Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Franklin Graham's Apology

"Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized Tuesday (Feb. 28) to President Obama for questioning his Christian faith and said religion has "nothing to do" with Graham's decision not to support Obama's re-election."

"Graham's apology came after a group of prominent black religious leaders criticized the evangelist for saying he did not know whether Obama is a Christian and suggesting that Islamic law considers him to be a Muslim."
"Graham, president of the relief organization Samaritan's Purse and the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he now accepts Obama's declarations that he is a Christian."
""I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama," he said in a statement."
""I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election -- for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate.""

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We Need a Statesman not a Zealot

I wanted to defend this speech based in response to an earlier attack heard last week. But JFK's eloquence and depth of thought is its own defense.

And an appropriate rebuke...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do We Have What it Takes to End Homelessness?

Last year, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's annual census count, placed the number of homeless people in our county at 5783. 

Under 6000!

Now granted, even MDHA officials will admit that this number is probably an under count.

But that's not the issue. The issue is that this is too small a number to consider the problem of homelessness in Dallas as inevitable or unsolvable.

CitySquare is a partner in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, in which we will join other service providers, advocates and supporters in creating a registry which will identify these citizens and seek to get them into housing. This is a part of a national campaign to end homelessness.

We believe that we ought not wave a white flag when it comes to this situation. Nor do we believe that we ought to conveniently brand the homeless as people who don't want help. It has been estimated that Dallas spends nearly $50 million inefficiently addressing this issue. The cost of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, is estimated to cost about $17,000 a year (vs. $35-$150,000 a year).

If you want to join us, register to be a part of the count here.

We need to bring an end to this problem...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

DISCOVERED: THE Reason Viola & Octavia May not Win Tonight!

So tonight is Oscar night and you can count me as one of the millions who will be watching (37 million last year). I watch for pretty much the same reason others do - the host, the speeches, who will be best actor, actress and which will be voted best picture.

But I also have another reason. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have been nominated for best actress and best supporting actress, respectively. 'The Help' of course, is nominated for best picture. Will they win? As I've written before, I'm somewhat ambivalent and it has to do with the nature of the film, the roles and the historic futility of black actresses, actors, films, directors, etc. when it comes to nominations and selections.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that bad films or bad actors should be nominated or win. But, let's face it, its not like bad actors or bad films have never won before. Or bad songs (I'm STILL wondering how 'It's Hard out here for a Pimp' EVER was even considered for Best Song, let alone win!). But from Hattie MacDaniel to Mo'Nique, what has been clear is that films and actors have had to be exceptional. Clearly a look at the list of Oscar winners in whatever category doesn't include exceptional performances or productions every year.

There may be a number of reasons posited for the lack of recognition of films with themes that may attract predominantly black audiences or roles by black actors, producers and directors. But maybe there's a more obvious reason than simply industry bigotry, prejudice or the market.

Maybe its the make-up of the people who vote on the Oscar winners. The Los Angeles Times reveals a little known fact - there's just no diversity among the voters!

"A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%."
"Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership."
"The academy calls itself "the world's preeminent movie-related organization" of "the most accomplished men and women working in cinema," and its membership includes some of the brightest lights in the film business — Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg, among others. The roster also features actors far better known for their television acting, such as Erik Estrada from "CHiPs," Jaclyn Smith of "Charlie's Angels" and "The Love Boat's" Gavin MacLeod."
"The academy is primarily a group of working professionals, and nearly 50% of the academy's actors have appeared on screen in the last two years. But membership is generally for life, and hundreds of academy voters haven't worked on a movie in decades." 

And of course, the status quo is vigorously (if not ignorantly) defended...

"Frank Pierson, a former academy president who won an Oscar for original screenplay for "Dog Day Afternoon" in 1976, said merit is the primary criterion for membership."
""I don't see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That's what the People's Choice Awards are for," said Pierson, who still serves on the board of governors. "We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn't reflect the general population, so be it.""
Read the rest of the article here...
So, I'm wishing Ms. Davis (who really is exceptional)  and Ms. Spencer well tonight. But all the talk regarding why black actors, directors and films tend to be ignored, will be repeated next year, if more people of color and women excluded from the nominating and voting process...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Cecil B. DeMille

Movie Director

"Man has made 32 million laws since the Commandments were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai... but he has never improved on God's law."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The American Experience: Clinton - Well Worth Watching!

