Friday, July 18, 2014

Darkness: What Happens When We Hate

Still another 'Twilight Zone' episode that I believe speaks to our age. On yesterday at our 'Urban Engagement Book Club', our book reviewer, Randy Mayeaux shared with us highlights from the book 

"The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation". It was somewhat fortuitous that we selected that book for review, considering the fact that we chose the almost five months ago, with no idea of the events related to the flood of Latinos flowing into the United States from primarily Central America, today. 

Many of us were also overwhelmed by the ignorance, vitriol and hatefulness shown to that community. The tragedy is the fear that 'they' are coming 'here' to 'take over' 'our' country is leading some conspiracy theorists towards conclusions that can only be classified as bizarre. Furthermore, the degree to which understanding is being replaced by stereotype and objectification is again quite telling - about us - and quite disturbing. 

My fear is that we are drifting towards becoming a nation that is at war with 'the other'. And our neo-isolationism and protectionism are leading down a road in which suspicion gives way to hate. Watch this episode and see what happens when hate becomes so 'thick' and full with noxious hate that we have no choice but to vomit it up. At that point darkness is the irrefutable result. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

No, Pastor Jeffress, Simply Closing Borders Isn't 'Compassion'...

When President Obama came to Dallas last Wednesday, he invited community leaders, politicians and faith leaders to meet with him about the humanitarian crisis at the Texas border. Among those faith leaders left off of the list was Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the famed First Baptist Church of Dallas. Now, I don't know if he was smarting from the lack of respect, but on Fox news this week he decided to let his feelings known...

 “If you’re a homeowner with a swimming pool that doesn’t have a fence around it, and a neighborhood child wanders in and drowns, you’re liable because you have enticed that child into a dangerous situation. The remedy is to build a fence.”
“What we are doing by having these unsecured borders is we are enticing children and mothers to make this dangerous journey,” the Christian leader added. “Yes, we want to show compassion to the children who are here, but the most compassionate thing we can do is secure the borders.”“They’re wondering what the right thing to do is,” he noted. “Yes, Jesus loved children, but he also respected law. He said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.”
“So, we need to do both. Show compassion, but secure the borders.”
Now on the one hand, I understand what he means by 'secure borders'. America has the right to secure its borders and protect itself from terrorists and criminals. But in this interview, he was talking about children. And the 'remedy' for the children who have come across the border seeking safe harbor from rape, sex trafficking, being drawn into gangs and or just plain killed, must be secured borders.  
"...Show compassion, but secure the borders."
A clear, inarguable position in times of security. But wholly inadequate when one is talking about circumstances where the normal protocols related to international law apparently aren't working - such as embassies and consulates. 
Jeffress serves in a religion tradition that is used to going out to places like Central American cultures, ministering to them and teaching them how to be 'Christian' while skimming over the social circumstances that have them impoverished and in danger.
Jeffress' comments would have much more weight if he were trying to help County Judge Clay Jenkins prepare to receive the 2000 refugees expected to come into Dallas County. With his mind on scripture the pastor makes reference to the wrong one. And its interesting that small government conservatives and Tea Party members don't understand or think about this. Jesus did indeed say, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar..." after which Jesus paid his taxes!
When it came to laws - both God's law, or more specifically the traditions associated with God's law - Jesus was much more 'liberal' in His calls for obedience. He said, for instance when it came obeying the Sabbath, Jesus said it was alright to heal on the Sabbath Day because the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 
On the other hand, if Jeffress' free flowing interpretation of scripture would hold sway, there would've been no Gospel to serve as rationale for his beautiful, newly remodeled church edifice. According to scripture, Jesus would have died along with the innocents slaughtered by Herod's sword. Remember he, along with his parents Mary and Joseph, fled to Egypt. It's a good thing Egypt's borders weren't 'closed'!
This is a hard time. Made much harder by foreign policy decisions and indecision made years ago, by administrations older than this one and Congress' less competent than this. It produced a ravaged Honduras and other Central American countries from which many of these children have come and to which far too many may have to return. During this time, preachers can tell the truth about U.S.'s part in this upheaval and while ministering comfort to these afflicted children, many of whom are only 10-12 years old. 
America has resources to take care of these children for a short while, while in harnesses the resources to adjudicate where fate says they belong. First Baptist Dallas, has the resources to make certain the 2000 sent to Dallas County are cared for humanely. There's a Gospel to be preached AND shown to these children, as their stories are told. Now is not the time to parrot the worst fears and apprehensions of the fearful and mean-spirited among us. Now is not the time to fan the flames of  racism and xenophobia that identify scapegoats by the color of their skin or their national origin. Now is not the time for men of God to pretend that that they are speaking God's Word by speaking truth to the powerless, with no Word of Truth to the powerful.
Rev. Jeffress, you can find a great many Americans, rich and poor, black AND white, who feel the way you do because they actually believe that undocumented Americans take jobs from the hard working citizens, or who take public assistance away from the 'worthy' poor, or who may actually believe that the undocumented are guilty of crimes against Americans. And so with you they call for a 'closed border'. The fact is, as someone said, the answer to a 20 foot fence is a 21 foot ladder. The answer to this problem is far more complex than this. The one answer that is viable for the Christian Church is the work of compassion and love toward the stranger, and making certain that those in power consider their stories as they craft real policy.
As Marla Bearden, disaster relief specialist for Baptist General Convention of Texas said,  about the border situation which has a political dimension that other crisis situations do not.
“I spoke with a couple of volunteers who worked with the children, who went with the idea that we just need to turn them back,” Bearden said.
She added that their attitude didn’t last very long after arrival.
“Once they saw the conditions the children were in, it changed their hearts and it changed them.”
The children are dirty and tired and infested with lice when they arrive in the U.S., she said.
“Some of them are as young as 3 years old who came across unaccompanied,” Bearden said. “That’s pretty bad.”
There are some who can be helped more directly, Henderson added, including immigrant families who are being sent back to their native countries.
Between the time of their processing and their return by bus, they can do laundry at a TBM laundry truck in McAllen and take showers at a TBM shower trailer in Loredo.
The key is that something is being done when possible — especially when children are involved, Henderson said.
“If Jesus was standing here with us, what would he tell us to do? That sounds kind of basic, but that’s the deal,” he said."
And that's the real deal Rev. Jeffress. Read the scripture right. Jesus didn't say, "Let the little children suffer..." He said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me...and forbid them not. For such is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mark 10:14).
The way we treat these children is a demonstration of  our response to the Kingdom of God. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Payday Lending - The Fees and Now the Fines!

