Monthly Archives: February 2015

Austin is #1! . . . in Economic Segregation

john yancey

University of Texas professor John Yancey’s depiction – broken tile mosaic – of old East Austin, “Rhapsody,” located just east of I-35 in downtown Austin.

Austin, Texas – self-proclaimed live music capital of the world, home of the Longhorns and SXSW – is the most economically segregated large metro area in the United States, according to a new report from the Martin Prosperity Institute. Three other Texas cities/metro areas joined Austin in the top ten ranking: San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Economic segregation means someone at or below the poverty line doesn’t live in the vicinity of someone making $200,000/yr. or more. These two persons might live in the same city, but they live miles apart, literally and figuratively. Austin is #1 – the wealthy increasingly wall themselves off from their poorer city-mates, making for a hard-set segregation of economic classes, not unlike the racial segregation of generations past.

As a matter of fact, Austin’s economic segregation is distinctly based upon the racial divisions of years past. Interstate 35 – running from Laredo to Duluth – splits Austin right down its middle. Generally, the west side is mostly white and well-off and the east side is not. In the 1880s, Austin had a reputation for being a refuge city for freed slaves – a rarity for the South. At this time, African-Americans lived in various geographic pockets all over town. In 1928, Austin created “Negro districts” (in part, ostensibly) to facilitate access to city parks and schools for African-Americans. Austin’s African-American population at this time was just under 20 percent of its total. The 1920s, like the current era, was a time of economic segregation when the gap between America’s wealthiest and poorest increased significantly. During the Depression, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a New Deal-inspired agency created to help struggling homeowners with mortgages, sanctioned the infamous red-lined districts of many American cities, essentially quarantining “the threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population” from more desirable parts of cities. By the 1940s, Austin was racially segregated with blacks and Hispanics living east of downtown. The 1962 completed construction of I-35, walling off the east side toward the west with a 100-foot wide concrete canyon, sealed the deal.

Austin has the distinction of being the only city in the country with double-digit population growth in the first decade of the 2000s to experience a decrease in African-American population. Gentrification happens, yes; but it’s deeply ironic that many of Austin’s black residents are now being forced out of an area of town that their ancestors were forced into. Furthermore, Austin maintains its “#1 ranking” of economic segregation even as some of its economically disadvantaged residents leave to live beyond its city limits. African-American population in the United States has been stable for years at 12 percent; additionally, 3 percent of Americans self-identify as bi- or multi-racial (President Obama, Tiger Woods, Beyoncé Knowles). Austin’s black population is now only 8 percent of its total (70,000 of 885,000).

What’s the rub? Extreme economic segregation, just like racial segregation, denigrates the overall health and well-being of a community. This blog consistently trumpets two related and unfortunate current realities of American life: the cultural and geographic clustering of folks in the same socio-economic class, and the disconnect between those who are well-off economically and those who are not.

In the months since my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good has been published, I’ve had many good conversations with individuals and groups on important topics such as poverty, economic inequality, and social mobility – all covered in JaLBM. I frequently ask fellow well-off Americans the following: Do you actually know anyone who lives in poverty? Oftentimes, the honest answer is “no.” There’s a lot of partisan bickering in today’s America about the social problems – many related to poverty – that confront us. What’s not easy in today’s America is to actually have a relationship on equal terms with someone in a different socio-economic class. And because of that, our society consists of many who, lacking insight into another’s plight, are quick to judge the others that they simply don’t know. Just read (for as long as you can take it) the “Comments” portion on articles of newspaper websites dealing with the above mentioned topics.

Working together for a shared common good is a hard task. It takes a commitment to making relationships (especially with those who are “different”), compassion, and smarts. It also understands that present and future realities are related to past ones. Austin’s childhood poverty rate is close to 30 percent – not good. It’s over 50 percent for African-American and Latino children – even worse. “Their” problem? Not a chance – it’s a community issue that needs communal response, resolve, and interaction from those who live in Rosewood Courts to those residing on the thirty-first floor (from where one can see into East Austin) of the new and swanky high rise, The 555.

