Works Not Words Offer the Best Solution to Poverty

PaulRyan-npr photo

PaulRyan-npr photo

Last week on Bill Bennett’s radio program, House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) made some comments that can only be described as uninformed and insulting regarding the issue of poverty in American cities.  He said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Ryan was addressing a report on poverty that he released earlier which detailed his version how federal spending was impacting our nation’s poor. The reaction was swift from journalists, political pundits, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the Congressional Black Caucus. Ryan’s views on poverty are neither new nor surprising but the recurring attack on race and class in this country under the guise of the federal budget and big government is disingenuous and ridiculous rhetoric. The Lyndon B. Johnson war on poverty 50 years ago did not end poverty but his political response to a policy issue  cannot be understated or denied. The LBJ administration responded to poverty with action not rhetoric. The government raised the minimum wage; created programs to train and educate Americans for better jobs, provided rent subsidies and student loans as well as enacted Medicaid and Medicaid for those who could not afford healthcare.

The Congressional Black Caucus has invited Rep. Paul D. Ryan to a CBC meeting where a more robust and thoughtful conversation on poverty might be possible. CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio has said that she thinks it could be a teachable moment, let’s hope so.

 

Governor, what is the Option?

Online Athens

Online Athens

There have been numerous local and national commentaries on the remarks made by Governor Deal last week in which he said the uninsured should be turned away from emergency rooms because it is too expensive to care for them.

Deal said at an event held at the University of Georgia, “I think we should be able in this passage of time to figure out ways to deal with those situations but not have the excessive costs associated with unnecessary visits to the emergency room.”

It is no secret in Georgia that Deal does not support the Affordable Care Act and has refused to support the expansion of Medicaid that would offer thousands of Georgians much needed healthcare benefits.  A federal government 1986 law required hospitals to provide emergency care whether patients were citizens or they had the ability to pay. Even staunch progressives would argue that seeking emergency care instead of preventive care is expensive no matter how you look at it.  But if you don’t want to expand Medicaid to meet the needs of low-income citizens and you want to close the doors to emergency rooms for desperate patients who can’t afford to go anywhere else. Governor, what is the option?

It is easy to become mired in statistics, budget lingo and the righteous indignation that affords those who have healthcare options to discuss disenfranchising others. And for those who would debate the merits of what is governments’ moral obligation to its citizenry. The answer should never be the horrible consequences of denying the least among us because it is fiscally responsible to do so. It is outrageous and incorrigible.

 

When is Murder—Murder?

JDavisMichael Dunn fired nine bullets into an SUV in which Jordan Davis, a Marietta teenager, was a passenger. Dunn fired his handgun through the vehicle and struck Davis in the back and groin after an argument over loud music on the parking lot of a convenience store.

When is murder, simply murder? I am not sure anymore. And apparently neither are other people. What defines murder? Now we are vigorously debating if it is murder if someone dies after you shoot into a car. It is clear that for some people this is perfectly reasonable. Gratuitous qualifiers include, it depends on how loud the music is playing in the car that you shot into. Or maybe it depends on who is in the car. As expected, lawyers, law students and jurists will debate the fine points of the law in this case but for an ordinary person like me—the choices seem much more simpler. When you can walk away, when you can ignore the loud music, when you can retreat into a nearby building, when you can call the police, and when you can drive away, there is no earthly reason to shoot into a car no matter who is in the vehicle. But if you do then you should be held fully accountable to the damage you do and the murder you commit.

An Excerpt from the Atlantic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
On the unfinished life of Jordan Davis

“But some are given more days than others, and I think of dying at 17, in my loudness, in my vanity, which is to say in my human youth, and I tremble. I was barely anything. I understood barely anything. When Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis, he obliterated a time-stream, devastated an open range of changes. And somewhere on that American jury, someone thought this was justice, someone believed in the voodoo of shotguns and teleportation. Michael Dunn killed a boy, and too robbed a man of his chance to be.

And this will happen again, must happen again, because our policy is color-blind, but our heritage isn’t. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind denies its rightful inheritance. An American courtroom claiming it can be colorblind is a drug addict claiming he can walk away after just one more hit. Law and legacy are at war. Legacy is winning. Legacy will always win. And our legacy is to die in this land where time is unequal, and deeded days are unequal, and blessed is the black man who lives to learn other ways, who lives to see other worlds, who lives to bear witness before the changes.”

