Saturday, July 31, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Woodrow Wilson
1856 - 1924

28th President of the United States of America

"There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Interim Report for America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy

On June 26, Central Dallas Ministries join several other organizations as local sponsors of a national electronic town hall meeting in which citizens in 19 cities across the country let their voices be heard regarding the country's economic future. More than 3500 people met at 57 locations for eight hours on that Saturday, to talk with fellow citizens about the federal deficit.

America Speaks: Our Budget, Our Economy, was a bi-partisan exercise to find out how Americans feel about the current fiscal situation and take suggestions which will be forwarded to President Obama's bi-partisan committee on the federal deficit. The participants represented the diversity of the U.S. not only in terms of representation of Democrats and Republicans, but ideology, race, ethnicity and age. It was, to say the least, one of the most interesting Saturdays I've been afforded in a long time.

The interim report is in and its worth sharing. While I think it shows that the country is still more balanced than either progressives or conservatives would like to believe, it also shows that 'ordinary' Americans are willing to make some surprising choices when it comes to defense spending, taxes and entitlement programs. As I'm finding out in other organizations and institutions, the rank and file are usually far more intelligent, and yes, progressive than their leaders give them credit for.

You can find the national interim report here. The results from the Dallas meeting can be found here. You can check the results from other cities where meetings were held here.

Hope you find it as interesting as we did...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lessons from the Sermonizing of Shirley Sherrod Pt. 2

Jeffery Weiss' treatment of the Shirley Sherrod episode is an important recognition that Andrew Breitbart was not only wrong in his initial attempts to peg her as a racist based on her speech to an NAACP gather. Weiss shows he was also wrong in his efforts to walk back his accusation with the clarification that he really wanted to show the racist behavior of the NAACP, as the crowd 'cheered' as Sherrod related her reluctance to help a white farmer.

Jeff is entirely right, that the call and response reaction to Sherrod was in reaction to her 'sermonizing' as she exhorted them to move beyond issues of race - admonished black youth to take seriously their education and the opportunities that they had and the importance of black people helping one another. Far from racist, it was inspirational, the type of gathering I and countless other African-Americans are used to, when notables, political or otherwise, GOP or Democrat come before a predominately black audience and address them in an idiom to which they and the audience are accustom.

What I do not agree with in Weiss' column is his criticism of Shirley Sherrod's historical analysis of the systematic divisions imposed on poor whites and blacks by monied interests threatened by their potential alliance.

"Next, Sherrod launches into an explanation of racism in America that might have some historians scratching their heads. She starts with 17th-century indentured servitude, where people of all races were stuck for seven years of work until they gained their freedom, and nobody, she says, worried about skin color."

"But those in power worried that poor whites and poor blacks would start to cooperate, she says. And thereby created permanent black slavery to keep those poor blacks and whites divided, which led to the legacy of racism."

"So that's when they made black people servants for life. That's when they put laws in place forbidding them to marry each other. That's when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they -- it started working so well, they said, "Gosh, looks like we've come up on something here that can last generations." And here we are over 400 years later, and it's still working."

"To which I say; Really? Black slavery, the three-continent slave trade, the plantation economy of the American South that depended on slaves, the secession of the Confederacy and the ensuing Civil War, Jim Crow and "colored" water fountains were all part of a centuries-long conspiracy by the monied class to keep poor whites and poor blacks from working together in peace? Like Rev. Wright, who has a habit of spinning out stories at odds with history, Sherrod may have been exceeding her core competencies here."

Not really.
Again, remember that Sherrod talks about a period of indentured servitude which predated the period of the Civil War, indeed predated the American Revolution.

When I was at Harvard University a few years ago, I and the group I was with had the priviledge of having dinner at the home of the late A. Leon Higgenbotham and his wife (Harvard professor) Evelyn. Higgenbotham was a retired federal judge and had recently written a two volume treatise on the legal system and race entitled 'In The Matter of Color'.

In the first chapter, in a detailed and scholarly fashion, Judge Higgenbotham outlines the near equal status that Africans, whites and Native Americans (Indians) had as indentured servants. Gradually, the laws began to be more and more restrictive in ways that favored whites and debased and denied freedoms to black slaves. Infractions for white indentured servants could result in whippings and extensions of their indentured status. Punishments for blacks increasingly would call for lifetime servitude. From 1619-1792, such laws became more and more restrictive for blacks. The first 'slave codes' were enacted in 1680 designed to ensure the status of blacks as legally inferior. An example:

'Whereas the frequent meetings of considerable numbers of Negro slaves under pretense of feasts and burials is judged of dangerous consequence it enacted that no Negro or slave may carry arms, such as any club, staff, gun, sword, or other weapon, no go from his owner's plantation without a certificate and then only on necessary occasions: the punishment twenty lashes on the bare back, well laid on. And further, if any Negro lift up his hand against any Christian he shall receive thirty lashes, and if he absent himself o lie out from his master's service and resist lawful apprehension, he may be killed and this law shall be published every six months.'

To be sure, there is no record of the business meeting in which captains of industry took council and said 'We've got to separate blacks and whites, unless they form an alliance and overthrow us.' But the general effect was convey a message to even the poorest white, that the were superior in social, economic and even legal status to a black person. It is that division that ultimately made persecution of African-Americans a part of law and culture, from 1680, until the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964...and actually beyond.

Sherrod's point is that there is a class for whom it is advantageous for poor blacks and poor whites (and working and middle class blacks and whites) to war against one another. And that recognizing this is the beginning of breaking a vicious cycle.

Shirley Sherrod was not trying to give a scholarly treatise in this speech. If she was, there are a number of references to which she could point (Higgenbotham did not 'discover' this). She could have even cited passages from C. Vann Woodward's 'The Strange Career of Jim Crow', for Jim Crow, again, was a system in which the deliberate subjugation of blacks were designed to make clear the inferiority of black people post Reconstruction. It was the only way that the South could justify the brutality of a system that ultimately resulted in the loss of more than 600,000 lives, express their intense resentment at the loss of that war and fashion a society in which whites were the superiority of whites was reassured and preserved, socially and economically.

Historians wouldn't scratch their heads. They'd say 'Amen'. And the good one's would tell us that its about high time we learned the dangers of this division.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lessons from the Sermonizing of Shirley Sherrod Pt. 1

Dallas Morning News reporter and Politics Daily contributer Jeffery Weiss, has commentary on the Shirley Sherrod episode that is particularly interesting.

He refers to it as a 'sermon'. While I definately never looked at it that way, I certainly can admit that it is, in some way 'sermonizing', which I think is more to his point. And I think it gets at something particularly critical as we all got lost in the visual of the White House, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NAACP and FOX News, tripping all over one another while they backpeddled from their misplaced indignation.

Andrew Breitbart, who started this firestorm in an effort to push back on NAACP's call for the TEA party to repudiate (no, I won't go there with the Palin stuff), the racists who appear to frequent their rallies. In an effort to expose 'racists' in the NAACP, Breitbart causes a 2:30/40 video clip to go viral with a mid-level Department of Agriculture official making a speech in which she, a black woman, appears to be bragging about witholding support in her official capacity to a white farmer.

As you know the problem was:

This is not what she was saying in the speech
She was not making reference to an incident that took place in her official capacity
She actually did help the white farmer save his farm
The white farmer and his wife said she helped save their farm and called her a 'friend'

The problem was, no one: not a federal government agency; an NAACP (that seems bent on trying to water down a bold challenge); or FOX News (which seems bent on ignoring the ethics associated with the last part of its name), took the time to watch the entire video that was accessible enough to be found withing 48 hours of the release of the original clip.

