Monday, January 31, 2011

Enjoy the Celebration...But the Game Won't Be Here!

So it's officially Super Bowl Week in Dallas - or Arlington, or the Metroplex...whatever!

I generally enjoy the Super Bowl. More than the World Series or the NBA Championship series (the only time I've really paid attention to the Stanley Cup series was when the Dallas Stars won...just can't get into hockey. Sorry).

The Super Bowl is a HUGE spectacle, starting from media day on Tuesday, to the game itself. And while there are those who wonder what all of the hoopla is all about, it's the one sport where no one really tries to explain. You either get it or you don't.

What's really interesting is that Dallas city officials, civic and business leaders just didn't seem to get it!

We can argue that there's anything to do in Dallas. You can argue that the city will be compensated by the parties that will be held and the celebrities and tourism. Or the attention that comes with being the NFC host city. The fact is, we may have avoided the traffic congestion, crowds, media and international scrutiny associated with hosting the game itself, we will miss the benefits of the Super Bowl actually being held in Dallas!

Did politicians drop the ball? Of course! Blame former Mayor Laura Miller. Blame the city council. Blame the County Commissioners. Pick someone. Business leaders. Civic boosters. Media. Whomever it was who didn't get their act together to do what it would take to get Jerry Jones to relocate to Dallas proper is at fault.

The original prospects of a new stadium to be built at Fair Park, or somewhere in South Dallas would have represented a boon to the entire city. There was near unanimous consent among residents and business leaders in the area that such a move would be welcome. In the main, they saw it differently than the unjust land grab in the '70's that in which mostly elderly, low income residents received a mere pittance for their homes for a supposed expansion of Fair Park (eventually it resulted great expanses of concrete for parking - parking that is seldom used, even during the State Fair).

Yes, Arlington residents can tell you that getting a stadium like this doesn't come without headaches. And no, Jerry Jones' is not going to win any unanimous votes for civic pride when it comes to his willingness to sacrifice his bottom line and share revenue (he's a capitalist, remember?) And, yes, I know, public money spent on professional sports stadiums isn't a hugely popular investment. No matter what anyone says, it is leveraging public money for private investment - a concept that seems to only make sense when the private investor already has money and lots of it! God forbid that we invest public money in human capital like job training or education...people who benefit from that sort of thing might become...well, competitive with people who don't think they've received the same benefit. What can legitimately be argued is that the direct economic benefit that accrues to cities from such investments tend to be minimal to negligible. I've been told of a study that says that professional stadiums provide less economic benefit to the cities in which they're located than WalMart.

But the the Dallas Cowboy's stadium actually in the city of Dallas and, more specifically, returning 'home' to Fair Park and/or the surrounding environs, after 30 years would have had a dramatic impact. It offered the challenge to knit together private and public capital in ways that could rebuild and revitalize a beleaguered urban area. It was an opportunity to leverage a storied and historic professional franchise in ways very few cities ever do. After all,  it was the Cowboys' image and Super Bowl championships of the '70's that are at least partially credited with rescuing the image of the city from the being associated solely with that of the Kennedy assassination. Is this the only hay Dallas can make out of that brand and this team's accomplishments?

At the end of the day, for the most part, a stadium in which a Super Bowl is held and that city, get benefits that are out of proportion to those of other cities with new stadiums. You could look at stats, but here's another question: why do you think Miami, Tucson and Los Angeles, Pasadena and New Orleans want this game as often as they can get it?

Do we have other things that can be done with the money - of course. But we're not doing those 'other things'. Besides, I've never liked the 'either or' argument. We can educate our young, put people to work, build up our financially distressed neighborhoods,  have a stadium built and host a Super Bowl.
Dallas doesn't have Cowboy Stadium and this year's Super Bowl because of ridiculous pro sports snobbery, political and civic short-sightedness, an absence of business savvy and sleight of hand priorities that suggested that we had 'more important' things to do. We also lacked the capacity for creative thought to look for the synergy between a sports spectacle and those 'more important things'; a synergy that would have challenged us to see how we could enhance education, bring economic development and increase the standard of living of poor and low income people around a mega project like the stadium and the events it can host.

And I'm tired of the argument that says, 'let's not blame anyone'. If we don't assign blame, we'll no longer have the insight (let alone the foresight) to take advantage of opportunities like this when they come along - and they will come along again. With virtually an entire city council up for reelection, we need to look for candidates who can understand that our long term economic interests, including addressing poverty and the under development of our southern sector, calls for the political, intellectual and creative stamina to strategically link all legitimate opportunities that come our way.

So, for those of us who are so disposed, join me in enjoying what festivities you can this week. But as you do so, remember - the GAME will be in Arlington!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Enough Really IS Enough

Wednesday I spent the day at our state capitol in Austin, for a legislative briefing followed by meetings with representatives and senators about legislation to close the loophole in state law allowing predatory lenders to charge exhorbitant (400%-900%) interest.

It is amazing to see how much of a problem this is across the Texas. Seniors, single parents, servicemen and women have all been victimized by a business seen more and more as exploitation in the garb of capitalism.

But I'm also seeing that this is not just Texas. Of course you know that, but there are times when the start reality of how these businesses ensnare what are supposed to be the sources of protection for consumers.

Take for instance the state of Mississippi...

