Friday, April 29, 2011

This has Been Unworthy of All of Us

The terrible tragedy associated with the impeding demise of the birther movement (and possibly the TEA Party?), is probably compounded by its close relationship to the Republican Party.

The party of Lincoln, of Theodore Roosevelt, of Eisenhower, of Reagan, is incredibly close to being marginalized into irrelevance by allowing itself to be hijacked by racism and extremists. The birther fiasco, its stance on immigration, its willingness to excuse the uber bigoted fringe element that finds comfort edging its way in from its periphery, all speak ill of this party's future. It must either correct the problem or it must they must openly declare themselves to be totally uninterested in any relationship with minorities in this country.

Oh I know, at some point people will point to members of their party or those who share their ideology who happen to be black or Hispanic. You can also find pictures of black soldiers in Confederate Army uniforms. I promise you, it wasn't because they were in love with slavery!

At bottom and at best, birther claims, as well as all other claims that seek to deligitimize President Barack Obama are racist. Not opposition to his policies. Not disagreement with his values. Not genuine party opposition. But the efforts to paint him as unqualified and mysteriously other are clearly based on the inability of a noisy segment of our country unable to accept a black man cast in the position that, since the founding of this country, made only white males 'the most powerful leader in the free world'.

It is interesting that 'conservatives' who implore (if not complain) that blacks don't get an education, blacks don't have ambition, they have children out of wedlock and can't maintain solid marriages and family life. Yet Barack Obama puts the lie to all of this and so that means he cannot possibly be a real citizen. And if he's not a citizen, he is not constitutionally eligible to be President.

Of course, if he is a citizen, then all that we hear about his brilliance must be called into question: he couldn't really be an author. He couldn't possibly have earned a Columbia University degree or a Harvard Law degree and - well, let's just not talk about him being Editor of the Harvard Law Revue - we all know how he must have accomplished that!

The problem is that blacks and other minorities know that these suspicions are not new ground. We've all heard it before. We hear it whenever we accomplish more than 'we should'. When we show ourselves smarter than a white person who didn't have the advantages of some of his or her more accomplished peers. If we get the corner office, or the promotion, or the raise, it has to be because someone 'gave' it to us, not because it was earned. And now we know that it this includes being overwhelmingly elected to the highest office in the land.

But there is something else. What do we say to young minority children who are called upon to excel - to get a good education, to become good citizens, to be responsible and to devote their lives to public service? As a country, are we honest with them and tell them that if you do all of that, you will only get real respect if you limit yourself to making an hourly wage? If you never aspire to own the company for which you work? Or if you decide to work at city hall and not become the mayor at city hall? Or that if you accomplish more than the white children in your school or the school across town you must remember that you will be called less than legitimate if you supervise them, as opposed to being supervised by them?

The current President of the United States has a two year track record on which to run and on which he may be attacked, if any opponent wishes. Health Care, tax policy, the economy, arguably three wars in which we are now engaged. Heck, you can even argue whether or not he deserves his Nobel Peace Prize! What Donald Trump, who rushed to head of the birther parade to carry their standard, have decided is to ignore politics (real politics) and ignore policy and sink to prejudice and bigotry. Of course, nearly every time his opponents have tried to publicly argue policy with the President he ultimately ends up the smartest person in the room and his opponents wonder why they even tried in the first place. And so we get what we've just seen in the past couple of days.

There was something brilliant about Obama producing his birth certificate on Wednesday. But there was also something pathetic about it as well. A sitting President having to producing his papers to prove he is a citizen. There was a time in this country when, in order to travel without the company of whites, black people had to carry with them their 'papers'. When blacks went to vote, they had to answer questions that proved their citizenship - how many marbles were in a jar, recite the entire Constitution, pay poll tax. Now, show us your birth certificate to prove that you are legitimate. You have a drivers license. You have a law degree from Harvard University. You have a passport. You've taught Constitutional law. But we need to see if the birth certificate that needs to be produced at some point to get some or any of these responsibilities and privileges, isn't enough - we need to see it.

It is embarrassing.

It is humiliating.

It is demeaning.

Not just to Barack Obama. Not just to black Americans.

It embarrasses, humiliates and demeans all of us.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Absurdity and Lunacy

There are a number of Americans who are probably apoplectic this morning, so I thought I'd help them out.

More than 50 years ago, a foreign power, some say Russians, others say a defeated and humiliated Germany, no one knows for sure, decided that they wanted to undermine the U.S. government.

What to do?!

Nuclear attack...that wasn't ruled out, but it was acknowledged that if there was any opportunity for retaliation by the U.S. the results could be catastrophic in apocalyptic proportions. No Nukes...

What about poison. The water supply? The food supply? The air? Couldn't be completed and again, the prospects for retaliation were far too great.

What was needed was a patient long term play. So here's what they decided. They would use the corrupt the government itself. How? They would get a foreign born president elected! Sound far fetched? That's why it made sense! SURELY a country like post WWII would, one day, be poised to do something radical and if they could somehow hi-jack the process the could possibly not only corrupt democracy but take over the country!
And so the conspiracy begins. In the coming years the hopes of this foreign power were bolstered by the election of a Catholic President and after his assassination the ascension of a Vice-President who was from a state which just one hundred years before was part of a foreign nation (the Confederate States of America!).

But how do you get this plot under the radar? After much discussion and many secret councils it was decided: we will get a black man elected as President of the United States! It was hailed as absolute genius! No one would see this coming! After all, the U.S. was in the very nascent period of the Civil Rights Era. At the time of the plot was being conceived, black people couldn't even vote! They weren't allowed to use public accommodations with whites, or live with them - or even shop with them. If, in this climate they could pull this off they could bring America to its knees!