Let the Games Begin

The Olympic flame has arrived in Sochi as the Winter Olympic Games are set to open on Friday. The competition will include alpine Sochiskiing, figure skating, snowboarding, bobsledding and new events like women’s ski jumping and the luge team relay. We are told snow conditions are almost perfect for certain sports. Though star American snowboarder Shaun White has withdrawn due to competition conditions, opening the door for other star athletes to take center stage. It appears we are in for an exciting and let’s pray safe Winter Olympic Games.

The parallel of the Games to Georgia political competition beginning in March is not lost on some of us. Like Sochi, the conditions here in Georgia are almost perfect for the right candidate to upset the incumbent governor who, according to recent polls, has an approval rating well under 50%. Governor Nathan Deal faces serious political challenges including the botching of the recent snowstorm and charges that he influenced the state ethics board investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Even though Georgians overwhelmingly support expanding Medicaid, Governor Deal has refused to consider it leaving Georgia with the sixth highest number of uninsured residents in the United States. Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Reverend Warnock chose the 85th birthday celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. to highlight the Medicaid disparity and income inequality in his comments.  Georgia State Senator and Gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter recently made the point that Georgia families today make $6,000 less than they did 10 years ago. PolitiFact deemed the statement true.

Today, the Georgia graduation rate is below the national average and the per capita spent on education is below the national average. The governor has appointed a task force to assess emergency response and let’s hope they start with reading the current plan (which if my memory doesn’t fail me is submitted to FEMA annually or quarterly) and talking to experts in the field beyond meteorologists. More importantly, Atlanta has a wealth of experts at colleges and universities like Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech and Georgia State who have decades of experience in educating, evaluating and teaching leadership, they should be invited to the table as well

Breaking Barriers to Fulfill America’s Promise

AP photo credit

AP photo credit

What does it really mean when those who were never considered leaders become leaders? Or Pioneers? Millions of Americans were captivated by the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson who signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and became the first African-American to play on a major league team. And while the story obviously focused on racism and his individual battle to break a major barrier, it also created a generation of new baseball fans.

Some 50 years after Robinson stepped on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger in a game against the Boston Braves while the entire country watched and gathered around radios to follow the game, inning-by-inning, and minute-by-minute. Many people were baseball fans and others were simply curious about what would happen when Robinson made his debut. Others became baseball fans because it was exciting to witness this moment in history.

There have been other sports moments like the rise of Billie Jean King in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, both had similar cultural impacts on increasing interest in their respective sports. In politics, President Obama is the first African-American President and Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, Janet Yellen who was sworn in yesterday as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve breaks through another barrier. Hopefully, Yellen’s rise to the pinnacle of the finance world will have a history making affect on generations of women.

These breakthroughs serve as a reminder that barriers have to be broken if we are to fully realize the promise of an America that exclaims equality for all.

 

Time for Huckabee to Talk About Something He Knows

Reuters photo credit

Reuters photo credit

The GOP’s “War on Women” took a turn for the worst, again. At a recent Republican National Committee meeting, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee apparently forgot that women could hear him. His controversial remarks had diehard Republicans backing away from him. The Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus led the backup chorus that included former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and House Speaker John Boehner and others.

It is rumored that there have been communication trainings designed to help Republicans talk about and talk to women. I imagine Huckabee missed those meetings.  Last week in Washington DC he said, “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

While this isn’t the first time Huckabee has gone off the ranch, these comments were especially shocking for so many reasons.  First, similar comments sparked so much controversy in recent elections like Missouri Representative Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment or 2012 Indiana US Senate nominee Richard Mourdock who said, “Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The assumption that women are so easily manipulated that they can be told what to do about their own bodies—is insulting. Uncle Sugar–Really?  If the federal government is Sugar Daddy then what does that make American women?  Finally, that women can’t control their libido or reproductive system without government’s help is another version of Huckabee’s varied attempts to dictate if women employees should have birth control prescriptions included in their health plans like any other preventive health prescription. And while birth control is definitely one use for birth control pills there are other medical reasons that doctors prescribe them—but that shouldn’t really matter since women are fully capable of making their own health choices.

