Wednesday, August 31, 2011


President Obama promises to announce a proposal to get America back to work.  I basically have two questions: 'Why are we waiting until next week?' and 'Will this be big enough?' 
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad the President will put forth a proposal. We need to hear it. The only other proposals we're hearing from his opponents say that we should return to pre-Great Recession business practices and policies. Hears the thing that supporters of those practices and policies don't tell and what the truth the media doesn't confront them with: they do not work; they lead to economic disaster!
For that reason alone I agree with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson - Obama should go big. No, really, I mean BIG! Ask for living wage job training; ask for tax cuts for small businesses that hire minorities and those who have been out of work for 6 months or more. Build a bridge, rebuild or repair 50 of them. Put to work displaced ditch diggers, architects and engineers. Repair crumbling schools. Propose it ALL. 

"Obama and his advisers know very well that this is the wrong time to cut government spending.

They  know that using federal money to seed big new initiatives — to upgrade the nation’s crumbling 

infrastructure, jump-start the “clean” energy industry, retrain the unemployed so they can compete

in tomorrow’s job market — would give the economy a much-needed boost. They know, too, that

federal action to buoy the housing market would help revive consumer spending, thus giving

corporations a reason to invest the estimated $1 trillion they’re sitting on."
"Such ambitious proposals would demonstrate that the president is willing to think big — that he is 

not willing to accept the Republican narrative of massive retrenchment and, by implication,

inevitable decline."
"So Obama should go big, not small, with his jobs plan. It is hard to overstate how apprehensive

most Americans are about the future. Boldness from the president may or may not get the nation’s

mojo working again. Timidity surely won’t."

It won't pass you say? Neither will anything else. If Obama proposed hiring 50 new porters on Amtrak the

GOP would call it a socialist program designed to weaken America's wealthy. Anything he proposes will be 

attacked by the GOP and stalled in Congress, so go BIG. Really, really big.
Build a dam or two, or extend and repair highways. Ask for patent reform and ask for trade reform or 

whatever else you were going to ask for Mr. President. But ask for $750 million in job training. Ask for 

another $600 million in summer youth employment. 
What if he doesn't get it?
"Republican leaders in the House of Representatives would immediately declare any such ambitious 

program dead on arrival. The president should welcome their opposition — and campaign vigorously 

against it. He can offer voters a choice between a pinched, miserly vision of the country’s prospects

on the one hand and an optimistic, expansive view on the other. He needs to demand what’s right,

not what the other side is willing to give."
It's the point. Make 2012 about the unreasonableness of the opposition. Make it about the willingness to

sink  the world's economy for a set of naive Mickey Mouse principles when corrupted brought this economy

to its knees in 2008. 
The conventional wisdom is that Obama looks vulnerable and could conceivably lose the 2012 election. I'm 

not one of them. Here's a short list of people who looked like they couldn't win a second term: FDR, Harry 

Truman, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson. Seriously. 

When Truman looked sure to lose in 1948, his whistle stop campaign went across the country calling for re-

election and demanding a new congress to work with him. 
After next week, the campaign begins. Unemployment is big for the country. It is 16% for blacks, 15% for 

Hispanics and in some core urban communities, 20-30-40%. We need long and short term solutions. It's not 

just the right tactic, it's the right thing to do for this country. 
Again, Robinson has it right...
"We know Obama can be rational, realistic and eminently reasonable. Right now, he needs to be 

anything but."

Monday, August 29, 2011

CitySquare's Summer of Success

As I mentioned, my past three weeks at CitySquare have been filled with a number of challenges. They'll all get worked out, its just the nature of the job we do. But often, I and my colleagues have our heads buried in the weeds of those challenges and it can be easy to become discouraged. Then you get word of what's been accomplished throughout the organization and you realize the majority of the challenges we face are a small price to pay for the opportunity we get to serve so many people.

For instance, take our 'Food on the Move' mobile summer feeding program. 

CitySquare coordinates placement of almost 300 AmeriCorps members for service in non-profit agencies and organizations throughout Dallas. Within our organization, AmeriCorps members help man a program that is a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and Pepsico to provide meals to the hundreds of children during the summer months. During the school year, these children would be eligible for free and reduced lunches, but when school is out, many of these children have little or no access to healthy meals. Our Food on the Move program is a mobile feeding initiative that takes meals to the children and also provides them with coordinated playtime activities. 

So how did we do? 

The preliminary report we received told us...

