Politics


My hometown was recently featured by National Public Radio‘s All Things Considered. It was a discussion about the economy. The story Ohio Town Weathers Recession is a good look at how smaller towns are dealing with the recession and how industry is still a major engine of our economy.

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The Immigration Policy Center published a report entitled New Americans in the North Star State in October that looked at the economic impact of immigration on Minnesota.

The summary shows that immigrants are having a positive impact on MN:

Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians account for large and growing shares of the economy and population in Minnesota. Immigrants make up 6.6% of the state’s population, and 42.5% of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. “New Americans”—immigrants and the children of immigrants—account for 3.5% of all registered voters in the state. Immigrants are not only integral to the state’s economy as workers, but also account for tens of million of dollars in tax revenue and consumer purchasing power. Moreover, Latinos and Asians wield nearly $10 billion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they own had sales and receipts of $2.2 billion and employed more than 21,000 people at last count. At a time of economic recession, Minnesota can ill-afford to alienate such a critical component of its labor force, tax base, and business community.

The last line shows the organization and the reports bias, but here are some more numbers:

  • In the Twin Cities metro area, 138 immigrant-owned businesses created 386 new jobs and spent $5.6 million on payroll, rent, and supplies in 2002, according to a study from the University of Minnesota.
  • More than 1,000 Mexican-American businesses operated in Minnesota, generating an estimated $200 million in sales; while Latino workers employed in south-central agricultural industries added nearly $25 million to the local economy, according to a 2004 report by the Minneapolis Foundation.
  • More than 16,000 Asian-Indians living in Minnesota accounted for $500 million in consumer purchasing power, paid $5.2 million in real estate taxes and $2.3 million in rent, and owned 400 companies that employed more than 6,000 people, according to the same report.
  • Minnesota was home to 60,000 Hmong, whose businesses generated an estimated $100 million in revenue, according to the same report.
  • Minnesota is home to the country’s largest Somali population, which numbered roughly 15,000 people as of 2002. Somalis in Minnesota accounted for $164 million in buying power and owned 600 businesses as of 2006.

Can you read this sentence? Probably.  That is in part thanks to an educational system that you spent at least 12 years in.

What about your neighbor who is new to this country?  Many of our neighbors in Minneapolis struggle to read and write in English.  They have arrived for many reasons – but that isn’t important.  Despite stereotypes to the contrary, many are trying to learn English.  English is important for their survival and sense of well-being.  Actually a surprising number of “regular Americans” those who are native born with a multi-generational presence here struggle with literacy.

The Minnesota Literacy Council recently posted some statistics from a 2003 study.

The highly-regarded National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) study of 2003 reports nearly one third of Americans need help in reaching their literacy goals. The study broke literacy performance into four performance levels: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. More than half of the U.S. population tested at basic or below basic proficiency levels in quantitative literacy tasks such as balancing a checkbook or comparing item process per ounce. In written literacy,

  • 14% of the population tested at below basic proficiency, meaning they had minimal to no reading and writing skills.
  • 29% tested at a basic level, meaning that they are minimally prepared to decode information in a simple pamphlet or medicine bottle.
  • 44% of adult can perform intermediate tasks, such as determining facts from reference material.
  • 13% of the U.S. population tested as proficient, meaning they are capable of reading and comparing editorial viewpoints.

As a state, Minnesota outperforms national averages; however, many Minnesotans are still tragically left behind in reaching their literacy potentials. For example,

  • 12% of Minnesotans over the age of 25 (381,345 adults) lack high school diplomas or equivalents according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
  • 8% (254,230 individuals) of Minnesota’s adult population is at the lowest of five levels of functional literacy.

With approximately 200,000 Minnesotans needing ESL classes we are happy to be able to make a small dent in that number with our Somali neighbors.

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Want a snippet of American history each day? This is your book.  Organized as a daily reader The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America can be read in short (2 minute) intervals throughout the year.   Bennett and Cribb offer a wide variety of historical anecdotes from throughout the USA’s history including some more obscure dates and events that I’d not heard of.

I’m a on again off again history buff so I was eager to read this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger program.  Part of me was a little disappointed that the book sometimes almost preaches civic religion to the reader.  Nelson is a Christian publishing house and Bennett is a well known Christian author so the book’s tone at times makes it seem that American is tied up exclusively to Christianity and vice-versa.

It is no surprise given the book’s title that this paints an awe inspiring picture of what we have accomplished since the colonies were first settled.