"On January 11, 2011, a coalition of Mississippi’s religious and social justice leaders called Mississippians and the state legislature to end predatory payday lending. As the Mississippi House Banking Committee unanimously passed a bill that would extend predatory lending in Mississippi, Bishop Hope Morgan of the United Methodist Church reflected: “I come to bring good news to the poor—572 percent is not good news to the poor. The poor are being entrapped. We are better people than this.”"

"The House Banking Committee did not make the bill available for reading until after its vote. It makes the maximum term 28 days instead the proposed 31 days. The legislation also increases the maximum amount of a loan from $400 to $500, including fees. The bill includes a fee to fund the Consumer Protection Education Fund to benefit the Attorney General’s Office and the banking commissioner. The bill adds a default charge of $20 or 5 percent of the face amount of the check if the loan is not paid back in 10 days."

"Mississippi law enabling payday lending is set to expire in 2012."

"Reverend C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, testified that the rates “are not just unjust, but sinful.”"

"The proposed bill would continue the debt trap payday loans set for poor Mississippians. As the Mississippi Economic Policy Center (MEPC) explains, the debt trap is created when a working family is unable to pay off the first payday loan and must take out multiple loans over the course of the year to cover basic expenses."

Mississippi's experience with the pay day loan industry is not good.

But as this video clip plainly shows, Texas' problem and Mississippi's problem is a national problem! The conversations regarding how these businesses impact minority neighborhoods, as well as low-income and working class neighborhoods are taking place across this country. It's time now for action to be taken.

In Dallas, call your council representative and tell them you support a resolution from the City Council to the state legislature supporting closing the loophole that allows these businesses to prey upon our most vulnerable citizens. No matter where you live in Texas, call your state representatives and senators and tell them you support legislation that would close that loophole. It's not the total answer. But its a start.

Enough really IS enough!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

David Beckmann - CitySquare's Guest for our Annual Prayer Breakfast

I'm looking forward to CitySquare's Annual Prayer Breakfast. We will be hosting this year's event March 3, 7:00 am, at Dallas Market Center (Grand Pavilion, 2100 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75207).

David Beckmann, president of 'Bread for the World' and one of our country's foremost advocates in the fight against hunger and food insecurity in our nation and around the globe.

Not only will we be encouraged and challenged by Beckmann. Those who attend will have the opportunity to channel their concern to action. After the prayer breakfast, we will host sessions that will focus on advocacy and public policy relating to hunger; you will also learn how to get support and engage with agencies (like CitySquare) who are working to make a deep impact in hunger in Dallas and across our state.

We will also be channeling attendees to participate in Community Hunger Day (March 9), an opportunity to experience, albeit in a very small way, what it means to go hungry. You can participate by giving up lunch for that day and making a contribution of the cost of that fast to CitySquare. Or you can commit to a day, two days or a week, to feeding yourself and your family on what a food stamp (SNAP) card allocation. Both actions are meant to get us to think about what it means to allow people to go hungry in a country as prosperous as ours. Later we will also be announcing a screening of a documentary and discussion of hunger in our society.

Our prayer breakfast this year will be both conversation and action. Hope you can be with us!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Southern Christian Leadership Conference Crisis

The rich and storied legacy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is threatened by the resignation of Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the late Civil Rights leader and SCLC founder, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

SCLC has had many challenges in its over 50 years of existence.

Organized in the aftermath of King's leadership of the nationally acclaimed success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, SCLC was to become the vehicle and venue for addressing segregation and discrimination through direct, non-violent action. Along the way it has survived clashes with SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) whose focus was on a more egalitarian and grassroots leadership style in the movement; charges of fomenting violence through its marches, boycotts and strident calls for desegregation and equality; rivalry with the older established Civil Rights organizations such as NAACP and Urban League. And then the loss of support and constant criticism when King came out against the Viet Nam war, as his view of his role and ministry outgrew the description of 'Civil Rights' leader to 'Human Rights' leader.

In the 21st century, however, SCLC's greatest struggle as a national organization has not been dissimilar to other civil rights organizations: relevance. SCLC, still headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has been mired in squabbling, bickering and rivalry almost as soon as Rev. Joseph Lowery, their longest serving president retired. Criticism has been leveled against the organization citing its lack of vision, its unstable leadership, including factions on its board and its seeming incapacity  to adjust to a changing culture in which the issues which face black Americans are no longer desegregation, but unemployment, poverty, healthcare and educational disparities. The fabric of the organization has been eaten away for years, by personality conflicts and the inability to construct an agenda that fires the imagination of its own members, let alone the country.

""We should've closed it down years ago," former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest advisers, said Friday after the Rev. Bernice King's announcement. "I saw this as a lost cause a long time ago.""
"The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the SCLC's longest-serving president and 2010 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work during the civil rights movement, said he spoke with Bernice King on Friday."
""She and the board couldn't find common ground, so I think she did the wise thing, rather than enter into a relationship with built-in turbulence," Lowery said, adding that he was saddened by what has happened to the organization."

Sometimes, ideas, organizations run their course. When you have to find a reason for being, you have to stop and admit that. When you can't find a reason for being it is time to stop, period.

Martin Luther King's legacy has transcended the Southern Christian Leadership. Most of the original members of the organization are either dead, dying or old. Their place in American history is assured by their monumental contributions and they will be forever remembered for that. But SCLC's continual wandering in the wilderness is an embarrassment to the generation who can't keep it going.

