Saturday, March 31, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Carl T. Rowan
1925-2000


Columnist

"It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dr. Elizabeth Warren's Explanation of the Health Care Crisis


I simply love Elizabeth Warren! I don't have any influence in Massachusetts, but I'm thrilled she's running for U.S. Senate. 

I had a chance to meet her when I moderated a panel of religious leaders in which she participated last year at CitySquare. She has a phenomenal mind, but more importantly, she has real passion for 'ordinary' people.

Her explanation of the health care crisis, is incredibly accessible and relevant, especially in light of the Supreme Court hearings this week. 

Lesson? We're focusing on the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, at the risk of leaving the health care crisis in tact. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do We or Do We Not Understand the Individual Mandate?


Conventional wisdom seems to be that the Supreme Court will strike down the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act. National prevailing sentiment suggests the majority of Americans are against it...
Or are they?
What's interesting is that once it's explained, it appears Americans like it more than they think. The question is how well do we understand it? According to the National Journal, the answer is probably not...
"Maybe the individual mandate is doomed, as an agitated-slash-celebratory Twitterverse seemed convinced after conservative Supreme Court justices posed challenging questions about it (shocking!) on the second day of arguments on the Affordable Care Act. If the justices vote later this year to kill it, with the possibility that the whole law will collapse as a result, Republicans would be vindicated in their fight against "big government." But in practical terms, would the country really know what it has lost?"






"From a political standpoint, the mandate invented by the GOP of yore ("yore" being a dozen years ago) has been manna for today's GOP. Polling shows the requirement to buy insurance or pay a fine -- meant to discourage freeloaders -- has become highly unpopular. Strangely, the dreaded mandate isnot particularly unpopular in Massachusetts, the only state that charges penalties for not buying coverage."

"Disapproval of the individual mandate nationally, meanwhile, seems to be a mile wide but not all that deep. There's evidence that many people don't understand what it is, why it is, and how it would affect them, and that their answers change depending on word choice and word sequence."

"They like it better - about even with disapprovers in a Pew poll -- if the last thing they hear is aboutsubsidies to help lower-income people buy insurance. They like it somewhat when it's explained that without it, people would just buy insurance when they got sick (driving up costs for everyone) or alternatively, insurance companies could not be required to cover people with existing medical problems (because without a mandate, there wouldn't be enough healthy people in the pool). They like it best - 61 percent approval in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll -- when they're told it won't apply to most people because they have insurance through work..."



"...At some point, as 50 million uninsured rises to 60 million and 70 million and higher, as more states approach the astonishing Texas rate of 26 percent uninsured, Congress may decide it has to do something. And, barred from effectively regulating the private market, there will be no options except the public option - Medicare for all."

"That should be a safe course. After all, the policy already exists. But in the current climate it's not hard to envision a conservative challenge to Medicare, and who knows what the Supreme Court might do?"



Think of it: the entire U.S. saying, "We are Texas!" when it comes to our present state of health care...
The complete article can be read here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on HHS v. Florida


The Supreme Court's Review of the Affordable Health Care Act, the signature legislature achievement of President Barack Obama, is taking place this week. When the Court reaches its decision this summer, because of the nature of the legislation and because it's taking place during an election year, it is said it will be the most important ruling by the court since Bush v. Gore in 2000. 

The Supreme Court has made audio of this hearing available because of the historic nature of the case. And maybe I'm just being wonkish, but I find it fascinating. 

I knew, for example, that the justices were able to interrupt the attorney's during their argument to the court. But you can hear the nerves of the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. The probing of the justices which reveals their interests or perspectives on the case before them. It's really quite fascinating. The questions, for instance, on whether or not the mandate actually 'creates commerce' is particularly interesting...

No one knows, of course, how the Supreme Court will rule. What we do know is that this ruling will impact every American. Whether or not we are on our way to becoming a country in which we provide health care coverage for all Americans or will we be a country that allows us (in the most superficial logic) to 'fend for ourselves'. The fact is, none of us 'fend for ourselves'. We pay for the uninsured through higher premiums and higher taxes. And we abandon some to devastating uncertainty, when they have difficulty accessing health care or when, having accessed health care without insurance, they don't receive the best care available.