This was a story of reconciliation by a woman of faith, who found out that her concern for her people had to be expanded to concern for all poor people. Whether one would call it a 'sermon' or 'sermonizing' it's a great message!

Which I think gets to a point Jeff makes in his analysis.

Breitbart, disingenuous as ever, is insisting (as are some of those who just find it inconceivable that they could be wrong), that it wasn't Sherrod who they were trying to identify as the 'racist', it was the NAACP. The proof? When Sherrod appeared to be refusing to help the white farmer as much as she could, the crowd 'cheered' (*crickets chirping* - *sigh* - *silence*)!

Now virtually anyone watching the video, knows that this is not the case. Yet it has gained enough traction as news outlets, seeking to do real journalism are now investigating whether or not Breitbart has a case. And he, and his supporters, frankly are looking foolish again.

But not if you understand the 'sermonizing' atmosphere of the speech. Weiss captures it brilliantly:

"She starts with that personal testimony. As we've learned over the past week, Sherrod was a lot more than a rural federal employee. She is, as one commentator put it, civil rights royalty. Daughter of a martyr, wife of an activist, she has her own record of service. The top of the speech sketches out some of that history."

"She tells of the casual brutality of the racism she experienced as a child. About her own powerful desire to get out of Georgia and escape the oppression. And about the murder of her own father and a surprising way that event changed her life:

"But I couldn't just let his death go without doing something in answer to what happened. I made the commitment on the night of my father's death, at the age of 17, that I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change. And I've been true to that commitment all of these 45 years."

"And here's where God steps into the narrative, as Sherrod introduces the story that turned into a controversy:

"I prayed about it that night and as our house filled with people I was back in one of the bedrooms praying and asking God to show me what I could do. I didn't have -- the path wasn't laid out that night. I just made the decision that I would stay and work. And -- and over the years things just happened."

"And young people: I just want you to know that when you're true to what God wants you to do the path just opens up -- and things just come to you, you know. God is good -- I can tell you that."

"When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people -- and to black people only. But, you know, God will show you things and He'll put things in your path so that -- that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people, you know.
Sherrod also describes an event that will surely make it into the Lifetime or Hallmark movie about her life: How her mother, now a widow, faces down an honest-to-God burning cross on her lawn. Goes out with a gun while other members of her community arrive to surround the bigots. But eventually allow them to leave in peace. (A powerful tale that, however, Sherrod did not witness because she was already away at college.)"

"What follows is her now-familiar story about wanting to do the minimum for a white farmer about to lose his family farm, only to be brought around by the realization that unfairness against poor people is an injustice that transcends race:

"Well, working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't, you know. And they could be black, and they could be white; they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people -- those who don't have access the way others have. "

And the response?

"At many points of the speech, you can hear people in the audience saying "Amen," and "That's right" and even clapping. Breitbart may never have witnessed this kind of interaction, but it's not the same as standard applause. A black preacher will spin out a story about some sin that hits the heart of his audience and they'd nod and call out. Not because they approve of the sin, but because they get the message. And because maybe they've fallen or almost fallen in the same place and appreciate his warning."

You don't know that, if you've never been to a black church, or if you've not been introduced to an atmosphere in which this 'sermonizing' has been done.

In the black church, the 'call and response' type of atmosphere is not the sometimes comparatively stoic, placid atmosphere found in white congregations. It is more visceral. It is much more immediate. It does, when resonating, elicit a much more immediate response, as the preacher, or the speaker, shares a story with which the congregation or the audience identifies.

Shirely Sherrod, a daughter of the south, experienced the brutal murder of her father; a murder unrequited by justice and decades later, she's in the position to help a white man whom she feels is acting superior to her. Was she mistaken? Yes. Was she overly sensitive? Yes. But Sherrod comes from a time when not being overly sensitive could cost you your freedom or your life. And when you are reared in that type of atmosphere, it is better to be mistaken about initial impressions than to be naive about initial impressions.

This was a story with which the audience could sympathize. NOT agree, sympathize. In audience of black people, in Georgia, its a safe bet that most of them, if not all of them, had similar stories of injustices meted out by white hands and yet challenged to lend aid to some white person. They could understand her reluctance and they could understand her resentment. It is to that which they responded with 'Amen'. The history of the African-American sojourn in this country is not one of persistent 'indescribable impoliteness' of white people towards blacks. Nor is it simply a matter of institutional incivility. Murder, rape, torture, social stigma and humiliation are all a part of this legacy and there are people alive today, who don't just remember it, but whose emotional and psychological lives have been marred by it.

When we don't cross cultural boundaries to understand one another - our idioms, as well as our experiences, we leave room for all types of misinterpretations of motive. And we leave room to be victimized - not by the people with whom we are unfamiliar - but by the people with whom we are most familiar. In this case, it is the Breitbart's and FOX News' of the world that are playing some legitimate but non-discerning conservatives like a fiddle. And they are able to back peddle and make ridiculous claims, like a 'racist response' to Sherrod's speech, because they've never bother to attend a gathering of predominately black people, or go to a black church. What is interesting is that no one is bemoaning the history of this country that has led to anyone being able to identify with such sentiments.

So far, Jeff Weiss is the only one I've read who pointed out the need to understand the cultural idiom out of which the audience response is drawn. And if you watch the entire video, the greatest, most congratulatory, joyful response comes when Sherrod talks about how a white lawyers' refusal to aid one of 'his own', causes her to look at root cause of the issue she was dealing with: not race, but poverty - the type of poverty that is, after all color blind. At this point, the audiences response is the more celebratory response. Because black people know, at the end of the day, life can't be lived with bitterness and hatred, no matter our experience. Do all black people know it? No, obviously not, but it is actually the most persistent message in the African-American experience.

You don't hear it, if the only experience you have with people who are not like you, are errant snippets of video, gone viral because someone has an agenda that doesn't mean you or any of the rest of us any good.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shining Light on the Other End of Predatory Lending

Heads up about an important installation in a series about debt in the Dallas Morning News and a future book to be reviewed in our Urban Engagement Book Club.

They deal with the same issue: payday loan centers.

It is a concern with those of us at Central Dallas Ministries, because we work with people who are in poverty. In doing so, we not only deal with the needs of people in poverty, we also deal with the things that keep them poor. Pay day loan companies are one of those institutions, clustered in low income neighborhoods which prey upon the desperation of hard working, but low income residents. Excessive interest rates, high fees, conspire together to keep these people in debt.

"On July 2, a 74-year-old Dallas widow named Yvonne Sands received her monthly Social Security check of $1,360. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., she withdrew money from the bank and drove off to renew four payday loans with annual percentage rates of about 250 percent to more than 300 percent."

"Sands can't afford to pay back the loans all at once, and they come due every month. So each month, she takes out new loans to pay for the old ones, shelling out nearly $400 in fees in the process."

"Over the last year, Sands has paid more than $4,200 in fees on those four loans – far more than the $1,850 she received in principal. And that's not counting fees on two other loans she paid off earlier this year, one of which carried an annual rate of about 660 percent."

""I'm just trying to dig myself out of this hole I'm in," Sands said."

"For better or worse, millions of Americans like Sands borrow billions of dollars a year from payday lenders. Catering to low- and middle-income customers, payday lenders provide quick cash to just about anyone with a checking account and a steady income."