Instead of inflicting more misery on those who want to see it do better...put the Southern Christian Leadership Conference out of its misery. Just let it go...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ok, I'll Try and Get Over it...For Now!

So the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers will meet February 6, at Super Bowl Dallas (well, Arlington, but whatever...). Congratulations to them both but...

It will probably take me until kick-off to really get ready for this game (not excited, but ready).

I confess, I'm still not over it.

I wasn't a Cowboys fan (or a football fan, for that matter) when the Dallas and Green Bay played in the '66 Cotton Bowl National Championship or the '67 Ice Bowl. But sore feelings (ok, bitterness), is inherited around those two storied games.

Dallas lost in 1966 to the Green Bay Packers by a score of  34-27, in the Cotton Bowl; in 1967's famed Ice Bowl game, the Cowboys were defeated again, by the Packers 21-17.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, however, is another matter! I lived with those loses! I've never forgotten them. Two Super Bowl losses by a mere EIGHT points COMBINED (Superbowl X, 21-17; Superbowl XIII, 35-31)!

Images of those contests are ingrained in my memory...aided by ESPN retrospectives and the constant reminders of photos that show Lynn Swann's acrobatic catches and Jackie Smith's...dropped pass!

So what's a Cowboy fan to do?

Well I suppose the sportsmanlike thing is to get over it and realize that Dallas is just a host to these to franchises. And to find something to root for. So...

I'm rooting for....the Pittsburg Steelers (there, I said it!).

I like dynasties. I like records. So I want to see Ben Rothlesburger etch his name in history, and yes, seal his claim on a Hall of Fame induction (personal issues notwithstanding - at least at this point). I also love the way Mike Tomlin coaches. A second Super Bowl victory for him, will open the door wider for more diversity among NFL coaches. It's just the way it works.

So it may take me until kick-off to say it with any real enthusiasm, but...'Go Steelers' (sigh)!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blueprint for Urban Job Creation

The National Urban League is proposing a strategy for government action to address the critical need for jobs in America's urban centers. National President Marc Morial released the "12-point Blueprint for Quality Job Creation" on Wednesday. It is as follows:

1. Restore the Summer Youth Jobs Program as a Stand-alone Program Employing 5 million Teens in the Summer 2011

2. Create 100 Urban Jobs Academies to Implement an Expansion of the Urban Youth Empowerment Program.

3. Develop a Dynamic National Public-Private Jobs Initiative to Create Jobs and Train Urban Residents and Stimulate Economic Growth in the areas of Technology and Broadband, Health Care, Manufacturing, Transportation and Public Infrastructure and Clean Energy.

4. Boost Minority Participation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industries.

5. Reform, Revise and Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act to prepare and retrain workers for 21st century jobs.

6. Create Green Empowerment Zones.

7. Expand Small Business Lending.

8. Initiate Tax Reform that reduces rates across the board and eliminates tax loopholes.

9. Establish and Promote Multilateral International Trade Policies that expand the market for American goods and services.

10. Enact the Urban Jobs Act (H.R. 5708).

11. Expand the Hiring of Housing Counselors Nationwide.

12. Fund Direct Job Creation in cities and states.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Celebrating the Promise of 'the New Frontier'

Fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as America's 35th president.

I was far too young to remember what many talk about as the mood of that particular day and what it portended. I am among those whose era is colored by that mood. At that time, the youngest Chief Executive in our country's history ushered in an age of hope, of possibility and optimism, which influences the collective mindset of many of us who lived during that time. It was a time when America had problems, but a time when people (especially young people) thought we could do something about those problems. It was a time when America had promise, and it was a time when we felt as if we could all make a contribution to the fulfillment of that promise. It was an age in which the call to engagement was a call to realize a vision in which we could all fill out the outline of our character by working together to change our world.

The soaring rhetoric of Kennedy's inaugural address and the inspiration it provided for those who were there and those of us who have lived with its signature phrase: 'ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country', fashioned a new notions of citizenship and patriotism. notions in which prosperity and the nobility of public service were not in tension with one another, but complemented each another. Such lofty notions are not quite as in vogue as they were on that day or as they seemed to be in the next 1000 days. But those notions are the only ones that will help us realize what it means to be community as well as country.

The celebration and recognition of JFK's inaugural also commemorates an unfinished era. Cut short by an assassin's bullet in 1963, it fills us all with sadness that we didn't come to see the fruition of all of the promise of that January day 50 years ago. And it is sad. But perhaps in dwelling on that sadness we miss the larger point: the 'New Frontier' was not to be of his making, it was to be what we made of it. We could only realize as much of that promise as we would own. If Kennedy's New Frontier and King's 'Dream' are not our 'New Frontier' and our 'Dream', then its not celebration - it's nostalgia.

Kennedy's challenge on January 20, 1961, less eloquently stated is simple - 'This is what you can become...if it is what you want.'

It's a question that begs an answer still...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Robert Sargent Shriver (1915-2011)

The passing of Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corp, co-founder of the Special Olympics and former Vice-Presidential candidate, is a reminder of an age when public service was seen as a noble and worthy life pursuit. It was a time when a life of service was viewed as a little more than calls to volunteerism, or vague notions 'giving back'. As significant as there is, things like the Peace Corp and Special Olympics, were seen as venues through which people were brought to realize the responsibility that we have to strengthen our world through the vital connectedness we have with one another...even those who are more vulnerable than ourselves.