So how to do this. They couldn't do it directly, a black man in the late '50's could get killed if he announced that he wanted to be the President. No they would have to do this covertly. They would have to have a baby GROW UP and run for President and win. But how could they do this. Could they pay someone to do this? No, that wouldn't do. Who could possibly keep their mouth shut that long? And the child would have to grow up in segregation and/or poverty it would be a highly improbable journey. How do you get this thing to fly completely under the radar?!

Then, more genius: they would use an African-American, they would use an African! They would find an African man or woman and surreptitiously  arrange a marriage with an African-American. The search began. But there was a big problem. They couldn't find an African-American woman willing to marry an African. So they decided that it had to be a white woman. WHAT GENIUS! After all, interracial marriage heading into the 1960's was illegal in most states. They could make this a liberal civil rights issue and entice a young naive white woman that way. It wasn't easy. They tried some of the most liberal states in the country: California, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. No takers. They finally found their woman in, of all places...Kansas! This was too good to be true...the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan!

Oh I tell you these were some insidiously clever people...

Now to find the African. Long story short, after scouring the entire Dark Continent and finally settled on the country of Kenya. They found a young man, carefully mentored him academically until he graduated, married, had a son and they got him a scholarship to study in America. They arranged a marriage with the woman from Kansas in a Russian language class (hint?) and one day, in Maui while the woman was 3 months pregnant they were married. They swiftly arrange for the couple to be whisked to this mysterious country until the baby is born. In the meantime, they engage the government of the virtually brand new state of Hawaii in a scheme to fix his state of birth there so that it can appear that this baby was born as a citizen of the United States! Who, after all, would ever question the legitimacy of a presidential candidate. Especially in the next 40-50 years? On August 4th the baby, Barack Hussein Obama II was born. They then settled in Honolulu, Hawaii.

This foreign power arranges for BHO, Sr. to win a scholarship to Harvard University, at which time he considers his part of the deal done. He leaves his American family to go to Cambridge and continue his life.
In '64 the woman divorces the African father of her child, she goes back to college and leaves her child to be raised by their white grandparents.

Now the foreign power has to get the child to safety, away from American culture and into an atmosphere where he can be taught their ideology and prepared to take over the country! So they arrange a marriage for the mother, but - again, it all this has to fly under the radar, so the marriage can't be to a citizen of a major superpower - it is a marriage to an Indonesian! The family moves to Indonesia and there, exposed to different cultures, different languages, different educational systems young Obama is exposed to something other than American life and culture - no Rotary Club, no Boy Scouts, no football! Now he's ready!

He returns to Hawaii and reared by his white grandparents, he attends a prestigious prep school  where he becomes - 'the black kid from Indonesia'!

His mother divorces the Indonesian husband, moves back to Hawaii to make a home for he and his half-sister. And the conspiracy continues. Young Obama has a brief encounter with his absent father, presumably to inculcate him with the surreptitious nature of his birth and his destiny. From this point on he lives a quiet life carefully constructing his pathway to the White House.

He enrolls for a brief while at Occidental College in Los Angeles and then mysteriously transfers to Columbia University in New York. Obama, Sr. mysteriously dies in a car crash during this time. His mother divorces the Indonesian. In an effort to gain experience in world takeover, Obama decides on a career which has proven itself to be the most destructive force in U.S. life and culture: he determines to become a community organizer! He accomplishes assignments as an organizer destined to undermine American civilization: he works on school reform, hazardous waste clean up in poor communities and establishes a job training center.

Now he decides on the next step to the White House, he enrolls in Harvard Law School. He to cover his tracks, he takes out student loans to pay for his tuition. Before enrolling he goes to Kenya, ostensibly to get to know his family, but it is suspected that it is there he receives more instruction from this foreign world power.

When Obama returns to the U.S. he goes to Harvard where, in line with his nefarious scheme, he excels, further cementing his plan by getting an internship at a prestigious law firm where he is partnered by the foreign world power with Michelle Robinson with whom a 'courtship' develops. He maintains the relationship when he returns to Harvard.

Obama's plans for world dominion take another step when he applies for and is elected as the President of the Harvard Law Review...absolutely mysterious because he is the FIRST African-American ever elected. The year, 1990, Obama is just barely 20 years shy of accomplishing his goal!

In order to execute his plan for his ascendancy to power and to assure a dynasty to carry on his work, Obama and Michelle wed in 1992.

The stage is set. He starts as a junior lawyer for a Chicago law firm but eventually moves on to credential himself for the presidency by teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law school, a hotbed for radical extremists bent on overthrowing the American government. To weaken the political system in his new position, Obama becomes president of the Illinois Project Vote and begins to assert his power, learned in Hawaii, Indonesia and periodic trips to Kenya (not to mention Harvard Law School) by registering 100,000 'new' voters. To circulate his ideology, he writes his memoirs, published in 1995 with the mysterious title 'Dreams from my Father'. A mesmerized and unsuspecting public warmly receives this work.

Barack Obama's mother dies this same year. He is now charged with completing his mission. Obama runs for and is elected to the Illinois State Senate that next year. In 1999, losing a critical vote on gun control (because of a mysterious absence during which he was visiting his sick daughter in Hawaii), Obama gets back on track with his plans to overthrow the government from the inside by passing some 20 pieces of legislation over the next three years. He is reelected in 2002. The next year, he summarily vanquishes opponents to win the Democratic Primary election for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate. Alan Keyes, a black conservative Republican tries to warn the nation about the alien nature of his opponent (after all Keyes had been running for everything for years and was unable to get elected to anything), casting doubt upon Obama's commitment to the Christian faith and his blackness! Had Keyes actually figured out the plot?!

Keyes notwithstanding, Obama wins election to the U.S. Senate, after a stirring subversive speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The line that whipped attendees into a socialist, anti-democratic, unpatriotic frenzy that would speed his ascendancy to the White House - 'There is no Black America; no white America, no red states or blue states - there is only the United States of America!'.

Obama is now in the halls of the federal government! He is poised for the takeover and in a crafty move the first piece of legislation he gets passed is co-sponsored with Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma - it is a law allowing every American to go online to see how their tax dollars are spent.

