Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Chance

While I'm writing this, early voting in Texas has come to an end. Those of you who are undecided, or who have missed, for whatever reason, the opportunity to cast your ballot have one more chance on November 4th.

Early this year, I had the great privilege of sharing the panel with Pulitzer Prize winning civil rights historian Taylor Branch. Branch repeated a statement that I have heard and which I cherish to this day: 'Every ballot slip is a little piece of non-violence'.

It is critically important that every American exercises his or her franchise. Patriots who founded this country, those who fought on battlefields, who marched and demonstrated to make real the great promise of this country, who died without knowing this great example of freedom all did so in order that you and I might have the chance to express a political perspective without fear or the threat of violence.

We all know the prospects for corruption and even disappointment - what's important is that you vote. No community, no village or hamlet in our nation can survive without this wonderful rite of citizenship.

Civil rights leader Walter Fauntroy says that among the most important things the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught him was, "Politics is the means by which we determine who gets how much in five areas: who gets how much income; who gets how much education; who gets how much health care; who gets how much housing; who gets how much justice."

Few things in our country are as important, yields so much benefit and so secures our freedoms. It is the primary exercise of advanced citizenship and I hope that no matter for whom you cast your ballot, you take that most significant walk to the polls.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Internet Campaign Financing- The Ordinary Citizen may be Back in the Game!

Whoever wins this election next Tuesday, there is one thing that is almost certain to dominate the discussion about electoral politics on a national level: unprecedented massive amounts of money!

However, while recent national politics has had a focus on money and campaign reform, the emphasis has been on the influence of corporate money in elections. Almost all of us have bemoaned the fact that 'big money interests' have shut out the average American citizen's concern - to the point where, it had come to be believed that there is no way possible that citizens can have any credible influence because no 'ordinary Joe' (no I'm not going to say it!), can make that type of contribution.

Not this year!

Barak Obama's fundraising has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Center for Responsive Politics, puts the total contributions received at $639 million! Most of it from over the Internet and most of it from small gifts from individual donors. John McCain has so far raised some $360 million. That's just under $7 million dollars than President Bush raised in 2004. Nothing to sneeze at to be sure, but just over half of the Obama campaign and he is at a distinct financial disadvantage in this campaign.

There are those who have said that the Obama campaign's efforts and success will not only break records, but it will also break the system. Others have said, that hidden in these gargantuan numbers are contributions of much larger amounts that should be questioned, if not investigated. The McCain/Palin campaign, crying foul, have said that Obama reneged on a promise to sit down and negotiate on whether or not he would take public campaign money.

It is more than obvious what happened: Obama saw his success at fundraising via the Internet during the primary season and saw the troubles that McCain would have in financing his campaign - he decided 'all's fair in love and campaign fundraising'. Now if you consider that dirty campaigning, misleading or outright lying, you're probably right and we know that nothing like that has happened on the other side!

But I think that there is something else that may be a little more important than charges that Obama is trying to 'buy' the campaign, especially if it's true that 48% of contributions to the Obama campaign come from donors giving $200 or less: this means that the ordinary citizen now has a financial voice in national politics. Can that be a bad thing?

According to the Washington Post, "These huge sums are not, as some have suggested, evidence of the pernicious return of big money to federal campaigns or of the failure of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. That worthy measure ended the unhealthy practice of candidates, including presidential nominees, soliciting wealthy individuals, labor unions and corporations for huge checks, often $1 million and up. Much of Mr. Obama's money has arrived in small donations; in any event, donors are limited to a maximum of $4,600 ($2,300 each for the primary and general election). Mr. Obama's haul reflects the enormous enthusiasm his campaign has generated...the real-world risk of vast sums of illegal money sloshing around the Obama campaign is negligible."

There are some questions about McCain's fundraising strategies as well and it will take time to weigh through the pros and cons of we have seen this election cycle. But before we castigate either McCain or Obama, let's admit that if the current trend holds, whether or not you can 'afford' to run for office, could come to depend on one's ability to appeal to the general electorate at least as much as one's ability to appeal to the wealthy.

Maybe George Will (yes THAT George Will) says it better than I can:

"McCain revived a familiar villain -- "huge amounts" of political money -- when Barack Obama announced that he had received contributions of $150 million in September. "The dam is broken," said McCain, whose constitutional carelessness involves wanting to multiply impediments to people who want to participate in politics by contributing to candidates -- people such as the 632,000 first-time givers to Obama in September."

"Why is it virtuous to erect a dam of laws to impede the flow of contributions by which citizens exercise their First Amendment right to political expression? "We're now going to see," McCain warned, "huge amounts of money coming into political campaigns, and we know history tells us that always leads to scandal." The supposedly inevitable scandal, which supposedly justifies preemptive government restrictions on Americans' freedom to fund the dissemination of political ideas they favor, presumably is that Obama will be pressured to give favors to his September givers. The contributions by the new givers that month averaged $86."

"One excellent result of this election cycle is that public financing of presidential campaigns now seems sillier than ever. The public has always disliked it: Voluntary and cost-free participation, using the check-off on the income tax form, peaked at 28.7 percent in 1980 and has sagged to 9.2 percent. The Post, which is melancholy about the system's parlous condition, says there were three reasons for creating public financing: to free candidates from the demands of fundraising, to level the playing field and "to limit the amount of money pouring into presidential campaigns." The first reason is decreasingly persuasive because fundraising is increasingly easy because of new technologies such as the Internet. The second reason is, the Supreme Court says, constitutionally impermissible. Government may not mandate equality of resources among political competitors who earn different levels of voluntary support."

It could be that the 'ordinary Joe' (no I am not going to say it!), is back in the game.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Generosity on Steroids!

For all of those who think that in these bad times there is no good news;

For everyone who thinks that our country's economic crisis is something too big to get their arms around;

For everyone who think that generosity is something that no one can afford, take a look at this!

And for the record: I'm proud it happened in Dallas!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Generosity of the Poor

I witnessed something very interesting today.

I attended a 'Town Hall' meeting with some of the formerly homeless in our Destination Home program. It basically was an effort on behalf of our staff to touch bases with the residents to review the terms of their lease and, with representatives of the apartment complex owners present, see if they had any problems that needed to be addressed. Most of these residents had been in the program for a year, some for a little less.

Adam, one of the case managers was talking to them about their 'life plans', goals for each one of the residents which the case managers help them achieve as they move towards self sufficiency.

Adam briefly addressed a problem when it came to financial management. Some of the residents were running into problems because they were trying to help friends and relatives!

It was touching for me. Here these men (there was one woman who came in late), had to be warned that they had to use their meager resources to take care of themselves first. The residents get by on social security or disability checks, 30% of which goes to pay a portion of their rent and don't have a margin for the type of generosity that could land them back on the street.

