Monday, February 28, 2011

Get The Message?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to limit the collective bargaining rights of teachers is a heroic stand to restore fiscal sanity to the state budget. Either that or a evidence of the insanity of trying to secure the long term economic future of the state by making teaching one of the least desirable jobs in the country. Take your pick.

Either that, the protest of Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin, educators and their supporters are showing the rest of the country something: those who objected to the 2008 election don't have a monopoly on expressing unwillingness to capitulate to politics with which they don't agree. It's actually interesting that there are those who thought they have a right to seek to invalidate an election result through protest (using 'anger' as a motivation) are crying bloody murder now that those who disagree with them are doing the same.


At any rate, Wisconsin has a message for the rest of us. They're expressing that message in ways that ought to resonate with those who believe that a scorched earth fiscal policy that calls on everyone but the rich to sacrifice is...well, not sane.

And the one we could hang as a banner over the Lone Star State, given our bleak economic outlook...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

A.G. Gaston

Businessman, Civic Leader, Philanthropist

 "Money has no color. If you can build a better mousetrap, it won't matter if you are black or white. People will buy it."

Friday, February 25, 2011

CitySquare's Annual Prayer Breakfast - Food for All and More!

On Thursday, March 3, at 7:15 A.M., CitySquare will be hosting its Annual Prayer Breakfast. This year, we'll be at the the Grand Pavillion at Market Hall.

This year, we kind of  return to our organizational roots. CitySquare began more than 20 years ago, addressing the issue of hunger and food insecurity among our neighbors. Everything we do now has grown from our belief that people shouldn't go hungry just because they are poor. But we've also found out, there really are no stand alone issues. Hunger and food insecurity are linked to poverty, economic development, education, work place productivity, health, mental and emotional well being.

This year, we want to expand our spiritual awareness regarding the issue of hunger and poverty and we also want to provide public awareness of the ways in which we can engage in addressing this serious issue.

David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, will be our speaker. Beckmann previously worked at the World Bank for 15 years, overseeing large development projects and driving innovations to make the bank more effective in reducing poverty.

Under his leadership, Bread for the World has garnered an impressive record of achievements. Due in part to the persistent, bipartisan advocacy of Bread members, the U.S. government has tripled funding for effective programs to help developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Bread has also helped double funding for U.S. nutrition programs, assisting millions of families in the United States who struggle to feed their children. Recently, Bread for the World initiated a campaign to press Congress to reform U.S. foreign aid to make it more effective in reducing hunger and poverty, and another to protect and strengthen tax credits for low-income working families.

Since 2000, Beckmann has been asked to testify in Congress 18 times, appearing before such committees as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives.

Beckmann has appeared on Bill Moyer’s Journal, PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, CNN EspaƱol, and C-Span, and in radio interviews with NPR’s Morning Edition, and The Diane Rehm Show. He has written many books and articles, including Transforming the Politics of Hunger and Grace at the Table: Ending Hunger in God’s World. His latest book, Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger, will be published by Westminster John Knox Press in October 2010.

We look forward to David providing inspiration and challenge, as we call Dallas' attention to this most important issue.

After the Prayer Breakfast, we will have forums designed to inform our friends and neighbors about public policy initiatives that will address hunger, we will also talk about advocacy opportunities related to hunger.

This year's prayer breakfast won't just be an event. We want to spread the message about the challenge of hunger to as broad an audience as possible. You'll hear more about that at the breakfast.

 But one event you don't want to miss is CitySquare's first documentary screening of 2011.

We will be showing the movie 'Food Stamped' at the Angelika Theater on March 10, 7:00 pm. 'Food Stamped' tells the story what happens when nutrition educator Shira Potash who teaches nutrition-based cooking classes to elementary school children, and her documentary filmmaker husband embark on the “food stamp challenge” where they eat on roughly one dollar per meal, like most of the children she teaches.

Make it a point to be with us on March 3, but stay with us for a while to learn what we can do together to make a difference in this area. In a country as prosperous as ours, no one should go hungry!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Conservative vs. Progressive Agenda

Teacher protest in Wisconsin, are becoming a metaphor for both the contentious nature of liberal and conservative views of fiscal policy and how to deal with them and the contentious nature of political discourse in our country.

