proportions of society as a whole. As the University states: "As a matter of policy we aim for a student body which has a significant number of international students and where the local component of our student body increasingly reflects the demographics of the South African population."

Perhaps not surprisingly both the NYT and NPR view the debates, within the university, around this policy through race conscious American lenses. The Times states that UCT is "engaged in a searching debate about just how far affirmative action should go to heal the wounds of an oppressive history." The NPR report meanwhile begins by stating: "Universities in South Africa are wrestling with an issue familiar to many Americans: affirmative action."

By framing their articles in this way - as an issue of "redress" for past wrongs - both reports morally prejudge the debate and, in many ways, miss the point. It is useful, from a historical point of view, to contrast UCT's current policy with the principles articulated in the early 1980s when the National Party government moved to begin desegregating the English universities.*

Up until 1983 a person who was not white had had to apply, individually, for a ministerial permit if they wished to study at a ‘white' university. Clause 9 of the Universities Amendment Bill, introduced that year, provided for the permit system to be replaced by a quota system. The number of black students allowed in each ‘white' university would be stipulated annually by the appropriate Minister of State.

Although representing something of a practical improvement on the existing system UCT, Rhodes, Wits and Natal all objected to this "quota clause" on principle. The Vice Chancellor of Wits, Daniel du Plessis, stated "The fundamental issue is that the Witwatersrand University holds that race, colour, religion and gender are not academic criteria, and that no non-academic criteria should intrude into the selection process of an academic institution. This is basic to our philosophy and policy."

UCT meanwhile took out advertisements in the Cape Town newspapers objecting to the government's transfer to the university of this "obligation of denying admission to black students who qualify on academic grounds" and involving the university in the enforcement of "objectionable discriminatory laws."

The Vice Chancellor of UCT, Stuart Saunders, stated that the reason the four universities "find the Bill totally unacceptable" reflects the fact "that these universities have, for more than a quarter-century, actively rejected racial criteria for admission to university." He also claimed that the legislation was "imposing upon the university itself the distasteful and objectionable task of rejecting students on racial grounds because of a quota imposed upon it"; and argued that, "race classification is an objectionable and irrelevant consideration whether it be applied through permits or quotas."

In parliament, in June 1983, the Progressive Federal Party MP, Alex Boraine, also spoke passionately against the Bill. He stated:

"The quota system is a system which restricts admission on the grounds of race. It is based, therefore, on race classification on the Population Registration Act. When one applies for a permit or when one applies under the quota system one produces one's birth certificate. That is the kiss of death, as it were, for a young Coloured, Indian or Black student, because the moment he applies he is not asked for his matriculation certificate-they do not ask him how well he did at school or what his symbols were, but he is asked what his colour is. That is the quota system. It is racially enshrined."

He then asked rhetorically, "What are we to make of this quota system? Where does it come from? What is its inspiration?" His answer:

"In the 19th Century this was imposed in order to limit the admissions of Jews to institutions of higher learning and was applied in the 19th Century by Tsarist Russia and extended in the 20th Century particularly to countries in Eastern Europe but also to others. It is perhaps not without coincidence that during the rule of Stalin [in the Soviet Union], such as system was also applied. This hon. Minister has learned well from what has taken place in Tsarist Russia and in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most infamous of all took place in Nazi Germany."

Boraine proceeded to cite the Law against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Higher Institutions adopted by the national socialist government in Germany in April 1933. This had decreed that, "In the admission of new students attention is to be paid to the number of German students who are not of Aryan descent ... may not exceed in each school and faculty the proportion of non-Aryans to the entire German population [1.5%]. That proportion will be uniformly determined for the entire nation."

He commented: "Whenever they admitted a student after the rise of Hitler and the Nazis they had to produce a birth certificate in order to determine whether they had any Jewish blood. This was a racial decree and I want to say to hon. members on the other side that this quota system is nothing more and nothing less than an approximation of the Hitler decree."

When an MP objected that this was untrue, Boraine responded:

"It is the truth. Tell me why it is not the truth? Exactly the same approach is being followed here. What I am in effect saying, is that members on that side have sat at the feet of the Soviet Union and of the Nazis and have learned, and now they are introducing a quota system where Blacks are denied entrance into our universities, not on the basis of academic merit, but purely and solely on the basis of race."

