Category: economics

“The Power to Make us One”: Heather McGhee’s One-People America

By Alan Bean

heather.mcghee – Netroots NationI recently heard Heather McGhee speak at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor conference in Chicago. She began with the obvious fact that America was not created to be one people, or one public.  Some folks were clearly part of the culture; others were not.  The primary dividing line was skin color.  Up until 1965, she reminded us, American immigration policy was built around strict racial quotas.  People of African descent were practically excluded altogether.  People from Eastern Europe were also subject to severe restrictions because they were considered ‘ethnic’.

That all changed in 1965.  In the wake of the civil rights movement, mainstream America was embarrassed by the undisguised racism implicit in the nation’s immigration policy.  The rules changed in fundamental ways.  Now, when you walk through an airport, you see every conceivable shade of skin color and you hear a wide variety of accents.  We have become, in a few brief decades, the world’s most audacious experiment in cultural diversity.


The Californication of America: A review of Darren Dochuk’s “From Bible Belt to Sunbelt”

By Alan Bean

I received a copy of Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt as a birthday present from my daughter, Dr. Lydia Bean.  She said I’d love it, and she was right.

Like me, Dochuk hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and, like me, his doctoral dissertation focused on Southern religion.  But while I was primarily interested in progressive Christians struggling for social survival in the Deep South, Dochuk turned his attention to evangelicals from states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas who migrated in droves to southern California between the dust bowl thirties to the post-war period when the counties surrounding Los Angeles were booming as a result of massive government spending on military and aeronautical projects.

As a child, Darren Dochuk was driven to the vacation spots of Southern California every summer.  I dreamed of visiting Disneyland, but I never got there.  Still, the brand of Christian Right spirituality described in his book impacted my life in significant, sometimes painful ways.  The California-inspired Jesus People movement was in full flower when I attended the Baptist Leadership Training School in 1972.  It was around that time that my traditionally Baptist parents were attracted to the charismatic movement.  My father repeatedly invited me to luncheon meetings of the Full Gospel Business Men’s International, a loose affiliation of tongue-speaking, prophesying, faith healing neo-Pentecostals founded in Southern California by a layman named Demos Shakarian.

For me, these were bewildering experiences I had largely forgotten until I read From Bible Belt to Sun Belt.  Though I never understood the appeal of this style of religion, my parents informed me that my life would be transformed if I submitted to “the baptism” and received the “gift of tongues.”  I tried my best, but it didn’t take. (more…)

Budget cuts affect access to prison education in Texas

When state legislators slashed education funding this session, the Windham School District’s (WSD) annual budget decreased from $130.6 million to $95 million. WSD, which provides education to prisoners in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, lost one-fourth of its budget. According to district spokeswoman Bambi Kiser, 16,750 fewer prisoners will have access to education as a result of these dramatic cuts.

Considering that research suggests that participation in prison education programs reduces the likelihood that individuals will return to prison after release, these cuts to prison education are especially concerning. The Amarillo Globe-News article below, which details the district’s budget cuts, gives a great overview of the issue. MW

Prison education struggles amid cuts


Ex-convict Jorge Renaud discovered philosophy and psychology in classes taught behind the razor-wire fences and cinder-block walls of Texas prisons.

It changed his life.

Renaud’s family traveled constantly when he was a child, following the crops to such southwestern farming hubs as Dimmitt and Cactus, he said. At 17, he joined the U.S. Army and spent three years in the service. When he got out in 1977, Renaud turned to making quick money from quick crimes, after he committed burglary of a habitation. It landed him in the state penitentiary.

“Why does anybody commit a crime? Stupidity, ignorance, irresponsibility,” he said. “I thought I needed material possessions.”

After he was released in 1980, he committed two aggravated robberies within the next decade and went back to prison.

That’s when Renaud turned to post-secondary education, with help from the prison education system. He said the classes helped him find his way out of the prison stint.

“Prison has to offer a hope, a rope to those who are drowning,” he said. “To some people, it’s religion. But even then, you will want to have some critical thinking skills. Where are you going to get that?” (more…)

Mass incarceration and the criminalization of homelessness

By Melanie Wilmoth

Exacerbated by the economic recession and increased home foreclosures, the homelessness crisis in the U.S. continues to grow at an alarming rate. According to a new report published by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), over 650,000 individuals in the U.S. are without a home on any given night. The report, “Criminalizing Crisis,” highlights the increasing criminalization of homeless individuals.

