The Power of Redemption

In talking about his faith on this Sunday's Meet the Press, Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said "none of us are perfect, we all need redemption."  (Watch the video)

It's an interesting choice of words.  Huckabee used it as a segue into talking about the role of faith in public policy, and the need to support better education policy and to be betters stewards of the earth. 

Here at The Opportunity Agenda, Redemption applies to a much broader range of topics including criminal justice and social justice.  In our criminal justice system, many Americans - either wrongly imprisoned or over-incarcerated for petty offenses - are denied redemption in the face of a punitive legal system concerned more with doling out punishment than in rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into society.  Frequently these offenders would be better dealt with through treatment and rehabilitation programs.  Even when many are finally free of our justice system, we continue to withhold the right to vote and participate in our democracy.  A healthy dose of Redemption would be a good thing to see in our justice system.

And down in the gulf, thousands of Katrina victims are still struggling to rebuild their lives, frequently without adequate assistance from municipal, state, or federal government.  These people, too, deserve redemption - the chance to start over when things go wrong, but our government is failing them.

I don't know about Huckabee's personal policies as the Governor of Arkansas, or what a Huckabee administration would do based on his personal conception of redemption, but clearly Redemption is a powerful frame that might be able to build bridges across the isle and between conservative Americans of faith and those of us in the social justice world who strive to create positive change in America.


State of Opportunity; State of the Union

Last night President Bush delivered his 6th State of the Union Address.  Thanks to a terrific interactive tool put out by the New York Times, we're able to determine that Bush mentioned opportunity 8 times in his speech - more than in any other State of the Union address he has delivered thus far.  In almost each instance, he referenced the need to spread hope and opportunity and build a brighter future for our country. 

It's wonderful to hear the President promote the value of opportunity
when addressing the nation, but unfortunately, opportunity has been on the decline since President Bush last ascended the podium to address the nation; and the President's proposed policies - centered less around expanding opportunity so much as promoting individual responsibility - will do little to increase opportunity for those most in need in our country.

Last year, just after the President's 2006 Address (in which one of the only references to opportunity came coupled with a broken promise to rebuild New Orleans - curiously absent from last night's speech), The Opportunity Agenda released a report - The State of Opportunity in America.  In this report, we measured America's progress in expanding opportunity along a variety of indicators and issues.  Our findings were not encouraging.

Next month, we'll release an update to the State of Opportunity Report.  For now, here's a sample of our findings:

  • A lower proportion of young adults earned high school degrees;
  • The number and rate of incarcerated people has increased, to 2.2 million today, consistent with a three-decade trend;
  • The wealth and income gap increased again, following a trend of growing economic inequality;
  • The gender poverty gap increased between 2004 and 2005, as a larger percentage of women fell into poverty in this period;
  • The number of Americans lacking health insurance increased from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2005.

We'll have more in a few weeks.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can fact-check the President's statements and policy proposals through this tool created by Think Progress.

We also recommend you check out the SOTU review offered by our friends at the Drum Major Institute.

What did you think of the President's address and his newfound commitment to spreading opportunity?


Update: (Google) Mapping Health Care Disparities

We've only been live for a few days, but Health Care That Works, our Google Maps Mashup of health care disparities and hospital closings in NYC, is already getting a lot of attention.  So far we've been featured on the following blogs:

If you haven't yet, please check out the site, email your friends about it, and take the time to send an email to your state representatives.


Mapping Disparity - Healthcarethatworks.org

HealthCareThatWorksToday we're happy to announce the launch of a new project that we've had in the works for  a  few months now - www.healthcarethatworks.org.

Health Care That Works is a  new website designed to visually illustrate the economic and racial disparities that exist in New York City's health care system, and drive all New Yorker's of conscience to take action by emailing their elected officials.

The site is a Google Map mash-up
that takes data on NYC hospital closures between 1985 and 2005, and
overlays it on an interactive city-wide map that can display either the racial or economic demographics of the Five Boroughs.  Using this tool, visitors can visually see how hospital closures disproportionately impact poor neighborhoods and communities of color.  Text on the sidebar guides the user through each decade and demographic overlay, explaining the changing conditions of the city and the impact that closures have on underserved communities.

