Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When Ideologies Collide

The last 1:15 of President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize is the source of what may become fresh controversy.

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King."

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Tavis Smiley Reports, a new installment of his quarterly hour long special, examines the divide and apparent contradiction between Obama's attribution of his rise to our nation's highest office and his role as a war time president. Does this mean that Obama denigrates King's non-violent commitment? Does his role as a Commander-in-Chief of a nation prosecuting two wars, put him at variance with the King's legacy as a pacifist and non-violent crusader? Is it possible to be a head of state and be committed to non-violence?

I must admit, I listened to Obama's speech on December 10th of last year, with some of those questions on my mind. King's own Nobel Peace Prize speech in 1963, made no room for a world of 'just war'. He spoke of a world in which the problems of mankind marked by 'violence and oppression' would be solved without 'resorting to oppression and violence'.

King's anti-war speech, put him at odds with, indeed extreme odds with Civil Rights leaders, politicians - including President Lyndon Johnson - journalists, and many of his own followers. His anti-war speech at the Riverside Church in New, York city, given one year to the day of his assassination (April 4, 1967), was King's prophetic declaration that he was a proclaimer of truth that transcended politics and personal convenience. He considered the Viet Nam War a moral evil, an evil that diverted badly needed resources from the War on Poverty at home and which disproportionately committed the lives of the poor, and minority citizens in a conflict which was another country's civil war.

While I agree with King's stance on war in general and the Viet Nam war in particular, and while I believe that we are currently engaged in two wars (certainly one), which should never have been started in the first place. I wonder how fair it is to compare the position in which Obama finds himself and the conditions about which King spoke out in 1967.

Coming into office with a commitment to end the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, Obama has essentially adopted, if not ratified the Bush plan to end the war in Iraq and has sent additional troops into Afghanistan to deal with terrorist there. While the causes for these wars is to me not an irrelevant issue: is it really possible to immediately stop a war in which we've been engaged for almost ten years?

Let me confess that I don't have answers to these questions. And while I admire Tavis Smiley and most of his supporters (Dr. Cornell West among them), I have problems with the style of accountability to which they employ when it comes to Obama. Smiley has mixed motives at best and with each criticism (or critique), it becomes more obvious. Nearly every president, certainly in our lifetimes, has come into office finding the issues about which they campaigned more complex than initially understood. How those issues are handled once confronted by them, is how a president must be judged.

In a war that has been declared upon ideological grounds and against no sovereign nation, there are indeed more complexities than whether or not one holds fast to an ideology of strict non-violence.

Or are there?

Smiley's special will be aired on Wednesday night 7:00 p.m. CST on your local PBS station. It should be extremely interesting.

Whether you agree with Tavis or not.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Environmental Hazards Can't Make Good Neighbors

It feels great to be heard, doesn't it?

I think the Dallas Morning News finally heard the residents of South Dallas - and southern Dallas - when they say they don't want to live next to the environmental hazards that the scrap metal yards that ring their neighborhoods represent.

Page four of Unify South Dallas' 'Accountability Agenda' calls for a relocation plan for these heavy industrial businesses along the Lamar Street corridor.

That seems to be a hard thing for city officials to get. It almost seems at times that people think that heavy industrial businesses came first and then these poor people came and invaded their space. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The recent DMN editorial I reference points out:

"Caroline Arriaga's family is emblematic of the injustices inflicted over several decades when city leaders allowed some southern Dallas neighborhoods to become scrapheap zones. Next door to the Cadillac Heights house her family has owned since 1960 is the contaminated site of a dismantled lead smelter. A smelly sewage-treatment plant sits a few blocks away on the banks of the Trinity. All around are unsightly salvage yards and illegal dumpsites."

"Previous City Councils and zoning officials made the decisions that allowed this toxic stew to be dumped at Arriaga's doorstep. Dallas' current leadership must declare emphatically that this willful disregard for southern Dallas neighborhoods will go no further."

"Arriaga's parents bought their house 26 years before the Oak Cliff Metals site got its first permit. Having grown up in the shadows of two smelters, Arriaga says it seemed harmless to play in the front yard with her own children. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994. Clinical tests around 1998 found extremely high lead levels in her blood and that of her autistic son, Frankie."

Scrap metal yard owners and their employees operate legitimate businesses. They are a part of a necessary industry. But they don't belong next to residential areas and citizens out to be able to count on the same government that allowed them to operate there to their detriment to work with them to come up with a workable solution.

"The time has come for metal recyclers to begin transitioning out of Dallas' urban core. Instead of approving the Falcon Transit permit and perpetuating blight, the City Council must adopt a smarter, cleaner approach."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood

Sharing with you some of my favorite preachers is one of the things I enjoy about these blog posts. This morning I get to share yet another one.

Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood is Pastor Emeritus of the St. Paul's Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. I met Youngblood several years ago when he was on a tour promoting his seminal work "Upon This Rock". He came to the church I pastored to speak with a group of pastors about his book and his work with the Industrial Areas Foundation and its Brooklyn network, East Brooklyn Congregations.

Youngblood and I got to know one another while in my office while he was awaiting a call to give a telephone interview. Youngblood, whose life story and ministry is revealed in his book, is a complex, intellectual, minister with broad interests and a tremendously creative approach to ministry that helped St. Paul grow from about 18 members when he became her pastor at the age of 26, to more than 5000 today.

Johnny is easing toward retirement, but not without leaving a mark that is indelible in Brooklyn and across this country. His visionary work with the IAF that resulted in an affordable housing initiative known as 'The Nehemiah Homes", spurred federal legislation and inspired me to try and approximate the work in Dallas in the Ideal Neighborhood, working with EBC's sister network, Dallas Area Interfaith.

Even Youngblood's retirement is different: he has become pastor emeritus, while the new senior pastor, Rev. David Brawley, establishes himself, while Youngblood assumes a smaller pastorate at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Incredibly interesting.

It's been difficult to find a video clip of Dr. Youngblood, but I finally located one and it is quintessential Johnny Ray. He is preaching at the Washington Cathedral in Washington D.C. at a fundraising service for Hurricane Katrina victims (Youngblood is a native of New Orleans) in 2006.

Imagine! He has brought with him about 900 members of St. Paul's and Mt. Pisgah share this signal experience with him.

Do yourself a favor and click here and take the time to be refreshed by this wonderful and unique preaching event!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Horace Mann
1796 1859
Lawyer, Legislator, Educator

"Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to Our Vertical Community!

Just a little more about the Grand Opening of CityWalk@Akard.

Thanks to our donors, our supporters, our board of directors and our staff for everything they do to make Central Dallas Ministries' work a wonderful opportunity to help people change their lives!