 

Click here for link describing in detail John Yancey’s strong and beautiful mosaic “Rhapsody.”

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The Story Behind the Pen Name!!

T. Carlos Anderson?! Really? The author of Just a Little Bit More is someone named T. Carlos?! Everyone, including family and good friends, knows me as Tim. Well, let me explain . . .

ta book

Tim or T. Carlos Anderson??

When I was in high school, there was another student, a year younger than me, named Tim Anderson. My fellow Tim was a decent guy, a bit shorter than me. I played basketball and he played baseball, so our paths were mostly separate. When I was in seminary, there was a fellow student, a year or two older, named Tim Anderson. In the seminary student directory, spouse names were included parenthetically after the student names. One year the Tim Anderson wives were switched, an innocuous type of paper wife-swapping at the theological institution.

Now, years later, in the process of writing Just a Little Bit More, I spent some time studying Amazon.com author pages. Guess how many Tim Andersons are selling books on Amazon? At least seven sprinkled here and there between the sixteen pages that come up under an author name search. My middle name is Carl – my dad’s name. T.C. Anderson has a nice ring to it . . . sorry, already taken.

In the late 1980s, we lived in Peru for two years. There my (true) wife Denise and I learned el Espanol. I was there as a seminary intern, practicing the pastoral arts albeit in the foreign language that I consistently graded out with C’s during high school (because I couldn’t have cared less about it – but that’s a different story for another day, pues). My North American colleagues assured me when we arrived that the name Timoteo would serve me well during our South American stay. Timoteo was biblical and it had a lyrical ring to it. One day after having logged a year or so in the land of los Incas, a taxi driver and I struck up a conversation in his cab. I loved learning Spanish by conversing – a daily challenge, like a fun verbal word puzzle, no homework to scribble out. We got on well and after awhile he asked my name. When he heard me say Timoteo, he laughed. Hombre, aqui en el Peru el nombre Timoteo es un nombre para gatos y perros. “Hey buddy, here in Peru the name Timoteo is a name we use for cats and dogs.” From that moment on, I went by a new name – my middle name in Spanish form – Carlos.

So there you have it. T. Carlos Anderson isn’t a complete fabrication. The honesty of that taxi driver saved me, during my last year in Peru, from a bit of cultural verguenza – a combination of shame and embarrassment. And, unknowingly, he gave the future author a working pen name and a memorable story to share. Just a Little Bit More is now available as an ebook on Amazon.com, and I’m the only author you’ll find there named T. Carlos Anderson! For those of you gifted with a unique name – not used for pets – I’m pleased to be welcomed to your world.

 

The second edition paperback version of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available through www.blueocotillo.com., ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL, and through the Amazon, iTunes, and Nook websites.

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Blue Ruts and Red Ruts

My wife and I took in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood last year when it came out. Encompassing twelve years of filming, Boyhood gently breaks new ground as viewers watch its characters grow, develop, and age. In one of the opening scenes, siblings Sam (played by Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei) and Mason (played by Austinite Ellar Coltrane) seek out their mother’s attention via a good old-fashioned sibling yelling fight. “Mom! Tell her to quit it!” What younger brother wouldn’t yell for his mom to tell his older sister to be quiet when she annoyingly sings and dances out Britney Spears’s Oops! . . . I Did It Again in his face?

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Mark and Tim (circa 1980)

My brother and I used to pull crap like that all the time; not mugging Brittany, but slamming an imaginary Mike Nesmith axe in the other one’s face, among other pranks. Only 13 months and mere weeks apart, my brother Mark and I used to go at it competitively and contentiously. It’s a miracle we didn’t drive our poor mother out of her mind. (Although, back in the day when embarking on a trip of any sort our mom would instinctively answer our constant query of Where are we going? with the stock reply of Crazy.) But something happened as my brother and I hit our teenage years and headed off to college: we realized we were on the same team. Brothers – family – yes, teammates.

