Archives for category: Injustice

Imagine this: an emergency room nurse gives birth to a premature baby. She gets a bill for $898,984 from her employer. She thought she had insurance coverage. Her employer says she didn’t sign up in time for the baby. What is she to do?

ProPublica gets involved.

This obviously is not an education issue. But it is an issue about what kind of society we are.

“Lauren Bard opened the hospital bill this month and her body went numb. In bold block letters it said, “AMOUNT DUE: $898,984.57.”

“Last fall, Bard’s daughter, Sadie, had arrived about three months prematurely; and as a nurse herself, Bard knew the costs for Sadie’s care would be high. But she’d assumed the bulk would be covered by the organization that owned the hospital where she worked: Dignity Health, whose marketing motto is “Hello humankindness.”

“She would be wrong.

“Bard, 30, had been caught up in an unforgiving trend. As health care costs continue to rise, employers are shifting the expense to their workers — cutting back on what they’ll cover or pumping up premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But a premature baby, delivered with gaspingly high medical claims, creates a sort of benefits bomb, the kind an employer — especially one funding its own benefits — might look for a way to dodge altogether….

“Bard’s saga began, traumatically, when she gave birth to Sadie at just 26 weeks on Sept. 21, 2018, at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Southern California. Weighing less than a pound and a half, tiny enough to fit into Bard’s cupped hands, Sadie was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. Three days after her birth, Bard called Anthem Blue Cross, which administers her health plan, to start coverage. Anthem and UC Irvine’s billing department assured her that Sadie was covered, Bard said.

”But Dignity’s plan, like many, requires employees to enroll newborns within 31 days through its website, or they won’t be covered — something Bard said she didn’t know at the time.

“Meanwhile, believing that everything with her health benefits was on track, Bard spent nine of those first 31 days recovering in her own hospital bed and then had to return to the emergency room because of a subsequent infection. She spent as much time as she could in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Sadie, in an incubator, attached to tubes and wires, battled a host of critical ailments related to extremely premature birth. At times, doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of survival.

“Right from birth she was a fighter,” Bard said.

“Then, eight days past the 31-day deadline, UC Irvine’s billing department alerted Bard to a problem with Sadie’s coverage. Anthem was saying it could not process the claims for the baby, who was still in the NICU.

“Bard, an emergency room nurse at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, called Dignity’s benefits department and made a sickening discovery. Sadie wasn’t enrolled in its health plan. It was too late, she was told, she could no longer add her baby.

”Dignity bills itself as the fifth-largest health system in the country, with services in 21 states. The massive nonprofit self-funds its benefits, meaning it bears the cost of bills like Sadie’s. And it doesn’t appear to be short on cash. In 2018, the organization reported $6.6 billion in net assets and paid its CEO $11.9 million in reportable compensation, according to tax filings. That same year, more than two dozen Dignity executives earned more than $1 million in compensation, records show.”

Bard was facing bankruptcy when ProPublica found out about her dire situation.

One reason I am posting this story is because I was moved by the injustice of it. Another is because a reader in the South chastised me for writing an appeal on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He sent me the SPLC 990 form for the IRS, showing that it has nearly $500 million in assets. There are many worthy organizations that need crowd-funding. ProPublica is one of them.

This is one reason why unions are valuable for teachers and public schools. Unions have the resources to go to the courts to fight capricious actions, like the pending takeover of the Houston Independent School District based on the low test scores of one school.

 

HFT_release_VOCUS 2018 new.jpg

For Immediate Release
November 19, 2019

 

CONTACT:
Zeph Capo
713-670-4348

Zcapo@hft2415.org
   
HFT Files Federal Lawsuit over Proposed State Takeover of School District
HOUSTON—The Houston Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit in Austin today, stating the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District is unconstitutional under U.S. and Texas law because it disenfranchises and discriminates against people based on race and national origin.   

Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath claim the state takeover of the entire Houston school district, which earned an 88 (out of 100) academic accountability rating, was triggered due to one chronically failing school, Wheatley High School, which is attended by predominantly black and brown students. The takeover decision was made just days after voters elected new school board members in Houston, who would not be able to take their seats under the takeover, effectively silencing the democratic electoral process.

“The state’s action to take over the HISD is flagrantly unconstitutional and has nothing to do with giving kids a strong public education,” said Zeph Capo, president of HFT and Texas AFT.

