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Julianne Malveaux

Countering Voter Suppression Moves

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(NNPA) The Supreme Court recently blocked an appeals court ruling that would have restored seven days of voting in Ohio.  In just three sentences, the court reduced voting access for tens of thousands of Ohioans, in yet another effort to suppress the vote.  In North Carolina, the appeals court granted an injunction to restore same day registration and out of precinct voting. It didn’t strike down early voting restrictions because of time constraints, but did acknowledge that reducing early voting is a way to suppress the vote.  If the North Carolina case goes before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is likely to lift the injunction against North Carolina, again making voting more difficult.

When the Voting Rights Act was attacked, too many tuned out and turned off from the details, though leaders such as Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law warned that we would begin to feel the effects of this legal setback with various forms of voter suppression. The Lawyers’ Committee developed a “map of shame” to show the many states that had curtailed ballot access.  Either more ID has been required, the days and times of voting have been changed, the number of polling places has been reduced, or other barriers have been introduced to curtail voter access. Those who would suppress the vote in 2014 have put those who advocate ballot fairness on notice.  This year marks the first step toward a suppressed or stolen 2016 presidential election.

The stakes are high, both now and in 2016.  Presently, Democrats hold the Senate, and provide at least some help to President Obama on issues of political and economic fairness. It is very possible that Republicans will take the Senate; it is a foregone conclusion if people don’t vote this year. Republicans now hold the House of Representatives; their presence is the House is likely to increase without a strong vote on November 4 (and in the weeks before, with early voting).

President Obama’s effectiveness has been weakened by the John Boehner Congress that has thwarted the him at every turn. Although these last two years of the Obama presidency are lame duck years where little is likely to get done, the duck will be not lame, but paralyzed, if the Republicans hold both the House and the Senate. President Obama’s only powers, then, will be the executive order and the veto.  It is unlikely that the minimum wage will be adjusted upward, or that other economic fairness matters will be addressed if Congress is a Republican stronghold.

Lots of pro-democracy organizations are working to get out the vote for the 2014 elections, with local and state office as important as federal office.  Secretaries of state, for example, are the chief elections officers for their state.  As such, they have significant power around the mechanics of voting.  They can decide to open more polling places, to have more (or fewer) voting machines available, and to manage the details of voter registration.  In Ohio, where a week of early voting has now been eliminated, Nina Turner, a charismatic African American state legislator with her efforts clearly focused on justice, is a candidate for Secretary of State.  Her election would be an antidote to voter suppression efforts in Ohio, and an inspiration for those who cherish election fairness.  Imagine how different voting conditions would be if in states like North Carolina, Florida, and other “stars” on the Map of Shame had progressive Secretaries of State.

Voter suppression is not new.  We’ve seen grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests as historical barriers to the vote.  Now, we see a reduction in voter flexibility, with more ID requirements, fewer early voting days, and stricter rules about voter registration.  Still, those who would suppress the vote can do so only if we allow it by failing to vote.  There are too many important elections to be decided, like Nina Turner’s in Ohio, for voters to stay home.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C..

The Boomerang Generation

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(NNPA) One of the most interesting findings of the data recently released by the Census Bureau is that so many recent college graduates live with their parents. Described as “boomerang” graduates, a third of them occupy a basement, a spare room, their old room, a floor or couch. Blessedly, they have parents with whom to live. And if they are 26 or younger, they have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

On the other hand, these boomerang graduates will postpone many adult decisions that affect economic markets. They won’t rent apartments or buy furniture or homes. If they don’t have credit cards from college (and they shouldn’t), they are unlikely to get them as residents of their parents’ homes. They will delay marriage and other decisions that also have an impact on consumer spending.  They are missing out on the low interest that would make the purchase of a car or a home much cheaper. Their inability to fully participate in the economy hurts them, and it hurts the economy, too.