On December 16, our book club, which meets at First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas will be looking at "Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.How the Working Poor Became Big Business", by Gary Rivlin. It's an interesting and serious look at an industry which at its peak was more numerous in the U.S. than McDonald and Burger King combined and which, in 2008, was frequented by more than 14 million households borrowing more than $40 billion and paying it back in installments of anywhere between $200-$800 at an average interest rate of 210%!

Rivlin, who had unfettered access to what he referred to as 'the poverty business', attended an annual convention of payday loan industry executives and store owners:

"The stomping piano chords and tambourine slaps blaring over the loudspeaker are at once familiar. They are the opening notes to the early Motown hit, "Money (That's What I Want)." The nation's check cashers and payday lenders have a dangerously low sense of irony, I mused. We are a respectable business, their leaders have been saying since the founding of the National Check Cashers Association in the late 1980s. Sure, we cater to a hard-pressed, down-market clientele but we are not the money grubbers the popular culture makes us out to be. We provide a useful service critical to the working of the U.S. economy. Our products are heavily regulated and fairly priced. Yet here they were kicking off their 20th annual gathering in October of 2008 with a musical production based on a song whose lyrics repeat, more than thirty times, that what the singer wants, more than love and more than happiness, is lots of money."

"The convention was being held in Las Vegas. The women dancing across the stage were young and buxom and dressed in skimpy sequined outfits. The men were buff and tan and similarly underdressed. We could have been sitting in any show room on the Strip except the lyrics had been rewritten for the occasion. Instead of an unconscious self-parody the skit was actually aimed at a handy target in those dark and unsettling days in the fall of 2008: the country's bankers. If not for the behavior or the banks, their industry would not be nearly so robust. The banks abandoned lower income neighborhoods starting thirty years ago, creating the vacuum that the country's check cashers filled. The steep fees the banks charge on a bounced check or overdue credit card fuels a lot of the demand for payday advances and other quick cash loans. The big Wall Street banks had stepped in and provided money critical to the expansion plans of many in the room, but never mind: These entrepreneurs selling their financial services to the country's hard-pressed sub-prime citizenry are nothing if not opportunistic. The nation's narrative, they argued, was theirs. The banks, who were booed lustily throughout the two-day conclave, would serve as the poverty industry's new boogieman."

You can listen to an interview with Rivlin here.

These shops aren't operating in an economic vacuum, they are the virtual 'branches' of the large financial institutions that have helped fund their expansion: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Wachovia.

Of course these banks do have their supporters. "Under certain circumstances, taking out a payday loan can be cheaper than other immediately available alternatives, advocates say."

""The industry exists because we offer our customers a product that is more desirable than the alternatives," said Rob Norcross, a spokesman for the Consumer Service Alliance."

And then, there's the flip side. "Brian Melzer, a finance professor at Northwestern University, found in his own study that the more people had access to payday loans, the more they had trouble paying basic costs."

""I find no evidence that payday loans alleviate hardship," Melzer said in his study. "On the contrary, I find that loan access leads to increased incidence of difficulty paying mortgage, rent and utilities bills; moving out of one's home due to financial troubles; and delaying needed medical care, dental care and prescription drug purchases.""

"Moreover, some borrowers take months to pay back their loans, paying high fees over and over. Based on data collected by regulators in Florida and Oklahoma, between a quarter and a third of payday borrowers use 12 loans or more in a year, Melzer said."

""It's a product that is very, very difficult to repay," said Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. "It ends up becoming a much larger and larger burden on a household over time.""

It's apparently a challenge to get the attention of officials in Texas.

"The chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, Bill White, has served 25 years as an executive with Cash America International Inc ., a pawnshop and payday loan company in Fort Worth. Payday loan regulation is not a priority at the moment, he said."

""The complaints on payday lending are minuscule," he said. "It just has not risen to the level where I personally need to be involved in it.""

"In the wake of the severe recession, he is intensifying efforts to oversee banks, savings institutions and mortgage lenders."

""In times of stress, our main focus is to protect the public's deposits," he said."

It's a myth that everyone living in low income neighborhoods want to be poor. There are certain vicious cycles that come with low wages, living pay check to pay check that make an individual, a family, a community, vulnerable to predators. These businesses, which on one level could be helpful, trap low income and workers, and some in tough financial circumstances, in debt cycles that can be difficult to escape. Raising public awareness and supporting the legislation to curtail usury is critical in dealing with poverty.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bishop Desmond Tutu Retiring from Public Life

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, who became a global figure for using his church pulpit to help bring down apartheid, said on Thursday he would retire from public duties later this year.

"The time has now come to slow down," Tutu said in Cape Town during a nationally televised news conference.

Tutu said he would step down in October when he turns 79 so that he "could sip tea in the afternoon" with his wife, enjoy more time with his family and spend time watching sport.

The congenial Tutu, who retired more than a decade ago from his post as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, has established a peace foundation, advised political leaders, served in a council of retired global statesmen and women, and had been an active public speaker.

He was most recently in the public eye when he spoke at several events for South Africa's hosting of the Soccer World Cup, which many said was one of the most important events in the country's history after the end of apartheid 16 years ago.

He will continue to offer his support for his peace foundation but plans to step down from a university post in South Africa, his work with a UN commission on preventing genocide, and will no longer give media interviews.

"As Madiba [Nelson Mandela] said on his retirement: 'Don't call me, I'll call you'," he said.

But he said he would continue working with the council of statesmen, known as The Elders.

Tutu's position in the church gave him a prominent national platform from which to criticise the apartheid system, and he repeatedly called for equal rights and a common education system.

His outspokenness incurred the wrath of the white minority-ruled South African government, which tried to prevent him travelling widely by revoking his passport. This move was reversed after intense international criticism.

International recognition for his work came most notably in 1984, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Two years later, he became Archbishop of Cape Town, the first black South African to serve in this position.

Meanwhile, pressure on the South African government was mounting and talks between politicians and the African National Congress led to the release in 1990 of Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of apartheid laws.

Following the country's first democratic elections in 1994, then-president Mandela appointed Tutu in 1994 as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with examining the human rights abuses of the apartheid years.

Tutu told the news conference that introducing Mandela as president of South Africa was one of the greatest moments of his life.

"I said to God, 'God, if I die now, I don't really mind'."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

For Those Who Will Change the Wind

Johnny Carson

Comedian, Entertainer, Late Night TV Host

"People will pay more to be entertained than educated."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Readers Respond

In my July Dallas Morning News column I propose a tax increase as a means of addressing some of our city's budget woes.

"If Dallas' budget were a severely wounded patient and City Manager Mary Suhm a surgeon, those screams coming from the operating room would be due to amputations performed without the benefit of anesthesia. Even though she's pared a $130 million budget shortfall to just below $19 million, the reductions still necessary are approaching the point of cutting fat and muscle and sawing too close to bone for comfort..."

"The time has come to stop delaying the inevitable and include a tax increase in this budget."

"No one likes more taxes, but this is the only way to avoid reductions so drastic that they will eventually diminish the quality of life for all residents. Continual cuts initially hurt those who are most vulnerable: youth, their families and senior adults in low-income communities. These are our residents most dependent on parks, libraries and recreation centers as well as on public safety and code enforcement. But make no mistake; it won't be long before we all feel the pain."

"Far too many of us, consciously or unconsciously, have fallen prey to the belief that the quality of our collective lives can be maintained and improved without paying for it. To varying degrees, we are all culpable in this gross miscalculation."