Out of Touch, Out of Tune

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whose Waterloo is This?

OK, here you go.

The historic Health Care Reform Bill was signed by President Obama Tuesday. It has to go back to the Senate for 'fixes' and depending on what happens there, will either go back to the House or to the President to be signed.

Supposedly, there are citizens who are 'outraged' by the passage of this bill. For the record, I've not met or talked to any. I've seen them on television. They have been seen yelling, fomenting, getting personal and otherwise showing the seamy underbelly of American society.

On occasion, I've heard arguments from Republican politicians who have pleaded with the Administration to 'start over'. But ultimately, one of the reasons I believe it passed is because the more determined Democrats got, the more hysterical and mean HCR opponents got.


I really like Lawrence O'Donnell (and not just because he was a writer and producer of 'The West Wing'). O'Donnell was a U.S. Senate staffer, who now is a MSNBC analyst and sometimes fill in host. Few explain the political process better.

About 8 minutes into this clip, O'Donnell begins a critique of the HRC passed Sunday that, had the Republicans used this, may not have led to defeat of the bill, but certainly would have given reasonable pause to supporters who were not clear on the contents. It is so worth your time to watch this!

Instead of a reasoned, intelligent argument by the opponents of the bill, they adopted the language of their most rabid fringe element:

Death Panels







What did it lead to? According to former Bush speech writer David Frum...

"Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s."

"It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

"(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now."

"So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

"A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves."

"At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994."

"Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure."

"This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none."

"Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994."

"Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law."

"No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?"

"We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat."

It may be convenient to continue to court the pleasure of an organization like the TEA partiers, who allow the extremists, hysterics and racists in their camp and then claim to be unable to control them. It may also be convenient to fail to challenge your own members when they show disrespect to their colleagues and even the President with pleas to everyone to understand that they are 'good people' simply caught up in the emotion of the issue.

But in the end, if you have the right argument you don't need these people.

They lead you to no place but Waterloo...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Really GRAND Opening!

On March 25 at 4:30 Central Dallas Ministries will share with friends, supporters and neighbors the grand opening of an accomplishment of which we are really proud - CityWalk@Akard.

The 16 story 'vertical community' consisting of 150 units of affordable housing, 6 units of market rate housing and 50 units of permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless, along with office and retail space in downtown Dallas, is, for us, a new beginning in our work to fight against the crippling affects of poverty.

We moved our adminstrative offices to 511 Akard, in January and its been hectic ever since. The first residents moved in last December, 7-11 is set to occupy the retail space in a few weeks and other residents will be moving in throughout the spring. This is a really exciting venture. A $35 million project that is meant to make a simple statement: building community among all citizens of Dallas should include downtown. Its the the first project of its kind in Dallas and on Thursday we celebrate.

So join the mayor, other elected officials, our CEO and President Larry James and the Executive Director of our community development corporation, John Greenan, our boards of directors and CDM staff and their families as we look to another 20 years of standing alongside our neighbors working with them to improve their quality of life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Majority of Americans Approve of the Health Care Reform Legislation - Really!

Opponents of the new Health Care Reform legislation, cite polls that suggest that 'the majority' of Americans are against the bill. These of course were polls that were taken before the bill was signed Tuesday. After the signing, a new poll...

"Only hours after the president signed health care reform legislation into law on Tuesday, the immediate political benefits for the Democratic Party are already coming into focus."

"According to a Gallup/USA Today poll conducted the day after health care legislation passed the House of Representatives, 49 percent of the respondents think the passage of reform is a "good thing," compared to the 40 percent who think it is bad. The numbers are a welcome relief for a party and a presidency that had been bleeding popular support over the course of the past six months."

"Democrats didn't just get a health-care-related boost in the realm of public opinion. The Democratic National Committee reported raising more than $1 million in donations on Tuesday even without making a direct ask. The money is expected to pour in for other campaign committees as well."

So now, if the majority of Americans are for the legislation, does this mean the moaning and crying will end?

Yeah, right!

In Texas We Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas, the Lone Star State stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the Health Care Reform expected to be signed into law by Tuesday.

"Texans are among the biggest winners in last night’s historic vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to enact fundamental health care system reforms. With more than one in four Texans currently lacking health care insurance and runaway premiums adding daily to that 6.1 million count, relief cannot not come too soon for our overburdened health care system. In addition to providing new economic security to millions of Texas families, the national health reform bill will also bring billions of dollars back to Texas each year through health insurance tax credits for middle class and low-income Texans, and Medicaid coverage for our poorest citizens."

"“Medicaid expansion to cover working poor parents of children on Texas Medicaid today will be 100 percent federally funded for three years, with the state getting nine federal dollars for each state dollar from 2020 on forward,” said CPPP associate director Anne Dunkelberg. “Twice as many now-uninsured Texans will gain coverage by purchasing affordable private insurance through the new Health Insurance Exchange as will gain Medicaid, bringing even more federal dollars to Texas with no state matching dollars required.”"

And how is Texas preparing to take advantage of this opportunity to provide health care for its most vulnerable citizens? I'm glad you asked!

"Less than an hour after the U.S. House passed a huge health care overhaul bill last night, [Texas State Attorney General, Greg] Abbott said Texas and other states would go to court to challenge its constitutionality."

""The federal health care legislation passed tonight violates the United States Constitution and unconstitutionally infringes upon Texans' individual liberties," Abbott said in a statement."


Monday, March 22, 2010

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander has written an interesting and powerful book, The New Jim Crow. It is an examination and analysis of the disproportionate representation of African-Americans in what has become our country's industrial incarceration complex.

Ms. Alexander is a civil rights advocate and litigator who holds a joint appointment with Ohio State's Moritz College of Law and Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She was formerly director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California and director of the Civil Rights Clinic and a faculty member at her alma mater, Stanford Law School. She also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Blackmun.

Her exceptional work chronicles the emergence of the 'tough on crime' stance of the Republican Party, which resulted in tougher prison sentences for possessions of crack cocaine than powdered cocaine. The 'marketing campaign of the Reagan Administration which targeted African-Americans as 'the problem', when, in fact, crime was declining - all in an effort to draw poor and anxious white voters from the Democratic Party during in the aftermath of the passage of Civil Rights legislation.

Ms. Alexander doesn't spare the Democratic Party, though. She cites their complicity through their strategies to retain white voters by showing themselves equally tough on crime, by enacting policies which stripped formerly incarcerated non-violent drug offenders of citizenship rights, resulting in a new form of Jim Crow, relegating blacks, Hispanics and even poor whites to a caste system of second class citizenship.

Consider the following:

"*There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era."

"The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades -- they are currently at historical lows -- but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population."