I've embedded the two hour recording of yesterday's session.You can hear each day of the argument here.  Here is the transcript. You may not listen to (or read) all of it. But I'd encourage you to listen - or read. 

This is one of the great debates of our time and more than any of us imagine, rides on the decision...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trashing Trayvon - Another Reason for Some People Not to Care


We're at the point of the Trayvon Martin case that we have heard before - the victim 'deserves it'...

Over the past several days hundreds of thousands of people have gone on social media, conventional media, cable news, water cooler conversation, all of us, whether we have snippets of information or who have followed the story closely, have supported the late teen-ager as the unarmed victim. George Zimmerman, the armed, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain and self-confessed shooter, has been portrayed as the man who killed this young man because he looked 'threatening'.

From the very beginning this has been viewed through the prism of race. It has evoked the deepest fears of the black community that any black man, young or old, can be viewed as 'other'. So much so, that their very lives are endangered. This is a warning in some way issued by nearly every black parent to every black son, as soon as they get old enough to go anywhere by themselves or hang with their friends. And now that the backlash has started, it actually confirms the validity of those warnings.


The warnings to young black men to pull up their pants, about how to speak to people in authority, to how to carry themselves in a 'non-threatening' manner are warnings meant to help these young men be taken seriously, but also not to be thought of as 'criminals'.


What has been interesting is to see how many black journalist, reveal their own stories of how they were warned by their parents of how to be deferential to authorities - not because its right to do so, but because they are vulnerable to injustice. Other well known black leaders who are teaching their sons, how to dress, how to speak, to be careful to make 'non-threatening' moves if confronted by the police.

Now, the 'blame the victim' contingent have appeared. Tweets of him looking more 'street' than the innocent photographs that we've seen currently. Stories of school suspension from school for 'traces' of marijuana in a plastic bag in his backpack. Other stories that are meant to show that Trayvon Martin wasn't the 'ideal' teen people for whom people throughout this country have shown such great sympathy.

But that's the way it tends to be. This is a country with a contingent of citizens who accept the concept of racism's reality, but who never seem to be able to identify racists; the admit there is poverty in America, but it can never be the result of divorce, or the death of a spouse or a parent. Homeless people are homeless because they want to live on the streets. Poor children can never be hungry because their parents can't afford food or live in substandard housing because of a negligent landlord. Students can never drop out because of an educational system staggering under the wait of standardized test mania. It has to be poor personal choices; it has to be people who have been unable to prepare for every possible misfortune; it has to be irresponsible parents and students who don't want to learn.

And now of course, Trayvon is dead because he wasn't as 'squeaky clean' as we all have been made to believe.

Here some facts: it makes no difference whether or not Trayvon was squeaky clean. He was a young man headed to his father's home after going to a convenience store. He was confronted by a man with a gun and he was unarmed. He was an unarmed black youth, racially profiled and who was left in a morgue for three days before his parents were notified.

Trayvon's killer was not arrested. He remains at large. His parents and the nation have questions and they deserve to have those questions answered through due process.

Trayvon Martin is dead...

And now Trayvon's name and his character are being attacked by those for whom its easier to believe that blacks are inherently criminal, just as it's easy for them to believe that all poor people are poor because they want to be, or all students fail because they are irresponsible children who come from irresponsible homes.

When you believe these things you don't have to feel. You don't have to care. Nothing outside your point of reference has to matter. And you don't have to be inconvenienced by the realization that the world is not as safe, or as secure as you've always dreamed it was.

And you don't have to be bothered by feeling the impetus to do anything to make this world any better.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What if George Zimmerman had Thought?