What is it that conservatives want? What is the progressive perspective on the role of government?

George Lakoff describes the conservative ethic and what should be the progressive response in a very insightful column, 'What Conservatives Really Want'.

"Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life."
"In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy -- citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility -- acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one's fellow citizens."
"The conservative worldview rejects all of that."
"Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don't think government should help its citizens. That is, they don't think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility."
"But where does that view of individual responsibility alone come from?"
"The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don't have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally..."
"...The slogan, "Let the market decide" assumes the market itself is The Decider. The market is seen as both natural (since it is assumed that people naturally seek their self-interest) and moral (if everyone seeks their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand). As the ultimate moral authority, there should be no power higher than the market that might go against market values. Thus the government can spend money to protect the market and promote market values, but should not rule over it either through (1) regulation, (2) taxation, (3) unions and worker rights, (4) environmental protection or food safety laws, and (5) tort cases. Moreover, government should not do public service. The market has service industries for that. Thus, it would be wrong for the government to provide health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks, and so on. The very idea of these things is at odds with the conservative moral system. No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don't deserve it. Taxation cannot be seen as providing the necessities of life, a civilized society, and as necessary for business to prosper."
And progressives...?
"Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific "cuts" is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-American -- the top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life."
"Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic."
"Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on TV are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths."
"And Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonks -- talking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies. They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done. "Benefits" are pay for work, not a handout. Pensions and benefits are arranged by contract. If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them."
I've had a number of conversations about the need for those who are liberal or progressive to be more 'bi-lingual'. That means developing the capacity to point out both the economic/policy perspective AND the moral perspective of their agenda. Too often we feel the need to solely speak the language of those who oppose our view. Lakoff appears to say something similar. 
What do you think? Is his description of 'what conservatives want' right? Does he lay out the progressive dilemma accurately? How does Wisconsin frame both the problem and the prospects for a solution?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Progress Against Predatory Lenders

CitySquare, allied with Texas Faith for Fair Lending, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and the church coalition FICA (Friendship West Baptist Church, Inspirational Body of Christ, Concord Church and Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church), and other groups throughout Texas, is making even more progress in closing the loophole on predatory lenders. 
On yesterday, Senate hearings in Austin featured testimony which spoke of the need for businesses which specialize in short term loans to end their usurious practices. 

"“We’re not against the services at all. We’re saying make it fair,” said Dallas City Council member Jerry Allen, testifying in favor of legislation to force payday and car title lenders to operate under rules that apply to banks and credit unions."
"Proposals by Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Royce West , D-Dallas, would close a loophole that allows the short-term lenders to operate as “credit-service organizations” and avoid those regulations. Rep.Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has filed similar legislation in the House."
"In some cases, charges by payday lenders in Texas reach an annual percentage rate of 500 percent."
"“This is a gold rush,” said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who chairs the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. Carona said the companies are springing up by the thousands to serve customers who apparently need them, adding that they’re entitled to make a profit."
"“I just don’t want them to absolutely rape these consumers,” he said."
"The Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group, has opposed Davis’ bill, but spokesman Rob Norcross indicated he’s willing to work on a compromise."
"“We are not against reasonable, effective, additional oversight,” he said."
"Davis said she would keep communicating with the industry to find a “sweet spot” that would allow the businesses to prosper but be fair to the most vulnerable citizens."
"“In my opinion there’s a middle ground,” she said."

Senate Davis, says further in the Texas Senate News...

"When payday and auto-title lenders loan money, said Davis, they require a fee beyond the interest. Customers are not allowed to pay the loan in installments; they must pay the full principal within the loan period, usually a short time ranging from a few weeks to a few months. If the customer cannot pay the loan in full, they can pay the fee again, termed a "roll-over" and again until they have the money to pay off the principal. This can lead to customers repaying many times more than the initial loan before they can finally clear the debt. Davis said that nationally, 90 percent of these types of loans are rolled over 5 times, with nearly two-thirds of these loans rolled over 12 or more times. For a sixty dollar fee charged on a $300 loan, a person rolling over five times ends up paying the lender twice the amount borrowed, plus interest."