NLCHP reports that, despite the knowledge that there are inadequate services for those who are homeless, cities continue to prohibit activities that are essential for survival:

“Criminalization measures often prohibit activities like sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or begging in public spaces and include criminal penalties for violations of these laws…Many of these measures appear to be designed to move homeless persons out of sight, or even out of a given city.”

Once individuals are criminalized (and, therefore, have a criminal record), they face more barriers when trying to obtain employment, housing, public benefits, and healthcare.

In a recent survey of large employers, “over 90% performed a criminal background check on some or all job applicants.” Moreover, individuals with a criminal record may be suspended from or ineligible for public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food stamps. Furthermore, many Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have policies that disqualify individuals from housing based on arrest records. Thus, criminalization serves to preclude individuals from working toward economic self-sufficiency, further perpetuating the cycle of homelessness. (more…)

Five women who matter most

Female Afghan lawmaker, Malalai Joya, stands for justice in the face of death threats.

by Melanie Wilmoth

In a recent article published by, Helen Redmond lends a critical eye to Forbes’ 2011 list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

Browsing through the Forbes’ list you will find some of the world’s wealthiest female politicians and celebrities. Although these women gain power through their tremendous social and political capital, are they really “the women who matter most” as Forbes claims? Redmond doesn’t think so:

“The women on the Forbes list are not the ones who matter most. They use their power in the pursuit of profit for themselves and for shareholders to sustain a global system of economic and social inequality.”

Instead, Redmond argues, Forbes (and the rest of the world for that matter) should be praising women who are using their power to fight for social justice and the greater good. As such, Redmond has compiled an alternative list of women who she feels, based on their advocacy efforts and devotion to fighting for equality, should “matter most.”

Redmond’s article offers a thoughtful critique of the value that mainstream America places on politicians and others with obscene amounts of money, and offers thoughts on who should really be considered praiseworthy.

Check out Redmond’s alternative list of powerful women and read the full article below.

Five Women Who Matter Most

By Helen Redmond

The Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women is an obscenely wealthy international sisterhood of politicians, celebrities and billionaires who crashed through the glass ceiling. Forbes describes them as “the women who matter most.”

How is it that Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft, whom Forbes lauds for “announcing the divorce between the brands Oreos and Mac ’N Cheese,” matters most? Deciding the fate of cookies and carbs defines power? (more…)

Jesus ain’t your home boy

By Alan Bean

If you can’t trust Jesus, who can you trust?

Unfortunately, you can’t trust Jesus.

Unless, that is, you are open to shocking new ideas about God, a counter-intuitive take on the created order, and a topsy-turvy understanding of the human condition.

When Jesus arrived in his hometown of Nazareth, everybody wanted to be impressed.  When a local boy makes good, small towns announce their association with the local-boy-made-good for the edification of passing motorists.  “We might look like just another hick town,”  the sign suggests, “but Bob Wills grew up here.”

Even if you’ve never heard of Bob Wills, you can’t help being a little bit impressed. 

Immediately after his wilderness encounter with the devil, Matthew tells us, Jesus took up residence in the little fishing village of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, (or the Sea of Tiberias as Herod Antipas insisted on calling it).  From there, he moved into the surrounding communities, eventually arriving at his home town of Nazareth.

By this time, Jesus had acquired a reputation as a teacher with, it was widely rumored, the power to heal.  Nobody was thinking “Messiah” or “Son of God” at this point; but Rabbi was a distinct possibility.  Which explains why, when the hometown boy showed up for Sabbath worship, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and asked to read a passage of his choosing.

Turning to what we call the 61st Chapter (there were no chapters or verses in his day), Jesus intoned a startling message that, like the Lord’s Prayer, had been domesticated by frequent repetition. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 Then he handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down.

Folks were impressed.  “He reads very well for a kid from Nazareth,” some thought.  “Good intonation, not too fast or too slow, and he fills the synagogue with his voice without appearing to shout.  Not bad for a rookie.” (more…)

Elizabeth Warren on class warfare

by Melanie Wilmoth 

A recent video of U.S. Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren, is circulating the internet with fervor. After watching the video, it’s easy to see why it’s such a hit. The video, a clip of one of Warren’s “Talking Tours” through Massachusetts, shows her discussing the debt crisis and her take on fair taxation. Specifically, she challenges the Republican claim that taxing the wealthy is “class warfare:”

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

As Americans, we pride ourselves in our individualism, but Warren has a point: No one becomes successful in isolation. Warren’s talk of the underlying “social contract” and her sense of shared responsibility makes for fresh, exciting political discourse, and I am looking forward to hearing more from her in the near future.