John Piper, a white evangelical pastor gets it and gets in a beautiful way that can bring healing and understanding to those who will open their hearts to it...
"Of the dozens of things that Christians need to be thinking and saying about this [the Trayvon Martin murder], some are awakened by what the Bible says in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who . . . are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”"
"In the context, this probably refers to persecuted fellow Christians. But notice the nature of the argument: You also are in the body. The appeal is to heartfelt empathy with the mistreated, because you have a body!"
"Not a white body. Not a black body. Just a human body. This is a cry for Christian whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos to feel the human flesh on their faith in Jesus. Trayvon’sflesh. His dad’s flesh. George’s flesh. His dad’s flesh. That kind of getting in their flesh will yield a long night’s groaning."
"Jesus died for sinners to forgive sins through faith. He died to reconcile sinners to God. That’s all of us — all who receive Jesus as the stunning treasure he is. Stunning because “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every people” (Revelation 5:9). Every people. At the cost of being slain."
"Jesus died and rose again to say no to racial reactions that result in dead boys. Not just tosay no. But to empower no. And the power is not in shedding others’ blood but his own. The power is in humbling every race to be more suspicious of our own racial instincts than we are of others’ racial intentions."
"Being a Christian means being crucified with Christ. My old arrogant self. My old ethnocentric self. My old fearful, suspicious, unloving self. That self died with Jesus. Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily.” That means daily reckoning my old self dead..."
"Jesus died in love and for love. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It’s not gullible. But it would rather be gullible than guilty of murder. Jesus-like love — Jesus-empowered love — would rather be shamed than shoot."
"O what a difference it would have made if George Zimmerman had thought: “I have a gun. For Christ’s sake — for the sake of love — I better not follow this young man. I might wind up using it. Law enforcement is on the way. I have done my duty..."
Read the rest of Dr. Piper's post here...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Coretta Scott King
1927-2006

Human Rights Activist


"Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation."

Friday, March 23, 2012

CitySquare's Living Wage Job Training Changes Lives!

There's no greater privilege I've had than to be a part of helping people change the trajectory of their lives and realize their dreams. We do that throughout CitySquare and our jobs driven, living wage job training program, WorkPaths, is no exception. Here's an excerpt of one successful story!


"After being released from a three year prison sentence, Tracy knew it was time he took his life in a new direction, so he enrolled in the Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative (TORI).  Once in TORI, Tracy was referred to CitySquare’s Build4Success program, a 16-week commercial construction training course which is a component of WorkPaths."   


"Tracy began classes in August 2011. During the weeks of extensive construction and environmental training, he learned new skills in carpentry, welding, plumbing and electrical work. He says he enjoyed collaborating and problem solving with his fellow classmates and instructors during their hands-on building assignment..."


Read the rest of Tracy's story here and then go here to make a donation to help CitySquare make it possible for other men and women find a pathway out of poverty!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Bottle of Tea, a Bag of Skittles and Demands for Justice

A bottle of tea. A bag of Skittles.

Hardly life threatening weapons. But they can be considered threatening, if you are a young black man walking at dusk, even if you are on your way home.
Young Trayvon Martin was considered dangerous, by George Zimmerman, a self appointed neighborhood watch leader in a gated Florida community where Trayvon was walking on his way home from a convenience store.

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George Zimmerman accosted, shot and killed Trayvon Martin because the 17 year old 'looked suspicious'. Zimmerman, to date, has not been arrested. While social media has been ablaze with outrage over this case, there has been scant coverage (with the exception of CNN) by cable news and certainly by network news, of what may arguably be considered the 21st century equivalent of the Emmitt Till murder of 1955.

It is a reminder that what is really dangerous to be young, black or brown in America.

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As a father of two sons who died far too young, I can tell you nothing is more unnatural than to have to bury your children. As a father of one of those sons whose life was cut short by violence, I can tell you that it is there is never a way to make sense of such a tragedy. And as a religious and community leader who has seen more of his share of young men whose primary crime was being the wrong color in the wrong place I can tell you that there is nothing more heartbreaking, humiliating and frustrating.

The U.S. Justice Department announced yesterday that it, along with the FBI will open investigations in this case.


