Monday, March 05, 2007

Bob Herbert on education and Paul Krugman on Walter Reed. Here’s Mr. Herbert:

It’s an article of faith that the key to success in real estate is location, location, location.

For young black boys looking ahead to a difficult walk in life, the mantra should be education, education, education.

We’ve watched for decades — watched in horror, actually — as the lives of so many young blacks, men and boys especially, have been consumed by drugs, crime, poverty, ignorance, racial prejudice, misguided social pressures, and so on.

At the same time, millions of blacks have thrived, building strong families and successful careers at rates previously unseen. By far, the most important difference between these two very large groups has been educational attainment.

If anything, the role that education plays in the life prospects of black Americans is even more dramatic than in the population as a whole. It’s the closest thing to a magic potion for black people that I can think of. For boys and men, it is very often the antidote to prison or an early grave.

A new report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston tells us that young adults in general have been struggling in the labor market. Many have been left behind by the modest economic recovery of the past few years, especially those with limited education credentials.

The report, which focuses on black males, emphasizes the importance of education in overcoming this tough employment environment:

“For males in each of the three race-ethnic groups (blacks, Hispanics and whites), employment rates in 2005 increased steadily and strongly with their educational attainment. This was especially true for black males, for whom employment rates rose from a low of 33 percent among high school dropouts to 57 percent among high school graduates, and to a high of 86 percent among four-year college graduates.

“The fact that only one of every three young black male high school dropouts was able to obtain any type of job during an average month in 2005 should be viewed as particularly distressing, since many of these young men will end up being involved in criminal activities during their late teens and early 20s and then bear the severe economic consequences for convictions and incarcerations over the remainder of their working lives.”

There is no way, in my opinion, for blacks to focus too much or too obsessively on education. It’s the fuel that powers not just the race for success but the quest for a happy life. It represents the flip side of failure.

The differences in rates of employment between white men and black men narrow considerably as black men gain additional schooling. After comparing the percentage of the male population that is employed in each race or ethnic group, the Northeastern study found:

“The gap in [employment to population] ratios between young white and black males narrows from 20 percentage points among high school dropouts, to 16 percentage points among high school graduates, to eight percentage points among those men completing 1-3 years of college, and to only two percentage points for four-year college graduates.”

For anyone deluded enough to question whether education is the ticket to a better life for black boys and men, consider that a black male who drops out of high school is 60 times more likely to find himself in prison than one with a bachelor’s degree.

Black males who graduate from a four-year college will make, over the course of a lifetime, more than twice the mean earnings of a black high school graduate, which is a difference of more than a million dollars.

According to the study, “Black males with college degrees and strong literacy/math skills also are far more likely to marry and live with their children and pay substantially more in taxes to state and national government than they receive in cash and in-kind benefits.”

This is not a close-call issue. It is becoming very hard for anyone to succeed in this society without a college education. To leave school without even a high school education, as so many males — and especially black males — are doing, is extremely self-destructive.

The effort to bolster the educational background of black men has to begin very early. It’s extremely difficult to turn a high school dropout into a college graduate. This effort can succeed on a large scale only if there is a cultural change in the black community — a powerful change that acknowledges as the 21st century unfolds that there is no more important life tool for black children than education, education, education.
I wonder if he’ll be savaged the way Bill Cosby was…. Now here’s Mr. Krugman:

When Salon, the online magazine, reported on mistreatment of veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center two years ago, officials simply denied that there were any problems. And they initially tried to brush off last month’s exposé in The Washington Post.

But this time, with President Bush’s approval at 29 percent, Democrats in control of Congress, and Donald Rumsfeld no longer defense secretary — Robert Gates, his successor, appears genuinely distressed at the situation — the whitewash didn’t stick.

Yet even now it’s not clear whether the public will be told the full story, which is that the horrors of Walter Reed’s outpatient unit are no aberration. For all its cries of “support the troops,” the Bush administration has treated veterans’ medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can.

What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans’ health care — like the Federal Emergency Management Agency — became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America. (It probably still is: Walter Reed is a military facility, not run by the V.H.A.)

But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration’s misgovernment became obvious to everyone.

The problem starts with money. The administration uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans, but the historical data contained in its own budget for fiscal 2008 tell the true story. The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.

To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.

More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency’s Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack “special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service,” will be turned away.

So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service-related, remember this: all this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration’s penny-pinching.

But money is only part of the problem.

We know from Hurricane Katrina postmortems that one of the factors degrading FEMA’s effectiveness was the Bush administration’s relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agency’s most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veterans’ care.

The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

And Mr. Waxman, who will be holding a hearing on the issue today, appears to have solid evidence, including an internal Walter Reed memo from last year, that the prospect of privatization led to a FEMA-type exodus of skilled personnel.

What comes next? Francis J. Harvey, who as far as I can tell was the first defense contractor appointed secretary of the Army, has been forced out. But the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans — not to mention parallels with the mother of all scandals, the failed reconstruction of Iraq — tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.



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