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Julianne Malveaux

U.S. Doesn’t Care about Poor People

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(NNPA) When the poverty data was released on September 17, comparing the poverty situation in 2011 to that in 2012, many hoped that poverty levels would drop as an indication of economic good news. But while the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has risen, and the wealthy are gaining income, those stuck at the bottom are still simply stuck.

Poverty rates in 2013, at more than 15 percent, are almost the same as they were last year. Poverty in the African American community, at more than 27 percent has not improved. Similarly, Latinos experience an unemployment rate more than 26 percent. Again, no improvement.

In the face of this data, Congress decided to cut food programs by $40 billion, which kicks between 2 and 4 million people out of the program. Additionally, there are work requirements now imposed on those who receive food stamps. With official unemployment rates exceeding 7 percent, where are the poor supposed to find employment? It appears that this is a war, or at least a series of aggressive actions. Congressional stereotypes about the poor has driven their policy decisions to cut back programs such as food stamps and to require work as a condition of receiving nutritional assistance.

The vote to eliminate nutritional assistance was achingly close, with a margin of about 10 votes separating those who decided to maintain food assistance and those who wanted to cut it. Every Democrat voted not to cut food assistance; some Republicans joined them. I guess those who voted to reduce these benefits have no hungry people in their districts.

The message of the poverty data is that our nation really does not care about poor people. We have seen that “trickle down” and other theories fail, and we have yet to implement a model that requires those who have gained economic expansion to share their gains with an economy that is faltering.

The poverty data, absent of action, suggests that some people think it will “work itself out” the way it has before. Those with that opinion are ignoring the fact that our economy is restructuring. It is easier to get a service job than a professional job and manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Cities have failed to provide economic development dollars to those who would bring jobs to their cities.

I’m not talking about any kinds jobs though. I’m talking about jobs that generate a living wage. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed legislation that would raise the wage for those who work in “big box” stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy. He was stuck between the choice to create more jobs or to impose fair wages. He chose the former.

Mayors across the country are faced with these kinds of choices, so this can’t be local policy. It has to be national policy to raise the wages of those at the bottom. Sure, the business community will fight this, asserting that they won’t hire if wages rise. That’s not necessarily true. Higher wages may cut their profits just a bit, but shouldn’t employers be willing to see slightly lower profits in exchange for the economic survival of their workers?

Those who aren’t on the bottom now exhale and say this issue doesn’t matter to them. But the way we are going, the person who is living high on the hog today might be making low wages (or no wages) tomorrow. The low wage issue is important to all of us.

This poverty issue affects all of us, and we need to respond to the fact that too many of our brothers and sisters (of all races) are poor and unemployed or under employed. Our indifference is a profound concurrence in the oppression of 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.

Congress is Eating Away at Food Stamps

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(NNPA) Steven and Laurie, a White married couple that lives near Richmond, Va., work at a big box store. She is a cashier; he works in the storeroom. Each earns about $9 an hour but neither works 40 hours a week. Indeed, they are lucky to pull 40 hours a week combined. Sometimes weeks they are fortunate enough to pull 45 hours a week between them. Some weeks their combined hours are just 30.

I met Steven and Laurie (not their real names) on a telephone press conference in April. They said they had three children and also mentioned that they were White because “everybody thinks only Black people get these benefits.”

Seven and Laurie were troopers. They talked about buying clothes at thrift shops, searching for food bargains and planning menus around coupons, and managing to occasionally eke out a few pennies to buy occasional new things for their children. They didn’t complain, but spoke matter-of-factly about their financial situation. They also spoke of looking for new jobs, but fining little available in their community.

Because they don’t work enough hours, neither Steven nor Laurie qualified for health insurance. Their combined incomes are so low – between about $16,000 and $21,000 – that they are officially poor (the poverty line for a family of five is $27,540). They qualify for food stamps, (called SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and they consider them the blessing that helps them make ends meet.

Sometime this month, though, Congress will come up from the Syria conversation to, perhaps, cut allocations for SNAP. The cut of $40 billion would deny between 4 and 6 million people food stamps. The new legislation would also allow states to require SNAP recipients to work. Some of the 12 million unemployed may not qualify for SNAP assistance, nor will childless adults who do not have work. Some restrictions may also limit SNAP assistance to three months every three years. While some states have waived SNAP requirements because of their high unemployment rates, federal legislation may prevent such waivers.