We started the summer with:
  • 53 dedicated AmeriCorps members &
  • 9 mobile routes
You made it through:
  • 40 days of triple digit temperatures &
  • 23,943 hours of service
And together, this is what you achieved:
  • 1,136 children received the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award &
  • 279,551 meals were served to kids
It's really important to point out that this was work done in one of the hottest summers in our state's history. Yet AmeriCorps members showed up EVERY DAY! 


AmeriCorps is one of the programs which has been threatened with either devastating cuts or elimination. Without AmeriCorps, CitySquare would never be able to hire enough staff to make this kind of impact on the lives of these many children. While we celebrate this work, we also must remain vigilant and we call on you to contact your Congressional and Senate representatives to let them know that AmeriCorp is bridging a significant gap in the needs we see in our community and the community's capacity to meet those needs. 

In spite of even that challenge, its wonderful to see that we able to make an impact in the lives of so many young people in such a meaningful way!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Memoriam: The Honorable Fred Blair (1940-2011)

Lost in the shuffling conversations of African-American leaders who have been more controversial and more colorful is Fred Blair. 

Mr. Blair was one of those leaders whose effectiveness and commitment has never been questioned. And in the opportunities I had to engage with him on the council, in the Texas Legislature and as one of the leading businessmen in our community, I never found him to be anything less than helpful and committed to public service. 

It is interesting that in or out of office, he was almost always referred to as 'The Honorable' Fred Blair. You don't always make headlines by being 'honorable', but you always make a deep impact on the lives of people. 

Fred Blair died this week at the age of 70.

Martin Luther King Memorial

The dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. was to have taken place today, the 48th anniversary of King's acclaimed 'I Have a Dream' speech. Of course, that ceremony has been postponed because of Hurricane Irene. 

Hopefully, this gives those of us who wanted to be at the dedication another opportunity.

In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to take a glimpse at local news coverage of this signature event: the first dedication of a memorial on the Mall of our nation's capitol, not erected to honor a president, or commemorate a war; the first memorial dedicated to an African-American and yet one which honors a man who has been an inspiration which has transcended generations. It is fitting and proper that this memorial is located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, two presidents who have shaped our modern notions of the democracy King fought so long to bring to actualization.

We the men of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity who spearheaded this magnificent effort to bring to America something which, brings us all together and reminds us of the price that was paid to help us realize true brotherhood and equality!

View more videos at:

CitySquare's Summer of Success

I tell people that the wonderful thing about the work we do at CitySquare is that every now and then, you get to see the results of your work.

This has been a tough three weeks. Most of it involved staffing challenges and making 'bricks without straw' running some programs with little or no money, or too few personnel. And then we get encouraging reports about the work we've accomplished!

For instance, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program that we have administered for the past two years with funds from the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (you know, the stimulus funds which some politicians are calling a failure), has had an incredible impact.
  • Of the 269 families (representing 587 neighbors) at risk of losing their housing, 253 or 94%, were stably housed when they left the program.  
  • Of these 253 families, 13% (34) are now living with friends or family, 85% (214) are now living in rental units, and 2%(4)  are now property owners.
Wait, there's more...
  • When the program began, 97 (36%) of the families had no income whatsoever; at the end of the program, only 10% had no income at all;
  • At the beginning of the program 77 (29%) actually had earned income; at the end of the program 140 (52% had earned income.
  • At the beginning of the program, 95 (35%) had no earned income either a public benefit, child support or retirement. When the program concluded that number increased to 38% (or 102).
According to the report from our team:

Case management in this program has helped people find jobs and apply for benefits they are eligible  for.  This has helped significantly reduce the number of people who have no earned income and nearly double the number of people who have an earned income."

"Of the 97 families that had no income whatsoever when they first came to the program, Social Work Services has helped 18 (19%) of these families gain some income through applying for benefits they were eligible for, and helped 56 (57%) gain employment and start receiving an earned income."  

"Of these same 97 families, 87 are now stably housed with 61 of them paying rent and two of them owning property and 23 of them living with family and/or friends."

"The impact of this program on a neighbor’s impact could be higher.  What is here only reflects the number of neighbors that have shown proof of earned income (a paycheck stub) when they were discharged.  Our caseworkers attest that some of our neighbors had actually gotten employment but did not have a paycheck stub at the time of their discharge so by HUD requirements, were not able to indicate this at the time of discharge.  So conceivably, we have helped more people get jobs than what is represented here."

