Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Senator Wendy Davis: Fighting the Good Fight

Although I didn't get to meet Senator Wendy Davis on my 4-5 trips to Texas' state capitol, she had my attention when I heard that she had filed a bill to regulate payday lending. Of course, her proposed legislation ultimately gave way to Representative Vicki Truitt's considerably weaker bills, but Senator Davis tackled something that few other legislators (with the exception of Tom Craddick in the House) were loathe to try.

Now she's at it again and I confess, for what its worth, she's gaining my undying admiration.

Wendy Davis filibustered the vote on the budget, to throw this legislature into a special session! Now, call it what you want, but I call it refusing to curl up in a corner and say, 'Please, don't hurt me anymore!'. I mean, seriously, there are those who may think it a failed gesture, shouting at the rain, tilting at windmills and whatever other worn axiom used to describe the fruitless desperate acts of the frustrated. I call it using every arrow in the quiver to have the voices of the people heard.

The GOP/Tea Party dominated legislature would rather end the session under funding education by $4 billion than to adequately fund Texas' future by dipping into the rainy day fund. Now for those who have heard the term and don't know what the 'rainy day fund' is - the short answer is, its the states emergency fund. A few sessions ago, Texas bet the farm, as it were, on a business friendly revenue restructuring that depended on increased tax revenue. When the revenue didn't come in as expected - as a matter of fact, it resulted in a $27 billion shortfall - our Governor masked the deficit last year by taking stimulus money from the same federal government with which he was so 'fed up' he wrote a book to expansively express his disdain! This, by the way is the same Governor 'thinking' of running for the GOP nomination for presidency!

Of course the chickens have come home to roost on this mendacity and the answer is, 'Don't touch a dime of the $9 billion state emergency fund! We'll have to underfund education for the next two years with a formula that essentially says, 'Don't worry, no children will be born in the next two years that we'll have to educate later. We're all good!'

Wendy Davis decided to do something!

""...she spoke and spoke and spoke till the midnight deadline rolled around..."

"We have a Rainy Day Fund, and we didn't use a single dollar of it to fund our failure," said Davis."

"In our own households," she continued, "if we had money in the bank and our homes were about to be foreclosed on, we would spend the money in the bank. It would be irresponsible for us not to do that. And so many of our constituents, our families, our school teachers, our school districts have asked us to use the money we have in the bank so we don't take this first step toward failing them. The response was not to do that. It was even worse than that ... It was to say, 'We're going to rewrite the formula that allows us to permanently wipe [funding for public education] off our balance sheet.""

Hooray Wendy! Will it work? Oh, probably not. Unless there are other tools at their disposal that Dems are prepared to use in an effort to force a compromise, this may indeed be an exercise in futility. But Senator Davis decided to do something besides whine about how 'tough this session is' and decided to get tough and do something! 

Ultimately lies with Texas voters. We'll have to remember the party that gave us a State Board of Education that decided that historical facts are not as important as conservative 'feel good ideology' and in the process so rewrote history, that (once it is corrected), future Texans - and Americans - will wonder why we allowed patients in a lunatic asylum to determine our social studies curriculum. We'll have to remember the 'wisdom' that decided that over crowded classrooms and 20th century technology in the 21st century was good enough to train future educators, engineers, doctors and nurses. And we'll have to remember those who introduced an ideology regarding education that so underfunded post secondary schools that it threatened to make a bachelor's degree from a state university almost indistinguishable from a trade school certificate.  We'll also have to remember the geniuses who sought to save Texas money by cutting Medicaid costs by $7 billion and ended up costing the state $20 billion in county hospital costs and federal Medicaid reimbursements!

In the meantime, I can't help but admire Senator Wendy Davis. She's fighting the good fight. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln's second inaugural address is one of my all time favorite speeches. It sums up, in some of the most eloquent terms I've ever read anywhere, American's torturous misadventure with war, racism, civic and religious faith and its triumphal confidence in its capacity to transcend some of its self generated darkness to discover it's the light of its democratic ideals. 


"At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured."

"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

"One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.""