But the site is more than just a visual resource, it is also  a data-rich resource for researchers that contains a variety of reports and fact sheets (as well as data on the patient demographics, payer source, and quality scores for each hospital), a community forum for health care advocates and New Yorkers, and an activism tool that encourages New Yorkers to write to their elected officials in support of creating a health care system that works equally for all.

We think that Health Care That Works can be a valuable resource that sheds light on the underreported issues of racial and economic disparities in health care.  Let us know what you think here in the comments, or over in the Health Care That Works forums.

If you have accounts, recommend us on Daily Kos, or give us a Digg.


Remembering Dr. King

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The blogosphere is abuzz with posts commemorating Dr. King, and applying his work to current problems.  Here are some of our favorites.

At DMI Blog, Ezekial Edwards uses Dr. King's words as a touchstone to talk about the death penalty in New Jersey, and James Carmichael analyzes Democratic Presidential candidate John Edward's speech at the MLK commemoration held at Riverside Church in Harlem.  You can watch a video of Senator Edwards' speech here or download an MP3.

Christopher Bracey at BlackProf uses the King holiday and his experience listening to Dr. King's speeches laid over beats as an opportunity to talk about race and culture.  I'm not sure that I agree with his conclusions. I think he puts too much weight on one medium to convey everything he thinks needs conveying, rather than recognizing a Dr. King "mashup" for what it is - a great tool to bump up awareness and interest in Dr. King's work.  Attitudes about race among the younger generation - which is the most diverse and most tolerant generation in the history of our country - also belie some of his conclusions about the effects of reality TV.  Never the less, it is a thought provoking blog post that we highly recommend reading.

ACS Blog quotes Dr. King to make a valuable point about the relationship between our values as a nation, the opportunities of our citizens, and the public policy we pursue.

Facing South has 6 "surprising facts" about the King Holiday.  I had a vague awareness of numbers 1 and 2.  The rest are quite surprising.

What are you reading about Dr. King today?


State by State, The Proof Is In The Wages

Protecting economic security in America starts with protecting the rights of workers. The fact that millions of America's workers live in poverty is astounding, and reprehensible.

An interesting NYTimes article offered a great take on the argument for minimum wage. Washington state has passed laws to ensure that workers earn decent wages. As a result, the minimum wage in Washingtonis now $7.93—the highest in the country. Washington has proved that good pay for employee is good business. Business has not fallen behind and small increases in the price of goods have not driven customers away. In fact, one small business owner notes that business is booming. The policy debate in DC must take into consideration how the change has actually played out in Washington.

"Washington's robust economy, which added nearly 90,000 jobs last year, is proof that even with the country's highest minimum wage, "this is a great place to do business," Mr. Brunell said."

Although the House of Representatives just passed a law to increase the minimum wage (for the first time in ten years!!), the Senate will now have to pass a similar bill, and then the President will have to approve it. While the federal government gets its ducks in order, many states are making the positive change on their own. ACORN has compiled information on statewide campaigns to raise the minimum wage requirement. ACORN’s Living Wage Resource Center offers information on their campaign, as well as a guide to organizing a living wage campaign. ACORN also has a great web page that identifies and summarizes statewide initiatives that have been passed or are ongoing.

Seeing all this state activity keeps me hopeful that economic security is truly a national value. I guess we just have to wait for federal legislation to acknowledge that.


Grading the Rebuilding Process

16 months into the rebuilding process, (and just a few hours into the New Congress's first "100 hours"), it's important to take stock of our progress in the Gulf.  Our friends over at the Center for Social Inclusion are keeping their eye on that ball, and have issued the first of what will be monthly "Report Cards"  (pdf) grading our progress in restoring opportunity - or even the most basic of services - to those communities that were devastated by the storm.

NOLA-Map

So how are we doing?  Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "shockingly bad." Overall, CSI gives the reconstruction of only two neighborhoods (Uptown and the Garden District) better than a C average, and almost 75% of the city gets a D or F.  Homeowners in all sections of the city seem to be fairing much better than renters and with the notable exception of Lakeview, communities primarily of color are faring much worse than mixed communities.  Health, education, and economic indicators are graded with an "F" in almost every neighborhood.

The report also indicates that in the last 6 months, overall scores for each district have changed little, with most progress coming in owner occupied households located in Central City/Garden District or Uptown/Carollton.  Particularly troubling is the report on the public school system.  Nearly half of all damaged or destroyed public schools will be left unsalvaged, and only two new public schools have opened since the storm.