Witnessing the political behavior that emanates from Washington DC (and from other capitols across the country) is akin to watching small children – siblings, no less – fight and argue, kick and scream, and without fail, blame the other. Of course, it’s always been this way and this is how democracy works. Partly true, but things are markedly worse now than they’ve been for a long time. How nostalgic to remember President Ronald Reagan (Republican red) and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (Democratic blue) in action: they agreed that before 6:00 p.m. it was all politics, and after that designated hour they were to be on cordial behavior. Reagan even threw a seventieth birthday party for O’Neill at the White House. They saw themselves as adversaries, and not mortal enemies. Today’s political hyper-partisanship traces back to Newt Gingrich’s strategy as the Republicans, in 1994, took majority control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. It was a brilliant strategy that brought an end to an entrenched status quo: Destroy the institution to save it – throw the majority bums out. But, unfortunately, that same strategy has been the modus operandi for both dominant political parties ever since, producing ample gridlock which helps maintain the status quo. Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (Basic Books, 2012) argue that political polarization is at an all-time high in American society. And that’s going some 150 years back to the time of Reconstruction.

Blue ruts and red ruts. Not only our politicians, but many citizens are stuck in what I call blue and red ruts. Many people are stuck in place not moving forward, like a spinning car wheel stuck in a rut, not able to perform its task of moving the car forward, but only digging the rut deeper and deeper. Many citizens, of course, align themselves with one of the two major political parties. We all have our preferences and heartfelt convictions. But to be hyper-partisan to the point where one side feels as if the other side has no legitimate ideas or input? If you are a committed Democrat, do you truly feel the country would be better off if everyone was a Democrat? And putting the shoe on the other foot, would we be better off if we all were Republicans – every single one of us? How many of us – aligned with one of the dominant political parties – actually have adult conversations (without temper tantrums or name calling) on important societal topics with a friend or acquaintance aligned with the opposing political party? Think about the possibilities for positive change in our society if we turned off Fox News and MSNBC and actually conversed one with another in a civil manner . . . and then acted upon our convictions in public service to benefit the common good.

Diversity – different parts working together, carrying out specific tasks – moves us forward. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claims in his book Future Tense (Shocken, 2009), ideology is “the attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world.” Partisans want to have their way; that’s normal. But they also realize in a big world it’s good to get along with others, share, and not pout (too often). Hyper-partisans, on the other hand, like siblings who can only fight and whine, don’t get along with those who are “different” and certainly don’t want to share or cooperate. That’s not how families or democratic societies function at their best. Getting stuck in a rut – no matter the color – that’s not much good for anyone.

It’s much better to live out and recover the democratic understanding of politics as the art of the possible. Impossible? Time to call out (and vote out when possible) the hyper-partisans who act more like children than adults.

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Brothers Mark, Matt, and T. Carlos

 

If you like what is written in this blog post, you’ll like what I have to say in Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good (Blue Ocotillo Publishing, 2014). It’s available at this link, and at other venues where books and ebooks are sold.

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America’s True Religion

(It’s been a year since Cadillac – spot on – defined America’s dominant religion. Let’s revisit this classic.)

The Cadillac commercial many saw during the February 2014 Winter Olympic Games coverage precisely embodies America’s true religion: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. Check it out below.

Theologian Paul Tillich broadened the definition of religion when he described it as “ultimate concern.” The actor in the commercial, Neal McDonough, strikingly articulates America’s dominant religion step-by-step. “We’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers.” And then he tells us what we believe in, while striding aside the $75,000 four-wheeled object of adulation: “It’s pretty simple. You work hard, you create own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

Don’t get me wrong – on the surface, commerce/materialism/consumerism is not a bad religion, or ultimate concern. It’s fed, clothed, housed, employed, and provided for millions of Americans (and many others) and served the common good for a number of generations. Work, a vital component of the religion, enables our survival at the most basic level. But when it goes to excess – hours worked, inordinate material and consumerist pursuits – the religion becomes idolatrous. McDonough’s character becomes a type of high priest enticing us to a counterfeit promised land found via “just a little bit more.” Americans began to work more and more hours in the late 1970s, reversing a long-standing trend of declining number of hours worked. Whereas America has been historically associated with the opportunity to work, the country now seems to be associated with the domination of work (for those who can find it).

