Monday, March 30, 2009

Closing Schools Neighborhood Schools is Not the Answer

My column in the Dallas Morning News this month is about a bill in the Texas State legislature which would provide an alternative to closing low performing schools.

It reads in part:

"The Austin group Save Texas Schools says that closing low-performing schools, which are almost exclusively in poor neighborhoods, is an unproductive strategy. This coalition of parents, students, teachers and community leaders is standing together to improve schools, instead of closing buildings. Among the group's work is urging support for HB 1238, which provides effective alternatives to school closure or "reconstitution."

This is a very real issue in Dallas, where 10 schools have finished two or more years rated academically unacceptable. Most immediately, Spruce and Samuell high schools could be closed if too many students fail the TAKS test this spring."

You can read the rest of it here. It is critical that we deal in more imaginative and constructive ways to make public education more effective - not just in Texas, but across the nation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Must Capitalism be Predatory?

I thought this was a brilliant analysis and exchange by Dr. Zibignew Brezinski on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' the other morning.

Brezinski contextualized the anger on the part of many regarding executive compensation, bonuses and excessive wealth in our country.

It has been wealth not obtained by production and manufacturing, but built on a fiscal house of cards propped up just enough for you and I to be able to participate as consumers, with flat wages, more accessable credit and relatively low interest rates.

The most insidious part of the the culture has been perpetrated by representatives of the 5% of Americans in control of 85% of the country's wealth. They became highly skilled at getting themselves defended by those whom they deluded into believing that when 'their ship came in' they could be just like them! And that those who weren't benefiting were either lazy, incompetent, unlucky or unmotivated.

The fact is, as the game was played it wasn't designed for the 'average' American to become 'one of them'. It was designed to allow the sleight of hand to be played one more round, until finally one round too many had been played.

Is there such a thing as 'social responsibility' for those who have benefited excessively from the game? Is it really true, as Kramer pointed out, that 'anybody can do it'?

Or is Dr. Brezinski right: it shouldn't be the government that should call the uber rich into account, but a sense that winning big, should mean that giving big is an 'social obligation'?

Is it merely a Biblical suggestion that " whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask more." Luke 12:48?

Friday, March 27, 2009

The D.R.E.A.M. Act Symposium

On April 9, from 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, Central Dallas Ministries, Southern Methodist University's School of Education and Human Development, the American Jewish Committee and Catholic Charities of Dallas, will be among the sponsors of the D.R.E.A.M. Act Symposium to be held on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The keynote speaker will be Frank Sharry, founder of America's Voice a national immigration policy and advocacy organization.

The D.R.E.A.M. (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, would provide certain immigrant students who graduate from an American High School, are of good moral character, arrived in the US as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. The students will obtain temporary residency for a lapse of six years. Within the six year period, a qualified student must attend college, and earn a two year degree, or serve in the military for two years in order to earn citizenship after the six years period. If student does not comply with either his/her college requirement or military service requirement, temporary residency will be taken away and student will be subjected to deportation.

Without passage of the D.R.E.A.M. Act, children and youth, many of whom know no other country but ours, risk deportation through no fault of their own. Critics suggest that these children's simply suffer the 'illegal' action of their parents. But consider the fact that we accept responsibility for AND pay for their public education in most cases for 12 years. They've played on football teams, been valedictorian or salutatorian. They have volunteered and been members of churches. They only ask for the opportunity to continue their education or serve our country and have the prospect of becoming citizens. This country can only benefit from the passage of this legislation.

The D.R.E.A.M. Act is an important interim step. It would probably be totally unnecessary, if our country had a coherent immigration policy. Until that time comes allowing children who are already a part of our society - who are not causing trouble and only want a viable future only makes sense.

I look forward to seeing you at the D.R.E.A.M. Act Symposium at SMU. Come and learn that this legislation and real comprehensive immigration reform don't have to be threats, they can be wonderful opportunities for our country.

Liz Cedillo-Pereira, a wonderfully committed immigration attorney in Dallas had the wonderful opportunity to ask President Obama that the D.R.E.A.M. Act needs to be passed. His reaction? "When it comes across my desk, I'll sign it..."

Let's get it on his desk!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

AIG Executive Resigns

The following are excerpts from a resignation letter written by Jake DeSantis, now a former employee of AIG.

I heard it was 'brave' of him to write this open Edward Liddy, the current CEO of the now infamous insurance company whose credit default swaps have helped cause the near collapse of the nation's economy.

In reading it, I couldn't help think that there are many sides to this tragic story. I also thought that it doesn't make much sense to really believe that the impersonal forces of the market are to remain unchecked and unfettered.

DeSantis may not be as hurt by this recession/depression as some people, but the disillusionment, distrust and sense of betrayal seemed to be what trickled down this time. More than an ideology or a political party failed this time. This is more than the 'risk/reward' aspects of doing business in a free market. Most of us understand this...

This time real people got hurt...

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself...

I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress...

