Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Blessing: Dr. Ceasar Clark


In his era and to this day, Dr. C.A.W. Clark was in a class by himself when it came to preaching! In church on Sunday morning, throughout any given week in revival, on a college or university campus; whether the audience be laymen, or clergy, Ceasar Clark's legendary proclamation of the Gospel thrilled, delighted and inspired countless men and women for more than 60 years. 

This sampling doesn't come close to giving a just example of the tremendous gift God invested in this man. When I was a pastor, I told my younger associate ministers who never heard him, that I sorry that they never had a chance to be blessed by his ministry. Brief as this excerpt is, I'm glad you have a chance to be blessed at least this much!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


Jean-Paul Sartre
1905-1980


Existentialist, Playwright, Author

"Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do."


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Darker Side of Dallas' White Christmas

On Christmas night, when most of us in Dallas were lost in the romance of an extremely rare 'White Christmas', two homeless citizens froze to death on the streets...

What if we decided as a city to never let that happen again?

That's the substance of CitySquare's CEO and President, Larry James' op-ed, in this morning's Dallas Morning News. 


"What if we began by working with the leaders of the various emergency night shelters to provide housing for every one of their customers before Christmas 2013? What would that take? Simply put, the community will and political insistence to support such an endeavor. We need a determined, patient policy and the funding commitment to get it done."

"If we target the first 2,000 homeless people, we could place all in housing for the year and surround each person with high-touch care with a budget of less than $25 million. Once housed, these friends of ours could receive orderly case management. One short-term outcome would be the discovery that a number of the chronically disabled homeless currently receive some public benefit, a part of which could go back into underwriting rent and services. The scale of our effort would drive costs down."

"Our efforts could be time-stamped. In other words, anyone participating in the benefit would be required to document residency in Dallas or Dallas County prior to a start date. This would prevent the program from attracting the homeless from outside our area.
Property owners in the private, multifamily housing industry would benefit from such a community housing effort. Other players would include the Dallas Housing Authority, already a leading light in our progress to date."

"Like all other public investment (for instance, the beautiful Omni, where the great event was staged on Christmas Eve), spending this relatively small amount of public funds would result in significant churn in our local economy. Furthermore, the savings realized on public services (ER, EMS, hospital in-patient, jail, police, mental health and nonprofits) would be substantial. In essence, the investment would more than return to us all, but especially to some of the weakest among us."

"The annual cost would amount to less than 2.5 percent of the city of Dallas operating budget. When factoring in county contributions, the picture is even better."

"It’s not impossible."

"This could be done."

"Our challenge is one of priority."

"It’s a matter of what we decide to do. It’s all about how serious we really are, all of us, including those who have no place to call home."

Read the entire column here...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joy to the World - Merry Christmas to All!


'The Preacher's Wife' is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I've watched it nearly every Christmas Day since I bought (not to mention several times during the year). Courtney Vance (Rev. Henfy Biggs), Denzel Washington (the angel, Dudley) and Whitney Houston (Julia Biggs), are stellar! 

This is absolutely my favorite scene! Whitney's incomparable talent shines through. She was a great singer - but she was an even greater Gospel singer and it shows here. 

If you've never seen 'The Preacher's Wife' do yourself a favor and watch it today! 

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


.John Brown
1800-1859


Abolitionist, Martyr

"Be mild with the mild, shrewd with the crafty, confiding to the honest, rough to the ruffian, and a thunderbolt to the liar. But in all this, never be unmindful of your own dignity."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Poverty in Dallas: Worse Than We want to Think About


Poverty in Dallas is worse than most of us know. Certainly worse than most of us want to think about. D Magazine 'Frontburner' has an interesting interesting article that, if nothing else, reminds us that eliminating poverty is going to have to be an all hands on deck proposition...
"Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week show that Dallas County children, on whole, are poorer than not only most other Texas children, but most other children in America’s largest cities."
"Close to 30 percent of children in Dallas County between the ages of five and 17 live in poverty, the numbers show, nearly a five percent increase since 2007. The below chart shows the poverty rates for those aged children, in Dallas-area counties:

You can read the rest of the article here...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Sword that Heals


Martin Luther King, Jr. 
"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.  It is a sword that heals."



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ignorance and Want - They're Hidden But They Live...



It's one of my favorite Christmas films and my favorite versions. And these are a couple of my favorite scenes. 

Charles Dickens almost prophetically captured man's capacity to embrace smallness of spirit. Or is it simply something inveterate in human nature? 

Ebeneezer Scrooge changed however. My prayer is that such interventions continually happen. Maybe one day, we'll actually be able to keep Christmas all year long!

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Need to Feel This




The inexplicably horrendous massacre at Shady Hook Elementary School has been a body blow to our nation. We are not only struggling to try and explain why this has happened - we are a people who need explanations - but why it keeps happening.

Of course the people whose lives are irrevocably changed and in some cases damaged are those of the parents, siblings and close friends of those who died last week. No parent 'gets over' the death of a child. It is almost cliche, but there is nothing more unnatural than burying your children. I can identify with that, but I also can identify with some others in Newton.

I, like other pastors, can identify with clergy and counselors who are trying to console those who are grieving. There are no easy explanations. There are no simple answers. Many will argue for tougher gun control laws and more effective mental health care, but a mother, father, grandparent, aunt or uncle will as 'Why did it take the life of these children to bring this country to action?' Still others will summon the magnanimity to say that if it took the death of their child to bring the nation to action then it was worth it to save another parent from this grief.

We won't be able to blame either for their reaction.

As a 25 year old preacher, an associate minister of a relatively small church in south Dallas, I was called as interim pastor and a few months later as pastor, to lead that church after the death of the pastor and two church members (one of which was his sister. Her son also in the car, survived). Ministry to my late pastor's family was one thing. There were extenuating circumstances beyond my experience, that made it particularly difficult.  Ministry to the church was something else. The idea that we must move forward as a congregation, while at the same time not forgetting the man who had, for 12 years, comforted them in similar situations, baptized and married their children and been their spiritual leader.