"Davis' first bill, SB 253, would close the loophole that permits these lenders to avoid state oversight. The bill does not set an interest rate for payday lenders, but would subject them to the same state usury and fee regulations that apply to all other loans in Texas. "Payday lenders and car title loan lenders should not be treated differently than other lenders in Texas, avoiding rate regulation, reporting, oversight and investigation because they are functioning within a loophole," said Davis."
Dallas' City Council unanimously passed a resolution to the state legislature in support of this initiative. The council will soon take up a zoning ordinance to regulate the location of these businesses to mitigate the economic impact of their clustering in certain neighborhoods.

"WE are Losing..."

For those who, like me, are proud Texans and proud Dallasites, the news is pretty disconcerting. While Texas' population grew larger than any other state in the nation (more about the challenges associated with this later) in 10 years. Dallas population grew less than 0.8%.

LESS than ONE percent!

My friend Shawn Williams, publisher of Dallas South News has perspective to which we must pay attention, "While Ft. Worth gained 38.6% and Austin is up 20.4%, Dallas couldn’t even add one percent to our population.  My family and I added 4 Dallas residents during that time, seems like we made up the bulk of the difference."

"If I were an elected official in Dallas this number (among many others) would keep me up at night.  I’m not an elected official and after seeing this I’ll probably lose a few winks myself tonight.  I mean even Houston gained 7.5%."
"It’s time for Dallas to focus on Dallas.  Our mayor is leaving.  It would be nice if he would make it official. The city needs an advocate here at the local level.  Someone who can foster goodwill across political, ethnic and socioeconomic lines."
"It could be someone from the public or private sector.  Bill White did it in Houston and the Bass Family helped remake Ft. Worth.  Newark, New Jersey was boosted by a $100 million infusion from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg while their Mayor Corey Booker fights tirelessly for the city."
"What about Dallas?  Well our mayor has moved on even if he won’t say so and we’re still looking for a 21st Century Trammell Crow.  Everyone is so worried about turf wars that no one realized that WE are losing."
Dallas' future is south of the Trinity River. Yet, if politicians continue to allow schools to deteriorate (never mind  designations of 'recognized' and 'exemplary' associated with irrelevant test scores); if they continue to support and defend businesses that blight southern Dallas and block wholesome and attractive commerce; if they continue to allow vacant lots and substandard houses to outnumber decent, habitable homes; if they allow acres and acres of land to remain undeveloped and if they look to project based redevelopment to substitute for a real, strategic, comprehensive plan, then it won't be long until we'll see those growth figures in the negative. 
Certainly there are those who will use the economy as an excuse. But other major cities in Texas saw growth in spite of the economy. 
City council elections will be in May of this year. We need to find out which candidates have a clue and we need to do so in a hurry!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face or the 'Logic' Behind H.R. 1

Last week, in my Dallas Morning News column, I outlined how proposed cuts in Congress' proposed continuing resolution would have on housing for low income citizens. House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1), would be disastrous enough if that was the only draconian measure to the efforts to address our country's fiscal problems.

But the mandate for jobs, which not only require employers to begin hiring, but also a trained workforce, will not only take a would apparently totally eliminate funding for retraining dislocated workers and as well as those dependent upon skills training to get jobs somewhere other than behind the counter at McDonald's or Jack-in-the Box. 

This release went out last week...

"This week the House is considering H.R. 1, its Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution.  This legislation provides for the elimination of all funding, over $3.6 billion, for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in Program Year 2011 and a $175 million rescission of prior year funds.  Beginning in July 1 of this year, these cuts would zero out all new funding for state and local programs under WIA --programs that provide vital services for the nation’s unemployed, the under-employed, and for America’s businesses as they try to rebound from the recession. Simply put, this total elimination of funding for WIA would result in the end of the nation’s employment and training system during one of the worst economic downturns in American history."  

"WIA program participation rates have gone up 234% nationally in the past two years -- despite the fact that funding for core WIA formula programs is virtually the same as it was in 2008."

This proposal is built on faulty careless assumptions, that don't only lead to illogical conclusions, the have near catastrophic immediate consequences

At some point don't we have to recognize the totally unreasonable these solutions are? 