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Powerful Prayer for Texas Lawmakers

Friend and ministerial colleague, Eric Folkerth, pastor of the Northaven United Methodist Church was invited by Representative Raphael Anchia to give the invocation at yesterday's opening session of the Texas Legislature. Thanks Eric for providing the text of your prayer on your blog! My faith tells me that God hears prayers like this. Let's hope the legislators are paying attention!

'Holy and Gracious God,

'We come before you on this day, on the final weekend of the 82nd legislative session. And as we pause before you in prayer, Holy God, we give you thanks for each of these esteemed members of our state government; for their families, their communities, and for the life-experiences that led them to these honored positions.'

'We know and understand the personal sacrifice that goes into being a public official...the time away from family....the long hours....the stress of the public spotlight. We give you thanks, O God, that these before us today have answer the call of public service. And we ask you to bless them.'

'In great humility, O God, we recall how you call us to be a holy people. You, O God, call governments to be a holy manifestations of your will and desire for the world.'

'Even foreign kings, such as Cyrus of Persia, you have used to fulfill your holy will for God's people. So, O God, remind these leaders of our state that their decisions matter to you, that you care deeply about what they decide here.'

'God, during their work here, help these servants of the State of Texas to be holy people, and to leave partisan politics at the statehouse door.'

'But also, O God, help them to make Texas into a holy people. For you call us to account. And we remember that your Parable of the Last Judgment is a judgment upon the nations of the earth.'

'And so, make Texas into a a holy people.'

'Make us into a holy people, O God, like the People of Israel, whom God challenged to treat immigrants as if they were native born.'

'Make us into a holy people, O God, like the Church of St. Paul, who championed care for widows and orphans, the most marginalized people of his day.'

'Make us into a holy people, O God, as Jesus taught....so that we might care for the sick....for those in prison...for those without clothing and shelter...for "the least of these." And let us be reminded, as Jesus taught, that when we so care for others, we are caring for the face of God in the world.'

'Make us into a holy people, O God. For we know, when we search the scriptures, that these are the kinds of holiness God calls our government to achieve.'

'And, God, when this session has finished...when the final bill has been passed, and the last gavel comes down....when these elected servants are back in quiet of their homes, and praying to you in the privacy of their own hearts....accept their prayers of forgiveness for all the ways in which they will have fallen short of your holy vision.' 

'All these things we pray, in your most holy and gracious name.'


Saturday, May 28, 2011

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Jane Addams

Community Organizer, Social, Political Activist, Author, Lecturer

"America's future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live."

Friday, May 27, 2011

OK, I Admit it - I Got Suckered In...

Ok, I'll admit I got suckered in...

I've recorded 'Oprah' every day for years. I hardly ever actually watch it, unless there's a guess or a subject I want to see. But don't get me wrong, I've always liked and admired her show. She's touched countless lives and when you separate the mania of her fans from her capacity to actually do good, she's a pretty amazing woman whose figured out that celebrity is an instrument to be used and not a commodity to possess.

So, yes, I was suckered in. Knowing that her last three shows were going to be an 'emote fest', I recorded and finally watched back to back her final three shows and shed a few tears like everyone else at this segment...

What made this so powerful was that I had just heard a day or so ago, that 'not everyone is college material' phrase. When I saw this segment it reminded me that many of these 400 or so men, or of the 65,000 that she's helped get to and through college would have been an argument for the 'not everyone is a college material' proposition. Had it not been for Oprah...

On this past Saturday, we had a gathering to celebrate CitySquare's education programs at Roseland Homes and Turner Courts, public housing development and it's end. At least for now. Young men and young women got up, one after another, and gave witness to CitySquare's influence and almost to a person, told the college or university from which they had graduated, the degree they earned and about half of them the graduate degree they were pursuing. Some had grown up in public housing. Most had grown up poor. Almost all had less than desirable family dynamics and upbringing. But CitySquare and our former program director (now Community Life Director at CityWalk@Akard), Dr. Janet Morrison, had intervened. Not with money, but with time and encouragement. The intervention was often in the form of direction in counseling both in helping to navigate turbulent times in college and in everyday life. Without that intervention many of them...most of them, if not all, might have been deemed 'not college material'.