Those days are a blur to me now. If I said anything that was helpful, it was because God miraculously allowed those inadequate utterances to have meaning. If I led in anyway that kept that church at an even keel, it was because I had the support of wiser men and women who stood strong as I literally learned the names of people I had been going to church with for 9 months! Comfort and support was what we gave to one another, not something I did for them.

Looking back on it, this was hard. I didn't know enough to realize it at the time. Healing did come. It came with time. It came as we learned how to be a community, beyond platitudes and religious catch phrases. It came as we struggled with grief and I learned to stop comparing myself to my predecessor and members learned that embracing a new pastor didn't mean disloyalty to the previous one. It came as some members 'acted out' until they learned that life could continue - together, differently. Healing came, with births, deaths, comings and goings; it came as we embraced and discarded traditions and as we learned anew how to live together. Healing came, as we worshiped and served others, and learned how to serve one another.

While I've never experienced anything like Newton, this situation and other smaller ones helped me understand that faith, community and family make a difference. The people who 'make it through' are those who either have people to lean on or who have people who will not permit them to try and get through incredibly tough times without leaning on them. It's those who isolate themselves in their grief and pain that never quite seem to pull through.

Pray for the people of Newton, Connecticut. Pray for the students, teachers and faculty members you know. They feel the impact of this more acutely than we imagine.

Pray for this country. There is, in our nation, a tendency to want to get past the emotion and make rational, logical decisions. I think we need to feel this. I think we need ask ourselves and one another, what personal right do we value more than the lives of our fellow citizens? We don't need this to be an abstract question. We need to look at the faces of the children and teachers who lost their lives and ask ourselves what steps would we want taken to eliminate the prospects of this happening to our loved ones.

And we need to know that the comfort of pastors, counselors, friends and loved ones, comes all too hard at times like these.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God is Speaking - What's Our Response?




The public conversation about the shooting at Shady Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut is not only healthy, it's vital. The day before the shooting, the school where my wife works and my granddaughter is a student was on lock down because of a report of a gun on campus. Our oldest son was killed by gun violence five years ago.

The shopping mall in Oregon.

The mass shooting at the mosque in Wisconsin.

The Arizona shooting in which Representative Gabby Giffords was shot.

The shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Columbine.

Virginia Tech.

Anyone waiting for God to speak, it's important to know that He has already spoken. He's waiting for us to take action. The question is what will we do?

If anyone doesn't think we need to do something different, here is a grievously eloquent message that we need to reconsider our ways...


Charlotte Bacon, 6, 2/22/2006, F

Daniel Barden, 7, 9/25/2005, M

Rachel Davino, 29, 7/17/1983, F

Olivia Engel, 6, 7/18/2006, F

Josephine Gay, 7, 12/11/2005, F

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6, 4/04/2006, F

Dylan Hockley, 6, 3/08/2006, M

Dawn Hocksprung, 47, 6/28/1965, F

Madeleine F Hsu, 6, 7/10/2006, F

Catherine V Hubbard, 6, 6/08/2006, F

Chase Kowalski, 7, 10/31/2005, M

Jesse Lewis, 6, 6/30/2006, M

James Mattioli, 6, 3/22/2006, M

Grace McDonnell, 7, 11/04/2005, F

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, 7/25/1960, F

Emilie Parker, 6, 5/12/2006, F

Jack Pinto, 6, 5/6/2006, M

Noah Pozner, 6, 11/20/2006, M

Caroline Previdi, 6, 9/7/2006, F

Jessica Rekos, 6, 5/10/2006, F

Avielle Richman, 6, 10/17/2006, F

Lauren Rousseau, 30, 6/8/1982, F

Mary Sherlach, 56, 2/11/1956, F

Victoria Soto, 27, 11/4/1985, F

Benjamin Wheeler, 6, 9/12/2006, M

Allison N Wyatt,  6, 7/3/2006, F

Saturday, December 15, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Neil Armstrong
1930-2012


NASA Astronaut and Engineer

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand." 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Texas' Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner Issues Advisories to Payday Lenders

I've written earlier about payday lenders lack of compliance with city ordinances and state legislation (you can find those posts here, here and here).

Apparently Texas' Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner has taken notice and has issued two advisories to the industry.

________________________________


One advisory addresses the issue of circumventing local payday lending ordinances...


Credit Services Organization Bulletin

December 11, 2012

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) is concerned about a business practice that some credit services organizations (CSOs) are using. The business practice appears to be designed to avoid compliance with Chapter 393 of the Texas Finance Code. Continued use of the practice could result in the Texas Legislature taking adverse action in the upcoming legislative session and could also lead to civil liability on the part of the CSO.

The business practice at issue is as follows. As contemplated by Chapter 393, the CSO assists the consumer in obtaining credit and charges a fee for this service. But the CSO does not take a post-dated check from the consumer or, in the case of a loan secured by the consumer’s motor vehicle, the motor vehicle’s title. By not requiring the consumer to provide a post-dated check or the motor vehicle’s title, the CSO contends that the activity falls outside the definition of “credit access business” (CAB) and therefore escapes the regulatory requirements imposed on CABs in Chapter 393 of the Texas Finance Code. The Texas Finance Code does not specifically prohibit this practice; nevertheless, this transaction could be seen as an attempt to evade the regulatory requirements of Chapter 393 and an attempt to circumvent the law.

The OCCC believes that this business practice conflicts with the legislative intent manifested in house bills 2592 and 2594 passed in 2011. The purpose of these bills was to provide a licensing and regulatory framework to govern credit service organizations who obtain credit for Texas consumers. The OCCC believes that the legislature intended that the bills cover transactions where the CSO obtains an extension of credit for a consumer, even where the CSO does not require the consumer to provide a post-dated check, debit authorization, or motor vehicle title. If the legislature finds that this business practice conflicts with its intent, it could consider passing additional legislation that would put further regulatory restrictions on CSOs that obtain extensions of credit for consumers.

