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Julianne Malveaux

The Real Barack Obama Re-Emerges

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama knocked it out of the park during the State of the Union address. He was strong, progressive, firm, and relaxed. He was almost cocky as he offered a few jokes, smugly announced that he would have no more elections, and just generally exuded confidence. Instead of the kumbaya thing, he laid out his priorities to a Republican Congress that will likely block much of what he proposed, especially when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy to support his free community college program.

President Obama “threw down” in the hour-long speech that was frequently punctuated by applause. Republicans frequently withheld applause, but his confidence suggested that whether they offered applause or withheld it was of no concern to him.

Michelle Obama wasn’t playing, either. While she has usually worn her trademark sleeveless dresses with pearls, once a puffy skirt, once with long sleeves. The shift look certainly flatters her figure and her toned arms tout her fitness. Her two-piece tweed suit, though, was a business suit. It reminded us that she is a lawyer (with a nod and a wink to CBS hit show “The Good Wife”) in addition to being a stylish first lady. Hopefully, the business attire signals that she will take care of business in the next two years. Her “Get Fit” initiative is much needed, and her partnership with Jill Biden to focus on military families is consistent with the president’s in providing jobs and other assistance for veterans.

In these last two years, perhaps the first lady can spread her wings and focus on the work and family issues she lived and that so many women juggle. I hope for too much, I think, when I suggest that she deal with the gender pay gap, but that is also an issue that would benefit from her attention.

While the president highlighted efforts to benefit the middle class, he mentioned poverty just once. There are 45.3 million people who lived in poverty in 2013, the last year for which data are available. The rates are 9.7 percent for Whites, 12.3 percent for Asian-Americans, 25.3 percent for Hispanics, and 27.2 percent for African-Americans. In mentioning poverty without mentioning that some experience poverty differently than others, the president failed to put a tiny pin in his own celebration. I wouldn’t expect him to mention race explicitly, but he could have said, “And while poverty rates are falling, one in four families in some communities still experience poverty.”

Similarly, President Obama justifiably touted falling unemployment, which dropped from 6.7 percent a year ago, to 5.6 percent in December. The decrease has been across the board and included African-Americans and Hispanic as well.

However, there are 700,000 fewer people in the labor market than a year ago, indicating that more people are entering the labor market in response to its perceived strength. Without indicating race, the president could have talked about the high unemployment rates among some groups.

Of course, presidents traditionally offer a laundry list of issues, with few getting more than a couple sentences worth of attention. Still, since the economic success story is one that President Obama correctly touted and it would have been appropriate for him to simply mention the unevenness of recovery.

And since the Affordable Care Act is a successful part of the Obama legacy, with nearly 7 million more people enrolling in the program, and some of the 2014 glitches eliminated, it would have been appropriate to mention it, specifically and in depth. Some might consider that waving a red flag in the faces of bullish Republicans, but in some ways the speech was a red flag, anyway.

When I listened to the State of the Union address, I thought “this is the Obama I voted for – twice, the Obama that was but a rising star in 2004, whose rousing speech at the Boston Democratic convention propelled him to national attention.” This Obama seemed presidential, not conciliatory. He stood by the executive orders he issued in 2014, and stated that he will his veto pen if Congress attempts to overturn his effort.

As he did in Boston, President Obama ended on a unifying note, a line that he has used often: “We are more than red states and blue states, we are the United States of America.” He was motivated when he said, “let’s start the work right now.” Bravo, Mr. President. Welcome back!

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington, D.C.

World is Indifferent to Missing Nigerian Girls

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(NNPA) One could not help but be impressed by the millions that turned out in Paris to stand against the Islamist terrorists who killed workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and four others at a kosher grocery store. Two law enforcement officers were also killed, bringing the total to 17.

About 40 heads of state and more than a million others crowded into Republique Square; even more rallied around France. In total, it is estimated that 3.7 rallied for freedom. They wore shirts and carried signs that said, “I am Charlie.” Some said, “I am Muslim and Charlie” or “I am Jewish and Charlie.” Those crowds transcended race, religious and political lines.

President Obama got mixed reaction to his not attending the solidarity rally. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley, someone with much less status, represented the United States. Critics said the president could at least have sent Vice President Joe Biden; Attorney General Eric H. Holder was in Paris and could have attended. The president may be doing something much more substantive by convening a summit on world terrorism at the White House in February.