In order to rebuild the economy, we must cut education spending, cut job training, cut supports for the low-income and elderly, cut access to health care for those who can least afford it AND give tax cuts to those who have no track record of utilizing tax cuts for 10 years to provide jobs to stimulate the economy?! And, after we have enacted all of these cuts, the poor and low income, the untrained, the elderly, the homeless, the hungry, the incarcerated, the sick and the poorly educated and the inadequately educated will provide the foundation for a new and revived economy?


It's the equivalent of a family deciding that, in order to save money on gas, we will all quit our jobs and drop out of school. 


Saturday, February 19, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Madame C. J. Walker


"Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come; you have to get up and make them."

Friday, February 18, 2011

In Memoriam: Cookie Gilchrist (1935-2011)

For longtime football fans, one of the legendary names is pro-football is that of 'Cookie' Gilchrist.

In the brouhaha over the Super Bowl XLV, the news of his death was apparently lost in the shuffle. But he was a special personality and a great, great football player, whose sense of dignity and pride, led to one of the significant events in the history of professional sports - the 1965 boycott of the American Football League All-Star Game.

"Before there was a Jerome Bettis, before there was an Earl Campbell, before there was even a Jim Brown, there was Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, the outsized running back with an outsized personality to match -- a star player whose political views and temperamental nature put him at odds with coaches and teammates."

"Mr. Gilchrist, the Brackenridge-born runner who played for the American Football League's Buffalo Bills and in the Canadian Football League, died on Monday of cancer at Sterling House of Penn Hills, a personal care home."

"He was 75."

"At a playing weight of 251 pounds, Mr. Gilchrist often outweighed the linebackers trying to tackle him and the offensive linemen trying to block for him. His crashing style later led to comparisons with Mr. Brown, the Cleveland Browns' Hall of Fame back who was born the year after Mr. Gilchrist and played for the team that offered Mr. Gilchrist his first pro contract.

the Bills in 1962. His first season in the AFL, he was named player of the year, rushing for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns."

"He helped lead the team, along with quarterback-turned-politician Jack Kemp, to two consecutive AFL titles, and he was a four-time AFL pro-bowl selection. Cornerback Booker Edgerson, a former Bills teammate, said Mr. Gilchrist was "just as good and maybe even better" than Mr. Brown. "He and Jim had the same outstanding abilities to play the game," he said, according to the AP...."

"Following the 1964 season, having already clashed with his head coach in Buffalo, Lou Saban, Mr. Gilchrist cemented his reputation for boat-rocking -- and for civil rights engagement. In segregated New Orleans, Mr. Gilchrist (according to his own account) helped organize a player boycott of AFL East-West All-Star Game."

"Mr. Gilchrist was one of 21 black players selected to play in the game. But when white cabbies refused to drive Mr. Gilchrist and other black players into the city -- and after French Quarter businesses wouldn't let his black teammates in the doors -- he and others decided to boycott the event."

"Ron Mix, Hall of Fame tackle for the San Diego Chargers, befriended the running back as a result. "The truth is, New Orleans should erect a statue to Cookie," Mr. Mix said in the 2003 profile of Mr. Gilchrist. "The city wanted an NFL team, but it was not going to get it unless it desegregated. The boycott led to a change in the laws.""

"And the AFL All-Star Game was moved to Houston."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Story We All Should Know; Another Reason to Not Be in a Hurry to Forget...

Recy Taylor
A painful story of the failure of the criminal justice system, racism, brutality and the theft of human dignity...not to mention a much more compelling portrait of one the most cherished icon of the Civil Rights era. 

How have we not heard this before?!

"Sept. 3, 1944: It's a damp evening in the Alabama black belt, nearly midnight, but services at Rock Hill Holiness Church in the small town of Abbeville have just let out. Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old sharecropper, sets out along the town's fertile peanut plantations, accompanied for the walk home by two other worshippers from the African-American congregation. Moments later, a green Chevrolet rolls by -- and their routine journey takes a horrifying turn."

"Wielding knives and guns, seven white men get out of the car, according to Taylor and witnesses from a state investigation of the case. One shoves Taylor in the backseat; the rest squeeze in after her and ride off. Her panicked friends run to tell the sheriff."

