Monday, August 31, 2009

Unify South Dallas: First Meeting - So Far, So Good!

Unify South Dallas had its first of seven community information sessions this past Saturday. I don't know how to classify it other than an unqualified success! There were over 50 people representing almost 10 community organizations present.

The first session was intended to introduce the effort, sponsored by a number of community non-profits, and organizations, including Central Dallas Ministries, Mill City Renessaince and the African American Museum, but provided significant leadership by IKOJA and Hip Hop Government. The latter two organizations are primarily grassroots, headed by young professionals who are serious about encouraging young people in South Dallas to be serious about civic engagement and community revitalization.

We looked at a number of strategic plans, some several years old and some of which have produced results, but some of which are obsolete, given the opportunities and new realities of today. More importantly, there are a number of elements of these plans which have been implemented, without having come back to the community to explain how they relate to which previous plans, the benefits or how they are prioritized or reprioritized with other elements of what plan. And, yes, there are some plans that are in someone's drawer somewhere.

In most instances there is no communication about the cost of the project, what kind of civic support is needed or how a given project may translate into entreprenuerial opportunities or jobs, or may serve to mitigate certain other neighborhood problems.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when the city and other agencies do hold the obligatory community meetings to serve notice or get feedback (that's how many of these plans evolve). But there are any number of cases when notices are given in ineffectively: notices in the newspaper; inserts in water bills, etc. So in many communities it takes a much more intentional effort.

However, it has to be noted, that these calls for accountability are not one sided. Unify South Dallas is calling on neighborhood associations, non-profits, churches and other groups to be more proactive and more aware - to exercise a much more advanced citizenship and to get more substantively involved. Unify South Dallas is calling on citizens in South Dallas to engage in advanced citizenship.

The schedule is as follows:

September 19. Presenters include: Dallas Area Rapid Transit; Developers, McCormack, Baron, Salazar; Inner City Development Corporation; Frazier Revitalization, Inc.; the Real Estate Council Foundation

September 26. South Dallas Hope Initiative/South Dallas Action Plan; City of Dallas Economic Development Department; Mill City Renaissance

October 3. State Fair of Texas, Fair Park Museums, City of Dallas Parks and Recreation

October 24. Reaching project consensus with groups that have been in attendance.

November 5. Meeting with elected officials and presentation of community agenda.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Maynard Holbrook Jackson
1938 - 2003

Mayor of Atlanta

(1973-77; 1977-1981; 1989-1993)

Politician, Business Leader

"Politics is not perfect but it's the best available nonviolent means of changing how we live."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Some Things Come With the Job - Like Showing Up

I'm going to have a little trouble writing this post. I may fumble it a little, so forgive me where necessary and be sensitive to the intent.

Criticizing local black politicians doesn't come easy for me. At least not publicly. One reason is because Dallas' history of black city councilpersons is historically brief. I'm old enough to remember George Allen, the first African-American to serve on the council - it was 1969. And, what is most unfortunate, I could actually take the time and name all of the black Dallasites who have served on the council since then. So, I, like many others who have given some leadership in the African-American community, have been slow to publicly offer much in the way of criticism or critique. Some would say that's more excuse than reason...if you say so, I take the, uh, criticism (or critique).

So here goes...

Why would anyone go through all of the trouble of running for office AND reelection and complain about having a rule stating you have to sit through at least half of that meeting in order to get paid for the full session?!

Are you serious?

Now council persons only make around $37,000 a year. A mere pittance I know. But this is not like you win the election and then get told how much the job pays. As far as I know, no one is actually drafted to run - this isn't the armed services. You actually ask for the position.

Here's the deal: The mayor of Dallas, Tom Leppert, is instituting the above stated rule. And four of the 15 council persons (I'm including the mayor) actually voted against it!

Excuse me?

That's bad enough - but the comments of one council member, Carolyn Davis, who happens to be African-American, are particularly troubling: "An angry Davis said the new rule could interfere with personal business like picking up her daughter from school."

""I feel like I'm in a strong mayor form of government. It's wrong. It's just wrong. It's absolutely wrong," she said.""

Now aside from being weary of family being the default position by which one shuts down all criticism and vigorous argument; most parents I know people who have had (or have) work schedules where they have to make arrangements to take children to school or pick them up. There are any number of parents who do, indeed experience pangs of guilt because they can't see their children off to school or be at home when they get out. But we live a 24 hour society and virtually all of us do what we have to do given our resources.

But Dallas' city council convenes once a week August of one year through June of the next. Council members do have busy schedules otherwise. But they have a little adhered to rule that states they only have to have a 10% attendance at committee meetings (apparently excluding regular council meetings). And now, the requirement to be present for only half of a council meeting. On Wednesdays. For eleven months. For a position for which you've campaigned. To represent the people who've placed their trust in you.

I don't get it.

Here's the source of my angst. The area Ms. Davis represents includes areas that are in crisis. Those areas are in dire need of economic redevelopment, code enforcement, increased safety, jobs, homelessness, services for the elderly, housing, jobs. It has areas of concentrated poverty and has been designated an environmental justice community. Its amazing that whomever represents that district doesn't have a cot at city hall! She's quibbling about a rule that says you need to stay for half a meeting?!

I don't get it.

I almost always bristle when friends, relatives tell me that Dallas is 'behind the times'. But part of the reason for that is because I know it to be true.

African-American city council members in the past had tough challenges. Indeed, fighting racism on the council and off the council. Fighting to demonstrate their competency and being taken seriously - carrying the burden of being 'the first', knowing that how they carried themselves would impact how those who followed would be received.

Don't get me wrong. We had our share of revolutionaries and flame throwers. They were activists whose antics infuriated and frightened white people, they ennobled some blacks and embarrassed some others. But given that time in our history they were just what we needed. They voiced our frustrations and demanded respect for us.

Today is different. We need serious people. We need politicians who will develop a degree of sophistication that will earn them respect that can be leveraged to make our communities healthy. We need politicians who are visionaries, who understand the critical nature of the transformation of these neglected communities to the health and well being of Dallas as a whole.
We don't just need those who voice frustration. There are people in those neighborhoods who are want to make a difference - they need someone to represent them in the halls of government that has the ambition to make history. We need politicians who will organize and prepare citizens to understand what they can expect from government and show them how to work to get that. We need politicians who will talk about what they can do with their constituency - not how hard the job is and what's not possible.

Ms. Davis' attitude and her comments are unfortunate. Really. It shows a lack of understanding of the significance of the office she holds. Many of us have jobs that allow us to take certain liberties. Many of us take more of those liberties than we should. But few of us would ask for a promotion and then complain that the demands of the job we ask for don't allow us to take those liberties anymore.