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds...

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Jake DeSantis

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crisis Could Produce Opportunity - If We Wanted it To

What does it take to get an institution to try something different? Admittedly, that's hard work. Institutional culture and traditions die hard. But crisis can make pioneers out of us all!

Unless you are the Dallas Independent School District. In that case you simply tinker around the edges and overlay a few long implored techniques over the existing infrastructure, throw a few more dollars at it and hope for the best. Take for example the latest suggestion for schools in DISD that are threatened with closure should test scores not improve...

"Details are still being worked out, [Dr. Michael] Hinojosa said, but the plan would target six to eight of the district's struggling high schools. He said affected campuses have not been determined, because officials want to see which schools remain on the state's list after this spring's TAKS results come in.

"Students at the affected campuses would attend school for up to five extra school weeks, under the plan. Hinojosa said that would provide the students with more learning time and attract good teachers, who would receive $5,000 to $6,000 more in base pay.

"Hinojosa is also suggesting enhancing $6,000 bonuses that were offered to lure top-notch teachers to the neediest campuses. Those bonuses have not been successful, but raising the amount to $10,000 for teachers highly qualified in math and science could make the difference, he said.

"The teachers would automatically receive two-year contracts – an incentive for good teachers who fear losing their jobs if the campuses don't improve quickly.

""We needed to do something different than what we were doing," Hinojosa said. "Our intent is to try to drop in some high-caliber teachers."

"More instructional coaches also would be used to support classroom teachers."


These are not bad suggestions - they are interim efforts. The question is not how different will the administrative infrastructure be, its how different will instruction be? If the 'improvement' is adding teachers, paying them more and extending the school day without giving them the freedom to teach creatively, what difference does it make? And if, in the end, the focus is still to make sure that these kids demonstrate minimum proficiency on standardized tests, what does it mean other than lengthening the school year to produce mediocrity?

There are other more revolutionary models out there. Take for example Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago (College Prep - that in itself is a revolutionary idea!), a city wide magnet school.

"In his quest to improve America’s schools, President Obama has called for innovation and globalization. Successful models for that innovation can be found right in the former backyard of both Obama and new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. On a typical morning at Walter Payton College Prep High School in Chicago, students are greeted warmly by a guest instructor for the day. One day the guest may be from nearly 5,000 miles away in Switzerland, connected through the school’s state-of-the-art videoconference system. Another day there may be a teacher connected to the school from China. In math classes, students work on problems that come from peers as far away as France, India and Japan.

"At Walter Payton College Prep, a citywide magnet school, black students make up roughly 25 percent of the student body and Hispanics constitute roughly 21 percent.

"The school's curriculum and philosophy take dead aim on two entwined imperatives facing American education: the persistent problem of underachievement and high dropout rates, particularly among non-white and low-income students, and the equally urgent need to prepare all students for work and civic roles in a globalized environment, where success increasingly requires the ability to compete, connect and cooperate on an international scale.

"Duncan’s record in Chicago suggests he is up to the challenge of fostering the growth of more schools like Payton. He pushed for consistency and rigor in the K-12 curriculum and, amid other reforms, championed the creation of small, more engaging schools across the city. At the same time, he created the largest Chinese language program in the United States and, in Walter Payton College Prep, established one of the country’s best public schools focusing on international education.
"The key to the success of these schools [another such school in Seattle, Washington is cited in the article] is that they do not merely layer on an international perspective once the basics are covered or reserve international content for a select few; rather, they use a global focus to deeply engage all students in learning."

I do indeed get upset about public education. We are wasting an opportunity. We are wasting our future. We are wasting the talents of some excellent school teachers and principals. And we are wasting the lives of our children.

Chicago schools have plenty of problems. But there are examples in Chicago, and other areas, troubled and not so troubled, of using resources to encourage good teachers to do their best job and inspire children to learn. It seems to me that we could do better if we wanted to...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Earned" Health Care

It seemed like a rather routine Sunday morning at our church. Our congregation had made the decision the previous year to go to two services and I had just finished preaching the early service, when I received word that one of my members was not only in the hospital, but has on a ventilator and the family was waiting to make the decision to take her off of the machine and let her die. Her husband, also a member, wouldn't make the decision until I arrived.

After 22 years as a pastor, this was a first. Anita, the woman, was one of the most beloved member of our church. She had been a member there virtually all of her life and was in her late 50's. I performed the wedding ceremony in which she married Raymond, some years before. She had not only raised her children, but her grandchildren. She sung in the choir, she was a member of the Women's Ministry, she was a faithful and loyal church member.

What I thought was going to be a rather quick matter, lasted several hours, in fact I missed the second service. I prayed with the family, helped them understand what the doctors were saying about her condition and counseled them to make the decision that they could live with. We all knew that at that moment Anita was no longer breathing on her own, there was no brain activity, and they decided to let her go. We all said our good-byes, prayed again and watched her pass on.