"After parking in a deserted grove of pecan trees, the men order the young wife and mother out at gunpoint, shouting at her to undress. Six of them rape Taylor that night. Once finished, they drive her back to the road, ordering her out again before roaring off into the darkness."

"Days after the brutal attack, Taylor's story traveled through word of mouth, catching the attention of a Montgomery NAACP activist named Rosa Parks. A seasoned anti-rape crusader, who focused on the sexual assaults of black women that were commonplace in the segregated South, Parks would eventually help bring the case international notice. Despite her efforts, however, in Jim Crow-era Alabama, Taylor's assailants were never punished..."

Free Speech or Cowardice?

I wasn't going to say anything, but...

The latest outburst and outrageous behavior by Dallas County Commissioner deserves censure. It was over the top. It was in poor taste. It was unprofessional. It was impolitic. It went too far. It was unworthy of the office.

Say all of that.

It's not the first time he's done it. I'm hard pressed to believe it will be the last time. I've known Commissioner Price for quite awhile and I can't imagine a scenario related to this incident in which he will apologize. And, if there are those who want to excoriate him for his behavior then fine...go ahead. I don't blame you. No elected official should act this way.


I'm also trying to figure out what makes Dallas lawyer Jeff Turner or any of us believe that he (or she) has the right to personally insult a public official with impunity? Turner, who appeared before the County Commissioners Court in support of Bruce Sherbet, the recently resigned County Elections Administrator whom many believe to be forced out, in a prepared statement repeatedly referred to Price as the 'chief mullah'. Price heard 'Moolah' which is taken to be a racial slur, especially when combined with the word 'tribal' which Turner also used in his remarks.

Why isn't anyone holding Turner accountable for his remarks?

No one says Price came to Commissioners Court spoiling for a fight. He  felt insulted by the remarks and at that point set out on his unseemly rant.

Certainly there were other courses of action. Commissioner Price could have let Turner finish his remarks, after which he could have told him...with as much indignation as he chose to use...that he was personally offended by the tone, tenor and text of the remarks. He could have asserted his right to be treated with respect as a man and as an elected official. Personally, I wish he would have just gotten up and walked out telling Turner and whomever he had with him, that when they were willing to address the matter without personal attack he'd be glad to respond in kind. John Wiley Price would have been the grown up in the room.

But Turner had choices as well. If he knew the impact his prepared words were intended to have, couldn't he have expressed the same thought with other words? If he thought Sherbet's treatment was heavy handed and inappropriate, couldn't he have said that? If he wanted to say that he believed that Price wielded undue influence in this incident, couldn't he have said that? If he felt that Price's pressure tactics were unfair, couldn't he have said that? Why couldn't he have expressed himself in clearer more unambiguous language; why couldn't he have used words that couldn't have remotely been construed as a racial slur?

It always amazes me that people now seem to believe they have the right to use incendiary language, unflattering and insulting imagery and then act 'shocked' and 'appalled' because they get a reaction that 'misinterprets' their meaning or takes their words 'out of context'.

Since Price's actions have brought down upon him all manner of invective and criticism, calling into question his judgement and fitness for office, why don't we engage in questioning Jeff Turner's motive?

If he knows that Price is prone to over react. If he knows Price has shown himself to get angry and use race in ways that stir up controversy (to say the least), isn't it equally as easy to assume that Turner went there to set Price up with his presentation? Is there something about Jeff's issue that makes both his use of the such language above question and suspicion. Are we absolutely certain that his intention wasn't to provoke John Wiley Price? This way, he could come away another victim of the Commissioner's 'irrationality'. The press is trying to 'explain' the difference between 'mullah' and 'moolah' and it makes John Wiley Price look foolish not knowing the difference, but there is no discussion of probable deviousness on the part of Jeff Turner. There is only his 'explanation' that he 'didn't know that the word he repeatedly used, could be thought of as a racial slur.

If Jeff Turner was trying to goad and provoke Commissioner Price into inappropriate 'racist' behavior, Price indeed took the bait. He should have known better. He looks the worse because of it.