A person, some people interjected themselves in the lives of these young people and rescued them from a category that may have left their lives and their futures unfulfilled. For a large group of young men at Morehouse it was Oprah, for a smaller group in public housing complexes in south and east Dallas it was CitySquare and Janet Morrison. For many others, there are mentors, patrons, families and friends. But far too few get slotted in the 'not college ready' category without really having a chance. We must do better. If too many fall needlessly into that category, not only will their quality of life be diminished - so will all of ours.

So, if Oprah seems a little to self congratulatory. Or if the farewell has gone on a little too long. Or if the laurels by friends and fans seem hyperbolic. I think its because, like it or not, she's used her celebrity to be more than a 'star'. She's made an effort to leverage here fame and her fortune to help others.

Maybe the greatest take-away from her 25 years is that we ought not settle for the grim prophecies and projections about our future. Maybe we should learn that all of us can do something to help others achieve a place where they can use the resource of their lives to be a blessing to others. Maybe that's kind of nation we should have. Maybe that's an obligation we have to one another as fellow citizens and human beings.

While Oprah's show could be a little annoying at times (ok, for some of us maybe more than a 'little' annoying) and her fan base too worshipful, 25 years doing anything is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when you mix in a commitment to making life better for others. That's actually quite a legacy...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

VICTORY! Dallas City Council Unanimously Passes Zoning Ordinance to Regulate Payday Lenders

The City of Dallas now has a zoning ordinance to regulate payday lenders!

In a unanimous vote, Dallas' city council voted for a land use zoning ordinance which regulates density aimed at breaking up the density and slowing down the proliferation of payday and auto-title lenders. The highlights of the ordinance are:

Short term lending institutions must be at least 1500 ft apart

They must be in free standing buildings

They must have a special use permit

The must be at least 300 ft from highways

There is still another ordinance that will be designed to address disclosure and some of their lending practices. But, the 200 people who showed up in support of this ordinance and the nearly 4000 people who signed petitions calling for the city to enact strong regulation have had their voices heard as they demanded relief for themselves, their communities, their fellow church members  and the rest of the city.

These are not earth shattering in themselves.We're not naive. This will not end payday lending. This will inconvenience some lenders, not put them out of business (complaints to the contrary, that never has been a goal). And, yes, existing businesses are 'grandfathered' in. But this sets the stage for further and more meaningful action going forward.

The predatory loan industry was served notice on today that Dallas is willing to take action against exploitation masquerading as commerce!

Thanks to all the members of the Anti-Poverty Coalition: CitySquare, Friendship West Baptist Church, Inspirational Body of Christ, Concord Church, Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the Jewish Community Relations Council, AARP, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, the Urban League, as well as faith and community based organizations who made this victory possible. This is a great step in right direction!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS! Dallas Mavericks - Western Conference Champions!

Let's go put a ring on it, shall we?!

My Disappointment with Cornell West

I think I've gone on record in my deep admiration for Princeton Professor, Dr. Cornell West. I believe he has a critique of American culture, politics and the imperative to address the need of the poor and downtrodden that, for my money, is nearly inarguable. I have met him on a couple of occasions, albeit years ago and I was and I remain, thoroughly impressed with his mental dexterity. His capacity to translate the most complex theological, philosophical concepts into street language and back again.

This admiration and respect I have for him and his work, is why I'm so disappointed.

West has been almost antipathetic toward Barack Obama since he announced that he was entering the 2008 presidential race. I remember watching Tavis Smiley's 'State of Black America' symposium, which took place the same day and nearly the same time that the SOBA event was taking place. It was clear that Smiley took it as a personal affront and West, at the time, appeared to be supporting his friend's assertion that the announcement should have been delayed or maybe even made at the SOBA. Of course, that would have been the end of Obama's candidacy about as soon as he announced it. He would never have been perceived as someone running for president of all America - he would have been black America's candidate.