""The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a written statement. "The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident.""


"Florida Gov. Rick Scott also weighed in Monday evening, ordering the state Department of Law Enforcement to provide "any assistance necessary" to local investigators."

Pray for justice and peace for Trayvon and his family...

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Difference Between Equality and Acceptance

Frederick Douglass
c1818-1895
"Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress. If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence. In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice."




Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Difference Between Black & White Evangelicals

This was sent to me by a friend this week and though it is a cliche, I really couldn't have said it better myself! And although I could do without ever hearing the term 'evangelical' again, I hope all of my Christian (and non-Christian, for that matter) friends are enlightened...

_________________________________


"When Franklin Graham expressed doubts about President Obama’s Christian faith during and interview on Morning Joe last week, it reminded me of an uncomfortable dinner I had in the late ‘90s."
"I sat down for a pleasant meal in the home of two great friends — one of them a white evangelical faith leader deeply committed to social justice. Well into the evening’s conversation —when we’d dropped all our pretenses and our exchanges moved well past mealtime niceties — one friend asked me something that caught me entirely off guard."
"“Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian?” he said.""
"I was dumbstruck. I had never heard anyone actually ask that question before."
"“Yes,” I replied. “What would make you doubt that?”"
"As he explained, it became clear: My friend wasn’t sure whether Dr. King was a Christian because King’s Christianity didn’t look like my friend’s Christianity."
"Dr. King valued justice. My friend valued justice."
"King professed personal faith in Jesus. My friend professed personal faith in Jesus."
"And yet my friend still was hung up about King’s faith because, to his eye, King didn’t seem interested in “evangelism” as my friend defined it — i.e. the practice of calling sinners into personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ whose death on the cross as payment for our sins."
"Twentieth-century white evangelical understanding of the Gospel guided (and in many ways defined) my friend’s Christian walk. Therein lies the disconnect between his Christian faith and Dr. King’s."
"According to sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (authors of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America), only one thing separates white and black evangelicals, but it makes all the difference in the world: Vastly different experiences of structural and systemic oppression."
"Black evangelicals have a long history of interaction with oppressive systems and structures. When African Americans read the Bible, they see the more than 2,000 passages of Scripture about God’s hatred for poverty and oppression. They see God’s desire for systems and structures to be blessings to all of humanity — not a curse to some and a blessing for others.""
""And they see Jesus’ own declaration that he had come to preach good news to the poor, which, by the way, is decidedly not a reference to the “spiritually impoverished.” Jesus meant that he had come to preach good news (of liberation, freedom and new life) to people trapped in material poverty."
"White evangelicals generally do not experience such systemic oppression. According to Emerson and Smith, most white evangelicals don’t prioritize or even see the thousands of references in the Hebrew Scriptures and and New Testament about structural and systemic injustice."
"Accordingly, the Gospel — and by extension their evangelism — is about only one thing: Personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for their sins, and a personal relationship with him."
"Black evangelicals also have personal faith that Jesus’ death paid for their sins, but their Gospel doesn’t end with personal (and individual) salvation. For Dr. King and Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. John Perkins and Nelson Mandela and for hundreds of thousands of Black Christians around the world and for me, thegood news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were for the redemption of both individual soulsand the redemption of whole societies."
"Franklin Graham’s father, Dr. Billy Graham, didn’t always understand this, either. The elder Graham’s revivals began as segregated affairs, but the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) agitated his conscience and quickly course corrected. From that point on, Billy Graham never again held a segregated revival."
"What’s more, in 1957 Dr. Graham invited Dr. King, to share his pulpit for a 16-week revival in New York City revival."
"For Billy Graham, Martin King was a Christian."
"In the last decade or so, a new generation of white evangelicals — such as my friends, Shane Claiborne, Kelly Moltzen, Josh Harper, and others — have intentionally displaced themselves, moving into impoverished communities of color in order to gain the experience their parents and grand-parents lacked. As a result, their white evangelical eyes are open."
"They see those 2,000 scriptures about poverty and injustice. And this new generation of white evangelicals is committed to fight systemic and structural justice because of the Gospel."
"So, it grieved me to hear Franklin Graham’s doubt-filled commentary on President Obama’s faith."
"Obama has described in his own words (and quite publicly) how he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, how as a young community organizer in Chicago in the late ‘80s, he walked down the aisle of a church during an altar call to make a public profession of that faith — a practice developed by one of the greatest American evangelists of all time, Charles Finney."
"The president has clearly professed his belief that Jesus died on the cross as payment for his sins. And Obama repeatedly invokes the words of Jesus that guide his world view: “Just as you did to the least of these, you did to me.” (Matthew 25:40)"
"For a moment, Franklin Graham’s cynicism tested my own faith. I wondered if he had any idea that when he questioned the president’s faith, it felt as if he were questioning my faith."
"I wanted to know if the transformational power of Jesus’ death and resurrection that is powerful enough to save our souls, also could open Franklin’s eyes and soften his heart to the world and experience of his black brothers and sisters."
"Repentance is sweet, not only for the sinner, but also for the world. It reminds us all of what is right; what is good; what is true. Franklin Graham apologized for his comments repented this week."
"This public discussion is now a lesson for us all. I have an abiding hope that, just maybe, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is powerful enough even to save the church."
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Voltaire
1694-1778