Politicians are not above criticism. They are not above caricature. Politicians must be accountable. But there are appropriate venues and appropriate ways to express displeasure...for politicians for sure, but also for citizens.

I have made presentations before the county commissioners court, city council and even state legislative committees many times. I know for a fact I have vehemently disagreed with the policies and the perspectives of some of the elected officials on those particular bodies. I have never used personal attack to get my point across. I have called into question the wisdom and justice of particular laws and audience. I have talked about the impact the decisions of those bodies would have on the lives of the people for whom I advocated. I and those who have stood with me have been passionate, indignant and even 'angry' in our presentations. But never resorted to personal attack or demeaning insult.

It's not necessary, nor is it right.

No one else is questioning Jeff Turner's motives or his judgement. But if indeed, he went to Commissioners Court, with the idea of using inflammatory, insulting, language and degrading imagery, with the idea that John Wiley Price, as a sitting elected official, should not, could not, because of professionalism and decorum be able refrain from rejoining him in kind - then Turner is not racist or a victim of any kind. He is not another 'angry' citizen. He's not exercising free speech.

He is a coward...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For Some 'Shared Sacrifice' Could Mean No Place to Live

With the impending budget battles soon to get underway in Washington, drastic proposals that impact the poor are on the table. Yet it appears solutions which call for 'shared sacrifice among more well to do citizens aren't even being considered.

This is also the subject of my column in the Dallas Morning News.

It's incredibly important that we don't make the mistake of believing that we can balance the federal budget on the backs of poor people and not pay a higher price later on.

Douglass' Eloquent Challenge

 “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

Monday, February 14, 2011

So Where Are the Jobs? Or Was that Really the 'Mandate'?

Of course we've all heard it, haven't we? The supposed 'mandate' of the November 2010 elections? Ending big government 'overreach', return to constitutional fundamentals and of course the number one reason: jobs, jobs, jobs...

So what's happened since the elections? Well, the unemployment rate has fallen to 9%, but since the incoming GOP majority were just sworn in in January they can't take credit for that (although, enough pundits are doing all they can to throw cold water on the significance of that number). They have spent an awful lot of time on symbolic efforts to repeal healthcare reform. But aside from that, what's been happening? New York Times columnist Charles Blow gives us a window into the preoccupation of the new majority and the sweep that brought in the largest number of Republican state legislators since the Great Depression.

They've focused on immigration: "As MSNBC and Telemundo reported recently, at least 15 state legislatures are considering Arizona-style immigration legislation. If passed, four of the five states with the largest Hispanic populations — California, Texas, Florida and Arizona — would also be the most inhospitable to them."
"As Fox News Latino recently reported, state legislatures are poised to break the record on the number of immigration measures and resolutions introduced this year, having already introduced 600 by the end of last month. For comparison, 1,400 were introduced in total last year, according to a report issued last month by the state legislatures’ group. A record number of those laws were enacted."
"And, according to the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, which was founded by State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican of Pennsylvania, lawmakers from 40 state legislatures have joined the group that last month unveiled “model legislation to correct the monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”"
Of course, the most 'monumental misapplication' of the Constitution's 14th Amendment, is the one that interprets the amendment to give corporations the same status as persons. That's the one that allowed the Supreme Court the judicial rationale that has resulted in corporations to give unlimited contributions to political campaigns. But there's no interest in revisiting that! And swept aside the fact that the history of amending the constitution, with the exception of two amendments are to broaden and clarify the rights of individual, not to restrict those rights. 
So much for 'monumental misapplications'...
Such efforts also sweep aside practical considerations that go to the political thoughtlessness of these overtly ideological efforts. "...Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a potential candidate for the White House in 2012."