You can read the full column here. It was linked to a couple of other DMN blogs that you can read here and here.

The responses (which come from the online column and the blogs to which it was linked, as well as responses from social media) were quite interesting, somewhat revealing and not necessarily surprising...

'David' says...

"I worked for the company that provided Desk side Support and hardware repairs for the city. When we started the contract in April of 2006 there was approximate 14 of use in various departments and locations. As of today after 2 cuts the number is closer to 4. I have spent time in the police dept. fire/rescue, city hall and library. At this time there are NO assigned techs in the Central Library. There use to be 3 of us. Up until a few weeks ago there was 1 remaining. Believe me with upwards of 700 pc's in the library system Central and over 26 branchs There will be hardware and software failures. There will be hardware sitting idle waiting for repairs and software correction. I think you get the picture. The city has fumbled the situation, I hate increased taxes to but there comes a point when the obvious must be dealt with. I'm not a citizen of the city of Dallas but I saw this train wreck coming from within and knew there was NO easy fix..."

"...I know the phrase "Tax Increase" is seen as a political poison pill. And I'm against big government, over spending and wasteful spending (city hotel!). But there comes a point in management where you must consider your actions. Are they helping the problem or have you crossed the line and your blood letting!"

Responding on the online version of the paper, 'Nothing’s free' says…

"I agree with you rev., but in order to do so I think we should raise the taxable values of all the South Dallas properties about 500% in order for south Dallas to contribute equitably to the cost of services that you want in your part of town."

"I live in north Dallas and am tired of seeing my taxes increase in order to pay for the clean up of south Dallas."

"You are right reverend
[sic], just make sure that you pay your share."

Why the assumption that people in the south don't pay their 'share'? And besides, I don't know when 'Nothing's free' moved to Dallas, but north Dallas' growth was paid for by disinvestment in southern Dallas. Taxes are higher in north Dallas because of underdevelopment in the southern part of the city. How much genius does it take realize that public investment in the sector of the city that is 80% which remains underdevelop, spreads the tax burden throughout the city?

'Nemisis' says…

"I doubt that the Reverend Britt would support removing the tax exemption for religious institutions. How about a taxing churches and tying the revenues to the libraries, swimming pools, and human services (shelters food kitchens etc.)? And what about the objection to the proposed vote in November to remove the dry areas for liquor sales (that would raise revenue)? Oh they are against those!"

"Or how about having the appraisal district raise the property values 10 percent for the southern sector as has occurred EVERY YEAR here in my neighborhood (over 10 percent limit per year by law). Hell the city could not even live with those increases. Perhaps their (city betters) taxes should be raised by increasing the valuation of their homes too and removing their homestead exemptions."

I would be for taxing church property, if it means that religious bodies can have greater political engagement. And I'm sure 'Nemises' doesn't want that. Again, if the writer lives north of the Trinity River (or I30, depending on how where you define the divide), it wouldn't be happening if there were not greater, more substantive investment in southern Dallas.

And, I'm not so sure about the liquor issue. It's one way of breaking up the concentration of liquor related businesses in the south Dallas. Currently, I've not made up my mind. I'll let you know what I decide and why should this actually get on the ballot.

'Mike 1111' writes…

"We do understand we can't maintain the quality of our lives without paying for it and have decided to reduce the quality of our lives. It's our choice. When things get better, we'll increase the quality. I've done the same with my own affairs. Why shouldn't I expect the city to do the same?"

'Casey' is supportive…

"I'm with you, Rev!"

TexasWillie gripes...

"Not a tax payer and yet he wants me to pay more in taxes. Let's make another proposal---tax the church property and all those "non-profits" run by the church."

I'm wondering where he gets the idea I don't pay taxes? EVERYONE pays taxes! In Texas there are property taxes, sales taxes and fees (taxes) - we don't have a state or city income tax. I pay all of them.

And Central Dallas Ministries is not a 'non-profit run by a church'. Our CFO sent us a report recently outlining the percentage of funds received from churches: it was less than 2% of our budget.

Dochopper says...

"And checking with the Dallas County Appraisal District The Good Reverend is not a Dallas County property Owner so a TAX INCREASE will be fine by him!"

Sorry 'Dochopper', you must be looking for the wrong 'Good Reverend'...I've lived in Dallas all my life and I'm a homeowner

From 'Oak Cliff Mom'...

"I am not paying for any more taxes as long as city agencies such as DHA and MDHA try to ruin neighborhoods by moving mentally ill homeless people into stable communities."

Another Dallasite who believes in ending homelessness in the abstract...

Thanks to all (even all of these) for taking the time to read and respond!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do We Value Wounded Animals More than Wounded Humans?

I couldn't possibly make this argument any better than Cindy Franks, whose op-ed column appeared in the Dallas Morning News last week.

"Standing on my front porch in the middle of a summer day, I heard the bone-crushing, fender-bending thud followed by the sharp high-pitched yelp that could only be one thing. Struck down by a cruel hit-and-run driver laid the beautiful, caramel-colored body of someone's BFF, without a doubt critically wounded."

"A second driver quickly pulled to a stop just past the crime scene. She timidly walked toward the wounded animal, obviously willing to assist. Upon her touch, the animal raised its head and instinctively bit the good Samaritan on the arm. Stunned, the woman retreated to her car nursing her own wound, most likely regretting the gesture of kindness."

"Another driver pulled to the roadside and walked toward the animal, carrying a lightweight blanket. He wrapped and lifted the 50-pound-plus pound dog and gently placed her on the grass above the curb so as to not sustain further injury. He then hurried back to his idling car, probably feeling a good deed had been accomplished."

"About the time I reached the dog's side, yet another driver appeared at the curb. "I know a vet that will take this dog right now, do the necessary surgery and keep her until the golden retriever rescue can make arrangements to place her in a care facility to recover fully," he said. The dog would eventually find a new home, he promised."

"Walking slowly back toward my front door, I wondered how different this story would have been if it were a person in need of this kind of intervention. I was thinking especially of the drug- or alcohol-addicted, the abused, the mentally ill, the homeless. Who has the plans to see them fully recovered and sent to a new, loving home?"

"I know why I was pondering this. It was that trip downtown I made recently. I visited the Dallas Farmers Market, where the abundance of homegrown fruits and vegetables was glorious. Most people were like me, on a field trip in search of the finest tomato or sweetest peach, but I began to notice others – people with haunting, hungry eyes and filthy, mismatched clothes. That's when I realized I was a stone's throw away from the $21 million, state-of-the art homeless shelter called The Bridge. But if The Bridge was as successful as I had heard, why did these lost souls look so forgotten?"

"A quick look at The Bridge website back in my comfortable home told me that the desperate multitudes are not required to seek substance abuse treatment. The ones who do seek it, however, are likely limited to a two-week residential stay in a treatment facility not offered at The Bridge."

"Two weeks? Then what? Are they cured? What good is a bed, a meal and some counseling if a gaping wound is present? That would be like sending our wounded dog into the vet for a meal and bath."

"Having researched this a lot, scouring dozens of North Texas websites for treatment centers, I've realized that addicts are no longer capable of helping themselves. They have lost their will and purpose in life. They
cannot make the choice to hoist themselves up and snap out of it any more than the wounded dog could get herself to the vet. But for people, personal freedom and privacy laws prevent intervention."

"If our rehabilitation opportunities are brief and services are no more than a system of expensive revolving doors, it is no surprise to see people of all ages struggling to survive. Addiction is a progressive, chronic, recurring disease that screams for medical attention before becoming fatal. The incapability of saving one's self does not negate the need to be saved."