Barack Obama, notwithstanding, it's no surprise to anyone who knows me that Bill Clinton is my favorite president. 

An outstanding politician, incredibly smart and in many ways, disturbingly flawed, Clinton's presidency was the stuff of legend. He has ingratiated himself to and alienated himself from some of his most ardent supporters. Many of us who admired him throughout his time in office, engendered the hatred of his rivals and enemies and disappointed his base. But at the end of the day, he left office the most popular president in history, he balanced the budget, created millions of jobs and left the country with a surplus of over $200 billion.  What disappoints those of us who were fervent supporters, is that he could have done even more, were it not for the scandals (Monica Lewinski included) and some of the compromises he made. 

PBS' recent documentary on his life and career is a stellar contribution to helping us understand what his leadership and his considerable contributions were like. It's well worth watching. Clinton was a competitor and a survivor. Branding himself as 'The Comeback Kid', he proved himself capable of coming back time and time again, not only in his campaigns, but even faced with a farcical impeachment. 

Here's an excerpt. You can watch the entire program here...

Watch Clinton on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A New Standard for Christianity

Rev. Franklin Graham's attempt to answer a question regarding his opinion on whether or not President Barack Obama is a Christian, was clumsy, evasive and blatantly political. It got worse after that. By the time he finished, he was just flat out insulting and offensive.

Going from grudging admission that salvation is a free gift received through a confession of Christ as God's Savior to the world - and, by that standard, as far as he knew, Obama is a Christian. Graham stumbled, into a rambling discourse on how, because Obama's father was a Muslim, he was considered by other Muslims to be a 'son of Islam'. The implication being, that because Obama's father was Muslim, the President might indeed be a Muslim.

After that, he was led into a much more enthusiastic affirmation of Rick Santorum's Christianity, because he (Santorum) has the 'right values'. But then, he also went on to assert that Newt Gingrich is a Christian in spite of his multiple marriages.


I've got problems with this whole thing.

Graham, not an Obama supporter, could have well said that 'Obama is a Christian, but I do not support his politics or his policies.' He could have said, 'My beliefs as a Christian align more comfortably with Rick Santorum's.'  Graham and over the past week or so (actually more than that), Santorum, have impugned the President's faith for no other reason than he doesn't share their same views - or as they say 'values'.

This is very dangerous ground. Interestingly enough, Graham says that one of the reasons he is 'qualified' [my words] in his acknowledgement of Obama's Christian faith, is because he has not been strong enough in advancing policies in Egypt where Christians are being tortured. We should, in his world view, withdraw support from Egypt, because Christians are no longer 'protected' there. By that same logic, we should stop borrowing money and trading with China. Yet Graham weakly defended Mubarak's regime, because he had offered protection of Christians as a class.

Getting dizzy yet?

Don't feel bad if you are; you should be. Because this type of selective irrationality is a characteristic of those whose hatred lies somewhere else other than policy differences. It allows seemingly reasonable believers to avoid the truth that in the 2000 years since Christ, there has never been any such thing as Christians who have all believed the same thing. Or that we tend to accept in those whom we support the failings we tend to criticize, if not despise, in those whom we don't.

Franklin seems to still have questions about Obama's faith because he began going to church when he was a community organizer in Chicago. The leaders in the organization told him that if he was going to work among them, he would have to be a member of one of their churches. That's when Obama related to him the beginning of his faith journey. He clearly dismisses the fact that Baptists believe based on our reading of the Bible, that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and that although he may at times express doubts (most thinking Christians actually do doubt at times) "...he shares core Christian beliefs in God and in Jesus as his resurrected son..."

Santorum's tirade, in which he dismisses Obama theologically, is yet another unprecedented way to disrespect the President. We  have never seen other president's personal faith challenged. Southern Baptists have never questioned Jimmy Carter's faith, at least not publicly - although some of them won't own him. Reagan, masterful at communicating Christian values, hardly ever attended a worship service while at the White House, yet his Christianity wasn't questioned. As hated as was Clinton, I don't recall his Christianity ever being called into question. Candidates for the presidency and the son of our country's most venerated evangelist, are comfortable casting aspersions and doubt upon Obama's personal faith. 