Anita had cancer. I knew she had been in remission, but the cancer had returned, but she wasn't taking anymore treatment. Why? She had no health insurance. Her husband had health insurance when the cancer was first detected, and she was initially being treated. But he lost his job and could only find work with a temp agency that provided no benefits. Tired of being sick and unable to afford expensive chemotherapy, she simply made the decision to not get treatment. It wasn't common knowledge. In fact I didn't know until after she died that it had come to that. She knew they couldn't afford her illness and simply decided not to be a burden.

I read a response to our president and CEO, Larry James' blog regarding health care in Canada that made me think about Anita: it said simply, 'Health care is NOT a right, it has to be earned' (the post was actually on the site that crossposts Larry's, Janet Morrison's and my blogs, The response has since been removed).

How do you 'earn' health care'? Who makes the decision that someone else's physical, emotional, mental quality of life is expendable? Do you have to earn more money than Anita? Avoid being laid off, like Raymond? How much education do you have to have in order to 'earn' health care?

Anita was a high school graduate. Did she need a college degree? Being a faithful Christian and devoted church member didn't place her among those who 'earned' the right to affordable health care? Or was it the disease that disqualified her?

Is 'earning' health care a moral issue? And if that is the case, what aspect of morality disqualifies one from that privilege? Can you engage in premarital sex, but qualify if you make enough money? Or can you be greedy or fraudulent? And if its greed and fraudulence, what's the income level that constitutes the 'earned health care' threshold? If I'm materialistic but make $20,000 I'm disqualified, but I've 'earned it' if I make $200,000?

Maybe Anita should have put her grandchildren up for adoption. Or maybe she should have abandoned them to their parents who, admittedly because of their own irresponsibility, were unable to take care of them.

For awhile, Anita lived what some of us thought was a hard life. But she overcame that and she was compassionate and forgiving of those who made mistakes with their lives. Was she unqualified to receive the health care she so desperately needed because she hadn't dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't', throughout her entire life?

How do babies 'earn' health care? How do those with mental health challenges? Or those with birth defects?

It must be easy to make such pronouncements when the medicines we take are all in some way regulated by the federal government; when we all have to sign government mandated documents when we go for our doctors visits; when the government sets the rules on who can provide insurance; when the government determines who can and who cannot be a doctor; what can or cannot be a hospital, and what does and doesn't constitute health care, to declare that to provide health care to those who haven't 'earned' it is socialized medicine. After all, those of us who have health insurance aren't expendable. After all, we've earned the right to keep living.

Since we have that 'right', couldn't we have more humane attitudes?
Guess that might be too much to ask...

Monday, March 23, 2009

No Penalty for Early Payoff

Whatever one may think of the AIG bonus scandal, one thing is clear - America is paying attention (well, when it comes to Congress, maybe not close attention, but attention nonetheless)!

There are still more than a few questions about how the TARP money is or is not spent and why it credit markets haven't loosened up. Apparently its irritating some bank executives, to the point that they are complaining about the scrutiny!

Daniel Gross of Slate Magazine has an very practical solution: if you don't like the strings attached to the bailout dollars, just give money back...

"In October, Northern Trust, the Chicago-based bank announced it would take $1.5 billion in TARP funds. But now it's expressing annoyance that members of Congress are teed off about its sponsorship of a golf tournament. The bank, which is in good health, says it didn't seek the funds but agreed to participate because the government wanted all the major banks to take part. So is Northern Trust making maximum effort to pare expenses, conserve cash, or raise new capital so that it can return the TARP funds and avoid all this scrutiny? Not so much. Last Friday, CEO Frederick Waddell said the profitable bank wanted to repay funds "as quickly as prudently possible." Last month it declared its regular quarterly stock dividend of 28 cents per share, which costs about $62.5 million per quarter, or $250 million a year—enough to pay down one-sixth of the suddenly onerous obligation."

We all know its a tough time to be in banking and finance. But it looks as though some of these institutions can (unlike most of us), examine the fine print in their loan papers and make the determination to do without. Congratulations to Darrell G. Byrd, the CEO of Iberia Banks, who made just that decision. Got the money. Checked the fine print. Too much trouble so...

""Our board of directors has determined that continued participation in this program is no longer in the best interest of our company and its shareholders," Byrd said. Byrd announced that Iberia would pay back the funds with interest by the end of March."

Well there you go! Anybody else tired of being bailed out? Last I checked, the U.S. could use $350 billion or so...

Heads-Up: Crystia Freeland's interview with Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, is worth watching!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

These are Our Children - Is Anybody Listening to Them?

Of course I thought as the country really began to feel the impact of the economic crisis this past fall, that people who had stereotyped and denigrated the poor would realize that poverty can happen to anyone. I've decided that far too many are so locked in their ideologies and misguided ideas about individualism, that they probably can't be reached.

But there are any number of people who understand that poverty impacts real people.

These children are real. Their stories are real. They're not just our future. They are our present. And the solutions we employ, have to make their lives better and give them hope...