"At the risk of oversimplifying my observations, I wonder if addicts would be better served if they had just been born golden retrievers."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shirley Sherrod, the NAACP & The Intimidation Factor: It's Racism to Mention Race

So this is the outcome of the NAACP's resolution urging the TEA Party to rid its ranks of racists?
First the TEA Party Federation boots out TEA Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, for a racially offensive satire of black people. First: I didn't know there were TEA Party factions. Second: while racially offensive Williams probably should have been expelled for idiocy. However, it's hard to argue, whether because of political pressure/public opinion purposes, or simply because it was the right thing to do...the TEA Party took rather decisive action.

Good for them.

Next, Shirley Sherrod, a Georgia U.S. Department of Agriculture executive is fired (or resigns), because nearly 25 years ago, at an NAACP event, she relates an experience in which she transparently states her reluctance to help a white farmer because of his 'superior attitude'.
Obviously offended because, in her mind, the white farmer in need of help, showed a lack of regard toward a black woman, in position to help him, she didn't go 'all out' to help him. She, in her words, "...did enough..."

She goes on to say, that she took him to a white lawyer who had been to training in recently enacted Chapter 12 bankruptcy laws for farms. The inference being that since the farmer was trying to assert his superiority, she took him to a white lawyer whom he of whom he would be more accepting. The white lawyer (as we find out in other reporting) wasn't helpful. And Sherrod goes on to say, in the video in question, that this opened up her eyes...that the issue wasn't just about race, it was about the haves vs. the have nots.

Here's the video...

The NAACP, in its rush to be 'fair and balanced' in its denunciations condemns Sherrod for her 'racism'.

And now...?

"The NAACP, which released a statement Monday critical of Sherrod, backtracked Tuesday, saying they were "snookered" by Andrew Breitbart, whose website released the edited video. Breitbart did not respond to a request seeking comment."

""Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans," NAACP President Ben Jealous said in a statement. "The tape of Ms. Sherrod’s speech at an NAACP banquet was deliberately edited to create a false impression of racial bias, and to create a controversy where none existed. This just shows the lengths to which extremist elements will go to discredit legitimate opposition.""

"Jealous asked the USDA to reconsider Sherrod's dismissal but, in a statement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stood by his decision."

""First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices," Vilsack said. "Second, state rural development directors make many decisions and are often called to use their discretion. The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia.""

Mind you, Sherrod is relating an incident that took place 24 years ago. And mind you, she's talking about the enlightenment that she received - then - not later, that caused her to re-examine her personal umbrage and later do all that she could do to help the white farmer and his wife. How do we know this?

"Sherrod "kept us out of bankruptcy," said Eloise Spooner, 82. She and her husband Roger Sooner, who own a farm in Iron City, located in southwest Georgia, approached Sherrod in 1986 -- when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund -- seeking assistance."..."

"...Spooner, who considers Sherrod a "friend for life," said the federal official worked tirelessly to help the Iron City couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy back in 1986."

""Her husband told her, ‘You're spending more time with the Spooners than you are with me,' " Spooner told the AJC
[Atlanta Journal Constitution]. "She took probably two or three trips with us to Albany just to help us out.""

"Spooner spoke to her friend by phone Tuesday morning."

""She's very sad about it," Spooner said. "She told me she was so glad we talked. I just can't believe this is happening to her.""

""If it hadn't been for her, we would've never known who to see or what to do," he said. "She led us right to our success.""

"Spooner's wife, Eloise, remembered Sherrod as "nice-mannered, thoughtful, friendly; a good person.""

"She said that when she saw the story of the tape and Sherrod's resignation on television, "I said, 'That ain't right. They have not treated her right.' ""

There's something terribly ridiculous about this.

In the first place, there are the intimidating tactics of whites who don't like being called racists, while pursuing or being supportive of racists ends, who try and accuse blacks and other minorities of racism at the very mention of racial injustice. In other words, it is racist to bring up racism.

And so a tape, edited just right, to prove that the NAACP countenances 'racists' in their midst, so that it can be shown that the NAACP is hypercritical in its charges that the TEA Party tolerates, if not supports, racists in their midst.

Then there is the NAACP, in a rush to be 'fair' seeking to quash any such criticism, condemns Sherrod...without seeing the whole tape! We have a clip of a portion of a speech, cut off virtually in mid-sentence. Did anyone, think to say, 'We need to see more than this before we comment?'

And there is the Department of Agriculture which acts, according to Tom Vilsack, purportedly without the White House's instruction or urging, forcing Shirley Sherrod to 'resign'. To pull over in the car, as a matter of fact, and resign with a message from her Blackberry, telling her that these are orders from the White House.

I can see how it might have happened...

Is it possible, that Shirley Sherrod 24 years ago, had a visceral reaction of resentment to some word, some expression, some phrase of Roger Spooner and interpreted as his considering himself to be racially superior. Of course it is. Can African-Americans be overly sensitive to racism in white people? The answer is undeniably yes. I've done it. I've had friends who have done it. There are more than a few times when we have to 'check' one another to counter the over reaction. Times when we remind ourselves and one another that some people are jerks, because they are jerks. Or sometimes when we remind ourselves that either we or they are having a bad day. And times when it is racism that actually is better left ignored. Was this what Sherrod experienced in her initial encounter with the Spooners - I think that can be argued.

But what about the NAACP? It's one of the problems that I tend to have with the organization. They were right, to call for the TEA Party to disavow, disassociate their movements from the racists they say are around their 'fringes'. There are no, alternative explanations for signs using the word 'nigger' or comparing Obama to Hitler and using other racists slurs or imagery. These people are not 'misguided' or 'ill informed' or 'having a bad day' and being 'afraid' or 'angry' are worn out excuses.

But the NAACP should stop trying to find ways to be apologetic. They did not call the TEA Party racists. They should not back off of their resolution (in fact it makes no sense to call a press conference about the resolution and not release the full text of it). And it makes no sense to continue to try and prove that counter charges of racism are not true. The NAACP has, for nearly all of its 101 years endured criticism from some black people that it is too inclusive! It was founded by black and white people. Any NAACP gathering looks far, far, far more like America than any TEA Party gathering I've seen to date. So, please, stop apologizing!

And the Obama administration needs to stop running from race. I don't think that there is a sane, rational, thinking (how many ways can I say the same thing?) person, knows that this administration is bending over backwards to appear racially impartial. It's the right thing to do. But Barack Obama is the first black President of the United States. You can't hide it. Trying to be so fair, that you become overly sensitive to the prospect that one of government employees might have referred to a racially intolerant attitude that she held in an encounter 24 years ago, is not the same thing as Robert Byrd having been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, voting against
Civil Rights. As wrong as Shirley Sherrod's reflexive resentment may have been, and as insistent as those who love to believe that racism is a figment of collective minority imagination, it is and has been real for a very long time.

By the way - maybe we should see the entire speech...

Pretty incendiary, huh? Of course it is...she mentioned 'race' and 'racism'...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What If the TEA Party was a Black 'Movement'?

Believe it or not, I do converse with people across the political, ideological spectrum. I have friends who are far more liberal and radical than I. I also have friends whose perspective is more conservative. I think its important to not simply talk into an echo chamber.

