Roundtable: Historically Black Colleges, Global Warming

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Tuesday's topics: Higher education at historically black college and universities, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's fight against global warming, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is at the center of another political debate. Guests: Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Glenn Loury, a social sciences and economics professor at Brown University; and Laura Washington, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist.

TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox, sitting in for Farai Chideya. On today's Roundtable, Donald Rumsfeld at the center of another political debate in the run-up to the upcoming election. And the British government says global warming is taking a toll on the Earth and the economy.

Joining us today from our New York bureau is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Michael, nice to have you back.

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Yes, I'm Michael Meyers. It's not a Halloween joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: And Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, is at member station WLRN in Miami, Florida. Laura, happy Halloween to you.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Same to you, Tony.

COX: And from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island, Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and economics at Brown University. Glenn, nice to have you back as well.

Professor GLENN LOURY (Social Sciences, Economics, Brown University): Hey there, Tony.

COX: So, listen, we all heard - before we get into our regularly scheduled topics for today, let's briefly hit on what we just heard in the A segment from the president of Spelman talking about the significance of historically black colleges. And we got to hear a little bit of Michael Meyers' opinion from a previous situation. So we don't want to relive that.

But let me just put this one question to the three of you: how important and relevant are these schools now? Laura, let's start with you.

Ms. WASHINGTON: I think President Tatum really said it best. There's a place and will always be a place for traditionally African-American schools for the same reason that she point out there's a place for same-sex colleges. People have choices. And I, as she, did not go to this type of school. I went to a traditional, you know, white university. And I think that I missed something because of that.

I think there's a place especially some young African-Americans - women and men - to be able to find out who they are, to discover their culture, to value that in a way that they're never going to be able to do - to learn more about black history, to get educated about their culture. And I see nothing wrong with that.

And unfortunately, I think that part of the struggle that these schools have is that they're - it's just like everything else in our society. African-American does not get the same bonus points that white does. So there are some people, even people who come out of these schools who don't see the need to give back, who don't the see the need to support them because there's this perception that they're somehow inferior because they're black.

COX: Glenn, you work in the academy, as I do. What's your take on this?

Prof. LOURY: Well, I think the basic issue here is the identity needs of the African-American middle class. Institutions like Spelman - and there aren't many of them and Spelman is a fine institution - exist to serve in substantial part the identity needs of the African-American middle class. And I think, you know, you have to decide whether or not that's legitimate.

I don't see why the identity needs of black people are any less warranting of being taken seriously than are the identity needs of any other people in the society. So I think that is legitimate.

But then you have to ask what's the price that parents are paying in order to give their kids this identity boost? And that's an objective, empirical question. That is to say the alternative is to go to, you know, a conventional liberal arts college that would be, quote, “white,” close quote.

So then we get to comparing the quality of the institutions and of the intellectual experience as the students have at the two different things. And that's an empirical question.

COX: Let me ask you, Mike Meyers - I'm assuming after you heard the president that your position has not changed.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, my position is that I should've been on with President Tatum, because a lot of what she said was nonsense and racial idiocy and needed to be answered. But I must tell you, I am shocked that the president of a historically black single sex college advocates racially identifiable black single sex colleges. I'm just shocked…

COX: I'm shocked that you're shocked.

Mr. MEYERS: This is a deification of skin color. It is nothing less than a slavery mentality, an inferiority complex…

Prof. LOURY: So what is Brandeis, Michael?

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me, I listened to you. It's my turn.

COX: Okay. Okay, here…

Prof. LOURY: No. I just asked you a question…

Mr. MEYERS: No, listen to me. It's my turn. Now, excuse me for talking while you're interrupting. It is part of the detrimental consequences of a biracial society where blacks are now asserting the value of being separated by race. They got to the back of the bus, they got to the back of the class, they got to sit at separate tables in the college cafeterias, they got to live in black dormitories. This is a race…

Prof. LOURY: Oh, Michael. That's nonsense, Michael.

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me, this is a racist mystique.

Prof. LOURY: No, you're just ranting.

Mr. MEYERS: And it is nothing worse that the deification of skin color and (unintelligible) whites. Now if there's no such thing wrong with white identity, why is there something right with black identity…

Prof. LOURY: No, the world is not black and white, Michael. The world is not black and white…

Mr. MEYERS: Exactly right. And it's time for black…

Prof. LOURY: What about Brandeis and what about Catholic institutions, Michael? It's about identity…

Mr. MEYERS: Excuse me, Glenn. There's a difference between religion and race. You know that.

Prof. LOURY: What is it?

Mr. MEYERS: I tell you what - a big difference.

COX: Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen, I'll tell you what. Looks like this is a topic we're going to have to set aside for a Roundtable when we can go more into it. Because we weren't really intending focus on that. That was what the A segment was about. But because there is such passion.

Mr. MEYERS: We can't really have a conversation about this every time a person has a different point of view speaks up, he's interrupted by a panelist who's already had his opportunity to talk.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, Michael, I would just say that you're not very open to hearing other perspectives…

COX: I'll tell you what, folks, we've going to move on…

Mr. MEYERS: I've heard it all before…

COX: All right. Hold it. Hold up.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Listen. You need listen.