They really are us...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Albert Einstein
1879 - 1955

Physicist, Nobel Prize Winner, Author

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh, Now That's Just Silly!

Do you know anyone who is 'addicted' to unemployment insurance? Not chronically unemployed, I mean somebody who won't look for a job because they love collecting unemployment check? Not welfare, not disability - unemployment?!

Evidently that's a real danger in Texas!

Governor Rick Perry has rejected $555 million in unemployment insurance benefits available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus package). He's afraid that Texas' antiquated policies means that extending unemployment to part-time workers, the three month extenuation in benefits and the additional $25 a week that the unemployed would receive, will end western civilization capitalism as we've come to know it (and we all know how bad that would be!).

But there's another inherent danger that we've all never considered: the state and the unemployed could get 'hooked' on unemployment insurance benefits!

Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, says that expanding unemployment benefits for laid-off workers was like giving crack cocaine to an addict, “It’s like a drug dealer,” Hammond said. “The dealer gives you your first hit for free to get you hooked, and then you are addicted.”

It's a line he's obviously been polishing...

Texas and the unemployed - addicted to unemployment insurance? Seriously?!

Maybe Central Dallas Ministries Social Services can start a new 12 step program, "I've Been Laid Off Anonymous"...No, that's just silly.

So is that comparison!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alan Bean Gets It

After reading this, I was trying to figure out whether I could have stated America's racial problem better. I can't!

Thanks to Alan Bean, a Baptist preacher and executive director of Friends of Justice for his courage. You can read the full text of his post here.

"White people don’t talk about racial history. When we do we emphasize the great strides we have made. Our ancestors made some big mistakes, no doubt; but all wounds have now healed, all wrongs have been righted, every valley has been exalted, and all’s well in the world.
Which means that when black people dwell in the past they are just hurting themselves.
When we consider the career trajectory of an Eric Holder or a Barack Obama it is easy to buy into this ahistorical narrative. When a black man can become president or attorney general, how bad can it be, really?

"But when we move to the lower rungs of the social ladder this rosy portrait fades to white. Why are so many people of color mired in poverty? Why are inner city schools so abysmal? Why do so few poor black children have two parents? Why is the unemployment rate among young black males so high, and why must black people speak of the “just-us system”?

"Now we are face-to-face with history. Can we drive a wedge between these ugly facts and the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow?

"Sure we can. Black people, it is argued, fail due to laziness, broken families, drug addiction and ignorance.

"Solutions to these problems, from the dominant white perspective, have nothing to do with the past and everything to do with choices made in this present moment. The power of positive thinking (the real religion of America) is tied to the liberal dogma of inevitable progress. Every day in every way we are getting better.

"Because this is so, the best way to ease racial tensions is to ignore them. The less said the better. Time, that munificent elixor, will heal all wounds. Bad things happen when you remove the bandage and start picking at the scab.

"Such pablum passes for serious discourse in our post-racial America."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Greed is Good - Well Not So Much

There's a great deal of anger being expressed over the AIG executive bonus scandal (I'm sure someone will dub this 'AIG-Gate'!). It's understandable, but I'm beginning to wonder how much of this is projected anger?

To those of us novitiates, its really hard to imagine that no one saw something like this coming - either Congress last year in approving the bailouts, or even the Obama administration this year. Didn't anyone go over the books and see what was due to be paid out in executive compensation?!

AIG was rescued, being given $170 billion because it was 'too big to fail'. If the company was that big, did no one figure in an age of huge executive bonuses, that AIG had some outstanding 'bonus bills'?

Of course some of this is a political posturing (especially Senator Chuck Grassley's call for AIG executives to commit Hari-Kari). But there are those whose angst is real and it suggests to me at least three things:

1. I'm reminded of the junior high teacher of mine who wanted to make sure that his connection to a potential donor went to someone who doesn't 'game the system', and the many people who have always spoken scathingly about the 'undeserving poor' (pan handlers, the homeless and those on welfare, etc.); meanwhile, the Bernie Madoff's and corporate scam artists on Wall Street (AIG and others) were stealing this country blind enough to cause near world-wide economic collapse! Of course, when this is pointed out, someone out there making $35,000 a year, will still standing up for someone with a $3 million bonus, will accuse anyone who says this of inciting 'class warfare' (sigh)...

2. It also shows that those who cry for the market to regulate itself haven't quite grasped the idea that the market has only as much morality as those who operate within it. Even now, those who called for more deregulation while this house of cards was being built are now crying for regulation. It's analogous to a robber crying out to a homeowner, "I've got your jewelry...PLEASE call the cops so I won't take your silver too! I can't help myself!"

3. But probably the most alarming thing is that this giant scheme was being foisted on the country (the world actually), in such a way that all of us benefited from it, and to such an extent that no one asked many hard questions. Jon Stewart, rightly points out that the media finance gurus at CNBC and elsewhere, had to know that what our economy was shifting from a manufacturing base to one built on the prospective value of paper! Yet they encouraged these investments as sound.