It is disturbing and disappointing. 

What Santorum and Franklin have implied that there is only one form of Christianity; one set of values which determine normative (not foundational, there is a difference) Christian faith and it can only be found in those who believe as they believe. Failure to conform to that norm and your Christianity is suspect. 

Yeah, I'm pretty insulted...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Poverty is More Complex than Income

More evidence of complexity was revealed last week, when the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), released its report at the Communities Foundation of Texas, here in Dallas.

The report shows that 20% of Dallas households a 'just a crisis away from financial disaster'. This is a new spin on the old 'one check away from homelessness' argument of the early '90's. But more importantly, it tells us that rising above poverty isn't as simply as 'getting a job'. The usual financial counsel that suggests that households need six months of income saved to survive in case of emergency is confronted by the reality that 39% don't have the $4362 needed to sustain them in crisis at the federal poverty level  - and that's higher than the national average. That's a number worse in black and Hispanic communities where the number of asset poor households is 50%.

It certainly a matter of income. It's also a matter of financial education. It's also a matter of political will, because its important to create opportunity for whole communities.

That's hard work. It will take time. But poverty is hard, in all its forms and once fallen into, it can take generations for families to get out, unless we realize that we're all made poorer by leaving them behind.

You can read the report here...

Friday, February 17, 2012

CitySquare Public Policy Department Presents a Free Screening of Mario Van Peebles' 'Fair Game'



6:30PM -- Registration Begins7:00PM -- Doors Open                                                                                                          7:15PM-- Movie Begins
Followed by a Town Hall - Style Discussion

Summary About the Film


The election of America’s first Black president — Barack Obama — has given many people the impression that the Black man’s struggle for equality or simply the “level playing field” has been achieved. Black men can strive to be anything they choose, and opportunity and the pathway to it has been made free and clear of obstruction. Sounds great, right? However, is it the truth?

FAIR GAME speaks to adults, and enlists Black men to add their voices to the discussion around education, employment, criminal justice, fatherhood and mental health and share their personal stories of success, the setbacks, the preparation, and the sacrifices they made that brought them ultimate success in their fields. It deals with the complexities in the age of Obama and why the ‘Game’ still isn’t fair

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Southern Dallas Redevelopment: "...Not a Charity Case...a Business Opportunity"

Don't get me wrong, I have not drunk the Kool-Aid...

But I am enthralled by the prospects and the actual presentation of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' plans for the redevelopment of southern Dallas.

Years ago, as a pastor in south Dallas and a leader in Dallas Area Interfaith, I was a part of a meeting with a Dallas civic leader - a very prominent one - who was related with the Dallas Citizen's Council. I asked directly and pointedly: 'So what is the master plan for south Dallas?' He looked at me and said in as matter of fact tone as I have ever heard, 'There is no master plan for south Dallas.'

Now, of course there are those who have never believed his reply then, and others who probably don't believe it now. I have worked in and around south Dallas and lived in southern Dallas for almost 40 years. For the nearly 40 years I have been here, there has always been the suspicion that 'they' are coming to 'take over'. Of course, 'they' have never come. And when I received that answer from the highly placed civic leader, I frankly didn't know whether I believed him. I said afterwards, 'I don't know whether to be elated or depressed. On the one hand, I could be elated because it means that we can create our future; on the other hand, this means that no one is thinking about the future of south Dallas.

Rawlings, in one of a series of meeting he will be holding throughout southern Dallas, has not only been thinking about south Dallas - he's been thinking about the southern portion of our city.

Now, don't get me wrong, the part of me committed to community organizing, wants an organic 'conversation to action' process. The facts are, however, we've had the conversations. We've had the small meetings and focus groups. I've talked with politicians, business leaders, civic leaders and activists. We all know what's needed. As I heard one person say, 'There's no secret sauce...'

I've made some of the proposals the Mayor makes in columns I have written. But it's not genius on my part. It's the fact that Dallas has majored in making excuses for not doing the things everyone knows needed to be done.