I've seen that type of generosity before: grandmothers who spend their savings trying to help their grandchildren; neighbors who don't have much, sharing whatever they have with those who have less; church members who take children in the church into their homes and hearts when their own children are grown and gone and I'm always amazed!

Sometimes they are taken advantage of.

Sometimes the people to whom they 'loan' money don't use it for the purposes for which the money was lent.

Sometimes these people use the money set aside to pay bills to help someone in need.

There are more than a few times when they have to be protected from their own generous impulses. But in some other ways, they experience something that many of us never experience:


Adam was right to advise these residents to take care of their responsibilities before they try and be generous with friends and family. They are in a very vulnerable place in life and the margin for error is slim. But there is something about what they are doing that is very heartwarming and encouraging. Theirs is an impulse, probably acquired in the streets, that if responsibly replicated could help us achieve something that we all need - community.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Before We 'Get Over It'

There's a very interesting play premiering October 15-November 9 at the Dallas Theater Center, entitled, 'The Good Negro'. It is a dramatized account of the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights demonstration, which ultimately served as a catalyst for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts.

Don't be turned off by the play's title. 'The Good Negro' reveals in a very compelling manner the complex interpersonal dynamics of civil rights leaders, ordinary black citizens suddenly thrust into the limelight by their experiences with segregation and the movement's attempt to walk the tightrope between using those experiences to dramatize the evils of segregation without exploiting those same citizens.

The play is not a documentary. Written by Tracy Scott Williams and based on the book 'Carry Me Home', by Pulitzer Prize winner Diane McWhorter, the play uses composite characters and dramatizes the personality conflicts and internal struggles of well known civil rights heroes. It is a reminder that the Civil Rights Movement was not a linear effort to remove "white only" and "colored only" signs. It was a transformative moment in our nation's history that provoked all Americans with the challenge of what it meant for our Constitution's promise to become a living reality for all of us.

There are aspects of the play that were somewhat uncomfortable. But they are aspects that reveal human frailty and flaws. There's the portrayal of the F.B.I. agents, wire tapping the phones of civil rights leaders, knowing that they were wrong, but forced to follow the orders of J.Edgar Hoover (or 'the old man' as he was called), and in the process violating something of their own conscious in the process. There is Pelzie, whose courage is muted by the horrors of injustice to which he was exposed as a child. There is the painful realization that he must tell his little girl about the realities of race. A talk that black people had to have with their children the way nearly all parents talk with their children about the 'birds and the bees'. He doesn't like preachers, yet at a critical moment when the so much of the literal meaning of the life of his family and their sacrifice hangs in the balance, demands that the preachers 'gots ta stay'.

The issue of race is America's original inconvenient truth, for black and white people. We would love to water down our progress to a nice procession of headlines and timelines that are accessible and contribute to a palatable myth that doesn't interfere with what we have each told ourselves about our lives. So we engage in a historical reductionism:

"At one time, blacks had to sit at the back of the bus; they had to use separate restrooms, and eat in different restaurants. They couldn't go to school with whites and they couldn't drink from the same water fountains. And then one day, the Civil Rights Movement came and changed those nasty laws and now none of that is true anymore. It was a great period in our nation's history. Hooray!"

But the truth is far more inconvenient than that. Lives were lost. The people were humiliated. The hopes and dreams of many, young and old, black and white, were buried in their souls and in the earth because of bigotry and fear. There are undiscovered remains of broken bodies in muddy rivers and along desolate highways that are all a part of that horror of our history. And there are those who are still alive and remember it - not as grainy newsreel footage, but as a part of their very existence. They remember the terrorists who road past their homes in hoods and sheets, and the black bodies that hung from trees like 'strange fruit'. And there are whites who remember what it cost them to stand in solidarity with African-Americans in search of the recognition and respect of their personhood and citizenship.

It is only as we remember it in that way, that we can, as those for whom this truth is so inconvenient say, 'get over it'.

'The Good Negro' reminds us, that we need to acknowledge how raw this period of our history is and how right it is to remember that we are all beneficiaries of some very brave people who have made our comfort possible.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Irrational Preoccupation

In the column I write for the Dallas Morning News I focus, for the most part, on the southern part of the city. It is an area that is somewhat diverse, economically underdeveloped and has attracted a great deal of attention over the years because its development is critical to the expansion of the Dallas' tax base. This rather unremarkable local challenge (big cities all over the country are faced with the same issue) has macro implications related to issues of economics, public education, racial attitudes, poverty and political change.

So this past week's column had to do with the importance of the vote to southern Dallas. It is an obvious concern given, the historic nature of the presidential campaign. Although Obama is won't win Texas, an energized electorate is critical to the future development of this city's region.

I thought this was pretty inarguable on its face.

But I two readers obviously saw things differently.

Check out the replies:

"Dear. Mr. Britt, with almost 100% of black voters voting for Obama, I don't know if your help is needed in this area. I do know that there is certainly a racist issue in this election which is not politically correct to talk about but what is the most frightening about your piece is the fact that you believe that Obama via the government can
give black people an education, income and other vital needs in life without having to work for them. That is a scary idea but this entitlement and victimization mentality is alive and well among too many black leaders. One seldom hear from black leaders
anything about self reliance, personal responsibility, hard work and other traits that made this country great."

"Dear Rev. Britt:

If I understand your article in today's paper, you, a black preacher, calls attention to the voters of South Dallas, a predominantly black community, to get out and vote. You continue your article by sprinkling it with the names of various black
civil rights leaders. As a man of God, surely you wouldn't be asking your flock to vote on someone based strictly on is color and not his qualifications, now would you?"


Now leaving aside the fact that I have absolutely no idea how these two got this from the column that I wrote, it confirms an interesting preoccupation with the black vote.

What makes anyone think that Obama can get elected on the strength of the black vote, alone?! And why is it so frightening or objectionable that African-Americans would vote for a candidate with whom they could identify? Hispanics do that. Whites have done that for a long time. And while, in previous elections, the numbers of African-American voters has never reached its potential, blacks have never, en masse, sat out an election. Heck, 22% of black people even supported George Wallace for president.

Were it a matter of simply wanting a black president, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes and Shirley Chisolm are among the highest profile politicians who have offered themselves for the highest office in the land. At some point their inability to garner near total support from the African-American electorate, and a broad enough base of support from a more diverse constituency rendered them all symbolic or niche candidates.

No, if Obama wins, it won't be because he gets 'almost 100%' of the black vote or because blacks vote for someone 'strictly because of his color'. Believe it or not, there are blacks who will not be voting for him.