"In a career of public service and civic leadership spanning the second half of the 20th century, Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. confronted a range of seemingly intractable conflicts that pitted Americans against each other, and the United States against the Soviet Union. He helped build peace by developing and implementing programs and policies structured to promote long-term, cumulative, peaceable change."
"The key to Shriver's legacy of success as a peacebuilder lies in his ability to create feasible, effective programs that promote human dignity and welfare. All the programs he created are informed by a method in peacebuilding he once described as 'a formula for practical idealism'..."

"As Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Johnson Administration in the mid-1960s, Shriver developed a multi-faceted War on Poverty designed to transform the economic and social roots of the conflict over civil rights in America. Like the Peace Corps, the programs of the War on Poverty - including Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Community Action Program, Legal Services to the Poor, and Foster Grandparents - continue to serve Americans today."

Shriver's life was one of significance because he used his resources and opportunities to make life better for others and to provide his fellow countrymen vehicles through which they could join him. As his fellow citizens, we can only seriously show that we understand and honor his legacy, by refusing to retreat into selfishness and isolation, but by showing our commitment to live a lives of generous service to one another...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Predatory Lending Info and Alternatives

Yesterday's Dallas' African-American Pastors' Coalition sponsored its Annual Martin Luther King Day worship celebration. It was, as usual, an inspirational event. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson was the guest preacher and did an absolutely marvelous job.

In the program, however, was something equally helpful: a page that raised awareness both the threat of and alternatives to predatory lending businesses. The AAPC is also working to educate their congregations about the ways in which this industry damages the economic strength of working class and poor families.

The Predatory Lending Fact Sheet provides some very helpful information.

Understanding How Payday Loans Work: The Process
  • Loans are given to a borrower by a business, using the borrower's personal check or access to the borrower's bank account electronically
  • After providing the check or access to bank account, the borrower will receive the cash, or direct deposit to his/her bank account
  • The payday loan business or the 'lender' will hold onto the check, or authorization to the borrower's bank account electronically until the next payday
  • In order to pay off the loan you can do the following: pay in cash, allow the business to cash the check provided to them, or permit an electronic transfer from your bank account to the lenders bank account.
  • Payday loans are one of the most expensive means for a loan, if not the most expensive means for a loan. Each state has its own caps, limiting how much the payday loaned businesses can charge [Texas has no such limits]. Regardless, there is no one set price for all businesses.
  • These loans range from $100 to $1000 or more. The limits placed on how much a loan business can give will depend on the laws placed within your own state. The charges applied to each $100 using a payday loan service can range from $15 to $30, with the interest rates ranging from 390% to 780% APR. The shorter the loans, the higher the APRs.
  • When you are using a payday loan, you are running the risk of trapping yourself in a cycle that just repeats itself over and over and over again.
  • If the loan is unpaid, it means that the borrowers check did not clear due to lack of funds. This will cause bounced checks, which causing fees will be placed on the payday loan business, which will in return be transferred to you (the borrower). You will also incur fees by your bank for an NSF check. All of this will have a negative effect on your credit ratings on certain credit report.
  • Online payday loan providers are usually worse than established local businesses because they are providing the service online resulting in an increase in fraud risks.
  • Consumers apply online or through faxed application form. Loans are direct deposited into the borrower's bank account and electronically withdrawn on the next payday. Many Internet payday loans are structured to automatically renew every payday, with the finance charge electronically withdrawn from the borrower's bank account.

The following are some practical alternatives:
  • Talk to your creditors about extending your due date (extended repayment plans)
  • Work some overtime if your employer permits
  • Do a side job
  • Salary advances from your employer
  • Sell things you no longer need on Craig's list (, e-bay (, yard sale, etc.
  • Adjust your tax withholding
  • Reduce some of your bills/expenses
  • Look for local emergency hardship programs - social service agencies
  • Look for credit unions/banks who have specific programs designed to be an alternative to payday loans - Unlike payday loans, these loans give the borrowers a real chance to repay with longer payback periods and installment payments.
  • At least a 90-day repayment term, repayment in installments
  • No personal check mechanism or other unfair collateral (such as a car title)
  • Reasonable limits on renewals (If borrowers are renewing short-term loans more than four times per year, the loans are not helping them)
  • Full consideration of borrower's ability to repay the loan

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Day

On this day, I think its fitting to remember that commitment to a more civic, substantial public dialogue, does not mean tensionless engagement. Nor does it mean an abandonment of principles.

It does mean a willingness to deal with tough subjects in a way that demands the high road of others, if they are to be judged worthy. History recognizes those who so engage are not only participating in the highest form of patriotism, but the most laudable form of humanitarianism.

Be Blessed by our nation's remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Choose Something Like a Star

Robert Frost

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Theodore C. Sorensen
Speech writer, Presidential Advisor

"We will be safer from terrorist attack only when we have earned the respect of all other nations instead of their fear, respect for our values and not merely our weapons."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Holly Petraeus: In the Battle Against Predatory Lenders

Interesting development in the area predatory lending. Elizabeth WarrenConsumer Financial Protection Bureau head is bringing the wife of General David Petraeus on board to help in an effort to make an disasterous impact of the predatory loan industry on the country's most vulnerable populations...