Rawlings has presented a market based redevelopment approach, with short and long range goals. It includes - indeed requires - civic engagement on the part of residents. It recognizes the importance of schools and neighborhood associations. It recognizes the importance of reshaping the image - actually marketing southern Dallas.

It is not what we usually hear from our politicians - council members and mayors - a one off, project based approach, that, in the end, pits neighborhoods against one another by forcing them to compete for resources.

Only this type of approach, focused on over time - decades -  that changes neighborhoods, and restores them to health.

It is the unapologetic commitment to southern Dallas that I've been looking for.

Here's a look at Mayor Mike Rawlings' proposal...


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why Do Poor Whites Slavishly Vote Republican?

I wish I had a dollar for everytime I was either asked or even heard someone ask why black people have slavishly devoted themselves to the Democratic Party. Not even the most cogent argument reviewing the history of the GOP or its unwillingness to include blacks (and Hispanics, for that matter) in the formation of their party's agenda, helps critics see that it's not so much having given up on the party, as the party saying 'We only want you under certain guidelines.'

But here's another question: why do poor and lower class continue to vote overwhelmingly Republican? It's not like the trajectory of their lives has been significantly altered for the better by that party.

This column in The New Yorker, written by George Packer, "Poor, White and Republican", raises the corollary to the question asked by blacks in the Democratic Party. Maybe you can come up with a meaningful answer.

Here's an excerpt. You can read the full column here...
"F.D.R. called him “the forgotten man,” but that was long ago. By 1972, he was a member of the silent majority and had become a Democrat for Nixon (he wore a hard hat with an American-flag sticker). 1980 produced the Reagan Democrat (this time he came from Macomb County, Michigan, and was discovered by the pollster Stan Greenberg). By 1994 he had curdled into the Angry White Male (he elected the Gingrich Congress). In 2008, he was simply the working-class white—by then he was no longer forgotten, and no longer a Democrat of any kind; he was a member of the much-analyzed Republican base. The television godfather of the type, of course, is Archie Bunker, but you can also trace his lineage more darkly through the string of hard-bitten blue-collar movies that begins with “Joe” (Peter Boyle, 1970), goes on to “Falling Down” (Michael Douglas, 1993), “Gran Torino” (Clint Eastwood, 2008), and, in a rural context, “Winter’s Bone” (2010). He’s a descendant of the thirties Everyman played by Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper, except that in the intervening decades he lost his idealism and grew surly, if not violent, consumed with a hatred of hippies, immigrants, blacks, government, and, finally, himself."

"This election year, he’s back and getting a lot of attention from sociologists and pundits (Charles Murray’s new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” sparked the current flurry of commentary). But in 2012 he’s no longer even working class. He’s fallen through the last restraints of decency and industriousness, down into the demoralized and pathological underclass that, in the past, Americans associated with the black poor. There, he lives on disability, is no longer fit for employment nor has any impulse to get a job, is divorced, fathers illegitimate children who grow up to do the same, gets hooked on meth or prescription drugs, does time in prison now and then, and has bad teeth."

"Is it useful to make generalizations about whole classes of people? We all know the reasons why it’s not—they stoke prejudice, crush nuance, distort reality, are unkind and unfair. But just as it was wrong for a generation of liberals to reject Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s notorious 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” it would be a mistake to dismiss the subject of Murray’s new book simply because it insults half of the Americans who weren’t already tarred by “The Bell Curve.”"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is 'The Help' the Best Hollywood Can Do?

Here is an exchange that I really enjoyed.

I had every intention of going to see the movie 'The Help', but waited too late and had to see it on DVD.  I know of the controversy surrounding the book, but because I can rarely enjoy a book after seeing a movie on which one is based, I probably won't be reading it now.

But as we get closer to the time of the Academy Awards, I too am interested, indeed conflicted about the nomination of Viola Davis for 'Best Actress' and Octavia Spencer for 'Best Supporting Actress' (although I'm pretty sure that as wonderful as Ms. Davis was in her movie, I'm pretty sure Meryl Streep will win for 'Iron Lady').  But I'm actually not conflicted because I object to their portrayal of two maids. I am conflicted because the controversy regarding their portrayal again raises the question of difficulty of getting other movies with a greater diversity of characters made at all.