This practice could also subject a CSO to civil liability under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act or under Chapter 393. If a consumer brought suit against a CSO who was engaged in the business practice described above, it is possible that a court could find for the consumer and enter a judgment against the CSO.

The OCCC is concerned about the potential legislative reaction to this practice and the possibility that the legislature will see this practice as a subterfuge intended to circumvent the regulatory requirements of Chapter 393. The OCCC is also concerned about the civil liability a CSO engaged in this practice could face. The agency strongly urges any CSO currently engaged in this practice to consider the legislative and legal consequences.

_____________________________________

The other addresses the issue of transferring auto-title loans to stores outside of cities with regulatory ordinances in order to evade compliance with those ordinances...

_____________________________________

December 11, 2012

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) is concerned about a business model used by some credit access businesses (CABs) in the cities of Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. These three cities have enacted ordinances restricting certain renewal activities by CABs and limiting the number of installments a transaction may have. The practice discussed in this bulletin appears to be intended to avoid compliance with the city ordinances. While the OCCC does not have authority to enforce the city ordinances, it is concerned about a practice whose intent appears to be circumvention of the law.

It appears that a number of CABs are engaged in the following practice. A CAB branch located within the city limits offers the consumer a no-interest, 30-day loan funded by the CAB and secured by the consumer’s vehicle. If, at the end of the month, the consumer cannot pay off the loan, the CAB informs the consumer that the consumer’s vehicle will be repossessed if the consumer does not pay the loan off. The CAB then proposes that the consumer go to another branch location outside the city limits and obtain a CAB loan to pay off the original loan and keep the vehicle from being repossessed.

The OCCC is concerned about the lack of transparency involved in this practice, which effectively draws into a CAB transaction a consumer who might not otherwise engage in one. This business model could also be perceived as a deceptive practice because it appears calculated to bring the consumer into the store with the promise of one product, but later effectively requires the consumer to go to another location to purchase another product.
The OCCC also believes that this business model may conflict with the legislative intent manifested in house bills 2592 and 2594 passed in 2011. These bills establish the three-party model upon which the CAB transaction is based and require separation between the lender and the CAB. When, as here, the CAB acts as a lender, the CAB is stepping out of the role of credit access business and into the role of the lender, contrary to legislature’s intent. Significantly, it is likely that if the legislature finds this practice conflicts with its intent, it could consider passing additional legislation that would put further regulatory restrictions on CABs.

The OCCC is concerned about the possible legislative reaction to this practice and this business model’s lack of transparency. The agency strongly urges any credit access business currently engaged in this practice to consider the legislative and legal consequences.

_____________________________________


If you or someone you know have complaints about the practices payday or auto-title lenders, contact the Office of the  Consumer Credit  Commissioner:


2601 N. Lamar Blvd Austin TX 78705
512- 936-7600
Fax: 512-936-7610
Consumer Helpline: 800-538-1579
Email: info@occc.state.tx.us

To find out more about these and other OCCC findings check here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Ignore Michigan's Assault on Labor


The Michigan state legislature passed and it's governor, Rick Snyder signed it's landmark 'Right to Work' law in an attempt to eviscerate the iconic significance of that state's labor unions. 

I live in Texas, which, like a number of southern states is a right to work state. That designation is not necessarily a kiss of death. But that's true because of workers rights codified into law by the work of labor unions. 

Stories indeed abound about the corruption of unions, their lessening influence, especially during the last half of the 20th century, of their institutional concern with self perpetuation and the threat they pose to shareholders and tax payers with their unreasonable labor demands. 

Little is written anymore to their legacy enjoyed by most of us: the five day work week, competitive salaries, safe working conditions, vacations, standard employee benefits and retirement pay. Most of us take these benefits for granted, but we have them because of unions. 

Texas, more specifically and relevantly (since this is where I live) north central Texas does quite well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage in in the U.S. for the first quarter of this year was $984 a week. In north central Texas it was $1085. Texas' economy tends to be counter cyclical and is focused on energy and finance. But make no mistake about it, the influence of labor is felt even in a right to work state like Texas. 

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, in a speech that explains her vote against Michigan's new law, gives us another reason why this law passed. The law bypasses concern for the quality of life of its citizens in order to provide political retribution for the recent national elections. The financial support and political clout of unions were the counter weight to the financial 'free speech' of the Super PACS. This was payback. Senator Whitmire's passionate discourse reminds them that in an effort to neuter the union's political influence this measure hurt people...it hurt families. 





An honest, even political public debate can be had over the role of unions in the 21st century - especially since the impact of the Great Recession. Is it better to fight for higher paying jobs for a few at the expense of jobs that employ more people at lesser wages? Is the public good better served by corporate profits benefiting investors, or by increasing the number of wage earners by re-investing profits through increased hiring or increasing the wages of workers. What sacrifices must unions make in collective bargaining? And what is the appropriate role of unions in our political process? These are a few honest questions that we haven't begun to answer yet. 

Michigan's law is not an answer. It's a statement. And it's one about which we should all be worried, because the fate of unions will impact us all, just as their victories have benefited us all. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You Call This 'Conservative'?



Ideology is expensive, and it could cost Texans $76 billion!

Governor Rick Perry's decision to opt out of Medicaid expansion is based on political ideology (and/or political ambition). There is no sane explanation for not recapturing the $76  billion the state will lose by not participating in the health care exchange and the near full funding of Medicaid expansion that comes with it. 

Texas leads the nation in uninsured individuals. That too is costly. Medicaid provides health care coverage, primarily for the poor and the elderly. That includes children with chronic health problems, such as asthma. It includes the cost of care for senior citizens in nursing homes. Two million Texans would be covered by the health care exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act (it doesn't matter to me, that President Obama says he likes the term 'Obamacare', I refuse to use it!). Another two million would be covered by Medicaid expansion. How a state in which 25% of the population are uninsured can say 'Thanks, but no thanks' to money taxpayers have already sent to Washington is a mystery that has yet to be explain. 