We do work hard (only South Koreans and Australians work more hours than Americans), but the American economic mobility that used to be the benchmark for the rest of the world has significantly eroded away. The philosophy of work hard and advance applies to an increasingly smaller group of Americans than it used to. Our high priest of materialism disparages that “other countries take August off.” Does he not know that time away from work has been assiduously fought for over the decades since the Industrial era brought its blessings and curses? A bit more than a century ago Andrew Carnegie’s steelworkers worked twelve hour days, seven days a week. The upside of that? They helped build the nation that later spawned characters like McDonough’s that imply poor people have no one to blame but themselves, lazy and uninspired.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good further details America’s true religion and calls for a counter movement based in economic democracy. The book is available through this website, and wherever books are sold. The following excerpt is from chapter 5:

Work is a great opportunity in the United States. We’re thankful for it even as it saps our energy and youthfulness. But, does work always deliver on its promise to take care of us? Whom does our work benefit – ourselves and our community, or are we unwittingly part of some larger design where our contributions are parasitically annexed for someone else’s gain? Is the pace we keep with our work one that gives freedom or creates bondage? Increasingly, our rates of consumption with their propensity toward excesses speak of bondage – exorbitantly so. Americans have 1.3 billion credit cards (four for every man, woman, and child) while our savings rate continues to plummet to nearly net zero.

All rights reserved. Blue Ocotillo Publishing, May 2014.

Just a Little Bit More is available on Amazon for slightly less than $75k.

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George Will Doesn’t Know Anyone Who Is Poor

Denise, my wife, and I recently visited her parents in Champaign, Illinois. While perusing The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana’s daily, an article reminded me that the esteemed political columnist George Will, like my wife, hails from Champaign, hometown of the University of Illinois. Will’s father, Frederick, taught philosophy at the university. The newspaper article I looked at celebrated its famous son, reviewed his career (he taught at Harvard early on), and trumpeted his future book, a comprehensive analysis of conservative politics. It was a good article; Will gave some excellent quotes covering politics and presidents from TR to Obama that made News-Gazette writer Paul Wood’s job that much easier.

I’m not sure if I’ll read Will’s book when it comes out. I can remember in the 1970s and ’80s occasionally reading Will’s column in Newsweek. I didn’t have a chosen political self-identity at that point in my life. Political self-identity. According to a recent Gallup.com article, 26 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republican, 30 percent as Democrat, and a record 43 percent identify themselves as politically independent. I include myself in this last grouping. The hyper-partisanship present in both major parties is responsible for the lack of legislative progress on important issues (immigration reform, for example), and is simply characteristic of a society in regression. One of my previous blog post titles aptly describes the situation: “Blue Ruts and Red Ruts.”

My hometown daily, The Austin-American Statesman, runs a George Will column once a week. From the looks I’ve given those columns over the past couple of years, it’s apparent that Will now preaches more often than not to the Republican choir. He’s certainly not a lap-dog for the all the typical Republican causes – he was critical of the Bush-Cheney Iraq war, continues to be critical of the Nixon/Reagan-initiated “war on drugs,” and is an opponent of “too big to fail” Wall Street banks. However, his recent departure from ABC News (after a thirty year plus run) to partisan Fox News solidifies the perception that Will is simply speaking to the base, and not reaching out to independents or Dems. The A-AS also runs conservative political columnist David Brooks once a week; I read Brooks’ column every chance I get. Brooks intentionally writes for a wider audience and covers topics without having to make partisan political reference. Brooks’ presence on NPR also broadens his appeal (except to those, of course, on the far right).

A recent Will column, “Questions for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch,” showcased some of his conservative wisdom: the bloated incarceration rates in America as unjust and expensive, and the rise of civil forfeiture – the seizure of property suspected of being involved with criminal activity – as unconstitutional. Will’s last point in the column, however, exposes a weak point symptomatic of today’s pockets-of-isolation American society.