African American graduates experience less of a boom because they have much less to boom back to. Their parents and grandparents will make room for them, but instead of staying in a basement room, they are staying on the same floor.  Not only is there pressure to find a job, but their failure to do so affects younger siblings and neighbors who think: Why should I go to college?  Big brother went and can’t find a job.  Or, big brother is working at a fast food restaurant. I could do that without a degree.

The Census data showed  the first decrease in poverty since 2007, from 12.7 percent to 12.4 percent. Black poverty went up slightly, from 25.6 to 25.7. Hispanic poverty dropped from 24.6 percent to 22.3 percent, the largest decrease for any group

Given the high Black unemployment rate and the weaker networks that African Americans have, few relatives can’t refer them to jobs – many are still looking for jobs for themselves. Boomeranging  hits African American young people harder, and the consequences are greater.  Already the recipients of lower wages, they so find that it takes longer to locate employment than their White counterparts.

When young people are out of work, economists refer to the impact as “scarring.”  This means that boomerangers will have lower wages for the rest of their lives, unless they go to graduate or professional school, a costly proposition.  And those who stay out of the labor market for a year or two are less preferred than graduates who find jobs right after college.  The Great Recession had a permanent impact on the graduating classes from 2007 through 2012.

The inability of recent college graduates to find jobs are structural, and they are also racial.  Efforts to close the unemployment  gap could generate post-graduation outcomes that are similar for young African Americans as they are for Whites. But Black unemployment has been twice that of Whites as long as these data has been collected. The unemployment rate gap is seen as so normal that nothing has been done to reduce it.

President Obama has, by executive order, indicated that veterans should have hiring priority for federal jobs. Such ruling has caused resentment among federal workers, with the allegation that some veterans are not qualified for the jobs they hold. Qualifications notwithstanding, human resource specialists at federal departments are required to offer veterans a hiring privilege. Doesn’t this sound like affirmative action to you?  Yet affirmative action has been all but forgotten. Veteran preferences are the “new” hiring preference.

The rationale for these preferences is that those who served our country should not be homeless. Yet, the overwhelming majority of veterans have homes and, indeed, lower unemployment rates than the general population.  While no one begrudges veterans special opportunities, there are other groups that deserve preferences, too.

When a college graduate is flipping burgers or assembling sandwiches, we are squandering knowledge and ensuring that graduates without jobs have a permanent disadvantage in the labor market.  When African American graduates are sidelined, their very absence from the labor market sends a disturbing signal to others who would apply to college but for their perception that college completion offers them no advantages over the friend or colleague who did not go.

Why not invest in our nation’s future by giving something extra recent graduates?  And why not pay special attention to those groups that much higher unemployment rates than others?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Policing the Police

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(NNPA) Except for the Good Lord, everybody has someone or something to “check” him or her. Unfortunately, President Obama has an unresponsive Congress to check him, and Supreme Court to do the same. Elected officials are checked by voters (when they vote), and the Securities and Exchange Commission usually checks corporate crooks. Reputable media sources correct their errors and plagiarists lose their jobs. Everybody has to answer to somebody. There are consequences for everyone – except the police.

At least that’s part of the story Sunil Dutta tells in an article he wrote for the Washington Post:

“If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig. Don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of walking aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it cooperate for that long?”’

This is the police mentality — I have the power and you don’t so just shut the hell up and submit to any outrage. I have a badge and you don’t, so I have the right stop you while driving because you are too black and too young to have this new car. I have a right to stop you while you are running for the bus because you might, just might, have been running from a robbery. I have the right to harass you while you are standing still, just because. I have a right to talk to you rudely and belligerently. My badge gives me the ability to violate your rights.

Dutta, who served on the LAPD for 17 years and is now a professor of homeland security, acknowledges that cops can be wrong, and suggests that those who have “a beef” – “ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint, or contact civil rights organizations. Feel free to sue the police!” he writes.

Did he spend his LAPD years assigned to the Disneyland precinct? Given his demand that people should just shut up and put up, Bugs Bunny would be sitting in the back of a blue and white.