“Gov. Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath will do just about anything to give private charter operators a chance to get their hands on our schools—even violate the state and U.S. constitutions. We can’t allow our government officials to unconstitutionally marginalize black and brown children, deny them their right to a quality public education, or defy the voice of voters who have just elected new school board members,” he said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

The suit, which seeks injunctive relief, alleges that the proposed takeover violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution because it disenfranchises minority voters and discriminates against the plaintiffs (three educators, one of whom is a parent of children in the district) on the basis of race and national origin and deprives people, no matter their race, color or ethnicity, of participating in the political process or electing representatives of their own choice. Further, the suit states the proposed takeover violates Texas’ Equal Rights Amendment, which states: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”

The educator plaintiffs explained why they are participating in the lawsuit:

Jackie Anderson, a special education teacher at Ortiz Middle School, said the takeover would erase citizens’ legitimate votes. “Growing up, my parents instilled the value of civic responsibility. I voted for the first time with my mother. I was taught the value of my vote. Voting is something that you have an obligation to do. Everyone’s vote should count. My choice should be respected. To say that it doesn’t matter is a violation of my right as a citizen,” Anderson said.

Maxie Hollingsworth, a math teacher at Red Elementary and parent of HISD students, said her experience growing up in Little Rock, Ark., cemented her strong feelings about the sanctity of voting rights. “I was raised with the idea of the importance of equitable education and every person’s right to vote. It offends me to my core that people of privilege and power truly don’t care about communities of color and poor people. This takeover is a very targeted and intentional process and amounts to illegal disenfranchisement. It would take away my vote and everyone else’s who voted in the school board election. I can’t look at myself in the mirror and say this is OK. It’s not OK,” Hollingsworth said.

She added that she believes a takeover would result in fewer resources available to students and a greater turnover of educators. “All the progress HISD has made will all be for naught,” Hollingsworth said.

Daniel Santos, a social studies teacher at Navarro Middle School, said he became a naturalized citizen in 2008, when he voted for the first time in his life. “Through voting, I am holding policymakers accountable and making sure that minorities are not disenfranchised. I view the takeover of our recently elected school board as unconstitutional. It’s a serious violation of my civil rights that prevents me as a citizen from holding our policymakers accountable,” Santos said.

Following a state takeover, Santos predicted, “We will see market-based reforms that have failed to improve student achievement in other cities. We cannot let that happen.”

The HFT believes the state’s clear goal is to convert Houston’s public schools to privately operated charter schools, which the previously elected Houston school board had refused to do. However, Capo noted, several Houston charter schools are doing worse than Wheatley but are still being allowed to continue operating and are not being singled out in the takeover. Morath is justifying the takeover using a rule he enacted in 2018 that allows the Texas Education Agency to downgrade a school’s rating if it did not pass three of four measures, even if it would have passed otherwise. Wheatley had a passing 63 grade, or a D, but was curved down to a 59, or an F.

“The real shame is that the focus is on a scheme to charterize the district, not to get Wheatley the resources it needs to improve student achievement. Experience shows that charters do not produce the improvements their supporters claim,” Capo said.

 

###

 

 


 

 

If you would rather not receive future communications from AFT, let us know by clicking here.
AFT, 555 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 United States

Today in the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow wrote a scathing critique of Bloomberg, based on his “stop and frisk” policy.

He wrote:

Let me plant the stake now: No black person — or Hispanic person or ally of people of color — should ever even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg in the primary. His expansion of the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk program in New York, which swept up millions of innocent New Yorkers, primarily young black and Hispanic men, is a complete and nonnegotiable deal killer.

Stop-and-frisk, pushed as a way to get guns and other contraband off the streets, became nothing short of a massive, enduring, city-sanctioned system of racial terror…

In 2002, the first year Bloomberg was mayor, 97,296 of these stops were recorded. They surged during Bloomberg’s tenure to a peak of 685,724 stops in 2011, near the end of his third term. Nearly 90 percent of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any wrongdoing.

A New York Times analysis of stops on “eight odd blocks” in the overwhelmingly black neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn found close to 52,000 stops over four years, which averaged out to “nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents of these blocks.”

In 2009, there were more than 580,000 stop-and-frisks, a record at the time. Of those stopped, 55 percent were black, 32 percent Hispanic and only 10 percent white. Most were young, and almost all were male. Eighty-eight percent were innocent. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year.

Not only that, but those who were stopped had their names entered into a comprehensive police database, even if they were never accused of committing a crime. As Donna Lieberman, then the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in 2010, the database became a place “where millions of completely innocent, predominantly black and Latinos have been turned into permanent police suspects.”