Perry wrote in USA Today, "Setting aside the obvious fact that health insurance is readily available under current conditions — the problem has been price, not availability — these exchanges represent nothing more than another federal power grab in the guise of a supposedly free market."

"States were given the option to set up and execute their own exchanges — at their own expense. The fine print, however, specified that the exchanges would have to follow all rules and guidelines imposed by the federal government, with little to no flexibility. The kicker: Many of these rules and regulations are unknown." 

Interestingly enough, some 23 states have figured out what the rules and regulations are...

Governor Perry, along with other GOP governors across the country who are balking at the exchange and the Medicaid expansion, have taken a stance which defies logic: why would he - and they - consign individuals making $15,000 a year. or families making less than $40,000 to needless emergency room health care, when an acceptable alternative is available?! And why would he - and they - consign insured tax payers to the paying for the uninsured - twice?!
Insured tax payers pay for the uninsured through higher taxes (total federal, state and local spending on the uninsured is estimated to cost more than $35 billion) and higher insurance premium costs (up to $1017 a year;). 

How is that 'fiscally conservative'?

If you believe, as do I, that Texas cannot afford to be victimized by a political ideology that costs more than it pays, join CitySquare, Dallas Area Interfaith and other organizations throughout the state, in urging the Governor and our state legislators to stop this foolishness and do something that only makes good sense: opt into the Medicaid expansion and the health care exchange.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind


Johnny Carson 
1925-2005



Host of the Tonight Show
1962-1992

"My success just evolved from working hard at the business at hand each day." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Lawful and Welcoming Society...What a Concept!

Former President George W.  Bush

Earlier today, in a speech given at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, former President George W. Bush affirmed his support for a sensitive and sane, immigration policy. 
Here's hoping state and national policy makers are listening...
"George W. Bush – who’s listed the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform as one of the regrets of his presidency – encouraged lawmakers on Tuesday to debate the topic with “a benevolent spirit” and to “keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.”"
"“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Bush said in a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas."
"Bush gave the remarks at the daylong conference organized by his namesake public policy think tank, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Dallas Fed. The event, focused on immigration and economic growth, features analysis by economists, business leaders and other policy experts."
"The former president stopped short of advocating for a specific immigration policy, although he pushed for a guest-worker program while in the White House. He instead highlighted the important role immigrants play in the economy and said that they “invigorate our soul.”"
"“Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas,” he said. “They fill a critical gap in our labor market. And they work hard for a chance at a better life.”"
"The conference comes after President Barack Obama romped to victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 election, in part because of strong Hispanic support in swing states and backing from 71 percent of Hispanics nationally."
"Given that the demographic is expected to grow for years to come, Republicans in Texas and across the U.S. have started reevaluating how to appeal to Hispanics. That’s despite Democrats looking to build upon that support and create a clearer path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S."
"While the Bush Institute event Tuesday was planned well in advance of the presidential election and the subsequent flurry of immigration talk, Bush’s comments put him in the familiar position of helping lead the GOP’s outreach to the Hispanic community."
"“Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, I had the honor and privilege of meeting the newly arrived,” Bush said. “Those who I’ve met love their families. They see education as a bright future for their children. Some willingly defend the flag.”"
"“As our nation debates the proper course of action related to immigration,” he added, “I hope do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.”"
You can read the rest of the article here...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life Lessons




Aeschylus

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”



Saturday, December 1, 2012

For Those Who Change the Wind


Lawrence Guyot
1939-2012



Attorney, Human Rights Activist

“There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you.” 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Payday Lenders Looking for Loopholes - and Finding Them!



The story goes that W.C. Fields, who made no pretense of being religious, was visited in the hospital by a friend who found Fields in bed reading a Bible. Fields was very ill, in fact many feared that he was dying. The friend asked, 'Fields, what are you doing reading a Bible?!'
Fields replied, 'Looking for loopholes!'

In Texas, payday lenders are experts at looking for loopholes - and finding them!

A few months ago, I wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News about the need for more stringent oversight of the payday loan industry, particularly regarding it's compliance with Dallas' local ordinances, the laws passed in the last session of the Texas legislature and industry 'best practices'. Ann Baddour of Texas Appleseed and I were also guests on 'McCuistion', a local public televisoin talk show, where discussed the very same thing with Rob Norcross, lobbyist for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas.

Finally, this past summer, I was interviewed about the hardships of low income consumers caused by a chain of auto title lenders who are transferring existing looans to the suburbs in ourder to circumvent compliance with Dallas' regulatroy ordinances.

This isn't made up stuff! Nor is it rampant speculation. Consider this report from Forrest Wilder, writing for the Texas Observer...

"One day a few weeks ago, on my way to work, I walked into a Cash Store near my house in East Austin and took out a $1,500 loan. I wasn’t broke, but I sure would’ve been if I hadn’t later canceled the loan. Thankfully, Texas law allows you to cancel a payday or title loan within 72 hours, without penalty. Otherwise, repaying it in 10 installments over five months, fees, interest and principal amounted to $2,362.23—an effective APR of 612 percent. My motivation was journalistic curiosity: What is the retail experience of a typical payday loan customer? How easy is it? As easy as, say, buying a TV or toaster oven? Would there be a high-pressure sales job? Would it be hard to figure out what I was getting into?"

