Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Civil Justice Gap

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all Americans a right to counsel in criminal cases. However this basic right is not extended to those persons who need representation in civil cases, even those in which the basic needs of food, shelter, health, safety, or child custody are at stake.

According to Tort Deform, between 80% of low-income persons and 40-60% of middle-income persons cannot afford legal representation and many face civic legal crises such as eviction or custody cases at a serious disadvantage in spite of the merits of their case. As a result, those without adequate counsel receive less favorable (and often devastating) outcomes dramatically more often than those with counsel, regularly losing cases that they should be winning.

The Legal Services Corp. (LSC)the single largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation through its affiliated Legal Aid offices and who is facing funding shortages and laying off staff, has to turn away roughly 50% of those in need of legal representation.

New legislation, called The Civil Access to Justice Act of 2009, will increase funding to that which will provide the minimum level of access to legal aid in every county for the Congressionally-established LSC. Adjusted for inflation, this level would be $750 million in 2009 dollars in order to be at the minimum access standard when it was authorized in 1981. Funding has been slashed since 1995 and is currently at a woefully inadequate $390 million.

The bill also lifts many of the restrictions currently placed on legal tools that LSC-funded attorneys can use to represent their clients including the prohibition on collecting attorney fees and the ability to bring class actions grounded in existing law.

Thanks to senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, both D-Mass.; Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both D-Md.; Dick Durbin D-Ill.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore who introduced the bill.

At a time when the poor and vulnerable are fighting to keep their jobs, homes, and provide basic necessities, it is crucial for the government to close the justice gap by providing the right to counsel in important civil matters. This proposed reauthorization and budget increase from $390 million to the minimum level of $750 million will do a lot to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

Also See:Civil Access to Justice

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pressing Towards the Mark: OSF For Grey Days

When things have not gone particularly well, the church says Press On Towards the Mark. Eddie Kendricks repeats the same pearl of wisdom in a slightly different linguistic approach.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Already Know: OSF Baby, Baby, Baby

I ain't even got to research this one. "Baby" is an old school term of endearment that unlike other generational language, has lasted and is still a part of current usage. After a week off, I will continue my Motown emphasis on each week's theme. Here are three favorite old-school "baby" songs:

The Supremes: Baby, Baby Where Did Our Love Go?

The Four Tops: Baby I Need Your Lovin'

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: Ooh Baby, Baby

Monday, March 16, 2009

A New Agenda

The shockwaves from the recent economic crisis have been so far reaching that even some of the most stable and largest African American churches have not been immune from severe and catastrophic damage.

The historic 140 year old Metropolitan Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. led by the venerable Dr. H. Beecher Hicks one of Ebony Magazine's 15 greatest preachers in America, recipient of a Doctor of Ministry from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, MBA from George Washington University and Post Doctoral Fellowship at Harvard University finds itself homeless after selling its church in Washington and finding financing for it's partially completed new $30 million campus dried up.

Foreclosures and delinquencies for church mortgages, which historically are one of the most safe and solid loans made by lenders, while not at the level of the private home epidemic, are dramatically increasing. Tight credit has affected lending to churches of all types and sizes, however the devastation is more dramatic when the debt and the church are both mega-sized.

Many of the largest African American churches, like Metropolitan, are providing tremendous ministry and service to the community, but I think that their financial difficulties get our attention and the crisis brings along several lessons that will benefit us for the future.

Most importantly I think that it is a reminder for us to be careful to not continue to get caught up in the bigger is better mentality and bling of prosperity and materialism that the recent black church experience paralleled and shared with that of the secular society.

The failures and difficulties also reawaken us to the value of the ministry of the small church. Small churches, which are more numerous, are able to provide a more intimate, caring, family or more personalized fellowship while also having the flexibility to get things done quickly without peeling through layers of bureaucracy or lengthy debate.

Larger churches have an advantage in the size and scope of ministry that they can provide but small churches can perform quality ministry as well except in fewer areas.

Mega churches have a larger pool to choose from when selecting staff and has more money to obtain trained ministers and administrators. However, a small church which is knowledgeable and creative in obtaining funding can also select quality trained staff but on a smaller scale.

Perhaps the biggest difference, according to Richard H. Bliese, is that small churches can go places and risk ministries that larger churches find undesirable or impossible. They can more easily speak out and become active on controversial issues while the strength of larger churches is in the adeptness to tap into technologies, cultural norms, and trends.

Dr. Renita Weems in a 2005 Ebony article aptly points out that it was in the small churches in small Southern towns and cities like Montgomery and Selma, Alabama that the majestic civil rights battles played out.

It could be that the black church is being reconfigured to once again provide a context to bring social issues that "address the consciousness, realities, and urgencies of contemporary 21st century life" to its agenda. That would then be a rediscovery of a new agenda and its true mission.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

From Paralysis to Protest

There ought to be a place in life where a line in the sand is drawn, where retreat refuses to continue, where inaction is no longer an option, and where enough becomes enough! According to reports there were 2,330,483 properties with foreclosure filings nationwide in 2008. Five percent of the total is in Ohio, of which my resident county posted the top rate in the state where 1 in 30 housing units are in foreclosure. This amounts to losing an estimated 3% per year of the housing stock to the foreclosure process. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, there are an astronomical 6,600 new foreclosures a day nationally; one every 13 seconds.

The economic downturn has also affected the suburban and other areas that have been previously shielded from the foreclosure crisis but has been particularly hard on the African American community that has lost from $73 billion to $93 billion in wealth nationally.