Although the legislation was passed by parliament, allowing direct black entry into the formerly ‘white' universities, the quota provision was never actually enforced. As Saunders stated in 1986 "I think the Government came to realise how repulsive a quota system based on race is for any university and has wisely decided not to apply it. They would be even wiser to repeal the legislation. For as long as it stands on the statute books it must be recognised in principle. Using it would do enormous damage to our universities in the world of international scholarship recalling that the Stalin regime and Hitler imposed racial quota systems."

In April 1991 the Education Minister, Louis Pienaar, announced that the offending section was to be removed from the statute books: "Although quotas were never determined, the deletion of this provision indicates once again the government's commitment to recognise the autonomy of universities and demonstrates its undertaking to abolish racial discrimination from the statute book."

From the mid-1980s UCT applied a corrective action policy based upon real disadvantage students had suffered at the hands of apartheid discrimination (but not, on principle, on race). The university pursued this policy of ‘equal opportunity affirmative action' up until the mid-1990s. According to its pre-1996 mission statement UCT strove "to maintain a strong tradition of non-discrimination in regard to race" both in the constitution of its student body and in the selection and promotion of its academic and administrative staff. Students would be selected on merit, although special criteria would be used to identify disadvantaged students with potential, and they would be given extra assistance to help them succeed.

In 1994 the African National Congress came to power and increasingly asserted, under Thabo Mbeki's leadership, its African nationalist agenda. Like many other racialist movements through history it made the demand that the universities, along with all other sectors of society, limit the proportion of minorities to their percentage of the population.

Instead of resisting or opposing this principle UCT adopted it as its own. Where it moderated it, and balanced it against other competing considerations, was in its application. This may have been a shrewd decision, politically and tactically, given the power of the ANC, and its racial demands, at the time. (UCT does seem to have done much better than some other universities in manoeuvring, albeit in a somewhat slimy way, through the transition.)

But its decision to place race at the centre of its admissions policy, and apply (in all but name) racial quotas, represents a complete betrayal of the principles it once invoked in the struggle against Apartheid-era discrimination.

Perhaps more importantly it represents a profound intellectual failure. The contribution of our universities to public debate in South Africa, over the past decade, has been pathetic.

Perhaps the main reason for this was that so many academics simply floated along, as UCT did as an institution, with the tide of the ascendant racial nationalism. South Africa is now dealing with destructive consequences of that project. It is difficult to see what contribution UCT can make to understanding and correcting these, for as long as it clings to the odious racial principle that lay at the heart of it.

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Black economist says Cuba needs affirmative action

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 12, 2011

By Juan Tamayo

Black Cubans, already with the worst jobs and lowest salaries, will need “affirmative action” as the government tries to slash its inflated payrolls, a black Havana economist and former Communist Party member wrote Wednesday.

Esteban Morales, 68, made it clear in his lengthy essay that he supports Cuba’s “extraordinarily humanist” revolution and believes it took great pains to outlaw racism and provide equal opportunities for blacks over the past 52 years.

An economist who has written previously on race, he also attacked black Cubans who criticize the revolution as racist, saying they have embraced a U.S. strategy for sparking a “political confrontation” that would change the island’s regime.

In unusually direct language, however, Morales also complains that blacks rank at the bottom of several economic measurements, that Cuban schools do not teach courses on race, and that government socio-economic statistics should be broken down by skin color.

He was “separated” from the Communist Party last year for a similarly harsh essay in which he warned that a burgeoning string of corruption scandals was a bigger threat to the country’s stability than “the counterrevolution.”

Morales’ latest essay essentially argues that questions about race must be a priority for the Raul Castro government as it tries to fix the stagnant economy by slashing state spending – on jobs and subsidies -- and allowing more private enterprise.

Blacks and mestizos “have always historically been the least qualified, the most disadvantaged in the workplace, with the worst jobs, the lowest salaries and the lowest retirement benefits,” Morales wrote in his 4,311-word essay, published in his eponymous blog.

Castro himself spoke of the need to increase the number of blacks and women in leadership positions during a speech last month to a Communist Party congress last month. The 2002 census shows 65 percent of Cubans identify themselves as white, and 35 percent as black or mestizo.