Some things just come with job. Like responsibility.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Glad He Lived to Comb Gray Hair

When Ted Kennedy eulogized John Kennedy, Jr., he quoted a line from an Irish poet that caught my attention: 'We dared to dream that some day he would comb gray hair.'
It is a line that could have easily applied to his brothers, Joe, Jack or Bobby. Obviously not Ted.

There was a type of wondrous irony, that the Kennedy brother who seemed to be the least accomplished, the least acclaimed, the least charismatic when compared to nearly any of his siblings, turned out to be the most enduring and effective. To be a 'Kennedyphile' for my generation, was to know everything about conspiracy theories, John and Robert, Jackie O, maybe Joe, Sr. and Rose. There was, for most of our lives, something wildly out of sorts about the youngest Kennedy brother. But he is the one that has always been here. And in someways we were always comforted by that even though there were times we were not always quite sure about him.

We live in an oddly voyeuristic and hypocritically puritanical age now. We want the lurid details about the private lives of public people. At the same time, some of us feel quite at ease self righteously referring to President Kennedy, for instance, as a 'sleaze', while making clumsy excuses for the failures of the people we admire. Its quite easy to look back on the lives of historic figures and determine what they should have been when judged by our enlightened moral standards.

Were ours the predominating attitude in 1969, Edward Moore Kennedy's political career would have been over. Chappequiddick, the sad tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, Kennedy's irresponsibility and his clumsy attempt at accountability would have brought it to a screeching halt.

Ours is an political era during which we have disposable national figures. That's why many are cautious about running for office - especially the highest office in the land. Were that mindset the prevailing one in 1980, Ted Kennedy would have gone from contender for the presidency to a minor political player, making the cable news talk show circuit to make banal, partisan points regarding the minority or majority party position. Senator Kennedy went back to the senate and arguably became one of the most powerful Washington politicians of our age. He compiled such a resume of legislative achievements that he impacted the landscape of national public policy in ways that none of the 10 presidents elected during his near 50 year tenure in the senate had.

There was something unique and Kennedyesque about his endurance, even though it was endurance we had never seen in a Kennedy politician before. There was something reassuring about that endurance, so much so, I remember hearing adults (I was just about to vote in my first presidential election) that many hoped that he wouldn't run for the office in 1980 and having lost prayed he would never run again, lest he meet the same fate as his brothers.

So we've had Edward Moore Kennedy. A public figure, for almost 50 years, a senator, no less and a great one by nearly all accounts.

Kennedy became the master of the senate, in the way history records the profiles of, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn or 'Tip' O'neil. But there was the Kennedy drama that went along with that period. Assassination. Scandal. Personal failure and weakness. We've seen him bear the burden of the legacy that fell on his shoulders; we've seen him buckle under that burden. We've seen him overcome, mature and we've seen him champion the causes that meant so much to so many.

We've seen him forge improbable alliances with political foes and we're hearing the stories of personal kindnesses that knew no ideological boundaries. We're hearing about the humanity of one who transformed the relationship of uncle to that of surrogate father to new generations of Kennedys and we've seen him expend the last of his political and personal character to get the first African-American president be elected.

Joe, Jr., Jack, Bobby and Ted. An era has ended.

People imperiously say they detest the word 'dynasty' when it comes to politics. That's because we now live in a country in which anyone believes they can rise as far as presidential office. Any man. Any woman. Any color. That's possible in part, because of this family were among those Americans committed to making the principles of democracy real; it was a family of privilege that didn't use that privilege as an excuse to hide from public life. Its fashionable to call it 'socialism' to use the wealth of the nation to care for others. The Kennedys used their wealth to free them to make life better for others. And talked of public service as a 'noble pursuit'.

All four brothers died in that pursuit. I don't mind calling that a dynasty.

Edward Moore Kennedy was not perfect. None of the brothers were. None of us are. The family has dysfunctions. Every family does. And they have suffered great tragedy - and it made them empathetic to the tragic sufferings of others. Would to God, that could be the case with more of us. Perhaps the greatest lesson of their lives is that your life doesn't have to be perfect to serve.
And to serve well and with honor.
Ted Kennedy did live to comb gray hair - and we're all the better for it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Memoriam: Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (1932 - 2007)

The Lion of the Senate

"The work begins anew; the hope rises again and the dream lives on"

Alright, So Now What...?

Michael Steele, the Republican Party Chairman, is weighing in publicly on the health care debate. To be fair, he's probably gone on the record long before now but I haven't heard him, so I'll cut him some slack.

Here's an excerpt of his Washingtion Post op-ed:

"Americans are engaged in a critical debate over reforming our health-care system. While Republicans believe that reforms are necessary, President Obama's plan for a government-run health-care system is the wrong prescription. The Democrats' plan will hurt American families, small businesses and health-care providers by raising care costs, increasing the deficit, and not allowing patients to keep a doctor or insurance plan of their choice. Furthermore, under the Democrats' plan, senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed."

"Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors. That is why Republicans support a Seniors' Health Care Bill of Rights, which we are introducing today, to ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care. We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation's senior citizens."

Steele's column gives me a chance to ask two questions that I have been pondering for the past few weeks. He says, "...Republicans believe that reforms are necessary..." I think we hear everyone say that health care/health insurance/health care costs are 'a problem' or that 'we know that reform is needed'. Did they just get the memo? Did the Obama victory just reveal that? Because I'm not sure I've heard or seen in the past eight years or so any major effort to resolve what everyone suddenly 'knows' to be a problem now.

So the question is: if everyone 'knows' that reform is needed; that health care costs are out of control; that access should be for everyone regardless of their condition - why is it nothing has been done before now?!

Not since the Clinton administration has there been a major push to reform health care. And in the interregnum between Clinton and Obama, no health care measures, beyond individual health accounts have been proposed (although we did get a drug benefit plan that the government pays for - isn't that a form of socialized medicine?). I repeat, if everyone knows its a problem, why is it only now that we are trying to fix it.

The next question is - where is the alternative proposal? The Republican Party chairman says he knows it needs to be fixed and lays out a six point plan that doesn't fix the system. It doesn't propose to cut waste or inefficiency. It doesn't address the need to cover everyone - or even say why it shouldn't be done. If the Democrats have a plan that is no good, should the Republicans be pushing a plan that they think is good? Steele, unfortunately, raises the specter of a bogey man with the Democratic plan and then says calls for a 'bi-partisan' approach.