"The drug war has been brutal -- complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods -- but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts."

"That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison."

"This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime."

"Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”"

"Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon."

I don't know anyone who denies that drugs are one of the many problems in the black community, or that drug related crime is a problem. But I also know that the overwhelming loss of human capital due to the disproportionate cripples our nation, and those who suggest that this over representation of black men in our nation's criminal justice system is evidence of a predisposition toward crime make an illogical argument that just doesn't bear up to either facts or logic.

My work with the wrongfully convicted also shows, that just because you're in prison, doesn't mean that you're guilty.

Michelle Alexander's book deserves attention - and the issue she covers in her book, The New Jim Crow, calls for corrective action.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care Reform!

It is not socialism.

It is not communism.

It is not a government takeover.

It is not Armageddon.

It is health care for 32 million Americans.

It is the end of the fear of pre-existing conditions as a reason for losing health insurance.

It is the opportunity for college age children to continue on their parent's health care until they get their own.

It's not perfect.

It's not universal health care.

It doesn't include a public option.

But is the reform that neither FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan or Clinton could get.

It is health care reform that is inclusive and historic. It took courage and perseverance.

Congratulations to the President and Congress for being on the right side of a history! America will be better for it.

Glenn Beck: Some People Have Something to Say; Some People Just Have to Say Something

I'm writing about something that I've already said I would ignore. I hope I can refrain from posting about this again. But its Sunday and it somehow seems appropriate - especially in the season in which Christians place special emphasis on the celebration of the Resurrection.

At some point I hope we stop taking Glenn Beck and others like him seriously. I mean stop acting as if he has something meaningful to say. Just because he comments on serious subjects doesn't mean that he's a serious person. I wish people on MSNBC, CNN and other real journalists would stop treating him as if he really was something more than the political punditry version of WWF wrestling.

And if, to the degree that we feel as if we must take him seriously, take him seriously enough to boycott the sponsors of his program. The Dixie Chicks were excoriated because, overseas they made a distasteful comment about President Bush. Beck calls President Obama a racist (did he look at the racial make up of the president's cabinet?!), yet corporations still sponsor his 'program'. Really?!

To show how off the reservation Beck has gotten, he has now decided to give the religious community in our country 'theological' council - run from churches that teach 'social justice'. The very fact that he even proffers such advice shows he understands neither theology or social justice. The spin that the right wing currently puts on it, is a convenient way of trying to dampen the impact of religious teaching from which they and this country benefit, because it serves their political agenda.

Beck's train of semi-thought suggests that our religiously inspired expressions of concern for the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, should be limited to personal acts of charity. He 'proof texts' (takes snippets of scripture that fit his point of view and raises them the level of theologically empirical evidence) certain passages and calls the preaching and teaching of social justice, 'perversion'. Proving in the process that he understands neither social justice or Biblical teaching.

This post would really be long if I were to give an exposition on prophets like Elijah, or Amos, or Isaiah, or Nathan, or Jeremiah, who spoke to kings and government officials about the demands of Divinity to be fair with those who are poor; that justice would be visited upon those who ignored their needs and exploited them economically, imprisoned them falsely, or ignored the judicially.

The assertion that Jesus came with no 'political agenda', is simply a convenient argument of those who are only comfortable with a 'God' only capable of helping us overcome bad habits and vices that make good people uncomfortable. Jesus' message was principally to his own people, the Jews, yet that message was made to strengthen them and give them hope in the midst of political oppression by the Roman government - with the promise that this oppression would be broken by the God in Whom He was calling them to give total and complete loyalty.

Interestingly enough 300 years after his resurrection, it was this faith that did indeed conquer the Roman government and transformed it. It was not a revolt with weapons of war, but it was the capacity of believers to challenge a government of excess, cruelty, exploitation and oppression, with incredible faith, commitment and exceptional personal sacrifice.

We may be the first civilization in over 2000 years who have wanted to transform the Jesus of the Bible into the author of a glorious 12 step self improvement program! But that is what Jesus is reduced to when those who have bought into the message of empire try and syncretize their ambitions with their faith.

But even more astonishing, Beck's assertion is totally illogical.

Faith is indeed something that influences our personal behavior. Our belief in God and, for those of us who are Christian, our commitment to Jesus Christ out to make us better individuals. It should make us more moral, more compassionate and loving, more concerned about our fellow man. Our strive to be better citizens, committed to serving one another - in particular those who are not as fortunate as us. I think that is a given.

Politics and government are the means by which we figure out how we are to live together as a human family. We make determinations about property. We set ethical and relational boundaries. We decide which things should be done in community and which things are best done as individuals. In other words: in community, we make decisions about what issues, services and property are to be held in common and are a part of the 'public square' and which things are not.

Beck's rationale suggests that as people of faith come together and participate in community they should be less moral, less charitable, less concerned about their fellowman than they are as individuals! To say it another way, it is perfectly acceptable for me to do all I can to feed someone who is hungry as an individual, but when I act in communion with my fellow citizens, that same spiritual influence should be checked as we develop policy decisions on how to deal with the hungry.


Beck's 'warning' concerning social justice makes no sense because its not rooted in Ayn Rand-like libertarianism, it is simply a caricature of legitimate conservative thought. It is a sordid exploitation of fear and ignorance. It is rooted in a political selfishness, which is in itself, un-Christian and would be dangerous if Beck was something other than an entertainer, whose 15 minutes of fame will last as long as his ratings numbers hold up.

If one is truly a follower of nearly any major religion, then one is influenced to care for those who are less fortunate as individuals. But we are also called to make certain that the systems we create in community are just and fair to those to whom we show sympathy or empathy as individuals. We cannot, as people of faith, be more moral personally than we are publicly.

I have heard and read the ridiculous idea that 'social justice' hearkens to something sinister. We have recently become pretty adroit in our society in throwing around musty, dust covered words like, 'socialism', 'communism', 'Marxist'. Basically to keep people afraid of our current President. These terms are conveniently thrown around to try and stoke maximum fear in vulnerable people uncomfortable with the ascension of an African-American to the nation's highest office. The fear is, that this is something so different, that there has to be something wrong with the man, his person, politics and anyone who agrees with him.

Of course those who sling these words around, don't mind throwing around words that also hearken back to more recent days of terrorism and intimidation - words like 'state's rights', 'interposition' and 'nullification'. These are words which have traditionally signaled implementation of public policy that has been racist, oppressive and discriminatory. They are words which true scholars, men and women who don't use shock value to sell soap and hamburgers on television, recognize as a true threat to civil, godly, just and equitable society. And they have pointed to prophets like Amos, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, to remind us that God requires us to be just as we relate to one another, corporeally and individually.