In light of these findings, Rep. Barney Frank's words at the start of the new congress seem particularly relevant and poignant.  CSI will be updating these report cards every month, and we'll blog them as they are released.

Report-Card


God Grew Tired of Us

Next time you head to the movies you must check the powerful and inspiring film, God Grew Tired Of Us.   It will be released in NYC and around the country this week.  It explores American opportunity through a unique lens, following the lives of Sudanese refugees from the war in Southern Sudan to resettlement in the United States.  It highlights how these men try to retain their culture while seizing opportunity in America -- earning a living, going to school, and providing for families back home.  It investigates American culture and the American dream, and explores the pros and cons of life in the Unites States.   

Here’s a trailer for the movie:  and a summary from the website:  “Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, GOD GREW TIRED OF US explores the indomitable spirit of three “Lost Boys” from the Sudan who leave their homeland, triumph over seemingly insurmountable adversities and move to America, where they build active and fulfilling new lives but remain deeply committed to helping the friends and family they have left behind.  Orphaned by a tumultuous civil war and traveling barefoot across the sub-Saharan desert, John Bul Dau, Daniel Abol Pach and Panther Blor were among the 25,000 “Lost Boys” (ages 3 to 13) who fled villages, formed surrogate families and sought refuge from famine, disease, wild animals and attacks from rebel soldiers. Named by a journalist after Peter Pan’s posse of orphans who protected and provided for each other, the “Lost Boys” traveled together for five years and against all odds crossed into the UN’s refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. A journey’s end for some, it was only the beginning for John, Daniel and Panther, who along with 3800 other young survivors, were selected to re-settle in the United States.”

For another interesting take on opportunity (and the barriers to it) in America and the Lost Boys, the book What is the What by David Eggers is a must read.  It is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, and at 400+ pages, the book provides a nuanced account of the history of the Lost Boys and life after resettlement in America.

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the conflict in Sudan and join efforts to help out, The International Crisis Group website has a short list of recommendations, including writing to your elected representatives and writing to media urging more coverage of the situation.


A Bipartisan Civil Rights Legacy

Our executive director has a new op-ed posted at TomPaine.com.  Here's a snippet:

Forward-looking Republicans, Democrats and their constituents can
take a number of important steps in the spirit of Gerald Ford’s legacy
that will expand opportunity for all and lay a foundation for the next
president, whatever her or his party.

President Bush has nominated a series of anti-civil rights federal
judges who could dominate the judiciary for a generation. It’s time to
shut off that pipeline, and for the Senate to use its "advise and
consent" role to approve only candidates with a commitment to
protecting Americans’ constitutional rights, including the right to
equal protection under the law. Key to this change will be persuading
Arlen Specter, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to vote
his conscience, as he did when he voted against Robert Bork’s
nomination to the Supreme Court 20 years ago. Constituents of Senator
Specter and other moderate Republican senators should voice their
support for rigorous confirmation hearings and a message to the
President that only candidates who take our civil rights laws seriously
should receive a nomination, much less confirmation.


New Year Blog Roundup

Happy New Year! 

A lot has been happening while we've been eating food and visiting with our families.  Here's a roundup of recent news from some of our favorite blogs:

ACS Blog starts the year off with a post following up on the school diversity cases describing how conservatives misread Brown v. Board of Education.  Regular readers will remember that we covered this issue here and here on State of Opportunity.

Afro-Netizen points us to an article published at In These Times by Rinku Sen of the Applied Research Center.  Rinku discusses the role of race in progressive activism.  You can listen to a podcast that we did with Rinku about the role of race in health care here.

Via BlackProf, Earl Ofari Hutchinson remembers the late President Ford's mixed record on civil rights.

Our friends at the Drum Major Institute have started a series analyzing the (Presidential) candidates' positions on immigration reform.  First up is Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.  If you are a third year law student, DMI is also announcing a fellowship that might interest you.

Envisioning 2.0 has released the results of its Health Care Blogosphere Survey.  Give it a read to learn the ins and outs and who's who of health care bloggers.

Just Democracy notes the importance of bringing young people into the human rights and racial justice movements.

And finally, Sentencing Law and Policy has a "Top 10 Stories of 2006" post that's worth a read.


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