"Holly Petraeus, a longtime advocate for military families, is expected to be named to the senior post sometime later this week, according to the sources, who spoke on condition they not be named. They characterized her selection as part of the administration's designs to crack down on unscrupulous lending operations that have thrived by focusing on vulnerable Americans--not least, military personnel and their families, who have been contending with a weak economy at home just as many breadwinners are serving overseas in the dangerous conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.""Petraeus's appointment is aimed at empowering the agency to target abusive lenders without running afoul of Republicans in Congress, said the sources. Member of the GOP have portrayed the new institution as an enemy of free enterprise, warning that it could restrict credit by impeding the financial industry..."

"...Holly Petraeus has been active in assisting military families in their efforts to cope with financial strains. She currently serves as director of an initiative known as BBB Military Line, an educational program launched by the Council of Better Business Bureaus that informs military personnel on sensible financial management and warns them about scams. She helped develop the curriculum now used to educate service members."

This is a major step in increasing the focusing the public's awareness about how a business which can be an answer to a small minority is a incredible problem to more people than we know!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Will the Last Word Be?

On Wednesday, in a special session of Congress, the House of Representatives, in special session, took time to remember Congress Member Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was injured in an assassination attempt on this past Saturday. They also resolved to recognize the six citizens who were killed in that attack as well as those who were injured and those who sacrificed their safety to render aid and to subdue the gunman.

This was a particularly moving occasion. In which Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader John Boehner gave tribute.
I was particularly struck by Boehner's conclusion, '...we will have the last word...'

None of us know how America will react to this tragedy. It is not going to be the last one we face. Unfortunately there have been others. I think, as I have posted previously, that we need to reflect on why our most natural inclination in the face of this attack, was to blame one another. We never asked a question about the mental, or physical health of the gunman. Nor did we ask whether or not there may have been adequate protection for such events. We asked those questions later. The most immediate questions had to do with whether or not this act of violence was incited by political extremist ideology. And of course, attack gave birth to defense and counter attack. Which, I think says something important about us - that we know, no matter where we place the blame - that there is something wrong with the way we are conducting public debate in this country.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think there have to be 'kid gloves'. I think political debate and discussion, should be vigorous, I believe it should be passionate. I believe that critique and criticism can be hard. I believe that there is room for partisanship. There's a reason why we don't just have one political party in our country and I think its a healthy thing. We don't have to agree on everything.

But I also believe that we can have tough, partisan politics that is free of personal attack, bitter invective, hate speech and castigation. I believe that there can be polarization in the political arena that leaves room for reconciliation. I believe that after vigorous debate, free of rancor and rage, there can be negotiation and compromise. I believe anything less than this, should be the exception and not the rule.

The idea that it is absolutely foreign to imagine that 'free speech' can contribute to an atmosphere in which people can be incited to take violent action is an ahistorical position. And an unreasonable one.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, it happened when our city was so think with extremism that, prior to the President's visit, the Dallas Chief of Police appeared on television, essentially to tell the city to be on their best behavior. While it was a lone gunman who killed the Kennedy, there was an atmosphere in which people already believed it was plausible and one man showed it was possible.

The same was true when Martin Luther King was murdered. At atmosphere so think with racial hostility, that the plane he boarded to Memphis had to be searched previous to take off,  because of a bomb threat.

Random violence? It does happen. We are learning that there was more randomness to the Arizona shootings than we first believed. But 'randomness' was not our first resort to explain the violence. And it wasn't our first resort because we know that an overcharged atmosphere can produce disastrous results. And we know that, because we've seen it before.

John Boehner is absolutely right - 'we will have the last word'. The question is, what will that last word be?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Alternative to Rapid Refund Anticipation Loans

Among the business practices that fall in the category of predatory loans are tax refund anticipation loans.

During tax season, many people who want their refunds quickly, resort to refund anticipation loans as a way to get their money in days rather than weeks.

Be careful and understand that there are options to borrowing your own money!

The Center for Responsible Lending warns, "Tax refund loans are short-term loans secured by a borrower's expected tax return. The typical interest rate on a tax refund loan can range from 50% to over 500% (depending how long it takes the IRS to process the tax forms)."
"While tax refund loans are advertised as a quicker way for taxpayers to receive their expected tax refund, in most cases these loans only speed up the process for a few days or less."

The United Way of Greater Dallas is sponsoring an effort to assist families making up to $50,000 a year with free tax help through the 'Earn It, Keep It, Save It' program. Free tax help and electronic filing can help you avoid avoid outrageous fees and interests associated with rapid refund loans.

If you live in Dallas, Texas, this flyer will help you find the nearest site to assist you. If you'd like to volunteer, you can get more information and register here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What's the Lesson from the Arizona Shooting?

The unsettling nature of the attempted assassination of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of her aide Gabe Zimmerman, nine year old Christina Green, Judge John Rose and three others, shock and haunt the national psyche at a very raw emotional level.

And interestingly enough, not just because of the horrendous nature of the tragedy.

The lone gunman who shot Congresswomen Giffords was a madman. It is always interesting to listen to people try to make sense out of that which comes from a deranged mind. There is usually only the reason they give, but to those of us who are relatively healthy and sane, there is no rationale answer. Saturday's mass shooting has none.