Oh, if only we would do with Glenn Beck what Jesus did when He stood before King Herod.

Ignore him.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Vince Lombardi
1913 - 1970

Head Coach, Green Bay Packers

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ebony Magazine - the Unintended Consequences of Success

When I was growing up, one of the highlight of my weeks was Thursday!

Thursday was the day I would walk to the store and purchase my own copy of Jet Magazine. Monthly our monthly Ebony Magazine would arrive. For me, life during the late 60's and throughout the '70's, my window on the world of black America, whether it was politics, culture, entertainment, sports or society, came from these publications and the few others (like 'Sepia', a long defunct - at least as far as I know - black publication that, while not on par with Ebony, was still interesting and informative).

Before I started buying Jet on my own, my parents back issues of these two publications taught me who Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Whitney M. Young and Adam Clayton Powell, before I read about them in books. I knew about Billie Holiday, the lynching of Emmitt Till (and others) before I saw documentaries about them. I knew about Josephine Baker, Sammy Davis, Jr., Abby Lincoln and Sidney Poitier, before I ever saw them on television or in a movie. And I know about black football, baseball and basketball players before I developed interest in any game.

And I was exposed to black politicians like Percy Sutton, Carl Stokes and Shirley Chism long before I read about them in mainstream media.

Publisher John H. Johnson connected black America in ways that no one else did. Local black newspapers let you know what was happening across town. They were valuable in that regard. But Ebony and Jet let you know what was happening with black people around the world.

Ebony Magazine is now in deep financial trouble.

"Ebony magazine, the African-American monthly, has been a beloved institution in black America for more than sixty years. These days the love is still there, but the luster has faded. One of the few African-American-owned magazines in the country, Ebony is like a once-beautiful, stylish elderly relative, desperately searching for the fountain of youth. Born November 1, 1945, Ebony showed off her glamour and vitality for decades. But she is tired now, debt-ridden and seriously ill, her once crystalline voice a raspy whisper. The black celebrities who once courted her now have other media suitors, thanks in no small part to the trail Ebony blazed. Too many readers and advertisers have followed them."

That's pretty sad. Particularly since the financial woes of the Johnson Publishing Company, are the result of the unintended consequences of the dramatic improvements in race relations since its inception and the same fiscal crisis that is impacting all other publishing companies. The greatest irony, however, is that race relations improved, in part, because of the influence of Ebony/Jet, the crown jewel of JPC (Johnson Publishing Company) and its collateral ventures in fashion and beauty products. All of which showed that black people had vibrant life and culture in ways which knit together a 'community' from California to the Carolinas, from Illnois to Texas.
And it showed this black lifestyle with all of its challenges and triumphs, when it almost escaped attention from the mainstream media, unless it was exceptional or egregious.

"At a time when people of color almost never made it into the pages, let alone onto the covers, of Life or Look or scores of other “mainstream’’—read white—publications, Johnson sought to make African Americans and their accomplishments visible to the whole world. As Julieanna L. Richardson, an African-American archivist, puts it, “Ebony was a positive machine. It gave you a sense of self-worth.’’"

"For African Americans trapped in the segregated South, Ebony was a lifeline to the outside world. She was the chronicler of African-American firsts, source book of black pride and confidence. Growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, in the ’40s and ’50s, Jesse Jackson remembers how the magazine helped turn a dreamy black boy into the globetrotting man who twice ran for president in the 1980s, helping clear the path for Barack Obama’s history-shattering march to the White House twenty years later."

"Jackson says his family had issues of Ebony “stacked up like furniture.’’ Many of his teachers, he says, “used Ebony to teach black history. Black history wasn’t in our textbooks.’’"

"In the 1960s, when the latest issue arrived in the Arizona mailbox of Dr. Clarence Laing and his wife, Laura, their young daughters, Mavis and Mercedes, would risk ripping the pages in their tug of war to see who would get to read it first. “There were just so few other black people in Phoenix in those days,’’ Mavis Laing says. “Ebony was the only way we learned what was happening with African Americans.’’"

"But now Ebony needs money, not memories. Word is she owes her printer millions. According to media reports, there’s a lien on her famous eleven-story headquarters in Chicago, overlooking Grant Park. The same park where some 200,000 people gathered to celebrate the realization of an Ebony reader’s wildest dreams: the election of a black president."

Some of Ebony's woes have to do with trying to find its niche in a digital age. There is evidence of trying to save the print version of the magazine while not being savvy enough in its use of the electronic media.

"When Ebony landed the first interview with President-elect Barack Obama, it blew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, say observers. Rather than immediately publishing the story on the Web, editors decided to hold it for the print edition and got scooped by "60 Minutes" -- a telling sign of their failure to grasp that a new generation of media consumers is looking for instant access."

Then there is the challenge of trying to appeal to a new generation of readers without alienating the its old supporters.

"One day in 2007, more than a dozen members of Ebony’s editorial staff were seated around a gleaming table in the eighth-floor conference room, debating who should be included in the list of the twenty-five “coolest’’ black men of all time. Monroe, who is in his late fifties, and others nominated such notables as Muhammad Ali, Denzel Washington, and Billy Dee Williams. The twenty- and thirty-something staffers rolled their eyes. “Can’t we have someone under fifty?’’ they pleaded."

With circulation down and apparent interest by potential new owners - including Magic Johnson, Ebony might survive yet. I hope so. The days of segregation may be over, but the days of a need for positive images and important news of what happens in black America is still very much with us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mississippi Gets It - Why Can't Texas?!

While the Texas State Board of Education is trying to relegate Tejanos who fought at the Alamo to bit players in a drama that 'stars' Jim Bowie, William Barrett Travis and Davy Crockett, guess which state is making a laudable attempt at being progressive?

Mississippi. Yep, Mississippi...

"In Mississippi, where mention of the civil rights movement evokes images of bombings, beatings and the Ku Klux Klan, public schools are preparing to test a program that will ultimately teach students about the subject in every grade from kindergarten through high school."

"Many experts believe the effort will make Mississippi the first state to mandate civil rights instruction for all k-12 students."

"So far, four school systems have asked to be part of a pilot effort to test the curriculum in high schools. In September, the Mississippi Department of Education will name the systems that have been approved for the pilot. By the 2010-2011 school year, the program should be in place at all grade levels as part of social studies courses. "

"Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the "untold story" of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state's public schools."

""Now more than ever we are engaged in national debates about race and so much of those debates are impoverished in their understanding of history," said Susan Glissen of the Winter Institute. "We want to emphasize the grass-roots nature of civil rights and the institution of racism." "

""The Mississippi Department of Education worked with the MCREC, a group of educators, historians and community leaders who have a strong knowledge of the civil rights movement, to establish the new curriculum.""