What is tragically unjust is that this flood of foreclosures is occurring while the corporate world and Wall Street are experiencing the highest executive pay and the largest bailouts in history. Corporate CEOs make 344 times the average worker, and the wealthiest 10% of Americans own more than two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. In the last 35 years, the richest 1% of Americans experienced a 62% drop in their federal income tax rate while their incomes increased over 80%. The riches of a few continue to mask the economic dangers faced by the middle , working, and marginalized classes who as the real victims, struggle to buy food, pay fuel and heating costs, maintain health care, and try to remain in their homes while being portrayed as irresponsible perpetrators of self-inflicted suffering.

Banks and financial institutions, on the other hand, and who can be gluttonous as well as miserly but certainly cannot be manipulated or hoodwinked by a financially unsophisticated consumer public, point blame at those who supposedly attempted to “buy more house than they can afford.” Yet banks and mortgage companies have access to tools and information technology such as credit reports, debt ratio calculations, and other methods of credit evaluation.

The truth is, that many consumers took money from a deregulated mortgage lending industry that wanted to lend money to them and assumed mortgages at high rates of interest or adjustable rates that started low but reset later at substantially higher rates and that could balloon by 29-50% which was buried in the fine print. The mortgage brokers and loan originators raked in enormous fees and lined their pockets from these predatory and subprime transactions.

Many of the borrowers were two income households who played by the rules and found themselves in foreclosure only after being laid off because of the recession and weakened economy, the loss of jobs that moved overseas, and high energy costs. Overall, the number of unemployed persons increased by 851,000 to 12.5 million in February alone, and the unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent, although at 13.4% for blacks and 33% for black teens. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by about 5.0 million,and the unemployment rate has risen by 3.3 percentage points.

In addition, the number of those jobless for 27 weeks or more increased by 270,000 to 2.9 million in February. Over the past 12 months,the number of long-term unemployed was up by 1.6 million.

One wonders whether in a crisis of this magnitude and amidst trillion dollar bailouts for the greedy, if families who truly need relief can get rescued?
Rabbi Hillel stated “Every morning we wake up the scales are equally balanced between good and evil. What we do during the day will determine where the scales fall."

Many of those experiencing job loss or foreclosure are paralyzed by the fear and the hopelessness of not knowing where to turn. However, Doing nothing is not an option. It is a day for challenging the power structure that holds people down instead of lifting them up and that holds them back instead of helping them out. "We can no longer be silent or passive while being oriented toward our private wants instead of public needs."

With 8 to 9 million additional foreclosures projected over the next four years, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D.Ohio) suggests that we fight to take back our homes. We can do this by using the courts. If facing foreclosure, you should get legal help to fight for your property and demand that brokers establish the paperwork that proves clear ownership. Many brokers are not able to do this as many of the mortgages were bundled together and sold to foreign investors. Legal and other help or assistance is available through Ms. Kaptur’s office at 419-259-7500, local Fair Housing Centers, legal aid offices, or United Way 211.

President Obama's economic plan will help an estimated 1 in 9 homeowners stay in their homes. 1.6 million additional homes can be saved under the “Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009” legislation that has passed the House and is now in the Senate (S.B.61). This bill could require bankruptcy judges to lower the interest rate to as low as 2 percent, reduce mortgage payments to no more than 31% of income or lower the principal owed on the loan. Send an electronic letter to the legislators telling them to "help the people who are hurting rather than the bankers who are threatening them and stop foreclosures without tax dollars by lifting the ban on Judicial Modifications."

Tell them also to introduce legislation and oversight that puts a moratorium on foreclosures while legislation is pending. In addition, advise our leaders to end the abusive lending practices that produced the foreclosure crisis in the first place and to start to focus again on strengthening homeownership, rather than allowing an unsupervised financial services industry to become rich through speculation and predatory lending.

If we are going to emerge from the current economic tsunami the first task will be to repair the damage to the housing market and the lives of working, middle-class, and marginalized citizens. We have already seen that assistance will not come if we continue to sit silently by watching the havoc wreaked on our lives by an uncaring and unchallenged power structure. It will take action to accomplish this and nothing less.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Masking the Pain: OSF Affairs of the Heart

So much of our outward life is a masking of an inner turmoil. Do these Old School selections represent "two sides of the same coin?"

We Party Hearty:Jeffrey Osborne LTD

This Time the Heart is Mine: Luther

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fashion Me A View: The Top 25

There are many, many writers that have influenced, not necessarily my writing style, but certainly my cultural template or the lens that shapes my perceptions of life and the world around me. Those that have probably had the most effect and which are taken from the various genres of popular fiction,religion, scholarship, social justice, and even children's books, include but are not limited to the following 25:

1. Benjamin E. Mays
2. Derrick Bell
3. Taylor Branch
4. Gwendolyn Pough
5. Elaine Richardson
6. Joan Morgan
7. Alice Walker
8. Maya Angelou
9. Nikki Giovanni
10. James Cone
11. Toni Cade Bambara
12. James Baldwin
13. Jim Wallis
14. Peter Gomes
15. Michael Eric Dyson
16. Samuel D. Proctor
17. Ralph Ellison
18. Zora Neale Hurston
19. Lorraine Hansberry
20. Langston Hughes
21. Virginia Hamilton
22. Angela Davis
23. Howard Thurman
24. Linda Hollies
25. Charisse Carney-Nunes

Ms. Lady Deborah tagged me and I will return the favor to:

Pop Art Diva