COX: Hold up. Hold on. We're going to move on, and we're going to come back and visit at another time, because we want to talk a little bit about what's going on at the Pentagon. Because there House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is saying - we've heard this before, of course - that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is, in his words, “the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years.” That's a quote.

Now Democrats disagree - surprise, surprise - with Mr. Boehner's comments and say that his statements show that the GOP should be voted out of power. Now all of this is coming up in advance of the November 7th election. So my question really is this - and I want to start with you, Laura - if Rumsfeld were to go, what would really change?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, let me just say first, Tony, if Rumsfeld is the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years, the Pentagon is in major trouble. Rumsfeld may be the best thing that's happened there, but he certainly isn't the best thing that's happened for the people of Iraq. He's certainly not the best thing that's happened to the 101 American soldiers who've already been killed in Iraq this month. He's certainly not the best thing that's happened for American security or world security.

That having been said, I don't think that Rumsfeld really is the issue here. He's become a political football. If Rumsfeld were to disappear tomorrow, were to leave that post tomorrow, we would still be mired in Iraq. We would still have this extremely complex - as some of his supporters have pointed out - this extremely complex war where we can't get a handle on major deathly skirmages(ph) around the country where we're sort of in a conundrum.

We can't get the political, social and cultural scene in order until we get the violence down, and we can't get the violence down until we get some order in terms of our social and economic infrastructure. That's not something that's going to get solved whether Rumsfeld is in place or not. He's become a symbol for everything that's wrong with this war. But everything that's wrong with this war started at the top, started in the White House with George Bush, who has kept in place. So Rumsfeld is not really the issue.

COX: Glenn, let me ask you this, because Boehner said something else. I want to read this quote to you. “And I think” - this is Boehner now - “and I think Donald Rumsfeld is the only man in America who knows where the bodies are buried at the Pentagon.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. LOURY: What he's saying is that there is need for the reform of the military bureaucracy. And Donald Rumsfeld went in there with the determination to shake things up and not do business as usual, and that's a good thing. And in some abstract sense, that well may be a good thing.

But what we're talking about here is one of the great historic, strategic foreign policy and military blunders - I repeat, blunders - in the history of the nation. That's what this is going to go down as. There can be no doubt about that.

And he is principally responsible for it. Obviously, the president can't fire him before the election. Obviously, if the Democrats win big, he's not going to continue to serve. I don't now how these people sleep at night.

COX: You know, let me ask you, Mike Meyers, because here's a quote from a Democratic congresswoman from Florida about Rumsfeld. And it's kind of interesting, and I'd like to get your take on it. She says, “I think it's a shame to take this complex issue of winning the international war on terror and putting it at the level of whether you like or don't like Donald Rumsfeld.” What about that?

Mr. MEYERS: Absolutely. I think this is just bumbling politics. This is a bumbling campaign. I mean, Rumsfeld is doing Bush's bidding. Bush has already said he has strong identification with and support for Rumsfeld. This is a non-issue. These people don't know how to politic anymore.

If politicians realize what Americans want - what they like - they like their steaks thick, their taxes low and their guns loaded. If they run on that kind of campaign, they might get elected. But running against Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld is not on the ballot. It's Bush. It's the war in Iraq…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Michael, are you saying that Iraq is not the, or one of the primary issues that the electorates - in this election?

Mr. MEYERS: I didn't say that. You're not listening, Laura. What I did say - or what I was trying to say before you interrupted me - was that Iraq is the issue. The war in Iraq is the issue. It's not Donald Rumsfeld or how, quote-unquote, “Donald Rumsfeld is running the war” because this is Bush's war. And…

Prof. LOURY: But the point here, the question is responsibility and accountability. And Rumsfeld personifies it. No, I mean, it's not a campaign against Rumsfeld as such. Condoleezza Rice has a lot of responsibility. Dick Cheney has a lot of responsibility. And George Bush has the primary deciding responsibility. But it is about making the election that's coming up be interpreted, giving a mandate, having it have an understanding, which is a repudiation and a rebuke against the leadership that we've gotten out of this regime of which Rumsfeld is a poster boy.

He made himself with his arrogant, assertive, acerbic, self-confident, willful personality that he projected on to the American people. He personified what we've done over there, which is a fiasco. It's a fiasco.

Mr. MYERS: And - yeah, so what? You're saying…

Prof. LOURY: On historic scale…

Mr. MYERS: This is a…

Prof. LOURY: Hundreds of thousands of people are dead.

Mr. MYERS: This is a big headline. Gee, whiz - I'm shocked, too.

COX: So Mike Myers, you're point is that you don't think that Rumsfeld is the face of the war, is what you're saying?

Mr. MYERS: Exactly. What I'm saying is that people are now desperate. They're reaching for anything, calling out any name they possibly can. Bush is down south talking about gay marriage and making boogeyman on Halloween. This is just desperate politics, and it must be rejected. The real issues must be addressed in the American society, and we need intelligent people to understand the real issues. Black college is not a real issue.