I've probably worn out this reminder, but its important: most blacks weren't on board with Obama's candidacy, UNTIL, they saw that white people would vote for him in Iowa! Barak Obama is the Democratic candidate because more than 18,000,000 of his fellow citizens and the majority of qualified delegates in the Democratic Party determined that he was qualified to represent him.

His campaign raised $150,000,000 in September. Those were not all black donors.

According to the polls (for those who believe in them), 44% of registered white voters say that they will vote for Obama. Registered Hispanic voters, who have largely been ignored in polling data reports so far, are said to be abandoning the Republican Party in droves, will make a significant number of those who vote for him. Marginally reported are the numbers of Republicans who will jump ship this election to vote for the Democratic nominee.

So, no, blacks support, while significant won't by itself make Barak Obama or any other candidate president of the United States. I'm afraid it still takes someone with appeal across all sorts of demographic lines to make that happen.

We'll see which candidate is successful at that pretty soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Walter Brueggemann

1933 -

Old Testament Theologian, Educator

"Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now. Either way, a community rooted in energizing memories and summoned by radical hopes is a curiosity and a threat in such a culture. When we suffer from amnesia every form of serious authority for faith is in question, and we live unauthorized lives of faith and practice unauthorized ministries."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Battling for the Soul of American Democracy and American Christianity

"The religious threats to democratic practices abroad are much easier to talk about than those at home. Just as demagogic and antidemocratic fundamentalisms have gained too much prominence in both Israel and the Islamic world, so too has a fundamentalist strain of Christianity gained far too much power in our political system, and in the hearts and minds of citizens. This Christian fundamentalism is exercising an undue influence over our government policies, both in the Middle East crisis and in the domestic sphere, and is violating fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution; it is also providing support and "cover" for the imperialism aims of empire."

"The three dogmas that are leading to the imperial devouring of democracy in America - free-market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism - are often justified by the religious rhetoric of this Christan fundamentalism. And perhaps most ironically - and sadly-this fundamentalism is subverting the most profound, seminal teachings of Christianity, those being that we should live with humility, love our neighbors, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Therefore, even as we turn a critical eye on the fundamentalisms at play in the Middle East, the genuine democrats and democratic Christians among us must unite in opposition to this hypocritical, antidemocratic fundamentalism at home."

"The battle for the soul of American democracy is, in large part a a battle for the soul of American Christianity, because the dominate forms of Christian fundamentalism are a threat to the tolerance and openness necessary for the sustaining of any democracy. Yet the best of American Christianity has contributed greatly to preserving and expanding American democracy."

Cornell West
Democracy Matters - Winning the Fight Against Imperialism
You can read my monthly column in the Dallas Morning News here...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Do Clergy Cross the Line?

This week's question for the Dallas Morning News' Texas Faith panel of clergy is a challenging one:

"The Catholic bishops in Dallas and Fort Worth co-wrote a letter read from church pulpits this month. The letter said: "To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or "abortion rights" when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil - and, therefore, morally impermissible." Some local Catholics took that as a de facto endorsement of John McCain, given the positions that he and Barack Obama take on abortion.

"Here's the question: Were the bishops offering appropriate moral guidance based on Catholic dogma? Or did they cross a line either from a theological or constitutional perspective? Should clergy offer such specific guidance on issues of political importance that clearly benefit a particular candidate or political party?"

You can read the answers and replies here.

I invite your replies here or at the DMN site.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Out of Bounds, Out of Line, and Out of Control

Colin Powell endorsed Obama this past Sunday. Secretary Powell gave a cogent, reasoned, intelligent rationale for giving the Illinois Senator his support. When asked his reaction to possible criticism that he was endorsing Obama because he was African-American, he wisely and rightly said, that if he was going to do that, he could have endorsed Obama months ago.

Suddenly, Powell's credidibility regarding his support of the Illinois senator, is called into question, because they share the same skin color. Washington Post columnist George Will said Sunday:

"Some impact. And I think this adds to my calculation -- this is very hard to measure -- but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black because so much of this country is so eager, a: to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put 'paid' to the whole Al Sharpton/Jessee Jackson game of political rhetoric."

And Rush Limbaugh vociferously denounced the endorsement as being, '...totally about race...'

Powell, and really the rest of America should demand more from our political gamesmanship than this. Here is the suggestion that a man whose independent frame of mind, leadership and courage has been held up before the country as laudatory - suddenly having his judgement lampooned because he hasn't toed the party line. "The reasoning he provided can't be legitimate! It must be about race!"

It has been forgotten, conveniently, that Powell has been a black Republican for a long time. He could have endorsed Alan Keyes if color was essential to his political considerations. He could have run for the office himself, if he wanted to and crossed that threshold and arguably won.

Powell carried the water for the White House in making the case before the United Nations at the cost of his reputation. Before that, he persevered enduring segregation and bigotry and rose to the ranks of a four star general. He was this nation's first black National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.

It has since been said, that Powell's endorsement was a sign of 'ingratitude' - a term that suggests that as a black man he was, in someway beholden to the white establishment of the Republican party to support McCain, either publicly or silently. No other Republican supporting McCain has publicly been criticized as 'ungrateful'.

The GOP has called itself the party of the 'big tent'. But the son of William F. Buckley received hate mail and his resignation was enthusiastically by the conservative magazine his father founded because he contributed to another blog his endorsement of Barak Obama. According to Will, it must be because Obama is black. And it is being publicly reported that Republicans are 'hoping for' the Bradley Effect - white people who up until time to vote say they will support Obama, but have an attack of racism in the voting booth.

One hundred forty-five years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, 44 years after the passing of the strongest Civil Rights Act in this nations history, 43 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed to protect by Federal Law, the rights of all citizens to vote, the first legitimate citizen of color is a serious candidate for the highest office in the land. While party defections hurt any candidate and his supporters, there is still something to celebrate in the fact that more of the American Dream is becoming a reality.

Instead a citizen of color cannot support that candidate, no matter his accomplishments, without having his character slandered and veracity challenged.

At some point it stops being insulting as an American and it gets to be just plain sad.

Maybe we haven't come so far after all.

Vote for Parkland

The November 4th election is, indeed, one of the - if not the - important of our lifetime. In Dallas, it is important for more than one reason.

Dallas County voters are being asked to approve a $747 million bond program. The bonds will finance a state of the art count hospital which will include the following:

Construct an 862 adult-bed hospital that serves as a full service acute care hospital and houses a Level I Trauma Center and Burn Center;

Construct an outpatient center adjacent to the hospital with associated diagnostic and therapeutic service, and integrated physician office space to enhance patient safety and physician access and productivity;

Construct office buildings near the hospital for support personnel, designed to optimize productivity and minimize occupancy costs; and

Reconfigure parking to supply a cost effective mix of parking garages and surface parking lots to meet the parking needs of patients, visitor, physicians and employees.