Writer, Philosopher

"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bank Pay Day Loans: Commercial Banks in the Payday Loan Business

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CitySquare is working with the Center for Responsible Lending to urge the Obama Administration to end the practice of payday loans by commercial banks.

Yes, that's right commercial banks!

Payday loans (also known as short-term loans), are loans here-to-fore associated with third party lenders like 'Cash America' or 'Advance America'. They charged exorbitant interest rates disguised as 'fees', which in Texas, allowed them to circumvent state constitution usury laws. These interest rates are as high as 300-500%...or more.

Now commercial banks have gotten into the act.

The following letter has been sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Reserve, FDIC and the OCC to urge them to stop Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Regions Bank from masking the exploitation of financially desperate citizens as commerce.

You can read the entire letter and its signatories (including CitySquare), here.

The Honorable Ben S. Bernanke
Chairman
Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System
20th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20551
The Honorable Richard Cordray
Director
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20220
Mr. Martin Gruenberg
Acting Director
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
1776 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Mr. John Walsh
Acting Comptroller
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
250 E Street, SW 
Washington, DC 20219
cc: The Honorable Sarah Bloom Raskin, The Honorable Elizabeth A. Duke, The Honorable Daniel K. Tarullo
Dear Chairman Bernanke, Director Cordray, Acting Chairman Gruenberg, and Acting Comptroller Walsh:
We write to urge the federal regulators of our nation’s banks to take immediate action to stop banks from making unaffordable, high-cost payday loans.
Wells Fargo, US Bank, Fifth Third, Regions, and Guaranty Bank’s deposit “advance” loans are structured just like loans from payday loan stores – carrying a high-cost combined with a short-term balloon repayment. Research has long shown that these loans trap borrowers in a cycle of expensive long-term debt, causing serious financial harm to borrowers, including increased likelihood of bankruptcy, paying credit card debts and other bills late, delayed medical care, and loss of basic banking privileges because of repeated overdrafts.
Further, payday lending by banks undermines state law in the states that have prohibited or imposed meaningful restrictions on payday loans in recent years, or that have never allowed payday loans to be part of their marketplace. It also undermines provisions of the Military Lending Act aimed at protecting service members from payday loans.
For customers with direct deposit of wages or public benefits, the banks will advance the pay in increments for a fee, ranging from $7.50 to $10 per $100 borrowed. The bank deposits the loan amount directly into the customer’s account and then repays itself the loan amount, plus the fee, directly from the customer’s next incoming direct deposit. If direct deposits are not sufficient to repay the loan within 35 days, the bank repays itself anyway, even if the repayment overdraws the consumer’s account, triggering more costs through overdraft fees.