The state outlawed the keeping of these electronic records on the innocent, over the strong objections of Bloomberg and his police chief…

Bloomberg’s crime argument was dubious. The Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan produced a report that became part of a class-action lawsuit against the city in 2010. It found that: “[s]eizures of weapons or contraband are extremely rare. Overall, guns are seized in less than 1 percent of all stops: 0.15 percent … Contraband, which may include weapons but also includes drugs or stolen property, is seized in 1.75 percent of all stops.”

As Fagan wrote, “The N.Y.P.D. stop-and-frisk tactics produce rates of seizures of guns or other contraband that are no greater than would be produced simply by chance…”

A federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities, calling it a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”

Yet, a little over a month before that ruling, Bloomberg said on a radio show, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” 

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.

Jan Resseger explains the history and context of the truly historic teachers’ strike in Chicago that recently ended. She explains it with clarity, as only Jan can do.

This was not a strike for higher salaries. The mayor offered a 16% increase before the strike began, and that is what the Chicago Teachers Union accepted.

This was a strike for students. This was a strike to reverse a quarter-century of disinvestment by Mayors Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel.

This was a strike against 25 years of austerity in a booming city that had billions for developers but nothing for students and schools.

This was a strike against corporate reform, which starved the public schools for the benefit of charter schools.

This was a historic strike. To understand why, read this post.

 

Jan Resseger analyzes a new study by Sean Reardon of Stanford University that demonstrates what has been widely known for decades: Schools alone don’t cure poverty.

Those who insist that they do are either uninformed, selling something (TFA founder Wendy Kopp has claimed that inexperienced teachers can overcome poverty and close achievement gaps caused by poverty), or just don’t want to pay taxes to provide the resources schools need (think the Koch brothers, the Waltons, the DeVos Family, or other billionaires).

She begins:

Here is the succinct conclusion of a complex, technical, and nuanced report released on Monday by Stanford University’s Sean Reardon and a team of researchers, Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps: “We use 8 years of data from all public school districts in the U.S.  We find that racial school segregation is strongly associated with the magnitude of achievement gaps in 3rd grade, and with the rate at which gaps grow from third to eighth grade. The association of racial segregation with achievement gaps is completely accounted for by racial differences in school poverty: racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower poverty schools… We find that the effects of school poverty do not appear to be explained by differences in the set of measurable teacher or school characteristics available to us.”

In the report, Reardon defines academic test score gaps: “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, child care settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experience. Moreover, in saying that test score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments… (D)ifferences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps….”

“In sum, our analyses provide evidence that racial school segregation is closely linked to racial inequality in academic performance.  This implies that segregation creates unequal educational opportunities.  Although our analyses do not identify the specific mechanisms through which segregation leads to inequality, they make it clear that the mechanism is linked to differences in schools’ poverty rates, not differences in schools’ racial composition.”

In their review of the academic literature, Reardon and his colleagues emphasize the importance of studies which have demonstrated the importance of public policy that would invest more in schools serving poor children and in making state funding formulas more equitable.  But they conclude finally: “(W)e have no example of a school district where minority students disproportionately attend high poverty schools that does not have a large racial achievement gap. If it were possible to create equal educational opportunity under conditions of segregation and economic inequality, some community—among the thousands of districts in the country—would have done so… If we are serious about reducing racial inequality in educational opportunity, then, we must address racial segregation among schools.”

I am pleased to see Reardon so clearly describe the realities his research exposes, but I am frankly concerned that—in a society his own 2011 research demonstrates is rapidly resegregating economically as families with means move farther and farther into the exurbs—it will be politically difficult to address the concerns his research uncovers.

What is certain is that this new research confirms what many have believed is a catastrophic mistake in two-decades  of “accountability-based school reform.”  This is the test-and-punish regime imposed at the federal level by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, followed by programs like Race to the Top and policies adopted across the states to punish teachers who were supposed to work harder and smarter to close achievement gaps or their schools would be punished.

 

David Currie is a rancher, a pastor, and a member of the board of Pastors for Texas Children. He writes in this post about those who claim that the Bible gives them the right to discriminate against and hate others. He is chair of the Democratic Party in Tom Green County.

http://bit.ly/2ke3t2d

He begins:

“Most of you have probably never heard of Rachel Held Evans, but I want you to know about her. In May, at age 37, she died from severe swelling of the brain brought on by an allergic reaction to medication she was taking for an infection. She left behind a husband and two children — a boy age 3 and a girl just under a year old.

”She also left behind millions of us who admired her and were inspired by her grace and courage.