"I picked the Cash Store—a medium-sized, Irving, Texas-based chain with five locations in Austin and 133 statewide—at random. Cash Store is owned by Trevor Ahlberg, a major Republican donor who lives in Irving and enjoys big-game hunts around the world."   "The store I visited is located in a busy shopping center anchored by an HEB supermarket. The interior was clean and sparsely appointed. A trio of well-groomed young Hispanic women were stationed at partitioned stalls, like tellers in a bank.""Within 45 minutes, I had $1,500 in twenties counted out to me, arranged like a fan on the counter. The first payment of $408.72 was due in two weeks. I left the store with the money, but I was also confused. I had gone in looking to take out a payday loan but had left with something else."

"“We don’t do a payday loan,” the Cash Store employee told me when I asked for one. “It’s an installment loan.” Indeed, small taped-up signs in the store stated that the Cash Store doesn’t offer “deferred presentment transactions”—the technical term for payday loans—at its Austin locations. Moreover, the employee told me that they were “pretty good about loaning up to half of what you make in a month.”"

"The total amount they were willing to loan me was, in fact, more than twice my monthly income, despite a recently enacted ordinance passed by Austin City Council that explicitly limits the amount of a payday loan to 20 percent of monthly income. The ordinance also prohibits payday shops from offering installment loans that include more than four installments—an attempt to slow down the cycle of debt many consumers get into with these loans."

"Also: I was never provided with a newly required disclosure form that explains in plain English how much the loan costs, compares it to other types of credit and provides contact information for the state Office of Consumer Credit Consumer Commissioner."

"As serendipity would have it, I had stumbled onto the latest mutant creature in the wild and wooly world of Texas payday lending. “What you’ve come across is really important,” said Ann Baddour of Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based group that advocates for social and economic justice. “It looks like they have found a loophole within a loophole,” one that allows Cottonwood Financial (d/b/a Cash Store) to escape new, albeit meager, licensing and disclosure requirements passed by the Texas Legislature as well as more stringent rules adopted by Austin, San Antonio and Dallas."
"(Ahlberg did not a return a voicemail left at his office. The Texas payday industry’s main trade association, the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, also did not reply to requests for comment.)"

"What’s different about Cash Store’s loans versus a “regular” payday loan? Instead of signing a postdated check for the amount due, like you would in a true payday loan, the Cash Store had me sign a photocopy of a blank check. That small change apparently has magical powers. Voila! Not a deferred presentment transaction, not a payday loan, not a credit access business, and apparently not subject to Texas regulations."
"Experts I consulted said the arrangement looked legal on its face, but raised troubling questions about the state’s convoluted and extraordinarily lax legal apparatus surrounding payday and title loans. (You can view my contracts here.)"

"“There are new products in the payday and auto-loan field that raise questions,” said state Sen. John Carona, a Dallas Republican who chairs the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. “These approaches appear to skirt local ordinances as well as state law. Carona said he would consider filing legislation to address the problem next year."

"Leslie Pettijohn, the head of the state Office of the Credit Consumer Commissioner, warned Carona’s committee in October that attempts to circumvent the new law “threaten the whole integrity of our system of interest rates and usury laws.”"

I've said it before, I'll say it again: there's something wrong with a business model that depends on exploitation to make profit!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Accommodation: A Community Conversation


On the first and third Thursdays of each month (at Highland Park United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church, respectively) CitySquare's Public Policy Department hosts it's Urban Engagement Book Club. 

By far, the book I most looked forward to us reviewing was 'The Accommodation' by Dallas Observer columnist, Jim Schutze. It's a primer on the history of race relations in Dallas and one which has evoked strong emotion, pro and con by nearly everyone who has read it (and many who haven't!). 

After a number of our book clubs we have what we refer to as 'community conversations' during which we have guests who engage in a dialogue with us designed to help us understand the issue on which the book is focused. Our guests for the conversation after the review was Jim and Rev. Peter Johnson, longtime Dallas civil rights activist and former regional director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I have a great deal of respect for both of these men and they made this a very special event. 

We recorded this book club and we look forward to doing more of this in the coming year. 

Hope you enjoy this! I certainly did!


By the way: kudos to Randy Mayeux who did a masterful job of reviewing this book in the author's presence - no small feat! Thanks Randy for the excellent job you do for us every month!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The 'Anti-WalMart'?





There may be those of us who feel conflicted about reports of WalMart's low prices and it's poor pay of it's employees. There appears to be a little considered option (for reasons that appear to be widely unknown - certainly unknown to me!) - Cosco.

CEO Jim Senigal appears to have unraveled the mystery of paying your workers a decent wage and providing customers with low prices.

"Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.""

"Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street's assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street's profit demands."

"Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. "This is not altruistic," he said. "This is good business.""

"He also dismisses calls to increase Costco's product markups. Mr. Sinegal, who has been in the retailing business for more than a half-century, said that heeding Wall Street's advice to raise some prices would bring Costco's downfall."

""When I started, Sears, Roebuck was the Costco of the country, but they allowed someone else to come in under them," he said. "We don't want to be one of the casualties. We don't want to turn around and say, 'We got so fancy we've raised our prices,' and all of a sudden a new competitor comes in and beats our prices.""

"At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal's cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more."

""They could probably get more money for a lot of items they sell," said Ed Weller, a retailing analyst at ThinkEquity."

"But Mr. Sinegal warned that if Costco increased markups to 16 or 18 percent, the company might slip down a dangerous slope and lose discipline in minimizing costs and prices."

"Mr. Sinegal, whose father was a coal miner and steelworker, gave a simple explanation. "On Wall Street, they're in the business of making money between now and next Thursday," he said. "I don't say that with any bitterness, but we can't take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now.""

"IF shareholders mind Mr. Sinegal's philosophy, it is not obvious: Costco's stock price has risen more than 10 percent in the last 12 months, while Wal-Mart's has slipped 5 percent. Costco shares sell for almost 23 times expected earnings; at Wal-Mart the multiple is about 19.Mr. Dreher said Costco's share price was so high because so many people love the company. "It's a cult stock," he said."

"Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent."

""He has been too benevolent," she said. "He's right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden.""

"Mr. Sinegal says he pays attention to analysts' advice because it enforces a healthy discipline, but he has largely shunned Wall Street pressure to be less generous to his workers..."