The HPRP funding was designed to help those who have been most impacted by the recession: those who are already poor, or who had lost jobs and who were having trouble paying rent or utilities. The $500,000 invested to help not only helped these neighbors 'get by', it helped many of them stabilize and achieve some level of recovery. 

I'll tell you more about CitySquare's 'Summer of Success' in the next post...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Herman Melville


Author, lecturer, teacher

“Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges..."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wrongful Convictions & Poverty

I wish I had $50 for every time someone tried to brush away issues related to poor, predominately black communities, by pointing out the high rate of incarceration of black people. The person, almost invariably white, implies subtly - and sometimes not so subtly - that there is a genetic character flaw in black people that renders them predisposed to criminal behavior. If this were true, then, of course, we could limit or totally eliminate the talk of socioeconomic reasons related to concentrated, generational poverty and, most importantly, we wouldn't have to talk so much about racism. In other words, 'it's all their fault'.

Now, not only have I grown weary of deconstructing this argument, I realize that some people at their most honest, really don't get it. There is a reason the criminal justice system is viewed more suspiciously by minority communities than by white communities. But most importantly, the over representation of blacks in the criminal justice system is one of the phenomenons that keep poor neighborhoods poor.

Have you ever thought about lifetime stigma now placed on those who have 'paid their debt to society'? Nicole Hannah-Jones accurately points out how our attitudes towards the formerly incarcerated exacerbate issues in economically challenged communities...

"...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 percent.) 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."

Those are the challenges of the formerly incarcerated. Think of the additional consequences of being wrongfully incarcerated!

This is why CitySquare, public policy department is looking at the criminal justice system and wrongful incarceration. On August 25, in a special Urban Engagement Book Club we will be reviewing the book 'Tested: How Twelve Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Held on to Hope'.

These men (there are actually more than 20 of them from Dallas County), wrongfully incarcerated - many for more than 20 years - and released with the most minimal services to help reintegrate them into society are believed to be only the tip of the iceberg of a problem that has seen more than 200 men nationwide set free because they were innocent.

Randy Mayeaux, who reviews the books for UEBC writes this on his blog, "I have just finished reading each and every word of the book Tested:  How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope by Peyton Budd in collaboration with Dorothy Budd — Photographs by Deborah Luster.  (Published by Brown Books Publishing Group in Dallas).  I say it this way to make a point – though I thoroughly read the books that I present, at times I have to move through the text pretty fast.  This one was one to read slowly – and I did.

"It chronicles the stories of some men who sat in prison, some for decades, while innocent of the crimes they were sent to prison for.  They were wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted, wrongfully imprisoned.  There is now no doubt of the wrongfulness of their convictions.  They have been exonerated.  The courts admit the wrongful convictions.  They are now free.
"But, of course, they will never be free.  As exoneree Eugene Hinton put it:  “There are no psychiatrists who’ve done twenty years in prison for a crime they did not commit, so they really couldn’t offer me a solution.” 

"I frequently share insight on this blog from books I have read.  Occasionally, I strongly suggest that you read the book yourself.  I do so with this book.  It will make you sad, yet hopeful, all at the same 
time.  It will do your heart good.  It did mine."

Do yourself a favor and come share with us on Thursday, August 25, from 12 noon to 1:15 P.M. We will meet at CitySquare's headquarters at 511 Akard.  Find out just one more reason why minority communities 
are further impoverished by inequities in the criminal justice system. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Nickolas Ashford (1942-2011)

There are those artists whose work literally constitute a soundtrack for our lives. Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson were such artists.

There are some who read this and watch the clips below and may only vaguely remember these songs. But you will remember 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', 'Your Precious Love', 'Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing' or 'Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand'.

They were one of the most prolific writers, producers and entertaining performers of our time. Personally, although I loved just about all of their music, I loved watching them perform. If they weren't one of the most loving couples I've ever seen they were pretty darn close.

Nick Ashford died, August 22 at the age of 70. His is a prodigious talent that will be lovingly remembered and incredibly missed...

Monday, August 22, 2011

More on the 'Texas Miracle' Myth

I think one of the smartest women around is Princeton University's Melissa Harris-Perry. She is a thorough thinker and whether you agree with her or not, she is challenging.

She's begun filling in occasionally on MSNBC and she's doing a pretty good job.

Now, I'm also a Texan and while it doesn't make me feel good to continually have holes poked in the 'Texas Miracle' myth - those are holes that  must be poked, if we are going to make intelligent decisions on who will lead our country.

This clip is particularly revealing when it comes to the truth about what's happening with jobs and the Texas economy...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Church and Technology: Are These the Good 'Ol Days? Time will Tell...

