Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why Do We Hate Poor People (or What Kind of People Are These?)

Nicholas Kristof
Nicholas Kristof writes a very insightful, and to me, disturbing column calling for 'a conversation about empathy for fellow humans in distress.'

I'm normally an optimistic person. But I don't think what Kristof is suggesting will work. I think the problem is far more troublesome that simply training people to think sympathetically or empathetically about the poor. 

Kristof's examples are troubling...


"A reader named Keith reflected a coruscating chorus when he protested: “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”
"A reader in Washington bluntly suggested taking children from parents and putting them in orphanages.
"Jim asked: “Why should I have to subsidize someone else’s child? How about personal responsibility? If you procreate, you provide.”
"After a recent column about an uninsured man who delayed seeing a doctor about a condition that turned out to be colon cancer, many readers noted that he is a lifelong smoker and said he had it coming.
"“What kind of a lame brain doofus is this guy?” one reader asked. “And like it’s our fault that he couldn’t afford to have himself checked out?”
"Such scorn seems widespread, based on the comments I geton my blog and Facebook page — as well as on polling and on government policy. At root, these attitudes reflect a profound lack of empathy.
"A Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion."


About five years ago, I wrote a blog post on this same issue asking, 'Do We Hate the Poor', I have long since come to the conclusion that there are an alarming number of people who do. 

These people tend to make me angry. They tend to respond to human tragedy as if they are immune to any of the vicissitudes to which many of the poor have fallen heir: the arrest, based on mistaken identity; the death of a spouse that can send one into an emotional tailspin; the loss of a job when one is too old and one's savings dry up; an illness that comes out of nowhere; a natural catastrophe that causes one to lose all that one has.

I remember after Katrina, an interview with an evacuee (we were still calling them 'refugees' then!), who said, 'Yesterday I was rich!'. Then there were the stories in the wake of the Great Recession, which, happened a week or so after my post was written...the families who lost their homes, their jobs, the suicides of people who's wealth was obliterated. 

The people whose gross insensitivity and unadulterated meanness in the face of poverty, are people who fear becoming like the people they loathe. They are people who have so locked down their hearts that they no longer believe they have room for compassion. They believe that the poor are impeding their ascendancy to the 1 percent (and as our Urban Engagement Book Club reviewer, Randy Mayeaux has reminded us, 'There can only be '1 percent' in the 1 percent'.  They are painfully afraid that they will be called upon to care. And worse, to act. And so they castigate the poor. They call them names. 

Maybe we just know more about them now because of social media. Maybe people say what they feel because they don't have to use their real names. They can post 'anonymously'. Their friends, neighbors, or co-workers don't know how they feel. Their neighbors who volunteer to help the less fortunate, don't realize that they live next door to someone who harbors rancor towards someone who can't find a job because they just got out of jail, or another neighbor who happens to be a single parent on food stamps. 

Kristof says, "John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?"

The poor are problems. 

Of course, that is, until they or someone they know and love, becomes one of them. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Column in Today's Dallas Morning News

A woman holds a bag of pears as she waits in line to receive free food at the Richmond Emergency Food Bank this month in Richmond, California. An estimated 47 million Americans saw their food stamp benefits cut starting Nov. 1 as temporary relief to the federal program ended.

SNAP cut hurts the economy as well as the poor

By GERALD BRITT

Nonprofits and other groups working to assist the poor cried foul this month at news that $5 billion would be cut from the food stamp program in 2014. Critics of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) countered that this reduces dependency on a government entitlement program that our country can’t afford. Meanwhile, with the holidays upon us, attention will focus on compassion and charities’ attempts to feed the hungry, a challenge made even greater by the cut.