This is the shot across the bow that signals he is headed for the Oval office! How could America not have seen the plot coming to fruition? But we didn't.

In 2007, Barack Hussein Obama, announces his intention to run for the presidency. It is the culmination of a plot filled with so much genius and so thoroughly thought out for 42 years, that after his announcement and throughout contentious primaries (primaries that stopped just short of litigation to decide the winner) that the neither the State Department, the FBI, the CIA, neither the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, not the Clintons or any other candidate thought to question whether or not the emerging Democratic nominee was actually a citizen or a part of some subversive plot to overthrow the government. Making the birth certificate public was, after all, not something the foreign powers thought of. After all, Obama had a passport! Surely this wouldn't have been questioned. But it was!

Obama, deflecting and producing minimal evidence...enough evidence for a drivers license in most states, thought that the country would surely stop and think that a birth certificate to prove citizenship would not be a big deal and would not derail his plot to provide health care for most uninsured Americans. Surely this wouldn't stop the foreign powers efforts to shake the foundations of government by freeing us from the tyranny of foreign oil. Certainly such an easily obtained thing as a birth certificate wouldn't undermine the heinous efforts to get the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes or prevent muli-national, multi-billion dollar corporations from identifying loopholes in tax law to evade paying corporate taxes.

But it was an unavoidable issue. If people continue to ask questions they might uncover the plot!

Enter Donald Trump. Trump was brought in on the plot early on. He decided on a brilliant way to end the discussion. He would take the issue away from TEA Partiers and birthers by making it the central focus in a faux presidential bid. He would talk about ad infinitum until he forced the president to produce the long term birth certificate and end the speculation.

Has it worked? Will we wake up to the conspiracy? Will we be able to end the plot to make America a more just nation and listen to those who want to return to the country with which they are most familiar? Time will tell. But if the plot continues we have no one upon whom to heap more praise (or blame) than Donald Trump!

Now, anyone feeling dispirited by the production of the President's birth certificate has a theory to support further promotion of unwarranted, unproductive and illogical fantasies. Warning: I can't promise that people will think any of the above is less insane than the sheer lunacy that's been repeated over the past 2-3 years!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making More Progress Against Payday Lenders

Legislation to regulate payday lenders is winding its way through the Texas Legislature. The bills (HB 2592, 2593, and 2594), while not as strong as we would like, is a positive step. We encourage you to call your legislator and let him or her know that Texas needs to put an end to exploitation masquerading as commerce.

Locally, we are making progress in getting a city ordinance passed in Dallas which will bring a halt to the proliferation of predatory lenders - particularly in low income areas. City Council Representative Jerry Allen has done yoemans work in helping craft what he is calling the 'toughest ordinance in the country'. A tall challenge to be sure, but, again, an important first step.

For those thinking the efforts of CitySquare and other organizations is long on complaints but short on solutions, we recognize that although reports for the 'need' for these businesses are being inflated, there are some people who do indeed need short term loans for personal emergencies or for businesses. CitySquare will soon be posting a list of payday loan alternatives on its website.

Still another challenge in this fight has been the many iterations of predatory lending that sap the economic viability of financially challenged communities: pawn shops, rent-to-own stores as well as refund anticipation loans. These loans are even more pernicious because you're actually borrowing your own money!

Check out this article in Mother Jones, by Gary Rivlin, author of 'Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business'...

"Over the years, entrepreneurs and corporate executives have devised any number of clever ways for getting rich off the working poor, but you'd have to look long and hard to find one more diabolically inventive than the RAL. Say you have a $2,000 tax refund due and you don't want to wait a week or two for the IRS to deposit that money in your bank account. Your tax preparer would be delighted to act as the middleman for a very short-term bank loan—the RAL. You get your check that day or the next, minus various fees and interest charges, and in return sign your pending refund over to the bank. Within 15 days, the IRS wires your refund straight to the lender. It's a safe bet for the banks, but that hasn't stopped them from charging astronomical interest rates. Until this tax year, the IRS was even kind enough to let lenders know when potential borrowers were likely to have their refund garnished because they owed back taxes, say, or were behind on child support."
"[Jackson] Hewitt didn't invent the refund anticipation loan. That distinction belongs to Ross Longfield, who dreamed up the idea in 1987 and took it to H&R Block CEO Thomas Bloch. "I'm explaining it," Longfield recalls, "but Tom is sitting there going, 'I don't know; I don't know if people are going to want to do that.'""

"He worked for Beneficial Corp., a subprime lender specializing in small, high-interest loans for customers who needed to finance a new refrigerator or dining-room set. His instincts told him the RAL

"But Longfield knew.He also knew Beneficial would make a killing if he could convince tax preparers—in exchange for a cut of the proceeds—to peddle this new breed of loan on his employer's behalf. Ultimately, Longfield persuaded H&R Block to sign up. But no one was as smitten as John Hewitt—who understood that people earning $15,000 or $20,000 or $25,000 a year live in a perpetual state of financial turmoil. Hewitt began opening outposts in the inner cities, Rust Belt towns, depressed rural areas—anywhere the misery index was high. "That was the low-hanging fruit," he says. "Going into lower-income areas and delivering refunds quicker was where the opportunity was.""
"Customers wanting a RAL paid Jackson Hewitt a $24 application fee, a $25 processing fee, and a $2 electronic-filing fee, plus 4 percent of the loan amount. On a $2,000 refund, that meant $131 in charges—equivalent to an annual interest rate of about 170 percent—not to mention the few hundred bucks you might spend for tax preparation. "Essentially, they're charging people triple-digit interest rates to borrow their own money," says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center."
"In 1988, the first year he began offering the loans, Hewitt owned 49 stores in three states. Five years later, he had 878 stores in 37 states. And five years after that, when Cendant Corp.—the conglomerate that owned Avis, Century 21, and Days Inn—bought Jackson Hewitt for $483 million, his earliest backers received a $2 million payout on every $5,000 they'd invested. Today, with 6,000 offices scattered across the country, Jackson Hewitt is more ubiquitous than KFC, and has about as many imitators."