The use of technology in church is intriguing.

Streaming video.

Online giving.

Individual self-paced Bible Study.

Church Announcements (some, literally high quality produced commercials)

Power Point Sermons.

Sophisticated (and not so sophisticated) websites.

It's all intriguing...

Not every church, mind you. But even smaller churches are, in some ways, trying to replicate the mega-church experience with screens and monitors.

I'll confess, I'm not totally sure how I feel about it all.

I am part of a generation of clergy, influenced by the activism of the '60's and the scholarship of the '40's and '50's. We are related to the traditional churches in which conventions and denominations were seen as viable. When denominational and interdenominational ministerial groups were respected and viewed as the means through which connections were made and ideas and new methods were shared.

To say times have changed would be a uselessly obvious analysis.

When we talked about 'technology' useful in getting the 'Word out to the World', we were talking about radio, television and cassette tapes!

I remember when I was pastor of New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Dallas, we were one of the first black churches (if not the first), to make use of the computer. This was in the early '80's. It was a struggle, convincing church leaders that this was a necessary purchase. It took research and SEVERAL meetings over MONTHS. You would have thought we were trying to buy blocks of real estate! Finally, with the help of three or four young deacons we put together enough information to convince our elders (age, not position), that producing bulletins on a computer would be a more cost effective exercise than the state of the art mimeograph and stencil machine currently in use. Also, it would, we argued, eventually help us keep more accurate records! The older leaders finally relented and the first computer was finally purchased.

I remember, one of the older deacons said ruefully, 'I guess soon we'll have to get one of them new fax machines!' Trying to allay fears of 'modernization' that were rippling through the room at the time, I assured him and the others, 'I can't think of any reason at all that we would ever be able to make use of a fax machine...'

Of course, the problem with us purchasing the computer at that time, was that there were only about 3-4 deacons who worked at IBM who had ever used one. I had never even turned one on! Once purchased it took weeks of one deacon giving me personal tutorials, staying sometimes as late as 1:00 am to learning unfamiliar language: DOS, floppy disks, prompts, cursor, until I eventually grew proficient enough to begin to show some of them how to do things they didn't know how to do.

For all that technology did for us: allowing us (eventually) to more proficiently produce church bulletins, keep church records, generate form letters and the like, I would remind our membership, that we weren't interested, in becoming what I referred to as a , 'Nintendo' church.  I remember saying with supreme confidence in a sermon one Sunday morning, ' can't do church over the Internet'!

Boy was I wrong! Or was I?!

It is no doubt that we are more and more a world in which all types of content is disseminated digitally. During the time we got that first computer, 'cell phones' were the huge grey brick sized devices with the long grey antennae (and don't forget the suitcase you had to have with it!).  Now of course PDA's, smart phones, iPads and tablets make taking our technology with us, not only practical, but arguably indispensable. Churches now seem quaint with posted signs asking congregants to 'turn off their cell phones' - they are missing the opportunity for attendees to tweet, text or post to Facebook pages immediately their enjoyment of the worship and the sermon, or immediately uploading video content to You Tube.

I recently preached at the Concord Church in Dallas and at least three friends, that I know of, told me how much they enjoyed the message. When I asked them why they didn't come say hello after church, they told me they weren't there, they saw the message on Concord's streaming video broadcast of the message! When my friend, Rev. A. Louis Patterson, Jr. passed earlier this year, I was unable to attend the services in Houston. But streaming video of those services along with a chat room, not only allowed me to 'attend', but share memories of ALP3 with other mutual friends throughout the service.

Certainly there are drawbacks: people in church with cell phones could be texting who knows what during worship. Embarrassing things can be video recorded as well as things which edify. Video and audio clips can be taken out of context. Of course, back in prehistoric times when I grew up in church, every note we passed to our peers weren't Bible verses and all gossip after (and sometimes during) church had nothing to do with how wonderful God is!

But what I'm really concerned about is the degree to which technology reinforces the isolation that comes with it. Clearly what's happening is that we are redefining 'community'. It can be face-to-face and in person. Or it can be 'skype' and Facebook. People 'meet' on the Internet. They 'fellowship' through technology. And they share some of the most intimate information digitally.

It is a different world. And the church must adapt to the culture. But we must guard against the positive being pushed to the negative. And for all of the challenges, I know the church can't sit this one out. We have to take the risk.