However, the poor may not be the only ones suffering because of Congress’ SNAP action. It’s a cut that we could all feel eventually.
The Daily Kos political blog looked at how much the SNAP reduction would cost Delaware. Go to dailykos.com to see how the calculations were done, but the bottom line is this: Grocery stores across the state will receive $1 million less in sales each month.
How will the $5 billion cut affect Dallas? Using the Daily Kos formula, I looked at the 30th Congressional District, where 23 percent of residents live below the poverty line. That percentage pretty accurately reflects the total percentage of people living below the poverty line in Texas as a whole.
Based on my calculations, about 40,000 households in the 30th District will buy $1.1 million less in groceries per month. And remember that this is just a piece of the overall picture. More than 400,000 people are on SNAP in Dallas County; almost 4 million Texans receive the benefit.
Even if families and individuals compensate for the SNAP cuts by budgeting their dollars differently or if the impact is not as severe as portrayed, it’s clear that millions of dollars are being siphoned out of the economy at the expense of poor Americans.
Across the country, 47 million Americans receive federal food assistance. For every $1 spent on SNAP, there is an economic benefit of $1.80.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4 million citizens were kept out of poverty because of SNAP. The center also projects that just as the program effectively responded to the recession through the aid it provided low-income Americans, it will shrink on its own in the next couple of years as the economy improves.
SNAP spending in the first quarter of calendar year 2013 was only 0.3 percent higher than for the same period in 2012. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also states, “Unlike health care programs and Social Security, there are no significant demographic or programmatic pressures that will cause SNAP costs to grow faster than the economy.”
The Heritage Foundation notes that the $5 billion wasn’t really a “cut.” It’s the discontinuation of a temporary expansion of a benefit. But conservatives can’t have it both ways. They claimed that ending the temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax amounted to a tax “hike.” If the restoration of the payroll tax was a hike, then SNAP benefits have been cut.
But semantics don’t really matter here. Congress did far more than take food out of citizens’ mouths; lawmakers yanked $5 billion out of the U.S. economy.
The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His email address is gbritt@citysquare.org. He blogs at www.changethewind.org.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Search for a More Perfect Union Calls for Us All to Cross Many Rivers Together


We owe an unprecedented debt of gratitude to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, for the stirring presentation and interpretative of the lives of Black Americans in this country. It is particularly important because the prevailing sentiment in many quarters of the dominant society that Black life doesn't have to be understood, it needs to be dismissed and that racism no longer exists because the fire hoses and police dogs that represented the most virulent and violent forms of oppression are gone. 

In the last installment of 'The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross', Gates reminds us of the extent to which barriers to equality are embedded in the very structure of American life and remain the final frontier on the pathway to freedom.

An irony to be noted: the rise  of the Black Panthers, who exerted their 2nd Amendment Rights to defend their communities and the crushing of that movement and the eventual deaths of demonized young black men brought about by the dominant society's embrace of their rights to bare concealed weapons and 'stand your ground laws'. 


The least thoughtful among us will raise narrow questions which actually prove that we are not equal, but in their minds are a - at best naive suggestion the exceptional among us are proof of equality. It's akin to saying that if the success of Steven Jobs, means every white person who knows how to program a computer should be a billionaire by now. 

Gates' point is that every equality for every American means a greater democratic truth and example for the entire world. We cannot settle for anything less, and on that journey ALL Americans have many to cross...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Now's Not the Time to Cut Social Security

I have no idea whether Elizabeth Warren will run for President. But if she remains a U.S. Senator, she will be one of the most the greatest champions for the middle class that our country has ever known. The following are her remarks on the fate of Social Security and the plight of those of us with any slim hope of retiring in the near future....


Senator Elizabeth Warren




"...Social Security has been under attack. Monthly payments are modest, averaging
about $1,250, and over time the benefits are shrinking in value. This puts a terrible squeeze
on our seniors.

"With tens of millions of people more financially stressed as they approach retirement, with more
and more people left out of the private retirement security system, and with the economic
security of our families unraveling, Social Security is rapidly becoming the only lifeline that
millions of seniors have to keep their heads above water. And yet, instead of taking on the
retirement crisis, instead of strengthening Social Security, some in Washington are actually
fighting to cut benefits.

"Just this morning, the Washington Post ran an editorial mocking the idea of a looming retirement
crisis. To make sure no one missed the point, they even put the words “retirement crisis” in
quotation marks. No retirement crisis? Tell that to the millions of Americans who are facing
retirement without a pension. Tell that to the millions of Americans who have nothing to fall
back on except Social Security. There is a $6.6 trillion gap between what Americans under 65
are currently saving and what they will need to maintain their current standard of living when
they hit retirement. $6.6 trillion—and that assumes Social Security benefits aren’t cut.ix Make no
mistake: This is a crisis.

"The call to cut Social Security has an uglier side to it, too. The Washington Post framed the
choice as more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty. The suggestion that we have
become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed
off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our
values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will
be left to starve.

"I hold deep values, and I look at basic facts. Today, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. If
we do nothing, Social Security will be safe for the next 20 years and even after that will continue
to pay most benefits. With some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many
more years – and could even increase benefits.