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Do the Wealthy Need MORE Tax Cuts?!

Charles Blow of the New York Times is becoming one of my favorite columnists. 
His offering printed last week tells of the the crisis we court if we the transposition of our nation as one of the very rich and the very poor to become the solution to our fiscal woes...
"...the spurious argument that cutting taxes for the wealthy will somehow stimulate economic growth is not borne out by the data. A look at the year-over-year change in G.D.P. and changes in the historical top marginal tax rates show no such correlation. This isn’t about balancing budgets or fiscal discipline or prosperity-for-posterity stewardship. This is open piracy for plutocrats. This is about reshaping the government and economy to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless."
"And it’s not that the rich haven’t already gotten their tax cuts. According to an analysis released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute, the average tax rate for the top 1 percent of households dropped by about 20 percent from 1979 to 2007, while the average tax rate for all Americans dropped by just 8 percent over that time. However, in just the period from 1992 to 2007, the tax rate on the top 400 households in America — those with an average annual income of nearly $350 million — fell by more than a third. In fact, the tax rate for these supermillionaires is now less than the tax rate for average Americans."
"This even though, as the institute pointed out, “between 1992 and 2007, a time in which income for the average household and top 1 percent grew 13% and 123%, respectively, the income for the top 400 households grew fully 399%...”"
The rest of his column is here...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Joyful Celebration of the Resurrection

You'll forgive me if I take great pride in sharing my family with you this morning!

Rev. Kevin B. Willis is my cousin. He serves as pastor of the New Life in Christ Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi. For a time he served with me, when I was a pastor here in Dallas. And let me confess, that while I sought to help him develop his ministerial gifts, it has been obvious throughout his life that he is a gifted and powerful preacher and leader. As you watch this clip, I'll add this disclaimer: I like to think I taught Kevin quite a bit, but what you see here is what I couldn't teach him if I wanted to!

I'm particularly proud of him and his wife Linda, as they followed their hearts and what they believed to be God's Spirit and left what was, by nearly any stretch of imagination, a successful pastorate at the Riverside Baptist Church, in Memphis, Tennessee and organized a new church in Mississippi. His work there is even more effective and he continues to be a blessing to his congregation and to his new city. 

This is Kevin's message from last year's Resurrection Sunday. I hope that it enhances your celebration today. If you're not familiar with worship in the Black Church, I hope this excerpt of imaginative celebration will inspire you! If you are familiar with our worship get ready to be blessed! 

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: The Call to Revolutionary Stewardship of Our Environment

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Today is Earth Day.

Can't tell you how old it makes me feel to tell people I remember the first Earth Day. It's memorable for one main ended up being the second time in the same year (and in my entire life!), that I had to spend time in detention! I was in junior high, and I and my fellow classmates spontaneously decided to walk to school in demonstration/celebration. No, we didn't get permission from parents or school and arriving some two hours late didn't help our cause...

Let me confess that I am not a rabid environmentalist. I still struggle to remember to separate recyclables There are a couple of cans of aerosol deodorizers around the house. And I don't compost (I need help in the landscaping/gardening area!).

But we do live in an era in which the environment is increasingly important, both to the ecological balance and to the economy. Our country's failure to make a full commitment to new technologies which will make us less dependent on foreign oil, more environmentally friendly and open up new opportunities for jobs, as well as new efficiencies is that we have tied our economy to the energy production industries of the 20th century. So we slog toward the energy independence we say we crave, while making it a political football that we kick down the field of public policy...even though we know its good for us.

Is it expensive? Of course it is! In the same way that cars, phonographs and telephones were expensive before the mass production that drove down costs. It just seems to me that a serious commitment to support innovations that will employ the energy, environment and economy saving technologies that we know already exist can be the means through which we can transform the lives of millions of Americans and once again become leaders in the world of innovation.

We have plenty of of which is seen below in the re post of a video which shows what actor/activist Brad Pitt is doing in his efforts to help restore a neighborhood in New Orleans. We can make our poorest neighborhoods more economically and environmentally sustainable if we can summon the political and public will to match innovators and investors in ventures that create even more models that prove our capacity to reinvent the way our culture thinks about our stewardship of world.

It's our dilemma and my fear is we are not yet brave enough to seriously commit ourselves to a solution...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do You Live in an 'Intelligent City'?

According to the World Resources Institute, about 75% of the U.S. live in cities (with more than half of those living in the suburbs). When we talk about what people want from the cities in which they live, whether they be large urban areas, inner city neighborhoods or suburbs has changed over the years with emphasis on energy conservation, innovations in technology and communication, as well as transportation needs and the focus on health and nutrition and the age-old need for human interaction or community.

This has given rise to a study being done on what's called 'intelligent cities': urban planning, design and policy which takes all of the aforementioned factors into account to make cities more livable, sustainable, efficient and adaptable. It's something which more and more is being taken into account in urban centers in serious neighborhood redevelopment.

Be patient, this may seem like gobbledygook, but watch as this urban design specialist describes the elements of an intelligent city. What it tells me is that Dallas really has a great opportunity to redevelop its aging, underdeveloped and economically challenged communities in ways which benefit existing residents and attract others who want to be on the cutting edge of 'intelligent' communities. 'intelligent' is your city?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If it's Good for Their States, er I mean 'the Goose'...?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) said it, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

By that definition, the consistent talk about the evils of taxes is the modern day proof of Emerson's oft-quoted (actually ill-quoted) maxim. 

Or is it...?

According to 'The Daily Beast's' Andrew Romano, front runners for the nomination of the GOP candidate for president have been wildly inconsistent when, as governors, they've been constitutionally responsible for balancing their respective states' budgets. 