Huckabee’s defenders say Democrats are distorting his comments, which is pretty darn difficult to do when you consider his strong support of Todd Akin after his comments or his current defense of his latest comments.  Yes, Huckabee really believes what he says and he insults women again.

As the GOP gears up to solicit women voters, remember insulting them isn’t an appealing or winning strategy.

Isn’t Being Poor Enough?

foostampsAs factions in Congress debate whether the federal government can afford to support needy Americans through extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and social security benefits, millions of Americans live everyday in poverty. Researchers suggest that 1 in 5 American households need federal assistance for food security. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP at $80 billion a year it has doubled in five years.

And now those in the medical community are making the link between cutting food aid and higher medical costs. “If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,” said Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children’s HealthWatch pediatric research.

Today, poverty is a painful reality for many Americans. States challenging expansion of Medicaid/Medicare, no unemployment insurance extension, minimum wages that are not living wages, a recovering economy with people who have given up looking for work and increasing empty shelves in food banks are logical explanations for why Americans live in poverty.

CBS News reported that Georgia State Representative Greg Morris introduced House Bill 772, which would force low income Georgians to pass drug tests to qualify for food stamps. According to Morris “it’s just fairness and protecting taxpayers’ dollars.” Georgia law currently mandates welfare applicants pass drug tests. Chances are House Bill 772 would be challenged as unconstitutional. Such details don’t seem to matter to some legislators.

Morris’ leadership is needed in Georgia to find ways to expand the economy, to support increased funding for every level of education from preschool through college and technical school, to adopt healthcare coverage for all needy Georgians. What a waste of taxpayer money to chase a bill that most believe is unconstitutional. Though democracy requires full participation from every quarter of the electorate, it is frustrating to have our legislators waste taxpayer money on such frivolous efforts.

 

Public Advocacy Gets A New Look in NYC

lJamesNYCThis post is more about the grave and distressing challenges facing homeless children and their families in American cities. But I confess it may sound more like a high-five for the first ever African American woman elected as New York City’s public advocate.

On the day that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the oath of office, Councilwoman Letitia James was also sworn in as the City’s Public Advocate. The city’s watchdog position was previously held by the new mayor and has an enormous responsibility in addressing the services and concerns of New York’s more than 8.3 million residents.

Letitia James’ election would not be nearly as important here if we had not been introduced to one of her constituents, Dasani Coates, in a heartfelt and grisly feature in the New York Times in early December. As told through the life of just one of New York’s homeless children and her family, it is both riveting and heartbreaking. So I was elated in a progressive Democratic kind of way, when I saw James taking the oath of office with Dasani Coates holding the Bible during the ceremony. Cynics are questioning James’s motives and her exaggeration about arranging the New York Times feature—which she didn’t but that is a mere distraction to the people who benefit from someone whose responsibility is to have their back in City Hall. Segments of her remarks are posted here and the New York Times link to the series that give us a peek into the life of Dasani Coates is below.

Excerpts from New York City elected Public Advocate Letitia James Inaugural Remarks                                                                                “The wave of progressive victories our city has recently enjoyed, thanks to the City Council, was in some ways inevitable. The fabric of our city, of our nation, is made strong by the untold sacrifices of so many who are left defenseless, unrepresented, unspoken for. But at some point in history, the tide must turn. The policies that make them voiceless must give way to a government that works for them, that speaks for them, that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.

To live up to that challenge and to be morally centered in our decisions is the task before those of us who think of ourselves as the progressive wing of our city. Even as the tide turns towards progress, we do not have the luxury to rest.

If working people aren’t getting their fair share, if our government isn’t securing the reforms New Yorkers were promised, you better believe Dasani and I will stand up—that all of us will stand up—and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of our progress.”

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

Does the Utah Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Portend the End to Georgia’s Defense of Marriage Act?