I remember talking to a group of pastors decrying the computer and technology  - most older and those who weren't older were simply unfamiliar with the benefits and way to cautious when it came to the risks. Finally, when I heard enough, I told them, 'Ya'll sound like our forefathers who, when they saw the first automobiles, started complaining that church members were better when they came to worship in a horse drawn buggy!'

Is technology responsible for new 'good 'ol days'? Like everything else, only time will tell...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes


Pastor, Professor, Author, Theologian

The question should not be, 'What would Jesus do?', but rather, more dangerously, 'What would Jesus have me do?'

Friday, August 19, 2011

"I Fear There Must Be a Fight..."

Bales of aluminum, each one containing about 34,000 flattened cans, await shipment at Gold Metal.

Interesting article appearing in the D/CEO magazine about Gold Metal Recyclers. It includes a pretty accurate portrayal of a Unify South Dallas meeting in which the concerns of residents and advocates are represented.

"On a sweltering Saturday in June, a community group called Unify South Dallas has gathered for one of its regular meetings at the Forest Heights Community Center on Holmes Street, off South Lamar. Led by Walter “Changa” Higgins, Unify’s chairman, the group has several topics on its agenda this morning, including payday lending, the school-budget crisis—and Gold Metal Recyclers."
"Among the 15 or so people in the cool, air-conditioned center are the Rev. Gerald Britt, a vice president of public policy and community program development for CitySquare; Cherelle Blazer, an environmental scientist and founder of a nonprofit urban-activist group called You Can’t Live In The Woods; Ron Price, a former trustee of the Dallas Independent School District; Alvin Gray, who lives in the neighborhood across from Gold Metal; Jeffery Muhammad, a minister in the Nation of Islam and a Dallas representative of the Hon. Louis Farrakhan; and Frank Clark from W&M Environmental Group, which conducted environmental testing several years ago on Gold Metal’s South Lamar land."

"Much of their discussion about Gold Metal will focus on that testing, which the recycling company commissioned voluntarily as part of its application for a so-called municipal setting designation on its property. Based on a state statute intended to expedite addressing contamination involving non-potable water, the MSD—which is now pending before regulators—would make it easier for Gold Metal to sell its acreage, or buy more, if it ever chose to do so. Any contaminants the testing discovered do not threaten it or its neighbors, the company contends, because the toxins are isolated, don’t impact the water table, and are capped with concrete."

"Blazer, who grew up in Oak Cliff, starts off by telling the gathering that she was disturbed to see all the scrap yards on South Lamar when she returned to Dallas after college. She couldn’t figure out why developers weren’t coming into the area, she says. Then she learned about “the chemicals found in the soil and water” beneath Gold Metal, and began to understand. The testing had revealed arsenic, benzene, lead, xylenes, and “petroleum stuff” in the Gold Metal soil, she says. Some of the chemicals are cancer-causing, while “volatile organics” from all the company’s vehicular traffic can lead to lung disease, she says."
There appears to be a tendency to believe that South Dallas residents aren't concerned about the presence of this heavy industrial presence in their neighborhood. The idea that poor and working class people in our city should have no real voice or choice in what 'commerce' locates in or predominates in their communities. And of course, if the 'business' brings jobs, that of course is the maximum good which triumphs morality, health and quality of life - no matter how few the jobs, or how little they pay.
But if those things are not true, why didn't south Dallas residents show up en masse to protest the expansion of Gold Metals? Why didn't they provide the counter argument to the 'supporters' of Gold Metals when they spoke before the city council?

Robert Foster, a south Dallas resident and leader with Unify South Dallas, tells us why in an essay originally intended to be an op-ed column submitted to the Dallas Morning News. 

In one of my favorite movies, 'Wyatt Earp' there is a line that sums up my analysis of the situation with Gold Metals: 'I fear there must be a fight'. Foster's column shows why...

"How much effort—or due diligence—should city officials exert before voting on ordinances with lasting impacts on local communities? Citizens have a right to full disclosure about such decisions. How far should city officials go to ensure their constituents are fully informed?"

"Just days before a fire last week at Gold Metal Recyclers in South Dallas, our city council voted to allow the recycler to expand its enterprise even closer to the residential neighborhood in which they do business. Given that a fire in February of this year led to an EPA Superfund Enforcement and Clean-Up action, similar to one required of Gold Metal in 2008, shouldn’t residents have known this before the council vote?"