Excuse me - if the Republicans are saying that they will not support any plan proposed by the Democratic majority, whose practicing partisanship?

There are moral, fiscal and political reasons to have health care reform. Unless the goal is to do so in a way that keeps insurance companies making mega-billions, they shouldn't be that hard to find. We just need some legislators who want to.

By the way - which party controls the House and the Senate?

My monthly DMN column can be read here...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Texans Can Still Get Rid of Their Clunkers

The 'Cash for Clunkers' program has come to an end. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood says that between 700,000 and 800,000 cars have been sold throughout the country.

The 'Car Allowance Rebate System' (or 'CARS', the real name for the program), has been apparently wildly successful, in spite of some problems dealers are having getting reimbursed from the fed. More than 625,000 vouchers have been submitted for nearly $3 billion of federal money to get gas guzzling cars off the street, traded in for fuel efficient new models.

The fun us over. But wait a minute!

If you live in Texas there's still hope! If you are single, make $30,000 (if you have a family add another $10,000 per family member), have missed the 'Cash for Clunkers' deadline, there's still a program for you. Has been since 2007.

Air Check Texas is a program that provides working class people with up to $3500 to apply to a purchase of a new car. In fact the car doesn't have to be brand new - it can be up to three years old. You can find more information here.

And for those of you who managed to take advantage of BOTH programs...good for you! Proceed quickly to the head of the class!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School

No matter my critique or criticism of the public education system, I still believe that concept of a free public education to every child is probably one of our country's greatest gifts to the world.

I many schools in Texas, this is the first day back to school! So, a little something to all of my friends who are teachers, students, parents, grandparents and guardians of those precious young minds who will be filing into classrooms this morning:

It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time -- for we are bound by that -- but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.

T.S. Eliot
Have a GREAT school year!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's Getting Harder to Recognize One Another

Once again, Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist with the Miami Herald has an analysis of our country's strange new hysteria right on the mark.

Actually, its probably not quite so strange, and, unfortunately not so new. It's a matter of people whose fear of change has caused them to forget the dysfunction of the past few years and show a side of America brings our differences and distances into high relief.

Or maybe we've just finally found the 12% of citizens who thought the country was headed in the right direction last year!

"The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly – and, yes, legally – strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson's quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with "the blood of ... tyrants.""

"It remains unclear, once you get beyond the realm of Internet myth, alarmist rhetoric and blatant lie, what the substance of the president's supposed tyranny might be. "Socialized health care?" Given that our libraries, schools, police and fire departments are all "socialized," that's hard to swallow. "

"When and if the implied violence comes, perhaps its author will explain. Meanwhile, expect those who stoked his rage – i.e., the makers of Internet myths, alarmist rhetoric and blatant lies – to disdain any moral responsibility for the outcome. "

"These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: "There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole." "

"Adams spoke in geographical terms of a nation rapidly expanding toward the Pacific. Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you. Such as when you look at a guy who thought it a good idea to bring a "gun" to a presidential speech and find yourself stunned by incomprehension. On paper, he is your fellow American, but you absolutely do not know him, recognize nothing of yourself in him. You keep asking yourself: Who is this guy?""

"We frame the differences in terms of "conservative" and "liberal," but these are tired old markers that with overuse and misuse have largely lost whatever meaning they used to have and with it, any ability to explain us to us. This isn't liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were."

You can read the rest of his column here...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Congratulations 'MR. TIBBS'!

Among the worthy recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is Sydney Poitier, one of our country's greatest actors.

Long before Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman, Sydney Poitier was not only a premier black actor, he was a bona fide movie star. And the roles he took made African-Americans proud. Whether it was volatile Walter Lee Younger, in Raisin in the Sun, burning with his frustrated ambitions; or the affable and earnest Homer Smith in his Oscar winning role in Lilies of the Field; the doctor who puts turns the world of a liberal white newspaper publisher upside down, when he finds out about Poitier's engagement to his daughter in, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Poitier exhibited class and poise rarely seen by any actor and which few actors of any background could match. As one of his colleagues put it, "He is our Cary Grant."

One of the two iconic moments in another great film, 'In the Heat of the Night', when Poitier, responds to the racist condescension of the southern sheriff by declaring with a furious pride 'They Call me MR. TIBBS!'

Poitier's roles dealt with race in such a way that it spoke to the frustrations of African-Americans without evoking bitterness or rage. Simply an insistence on being treated with dignity and respect. In doing so, he has won the honor and respect of his colleagues and his countrymen.

Sydney Poitier was also one of the celebrities of his era who demonstrated what it meant to use his fame and wealth to make America better. He, along with Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and others, supported the Civil Rights Movement, visibly working with Martin Luther King, Jr. to end segregation and oppression in the country. Dr. King, in paying tribute to Poitier in 1967, said, "He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom. Here is a man who, in the words we so often hear now, is a soul brother."

Not bad for the son of tomato farmers. Not bad for an American. We are all proud!

Here is the other iconic moment from "In the Heat of the Night"...

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

C. S. Lewis
1898 - 1963

Author, Christian Scholar, Educator

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

Friday, August 21, 2009

How's Business? Pretty Good if You're in Insurance!

The big problem with the attempts to reform the health care industry is cost. There are estimates as high as $ 1 trillion dollars (roughly the combined costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars), for a reform that has the government playing a more significant role in making sure that all Americans have health care.

But currently the number of Americans without health care (whether the number is 47 million, 30 million or 20 million), in some way cost us all. Not only does their lack of coverage cost the insured, our for profit system of providing coverage has as its primaCheck Spellingry concern investors - not the insured.

Anecdotal, pro-public option gibberish. Could be, unless you take into account the words of Aetna CEO Ron Williams who said, "We would gladly forgo membership growth if necessary. We have a clear bias toward profitability over growth", as he provided perspective regarding the rise in workers who drop their health care coverage because of unemployment or unaffordability.

A great statement if you are making widgets. But widgets are not moral commodities. Health coverage is not a commodity period. And the problem is getting worse - and as it get worse insurance companies are finding a way to profit, even as growing numbers of Americans find themselves unable to pay for health insurance.

The Economic Policy Institute's report shows that insurers plan to keep it that way.

After all, it's a business!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Prose of Citizenship

Here are some scenes from almost a year ago...

...and this as well. Remember?

It was, for so many of us, a euphoric period. America entered into an extended period of self congratulatory reveling; with a crumbling economy, two wars abroad from which our country was becoming increasingly disconnected yet our nation's capacity to transcend some of the worst of its past and elected the U.S.'s first African-American president.