I disagree with the idea that it takes a 'movement' to get a good movie made with  'positive' portrayals of black life. 
The movie 'Malcolm X' was an excellent cinematic depiction of the life of the human rights leaders and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Yet, while Denzel Washington's career has fared well - to say the least - Spike Lee still has trouble getting movies made. 
The dog-eared criticism of Tyler Perry's 'Madea' belies the fact that it appears that there are no more substantive movies coming to him to produce, even though he has his own studio. 
The issue is more than artists and the roles they choose, or sensitive directors or producers. It has to do with distribution and the financial wherewithal to make and get into theaters a broad range of movies that tell the story of black life. 
But while we work on this problem, its equally important to know that Hispanics and Asians have the same complaint - with even fewer opportunities to get on the screen! 
Perhaps what we really need is a society in which we stop stereotyping one another and see one another as genuine human beings with stories to tell that can entertain and teach all of us. 
That means we've got a lot of work to do...that's not Hollywood's job. 
Watch the second half of the interview with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer here...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In Memoriam: Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

There will be tons of tributes poured out to Whitney Houston and accolades will inundate us over the next weeks and beyond. That's because this woman was simply one of the greatest voices of our lifetime. She was almost without peer. Listening to her sing was pure joy. There are times when you are witnessing a display of great talent, there is almost a sense of privilege.

Her death is an incredible loss.

I've always said that Whitney Houston was born to sing Gospel music. I selfishly wish that she sang it exclusively. Her faith and her spirit came through in such a way that there was an immediate sense of worship the moment she began to sing gospel. I think it's fitting to listen to her this morning...

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Etta James

Blues/Jazz Artist

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Folly of a Law in Search of a Crime...

I had the priviledge of speaking to a group this morning about the dangers of Texas - and other state's - Voter ID laws. As I mentioned, in my January Dallas Morning News column, this is a law in search of a crime.

It's incredibly important to know that this is an assault on the voting rights of millions of Americans and an implicit indication that law makers believe the wrong people voted in 2008! San Antonio Congressman Charles Gonzales hits the nail on the head in pointing out the how the very nature of these laws is antithetical to the Constitutional guarantees of the rights of citizens...
"[There have been] a lot of letters supporting Texas' new voter ID bill. Most say something like, “Everyone has a photo ID and we show it all the time, so why is tying it to voting such a problem?” I'd like to answer that question."
"First, it is true that almost everyone has some form of photo identification. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 89 percent of American citizens have photo ID. But that means that 11 percent of us, about 23 million eligible voters, don't. Millions of our fellow citizens might be disenfranchised."
"“But,” say the bill's proponents, “we'll give them a free ID.” Not really. We may stand in line for two hours for the privilege of driving, but this law asks millions to stand in line for what the 14th Amendment calls “the right to vote.” The ID may be free, but you need a birth certificate, something many Texans don't have. The Texas Vital Statistics Office charges $22 plus postage for a birth certificate. It's hard to square that with the 24th Amendment's ban on charging anyone to vote."
"Many ID-less Texans live 100 miles from a DPS station, and it's hard to get there when you don't have a car. It's harder for many senior citizens and people working two jobs. Yet the elderly, the poor and the disabled are most likely to be affected by the new law. Why make things harder for the people who already have it the hardest?"
"Supporters point out that they have to show a photo ID to buy alcohol, drive a car or board a plane. That may be true, but the Constitution doesn't guarantee your right to do those things. But five of the 27 amendments guarantee our “right to vote.” Texas' voter ID law could disenfranchise citizens who have voted for decades."
Read the rest of Rep. Gonzales' op-ed here...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rooting Against Economic Recovery?

I really enjoyed Super Bowl Sunday. No, my prediction didn't come true. The team I rooted for didn't win. But on any number of levels it was a very, very good game.

What I didn't particularly care for were the commercials. It wasn't that they were distasteful, it was that they were, well...pretty dull.

The one exception was this one...

Now, of course, this proved to be the most controversial the next day. 

Detroit, a metaphor for how America comes together to solve it's toughest problems. Unable to be knocked out with 'one punch'. The auto industries come back as an illustration of how Americans find their way back from a seemingly no win situation.

It's half time in America. What's wrong with that?