"“The Mississippi Civil Rights Education Commission offered the Mississippi Department of Education keen insight into the history of civil rights movements in the country at large and in particular the Mississippi civil rights story from a broad based movement perspective and a grassroots, local perspective,” said MDE social studies specialist Chauncey Spears. “It is our intention that students gain the understanding from this and other courses in the framework that social change comes from people who are informed and inspired by the purest democratic ideas and traditions of our country. These people then act to empower the relatively voiceless and powerless in our community, to be full participants in and beneficiaries of our cherished democracy.”"

"Commission member Dr. Ollye Shirley drew from her own experience as a civil rights veteran in helping create the curriculum. “This is an important project because all of the children in this state, especially African-American children, need to learn about the contributions of all people,” she said. “We have all played an important role in the development of this country.” "

The effect of such a move is to teach children that history has been made and culture and society changed, by a diverse group of Americans. It's important for children to understand that both success and failures, heroes and heroines (if that word is still used anymore), are to be found across the broad spectrum of American life and culture. It's true now and it always has been true.

In Texas, the State School Board has had the temerity to suggest that the contributions of a Thurgood Marshall or Ceasar Chavez are not to be considered on par with Benjamin Franklin. Such suggestions are what happen when you allow people to plan curriculum who have little understanding of education or history, and whose ideological predilections are so pronounced that they have little regard to the damage their doing to children or society.

It is not enough to simply point to 'the leaders' whether they be Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Davy Crockett or even Martin Luther King. Children and youth should have the opportunity to know that people who looked like them - however they look, and people who don't look like them, have made valuable contributions to democracy as it has matured in this country. It is the only way they will learn that they have both the opportunity and the obligation to make their contribution as well.

And, no, I don't plan on moving to Mississippi. I plan on staying in Texas and speaking out against the narrow mindedness that suggests that only one group of people are stakeholders in the development of the country in which we live.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Texas History Giving Way to Hysteria

When I was an 8th grader at Richardson Junior High, a social studies assignment got me in trouble.

Yes, I turned it in and yes, I turned it in on time. But, I was still sent to the Principal's office! The reason: the assignment was to write a paper about Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. The upshot of my paper was, that Lincoln didn't issue the Proclamation out of a sense of moral responsibility or out of a sense of justice, but as a political expedient.

My sources were cited. Among those sources was 'The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass' that I had just read. My infraction: I had written a paper that was 'disrespectful' to the memory of President Lincoln.

I thought about this as I read about the Texas State Board of Education's recent proposal regarding standards in what would be taught in social study classes throughout our state:

"In a decision split along party and ethnic lines, Republicans rejected a move by the panel's five Democrats – all minorities – to require that history standards include by name the Tejanos who died in the fall of the Alamo, 174 years ago this month."

"The skirmish came as the board wrapped up three fractious days of work on new curriculum standards that put a more conservative slant on U.S. history, government and other social studies subjects taught in Texas schools."

"Board members tentatively approved the standards on a 10-5 vote after extended debate on civil rights, religion, politics and even music."

"Friday, conservatives beat back an effort to include hip-hop as an example of an important cultural movement."

"All five minority members opposed the revised standards, citing inadequate coverage of blacks and Hispanics and the promotion of conservative – and Republican – causes."

""I cannot go back to my community and say I participated in perpetrating this fraud on the students," said board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, who opposed the new standards."

"She charged that some board members – primarily social conservatives – "manipulated" the process to insert their own political and religious views, "whether or not it was appropriate.""

Imagine! Perpetuating the myth that the only freedom fighters martyred at the Alamo were white people - Davy Crockett, William Travis and Jim Bowie, among the most famous, as virtually the only notable martyrs at the Alamo, and relegating Tejano martyrs to anonymous 'honorable mention'...

Children who must learn about this event will grow up with the notion that the important 'personalities' were named, while there were others who died in of Mexican descent died in obscurity. This is psychologically and socially dangerous. Santa Anna is going to be 'named' as the enemy. So the personality of the Mexican will be the enemy aggressor, while those of Mexican descent who died with Travis, Bowie and Crockett, will simply be 'extras' in an historic event.

This was the same way of viewing history that had me sent to Mr. Greene's office so many years ago: in America's history there are heroes who sacrificed for our country - they happened to be white - there were those who were beneficiaries of their sacrifice, compassion and largess; they were - well everyone else.

Why is this important? Because Texas' State Board of Education is attempting to replace education with indoctrination. This is an ideological indoctrination meant to assure that there is a 'proper' understanding of who the real citizens of this country are - and, in this case, if you have an Hispanic surname, its not you.

As in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation, the traditional teaching suggested that freedom was 'given' to slaves, with little mention of the struggle that forced Lincoln's hand in signing the document or subsequently allow blacks to serve in the Union Army.

Secondly, it feeds into the current frenzy, hysteria and paranoia that has given birth to movements like the TEA Party. This is why people feel comfortable crying, 'I want my country back'. As if the benefits of American life are the province of one segment of the American populace.

"...board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, called the standards a "world-class document" that will stand out across the nation..."

A 'world class document'? My question is, 'In what world do these people live'?

By the way, for the record, here's a list of some of the Tejanos who died at the Alamo. It doesn't make Jim Bowie less 'heroic' at all does it? You can read more here.

It won't hurt a bit!

Juan Abamillo was a native Tejano who had volunteered to serve in the Texas Revolution under the command of Juan N. Seguín. He had arrived at the Alamo on February 23, 1836 and he died there on March 6, 1836 as he fought alongside Travis, Crocket and the others.

Juan Antonio Badillo was born in Texas and also served under Captain Juan N. Seguín. Badillo accompanied Seguín to the Alamo in February. But when Seguín was called out to rally reinforcements, Badillo stayed at the Alamo. Like his fellow revolutionary, Juan Abamillo, Juan Antonio Badillo died on March 6, defending the Alamo against Mexican Federal troops.

Carlos Espalier (1819-1836) was born in Texas and was said to be a protégé of Jim Bowie. When he died at the Alamo, he was only seventeen years old.

José María Esparza (1802-1836), also known as Gregorio Esparza, was born in San Antonio de Béxar, as the child of Juan Antonio and Maria Petra (Olivas) Esparza. He married Anna Salazar, by whom he had several children. Esparza had enlisted with Captain Seguín in October 1835. When General Santa Anna and his forces arrived in February 1836, Esparza and his family were advised to take refuge in the Alamo. Although Esparza could have left if he had desired to do so, he decided to stay, and his family remained with him. He tended a cannon during the siege and died when the Alamo fell on March 6, 1836. His brother, Francisco Esparza, recovered his body and arranged for a Christian ceremony and burial. Most of the defenders were not given the same respect.