However, I will never forget former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's wise council regarding electoral politics: "We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose".

That's not just good for politicians to remember, its good for their constituents as well. Especially when it comes to the legislative process.
Congress is divided between liberals, blue dog Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans. In the balance is health insurance reform. And Obama supporters complain that doesn't seem to be leading the charge to fulfill his own campaign promises. I know, I get frustrated too! I'm waiting for him to remember that he's President of the United States AND THE LEADER of the winning political party!

But Cuomo's quote reminds me of something: what we're seeing is the prose of governance.
Its not pretty; its often frustrating and sometimes flat out aggrevating, if not embarrassing. Rail against birthers, tea baggers and organized disruptions all you want, actually in a democracy, they're pretty much who they have always been. I think it wastes an opportunity for a serious, rational and important debate on how we're going to reconstruct this country's economy after we drove it to the edge of the proverbial cliff. But I also know that there has never been a time when there hasn't been misinformation, disinformation and flat out lies when it comes to public policy benefiting those classified as 'have-nots' (actually, health insurance reform helps the middle class but that's another side of the debate subsumed by a lot of senseless rhetoric).

What are the election revelers from November '08 supposed to do during the 'prose-period' between elections?
Educate yourself on the health care issue; sift through the political rhetoric and talking points and find the facts. Find the position you believe in and make your voice heard, by email, phone calls, texts, tweets, blogs and faxes and whatever else is out there. Its not enough to be a voter - that's great; now is really the time to exercise citizenship!

I heard a story about FDR, to whom Obama is often compared. Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter White, a former President of the NAACP, went to see the President. They wanted him to put the weight of the office behind an anti-lynching law. Roosevelt didn't want to do it, not because he believed in lynching, but because he needed the southern vote to maintain support for the war. Eleanor Roosevelt and White continued to press him, making cogent argument after cogent argument.

Finally, Roosevelt stopped them. He waved his hand and said, "You're right. Everything you say is absolutely right. Now go out and organize and make me do it!"

The prose of governance...

Those of us who really want health insurance reform (and anything else for that matter), need to understand that we are now up against what it really means to have the person for whom we've voted in office. We have the challenge of working against competing agenda's in order for ours to prevail. Political courage for an elected official is not the results of the votes he or she has gotten - its the votes that he or she can get. The echoes of last year's election mean nothing now, its about reminding politicians who will vote in the next one.

It's time to let that voice be heard. Now is time for the crowds, the independents, the young, new voters to show up by the thousands and show up for what you want; what you believe in.

This pictures are an absolutely great memory. But the memories are just not enough right now. The poetry the 2008 Presidential election is over. It's time for the prose of citizenship.
Where's Oprah now?!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where's THIS Guy Been?!

In the health care debate (the real one, not the hysterical ranting), what we've needed was someone who could clearly explain a position! Thanks to Representative Anthony Weiner (D)New York.

You may not agree; you may have ideological if not political differences, but there's no doubt what's being proposed. No screaming, no yelling, no demagoguing, no fear mongering.

An real argument against which a real counter argument could leave citizens with something to chose. And I imagine you could argue with it if you have a real counter position.

Unless you're Joe Scarborough!

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Monday, August 17, 2009

How Do You Spell R-E-M-O-R-S-E?

I watched the 60 minutes interview of Michael Vick last night and I must say I was moved.

Oh, not moved in the way you might think. Its not a matter of whether or not I believe he is sincere in his apology or his desire to make amends for the horrible dog fighting episode. Or that I was particularly excited about his recent signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. I believe that whether or not he means what he says is something that will take time to figure out. And even then some people will judge him by the wrong he committed.

That's actually the thing that moved me...

Watch CBS Videos Online

How do you determine someones level of contrition? In Vick's case, for instance, isn't the fact that he has, according to the laws of our land, paid his debt to society? If so and the employer in his former chosen profession decides to give him another chance, how is that not enough?

On the other hand - can there be some wrongs done, let alone crimes committed that are so reprehensible that those who have had the opportunity for the public exercise of their talents and gifts, forfeit that right indefinitely - if not forever?

If it is 'the public' that has to forgive, how does that forgiveness express itself? Does that mean that you can no longer make a living doing anything in public? When one squanders opportunity, what level of remorse is sufficient for 'the public' to offer another chance? And what happens if public confidence is dealt another blow by different, or even similar actions?

Let me be clear: I really don't care whether or not Vick plays football again. Its not my call. He doesn't play for my favorite team. Football is a game, an entertainment venue and there are other ways to make a living.

But some people do care and its interesting to listen to or read their comments. Not because they relate to Vick alone, but because they give insight into how we feel about one another. Suffice it to say if Vick were our son, or nephew, many of us would readily forgive and wish him well. For some, if he were a neighbor we'd be more sympathetic. But he is a figure to most of us, a symbol, an image and as such we view him differently.

We 'look' to see contrition, remorse, regret, in his eyes. We listen for tone and examine body language and make our determination in that way. But what are we looking for? And when have we seen it? And to what degree do we make allowances for personality, circumstances, education and culture?

All that being said - I watched a rebroadcast of David Frost's interview with Richard Nixon. There is a question, apparently impromptu, which Frost asked about whether or not Nixon wanted to apologize to the American people for his responsibility and role in the Watergate scandal. Nearly, 35 years after that most dreadful incident, in which the country was brought to the brink of Constitutional crisis (this interview done three years later), its interesting to look at the disgraced President's face as he admitted he'd "...let the American people down."

It is worth watching indeed...

Nixon was paid for the interview.

Does it make his contrition any less real? Does it lesson the enormity of what at least bordered on criminality? Was he truly 'sorry'?

How do we tell?

And, for those of us who have ever been in similar circumstances - how did we get the people we cared about to believe in us again?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hope for Healing and an Intelligent National Debate

Miraculous healing, a staple belief of most major religions - certainly the Christian faith.

One of the most moving stories in the Bible is the story of the woman who's twelve years of suffering was ended when she elbowed her way through a crowd and touched the hem of Jesus' garment.

Equally as moving is the simultaneous story of a man who had summoned Jesus to come and heal his 12 year old daughter. Jesus was going to see this young girl when the woman struggled to get healing from the Master anyway she could (Luke 8:40-56).

No matter where you stand on 'faith healing', the one thing that is just as true now as it was two thousand years ago, is the fact that illness and healing move people to anxiety, desperation and, when no cure can be found depression and despair. For those of us who believe the Bible, we understand the most important thing in situations like these is hope. If that is true, how despicable is it to intentionally instill fear in those who face the prospect of uncertainty when it comes to illness and the dire need for treatment and health care.