It seems like even the Super Bowl can't be totally devoid of politics. Some are taking this to be an 'issue ad' for the Obama Administration because it mentions the success Detroit and the auto industry are experiencing because of the bail out. Check out this column by E.J. Dionne...

"The arguments against the bailout were predictable but not unreasonable. Many suspected that government would inevitably make politicized choices: plant-closings determined by political influence and Obama favorites on company boards pursuing pet administration projects at the expense of sound business judgments."
"This didn’t happen. Even though the administration lost one fight when Congress voted to protect the interests of the auto dealers, the White House let the automakers behave like private companies. Ron Bloom, a major architect of the restructuring, told the columnists: “For the last nine or 10 months, we’ve kept our hands off of it.” Directors, Bloom added, were chosen for their business expertise, not for their politics."
"Ironically, Steve Forbes, the former Republican presidential candidate, confirmed the administration’s story in an opinion piece in Politico last week, whose purpose was to deny Obama any credit for the auto industry’s comeback. “GM’s management,” Forbes said, “is using solid, conservative, free-market management principles to get the company back to long-term profitability.” But this is exactly what opponents of the bailout said could never happen if the government stepped in. By Forbes’ own testimony, they were wrong."
"That’s why Obama could declare at a Chrysler plant in Detroit on Friday that “for the first time since 2004, all three U.S. automakers are operating at a profit,” meaning that taxpayers are likely to recoup most of their investment and possibly more."
So here's the question - if the President's political opposition actually considers this ad controversial and objectionable - doesn't it mean that you have to be rooting for economic calamity to help you win an election?
And if that's true, how is that 'patriotic'?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How About Two Parties?!

This morning it's announced that  the President would begin accepting money for a 'super pac' fund. It underscores the problem of big money in our electoral process. Not just big money - unaccountable, vast sums of money, from virtually anonymous donors. Make no mistake about it, it is troublesome. 

At the same time, a stand on 'principle' leaves you out of the race.

Ironically, from the 'life imitates art' department, just such a dilemma was depicted in an episode of  'The West Wing'. I posted this in 2010 and it emphasizes the problem with 'the principle' and the practical reality. 

What do you think?

One of my all time favorite character actors was Ron Silver (1946-2009). And, of course, I especially loved his portrayal of the hired gun, political operative Bruno Gianelli in 'The West Wing'.

Silver was apparently quite the paradox. A former Democrat, who became a Republican, but described himself as a liberal. He supported George Bush, the elder, but voted for Obama in 2008. I love it when you can't pin a person down to just one thing!

Anyway, this is one of my favorite scenes in which Silver appeared. Here his is trying to convince President Bartlett's staff, that if they want to compete in his re-election bid, they are going to have to use 'soft money' - money that is not officially a part of the campaign, so that there is no limits to usage. The Republican candidate is doing it and as he says earlier, 'I just think we ought to be running in the same race...' This scene is Silver's (Gianelli's) response to the staff's ethical queasiness to his idea.


Monday, February 6, 2012

This Time Let's Vote with a Purpose - Thiiis is NOT 'American Idol'!

There are issues and there are issues...

Take for instance the Dallas ISD Trustees decisions to close 11 schools in Dallas. That's an issue - a serious one. It is fraught with all kinds of implications.

What does it do to the psyche of the neighborhoods in which these schools are located. Virtually all are located in low income neighborhoods. They are all being closed because of declining student populations. In the best of times, school buildings which must be kept lighted, heated, cooled and cleaned are expensive propositions. In times of dwindling dollars, how do you justify keeping these buildings in operation when the number of students in them make that expensive proposition even more expensive?

But closing schools require other expensive propositions - in some cases the transportation of students, in all it means personnel. What do you do with the staff? Not just teachers. Administrators? Custodial staff? Lunch room staff? Support staff? Who becomes 'collateral damage' when you have to make such a decision?

But that's not the only area in which school closures are expensive. Nearly all of these schools are undergoing some level of redevelopment. Some neighborhoods more than others. But redevelopment cannot just be business, whatever kind. Redevelopment has to include housing and not just any kind of housing, it has to be housing for young families with children. That was a challenge with these schools anyway. You can't be fooled by the TEA designations of  'acceptable', 'recognized' or 'excellent'. You have to understand that either because these categories to tell the true story of what's happening inside the school or because of the reputation of the communities, these were not schools in which the district was investing the resources necessary to be attractive to young families in the first place. And redevelopment of low income communities has not focused on the type of housing that would attract these families either. Now compound all the challenges of redevelopment in these areas with the actual closing of the schools in these neighborhoods - you've just complicated neighborhood redevelopment in these communities.