Dr. Ron Anderson, Parkland's CEO, is one of the most effective hospital CEO's in the country.
Parkland's trauma unit and burn unit are lauded as premier.
But they are doing a tremendous job in aging, overcrowded facilities. In order to serve the needs of Dallas County better, Parkland needs this expansion.

Please vote for Parkland - its actually an investment we are making in ourselves.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Powell's Endorsement

For anyone who supports Barak Obama, Colin Powell's endorsement on Sunday was exciting. For those who support McCain, expect to here it brushed off as a non-event.

The fact is, I think that as much as one might say Barak Obama won Powell's endorsement, it is equally true that John McCain lost it.

You can count me among those who was extremely disappointed that Powell didn't resign after he was horribly misused in making the U.S. case for war when he appeared before the United Nations. It has been proven that George Tenet lied to him, and sat behind Colin Powell as he used little more than a Power Point presentation with spliced audio to convince the world that Iraq had WMD.

But, I was reminded that Powell is a soldier and that no matter his own misgivings, or his personal feelings, his reflex is to obey the directives of the Commander in Chief. Powell's loyalty, although misplaced in the minds of many of us civilians, is the natural order of things to a general. Consequently, we don't know what arguments he may have made withing the inner circle of the White House, or how vigorous those arguments may have been, what we do know is that once the decision is made, his inclination is to accept it.

Powell's rationale for supporting Obama's candidacy was both eloquent and telling:

McCain's uncertainty when faced with the economic crisis
The increasingly negative attacks on Obama's character
The narrowing focus of the Republican Party
What McCain's choice of Sarah Palin says about his judgement

those reasons for not supporting McCain when contrasted with his evaluation of Obama's vision, leadership, decision making and temperament, speak volumes about what Powell was looking for in a presidential candidate.

Whatever else we want to credit Powell with - he knows leadership.

Obviously, there are some who will not agree with, or care about Powell's endorsement. But I think its important that given General Powell's loyalty, his patriotism, what he knows about this country and what he understands about where this country is headed and what it needs, Powell's endorsement of McCain, was McCain's to lose - and he lost it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time to Decide

In Texas early voting starts tomorrow. Here are things that I'm considering in voting for the next President of the United States:

How inclusive of all Americans is the vision of the candidate?

How important a role is education in their vision? Will he promote an
atmosphere in which public education is more effective and secondary education
is more affordable?

Does he have a vision which will promote conditions which can foster the rise of new technology leading to new business opportunities and an expansion of the jobs base?

Which candidate will help improve our country's image abroad?

Which candidate has an urban domestic policy? In other words a policy which
will help redevelop our crumbling and decaying urban areas?

Which candidate's world view reflects intellectual curiosity and flexibility but is, at the same time born out of a set of core values that resonate with the best raditions of our country?

Which candidate demonstrated a committment to our nation's safety and the
world's peace?

Which candidate has conducted a more honorable campaign?

Which candidate has demonstrated a greater commitment to integrity than

Which candidate has managed his campaign better?

Which candidate listens to the broadest range of interests in the country?

Whose candidates have policies which best address the needs of the poor in
our country?

Which candidate values not only the life of the unborn, but the future of
those who are born?

Which candidate inspires this country to civic engagement?

Which candidate communicates a message that balances government
intervention and personal responsibility?

No candidate perfectly addresses all of these areas implicated in these questions, but as I vote, these are some of the thoughts that will determine my choice.

What are yours?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

John F. Kennedy
1917 - 1963

United States President

"If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Political Self Interest of Joe the Plumber

After the debate the other night. The exaltation of Joe the Plumber (or non-Plumber, as we eventually found out), cultural close cousin of Joe Sixpack. And the polls that now 90% of the country feel that we are on the wrong track (WHO are the 10% who think things are just fine and dandy?!) - I'm left to wonder: how is it people still vote against their own interest?

Without all the hypocrisy and inconsistencies that show themselves on both sides - I really understand those who buy into a Republican ideology. Those who really believe, state why they believe pretty cogently - in a way that you can agree or disagree. Their self interest, at some level is involved.

But the Joe the Plumber metaphor, is my point:

Nowhere near making $250,000 a year

Nowhere near buying his bosses business (is it even for sale?)

Supporting a platform that would tax his health care benefits (it was admitted in the debates)

Would be helped by the tax cuts proposed by the opposition's tax plan

And yet mouthing the platitudes associated with extreme policies that have kept his wages flat, if not declining, and standing up for policies that promise that the opportunity to make $250,000 a year and own his bosses business would, some day, 'trickle down' to him!

The problem is, it hardly ever happens! What happens to most of Joe the Plumber and those like him, is that they tend to get poorer over time. And the 'class warfare' that happens is that they blame those who are poorer and immigrants, and those who are on Social Security, Medicare, for their plight.

I don't get it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Clay and Joe the Plumber

One of the programs at Central Dallas Ministries of which I am most proud is a program that I helped develop called WorkPaths. WorkPaths is modeled after a previous living wage workforce development strategy that leaders of Dallas Area Interfaith put together about ten years ago.

CDM contracts with an organization based in Chicago called OAI, Inc., which is funded through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. Over a three year period, focusing on the construction industry and in partnership with the Dallas County Community College District, we've designed a 12 week job training program in construction and environmental remediation. Trainees receive community college certification, and interviews with major local construction companies after graduation.

Clay is a 27 year college dropout, who went through the last graduating class of 18 (22 were actually selected to go through the training). Clay had sold a small business he operated and was in dire financial and personal straits, due to some poor life choices. Clay has a wife and three children.

After successfully completing the program, Clay got a job with one of the major construction companies which interviewed him after graduation. Clay started as a carpenter and after about six weeks was promoted to field engineer.

Not long after that, another company that had interviewed Clay offered him a job as Project Engineer. Clay makes now makes $50,000 a year, has solid benefits and is on a great career track. He even has a monthly car allowance.

Needless to say, we're proud of Clay! We're proud of all of our graduates. We're proud of WorkPaths and of Andrea Bills the Program Director and Lenora Coleman our Workforce Development Coordinator, who run the day to day operations.

Here's the thing: Clay can expect to pay more taxes. Of course! He makes more money! He has worked hard, received a great break! He's been blessed! He's committed himself and is in a great position to do great things for himself, his family and his community. His government has invested in him - to the tune of about $3500 for training (along some generous help from donors who support our organization and this program). But Clay will repay the public and private investment through taxes. Is that fair? Is that right?

I think so!

What makes Joe the Plumber any different?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Domestic Violence Month

October is Domestic Violence Month.

Usually I don't make a huge commitment to promoting the various 'months' which are designed, in many cases, to bring attention to many important issues, emphasis and causes. This is one of those times when I think its important enough to do so.