"Perhaps they would also like to know that the city staff advised against the expansion, and not for the dangers represented by the fires. The addendum published by the council reports that staff advised against expansion because expansion runs counter to the Trinity River Corridor Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the goals and policies of ForwardDallas! The staff is also concerned about the recycler’s operating their business in the floodplain. While the Goldberg’s (owners of Gold Metals recycling) claim to have applied to remove the floodplain designation with FEMA, staff found no evidence of the application."

"Or maybe the residents would like to have known about the process leading to the vote. The opening line to Addendum 32, which went before the city council on June 22, states that the vote concerned, “A public hearing to receive comments regarding an application for and an ordinance granting an amendment to and expansion of Planned Development District No. 331.” What public hearing? Residents viewed the proposed streetscape changes at the Lamar-B-Q held on the Gold Metal property last November. But unveiling a few sketches while public officials made speeches hardly serves as a public hearing. Maybe local residents would like to know what happened to the public hearing voted on by the city council."

"What about the results of the one community poll conducted by the city? The city mailed 149 notifications to the neighborhood to see who opposed and who supported the expansion. The returns were not that impressive, seventeen in all. More to the point, the returns included 9 opposed and 8 in support. Six of those supporting expansion either had the last name of Goldberg or the company name Loshel, one of the owners of the Gold Metal Recyclers. In the end, only two residential property owners supported the expansion. Do two residents in support prove enough to move forward with the plan, with at least nine in opposition? Didn’t the potential impact on the community call for a door-to-door canvass to get a real perspective on how the residents feel about the proposed expansion? Perhaps the majority of residents wonder what effect their voice might have on the council vote."

"Sufficiently informing the residents of this proposal is the responsibility of city councilmember Carolyn Davis. Several community members responded to the initial mailing by speaking with Ms. Davis, who assured them she would take care of their interests. Trusting their elected representative these residents decided not to attend the council hearing. That trust earned a unanimous vote by the council to expand the Gold Metal Recyclers’ presence in the community."

"We at Unify South Dallas are definitely concerned about how this process and the results impact this community. We are concerned that residents were not properly informed about this ‘public hearing.’ Would their views on this subject effect the outcome of the council vote?"

"Sadly enough, we’ll never know."

It's a sad state of affairs, when the elected officials who should be looking out for the interests of their constituents blatantly and nefariously ignore their interests. It's also a shame that those representatives serve as an additional obstacle to their health, well being and quality of life. 

It's just another example of how much of a fight this really is...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Real Look at 'The Texas Miracle'...

Local Economic Snapshot: Rising ranks of area's poor

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Special Urban Engagement Book Club Session Focuses on the Wrongfully Incarcerated

One of the first issues taken on by CitySquare was the plight of the wrongfully convicted, freed by DNA evidence.

It has been one of the great privileges of my life to get to know these men. It has also been an honor to join former University of Texas at Arlington sociology professor Jaime Page, along with the Texas Innocence Project in getting the compensation for these men increased.

Dorothy Budd an Episcopal deacon at CitySquare friend and ally Church of the Incarnation and her daughter Peyton, have co-authored a book about these men and their experiences. The book is entitled, 'Tested - How Twelve Wrongfully Incarcerated Men Held on to Hope'.

On August 25 at 12 noon, CitySquare's Public Policy Department will proudly host a special Urban Engagement Book Club in which we will review the book, hear from the authors and the men themselves. We know it will be an absolutely fascinating experience and it will also show why justice misapplied is a barrier to lifting people out of poverty.

Normally the Urban Engagement Book Club is held on 1st Thursdays at Highland Park United Methodist Church and on 3rd Thursdays at First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas. This special UEBC will be held at CityWalk@Akard, CitySquare's vertical community at 511 Akard Street.

If you'd like to be a part of this very special event, you can RSVP here. Paid parking is available and seating is limited.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warren Buffett Agrees with ME?!

Tax the rich!

Yeah, you'd pretty much expect to hear that from me. But what about hearing it from one of the rich? How about Warren Buffett?

You've heard it by now, Buffett is saying AGAIN, neither he, nor his uber rich colleagues pay enough in taxes, especially when compared to say, the people who work for him.

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors."
"These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places."
"Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent."
"If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot."

Of course this is making most people who believe that the profits of the rich are sacrosanct, cringe. Because if  Warren Buffet makes too much sense with this plea, then it means that their premise for the structure of economic recovery falls flat. You've heard it before: if we tax the rich more that will serve as a disincentive for job creation. And of course companies will move their operations over seas and that too will cost jobs. Interestingly enough, these same adherents never quite explain why after 10 years of the most generous tax cuts in our country's history wages flat lined and job growth was stagnant. A point which Buffet also alludes in his column. 

