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Julianne Malveaux

Dishonoring Our Vets

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(NNPA) The last Monday in May, Memorial Day, was designed to honor those who died in service to our country. It is tragically ironic that around the same time we are honoring and remembering the dead, we are learning about deficiencies in the Department of Veteran’s Affairs that negatively affects the quality of life for those who were injured during their term of service.

Allegations that many veteran’s hospitals and medical centers do not assist those veterans needing medical care within the mandated 30 days are troubling. Some say that the lengthy waits may have been a factor in the deaths of as many as 40 veterans. The access problem is compounded by poor record-keeping at some veteran’s hospitals, making it impossible to verify how many veterans waited for medical attention and the length of their wait.

The controversy has led to calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to resign, but it is unclear whether his resignation will serve any but a symbolic purpose if the medical treatment of veterans does not change substantially. In this highly partisan environment, it makes no sense for the White House to offer Shinseki’s head on a platter to satisfy the hyper partisanship of growling Republicans. Veterans, and those who represent them in Congress, come from all parts of the political spectrum. It ought to be in everyone’s interest to improve access to health care for veterans.

There are other issues regarding fair and compassionate treatment for veterans that must be considered. The recent killings at Fort Hood, Texas suggest that there is insufficient focus on mental health issues for our military, with the rate of Army suicides doubling between 2004 and 2009. Many veterans say that one of their stressors is the inaccuracy involved in evaluating their disabilities that have come from their service. Missing limbs, impaired mobility, extreme stress and insomnia are all factors included when a monthly disability check is calculated. Many take issue with the evaluation, and challenge an evaluation may take several months (or years). Even inaccurate claims are difficult to obtain for some veterans. More than 611,000 claims were backlogged (which means veterans had waited for more than four months for their claims to be processed.) The number dropped this year to 344,000 claims, which is still too many veterans waiting too long for help.

The recent exposure of long waits for medical treatment just scratches the surface of the way that veterans are welcomed back into our society. Military skills are not easily converted to civilian labor force skills, unemployment rates for recent veterans (those serving since 2001) are often high – 9 percent for veterans, compared to 6.3 for the entire population. President Obama has urged private sector employers to give priority to hiring veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, but unemployment rates, though falling, remain high. Minority and women veterans had even higher unemployment rates, and often greater challenges.

More than 58,000 veterans are homeless, representing about 12 percent of the homeless population. More than half have disabilities or mental health problems. As many as 70 percent have substance abuse problems. There would be fewer homeless vets if the mental and physical health needs of veterans were addressed when these soldiers leave the military.

When our soldiers return from fighting for our country, they face a new fight – a fight to be treated fairly. That means shorter waits for medical attention, more focus on mental health issues, more assistance in reentering the job market, and more counseling to help families adjust to new household dynamics. Veterans should not have to fight for this kind of assistance. Haven’t they fought enough?

Regardless of whether we agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we often thank our military for their service. Thanking a homeless veteran, or one who has waited more than 30 days for medical attention is lip service if the “thank you” is not accompanied by the assistance that so many veterans need. Memorial Day ought to be a day to commemorate the dead, and improve the ways we treat the living.

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

60-Year Journey from 'Brown'

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(NNPA) Because I was a horribly ill-behaved child, I found myself shipped from San Francisco to Moss Point, Miss. in August 1969. My mother’s plan was that I’d spend my junior year in high school there and live with my schoolteacher aunt, Annie Mae Randall, who was somewhat affectionately known as the “kid breaker.”

It was legend that if you did not understand rules, she would beat them into you, but her method was unlimited interrogation, not physical correction (much). In any case, I landed in Moss Point 15 years after the Supreme Court ruled that legal segregation was illegal. However, by ruling that the Brown decision should be implemented with “all deliberate speed,” many towns in Mississippi saw this as a signal to “take your own sweet time.” I ended up attending all-Black Magnolia High School, while the all-White Moss Point High School was in rather close proximity. A year later, Magnolia became the town’s junior high school, and Moss Point High was the school for everyone.

Until 1970, though, the city’s educators had come up with truly bizarre ways to give a polite nod to integration. For a period, Black teachers went to teach in White schools, while White ones taught in the Black schools. To this day, I can’t figure out the proportional representation that had Black teachers in the White schools about a third of the time, with White teachers in the Black schools about half of the time. My numbers may be wrong, but both Black and White students were short-changed when they were robbed of the continuity of instruction.

On the days that Auntie Annie Mae had to go to the White schools, she woke up muttering that this was not integration, and mumbling that “all these years after Brown” integration had not happened in Moss Point schools. Since the “kid breaker” didn’t really yell, she took her frustration out on anyone who would listen, talking legalisms, history, and the way it ought to be. Occasionally Auntie would say, “at least we aren’t in Virginia,” then she would talk about the schools that actually closed rather than admit Black students. In that state developed a plan of “massive resistance” that denied funds to integrated schools that had the effect of denying education to Black children for at least four years.