By Gary Cox

nationofchangeLeaders in Atlanta’s LBGT community understand that it is, “just a matter of finding the right couple, just the right circumstances, just the right case” to challenge Georgia’s constitutional exclusion of same-sex marriage. Just like Georgia, a statewide vote was held to amend the Utah state constitution in 2004 to prohibit same-sex couples from getting legally married. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby, (10th District Circuit Court), struck down the ban in December 2013 stating, “The State’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.” Also, Judge Shelby refused to stay his order during the appeals process, as did the appellate court. (The state of Utah appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriage in Utah. A stay was granted.) Nevertheless, these actions have paved the way for Utah same-sex couples to immediately marry and over 200 couples have done so before the U.S. Supreme Court interceded – the status of those marriages will most likely depend upon the outcome of the case – which will eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a rather ironic twist, Judge Shelby quoted Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia who warned that the Supreme Court’s reasoning and rationale that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act — which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples — could be used to strike down state laws banning same-sex marriage. Judge Shelby quoted Scalia’s negative prophecy in his pro-gay marriage opinion and used Scalia’s rationale to strike down the Utah marriage ban. The Federal DOMA ruling, Justice Scalia feared, would be a “Trojan Horse” by which to challenge state laws banning same-sex marriage. This was the case in Utah and it may very well be the case in a future Georgia challenge – we just don’t yet know what Georgia same-sex couple will be hiding in the belly of Justice Scalia’s Trojan horse.

Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban mirrors the Utah ban in that they were both voter-approved amendments to the state constitution. The Utah ban, as we now know, was vulnerable to an “Equal Protection” (Fourteenth Amendment) challenge. Both the Utah case and a potential Georgia case ask or will ask a basic question: “How skeptical should courts be under equal protection principles about laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians?” The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1 stipulates: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The last fourteen words of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment were the key to striking down the Utah same-sex marriage ban. These fourteen words will be the key to challenging to Georgia’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban as well. It is a matter of “… finding the right couple, just the right circumstances, and just the right case.” We will most likely have legalized same-sex marriages in Georgia . . . it is just a matter of time before that Trojan horse is left on the Federal Courthouse steps in Atlanta – and it may come sooner than most people believe possible.

 

Aren’t We Tired of Being Sick and Tired?

guardianlv“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known.” Those were the words of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at a press conference in Washington, DC.

Add his comments to one of the coldest Thanksgiving in awhile in Atlanta, which means higher heating bills. Plus sustained high demand by working families for food assistance from Atlanta Community Food Bank and others. The Food Bank serves as the primary source of food for many food insecure homes and nearly 59,000 different people visit each week. Some 1.8 million Georgians currently live in poverty. Let’s not forget the persistently high post 2008 Recession unemployment rates which mask the high rates of the underemployed and those who after months of searching have given up their fruitless job search. For all of its strengths and renowned business successes America hasn’t cracked the public policy code to eliminating poverty for vast numbers of Americans. There have been some poverty solutions like Social Security that has helped many seniors avoid poverty. The growing national debate and local and state government action about raising the minimum wage has the potential to help lift thousands of Americans out of the grasp of poverty.

According to economist Paul Krugman, “the main effect of a rise in minimum wages is a rise in the incomes of hard-working but low-paid Americans — which is, of course, what we’re trying to accomplish.” Krugman’s assessment is something that many have known for awhile, in fact more than a decade ago a distinguished panel of scholars, business and civic leaders led by former Morehouse College President Walter Massey studied the minimum wage issue and recommended Atlanta adopt a Living Wage Ordinance based on the State of Utah’s model. In the spirit of no good deed going unpunished-the Georgia Legislature decided Atlanta shouldn’t incentivize bidders in procurements to pay their employees a living wage which was calculated at the time at $10.50 an hour. Private businesses, nonprofit organizations nor other governments would have been directly impacted by the city’s ordinance unless they sought to do business through its procurement processes. Since Atlanta’s well-meaning, progressive efforts, currently there are over 120 cities that have wage ordinances.

Taking liberty with famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, “Aren’t we tired of being sick and tired” and broke when we do a good day’s work and still unable to pay the rent or feed our children and ourselves.

America shows its compassion in a crisis, now millions of working men and women need us to show compassion in action every day.

Learn more about the needs of hard working people and children in need

Hands on Atlanta  http://www.handsonatlanta.org/HOC__Affiliate_Home_Page

Atlanta Community Food Bank    http://www.acfb.org

Feeding America      http://feedingamerica.org/?show_shov=1

Meals on Wheels     http://www.mowaa.org

Toys for Tots http://www.toysfortots.org/about_toys_for_tots/toys_for_tots_program/default.aspx

Salvation Army    http://salvationarmyusa.org/usn/christmas-assistance