West, however campaigned for Obama. But I can't remember a time when it has seemed that West's support for Obama has been less than full throated. At best, I attributed this to the academic distance of a scholar; at worst it was supporting Tavis Smiley's fit of pique for being snubbed.

But over the years, Dr. West's criticisms and critiques have grown more harsh and less tempered by scholarly distance and more personal.

In a recent column, West asserts that Obama has a problem with 'free black men' and has accused him of being  “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

Professor West goes on to relate accounts of what he considers personal disrespect: lack of access, telephone calls from Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior advisor, complaining about the remarks he's made and then an alleged insulting encounter with the President at an Urban League event. 

All of this speaks of something much more personal and something which colors Dr. West's usual criticisms with a rather ugly, garish hue. 

I've said often, Barack Obama is not above criticism. I don't like his failure to set a firmer tone with his own party during his first months in office. I was disappointed with the way he let the health care debate get away from him early last year. I'm uncomfortable with his being a war president. Obama compromises way far too soon. So soon, in fact, he often appears to be negotiating with himself. And, yes, blacks in America are faring worse in almost every meaningful statistic, with far too little coming from the federal government. 
More often than not, until recently, it appeared that his own cabinet couldn't adequately communicate his policies in public (I often cringed whenever I would see any White House spokesman on a Sunday morning news program!).  

But Obama is growing in office. He will never be the president conservatives want. Nothing he does will appease Tea Partiers. And Fox News will always find an angle to diminish his accomplishments. 

But Dr. West's critique always omits several important facts.

The President took office during an economic crisis that is second only to the great depression. The measures he took had to stabilize Wall Street or this country - and the world's economy would have cratered. One of the greatest hindrances to Obama achieving a progressive domestic agenda has been his own party, which nearly matched Obama's proficiency to capitulate to the minority in Congress in some misguided notion of 'unity'. And West never mentions the fact that the president faces an obstructionist House majority determined to pass nothing but conservative measures, even when he the policies he proposes are essentially Republican ideas! 

Dr. West has joined the liberal wing of the Democratic Party whose pure ideology suggests that they will only support the president they put in office if he damns all politics and pushes legislation that can't even get support from his own party. Or which loses in the House even if every Democrat votes to support it. 

And of course, West totally lets the Democratic legislators off the hook. They can actually propose and promote legislation for jobs training, for education, for help for our urban centers. And in doing so, they could have the support of a friendly White House. Instead, they appear so distracted by a preoccupation with access and public complaints that he's not the Civil Rights Leader in Chief that they are introducing - or don't appear to be introducing - any legislation that accomplishes what they look for Obama to do. 

West also appears to forget that every President must be 'made' to do the right thing. No one ascends to the presidency without first being a politician. Politicians must have a constituency and that constituency must be organized and must work to force issues. Not just declare what they want. When A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt implored FDR to introduce anti-lynching legislation, they laid before him the most cogent, reasoned argument possible. After they had finished, Roosevelt said, 'You're right. You're right. Everything you've said is right. Now go out and organize and make me do it!' Liberals may not like the fact that you have to work to get your agenda passed, but that's exactly what it takes. You don't win because you elect a man or woman to office. You win, because you can influence that politician after the election. 

When Commerce Secretary Ron Kirk, was mayor of Dallas, there were a number of blacks who were disappointed because he didn't appear to have an agenda for black communities in Dallas. They complained that he was in the pocket of the business community. I told some of my friends who had that complaint, 'He is the FIRST black mayor of our city. You don't get an activist with the first!' The same is true with this president. 

What liberals/progressives need to understand is that the failure to support Obama at this juncture doesn't leave him vulnerable. He has more choice. He can create a base with moderates and win a second term with a smaller margin. Ultimately, liberals/progressives can be stuck with a Ralph Nader type candidate who makes noise, captures votes and joins the opposition in the losers column. 

The option is to be in support of the president and build a constituency that forces action, in the same way it happened with Kennedy, with Johnson, with Clinton. 