"The tools to help us build a future are available to us now. We don’t start the debate by deciding
who gets kicked to the curb. We are Americans. We start the debate by figuring out how to
create better efficiencies, how to make small changes that will make the system fairer, how to
grow the pool of those who contribute, how to rebuild a system that every single one of us can
rely on to make sure that there is a baseline in retirement that no one falls below.
We don’t build a future for our children by cutting basic retirement benefits for their
grandparents. No, we build a future for our kids by strengthening our economy, by investing in
education and infrastructure and research, by rebuilding a strong and robust middle class in
which every kid gets a chance—and the most vulnerable have a strong safety net..."

The rest of her remarks can be read here...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not Us...No, Not Us!


Judgement at Nuremberg, is one of my all time favorite movies. Burt Lancaster is riveting as Nazi judge Dr. Ernst Janning. It is a meaningful performance among many meaningful performances: Spencer Tracey, Maxmillian Schell, Marlene Dietrich and Richard Widmark. 

Lancaster's speech here is also is a masterpiece. It defines the difference between nationalism and patriotism. It is a narrative regarding what people will do when frightened often enough and long enough to believe they need a scapegoat to blame and restore them to their former 'glory'. It serves as a lamentable apologetic for those so desperate for power that they will abandon all standards of human decency, every shred of compassion, every sense of right and wrong, until they consider human life expendable.



When I watched 'Judgement...' last week, I was reminded of all of this. An I thought about us. I thought about the insanity of all of the gun violence we're experiencing in this country. How there are people who still believe the lives of the innocent victims - pick them - are acceptable collateral damage in defense of an out dated interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. 

I thought about the ugliness with which we talk about one another. Oh, now we do it in side-bar conversations. Or we hide behind the thick curtain of the blogasphere, or other modes of social media that allow us to trade our real names for 'anonymous'. 

I thought about how indifference toward the poor has turned to outright irrationality if not hostility. We don't want the poor to have sex or birth control. If they have children, we feel no need to educate, feed, or see that they are adequately housed. We believe that each person should receive a return from our taxes commensurate with what we've paid (when in actuality, most people who feel that way, come from the poorest states, where federal support far outweighs what they pay in taxes. Those states, by the way, are primarily southern). We forget that many of the people held in so little regard by so many, paid taxes, fought for their country, reared children and suffered some illness - for which, by the way - we believe we have no reason to provide them with any for of health care. 

We are more sophisticated than the Ernst Jannings of the world. No silver tongued orator will be able to sweep us off of our feet and lead us down some prime rose path. We listen to people who tell us what we want to hear on radio, or television. We have our fears and apprehensions confirmed in blog posts and in conversations with neighbors in gerrymandered districts. 

We can't be fooled...

Not yet...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Michael Sorrell - Education Pioneer



One of the greatest pleasures of my profession are the relationships I've develop! Paul Quinn College president, Michael Sorrell is one such relationships. He and I have written an op-ed together. We have participated in programs together and have consulted with one another on best practices to serve our communities. Paul Quinn and CitySquare are exploring ways in which we can work together to make an even deeper impact on southern Dallas.

I love this guy! Here's his TED Talk that talks about his revolutionary concept in urban post secondary education. It's fantastic! I know you'll enjoy it...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mayor Mike Rawlings Did Dallas Proud!


I once introduced Mike Rawlings' as one of my favorite mayors of our city. He confirmed that feeling and affection on Friday as he gave the address on Dallas' commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He expressed simply, yet profoundly and almost eloquently the emotions, yearnings and ambitions of a city that still struggles to some degree to outlive that great tragedy. 

Rawlings did Dallas proud on yesterday as he framed the ceremony and challenged us to build upon that darkest day an even greater city than we have become. 

Thanks Mayor Mike, you honored Dallas with your words, your service and your spirit!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Text of JFK's Dallas Speech



These words are excerpts of the text of the speech that President John F. Kennedy was to give at the Dallas Trade Mart luncheon in Dallas on November 22, 1963. 

"I am honored to have this invitation to address the annual meeting of the Dallas Citizens Council, joined by the members of the Dallas Assembly -- and pleased to have this opportunity to salute the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest.


"It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city -- and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership's hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities -- from MIT to Cal Tech -- tend to attract the new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.