Read the rest of the article here...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Understanding Structural Inequities, Disparities and Disproportionality...

Two things always surprise me about writing a column for a newspaper: who reads it and who likes what they read.

Those who agree don't always take the time to write. But there are those who will always let me know that they agree - or disagree - with what I've written. People are free to disagree. There are some whose comments sometimes make me rethink my position. Others clearly think I have more space than I do to express an opinion (the column length is 630 words). 

This month was no exception. 

There were those who replied who clearly agreed and appreciated the perspective. Others who are obviously still smarting from their candidate's failure to win the election, were less inclined to agree, or had what they thought, were salient criticisms. 

For instance some had real problems understanding the column's references to 'structural inequities and disparities'. Which is particularly interesting since Texas' Republican dominated state legislature clearly understands what these terms mean. They even set up a address the issues resulting from the problems they create...

"The Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities was created by Senate Bill 501 in 2011 to help address disproportionality and disparities in Texas health and human services. Senate Bill 501 established the center as the Texas State Office of Minority Health to assume a leadership role in working with state and federal agencies, universities, private groups, communities, foundations, and offices of minority health to decrease or eliminate health and health access disparities among racial, multicultural, disadvantaged, ethnic, and regional populations." 

"Senate Bill 501 provides for a comprehensive approach and allows Texas to maximize resources and produce better results through the development of recommendations for strategies that cut across every system that contributes to disproportionality and disparities for the same populations. The legislation also established the Interagency Council for Addressing Disproportionality which is composed of representatives from various state agencies and community-based interested parties, including former foster care youth, representatives from the medical community, and representatives from community- and faith-based organizations."

"Disproportionality is the overrepresentation of a particular race or cultural group in a program or system compared to their representation in the general population. Disparity is the condition of being unequal and refers to the difference in outcomes and conditions that exist among specific groups as compared to other groups due to unequal treatment or services. A health disparity is a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect people who have experienced greater social or economic obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, mental health, physical disability or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion."

"Disproportionality and disparity in the treatment of children, families of color, and vulnerable populations in systems is embedded in the structure, in policy, in practice and in individual relationships between workers and their clients. It has its roots in historical conditions, and it arises from factors such as poverty, education levels, income, household composition and the lack of resources."

"Significant gains have been made in reducing disproportionality within the Texas child welfare system. This work has laid the foundation for expansion and continued improvement across other health and human services agencies."

"...eliminating disproportionality and disparities calls for the reform and in depth look at all programs that serve our vulnerable citizens, including health care, education, juvenile justice, and housing. This approach cuts across every system that contributes to disproportionality and disparities for the same populations. The Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities will serve as a vehicle in addressing and eliminating disproportionality and disparities in the Texas Health and Human Services System as well as other systems that serve children, families, and vulnerable populations. Success is dependent on mutual accountability at every level so that the end result is equity and fairness in all health and human services delivery."

Were there voters across the country fearful that such an understanding at the federal level was unlikely if the President was not reelected? I think that's a reasonable conclusion. 

I think it's equally clear, that there are those who are so threatened by the prospect of changes in current systems which will result in greater opportunities for the poor and minorities that they refuse to acknowledge, let alone understand the need.

Of course, this only deals with structural (systemic) inequities in the delivery of public support services. It doesn't address inequities in the private sector - access to credit for businesses, lack of economic development in areas of concentrated poverty; the presence of food deserts and food swamps - which result both from poverty and market bias. Nor does it deal with other issues related to areas where public and private systems are linked, like, for instance, the criminal justice system and prison reentry. But disparities and disproportionalities abound in our culture and those seeking office, whether at our statehouses or the White House, cannot blithely dismiss people 'takers' in their ideology, politics or even their humanity. 

Find out more about the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities, here. 
To learn about one of the initiatives of the Obama Administration to address disparities in education of African-Americans check here and here

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Analysis of the 2012 Presidential Election Results


My November column in the Dallas Morning News was published last week. For those of you who can't get behind the pay wall, here is the full text...

_______________________________

GOP, meet the ascending electorate

Those of us who follow politics are drinking from a fire hydrant of postelection analysis. The close popular vote and clear Electoral College victory revealed changes in American politics as complex and challenging as are the issues facing President Barack Obama in his second term.

The vote revealed what some have referred to as an ascending electorate. We’ve all heard the figures by now: 93 percent of blacks, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asian-Americans voted for Obama. The president won 60 percent of the youth vote (ages 18-29) and garnered 67 percent of single women voters.

There is palpable angst in the Republican Party over this outcome, and serious GOP politicians and strategists know something has got to change. Yet Mitt Romney’s assessment of his defeat — an insulting, offensive suggestion that only the poor could have failed to have voted for him — completely overlooks the possibility of a poor campaign strategy or ineffective messaging.

He instead blamed “gifts” given to a growing segment of the American electorate that is hooked on entitlements. He went on to speak derisively of “free health care” being a “huge” gift to someone making $25,000 to $30,000 a year, essentially explaining away the margin of defeat among key demographics by suggesting that votes had been “bought.”
Such an evaluation shows an unseemly disdain for voters, willfully ignoring the fact that for some citizens, seeking the American Dream is not about getting rich but rather about addressing structural inequities and disparities in our economic system through policy change. This constituency has the same rights as a person of means to vote for candidates who most adequately speak to those concerns.

The GOP campaign avoided substantive conversation about the concerns of this constituency, relying instead on marginalization of its issues and a variety of efforts to suppress minority voter turnout. It was a losing strategy.

Americans living on their own fiscal cliff can’t ignore issues of inequity. A recent Pew Center Research study reports that the wealth of Hispanics fell by 66 percent between the years 2005 and 2009. Asian-American household wealth fell by 54 percent. Black Americans’ wealth fell by 59 percent. By comparison, white wealth fell by only 16 percent. Nearly a quarter of Hispanic and black families surveyed had no assets beyond the family car, compared with only 6 percent of white families.