" those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation."

Would tax cuts on the extremely wealthy make that much difference over time? It could, according to CNNMoney,   "If lawmakers added a new 50% tax rate to taxable income over $1 million, that could raise an additional $34 billion, according to the Tax Policy Center. So adding that new top rate might raise at least an additional $340 billion over 10 years."

"And if lawmakers opt to tax carried interest as ordinary income, the change could raise an additional $21 billion over 10 years, according to Joint Committee on Taxation estimates."
"What about tax rates on capital gains and dividends? If they were raised to 20% for individuals making more than $200,000 (and couples making more than $250,000) that could raise roughly $107 billion over a decade, the Treasury Department estimated last year. The rate increase would raise less if it were limited to just those making more than $1 million."
"All told, if one combines the three changes -- setting aside the economic effects if they were all implemented -- it's possible that Treasury could pull in more than $450 billion over a decade."

Of course the U.S. debt is deeper than $450 billion. But remember, we're also fighting two wars that need to end and need to end soon. After which there are some other tax reform measures we could go after, like the tax deduction for mortgages on second luxury homes (which is not just a tax deduction enjoyed by the 'super rich'). 

In other words, those who have benefited most from the 'prosperity' of an era in which money was made from money should share in helping us get out of the mess they've helped to create.  And those who are clamoring to protect their riches in the delusional hopes that one day they may be among them (here's a newsflash, ONLY 2% can be in the top 2%) but who have actually kept the engine running (through debt), can shoulder less of the burden. In case you haven't noticed - you've been shouldering most of the burden...

Wow! Warren Buffett agrees with me! Imagine that!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Austin Joining Dallas in Regulating Payday Lenders!

I've hardly mentioned the fight against predatory lending led by CitySquare working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition.

As you may remember, in May, Dallas City Council unanimously passed a land use zoning ordinance restricting proximity of future short-term loan providers (including auto title lenders) to one another, how close they could be located next to residences, major roadways and requiring them to operate in free standing buildings. The ordinance also required short-term lenders to obtain a Special Use Permit from the city. The APC packed out the council and presented the council with 4000 signatures on petitions urging them to take action.

On June 22, the City Council took further action with a second zoning ordinance which addressed industry operations. This ordinance requires them to registration of the businesses, it requires documentation on their loans, there are limits to the number of times the loans can be rolled over and how much of the loan has to be applied to the principle of the loan, among other things.This ordinance also passed unanimously. These regulations give Dallas, what has been called the toughest ordinances in the country. And while the APC congratulates the entire council for its courage in protecting its citizens, we especially thank Councilman Jerry Allen for his dogged determination in leading the city council in doing the right thing.

Of course, as expected, the payday loan industry filed suit against the City of Dallas, in effect saying that the city was trying to 'put them out of business.'  It was not unexpected (which makes the council action even more courageous) the industry has been saying this about any attempts to put the brakes on making loans charging anywhere between 300%-900% - plus, interest on their loans, especially at the state level.  What is amazing to the point of being insulting, is the idea that this industry leaves so much carnage in its wake and then has the gall to portray itself as the victim! 'The mean old city of Dallas is trying to rob us of the opportunity to exploit the financial desperation of its citizens!'

We may be insulted, but fortunately Dallas doesn't stand alone in it's efforts to try and stop exploitation from masquerading as commerce. Now the City of Austin is trying to get into the act! 

"The lightly-regulated world of payday lending – high interest loans to working class citizens that often prompt unending cycles of debt – is soon to see some local regulation. City Council member Bill Spelman has posted two items on council’s August 18 draft agenda that locally regulate the lassiez-faire industry."

"The resolutions, posted to council’s draft agenda, tackle the issue on two fronts. One addresses land use and zoning for the businesses; as of this writing, back-up information isn’t posted, but according to a press release from Spelman’s office, it will “restrict new payday lending institutions from locating in certain neighborhoods, near major thoroughfares, or within close proximity to other payday lending institutions or residential areas.” Chris Riley and Mike Martinez are signed on as co-sponsors."
"The second resolution, as described, “will require payday lenders to register with the City of Austin, collect and maintain data on its operations, cap the maximum amount of a loan, and restrict the number of times a consumer can refinance a loan.” The posting description of the item also notes a $500 penalty for each offense. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison are names as co-sponsors on this item (so there’s five votes right there)..."
Sound familiar?! Those are the ordinances that the City of Dallas passed in May and June!