"This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country's security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America's leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.
There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.

"But today other voices are heard in the land -- voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

"We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will "talk sense to the American people." But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.

"I want to discuss with you today the status of our strength and our security because this question clearly calls for the most responsible qualities of leadership and the most enlightened products of scholarship. For this Nation's strength and security are not easily or cheaply obtained, nor are they quickly and simply explained. There are many kinds of strength and no one kind will suffice. Overwhelming nuclear strength cannot stop a guerrilla war. Formal pacts of alliance cannot stop internal subversion. Displays of material wealth cannot stop the disillusionment of diplomats subjected to discrimination.

"...it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.

"It is clear, therefore, that we are strengthening our security as well as our economy by our recent record increases in national income and output -- by surging ahead of most of Western Europe in the rate of business expansion and the margin of corporate profits, by maintaining a more stable level of prices than almost any of our overseas competitors, and by cutting personal and corporate income taxes by some $11 billion, as I have proposed, to assure this Nation of the longest and strongest expansion in our peacetime economic history.

"This Nation's total output -- which 3 years ago was at the $500 billion mark -- will soon pass $600 billion, for a record rise of over $100 billion in 3 years. For the first time in history we have 70 million men and women at work. For the first time in history average factory earnings have exceeded $100 a week. For the first time in history corporation profits after taxes -- which have risen 43 percent in less than 3 years -- have an annual level of $27.4 billion.

"My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

"That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions -- it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations -- it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

"We in this country, in this generation, are -- by destiny rather than choice -- the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men." That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: "except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.""

The full text of the speech can be found here...

Remembering JFK (1917-1963)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

OH HAPPY DAY!!!

Well, well, well...there's a measure of justice after all...

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just nailed Cash America!

"Federal regulators have ordered Fort Worth payday lender Cash America to pay up to $14 million in consumer refunds for violating rules involving debt collection lawsuits and overcharging military members.

Richard Cordray, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director
"The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also announced today that Cash America will pay a $5 million fine for violating those rules as well as destroying documents prior to the agency’s examination.
CFPB’s enforcement action was its first one against a payday lender.

"The agency found that Cash America engaged in robo-signing, a practice where important documents that require careful review and a signature from a knowledgeable individual were instead signed by someone else without following proper procedures or a machine. In Cash America’s case, the agency said robo-signing was used in documents filed in lawsuits under the company’s debt collection subsidiary in Ohio.

"During a routine examination of Cash America’s practices, financial regulators also found that the company violated the Military Lending Act, which limits the fee to 36 percent on certain loans to serviceman. Cash America provided payday loans that exceeded that rate to more than 300 active-duty service members, according to the CFPB.

"The agency also accused Cash America of impeding its examination by “carelessly” destroying documents, deleting consumer phone calls and continuing to shred documents even after federal regulators told them to stop.

"“This action brings justice to the Cash America customers who were affected by illegal robo-signing, and shows that we will vigilantly protect the consumer rights that service members have earned,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “We are also sending a clear message today to all companies under our watch that impeding a CFPB exam by destroying documents, withholding records, and instructing employees to mislead examiners is unacceptable.”"

(Read the rest of the story here...)




Throughout the past Texas State Legislature has Cash America has, as with the other members of its industry played victim when it comes to its usurious and practices. In negotiations with consumer advocates they fought tooth and nail against all but the most lax and meaningless efforts at reform. There were Texas Senators who did indeed stand up for citizens, the House members on the Investments and Financial Services Committee did not. In the end, it was all that could be done to keep the payday and auto title loan industry from eliminating the right of municipalities to enact ordinances to protect themselves from predatory lenders. 

A sign of how powerful this industry is, is the fact that $20 million won't break them. But it's a pretty good signal that the Feds will do what it can, even if the state of Texas won't.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'Ich Bin Ein Berliner'...Aren't we All!


I love this speech...

President John F. Kennedy was a masterful political leader whose efforts to keep this country out of war were nothing less than masterful. In his day, there were those whose first resort was armed conflict. It was a prospect made all the more horrible because armed conflict meant nuclear war. It was a prospect that projected no winners and in which the losers would suffer an unknown tragic fate. Against that backdrop, Kennedy's commitment to peace was remarkable. 