The proposed cuts in SNAP is twice those proposed in May. These cuts are being driven by Republicans who, in their budget cutting frenzy, have been indifference to poverty. After all, the “p” word is used to infrequently in political debate, that one might think that poverty has magically gone away. Or, perhaps our legislators just don’t care.

The people who receive SNAP assistance don’t conform to any stereotypes. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, about 20 percent of those receiving SNAP have college degrees. Half of the recipients are White. A third of the women who get help from SNAP are older than 40. Fifty thousand of those who receive SNAP assistance are veterans.

So many families are food insecure because of the employment situation. The unemployment rate dropped just a tick in August, slipping from 7.4 to 7.3 percent. Still, there are 11.3 million unemployed people. More than 4.3 million people have been unemployed for more than half a year. These folks, still looking for work after more than 27 weeks, would be no longer eligible for SNAP assistance.

The unemployment rates, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clearly understate unemployment. When we count people who work part-time but want full time work, those who are marginally attached to the labor force, the overall unemployment rate rises from 7.3 percent to 14.6 percent.

The Black unemployment, reported at 13 percent, soars to 26 percent, a depression level of unemployment. It is undeniable that the unemployment rate is improving, with overall unemployment dropping from 8.1 percent a year ago to 7.3 percent today. But the downward pace has been glacial, with the level of job creation (169,000) too slow to keep up with job loss. Millions will remain unemployed for the next six months or so.

Against this backdrop Congress has the temerity to propose legislation that will deny millions of families SNAP benefits. Their indifference to joblessness and poverty is amazing. They’ve not exhibited similar indifference for those at the top, maintaining tax breaks for them.

Steve and Laurie struggle to make ends meet. They are good, hardworking, and people just like millions of others. They work part time for economic reasons, preferring full time work. They need food stamps, and it is not clear, under proposed legislation, whether they will qualify for them. I worry about Steve and Laurie, and I also worry about the 11.3 million unemployed people, the 4.3 million who have not worked in half a year, and the 2 to 4 million families who will not qualify for SNAP. Worry is not enough, though. This is yet another reason why a people’s uprising is necessary. The uprising must transcend race lines – it ought to reflect Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Congress won’t change its indifference to the poor unless somebody makes them.

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

Obama Selling 'Wolf Tickets' on Syria

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(NNPA) President Barack Obama stepped on a big limb when he threatened “limited action” against Syria because the country’s leaders allegedly used chemical weapons against their own people. There are international bans against the use of chemical weapons, with Syria one of few countries not supporting the ban. Chemical weapons allegedly killed more than 1,400 Syrians, and the ongoing civil war may have killed as many as 100,000.

President Obama announced his willingness to act on Syria’s domestic chemical intrusion before Labor Day, but he has backpedaled and asked for Congressional approval. What will he do if Congress says no? Will he face the international community conceding that he has less power than he thought, or will he go ahead and take military action without congressional approval?

Reportedly, U.S. troops in the Middle East were ready to follow the orders of the Commander-in-Chief before they got orders to slow down any action. Perhaps President Obama is finally listening to the sentiment of the American people, who, according to several polls, do not support action against Syria. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and dozens of other members of Congress sent the president a letter urging debate on any military action against Syria. Does the urgency of a strike against Syria recede over time?

Have we learned from the lessons of Iran, Afghanistan, and, yes, Vietnam? In the last case, “simple” military action led us into a war that lasted for nearly a decade, and the loss of tens of thousands of lives. The “end” of that war was hardly decisive, with a withdrawal that didn’t so much save the day as salvage the our nation’s bruised ego. If allegations against Syria are true, they have clearly crossed a line. Still, it is not clear that unilateral action from the United States is the solution. While the United Nations is not always as effective as it might be, I’d prefer United Nations concurrence to United States go-it-along position in this matter.

From Iraq, we must remember that verification of the use of chemical weapons is key to any action. I’ll never forget Secretary of State Colin Powell holding up a small container and saying, “This could be anthrax.” Turns out, it wasn’t. Based on that vivid display, we stepped up our action against Iraq, and a decade later we are still there. General Powell said that if we broke it, we have to fix it. We’ve not fixed it – we are withdrawing, and billions of dollars and thousands of lives later, the situation is almost as murky as it was when we entered that country.