And the rest of us, are made to feel somewhat complicit in the sense that our 401k's, the mortgages we couldn't afford with our middle class incomes and the cars we drove all allowed us the illusion of comfort we 'earned' with our hard earned dollars.

Now what we've learned is that none of that was nearly as true as we thought it was. We've either lost what we have, or we're desperately trying to hold on to what we've got.

The bailouts, being touted by politicians, economists, pundits and everyone in between sink us deeper into debt, without concrete assurance that they will work, or when they will work. And now the guys who 'did it' get paid! Oh some low level grunts will get $1000, some $5000. But others will get millions! Andrew Cuomo, New York attorney general, revealed that 73 AIG executives were paid at least $1 million or more. We feel foolish. We feel angry, because America prizes security above anything else. This is a country which, for awhile, was willing to hand over our civil liberties, almost without question, just so we could feel 'secure'. Now we find out that what made many of us feel most secure: our money, our possessions, our toys, didn't represent the security we thought they did.

I believe along with most others that we will pull through all of this. Not only this, but we can come out stronger. But I wonder whether we will come out of this any wiser, any more charitable. Will we actually begin to see that our greatest resources are our fellow citizens? Or will we return to our selfishness, isolationism and materialism?

A few years ago, we thought we had learned our lesson. Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, was popular because we recognized the folly of his argument that 'Greed is good...'

And then we forgot...and got greedy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Real Book on Poverty

Increasingly the people falling into the ranks of the poor are those who previously were classified as 'middle class'. In what I believe to be a type of individualistic protectionist posture, many still wish to stereotype those who are poor as being those who 'choose' not to make it.

Even in this recession, the fact that unemployment among African-Americans is nearly double that of whites (at 13.4%), is confirmation for some that this is not an issue of the economy as much as it is an issue of 'will' and determination.

Barbara Ehernriech, whose book "Nickle and Dimed", really warned of the danger of income inequality in our nation. In an effort to simulate the plight of middle class/working class Americans, she took low wage to middle income employment to show how difficult it was, not just to get ahead, but simply to make ends meet.

Adam Shepherd, young college graduate, challenged the premise of Ehrenriech's book with a simulated study of his own. He published a book based on his own experience, "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25 and the Search for the American Dream". Shepherd takes $25, a relatively low wage job and graduates to a used truck and an apartment.

In his interview with John Stossel on ABC's 20/20, he touts his frugality and the sacrifices he made in order to find the level of success he made. He points to Ehrenriech's 'extravagances' ("she bought $40 pants", he said).

I actually think that what both of these books point to are the limits of simulated exercises! While somewhat effective, lessons learned depend entirely on the objective.
Give me the real life experiences of people whose lives are being ruined by our country's drift into corporate greed and the creation of a culture of materialism. Like this one, being replicated countless times throughout our country today...

While I respect the work of Ms. Ehrenriech and Mr. Shepherd, no one in these tents intends to write a book...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Uncivil Religion

We all have to remember that each of us have the right to argue our religious convictions passionately. We have the right to try and persuade others that our points of view are valid and deserve space in public debate.

But all of us must remember that self righteousness and pomposity can undercut the message, no matter how valid. Especially when it drifts into incivility and disrespect.

Perhaps, this is something of what Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts had in mind when he wrote recently:

"Who can be surprised if the sheer absurdity, fundamentalist cruelty and ungodly hypocrisy that have characterized so much "religion" in the last 30 years have driven people away? If all I knew of God was what I had seen in the headlines, I would not be eager to make his acquaintance. I am thankful I know more."

"Including that God and religion are not synonymous. God is, for the faithful at least, the sovereign creator of all creation. Religion is what men and women put in place, ostensibly to worship and serve him. Too often, though, religion worships and serves that which has nothing to do with him, worships money and serves politics, worships charisma and serves ego, worships intolerance and serves self."

It's something all of us who describe ourselves as people of faith should remember...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Makes Perfect Sense to Me!

If Texas would change the way it calculates when a person is eligible for unemployment insurance, it would be eligible for $185 million in unemployment benefits.

By making that change, Texas becomes eligible for an additional $385 million in unemployment insurance.

Fail to do either and Texas forfeits the $555 billion...

Because of an impending shortfall of $812 mllion shortfall, in the unemployment insurance fund, Texas businesses will have to pay an additional $294 million to make up for the deficit, if it takes the stimulus. If Texas rejects the unemployment stimulus it will have to pay $935 million!

So what's a Governor to do?

"Gov. Rick Perry today stood with Texas employers and the millions of Texans they employ to resist further government intrusion into their business through an expansion of our state’s unemployment insurance program."

"“Texans who hire Texans drive our state’s economic engine. During these tough times, Texas employers are working harder than ever to move products to market, make payroll and create jobs. The last thing they need is government burdening them with higher taxes and expanded obligations,” Gov. Perry said. “I am here today to stand with Texas employers and the millions of Texans they employ to resist further government intrusion into their businesses through an expansion of our state’s unemployment insurance program.”"