Of course it is fashionable to tear down the leaders many of us consider to be heroes. It's considered 'intelligent' and 'scholarly' to pick at their flaws and reveal their warts. It's fair on a number of levels. Kennedy was certainly no saint. His weaknesses are well documented. But we cannot let this 'fashionable' exercise of tearing down heroes to numb us to the extraordinary contributions ordinary men and women made to this nation. 

John F. Kennedy gave voice and image to the longings of a generation. He made this country, particularly young people to believe that they could play a role in America achieving it's promise. He gave the call to public service a more romantic and noble voice. Some of us consider him remarkable. He was, at least, a formidable figure. 

I love this speech because his instincts not to respond militarily to the construction of the Berlin Wall gave brilliant rhetorical argument to the cause of democracy: 'We've never had to build a wall...' He showed that democracy vs. any totalitarian regime can argued on their own merits, without bullets or bombs. 

Of course the wall remained for almost another 40 years, but the words of Kennedy (and eventually Ronald Reagan), would remain the guiding star for Berliners and freedom loving people all over the world. . 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'The Giving Pledge' and 'the Pledge to Get More...'




Andrew Carnegie said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced”...

There are apparently a group of billionaires who have determine not to have such shame associated with their demise. This Billionaire's Club reported in this '60 Minutes' segment, represent an uber philanthropy the like of which the world may not have seen since the turn of the 20th century. That wealth, properly directed, can cure diseases, influence public policy, enhance education and provide employment training and employment for billions on this planet. I could suggest that that these families direct their wealth toward a few more solvable problems here at home, but then again, neither Bill or Melinda Gates nor Warren Buffet have consulted me. That being said, the very thought that the men and women have banded together to use their wealth to benefit mankind to the tune of at least half of their enormous wealth is astounding!

Perhaps Warren Buffet is right, however, maybe he should put together a training on how to get by on half a billion dollars. And perhaps the first to sign up should be the Waltons...

Seems as if the Waltons, owners of the super retail giant WalMart can't imagine helping the poor in substantive ways, to enrich the lives of others, and not just any 'others', but their own employees - the one's who have made them rich.

Enter, WalMart fellow associates...

In Canton, Ohio, WalMart employees have started a campaign to give food to their co-workers they cab have a decent Thanksgiving. The Walton's whose $17 billion equal is more than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, have, so far, shown no inclination to contribute or, more importantly share their more than substantial earnings to provide their employees with a living wage."...Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell Univeristy’s school of labor, “That captures Wal-Mart right there. Wal-Mart is setting up bins because its employees don’t make enough to feed themselves and their families.”

WalMart has become infamous over the past several years for directing their employees to sign up for public benefits to make up for what their low wages can't provide...like food and health care. Of course that means that if this is true, every WalMart that gives a donation to his co-worker is contributing to their friends twice, once through taxes and second through charity. 

I often wonder what that indifference to others feels like. I wonder how people who have multiple times what it takes to live on can ignore the pleas of those who have helped make them super wealthy. I don't understand that. 

I don't. And I'm glad I never will...

"Too Many Rivers To Cross" Great History Makes Great Television

Here's a gift for you...

 I've been told that people who read blogs don't watch embedded videos longer than five, ten minutes max. I'm betting that if you read CTW you've got more stamina than that!

One of the treats of the television season, is PBS' broadcast of Dr. Henry Louis Gates documentary series 'The African-Americans: Many Rivers Cross'. History doesn't get much better than this. 

The six part series is a rapid fire, but substantive view of the history of blacks in this country from the very beginning of slavery until now. Along the way, Gates tells stories of some the most notable black figures, but he also cites the contributions of African-Americans whose names may be somewhat obscure, but whose contributions carry pretty weighty significance, like Charles Hamilton Houston, Dean of Howard University's law school, and special counsel to the NAACP. It was Houston who laid the groundwork to  fight this country's pernicious segregation laws which promoted 'Separate But Equal' public education. His work ultimately resulted in one of his famous pupils, Thurgood Marshall arguing the famous Brown v. Board of Education case which legally abolished segregation in schools and American life. 

So my gift to you? Here's the entire fourth episode!


Check your PBS local listing for showtimes in your area.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Ripple Effect of Cuts in Food Stamps

When Congress cut $5 billion from SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps), it was done so with the thought that it would save the government money.