"The GOP's most promising 2012 presidential contenders—Mitt RomneyTim PawlentyHaley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Huckabee—have a lot in common. They are all white. They are all middle-aged. They were all governors at one point. And despite a shared tendency to denounce Democrats as inveterate, immoral tax hikers, they all have the exact same skeleton in their closet: a rather inconvenient history of raising taxes themselves."

"Surprised? It's no wonder. Until now, Romney & Co. have done a good job of hiding their tax-raising records from the rest of the Republican Party—with good reason. In a perfect world, according to GOP orthodoxy, taxes would always be lower than they are right now, no matter how low they currently happen to be. In 2009, for example, U.S. taxes shrank to their smallest share of personal income since 1950. Conservatives still complained. And in the unlikely instance that taxes cannot possibly be reduced any further—like, say, when revenue plummets to a record-low 14.9 percent of GDP, which is where they are today—right-thinking Republicans are required to do the next best thing: Refuse, at all costs, to raise them."

"The 2012 budget blueprint that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled this month is only the latest example of the GOP's taxophobia. Ryan claims the purpose of the proposal is to eradicate the national debt. But his "Path to Prosperity" puts America an extra $4 trillion in the hole before it even attempts to accomplish this worthy goal. How? By slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans—forever. As a result, the rest of Ryan's cuts—to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, the FBI, highways, environmental protection, the Coast Guard, and so on—are trillions of dollars larger than they'd otherwise have to be. The message is clear, if contradictory: For Republicans, the only thing more important than reducing the deficit is increasing it—via massive tax cuts."

"Which is why it's so curious that all the party's would-be standard-bearers did precisely the opposite when they were actually tasked with balancing a budget. Some, like Daniels, raised taxes in a relatively straightforward manner. When the former Office of Management and Budget director took control of Indiana in 2005, the state was $200 million in the hole. Digging out was his first priority—and one of his first proposals was a sizable tax hike on all individuals and entities earning over $100,000. The legislature blocked the plan, but Daniels eventually passed a handful of new taxes: one on liquor, one on rental cars, and one that increased the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. Indiana soon had a $1.3 billion surplus."

"When it comes to fiscal discipline, Daniels doesn't think tax hikes should be the first option, or even the second or third. But he does believe that they should always be an option..."

Now this isn't an attempt at political punditry (well maybe a little bit), but it is a an attempt to ask a sobering question: in the face of a crippling deficit, a fragile economic recovery, high unemployment, more people living in poverty than at any other time in the history of our country because of the second biggest financial disaster in the history of our country, with the wealth enjoying unprecedented comfort and the middle class being squeezed as never before...why is anyone tolerating a political fiscal policy that hasn't worked for the one's who promote it?!

Read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shouldn't the Wealthy at Least Pay to Control the Country's Wealth?!

So, with a three day reprieve, we (well most of us) filed our tax returns yesterday. And while most of the people I know plot what to do with their refund, I also know a number of people - not rich, by any stretch of the imagination, like my parents - who usually have to pay.

Which is why it strikes me as odd that people, presumably NOT millionaires, write various blogs and respond to articles about the rich paying more taxes actually defending the rich paying less! The new argument is that those who make less pay no taxes. A recent Mother Jones article, however, shows the disparity between the taxes of the working class (which really is the issue) and those of the rich...

""We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes," billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley famously (and allegedly) sniffed. She wasn't entirely correct: The superrich do still pay taxes. The wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers pay 32 percent of all income tax collected by the federal government."
"But the superrich don't pay as much as they used to—and thanks to a combination of tax cuts and preferential tax policies, their tax obligations can be less demanding than the so-called little people's. In fact, the very wealthiest Americans' tax burden has been steadily dropping for years, even as they've enjoyed astounding income growth not seen by the vast majority of Americans..."
"Leona Helmsley's distaste for paying taxes eventually landed her in federal prison. But the rich have little need to break the law to avoid the tax collector. As Martin A. Sullivan of Tax.comrecently calculated, a New York janitor making slightly more than $33,000 a year pays an effective tax rate of nearly 25%. And the effective tax rate for a resident of the Park Avenue building named after Helmsley, earning an average of $1.2 million annually? A cool 14.7%."

Ours has been a country of staggering income inequality, by which I mean the gap between the wealthiest in our country and the average income of ordinary Americans is astoundingly disproportionate...

The disproportionality in income of course extends to control of our country's wealth. In other words who actually determines the direction and distribution of our country's assets...

The way I hear the argument - not by the wealthy, but by those who, for the most part, fall in the bottom 90% - is that 'we shouldn't 'penalize success'. I have even heard it suggested that since the janitor in the first diagram, for instance, would get a refund and therefore pay 'no taxes' he shouldn't be allowed to vote, making him a virtual non-citizen. Let's not deal with the irrationality of that for now. I have another question...

If the wealthy owe nothing to the country for the advantages it (actually we) provide (and allow) that make their wealth possible; if the wealthy have a 'right' to enjoy a lower tax rate by virtue of their wealth,  and if it is categorized as 'unfair' and 'class warfare' to suggest that the wealthy should pay more because they benefit more...then shouldn't they at least pay to control 2/3 of the nation's wealth?! 

If that's not the case my friends then the wealth of this country has already been redistributed...just look up!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Congratulations to Paul Quinn College!

A scant two years ago, most of Dallas was writing Paul Quinn College's obituary. In fact it's anticipated failure, on the former campus of another failed black college (Bishop College), had a number of people questioning the need for Historically Black Colleges and Universities altogether.

Paul Quinn had lost its accreditation, after losing its membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools because of what seemed like insurmountable debt, very low enrollment and a general lack of support from the African-American community in particular and Dallas in general. Unable to grant degrees and with students unable to receive federal financial aid, and with the new, state supported University of North Texas at Dallas literally right down the street, why was anyone delaying the obvious and the inevitable?