We are in the midst of a national controversy with regard to health care. A national conversation can be had that is both vital and vigorous. Most importantly it should be substantive. Promoting fear during these times is a dastardly tactic that ought to be decried from every serious citizen. Intentionally misleading people with specters of 'death panels', 'euthanasia' and wild distortions accompanied by images of Nazi Germany and Hitler are unworthy of the intelligent national conversations that can be had around health insurance reform and health care that involves how we provide coverage for Americans, how it should be paid for and who should pay. Legitimate passionate discussions, based on facts about the role of the market in treatment can be had and set a standard for how we deal with difficult issues in this country, while serving as a model for the world. But hysteria, fear mongering, insubstantial accusations, racism, xenophobia and irrationality are the resort of people who have no real contribution to the debate and whose desire for the status quo simply show their discomfort with change and no faith that we can make America better.

Most importantly, it robs us all of hope; hope that we can perfect our national life in ways that make our country a place that constantly seeks to make room for everyone.

Or we could just leave those who can't afford health care to hope for a miracle...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Fresh Look at Heritage

Its nearly always great to see the 'boys and girls' you grew up with. It's really great when you see that their doing well. Elaine Ford-Evans is one of those old friends (I don't think she'll mind me mentioning her. I know she won't mind me mentioning her daughter Erin! She is quite a writer and copy editor for The Root, an online magazine. Another mutual friend, Seneca, keeps me abreast when Erin has an article posted.

Someone once said, 'Those who forget the past live an unauthorized existence'. I like Erin's writing because she's a young lady who senses and sees the historical significance of the contemporary. Here's an excerpt of a recent post on her summer trip to Barbados...

"While growing up in Dallas in the '90s, my comfort zone was in the winding streets and paved sidewalks of the integrated suburbs. A country girl I was not. But my family took many road trips across the Deep South, and I got to see my fair share of the countryside. Whether it was to Hooks, Texs, or Jackson, Miss., I always had at least an inkiling of fear when we stopped for gas. My multi-culti upbringing often clouded thereality of racism, but in those places, I could still feel its undertones. I questioned every side-eye, every murmur, every Confederate battle flag sticker in the back of a Ford F-150 on Interstate 20."

"Traveling through Barbados, I felt like a kid again, in the back seat of a van, touring the unknown. But this time, I didn't feel the same racial angst when faced with the unknown. I wasless skeptical, much more open to a new environment. This trip to the Caribbean was about more than rum and relaxation; it was a chance to explore the unknown, and in the process, connet to an African heitage that seems so distant from America. Its not somthing I can quite articulate, but while passing tall stalks of sugar cane, with a Big House far off in the distance, I got a glimpse of Barbados' rich history and felt like I was right at home."

Erin provides an intimate view into her spiritual anxiety as a young girl and the ancestral knowing of a young African-American woman. Though at home in both cultures, feels the mystic tug of her heritage in a place she sees afresh and she shares it with a simple profundity that is touching.

Thanks Erin, for such a sensitive and revealing look into your heart. Thanks Elaine, for sharing Erin with the rest of us!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Better Civil Discourse AND a Better Health Care System

About five years ago, Dallas dealt with health care. Well, we dealt with it in the microcosm, compared to the massive reform debate our country is undergoing today. That is, if can call this a debate. Debates usually have a point of view vs. an alternative proposal as opposed to the hysterical reactions we are currently witnessing.

Dallas' health care challenge dealt with the budget of Parkland Memorial Hospital, which also happens to be the county hospital. Attempts to balance the hospital's budget were resulting in the proposal of cuts by our county court appointed board of managers, cuts which would have severely curtailed services to the poor. Arguments supportive of these cuts included scapegoating undocumented immigrants and knee jerk suppositions about who was actually a 'burden' on the county's health care budget.

At the time I was still a pastor and heavily engaged in working with Dallas Area Interfaith, one of a network of community organizing initiatives affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation. Our tactics differed significantly from the shouting, heckling, disruptive affairs we see in the town hall meetings across the country today.

We actually took the time to talk to county judges, health care professionals, including Parkland's amazing CEO Ron Anderson. We talked to members of the board of managers. We talked with Parkland's CFO who tutored us on the hospital's budget. We talked with our neighbors, church members and with one another. The conversations were across a broad cross section of the city and county: black, white and Hispanic; Republican and Democrat; in the southern part of the county which tends to be working class to poor and the northern portion of the county which tends to be more affluent.

And we learned...

We learned that Parkland's revenue shortfall wasn't caused nearly as much by undocumented immigrants as it was by people in more affluent northern counties. In these counties the officials had recalculated the poverty rate in such a way as to enable them to close their county hospital. The result? Poorer residents in those counties, primarily the formerly middle class residents who were already feeling the impact of flattening wages and lay-offs long before the recession became 'official', sought health care in Dallas County and didn't pay! We also realized that the hospital was indeed overburdened by families who used the county hospital as the substitute for a primary health care physician (no new discovery, but astounding when you listened to the story of people who waited in the emergency room for 10 plus hours to receive treatment).

The answers were pretty simple, but long term: more Community Health Care Clinics and a regional health care system. We didn't barnstorm town hall meetings, we registered for our time to speak. We made our statements and left in an orderly fashion as a group. We wrote op-ed pieces and printed accounts of our meetings in church bulletins and continued the conversations.

Finally, and the thing of which I am most proud, we invited the board of managers to come to my church and hold a 'town hall meeting'. In South Dallas, in one of the poorest communities, the board of managers changed their agenda and held a meeting in the evening to hear about the impact of their proposed budget cuts from the people who would be most affected by them.

Approximately 300-350 people showed up (normally a board of directors meeting held in the early afternoon at Parkland, might have a handful of people, most of them medical professionals). In orderly fashion, the poor, the elderly, their relatives and church members told their stories and asked their questions. Not only were the people orderly, but the board of managers was attentive and respectful.

The proposed budget cuts were rescinded and Dr. Anderson, whose job was on the line, was safe and has remained one of the premier hospital administrators in the country. On the drawing board: a new, larger county hospital.