West, must stop being petty. He only diminishes his own stature. The true place of a prophet, intellectual or religious, whether inside or outside the palace of the King, is always a place of objectivity. A place where the truth can be told whether it one is provided or denied access. To the degree that West's critique/criticism is valid, it's value is obscured by what can only be described as his pouting and petulant tone of his rhetoric. 

Dr. Cornell West is a gift to America. He has much to say and we need to desperately listen. But he must say it right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Payday Loan Bills Make it Through Texas Legislature

HB2592 and HB2594, bills designed to provide increased public disclosure by payday lenders and provide state oversight of auto-title loan companies has passed both houses of the state legislature.

CitySquare, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Jewish Community Relations Council formed the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Dallas, the goal of which was to move 250,000 people out of poverty in the next 10 years. The first issue worked on by the coalition has been payday lending.

The Coalition worked state-wide with Texas Impact, Texas Faith for Fair Lending, the Christian Life Commission, Texas Appleseed and other allies to find legislation remedy for thousands of families across the state, as well as Dallas, trapped in a cycle of debt after becoming involved with these businesses.

The legislation that has worked its way through the both houses of the legislature is far from perfect and each of our organizations has pledged to keep a watchful eye on the industry to see if it does indeed provide relief. But we've also committed to making certain that we'll be back to strengthen these laws in two years.

Here's more information on the passage of these two bills in the Texas Observer a few days ago and the Dallas Morning News yesterday.

Payday Reform: Could it Finally Pass?

Published on: Thursday, May 19, 2011
Consumer advocates, religious representatives and legislators hastily convened a press conference in the rain Thursday on the south steps of the Capitol to celebrate a victory for Texas consumers.
For the first time in Texas, two payday reform bills, HB 2592 and HB 2594 look like they might actually pass the Legislature. HB 2592 requires that payday lenders provide more disclosures about loan fees and HB 2594 requires that payday storefronts be licensed.

The bills passed the Senate Business and Commerce committee Wednesday and are close to final passage. “This hasn’t been the biggest headline grabber,” Republican Senator John Carona, the Senate sponsor of the bills, said of the legislation, “But it’s a significant issue for consumers across the state. And it’s been the most over-lobbied issue of the session – I don’t think there’s an unemployed lobbyist in the state right now.”
Payday lenders are virtually unregulated in Texas and they’ve made millions off of working families charging interest rates anywhere from 300 APR to 1,000 APR. It’s a booming business that the industry is trying mightily to preserve. Already, the payday, pawnshop and auto-title lenders have spent between $3.9 million and $8.4 million on 184 Texas lobby contracts from January 2009 through March 2011, according to the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice. When the lobby reports come in after session, I suspect we’ll see several million more was spent on trying to kill payday reform bills such as HB 2592 and HB 2594.

Which is why Republican state Rep. Vicki Truitt, House author of the reform bills, was hesitant to claim victory at the press conference Thursday. Earlier in the session, the lobby had already torpedoed Truitt’s HB 2593, the so called “controversial” piece of reform legislation, because it would actually enact meaningful reform by limiting the amount and number of loans consumers could take out during a certain time period – breaking the cycle of debt. “The journey isn’t over,” Truitt said. “There are still two very significant votes: one on the Senate floor and the other in the House to bring it back to the full body.”

Truitt had good reason to be cautious. How to explain the bizarre scene on the House floor last week as Truitt battled to pass HB 2594, which would require payday lenders to license their storefront operations. Not only did Truitt have to contend with an army of lobbyists and conservative groups sending out a flurry of last minute emails to legislators to vote against the bills, but also Houston Rep. Gary Elkins who owns a chain of payday lending stores. “I’m free market capital and laissez faire…and this is nothing more than the expansion of government,” Elkins huffed. “I’m just a small business guy with 50 employees. I don’t have a corporate attorney.”

Truitt responded: “Are you aware…do you understand that the language in these bills was negotiated between the industry and advocates?”

“Well, I didn’t agree to it,” Elkins said, after offering his amendment to gut the bill, which was eventually defeated.