“I followed her writings on Twitter and simply loved the things she wrote. She was a Christian who struggled honestly with the questions of faith. She wrote four books about her faith, especially encouraging others who struggled with making sense of God, the Bible and living the Christian faith.

“She always wrote about God’s grace, and she was courageous in doing so. She challenged those who gave simplistic answers to life’s complex questions. I’ll share a few quotes that especially resonated with me.

“It’s a frightful thing – thinking you have to get God right in order to get God to love you, thinking you’re always one error away from damnation. … The very condition of humanity is to be wrong about God. The moment we figure God out, God ceases to be God. Maybe it’s time to embrace the mystery and let ourselves off the hook.”

“I’ve come to regard with some suspicion those who claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume this means they haven’t actually read it….

“Writing about Rachel brings to my mind Charles Perry, our state senator, who sponsored SB 17, which I call the “permission to hate in the name of Jesus” bill. It allows people serving the public to refuse service to people whose lives or beliefs conflict with their own “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Of course, what Senator Perry aims to do, in proposing this bill, is to give people the right to discriminate against gay people, or Muslims, or … well, you get the idea. If you don’t like the way someone chooses to live their lives or the way they think, it’s OK to disrespect them and refuse to serve them. Personally, I can’t imagine Jesus being pleased. Seems to me Jesus didn’t treat people this way.

“Rachel wrote: “I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight. Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian.” Same thing has happened to me. I finally figured out what Dr. Tracy tried to teach me at Howard Payne — that the love of God is unconditional and that my role as a follower of Christ is to love people, not judge them.

“Maybe you disagree with Rachel and me. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to believe as you see fit, but it does not give you the right to discriminate against those who disagree with you. You need to learn the difference between acceptance and approval. You don’t have to approve of the way that others use their freedom in living out their faith and their lives, but you do have to accept their right to do so. It’s the American way….

“During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, there were plenty of people who did not want to serve African-Americans in their restaurants, hotels, or other places of business because of their “sincerely held religious belief” that white people were superior to black people. Sadly, that appears to be the “sincerely held religious belief” of millions in America today who are encouraged by our president and his statements in support of white supremacy and racism.

“What most bothered me about Senator Perry’s bill was his statement about how the Bible doesn’t need interpreting … that it speaks for itself. That just blew my mind, but it is typical of the thinking of Religious Right fundamentalists.

”Take, for example, Psalm 137:9 (NIV): “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” I kind of think that verse (and a few thousand more) might need some interpretation….

“But I am very concerned that many Christian leaders — for example, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell, Jr.; and political leaders — for example, President Trump, Gov. Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and State Senator Charles Perry, are working to redefine religious liberty as the right of Christians to be mean and hateful in the name of Jesus.

“That is not the meaning of the First Amendment, which guarantees all people in America — not just Christians — the freedom to worship (or not) freely without interference. It does not guarantee them the right to use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” as an excuse for racist and bigoted — or downright evil — actions toward others…

“In 1791, Baptist preacher John Leland defined religious liberty as well as it will ever be defined: “Let every man speak freely without fear — maintain the principles he believes — worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God or twenty Gods; and let the government protect him in so doing.” America was founded on this very sentiment…”

 

 

 

 

As I have mentioned here, I am Jewish. Be that as it may, I regularly read the publication “Commonweal,” which is edited by lay Catholics (not Jesuits, as I originally sad) and often vigorously agree with its writers. Read this one by John Chryssavgis.

https://www.commonweal-magazine.org/prosperity-philanthropy

At the latest G7 summit in Biarritz, U.S. President Donald Trump reassured the world that “our economy is creating jobs and helping the poor.” A similar confidence was expressed in a recent op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal. It was titled “Making Money is a Patriotic Act” (August 13, 2019). Signed by Bernie Marcus, a cofounder of Home Depot, and the New York City supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, the op-ed opened with a striking, quasi-religious claim: “The two of us are quite rich. We have earned more money than we could have imagined and more than we can spend on ourselves, our children and grandchildren. These days getting rich off a profitable business is regarded as almost sinister. But we have nothing to apologize for and we don’t think the government should have more of our profits.” The fact that the latter is a prominent member in, and generous donor to, the Greek Orthodox Church in America (as well as to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York) prompted me to reflect again on the age-old question of wealth and poverty in Christian thought. This is a question where Orthodox and Roman Catholic teaching are very similar, if not the same.