Violence between intimates is a sad circumstance for both men and women. As a pastor, I had the opportunity to counsel with couples whose marriages were marred with this dysfunction. While most of the time it was violence of the man in the relationship, there were times when the woman was the perpetrator. Sometimes there was physical violence, most of the times it was not the bruising of the body, but the soul and spirit, with disparaging and demeaning language, or inappropriate ways in which they treated one another in ways that degraded and diminished the other couple.

I've seen it happen in my family. My son was killed a year ago, in a senseless act of family violence that has not only robbed us of a son, but threatens to leave his wife's parents without her daughter and our granddaughter and her brother without a mother.

Domestic violence is never justifiable. It is never acceptable. It is never helpful. In the end it corrupts something in the inner being of both in the relationship.

It is especially relevant during this period in our society. For some, the anger, frustration and sense of hopelessness that people feel (particularly men, but sometimes women as well), is especially acute during tough financial times. Even then, it is never alright and we need to say so and provide help for the victim and the perpetrator.

Paige Flink Executive Director of the organization The Family Place, works with women, primarily to provide a safe haven, counseling and the space to start over for those who are victims of domestic violence.

Here are some important facts about domestic violence in Dallas County:

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, an estimated
265,090 people in Dallas County (11.4% of the population) are victims of domestic

The January 2007 Homeless Count found 5,163 people living on Dallas streets or in shelters, including 1,139 children. For the second year in a row, women and children made up over half of the homeless population (52%). Domestic abuse/family problems were listed as the reasons for homelessness by 24% of the population.

According to WomenKind, Inc., 70% of the children of abused women are also physically abused, and 20% are sexually abused. The majority of abusive men were either abused as children or witnessed their mothers being abused.

The Surgeon General’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health reports that domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States—more than rapes, muggings and auto accidents combined.

According to the FBI, a woman is beaten in this country every 15 seconds.
Sam Houston University Department of Criminal Justice finds that in one out
of every three relationships, some type of domestic violence occurs. Nationally,
domestic violence kills over 3,000 women each year.

At Central Dallas Ministries our public interest law firm, CDM Legal Action Works (L.A.W.) nearly half of the 80% of the cases that they handle that involve women, involve family violence and the issues that result from it: custody battles, divorce and child support.

If you know of anyone who is a victim of domestic violence, or you, yourself, yourself are a victim - physical, mental or emotional violence - encourage them, help them get help, or get help yourself. This includes acts which give evidence of obsession, jealousy, controlling behavior or stalking.

Teach your sons how to treat women. Teach your daughters how to express firmly how they expect to be treated and help them end relationships in which they are mistreated.

To get help call our law center at 214-827-1000

Or Family Place's 24 hour hot line: 214-941-1991

Or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Family violence is something that almost never gets better. It has to be stopped.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Another Challenge

Last week was pretty heady!

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Steve Preston and Jedd Medifind the Director of the White House office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, visited our Destination Home project. Central Dallas Ministries has helped 50 formerly homeless men and women start life over again, in furnished, utilities paid apartments funded by a grant from HUD. Later that afternoon, I participated on a panel with HUD District Director Jerry Jenkins and Jay Dunn, who manages the BRIDGE (Dallas' homeless assistance center), at a conference sponsored by Mr. Medifind's office. But because of a schedule mix-up, in between the two, there was a meeting with about ten men about whom I've written before - Dallas' growing exoneree population.

Exonerees are men (although, I imagine it won't be long before women become a part of that group as well), formerly incarcerated, who've been freed because of DNA evidence, faulty eyewitness testimony, intentionally withheld evidence or some other miscarriage of justice.

While I didn't have the time I had initially planned to spend with them, it was a pleasure to talk with them, hear their stories and talk with them about how to help them as they helped to re-establish their lives.

Sunday, the Dallas Morning News began a series of investigative articles on the plight of these men focusing on the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony alone to obtain convictions. Some of these men have had their stories told before. Charles Chatman and James Lee Woodard who were both at the meeting at CDM, have been profiled several times. Keith Turner, who was a member of the church I pastored and for whom I had been a character witness at his trial (until Friday, I had no idea that he was numbered among this group), was also mentioned in the article. But one man's story caught my attention in particular because it revealed my worst fears regarding those who are in this group.

Wiley Fountain, freed six years ago after serving 15 years of a 40 year sentence, is still free but homeless. Living on the streets and in abandoned houses in South Dallas. One of the few who had received compensation Fountain squandered the money through unwarranted generosity with family and a girlfriend who took advantage of him.

Will this be the fate of most of these men? Probably not. But they live in a no man's land when it comes to the criminal justice system: not guilty, freed by the same legal system that convicted them, but let loose in a society that barely makes the distinction between them and parolees.
They have to obtain a lawyer to have a chance at getting the compensation they are due. If and when they receive compensation, they have to pay taxes on the money - for which they've already 'worked' without pay, in some cases for 25 years plus. Most services they are provided are no different than those received by parolees, in spite of the fact that they have been proven innocent.

Quite frankly they are owed more.

Their compensation should be immediate upon release.

This compensation should come with financial counseling and should be tax free.

They should have mental health services that distinct from parolees.

They need job training.

They need a full and immediate pardon.

These men have lost something they cannot recover and something that we can never repay: time. Whether it is 5, 20 or 25 years - or more. They certainly deserve more than to be simply be cut loose.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watson, has taken the first courageous step in correcting this injustice. But the rest of us must work with them to do even more.

You can join CDM and the Innocence Project of Texas to help these men live the rest of their lives free of stigma and full of opportunity.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Can We Work on the Crisis and Stop the Scapegoating?

Once again, it is being proved that the subprime mortgage meltdown/crisis/disaster (whatever is appropriate this week), cannot be attributed to low-income home buyers.

This explanation has been foisted on the public for several weeks now, by conservative talk show hosts, bloggers and just about everyone who has an ax to grind when they think public funds are unwisely invested in human capital.

"As the economy worsens and Election Day approaches," the Dallas Morning News reports, "a conservative campaign that blames the global financial crisis on a government push to make housing more affordable to lower-class Americans has taken off on talk radio and e-mail.

"Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems.

"Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis."

What about the Community Reinvestment Act, that has also been the focus of a great deal of 'blame the poor' reaction to what is now world wide economic distress?

"...only commercial banks and thrifts must follow CRA rules. The investment banks don't, nor did the now-bankrupt nonbank lenders such as New Century Financial Corp. and Ameriquest that underwrote most of the subprime loans.