May saw the Texas state legislature pass admittedly relatively weak bills providing consumer disclosure and oversight of the industry. Dallas (and apparently Austin) recognized that while the bills were a step in the right direction they were not enough to protect its citizens. So Dallas took action - and now Austin is following suit.


As for putting predatory lenders out of business? Earlier this year, Daniel Feehan, CEO and President of Cash America International boldly proclaimed, "...more than 90 percent of our customers who are facing financial difficulties use short-term loans wisely." 

Even better, that means that regulation won't hurt them...or any other similar business really offering a needed service to consumers. Only lenders seeking to exploit desperate customers need worry. And no one should object to that - in Dallas or in Austin.

If you live in a city in Texas and you feel the same way, go to the Anti-Poverty Coalition Facebook page or CitySquare's Facebook page and leave us a message. We'd be glad to help you!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Father Mapple's Sermon

I watched with great anticipation, the newest version of Herman Melville's esteemed classic 'Moby Dick' on the Encore Channel.  I watched Donald Sutherland's portrayal of 'Father Mapples' and his delivery of the sermon before the crew began their fated misadventure with Captain Ahab (Sutherland is one of my favorite actors).

I was thoroughly disappointed!

So I recently watched the original film version of 'Moby Dick' and was instantly reminded why I am captivated by this movie. It's not just Gregory Peck, it's also Orson Welles in this brilliant, near cameo performance.

The reason Sutherland's performance fails is it makes no attempt to catch the eloquence of preaching during the period of Melville's great novel. Preaching in those days was not only Divinely inspired exhortation to enter the Kingdom of God. As an exercise it was a gift that was at least as much art as it was science. The passion of the preacher was as much in the way in which he romanced language as it was in his spiritual earnestness. His capacity to paint the picture of the story told in scripture using his tongue as a brush moved the audience emotionally as well in their spirits.

Orson Welles captured it and captured it masterfully. As an actor, Welles can only be described as pure genius!

Much of what passes for preaching falls short of what I've described earlier. And, yes, I know I've romanticized the preaching of 200 years or so. But, my point is, real preaching challenges us; it changes us; at times it comforts and consoles. But there is something about it, when it is done classically, allows a congregation to feel and to 'see' and they leave knowing they must do something with and about what they've heard.

Sutherland's 'conversational' style didn't capture the classic declamation of the 18th or 19th century. It mirrors more of the 'mass therapy' and self-esteem pandering of our day. In the end we all still go after our whales. I may be somewhat prejudice but I think after a message delivered the way Orson Welles delivered his, we go after our whales that why we go is more important than the whale we seek! And in the process, some of us catch something bigger. Much, much bigger...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Martin Luther King Monument to be Dedicated in Washington, DC

The Monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be dedicated on the Washington Mall on August 28.

I won't be able to get to the dedication this year, but you can bet I'll get to visit this monument as soon as I can!

Food Hardship in America

In this report the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) looks at rates of food hardship (rates of 
households answering “yes” over the course of a year to the question whether there were times over 
the past year “when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed”) for 
households without children and households with children.  We look at those rates by state, by 
Metropolitan Statistical Area, and by Congressional District. 

Among the findings of deep and widespread food hardship are the following: 

• In 195 Congressional Districts, at least one in four households with children answered “yes” to the 
• In 312 Congressional Districts, at least one in five households with children answered this 
question “yes.” 

• In 40 of America’s 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), more than one in four 
households with children answered “yes.” 

• In 21 states and the District of Columbia the rate for households with children answering “yes” 
exceeded 25 percent. 

This report is the fifth in a series from FRAC analyzing data derived from answers given by hundreds of thousands of households to the question about their inability to purchase enough food posed by the 
Gallup organization as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.  The four previous reports are described briefly at the back of this report.  

In one of those prior reports, FRAC released earlier this year an analysis of national, regional, state, MSA and Congressional District food hardship rates through 2010.  That report did not look separately, however, at rates for households with children compared to households without children.  This report does.  

The specific food question that Gallup has been posing is very similar to one of the questions asked by the federal government in its annual survey of Americans’ food security.  Gallup asks: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that your or your family needed?” FRAC counts “yes” answers as evidencing “food hardship.”  In the annual Census Bureau survey for the federal government (analyzed each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), households are asked to say whether “The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more,” and then “Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?”  This is one of a series of questions asked of households by the Census Bureau to measure what the government calls “food insecurity.”

Go here to see the full report...