What will we do if Syria chooses to respond to our “limited” military action? Action and counteraction are the first steps to war. We aren’t ready for that. We’ve got existing military commitments, and an already-challenged budget, something not often mentioned in the face of this impending crisis. Military experts say Syrian action could cost about $100 million. Depending on escalation, we could easily end up in billion-dollar territory.

Meanwhile Congress and the president are on a budget brink. Government could actually shut down at the end of the fiscal year unless unlikely compromises are made. Will President Obama be forced to offer budget concessions in order to get Republican votes to support limited action against Syria? If he does, what implications will that have on the domestic budget, especially in the face of budget austerity? Will the money to cover a Syria strike come from the already-cut food stamps program, from sparsely funded education programs, from already-embattled health care?

Former President Bill Clinton reportedly supports military action against Syria, and regrets that the United States did not get involved in the massacre in Rwanda that claimed nearly 1 million lives. With Rwanda, though, a bipartisan group of legislators pushed Clinton to take the case against Rwanda to the United Nations and he did not. President Obama has not suggested United Nations cooperation but instead insisted that it is time to take action.

Where is the peace movement? Are they shying away from their traditional anti-war stance because President Obama, not President Bush, is in the White House? Once, you could count on groups like Code Pink to lift their voices against military action. Now their silence speaks volumes.

There are alternatives to “limited military action” in Syria. Yet, those alternatives have yet to be explored. We shouldn’t involve ourselves in what might be a multi-billion dollar action just so President Obama can sell wolf tickets (or bragging rights) and count on Congress to cash them.

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

After the March on Washington

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(NNPA) The 1963 March on Washington was a pivotal moment for African Americans, a day when people joined to fight for jobs, peace and justice. More than 250,000 people traveled to Washington, coming by busses, trains, and occasionally planes. They came despite the scourge of segregation, which meant that many who were driving had to carefully select the places they could stop and eat (actually most brought goodies from home) or relieve themselves. Despite obstacles, a quarter of a million people showed up in Washington, gathering peacefully and with dignity. As a result of the March, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was passed with more than three-quarters of the House and Senate supporting both Acts.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued his activity for jobs, peace and justice helping to organize the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which was interrupted by Bloody Sunday. He spoke, in 1965, to Playboy magazine, suggesting that “compensation” (he didn’t use the word reparations) would be the only way to close the economic gap between African Americans and Whites. He began connecting poverty with war in his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam.” When he died, he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned as a way to bring tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. to demand that each department of the federal government recognize and ameliorate poverty issues in housing, education, health, and other areas. The Poor People’s campaign was more muted than expected in the wake of Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, but some of the people came anyway.

Even before the 2013 commemorative march was organized, estimates were that 100,000 would join that March. In 1963, about 1.3 percent of our nation’s 18.9 million African Americans marched. Before the 2013 march (numbers may change as t) the 100,000 estimate represents just .2 oof one percent of our nation’s 44 million African Americans. Proportionately, the 1963 march drew 5 times as many African Americans as the 2013 March.

What does this mean when we look at the status of African Americans then and now?

In 1963, the movement had clear goals. African Americans had been denied employment rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and voting rights. The hundreds of thousands of African Americans who came to Washington were protesting, not only the restoration of these rights, but also a stop to the police brutality that had killed or crippled supporters. People were so focused that change was made, and when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he articulated his vision for our nation. He said:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” He set out an agenda that was economic, social and political. Fifty years after the March on Washington, we have yet to achieve the metrics that Dr. King offered. Millions experience “food insecurity”, or have nothing to eat several times a month. The education gap has not been closed, and African American students are differently treated than others in the K-12 education system. Where is the equality? Paraphrasing Dr. King, African Americans have twice the negatives and half to positives in terms of equity. Little freedom has been achieved, especially when trillions are spent on senseless wars, while our national unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent and the unofficial black unemployment rate is 25 percent.

In the five years after the 1963 March on Washington, there were setbacks, but also the achievement of far-reaching goals. After the commemoration, the several events in Washington, DC, parallel events in other cities, and the NAACP’s online march, what will be the results? Will this generation be as effective as Dr. King and his generation was? Will we mobilize around Voting Rights after the setback of a Supreme Court decision? Will we push to close the employment gap between African Americans and others?