People of color have been gagged by the put up or shut up form of police brutality for far too long, being forced by fear to close eyes and ears to the beatings and killings of our people for any reason. Law enforcement officers moonlighted as Klan members (or is it the other way around) from the post-Reconstruction era until the end of the civil rights era. People, don’t forget that.

When African American southerners came west during World War II because work was plentiful, Oakland was among the cities that looked south for their new White police officers, people so adept at harassing Black people without reason that they didn’t need to be trained.

One of the reasons the Black Panther Party was started was in resistance to police brutality. At one point, Panthers and others legally armed citizens with books of law, chose to help them evaluate police officers by following them as they so-called patrolled the streets.

This did not stop police harassment, but it put a spotlight on it. It didn’t put enough of a spotlight for a group of rogue officers to beat and frame more than 100 people, and to cost the city millions to settle lawsuits that resulted from their actions. In 2003, the Oakland Police Department agreed to reforms, but they have come so slowly that a federal judge is now supervising them. Ten years after a reform agreement, a judge has to step in? Oakland is not the only police department that is deficient, but what ties Oakland, Calif. to Ferguson, Mo. is police mentality, not just brutality.

How to stop the mentality that leads to brutality?

Require every police officer to have a body camera, and invalidate the arrests of those who do not wear one. Require every police vehicle to have a video camera. I can already hear people objecting to regulations and requirements. I can hear others saying we need to talk. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the law will not make you love me but it will keep you from lynching me.” Talk later. Stop this madness by requiring electronic police supervision now. The police should be policed, they should have a system that checks them and protects us.

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.- based economist and author.

Taxpayers Fund Corporate Tax Avoiders

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(NNPA) Last quarter’s rate of economic growth is good news, especially after the economy stalled, losing momentum in the first quarter of 2014. Many said it was an aberration, caused by bad weather, especially since economic growth in the last half of 2013 was more than 3 percent.  On the surface, the economy is, indeed, recovering, not only because of growth rates, but because other indicators (excepting unemployment) are positive signs.

Of course, consumer spending explains two-thirds of economic growth. If people don’t put their money into the economy, buying durable goods such as cars and refrigerators and non-durable goods, including, clothing and food, the economy stalls. Yet, while the economy is growing overall, the 99 percent have captured most of the growth. U.S. grew by 209,000 jobs in July, according to a report Friday from the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday. Unemployment rate, inched up by a tenth of a point to 6.2 percent.

The official unemployment rate in 2009 dropped by a third, indicating that those at the top have gained more in recovery than those at the bottom.  How can the stock market expand so rapidly while the bottom 99 percent are stuck?  Low wages mean high profits. Some of the stock market gains that have been realized are a function of wages that have not increased.  Indeed, some corporations have chosen to move their headquarters away from the United States.

Fortune magazine’s Alan Sloan reports that Ireland, Bermuda and Switzerland are the tax havens for the top ten corporate tax- tax avoiders.  While these companies hit the road to avoid taxes, they have no hesitation in enjoying the benefits that come from tax protection, and regulation.

When these corporations underpay their workers, we supplement their inadequate wages with government-funded income subsidies (food, housing assistance, etc.).  When these companies need securities protection, they don’t hesitate to use the Securities and Exchange Commission), also paid for with our taxes. While these corporations operate like foreign corporations for tax purposes, they expect the services of the United States government for their protection.

Meanwhile, the leaders of these companies are some of those who argue for lower estate taxes, and lower taxes for the wealthy.  Give me a break!  These corporations are ripping off United States taxpayers in two ways.  First, they don’t pay taxes on the benefits they receive. Secondly, their advocacy to cut personal taxes is yet another attack on the tax base.

Those in the bottom 80 percent gain little from the Securities Exchange Commission and other financial regulatory agencies. They gain little from the regulatory agencies that force corporations to play nice.  They’ll pay for these regulatory agencies because they are part of the budget, part of the tax bill.