In 1969, most African Americans had experienced de facto segregation, but few Californians had experienced the de jure segregation that Brow ended. Without the Mississippi experienced, I would have thought that segregation was as much a fairy tale as Santa Clause, or as distant as “the old days. Neither fairy tale, nor distant fact, de jure segregation is alive and well today.

Today, schools are segregated by income and zip code, not by race. Cash-strapped urban school systems, largely funded by eroding property taxes, have fewer resources than well-funded suburban schools. There are also oases in urban public schools where higher income parents come together to fund activities at their neighborhood schools, such as sports and music that have been eliminated from other public schools for financial reasons.

K-12 school segregation transfers into an advantage for students from the best-financed schools. These young people have the advantage of Advanced Placement (AP) and international Baccalaureate (IB) classes that are not often offered in those urban school districts struggling to provide bare basics. When colleges give students with advanced classes extra admissions consideration, they implicitly disadvantage those who did not have the opportunity to take advanced classes because of where they live.

There are dozens of other consequences to defacto segregation, including the racial achievement gap and unequal access to scholarships, internships, networking, and employment opportunities. Brown opened the door and, by ending de facto segregation, changed the terms and conditions of African American life. It got us to the starting line, but now, 60 years later, we are still a long way from the finish line.

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

A Slow Response to Nigerian Atrocity

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(NNPA) Long after completing his 8-year presidency, William Jefferson Clinton acknowledged that he should have intervened in the conflict in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands perished from the genocide that shaped the country. In his zeal for international peace President Clinton intervened in Ireland, the Middle East and Bosnia. He acknowledged that had the United States intervened in Rwanda, at least 300,000 deaths may have been prevented.

Now nearly 300 Nigerian girls have been kidnapped from their school by an extremist group that calls themselves Islamic (I don’t know of any legitimate Islamic group that approves of this kind of activity). Beyond the 300 stolen from their schools for the sole purpose of marrying them off, or selling them, it is not clear how many others have been taken from their schools. This extremist group opposes “Western education and uses their beliefs to justify their action.

Some have shrugged that this is a “cultural” or internal matter that Nigerians must settle among themselves. The United States and the United Nations are nodding on Nigeria if they choose to do little more than offer lip service in this crisis situation. It has been documented in Bosnia and Rwanda that rape was an instrument of war. What about Nigeria?

Dozens gathered outside the White House and outside the Nigerian Embassy to plead that the powers that be “bring back our girls.” First Lady Michelle Obama has also carried a sign to that effect. Nearly a month after the girls were seized the international community has begun to pay attention to this vile kidnapping. Again, this capture may well be the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many girls have been captured from their homes or their schools.

Women have too often been tools in genocide, yet too often this form of genocide has been ignored. The United Nations spews pithy pronouncements and declares one year or another the year of human rights. But as former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has often declared, “women’s rights are human rights.”

Now, every woman in the United States Senate has called for relief for kidnapped girls in Nigeria, President Barack Obama, referencing his own daughters, has offered relief. There have been “high level” meetings to talk about the ways that U.S. can intervene in this repugnant situation.

Our intervention is spot on, but why did it take so long? Were these Bosnian women would there have been so much “deliberation?” As grateful as I am for U. S. intervention, the pace of it saddens me. Were we nodding on Nigeria?

The status of women and girls should be a global concern. Nigeria is one of the countries that visibly impose inequality. We have intervened in human rights that have no gender component all over the world, but have been notably silent when the African continent is involved. We say that these are “internal matters” that countries must settle on their own, but when human rights activists are massacred in China, we manage to get involved.

To again quote Hilary Clinton, “women’s rights are human rights.” To suggest that women deserve any less is to deny our humanity all over the world. We cannot fight for social and economic justice by taking weapons from half of the army. The women who have experienced direct subjugation are often, also, the most passionate spokespeople.

Our country has been a champion of human rights all over the world, and when we nod on Nigeria we are suggesting that women’s rights do not matter. We know about 300 Nigerian girls today. How many will we learn about tomorrow? How many in another country. How many will be swallowed in world patriarchy because we refuse to act?

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

Economy is Still Recovering

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During 2013, the U.S. economy experienced a reasonable level of growth. The 3.4 percent growth rate in the second half of 2013 represented a solid growth rate, but not enough to trickle down to those who live at the periphery of the economy. Those with low or stagnant wages might find that their lives have not improved by 3.4 percent. Indeed, the gains from gross domestic product growth may mostly be captured by the wealthy.

The first quarter of 2014 was an amazing disappointment. Instead of the modest growth of 3.4 percent from the second half of 2013, the economy grew by just one tenth of one percent. This is the one of the slowest growth rate in the five years of so-called economic recovery. Based on these data, the economy grew more than 300 times slower than it did in the last half of 2013. Some say we are growing at a snail’s pace, but even the most sluggish snail can do better than this.

Can we blame this stagnant economy on the harsh winter we have experienced? Between snow, hail, sleet and rain, housing starts have slowed. People who might hit the malls are staying home. People aren’t buying cars at expected rates. Since consumer spending drives about three-quarters of our nation’s economic growth, postponed spending dampens growth. But consumer spending has not slowed as much as GDP has. Spending on health care (thanks to Obamacare) and on other services suggests that consumers have had mixed engagement as spenders.