Morales went well beyond that, noting that fewer blacks than whites have relatives abroad who can send them cash remittances. He added that black Cubans in Florida also earn less – and therefore can send less to the island – because of U.S. racism.

Blacks and mestizos on the island also have a harder time finding well-paying jobs and tend to “take refuge … in illegal activities, prostitution and pimping, the illegal re-sale of products,” he noted. They make up 57 percent of the prison population, he added.

Morales’ essay notes that Cuba faces many challenges in race relations but adds that he would focus only on four, -- starting with the need to create an array of school courses on modern-day racism.

“How is it possible that in a multicolor nation like Cuba … there’s no scientific treatment of those problems” he wrote . University-level education is “especially plagued by prejudices on the racial issue, weak institutional attention to it, ignorance and even fear of studying it.”

Cuba’s National Statistics Office (ONE) should include racial breakdowns when it reports economic and social data such as unemployment, salaries, housing conditions, education levels and life expectancy, Morales noted in his second challenge.

In his third, he urged Cubans to demand equal racial representation in all fields, and in his last he urged Cuba to embrace “the so-called affirmative action” as a way “to balance out the different historical points of departure for the racial groups that today make up our society.”

Cuban government officials have long cringed at the possibility of using affirmative action on the island, arguing that it would explicity admit that the revolution had failed to eradicate race-based discrimination.

Morales’ harshest criticism went to Carlos Moore, a black exile who has attacked Cuba’s leadership as almost exclusively white and argued that blacks were denied the most visible jobs when Cuba opened its doors to foreign tourism in the 1990s.

Morales alleged that some of Moore’s publications were financed by groups that received CIA money. Moore, a black rights activist now living and teaching at a university in Brazil, could not be reached immediately for comment.

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After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

The intern blog below is a commentary on the communities that are being impacted by the recent natural disasters in the South based on the article that can be found below the commentary. The South has been bombarded with natural disasters this past month. First, tornados devastated Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. Now communities along the Mississippi River are facing massive flooding and some fear that the worst is yet to come. As with most natural disasters, poor people of color are being hit the hardest and the question is usually whether the government is doing enough to help them. Millions of dollars of property have been destroyed and communities have been fragmented. I wonder what the overall impact of these disasters will be in comparison to Hurricane Katrina and if there will be a racial connection. I am interested in the historical aspect of housing discrimination that puts poor people of color in the most vulnerable locations. It would be interesting to research redlining policies from the first half of the 20th century and see if the areas that have been hit the hardest by these disasters correlate. I am doubtful that much will be done about housing inequalities in the near future because people with higher incomes would not be willing to live in potentially dangerous areas.

After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

By Associated Press

VICKSBURG, Miss. — William Jefferson paddles slowly down his street in a small boat, past his house and around his church, both flooded from the bulging Mississippi River that has rolled into the Delta.

“Half my life is still in there,” he said, pointing to the small white house swamped by several feet of water. “I hate to see it when I go back in.”

The river was taking aim at one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country after cresting Tuesday at Memphis, Tenn., just inches short of the record set in 1937. Some low-lying Memphis neighborhoods were inundated, but the city’s high levees protected much of the rest of Memphis.

Downstream in Louisiana, inmates were filling sandbags to protect property in Cajun swamp communities that could be flooded if engineers open a spillway to protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge area. Fear was high among residents there.

Jefferson’s Vicksburg neighborhood has been one of the hardest hit in the historic city that was the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. Jefferson refuses to leave, so he spends his days in the sweltering sun watching the water rise and sleeping in a camper at an intersection that’s likely to flood soon, too.

“If you don’t stay with your stuff, you won’t have it,” he said. “This is what I do every day. Just watch the water.”

Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many to seek higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are vital to the state’s economy.

The state gambling industry is taking a hit: All 19 casinos along the river will be shut down by the end of the week, costing governments $12 million to $13 million in taxes per month, authorities said. That will put some 13,000 employees temporarily out of work.

But the worst is yet to come, with the crest expected over the next few days. The damage in Memphis was estimated at more than $320 million as the serious flooding began, and an official tally won’t be available until the waters recede.

To the south, there were no early figures on the devastation, but with hundreds of homes already damaged, “we’re going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it’s never been before,” said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Across the region, federal officials anxiously checked and reinforced the levees, some of which could be put to their sternest test ever.