However, last week, Paul Quinn was accredited by Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. This is the result of a lot of hard work by the school's president Michael Sorrell, his faculty, staff and students. But the most significant work that went on, is the work that was so obvious that those saw it ignored: the hard work of persistence!

What is most impressive about Sorrell's work during this period, is that he never acted like the president of a college that wasn't a real college. I can't really remember the last time, after the initial news of PQ's loss of accreditation, that anyone asked, 'Do you think Paul Quinn will make it?' And when you are around Michael, there is this air of supreme confidence that makes you think that they'd already overcome their problems.

This was no false bravado or whistling past the graveyard. Sorrell and Paul Quinn kept working! They did the things that sent the signal that PQ was on its way back - obtaining money to tear down decades long vacant dormitory buildings, buildings in decades long disrepair. It didn't just give the impression that they were breaking with their past, it sent the signal that they were making room for their future.

Earlier last month Paul Quinn shocked the world by being named 'HBCU of the Year by The Center for HBCU Media Advocacy Inc.

And then there is the football field!

Paul Quinn plowed under its football field, no longer in use, and in a partnership with Pepsico began an urban farm. The innovative use of land opened up opportunities for practical education in business, the sciences, even public policy that also sent a signal to Dallas and beyond: we're open for business! At the breakout sessions that followed CitySquare's annual prayer breakfast, we had one special session in which we learned about PQ's urban farm and what faculty and students were learning during the experience. It was inspiring to learn how this facet of their curriculum caused them to look beyond the troubles of the school and look at their neighborhood and how this venture could not only have academic benefit, but how it could potentially meet the needs of those neighbors and surrounding businesses, in turn exposing them all to the asset a college in their community is. 

As a product of Bishop College, I waited for disparaging remarks from alumni and former students. But, to their credit, I've heard none. I think (I hope), that for those of us who still love the campus and the memories it holds for us, we also know that this city - actually the nation - could not stand to lose another HBCU. What that would have said about our city and what it says about blacks and education, is not only not true, but would itself had sent a signal that we can't afford to send - that opportunities for education for those who need a more intimate and supportive experience than can often be found in larger more affluent colleges and universities no longer exist.

Paul Quinn's success (survival isn't a strong enough word), while not complete is still a remarkable story that gets short shrift, especially when one considers all of the ink speculation of their demise encouraged. Questions about the viability of PQ and the necessity of HBCUs are, to me themselves questionable.

Black colleges and universities are in the same position as every other black institution...the struggle to remain relevant in a world they ironically helped create. Equally ironic is the fact that no one questions the relevance or viability of Hispanic, Asian or other ethnic business or institutions. It is interesting that not only are they found relevant, but also interesting enough that they are cultures which seem to reflect the richness of our nation. It is indeed telling that we seem to have no qualms about identifying black colleges as 'unnecessary'.

HBCUs specifically are necessary precisely because there is an African-American culture and heritage to which they can speak in ways that Southern Methodist University or Ohio State can't. They provide an experience within that context that cannot be had anywhere else. HBCUs came into being, not only because mainstream colleges and universities were segregated, but because the needs of the students, for faculty that could not only educate them, but nurture them. They were students needing an academic experience through which they could not only have an education, but in which they could be inspired by engagement and challenge by professors and other students with similar backgrounds who had overcome or were overcoming similar obstacles. They need an educational experience that would both accept and affirm them while challenging them. And these days, when public schools are resegregated by class as often as they are by color, issues of identity are as important in the 21st century as they were in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Blacks now have the opportunity to attend any college for which they academically prepared. Some will choose an HBCU, just as some will choose other small colleges of whatever make up. Some will choose the University of North Texas at Dallas, or Denton. Other students will choose Texas A&M in College Station or Denton. Some black youth will go to Stanford or Georgia Tech. HBCUs came into being in an age when black kids didn't have a choice to teach those same young people that they were good enough to have a choice and to create a generation that would create a world in which such choices would become a reality and not just a dream. There's absolutely nothing wrong with HBCUs to be among those choices. They've earned it.

Dallas should celebrate Paul Quinn's return to health. It means that young people, black and otherwise, can choose them as well.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Change the Wind

David Halberstam

"Memory is often less about the truth than about what we want it to be."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yes, AGAIN! Why is CitySquare Taking on Predatory Lending?

Why is CitySquare's public policy focus been on payday and auto-title lenders? And why do I write so much about it lately?

CitySquare administers HPRP funds in the Dallas. HPRP is an acronym for 'Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program'. It is federal money that is a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or stimulus funding, designed to give aid to households at risk of homelessness because of the recession. It is a means tested program, that helps those facing eviction because they have fallen behind on mortgages because the economy or those who cannot pay their utilities. Those who work with that program, began reporting that nearly 40% of those coming for assistance, were in debt because they of these short dollar, short term loans.

CitySquare, along with the United Way of Greater Dallas and the Jewish Community Relations Council and formed what we call the 'Anti-Poverty Coalition'. We decided, as a focus to support the United Ways goal of getting 250,000 people out of poverty in Dallas by the year 2020. To do so, we called together community based and faith-based non-profits from across the city. Organizations like, the Urban League, AARP, the Dallas Baptist Association, Consumer Credit Counseling Services, nearly 20 in all. When we began to put together an agenda by looking at areas where our organizations were working that we could possibly form partnerships and not duplicate efforts. We found that almost all of us were working with families in crippling debt because of payday loans and coming to our agencies for help. A couple of groups had come to our meeting fresh from meetings with city officials asking them to help find a way to help these households.

It wasn't hard to find out what the common area was...