And that's where the haunt and shock of the event seem to lie. Nationally, unable to fully comprehend the full all of what happened, we began to seek to carry the blame ourselves. Was there something happening within the body politic which 'caused' a woman, committed to public service to be gunned down in the exercise of her duty? And finally we settled in on it - the overheated nature of our political rhetoric. Gibbons, a representative from the state of Arizona, a moderate Democrat who had voted for last year's health care reform legislation in a state highly and heavily criticized for immigration reform laws adjudged by many to be the result of bigotry and xenophobia must have been gunned down by a right-wing Tea Partyer, incited to violence by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I was seeing the emails 'blow up' twitter long before I saw a report on television. And it wasn't pretty.

Here's the thing though. That wasn't the case. And there are, or should be, plenty of people with egg on their faces, actually proving their own point Saturday night, into Sunday morning.

Don't get me wrong. I am no Sarah Palin supporter (not by a long shot), nor am I a fan of either Limbaugh, Beck or FOX News. My point is this...

It's clear that this young man was seriously deranged, but the very fact that we had to raise the question about whether or not our political discourse has devolved into something that could create an atmosphere that could contribute to something like this, means that we know it has. And it means that we know that we are wrong for allowing that to happen.

I'm still of the opinion that no one needs to 'prove' his or her patriotism because of their political leanings. While there are people express there love and commitment to our country in different ways and to varying degrees, conservatives, ultra and otherwise and liberal, raging and otherwise, love America. The question is are we expressing our points of view in ways that recognize the fact that others may see it differently? And are we willing to enter in to debate in such a way that conveys an understanding that, in our democracy, winning and losing, very, very, rarely indicates either virtue or evil? Do we understand that it is part of a process in which there are winners and losers and in which 'wins and 'loses' are not always 'permanent'? Laws change. Legislation can be modified. Even court rulings are not like the 'laws of the Medes and Persians' there are almost always remedies and recourse for outcomes we don't reflect justice or fairness.

No, putting politicians in cross hairs is ridiculous. Shooting legislation is abject foolishness. Statements that suggest, or infer or sound like incitement to violence against other Americans because of political ideology is wrong.

To me, its not a question of whether or not we've gone too far in our public and political discourse. Of course we have. We're capable of dialing it back if we want it to. But are we willing to adopt a more rationale approach to our interests, know the answer to an effective democracy is not volume or rage, but sustained engagement? The willingness to participate in vigorous debate is a sign of an investment in the future of our country that mature citizens make.

The legacy of the Arizona shooting ought to be to for us to do everything we can to lessen the prospect that should a similar tragedy ever happen, there is little reason to resort to blaming one another for creating an atmosphere that could lead to such violence.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Ralph Bunche

U.S. Ambassador, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

"Hearts are the strongest when they beat in response to noble ideals."

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Enduring Work of an Enduring Dream

Normally, in CitySquare's Urban Engagement Book Club, Randy Mayeux reviews a non-fiction book that in some way relates to the work, or the values of our organization. This past Thursday was a special treat as, in honor of the upcoming Martin Luther King Day holiday, we took a refreshing look at King's famous 'I Have a Dream' speech.

Regarded by many as one of the best speeches (if not the best speech) of the 20th century (I personally rank it second to only Lincoln's second inaugural address), the speech gives voice to the aspirations of a people and a country struggling to realize the ideals of democracy as set forth in the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

We looked at the classic speech from any number of angles - the masterful use of repetition, the imagery ('we come here to cash a check...we refuse to believe the vaults of justice is bankrupt'), to soaring rhetoric of his conclusion.

But the there are two aspects of the speech that have come to particularly resonate with me.

One is the fact that over the years, portions of the speech have been 'coopted' by interests which seek to justify an ideology which naively or conveniently believes that the day when all people are judged by the 'content of their character and not the color of their skin' has arrived. That's only true if you believe that the barriers to the fulfillment of King's dream were satisfied with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills. In other words, the only problems to be addressed were access to the ballot box and removal of the most obvious signs of segregation.

The clause in which King begins to cast the his Utopian vision, comes after he outlines conditions that include and go beyond the more familiar signs of inequality:

"There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote."

The realization of the dream is both inclusive of and the consequence of address of these issues. It means oppressive state sanctioned violence that not only includes physical violence but the gross over representation of minorities and the poor in our country's criminal justice system. It not only includes the ability to find lodging in hotels, but it also the means of affording such recreation - in other words, jobs. It means working intentionally to put an end to the achievement gap in education between white children and black children, a continuation of the theft of 'self-hood' and dignity that ultimately denies them a future. And it means a real politics that makes voting meaningful and no longer moves the goal posts as minorities appear to gain power.

Equality and justice are not 'once and for all' gains, achieved by legislative remedy. These are the persistent objectives of a society which understands its collective self interest and survival to be rooted in how it values every person. We don't 'achieve' it. We continually work to realize it and diligently work to pursue it an enduring value.

Another part of the speech, with which I have become re-acquainted, is King's mention of 'interposition and nullification'...

"I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" --"

It's incredibly interesting to me, that there are those who have come to demonize supporters of everything from health care reform, to the bailout of the auto industry, to the extension of unemployment benefits as 'socialists'. The branding is intended to conjure up images of threats to American life and culture so dangerous as to label those who believe in them unpatriotic and un-American.