The current health care debate is much larger, much more volatile than this county hospital controversy. The issue is volatile because it is moral, economic and political. But the current debate is rooted in the same issues: limited access, skyrocketing public costs and the economic and social costs associated with doing nothing, or doing something ineffectively. Citizens can be a part of the solution. But not if they appear to be some out of control mob. Anger is an appropriate and useful emotion, but if it is not channeled into useful public debate and action it comes off as puerile, impotent rage. Tension can be understandable and appropriate. Misinformation and disinformation fueled by rich, talking head entertainers and lunatic leaders searching for a lunatic fringe to whom they can appeal is simply a sad commentary on what we believe about democracy. Appeals to the visceral and base instincts with talk of 'death panels' and 'euthanasia', ultimately leaves this country weaker because it makes civil discourse difficult.

Talk of 'socialised medicine' by those who have received a public education, protection in the form of public safety and drive to these town hall meetings on public roads, or call in to radio talk shows on public airways, while shouting 'keep your hands off my Medicare' , make protesters seem out of touch and ill informed, if not plain ridiculous.

Its not necessary to agree with any of the current health care proposals. But it is necessary to be a part of the process and do more than just shout at the rain.

This is one thing I know: five years after the Parkland incident I am proud to have worked with my fellow citizens on this issue. We didn't just get attention, we got respect. I really don't know if five years from now, some of these people showing up at these town hall meetings will be able to say the same thing, no matter the outcome.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Simply Amazing...Or Appalling - Depends On How You Look at It

For those wanting a very interesting look at the rise and fall and rise of a politician, 'The Nine Lives of Marion Barry' is an excellent view of Barry's descent from nearly iconic stature to cataclysmic self destruction - and political survival.

The former Mayor of Washington D.C., whose fall from grace included a 6 month stint in prison for cocaine possession is the consummate political survivor. He now is a member of D.C.'s city council where he won re-election last November in a landslide.

I've always been disappointed in Barry. But one cannot help but look at the promise with which he first became mayor 30 years ago and his ability to charm his constituency into overlooking flaws fatal to other office holders.

You will probably be alternately amazed and appalled and tempted to say there's no one like him.

And then you think again and realize: right or left, Democrat or Republican, black or white, there's something unfortunately typical about this's worth watching.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

She's Going to Harvard!

A friend of mine passed it on to me and it is just too good to keep!

Khadijah may be exceptional, but she certainly is not by herself. There are more stories like this than we realize and before we accept as gospel the convenient arm chair analysis of people who love to castigate poor people we need to realize that there are more Khadijah's out here than we know!
"Khadijah Williams stepped into chemistry class and instantly tuned out the commotion.
She walked past students laughing, gossiping, napping and combing one another’s hair. Past a cellphone blaring rap songs. And past a substitute teacher sitting in a near-daze.
Quietly, the 18-year-old settled into an empty table, flipped open her physics book and focused. Nothing mattered now except homework."

"“No wonder you’re going to Harvard,” a girl teased her."

"Around here, Khadijah is known as “Harvard girl,” the “smart girl” and the girl with the contagious smile who landed at Jefferson High School only 18 months ago.
What students don’t know is that she is also a homeless girl."

"As long as she can remember, Khadijah has floated from shelters to motels to armories along the West Coast with her mother. She has attended 12 schools in 12 years; lived out of garbage bags among pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. Every morning, she upheld her dignity, making sure she didn’t smell or look disheveled."

"On the streets, she learned how to hunt for their next meal, plot the next bus route and help choose a secure place to sleep — survival skills she applied with passion to her education.
Only a few mentors and Harvard officials know her background. She never wanted other students to know her secret — not until her plane left for the East Coast hours after her Friday evening graduation."

"“I was so proud of being smart I never wanted people to say, ‘You got the easy way out because you’re homeless,’ ” she said. “I never saw it as an excuse.”"

"“I have felt the anger at having to catch up in school . . . being bullied because they knew I was poor, different, and read too much,” she wrote in her college essays. “I knew that if I wanted to become a smart, successful scholar, I should talk to other smart people.”"

"Khadijah was in third grade when she first realized the power of test scores, placing in the 99th percentile on a state exam. Her teachers marked the 9-year-old as gifted, a special category that Khadijah, even at that early age, vowed to keep."

"“I still remember that exact number,” Khadijah said. “It meant only 0.01 students tested better than I did.”"

Khadijah didn't get to Harvard by herself. Khadijah everyone else in the class of 2013 got where they are because just as they believed in themselves, others believed in them, encouraged them, educated them, challenged them and inspired them.

There are more Khadijah's out there - we can help them make it too. That is, if we care...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Justice Delayed...But Justice Nonetheless

This disappointing saga continues.

Another man languishes in prison for the better part of his life for a crime he didn't commit.

“I feel good. I'm glad I'm home, with family,” Ernest Sonnier said, his eyes wide at his reception amid the crowd and surrounded by reporters.

“It's been hard for me,” the 46-year-old said of his years in prison. “There's no way I can make it up. It's lost.”

He pointed out his nieces and nephews in the crowd. “When I left, they were little girls and boys. Now they're grown", he said. He had been convicted of aggravated kidnapping in the rape of a woman from Alief, Texas. Sonnier hasn't been exonerated yet. He has been released from prison on personal recognizance pending further investigation, but DNA evidence has cast enough doubt that his sentence will almost certainly be overturned.

"Sonnier is the sixth Harris County man to be freed by new DNA testing and revelations of faulty work and testimony by the HPD crime lab."

"DNA testing over the past 18 months implicated two convicted felons as the actual perpetrators of the 1985 crime, [Alba] Morales said. The Innocence Project conducted nine rounds of DNA testing since March 2008."

"“Faulty forensics by the Houston Police Department criminal laboratory, as well as a bad eyewitness ID — a wrongful, mistaken eyewitness identification — put him away. Twenty-three years are gone,” Morales said." Anyone else need an example of why the African-American community sometimes views law enforcement with suspicion? Things are much better, but we're not quite there yet! There's another reason to get this right, "Locking up the wrong people does not leave room to lock up the right people, those who are truly dangerous."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why We Can't Rest

There are those rare times when justice makes you sad. Not because the justice meted out seems unreasonable or unfair, but because the reason for it - indeed the need for it makes you wonder whether or not we are the enlightened, sophisticated people we claim to be.

On August 7, Grace Head, a 67 year old resident of Arlington, TX, was convicted of the December 2007 misdemeanor assault on her neighbor, Kay 'Silk' Littlejohn. Head was also convicted of misdemeanor criminal mischief "for jumping onto the hood of Littlejohn’s Toyota Camry, stomping the car and hitting its hood and roof with a stick." Because it was judged that these crimes were racially motivated (Head is white, Littlejohn black) the two crimes judged as hate crimes and Head was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

The assault on Ms. Littlejohn, was particularly heinous, Head hit her repeatedly in the face with a two-by-four.