I wonder if these gatherings will address terror in Nigeria, where the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram abducted 276 girls, and still holds 219. A hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others. Few of the 40 who rallied in Paris have ever mentioned the abducted girls and those terrorists who took them. Indeed, the abducted girls have all but disappeared from the headlines and from the public consciousness.

The girls were abducted on April 14, 2014. Since then, our attention has been riveted by other news from the African continent, as the Ebola virus killed thousands (we in the U.S. were mostly focused on our handful of casualties), and as ISIS has escalated its activity around the globe. While some have forgotten about the Nigerian girls, many have not. Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian government official who is now vice president of the World Bank’s Africa Division, has been among those continuing to focus attention on the girls.

People fear that Boko Haram may have sold the schoolgirls into slavery, forced some into marriage, or killed others. Given the fact that Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN Security Council have decried the Islamist militant terrorist group, it is alarming that the world community has been so indifferent to the plight of the abducted young girls. Some of the indifference does not start with the world, but in Nigeria. Will Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president who is running for reelection, mention the girls at all before February, when voting takes place? Or, has the fate of 219 kidnapped girls been forgotten?

Demonstrations have taken place daily in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, despite the fact that the police have ordered these demonstrations to stop. Meanwhile, Boko Haram continues its terrorist plundering in Nigeria, destroying villages and towns in the northeast part of the country and killing thousands. It is estimated that they have destroyed more than 3,700 structures – homes, churches, and public spaces. Tens of thousands of Nigerians have fled to bordering Chad because they fear for their lives.

I don’t know if it would be effective for world leaders to rally in Abuja to pressure Boko Haram to return the girls. I don’t know if T-shirts or signs saying, “We Are the Nigerian Girls” would do much more than direct attention back to these young students whose hopes and dreams have been stomped on by irrational terrorists. I don’t know if it would make a difference if Nigerians all over the world came together to demand return of the girls. I don’t know the efforts of feminists around the world would make a difference.

I do know that about 219 Nigerian girls are gone, and a terrorist group is responsible for taking them. I know that they are reputed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda and with ISIS. I know that while the world has rallied to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism in France, there has been no such gathering to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. I don’t know (and I might be misinformed) if offers to help contain or eliminate Boko Haram have been made by the world community.

The war against terrorism has been embraced in Paris, with millions there, and thousands in the rest of the world, taking it to the streets to express their outrage. Where is the outrage for the more than 200 Nigerian girls? Nine months after they have been snatched from their school, who remembers? Who cares?

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist in Washington, D.C.

The Education of Dr. King

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(NNPA) As he labored for social, civil and economic justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was extremely concerned both about the educational inequities that were a function of segregation, and about the purpose and quality of education. As early as 1947, as a Morehouse College student, he wrote an article, The Purpose of Education, for the Maroon Tiger, the college newspaper. His article is as relevant today as it was then.

Today, much of the focus of education is on passing standardized tests; and while educational measurement is important, Dr. King suggests that these measures are insufficient. In his article, he pondered the meaning and purpose of education. He wrote that “Education must enable a (person) to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”

King was critical of the results of specific aspects of education when he wrote, “education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think, incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. A great majority of the so-called educated people does not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths.”

True in 1947, but even more so today with 3-minute commentary passing for news, and some classrooms the site of propaganda delivery. Some Southerners still believe that the South won the Civil War, and they fly the confederate flags to honor it, and teach this falsity in their classrooms. A friend who lives in Georgia said nearly half of her junior high school-age daughter’s U.S. history curriculum covered aspects of the Civil War.

From that perspective, young King was quite critical of segregationist, their intelligence, ad their prejudice. “The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds in Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are these the types of men we call educated?”

King said that intelligence is not enough. He said, “Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education.”

We must develop and support young people who are educated in the King tradition – young people with character and discernment. We cannot do this work without a consciousness of people who are committed to breaking down educational barriers, closing the achievement gap, improving the quality of schools and access to education. But while other countries are increasing their commitment to education, the United States is cutting back.

Said King, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man (person) gifted with reason, but no morals.” How moral is it to consign millions to low wages, refusing, even, to increase the minimum wage. How moral is it to cut food stamps and jobs programs in the name of economic growth, although many are still suffering? The art and science of politics is about compromise, but how do we compromise with people’s lives and well-being?