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Help Children Avoid Homelessness - Start With the Parents

The issue of child homelessness, has a very simple solution - provide support and easier access to support for parents of poor children.

For instance, according to The National Center on Family Homelessness, Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom apartment is $781 a month. A single mother making minimum wage ($6.55 an hour), would have to work 92 hours a week to afford rent. To afford an apartment at FMR, means that a single working adult would have to make at least $15 an hour. The typical homeless family in Texas is a single mother on public assistance and receives less than $713 a month (less than 50% of the Federal Poverty Level. The answer (or at least an answer): Texas should take advantage of its flexibility in providing child care vouchers, giving priority to the children of homeless parents, allowing them to participate in job training programs that prepare them for jobs that pay a living wage.

For 2% of the state budget ($834 million), Texas could provide housing at FMR, for its homeless population.

Texas can also provide health care for all uninsured children in Texas (about 1.5 million, between 21-25% of the state's children). If state lawmakers pass legislation that provides greater access to SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) and Medicaid, Texas not only avoids the heavier burden of financial and social costs of associated with kids who go years without consistent medical care, Texas' tax dollars are returned to the state through the SCHIP program. The federal match for every dollar spent on SCHIP, is $2.52. For Medicaid, the federal match is $1.47. The more children enrolled, the more the state benefits financially. By making it possible for children to enroll in Medicaid once a year instead of twice a year, it removes a cumbersome step that can at times interfere with the care and treatment of sick children.

In the area of hunger, Texas can also strengthen and improve its outreach to families eligible for food stamps. Enrolling everyone eligible for food stamps pays is good business. Hungry, homeless children aren't.

Sixty-seven percent of eligible Texans received food stamps. In Dallas County that translates into approximately 52,000, eligible Texans who didn't receive them. It cost the grocers in Dallas County more than $173 million to have a third of its residents eligible citizens not participating in this program. Food stamp eligible Texans with children enrolled in the program are below the 67% mark - its at 58%. Which means that millions of dollars are not flowing through the economy because of insufficient outreach. Make no mistake about it, either way you slice it, food stamps are currency you don't save, its currency you spend.

These are just a few ways that Texas can abate the problem of homelessness among children. No philanthropic initiative will help them more than public policy changes that provide an opportunity their parents to care for them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Child Homelessness Close to Home

Homelessness is easy for most people to distance themselves from.

It happens to 'other people'. They are people who are irresponsible, who need to 'take care of their business'. They are frightening, lazy, criminal, public health nuisances. Those are the adults.

But then there are the children. It is (or it ought to be) much more difficult to dismiss the children of parents who are homeless through no fault of their own. It happens because of illness, divorce, domestic violence, financial misfortune that can result from the repossession of a house or eviction from an apartment. There are 1.5 million of these children in our country and they are rarely thought of when people opine about how the homeless ought not be the responsibility of the rest of us.

According to the National Center of Family Homelessness, Texas ranks 50th in the nation in child homelessness. This means, according to the report that when it comes to the extent of homelessness, childhood well being among homeless children, the risk of child homelessness and state policy and planning Texas is dead last.

Poverty in and of itself is a problem in the Lone Star state. More than 2.1 million children live in families which are classified as poor. Forty per cent of those children are white, 46% Hispanic and 13% are African-American. One quarter of them are without any health insurance. When we talk about the 'undeserving poor', we more often than not, don't think of them.

Each year, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, a consortium of agency which provide services to the poor and homeless, conduct an annual homeless count. The 2009 numbers have not been compiled yet, but in 2008 there were nearly 6000 homeless people counted. There are two things you need to remember about this census: a) it is highly likely that this represents an under count - not because MDHA intentionally under counts the homeless, but because many of them don't want to be found b) the 6000+ homeless in Dallas County will be significantly higher this year because of the economy.

Of those 6000+ homeless citizens of Dallas, more than 700 are youth and children. Twenty-two percent of these children are between the ages of 4-6. The largest group are ages 1-3 at 23%.

Enough of the stats for now. I guess the upshot of all of this is that the issue of homelessness is not just a matter of who 'deserves' to be helped. There are a number of things that a number of people who find themselves homeless 'could' have done or maybe 'should' have done. I think we ought to work on those things. Call it personal responsibility; call it greater accountability; call it planning ahead - let's work on all of those things.

But while we're working on all of those things - aren't there some things we could be and should be doing? I mean, before we consign a generation of children to a life that we wouldn't wish for our own?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A National Shame

The National Center on Family Homelessness releases its report today on child homelessness. The numbers are devastating.

  • 1.5 million children are homeless each year

  • 34% of the nearly 3.5 million Americans that experience homelessness are families

  • the recession and housing foreclosures are likely to increase those numbers
These children are disproportionately African-American and Native-American

They suffer from emotional and physical diseases, such as asthma, traumatic stress and emotional disorders.