On the other hand, businesses aren’t spending as much as they might, and along with holding off on spending makes it difficult for them to add employees to their payrolls. It also impacts GDP. What are these businesses waiting for to persuade them to invest in the economies that went into debt for their survival? Banks aren’t lending as much as they might, and even consumer credit is tighter than it should be. Consumers are spending despite, not because of, sluggish economic growth.

Growth might be stronger if the job market were more robust. As we saw from Friday’s unemployment figures, unemployment isn’t dropping significantly. Wages are stagnant. Every measure that President Obama has introduced for job creation our Congress has rebuffed, including unemployment assistance. While economic growth is, at best, sluggish, there are many who have not experienced any recovery at all.

While macroeconomic indicators deal with overall issues of economic growth, few indicators are disaggregated by race or income status. The Obama initiatives to raise wages, lower unemployment and create jobs are important because they are modest ways to spread the wealth and to ensure that economic growth is more evenly distributed. After all, we know that those at the top garneared the most gains from money thrown at them because they were “too big to fail.” Are those at the periphery just too small to survive?

We can’t have sustained economic growth when those who depend on banks to provide funds for economic expansion are shut down. We won’t have sustained economic growth if (0fficiallly) one in 15 people, and one in eight African Americans cannot find work. Economic recovery is meaningless to someone who lost a home during the great recession, and is clawing back to survival. While those with mortgage challenges were promised relief, few of them are have received it.

Some expect the economy to come roaring back in the second quarter, but I don’t expect the growth rate will be much higher than 3 percent. Further, the growth rate does nothing to close the wage and income gap that clearly slows economic growth. Who gains and who loses based on the growth rate? This is as an important an issue as is the issue of sluggish economic growth.

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

Supreme Court Continues to Limit Affirmative Action

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The Roberts Supreme Court decided last week that voters in the state of Michigan had the right to ban affirmative action policies in college admissions. Michigan is one of many where mediocre White students challenge the fact that African American students, far more qualified than they, have been admitted to college. This has happened in Texas and California, among other states.

These challenges to affirmative action have roots in the 1976 Bakke case, where the 38-year-old Alan Bakke sued because his application to medical school was rejected and he felt that he was displaced in favor of a minority student. The Supreme Court ordered Bakke admitted to the University of California at Davis, and also ruled that affirmative action was permissible under law.

What bothers me most about these anti affirmative action cases is the implicit White skin privilege that compels them. College admissions are an art, not a science. Students whose parents contribute generously to a college get an edge. In the name of diversity, a student from California, regardless of race, may get a bit of an edge at Dartmouth or Columbia. A violist, newspaper editor, or budding sports star, might also get a break. Meanwhile obdurate and privileged Whites don’t go after these people. Their ire is directed toward African Americans and other people of color.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor got it completely right when she said that race still matters. When the Supreme Court upholds these anti affirmative laws they deny history. Make it plain. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, a scant 60 years ago. Affirmative action policies were developed shortly after that so that the formerly closed doors of academia could be opened. Affirmative action had a short shelf life before it was challenged in 1978, just 14 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The opponents of affirmative action say that the color blindness that the Civil Rights Act mandated prevents remediation from past discrimination. What about contemporary discrimination?

The University of Michigan, in its admissions policies, has evaluated students by a points system. Students get extra points if they have participated in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. How many high schools in troubled Detroit, have access to these classes. Yet the people of Detroit pay taxes to support a college that discriminates against them/ When the anti-affirmative action crowd talks about fairness do they take this into consideration?

When University of Michigan admits do not reflect the demographics of Detroit, aren’t the Whites who attempt to dominate the welfare recipients of the state? The attempt for fairness is misplaced when anti-affirmative action proponents want people of color to pay for a university system that gives White people preferential treatment.

In a few weeks we will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. While it took some time for Brown to be implemented, it was a Supreme Court decision that opened doors to equal education for those who have been discriminated against. With the most recent affirmative action case, the Supreme Court has chosen to slam doors in the face of those who have experienced historical discrimination.

This Supreme Court, collectively, has behaved no better than Southern night riders who would stop at nothing too exclude African Americans from participation in education, voting, or owning property. This court is no better than the administrators at the University of Georgia who denied Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Harris admission, despite their qualifications. This court has legalized educational segregation, and Sonia Soyomayor’s blistering attack on her colleagues reflects the sentiments of millions of people who are tired of this court trampling on their rights and history.

Justice John Roberts is 59 years old. He attended college when long excluded people of color were admitted because of race-conscious policies. What are his resentments toward his classmates who, equally qualified, may have “displaced” some of his friends? Does everyone who has been “displaced” have grounds for a lawsuit? What impact will Roberts have on race matters in the future? While Justice Sotomayor is on the court to check him, and while her opinions will have some weight, she and her colleagues will not be able to outvote the myopic conservative majority.

Roberts led the cabal that slammed the door in the faces of people of color. His justice is a “just us” attempt to reinforce White privilege.

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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