In northwestern Mississippi, crews have been using dirt and sand to make a levee higher at the Bolivar-Coahoma county line in the north Delta, said Charlie Tindall, attorney for the Mississippi Levee Board.

About 10 miles north of Vicksburg, contractors lined one side of what is known as a backwater levee with big sheets of plastic to keep it from eroding if floodwaters flow over it as feared — something that has never happened to the levee since it was built in the 1970s.

In Vicksburg, the river was projected to peak Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

Jimmy Mitchell, 46, and his wife and two children have been living in a loaned camper for more than week at a civic arena in Tunica.

“There’s no sewage hookup. You go in a barn to take a shower,” said Mitchell, who is from the small community of Cutoff. “We have no time frame on how long we can stay.”

As Mitchell and friends sat outside chatting in the breeze, children rode bikes nearby.

“Cutoff is a community where everybody lives from paycheck to paycheck. It’s also a community where everybody sticks together,” Mitchell said.

Widespread flooding was expected along the Yazoo River, a tributary that is backed up because of the bloated Mississippi. Rolling Fork, home of the bluesman Muddy Waters, was also in danger of getting inundated.

Farmers built homemade levees to protect their corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops, but many believed the crops would be lost entirely.

Vicksburg National Military Park, where thousands of Civil War soldiers who died in an 1863 battle are buried, was expected to remain dry. The park is the site where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s troops entrapped a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, forcing its surrender. The victory effectively split the Confederacy in half.

Vicksburg was forecast to see its highest river level ever, slightly above the 56.2-feet mark set in 1927. Farther south in Natchez, forecasters said the 1937 record could be shattered by 4 feet on Saturday.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7. Officials said the river level had decreased slightly on Wednesday, and they were doing a flyover to assess the most heavily damaged areas.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for many.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve already lost everything,” said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

On the downtown Memphis riverfront, people came out to gawk at the river. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

“It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke,” said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. “I’m very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood.”

In Louisiana, jail inmates filled sandbags to protect property in St. Martin Parish, which could be flooded if authorities open a second floodway to take pressure off levees that protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

On Monday, the corps began opening the Bonnet Carre spillway near New Orleans. The second floodway, Morganza, is upriver from Baton Rouge and could be opened this weekend.

The floodway pours into the Atchafalaya River, and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Communities such as Morgan City on its southern end were sandbagging against the expected floodwaters, and hoping for the best.

“Everybody is just scared. They don’t know what to do,” said St. Martin Deputy Sheriff Ginny Higgins, who was overseeing prisoners who stuffed sandbags in stifling heat and humidity while clad in black and white striped jumpsuits.

Sharonda Buck, an unemployed 18-year-old mother, lives in a house with 12 relatives in Vicksburg. The water has been creeping into their yard and the power company said electricity will be cut off Wednesday morning. They spent Tuesday walking the railroad tracks through their neighborhood, kids throwing rocks in flooded yards.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re trying to find somewhere to stay, that’s all I know,” she said.

Inequalities Complicate S. Africa College Admissions

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 10, 2011

By Anders Kelto

Universities in South Africa are wrestling with an issue familiar to many Americans: affirmative action.

South Africa is still coping with the aftermath of apartheid and a lingering educational gap between black and white. Now, a series of public debates about college admissions has reopened a national dialogue on race.

During apartheid, the University of Cape Town, which sits on the lower slopes of Devil's Peak, was an all-white university. But now, there are black, white, Asian and mixed-race faces in nearly equal numbers — it's the kind of diversity usually reserved for promotional materials.

The way in which the university has achieved this diversity, however, is somewhat controversial. To be admitted, white students must score the equivalent of straight A's. Meanwhile, black and mixed-race students can get in with plenty of B's. The University of Cape Town doesn't make this policy a secret — admission cutoffs are listed by race in the prospectus.

The vice chancellor, Max Price, says the policy reflects the fact that black students in South Africa are still highly disadvantaged.

"Even 15 years after the end of apartheid, it's still the case that 80 percent of black students go to very poor township schools or rural schools," he says. "Their teachers are poorly qualified, the schools are poorly equipped, and the result is that on the national exams, they perform poorly."