Ed Gray is one of those friends whose perspectives are a little more conservative than mine, and whose viewpoints tend to be a little more tempered. He recently included in his weekend blog his perspective on the recent NAACP resolution calling on TEA Party leaders to purge their movement of its more racist elements. Of course the way a number of high level TEA party leaders dealt with this was to feign victimization, squint their eyes and point an accusatory finger back at the NAACP and cry, 'You too!', 'You too!'.
There were appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan, the unimpeachable goodness of TEA Party followers and the inevitable search to find African-Americans who were also TEA Party sympathizers (as if showing that black people believe in the principles they stand for their couldn't possibly be racists in their midst. Which make people carrying semi-automatic weapons, effigies of Obama, placards that show him as Hitler, or a menacing Joker are all figments of our collective imagination).

Gray's perspective is correct: not all TEA Party members are racist. Nearly every movement like this has true believers in it who are sincerely committed to its first principles. At their best, movements like the TEA Party can serve to keep a country honest. No democracy like ours should give unfettered and unquestioning support to its leaders. I may believe that there are areas where Obama's policies haven't gone far enough. There needs to be a countervailing point of view that serves as a warning that we do not go too far. It's called a loyal opposition. It has its place.

But movements like the TEA Party can be tainted, even hijacked by people with less than seemly motives. And the epithets, effigies and egregious expressions of racism should not be ignored by its leaders. The 'we can't control the people on the fringes' drivel, has not been rejoined soundly enough by media or by other political leaders. And, yes, Republican leaders, the soap selling entertainer pundits who are playing TEA Party leaders like a fiddle, could actually condemn and bring to ridicule other politicians and attendees who bring shameful posters and banners and encourage them to start their own movement. Instead, by pretending to ignore them, while ratcheting up the rhetoric with more red meat, they give the impression that these people are welcome and will soon, 'get their party back'.

Yes, the NAACP was right to call for the TEA Party to deal with and dismiss those racists from their ranks; no, the NAACP is not racist and its ridiculous to make such a claim - the rank and file of the NAACP AND their supporters is far more racially and ethnically diverse than that of the TEA Party and has been for more than a century; and no, tempering the presence of these racists at TEA Party conventions and rallies by saying, '...we hear these things from both sides...' is neither helpful or courageous. I saw no one bringing semi-automatic weapons to appearances with George W. Bush; no one referred to his appearances with children as 'threats to democracy' or injurious to children; I never saw posters with Bush depicted as Hitler; and I never saw jeering, haranguing crowds lining the pathway to Congress being totally rude, threatening and uncivil as congressmen and women walked to the Capitol, with colleagues urging them on from above. This is different and everyone trying to make an excuse for the unconscionable atmosphere accompanying these gatherings know it.

If you don't think there's a difference read this excerpt from Ed's blog, from a letter he received and be honest about the image it evokes in your mind...

"Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white...."

"Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most as a danger to the republic? ..."

"Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did in Washington."

Again, Ed's more tempered reasoning is spot on: neither I, nor any thinking individual believe that all TEA Party members are racist - nor did the NAACP say they were - but the TEA Party attracts, is attractive to, draws or is drawn by an ugly element in our country that clouds the argument it is trying to make. Every movement like this is bound to have its day. But that's in the short run. In the long run, though, the images we will remember are the images it tries to dodge without strong disavowal. And that is what will bring it to an end in the long run.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dallas South Publisher Supports Unify South Dallas' Plan for S.M. Wright Freeway

Thanks to my friend, social media guru and Dallas South News publisher Shawn Williams for voicing his support for Unify South Dallas' promotion of the South Dallas Hope Initiative for S.M. Wright Freeway. At about 9:30 minutes into WFAA Channel 8's Inside Texas Politics Sunday morning broadcast, you can see Shawn's 'Rant'.

Shawn does something else helpful, however, he connects the efforts of Unify South Dallas to similar efforts happening across the country, like this one in South Bronx in New York. While there are differences in terms of the problems, the point is still the same: people in their neighborhoods, no matter their economic means, have a right - and are taking advantage of the right, to determine how their communities look. That includes what kind of, and how much traffic goes through their neighborhoods.

The four lane freeway, may ultimately be less convenient to commuters than one with six lanes - but ask yourself a question: how sympathetic are you to the fact that 18 wheelers can't drive less than a mile away from your house?

The constant complaint is that it is too costly to employ what Unify South Dallas proposes. Correcting past mistakes and injustices is always costly. That's why we ought to get it right the first time. But the cost should not be a deterrent to doing the right thing. Ultimately, whether or not Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the city of Dallas determine to find a way to work with Unify South Dallas, will determine the value they place on the quality of citizens' lives now and the future of their community.

Thanks Shawn!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In Memoriam: Walter Hawkins (1949-2010)

There would be a huge hole in church music in the black church, if the catalogue of music written by Walter Hawkins was eliminated.

When I was a freshman at Bishop College in 1975, it was difficult to find a religion student who hadn't memorized the entire 'Love Alive' album released that year. It is classic modern day Gospel music today, as is much of his music, including - Marvelous, Going Up Yonder, Changed, Be Grateful, Thank You, He's That Kind Of Friend, Until I Found The Lord, Jesus Christ Is the Way, I'm Not The Same, Holy One, Spirit Now, Battle, I Love You Lord, Special Gift, Set Me Free, Is There Any Way, Everybody Ought To Know, My Gratitude, It's Right and Good, Cry On, I'm So Thankful, Just In The Nick of Time, Jesus Made A Way, Thank You Lord, I Must Go On, I'm Going Away, Lord Give Us Time, Try Christ, I Feel Like Singing, Dear Jesus, God Is Standing By, I Love Jesus More, Follow Me, All You Need Is Christ, He Brought Me, He'll Be There, Goin To A Place, I'm A Pilgrim, Never Alone, On & On

Walter Hawkins was a great gift to God's Church! We look forward to continuing to be blessed by the remaining influence of his music and the many believers he has so thoroughly influenced!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Eugene O'Neill
1888 - 1953

Author, Playwrite

"Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 21st Century USA (The United States of 'Anger') Pt. II

'Anger' is becoming an excuse for all manner of political activity.

For the record, that's never been a bad thing. Anger and the demand for change in policy, societal custom and tradition has been the fuel which ignited the flame which forged everything from the birth of our country to the end of slavery and segregation. There have even been points at which the anger has resulted in the personalization and polarization that has given shape and focus to such movements, whether they that focus was King George or Bull Conner.

But what we see in our country is something different. It is most noticeably a cry of the disenfranchised and exploitative opportunists which are not seeking to clarify the grounds upon which we will be 'free' - but the preservation of class advantages utilizing those who will not enjoy those advantages as soldiers in the army to preserve them.

How often are we hearing cries that from people saying 'I want my country back'! A cry that calls to mind, not exceptionalism but an exclusionary politics that suggest only one type of patriotism expressed in one set of public policy initiatives designed to benefit the 'hard working Americans'. Overwhelmingly, these happen to be white, middle class, vulnerable to the economic downturn that had produced stagnant job growth, stagnant wages and a papermache fiscal foundation designed to support reckless investment at the top and wanton consumerism at the middle. Those at the bottom of the financial ladder, were meant to be the quiet recipients of the charity and organized philanthropy.

Think of it: a society which had one of the worst savings rates in its history (and in the world for that matter); which had been trained to think of home equity, as a piggy bank; which gullibly sought to treat credit as a means to wealth - has suddenly become aware of the fragile nature of its 'future' and is now is concerned about the 'debt being passed on to its children'. The reason for the country's precarious outlook? Not those who snuck by unfunded wars, prescription drug benefits or underfunded education initiatives: they are the poor, 'illegal' immigrants from Mexico and those who are dependent on 'entitlements'.