Check out the clip of Warren’s speech below.

When the prison boom goes bust

By Alan Bean

Scott Henson’s Grits for Breakfast blog offered a couple of terrific posts over the weekend.  “Private prisons and faux privatization” was inspired by a Forbes piece in which E. D. Kain asserts that running prisons is a government responsibility even if the work is subcontracted to a private prison company.

Thus any ‘privatization’ that occurs is simply the transfer of the provision of a government service (in this case, incarceration) to a private contractor. The contractor still operates with the full force of the law. In other words, it’s still government, just government-for-hire or for-profit government.

If there is any saving to the tax payer it is only because private prisons pay their workers less than state-run prisons.  Since this translates into less capable workers nothing of value is gained and much is lost.

“Texas prison  boom going bust” argues that county commissioners in small Texas towns can no longer build lock-ups far exceeding local needs on the assumption that a steadily growing prison population will fill the excess beds.

Jail-bed supply significantly exceeds demand statewide. With the exception of immigration detention, the bubble has burst. As has, hopefully, the “jail as profit center” myth among Texas county commissioners.

Prison privatization and the proliferation of the The Texas Gulag are two of the primary symptoms of America’s failed attempt to make crime pay.  Public officials have believed for years that everybody wins when we lock up more people this year than we did last year. Small towns get jobs; private prison companies slash wages and rake in profits, politicians get campaign contributions from the private prison industry and jobs in that sector when they leave politics.  Who could ask for anything more? (more…)

The most influential civil rights champion you’ve never heard of

If you’ve never heard of Stetson Kennedy, you’ll feel as if you’ve known the man all your life after reading this wonderful eulogy by University of Florida professor Paul Ortiz.  Kennedy is generally remembered as a thorn in the side of the Ku Klux Klan, but as Professor Ortiz makes clear, his significance is much deeper and broader than that.  Until this morning, I had never heard Stetson Kennedy’s name mentioned in connection with racism, segregation, white supremacy or the civil rights movement.  How can that be?  AGB 

stetson_kennedy_typing.pngBy Paul OrtizStetson Kennedy passed away on Saturday, Aug. 27. He was 94 years old. Stetson died peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife, Sandra Parks, at Baptist Medical Center South in St. Augustine, Florida.

Stetson Kennedy spent the better part of the 20th century doing battle with racism, class oppression, corporate domination, and environmental degradation in the American South. By mid-century Stetson had become our country’s fiercest tribune of hard truths; vilified by the powerful, Stetson did not have the capacity to look away from injustice. His belief in the dignity of the South’s battered sharecroppers, migrant laborers, and turpentine workers made him the region’s most sensitive and effective folklorist.

Stetson was so relentless, so full of life, that some of us thought that he would trick death the way that he had once fooled the Ku Klux Klan into exposing their lurid secrets to the listeners of the Adventures of Superman radio program in 1947. As recently as April, Stetson gave a fiery speech to hundreds of farm workers and their supporters at a rally in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Tampa. Standing in solidarity with Latina/o and Haitian agricultural workers affirmed Stetson’s ironclad belief in the intersections between labor organizing, racial justice, and economic equity. (more…)

Rick Perry’s Texas miracle…or not.

By Melanie Wilmoth

In the wake of his recent presidential candidacy announcement, Governor Rick Perry hasn’t been shy in reporting that, despite the ongoing economic crisis, Texas continues to create more new jobs than any other state in the nation. It’s a “Texas Miracle” as Perry calls it.

Perry attributes this job growth to his successful implementation of conservative principles such as low taxes and minimal government regulation. However, as Harold Meyerson points out, Perry neglects to mention the quality of the jobs created in Texas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas ties with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers in minimum wage jobs.

Although low-wage jobs may bring more businesses to Texas (greater access to cheap labor will often do that), this type of job creation does little to break the cycle of poverty. It comes as no surprise that Texas ranks 4th highest in the percentage of individuals living below the federal poverty line. That’s some “miracle.”

Take a look at what Meyerson has to say:

The sad facts behind Rick Perry’s Texas miracle

By Harold Meyerson

Rick Perry’s Texas is Ross Perot’s Mexico come north. Through a range of enticements we more commonly associate with Third World nations — low wages, no benefits, high rates of poverty, scant taxes, few regulations and generous corporate subsidies — the state has produced its own “giant sucking sound,” attracting businesses from other states to a place where workers come cheap. (more…)