Yet, some of these same people try and innocently bring up the legislative tactic of 'nullification' of such programs and policies, clearly more helpful to low-income people, but stereotypically associated with minorities. And they do so without ever thinking that the very word conjures up similar, if not more loathsome images, of politicians who sought to 'nullify' any legislation they disagreed with which recognized or protected the rights of black people. The same is true of the doctrine of 'states rights' and, if you are from Texas, language that speaks wistfully of 'succession'.

It's interesting that this is a part of the speech that some conservatives never get around to quoting...

"Of course, these are people who reject any ideological heritage with the racists of 45-50+ years ago. But they have no problem throwing those who believe differently than they into a cauldron of boiling fear mongering and suspicion, by labeling their political beliefs as 'socialism'."

Thinking of these two aspects of the King's masterpiece, reminds me why some of us continue to revere it, to this day. Not because it was his best speech (I'm more partial to his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech), but because it is somewhat of a measuring stick. The version this speech given only 47 years ago, is a reminder that we've not come far enough, and haven't worked nearly hard enough...any of call this dream realized.

This is an enduring dream, because it calls on us all to engage in enduring work.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Can We Handle a More Accurate Count of America's Poor?

The Census Bureau's effort to determine just how many Americans are poor could lead to some interesting and significant results.

The real question that a new formula for calculating the number of poor is this: are we really ready to know?

"Under a complex series of eight alternative measurements, the Census Bureau calculated that in 2009, the number of Americans living in poverty could have been as few as 39 million or as many as almost 53 million. Under the official calculation, the census estimated that about 44 million were subsisting on incomes below the poverty line of about $21,750 for a family of four. The alternatives generally set the poverty threshold higher, as much as $29,600 for a couple with two children."
"In September, the census estimated the nation's poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent. Under the alternatives, it could have been as low as 12.8 percent or as high as 17.1 percent."
"For the time being, the government will continue to use the original poverty definition to determine eligibility for federal programs. The alternatives are experimental and will be revised every year, eventually winnowing them to one."
"The bureau's move is expected to reignite a debate over whether to replace the current measurement, as was recommended in 1995 by a blue-ribbon panel from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The alternatives are offspring of the NAS report."
""Our interest was in getting a better measurement," said Robert Michael, a University of Chicago dean who chaired the panel. "That's politically difficult to do because of the entrenched benefits to those that are currently getting them. Our interest was in understanding how our nation is doing in terms of serving the need.""

Read the rest of the article here...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dallas City Council Urged to Draft Resolution Limiting Predatory Lenders

It falls in the category of  'things that help keep low-income/working class neighborhoods struggling'.

Businesses that, rather than making a contribution to a neighborhood's health, wholesomeness and economic vitality, actually sap the same from those very neighborhoods. It's not a few liquor related businesses. It's dozens of liquor related businesses. It's not one heavy industrial recycler, its multiple heavy industrial recyclers that take up acres. It's not just a pawn shop, our a couple of check cashing stores or one or two pay day loan stores. It's when those business so proliferate in an area, that they depress property values and crowd out prospect of a broader range of commercial enterprise.

Lately, the spotlight has been turned on such businesses, because they prey upon the vulnerability of a working class neighborhoods struggling to make ends meet. People who often have little or questionable credit worthiness and who, even if their credit was in good shape, couldn't go to Bank of America, or Chase Bank for a $300-$1500 loan, when the car needs repair, or the water heater needs to be replaced.

Community Leader Diane Gipson, Dallas City Councilman Tennell Atkins, Pastor Freddie Haynes and me in a march calling attention to the proliferation of predatory lending stores in the Oak Cliff community of Dallas
 It wouldn't be so bad, if it weren't for the fact that the money loaned by these businesses is let out an such an exorbitant rate. And the precarious financial circumstances of the people taking out such loans is exacerbated by loans with unlimited APRs and excessive fees.

Lately CitySquare, working with the United Way and AARP, along with other organizations, have asked the Dallas City Council to draft a resolution to be sent to the Texas state legislature, urging them to close the loophole that allows these businesses to charge such usurious interest rates.

Several weeks ago, I participated in a march with church leaders and other community leaders in march organized to bring attention to proliferation of these short term loan businesses in that area and calling on the council to support the resolution. The need for the council to take such an action was the focus of an article in the Dallas Morning News yesterday.
"In a roughly mile-long stretch of West Camp Wisdom Road between Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 67 in the Red Bird area, nearly a dozen payday lender stores are doing business. Expand that radius a few more miles, and you can find dozens more such stores."

"Council member Jerry Allen, a longtime banker, said that has to stop, and that the city must begin to take steps to curb payday lending."

""We've allowed payday lenders to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. We've done a bad job in my opinion of working with the asset-poor," he said."

"According to the most recent figures available, Dallas is home to more than 200 payday-lending or check-cashing stores, with most of them located south of the Trinity River."

"On Dec. 13, a council committee hosted representatives from the United Way, the AARP, Friendship West Baptist Church and CitySquare, who spoke about the impact of payday lending on poor communities.

The group asked the council to pass a resolution urging the Texas Legislature to regulate the industry more tightly by capping the fees and interest they can charge."

Of course, neither the resolution, nor the legislative remedy are the total solution. Better education about emergency and short term help for people who don't make much money, but who find themselves in a financial tough spot is a crucial part to solving this problem. So is personal financial management training.
But equally important is for cities to stop using low-income, working class and poor communities as dumping grounds for commerce that exploits weaknesses and preys upon the desperation of the people who live there.