Now true, it wasn't an actual 'cut', in the commonly understood fiscal sense of the word. Congress chose to let the additional money allocated to SNAP expire. It nonetheless means an average $36 fewer dollars in the grocery budget of some of the poorest Americans, even as the country struggles overcome the impact of the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression. But the rationale for cutting those stimulus dollars - the idea that it will help reduce the deficit, is specious at best and penny wise pound foolish at worst.

Daily Kos has an example of what the impact on one state's economy will be and when extrapolated throughout 49 other states it raises some serious questions as to whether or not even lawmakers understand what cutting food stamps does to the economy.

The state is Delaware and, while a small state it and the impact of the cuts are astonishing...
"Delaware Democratic Congressman John Carney is in agreement.  Here is how that cutback will affect John Carney's district, a district at large for the entire state of Delaware....
"Of those 36,382 households, 26,763 are families.  Of these families, 31% have two more more workers in the past 12 months.  50.1% of these families have one person working over the past 12 months. Together that is over 81%.  Only 17.7% fall in the category commonly associated with food stamps.  people who are not working.
"The benefits will be cut $11 dollars per month per single person, maxing out at $36 dollars per month for families four and over....  Using the figures above,  per month the 9619 individuals will cost Delaware $105,809 in less food purchased, and the 26,763 families will spend $963,468 less food dollars.  These are rough estimates using the averages provided here.
"But these cuts mean that grocery stores across the state starting in November will receive $1 million less in sales for every month.  Of course a year means that 12 million will not be entering the Delawarean economy per year.
"There are 326 Grocery stores listed in Delaware.   Although stores closer to areas that are less affluent will suffer worse, the average monthly loss to this slice of our economy per store is $3280 dollars.   Each store over the course of a month will lose $3280 dollars.  In a classic business structure, one expects to pay one third for product, one third for labor, and one third to everything else.  If one profits, it is because one has beaten the odds in any of those three categories...   Meaning that labor will be impacted by one third or $1100 each month....
"Each of the grocery stores on average will need to cut $1100 each month...  because of John Carney's support of this piece of legislation.
"One can expect the entry positions to be cut first.  Entry levels are minimum wage, but just for our calculations, let us go with $10 per hour.   100 hours can be expected to be cut....  or if not spread across the staff, their loss will cost the removal of a half worker from each of the 326 grocery stores in Delaware.....
"So the cutting of  SNAP benefits to appease Republicans appears to now cost Delaware an additional loss of 160 jobs....  According to August 2013's  figures,  there are 51,200 Delawareans working in Delaware's retail trade.  160 of those jobs disappearing is a 0.3% drop in that industry.... It is a small percentage of our total state workforce... 1 hundreths of one percent.

"Now this does not account for 6 months later, when the impact of losing the cumulative of losing 1.1 million every month starts hitting farms.  Nationally the drop is $5 billion.  Simply put.  $5 billion less in food will be purchased over the course of a year...."

To say a family of four has to buy $36 less food as a result of the cuts is one thing. The unsympathetic among us shrug. But to say "$5 billion less in food will be purchased over the course of a year...."" means that $5 billion has just been taken out of our nation's economy. 

FIVE BILLION DOLLARS!

I'm willing to bet that those who snatched $36 out of the hands of hungry families, didn't stop to think that the five billion represents jobs, car notes, mortgages, rent payments and the purchases of goods and services that help churn still sluggish economy. Or to put it another way, "Most people don't know how subsidies work; they never would complain about SNAP if they really knew."



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Got $36...for 47 Million People or So?



What does it mean for Congress to cut food stamps by $5 billion?

Well there are 47 million Americans dependent upon the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP or food stamps). The $5 billion in cuts means about $36 less in benefits for a family of four.

What's the impact?

"Starting this month, they will get about $36 less in food assistance. That might not sound like a lot to people in the middle-class. But to qualify for SNAP in the first place, you need to make less than $1,863 a month for a family of four (or $908 for an individual). Note that these are upper limits on net income; plenty of people who get SNAP benefits make far less."