Of course, the connection or correspondence between prosperity and philanthropy has long concerned economists, political theorists, and moral philosophers, as well as theologians. Economic resources are indispensable to the church, but the church has an obligation to husband its resources in a way that includes the less fortunate. When it comes to wealth, the focus for Christians should be beneficent compassion (the law of love) rather than brutal competition (the law of survival of the fittest). Proclaiming that greed is neither sinister nor sinful and claiming that the government should not impose higher taxes on the wealthy is at odds with the Christian responsibility to recognize the dignity and parity of the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40).

The authors boast of creating employment (albeit at often degradingly low salaries) and supporting charities (while benefiting from generous tax deductions for charitable giving), but they’re also proud of having risen from meager origins to achieve the American Dream. This up-by-the-bootstraps success narrative may be convenient for the Christian right, but it is inconsistent with both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic social teaching.

Before contemplating the spiritual message, however, let’s consider the economic argument. Fiscal conservatives have long insisted that private charity is better than government handouts; helping hands, they say, should be inspired by a heart of compassion rather than compelled by law. But to suggest that wealthy donors can replace government programs is both arrogant and dangerously irresponsible. Private philanthropy falls off during economic downturns, when poverty rises. In other words, philanthropy tends to be cyclical, whereas public programs are designed to be counter-cyclical, helping the most when there’s the greatest need for help. The idea that faith-based or privately organized charity is more efficient or more effective than government relief has not been true since the industrial revolution. It is especially untrue during a recession.

But much of secular philanthropy is less about providing relief to the poor than about stockpiling tax deductions and/or getting one’s name emblazoned on the front of a new cultural or religious institution. No matter how dizzying the donations of the wealthy, they are in fact a minuscule fraction—economists estimate it’s less than 0.031 percent—of current social needs. It would be wonderful if more of society’s most fortunate members would respond to the needs of the less fortunate. But it is a fantasy to believe that voluntary organizations, including religious ones, could adequately replace the array of government health and social programs that help the most vulnerable.

Take some examples from my own church, which is also the church of John Catsimatidis. How troubled are Orthodox leaders that the tens of millions of dollars worth of donations raised for a church at Ground Zero in New York City—all of which doubtless qualify for tax deductions as charitable gifts—will in no way benefit the underprivileged, in a city where there is visible evidence of material want on every street corner? How often do Orthodox Christians and perhaps especially Orthodox clergy stop to examine their lifestyle in light of their vocation to close rather than widen the gap between rich and poor? And when wealthy Orthodox Christians give, how much do they focus their generosity on impoverished fellow Christians—or, indeed, on impoverished non-Christians?

Recently, at a traffic stop in Lewiston, Maine, I observed a refugee woman cross the road in order to offer money to a beggar. I was instantly reminded of the episode in Luke’s Gospel “when Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two mites. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had’” (Luke 21:1–4). I carry a mite with the cross that I wear—a reminder that the cross entails sacrifice and that my social obligations are central to any spiritual aspiration. This is true for everyone of course, not only the rich; and “rich” is a relative term. But there is no relativizing away the special duty of those who have much more than they need to help provide for those who have less than they need. Complaints about high taxes signal that one thinks of this duty as merely an option.

Even the subtler, seemingly softer mercantilism proposed by the recent Business Roundtable in its August 2019 “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” which seems to reverse course on the priority of maximizing shareholder value, and to soft-pedal the exploitation of offshore labor and ecological despoliation, is not really a confession of guilt but rather an admission that big business now has a public-relations problem.

Saints and mystics have always understood the connection between ascesis and communion: those who are unable to control their appetites—to say “enough” when their own needs have been met—are less likely to notice and respond when their neighbor does not have enough. Luxury is the enemy of solidarity. The tragedy is not just that the rich may never make it to heaven, but also that they may never understand why heaven is beyond their reach.

It may be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God…but what is impossible for mortals is possible for God” (Luke 18:24–26). In the larger picture of God’s beneficence, there is always ample room for forgiveness and redemption. Almsgiving allows us to confront our inner brokenness and spiritual poverty by reaching out to others, to the least and lowest in our community until, as Abba John wrote in sixth-century Gaza, “we reach the point of regarding the poor as our equal and as our neighbor” (Letter 636). But to recognize the poor as our equals is to understand that they cannot be left at the mercy of a philanthropist’s whim, and the satisfaction of their needs is not another charitable option, like the construction of a new opera house or university gym. Rightwing philanthropists need to get over their aversion to public-assistance programs and their resentment of the taxes that fund them. And before they write op-eds congratulating themselves for their own munificence or disparaging government programs they dismiss as “handouts,” they would do well to remember another famous passage from Scripture: “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).