On the other side of the debate that day, was former House Speaker Tom Craddick who argued that Truitt’s bills didn’t do enough. Craddick’s bill would have effectively closed down payday lenders but it never got out of Truitt’s committee.

“It’s a bunch of junk that’s not going to help,” Craddick told me on the House floor. “I would have gotten my bill out if Truitt had allowed it. I had the votes to get it out of committee, and I think I could have passed it on the floor.”

Legislators and advocates said Thursday they would have liked more stringent reform bills to pass this session. “In some ways these bills disappoint because they don’t go far enough,” Carona said. “But it’s a step forward in protecting consumers.”

Tim Morstad from the AARP, which had lobbyed to pass the bills said it was the first significant win in 10 years of fighting for reform in the industry. “A lot more work needs to be done,” he said. “But it’s a good first step if we get the bills passed.”

Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a grassroots coalition of religious groups, said the bills would provide important information about the industry of which they know little. “We’ll be able to find out more about whose applying for the loans and how the industry is growing,” she said.

Payday lending bills get Senate approval

By Kelley Shannon 


Senators took the plunge into payday lending reform Monday, passing two House bills that bring some oversight to the largely unregulated industry in Texas.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said the legislation represents a "very, very delicate compromise" between consumer groups and the payday and auto title lending industry.

The legislation by Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, requires more disclosures by lenders about their fees and requires the companies to obtain licenses and report data to a state agency.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pushed for stronger regulation and a cap on fees. The Truitt proposals don't cap fees, which can often climb as high as 500 percent.
Those who take out payday loans and cannot pay them off roll them over, incurring even more fees and sometimes falling into a cycle of debt.

"Historically, Texas has taken a hands-off approach to the regulation of this industry," Davis said in an impassioned speech, urging senators to think of those who get trapped in rolled over loans. "They're poor, they're voiceless and they're not here in the halls of the Capitol."

Davis and West said they wanted to add several amendments to the legislation, but decided not to in most cases so as not to endanger the bills' passage. West did try an amendment, and it was was tabled. Davis said the bills make "the smallest little advancement," but include some steps backward.
"If we don't pass something, we will simply set us back two more years," Carona said. He said there will be further examination of the industry before the next legislative session in 2013.

Consumer groups like Texas Impact, AARP and the Baptist Christian Life Commission backed the bills, as did the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group.

A third bill by Truitt with more stringent restrictions on the lenders didn't garner industry support and died in the House. The two surviving bills, which were amended in the Senate, now head back to the House.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Morning Blessing - Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson (1939-2007)

I always loved Bishop Gilbert Patterson's preaching. Not just because of his power and passion, but because it reminded me so much of the style of preaching that I grew up listening to in my grandfather's church when I was a boy.

Patterson was a great leader and visionary in the Church of God in Christ. But whether you were a member of that denomination or not, his name was legendary, he was an outstanding church and civic leader and his presence is greatly missed.

Be blessed by him this morning!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Check with Me on Saturday After 6:00 P.M.

I've got a couple of engagements Saturday evening, including a dinner party at 7:00 pm. And a preaching engagement at the church of a friend of mine Sunday morning...services start at 10:00 am.

Should I be thoughtful and tell them all I won't be there?!

I'll confess, I've not spent a great deal of time thinking about the world ending on May 21st. Mostly this weekend has meant that its been a year since my father passed.

According to my friend Jeff Weiss, there are a number of people lining up to criticize Harold Camping's prediction (PLEASE let's not call this prophecy) that the world will end on May 21...at 6:00 pm, no less!

Ok, well, here's the deal...

Whether you're a Christian who believes in the rapture or not, you are one who's taken care of what you and countless others believe to be the ultimate question in life, 'Is God real and does He love and care about me?'
The Christian faith means that the answer to that question is an unqualified YES, in Jesus Christ. So there's no need to become preoccupied with 'when the world will end'. Paul's second letter to the Church at Thessalonica was a warning to those who became so preoccupied with Jesus' second coming that some of them quit working (II Thessalonians 3:5-10).

Another friend, pastor Eric Folkerth (props for the video, Eric!), has it right, this whole business of eschatalogical prognostication is debunked by scripture "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). 