Antonio Fuentes (1813-1836) was born in San Antonio de Béxar, Texas. He was recruited by Juan N. Seguín and took part in the siege of Béxar. Fuentes had a falling out with the Seguín and Travis, but when the Mexican troops arrived in San Antonio, he stayed and fell with the other defenders.

Damacio Jiménez, a native of Texas, also joined Seguín's militia. Damacio had served with Colonel Travis at Anahuac and entered the Alamo in late 1835. He died with the other defenders.

José Toribio Losoya (1808-1836) was one of Capt. Juan N. Seguín's company of Tejanos. He had been born in the Alamo barrio on April 11, 1808, to Ventura Losoya and Concepción de Los Angeles Charlé. He deserted the Mexican army to enlist as a rifleman in Seguín's company. In February 1836, Losoya rode to the Alamo with Seguín and was there when the fortress fall. His wife and three children sought refuge in the mission chapel and survived the siege.

Andrés Nava (1810-1836) was a native of Texas who had enlisted for six months service under the command of Juan N. Seguín. He took part in the siege of Béxar and later died while defending the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The More Excellent Way, is a Challenging Way

I'm not so sure this Sunday morning doesn't call for a challenge!

I love sermons that challenge me. Sermons that make me think about decisions that I've made during the week and those that I am preparing to make going forward.

My friend George Mason, pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church is a challenging preacher! His sermon, 'A More Excellent Way' based on Paul's letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 13), is a challenging sermon.

"We’re a bit unprepared for it when chapter 13 begins. Paul’s spent twelve chapters on the culture wars of the church at Corinth. He’s hammered away at conflicts and clashes between church members—some playing favorites; some behaving badly and others so good they were bad; and then some with gifts others envied or resented. He’s been all prose until now. He’s made one argument after another. But here it’s as if he knows that reason may change minds but not hearts. Only love can change hearts."

"So he launches into this beautiful composition that begins with its rhythmic “if I have this …, if I am this …, if I do this …, but have not love I have nothing, I am nothing, I gain nothing.” He goes on to say what love is in a cadence of crisp cuts that carve curves we can feel when we hear it as if we are looking at it. Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude …. He goes on to show how love is the most adult way to aspire to, because everything else gives way to it at last. Love never ends. And of the three things that remain or abide, he declares that the greatest of these is love."

"And yet we have to learn this over and over because we don’t seem to get it."

"There’s a legendary tale of a small east Texas town in which a bar began construction on a new building to increase business. The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers. Work progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The church folks were smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building’s demise in its reply to the court. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork, we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not."

"Whether this story is historical fact or not hardly changes the fact that it’s true. We see this faceoff all the time in our culture. The church claims moral authority: We know what’s best and we’ll have our way, because our way is best for you too, whether you know it or not. It’s God’s way after all. And then when anyone objects to our way, we cry foul and rush to defend ourselves as having the right to state our case in the public realm without being criticized for it. But when you read Paul in chapter 13, is that what you hear? Isn’t he saying that being right is less important than being right rightly?"

That's a challenge straight to the heart of the church in the world. Yet, its a personal challenge as well - really to believers and unbelievers alike. You can listen to the rest of it here .

I was refreshed with the challenge. I know, in my own case, accepting it will be a little tough. But then, what challenges aren't?! Thanks George!

Over the next couple of Sundays, I'll share some more sermons from some other friends of mine, who don't mind challenging those who have courage enough to listen. Hope you are blessed by them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
1917 - 2007

Historian, Author

"Television has spread the habit of instant reaction and stimulated the hope of instant results."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Our Soldier's Active Service May End, But Not Our Support

I've been asked to be a part of what I consider to be a very interesting event on March 27. The Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride (no, I won't be on a cycle!).

The ride starts at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Dallas, Texas at 8:30 a.m. goes on through Grand Prairie and Arlington, Texas and ends at the Police Academy in Fort Worth at 4:00 p.m.

The Soldier Ride is to encourage disabled vets and those who suffer from the wounds of war as they seek to live productive lives after their service to our country.

Whether as they start in Dallas, or along the route, or when they conclude in Fort Worth, I encourage all who have an opportunity to salute these brave participants and donate if you can to their cause.

War is a very complex thing. It's nearly impossible to count the costs. And there are some who pay for the rest of their lives, in ways most of us can never imagine.

Hope to see you on March 27!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We are the Ones We've Been Looking For

The role of people of faith and the role of the institutional church in bringing about social change cannot be ignored. Some people try. Almost to the point of suggesting that people of faith - as people of faith - have no place in the public square.

I think there are two things to remember: as long as people of faith seek to help shape the change of our society in ways that bring it more in line with an inclusive and equitable interpretation of the Constitution and principles of democracy, we have every right to be there.

The other thing we must remember, is that the brave souls whose engagement changed society along these same lines were just like us. It places upon each of us who understand that, a moral imperative to not squander this heritage or nor ignore the demands of our faith which call for us to become engaged in ways that make life better for everyone.

In other words: we are the one's we're looking for!

Emilie Townes, a professor at Yale Divinity School is relaying to her students much the same thing:

"Because we often do not have this history at our disposal to draw on because we do not know it, I often hear students ask: "Who will be our next great leader?" They are often drawing on the models of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks -- the two civil rights movement protesters they know best. When I suggest that the people they are looking for staring back at them in the mirror each morning, I often hear a collective gulp in the room before we begin to explore what this may mean for them and their ministries. Most, I am happy to say, are willing to take up the challenge as we begin to talk about the historical resources we have for them to draw on. Often, I suggest that they begin with the Bible and not treat it as much as a moral rule book, but more as a testament of faith and faithlessness that we can draw on and learn from as we see that folks have been trying to figure out how to live their lives in response to God's call to us for a mighty long time. We, then, are standing in a long line of folks working out what discipleship -- the living out of our faith -- must mean for this time and place with a strong eye to future and the foundation we are laying for it with what we do now. My students are earnest and they want to make the world a better place. So we work on faith strategies, large and small (but particularly the small because it is in the persistent faithful actions we do each day that wears away injustice at its foundations), that can help bring in the new day dawning they are trying to visualize even as they are building it."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You Count - Take the Time for the U.S. Census

The clip is about 10 years old, the numbers have changed some and the issue regarding sampling vs. actual door-to-door head count isn't on the table right now, but the lesson regarding critical importance of the census is as fresh as today's news.

As a matter of fact, it is today's news!

It's important that everyone be counted and that's what the census is all about.