It is particularly troubling that Ms. Head's defense was an insanity plea.

Alan Bean gives an excellent analysis of the sad episode in his Friends of Justice blog.

Call it naivete, call it being overly sensitive to an isolated incident between two neighbors. I think the whole affair is said, because we should just be better than this...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Abraham Joshua Heschel
1907 - 1972

Theologian, Human Rights Activist, Rabbi

"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sports Drama for Far Less than $97 million

Once again its football season!

There's lots of serious stuff to talk about, but in the 'white noise' of all the news about President Clinton's rescue mission, health care legislation and the shooting in Pennsylvania, I heard something that caught my attention. Eli Manning, quarterback for the New York Giants, was offered and was expected to sign a new contract for $97 million, making him the highest paid player in the National Football League. Trivial against the backdrop of all of the serious news out there, but what can I say? It caught my attention...

Now let stop and say, I really don't have a problem with how much anyone earns. I have a problem with people not being paid enough to support their families, but I understand the market enough to know that what it will bear, in general, will be what people will be paid for the work they do. Again, while I can argue with that in the interest of poor people, I understand the principle.

No, this isn't about Manning being overpaid. It just made me a bit nostalgic.

The Dallas Cowboys are my favorite team. And I was whisked back to about 40 years ago when I really became a fan. One of my favorite players of all time was Duane Thomas.

Thomas was a running back and the first round Cowboy draft choice in 1970. He graduated from West Texas State University (Texas A&M Commerce) and a local favorite - he graduated from Lincoln High School in South Dallas.

Duane was a phenomenal football player. He had a fluid, slashing running style that made him absolutely fascinating to watch. Some compared him to a cross between Gayle Sayers and Jim Brown. He gained over 800 yards, averaging 5 yards a carry and was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1970.

Duane signed to play for the Cowboys for the rookie minimum, which was $23,000 (did I mention that Eli Manning's contract was for $97 million!)! Thomas played in Super Bowl V with the Cowboys, in the devastating loss to the Baltimore Colts. On media day, Thomas who was always described as quiet, almost shy, had one of the best quotes of any player ever. A reporter asked how it felt as a rookie to play in the ultimate football game. Thomas told the reporter that he didn't consider the Super Bowl the 'ultimate game'. The hard bitten sports writers were shocked that this rookie could be so nonplussed in the face of such a significant opportunity for his team and himself. So the reporter asked him why he said that. Thomas shot back, 'If it was the ultimate game, they wouldn't play it again next year.'

Duane got a $5000 bonus for being the NFL Rookie of the Year. In a recent ESPN documentary on Superbowl teams, Duane said that the Rookie of the Year for the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals, got a $25,000!

Now all of this was before agents and free agency. And the Cowboys were notorious for underpaying their players - any and all of their players. But Duane figured that, after such a stellar season he deserved a raise - so he went to negotiate a new contract with then general manager Tex Schramm. DT wanted a raise from $23,000 to $80,000 (did I mention that Eli Manning will sign a contract for $97 million!)!

Schramm refused. A contract is a contract and the Cowboys didn't renegotiate contracts, especially for rookies. Thomas took it as an insult. He held a press conference and blasted America's Team's Holy Trinity! He called Gil Brandt the head of Cowboy scouting 'a liar, and a cheat'; he called Tex Schramm 'sick, twisted and totally demented' (Schramm said he got two of the three right); and he called venerated head coach Tom Landry 'a plastic man...really no man at all'. Suffice it to say, for a 23 year old pro football rookie (from South Dallas, no less), playing for America's Team, to go off like that caused quite a stir!

Duane threatened to retire, was briefly traded to the Buffalo Bills, but the trade was reversed by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Thomas was sent back to the Cowboys. So to show his displeasure and disdain for the Cowboys and their handling of the situation Thomas decided that he wouldn't talk. Not just to the media - he wouldn't talk period - not to the media, not to the coaches, not to his teammates. He said the absolute bear minimum to anyone. He didn't answer roll call in team meetings. He had his pregame warm ups away from the team. He sat away from his teammates on the sidelines.

And he had an absolutely phenomenal season...

He, Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison were the Cowboys running backs. Thomas led the team in rushing with 793 yards and the league in touchdowns with 13. After Landry settled on Roger Staubach as the starting quarterback (another story altogether), the Cowboys went on to win their first of five Super Bowls. Thomas gained 95 yards in the a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins and would have been MVP, had it not been for Staubach's great game.

In a post game locker room celebration interview, with the great Jim Brown at his side, DT broke his silence. CBS' Tom Brookshire asked Thomas - who hadn't spoken all year - the stirring, burning question that was on everybody's mind: 'Are you really as fast and as elusive as you seem?' (sigh).

Thomas' reply? 'Evidently.'

Eli Manning, is probably going to be a great player. But he'll never provide that much drama!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cash for Clunkers - How Far Can it Go?

The U.S. Senate continues debate funding for what appears to be the surprisingly successful 'Cash for Clunkers' stimulus initiative. Stimulus, while evidently not what this program intended to be, has been exactly what it has turned into. It has turned into a cash register ringing success for Ford and other U.S. auto makers who were on life support just a few short months ago. The program has been so effective in fact, that it is about to run out of money after $1 billion has already hit the street in almost a week.

Officially known as the 'Car Allowance Rebate System' or CARS, program provides $3500 - $4500 for trading in a low fuel efficiency car for a higher efficiency new car. "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said 157,000 trades had occurred as of Tuesday morning, eating up $664 million of the $1 billion appropriated for the effort."

"More than 80 percent of the vehicles turned in were trucks and sport-utility vehicles, the government said. The top-selling new car is the Ford Focus, followed by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. The new vehicles on average get 25.4 miles per gallon, compared with an average of 15.8 mpg for the trade-ins."

In the DFW area there are signs that the program is meeting with same success as in the rest of the country. "David Thomas, managing partner of Subaru of Plano, said his dealership sold 15 vehicles this week through the program."

"For us, that's a good chunk of sales in a week," Thomas said. "It's bringing people in who would not normally be in the new-car market. I think it has created a lot of good consumer confidence."

Nevada Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pressuring for his colleagues to approve the $2 billion recently okayed by the U.S. House, he has "...warned lawmakers they might miss their August vacation takeoff plans Friday if they don't quickly pass the $2 billion measure."

"If we don't work something out on the cash for clunkers," Reid said from the Senate floor Wednesday morning, he would file motions to close debate. Under Senate procedure, that could mean votes on both Friday and Saturday, when lawmakers would otherwise be scattering for their coveted summer break."