So, again to follow Eric's exhortation. Believers have work to do. Worship, serve, relieve the suffering of our neighbors and become a redemptive presence in a world that more often than not seems to be going to Hell in a hand basket. Leave the 'end of the world' to the One who created the world. If it does 'end' on May 21st Camping guessed right and, for you there's no problem. 

If he's wrong (guess what I'M betting on!), Sunday, I've got a sermon to preach and we all have to get back to work! 

Just like God said...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What's Next for CitySquare? Opportunity!

I get a number of what we now call FAQ's (frequently asked questions) regarding our work at CitySquare. One of the most common is 'So what are you all up to now?' Sometimes I want to reply, 'An easier question is, 'What aren't we up to?!'

However, the real answer is we are now planning to move key program offerings to a new 50,000 sq. ft. property we've recently acquired that we currently call the CitySquare 'Opportunity Center' (we formerly referred to as 'The Center of Hope', but, aside with growing disenchanted with the name, we also found that 'Center of Hope' was pretty common).

CitySquare's health care, food, workforce training and AmeriCorp programs will all be located at the corner of Malcolm X and I30 in Dallas and, while we will continue to be open to all of our city, we will have a particular focus on South Dallas.

We project the project will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.5-$11 million, have of which is already been raised in donations and pledges. We believe that this project will truly be symbolic of the type of  'citysquare' where people will come to have their hopes restored, through health care we provide through our partnership with Baylor Hospital; food distribution in partnership and collaboration with the North Texas Food Bank and Crossroads Community Services; employment training in partnership with Dallas County Community College District and WorkSource Dallas County; economic development in partnership with Pepsico as well as a new grocery store, and through the community that will evolve as this new project serves as a destination for people from all over our city who are concerned with addressing the root causes of poverty.

As I said, as far as money is concerned, we're a shade more than half-way there. If you want to help, you can find information on how to contribute here. This effort promises to make all of Dallas proud!

I looked forward with great anticipation to the completion of CityWalk, but honestly - I'm looking forward to the Opportunity Center more!

The Opportunity Center is 'what we're up to now', but it's not all we're up to.

More later...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Freedom Riders - A Powerful American Story

If you've missed PBS' American Experience's episode "Freedom Riders" I'm certain that you will have a chance to catch it again on your local PBS affiliate. If you do have an opportunity for an encore viewing by all means don't miss it! This month is the 50th anniversary of this monumental Civil Rights protest. 

One of the most moving periods in the 20th century, involving some of the bravest young men and women in the history of our country is not only worth seeing, it is worth remembering. The stories of the commitment of these non-violent warriors, determined to see their country live up to its democratic principles, fighting against the systemic injustice of segregation, oppression, state sponsored and state sanctioned terrorism is worth seeing and worth remembering. 

If you are unfamiliar with the heroes of this movement, you will be inspired by the courage of James Farmer, James Peck and Diane Nash. 

Nash, at the age of 22, a Fisk University student and head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), took up the cause of the Freedom Riders when the protest nearly fell apart because of  viscous violence in Birmingham, Alabama. Nash's sterling leadership would propel her into a significant, if largely (and unfortunately) unsung role, among the Civil Rights leadership of the '60's. 

I hope you have the opportunity to see 'Freedom Riders'. We owe it to ourselves to know this story!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Business of Protecting Consumers from Business in Texas

The efforts of CitySquare, working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition, Texas Faith for Fair Lending, Appleseed and other allies, to regulate payday lending at the state level, have produced two pieces of legislation which have made it out of the House. HB 2392 which requires disclosures and information for consumers taking out short-term loans and HB2394 establishing licensing and oversight by the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. However, a vote on HB2393, which is designed to stop the cycle of debt through limitations on rollovers and loan size based upon a consumer’s ability to repay was postponed last week, which means it's pretty much dead. While all three bills are somewhat flawed, they only come close to being meaningful if all are passed. It is now up to the Texas Senate to present a bill strong enough to include both the most relevant features of legislation in the House while addressing the need to stop the usurious practices of this industry.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to not the difference in the way reporters in state write about legislator's efforts to regulate predatory lenders. The first is from the Texas Observer the next, published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Mighty Payday Industry Roars