"These private nonbank lenders enjoyed a regulatory gap, allowing them to be regulated by 50 different state banking supervisors instead of the federal government. And mortgage brokers, who also weren't subject to federal regulation or the CRA, originated most of the subprime loans.
"In a speech last March, Janet Yellen, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, debunked the notion that the push for affordable housing created today's problems.
"Most of the loans made by depository institutions examined under the CRA have not been higher-priced loans," she said. "The CRA has increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households."

I have been chided by a few people for essentially picking a fight with those who appear to have an animus towards the poor. I have also been told, in effect, that I am antagonizing those who might otherwise be willing to help the very ones I care about.

The problem I have is that most of us tend to forget, that we are where we are because we have received some measure of help from the government. We, and our children, and our grand children, benefit from the rules which govern a 40 hour work week, child labor laws, Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Medicare.

When it comes to homeownership, very few of us saved up the total cost of a new house. We may have worked and saved, but we were helped by government intervention in the form of regulation which set the conditions under which our loans would be reviewed and accepted or rejected. Tax money was used, to make effective oversight possible.

Low-income homeowners had some level of government intervention, but they weren't 'given' anything. They still had to qualify - and I know for a fact, that many of them had to jump through a great many more hoops than I did to qualify for a house.

So, if I seem a little testy when it comes to this issue, its because I grow weary when lately, whenever our country experiences crisis, it has to be the fault of people who don't have much money.

An article in Slate Magazine also refutes the notion that this crisis was caused by lending money to low-income home buyers:

"...lending money to poor people and minorities isn't inherently risky. There's plenty of evidence that in fact it's not that risky at all. That's what we've learned from several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as the New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York's outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project's 3,900 homes. That's a rate of 0.25 percent."

By the way, the Nehemiah Homes project, located is located in Brooklyn, New, York. It was started by an organization called East Brooklyn Congregations and is a part of a network of 'leftist' organizations: the Industrial Areas Foundation founded by Saul Alinsky!

There were obviously some low-income borrowers who were taken advantage of by unscrupulous brokers and lenders. Just as some middle class homebuyers were. But, if our country is really going to heed this wake-up call that most of us concede this crisis constitutes, we are going to have to resist the urge to look for scapegoats, and hold those who are really responsible accountable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Standing in the Need of Prayer

"If my people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray; seek My Face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land."

II Chronicles 7:14

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

James Baldwin

1924 - 1987
Author, Activist, Educator

"History is not a procession of illustrious people. It's about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about."

Friday, October 10, 2008

We are Better than This!

I believe that you can tell much about candidates and political contest by what theybring out in supporters.

The best campaigns bring out hope, optimism and inspire nobility in those who follow. There are always exceptions and there are always extremists. But both good candidates and truly great ones encourage supporters to believe in themselves and in one another.

Those judged most harshly by history, speak to the base instincts of human nature, exploiting all too human fears, anxieties, bigotry and suspicion. They are candidates who would rather win an election than build up a people. The candidates may be better than that. But they allow the good in them to subsumed in frenetic negativism because it is easier to allow primal and less honorable motives to be the engine that drives the contest.

It is unfortunate that we see that type of drama playing itself out in the presidential election.

Cheers and boos are acceptable reactions in a political contest. Tough campaigning and criticism of the opponents record is fair game. We have even come to accept a fair amount of distortion of the record to become the norm, so that we are made to look at the record for ourselves and sift through what is true and what is not.

But the public courting of bigotry, hatred and fear is not acceptable. Unchallenged cries of 'kill him', 'traitor' and 'off with his head', and racial epithets spewed at reporters at campaign rallies are not acceptable. While candidates may not use those words themselves, by not personally condemning them in the strongest possible terms makes them culpable, by appearing to condone horrible behavior.

People are afraid. They are afraid because of the economy. They are afraid because of the war. They are afraid because they are losing homes, retirement, life savings and jobs. When people believe that their most basic security, investments and lifestyles are threatened it is easy to champion their cause by providing a scapegoat.

That type of campaigning devolves into demagoguery, not a democratic electoral process.

Speaking to people during a time like this in ways that let them know that all is not lost, is not easy. Saying that we are in a hard place in our history, but the future doesn't have to be something that happens to us, it is something that we can shape, is challenging. It requires vision. It demands broad thinking. It calls for substantive strategic thinking.

Addressing people in that way is much harder than appealing to people's bigotry by sneering in derision at a foreign name; its much harder than leveraging obtuse and tenuous connections into guilt by association; it is much harder than stoking the fires of suspicion through nuanced insinuations regarding race and culture; it is much, much, harder than developing a more articulate and cogent rationale for running for office. It's far easier, to point to eloquence, erudition, ambition and sudden success by promoting the idea that if the American ideal works for someone who does not look like you, then there must be something wrong with that person.

We can play 'six degrees of separation' with anyone and find unsavory relationships and make anyone 'dangerous'. Even the Republican candidates for president and vice president. We can plow their background for things that are incompatible with mainstream values and we can explore body language, malapropisms and lapses in judgement to show them unfit for office. But if our country is on the precipice of economic collapse, military over extension and the struggle for international credibility, is that the way we want to choose the leader of the free world?

Labeling a candidate unAmerican, and referring to them in ways that call into question patriotism and personal honor; doing so in ways that give you plausible deniability when the word 'terrorist', is used but allows your supporters to say it freely and unchallenged, is despicable.

But what is far worse, is to declare fitness to lead, and not know the volatile nature of our times.

To fan the flames of xenophobia and paranoia, to capitalize on those fears, is the worst kind of leadership, and is indeed dangerous.

We've seen all of this before.

We've seen it when enemies of Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders tried to discredit them as Communists (as if African-Americans needed someone from outside the country to teach them that they were oppressed!); or during the McCarthy Era, when people were hauled in to swear loyalty oaths to our country because they were suspected by a neighbor; we've seen it in Salem during the witch hunts and subsequent trials: people who were afraid, because they fear loss of freedom or privilege will welcome anyone to build a bogeyman to blame their problems on.

There are good Democrats and good Republicans who decry the public race baiting and fear mongering that is going on now.

Here's the thing: Hawaii is just as much a part of America as Alaska. The same American dream that makes it possible for a former city councilwoman and mayor to become Governor, to become a Vice-Presidential nominee, makes it possible for a former state senator and recent U.S. Senator to vie for the most powerful office in the land. Real leadership celebrates these achievements, even when disagreeing; it doesn't find ways to deride them.

So what are we to do? Here's a suggestion:

If you don't like Barak Obama's policies

If you don't think that Barak Obama has experience

If you don't think that Barak Obama is a leader

If you don't think his economic plan will help you

If you don't think that he has the right plan for energy independence

If you don't think he should get us out of the war as quickly as he says he will

If you don't like his running mate

If you don't like social agenda

If you think 'Yes We Can' is too superficial

Then DO NOT VOTE for him!