    Many progressives say that the 34 states that have passed laws requiring voters to have a government-issued photo ID are practicing “vote suppression.” Does requiring a photo ID at airports constitute “travel suppression”? Visitors to the Justice Department are required to present photo IDs. Will you – we will be watching with a fine-toothed comb – plan to end this “visit suppression”? (Published in The Washington Post, January 9, 2015.)

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Pew Research Center – 2014

I can’t substantiate the following assertion as I don’t know Dr. Will personally, but I’m quite confident of its veracity: George Will doesn’t know anyone who is poor. Today’s America is separated into socio-economic enclaves of like-minded folks. I’ve referenced Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort (Mariner, 2009) previously in this blog; he’s shown that unlike American neighborhoods of a couple of generations ago, today’s American neighborhoods rarely allow for a mechanic to live next door to a medical doctor. Furthermore, wealthier people increasingly do not interact with those who are economically poor, except in situations of work or service. And in these instances, first names and amicabilities are seldom exchanged. Even so, wealthier people certainly will talk derisively about people who are on the lower ends of economic markers – 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” gaffe being the most indicative.

George Will doesn’t know anyone who is poor. Poverty rates in America by ethnicity: whites, 10 percent; blacks, 27 percent; Latinos, 24 percent. Republicans favor voter ID laws out of concern for voter fraud, which has been shown to be rare. Democrats, remembering an American history of voter exclusion by numerous categories and tactics, oppose voter ID laws out of concern for minority voter suppression. The economically poor, however, have had low voter turnout rates for decades and initial studies in this new era of voter ID laws do not show lower voter turnout rates among their ranks. But, it’s a plain fact that not everyone eligible to vote has a government-issued photo ID. Who are these? Generally, they are younger Americans, those not college educated, Latinos, and those living in poverty (regardless of ethnicity or age). It costs money to have access to a car and have an accompanying drivers license, to arm oneself with a handgun (its photo permit an acceptable form of identification in order to vote in Texas), or to have a passport (another form of ID acceptable for voting in most states with voter ID laws). Requiring a photo ID at an airport in order to fly? Yes, of course, that’s a necessity in the post-9/11 world. But, again, it costs money to fly. Generally speaking, people living in poverty don’t do a whole lot of cruising in cars to an airport, .22 pistol in the glove box, ready to hop on a flight – domestic or international.

And what about the requirement that visitors to the Justice Department have a photo ID to get in? Yes, of course, for the protection of all in the building, entry through a metal detector and the offering of a photo ID is a necessity (until iris-recognition biometric technology is perfected). And what percentage of Americans ever enter the DOJ headquarters in Washington, D.C.? Answer: an incrementally small percentage. The topic at hand is not access to a privilege – car or gun ownership, a seat on an airplane, or entrance to a tightly secured federal building. The topic is voting – according to the Constitution – “a right” conferred to all citizens. The right to vote is taken away from convicted felons, but living in poverty is not supposed to be an obstacle to the ballot. It’s easy enough for middle- and upper-class folks to comply with voter ID laws; the requirements of these new laws reflect middle- and upper-class lifestyles and values. The new voter ID laws were written by people who, like George Will, for the most part, don’t know anyone who is poor.

Getting voter eligible identification cards into the hands of those who don’t have a photo ID is a pragmatic solution. Of the 34 states putting the voter ID laws into practice, how many are allowing for a “grace period” (two years seems reasonable) so that the estimated 10-12 percent that don’t have drivers licenses can procure a government-issued ID in order to vote, complying with the new laws?

There’s no questioning that George Will is a brilliant scholar and commentator. His brilliance is tarnished, however, by something that plagues many well-to-do Americans: not having personal relationships with anyone living in poverty, their understanding of their poorer neighbors’ reality is jaundiced – often loaded with judgment and lacking of deeper insight and compassion.

 

My book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, is available at http://www.blueocotillo.com and wherever books and ebooks are sold, including Amazon.

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