Now certainly all of this tells us what needs to happen. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has publicly stated that he wants the city to figure out how to work with the school district to make education more effective. It's a challenge because the 'Independent' in Dallas Independent School District, means that city officials don't run the school district. However, City Hall's answer to its engagement with the district, can be most effective by prioritizing public investment to redevelop the surrounding communities. That means making them more economically viable and safer.

And, of course, the District needs to figure out what kind make the kind of investment in these schools that do more than help them become 'recognized', they need to be stellar.  But, among other things, that takes money. And that's another issue.

While I don't give DISD trustees a pass on this issues, they are dealing with forces beyond their control. Economic forces. At the state level.

DISD's trustees have to deal with the $5 billion the Texas Legislature cut from education in the 181st session last spring.This is a budget cut mandated by an increasingly conservative (if that can be imagine) legislature that sought to balance it's budget at the expense of its future. This in spite of the fact the number of children coming into our state school system are projected to increase.

This really isn't solely because of the Great Recession. It's because of tax laws enacted more than 5 years ago, projected to generate sufficient revenue - and which did not. It would have been nice if the Governor at that time (the one who just made a humiliating return to Austin after a less than auspicious foray into national politics) and the legislature had listened to the State Comptroller, who told them that this tinkering with the tax laws would result in a $23 billion shortfall. But, of course they didn't listen. For a hot minute, the deficit was masked with stimulus money (that dirty money that the Governor said he didn't want). But there came a time when there wasn't enough stimulus money to fill the hole our legislature dug for us.

There was also the 'Rainy Day' fund - the state's savings account, as it were. But the Legislature refused to use that money to fund the shortfall. So the cuts were enacted. And our education system is suffering.

Which brings us to another issue.

The people who made such an extremely short-sighted and fiscally careless decision, were voted into office in 2010. This is 2 years after Texas' primary was characterized by long lines and caucuses so crowded, it's amazing someone didn't call out the fire marshal! And the day of the Presidential election, we voted like it was American Idol. But 2010, most of that crowd stayed home.

The results?

Among other things, ridiculous voter ID laws and eleven closed schools.

When it comes to the closed schools, protests and demonstrations full of frustration and angst are going to have to yield to very creative solutions for the use of those buildings. The redevelopment of those areas are going to have to be equally as creative.

But the real answer to the question must be political engagement that begins at the ballot box. There really is no other sustainable answer. The challenges of the closing of these schools pales in comparison to the root cause of their closure - the $5 billion cuts enacted by a very conservative state legislature. This will rob future generations of our children - black, brown and white - of the education they need to meaningfully contribute in the 21st century. It will consign the poorest of them to low wage jobs and dead end futures. It will blunt the futures of some of our offspring whose giftedness may not be apparent from birth. We will lose professionals, politicians, businessmen and businesswomen, writers and teachers.

And it will all happen if we don't vote - in 2012 and the ensuing 2014 election.

We need to show up at the polls in November of this year with a clear understanding of our interests. But we've got to vote in November 2012 with November 2014 squarely in our view.

And we need to repeat to one another in those lines a paraphrase of Ryan Seacrest's iconic introduction, 'Thiiis is NOT American Idol!'

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Prediction...

I think its no secret that my record as a football prognosticator is, ummm, not stellar...

But it's the Super Bowl and who can resist. So here it is...

New England Patriots 17 - New York Giants 14

There, got it out of my system - GO PATS!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not Enough Charity to Fix the Holes in the 'Safety Net'...

By now you've heard it...

Governor Mitt Romney's statement (misspoken, of course). You know, the one where he says he's doesn't care about 'the very poor'.  I listened to the statement and, yes, it's taken out of context - somewhat. The fact is, the way he's taken his fellow GOP candidates statements out of context, not to mention President Obama, any claim of unfairness should fall on deaf ears.