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Published on: Thursday, May 12, 2011

At the beginning of the legislative session in February, I posed a couple of questions in my blog. Will the payday industry play ball with Senator Wendy Davis and other legislators who want to protect consumers from bad actors? Or will they drag their feet, hire more lobbyists and torpedo reform once again – as they do every session -- so they can continue to suck every last drop out of Texas’ citizens.
Well, we now know the answers: No & Yes.
Republican Rep. Vicky Truitt offered a trio of payday lending reform bills in the House Thursday. “This is the wild wild West right now, and all we are asking for is a few good fences to reign in the bad actors,” Truitt told the House chamber.
Truitt’s bills could barely be called reform. Still, House Bill 2594 which would require payday lenders to license their storefront operations, only passed after a long contentious battle in the chamber Thursday with Republican Rep. Gary Elkins, who owns a chain of payday lenders, and Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, another Republican,  who offered numerous points of order to try and kill the bill.
In his zeal to kill the bill to help his own chain of stores, Elkins set a new low for conflict of interest in the Texas Legislature.
HB 2592, which hardly does anything other than require that payday lenders provide more disclosures about loan fees passed Wednesday night. The so called “controversial” piece HB 2593, which actually tries to limit the amount and number of loans consumers can take out – in order to prevent a debt trap -- was hung up on a point of order Thursday evening and may not pass before the House chamber’s midnight deadline to pass House bills.
In the Senate, Wendy Davis’ payday reform bill, which is much more effective than Truitt’s weak sauce, can’t muster the 21 votes to be brought up for debate in the Senate.
At the beginning of the session, the payday industry already had 35 lobbyists on its payroll. Judging from the results of this week – the payday industry got what they paid for. The question now is what do Texas consumers have to do to have their voices heard?

Toughened limits on payday lender win preliminary approval in Texas House

AUSTIN -- The Texas House gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation designed to toughen controls on payday lenders. Meanwhile, scores of other bills hung in the balance as the critical midnight deadline approached.

House members seemingly put aside the partisan discord from the past several days to churn out bill after bill in the hopes of beating the cutoff for first-time floor consideration of House bills.
Bills that didn't make the cut were headed for the trash heap. One key bill awaiting action in the final crunch was legislation that would give school administrators more flexibility to lay off personnel and adjust salaries.
The Republican-controlled House approved the payday lending bill after a testy exchange between Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, the bill's sponsor, and Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, a payday lender who opposed it.
Truitt, who chairs the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee, accused Elkins of a conflict of interest and "blatantly" using his elective office to protect his business interests.
"This is not about my business," Elkins responded, declaring that Truitt's bill "is nothing more than an expansion of government to try to solve a problem that just doesn't exist."
Truitt also drew opposition from former House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who sponsored a more restrictive measure to regulate the industry. Craddick, who rarely engages in lengthy debates, said Truitt's bill "is wrong -- it doesn't fix anything."
The bill, HB2594, was one of three bills Truitt crafted in what she called an effort to weed out abuses by "bad actors" without forcing businesses to leave the state.
HB2594 would license so-called credit access businesses with the Consumer Credit Commissioner. It would also set licensing fees and bonding requirements and allow the credit commissioner to revoke licenses for violating the requirements.
HB2593, which got hung up on an opposition point of order, would limit the number of loan renewals by payday lenders. HB2592, which has passed the House, toughens requirements for customer disclosures.
Truitt said she felt obligated to engage in the issue because of her position as committee chairman, saying her legislative package emerged from hours of negotiations between businesses and consumer groups.
Consumers who have testified in legislative hearings said interests and fees on the short-term payday and car title loans subjected them to a deepening cycle of debt.
"The horror stories that are happening to Texas consumers continue to grow and continue to mount," Truitt said.

The two perspectives make clear one thing: protecting consumers from big business is tough business in Texas...