And so, it would appear, that more than any other time in our history, we are 'angrier' than ever. The pity is that what is transpiring is that we are blindly targeting one another in our anger.

The 'anger' with President Barack Obama, is a metaphor for how we've sourced our resentment and our rage. He has become a symbol of what this country has feared: a coming home to roost of the chickens of our country's legacy of oppression and empire. He is the our nation's history's perfect irony - he is what was feared since 1619 - the result of a union (there seems to be even a reluctance to recognize the marriage) between a white American woman and an African. He has to be other! Not a citizen. Not truly an American. Not patriotic. He was reared for a time in Indonesia, so he has to be foreign. His father was a Muslim so he has to be Muslim. His Christian pastor bitterly denounced America, so he has to be anti- American. He was a community organizer after the Alinsky model, so he has to be 'socialist' if not 'communist'. He graduated from Harvard Law School, he's taught Constitutional law, so he has to be 'elitist'. He's an eloquent speaker and during the campaign he attracted crowds by the hundreds of thousands, so his supporters must have been deluded and he must have a 'God complex'.

He's not tweeking a broken system, he's actually trying to produce what American 'political speak' has always said it wanted - health care for everyone, proactive environmental policies, so he must be trying to destroy the country.

In the meantime, our country - on the verge of economic collapse - threatened the security we've known as consumers. Lay-offs (which were already happening, prior to 2008, and which many people tried to call attention to); a crisis in the mortgage industry; an auto crisis that had been in the making for decades and a stock market that tanked prior to November 2008 called for government intervention not seen since Roosevelt. And a country just revisiting Roosevelt and unfamiliar with the uncertainty which accompanied his policies during the oppression only see 'government out of control' - not realizing that it had been out of control for at least 10 years.

For these reasons Americans are scared - and 'angry'.

If only we could remember something: the country that elected Barack Obama, was a country that reinvented itself. This was a country that broke with its past in such a way that the election of a president - for us something so peacefully routine that it makes us unique among the nations of this world - symbolized our willingness to forge a history totally at odds with our past. We just hadn't counted on how alive the spirit of that past still is and how hard it dies.

But it will die. I choose to believe that the 'anger' we experience now, are but the labor pains of the future we have conceived. Years from now, we will look at the foolish statements and signs of angry Americans, in the same way that we look at newsreel footage of 'angry' segregationists' and the hooded terrorists of 40-60 years ago. We will view with sad, head shaking bemusement, those who disrupted congressional townhall meetings with cries of 'No socialist medicine and keep your hands off my Medicare'! And we will be astonished that we actually took seriously millionaire entertainers, posing as political pundits who 'warned' us of higher taxes, when the only taxes that they were worried about being raised were theirs. And we will question the patriotism of those other business leaders who gladly took more than 10 years worth of tax cuts but refused to create jobs when those tax cuts ended.

At that time we will have learned that consumers have a fate - only citizens have a future.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote said in Ken Burns' documentary of that area, that before the Civil War Americans quite unconsciously said "The United States 'are'". That was the way we thought of ourselves, as a collection of states. After the Civil War, we began to say, "The United States 'is'". That's what the Civil War did for us, he said, "It made us an 'is'".

When we get past being an 'angry' nation, we'll discover our 'isness' again.

God speed the day!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The 21st Century USA (United States of 'Anger') Pt I

"People are angry"...

Almost invariably, this is applied to aging white, middle and working class Americans who are increasingly unfamiliar with a country where political decision makers look less and less and think less and less like them.

But they are not the only 'angry' Americans.

In Oakland, California, centuries old issues of inequity and abuse of power by law enforcement officials have exploded in riots.

On Jan. 1, 2009 five Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) , transit police officers stopped two trains at a station shortly after 2 a.m. As passengers look on, Officer Johannes Mehserle, then 27, draws his gun and shoots 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back as the younger man lies prone on his stomach. On July 8 of this year, an all white jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He will be sentenced next month. A timeline of the events from the time of shooting to the verdict can be read here.

The Oakland Tribune, in an editorial called for cooler heads to prevail saying...

"Apparently the jurors didn't believe that Mehserle acted without regard for Grant's life — a requirement for second-degree murder. Nor did they believe that he was provoked and acted in the heat of passion — voluntary manslaughter. Instead, they found that he acted negligently, but without malice."

"It was a quick verdict. The case was given to the jury on Friday. Monday was a holiday. A juror was sick Tuesday. And then on Wednesday, one juror was replaced because of a previously scheduled vacation, forcing the jury to restart deliberations with a new member. Talks that day were cut short because of another juror's medical appointment. So Thursday was the first time jurors had the opportunity to deliberate for a full day. But by midafternoon, they had reached a verdict..."

The reaction from Oscar Grant's family was predictable.

"Grant's family attorney, Oakland's John Burris, spoke with Grant's family members outside the courthouse, expressing their disappointment at the verdict."

"We are extremely disappointed with this verdict," Burris said. "The verdict is not a true representation of what happened to Oscar Grant or what the officer's actions were that night."

"Burris said there was a small victory to be seen. In his years of practicing law, he could not remember a white police officer being found guilty of manslaughter for killing a black man; nevertheless, the family wanted more."

""The family is extraordinarily unhappy," Burris said. "This is not a reflection of how the American justice system is supposed to work.""

"Burris did implore those in Oakland to be peaceful in any demonstrations, saying, "One death is enough.""

Suffice it to say, peace did not ensue.

"After about three hours of passionate but largely peaceful protests by hundreds of people who converged on downtown Oakland late Thursday afternoon, a splinter group of protesters, many wearing masks, egged on the crowd and ran through the streets breaking store windows, looting and setting fires before police moved in with flash-bang grenades."

"People started pouring into the intersection at 14th Street and Broadway after the surprisingly quick verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial. The former BART police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1, 2009."

"Police officers, while visible and prepared, allowed the crowd of about 1,000 to block the street and set up a podium. One after the other, speakers grabbed a bullhorn to express grief and anger. Many urged the crowd to keep the protest peaceful, and by 8 p.m. there were only a few arrests for fighting with police and instances of rocks being thrown by a smaller group that tried unsuccessfully to march down Broadway toward police headquarters."

"But all that changed after dark. By 10:30 violent protesters had left a trail of destruction down Broadway and throughout Uptown, smashing windows and looting..."

It's important to say that all of this, the shooting of Oscar Grant, the quick return of the verdict and the rioting is wrong.

But it is also important to understand, that this is not an aberration in our country. It is a reminder of a justice system that still undervalues the lives of minorities even in a country that is 'post racial'. And it is also important to understand that this undervaluation of the lives of people of color can be seen in countless ways that make them feel as vulnerable as those who 'want their country back'. Because the 'return' being called for is too great a reminder of a return to days when the Oscar Grants of America can be accidentally (or incidently) harmed in inumberable ways or even murdered in the cause of making white people feel 'safe'.

The rioting, while senseless, futile and contained (not to mention the fact that it is violence and criminal activity that can never be justified), becomes ocular justification for crackdowns that inhibit, intimidate and feed the fears of other Americans who are 'afraid'. These are the bigots and racists, for whom it is convenient to hide behind the thick techno-curtain of the blogesphere venting their spleen against those who have been 'given too much'. This too would be harmless and impotent, if it weren't for the politicians ready to pounce on such idiocy to score ballot points.