Yet another victory for citizens when it comes to payday lenders...

ACE Cash Express has agreed to pay a total of $10 million as part of a consent order obtained by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The bureau accused the Irving-based payday lender of using illegal debt collection practices to pressure overdue borrowers.
“ACE used false threats, intimidation, and harassing calls to bully payday borrowers into a cycle of debt,” bureau Director Richard Cordray said today. “This culture of coercion drained millions of dollars from cash-strapped consumers who had few options to fight back.”
The $10 million will consist of $5 million in borrower refunds and a $5 million fine for the violations, the bureau said.
“We are proud of our company, the value we deliver to our customers, our nearly 5,000 associates and the more than 40 million customer visits over the past 12 months,” said ACE Cash Express Chief Executive Officer Jay B. Shipowitz. “We settled this matter in order to focus on serving our customers and providing the products and services they count on.”
The company said in response to the bureau’s concerns, it hired Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP to review a “statistically significant” random sample of ACE collection calls and found that more than 96 percent of the calls during the review period “met relevant collections standards.”
One thing that needs to be made clear: action like this undertaken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is not to protect 'dead beat' clients. That seems to be a popular notion among those who want to defend a 'free market' system against the interests of ne'er do wells, and people who don't pay their bills. 
This action is undertaken on behalf of people who are trying to pay their bills and who are swept under because they cannot keep up with the interest disguised as fees, and who fall behind further because of action taken by an industry that causes bounced checks and other fees. 
It is just another 'blame the victim' argument...don't listen to it!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Column in This Week's Dallas Morning News

In the everyday business of City Hall, there is one thing fundamental about operations - how you treat citizens. Now don't get me wrong. It doesn't mean that as citizens we have a right to rant, rave and be rude. But all things being equal, citizens deserve respect. 
That is what's been missing in the conversation about the Dallas Executive Airport, and that was my subject in this weeks Dallas Morning News...
There’s no better way to judge how great a city is than by how its officials treat its residents. This means more than how politely people are greeted or how deferential politicians are to their constituents. All of that can be feigned.
A city shows respect for its residents when it includes them in decisions that affect their prospects for prosperity and quality of life.
This is a lesson Dallas seems to have to learn and relearn, again and again.
Take the recent and unnecessary controversy over Dallas Executive Airport. In this case, the city turned a win-win into a needless battle.
When Mayor Mike Rawlings initially announced Dallas’ deal to obtain Midland’s nonprofit Commemorative Air Force, he could barely contain his giddiness. “I’m going to try to get this smile off my face. I feel like an 8-year-old Christmas morning after I opened up those presents.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins was equally joyous: “We’re getting an icon to southern Dallas and the area. It’s going to create more restaurants, more hotels and more action.”
The airport, located off Hampton Road in a middle-class section of southern Dallas hungry for more development, is slated for expansion, and the Commemorative Air Force may well bring economic vitality to the area. Its focus on preserving vintage aircraft, as well as promoting and hosting events that teach about the role of military aviation, promises great benefits for those who like that kind of stuff.
The problem is that in the midst of all of the excitement about airport expansion, the CAF relocation and whatnot, someone forgot to let the people living in the surrounding neighborhoods in on the project or include them in the planning.
It has taken pressure from area residents, potential legal action and public embarrassment to get the city to finally do what it should have done in the first place: form a commission that includes residents to help plan the expansion. The 2012 master plan for Dallas Executive Airport says, “A cross-section of community members, stakeholders and interested persons have been identified to act in an advisory role in the development of the master plan. … This planning advisory committee will review reports and provide comments throughout the study to help ensure that a realistic, viable plan is developed.”
Clearly, no one in the surrounding community got even a hint of the memo. Mark Duebner, the city’s aviation director, has not only apologized but has promised to be responsible for the “do-over.” His action offers a glimmer of hope that City Hall will listen to residents and give them a place at the table. Likewise, interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell has sent a conciliatory message to the group.
Neighborhood residents didn’t ask to halt the progress of this project, an economic engine that purports to bring good-paying jobs and diverse business, education and entertainment opportunities to their area. These are no wild-eyed radicals threatening to lie down the runways in protest.
These are people who just want their voices to be heard amid those of politicians and aviation professionals.
Raymond Crawford, a resident and spokesman for those taking issue with the city’s process, is right to remain skeptical. “It’s wait-and-see,” Crawford says. “We haven’t heard back what they have agreed to do.”
The victory isn’t won until the victory is won.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ashamed of My Fellow Americans