There ought to be a floor under which no citizen is allowed to fall. Wages, health career, education, and access to housing should not be bargained over, but automatically given. Too many of our legislators are educated, but lack morals. It is shameful to watch them celebrate the shredding of the safety net.

Budget cuts have made education less obtainable than ever. While many parents hire coaches to help their children write essays and complete their college applications, working class parents don’t have the money to do this kind of hiring.

The American School Counselors says that many states mandate a ratio of between 500 and 750 students per counselor. Even at the lower number, a counselor can spend just an hour per student per semester, hardly enough to get advice about college attendance, the filling out of applications, and other matters. Some states have no mandate at all. They include (but are not limited to) Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky. Unless parents or civic organizations are willing to step up, some students face major barriers to college attendance and career preparation.

President Obama says he wants the US to be a leader in world education. Others could care less about the education of too many students. Those who fail to care about the next generation are, in Dr. King’s words, “dangerous criminals.”

Let’s celebrate the King holiday with a commitment to close the achievement gap and to improve the quality of education in our nation.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Disregarding Black Life

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(NNPA) Patrick Lynch, do you remember Oscar Grant? And if you do, Mr. “leader” of the New York Police Department Union, why do you pretend not to understand the reaction that many African American people have to the police killing of Black men? The official reaction to those killings and the arrogance with which many police officers (read Darren Wilson in Ferguson) respond to the fact that they have snuffed out a life.

If you don’t remember Oscar Grant, Mr. Lynch, I do. He was executed on the first day of the same month that President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, ordered from a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train in Oakland, Calif., and compliantly sitting on the platform when he and a group of friends were roughed up, and he was shot. Why? Because his murderer, Johannes Mehserle, said he mistook his Glock gun (with a weight of at least 28 ounces and perhaps as many as 38) for a Taser (which weighs seven ounces).

Just days after the killing, on Jan. 6, 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle described this fiction as “nonsense,” not only because firing a Taser has an entirely different protocol than firing a Glock, but also as noted by The Chronicle a Taser has to be turned on and off, and a Glock does not. Furthermore, Mesherle had used his Taser earlier in the same evening he killed Oscar Grant. He should have known the difference.

I think of Oscar Grant because I spent part of my end-year holiday in San Francisco and Oakland visiting my mom and family. I think of him because I have two nephews, 31 and 28, who regularly rode BART and had life threatening encounters with the BART police. I don’t think of Oscar Grant because of Michael Brown or Eric Garner, because I think of him every January 1. When we wish each other “Happy New Year,” I am bitterly reminded that he won’t have one. Oscar Grant was executed six years ago, and not much has changed in six years, 60 years or two centuries.

Where did the murderer Johannes Mehserle get his police training? In a crackerjack box or an amusement park? Oscar Grant paid the ultimate price, and his family, his baby daughter, paid the price for Johannes Mehserle’s ignorance and murderous actions. Meanwhile, Johannes Mehserle has been able to move through his life, often with the help and support of “law enforcement” agencies.

Johannes Mehserle was so arrogant that he refused to appear at an investigative meeting ordered by his superiors in early January 2009. He sent his lawyer instead and then immediately resigned from BART. It took nearly a month for the Oakland Police Department to arrest Mehserle. His crime was so egregious, his conflicting descriptions of it so glaring, that a judge set his bail at $3 million. He spent 11 months in jail before he was tried in Los Angeles, and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not murder. He was sentenced to a scant two years and served a meager 11 months in jail before he was released.

Years later, Oscar Grant’s family and the several friends who were also brutally beaten received about $2.8 million in a settlement from a lawsuit. Then, Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, with his attorney’s arguing, “All he did was make a mistake.” Fortunately, the State Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

The Mehserle attorneys showed as much a disregard for Black life as the Mehserle execution did. Johannes Mehserle wanted to clear his record. What about Oscar Grant’s life? Patrick Lynch asked that New York protests stop to “respect” the lives of New York police officers so callously terminated. With all due respect and with sorrow and horror, one might ask who ever stopped, paused, considered the life of Oscar Grant.

Mehserle and his team would argue that he is “remorseful” for killing Oscar Grant. He sobbed his way through his testimony in the trial that resulted in his conviction, but one might wonder whether his tears were genuine or designed to lower his sentence. The fact that he appealed his conviction suggests that his remorse, if he had any, was limited.

Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, just as some in the New York Police Department had the temerity to turn their backs on their boss, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Temerity can be described as audacity, boldness, nerve, gall, and impudence. Or it can be described as a simple indifference to Black life. That’s why it must be asserted that #Blacklivesmatter.

The audacity of explanations, not the murders of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many others explains some of the tension between African Americans and “law enforcement.” You see, while many police perceive most African Americans as potential criminals, many African Americans recognize police officers as potential Johannes Mesherle or Darren Wilson. If Patrick Lynch and his ilk want to stop the tension, perhaps they ought to eliminate their audacious disregard for Black life.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Innocent Blacks and White Cops – All Lives are Valuable

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(NNPA) Rafael Ramos had been a school security guard before he joined the New York City Police Department two years ago. Ramos, 40, was married and had two children. The youngest child, Jaden, 13, fondly remembered his dad on Facebook and Twitter, describing his dad as “the best father I could ask for.”  Already, many in the Ramos family say they have forgiven the Ismaayl Brisley, the man who executed Rafael Ramos and his colleague, Wenjian Liu, on December 20.

Liu, 32, attended the College of Staten Island and Kingsborough Community College.  He was a dedicated police officer who, according to news reports, chose his career out of a sense of duty and obligation.  He had been married for just two months.

Eric Garner, 43, was also married and had six children; the youngest, Legacy, was born just three months before his father died. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, probably because he was placed in a chokehold, a forbidden police maneuver. At 400 pounds, he suffered from diabetes and asthma, but – despite sinister efforts to blame Garner’s health for his death – those diseases did not kill him. A cursory view of the last moments of his life show excessive police force and medical indifference to a man whose dying utterance, “I can’t breathe,” has become the mantra for a movement.

Tamir Rice never lived long enough to reach the legal age for marriage. He was just 12 years old when when Timothy Loeman shot him to death. Loeman was described as “unfit” for police duty in Independence, Ohio but he somehow made it onto the larger, Cleveland police force. It took him all of two seconds to decide the precious little boy had a dangerous weapon, although the 911 caller who alerted the police said the gun was probably not real.

Richael Brown, described as a “gentle giant” by his friends, also had his life cut short. He was killed by a remorseless Darren Wilson, who pumped 12 rounds into the young, Black man who was looking forward to attending community college. His words, “hands up, don’t shoot” have been printed on signs and T-shirts all over the world, as a symbol of police brutality and active resistance. A grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson, whose testimony seems to have been coached by Robert McCulloch, a prosecutor whose actions were, at best, questionable.  His killing, linked with those of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, has sparked an international movement against police brutality and excessive police force.

What links the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu?  Some would say that one set of deaths was revenge for the other. Actually, all of the deaths represent a tragic loss of life. They represent losses for families and friends, tragedies for communities. The connection between Brown, Rice, Garner, Ramos and Liu is that all of these lives should be mourned. .

Patrick Lynch, the president of the New York Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has used incendiary rhetoric to link the killings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu to the international protests against police brutality.  Lynch blames the killings of Ramos and Liu on New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose compassionate words after a grand jury failed to indict Eric Garner’s killer set just the right tone.

Instead of asking who is to blame for the tragic deaths, Lynch should  focus on the mental illness that clearly compelled Ismaaiyl Brinsley to kill two police officers. It is troubling that the media has focused on “revenge” shootings without fully exploring the possibility that Brinsley simply was “not all there.”  He shot his former girlfriend before heading to New York to kill police officers, and then he killed himself.  These are not the actions of a rational human being.

Acting in absolutely righteous rage, tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets, sometimes in actions that have been carefully orchestrated, and other times in spontaneous outrage. Al Sharpton gathered thousands to Washington, D.C., flanked by the mothers of the Black men who were slain. Refreshingly, the protesters were multi-racial and multi-generational.  “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe” were their watchwords. There is no thick line, and probably not even a dotted line between the police killings and killings of black men except for the fact that we live in a violent culture.

When Adam Lanza killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. in 2011, his deranged Internet postings were seen as part of his mental illness.  Too many are focusing on Ismaaiyl Brinkley’s supposed “revenge” and too few are focusing on his mental illness.  And, most importantly, too few are focusing on the equivalence of life, the fact that every death is a tragedy.

Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington D.C.

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