It's this same fear that results in Arizona immigration laws that are based on a desire to keep our country 'safe' - without regard to the fact that it is nearly impossible to enforce such laws without profiling citizens.

And so we're all 'angry' and 'afraid'. Transit police who fatally shoot prone suspects, are 'afraid'. Jurors who rush to judgement, without due consideration of facts or the message of their verdicts are 'afraid' (if not just apathetic). Rioters who vent their rage in ways that make their protests exploitable by criminals and agitators, are 'angry'. The business owners whose livelihoods are at stake 'afraid' and 'angry'. And the citizens who watch in horror, are 'afraid' and 'angry' as we are all reminded that justice is something that sometimes eludes our grasp.

Fear is a real and useful emotion, so is anger. But they cannot be a justification for everything. Not for taking a life. Not evading responsibility for rendering justice. Not rioting, violence and looting. And not for the meanness, insensitivity and veiled bigotry and racism we see in our politics and culture today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trying to Ignore the Dumb Stuff and Keep On Keeping On...

My attendance at a funeral caused me to miss this past Saturday's Unify South Dallas community meeting. But the report in the Dallas Morning News, made me proud of the leadership and their presentation of a very important aspect of the coalition's agenda: the redesign of S.M. Wright Freeway, a concrete scar cutting its way through the heart of the community.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), proposes grading the road and making it a six lane highway, with few points of egress. Unify South Dallas supports the design developed and proposed by a larger number of residents calling for a 4 lane highway, with more points of egress, allowing for more economic development and less traffic.

"“You want to put a road in our community because you think it will make traffic flow better for people who go through, without concern for people in the community,” said Jeffery Muhammad, a member of Unify South Dallas’ steering committee."

"TxDOT officials did not attend the meeting, but Tim Nesbitt, the agency’s lead engineer on the project, has said four lanes simply aren’t enough to carry the number of cars the agency expects will use the road."

"Muhammad and others questioned that on Saturday, saying that more drivers will use S.M. Wright if it has more lanes. If the street is smaller, fewer drivers will use it as a cut-through, they said."

TxDOT, by the way, did not attend the meeting, because the purpose of the meeting was to review and respond to written questions posed to the state agency by the group through it's council representative.

"There also were questions about renderings that TxDOT has presented showing a lushly landscaped boulevard lined with green grass and a variety of trees."

"So far, no one has told the community who will pay to maintain that landscaping, Muhammad said."

"“Look how they maintain the grass and everything else on the other highways, and that will give you an idea how it will look,” he said."

Of course after the article online, there is opportunity for public comment. Some reasonable people had some things worth saying - although in fairness, their comments could be no more informed than the article they read, so while there may have been opposition, it could be taken with a grain of salt.

And then there are the mean-spirited, hateful and hate-filled comments of others...

"The reason there will be no developement is because of the meddling of groups like unify south dallas and neighborhood residents looking for something for nothing."

"If it's like anything else in the neighborhood, it won't matter what is ultimately decided. The neighborhood citizens itself will cause the road to deteriorate faster than normal, then they will complain about not getting the necessary gov't assistance. There is no pleasing South Dallas residents."

I know, I really need to ignore this tripe...and I shouldn't take time to respond (although I did). I'll be more disciplined next time.

I was thinking more about how to respond more strongly, and what biting sarcasm I could use to embarrass people who feel safe hiding behind the blogesphere to say things with screen names that they would never have the courage to say face to face.

But then I remembered an appearance by Maya Angelou on a BET gospel music show that claimed my attention. I saw it a few weeks ago and it has challenged me ever since.

In the last segment of the show, she recites a poem that she wrote entitled "When I Thinks About Myself". It's a poem about the quiet dignity and courageous survival of our African-American forefathers and mothers in the face of ridicule and inhumane treatment. And in the closing minutes she talks about those who feel themselves superior to other people. "No one" says our country's premier prophetic poet laureate, "can be more human than anyone else. You can be richer, skinnier, prettier...but you can never be more human..." and when it comes to retaliating against the unkindness of others, she says the best response is to say, "...I release you from my ignorance."

There are few women whose lives and legacy have been a blessing to so many.

You'll have to move ahead to about 33:17 into this broadcast for the segment. But please watch!

You will be profoundly moved...

And now, after having been properly chastened. Let me again express my pride in my friends with Unify South Dallas, and encourage all of us to stay focused and keep working!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Are Capitalism and Faith Compatible?

If you are a preacher or pastor, or in any kind of way take your faith seriously, it won't be long until you run into the challenge of 'practical applications' for your belief system. Sooner or later there is the question of whether or not what you believe 'really works' or works in 'the real world'. When I was a pastor, I even had church officers who would say 'Rev. its good to have faith, but the Lord gave us common sense too!'

I'll admit it is a challenge. Which is why, whenever I find areas where people appear to be utilizing faith principles in areas that are traditionally thought to be in conflict. So when I was watching a segment of an episode of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly this story about Lincoln Electric in Cleveland, Ohio, caught my eye!

Here's an excerpt from the transcript of the show. Click here to see the entire segment.

[Phil Jones correspondent] JONES: Journalist Frank Koller has written a book about Lincoln Electric’s unusual management tradition.

KOLLER: Lincoln believes that it is not only possible to protect people as well as profits, but that in fact over the long term the best way to protect your profits is to protect people.

[John, CEO Lincoln Electric] STROPKI: When somebody loses their job, and they’re sitting at home every day, I think they lose a good part of their dignity that’s associated with that. In our system they come to work every day. Maybe they go home a little bit earlier, or maybe their paychecks are a little bit less, but they don’t lose their dignity.

JONES: In 1895, after being laid off from his manufacturing job, John Lincoln decided to start his own company. He later brought in his brother James to manage things. When the Depression hit, Lincoln Electric suffered along with everyone else. Desperate to keep their jobs, workers went to James with this proposal:

KOLLER: If we promise to work harder, and we in fact can improve the productivity of the company, will you share the benefits at the end of the year with us in a fair manner? And James Lincoln, actually, directly said yes.

JONES: The profit-sharing, which began in 1934, has continued to this day. The Lincoln brothers were encouraged to have high moral standards by their father, an itinerant minister.
DONALD HASTINGS (Former CEO, Lincoln Electric): He preached so much the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

JONES: Over his career, J.F., as he was known, wrote frequently of his moral principles: “If we follow the philosophy of Christ…we shall have the proper answer to the problem of lay-offs. When we treat the worker as we would like to be treated, the answer is plain. Continuous employment is needed to secure the cooperation of the worker. It is also basically sound.”

STROPKI: The thing that I always talk about, and we’ve used this term before, is this brain drain that comes when you just let people go. We keep this young talent that we’ve worked so hard to bring into the organization. They know we’re not going to desert them in the bad cycle, and they become more and more committed as far as the company is concerned.

JONES: Under the guaranteed employment policy, no one at Lincoln has been laid off for economic reasons for more than 60 years.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black

Got a dream job?

I've got more than a few: radio talk show host; college professor; short order cook (ok, I'm kidding about that one!).

But this is one - U.S. Senate Chaplain. Really. This has really got to be one of the most interesting and energizing callings in the country.

Here's an interesting story about the current Chaplain. Given the state of our country, we need to keep him in our prayers!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Frances Perkins

First Woman Secretary of Labor


"Most of man's problems upon this planet, in the long history of the race, have been met and solved either partially or as a whole by experiment based on common sense and carried out with courage."