As mentioned in the video segment, political representation is determined by population. Federal funding for infrastructure and services are determined by the outcome of the census.

It's costly to inaccurately count the country's population, "Every 1 percent improvement in the 2010 rate is expected to save taxpayers about $85 million." And an inaccurate count jeopardizes the quality of life for poor, urban and minority communities the most.

"Historically, the census has undercounted minorities, especially African-Americans and Hispanics living in big cities. The Census Bureau noted that its 2000 count overcounted 1.3 million people, most of them wealthy whites with multiple residences, while missing about 4.5 million others, mostly blacks and Hispanics."

"The census isn't just a quaint Constitutional requirement. These once-every-10-years counts determine whether states gain or lose seats in Congress -- and dictate how at least $478 billion in federal spending on social programs from Medicaid to foster care to vocational education services..."

"A special board created by Congress to monitor the 2000 Census estimates that the 2000 undercount is costing 31 states plus the District of Columbia at least $4.1 billion dollars in federal funds between 2002 and 2012 -- $3.7 billion of it in Medicare, the federal program that funds state health care for the needy. The biggest losses were in California, Texas and Georgia."

"Even in states that were well-counted overall, urban areas lost money because of high undercount rates. Massachusetts and Illinois, for example, were both well-counted, but both the Boston and Chicago areas were undercounted, costing them tens of millions of dollars in federal aid."

So whomever you are, wherever you are, take the time to fill out the census form. It takes about 10 minutes, to answer 10 questions to make sure that you, your family and neighbors count in 2010.

Oh, how many people live in the United States? The count as of this writing is 308,834,139 people. Go ahead, amaze your friends and family!

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Time to Vote on Health Care Reform

As our nation's lawmakers move ever closer to finally voting on a bill that would take health care reform from endless rhetoric to a welcome reality to nearly 30 million Americans - there are two views regarding the process that bring to high relief the ideological chasm that stands little chance of being bridged in the effort.

Whatever else 'reconciliation' means, it apparently doesn't mean reconciling points of view!

The first is by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne

"Obama's critics have regularly accused him of not being as tough or wily or forceful as LBJ was in pushing through civil rights and the social programs of his Great Society. Obama seemed willing to let Congress go its own way and was so anxious to look bipartisan that he wouldn't even take his own side in arguments with Republicans."

"Those days are over. On Wednesday, the president made clear what he wants in a health-care bill, and he urged Congress to pass it by the most expeditious means available."

"He was also clear on what bipartisanship should mean -- and what it can't mean. Democrats, who happen to be in the majority, have already added Republican ideas to their proposals. Obama said he was open to four more that came up during the health-care summit. What he's (rightly) unwilling to do is give the minority veto power over a bill that has deliberately and painfully worked its way through the regular legislative process."

The next is by Republican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch...

"To impose the will of some Democrats and to circumvent bipartisan opposition, President Obama seems to be encouraging Congress to use the "reconciliation" process, an arcane budget procedure, to ram through the Senate a multitrillion-dollar health-care bill that raises taxes, increases costs and cuts Medicare to fund a new entitlement we can't afford. This is attractive to proponents because it sharply limits debate and amendments to a mere 20 hours and would allow passage with only 51 votes (as opposed to the 60 needed to overcome a procedural hurdle). But the Constitution intends the opposite process, especially for a bill that would affect one-sixth of the American economy."

"This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope. And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship."

Both columns are worth reading. But here's the thing: It's time to vote on this...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prostate Cancer, It's Only A Shame if You're Quiet

I've written about my own bout with prostate cancer. I was diagnosed in 2007 and had surgery in 2008. It was a scary time for me and for my family - but we're grateful that nearly three years later, I'm healthy and cancer free.

I wish I had known more about the disease sooner. Seriously. I think I would have been much more proactive about examinations and prostate health care, had I known for instance that my grandfather had prostate cancer.

Or what it meant for my father to be diagnosed with the disease ten years ago.

The doctor's discovered his cancer much later than mine was detected. It's been a disease and treatment that has caused a great deal of discomfort, uncertainty and, yes expense.

And its the disease from which he is dying.

My cancer was detected earlier and at a younger age than both my grandfather and my father. But until my own diagnosis, I didn't know that having instances in your family increased the probability of my getting the disease.

I didn't know that prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, excluding skin cancer, or it the second leading cause of cancer death in men. I didn't know that all men are at risk for prostate cancer. Or that risk increases with age as well as family history And I didn't know that African-American men are more than twice as likely to have prostate cancer than white males, with nearly a two-fold higher mortality rate than white males.

One of the most disturbing things that I found out after my diagnosis is how many men have had the disease and have not told anyone about it. I understand now that there is fear and or shame associated with contracting the disease. And I also understand now that it is totally unnecessary. There are other men who need to know that this disease and the treatment options make possible now to have a great quality of life. But they won't know the importance of prostate health, care and cancer treatment, if those of us who have had the disease remain quiet about it.

Both my brother and I have talked about how helpless we feel as we watch this disease ravage our father's body. Although its too late for much more than prayer and the love and attention that the family can give, its not too late for those of you reading to encourage the men in your lives to fight past the self imposed fear and shame associated with this disease and discuss examination and, if necessary, treatment with their doctors.

It's important and the men in our lives are worth it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ossie Davis
1917 - 2005

Actor, Playwrite, Humanitarian, Activist

"Struggle is strengthening. Battling with evil gives us the power to battle evil even more."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sharpton vs. Smiley: The State of the Black Disunion

"Fight! Fight!"

Those words are usually echoing throughout school playgrounds, when kids get into scrapes, over girlfriends or boyfriends; rumours, lies or false accusations. Although there are exceptions to the traditional rule these days, for the most part, it's pretty much true that the kids engaged in the altercation will be bosom buddies 'ere too long.

I think the dust up between civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and media commentator Tavis Smiley falls in the same category. However, the long term consequences of this fight can more devastating as friends of the combatants choose up sides and satellite brawls break out beyond the control of all involved - including the two involved in the original fracas.

It apparently started when Tavis Smiley called into question the commitment of several black leaders to pressing President Obama to a more obvious commitment to a 'black agenda'.

I talk to very few black people - none really - who criticize Obama for not catering to black people. This in spite of the fact that African-Americans are impacted disproportionately by this economy, the turmoil in public education and health care. Most African-Americans get that Barack Obama is president of every citizen of the United States and he can't have a 'black agenda'. Politically it is, shall we say, not smart; practically, let's just say its equally not smart.

At the same time, there is what is considered by some, justifiable criticism on issues such as continuing the war, lack of aggressiveness on addressing issues related to poverty and jobs. Issues that, while addressing the needs of black people, also address the needs of everyone else.

Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous (President of the NAACP) , Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, had a principal concern for black people as the interest group they represent, but again regarding policies that ultimately have implications for all Americans.

Smiley is riding the hobby horse he's been riding since Obama announced his candidacy in 2007. Tavis Smiley hosted, up until recently an incredibly interesting summit on Black American issues, called 'The State of the Black Union'. It featured politicians, activists, academics, religious leaders and business leaders from across the broad spectrum of African-American life and culture (including Al Sharpton). When Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Missouri, he did it on the day Smiley had his TSOBU. Smiley has been a critic ever since.

While much of what Tavis Smiley says about the needs of Black Americans and the need to hold Barack Obama accountable as president, his views are nearly always tainted by the suspicion that he has carried 'a grudge' against the President.

There are many, white citizens who wouldn't care for Al Sharpton if he rescued them from a burning building, but he is right in his take on the impracticability of Barack Obama being seen promoting himself as the 'Black President'. The President shouldn't run from issues of race, but he can't run on it either. The one moment he expressed his frustrations as a black man, during the Henry Louis Gates affair, it was disastrous. Nearly every black male knew what he meant; nearly every black male knew he made a mistake. It is the luxury he had as a private citizen, and maybe as a state or national politician that he lost as soon as he ran for the highest office in the land. Its simply a reality that currently exists in our country.

Tavis Smiley and Al Sharpton will eventually clear up this all too public disagreement. The problem is supporters choose sides. The fractures that are caused all too often result in ill feelings that make it difficult to work together toward an agenda on which we all must work.

As Dr. Dorothy Height, the 97 year old civil rights matriarch and chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women [who has known every president since FDR] said,“We have never sat down and said to the 43 other presidents: ‘How does it feel to be a Caucasian? How do you feel as a white president? Tell me what that means to you,’ ” Dr. Height said. “I am not one to think that he should do more for his people than for other people. I want him to be free to be himself.”

Again, Sharpton has it right, let's not confuse what Obama should be doing with what we as leaders, activists, local pols, parents, teachers, and business leaders should be doing. We should hold him accountable. We should challenge him when we think he hasn't gone far enough. We should speak up if he goes too far. Unlike so much of the opposition to Obama we've seen lately, it should be citizens engaging politically; not personal prejudice and animus that drives public debate.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eric Johnson Won Asking for Votes, Not Permission

You've heard - Tuesday was the Texas Primary election night.

The spotlight was on the Republican gubernatorial primary in which our incumbent governor Rick Perry trounced Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson with 51% of the vote to Sen. Hutchinson's 30%. There is justifiable amazement that she lost and she lost by such a wide margin. Did she underestimate the influence of the TEA Party on Republicans and independents? Did she fail to give Texas GOP voters a reason to vote for her? Were voters turned off by her failure to go 'all in' and resign from the senate or was it simply that people saw her as a senator (and she actually has been a good one) and not governor? The speculation will go on, but so will election season as Perry now prepares to face the winner of the Democratic primary, former Houston mayor Bill White who ran roughshod over all other challengers, winning with 76% of the Dems vote.

But the 'race', as it were, that captured my interest was the race for state representative for District 100 that started out as a contest between challenger Eric Johnson and Terri Hodge. For me it was interesting because Terri hadn't had a meaningful challenger for some time, having served 13 years in the Texas House. I've known her ever since she first won the office. When Eric Johnson came along, I wasn't sure that he would be considered a serious challenger. Or that Terri was up for being challenged. It may have been about a year or two, we had a conversation in which she talked about having to raise campaign funds, even though most of the time she had no opponent - Democratic or Republican.

Interest gave way to intrigue.

Starting with Terri Hodge's indictment for accepting free rent from a non-profit housing developer - the same non-profit developer whom City Councilman Don Hill, his wife Sheila and his appointee to the city planning commission D'Angelo Lee, were accused (eventually convicted and recently sentenced) of extorting for cash and favorable votes.

With a trial looming, would Terri win this race and be then be convicted? Would she be able to win and emerge victorious both at the ballot box and the courtroom? Or was Eric the real deal?

Harvard educated, Dallas native, lawyer. A success by any stretch of the imagination and a role model for young people.

Then the intrigue grew. Terri Hodge admits to income tax evasion. She calls off the campaign. But she's still on the ballot. Does that mean Eric would win? Could Terri win the election, but because, although not sentenced, as a convicted felon be unable to serve throwing the choice of a representative or a candidate into a convoluted process that involved precinct chairs. Community leaders were calling for a sympathy vote for Ms. Hodge (maybe not thinking that as a part of her plea she had to be through with politics. What would a judge do at sentencing, if he or she believed that Terri Hodge was trying to manipulate the electoral process through her constituency, although she couldn't serve if she won? Sometimes we ought not love people so much...).

Or would District 100 voters, whether they loved Terri or not, recognize that it was time to move on - no matter the reservations they might have about Eric Johnson. After all, he was raising money and gaining support from the 'establishment' like nobody's business. For someone with a broad track record of visibility and service, that can be seen as a sign of viability. But in Dallas politics, for a 'newcomer' that can be the kiss of death - a sign of being bought and paid for.

Tuesday night, Eric Johnson 'won'. Don't get me wrong, I don't really mean to qualify Johnson's victory. I don't know Eric. I've met him a few times. He seems sincere. I have no idea how good a politician he is. I don't know if his ideas resonate. I do know this...like it or not, its a new day. It doesn't have to be bad. There are worse things than having a young, educated, professional, native son who wants to devote himself to public service.

I am appalled that some southern Dallas leaders denigrate Eric because he is young or educated. I am extremely disappointed if its true that there were those who may have pandered to the fears of some elderly people that Eric's election would mean the gentrification of black neighborhoods. For generations we've encouraged young people to 'get their education', 'get involved', 'give back', 'become leaders'.

This antipathy toward Johnson's campaign suggests, people meant it, but only in proscribed, low level ways that don't threaten the old guard, or their supporters.

Maybe we should remember that the old guard, used to be the 'newcomers' - they were railed against by the establishment. They were loud, raucous revolutionaries. Young people were cautioned not to follow their lead. I remember when I was a 19 year old college freshman, and I was getting to know Al Lipscomb, a local activist who eventually became a long serving city council member. My father warned me to 'be careful hanging around him.' Eventually, he and Mr. Lipscomb became good acquaintances and my father (an 'establishment' African-American pastor, before he retired), became one of his supporters.

Young revolutionaries eventually become the old guard. And they forget a truth they embodied in their rise to leadership...

Revolutionaries don't ask for permission.