In 1963, African Americans were desperate to effect change. In 2013, there is neither desperation nor a passionate push for implementation. In five or 10 years, when there is another commemorative gathering, how will history judge us?

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

Russell Simmons Violates Harriet Tubman

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(NNPA) Every time I hear the voice of Russell Simmons, I hear a cool, clean, clear meditative voice, especially on Twitter where he drops his yoga knowledge in a reflective way. I guess he wasn’t folding his legs and saying a centered “Om” when he decided to ridicule an African woman. How did his voice distort itself to decide that he would post a You-Tube video on a space where everybody could watch a so-called parody of “Harriet Tubman” having sex with her White slave master with the intent of filming it and blackmailing him? How could he, this forward-focused man, decide to demean an emancipation heroine? Choose to demean her by making her a sexual object? Even as he took the offensive tape off his website, please tell me, somebody, what Simmons was thinking? (In my first draft of this column, I called this man a “brother,” but really I mean the brother from another mindset.)

Harriet Tubman is credited for freeing more than 400 enslaved people. She is credited for pulling a gun on some who ambivantly embarked on the Under Ground Railroad, then wanted to turn back to massa. It’s complicated, but no matter how complicated it was, the depiction of Harriet Tubman a sex object is not only disparaging to a freedom fighter, but to every Black woman who stands on her shoulders.

Nearly 20 years ago, Professor Anita Hill stared down a Senate Committee and spoke of the sexual harassment she experienced from now Associate “Justice” Clarence Thomas. The judiciary committee dismissed her claims as “erotomania;” interestingly, others who had similar claims were not allowed to testify. Despite the best legal representation out there, Hill was excoriated in the media. From my perspective, her best statement was “they don’t know me” in response to those who used minutia to claim special knowledge of her life and daily living.

When you don’t know African American women it is easy and lazy to reduce us into stereotypes. Does Russell Simmons know Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Sadie TM Alexander, and Mary McLeod Bethune? Does he know Coretta Scott King, Myrlie Evers, Betty Shabazz, C. Delores Tucker. Does he know us, or does he simply see us as the fodder for parodies?

The Simmons drama is especially offensive because when we have African American people lifted up, the lifting is mostly about men. Still, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not have made it without the enthusiasm of Coretta Scott King.

Harriett Tubman saved hundreds of enslaved people, yet her name is rarely lifted when we speak of emancipation. African American women’s role in our history is neither admired nor appreciated. When our brothers call the roll, she is given no credence, unless it is an afterthought. Brother Simmons if you just picked up a history book, you’d find African American women who have made a major difference in our lives and in our movement.

Russell, do you know Ella Baker, the stalwart sister who stood beside and behind Dr. King and others to do organizing work? Do you know Professor Joyce Lander who before being an academic was a tireless civil rights worker? Do you know Alice Walker, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maxine Waters.? Or a bit younger, do you know Congresswomen Yvette Clark, or Donna Edwards? The work these women have done and continue to do is possible because they stand on the shoulders of Harriett Tubman and our other ancestors.

Your apology doesn’t address the mindset that allowed this parody in the first place, the dozens of editors, producers, and assistants who saw nothing wrong with this, and the many Simmons “fans” who laughed at the depiction of a historical figure such as Harriet Tubman as a sexual object who used her vagina for “freedom.” It is as if you are laughing at every Black woman who was enslaved and had no choice when “massa” decided to rape her repeatedly. It is as if you do not recognize the painful history of every Black woman who was raped, not only during slavery, but thereafter, when the goal was to keep Black men “in line” by violating Black women. It is as if you put myopic blinder around your eyes, and chose to ignore history and its resultant pain. Can you imagine (often happened) the violation of a child, a violation so intense that baby girls who dreamed of being mothers were told they could not have children?

Russell Simmons, once upon a time, you were the ambassador of a generation. Even now, people are mesmerized by your gentle manner, your quest for peace and spirituality and your practice of yoga and Pilates. Wrap your spirituality around your video and tell us where the two intersect. How could you? Why would you? How dare you?

When you diminish our legacy for entertainment purposes, “pulling” the video is not enough. You need to work at eliminating a mindset that makes you and others think that the denigration of African American women is okay.

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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