Texas ranks number 50 in how it provides for homeless children - last!
There are a number of recommendations made by the NCFH to deal with this national tragedy:

  • Fund 400,000 new Housing Vouchers at $3.6 billion for two years to provide the lowest income households with rent assistance.

  • Fund the homelessness prevention component of the Emergency Shelter Grant program at $2 billion for two years to prevent low-income households from becoming homeless and to rapidly re-house those that do lose their homes; 400,000 households will be assisted.

  • Set aside one-third of housing vouchers, National Housing Trust Fund resources, and other housing program resources for homeless families and families who are at risk of homelessness (50% of the Federal Poverty Level).

  • Fully fund Subtitle B of Title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431) at $210 million to ensure that every homeless child can enroll in and attend school, and receive the services they need to succeed.

  • Adopt the proposed $2 billion for the Emergency Shelter Grant and ensure that 30% ($6 million) is dedicated to trauma-informed services for children and families. Invest $3 billion into child care vouchers for children experiencing homelessness so that they can receive the early care and education they deserve, and so that their parents can engage in employment, job training, and other activities to lift their families out of homelessness.

  • Expand the TANF contingency fund so that states are able to provide cash assistance to the increasing number of very poor families.

  • Provide a temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which states should implement within 30 to 60 days of enactment
Millions of children are in crisis. They really are all of our children. If you think we can't afford to do something, I'd say we can't afford not to.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Tough Question

I've not posted a reply on Dallas Morning News Texas Faith Forum for a few weeks. No problem in particular, just been busy and forgetful. This week's question has to d0 with whether or not we are our brother's keeper, in line with Genesis 4:9 and in light of the Obama administration's plan to help bail out people behind in their mortgages (a gross overstatement and oversimplification of the plan, as I understand it).

That's not an easy question to answer. On one hand the answer is a resounding 'Yes'. Especially when it comes to certain individual applications and to our response to people who are truly vulnerable. But as a collective, as a society, what obligation do we have to people whom we believe were either greedy or just plain gullible? Are we to simply let them 'stew in their own juices'? 'Lie in the bed they've made'? Is it easy to discern between those who were taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders and brokers, and those who knew what they were doing, but thought that they had the business acumen to make astute decisions before it was too late?

I'll try how to 'officially' answer the question by Monday, but for now, let me say this: if it is true that the web of our economy is as intertwined as some experts say it is, being one's brothers keeper is not a matter of principle - and maybe not even a matter of faith - it may be a matter of self-defense!

If enough of our brothers (and sisters), don't have 'keepers', we all my find ourselves in circumstances nearly as, or just as dire and undesirable.

Dr. Martin E. Marty says, "...since the morality in question and prudence of pragmatism can be webbed, so it's time to note that in this case being generous through governmental social policy -- ouch! even when we weren't asked -- can leave the nation better off than if foreclosures, unemployment, stock losses, and setbacks occur only to people who were foolish. The economy is worse off than if we can figure out ways to use intelligence and vision and even a warm heart in efforts to keep citizens fiscally afloat and alive. The price of many going down can be that every one goes down. But as we sink, some will find pleasure in indiscriminately judging all whose investments went sour to be cheaters."

If those of us who through whatever means, escaped the fate of some of those whose home values have eroded because of bad choices or corruption, can step back from our self congratulation, maybe we could ask ourselves, "What would I want done for me, if I were in that situation?"

It has to do with another verse in the Bible, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Paul Harvey

Journalist, Radio Host, Commentator, Cultural Icon

"In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Now Can We Have Our Money?

Texas jobless rate hits 6.4%. That translates into more than 75,000 jobs lost in January.

Revised figures for 2008 job growth show 93, 700 vs. the 153, 600 jobs originally touted

Texas lost 7600 jobs in November 2008 and 16, 200 jobs in December of last year

The only areas gaining jobs were government, education and hospitality, barely accounting for 8000 jobs

The Dallas/Ft. Worth area is the most diversified for employment in the state. It's unemployment rate is 7.1%

Governor Perry? Can we have the unemployment benefits portion of the stimulus package? Now? Please?

Yeah, We Wouldn't Want THAT to Happen!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

So Much for This Fantasy

Okay, I admit it. I've been a little over optimistic. Not so much naive, but way too hopeful.

After watching Michael Steele at the State of Black America on Saturday, and Rush Limbaugh at CPAC on the Saturday night C-SPAN re-broadcast, I was hopeful that Steele as the head of the GOP, would provide his party with a sane, rational role as the loyal opposition, to the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.

No, I'm not disenchanted with the President. I believe the country will be better in the long run.

But after Limbaugh's rant on Saturday, he said the following of CBS Sunday Morning,“I'm not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don't want to be. I would be embarrassed to say that I'm in charge of the Republican Party in the sad-sack state that it's in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it's in, I would quit. I might get out the hari-kari knife because I would have presided over a failure that is embarrassing to the Republicans and conservatives who have supported it and invested in it all these years.”