"The House passed its own version of the bill last week, and the two versions must be reconciled before it can go to Barbour's desk. He has signaled that he would likely sign it if it does, but the equation is a delicate one."
"Strict enforcement of immigration law is an important Republican talking point, especially among conservative voters and those aligned with the Tea Party movement. But Barbour acknowledged that immigrant voters also are an important constituency, especially in Mississippi, where immigrants flocked to the state for rebuilding jobs after Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast in 2005."
""I don't know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn't been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there's no doubt in my mind that some of them weren't here legally," Barbour said. "If they hadn't come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.""
They've also got a cultural agenda...
"On the gay rights front, Republicans in Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming (where Matthew Shepard was tortured to death) are pushing constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage...Republicans in New Hampshire have filed bills to overturn that state’s same-sex marriage law, even though, according to a recent WMUR Granite State Poll, the state’s residentswant to leave the law in place by a majority of more than 2 to 1..."
And then there's an agenda for the criminal justice system...
"According to The News and Observer in North Carolina, Republicans are considering severely narrowing or repealing the state’s recently enacted Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to use statistics to appeal their cases on the basis of racial discrimination."
"Two studies of the death penalty in the state have found that someone who kills a white person is about three times as likely to be sentenced to death as someone who kills a minority."
"And in Wisconsin, Republicans are pushing a bill that would repeal a 2009 law that requires police to record the race of people they pull over at traffic stops so the data could be used to study racial-profiling."
Now, none of this has anything to do with jobs. The Constitution is visited in a very ideological, imbalanced, inconsistent and xenophobic way. And the rest resembles a agenda worthy of the moral majority, with somewhat arguable morality and a questionable majority. 
In Texas, budget woes, caused by a misguided effort to avoid raising Texas that resulted in insufficient revenue for the state are resulting in proposed cuts in healthcare, to the elderly, in the prison system and drastic cuts in public and post secondary education. All choices which hurt the most vulnerable in our state...
Which brings to mind a question: what serious person doesn't think that we don't pay a cost for this type of misguided, regressive politics? And what serious person doesn't understand that the costs are monetary as well as societal?
Blow appears to have it right..."Republican state lawmakers, emboldened by their swollen ranks, have a message for minorities, women, immigrants and the poor: It’s on!" 
Elections do have does thoughtless governance...
Now, where are all of these jobs? It's been a couple of months already!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

'In the Morning When I Rise' - Incredibly Inspirational!

Every year, I hear people ask 'Why do we still have Black History Month'?

The documentary 'In the Morning When I Rise', is a profound and inspirational answer to that question. It is a reminder that we as a people and as a country have so many stories, stories that are unknown or long ignored that remind us of not only the ugliness in our past, but our capacity to triumph over what appear to be insurmountable odds.

'In the Morning When I Rise', is the story of opera singer Barbara Conrad, a native of Center Point, Texas who, in 1956 was denied the opportunity to appear in a university production of an opera, because she would have played a romantic lead with a white male fellow student.

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

"Opposition to the casting decision fueled a racial controversy that traveled from the university campus to the Texas Legislature. Mere days before the opera opened in May 1957, university officials succumbed to pressure from a small group of radical segregationists. The Dean of Fine Arts asked Barbara to step down, and a white student assumed the role of Dido."
"A flood of media coverage ensued, beginning with the Houston Post and quickly escalating to the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and most notably, a controversial article in Time magazine. Harry Belafonte, an entertainment superstar of the era, read about Barbara, called her at her dorm in Austin, Texas, and the rest — as Barbara says — is history."
"Although she was raised during the height of the Jim Crow period, Barbara had been nurtured in what historians refer to as a “safe haven” community. Center Point, Texas, was a tiny beacon of culture where education, church, community, and music were the norm, and limitations imposed by the “white world” were held at bay by the community’s nurturing arms. Barbara’s parents were college-educated leaders in the Center Point school system, at the core of which was an all-black boarding school that drew students from across the United States. Her parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all imprinted on Barbara the importance of education and culture. And, within the embrace of her family and tightly knit church community, Barbara had been given a sense of self that would prove to be her life preserver during “the incident” at the University of Texas."
"This small-town girl, whose voice and spirit stem from her roots in east Texas, emerged as an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano and headlined on stages around the world."
Conrad's life and career includes tremendous twists and turns, which eventually lead her back to UT in gloriously ironic circumstances. 
I think if you watch this film, you'll be hard pressed to ask, 'Why do we still have Black History Month'. Instead, you'll ask a much more relevant question: why don't we tell these stories all year long?!

You can see the entire documentary here...

By the way, thanks to Dean Smith, CitySquare colleague with Urban Connection Austin, for bringing this to my attention!