Not long after that, we (CitySquare) was contacted by the Center for Responsible Lending, which was working nationally on the issue and wondering if we could provide them with help in this area. Soon after, we were contacted by the Christian Life Commission, which was working on the state level to get the loophole in state law closed that allowed these businesses to operate as 'credit service organizations'. Not long after that, I decided to read a book that had been recommended to me by a publisher, 'Broke USA' by Gary Rivlin. And finally, my daughter came home one evening from a meeting at Friendship West Baptist Church, in which they, Concord Baptist Church, Inspirational Body of Christ and Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church came together in a joint community meeting because of complaints about the proliferation of payday loan stores in our neighborhood - nearly 20 along on a nearby major business thoroughfare.

Seldom do I have to be hit over the head...

CitySquare's public policy focus is determined by two things: what are we learning in our programs and what reflects our organization's values. In this case they merged. We believe that the working class and the poor ought not to be easy prey for people simply because 'there is a demand', 'there is a market', 'they provide jobs' or 'there is a need'. We also believe that if there is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed, people caught in dire circumstances ought to have someone to stand and advocate with them. CitySquare is determined to do more than just serve people in their poverty, but to address issues in ways that remove barriers to get them out of poverty. This is one of those issues.

I've heard it all over the past several months of research and action: 'people ought to know better', 'these people should save for their difficult times', 'they ought to investigate for themselves'. For me, this falls in the category of 'true but useless' information. We all ought have smoke alarms. We all ought to have a written diagram of safe routes out of the house when a fire occurs. We ought to all have fire drills in our homes to make sure that our plan works. Some of us do. Most of us don't. But we all need the fire department.

All of us ought to be great financial managers for our families. We ought to have savings accounts. We ought to know about APRs (Annual Percentage Rates), and how they figure into the loans. Most of us don't. We buy cars and even houses with one thing in mind: can I afford the monthly payments. This is not just the poor and ignorant. This includes teachers, salaried workers, homeowners and single parents and married couples. This includes church members and civic minded individuals. They all should be financially literate, but they, like the rest of us all need protection from predators.

We live in an era when business and the market are no longer servants - they've become masters. And we must rebel against this master. We must know that business is not only to enrich stockholders or business owners. Business should contribute to the well being of the communities in which they are located. These businesses don't. And we should say so. CitySquare will continue to say so.

Yesterday, we went before Dallas' city council with our allies. We challenged the council to enact the strongest possible zoning ordinance to locally regulate these businesses. We are now working with our allies to gather at least 5000 signatures in the next couple of months to show the public support we have for this ordinance. If you agree with CitySquare's values and live in Dallas, we hope you sign up. Because, whether or not you've ever taken out a payday loan the proliferation of these businesses impact your quality of life, the image of your community and that of your family and neighbors.

We think this is a worthwhile engagement. We hope you agree and can join us!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Exploitation Masquerading as Commerce

Daniel Feehan, CEO and President of Cash America International, recently submitted op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, serving as an industry response to a column about Texas clergy’s engagement for legislation to regulate payday lenders in the state.

Columnist Mitchell Schnurman reported on the recent appearance of Texas church leaders at a hearing by the House Committee on Finance, Pension and Investment chaired by State Representative Vickie Truitt (R-Keller).  They joined faith-based non-profit leaders and others in challenging the committee to introduce legislation to close the loophole in state law allowing payday lenders to operate as credit service organizations, disguising virtually unlimited interest rates as fees. 

In a press conference prior to those hearings, Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Austin Diocese stated that 1 in 5 people receiving help from Texas Catholic Charities had short term loans. Half of these said the loans were the reasons they needed help.

Kelly Rand, a program manager from the Fort Worth Diocese, said Catholic Charities provided $800,000 in assistance to residents struggling with payday and car title loans.

In Dan Feehan’s rebuttal he, of course, defends the industry and its practices. But the defense is growing more and more indefensible.  

For instance Feehan says, An APR calculation on a short-term (two-week) loan distorts the true cost of credit. An average payday loan fee is typically $15 per $100 or 15 percent…” The fact is $15 per $100 means 391% APR on a typical two-week payday loan.  APR is a standard measure for credit, reflecting the true cost of the loan and required by federal disclosure law.  Texas payday lenders,  like Cash America, and others advertise a two-week payday loan with interest rates of 500% and higher – under the guise of “credit repair”. Moreover, a payday loan is typically not just a two week loan.

Feehan also cites, “third-party studies” showing that “…restricting access to short-term credit leads to adverse and unintended consequences, such as more bankruptcy filings and heavier volumes of bounced checks.” He also points to “… studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and George Mason University/Colby College found that consumers fare worse under payday loan bans.”

The straw argument that industry critics seek ‘payday loan bans’, is simply not true. Advocates seek to end the predatory nature of this industry’s operations. There is also a false connection between effective regulation and bankruptcy filings and bounced checks.

Payday loans keep borrowers trapped in a cycle of debt.   Customers defaulting on payday loans, incur bounced check fees from payday lenders and bank overdraft fees.  They also default on other bills and obligations such as rent and utilities.  Payday loans don’t lessen the burden of late fees and overdraft fees, they increase them.

Payday loans hurt consumer credit, increasing likelihood of bankruptcy. A study of large Texas-based payday lenders showed that first-time applicants accepted for a payday loan are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as first-time payday loan applicants that are rejected.

Feehan also argues that “… more than 90 percent of our customers who are facing financial difficulties use short-term loans wisely.” But a study of 145,000 payday loan borrowers from a large Texas-based payday lender showed than more than 50% borrowers ultimately defaulted on their payday loan in the first year.  The study also found, that defaulting borrowers paid more than 90% of the loan amount in fees and interest that was never applied to the loan principal.

Advocates in this debate look for legislation to end practices that increase the vulnerability of those in economically desperate circumstances. This is not an attack on commerce; it is an effort to end exploitation masquerading as commerce. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Uncomfortable, Engaging and Enlightening

Sunday afternoon, I watched an extremely uncomfortable and yet engaging heated exchange between two African-American icons: Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornell West. While I've never met Sharpton, I have met Cornell West on a couple of occasions. I respect his opinion and I stand in awe of his intellect. I think Sharpton has grown as a leader and has a much more mature understanding of his role as an interpreter of issues that face our country. No you neither have to agree with him, or like him. But if you don't cherry pick your way through quotations and listen to what he says, he makes more sense than a lot of people are willing to admit.