Can we do something about this?  Either those corporate deserters should be heavily taxed before they go (or their products should be taxed), giving their competitors an advantage because of lower prices. Similarly, the companies who choose to stay in the United States ought to gain a tax benefit for their loyalty. The tax system can be used to level the playing field.  Some legislators get it, but too many use the free market excuse to say their hands are tied.

Legislation that prevents corporate rip-offs makes sense, but it is likely to be swallowed by the legislative gridlock that is a permanent feature of this Congress.  As long as runaway corporations push their tax burden on the rest of us, economic recovery is rushing up instead of trickling down.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, DC.- based economist and author.

The High Cost of Injustice

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(NNPA) What if we didn’t incarcerate people who commit non-violent crimes?  Or, if we sentenced them, what if their sentences were reasonable, instead of intolerable?  What if a man who steals a $159 jacket while high gets drug treatment and a sentence of, say, two years, instead of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole?  How much would we save if legally mandated minimum sentences were modified and nonviolent drug offenses were more reasonably imposed?

Marc Mauer of he Sentencing Project says that eliminating more than 79,000 bed years, or the amount of time a prisoner uses a bed in prison, could save at least $2.4 billion.  That’s enough to send nearly a million students to college if the $25,000 covers the cost of attendance (which it does for most state schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities). It could put nearly half a million teachers in underserved K-12 schools. It could restore availability to libraries and parks.  Instead, we spend it incarcerating people, particularly those who are locked up for relatively minor crimes.

The $2.4 billion that the Sentencing Project has calculated may be a low estimate.  According to the Justice Department more than $80 billion is spent on incarceration annually. How much of this spending is unnecessary and could be easily converted to drug treatment and recovery?  Why do we find it so easy to incarcerate people but so difficult to rehabilitate them, knowing that the recidivism rates are high?

Within five years of incarceration, more than three-quarters are rearrested. Most were arrested for property crimes, not for drug offenses, or violent offenses.  Much of the property crime could be alleviated if it was easier for ex-offenders to find employment, but after incarceration, many find the doors of employment slammed in their faces.  Incarceration combined with education and societal embrace might reduce recidivism and the level of property crime.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are moving in the right direction.  First, the president moved to reform drug sentencing laws, reducing the discrepancy between crack and powdered cocaine.  This resulted in the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has yet to be scheduled for a vote in Congress and the Senate, despite bipartisan support for this legislation.  Advocates of the bill, including the ACLU, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP and many others support the legislation and have encouraged people to reach out to their Congressional representatives to push for a vote on this legislation.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, when approved, will make modifications in sentencing requirements.  Now, the US Sentencing Commission has ruled that those with drug sentences and be applied retroactively.  This will affect as many as 46,000 prisoners.  It’s not enough, but it’s a reasonable first step.  If release were combined with education and access to employment, recidivism rates would certainly decrease.

The United States represents just 5 percent of the world population, but incarcerates more than a quarter of the world’s incarcerated. Nearly half of those incarcerated in federal prisons are African American. Is there a bias here?  African Americans are as likely as Whites to commit nonviolent drug related crimes, but African Americans are far more likely to be incarcerated. The difference – the money that provides access to great legal services; maybe the attraction of a plea bargain, guilty or not, because of the prospect of an unfair sentence; maybe bias on the part of arresting officers. Whatever the cause, it seems unfathomable that African Americans and Whites commit the same crimes, but African Americans are arrested six times as frequently as Whites.

If you read a November 2013 A Living Death:  Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses from the ACLU, you won’t know whether to scream or cry.

More than 3,200 people have life sentences without parole for such minor offences such as shoplifting, trying to cash a stolen check, and threatening a police officer while handcuffed.  Some are sentenced because of sentencing guidelines, which mean judges have no choice in their sentencing.  What makes sense about giving a shoplifter more time than a murderer?

As many as 65 percent of those who have been sentenced to life without parole are African American.  According to the ACLU, “many were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency, or financial desperation.”  Only in an injustice system can this be considered “just.”

There has been some progress in making sentencing fairer. Yet much more must be done until we can claim the “justice” that our Constitution promises.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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