But if you examine the logic behind the statement, it's still disturbing. That's because he is espousing the same 'trickle down' economic theory that has never worked in this country.


Romney, who also said he's not concerned about 'the very rich' because he's doing just fine, also wants to cut the taxes of the very rich. The assumption? The rich, with more disposable income, will create jobs. Those jobs will go to the struggling middle class. The middle class, along with the rich, will supplement the government's 'safety net' for the poor.

Here's the thing though...

This logic, expressed as a campaign policy, is a tacit admission that at this time, 'the very rich' haven't created the jobs. As a matter of fact, if you exclude the era of Obama and go back to the Bush era, job growth was in decline and wages were spite of tax cuts, which are now said to be essential to economic recovery. The 'safety net' for the poor, also, he suggests, might have holes in it (ya' think?!). The general, conservative 'fix it' strategy for the holes in the safety net, is usually charity.

But there's a problem there as well...

The more income Americans make, the less charitable they are!

In fact, according to McClatchey newservice, the poor are actually more charitable than Americans of means.

They fact that we are even having this conversation shows how superficial our politics has become. How many of our candidates for office are actually talking to poor people? How many of them are citing surveys and polling data about poverty and who is actually in a neighborhood where the poor live?

There are very generous people who are rich. There are very generous people who are very rich. But their generosity has to also be characterized. Because 'donations to charity' cover a broad spectrum. Are they giving to an after school program, or an arts museum? Are they giving a hospital or are they giving to a homeless shelter? And what is the impact of the donation, relative to the need being addressed?

At best, there isn't enough charity to go around. And what is needed is not a 'safety net', but a floor below which we don't let people fall. That's a commitment of public funds - a commitment from which we shrink at our peril, if we 'don't care about the very poor'...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What the Disrespect of President Obama Tells Us About Us...

Politics is a difficult business. It would be difficult enough it were simply a world of policy, ideas, opinions and ideology. But those things are inclusive of a number of issues that we often congratulate ourselves for being noble enough to have transcended. Issues like class and race.

Because of that, we are either insensitive to, or ignorant of the impact of our policies, ideas, opinions or ideologies. In a country like ours, that has struggled so hard to realize the 'American Dream' its hard for us to understand that to realize that dream actually means to make room for other groups. It means that at some point the people on top, who have struggled to be on top, must compete to remain on top. It means that those in power, must learn what it means to share that power. Equality of opportunity means that someone may show themselves more capable and may catch up or even surpass us. Or it means that oppressed groups, emerging from oppression, will ascend to places of prominence and yes, even power, that were previously reserved for the oppressor.

It's the reaction to those changes that determine how close we are to realize that dream. It's the proof that our politics is as authentic and noble as we believe.

President Barack Obama's ascendancy to proved that America had become desperate enough to try to ascend the issue of race. It also proved that there are those in power, who had not realized the transcendence on which we prided ourselves and that there is an startling intransigence when it comes to the idea of sharing power.

Obama - at least as qualified to serve as president as Abraham Lincoln was when he took the oath of office; whose ability to raise money in mounting a campaign actually placed him in the category of some Fortune 500 corporations; whose agenda was no more 'liberal' the John F. Kennedy; who came into office facing an economic crisis second only to FDR and who dealt with foreign policy issues rivaling only FDR's second term, has been assailed more than any other president in our country's history.

And that's saying something.

In the midst of an economy on the verge of economic collapse and fighting two wars abroad, Republican Party leadership declared it's number one agenda was to make certain that he only had one term in office. No other president faced such a publicly stated opposition goal - and that's saying something. FDR, Kennedy and Nixon were vilified, but the most vehement and venal forms of hatred came from those outside of the political arena. Obama has faced publicly stated hatred and disrespect from elected officials.

It is not only astounding, it is revealing. It is revealing in that a significant portion of our country is publicly stating that it refuses to be governed by anyone other than those from its own ranks. And the fear is, confirmed in the minds of many, that they will be governed by no one who doesn't look like the previous 43 presidents.

Under the best of circumstances, the revelation of how far we are from the 'Dream' we covet, would be a cause for national reflection and the reassessment of who we are as a nation.

That type of reassessment and reflection doesn't seem to be forthcoming. 

At least not yet...