Dr. Anika Whitfield, an education activist in LittleRock, Arkansas, wrote an open letter to State Commissioner Johnny Key and the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education. She appeals to their humanity, forgetting for the moment that the state of Arkansas is owned by the Walton Family Foundation:

 

Mr. Key and the Members of the AR State Board of Education,

Students, families, schools, and neighborhoods in the LRSD community are experiencing almost indescribable losses. 
 
We have witnessed significant losses of students to charter and other school districts during your watch, as we have seen many school closures and observed more funding and attention being given to growing charter schools, primarily in and around the LR community.  
 
We have also witnessed an untold account of the number of students who have been transitioned from the LRSD into a prison pipeline. And, to be clear, most of these students are disproportionately African American, Latinx, and students from low income homes and communities. 
 
We know that many of these actions have not occurred haphazardly, unintentionally, nor unnoticed by most, if not all of you.
 
We appeal to your humanity and the spirit in which your position holds, to represent all children and all public schools in our state with equity and without discrimination.  
 
We appeal to you even moreso as your more recent role has been to oversee directly the LRSD since taking over our public school district, January 28, 2019, to provide all of our students with access to meaningful resources and support in order to experience a world class public education.
 
We rightfully hold you accountable for the losses mentioned above.  And, we consider these to be failures as a result of your actions or inactions. 
 
We appeal to you, as you prepare to return the LRSD to the community of LR and to a democratically elected, local, representative board of directors, to provide and allocate the necessary resources to ensure that every Elementary school has a qualified, certified, school counselor that will well serve the students and schools in which they are hired, without demonstrating discrimination and without oppressing the students in which they are agreeing to serve.
 
Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.
 
Sincerely, 
Rev./Dr. Anika T. Whitfield

 

This article by Senator Bernie Sanders appeared in the New York Times.

 

My father came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 with barely a nickel in his pocket. I spent my first 18 years, before I left home for college, in a three-and-a-half-room, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. My mother’s dream was to own her own home, but we never came close. My father’s salary as a paint salesman paid for basic necessities, but never much more.

As a young man I learned the impact that lack of money had on family life. Every major household purchase was accompanied by arguments between my parents.

I remember being yelled at for going to the wrong store for groceries and paying more than I should have. I’ve never forgotten the incredible stress of not having much money, a reality that millions of American families experience today.

We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and, according to President Trump, the economy is “booming.” Yet most Americans have little or no savings and live paycheck to paycheck.

Today our rate of childhood poverty is among the highest of any developed country in the world, millions of workers are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, millions more owe outrageous levels of student debt, and half a million people are homeless on any given night. Over 80 million Americans have inadequate health insurance or spent part or all of last year without any insurance, and one out of five cannot afford the prescription drugs they need.

While wages in the United States have been stagnant for over 40 years, we have more income and wealth inequality than at any time since the 1920s.

Today, the wealthiest three families in the country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people and the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Millions of workers earn starvation wages even as nearly half of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.

Gentrification is ravaging working-class neighborhoods, forcing many struggling Americans to spend half or more of their incomes to put a roof over their heads. The rent-controlled apartment I grew up in was small, but at least we could afford it.

I am running for president because we must defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country. But, if we are to defeat Mr. Trump, we must do more than focus on his personality and reactionary policies.

We must understand that unfettered capitalism and the greed of corporate America are destroying the moral and economic fabric of this country, deepening the very anxieties that Mr. Trump appealed to in 2016. The simple truth is that big money interests are out of control, and we need a president who will stand up to them.

Wall Street, after driving the United States into the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, now makes tens of billions in profits while forcing working-class Americans to pay usurious interest rates on their credit card debt. The top 10 American drug companies, repeatedly investigated for price fixing and other potentially illegal actions, made nearly $70 billion in profits last year, even as Americans paid the most per capita among developed nations for their prescription medicine.

Top executives in the fossil fuel industry spend hundreds of millions on campaign contributions to elect candidates who represent the rich and the powerful, while denying the reality of climate change.

Major corporations like Amazon, Netflix, General Motors and dozens of others make huge profits, but don’t pay federal income taxes because of a rigged tax system they lobbied to create.

Back in 1944, in his State of the Union speech, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminded the nation that economic security is a human right, and that people cannot be truly free if they have to struggle every day for their basic needs. I agree.

We must change the current culture of unfettered capitalism in which billionaires have control over our economic and political life. We need to revitalize American democracy and create a government and economy that works for all.