Likewise, the persistent achievement gap in education threatens the future of our country. Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, a children’s advocacy group, warns, “African-American students are less likely than their white counterparts to be taught by teachers who know their subject matter … they are less likely to be exposed to a rich and challenging curriculum and the schools that educate them typically receive less state and local funding than the ones serving mainly white students.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that mortality rates for black children are nearly 2.5 times those of white children. Blacks and Hispanics report higher instances of coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Disparities in preventable hospitalizations associated with these diseases, if eliminated, could save $6.7 billion annually.

It’s easy to judge some Americans harshly, lecture about “dependency” and demean citizens as “victims” — all the while devising policies that create obstacles to polling places. After being ignored, threatened, caricatured and insulted, the Election Day votes of these Americans — as well as others who know our nation can do better — should have come as no surprise.
As Republicans continue to search for answers, perhaps they should consider this paraphrase of a movie title from a few years ago: “They’re Just Not That Into You.”

The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His e-mail address is gbritt@citysquare.org. He blogs at www.changethewind.org.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Morning Blessing: Near The Cross


This may be a controversial post for some. Carlton Pearson is no longer a 'traditional' Christian minister - and some have branded him no Christian at all. However, this video is from 20 years ago and the power of this song still has impact. 

For those of us who grew up in the church, or have been in the church for a long time, know the tremendous hope offered by this hymn. It speaks of an ultimate triumph we experience now and which we believe will be fully realized in the future. 

This song inspires me. It is one I still love to sing and I hope it blesses you this morning...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Samuel Beckett
1906-1989



Playwright, Novelist, Director

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

'How Children Succeed...' Less of a Mystery than We Think?


Larry James, Randy Mayeaux (who reviews our books for our Urban Engagement Book Club) and I, assisted by our Public Policy Coordinator Keilah Jacques, have just selected our books for next years' UEBC. One of the books I'm looking most forward to reading and having a conversation about is "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character", by Paul Tough.

Tough, a journalist and former editor for the New York Times and Harper's Magazine, interviewed about the book and it looks to be a very important read that reminds us of what we already know: there's more to the capacity of our children to learn than I.Q. and test scores. Equally, if not more important is the determination to succeed, the willingness to work hard and character that enables them to persevere through life's challenges. Of course we need a community of caring adults to nurture, challenge and support children with these qualities, but the book challenges the notion that we need to consign our children to dead end lives.




CitySquare's public policy focus on education will be an important one. I'll release a list of the books and when they'll be reviewed soon. In the meantime, you can get a jump start by reading "How Children Succeed..." ahead of time and preparing to be a part of the community conversation afterward. 

Urban Engagement Book Club is held on the first Thursday of each month from 12:00-1:00 pm at the Highland Park United Methodist Church. Each third Thursday we meet at First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas at the same time. 

See you there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A WalMart Shopper in Support of Striking WalMart Employees

I'm a WalMart shopper...

And I will support the striking employees of WalMart on Black Friday...




Their call for increased wages, more and better hours, and better working conditions is right. And I think it is the right thing for them to go on strike. There is a unique balance between our demand for goods and services and the goal of work that recognizes the rights of the worker, including supporting and nurturing family life.

My second real job was working in the kitchen at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. I was about 17 years old. I worked there after school and on weekends after football season. My younger brother, Lyndon, worked part-time, year round.

Not long after I started working there, our supervisor began scheduling us to work nearly every Sunday from 11-7. This was a conflict in the family, because we attended church every Sunday. Shady Grove Baptist Church is a relatively small Baptist church in East Dallas. My grandfather was the pastor and our family played prominent roles in worship service.

My grandfather would have understood if we had missed worship occasionally to work on Sunday. We wouldn't be the only members of the church who worked in a hospital. But in our family, worship wasn't just about presentation, it was a conviction. We worshiped on Sunday because we believed that this is what we were obligated to do...and we loved worship and our church.

After no less of three weeks of this scheduling, my mother went and talked to the head dietitian and explained to her our situation and told her that if working on Sunday from 11-7 was a requirement then we could no longer work there. We could work all day on Saturday and any time we weren't in school. But on Sunday, we could only work from 4:30-7:30.

It was not a long conversation. When it was over, we still had our jobs, and we only worked on Sunday from 4:30-7:30.

We worked Christmases. Thanksgivings. New Year's Days, occasionally on Easter Sunday afternoons.

But we were also teen-agers. There's a huge difference between a wage for part-time student workers and their schedules and those of adults with children. I cannot imagine having to have that type of conversation with my family's livelihood hanging in the balance. Or this job making the difference between whether or not I would have enough to pay rent AND eat that pay period.

These are the choices WalMart workers have to make.

I worked at a department store for a year or two before being called to pastor a church. I worked in the warehouse and sometimes on the floor serving customers. The most I ever made, was $10,000 a year. I remember the last raise I got on that job - about 10-15 cents. An older man, Louie, who was the custodian and who had worked in that department store for more than 10 years. Got a larger raise...and had his hours reduced.

WalMart workers report this as a common occurrence.

There are some who say that this...among many other reasons is why they don't shop at WalMart. Perhaps that's the right thing to do. I'm probably justifying my patronage by saying that 'not' shopping at WalMart, in some way makes them more vulnerable. We all 'benefit' from WalMart's low prices and their influence on the economy. They force small businesses out of business. They also force their remaining competitors to lower their prices. Many of us have 401k's wrapped around the axle of their prosperity.

Here's what I can do...

After meeting with WalMart workers last week and hearing their stories, I can come and pray with them before their protest. That's what they asked of me and other clergy there. I can encourage them.

And I can not shop there Friday.

It may be fair to brand this as an area in which I'm being hypocritical and that's probably fair. But their cause is just. And they need to be supported. You and I can argue how you feel about my inconsistency later. The question now is, how will you support them?