Those are mature reasons for not supporting a candidate. But please don't allow this process to be reduced to appeals to base, primal fears via personal, libelous attacks. In times of crisis people can still be noble, they can still be courageous, they can still have a vision of the future rather than resignation to their fate. The type of leadership we need taps into to the latter, not the former.

We live in a world far more serious than this. And we need candidates in a contest for leadership who will be as serious as the times.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Your Opportunity to Act

Nearly 923 million people in the world go hungry.

It is estimated that 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes in underdeveloped countries. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition.

In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.

More than 380,000 people in Dallas County live below the poverty line, including more than 162,000 children

81% of families who participate in feeding programs are categorized as 'food insecure' meaning that they have to skip meals, make critical choices between bills, transportation costs, medicine and food and 40% participating in those programs have at least one working adult.

This doesn't grab the headlines. This isn't being mentioned in the Presidential campaign by either party. If something isn't done, the numbers will continue to grow.

Whatever else happens you can be part of a solution.

On October 27, Central Dallas Ministries invites you to participate in Community Hunger Day.

With at least 2,000 people willing to us reach out to 10 friends and ask for a $50 commitment, we can raise at least $1,000,000 in the fight against hunger. For every dollar you donate Central Dallas Ministries can provide six meals to a hungry neighbor.

Learn more about the effort and how you can participate at

We can do more than talk, we can act. Please join us!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Poor are Us

On Monday of this week, a mother and her grown daughter, a household that I know pretty well, came to see me at the office. It wasn't a casual visit.

They came because they needed food.

They were not homeless. The mother worked, the daughter had been laid off from her job. And they needed food.

Its the general misconception that the people who visit our food pantry are destitute or homeless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, don't get me wrong, there are a few who fit those categories, but for the most part they are families. They are elderly. Most of them work, or receive some other form of assistance, but they are trying to make ends meet and they can't afford groceries.

Has it gotten worse since economic downturn? You be the judge:

In January, when we were being assured that the economy was sound, Central Dallas Ministries served more than 4400 individuals and more than 2500 families - that's about 1100 more individuals than in January 2007 and 600 families.

Last month more than 5000 individuals came to us for groceries, and almost 3000 families.
In 2007 we served 44,800 individuals and 27,900 families. By September's end we've already served more than 40,000 families and more 23,000 families! Only 9000 of the individuals and 1600 families who came to CDM for groceries, are counted as 'unduplicated' - people and families who are not repeat visitors.

This means monthly, there are individuals and families who cannot afford to put to food on the table.
Times are tough.
It's very easy to caricature those who are poor. Certainly, lack of education, communities of concentrated poverty, missed opportunities play a part in persistent poverty. But to objectify the poor and to be judgmental about 'why' they are poor, and what they 'should do', is often much easier to look at them, and to see that they are no different than the rest of us.
It took courage for these two women to come and tell me that they couldn't afford groceries. What about those people do who don't ask?

I realized once again, what some of those who criticize the poor either tend to forget or don't know: the poor are us!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What Country Do These People Live In?

Yesterday, the Dow lost half a trillion dollars

Recently, another 160,000 people lost their jobs, bringing the total for the year to nearly three quarters of million people

Our country is involved in two wars with no immediate end in sight

The economies of the world are now in trouble, in part because of America's financial woes

Major financial institutions are crumbling

Banks won't even lend money to one another

Millions of people have lost their homes

Republicans are blaming Democrats

Democrats are blaming Republicans

Question: Who are the 12% of the Americans who think this country is headed in the right direction?

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Priorities of Our National Life

The stock market plunged again today and world markets are now in trouble. Interestingly enough there are those who still want to place the blame again on the backs of low-income borrowers.

Others have named it much more accurately: the greed, self indulgence and materialism that has characterized our count at the expense of our own national personhood.

The words of Socrates seem eerily relevant, "Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor and give no attention to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?"

Whatever else this crisis may be, it is a call to rethink the priorities of our national life.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Just Who is 'Joe Six-Pack'?

When you look at the panel on the right of my blogsite, under the heading 'Wind Changers', you'll see a list of blogs that I keep up with. I call them 'Wind Changers', by which I mean that they are seeking to broaden the public conversation with a more progressive point of view. There are some readers, I realize who may not agree with them and I'm open to including some more 'conservative' blogs, because there are some that have a thoughtful perspective. But the country hears from conservatives most of the time (they've practically owned radio, for the past 25 years). If you have some you think should be considered on the list, please let me know and I'll consider them.

One which is fast becoming my favorite is "The Kitchen Table", written by Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton
University and Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Harris-Lacewell, has been on a number of cable news broadcast in recent weeks.

Today's post is quite interesting because it analyzes the rather unusual term to describe what I assume has become the desired base of the Republican Party, 'Joe Six-Pack'. Governor Palin used it to describe who she represented and who she wished to speak directly to. Is 'Joe Six-Pack' the quintessential American? Dr. Pierce evidently doesn't think so and takes exception to the term:

"The problem that I have with either the stereotypical or the more careful use of this term is that it polarizes those outside of "Joe Six-pack world" as less American, less patriotic, and less in touch of the realities of the working class. And it reminds us, in clear terms, that the political appeal to "Joe" is much more important than the appeal to "Jane." And, finally, it reinforces the notion that "Joe" is a code word for white, disaffected, male voter."

She goes on to say, "Working women, single mothers, domestic workers are not the target of this political campaign; their very presence is a stark reminder that the notion of Joe Six-pack, as sole breadwinner and present husband and father, is a political fallacy. And Joe Six-pack is at least nominally a Christian, so Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or any other group of religious believers are somehow less American."

Some people describe this as 'class warfare'. But like Dr. Pierce, I have a problem, if what Governor Palin is describing is a demographic that she and Senator McCain are trying to attract, at the expense of others who do not look like them or whose backgrounds and heritage is different. I think it deserves some attention. It's too easy to say 'we are all Americans'. The President of the United States is the only political figure that everyone votes on. 'Joe Six Pack' has councilpersons, representatives and senators, both statewide and national to represent his interests. If that's what Palin means it shows a seriously limited vision of what America is and who she would be elected to serve. Lincoln didn't talk about 'backwoods' America needing to be represented, nor did FDR run as a representative of the east cost elite. When candidates lower the bar this far we are treading the edge where politics indeed trumps patriotism.

Dr. Pierce concludes her post by saying, "...And finally, we ignore the fact that despite the rhetoric, none of our current political candidates currently fit the Joe Six-pack mode, although some of them have come from humble beginnings. When Sarah Palin indicated that her retirement portfolio lost $20,000 in one week (which means there was much more in there to begin with), she lost her street credentials as a Joe Six-pack wife.