Saturday night, Steele had the chance to declare that he was the leader of the Republican Party and that Rush Limbaugh spoke for a faction that was no longer viable. On Sunday night he tried...

Steele quickly back peddled: “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

[Rush Limbaugh is] “a very valuable conservative voice for our party.” “He brings a very important message to the American people to wake up and pay attention to what the administration is doing," Steele said. "Number two, there are those out there who want to look at what he’s saying as incendiary and divisive and ugly. That’s what I was trying to say. It didn’t come out that way. … He does what he does best, which is provoke: He provokes thought, he provokes the left. And they’re clearly the ones who are most excited about him.” Asked if he planned to apologize, Steele said: “I wasn’t trying to offend anybody. So, yeah, if he’s offended, I’d say: Look, I’m not in the business of hurting people’s feelings here. … My job is to try to bring us all together.”

And for his trouble at an attempt to bring intra-party unity, the Party Chair got this:

I have absolutely no intention of making Michael Steele's leadership a preoccupation (especially now). But I'm that type of voter that abhors uncontested elections. I believe that citizens deserve a choice. I believe that all candidates should earn the votes of the electorate.

We all win when policies and messages are crafted to challenge the ideals and the imaginations of voters. The Republicans lost in November because their policies left out the majority of the country in their benefits. And while it is certainly not true of every Republican voter or politician, Republican leadership was too often viewed as divisive, mean and insensitive. A culture of greed, materialism and excess helped drive the economy into a ditch so deep, that extreme corrective spending by the Obama administration is no absolute guarantee to bring us out. And even now, they are being viewed more as obstructionists than a loyal opposition.

They have the chance to do something other than yell the same message louder.

The entertainer of the faction that brought about that loss disagrees. The newly elected leader of the party can't seem to find his voice and declare a new day.

It's pretty unfortunate....

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Quality of the Alternative

TV host, commentator and author, Tavis Smiley has for the past 10 years sponsored an outstanding event called 'The State of Black America'.

It is a conversation among politicians, activists, academics, young people, artists like, Na'Im Akbar of Florida State University, Cornell West of Princeton University, Randall Robinson, founder and former head of the TransAfrica Forum and Van Jones, environmentalist and president of Green For All. The conference, broadcast every year on C-SPAN and is about the plight of African-Americans in this country and what we should be doing for ourselves and what public policy is most effective for our communities. Yes, there can be what some would refer to as Republican bashing, and as usual when you get this many public figures together there is a lot of speech making. But so much more is the admonishment and exhortation for black people to do what black people need to do for themselves. And there are, believe it or not, diverse opinions.

This year was special, because of the 10th anniversary but of course because of Barack Obama. This was no Obama love fest altogether. Obviously proud, what predominated the conversation was how to hold Obama accountable while being supportive of him.

In the middle of the conversation on the second panel, was RNC Michael Steele. Steele's presence isn't token, or obligatory. He was there last year. Steele is incredibly interesting to me. He represents a diversity of thought (different from mine in many ways), that I think can represent something I don't believe African-Americans have ever had in this country, in a political sense. If he is doing more than saying the right things, failure on Obama's part to govern wisely and well COULD open the door to options never before considered (sorry the 2008 election just wasn't that kind of party).

Here is Steele's response to open up the second half of the State of Black America session...

But just as I was about to believe that there might be hope for civil political discourse and the prospect of a decent political alternative in this country I saw this...

Let me say I did watch most of Limbaugh's speech. I really hadn't listened to him in many years, and I thought it fair to hear him out.

After listening to Steele on Saturday morning and Limbaugh on Saturday night. The question was left asking is: Which is the real voice of the GOP? And which is the future?

The answer is important, because it determines the fate of our country...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Praying for Freedom

"Oh, how those people prayed for freedom!" recalled Susie King Taylor of Georgia. "I remember, one night, my grandmother went out into the suburbs of the city to a church meeting, and they were fervently singing this old hymn:'Yes, we all shall be free/When the Lord shall appear." Sam Clement recalled that the dark clouds of slavery would pass away, and they would be as free as their mistresses and masters."

Some believed they'd get freedom and others didn't," Laura Abromson recalled. "They had places they met and prayed for freedom. They stole out in some of their houses and true a wash-pot down at the door." According to Edie Dennis, the pot was intended "to keep the sound of their voices from 'escaping' or being heard from the outside. Then the slaves would sing, pray, and relate experiences a night long. Their great, soul-hungering desire was freedom - not that they loved the Yankees or hated their masters, but merely longed to be free and hated the institution of slavery. Everyone felt the spirit of the Lord," and just before daybreak, after chanting "for fifteen or twenty minutes, all would shake hands again and go home: confident in their hearts that freedom was in the offing."

"The Slaves War: The Civil War in the Words of former Slaves", by Andrew Ward