Monday, November 19, 2012

'Teached' is in CitySquare Public Policy Department's 2013 Documentary Screening Schedule

One of my favorite (although at times nerve racking!), initiatives we have at CitySquare to promote public awareness about issues related to poverty is our documentary screenings.

We started in 2011 with the popular film, 'Waiting for Superman' and have since screened films that have dealt with hunger, the plight of black men and immigration, among other topics.We're putting together our list of films for 2013 and we're going to try something a little different.

One of our screenings will be a three part documentary entitled 'Teached' about inequality in public education. Education is key if children trapped in poverty are to be provided a pathway out of education. I believe all children can learn - and learn at high levels - however, all children don't have the same opportunities, let alone advantages. 'TEACHED' is a short film series that candidly assesses the causes and consequences of our nation's race-based “achievement gap," looking at continuing inequalities in our public school system and taking viewers into those communities where the effects are most severe to hear what solutions the students, parents, teachers and others have to offer.

Normally we have a pretty lively discussion with a guest panel that offer insights based on their areas of expertise related to the film. We'll have a different and we hope more challenging format with this short film series.

More to come on this as we finalize our preparations. I just wanted to give you a heads up to let you know that 2013 promises to be another great year in which CitySquare continues to tackle the root causes of poverty and confront the systems that sometimes have barriers that make it difficult for our neighbors to live out their dreams.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Government Doesn't Create Jobs" - Really?!


The most unconsciously spoken meme spoken by people whose ideology outstrips their common sense is that 'government doesn't create jobs'. 

Of course government creates jobs! And we all want government to create some jobs! Here are just a few of the jobs government 'doesn't create'. Periodically I'll be posting pictures of jobs which government can't 'create' but clearly does!. 

Share them with someone who goes into ideological auto-pilot and spouts this talking point...












Saturday, November 17, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Papa John's More Than a Sore Loser

So there are some sore feelings around last week's presidential election. Some are along political partisan lines. Some of those sore feelings are clearly because of race. Others, I think are just spite.

The worst sore losers? Well one is John Schnatter. Maybe you don't know his name, but you know his face. He's the 'John' in 'Papa John's Pizza. Schnatter was an Romney supporter and, as you may have heard, Romney loss. 

Now in his concession speech, Mitt Romney did exactly what you are supposed to do. He expressed his thanks to his supporters and his family. He congratulated the President and he pledged his support and his prayers. That sends the signal to his supporters that the campaign is over, we accept the outcome and we come together as a country. 

Schnatter missed the memo. 

Because the candidate he supported lost the election, John Schnatter decided that he is so disturbed by one of President Obama's policies that he's taking desperate measures. The policy is the Affordable Care Act (I actually think 'Obamacare' is disrespectful. But since the President says its OK, I'll use it occasionally). 

Obamacare requires employers with over 50 full time workers provide health care coverage for its workers. John Schnatter believes this will increase his business costs, and add a whopping 10-14 cents to the cost of a pizza. So he's considering cutting his employees hours so he won't have to provide health care. 

"Schnatter...made the comments Wednesday night inside a small auditorium at Edison State College's Collier County campus. In August, he made national headlines after telling shareholders the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — would result in a 10- to 14-cent increase for customers buying a pizza."

""I got in a bunch of trouble for this," he told the students. "That's what you do, is you pass on costs. Unfortunately, I don't think people know what they're going to pay for this."
Schnatter, a Mitt Romney supporter and fundraiser, said he was not "pro or against" the reform law but likened the government's involvement in health care to its operation of the U.S. Postal Service, saying "the worst entity in the world for running the thing is the government.""

Of course, Schnatter's not the only electoral Grinch. There are others, including Applebee's restaurants considering similar action.

We now live in an era in which regular working stiffs have succumbed to the idea that businesses can do whatever they want to do. Unless it means that the working stiff proponent loses his or her job. The small business owner who believes he's one sale away from reaching Fortune 500 status is similarly committed to such ethos. 

But there's something wrong with this. And I refuse to believe that it's not seen by most of us. 
Now, I don't eat Papa John's Pizza. I've been to Applebee's maybe three times in the past 20 years. For me to say, 'I won't be back', won't make a dent in their business. But this is poor corporate citizenship. It's unfair to workers. And it is a sorry display of democracy. 

I think more people ought to at least say so...


Saturday, November 10, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind



George McGovern 
1922-2012



Former U.S. Senator (D), South Dakota
1963-1981

"The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher plain."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Civic Lesson: The Electoral College...


So, we're having some blowback from some people who feel that voting in this years election is meaningless because of the Electoral College. The reasoning is pretty specious, because all elections are not about the Presidential election or the Electoral College. However, there are those who do not understand the Electoral College. It's pretty timely because we might see this happening tonight. So here it is!

Thanks to Khan Academy! It's a great resource!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day is Almost Here! Here's a Little Help, Now Go Vote!








Ok, you've missed early voting, Tuesday's coming and you know who you want to cast your ballot for President, but you're not sure about those other races?

I know it's intimidating. As a matter of fact, I'm sure that's one reason many people don't vote. Most people aren't political junkies so they haven't been paying attention to what seems to be a million politicians running for office.

Here's a little help. This sample ballot will let you know every congressional and state race you will be voting for if you live in Dallas County (sorry, if you live elsewhere, I can't be of much help to you!)

You still have to do a little homework, but here's the link to the League of Women Voter's Guide. You will find virtually everything you need here to find out where to vote and the politicians stances on relevant issues. Trust me, it's excellent.

Spend some time reading about the candidates. Filter through the noise. Think about the kind of country, state and county you want and which office best helps achieve that desired end.

There's also a bond initiative on the ballot. Here's some information on that.

You've got all the tools you need. Now GO VOTE!

By the way, this is a post for today AND tomorrow. This election is just that important!