Back to Sunday...

The exchange between Sharpton and West on the 'A Stronger America: the Black Agenda' an MSNBC special, came as they critiqued/criticized President Barack Obama's leadership. If you've never heard them express those views, the upshot, from Rev. Sharpton's view, is that it's unreasonable to expect Barack Obama to be 'the Black President'. While he should have sympathy for and enact policies that improve the lot of African-Americans, he has the responsibility of being President of the entire country. Obama's presidency does not relieve leaders at a grass roots, local or national level for advocating for their constituencies and presenting him with an agenda, in the same way that labor, business, or educators do.

West, on the other hand, believes that Obama has become too beholden to the very interests that depress the capacity of minorities and the poor to achieve their full potential. He criticizes the President for filling his cabinet with the same business oligarchs that have irresponsibly widened the gap between the wealthy and the poor. West exhorts all of those concerned about justice and equity to 'hold the president accountable'. And he challenged Sharpton to be careful, lest he be held hostage and lose his objectivity regarding Obama and therefore his prophetic edge.

The exchange, at the risk of belaboring the word, got really heated...

What was strange to me, was, that while I watched these two giants 'go at it' was that they were both right!

Those of us who support Obama must avoid the risk of being uncritical in our support. Too much compromise, too much 'taking what the defense will give you' ultimately leave those who have never experienced 'pre-Great Recession Prosperity', worse off than before. He must be challenged to remember that it wasn't Wall Street that invested their hopes, dreams and aspirations in his candidacy and his election. And it is our responsibility to find the ways to hold him accountable to propose, push for and enact policies that reduce the horrendous unemployment rate among blacks; the disproportionate representation of blacks and Hispanics in the criminal justice system and the wholesale economic disinvestment in our urban areas.

On the other hand, Sharpton is right. Blacks may consider Obama 'our' President. But he is, most importantly 'OUR' president. He cannot be a the 'black' President. He has to be President of all America. That means he has to make sure that his policies work for the entire country and not just a certain segment...any certain segment. While there must be attention paid to the poor, that attention cannot be paid because of black poverty, but because pervasive, extensive poverty will ultimately stall any efforts for bring this economy back. It has to include the business community. But it has to include all communities.

But this doesn't mean that nothing can be done for blacks by blacks. We have to have advocates and an agenda. And we have to advocate those interests, among many competing interests. We have to know what we can do without the government and we have to understand the systemic barriers which impede our progress toward equality. It means our community and grassroots leaders still have work to do. It means the politicians, elected by our communities still have work to do. It means our business leaders have work to do. It means our educators still have work to do.

It means that, even with a President who happens to be black, every black, brown and even every poor person and everyone allied with them, still has work to do. For us to not recognize that, means we place upon the president a burden we've not placed on any other White House occupant.

Essentially, West and Sharpton argued to sides of the same coin of truth: we have to remember that Barack Obama is a politician that has to be held accountable and we as citizens must recognize our accountability as citizens to work beyond the ballot box to achieve our dreams.

Watching West and Sharpton was uncomfortable, engaging...and it was enlightening. It reminded me that democracy, as my mentors have taught me is a messy, noisy and argumentative affair. It's not idol worship - its real work. We may not all agree...but we must all go to work, if its going to work for all of us!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The True Victory Is in Moving Ahead

Seems as if when someone asks me about my favorite movie I always get stuck.There are so many of them and for so many reasons. But make no mistake about it 'The Poseidon Adventure' is one of them! Gene Hackman is on of my favorite actors and of all the movies of his that I've seen, this has got to be my favorite scene of his.

He plays Rev. Scott, a cocksure young minister with answers to questions he doesn't fully grasp. He thinks man is the answer to his own problems and that God helps us as we help ourselves. To some degree he has it right and he provides leadership that gets these survivors through the disaster of the Poseidon's sinking. In the end after tragic losses of life, uncertainty and conflict, he gets them to safety although, as you see in this scene, he sacrifices his life to do so. Interestingly enough (at least to me), this is the only scene in which Scott prays!

After seeing this movie for the umpteenth time recently, I think I understand why I like this movie so much.

In the great ventures of life, the journey follows much this same pattern: periods of too much certainty; periods of doubt; conflict and challenge; individual acts of heroism and episodic debilitating fear; for those of us who are believers, there are times when we could almost swear the God in whom we trust and to whom we've sworn allegiance seems like the Enemy! Ironically, in the end it's the minister who shakes his fist in the Face of God and then in emotionally, physical and spiritual exhaustion passes on leadership to the his antagonist (Rogo), that he knows he has. Also, in the end, we see that Scott has given up too early. Did he know that? Or was it that he simply didn't have the strength to see the venture on to the end?

In my view, Scott was wrong about something. Faith is more than just confidence in your ability to handle a situation. Faith is about the willingness to continue - with confidence and with doubt. It is about suffering loss and questioning at critical periods when you can least bear loss and least afford questioning. Faith is about continuing to move forward, 100% convinced that you are headed in the right direction, while you admit, at points that you might be at least 50% wrong. It is about going on until you can no longer afford to go back.
In the end, what I learn from Scott is that 'a little while longer' may be just enough time to achieve the desired goal. Even when we feel betrayed by God as we've understood Him.

For me, it's another way of understanding Hebrews 11:1, 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.'

Those of us who undertake battles bigger than ourselves, learn over time that the pathway to fulfillment of the purpose of our lives isn't linear. It's not obstacle free, worry free, or even catastrophe free. But it cannot be faith free. We have to go on. Call us naive, but we have to be the ones who see victory just ahead...because the true victory is in the determination to keep moving...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Sam Houston

President, Republic of Texas; U.S. Senator

"A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under."