"We all acknowledge there's a significant majority that want to move forward with this legislation," said Reid, D-Nev."

By nearly any stretch of the imagination the program has been successful. Getting gas guzzling emission spewing autos off the road and replacing them with more fuel efficient cars is a win-win on at least a couple of levels, "On average, total gas consumption will drop by 87 million gallons per year, and American consumers will use 22.2 million fewer barrels of foreign crude oil."

"The environmental impact of reduced gas consumption is considerable as well. We estimate that the program will result in about 850,000 fewer tons of CO2 emissions per year (3.4 tons per vehicle annually)."

"This reduction equals more than two-thirds of the annual CO2 emissions linked to household electricity, heating, and waste. CARS is a success — the rare program that boosts U.S. manufacturing while simultaneously improving environmental quality."

I'm glad to see any and all success coming out of this administration (especially since there appear to be a number of critics who suggest that the Obama White House has failed. After all, anyone else could have completely turned an economic meltdown more than 10 years in the making in eight months!). But I do have a few questions:

If consumption on this level is the answer, how do we get citizens with more modest means in the act? After all, working class and poor people are the ones who drive the most fuel inefficient cars. Can we figure out a way to save them cash for oil changes, tires or tune ups? Maybe not in rebates, but cost savings to the businesses that could past on to the consumer?

Secondly, what's the plan for auto industry beyond this? According to Illinois Senator Claire McCaskill, the $2 billion is the second phase of a $4 billion total allocation. With a projected $3 billion gone (pretty quickly I might add) and $1 billion to go - what's next? And if its true that most of the purchases of fuel efficient autos are foreign cars, how soon before the American auto industry gets up to speed?

Finally, this program isn't sustainable and obviously isn't designed to be. Which is fine. But it has a stimulative impact down the industry line. The purchase of domestic goods that are also energy efficient should be considered and possibly a mix of rebates for business and consumers - some tax incentive for Sears, for instance, and tax free holiday for the consumer to buy energy efficient washers and dryers.

What has been clear from the beginning - at least for those not totally blinded by ideology, is that the country would not climb out of this economic hole in a year. What has been equally as clear is that lending institutions, investors and consumers had to have enough confidence to 'get back in the game' as it were.

The sooner we are no longer afraid, the better a lot of things will get.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Much Longer Will We Be Waiting on the Mailman?

News of the prospect of post office closings is jarring in a number of ways. Not that I am a big user of the postal system - you got it, I pay as many bills as I possibly can online. Which probably makes me one of the millions of culprits who have brought this possible calamity to untold numbers of Americans.

The United States Postal Service is running a 7 billion deficit, but this one doesn't have much to do with the recession. The Post Office has been facing this problem for years. Increased use of the Internet, UPS, FedEx, DHL, rising gas prices AND the economy have all taken a bite out of USPS profitability. The question is what will that mean to its viability in the long run?

"Postal Vice President Jordan Small told a congressional subcommittee that local managers will study activities of approximately 3,200 stations and branches across the country and consider factors such as customer access, service standards, cost savings, impact on employees, environmental impact, real estate values and long-term Postal Service needs."

"No changes are expected before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. There are 32,741 post offices."

""We anticipate that out of these 3,200 stations and branches, under 1,000 offices could be considered as viable candidates to study further," Small said."

Of course the Dallas/Fort Worth area is not immune to the impact of these sobering decisions.

"Also under the microscope are the main post office in Arlington and eight locations in Fort Worth, according to a list the Postal Service sent to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission."

""Every facet of our organization is under review, simply because we're losing $20 million a day," said McKinney Boyd, a spokesman for the Postal Service's Dallas district."

"Earlier this year, the Postal Service announced it was closing two other North Texas post offices – one in Irving, the other in Lewisville."

"The Irving station closed last month, but Lewisville officials are pleading to keep the Old Town office open. Its status apparently is still under review."

"The post offices under review were selected partly because they don't do enough business, are costly to operate or are close to other locations, Boyd said Monday."

"He stressed that the list is preliminary as the Postal Service continues to scrutinize its locations for potential savings amid a rapid decline in business because of e-mail. The Postal Service has handled 15 billion fewer pieces of mail so far this year than the same period last year, he said."

Whew! Even to someone for whom entering usernames and passcodes has become a way of life there's something serious about all of this!


Well, for one thing, I can remember when a job at the post office was a pathway to the middle class in a number of working class black communities. It was true for my father, my step-father, the chairman of the deacons at the church I pastored and any number of neighbors and church members I knew growing up. It was not only one of the most solid, job that paid well. For many it led to a college education, support while small businesses were started, education for the children and homeownership - not to mention a certain amount of respect in the community. Believe it or not, there was a time when to say you worked at the post office in the black community put you on par, class wise, with professionals. It meant a type of job security that you could hardly find elsewhere. And it always sounded as if there were an endless number of jobs that could be had at the post office: 'mail handler', 'mail sorter', 'delivery', 'truck driver', 'mechanic'. Like my step-father, I knew of many who stayed with the service until retirement.

For another thing, the rise of people like me for whom it takes almost two years to use one book of stamps, signals a new way of consumerism and communication that represents a social challenge. MySpace and Facebook, emails, instant and text messaging have virtually eliminated the need for letter and post card writing. We won't go into what that means to written word or (gasp) spelling! Paying bills on line is not just common place, it is convenient. Even purchasing items online is still another sublime complication afforded the consumer by technology, but is, at the same time, one of the things leading to the demise of familiar way of life. Remember waiting for the postman for that special item to come in the mail (ok, I'm really dating myself now, right?)? But the fact is, even with the postal service, there are a surprising array of services that are offered online.

Many in our poor communities who haven't caught up with the digital era, even after so much talk of the digital divide. Computers are cheaper, but their price is still out of reach of a significant number of people. And the more services are offered over the Internet - registration for social services, job applications, crucial payments and registration for payments become a matter of having a place to send and receive electronic information, the more we create a vulnerable segment of our population. This is a segment for whom, 'find a friend or relative' is not always a convenient option.

I'm pretty sure there will always be a post office. But the question is to what degree will they contract their operations until ordinary citizens are no longer their real customer base? And what will replace those 'entry level' jobs that actually propelled some people without college degrees into the middle class? There are, most likely, no immediate answers. As a matter of fact I'm sure things could be worse - I'm totally shocked that the post office doesn't offer Internet service.

Or maybe I shouldn't have written that!