In short we all need to imagine ourselves better than we do. Businesses, even those in low-income, working class and poor communities, can make money and appeal to the higher aspirations of consumers. They can create employment opportunities in areas that appeal to the imagination and are practical. 'The Market' can be a servant instead of a master. But it will take imagination and political will.

We'll see justwe have in Dallas...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Will Minority Communities Have a Fate or a Future After May Elections?

Dallas citizens face another election season in 2011. This May, the virtually every city council seat, with the exception of the Mayor, will be up for reelection.

An article in the Dallas Morning News raises the question about the lack of minority candidates for the office of Mayor (election for the City Council's top spot is in May of next year). The conclusion in the article, written by DMN reporter/columnist Gromer Jeffers appears to be the lack of a credible candidate with city-wide appeal and support by business leadership in our city. That may be true. It also may be, as is pointed out in the article, that there aren't enough qualified candidates interested in a job that pays only $60,000 a year (council members are paid only $37,500 a year). Jeffers also points out the lack of a 'farm team' for developing mayoral office. Again, it may be true. Although arguably the city's boards and commissions traditionally serve as proving grounds for those interested in elective office. But more to the point, grassroots 'training camps' like the old Progressive Voters League, which introduced minority (more specifically African-American) community leaders, no longer exist. And organizations such as these usually prepared people as candidates for city council or a school board seat.

I think that one of the most important questions regarding the upcoming elections is whether or not voters, particularly in minority districts are having a chance to elect the most qualified candidates? Not the most 'experienced', but the best qualified. And if that's not so, why aren't the most qualified running? The answer could be the low pay. The answer could be that many who can afford to run, can't afford to serve. The answer could also be the intense scrutiny of all political candidates and the unwillingness of those who are more qualified to undergo that type of scrutiny.

The facts are, whatever the reason(s), there are plenty of good community and business leaders who are doing excellent work outside of the political arena. The more substantive challenge is not just in identifying more qualified candidates for office, but in developing a more engaged citizenry who see the redevelopment of their neighborhoods, the improvement of their schools and the economic viability of their community so vital to their futures and those of their families and neighbors, that they hold candidates radically accountable.

This means not only refusing to reflexively reelect candidates who represent someone else's interests at the expense of that of their community. It means no longer viewing voting as an individual exercise of a franchise, but as a expression of community political will. It means challenging those who ask for votes to listen to what the community wants and not just being content to be told what a candidate will do for the community. It also means, no longer accepting the whines of incumbents about 'how hard the office is' or the 'sacrifices' the politician is making as an excuse for failing to be responsive and for the lack of progress in the community. Rarely are candidates drafted to run for office - they tend to ask to be elected.

The hard work of serving on the city council (or any other public office) can only be adequately matched by a hard working constituency. That constituency needs a core leadership who understands the issues, realizes it can't afford to get tired and refuses to be deterred by the bigness of the challenges before them. They are cannot just be 'noisemakers' or 'gate keepers', they can be young and old, they should span income ranges, they can be homeowners or renters, or church leaders and business leaders. But most importantly they must be citizens who are unafraid to stand up and be counted.

Ultimately, that's where new, trusted, qualified leadership comes from. It's the difference between electing politicians to do for you vs. with you. It is what transforms a communities political fate into a political future.

Until that happens, we get what we've always gotten.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

'We're Number 3!' or 'Oh for a College Playoff System!'

Congratulations to Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, the winner of this year's Rose Bowl. Their 21-19 victory over Wisconson served as vindication for at least two years of humiliating snubbing by the BCS and, I think continues to bolster the argument for a NCAA Division 1 playoff system for college football.

TCU will be ranked no less than 3rd in the nation. But what would their ranking be, were the Rose Bowl part of a more legitimate college championship series? Would it be 3? Or 5? Or 2? Whatever it would be, I'm willing to take almost any bet that, other than their perfect season, Coach Gary Patterson would sacrifice anything else associated with this victory to have that question settled beyond doubt where it should be, on the field.

The Dallas Morning News' Tod Robberson, points one of my two pet peeves, when it comes to college football: the ridiculously clumsy names associated with the awarding of naming rights. We can no longer simply have a 'Citrus Bowl' or a 'Cotton Bowl', (although, thankfully we do still have the 'Gator Bowl'). We now have the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. About 35 bowls in all (my other pet peeve), most of which have attendance figures which fall far beyond projections and many of which were, to date, blowouts (after all, you become bowl eligible by winning only 6 games!).

While Tod's point is specifically, the press' pandering to the corporate take-over of these games by mentioning the sponsors every time the bowl is mentioned. Mine is this - universities and colleges have, purportedly, some of the smartest people in the world from every discipline. Are we actually to believe that there is NO way that an actual system cannot be figured out for a system which a) allows the colleges to make their mega-millions b) makes at least half of these bowl games more meaningful and c) gives the college players something to really remember - a game in which they actually have a chance to be undisputed champions?! Schools that win six games can still go to their bowl games (they have no bearing on the national championship anyway and rarely impact the national standings). But if Division II and III, as well as college basketball have figured out a playoff system that diminishes neither money or school pride, why can't Division I college football do it?!

Until that time, we'll settle for the moral victories, like TCU's over Wisconson. For two years they've done the only thing they could do - schedule good teams to play and make the case that they should be numbered among the best on the field. It's never been so exciting to watch a school say 'We're Number 3!'