The government has gone to great lengths to improve an educational system that once taught black students how to wash dishes rather than learn math and science. And though some improvements have been made, the gap between black and white is still immense.

Price says that without race-based admission goals, schools would be nearly as white as they were during apartheid, despite the fact that whites make up fewer than 10 percent of the population. He says that would be unacceptable.

"People would think there was something wrong," he says. "It would produce social unrest; it would produce a sense that the country hasn't changed."

Bringing Positive Change

Across town, engineer Michael Tladi reviews blueprints for a new government hospital. Tladi is black and grew up on the streets of Pretoria, bouncing between children's homes after his mother abandoned him. He went to an underfunded township school and earned good — but not great — marks. His teachers saw his potential and encouraged him to apply to the country's top schools.

He was elated when he received an acceptance letter from UCT.

" 'You have been chosen to come and study at UCT' — I didn't even read further. I just ... I was so excited," Tladi recalls.

But like many disadvantaged students, he was overwhelmed when he arrived.

"I was not prepared financially, I was not prepared academically and I was not prepared for the new environment," he said.

He struggled and almost dropped out, but he eventually completed a degree in engineering and got a job with the provincial government. He also volunteers at a children's home and says he hopes his story can inspire underprivileged kids.

"I just hope that my success out of UCT can bring a positive change," he says. "Because they know that I was in the same place, same lifestyle — they can see that they also can do it."

Creating A Sense Of Entitlement?

Back on campus, Cynthia Ngebe sits with friends in the cafeteria. She says affirmative action is a necessary evil.

"It's giving people an opportunity," she says. "Like, in some families now, they're going to have engineers for the very first time, you know?"

But others, like Amanda Ngwenya, disagree. She worries that the policy is creating a sense of entitlement among her black peers.

"It means they think that, 'Because I'm black, I deserve special privileges. Because I'm black, I need to be treated differently,' even though they are just as capable," Ngwenya says.

It's a sticky debate, complicated by the legacy of apartheid. But as South Africa's past grows more distant, the question becomes: When, if ever, should race not matter?

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Tavis Smiley: This Presidential Race Will be Most Racist in History Due to Tea Party and Trump

The intern blog below is a commentary on Tavis Smiley’s opinion of the role that race will play in the 2012 presidential election based on the video that can be found below the commentary. As the nation gets ready for the 2012 presidential election season to begin, the Republican Party is weighing its options for potential candidates to run against Obama. In the video posted below, Tavis Smiley opines that the 2012 election will be “the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist… in the history of this republic”. The comments of Tea Party supporters and leaders have made the truth in Smiley’s statement apparent. Former Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams stated, “It is the duty of every American Citizen to do everything within their power to disrupt and defeat the domestic enemy that currently occupies the corridors of power in Washington and a dangerous number of state capitols”. This comment, in addition to others, forced him to resign. Even though his words were condemned, I know that many people agree with him, which makes me fearful of the tactics that will be used in the 2012 elections. However, I think that the fact that Osama Bin Laden was killed under Obama’s watch will prove to be a large benefit to his campaign. The New York Times reports that between April and May, Obama’s approval rate went up by 11%. This fact makes me believe that Smiley’s ominous prediction will prove to be true. The Republican Party will have to resort to divisive tactics to have a chance of posing a legitimate threat to Obama.

TAVIS SMILEY, PBS: I said over a year ago that this was going to be, this presidential race, Lawrence, was going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist, the most racist, in the history of this republic. I did not know that that race to the bottom would begin so quickly. One can disagree with the Tea Party…

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, HOST: Why did you see this coming?

SMILEY: I saw it coming because it’s pretty clear given how the Tea Party has acted, given that Donald Trump is now playing to the worst in the Tea Party, that this would be possible. I don’t want to demonize or cast aspersions on the Tea Party broadly. I believe that there’s a certain angst that many people in that entity feel, and I share that angst about government. I don’t believe that it’s the solution to reduce government. Government does have a role to play. We’ve got to figure out, we can figure out and debate what that role is, but there have been semantics they’ve engaged in that made it clear to me: showing up at rallies with guns, and the Secret Service, you know, working overtime to protect this president. More threats against his life than any president in the history of the nation, indeed, presidents combined. So the evidence is pretty clear that they would do anything and say anything in order to make sure he does not get reelected.