COX: All right, let's move on to another real issue, the issue of global warming. Let's talk about that, because there's a report coming out - that came out yesterday in Britain that talked about the devastating effects if the world doesn't begin to dump what the report says will be - actually, put it this way, the report says that it would cost us 7 trillion - that's with a T - $7 trillion in loses if we don't begin to blunt the effects of global warming at this decade.

Mr. MEYERS: I ain't got 7 trillion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Well, look in your pocket. Look in your other pocket.

(Soundbite of laughing)

COX: But the question seems to be because in the United States, for example, the comparison between the moneys spent for defense and the money spent on global warming, obviously, defense is four times greater according to the reports that I have read. So is this an issue - global warming an issue that has any traction in America?

Mr. MYERS: You've read a report about the report. I'm pretty confident to say you did not read a 700-page report…

COX: You're correct.

Mr. MYERS: And a 700-page report tries to persuade, and it doesn't persuade because nobody - no average person going to read a 700-page report. We got - at some point, if you're going to take global warming - you know, giving out cool winters and cool summers - if you're going to take global warming seriously, you got to change the term to something that people could identify with like environmental dumping or sewer or sewer skies or something like that.

But, you know, I didn't watch the Inconvenient Truth, you know, Al Gore: The Movie, Al Gore's movie. I didn't - so I do believe in the science of global warming as opposed to those who don't, but, you know, I think we have to take out the pollution of our environment very, very seriously.

COX: Well, why doesn't this have more attraction here, Laura?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I think partly because what Michael says, you know, it sounds very wonky and sciency and it sounds very futuristic. And I think the important thing about this report is not only did it put it in place where the money is - and money talks for folks - but it also reinforced the fact that this is coming sooner rather than later. I was also very happy to see it put -Tony Blair advanced his position, and not only advanced his position but hire Al Gore becoming his consultant. I don't know if he actually needs Al Gore to tell him…

COX: What to do, right.

Ms. WASHINGTON: …the truth about global warming, but it's an important political symbol in that, you know, Tony Blair's been perceived as George Bush's poodle for the last, you know, last administration. And in this case, he's taking an opposite position of Bush. Bush has been very laid back on this issue. He hasn't agreed to the Kyoto thing.

COX: That protocol, right?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Right, protocol, and I see this as an - a political opportunity for us to put on the map. I think though, Tony, people just don't care about this issue yet. We haven't found a way to get just the average citizen to get on board. But then and that - and this report it's not going to do that.

MYERS: It's not on the ballot, huh?

COX: No, it's not. Let me ask you, Glenn, as we - let's wrap up - I want to wrap this subject, because we're trying to get to one more before we get out of here. Do you think that the world can fight global warming successfully without U.S. participation?

Prof. LOURY: No, obviously not. I mean, I think there are two points. One is the political point - California is included amongst the quote, “countries,” close quote, who are cooperating with Britain under Blair's vision to deal with global warming. And I think that's interesting, I mean, Schwarzenegger has made a very interesting move.

This issue is not going to go away. I mean, no, we're not going to deal with it because we're not going to deal with anything. Right? We're not going to deal with social security. We're not going to deal with, you know, a lot of problems, but the issue is not going to go away.

The other point that I would make is, you know, the Republican war on science, the attempt to politicize and relativise this important questions, to make them into, oh, we don't know the answer. We do know the answer, that the world is getting warmer and that human activity has a lot to do with that. And we do know what the consequences of it are. They are going to, in the long run, be grave.

Throwing dust in the air, which is what George Bush's administration trying to muzzle the scientists at NASA, who's a distinguished commentator on these issues. It's just a piece with this kind of, you know, reality versus faith-based, you know, make up the facts anyway you want them to be. I mean, this is the stem cell research issue of the future when you look behind it, because these guys responding to industry pressures have raise doubts about something that the scientific community is very certain about.

COX: When you're looking at some of the issues, though, that we're dealing with - I'm talking now about terrorism and the events post-9/11 - it's hard to get your mind wrapped around something that is so innocuous in a sense and seems to be down the line when you have immediate dangers facing you, isn't that…

Prof. LOURY: But you know, in a way, it's the same issue. They're the same issue because they involve effective international cooperation. The United States has to learn how to cooperate with other nations, notwithstanding the fact that we are the sole superpower. Our pre-emptive, unilateral, high-handed way of acting - like turning our back on Kyoto. We can't do that. We obviously have to sit at the table and discuss this problem…

Mr. MYERS: I'm - I'm…

Prof. LOURY: So too at international affairs do we have to inform, you know, bond with other countries to pursue our common…

Mr. MYERS: I'm assuming that global warming is part of the science that is being taught in the colleges, at least at the rigorous and…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yeah, right.

Mr. MYERS: …and competitive colleges so, you know…

Ms. WASHINGTON: It's not - that's not happening Michael.

Mr. MYERS: …the next generation will be a little more educated about the these issues than the last generation.

COX: Well, our time is running out. I know they do teach you how to tell time in these colleges. Mike Myers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and professor of economics at Brown University. Thanks, everybody. We'll talk to you later.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Thank you, Tony.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: Just ahead, gay couples open their homes and hearts to black orphans. And they're creepy, gory and flat out scary, but fans love them. A look at black horror films.

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