The surge of children overwhelming our border patrols from Central America is also challenging our capacity as good, noble and generous Americans. At the very least, it is showing how deep the scarcity mentality of many Americans really is. 
Dallas, when County Judge Clay Jenkins said that Dallas County could take at least 2000 refugees, the cry and vicious attacks on the response pages of the Dallas Morning News would have made you think that we lived in another time and another place. There are those who are simply 'sick' of there tax dollars going to take care of someone else's kids. Others, mindful, or unmindful of the dangers these children face if shipped back home, call cruelly for them to be put on buses and sent back to where they belong. Other, more venal, racists talk about the diseases they spread asking will our children catch them too. 
Alan Bean's post is enlightening. It reminded me of something Jesus said: Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.  (Luke 6:38)
I do not suggest any easy answer posed by the 'inconvenience' of these children. I just simply believe that while we figure out what ever solution is to be had, we do the most honorable thing and take care of them. American's are no leaner than they have been in the past. We have no less luxury than  we have had. In other countries when war breaks out and refugees flee to neighboring borders, America not only implores the host nation to take them, we fly over by military transport, food and medicine. We do not call them, as do some of the critics of these children have, 'criminals'. 
I'm not ashamed to be an American. I'm ashamed of being numbered with some of these people who call themselves Americans...
Here is an excerpt of Bean's post. Read the complete version here.
 "...the sheer number of children, many of them girls under thirteen, has simply overwhelmed the immigration infrastructure.  So the youngsters from Central America are now being warehoused in grossly overcrowded shelters.  It can take a year to schedule an immigration hearing, and that was before the amazing uptick in child immigration from Central America began in earnest this past October."
"The Obama administration is looking for ways to override the compassionate regulations passed in simpler times.  The president wants to ensure that children who qualify as legitimate refugees are allowed to remain in the country; but how do we make that call without incurring additional delays?  Providing more immigration judges is a Band-aid solution at best."
"Republican critics blame the child migration on the president’s decision to allow undocumented Americans who came to the United States as children to remain in the country.  Obama’s executive order doesn’t apply to the children from Central America, of course, but do the folks in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador know that?  Maybe not."
"Others see the current crisis as a bi-product of mass deportation.  With Obama earning a reputation as the deporter-in-chief, it is argued, the coyotes who make their living shepherding undocumented people across the border have lost a large percentage of their Mexican clientele, and have gone looking for clients in Latin America."
"Most observers agree that the rise of violent gangs is a major factor driving the exodus of children from Central America.  A quick glance at international “intentional homicide” ratestells you everything you have to know about this phenomenon."
"In the United States, 4.8 people per 100,000 population are murdered in an average year.  That’s high.  Really high.  In Canada, the figure is 1.6 per 100,000.  In the United Kingdom it is 1.0. For decades, criminologists have been asking why the American homicide rate is between four and six times higher than most Western democracies and the majority of third-world countries."
"An intentional homicide rate of 4.8 may be shockingly high by conventional standards, but in Guatemala the rate is 39.9, in El Salvador it’s 41.2 and in Honduras, the most violent nation on the face of the earth, it’s a jaw-dropping 90.4; almost 20 times the American rate."
"It doesn’t help that, throughout the 20th century, American foreign policy in Central America has been firmly on the side of oligarchs and death squads (many of whom were trained on American soil).  Decades of political upheaval and brutal civil war have left these countries with little stability.  With the worldwide recession of 2008, the three nations that are sending us their “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, descended into chaos and armed gangs have filled the void."
"Consider what would make you send your ten year-old daughter on a dangerous trek across Central America and Mexico knowing that physical and sexual assault would likely be part of the ordeal?  Only a desperate family pressed to the utter brink would make that kind of decision."
"In other words, every unaccompanied child languishing in American detention shelters qualifies as a refugee, no matter how the definition is drawn."
"Hillary Clinton thinks we should send these kids back to their countries of origin. Apparently, Ms. Clinton is far more concerned about becoming president than she is about the children.  She is clearly pandering to public opinion, assuming that normal voters like you and me won’t cut these kids any slack. This might not apply to Latino voters who often identify with these children; but since the Republican Party seems hell-bent on alienating the Latino electorate, Clinton believes she will eventually be forgiven."
"Are we as heartless as Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton seem to believe...?"