"My name is not Joe. I don't drink beer. I don't live on Main Street in Small Town America. I have more than a high school education. I am black. I am a woman. And I vote."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Mohandas Gandhi

1869 - 1948

Human Rights Leader, Freedom Fighter

"Poverty is the worst form of violence."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Those Darn Poor People - Well Maybe Not So Much...

Here's something to consider for those who still believe that low income, minority home buyers are to blame for the current economic crisis in our country.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson from Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, cites a New York Times article which reports that low-income, minority borrowers were not the reason for the subprime mortgage scandal.

Mr. Morial's letter to Secretary Paulson reads in part:

"Instead of having a healthy debate on policy issues to avert future problems, those disseminating the Weapons of Mass Deception are launching attacks not only on African-Americans and other groups...Others point to the diversity policies of failed banks like Washington Mutual that allowed unqualified minorities to and gays to ruin the banks.

Now more than ever America needs unity and real solutions to fix the economic mess that has engfulfed our country. History provides too many lessons about the consequences of singling out only certain segments of the population as culprits for a country's woes. You have a moral duty to remember these lessons and to do what is necessary to extinguish the flames of hatred."

Kudos to Mr. Morial, for pointing out the dangers of such narrow minded and unfounded thinking. Whether Secretary Paulson, or anyone else in the Administration pays attention - the rest of us should.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Who Won the Debate? Maybe We Did...

Pundits will warm over tonight's debate for the next few days, but in terms of style and presentation I think the debate went fine.

What we may have gotten was a glimpse of who Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are. But not only that, she showed an understanding of the campaign and the policy of her ticket. You may question the policies, you can agree with them or not, but it was the type of debate worthy of this election cycle. I think I actually understood the McCain-Palin platform better when Palin described them.

The fact is, that none of us was well served by what we had seen of Governor Palin in the previous one-on-one interviews. Relative clarity, a sense of direction, some understanding of the issues is what constitutes an opportunity to make an informed choice instead of a reactionary acceptance that makes excuses or rejection out of a sense of derision. Was the Governor prepared and coached - of course! Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all. Was she perfect, no. But neither was Biden. As these debates go, it was pretty good. What we wanted (or what I wanted), was to see two candidates who knew what they were talking about. I think that's what we got. While not as artfully as some other politicians, she steered most questions back to what she wanted to talk about. But again, that's what all politicians do.

Again, we have to decide whether we believe what we heard. We now have a pretty good basis to answer some of the questions that are important to most of us: is this a person of substance? Can these VP candidates carry the message of the campaign? Should anything happen to the President can you see this person as the next president?

Who wins when we see the best of the four candidates? America does.

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

I'm concerned about the Vice-Presidential debates tonight.

Not the winner. Each campaign will tell you that their candidate 'won'. It's up to each of us to make that determination to our own individual satisfaction.

No, I'm concerned about a phrase that I'm hearing time after time - even in the presidential debates. The phrase: 'low expectations'.

Currently we hear that the Republican vice-presidential nominee might do well because the 'expectations are low'. Really?! Is that what we want out of someone who will be a heartbeat away from the Oval office?

We've heard complaints that Sarah Palin gets asked 'hard questions' and that there are some things that its unfair to expect her to know. Really?! Do we want a Vice-President to not be able to answer hard questions?

Look, Sarah Palin is not the issue for me here. She can take care of herself. This is a big moment, and for all the hypocrisy, irrationality and inconsistency that we have seen in this campaign, across the board, Governor Palin's presence on McCain's ticket is historic and meaningful.

But what does it say to our children, for instance, that we insist on good grades, stellar academic performance, a college education and then, in one of the most historic elections in history, there are those who believe that a candidate for the second highest office in the land, should do well because the expectations are low?

We have seen flippancy, sarcasm and snideness exalted while the capacity for coherence, thoughtfulness and an understanding of facts is deprecated and derided as 'elitism'! So what does it tell our children about excellence?

Is this how far we have fallen? At one time a former president of Princeton University became President of the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt had a prodigious intellect. Dwight Eisenhower was a brilliant military strategist, Bill Clinton is a Rhodes scholar, Ronald Reagan (this is just my belief), had a native intelligence that showed itself in his timing and his capacity to grow in office. That had nothing to do with whether or not you agreed with his policies. But I always thought that most of the attacks on his intelligence were more than a little unfair. But now we are asked to consider candidates for our highest office and leader of the free world, because they are able to meet 'low expectations'.

Even more significant to me, is to say that the reason why a candidate isn't thoughtful, reflective, knowledgeable, intellectually curious or articulate, is because a candidate is 'just like you'. Don't I have the right to feel just a little insulted?

Are we going to have to tell our children, that when they grow up competing for a job promotion, that they don't have to worry about showing how qualified they are, all they have to do is 'embarrass' the other guy? In another conflict with Russia, are we going to say that the reason why we can't come to an agreement is because they have 'talk funny'?

At the very least, it ought to be clear that the Governor Palin has not done well in her one-on-one interviews. Those interviews have left people wondering about her intellect and her fitness for the office for which she's running. And I know that interviews can be hard. I've done a few, and I know what its like to get lost in a sentence and a thought - or, how about this: not know the answer. It really is understandable that some people just don't interview well!

But this campaign that matters. Our economy is wrecked, we are involved in two wars, our standing in the world has been compromised, 600,000 (and counting) have lost their jobs since January. The president we elect in November will join other world leaders in bringing the world back to some level of economic solvency and, hopefully some measure of global peace and stability. The next president will shepherd this country into an era of energy independence and tackle issues of world hunger. The poor in this country will need to have a safety net repaired and strengthened. Shouldn't we care that they speak to us and the world in ways that inspire confidence?

Neither great intellect, eloquence, or articulateness guarantee success. They don't demonstrate character. To say so would be like saying that because someone is an excellent speller, they can write the great American novel. But intellectual curiosity and the ability to understand nuance and complexity, the capacity to raise the level of pubic debate and conversation can be signs of preparedness and they can also help us make informed decisions when it comes to our national leaders.

A reporter asked an astronaut what his thoughts were as he was in the capsule waiting for lift off. He said, "The thing that kept going through my mind was, 'This thing was built by the lowest bidder'"!

I don't care whether its Obama-Biden, or McCain-Palin, I don't want to vote for someone who has met 'low expectations'.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Personal and Public

Investments in the lives of our children come in two forms: they are both public and private.

Here are some my thoughts on the personal side from my column in the Dallas Morning News yesterday:

And here are some thoughts on public investment from my colleague here at CDM, Dr. Janet Morrison:

Successful cultures don't consider investing in themselves or in the next generation conflicting propositions. Its not either/or. Its both/and.