The book is formatted by month and day, unlike some 365 day readers which just say Day 1, Day 2, etc.  At the beginning of each month is a longer essay about some component of American History.  The daily reading is a “this day in history” synopsis about a single event on that day.  Followed by a bulleted list of 4-5 other significant events that occurred on that day in history.

I would recommend this book as a way to get a small piece of history each day for you and your family.  It could also serve a good starting point for conversation about the impact of the particular event and whether it is good or bad.

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I think we all now that at some level our new President is going to sign some type of  economic stimulus package.  We may disagree on the need or scope of the package, but we all would agree that if you are going to do it, it needs to be done right with accountability and ensuring that we get the post bang for our buck.

Unlike some of the first “bailout” money which helped line corporate coffers and plush resorts, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan has some real potential to impact real people, with real issues.

Obama’s original plan included:

  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

A version of this bill has already passed through the House of Representatives.  I received an action alert from a hunger related organization in Minnesota with some encouraging news that current bill included:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance: $20 billion to provide nutrition assistance to modest-income families and to lift restrictions that limit the amount of time individuals can receive food stamps.
  • Senior Nutrition Programs: $200 million for formula grants to states for elderly nutrition services including Meals on Wheels and Congregate Meals.
  • Afterschool Meals: $726 million to increase the number of states that provide free dinners to children and to encourage participation by new institutions by increasing snack reimbursement rates.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Program Information Systems: $100 million to improve state management information systems for the WIC program.

Obviously alleviating hunger is an important part of ending poverty and ensuring everyone has a chance to be successful, especially during a recession. Food is often cut from family budgets so that they can continue to live in a warm house.  Obviously conservatives are against government handouts, even in the form of food aid, but that is sad.  Two of these hunger related items will have a lasting long-term impact on the economy.  Improving the management of WIC programs is an investment in the future of the important program which assists mothers and new born babies – ensuring proper nutrition.  Another is the after-school meals.  For many students the only food they recieve is at school and for many more, the only hot meal they recieve is at school.  Again this is an investment in the education of our future generations.

Call your Senator today and say:

Food insecurity impacts nearly 10% of our population.

The most effective response to hunger in this economic crunch is to improve low income (your state)’s  access to and participation in federal domestic nutrition assistance programs.

Food assistance also helps unemployed citizens make the transition back to self-sufficiency.

Increased participation in these programs also brings millions of additional federal dollars into the state’s economy.

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Yes that is what we are entering as we watch Obama become the first African-American president. Attending an MLK Day Rally yesterday it was quite apparent that for many in the black community this is a huge leap forward.

In some respects MLK’s dream has come true, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Below is a prayer from St Francis of Assisi and the text of MLK’s speech to reflect on as we celebrate our new prez.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

And (I highlighted some key parts in bold)

I Have a Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.[I would say that 2009 is not the end but a new beginning.] Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

You can view audio and video of the speech as well.

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What does the phrase “Not on our watch” mean? We hear it off and on, from a variety of people in a variety of contexts. Well Don Cheadle and John Prendergast want you to know that while they are alive and kicking they will not allow genocide or mass atrocities against humanity to go unnoticed. In their book titled, Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond, they have created an activists guidebook.

Sharing from their personal experience they relay the hard story behind the current genocide in Darfur. They share easy steps that can be taken to end the horrible tragedy there.  One letter can shift the balance in government which could change the entire landscape of how the world interacts with Sudanese officials. The two authors draw on their experiences with advocacy, but throughout the book share short stories about how regular individuals, like you and me, have taken action.  Simple ideas that create massive change – that is the theme of the book.

Outside of the short stories, it can get a little dry, but when you realize that you can create change it can be a powerful motivator.  Out of their efforts came an organization called the Enough Project, which basically wants to end and prevent future genocides.

I’ve had enough of the indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children.  Have you?

The book ends with this great quote from Cheadle, it is a powerful reminder we are not alone in our work.

Times like this, it’s easy to feel powerless, easy to feel alone. But when I take off those blinders and look around I see that I am actually surrounded by many people “intending the light,” as Joseph Campbell says, hoping against hope to make a difference in their time. I grow inside as we grow in size, not an army of one but one of many taking up the gauntlet thrown at our feet. Millions of lives hang in the balance, their futures determined in part by wheter or not we act. Ultimately, I pray that we not stand down from our post. Not us. Not now. Not on our watch.

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