"The USDA offers four food budgets, ranging from "thrifty" to "liberal." Its strictest budget recommends spending only $1.70 to $2 per meal. That means a family of four now has two options: Eat 21 fewer meals a month, or lower spending to less than $1.40 per person per meal, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities."
""The idea that people can make up for this by shopping differently just isn't realistic," Joel Berg, director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, told the New York Daily News. "They can't and they won't. They'll go hungry and have less food.""
"And the foods they will be pushed towards probably won't be fresh fruits and vegetables. In the United States,poverty tracks strongly with obesity, which is why, The Atlantic's Chin Jou argued earlier this year, the cuts will be particularly devastating:
Households affected by these SNAP cuts will have to contend with desperately tight grocery budgets that will constrain their ability to buy healthy food, making it easier for them to become obese. Having less money to spend on food could prompt SNAP recipients to buy more calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods that contribute to both weight gain and malnourishment. With the exception of a few items like beans and potatoes, many of the cheapest grocery offerings are highly processed foods packed with health advocates' maligned trinity of salt, sugar, and fat. [The Atlantic]"
"One alternative to SNAP are food banks and private charities — but many of them claim they are overwhelmed. Jan Pruitt, director of the North Texas Food Bank, claimed to KERA News that her organization nearly ran out of food last summer, and "with SNAP cuts adding to the line at a time when we're struggling to get ahead of the curve, it's just nearly impossible.""
""We do not have the capacity to meet that demand," Michael Kantor, spokesman for the Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans, told the Times-Picayune. "Private charities simply can't fill that gap.""
"Rachel Sheffield of the conservative Heritage Foundation argued that the government was "not cutting the program" because the $5 billion boost "was only meant to be temporary.""
Following that same logic, perhaps Ms. Sheffield might want to re-assess the Heritage Foundation's characterization of the expiration of the 'temporary' payroll tax cut as 'an enormous, unprecedented tax increase' since it, like the $5 billion of additional funding for SNAP, was meant to address the Great Recession.
Or maybe she might want to find an alternative to the $5 billion that has just been taken out of circulation in the U.S. economy. 
Or just come up with a humane way to feed hungry children...

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Column in Today's Dallas Morning News


Vandals stay busy as DISD ignores residents’ ideas for empty schools



By GERALD BRITT

It’s called the broken-window theory. A building with broken windows invites further vandalism, crime and blight. The building becomes a metaphor for the hopelessness and despair in a community as its abandonment becomes a symbol for neglect and disinvestment.
Recent news articles about the vandalism of abandoned school buildings in South Dallas illustrate the self-perpetuating problem: Closing a school without having a plan for what to do with the building is an open invitation to vandalism and criminal mischief. In fact, that outcome is guaranteed.
Dallas Independent School District trustees made the decision over the past two years to close 11 schools, several of them in South Dallas. Fiscal reasoning was provided: Low student enrollment and declining population in those communities made the continued operation of these schools economically untenable. It was a decision necessitated by a $5 billion cut in public education funding by the state Legislature, accounting for $1 million in lost funding for DISD, and a threatened loss of $125 million in federal funding. On paper it made good financial sense.
But this was a problematic “sensible” solution. As has happened in other cities, abandoned school buildings don’t repurpose themselves. With no plans or activities to benefit the surrounding communities, the structures become victims to vandalism, criminal trespassing and other forms of mischief.
No one involved in the decision to close those schools can plausibly claim to be surprised by this result. Nor can they deny that they failed to explore reasonable suggestions from surrounding communities on repurposing the buildings. Instead, the vandalized and scarred buildings exacerbate the decline of these neighborhoods, further drive down property values and make redevelopment almost impossible.
Some residents have suggested that Pearl C. Anderson Middle Learning Center be repurposed as job training center providing residents with skills in residential, commercial or highway construction trades. Such training could lead to living-wage employment for many in the community.
Others have suggested that Julia Frazier Elementary serve as a social services facility, where residents can receive needed services in close proximity to where they live.
In Seattle, a recent proposal was made that closed schools be turned into mixed-income housing for teachers and homeless families. There are other examples of abandoned school buildings that now house both for-profit and nonprofit businesses. In 2009, Spartan Internet Consulting renovated a school in East Lansing, Mich., to house a security Internet company on the second floor and the nonprofit Information Technology Empowerment Center on the ground level. The center offers hands-on activities designed to engage kids in math and science.
Still another suggestion is to use at least one of the Dallas schools as an in-district charter, which would combine creative curriculum and flexibility for staff with the security and accountability of a traditional school campus.
The most basic of these suggestions has been met with silence or shrugs from DISD trustees and officials. Meanwhile, the cost of the vandalism grows for both the district and, more important, the community. As viable proposals go unheeded, realize that the sound you hear in the background is more glass breaking.
The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His email address is gbritt@citysquare.org and he blogs at changethewind.org.